January 23, 2010

Any Orlando Will Do

The Washington Nationals came into the 2010 offseason with a legitimate hole in the roster at second base. Lucky for them, the 2010 free agent class featured an abundance of capable middle infielders. Mark DeRosa, Marco Scutaro, Orlando Hudson and Felipe Lopez (admittedly unlikely to sign on for a return engagement in DC) were among the "big" names, but there were more than a few glove-first types: Adam Everett, John McDonald and Alex Gonzalez for starters.

As you'd expect, the Nats were linked to a number of these guys. DeRosa and Everett were acknowledged targets before they signed elsewhere. Hudson has been a constant presence, and Adam Kennedy surfaced recently as an alternative. But nowhere in all of this chatter has anyone uttered the name Orlando Cabrera. Until yesterday.

Know why nobody talks about O-Cab anymore? Because he's done. He was once (and I mean that literally, one year) a good hitter for a shortstop, but any value in his bat was tied to his position. And he hasn't been a good shortstop for a long time. That's okay though, because the Nats plan to move him to second base!

Orlando Cabrera has appeared in over 1700 major league games. He's played second base 33 times, most recently a 3-inning stint in one game in the year 2000. This is not a case of guy dusting off the old mitt and getting back in the groove. This would be a 36-year old learning an entirely new position for a new team in two months. Cabrera's an athlete and I'm sure he wouldn't embarrass himself, but what exactly is the supposed upside to this move? A Guzman-Cabrera middle infield? Surely you jest.

Maybe it's just an Orlando thing. Orlando Hudson playing hard to get? Sign Orlando Cabrera. In that case, I present the NTP-approved list of Alternative Orlandos (in order of preference):

  1. Orlando Jones - he played a wide receiver in The Replacements, he could fake second base.
  2. Orlando Bloom - recently named UNICEF goodwill ambassador, could help with international scouting.
  3. Tony Orlando - he don't love you (like I love you).
  4. Orlando Cabrera - more upside.
  5. Or... Lando Calrissian - yes, it's a stretch. Yes, I'd still prefer Billy Dee to O-Cab.

January 15, 2010


The Washington Nationals flirtation with 2B Orlando Hudson has none of the glacial majesty of the Mets pursuit of Bengie Molina, though if you consider that it arguably began more than a year ago it may qualify for the longest free agent courtship in MLB history. The quasi-public negotiations have hit all the classic marks:

  1. Nats suggest that their obvious second base vacancy could be filled by Cristian Guzman;
  2. Hudson expresses guarded interest;
  3. A 2-year offer at a "reasonable" rate is rumored;
  4. Ridiculously inflated salary demands ($9M/yr) are leaked by one side or the other;
  5. Nats respond, "Hey, look over there at Adam Kennedy!";
  6. Tony Plush escalates his O-Dawg lobbying campaign;
  7. Mutual interest is reiterated and deadlines are hinted at.
The deal may or may not get done, but the consensus seems to be that Hudson represents the "best" remaining free agent option for the Nats, so it's worth taking a look at the guy. At 32 years old Orlando's value is pretty well established. He's an above-average offensive second baseman, but Hudson's slick-fielding days are behind him. He was below average by most metrics in 2008 and 2009 and hasn't been truly great since his last season as a Blue Jay in '05.

Hudson's acquisition would push Guzman back to shortstop, where believe it or not he's basically an average defender when he's healthy, but a Guzman-Hudson-Dunn infield would leave newly-minted Gold Glover Ryan Zimmerman with a lot of ground to cover, and Nats fans should probably prepare themselves for a summer of bloops up the middle and bleeders into short right field. That said, that defensive infield could certainly be better than the Dunn-Guzman-Desmond alternative, and having Hudson on board would give Jim Riggleman and Mike Rizzo both security and flexibility.

As to the question of what sort of contract Hudson deserves, his reported demands aren't actually too far off his projected value. Orlando's consistently been worth 2-3 wins above replacement for the last 5 seasons and there's no particular reason to expect him to hit the wall in 2010. A $9M contract would pay between $3-4.5M per win, a fair value. Of course, Hudson's almost certainly not going to get $9M (certainly not from the Nats), even in a heavily incentivized deal, so it's fair to expect some value from whatever offer he does accept.

The rumored second year? Guzman is likely gone when his contract is up. (*sob*) The organization's middle infield talent pipeline is pretty well empty until you get to Danny Espinosa and Jeff Kobernus in the low minors, well... someone's got to play second in 2011. Like the second year of the Jason Marquis deal, who exactly would the O-Dawg be blocking?

January 13, 2010

DC Doesn't Need A(nother) Kennedy

As it stands Cristian Guzman is the 2010 Opening Day second baseman for your Washington Nationals. If they can't reel in Orlando Hudson (one year too late) to play second, Plan B appears to be infielder Adam Kennedy. I'm sure Adam's a swell fella, loves puppies and rainbows and all that, but no matter how you feel about Cristian Guzman, Adam Kennedy's got no business playing in D.C. in 2010.

Over at his cleverly moniker-ed Nationals Baseball blog Harper makes the case that Kennedy probably won't be so bad. A (slightly) better bat than Guzman, and a glove that appears to fluctuate wildly between above average and terrible. But is that really a combination you need to shell out free agent money for?

Cristian Guzman will occupy one middle infield postion, that's a given. With that in mind, there are two good reasons for the Nats to sign an infielder: to upgrade the offense or to upgrade the defense (or ideally both, but that doesn't look to be a realistic option.) Hudson would be an offensive plus, but a Hudson/Guzman defensive infield wouldn't do the pitching staff any favors. Kennedy might be a defensive improvement but carrying both his bat and Guzman's would be a real offensive hindrance.

On the excellent Fangraphs site Dave Cameron has a thoughtful article from a few months back about the relative merits of moving Guzman from shortstop to second. For the moment the Nats seem fixated on adding a second baseman, which would keep Guzman at short and Ian Desmond on the bench. There's nothing wrong with this plan, so long as it adds real value to the team rather than just shuffling deck chairs on the S.S. Natanic.

January 11, 2010

Could Have? Yes. Should Have?...

Now that the details of Aroldis Chapman's $30M deal with the Cincinnati Reds are beginning to firm up, (h/t to MLBTradeRumors) we can say with some confidence that it's a contract the Washington Nationals could have matched. It's a five year major league deal with a sixth year player option, but the money is spread out over ten years and Chapman's 2010 salary is only $1M. Chapman's service time clock will start immediately.

In a vacuum, a $30M major league contract is a big commitment to a still relatively untested amateur free agent. However, given the structure of the deal (average annual value of $3M) it's hardly a crippling financial burden, even for a smaller market club like the Reds. Given that, and the deplorable state of the Nats pitching pipeline behind Stephen Strasburg, should the Nats have shelled out $30M for a Chapman lottery ticket?


First, let's deal with the Strasburg comparisons. Stephen Strasburg is better than Aroldis Chapman. He is today and will be for the immediate future; there's no serious debate on this question. Chapman's value lies in projecting what he might do if and when he harnesses his considerable tools. The projections range from total bust through lights-out lefty closer all the way to staff ace, but they're just projections. So paying Chapman more (in total dollars) than Strasburg or anyone else on the team who didn't just win a Gold Glove could cause a perception problem both in the clubhouse and among the general public.

Still, $30M spread over ten years shouldn't hamstring a club like the Nationals, playing in a market like Washington, DC. There's a vast difference between bad contracts and crippling contracts. Nats fans are all too familiar with bad contracts (Guzman, Kearns, Young) but none of those contracts seriously impeded the team's ability to make other moves. Likewise if Chapman flames out or becomes a left-handed Fernando Rodney, Cincinnati's 10-year commitment would likely be seen as a bad deal, but not an albatross that would sink the franchise.

Perhaps more than any other team in baseball the Nats have the potential revenue and readily available roster space that could be combined in a creative deal like the Aroldis Chapman contract. Perhaps Mike Rizzo and the front office concluded that he just wasn't worth the joint financial and time commitment. Certainly the Yankees, Red Sox and Angels, who could have easily matched the Reds dollar for dollar, took a pass. The Nats have a bad track record of being shortchanged by Cincinnati GMs. Here's hoping it didn't just happen again.

January 8, 2010

Better Outrighted Than Garrotted, I Suppose

After quietly smuggling reliever Matt Capps into town earlier this week the Nats made a place for him on the 40-man roster by outrighting lefty reliever Victor Garate to AAA Syracuse. Garate (aka the PTBNL in the Ronnie Belliard trade) had an abysmal 2 inning big league audition at the tail end of 2009, posting a 22.50 ERA, 4.00 WHIP (19 ERA+), so his demotion is not particularly surprising. What is surprising, and more than a little depressing, is that Garate was not necessarily an automatic choice. You could make a case that a half dozen players currently tying up spots on the roster are less valuable than Capps, and Matt (a righty closer on the rebound) isn’t all that valuable himself.

Jesse English, Ryan Mattheus, Atahualpa Severino and Doug Slaten come almost immediately to mind. You could add Luis Atilano and Marco Estrada without much argument, and I’d even be willing to entertain a discussion about the relative value of Brian Bruney and Matt Chico. There’s a lot of dead weight on the Nats roster, but the problem is that these guys are here because they’re better than any of the other options – they are the best major league-ready talent in the organization.

Of course, Drew Storen will be along to claim a roster spot soon enough. Some of the Nats failed starters (Mock, Balester, Chico) might mature into effective relief arms. Every year one or two non-roster invitees impress or resurrect their careers. No doubt several more of the fungible relievers above will be joining Victor Garate in Syracuse or Harrisburg. Still, it’s a measure of how very far the Nats have to go that even after making moves to shore up the relief corp there’s this much chaff on the roster.

The wasted space on the roster makes the team’s reported interest in veteran outfielder Randy Winn all the more difficult to understand. Winn’s a wizard with the glove, but he brings next to nothing with the bat. Assuming he’s not displacing starters Josh Willingham, Nyjer Morgan and Elijah Dukes, or reserve Willie Harris (no slouch with the leather himself), Winn would be competing with Justin Maxwell, Roger Bernadina and Mike Morse for that all-important 5th outfielder spot. Sure a Harris-Morgan-Winn defensive outfield would be impressive, but would it really be worth the collective 260/330/370 batting line?

January 6, 2010

A Slow Sports News Day in DC?

New Redskins head something or other?

Wizards star point guard indefinitely something something?

Oh yeah, Nats officially introduce Matt Capps... remember him?

Timing may not be everything, but jeez... the team couldn't wait for Alex Ovechkin, Art Monk and John Thompson, Jr. to get in a 3-car pileup before scheduling this press conference? Capps is a signing Mike Rizzo can actually be proud of; if they wanted to smuggle someone in under cover of darkness they could have pushed back the Pudge Rodriguez presser.

That said, kudos to Nats media relations guru Mike Gazda for setting up a conference call between Capps and pasty, basement-dwelling internet scribes. Though NTP was not directly represented (the terms of our collective work release limit our access to unmonitored phone calls) the event is well-documented here, here, here and elsewhere across the Natmosphere.

Good on the team for allowing this kind of access to the unwashed masses, and good on Matt for enduring being the third (or fourth) biggest DC sports story of the day with evident good humor.

January 1, 2010

Rocket Bill's Burning Sensation

If it's January 1st, it must be time for the first of many inane and wildly premature 2010 season previews. Leading off, 10 Burning Questions with MLB.com Nats beat writer "Rocket" Bill Ladson. As a bonus, we've given this column our patented "Ask an Idiot Blogger" treatment.

1. Will the Nationals play at least .500 baseball this season?

Rocket sez: "Too soon to tell. Ask again later."

We say: That's some quality Magic 8-Ball. But to actually answer the question, yes the Nats will go 2-2 over a four game stretch at some point in 2010, thereby playing .500 baseball. Wait, what... you mean .500 baseball for the season? Are you high?

2. Who is going to be the starting catcher?

Rocket sez: "Ivan Rodriguez."

We say: Boo! Bring back Wiki Gonzalez!

3. Will Elijah Dukes be the regular right fielder?

Rocket sez: "It's now or never."

We say: Define "regular". Seriously though, who's your alternative? Justin Maxwell? Willie Harris? It's Dukes' job until somebody better comes along.

4. Will Ian Desmond become the Opening Day shortop?

Rocket sez: "Answer unclear. Ask again when the Opening Day lineup is posted."

We say: Yes, unless Mike Rizzo can find someone better than Cristian Guzman to play second base. And he can, so the answer is no.

5. Between Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen, who will have the biggest impact on the Nationals in 2010?

Rocket sez: "Storen."

We say: Strasburg's a starter, Storen's a closer, so between them would have to be a middle reliever, right? We'll go with Tyler Clippard and his fashion trend-setting goggles.

6. Will the Nationals trade Josh Willingham before the season starts?

Rocket sez: "All signs point to no."

We say: Maybe, and that's a significant upgrade from the Bowden regime when the answer would have been an unqualified, "Yes, for a scratched off lotto ticket and the fastest OF taken in the 1st round of the '99 amateur draft."

7. Will Nyjer Morgan's hand be 100 percent when Spring Training starts?

Rocket sez: "Yes. He's already hitting off a tee."

We say: No, he'll never play the viola again. And hitting off the tee is how Junior Spivey bit it.

8. Besides Marquis and John Lannan, who do you expect to be in the rotation in 2010?

Rocket sez: "Stammen, Detwiler and a PTBNL (pitcher to be named later)."

We say: If Rizzo stays in house, Stammen, Scott Olsen and J.D. Martin. If they bring in outside help, Stammen, John Smoltz and Livan. Yup, it's that bad.

9. Will Cristian Guzman play second base for Washington?

Rocket sez: "He will if Rizzo and Riggleman tell him to."

We say: Yes, unless Mike Rizzo can find someone better than Cristian Guzman to play second base. And he can, so the answer is no.

10. Who is the Nationals closer?

Rocket sez: "The survivor of the Bruney - Capps battle royale."

We say: Anybody but Kip Wells.