Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for the ‘starlin castro’ tag

Nats get Schwarber

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Schwarber coming to Washington, Photo via Espn

Word broke Saturday that Washington DC had made news for another reason besides insurrection; Kyle Schwarber signed a 1yr $10M deal to come to DC for 2021.

Short version of this post: I like this move. A lot.

I’ve liked Schwarber ever since Chicago drafted him in the 1st round out of Indiana (bucking the pre-draft rankings) and he raced through the minors. His debut with the Cubs was great, and then his post-season heroics have been fabulous. He struggled mightily in the 2020 short season and the now tanking North siders non-tendered him.

As noted in the mlbtraderumors.com article, Schwarber signed for a bit more than his arb projection, which indicates there must have been somewhat of a bidding war for his services.

Why do I like this move? As I noted in the comments before writing this post, several reasons:

  • Pedigree: Upper 1st round pick who has solid (if not all-star) career numbers. 113 career wRC+, 113 career OPS+ … both figures knocked down badly by his 2020 season.
  • Bounce Back candidate: 2020 was brutal for Schwarber … as was his BABIP. Just a .219 babip for 2020 despite being in the 95th percentile of exit velocity means his numbers should have been much higher.
  • 2019 slash line: .250/.339/.531 with 38 homers. He’s a power hitter
  • You don’t need a gold glove in left field, as you’ve heard me say a lot. I want a hitter.

I like getting a middle of the order bat for 1yr/$10M. I like getting a 27yr old 1st round slugger for 1yr $10M. I like getting a cleanup hitter with a .480 career slugging without giving up a prospect.

Yes he strikes out a lot; 156 Ks in 610 2019 PAs for a 25.5% strikeout rate. The 2019 league-wide strikeout rate was 22.9%. So for that extra 2.6% strikeout rate you get a cleanup hitter who hit 38 bombs. Sometimes you have to understand that you give some stuff up to get other stuff.

Here’s what the 2021 opening day lineup looks like now:

  1. SS Turner (r)
  2. RF Soto (l)
  3. 1B Bell (s)
  4. LF Schwarber (l)
  5. DH Harrison (r)
  6. 3B Castro (r)
  7. 2B Garcia (l)
  8. CF Robles (r)

Right handed heavy at the bottom, but excellent balance at the top. If you want to put Castro at 2B and Kieboom at 3B all it does it put another righty at the #8 spot. It is also worth noting that Schwarber could DH and Harrison (who can play 5 different positions) can move out to Left. This still leaves open a bench RH bat like Ryan Zimmerman, who would be an excellent $2M signing. This move likely pushes Soto to RF; can he handle it? Robles might be busy in 2021 covering lots of ground.

Payroll implications: With this move I have the Nats at around $172.1M for 2021. Cots has them slightly higher ($172.7M); both our totals have estimates for arb salaries for Turner, Bell and Soto. If the nats maxed out to $210M that leaves nearly $38M left to play with.

Written by Todd Boss

January 9th, 2021 at 2:49 pm

Dodgers win the Series: Welcome to the off-season

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ARLINGTON, TX – OCTOBER 27: Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers holds the commissioners trophy after defeating the Tampa Bay Rays 3-1 in Game Six to win the 2020 MLB World Series at Globe Life Field on Tuesday, October 27, 2020 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Cooper Neill/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

The end of the world series brings the beginning of baseball’s off-season, and the Nats wasted no time officially declaring its free agents to be.

I’m tempted to write about some of the hot-button stories that led from Game 6, notably surrounding Blake Snell‘s ridiculous hook (reminiscent of the Greinke hook in game 7 of last year’s WS) and Justin Turner‘s returning to the field after testing positive for Covid-19. But others have covered it far better than me (both on Snell and on Turner).

See the Nats transaction list officially for all the 9 declaration for 2020 players done on 10/28/20.

As of this writing, the 40-man is as empty as I can ever remember, having shed 9 FAs yesterday and another 10 outrights between Oct 10th and Oct 15th. By my accounting (and per the Big Board)

Notably, a number of players who had options were also declared FAs yesterday, as discussed here. We talked previously about possibly considering options for some of these guys, but none were taken. Adam Eaton, Howie Kendrick, Anibal Sanchez and Eric Thames all declined.

As it stands now, the 40-man roster sits at just 28 players. Joe Ross will be the 29th once he’s restored. Technically its at just 25 players, as procedurally the team has not activated its three remaining 60-day DL guys (Strasburg, Castro, Romero).

Lots of work to be done this off-season and the first big decisions just passed by with little fan fare.

Nats Off-Season Roster Considerations

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Do the Nats bring back this famous celebration couple? Photo via Brobible

Since we have no playoffs to discuss, we’re pivoting immediately into off-season mode.

The Nats procedurally on 9/28/20 activated all their 10-day DL players. They also procedurally recalled the last three remaining players from the 40-man alternative site for the purposes of off-season moves. Amazingly, they ended the season with 9 players on the 10-day DL and just one healthy player on the 40-man roster not already playing (Raudy Read).

https://www.mlb.com/nationals/roster/transactions/2020/09

Free Agents to-be are immediately declared FAs at 8am Central time the day after the World Series ends. The team doesn’t have to restore its 60-day DL players until 5 days after the World Series ends, which allows them to add them back after free agents are declared and after the team has a small exclusive window to negotiate. So, we have to wait for about a month to see the next dominos fall, but we can start to speculate now.

Based on my records, here’s how our roster will look in the off-season, which will drive the decisions to make. We’ll classify these players into 5 categories

Category 1: Players under a “veteran” contract for 2021 (7): Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin, Hudson, Harris, Gomes, Castro. Seven players but a huge payroll hit (per Cots, these 7 players count for $120M or so in cap space next year.


Category 2: Pre-Arbitration players under full team control (22): Voth, Fedde, Crowe, Finnegan, Harper, McGowin, Braymer, Espino, AWilliams (TJ aug 2020), Read, Garcia, Noll, Robles, Stevenson, Hernandez, Bacus, Rainey, Bourque, Kieboom, Sanchez, Romero, Barrera. That’s a ton of players on pre-arb deals, which is important since they will represent a huge chunk of the active roster in 2021. I think a few of these pre-arb guys are in discussion for “first 40-man guy to get DFA’d when the team needs room” territory (Noll, Williams, Sanchez) but for now, they’re all in play. Note: a couple of these guys were technically MLFA signings in 2020 so i’m not sure if they are now pre-arb or still FAs. Apologies if I got their status wrong).


Category 3: Arbitration-eligible players for 2021 (8). Here’s where we start discussions. Player by player:

  • Suero (A1); lock to tender
  • Turner (A3): lock to tender
  • Soto (A1): lock to tender. I saw something recently that seemed to indicate he may or may not be a Super-2 guy, but he was projecting to be Super-2 after last off-season so i’m assuming he’s Arb-eligible this year.
  • Taylor (A4); Nothing has really changed with Taylor; he struggled at the plate again but hit a few bombs, which drove his OPS+ figure up a bit from what you’d expect for someone who hit below .200. The change in Taylor in 2020 is that his defensive numbers COST him WAR this year instead of helped. Probably Small Sample Size driven, but Taylor’s bigger problem is that his direct competition as “4th outfielder” on this roster Andrew Stevenson just blew up in 2020, making Taylor an obvious non-tender candidate.
  • Guerra (A4); his contract status is odd; he has bounced back and forth on and off the roster and signed a combo major/minor FA deal this past off-season. But Cots lists him as arb-eligible, so i’m not entirely sure if he’s a FA or if he’s arb eligible. My guess is that the team cuts another deal with him and non-tenders him if he’s eligible then immediately re-signs him the next day.
  • Barrett (A3); another odd case; how much does sentimentality count? The team called up a slew of other prospects before recalling Barrett this year, he pitched in 2 games then hit the DL. It seems to me he’s a non-tender candidate and at age 32 could be facing one last shot at making a MLB roster next year.
  • Elias (A3); 2020 a lost season for Elias, who went onto the 60-day DL early and barely pitched in 2019 for this team as well (thanks to the idiotic decision in Aug 2019 to allow him to hit, which resulted in a leg injury with him running out a grounder in a meaningless at bat). The Nats didn’t give up a ton to acquire him (giving up two decent minor league arms in Taylor Guilbeau and Elvis Alvarado) so I can’t imagine them non-tendering him, but how do you do salary evaluation of a player who misses an entire year?
  • JRoss (A3); he opted out in 2020, and his absence was felt immediately when it became clear his 5th starter replacements could not cut it. I think you tender him and he goes back into the starter competition for 2021. Worst case he gets cut mid-way through spring training and the Nats escape with 1/6th of his salary.

Category 4: Players with Options for 2021 (5): here’s where we start having some tougher decisions.

  • Sanchez: $12M club option, $2M buyout: I’m not sure how you take this option if you’re the Nats after the season we just saw. Sanchez was lucky to post the numbers he did in 2019 (his FIP was more than a half a point higher than his ERA), and he bottomed out in 2020. Decline the option, pay the buyout.
  • Thames: $4M mutual option, $1M buyout. Thames posted just a 65 OPS+ playing primarily as a 1B/DH type. That’s just patently awful, considering how many options there were on the market for “non-mobile mid-30s slugger.” Decline the option, pay the buyout.
  • Holt: $5M club option, $750k buyout. He took a significant step back from his Boston numbers, which resulted in Milwaukee cutting bait on him a month into a 2year deal. Despite his positional flexibility (he played 6 positions in 20 games for the Nats) I don’t see how you guarantee $5M to a guy who didn’t “wow” you in his audition. Decline the option, pay the buyout.
  • Eaton: $10.5M club option, $1.5M buyout. Phew; what do you do here. His fourth straight year in offensive decline. He was awful defensively. But he’s only 31; does the team take the $10.5M option and roll the dice that 2020 was an anomoly? If they cut him, do they have a replacement minor leaguer that makes sense (not really no). So do they roll the dice that they can get comparable production on the FA market for the same price? How much does sentimentality factor in here? Clubhouse presence and managerial relationship? Again, he’s only 31, which is a lot different from 36 (see next). I think the team exercises the option.
  • Kendrick: $6.5M mutual option, $2.25M buyout. Word came out a few days ago that Kendrick was considering retirement until he got hurt. I’m not sure I buy that, not with a 6.5M option on the table and more gas left in the tank. Another sentimental pick here; a guy who can plug in multiple positions in a pinch and who now has the DH to settle into if need be. Also a factor here; much like in poker, if you’re into a hand already for the big blind, why not make a call for a little bit more? Declining the option only saves them $4M, and it may be worth the cost to keep a veteran presence around one more time. I mean, if Eaton is there, you gotta keep his buddy Howie right? Exercise the option.

Category 5: Unrestricted FAs (6). Now, there’s nothing the team can really do with these guys since they’re FAs. But we can talk about whether or not we think the team pursues them in the off-season:

  • Suzuki; do you re-sign a 37yr old catcher? He’s been amazingly consistent at the plate the last few years while splitting time pretty evenly with Gomes. Still sporting a decent OBP. Is he getting pushed out by rising minor league depth (hardly, unless you think Read or Barrera is an option in the majors in 2021). I might pursue a 1-yr deal.
  • Cabrera: reverted to his 2018-19 form at the plate, league average providing poor, slow, aging defense at multiple infield positions. I think you move on.
  • Harrison really showed a jolt for this team, but he’s a 2B on a team with a prospect seemingly installed there for the longer run.
  • Doolittle: tough one. Struggled last year, struggled this year. A huge part of the community, outspoken leader. Maybe bring him back on an incentive-laden deal?
  • Freeman (TJ Aug 2020); really bad timing on his TJ surgery, as he’s a FA and will be rehabbing on his own.
  • Zimmerman, the most difficult decision of all. The team was onboard with a $2M deal for 2020 before he opted out for completely understandable family reasons. 2020 was his age 35 season; I’d guarantee him a $2M incentive-laden deal to be a 1B/DH platoon with a lefty slugger for 2021 absolutely. When he’s healthy he can hit, and doing nothing but DHing will help keep him on the field. Its worth a flier for a guy who is either retiring to the Nats front office or playing in 2021.

If the team does exactly what I say here, what would be our needs heading into the off-season? First lets see how this would look from a roster perspective (not counting FAs):

  • SP: Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin, JRoss (A3), Voth, Fedde, Crowe, McGowin, Braymer, Espino, Romero
  • RP: Hudson, Harris, Suero, Elias, Finnegan, Harper, Bacus, Rainey, Bourque
  • C: Gomes, Read, Barrera
  • INF: Castro, Turner, Garcia, Noll, Kieboom, Sanchez, Kendrick
  • OF: Soto, Robles, Stevenson, Hernandez, Eaton

Immediate thoughts on areas of need:

  • Another starter. I’m just not sure you can go into 2021 with your 4th/5th starters being Ross, Voth, Fedde and Crowe. I’m not sure I trust what I saw from McGowin or Braymer. Espino has never really succeeded in the majors and seems like the definition of a 4-A guy. And Romero? Maybe he can step up now that he’s gotten his debut out of the way.
  • Reliever help: I see 5-6 mlb-quality relievers here, but we’d need like 12 on the 40-man roster.
  • Catcher; as discussed with Suzuki above
  • Infield: well, right now your starting infield in 2021 is Castro/Kieboom at 3rd, Turner at SS, Garcia/Castro at 2nd, Kendrick at 1st (if they exercise his option), with Noll and Sanchez in AAA or released. They probably need more depth here.
  • Outfield: If they exercise Eaton’s option, then little needs to be done. If they don’t, then they’ll need a starting corner OF.

In other words, they need help basically everywhere.

Thoughts? did I get anything wrong?

Nats do absolutely nothing at Trade Deadline

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https://www.mlb.com/nationals/news/nationals-no-trades-2020-trade-deadline

The Nats on 8/31/20 are 12-20.  They have the second worst record in the NL.  They have the 5th worst record in the majors.  But thanks to the crazy 2020 playoff structure they sit just 3.5 games out of a Wild Card spot.  They’ve had season-ending injuries or opt-outs of multiple planned core players; they’ve lost to presumed rotation members in Joe Ross and Stephen Strasburg, they’ve lost a middle-of-the-order off-season acquisition bat in Starlin Castro.  They’ve lost both their lefty specialist relievers in Roenis Elias and Sam Freeman.  They lost an important bench bat/team leader in Ryan Zimmerman.  They’re now throwing out AAA starters twice every five games, and have had severely disappointing seasons from a slew of players they were counting on (Anibel Sanchez, Adam Eaton, Carter Kieboom, Eric Thames, Daniel Hudson, Sean Doolittle, and so on).

So what did they do at the deadline?  Zip.  Nothing.  Nada.

Maybe the farm system is now so utterly depleted (given that they’ve already called up their consensus #1, #2, #5 and #10 prospects on the year with little impact) that they couldn’t offer enough in trade to actually acquire someone they wanted.   Perhaps more to the point, the price tag it would have taken to acquire starters (given the spate of pitcher injuries this year and the competition in the area) may have been too high for the team’s taste (how pissed would you be if they had flipped someone like Jackson Rutledge or Cade Cavalli yesterday for a 3rd starter one-month rental?).   It seems foolish to think they have the cavalry coming in to help; right now the only 10-day DL player they have is Seth Romero, who is only up because they needed a lefty bullpen arm.  Brock Holt?  That’s not a savior.  Neither is Josh Harrison (though to be honest he has hit well).  So I guess the plan is to assume that all those veterans listed above who have sucked so far are short sample size regression to the mean candidates and they’ll be rebounding … within the next few days?

Meanwhile, the rest of the division at least tried to improve:

Not earth shattering moves, but it is notable that the Braves lead the division with a rotation that’s being held together with scotch tape, and they just acquired Milone to fill in because he’s better than whatever else they apparently have at their disposal (remember when people shuddered at the pipeline of starters in the Atlanta system?  yeah’ they’ve all crapped the bed this year).

So, what to make of this?  Are you happy they did nothing?  did we want a sell-off?  Or do we have confidence they can turn it around and squeak into the crap-shoot playoffs for 2020?

Ask Jessica; MLB.com’s new Nats Beat Reporter Jessica Camerato does her first inbox/mailbag

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Will Kieboom have a shot at the 25-man roster this Spring? Photo via federalbaseball.com

Will Kieboom have a shot at the 25-man roster this Spring? Photo via federalbaseball.com

Jamal Collier has moved on: our new mlb.com beat reporter is Jessica Camerato.  As far as I can now tell, here’s your official beat reporters for the team from the various major media outlets covering the team:

(post-publishing edit: thanks for the crowd-sourcing on the WP beat reporter history that I had forgotten despite still, to this day, being a WP paper subscriber).

  • Washington Post; Jessie Dougherty/Sam Fortier. Before them in descending chronological order: Chelsea Janes/Jorge CastilloJames Wagner, Adam KilgoreChico Harlan.  The original/first beat reporter was Barry Svrluga.
  • MASN: Mark Zuckerman.  He formerly covered the team for The Washington Times, then Comcast Sports Net, with an “unaffiliated” year between gigs writing for his own site (natsinsider.com)
  • MLB.com: Jessica Camerato, formerly Jamal Collier and then for years Bill Ladson
  • The Athletic: Brittany Ghiroli
  • Comcast Sports Net/NBC Sports: not sure?  Perhaps Matt Weyrich?  Todd Dybas (thanks to commenter rdexposfan)
  • Washington Times: … not sure?  Do they have a dedicated beat reporter since parting ways with Zuckerman?

Am I missing any major DC area media outlets with professional beat reporters?

Anyway I digress.

Here’s Camerato’s first mailbag, dated 1/31/20, responding primarily to questions she got on twitter.

———

Q: How are the Nats going to replace Anthony Rendon’s production?

A: Uh… they’re not?

It should be pretty obvious that the team has attempted to “replace” Anthony Rendon‘s lineup presence in a very Billy Beane fashion; buy a bunch of cheaper alternatives that, in the aggregate, may come close to adding up to replace the star.  They’ve brought back guys (Kendrick and Cabrera), they’ve hired new guys (Castro) and they’re hoping that their prospects (primarily Kieboom) can grow up fast and contribute soon.  Throw enough 3B-capable players at the wall and hopefully something sticks.

What they have NOT done is acquire a superstar replacement: no Josh Donaldson and as of yet no trade for someone like Kris Bryant or Nolan Arenado.  I’m not entirely sure how the team puts together a package deep enough to get these guys, not without crushing the existing roster or what remains of the farm system at this point (Baseball America just ranked the system 23rd, and once Kieboom and Luis Garcia graduate i’m not sure what remains to keep it from plummeting to the bottom).  So I think we all have to hope that the new un-tapped edge in the sport is middle-aged sluggers and go with it.

Camerato doesn’t really mention the like-for-like position player at 3B, instead points out that Juan Soto may step up .

———

Q: What are the chances Carter Kieboom lands at third?

A: This year?  Or eventually?

I think eventually yes he ends up at 3B.  This year, at least in the first half, may not provide him many opportunities thanks to the FAs that the team has signed.

I don’t think he ends up at 2B; he’s a bit big, despite currently being a SS and his defensive strength reportedly is in his arm, not his movement, so 2B makes sense for others … like Garcia.

Camerato says he’ll get his shot at the job in ST but that he’ll have competition.

Q: Who’s gonna be the fifth starter?

A: I think it almost has to be Joe Ross.  Ross has proven more than a few times he can’t pitch in relief.  He’s got no options.  And he’s proven in the past to be a solid 5th starter.   His competition for the role all seems to be internal this year; there’s no MLFA reclamation project like Jeremy Hellickson waiting in the wings (at least not right now).  Erick Fedde and Austin Voth are his most direct competition … one has a magical 4th option (Fedde) which buries him in Fresno even before spring training begins, and the other guy (Voth) gets the 13th pitcher roster spot thanks to no options and his ability to be a swing-man /spot starter.

Camerato says they don’t really need to figure this out in Spring Training … which I don’t agree with frankly b/c of the options situation with two of them.

——–

Q: What does the farm system look like this year? Who should we watch that could make the club in 2021?

A: Farm system, as mentioned above, is thin.  Its two guys at the top (Kieboom and Garcia) and then its a gap to players who are a ways away.

Why is the Farm so thin right now?  Because the team has blown or traded away multiple first round picks in the last few years.   Consider the Draft Tracker:

  • 2019 1st rounder Jackson Rutledge; now basically our 3rd best prospect after throwing 37 innings last season.
  • 2018 1st rounder Mason Denaburg: didn’t pick at all in 2018, threw 20 innings in 2019 with an ERA north of 7.00 in the GCL and is reportedly nursing an injury
  • 2017 1st rounder Seth Romero; known problem child who continued to cause issues upon signing, and threw just 47 pro innings before blowing out his UCL.
  • 2016 1st rounder lost due to the Daniel Murphy signing.
  • 2016 Supplemental 1st rounder Dane Dunning traded away to get Adam Eaton.
  • 2016 Supplemental 1st rounder Kieboom currently our long-standing #1 overall prospect.
  • 2015 1st rounder lost due to the Max Scherzer signing.
  • 2014 1st rounder Erick Fedde really yet to be effective for the MLB team frankly; 143 MLB innings with a 5.39 ERA.

The Denaburg and Romero picks in particular are really crushing the system; those two guys should both be top 100 prospects right now.  Its also worth noting that the team traded away Jesus Luzardo in 2017 in the Doolittle trade, and he’s now nearly a top 5 prospect in the whole of the sport.

Why do I focus on 1st rounders?  Well because those are by far the players with the highest percentage chances of matriculating to the majors, and should be the ones at the top of your prospect lists.  Instead, our team has gotten almost NO prospect depth out of our 1st rounders over the past 6 drafts.  Instead the tops of our “top 30” lists are dotted with 2nd and 3rd rounders (Wil Crowe, 2nd rounder in 2017, Tim Cate, 2nd rounder in 2018 being the best recent examples), but even those 2nd rounders have been gutted lately:

  • 2019 2nd rounder lost to the Patrick Corbin signing
  • 2016 2nd rounder Sheldon Neuse  also traded away with Luzardo in the Doolittle deal, now on the cusp of the Oakland MLB roster
  • 2015 2nd rounder Blake Perkins traded away for Kelvin Herrera (though to be fair, he was young and has yet to really materialize as a prospect)
  • 2014 2nd round pick Andrew Suarez refused to sign; he’s pitched all of 2018 in San Francisco’s rotation.

That’s a LOT of additional prospect depth either out the door on top of the failures of the 1st rounders.  And its going to get worse before it gets better.

Who might debut in 2021?  I’d be looking for Garcia, Crowe, maybe Barrera moving up, Braymer and maybe even a couple of the 2019 guys (Mendoza or Rutledge) if they blow up this year.

Camerato says… Garcia might debut in 2021.  not much else.

————-

Q: Welcome! I’d be interested in hearing about players who changed up personal routine, training regimen, pitch selection or batting stance this offseason.

A: Me too!  Hoping for more player deep dive content from Camerato and others this spring training.

Camerato says she agrees and hopes to do more once ST starts.

 

 

 

 

Getting the band back together: Cabrera re-signs along with other moves

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Cabrera is back. Photo via newsday

Cabrera is back. Photo via newsday

It was a busy Saturday for Nats GM Mike Rizzo.  In quick succession we heard about three moves:

  • The team re-signs 2B/3B Asdrubal Cabrera, 1yr $2.5M.
  • The team signs 2B Starlin Castro to a 2yr/$12M deal
  • The team previously signed RHP David Hernandez sometime in Dec 2019 to a minor league deal (which was just announced on Baseball America)

Cabrera was awful for Texas last year and got outright released; he lit it up for Washington, mercifully taking over for the completely ineffective Brian Dozier and lighting it up for the team down the stretch (slash line for DC last year post-signing: .323/.404/.565).   Cabrera played 3B for Texas but mostly 2B for DC; right now he’s your starting 3B opening day save any other move.

Castro clearly is the starting 2B; he moved there a few years ago, played it exclusively for several years but moved to 3B last season to make room for a prospect.  He was reportedly telling teams in FA he was only interested in playing 2B … so we have our starting 2B.  His signing seems to clarify what the team’s infield will be looking like come April.  He has two straight years of right around league average OPS+, but in 2019 he spiked homers, hitting 22 of them on the year playing a lot of games in pitcher-friendly NL East stadiums.

Hernandez was a great middle reliever in 2018 for Cincinnati, but blew up last year and signs a MLFA deal in an attempt to get back to the majors.  I like this as a low-risk/high reward move for a team always looking for the next 6th/7th inning RH reliever.

With these moves … as per the updated Big Board, your starting lineup come 4/1/20 looks like this (here’s a guess as to the lineup)

  • Eaton (RF)
  • Turner (SS)
  • Soto (LF)
  • Kendrick (1B)
  • Castro (2B)
  • Cabrera (3B)
  • Suzuki (C)
  • Robles (CF)
  • Pitcher

That’s  … a big step back from what we showed offensively last year, obviously.  The loss of Anthony Rendon in the middle of the order is pretty apparent.

Is this a playoff team?

—————-

Cabrera becomes the fourth 2019 team member/FA to re-sign with the team, joining Stephen StrasburgHowie Kendrick and Yan Gomes.  Pretty much the entire industry assumes Ryan Zimmerman is re-signing to be a bench bat as well.  So a lot of the veteran crew that was credited with helping the team win in October is now back.

Is this a good thing?

The oldest team in the majors last year has now resigned FAs who will be playing in their

  • age 34 year (Cabrera)
  • 32 (Gomes)
  • 31 (Strasburg) and
  • 36 (Kendrick).

They join other presumed starters and key relievers north of 30 in :

  • Kurt Suzuki (2020 will be his age 36 year)
  • Max Scherzer (35),
  • Anibal Sanchez (36)
  • Adam Eaton (31)
  • Sean Doolittle (33)
  • Hunter Strickland and Roenis Elias (both 31)
  • Wil Harris (35)
  • Starlin Castro (30).

Um.  That’s a lot guys on the wrong side of 30.   And a lot of assumptions that the production like we got out of Cabrera (143 OPS+) continues into 2020 if he’s indeed the starting 3B.

———————————-

Oh, ps: all appropriate tabs in the Big Board are now updated for these transactions.  We’re now at 36/40 on the 40-man roster.  New payroll estimate is $185,452,709, leaving us $22,547,291 under the cap for 2020.  For all of you still holding out hope for Josh Donaldson … you should stop.  He’s soliciting 4yr deals north of $100M; the numbers don’t add up.  If this team has $22M and change left and are not going over, then we’re out of the Donaldson mix.

I’m not sure what’s next.  Does the team pursue a trade for a 3B?  Clearly they don’t want to give up Victor Robles in a Kris Bryant trade (and I don’t blame them, whether or not they have one year or two of his services).  Maybe we’re going to see some Rizzo trade magic coming soon.

Rendon signs with LAA: now what for the Nats?

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Rendon's lasting legacy will be his amazing 2019 post season late inning performances. Photo via wtop.com

Rendon’s lasting legacy will be his amazing 2019 post season late inning performances. Photo via wtop.com

I’m not the only one writing about this particular question today, but its the biggest question the team has faced in a while.

Incumbent 3B Anthony Rendon, who before the season was thought in most circles to have no chance of matching Nolan Arenado‘s 8yr/$260M deal ($32.5M AAV), got a slightly shorter but higher AAV deal with zero deferred dollars by signing a 7yr/$245M ($35M AAV) deal with the Angels.

As we noted, Rendon made himself a whole lotta money in the post season.  And he blows past the reported 7yr/$215M deal with significant deferred dollars (the Nat’s specialty) to stay here.

Nats ownership warned us they may not be able to retain both players, and now we know for sure.   Despite tens of millions of dollars of expected new revenues flowing into the team, they still are beholden to the imaginary luxury tax line (thanks MLBPA!) and using it as a budget as opposed to a guideline for retaining home grown (but expensive) talent.

So now what?

Options seem to be:

  1. Play Howie Kendrick at 3B?    He actually played nearly 100 innings at 3B this past season, didn’t make an error and had a decent UZR/150 and -2 DRS in a SSS sampling.  I know he’s still athletic and in shape, but he’s a 2B/LF guy.  He’s really not even tall enough to play 1B (he’s not even 6’0″).  I think our defense takes a huge hit if he’s at third.  BUT … it guarantees his bat in the lineup and allows the Nats to buy a big bopper 1B FA guy to hit in the middle of the order.  Is it worth an experiment?
  2. Hand the keys to 3B for the next six years to Carter Kieboom?   per Fangraphs, Kieboom played all of 10 games at third for AAA Fresno this  year.  He made four errors in those 10 games.  Not quite as bad as his defensive show playing SS for the big club last April; 10 games, 4 fielding errors, -7 DRS (in other words, he basically cost the team two full wins by defensive runs cost).   So, how is it possible he was THAT bad playing SS in the majors (where the fields are astronomically better than in the minors) and hasn’t been moved off the position yet to someplace like 2B or 3B where he can do less damage?   Anyway; decision time has come.  His hitting numbers in AAA were great: .303/.409/.493 and a 123 wRC+.  that’s great; everyone’s hitting numbers are great in the PCL.  What does that tell us?  Can he start at 3B in the majors next year?  Its a $25M question, because if he can’t, the next best alternative will be….
  3. Win the Josh Donaldson sweepstakes for the honor of paying him $25M/year (or more) as he rockets into his mid 30s.  He just finished a show-me season in Atlanta in his age 33 season and thrived; now he’s looking for a 3-4 year deal at $25 per… is this what you want to commit to if you’re the Nats?  We’re not the only team out there now desperate for a starting 3B.  Philly, Atlanta, Texas, Los Angeles Dodgers, even the Mets all went into this season with a big checkbook looking to win Rendon (or at least a quality 3B).  Now what?  Do we pay the money for this guy?  On the one hand, buying him weakens our biggest divisional rival (Atlanta) and blocks him from two other likely NL East rivals, both of whom might have interest.  On the other hand, we buy Donaldson that’s a huge chunk of our remaining cap space (roughly $39m in my spreadsheet, probably slightly more once we figure out how MLB values Strasburg‘s contract on an AAV basis).
  4. Trade for Kris Bryant, the rumor of the week.   He made $12.9M last year, probably jumps up to at least $16M in arbitration after another All Star season in 2019, and currently in the midst of a dispute over the most blatant service time manipulation case we’ve seen in the last decade.  I’m guessing personally that he does NOT win the service time dispute and gains a 4th arb year, meaning that anyone trading for him gets two years of control.  Now; do we want to empty what is left in our dwindling farm system for two years of Bryant?   Lets be honest here; he’s a crummy defender whose defensive bWAR component cost him more than a win and who has negative advanced fielding metrics across the board.  The Cubs had him in LF for more than 100 innings this year, and he was even worse out there.  If you are willing to put up with a crummy defensive component at 3B to gain a big bat … isn’t that Kendrick for 1/3rd the cost?  Or perhaps Kieboom for 1/25th of the cost?  I’m not saying its apples for apples; after all Bryant was nearly a 5-win player by fWAR last  year even with defensive issues.  He’s a big middle of the order, former MVP, former 2nd overall pick.  You’re going to pay for him.  But at this point in the Nats lifecycle … with so little in the farm … do you want to blow it out for 2 years of a gun for hire with no ties to the city?
  5. Trade for some other 3B: who knows who else is out there for the having, or what they’d cost.  Its impossible to speculate; lots of teams that I thougth were already tanking for 2020 are signing starters to 8 figure deals this offseason.
  6. Sign a lesser FA 3B: there’s two dozen FA 3B out there right now.   Todd Frazier wasn’t bad last year.  Starlin Castro can hit and could be a one year bridge to a prospect.  Ben Zobrist may be old but he can still play 7 positions and may still produce.  None of these guys would break the bank and could allow for the pursuit of a more expensive 1B option (which then allows you to put Kendrick at 2B, where he’s not great defensively but at least its what he knows).

What would I do?

I dunno.  I like going with the prospect but Kieboom’s debut was not hope-inspiring.  I like Kendrick at 3B to buy a 1B … but it has to be the right bat.  I like keeping what prospect depth we have in lieu of trading for Bryant.  I like the thought of a one year solution in a lesser 3B free agent, allowing Kendrick to 1B/2B and buying what we don’t have and enabling Kieboom to get more minors time.

Lots of options here.

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 1/14/12 edition

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I’m looking for a contract “This Big!” Photo unknown via iusport.com

This is your semi-weekly/periodic wrap-up of Nats and other baseball news that caught my eye.

Nationals In General

  • Talk about rumors that just won’t go away: Nationals apparently remain the favorites for Prince FielderKen Rosenthal says the sameBuster Olney has a nice overview with pros/cons laid out.  For me (as discussed in the comments of the previous posts), I think he’d be a mistake for 8-10 years, but an absolute steal for 3.  Here’s some thoughts from Tom Verducci, who thinks the Nats are his destination.  And here’s a post that says one of the 3 candidates for Fielder I identified in this space a few days ago (Toronto), is out of the running.
  • Imagine a lineup that goes like this: Espinosa-Werth-Zimmerman-Fielder-Morse-Ramos-Desmond-Cameron to open the season, and then potentially inject Bryce Harper hitting behind Morse and replacing Cameron in the outfield.  That’d be 5 straight home-run hitting threats in the middle of your order, with good L-R balance.  I know he’d be expensive, but that’s a 95 win offense.  It’d be even better if we got a one-year stop gap hitter to open the year playing RF and who we could flip in trade if Harper comes up sooner than later.
  • From Jdland.com: the concrete factory across the street from Nats park is finally coming down!
  • Whoops: Zech Zinicola hit with a 50-game suspension for non-PED drug abuse.  Sounds like Marijuana to me.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Nats release him after this, his 2nd transgression.
  • John Sickels‘ new rankings of the Oakland A’s top 20 prospects, post trades this off-season.   6 of the 10 top were acquired in the Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez trades, while three more represent Oakland’s #1 draft picks in 2011 (Sonny Gray) and 2010 (Michael Choice) and 2009 (Grant Green).  Say what you will about Billy Beane, but he’s clearly building a big-time farm system for the future right now.
  • A nice review of the Nationals 2012 outlook from seamheads.com.
  • We lost Doug Slaten.  Now he can go be horrible for Pittsburgh.
  • Good news on both Sammy Solis and Bobby Hanson from Byron Kerr.
  • Adam Kilgore says the team is still talking to Rick Ankiel about coming back as a 4th OF… I wouldn’t be totally opposed to that; he’s essentially the same player we got in Mike Cameron, right?  Only difference seems to be lefty versus righty.
  • Fun little position-by-position exercise: ranking the NL east teams position by position from David Shoenfield.  I must admit though I think he was a bit generous with his Nats rankings in some cases.

Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • MLBTraderumors is great; they’ve created arbitration tracking pages that will “keep score” of all the cases coming up in Jan-Feb.
  • If you believe Jim Bowden, the Rangers are playing hardball in their Yu Darvish negotiations.  If this falls through … look for pandemonium both on the Prince Fielder front and with Darvish next year when he’s an unrestricted FA and could attract interest from pretty much every team in the league.
  • Makes sense: Marlins plan to aggressively pursue Yoenis Cespedes.  Getting the latest big name Cuban defector can only be a good thing for the franchise as they try to re-build a fan base in a heavily latino/cuban community.
  • Well, the  Yankees shored up their rotation in one 3 hour period on Friday night; trading for Michael Pineda and then signing Hiroki Kuroda.   They went from having three question marks in their rotation to now wondering if AJ Burnett can hold onto the 5th rotation spot.  Wow.  Here’s Keith Law‘s analysis, predictably giving the “edge” to the Mariners in the deal despite the obvious fact that Pineda is MLB proven while the other three guys in the deal, aren’t.

Hall of Fame items

  • Mike Silva becomes one of the very few BBWAA writers with a HoFame vote to publish support for Jack Morris.  I’m sure I’ll be seeing the inevitable Craig Calcarerra blog posting questioning Silva’s IQ for doing so.
  • David Shoenfield has a little missive on the HoFame, voting procedures and comments on how few players are getting elected these days.
  • Chris Jaffe does an excellent job predicting HoFame votes every year; here’s his guess on 2012’s election.  Bad news for Bagwell and Morris, good news for Larkin though.
  • Other interesting HoFame notes: one site in particular collects ballots; here’s a summary of the 80-some ballots she has right now.  Very good support for Larkin.
  • No Bagwell votes here; prepare for the ridiculing.  Danny Knobler and Scott Miller.
  • I think i’m just about fed up with bloggers who see everything in modern baseball through little spreadsheets of data and who never even saw Jack Morris and Bert Blyleven tell me I’m an idiot because i think the former is a better pitcher than the latter.  At some point statistics are just that; numbers that prove or disprove whatever your theories are.  You can’t just ignore 20 years of performance and context of playing in the league by boiling down thousands of innings pitched into one number, whether it is ERA+ or WAR or whatever.   For me, when you talk about whether a player is a Hall of Famer, you look at individual season accomplishments.  Morris basically had 15 seasons of full time pitching.  In 5 of those seasons he was a top-5 vote getter in the Cy Young; that means in 5 seasons those people who covered baseball that season considered him among the best 5 pitchers in his league.   In another two seasons he didn’t finish top 5 but still received votes.  He was god-awful his last two seasons, lowering his career totals.  And there’s dozens of examples of him completing games despite having given up 3-4 runs and sitting on 140 pitches.  Maybe Morris just needed to pitch in the current era, where he would be taken out in the 7th on a pitch count and then replaced by specialized relievers.  Meanwhile Blyleven, in 21 full seasons of starting made exactly TWO all-star games and received comparable Cy Young support 3 times.  I’ll ask again; how can you be considered one of the best of all time if nobody who covered you day in and day out during your career thought you were even among the best of your day??
  • Jorge Posada announces his retirement; the inevitable “Is he a Hall of Famer” articles start.  Immediate gut reaction from me: yes he’s a HoFamer.  Unlike some of his Yankees dynasty team members (Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte) Posada seems a bit more transcendent in terms of talent and legacy.  A quick glance though at his career stats show some of the problems with his eventual candidacy.  He’s a late bloomer; not playing a full-time season til he’s 25.  However for the 10 seasons he had from 25 to 35 he was fantastic; 5 all-stars, 5 Silver Sluggers and two top-6 MVP votes.  After he turned 35 though he struggled with health and had a relatively poor final season at the plate.  He has no gold gloves and had a reputation for having a very weak throwing arm but had a 121 OPS+ for his career (a great offensive player for a catcher).  His compareables in b-r are heady company (including Carlton Fisk and Gabby Hartnett).  I guess we’ll see in 5 years’ time.
  • Jan 9th 2012: the wait is over.  Only Larkin elected, Morris and Bagwell vote totals rise but still not close.
  • Spreadsheet of all published/known hall of fame votes, with links to explanations.  Interesting to say the least; several blank ballots and several very odd ballots to say the least.

General Baseball News

  • Buster Olney continues his rankings of the top 10s of baseball; this time with lineups.  Predictably its very AL East heavy. Previously he had done rotations, bullpens, infields and outfields.  Links to other lists available from this article (ESPN insider only; consider spending $2/month for it; its worth it).
  • Buster, after finishing the above rankings, publishes his preliminary 2012 top 10 Power Rankings.  Rays #1, Nationals essentially #11/”Best of the Rest.”  Boy this team’s reputation has come a long ways in just a few short years.
  • Jeff Passan‘s A-to-Z discussion on Baseball this off season and in 2012.  I link it since I like most everything Passan writes.
  • Joe Torre joins an ownership group chasing the LA Dodgers … but not the one that Stan Kasten is heading.  Bad move; I think Kasten’s a shoe-in to be Selig‘s pick.
  • This could have a bigger effect than the loss of Albert Pujols: St. Louis pitching coach Dave Duncan is taking a leave of absence from the team to care for his ailing wife.  Duncan has been such a miracle worker for reclamation project starters over the past few years that its hard to imagine the Cardinals pitching staff not to take a dent.
  • The Chicago Cubs franchise potentially takes another hit: Starlin Castro reportedly accused of sexual assault.  Castro returned home for the off-season and isn’t in the country; could this incident prevent him from getting a work visa in 2012?
  • Jonah Keri takes on one of my favorite topics; calling out Billy Beane and showing how he’s closer to being an incompetent GM than he is to his vaunted reputation as the game’s best GM.
  • Great article on Baseball Prospectus about SLAP tears in baseball players (normally pitchers).  The article is very heavy on medical jargon but talks about the different types of tears and surgical remedies.  This is the injury that Chris Carpenter had and recovered from (though I’m pretty sure he ALSO had Tommy John surgery too).
  • Nice book review for “A Unique Look at Big League Baseball.”

Collegiate/Prospect News

  • 2012 AL rookie of the year favorite Matt Moore, profiled at seedlingstostars.com.  This is part of a series of prospect reviews, counting down to #1 and Moore is ranked #4 … but the author immediately caveats it by saying that any of the top 4 could be #1.  I talked about Moore after his playoff start on this site, coming away with a Wow factor that I havn’t had since Strasburg.
  • Scout.com’s top 100 Prospect list for 2012Bryce Harper #3 behind Moore and Mike Trout.  Can’t argue there.  Other Nats on the list include Anthony Rendon (#56).  AJ Cole (#76) and Brad Peacock (#85) would have made us a bit more respectable pre-Gonzalez trade.  Here’s hoping that the Nats “other” big prospects (Meyer and Purke in particular) turn in stellar 2012’s and beef up our presence on the national prospect scene again.

General News; other

  • Article on 10 “trendy sports medicine” fixes.  Including some exotic baseball remedies we’ve heard about recently.
http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2012/writers/tom_verducci/01/13/ryan.madson.prince.fielder/index.html

My Answers to Boswell’s Chat questions 9/12/11 edition

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This week’s chat being the day after an epic Redskins victory, i’d expect it to be football heavy.  I’ll parse out the Nats questions.

As always, I edit the “question” for levity and clarity, and write my response before reading Boswell’s.

Q: Did Nyjer Morgan really refer to Albert Pujols as “Alberta?”

A: Not in so many words; i think he just referred to him as “she” in a tweet.  I posted my response here, and lots of other pundits have a similar message; par for the course for Morgan.  He’s working his way off yet another franchise.  Pretty soon he’s gonna run out of chances.  Boswell says that Morgan was very quick to be defensive to reporter questions, and notes that an attack on Pujols won’t be forgotten for a while.

Q: What is the future of Chris Marrero?

A: He’s held his own upon being called up, with a .306/.352/.367 line as of monday 9/12/11.  Good average yes; where’s the power?  I don’t think you can play 1B in this league without being either a .350 hitter or putting up 30homers.  He’s relatively weak at 1B, which is the least-challenging defensive position out there.  I don’t know what the future holds; but I’m having doubts that he’s a long term major leaguer.  Boswell agrees, saying Marrero won’t start over LaRoche and seems to be a weak  hitter w/o a positions.

Q: How is it that Clippard is the 8th inning guy and Storen is the 9th inning guy?

A: I’d like to think that the team recognized that Clippard is the more valuable pitcher and therefore needs to pitch in the higher leverage situations as compared to Storen.  More likely, the two guys are used to their roles, enjoy them, and don’t want to rock the boat.  Boswell agrees with all my points.

Q: Any chance Rizzo leaves for Chicago?  If so, who replaces him?

A: I think there’s little chance Rizzo leaves.  Why would he leave mid-stream here to go take over a Chicago Cubs team that gutted its farm system to acquire Matt Garza, has $56M still owed to Alfonso Soriano, has a $19M 2012 guaranteed for Carlos Zambrano and (outside of Starlin Castro) seems to have little to no talent on the roster?   Maybe this is a challenge, but there’s so much deadweight there you’d have to think the turnaround is going to take a while.  That being said, Chicago would give him a payroll at least twice what he has here, and presumably the same draft resources.  So perhaps he’s sick of the cheapskate Lerners and will jump ship.  Who replaces him?  I would think there are plenty of internal candidates; bit name GMs probably don’t want any part of this team based on past history.  Boswell says Rizzo’s performance outside of DC is pretty high, and fans should be a bit worried.

Q: If you were planning a trip to Viera for Spring Training, when would you go?

A: I’d want to go early on; perhaps the first or 2nd week, so that you can see more than just the major leaguers.  I’d want to see the full experience; the non-roster invitees, the non-40 man guys, the vets on minor league deals just trying to hang on, etc.  Boswell agrees; first week.

Q: Are the new wave of kids enough for 2012, or is 2013 the year?

A: I’ve always said 2013 is the year.  2012 will be Strasburg’s come back year, Zimmermann’s “taking the next step” year, an important additional year for Desmond and Espinosa, a calming down year for Werth, and a “was I a flash in the pan year” for Morse.   We’ll have more time to try out different arms in the bullpen.  We can look to augment in the FA market (but its thin).  The post 2012 FA market is massive, and the team will have all of 2012 to evaluate the likes of Milone, Peacock, Lannan, Gorzelanny, and Detwiler to determine who gets replaced with a hired gun.  Boswell offered opinions of rookies, but nothing for 2012.

Q: Is there a culture of losing with this team?

A: Perhaps some.  But the more rookies rise up who are accustomed to success, replacing veterans who are just happy to have jobs and don’t care about the W/L record, the better the team’s attitude will be.  Boswell talks about problems that still exist in the operational staff.

Q: Should we have gone with a managerial “prospect” instead of Davey Johnson?

A: I don’t think so; this season was always a transitional one.  It was going to be just as instructive to learn if Johnson can still manage after a 12 year hiatus as it would be to give the job to Bo Porter or someone.   Boswell blows more sunshine up Johnson’s ass.

Q: What will Strasburg’s innings limit be next year?

A: Almost identical to Jordan Zimmermann’s this year.  160, give or take.  Boswell forgot to answer.

Q: Are we being alarmist with Strasburg’s lack of velocity in start #2?

A: No, I don’t think so.  How do you go from 98-99 and then 5 days later be 5mph slower?  I just hope its a tired arm and not something more serious.  Boswell admits to being a bit alarmist.

Marquis looks pretty good…

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Jason Marquis was an unlucky loser last night, getting tagged with the loss despite going 7 1/3 and only giving up one earned run (a run that was inherited and allowed to score by Tyler Clippard, who had one of his worse outings of the year).  In this one outing Marquis managed to lower his era from 11.39->8.79, lower his WHIP from 2.25 to 1.919, and increase his ERA+ from 36 to 47 on the year (see Nats baseball-reference team stats).

So, how did he look?  Actually, his pitching line rather flattered his performance early on.  He walked the leadoff hitter and went 3-2 on the 2nd hitter and was sitting at 15 pitches without recording an out.  His sinker was high, he was missing his spots by several feet, and was getting bailed out by the very generous strike zone from the home plate umpire Bob Davidson.  Marquis even added in a balk call (an obvious balk, i’m not sure why either he or Riggleman bothered to argue it).   Then to add insult to injury Zimmerman threw away a relatively easy grounder to put Marquis into a 1st and 2nd, no outs 1st inning jam. Marquis weaseled his way out of the jam more through luck and a very weak Cubs lineup.  But no damage was done.

Through the next couple innings he still struggled with his control, getting helped out by very high strikes on balls that better hitters would have clubbed.  On one such pitch he was even seen on camera to audibly curse despite getting a called strike (because it was a sinking fastball left belt-high over the plate).  However, by the 4th inning he was back in the groove.  Suddenly he had his sinking movement back, he was starting balls over the plate and having them end on the hitter’s hands, he was throwing his changeup for strikes, and he looked pretty dominant.

In the 8th, Marquis was sitting on about 90 pitches and faced a pinch hitter for opposing starter Ryan Dempster (in a rather shocking decision by the Cubs new manager Mike Quade, taking out Dempster at that point.  Game is 0-0, he’s at 79 pitches through 7 complete innings and had given up 2 hits.  why not let him go further?  Can’t disagree with the results though; Dempster’s PH gets on, scores and earns the win for the team)  In any case, Marquis walked the pinch hitter and within a few minutes immediately showed why leadoff walks hurt.  Clippard allows the guy to steal first pitch, then a mistake to the Cubs star rookie Castro results in a run scoring double.

7 1/3 innings with 4 hits and 3 walks (though honestly a couple of those walks were really “situational” in nature as Marquis pitched around Fukodome to get a double play situation).

As Kilgore‘s WP article suggests though, you can’t win if you don’t score.  Dunn in particular cannot strikeout looking three straight times in a game like this.  Yes the strike zone is wide, and yes a couple of those calls were borderline.  But after your first couple innings, when the zone is established and you know you’re getting a ball off the outside corner and an above-the-belt strike call over the heart of the plate, professional hitters have to adjust.  Dempster did, and Dunn did not.

Verdict on Marquis: pretty promising in terms of him returning to the form that earned him the 2yr $15M contract.  At this point in the season, frankly I’m rooting for two things:

  1. Starting pitcher progress building towards 2011.
  2. Losses to improve their draft position next year.

It seems odd but it is the truth.  A workable Marquis fits into any decent team as a #3/#4 starter, and performances like last night’s will make him look that much better in a rotation headed by Strasburg and Zimmermann.  We’re now 53-73 on the season, on pace for a 68-94 win season and last night’s loss has officially moved us into the 6th draft pick next year.