Nationals Arm Race

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

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2013 Fantasy Baseball post-mortem

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Verlander just killed me this year.  Photo unk via rumorsandrants.com

Verlander just killed me this year. Photo unk via rumorsandrants.com

My standard disclaimer; this is a whole huge post kvetching about my 2013 Fantasy Baseball team.  If you don’t play fantasy, feel free to skip this 3,000 word missive.  I’ll insert a “jump” line here so that RSS readers don’t have to see this whole massive post :-)

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What could a full Team-Cuba look like without Politics?

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Team Cuba looks good so far; imagine them with Cespedes and all their other MLB stars. Photo wiki/flickr hj_west

I just finished re-reading The Duke of Havana, a great book about the back story of Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, his rise to the top (and subsequent political fall from grace) in Cuban professional baseball, his escape from his home-land, his rise with the 1998 New York Yankees, and the general politics/life of typical Cubans in the post-USSR era.  Despite the crushing effects of the Fidel Castro regime in Cuba over the last 40 years, the island continues to produce MLB-quality baseball players.  Of course, thanks to the lack of diplomatic relations between the two countries, when it comes time for the World Baseball Classic, we can’t see a unified Cuban team.   Cubans who have escaped to play in America can never go back, and (as detailed in the book), often times leave behind wives, children and family who are subsequently pressured politically by Castro’s hacks.

I wondered what could an all-Cuba team really look like, if MLB players and other expatriots were allowed to re-unite with the current set of known Cuban amateur stars?  Using some of the same methods as in my “All Virginia” post, by searching for those born in Cuba along with some well-known Cuban Americans (per the politics link above), here’s a possible WBC roster of maximum strength for Team Cuba:

Manager: Fredi Gonzalez of the Atlanta Braves.  We’d get Cuban hall-of-famer Tony Perez out of semi-retirement (he was coaching at a small college in Georgia recently).

Positional Players:

  • C: Yasmani Grandal or J.P. Arencibia
  • 1B: Kendrys Morales or Gaby Sanchez
  • 2B: Yunel Escobar or Sean Rodriguez
  • 3B: Yonder Alonso
  • SS: Yuniesky Betancourt or Alexei Ramirez (2006 WBC Team Cuba member)
  • LF: Yoenis Cespedes (2009 WBC team member)
  • CF: John Jay (parents born in Cuba, emigrated to US before birth)
  • RF: Leonys Martin (2009 WBC team member) or Dayan Viciedo

Reserves: Yasiel Puig, Jorge Soler, Alberto Castillo, Jose Iglesias, Juan Miranda, Adeiny Hechavarria, Brayan Pena, Eddy Rodriguez

Best Cuban amateurs (aka, the leading defection candidates): Alfredo Despaigne (just named MVP of round 1 of pool play), Alexei Bell, Yulieski Gourriel,  Jose Abreu (the consensus #1 Cuban amateur prospect right now).

Thoughts: There’s some talent in this lineup; Cuba has developed some power hitters over the past few years but seems to specialize more in middle infielders (most of these reserves are middle infield prospects).  But a potential 3-4-5 of Morales-Cespedes-Alonso is nothing to shake a stick at.  I think this team could score some runs and would be excellent defensively.

Starting Pitchers

  • Gio Gonzalez
  • Jose Contreras
  • Livan Hernandez
  • Yunesky Maya (2006 and 2009 WBC team member)
  • Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez we’ll get him out of retirement; i’m sure he can still throw)

Relievers

  • Aroldis Chapman (2009 WBC team member)
  • Francisely Bueno
  • Raul Valdez
  • Danys Baez (retired in 2011)

Thoughts: So, we’re a little light on pitching, it seems.  We make use of Gonzalez’ first generation in USA status to steal him away from Team USA.  But after him the starting pitching gets light (even if you push Chapman into a starting role as Cincinnati is looking to do in 2013).   Contreras is a career 101 ERA+ guy, Livan may not have a job in 2013 and all nats fans can speak to what Maya brings to the table at this point.  I threw in El Duque despite him probably being close to 50 at this point (B-R lists his birthday in 1965); he was always in great shape and probably could throw a few junk balls up there right now.

Miscellany: Here’s links to Cuba’s 2006 WBC roster, their 2009 roster and their 2013 roster.  And here’s as complete a list of Cuban defectors as I can find on the internet.

 

 

 

 

 

Ladson’s Inbox 2/5/13

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Lots of questions about Gonzalez and Garcia this week. Photo unknown credit.

Hey, what great timing for another Bill Ladson inbox (posted 2/5/13).  Baseball news is light, pitchers and catchers report in a week or so, and I’m not quite ready to continue my Stats series.

As always, I write my answer before reading his, and sometimes edit questions for clarity:

Q: Do you think general manager Mike Rizzo will add starting pitching depth before Opening Day? Does the lingering possibility of a Gio Gonzalez suspension change whom the Nationals would consider acquiring?

A: In Ladson’s 1/22/13 mailbag, some one asked what could prevent the Nats as constructed from winning the World Series in 2013.  I answered Rotation Injuries and Luck.  Well, in the wake of the Miami PED scandal, I guess the third answer may be “PED scandal.”

This is a tough question to answer; Gio Gonzalez has denied the rumors, but the newspaper in question (the Miami New Times) clearly only named Gonzalez because they felt like the evidence they had in hand was irrefutable.  Many other players have not been named.  So as a GM; how do you go about preparing for 2013 at this point?   If Mike Rizzo knows that Gonzalez is getting suspended, you have to think he’s on the horn to his buddy Scott Boras about possibly buying Kyle Lohse, which is clearly the best remaining FA starter.  But Lohse isn’t coming cheap, and likely isn’t coming on a one year deal, and would cost another draft pick (I believe).  The Nats are already topping $120M in payroll; would they go to $135M?

If we think Gio at least gets a pass and the suspension is put off, maybe Rizzo’s recent activities of signing random starters to minor league contracts is going to be sufficient.

Ladson mentions Javier Vazquez and the ever-present rumors of Christian Garcia going to the rotation as possible Gonzalez replacements if he gets suspended quickly.  Probably fair; Vazquez may be a great, cheap alternative.

Q: Everyone is saying that it’s going to be a two-team race in the National League East between the Nationals and Braves. Do you think the Phillies have a shot to contend with both these teams, or is their time done?

A: Boy, its hard to look at the aging, expensive Phillies lineup they had in place in 2012, which suffered injuries and setbacks and creaked their way to a .500 record, and then look at the highly questionable slew of acquisitions and signings this off season (Ben Revere, John Lannan, Michael YoungDelmon Young and everyone’s favorite anti-gay advocate Yuniesky Betancourt) and not, well, giggle at where this team is going.  My favorite baseball joke from the off-season goes like this: “The Phillies wanted to get Younger this off-season, so they signed Michael Young and Delmon Young.”

The two Youngs were both negative WAR players last year, Lannan is a 5th starter, Revere was a backup centerfielder who the Phillies traded some decent assets for, and Betancourt is who he is (though admittedly he’s on a minor league deal and seems at best set to be a utility infielder behind starters Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley).  I see the Phillies being a very bad defensive team with the two Youngs in the starting lineup, I see some serious questions in the back side of the rotation, and I see continued regression and louder complaints about Ryan Howard‘s contract.  Fun times a-coming in Philadelphia.  Ladson actually says that the Phillies will “be improved with Michael Young.”  Bill!  Have you seen Young’s WAR figures from 2012??  He was a NEGATIVE WAR player at both major War sites.  That means he makes your team worse!    Now, he was completely servicable in 2011 … so if you want to make the argument to me that 2012 was an aberration for an aging hitter playing in a hitter’s park, well I guess that’s a stance you can take.  But pretty much every other pundit in the blogosphere has loudly criticized the Philadelphia moves this off-season.

Q: What is the status of Lucas Giolito? When do you see him pitching in D.C.?

A: Tommy John surgery in Late August (I can’t remember the exact date; it was 8/24/12 when I posted this highly-critical article about Lucas Giolito and the situation), so figuring a typical 12-month rehab session before he’s actively throwing again in pro-games basically puts him at the end of the 2013 minor league season.  Which means he’ll be 20 before he really is ready to start his pro career in the spring of 2014.  Figure 4-5 years average case for typical high schoolers to work their way up the systems (perhaps fewer years given his talents and pedigree, as we’ve seen with someone like Dylan Bundy in 2012, who made his way from low-A to AA in his first pro season out of HS and got a late Sept callup to the majors) and we’re probably looking at 2016-2017 before seeing him in the majors.  If, of course, he recovers from surgery, hasn’t destroyed his mechanics, is effective, matures, doesn’t get re-injured, or any of the million other pitfalls that typically befall high school arms drafted in the upper rounds.  Ladson thinks he’s pitching pro games “after the all-star break” and is in the majors in 3 years.  Wow.  That is optimistic.

Q: How do you think Henry Rodriguez will do? And what do you think his role in the bullpen will be?

A: I am, and always have been, pessimistic on Henry Rodriguez.  I hated the Willingham trade that got him here.  He’s forced the team to invent injuries to stash him on the DL coming out of spring training b/c he has no options.  He led the league in wild pitches in 2011 in just 65 innings.  He had a 69 ERA+ in 2012.  At some point when does the team say, “OK, its nice that he throws 100mph.  But enough is enough; we need a reliable pitcher who can deliver when called upon.”  Perhaps Spring Training 2013 is that time.

What do I think his role will be?  I’m sure he’ll look great in Spring Training again, will break camp with the team, and very well may look halfway decent for a while.  But just like every other season, he’s going to have those 3-walk outings where he pitches a 1/3 of an inning and gives up 4 runs, and then the manager will be afraid to use him unless the team has a 5-run lead.  And eventually we’ll call up Garcia to replace him and move on.  That’s my prediction for Rodriguez.  Ladson says the team should “attempt to trade him if he is not impressive this spring.”  Wow, that’s sage advice; if only every team could trade its under-performing players and actually get value back whenever it wanted.

Q: Can you predict Washington’s Opening Day lineup if all available players are healthy?

A: Easy.  I’ll even predict the batting order.  Span-Werth-Harper-Zimmerman-LaRoche-Desmond-Espinosa-Suzuki-Strasburg.  Ladson predicts the same names but in a lineup order that makes no sense from a lefty-righty balance perspective.

Q: After announcing his retirement, do you think Brian Schneider is a possible candidate to replace Johnson as manager of the Nationals?

A: Wow, yet another speculative question about the future Nationals Manager.   He took a question about the manager on 1/28/13, and on 1/22/13.  And on 1/14/13.   I guess people like speculating on the Nats next manager.  Not repeating what i’ve said on the topic before, is Brian Schneider a candidate?  Why would he possibly be a candidate to manage the major league team of a system he left 5 years ago?  Why would the Nats pick a manager who’s never managed a day in his life?   Ladson breathes some common sense on this one.

Q: I think Garcia has to be on the Opening Day roster, so is he in the bullpen or someplace else? Can the 25-man roster accommodate him and all the other pitchers?

A: “Someplace else?”  Like where?  In the outfield?   I like Garcia too, but the team has a numbers problem in the bullpen.  Storen, Clippard, Mattheus, and Stammen have all more than earned their spots.  Soriano is being paid a ton of money.  Duke is guaranteed a spot (he’s the only lefty and he’s got enough service time to refuse a demotion).  Oh, and Rodriguez has no options.  So there’s your 7-man bullpen.  Notice there’s only one left-hander out there; if you believe that you need left-handers to get left-handed batters out, then the bullpen needs to sacrifice one of the righties in order to have a second lefty (Bill Bray?) in there.

The only way I see Garcia making this bullpen is if the team runs out of patience with Rodriguez and DFAs/DLs him, or if the team trades away one of their closer-quality surplus guys, or if maybe someone like Mattheus/Stammen (both of whom do have options) struggles or gets hurt.  Otherwise look for Garcia to get stretched out and get looks as a starter in AAA.  Ladson says he’s confident Garcia is on the 25-man roster …. ok explain it to me then based on the above paragraph.  Who is he replacing?

The reported price for Greinke (updated)

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Zack Greinke at the Royal's photo day 2010. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images North America

12/19/10 update: this article is essentially moot: Zack Greinke was dealt to Milwaukee along with infielder Yuniesky Betancourt for four players (outfielder Lorenzo Cain, shortstop Alcides Escobar and pitching prospects Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress (who played HS ball in South Boston ironically enough).  I’m not familiar enough with the Milwaukee prospects to offer opinion one way or the other; here’s some opinions on the trade from FanGraphs, Ken Rosenthal, Jerry Crasnick, Joe Sheehan, and Keith Law.  Also from beat writers Kilgore and Zuckerman.

And, according to Jon Heyman via twitter, the Nats were close to a deal for Greinke in a deal that may or may not have included Storen and Espinosa.  Read more below.

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About 6 weeks ago the question of a possible Nat’s trade for Zack Greinke came up in a Keith Law chat (link is ESPN insider only) and the trade proposal was Zimmermann, Espinosa, Burgess and Detwiler.  I wrote about this theoretical deal at the time, saying it was too much to give up.

A glass-is-half empty analysis of these four players (which was apparently the opinion of Law, since he thought this would be a good deal for Washington) is something along the lines of the following: Zimmermann is promising pitcher but has yet to really produce consistently at the major league level.  Espinosa is also promising but is replaceable by our up-and-coming 2nd base prospects Lombardozzi and KobernusBurgess has been solidly improving as he’s progressed through the system but he’s still the toolsy/high promise player that Jim Bowden adored but which has never really panned out.  Lastly Detwiler has shown flashes of dominance but lost pretty much the entirety of 2010 to injury and is getting pushed further and further down the rotation depth chart.

The glass-is-half full opinion of these four players is simple: they represent the bulk of our farm system’s player development over the past few  years.  These four players represent the absolute cream of our drafting crop over the past few  years; a #1, a supplemental #1, a #2 and a #3 round draft pick.

Now today, we are hearing the TRUE bounty that Greinke would cost, and it is similarly heavy.   Greinke has hired new agents and apparently demanded a trade.  He also has a limited clause in his contract that allows him to block trades to certain teams, and the Nats are on that list.  According to Buster Olney though, the Royals and Nats have been talking and he discovered the actual price it would take (another ESPN insider link): Zimmerman, Espinosa and new closer Drew Storen.  On 12/24/10, KLaw reported that the offer was Zimmermann, Storen, Norris.  Wow that would have been quite the bounty.

This trade option replaces the unknown players (Detwiler and Burgess) with the known quantity (Storen), and only seems slightly less palatable than the Law chat proposal.  Can the Nats possibly give up 3 of their planned “starting 14″ players (the 8 out-field players, the 5 rotation guys and the closer) next year for Greinke?

Here’s my problem: Greinke had the makings of looking like an otherwise solid pitcher with a one-year wonder season that won him the Cy Young in 2009.  Is he really an “Ace” in this league?  His 2010 season was unremarkable (an ERA+ of exactly 100, meaning he performed at the mlb average), but now scouts are surmising that he was tired of his team going nowhere and he was “bored” most of the year.  But the fact remains there is no guarantee he returns to his 2009 performance.

If i’m Rizzo, I say no to this deal.

One last note about possibly overvaluing “prospects.”  Storen, Espinosa and Zimmermann are not prospects; they’ve graduated to becoming “promising young players.”  They have all made the majors, they’ve all competed at the highest levels and the Nats have a decent idea of what they can do.  Guys like Detwiler (because of his injury history) and players who have never reached the majors (Burgess as mentioned in this post) are the real “prospects” in question.  Teams and Fans overvalue prospects in a pseudo-parental relationship because they’ve watched the players grow up and grow.  But as Rosenthal pointed out (in the linked article above), prospects mostly flame out or don’t become major leaguers.  That’s the difference; teams MUST be willing to part with prospects to get real players.