Nationals Arm Race

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

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Nats Franchise FA history; biggest, best, worst deals

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Jayson Werth is certainly our most expensive FA, by a considerable sum. Photo Mitchell Layton/Getty Images NA

The second in a series: The first looked at the Biggest/Best/Worst Trades of the Washington Nationals era and was posted in late March.  Yes, it took me 8 months to return to this series, despite writing most of this post in July.  Here in Part 2, we’ll look at the biggest, best and worst Free Agent signings in the tenures of both Jim Bowden and Mike Rizzo. In the last section we’ll look at Draft picks.

Ground rules for this article:

1. When considering a Free Agent we’ll only consider the FIRST signing in this list.  So, for guys who have signed multiple one-year free agent contracts in a row (guys like Rick Ankiel and Chien-Ming Wang), we’ll only consider them as a single signing.  For others who signed here and then left, only to come back (example: Livan Hernandez) we’ll consider them as separate signings.

2. We are considering extensions given to existing players (since they don’t fit elsewhere).  You can consider an extension just a pre-emptive free agent contract.

3. We’re mostly focusing here on Major League free agents; each year we sign many minor league FAs ahead of camp.  If a Minor League FA signing ends up having a decent impact on the major league team, we’ll note him (good recent example being Laynce Nix).

Just for review, here’s the tenure period of both GMs:

  • Nov 2004 – Mar 2009: Jim Bowden
  • Mar 2009 – present: Mike Rizzo

The team has made dozens and dozens of signings: I won’t try to go through them all here.  For those interested, here’s my List of Free Agents from over the years (also available on the links section to the right of this blog).  I put up a similar notes file (List of Trades and Trading Partners) from the first post of this series, also available in the list of resources on the right-hand side of the blog.

Jim Bowden Tenure: Nov 2004 – Mar 2009

Bowden’s Biggest Free Agent Signings

  • 2006: Nick Johnson 3yr $16.5M
  • 2007: Austin Kearns 3yr $16.5M
  • 2008: Cristian Guzman 2yr $16M
  • 2009: Adam Dunn 2yr $20M

I wonder sometimes if Bowden doesn’t sit in his ESPN office as he writes his blogs and ask himself what he could have done here had he had more money to spend.  Look at this list; Bowden’s biggest deal in 5 off-seasons was a 2yr/$20M contract for a slugger who really had nowhere else to go that off-season.  Jayson Werth will make more than that annually starting in 2014.

Bowden’s Best Free Agent Signings

  • 2006: Brian Schneider 4yr extension, $2.9M
  • 2007: Ronnie Belliard 1yr ML deal
  • 2007: Dmitri Young 1yr ML deal
  • 2008: Willie Harris 1yr $800K
  • 2009: Adam Dunn 2yr $20M

Bowden’s 2007 off-season was pretty amazing, looking back.  He assembled a team on the backs of Minor League Free Agents galore, one of which (Dmitri Young) ended up being our lone All-Star.  The team went 73-89 and gave 145 of its 162 starts to guys who aren’t even in the league any more (exceptions: Joel Hanrahan‘s 11 starts with 6.00 ERA and late-season call up John Lannan‘s 6 starts as a 22-yr old).  He was the master of the scrap heap and spun a team that should have lost 100 games into a respectable 73 win team.  Too bad that luck ran out in 2008 as the team bottomed out.  But you have to hand it to Bowden for these three 2007 signings; Hanrahan didn’t really pay off for the Nationals, ever, but did enable us to eventually get Sean Burnett, a valuable member of the team’s bullpen these last few years.

All things considered, I’d have to say that Adam Dunn may have been his best FA signing.  Dunn’s bat was mostly wasted during his two years here, considering the unbelievably bad pitching staffs that Bowden assembled.  But the combination of Zimmerman-Dunn-Willingham was a pretty fearsome 3-4-5.  Ironically, NOT re-signing Dunn may also have been one of Rizzo’s best non-moves, considering Dunn’s amazing 2011 collapse and the subsequent rise of Michael Morse (who would have continued to be a bit player if the Nats still had Dunn in LF).

Bowden’s Worst Free Agent Signings

  • 2007: Austin Kearns 3yr $16.5M
  • 2008: Paul Lo Duca 1yr $5M
  • 2008: Rob Mackowiak 1yr $1.5M
  • 2008: Johnny Estrada 1yr $1.25M
  • 2008: Cristian Guzman 2yr extension $16M
  • 2009: Daniel Cabrera 1yr $2.6M

2008 was as bad as 2007 was good for Bowden.  Nearly every move he made back-fired, some spectacularly.  Paul Lo Duca hadn’t been signed for a week when his name showed up prominently in the Mitchell Report; he was released before July.  Rob Mackowiak and Johnny Estrada were just stealing money; its still not clear what Bowden saw in these guys.  I hated the Kearns deal, never understood what Bowden saw in the guy.  Daniel Cabrera was so bad for us it was almost comical, and it was a relief when we DFA’d him after 8 starts.

But the worst FA signing has to the Guzman extension.  He seemed decent enough after coming back from an injury that cost him all of 2005 and most of 2006, but Bowden inexplicably extended him for 2 years for the same amount of money that he had earned the previous four … and almost immediately his production tailed off.   Its not that Guzman was that BAD in 2009 and 2010, its just that he was so vastly overpaid for what he gave the team.  We flipped him for two minor league pitchers, he promptly hit .152 in 15 games for Texas and he was out of the league.

Mike Rizzo Tenure: Mar 2009 – present

Rizzo’s Biggest Free Agent Signings

  • 2010: Ryan Zimmerman 5yr $45M
  • 2011: Jayson Werth 7yr $126M
  • 2012: Ryan Zimmermann 8yrs $100M
  • 2012: Gio Gonzalez 5yr $42M

Its ironic that I had to remove three deals from this list (LaRoche, Jackson, Marquis) that would have qualified for Bowden’s “biggest deal” list.  That’s because the size of these deals are just dwarfing what the team was willing to do under Bowden.  Lots of pundits have (and continue to) criticized the Jayson Werth deal, and it routinely appears on anyone’s list of “Worst Baseball Contracts.”  And his 2011 season confirmed just how bad this may have turned out for Washington.  But a bounceback 2012, which featured Werth putting up a 125 OPS+ despite missing a ton of time with a broken wrist, showing the flexibility of batting lead-off when the team needed him, plus providing the veteran leadership and professionalism that this young team needs certainly would earn back some of that contract value.  In hindsight, I think the team made this deal as a strawman, to send a message to the rest of the league that we were NOT a low-budget, poorly run team, and to pave the path back to respectability in the minds of other professionals out there that Washington can be a destination franchise.

Rizzo’s Best Free Agent Signings

  • 2009: Julian Tavarez 1yr ML
  • 2009: Joe Beimel 1yr $2M
  • 2010: Livan Hernandez 1yr ML 900k
  • 2011: Jerry Hairston 1yr $2M
  • 2010: Matt Capps 1yr $3.5M
  • 2010: Joel Peralta 1yr ML
  • 2011: Todd Coffey 1yr $1.35M
  • 2011: Laynce Nix 1yr ML

In terms of impact-per-dollar, I think the first Livan Hernandez year of his return was probably the best FA signing that Rizzo has done.  Hernandez went 10-12 with a 3.66 ERA and a 110 ERA+ for less than a million dollars on the FA market.  That’s roughly $90k a Win, when most teams are paying more than $1M/win for free agent starting pitching.   However clearly Rizzo’s most shrewd FA deal was the Matt Capps signing.  He took Capps off the scrap heap; he was released by Pittsburgh after a horrid 2009, and his half season of excellent relief for us turned into Wilson Ramos and a minor leaguer (Joe Testa), returned in trade from Minnesota.  I will also mention that the value that minor league signings Julian Tavarez, Joel Peralta, and Laynce Nix gave the team was also fantastic, considering where these players were in their careers prior to joining us.

Rizzo’s Worst Free Agent Signings

  • 2010: Yunesky Maya 4yr $8M
  • 2010: Ivan Rodriguez 2yr $6M
  • 2010: Jason Marquis 2yr $15M
  • 2011: Matt Stairs 1yr ML
  • 2012: Brad Lidge 1yr $1M
  • Chein Ming Wang: all of them.

2010, Rizzo’s first FA class, didn’t turn out very well did it? Yunesky Maya has been a pretty big disappointment, giving the team just one MLB win for an $8M investment.  Ivan Rodriguez just proved to be slightly too old to be worth the starter money he was paid; you could argue that the leadership he provided was worth the money.   And Jason Marquis, bought as a stop-gap for a failed farm system, was god-awful in 2010.  I won’t completely kill Rizzo for the Brad Lidge experiment; it was worth a $1M flier to see if he had anything left in the tank.  Matt Stairs would have been another fine, low-cost experiment except for the fact that the team kept giving him at-bats for weeks/months after it was clear he was washed up.

For me the worst FA signing was related to the money poured down the Chien-Ming Wang rathole for three years running.  The Nats ended up investing $8M total over three years to get 16 starts, 6 wins and a 4.94 ERA.

Rizzo’s Too Early to Tell Free Agent Signings

  • 2011: Jayson Werth 7yr $126M
  • 2012: Ryan Zimmermann 8yrs $100M
  • 2012: Gio Gonzalez 5yr $42M

So far, Werth’s contract is trending as an over-pay, Zimmerman’s as an injury concern, and Gonzalez trending as a complete steal (21 wins for $8.4M AAV in 2012?  That’s a fantastic return for the money).  Pundits have stated that the Nats have “two 9-figure contracts but zero 9-figure players” (I read it at the time of the Zimmerman signing but cannot find the link).  I think that’s slightly unfair to these players, but until Zimmerman can stay healthy enough to produce at his 2009 level, you have to admit that he may be overpaid as well.  Perhaps Zimmerman’s brittle health issues can be alleviated if he makes the move to 1B, where he can continue to play gold glove calibre defense but have less of a tax on his body.  This analysis obviously does not take Zimmerman’s “value” to the franchise into account, which may be unfair when considering this contract (nobody really said Derek Jeter‘s latest contract was a massive overpay considering his service to the Yankees,  his “stature” as the captain and his eventual Hall of Fame induction; for the Yankees to cut him loose would have been a massive public relations gaffe).

Coincidentally, I didn’t view the contracts of guys like LaRoche, Jackson, or Morse as being specifically “good” or “bad.”   I think LaRoche’s one bad/one good season plus Jackson’s MLB average season was just about on-par with expectations for their contracts.  Morse’s 2011 production was pre-contract, so we’ll see how his 2013 goes.

Thoughts?  Any FA signings or extensions out there that stick in your minds that you thought should be mentioned?

Ask Boswell 3/5/12

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Here’s Tom Boswell‘s weekly Monday chat from 3/5/12.  Of the baseball questions he took, here’s how I’d have answered them.  While lots of questions pertained to the recent Gregg Williams “bounty” issues and whether or not the Redskins partook during his time here, the starting of spring training has got Nats fans pretty excited.

As always, questions are edited for clarity and I write my own answer prior to reading his.

Q: What do you think the Nats w/l record will be?  Can they win 90 games?

A: For a team that won 80 last year (though their pythagorean W/L record was slightly worse), I don’t think its a stretch to assume they can improve another 10 games.  Mark Zuckerman did a nice little WAR analysis and showed that full seasons from Zimmerman, LaRoche and Strasburg, along with the new additions of Gonzalez and Jackson *should* give the team at least another 10 wins, perhaps a bit more.  That’s assuming basically that everyone else performs at the same levels they did last year, and it assumes that the WAR stat directly translates to wins on the field.  In reality, you have to plan for some people to step up while others step back.  Can we assume that Morse will hit 30 homers again?  Its a tough one to assume; he could break a leg and suddenly our offense is in tatters.

That’s why I’ve been a bit more conservative, predicting 8 more wins for this team and have them at 88-74 with this squad.  If the team is in the WC hunt, and they augment the offense, or if Harper comes up and produces … suddenly that’s a 90-91 win team.  Boswell didn’t really answer this question, just went off on Strasburg tangents.

Q: Who is your opening day starter?

A: barring injury it has to be Strasburg.  I think your initial 5-man rotation goes like this, in this order: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Jackson and Wang.  This gives you a decent righty-lefty matchup at the top.  Perhaps you replace Wang with Lannan and have Jackson go out 5th to get a true R-L-R-L-R rotation.  Or perhaps Davey Johnson doesn’t care about lefty/righty matchups.  I’m more interested to see who the home opener starter is, since it happens 7 games into the season.  Right now it looks to be Gonzalez, which would be great, but early season rain-outs can greatly affect rotation orders.  Boswell says Strasburg but had a good caveat; if its 30 degrees and snowing in Chicago on opening day Strasburg probably won’t go.

Q: Where is this team’s Lenny Dykstra-esque scrappy mean streak player?

A: Honestly, the Mets-to-Nats comparisons may not ever bee 100%.   I don’t see a Dykstra type on this roster.  Mostly because this roster still does not have a center fielder/lead off type, which is exactly what Dykstra was.  Boswell says that Werth may still fill this role.

Q: Why didn’t the team keep Bixler and Nix?

A: Bixler is a good question; for reasons unknown the team designated him for assignment in the off-season while still possessing 40-man room (inexplicably; they did this a number of times, losing Kimball at one point but also losing two decent players in the Rule 5 draft).   Nix they probably thought was replaceable on the FA market … or at least obtainable for cheap.  There does always seem to be a number of halfway decent corner outfielders on the market who are available for less than what Nix got.  Boswell says Nix’s 2yr contract was the problem … the Nats want flexibility for 2014.  No mention of Bixler.

Q: If Tyler Clippard is our “MVP,” why isn’t he being paid more?

A: Two reasons; clearly the questioner doesn’t understand the whole arbitration process.  Just because Clippard is our best pitches doesn’t equate to him being the highest paid player.  Veterans always make more than pre-arb guys; don’t forget the players belong to a Union, and Union members reward longevitiy.  Secondly; Clippard unfortunately is a commodity player; he’s a non-closer reliever who doesn’t rack up saves and thus won’t ever be compensated like a Jonathan Papelbon or a Mariano Rivera, despite his value to the team.  Its an unfair world in some respects, and I just hope that the Nats do him right and keep paying him while he’s productive for the team.  Boswell mirrors my two thoughts but then also says that relievers are starting to become aware of newer stats like WPA that value Clippard highly (1st in the NL last year, above big name starters like Roy Halladay).

Q: What are your thoughts on the extra wild card?

A: Baseball purists may whine and complain, but the modern professional sports scene in this country, fortunately or unfortunately, places a ton of emphasis on playoffs versus regular season accomplishment.  Even with these two additional WC teams, Baseball still has the fewest of its teams reaching the regular season of any of the four major sports.  And, in a sport where payroll disparities may not determine the World Series victor every year they clearly help predict the playoff contendors (Yankees: one missed playoff appearance since 1994), having more teams in competition for the playoffs is good for the sport.  Frankly I’d like to see Baseball go to a 32-team/8-division structure similar to the NFL and adopt the NFL’s exact playoff structure.  The problem there is finding two more markets without cannibalizing the NY or LA market.  Boswell says “time will tell,” but also admits that he hated the first WC round initially but likes it now.  He also points out something I hadn’t thought of; the importance of your #3 starter with a new round of playoffs.

Q: Should the team just skip Strasburg’s start every few times to extend his 160IP limit until the end of the season?

A: It isn’t a bad idea; Zimmermann skipped one start and hit his 160IPs at roughly September 1st.  So skipping a few more starts for Strasburg would put him well into September.  But I don’t think he’ll be served well by jacking around his days rest.  Starters depend on getting into routines in order to pitch their best.  Honestly I think this situation may very well play it self out naturally; even in 2010 Strasburg had two separate DL stints; if he spends 30 days or so on the DL at various times we’ll get a full season out of him.  Boswell agrees with me on the not-skipping-a-start theory.

Q: How secure is Ramos as the #1 catcher?

A: I’d say he’s pretty secure.  Flores may have had a good winter, but winter leagues aren’t exactly MLB quality.  Flores’ injury history has more or less derailed his career, and that’s unfortunate.  The team has found a solid #1 in Ramos and will stick with him, with Flores getting his typical 1 or 2 starts a week.  The inclusion of Derek Norris in the Gonzalez package also spoke volumes about where this team thinks it is in terms of catcher depth, as does the 40-man addition of Maldonado, a journeyman catcher who now benefits from a distinct lack of upper-level minor league catcher depth.  Look for the team to make catcher a focus in the 2012 draft to start back up the catcher pipeline.  In the mean time, I doubt Flores will be trade bait even if he performs amazingly well, at least until we find another catcher in the wings.  Boswell says Ramos is as #1 as any #1 can be.

Q: Who are the best catchers ever?

A: For a combination of defense, calling games, arm strength as well as offense, i’d go with Johnny Bench.  But you also have to throw in Ivan Rodriguez in his prime.  Mike Piazza was notoriously bad defensively.  Jorge Posada was subpar defensively in his later years but was a monster bat.  I’d include other names from the past few decades like Carlton Fisk. Before Fisk and Bench, there was a dearth of HoF inductees from the catcher position for some 30 years, to Yogi Berra who is probably the benchmark for all-around catchers (with Bench).   Boswell says Bench as well, but mentions Varitek with Posada.  Interesting.

Q: What is the team going to do with Ian Desmond?

A: I’d guess that 2012 is the make it or break it year for Desmond.  If he’s hitting .220 at the all-star break without significant value proven at the SS position, the team may make a change.  Move Espinosa to SS, install DeRosa as starting 2B, look to move Desmond and perhaps make Lombardozzi the utility guy.  I also find it very interesting that Anthony Rendon is getting reps at both 2B and SS; if that kind of hitter can slot in at short stop on even an as-needed basis he could be even more of a dangerous prospect than he already is.  Boswell agrees; this is a big year for Desmond.

Q: If catcher is so important, why did we move Bryce Harper away from the position?

A: one word: longevity.  Yeah he was a catcher growing up but catchers get the crap beat out of them, have constant injury concerns, and the wear and tear of catching affects their hitting.  With such a bat potential, he needs to be on the field and playing 162 games.  That being said, I was slightly surprised that he didn’t at least try to stick at C for at least a little bit of his career … but understand the reasoning stated.  Boswell said the same things I said, but added that scouts didn’t really think he was a natural catcher anyway, so he got moved to the OF quickly.

Q: What would MLB’s response be to the same “bounty” scandal going on in the NFL?

A: Hard one; its not like purposeful bean-balls without context are common in the MLB.  And the game is just too random to purposely try to spike someone, or slide into them on purpose, or to purposely hit a catcher.  These plays are so bang-bang and so naturally occurring to baseball players who have played all their lives that they’re hard to script.  If it was found out to be happening?  Long suspensions.  Boswell thinks such a situation would be lifetime bans, if proven.

Q: Strasburg has never pitched more than 7 innings, at any level, ever.  Is this a concern?

A: I have a hard time believing this, but won’t challenge the questioner since I’m not entirely in a position to go searching through the guy’s college career.  Is it a concern?  eh.  Its modern baseball.  No more 150 pitch games, no more 38 start seasons.    Little leaguers have pitch count/innings limits, high school teams only play twice a week.  College rotations you go once a week.  I’d only be concerned if he showed any inclination of slowing down later in games, which he doesn’t.  Boswell isn’t concerned.

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 12/9/11 edition

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Probably the biggest Nats news of the week was who we DIDN’T get. Photo Peter Christian via thesportsbank.net

Weekly wrap-up of Nats and other baseball news that caught my eye.  With the absolute deluge of baseball news, rumors, and unbelievable FA signings this week I frankly got lost in the shuffle, so most of these items are from the weekend and early this week.  Hopefully you know by now about Reyes, Buehrle, Wilson, Pujols and our Rule5 losses.  If not, you’re just not a true baseball fan now are you?  :-)

Nationals In General

  • An excellent good-bye blog posting from Ben Goessling, leaving the MASN Nats beat for his home-town paper.  No permanent replacement has been hired, but MASN still has Byron Kerr putting out excellent prospect-focused posts, and Pete Kerzel temporarily filling in for Goessling during the Winter meetings (and perhaps beyond).
  • Well, now we know what Stan Kasten plans on doing in his post-Washington career.  Unfortunately for Kasten, Bud Selig can’t just give him the Dodgers as has been his custom in “awarding” teams to new owners.
  • Byron Kerr reports that Hector Nelo, our high-A reliever who is pitching in Venezuela, can now hit 100mph.  He always had a high velocity arm, but being a 25-yr old in high-A isn’t necessarily the most impressive feat.  He was an April minor league free agent pick up, having been released by the Texas organization after putting up pretty mediocre figures.  I’m projecting him in our AA bullpen for 2012.  He may be able to hit those high figures, but its not being reflected in amazing k/9 rates.  I remain skeptical that he can be an impact arm for us in the future.
  • As noted elsewhere, Keith Law‘s posted his “top 50 under 25” list of players under 25 but who have already lost their rookie eligibility.   Its insider-only but Amanda Comak at the Washington Times pretty much cut-n-pasted the entire list late last week.  You can google it or search her archives.  3 Nats made the list: Strasburg, Ramos, and Espinosa.  No real quibbles about those Nats left off; Drew Storen would have qualified, as could have Desmond and some weaker members of the bullpen/bench, but clearly Law doesn’t rate closers (nor do I, really).  He has Craig Kimbrel, 2012′s ROY at #49.  Law’s little dig at Desmond in his Espinosa write-up also indicates his opinion of the hitting capabilities of our current starting SS.  I do question some of his rankings: I’d certainly have ranked Kershaw above one-year wonders such as Mike Stanton, but perhaps Law’s explanation of his ranking (he’s looking at projections for the next 6 years versus what they’ve already accomplished), explains it away.
  • Well, there goes one OF option: Laynce Nix has signed with the rival Phillies.  Most reports seemed to indicate that the 2-year guarantee solidified the deal for Nix, who faces at best a LF platoon in Philadelphia.  Still, he could turn in a 20-homer season rather easily hitting in that bandbox.
  • Jim Riggleman signed on to manage the Cincinnati AA franchise, a bit of a step down from a MLB manager job but at least he has on-field work.
  • In what is sure to inspire a fire-storm of Natmosphere posts, Jim Bowden reports that Ryan Zimmerman‘s agents have been “rebuffed” in opening contract extension talks.  I can’t blame Rizzo here: you’ve got a franchise player who can’t stay healthy; he’s a risk to guarantee a bunch of years and a bunch of money.  Yes, everyone’s a risk to give guaranteed contracts … perhaps why the team needs to think on it a bit more.
  • Uh oh.  Sammy Solis is visiting Dr. Yocum to get his elbow looked at.  This is not a good sign.  Can anyone say Tommy John surgery?

Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • A month-old post, but somehow I missed it.  Jeff Passan‘s free agent tracker, with some concise opinion on each of 181 free agents this off-season.  No predictions but on-point analysis.
  • Wow.  Heath Bell gets 3yrs/$27M from the Marlins.  Not that I don’t think he’s a good closer, and not that I really care that the Marlins just acquired a player being paid in AAV the equivalent of 1/8th of their 2011 payroll.  Maybe this whole “Marlins are going to spend money” thing is for real.  I agree with Neyer‘s assessment here: “that’s a lot for a guy who is going to throw 65 innings.”  Predictably, Keith Law hates the deal.
  • Even more Wow: Jose Reyes signs for a reported 6yr/$106M deal with these same Marlins.  One has to wonder if we’re looking at another dynasty build-up/epic team dismantling situation.
  • Jon Heyman‘s list of 10 busiest clubs for the Winter meetings, and somehow the Nats, whose name is associated with practically every FA in some form or another, are not on the list.
  • We could soon find out just how serious the Nats interest is in Yoenis Cespedes, with him possibly being declared a FA within the next week or so.
  • Despite some opinions that the Rule 5 draft is useless, there are active teams every year (The Nats included).  Here’s one blog’s Top 25 available Rule 5 draft potentials.  He does list three Nationals: Brad Meyers, Sandy Leon and Erik Komatsu.  He also lists the top other prospects by system.  That’s a TON of research frankly, digging through rule5 eligibles from all 30 minor league systems.  Of course, John Manuel did the same on Baseball America, posting part 2 of his review, highlighting some favorites for role players (utility infielders, 4th outfielders, loogys and middle relievers).  I’m guessing its from this group that the Nats may tempt fate and look to fill some bench spots.  12/7/11 Update: sure enough we lost both Meyers and Komatsu.  So irritated.
  • Sometimes, star athletes just don’t know how to say good bye.  Manny Ramirez has filed for re-instatement and plans on playing in 2012 after serving his 2nd drug suspension.  He’ll have to improve on his 1-17 outing for Tampa Bay last season.
  • Interesting potential trade tidbit posted by new Masn beat reporter Pete Kerzel: Boston possibly dangling either Josh Reddick or Ryan Kalish in trade for starting pitchers (names mentioned include Ross Detwiler and Collin Balester).  I’d like any trade permutation here; both Detwiler and Balester are out of options and increasingly with every Buehrle/Wilson/Oswalt rumor Detwiler’s chances of making our 25-man roster diminish.

General News; Baseball and other.

  • “Just in time,” indeed.  Rob Neyer reports that the Feds are investigating the incredibly shady Marlins stadium deal.  Jeff Passan also mentions the SEC subpoenas for financial records, meeting minutes, etc, looking for evidence of bribery of federal officials.  Nothing would make me cackle more than to find out that the Marlin’s owners and management were to expect a federal indictment for corruption.  Everything I’ve ever read about Jeffrey Loria, David Samson, and Larry Benifest and anything related to the Marlins as an organization and this stadium deal in particular has been negative, and this undoubtedly will be no different.  I hope Selig is happy with himself for engineering Loria’s Expos sale and Marlins purchase, as well as watching his new buddy subsequently pocket millions and millions of dollars in revenue sharing whilst occupying the 6th largest market by MSA.
  • Wow.  Jon Heyman is leaving SI for CBS.  This prolific writer is well known for being ahead of the curve on baseball news, and leaves a pretty big hole in the baseball reporting department for cnnsi.com.
  • Interesting precedent setting event: MLB has restored Mike Trout‘s rookie eligibility for 2012.   He’ll certainly be a candidate .. if he can get on the field.  Matt Moore may be a better candidate, based on what we saw in September and October though.
  • I’ll put in just enough opinion to get into trouble on the BCS: LSU-Alabama repeat for the National Championship is an abomination of justice when looking at the Alabama season in basic comparison to Oklahoma State.  The OK State-Stanford game will be 10x as enjoyable.  I only wish the BCS could have had 100% egg on its face with LSU losing the SEC title game but still being pretty much guaranteed a match up in the Championship.  I would have laughed.  Call me when there’s a playoff.
  • I didn’t realize they were nominated: legendary college coaches Mike Krzyzewski and Pat Summitt received 2011′s SI Sportsman of the  Year award.  Clearly these were “career” awards, as opposed to anything specific to 2011.
  • In case you were interested, or wanted to nit-pick every Hall of Fame ballot to death, here’s a blogger who tracks all the BBWAA voters and finds their HoFame votes.
  • Not to get into too much politics here, but Mitt Romney‘s reported dig on Barack Obama‘s planned 17-day vacation smacks of hypocrisy.  All he needs to do is check the record on George W. Bush‘s days spent “on vacation” while office and perhaps he’d wish he wasn’t casting stones.  In fact, depending on how you interpret this research, Bush spent nearly 32 PERCENT of his time in office actually back home at his ranch or at Camp David.



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.

Nationals off-season todo-list: 2011 edition

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Signing Wang took care of one of our most important off-season tasks. Photo via Washington Nationals

(I’ve had this in draft form for weeks; might as well publish it now that the FA period has started).

Before we get too deep into the off-season, I thought it’d be good to do a level set of what exactly this team is in the market for.  Last year’s to-do list included a Center Fielder (Ankiel), a Right Fielder (Werth), a First baseman (LaRoche), a couple of Utility Infielders (Cora, Hairston), some veteran Starting Pitching (Gorzelanny), and some bullpen help (Coffey, Ramirez).

Based on how the team has played down the stretch and watching some players rise and fade in September, here’s what I think the team’s off-season to-do list may look like.

First, lets start with what we know we do NOT need.  Here’s players that seemingly have spots already locked up for 2012:

  • C: With Pudge leaving, Ramos and Flores seem set to be the 2 catchers for a while here.  Flores is healthy but clearly inferior to Ramos right now both defensively and at the plate.  We just added Solano and Norris for catcher cover in case someone gets hurt.
  • 1B: LaRoche should be back healthy, and Morse has shown he clearly can play first if not, though that would lead to a hole in left field.
  • 2B: Should be ably filled by Espinosa, or Lombardozzi if we move Espinosa to short (see next).
  • SS: Desmond‘s one of the lowest qualifying OPS hitters in the league, but the team management loves him.  I’m guessing he’s given one more season.  Rizzo has already stated he’s not after Jose Reyes, and the Marlins seem set to over-pay him.
  • 3B: Zimmerman isn’t going anywhere, despite some blogger’s statements that he should be moved.
  • LF: We’re assuming that Morse is the starter in left.
  • RF: As with Zimmerman, Werth is set to play right field well into the next presidency.
  • SPs: Strasburg, Zimmermann, and Lannan seem locks to be in the rotation.  We re-signed Wang for the #4 rotation spot.  There’s some talk here and there about non-tendering Lannan; he’s a solid mid-rotation guy who is still under arbitration control who is underrated by most people outside of this area, and I believe it would be a mistake to cut him loose at this stage.
  • Setup/Closer: Clippard and Storen managed to survive silly trade rumors this season and should be the 8th/9th inning tandem for at least 2012.
  • Loogy: Burnett: He struggled at times in 2011. He’s also under contract for 2012 with guaranteed money.  So he’s going to be back.  He’s more than a loogy though, so we’ll look for the team to replace Slaten.
  • Middle Relief: Henry Rodriguez and Ryan Mattheus look to return in their middle relief roles.  Kimball will be on the 60-day DL until he’s proven to have regained his fastball.

That’s actually a pretty large chunk of our planned 25-man roster (17 of the 25 are already accounted for, for the most part).

So, what do we need?  In rough priority order:

  • Center Field: again, we go into an off season with questions about center field.  Ankiel had a decent September but overall his 2011 offense was poorl.  He does fit Rizzo’s defensive mind, but is he the answer?  Perhaps this is the off-season Rizzo finally gets Upton or Span or someone of that ilk.  Or perhaps we re-sign Ankiel to a holding deal, waiting for wunder-kid Bryce Harper to come up and take over.  Or, perhaps the lineups that Johnson has been fielding in September featuring Morse in LF, Werth in CF and Nix in RF are telling enough that we can “get by” without investing in a center fielder for 2012.  (I’ve got a very large CF-only post coming up, with lots more detail).
  • Right-handed middle relief: we may have to go digging for one-year FA Todd Coffey types again, because Kimball is on the DL til probably July and Carr was flat out released in September.  That’s it in terms of 40-man roster options for right handed relievers.  An internal option could be using Peacock as a 7th inning guy in 2012; he’s shown he can bring it 95-96 and perhaps even higher in short term situations.  The team doesn’t seem to trust either Balester or Stammen, meaning we need a one-year guy.
  • Utility guys: we used Hairston, Cora, and Bixler as backup infielders.  Hairston did a great job starting at 3B in Zimmerman’s absence; the other two were awful.  So we need a couple replacements.  Lombardozzi could fit in, but he’d be better served with a full season in AAA.  Bixler was waived and claimed, so we’re almost guaranteed to go hunting on the FA pile.
  • Backup Outfielder: Bernadina seems to have run out of chances with this team.  Corey Brown has been god-awful in AAA this year and was assigned off of our 40-man to the AAA team.  Nix and Gomes are FAs.  We can’t possibly offer Gomes arbitration and guarantee him a $2M salary, and Nix can’t hit lefties. In any case, we look like we may need a backup outfielder from somewhere.  Nix has been getting starts in RF (as mentioned above) down the stretch and certainly has enough power to feature 6th in a lineup.  Perhaps he’s worth another year.  The team was in preliminary talks on a 2012 contract with him but nothing official has been signed.
  • Loogy: we could use a one-out guy, assuming that we need a 2nd lefty to Burnett.  I’m guessing that Severino is not the answer, based on how little use he got in September.  Or maybe he is.  Certainly I’d prefer giving him a shot versus scraping the bottom of the reliever barrel again and finding another guy who performs as badly as Slaten.
  • Starting Pitcher: We re-signed our own FA Wang, and continue to be in the mix for more of a marquee name like Buehrle and Oswalt.  Do we need another starter?  Signing either of these two vets will probably indicate team flexibility to trade some of our younger starting pitching cache of Detwiler, Peacock, and Milone, but also may end up blocking a guy who could be just as good for a fraction of the price.
  • Long man: I’m guessing that we assign a long man from one of  Gorzelanny (most likely), Detwiler (somewhat likely), Balester and Stammen (less likely).  The team seems down on both the latter guys, who are probably destined for DFA when they run out of options.

So, thats a somewhat big todo list.  Some spots are clearly fill-able from within, but we’re still looking at a few acquisitions.

Bill Ladson’s inbox, 11/7/11 edition.

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Espinosa making another OOZ play. Photo AP via mlb.com

Here’s the latest Bill Ladson inbox, 11/7/11 edition.

Q: Knowing how much you praise Danny Espinosa’s defense, I’m sure you think he should have won the Gold Glove Award. But he made more errors than Brandon Phillips and his fielding percentage was lower. Do you really think Espinosa deserved it?

A: Espinosa didn’t “deserve” the Gold Glove for two reasons.  1) He’s too young to really register in the minds of the voters of this award (supposedly Managers but often delegated to a minion) just yet, as the Gold Glove in some ways is an award of “reputation” rather than accomplishment.  2) Espinosa is no where near the best defensive 2nd baseman in the NL.  Brandon Phillips is a pretty good selection but himself isn’t the best NL 2nd-baseman using UZR/150 as a measureChase Utley was the best in 2011 and has been the best defensive 2nd baseman in the NL for a while now.  Espinosa’s 0.9 uzr/150 for the 2011 season puts him barely at league average.  Ladson says that Espinosa has more range than Phillips and deserves more credit.

A quick look at the UZR link above does show something interesting, in response to Ladson’s comment.  His “OOZ” (out of Zone, or balls hit out of his normal fielding zone) count of 51 for the year far eclipses either Phillips or Utley, meaning that Espinosa is making a ton of plays on balls a normal fielder wouldn’t get to.  However his “RZR” (Revised Zone Rating, basically a percentage of balls IN the zone that are converted to outs) is significantly lower than Utley.  What does this mean?  It means Espinosa is making a ton of high-light plays (things that stick into the mind of beat reporters like Ladson who see him day in and day out) but is missing a bunch of plays that he should be making, in comparison to someone like Utley.  My guess is that Espinosa is really still learning the positioning of 2nd base and will see this rise as he gets more comfortable in the position.

Q: If the Nats are serious about being contenders next season, they need to open up the piggy bank. They need to pick up left-hander C.J. Wilson. What do you think?

A: Are the Nats going to be contenders?  Or is 2012 just one more year in the “master plan” that we’ve heard so much about?  Because if you don’t follow “the plan,” then suddenly you’re the NY Mets with a bunch of expensive and under-performing FAs.  The Nats don’t seem to have an owner ready to jump payroll into the $125-$150M range (if you noticed, our payroll has been almost identical year to year since the Lerners took over, right in the mid $60M range), so that means the team needs to focus on building from within, through the draft, keeping payroll low by using more min-salary guys and not depending on the FA market to build.

In that context, I think Wilson is not worth pursuing.  I also believe that Wilson is not nearly the “ace starter” that he’s being made out to be (at best, he’s a #2 starter but showed significant holes in his game this past off-season).  Is that level of a pitcher going to be worth the $80M contract he’s going to command in a pitcher-weak market?  To me, the answer is no.  I’d rather work a trade and cash in some prospects to get someone under club control (trading for pitchers from Tampa Bay, Atlanta or Oakland), or wait til 2012 when the FA crop is better.  Ladson says the team “scouted” Wilson but won’t sign him; Rizzo wants an innings eater.  That sounds like Mark Buehrle to me frankly.  But that’s a topic for another blog post.

Q: What if the Nats fail to land Wilson, Mark Buehrle or Roy Oswalt? Do you think Rizzo would have any interest in right-hander Edwin Jackson? I realize Jackson’s performance has been erratic year to year, but he has proven to be durable, plus he’s only 28 years old and has loads of playoff experience.

A: I predicted previously that the Nats would sign Edwin Jackson and not one of these other candidates this off-season.  Yes Rizzo has said he wants an innings eater (that would seem to indicate Buehrle), or a veteran presence (Oswalt), or a “top of the rotation” starter (Wilson), but each of these candidates has potential issues.  Wilson may not be worth the money, Oswalt may be too injury prone and home-sick for the deep south, and Buehrle not enough of a power-arm (not to mention asking yourself why he’d want to leave Chicago at this point?).  But Rizzo scouted and signed Jackson, likes his power arm, and he could be a decent alternative to the question marks we’d have at the back-end of the rotation.  Ladson points out what I didn’t; that Jackson is erratic and isn’t that good a pitcher.  I agree; but the answer to the questions “should we sign Jackson” and “do I think we’ll sign Jackson” seem to be different for this team.

Q: Please tell me catcher Ivan Rodriguez will be back with the Nats next season. He is a class act and is so close to career hit No. 3,000. Any chance the club re-signs him?

A: Why would this team possibly want or need Rodriguez in 2012?  There’s a difference between sentimentality (all the points made here) and reality of production.  Rodriguez was *awful* in 2012, he’s getting to the point where he’s clearly just hanging around to reach a milestone, and while I don’t think he’s jeopardizing his legacy, there may eventually be comparisons to other vets (Willie Mays) who hung around one season too long.

Now, I’m writing this assuming that Wilson Ramos is returned safely, and with the plan of going into 2012 with both Ramos and Jesus Flores installed as 1-2 in the catching depth charts.  Personally I believe the eventual move for the Nats will be to trade Flores, bring up Norris and then use those two players going forward.  Ladson says its 50% that the team brings him back.  Why??  How does Pudge fit into Ramos-Flores without an injury or an off-the-field issue?  Ladson also says Pudge didn’t get at-bats b/c of injury.  Uh, seemed to me he was healthy most of the 2nd half.  He didn’t get at-bats because he had a god-awful 66 OPS+ in the at-bats he DID get.

Q: What is the status of Corey Brown? Will he be ready to compete for a job come Spring Training? If Jayson Werth is moved to center field next year, who would play right field for the Nats?

A: I don’t think Brown is going to pan out at all, frankly.  He hit .235 for the year in his 2nd year (first full time though) in AAA.  He had one good month, hitting .351 for August, but the rest of his monthly splits were pretty consistently weak.

If Werth plays some center, we could put someone like Laynce Nix in right (where he did play a bit in September).  But that’s not ideal.  Maybe the team just bites the bullet and plays Bryce Harper in the OF from day one of 2012 (doubtful b/c of super-2 status concerns, but Davey Johnson does have a history of playing very young rookies).

More likely the team signs another stop-gap CF option, signs a 4th outfielder and waits to see if Harper earns a call-up in June.  Ladson more or less agrees with what I said here.

Q: With center field being a concern, should the Nationals look at Juan Pierre?

A: No, on so many levels.  Pierre didn’t actually play CF this year (and hasn’t since 2009), he’s on the wrong side of 30, he’s clearly slowing down (he had half the steals this year compared to last), he’s got a horribly weak arm, and he can’t hit (80 ops+ for 2011).  Ladson concurs.



Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 11/4/11 edition

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Wang re-ups for his 3rd year in a Nats uniform. Photo from Washington Nationals photo day.

Here’s a weekly wrap up of Nats-related news items, with my thoughts as appropriate.

  • MLBtraderumor’s Tim Dierkes announced that the cutoff for this year’s “Super-2″ status is 2 years, 146 days.  This cutoff means that two (and possibly three) Nats players made the cut and will be in line for a 4th arbitration season.  Jordan Zimmermann made it by 8 days, Tyler Clippard by 2 days (!), and Roger Bernadina (at least according to Amanda Comak‘s calculations; he’s missing from Dierkes’ list).  In Bernadina’s case, it may not matter, as he’s out of options for 2012, isn’t likely to make the roster anyway and seems a certainty for a non-tender.  We’ll save salary speculation for a future post as we get closer to the arbitration dates.  11/1 update: Dierkes responded to my comment in this blog posting and said that his personal calculations determined that Bernadina missed the cutoff.
  • Tim Dierkes is a busy man; he has a series of FA analysis by position and posted his Center Field analysis over the weekend.  Considering that the Nats have been looking for a quality center fielder essentially since moving to Washington, the analysis is a good read.  The news isn’t good; Dierkes only projects ONE viable CF FA candidate: Coco Crisp (quotes later in the week though confirm that Crisp wants to stay on the west coast, making him a less likely candidate).  He mentions Grady Sizemore as being worth a flier but no guarantee to be healthy.  There’s some “thinking outside the box” candidates, guys who are older and who could hold on to CF for another year, but if the Nats were to do that we might as well either go with Jayson Werth in center or re-sign Ankiel.  Trade potential BJ Upton is still there, and I’m sure he’s still available for the right price.  Perhaps the Nats could package a bunch of prospects for both Upton and Shields.  One other interesting name to consider: Melky Cabrera.  Nice season, nearly a 20/20 guy.  Getting a bit expensive for KC… maybe we could flip them some pitching surplus.
  • Sammy Solis has marginally improved as the AFL has gone forward, putting in a 4ip, 1run performance on Oct 29th.  Meanwhile, what is going on with Matthew Purke?  In three appearances through 10/29 he’s given up 11 runs on 10 hits in 3 1/3 innings.  Not good.  We may have to just shield our eyes until spring training.
  • Bill Ladson reported on a conversation he had with Mike Rizzo about the Nats off-season plans, and the takeaway seems to be that the team “has made no promises” to Adam LaRoche about playing time in 2012.  I just have a hard time believing that the team plans on just ignoring 1/8th of their payroll (LaRoche’s $8M salary on last year’s $68M payroll) by signing a replacement.  Rizzo pursued and signed LaRoche for a reason; good defense and adequate bat.  At least, that’s the idea.  Personally I have a hard time believing that Albert Pujols is leaving St. Louis, and I’ll bet that Fielder stays in the NL central as well (perhaps replacing Carlos Pena in Chicago as Theo Epstein‘s first big signing).
  • ESPN’s Buster Olney believes the Nats will look at Grady Sizemore, recently having his 2012 option declined by the Indians, as a center field option.  I suppose Sizemore is no more of a risk than it would be to resign Rick Ankiel, or to experiment with Werth in center and a player to be named (Laynce Nix?) in right.  It would be ironic to see Sizemore come back to the team that drafted and developed him, only to trade him in an incredibly damaging deal for a few months rental of Bartolo Colon.
  • Taken from a link in the previous Olney posting, the “Field of Dreams” property in Iowa used to make the movie of the same name is being sold.  Visitors come by the thousands even to this day to see the makeshift field built into a century-old farmland.  What I find neat is the apparent unassuming nature of the owners and the fact they’ve never really attempted to commercialize the property.  In that respect, it reminds me of Cooperstown, which I visited for the first time this past summer (blog post in the works with pictures) and found to be amazingly quant and un-tarnished by the type of tourist-driven revenue generators you find at other places in this country.
  • A post courtesy of Rob Neyer‘s blog about the seemingly imminent move of the Astros to the AL West points out a salient points the Houston fan base would have to put up with; more 9:05pm local starts as the team travels to play new rivals on the West coast.  This likely will badly affect their TV ratings.  Will the Astros take to having new divisional rivals in the Angels, A’s and Mariners well?  It doesn’t seem to have really hurt the Rangers, who have the same issue.  One has to think an intra-state, intra-divisional rivalry with the Rangers would be fantastic for both teams though.  Imagine 18 games and state bragging rights at stake for a state that takes its bragging rights (in all matters, both sports and non) very seriously.
  • All 8 of our free agents filed as soon as the FA filing period opened, as reported by Adam Kilgore.  I’ve got a post coming up on thoughts on the 8 free agents and which I think we should look at resigning.
  • Jon Heyman‘s first off-season column addresses some of the main “questions” facing baseball this off-season and he includes answering some of the major FA rumors.  He lists the Nats as favorites for both Prince Fielder and CJ Wilson.  Signing both would instantly add $30M of payroll to a team that already projects at somewhere in the $65M already basically allocated (we owe $45M in guaranteed contracts on the books now, probably somewhere in the range of $13M to clear our arbitration cases, and the rest being minimum salaries to 40-man guys).  Are the Lerners ready to step up and pay this kind of money?
  • Heyman’s article also notes that the last remaining issue in the MLB contract negotiations relates to Draft Slotting.  Bud Selig has been pushing hard for this, as he feels smaller market teams get screwed by agents who know bigger market teams will pay the money for their guys.  Meanwhile the league is apparently read to ditch free agent compensation picks as a bargaining chip.  Certainly the union has to like this (especially for relievers, who get labeled type-A and suddenly can’t find work).
  • Dodger Fan’s long nightmare may be over: Frank McCourt is apparently willing to sell the team for $1B in a deal that seems to completely remove him from gaining any additional benefit from the team (meaning, he has to divest the parking lots he was threatening to keep control over).  Now if only Bud Selig would consider a decent replacement owner instead of one of Selig’s friends or whoever greased his palm most recently … ah modern baseball.  11/2/update: maybe there won’t be a Selig-appointee; apparently the team will be sold at auction.  Great!  That means an owner not necessarily hand-picked by Selig and his cronies.  I’d love to see Mark Cuban get involved but apparently he was approached a few months ago and backed out.
  • Baseballamerica.com had a front-page feature on the Nats on 11/1.
  • FanGraphs’ top 15 Nats prospects wasn’t too surprising (also posted 11/1).  I’m amazed how high AJ Cole is (called the top pitcher in the system, barely eclipsing the promise of both Alex Meyer and Matthew Purke).  And I’m amazed how far Derek Norris has fallen.  The article also points out something rather interesting: the Potomac rotation could be Meyer, Purke, Cole, Ray and then someone like Selik.  Wow.
  • SI.com’s Ben Reiter put out his list of the top 50 FAs available and has the Nats on Jose Reyes and Coco Crisp, but not Prince Fielder or Edwin Jackson.  I guess I wouldn’t complain if we got both or either guy; either would ably fit into the lead-off spot that we’ve struggled with for years (and if we got both put them 1-2 … and move both Espinosa and Desmond’s .220 batting averages to the bottom of the order).
  • And here’s Tim Dierkes’s top 50 FA list with guesses on destinations: He has the Nats mentioned as an interested party with most of the top names and signing only CJ Wilson of his top 50 list.
  • And here USA Today’s Paul White‘s top 50 FA list, with the Nats projected to land Coco Crisp, Freddie Garcia (?!?) and Chein-Ming Wang.   His comment as to why we’d sign Garcia?  “Short term fix while the kids develop.”  It makes one wonder if he’s seen the state of our starting pitching frankly.  There’s little reason to doubt Milone or Peacock (or some combination of both) being able to fit into the 5th starter.
  • Ron Dibblewow.
  • Gold Glove winners announced; there doesn’t seem to be any egregiously bad winners like there was last year (Derek Jeter).  There were some complaints from the likes of Rob Neyers about the AL shortstop selection, using the Fielding Bible awards as his source.  But lets face it; the voters for the golden gloves probably spend about 20 seconds on it, when handed the form while dealing with a gazillion other items in September after a long season.  They’re voting reputations, not Uzr/150 results.  In fact i’d wager that fully 75% or more of the voters couldn’t tell you what Ultimate Zone Rating is or how it measures defensive capabilities.
  • SI’s Joe Sheehan puts out a nice overview of each division’s “state of franchise” post, and his thoughts on the Nats are interesting.  He has no idea if the team is going to be spooked byWerth’s contract and poor production, and suggests trading Tyler Clippard for a CF.
  • Chien-Ming Wang has officially re-signed with the team, per this SI article late Wednesday night.  We got details thursday: 1yr, $4M with some incentives.   That’s a bit more than I predicted (I was thinking something in the range of $2.5M as a guess).  But it still seems like a good deal, all things considered.  I’ll take a $4M #4 pitcher versus the $7.5M Marquis cost, and he seems like he could very well improve on his 2011 performance.
  • Byron Kerr has a rather effusive article on Sammy Solis (calling his fastball “lethal” and “high-velocity?”  Sorry Byron; he’s got #3 starter stuff, not Randy Johnson-esque power) and his efforts to learn a new pitch; a regular curve-ball.  Solis has used a knuckle-curve that spins/breaks more violently, but is harder to control.  He’s reached the point in his career where he needs alternatives to fastballs and change-ups that he can count on, and hopefully this helps him to the next level.  This is a common theme; high schoolers with merely upper 80s stuff can routinely get away with blowing the ball by most of the opposing lineups of weakling 16-18yr olds and sometimes experience a reality check when going up against hitters who can make the adjustment.
  • The Nats exposed Brian Bixler to waivers (i.e., designated him for assignment to remove him from the 40-man) and he got claimed by the Astros.  Not a major loss (he had a 47 ops+ last season), but still someone who could have helped out next year had he passed through to our AAA roster and been able to be “stashed” in Syracuse.  Best of luck to him.  His position is easily replaced from within from someone like Lombardozzi, or on the FA market similar to our 2011 signings of Hairston and Cora.
http://www.mlb.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?pos=P&sid=l119&t=p_pbp&pid=545357

Nats FA Decisions…

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Is Wang the only FA we resign? Photo courtesy of Nats320 blog/Jeff Saffelle

With the announcement that all 8 of our eligible free agents filed as soon as the FA filing period opened (as reported by Adam Kilgore), its time to talk about what the team could or should do with each of the 8 players.

Here’s a quick table showing our 8 free agents, their latest contract and their pay for 2011.

Player Current or 2011 Contract 2011 Salary
Ankiel, Rick 1yr/$1.5M $1,500,000
Coffey, Todd 1yr/$1.35M $1,350,000
Cora, Alex 1yr/$900k $900,000
Gomes, Jonny 2yr/$2.55M (10-11) $1,750,000
Hernandez, Livan 1yr/$850K $850,000
Nix, Laynce 1yr/$700k $700,000
Rodriguez, Ivan 2 yr/$6M (10-11) $3,000,000
Wang, Chien-Ming 1 yr/$1M plus bonuses $1,000,000

So, what should the team do with these guys?  In order (alphabetically):

  • Rick Ankiel could be an interesting decision for this team.  His 2011 line was bad (.239/.296/.363), and he really wasn’t any better down the stretch than he was at the beginning of the season.  Ankiel tempts and entices you with periodic flashes of power but generally had really poor batting stats.  On the plus side, he’s a lefty in a Right-handed heavy lineup.  He also plays a fantastic Center Field (11.6 uzr/150 on the year in center) and has one of the best outfield arms in the game.  All this screams 4th outfielder at best, and Ankiel may struggle to match his $1.5M salary in 2012.  The Nats may view him as a decent 4th outfielder option, but may not be willing to guarantee him money.  I’m guessing he goes elsewhere looking for a starting job or a guaranteed major league contract.
  • Todd Coffey, by the end of the season, seemed to be a reliable right handed option out of the bullpen for this team.  He had a 3.62 era on the season and a decent whip of 1.2.  His splits on the year show a different story; he was lights out in May, god-awful in June and July before regaining his consistency in the end of the season.  For me, he’s a replace-able asset that should be available in spades on the FA market or from within the farm system.  I’m guessing the team rolls the dice on another one of the middle-relief right handers on the market.  Had Cole Kimball not gone down with injury, the question would be completely moot for 2012.
  • Alex Cora probably will find work on a minor league free agent deal somewhere for 2012; he has that “backup middle infielder” skill set that gives him a good shot of finding work in 2012 despite his horrible batting line in 2011 (a 51 ops+ hitting .224 in 156 ABs for the Nats).  For the Nats, we saw that up and coming prospect Steve Lombardozzi can play both 2nd and SS in a backup role in September and I’m guessing we use a combination of him and Brian Bixler off the bench in 2012 as cheaper alternatives to the FAs Cora and Jerry Hairston that the team used in 2011.
  • Jonny Gomes was acquired mid-season in a questionable trade that sent blocked 1B prospect Bill Rhinehart and blogger favorite Christopher Manno to the Reds.  At first glance the trade seemed to be about acquiring the compensation pick that Gomes would fetch (who at the time had type-B FA status).  After listening to management interviews though the trade seemed to be more about Johnson replacing the impotent Matt Stairs as his primary pinch hitter on the bench.  It became clear that Gomes’ skills not only were not worth the 1.75M contract he was on, but that he was barely worth a 25-man roster spot.  Gomes hit .204 for the team in the 2nd half, mostly as a right-handed power option off the bench and lost his type-B status by years end.  Despite clearly being a good teammate and free-spirit in the clubhouse, Gomes seems destined for a non-guaranteed contract elsewhere for 2012.
  • Livan Hernandez is hitting the FA market despite being our opening day starter and perhaps the most iconic player of this team’s tenure in Washington (with apologies to Ryan Zimmerman, of course).  Hernandez just finished a very up-and-down season, culminating with his being “shut-down” in September (ostensibly to allow rookies to play, but it may have also been somewhat of a mercy-killing after a slew of abysmal performances).  One need only look at his 2011 splits to see the problem with Livan: when he won he was very, very good (8-0, 1.26era in his 8 victories).  But when he lost he gave the offensively-meager team almost no chance to win (a 6.05 ERA in 13 losses) and was nearly as bad in his 8 no-decisions (5.93 era).  I’m sorry, but when you make 29 starts and have an era in the 6′s for 21 of them, you no longer merit a starting spot.  The team will swallow its heart and allow Livan to leave in free agency.  Just a couple months ago I was advocating to keep him, thinking he’d be a great backup plan and a good influence on the pitching corps.  Those points both may be true, but his declining performance coupled with his extraordinarily long warm-up routine pretty much precludes effective use out of the bullpen (where guys need to be warm in 10-15 pitches).  I’ll bet Livan finds a 5th starter job somewhere though; perhaps a sentimental return to Florida, a stop-gap one-year contract for the pitching-poor Mets, or elsewhere.
  • Laynce Nix was hot in Spring Training, and equally as hot in April and May, but tailed off badly and ended the year with a relatively MLB-average 103 ops+ and a slash line of .250/.299/.451.  He did have 16 homers in just 351 plate appearances, nearly a 30homer pace for a full season.  Of course, he’d never get a full season of At bats since his lefty-righty splits are so bad (.263 versus .111 … he was 3 for 27 against lefties this year with 4 walks).  What should the team do?  Nix could be a nice part of a platoon in right field with a good right-handed hitter like Chris Marrero … except we’re pretty sure that we’d take a severe dip in defense if we did such a thing.  Of course, nobody told the Cardinals they couldn’t put Lance Berkman in the outfield, and he promptly put in a -14.4 uzr/150 rating in right while bashing his way to a .547 slugging percentage and a 166 ops+.   Not that Nix is capable of Berkman’s level of productivity, but I still think he could have value as a 4th out-fielder/Davey Johnson prototypical power guy off the bench.  Not to mention a lefty on a team whose primary power guys (Werth, Zimmerman and Morse) are all righty.  I predict he resigns on a one year deal.
  • Ivan Rodriguez really wants to get to 3,000 hits, but man he looked old this year.  He only managed 27 hits in 124 at bats while ceding the starting job to the more capable Wilson Ramos.  Clearly Pudge isn’t coming back to the Nats; the better question is whether there’s a backup job for him anywhere in the league.  Probably so, but he’ll struggle to ever reach 3,000.
  • Chien-Ming Wang, as we already know, is negotiating to stay with the team.  And despite this blogger’s opinion that the team erred in setting up Wang’s 2011 contract, it seems like he probably is coming back.  I’m guessing he signs a moderate 2-year deal with somewhere in the range of $6-8M in guaranteed money.

So, in the end I’m guessing we re-sign one (and perhaps two) of our 8 free agents.  This means we’ll be somewhat active on the FA market looking to back-fill some of the positions these guys filled this year.   But not totally so; players coming back from injury and players rising from the minor league ranks are expected to take the place of players that we had to buy on the FA market in the past.  That’s great news for the team in general; lowered payroll and further proof that our farm system is developing real talent.

Consider re-upping for OF cover
Let him go. Replaceable commodity.
Non-type A/B FA: let him walk
Decline arbitration b/c he’d likely take it. Missed type-B status
Non-type A/B FA: let him walk despite his offer to be a pullpen guy
Consider re-signing for 2012
Non-type A/B FA: let him walk
Re-sign to a 2-year deal; seems healthy, get some ROI

Boswell Chat 10/24/11: My answers to his Baseball questions

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Hall of Famer? Yes. Best hitter ever? Almost. Photo: unknown via fantasyknuckleheads.com

Tom Boswell did his monday morning chat on 10/24 after a week off; in-between taking questions about the death of the Redskins, he managed to fit in some baseball and Nats questions.  Here’s how i’d have answered them…

Questions are edited for clarity and space, and I write my answer before reading Boswell’s.  We’ll only address baseball-related questions.

Q: Is there any question at this point that Pujols has joined Ted Williams and Babe as the three best hitters ever?

A: (side note; this is just AFTER Pujols‘ 3-homer performance in game 3 of the World Series, just the third time that’s ever been done).  If Pujols retired tomorrow here’s what his career lines would look like: 455 homers, .328 career hitter, 170 career OPS+, 3 MVPs and another six times in the top 5 candidates (four times coming in 2nd place).  That by itself is Hall of Fame worthy, no doubt.

By the time he retires?  I think clearly he’ll be mentioned as either the best or 2nd best right-handed hitter of all time (Willie Mays) and in a small grouping with Mays, Ruth and Williams as the best all-around hitters to ever play the game.  Absolutely.  I don’t think Pujols needed a 3-homer World Series game to cement that status either.    Boswell agrees, saying that Pujols joins the list just behind Ruth.

Q: Thanks for pointing out he did all his damage after the Cards were ahead in Game 3. We’re so quick to pronounce “best ever…” these days that it was good to get some context.

A:Very fair comment.  Pujols may have a 3-homer game, but it doesn’t nearly have the significance of Reggie Jackson‘s 3-homer game.  Also fair about pronouncing current stars “the best ever” without much context to those that came before.  Ruth’s domination of baseball and the country at large is so difficult to understate that we’ll never really be able to draw a modern comparison.  Boswell agrees, at least with the first part.

Q: Game 5 prediction (on the night of this chat)?

A: I’d pick Carpenter and the Cardinals.  I don’t trust CJ Wilson and don’t think he’s nearly the pitcher that Carpenter is.  I stick with my St Louis in 6 predictionBoswell goes against logic and says that Wilson will outpitch Carpenter.

Q: Do Lefties with high-heat give a significant advantage over right-handers with comparable velocities?

A: Absolutely.  Lefties are already rare enough and effective enough that any left hander with velocity in the upper 80s can usually find work in this league.  There’s a reason for that.  Add a few more mph and the cache of left-handers who can reach the mid 90s in this league can be counted on one hand.  They are special, and they are valuable.  Boswell doesn’t have a good explanation.

Q: With all the issues in Boston, should the Nats be calling the Red Sox to see who they might get in trade?

A: Sure.  But the Red Sox are prospect hounds and will want our farm system depth in return.  The guys they’re probably willing to trade are probably not going to be the guys we want anyway.  Boswell didn’t really answer the question but mentioned that Ellsbury will be a FA after 2013 … gee, only 3 years too late for the leadoff/CF that we need!

Q: Boswell had previously described baseball Managers as one of four types: Little Napoleon, the Peerless Leader, the Tall Tactician, and the Uncle Robbie.  Who are the best four examples of each type now in the modern game?

A: Interesting question.  Here’s a list of 2011′s baseball managers to choose from.  I’ll guess that Ozzie Guillen is the Napoleon manager, Tony LaRussa is the peerless leader, Ron Roenicke is the Tall Tactician, and Joe Madden is little Robbie.  Boswell’s answers werent’ close to mine; perhaps because its his manager classifications to begin with.

Q: Was the strike zone in game 4 inconsistent?

A: I thought it was; in the bottom of the first a strike 3 was called on Elvus Andrus that had been a ball earlier in the count.  And that wide zone continued throughout.  Its no wonder Holland looked so unhittable.  Boswell blames the TV strike tracker as being misleading.

Q: Could Albert Pujols go to the Rangers?

A: I guess he could … but that doesn’t seem to be the way he’s going.  He seems set to stay in the NL and stay in the mid-west.  I think he’s either staying in St Louis or going to save the Cubs.  Texas might as well light Michael Young on fire if they got Pujols and, for the 3rd or 4th season in a row, asked their franchise leader to move positions for incoming talent.  Boswell predicts Pujols stays in StLouis.

Q: Should Texas have pulled Holland after the 7th to retain him for the 7th game?

A: Nope.  Texas’ bullpen was shredded and its much more important to have a fresh Feliz than a starter on 2 days rest.  Of course, Washington USED Felix in a non-save situation to finish off the game.  Waste.  At least the rest of the bullpen got a night off.  Boswell disagrees with me, saying the team should have pulled him in the 7th to have him in game 7.

Q: What are the odds of the following players returning next season: Livan Hernandez, Ivan Rodriguez, Chien-Ming Wang, Jonny Gomes, Laynce Nix and Rick Ankiel?

A: Livan: 10%.  Ivan 1%.  Wang 80%.  Gomes: 25%.  Nix: 40%.  Ankiel 40%.  Boswell didn’t offer percentages, just saying that he thinks Wang will be back and that Johnson loves guys like Gomes and Nix on the bench.

Q: How long does it take Theo Epstein to turn around the Cubs?

A: I’ll say most of the 5 years he’s signed up for right now.  His starting pitching is a MESS, he’s got an aging, expensive team with big contracts and little wiggle room, and he’s got very little in terms of young players.  He needs all his bad contracts to age off, he needs to scout and draft better, and he needs time.  Boswell punted.

Nats Rotation Cycle #33: good/bad/soso.

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31 and Done for Michael Morse, capping a fantastic breakout season. Photo Jacqueline Martin/AP via federalbaseball.com

This is it; the last rotation cycle of the season.  And it will be a shortened one; with just 3 games remaining.  But we do get one more start out of Stephen Strasburg as the team improbably has a chance to finish the season with a winning record.  To do it, they’ll have to go into the lion’s den and beat a Florida team that has had its number over the past few seasons.  Here’s the Nats record against Florida over the past few seasons:

  • 2011: 5-10 (not including last three games)
  • 2010: 5-13
  • 2009: 6-12
  • 2008: 3-14 (!)
  • 2007: 10-8
  • 2006: 7-11
  • 2005: 9-9

That’s a total (since moving to Washington) of 45-77.  This clearly needs to improve, especially since in 2011 the team beat or was even with the rest of their NL east opponents.

Good

  • Stephen Strasburg finished off the season with a bang on 9/28 (box/gamer), absolutely dominating the Marlins over 6 innings.  Final line: 1 hit, 0 runs, 2 walks and 10 Ks in just 79 pitches.  Wow.  How’s that for a teaser for 2012?

Mediocre/Inconclusive

  • Tommy Milone labored through 4 1/3 innings before getting an early hook on 9/26 (box/gamer), leaving it for later heroics (aka, Michael Morse’s 9th inning 3 run shot) to get the win.  The mediocre start caps off a pretty good September for Milone, who has certainly staked his claim for the 2012 rotation.
  • John Lannan‘s final 2011 start on 9/27 (box/gamer) wasn’t too bad; 6ip 3 hits and 3 walks resulting in 2 earned runs and a no-decision.  As has been typical in September he was yanked an inning too early (he sat on 89 pitches) and could have gone 7.  None the less, he caps off a great season, his best as a pro, and is clearly the #3 starter on this team going into 2012.

Starter Trends

2nd half
Milone    bad,soso,good,good,soso
Lannan    good,good,bad,soso,good,bad,bad,good,soso,good,bad,soso,soso,soso
Strasburg    great,soso,good,bad,great
Detwiler    soso,soso,good,good,bad,bad,soso,great,good
Wang        bad,bad,great,soso,soso,good,bad,soso,soso,soso,good,good
Peacock    good,good,great

Relievers of Note and other News

  • Mike Rizzo was quoted on 9/25 as saying the team was “an outfielder and a starting pitcher” away from real contention in 2012.  This could be an indicator of the off-season plans of the team (definitely a future blog post).  Adam Kilgore guesses the team could sacrifice some of its starter depth to obtain a center fielder (perhaps again going after someone like BJ Upton).
  • Bryce Harper will play all three OF positions in the AFL, and presumably next season, in preparation for positional flexibility once he arrives in the majors.  This makes sense to me; he’s athletic enough to play some center and has a big enough arm to play right.  Meanwhile Jayson Werth is in the same boat.  Only Michael Morse has positional inflexibility.
  • Stephen Strasburg probably will have a similar 160ip limit in 2012 that Jordan Zimmermann had this year, per various national reports.  What may be interesting is this; if this team, which has already won 78 games and surpassed most people’s predictions of between 72 and 75 wins, continues its improvement into 2012, they very well may be in the thick of the wild card race right at the time when Strasburg is set to shut down.  Would the team shelve him for a month to save innings?
  • With the 9/28/11 victory, the team officially dropped to the 16th draft pick in the first round (here’s your Reverse Standings).  Adam Kilgore commented on this same topic here.  This officially means the team had an unprotected first round draft pick for the first time since the team moved here.  This automatically and drastically changes the nature of our off season FA plans.  Knowing we have to give up the 16th overall pick (even if its a weaker draft) certainly will give pause to the draft-pick coveting front office.  Is CJ Wilson worth losing this pick?
  • Hey, here’s a shock; Doug Slaten blew another game for the Nats on 9/27  This time it was the 2nd to last game, giving up a walk-off homer to a lefty who nobody’s ever heard of to lose the game.  I don’t get it; why was Slaten even in the game?  Here’s his game-log for 2011; since returning from the DL he has had exactly ONE “successful” outing (a one-pitch, one out appearance against Houston).  Every other time he’s given up hits, walked the guy he was brought in to face, or otherwise disappointed.  Here’s hoping the team has learned all they need to learn about him and gives him his walking papers as soon as the season is over.
  • The team and Laynce Nix have “exchanged salary figures” for 2012.  Interesting; if the team locks up Nix for 2012, suddenly there’s one less outfield position available for the slew of guys potentially in the mix.  That most likely means the end of Jonny Gomes tenure here (one that probably was guaranteed by his poor batting average anyway).  The problem is that we likely won’t get the benefit of Gomes’ compensation pick now; he probably would accept an arbitration offering, sticking the team with the player for 2012 and locking up two backup outfielder positions.  Nix had a pretty good year, mostly working in a platoon situation against RHPs, and has some positional flexibilty to play LF, RF and 1B.  He’s also played CF in the past, though he seems too bulky to really be a Rizzo-preferred defender there now.

Now that the season is over, I’ll do a wrap-up of the MLB pitching similar to the other levels, and follow that up with projected 2012 positions throughout the entire system.