I guess Bill Ladson only gets questions during spring training. After not doing an inbox for practically all of last season, its 3 in 3 weeks! Since these are such good conversation starters, lets see how I would have answered his questions.
Q: Most believe the Nats have no chance of keeping Bryce Harper once he becomes a free agent. Your thoughts?
A: Unfortunately, I’m also in that camp. I believe Bryce Harper and his aggressive agent Scott Boras will take him to free agency with the idea of getting the largest contract in history. And, when push comes to shove, I just can’t see how Washington is going to have the stomach to compete with the big-money teams (namely, the Dodgers and Yankees) and commit the kind of dollars that he’s going to command. Certainly not with the MASN hamstringing. I mean, lets be honest with ourselves; its taken years just to get the two parties to agree on whether the Nats are going to get $34M (what the O’s want to pay), $53M (what the first arbitration panel apparently agreed upon) or $109M (what the Nats requested) on the first reset of the agreement. Meanwhile the Dodgers are getting somewhere between $240M-$280M a year in their RSN deal … potentially FIVE TIMES what the Nats are getting paid. I’m sorry; but the team that can afford to just throw money at players is the team that is going to be able to promise $40M/season. There’s just no way even a “rich” team like Washington is going to compete. Enjoy him while you can and hope the team does the smart thing and really, really tries to win a World Series while they still have him. Ladson thinks the team is going to wait and will “try to extend him” before he hits free agency. Yeah, right. How many players Boras has represented have taken extensions versus going to free agency?
Q: What are the chances that Ian Desmond returns to the Nationals this year?
A: Well, I think the chances seem like they’re nil. The Nats made their offers (a multiyear extension AND a qualifier) and Desmond turned them both down. I’m shocked that he’s the last man standing in the Qualifying Offer class (I would have bet money it would have been Ian Kennedy), and i’m shocked that he hasn’t found a job yet.
Now, that being said, a better question might be “Should the Nats think about bringing him back??” You’ve just hired a player’s manager who likes veterans in Dusty Baker. They’ve constructed their roster with a clear intention of sending future SS-in-waiting Trea Turner back to the minors for seasoning, meaning that Danny Espinosa seems like the starting shortstop (career BA: .230). At this point, given the steal of an offer you might be able to get Desmond for (Fowler was given a gift of a contract from Chicago, guaranteeing $13M when he probably wasn’t going to get that in terms of AAV on the open market), maybe he’s worth considering. Yes we’d be giving up the supp-1st rounder we stand to gain. But you can just give him another QO next season if he rebounds and puts himself in line for another big pay day. Or maybe you assume the next CBA (which will be signed sometime this year since the current deal expires 12/1/16) gets rid of the Q.O. entirely, since it is killing players and FA market values for certain types of players. Actually this latter argument perhaps supports the Nats wanting to keep the pick, since it may very well go away (or perhaps the system is modified to just give all teams giving away significant FAs supplemental first rounders, not that I have any idea how you’d figure out who was deserving of a pick). I think the team has made the decision that he’s on the decline, that they’ve dodged a huge bullet by him turning down 7yrs/$105 or whatever it was, and they’re ready to move on.
Ladson has sources in the Org that say its a “long long long shot.” Baker says Espinosa looks like he’s in “mid-season form” at the plate (wow; does that mean he’s only striking out every OTHER time up and still hitting .230?)
Q: What do you think Baker will bring to the Nationals this year?
A: I think Dusty Baker brings harmony and respect to the clubhouse in ways it was clearly not present under Matt Williams. No more arbitrary scheduling, lack of communication, lack of awareness of what’s going on with his players. I’m a big advocate of hiring contrasting styles in managers when one guy clearly grinds his way to a failure, and Baker is a great example of it. I was completely pro-Bud Black because of his pitching experience, but the team has more than made up for it with the hiring of Mike Maddox and we’re going to be a much better team for it.
Ladson mentions a very important word: Charisma. Baker brings a ton of experience, charisma and humor to the clubhouse; again going towards one of the big, embarrassing issues from last year (clubhouse chemistry).
Q: Can you predict the Nationals’ rotation on Opening Day?
A: Barring injury, it has to be (in order) Scherzer, Strasburg, Gonzalez, Ross and Roark. I’m not going to predict Arroyo beating out Roark at this point unless Arroyo looks completely healthy, he’s actually pitching well and Roark falls apart in Spring Training. If there’s an injury, I look at Arroyo as the first man up, then Cole in terms of rotation coverage. If we have to dig any deeper than that … watch out. I like Voth but i’m not sure he’s ready for prime time. I don’t trust Taylor Jordan any longer. Lucas Giolito may start his career a ton earlier than anyone thought if injuries take out too many of our starters.
Ladson says its a no-brainer right now with the assumed 5 above.
Q: Why did the Nationals let Yunel Escobar get away? He was a consistent hitter.
A: Escobar was a consistent hitter last year yes (.314 BA, which was 50 points higher than the two previous seasons and 30 points higher than his career average), but hit an “empty” .314 (just 9 homers and a .415 slugging, also a huge improvement over previous seasons and his career high). Unsaid is Escobar’s significant defensive issues (awful defensive stats, though to be fair genius skipper Williams had him playing out of position the entire season). I think the Nats “sold high” on Escobar, traded from depth to a certain extent and got a player (Trevor Gott) in trade that they really needed to help bolster the bullpen. Ladson doesn’t mention the “selling high” part of his offense; only mentions his defensive issues.
Q: What was it that made the front office sour on Drew Storen? The kid is one of the premier closers in the game, yet the team always seemed to be looking for someone better.
A: An excellent question. I’m not sure it was the “front office” as much as it was the “impulsive owner” who soured on Storen. He had two well publicized post-season failures, which led the normally sane and intelligent GM Rizzo to twice acquire and over-pay an aging “proven closer” to replace Storen. The first time, Rafael Soriano eventually was supplanted by his own failures and Storen’s consistency, the second time the team inexplicably replaced him with Papelbon in the middle of perhaps Storen’s finest season. Is Storen one of the “premier closers” in the game? No. I’d say he’s middle of the road and could likely tick off at least 15 guys who will be more highly valued in fantasy than Storen were he to win the Toronto closing job.
The crummy part of the deal was the fact that Storen was the one who needed to be traded by virtue of Papelbon making himself essentially untradeable. I tell you what; Papelbon better be a frigging all-star this year to make up for what’s happened. Ladson mentions the two blown post-season games and says he needed a change of scenery. Both true.