November 13, 2008

Poaching Fish

Real life has intervened to keep me from weighing in on the recent acquisition of OF Josh Willingham and LHSP Scott Olsen. In the interim, evaluations have ranged from cautiously praise for Trader Jim's ability to find the slightly burnt bargains at the latest Marlins fire sale to outright hostility to any deal that takes from the still-rebuilding farm system in exchange for a pair of question marks.

To get it out of the way almost right up front, I applaud this deal. Though it is almost the inverse of the Milledge for Church/Schneider deal from last season, I believe it will be another net plus for the team. If the 2008 cavalcade of injuries taught Nats fans anything, it is that there is no substitute for depth and flexibility. This is every bit as true for a pitching staff as for the position players.

Take the 2008 Nationals first basemen. (Please!) Option 1 was OBP-machine Nick Johnson, well known to be only slightly less sturdy than your average Fabrege Egg. Option 2 was man-planet Dmitri Young, coming off a resurgent 2007 campaign, but with chronic illness waiting just around the corner. Even then, the odds of both those guys being sidelined for overlapping extended periods of time? Still, when the entirely thinkable happened, Nats fans got to experience the wonders of Option 3 (Aaron Boone), Option 4 (Kory Casto!) and Option 5 (Ronnie Belliard?!?)

Similar experiments took place at second base (Lopez/Belliard/Bonifacio/Harris/Hernandez) in the outfield (Pena/Milledge/Kearns/Dukes/Harris/Langerhans/Bernadina) and to a lesser extent catcher (He Who Shall Not Be Named, Estrada,Flores, Nieves, Montz). Of course, another run of injuries like last year would devestate the deepest and most flexible roster. Having a guy like Willingham who can play LF, be a credible Option 2 or 3 at 1B and fill-in respectably as an emergency third catcher all while knocking out 20 homers and a .360ish OBP should make the big league club easier on the eyes in 2009. And there's real value in that.

As for Olsen, 24 year old lefties with major league credentials don't grow on trees. Even if he is a headcase, I have near-mystical faith in Randy St. Claire's ability to keep him in line. Again, if all he does is repeat his 2008 he'll be in the running for most valuable starter on staff. You can never have too much starting pitching, and if Opening Day was tomorrow I'd take Olsen over every starter not named John Lannan.

Yes the Nats gave up value to get these guys. That is generally how these things work. Maybe Emilio Bonifacio will be the next Luis Castillo (all OBP evidence to the contrary). Maybe P.J. Dean is the second coming of Greg Maddux. Maybe Jake Smolinski will have 4 fully-functional knee ligaments at some point next season. That's the risk you run. The kids wouldn't be called prospects if they didn't have talent. On the other hand, they wouldn't be called prospects if they'd done something with that talent either.

1 comment:

Mark from CT said...

I sit in the dark and dreary NE today ( As a transplanted NoVa alum, I am now a member in good standing of CT Nats club...and its only member, I think) wondering if the Nats have any rabbits to pull out of the perverbial hat during hot stove time...

Like you, I also like to Willingham/Olson trade..we do need a #1 or #2 starter and another big bat...but this is a start.

The Nats aren't seriously in the Mark Texeira bidding...I can't believe...they have been so spendthrift to date that I can't imagine that...signing him would solve alot of problems...

Last season was unbelievably awful when you knew they were buried after 10 games into the season.

They have to change the MoJo of the team to inspire free agents to come to DC...think about it, why would you come to DC if you had other pennant-contending options. So "The Plan", as people like to talk about it, is the only option we have.

Prior to X-mas, I can dream about SugarPlum fairies or AJ Burnett, or Derek Lowes, Peavy..