November 8, 2011

Learning to Love the "Links"

Already this offseason the Nationals have been "linked" in one form or another to free agent starting pitchers C.J. Wilson, Mark Buehrle, Roy Oswalt and Edwin Jackson, as well as potential Japanese imports like Yu Darvish and Tsuyoshi Wada. And that's just the pitchers. The Nationals have also been named as a potential destination for free agent hitters from Prince Fielder and Jose Reyes to Grady Sizemore and Cuban refugee Yeonis Cespedes. Now the Nats aren't going to sign all, most, or necessarily even more than one of these guys. There's a possibility they'll end up with none at all. But even being in the conversation is a sometimes unsettling new reality for Nationals' fans.

A welcome side-effect of the team's status as newly-minted offseason players is a spirited debate among fans. Who's a better fit, Wilson or Darvish?  Oswalt or Buehrle for veteran staff-leader? What's the bigger risk, a Sizemore reclamation project or an unknown quantity like Cespedes?  Hot stove chatter is good for keeping baseball in the DC sports fan's consciousness, particularly now while the Redskins are imploding, the Wizards are locked out, and the Capitals are just beginning their long march toward a playoff berth. If the Nationals are going to become a year-round topic of local sports conversation, now is the time to get started.

Beyond the PR value though, the rumors are a sign that the Nationals have (finally) arrived as an MLB franchise. Fans can be forgiven for thinking that all this chatter is unusual, but really it's a result of the front office doing it's job. Mike Rizzo and his assistants should be making and fielding phone calls, kicking tires, examining all the options. This is what good teams do to get better and the only reason it feels novel is that for the first half decade of their most recent incarnation in DC the Nationals couldn't, or wouldn't participate in the process.

The team's "needs" for 2012 are fairly well defined. Someone has to play centerfield, and someone has to hit at the top of the order. Please, for the love of all things holy, note that these two roles do not have to be filled by the same person. The Nationals have been pursuing a "leadoff-hitting centerfielder" since 2005, with comically disastrous results.

Every thing beyond that is a "want". Rizzo wants to add another veteran starting pitcher, another bullpen arm, possibly a middle infielder and some big bats for the bench. These aren't quite luxuries, but they aren't indispensable either. Between the needs, the wants and the guys they have to find playing time for (Adam LaRoche, eight starting pitchers with 2011 MLB experience), there are a plethora of potential combinations, signings and trades for the Nationals this offseason. That's the biggest reason we're hearing the team's name pop up so often. (The other reason is leverage. Every free agent wants to be courted by as many teams as possible, and the Nats have a recent history of offering up big deals.)

Of course, the team probably doesn't see a fit for every player it's been linked to thus far, and even if it did it won't get them. The Nationals are not the only fish in the sea, nor are they the biggest. But they've finally graduated to swimming with the sharks, and fans will eventually learn to love the ride.

November 3, 2011

Bye Bye Bixler

Scrappy utility player Kory Casto Anderson Hernandez Pete Orr Alberto Gonzalez Brian Bixler was claimed off waivers today by the Houston Astros, ending his Nationals tenure after 79 games, 83 at-bats, a 205/267/265 batting line, and a few memorable plays like this one.

Now we can expect Stephen Lombardozzi to compete with a few veteran free agents (possibly including 2010 Syracuse standout Matt Antonelli) for the all-important utility position.  The waiver claim frees up one spot on the Nationals' 40-man roster.

November 2, 2011

Nate's Nats Notes - 11/2/11

If you're reading this (which I suppose you pretty obviously are) you may have noticed that Nats Triple Play went through some fairly significant content generation droughts in 2011. Some of that is the inevitable impact of running out of new things to say about this team after 6+ years, but more often it went something like:

1. Read/hear/see something interesting about the Nationals.
2. Think of an interesting (to me anyway) angle, start drafting a blog post.
3. Life Happens.
4. Issue is no longer relevant/I'm no longer interested/someone else has covered it better.

That happens a lot, and by and large I'm ok with it. There are a lot of great people (amateur and professional) out there writing about the Nationals and that's a good thing for the team, for fans and for baseball coverage in DC. Still, there are times like now when there are a lot of little Nats-related stories going around that don't merit a full-blown post, but I do want to get out of my head and in to a computer.

That's where Nate's Nats Notes comes in. Hopefully these will be catch-all/dumping grounds for smaller or tangentially-related Nationals news. And they won't always be from me, they could just as easily be Dave or Watson's Nats Notes, but that's less alliterative. So without further ado:

Rob Dibble Has Suffered For His Art - I don't like Rob Dibble. Didn't like the hiring, didn't care for his color work, am glad he's no longer associated with the team in any official capacity. For all those reasons, I hesitate to highlight his latest blowhard rantings, but there's just so much classically idiotic Dibble in there.  As for the assertion that his time as the MASN Nationals color guy was "the worst two years of my life", I can only say, "Right back at ya, asshat."

Players Love D.J. - I'm glad that Ryan Zimmerman and Drew Storen are glad that the Nationals are bringing back Davey Johnson to manage in 2012. It would certainly be bigger news if they weren't happy, and it would be a thumping great read if they publicly said they weren't happy, but I'm happy they're happy. Does this happiness mean the RZA is more likely to sign an extension this offseason? There's your story.

Bryce Harper is Going All Bryce Harper on the AFL - After a shaky intro to AA, a late season hamstring injury and a slow start in the Arizona Fall League, there was a teeny tiny bit of walking back the timeline on all-everything OF prospect Bryce Harper. Predictably he's now punishing pitchers in MLB's finishing school to the tune of .290/.357./.613 and once again generating talk about the date of his 2012 MLB debut. Whether he makes the team out of Spring Training or not, Harper's progress will impact the Nationals' search for a center fielder this offseason.

Turning Taiwanese, I Really Think So - And finally, a Michael Morse double is a no-doubter in any time zone. Ah, baseball.

October 31, 2011

Meet the New Boss, Etc.

Your clubhouse leader for least surprising press release of the 2012 offseason:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                                                     
Monday, October 31, 2011


          The Washington Nationals today announced they have exercised Davey Johnson’s managerial option for the 2012 season. Nationals Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo made the announcement.

          Johnson will continue the on-field efforts he began on June 27, when he assumed the Nationals’ managerial helm. 

          “After a series of discussions, it became obvious that the Nationals would be best served if Davey Johnson would continue as manager,” Rizzo said. “Davey’s remarkable connection to the clubhouse and D.C. community during the season’s final three months was well received. His baseball acumen coupled with a proper off-season of planning, including a full regiment of Spring Training, should put our players in a position to succeed in 2012.”

          Johnson’s 2011 Nationals closed strong, winning 15 of their final 20 contests to register the best winning percentage in the NL from Sept. 9 through season’s end. In more than half a season with Johnson at the helm, the Nationals went 40-43 and a D.C.-based big league club finished as high as third place for the first time since 1945. 


 Apart from being 100% expected, this is fine. Any manager who isn't purely a placeholder deserves at least one full season. In 2012 Davey will have his players executing his strategies. We'll see what happens.

UPDATE: WaPo's Adam Kilgore says that current bench coach Pat Corrales is stepping down, to be replaced "by a younger coach who could potentially replace Davey Johnson as the Nationals' long-term manager after the 2012 or 2013 season."

That too just makes sense, as Davey will be the oldest manager in baseball in 2012, and if the Nats have a successor in mind, it's probably good to lock him in, and get him an apprenticeship of sorts under D.J.. If the Nats are serious about contending in 2012 and beyond, they'll want a manager who is familiar with the players, rather than someone who is coming in cold from outside the organization. 

October 30, 2011

Checking Up on the 40-Man Roster

As you may have noticed, reports of our death, while not wildly exaggerated, were at least slightly premature. C'mon, it's not like anything interesting really happened in the last 3 months anyway. Have you seen the Nats blogosphere lately? It's all Mike Rizzo pledging to go out and fill the same two positions he was pledging to fill last offseason, and the gripping drama of what day Davey Johnson's press conference will be. You're not going to guilt-trip me for skipping that, are you?

In any case, we're back with a quick pre-free agency review of the Nationals' 40-Man Roster, complete with 2011 draft picks. The roster currently stands at 42 and includes two guys who will have to be taken off the 60-day IR in the offseason.

The Lead Pipe Locks (24) - Either by virtue of their contract or their status within the organization these guys will (barring a trade) absolutely be with the Nationals in 2012.

  • Sean Burnett* - re-established himself as the go-to lefty reliever in late 2011. Signed for $2.3M in 2012.
  • Tyler Clippard - shut down set-up man has an argument for staff MVP. Arbitration eligible.
  • Yunesky Maya - he's here because he's signed to a $2M major league deal next season, not because of his 5.23 ERA.
  • Henry Rodriguez - erratic fireballer turned late inning reliever and possible closer-in-training? Pre-arbitration
  • Drew Storen - the Nats young closer is great at what he does, and we have every reason to hope for more of the same in 2012. Pre-arbitration.
Starting Pitchers
  • Ross Detwiler* - is 2012 the year Ross puts it all together? He'll get every chance to show it. Pre-arbitration.
  • John Lannan* - put together his "best" season in 2011. No reason to think that he won't be smack in the middle of the 2012 rotation. Arbitration eligible.
  • Tom Milone* - or, as I like to call him, "John Lannan, Jr.". Will compete for the 5th starter spot and/or ride the shuttle from AAA Syracuse. Pre-arbitration.
  • Brad Peacock - see above, though Peacock is more likely to start the season at AAA. Pre-arbitration.
  • Matt Purke* - 2011 3rd round draft pick, signed a major league deal. Currently pitching in the AFL.
  • Stephen Strasburg - Dominant end-of-season cameo. $4.875M for innings limited 2012.
  • Jordan Zimmermann - aka "Strasburg's Road Map". Arbitration eligible in 2012.
  • Jesus Flores - may not be happy as Ramos' back-up but he's too talented to just let walk away. Arbitration eligible in 2012.
  • Wilson Ramos - solid season for the rookie backstop; may get more days off if partnered with a healthy Flores in 2012. Pre-arbitration.
  • Ian Desmond - which Desmond will show up in 2012: First half (bad) Ian or second half (good) Ian? Pre-arbitration.
  • Danny Espinosa - same question, flip the desired answer. First half Danny was a ROY candidate. Pre-arbitration.
  • Adam LaRoche - again, not so much by (non-existent) performance but by virtue of his $8M contract for 2012.
  • Steve Lombardozzi - got his '11 cup of coffee, but probably better playing every day in Syracuse than coming off the bench in DC. Pre-arbitration.
  • Chris Marrero - "top" 1B prospect figures to be a bench bat in 2012 because the farm is filling up beneath him. Pre-arbitration.
  • Anthony Rendon - the other 2011 draft pick with a major league deal. Won't see DC in 2012.
  • Ryan Zimmerman - because he's the RZA, that's why.
  • Bryce Harper - Washington's uber-prospect still has to make his bones in AA, but could be patrolling the Nationals Park outfield in September. $1.75M contract for 2012.
  • Michael Morse - only question is where he will play. Arbitration eligible.
  • Jayson Werth - an outfield fixture in every sense of the word. $13.57M next year, and it only gets worse after that.

The 99% (4) - They aren't key pieces, but there's no reason to think that (barring a trade) these guys won't be back next season.
  • SP/RP Tom Gorzelanny - wasn't a terrible starter, but was much better in limited duty as a reliever. Every bullpen needs a second lefty. Arbitration eligible.
  • RP Cole Kimball - hard throwing righty out until at least mid-season 2012 recovering from surgery. Pre-arbitration.
  • RP Ryan Mattheus - bad peripheral stats but good results equal a reliever who will get another chance in 2012. Pre-arbitration.
  • RP Atahualpa Severino - maybe 2012 will be the season he gets to pitch meaningful innings as the bullpen's second lefty. Or maybe not. Either way he'll probably be around. Pre-arbitration.
The Bubble Boys ( 6) - Poor performance, lack of minor league options, or just wearing out their welcome could spell the end for these fellas:
  • RP Collin Balester - never able to establish himself as a long reliever while riding the Syracuse shuttle, spring training 2012 will be make-or-break for the BallyStar. Pre-arbitration.
  • OF Roger Bernadina - Roger has never shown enough to merit a starting job, so he'll likely be competing for the 4th OF job with a number of free agents. Arbitration eligible.
  • UT Brian Bixler - Bixler does a little bit of everything, but not particularly well. Pre-arbitration.
  • OF Corey Brown - a late injury spoiled his 2011 cup of coffee, and he didn't show much at AAA, but he'll still likely get a second shot at Syracuse. Pre-arbitration.
  • RP Doug Slaten - yeah, he's gone.
  • RP Craig Stammen - will likely compete with Balester for the righty long reliever spot in the 'pen. There can be only one. Pre-arbitration.
 The Free Agents (8) - There are no mutual obligations here, and the team's progress means that many of these (popular) veterans may have played their last season in Washington.
  •  OF Rick Ankiel - Doesn't have the bat to hold down a starting gig anymore, but his otherworldly arm, "versatility" and veteran-y goodness mean he's the FA most likely to be re-signed as a 4th OF.
  • INF Alex Cora - when your calling card is "better than Brian Bixler", it's probably time to go.
  • RP Todd Coffey - Everyone loves a jolly fat man, so look for Coffey to re-sign once he's done with his offseason gig at the North Pole.
  • OF Jonny Gomes - could be a bench bat in 2012, but there are better options.
  • SP Livan Hernandez - Sentimental favorite, and willing to go to the bullpen, but probably squeezed out in a numbers game. Farewell, Livo.
  • OF Laynce Nix - could be a bench bat in 2012, but neither he, Ankiel or Bernadina can hit lefties.
  • C Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez - fan favorite still brings great defense, but the Nats just don't have the ABs for him.
  • SP Chien-Ming Wang - Most likely FA to re-sign and try to build on a strong finish to 2011. Contract negotiations are already under way.
Best guess? Wang and Ankiel re-sign, Balester, Bixler and Slaten are cut loose, and the Nats use the 2012 offseason to find a lead-off hitting OF, a left-handed reliever and a infield bench bat to supplement Flores, Marrero, Ankiel and Bernadina.

October 27, 2011

Universal Truths, Observed Realities & Umpiring

I love National Public Radio as much as the next East Coast liberal elitist, but there is such a thing a over-thinking an issue. Today's example: metaphysics and the theory of umpiring.

All pretentiousness aside, it's a good read, and will provide all sorts of philosophical underpinnings for your argument the next time you suggest that the home plate ump consult a seeing eye dog for assistance.

Or you could take my preferred approach, and simply accept that there is no spoon.

July 26, 2011

Jonny Gomes Isn't Jackie Robinson Either

So... the Washington Nationals organization didn't exactly cover itself in glory tonight, did it? The big boys got whipped by Florida (of course), AAA Syracuse found itself on the wrong end of a perfect game, and Nats director of player development Doug Harris felt the need to compare Bryce Harper to Jackie Robinson for reasons passing understanding.

As it happens I was in Bowie tonight watching Harper and his Harrisburg Senators 'mates take on the Baysox, so I can personally attest to the lack of racial slurs and spitting that attended Bryce's four at-bats. Given that the Prince George's County Stadium crowd was roughly 40% Nationals partisans, Harper was received with a mix of applause and good-natured heckling. He wasn't persecuted for the sins of middle class white teenagers, and the microscope he's under is largely of his own construction. Baseball's top prospect responded to the unparalleled pressure by going 0-3 with a walk, made a few routine plays in left field and generally looked like an 18-year old in his first tour of AA.

While all this was going on the Nats sent erstwhile Harrisburg OF Bill Rhinehart and Hagerstown closer Chris Manno to the Cincinnati Reds for OF Jonny Gomes, kicking off the 2011 trade deadline in earnest. Now Gomes isn't much of a fielder, but he has the instant distinction of being the only Nats outfielder who can hit left-handed pitching at all. (Did you know that Jayson Werth has a .636 OPS versus lefties this season? True story!)

Jonny also projects as a Type B free agent and, as has been noted elsewhere, he could end up netting the Nats a supplemental 1st round draft pick in 2o12. In essence, the Nats traded Rhinehart and Manno for a draft pick, and so we wouldn't have to see Laynce Nix and Rick Ankiel attempt to hit left-handed pitching any more. There's also a non-zero chance that Gomes' arrival spells the end of the Matt Stairs experiment. All in all, hard to be too upset about that.

July 7, 2011

Michael Morse, Suicide King

For goodness sake, VOTE FOR MORSE!

June 24, 2011


This team cannot catch a break. We draft one of the most heralded pitchers in recent memory and he lives up to the hype only to have his arm fall off. Then we draft a wunderkind who has all the physical gifts needed to be great at this game and who may or may not be a potential clubhouse cancer. We lose our face-of-the-franchise third baseman for the first third of the season. Then miraculously everything seems to be coming together. We get Ryan back, we go on tear winning 11 of 12 and the team fights its way to a .500 record and then one game over. Things are looking up.

And then the manager decides to replace the stadium fireworks with his career. Regardless of who you think is right or wrong, this team cannot catch a break.

June 21, 2011

Answer Unclear, Ask Again Later

Are the 2011 Washington Nationals surprise NL Wild Card contenders or just slightly better than expected playoff pretenders? The next 10 days should tell us quite a bit about the suddenly scrappy boys in red, white and blue.

Starting tonight the Nats play a nine game stretch versus the Mariners, at the White Sox, and at the Angels before wrapping up June with an off day. All three clubs are hovering right around the .500 mark, providing additional evidence of this season's unusual parity. Seattle, like Washington has ridden a better than expected pitching staff into contention in a year when Texas was supposed to run away with the AL West. M's starters Doug Fister, Erik Bedard and Michael Pineda are probably the best trio the reconstituted Nats lineup has faced, and while their offense is not good, that didn't exactly stop the Padres from rolling the Nats, did it?

After that the team hits the road to take on under-performing squads in Chicago (Hi, Big Dunnkey!) and Anaheim (aka Los Angeles). Both clubs have struggled at times but are talented enough to blow the Nats out of the water if the team that showed up Sunday versus the Orioles makes a repeat appearance. A club with serious playoff aspirations would expect to win all three of these series, or at worst take 2 of 3 at home and 3 of 6 on the road. By June 30th we'll know if these Nats are more than just talented enough to reel off a random win streak.

But even with that out of the way it's not at all clear that this year's Nats have the tools to compete. In fairness they weren't really meant to. Any National League club that carries a full-time pinch hitter is not seriously thinking playoffs. This was supposed to be the bridge season to 2012 - Strasburg, possibly Harper (and now perhaps Rendon) to go along with the Zimmermen(n), Jayson Werth, a more seasoned Ramos, Espinosa, and Desmond and Clippard, Burnett and Storen at the back of the 'pen. Improvement, including a run at .500 was in the cards, but nobody was talking playoffs.

They are now, but that talk will need to translate into action to improve the CF defense and the OBP at the top of the order, find a reliable fifth starter, add at least one more (left-handed) arm to the bullpen, and maybe a utility infielder better than Alex Cora and/or Brian Bixler. The Nats will also have to commit to keeping Jason Marquis and mini-Morse Laynce Nix around past July 31st, meaning Rizzo would have to dip into the farm to make upgrades to the big league clubs.

Is that the right path to take? Harper clearly thinks not. I'm less of a believer in the success cycle myself, and more of a Nats fan, so it's a harder call for me. If the Nats come home on June 30th two games over .500 and reel off a winning record at home in the 10 games leading up to the All-Star break, it's going to be awfully difficult for me to get on the "Break Up the Nats!" bandwagon.

Among other things, 2012 will be Strasburg's first post-TJ season, so it's hard to see him being dominant even in the best case. The best case would also feature at most 2/3 of a season of 19 year old Bryce Harper, rookie Anthony Rendon and a few rookie pitchers (perhaps AAA LHP Tom Milone and AA RHP Brad Peacock), who while they look intriguing in the minors will have virtually no MLB experience. Tough to see that being a significantly more playoff caliber club.

But all this is cheap progNATStication. The next 10 days will tell us more about who the 2011 Nationals are, and where they're headed. Stay tuned.

May 2, 2011

Drew Storen > Aaron Crow

Erstwhile never-quite-a-Nat Aaron Crow was just named Kansas City's pitcher of the month for April. The lefty reliever worked 12 1/3 scoreless innings, striking out 11 and stranding all 10 runners he inherited. That's nice work for a setup man, no doubt, but Crow was supposed to be a starter, a dominant lefty that the Nats could pair with Jordan Zimmermann atop the rotation.

Of course, as we all know, it didn't work out that way. Drafted by the Nats in the first round in 2008, Crow balked at the Nats contract offer and spent a year pitching for the independent Fort Worth Cats before re-entering the draft and signing with Kansas City. Harsh words were leveled at the front office and ownership in the immediate aftermath, and the consensus was that Crow's flight was a serious failure, to be mitigated only if the Nats' compensation pick, reliever Drew Storen, ended up being better than Crow.

On the face of it, those were long odds. Aaron Crow was a starter, Storen a relief pitcher. Even the best relievers rarely provide anything approaching the value of an average starting pitcher. Here's the thing though, once in the minor leagues Crow wasn't an average starting pitcher; he was terrible. ERA over 5 in hi-A ball terrible. No 3rd pitch terrible. Just plain terrible.

Storen, meanwhile, blew through the minors, literally and figuratively, balancing his pitching responsibilities with duty as Stephen Strasburg's unofficial spokesman. He made his MLB debut on May 17, 2010 and went on to post an ERA+ of 113 over 55 innings, including 5 saves. Storen's matched that save total already in 2011, with an ERA+ of 660 (over 15 innings).

By all rights there is a lot of baseball ahead of both these young men, but here are their career lines to date:

None of this excuses the process that led to the botched 2008 draft, but knowing what we know now, it's hard to think the Nationals didn't come out on top in spite of themselves. A little over a month from now, Drew Storen will have two years of professional baseball experience, Aaron Crow almost three. By the numbers you'd have to take Storen every time, wouldn't you?

April 27, 2011

Not Dead Yet

Whew, this once a month posting schedule is punishing. Much like watching Chad Gaudin pitch. Which we won't have to do for at least two weeks.

Apparently the enormous sucking force generated by his 6.48 ERA placed an insupportable strain on his shoulder, causing inflammation. Get well, Chad, but not soon. And have your doctor take a look at Doug Slaten too, hmmm? He may have elbow tendonitis, or a prolapsed colon or something, dontchathink?

Coincidentally, Henry Rodriguez is ready to join the big club. God works in mysterious ways. The bullpen may still be shaky, but they just got much more intimidating.

March 22, 2011

Beyond Baseball

WaPo's Barry Svrluga was the chronicler of baseball's return to Washington, D.C. in 2005, so it's only fitting that he authored this heart-breaking, inspiring story of Chad Cordero's most recent return to the game following the sudden death of his infant daughter.

For those of us who mark the spring of 2005 as the return of our interest in baseball, the members of that inaugural Nationals team will always hold a special place in our hearts. Livan, John Patterson, Nick Johnson, Joey Eischen, Brian Schneider, Jose Vidro, Jon Rauch, and, of course, The Chief will always be connected to D.C., regardless of where they've gone and what they've done since.

More on the story, and back-story, here. It's a useful counter-point to stories of athletes living outsized lives who are in the news for all the wrong reasons. Svrluga's piece is also a poignant reminder of what a great writer Nats fans lost when Barry was "promoted" to his current beat. Take a break from Spring Training and read it.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to Chad and his family, with best wishes for his current comeback effort.

February 22, 2011

Spring Training in Photos

Clearly we've been on a bit of a blogging hiatus here at NTP, but some things just can't pass unremarked. This is either a training exercise or a particularly unsavory clause in Jayson Werth's $126M contract:

Shots like that are why Mark Zuckerman gets paid the big bucks. Is that a camouflage bungee? Of course it is. Now for your daily double, speaking of big bucks:

Meet new 1B Adam LaRoche (center) and the Buck Commander Team, courtesy of Curly W Live. I'm with Mottram on this one, who would have guessed that replacing Adam Dunn would up the redneck factor at first base?

Finally, this is a few days old, but worth commenting on:

I'm not sure that Roger Bernadina can win the left field job outright over Mike Morse and Rick Ankiel, but I'm pretty sure he could bludgeon them to death if he had to. Those Dutch trainers must mix a mean protein shake.

January 27, 2011

Not Quite Good to the Last Drop

Look, when the Nationals DFA Justin Maxwell to make room for Todd Coffey you're going to get puns. Deal with it.

There was a time when I thought Justin could be another homegrown draw for a franchise that desperately needs to forge connections to its community. A Maryland native and University of Maryland grad, Maxwell would have formed a great 1-2 punch with Ryan Zimmerman. Both were 2005 draft picks. Justin would have been UMD to Zimm's UVA, cannon-armed outfielder and slick-gloved infielder, Stevie Wonder to Ryan's Frank Sinatra. Alas it was not meant to be.

A series of Nick Johnson-esque injuries prolonged Maxwell's road to the majors, and walk-off dramatics aside, he never showed enough with the bat to earn regular playing time. He never hit for contact, struck out more than you'd like to see in a guy who had just okay minor league power numbers, and didn't hit either lefties or righties well enough to distinguish himself as a platoon candidate. Justin peaked as a 5th OF/defensive replacement/pinch hitter, and his fate was more or less sealed when the Nats signed Rick Ankiel earlier this offseason.

This may not be the end of the road for J-Max in DC, but it is a sizeable pothole. The team has 10 days to trade Justin, release him, or attempt to clear him through waivers back to the minors. A 27 year-old outfielder with a 201/319/379 career line isn't likely to be enticing trade or waiver wire bait, so there's a fair chance Maxwell will be back at AAA Syracuse in 2011.

January 18, 2011

Down on the Farm

The acquisition of Tom Gorzelanny does not make me tingle in my special places. (In case you were curious, my special places are Charlottesville, Edinburgh, and Montego Bay.) He's youngish and left-handed, which can be accounted pluses, but also wildly inconsistent both in terms of results and underlying stats. He strikes me as another version of Lannan/Marquis/Livo/Maya, but not necessarily a better one. However, I come neither to bury Gorzelanny nor to praise him.

I'm more interested in what the trade that brought him to DC says about the Nats farm system. As has been noted, Washington sent OF Michael Burgess and pitchers AJ Morris and Graham Hicks to Chicago in exchange for Tom Ter...adequate. None of the three was a consensus Top Ten prospect, though Burgess did sneak onto the bottom of a few lists courtesy of big power and a cannon arm in right field. Coupled with those tools was pitch recognition and strike zone discipline that was postively Pena-esque, and that's Wily Mo, not Carlos. Still, Burgess was rightly recognized as the centerpiece of the return for the Cubs.

Morris and Graham are both good not great young arms who, barring unexpected improvement, will probably max out as big league middle relievers. Burgess has the raw tools to succeed, but will never progress if he can't learn to identify and lay off a curve ball in the dirt. You can argue over whether these three players represent a fair return for Gorzelanny. What you can't dispute is that Burgess, Morris and Hicks, a quad-A slugger and two back-end starter/middle reliever-types are mid-level Nationals prospects.

The cream of the farm system basically begins and ends with proto-phenom Bryce Harper. Catcher Derek Norris has great plate discipline, but needs to reestablish his power and demonstrate the tools to stay behind the plate because his ceiling at 1B is basically Nick Johnson with less pop. Beyond Harper and Norris it's tough to identify any premier offensive prospects.

On the mound, starting pitchers Sammy Solis and A.J. Cole are highly regarded, but so were Ross Detwiler and Jack McGeary not so long ago. More established youngsters like Tom Milone and Brad Meyers have back-of-the-rotation skill sets. Way too much is riding on Stephen Strasburg's rehab and Jordan Zimmermann's continued development.

To be sure, the farm system would be much more impressive if youngsters like Strasburg, Danny Espinosa, Drew Storen and Wilson Ramos hadn't already graduated to significant roles in DC, but great teams have a prospect pipeline. The Nationals have a prospect sprinkler.