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Nats 2016 Minor League Players of the year; do they matter?

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Lopez 2016 Nats minor league pitcher of the year; will it matter? Photo via wp.com/Mitchell Layton getty images

Lopez 2016 Nats minor league pitcher of the year; will it matter? Photo via wp.com/Mitchell Layton getty images

The Nats recently announced their 2016 Minor League Players of the Year, and then recognized them along with GCL MVP Juan Soto over the weekend.

Rafael Bautista, Reynaldo Lopez, Jose Marmolejos-Diaz and Juan Soto, who all hail from the Dominican Republic and represent the best evidence of the Nats long awaited “rebirth” in that market, were all recognized.  And that’s great.

But how have the Nats Minor League Players of the Year fared in terms of eventual career accomplishment?  Is this achievement a good precursor for MLB success?  Lets dig deeper.

Here’s a list of the Nats declared prospects of the year (i’ve gone back beyond the Nats time in DC since prospects lag in terms of their arrival), along with some quick commentary on where they’ve gone:

  • 2016: Jose Marmelejos-Diaz, Reynaldo Lopez: Lopez had some impact at the MLB level in his first shot, may factor into the post-season bullpen, but is looking at AAA next year unless an injury or trade occurs.  Marmeloejos-Diaz is still too young to pass judgement.  Verdict: too early to tell obviously; Is Lopez going to be an effective mid-rotation starter or (as some pundits believe) is he going to end up being more effective in the bullpen?
  • 2015: Jose Marmelejos-Diaz, Austin Voth: Voth had a solid AAA season in 2016, but was (somewhat surprisingly) not called up on 9/1 despite facing Rule-5 protection this coming off-season.  Has he peaked?  Was he left off of the 40-man for strategic (i.e. trade bait) purposes?   He’s clearly behind three other AAA guys on the depth chart right now with a full MLB roster; what does his future hold?  Verdict: too early but concerns about Voth’s role going forward.
  • 2014: Steven Souza, Lucas Giolito: Souza famously netted the team both Trea Turner and Joe Ross in trade, but has been an injury prone 1-win/year player for Tampa Bay ever since (total bWAR for Tampa: 1.9 in two seasons).  Giolito’s jury is still out; despite his lofty prospect status he struggled on the big stage in 2016 amid reports of mechanical tweaks and struggles.  Verdict: early on Giolito, Souza might be who he is.
  • 2013: Billy Burns, Taylor Jordan: Burns netted the team Jerry Blevins in trade and then had one decent season with Oakland (a 2.8 bWAR season in 2015 that may have had the Nats with trader’s remorse.  However, he struggled badly in 2016, was traded, was sent to the minors, and may not be much more than a defensive outfield bench player.  Jordan had 9 promising starts in 2013, then struggled in spot starts in 2014, blew out his elbow, came back, struggled again in 2015 spot starts, blew out his elbow again this year and was summarily released.  He may struggle to find a team willing to give a 4-A pitcher on his third elbow a shot going forward.  Verdict: one may be done, one may be a 4th outfielder at best.
  • 2012: Nathan Karns, Matt Skole: Karns was a lower-round draft pick with an injury history the Nats took a chance on and he shot through the system, taking just a season and a half to rise from low-A.  The team capitalized on his promise and flipped him for three role players (Jose LobatonFelipe Rivero and Drew Vettleson).  Since, Karns got flipped to Seattle, struggled early and has missed most of 2016 with a back strain.  Skole is a polarizing figure amongst readers here; to me he is a 27yr old AAA power-only hitter who has had three consecutive NRI to spring training (so its not as if the MLB squad doesn’t know who he is).  He’s at the end of his string with the Nats and likely moves elsewhere as a MLFA for next year.  I wish he turned out better; after his fantastic 2012 season an unfortunate injury cost him all of 2013 and he really seems like he’s been playing catchup since.  Verdict: Karns may turn out to be more than he’s shown, but Skole is a 6-year MLFA.
  • 2011: Steve Lombardozzi, Brad Peacock: Lombardozzi made the majors as a 19th round pick (quite the rarity; it usually only happens 2-3 times per draft class), got traded in the Doug Fister deal, got traded again, then released, then picked up by Baltimore, then released again and found himself playing indy ball after getting cut by the Chicago White Sox this past spring.  The Nats picked him up for their AAA team but he possesses a negative bWAR career value as a backup utility player.  Peacock (not unlike Karns) had a brief debut with the Nats before getting used in trade to acquire others (in his case, going to Oakland as part of the Gio Gonzalez deal).  Oakland flipped him to Houston, where he struggled as a starter in 2014 and has been basically a 4-A taxi squad member between their AAA team and their bullpen.  Verdict: both guys ended up better AAA players than MLB players.
  • 2010: Tyler Moore, Tommy Milone: Moore matriculated to the majors and had a fantastic 2012 off the bench (123 OPS+) … and then never matched it.  The Nats traded him for Nate Freiman in a “moving the deck chairs” trade with Atlanta, and Moore spent most of 2016 off a 40-man and on the D/L.  Milone, like Karns and Peacock after him, had a brief and exciting debut with the MLB club before being used as trade fodder for others (he was also in the Gonzalez trade).  He excelled in Oakland’s big park and was then flipped for Sam Fuld to the Twins.  He’s been less successful with Minnesota, getting dumped out of the rotation in 2016 and posting a 5+ ERA this year for baseball’s worst team.  He may be a non-tender candidate and could be on the move again this winter.  Verdict: At best a 4-A slugger and a 6th starter.
  • 2009: Derek Norris, Brad Meyers: Is it interesting that three Nats Minor league players of the year were all included in the same trade?  Norris was a centerpiece of the Gonzalez deal while still relatively a young minor leaguer; he peaked as an All Star in 2014 for Oakland before getting moved to San Diego in the Jesse Hahn deal.  He’s struggled in San Diego, hitting just .186 this year.  Meyers’ career is an injury plagued shame; after a fantastic 2009 he started 2010 just as well before getting hurt.  He returned and had a solid 2011 in AA and AAA but was taken in Rule5 by the Yankees.  He missed basically all of 2012 with injury and was returned as damaged goods, an injury that cost him all of 2013.  By the time he made it back in 2014, he just had nothing left; after 6 starts in Harrisburg the team released him.  Verdict: At least a backup catcher in the majors and an asterick due to injury.
  • 2008: Leonard Davis, Jordan Zimmermann: Davis was named the hitter of the year on the back of a solid year at Potomac … when he was 24 and a year and a half older than the league.  He kept climbing the ranks, hit .250 in Syracuse in 2011 but never got a shot in the majors.  He bounced around indy ball for a copule of years but retired in 2013.   Zimmermann is what we all know him to be: a 9-figure starter and easily the most successful player on this list .. which, not to bury the lede this early, is kind of the point of this article.  Verdict: a AA washout and a #2 starter in the majors.
  • 2007: Justin Maxwell, John Lannan: Maxwell toiled for years as a 4th OF for the Nats in their dark times before getting flipped for a middle reliever in Adam Olbrychowski.  That started his itinerant career, playing for Houston, Kansas City, San Francisco and most recently Boston’s AAA team.  He has now decamped for Korea.  For his career he has a bWAR figure of 2.9, 2.4 of which came in his best season in Houston.  Lannan famously went from Nats opening day starter and Ace during the “down years” to AAA insurance policy in 2012.  After getting mercifully non-tendered in 2012, he played for two different NL East rivals in 2013-2014, and has pitched full AAA seasons in the PCL the last two years.  7.1 career bWAR, most of which was earned during his first two full seasons starting for the awful 2008 and 2009 Nats.  Verdict: two MLB players, both of which had limited impact in their careers.
  • 2006: Kory Casto, Zech Zinicola: Casto was a long-time Nats farmhand favorite, progressing slowly one level a  year and always producing.  He finally made the majors in 2007 but struggled in parts of two seasons and was outrighted off the 40-man after 2009.  He elected FA, bounced around two organizations in 2010 before retiring in July of that  year.  Zincola won the Nats minor league pitcher of the year in a  year when he threw just 32 innings as a closer, an indication of how bad our farm system was in the early years.  He played for years in the Nats system, never making the majors, but interestingly played a full season this year with the independent Sugar Land Skeeters.  Verdict: essentially two career minor leaguers.
  • 2005: Kory Casto, Mike O’Conner: O’Conner became just the second pitcher in the history of George Washington baseball to make the majors (the first being a guy from the 1920s who had exactly one career IP).  He gave the team 20 starts in 2006 and then had a grand total of 15 MLB innings thereafter, toiling for years in AAA.  Verdict: as with Casto, essentially a career minor leaguer.
  • 2004: Ryan Church: a late bloomer who won the Nats minor league player of the year the year he was acquired by destroying Edmonton before getting called up.   By 2007 he was a solid contributor for the Nats and looked like a viable RF option for a few  years.  He got flipped to the Mets in Jim Bowden‘s ill-fated trade for the “toolsy” Lastings Milledge not uncoincidentally just before his first arbitration pay day, played there halfway decently for a year and a half before getting moved to Atlanta.   He signed as a FA in Pittsburgh and struggled badly, and 2010 was his last year in the big leagues.  Total career bWAR: 9.1, most of it in the three solid years he gave the Nats.  Verdict: a MLB regular for a handful of seasons.
  • 2003: Terrmel Sledge: Sledge won the Expos minor league award after an excellent year in AAA Edmonton.   He was solid in 2004 for the big league club but then barely played in 2005 thanks to injury.  That off-season he was flipped in the Alfonso Soriano deal, traded to San Diego a few weeks later, played two non-descript seasons there and then played 5 years in Japan, retiring after the 2012 season at the age of 35.  Verdict: essentially a 4-A player.

 

Summary: 13 years of the franchise naming minor league players of the year (24 total guys) has produced:

  • One legitimate MLB star (Zimmermann)
  • 6 slightly better than replacement Major leaguers: Souza, Milone, Karns, Norris, Lannan, Church
  • 9 basically 4-A players: Burns, Jordan, Lombardozzi, Peacock, Moore, Maxwell, Casto, O’Conner, Sledge
  • 4 guys who never made the majors: Skole (as of yet), Meyers, Davis, Zinicola
  • 4 guys who its too early to tell: Marmelejos-Diaz, Lopez, Voth, Giolito

Not a great track record.  Lots of this is squarely on the shoulders of the early state of the farm system; fair enough.   Its also wise to note that none of the main home-grown stars that the team as developed over the years appears on this list; No Zimmerman, Harper, Strasburg, Rendon, Storen, Cole, Solis, Ray, Espinosa, etc.  That’s because these guys either raced through the minors or just never shined brightly enough at a particular level to earn the award.

Also interesting; look how many of these guys got flipped soon after their being named our POTY: Norris, Milone, Peacock, Karns, Burns, Souza.  Its almost as if the team is trading high on more marginal prospects thanks to their POTY status.  Look at the return in each of these deals; it seems like the Nats “won” the trade nearly every time.

Another interesting side note; while doing this I noticed that no less than four guys from the 2007 draft are on this list: Zimmermann (2nd), Souza (3rd), Norris (4th) and Meyers (5th).  That draft also included future big leagers in Detwiler (1st), Smoker (1st-supp) and Smolinksi (2nd).  and McCoy (10th).  That’s a heck of a draft; all due credit.

 

 

 

Lannan option shocker

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Hope to see you back soon Mr Lannan. Photo Luis Alvarez/AP via www.timesunion.com

I was sort of curious why there was so much volume on my Nationals RSS feeds this morning; little did I know there was a relatively shocking piece of news to report and comment on; John Lannan has been optioned to AAA to start the 2012 season.

I’ll admit it: I had Lannan penciled in as the 5th starter as soon as Chien-Ming Wang went down with injury.  I didn’t give it a second thought.  When the Nats bought Edwin Jackson, they had 6 starters for 5 spots and my presumption was that Lannan was the default choice for the 5th starter once Wang proved not to be ready for the start of the season.  In the back of my mind I knew Lannan had an option … but never thought that he and his $5M salary would be dropped to Syracuse.

This action definitely sends some statements.  In no particular order:

1. Unlike past iterations of the team (notably the 2009 team and the bullpen construction decisions made at the end of spring training), this sends the message that roster spots are not entirely guaranteed by virtue of salary or options status.  We all knew Ross Detwiler had no options and was set to make the 25-man roster, but nobody thought he’d be beating out Lannan for the 5th starter spot.  Its hard to argue he didn’t earn it; his Spring Training ERA was half that of Lannan’s.

2. The team isn’t concerned about “wasting” salary: Lannan joins fellow multi-millionare Yuniesky Maya in Syracuse, meaning that the Syracuse rotation is set to earn a sizeable percentage per annum of the major league rotation (roughly $20M for the Nats starting 5 versus $7M and change in AAA).  In fact if it weren’t for Jackson’s $11M salary the two rotations would be roughly equal.  Amazing.

3. Was there a stated rotation competition still ongoing this late into Spring Training?  If so it certainly didn’t come out in the dozens of stories filed by the beat reporters from Viera.  Perhaps the real shock here is that nobody knew that Lannan’s job was in jeopardy.  Did Lannan?

4. Sending Lannan down isn’t the same thing as sending Bryce Harper down: I’ve seen some bloggers kvetching about the statement “we’re starting with our best 25” when explaining the demotion while the team breaks camp with 3 non-roster invitees (Tracy, Carroll, Nady), at least one of which is set to get major reps in the outfield, and none of which are as good as Harper right now.  The simple matter is this; there’s “money” considerations and then there’s “MONEY” considerations.  Just keeping Harper in the minors a couple of weeks guarantees us one more year of his service prior to FA eligibility, and that’s hugely important.  No-one will argue the WAR-value add of 2 weeks of a 19yr old rookie versus 162 games of a 25-yr old emerging slugger.

I can buy some of the argument, by the way, that the Super-2 status concerns may be moot with Harper, considering that the team is in its best interests to buy out Harper’s arbitration years before he hits them.  Other forward-thinking teams (Tampa, Colorado, Los Angeles, Milwaukee) have certainly been doing this with their younger stars (Evan Longoria, Matt Moore, Troy Tulowitzki, Matt Kemp, and Ryan Braun respectively for the above teams).  But, as far as I can tell none of the above players are advised by Scott Boras, who knows maximum value is obtained by waiting til the last minute, by playing all the angles, and by not giving “home town  discounts.”  So for me, there is still significant future value in keeping Harper in the minors until mid-to-late June.  The difference can be googled by the reader, as WP writers have done this analysis several times in the past and discovered that a superstar avoiding super-2 can mean $14-$18M in future salary.

5. Davey Johnson needs to get on the same page as his boss (aka, Mike Rizzo).  Johnson telling the press “John’s my guy,” as he reportedly did just last week, or Johnson prematurely announcing that Lannan had won the 5th starter spot and then revoking it is a serious breach of boss-employee trust.   No wonder Lannan “took the news hard;” how would you feel if you were blindsided by your employer a week after them telling you that you were doing a great job and that everything seemed fine?  In this respect, the team seemed to have done Lannan wrong.  I’ll caveat this by saying that none of us armchair pundits are in the clubhouse on a day to day basis, so none of us had any idea what conversations Johnson and Lannan may have had leading up to his demotion.

6. I will have to agree with others who think this sends a bad message to the rest of the team.  Lannan by all respects is the kind of player teams want.  He doesn’t make waves, he doesn’t get bad press.  He was our opening day starter twice in recent years, he was a great example of a middle-round player overcoming his draft position and potential to make the majors, and he frankly isn’t that bad a pitcher.  Does the team’s “treatment” of Lannan send the wrong message to its veterans?  If so, that’s a bad cloud to have hanging over a team with some serious money tied up with its veterans (namely Werth, Zimmerman and Gonzalez).  If these guys didn’t like the way the team handled this situation, the clubhouse could be lost fairly easily.

7. You would think this action kills what remaining trade value Lannan had; Rizzo had already spoken of how the trade market for him was “thin” to begin with.  Lannan is a tough asset to get equal value for; he doesn’t over power you, he has unimposing stats (career 101 ERA+, or exactly MLB average), and he doesn’t get a ton of Ks.  He is a durable lefty who can fit at the back of your rotation.  Is that worth $5M a year (and more next year when he hits arbitration again)?  Or, more importantly to the Nats, is that worth a starting position player?  Certainly the Angels aren’t giving up their promising CF Peter Bourjos (as an example) for Lannan straight up.  We’d have to sweeten the pot.  Except that at some point, the value of keeping a disgruntled Lannan in AAA as starter insurance will eventually be more important than whatever role player we could get in return.

The one precedent that gives me hope on the trade front is when the team somehow turned demoted and malcontented Lastings Milledge into Nyjer Morgan (yes I know there was two others involved, but in terms of like for like, Milledge essentially turned into Morgan).  Perhaps Detwiler will continue his late 2011 performance into April of 2012 and will remain our starter-in-waiting to cover for eventual injuries and what not.  This would give the team more confidence to shop the now-insurance policy Lannan and wait for the right deal.

All in all, just your ordinary Wednesday in Nats town.

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 12/31/11 edition

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Its Hall of Fame ballot time. Let the Jack Morris arguments start-up again. Photo John Iacono via si.com

This is your semi-weekly/periodic wrap-up of Nats and other baseball news that caught my eye.  With the approaching Hall of Fame nonsense, er I mean news cycle approaching, I’ll throw in a HoFame section.

Nationals In General

  • Transcribed from a radio interview by Tim Dierkes, here’s Mike Rizzo on CF and 1B.  This is the first time I’ve seen Rizzo mention NEXT year’s FA class in terms of looking for talent and it makes you wonder if we don’t already have our entire primary starting 15 set (8 out-field players, 5 starters and setup/closer) for 2012.   I can live with Jayson Werth in CF, since it opens up lots of FA possibilities in RF.  In fact, I smell a separate post coming…
  • Former Nat Lastings Milledge is going to Japan to try to resurrect his baseball career.
  • Scouting-specific SeedlingsToStars.com site looks at Anthony Rendon.
  • The USA Today does an in-depth, position-by-position overview of the team and where it stands.
  • Another Tom Boswell article that I disagree with; he thinks Prince Fielder isn’t “right” for the Nats.   I’m sorry; but Fielder is a run creating machine (he created 35 more runs last year than Michael Morse, by way of comparison, which roughly equates with his 5.2 Wins Above replacement value).  Yes we have LaRoche who is plus defense, but is he going to come back to 2010’s form or is he going to be a lost cause again?  Meanwhile, Fielder looks set to take a shorter term deal and re-try his hand at the FA market when he hits 30.  Wouldn’t you sign him for 3yrs $70M?  You put Fielder at 1B, keep Morse in Left, groom Bryce Harper to play center and keep Werth in right.   For the next 3 years.  How difficult is that?  Boswell talks about where to put Rendon; well; you put him wherever you have a need.  Put him at 2nd and move Espinosa to short.  Or you trade someone to free up room.  This team’s problem isn’t the need for a lead-off slap hitter; we need a big run producer in the middle of the order.  Someone to replace what Adam Dunn gave us for two years.
  • Ryan Tatusko posts his 2011 recap of his minor league season plus his time in the Venezuelan Winter League.  I wish more players were as blogger-friendly as Tatusko.

Hall of Fame Specific

  • A pro Edgar Martinez take with the important quote, “There is a position called DH…”  I have changed my own stance on this issue in recent years, especially when considering relief pitchers as hall of fame worthy.  If you argue that a closer and his 60-70 innings is somehow more valuable to a team than a designated hitter’s 650 at bats, then I’d have to disagree.  On my hypothetical ballot, Martinez is in.
  • Excellent review of active MLB players under HoFame consideration by Fangraph’s Dave Cameron.   Also, the comments discussion brings up a number of other players.  He uses primarily career WAR to determine the player’s value, which I’m somewhat hesitant about (in most cases WAR is an accumulator stat, as a mediocre player who stayed very healthy will have a higher WAR than an excellent but shorter-lived career).
  • This article really got to me, to the point where I commented on both the original post by Jay Jaffe at Baseball Prospectus and the discussion at TangoTiger‘s InsideTheBook.com blog.  Jaffe’s hall of fame measuring system (called JAWS) somehow has determined that Brad Radke, the middling pitcher for the Twins who had basically one standout season in his career, was a BETTER player career-wise than Jack Morris.  How would any sane baseball observer possibly come to this conclusion?  This is where the modern blogger’s over-reliance on statistics really gets to me.  I have not read into why this system ranks Radke so high while ranking Morris so low but suspect it is due to a reliance on the same calculations that go into the ERA+ statistic (of which Radke’s career ERA+ of113  is better than Nolan Ryan‘s career era of 112).

Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • Oakland continues to dismantle itself: Boston trades OF prospect Josh Reddick and two other players to Oakland for closer Andrew Bailey and outfielder Ryan Sweeney.  This is after Boston acquired Mark Melancon earlier in the off-season; they now have completely remade the back side of their rotation.  Clearly the team is moving Daniel Bard to the rotation, having just traded for his replacement.   Reddick was clearly seen as surplus to requirements, despite putting together a decent 2011 season, but you have to wonder if the team is going to be satisfied with Sweeney starting in RF.
  • Keith Law makes a good point during his analysis of the Bailey move, saying that adding Bailey is a far better move than paying Jonathan Papelbon $50M.  I agree completely and think that anyone who pays $10M+ per year for a guy who throws 70 innings and who only really has about 50% “high leverage” plate appearances (see last year’s splits for Mariano Rivera and Papelbon to see that 57% of Rivera’s plate appearances were in “high” leverage situations as a high, while Papelbon was at 47%) is just wasting money.  Find a hard thrower in your organization (say, like Drew Storen for the Nats), install him as the closer as a rookie, then ride him til free agency and then cut him loose and start over.  Relievers are fungible talents, they come and go, mostly are failed starters since they don’t need the full repertoire of pitches to be successful, and are cheaper to come by.
  • (hat tip to ck of the Nats Enquirer): The Baltimore Sun reports that Scott Boras and Prince Fielder were in the Baltimore/DC area to meet with an owner not named Peter Angelos.  More links on the topic from Federal Baseball.  Gee, I wonder who it could be?  Why would those two fly HERE and not directly to the city of the owner in question, unless the owner of the team in question was either a) the Nationals, or b) an owner of a MLB team who lives in this area but owns a team based elsewhere, or c) an owner of another team just happened to be in DC for some odd reason (odd because Congress is out of session, which would seem to eliminate most any possibly lobbying reason).  Don’t get me wrong; I think Adam LaRoche can contribute in 2012 and it seems ludicrous to think he can’t at least get close to his 2010 numbers, but Fielder is a 5+ WAR player who probably makes us the favorite for the NL wild card if we sign him, right now.

General Baseball News

  • Wow, two LOOGY articles in the same day.  Bill James answered a question about the evolution of the LOOGY and posted this link describing its birth (apparently by Tony LaRussa in the 1991 season).  I also never knew that the term “LOOGY” was coined by none other than Rob Neyer.  And TangoTiger points to some of the same research.  Mid 30s lefties everywhere have LaRussa to thank for their extended careers.
  • Could you imagine this happening in today’s game?  The first intentional pitch would have resulted in ejections.  Certainly modern umpires would not let a pitcher throw pitch after pitch at an opposing batter.  Clearly these umpires let this game get out of hand.
  • Will MLB step in?  USAToday’s Seth Livingston thinks that the Oakland payroll dumping trades this off-season may get the attention of the front office.  Hard to see why; according to Cot’s the Athletics are only signed up for around $17M of guaranteed contracts in 2012 right now, before a slew of arbitration cases.  They non-tendered 3 of their 10 arbitration cases but kept a couple of their more expensive guys (Cot’s thinks they had 14 arbitration-eligible players; I havn’t cross-referenced outrights and DFAs but know they had 10 arb tender decisions).  Of those they did tender, they have since traded away Sweeney, Gonzalez, Bailey, Breslow and Cahill.  Geeze.  Baseball-Reference thinks they’ll get to $50M in payroll; I wonder if they’ll get to $35m frankly.  And, its looking more and more like this could be something like a 50-win team.  Things could get ugly in the Bay area in 2012.
  • This would be a loss for us prospect hounds: Keith Law is reportedly interviewing for a front-office position with the Houston Astros.  Law takes a very specific, opinionated viewpoint towards player development, drawing from his experiences in the Toronto organization (which itself during his time took a rather college-heavy approach to the draft which ultimately wasn’t as successful as the team wanted, ultimately contributing to the end of JP Ricciardi‘s reign.
  • An interesting exercise; USA Today builds an unbeatable MLB team for the median MLB payroll.  Honestly though, I’m not sure just how challenging this exercise is.  If you gave me $86M (the median payroll they used) you should be able to put together TWO such teams.  There’s enough pre-arbitration and arbitration-controlled talent in the league to be able to do the same task for something approaching a $20M payroll.  A future blog post?  :-)
  • Follow-up on Alex Rodriguez‘s experimental Germany treatment; this op-ed piece from Jeff Passan on the blurry line between PEDs and legitimate surgical procedures.  The article has a very in-depth description of the A-Rod procedure and raises the question as to what defines a Performance Enhancing Drug?  I have had similar discussions; why are Steroids “bad” but Cortisone “good” in terms of usage?  What do Cortisone shots do?  They enable a player to play through pain that otherwise may keep him out.  Uh … isn’t that the definition of a “performance enhancing” substance??  Steroid’s aren’t illegal; they’re just controlled.  But so is cortisone; you can’t just inject yourself with the stuff without a doctor’s order.  Passan takes things one step further, comparing the healing effects of HGH with these new treatments that A-Rod and Bartolo Colon got and makes a very good point; the WADA uses 3 categories to define a doping drug and everything we’ve described here can be argued to fit those criteria (except that only HGH and Steroids have been determined to be “bad” by the powers that be).  There’s something inconsistent here.

Collegiate/Prospect News

  • Seedling to the Star’s scouting report on Braves phenom prospect Julio Teheran.  Teheran’s stock has slipped somewhat in the past two years, especially given the inevitable comparisons to fellow pitching prospect phenom Matt Moore.  While Moore’s 2011 MLB debut was nothing short of amazing (including his 7 innings of shutout ball in the playoffs), Teheran posted a 5.03 ERA in about 20 MLB innings throughout 2011.  It was bad enough to probably rule Teheran out of the 2012 rotation plans and send him back to repeat AAA.  But if he can put things together, he’ll join an arsenal of young arms in Atlanta that seems set to be their next wave of starters in the ilk of John Smoltz and Tom Glavine.


General News; other

  • Baseball meets modern America: Joe Maddon and the rising Latino population in his home town of Hazelton, PA, as written by Joe Posnanski.
  • 67-56?  I’ve never seen a football game with such a ridiculous scoring line.


Nats pursuit of a CFer; a complete analysis of options

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Conventional wisdom says the team will pursue BJ Upton. But what if there's a decent short-term alternative? Photo unknown via ajc.com

The Nats have not had a consistent, quality, and reliable center fielder since 2005 (and even then it was arguable).  When the team moved here, Brad Wilkerson played most of the season in center field, put up a 103 ops+ and hit a bunch of homers while running around pre-game with packages of Skittles in his pocket.  Jim Bowden traded Wilkerson with a couple other guys for one year of Alfonso Soriano.  Since, then, here’s some of the guys who have played CF for us on a regular basis:

Preston Wilson
Endy Chavez
Ryan Church
Nook Logan
Marlon Byrd
Alex Escobar
Brandon Watson
Ryan Langerhans
Justin Maxwell
Brandon Watson
Lastings Milledge
Roger Bernadina
Elijah Dukes
Nyjer Morgan
Willie Harris
Corey Patterson

Half these guys are out of the league now, most of the rest are marginal players or backup outfielders.  In 2011, we had innings from Rick Ankiel, Jayson Werth and even Laynce Nix (who managed to put in 8 innings in center field but somehow not have a single play, resulting in a neutral zero for UZR/150).  But none of these guys is a long term CF solution, each for different reasons.

Is this the off season we end the madness and finally get a long term solution in center field?

I put together a spreadsheet of every Center Fielder option in the major leagues, threw in their age, salary, contract details, and three measures of their 2011 performance (OPS+, UZR/150 and bWAR).  That spreadsheet is here, for reference.  I’ll pull out the relevant details for each section below.

I’ve divided the CF options to consider into several categories below.

1. Current Washington CF options in-house

Player Age Team Current Contract 2011 Salary 2011 OPS+ 2011 UZR/150 CF only 2011 bWAR
Bernadina, Roger 27 Washington Pre-Arb $414,000 82 -16.6 0.8
Werth, Jayson 32 Washington 7yr/$126M->2017 $10,571,000 97 3 2.1

Bernadina, despite his defensive reputation, was actually rather awful in CF this year while putting up an 82 OPS+.  He’s now had more than a 1000 major league at-bats to show his worth.  The team should DFA him and move on.  Werth actually had a decent UZR/150 in center, albeit in a small sample size, hence why the team seems to be considering using him there on a more regular basis.  We also have a couple of other internal options in the minors:

  • Corey Brown: though his successful designation to AAA says more about his future than I could say.  He’s gone from trade chip prospect to organizational guy in 2 seasons.
  • Eury Perez: just ADDED to the 40-man, but more for protection purposes than because he’s ready.  He’s an option perhaps in mid-season 2013.
  • Bryce Harper: I’d love to see Harper groomed to play CF and don’t understand why the team hasn’t taken more of an effort to do so.  His value as a power-hitting CF would far eclipse his value in a corner OF spot.  As it stands now though, he’s not a full time CF and he probably won’t be on the MLB roster until late June, IF he earns it.

So, we could stand pat, use Werth primarily in CF and pursue a corner outfielder in free agency.  But that still leaves a lead-off hole in our lineup and then probably also leaves a RF hole…

2. Franchise Players/Entrenched Starters/Longer Term Contract

Player Age Team Current Contract 2011 Salary 2011 OPS+ 2011 UZR/150 CF only 2011 bWAR
Ellsbury, Jacoby 27 Boston Arb 2nd yr $2,400,000 146 15.7 7.2
Granderson, Curtis 30 NY Yankees 5yr/$30M->2012 $8,250,000 138 -5 5.2
Hamilton, Josh 30 Texas 2yr/$24M->2012 $8,750,000 128 -3.3 3.6
Jones, Adam 25 Baltimore Arb 2nd yr $3,250,000 114 -8.5 1.7
Kemp, Matt 26 LA Dodgers 8yr/$160M->2019 $7,100,000 171 -4.7 10
McCutchen, Andrew 24 Pittsburgh Arb 1st yr $452,500 127 3.3 5.5
Pagan, Angel 29 NY Mets Arb 4th yr $3,500,000 93 -16 0.2
Victorino, Shane 30 Philadelphia 3yr/$22M->2012 $7,500,000 129 5.7 5.1
Young, Chris 27 Arizona 5yr/$28M->2013 $5,200,000 103 12.9 4.8

For the most part this is a list of the best CFs in baseball.  There’s almost no chance any of these teams are giving up these players in trade; they’re cornerstones, MVP candidates, or key players.

Angel Pagan isn’t a great CF, but he’s clearly the entrenched starter for the Mets, a team clearly in financial chaos.  Likewise, perhaps someone like Adam Jones could be put into the “franchise player” category (he’s not nearly the player as the rest of these guys), but he’s also entrenched in Baltimore.

Coincidentally, look at Ellsbury‘s stats.  Young, cheap, a 146 ops+, a 7.2war and a 15.7 UZR/150.  Is there a more complete player in baseball right now?  Matt Kemp certainly out hit him, but Ellsbury had the best UZR rating for any full time CFer in the majors while putting up his 30/30 season.

3. Recent Acquisitions

Player Age Team Current Contract 2011 Salary 2011 OPS+ 2011 UZR/150 CF only 2011 bWAR
Bourn, Michael 28 Atlanta Arb 3rd Yr $4,400,000 104 -6.2 5
Cabrera, Melky 26 San Francisco Arb 4th yr $1,250,000 121 -9.7 2.9
Jackson, Austin 24 Detroit Pre-Arb $440,000 89 8 2.4
Rasmus, Colby 24 Toronto Arb 1st year $443,000 89 -10.7 0.2
Schafer, Jordan 24 Houston Pre-Arb $414,000 74 -4.3 0.2

These guys aren’t necessarily the best CFs out there, but each of them was more or less just acquired, so presumably they’re not going anywhere ELSE this off-season.  Schaefer just got busted for drug possession, and seems to be in competition with Jason Bourgeois (listed later on), but both really underperformed this year and are not really good options for the Nats.

4. Younger Starters and Up and coming prospects

Player Age Team Current Contract 2011 Salary 2011 OPS+ 2011 UZR/150 CF only 2011 bWAR
Bourjos, Peter 24 LA Angels Pre-Arb $414,000 115 8 5
Cain, Lorenzo 25 Kansas City Pre-Arb $414,000 73 -38.8 0.1
Fowler, Dexter 25 Colorado Arb 1st yr $424,000 105 -6.8 1.2
Gomez, Carlos 25 Milwaukee Arb 3rd Yr $1,500,000 82 27.5 1.7
Jay, Jon 26 St. Louis Pre-Arb $416,000 114 3.2 1.3
Jennings, Desmond 24 Tampa Bay Pre-Arb $414,000 128 -7.1 2.3
Maybin, Cameron 24 San Diego Pre-Arb $429,100 103 11.6 2.9
Peterson, Brian 25 Miami Pre-Arb $414,000 105 13 0.5
Revere, Ben 23 Minnesota Pre-Arb $414,000 73 15.1 0.8
Stubbs, Drew 26 Cincinnati Pre-Arb $450,000 86 -2.2 2.9
Sweeney, Ryan 26 Oakland Arb 2nd yr $1,400,000 91 -5.9 0.8
Trout, Mike 19 LA Angels Pre-Arb $414,000 88 0 0.9

This is a list of mostly 2nd tier CFers in this league, but for the most part they’re pre-arbitration or still relatively affordable, and teams aren’t about to give up on them.  Peter Bourjos represents the Angel’s biggest problem in trying to find playing time next year for Mike Trout: he hits the ball well, he has great defense and he’s only 24.  However the Angels are dying for a catcher, which just so happens to be a strength for this team. Bourjos mostly batted at the bottom of their order, but seems like a natural leadoff hitter.

I put Sweeney in this list only because the entire starting Oakland OF hit free agency, and they’ll need to start SOMEONE in the outfield in 2012.   Lorenzo Cain looks set to be KC’s starter with the Cabrera trade, so I list him here despite his poor numbers in 2011 (besides that Kansas City isn’t exactly in a position to be trading away prospects right now).  Peterson looks like he could take over for Miami in center (see further down for a discussion on this effect on Chris Coughlan).

Best possibilities: The Nats sacrifice a catcher and a decent prospect haul for Bourjos.

5. Awful Contracts/Poor players/Veterans not interested in

Player Age Team Current Contract 2011 Salary 2011 OPS+ 2011 UZR/150 CF only 2011 bWAR
Davis, Rajai 30 Toronto 2yr/$5.75M->2012 $2,500,000 67 -17.5 -0.9
Gutierrez, Franklin 28 Seattle 4yr/$20M->2013 $4,312,500 53 27.1 -0.4
Hunter, Torii 35 LA Angels 5yr/$90M->2012 $18,000,000 115 -39.3 2.2
Milledge, Lastings 26 Chicago WS Arb 2nd yr $500,000 97 -82.2 -0.3
Morgan, Nyjer 30 Milwaukee Arb 1st year $450,000 111 13 2
Rios, Alex 30 Chicago WS 6yr/$64M->2014 $12,500,000 65 -7.4 -1.5

The list above includes two Washington castoffs (Milledge and Morgan), one of the worst contacts in baseball (Rios), two severe under performers (Davis and Gutierrez), and a guy who really doesn’t play CF anymore (Hunter).  There’s no appealing trade options here.


Ok. now that we’ve seen who is likely NOT going to be options for us in 2012, lets look at those that could be options.

1. Cleveland’s CF log jam

Player Age Team Current Contract 2011 Salary 2011 OPS+ 2011 UZR/150 CF only 2011 bWAR
Brantley, Michael 24 Cleveland Pre-Arb $421,800 96 -12.8 2.2
Carrera, Ezequiel 24 Cleveland Pre-arb $414,000 72 -1.5 -0.5
Crowe, Trevor 27 Cleveland Pre-arb $435,700 61 66.6 * -0.1

(Crowe’s 66.6 uzr/150 was a very small sample size and isn’t indicative one way or the other of his defensive prowness).

With Cleveland’s re-signing of Grady Sizemore to a one year incentive laden deal (guaranteed $5M, with $4M more in incentives), suddenly Cleveland has too many center fielders.  Sizemore, Carrera and Bradley all played about equal numbers of innings in center for the team last year, with Crowe throwing in a few more.  Brantley was essentially the starting left fielder but got 400-some innings in Center, and seems set to do the same this year with him and Sizemore switching back and forth.  That leaves Carrera and Crowe as “extra” outfielders for the team.  Crowe is a former 1st rounder who seems to have peaked as a 4-A guy, while Carrera just earned a callup for the first time in 2011.  For now both look like nothing better than 4th outfielders, so we’re looking elsewhere.

Best possibilities here: none

2. Veteran Trade Possibilities

Player Age Team Current Contract 2011 Salary 2011 OPS+ 2011 UZR/150 CF only 2011 bWAR
Borbon, Julio 25 Texas Pre-Arb $490,000 72 -9.6 -0.3
Bourgeois, Jason 29 Houston Pre-Arb $423,000 89 -6.2 2.3
Byrd, Marlon 33 Chicago Cubs 3yr/$15M->2012 $5,500,000 96 3.3 1.7
Coghlan, Chris 26 Miami Arb 1st yr $490,000 81 -12 -0.1
Gardner, Brett 27 NY Yankees Arb 1st yr $529,500 89 6.6 4.4
Gentry, Craig 27 Texas Pre-Arb $416,000 84 35 1.4
Quenton, Carlos 28 Chicago WS Arb 3rd Yr 5,050,000 124 1.7 * 3.2
Span, Denard 27 Minnesota 5yr/$16.5M->2014 $1,000,000 91 17.6 2.6
Torres, Andres 33 San Francisco Arb 2nd yr $2,200,000 82 17.3 1.3
Upton, BJ 26 Tampa Bay Arb 3rd Yr $4,825,000 115 1.4 3.8

It is from this list that most of the current Nats trade rumors come.  Here’s some thoughts, roughly in alphabetical order:

  • Julio Bourbon seems like a potential non-tender for now: Endy Chavez got most of the CF innings for the team but Hamilton can cover it well enough (as he did in the playoffs).  But they also have Craig Gentry.  Neither is that great an offensive player, but Gentry is a pretty good defensive player.  None of them solve our issues.
  • Jason Bourgeois was mediocre both at the plate and in the field, and now Houston has acquired Schafer in trade, so he might be available in trade.  But what does he bring that Bernadina doesn’t?  We don’t need a replacement guy.
  • Former Nat Marlon Byrd could be an interesting candidate; he wasn’t that bad in 2011, but is scheduled to get a salary bump in his last year.  He’s good in center, good at the plate, and plays in Chicago, which is going to be rebuilding and probably would take prospects in trade.  But, he’s 33, slowing down, and is a one-year solution.  Is that worth it?  Upton will be younger, better offensively, better defensively, and is reaching his peak, not going past it.
  • Coughlan may be spare parts to Miami, that they have discovered the decent Brian Peterson.  But, as with others on this list, he’s not exactly in high demand.  He’s similar to Bernadina as well; 80-ish OPS+ and sub-average defense in CF.
  • Brett Gardner is listed here since he’s a center fielder stuck in LF in New York, and since we think that the Yankees could be talked into a trade since they’re hurting in a couple of areas where we have prospect depth.  However, he’s also one of the few pre-arbitration starters on that team and even a team with $200M payroll sees the value in a cost contained player.  I think trading for him is an impossibility.  Someone suggested Peacock and Desmond for Gardner as a trade in a Keith Law chat and he openly laughed at it.  So the Nats have to ask themselves what it would take to get someone like Gardner before entertaining this question.
  • There’s only two guys on this list with an OPS+ over 100; BJ Upton and Carlos Quenton.  I included Quenton here because his name persistently pops up in various blogs as a trade possibility. However, a quick check of his Fangraphs page shows that he isn’t a center fielder.  He doesn’t have a single Major League inning in center, ever.  So he’s not a center fielder, and doesn’t solve our issues.  (His 1.7 uzr/150 is in Right Field, not center).  The only way he’d make sense is if we went with Werth full time in Center and put him in RF.  But even given that, he’s only under club control for one more year before hitting FA, so he’s essentially a rental.
  • Denard Span is signed to a very club-friendly contract, is a fantastic defender, and wasn’t half bad at the plate this year.  Why is he available?  Because he went down in June with what appeared to be a mild concussion, and was out 2 months.  And in his absence, the Twins promoted 23-yr old Ben Revere, who seemed to ably hold down the job.  The Twins might be in rebuilding mode after a 90 loss season and could entertain some longer-term moves.  We’ve traded with them in the past and they definitely have some needs (a closer for one)  Drew Storen for Denard Span?  Jon Heyman tweeted on 11/19 though that the Nats already asked about both players and were rebuffed.  We’ll see if that’s just a negotiating ploy.
  • Andres Torres just lost his job in San Francisco with their acquisition of Cabrera, and could be on the trading block.  He’s great in the field but can’t hit, as is our own FA Rick Ankiel, and if the team was going to settle you would think we’d re-sign one of our own.
  • BJ Upton, of course, is listed as our trade candidate #1, for the obvious reasons.  He’s easily the best centerfielder available.  Decent OPS+, better than average Uzr/150, and a pretty good 3.8 war.  He’s not going to be cheap, hence the reason that cost-conscious Tampa is considering a non-tender.  We could trade for him, to guarantee that we get him before the free-for-all that would occur if he hit the open market, but (rightly so) how much would we want to give up for a guy who probably wants to hit the open market in a year’s time?  Would we demand a negotiating window to try to extend him?

Best alternatives here: Upton, Span, Byrd, Gardner.

3. Free Agents; actual Cfers

Player Age Team Current Contract 2011 Salary 2011 OPS+ 2011 UZR/150 CF only 2011 bWAR
Ankiel, Rick 31 FA (Wash) FA $1,500,000 81 11.6 2.1
Cameron, Mike 38 FA (Mia) FA $7,250,000 74 17.7 -0.8
Cespedes, Yoenis 25 FA (Cuba) FA n/a n/a n/a n/a
Chavez, Endy 33 FA (Texas) FA $1,250,000 95 9.3 0.8
Crisp, Coco 31 FA (Oak) FA $5,250,000 91 -6.7 2.1
Hairston, Scott 31 FA (NYM) FA $1,100,000 112 6.1 1.6
McLouth, Nate 29 FA (Atl) FA $7,000,000 89 -28.9 0.7
Patterson, Corey 31 FA (STL) FA $900,000 70 5.5 0.9
Wise, Dewayne 33 FA (Tor) FA $414,000 44 22.2 -0.4

Here it is; the list of FA center fielders.

  • Ankiel is the known quantity; he hit .239 but was very good in center.
  • Mike Cameron may be 38 but he’s still an excellent CFer; unfortunately his offense was awful.
  • Cespedes is a complete unknown quantity; scouts compare him to a younger Sammy Sosa with power and speed.  But the Cuban leagues equate roughly to a High-A level of talent, so you’d be paying $30-$40M for a guy who’s still 2 years away.  This doesn’t help us in 2012.
  • Former Nat Endy Chavez put together an excellent season in Texas; I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him re-sign with the team and make another playoff run.  In fact, if I was Chavez I’d take less money to do so.
  • Coco Crisp: barely a center fielder anymore and a 91 ops+.  Stay away.
  • Scott Hairston had a 112 OPS+ as a 4th outfielder for the Mets, but in limited time.  Pagan was clearly the starter and Hairston bounced around the field.  He’s more of a utility player than a starter,but that didn’t hamper his brother this season.
  • McClouth has had such a bad couple of seasons I’d be surprised if anyone gives him a major league contract.  Maybe he really should be in the next category (for “cf’s that aren’t really center-field capable anymore).
  • Patterson was 8 for 56 after a mid-season trade to St. Louis.  He’s in the same boat as McLouth; he’s looking at a minor league contract for a team ready to take a flier on him.
  • Wise‘s bat is so bad, he’s got a career 62 ops+.

Where’s the long-term solution here?  Answer: there doesn’t seem to be one.

Best possibilities: pursue Chavez and get him to leave Texas, or to sign Hairston and hope that he can put together those kind of numbers for a full season starting in CF.

4. Free Agents: not really CFs any more

Player Age Team Current Contract 2011 Salary 2011 OPS+ 2011 UZR/150 CF only 2011 bWAR
Dejesus, David 31 FA (Oak) FA $6,000,000 93 -76.2 0.6
Johnson, Reed 34 FA (Chi Cubs) FA $900,000 122 -35.1 1.3
Jones, Andruw 34 FA (NYY) FA $3,200,000 122 -24.6 0.9
Pierre, Juan 33 FA (CWS) FA $8,500,000 80 -10.7 0
Ross, Cody 30 FA (SF) FA $6,300,000 105 -2.6 1.6
Sizemore, Grady 28 FA (Cle) 1yr $5M 2012 $7,666,667 95 -17.2 0.5

(Sizemore already re-signed for Cleveland to join their log jam of CF-eligible outfielders).

All these guys are listed as CF-capable by MLBtraderumors, but really none are CFs anymore.  A cursory glance at their UZR/150s should indicate as much.  Only Cody Ross really could still hold his own in Center.  I like Cody Ross; he’s used to the NL East, he’s a great clubhouse guy, and he’d improve his offensive numbers by getting out of San Francisco.   I’m not sure if Ross solves our problem; the rest of these guys are corner-outfielders mostly in the same category as our own corner-OF free agents Laynce Nix and Jonny Gomes.

Best Possibilities: Ross.


Conclusion

All signs indicate that the team is either going to work a trade.  But I wouldn’t mind a one-year stop gap signing either in order to not deviate from “the plan” in order to overpay for someone.

If we’re willing to burn some prospects, I’d say our priorities are (in order): Upton, Gardner, Bourjos and Span.

If we’re going for a one-year stop gap, I’d say our best options are Byrd, Ross, and Hairston.

If we’re willing to sacrifice offense to find a plus-defender in CF, then I say we just re-sign Ankiel and wait another year.  Or perhaps consider Chavez or Torres.

How’s that Milledge trade looking now?

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This is the only time i’ve ever seen Burnett’s hat on straight. Photo: masnsports.com

6/30/2009: The Nationals and Pirates announce a trade:

  • Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett coming to Washington
  • Lastings Milledge and Joel Hanrahan going to Pittsburgh.

To Nationals faithful, the 6/30/2009 trade with the Pirates was a serious talking point.  It was the first major trade of the Mike Rizzo era after a contentious spring training that deposed Jim Bowden.  At the time of the trade, Milledge was sitting in AAA Syracuse after having hit .161 in April, and Hanrahan was busy compiling a 7.71 era while blowing as many saves (5) as he had successes as our closer.

We all know what happened next: Morgan came over, slotted into center field and had a career season.  And Burnett settled into the bullpen and gave us better-than-loogy performances that continue to today.  Milledge hit significantly better for Pittsburgh than had been hitting for us, and suddenly Hanrahan found the plate again and has morphed into a half-way decent late-inning option for the worst team in baseball.

At the time though, pundits far and wide talked about how the Pirates “fleeced” the Nats in the deal.  Here’s one take from a USA Today columnist, and here’s MLB Trade Rumor’s round up of the typical analysts and their comments like “easy win for the Pirates.”

I remember thinking at the time that baseball pundits seemed to constantly be in love with Lastings Milledge.  Nobody could see who he was as a player (immature, egotistical, uncoachable) or see his lack of accomplishments (he has a career 91 OPS+).  All they could see was his age and his “potential.”  (Hmm, reminds me of how Jim Bowden looked at *every* prospect)  Meanwhile, Hanrahan was somehow valued higher than Burnett despite the fact that he had a 1.9 whip for 2009 (as a closer!  That’s nearly two baserunners per inning for a guy you’re entrusting to finish wins) and he was a righty.  Burnett was an effective lefty and remains that way today.

Anyway.  When Milledge was non-tendered in December and then subsequently got into a massive brawl in the Venezuelan Winter League, I didn’t see any mea culpas from these pundits.  The Pirates, probably the worst-run team in baseball and with one of the smallest payrolls, didn’t want to gamble with a probably salary in the $1M range on Milledge turning it around for 2010.  He only lasted four at bats for the White Sox, who DFA’d him today.  He’s officially worn out his welcome for four teams now (New York, Washington and Pittsburgh and Chicago) inside of 5 seasons.

Of course, Milledge’s counterpart in the trade Nyjer Morgan was similarly jettissoned at the end of spring training when he lost out his starting center fielder job to Rick Ankiel.  Morgan was traded to Milwaukee for a low-A player (Cutter Dykstra) that Keith Law described as no better than an “organizational player.”  So now the trade looks more like Hanrahan for Burnett and Dykstra.  Who is winning now?  Burnett has been great for us, and while he’s not a 95-mph flame throwing back of the bullpen type he has been nothing but consistent, continuing to give better-than-loogy performances and now he seems slated as the closer-for-now.

There was so much vitriol in the blogosphere aimed towards the Nationals front office for this move that I feel like bringing it up.  I havn’t seen too many mea culpas out there from the same people who flamed the Nats at the time.

Written by Todd Boss

April 7th, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Does lineup protection exist?

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I was reading Zuckerman’s blog posting today and the subject of “batter protection” came up in the comments.  Specifically, a reader rather forcefully said that “lineup protection is a proven myth.”  I know there are some reports out there (Bill James) that claim it is a myth (here’s a link to an article with 3 myth-proving reports).  But I counter instead that “baseball protection is so difficult to really measure that hard core statisticians end up discounting it.”  Here’s a “protection exists” link for comparison purposes.

My thoughts are these: You can’t just look at pure baseball outcomes, compare them to the quality of the following hitter, and make a blanket judgement like this.  You can’t measure a pitcher being “careful” and you can’t measure a hitter purposely trying to make something happen knowing that he’s being pitched around.  Will Carroll at BP did a study of Matt Kemp‘s at bats before /after Manny Rodriguez providing protection and found that the number of fastballs and strike zone pitches were the same … but then concluded somehow that the significant change in the number of curveballs faced was somehow NOT a result of the hitter but instead was just the vagarities of the pitchers being faced.  Really?  You don’t think somehow that the same hitter suddenly getting a ton more curveballs (which are more difficult to adjust to and drive for most hitters) is meaningful?

You also can’t tell me, as baseball fans, that a #8 hitter hitting with two outs and with the pitcher to follow is going to get ANYTHING decent to hit.  The opposing pitcher is always going to be willing to pitch carefully to the batter, force the batter to hit the pitcher’s pitch, expand his own strike zone knowing that you have a 50% chance of a punchout (and usually about an 85-90% chance of an easy out in general) sitting in the ondeck circle.

I have two supporting pieces of evidence right here on the nats.

1. Ryan Zimmerman hit for an OPS+ of 107 and 102 the two years prior to Adam Dunn‘s arrival.  Once Dunn is hitting in the 4 spot, Zimmerman’s last two year’s OPS+ are 133 and 150.  In 2008 Zimmerman’s cleanup hitter/protection was usually Austin Kearns or Lastings Milledge, not the 40-homer hitting Dunn.

2. Look at Ian Desmond‘s splits hitting in the #2 hole versus #8.  .Hitting #2 he’s *significantly* better than hitting #8.  Why?  You think maybe its because he’s got boppers behind him at #2 but a pitcher or a cold pinch hitter behind him at #8?