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From Nats to Oblivion: updated for 2012 team

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Lidge is one of the newest members of the Nats-to-Oblivion club. Photo unknown via baseballasreligion blog

Several years ago (November 2010) Mark Zuckerman posted a fascinating analysis he titled “From Nats to Oblivion.”  It chronicled the astoundingly high number of players that the early incarnations of the Nats were using who, once the Nats released them, never again appeared on a MLB roster.  I thought the analysis was so interesting that I kept up the same data and have been keeping it up-to-date with the whereabouts of Nats-to-Oblivion candidates ever since.  So with apologies to Mark for stealing his idea, here’s an interesting visit to the Nats darker past.

Now, it is nearly impossible for a team to field an entire year’s worth of players who fall into this “Oblivion” category.  Every MLB team has guys playing out the string or near retirement, and every MLB team calls up guys through out the season from the minors who eventually show themselves as unable to compete on the MLB level and who never make it back.   Our 2011 team (sitting at 13.6% but likely to eventually be lower) is about as close to a 10% level as we may get; roughly 4 or 5 guys who give you at bats or innings in a given year probably won’t ever play again.

For your reminiscing pleasure, here is the summary data updated to the 2012 team.

  • 2012: 24 position, 19 pitchers, 43 total.  8/43 = 18.6% candidate ratio
  • 2011: 20 position, 24 pitchers, 44 total.  6/44 = 13.6% candidate ratio
  • 2010: 20 position, 26 pitchers, 46 total.  12/46 = 26.0% never appeared again
  • 2009: 25 position, 30 pitchers, 55 total.  11/55 = 20% never appeared again
  • 2008: 25 position, 25 pitchers, 50 total.  8/50 = 16% never appeared again
  • 2007: 21 position, 26 pitchers, 47 total.  12/47 = 25.5% never appeared again
  • 2006: 28 position, 29 pitchers, 57 total.  20/57 = 35% never appeared again
  • 2005: 30 position, 25 pitchers, 55 total.  16/55 = 29% never appeared again

Look at the 2006 season; 35% of the players who played for the team that year never played another Major League game.  That’s still astounding to me.  Read on for a detailed look back at some of the very bad players that have put in significant time for this team.


2012 (8 candidates)

Total Players used: 24 position, 19 pitchers, 43 total.  8/43 = 18.6% candidate ratio right now

Candidates

  • Brad Lidge: Retiring post 2012
  • Jesus Flores; signed ML deal with Los Angeles Dodgers for 2013
  • Cesar Izturis; signed ML deal with Cincinnati for 2013
  • Brett Carroll: signed ML deal w/ Pittsburgh for 2013
  • Chien-Ming Wang: signed ML deal w/ New York Yankees for 2013 late
  • Ryan Perry: Wash AAA 2013
  • Corey Brown: Wash AAA 2013
  • Carlos Maldonado: Wash AAA 2013

I think its clear that at least a few of these guys are going to re-appear on a MLB roster at some point, so this “candidate ratio” is likely to be lowered.

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Brad Lidge, who gave it one last shot and failed spectacularly.  When you lose your stuff, its gone and gone fast.  I’ll readily admit I thought the signing was a great one but it just didn’t work out.  I really hoped that Lidge would be a servicable 7th inning guy and mentor to Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard, being one of the great closers of his day.  It didn’t work out that way.


2011 (6 candidates)

Total Players used: 20 position, 24 pitchers, 44 total.  6/44 = 13.6% candidate ratio right now…

Candidates

  • Ivan Rodriguez – retired after 2011
  • Matt Stairs — retired after 2011
  • Alex Cora — never signed in 2012
  • Cole Kimball — Nats 60-day DL in 2012, XST in 2013
  • Brian Broderick — Stl AAA, waived now Nats AAA in 2012, AA in 2013
  • Atahualpa Severino — Nats AAA, DFA’d off 40-man in 2012, signed w/ KC for 2013

As with the 2012 candidates, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this list get lowered slightly.  A couple of these guys remain in the system and Cole Kimball remains on the 40-man.  Atahualpa Severino could see time if KC’s loogy situation falls apart.

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Matt Stairs: He made the 2011 roster despite having almost no defensive capabilities and, as it soon became evident, almost no remaining abilities at the plate.  He somehow hung onto his roster spot until August 1st despite having just one extra base hit in 74 at-bats on the year.  I remember one game in particular; we were at the stadium going against the hated Phillies and they left Roy Halladay in to attempt to finish a shutout with a 3-0 lead (Game was on 4/13/11).  Nats rally, score 2 runs to make it 3-2.  Stairs comes up pinch hitting for Jerry Hairston with guys on 1st and 2nd with one out; he promptly watches three straight fastballs go right down the middle of the plate without moving his bat.  I’ve never been so p*ssed at a player at the ball-park.  Ivan Rodriguez then promptly struck out on 3 pitches as well, looking strike 3 into the mitt and then arguing vehimently with the ump over the game-ending call which gave Halladay the complete game victory.


2010 (12 players)

Total Players used: 20 position, 26 pitchers, 46 total.  12/46 = 26.0% never appeared again

Players:

  • Willy Taveras; played AAA for Col in 2011, retired prior to 2012
  • Kevin Mench; retired after 2010
  • Jamie Burke; retired after 2010
  • Luis Atilano: in CIN org, AAA in 2012, not signed by Apr 2013
  • Scott Olsen; in CWS org, AAA 2012, Not signed by Apr 2013
  • JD Martin; in MIA org AAA 2012, in TB AAA 2013
  • Tyler Walker; indy league 2011, no stats for 2012
  • Jesse English; indy league 2011, 2012.  Mexican League 2013
  • Matt Chico; indy league 2012, not signed Apr 2013
  • Joe Bisenius; in Mexico 2011-12, no signed Apr 2013
  • Garrett Mock: Houston AAA 2012, AZ AAA for 2013
  • Jason Bergmann: indy 2011, Col AAA 2012, Indy again in 2013

I had to recently remove a couple of names from this list after they re-appeared on 2013 MLB rosters (example: Justin Maxwell who was Houston’s opening day center fielder.  That ought to tell you all you need to know about Houston’s team this year).

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Jamie Burke: The 2009 Nats were so thin at Catcher by the end of the season that we literally bought a spare catcher in Burke from Seattle so we could have some coverage at the end of the season.  Burke re-signed on for 2010 and appeared in exactly one MLB game.  He was released after the season and retired.


2009 (11 players)

Total Players used: 25 position, 30 pitchers, 55 total.  11/55 = 20% never appeared again

Players:

  • Elijah Dukes: released and never picked up for 2010.  Arrested in 2011, 2012, out of baseball.
  • Alex Cintron; playing in Mexico 2012
  • Jorge Padilla; in SD org, AAA in 2012
  • Shairon Martis: in Min org, AAA 2012, Minnesota’s AAA 2013
  • Ron Villone, 2011 playing indy ball, retired prior to 2012
  • Julian Tavarez; retired after 2009
  • Logan Kensing; in Pits org, AAA 2012, Col AAA 2013
  • Zack Segovia; in Det org AA in 2012, not signed Apr 2013
  • Mike Hinckley: Tor org in 2011, retired prior to 2012
  • Steven Shell; KC org in 2011, retired prior to 2012
  • Victor Garate; MIL org and Indy ball in 2012, Mexican league 2013

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Ron Villone, who proved that a crafty lefty with a halfway decent fastball can have a long career in this game.  He had 63 appearances at age 39 for the 2009 Nats and got re-signed for 2010.  He didn’t make the team though, labored in Syracuse the whole season and was released.  Despite being 41 years old, he headed to Indy ball for one last shot but washed out after just a few outings in 2011.

It wouldn’t be a retrospective on poor Nats players if we didn’t briefly talk about Elijah Dukes though.  I think its safe to assume that he’s the only guy on this list that has served more time in jail than has played in the minor leagues, attempting to get back to the show.


2008 (8 players)

Total Players used: 25 position, 25 pitchers, 50 total.  8/50 = 16% never appeared again

Players:

  • Kory Casto; 2009 AAA, 2010 in Ariz AA, retired.
  • Dmitri Young: some rehab in low minors 2009, retired.
  • Rob Mackowiak: 2009: some indy, bounced around AAA, that’s it.
  • Johnny Estrada; flat out quit after 2008
  • Odalis Perez; refused his 2009 contract, never resigned
  • Levale Speigner; 2009 in Florida’s AA/AAA, then 2010 in Seattle AAA.  done.
  • Ray King; retired after 2008
  • Chris Schroder; 2009, 2010 bounced around AAA with Oakland, Fla.

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Odalis Perez, though I’m tempted to say either Mackowiak or Estrada, possibly the two worst FA signings of the whole Jim Bowden era (and that’s saying something).  But nothing beats the Perez story.  He was the Nats Opening Day Starter in 2008; hell he was the first guy to get a start in the Nationals Stadium.  He pitched well; in 30 starts he was 7-12 with a 4.34 ERA and a 99 ERA+ for a god-awful team.  But apparently he got really pissed when the team only offered him a non-guaranteed Minor League deal for 2009.  So he held out, the Nats said “fine with us” and released him, and nobody else picked him up.  And he never played another game.  I’m not sure if that was a sign that he was just that bad (not one team wanted to even give an opening day starter a look the subsequent year?), or if there was some sort of MLB general manager omerta that conspired against him.  Either way, Perez played again, not even in Winter Leagues as far as I could find.  Sometimes a player has to swallow his pride, and Perez apparently could not.


2007 (12 players)

Total Players used: 21 position, 26 pitchers, 47 total.  12/47 = 25.5% never appeared again

Players:

  • Nook Logan; indy league 2008, 2010.
  • Robert Fick: Cut from the Padres in ST 2008, full year indy league 2009, retired.
  • D’Angelo Jimenez: AAA all of 2008, 2009.  Mexican league and Indy league 2010-2012
  • Tony Batista: Wash AAA 2008, then released
  • Michael Restovich: 2008 in Japan, AAA 2009-2011, retired
  • Brandon Watson: AAA 2008-9, indy league 2011, retired.
  • Mike Bacsik: 2008 AAA, 2011 indy league, now a broadcaster.
  • Jason Simontacchi; 2008 indy league, 2010 again.
  • John Patterson; cut in ST 2008, immediately signed w/ Texas but never played again.
  • Ryan Wagner: AAA 2008-9, released and presumably retired.
  • Arnie Munoz; went to mexican league, retired > 2010
  • Chris Booker: AAA in 2008, then retired/released.

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Mike Bacsik, who was destined to be a career 4-A guy before Washington picked him up and gave him 20 starts in 2007.  Bacsik was on his 6th minor league organization when he arrived in Syracuse and pitched his way up to the major leagues.  He was overmatched badly; he had a 5.11 ERA and just a 3.4 K/9 rate.  But he did get his moment in the headlines by giving up Barry Bonds‘ 756th career homer one night in San Francisco in August.  Contrary to accusations on the topic, I do not believe Bacsik “served up” the homer.  If you check the play index, Bonds hit the 7th pitch of the at-bat in a 3-2 count for that homer.  Bacsik didn’t purposely give up a homer on the 7th pitch of an at-bat; he just ran out of pitches to show Bonds that weren’t going to get pulverized.

A quick comment though on John Patterson: I remember being absolutely shocked at his release in 2008′s spring training.  He was cut on 3/20/08, right in the middle of Spring Training with no warning and having just thrown his Grapefruit innings.   He was healthy, recovered from surgery, ready to be the ace of that staff and start showing off the potential that he showed in 2005 (you know, when he 4-hit the Dodgers with 13 punch outs and posted the best Game-Score performance in Nats history).  He signed a ML deal with Texas after his release by the Nats, but he couldn’t answer the call and never appeared again, getting released in mid May.  I guess his third arm surgery in 7 years just left him unable to compete at any level and he hung ‘em up.


2006 (20 players)

Total Players used: 28 position, 29 pitchers, 57 total.  20/57 = 35% never appeared again

  • Damian Jackson; dnp 2007, indy league 2008-9
  • Bernie Castro: AAA all of 2007, 8 then retired.
  • Alex Escobar: Wash minors 2007-8, then retired.
  • Brandon Harper: Wash AAA all of 2007, then released/retired.
  • Wiki Gonzalez: CWS AAA all of 2007, indy league 2008, retired.
  • Henry Mateo: AAA or Indy league 2007-2009, mexican league from 2010-current 2013
  • George Lombard: AAA 2007-9, some indy league, retired.
  • Mike Vento: 2007 Wash AAA, indy league 2008, back with Syracuse 2009, retired.
  • Melvin Dorta; various minor leagues 2007-2010, indy league 2011, retired.
  • Luis Matos: AAA 2007, Mexican League 2008-2012.  ? 2013
  • Pedro Astacio; retired after 2006
  • Felix Rodriguez: dnp 2007, indy league 2008-9, retired.
  • Zach Day: AAA 2007, briefly A+ 2008, retired.
  • Beltran Perez; wash minors AA/AAA 2007-8, released and never played again.
  • Joey Eischen; released off of Washington and retired.
  • Travis Hughes; AAA in 2007, played in Japan 2008, indy leagues 2009, 2011.
  • Ryan Drese: various minor leagues 2007-8, indy league 2009-2010, Baltimore AAA 2011, released/retired.
  • Kevin Gryboski: AAA 2007-2008, retired/released.
  • Brett Campbell: Wash AA 2007, released/retired.
  • Santiago Ramirez: Japan in 2007, Mexican league 2008, indy 2009, retired.

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Joey Eischen, who bounced around the league in his 20s before settling in Montreal and moving south with the team.  He was known to be a “character” in the clubhouse and to give good quotes to reporters (google “Joey eischen quotes” and you’ll find some of his classics).   By 2006 though the years had taken their toll on his shoulder; he had 19 walks in 14 2/3 innings through the end of May had blown his rotator cuff.  The team put him on the 60 day D/L and called up one Bill Bray.   Eischen never got off that D/L; he was released in the off-season and never played again.  For 2013, he’s listed as the pitching coach of Colorado’s high-A Affiliate in Asheville.


2005 (16 players)

Total Players used: 30 position, 25 pitchers, 55 total.  16/55 = 29% never appeared again

Players:

  • Carlos Baerga; retired after 2005
  • Junior Spivey: bounced around AAA 2006-7, indy ball in 2009, retired.
  • Tony Blanco; Nats minor leagues 2006-7, Colorado AA in 2008, in Japan from 2009-present.
  • Wil Cordero; released mid 2005, signed on with the NY Mets but never made it out of AAA.  Retired after 2005.
  • Deivi Cruz; released after 2005, cut from St. Louis 2006 ST, played indy ball, retired.
  • Jeffrey Hammonds; retired in June 2005 mid-season.
  • J.J. Davis: Traded to Colorado as part of the Preston Wilson deal, sent to Colorado’s AAA, then released after the season and never played again.
  • Rick Short; Granted FA after the 2005 season to play in Japan, played there til 2009.
  • Kenny Kelly; AAA in 2006 and 2007, released and retired.
  • Keith Osik; a backup catcher, got 4 ABs in 2005, released and retired.
  • Tyrell Godwin; after just THREE MLB at-bats in 2005, spent all of 2006 and 2007 in AAA, released and retired.
  • T.J. Tucker; released after 2005, tried one year of indy ball in 2008, retired.
  • Joe Horgan; released after 2005, played one year of AAA with Florida, released, retired.
  • Matt White; AAA in 2006-7, Japan 2007-8, tried indy ball in 2010, hung ‘em up.
  • C.J. Nitkowski; AAA in 2006, then went to Japan 2007-8, Korea 2009-10, back with the Mets AAA team in July 2012.  Not signed for 2013
  • Antonio Osuna: dnp in 2006, Mexican league 2007-9.

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Rick Short, who got his MLB debut at the age of 32, after 11 very long seasons in the minors with many different teams.  He got a couple of call-ups in June and July to provide cover, and then played out the string after a Sept 1 roster expansion call-up.  In that off-season, he returned to Japan (where he’d played one full season prior), and played four more years in the Japanese League and retired in 2009.

Though it merits talking about a couple other guys here. Tony Blanco; he was a rule-5 draftee who the Nats carried the whole of 2005 so they could keep his rights.  He was awful; he had a .177 batting average as the 25th guy off the bench.  In 2006 he couldn’t even cut it in AA and played most of the year in High-A.  After 2007 the Nats summarily released him from their minor league organization altogether.   He found his calling though; he signed on in Japan in 2009 at age 27 and continues to play there today.  You have to wonder if he may very well earn another MLB shot.

Jeffrey Hammonds was well known to Washington baseball fans by virtue of his pedigree with our northern neighbors in Baltimore; he was a 1st round draft pick in 1992 out of Stanford, broke in with the MLB team the following year and was a role player on the powerhouse Baltimore teams of the mid 1990s.   He bounced around the league afterwards though, signing on with the newly relocated Washington franchise for the 2005 debut season but he hung ‘em up after a slow start here.  He was only 34 when he retired.

Ladson’s inbox 1/28/13

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Espinosa's shoulder injury is the big news this week. Photo AP Photo/Nick Wass

These Inboxes are coming fast and furious!  Its almost like we’re just a few days away from Pitchers and Catchers reporting or something.  I should do an inbox response.  Except nobody emails me any questions.   Sometimes I wonder who emails Bill Ladson some of these questions, frankly, especially the people who keep asking about who the manager will be in 2014.  Anyway, here’s his 1/28/13 inbox and how i’d have responded.

Q: What is the status of Chris Marrero? Does he figure to contribute in the Major Leagues at all this year?

A: The phrase “what have you done for me lately” never seems more appropriate than when talking about Chris Marrero.   In November 2007 he was listed by Baseball America as our #1 prospect.   #1 over the likes of Detwiler, Zimmermann, Maxwell, Clippard, Desmond, Peacock, Norris and even Bernadina.    A season-ending injury in 2008, slow progress up our system and then last off-season’s torn hamstring have now dropped him to the Nats #23 ranked prospect overall.  #23 puts him behind “prospects” such as Corey Brown and right above 7-year minor leaguer Carlos Rivero.

The status of Marrero is this: he’s stuck at first-base, seemingly can’t play anywhere else, but doesn’t hit nearly enough homers in order to be a MLB first baseman.  So he seems sort of in a quandry.  Unless he suddenly turns into a 30-home run hitter over-night, or figures out how to play another position, he’s really in a tough spot.  On the Nats depth chart at 1B, he seems to be no better than 4th right now (LaRoche, Moore, Tracy).  That doesn’t bode well for him contributing at the MLB level.  It seems to me that the only way he’s playing meaningful minutes at first this year is if both LaRoche and Moore come down with season-ending injuries.

On the bright side; despite us hearing about him for years, he’s only 24.  But he’s running out of time.  He’ll burn his 3rd and last option in 2013 and isn’t going to be eligible for a 4th.  Marrero needs to hit lights out in AAA this year, get an injury on the big club and gets some big-league ABs, and build trade value.

Ladson has answered this question before and repeated his answer; he thinks Marrero needs to be traded.  Great idea!  Now, who exactly is going to trade for him right now?  And what exactly could the Nats get in return?  These sort of things matter when looking at trade candidates and it irritates me when they’re not taken into consideration by supposed “professionals” in the field.

Q: Given Danny Espinosa’s torn rotor cuff and disappointing second half last season, is there any chance Steve Lombardozzi will become the Opening Day starting second baseman?

A: Boy, the revelation that Danny Espinosa has a torn rotator cuff is big news to me.  Even though its in his non-throwing shoulder (obviously; if it was in his right shoulder he’d likely have had the surgery as soon as it happened), you have to think this affects his hitting.  In fact, the blog Nationals Review did just this yesterday in a great bit of analysis: before the estimated injury date Espinosa was hitting 255/.321/.416.  Afterwards (including his awful playoffs): .156/.241/.234.  That’s rather definitive, even if “after injury” only included a few weeks of the regular season and a 5-game series.

I think the injury gives the team a built-in excuse to replace him if he starts off the year struggling.  Opening Day though?  No way; Davey Johnson is a players’ manager, is old-school and will go with the team at hand unless someone gets hurt in Viera.  Ladson says lets see what happens in Spring Training.  I think that’s the baseball writer equivalent of an Economist saying, “It depends.”

Q: Do you think Johnson will sit Espinosa more often this season because of his injury?

A: Doubtful; he’s either going to produce or not.  If he doesn’t produce, look for him to be sent to the DL for surgery.  I don’t see him getting sat sporadically.  Ladson says that Espinosa won’t let that happen.  Last time I checked though, Espinosa was the player and Johnson was the manager.  So I’m not sure how he can make that command decision.

Q: What role do you foresee Christian Garcia playing this year?

A: I see Christian Garcia starting the year as a starter in AAA and then one of two things happening; either he hurts himself again, thus destroying the whole starter experiment.  Or, someone in the MLB bullpen gets hurt or gets ineffective (ahem, Henry Rodriguez anyone?) and Garcia-as-starter is scrapped as he’s brought up to pitch meaningful innings.  Ladson says he expects Garcia to be a bullpen member and doesn’t buy into the starter experiment.

Q: Assuming 2013 is Johnson’s final year, do you think his replacement will come from inside or outside the organization?

A: I just don’t get how people are obsessing over the 2014 manager.  Call me when the World Series is over and AFTER Johnson actually retires.  Ladson predicts someone from within.

Q: After Adam LaRoche’s contract runs out, could Ryan Zimmerman move across the diamond to first base and let Anthony Rendon play third?

A: This is exactly what I believe should happen.  My ideal world has Rendon hitting his way into a utility infielder role this year, pushing for more playing time next year (perhaps even forcing the Nats hand at 2nd base), and Zimmerman logically moving across the diamond to alleviate his mental issues with routine throws and to protect his body from the constant pounding he gets at 3rd.  Ladson wants Zimmerman at 3rd for a long time, apparently forgetting that Zimmerman increasingly has difficulty making routine throws and being incredibly fragile.

Q: What are the chances of the Nats opening the season with Bryce Harper in right field and Jayson Werth in left?

A: Zero.  But, honestly, Werth in left is a better defensive team.  Harper‘s so good in center while Werth‘s range is eroding in right, it just makes more sense to switch them up.  Why won’t it happen on opening day?  Deference to the veteran.  Deference to the contract.  I expect the OFs to switch around and get each of them playing time in all three positions.  Ladson says that Harper is more comfortable in left while Werth is an “above-average” right fielder.  Uh, not according to UZR/150, which had Werth at a very poor -14.2 in 2012.  Harper belongs in RF but it won’t happen overnight.

Potomac/High-A Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2012

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Nathan Karns parlayed his first healthy pro season into an Organizational POTY award. Photo Potomac Nationals official via milb.com

Click here for the 2011 version of this post, for a look at how things were last year.

Here’s the High-A version of the 2012 season pitching staff review.  I’m going down the line from top to bottom; AAA is here, AA is here.  As with the other reviews, we’ll look at the main rotation, the substitute and spot starters, then focus on key relievers.  Rehab appearances are generally not mentioned.

Potomac starters.  The rotation started the season with Winters, Hansen, Olbrychowski, Grace and Swynenberg.  Lets see how the original rotation and other primary starters fared.

  • Kyle Winters, an off season minor league free agent pickup, was Potomac’s opening day starter.  But he wasn’t long for the rotation; he got shelled en-route to posting a 7.02 era in 8 starts before getting released.  It does not seem like anyone else picked him up (except perhaps in Indy ball).  Lets be honest; it is never a good sign to have minor league free agents playing significant roles on high-A ball clubs.  Outlook for next season: in another organization or out of baseball.
  • High-A proved to be too much for Bobby Hansen, who put up a 5.85 ERA in 6 starts (9 total appearances) before being moved back to Low-A, where he spent 2011.  He’s young; he has yet to turn 23, so even low-A isn’t the worst place for him.  But he’ll be entering his 6th pro season in 2013 and you’d like to see him throw more than 50 innings in a season.  Outlook for next season: see the Low-A post.
  • Adam Olbrychowski wasn’t able to build on his 2011 season in High-A, regressing badly and posting a 6.24 ERA in 26 appearances (16 starts).  He lost his rotation spot halfway through the season and didn’t fare well out of the pen.   This trade didn’t work out for either team really (the Nats traded Justin Maxwell to the Yankees for Olbrychowski    in January 2011 and released him themselves; he now plays for Houston).  Outlook for next season: either one last shot in the High-A bullpen or released.
  • Matthew Grace put in his third year as a full-time starter with the Organization, and he continues to be hit or miss.  On the season he posted a 9-12 record with a 4.84 ERA and 83/48 k/bb ratio in 141 1/3 innings, but you never know what you’re getting with him.  His final start of the season featured 8 shutout innings, but his first start in August was a 3-inning 9 hit meltdown.  Outlook for next season: the organization stuck with him after a 5.17 ERA in a full season of low-A; no reason to think they won’t continue to stick with him in 2013.  AA rotation, perhaps re-peating High-A if the numbers don’t work out.
  • Matt Swynenberg was in and out of the rotation, not really excelling as either a starter or a reliever on the year.  7-5, 4.92 ERA on the season.   He was a bit unlucky on the season; he had a .343 BABIP and his FIP was a bit lower than his ERA.   Outlook for next season: he’s still young (turned 23 in February) and has plenty of time to improve.  And, given that he was a 28th round draft pick, anything he contributes is absolute gravy to the organization).   Look for him to be leading the High-A rotation in 2013 with an eye for mid-season promotion.
  • Robbie Ray was last year’s sensation, an 19-yr old dominating in Low-A.  He clearly suffered from a sophomore slump, going 4-12 with a 6.56 ERA in 22 “starts” (I put that in quotes since he had one 5-inning “relief” appearance in June).  What happened?  His K’s were down, Walks up, HRs up, BABIP unlucky, and his FIP was a full point and a half lower than his ERA.  So it wasn’t as bad as it looked.  Plus, he’s only 20 in high-A, where a lot of college guys take a year and a half to get to.  I’m not worried at all; i’ll bet he’s back to being dominant in 2013 repeating the level.  Outlook for next season: back in the High-A rotation.
  • Nathan Karns finally got a healthy full season of pitching under his belt after getting paid 3rd round money as a 12th round draft pick in the high-spending 2009 draft, and the organization finally got a look at what Karns can do: A 2.17 ERA in 24 appearances (18 starts) across 116 innings between low- and high-A.  This was no fluke either; all his advanced stats support his performance and give reason to believe he’ll continue to develop.  He was named the Organization’s Pitcher of the  Year for 2012, usually a great indicator of future success for this team.  He’s a big guy with a great pitching frame (6’5″, 230lbs) and an even better mustache (see his profile picture at milb.com).  I think Karns may be our best or 2nd best starter prospect right now.  A ight concern may be his hitting the DL in mid-August after a couple of mediocre outings; I’d guess that he’s reached an innings limit for the season and was shutdown with an unspecified injury.  This may also explain why he’s not appearing in the AFL after such a season.  Outlook for next season: AA rotation.
  • Trevor Holder finally got promoted past high-A after repeating the league for the 4th time in 2012.  He got 10 starts in Potomac before being moved up mid-season.  He was pretty good in his 9 starts in High-A this year: 3-3 with a 3.72 ERA. Outlook for next season: (from the AA post): AA Rotation.
  • Alex Meyer excelled in 7 late-season starts in Potomac after throwing 90 innings in low-A to start the  year.  Final high-A stats: 3-2 with a 2.31 ERA in 39 innings.  His ancillary numbers declined slightly moving from low- to high-A (as one would expect), but his core capabilities seem to be the same.  He’s a HUGE guy (6’9″) and the downward plane on his fastball makes it incredibly difficult to hit in the air (only 6 homers allowed in 139IP).  A lot of pundits (myself included) were critical of Meyer starting in low-A as such an advanced draft prospect, but his numbers in high-A (a more legitimate evaluation of his skills age- and experience-wise) give great hope.  The organization has had him working on mechanics all year, worried that such a big guy was going to struggle to repeat his delivery (as highlighted by this Baseball America article, subscribers only sorry).  After being basically a 2-pitch guy in college, Meyer has reportedly added a 2-seam fastball that he throws at the same velocity as his 4-seamer to go with an 87-mph change-up.  Suddenly he’s a 4-pitch guy (2 plus-plus, one plus and one fringe) and that gives him a great chance of remaining a starter.  A 6’9″ throwing upper 90s has to look like 100+ to a hitter based on his release point, and despite most scouts opinion that he’d make a fantastic shut-down closer with his 2 plus-plus pitches, he has more value to the team as a starter.  Outlook for next season: I think he starts in High-A rotation again with an eye towards quick promotion to AA.
  • Robert Gilliam underperformed in AA, got demoted to high-A and gave Potomac 7 up-and-down starts down the stretch.   Final numbers in Potomac: 1-2, 4.25 ERA in 36ip.  Outlook for next season: (cut-n-pasted from AA post): The team likes him as a starter; i’m guessing they give him another whirl in the AA rotation with Meyer sitting in High-A waiting in the wings.
  • Taylor Hill got three late-season starts after toiling all year in Hagerstown.  Outlook for next season: see Low-A post.

  • Other guys who got spot starts here and there (non-rehab):
    • Ryan Demmin served as the mop-up/swing man for the team, giving them a K/9 reliever with a 4.57 ERA on the season.  He got a couple of spot starts but only went 7 innings between the two.  He gives up a lot of hits but doesn’t walk guys.  He could continue to be a useful middle reliever.  Outlook for next season: Likely the high-A bullpen again, though he could slot up to AA if the numbers don’t work out.
    • Paul Applebee, as with Demmin, was used mostly as a long man and got a spot start before going down with injury in June.  He wasn’t great when he did pitch (5.00 era in 36ip), but he’s been useful in the organization for a while.  Outlook for next season: High-A mop-up guy again, not knowing how severe his arm injury is.

Potomac Relievers: taking a look at the relief corps at the end of the season.  They used an awful lot of them.

  • Neil Holland continued an excellent string of seasons for this organization since being drafted in 2010.  He was close to unhittable in 2012: a 1.64 era in 60 innings and a sub 1.00 whip.  That’s fantastic.  Outlook for next season: see if he can repeat his performance in AA.
  • Rob Wort had, frankly, a pretty amazing season as Potomac’s closer.  He had an era of 2.38 over 56 2/3 innings, and had 13 saves.  That’s not why he was amazing; He had 95 Ks in those same 56 2/3 innings.  That is a 15.09 K/9 rate!!  For a 30-th round draft pick (i.e., a guy who was never really expected to make it out of rookie camp), that’s incredible.  Outlook for next season: closer in AA.
  • Joe Testa couldn’t repeat his excellent 2011 Potomac results, putting up an ugly 5.17 era in 38 IP.  The ugly part?  A perfect 1-1 ratio of walks to strikeouts on the year (31 walks, 31 Ks).  He turning 27 in December and is entering his 6th minor league season; I think its safe to say 2013 is a “show me” year for Testa. Outlook for next season: hard to see him moved up to AA; I see him repeating in the High-A bullpen, perhaps a pure Loogy.
  • Cameron Selik looked to have “figured out” the bullpen after being a starter for most of 2011, and had a fantastic 34/3 k/bb ratio in 22 high-A innings.  He earned a promotion, but begged out of his AA debut with what probably was a torn Lat.  He didn’t pitch again after June 5th.  A shame, since it would have been nice to see how he fared upon reaching AA. Outlook for next season: I’d start him in the High-A bullpen again to make sure he’s healthy, then promote him up to AA.
  • Aaron Barrett has gone from unknown 9th rounder to organizational top prospect in one season; after tearing through Low-A with 52 Ks in 34 innings, he allowed just 2 runs in 17 high-A innings to close out the  year.  His performance earned him a trip to the Arizona Fall League along with a number of other high-profile Nats prospects.  Outlook for next season: As with Selik, I’d imagine he belongs in the AA bullpen; we’ll see if the numbers work out.  If not he starts in Potomac looking for a quick jump.
  • Josh Smoker, the Nats poster child for NOT drafting high school arms early, threw a grand total of 9.2 innings between three levels this year.  Its hard to believe, but he’ll play his 6th minor league season in our system in 2013 and then he’ll likely move on.  Outlook for next season: if healthy, High-A bullpen to try one last time to resurrect his Nats career.
  • Other Relievers who appeared in High-A of note (not including Rehabbing MLBers): Outlook for next season for all of these guys seems the same: either continued “org guy” middle reliever or minor league FA in another organization.
    • Adam Carr, a 28-yr old in high-A after spending most of 2011 in AAA.  Org arm.
    • Jimmy Barthmaier looked great in 19 High-A innings; he should since he’s 28 and in his 8th minor league season.
    • Shane McCatty struggled through a 6-week mid-season injury and an 8.83 ERA in high-A.  Nepotism seems to indicate that he’ll get another shot in 2013, deserved or not.
    • Wilson Eusebio was promoted twice, both times inexplicably based on his performance, and ended up getting lit up in Potomac.  He may be out of baseball after 2012.

Summary

Summary Potomac’s 5 opening day starters finished the season with these ERAs: 7.02, 5.85, 6.24, 4.84 and 4.92.  Thankfully guys like Meyer, Holder and Karns replaced some of these starts with decent ones later on in the season.  They got great performances up and down the bullpen though, which helped the team to remain in playoff contention late into the 2nd half (despite their sub .500 record).  At least they were dominant at home (21-13 first half, 21-15 second half), giving the Potomac fans a lot to cheer for.

Outlook for next season: see the Low-A post.

Ladson’s Inbox 4/1/11 edition

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Is Ankiel the solution for the Nats in center field? Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images via federalbaseball.com

Editors note: I was out of town last weekend and had this queued up but never hit publish :-) .

MLB’s Nationals beat writer Bill Ladson hasn’t done an inbox for a few weeks, probably because he’s been busy at spring training.  Now that the regular season has started and we’ve had some debatable 25-man roster decisions made, he has published another edition of his Inbox column.  Here’s how i’d answer the questions he selects…

Q: What are you most worried about with the Nationals in 2011?

A: I’d say, in order, offense, the starting rotation, center field, and the back end of the bullpen.  I feel like we took a step backwards in terms of offense, we have improved the rotation over last year but still would probably rank this rotation 28th or 29th in the league, that Rick Ankiel in center field doesn’t really help us a ton, and that Drew Storen had such a rough spring that our end-of-game scenarios may be challenging.

Q: How do you think the Nationals will fare this season in the National League East with their off-season signings?

A: Probably the same as last year; last place.  Philadelphia and Atlanta are probably playoff bound no matter how many injuries the Phillies sustain.  Florida is probably taking a step side ways, having lost Uggla but picked up Vazquez (honestly, I don’t see how their fans don’t revolt at their perennial 87 win team doesn’t spend the $10 needed to improve themselves to be a 92 win team and challenge for the wild card).  The Nats may finish above the Mets, if only because that franchise is in such disarray right now.  They’re eating more than $20M in salary for players they’ve already released, they made no significant off-season moves and there’s serious injury question marks around 4 of their 5 best paid players (Santana, Beltran, Bay and Francisco Rodriguz).  I can see that time imploding badly and the Nats sneaking ahead of them for 4th place, maybe.

Q: If Bryce Harper has an amazing year in the Minors, is there a chance he will get a Major League callup?

A: They shouldn’t … but they may.  I would not be surprised to see the kid rocket through low-A and high-A ball.  It would be purely a late-season revenue grab to call him up, but they need to be careful on his service time accrual.  If he plays 30 days in September we’d have to keep him down an extra 30 days in 2012 to ensure he doesn’t become a super-2.  For those not clear on the implications of super-2 screwup, read this bit about the mistake the Giants made with Tim Lincecum.

That being said, i’d love to see him playing in the bigs before his 19th birthday.  That’d be fantastic.  And he may very well earn it.  His weakness in the AFL and in spring training was offspeed pitches, but its hard to fault the kid for wanting to swing and make something happen in the limited time he’s seen.  Once a full season gets going and he’s getting 4 ABs every night, he will learn patience, he will earn walks as pitchers work around him, and he’ll pick his spots.  This, more than anything else, is the lesson he needs to learn to advance in the minors.

Q: Do we see a parallel developing between Roger Bernadina and Justin Maxwell? How long do we have to wait?

A: It isn’t a bad parallel to note.  Bernadina lost the LF job, then the CF job, then the 4th outfielder job to a non-roster invitee.  He’s burning his last option as we speak.  He has a career 80 OPS+.  I openly questioned in this space why he was the presumed starter in LF all off-season, and as it turned out I was right about Morse being the better player.  I think he’ll play out the string in AAA this year and get traded for a low-level minor leaguer at the end of spring training 2012, just as we did with Morgan and Gonzalez this week.

Q: What do you think of the job general manager Mike Rizzo and manager Jim Riggleman have done since they took over in 2009?

A: I think Rizzo has done a decent job with the major league team and a pretty good job with the farm system.  I feel like he’s tried a little TOO hard to rid the team of the non-defensive hitters Willingham and Dunn, and could have gotten more for them.  I understand the Werth signing but think (like the rest of baseball) that he overpaid and strangely backloaded the contract (why back load instead of front load?  We’re actually at LESS payroll this year than last, so we could be paying him $20M this year instead of $10M and still look like we’re treading water).  He’s definitely assembled a team in his vision; defensively gifted, a bullpen full of power arms.  Next step; power rotation.

Riggleman is doing the best with what he has; I don’t believe other managers could do much better.  Most people believe we have probably the 28th or 29th best collection of talent in the majors, but we’re achieving better than 29th place.

Q: Besides Harper, which rookie impressed you during Spring Training?

A: I cannot disagree with Ladson’s selection of Cole Kimball as “most impressive rookie.”  I would not be surprised to see him called up in 2011 and to start getting high-leverage appearances.

Who comes off the 40-man?

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JD Martin's days could be numbered with the team. Photo courtesy of natsnewsnetwork.blogspot.com

1/19/11 Update: with the signing of reliever Todd Coffey, the team now appears to be three men over the limit.  Oh, and about 2 hours later the signing of infielder Jerry Hairston now requiring four guys to be dropped or traded.  One player has been cleared off the 40-man; the predicted JD Martin given his outright release unfortunately later in the afternoon.

Unless I’ve forgotten how to count, and unless I really do not understand the 40-man roster rules, the Nationals have been over the limit for nearly two weeks now.  They signed Adam LaRoche on 1/4/11, then made the announcement official on 1/7/11Answer: per Zuckerman’s posting today, “corresponding [40-man roster] moves don’t have to be made until the contract for the new player is formally processed at MLB headquarters in New York.”  LaRoche’s contract didn’t hit NY til today, so the Martin release is the corresponding move.  Still 3 to go.

Yet, here we are on 1/19/11 and no corresponding move has occurred yet.  The Nationals’ 40-man roster has been above 40 ever since.  I believe teams have to make immediate moves but do not have to make them public; a player could have been designated for assignment on 1/7/11, at which point the team has 10 days to actually decide what to do with him.  So perhaps tomorrow 1/19/11 (since we had a holiday mixed in there?) we’ll have an answer.

Likewise, Tom Gorzelanny will also require a corresponding move, since none of the 3 players traded for him were on the 40-man to start with.  With his addition (yes the trade has been announced but it will not be official until all physicals are passed) we’ll be at 42 (43 with the Coffey signing).

So, who on the current 40-man roster is next to go?  If we need to clear four spots without a major trade, then my initial guesses are:

1. Justin Maxwell: I know that Maxwell is a local and is a fan favorite, but the fact remains that we now have at least 5 outfielders with major league time last year (Werth, Ankiel, Morgan, Bernadina, and Morse) that seem to be ahead of Maxwell on the depth chart, plus a 6th outfielder prospect who will get a look prior to Maxwell at this point (CBrown).  He’s never produced at the MLB level and is now far too old to be considered a prospect.

2. J.D. Martin: Martin is probably the right-handed starter version of Maxwell.  He’s fallen down the depth chart, his name isn’t being mentioned as even competing for a rotation spot out of spring, and the argument can be made that he’s not in the top 5 players to make the AAA rotation.  He’s always had ok numbers when he’s pitched in the majors but in a power-arm league, spots for soft-tossing slight-of-frame right handers are limited.

3. The third and fourth spots are tougher.  I think #3 may end up being someone like Luis Atilano.  Mediocre MLB numbers in 2010, coming off of injury, he probably can sneak through waivers as Chico did and get assigned to AAA to try to get back.  He’ll be 26, slightly older than you want in a prospect, and he’s clearly not in the MLB rotation battle for 2011.

4. Atahualpa Severino: he has no mlb experience and is behind Slaten in the loogy battle right now.  However, other teams may see that we just added him to the 40-man last year and might take a look.  He’s a bit old for a prospect with no MLB time and he could slip through waivers.

This 4th spot is a stretch though, and I think honestly a better way to clear space may be a set of prospects trade for a veteran.  I don’t see at this point how Morse or Detwiler makes the 25-man roster, so perhaps we should look instead to package these guys for a player.

Other candidates (and their reasons for keeping them over Atilano and Martin right now) could be Mock (lively fastball, good stuff and a favorite of the organization), Martis (still young and still could prosper),  and Marrero (still too early to give up on him; needs one more season to prove he belongs but he’s clearly blocked for 2 years by LaRoche; could be a trade candidate).

GM for a day Part 3: the rest of the Roster and DFA candidates

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The last time anyone was happy with Jason Marquis. AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez

This is the 3rd of a quick series of reviews on the Nat’s 2010 season ending roster with analysis of what we should do.  Part I was a discussion of our Arbitration candidates while Part II was a discussion about Free Agents (ours and rumored acquisitions).  Part III is a quick rundown on the players either already under contract for 2011 or under club control (not yet reached arbitration status).  Bold means I am guessing that they’re on the 25 man roster on opening day.

Marquis, Jason #4 starter in 2011; lets hope he can regain some form.
Zimmerman, Ryan Franchise player
Strasburg, Stephen 60-day DL to start season; hopefully see some rehab starts in September
Rodriguez, Ivan Likely to cede playing time gradually to Ramos through 2011.
Hernandez, Livan Great 1-year re-signing.  Opening Day #1 Starter 2011.
Maya, Yunesky Hopefully shows his value with a full Spring Training.  Probable #5 starter barring FA signings or injury
Morgan, Nyjer Still under club control; but definitely a roster question mark
Mock, Garrett Destined for AAAA starter status.  Syracuse Rotation
Stammen, Craig Despite good advanced stats, probably behind in rotation race.  2011 long man in BP
Clippard, Tyler BP Anchor; splits time between setup and closer role.
Zimmermann, Jordan #3 starter 2011.  Hopefully stays healthy.
Atilano, Luis AAA rotation
Balester, Collin MLB bullpen/longman
Bernadina, Roger Possible starting 2011 RF
Desmond, Ian Starting SS
Detwiler, Ross Probably loses out on rotation battle and starts in AAA
English, Jesse Coming off injury, probably AAA bullpen.  Possible DFA.
Jaime, Juan Injured all of 2010: Possible DFA?
Martin, J.D. Coming off injury, probably AAA rotation or DFA.
Martis, Shairon AAA rotation
Mattheus, Ryan Injured most of 2010: Possible DFA
Maxwell, Justin 4th outfielder.
Severino, Atahualpa AAA bullpen
Thompson, Aaron AA Rotation.  Possible DFA after awful 2010.
Bisenus, Joe DFA Candidate after middling end of 2010.
Storen, Drew MLB bullpen; sharing closing duties w/ Clippard
Ramos, Wilson MLB backup catcher
Espinosa, Danny MLB starting 2nd baseman
Harper, Bryce Likely starting in Potomac and fast rising.

We had more than 40 guys that needed to be made active  (given that we ended the year with several on the 60-day DL) and some had to be designated for assignment (DFA) to make room when the date arrives to make the rosters right post 2010.   That date was 11/10/10, and between our 5 free agents we also cut loose four other players.  None was really a surprise. 

  • Scott Olsen endured another injury and earned the ire of the manager when his move to the bullpen was met with some petulance.
  • Tyler Walker was injured all year and is the most common of commodities in baseball (the right handed middle reliever).
  • Jesse English suffered a similar fate to Walker, and is surplus to requirements after Slaten did such a good job as the LOOGY.
  • The mild surprise DFA so far has been Joe Bisenius.  He didn’t have the greatest numbers out of our bullpen at the end of last season (walking more than he K’d) but he’s a power arm in a league that is quickly becoming a power-arm league.  Perhaps he’ll be invited to spring training to try to earn another shot.

As of right now, we sit at exactly 37/40 on the 40 man.  This gives us some nice flexibility to acquire players via trade or sign free agents without having to make any more moves.  We also have a pending deadline to add Rule5 eligible players, and we have several guys we probably want to protect (a blog posting on this is upcoming…), so I do feel we could make a few more moves:

  • Juan Jaime: he’s buried in the minors and its unlikely someone would risk him after being injured all year
  • Ryan Mattheus (see Jaime)
  • Aaron Thompson: who had just a horrible 2010 and could probably pass through waivers.
  • We could also cut JD Martin loose: he’s 27 coming off a season-ending injury, is clearly not going to be in the future plans of the team, and a soft-tossing right handed starter isn’t likely to be in great demand on the waiver wire.

Let the offseason mania begin!

Nats GM for a day. Part 2: the Free Agents

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Is this the National’s 2011 First Baseman? Photo: J. Meric/Getty Images

In our first of a 3-part post, we talked about the arbitration cases that the Nats face.  Some of those decisions are already being made and that post has been updated.  Now, lets talk about the free agents.

Player What Should Washington Do?/What WILL We do?
Dunn, Adam We should resign him, but Rizzo seems dead set against it.  Offer him arbitration and let him walk.
Batista, Miguel Valuable rubber arm in BP; I would resign him to a simliar 1 year deal in 2011.
Harris, Willie Let him go.  Declining value, Morse a better utility option.
Mench, Kevin Let him go; awful september numbers.  Perhaps ML FA in AAA
Kennedy, Adam Decline club option and let him go.  No need for 2nd baseman.

Clearly, the Adam Dunn decision will be critical to the direction of the team and our offense next year.  As noted above, personally I think he needs to be re-signed.  The team’s actions all year (plus Tom Boswell‘s repeated comments about how the front office has bungled the negotiations) seem to indicate though that we’re content with getting the compensatory picks and moving another direction.  If we decide to let him go, I’d prefer to sign someone like Adam LaRoche, a player who plays decent defense and shows a good bat.  I don’t think Carlos Pena (as is frequently rumored) is a good choice, and there’s sentiment in the Tampa Bay community that he may stay on in Tampa and try to improve on an awful 2010 season.  But, most pundits seem to think he’s coming here.

We also could become more creative and put someone like Josh Willingham, Michael Morse or even a supposedly healthy Jesus Flores at first as a stop gap until one of our prospects like Chris Marrero or even, say it isn’t so, Bryce Harper is ready to come up.  I mean come on, you “hide” defensive liabilities at first base.  If someone is 6’4″ and has any fielding ability they should be good enough to play the position.

Moving on to other FAs to be the decisions are relatively easy.  Harris, Mench, and Kennedy are gone.  None batted well enough to even consider and we have more able (and cheaper) minor leaguers ready to come up and serve as backups.  The last FA to be Miguel Batista proved to be a great asset to the bullpen at relatively little cost and would be worth bringing back.  We signed him last year on a non-guaranteed contract but guaranteeing him $1M wouldn’t be a huge risk.

Now, given the above, what is in store in the FA market?  I know i’ve heard lots of noise about how the Nats are going after Cliff Lee but I just don’t see that happening.  Here’s what I do see them doing:

1. Getting one or two pitchers.  Rizzo has a history with Brandon Webb, Arizona has blown enough cash on the guy, and he may be ready to come back.  We sign him to a one year deal and try to get lucky.  I’d also be happy with trading for one of Tampa’s spare starters (Garza, Shields), acquiring Vazquez (who I think is an NL, non-NY market pitcher and could return to his 2009 Atlanta form) or a De La Rosa type (hard thrower and can get Ks).  Most pundits have us signing Vazquez, some have us getting Webb.

2. Get a FA first baseman: I’ve previously said I like Adam LaRoche.  Rizzo likes Carlos Pena.  We’ll see what happens.  There’s lots of teams looking for first basemen, so the competition for these guys may force our hand into a guy we don’t want.

3. Find a utility player: we need a better version of Willie Harris.  May come from the minors as a prospect but probably not.  We need a guy who can play 2nd/ss or 3b in a pinch.

Less Likely:

4. Sign or acquire a marquee outfielder.  I’d love to see someone like Werth or Ross in right field, which could move Bernadina to center, allow us to rid ourselves of Morgan and then use Maxwell as the 4th outfielder.  We could also acquire someone like Rasmus or Ellsbury, put them in center, dump Morgan and go with Willingham-new CF-Bernadina.  Or we could use a Morse/Bernadina platoon in Right with Bernadina occasionally spelling Morgan in center (though they’re both lefty and both hit relatively the same, so that may not actually work).

I don’t really see us going after any bullpen help or a closer.  As Zuckerman once said, we’re remarkably set on 2011 positions despite being a 90-loss team.   We had a good bullpen last year and have a couple of decent looking reliever prospects in Carr and Kimball.  I could see a 2011 bullpen with Clippard, Burnett, Storen, Stammen, Balester, Slaten and Carr.  Or substitute some of our arbitration/fa guys for Stammen and Balester.

I’ve said for a while that the Nats need to spend like a mid market team.  $90M payroll at a minimum so as not to insult the fanbase.  Perhaps this off season we’ll see it.  They only have a paltry $24M committed for 2011 right now and, while that number will increase with potentially 13 arbitration cases, a huge chunk of last year’s payroll is now gone (just Guzman and Dunn consisted of nearly 1/3 of our 2010 payroll).  So, lets see some FA dollars get spent!

Morgan proving to be a distraction the Nats are better off without…

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While attending a fantasy football draft, I missed the melee from last night.  But certainly I was not surprised to hear that Nyjer Morgan was in the middle of it.  Borrowing from an email conversation between friends Jamos and Droopy this morning, here’s some point by point thoughts on all of Morgan’s various transgressions lately.

1) Nyjer shouldn’t have gotten into it with the Phillies fans. (isn’t anything involving the words “tauning” and “Philadelphia sports fans” always going to end in disaster?).  Fans are antagonizers, and drunken late-inning fans close to the field who are purposely talking to the players are only looking for a reaction.

2) Nyjer was wrong to give the shoulder bump to the Cardinals catcher.  Agree; Nyjer wrong to hit the St Louis catcher, but that’s a Washington-St Louis issue and i’m sure it will come up next  year if Morgan is still on the team (big “if” here; see later)

3) Nyjer needs to keep his trap shut to the Media when asked about batting 8th and being sat by his manager.  Riggleman is old school and rightly sat Morgan so he wouldn’t get a ball in his ear from Wainwright after the questionable behaviors the previous night.  As for batting eighth … well Nyjer, when you have an OPS+ of 72 and a puny OBP of only .317 on the season, you can’t really complain when you’re put in the 8th spot can you?  How about you perform to your 2009 levels (OPS+ of 121, .396 OBP) and let your bat do the talking?

4) Nyjer should have slid into home against the Marlins, but you can’t fault him for what he did.  As Riggleman was quoted in the post-game, it is incredibly hard to 2nd guess sliding versus body blocking at home plate.  You’re trying to get a read on the catcher’s body language and his positioning as you’re racing down the base-path to try to score the winning run.  You’re certainly NOT saying to yourself, “Hey I really want to hit this guy how can I do it?”  Nyjer made the decision that a collision was going to give him the best chance to score the run.  Riggleman supported him there.  It certainly wasn’t nearly as questionable a play as the Utley-Flores incident that essentially took out Flores for a season and a half.  The fact that Florida’s catcher suffered a season-ending injury is tough though, which led to the next point.

5) I don’t fault the Marlins for throwing at him—however, you’ve got to do it in his FIRST at-bat. You don’t wait until the fourth inning when you’re up 14-3 or whatever to throw at him. Florida could not have been more obvious about what they were doing.  The SECOND time you throw at a player?  That pitcher and coach should be fined and suspended.

6) I don’t think Morgan’s stealing falls into the realm of baseball’s “Unwritten Rules.” Yes, it was a blowout at the time, but the Marlins had their closer in the game in the 8th inning, as Zimmerman pointed out.  And by the way, the whole “you don’t steal when you’re up by 10 runs” never applies to the  LOSING team.  Whoever said that Morgan was showing them up was just looking to stir up trouble.

7) Lastly, I’m ok with Nyjer rushing the mound after getting a ball thrown behind him in his third at-bat. Agree wholeheartedly; the first time you get hit is payback.  The 2nd time is an attempt to damage a player’s career.  I’d support the charging of the mound and if i’m a vet on the Nats i’m going out there for blood.

Noooooow.  All that being said.

Nyjer Morgan’s performance this year, his lapses in judgment in the field and on the base-paths, and certainly his severe lapses in judgment in the past two weeks says to me that his usefulness to this franchise has reached an endpoint.  Rizzo has gone out of his way to rid the team of clubhouse lawyers, cancers, non-hustlers and problem children.  I think a 2011 outfield of Willingham, Bernadina, Morse with Maxwell as a backup is quite serviceable for the short term (without considering any FA pickups, which are a possibility in the OF in the off season).  Perhaps by 2012 we’ll have Michael Burgess or (hold your breath) Bryce Harper ready to take the field.  Perhaps the Nats go after someone like Jayson Werth and keep Morse as a super-sub.  In any case, the only reason to hang on to Morgan right now is if Rizzo was saving face and holding on to one of the key members of the 4-player deal with Pittsburgh.