Nationals Arm Race

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Ask Boswell; 12/17/12 Edition

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Is he staying or going? Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images

Another Ask Boswell edition, dated 12/17/12.

As always, I type my response here before reading his answer (which sometimes leads to non-answers, since Tom Boswell sometimes doesn’t directly answer the same question i’m answering), and I sometimes edit questions for clarity.

Q: What is it going to take to settle this MASN Mess?

A: Probably a huge check to Peter Angelos to buy out his 90% stake in MASN.  But I like the approach baseball is taking; clearly Angelos has himself an incredibly one-sided deal, and clearly the whole “we’ll renegotiate in 5 years” turned out to be a gigantic mess.  Because its now drug on for more than a year with Angelos predicably low-balling the team while other teams out there get multiples of millions of dollars more per year than the Nationals are getting.  Wendy Thurm at fangraphs.com posted a great review of all 30 team’s RSN contracts.  For comparison purposes the next closest Market sizes to Washington (based on 2008 MSA) are Miami and Houston.  Miami gets $18M/year in a very bad deal, Washington is getting $29M/year, and Houston just negotiated a $80m/year deal.  Detroit, which is smaller still than Washington, is getting $40M/year in an old deal that expires in 2017, though they’re likely not to rise too much because of the economic conditions of their market.  What does all that mean?  Clearly Washington is no New York/Boston/Los Angeles, but clearly the team needs more than $29M.

I hope Fox Sports comes along, buys out Angelos and negotiates individual terms with the two franchises.  Will it happen?  Probably no, probably never.  Perhaps the solution will be a change of ownership in Baltimore, and Bud Selig (or whoever the commissioner is at the time) tacks on a clause of the switch to split off the RSN.  I could see that happening.

Boswell says it will take time, anger, and maybe even Selig imposing his whole “best interests of the game” clause.

Q: Who has the most frightening lineup in baseball ( Angels, Dodgers, or Blue Jays)?

A: Hmm.  The Angels now feature no less than SIX guys who have hit 30 homers in a season; Trout, Pujols, Trumbo, Hamilton, Morales and Wells.   That’s some incredible offense (even if Vernon Wells‘ time is past).   The Yankees and the Rangers were 1-2 in Runs Scored, Slugging and OPS in 2012 but both will be weakened by injuries and FA defections in 2013.  The Dodgers lineup “seems” potent, but includes a significant number of question marks.  If everyone plays to their potential, then yes the Dodgers could be fearsome.  But its more likely that  Crawford struggles and that Adrian Gonzalez continues to appear as if his best days are past.  Lastly Toronto may have a great middle of the order but they can’t match the Angels for up-and-down the lineup power.   The additions of Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera aren’t going to help them catch the Angels.  Boswell says Toronto is best.

Q: With Hamilton->Los Angeles, are the odds of LaRoche leaving higher?

A: I think the ongoing stalemate over contract length plus Texas suddenly being majorly in the market for a middle-of-the-order lefty bat to replace Hamilton should have Nats fans worried (or rejoicing, depending on your viewpoint) that Adam LaRoche may be plying his trade in Dallas the next few years.   I would not be surprised to see LaRoche sign a 3 year deal in Texas right now.  Is that the end of the world for the Nats?  No … I think the team will do just fine with Michael Morse playing first and Tyler Moore getting backup reps in LF and at First.  Others have pointed out that Morse’s lefty/right splits are nearly identical and it doesn’t matter that we wouldn’t have another lefty in the lineup.  And (not that the average fan cares about this point) it would save a bit on payroll, perhaps allowing the team to augment/buy something they may need at the trade deadline.

Q: With all the FA stars seemingly ending up in the AL, are the Nats better just by attrition?

A: A fair point.  But the NL Dodgers have certainly bought their fair share of talent too.  As a Nats fan, you have to be happy about the decline of our divisional rivals in the past few months: Marlins fire-sale, Mets basically turning into a mid-market team (and traded away their Ace in RA Dickey this week), and the Phillies making one curious acquisition (Michael Young) after another (Ben Revere).  Washington has improved this off-season, and if they can stave off the injury bug that hit the offense last season they could improve on 98 wins in 2013.   But I also think St. Louis will be just as good, I think Cincinnati has improved, and of course the Dodgers could be scary if all their talent comes together.  Boswell thinks so, but also has stated before that the WS now goes through Los Angeles.

Q: Is there something amiss in the MASN contract legally, since Angelos has not accepted what should have been stipulated in the contract?

A: It sure seems so.  Ever since Angelos got the team, his legal background seems to have Selig spooked.  I wonder if this is why Selig has not pressed more for a solution to this situation.  Boswell thinks that the search for a MASN buyer could be indicative of a permanent stalemate in the contract talks.

Q: Will Philadelphia fans forgive Lannan for breaking Utley’s hand?  Should the Nats batters be worried when he returns?

A: Yes the Philadelphia fans will forgive and forget; remember, most fans just root for the laundry.  Whoever is wearing the jersey is a friend, everyone else is foe.  I don’t think our batters should be too worried; I’m sure they look forward to facing John Lannan.  He’s not exactly the second coming of Cy Young after all.  Boswell says that Chase Utley brings the HBP on himself by virtue of his hitting too close to the plate.

Q: You’re Mike Rizzo: Do you have another big move up your sleeve, either a trade of a FA signing? Or are you satisfied with what you’ve got, and standing pat?

A: I don’t think the team has any more major moves; Mike Rizzo left the winter meetings early because his work was done.  I can see a couple of players getting moved for prospect depth, and perhaps an under-the-radar signing for a right handed reliever to compete for a spot in spring training (ala Brad Lidge last year), but that’s it.  This team is who it is right now.  Well, once the LaRoche situation is resolved anyway.  Boswell agrees.

Q: Who you got for more wins this year, Angels or Dodgers?

A: Dodgers.  Easier division, more talent added.  The Angels have to deal with both Oakland and Texas, and look to have a significantly worse rotation so far in 2013.  The Angels can’t improve much from 89 wins, but the Dodgers can definitely improve on 86 wins.  Boswell didn’t really answer; he says both make the playoffs but neither makes the WS.

Q: Was it the # of Years that convinced Hamilton to go to Los Angeles?

A: I think it was partly a sense that Josh Hamilton felt he wasn’t wanted in Texas, and then mostly from there the right destination in terms of team and guaranteed dollars.  Some cynics out there in the baseball world say that the team doesn’t matter; that players only follow the money.  I don’t believe that necessarily.  Money issues equal, If you had to choose between a franchise on the brink of the playoffs, in a warm-weather city like Los Angeles versus a team that hasn’t contended in years in a crummy weather city (thinking Seattle, another rumored destination), where would you choose?  Boswell says Hamilton isn’t worth 5 years but didn’t answer this part of the question otherwise.

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

Vazquez and Webb: Do we really want them?

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A younger, thinner, harder throwing version of Javier Vazquez. Photo courtesy of baseball.dailyskew.com

11/28/10 update: possibly obsoleting much of this, the Marlins have reportedly signed Vazquez to a one year deal.

As the FA hot stove gets hotter, more and more players have the “Nationals” name attached to them as intereted parties.  None more so than Javier Vazquez and Brandon Webb.  The question we as Nats fans should have is the following: Are Vazquez and Webb really worth going after?

Javier Vazquez, despite being the answer to one of my favorite trivia questions ever (what major league player has the highest scoring Scrabble last name?) seems to be more famous for the players he’s been traded for over the years (he was the primary chip in trades involving Nick Johnson, Randy Johnson, Chris Young, and Melky Cabrera) than he has been for his pitching.  At age 34 he’s 152-149 for his career for a barely-better than average 105 era+ value.

He has shown that he can be great (2009 for Atlanta) and he can be mediocre (his two seasons in NY and two other seasons in Chicago).  He’s never missed a start in the majors, though the Yankees took him out of their starting rotation towards the end of last season for a bit after a series of poor outings.

Question is: rumors abound that he’s lost his velocity.  Is this true?  Lets take a look at Pitch F/X.  Here’s samples from three games last year (the box score is linked to the date and the Pitch FX data is linked to a mentioning of speed):

1. June 6th: probably his best game of the year.  7 innings, 1 hit, 9ks (though 4 walks).  Again his avg fastball is around 89 but he maxed out at 91.7.

2. July 26: a decent performance middle of the season.  About the exact same figures as on 6/6; 89.22 average, 91.6 max.

3. Sept 29: his final appearance of the year, a loss against Toronto where he got shelled.  Here he was averaging
89, max of barely 90 on his fastball.  Hmm.  not good.

Now Lets look at 2009, when he finished 4th in Cy Young voting (which really means, he received one vote from one of the stat nerd voters who decided NOT to vote for Carpenter because he missed a few starts).  Here’s a random game from the middle of the season.

1. June 11: Vazquez goes 8 innings, gives up 2 hits and strikes out 12 hapless Pirates.  Interesting: he was
throwing an average of 91.43, max of 93.5.

So, his average fastball MPH has dropped nearly 3.5 mph between mid 2009 and the end of 2010.  Not good.  This did not go without notice in the NY press and blogsFederal Baseball pulled out some great links and wrote a similar article to this a few days ago.

Here’s one last visual aid; Fangraphs historical pitch velocity maps. In the mid-late 2007 he was averaging 93-94 with peaks of 97-98.  Now, he’s spent an entire year averaging 88-89 with peaks of no more than 92-93.  That’s a significant drop off and may be indicative of Vazquez’s utility as a power pitcher coming to an end.  The same thing happened to Livan Hernandez and he adjusted, but clearly Livan isn’t the ace starter that the Nats really kinda need.

—————————–

So, how about Brandon Webb?  We’re already reading how Rizzo likes Webb dating to his AZ days and we’re seeing pundit predictions and beat writer stories that Webb is coming to the Nats on a one-year reclamation project.

Webb’s history over the last 2 years:
– Made opening day start 2009, shoulder hurt, went on DL with Bursitis, surgery in august.
– Tried comeback 2010, never got off DL.  Pitched in the instructional league after the end of the season.  In those three instructional league games, here’s his performance summary:

  • 9/29/10: 1 inning, fastball at 81mph.
  • 10/2/10: 81-84mpg
  • 10/7/10: 2 innings, fastball low-80s, top mid-80s.

Webb got 2 innings in his last of three Instructional league start and was, per this report, was sitting “in the low-80s and topped in the mid-80s.”    Stated another way, “Webb has thrown in front of scouts multiple times, according to several reports, and in his most recent session his fastball reached four or five miles per hour below his typical velocity.”

Perhaps this is just a tentative guy, trying to work his way back.  In fact, if he was indeed pitching at just 90% of his effort after so long a time off, then mid 80s is just fine.

Webb was never a terribly hard thrower.  His fangraphs velocity chart from his healthier 2007 and 2008 show a consistent mid-to-upper 80s (88.5), with peaks into the low 90s.  His strength is in a serious sinker, that batters drive into the ground and cannot hit hard, consistently.

Conclusion:
– Take a flier on Webb.  I’d go 1yr $5M with $1M incentives at 15,20,25 and 30 games started to push total value to 1yr $9M.  And i’d get a club option at $10M for a second year.
– Stay away from Vazquez.  He’s trending downwards and is in Jose Contreras territory.

Coming soon: similar thoughts about Carl Pavano and Jorge de la Rosa.