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Ask Boswell 12/10/12 edition

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Denard Span's "best of 2012" defensive catch, highlighting more of what we can expect in 2013. Photo NYpost.com

I wasn’t expecting much baseball talk in Ask Boswell this week (12/10/12), not with the Redskins on a 4-game winning streak.  But there were some significant baseball moves to discuss, and a ton of baseball questions made their way in.  So here we go.  As always, I read the question and answer before reading Tom Boswell‘s response, and sometimes edit questions for clarity:

Q: I find it hard to imagine any starter of worth will sign with the Nats now that there are five rotation certainties in place.  Will the Nats get the starter depth they desire?

A: There is definitely a class of starter out there who absolutely would take a minor league contract with a team like the Nats in order to rehabilitate their FA value, which may have been eroded due to injury or a bad season.  Who would sign Erik Bedard (as an example) to anything guaranteed right now?  Or Jonathan Sanchez?   I would say though that more likely is the team acquiring guys on the minor league free agent market (where there’s 100s of guys available) and trading for farm system depth (I could envision both Michael Morse and Danny Espinosa being moved for prospect depth right now).  Boswell didn’t really address this part of the question, instead focusing on the next question.

Q: Why did Rizzo non-tender Gorzelanny, who as the LHP long man could spot start? He has been effective at times, the non-tender now seems like a false economy.

A: Simple econonmics; despite Tom Gorzelanny‘s salary being miniscule in the grand scheme of things, they couldn’t tender him and risk getting an un-acceptable award in arbitration.  I posted on the topic ahead of the non-tender deadline.  I’m hopeful that Gorzelanny re-signs with the team at something close to his 2012 salary.  But, that being said the bullpen looks awfully full right now and there might not be room for him.  5 returning RH relievers, new signing Zach Duke and only one spot left, likely being filled by Bill Bray in a pure LOOGY move.  Boswell points out that Duke exactly replicates what Gorzelanny would have given us at a fraction of the price.  Enough said.

Q: How do you like the Denard Span acquisition versus Philly’s acquisition of Ben Revere?   Should the Nats have acquired Revere instead of Span?  Do the Nats have an internal CF option after Span’s contract ends?

A: I posted my opinion on the Span deal here; quick analysis: liked the Denard Span deal but didn’t like that they made it.   Now, if I compare the Span to the Revere deals, I can’t help but say that I think Philadelphia overpaid, badly.  Trevor May was Philly’s #1 prospect in their system.  May for Revere may have been a decent deal (akin to our own Alex Meyer for Span), but throwing in a servicable starter with 46 decent MLB starts under his belt was questionable.  It isn’t like Ben Revere is the second coming of Joe DiMaggio; he had a 89 OPS+ last year in his third pro season.  Great defense absolutely, but at what cost at the plate?  At least Span profiles as a better-than-league-average hitter.   The Span contract is for 2 years, by which time the Nats have a slew of potential replacements (in likely order Goodwin, Perez, Hood, Taylor), so yes there’s plenty of rising talent in the system at center.  Boswell doubts the talent of Trevor May despite the consensus scouting opinion of the player, but he likes Worley and thinks the Phillies “took a flier on talent.”  He does think Span > Revere though.

Q: Have the Nats done enough to their roster to win it all?  Do they need another closer?

A: I believe the team has already done enough to re-qualify for the 2013 playoffs, especially in the NL East where Miami and the Mets are reeling, barring a slate of pitching injuries.  I can make a legitimate argument (tease for a future post) that the WAR improvements expected from our existing players (Strasburg, Harper, a full season of Werth, etc), plus addition by subtraction for players who hurt us last year (Nady, DeRosa, Henry Rodriguez, etc) alone will result in a better team than 2012.   Do we need another closer?  No, but I think one more right handed option out of the pen could help.   That being said, we don’t really have any 25-man room right now given the anticipated pen.  I liked last year’s Brad Lidge signing as a way to get some bullpen help, but doubt the team will do it this year.  As far as Drew Storen goes, he’s a top notch reliever and does not need to be replaced.  But I could see the team flipping him or Tyler Clippard as they get more expensive.  Boswell says the Los Angeles acquisitions change the game, and teams like the Nats may have to re-think their approaches.

Q: What do you think of the Shields trade? Who comes out ahead? Do the Rays have enough pitching to remain AL East contenders, even after trading their No 1 starter?

A: I believe Tampa Bay fleeced Kansas City; Shields was NOT their #1 starter (David PriceJeremy Hellickson) or honestly maybe not even their #3 (Matt Moore, at least on potential).  So the Rays traded a mid-rotation starter who they wanted to move anyway, along with a long-man in Wade Davis for the best prospect in the minors right now  (Wil Myers), the Royal’s #1 pitching prospect (Jake Odorizzi), another high-end pitching prospect (Mike Montgomery, a former highly regarded arm), and yet another minor league player.  That is just frankly ridiculous.  If you had told me the trade was simply Myers for both Shields and Davis, I could have squinted and understood.  But the addition of the other prospects made this a complete heist for Tampa.  You don’t trade the best prospect in the minor leagues for anything less than an ACE starter.  Does Tampa have enough to remain AL east contenders?  Absolutely yes; this was a trade of spare parts for Tampa (akin to the Nats trading Tyler Moore and Steve Lombardozzi for some other team’s two best prospects) and they didn’t give up anything that they weren’t already planning on replacing.  Dayton Moore has gone all in on this move; if the Royals do not win the division in 2013, he’s out of a job.  Boswell didn’t really offer an opinion, just saying that the Rays are still stocked and noting that the price in prospects was why the Nats stayed away.  Disappointed not to read an opinion on the trade.

Q: Will Harper be hitting cleanup this year and, if so, what’s your thinking on this?

A: Answer: It depends.  If the team does NOT re-sign Adam LaRoche, then they have precious little left-handed hitting in the lineup, and Harper will be forced to bat somewhere in the middle of the order.  Cleanup may have to be the spot.  If LaRoche does come back, then the team can spread out its lefty power and continue with a similar lineup to what they used last year (going Harper-Zimmerman-LaRoche-Werth for L-R-L-R).  I certainly don’t think that someone like Harper will have any issues batting clean-up in the major leagues; one thing he’s never been accused of lacking is pride.  Boswell agrees with the opinion here, and then talks about just how much respect Harper earned in his rookie season.

Q: Should I be worried about our pitching depth? Our pitching was remarkably healthy this year and if that doesn’t hold true, especially with questions about Haren’s health I am not sure we can assume that will hold true this season. Don’t we need another starter or two who could eat innings if needed?

A: Yes, we have a depth issue.  Especially given that we’ve traded nearly an entire AAA team worth of rotation insurance in the last two off-seasons (Milone, Peacock, Meyer, Rosenbaum all traded away or lost to rule 5 in the last two off-seasons).  But Dan Haren has been remarkably durable through his career, only missing 28 games in his entire career to injury.  So lets temper the whole “Haren is fragile narrative.”  He’s not; he just happened to have an injury in 2012.  I’m assuming, until proven otherwise, that Haren will return to his previous form and throw 220 innings.  Does this mean that we weren’t lucky in 2012 and should plan for someone to get hurt in the rotation?  Absolutely.  I believe this is why moving either Michael Morse or Danny Espinosa for starter depth is wise.  Boswell reminds the reader about Duke’s starting capability and the team’s plans for Christian Garcia.  There’s also Ryan Perry.  And there’s also the slew of guys who won’t get MLB jobs but who aren’t ready to hang them up who will be there for the taking.  You know, guys exactly like Duke was last year 2 days before the start of the season.

Q: Don’t you think that if LaRoche was going to re-sign that he would have by now? If he goes, have the Nat’s alienated Morse?

A: No; the baseball off-season moves slowly, and few moves happen before the Winter Meetings anyway.  LaRoche is right on schedule for his negotiations.  Now, the team’s overt coveting of LaRoche has to have Morse pissed.  I would be; clearly the team is planning for your exit on a day to day basis in the open press.  Which is a real shame, because I like Morse and don’t think he did anything to warrant being treated this way.  Boswell somehow thinks that this whole dance is a compliment to Morse.  I don’t get it.

Q: Rizzo has a 2 year offer on the table for LaRoche, and history says he’s not likely to budge. Moreover, with other options like Morse and Moore, there’s no reason for him to. If another team needed help at 1B and was willing to give LaRoche 3 years, wouldn’t they have done so already? You’ve said all along you see the Nats and LaRoche amicably parting ways. Still see it that way?

A: Rizzo can budge on his demands.  Hey; at least it isn’t a four year deal that LaRoche is demanding.  I think a 2year deal with a club option for a 3rd makes a lot of sense for the team.  For the player, not so much.  This is LaRoche’s last chance at the free agent bonanza; he has to get the biggest contract he can.  The market for LaRoche won’t completely clear until Josh Hamilton signs.  While they’re not apples-to-apples comparisons, they are both lefty power hitters.  If a team that wanted Hamilton doesn’t get him, they can come looking for LaRoche to fit a middle of the order lefty bat.  The team still needs and wants LaRoche for two main reasons; plus defense and lefty power.  They’ll take a step backwards in both categories by going with Morse at first and Moore as first guy off the bench.  At the beginning of the off-season I thought LaRoche was leaving, because he’d want (and get) a 4 year deal.  Now I think he may be back.  Boswell now thinks LaRoche may be back and the team may give a 3rd year.

Q: I realize that the life with LaRoche is much preferred by the Nats. However, do you think there will be much of drop off in the quality of Nats play? Even without him, I have no doubt that the Nats will still win their share of games and make the playoffs (assuming the starting rotation stays relatively healthy). All starters are strike out pitchers. Offensive production should be about eqaul (though not as balanced),and Morse/Moore will probably make a few more errors. I feel like moving Zimmerman to first in 2014 and have Rendon starting at third would be the ideal way to make sure the core stays in tact.

A: I mostly agree; we’ll live without LaRoche but will be righty-heavy.  Morse is healthy and has shown 30 homer capabilities in the past; why wouldn’t he do that again in 2013?  It is a contract  year for him after all.  Meanwhile. the “save first base for Ryan Zimmerman” plan is one I’m 100% for; we’re just waiting for Anthony Rendon to show up.  Boswell cautions to temper expectations for Rendon, who hasn’t had an injury-free season in years.

Q: Why does Shane Victorino get a 3 year deal before Adam LaRoche?

A: Because the Red Sox made a rash, poor signing?  The LaRoche market just hasn’t played out yet.  Plus, filling a first baseman versus a corner outfielder is more risky for teams, so they do more due diligence.  Boswell doesn’t like the Victorino deal.  At all.

Q: Michael Young had the lowest WAR of ANY position player last year, do you really think he’s an upgrade for the Phillies? Personally, I can’t wait for those fans to start booing him 2 weeks into the season.

A: Yes, Michael Young looked pretty bad statistically last year.  But i’m guessing that a change of scenery may help him.  Texas has spent the past several seasons acquiring players to overtly replace Young; the year after he won a gold glove at short the team asked him to make way for Elvis Andrus and he moved to third.  Then the team moved him off of third when they acquired Adrian Beltre.  Then the team moved him to first … but then gave most of the starts at first to Mitch Moreland Maybe his 2012 was just pure disappointment in his treatment by the club where he’d played his entire career.  I think though that at his age (36 next year) he’ll be lucky to be just replacement level.  Boswell states the obvious; the Phillies are hoping for the 2011 version of Young, not the 2012 version.




Ask Boswell 11/26/12 Edition

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The Nats entire off-season plan revolves around what Adam LaRoche does. Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

I havn’t done a “how would I answer this chat question” from The Washington Post’s Tom Boswell in a while, but on the back of his 11/26/12 “Stay the Course” opinion piece in the Washington Post (where he basically advises that the team should stay out of the major FA market this off-season), I thought I’d chime in and read/respond to his 11/26/12 chat.

My opinion on Boswell’s piece; I don’t think you can stand pat in today’s baseball world.  Yes this team won 98 games last year.  But does anyone think we’ll win 98 games again by doing little to nothing to address the team’s needs?  Trying to replace Adam LaRoche and Edwin Jackson‘s departures internally has a large chance of weakening the team, and I believe we need to explore a significant FA purchase (or a trade) this off-season.  Now, inarguably TV deals and the rising revenue streams are fueling the FA market, and we’re already seeing contracts that heretofore would have been immediately labeled as “over pays.”  Therefore, even if the Nats go after a 2nd or 3rd tier player in free agency, they’re going to be compensated far more than we ever thought their value represented.  But this is just the way the baseball world is going; we can no longer say that someone is “overpriced” … we need to remember that everyone is going to be “overpriced.”  Perhaps Jayson Werth‘s $126M/7yr deal will look like a bargain in a few  years.

And this is before even addressing the impact that the amazing new Los Angeles Dodger’s TV deal, reportedly worth between $6 and $7 billion dollars over 25 years, will have on the baseball world.  Even at the low-end estimate, that’s $240M a year in RSN revenue.  $240M a year!  They could field a $200M team, pay luxury taxes and still have money to spare under this deal, and that’s before a single dollar in gate, game-day revenues, suites, parking or merchandising comes in.  To call this a “game-changer” is an understatement; I think this could be a serious issue facing Baseball in the coming years.  We’re already seeing what the new ownership group is capable of doing in terms of acquiring talent without much regard to payroll.  What happens if they also acquire the likes of Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke this coming winter?  A quick check of Cot’s page shows that Los Angeles has $169.5M committed to its top 14 players right now, with three guys making > 20M and nine total with pay > $11M/year.  And they’re reportedly in the mix for the top FAs this off-season, potentially adding 20-30M more to that base number.  That’s amazing.  Just more revenue sharing for Jeffrey Loria to pocket I guess (Thanks Bud!).

Anyway, back to the chat responses.  As always, I write my response before reading his, and sometimes edit questions here for clarity/conciseness.  I’m only answering baseball-related questions, ignoring the slew of Redskins issues.

Q: Are the Nats positioning themselves to make a strong push in the next two drafts?

A: This is what I whittled down a long-winded, rambling “question” to.  The gist is that a comp pick from Adam LaRoche leaving, plus another potential comp pick if Michael Morse leaves next year could help re-stock the farm system.  I’d tend to say, “maybe.”  The Nats are no longer where they were in 2009 and 2010, getting franchise players by virtue of back to back awful seasons.  So the likelihood of finding an impact player is far less.  That being said, having multiple first and supplemental first round picks is a great way to find players and to get guys who “slipped” due to signability/injury issues (as Lucas Giolito did this year).

The Nats farm system has taken some hits in the last two seasons; one from trade (losing 4 top-10 players in the Gio Gonzalez trade) and then another from injury concerns for its top guys (Sammy Solis, Matthew Purke, Lucas Giolito, and Anthony Rendon all representing 1st and 2nd round talents who suffered either season-ending injuries or significant injuries curtailing their progression in the last calendar year, to say nothing of injuries to lower-level guys like Taylor Jordan who will provide depth rising up).  This thinned farm system may prevent Rizzo from making the kind of deal he made last summer, and he may want to focus on getting some more depth in the 2013 draft, as much as is possible from drafting so low.

Here’s the issue writing my own response before reading Boswell’s: he didn’t even talk about the draft portion of the “question,” instead talking about the FA pitcher angle.

Q: What do you think the team is planning on doing to replace Edwin Jackson?

A: I’d guess the team is working on two fronts: one looking at possible trade angles with teams that have surplus starting pitching (Arizona, Tampa Bay, Oakland, Los Angeles Dodgers and perhaps even Atlanta) and seeing if he can swing a deal.  Then I’d guess he’s looking at a 2nd tier of starters, looking to avoid the Greinke sweepstakes (despite his affinity for the hurler).  I do NOT think the team is going to tender John Lannan, instead looking to get a better pitcher for slightly more money than the $5M he’d likely earn at a minimum in 2013.  Of course, with the prices we’ve seen for lefties already perhaps we will tender Lannan and consider another $5M insurance policy a bargain.  Boswell scrolls through the same 2nd tier of starters, noting that there’s definitely someone out there who could work.  He also mentioned the team may look at re-signing Zach Duke, though I’d be surprised by that.  Why would we re-sign Duke but non-tender Lannan, if Lannan clearly is a better pitcher?

Q: Is the lack of a MASN deal hindering the Nats FA plans?

A: You have to think it is.  If the Nats knew what they were getting next year, they’d certainly have a better idea of how much they could spend.  The fact that Bud Selig has allowed Peter Angelos to hijack this MASN revenue negotiation for this long is deplorable.  Of course, by waiting this long with the negotiations Angelos has only cost himself money, as the price we can command as a franchise certainly skyrocketed between the end of 2011 and now.  So there’s that.  But its clear the team is getting a pittance as compared to other comparably sized markets (Houston, Philadelphia) and needs a larger share.  Boswell doesn’t think the lack of a deal is affecting the team’s plans, mostly because there’s not a $250M player on the market this year as there was last year.

Q: Were you invited to any of the seven off-season Nationals player weddings?

A: I wasn’t.  Boswell wasn’t either.  :-)

Q: Why did the MLB allow the Marlins trade to go through? It poisons Miami against baseball probably for a decade and will surely be seen as a cautionary tale for city governments for at least as long.

A: Simple reason: Selig is buddies with Jeffrey Loria and has enabled his crummy behaviors for nearly 2 decades.  More complex reason: on the face of it, from a purely baseball sense this trade was little different than the Boston-Los Angeles trade, and I’d guess you would have a hard time accepting one and denying the other.  Loria’s position with Miami is not Selig’s concern; he got the new stadium that Selig claims is necessary in every market and Loria clearly will continue to profit from the team.  To an owner, that’s the primary concern.  And Selig works for the owners.  All of us bloggers and columnists to deplored the trade and Loria in general (including me, in this space in September and again in November) and talk about the sanctity of the game are just blowing hot-air.  Selig doesn’t care.  Boswell didn’t really answer the question, just saying that baseball is dead in Miami for a long, long time.  Hey, it only helps the Nats to have a 110 loss team in the division, right?

Q: Is Adam LaRoche destined for the AL as an aging 1st baseman?

A: I don’t think so; the questioner compared LaRoche to Adam Dunn, who can DH and is more valuable in the AL.  Inarguably aging sluggers fare better in the AL … but LaRoche just won a gold glove for his defense at first base.  He isn’t exactly a plodding first baseman slowed by age.  He should be able to capably play the position for several more  years, through whatever contract he’s about to sign.  Boswell agrees that this is the trend, and says that Baltimore is a possible destination … but mentions nothing about LaRoche’s plus defense.

Q: Why aren’t the Nats making a bigger play for Edwin Jackson?

A: A good question.  I questioned the Nats lack of a Qualifying Offer being extended to Jackson and surmised it was because the team was afraid he’d take it (having a history of working on one-year deals).  So clearly the lack of the Q.O. indicates a new direction for the team.  I don’t think its related to his meltdown in the post-season; that can happen to anyone (see most of our pitching staff not named Ross Detwiler).  I’d guess that it relates somehow to Jackson’s maddening capabilities; shutdown power pitcher one night, gopher-ball machine the next.  I think they’re just going in a different direction.  Boswell says Jackson wants a 5-year deal … which if true even more reinforces my questioning of the lack of the Q.O.  I disagree with his sentiment that the team is “saving room” for the rising farm system arms; to me a prospect starter is not a solution until the day he arrives in the majors and gives you 30 starts.

Q: Why did Tampa extend Evan Longoria?

A: The team had him under baseball’s most team-friendly contract (6yrs, $17.5M with three team options, locking him to Tampa from 2008 til 2016).  One of baseball’s best players, he made just $2M and $4.5M in the last two seasons.  Which is just ridiculous.  I feel Tampa did the extension to show good faith to the player who was just so woefully underpaid.  Boswell didn’t really answer the question, just saying its a good move because hitters come back from injury better than pitchers.

Q: Should the team be worried about losing LaRoche and his lefty power?

A: Yes absolutely.  Which is why the team should either try to get him to sign a reasonable deal (3 years max) OR the team should let him walk and try to replace the lefty power on the FA market (perhaps in the form of someone like Nick Swisher, who won’t be cheap but also can stick in LF for a while and should fit in nicely to the clubhouse).  Or maybe the team swings a deal for a lefty outfielder in trade and sticks Morse at first.  Boswell agrees, thinking that LaRoche’s hot FA market will get him a 4 year deal for more money than the Nats are willing to pay.

Q: Is there any chance that MASN just cuts ties with the Nats and frees us from the awful deal?

A: No. Chance. In. Hell.  Angelos stands to get such massive, major profit from this deal that he’ll die before giving in.  There is just no way.  And more and more its looking like this pact with the devil, which enabled the team to move here, will be a limiting factor in the years to come.  People talk about how Atlanta has the worst TV deal in the MLB?  Well what about the Nats?  Boswell asked Selig about this and was told that “everything is on the table.”  I highly doubt that, but I’m not going to call Boswell a liar.  I’ll just say, “Don’t hold your breath” that the Nats will be allowed to extract themselves from MASN and create their own RSN.  This would be the absolute dream scenario, but I just cannot see Selig backpeddaling on this deal less than a decade after it was signed.

Q: Will the Nats learn the lessons heeded by other big-money teams who got saddled with old, expensive players?

A: Hopefully so.  Not giving LaRoche 4 years would be a signal to that end.  But it can be difficult; what happens when the whole core of our young team hits free agency?  That’s a lot of big checks to write, and the fan base will bemoan every star that is allowed to walk.  Boswell thinks LaRoche is consistent enough to warrant the contract, but also notes that he’s several years past the typical hitter prime.

Q: Is Morse really the better choice at 1B if it’s between him and Moore? Is he really just that bad in the OF?

A: I’m convinced this narrative is overplayed.  Morse was a shortstop coming up through the minors, so he’s not exactly immobile, and suddenly nobody remembers that Tyler Moore was a plodding minor league first-baseman who only tried LF for the first time in spring training of last year.  Now suddenly Morse isn’t the better LF option?  I don’t buy it.  Neither are great LF choices; Morse had a -23.3 UZR/150 in 493 innings while Moore had a -22.7 in 229 innings this past season (small sample sizes both).  So it seems they’re both awful out there.  But then again (as I’ve said many times) you can “hide” guys in LF if they’re big bats.  You take the lesser defense in order to get a middle-of-the-order hitter.  The last thing you want is a #8 hitter (think Xavier Nady) bumbling around in LF and hitting .190.  If we lose LaRoche, I think the team should put Moore back in his natural position at 1B and let Morse get one more season out there.  Boswell didn’t answer the question, instead rambling about something else.



Injuries lead to call-ups lead to Difficult Roster Decisions.

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Got word this morning that the team is optioning the ineffective Ryan Perry back to AAA and bringing up veteran minor league FA signing Mike Gonzalez to take his place.  Luke Erickson notes the fact that 40-man member Atahualpa Severino was bypassed for this move, despite not requiring a subsequent 40-man roster move (the team transfered Drew Storen to the 60-day DL to make room).

This is the latest in a flurry of additions to the 40-man roster necessitated by a freak rash of injuries, and eventually will make for some rather difficult roster moves after the season is over.  As it stands right now, the team is now technically sitting at 45 guys on the 40-man roster (40 active or 15-day DL, 5 on the 60-day DL), meaning that at a minimum after the season 5 guys are going to have to make way.  Yes we have some free agents that will come off the books, but you generally need to operate your 40-man roster with some room to maneuver, especially considering some of the big prospect names that are going to be Rule-5 eligible this coming off-season (just to name a few; Danny Rosenbaum, Jeff Kobernus and Destin Hood).

Makes you wonder how the team feels about the two Major League contracts they handed out last draft?  Anthony Rendon is injured and likeout out for the season (again)  Matthew Purke only just got out of extended spring training to record his first start in Low-A.

Anyway; the real problem is the carnage that is likely to occur when the team has to designate a number of these mid-season additions.  Because as we designate them we run the risk of losing them to waiver claims.  I don’t think Carlos Maldonado is necessarily at risk, but certainly we didn’t need to expose someone like Sandy Leon or Corey Brown until absolutely necessary.

It makes you wonder if prior additions who are continually getting passed over for non 40-man candidates are either targets to get cut or were mistakes to begin with.  Why no Severino?  How about Carlos Rivera?  How long before the team summarily cuts Xavier Nady and his .500 OPS?

Did the Nats call up the wrong OF?

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Harper knows he's ready; is the Media? Photo GQ magazine Mar 2012

As the rest of the free world now knows, Bryce Harper has gotten called up to give the incredibly weakened Nats lineup some potential offense.  Sometimes moves can be planned and orchestrated (such as keeping Stephen Strasburg in the minors in 2010 past the super-2 deadline), and sometimes your hand is called.  With Michael Morse out indefinitely, and with the most fragile $100m player this side of Carl Crawford (aka, F.O.T.F. Ryan Zimmerman) heading to the DL yet again, this team suddenly is without 55-60 homers and 200 RBIs in the middle of its order.

So, we’ll roll the dice with the 19-yr old Harper.

But, should the team really have called up a much more mature, much more MLB-ready member of the Syracuse Chiefs?  A guy who is currently putting up this line in AAA: .278/.354/.556 with 6 homers in 20 games?  A guy who has hit 30+ homers in two successive seasons, at two successive levels of the minors and is currently on a pace for more than 40 in AAA?  Yes I’m talking about Tyler Moore, a 16th round draft pick who has come out of nowhere to become (arguably) this team’s 3rd best hitting prospect in the minors today.

Yes, I know he’s a 1B primarily, and he’s just started taking reps in LF.  But after watching Xavier Nady lumber towards balls in LF and watching Mark DeRosa turn routine RF fly balls into adventures, how much worse could it be to stick him out there instead and juggle Harper with Werth and Ankiel in CF and RF (matchup dependent)?  Scouts and pundits have routinely discounted Moore’s abilities, and Mike Rizzo‘s scouting trip last week apparently made his mind up for him, so perhaps there’s a method to his madness.  Maybe Moore really isn’t an OF option despite his LF experiments.  We’re not watching him game in and game out, just typing out blog posts from our dining room table.

Either way, the Nats should get at least a more competent batter in the line-up.  If Harper comes up and starts blasting the ball all the better.

Lannan option shocker

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Hope to see you back soon Mr Lannan. Photo Luis Alvarez/AP via www.timesunion.com

I was sort of curious why there was so much volume on my Nationals RSS feeds this morning; little did I know there was a relatively shocking piece of news to report and comment on; John Lannan has been optioned to AAA to start the 2012 season.

I’ll admit it: I had Lannan penciled in as the 5th starter as soon as Chien-Ming Wang went down with injury.  I didn’t give it a second thought.  When the Nats bought Edwin Jackson, they had 6 starters for 5 spots and my presumption was that Lannan was the default choice for the 5th starter once Wang proved not to be ready for the start of the season.  In the back of my mind I knew Lannan had an option … but never thought that he and his $5M salary would be dropped to Syracuse.

This action definitely sends some statements.  In no particular order:

1. Unlike past iterations of the team (notably the 2009 team and the bullpen construction decisions made at the end of spring training), this sends the message that roster spots are not entirely guaranteed by virtue of salary or options status.  We all knew Ross Detwiler had no options and was set to make the 25-man roster, but nobody thought he’d be beating out Lannan for the 5th starter spot.  Its hard to argue he didn’t earn it; his Spring Training ERA was half that of Lannan’s.

2. The team isn’t concerned about “wasting” salary: Lannan joins fellow multi-millionare Yuniesky Maya in Syracuse, meaning that the Syracuse rotation is set to earn a sizeable percentage per annum of the major league rotation (roughly $20M for the Nats starting 5 versus $7M and change in AAA).  In fact if it weren’t for Jackson’s $11M salary the two rotations would be roughly equal.  Amazing.

3. Was there a stated rotation competition still ongoing this late into Spring Training?  If so it certainly didn’t come out in the dozens of stories filed by the beat reporters from Viera.  Perhaps the real shock here is that nobody knew that Lannan’s job was in jeopardy.  Did Lannan?

4. Sending Lannan down isn’t the same thing as sending Bryce Harper down: I’ve seen some bloggers kvetching about the statement “we’re starting with our best 25″ when explaining the demotion while the team breaks camp with 3 non-roster invitees (Tracy, Carroll, Nady), at least one of which is set to get major reps in the outfield, and none of which are as good as Harper right now.  The simple matter is this; there’s “money” considerations and then there’s “MONEY” considerations.  Just keeping Harper in the minors a couple of weeks guarantees us one more year of his service prior to FA eligibility, and that’s hugely important.  No-one will argue the WAR-value add of 2 weeks of a 19yr old rookie versus 162 games of a 25-yr old emerging slugger.

I can buy some of the argument, by the way, that the Super-2 status concerns may be moot with Harper, considering that the team is in its best interests to buy out Harper’s arbitration years before he hits them.  Other forward-thinking teams (Tampa, Colorado, Los Angeles, Milwaukee) have certainly been doing this with their younger stars (Evan Longoria, Matt Moore, Troy Tulowitzki, Matt Kemp, and Ryan Braun respectively for the above teams).  But, as far as I can tell none of the above players are advised by Scott Boras, who knows maximum value is obtained by waiting til the last minute, by playing all the angles, and by not giving “home town  discounts.”  So for me, there is still significant future value in keeping Harper in the minors until mid-to-late June.  The difference can be googled by the reader, as WP writers have done this analysis several times in the past and discovered that a superstar avoiding super-2 can mean $14-$18M in future salary.

5. Davey Johnson needs to get on the same page as his boss (aka, Mike Rizzo).  Johnson telling the press “John’s my guy,” as he reportedly did just last week, or Johnson prematurely announcing that Lannan had won the 5th starter spot and then revoking it is a serious breach of boss-employee trust.   No wonder Lannan “took the news hard;” how would you feel if you were blindsided by your employer a week after them telling you that you were doing a great job and that everything seemed fine?  In this respect, the team seemed to have done Lannan wrong.  I’ll caveat this by saying that none of us armchair pundits are in the clubhouse on a day to day basis, so none of us had any idea what conversations Johnson and Lannan may have had leading up to his demotion.

6. I will have to agree with others who think this sends a bad message to the rest of the team.  Lannan by all respects is the kind of player teams want.  He doesn’t make waves, he doesn’t get bad press.  He was our opening day starter twice in recent years, he was a great example of a middle-round player overcoming his draft position and potential to make the majors, and he frankly isn’t that bad a pitcher.  Does the team’s “treatment” of Lannan send the wrong message to its veterans?  If so, that’s a bad cloud to have hanging over a team with some serious money tied up with its veterans (namely Werth, Zimmerman and Gonzalez).  If these guys didn’t like the way the team handled this situation, the clubhouse could be lost fairly easily.

7. You would think this action kills what remaining trade value Lannan had; Rizzo had already spoken of how the trade market for him was “thin” to begin with.  Lannan is a tough asset to get equal value for; he doesn’t over power you, he has unimposing stats (career 101 ERA+, or exactly MLB average), and he doesn’t get a ton of Ks.  He is a durable lefty who can fit at the back of your rotation.  Is that worth $5M a year (and more next year when he hits arbitration again)?  Or, more importantly to the Nats, is that worth a starting position player?  Certainly the Angels aren’t giving up their promising CF Peter Bourjos (as an example) for Lannan straight up.  We’d have to sweeten the pot.  Except that at some point, the value of keeping a disgruntled Lannan in AAA as starter insurance will eventually be more important than whatever role player we could get in return.

The one precedent that gives me hope on the trade front is when the team somehow turned demoted and malcontented Lastings Milledge into Nyjer Morgan (yes I know there was two others involved, but in terms of like for like, Milledge essentially turned into Morgan).  Perhaps Detwiler will continue his late 2011 performance into April of 2012 and will remain our starter-in-waiting to cover for eventual injuries and what not.  This would give the team more confidence to shop the now-insurance policy Lannan and wait for the right deal.

All in all, just your ordinary Wednesday in Nats town.

Nats Rule-5 lossee Spring Training Update pt 2

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So long Komatsu; you've made the Cards 25-man roster. Photo Chris Lee/Stl Post Dispatch via stltoday.com

As has been published by both Luke Erickson/NationalsProspects and Mac/Capitolbaseball in recent days, its looking more and more likely that both our Rule 5 draftees Erik Komatsu and Brad Meyers may not be coming home any time soon.

  • Meyers has still yet to appear in a Minor League game for the Yankees, meaning the team is well within their rights to stash Meyers on the DL and keep him in their extended Spring Training while he rehabs.  This gives the team ample time to evaluate Meyers while waiting for an opportunity to call him up.  Kinda like what the Nats did with Elvin Ramirez for the entirety of the 2011 season.

As I opined here prior to the Nats failing to protect Komatsu, I thought he was worth protecting prior to last December’s rule 5 draft.  And as I’ve stated in the comments section here and there, I thought the team made a mistake not protecting him.  The Nationals STILL have not broached a full 40-man roster (they sit at 39/40 by  my count after adding Rick Ankiel this week), meaning they could have retained Komatsu and kept the trade bounty they received for Jerry Hairston last July.

Now, in a relatively not surprising, Murphy’s Law kind of way, the Nats really could use Komatsu.  Ankiel’s hurting, Bernadina has been banged up, Morse is starting the season on the DL.  The team is probably going to break camp with TWO non-roster invitees on the 25-man roster to fill outfield spots (Xavier Nady and Brett Carrol).  Its not that Komatsu was an answer for us this spring, but considering the lack of outfield depth and the failure to address the CF situation in the off-season, it seems like the team should have done a better job retaining its own outfielders this past off-season.