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Obligatory Post on the 2017 Hall of Fame class

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"Throw another circle change so you can blow out your elbow!" Photo via zimbio

“Throw another circle change so you can blow out your elbow!” Photo via zimbio

The ballot for the 2017 Hall of Fame class came out in early November 2016, and had 34 names on it.  Baseball-reference has a very  nice page summarizing all the candidates and their career stats.  Since Ballots are due by 12/31, and since this is the beginning of the obligatory holier-than-thou arguments about HoFame balloting, I give you my own holier-than-thou take on it.

Important/Vital link for 2017 Hall of Fame vote tracking: Ryan Thibodaux‘s online tracker of all HoF votes, which is showing some very different trends in 2017 for long-time ballot candidates.  You may have already seen some analysis of the early voting, from Bill James to Buster Olney.  The big shock so far is just how much support both of the major PED-tainted candidates (Bonds and Clemens) have gained since last year.  Some (most?) attribute this to the veteran’s electing of Bud Selig, who presided over the Steroid era and did little to stop it.  The thinking probably goes, “well if Selig is in, he’s just as culpable as the players, so i’m now voting for Bonds/Clemens).

With my imaginary ballot, here’s how i’d vote.  Since there’s a (ridiculous) limit of 10 players per ballot, I’ll list these players in rough order of voting priority to start:

New Ballot Candidates:

  • Absolute Yes on Ivan RodriguezManny Ramirez (and with Pudge, the first “Nationals” connected player to make it!)
  • Less emphatic Yes for Vladimir Guerrero
  • Slight pause to consider Jorge Posada
  • No on everyone else.

Returning Ballot Candidates:

  • Absolute Yes on Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds
  • More tepid Yes on Curt Schilling, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Fred McGriff, Trevor Hoffman
  • Pass on Lee Smith, Jeff Kent, Larry Walker, Gary Sheffield, Billy Wagner, Sammy Sosa

Discussions on my opinions from a hypocritical litmus test stand point:

  • Why support Hoffman but not Smith and Wagner?   Probably a fair question and probably not supported by stats when you compare all three guys together.  But that’s why its the “Hall of Fame” and not the “Hall of WAR” or the “Hall of Stats.”  Hoffman was more famous than these other relievers.  I always viewed Smith as a good-but-not-great reliever who compiled stats, and I viewed Wagner as an electric and under-rated closer without near the career accomplishments of Hoffman.
  • Why support McGriff/Guerrero but not Walker?  You can make the argument that Walker’s numbers were a product of Colorado … and you can make the alternative argument too.  I think for me the fact that Walker couldn’t reach even 400 homers while playing in the launching pad in Denver is an indictment of his career.  Walker was a fine hitter … but he never inspired the league wide “fear” that Guerrero and McGriff did.  He’s in the “Hall of Good” but not the “Hall of Fame” for me.  Also it is worth noting that McGriff finished his career with 493 homers, but missed months out of the 1994 season at his peak.  Had he eclipsed 500 homers … i think we’re having a different conversation about him.  These artificial numbers (300, 3000, 500) are pretty important to voters.  Guerrero himself was for a time absolutely “the best player in the game,” a title that I don’t think Walker can come close to claimin.
  • Why support Bonds and Ramirez but not Sosa?   Something about Sosa’s career just screams “artificial.”  He went from being a 35-home run hitter to a 66-home run hitter overnight, he has PED suspisions and a corked bat on his resume, and his skills disappeared as soon as testing became the norm.

So that gives me 6 “Yes” votes and another 6 less emphatic  “yes” votes.  So i’d have to cull two candidates to fit onto a 10-person ballot.  I’d cut Schilling just on principle for the ridiculousness of his statements lately, and Hoffman on general anti-closer principles.  So my hypothetical ballot is:

  • Rodriguez, Ramirez, Guerrero, Bagwell, Raines, Clemens, Bonds, Martinez, Mussina, McGriff

My prediction on who actually gets elected?  Well, of course the PED issue comes into play.  So three or four of my “Yesses” are going to struggle to get votes.  So i’m guessing that the likes of Pudge and Manny don’t get 1st ballot votes, and Clemens/Bonds will continues to struggle.   But based on there being three candidates that got pretty close last year, i’m going to guess that its a 3-man roster for 2017: Raines, Bagwell and Hoffman.  And that’s a fine class.   The tracker is showing Raines, Bagwell and Rodriguez well in the 75% range, with Bonds, Clemens, Hoffman and Guerrero in the 70-75% range.  Which means that they’ll likely fall short in the end, since the non-public ballots are usually more parsimonious and more narrative-driven.  Hoffman has enough of a narrative to perhaps maintain his 75% range though, so i’m putting him in first ballot (whether or not you think he deserves it).

One great change coming to HoFame balloting; no more secret ballots.  Every idiot who has a ballot and turns in something nonsensical will now have to answer for his vote in the court of public opinion.  Which I think is a great thing; no more sanctimonious votes preventing deserving players from getting their due.

So, who you got in the Hall this time?

 

How will HoFame balloting be affected by the voter purge?

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Griffey is a shoe-in for 2016 class; who else might be affected? Photo via freeteam.com

Griffey is a shoe-in for 2016 class; who else might be affected? Photo via freeteam.com

(Editor note: we’ll take a quick break from the minor league reviews and arguing about why the Nats are trying to fill a 5th starter spot instead of one of their several obvious needs for that classic Late December task: arguing about the Hall of Fame.  I wrote most of this post much earlier this summer/fall, waiting for the “hall of fame” blogger season to post it.  Now’s as good of a time as any).

In the middle of the 2015 post-season, an interesting tidbit got reported by NBCSports’ Craig Calcaterra: The Hall of Fame BBWAA electorate has been reduced by a whopping 20% thanks to the new voter eligibility rules announced back in July 2015.

20% of voters!  That’s a huge number.  I thought the rules, when they were first announced, would have a negligible effect on things and would be a paper tiger.  But losing 20% of the voters will have a profound effect on the ballots going forward.  I agree with Calcaterra in characterizing these types of voters as generally being out of touch, industry-has-passed-them-by, believe everything they read from Murray Chass types who have directly led to the ballot congestion and the ridiculous voting patterns we’ve seen lately.  No word yet on whether the category of writers purged also includes those who no longer cover the sport actively (the most egregious example being the 3 voters who write for www.golferswest.com) who not only kept their votes but felt the need to pontificate about the state of the sport!).

Early returns are promising, by the way.  The BBHOF tracker website has taken the lead in collecting all published ballots and they’re tracked directly in this Google xls.  As of the time of this writing, they have about 20% of the ballots in the tracker spreadsheet and borderline candidates like Piazza, Raines and Bagwell are all trending above the 75% needed.  Griffey is at a perfect 100% and still looks like a good bet to beat Tom Seaver‘s all time record.  That is until some curmudgeons decide they like Seaver more than Griffey and send in blank ballots or some dumb-ass thing.

Key Dates in 2016 HoF class voting:

  • 11/9/15: ballot officially released, though we’ve known for years who’s actually on it thanks to baseball-reference.com.
  • 12/21/15: BBWAA ballots due back to Cooperstown for counting
  • 1/6/16: Class of 2016 announced, as well as 10,000 internet blogger posts on the topic.
  • 7/24/16: Official induction ceremony for the Class of 2016 in Cooperstown, NY

Anyway.  Lets look at the 2016 Ballot (hey, its never too early to do Hall of Fame vote analysis) and guess how things may go for the candidates, now that 20% of dead-weight is gone.

  • Ken Griffey Jr: if anything, his chances of breaking Tom Seaver‘s vote % record may rise thanks to the elimination of a bunch of curmudgeons who have been witholding votes inexplicably to prevent there ever being a unanimous inductee.  Easily gets elected in 2016.
  • Trevor Hoffman: might be hurt by more new-age voters who realize how minimal the impact of a closer is, no matter how good (Hoffman had just a 28.4 career bWAR, less than Mike Trout had accumulated by the end of his third full season, by way of comparison).

There’s not really anyone else new to the 2016 class worth mentioning; I could see Jim Edmonds getting 5% of the vote to stay on the ballot but nobody else getting much more than home-town beat writer sympathy votes.  This isn’t an indictment of Edmonds at all; there’s just too many good players on the ballot (our lament every year) and I think he’s a worthy candidate (some of the Jay Jaffe JAWS analysis on Edmonds is pretty telling; for a period of 10 years during his peak he trailed only Griffey and Bonds in terms of WAR).

How about the hold overs?  I think there’s good news for some guys:

  • Mike Piazza/Jeff Bagwell: two “PED-suspicion” guys who have never had any actual concrete proof against them probably now get in thanks to the elimination of a class of voters who probably believed everything they read in the anonymous-sourced NYTimes articles from 10 years ago.  Bagwell has further to go and may not get to 75%, but Piazza should.
  • Tim Raines: the more older/non sabremetric appreciating voters that go mean the higher percentage of votes Raines will get from more modern voters who realize just how valuable he was.  Like Bagwell, he has further to go and may not get to 75% this time, but between 2016 and 2017 he should get in.
  • Roger Clemens/Barry Bonds: I can see their vote totals rise from the 35% they’ve  been getting into the 50% range, still not enough to get enshrinement.  Still too many wounds and not enough voters who can overcome their disdain for what happened.
  • Mark McGwire/Sammy Sosa: same story as Clemens/Bonds, except whack off another 20% of votes.
  • Curt Schilling/Mike Mussina: Hard to see their vote totals changing much; older voters were probably giving Schilling too much credit for the bloody sock game but new voters havn’t supported him as much as expected (and he’s doing himself no favors with his continued idiotic political twitter posts).  Mussina just doens’t seem like the kind of pitcher that gets elected to the Hall thanks to a long career without specific accolades and being a known pr*ck to the media.

Everyone else held over from the 2015 ballot not already mentioned (Smith, Martinez, Trammell, Kent, McGriff, Walker, Sheffield, Garciaparra) each have specific issues that likely prevent any of them from getting much above the vote totals they’ve already gotten and probably won’t be helped much by the purge of the electorate.  I would vote for some of these guys (namely Martinez and Trammell) but understand why others don’t.

This is as close to a prediction piece as we’ll do for the Hall of Fame 2016 ballot (there’s way too many of them already), but my guess is that we’ll be seeing just Griffey and Piazza in Cooperstown in July 2016, with Bagwell, Raines and perhaps Hoffman right on the cusp to join them in 2017 (where the incoming class has some pretty serious PED-related issues that should be fascinating to watch play out; more on that in a year’s time).

Here’s some similar articles for your Hall of Fame perusal:

2015 End-of-Season Awards; results vs predictions

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Harper & Donaldson deservedly win MVPs. photo via si.com

Harper & Donaldson deservedly win MVPs. photo via si.com

There’s few long running posts I have managed to do year after year in this blog; this is one of them.  Every year I predict the awards, then report on how my predictions went after the fact.  And then I brag about how good a job I did in reading the tea leaves and predicting the awards.

This is that post for 2015 :-)

Here’s the same prediction posts with my BBWAA award prediction results for 2014 (6 for 8), 2013 (8 for 8), 2012 (7 for 8), 2011 (8 for 8), and 2010 (8 for 8).

For 2015, here were my original predictions and the actual winners for the major BBWAA Awards plus the “Comeback” awards for 2015:

My Final Predictions with discussion: We went 7 for 8 in predictions for 2015.  I missed on the NL manager of the year.

  • NL MVP: Predicted Bryce HarperActual winner: Harper unanimously.  After all the angst about narrative, the voters did the right thing and selected the only guy who made sense to select.
  • NL Cy Young: Predicted Jake ArrietaActual winner: Arrieta, with 17 1st place votes.  Scherzer 5th.
  • NL Rookie: Predicted Kris BryantActual winner: Bryant.  Unanimous winner, no real challenger in the NL.
  • NL Manager: Predicted Terry CollinsActual winner: Joe Maddon, with 18 1st place votes.  My guess (Collins) came in third.  This was probably a dumb prediction; I should have “read the tea leaves” a bit more in terms of narrative, which drives these awards so much, and correlated the fact that it was the Cubs (a high profile team), Maddon (a high profile manager) and the fact that the Cubs did in reality really exceed expectations this year.
  • AL MVP: Predicted Josh DonaldsonActual winner: Donaldson, with 23 1st place votes over Mike Trout, who many argue (yet again) had a better statistical season.
  • AL Cy Young: Predicted Dallas KeuchelActual winner: Keuchel with 22 1st place votes over David Price‘s 8.
  • AL Rookie: Predicted Carlos CorreaActual winner: Correa, in a close race over Francisco Lindor (17-13 in terms of 1st place votes)
  • AL Manager: Predicted Jeff BanisterActual winner: Banister with 17 1st place votes

In my 2015 post I also predicted the “Comeback Player of the year awards,” given a couple of weeks ago.

  • NL Comeback: Predicted Matt Harvey.  Actual winner: Harvey, as announced on 11/5/15.  Really no better option in the NL than Harvey, who had a very solid season after missing the entirety of 2014 with Tommy John surgery.
  • AL Comeback: Predicted Prince Fielder.  Actual winner: Fielder, as announced on 11/5/15.  Really, unless you were going to give Alex Rodriguez the award for his drug-related suspension, there was no better NL candidate.

Other Awards given that I don’t try to predict anymore.

  • Fielding Bible Awards: not an official award but certainly a better way of evaluating defenders than the Gold Gloves (though, to be fair, they’re getting much much better at identifying the true best defenders year in, year out).
  • Gold Gloves; A couple of questionable awards for the Gold Gloves; we’ll post a separate fielding award post reviewing the Gold Gloves, Fielding Bible awardees and look at the various defensive metrics to see if/how they all align.
  • Silver Sluggers: Bryce Harper wins, no real surprises.
  • Hank Aaron awards for “Most Outstanding Offensive Player” in each league: Bryce Harper and Josh Donaldson, who not surprisingly is who I chose for my MVP predictions.  I kinda wish this was a more prevalent award than the constant arguing we have about MVP.
  • Relievers of the Yearformerly known as the “Fireman’s reliever awards” and now named for legendary relievers Mariano Rivera/Trevor Hoffman: won this year by Andrew Miller of the Yankees, Mark Melancon of the Pirates.
  • Sporting News Executive of the Year: Toronto’s Alex Anthopoulis, who announced he was stepping down the same day he got the award.
  • A slew of other Sporting News awards, mimicking the BBWAA awards: googleable but more or less following the above.
  • MLB Player’s Choice Awards: Donaldson beats out Harper for POTY; also awards BBWAA-emulating awards that more or less follow how the actual BBWAA awards went.
  • Links to all the awards I know of plus the full off-season schedule of events is on my 2015-16 Off-Season Baseball Calendar.

That’s it for the silly season!  On to the fun business of player moves for 2016.

My 2015 End-of-Season Awards Predictions

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Hopefully his MVP vote goes better for Harper than this day did. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 538595765 ORIG FILE ID: 490330798

Hopefully his MVP vote goes better for Harper than this day did. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

Everyone does an “Awards Prediction piece.”  This post for me is kind of a running diary throughout the season, with the final predictions written at season’s end but then not published until after the WS ends/Awards season starts.

A few awards have already been given out, ones that I don’t necessarily try to predict anymore:

  • Fielding Bible Awards: not an official award but certainly a better way of evaluating defenders than the Gold Gloves (though, to be fair, they’re getting much much better at identifying the true best defenders year in, year out).  No Nats awarded.
  • Gold Glove Finalists: announced with 3 finalists for each award; Bryce Harper and Wilson Ramos named as finalists but neither will win.
  • Hank Aaron awards for “Most Outstanding Offensive Player” in each league: Bryce Harper and Josh Donaldson, who not surprisingly is who I chose for my MVP predictions.  I kinda wish this was a more prevalent award than the constant arguing we have about MVP.
  • Relievers of the Yearformerly known as the “Fireman’s reliever awards” and now named for legendary relievers Mariano Rivera/Trevor Hoffman: won this year by Andrew Miller of the Yankees, Mark Melancon of the Pirates.
  • Sporting News Executive of the Year: Toronto’s Alex Anthopoulis, who announced he was stepping down the same day he got the award.
  • A whole slew of other Sporting News annual awards: google “sporting news baseball awards 2015” and you can see players of the year, pitcher of the year,  post-season all-star teams, manager of the year, etc.

I put all these dates and links plus a whole lot more into my “off-season” calendar, which will publish soon now that the season is officially over.

(random self promotion related to the Sporting News: they recently published one of my quora.com “answers” titled “Are there Any cities that should have an MLB team,” an answer that I wrote referencing back to this blog for previously published/researched information).

My Final Predictions:

  • NL MVP: Bryce Harper
  • NL Cy Young: Jake Arrieta
  • NL Rookie: Kris Bryant
  • NL Manager: Terry Collins
  • NL Comeback: Matt Harvey
  • AL MVP: Josh Donaldson
  • AL Cy Young: Dallas Keuchel
  • AL Rookie: Carlos Correa
  • AL Manager: Jeff Bannister
  • AL Comeback: Prince Fielder

These are not always who I think *deserve* the awards necessarily, just how I think the voters will vote.  There are some really close races.  Here’s my thoughts:

  • NL MVP: Bryce Harper wins for three main reasons: 1) his season is one of the best of the last 50 years.  2) there’s no obvious candidate on any of the division winning teams (no sorry, Yoenis Cespedes doesn’t count) and 3) Even though the Nats didn’t win the division, they were in the race nearly the entire season.  No excuses here.  You might see some non-Harper votes b/c some middle aged fat slob of a homer writer has some misrepresented axe to grind but he should win easily.
  • NL Cy Young: Jake Arrieta: I can’t believe I’ve selected Arrieta over Greinke, but Arrieta’s 2nd half will, again, “win the narrative.”  Kershaw has been unbelievable too (and my fantasy team in the championship is proof), so really you can’t go wrong with these guys in any order.  I think it goes Arrietta, Greinke, Kershaw.  Side note; so, is the Baltimore pitching coaching staff the most incompetent in the league or what?  How does Arrieta go from being a 6ERA starter in Baltimore to a guy who is posting a sub 2.00 ERA in one of the best hitter’s parks in the league?
  • NL Rookie: Kris Bryant: for a while I thought this was Joc Pederson‘s to lose … but Bryant kept hitting and Pederson sat.  Wow are the Astros kicking themselves for drafting Mark Appel over Bryant or what??
  • NL Manager: Terry Collins: There’s no team in the NL in a more surprising position than the Mets, so Collins wins the award that our own Matt Williams so richly “earned” last year.  I wouldn’t be surprised though to see Joe Maddon get this given how great the Cubs were.
  • NL Comeback Player of the year has to be Matt Harvey; there’s nobody else really close in the NL.
  • AL MVP: Josh Donaldson: There’s just no reason Mike Trout shouldn’t win this award … except that voters are a fickle bunch and fall for the story.  Donaldson is a good story, playing on a good story of a team in Toronto.  He wins.
  • AL Cy Young: Dallas Keuchel: He was the best in the first half, the ASG starter, and no there’s no reason not to think he finishes off the season.  In fantasy he was like a 15th round pick and he’s a top-10 producer.  Amazing.
  • AL Rookie: Carlos Correa: If you want to argue that Francisco Lindor deserves this, I wouldn’t disagree.  I’m guessing Correa has the name power with the voters though and wins out.  Lindor has a much better average and is a superior defender, but Correa has 20+ homers, a benchmark number that will get him the votes.
  • AL Manager: Jeff Bannister: Even though Toronto is a surprise team, getting the talent handed to you like that is not the mark of a champion manager.  What is going on in Texas is nothing short of amazing.  At the beginning of the season the had an *entire rotation* on the D/L: Darvish, Harrison, Perez, Scheppers and Holland.  Scheppers may not have stayed there very long, but they looked like a 90-loss team, not a divisional winner over the likes of LA and Houston.
  • AL Comeback player of the  year goes to Prince Fielder for returning strongly from his neck injury.  If Alex Rodriguez had missed a year due to injury instead of litigation, he would likely be the winner.  By the way; how good was Alex Rodriguez doing color work for Fox Sports at the World Series?  He was damn impressive to me, great analysis, well spoken, well-dressed of course … and could not have provided more contrast to Pete Rose if they had found those two guys out of central casting.

So, how did the major awards evolve over the course of the season?  By my sense, the awards kind of went like this from April to September:

  • NL MVP: Stanton to Harper, maybe Goldschmidt, no definitely Harper, narrative Cespedes but has to be Harper.  Nobody else makes sense to take it away from him on narrative.
  • NL Cy Young: Scherzer early, definitely Scherzer, maybe Cole, suddenly Greinke in the lead, Kershaw coming on fast late but Arrieta’s 2nd  halve clinches it.
  • NL Rookie: Bryant and Pederson early, Pederson stretching a lead … but then Pederson gets benched while Bryant continues to play.  Some talk about Duffy, but still Bryant.  Too many homers.
  • AL MVP: Trout to Cabrera, back to Trout, then Donaldson takes over despite Trout’s phenomenal season.
  • AL Cy Young: Hernandez early, Keuchel strong mid season, Grey fading, Sale making a name but still Keuchel despite Price’s excellent season.
  • AL Rookie: Travis/Souza early, Burns making a name, but Correa is the leader most of the season, Lindor making noise late, Correa holds on.

As with last year’s version of this post, instead of printing links to writers early and mid-season predictions, I’ll just throw those links into the monthly reviews for context.   This post is more like a season-long diary of the evolution of these awards; the sections were written in each month as the season progressed.

BaseballMusings maintains a Cy Young tracker stat, which is useful to identify candidates but not really a predictor.


April
:

Here’s some early candidates out to fast starts.

Opinions this month: Symborski‘s ZIPS predictors after one month.

  • MVP candidates: Trout/Cabrera again in the AL.  Adrian Gonzalez, Giancarlo Stanton and Paul Goldschmidt in the NL.
  • Cy Young candidates: Felix Hernandez in the AL, Kershaw and Scherzer in the NL.
  • Rookie of the year candidates: Devon Travis and Steven Souza in the AL, Kris Bryant and Joc Pederson in the NL.

May:

Harper NL Player of the month, after getting 2 straight player of the week awards.  Scherzer wins NL Pitcher of the month.

  • MVP candidates: Trout stretching lead in AL, Jason Kipnis and Nelson Cruz also high in bWAR.  Bryce Harper has stretched a massive WAR lead in the NL, Goldschmidt #2.  Anthony Rizzo entering the discussion.
  • Cy Young candidates: Dallas Keuchel and Sonny Gray in the AL, Max Scherzer really standing alone in the NL; closest WAR pitcher in the NL is Aaron Harang and he isn’t likely to keep the pace.
  • Rookie of the year candidates: Still Travis and Souza in the AL, Kris Bryant and Joc Pederson in the NL are both explosive players and will be hard to catch.

All Star Break

  • MVP candidates: Probably still Trout and Harper.  Goldschmidt is nearly as good but Harper has the narrative.
  • Cy Young candidates: Dallas Keuchel and Zack Greinke were the All Star starters and may be the leading candidates. Scherzer needs to get some run support; he’s barely above .500.
  • Rookie of the year candidates: Former Nat Billy Burns is in the bWAR lead, but Carlos Correa likely gets the nod.  In the NL, Bryant/Pederson have a commanding lead but Matt Duffy starting to put his name out there, and if the Cubs would just let Kyle Schwarber stay in the majors he might hit his way to the title.

Mid August

  • MVP candidates: Trout has competition in the form of Josh Donaldson in the AL.  Nobody’s close to Harper in the NL, still.
  • Cy Young candidates: In the NL, Scherzer’s star has faded while LA’s two aces have each had a significant scoreless innings streak and could finish 1-2.  Also in the NL; deserving candidates Jacob deGrom, Jake Arrietta and Gerrit Cole.  In the AL, it still looks like a dogfight between Gray and Keuchel.  But David Price is coming on strong post-trade and Chris Archer should get some top-5 votes.
  • Rookie of the year candidates: Its the year of the rookie; never before have we seen so many high-impact rookies in the league at once.  The AL seems set for Carlos Correa, with guys like Roberto Osuna, Andrew Heaney and Lance McCullers chasing him.  The NL has a number of candidates.  Bryant and Pederson have gotten the ink, but guys like Matt Duffy, Jung Ho Kang, Noah Snydergaard and Randal Grichuk are also worthy players.  Taylor Jungmann, Kyle Schwarber and even Joe Ross are also rans in the race thanks to later callups.  Bryant may win thanks to name recognition, but in other years any of these guys would have been candidates.
  • Managers of the  Year: we’re 100 games into the season, early enough to see some trends in the “Award-given-to-the-manager for his team unexpectedly overachieving the most in 2015” award.  In the AL, clearly Houston is the surprise team and in the NL the Mets are the surprise team, so we’ll go with A.J. Hinch and Terry Collins.
  • Comeback Players of the Year: Early candidates include Brett Anderson, Jeff Francoeur, Danny Espinosa and perhaps Matt Harvey.  In the AL, I think it has to be Alex Rodriguez or perhaps Prince Fielder.  Perhaps Chris Davis comes into the mix too.

September

  • MVP candidates: In the AL: Donaldson has overtaken Trout thanks to a huge end-of-season push and Trout’s injury.  In the NL, the Nats downturn may have opened up the door for both Anthony Rizzo and Andrew McCutchen.  That is if we listen to “narrative” about how teams need to be playing meaningful games.  Of course that being said, the Nats are playing very meaningful games; they’re trying to chase down a divisional leader so maybe the narrative still works for Harper.  But  not after a home sweep, when NY beat writers start beating the drum for Cespedes .. .which would be ridiculous since he only played a couple of months in the NL.
  • Cy Young candidates: In the AL, it probably comes down to Keuchel and Sale, with Price in the mix too thanks to his sterling season for Toronto post-trade.  In the NL: Arrietta has had the greatest 2nd half in baseball history; can he overtake Greinke?
  • Rookie of the year candidates: In the AL: Francisco Lindor making some noise but its still Correa.  In the NL, Pederson has gotten benched so it looks like Bryant is the leader, despite Duffy’s better season by WAR.
  • Managers of the  Year: at this point the “surprise” teams are the Mets and suddenly the Rangers.  I’ll go with their managers Collins and Bannister.  Some in the NL think Maddon and the Cubs are really the surprise team and they’re kind of right … but I maintain the Mets are even more so.
  • Comeback Players of the Year: I’ll go with Harvey in the NL, Fielder in the AL; nobody’s giving A-Rod an award.

Welcome Bud Black

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Jun 8, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; San Diego Padres manager Bud Black (20) watches a game against the Atlanta Braves in the second inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Jun 8, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; San Diego Padres manager Bud Black (20) watches a game against the Atlanta Braves in the second inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Well, I wish I had published something predictive at the time, but as soon as I heard Bud Black‘s name being discussed as a candidate, I had a feeling he was going to be the choice.  Why?  I dunno; it was just a feeling.  Black was the 3rd longest tenured manager in the league when his under-performing/poorly constructed 2015 Padres team cratered, leading to his exit (behind only the bullet-proof Mike Scioscia and the excellent Bruce Bochy).  As noted by Ben Lindbergh in his post-axing Grantland.com piece earlier this year, Black had survived several changes in ownership and executive power, which speaks to his value as a skipper since most new regimes clean house to get “their guys” in place.  Point is, you don’t hang around that long unless you’re good … and he makes a lot of sense to be the next manager here.

In my “GM for a day” piece a few weeks back I wrote the following as “job requirements” for a new manager:

 

  • … Here’s some quick qualifications for the manager i’d like to see: able to communicate properly, isn’t a Micro managing inflexible drill sergeant, knows how to read a Run-Expectancy chart, knows how to properly set a lineup, realizes that saves are useless and isn’t afraid to throw his best pitcher when needed, understands that bunting was exposed as mostly useless 10 years ago, is open to new ideas about usage, shifting, match-ups and statistics in general, listens to his coaches, understands that sometimes the 23 yr old precocious rookie is actually a better player than the 38 year old vet on an 9-figure deal, and lastly, relates to the frigging players.  Shouldn’t be too hard.  Oh one more thing; I want someone who has actually managed a f*cking major league team before.

That was quite a rant.  Lets look at Mr. Black and see how he fits in, requirement by requirement (paraphrasing in order from above without the swear words):

  • Communication: Tom Boswell‘s leading point about Black relates to his communication.
  • Player’s Manager: Black absolutely has the reputation of being a player’s manager, not a disciplinarian.
  • Up on Sabremetrics: no idea, probably not as progressive as younger guys who havn’t spent a lifetime in the game.
  • Lineup construction: remains to be seen; see above.
  • Bullpen management/Meaning of the Save: purportedly a strength of Blacks, by virtue of his long career as a Pitching coach before becoming a manager.  Black himself had a long career (15 seasons) mostly as a starter in this league, so his presence as a manager makes him a rarity.  It should be noted though that Black has always had a dominant closer on his staff (Trevor Hoffman, Heath Bell, Huston Street and Craig Kimbrel this year) so maybe this is an area of concern.

What else?

  • Small Ball/Bunting: remains to be seen, along with shifting, run-expectancy matrix, lineup construction and other factors.
  • Open to new analytical ideas: presumably so to the extent required by *this* management team.  Mike Rizzo is not known as the biggest analytical guy in the game but certainly isn’t a Ruben Amaro type who completely discounts stats and still thinks Wins and RBIs are the biggest evaluation factors.
  • Listens to his coaches: seemingly a no-brainer, since the Nats cleared their entire slate of coaches and probably give Black full reign to name his staff.  This, to be entirely clear, was not necessarily a benefit given to Matt Williams it should be noted.  Maybe it isn’t that big of a surprise that the lines of communication broke down between Williams and his staff.
  • Rookies over Vets when appropriate: may be a problem given his own playing career (a similar issue that Williams ran into over and again), but then again, the team he inherits won’t really have an issue in that regard.  The only real high-flying rookie that he may end up having to deal with is Lucas Giolito, and he won’t be ready til mid-season/won’t be called up unless there’s an obvious injury to replace.
  • Relates to the players: see “players manager” above; Black was himself an accomplished Major Leaguer (as was Williams) so should command the respect of both rookies and vets alike.
  • Prior Management experience: plenty of it, and evidence (2015 notwithstanding) that he could do quite a lot with not a lot based on his low-payroll Padres having a bit of success during his tenure.

I read/heard an interesting analogy on divorce and remarrying once; often times people who re-marry end up over-emphasizing those specific faults they found in their first spouse.  So if your first wife was really opinionated and vocal … you find a second wife who is really demure.

What was William’s biggest faults in the eyes of management?  Lost the clubhouse, didn’t communicate, couldn’t manage the pitching staff.  Now look at Black’s purported strengths: player’s manager, great communicator and a former pitching coach.

Sound like someone who fits what the Nats are looking for?

Side note: I did a bit of quick-analysis of what positions the 30 managers this year played and came up with this analysis (this analysis was done at the end of the season, after Black’s removal but before the likes of Mattingly and Williams got fired):

  • Infielders (9): Hale, Weiss, Mattingly, Counsell, Collins, MacKanin, Williams, Ventura, Molitor
  • Outfielders (4): Hurdle, Showalter, Francona, McClendon
  • Catchers (14): Gonzalez, Maddon, Murphy, Bochy, Matheny, Ausmus, Hinch, Yost, Scioscia, Girardi, Melvin, Cash, Banister, Gibbons
  • Pitchers (2): Price, Farrell
  • Unknown or unclear (1): Jennings (formerly the GM; played in college but can’t find what position).

So, Black will be just the third active manager who was a former pitcher while nearly half the managers in the league were former Catchers.  Does this matter?  Not if he can do the job.  Former catchers make great sense to be managers for the obvious observation that they “cross the lines” between hitters and pitchers unlike any other player.

My opinion: the right hire for this team at this time.  I completely subscribe to a theory that teams that burn out on a disciplinarian manager then immediately embrace a player’s manager, thankful for the overall “relaxing” of the clubhouse.  Lets hope the 2016 Nats react similarly (oh, and stay healthy, and play up to capabilities).

 

Nationals 2014 Walk-on music review Part 2: Pitchers

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Part 1 was the Hitters.  Here’s the pitchers.

Note: I’m going solely on the research of others here; I’ve only been to one game so I cannot personally confirm the walk-up music of all these players.  Here’s the team official list of each player’s 2014 walk-up music, and here’s Cheryl Nichols/DistrictSportsPage’s research on this year’s walk-up songs.

Relievers have historically had some memorable walk-up songs; Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera both came to be known for their music and the songs became anthems for the players even before they emerged from the bullpens.  Somehow I don’t think any of our current relievers are headed that way; our closer has a rather “unique” song (story below) and isn’t nearly as dominant as these two hall-of-fame bound guys.

Here we go.  As with part 1, my non-scientific/tongue-in-cheek opinion of each guy’s song is listed.

Starters

  • Stephen Strasburg – Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes.  Great choice; this song was the unofficial anthem of a recent European Championships soccer tournament and its somewhat chilling to hear an entire crowd hum the intro notes.  Lets hope this happens with Stras.  Grade: A
  • Gio Gonzalez: unknown?  Nichols only has his batting music (Trophies by Young Money & Drake).  Last year he was  House Party (feat. Young Chris) by Meek Mill, which I’m ambivalent over.  Grade: Inc
  • Jordan Zimmermann – Hell On Wheels by Brantley Gilbert.  Country, blech.  Plus how am I inspired to cheer after hearing this song?  Grade: C
  • Taylor Jordan – Collide by Skillet.  Good sound, kind of like a newer Linkin Park.   But, not very obvious to the masses.  Grade: C+
  • Tanner Roark – Kickstart My Heart by Motley Crue.  Like it; old school, not an obvious Crue selection either.  Grade: A-

Relievers

  • Rafael Soriano – El Rey de Monticulo —”The King of the Mound” by Ediseuri Concepcion Mejia (Story behind song).  Nichols links to a WSJ article explaining this song, which has custom lyrics just for Soriano.  Understandable why he uses it.   Grade: B
  • Tyler Clippard – Ready or Not by The Fugees.  Eh.  Sorry, he’ll never beat  “Peaches” by the Presidents of the United States of America.  Never should have gone away from it.  Grade: D
  • Drew Storen When the Lights Go Out by The Black Keys.  This as opposed to what the official team site believes he’s playing for himself (“Bad Company” by Five Finger Death Punch).  I’m not as big of a fan of the Black Keys song, but I like the Bad Company remake by FFDP.  Grade: C
  • Craig Stammen – Eye of the Tiger by Survivor.  Classic sports anthem, how can you beat it?  Grade: A
  • Aaron Barrett – This Is What It Feels Like (W&w Radio Edit) by Armin van Buuren Feat. Trevor Guthrie.  Wow, never thought I’d see a major leaguer going deep into techno/trance and pulling AVB out.  Excellent.  Grade: A
  • Jerry Blevins – Sympathy for the Devil by The Rolling Stones.  Another great, classic song, appealing to the older crowd.  Grade: A-
  • Ross Detwiler – Wherever I May Roam by Metallica.   My kind of music; he had to stay away from songs from the same artist made more popular by other guys.  This is kind of a unique Metallica offering, a deeper cut but still has recognition.  Grade: B+
  • Blake Treinen – unknown; he hasn’t returned home yet.  Can’t wait to see this guy throw .. and hear what song he’s listening to.  Grade: Inc

I seem to be a bigger fan of the pitcher’s walk-up music than our hitters.  Biased?  Probably.

I’m inspired by the AVB choice from Barrett.  If I was doing a song right now i’d probably pull from the same genre.  Check out:

  • Ready, Steady, Go from Paul Oakenfold; try not to be thrown off by the incredibly weird video; this song was used in one of the Bourne movies (played during a car chanse scene) and the beginning of the song would be perfect for a walk-out.
  • Where’s your Head At from Basement Jaxx: you may have heard this before; it did get some play domestically.  Basement Jaxx is a UK-based band that almost never comes to the states: my brother and I once flew to London for a weekend to see them play at Wembley arena.  Ah, the days of being single :-)
  • Superstylin from Groove Armada; a band you’ve probably never heard of but they rock.  Saw them at 9:30 club a decade ago and I don’t think they’ve been back to the states since.  You’ll recognize another of their hits, “I See You Baby,” a remix done by Fat Boy Slim that was sampled by the inveterate show MTV Cribs for years and years.  I could pull this song off too.
  • Lastly, perhaps i’d figure out something to play from DC-based Thievery Corporation to get the home-town angle, but their stuff is mostly so down-tempo that it’d be hard to find a sample that made sense for walk-up music.   Click here for an example; “Lebanese Blonde from their 2000 album The Mirror Conspiracy.

Ok, that was a serious tangent from baseball.  :-)  Maybe i’m trying not to think about some looming storm clouds for the team right now.  You know, a 5.00 ERA for our starters, a ton of injuries, the most errors in the league, getting our hats handed to us by Atlanta so far … and the Cards and their rotation coming into town for a potential 4-game beat-down unless our guys can figure out how to keep runners off-base.  Last night’s win over Jose Fernandez and his sick stuff was a great help though; if they can get to Fernandez for 3 runs, they should be able to hang with St. Louis’ hurlers.  Lets see.

 

 

Starting versus Closing

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Should we try Clippard as a starter? Absolutely! Photo: NationalsDailyNews/Meaghan Gay/DCist.com

Baseball writer extraordinaire Tom Verducci posted a fantastic article today talking about Neftali Feliz‘s proposed move from the Rangers closer to the starting rotation.  The article touches on a topic that I’ve been meaning to write about for a while; Starting versus Closing.  It also is literally the best summation I’ve seen yet describing why the save is over-rated, closers are overpaid and why you’d rather have starters versus relievers.

Lets face it; for the most part relievers are failed starters.  A few get drafted or signed as relievers (Washington’s Drew Storen being one local example), but most starters are drafted as starters and work their way through the minors as starters.  Some starters discover that they can’t develop secondary pitches, but their primary pitches are so fantastic that the club (rightly) turns them into relievers.  This especially allows hard-throwers (think someone like Joel Zumaya) to have a career despite the fact that they only really have one pitch and throw with such effort that they could not possibly last 6+ innings.

Minor league relievers definitely make the majors, but most often as either LOOGYs or rubber-armed replaceable right-handers (think Miguel Batista) out of the bullpen.  In recent  years the desire to have more and faster throwing arms out of the bullpen has led to more pitchers opting to become relievers sooner, but they still are converted out of starting roles for either performance or fragility.

Two items from his story that I’d like to comment on:

1. Managers don’t use Closers in the most high-leverage situations. I could not agree more.  When is the best spot to use your best, most reliable reliever?  In a one-run game in the 6th when your starter runs out of gas and loads the bases with one out?  Or at the beginning of the 9th inning of a 5-3 lead?  Verducci is right; managers in the modern game are slaves to the save statistic and will not bring in their closer unless its a “save situation.”   But he also notes what is common knowledge; that you could be putting out the 12th man in your bullpen and probably have only a slightly worse chance of getting 3 outs without losing the game for your team.  Per the article, 94% of 2-run leads in the 9th inning are won irrespective of who you put out there, and that percentage has not changed significantly over the past 50 years of baseball.  Joe Posnanski also wrote about this same topic in November with similar results, finding that teams in the 50s closed out games with the same regularity as teams now, but without high-priced one-inning closers.

Luckily for the Nats, we look to have 3-4 different guys who are of sufficient quality who we CAN bring in to a game in the 6th and get a high-leverage situation.  Storen, Clippard, Burnett or newly acquired Henry Rodriguez all seem to fit the bill.  But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have a manager in Riggleman who is in the “slave to the save” category.  Matt Capps was brought in to be the closer and he closed games.  That’s it.  It is safe to say that if Riggleman decides on a closer, that’s going to be his role and that’s that.

The save stat is ridiculous and most people know it.  You can get a save in a game where you give up 2 runs and 5 hits in a 1/3 of an inning.  You can get a save when you perform mop up duty but let the score get too close while you rubber-arm your way through a meaningless blowout.  The save takes nothing about the pitcher’s performance into account; only whether or not the game ended while he was on the mound and the win was preserved.

But the save stat, and its monster creation the specialized one-inning closer, are here to stay.  Prospects come up through the ranks specifically to be closers, free agent players will only play for certain teams if given “the chance to close.”  Closers are well paid, and their pay is directly tied to this flawed save statistic.  Statisticians have tried to create a better set of metrics for middle relievers (“Holds” mostly) but the reality is that closers have high leverage in salary situations while middle relievers are lucky to get paid a bit more than the veteran’s minimum.  Verducci touches on this ridiculousness, pointing out that Papelbon‘s higher salary in 2011 than Cole Hamels despite the relative levels of production for their teams.

Ironically, some Major League managers *know* this fact, but continue to trot out their best reliever for a 3-out save at the beginning of the 9th inning in a 3-run game.  They do the same as the other 29 managers because the radical idea that backfires directly leads to termination.  No manager is willing to risk their job to try to do something the right way.  To say nothing of the reaction of a highly-paid FA closer who is suddenly told he’s going to be primarily used in the middle of the 7th to clean up the starter’s mess.

It makes you wonder if there’s a better way.  Here’s two radical suggestions:

1. Comprise a bullpen with no named closer role, and tell the entire 7-man bullpen they’re doing closer-by-committee.  It may infuriate fantasy baseball players and the union (since saves translate to salary for their FAs), but it probably placates an entire roster of wanna-be closers.  Imagine if 5 of the 7 guys in your bullpen (leaving out the LOOGY and long-man) know they may be brought in to rescue a game in the 6th or close it out in the 9th, and their roles change on a daily basis based on use.  That to me is a far better situation than pre-naming a closer (which invariably is the best guy out there) and then never using him until the 9th.

2. Comprise an ENTIRE pitching staff of long-men relievers.  Imagine if you didn’t have starters at all, but an entire bullpen of guys who were geared to pitch 2-3 innings every other night.  You would never have a need for specialized closers or even high-priced starters.  You’d rotate through who got the start, the starter would go 2-3 innings, then the next guy would go, and you’d repeat this until the game was over.  It’s kinda like spring training but all year.  Since these guys are only throwing 2-3 innings, they should be able to repeat this task multiple times in a week.

There’s 54 regular innings to be had per week mid-season (6 games at 9 innings per).  54 innings divided out by 12 guys in the pen means about 4.5 innings per WEEK per pitcher.  If you split those 4.5 innings up across three games you’d be pitching (say) 2 innings on monday, 1 on thursday then 1.5 on saturday.  That’s pretty manageable.  Plus if everyone else is doing the same, you can rotate through the guys and slightly adjust based on how they’re pitching that day.

Plus, think about how CHEAP this pitching staff would be.  12 middle relievers could not possibly cost your team more than about $15-20M annually in salary, even if they were mostly on veteran contracts.  Roy Halladay makes more than that in 2011 just by himself.

Coincidentally, this is exactly what Tony LaRussa tried at one point in the early 90s with the Athletics.  Unfortunately his experiment ended quickly, failing less because of execution and more because of lack of support from his players and management.  Its just a matter of time before someone tries it again.


Here’s the second item i’d like to comment on:

2. Starters are FAR more valuable than Relievers or Closers.  Last year in the midst of Clippard’s fantastic middle-relief run I asked myself, “Why isn’t Clippard in the rotation?”  He pitched 91 innings spread out over 78 appearances and only gave up 69 hits.  He maintained an 11.1 K/9 ratio, which is better than any starter in 2010.  91 innings was good for 4th on the entire staff in 2010.

The leading argument i’ve read for Clippard staying in the bullpen relates to the nature of his stuff.  He’s got a sneaky good fastball, a decent curve but his bread and butter pitch is the change-up.  Apparently the knock on him is that hitters adjust to him more quickly and thus he makes more sense in a relief role.  In a starting role hitters would be getting their third crack at him in the 5th or 6th inning, right when he’s tiring and right when he’s vulnerable.  In relief, he can “show” all his pitches in one at bat and work each batter individually, then leave the game before his “stuff” is exposed.

Clippard was a starter his entire minor league career, and his minor league numbers were pretty good.  He always maintained a small hits-to-IP ratio, a good k/9 ratio.  It wasn’t until he reached the majors that suddenly he couldn’t start.  I think perhaps he’s either gotten pigeonholed or he’s psychologically set in the reliever mind-frame now.

A quality starter gives your team 6+ innings, works through the opposing team’s batting order nearly 3 full times and keeps your team in the game.  6-7 innings at a 3.00 era is invaluable for your team’s psyche as it tries to win game after game.  Leaving just 2-3 innings a night for a bullpen staff of 7 means that there’s fewer days when your staff is over worked and you have to give up games for lack of bullpen arms.

How about using career WAR as a bench mark?  I don’t really like the career WAR analysis (since it is an accumulator stat and a mediocre guy with 22 years of experience appears to be better than the best pitcher of his day who only had a 15 year career).  But it is telling in this situation.  Here’s a link to career WAR for pitchers at baseball-reference.com.  And here’s the rank of the 5 best relief pitchers of all time (the 5 relievers currently in the hall of fame), along with the rankings of some of their active contemporaries who seem likely for the hall.

Lname Fname Career WAR Rank
Smoltz John 38
Eckersley Dennis 46
Rivera Mariano 69
Wilhelm Hoyt 121
Gossage Goose 133
Hoffman Trevor 215
Wagner Billy 238
Sutter Bruce 315
Fingers Rollie 325

Smoltz and Eckersly both started for large portions of their career, hence the high rank.  Mariano Rivera is clearly (in my mind) the greatest reliever who has ever played and his career WAR shows.  But notice how low closer-only guys like Sutter and Fingers are on this list.  Both are currently below modern day starters Ted Lilly and Kevin Millwood, again guys who are hardly listed as being among the game’s elite.

By means of comparison, Trevor Hoffman, who is ranked 215th all time is ranked just ahead of one Freddie Garcia in all time WAR.  Now, is Freddie Garcia a serious hall of fame candidate?  Not likely; he’s currently on a minor league contract offer with the Yankees after nearly washing out of the game two years ago.


Oh, coincidentally, I absolutely think Felix should be in the rotation.  As should Aroldis Chapman in Cincinnati.  Because they’ll be able to help your team win on a much more frequent basis.  You always want the chance of 180 innings of quality versus 60.  Its that simple.

Rizzo’s off-season todo list: where do we stand?

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Mike Rizzo answering the latest question about where the money is coming from for the Werth contract. Photo: centerfieldgate.com

Each year heading into the off-season, I make up a transactional “to-do” list for the team (as if I were the GM).  Essentially you look at the roster and kind of work backwards.  Based on the way things looked at the end of 2010, the Nationals seemed set on:

  • C (Pudge, Ramos)
  • most of the infield: 2b (Espinosa), SS (Desmond), 3B (Zimmerman)
  • LF (Willingham)
  • 3-4 starters (Lannan, Marquis, LHernandez, Zimmermann), and
  • several relievers (Clippard, Burnett, Storen)

So, given this, here’s what I listed as off season priorities and where we stand post the Winter Meetings (and counting all the rumors and scuttlebutt we’ve been hearing):

Fantasy

  • Power hitting reliable RF
  • Top-of-the-rotation Starting Pitcher
  • Better Centerfielder/Leadoff Hitter

1. In what was easily the most surprising move this team has done since relocating from Montreal, we acquired a front-line marquee FA in Jayson Werth, satisfying the “power hitting RF” fantasy requirement.  Yes there are concerns about the contract’s length and value, but hey, we’re a better team for getting him.

2. Rizzo has definitely made mention of wanting to acquire a “top of the rotation” starter but they are hard to come by this off season.  Cliff Lee is the target, and from there the list dwindled quickly to include guys who were middle of the road veterans with question marks (Vazquez, Pavano), FA starters that weren’t exactly planning on going anywhere (Lilly, Kuroda, de La Rosa, Arroyo, Garland, Padilla) and incredibly risky alternatives (Webb, Darvish, Francis).

3. Lastly, despite my desire to upgrade from Nyjer Morgan in center and leadoff (for reasons that include discipline, chemistry and performance), Rizzo seems set on the guy for the time being.  I would not be surprised to see no more movement in this area.  I advocated trading Willingham to Boston for possible spare-part outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury in a previous post, but despite Willingham’s offensive capabilities Boston may also value defense and may not really be interested in acquiring more bats this off season.

Reality

  • First Baseman
  • 1-2 Veteran FA pitchers
  • Utility Middle Infielder

1. Acquiring a first baseman included the possibility of re-signing Adam Dunn, despite all indications that it was never to happen.  Rizzo clearly will take less power for more defense at first, and we seem destined to sign Adam LaRoche (after missing out on Carlos Pena, the player I was absolutely sure we’d get).  Frankly, for my money I’d rather have LaRoche.  He’ll sign a 2 year deal for less than any of Dunn, Pena, Konerko or Huff would have signed for, he hits for power and he is a plus defender.  I think he’s perfect until we figure out if Chris Marrero or someone even more remote (like high-A stud hitter and Nats minor leaguer of the year in 2010 Tyler Moore) becomes a possibility.  A final thought; I do NOT want to be left with Derrek Lee as the solution.  He’s a right handed hitter on a team that is now full of them.  Zimmerman, Willingham, Werth all righties; we need a lefty slugger to break up the middle of our batting order.

2. I still see the acquisition of one or two veteran FA pitchers on the horizon.  I can see us (unless someone foolishly offers him $10M) signing Brandon Webb on a one year flier.  I can see us re-signing Wang to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training.

3. The backup middle infielder is a lower priority but still important.  If Desmond/Espinosa are holding down the starting spots and Alberto Gonzalez is begrudingly serving as the primary glove-man backup, we still need a second player that can do middle infield.  Willie Harris has been that player but he really tailed off last season.  Adam Kennedy served as the backup for the right side of the infield but he clearly wants to start.  I was lobbying for Pete Orr as a nice cheap candidate; he had always produced for us when called up, could play 2nd, 3rd or even outfield.  But he signed elsewhere as a minor league FA.  Perhaps the answer is a prospect to be named (Lombardozzi?) or a FA signing.  I like David Eckstein to team him up with his hitting-coach brother but he probably wants a starting job too.  And Eckstein wouldn’t make sense unless we traded one of Desmond/Espinosa (still a possibility; see later).

Less Likely

  • FA Closer
  • Trade for a Veteran pitcher
  • 1 veteran bullpen presence

1. There are a couple closer-types on the FA market and I can now see the Nats picking one up ala their deal with Matt Capps to cover for Storen as he grows into the spot.  Jenks, Dotel,Gregg, Hoffman, Soriano, Wood all available (Soriano a type-A though, so we wont’ get him).  I think this would make for a good piece of business and could serve as a useful trade chip mid season.

2. I can see us working out a trade with Tampa Bay to acquire Matt Garza.  Tampa wants to get rid of payroll, not add it, but perhaps we can pre-arrange a one-year deal with Willingham and flip him to Tampa.  Washington could eat some of the salary and Willingham would slot nicely into the left field spot recently vacated by Carl Crawford.  Tampa may like this deal since Willingham projects to be a type-A free agent and would net them 2 picks when he leaves (you have to think Willingham wants to get at least a 3-year deal when he hits the FA market based on his age and his proclivities for injuries).  Of course, getting rid of Willingham also puts a hole into OUR lineup, one that looks pretty promising when we get a power hitting lefty first baseman.  And we certainly would like to get some compensation picks to continue to rebuild the farm system.  More likely Tampa would ask for someone like Desmond, which would be a tough trade to swallow for a team that hasn’t really developed that many marquee players in the last 5 years.  We could trade Desmond, acquire Garza, move Espinosa to short (where he’s a better fielder anyway) then sign a short term 2nd baseman like David Eckstein or Orlando Hudson until one of our high-end 2nd base prospects (Lobardozzi, Rick Hague or Jeff Kobernus) is ready to go.

3. Lastly, with not one but TWO arms picked up in the rule5 draft, the likelihood of us acquiring any veteran bullpen arms seems nil.  Perhaps we re-sign Peralta as a long man, but we have plenty of cover there in Balester and Stammen.  We have all the arms we could want coming up (Kimball, Carr, Wilkie all project as mid-bullpen arms, and the AA team is filled with good arms with no place to move up to with so many AAA starters on the 40-man) and we have three great live arms in Storen, Clippard and Burnett already in place.

It has been a pretty fun offseason to track thus far for Nats fans.  I can’t wait to see what happens next.