December 23, 2008

Make It Stop

By now you've heard the big free agent news. That's right, the Nats signed... Corey Patterson. Yes, this Corey Patterson. This isn't even like waking up Christmas morning expecting an official Red Ryder carbine action, two-hundred shot, range model air rifle and finding a lump of coal in your stocking instead. Coal has value.

Please, JimBo, no more TFROs.

December 20, 2008

The Bigger Picture

As the Teixeira sweepstakes enters that period when no news is pretty much just no news, CBS Sportsline's Scott Miller takes a step back to look at what the pursuit of a premier free agent means for the Nationals, particularly owner Ted Lerner. Aside from being the franchise's first big foray into free agency, it could mark a fundamental shift in Lerner's relationship with his fellow owners.

Miller ties the Teixeira offer to last summer's unsuccessful negotiations with first round draft pick Aaron Crow. Says Miller:

Sources familiar with the Nationals' thinking say the bitter aftertaste of losing first-round pick Aaron Crow last summer is what finally changed Lerner's thinking. The Nationals were following baseball's recommendations for "slotting" -- paying first-round draft picks signing bonuses recommended by the commissioner's office -- in negotiating with Crow, the No. 9 overall pick. Other clubs ignored the recommendations.

It ended up costing the Nationals -- who, remember, have emphasized building from the ground up -- a key pick.

One person with knowledge of the Nats' winter approach characterized Lerner's attitude this way: "I've tried it their (baseball's) way. Now I'm going to try it my way."

It's not hard to understand why the Lerners, the new owners on the block, felt pressure to conform to the slotting recommendations, pressure that may well have been magnified by their unorthodox 2007 deal with LHP Jack McGeary. Attempting to sign Aaron Crow within MLB's recommended range, though, was an exercise doomed to failure from the start. If, as Miller suggests, the Lerners have become more saavy and independent as a result of that failure, then there is at least some silver lining to the Crow debacle. Bringing Teixeira into the fold would be as much concrete evidence of that transformation as any Nats fan could hope for.

If Ted Lerner's "way" is to make the Nationals legitimate players in free agency, ignore Bud Selig's self-defeating slotting recommendations for draft picks and act in the best interests of his team even at the expense of the league office, that would mark real progress for the owner and the franchise.

UPDATE: Roch Kubatko weighs in with some similar thoughts. It seems billionaires aren't used to being dismissed out of hand.
Pique may not be the best reason for handing out a 10-year, $200M contract, but in this case it may do.

December 12, 2008

Willie Be Worth It?

Harris gets two years, $3M; Redding gets railroaded. Shawn Hill, Scott Olsen, Josh Willingham and Ryan Zimmerman get unpleasantly confrontational salary arbitration proceedings.

Initial reaction?
Swell, another outfielder under contract. Trader Jim does understand that it's impossible to single-handedly create positional scarcity, right?

Secondary reaction? Wee Willie had the season of his career last year, he's due for some regression. That's not usually the kind of projection you want to reward with a doubled salary.

Tertiary reaction? Harris is one hell of a defender and he can play everywhere except behind the plate. $1.5M a year for a super utility man is hardly exorbitant. Utility lefties are pretty easy to trade in a pinch. A good signing.

What about Timmy? Well, it was fun while it lasted. But we're talking about Tim Redding here, kids. Let's not lose perspective. There's always another Esteban Loaiza, Ramon Ortiz or Odalis Perez where he came from.

December 5, 2008

Nats in a Box

As we approach the Winter Meetings the Washington Nationals continue to make uncharacteristic appearances in the Hot Stove rumor mill. Typically linked to Severna Park's own slugging 1B Mark Teixeira and perpetual Bowden lust-object OF Adam Dunn, the Nats have also been tangentially connected to A.J. Burnett, Orlando Hudson and several lesser free agent lights. It's always nice to be mentioned, and the barest hint that the Lerners might potentially be considering the possibility of talking about opening the family change purse for a legitimate free agent talent warms the cockles of my frost-bitten fan's heart.

With all that said, here's my problem: Where are these new guys gonna fit in? I don't mean fit in in a "ruining the clubhouse vibe" sense, and I'm not suggesting that any number of free agents wouldn't be talent upgrades over the current lineup, but there are only 25 slots on the active roster and by my count, they're all accounted for. A quick rundown of the 40-man:

  • C - Jesus Flores, Wil Nieves, Luke Montz

Flores probably isn't going anywhere. Nieves is a pretty generic backup, but someone has to do it. Montz is the team's only upper level catching "prospect" but he might not be ready for the bigs just yet.

  • INF - Nick Johnson, Ronnie Belliard, Cristian Guzman, Ryan Zimmerman, Anderson Hernandez, Kory Casto, Alberto Gonzalez, Ian Desmond

Nick "the If" Johnson has to start if he's healthy, but if he's not the 1B pickins are slim. Belliard is potential trade bait, if you can overlook his increasingly Vidro-esque defense. Guzman and Zimmerman aren't going anywhere in the short term, while one of Hernandez and Gonzalez could well start the year in AAA. Kory Casto's a potential roster casualty waiting to happen, and Desmond's a non-factor at the major league level.

  • OF - Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes, Austin Kearns, Josh Willingham, Wily Mo Pena, Willie Harris, Roger Bernadina, Justin Maxwell, Leonard Davis

Here's where it starts to get ugly. Pencil Milledge and Dukes into two of the three starting spots. Kearns, Willingham and (theoretically) Pena will compete for the third spot. All of those guys are right-handed, so if you want a lefty in the mix, add in Harris, Bernadina or Davis. Of course Kearns has a pretty sizable contract, Pena is guaranteed $2M, Willingham will be getting his first arb contract... you get the idea. Justin Maxwell, the Nick Johnson of the outfield, is pretty clearly the odd man out.

Assuming a 11-man pitching staff (which is probably one short of what the Nats need), that leaves 14 position player slots. 2 catchers, 6 infielders, 5 outfielders, 1 utility guy. I just don't know. Who can realistically be moved? Who's expendable? Don't forget we'll probably pick up one guy in the Rule 5 who'll lock up a 25-man slot all season. How does this get done?