December 31, 2007

Sales Pitch

The Nationals offseason has produced an offensive influx (offensive in more ways than one). However, Stan & Jim's Home for the Criminally Talented has done next to nothing to improve a very bad starting pitching staff. Due respect to Tyler Clippard, Bobby Brownlie, Jason Stanford and Dennis Tankersley, but none of those guys is a difference maker on the mound.

To be sure, there is reason to hope that holdovers John Patterson, Shawn Hill and Jason Bergmann will improve with better health and youngsters like Matt Chico, and John Lannan (American Hero) will benefit from their major league experience, but let's be honest, any team that's counting on Tim Redding as a mid-rotation innings-eater is a team with room for improvement.

There are a number of free agent starting pitchers still on the market on the cusp of the New Year. Some are likely to be too expensive for Uncle Teddy's accountants, others too far past their prime and some were just never that good to begin with. The remainder are injury risks or career minor leaguers. You know, like the rest of our starting staff. With that in mind, here are the official NTP Best Bets to occupy the 2008 Jason Simontacchi Memorial Wasted Roster Spot:

  • Bartolo Colon - Bartolo makes ¡Livan! look like Jamey Carroll. He'll be 35 next season, pitched just 155.2 innings over the last two seasons and looked terrible doing it. He's also the only free agent Cy Young winner not given a starring role in the Mitchell Report. If he's recovered from myriad elbow, back and shoulder problems his talent is undeniable. Plus, there's a cosmic justice angle to bringing back the pitcher whose 117 innings in 2002 cost the franchise Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee and Brandon Phillips.
  • Jason Jennings - Jennings is just one season removed from being one of the hottest young pitchers in baseball, but man, what a terrible season. Elbow problems sidelined Jennings after 99 innings and a 6.45 ERA. Still, in 2006 Jason posted a 3.78 ERA (130 ERA+) in Colorado's Flying Circus, and he'll be just 30 at mid-season. Like Colon, if he's healthy the talent will shine through.
  • Freddy Garcia - Freddy is probably on the long-term recovery plan, meaning he might require a 2-year deal to see any return on the investment. On the other hand, he can probably be 60-day DL'ed at the first opportunity, meaning that he won't be occupying a roster spot while he rehabs. Before Philly ruined him Garcia pitched 200+ innings in 7 of the previous 8 seasons.
  • Josh Towers - I dunno, just to piss off Peter Angelos? FWIW, Lookout Landing considers Towers the functional equivalent of Carlos Silva. So he's got that going for him.
  • Wade Miller - Miller makes John Patterson look like ¡Livan! Over the past four seasons he's pitched 89, 91, 22 and 14 innings, respectively. The 31-year old does have a career 110 ERA+ though... Consider him an adequate fill-in for J-Pattsy's DL spot if Patterson is miraculously healthy this season.
  • Eric Milton - Technically Milton isn't really one of Jim Bowden's boys, but he is an ex-Red, so anything is possible.
Honorary, "We're Getting the Band back Together!" signings. Would these guys add much to the 2008 Nats? Probably not. Would they help you party like it's 2005? Hell yeah!
  • Livan Hernandez - probably costs too much for too many years, plus ¡Livan!, Ray King, Dmitri Young and Ronnie Belliard on the same roster probably exceeds Uncle Teddy's post-game buffet budget. But wouldn't it be fun to recreate Opening Night 2005? Maybe the Braves'll sign Lance Cormier so we can boo him all over again! Good times, good times.
  • Tomo Ohka - Time to undo the bad juju surrounding that Junior Spivey trade. Plus, we didn't get nearly enough mileage out of the Tomo Ohka Song.
  • Tony Armas - C'mon, you know you want to. After all, this could be the season he puts it all together. He's only 29. And remember his dad, wasn't he... adequate?
  • Brian Lawrence - He was on the Nats. Swear to God! For like 30 seconds after they traded Vinny Castilla to San Diego. Wasn't that awesome when somebody traded for Vinny Castilla? Good times, good times.
  • Darrell Rasner - Damn you, Jim Bowden! Why must you torment me? Speaking of Darrell Rasner, it might be worth it to turn the tables on the Yanks and take a flyer on recently released SP Matt DeSalvo.

December 21, 2007

A Visit From Jim Bowden

In the days before Christmas, all through the clubhouse
Ray King was stirring gravy to go with his roast grouse.
The mitts were all hung in the lockers with care,
In hopes that Spring Training soon would be there.

The players were snug in their off-season homes,
Surely giving no thought to some dumb blogger's poems;
And Stan in his hardhat, Manny in his cap,
Had just settled in for a well-deserved nap;

When from the front office there arose such a noise,
Uncle Teddy was called and in turn called his boys.
Stan heard the commotion, saw the mad influx,
Were they being burgled, a Watergate redux?

The moon on the breast of the fresh outfield grass
Made a near-perfect backdrop for what came to pass,
For what to their wondering eyes should appear,
But a fist-bumping huckster, half tanked on near beer,
Clad in a tracksuit, so lively and trim,
It could be none other than ol' Trader Jim.

Like a hopped up Ben Johnson the players they came,
As he danced, drank and called them by almost right names:
Now, L-Millz! now, Dukes, Pena and other Guzman!
On, Willie! on Kearnsy! Why not Meat Hook too, mon!
From left field to right field! From infield to wall!
What do you mean that I can't play them all?!

As players at the Mitchell Report shrug,
And when faced with a test, just find a new drug,
So on to the roster the outfielders flew,
With a sleigh full of baggage, as JimBo well knew.

In a twinkling, Stan heard, with no hint of contrition
Of the faults and the foibles of each new addition.
Scarce had he recovered, nor even sat down,
When Trader Jim lept through the door with a bound.

He was dressed all in leather from waistband to toe,
And those leather pants glistened with new melted snow.
He had scouting reports and an air of intrigue,
In his hand was a roster - California Penal League.

His eyes - how they sparkled! his dimples how merry!
It was quite clear to all he'd found Manny's cooking sherry!
His phone was ablaze, the fire department was summoned
From stockpiling orphaned players just like Mr. Drummond.

Adjusting his breeches he flashed a tight smile,
There was more talent here than he'd had in a while.
Were they all angels? Most certainly not,
But when you're in fourth place, why not take a shot?

The Edge was too cocky, other Guzman too green,
Could Wily Mo hack it, was Dukes just too mean?
Kearns had worlds of potential but little to show,
Harris nothing but fast, Meat Hook just too darn slow.

JimBo addressed no concerns, but continued his work,
He filled out the roster with Lo Duca, that jerk,
About which Stan said, when given the chance,
In the future, I'm vetting these things in advance.

Then Jim sprang to his sleigh, to the team gave a holler,
I can get Eric Milton for six million dollars!
And I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
WooHoo, Spring Break!, WooHoo and good-night!”

Wishing Nats fans far and near a joyous holiday season and a Happy New Year! - Nate, Dave & Matt

December 17, 2007

The Smoking Gun

What did Stan Kasten know and when did he know it? President Stan took time out from his busy schedule manufacturing life-size, functioning Scott Boras voodoo dolls to make some generic comments about the Mitchell Report. Kasten declined to specifically address questions about catcher Paul Lo Duca, but he did say that clubs were not given advance notice of players to be named in the Report. Lo Duca was signed to a 1-year, $5M deal just days before George Mitchell made his findings public.

I have no problem believing that the Nats didn't get a sneak peek at the Report. What I find harder to believe is that Stan Kasten, savvy baseball man that he is, had no idea that Lo Duca might be a candidate for inclusion in the report. Kasten, Jim Bowden, Mike Rizzo and Bob Boone have decades of combined major league experience. One thing the Mitchell Report made abundantly clear is that baseball's front offices were not oblivious to steroid use in their clubhouses. They may not have appreciated the depth or breadth of the issue, but particularly with respect to Lo Duca, steroid use was factored into the cost of doing business. (Mitchell Report, pp 208-211.)

In October 2003 the Dodgers management was (at least internally) openly discussing the impact of steroids on Lo Duca's trade value:

Steroids aren’t being used anymore on him. Big part of this.
Might have some value to trade . . . Florida might have interest. . . . Got off the steroids . . . Took away a lot of hard line drives.. . . Can get comparable value back would consider trading. . . . If you do trade him, will get back on the stuff and try to show you he can have a good year. That’s his makeup. Comes to play.
At that same time Mike Rizzo was the Scouting Director for the Dodgers NL West rivals the Arizona Diamondbacks, a position he would remain in until coming to Washington. Jim Bowden's ten years as GM of the Cincinnati Reds was coming to an end and Stan Kasten was concluding his immensely successful tenure as President of the Atlanta Braves franchise. Bob Boone, a former special adviser to Bowden in Cincinnati, had two sons playing in the major leagues. I doubt that any of these men heard anything specific about Paul Lo Duca's alleged steroid use, but they were all in position to hear rumors, allegations and insinuations of steroid use from players and clubhouse personnel who would know.

All of which leaves us where? We know that Lo Duca's contract was finalized and his introductory press conference scheduled just days before the release of the Mitchell Report, along with contracts for players like Andy Pettite and Eric Gange, and at the same time Miguel Tejada was traded Baltimore to Houston. We can be fairly sure that Lo Duca's name was not leaked, since it did not appear in any of the pre-report speculation. We know that Lo Duca has made no public response to the Report, though he has apparently spoken to the Nats.

According to Bill Ladson we also know that Kasten "
wished... he had known about the allegations during [Lo Duca's] contract negotiations" though he doesn't say what, if anything the team would have done differently. Finally, and sadly we know that in all probability there is nothing to be done about it now, as Lo Duca's contract is guaranteed and unlikely to be voidable on the basis of mere allegations of past steroid use.

Technically Speaking

Speaking of massive failures in vetting, Elijah Dukes is back in the news for all the wrong reasons. If you want to try to put a positive spin on things, A) this all went down before he became a National, so it was probably factored into the "one strike and you're out" discussion, and B) maybe this shows that the death threats Elijah sent to his ex-wife weren't personal, they're just the way he ends every relationship. Ye Gods.

The latest domestic violence charge filed against Dukes was dismissed this morning when the complainant failed to appear in court.

Suddenly the serial acquisition of Garrett Guzman, Willie Harris and Rob Mackowiak begins to make a little more sense. At this point Dukes just cannot be considered a sure-fire contributor to the 2008 Nationals. I miss Glenn Gibson a little more each day. As always, Bugs & Cranks is good for a slightly more sympathetic take (though David, I'm pretty sure you can still send text messages from the DR to the good ol' US of A, particularly if you're on a family share plan. And Elijah has to be on a family share plan, right?)

December 14, 2007

'Roids Are All the Rage

Now that I've had time to review and consider the Mitchell Report, I can safely say that Paul Lo Duca is a slightly bigger d@#&!&bag than I initially thought. That's about it in terms of grand conclusions. Lots of names I expected, lots that I didn't (Nook?!?) and a few noteworthy absences. I have no doubt that a ton of players who used got away clean, and it's equally likely that a few players in the report were named in error. I'm sure we haven't heard the last of the "Steroid Era" but baseball, and life, goes on.

I expect the reverberations of the Mitchell Report to have little impact on the Nationals, mostly because the only current Nat named is a stop-gap catcher on the downside of his career signed to a one-year deal. As for Nook Logan, did his appearance on the list hasten his departure from the club? Possibly, though I doubt we'll ever know for sure. It will almost certainly make it harder for him to latch on with another club. That's a shame, but hardly a tragedy.

Auditioning to replace Nook as the speedy no-hit 5th outfielder will be Willie Harris, most recently an ex-Brave. Harris will be competing with Ryan Langerhans, NTP-favorite Garrett Guzman and newly signed Rob Mackowiak for the coveted role of lefty bench outfielder. While it's nice to have healthy competition not involving career minor leaguers Trader Jim does seem to be back to his old tricks, snagging every toolsy outfielder in sight. At least we know they're all clean.*

*For now.

December 12, 2007

Logan Cleared for Takeoff

As the deadline to offer contracts approaches Mark Zuckerman of the Washington Times has word that the Nationals will not resign OF Nook Logan and SP Mike O'Connor. Nook was destined to be the odd man out in the game of musical outfielders following the spree of acquisitions at the Winter Meetings. Nook will most likely try to latch on as a 4th or 5th outfielder on another National League club.

O'Connor, a GW alum, struggled to recover from offseason elbow surgery before the 2007 season and never really got his groove back in the minors, managing an abysmal 7.07 ERA in Double A ball. Cutting ties with O'Connor is just more evidence of the Nats improved pitching depth, as Matt Chico, John Lannan and Ross Detwiler all have more upside as lefty starters than Irish Mike, who will be fondly remembered
for posting a 4.80 ERA over 105 innings as part of the patchwork 2006 rotation.

Three pitchers agreed to one-year deals, thereby avoiding arbitration: setup man Luis "El Guapo" Ayala, rehabbing righty reliever Ryan Wagner and perennial injury risk SP John Patterson. All the other arb-eligible Nats, including INF Felipe Lopez, will apparently be offered contracts. No real surprise there. Lopez, Tim Redding, Jon Rauch, Jesus Colome and Chad Cordero aren't going to strain the budget. Only FLop and The Chief figure to make more than a couple million in arbitration.

Cutting loose Nook and Irish Mike frees up two more spots on the 40-man roster, spots that might be used to sign players non-tendered by other clubs. Here's the official press release.

December 10, 2007

The Five Million Dollar Man

"Hey Jerky, my city's professional baseball club can beat up your city's professional baseball club. How do you like them apples?" Other than that I can't think of much upside to adding Paul Lo Duca to the roster. More time for Jesus Flores to "develop", I suppose, though given Lo Duca's reputation for relating to rookies I have a hard time seeing him being the world's best mentor.

Paulie's 1-year, $5M deal will make him one of the highest-paid players on the 2008 Nats. The fact that he's a total farkin' d@#&!&bag will hopefully make him one of the shortest-tenured 2008 Nats. Veteran catchers on one year deals are always good candidates to be flipped at the trade deadline. In the meantime let's be sure that all the hip DC night spots have Lo Duca's picture on their wall o' shame.

December 7, 2007

Roster BINGO

Austin Kearns Matt Whitney Josh Whitesell Elijah Dukes Ryan Langerhans
Aaron Boone Ryan Zimmerman Felipe Lopez Roger Bernadina
Justin Maxwell
Jesus Flores Kory Casto Dmitri Young Lastings Milledge Wily Mo Pena
Nook Logan Ronnie Belliard Garrett Guzman Nick Johnson
Cristian Guzman

The grid above contains the names of the twenty position players currently on the Nationals 40-man roster. All position players on the roster are represented. See if you can draw one straight line (horizontal, vertical or diagonal) through any four who will be on the 25-man roster on Opening Day 2008.

Since BINGO is technically played on a 5 x 5 square grid, feel free to use the backup catcher as a floating free space at the bottom of any column. Who knows, this may be exactly how Trader Jim and Manny make roster decisions. Enjoy!

December 6, 2007


With their second round pick in the today's Rule 5 draft the Nationals selected OF Garrett Guzman from the Minnesota system. This is an excellent selection on a number of levels:

  • First, Trader Jim clearly noticed the distinct lack of GUZMANIA! on last year's squad. If history has taught us anything, it's that you can never have too much money or too much GUZMANIA! Uncle Teddy is well on his way to taking care of both.
  • Second, mugging the Twins is always a good thing. Sure they got Harmon Killebrew and decades of Washington baseball history. But we got Levale Speigner, Justin Jones and Garrett Guzman. What can I say, the wheels of cosmic justice turn slowly.
  • Third, Guzman's a decent choice as a fourth or fifth outfielder. Plus he's a lefty, a handedness sorely lacking on the roster with the departure of Church and Schneider. Guzman figues to compete with Ryan Langerhans for a roster spot, setting up a potentially cataclysmic GUZMANIA! vs. LANGERHANSCENDENTALISM! showdown.
From Baseball America's Rule 5 preview:

[T]he undersized lefthanded hitter profiles as arguably the best fourth outfielder candidate on the Rule 5 eligible list, drawing comparisons to Orlando Palmeiro. While Palmeiro was a bit better runner and defender, Guzman offers more power and offensive upside. Guzman, who batted .312/.359/.453 at Double-A New Britain in 2007, has solid gap power and the ability to play anywhere in the outfield, though he profiles best in left.
  • Fourth, and frankly most importantly, this doubles the odds that my Guzman jersey (purchased at retail price in 2005) will remain relevant for another season and outlast both Dave's Wilkerson frock and Watson's Nick Johnson memorial jersey.
Nationals Farm Authority, per usual, has the complete Rule 5 rundown.

December 3, 2007

Putting Up (With) Our Dukes

You gotta give Jim Bowden this: He is the bull terrier of GMs. Once he gets hold of a player he just will not let go. First Wily Mo Pena, then Lastings Milledge, now Rays OF Elijah Dukes. Bowden acquired Dukes from Tampa this afternoon in exchange for a player to be named later (PTBNL). [EDIT: PTBNL is Vermont LHP Glenn Gibson. Ouch, that's a little too much to pay.]

I've written a bit about Dukes before and my initial reaction to this deal can be summed up thusly. But what's done is done. Not wanting Elijah Dukes on the team will not make him go away. And this is the quintessential "something for nothing" transaction. [EDIT: Not quite nothing. Gibson has good command of all his pitches. He's a talent. I'm liking this deal a lot less.] From a purely baseball perspective, it would be irresponsible not to do this deal. Of course, acquiring Elijah Dukes isn't a purely baseball transaction. Suffice it to say Dukes' issues make Lasting Milledge's incidents seem puckish and endearing by comparison.

Dukes' travails have been well-chronicled, and I'm not going to rehash them here. To me they demonstrate a pattern of irresponsible and dangerous behavior both on and off the field. But people can change, and maybe this will be the wake-up call Dukes needs. That's a hope, not a rationalization.

His talent is undeniable. Dukes wrecked minor league pitching, hitting .293/.401!/.488 as a 22-year old in AAA and posting a career .284/.364/.484 line over 4 minor league seasons. He struggled at the plate (and other places) in 2007, slumping to .190/.318/.391 in 52 games before being suspended from the team. He's a legitimate outfield defender as well. Teamed with Milledge, Austin Kearns and Wily Mo Pena, Dukes gives the Nationals four big league outfielders under the age of twenty seven.

As an objective observer this deal is another steal for Bowden and company. [EDIT: A win, but not a mugging, and under the circumstances it should have been a mugging.] However lopsided it ends up, it's a deal that makes sense for both teams. Dukes absolutely had to have a change of scenery, he was done in Tampa Bay. And the Nationals need young talent, the kind that doesn't come cheap unless it has a "damaged goods" sticker firmly attached. So, in the abstract it's a win-win.

As a Nats fan this is the kind of deal where I just hold my nose and pray for the best, both for Elijah Dukes and for the Washington Nationals. Caveat emptor, you get what you pay for and all that.

December 1, 2007


You never get a second chance to make a first impression. That's only important because first impressions can be so difficult to shake. Get labeled or stereotyped and that tag becomes the shorthand for your entire life experience. It happens to everybody at one time or another, but it's guaranteed to happen to celebrities. The media and the public need a hook, a quick handle, the Cliffs Notes version. The trashy starlet, the crooked politician, the gifted, guarded, misunderstood athlete. The patterns are repeated until they achieve archetypal status. Most people have neither the time nor the inclination to fully immerse themselves in the minutia of another person's history and character. It's just isn't practical.

But first impressions can lie. They can occur at uncharacteristic moments. They can capture outdated information and seal it in amber. Or they can be a snapshot of something that just isn't what it appears to be. In these cases the dichotomy between perception and reality creates an information gap. The idea that information gaps can be exploited to create competitive advantages was the central premise of Michael Lewis's Moneyball. The Moneyball philosophy has come to stand for the potential to exploiting undervalued baseball skills like plate discipline and defense. But long before Michael Lewis and Billy Beane, Jim Bowden was busily mining the character gap.

Kevin Mitchell
might be the prototypical Jim Bowden acquisition. Mitchell was one of the first players Bowden acquired when he took over as Reds GM in 1992. Overall, Bowden traded for the talented, troubled slugger not once but twice, and was rewarded with three successful partial seasons from the alleged pet-decapitator, highlighted by his .326/.429/.681 line with 30 HRs and 77 RBI in the strike shortened 1994 season.

Since becoming one of the game's youngest GM's 15 years ago Bowden has functioned as something of a statue of liberty for baseball's head cases, collecting everyone from the plainly misunderstood to the clearly anti-social, almost always at a discount. From supposed clubhouse cancers like Jose Guillen to guys who had one ill-timed brush with scandal like Ronnie Belliard. From Dmitri Young, who would probably have been out of baseball but for Bowden, to his latest acquisition, an "immature", "underachieving" 22-year old outfielder. In all these cases, and many others, perceived character flaws diminished the value of actual talent.

With that said, not every ballplayer is a candidate for Bowden's brand of redemption. By and large he tracks guys with one isolated blemish on their record, or players whose recent misbehavior overshadows an otherwise unobjectionable career. But most importantly, as with any rehab, the players involved have to want that second chance. It would take more than just a change of scenery and a clean slate to rejuvenate an unrepentant Barry Bonds or a recidivist Elijah Dukes.

First impressions can attach to GMs too. When Jim Bowden first arrived in DC he was widely viewed as a leather pants-clad huckster, a track suit wearing, fist-bumping carnival barker. His style of deal-making was considered akin to the obnoxious drunk kid at Spring Break whose idea of trying to score is standing on his balcony hollering at every girl on the beach. This fine publication was not immune to mocking all that seeming sound and fury, signifying nothing. Of course, Bowden brought some of it on himself. He did wear leather pants and track suits, and he was known to remark from time to time that his phone was en fuego. Which just goes to show that even first impressions that contain a grain of truth can be quite misleading.

In the years since taking the helm of the Nationals just before the start of the 2005 season Jim Bowden has made some fine moves, and in the process gotten the better of a few other people who do this GM thing for a living. Have all his moves worked out? No, nobody bats 1.000, or even .800. Nevertheless the scales that measure his relatively brief Washington tenure are slowly but surely tipping decidedly in Jim Bowden's favor. Through a combination of luck, design and necessity he has managed to exploit what appears to be one of the few remaining talent evaluation imbalances in baseball. Kudos, Trader Jim. Keep up the good work.

November 30, 2007

Farewell to Two of the Good Guys

WFAN out of New York is reporting (and Newsday confirms) that the Nats have sent OF Ryan Church and C Brian Schneider to the Mets for OF Lastings Milledge. This is easily the biggest deal the Nats have pulled off since acquiring Austin Kearns, Felipe Lopez and Ryan Wagner from the Reds in 2006.

Ryan Church has been the sacred cow of the Natosphere for almost as long as there's been a Natosphere. (Just look for Ryan Church within two words of "sacred cow," you'll find it.) Not too long ago I argued that Church was a better fit in centerfield than almost any of the free agent options. After all a CF with a .271/.348/.462 career line isn't a Hall-of-Famer, but it's nothing to sneeze at, either. For a team on a budget, which the Nats insist on being, that kind of production from center is downright valuable.

The problem is, the team/front office never seemed to see Ryan the way us basement-dwellers did. He was too fragile, too surly, not enough of a pure speed and defense guy to be a prototypical fly-catching fielder. When you lose time to Nook Logan and Brandon Watson you know it's just not your franchise. So, though we've always liked Church, there's a small part of us that's happy he's out of the organization. Of course, being crucified by the NY press for misplaying a flyball probably makes being subtly needled by the front office a positively enjoyable experience.

Officer Schneider just always struck us as one all right dude. Blue collar, lunch-pail, catch and throw, no hit backstop. The kind of catcher a struggling, scrappy team ought to have. And whatever proportion of credit or blame he deserves for the rollcoaster pitching of 2005-2007 he gets points for going out there almost every day and cleaning up the slop. Brian was never great, but he was never taking playing time from anyone better either. Hopefully working with a mostly veteran staff in NY will take some of the pressure off and let him get his stroke back. Just remember Brian, next time Pedro plunks somebody we're coming after you.

Of course, this leaves a sizable hole at catcher (Are You There, Jesus?), and doesn't really solve the CF issue (Milledge? Kearns? Pena? teh Nook? ::shudder::), but for now, we'll just say goodbye to two more of the original 2005 Nationals, and farewell and good luck to two of the good guys.

Welcome aboard, Lastings Milledge!

P.S. - The Mets blogs are almost universally up-in-arms, though in fairness they've been on the verge of up-in-armedness all offseason. Blowing a playoff spot on the last weekend of the season'll do that to you.


It's Lastings Milledge + 1. The Nats are on the
verge of re-signing lefty relief pitcher (and designated "man-planet") Ray King. The deal is a non-guaranteed minor league contract with an $850K payday if The Burger King makes the 25-man roster. His overall 2007 record was nothing to write home about but "Sugar" Ray was still brutal on lefties, to the tune of .187/.276/.347.

King has vowed to report to Spring Training in the best shape of his career. Perfectly spherical, perhaps? It could be just a coincidence that this news comes on the same day that Officer Schneider, chief of the
Skittle Police, was shipped off to the Big (Organically Grown) Apple, but I doubt it. In any case, Lastings may want to use that vaunted speed to guarantee he's first in line for the buffet. Lord knows you don't want to end up behind Ray and Dmitri.

November 21, 2007

The Dukes Hazard

Once again troubled (Devil) Rays OF Elijah Dukes is back in the hot stove gossip. Dukes is playing winter ball for the Licey Tigers in the Dominican League. Nats third base coach Tim Tolman is managing the Tigers. Manny Acta is from the Dominican, and has been back to visit since winter ball started. Even a novice DC conspiracy theorist could spin a pretty good yarn with just those facts. And basically, those facts are all we have. Jim Bowden was uncharacteristically unavailable for comment. (Passed out under a table or chained up in Kasten's basement? We report, you decide.)

Rocket Bill Ladson notes that the while the Nats have expressed interest in Dukes, they're looking to buy low on the scandal-plagued youngster. Dukes, you'll remember, had an on-going cell phone based disagreement with his estranged wife and doesn't seem to have met a teenager he hasn't impregnated. On the field his nice long vacation from the (Devil) Rays this season was just the cherry on top of a couple of past minor league suspensions. Long story short, Dukes has problems like the Titanic had leaks.

At this point I could go one of two ways. I could talk about how everyone deserves a second chance, and kids, especially talented, pampered athletes from less than stable backgrounds are a p
retty good bet to screw up at some point. I could say this 23-year old has plenty of time to turn his life around both on and off the field. I could note that Jim Bowden has a pretty good track record dispensing second chances and observe that our own lovable tub o' goo Dmitri Young is living proof that maybe somebody's life story shouldn't be reduced to the single worst thing they ever did. And I could say all those things with conviction, because I believe them. I just don't think they apply here.

I don't want Elijah Dukes to be a member of the Washington Nationals. I don't want him to put on a uniform and be held up as a representative of my team and my city. I don't want him to be a symbol of what the Nationals stand for or what DC-area children should aspire to. It's not often that character trumps talent in professional sports. But this is one time when it damn well should.

Some athletes, like Josh Hamilton, come right to the brink of squandering their prodigious talent before they figure it out. Others, like Young, have a good reputation marred by one unforgivable incident. And some guys, like Robert Fick, just do stupid things because, well, they're kinda stupid. Elijah Dukes is in another category. He's not Hamilton, who was mostly just hurting himself. He's not Dmitri Young, who had a 30-year track record of being a pretty okay guy to fall back on. And he's not Fick, who will forever be linked to one inexplicable dumbass on-field decision. Right now, Elijah Dukes is a danger to himself and a detriment to everyone he comes into contact with.

I hope Elijah Dukes gets his personal life straightened out, and goes on to a long and successful professional baseball career. And I hope he does it without ever donning the Curly W. On this Thanksgiving Eve I am thankful that, for the moment, Elijah Dukes plays for someone else.

November 7, 2007

Is It Spring Training Yet?

Jeez, I really didn't mean to let a month and change go by, but obviously it did. The Rockies had a nice long winning streak followed abruptly by a much shorter losing streak, Alex Rodriguez announced mid-Series that he is in fact the money-grubbing manwhore everyone assumed he was and the Red Sox nipped that nasty 2-year old curse in the bud. Meanwhile, Josh Whitesell has assumed the Larry Broadway Memorial "marginally talented first baseman who's destined never to sniff the big leagues" mantle, Justin Maxwell is making a strong push to be the everyday starting centerfielder for the Harrisburg Senators, Zimm broke his (Gold Glove) hand and the Nats have still, inexplicably, not cut ties with Robert Fick. I think that catches me up.

As usual, it's not that I have nothing to say, it's just that I have nothing to that hasn't already been said a half dozen times, with equal or greater snark. Besides, in case you haven't noticed most of the first generation Nats blogs have pretty much
died off, re-purposed or been turned into shadows of their former selves by now, leaving only the obnoxious, the prospect-y, the nautical and the vaguely Canadian. There's only so much to be said about a professional baseball team and frankly, letting a thousand flowers bloom requires a hell of a lot of weeding. I'm comfortable that Chris, Brian, MissC, Harper and various and sundry others do a fabulous job covering all the angles of all things Nats.

Fear not, we're not closing up shop, maybe just shuttering for the winter. I have neither the time nor the inclination to weigh in on every rumored 5-way trade that would send The Chief, Ryan Church, Kory Casto and Nancy Pelosi to Houston and somehow net us Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Pelfrey, Asdrubal Cabrera and young thinner Elvis in return.

Likewise, I am suffering extreme free agent centerfielder fatigue. At this point they're distinguishable only by the varying levels of revulsion their signing would generate within me. Torii Hunter/Aaron Rowand = HIGH; Andruw Jones/Mike Cameron = MEDIUM; Anyone else = LOW but WTF? While we're on the topic, let me just deal with the
Rocco Baldelli thing now. Rocco's not so much occasionally injured as he is occasionally healthy. I can only get behind this if the Nats are willing to go all in and bring back Alex Escobar and Chris Snelling in a blatant attempt to get the best possible group health insurance rate.

OK, that about covers it. I'll certainly check in again if the Nats land A-Rod. Hell, I can probably pull a paragraph together if they land Mike Lamb. In the meantime, Happy Veteran's Day, Thanksgiving, Winter Solstice, Chanukkah, Kwanza, Christmas, Boxing Day, New Year's Eve, New Year's Day, 2008, MLK Day, President's Day and any indigenous celebrations I may have overlooked.

September 28, 2007

Flushing Queens. What a Splendid Idea.

Under the category of kicking the Mets while they're down: Manny gets a contract extension! Even if it weren't soundly deserved, locking up the ex-Mets third base coach through 2009 is a nice little bonus kick in the shins to New Yorkers who are calling their own managerial situation into question. I don't have anything against Willie Randolph, he managed a talented ballclub into first place in the National League for most of the season. There's no doubt that the Mets picked a terrible time to hit the skids though, and should they find themselves home on the couch in October you gotta believe somebody's head will roll.

By my count, in the last year the Nats have lifted two of the Mets best young talents: Manny Acta and catcher Jesus Flores. As we all know, the only thing better than acquiring young talent is picking a division rival's pocket to get it. Congratulations Manny! Let's provide some balm for the Mets wounds by taking it to the Phillies. Just watch out for flying batteries!

IN OTHER NEWS: If you haven't seen it, Capitol Punishment ends the National League third base Gold Glove discussion. The Nats should send this highlight reel out league-wide, pronto. Win one for the Fielding Dutchman!

September 26, 2007

You Don't Know What You've Got Till It's Gone

The crew here at NTP donned our jerseys and caps Sunday for one last trip to RFK, our beloved dump of a stadium. What can we say about this monument to 1960's architecture and utility that hasn't already been said. Depending on your point of view it's either a gracefully curved monument to Washington's sports history or an unsightly toilet bowl begging to be torn down. I fall firmly into the former category. I personally love the sense of history and former grandeur the place conjures up. This will always be the place were I finally got my own baseball team to root for. Here are some of my personal favorite RFK memories:

  • Almost freezing to death during that first exhibition game in April of 2005.

  • Being on the field during the 45-0 Monday Night Football drubbing of the Detroit Lions to open the 1991 NFL season.

  • Playing hooky to catch a day game with my Dad.

  • Sitting in the stands with Dave and Nate just enjoying the game.

The guys here at NTP bid a fond farewell to RFK. In the immortal words of the great Bob Hope, "Thanks for the Memories".

September 15, 2007

The Counterintuitive Case for Doing Nothing

Conventional wisdom suggests that the Nationals must make a big splash in free agency this offseason. In conjunction with the opening of their brand new, publicly financed, six hundred and umpteen million dollar stadium the team has to commit to improving the on-field product. And the surest way to do that is to sign an Andruw Jones or Torii Hunter, or trade for Adam Dunn or another middle-of-the-order slugger. Anything less is a betrayal of the city, the (dwindling) fanbase, and our American way of life, by cracky. In essence, if the Nats don't sign a big name free agent this winter, the terrorists have won.

Allow me to suggest that this line of thinking is horse hockey. Over the last few years major league baseball's free agency period has resembled nothing so much as an oil embargo-era gas station. Sure, there are things that everyone needs, but not at these prices! In any given year there might be one or two difference-making players, as long as you have 7 years and $150M to spare. After that there are the guys that would be upgrades next year but who will turn into real anchors in the fifth year of their $60M contracts. But that's the invisible hand of the free market at work, right? Ask the Rockies if they wouldn't like to have some of that Mike Hampton/Todd Helton money freed up to pay Matt Holliday next season.

The so-called "deepest" position in this year's free agent class is centerfield, where Andruw Jones and Torii Hunter headline a class that also includes Aaron Rowand, Mike Cameron, Milton Bradley and Kenny Lofton. Fortuitously, this is also said to be a position of need for the Nationals, who have been auditioning centerfielders since Opening Day 2005, with limited success. Clearly it's a natural fit. The team needs an outfielder, and there are outfielders to be had. But is it a good match?

No one who has seen the Braves play this season can be enthusiastic about committing half a decade or more and tens of millions of dollars to Andruw Jones. Maybe he's playing through an injury, and will bounce back fine next year. Or maybe he's playing through an injury and won't. Maybe he's declining and his swing, never a thing of beauty, is broken beyond repair. That's a lot of maybes for a centerfielder who gets kudos for his defensive reputation more than his defensive prowess these days.

Torii Hunter is having himself a Soriano-like contract year. .293/.337/.527, 42 doubles, 28 home runs. Those are the numbers he'll get paid for, but his career line is a more pedestrian .272/.325/.471, for an OPS topping out just under .800. Not bad, to be sure, but nothing to make me want to give a 5-year, $80M contract to a guy who will be 33 next season. For sake of comparison Ryan Church's career line is .267/.344/.453, and his .797 OPS comes in a tick higher than Torii's.

The rest of the lot I'll dispense with quickly. Rowand will cash in on numbers inflated by Philly's Citizens Bank Park, and will commence to turn back into a pumpkin if he signs somewhere else. Mike Cameron would be a nice acquisition, but he is 34 and his price tag will be inflated by the spillover from the Jones/Hunter/Rowand bidding. Bradley has a reputation as a head case and clubhouse cancer, without any obvious advantages over the guys currently on the roster. Lofton just older than dirt, and there's a reason I didn't even mention Corey Patterson.

If they do nothing the Nats are not without options. Ryan Church, though unloved by the front office and possible unsuited to play every day, is a better than average centerfielder who will likely benefit from the slightly more friendly confines of the new Nationals Stadium. He could have 40 doubles and 15 homeruns before the season is out, and it's no great stretch to imagine 30-35 doubles and 20-25 homers next season, a respectable offense output from centerfield.

Nook Logan seems destined to have a place on the team, and would make a good compliment to Church against left-handed pitching or when a little more defensive range is needed. Twenty three-year old Justin Maxwell has not been overwhelmed by the big leagues so far. If he shows well in Arizona this fall and Harrisburg next season he could be part of the centerfield solution for a long time to come.

As for left field, a "TRADE 4 DUNN!!1!" movement is well under way, and honestly, it's not a terrible idea. The big slugger has a rare combination of power, strike zone judgment, and whiffability that allows him to simulateously post high HR, BB & K numbers. His defense in left makes Wily Mo Pena look like Ryan Langerhans, but more importantly he's a Cincinnati Red. If Wayne "Sweaterpants" Krivsky has the stomach to deal with the Nats again he's going to ask for the moon in exchange for Dunn. Somehow I just don't see him settling for Matt Chico, Saul Rivera and a return-to-sender Felipe Lopez this time. I'm not a fan of gutting our just barely functioning farm system to land Adam, even if a reunion with his BFF Austin Kearns rejuvenates his desire to catch fly balls.

More important, to my mind, is the presence of Wily Mo Pena. Yes, it's just 25 games at the end of the season, but Wily Mo is batting .289/.340/.589. His 25 to 6 K/BB ratio is gawdawful, but 8 HRs in 90 AB does take some of the sting out of it. Even if he manages nothing better than .260/.320/.490 over a full season, an .810 OPS is nothing to sneeze at, and it comes a heck of a lot cheaper than whatever Mr. Dunn will require in cash and players. A Pena-Church-Kearns outfield, in a more hitter-friendly park, has the potential to provide better than average offense and defense for much, much less dough.

It's nowhere near as sexy as a Jones signing or a trade for Dunn. "Nationals Stand Pat" won't be a banner headline across the country. But that doesn't mean it's the wrong thing to do. I'm not carrying water for our thrifty overlords here. I'm as ready to spend Ted Lerner's money as the next guy. (Incidentally, I'm available for adoption, Uncle Teddy.) I'd just like to be sure there's some kind of value for the money. Because we all know that however loose the purse strings get there's no chance of the Nats making a run at the Yankees payroll. And if the Yanks and Redskins have taught us anything, it's that even if you have money to throw at the problem there's no guarantee the problem goes away. A team rebuilt with free agents every year is a team destined for continual mediocrity. (Hi Danny!)

This team doesn't have one or two holes to fill, it has a half dozen gaping canyons. Nevertheless, when the Nationals open the checkbook, I'd rather they break the bank on a bona fide superstar than sign two or three "nice" players in their early to mid-30s to help the team win 82 games next season instead of 75. I know that puts me in the minority, but there it is. This winter the free agent market will open again, but that doesn't mean this team needs to go on a shopping spree. If the Nats expect to be contenders, the real improvement will have to come from the Maxwells and Marreros, the Balesters and Detwilers. In the meantime, please, please, please stay the hell away from Aaron Rowand and Kyle Lohse. Next time I won't ask so nicely.

August 29, 2007

Middle Management

In the wake of FLop's consecutive meltdowns Barry Svrluga turns his position-by-position breakdown to look at the middle infield. Ronnie Belliard has been beyond solid at 2B, but that also happens to be Felipe Lopez's best position, leaving the less-than-Gold Glove caliber Cristian Guzman to play shortstop, assuming he returns healthy for next season. Earlier this week I advocated a Belliard-Guzman middle infield for 2008, with FLop as the primary backup. But that was only considering the in-house options, such as they are. A quick review of big league ready infielders currently in the system:

INF D'Angelo Jiminez
- No, no, a thousand times no. It's possible he makes Lopez look like Ozzie Smith. And he's slugging .175. .175!

2B Bernie Castro - Punchless, can't play SS and his defense around the bag leaves much to be desired.

SS Manny Alexander - OK, that's not even funny, knock it off. The guy was Cal Ripken, Jr's heir apparent for goodness sake.

And that's just about it. I actually still like Ian Desmond, who's finally starting to turn it around in Potomac after being promoted through the system way too quickly, but he's still at least two years away, at a minimum. The other farm "options" won't be able to drink before 2009. So Belliard, Guzman and Lopez are pretty much it for the on-hand solutions.

What about free agents? There are some "name" players who will be on the market this offseason, but nobody who looks like a rock solid improvement over the current options. Here's the list, courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts:

Second Basemen
Marlon Anderson LAD
Craig Biggio HOU
Luis Castillo NYM
Damion Easley NYM
Mark Ellis * OAK
Marcus Giles * SD
Tony Graffanino MIL
Tadahito Iguchi PHI (if not signed to extension)
Jeff Kent * LAD
Mark Loretta HOU
Kaz Matsui COL (if not signed to extension)
Luis Rivas CLE
Jose Valentin NYM

David Eckstein STL
Cesar Izturis * PIT
Ramon E Martinez* LAD
John McDonald TOR
Neifi Perez DET
Juan Uribe * CHW
Omar Vizquel SF

* indicates a club and/or player option for 2008.

Second base, though hardly a position of strength, is not a glaring weakness. I think we can agree that the team's more pressing need is for a starting shortstop, what with Guzman's injury and history of mediocrity, and Lopez's self-evident suckitude. Unfortunately, the pickings are mighty slim.

Eckstein is the shortstop most Nats fans would have preferred over Guzman in '05, but he's coming off a series of injuries over the past two seasons, and will be 33 before next season. Still, he's inarguably the best of the bunch, and will likely command a sizeable contract from whichever team needs a SS worst.

Cesar Izturis is terrible and overpaid, Juan Uribe is terrible with some pop in his bat. John McDonald and Ramon Martinez are just terrible. Neifi Perez is serving an 80-game suspension for a 3rd failed drug test and Omar Vizquel is a better than 50/50 bet to retire and begin working on his Cooperstown induction speech. Rockies 2B Kaz Matsui could play SS, but like FLop, it's clearly not his best position.

You know who I miss? Brendan Harris, the 27-year old starting shortstop for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays with a .287/.344/.416 line on the season. But I digress...

Aside from Eckstein, who's an age and injury risk, I don't see any dramatic free agent upgrades available, as sad as that sounds. There will no doubt be some people who will castigate the Nationals for not diving into the free agent pool headfirst, but sometimes, as in this case, that pool's a lot shallower than it looks.

August 26, 2007

Mildly Offensive

Last time out I gave you a glass-half-full take on the potential 2008 starting staff. Now it's time to do the same with the lineup. This is a little trickier, just because there are so many more people involved. Nevertheless, the analysis is straightforward and simple. I'm only looking at the guys on the 40-man roster as of today (aka no Adam Dunn!!1! in leftfield.) I'm also optimistically assuming a return of DC's fallen heroes, Nick Johnson and Cristian Guzman. All other lineup and production assumptions are my own and based on no particular evidence.

Brian Schneider - You may not like it, but there's not much to be done about it. Officer Schneider is under contract for a few more years, and he does a nice job handling a relatively inexperienced staff. His defense has slipped slightly, and he's turning into an offensive black hole, so a return to he career average .252/.321/.377 line would actually be a welcome improvement.
Anonymous Veteran Free Agent Catcher - With Schneider still getting the bulk of the work, there's no sense having Jesus Flores ride the pine in DC when he can play every day in Columbus.

Nick Johnson - This team misses Nick the Stick more that two Alfonso Sorianos. With Johnson batting between Zimmerman and Young you better believe Ryan would be getting more pitches to hit and Dmitri would have more RBIs. Even a hobbled Nick is a definite upgrade in the field and at the plate. Say .270/.390/.450 to account for some rust and behold the marvel of OBP.
Dmitri Young - $5M is a heck of a lot to pay for a pinch hitter and backup 1B, but that's the best case scenario for the Nats. If he plays, expect a dozen errors to take some of the shine off of a .290/.350/.480 line.

Ronnie Belliard
- Sure, it'll probably be Felipe Lopez here, but it shouldn't be. A .275/.335/.405 line would make second base much less of an offensive drain in 2008. Plus FLop can play 2B and SS, while Ronnie's a 2B who moonlights at first and third. And you've just got to love a guy who plays 2B from short right field.
Felipe Lopez - No reason not to keep him around, but a .255/.325/.400 line means there's no reason to start him either.

Cristian Guzman
- Who's the real GOOOZ? The slap-and-run .263/.302/.378 career hitter, or the guy who put up a .329/.382/.468 line in 43 games? Not surprisingly, my money's on the new and improved Cristian. If not, there's always FLop.
Felipe Lopez - As bad as his career line is, it's an improvement over Guzman's career numbers. That's about all the upside I've got.

Ryan Zimmerman
- Asking a 22 year old to carry a team is always a bad idea, and the RZA has struggled as his lineup protection has evaporated. Still, he's got the skillz that pay the bills, and it's not unreasonable to expect continued improvement. Let's call it a .280/.340/.480 line in '08 to go along with Ryan's first Gold Glove.
??? - Not that we need one, Zimmerman's on pace to play 162 games, but my money's on Anonymous Veteran Free Agent corner infielder (aka anyone but Tony Batista.)

Wily Mo Pena
- The consensus $64,000 question for the offseason is "Who's in left?" But on a team devoid of any real power hitters there's no good reason to leave Wily Mo's bat on the bench. Hopefully the impaired outfield defense will matter slightly less in a smaller ballpark. .260/.320/.490 anyone?
Ryan Church - Wily Mo hits lefties better than righties anyway, so having Ryan available to spot start, pinch hit and sub in on defense might just be ideal. Like it or not he appears not to be an everyday OF anyway. .270/.345/.450 as a 4th outfielder might be best for everybody.

Nook Logan
- Again, you may not like it, but the guy is hitting .277/.321/.357 on the season, and you could do worse for a #8 hitter. His defense is good, but not great, and might be less important in a less cavernous park. Which, conveniently enough, is what we'll have next season. If the team decides to emphasize offense over defense the obvious choice here is Ryan Church.
Ryan Church - unless he starts, in which case take everything I just said about Nook and move it down here.

Austin Kearns
- He seems to have figured something out over the last few weeks, and he's starting to look like the hitter we thought we were getting from Cincinnati last year. He might benefit from leaving RFK more than anyone on the team. Plus, he's always been an outstanding outfielder. Let's say .270/.360/.455 if he really has figured it out.
Ryan Church - Why not let him play everywhere? Figure 3 starts a week in the outfield plus pinch hitting and subbing in for Wily Mo practically makes him a full-time OF.

So that's your 2008 Nationals offense, all without a single free agent signing or prospect promotion. How would you turn this into a lineup?

1. Guzman - SS

2. Belliard - 2B

3. Zimmerman - 3B

4. Johnson - 1B

5. Pena - LF

6. Kearns - RF

7. Schneider - C

8. Logan - CF

Is this offense going to challenge for a NL East title? No. Can you win 81 games with this lineup? I'd argue that you could. Zimmerman-Johnson-Pena-Kearns is a solid, if unspectacular, middle of the order, and you wouldn't lose too much with a Zimmerman-Young-Pena-Kearns lineup either. Would it be nice to have a speedy, high OBP leadoff guy and a true cleanup slugger? Sure. if we had those, we could do this:

1. Speedy, High OBP Leadoff Guy - CF

2. Guzman - SS

3. Johnson - 1B

4. True Cleanup Slugger - LF

5. Zimmerman - 3B

6. Kearns - RF

7. Belliard - 2B

8. Schneider -C

But if you're holding your breath waiting for that, you'll be dead long before Opening Day. First, those guys aren't out there. Second, those guys aren't worth the contracts they'll get. Third, the Reds aren't trading us Adam Dunn. Not happening. And even if they did, I don't want an all Reds outfield. The Reds suck.

August 23, 2007

The Future is... When Exactly?

Harper over at OMG, a dedicated blogger and a true glutton for punishment, has complained that for all the full-season audition that is 2007, the Nats are still a mostly unsettled club. I think he overstates the case a bit. There are questions, to be sure. But there ought to be questions about how a bad team plans to improve. Honestly, would you feel better if Manny Acta looked at what he had on September 1st and settled on his rotation and lineup for next season? Sure, there are decisions and changes to be made in the months between now and Opening Day 2008, but maybe not as many as you'd think. If you break down the results of the Nationals 2007 tryouts, you start to see some answers on both sides of the ball.

In retrospect, maybe holding open tryouts for 30-odd pitchers isn't the worst way to assemble a major league staff. Sure, you get your share of goats (Jason Simontacchi, Southeast Jerome Williams) and guys that just never pan out (Whither Brandon Claussen?) but you also get guys like Jason Bergmann and Matt Chico. Bergmann and Chico would probably have never gotten a real starting shot on any other team. At best they'd have been spot starters, sent back to the minors after their first bad outing.

How about Tim Redding and Joel Hanrahan? On a good team the Spring Training that those two had would have earned them a quick demotion to minor league camp, followed by their walking papers. With the Nats they had time to work out their issues at Triple A and have been solid (sometimes spectacular) second half starters. And that's to say nothing of Shawn Hill and John Patterson, whose abilities have never been questioned, even if their durability is a major concern. Still, you can mix and match these guys (along with rookie John Lannan and prospect Collin Balester) into a pretty solid 2008 rotation. Here's how:

#1 SP:
Shawn Hill/John Patterson - whoever is healthy gets the nod. If they both are, great, your top 2 rotation spots are accounted for. If neither is, well we're screwed, but still no worse off than the Cardinals when they lost Chris Carpenter for the season.

#2 SP:
Hill/Patterson or free agent PTBNL (pitcher to be named later) - if the Nats are going to increase offseason payroll here's one place to do it. Barry Zito money is (and ought to be) out of the question, but that Gil Meche contract isn't looking terrible these days, is it?

#3 SP:
Tim Redding or veteran free agent retread - hey look, it's the veteran innings eater everyone said we needed. These guys are almost literally a dime a dozen. The key here is finding a guy who can go 6-7 innings and keep you in the game every time out. Otherwise you're just wasting money.

#4 SP:
Matt Chico/John Lannan/Mike Bacsik - every rotation ought to have a lefty, just as a change of pace. Since all these guys are essentially soft-tossers the edge should go to youth, if at all possible.

#5 SP:
Jason Bergmann/Joel Hanrahan/Collin Balester - If Bergmann can stay healthy, if Hanrahan can get a handle on his control, if Balester can make the leap to the bigs. The five spot is the place for this many ifs, but all these guys have the talent.

The point here is not that this is the Nats first pennant-winning rotation. But there are nine pitchers there (or eight plus Balester) with credentials as a serviceable or better major league starter. And that's before the Nats dip a toe in free agency. Sure there will be competition for rotation spots. But in 2008 you can expect the competition to be about options and opportunity rather than necessity.

In a separate posting I'll take a stab at the more complicated process of assembling the 2008 Nationals offense, along similar lines. I'd be interested to hear what people think of this exercise and the next one. Of the players on the roster today, who's a piece of the future, who's a bridge to the future, and who's just plain dead weight (I'm looking at you, Fick.)

August 20, 2007

Where's Wily?

It certainly was an eventful weekend for Wily Mo. He went from the being the short half of a leftfield platoon with Ryan Church to being the starting leftfielder (last time I checked Orlando Hernandez is not left-handed) to being the starting rightfielder. All while putting up a .286/.444/.857! line in his first two games and notching his first Nationals homerun.

To make this work Austin Kearns becomes our new centerfielder, and Ryan Church, after what amounts to two days off, is starting in leftfield again. Finally, after all that, Nook Logan ends up where he always should have been. On the bench as a 4th OF/pinch runner/defensive sub. That's the theory anyway. Will it hold up?

Wily Mo has played more games in rightfield than left or center, but the stats suggest, contrary to what you'd expect, that he's a slightly better defensive centerfielder. Of course, that doesn't factor in the particular challenges of playing center in RFK, at least for 17 more games. For his part, Austin Kearns has logged 60 career games in CF (compared to 578 in right) and grades out as an above average centerfielder.

Given that Church-Kearns-Pena is undeniably the best offensive outfield the team has had all season, it's probably the best use of available defensive resources as well. Playing from center Kearns should be able to compensate for at least a little of Pena's lack of range in right. There will undoubtedly be times when we'll miss Logan's ability to track down a fly ball in the gap, and probably also times when we'll miss Kearns' jump and arm in right. But if the goal is to squeeze some much needed offense out of the outfield, this is probably the best way to go about it.

Wily Mo's arrival set in motion a chain of events that included the designation for assignment of OF Ryan Langerhans, erstwhile focus of the nascent LANGERHANSCENDENTALIST! movement. I freely admit that this campaign was either ahead of, or way, way behind its time. Still, I hope that if Ryan clears waivers he consents to a trip down to Columbus where he can play every day, work on straightening out his swing, and give himself a shot at playing his way back into the Nationals plans. If nothing else I know that I prefer my 4th outfielder/defensive sub to have a little pop in his bat.

UP NEXT: Jesus Saves... the crumbling bullpen or Get Carter?

August 17, 2007

Wily Mo Better Be Good News

Lord, Jim Bowden loves him some Toolsy Former Reds Outfielders, don't he? Media out of Boston is reporting (and the Nats now confirm) that Trader Jim has snagged OF Wily Mo Pena and cash from the Red Sox for the ever popular PTBNL (player to be named later.) Might this be the first use of the Nats much ballyhooed newfound minor league pitching depth?

Here's what we know about
Wily Mo: he's big, still youngish (just about to turn 26), slugged the crap out of the ball in the Great American Matchbox in Cincy, and is currently having an abysmal year as the 3rd/4th outfielder in Boston, and is eligible for his 2nd year of arbitration in the offseason. Sounds like your typical Jim Bowden reclamation project.

It should go without saying that Wily Mo is not an elite defensive outfielder, though he's not terrible either. But he's definitely here for his bat. He may also be here because of Austin Kearn's cramping/hamstring/knee injury. If he's not replacing Austin his acquisition causes something of a logjam in the corner outfield. If Pena is here, he's playing, so the question is whether he pushes Church to the bench or Church slides over to center field and bumps out teh Nook. We should know soon enough. Pena probably won't be here for tonight's game, but he should be around in time to start tomorrow for Lincoln bobblehead night.

JimBo has coveted Pena forever, so when Wily Mo cleared waivers earlier this month the question was not if this deal would get done, but when, and for what. And the what really is the key element. The whole point of building up farm system depth is to be able to trade for major league talent, but Pena is 2-3 years removed from being a hot prospect. He's basically been reduced to a spare part on a contending Red Sox team. So I hope Trader Jim didn't let his lust for former Reds get the better of him. It's fine to give up a talented minor leaguer, just don't sell the farm.

In the meantime, Washington Welcomes Wily Mo!

Hip, Hip, Oh Crap

I've got a funny feeling that the other shoe in the 2-year, $10M Dmitri Young contract extension just dropped. Multiple sources are reporting that 1B Nick Johnson, out all season recovering from a broken leg he suffered last September, will have surgery on his ailing right hip. The surgery is termed "minor" and doctors expect Nick will be ready to go for Spring Training '08, but isn't that what they said about Spring Training '07?

Nick is a notoriously slow healer. I'm not saying that to rag on the guy, it's obvious he's been putting in the effort, his body just isn't cooperating. This latest trip under the knife will remove some of the hardware from his previous surgery and hopefully clear up the lingering swelling and bursitis in his hip. But as anyone with an elderly relative knows, there's no such thing as "minor" surgery when the connection between body and leg is involved. At the very least Nick will have to shut down completely until the end of the year, and then try to ramp up his rehab again in time for Viera. And again, Nick Johnson = slow healer. If the "normal" rehab time for this sort of thing is 3 months, we might want to just go ahead and pencil in June 2008 for Nick's most optimistic return.

It's fair to assume that the front office knew this was a possibility long before anyone bothered to tell us, and if so that explains a good deal about Da Meat Hook's new contract. Two years, ten million dollars might still be excessive, but it makes more sense to pay that for Dmitri Young the first baseman rather than Dmitri Young the left fielder or Dmitri Young the switch-hitting pinch hitter off the bench.

Of course, the best case scenario is still possible. The surgery really is minor, Nick comes back pain-free in December, gets his rehab on and is ready to go when position players report in March. And Lord knows that's what we here at Nats Triple Play want for Nick. He's been a hell of a ballplayer and a genuinely good guy from Day One. Plus, Watson has all that moola invested in a # 24 jersey. So Godspeed Nick Johnson, best wishes for a successful surgery and a speedy recovery... again.

August 16, 2007

Drunken Sailors, Ahoy!

Just when you think you know an ownership group, the Lerners go and pay some preppy Northeastern-type roughly $2 million ($1.8M contract + $200K or so for college) not to play college baseball for Stanford. Hell you could probably convince Stanford to ditch their entire football program for $2 million. But that's beside the point. The point is, Hallelujah! the front office got it done. Twenty out of twenty top draft picks signed (the complete breakdown is here), three premium left-handed starting pitching prospects, and an honest-to-God infusion of resources into the minor league system.

As is turns out, maybe there is more to "The Plan" than just the marketing brochure. Relatively quietly the Nats went out and spent $5 million to bring LHPs Ross Detwiler, Josh Smoker and Jack McGeary into the fold. Add in another $630,000 for OF Michael Burgess and $495,000 for P Jordan Zimmermann, and that's 5 top-flight prospects for less that what the Tigers paid their 1st round pick, P Rick Porcello (reported in the $7M+ range.) Perhaps there is a happy middle ground between overpaying for everything just on principle (Yankees) and never ponying up the cash for anyone (Twins).

This year's draft haul was the result of the intersection of multiple factors. A bad 2006 Nationals club snagged the #6 overall pick (Detwiler) and two picks for losing top free agent Alfonso Soriano (Smoker & Zimmermann) plus one more additional pick to compensate for the loss of Jose Guillen (Burgess). But McGeary is a different story. Everyone knew he was arguably a first round talent, and everyone knew he was committed to putting that talent to work for Stanford University. So he slid, out of the first round, through the supplemental round, all the way to the 6th round, where the Nats took a gamble on him. And last night the Lerners made sure that gamble paid off.

Securing 6 of the top 100 picks in one draft requires a combination of good luck and bad baseball. It's unlikely the Nats will see a confluence of events like that again soon (God willing), so they did very well to take full advantage, drafting and signing talented players like Detwiler, Smoker and Burgess. Guys like McGeary though, are available every year, and all it takes is a willingness to do what's necessary to sign them. I'm not saying that we should expect to land a top prep pitcher in the sixth round every year, I'm just saying that Nats fans (and the organization) need to remember that you don't need a half dozen high picks to get premium talent. Not every high schooler who has committed to college is worth a $2M signing bonus, but some are. And if the Nationals can get one, they should take him and sign him. Pay the talent, not the slot.

Pitchers in particular are a tricky bunch. If 3 years we'll probably be lucky if one of our top 3 lefties profiles as a front-of-the-rotation starter. Maybe Detwiler will never be better than a lefty set-up guy. Maybe Smoker's arm will fall off. Maybe two years at Stanford will kindle an unrealized passion for Buddhism and McGeary will move to Tibet and moonlight as a sherpa with a 92 MPH fastball. It's much, much too soon to say. But that's why you need so many talented youngsters, and why you need to take them whenever you find them.

Congratulations to the Lerners, Stan Kasten, Jim Bowden, Mike Rizzo, Dana Brown and the scouting staff for putting their money where our mouths have been for the past two months. Just remember, now that you've done it once, we'll be expecting it every season. At least until you sign Andruw Jones and Johann Santana and bring home that first WS trophy!