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Ask Boswell 2/10/14 Edition

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I should photoshop in some Nats gear ...  Photo unk via zimbio.com

I should photoshop in some Nats gear … Photo unk via zimbio.com

I havn’t been doing many “Ask Boswell” posts lately; its the off-season and long-time Washington Post writer Tom Boswell isn’t generally taking a ton of baseball questions in December.  But, its the week Spring Training opens and Boswell is heading down, so we check in on the questions baseball fans may be writing.  Here’s his 2/10/14 edition.

Here’s his baseball-specific questions, and how I’d have answered them.  Questions edited for clarity.

Q: Into which of your four categories of baseball managers do you expect Matt Williams to fall? And where would you place Buck Showalter?

A: Before answering, you’d have to know what Boswell’s Four Categories are; they stem from an article he published more than 20 years ago.  They are “Little Napoleon,” the “Peerless Leader”, the “Tall Tactician,” and the “Uncle Robbie.”   See this Oct 2011 chat for some explanations of the types.   I would say that Matt Williams is clearly the Peerless Leader while Buck Showalter features as the Uncle Robbie type.  I tend to classify managers into just two main categories: they’re either Disciplinarians or Player Managers.  I view Williams as a disciplinarian (how could he not be; his nickname is “the Big Marine”).  And I viewed Davey Johnson as more of a Player’s manager.  You have to contrast one with the next when you change managers to give players a new message … hard is it to find someone who has the characteristics of both sides of that coin who can last for years and years (think Joe Torre or Bobby Cox).  Boswell hedges, saying Williams and Showalter both display multiple characteristics … and then seems to back away from his own theory by saying that characterizing people into simple descriptions isn’t entirely fair. 

Q: Why were the Nats interested in Grant Balfour if they already have plenty of late innings relievers?

A: Probably because the bullpen was a weakness last year (bymost  macro measures about the 19th or 20th in the league) and a bulldog like Grant Balfour would have only made it better.  Ask yourself: would you rather have Ross Ohlendorf or Ryan Mattheus going in the 7th or Balfour?  Yeah, I thought so.   Mike Rizzo has said that he loves making deals in late January/early February because he knows there are deals to be made.  Players without contracts as spring training starts begin to panic, and come down from their salary demands.  If you could get a closer-quality guy for just a few million a year … yeah you make that deal every time.    Yes I know Balfour eventually signed for 2/$12m, but the point stands.   There’s players out there right now that would still improve this team, and you never know what kinds of deals may happen tomorrow.  Boswell doesn’t think there was real interest … but then says the bullpen needs to improve in 2013.  I’m not sure I buy that; I think there was interest but he had a better offer.

Q: According to a Grantland.com article, MLB has been paying the Nats some money to make up for the TV rights “gap” between what they are getting under the current deal and what they “should” be getting. If true, is this an admission by MLB that the current deal is unfair? Wouldn’t it make more sense to solve the situation as opposed to giving money under the table? Is MLB this powerless that they can’t force a solution between the two teams?

A: Well, we delved into this issue in the previous post here; I can’t wait to see what Boswell’s reaction is.   Boswell  doesn’t say much … he quotes a member of the Nats ownership group who seemed to imply that the solution wasn’t going to be done before Selig retires.  But he somehow “defends” the under-the-table payments as MLB being allowed to operate its business anyway it sees fit.  Odd answer.  I was hoping for an opinion here.

Q: For the last two years, the Nats have seemed to lack something perennial contenders like the Cardinals and Red Sox seem to possess. In short, it was hard to kill them off. You get a lead; they come back. You stay with them for a few innings; they pull away. Is there any validity to this non-statistical assessment? And will the Nats acquire this toughness in 2014 after the experience of overperforming in 2012 and underperforming in 2013?

A: Well, first, I’d clearly say that the 2012 Nats did not lack for the chutzpa; how do you win 98 games and not have the ability to finish teams off?   Their season splits that year against the crummy teams in the league were fantastic.  If you’re throwing out the entire 2012 season because of Drew Storen‘s meltdown in NLCS game 5 (where, remember, he had a clear game-and-series ending strike missed before giving up the crucial hit that buried the team), well that’s not fair either.  However the evidence clearly points to a distinct lack of clutch hitting team-wide for 2013; see this link at Fangraphs to see how the Nats were dead last in batting average in high leverage situations for 2013.

Do you lay some of this on the manager’s head?  Certainly I had more than a few complaints about the way Davey Johnson ran this team last year.  Will a more hard-nosed guy instill that toughness by default into his team in 2014?  Yeah I do think there will be some of that; the will of the manager leading his team.  Can’t measure it very well though.

Boswell gives a nice answer about toughness, gutting out pennant races, Williams’ effect, etc.  

Q: Matt Williams is cited as saying that he is developing new tactics to take advantage of the new rule against runner-catcher collisions at home plate. Any idea what those tactics might be? 

A: No idea.  Maybe have the pitcher half way up the line ready to trip the guy coming home?  Boswell teases the change but refuses to divulge it, instead intimating that it should be obvious to figure out…

Q: What might be the personal dynamics between Luis Ayala and Bryce Harper during Spring Training? Would Bryce carry a personal grudge about his plunking by Ayala, or would he blame the Braves as a team?

A: Hmm.  Wow, I didn’t realize it was Luis Ayala who hit Bryce Harper.  I remember the “important” plunking being done by Julio Teheran.  I’d guess Harper would think it is water under the bridge and would blame the team, not the player.  And if he didn’t, he’d have a grizzled vet like Jayson Werth or his new manager to tell him to cool it.  Besides; what are the odds of Ayala actually making this team?  Boswell agrees.

Q: If the Nats were to make one more move, either through a trade or signing of a FA, what do you think it would be? Where is the biggest need for an upgrade exist in the current roster in your opinion?

A: I’d have to say an accomplished major league catcher for backup may be the biggest need right now.  After that i’d say another left handed option out of the bullpen, and after that i’d say some better depth in the infield.  Boswell says backup catcher then goes on a 1,000 word tangent.

Q: What do you make of the two year (with huge salary escalation in the second year) deals for Desmond and Zimmermann?

A: The deals make sense in a couple ways: the backloaded contract allows the Nats to maintain their payroll in 2015 without going very much higher in 2014.  $30M comes off the books from the end of the contracts for LaRocheSoriano and Span; now they’ve committed about half of that just in 2nd year pay increases to Desmond and Zimmermann.   Both players would probably rather have their pay calculated this way; it makes their annual salaries that much higher as they reach free agency.  Honestly I think Zimmermann is going to end up playing elsewhere, while the $11M/year for Desmond is still pretty cheap.  In the end I’d sign Desmond to the long term deal and let Zimmermann walk, get the Q.O. draft pick and be replaced by one of the big arms we have coming up from the minors.  Boswell agrees.

Q: Do you see the Nats putting enough effort to sign international players outside of the traditional (Dominican Republic, Japan, Venezuela, etc) countries and into the Emerging Markets of Brazil, Aruba, Australia, Curacao? They’re starting to play baseball in China!

A: No, and for years they weren’t putting enough effort into IFAs from the traditional places either.   Look at our Big Board at the end of last season: where’s all the home grown IFAs?    Solano, Leon and Perez are on the 40-man … but they’re all backups/edge of the 25-man roster guys.  There wasn’t a SINGLE international free agent in AAA or AA developed by this  team by season’s end.  The entirety of these rosters were USA-born/drafted players and/or minor league free agents.  Just two had matriculated even to Potomac/High-A; two guys signed in 2007 who are now finally in high-A (one of whom was born in 87 and clearly isn’t a prospect any longer).    Look no further than at the WBC Dominican roster to see the value of developing talent out of the DSL.  At least we’re finally starting to see some guys creep onto the prospect lists out of our DSL graduate lists, guys like  Jefry Rodriguez and Pedro Severino being the two best examples.  Boswell didn’t really answer; another tangent of a response.

Q: A.J. Burnett: Wouldn’t signing him make a lot of sense for the Nats (assuming he can be had on a one-year deal)? Detwiler to the pen gives us another quality lefty and he’s excellent insurance for an injury to a starting pitcher. And the Nats saved some cash by backloading the two-year Desmond/Z’nn deals. What’s not to like here?

A: Can’t argue.   I’ve got us north of $130M in payroll now for 2014; would he do a 1yr/$13M deal and would Ted Lerner go north of $140M?  Maybe if MLB kicked in even more cash than they already are, we could turn it around on A.J. Burnett and have, hands down, by far the best rotation in the game.  Is that what this team needs?   Burnett > Detwiler, so it’d be an improvement.  And Detwiler’s bullpen splits have been great.  If it makes the team better, and its just about money, yeah i’d be for it.  Boswell poo-poos the deal because he doesn’t want to block the pitching pipeline?!   Whatever; the goal is to win the frigging World Series.

Q: I don’t believe Davey Johnson quietly fades into the sunset. Does he still have an official role with the Nats? Do you know if he has other plans? Do you expect you’ll see him in Florida?

A: If I was Johnson, and I knew what was right, i’d stay far away from this team.  He’s out, Williams is in, and any lingering around just undermines the new guy.  And if I was Mike Rizzo, i’d be thinking the same thing.  Give him a scouting job or some BS; just keep him away from the team.  Boswell says the exact same thing.

Q: I was surprised by A-Rod’s sudden decision to pull his lawsuit against MLB and, despite all the initial coverage.  Why’d he give up now?

A: I think he (finally) got some sage legal advice about his prospects.  And I think he finally listened to someone giving him sane counsel.  He’s got bigger problems ahead, like who is going to possibly give him a shot in 2015 or beyond… Wow, Boswell trashes him with some vindictiveness.  

Nats MASN issues and MLB’s many ongoing legal issues

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Wendy Thurm reviews legal matters for Fangraphs, and her writing is excellent.  In her latest article, she gives updates on several ongoing legal battles involving MLB.  Its an excellent read.  Here’s a quick review of the current issues, how I think they’ll play out and then how I *wish* they would play out, as a baseball fan and a fan of all that is right and just in the world :-) .  I won’t go into a full description of the issue (read Thurm’s article for more, because she also links to her past stories to provide full context of the issues).  Then at the end of this post we’ll talk about the Nats-MASN issue, which lingers without resolution but received a very intriguing piece of news this week (and thus has come up in the comments elsewhere).  Read on…


Houston Astros/CSN Houston

Issue: CSN Houston couldn’t get most of the cable companies in Houston to pay its fee demands, so 60% of local residents can’t watch the games and CSN Houston just went chapter 11.  (There’s more to this story than this sentence; Thurm’s article has links to more detailed overviews).

How I think it will play out: I think the fact that CSN Houston is now in Chapter 11 will grease the skids towards getting the games onto the local carriers at significantly cheaper fees, which means less money in the Astro’s pocket.  Oh, and they probably lose their ownership percentage too as the bankruptcy court pays out debtors.

How I wish it would play out: I think the Astros have dug their own grave here.  Lots of executives and baseball pundits are praising their “purposely bad” strategy, which has resulted in 3 straight #1 overall picks, three straight “worst in the majors” seasons, and they’ll likely challenge for a 4th straight such season in 2014.  This may be a great long term strategy … but if I was a season ticket holder or a suite renter I’d be beyond livid at the product being put on the field.  You want me to pay to see your team play?  Then show me you’re at least *trying* to field a competitive, entertaining team.  In that respect I don’t feel the Astros deserve nearly anything close to the RSN fees it’s getting.  The fees Houston gets should be commensurate with the product its putting on the field; make them sign a cheap deal until they’re good again, and then they can re-negotiate.

Alex Rodriguez Suspension

IssueAlex Rodriguez got an unprecedented suspension not entirely in line with the JDA signed between MLB and the MLBPA, and is suing everyone and their brother to try to get reparations and/or reversals.

How I think it will play out: I think union arbitration processes are sacred and the courts are not about to change that.  All A-Rod’s lawsuits to that end will be tossed, he’ll serve his suspension, perhaps he’ll play some independent league baseball or go to Cuba or something (boy wouldn’t that be a thumbing of the nose to America).  And then sometime in the off-season of 2014-2015 the Yankees will outright release him, nobody else will pick him up, and A-Rod will go the way of Barry Bonds with his hundreds of millions of dollars and ruined reputation.

How I wish it would play out: I’ve gone on record a couple times in this space (here and here) about how I think both sides are culpable in this mess.  I believe A-Rod continued to dope and more and more I believe he showed a distinct pattern of cheating to the point where I don’t have a problem if he never played again.  But in the meantime I believe what MLB did to pursue A-Rod went far above bounds, and I believe that Selig was colluding with the Yankees owners in some respects (just as I believe Selig has organized collusion among the owners against players and/or the MLBPA several times in the past).  I wish MLB would lose its anti-trust exemption so that a number of the unsavory situations in the game could see the light of day in a courtroom.  It’ll never happen.

San Jose vs MLB/Giants and Athletics

Issue: Oakland wants and needs to get out of its sh*tty stadium and San Jose is an ideal spot to move.  Except that San Francisco is claiming that as part of its god-given “territory” despite evidence that it was once Oakland’s to begin with and the then-Oakland owner “gave” it to SF out of gratitude.  Meanwhile, San Jose filed an antitrust lawsuit to try to compel movement in the interminable “blue-ribbon panel” that Bud Selig appointed years ago but which has done nothing.

How I think it will play out: Well, the lawsuit that San Jose filed against MLB has no chance of winning.  How do I think the whole Oakland moving thing will play out?  Unfortunately, I think the commissioner (who, remember, works at the behest of the owners) will *never* broach a territorial battle of one of its owners, because that’d set a precedent that they wouldn’t be able to fix (think about how many teams would *love* to move to Brooklyn and immediately have a 10m person fan base…Tampa Bay would be there tomorrow with their NY-based ownership group).  So Oakland will continue to be stuck in Oakland until maybe possibly they decide to test a new market in Portland or San Antonio or Charlotte.  Except that (of course) all those markets also have the same territorial rights (from Seattle and Houston and Washington/Atlanta respectively), so maybe that’s a non-starter too.  *sigh*.

How I wish it would play out: I wish the Giants would just be forced to admit that San Jose is not part of their territory.  Perhaps when they played in Candlestick and it was workable to drive from San Jose to the south of the city to see a game.  Now?  The heart of San Jose is 50 miles from the Giants stadium, which is in the middle of the city with limited parking.  It is exactly akin to driving from DC to Baltimore on a mid-week night to see a game … except that the Baltimore stadium has acres of parking paved out.  Oh and if you realistically wanted to make a 7:05 start in Baltimore and you lived in Northern Virginia … you’d be leaving your house at 4:30 to ensure you beat the traffic.  For that reason, I feel that the A’s should be allowed to move to San Jose and re-distribute the fan-bases of the Bay area.  Large swaths of the Oakland suburbs in east bay would now be so much closer to AT&T park than the A’s stadium that they may start patronizing the Giants, while huge swaths of the south bay would now have an easily accessible team to visit and follow.  It’ll never happen though.

Antitrust challenge to MLB Blackout Policy

Issue: Thanks in part to the whole “territory” issue mentioned above, MLB now finds itself with these arcane blackout policies that are incredibly unfair to people who live in certain “multi-team territory” states and who depend on MLB.tv to watch games.  If you live in some places like Iowa, south Nevada, Oklahoma, Connecticut, etc then you may be completely blocked from watching your local team altogether, thanks to MLB blacking it out and your local cable channel perhaps not carrying your favorite team’s games.

How I think it will play out: I’m sure MLB will continue to claim that it can’t compete against its RSNs … not while these RSNs continue to line the pockets of owners.  Remember, everything baseball does is about putting extra pennies in the owner pockets.  See the CBA, limits on amateur spending, the cap on posting fees for Japanese players, everything.

How I wish it would play out: How hard would it be to just pipe in the RSN feed to MLB.tv in these blackout areas?  You’d be showing local customers their local commercials and ending the blackouts.  Is that just too simple?  If RSN’s are worried about ratings … just add in the MLB.tv ratings.  In this day and age, where companies now can track TV watching far better than the Nielsen ratings ever could (don’t believe me?  How did Tivo know that the infamous wardrobe-gate incident was the most “rewound event” ever unless they’re tracking our watching patterns FAR more closely than we know?)

 


Thurm also maintains an equally excellent overview of the Regional Sports Network (RSN) deals in place for MLB teams, so that fans can see just how ridiculously unjust the current revenue distribution is in the game.  By way of example; the Dodgers are getting an unbelievable $340M/year from their RSN deal while Pittsburgh gets $18M.  Yeah; that’s pretty much the definition of an uneven monetary playing field.  Yes some of this money goes into a revenue sharing pot, but the lions share of it stays with the team, and enables the Dodgers to have a payroll 5-6 times that of most of its competitors.

I bring up this last point because (in case you didn’t know or havn’t been reading the comment sections here) Jonah Keri recently published an excellent “expose” of the downfall of the Baltimore Orioles under the “leadership” of Peter Angelos, and it contains a very interesting nugget of information about the ongoing Nats-O’s MASN struggle.  Thurm didn’t go into this particular issue because it isn’t a “legal issue,” meaning there’s no lawsuit pending.  Not yet anyway; Keri discovered that MLB has been making secret under the table payments to the Nats to make up for the obvious and clear RSN revenue shortfall that the Nats are being screwed out of in the current MASN deal, and Keri alleges that these payments are being made in order to PREVENT a lawsuit from Ted Lerner and the Nats ownership group.  Which only makes sense to me.

Washington’s market is about the same size as Dallas, in terms of population.  It is significantly more wealthy.  However the baseball-watching fan-base isn’t as developed as in other mature baseball markets.  You can easily make the argument that the Nats should be getting a comparable deal to what the Texas Rangers on some levels, but not others.  The Rangers are getting a whopping $150M/year from their deal while the Nats get $29M (plus whatever under-the-table cash from MLB) from MASN.  Its no wonder the Nats have demanded $100M from Angelos, and its frankly ridiculous that Angelos’ thinks his counter of $35M is anywhere close to equitable.  And its no wonder this hasn’t been resolved yet, not when the sides are $70M apart.  That being said, Keri lays out a rather reasonable explanation why Angelos is worried about this whole deal, and why it may be impacting his on-the-field product.

How I think it will play out: a deal is a deal, and I’ll bet the Nats are stuck with this deal for the long term.  Thanks Bud!

How I wish it would play out: I wish the league would just recognize its deal with Angelos was hopeless and force a one-time buyout fee and/or a splitting of the RSNs.  I’d love to see a buyout of the deal (costing hundreds of millions of dollars), and then a new RSN and/or a joining forces with CSN Washington (who already broadcasts Wizards and Caps games) to create a strong Washington DC RSN.  I’d even be willing to throw some ownership percentage as an appeasement to Angelos.  Maybe we can do some partnership deals with MASN to broadcast Orioles games in the DC area on CSN-Washington2.   Let Washington control its own destiny.

 


Editor Note: I corrected Wendy Thurm’s name throughout; I had it as “Thrum.”  Thanks to commenter Wally for pointing this out.

Written by Todd Boss

February 7th, 2014 at 7:51 am

Ladson inbox 1/2/14

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Espinosa's role with the Nats is still a major concern for fans. Photo AP via mlb.com

Espinosa’s role with the Nats is still a major concern for fans. Photo AP via mlb.com

Ah, what a great way to bring in the new year, with another edition of Bill Ladson‘s inbox (dated 1/2/14).

As always, these are real questions from presumably real people, and I answer here before reading Ladson’s answer.

Q: Do you think that Denard Span will be the leadoff hitter, with maybe Ian Desmond batting second? If so, shouldn’t the order be reversed since Desmond is a much better offensive player?

A: The answer to this question goes to the evolving lineup construction question and a rising opinion in the Sabre ranks that states that a team’s “best” hitter should be batting 2nd.  Joe Sheehan discussed why the Reds specifically should have been batting Joey Votto 2nd instead of 3rd in this July 2013 article on SI.com, but his arguments were less about Votto and more about the idiocy of Dusty Baker‘s insistence on batting a sub-par hitter ahead of Votto all year.  The real proof is from Tom Tango in his publication The Book, which is summarized in this 2009 BeyondtheBoxScore post by Sky Kalkman.  Basically the argument is that a #2 hitter is slightly more important situationally than a #3 hitter, based on the fact that the #2 hitter bats more frequently than the #3 hitter, often bats with the bases empty and thus needs to be both a high OBP and a high average guy to be able to either set things up for the #3/#4 guys behind him or to do something with the #1 guy who just got on base ahead of him.

Now that being said, nothing trumps a good OBP in the lead-off spot.  Last year our best OBP guy was Jayson Werth, but he also had the best average AND hit 25 homers.  Hmm; maybe Werth is your #2 hitter right now.   Desmond’s OBP was slightly better than Span’s on the season (.331 to .327), but Desmond hits for a ton of power.  Span is the prototypical lead-off hitter; he’s a lefty, he’s fast, and he normally gets on at a .350 OBP clip (career .351).  So right now if it were me I’d be batting Span 1, Werth 2 and Desmond somewhere around #5.

Todd Boss the Nats manager puts out this line-up opening day: Span-Werth-Zimmerman-Harper-Desmond-LaRoche-Ramos-Rendon-Strasburg.  Good lefty/righty balance, has your best all-around hitter in the #2 hole and your best power hitter in the #4 hole, with Desmond getting more ABs than LaRoche right now and the rest of the lineup cascading down normally.

Ladson posts his lineup, which uses more conventional thinking and has LaRoche batting before Desmond.  I think he’s wrong there; LaRoche was clearly not a better hitter than Desmond and has no business batting ahead of him in this lineup right now.

Q: The Nationals recently signed D.C. native Emmanuel Burriss to a Minor League contract. Is he a viable candidate for a backup role with the club in 2014?

A: I think the Emmanuel Burriss signing was about AAA depth, not a real attempt to find a utility infielder who can contribute at the MLB club.  Look at his 2013 slash line: .213/.270/.221.  Wow, that’s really bad.   Of course, that’s still better than what Danny Espinosa did last  year … Presumably Burriss is competing with Espinosa and Zach Walters for that backup middle infielder spot.  Burriss’s problem is that he’s a minor league/non 40-man signing while both Espinosa and Walters are already on the 40-man … so for the time being I see him with fellow locally-tied minor league signee Wil Rhymes (he went to college at W&M) as Syracuse’s middle infield.  Ladson thinks he’s a candidate but not a starter … and then predicts that the team will be trading Espinosa.

Q: If Espinosa makes the team as a bench player, my concern is his clubhouse attitude. Do you think management shares this concern as well?

A: Great question; who here knows Espinosa personally to see how he may react?  Who here works in the Nationals organization and can effectively judge Espinosa’s character, given everything that’s happened to him in the past year (injuries, performance, loss of starting job and demotion)?  Not me, and presumably nobody reading this, so its all just fan speculation.

So, given that I don’t know anything about the guy, here’s what I think: He has to realize that a) he’s no longer a starter here and b) he’s not even guaranteed a bench spot thanks to his 27 OPS+ hitting last year.  But, he also has to realize that his best shot at this point of regaining a starter job in the majors is going to be to perform, and perform ably, wherever he gets his chance, and thus either improve his trade value to make him more valuable to other organizations or possibly to force his way over someone in the Nats organization.  That chance may end up being full time in AAA but it’ll be better for him if he’s at least a backup in the majors.  If he doesn’t realize these things, then his representation is doing him a massive disservice (and I don’t think Scott Boras is bad at his job).  So my guess is that he’ll swallow his pride knowing he has to be in the majors to show that he can produce in the majors and will embrace his role.

There’s also the small issues of money and  service time; he’s making peanuts in AAA versus what he makes riding the bench in the majors.  And, if he makes the bench for at least 2 months or so in 2014 he accrues enough service time to hit arbitration following next season … which means either a pay raise or freedom to move to another organization where he may not be as blocked as he is in Washington.  So no matter what, it is in his best interests professionally and financially to make the team, no matter what the role, out of spring training.

One last point: just ONE injury anywhere in the infield opens a massive swinging door for him to not only get playing time but likely to start.  He has to be ready.

Ladson says Espinosa works hard and that Jayson Werth would get him in line if he had an attitude problem.  

Q: What is the situation behind the plate? Ever since Ivan Rodriguez retired, it seems that’s been an injury-riddled spot. Why aren’t the Nationals making any moves for a backup catcher?

A: Catcher is an injury-riddled spot for nearly everyone in the league; the guys get beat up and miss time no matter if they’re the best or worst guy in the league.  I’m guessing the team is actively in the market for backup catchers, but so are a bunch of other teams.   I still count 10 catchers out there available in free agency and I’m guessing teams in need are all still jockeying for position with the better and lesser candidates.  I’m sure we’ll sign at least one more guy to be in the mix with Jhonatan Solano, Sandy Leon and Chris Snyder.  Plus there’s this: nearly every catcher who can still crouch will get a spring training gig because there’s just so many arms that need to throw simaltaneously for these teams.  So we’re sure to see more guys sign up.   Ladson says they’re trying to acquire more catcher depth but have been unsuccessful.

Q: How come Zach Walters is not being given a decent shot at making the team out of Spring Training? He has pop and is adequate defensively.

A: I don’t think people are saying that; I think the consensus seems to be that the backup infielder spot is Espinosa versus Walters right now.  Who would you rather have?  I think i’d lean towards one more chance for Espinosa (the guy did hit 20 homers in 2011 after all) and then either trade him or move him out.  The concern with Walters (despite his 29 homers in AAA in 2013) is his strike-outs; they’re pretty high.  You put up with 1 K/game if  you get 30 homers … not if you get 10.  He hit nearly 30 in AAA; can he do that in the majors?  Ladson points out an important note; new manager Matt Williams knows Walters from when they were both in the Arizona system.  Hmm.  Will that have an effect?

Q: Would you try to get Eric O’Flaherty on the Nats if you were Mike Rizzo?

A: I’m not sure I would; he had TJ surgery in late May 2013 (5/21/13 specifically), meaning he’s looking at likely a May 2014 return date.  So he’s likely missing the first 2 months of the season, and even then he’s on a shorter leash next season.  Is this what the Nats need?  My guess is that he re-signs an incentive deal with Atlanta out of some sort of professional courtesy for having gotten injured on their watch.  Ladsons agrees with me and thinks he goes back to Atlanta.

Q: Shouldn’t the Nats bid on pitcher Masahiro Tanaka?

A: Bid yes.  Go crazy and blow $20M/year on the guy?  No way.  Scouting reports thus far seem to indicate that Masahiro Tanaka is good but not Yu Darvish-good.  And this team needs to start thinking about extending its own known quantity guys versus blowing that money on a lottery ticket like Tanaka.  My guess is that a team with deeper pockets (Los Angeles, New York) or a team with more desparation (Seattle) agrees to pay Tanaka just ridiculous amounts of money.   Ted Lerner seems to be indicating we’re nearing the team’s payroll budget and we’re going to start having to get creative fitting in some of these mid-to-upper level talents we have now accumulated.  Ladson doesn’t really consider the merits or consideration of Tanaka, instead just saying the rotation is set.  I’m not sure that was the question.

 

Ladson’s inbox 12/2/13 edition

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The drumbeat to have Morse back continues.  Photo hardballtalk.nbcsports.com

The drumbeat to have Morse back continues. Photo hardballtalk.nbcsports.com

Happy Thanksgiving!  Apparently I didn’t realize how long between posts it had been (nearly 2 weeks).    I didn’t go anywhere or anything; just hunkered down for the holidays, entertained the in-laws, and found myself with very little non-work computer time to delve into hot-stove season issues.

Thankfully, we have a Bill Ladson inbox to get us going this week!  Dated 12/2/13.

(Note: I was mid-way typing this post when the Doug Fister news broke … so its a day later than I wanted it to be, and I edited this to be relevant).

As always, I write my response here before reading his and edit questions for clarity/conciseness.

Q: I’ve heard about so many big-market teams being out of the Robinson Cano sweepstakes. What about the Nats? They did swing a shocker of a deal in Jayson Werth, and Cano could be the signing that brings the World Series trophy back to the beltway.

A: Several national writers (including this latest, most comprehensive viewpoint from Paul Swydan on ESPN insider just this week) are making the same point.  In simple terms, sign Robinson Cano, move Anthony Rendon to third, move Ryan Zimmerman and his scatter-arm to first, and put Adam LaRoche out to pasture (or, more likely, a trade for 20 cents on the dollar).   I’d love the move in the short-term but would absolutely hate it in the long term.   Its really simple: the guy’s 30.  He wants to be paid for the next decade as if he’ll never age.   His anticipated 10 year $200-and something million dollar contract will immediately be at the top of the list of albatross contracts in the league.  You just can’t do it, not if you want to maintain finacial flexibility to extend the core of this team (Strasburg, HarperDesmond to name three) and maintain some sort of a budget.  (Oh, by the way, I have always maintained the Jayson Werth contract was a “statement contract” to the league, an overpay that legitimized this franchise as a FA player after years of being a laughingstock in the league under Jim Bowden and inept league ownership.  So, i’m not entirely sure I’d use Werth’s deal as any sort of predictor of Mike Rizzo‘s intentions).

Hey, it isn’t my  money.  If Ted Lerner‘s ok with spending $150M or more a  year … maybe i’d be on board.  But man, 3 or 4 years from now when Jayson Werth is hobbling around the outfield earning $20M plus, Zimmerman’s at $15M/year and possibly clogging a 1st base spot, each of Desmond, Gonzalez, Harper, Strasburg and Zimmermann earning 8 figure deals, a Cano $25M/year albatross is clogging your payroll, and the team starts telling its fans that they’re standing pat or depending on signing middling free agents to try to “win” next year (you know, like the Phillies), I think you’ll regret this contract.

Ladson thinks the team could be in on Cano, and could use Rendon as trade bait for a pitcher.  *sigh* well, we’ll see what happens.

Q: Do the Nats have any interest in a guy like Raul Ibanez to fill the fourth outfielder/power-left-handed-bat-off-the-bench role? He’s over 40, but a veteran with outstanding work ethic. His 2013 season’s numbers suggest that it might be worthwhile to take a gamble on him for one year, if he’s willing to accept a reasonable salary and less playing time. Your thoughts?

A: I just do not see it.  Would you trust a guy who suddenly spikes his performance at age 41?  Rizzo needs to go younger, not ancient.  Raul Ibanez makes sense to sign a series of one year deals with AL teams that can DH  him as long as he proves his worth until he’s retired.  Ladson says the nats need a 4th OF who can man center; a good point.

Q: With the way that Ryan Mattheus hurt his hand last year and then struggled mightily after being activated from the disabled list, is he in the Nats’ bullpen plans for 2014?

A: I think Ryan Mattheus may be on the outside looking in come April 1, 2014 after his performance and injury in 2013.  Without any other moves, you have to think right now the Nats bullpen has 4 locks (Soriano, Clippard, Storen and Stammen), one loogy (from within or outside), one long man (Ohlendorf or a 5th starter competition loser) and one spot up for grabs.  Mattheus is the current leader in the clubhouse for that spot .. but he’ll face competition.  Right now, if Christian Garcia is healthy he’s proven to be more effective than Mattheus.  If Garcia can’t go, then Mattheus probably has the spot locked up barring any more signings.  He could face some competition from guys in the minors like Nathan Karns (if the team decides he can’t find a 3rd pitch and converts him to a reliever… though this probably doesn’t happen until 2015 at the earliest), or possibly from new 40-man addition Aaron Barrett.  For right now i’d say he’s the 7th guy but he needs to produce at 2012 levels to keep his job over Garcia.  Ladson agrees with me, I guess.

Q: Just wondering, do you think No. 2 prospect Lucas Giolito will get an invitation to Spring Training with the big club?

A: Nope, not this year.  No point.  He’s yet to play a day in full-season ball; he needs to stay in the minor league section and get his full work, not languish on the MLB spring training bench getting an inning every other day.  Now, if he shoots up the system in 2014 and ends in AA, then yeah a spring training invite for 2015 could be in the works.  Ladson agrees.

Q: After reading all these trade rumors, I feel like the Nationals are going to make a huge move this offseason. Do you feel it would come as a bat or as a pitcher?

A: Even before the Fister deal, I still would have said a Pitcher.  Even though I don’t think pitching was our problem in 2013 (a tease for a draft blog post with some interesting stats that I have in progress).  The problem with trading for a Bat is this: there’s just no obvious place to upgrade.   Not unless you move a guy like LaRoche or Span (our two least productive bats last season) and make a hole for someone coming in.  Ladson really goes out on a limb and says ‘it could be both.’

Q: Why not bring back Michael Morse for the extra power on the bench and replacement forAdam LaRoche from time to time?

A: I think the book on Michael Morse has been written by now: he can’t stay healthy, he’s a liability in the field, and he needs to be able to DH.  He’s just not an NL player anymore.  A quick look at the depth charts in the AL shows a couple of teams that could take a flier on Morse.  The problem is that two of the teams with the most need for a DH (Seattle and Baltimore) both had Morse last year and he washed out.  Maybe his last shot could be with a team like Oakland or Houston, teams with limited budgets willing to give last-chances to guys like Morse to resurrect their careers.  Ladson repeats his last Morse answer; Morse wants to be an every-day player and at Washington he’d be  a bench player.

Q: With Stephen Drew being a Scott Boras client, could you see the Nationals signing him, having him or Ian Desmond transition to second base? It could solidify the middle infield with veteran stability, couldn’t it?

A: Why in the h*ll would you purposely take a plus defender shortstop (whether it be Stephen Drew or Desmond)  and waste him at second base?   That’d be dumb.  That’d kind of be like what Texas is doing to Jurickson Profar.  Despite the oft-repeated mantra that the “Nats are Scott Boras‘ b*tch” if you check the records we’re not even the team with the most Boras clients.   And most of our Boras clients were guys we drafted irrespective of who represented them.  I’m really tired of reading the cliche that any and all Boras clients are Nats targets because we for some reason feel obliged to deal with him.  I’ll tell you this; I’d rather be friendly with Boras than unfriendly; he represents serious talent in this game and if we can get access to his players more easily than an antagonistic GM, we’re in a better positions.  Ladson doesn’t think Drew would want to switch positions either.

Ask Boswell 7/22/13

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Denard Span is catching a lot of criticism right now.  Photo: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Denard Span is catching a lot of criticism right now. Photo: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Well, Phil Mickelson came out of nowhere to take the British Open over the weekend, NFL training camps are coming up soon and the Nats just got swept anemically at home.  I wonder how many baseball questions there are in this week’s ask Tom Boswell chat?  Lets find out.

As always, I answer here before reading Boswell’s response, only take his baseball/Nats questions and edit those questions for clarity.

Q: Is one of the reasons for the Nats malaise because they know Johnson is a short timer?

A: The implication of the question is this: if Davey Johnson suggests a change, the player says, “Eh, you’re gone by the end of the season, why should I listen to you?”  I have a hard time believing this for two reasons:

1. I’m not convinced there’s that much “coaching” going on in the majors.  Especially for veterans.  These guys are professionals, they’ve been playing professional baseball for years.  If you don’t know how to bunt, or how to field by the time you’ve made the majors then I don’t think you’re ever going to get it.  Maybe I’m wrong.

2. I’m also not convinced that managers really have that much to do with a game’s being won or lost.  Yes, disastrous bullpen decisions can back fire.  But its still on the hitters to hit, the starters to pitch, the fielders to make plays.

Related to #2; word came out today that the Nats have fired hitting coach Rick Eckstein.  Is this sort of like firing the secretary when the entire office puts out bad work?  Johnson was really upset by it and said so in the media … and I don’t have any doubt that this is a reactionary move to the poor offensive numbers.  But ask yourself; what is a new hitting coach going to do to turn this team of hitters around between now and September 30th?

Boswell gives Johnson lots of credit in 2012 for instilling confidence in the youngsters and garnering more respect out of the veterans (in comparison to Jim Riggleman). 

Q: Suzuki, Soriano, LaRoche. Any reason the Nats shouldn’t be sellers this year?

A: The Nats will not sell.  Because that would be Mike Rizzo admitting that all his moves last off-season were wrong.  And he’s not going to admit that.

Lets play the what-if game though; what if the Nats were to become sellers.  First guys on the block are FAs in their last (or only) year.  We only have a couple of those guys: Kurt SuzukiDan Haren and Chad Tracy.  Look at that list and ask yourself who would want these guys and what they’d be willing to give up?  Even newly acquired Scott Hairston is signed through 2014.  But then again, teams are smarter and generally won’t give up good prospects anymore for rentals.

One last point: the Red Sox blew a 9 game lead in September two years ago.  The Nats are only 7 out of the division lead, even playing as poorly as they have.  It’s still just mid July.

Boswell says wait until July 31st.  And interestingly he criticizes the Denard Span acquisition. 

Q: Can we get rid of Span?

A: Ironic that Boswell took this question right after killing him.  I have always thought that the Span acquisition was Rizzo being too clever, too focused on defense.  And so far it looks like the critics were right.  Span is posting an 86 OPS+ right now.  His OBP is about the same as the guy we had to jettison to make room for him (Michael Morse).   Except Morse at any moment can hit the ball 430 feet; it’d take Span 3 swings to get it that far.  To say nothing of driving out a fan favorite/good clubhouse guy.

Can we get rid of him?  Nope.  Stuck with him and most of this team through next season.  But, at that point he seems tailor made to flip to bring up someone like Brian Goodwin.

Boswell says that Bernadina isn’t the answer.

Q: Isn’t it galling to the team that Rafael Soriano acts differently on the mound — e.g., windup vs. stretch — depending on whether or not it is a save situation?

A: The word on Rafael Soriano wasn’t positive before he got here, and the whole “shirt untuck” seems to smack of showing people up.  And it’s clear to me that he’s a “Save snob;” look no further than his numbers in 2010, 2011 and 2012.  In2010 as a closer in Tampa?  226 ERA+.  The next year as a setup guy in New York?  4.12 era.  Then when Mariano Rivera goes down and he gets the closer job in 2012?  Back to being excellent.  If he purposely pitches differently in save vs non-save situations?  I’d be really, really pissed as a player.  But luckily the stats don’t support it; his ERA in non-save situations is better than in save situations, by a lot.  Boswell says that Soriano’s behavior is being noticed.  great.

Q: Should we start platooning Span with Hairston?

A: Is this what it’s come to with Span?  That we’re talking about platooning him with a guy hitting .170?  Yes Hairston’s lefty splits are good … but come on.  It isn’t like he’s an all-star slugger.  At least span brings plus-plus defense to center.  Bat him 8th, where his damage is limited.  Boswell says Yes its time to platoon.

Q: Everybody says Nats Park can’t get an All-Star Game because the surrounding area isn’t developed enough. But how does that explain sites like Busch Stadium (their development plan is further behind than ours), Angel Stadium (surrounded by parking lots and freeways), or Citi Field (surrounded by parking lots, a subway line, and a junkyard)?

A: Great question.  Maybe Bud Selig hasn’t seen all the development going on.  Or maybe Ted Lerner just don’t want to get on his knees and beg for it before the omnipowerful commissioner.  I do think its kind of ridiculous that baseball has chosen to return to parks that have previously hosted before giving a game to every new park.    Boswell doesn’t really answer.

Q: How good has Gio been over the past two months?

A: Before his 6 shutout/11k outing last weekend Gio Gonzalez had won 4 straight starts.  The worst of them was a 6 2/3 3 run performance that the team won easily anyway.  Maybe he’s pitching to score (ooh, don’t say that too loudly, the sabre nerds get all pissed).  Yeah he’s pitching great.  Boswell agrees.

Q: Should Krol start working later in games?

A: I’m still not entirely convinced Ian Krol can be more than a loogy.  Every time i’ve seen him, he’s been a one-pitch/one-trick guy.  I’ve literally never seen him throw his off-speed stuff for strikes.  Luckily the deception and velocity on his fastball are good enough to let him ride to a very good season statistically so far.  I’d stick with what we’re doing now; using him and Fernando Abad as situational relievers and leaving the hard work for Clippard and Soriano.  Drew Storen?  Now that’s another story.  Boswell says give him more work.

Q: I’ve seen a recent increase in the criticism of Davey Johnson’s managerial decisions. I can’t believe fans are blaming him for where the Nats currently stand. I put the blame on the players. It’s execution that’s at fault. Right? What else could/should Davey do that he hasn’t already tried?

A: Stop using poor relievers.  Stop pulling effective starters after 90 pitches.  Stop batting Span 1st and drop him to 8th where he belongs.  That’s what I’d do.  Boswell shared some ancedotes.

Q: I was so in favor of the Span acquisition, now it just looks horrible. Do you think he can get back to the .392 On Base Percentage he has in 2009 or is he really a .317 OBP guy? Will this team ever solve CF and lead off?

A: Just had this discussion with someone over email.  He does look horrible at the plate.  But he plays a great center field!  Rizzo just had to have his center fielder; well now you have him, and the guy he displaced (Mores) has about the same OBP this year as Span.  To go along with 200 points of slugging.  So there’s that.  You say “well Morse has been injured?”  I say sure … he got injured in Seattle.  No reason to assume the same thing would have happened here.  We gave up Morse’s power in the middle of the order and moved a perfectly capable defender (Harper) off center to acquire Span and have him drag down the top of the order.  Can’t do anything about it now (or until 2015 frankly): I say bat him 8th until he proves he deserves to return to the top.   Boswell points out that Span’s OBP is only 1% better than league average.

Q: Should we keep Soriano in the closer role?

A: Pretty much; $11M a year and he’ll be a sullen clubhouse cancer if he’s not closing.   He’s being paid way too much money to flip, even to teams that covet closers.  Well, maybe we can talk to Boston; they seem to be idiots when it comes to paying for closers (as noted in this space).   Boswell also mentions Boston but points out how battle-tested Soriano is, implying he has value.  I’m clearly on the record in my opinion about closers and paying big money for them, disagreed with the acquisition and disagree with Boswell here; if we could trade him, you do it.

Q: Is Jayson Werth immature and/or a hypocrite?

A: You’d have to read the whole question (which clearly implies the opinion of the asker), but there’s some vitriol in there.  I can’t think of any incidents that make me ever put Jayson Werth in the same maturity category as Nyjer Morgan.  I think the questioner is off-base here.  Boswell predictably defends Werth.  I will say this: go look at Werth’s hitting stats this year; he’s been very, very good.

 

Ladson’s inbox 1/22/13

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Does Boras run the Nats? The national narrative certainly seems to think so. Photo Ezra Shaw/Getty images via espn.com

I love a diversion.  Bill Ladson’s inbox is always a diversion.  Here’s 1/22/13′s edition.

Q: Why do the Nationals need another closer in Rafael Soriano?

A: My posted opinion about the deal from 1/15/13.  Did they “need” another closer?  Probably not.  But, innings sent to Rafael Soriano cascades downwards and means that innings that would be given to lesser relievers will now be pitched by Clippard and Storen (assuming one of them isn’t moved of course), and overall the bullpen is improved.  I wonder if Ted Lerner didn’t pull a George Steinbrenner/Dan Snyder-esque move and force a player signing as a reaction to a singular event (aka Storen’s NLDS game 5 meltdown).  Its possible I suppose.  If so, you hate to see moves like this, because it undermines the GM and leads to poorly constructed rosters.  Ladson belives this is a reactionary move to the NLDS bullpen meltdown in total, not just Storen’s misfortunes.

Q: It seems like Washington takes all of Scott Boras’ clients and puts them on its roster.

A: I hate this Urban Myth that now pervades anyone’s analysis every time the Nats sign a Scott Boras client.  Check the proof: MLBtraderumors keeps a player agent database and guess what?  The Nats don’t even have the most clients of Boras.   The Nats have 7 Boras clients but Boston has 8.  Plus, three of the 7 Boras clients the Nats have were no-brainer 1st round draft picks (Harper, Strasburg and Rendon, and you could even argue a 4th such Boras pick in Goodwin that the team would have taken at that point in the draft irrespective of his representation) that the team was likely going to draft and sign no matter who represented them.  The fact is this: the Nats have become a premier FA destination, Boras represents a lot of good players on the FA, and the Nats have hired some of his players.  When Boston or Texas hires a Boras client, you don’t suddenly hear people sarcastically asking, “Does Boras run the Red Sox?” now do you?  I think its great that Rizzo and Boras have a good working relationship, because other teams/GMs do not, and it affects the quality of their teams as a result.  Ladson defends my point as well, saying similar things to what I’ve pointed out.

Q: Does the Nationals’ front office regret not making Edwin Jackson a qualifying offer? It seems he would have signed elsewhere and the Nats would have received a compensation pick that would help the farm system.

A: Great Question!  One I asked in this space myself on 11/5/12.  I honestly think the team believed that Edwin Jackson, who had a history of signing one year deals, would have taken the contract.  Either that or there was a hand-shake deal in place stating that the team wouldn’t extend the offer.  I don’t truly believe the latter part of this, because (as others have pointed out) it’d be illegal as per the latest CBA.  Either way, I thought it was a mistake at the time and the Nats indeed missed the opportunity to gain an extra pick.  Ladson believes point #1; he thinks the team was afraid that Jackson would take the deal.

Q: If there was one thing that could hold the Nationals back from winning the World Series this year, what would it be?

A: I’ll give you two things that could prevent the team from winning.  1) Injuries in our Rotation and 2) bad luck.  We’re very thin in terms of starters and a season-ending injury to one of our big names would be a bad impediment.  And, the playoffs are crap-shoots; 83 win teams (St. Louis in 2006) can get hot and win it all while 116 win teams (Seattle in 2001) get beat easily before ever getting to the World Series.   That being said, even a starter injury probably wouldn’t be fatal to this team’s chances of making the playoffs; the Mets and Marlins are moving backwards, the Braves seem to be treading water, and the Phillies are getting older by the day.  The division is there for the taking even without winning 98 games again.  Ladson says injuries.

Q: Is it true that the Nationals are interested in Kyle Lohse and plan to put Ross Detwiler in the bullpen?

A: Man, I hope not.  I like Kyle Lohse but there’s a reason he’s still on the FA market despite a TON of teams needing pitching help (and it isn’t just because of the lost draft pick).  He’s really not THAT good.  He had (easily) his best season last year, the definition of a contract year if there ever was one.  Career 98 ERA+.  I think he’s a good fit for a team that needs a 3rd starter, but the Nats aren’t that team.  I made my arguments for keeping Ross Detwiler in the rotation on 1/16/13, when rumors swirled about the team looking at Javier Vazquez.  Who would you rather roll the dice with?  A young, up and coming power lefty or a soft-tossing righty who’ll be 34 next year?  I think buying another $12M/year starter and pushing Detwiler to the bullpen just for the reason of “needing another lefty” in the bullpen is arbitrary and would be a waste of Detwiler’s promising 2012.  Ladson agrees, saying that Davey Johnson likes Detwiler in the rotation.

Q: Would Mark DeRosa be a viable managerial candidate for the Nationals in 2014?

A: Random question.  What makes you think Mark DeRosa won’t still be playing in 2014?  Plus, what ties does he have to this organization that would make you think that the Nats think he’s the heir apparent?  I mean, if we’re talking about former players who have put in the time with this organization, look no further than Matt LeCroy, who played for the team and has been managing in our minor league system for years.  Personally, I think the team will go with a “celebrity manager” when the time comes.  Ladson expresses some surprise at the question as well.

Q: After he was acquired from the Athletics for Michael Morse, where does A.J. Cole fall on the Nationals’ list of prospects?

A: I’d say he’s probably 3rd in line, after Rendon and Goodwin.  That’s about where he was when he was still in the system, and despite his rough 2012 in the California league he’s still very promising.  Ladson says 3rd, as does mlb.com’s rankings for the team.

Q: What did you think of what the Nationals received for Morse? Could they have gotten more — a Major League lefty reliever in addition to a starting prospect? Is the problem that Morse only had a total of two good seasons?

A: I think the Nats got what they could for Morse, frankly.  I would have liked to have seen a MLB lefty and a starting pitcher prospect in the lower-to mid minors.  Lots of people were using the Josh Willingham trade as a comp; both players are similar (both are good offense, no defense type guys in the last year of an affordable contract).  Willingham netted us a mlb reliever and a high-minors OF prospect.  However Morse’s defensive inabilities preceed him reputationally, and many scouts perceive his 2011 as a one-off instead of a ceiling of potential.  Ladson says they made a great deal.

Ask Boswell 1/3/12 edition

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The Fielder-to-the-Nats rumors just won't die. Photo unknown via baltimoresportsreport.com

Happy New Year!  Here’s Tom Boswell‘s weekly Monday chat done today Tuesday 1/3/12. With the Redskins season mercifully over, I’d expect a bunch of questions related to post mortem-ing the team, but there’s also been a flurry of baseball moves.

Of the baseball questions he took, here’s how I’d have answered them.  As always, questions are edited for clarity and I write my own answer prior to reading his.

Q: Hey Bos, I don’t think the Nationals should sign him for top dollar. I don’t even think they should sign him for the right price and years. BUT, I think the Nats would be foolish not to CONSIDER signing him for the right price and years.

A: That’s crazy; for the right price and years, Prince Fielder is one of the best 10 hitters in the game.  This team needs offense, not more pitching.  It needs a big bopper in the middle of the order (ala Adam Dunn) and lineup protection for Zimmerman and Werth.  Its no coincidence that Zimmerman’s two best offensive seasons were with Dunn protecting him in the 4-hole, nor that our best offensive season in years came in 2009 with our 3-4-5 hitters all successful.  Now; do I want Fielder for 8-10 years?  No; nor does anyone else apparently.  Boswell intimates that the (cheap) Lerners are choosing between Fielder and Zimmerman.  He just can’t get off his ridiculous column of last week.

Q: What are your thoughts on the Gio Gonzalez trade? It seems like it was a pretty high cost to give up both Cole and Peacock.

A: I’ve posted my thoughts in this same space.  Short version: I like the trade for who we got based on our prospects not entirely fulfilling their promise.  Boswell says the trade should work for both sides but also talks about how difficult it was to get approval for the trade and the symbolism involved.

Q: So, are the Nats in on Fielder or not? Did Boras and Fielder meet with Rizzo and the Lerners in DC? What about a long term, Matt Moore type deal for Zimmermann (Jordan)? Who penciled in at CF?

A: So many questions.  My guesses: Nats are in on Fielder since the years may be dropping.  Boras definitely met with Rizzo/Lerners.  Its pre-mature to sign Zimmermann to a Moore deal (that deal may still backfire for Tampa; he’s only thrown a few MLB innings), and Mike Cameron is your opening day CFer.   Boswell doesn’t answer any of these questions, but gives out a great link at jdland.com pertaining to the removal of the eye-sore gravel factory!

Q: Why go for Gonzalez and not go for Fielder? You’re either all-in or not.

A: A fair question; I think the team looked at its 2012 rotation and saw weakness at the back end, as well as some innings limitations throughout, and thought it needed a guy who they could count on for innings.  Initially it was Buerhle but they got out bid, and lucky for them they ended up with a better player.  The prospects we gave up were significant … but then again, there’s a lot of people who say “there’s no such thing as a pitching prospect.”  Meaning, they’re high risk, high reward.  We traded 3 guys who may never amount to anything for a guy in Gonzalez who we KNOW what he is, right now. Boswell does some “big body” slugger analysis and seems to be talking himself into Fielder.

Q: Are the Nats really crazy (my opinion) enough to bring Bryce Harper up before May and risk losing him a year early to free agency? Granted a center field of Roger Bernadina and Mike Cameron or a similar right-handed batter is less than compelling, but what’s six weeks or so in the grand scheme of things? Basing so much of their strategy on Werth being the centerfielder for the season or more (not that he isn’t capable, a gamer, and all that) also seems high risk. What are the smart moves here?

A: Well put question.  I agree; 6 weeks over the course of 7 years is nothing, especially since it saves the team millions and millions by keeping Harper in the minors.  I’m ok starting the season with Cameron in center, Werth in right and Harper in AA.  Likewise, I’m also ok starting with Werth in center, a FA to be named in right, with an eye towards Harper in July.  Boswell agrees, but can’t help himself and does a ton of WAR analysis on young players.

Q: For those of us who read your stuff regularly and respect what you have to say, you owe us an explanation. What happened between your chat on December 19 and your column published less than 48 hours later that caused you to so radically change your view from “Rizzo has the authority to make to make deals” to “the cheapo Lerners just don’t get it.” And please don’t insult the intelligence of your readers by trying to say the two positions were totally consistent.

A: Wow.  Demanding a complete mea culpa from this ridiculous column (see my reaction to it).  Lets see what he says: Boswell says the facts changed between his chat and his column and then the deal.

Q: With the issues of the other NL east teams (some of which are pretty arguable in the question), does Fielder make the Nats a contender for the next 3 years?

A: Undoubtedly yes.  Mark Zuckerman did a nice little WAR analysis, showing how, without any more moves, the team could very well be a 90-91 win team in 2012.   With Fielder, we’d be closer to a 96 win team most likely.  Boswell agrees w/ the question, saying though that he thought the team wouldn’t contend til 2013.

Q:Who is the Nats CF in 2013?

A: Who possibly knows.  Upton will be a FA.  So will Michael Bourn.  Harper could (should?) be playing CF; he’s athletic enough and it would greatly enhance his value.  Werth can man RF for the time being and then we can find a bopper to play LF if Morse moves to 1b.  Or we buy Fielder, Morse stays in LF for a while and you’re set.  Boswell says Werth only goes to CF if Harper comes up… but I think it should be the reverse frankly.


Final word: there was a fantastic piece of analysis phrased in the form of a question, where a chatter did a good piece of investigative work and discovered that Oakland’s foul grounds perhaps costs Gonzalez 6-13 runs over the course of his career, or a run every 15th start or so.  Further proof in my mind that Oakland’s park effects are overstated.  Its a must read.  About 60% down in the chat.

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 12/31/11 edition

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Its Hall of Fame ballot time. Let the Jack Morris arguments start-up again. Photo John Iacono via si.com

This is your semi-weekly/periodic wrap-up of Nats and other baseball news that caught my eye.  With the approaching Hall of Fame nonsense, er I mean news cycle approaching, I’ll throw in a HoFame section.

Nationals In General

  • Transcribed from a radio interview by Tim Dierkes, here’s Mike Rizzo on CF and 1B.  This is the first time I’ve seen Rizzo mention NEXT year’s FA class in terms of looking for talent and it makes you wonder if we don’t already have our entire primary starting 15 set (8 out-field players, 5 starters and setup/closer) for 2012.   I can live with Jayson Werth in CF, since it opens up lots of FA possibilities in RF.  In fact, I smell a separate post coming…
  • Former Nat Lastings Milledge is going to Japan to try to resurrect his baseball career.
  • Scouting-specific SeedlingsToStars.com site looks at Anthony Rendon.
  • The USA Today does an in-depth, position-by-position overview of the team and where it stands.
  • Another Tom Boswell article that I disagree with; he thinks Prince Fielder isn’t “right” for the Nats.   I’m sorry; but Fielder is a run creating machine (he created 35 more runs last year than Michael Morse, by way of comparison, which roughly equates with his 5.2 Wins Above replacement value).  Yes we have LaRoche who is plus defense, but is he going to come back to 2010′s form or is he going to be a lost cause again?  Meanwhile, Fielder looks set to take a shorter term deal and re-try his hand at the FA market when he hits 30.  Wouldn’t you sign him for 3yrs $70M?  You put Fielder at 1B, keep Morse in Left, groom Bryce Harper to play center and keep Werth in right.   For the next 3 years.  How difficult is that?  Boswell talks about where to put Rendon; well; you put him wherever you have a need.  Put him at 2nd and move Espinosa to short.  Or you trade someone to free up room.  This team’s problem isn’t the need for a lead-off slap hitter; we need a big run producer in the middle of the order.  Someone to replace what Adam Dunn gave us for two years.
  • Ryan Tatusko posts his 2011 recap of his minor league season plus his time in the Venezuelan Winter League.  I wish more players were as blogger-friendly as Tatusko.

Hall of Fame Specific

  • A pro Edgar Martinez take with the important quote, “There is a position called DH…”  I have changed my own stance on this issue in recent years, especially when considering relief pitchers as hall of fame worthy.  If you argue that a closer and his 60-70 innings is somehow more valuable to a team than a designated hitter’s 650 at bats, then I’d have to disagree.  On my hypothetical ballot, Martinez is in.
  • Excellent review of active MLB players under HoFame consideration by Fangraph’s Dave Cameron.   Also, the comments discussion brings up a number of other players.  He uses primarily career WAR to determine the player’s value, which I’m somewhat hesitant about (in most cases WAR is an accumulator stat, as a mediocre player who stayed very healthy will have a higher WAR than an excellent but shorter-lived career).
  • This article really got to me, to the point where I commented on both the original post by Jay Jaffe at Baseball Prospectus and the discussion at TangoTiger‘s InsideTheBook.com blog.  Jaffe’s hall of fame measuring system (called JAWS) somehow has determined that Brad Radke, the middling pitcher for the Twins who had basically one standout season in his career, was a BETTER player career-wise than Jack Morris.  How would any sane baseball observer possibly come to this conclusion?  This is where the modern blogger’s over-reliance on statistics really gets to me.  I have not read into why this system ranks Radke so high while ranking Morris so low but suspect it is due to a reliance on the same calculations that go into the ERA+ statistic (of which Radke’s career ERA+ of113  is better than Nolan Ryan‘s career era of 112).

Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • Oakland continues to dismantle itself: Boston trades OF prospect Josh Reddick and two other players to Oakland for closer Andrew Bailey and outfielder Ryan Sweeney.  This is after Boston acquired Mark Melancon earlier in the off-season; they now have completely remade the back side of their rotation.  Clearly the team is moving Daniel Bard to the rotation, having just traded for his replacement.   Reddick was clearly seen as surplus to requirements, despite putting together a decent 2011 season, but you have to wonder if the team is going to be satisfied with Sweeney starting in RF.
  • Keith Law makes a good point during his analysis of the Bailey move, saying that adding Bailey is a far better move than paying Jonathan Papelbon $50M.  I agree completely and think that anyone who pays $10M+ per year for a guy who throws 70 innings and who only really has about 50% “high leverage” plate appearances (see last year’s splits for Mariano Rivera and Papelbon to see that 57% of Rivera’s plate appearances were in “high” leverage situations as a high, while Papelbon was at 47%) is just wasting money.  Find a hard thrower in your organization (say, like Drew Storen for the Nats), install him as the closer as a rookie, then ride him til free agency and then cut him loose and start over.  Relievers are fungible talents, they come and go, mostly are failed starters since they don’t need the full repertoire of pitches to be successful, and are cheaper to come by.
  • (hat tip to ck of the Nats Enquirer): The Baltimore Sun reports that Scott Boras and Prince Fielder were in the Baltimore/DC area to meet with an owner not named Peter Angelos.  More links on the topic from Federal Baseball.  Gee, I wonder who it could be?  Why would those two fly HERE and not directly to the city of the owner in question, unless the owner of the team in question was either a) the Nationals, or b) an owner of a MLB team who lives in this area but owns a team based elsewhere, or c) an owner of another team just happened to be in DC for some odd reason (odd because Congress is out of session, which would seem to eliminate most any possibly lobbying reason).  Don’t get me wrong; I think Adam LaRoche can contribute in 2012 and it seems ludicrous to think he can’t at least get close to his 2010 numbers, but Fielder is a 5+ WAR player who probably makes us the favorite for the NL wild card if we sign him, right now.

General Baseball News

  • Wow, two LOOGY articles in the same day.  Bill James answered a question about the evolution of the LOOGY and posted this link describing its birth (apparently by Tony LaRussa in the 1991 season).  I also never knew that the term “LOOGY” was coined by none other than Rob Neyer.  And TangoTiger points to some of the same research.  Mid 30s lefties everywhere have LaRussa to thank for their extended careers.
  • Could you imagine this happening in today’s game?  The first intentional pitch would have resulted in ejections.  Certainly modern umpires would not let a pitcher throw pitch after pitch at an opposing batter.  Clearly these umpires let this game get out of hand.
  • Will MLB step in?  USAToday’s Seth Livingston thinks that the Oakland payroll dumping trades this off-season may get the attention of the front office.  Hard to see why; according to Cot’s the Athletics are only signed up for around $17M of guaranteed contracts in 2012 right now, before a slew of arbitration cases.  They non-tendered 3 of their 10 arbitration cases but kept a couple of their more expensive guys (Cot’s thinks they had 14 arbitration-eligible players; I havn’t cross-referenced outrights and DFAs but know they had 10 arb tender decisions).  Of those they did tender, they have since traded away Sweeney, Gonzalez, Bailey, Breslow and Cahill.  Geeze.  Baseball-Reference thinks they’ll get to $50M in payroll; I wonder if they’ll get to $35m frankly.  And, its looking more and more like this could be something like a 50-win team.  Things could get ugly in the Bay area in 2012.
  • This would be a loss for us prospect hounds: Keith Law is reportedly interviewing for a front-office position with the Houston Astros.  Law takes a very specific, opinionated viewpoint towards player development, drawing from his experiences in the Toronto organization (which itself during his time took a rather college-heavy approach to the draft which ultimately wasn’t as successful as the team wanted, ultimately contributing to the end of JP Ricciardi‘s reign.
  • An interesting exercise; USA Today builds an unbeatable MLB team for the median MLB payroll.  Honestly though, I’m not sure just how challenging this exercise is.  If you gave me $86M (the median payroll they used) you should be able to put together TWO such teams.  There’s enough pre-arbitration and arbitration-controlled talent in the league to be able to do the same task for something approaching a $20M payroll.  A future blog post?  :-)
  • Follow-up on Alex Rodriguez‘s experimental Germany treatment; this op-ed piece from Jeff Passan on the blurry line between PEDs and legitimate surgical procedures.  The article has a very in-depth description of the A-Rod procedure and raises the question as to what defines a Performance Enhancing Drug?  I have had similar discussions; why are Steroids “bad” but Cortisone “good” in terms of usage?  What do Cortisone shots do?  They enable a player to play through pain that otherwise may keep him out.  Uh … isn’t that the definition of a “performance enhancing” substance??  Steroid’s aren’t illegal; they’re just controlled.  But so is cortisone; you can’t just inject yourself with the stuff without a doctor’s order.  Passan takes things one step further, comparing the healing effects of HGH with these new treatments that A-Rod and Bartolo Colon got and makes a very good point; the WADA uses 3 categories to define a doping drug and everything we’ve described here can be argued to fit those criteria (except that only HGH and Steroids have been determined to be “bad” by the powers that be).  There’s something inconsistent here.

Collegiate/Prospect News

  • Seedling to the Star’s scouting report on Braves phenom prospect Julio Teheran.  Teheran’s stock has slipped somewhat in the past two years, especially given the inevitable comparisons to fellow pitching prospect phenom Matt Moore.  While Moore’s 2011 MLB debut was nothing short of amazing (including his 7 innings of shutout ball in the playoffs), Teheran posted a 5.03 ERA in about 20 MLB innings throughout 2011.  It was bad enough to probably rule Teheran out of the 2012 rotation plans and send him back to repeat AAA.  But if he can put things together, he’ll join an arsenal of young arms in Atlanta that seems set to be their next wave of starters in the ilk of John Smoltz and Tom Glavine.


General News; other

  • Baseball meets modern America: Joe Maddon and the rising Latino population in his home town of Hazelton, PA, as written by Joe Posnanski.
  • 67-56?  I’ve never seen a football game with such a ridiculous scoring line.


Reaction to Tom Boswell’s accusatory column

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Here’s Tom Boswell‘s latest column about the Nats.  The more I read it, the more irritated I get with his stance.  Maybe it was a column designed to get a reaction of of people.  If so maybe I’m just a sucker for reacting (and writing this blog post).  So be it; in a town with so little Nats press coverage, those stories that do get printed have that much more import to the general public.  And I don’t want the general public feeding off of a crap story like this to get their impression about the team, where it stands, and where its going.

As far as I can tell, Boswell is taking the tired stance that “The Lerner’s are cheap” since they havn’t accomplished what they’ve laid out to accomplish this off-season (namely, obtain a Center Fielder and a Starting Pitcher).

Here’s the gist of one quote that I can’t get over:

If you want to know why it’s almost Christmas and the Nats haven’t signed Mark Buehrle, Roy Oswalt or Edwin Jackson, why they haven’t bid on Yu Darvish or Yoenis Cespedes, why they haven’t been within a zillion miles of C.J. Wilson, Jose Reyes or Prince Fielder, and especially why they haven’t made a prospects-for-a-star trade such as the Reds for ace Mat Latos, it’s probably because ownership is tensing up, tightening the leash again.

Wow.  Well there’s an awful lot of assumptions in here.  Player by player:

  1. Mark Buehrle: the team DID make an offer to him, and came in 2nd.  The Marlins, who suddenly are spending money without abandon, guaranteed a 4th year and a TON of money to sign him.  Was Buehrle the answer?  Was he worth 4 years at $14.5M in average annual value (AAV) per year?  To say nothing of the fact that Miami heavily back loaded the contract so that Buehrle will be getting an asounding $19M in 2016, when he’s scheduled to be a soft-tossing lefty turning 36 years old.  I’m sorry; its a bad contract and you cannot fault the Nats for not wanting to extend that much money on a guy who is no better than a #3 starter in this league.
  2. Roy Oswalt: last time I checked, Oswalt hasn’t signed.  You can’t MAKE a player sign a contract!  Why is it the Nats fault that Oswalt likely is on vacation with his family and hasn’t signed a 2012 contract yet?   In fact he specifically said that he was waiting for the markets for both Wilson and Buehrle to clear before he even considered what he was going to do.
  3. Edwin Jackson: Boras client.  Boras clients wait til the last minute to “create the market.”  Nobody’s heard a peep out of Boras’ camp yet.  Again, how is it the Nat’s fault that Jackson hasn’t signed yet??
  4. Yu Darvish: $51M in posting fee and then reportedly wants a $75M contract.  Darvish isn’t Cliff Lee or CC Sabathia, and those are the only two pitchers with contracts in the 5yr/$120M range.  Is Darvish the same as Lee or Sabathia?  Not even close.  He’s a good prospect who has yet to throw a MLB pitch and who may or may not ever live up to his billing.  No other Japanese pitcher has lived up to his billing, so the track record isn’t rosy.  There’s taking risks, and then there’s taking ridiculous, franchise altering risks that set you back for 5 years.  I will not fault the team for staying out of the Darvish negotiations.
  5. Yoenis Cespedes hasn’t even established DR residency, so he’s not even an official free agent yet!!  How can you fault the team for not pursuing him if he’s not even eligible to sign??    Not to mention the fact that he’s a complete raw talent that needs probably a year and a half of minor league time and couldn’t help us in 2012?
  6. CJ Wilson was a #2 pitcher who laid a massive egg in the playoffs and signed a lucrative deal to play for his home town team.  What makes you think he was even considering coming to Washington?
  7. Jose Reyes was another bad signing by Miami, giving a ton of money to a clubhouse malcontent, injury risk short stop who only produced when it was his contract year.  Why even mention Reyes if he’s not a pitcher or a center fielder, in the context of this article?
  8. Prince Fielder; again, hasn’t signed yet.  Boras client.  Not the Nats fault.  Maybe Rizzo has spent hours and hours on the phone with Boras and we don’t know.  I don’t have a phone tap into the Nats front office, does Boswell?  Lets not criticize moves (or lack of them) until they ACTUALLY OCCUR.
  9. Mat Latos-like deal: well, i’m kinda glad we havn’t made a Latos deal since I thought that deal was incredibly bad for Cincinnati.  They gave up one starter, two close-to-the-majors first rounders AND a 4th decent prospect for a guy who I wouldn’t even say is in the best 50 pitchers in the game.  If Rizzo mades this trade and gave away the kind of talent that Cincinnati did, there’d be a massive uproar.

Lets face it.  The Nats stated needs were always going to be really difficult to fill.  Why?  Because:

  1. there was such a lack of starting pitcher FA depth that those candidates out there were ALWAYS going to get bid up ridiculously.  Its simple economics; lack of supply means a lot of demand.  And, if you’re building a team FOR THE LONG TERM you don’t hamstring yourself trying to chase in the short term.
  2. There’s even fewer legitimate CF targets out there, either in trade or in the FA market.  There’s perhaps 10-12 legitimate CFs in the league who provide plus offense AND plus defense.  You’re not going to just “trade for” one of these guys.

So, any deal to fill either spot isn’t going to happen overnight.

Here’s another quote I take issue with:

When are they going to stop trying to build a suspension bridge with the minimum amount of steel and then, as happened in 2008 and ’09, act shocked if it collapses? After one 80-81 third-place year, have they forgotten the pain?

Who says that they are?  Last time I checked this team hired Rizzo in 2009, then formulated a plan, and the team has in the last two years improved 10 games each year in the win column while building a top-10 farm system.   How can you accuse the team of going off the rails of its own plan just by virtue of the fact that a couple of potential FA targets signed elsewhere in a seller’s market??

Boswell uses phrases in this article such as “All the signs are there,” and “Its probably because…” and “the Nats could end up” and “Its what I suspect is happening.”  EVERY one of those phrases is Boswell conjecture.  He has no idea what’s really going to happen.

Another quote:

Instead, they’ve done nothing except sign washed-up center fielder Mike Cameron, 39, to a minor league deal.

Really?  They’ve done “nothing” except that signing?  So all that work scouting players, negotiating with Buehrle, and talking trades was “nothing.”  To say nothing of the fact that Cameron, while a minor deal, was a necessary one.  This team has NO backup outfielders right now.  Just as they have almost no utility infielders.  So while CF and a SP were the #1 and #1a off-season priorities, there are other holes to fill.

One more hypocritical quote:

In baseball, no pitfall is more common than becoming infatuated with your own young, unproven, inexpensive players. For example, you look at Ross Detwiler, Brad Peacock and Tommy Milone and figure one of them most likely will become a 100-game winner. Sorry, tilt! Not how it works. They’re nice prospects. But odds are that none ever has a 15-win season. Buehrle and Oswalt already have won 161 and 159 games, respectively — and each may win 50 more.

Oh, so we can’t count on Detwiler, Peacock or Milone (total combined 2012 salary: around $1.2M) but WE SHOULD be throwing upwards of $120M on Yu Darvish!?  Because he’s so proven at the major league level?   Why isn’t Darvish “just another nice prospect” as well?  Wouldn’t you rather see if Brad Peacock is just as good a right handed starter as Darvish at 1/100th of the cost?  I would.  Especially considering that for that money saved you could end up with somone as good as Darvish AND the next big FA slugger.  That’s why you develop prospects, and that’s why you let them play.  If instead this is an argument about why we should be getting Oswalt, well see above; Oswalt hasn’t signed yet!

Boswell’s over-riding point seems to be that the Nats need to be spending the anticipated $30M revenue bump they anticipate getting from the new MASN TV contract, now.  That’s fair, certainly. But lets not print such a wildly accusatory article when its DECEMBER and half our possible targets are actually still out there.  The team may actually still be spending that money!  Not to mention the dozens of trade possibilities that nobody’s even considering since, you know, we’re not Mike Rizzo and don’t know what he’s actually considering or talking about with other GMs.  We have no idea what’s going to happen tomorrow.  Tomorrow this team may sign Fielder, Oswalt AND Cespedes and suddenly Rizzo and Lerner are the heros.

Until tomorrow happens though, printing this kind of reactionary crap is just that.  Crap.

Thomas Boswell
Thomas Boswell
Columnist

Nationals have more cash coming in, but refuse to spend it

Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post – After making the Nationals respectable in two seasons, General Manager Mike Rizzo said the team was a player or two away from contention. But it seems ownership has not opened the purse strings to sign any significant players.

The Washington Nationals never really seem to learn. Or, rather, the Lerners don’t. As soon as you think they start to get it, they backslide again.

When are the Nats going to be allowed to be good? When will they get to build a winner with a roster that has a sensible margin of safety, rather than constructing a team that can succeed only in a best-case world?

When are they going to stop trying to build a suspension bridge with the minimum amount of steel and then, as happened in 2008 and ’09, act shocked if it collapses? After one 80-81 third-place year, have they forgotten the pain?

It’s happening again. All the signs are there. The Nats’ baseball people lay out clearly what they want to achieve in the offseason. None of it is terribly difficult. But there is risk and expense. Then, as the offseason unfolds, nothing happens.

Was Jayson Werth just the exception that proves the rule? Even his signing only nudged the Nats’ 2011 payroll over its ’05 level, when the team was an MLB chattel. Is what we’re seeing, again, really the distressing norm?

“We’re busy. We’re trying to be aggressive but broad-minded, we’re working behind the scenes,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said on Wednesday, adding that the Nats were working on “bench options.” Bench options? Pine or oak?

If you want to know why it’s almost Christmas and the Nats haven’t signed Mark Buehrle, Roy Oswalt or Edwin Jackson, why they haven’t bid on Yu Darvish or Yoenis Cespedes, why they haven’t been within a zillion miles of C.J. Wilson, Jose Reyes or Prince Fielder, and especially why they haven’t made a prospects-for-a-star trade such as the Reds for ace Mat Latos, it’s probably because ownership is tensing up, tightening the leash again.

Ask Boswell 12/19/11 edition

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Would Adam Jones solve our CF issues? Photo unknown via blog.prorumors.com

Here’s Tom Boswell‘ weekly Monday chat on 12/19/11.  Of the baseball questions he took, here’s how I’d have answered them.  With a Redskins unexpected win, I’d think this will be heavy on football, but I thought the same about last week as well.  There were a TON of baseball questions.  Maybe the town is tiring of Redskins coverage, now that they’re eliminated from the playoffs.

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

Q:  Have you heard anything about the possibility of Da Meathook (Dmitri Young) returning to the Nats to be a role player and mentor?

A: No chance.  Dmitri Young was a Jim Bowden reclamation project and no matter how that story may play in the “feel good” category, Rizzo has gone to great pains to rid most of this roster of Bowden players.  It is good to see Young losing weight and looking better though.  Boswell says little chance, that Young really is a DH/PH now and we’re in the wrong league.

Q: Should the Nats consider Carlos Beltran?

A: Again, hard to see.  Beltran was decent in 2011, his first healthy season since 2008.  Ironic that it happened in his walk year.  But he’s already been moved out of CF, and was not really that good defensively in RF.  He’ll want a longer term deal … but we have a certain upper-end RF prospect named Harper coming up who would be blocked.  Beltran makes no sense for us.  Boswell says no chance, then opines on the lack of movement out of the Nats front office.

Q: What do you make of the Nats (non) moves?  Are the Lerners still “cheap?”

A: It was always going to be a weak FA market, and with the Marlins suddenly throwing ridiculous money around and outbidding the team for its targets, it does look as if the team isn’t doing much.  The price of #1/#2 starters has just gotten out of control this off-season (see the unbelievable haul that a low-end #1 guy in Mat Latos just got), so I sense the team is re-evaluating.   Boswell says you can’t be “cheap” after signing a guy to $126M contract.

Q: Does Rizzo deserve an F for the off-season so far? Missed out on Buerle and no CF either.

A: Man, people are impatient.  Maybe the team underbid on Buehrle, but they were NEVER going to go 4yrs and $56M dollars on the guy.  I’m sorry; he’s a #3 pitcher, a soft-tossing lefty who never gets hurt.  That’s NOT an ace, that’s not worth $13M a year.  As for CF, there’s no good FAs out there, so it was always going to be a trade.  Last time i checked its only December and the off-season is only half-way done.  I’d rather stand pat than make a panic buy.  Boswell says Rizzo needs to be judged 5 years down the road on his 2011 draft signings.

Q: Have we seen the last off-season addition?

A: I don’t think so, but the likelihood of seeing a “major” acquisition now seems thin.  It is what it is; 2012′s FA crop was weak and everyone got bid up.  Notice how the Yankees and Red Sox didn’t get anyone either, and BOTH those teams desperately need starting pitching.  Boswell takes his third question on the same topic and just says that if the team hits better they’ll be better next year.  duh

Q: Do you think Endy Chavez could be a decent short-term filler for the Nats in centerfield, or maybe resigning Rick Ankiel, who played pretty well turing the final two months of last season?

A: Well, its too late for Chavez, who signed a deal over the weekend with Baltimore.  I wouldn’t be opposed to re-signing Ankiel but ONLY as a 4th outfielder.  Boswell agrees.

Q: Who’s going to spend the most time in center for the Nats this year? 1. Werth, 2.Cespedes, 3. Ankiel (if he returns), 4. Bernadina (ugh) or 5. someone else?

A: I’ll go with Werth first, but say “someone else” if Rizzo makes his desired trade.  Holding out hope for Upton or Bourjos or someone like that.  Boswell exactly writes what I wrote.

Q: If the Nats are able to sign or trade for a CFer and they bring up Bryce Harper during the season, does Adam LaRoche become the odd man out this season?

A: If Nats get a CFer, then yes eventually it will come down to either Morse or LaRoche making way.  As of now, its hard to see Morse leaving, but you never know in this game.  Morse could break a leg and LaRoche could come back 110% in his walk year, and in June we’ll be singing a different tune.  Boswell thinks LaRoche is mr. comeback in 2012 and will “make the team glad they have a club option.”  Wow, that’s a statement.

Q: Should the Nats really wait til NEXT off-season to hit the FA market?

A: Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  The 2013 FA pool is so much better than this years, that it almost doesn’t make sense to compete and over-pay.  As a longer term fan of this team, I would support and argue for such a move.  Play the kids in 2012 and figure out what you have, then go on a spending spree to make a pennant-contender in 2013.  Boswell says this is exactly what Davey Johnson is advocating.

Q: What are the odds that the Nats do right by the fans and sign Zimm to a Tulo type deal before Spring Training? After watching the Pujols intro in LA, if we have to endure a similar scene w/ Ryan I plan on marching to Nats Park and burn my jersey at the main gate.

A: Lots of repeat questions today.  This question was the Question #1 from last week’s boswell Chat.   Short answer; Nats don’t pursue long term deal with Zimmerman til after next season.  Boswell changes his stance from last week and says the team MUST get it done before the 2012 all-star break.  Why?  Still disagree here.

Q: Is the reluctance to sign Fielder just about money? He is clearly an upgrade over LaRoche at the plate and would instantly upgrade the offense.

A: I’d be reluctant for several reasons.  Money (its a lot), wasted money (on LaRoche), his conditioning (abhorrent for an athlete) and his defensive inadequacies.    He does mash though.  Boswell likes Laroche, says Morse is a good 1B as well, and doesn’t advocate spending $200M on one position.

Q: Remember the knock on Mike Rizzo was that he would have trouble with some of the non-baseball aspects of a GM job (i.e. media)? We’re a few years in and while the Nats are greatly improved, I’m skeptical of Rizzo. He seems like he’s playing out of position — strong on scouting, not so much on other stuff. Does it even matter given the ownership?

A: I still think Rizzo was partly responsible for the Riggleman situation, and should have done a better “people management” job than he did.  But otherwise I don’t have an issue with Rizzo’s performance.  The team has completely turned around in just 2 years under his command; what else do you want out of a GM?  3 great drafts, a 20game improvement on the field?  Are we getting spoiled here?   Boswell agrees, and says that the Werth contract still weighs on him.

Q: Thoughts on the Mat Latos trade? Seems the cost of quality SP is especially high this year—whether you’re Roy Oswalt or the ChiSox looking to trade Danks, the Nats are going to have to spend or give up real value to add that piece to their rotation. Any new developments?

A: The Latos deal is shocking; he’s not exactly a Cy Young candidate in my mind; just a very good, young pitcher.  The Reds gave up two developed #1 draft picks (including a very quick to the majors guy in Yonder Alonso), plus an established (albeit injured) Volquez and another guy for Latos.  That’s a really expensive trade.  Latos better work.  How does that affect the Nats?  It probably scares the crap out of them.  Boswell quotes Jim Bowden’s analysis (?!) and says the Padres may have swindled the Reds here.

Q: Would you be interested in Adam Jones if you were the Nats and who would you be willing to give up?

A: Jones is an interesting candidate.  Good bat but not the best in the field.  I didn’t even consider him a trade candidate in my CF analysis piece but maybe he is.  O’s need pitching, so maybe there’s a fit there.  But, the O’s may not have a ready-made replacement for Jones, who is 25 and still under club control for 2 more years.  So he won’t be cheap.  I’d give up a Detwiler or a Milone but not much more.  Boswell agrees with the trade needs, but says Angelos would never trade with Washington on the off-chance that the Nats looked like they “took” him in a deal.

Q: It’s Opening Day 2012 in DC. Sellout crowd, beautiful weather. Perfect day for baseball. Who’s playing CF for the Nats, & who’s hitting leadoff. For that matter, since I’ve asked you to consult your crystal ball, what’s the pitching rotation?

A: Another repeat question.  Your CF is Werth, with a yet-to-be named 1-yr FA playing in RF.  Rotation is Stras-Zimmerman-Lannan-Wang-Detwiler.  Leadoff is (still) Desmond, because the team hasn’t done anything to replace him.   But i’m still holding out hope that the team a) signs Oswalt and b) trades for Upton.  So we’ll see.  Boswell thinks Harper’s making the opening day roster, and Milone is #5 starter.  I wouldn’t be surprised.