August 27, 2010

It Is Finished

Photo by AP

August 24, 2010

And on the Eighth Day, God Created the Mute Button

I make a concerted effort to ignore everything Rob Dibble says, so I'm reluctant to make an exception for his latest gaffes, but:

1. If you listen to Rob Dibble for any length of time you have no reason to be surprised when idiotic things come out of his mouth on a fairly regular basis; and

2. If, armed with that knowledge, you continue to listen to Rob Dibble you have no one to blame but yourself.

One of the beauties of baseball is that it conveys equally well on a muted television or on a radio. In this respect it is superior to many other sports. (Being a Redskins fan of the Frank Herzog-era I am compelled to say that football can also be surprisingly listenable, if done well, moving left-to-right across your radio dial.)

A soundless TV broadcast conveys 95% of the information you need to follow the action. An accomplished radio play-by-play man renders a television entirely redundant. Nats fans are cursed with substandard media in many other aspects, but Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler are as solid a professional pairing as any in baseball.

In conclusion, if Dibble offends thee, turn him off. Good night, and good luck.

August 21, 2010

Win the Battle, Lose the War?

Just keep repeating "It was only precautionary. It was only precautionary."

Ummm... it was only precautionary, right? Fellas?

Is this thing on...?

August 18, 2010

Hawpe to It

The Colorado Rockies are on the verge of releasing OF Brad Hawpe. Coincidentally, the Nationals are in the market for an outfielder to replace Josh Willingham as he makes his long overdue trip to the DL. Hawpe should be that replacement.

There's no question that there will be a reshuffling of the Nats outfield. All three outfield spots are legitimately up for grabs over the season's final month and a half. There are currently 5 players in the mix for those 3 spots: Nyjer Morgan, Roger Bernadina, Michael Morse, Willie Harris, and Justin Maxwell. (OF Kevin Mench is also on the big league bench, but he shouldn't be, and he certainly isn't a serious contender for regular playing time.)

As much as we love Willie Harris's webgems and improbable home runs he, like Mench, is not a part of this team's future. Leaving aside Jim Riggleman's inexplicable love for using Willie as the first pinch hitter off the bench he should not be getting anything more than spot starts and defensive replacement innings at this point.

For better or worse Nyjer Morgan is likely to return to his regular centerfield duties. There is some speculation that Roger Bernadina could move to center and push Nyjer to left, but that seems pointless, exchanging one below average corner outfield bat for another. On the plus side, Nyjer was hitting 308/361/354 in 18 second half games before his injury. That leaves Bernadina, Michael Morse and Justin Maxwell to split up at-bats at the corners. If you think that makes for an uninspiring choice, you'd be correct.

Roger Bernadina's been slowly playing himself out of the starting lineup all season. A 268/325/411 line might play in center field, but at the corners it's an offensive drag. It's not at all clear from his major or minor league stats that Roger has the glove to stick in center. He'll also be 27 next season, pretty well past the prospect stage. It may be time to admit that he is what he is, a very good 4th OF in the making.

Michael "Mike" Morse made a name for himself mashing left-handed pitching. A 306/342/556 split against lefties has earned him an everyday audition. A 257/304/419 line against righties is threatening to send him back to the bench. Morse deserves the chance to play out the season, but he's a below average outfielder, so if he's not getting it done with the lumber, he's not getting it done.

Like Morse, Justin Maxwell hits lefty pitching pretty well. But the guy simply cannot hit right handers. Not in the majors, not in the minors, not in a train, not on a plane. Not here nor there, he cannot hit them anywhere. As you might imagine, that limits his value. Justin gets a lot of slack because he's a local guy, and by all accounts a great guy, but his time is undeniably running out.

All of which brings us to Mr. Hawpe. He's having a down year, hitting just 252/340/430 and playing typically bad defense in right field. Note that Hawpe's slump constitutes an improvement over every healthy OF on the Nationals' 25-man roster. Check out this side-by-side career batting line comparison.

  • Hawpe: 280/374/492 (274/369/470 away from Coors Field)
  • Willingham: 265/367/475
Hard as it may be to believe, The Hammer probably gets a slight edge on defense, just because Hawpe is almost Adam Dunn bad in the outfield. That's the reason the Rockies put him on the Adam Dunn plan, and had him start taking some innings at first base. We're not necessarily talking about a long-term solution here. Hawpe is a clear upgrade over the current crop of corner outfielders, and might provide some insurance if Josh Willingham's knee surgery doesn't go as well as hoped.

Hawpe also projects as a Type-A free agent, and while offering him arbitration would be risky, the Nats might be one of the few teams in a position to take that risk and reap the draft picks should he decline. Of course, with the Rockies paying his salary, Hawpe would probably be an attractive left-handed bench bat for a number of contending teams. None could offer him the chance to play every day though, while the Nationals just happen to have an opening in the outfield.

The post-Harper breather is over. Hawpe to it, Mr. Rizzo

August 14, 2010

Beyond Bryce

UPDATE: Anyone care to translate this sentence into English for me?

Mike Rizzo: "I seem confident that we should sign the guys that we want to sign out of the draft."

At this rate we're going to need a Rosetta Stone to decipher all the Stan and Rizzo-speak coming out of Nationals Park in the next 48 hours. However, two questions come immediately to mind:

1. Doesn't telling people you seem confident suggest that you are not confident?

2. Who are the guys that they drafted that they don't want to sign?


It's deja vu all over again. With less than 60 hours to go, the Nationals are still on the clock to sign the number 1 overall pick in the June amateur draft. And just like last year, despite having more than two months to negotiate, the deal won't get done until T-minus 30 seconds before the deadline. That's the nature of the process, and unlike Stan Kasten, I'm disinclined to get all angsty about it.

I'm guessing Bryce Harper ends up as the highest paid amateur position player in draft history, raking in a few dollars more than Mark Teixeira got just on principle and to salve Scott Boras's ego. Harper will sign because between a deep 2011 draft class, a new collective bargaining agreement that could completely revamp the draft, and the ever-present risk of injury if he returns to play junior college ball, there's too much risk in waiting another year. But signing Harper won't be enough to consider the Nationals' 2010 draft a success.

Beyond Harper are three pitchers. San Diego State left-hander Sammy Solis (2nd round pick) and high schoolers A.J. Cole (4th round) and Robbie Ray (12th round). These three are the real keys to victory. Harper + Solis = a good draft. Harper, Solis and Cole; a great draft. All four? It's hard to call that anything other than the best draft of 2010.

Three years ago the Nationals were in a similar situation. August 2007 saw the Nats come to terms with three talented left-handed pitchers. First rounders Ross Detwiler and Josh Smoker and 6th rounder Jack McGeary. Here's what we wrote at the time:
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.
Still sounds about right. And the same is true of Solis, Cole and Ray. That's why the Nats need to do what it takes to bring them into the fold on Monday night. Solis is probably the surest bet to sign. We also know that Ray was in town for a meeting with the coaches and front office. If the team is serious about continuing to rebuild the farm system, none of these guys will be packing for college on Tuesday morning.

August 9, 2010

Return of the Stras

Per Nats' Director of Baseball Media Relations Mike Gazda:

[T]here are plenty of good seats available for Stephen Strasburg's start tomorrow vs. FLA... [T]here are a lot of fans who have been shutout from seeing Strasburg pitch (because of sellouts), but they have a chance to get tix tomorrow since he is coming off the DL and word has been slow to spread.
If they're pushing this hard, they're probably 99.44% sure that Stephen won't be scratched in warm-ups in favor of Miguel Batista this time. Mister Irrelevant, who's also hawking tickets to the game, notes that Strasmas ticket prices are slowly returning to normal. So this would be a good time to see the phenom in action. Consider the word spread.

In other news...

These Things Have a Way of Working Themselves Out: Detwiler to the DL, Stammen to the 'pen, and all of a sudden the Nats' glut of starting pitching has thinned considerably. Note that thinned is not a synonym for improved.

Five Fighting For Future: The Zucker Man has his list of 5 Nats to watch in the season's waning months. For my money, the only truly interesting name of the list is Michael Morse, who has about 8 weeks to play himself out of a career as a platoon outfielder/bench bat. I'm working on a little piece for later this week about the great Morse/Bernadina/Maxwell cage match shaping up in August and September.

The Spirit is Willing, But the Ham is Weak
: Speaking of the outfield, Josh Willingham's 2nd half slump (and it's potential impact on the lineup) has become a topic of muted concern. In truth though, the Hammer's "slump" from his hot start dates to the beginning of June, and shows no sign of letting up. If Adam Dunn is playing himself into a multi-year contract, Josh could be playing himself out of one, and putting LF back in play for the Nats in 2011 and beyond. Hmmm... do we know any free agent left fielders?

Dear National Media, Please Go Away: There was a time when I would have welcomed any mention made of the Nats from beyond the boundaries of the DMV. But we have Strasburg now, so I'm over the desperate need for attention phase. Now I'm firmly with Harper in the "stop plugging my team into your generic story generator" camp. Mike Rizzo turns Matt Capps into Wilson Ramos and change and unloads the Guz, but "loses" the trade deadline because he didn't jettison Adam Dunn for Daniel Hudson and a handful of magic beans? Spare me. Exactly who are all these people that have it on good authority that the Nats won't offer Dunn arbitration and "risk" paying him $15-16M next season? Go bother some other mid-market team. Isn't there a Prince Fielder to the Red Sox non-rumor you people should be busy inflating?

August 1, 2010

Maya Signs: World Series in 2012?

It's official. 28-year-old Cuban ace Yunesky Maya is the first major international signing of the Mike Rizzo era. The agreement, first reported in mid-July, was completed this weekend. Maya's major league contract will be worth between $6-8M over the next four years, and he could pitch for the Nationals before the season is out.

Maya doesn't have the raw talent of his countryman Aroldis Chapman, but he is by all accounts a polished veteran with a low-90s fastball and developed secondary pitches. With a career 2.51 ERA in Cuba (and a 1.73 ERA in the World Baseball Classic) there's reason to think that Maya could be a middle-of-the-rotation MLB starter right away. Given the parade of forgettables that have occupied that spot for the Nationals over the last five seasons, this signing is cause for legitimate optimism.

There's a great deal of assumption, wishful thinking, and finger-crossing that goes into projecting any roster into the future, but if Maya and Jordan Zimmermann have successful cups of coffee to close out 2010, and Stephen Strasburg's $15M shoulder gets a clean bill of health, the three of them could headline a formidable 2011 rotation. Mike Rizzo and Jim Riggleman would have the luxury of choosing between established veterans Jason Marquis and Livan Hernandez, comeback players like Chien-Ming Wang, John Lannan and Scott Olsen, or a talented youngster like Ross Detwiler to round out the starting five.

Depth would then come from some combination of those guys and AAAA veterans like Craig Stammen, Luis Atilano, J.D. Martin and Matt Chico. All of the aforementioned have had at least some measure of big league success and could presumably be counted on to fill in for a start or two without melting down in the spotlight.

Of course, an injury to one or more of the potential "Big 3" would be a serious setback (and with Zimmermann only a year removed from Tommy John surgery, not all that unlikely.) Any major league team needs at least seven starting pitchers to get through a 162-game season. But you also need luck to have the replacements fill in for your 4 and 5 guys, not your ace and No. 2. Still, if Strasburg, Zimmermann and Maya can put together 30 starts each in 2011, the Washington Nationals could be well on their way to contention and beyond.