Nationals Arm Race

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

What does Rodriguez’s “shelving” mean for this team?


Rodriguez's tenure as a Nat has been so rough so far, I can't even find a picture wearing our uniform. Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images via

When the Nationals traded Josh Willingham for power arm Henry Rodriguez and minor league outfielder Corey Brown in December, the team and its fans thought we were getting a good outfielder prospect plus a valuable power arm, back of the bullpen type in exchange for a defensively challenged left fielder who couldn’t stay healthy (that is certainly the glass-is-half-empty analysis of Willingham’s contributions to this team, but so be it).

Brown was always set to repeat AAA, having struggled there last year after dominating lower levels of the minors.  He still may feature in our outfield at some point if our slew of LF/CF options fail us and he plays well to start the season.  His ankle injury certainly is not helping him prepare for 2011, but he’s not the real prize of the Willingham trade.

Rodriguez, after showing up for spring training 2 weeks late and not getting into a game for another week, is now “being shelved” to work on his mechanics.  A week before opening day.  Here’s his stats for the spring thus far: 2 1/3 innings, 7.71 era, 3 hits, 3 walks and only about half the pitches he’s thrown being in the strike zone.  The coaching staff report that his mechanics are out of whack, that he cannot repeat his delivery and he’s been doing nothing but bullpen work for the past 5 days.


Rodriguez has no minor league options.  The Athletics knew this and the Nationals knew this upon trading their starting left fielder, #5 hitter and top OPS producer from 2010.  Now this roster inflexibility is set to cause a serious issue for this team.  We can’t just “invent” an injury for Rodriguez to store him on the DL; last time I checked my orthopaedic surgeon didn’t treat “mechanical flaw” as an injury.  So, instead of leaving someone deserving on the opening day roster (say, Collin Balester or even Drew Storen, not that he’s been 100% deserving based on his spring performance but remember he did appear in 50+ games last year rather effectively, especially for a rookie), we’re going to probably lug him around for a while and look for incredibly low-priority outings for him to “remember” how to pitch again.

I know all of Willingham’s faults.  He’s injury prone, he was arbitration eligible and his salary was escalating, he hasn’t ever played a full season without time off for injuries.  More importantly to Rizzo, he was a severe defensive liability, even in a position that traditionally can “hide” poor defenders.  And Rizzo from the onset has seemed dead set on fielding a team of track stars, no matter what the cost.

But none of those reasons factor in the most important point; Willingham can mash the ball.  In two seasons in Washington he had OPS+ figures of 129 and 127 (which would have ranked him about 20th in the NL had he qualified each year) and hit in the 5th hole protecting Adam Dunn admirably.  You don’t just give up that much offense unless you KNOW you’re getting something of equal value in return.

Right now, we’re not getting anything close to equal value for him.  And it may have larger ramifications for the team that breaks camp in a week or so.

Written by Todd Boss

March 23rd, 2011 at 11:09 am

8 Responses to 'What does Rodriguez’s “shelving” mean for this team?'

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  1. Every year we read of baseball players having Visa problems and showing up late. Do these guys just not understand that they need Visas? If I had to travel for my job, I would be planning this sort of thing well in advance. Spring training isn’t like Easter… it starts at the same time every year.

    Sec 314

    23 Mar 11 at 12:25 pm

  2. The Elias Sports rating at the end of last season had Willingham as one of the 50 Best offensive players in the game. Rizzo also thought that 1st Base was an important defensive position (??!!??). To quote the great Dick Allen “You know how you play 1st base? You hit!”
    If HRod had options, this could have seemed like something other than a salary dump.

    Mark L

    23 Mar 11 at 1:58 pm

  3. Agree, agree agree. You can “hide” bad defensive players in two or three places generally. First Base and Left Field are the two main places. To a lesser extent 3rd Base and with some restrictions at Catcher.

    So we have a guy who mashes and who plays LF. Why not try him at 1B? Perhaps because Rizzo got tired of seeing Dunn lumber around at first and clearly wanted to get a plus-defender diving around there and making plays.

    I really don’t think it was a salary dump though. I think it was a “transition” to Rizzo’s guys. That we saved some money was incidental; i mean we did turn around and guarantee $126M to a 31yr old for the next 8 years. I just have a hard time saying we were purposely dumping salary while signing Werth and trying to trade for Garza and extend him for $100 for 6 years.

    Todd Boss

    23 Mar 11 at 4:15 pm

  4. Preaching to the choir; i’ve bitched about this point several times myself. Here’s the best article i’ve seen on the topic:

    The article mentions that most of the problems are related to players with criminal records or just errors in paperwork. I’m assuming it is mostly the former.

    I also posted this comment on natsJournal at some point, bitching about Rodriguez (

    “I don’t mean to sound ignorant of immigration control issues … but why exactly do these players have visa issues year after year? I mean, If I know I have to report to a new job on Feb 1st, I’m starting the paperwork to GET to my job with enough time to spare.

    Ironically, it doesn’t really matter with Rodriguez since he has no options and he WILL be on the 25-man roster. But this is hurting the team, hurting his chances of carving out a role, and definitely damaging his spring training routine, meaning he’ll enter the season not quite ready to go.

    What causes a 2 week delay in getting a work visa for baseball players? Does he have a criminal record or something? Are they (or their agents) just incompetent and failed to file the correct paperwork on time? Can anyone share some insight here?”

    Todd Boss

    23 Mar 11 at 4:37 pm

  5. I tend to agree that Willingham wasn’t a pure ‘salary dump’, but the Nats also said they backloaded the contract of Werth so they could have money to spend. Their words, not mine.
    There definitely was an effort to have defensive players at all positions regardless of offensive production, which speaks ‘amatuer hour’ to me.
    The Red Sox won 2 World Series with a ‘DH Quality’ Left Fielder; at the end of the day you still have to score runs.

    Mark L

    24 Mar 11 at 9:03 am

  6. I know, i know. If it were putting together this team this past off season I would have lived with Willingham, pursued a “real” leadoff/centerfielder (perhaps trade for the disgruntled Colby Rasmus or Jacoby Ellisbury?), still gone ahead and gotten LaRoche to fill the lefty void at 1B. I think they did the best they could on the pitcher front, given the competition and willingness of teams to part with major prospects. Imagine this lineup:

    Ellsbury-Desmond-Zimm-LaRoche-Werth-Willingham-Espinosa-Catcher-Pitcher. I like that. 🙂

    Todd Boss

    24 Mar 11 at 10:41 am

  7. […] few days ago I was kvetching about the Henry Rodriguez situation in this space.  One sentence summary; he was […]

  8. […] playing with a 5-man pen on any night where the team has a lead or the game is close.  And, as noted several times in this space, Rodriguez’s lack of options handcuffs the team’s roster […]

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