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Ranking Baseball’s General Managers

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I'll bet you don't know who this is, but I think he's baseball's best GM.  Photo AP via mail.com

I’ll bet you don’t know who this is, but I think he’s baseball’s best GM. Photo AP via mail.com

I was listening to a baseball podcast this past week about General Managers in baseball and heard an interesting fact; it has now been more than two years since an MLB General Manager has been fired.  Sure enough, the last GM fired was Houston’s Ed Wade in November of 2011.  There is a GM with less service time (Rick Hahn of the White Sox), but he rose to take over the job for long time GM Kenny Williams, who was promoted to executive VP of the team.  So all in all there’s been decent stability among baseball executives in the shorter term.

I’ve had a draft version of a “GM Rankings” post written for nearly three years.  Why so long?  Because I started the post, got distracted, and then no less than seven general manager positions were filled/replaced in two very hectic weeks following the end of the 2011 season.  There’s no way you can judge how well a GM has done with just a few months on the job, so there was no point in trying to rank the GMs when a quarter of them were un-rankable.

Well, now we’re two plus years onwards from October 2011, each of those seven new GMs has had two seasons and three off-seasons to show their vision, and I think its time to revisit my rankings.

Below is an attempt to rank the GMs, #1 to #30.  Beware: this is a massive post.  6,000+ words.  I may have over-done it a little bit.

To me, a successful GM balances several factors all at once:

  • Winning at the major league level (obviously).
  • Total payroll outlay (in the context of free agency and use of your payroll budget)
  • Player development/Farm system rankings
  • Trades and industry opinion and reaction on moves made to build your team

Now for the caveats to keep in mind to the above GM goals:

  1. Purposely NOT winning on the field: In some cases you get carte blanche to purposely be awful on the field after years of mis-management and get a pass (see Houston Astros and the Chicago Cubs, along with several other teams to a lesser, less obvious extent).
  2. Payroll discrepancies/Major market GMs: To me, generating the best or 2nd best record in baseball with the largest payroll isn’t proving anything.  In fact, if you do NOT make the playoffs despite such a massive payroll (as the Red Sox didn’t do in 2010 and the Yankees didn’t do in 2012), then if anything you’re really failing as a GM.  So payroll versus success counts heavily to me.  As you’ll see below with the rankings of the GMs from the profligate teams.
  3. Farm system usage caveats: In some cases you sacrifice your farm system to make acquisitions to help you win now (like what the Milwaukee Brewers did in 2011 and what Toronto has done for the last couple of years).

I created a GM rankings spreadsheet where I track all sorts of interesting information that you use to judge GMs (the link is also along the right hand side of the blog), and where I tried to quantitatively judge the 30 GMs.  The spreadsheet has GM tenure, market size, ownership meddling factors, Farm system rankings, 2012 and 2013 payroll versus W/L rankings, plus my attempts to quantify three facets of a GM’s job: MLB success, Trades and FA moves and the Farm system.  I will freely admit; i am paying significantly more attention to performance over the past three  years than performance over the past 10.  Maybe that’s fair, may be not.  But it hurts a long-time GM like Brian Cashman who guided his team to the playoffs year after year (but, see Cashman’s write up for my reservations on GMs of massive payroll teams).

I’m classifying the GMs into rough tiers:

  • The Elite: The best GMs in the game, who have balanced payroll, on-field success and development the best.
  • The Excellent: a group of ten or so GMs who are all excellent at what they do and are mostly interchangeable up and down the order.
  • The Middle-ground: a group of  GMs that happens to include three of the biggest spender teams and the bottoming-out teams that are difficult to judge.
  • The Concerning: GMs who for various reasons are struggling right now.
  • The Underperforming: the bottom few GMs who for various reasons are easy targets for bloggers based on their moves and their teams.

It is really hard to rank these guys 1 to 30 without someone nit picking the order, but I would argue with you if you told me that some one in the bottom tier was actually “good.”  It wasn’t as easy to do these rankings as I thought it would be; in fact every time I’ve come back to this post i’ve ended up moving around the GMs, to the point where I’m just declaring victory and publishing.  I like the top and bottom of these rankings, but if you wanted to argue that the guy I’ve got ranked 22nd really should be 18th, then I probably won’t disagree.

Lets give it a shot:


The Elite

1. John Mozeliak, St. Louis.   What more can you say about the model franchise of baseball and its leader/architect?   The #1 farm system last year, a huge percentage of its players home-grown, in the playoffs three of the last four years, a win and a runner-up in that time, and all while maintaining a payroll outside the top 10 in the league.  This team survived the FA loss of the game’s best player (Albert Pujols) by returning to the playoffs the subsequent year and leading the league in wins in 2013.  Can’t ask for much more than that.  Mozeliak is my choice for the best GM in the game over two other more famous candidates in the elite category.

2. Andrew Friedman, Tampa Bay.  Is there any argument that Friedman is this high? He took over in 2005 and within three years had the league’s best record.  They’ve won 90+ games four years in a row in the league’s best division.  He’s done this despite routinely having one of the lowest payrolls in the game, despite off-loading talent as soon as it becomes pricey, by stockpiling draft picks (11 of the first 75 picks in the 2011 draft), and by signing his key players early on to incredibly club-friendly contracts (see the deals that Evan Longoria and David Price signed pre-arbitration).   In fact, I daresay that the success the Rays have had in the draft was a driving force behind richer owners (hello, Mr. Jerry Reinsdorf) pushing for bonus limits on the amateur market.  In 2013 the team had the 3rd lowest payroll in the game but still made the playoffs ahead of the Yankees (who spent nearly FOUR TIMES as much as the Rays).  Many would say these facts by default put Friedman #1 and I wouldn’t argue; only the drop-off in his farm system this year keeps him from overtaking Mozeliak.  Call these two GMs 1 and 1-a.

3. Billy Beane, Oakland.   The league’s 2nd longest tenured GM is likely to retire as its longest, since he owns a stake in the team and has re-made his approach to building teams in the last couple of years to great success.  This ownership stake affords Beane the job security that he wouldn’t have otherwise, and has afforded him the time he needed to find his next “market inefficiency.”  After some lean years following the “Moneyball” period in the mid 2000s, Beane has turned the A’s into a two-time defending AL West defending champion (a division with two of the most profligate spending teams in the game).  His new team-building method seems to be around wheeling-and-dealing, and he’s been good at it.  He turned over a significant amount of his 2012 team and won even more games in 2013.   The ding on Beane may be his farm system; Oakland has struggled to develop players lately and some may argue that Beane’s ranking should be slightly lower as a result.  I’ll say this though; being successful in the league when routinely putting out payrolls in the $55M-$60M range (where his 2012 and 2013 teams sat) by default makes you one of the best in my book.  

The Excellent

4. Jon Daniels, Texas Rangers.  Texas made the 2010 World Series with the 27th highest payroll in the major leagues.  That in and among itself is enough to earn Daniels his street cred.  However, his 2013 payroll had ballooned to $125M and they got unlucky by missing out on the playoffs by one game in 2013.  Otherwise two World Series trips in four years is still nothing to shake a stick at, and the fact that they didn’t win game 6 of the 2011 World Series still amazes me.  Daniels’ reputation is on the line though in a big way; his moves for Prince Fielder, for Shin-Soo Choo and for Alex Rios will be tested in 2014.  The team will need everything it can get out of its (mostly) home grown rotation thanks to unfortunate injuries already suffered this year (Derek Holland tripping over his own dog).  I give Daniels a ton of credit for accomplishing what he did with a $65M payroll; can he continue to do it with a $130M payroll?  The bar only gets higher.

5. Walt Jocketty, Cincinnati.  I still wonder how he got fired in St. Louis.  He made the playoffs 6 years out of 7, including a World Series win.  Then the year following he gets canned.  In Cincinnati, he inherited a reigning NL MVP Joey Votto but made some shrewd acquisitions (Mat LatosAroldis Chapman), and drafted well (including selecting Mike Leake, who has yet to spend a day in the minors).   The Reds play in a small market but have made the playoffs 3 of the last 4 years and continue to develop good players (Billy Hamilton and Tony Cingrani being the latest two studs).  Jocketty is in a lofty rank now; we’ll see how things go after the loss of Shin-Soo Choo this past off-season and the slight turning-over of the roster we’re now seeing.  If the Reds continue to make the playoffs, Jocketty should continue to get a ton of credit.

6. Ben Cherington, Boston Red Sox.  Normally I’m really skeptical of GMs for teams with $175M payrolls who have success.  But it is difficult to argue with what Cherington has done since taking over the reigns.  He completely undid a ton of the damage that his predecessor had done by offloading two horrible contracts (Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez) and one malcontent (Josh Beckett) on the Dodgers and actually receiving prospect value back.   He has quickly built the Boston farm system back to where it is one of the best in the game (they have as many top 100 prospects as any organization out there).  And they just won the World Series.  Cherington loses some credit for the disastrous Bobby Valentine hiring that led to the even more disastrous 2012 season … but he also recognized the faults with both the team and the manager and led a complete 180 degree turnaround.  And I laughed at Cherington’s almost comical chasing of closers (as documented in this space in June 2013).  But a title erases a lot of criticism.  Boston remains well positioned going forward but will be depending very heavily on the fruits of their farm system in 2014 and beyond.  If Boston turns these high value prospects into another playoff appearance while driving down payroll, Cherington’s ranking will only rise.

7. Mike Rizzo, Washington Nationals.  Rizzo took over for the disgraced Jim Bowden in March of 2009 and had quite a job ahead of him.  The team on the field was on their way towards losing 100 games for the second year in a row and the farm system was dead last in the majors.  What has Rizzo done since?  The team improved 30 games in the win column between 2010 and 2012, the farm system was considered the best in the game just two years on from Rizzo’s hiring (it should be said, thanks to two straight #1 overall picks resulting in two of the most dynamic players in the last 20 years being available to us), and now has two drafts and two off-seasons worth of work under his belt.  He has brought a new mind-set to the draft, focusing on quick-to-the-majors college arms instead of nebulous tools-y high school players.  He also has managed to work with the sport’s most notorious agent (Scott Boras) and successfully handled the two most high-profile draftees (arguably) in the history of the game.  He has completely re-made the Nats roster in the past two years (only 3 members of the opening day roster 2009 team are still with the franchise).   I’ve questioned his roster construction at times, feeling like he over-emphasized defenders at the expense of offense (running Michael Morse and Josh Willingham out of town), and he obsessed over a leadoff/CF type until he got one (Denard Span, trading away our best starting pitching prospect at the time), but a 98-win season smooths over a lot of criticism.  Other pundits place Rizzo even higher than I have; 7th seems like a good spot to be until we see if this team can get back to the playoffs.   If the Nats falter again in 2014 and don’t achieve something in this “window,” Rizzo’s tenure and the 2012 season may be viewed simply as an aberration instead of a well built team.

8. Frank Wren, Atlanta Braves.  A couple years ago you would probably have Wren ranked in the middle of the pack at best.  He clearly botched both ends of the Mark Teixeira deals, essentially turning Texas regulars Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia into a year of Teixeira and Casey Kotchman.  Imagine how good Atlanta would be right now if they still had the 3 core members that remain in Texas.  That being said, you cannot argue with where the Braves have been going.  With middle-of-the-road payrolls and an awful TV deal the Braves have a team with a lot of home-grown talent that won the NL East by 10 games last year.  His rotation is young and home-grown (Minor, Beachy, Medlen, Teheran), his team full of home-grown talent (with Freeman, Heyward and Simmons leading the way).  And they have the best bullpen in the game.  On the down-side, there are questions about some of his recent signings (BJ Upton and Uggla in particular), the farm system hasn’t quite come back from its 2010 rankings (thanks to so much of the talent it generated), and I’m not sure anyone really likes Atlanta’s 2013 off-season.  So, we’ll give Wren credit for the past few years and indicate a note of caution going forward.

9. Neil Huntington, Pittsburgh Pirates.  I’m not sure if I’ve got him too high, but I’ll say this: after getting Pittsburgh to the playoffs (and a winning record) for the first time in a generation, Huntington has them in the right direction.  His moves to build last year’s team were excellent, the team has a ton of home-grown talent yet still has one of the best farm systems in the game, and should continue to be a success in the NL Central.

10. Sandy Alderson, New York Mets.  How can anyone involved with the New York Mets over the past 10 seasons be considered a success?  Because long-time baseball insider Alderson has done well with what he was handed and has the Mets heading in the right direction.  In the past three years their farm system has grown in leaps and bounds, going from the bottom third to nearly a top 5 system.   He got great value in trade for R.A. Dickey, has drafted and developed well, and we started to see the fruits of that player development with last year’s all-star game starter Matt Harvey.   He’s finally rid of the awful contracts that his predecessor handed him ($43.6M of the team’s $93M payroll last year was dead money to just two guys: Johan Santana and Jason Bay.  Almost 50%) and has bought conservatively this off-season while Harvey recovers and more of his young arms matriculate.   If the Mets ownership ever decides to start spending money again and this team’s prospects come to fruition, they could be a force.

11. Brian Sabean, San Francisco Giants.  Sabean is the longest tenured GM in the game, is unabashedly “old school” and is consistently mocked for his signings and moves.  I thought his Tim Lincecum deal was ridiculous, I couldn’t believe the amount of money they guaranteed Hunter Pence, and more than a few people are questioning the Michael Morse deal.   San Francisco’s farm system is weak and has been for years (after contributing MVPs and Cy Young winners, it should be said).   To all these naysayers I say this: Two World Series titles in the last four years.  The goal of every team is to win the title, and his teams have done it twice in four years.  The Yankees have one title in the last 15  years.  So you have to give Sabean some credit.  11th seems about right.  Not too high, not too low.  He’d have been much higher had his team not imploded in 2013.

12. Chris Antonetti, Cleveland Indians.  Antonelli has subscribed to the same “wheeling and dealing” mechanism for building teams that Billy Beane has done, and it turned a perennial doormat Indians team into a 2013 playoff team.  They play in a small market and have an $80M payroll, and Antonelli has taken their farm system from awful to respectable in the last three years.  So the system is improving as is the on-the-field product.  So far, so good in Cleveland for Antonelli’s tenure.  I’m hesitant to push him much higher because i’m convinced the Indians succeeded in 2013 on the backs of several very awful divisional rivals (for example; the Indians were 17-2 on the season versus the White Sox but only 4-15 versus the Tigers, quite a swing for a 90-win team; if they were that legitimate a team they would have been much closer to .500 against their divisional winner).  So slightly above the median looks good.

The Middle-Ground

13. Jeff Luhnow, Houston Astros.  Three years ago Houston was an 88-loss team with a $90M payroll and the 29th ranked farm system.   To his credit, Luhnow has reversed at least two of those factors in a big way; he has cleared the decks of the awful contracts that boat-anchored the Astros under his predecessor.  Of course, at the same time he’s turned the Astros into a 110-loss team and, for the first time since the dead-ball era, last place three years running.  So what has Luhnow done?  Inside of two years he’s gone from the worst farm system to the best on the backs of #1 overall picks Carlos Correa and Mark Appel.  Soon they’ll likely add Carlos Rodon to that stable, giving this team a fearsome set of players to roll-out within a couple years.  So how do we judge Luhnow?  Right about in the middle; he’s set out to do what he needed to do; if his foundation leads to on-the-field success Luhnow will be counted among the best GMs in the game for laying out the roadmap and sticking to it.

14. Brian Cashman, New York Yankees.  Some say that just the mere fact that Cashman has survived as long as he has in the shadow of the Steinbrenner family ownership of the Yankees should be proof enough that he is among the best GMs in the game, and certainly higher ranked than he is here.   Fair enough.  But here’s the inescapable facts: his farm system is deteriorating, the most significant player on the 2014 team actually developed at home seems to be Brett Gardner, they had a $225M payroll last year and didn’t make the playoffs, their rotation will pivot mostly on a 40-yr old’s career renaissance, and their starting 2014 infield played a combined 200 games last year.    And they’re being saved only by the grace of Bud Selig‘s hatred for Alex Rodriguez, whose suspension “saves” the team $25M this year (quickly spent on their new “#3 starter” Masahiro Tanaka, to whom they guaranteed more than $175M dollars).  I dunno; maybe Cashman should be lower.  They have made the playoffs 4 of the last 6 years and have a title, and Cashman’s early tenure record speaks for itself .. but at what point do you notice that the team hasn’t done very much since the “core four” have entered their decline phases and begin to wonder if Cashman isn’t just a guy with a big checkbook instead of a good GM?

15. Dave Dombrowski, Detroit Tigers.  Lots of on-field success thanks to Dombrowski sticking to his plan; he took over the year the Tigers lost 119 games.   It is worth noting that 3 years later they were in the world series.  Now he’s gotten them into the playoffs three years running, to which he’s due plenty of credit.  But his farm system has hit rock bottom, he’s spending a ton of money, and he’s making very questionable moves.  The industry panned his Doug Fister move (even if it seemed to greatly benefit the Nats) and people questioned his Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler move.  They were weird moves for a “win now” team.  Perhaps I should give Dombrowski more credit, but his 2013-14 off-season knocked him down a number of pegs for me.  If they miss out on the playoffs to an up-and-coming Royals team, he’ll suddenly be on the hot-seat.

16. Ned Colletti, Los Angeles Dodgers.  Seriously, how do you judge the job Colletti is doing right now?   His team’s payroll went from $95M in 2012 to more than $216M in 2013.  He’s got $57M tied up in three outfielders not named Yasiel Puig right now.   You almost got the impression that Colletti called up Boston and just said, “Hey, I’ll take every sh*tty contract off your hands right now … i’ve got money to spend and I don’t care how we spend it!”  On the bright side, somehow the Dodgers have kept a reasonable ranking with their farm system throughout all of this, but the skill involved with paying everyone on your team $20M/year is close to nil.  As with Cashman, I wonder if Colletti is ranked too high even here.

17. Dayton Moore, Kansas City Royals.   Other mid-market teams (Oakland, Tampa, Pittsburgh) have shown a ton more accomplishment on the field than Kansas City; why hasn’t Moore’s teams done better?  He’s been in his job nearly 8 seasons and the team spun its wheels for seven of them.  Signings that didn’t pay off and fizzled farm system talents defined this team for years.  Finally Moore went all-in, trading the best prospect in the game (Wil Myers) for a package of pitchers to help the Royals get over the hump.   Between 2012 and 2013 they added $21M in payroll and these players and gained 14 games in the win column; just enough for … 3rd place.   The industry entirely believes Moore was fleeced by Tampa Bay, and the trade looked so bad at the time that pundits wondered if Moore wasn’t getting some pressure from above to “win more now or get canned.”  But it didn’t take Myers but the next season to win the rookie of the year award, and he may be a player that Kansas City fans rue for a generation.  I think Moore may not be long for the job, and with good reason; why hasn’t he been able to win when guys like Huntington and Beane have?

18. Terry Ryan, Minnesota Twins.  Ryan has been with Minnesota for-ever; hired in 1994.  He stepped aside and then was re-hired in 2011, and is now in a rebuilding phase.  The team let go one of its faces of the franchise last off season (Justin Morneau) and is going to begin a big youth movement this year.  They’re going to be bad, but perhaps not Houston bad thanks to a couple of (odd?) starting pitcher signings.  Help is coming; Ryan has built on of the best farm systems in the game and it features two of the top 5 prospects out there (Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano).   Perhaps it isn’t fair to rank Ryan here with Luhnow higher, but Ryan was partly responsible for the downfall of this team and the abhorrent starting rotation of last year.  But once their MVP-grade talents arrive at the majors, Ryan’s work of rebuilding the farm system should be rewarded.

The Concerning

19. Josh Byrnes, San Diego.  Byrnes inherited a 90-win team that surprised but which was getting ready to hit a transitional stage.   Byrnes got some good prospects from the Adrian Gonzalez deal and some more in the Mat Latos deal, but they havn’t turned into wins on the  Three straight years of 71-76 wins has spirits dampened in San Diego.   Now their MLB team looks poor, the farm system is good but drifting, and they’re talking about another rebuilding effort.   He’s only a couple years in but things aren’t looking up; his division includes a team that is spending 4 times what he can spend.

20. Kevin Towers, Arizona.  So here’s my summary of Towers’ tenure in Arizona so far: he continues to drive away players and prospects who aren’t “gritty” enough for him, trading them for 50 cents on the dollar.  His farm system has gone from good to middle of the road.  His payroll is rising … and yet his team is winning the same number of games.  And yet both he and Kirk Gibson just got contract extensions.  Why exactly does anyone think Towers and Gibson are doing a good job right now?   How many more games would they have lost had they not magically found a 6-win player in Paul Goldschmidt (an 8th round pick) last year?

21. Jed Hoyer (Theo Epstein), Chicago Cubs.  I know Hoyer is the GM, but lets be honest; this is Epstein’s team.  The Cubs hired Epstein for him to re-make the franchise as he did in Boston.  Except that Epstein left Boston in a huge mess, with a slew of very bad contracts and an even worse clubhouse.  Now he’s come to Chicago and made some questionable moves (the Edwin Jackson signing, the Anthony Rizzo fan-boy pursuit, etc) while not making other more obvious moves (why is Jeff Samardzija still on this team if they’re “rebuilding?”).  To their credit, they got value for Alfonso Soriano, only one of the most untradeable players in the game.  And they’ve gotten a pass to rebuild the farm system, which is now ranked in the top 5 in the game and should start to bear fruit.   Now, that farm system is loaded with hitters, and with Wrigley’s comfy stadium the Cubs may be offensive juggernauts in no time, but they still need pitching.  How will the Hoyer/Epstein team handle that?  Hopefully not with more signings like the Jackson deal.

22. Michael Hill, Miami Marlins.  The one huge caveat that goes with the Miami GM job is this: Jeffrey Loria is probably the most hands on owner in the game, and you almost can’t judge this GM’s ability based on who is calling the shots.  The only other owner who seems to have as much pull is, ironically, ranked next.   Miami loaded up for 2012 in their new stadium and had completely dismantled things before August.  Now they’re a $50M payroll team with some superstar prospects .. but a middling farm system and questionable direction.

23. Dan Duquette, Baltimore Orioles.  Duquette has had an odd off-season; his owner 86′d two of his signings thanks to questioning the “medicals,” which insiders point out is Peter Angelos‘ method of nixing deals he doesn’t like.  Must be frustrating.  Instead Duquette is now signing every re-tread FA who can’t find a job thanks to the CBA’s draft pick compensation issues, punting draft pick after draft pick.  The O’s did make the playoffs in 2012, thanks to an unsustainable record in one-run games, and have had a decent run of success out of their farm system (Manny Machado should be mentioned in the same breath as Trout and Harper frankly), but are they on the right track to get back?

24. Dan O’Dowd/Bill Geivett, Colorado Rockies.   The Rockies have a very unique front-office structure right now, resulting from an August 2012 shake-up that left industry insiders questioning the roles and the message coming from the team.   Nonetheless, the direction of the Rockies leaves something to be desired.   They’ve drifted on the field, employed questionable starting pitching usage strategies, and generally are treading water.  Their farm system is starting to look up though; will that be enough to compete in a division with the Dodgers?

25. Alex Anthopolous, Toronto Blue Jays. Anthopolous took over for the maligned JP Ricciardi after the 2009 season.  In the time since, he traded Roy Halladay, acquired Morrow, traded for Escobar and Jo-Jo Reyes, acquired Rajai Davis, and perhaps most impressively offloaded the albatross contract for Vernon Wells.  He had an 85-win team in the hardest division in baseball with a 70M payroll for 2011.  Then he went for it, emptying the farm system (which was one of the league’s best in 2011) to acquire the likes of R.A. Dickey and the whole slew of ex-Marlins.  Now he’s got a massive payroll, an underperforming team and empty cupboards in the minors.  All the good work he did to prepare Toronto for battle in the AL east has gone for naught unless last year was just a big huge adjustment period for all these newly acquired veterans.

The Underperforming

26. Doug Melvin, Milwaukee Brewers: Melvin is an interesting case; the Brewers purposely bottomed out their farm system to make a playoff run in 2011, the last year before they lost Prince Fielder and their fortunes would change.  And change they have; the Brewer’s player development efforts have not moved off the bottom of the league (their farm system is either last or dead last on every pundit list) while their on-the-field record has dropped (they’ve gone from 96 to 83 to 74 wins in the last three years).   Now they’re the 4th best team in their division and it isn’t close, and it is unclear what their plan is going forward.   They’ve got quality players at certain places, but have made odd signings (losing their 1st round pick last year to sign Kyle Lohse of all people).  You can’t help the Ryan Braun situation, and they got unlucky with injuries (Corey Hart in particular) so perhaps this ranking is unfair.  But I still feel like the Brewers are adrift in terms of strategy and thus Melvin’s ranked this low.

27. Jerry Dipoto, Los Angeles Angels.  The worst or 2nd worst (along with Milwaukee) farm system in the majors for the past few years.  One of the largest payrolls in the league giving them a 78-84 record last year.  Over-paying for aging slugger (Albert Pujols) after aging slugger (Josh Hamilton) while inexplicably signing one of the worst statistical starters in the game to a multi-year deal (Joe Blanton) and entering last season with a clear and obvious rotation issue.  Dipoto earned the absolute worst “quantitative grade” in my GM ranking xls, trying to measure the three GM factors of on-the-field success, farm system development and trades/FA signings.  The only reason I don’t also rank him last is because i’m not entirely convinced that Dipoto isn’t a decent executive who’s being told by a highly-involved owner (Arte Moreno) to sign all these guys.   But, there’s really no reason that a team playing in LA and who is spending three times what his divisional rival Oakland is spending isn’t consistently finishing ahead of them in the standings.

28. Rick Hahn (Kenny Williams), Chicago White Sox.  What can you say?  The White Sox lost 100 games with a $118M payroll last year and have had the worst (or near to it) farm system in the game for years.  The White Sox organization is in a bad way, and i’m not sure why Williams’ stewardship was rewarded with the “promotion” to team president.   They lost 18 games in the win column from 2012 to 2013 and it is hard to see how they’re going to be any better this year.  It does seem though that they are undergoing a “rebuilding effort,” in that their payroll seems like it will be $40M less this year versus last and they’ve moved some of their bigger salaries in “rebuilding mode” moves (Alex RiosJake Peavy).  So perhaps its slightly unfair to have Hahn so low, if he’s entering into a purposely bad period.  Nonetheless; this set of executives got the White Sox where they are now, so their low ranking is earned.

29. Ruben Amaro, Philadelphia Phillies.  I’ll admit that i’m probably biased here.  While i’ve given credit to other GMs whose teams have had success in the past several years, i’ve not given Amaro the same benefit of the doubt.  And that basically comes down to several, clear facts; Amaro has destroyed the Phillies with multiple long-term deals for declining players, most notably Ryan Howard‘s contract (widely considered the worst dollar for dollar contract in the game).  His team 3rd highest payroll in 2013 and nearly lost 90 games.  His recent FA moves have been laughable (Delmon Young and Michael Young?  John Lannan as his sole pitching move last off-season?  His ridiculous contract extension for Carlos Ruiz this past off-season?).  His heels-in-the-ground obstinant refusal to adopt any understanding or acceptance for analytics or modern statistical approach to his job makes me wonder just how asleep at the wheel his owner is.  He’s let his farm system lapse while his on-the-field product falters.  He puts out mixed messages in regards to his direction (Cliff Lee mentioned in trade rumors?  Are the Phillies going to rebuild or not?).  But the coup-de-grace for me is the news that just came out that Amaro’s organization has purposely attempted to sabotage college kids who spurned the Phillies last summer, ratting them out to the NCAA out of pettiness, spite or vengeance.   Despite their WS win and appearances in the last 6 years, I cannot for the life of me figure out why Amaro still has a job at this point.

30. Jack Zduriencik, Seattle Mariners.  Zero playoff appearances in his tenure.  His farm system has pushed out all the talent it apparently has to give and now is in the bottom third of the league with more than a few “busts” (notably Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley vastly underperforming).  A 90 loss team last year, and he’s just gotten done committing hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts yet likely has only improved his team a few wins, thanks to a fundamental lack of understanding of what it takes to build baseball lineups (he seems to be depending basically on 3 rookies in his rotation for 2014).  And it seems that Zduriencik not only is poor at his job, but he may have depended on deception (if not outright fraud) to get it, thanks to the reporting of Geoff Baker at The Seattle Times last off-season.  One only needs to look at his method of building teams to notice that he has no concept of defensive capabilities and he seems to collect 1b/DH types without consideration of how many runs they’ll be costing him thanks to sub-par defense (Michael Morse and Raul Ibanez at the corner OF positions last year, his plans to play Logan Morrison and Corey Hart in the OF this year).  How long before Robinson Cano is a brooding $200M boat anchor on this team as they continue to lose 90 games year after year in a division dominated with better GMs and bigger payrolls?  All these facts contribute to my ranking Zduriencik last.

 


Here’s some other links relevant to this discussion, for your perusal.  Wiki’s list of all 30 GMs.  Baseball America’s excellent Executive database.  Scout.com’s Kiley McDaniel ranked the GMs by job security in Jan 2014.   Buster Olney posted a “Peer Review” of GMs back in 2010, but its mostly obsolete with all the movement since.  Still somewhat interesting to hear what GMs are saying about each other anonymously.

Finally some other rankings lists that I could find (and their top 5):

  • Dan Szymborski‘s top 5 Dec 2013: Beane, Friedman, Daniels, Mozeliak, Rizzo (from a chat).
  • MLBtraderumors ran a poll in April of 2013 where you can vote, and the top 5 crowd-source vote-getters are: Beane, Friedman, Mozeliak, Cashman and Sabean.
  • The NYPost’s Ken Davidoff ranks GMS every off-season and he came in with Friedman, Beane, Daniels, Dombrowski and Mozeliak in Dec 2013 (he has Cashman way too high, but he is a NY-based writer and focuses on the entire body of work).
  • Rantsports.com’s GM Power rankings from Aug 2013 (which I think are misguided mostly because of how low Beane is): Daniels, Cherington, Friedman, Huntington, Antonelli
  • And lastly this oddly titled “Sexiest GMs” ranking from Dec 2012 caused some laughs at the time.  Towers, Beane, Moore, Cashman, Hoyer.

Thoughts?  Think I have some guys too high and some too low?  Discuss in the comments.

 

Written by Todd Boss

February 26th, 2014 at 8:03 am

Posted in Baseball in General

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Nats all-star review: 2013 and years past

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harper and trout 2

Harper and Trout’s rookie appearance in the 2012 game was so special: I hope Yasiel Puig makes it this year. Photo unk.

Here’s my annual Nationals All Star representative post.   As with 2012 and 2011‘s post, I’m including a retrospective on our “illustrious” All Star representative history from years past.  If you read on and it sounds familiar, that’s because a lot of it is cut-n-pasted from the annual version of this post.  Even so, reading backwards to see who our All-star representatives were in the lean years is an interesting exercise.

Here’s a link to the All Star Rosters for 2013.

2013

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Bryce Harper, Jordan Zimmermann
  • Snubs: Stephen Strasburg, Ian Desmond
  • Narrative: Harper comes in 3rd in the NL outfielder voting, ahead of some big-time names, to become only the second Nationals position player elected as an All-Star starter.  He was 4th in the final pre-selection vote, so a big last minute push got him the starter spot.   Harper also becomes the first National to participate in the Home Run Derby.   Zimmermann is 12-3 heading into the game and is on mid-season Cy Young short lists right now and is a very deserving pick.  Strasburg’s advanced stats are all better than Zimmermann’s, but his W/L record (4-6 as of this writing) means he’s not an all-star.  It also probably doesn’t help that he missed a few weeks.  Desmond loses out to Troy Tulowitzki, Everth Cabrera and Jean Segura.  Tulowitzki is having a very solid year and is a deserving elected starter (though he’s currently on the DL and I wonder if Desmond may still make it as an injury replacement), while Cabrera and Segura are both having breakout seasons.  Desmond is on the “Final vote” roster, but my vote (and most others’ I’m guessing) would be for Yasiel Puig there ([Editor Update: Desmond and Puig lost out to Freddie Freeman: I still hope Puig finds a way onto the roster).   Gio GonzalezRyan Zimmerman,and Rafael Soriano are all having solid but unspectacular years and miss out behind those having great seasons.

Trivia: With his 2013 selection, Harper has been selected as an all-star in every season in which he has appeared in a game.  As far as I can tell in baseball history, there’s only TWO other players in Major League History who can say this.  Name them (discuss in comments).

2012

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Stephen StrasburgGio GonzalezIan Desmond, Bryce Harper
  • Possible Snubs: Adam LaRocheCraig Stammen
  • Narrative: The two starters Strasburg and Gonzalez were the obvious candidates, and my personal prediction was that they’d be the only two candidates selected.  Gonzalez’ first half was a prelude to his 21-win, 3rd place Cy Young season.  The inclusion of Desmond is a surprise, but also a testament to how far he’s come as a player in 2012.  Harper was a last-minute injury replacement, but had earned his spot by virtue of his fast start as one of the youngest players in the league.  Of the “snubs,” LaRoche has had a fantastic come back season in 2012 but fared little shot against better, more well-known NL first basemen.  Stammen was our best bullpen arm, but like LaRoche fared little chance of getting selected during a year when the Nats had two deserving starters.

2011

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Tyler Clippard
  • Possible Snubs: Danny EspinosaMichael MorseDrew StorenJordan Zimmermann
  • Narrative: While Clippard was (arguably) the Nats best and most important reliever, I think Zimmermann was a more rightful choice.  He was 10th in the league in ERA at the time of the selections and has put in a series of dominant performances.  Meanwhile Espinosa is on pace for a 28homer season and almost a certain Rookie-of-the-Year award (though a precipitous fall-off in the 2nd half cost him any realistic shot at the ROY), and perhaps both players are just too young to be known around the league.  Lastly Morse is certainly known and he merited a spot in the “last man in” vote sponsored by MLB (though he fared little chance against popular players in this last-man-in voting).

2010

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Matt Capps
  • Possible Snubs: Adam DunnJosh WillinghamRyan Zimmerman, Steven Strasburg
  • Narrative: Capps was clearly deserving, having a breakout season as a closer after his off-season non-tender from the Pirates.  The 3-4-5 hitters Zimmerman-Dunn-Willingham all had dominant offensive seasons as the team improved markedly from its 103-loss season.  But perhaps the surprise non-inclusion was Strasburg, who despite only having a few starts as of the all-star break was already the talk of baseball.  I think MLB missed a great PR opportunity to name him to the team to give him the exposure that the rest of the national media expected.  But in the end, Capps was a deserving candidate and I can’t argue that our hitters did anything special enough to merit inclusion.

2009

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Ryan Zimmerman
  • Possible Snubs: Adam Dunn
  • Narrative: The addition of Dunn and Willingham to the lineup gave Zimmerman the protection he never had, and he produced with his career-best season.  His first and deserved all-star appearance en-route to a 33 homer season.  Dunn continued his monster homer totals with little all-star recognition.

2008

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Cristian Guzman
  • Possible Snubs: Jon Rauch
  • Narrative: The first of two “hitting rock-bottom” seasons for the team; no one really merited selection.  Zimmerman was coming off of hamate-bone surgery in November 2007 and the team was more or less awful across the board.  Rauch performed ably after Cordero went down with season-ending (and basically career-ending) shoulder surgery.   Guzman’s selection a great example of why one-per-team rules don’t make any sense.  Guzman ended up playing far longer than he deserved in the game itself by virtue of the 15-inning affair.

2007

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Dmitri Young
  • Possible Snubs: Ryan Zimmerman, Shawn Hill (though I wouldn’t argue for either)
  • Narrative: Young gets a deserved all-star appearance en route to comeback player of the year.  Zimmerman played a full season but didn’t dominate.  Our rotation featured 6 primary starters, none of whom are still in the league now, though Hill showed flashes of dominance throughout the year.

2006

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Alfonso Soriano
  • Possible Snubs: Nick JohnsonRyan Zimmerman
  • Narrative: Soriano made the team as an elected starter, the first time the Nats have had such an honor.  Our pitching staff took massive steps backwards and no starter came even close to meriting a spot.  Cordero was good but not lights out as he had been in 2005.  Soriano’s 40-40 season is a poster child for “contract year” production and he has failed to come close to such production since.  The team was poor and getting worse.  Johnson had a career year but got overshadowed by bigger, better first basemen in the league (a recurring theme for our first basemen over the years).

2005

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Livan HernandezChad Cordero
  • Possible Snubs: Nick JohnsonJohn Patterson.
  • Narrative: The Nats went into the All Star break surprisingly in first place, having run to a 50-31 record by the halfway point.  Should a first place team have gotten more than just two representatives?  Perhaps.  But the team was filled with non-stars and played far over its head to go 50-31 (as evidenced by the reverse 31-50 record the rest of the way).

 

 

 

 

Ask Boswell 7/1/13 Edition

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Desmond; trouble-maker Photo Drew Kinback/Natsnq.com

Ian Desmond; trouble-maker. Photo Drew Kinback/Natsnq.com

Another month, another .500 record for the Nats.  At the halfway point they’re 41-40, on pace for a fantastic 82-80 record.  Well, the Cardinals won the World Series a few years back making the post-season 83-79, so maybe all is not lost (sarcasm).  Though, the last couple days have seen unprecedented offensive output (they’ve scored 10+ runs twice in a row after only having done it once prior).

Bryce Harper is back after missing nearly 5 weeks of games (and hitting badly through another 4 weeks in May of them before that), and promptly hits a homer in his first AB off the D/L.   With Harper’s inclusion, we’ll finally see the “ideal offensive lineup” that I touched on last week.  On paper, a 2-7 of Werth-Harper-Zimmerman-LaRoche-Desmond-Rendon looks really, really good.

In this light, lets see what kind of baseball questions Tom Boswell took in his pre-holiday chat on 7/1/13.  As always, I’ll write my answer here before reading his to avoid bias and edit questions for clarity (since a lot of the “questions” he takes are rambling complaints about this or that).

Q: Are the Nationals as a team missing the “spark” they need to rally for the playoffs?

A: I’ve talked about the outflow of “chemistry” this team lost when Michael Morse was dealt before.  I’ve also speculated in this space before about whether or not this team has too many “uber serious” players.   In many ways winning consistently creates “chemistry” but I also think the reverse is true if you don’t have the right guys with leadership voices in the clubhouse.  Is the return of one hitter (albeit their best) going to change the tune for this team?  Boswell notes that the team faces a significant hole: 6.5 games in the division, 5.5 games just for the wild-card coin flip game.

Q: Thoughts on Taylor Jordan?  Does he get a 2nd Start?

A: See here for my post over the weekend on Taylor Jordan, and Yes he gets a 2nd start.  He only gave up one earned run.   Lets see what Boswell said: Boswell has a good point: he liked Jordan, thought he had potential .. but then noted that this team needs to go 50-31 to make the playoffs and you’re not going to go 50-31 with a rookie as your 5th starter.  

Q: With Werth appearing to be injured, do you see Davey moving Harper to right and Werth to left field?

A: Well, this is one of those “veteran manager” moves from Davey Johnson that gets me sometimes.   I believe that Jayson Werth is inarguably a lesser fielder than Harper (who would be playing center for nearly every other team in the league by virtue of his range and arm).  Harper’s arm is one of the best in the league.  He’s younger, faster and covers more ground (excellent range per UZR/150 numbers in center last year).  So why is Werth in right?  Because he’s the vet.  Harper won’t take over RF until Werth advances in age or gets a new manager who isn’t afraid to move him and his 9 figure salary to the position he should be in.  I disagree with Boswell’s opinion on this one; he thinks Werth is the more polished OF and that Harper got hurt playing RF.  As if he wouldn’t have run into a wall eventually playing elsewhere.

Q: Do we need alterations to the Balk rule?

A: At some level yes.  I think there’s a huge difference between some slight bobble in your motion and a blatant attempt to deceive the runner by “flinching” or doing a purposeful stop-start head motion.   Its the difference between inadvertant and purposeful deception.  And the embarassing umpire “Balking” Bob Davidson needs to be reigned in.  Plus, nearly every left-handed pitcher uses a “balk move” to first on a regular basis, almost never stepping directly at the bag.  And when was the last time you saw a right-hander get a balk call for throwing over to first while bending his right leg?  But, in the grand scheme of things I’m not sure the Balk rule is the great scourge of our modern game (see ball-strike zone consistency, instant replay, ongoing PED issues, and salary discrepancies making the league a group of haves and have-nots).  Boswell doesn’t understand the Balk but loves it.

Q: At what point do Zimmerman’s errors accelerate the conversation to move him to 1B?

A: We can start talk about moving Ryan Zimmerman the moment that Adam LaRoche‘s contract runs out.    Anthony Rendon can play 2B in the interim and eventually move back over to his natural position.  Before then?  Somebody would have to get seriously hurt or traded in order to make any modifications to our infield.   Boswell points something out I didn’t think about: Zimmerman is playing very shallow because his arm strength is shot … hence why he made those two errors in the saturday Jordan start.

Q: Should we look to trade for Nolasco?

A: I had to laugh; the questioner also asked if the Marlins would pick up his salary.  Haha.  Have you not see the M.O. for Jeffrey Loria by now?  Hoard every nickle in every deal.   That being said, I think we’d have the biggest chance of trading intra-division with Miami versus anyone else; they seem to be amenable to take back less in return for taking salary off their hands (see the Willingham/Olsen deal a while back).

A better question; should we be forcing a trade for pitching at all?  Even with the Dan Haren issues all year the team is 5th in the majors in ERA (10th in adjusted ERA+).   Of course, the four teams above us are all either divisional rivals or challengers for the wild card.   But the point is this: you need to fix what’s wrong, and the pitching overall isn’t what’s wrong.  Its offense.  Its bench production.  Its hitting.  Trade for something that helps fix the problem.  Boswell just talks about how we have enough money and how we shouldn’t give up any decent prospects.

Q: Is there a stat that shows how many a player’s errors relate directly to runs scored?

A: Unearned runs?  Except I’ve never seen someone directly tie the two together.  Therefore probably not, because this type of research likely will have a Sabre-tinged analyst immediately say, “I’m not doing that because Errors are not the best way to measure fielders.”  Then they’ll point at (in this case speaking of Zimmerman) his UZR/150 (an awful -20.2 for 2013 thus far), his Defensive Runs Saved (strikingly he’s actually cost the team 2 runs so far, projecting for a -4 rDRS for the year) or his Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA) which measures out at 3.0 so far in 2013, slightly above average.   My narrative on Zimmerman’s steep decline this year in range and defensive metrics goes as follows: nursing leg injuries and forced to play further up, Zimmerman’s not making the plays he normally would, which is being reflected in his UZR decline.  Meanwhile FRAA correctly measures that he’s still a slightly above average fielder.  Boswell doesn’t know.

Q: With Harper coming back, I’m assuming that Rendon slides down to seventh. Is that the best place for him? Also, is he too good of a hitter to bat seventh? With Ramos coming back soon, does this make the Nats a much more dangerous offensive team?

A: I’m not so sure I’d move Rendon down; he’s the absolute prototypical #2 hitter.  He hits to all fields, he’s especially good at hitting to right, he’s got a .360 OBP, and is a great tablesetter for the 3-4-5 guys.  No, I think you move everyone else down a spot.   Of course, that being said, if you had a manager with any cajones, he’d move Werth to the #7 spot since everyone else in this equation is a better hitter right now.  But it won’t happen, so either Ian Desmond or Rendon likely moves to #7.

With Wilson Ramos back as I’ve noted in this space, yes this should finally let the Nats put out their best, strongest lineup.   Boswell says Werth bats #2, pointout his OBP is .330.  I’ll now point out that that OBP is 10% less than Rendon’s right now.  But I can’t argue with Boswell’s point that Rendon could use the pressure taken off of him … until you remember that Harper didn’t seem to have any issues batting #2 all year last year.   Update: Boswell called it right: Werth is batting #2 upon Harper’s return.

Q: Why would Davey claim the Lerners want him out?

A: That’s a reasonable conclusion from reading Mike Wise‘s article over the weekend.  He seems to intimate that the ownership group is frustrated with the team’s performance this year and puts some of it at Johson’s feet.  At least that’s the way Johnson interprets it.  Boswell has an interesting point; he says this is a young team and the owners want a manager who can be here for 5-10 years … Johnson is 70 and they don’t see him as the solution.

Q: Should Yasiel Puig be an all-star?

A: If it were me, absolutely yes I’d make Yasiel Puig an all-star, give him an at-bat later in the game.  He’s been electric, he’s been the best hitter in the league for half this season.  He’s still hitting .436 through 100 at bats!.  Having him at the game just makes it more of a fan draw.  Boswell thinks he’ll be a late injury replacement.  I hope so.

Q: Which team has more wins at the end of 162, O’s or Nats?

A: Easy; the Orioles.  They’ve already got a 10 game head start.  I don’t think the Nats are going to be 10 games better than Baltimore in the 2nd half.  Boswell punts.

Q: Did Desi violate the unwritten code yesterday by slamming a home run into the restaurant when the Mets had a position player on the mound?

A: No way.  Of all the unwritten rules out there, the one that is unassailable is that a batter gets a legitimate chance to get a good swing in at the plate no matter what the score.  There’s limits (you can’t swing out of your shoes on a 3-0 pitch when winning by 10 runs) but I don’t see how Desmond’s bomb counts.   Boswell says Desmond’s HBP earlier negates all rules.  Not sure I agree with that reasoning unless the HBP was in any way possible deliberate.  Later on another questioner notes that he thought the Desmond HBP was definitely deliberate; I turned the game off when the Nats knocked out Wheeler, figuring they had it sewn up, and didn’t see the fracas.

Q: Why haven’t media such as yourself chastised the Nats for the foolish contracts given to Werth (injury prone, strikeout prone, shaky defensively), Soriano (too much to pay a closer who is not automatic), and Haren? In Philadelphia, all three contracts would have been regarded as somewhere between bad and stupid.

A: Wow.  Well, not to re-hash the same reasoning we’ve had over-and-over about these guys, but here goes:

  • The Werth deal was an over-pay but also re-established Washington as a player in the FA market, reestablishing credibility that had been destroyed by years of Loria and MLB ownership incompetence.  Remember, the same off-season Carl Crawford signed for MORE money and has produced a total of 1.8 war in the last three seasons combined, yet we don’t hear as much about how “stupid” the Boston organization was for that signing.  Why does Boston get a pass but Washington doesn’t?
  • Rafael Soriano was a luxury item, but I’m not sure its fair to say he’s “not automatic.”  He’s blown 3 saves in 24 chances.  Jim Johnson leads the league in saves and he’s blown 5.  Craig Kimbrel has a 1.48 ERA and he’s blown three himself.  I have no problems with Soriano and his contract (other than my general stance against paying top dollars for closers in general … but it wasn’t my money).
  • Haren looked like a good signing at the time, was a good risk, and frankly there’s no such thing as a bad one year contract.  It wasn’t like we were the only people bidding on him; he was in demand.

Giving power hitters on the wrong side of 30 5 guaranteed years at $25M each?  Now that’s a “stupid” contract.    Boswell chastises the Philly fan for his media’s overreaction to anything, defending the moves as I have.

Ladson’s Inbox 5/23/13 Edition

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Zimmerman's arm issues keep comingup. Photo AP via tbd.com

I like Ladson‘s Inbox.  He takes questions that the “everyman” Nats fan seems to be asking.  They usually hit upon the big issues facing the club.   On the downside, they usually address issues we’ve already covered more than once in posts and comments.   For those repeat questions we’ll try to use links elsewhere and short answers.  Here’s the 5/23/13 edition.   Lets see what we got this week.

Q: Manager Davey Johnson is not worried about Ryan Zimmerman’s throwing errors. Do you think it’s an area of concern?

A: Definitely territory we’ve covered.   Short answer: yes i’m worried, no there’s no place to move him thanks to LaRoche locking up 1B for this year and next, so the Nats are basically stuck.  Ladson says some things that I have a problem with.  He says that he’s not concerned (disagree) and that Zimmerman’s shoulder “isn’t 100% healthy.”  I call utter Bullsh*t on that; the team clearly stated at the time of the surgery that it was just a few weeks of healing (easily google-able). Yet here we are at the end of May, some 8 months onward from this surgery and he’s still not healthy??  No way; that’s an excuse we need to shelve.  Lastly Ladson says that “nobody else can play 3B like Zimmerman.”  Oh, you mean nobody else can throw away simple routine plays over and over like Zimmerman??  Anthony Rendon is a known defensive wizard, every scout knows it, and more than one have said the team should make the switch sooner than later.  You know, “scouts” as in “professionals who watch the guys play baseball” and are paid to know these things.  *sigh*

Q: Danny Espinosa had a lot of strikeouts last year and is below the Mendoza Line so far this year. Do you think Steve Lombardozzi could take over the starting spot?

A: More oft discussed territory.  Short answer: Yes Espinosa needs to be benched.  No Lombardozzi isn’t the greatest replacement; he’s significantly weaker in the field, has far less power and isn’t hitting at all in 2013 either.  I believe the team needs to D/L Espinosa and fix his shoulder and call up Rendon.  Ladson says more things I disagree with, saying that Espinosa defense is so good he should stay in the lineup.  Sorry; he’s a 2nd baseman.  You can sacrifice offense at some positions on the field but not at 2B in the modern game.  He also thinks Espinosa is going to turn it around (I don’t).  He also says he “likes” Lombardozzi in left field.  I don’t; that’s a waste of a position that should be providing 25-30 homer power for this team.  You know, power like what Michael Morse or Josh Willingham provide.  Oh those guys; yeah they were run out of town because they were suspect defensively and Mike Rizzo is hell bent on fielding a team of track stars.  *grrr*

Q: Do you think Tyler Moore could benefit from getting regular playing time with Triple-A Syracuse?

A: A good question.  I am in the “relatively surprised” camp to see how badly Tyler Moore is hitting this year.  How do you go from a 125 OPS+ to a 5 (as in five) OPS+ in a year’s time??  He’s not helping the team, he’s wasting a bench spot at this point, and yes he needs to go to AAA to sort things out.  He’s 8 for 66 with 27 strikeouts; he’s not an option off the bench at this point.  Call up Chris Marrero or Micah Owings if you are looking for some LF pop.  Uber positive Ladson also thinks Moore is going to turn it around.  I guess he thinks that EVERY Nats player who is hitting poorly right now is magically going to turn things around.  We should just continue hitting .220 as a team waiting for everyone to get out of their slumps.  You have AAA teams for exactly this reason; to allow younger players who are struggling to work out issues playing full time, instead of getting 1-2 ABs/week like Moore is getting right now.

Q: Do you think it’s appropriate for the Nationals to play Michael Morse’s walk-up song, “Take On Me,” as a seventh-inning stretch song? Is that a bad omen?

A: I think its a very nice tribute to a player in Morse who was a fan favorite and who a lot of us didn’t want to see go.  Nothing inappropriate there.  In fact, I hope the Mariners come back to Washington to get the fans here a chance to pay him the respect he is owed for his contributions here.  Ladson answers the question without even mentioning Morse??  There’s a reason that song is played right now and it isn’t because its a cool 80s song.

Ladson’s Inbox 2/5/13

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Lots of questions about Gonzalez and Garcia this week. Photo unknown credit.

Hey, what great timing for another Bill Ladson inbox (posted 2/5/13).  Baseball news is light, pitchers and catchers report in a week or so, and I’m not quite ready to continue my Stats series.

As always, I write my answer before reading his, and sometimes edit questions for clarity:

Q: Do you think general manager Mike Rizzo will add starting pitching depth before Opening Day? Does the lingering possibility of a Gio Gonzalez suspension change whom the Nationals would consider acquiring?

A: In Ladson’s 1/22/13 mailbag, some one asked what could prevent the Nats as constructed from winning the World Series in 2013.  I answered Rotation Injuries and Luck.  Well, in the wake of the Miami PED scandal, I guess the third answer may be “PED scandal.”

This is a tough question to answer; Gio Gonzalez has denied the rumors, but the newspaper in question (the Miami New Times) clearly only named Gonzalez because they felt like the evidence they had in hand was irrefutable.  Many other players have not been named.  So as a GM; how do you go about preparing for 2013 at this point?   If Mike Rizzo knows that Gonzalez is getting suspended, you have to think he’s on the horn to his buddy Scott Boras about possibly buying Kyle Lohse, which is clearly the best remaining FA starter.  But Lohse isn’t coming cheap, and likely isn’t coming on a one year deal, and would cost another draft pick (I believe).  The Nats are already topping $120M in payroll; would they go to $135M?

If we think Gio at least gets a pass and the suspension is put off, maybe Rizzo’s recent activities of signing random starters to minor league contracts is going to be sufficient.

Ladson mentions Javier Vazquez and the ever-present rumors of Christian Garcia going to the rotation as possible Gonzalez replacements if he gets suspended quickly.  Probably fair; Vazquez may be a great, cheap alternative.

Q: Everyone is saying that it’s going to be a two-team race in the National League East between the Nationals and Braves. Do you think the Phillies have a shot to contend with both these teams, or is their time done?

A: Boy, its hard to look at the aging, expensive Phillies lineup they had in place in 2012, which suffered injuries and setbacks and creaked their way to a .500 record, and then look at the highly questionable slew of acquisitions and signings this off season (Ben Revere, John Lannan, Michael YoungDelmon Young and everyone’s favorite anti-gay advocate Yuniesky Betancourt) and not, well, giggle at where this team is going.  My favorite baseball joke from the off-season goes like this: “The Phillies wanted to get Younger this off-season, so they signed Michael Young and Delmon Young.”

The two Youngs were both negative WAR players last year, Lannan is a 5th starter, Revere was a backup centerfielder who the Phillies traded some decent assets for, and Betancourt is who he is (though admittedly he’s on a minor league deal and seems at best set to be a utility infielder behind starters Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley).  I see the Phillies being a very bad defensive team with the two Youngs in the starting lineup, I see some serious questions in the back side of the rotation, and I see continued regression and louder complaints about Ryan Howard‘s contract.  Fun times a-coming in Philadelphia.  Ladson actually says that the Phillies will “be improved with Michael Young.”  Bill!  Have you seen Young’s WAR figures from 2012??  He was a NEGATIVE WAR player at both major War sites.  That means he makes your team worse!    Now, he was completely servicable in 2011 … so if you want to make the argument to me that 2012 was an aberration for an aging hitter playing in a hitter’s park, well I guess that’s a stance you can take.  But pretty much every other pundit in the blogosphere has loudly criticized the Philadelphia moves this off-season.

Q: What is the status of Lucas Giolito? When do you see him pitching in D.C.?

A: Tommy John surgery in Late August (I can’t remember the exact date; it was 8/24/12 when I posted this highly-critical article about Lucas Giolito and the situation), so figuring a typical 12-month rehab session before he’s actively throwing again in pro-games basically puts him at the end of the 2013 minor league season.  Which means he’ll be 20 before he really is ready to start his pro career in the spring of 2014.  Figure 4-5 years average case for typical high schoolers to work their way up the systems (perhaps fewer years given his talents and pedigree, as we’ve seen with someone like Dylan Bundy in 2012, who made his way from low-A to AA in his first pro season out of HS and got a late Sept callup to the majors) and we’re probably looking at 2016-2017 before seeing him in the majors.  If, of course, he recovers from surgery, hasn’t destroyed his mechanics, is effective, matures, doesn’t get re-injured, or any of the million other pitfalls that typically befall high school arms drafted in the upper rounds.  Ladson thinks he’s pitching pro games “after the all-star break” and is in the majors in 3 years.  Wow.  That is optimistic.

Q: How do you think Henry Rodriguez will do? And what do you think his role in the bullpen will be?

A: I am, and always have been, pessimistic on Henry Rodriguez.  I hated the Willingham trade that got him here.  He’s forced the team to invent injuries to stash him on the DL coming out of spring training b/c he has no options.  He led the league in wild pitches in 2011 in just 65 innings.  He had a 69 ERA+ in 2012.  At some point when does the team say, “OK, its nice that he throws 100mph.  But enough is enough; we need a reliable pitcher who can deliver when called upon.”  Perhaps Spring Training 2013 is that time.

What do I think his role will be?  I’m sure he’ll look great in Spring Training again, will break camp with the team, and very well may look halfway decent for a while.  But just like every other season, he’s going to have those 3-walk outings where he pitches a 1/3 of an inning and gives up 4 runs, and then the manager will be afraid to use him unless the team has a 5-run lead.  And eventually we’ll call up Garcia to replace him and move on.  That’s my prediction for Rodriguez.  Ladson says the team should “attempt to trade him if he is not impressive this spring.”  Wow, that’s sage advice; if only every team could trade its under-performing players and actually get value back whenever it wanted.

Q: Can you predict Washington’s Opening Day lineup if all available players are healthy?

A: Easy.  I’ll even predict the batting order.  Span-Werth-Harper-Zimmerman-LaRoche-Desmond-Espinosa-Suzuki-Strasburg.  Ladson predicts the same names but in a lineup order that makes no sense from a lefty-righty balance perspective.

Q: After announcing his retirement, do you think Brian Schneider is a possible candidate to replace Johnson as manager of the Nationals?

A: Wow, yet another speculative question about the future Nationals Manager.   He took a question about the manager on 1/28/13, and on 1/22/13.  And on 1/14/13.   I guess people like speculating on the Nats next manager.  Not repeating what i’ve said on the topic before, is Brian Schneider a candidate?  Why would he possibly be a candidate to manage the major league team of a system he left 5 years ago?  Why would the Nats pick a manager who’s never managed a day in his life?   Ladson breathes some common sense on this one.

Q: I think Garcia has to be on the Opening Day roster, so is he in the bullpen or someplace else? Can the 25-man roster accommodate him and all the other pitchers?

A: “Someplace else?”  Like where?  In the outfield?   I like Garcia too, but the team has a numbers problem in the bullpen.  Storen, Clippard, Mattheus, and Stammen have all more than earned their spots.  Soriano is being paid a ton of money.  Duke is guaranteed a spot (he’s the only lefty and he’s got enough service time to refuse a demotion).  Oh, and Rodriguez has no options.  So there’s your 7-man bullpen.  Notice there’s only one left-hander out there; if you believe that you need left-handers to get left-handed batters out, then the bullpen needs to sacrifice one of the righties in order to have a second lefty (Bill Bray?) in there.

The only way I see Garcia making this bullpen is if the team runs out of patience with Rodriguez and DFAs/DLs him, or if the team trades away one of their closer-quality surplus guys, or if maybe someone like Mattheus/Stammen (both of whom do have options) struggles or gets hurt.  Otherwise look for Garcia to get stretched out and get looks as a starter in AAA.  Ladson says he’s confident Garcia is on the 25-man roster …. ok explain it to me then based on the above paragraph.  Who is he replacing?

Ladson’s inbox 1/22/13

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Does Boras run the Nats? The national narrative certainly seems to think so. Photo Ezra Shaw/Getty images via espn.com

I love a diversion.  Bill Ladson’s inbox is always a diversion.  Here’s 1/22/13′s edition.

Q: Why do the Nationals need another closer in Rafael Soriano?

A: My posted opinion about the deal from 1/15/13.  Did they “need” another closer?  Probably not.  But, innings sent to Rafael Soriano cascades downwards and means that innings that would be given to lesser relievers will now be pitched by Clippard and Storen (assuming one of them isn’t moved of course), and overall the bullpen is improved.  I wonder if Ted Lerner didn’t pull a George Steinbrenner/Dan Snyder-esque move and force a player signing as a reaction to a singular event (aka Storen’s NLDS game 5 meltdown).  Its possible I suppose.  If so, you hate to see moves like this, because it undermines the GM and leads to poorly constructed rosters.  Ladson belives this is a reactionary move to the NLDS bullpen meltdown in total, not just Storen’s misfortunes.

Q: It seems like Washington takes all of Scott Boras’ clients and puts them on its roster.

A: I hate this Urban Myth that now pervades anyone’s analysis every time the Nats sign a Scott Boras client.  Check the proof: MLBtraderumors keeps a player agent database and guess what?  The Nats don’t even have the most clients of Boras.   The Nats have 7 Boras clients but Boston has 8.  Plus, three of the 7 Boras clients the Nats have were no-brainer 1st round draft picks (Harper, Strasburg and Rendon, and you could even argue a 4th such Boras pick in Goodwin that the team would have taken at that point in the draft irrespective of his representation) that the team was likely going to draft and sign no matter who represented them.  The fact is this: the Nats have become a premier FA destination, Boras represents a lot of good players on the FA, and the Nats have hired some of his players.  When Boston or Texas hires a Boras client, you don’t suddenly hear people sarcastically asking, “Does Boras run the Red Sox?” now do you?  I think its great that Rizzo and Boras have a good working relationship, because other teams/GMs do not, and it affects the quality of their teams as a result.  Ladson defends my point as well, saying similar things to what I’ve pointed out.

Q: Does the Nationals’ front office regret not making Edwin Jackson a qualifying offer? It seems he would have signed elsewhere and the Nats would have received a compensation pick that would help the farm system.

A: Great Question!  One I asked in this space myself on 11/5/12.  I honestly think the team believed that Edwin Jackson, who had a history of signing one year deals, would have taken the contract.  Either that or there was a hand-shake deal in place stating that the team wouldn’t extend the offer.  I don’t truly believe the latter part of this, because (as others have pointed out) it’d be illegal as per the latest CBA.  Either way, I thought it was a mistake at the time and the Nats indeed missed the opportunity to gain an extra pick.  Ladson believes point #1; he thinks the team was afraid that Jackson would take the deal.

Q: If there was one thing that could hold the Nationals back from winning the World Series this year, what would it be?

A: I’ll give you two things that could prevent the team from winning.  1) Injuries in our Rotation and 2) bad luck.  We’re very thin in terms of starters and a season-ending injury to one of our big names would be a bad impediment.  And, the playoffs are crap-shoots; 83 win teams (St. Louis in 2006) can get hot and win it all while 116 win teams (Seattle in 2001) get beat easily before ever getting to the World Series.   That being said, even a starter injury probably wouldn’t be fatal to this team’s chances of making the playoffs; the Mets and Marlins are moving backwards, the Braves seem to be treading water, and the Phillies are getting older by the day.  The division is there for the taking even without winning 98 games again.  Ladson says injuries.

Q: Is it true that the Nationals are interested in Kyle Lohse and plan to put Ross Detwiler in the bullpen?

A: Man, I hope not.  I like Kyle Lohse but there’s a reason he’s still on the FA market despite a TON of teams needing pitching help (and it isn’t just because of the lost draft pick).  He’s really not THAT good.  He had (easily) his best season last year, the definition of a contract year if there ever was one.  Career 98 ERA+.  I think he’s a good fit for a team that needs a 3rd starter, but the Nats aren’t that team.  I made my arguments for keeping Ross Detwiler in the rotation on 1/16/13, when rumors swirled about the team looking at Javier Vazquez.  Who would you rather roll the dice with?  A young, up and coming power lefty or a soft-tossing righty who’ll be 34 next year?  I think buying another $12M/year starter and pushing Detwiler to the bullpen just for the reason of “needing another lefty” in the bullpen is arbitrary and would be a waste of Detwiler’s promising 2012.  Ladson agrees, saying that Davey Johnson likes Detwiler in the rotation.

Q: Would Mark DeRosa be a viable managerial candidate for the Nationals in 2014?

A: Random question.  What makes you think Mark DeRosa won’t still be playing in 2014?  Plus, what ties does he have to this organization that would make you think that the Nats think he’s the heir apparent?  I mean, if we’re talking about former players who have put in the time with this organization, look no further than Matt LeCroy, who played for the team and has been managing in our minor league system for years.  Personally, I think the team will go with a “celebrity manager” when the time comes.  Ladson expresses some surprise at the question as well.

Q: After he was acquired from the Athletics for Michael Morse, where does A.J. Cole fall on the Nationals’ list of prospects?

A: I’d say he’s probably 3rd in line, after Rendon and Goodwin.  That’s about where he was when he was still in the system, and despite his rough 2012 in the California league he’s still very promising.  Ladson says 3rd, as does mlb.com’s rankings for the team.

Q: What did you think of what the Nationals received for Morse? Could they have gotten more — a Major League lefty reliever in addition to a starting prospect? Is the problem that Morse only had a total of two good seasons?

A: I think the Nats got what they could for Morse, frankly.  I would have liked to have seen a MLB lefty and a starting pitcher prospect in the lower-to mid minors.  Lots of people were using the Josh Willingham trade as a comp; both players are similar (both are good offense, no defense type guys in the last year of an affordable contract).  Willingham netted us a mlb reliever and a high-minors OF prospect.  However Morse’s defensive inabilities preceed him reputationally, and many scouts perceive his 2011 as a one-off instead of a ceiling of potential.  Ladson says they made a great deal.

The AL MVP and the Triple Crown; do we need a modern version?

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Does the Triple Crown guarantee Cabrera the MVP?

A large part of this year’s AL MVP narrative revolves around Miguel Cabrera‘s “winning” the Triple Crown this year, an incredibly rare feat that hadn’t been done since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 and has only been done 16 times in the history of the game.  Make no mistake; leading the lead in average and home-runs is very difficult, as it has been for most of the game’s long history.  Babe Ruth never won a Triple Crown despite a career .342 batting average; he only led the league in hitting one year.  Most high-average players are power-starved and would never have a shot at winning the home-run title.

However, as any sabermatrician would tell you, the triple crown is a collection of three relatively flawed hitting statistics that basically should have no meaning in the evaluation and analysis of a player.  Home Runs are the “cleanest” of the statistics but aren’t necessarily the best indicator of power in a hitter.  Runs Batted In are greater measures of the efficiency of the batters ahead of the hitter getting on base than of his own hitting prowness, and Batting Average treats a bunt single and a towering home-run as the same “hit” while calculating the statistic.

So, is there a better Triple Crown out there, using modern baseball statistics?  And, if we found three replacements how would Cabrera’s MVP case look?

If you took the three stats in the current Triple Crown and tried to “improve” them, I think you’d end up replacing Batting Average with Weighted On Base Average (wOBA), you’d replace home-runs with either Slugging Percentage or perhaps more directly with the Isolated Power (ISO), and you’d replace RBIs with the Weighted Runs Created (wRC) statistic.  Hitting prowness is replaced with the wOBA statistic, which acknowledges that getting on base via a hit or a walk is more important than just the hitting portion.  Power measurements are more accurately displayed via the ISO than by the simplistic Home Run category (which is heavily dependent on the home-park of the player).  And the “run creation” aspect that RBIs attempts to measure is more accurately displayed by the wRC statistic.

How would the AL’s top 5 in each of these three “Modern Triple Crown” categories look (data pulled from Fangraphs.com leader board splits for advanced hitting stats for 2012):

Rank Name wOBA
1 Miguel Cabrera 0.417
2 Mike Trout 0.409
3 Prince Fielder 0.398
4 Edwin Encarnacion 0.396
5 Robinson Cano 0.394
Rank ISO
1 Josh Hamilton 0.292
2 Miguel Cabrera 0.277
3 Edwin Encarnacion 0.277
4 Josh Willingham 0.264
5 Adam Dunn 0.263
Rank Name wRC
1 Miguel Cabrera 137
2 Prince Fielder 125
3 Robinson Cano 124
4 Mike Trout 121
5 Edwin Encarnacion 115

Interesting.  Cabrera would nearly win the “Sabr-Triple Crown” as well, and if you replaced ISO with Slugging he would have (Cabrera easily led the AL in slugging).   His MVP competitor Mike Trout fares pretty well here: he was 2nd in wOBA,  10th in ISO and 4th in wRC (where his lack of a full season hurts him the most, since wRC is a counting statistic over an entire season).  But make no mistake; Cabrera’s year at the plate still looks incredible.  Keep this in mind when you make “Trout for MVP” arguments; yes Trout’s base-running and fielding prowness gives him a ton of adavantage in the all-encompassing WAR statistics, but voters don’t really care about your fielding when it comes to measuring MVP-calibre seasons at the plate.  And the above stats show that Cabrera’s triple crown is no fluke.  And, as I pointed out in my awards prediction piece on 10/22/12, Cabrera has a few more things going for him that will sway voters (especially the “old school” types who still view the MVP as a “valuable player” and not a “best player” award).

Also of note in these lists: Edwin Encarnacion continues to have monster production years in relative obscurity of the bottom of the AL east.  And notice the #4 and #5 ISO guys in the AL?  Why yes its former Nationals Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham.  People forget just how good the Nats 3-4-5 hitters where when these two guys and a healthy Ryan Zimmerman were in the lineup.  Too bad they never had any pitching to go with them.

Lets pull the same information for 2012 in the National League:

Rank Name wOBA
1 Ryan Braun 0.413
2 Buster Posey 0.406
3 Andrew McCutchen 0.403
4 Aramis Ramirez 0.384
5 Matt Holliday 0.378
Rank Name ISO
1 Ryan Braun 0.276
2 Jay Bruce 0.263
3 Jason Kubel 0.253
4 Garrett Jones 0.242
5 Aramis Ramirez 0.240
Rank Name wRC
1 Ryan Braun 131
2 Andrew McCutchen 124
3 Chase Headley 115
4 Buster Posey 114
5 Matt Holliday 114

Ryan Braun clearly had a monster season at the plate, winning the modern Triple crown (again, had we replaced ISO with slugging Braun wins again, leading the league in slugging by more than 40 points).  In the “normal” Triple Crown Braun finished 3rd in batting, first in homers and 2nd in RBIs, not really even close to Buster Posey‘s league leading BA of .336 to ever have a triple crown in his sights.

But we all know Braun has zero shot at an MVP (now or forever in the future most likely) by virtue of the off-season drug testing snafu.  Which is a shame; not that Posey won’t completely deserve the award, but Braun’s season at the plate should be noted.

What do you think of the “Modern Triple Crown?”  Should I be looking at different stats?

Nats all-star review (2012 edition)

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Gonzalez gets a very deserving NL All-Star selection. Photo unknown via WP.com

(Note: i’m copying a large chunk of 2011′s version of this post to give a running history of the Nats all-stars later on below).

MLB announced the 2012 all-star rosters and the Nats, for the first time in their history in Washington, have 3 representatives.  Here’s a discussion:

2012

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Ian Desmond
  • Possible Snubs: Adam LaRoche, Bryce Harper, Craig Stammen
  • Narrative: The two starters Strasburg and Gonzalez were the obvious candidates, and my personal prediction was that they’d be the only two candidates selected.  The inclusion of Desmond is a surprise, but also a testament to how far he’s come as a player in 2012.  I entered the season figuring that Desmond would be closer to a demotion than the all-star team, and his power from the short stop position has been a huge shot in the arm to our challenged offense.  LaRoche has had a fantastic come back season but fared little shot against better, more well-known NL first basemen so his non-inclusion is not too surprising.  Stammen has been our best bullpen arm, but like LaRoche fared little chance of getting selected during a year when the Nats had two deserving starters.  Lastly Mr. Harper; he wasn’t on the ballot so fared little shot of being included, but has been put on the “last man in” ballot, up against a series of established veterans and future hall of famers.  We’ll see if celebrity wins out.  Before his slump the last two weeks he was clearly among the best hitters in the league despite his age.

(Editors Note: Harper was subsequently added on 7/7/12 to replace the injured Giancarlo Stanton).

Coincidentally, I thought Matt Kemp‘s decision to go public with his snub of Harper for the home run derby was both short sighted and disappointing.  If I was Bud Selig, I’d take the opportunity to make this year’s derby the most watched mid-season baseball event ever by forcing the inclusion of both Harper and uber-rookie Mike Trout.  Ask yourself this: 1) do you bother to watch the home run derby now?  And 2) if Harper and Trout were in it, would you watch this year’s version?  For me, even as an avid baseball fan I don’t bother to watch the event and wasn’t planning on it this year … but with these two guys in, it’d be must-see TV.  I hate it when Baseball misses such an obvious chance to showcase players and take advantage of the prevailing storylines of the season; it seems to happen year after year.

For a trip down Memory lane, here’s the Nationals all stars by year and talk about their selection, whether they were deserving, and who got snubbed each year.

2005

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Livan Hernandez, Chad Cordero
  • Possible Snubs: Nick Johnson, John Patterson.
  • Narrative: The Nats went into the All Star break surprisingly in first place, having run to a 50-31 record by the halfway point.  Should a first place team have gotten more than just two representatives?  Perhaps.  But the team was filled with non-stars and played far over its head to go 50-31 (as evidenced by the reverse 31-50 record the rest of the way).

2006

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Alfonso Soriano
  • Possible Snubs: Nick Johnson, Ryan Zimmerman
  • Narrative: Soriano made the team as an elected starter, the only time the Nats have had such an honor.  Our pitching staff took massive steps backwards and no starter came even close to meriting a spot.  Cordero was good but not lights out as he had been in 2005.  Soriano’s 40-40 season is a poster child for “contract year” production and he has failed to come close to such production since.  The team was poor and getting worse.  Johnson had a career year but got overshadowed by bigger, better first basemen in the league (a recurring theme for our first basemen over the years).

2007

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Dmitri Young
  • Possible Snubs: Ryan Zimmerman, Shawn Hill (though I wouldn’t argue for either)
  • Narrative: Young gets a deserved all-star appearance en route to comeback player of the year.  Zimmerman played a full season but didn’t dominate.  Our rotation featured 6 primary starters, none of whom are still in the league now, though Hill showed flashes of dominance throughout the year.

2008

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Cristian Guzman
  • Possible Snubs: Jon Rauch
  • Narrative: The first of two “hitting rock-bottom” seasons for the team; no one really merited selection.  Zimmerman was coming off of hamate-bone surgery in November 2007 and the team was more or less awful across the board.  Rauch performed ably after Cordero went down with season-ending (and basically career-ending) shoulder surgery.   Guzman’s selection a great example of why one-per-team rules don’t make any sense.  Guzman ended up playing far longer than he deserved in the game itself by virtue of the 15-inning affair.

2009

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Ryan Zimmerman
  • Possible Snubs: Adam Dunn
  • Narrative: The addition of Dunn and Willingham to the lineup gave Zimmerman the protection he never had, and he produced with his career-best season.  His first and deserved all-star appearance en-route to a 33 homer season.  Dunn continued his monster homer totals with little all-star recognition.

2010

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Matt Capps
  • Possible Snubs: Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham, Ryan Zimmerman, Steven Strasburg
  • Narrative: Capps was clearly deserving, having a breakout season as a closer after his off-season non-tender from the Pirates.  The 3-4-5 hitters Zimmerman-Dunn-Willingham all had dominant offensive seasons as the team improved markedly from its 103-loss season.  But perhaps the surprise non-inclusion was Strasburg, who despite only having a few starts as of the all-star break was already the talk of baseball.  I think MLB missed a great PR opportunity to name him to the team to give him the exposure that the rest of the national media expected.  But in the end, Capps was a deserving candidate and I can’t argue that our hitters did anything special enough to merit inclusion.

2011

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Tyler Clippard
  • Possible Snubs: Danny Espinosa, Michael Morse, Drew Storen, Jordan Zimmermann
  • Narrative: While Clippard was (arguably) the Nats best and most important reliever, I think Zimmermann was a more rightful choice.  He was 10th in the league in ERA at the time of the selections and has put in a series of dominant performances.  Meanwhile Espinosa is on pace for a 28homer season and almost a certain Rookie-of-the-Year award (though a precipitous fall-off in the 2nd half cost him any realistic shot at the ROY), and perhaps both players are just too young to be known around the league.  Lastly Morse is certainly known and he merited a spot in the “last man in” vote sponsored by MLB (though he fared little chance against popular players in this last-man-in voting).

Nats Franchise Trade history; biggest, best, worst

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Was getting Gonzalez the "biggest" trade the franchise has ever made? Photo Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images via nydailynews.com

In response to a topic that came up in the comments section, I’ll do a 3-part series reviewing the biggest/best/worst moves by the franchise since arriving here in Washington.  We’ll differentiate between Jim Bowden and Mike Rizzo moves as we go through.  We’ll talk about trades, then draft picks, then FA signings.

First up: Trades.

The Nats have made dozens of trades since 2005, and by my records have traded with every team in the league save for three: Baltimore, Cleveland and the Los Angeles Angels.  In fact, the franchise has not done business with Baltimore in any capacity since the year 2000, a testament perhaps to the difficulties of dealing with Peter Angelos even before the team moved to Washington.  Now post-relocation, the conventional wisdom is that the two teams would never do business on the off-chance that one team ended up “winning” a trade with the other.

I’ll divide this post into into 3 sections: the “biggest” deal (not the most players, but the biggest impact/most news worthy), the “best” deal(s) and the “worst” deals.  For Rizzo, we’ll add a 4th category for “Too Early to Tell,” since the big off-season trade of last season probably won’t shake it self out for a few more years.

Jim Bowden Tenure: Nov 2004 – Mar 2009

Biggest Trades

  • 2005: Soriano deal
  • 2006: Kearns/Lopez deal
  • 2007: Milledge deal
  • 2008: Willingham/Olsen deal

The Alfonso Soriano move made all sorts of news; he wouldn’t move to LF, threatened not to play at all, then ended up putting in a 40/40 season in a pitcher’s ballpark and then resulted a host of national news as the team debated whether to trade him, re-sign him or let him go.  Bowden held firm on his demands in the trade market, never traded him and landed two compensatory draft picks (which the Nats turned into Jordan Zimmermann and Josh Smoker).

The Kearns/Lopez deal, in the end, was more about moving deck chairs than making progress for either team.  Bowden was obsessed with players that he knew from his Cincinnati days, and showed a proclivity to trade for or acquire them throughout his tenure here, and this deal was just the biggest example.  The only player in the deal who still remains with his original team is Bill Bray, and most of the players in the deal have become large disappointments for their careers or are out of baseball.  The Reds accused Bowden publically of selling them damaged goods (Gary Majewski got injured about 5 minutes after the trade was completed) and Kearns/Lopez never really lived up to anything close to their potential.

We’ll talk about the other two deals below.

Best Trades

  • 2007: Getting Tyler Clippard
  • 2009: Getting Michael Morse
  • 2008: Getting Willingham/Olsen

Bowden gets major credit for obtaining two core members of the current Nationals squad for almost nothing.  He obtained Tyler Clippard from the Yankees for Jonathan Albaladejo in a like-for-like trade of under-performing minor league relievers.  Of course we all know what’s happeend since; Clippard has become a super-star setup man, the 2011 league leader in holds.   Getting Michael Morse in return for sending the feeble Ryan Langerhans to Seattle in what most thought was a mercy trade at the time (i.e., trying to send good-guy Langerhans to a team that would actually play him) seems like one of the steals of the decade.  Nobody thought Morse had a fraction of the potential he’s now shown to have.

I include getting Josh Willingham and Scott Olsen as a win based on who we gave up: PJ Dean, Emilio Bonifacio and Jake Smolinski.  I’ve always had a soft spot for Willingham and thought his offense potential was the key to this deal; we got two major leaguers for two dead-end minor leaguers plus a backup infielder.  Luckily for the Nats, Florida was always ready to give up arbitration candidates to save a buck.

Worst Trades

  • 2007: Milledge deal

Honestly, I had a hard time really saying that I thought one of Bowden’s trades was egregiously bad.  Most of his deals (outside the deals mentioned above as biggest or best) were minor leaguer swaps or dumping veterans at the trade deadline.  Even the acquisition of Elijah Dukes wasn’t really that “bad” based on who we gave up (Glenn Gibson, who was released a couple years later by Tampa Bay and ended up back with us anyway).

However, the acquisition of Lastings Milledge for Ryan Church and Brian Schneider might be the one trade that I’d most quibble with.  Bowden showed his obsession with “toolsy” and “potential” players in this deal, acquiring the malcontent Milledge and giving the Mets two immediate starters.  At the time I certainly defended the deal; neither Church or Schneider were slated to be starters for the 2008 Nats so you could argue that we got a plus prospect for two backups.  I know I certainly argued that point.  Church seemed to be a brooding platoon outfielder who wouldn’t be happy unless he was starting and Schneider had lost his starting spot to Jesus Flores and was a relatively weak hitter.

As it has worked out Church was a very productive player for New York, Flores got hurt and left the team in a very serious catcher-dearth position, and Milledge turned out to be not nearly the talent that we thought we were getting.  By the time we flipped him to Pittsburgh in 2009 he was barely hitting his weight in AAA and was completely out of the picture for this team.

Mike Rizzo Tenure: Mar 2009 – present

Biggest Trades

  • 2011: Gio Gonzalez deal

  • 2009: Morgan/Burnett deal

  • 2010: Ramos for Capps deal

  • 2011: Henry Rodriguez/Willingham deal

  • 2011: Gorzelanny deal

You have to hand it to Mike Rizzo; he’s not been afraid to make deals.  In his 3 year tenure he’s made 5 significant deals that have vastly changed the way this team is constructed.  Two of those deals (Morgan/Burnett and the Willingham deals) were mostly about cleaning up the roster to get it more in his image of pro-clubhouse guys and pro-defense.  Trading away Milledge and Willingham succeeded in moving the team towards these goals.  The Gorzelanny and Gonzalez trades were about acquiring power arms to shore up the rotation, another tenant of Rizzo-constructed teams.

Best Trades

  • 2010: getting Wilson Ramos

Clearly Rizzo’s best move was stealing Wilson Ramos for a closer (Matt Capps) that we had ample candidates for internally.  The Twins panicked post-Joe Nathan injury and overloaded their bullpen with closer candidates.  Meanwhile Rizzo turned an astute FA signing (a minor league signing that turned into an All Star) into an even more astute trade by getting a nearly MLB-ready catcher in return for a guy who the team wouldn’t be re-signing anyway.  Great move.

Worst Trades

  • 2011: Gomes for Rhinehart/Manno
  • 2009: Bruney for ptbnl (eventually rule5 top pick Jamie Hoffman)

Most readers here loved Christopher Manno and the promise he was showing in A-ball.  Most were also aghast to see Manno go the other way to Cincinnati for a 4th outfielder Jonny Gomes.  At the time, the argument was that Davey Johnson wanted a bat off the bench and that the team needed some OF depth.  What really happened was that Gomes hit his way out of his type-B arbitration status and played so poorly the 2nd half of 2011 that the team couldn’t dare offer him arbitration to get a compensatory draft pick.  So we traded two decent prospects for a half season of awful production.  Not a good move.

Even worse, trading anything to acquire Brian Bruney.  The team acquired Bruney, promptly argued against him and beat him in arbitration, and then (unsurprisingly) Bruney vastly underperformed until being flat out released a few months into the 2010 season.  For me this is a lesson in what not to do with your arbitration eligible players.  It wasn’t so much what we gave up (the first pick in the rule-5 draft *could* have been used to acquire someone of value), it was what we got in return.

Too Early to Tell Trades

  • 2011: Gio Gonzalez deal

Pro-prospect pundits (anyone at Baseball Prospectus, Keith Law, etc) will already tell you that the Nats vastly overpaid for Gio Gonzalez.  That’s because they value the potential of prospects more than the proven commodity of the major league player.  But the fact is this; you KNOW what you’re getting in Gonzalez but you have no idea how a low-A prospect will play out.  The Nats rolled the dice that AJ Cole isn’t going to turn into the next incarnation of Justin Verlander and that Brad Peacock‘s promise will peak as a middle reliever.  The only way to tell how this trade turns out is to track the progress of those players we gave up versus what Gonzalez does for this team over the next 3-4 years.

Thoughts?  Any trades out there that stick in your minds that you thought should be mentioned?

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 12/16/11 edition

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I wonder if Harper would be "tebowing" if he knew it was now a beer logo? Photo via mr irrelevant blog

This is your semi-weekly/periodic wrap-up of Nats and other baseball news that caught my eye.

Nationals In General

Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • We hear from Albert Pujol‘s wife Dierdre, who says she was “mad at God” for having to leave St. Louis.  I’m sorry; if you are “forced” to leave St. Louis so that you can earn $254M dollars instead of $210M, you don’t get to invoke “God” or any self-pity whatsoever.  Is Pujol’s wife as out-of-touch as most modern athletes are?  This almost reminds me of the infamous line from Latrell Sprewell, who turned down a $21M contract extension by saying that “I’ve got my family to feed.”
  • DC-area native Joe Saunders was non-tendered by the Diamondbacks after failing to reach a multi-year deal.  There were plenty of other non-tenders to talk about, but the West Springfield graduate immediately becomes a rather high-end FA starting pitcher when compared to the rest of the market.  I don’t think he’s worth pursuing necessarily; he isn’t going to give us anything that we probably couldn’t expect to get out of Ross Detwiler at a fraction of the cost, and perhaps this is just a negotiating ploy by the Arizona GM.  But its definitely fair to say that his arbitration cost would have probably been more than his actual worth on an annual salary basis.
  • The Yu Darvish deadline passed on 5pm Wednesday, and all we know is that someone actually bid, and that there were a number of serious bidders.  The NPB has four days to formally “accept” the offer, so will not know til next tuesday who “won.”  I heard on SportsTalk 980 that the Nationals did not submit a bid, and here’s Adam Kilgore confirming in print.  I’ve posted my opinion on Darvish in the past; i’m sure he’s talented, but don’t think he’s a 9-figure risk.  Unsubstantiated early rumors list the Toronto Blue Jays as the posting winners.
  • Good for Josh Willingham, signing a 3yr deal in Minnesota.  Yes we could have used his offense in 2011.  Willingham’s 2011 bWAR?  1.8 hitting in a horribly bad pitcher’s stadium.  The players we got for him?  Henry Rodriguez‘s 0.2 and Corey Brown‘s 0 (and subsequent removal from the 40-man roster).  That was a good piece of business!

General Baseball News

  • I kind of agree with Phil Wood‘s take on Ryan Braun‘s positive test, as printed here.  If a player has been tested again and again, and then (say) gets a test mixed up or hits a false positive, and that test is leaked to the world, wouldn’t you be pretty pissed as well?  I’m not saying that’s what happened here (since I have no involvement whatsoever), but such a scenario would play out pretty unfairly to the athlete in question.  One can only hope that the “insanely high” levels of testosterone were either a testing mistake or a flawed test.   Or possibly that Braun was surprised by the timing of the test and was doing what Victor Conte describes as a “truck sized loop hole” in the baseball drug testing.
  • This story cracks me up: Derek Jeter sends the same “break-up present” consisting of a gift-basket with a hand-signed baseball to all his “conquests.”  How did we find this out?  Because he had a repeat hookup and apparently forgot that he had already sent one to her.  Oops.  Here’s the question: how do these women certify the signed baseball?  Does it also come with a certificate of authenticity?  :-)
  • The title of this article says it all: “MLB increasingly concerned about Mets’ financing.”  Yeah, I would be too.  Another excellent hand-picked owner from your commissioner Bud Selig

General News; other

  • The verb “Tebowing” is now being recognized as an official word.  At least its not ebonics.  At least not everyone is taking this thing seriously; see here for a fantastic new Tebowing-themed beer label.
  • Thank god for this clause in the new CBA: players are going to be banned from getting corporate logo tattoos.  Its too bad; I’m pretty sure I just heard that Stephen Strasburg is getting the Dairy Queen logo tattooed on the small of his back, tramp-stamp style.