Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

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Ask Boswell 3/3/14 edition

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Walter's hot start to the spring has him in a lot of people's thoughts... Photo unk via wp.com

Walter’s hot start to the spring has him in a lot of people’s thoughts… Photo unk via wp.com

Well, the entire DC area was off-work with yesterday’s (hopefully) final snowfall of the season snarling roads and cancelling work.  But Tom Boswell was busy chatting.  Here’s how i’d have answered his baseball-related questions from his WP chat session on 3/3/14.

Q: Walters is 5-5 and making some impressive defensive plays. Do you foresee him being more than a September call up this year – perhaps a quality utility player? He also seems like a sharp kid and an interesting character.

A: Well, the only “impressive play” I’ve seen Zach Walters pull off was a 2-run scoring throwing error … but that’s just a “short sample size.”   To answer this question; yes I think Walters is more than a 9/1 call up this year; I think he’s going to be the first guy called up (ahead of both Jamie Carroll and/or Mike Fontenot at this point) if we need middle infield coverage.  I’m worried about his defense (as has been noted in this space before), so I dunno how much we want to depend on him … but so far he’s looking impressive indeed at the plate.  What more does he have to prove in AAA?   The more he hits, the more he pressures the organization to give him a shot at the MLB level.  Boswell doesn’t know either; there’s no room at the inn for him here; maybe a trade is in order to either move him or free up space for him.

Q: If Danny Espinosa can find his swing and cut down on the strikeouts, could Matt Williams get 300+ ABs for him alternating between 2nd/SS/3rd as a super utility?

A: I’m pretty sure that’s the plan for him even if he doesn’t necessarily “find his swing” right now.   Who would you rather go to war with as your backup infielder right now?  Danny Espinosa or a 40-yr old punch-less middle infielder like Carrol or Fontenot?  More and more I think the decision may be Espinosa vs Walters.  Boswell agrees, thinking Espinosa *is* going to be the primary utility guy for this team.

Q: Does Mussina get in to HOF?

A: Hmm.   That is a tough one.   On the one hand his career bWAR is *way* up there (82.7, which puts him in some very heady company right around 50th best in the history of the game). JAWS likes him, and the “Hall of Fame Standards” metric on B-R.com thinks he’s borderline.  On the other hand his ERA isn’t fantastic (career 3.68, career ERA+ of 123, which is about what Jimmy Key or Tim Hudson are pitching to for their careers).  Didn’t get the magical 300 wins or 3,000 strikeouts.  Never won a Cy Young but was in the top 6 in voting 9 times out of 18 years.  Five all-star appearances, seven gold gloves.  7-8 with a 3.42 ERA in 139 2/3 post season innings, where he peaked in his 1997 exploits in an epic Baltimore vs Cleveland series.  I think he was unquestionably one of the best arms in the game for a period of time, even if Cy Young’s don’t show it.  He did not have the greatest reputation with the media though.

Answer?  I’d vote for him, but i’m a “bigger hall” guy.  I think he’s the type who gets in after a few votes to gather steam as people remember how good he was.  But I think its also telling that his best player comparable on B-R is Andy Pettitte, another very borderline hall-of-fame guy.  There’s certainly no PED usage issues with Mussina; maybe that’s enough to get him votes that other players will never get.  Boswell agrees with my sentiments here.

Q: What are the Syracuse Chiefs expecting in terms of a pitching staff this year?

A: In December 2013, here’s what I predicted for Syracuse’s pitching staff:

  • AAA Rotation: Jordan, Karns, Rosenbaum (L), Young, MLFA or two?
  • AAA Bullpen: Barrett, Mattheus, Garcia, Davis,  Cedeno (L), Robertson (L), Herron (AA?), Alfaro, Stange, Delcarmen
  • AAA Release candidates: Meyers, Lehman

What’s happened since then?  We traded away Karns, resigned Ryan Tatusko, resigned Tyler Robinson, signed Clay Hensley , signed a lefty Zack Jackson, signed a righty Warner Madrigal, signed former Nat Luis Ayala, traded for Felipe Rivero, signed Josh Roenicke and (just today) signed another former Nat Reliever Michael Gonzalez.

Phew.  That’s a lot of guys signed who all look like they belong in AAA.   I honestly have no idea how spring training is going to shake out but I do see one issue here: none of these new guys coming in are starters.  So with Karns traded away, we’re looking at just 3-4 true starters left out of all these guys.  Does Tatusko go back into the rotation?   Do the Nats throw a bone to one of the remaining veteran FA starters out there (Joe Saunders has local connections, and Barry Zito could use some work).

If I had to guess, right now, what 5 starters and 7-8 relievers break camp and fly to upstate NY i’d go with the following:

  • AAA Rotation: Jordan, Rosenbaum, Young, Myers, Tatusko
  • AAA Bullpen: Barrett (closer), Davis, Cedeno (L), Robertson (L), Ayala, Gonzalez, Rivero (L), Delcarmen.
  • AAA D/L: Mattheus, Garcia (come on, you know its going to happen)

As for the rest of these guys?  Maybe some push back to AA, maybe the rest exercise out clauses and hit MLFA again.  But there definitely seems like a ton of 4-A/AAA guys for not a lot of spots.  Boswell has no idea and openly solicits input from people who do follow the Nats minors.

Q: Why is the opener in Australia a real game instead of an Exhibition?

A: Probably because the moment it becomes an exhibition thousands of miles away … teams would basically send their AAA squads.  And MLB knows it, so they have to be “real games.”  Boswell just notes how unfair it is to the teams that play.

Q: What’s the best way to get Bryce Harper’s autograph on a special piece of memorabilia?

A: Probably to go to Spring Training and bring along a little kid :-)  That’s my plan, eventually, to use Son-as-proxy to get cool autographs.  Of course, I also have this thing where everytime i’m in a position to get an autograph I have the player customize it to my son … cheesy, sure.  But i’m not acquiring autographs to re-sell them or some fool thing.    Boswell doens’t have any good advice.

Q: Assuming you could afford them all and they would resign, if you had to who on the current roster to make “lifelong” Nats – who would you choose among Desmond/Zimmermann/Strasburg/Harper? And who is the most replaceable?

A: Great question.  The kind that will inevitably lead to 30+ comments here :-)

Assuming money is no object and that they’d all re-sign, I think your “lifelong” Nats have to be in order Desmond, Harper, Strasburg, and then Zimmermann.  All four if you can get them.   I think they’re replaceable in this order: Zimmermann, Strasburg, Desmond and Harper.  But even that order is splitting hairs between Strasburg and Desmond; who is more replaceable?  A top-5 short stop in the league or a top-10 arm?  I dunno.  Harper is in a league by himself; you just can’t replicate power hitters who matriculate to the majors by age 19.

I think Zimmermann is the most replaceable by our pipeline of upper-end arms.  The other three guys, not so much.

By the way, this question goes to the essence of my arguments against “Big Money GMs” as postulated in the post and comments sections of my big GM Rankings post last week.  This question is entirely moot if you have a $200M payroll.  Do you think Brian Cashman ever had to sit down with his ownership and go, “ok we’ve got Derek JeterMariano RiveraBernie Williams and Jorge Posada coming up on the end of their deals: we can only keep a couple of them; which ones are we letting walk?”

Boswell goes slightly different order of replaceability, putting Strasburg ahead of Desmond because the Nats have Espinosa and Walters.  Uh … not sure I think either of those two guys is a “replacement” for Desmond right now Mr. Boswell.  Nonetheless he also postulates that the Nats really can only keep two of the four, and that internally they keep a “5 max contract” limit in place, meaning that they still have some flexibility to keep three of these four guys.  

Q: I am not impressed with the Nats’ bench, because it is a bucket full of strikeouts. Does this open a door for Jamey Carroll to make the Opening Day roster? Would it be a bad sign if he did?

A: I cut-n-pasted this whole question because I love the “bucket-full of strikeouts” line.   Maybe a grizzled vet keeps Carroll instead of Espinosa or Tyler Moore.  Maybe not.  But if you carry Carroll instead of Moore, you are trading one commodity (defense) for another (power).  I’d rather have Moore but understand the positional flexibility of Carroll.   Boswell seems to intimate the decision will be Carroll vs Walters: why does everyone assume Moore is making this team with two other backup outfielders already under multi-million dollar contracts??  

Q: If Zach Walters continues his excellent play from the end of last year deep into the Spring, and Danny Espinosa parties like it’s 2012, do you see the Nats dealing Espinosa this year, or are his defensive skills at short and second too valuable to lose?

A: Yes, I think Espinosa will eventually be traded, as I’ve noted many times here (best summarized in this 1/2/14 Ladson inbox response).   But, he has to regain value first.  If he’s suddenly returning to a near 100 ops+ hitter with his defensive prowness, there’s a whole slew of teams that could use an upgrade at the position (just perusing RotoWorld depth charts, I can see a 2011-esque Espinosa being a desirable choice to current options for at least Houston, Minnesota, Miami, maybe the Mets, Pittsburgh, San Diego, maybe Chicago (WS), maybe the Angels, maybe Seattle, and maybe the Dodgers (so they can move Hanley Ramirez back to 3B).   And that doesn’t even look at the 2B options out there that he could ably fill.  Boswell notes this little nugget; the Dodgers sniffed around on Espinosa exactly to do what I just said; move Hanley back to third.  

Q:  Should we be concerned about middle infield depth? If Espinosa can’t hit over .200, who’s left? Jamey Carroll’s OBP was .267 in 227 ABs last season… yikes.

A:  I’m not concerned because we should only have to count on one of these guys.  Espinosa (as mentioned ad naseum) had a pretty legitimate excuse for his BA last year; he was hurt.  He’s healthy now; there should be no reason he doesn’t return to at least a .240 guy with power he was for his first couple of seasons.  Boswell points at his new favorite fan boy Zach Walters.

Q: Assuming the Nats fifth starter (whoever it may be though I’m pulling for Detwiler) has a great “fifth starter” season, how good can we expect it to be? Has any fifth starter won 15-20 games? 

A: I think a “good” season out of our 5th starter would be 28 starts, a 14-8 record or something like that, and an ERA in the 3.50 range.  I’d love to see that happen.  Has a 5th starter ever won 15-20 games?  I have no idea how you’d find that out; it isn’t as if starters are “labeled” by their rotational rankings like we do in the sportswriting world.  I looked up a couple of options though to see how some “5th” starters fared on some very good teams (looking up the winningest teams I could think of in the 5th starter era)

  • The 5th starter for the 108 win 1986 Mets was Rick Aguilera; he went 10-7 with a 3.66 ERA.
  • The 114-game winning 1998 Yankees 5th starter was Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, who went 12-4 and had the best ERA+ on the staff, but he wasn’t exactly a “normal” 5th starter.   In reality by the time the playoffs rolled around the real 5th starter was Hideki Irabu: he was 13-9 in the regular season but didn’t get a start in the post-season.
  • Lastly the 116-game winning 2001 Mariners’ 5th starter seemed to be John Halama, who went 10-7 despite a 4.73 ERA and was replaced mid-season by rookie Joel Pineiro. 

Boswell notes a good point; if a “5th starter” wins 20 games … people forget he was the 5th starter.

Q: He had 38 (or thereabouts) errors in Syracuse this year. I don’t think there should be any serious talk of him spending significant time with the Nats until he can clean up his fielding in AAA.

A: I wonder if the person who sent in this question also reads me.  By the way: the break down of Errors (per b-r.com) was 31 errors in 104 games at short to go along with 7 additional errors in 27 games while playing third.  That’s a LOT of errors.  And it is almost entirely consistent with the number of errors he committed in 2012 in AA.  So this wasn’t a fluke season.

We all hear stories about how crummy minor league fields are and how they contribute to poor fielding numbers for players.  Have you ever played on a pro field?  They’re miles better than any amateur field and looked beyond immaculate to me.  I wonder just how much nicer they can get honestly.

But, yes I do somewhat agree with the questioner here; I’d like to see Walters have a cleaner fielding season before counting on him.  That being said, we should all remember that we were ready to string up Ian Desmond for his fielding issues … now he’s a gold-glove calibre talent.   Boswell brings up Desmond’s incredibly poor minor league fielding record … maybe there’s more truth to the whole minor league field issue than we thought.

Q: Do you think Storen might not be long for the team? I’ve felt for some time that Game 5 in 2012 truly affected how Rizzo sees him. Also, many like to say they have three guys who have closed in the bullpen. I feel the 7th, 8th and 9th are all different so that theory doesn’t always work. Thoughts?

A: I’m not sure if 2012 has anything to do with it: Drew Storen definitely got squeezed in that inning and in some ways was very unlucky.  And as my dad likes to point out, Davey Johnson‘s usage of Storen in the series (and his bullpen management overall) really left something to be desired.  Nonetheless, to answer the question no I think Storen is eventually moved, not because of any bad blood but because of simple economics.  We’ve got a really expensive bullpen and three closer-quality guys when only one is needed.  At some point we will cash in.  I’m not sure I believe that 7th/8th/9th innings require different mindsets; you still want guys who can get people out, you want swing-and-miss talents, you want people who can keep the ball in the park and not walk anyone.  Boswell doesn’t really answer the question.

 

NL East Rotation Preview

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Remember this guy? He’ll be 100% for next spring and may spell a changing of the guard in the division. Photo via AllansGraphics.com

With major moves being made this off-season for the rotations of the NL East teams, we seem set to be in store for some serious pitching duels intradivision in 2012.  How do the rotations stack up, right now?  If the season started tomorrow, here’s what we’d be looking at for rotations:

Philadelphia Atlanta Miami Washington New York
#1 Halladay Hudson Johnson Strasburg Santana?
#2 Lee Jurrjens Buehrle Gonzalez Dickey
#3 Hamels Hanson Sanchez Zimmermann Pelfrey
#4 Worley Beachy Nolasco Jackson Niese
#5 Pineiro Delgado Zambrano Wang Gee
In the mix Blanton, Kendrick, Willis? Minor, Teheran Vazquez?Volstad, LeBlanc Lannan, Detwiler, Gorzelanny Young? Schwinden?

By team, some observations:

  • Philadelphia plans on replacing Roy Oswalt‘s 2011 starts with a call-up who looked pretty good last year in Worley. Joe Blanton looks like the odd-man out and his $8.5M salary may be wasted by virtue of an underrated but saavy acquisition of Joel Pineiro.  The Oswalt trade didn’t give the team what it seeked (a World Series title) but it didn’t cost them a ton in prospects either (JA Happ didn’t exactly light it up for Houston).  They’ve signed Dontrelle Willis for rotation depth.  Still, you can’t argue with three Cy Young candidates at the top of your rotation, and this team remains the team to beat in the division despite injuries (Ryan Howard) and aging (every single projected starter not named Hunter Pence is 30 or older, and Pence will be 29).   The pitching staff was #1 in ERA in the NL and I can’t imagine them dropping far from that.    If Worley performs like he did in 2011, and if Pineiro returns to his St. Louis form, then this is just as tough a 1-5 as last year.
  • Atlanta should have won the wild card last year and seems set to roll out a rather similar rotation this year.  They’ll replace their worst starter Derek Lowe with starts from one of three up-and-coming rookies (I’ve got Delgado slated there now but likely Mike Minor wins the #5 spot in spring training) and should be improved.  Hudson is a year older and hasn’t missed a start in 2 years, but is slow coming back from off-season back surgery and may or may not be ready for opeing day.  The staff was #4 in the NL in team ERA and should do nothing but improve … but there’s some serious injury question marks.  Their incredible SP minor league depth should get them through.
  • Miami has a some major question marks, despite acquiring Mark Buehrle to slot into their #2 spot.  They will cross their fingers on Josh Johnson; if he’s not healthy this team will be really hurt.  Nolasco can be brilliant or awful from start to start.   We still don’t know if Vazquez is retiring or returning; my initial guess would have been that he was too good in 2011 (3.69 era, 106 era+) and too young (reportedly 34 but i’ve never heard of any age-questioning here) to retire.  To provide cover though, the team traded for the volatile but possibly still talented Carlos Zambrano to slot in at #5.  Which Zambrano will they get?  And will his notorious clubhouse antics gibe with new hot-head manager Ozzie Guillen? On paper, a 1-5 of Johnson, Buehrle, Nolasco, Sanchez and Zambrano spells an awful lot of power and a lot of Ks.  They could be tough.  They should improve on last year’s #10 team ERA ranking.
  • Washington just got a lot better, replacing 29 mostly awful Livan Hernandez starts with a healthy Stephen Strasburg and likewise replacing 35 combined mediocre starts out of Jason Marquis and Tom Gorzelanny with newly acquired power lefty Gio Gonzalez and power righty Edwin Jackson. They were 6th in the NL in team ERA, have mostly the same bullpen in place (5th best in the league in ERA in 2011) and seem set to improve.   Chien-Ming Wang seems set for the #5 spot, leaving John Lannan potentially being the most expensive pitcher in Syracuse.   The jeopardy the team now has is an utter lack of starting pitching depth; Peacock and Milone WERE our 2012 rotational safety nets; now we have just Detwiler, Gorzelanny and a couple guys who clearly seem to be AAA starters.  For this reason the team probably keeps Lannan around with the eventual goal of having him provide cover until our next wave of high-end pitching prospects develop.  Either way, this rotation and bullpen look to be improved from 2011.
  • New York faces a grim 2012, not only in the rotation but also in the front office.  We’re hearing reports that Johan Santana is still too hurt to make opening day (though he’s since spelled some of these concerns with his first spring training outing).  Converted knuckleballer R.A. Dickey spent his off-season in a nasty fight with management over his charity climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro.  All their other starters posted ERAs in the mid to upper 4′s (or worse) with ERA+ figures in the 78-82 range.  And there doesn’t seem to be help coming on the Free Agency front (since the team can’t afford to keep operations running without bank loans) or on the prospect front (a quick glance at their AAA and AA starting talent resulted in ONE starter who had a minor league era in the respectable range, an 18th rounder in AA).  I think this team is finishing dead last in 2012 and may lose 100 games despite their payroll.  And to add insult to injury, the owners were just forced to cough up $83 million in a pre-trial settlement over their Madhoff scandal involvement.  Tough times are ahead for the Mets.

What do you guys think?  In terms of Washington, more than a few pundits have stated that the addition of Gonzalez makes the Nats a wild card contender, right now, and that was before the Jackson move finally brought some plaudits from typically cynical national baseball writers when considering signings by this franchise.

Do you think the Nats have now supplanted the Braves as having the 2nd best rotation in the division (as ESPN’s Buster Olney is opining?)  I think they have; I think Atlanta’s starters may be taking a slight step back while our quintet looks to be a solid, young but relatively experienced core.

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 1/22/12 edition

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Gonzalez signs a long term deal; we're committed now. Photo Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images via nydailynews.com

This is your semi-weekly/periodic wrap-up of Nats and other baseball news that caught my eye.  Apologies for the delay in posting; new rules on laptop usage at work have thwarted my typical read-sports-news-at-lunch habits.  I’ll have to get creative.

Nationals In General

  • Nats extend Gio Gonzalez for 5 years.  Terms: 5yrs, $42M with two more club options.  A little more than $8m AAV, or in other words what we were paying Jason Marquis.  I’m sure its backloaded somewhat, but I like the deal for two main reasons.  First, we buy out all the arbitration years ahead of time and avoid the arbitration process altogether (which does nothing but serve to bruise the fragile egos of professional athletes over a few hundred thousand dollars of salary).  Secondly, it locks up the player for the longer term and gives the team some stability for the next few years.
  • Jim Callis at BaseballAmerica answered a question about what an updated Nats top 10 prospect list would look like post trade: he’d promote up Destin Hood, Chris Marrero, and Michael Taylor.  Considering what Marrero’s prospect status is now, considering how long it has taken Hood to get the hang of playing baseball, and how far away Taylor is from the majors, I think its safe to say our farm system is officially “thin.”
  • Nice little piece on Bryce Harper from Buster Olney, who relays the well known opinion that Davey Johnson really likes young superstars and predicts that Harper may break camp with the team.  Why doesn’t anyone relay all the facts in this case?  Like the fact that there wasn’t a concept of “Super-2″ when Johnson promoted Gooden and Strawberry and there wasn’t a punitive financial issue lurking by doing so.
  • Great news to see so many of our arbitration eligible guys settled well ahead of going in front of the arbitrator.  These cases don’t help anyone in the long run and end up arguing semantics over a few hundred thousand dollars that the team can clearly pay.
  • Though I havn’t seen any confirmation of this elsewhere, Bill Ladson reports that the Nats are engaged in extension talks with Ryan Zimmerman.  If so, this comes at a relatively good time for the team to be doing the negotiating; Zimmerman’s value is as low now as it has been since before his rookie season, on account of multiple injuries and a lack of overall production.   Which is exactly why I don’t think any long term deal is going to be struck this off-season frankly; Zimmerman would expect a Troy Tulowitzki like deal and I don’t think he’s done enough to earn it.


Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • The arbitration case to watch this coming off-season will be Tim Lincecum; he is asking for $21.5M for 2012, with the Giants offering $17M.  Wow.  There’s really no case like his out there to use as a precedent; if you think he should earn roughly 80% of his FA value, then $21.5M equates with an annual salary of $26.875/year AAV.  That’s more than Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia or Johan Santana (the three highest paid pitchers at current).  So I guess you have to ask yourself; is Lincecum the best pitcher in the league?  Because he’s about to be paid in line with that title.


Hall of Fame items

  • Not HoF specific, but inspired by it.  David Shoenfield compiles a list of the best players by running 5-year WAR figures to show some enlightening information.  WAR has some limitations over longer terms but I like what it shows for season-to-season value for players.  His point was that some relatively unsupported hall of fame claims appear on these lists.  For me the last couple periods showing guys like Chase Utley and Matt Holliday were kind of eye opening.


General Baseball News

  • Phillies sign Joel Pineiro to a minor league deal.   I know he struggled in LA last season, but at one point this guy was pretty decent.  If he can regain his health and his St. Louis form, suddenly the Phillies might have themselves a pretty good 5th starter option to take mediocre innings away from Joe Blanton.  I’m surprised they were able to get him on a minor league contract.
  • I’ve read bits and pieces about the fall of Puerto Rican baseball before; but this is the first article i’ve seen that really delves into it deeply.  Rob Neyer lists the cause and effect; baseball subjected Puerto Rican’s to the normal draft and almost immediately killed baseball in the country.  This is the lesson/concern about going to an international draft; individual teams won’t cultivate and build off-site academies if they serve to build players who can be drafted by other teams.  This is what happened in Puerto Rico and its probably what would happen in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and other developing countries.  Its a scary thought.
  • Related to the above Puerto Rican story is this: Cleveland pitcher Fausto Carmona arrested in the Dominican Republic for falsifying his name and age ahead of his big signing.  For all the lamenting of the above Puerto Rican situation … this is yet another example (see Gonzalez, Smiley for Nats fans) of the flip side of the lack of an international draft.  Draft experts and scouting mavens lament the loss of Puerto Rican development and think that the exact same thing would happen in the D.R. if they were included in the draft, and yes its hard to argue differently.  But the down side of having such a “lottery” for 15-16 yr old players in the impoverished D.R. is the continued fraud among players growing up there related to age falsification.
  • Sabre-nerds may decry the lack of statistical science behind it, but Tom Verducci‘s annual “Year After” effect (which has come to be known as the Verducci-effect by others) has had an 84% success factor in predicting either injury or distinct decline in performance for his named pitchers.  The most interesting names on the list are newly traded Michael Pineda, Jeremy Hellickson, and both Texas mid-rotation starters Matt Harrison and Derek Holland.  Holland in particular threw a whopping 77 more innings this year over last.

General News; other

  • Not that any of us needed to read any more about the Jerry Sandusky/Penn State Scandal, but reading Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins‘ front page story with Joe Paterno‘s first interview post-scandal was an interesting read.  Frankly, I don’t buy some of the way the story reads (intimating that Paterno had “little to do” with Sandusky by the time the 2002 allegations came around, for example).  It doesn’t seem like Paterno was really challenged in the interview.  Gene Wojciechowski echos some of these sentiments in this analysis piece here, criticizing Paterno’s convenient stance on the scandal and on the multitude of other stories that have come out about his manipulation of the system and real influence at the university. The real problem is just the nature of dealing with a legend; he worked for Penn State for 61 years and made the university what it is; how do you possibly deal with such a figure, who clearly was larger than the university?  Update: just prior to publishing this, Paterno lost his battle with lung cancer, a quick and unfortunate end to his legendary career.  Its amazing to consider that just 3 months ago, Paterno was still the larger than life legend and nothing bad had ever happened on the campus.
  • I’m sure the real story is somewhere in-between the original story and the “Update” at the end, but there seems to be enough truth in the former to not necessarily believe the latter.  A new Utah high school’s board decided that the student-voted mascot name “Cougars” can’t be used because the name is derogatory towards middle-aged women who hook up with younger men.  Seriously.


2011 FA Market Analysis and Predictions for Starting Pitching

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Is CJ Wilson worth a 9 figure contract this off season? We’ll see. Photo Chris O’Meara/AP via livesportsdb.com

As the World Series ends, and as clubs start exercising (or more importantly, declining) player options, the FA market for starting pitching is starting to really take shape this off season.

The Nats don’t “need” Starting Pitching as they have in the past, but a quality veteran starting pitcher would certainly be preferred to the question marks that we might have if we used the likes of Ross Detwiler, Tommy Milone or Brad Peacock as a 5th starter in 2012.

Lets take a look at the starters on the market, put in some predictions as to what kind of money they’re going to get, and discuss whether or not the Nats should (or might) pursue them.  For reference, here’s a list of 2012 FAs from mlbtraderumors, as well as the Elias rankings as of the end of the 2011 season.  Remember, thanks to their end of the season run, the Nats 1st round pick is NOT protected and would be forfeited if they signed a type-A free agent.  So the FA types will be of importance when talking about each of the pitchers below.

Category: Aces (or nearly Aces) and Type-A starters.

  • CC Sabathia seems certain to opt-out of his remaining Yankee contract and will almost certainly re-up with the team.  11/1/11: he has done just that.  5yrs, $122M, fewer years honestly than I thought he’d demand.  He raises his AAV from $23M in the last deal to $24.4M and gets one additional guaranteed year.  The structure of the deal pays him $23M/year for the first four years, then $25M the last.  There’s an option for 2017 at $25M that he most likely makes if he stays healthy.
  • CJ Wilson is also a type-A FA and seems set on testing the market.  I would too if I were Wilson; I don’t think he’s an ace but he’s certainly going to be paid like one.  He seems set to get an AJ Burnett type deal (5yrs $85M) or perhaps more.  I hope the Nats don’t over-spend and get him.  I’d guess he heads to Boston; his free-spirit personal seems to fit with that franchise and the team just got a shock bit of news that John Lackey, despite how bad he was in 2011, is out for the entirety of 2012 with Tommy John surgery.
  • Roy Oswalt had his team option for $16M bought out on 10/25/11, but I’m guessing this is just a procedural move to re-sign him and keep the “big 4″ together for a few more years.  Oswalt’s on the wrong side of 30 and had a rough season of declining stats and missed starts, but still slots in as the best #4 starter in baseball and certainly didn’t come to Philadelphia for anything less than a World Series shot.  I’d guess he re-ups for 3 years, $36M with the Phillies.  Other pundits disagree and see him moving back to Texas to take over Wilson’s #1 spot on the Rangers rotation.
  • Edwin Jackson: another guy whose post season performances seem certain to hurt his FA prospects.  Big arm, good numbers, right age (only 28 hitting free agency), but a propensity to get hit hard and often.  Mike Rizzo loves him, tried to trade Adam Dunn for him in 2010, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to see the Nats go after him again.  Look for him signing with the Nats for 3 years and $28M.  Unless a pitching-starved big-money team like Boston or New York offers him a ton more than that.  I’m not really in favor of this deal for the Nats, but wouldn’t be surprised to see it happen.
  • Yu Darvish: as I opined here, I really do hope that the Nats do not spend fools money after Darvish.  A posting fee in the $40-$50M range, then at least that amount to sign the guy.  I know he’s got great numbers in Japan.  So did Dice-K.  There’s a halfway decent chance he doesn’t even get posted this year, so all ink spilled over Darvish could be moot.  Baseball Prospectus put out a great article about Darvish, including lots of analysis and links to others who share the same concerns that I do.  If you’re in the “pro-Yu” camp there’s a couple good articles on places like fangraphs that support your case.

Category: Mid-rotation/decent starting options.

  • Mark Buehrle is hitting the FA market, but i’d be shocked if he leaves Chicago at this point in his career.  I’m sure he’ll take a team friendly deal that extends his career out 3-4 more years, at which point he may very well retire a one-franchise guy with a surprisingly high number of career wins.
  • Hiroki Kuroda just finished off a sneaky-good season, going 13-16 with a 3.07 era.  The problem is that he’s 36 and had a ton of innings on his arm in the Nippon league prior to getting here.  He’d be a risk.  The Dodgers franchise is a mess but its the only team he’s known, and I’d guess he wants to stay on the west coast.  I’d guess he gets a decent 2-year deal from Seattle if the Dodgers can’t find the money.
  • Javier Vazquez looked washed up during last year’s FA market analysis, having lost 3-4 mph on his fastball and getting shelled in NY.  However, he had a great bounce-back season in Miami and i’d guess he re-ups there for the new season and new stadium.  However, there’s word out there that he may retire.  Hard to see a guy who just put in a decent, comeback season retire though, especially if guaranteed money is thrown around.

Category: Aging/Back of the Rotation starters

  • Bruce Chen has very quietly put together two pretty good seasons for the Royals all things considered, but will be 35 and may see a precipitous drop in production.  He’s not any better than the options the Nats face now, when you consider price and productivity.
  • Freddie Garcia had a revelation of a season for the Yankees; I’d think he stays there as insurance for 2012.   Still hard to believe the Yankees won 97 games giving no less than 51 starts to Garcia and Colon.
  • Bartolo Colon is in the same boat as Garcia, but is 38 to his 34 and may be cut loose to find another team willing to give him a shot with his stem-cell enhanced shoulder.
  • Joel Pineiro has never stayed healthy long enough to reach his potential, and he just laid an egg in his contract year in LA.  I’d be surprised if he got anything more than a 1yr $5M deal.
  • Aaron Harang: beware the veteran pitcher who goes to San Diego and suddenly looks like a #2 starter.  2011 numbers: 14-7, 3.64 era.  Home/Away splits?  3.05 era at home, 4.70 on the road.  I’m sure he’ll get some money, somewhere for a back-of-the-rotation job.
  • Livan Hernandez reportedly offered to move to the bullpen for the Nats, in order to stay here.  Unfortunately he pitched so poorly, and takes so long to warm up, that using him in extended relief really isn’t much of an option.  My guess is that Livan returns to his roots in Miami as the Marlins’ 5th starter on the cheap and enjoys one more spin around the league.
  • Jason Marquis, in a remarkable sense of timing by the Nats, was traded for Zack Walters and then promptly broke his leg.  Its too bad for Marquis, who clearly was using 2011 to regain some market value for his free agency this off-season.  At this point he certainly won’t be getting any 2year deals for 8 figures.  I’d guess he gets a 1yr $4M deal with some incentives, if that.
  • Chien-Ming Wang, by virtue of being in THIS section and not the next, has already had a successful 2011.  He is what he is right now; a guy trying to reclaim former glory and his former sinking fastball, and a guy who looks like a #4 starter who has capabilities of improving as he gets more and more innings into his repaired shoulder.  My guess is that he repays the Nats for nursing him back to health while providing him millions in salary and signs for a 2-year deal worth roughly $6-7M overall.
  • Tim Wakefield; I would have predicted him to possibly hang up the spikes until news of Lackey’s injury and Dice-K’s question mark.  Wakefield’s stats have really declined the past two years, but Boston seems in need of a back of the rotation guarantee that Wakefield’s $4M standing salary can fill, cheaply.
  • Brad Penny, Jeff FrancisPaul Maholm, Chris Capuano, Vicente Padilla, Rodrigo Lopez, Zack Duke, Aaron Cook, Kevin Milwood, Dontrelle Willis and anyone else not already mentioned: all of these guys were either so mediocre in 2011, went unsigned in 2011, or are so old, that i’d be surprised if more than just a few of them got major league deals for 2012.

Category: Reclamation Projects/Injury recovery guys.  The Nats have a history of pursuing former glory with recovering stars.  Would they try it again?

  • Adam Wainwright: his injury in spring training 2011 amazingly didn’t really cost the Cardinals, who marched right into the World Series without their #2 starter.  Wainwright’s injury couldn’t have been worsely timed in terms of his contract options; St Louis dodges a major payroll bullet by being able to opt out of millions of dollars of guaranteed money.  But Wainwright is free to look elsewhere.  Will he?  Doubtful: i’d guess he signs a one-year incentive-laden contract with St. Louis aimed towards regaining his career.  10/26/11 update: the team exercised its options on Wainwright, meaning he’s off the market.
  • Justin Duchscherer: had some lights out seasons, but missed all of 2009 and 2011 with injury.  Will anyone take a flier on him?
  • Chris Young and his 6′ 10″ faster-than-it-seems fastball only got 4 starts (2 against the Nats) before getting shoulder surgery.  Seems to run in the NY Mets family (see Santana, Johan).  It wasn’t as bad a surgery as it could have been, and he should return for 2012.  He’s now missed games in 4 straight seasons and its buyer-beware.
  • Jon Garland had season-ending surgery in July after just 9 starts, but when healthy is a 105 ERA+ guy, a 4th starter who can eat innings and be solid.  He had great durability up until this injury, having not missed a start since 2002.  But now its not clear if he’ll even be ready for 2012.
  • Ben Sheets is in almost the identical spot as Duchscherer; ironically both have a history of pitching in Oakland.
  • Rich Harden; mr Day Game split (or Mr. Unreliable Injury guy, if you play fantasy baseball) just finished yet another unproductive season with a 5+ ERA pitching in one of the best pitchers parks in baseball.  He seems set for a minor league contract for one last flier at a comeback.
  • Eric Bedard wasn’t half bad for Boston down the stretch, with a 9.0 k/9 rate on the season.  But at the end of the season he was yanked early in two critical games and i’d bet the team won’t be willing to roll the dice with him again.  We’ll see who overpays for his injury-plagued services in 2012.  With Boston’s sudden shortage of starters, look for Bedard to resign in Boston and start the year as Boston’s #4.
  • Brandon Webb: got some looks in spring training 2011, including from the Nats, but then went under the knife yet again.  You can usually come back from TJ surgery.  Shoulders are tougher.  He may be done.

Predictions:  I’d guess the Nats throw their name in the mix for Wilson but get scared off by his price tag.  Maybe we’ll post a respectable figure for Darvish.  But Rizzo goes hard after Jackson and we get him.  Meanwhile Rizzo also signs one of these injury reclamation projects to a nominal guaranteed contract to see what pans out.