Nationals Arm Race

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Nats Franchise FA history; biggest, best, worst deals

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Jayson Werth is certainly our most expensive FA, by a considerable sum. Photo Mitchell Layton/Getty Images NA

The second in a series: The first looked at the Biggest/Best/Worst Trades of the Washington Nationals era and was posted in late March.  Yes, it took me 8 months to return to this series, despite writing most of this post in July.  Here in Part 2, we’ll look at the biggest, best and worst Free Agent signings in the tenures of both Jim Bowden and Mike Rizzo. In the last section we’ll look at Draft picks.

Ground rules for this article:

1. When considering a Free Agent we’ll only consider the FIRST signing in this list.  So, for guys who have signed multiple one-year free agent contracts in a row (guys like Rick Ankiel and Chien-Ming Wang), we’ll only consider them as a single signing.  For others who signed here and then left, only to come back (example: Livan Hernandez) we’ll consider them as separate signings.

2. We are considering extensions given to existing players (since they don’t fit elsewhere).  You can consider an extension just a pre-emptive free agent contract.

3. We’re mostly focusing here on Major League free agents; each year we sign many minor league FAs ahead of camp.  If a Minor League FA signing ends up having a decent impact on the major league team, we’ll note him (good recent example being Laynce Nix).

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

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

The team has made dozens and dozens of signings: I won’t try to go through them all here.  For those interested, here’s my List of Free Agents from over the years (also available on the links section to the right of this blog).  I put up a similar notes file (List of Trades and Trading Partners) from the first post of this series, also available in the list of resources on the right-hand side of the blog.

Jim Bowden Tenure: Nov 2004 – Mar 2009

Bowden’s Biggest Free Agent Signings

  • 2006: Nick Johnson 3yr $16.5M
  • 2007: Austin Kearns 3yr $16.5M
  • 2008: Cristian Guzman 2yr $16M
  • 2009: Adam Dunn 2yr $20M

I wonder sometimes if Bowden doesn’t sit in his ESPN office as he writes his blogs and ask himself what he could have done here had he had more money to spend.  Look at this list; Bowden’s biggest deal in 5 off-seasons was a 2yr/$20M contract for a slugger who really had nowhere else to go that off-season.  Jayson Werth will make more than that annually starting in 2014.

Bowden’s Best Free Agent Signings

  • 2006: Brian Schneider 4yr extension, $2.9M
  • 2007: Ronnie Belliard 1yr ML deal
  • 2007: Dmitri Young 1yr ML deal
  • 2008: Willie Harris 1yr $800K
  • 2009: Adam Dunn 2yr $20M

Bowden’s 2007 off-season was pretty amazing, looking back.  He assembled a team on the backs of Minor League Free Agents galore, one of which (Dmitri Young) ended up being our lone All-Star.  The team went 73-89 and gave 145 of its 162 starts to guys who aren’t even in the league any more (exceptions: Joel Hanrahan‘s 11 starts with 6.00 ERA and late-season call up John Lannan‘s 6 starts as a 22-yr old).  He was the master of the scrap heap and spun a team that should have lost 100 games into a respectable 73 win team.  Too bad that luck ran out in 2008 as the team bottomed out.  But you have to hand it to Bowden for these three 2007 signings; Hanrahan didn’t really pay off for the Nationals, ever, but did enable us to eventually get Sean Burnett, a valuable member of the team’s bullpen these last few years.

All things considered, I’d have to say that Adam Dunn may have been his best FA signing.  Dunn’s bat was mostly wasted during his two years here, considering the unbelievably bad pitching staffs that Bowden assembled.  But the combination of Zimmerman-Dunn-Willingham was a pretty fearsome 3-4-5.  Ironically, NOT re-signing Dunn may also have been one of Rizzo’s best non-moves, considering Dunn’s amazing 2011 collapse and the subsequent rise of Michael Morse (who would have continued to be a bit player if the Nats still had Dunn in LF).

Bowden’s Worst Free Agent Signings

  • 2007: Austin Kearns 3yr $16.5M
  • 2008: Paul Lo Duca 1yr $5M
  • 2008: Rob Mackowiak 1yr $1.5M
  • 2008: Johnny Estrada 1yr $1.25M
  • 2008: Cristian Guzman 2yr extension $16M
  • 2009: Daniel Cabrera 1yr $2.6M

2008 was as bad as 2007 was good for Bowden.  Nearly every move he made back-fired, some spectacularly.  Paul Lo Duca hadn’t been signed for a week when his name showed up prominently in the Mitchell Report; he was released before July.  Rob Mackowiak and Johnny Estrada were just stealing money; its still not clear what Bowden saw in these guys.  I hated the Kearns deal, never understood what Bowden saw in the guy.  Daniel Cabrera was so bad for us it was almost comical, and it was a relief when we DFA’d him after 8 starts.

But the worst FA signing has to the Guzman extension.  He seemed decent enough after coming back from an injury that cost him all of 2005 and most of 2006, but Bowden inexplicably extended him for 2 years for the same amount of money that he had earned the previous four … and almost immediately his production tailed off.   Its not that Guzman was that BAD in 2009 and 2010, its just that he was so vastly overpaid for what he gave the team.  We flipped him for two minor league pitchers, he promptly hit .152 in 15 games for Texas and he was out of the league.

Mike Rizzo Tenure: Mar 2009 – present

Rizzo’s Biggest Free Agent Signings

  • 2010: Ryan Zimmerman 5yr $45M
  • 2011: Jayson Werth 7yr $126M
  • 2012: Ryan Zimmermann 8yrs $100M
  • 2012: Gio Gonzalez 5yr $42M

Its ironic that I had to remove three deals from this list (LaRoche, Jackson, Marquis) that would have qualified for Bowden’s “biggest deal” list.  That’s because the size of these deals are just dwarfing what the team was willing to do under Bowden.  Lots of pundits have (and continue to) criticized the Jayson Werth deal, and it routinely appears on anyone’s list of “Worst Baseball Contracts.”  And his 2011 season confirmed just how bad this may have turned out for Washington.  But a bounceback 2012, which featured Werth putting up a 125 OPS+ despite missing a ton of time with a broken wrist, showing the flexibility of batting lead-off when the team needed him, plus providing the veteran leadership and professionalism that this young team needs certainly would earn back some of that contract value.  In hindsight, I think the team made this deal as a strawman, to send a message to the rest of the league that we were NOT a low-budget, poorly run team, and to pave the path back to respectability in the minds of other professionals out there that Washington can be a destination franchise.

Rizzo’s Best Free Agent Signings

  • 2009: Julian Tavarez 1yr ML
  • 2009: Joe Beimel 1yr $2M
  • 2010: Livan Hernandez 1yr ML 900k
  • 2011: Jerry Hairston 1yr $2M
  • 2010: Matt Capps 1yr $3.5M
  • 2010: Joel Peralta 1yr ML
  • 2011: Todd Coffey 1yr $1.35M
  • 2011: Laynce Nix 1yr ML

In terms of impact-per-dollar, I think the first Livan Hernandez year of his return was probably the best FA signing that Rizzo has done.  Hernandez went 10-12 with a 3.66 ERA and a 110 ERA+ for less than a million dollars on the FA market.  That’s roughly $90k a Win, when most teams are paying more than $1M/win for free agent starting pitching.   However clearly Rizzo’s most shrewd FA deal was the Matt Capps signing.  He took Capps off the scrap heap; he was released by Pittsburgh after a horrid 2009, and his half season of excellent relief for us turned into Wilson Ramos and a minor leaguer (Joe Testa), returned in trade from Minnesota.  I will also mention that the value that minor league signings Julian Tavarez, Joel Peralta, and Laynce Nix gave the team was also fantastic, considering where these players were in their careers prior to joining us.

Rizzo’s Worst Free Agent Signings

  • 2010: Yunesky Maya 4yr $8M
  • 2010: Ivan Rodriguez 2yr $6M
  • 2010: Jason Marquis 2yr $15M
  • 2011: Matt Stairs 1yr ML
  • 2012: Brad Lidge 1yr $1M
  • Chein Ming Wang: all of them.

2010, Rizzo’s first FA class, didn’t turn out very well did it? Yunesky Maya has been a pretty big disappointment, giving the team just one MLB win for an $8M investment.  Ivan Rodriguez just proved to be slightly too old to be worth the starter money he was paid; you could argue that the leadership he provided was worth the money.   And Jason Marquis, bought as a stop-gap for a failed farm system, was god-awful in 2010.  I won’t completely kill Rizzo for the Brad Lidge experiment; it was worth a $1M flier to see if he had anything left in the tank.  Matt Stairs would have been another fine, low-cost experiment except for the fact that the team kept giving him at-bats for weeks/months after it was clear he was washed up.

For me the worst FA signing was related to the money poured down the Chien-Ming Wang rathole for three years running.  The Nats ended up investing $8M total over three years to get 16 starts, 6 wins and a 4.94 ERA.

Rizzo’s Too Early to Tell Free Agent Signings

  • 2011: Jayson Werth 7yr $126M
  • 2012: Ryan Zimmermann 8yrs $100M
  • 2012: Gio Gonzalez 5yr $42M

So far, Werth’s contract is trending as an over-pay, Zimmerman’s as an injury concern, and Gonzalez trending as a complete steal (21 wins for $8.4M AAV in 2012?  That’s a fantastic return for the money).  Pundits have stated that the Nats have “two 9-figure contracts but zero 9-figure players” (I read it at the time of the Zimmerman signing but cannot find the link).  I think that’s slightly unfair to these players, but until Zimmerman can stay healthy enough to produce at his 2009 level, you have to admit that he may be overpaid as well.  Perhaps Zimmerman’s brittle health issues can be alleviated if he makes the move to 1B, where he can continue to play gold glove calibre defense but have less of a tax on his body.  This analysis obviously does not take Zimmerman’s “value” to the franchise into account, which may be unfair when considering this contract (nobody really said Derek Jeter‘s latest contract was a massive overpay considering his service to the Yankees,  his “stature” as the captain and his eventual Hall of Fame induction; for the Yankees to cut him loose would have been a massive public relations gaffe).

Coincidentally, I didn’t view the contracts of guys like LaRoche, Jackson, or Morse as being specifically “good” or “bad.”   I think LaRoche’s one bad/one good season plus Jackson’s MLB average season was just about on-par with expectations for their contracts.  Morse’s 2011 production was pre-contract, so we’ll see how his 2013 goes.

Thoughts?  Any FA signings or extensions out there that stick in your minds that you thought should be mentioned?

Is there any Spring Training pitching competition for the Nats?

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Is it too early to guess who starts the Home Opener? My guess is newly acquired Gonzalez. Photo Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images via cbssports.com

We’re getting reports of players getting to Viera early, and we’ve had a slew of off-season moves.  Beat reporters are starting to talk about the 25-man roster (here’s WT’s Amanda Comak‘s take).  The Nats pretty much took care of every off-season need the had:

  • Top-end Starting Pitcher: Gonzalez
  • Backup Outfielder: Ankiel and Cameron (though, apparently Cameron is retiring instead of competing for a spot…)
  • Lower-end Starting Pitchers: Re-signed Wang, signed Jackson
  • Utility Infielders to replace Cora, Bixler, Hairston: signed DeRosa, claimed Rivera
  • Bullpen arm depth (to replace Coffey, Kimball): signed Lidge, traded for Perry

The notable exception to the off-season shopping list, of course, is a lack of a proven center fielder.  Perhaps one could quibble that a shortstop should have been on that list; it seems the team is giving another year to the Ian Desmond experiment, hoping he builds on the strong end of 2011 (he hit .294 in Aug and Sep of 2011).  The backup infielders and backup outfielders listed here, to go along with a slew of minor league/invite to spring training signings, should be where most of the competition for roster slots occurs.

The big question for me is; Is there any real competition for pitching spots this spring?

Starters

We all know the narrative; we now have 6 starters with multi-million dollar commitments for 5 spots, and someone has to give.  The Edwin Jackson signing has pretty much made John Lannan the odd-man out of this rotation.  Mike Rizzo likes power arms, and has gone to great lengths to acquire guys who throw more than 89-90 to replace what he inherited in 2009.   Wang and Jackson can’t be moved until June 15th without his consent by virtue of the FA signing rules (as discussed in this article here), Gonzalez just signed a long-term deal, and Strasburg/Zimmerman are our future.  To me, there’s no mystery who’s going to be in the rotation, and frankly articles that say there’s going to be a competition for the 5th starter between Wang, Lannan, Detwiler and Gorzelanny are not really paying attention to the contract realities of the situation.  Barring injury, your opening day rotation will be (in this order):

  • Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Jackson and Wang.

Should someone go down with injury, Lannan steps in to take the 4th or 5th rotation spot (depending on whether Davey Johnson likes to mix up LHSP/RHSP in any fashion).  Otherwise, Lannan is trade-bait and should be moved during the spring.  There are plenty of teams that could be trade partners if we wanted to focus on a center fielder (see this article I did in November talking about the CF market for the whole of baseball for some thoughts).  Barring a trade, it seems inconceivable but Lannan does still have a minor league option left and could be sent down, but a $5M pitcher toiling in Syracuse (to go along with $2M bust Yuniesky Maya) could make the Nats AAA team the most expensive minor league rotation in the league.  (We won’t say “most expensive ever,” since the Yankees kept Kei Igawa and his $46M commitment in the minors for most of his contract).

Relievers

A recent post on option status at Nationalsprospects.com (the option status of every player is now kept on the Big Board, which is good for me since I did this work last year and its a nightmare to keep track of), as well as a question asked of Bill Ladson leads to this conclusion: there literally is no question right now who your 7 bullpen members will be.  Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett, Henry Rodriguez, Tom Gorzelanny and Ross Detwiler ALL are out of options.  Brad Lidge can refuse a demotion based on his service time and Drew Storen is your closer.  There’s your 2012 bullpen; not much room for anyone else.

The only wiggle room may be with someone like Detwiler: he’s clearly a starter and seems set to be the first Spot starter to fill in for an injury (assuming we trade Lannan of course).  Does the team keep him in the bullpen, where he basically fills the exact same role as Gorzelanny (ex-left handed starter long man/spot starter in a pinch)?  Or does the team cash him in to fill a hole?

This configuration leaves newly acquired Ryan Perry, Ryan Mattheus and Atahualpa Severino in AAA.  Cole Kimball starts on the 60-day DL (and, frankly, probably stays there; the odds of him coming back from that shoulder injury are low).  Lastly Craig Stammen joins Maya in AAA as deep-need emergency starters.

So, here’s your bullpen:

  • Closer: Storen
  • Setup: Clippard
  • 7th inning guys: Lidge, Rodriguez
  • Loogy: Burnett
  • Long Men: Gorzelanny and Detwiler

What’s nice about this bullpen is that, despite my naming players to roles, there’s lots of flexibility.  Rodriguez on a good day has 8th or even 9th inning stuff.  Lidge is a former closer and clearly can do the setup or closing roles.  Clippard excels in the 8th inning role and doesn’t seem to aspire to replace Storen.  Burnett is far more than just a one-out guy, but can serve that role in a pinch.  Lastly both Gorzelanny and Detwiler can be anything from a one-out lefty to a 3-4 inning mop-up guy, given the day.  I like the way this sets up and I think we go into 2012 with a better bullpen than in 2011 (when, if you recall, we wasted a spot on Brian Broderick, had the failure of Doug Slaten in the loogy role and watched Chad Gaudin pitch horribly).

Who starts the Home opener?

Quick guess: based on the way the schedule plays out it looks like our home opener will be thrown by our #2 starter Gonzalez.  We play two 3-game series away to Chicago and New York, then open at home with what should be the #2 rotation spot up.  There’s only one off-day in between, meaning the starters most likely stay on normal rest.

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 1/31/12 edition

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Will the team extend Zimmerman, now that Fielder is off the table? Photo AP via tbd.com

This is your semi-weekly/periodic wrap-up of Nats and other baseball news that caught my eye.  I try to publish this about weekly or if it gets up to about 1500 words, so that it’s not to voluminous.

Nationals In General

  • Nats continue to talk about a contract extension with Ryan Zimmerman, according to this and other sources.  I’m not arguing against re-signing him; in fact he’ll be at a discount by virtue of missing so much time last season and being relatively injury-ridden as of late.  The question is whether Zimmerman’s camp would accept anything less than what Troy Tulowitzki got (10/$157M) or Ryan Braun (13/$150M between current and extension contracts) signed.  Here’s a case against re-signing him (though to be fair, the same blog posted a “case-for” earlier).  Lastly on the topic; this fangraphs.com article looking for a good comparable for Zimmerman based on his production and value (the answer?  Matt Kemp‘s 8yr/$160M deal).
  • Nats miss out on Prince Fielder, as he signs a 9yr, $214M deal with Detroit.  Quick hit thoughts: Thank god there’s no more rumors about Fielder to the Nats.  I wanted him and his bat, but not at that price and for that length.  The team dodges an albatross of a contract in a few years time.  Lastly; how in the world is Detroit going to manage that payroll?  Its not as if that city is an up-and-coming, wealthy place.  Makes you wonder just how well-off these baseball owners really are.
  • I guess FA rumors are just meant to be with this team; suddenly we’re in the Roy Oswalt mix.  Now, I’ve said in the past that I like this guy and think he’d be a great fit for the team … but that was before we traded the farm for Gio Gonzalez and offered arbitration to John Lannan.  I’ll ask a simple question; if we sign Oswalt, who makes way?  Last time i checked this team has 5 starters, each signed for 2012 and each with a multi-million dollar commitment.  So this rumor doesn’t make any sense any longer.  Oswalt makes a ton more sense for a team like Texas or Boston, as is noted in the many columns on the subject posted recently.
  • LOVE the Brad Lidge acquisition.  The team needed a middle relief replacement for Todd Coffey and just got one, and for almost no money ($1M base with incentives).  He’s struggled with his health, but when he has been healthy he’s been lights out for the last two seasons (not to mention the rest of his career).  He can close in a pinch, he can help offload high-leverage innings off of Tyler Clippard.  And he can mentor the bullpen guys.  Fantastic signing by Mike Rizzo.
  • Nats will play Georgetown U in an exhibition for the 2nd year running.  Knowing how weak Georgetown’s program is, I wonder just how badly the scoreline will look (last year’s score was 15-0).
  • MLB daily dish is attempting to replicate the Big Board and throw in contract details at this site here.  We’ll see how uptodate this site is kept during the turbulent season of player movement in the minors.

Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • Jamie Moyer signs a minor league deal with Colorado.   He sits at 267 wins for his career, so the chances of him getting to 300 are relatively slim, but his chances of making Colorado’s rotation aren’t too bad.  Roto World lists their depth chart right now at Chacin, Hammel, Pomeranz, White and Moscoso.  Lots of youth there; White and Pomeranz are both 22-23 and were both relatively awful last  year.  De La Rosa is coming off injury but may not be ready for opening day.  He very well could feature for this team in 2012.

 

General Baseball News

  • Yes I know these “top 5 lists” are mostly national columnists fulfilling writing requirements during the slow January baseball news period, but if the Nats are listed, i’ll post it.  David Schoenfield lists his “Top 5 rotations” in the game and he goes Philly, Angels, Texas, New York and Arizona.  I gotta say; i think he’s vastly overrating the Yankees rotation and I think he’s overrating the Arizona crew as well.  Arizona’s pitchers were more or less awful in last year’s NLDS; not sure I’d count on them in a pinch.  I’d easily put Tampa Bay and San Francisco’s rotations above these two teams, not to mention the possibility of Atlanta’s group gelling and helping that team win 95 games.
  • Marlins apparently ready to sign up for Showtime’s the Franchise, which featured San Francisco last year and was Showtime’s answer to HBO’s Hard Knocks football weekly documentary.  The show was great in 2011, showing the human side of many of the Giants players and was a must-watch in my house.  Of course, showing Miami could be an interesting endeavor; most of the baseball industry speaks badly about Miami’s ownership and senior management group and these documentary shows usually go to great lengths to humanize and gain empathy for all the participants.
  • Jose Bautista claims to have been “random drug tested” 16 times in the past two years, despite any single player’s chances of being randomly tested only being about 3 times in two years (according to the number of tests MLB is authorized to run versus the number of pro players).  As is noted in the link, it looks to me like MLB is taking no more chances with its big home-run hitters.

 

Collegiate/Prospect News

  • First College top 25 posted by Baseball America (more discussion on each team here), and there’s no surprise who’s #1: Florida by virtue of its absolutely stacked lineup (two first team and two 2nd team pre-season all americans by this publication).  No surprise Stanford is #2 behind their presumptive 2012 #1 overall pick Mark Appel, but surprised that Texas and Texas A&M are so low.  I think by the time the CWS rolls around we’ll be seeing these teams, plus South Carolina back in the mix behind their returning friday and saturday starters.
  • The great Kevin Goldstein unveils his top 20 Nationals prospects on Baseball Prospectus.  We all know who went the other way in the Gio Gonzalez trade; what’s more interesting is who now resides in places 16-20.  Clearly he has to struggle to find “prospects” worthy of ranking there, based on his inclusion of Jason Martinson, Matt Skole, Sandy Leon, and David Freitas.  Otherwise the top 12 or so reads as expected.
  • MLB’s Jonathan Mayo announces their top 100 for the whole game.  Bryce Harper #2 behind Matt Moore; no argument there.  Surprised Mike Trout didn’t get more credit.  Most scouting pundits consider the big 4 (to include Atlanta’s Julio Teheran) as almost interchangeable.   The rest of the top 10 are well known; I’d never heard of #7 Jurickson Profar, a shortstop in Texas’ organization who is really young but really promising.  Other thoughts: surprised to see Danny Hultzen so high; I know he was dominant in college but is he slated to be that dominant in the pros?  Other Nats/ex-Nats on the list: Anthony Rendon at #27, Brad Peacock at #75, Alex Meyer at #83, Sammy Solis at #86, AJ Cole at #88.  No mention of Matthew Purke, but no surprise; he needs to have a healthy, strong season to regain his former 1-1 status.
  • My alma-mater JMU is #1 pre-season CAA baseball.

General News; other

  • Those of you who know me may know that i’m also a pretty passionate Soccer fan.  So here’s a fantastic look at the history of soccer through an “All-time fantasy soccer player draft.”   The first round was rather surprising; I know Lionel Messi is a great player now, but he’s got a bit of work before he supplants Pele, Maradona, Ronaldo or even Zidane in my book.  Of course, he’s already a 3-time world player of the year at the tender age of 24, so by the time he retires he may very well have 3 more awards.  Still, the selections (especially from the non-US based journalists who have a better sense of soccer’s history) are a great read.
  • Speaking of soccer, here’s a Grantland article on the conventional wisdom among most American fans that Soccer is boring.  I’ve tired of trying to argue this point with people who have never actually SEEN a live soccer game.  I have a good friend, born and bred in Pittsburgh and who is a die hard Steeler’s fan (in other words, the complete anti-thesis of a typical soccer fan) who I drug to a US Men’s national team game at RFK about 15 years ago.  He fell in love and now follows the european game with similar gusto as I.  I think American sports fans are too impatient, and have been even before the rise of cell-phones, the red-zone channel and highlight shows, to appreciate the beauty of Soccer.  They devolve the game, without really having any personal experience watching a big match or seeing one in person, into the common phrase, “how exciting can a 1-0 game be?”  I’d say to that; imagine a professional football game where there was no field goals allowed, the end zone was only 24 feet wide and there was a player positioned at that end zone at all times whose sole job it was to stop break away runs and passes.  Its simply that much tougher to score.  So most soccer fans know that the excitement of the game is the tactics, the breakdown of individual skill of the attacker versus the individual skill of the goalkeeper, and the near miss.


Ladson’s inbox: 1/4/12 edition

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Will Steve Lombardozzi get a shot at sticking on the 25-man roster? Photo via Syracuse Chiefs

Another edition of mlb.com beat reporter Bill Ladson‘s inbox, dated 1/4/12.  As always, I write my response before reading his, and sometimes edit questions for clarity.

Q: How many wins do you expect the Nationals to have this year? Will a full season of pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez translate into a spot in the playoffs?

A: Tough question; If you believe the statistical measurement Wins Above Replacement (WAR), then Mark Zuckerman made a very convincing argument that this team is already 11.7 wins better than 2011 without adding anyone else.  However; even best laid plans don’t pan out.  There are always regressions, injuries and setbacks that you can count on.  So to say that the Nats will win 90 games is probably incredibly optimistic.  However; if this team is really an 85 win team, then they’re going to be in the Wild Card race and may be buyers instead of sellers, and could get pushed over the top.  I’ll say, right now pre Prince Fielder nonsense this is an 88 win team.  Ladson says 85 wins but Fielder would turn them into a competitor for the NL East title.

Q: How do you think the bullpen is shaping up? Will Se an Burnett stay or should we be looking for another lefty? Will Tyler Clippard earn closing opportunities in 2012?

A: Our 2011 bullpen was the strength of the team and it comes back mostly in tact.  We have yet to replace Todd Coffey, who was serviceable in 2011, but we look to be stronger in the “long man/spot starter” role.  Kimball is hurt but Mattheus was pretty good in 2011.   Burnett is signed through 2012 so he’s not going anywhere; do we need another lefty if we have both Gorzelanny and Detwiler projected in the bullpen?  I’m sure either one could prepare on a rotating basis for a one-out role.  Clippard is the set-up guy; he and Storen seem set in their roles and that’s great, since I think Clippard is a better pitcher and is getting the more high-leverage appearances.  Not much to add from Ladson.

Q: What is the situation with Rick Ankiel? Will he be coming back to the Nationals?

A: Ankiel‘s not coming back; if the team wanted a plus defender who couldn’t hit, they can find him much cheaper.  Kinda like Mike Cameron.  Its too bad; he was so good in CF but so bad at the plate.  Ladson thinks the team could still be interested in Ankiel as a 4th outfielder.

Q: There is no doubt the Gonzalez deal helps the Nationals right now. But do you think they should have dealt their prospects for a center fielder?

A: It seems like Mike Rizzo cashed in his prospects on a deal he couldn’t turn down, taking advantage of Billy Beane‘s firesale in Oakland to get a pretty good pitcher.  Did he *need* another starter?  Maybe, maybe not.  Does he *need* a center fielder?   Yeah he does.  He also needs a lead-off hitter.  And a better short-stop.  But you can’t solve all your problems at once.  I like Gonzalez; like what we got and think it was a good return on the prospects we gave up.  I’m ok living with Werth for a year in CF and buying someone on the open market next off-season.  Ladson agrees.

Q: Are there any potential trade suitors for Jesus Flores? He shouldn’t be the Nationals’ backup catcher.

A: Well, the second we traded Derek Norris, Flores became that much more important to this team.  Yes he’s our backup, and yes we think he could start elsewhere, so perhaps at some point (if we feel confident that Ramos look strong) we can flip Flores and use Solano for backup purposes at the MLB level.  But suddenly we may be looking at needing to develop more catcher depth.  Ladson is right in saying that Flores is a project, and that we’d be selling low by trading him now considering his injury past.

Q: With the bench still something of a question mark, will Stephen Lombardozzi be given a shot to crack the roster? If he plays well, what chance is there that he will start playing every day?

A: I suppose; I wasn’t incredibly impressed with Lombardozzi‘s Sept 2011 call-up.  I thought he looked beyond over-matched at the plate.  I’d like to see if he could actually be a good middle infielder and not top-out as a Brian Bixler utility infielder.  The team needs a 2nd utility infielder after DeRosa and Lombardozzi could fit the bill.  Start?  Hmm; Desmond isn’t going to be allowed to hit .220 forever, so yes its conceivable that at some point if Desmond doesn’t start hitting he’ll get replaced in the field, and it’d be great if the team had someone like Lombardozzi to step up.  Ladson says its a long-shot.

Q: Why is right-hander Yuniesky Maya still with the Nationals?

A: Two words: guaranteed contract.  Clearly he’s not the guy that the team thought he was; we have two more years for him to toil in AAA and serve as a spot starter/emergency backup.  Its too bad; he has the arsenal and the moxie but not the stuff to survive.  Ladson calls him a disappointment.  Clearly.

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 12/13/11 edition

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Fare the well Mr Balester; we'll miss your moustache's twitter account. Photo Nats official Al Bello/Getty Images North America via zimbio.com

I have a new rule: when this post hits 1500 words, I’ll publish it no matter what the date.

Nationals In General

  • Re-signing Ryan Zimmerman thoughts, since it keeps coming up thanks to the Pujols signing, Jim Bowden comments and Natmosphere bloggers bringing it up.  After an injury-plagued year (and really, the 3rd such injury-marred year he’s had out of 6 full pro seasons, including 2 surgeries and one torn labrum he just rehabbed but which cost him 1/3 of a season), the team rightfully should be concerned about giving him a Troy Tulowitzki like deal, guaranteeing money for 10 years.  But on the flip side, ironically after such an injury year his value is down and the team probably can save some money by signing him longer term.  The new CBA takes away a lot of the draft pick compensation we would expect by letting him go to Free Agency, and trading him in the middle of 2013, while we’re probably in the middle of a pennant race, would be a non-starter.
  • Speaking of Zimmerman, everyone’s favorite ex-Nats GM Jim Bowden posts some potential Hanley Ramirez trade ideas, you know, since he’s a petulant superstar already prone to being a clubhouse cancer and now in the position of having to move to 3B, probably without being told ahead of time that the team was nearing a deal with Jose Reyes.  His #1 option: Ramirez for Zimmerman straight up.  Bowden is convinced the Nats, by virtue of not having addressed Zimmerman’s contract status, are going to let him walk at the end of 2013.  Its not the first time he’s brought it up.  Hey Jim; stop trying to MAKE the news and just report on it.
  • Some cool blog posts from Nats minor leaguer Ryan Tatusko, on the differences between learning in Pro ball versus College, and another posting just before it on the “art of throwing a ball.”
  • Trade announced Friday 12/9/11: Collin Balester to the Tigers for rhp Ryan Perry.  A good move for both sides: the Nats were likely to have to waive Balester at the end of spring training by virtue of his lack of options, so we get something for nothing.  Perry has an option left and, while his 2011 numbers were pretty bad, he does have one more  option remaining so the team can use spring training as a tryout of sorts.  Perry could be a natural replacement for Todd Coffey, and is a good move since clearly Balester’s value to the team has ceased and we still need a couple of bullpen arms.  Great analysis of the trade here from Masn’s new beat reporter Pete Kerzel.  Great human-interest angle here from Amanda Comak: Balester’s wife is from Detroit so the family is ecstatic that he’s playing so close now.
  • Byron Kerr, whose writing I normally like, wrote a laughably pro-team article about some of our marginal relievers.  The quotes about Doug Slaten are especially ridiculous, quoting our new bench coach Randy Knorr as saying that Slaten is “one of the three best left-handed relievers in the National League.”   That is so ridiculous that I had to comment on the article and call Kerr’s reporting into question.
  • Henry Rodriguez‘s change-up was listed among the “more interesting” pitches to talk about in baseball by Sam Miller from Baseball Prospectus.  Also thrown in there is Roy Halladay‘s cutter, Mariano Rivera‘s cutter, Javier Lopez‘s drop-down side-arm fastball and Brad Lidge‘s slider.  All of these pitches are analyzed in various statistical measures.
  • The Non-tender deadline came and went, and the team acted as I predicted here.  They protected all their arbitration-eligible guys outside of Doug Slaten.  Here’s a link to MLBtraderumors non-tender tracker for all 30 teams, and there are definitely some interesting names out there now for the Nats, who definitely have some FA needs.  Peter Moylan, Ryan Theriot, Joe Saunders, Andy Sonnanstine and a few others.  BJ Upton was tendered, meaning we’re going to have to give up some prospects to get him.  Mind you, some of these non-tenders are part of pre-arranged deals to come back to the club, but some are definitely the team cutting ties.

Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • Let the bidding begin!  Yu Darvish officially posts, and as a side-effect makes his soon-to-be-ex-wife a multi-millionare.  Good for him (and her).  Mike Rizzo and the Nationals have definitely scouted the guy and are interested; how high will be willing to go on the posting fee to “win” the negotiations?  Another thought: why wouldn’t we just blow out the posting fee, guarantee the win, then play uber-hardball with Darvish on a contract to make the entire package reasonable?  If we can’t agree on terms, he goes back to Japan (where he clearly has nothing left to prove) but nobody else gets him?  Sounds a little disingenuous but its a strategy.  In any case, we’ll know the posting winner by Wednesday.
  • How do the Tampa Bay Rays keep doing this?  Phenom pitcher Matt Moore signed a 5yr/$14M contract that has club options that could max it out at 8yrs/$40M and buys out the first two free agency years.  I wonder if, 4 years from now, we’ll be looking at this contract and absolutely shaking our heads in disbelief at how underpaid he is.  Kinda like how we look at Evan Longoria‘s contract and say the same thing.
  • A good point about the Angels’ Pujols signing: they now have way too many guys who play first base and outfield.  Morales, Trumbo, and Abreu seem to be first basemen only, and they still have the outfield quartet of Wells, Hunter, Bourjos and uber prospect Mike Trout.   They fixed some catcher depth issues, they don’t need starting pitching.  I wonder what the Nats could do to take some of these hitters off their hands?
  • Arizona lands one of the Oakland starters Trevor Cahill in trade.  Arizona bolsters their division-winning rotation, now looking at Kennedy, Hudson, Cahill, Saunders and Collmenter.  Not bad.  Most pundits are calling the trade a steal for Arizona, who gave up a 1st rounder but only two other mediocre prospects.
  • Turns out the Nats were off by a significant amount on Mark Buehrle.  We offered 3yrs/$39M versus the 4yrs/$58M he got from Miami.  No wonder he took their deal.  Too bad; he would have been a good addition.  Not the addition I would have gone after, but still a solid #3 starter for the next few years.
  • All those people who write “Pujols should have stayed”  or “Pujols has tarnished his legacy” articles should probably zip it.  As is depicted here, the Angels clearly showed they wanted Albert for the long term, including the personal services contract.  Not to mention their offer beat St. Louis’ by $40M.   You just cannot leave $40M on the table.  A few million over a number of years, sure.  $40M?  No way.  Oh, and for everyone who says “well, Stan Musial stayed with St. Louis his whole career,” I will counter with this: “Musial had a reserve clause, Pujols does not.  If icons from the pre 1970s had free agency as an option to earn more money and move to better situations, you’d be a fool to think that they wouldn’t have used that system.”
  • Would you take a flier on AJ Burnett?  The Yankees apparently are willing to eat $8M of the $33M owed to him over the next two years.  If he moved from the AL East to the NL East, he’d probably see a full point reduction in his ERA.  But a quick look at his career stats lends me to believe that he’s barely above mediocre but paid like a super-star.  Burnett’s career ERA+ is now 105.  Our own John Lannan‘s?  103.

General Baseball News

  • Since I’m a bay-area native, I’m always interested in reading news blips about San Francisco and Oakland teams.  Here’s Andrew Clem with a quick blog post with some interesting links to potential new stadium sites and designs.  The big sticking point, obviously, is that the Giants claim San Jose as their territory.  And its hard to argue with them; clearly the “bay area” of San Francisco is exactly the suburbs of San Francisco.  Even though its roughly the same geographical distance from DC to Baltimore as it is from San Francisco to San Jose, there are three major highways to ease the traffic flow (as opposed to one between the two east coast cities) and people routinely make their way up and down the peninsula to commute.  Thus, its going to be a very difficult sell for Oakland to move south, even if they stay across the bay in the Fremont area.  I don’t know the solution; just that the A’s now reside in the same division as the 2-time defending AL champs AND the Angels with their newly minted $170M payroll.  Ouch.
  • Unbelievable: the reigning NL MVP Ryan Braun reportedly has tested positive for a synthetic testosterone and faces a 50-game ban.  What an unexpected piece of news; one of the “new generation” of sluggers who wasn’t tainted at all by the shenanigans of the last 90s now has thrown us back into the same PED conversation we’ve been having for years.  That being said, there is some hope in reading the linked article.  Apparently he asked for a second test, and he was clean in the second test.  There are “false positive” tests all the time.  The case is under appeal but has leaked out (unfortunately for the slugger, who now faces the stigma of the positive test even if its a false positive).
  • Boston announces that Daniel Bard will be moved to the starting rotation in 2012.  Excellent move by Boston; if Bard is just a decent starter, he’s still far more valuable than as a reliever.  Of course, this more or less guts the back end of their bullpen, so look for Boston to sign some of the reliever/closer talent still available on the FA market.

General News; other

  • Not that you may care about the BCS and college football, but here’s a fantastic analysis of the BCS formulas and the flaws contained within them.  It isn’t a bombshell article, but does show some troubling facts about a system that has built in flaws, with coaches voting on items that have a direct effect on their own teams’ successes.


Nationals off-season todo-list: 2011 edition

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Signing Wang took care of one of our most important off-season tasks. Photo via Washington Nationals

(I’ve had this in draft form for weeks; might as well publish it now that the FA period has started).

Before we get too deep into the off-season, I thought it’d be good to do a level set of what exactly this team is in the market for.  Last year’s to-do list included a Center Fielder (Ankiel), a Right Fielder (Werth), a First baseman (LaRoche), a couple of Utility Infielders (Cora, Hairston), some veteran Starting Pitching (Gorzelanny), and some bullpen help (Coffey, Ramirez).

Based on how the team has played down the stretch and watching some players rise and fade in September, here’s what I think the team’s off-season to-do list may look like.

First, lets start with what we know we do NOT need.  Here’s players that seemingly have spots already locked up for 2012:

  • C: With Pudge leaving, Ramos and Flores seem set to be the 2 catchers for a while here.  Flores is healthy but clearly inferior to Ramos right now both defensively and at the plate.  We just added Solano and Norris for catcher cover in case someone gets hurt.
  • 1B: LaRoche should be back healthy, and Morse has shown he clearly can play first if not, though that would lead to a hole in left field.
  • 2B: Should be ably filled by Espinosa, or Lombardozzi if we move Espinosa to short (see next).
  • SS: Desmond‘s one of the lowest qualifying OPS hitters in the league, but the team management loves him.  I’m guessing he’s given one more season.  Rizzo has already stated he’s not after Jose Reyes, and the Marlins seem set to over-pay him.
  • 3B: Zimmerman isn’t going anywhere, despite some blogger’s statements that he should be moved.
  • LF: We’re assuming that Morse is the starter in left.
  • RF: As with Zimmerman, Werth is set to play right field well into the next presidency.
  • SPs: Strasburg, Zimmermann, and Lannan seem locks to be in the rotation.  We re-signed Wang for the #4 rotation spot.  There’s some talk here and there about non-tendering Lannan; he’s a solid mid-rotation guy who is still under arbitration control who is underrated by most people outside of this area, and I believe it would be a mistake to cut him loose at this stage.
  • Setup/Closer: Clippard and Storen managed to survive silly trade rumors this season and should be the 8th/9th inning tandem for at least 2012.
  • Loogy: Burnett: He struggled at times in 2011. He’s also under contract for 2012 with guaranteed money.  So he’s going to be back.  He’s more than a loogy though, so we’ll look for the team to replace Slaten.
  • Middle Relief: Henry Rodriguez and Ryan Mattheus look to return in their middle relief roles.  Kimball will be on the 60-day DL until he’s proven to have regained his fastball.

That’s actually a pretty large chunk of our planned 25-man roster (17 of the 25 are already accounted for, for the most part).

So, what do we need?  In rough priority order:

  • Center Field: again, we go into an off season with questions about center field.  Ankiel had a decent September but overall his 2011 offense was poorl.  He does fit Rizzo’s defensive mind, but is he the answer?  Perhaps this is the off-season Rizzo finally gets Upton or Span or someone of that ilk.  Or perhaps we re-sign Ankiel to a holding deal, waiting for wunder-kid Bryce Harper to come up and take over.  Or, perhaps the lineups that Johnson has been fielding in September featuring Morse in LF, Werth in CF and Nix in RF are telling enough that we can “get by” without investing in a center fielder for 2012.  (I’ve got a very large CF-only post coming up, with lots more detail).
  • Right-handed middle relief: we may have to go digging for one-year FA Todd Coffey types again, because Kimball is on the DL til probably July and Carr was flat out released in September.  That’s it in terms of 40-man roster options for right handed relievers.  An internal option could be using Peacock as a 7th inning guy in 2012; he’s shown he can bring it 95-96 and perhaps even higher in short term situations.  The team doesn’t seem to trust either Balester or Stammen, meaning we need a one-year guy.
  • Utility guys: we used Hairston, Cora, and Bixler as backup infielders.  Hairston did a great job starting at 3B in Zimmerman’s absence; the other two were awful.  So we need a couple replacements.  Lombardozzi could fit in, but he’d be better served with a full season in AAA.  Bixler was waived and claimed, so we’re almost guaranteed to go hunting on the FA pile.
  • Backup Outfielder: Bernadina seems to have run out of chances with this team.  Corey Brown has been god-awful in AAA this year and was assigned off of our 40-man to the AAA team.  Nix and Gomes are FAs.  We can’t possibly offer Gomes arbitration and guarantee him a $2M salary, and Nix can’t hit lefties. In any case, we look like we may need a backup outfielder from somewhere.  Nix has been getting starts in RF (as mentioned above) down the stretch and certainly has enough power to feature 6th in a lineup.  Perhaps he’s worth another year.  The team was in preliminary talks on a 2012 contract with him but nothing official has been signed.
  • Loogy: we could use a one-out guy, assuming that we need a 2nd lefty to Burnett.  I’m guessing that Severino is not the answer, based on how little use he got in September.  Or maybe he is.  Certainly I’d prefer giving him a shot versus scraping the bottom of the reliever barrel again and finding another guy who performs as badly as Slaten.
  • Starting Pitcher: We re-signed our own FA Wang, and continue to be in the mix for more of a marquee name like Buehrle and Oswalt.  Do we need another starter?  Signing either of these two vets will probably indicate team flexibility to trade some of our younger starting pitching cache of Detwiler, Peacock, and Milone, but also may end up blocking a guy who could be just as good for a fraction of the price.
  • Long man: I’m guessing that we assign a long man from one of  Gorzelanny (most likely), Detwiler (somewhat likely), Balester and Stammen (less likely).  The team seems down on both the latter guys, who are probably destined for DFA when they run out of options.

So, thats a somewhat big todo list.  Some spots are clearly fill-able from within, but we’re still looking at a few acquisitions.

Nats FA Decisions…

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Is Wang the only FA we resign? Photo courtesy of Nats320 blog/Jeff Saffelle

With the announcement that all 8 of our eligible free agents filed as soon as the FA filing period opened (as reported by Adam Kilgore), its time to talk about what the team could or should do with each of the 8 players.

Here’s a quick table showing our 8 free agents, their latest contract and their pay for 2011.

Player Current or 2011 Contract 2011 Salary
Ankiel, Rick 1yr/$1.5M $1,500,000
Coffey, Todd 1yr/$1.35M $1,350,000
Cora, Alex 1yr/$900k $900,000
Gomes, Jonny 2yr/$2.55M (10-11) $1,750,000
Hernandez, Livan 1yr/$850K $850,000
Nix, Laynce 1yr/$700k $700,000
Rodriguez, Ivan 2 yr/$6M (10-11) $3,000,000
Wang, Chien-Ming 1 yr/$1M plus bonuses $1,000,000

So, what should the team do with these guys?  In order (alphabetically):

  • Rick Ankiel could be an interesting decision for this team.  His 2011 line was bad (.239/.296/.363), and he really wasn’t any better down the stretch than he was at the beginning of the season.  Ankiel tempts and entices you with periodic flashes of power but generally had really poor batting stats.  On the plus side, he’s a lefty in a Right-handed heavy lineup.  He also plays a fantastic Center Field (11.6 uzr/150 on the year in center) and has one of the best outfield arms in the game.  All this screams 4th outfielder at best, and Ankiel may struggle to match his $1.5M salary in 2012.  The Nats may view him as a decent 4th outfielder option, but may not be willing to guarantee him money.  I’m guessing he goes elsewhere looking for a starting job or a guaranteed major league contract.
  • Todd Coffey, by the end of the season, seemed to be a reliable right handed option out of the bullpen for this team.  He had a 3.62 era on the season and a decent whip of 1.2.  His splits on the year show a different story; he was lights out in May, god-awful in June and July before regaining his consistency in the end of the season.  For me, he’s a replace-able asset that should be available in spades on the FA market or from within the farm system.  I’m guessing the team rolls the dice on another one of the middle-relief right handers on the market.  Had Cole Kimball not gone down with injury, the question would be completely moot for 2012.
  • Alex Cora probably will find work on a minor league free agent deal somewhere for 2012; he has that “backup middle infielder” skill set that gives him a good shot of finding work in 2012 despite his horrible batting line in 2011 (a 51 ops+ hitting .224 in 156 ABs for the Nats).  For the Nats, we saw that up and coming prospect Steve Lombardozzi can play both 2nd and SS in a backup role in September and I’m guessing we use a combination of him and Brian Bixler off the bench in 2012 as cheaper alternatives to the FAs Cora and Jerry Hairston that the team used in 2011.
  • Jonny Gomes was acquired mid-season in a questionable trade that sent blocked 1B prospect Bill Rhinehart and blogger favorite Christopher Manno to the Reds.  At first glance the trade seemed to be about acquiring the compensation pick that Gomes would fetch (who at the time had type-B FA status).  After listening to management interviews though the trade seemed to be more about Johnson replacing the impotent Matt Stairs as his primary pinch hitter on the bench.  It became clear that Gomes’ skills not only were not worth the 1.75M contract he was on, but that he was barely worth a 25-man roster spot.  Gomes hit .204 for the team in the 2nd half, mostly as a right-handed power option off the bench and lost his type-B status by years end.  Despite clearly being a good teammate and free-spirit in the clubhouse, Gomes seems destined for a non-guaranteed contract elsewhere for 2012.
  • Livan Hernandez is hitting the FA market despite being our opening day starter and perhaps the most iconic player of this team’s tenure in Washington (with apologies to Ryan Zimmerman, of course).  Hernandez just finished a very up-and-down season, culminating with his being “shut-down” in September (ostensibly to allow rookies to play, but it may have also been somewhat of a mercy-killing after a slew of abysmal performances).  One need only look at his 2011 splits to see the problem with Livan: when he won he was very, very good (8-0, 1.26era in his 8 victories).  But when he lost he gave the offensively-meager team almost no chance to win (a 6.05 ERA in 13 losses) and was nearly as bad in his 8 no-decisions (5.93 era).  I’m sorry, but when you make 29 starts and have an era in the 6’s for 21 of them, you no longer merit a starting spot.  The team will swallow its heart and allow Livan to leave in free agency.  Just a couple months ago I was advocating to keep him, thinking he’d be a great backup plan and a good influence on the pitching corps.  Those points both may be true, but his declining performance coupled with his extraordinarily long warm-up routine pretty much precludes effective use out of the bullpen (where guys need to be warm in 10-15 pitches).  I’ll bet Livan finds a 5th starter job somewhere though; perhaps a sentimental return to Florida, a stop-gap one-year contract for the pitching-poor Mets, or elsewhere.
  • Laynce Nix was hot in Spring Training, and equally as hot in April and May, but tailed off badly and ended the year with a relatively MLB-average 103 ops+ and a slash line of .250/.299/.451.  He did have 16 homers in just 351 plate appearances, nearly a 30homer pace for a full season.  Of course, he’d never get a full season of At bats since his lefty-righty splits are so bad (.263 versus .111 … he was 3 for 27 against lefties this year with 4 walks).  What should the team do?  Nix could be a nice part of a platoon in right field with a good right-handed hitter like Chris Marrero … except we’re pretty sure that we’d take a severe dip in defense if we did such a thing.  Of course, nobody told the Cardinals they couldn’t put Lance Berkman in the outfield, and he promptly put in a -14.4 uzr/150 rating in right while bashing his way to a .547 slugging percentage and a 166 ops+.   Not that Nix is capable of Berkman’s level of productivity, but I still think he could have value as a 4th out-fielder/Davey Johnson prototypical power guy off the bench.  Not to mention a lefty on a team whose primary power guys (Werth, Zimmerman and Morse) are all righty.  I predict he resigns on a one year deal.
  • Ivan Rodriguez really wants to get to 3,000 hits, but man he looked old this year.  He only managed 27 hits in 124 at bats while ceding the starting job to the more capable Wilson Ramos.  Clearly Pudge isn’t coming back to the Nats; the better question is whether there’s a backup job for him anywhere in the league.  Probably so, but he’ll struggle to ever reach 3,000.
  • Chien-Ming Wang, as we already know, is negotiating to stay with the team.  And despite this blogger’s opinion that the team erred in setting up Wang’s 2011 contract, it seems like he probably is coming back.  I’m guessing he signs a moderate 2-year deal with somewhere in the range of $6-8M in guaranteed money.

So, in the end I’m guessing we re-sign one (and perhaps two) of our 8 free agents.  This means we’ll be somewhat active on the FA market looking to back-fill some of the positions these guys filled this year.   But not totally so; players coming back from injury and players rising from the minor league ranks are expected to take the place of players that we had to buy on the FA market in the past.  That’s great news for the team in general; lowered payroll and further proof that our farm system is developing real talent.

Consider re-upping for OF cover
Let him go. Replaceable commodity.
Non-type A/B FA: let him walk
Decline arbitration b/c he’d likely take it. Missed type-B status
Non-type A/B FA: let him walk despite his offer to be a pullpen guy
Consider re-signing for 2012
Non-type A/B FA: let him walk
Re-sign to a 2-year deal; seems healthy, get some ROI

My DC-IBWA Ballot…

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Nationals News Network blogger Dave Nichols runs a few polls beginning and end of season, hitting up all the Nats bloggers out there for opinions.  Here’s the 2011 post-season results.

Here’s how I answered his questions, with some thoughts added in.

  • Nats MVP: Morse, Clippard and Zimmerman.  For me clearly Morse was this team’s most valuable player this year, going from 4th outfielder to 30 homer clean up hitter in short order.  Clippard was your all-star but Morse was the more deserving candidate.
  • Starter of the Year: Zimmermann, Lannan, Marquis.  I think Zimmermann’s come-back was fantastic, and he was clearly your best arm in the rotation (at least until September).  Lannan continued his boring-if-effective career, and everyone seems to forget that Marquis was pretty good the first couple of months.
  • Reliever of the Year: Clippard, Storen, Coffey (though it pained me to say it).  Finding the first 2 was easy; finding a third reliever candidate who wasn’t mostly awful this season was really tough.  Burnett struggled mightily but turned it around.  Henry Rodriguez has been lights out in September, but September only.  Slaten was awful all year.  Broderick and Gaudin couldn’t exit quickly enough.  Perhaps Mattheus was more deserving of the year-long award.
  • All around Hitter of the year: Zimmerman, Morse, Hairston.  Probably could have switched the first two here as well, based on Morse’s excellent BA with power.  Hairston’s contributions over the course of the season were pretty understated, but he was a solid member of this team.
  • Slugger of the year: Morse, Espinosa, Nix.  Morse is obvious.  Espinosa showed some pretty rare power for a 2nd baseman.  And Nix’s homer/ab ratio puts him on nearly a 30-homer pace for a full season.  Can’t beat that.
  • Defensive player of the year: Zimmerman, Espinosa, (amazingly) Desmond: pretty obvious candidates.  However UZR/150 was not kind to this team generally this year.   Espinosa is a plus defender at 2nd and Desmond made huge strides.  Probably in retrospect should have included Ankiel, who has the best UZR of any near-regular in the lineup.
  • Comeback player of the year: Zimmermann, Wang, Flores: 3 pretty obvious candidates.  We’ll save Strasburg for the 2012 version.
  • Humanitarian of the year: Zimmerman, Desmond, Storen.  I’m only even aware of Zimmerman as someone who has a charity or a foundation.  Desmond was the team’s Clemente nominee, so he must be doing something right.

Lastly:

  • Minor League player of the year: Peacock, Lombardozzi, Moore.

The phrasing of this question threw me off.  The minor league “player of the year” is DIFFERENT from “player most destined for big league success,” which was the explanatory text Nichols put into the survey.  Clearly Peacock and Lombardozzi were our minor league players of the year and were so awarded by the team, but I’m not sure either is really a top-ceiling MLB prospect.   Our three best prospects most destined for success in the majors (<2011 draft version) are probably Harper, Cole, and either Solis or Ray.  Throw in the 2011 draft and that list probably becomes Rendon, Harper, Purke.

Additional Questions: here’s a few add-on survey questions.

1. Players we’re parting ways with after 2011: Livan, Coffey, Balester, Slaten, Pudge, Cora, Gomes, Elvin Ramirez.  This implies we’re going to keep Gorzelanny, Wang, Bixler, Nix, Ankiel and Bernadina.  I’m guessing Bernadina passes through waivers and stays.  Gorzelanny becomes a long reliever.  Wang resigns, Nix stays on as the 4th outfielder and Ankiel sticks in CF.
2. Does Zimmerman sign an extension this coming off season?  No; he’ll sign it AFTER the 2012 season.
3. Biggest Surprise: Morse clearly.
4. Biggest Disappointment: LaRoche.  Maya 2nd.  Lots of people will say Werth, but in the end we all kinda knew the contract was a mistake and he’s struggle to live up to it.  LaRoche was supposed to at least contribute, and he did nearly none of that.
5. Favorite pro beat writer: Zuckerman
6. Favorite Nats blogger: Love Sue Dinem’s work; my blog would be twice as hard without it.

What to do with Livan Hernandez?

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Is Livan's time in Washington coming to an end? Photo AP/Tom Gannam via prorumors.com

Livan Hernandez holds a special place in the hearts and history of the Washington Nationals.  He pitched our first game as a franchise.  He’s been our opening day starter four times (including in 2011).  And he continues to pitch reasonably well despite a fastball that’s barely good enough for some adult leagues in the area.  He’s on an incredibly cheap contract for a veteran of his capabilities ($1M base for 2011 with some performance bonuses) and you know pretty much what you get from him year-to-year (roughly a .500 record, roughly 9 to 12 wins, a career 4.37 era).  From a salary perspective, he’s one of the best FA bargains out there (assuming he ends the season with 8 wins, a FA figure of $125,000 per win is fantastic in an age when teams try to get FA pitching at $1m/win.  See my “Contract value for FA pitcher” post from last October, which I’ll update this off season with 2011’s season results and new signings).

However, in the 2nd half his “mood swings” on the mound have become problematic.  His starts dating to May 30th he’s as likely to give up 2 runs in 7 innings as he is to give up 6 in 5.   In my trends his line reads basically good-bad-good-bad-good-bad.  In all these games lately where he’s given up a large parcel of runs, it is in fewer than 5 innings pitched, meaning the game is basically out of hand before it is halfway done and the bullpen has to pick up a hefty workload of 4-5 innings each time.  The team today has essentially announced that after his Sunday 9/4 start he’s being shut down for the season, in favor of younger pitchers (read, Brad Peacock).

What should we do with him for 2012?  The Nats blogosphere has weighed in on the topic in the recent past, with opinions pro- and anti- Livan.

The answer however may have come to the team almost by accident on 8/30.  In a post-game interview after beating the Braves, Livan mentioned more or less that:

  • He wants to stay with the team (… of course, every veteran FA says this.  Its on page one of the FA-to-be playbook).
  • He’s willing to be a long reliever, knowing the team has a ton of young starters coming in.

Really?  A guy who hasn’t missed a start since he got into the league is willing to be a long-man/spot starter on this team?   If that’s the case then I’m 100% for bringing him back.  In this scenario:

  • Johnson has his long-man out of the pen that he really hasn’t had all season (Gorzelanny may seem like he fits the bill, but clearly the team is down on him).
  • Livan can compete for a starter role in the spring and may very well earn a spot on merit anyway.
  • He’s great backup insurance for the inevitable injuries and spot starts.
  • He’ll be cheap; he was on $1M this year and probably won’t be much more expensive next year (for comparison purposes, Todd Coffey earned 1.35M this year and was so bad that we couldn’t even flip him at the trade deadline for a low minor leaguer).

I think Livan can effectively fill the Miguel Batista role of 2010, a role that this team never really replaced for the 2011 season.  And his veteran presence in the clubhouse and bullpen.  I hope he stays around.

Written by Todd Boss

September 3rd, 2011 at 9:01 am

Nats Rotation Cycle #24: good/bad/soso

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Wang looked as good in Chicago as he used to look in this uniform. Photo unknown via graphicshunt.com

The team went 3-2 in its last time through the rotation, taking a series from Atlanta at home before scuffling with Colorado in Denver.  This time through they finish off the Colorado series and move on to Chicago.

Good

  • John Lannan deserved more than he got after throwing 6 shutout innings on 8/7 (box/gamer).  He walked the leadoff hitter in the 7th and his bullpen conspired to blow the lead and cost him the Win.  Another clear example of how “wins” as a measuring stat for starters is clearly overrated.  Lannan’s line: 6ip+1 batter, 6 hits, 4 walks, 1 run.  Lannan has clearly turned around his season and is putting himself squarely in the Nat’s future rotational plans.  He’s a perfect #4 pitcher and probably sparkles on a good offensive team.  (See notes below for comments on the managing and bullpen performance in Lannan’s start).
  • Chien-Ming Wang looked about as good as you could ask for his 3rd start back after 2 years out of the game, throwing 6 innings of one-hit ball (no-hitting the Cubs through 5) in Chicago on 8/9 (box/gamer).  His sinker was moving well, he kept his fastballs right at the knees, and he humped it up to 93 on occasion (if you believe the stadium gun).  He had 11 ground ball outs to 4 flyball outs and needed just 81 pitches to complete 6 innings.  Apparently Steve McCatty asked some prior teammates about Wang and discovered that he wasn’t throwing his sinker nearly as much now as he was back in the day, and convinced him to do so going forward (aside: how is it possible that a pitcher “forgets” what made him successful??)   Coincidentally, despite pitching so well I agreed with Wang’s removal; in the 6th inning he was starting to lose control of his fastball and it was rising up, exactly what a sinker-baller doesn’t want.  A great start though, and a great sign for the future.

Bad

  • Unfortuantely Livan Hernandez was scheduled for his “bad” outing in his continuing Jekyll & Hyde season, and his bad was pretty bad.  He gave up 9 runs (7 earned) on 9 hits in 3 and 2/3 innings to take the loss on 8/6 (box/gamer).  The Nats bullpen didn’t help much either with each of the relievers struggling in one way or another (see notes).  Perhaps we can just skip Livan’s “bad” outings?  Or, I’ve got a better idea; we can remove him from the rotation since he’s giving the team less than a 50/50 chance of even being competitive in games right now.  Ben Goessling reported on the same topic, surmising that Livan’s rotation spot is in serious jeopardy with the team wanting to see youth in September.  One of the Nats blogs  highlighted a fantastic stat; look at Livan’s splits in his Wins versus Losses: in 6 wins he has a 1.25 era and a sub 1.00 whip.  In 11 losses? A 5.84 era and a 1.6ish whip.  His performance in 7 No-Decisions looks almost identical to his performance in losses.

Mediocre/Inconclusive

  • Jordan Zimmermann should have done better against the Cubs on 8/11 (box/gamer), giving up 4 runs on 9 hits, 2 walks in 6 2/3 innings.  He looked fantastic through 6, but gave up a single and back to back homers in the 7th to blemish his line and tag him with the loss on the night.
  • Ross Detwiler continues to look like he’s destined for the bullpen, giving up 3 runs on 7 hits and 2 homers in 5 innings on 8/10 (box/gamer).   The homers were cheap (Wrigley is a major hitter’s park) but 7 hits to go with 2 walks is just too many runners for a medicore-to-bad offense to overcome.

Relievers of Note and other News

  • Here’s your Washington Bullpen in the 8/6 game: Gorzelanny (4 hits in 2+ innings), Coffey (3 runs and 3 hits while retiring just one guy), Burnett (2 inherited runners, both scored), and Rodriguez (2 hits and 2 walks in one IP).  What are the odds that any of these four guys feature in 2012?  All four of them now feature ERA+ in the mid 80s (indicating their pitching about 15% worse than the MLB average) and they seem to be getting worse as the season rolls on.  The question fans have to be thinking about is Mike Rizzo‘s ego in these deals: Coffey was a 1-yr FA and won’t be missed, but the other three guys represent the bounty we have remaining from Rizzo’s 3 major trades since arriving here.  Will Rizzo admit that these moves didn’t work out and not force bad players to continue playing?  We’ll see.
  • Is it just me, or was Davey Johnson‘s pitcher management in the 8/7 game just ridiculous?  Lannan sits on 6 shutout innings and is allowed to bat in the top of the 7th.  He makes a feeble ground-ball out as expected.  Lannan goes back out to the mound for the bottom of the 7th, walks a guy and is yanked.  Why was he allowed to bat then!??  Clearly Johnson already had Lannan’s replacement warming up; why not actually, you know, try to score a run instead of giving a sub .100 hitter another at-bat?  Why do you have power bats on your bench?  Then, in a textbook example of a bullpen actively *trying* to blow a game; Mattheus promptly gives up a hit (yet earn’s a “hold” for his work !?), Clippard comes in and fails to cover 1st base on a grounder to Morse (yet somehow Morse is given the error on the play !?), then gives up another hit to tie the game.  Clippard’s reward for this performance?  The victory in the game.   A frustrating game to watch as a fan, and I can’t imagine what Lannan was thinking after throwing 6 dominant innings.
  • Stephen Strasburg‘s first rehab start review: 31 pitches, 26 for strikes, throwing mostly 4-seam fastballs with the occasional curve but apparently no 2-seamers and few changeups.  The opposing hitters caught on and tagged him for a few hits (including a solo-homer), but the hits aren’t that concerning (once it became clear in the opposing dugout that they could sit fastball, it becomes considerably easier to hit a guy).  He topped out at 98, sat in 96-97 range on the fastball.  He was quoted as saying his fastball “wasn’t there yet” but that he has to “start somewhere.”  Sounds like a good start to me.  His next start has been announced: Friday August 12th in Potomac.  Potomac has to be happy about (finally) getting a major Nats prospect to play there… Here’s the story from his 2nd rehab start: all good.
  • Wang’s no-hitter effort was eventually broken up by pinch hitter Tony Campana‘s sharply hit grounder to Morse.  But before that, he attempted a bunt and missed.  Breaking the unwritten rules of baseball, you say?  Bunting to break up a no-hitter is almost always a no-no … except that Campana is clearly a guy who bunts probably every third at bat.  If its part of your game, then its fair game.
http://washington.nationals.mlb.com/mlb/gameday/index.jsp?gid=2011_08_09_wasmlb_chnmlb_1&mode=recap&c_id=was