February 17, 2010

Doing Arbitration Right

Maybe the Nats are a little arb happy. Maybe the Lerners are cheap. Maybe Stan Kasten's stubborn, or maybe Mike Rizzo has an ego the size of Livan Hernandez. I don't know... and neither do you. Here's what I know: just because you decide to take a player to arbitration doesn't mean you have to trash him. From Nationals Journal:

According to Bruney, Washington argued for the lesser of those salaries by emphasizing the relief pitcher's recent injury history.

It's easy to see how disagreements about a pitcher's talent and results can get heated and leave hard feelings. It's harder to see how a player can get very upset about the observation that he just hasn't been 100% for the last few years.

Rizzo: You've been banged up.
Bruney: Have not.
Rizzo: Have too.
Bruney: It's just a flesh wound.

In any case, Bruney said he trusted the market to tell him what he's worth, and the market has spoken.

February 13, 2010

The Unthinkable

Felipe Lopez is still out there. The best free agent second baseman available is still looking for work. The guy who put up a .310/.383!/.427 line in Arizona and Milwaukee last year, with better defense than Orlando Hudson, isn't going to Spring Training without buying a ticket. He's just axed Scott Boras too, probably in reaction to being unemployed longer than Adam Everett, Kelly Johnson, Alex Gonzalez, Melvin Mora and Adam Kennedy.

I don't like Felipe Lopez. There's no doubt in my mind that he quit on the Nationals in 2007-08. He dogged it, phoned it in, went through the motions, whatever you want to call it. I doubt you'll find a single Nats fan willing to come to FLop's defense. He was playing out of position, on a terrible team, and all evidence suggests that he was a bad seed, on the field and off. But that was then, and baseball makes strange bedfellows.

Mike Rizzo's stated goal for the offseason was to improve the infield defense. Maybe he did that with the Adam Kennedy signing. Personally, I'm not convinced that a 34 year-old 2B coming off his first good offensive season since 2005, (and his worst defensive season ever) is the answer to the Nats infield woes. If Kennedy were bumped to the bench, he'd be an upgrade over Alberto Gonzalez or Eric Bruntlett, and at $1.25M he'd still be making less than Ronnie Belliard was paid to do the same job last season.

Of course, all this is idle blogger chatter. The Nats have expressed no interest in Lopez, and he's certainly given no sign that he's inclined to come back. However, this is a very different team since Felipe left in 2008. New GM, new manager and a boatload of new players. And Spring Training is just around the corner.

Maybe the reason he's still looking for work is that he really is a clubhouse cancer even when he's playing well for a contender. If that's the case then the Nats are justified in staying well away. But if Rizzo is serious about constantly looking for was to improve the club, this is one stone he really shouldn't leave unturned.

February 10, 2010

Everybody Wang Chung Tonight*

Now this is dumpster-diving we can believe in. Per the Boston Globe's Pete Abraham, (via MLBTradeRumors) SP Chien-Ming Wang is on the verge of agreeing to a contract with the Nats. If this is what Mike Rizzo did with the money he saved on Adam Kennedy, that's alright by me.

Wang comes with an host of question marks, but so does everyone else available at this point. He's coming off shoulder surgery, so there's no way he's ready to start the season (his agent says mid-May, which makes me think maybe June 1st.) Wang's only pitched 137 innings in the last two years, and his numbers last season were atrocious, so we probably aren't getting the 2006 Cy Young runner-up, two-time 19 game winner. Even what he does well could be a problem.

Wang's a groundball pitcher. It may even be fair to say that he's the groundball pitcher. To be successful he needs a good infield defense behind him. The Nats have never had a good infield defense, particularly up the middle. Improving that defense was one of Rizzo's stated goals for the offseason, but the projected 2010 Dunn-Kennedy-Guzman-Zimmerman infield is still a huge defensive question mark.

Nevertheless, it's a great low-risk pick-up for the Nats, a welcome respite from the Bowden impersonator that signed Miguel Batista (Basil's man-crush notwithstanding) and Shawn Estes. It's also a good sign that Rizzo isn't resigned to a 2010 rotation of Marquis-Lannan and a 3-game forfeit. Pitchers and catchers report in just over a week, so everybody have fun tonight!

*Yes, I know how it's pronounced, but if Wang is Wong I don't want to be right.

February 8, 2010

Send a Blogger to Camp

I've been remiss in failing to note the arrival of a distinguished new member of the Natmosphere. Mark Zuckerman is a familiar name to long-suffering Nats fans, as he's been covering the team for that other Washington daily paper for nigh unto five seasons. Of course, that other paper has decided to reinvent itself as a conservative Politico (redundant?) so Mark finds himself adrift among the basement dwellers.

In other words, Mark Z's got a brand new bag. A link to his NATS INSIDER blog (ohh... original) is off to the right. Of course, as a newly-minted freelancer Mark's got to pay his own freight, which is where we come in. In the interest of having someone other than Phil Wood, Rocket Bill Ladson and the Post's newest intern/mailroom clerk/Nats beat scribe reporting from Viera, Zuckerman is soliciting contributions to fund his vaca... coverage of Spring Training. This is what Bob Levey should have been doing all these years.

There's no question that this is a worthy cause. Not Haiti-worthy, certainly, but for a fan of the Nationals and intelligent baseball coverage, important. So give a few bucks in order that somebody with a BBWAA card can ask Riggleman why in God's name he wants to use Ian Desmond as a utility infielder. Click here to contribute.

Now, an editorial aside. Sending Mark Zuckerman to Viera is all fine and good. FJB can tell you why in breath-taking detail. Access is good. But even better is a willingness to ask the questions fans actually want answered without fear of losing that access. Maybe Mark the blogger will find himself more free to do that than Mark the Times reporter. I don't know. What I do know is that given the choice I'd rather raise money to send Chris Needham, Steven Biel and Brian Oliver to Space Coast Stadium. Stupid, pesky real jobs get in the way of all my best ideas.

February 3, 2010

Nats Eyeing Wang*

Mike Rizzo may not be officially "done" trying to add one more veteran arm to the 2010, but the search has clearly shifted from legitimate free agent upgrade (Jason Marquis) to the Nats old familiar haunt, Trader Jim's Bargain Bin and Retread Emporium, home of the likes of Miguel Batista and Chuck James. Quoth the Rizz, "There is nobody ... out there on the pitching market that is a difference maker." Which leads us to the newest item in the display case, ex-Yankee SP Chein-Ming Wang.

Wang is coming off back-to-back injury shortened seasons, and he's not expected to be ready to start the 2010 season. Add to that the fact that he's a ground ball pitcher on a team preparing to roll out Adam Dunn at 1B and a yet-to-be-determined middle infield (Orlando Hudson is not a defensive upgrade!!1!) and what we have here is an unstoppable recipe for success. Still, Rizzo is probably right. Wang is likely no worse than another rehab project like Eric Bedard or any of the cast of undistinguished fifth starters still available as free agents.

Trading for a starter would probably net a better player, but at the cost of opening up another hole in a still patchwork lineup. In the meantime, Rizzo just lost another potential fifth starter candidate when the Milwaukee Brewers claimed Marco Estrada off waivers. Hmmm... losing serviceable young starting prospects on waivers to clear roster space for fungible vets. Who does that remind you of?

*No, I'm not proud of that, but I'm not made of stone.