Nationals Arm Race

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Nats Franchise Draft history; biggest, best, worst Draft Picks

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Face of the Franchise Zimmerman easily represents the best player drafted in the Washington era (by WAR). Photo team official

This is the Third in a long-delayed series of “Best of” posts, breaking down the transactions of both the club’s General Managers.  Previously:

1. Biggest/Best/Worst Trades in Nats History (March 2012)

2. Biggest/Best/Worst Free Agent signings in Nats History (November 2012).

Here’s Part 3: looking at the Biggest, Best and Worst Draft picks the team has made since arriving here in Washington.

Ground rules for this article:

1. Unlike the trades and free agent posts, assiging “credit” or “blame” for draft picks on the General Manager is not entirely straightforward.  Baseball teams rely heavily on Scouting Directors and their staffs when it comes to the draft, especially once you get past the first few rounds.  So, perhaps for the purposes of this article it is better to talk about the “Reign of Jim Bowden” and the “Reign of Mike Rizzo” instead of insinuating that every draft decision was made by the GM during these times.  Much like the President of the US gets credit/blame when  the US economy as a whole rises or falls (whether or not you’d like to argue that a president’s decisions can influence a multi-trillion dollar economy), so does the GM get the credit/blame for his staff’s draft picks.  Most baseball pundits that I’ve read generally say that the GM/Team Ownership is always directly involved in making any 1st round and supplemental first round picks (because of the money), and will be involved if over-slot bonuses come up in later rounds, but that by the 5th round or so the entire draft is being conducted without the GM’s involvement.  Which leads us to point #2…

2. Related to #1; Mike Rizzo, whom Bowden hired in July of 2006, may not have been the Scouting Director but he certainly had a say in the drafts (coming from a scouting background in Arizona).   I’ll list scouting directors tenure here as well, related to #1 and #2.  But, it probably isn’t going to be entirely fair to the GM to say that such-and-such a pick was “good” or “bad” if it was actually being done by his staff.

3.  It is entirely “hindsight is 20/20″ in nature.  But, it is what it is.  If you draft a 1st rounder who flames out in low-A, he’s a failure.  If you draft a major leaguer in the 21st round, he’s a fantastic success.  Mostly here in judging the “best draft picks” I’m looking for value in later rounds.  As it turns out judging “worst” draft picks mostly will be around first round busts.

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

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

And here’s the tenure period of Scouting Directors during our time here in Washington:

  • Mid 2002 – Mar 2009: Dana Brown
  • Mar 2009 – Present: Kris Kline

The quintessential Nats Draft resource is the Draft Tracker Spreadsheet, initially created by NatsFarm.com’s Brian Oliver and now maintained by “SpringfieldFan. ” It has all our draft picks, where they came from and signing bonuses.  A file I’ve kept recently (The Draft Prospects Worksheet) is a file I started to create when the Nats started getting some upper-end draft picks as a way to track who we may take.  Lastly, you can query the entire amateur draft results per team at baseball-reference.com (the link will go to the 2009 draft by way of example).

Jim Bowden Tenure: Nov 2004 – Mar 2009

Bowden’s Biggest Draft Picks (in terms of dollars committed).

  • 2005 1st rnd: Ryan Zimmerman, $2.975M
  • 2007 1st rnd: Ross Detwiler, $2.1M
  • 2007 6th rnd: Jack McGeary: $1.8M
  • 2006 1st rnd: Chris Marrero: $1.6M
  • 2006 1st rnd: Colten Willems: $1.4M

Bowden’s Best Draft Picks

  • 2005 11th rnd: John Lannan out of Siena College.  A durable and servicable lefty starter with MLB average numbers out of a small college in the 11th round is a great find.
  • 2005 12th rnd: Craig Stammen out of Dayton.  He didn’t look as if he’d be successful until his transition to the bullpen, where his arm action and movement have baffled hitters during his shorter reliever stints.
  • 2006 41st rnd: Brad Peacock out of a Florida HS as a “draft and follow” guy (which enabled teams to take late round fliers on good talent, so this isn’t exactly the same as finding a true 41st round player who made the majors, since Peacock likely wouldn’t have been taken without the DDE rules in place and would have been an upper round draft pick the next season he was eligible).
  • 2007 2nd rnd: Jordan Zimmermann out of U Wisconsin Stevens Point (not because of his draft position, but because of the scouting out of such a small school).  Zimmermann survived TJ surgery and now looks like a hidden Ace in the making.
  • 2007 4th rnd: Derek Norris out of a Kansas HS: possibly the best HS player the team has drafted since arriving in DC.
  • 2008 10th rnd: Tommy Milone out of USC.  Rizzo may not have rated him, but he looks to be in Oakland’s rotation for many years to come.
  • 2008 16th rnd: Tyler Moore out of Mississippi State.  Scouts continually have downplayed Moore’s power; I have never read a scouting report on Moore that didn’t focus on “holes in his swing” or “defensive liabilities.”  All he’s done is mash the ball at every level he’s been challenged with in his career.
  • 2008 19th rnd: Steve Lombardozzi out of St. Petersburg JuCo.  Despite his pedigree (his father played in the Majors in parts of 6 seasons), Lombardozzi was lightly pursued and surprisingly signed as a late round JuCo draftee.  He’s scraped his way to the top though and could find himself starting if the team decides to move Espinosa.

Despite the issues at the top of the 2008 draft, it may have been Bowden’s best.  He took no less than 6 guys who now are on 25-man rosters in this league (Milone, Moore, Lombardozzi, Espinosa, and Crow).  2005 wasn’t bad either, with 7 guys that have MLB appearances (though only 3 remain with the team).

Bowden’s Worst Draft Picks

  • 2006: almost the entire draft.  Bowden blew the first 6 picks on high schoolers, the best of whom was Chris Marrero, who has contributed -0.7 WAR in his career thus far.  First round pick Colten Willems flamed out and just gave up playing in the middle of the 2010 season, Stephen Englund was released (but not before earning a 50-game suspension for Amphetemine usage), Sean Black didn’t sign and Stephen King has yet to succeed above A-ball despite being in his his 6th pro season (and, just for good measure, had his own 50-game drug suspension in 2009).  Only one player in the top 12 rounds of picks even played a day in the majors.  Just a complete debacle of a draft.
  • 2007′s high schoolers: Smoker, Souza, Burgess, and Smolinkski: all top 3 round picks, all busts.
  • 2007′s Jack McGeary, who insisted (admirably) on also going to college, but probably at the detriment of his baseball career.  I’m sorry; if someone pays you $1.8M dollars in cash, you probably should work for that money.   McGeary never was able to master anything above rookie ball and was so under-valued by the team that they failed to protect him in the minor league phase of the 2012 Rule 5 draft (where he was subsequently taken by Boston).
  • The 2008 Aaron Crow debacle.  Yes I know that this pick turned into 2009′s Drew Storen.  And yes I know that Crow has now been turned into a middle reliever while Storen has turned into an effective closer.  At the time, this move helped continue the “incompetent” labels that the organization was earning, as Bowden reportedly refused to negotiate with Crow’s agents and failed to do his due diligence before drafting the player.  Who is to say whether Crow’s electric arm wouldn’t have turned into a regular rotation member in our organization (Kansas City doesn’t exactly have a stellar record of developing pitchers).  In the end, getting Storen and also not losing the opportunity cost of missing a year’s development time of a first round pick (by virtue of the rest of the team being so awful) ended up not hurting the team.  But it still goes down as a draft failure for Bowden.

Mike Rizzo Tenure: Mar 2009 – present

Rizzo’s Biggest Draft Picks (in terms of dollars committed).

  • 2009 1st rnd: Stephen Strasburg: $7.5M bonus, 15.1M guaranteed
  • 2010 1st rnd: Bryce Harper: $6.25M bonus, $9.9M guaranteed
  • 2011 1st rnd: Anthony Rendon: $6M, $7.2M guaranteed
  • 2011 3rd rnd: Matthew Purke: $2.75M bonus, $4.15M guaranteed
  • 2011 1st rnd (supplemental): Brian Goodwin: $3M
  • 2012 1st rnd: Lucas Giolito: $2.9M
  • 2011 1st rnd: Alex Meyer: $2M
  • 2010 4th rnd: A.J. Cole: $2M
  • 2009 1st rnd: Drew Storen: $1.6M

As we saw with the Free Agent post, Rizzo clearly had more money to work with from Ownership than Bowden did.  Spending $2M on a 4th round pick (AJ Cole) would have been unheard of in the Bowden reign.

Rizzo’s Best Draft Picks

  • 2009 12th rnd: Nathan Karns out of Texas Tech: Karns got 4th/5th round money in the 12th round but has been bedeviled by injuries until this year.  By now we know what he’s capable of; our organization’s Minor League pitcher of the Year earned a spot on the 40-man roster and could be in line for a 2013 late season call-up.  It could be too-early to tell, but right now this is looking like one of Rizzo’s best.
  • 2009 22nd rnd: Danny Rosenbaum out of Xavier; despite the team not protecting him and losing him in Rule-5, he had come out of no-where to be one of our best pitching prospects.
  • 2010 12th rnd: Robbie Ray out of a Tennessee HS; he had a great debut and has been steadily rising up the ranks.  The team was able to buy him out of a committment to the University of Arkansas by offering 2nd round money.
  • 2010 22nd rnd: Cameron Selik as a U Kansas senior has made it to AA and looks like a great later-round steal, especially for a college senior this low in the draft.
  • 2011 5th rnd: Matt Skole out of  Georgia Tech looks like he could be an excellent hitting prospect and is making it into the top 5 lists of Nationals prospects.
  • 2011 1st rnd supp: Brian Goodwin out of a Miami JuCo looks more advanced than anyone would have thought at this point, and could be pressing for playing time in 2013.  I don’t normally give plaudits for 1st round talents, but the team aggressively pursued and captured Goodwin at a time when it looked like he was heading to UNC.

Rizzo’s Worst Draft Picks

  • 2009 2nd rnd: Jeff Kobernus out of Cal Berkeley.  Perhaps less because of his production (which was mostly poor for his career), but moreso because the decision not to protect him and value your investment in the player, leading to his departure in the 2012 rule-5 draft.  No worries for Nats fans: Rizzo drafted almost the doppelganger of Kobernus in 2012: again taking a 2nd baseman from California in the second round (Tony Renda).  Lets hope it works out better this time.
  • 2009 3rd rnd: Trevor Holder out of Georgia.  A blatant punt on the draft pick to save money, Holder was a college senior with zero leverage and should have been offered closer to $1,000 instead of the $200,000 he got.  Holder has struggled for years in our system.  He did have a decent 2nd half in Harrisburg, so there is hope yet.  But 3rd round picks should have more promise than Holder has shown.
  • 2010 3rd rnd: Rick Hague out of Rice.  He hasn’t lived up to his 3rd round billing yet, though (to be fair) he has struggled with some injuries.

Rizzo’s Too Soon to Tell Draft Picks

  • 2010 2nd rnd: Sammy Solis was looking promising out of U San Diego, but has been side lined by Tommy John Surgery.
  • The 2011 college-arm gamble: Rizzo drafted dozens of college players this draft, stocking the system with experienced amateurs.
  • 2012 1st: the Lucas Giolito gamble won’t play itself out for a couple of years, but it is safe to say Rizzo went “all in” on this player.  A 1-1 talent but damaged goods upon drafting, the team is putting a lot of faith into its experience in dealing with hurlers going through Tommy John.
  • 2011 3rd: Matt Purke got a MLB deal and a whole lot of money, and has done relatively nothing to earn it because of lingering shoulder injuries.  I’m listing him as too early to tell, but the signs are not good.


Nats non-tender deadline decisions

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Is Gorzelanny going to be tendered? Find out today. Photo via Nats.

The next big date on the MLB offseason calendar happens today, Monday December 12th.  This is the “Non-Tender Deadline,” or the last day for teams to tender 2012 contracts to players under reserve.  In english, this means that all the Nats arbitration eligible players must be “tendered” a 2012 contract by this date or else they become immediate free agents.

Here’s a list of the Nationals that are arbitration eligible this off-season, their 2011 salary and an estimate of what they would cost for 2012 if offered arbitration.

Player Current or 2011 Contract 2011 2012 2012 guess
Clippard, Tyler 1 yr/$0.443M (11) $443,000 Arb 1 $1,700,000
Flores, Jesus 1 yr/$0.75M (11) $750,000 Arb 3 $800,000
Gorzelanny, Tom 1 yr/$2.1M (11) $2,100,000 Arb 3 $2,800,000
Lannan, John 1yr/2.75M (11) $2,750,000 Arb 2 $4,500,000
Morse, Michael 1 yr/$1.05M (11) $1,050,000 Arb 2 $3,900,000
Slaten, Doug 1 yr/$0.695M; (11) $695,000 Arb 3 $900,000
Zimmermann, Jordan 1 yr/$0.415M (11) $415,000 Arb 1 $1,800,000

Both Tyler Clippard and Jordan Zimmermann achieved “super-2″ status, meaning they’ll get a 4th arbitration year down the road.  Contrary to other reports, Roger Bernadina did NOT qualify for this super-2 status, despite being right on the borderline of service days.  The above salary guesses are partly taken from mlbtraderumors.com analysis and partly adjusted to what I think the player would really earn.

Side note on the way to estimate/guess the salaries: For those with three years of arbitration, the salary achieved is usually a representation of an eventual percent of the FA salary would be for the player, based on the arbitration year.  These percentages are usually 40% of FA value for the first year of arbitration, 60% for second and 80% for third year.  Thus, using John Lannan as an example, his first year Arbitration salary was $2.75M, meaning that his 100% FA salary value would be $6.875M/year.  After his good 2011 season though, I’m estimating his 100% value to be $7.5M/year, or exactly what we paid Jason Marquis per year, which puts his 2012 arbitration figure at the $4.5M estimate.

So, what should the Nats do with these arbitration cases?

To me, five of these seven cases are straight-forward; you absolutely tender Clippard, Flores, Lannan, Morse and Zimmerman.  MASN’s Pete Kerzel posted his thoughts on this same topic over the weekend and seemed to indicate there would be a question as to whether we would tender Flores; that’s crazy talk.  In a league where quality catchers are a scarcity and with Flores tearing up the Venezeulan Winter League right now, there’s no reason to think the team would possibly lose him.  After all, we just put a journeyman AAA catcher Jhonatan Solano on the 40-man specifically to keep HIM from being poached.  Also, I hear rumblings that Lannan may be non-tendered under the theory that he’s not providing value worth what he’s going to be paid (roughly $4.8-$4.9M); again I think that’s misguided.  He’s a solid pitcher who gives good innings from the left hand side, and he’s only been improving since he earned a spot in the rotation.  He’s never missed a start due to injury, and if not for the first half of 2010 (when he lost his way and was demoted) he’d have a sub 4.00 career ERA, a rarity in this league.  Replacing him on the open market would absolutely cost more than he’s set to earn next year.  Plus, with any decent run support (the Nats averaged only 3.6 runs/game in games when he started in 2011) he’d probably have a much better W/L record.

That leaves Gorzelanny and Slaten.  Case by case.

1. Doug Slaten.  Here’s a list of pertinent stats for Slaten’s 2011 season as the primary LOOGY out of our pen:

  • 4.41 era.
  • 2.143 whip.  That’s so ridiculously bad as to be almost laughable.  He gave up 26 hits and 9 walks in 16 1/3 innings.
  • He had a -0.1 WAR.
  • He had a .356 batting average against.
  • Opposing batters had a 1.036 OPS with him on the hill.
  • He allowed 47% of inherited runners to SCORE.  Not advance, but score.  15 of 32 runners.
  • Lastly, in lefty-lefty matchups, the whole reasons he is put into games?  Lefties hit him for this slash line: .333/.368/.639 for nifty 1.007 OPS.

He struggled with injury last year, and yes its difficult to determine how much of the above performance was due to the lingering effects of the injury.  So be it; this isn’t personal; he was awful in the role and he’s replaceable either from within (Severino, VanAllen or Smoker) or on the FA market (where there’s always an older lefty in the Ron Villone mold looking for work).  Verdict: Basically, not only should Slaten not be tendered a contract, he should have been flat out released months ago.

2. Tom Gorzelanny.  A tougher call.  The Nats traded three prospects just a year ago to acquire him (though, in fairness, none of the three guys we traded have done much to improve their prospect status; AJ Morris didn’t play any 2011 games, Graham Hicks had a 4.01 era in 14 starts while repeating low A-ball for the 3rd time, and Michael Burgess batted .225 after being demoted to high-A.  So it seems we basically got Gorzelanny for nearly nothing).  He lost his spot in our starting rotation after 15 starts in 2011, but was excellent in 15 relief appearances.  His starter/reliever splits show a 4.46 era in his 15 starts but a 2.42 era in 15 relief appearances.

I think Gorzelanny would make an excellent long-man/spot starter out of the bullpen, a role that Davey Johnson values heavily.  His flexibility to be anything from a one-out guy to a 6 inning spot starter is indeed invaluable, and his 8.2 k/9 rate from the left hand side shows that he can be a shut down pitcher,when he needs it.

So what is the problem?  His salary.  Is he set to make more than a mediocre middle reliever is worth?  He made $2.1M this year in his first arbitration year, when his salary and value was being measured as a starter.  One would have to think that he’d easily get an increase if the team tendered him (I estimated $2.8M for his 2012 salary if tendered), and it would be difficult to argue against an increase despite his failure as a starter.  So the question becomes: is $2.8M too much money for a middle reliever?   A quick glance at some of the reliever FA signings thus far gives some comparables : Jeremy Affeldt signed a 1yr/$5M contract and Javier Lopez signed a 2yr/$8.5M.   Both these guys are mostly loogies (especially Lopez) but also both had far better numbers than Gorzelanny, even just looking at his reliever splits.  Meanwhile a couple of non-closer right-handed middle relievers (Dotel, Frasor) signed deals for between $3.5 and $3.75M/year but aren’t nearly the long-man capable guys that Gorzelanny is. So perhaps a salary in the $2.8M range for Gorzelanny isn’t too bad.

Verdict: Tender him.

What would the Nats look like without FA signings?

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Commenter Mark L, in response to my statement that (paraphrased) the 2011 Nationals cannot afford to keep rule 5 picks on this team, pointed out that the team really has little chance of competing in 2011 and thus it is really the perfect time to be keeping and testing rule5 guys.

In theory I agree with this premise w.r.t. keeping rule 5 guys.  We’re not going to win the pennant in 2011.

I think in reality though the team has gone mostly backwards since arriving here in 2005 and cannot afford to ever seem as if they’re not trying to make progress.  I blame a lot of that on Bowden’s obsession with former Reds and tools-y players who became such a nightmare to integrate as a team that Acta had to be scuttled as a manager in favor of the more old-school Riggleman. The team lost the entirety of good will and excitement that came with a new stadium and the Lerners as owners had to be shocked at how quickly they destroyed their season ticket base (most observers believe they’ve lost more than half their season ticket holders just from 2009!). So the team is just not in a position to play for the future any more; they have to appear to be improving the team even marginally for the next few years to put themselves in a better position financially.

If the team was really playing for 2013 (as, say, the KC Royals clearly are), they’d never have even brought in the likes of Ankiel, Coffey, Hairston, basically every mid-career veteran and go completely with a lineup of prospects and these rule5 guys.   Arguably they wouldn’t have spent the money on Werth either.  What would the 25-man roster really look like without any FA signings?  Lets take a look:

  • Catchers: Pudge, Ramos (remember, they *had* to get Pudge b/c of the state of their catcher depth pre 2010).  If you like, you can replace Pudge with someone like Flores or even Maldonado, since Norris is not ready for the majors in 2011.
  • Infield: Marrero, Espinosa, Desmond, Zimmerman backed up by Gonzalez and Lombardozzi.  This would have required a serious leap of faith on the readiness of Marrero for 2011, and we’d be rushing Lombardozzi to the majors.  Perhaps we would have replaced Lombardozzi with Bixler.
  • Outfield: Bernadina, Morgan, Burgess, Morse and CBrown.  I know Burgess was traded, but perhaps the team keeps him and installs him in right field knowing they wouldn’t have Werth.  Perhaps Burgess and Morse compete for right field and we bring up newly acquired CBrown as the 5th outfielder.
  • Starters: Maya, Detwiler, Livan, Lannan, Zimmermann.  I leave Livan in here if only because we signed him to such a sweetheart deal.  If we don’t count Livan, we’re looking at someone like Stammen, Mock, Detwiler or Chico in that 5th spot.  Or perhaps we use Broderick as the 5th starter instead of putting him in long relief.
  • Relievers: Storen, Clippard, Burnett, Slaten, Broderick, HRodriguez and Carr/Kimball (with ERodriguez on DL).  Our bullpen would have hard throwers at the back end and we’d immediately give AFL hero Kimball or Carr a shot.

Of this active roster, 17-18 would be on pre-arbitration salaries and the total payroll would probably be in the $28-30M range for the entire team. It’d be the “right” thing to do but the town would absolutely howl in protest.

I dunno. I go back and forth as a fan. Part of me says screw 2011, play the kids, see what they can do this year and regroup for 2012 when you can have a very good Strasburg-Zimmermann 1-2 punch to go along with general improvement across the rest of our younger guys.  The other part of me says that incremental growth in terms of wins and respectability for this team is just as important in terms of attracting free agents and enabling the team to make a quick leap in a couple years. If this team can win 75 games this year, Strasburg comes back and probably improves the team 5 wins just by himself, we acquire an incrementally better #3 pitcher and hope that Maya, Detwiler and our rising AAA guys become real major league options. If you’re a 81 win team a couple of key free agent signings coupled with the natural rise of our core up and coming players can improve the team 10-12 wins very quickly. Suddenly we’re a 90 win team and still have a manageable payroll to augment and take the next steps to rise above Atlanta and Philadelphia in the division.

That’s “the plan,” right?

Gorzelanny trade thoughts…

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The Nats' newest #5 starter, Tom Gorzelanny. AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

Love the Trade to get Tom Gorzelanny.  The three guys we gave up were all marginal prospects in the grand scheme of things.  Burgess was a Bowden toolsy draft pick who has moved slowly through the farm system and now is completely blocked for the next 7 years or so by Werth and Harper.  I really liked AJ Morris when we drafted him (he was a 4th rounder but was fantastic in college, giving Mike Leake his only loss of the 2009 season) but he’s already lost his starter status and seems like a middle relief guy at best.  Lastly Graham Hicks was probably the 2nd or 3rd best pitcher in Hagerstown this year and has some promise.

Gorzelanny’s numbers are not fantastic, but you wouldn’t expect them to be for a 5th starter from a team that lost 90 games last  year.  He had a 106 era+ for the season pitching out of a hitters park in Chicago.  He probably has the inside track on the 5th starter spot here in DC by virtue of his acquisition.  If the season started tomorrow you have to think the rotation would be going Livan, Lannan, Zimmermann, Marquis and GorzelannyMaya and Detwiler are starting in AAA save an injury, and Wang has a bit more time to rehab.

Meanwhile, AAA is looking jammed.  We already had Atilano, Martin, Mock and Martis as returning rotation starters in AAA.  Chico is down there as well, having passed through waivers to be reassigned.  Maya and Detwiler are going to need places to pitch.  Plus we have some older prospects from last year’s AA team (Roark and Tatusko) who really need to be pitching in AAA to see if they’re MLB candidates.

All in all, a competent pitcher to compete for a spot in the rotation and who may help out the rotation in the short term.  And not for a lot of money (probably something close to Lannan’s $2.75M deal for 2011).

Greinke Trade Question

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Zack Greinke at photo day 2010. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images North America

I have kind of a love-hate relationship with Keith Law sometimes.  I think he’s a pretty darn good talent evaluator and there’s a reason he had a front office job (and now the scouting analysis job).  He even once responded to an article follow-up email I sent him where I thought he was bashing Bowden’s moves a bit to heavily (ironic in that i’m now clearly on the anti-Bowden track as he was all along).  However, I think he over-analyzes and is a bit TOO stat heavy sometimes, and I believe he over-values certain players.

In yesterday’s chat on ESPN (insider only, apologies), there were a few Washington related questions.  Here was one that I couldn’t quite believe though:

Joseph (Sacramento, CA) asks, “J.Zimmermann, Espinosa, Burgess, Detwiler for Greinke? Does this work for both sides?”

Klaw answer: “It certainly works for Washington.”

Jordan Zimmermann, Espinosa, Burgess and Detwiler for Greinke straight up.  I say, no way.  I have to disagree with Law here.

That’s trading your current #2 pitcher, your anticipated starting 2nd baseman, your best OF prospect not named Bryce Harper, and a prospect lefty starting pitcher/former 1st round draft choice (who may not have great MLB stats but is a lefty who throws mid 90s) for a potential #1 starter.  I say Potential because, if you look at Greinke’s career numbers they’re not exactly overwhelming.  Yes he had a phenomenal 2009.  What happened in 2010?  Era+ of 100 means he was MLB average.  The years before he was a good but not overpowering starter on a bad team (putting up ERA+ figures of 126 and 124; good but not great).   There’s no promise of Greinke returning to that form (though the move to the NL will certainly help).  Is he a Ron Guidry or Rick Sutcliffe pitcher (guys who had one fabulous year and then came back down to earth)?

I think I’d be interested in Greinke (who wouldn’t?) but at a lesser price.  I’d trade Zimmermann and Espinosa for him.  Justification; Zimmermann is indeed a #2 starter quality guy but would be expendable with Greinke in the fold.  Espinosa shows great promise and I like him, but we also have a couple of high-profile 2nd basemen prospects in the minors that would feature soon (Lombardozzi or Kobernus).  Perhaps I’m as guilty as Law in overvaluing our own prospects, but to me Greinke isn’t good enough to merit the trade.  If it was a better “Ace,” someone with a repeated track record of success (Felix Hernandez, Lincecum, Halladay), the haul would be easily worth it.

But for Greinke, all 4 of those guys is too much.

A dose of reality for the Nats off-season upcoming

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Strasburg's Elbow Injury. Photo LarryBrownSports.com

In the past few weeks, we are hearing news reports linking the Nats to such luminary names as Cliff Lee, Matt Kemp, and Zack Greinke as off season targets.  We are willing to go $125M/5years for Lee, we’d be “interested” in Kemp and we think we can put together a package of prospects for Greinke.

Now, I don’t mean to come off as a grumpy old Nats fan.  Because I’m not; I follow this team intently, I have a rather unhealthy obsession with the minor league pitching rotations (hence the name of the blog), and I truly want the team to do better.  But each of these rumors seems more ridiculous than the last and we (along with my fellow Nats bloggers) probably should have a bit of restraint when talking about the possibilities of actually acquiring these guys.

Zach Greinke is under contract to KC through 2012, has a limited no-trade clause and will probably cost (by various accounts) at least two young MLBers plus one or more additional prospects.  I use the Roy Halladay-to the Phillies deal as a comparison.  Halladay still had an entire year on the contract and Philly had to give up two high end prospects plus a third good young player in Kyle Drabek.   If Greinke was in the last year of his contract (ala Cliff Lee this year) the price would be far less (indeed, the Rangers gave up their #1 prospect Justin Smoak but the other players were lesser ranked prospects).

Matt Kemp apparently is irritated with his club’s management, leading to spurrious trade rumors.  But Kemp is even further away from free agency than Greinke, currently on a 2 year deal and then facing one more arbitration year before being cut loose by 2013.

Here’s the rub; the Nationals really don’t HAVE the kind of prospect depth that is required to make a deal for either player.  Baseball America’s Jim Callis ranked his top 10 Nats prospects in a recent chat  and he listed them in this order:

BA’s Jim Callis’ top 10 Nats prospects (the comments are his’)
1. Bryce Harper, of: Has monster power, though he won’t match Strasburg’s immediate impact.
2. Wilson Ramos, c: Matt Capps trade freed Ramos from being blocked by Joe Mauer with Twins.
3. Derek Norris, c: Still needs to polish bat and defense, but he has power and on-base ability.
4. A.J. Cole, rhp: First-round stuff earned him $2 million as a fourth-rounder.
5. Sammy Solis, lhp: Don’t be surprised if the $1 million second-rounder outperforms Cole.
6. Danny Espinosa, ss: Solid defender has cannon arm and surprising pop (40 HR in 2009-10).
7. Chris Marrero, 1b: Best proven all-around bat in system, though little defensive value.
8. Brad Peacock, rhp: Runs his fastball up to 95, flashes solid knuckle-curve and changeup.
9. Michael Burgess, of: Power potential remains impressive, but will he make enough contact?
10. Yunesky Maya, rhp: Former Cuban national team ace got $8 million big league contract.

Note he doesn’t mention our Minor leaguer of the year Tyler Moore, or our 12th round steal Robbie Ray.

Of this list, who is really trade-able?  Probably not a single one of the top 6 right now, nor Maya or Ray.  Perhaps Norris, if we find out that Jesus Flores is indeed healthy and we decide we can cash in one of the three of our young catchers.  That leaves Marrero (who can barely play 1B and doesn’t hit nearly well enough to be a DH prospect), Peacock (22 and probably the best experienced minor league arm we have), Burgess (who now has 3 full pro seasons and still can’t hit a curveball), and Tyler Moore (great season but he did it as a 23-yr old in high-A).  Our cache of early to mid 20s arms is good (Chico, Martis, Atilano, Stammen, Balester, Detwiler, Martin, Mock to start) but not one of them has proven they can produce at a sustained level without an ERA ballooning into the 5.00 era.  Who wants to trade for a middle-relief right handed pitcher?

Lastly, there’s the Cliff Lee question.  I just finished a blog posting showing how $125/5yrs is almost guaranteed to be an albatross of a contract.  But ask yourself; why would Lee come here even if offered more money than Texas or New York will throw at him?  Why did Mark Teixeira not come to Washington despite being (allegedly) offered more money than the Yankees?  Simple reason: we’re not good enough yet.  The team needs build its farm system and thus build its product on the field, while improving in the records and begin to attract better and better free agents.  Yes, some players will just take whoever offers the most money, but most players want to get paid AND have a chance to win championships, pad their legacy, etc.  If Ryan Zimmerman played for a winning team, he’d not only have more All Star appearances by now but he’d also probably have some MVP votes.

Now, if Strasburg was healthy next year, AND we had a legitimate #2 guy (could be Zimmermann, could be someone else), AND we knew that Marquis and Livan Hernandez would serve as good back-of-the-rotation innings eaters, and we resigned Dunn to preserve a pretty fearsome 3-4-5 lineup … well that sounds a lot more promising to a marquee Free Agent, right?

Now, think about how we’d possibly look 2 years from now at the beginning of 2012.  Harper has torn through a year in the minors, Solis has made  his mlb debut and looks like the 2nd coming of Madison Bumgarner.  Strasburg looks great in rehab starts in Florida and in Potomac.  Espinosa and Desmond are settled in to their roles, Zimmermann has bounced fully back from TJ surgery and looks great, and we’ve added an outfield bat to augment what we had in 2009.  That’s an enticing story, a good young up and coming team that should be able to attract a serious FA starter to augment what is already here.

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

2 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Noooooow.  All that being said.

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