[Editor's note: I wrote this nearly two weeks ago and forgot to publish it. Since Oct 23rd, obviously we've hired a manager and crowned a WS champion. So some of this may sound dated. In fact, the first two questions are about a topic that's already been settled].
While we wait for the beginning of what looks to be a classic World Series (a rare time when both #1 seeds make the series), Bill Ladson pops up with the latest edition of his mailbag, dated 10/23/13. Without a manager and with interviewee names swirling, lets see what the tenor of the questions is on mlb.com.
As always, I write my answer here before reading Ladson’s and edit questions for clarity if needed.
Q: Do you think Dusty Baker has a shot at becoming the manager of the Nationals?
A: Nope. I think Dusty Baker‘s demonstrated obstinance to any modern baseball strategy will prevent him from working for Mike Rizzo. Rizzo isn’t exactly Mr. Sabrematrician GM, but he seems to know which way the tides are going in the baseball industry (as opposed to, say, Philadelphia’s Ruben Amaro). Baker may be bound for the broadcast booth come 2014 and beyond, along side other stubborn old-school baseball people like Joe Morgan and Tim McCarver who seem determined to continue the historical narratives of the game. What are Baker’s primary sins? Stubborn adherence to the save statistic with Aroldis Chapman, over-use of the bunt, no defensive shifting imagination, and lineup mistakes involving the #2 hitter. Ladson doesn’t criticize any of Baker’s moves, just notes that the Nats want someone younger. Yes there’s that too.
Q: What are the chances of Cal Ripken Jr. managing the Nats?
A: Apparently as slim as Baker’s. Rizzo (for better or worse) likes his Arizona connections, and that’s why I think it’ll be Matt Williams. I know that Tom Boswell wrote a fierce rebuttal in either a chat or a column to those who think Ripken is not “qualified” to be a manager … but I still tend to think that modern baseball managers need a maturation time no matter how much time they played or how good they were. Ryne Sandberg toiled in the minors for years before getting his shot, Williams is a bench coach, Don Mattingly was Joe Torre‘s bench coach for years. Its kind of the same reason why I don’t think player-managers will ever work again in the Majors; the job is too specialized these days to just put some veteran out there and ask him to do both roles. Ladson says no-go on Ripken.
Q: When do you think Rizzo will finally give Ian Desmond a long-term contract which he deserves?
A: Good question. Ian Desmond‘s two consecutive 4 bWAR seasons have probably increased his FA market cap about 10 times over. You’d be hard pressed at this point to compare Desmond to Elvis Andrus (he of the 8yr/$120M contract) and not finding them to be equals. Its a balancing act; in April of 2012 this team was wondering if Desmond was going to be released. Now, two great seasons later we’re wondering if we can get him to sign for “just” $100M.
My theory on baseball team construction says that you need to lock up your “spine.” If you have quality players at Catcher, (Starting) Pitcher, Shortstop and Center Field, you lock them up and then fill in around them. Because good two-way catchers, short stops and CFs are the hardest positions to lock up. So for me, I want Desmond locked up for the long haul. Ladson thinks this will happen before or during Spring Training.
Q: I know the Nats insist the offense is set for next year, but do you see any possibility of the team pursuing a big name like Robinson Cano to help improve the offense?
A: Maybe, but I doubt it. Robinson Cano‘s salary demands given the current state of the game (where draft picks are cherished and teams show they can make the playoffs by building from within on a budget) and the clear mistakes that recent massive deals for aging sluggers (Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton being exhibits A and B) will likely make teams shy away from his contract demands. The Nationals have to be looking at their current payroll (two 9-figure deals already), look at who they’re going to have to pay in the next few years (Desmond, Zimmermann, Harper, and Strasburg leading the way) and should be thinking to themselves … would we be better served with the low-budget Anthony Rendon versus breaking the bank on Cano? I would be saying that, and I’d imagine most every other team out there is as well. I think Cano slinks back to New York for great money, but nothing like $300M. Ladsons hedges; anything is possible.
Q: I look around with envy at the Braves and Cardinals with their young fireballers. After Henry Rodriguez left, it seems as if the Nationals do not have any relievers who fit that role. Are they in the Minors, and if so, how long until they can contribute?
A: Lord, I think that’s the first time I’ve ever heard someone complain about the team releasing Henry Rodriguez. The Braves have a lot of firepower … but not in the rotation you’ll note. Medlen, Hudson, Minor and Maholm all were relatively softer tossers. Meanwhile the Nats placed three guys into the qualified top 17 starters in terms of average FB velocity. So don’t sleep on the Nats. I’d rather have velocity in my starters versus relievers. However I will note that only Drew Storen ranked in the top 50 of relievers in FB velocity this year … whereas the Braves had a couple guys in the top 10.
The Cardinals are who they are; the best (or 2nd best with Tampa) franchise in the game for producing pitching. They’re the envy of every franchise. But Rizzo is trying; he’s drafted a TON of pitching over the past few years, he’s focused on power arms when he could, and there’s a lot of decent starters rising in our system as we speak. Not all of them are going to stick as Starters, so we could get more power arms into the bullpen. Consider Nathan Karns; in his MLB debut on 5/28/13 he averaged 94.4, hit 97.1 as a peak, which would easily put him on page one of MLB relievers. So help could be coming. I cannot think of a big-time, known hard-thrower off-hand; the MPH readings we get from the minors are so spotty. Ladson reports that A.J. Cole, Blake Treinen, Jake Johansen and Jefry Rodriguez as profiling as hard-throwers in the near 100 mph range.
Q: With Michael Morse available as a free agent next year, would the Nats consider bringing him back?
A: I know this is a common refrain among fans, but after his departure and after seeing what he’s done in the outfield (he was absolutely *awful* in 2013; in 456 innings in RF he posted a -33.1 UZR/150. Wow), I believe Michael Morse belongs in the AL as a 1B/DH type. I can’t see him taking a bench role, not after hitting 30 homers just two seasons ago. I can see him taking a low-cost deal to DH somewhere and try to rebuild some value. Ladson agrees.