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!

August 13, 2007


As various media outlets have noted the Washington Nationals, the franchise that invited 1,472 pitchers and the surprisingly robust corpse of Christy Mathewson to Spring Training, are on the verge of having a surplus of starting pitching. Notice I didn't say a surplus of good starting pitching, nor even an excess of major league caliber starting pitching. But for a rotation that has variously employed Jerome Williams, Jason Simontacchi, Billy Traber and 1/3 of an inning worth of John Patterson, any good news is great news.

This influx of rehabilitated arms is going to require a massive game of musical chairs. The first chain reaction came yesterday, when the return of Shawn Hill bumped erstwhile starter Mike "Barryball" Bacsik into the 'pen, bouncing Billy "Quote Machine" Traber all the way out to Columbus, Ohio. To give you an idea of the roster contortions to come, here's a look at the 13-man pitching staff as of the morning of August 13th:


Shawn Hill
Matt Chico
Tim Redding
John Lannan
Joel Hanrahan


Chris Schroeder

Mike Bacsik

Saul Rivera

Ray King

Luis Ayala

Jon Rauch

Chad Cordero

Micah Bowie, Jason Bergmann and (stifle your laughter, people) John Patterson are all expected back with the big club before the end of the season. If Bowie comes back he'll most likely push Bacsik or Ray King out of the bullpen and onto the unemployment line. Bergmann and Patterson, on the other hand, are both starters and will need rotation spots. And that's where things get tricky.

The current starting rotation is almost entirely different from the starting 5 that began the season. The Opening Day rotation was Patterson, Hill, Williams, Chico and Bergmann. Five months later only Matt Chico has yet to miss a start (knock wood.) Patterson and Williams pitched horribly until they were injured (or re-injured). Hill and Bergmann were having breakout campaigns until they went down. Jason Simontacchi made a brief cameo appearance and "pitched" until he was felled by a bum elbow. In their absence the Nats have auditioned pretty much anyone who made it to AAA with the ability to grip a baseball.

Now that the walking wounded are ready to make a comeback, who're the odd men out? The Nats have been surprisingly mediocre, but they're not contending for anything, so all this talk of "putting the best team on the field" and protecting "the integrity of the pennant race" should take a back seat to developing and evaluating our best pitchers for next season. Maybe Matt Chico's a little worn down by the major league grind and could use a break. But would a late season demotion send the wrong message? Is John Lannan a legitimate soft-tossing lefty, or this year's Mike O'Conner? Have Tim Redding or Joel Hanrahan shown enough to warrant another month's worth of playing time, maybe at the expense of Bergmann or Lannan?

Of course all this speculation could be moot if Hill and Bergmann aren't fully recovered, and Patterson my not pitch at all, but there here are some numbers worth noting:

  • Shawn Hill - 26 years old - 2.70 ERA
  • Jason Bergmann - 25 years old - 4.56 ERA
  • Joel Hanrahan - 25 years old - 2.76 ERA
  • Matt Chico - 24 years old - 4.85 ERA
  • John Lannan - 22 years old - 3.00 ERA
All the usual small sample size and history of injury caveats apply, but isn't having these guys an improvement over Ramon Ortiz, Ryan Drese, Pedro Astacio or Brian Lawrence?

August 7, 2007


Well, it happened.

Bacsik had the worst look on his face. His shoulders slumped, and he just looked at it. That's the footage we're going to see for ages, and I really did hope it wasn't going to be a Nationals pitcher we saw.

Win the Battle, Lose the Game

Score this one Giants 3, Nationals 2, Forces of Darkness 0. You're never going to see an uglier 1-1 tie ballgame until they let Rhesus monkeys wear major league uniforms. But rookie John Lannan was what we'll call "effectively ineffective" going 7 innings and allowing just 1 run despite coughing up 8 hits and surrendering 5 walks. The kid buckled down when it mattered most, holding "He Who Shall Not be Named" to an 0-3, 1 BB, 1 K evening. Unfortunately Lannan wasn't around to pitch the 10th and 11th, when Chad Cordero, Ray King and Luis Ayala combined to make Lannan look like a latter-day Walter Johnson.

For those who missed the late game (stupid distant West Coast) Misschatter live-blogged the whole thing. Capitol Punishment has a
concise recap of the extra inning action, but I'm not in the mood to lay too much of the blame at the feet of our relief corps. Except for Ray King, of course, and he can't see his feet anyway. If that non-inning of work didn't destroy whatever trade value the Burger King has left, then I should be signed, passed through waivers and dealt for an A-baller.

On the other hand, Ray wouldn't have been out there if the Chief had nailed down the save in the bottom of the 10th. Chad wouldn't have blown the save if FLop had just a little more range up the middle. But FLop wouldn't be playing SS if Cristian Guzman hadn't broken his thumb on Josh Barfield's
stupid, oversized head. So, you see, the absence of GUZMANIA! is undeniably responsible for the extra inning loss, and the end of our shiny, happy 6-game winning streak. I told you people this would happen.

PS - I know Da Meat Hook had a nice hit, but nobody should get credit for a 309 foot home run, even if it was a 40 foot high screaming liner of a 309 foot home run. Stupid ballpark.

August 5, 2007

The good, the bad, and the ugly

I bumped into DCSportsChick at our friend's birthday party today, and as we got the notice (hers on her Blackberry, mine as a text on my Windows Mobile -- plug, plug, Microsoft) of the Nats 6-3 win over the Cards today to not only sweep the second series in a row, but extend the win streak to 6 in a row. The 6 game streak is one of my signs of success, so I felt a lot better about that.

We then dug into the fact that we're both bothered by the fact that we're off to play San Francisco, and thus it looks pretty inevitable that Barry Bonds will get his record breaking homer off the Nats. I'd love to put my head in the sand and believe that our troop of pitchers will be able to keep him from hitting it, but in his own park, with our pitching staff, I just find this to be a fools errand.

The schedule shows John Lannan pitching for Monday -- the four game series gives a lot of opportunity. Tuesday looks like Bacsik, Wednesday Redding, and Thursday Hanrahan.

I actually feel pretty good about the team going into this series -- I think the bats are lit up, the team looks good, and more wins are very much possible. This streak can go on; Bonds homer chase has nothing to do with the wins of the team. I just think that Barry Bonds, say what you will about him, is likely to hit a homer off one of our pitchers. It's not like we're sending out the cream of the major leagues in a pitching staff.

Bob Carpenter and Don Sutton were asked today how they would call the event. Don had some good words about it; his lack of excitement about the event, how much they hoped it would pass them by. I'm with them -- I do hope that the footage is against another team for that big one that pushes past.

Ball Wonk (who apparently isn't back, but is making a rehab start) seems to think that the one that tied the record is the key one, and thus every one past this is not important until the last. I disagree -- we talk about Cal and the streak, and we all focus on the one that pushed him past, and THEN talk about the end of the streak. So goes it with the home run chase. This is footage we'll see for years -- and while I'm pretty sure you'll see it come off a pitcher wearing grey away Washington jerseys, I wish you wouldn't. Pittsburgh can have the honor on the weekend.

DCSC commented on it as well.

August 1, 2007

See Pat. See Pat Stand. Stand Pat Stand.

The morning after is often a time for regret. Sometimes the regret is active: "I got smashed and danced on top of a what with who?!" Sometimes the regret is passive: "Man, I am sooo hungry! I should totally have eaten that slice of pizza sitting on top of the trash can at 3 am! MMmmm... pizza." Right now the Nat(m)osphere is, to make an over broad generalization, deep in the throes of passive recrimination. Federal Baseball sets out the talking points. It's a long piece, but well-reasoned and worth the read, even if Basil is occasionally trying to possess his cake and consume it simultaneously. But I digress...

Much (too much, I think) has been made of the Nationals failure to make even one measly piddling little deadline deal. "Why, they didn't even deal Rauch!" has been a common refrain. And it's true, Big Jon remains Manny's 8th inning setup guy instead of slopping out the 6th and 7th for the Dodgers or the Yankees. I'll have more to say about that a little later, but first I want to take a big picture look at the State of the NATion as of July 31, 2007.

Long about the All-Star break I was onboard with the "Trade 'em all, let God sort 'em out" school of thought. Move Young and Belliard for anything, Cordero for the moon, anyone else if the right deal came along. But as the trade market started to shape up it became increasingly obvious that there was A) No interest in 1B not named Mark and B) a definite movement to covert closers on bad teams to setup guys on good teams I began to waver. I was sold on the Belliard move, virtually a minimum contract for a versatile and effective infielder. I was and am less sanguine about Da Meat Hook's extension, but my concerns lie more with the size of the deal than with the idea that Dmitri might be a handy guy to have around in a pinch.

Nevertheless, those two deals essentially took the Nationals out of the trade market. But I question whether it was worth it to be in the market at all. Bad teams are caught in an unkind Catch-22 at the deadline. Their players are, by definition, almost always worse than the equivalent player on a good team. (Sure, there are lone superstars on lousy teams, but bear with me here.) So players on bad teams almost always have more value to the team they are traded from than they will for the team they're traded to. That's why Eric Gagne and Octavio Dotel will go from closing in Texas and KC to setting up Jonathan Papelbon and Bob Wickman. That's why Kenny Lofton will likely end up as the platoon/4th OF in Cleveland.

In that environment Ronnie Belliard is a utility infielder, Dmitri Young is a DH/1B/PH, Chad Cordero is a setup guy, and Rauch is a 6th-7th inning middle reliever. So let's not kid ourselves that the Nats could have expected 4 or 5 future major leaguers in trade. The front office didn't pass up on a talent windfall by holding on to these guys. And, not for nothing, by keeping them the team has better-than-average major league caliber players at 1B, 2B, set-up and closer for the next two seasons. Now you can quibble with whether these are players and positions that need to be locked down, but you can't deny that it's true.

So, about Jon Rauch. If it's true that relief pitchers are essentially fungible, closers only slightly less so, then setup guys ought to be one of the most replaceable pieces on a 25-man roster. But if that's true they also won't be the most valuable trading chips, because they're interchangable, right? For all the talk of teams needing to shore up their bullpen, and acquire an extra veteran arm for the stretch run, only three true "setup" guys changed teams:

  • Scott Proctor from the Yankees to the Dodgers (for Wilson Betemit)
  • Scott Linebrink from the Padres to the Brewers (for 3 minor league pitchers)
  • Dan Wheeler from the Astros to the Devil Rays (for Ty Wiggington)

Now, I love me some Nats as much as the next guy, but Jon Rauch is not Scott Linebrink, even given Linebrink's problems this season. Add to that the general consensus that Doug Melvin got fleeced in this deal, and there's no pot of multiple minor leaguers at the end of the Rauch rainbow. Big Jon is much closer to Proctor and Wheeler, established veterans who netted utility infield types with upside. Wiggington has power, Betemit has age on his side, but neither is much help rebuilding a farm system. And those are the types of guys who were likely available. So trade Rauch now for that? Why? If the Nats want a guy like that can't they do the same deal over the offseason?

Beware the "this guy doesn't fit into the long-term Plan, so we must get rid of him post-haste" mentality. Sure, the Nats don't need a $4M closer, a $2M set-up guy, a $1.5M utility infielder or $5M worth of Nick Johnson insurance. But they can afford to have them. And there's no sense pretending the Nats were passing up the next Ryan Zimmerman or Ross Detwiler in the process. So yes, rebuilding the farm should still be priority #1. And yes, it would have been nice to see the Nats do something to reaffirm that goal. But saints preserve us from a front office that makes moves to "send messages". Down that road lies Pittsburgh.