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

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