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.

8 comments:

Basil said...

That's a good post. I was with you until the final paragraph, more specifically the part about "pretending the Nats were passing up the next Ryan Zimmerman or Ross Detwiler in the process," a proposition I cannot remember anyone asserting yesterday. But I digress . . .

I think you're right in the sense that the Nats were handed an unsavory pot from which to deal. The remedy might reside more in (absence of) a Dmitri extension than in using Jon Rauch as a silver bullet. And I do not dispute at all Bowden's statement that the team didn't need to trade, since it's indisputable. But I reject the false choice of prospect superstars or not-worth-the-efforts, to the extent the team is trying to send that message. (I reject even further the message that the organization is filled with pitching prospects.)

You actually bring some substance to the table, something I neglected to do. That's a good list of comps and non-comps. Dan Wheeler is, of course, the greatest reliever of all time, so Tampa got a steal. Aside from that, I'm sure you can make some attempts to distinguish (the 'Stros were clearly looking for an immediate Ensberg replacement), but it's probably not worth the time.

I tried to capture my feelings last night, and the phrase that I came up with is "vaguely disappointed." I'll certainly grant you that "vague" is a long ways away from "firm criticism." And I think you amply demonstrate why my feeling was vague.

bdrube said...

I totally agree with your post. Everyone's bashing Bowden for not being able to make a deal and asking too much. Bullcrap. Did he ask too much when he unloaded Jose Vidro last winter? Well, I don't see Emiliano Fruto tearing up the league, so I guess not.

The real culprit for the Nats current sorry state is MLB, who left us with virtually nothing when it brought the team here. Bowden and co. have done a decent job drafting since '05, but it takes years to restock a system as thoroughly depleted as the Expos' was in 2004, especially if you also lack studs at the major league level to trade off.

Impatient fans seemed to want the team to make deals just to make deals, and that's the worst reason there is to do so.

the nationals enquirer said...

Nate,

Point(s) well taken -- but when you say:

'But saints preserve us from a front office that makes moves to "send messages". Down that road lies Pittsburgh.'

I'm not convinced that's not what the signing of Da Meathook (and maybe Belliard to a lesser extent) was all about…and that's related to where my biggest problem lies in this whole ‘stand pat’ business: the timing of the deal(s). (as an aside, I don't for a second buy the "the market has changed and teams don't want rent-a-players anymore” argument here -- as if that makes the signing(s) out to be a shrewd attempt at making both guys more marketable). The signings signaled something, I'm just still not sure what. The signings took assets off the table. The signings sent Bowden into the gun fight with a knife, or with one arm tied behind his back or some such nonsense. It’s a blown opportunity to continue restocking the cupboards, as far as I’m concerned. Both deals could've easily been done tomorrow.

MF said...

This was a very good post. Over the last few days reading around, I couldn't really figure out why people seemed as upset as they did, but you have articulated a different take very well. Thank you for doing so.

I also think bdrube brings up some excellent points as well.

One other thing, and this probably isn't the appropriate place for it, but I really appreciated Basil's comment about not "judging the team too arrogantly" from our end. That's one point I think the blog and BP world misses with some of their criticism. And it was a very good piece as well. We're very lucky to have so many of you providing thought provoking insight into the Nats, even Chris and his cynicism! (I love your writing Chris!)

Just for fun, if the Nats had the chance to get Betemit for Rauch, would you guys have done that? Despite the lower BA this year, he's still been a pretty effective third baseman, and he's young.

Simon Oliver Lockwood said...

Betemit would be a good player to have in theory, but not necessarily for the Nats. He has starting potential really only at 3b. He has played 2b & ss, but not well enough to be a starter for a decent team. But the Nats already have a 3b. So, Betemit would be basically a younger version of Belliard with more offense and less defense. I’d rather have him on the roster than Tony Batista, but I wouldn’t trade Rauch for him.

Basil said...

Back in the spring of '05, there were rumors . . . well, I can't really remember the rumors. Either we wanted Betemit but wouldn't meet Atlanta's price, or Atlanta wanted to dump Betemit on us but it didn't work out. Anyway, he was considered a disappointment and out of options.

Times do change, I suppose.

Nate said...

mf - thanks for the kind words and constructive criticism. The kind of opinion blogging we do (Bowden Sux! Zimmerman is teh bestest evar!!1!) has to be done at least partially tongue in cheek, otherwise it's just obnoxious. For all his cynicism, Chris is a fan and a great blogger, and he doesn't take himself too seriously, even when he gets picked up by the Main Stream Media.

FWIW, I'd be okay with a Rauch for Betemit trade, on the theory that Betemit's still young enough to improve, and represents a step up over Tony Batista, D'Angelo Jiminez and the like as a bench player. Basil will just never forgive Wilson for leaving Richmond without a pennant!

MF said...

Oh definitely, I really do like Chris' blog a lot. I just wanted to poke fun at him a bit, especially after a few of the comments he got.

I also agree about Betemit. I think I would take that chance to add the offense he's capable of.

Anyways, thanks again to all of you guys for the work you put into this.