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 26, 2011
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.
June 21, 2011
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.
July 30, 2010
Well, okay, as long as it's Texas. Twins-Nats-Rangers. In one sense Cristian Guzman has spent his entire career playing baseball for Washington. You have to admire the symmetry.
Farewell to GUZMANIA!, the longest tenured player in Washington Nationals history, and the only member of the 2005 club to have remained in DC for the full five and a half seasons.
Over an even 550 games with the Nationals, Cristian put up a .282/.317/.389 line, good for an 87 OPS+. Coincidentally, that's better than his career line, so the Nats really did get Guzman's best years, no matter how much Jim Bowden over paid for them.
Later this evening I'm planning a full retrospective and appreciation of the Guzman Era, coupled with some drinking. So for one day at least, kindly keep your oh-so-clever snark to yourself.
July 29, 2010
"[W]e ain't getting Wilson Ramos for Capps..." - July 28, 2010
Yeah, about that... I'm a dumbass. The formal announcement is still pending, but Woo Hoo!
Here's a little background on Wilson Ramos, courtesy of Baseball America. Aaron Gleeman, who knows Twins baseball just about as well as anyone, has this take on Ramos:
Wilson Ramos has been totally overmatched by Triple-A pitching, posting a hideous 41-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio while hitting just .208/.244/.319 in 52 games. Ramos showed reasonable enough plate discipline in the low minors, but since advancing to Double-A last year he has 14 walks and 64 strikeouts in 106 games. He's making contact at a palatable rate, but the total lack of patience is disturbing along with a .427 career slugging percentage.Wilson Ramos is far from a sure thing, but he's a legitimate catching prospect and easily enters the Nationals' Top 10 prospects list. Considering that Ramos was rumored to be part of the Twins' offer to the Mariners for Cliff Lee, getting him for a reliever like Capps is a coup.
Ramos remains a very solid prospect largely due to projecting as a good defensive catcher, but it was always wishful thinking to assume he was even close to an MLB-ready impact bat and that notion now looks silly. With that said, he's still just 22 years old and has fewer than 450 plate appearances above Single-A, so there's no need to sour on Ramos too much.
The Nats' bullpen will have to be reshuffled, but that's an insignificant price to pay. Whether this is the dawn of the Drew Storen Era or the beginning of two and a half months of closer-by-committee, you make this trade 100 times out of 100. Nicely done, Mr. Rizzo.
July 28, 2010
I'm not a doctor, and I don't play one on TV, but it seems to me that a precautionary MRI is not something a pitcher gets because he has "trouble getting loose in the bullpen". It might, however, be the kind of thing a pitcher gets when he "may be favoring his four-seam fastball over his two-seamer." "There's no pain" should be words of comfort, except that a brief history of DC pitchers who have felt no pain includes John Patterson, Brian Lawrence, Chad Cordero, Matt Chico, Jordan Zimmermann, Scott Olsen and Jason Marquis. In other words, it was fun while it lasted, Nats fan.
Capps & Trade
As the trade deadline draws nearer the Nationals are the subject of an unusual amount of speculation. Beyond the usual suspects (Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham) opposing teams are rumored to have varying levels of interest in Cristian Guzman, Adam Kennedy, Willie Harris and Matt Capps. Nationals Journal and Nationals Review both took in-depth looks at the pros and cons of trading the Nats' closer. Here's the bottom line: closers are made, not born. And even good relief pitchers are notoriously volatile commodities. DC fans need look no farther than Chad Cordero, Joel Hanrahan and Mike MacDougal to find recent examples of the boom-and-bust closer phenomenon.
Even without Capps the Nats have at least three relievers who are arguably capable of holding a lead in the 9th inning. Tyler Clippard has been the consummate set-up man. You might not want to bring him in with men on, but if you need three outs and the bases are empty there's no reason to think he can't do the job. Joel Peralta saved 2o games for AAA Syracuse this season and has pitched well since his promotion, with basically the same arsenal that Capps employs. Then there's Drew Storen, consensus "closer of the future". He's done everything asked of him so far, so unless he's on an inning count, why not see if he can handle the 9th inning?
If Mike Rizzo can trade Matt Capps for anything of value he should do it now and not think twice. That said, we ain't getting Wilson Ramos for Capps or Matt Garza for Adam Dunn. Who let Jim Bowden back in here?
I have no problem with Adam Dunn's impromptu visit to the Miller Park broadcast booth on Saturday night. I do have a problem with him not clearing it by Jim Riggleman or bench coach John McLaren. The talking to he got was justified. However well-intentioned, Adam's decision to duck out of the clubhouse without telling anyone projects a devil-may-care indifference that the worst defensive team in baseball should probably try to avoid. On the plus side, at least he wasn't taking a nap.
July 18, 2010
The Nationals aren't going to compete for anything in 2010. After outscoring the Marlins and still dropping the series, there's enough accumulated evidence to assess this team's talent level. The offense is mediocre and erratic, the bullpen is a relative strength and the starting pitching not named Strasburg, while capable of ocassional competence, is a definite weakness.
In the midst of all this Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham are having outstanding seasons. Dunn, hitting 288/373/579 with an NL-leading 22 homers, is in the last months of his two-year contract and would be an asset to any team looking for a 1B/DH bat in the second half. Willingham, batting 276/403/491 is perhaps even more attractive because he's under team control for all of 2011 and can play a respectable left field. On one level it makes sense to say that if the Nats can't score runs even with these guys, they should ship them out for prospects and reset the clock on that "first great Nationals team".
The Nationals Review does a nice job of breaking down the endlessly frustrating offense. Basically, if you think the Nats are struggling now, just wait 'til you see what they look like with the heart of the order gutted. But there's a larger issue at work here. Ever since fans became attuned to the dynamics of player development and teams with financial limitations started trumpeting the "build from within" approach, there has been a school of thought that says there's no use in being anywhere on the spectrum other than "rebuilding" or "contending". If you aren't in it to win it at the major league level you should be focused on turning veterans into young, cost-controlled prospects who will ideally form the nucleus of your next (or first) contending club.
In the abstract that approach makes sense. The devil, as always, is in the details. First, it's important to correctly evaluate your odds. The 2010 Nats are not contending, but the 2011 team could, if your rose-colored glasses are tinted just right. Needless to say, subtracting Dunn and/or Willingham would hobble the big club in the short-term, regardless of the return. Meanwhile, Ryan Zimmerman's contract is ticking along toward free agency and 3 more years doesn't seem like that much time for a club that has already squandered 5 post-relocation seasons.
Second, you have to trust your GM to make not just a deal, but the right deal. From a fan's perspective, this part is all but unknowable. Blood was demanded when the Nats failed to either move or resign Alfonso Soriano at the trade deadline in 2006. Fonzie's compensatory draft picks became Jordan Zimmermann (and Josh Smoker), but it's impossible to tell from the outside if that constitutes a better return than any of the potential trades that were declined.
Finally, there's the lure of the perpetual rebuild. Even the best teams need to get lucky to make the playoffs. They need to stay healthy, not have any veterans fall off a cliff and get unexpected contributions from one or two unheralded quarters. Teams without the Phillies' payroll or the Rays' farm system have even less margin for error. One or two bad breaks and a promising spring becomes a lost season pretty quickly. At which point you're supposed to jettison everyone who might (A) get more expensive, (B) be on the downside of his career, or (C) return a premium prospect. Sure this season it's Dunn and Willingham, but you don't have to look too far into the future to see a time when the veteran in his prime who's wasting time with the perpertually scuffling Nats is named Zimmerman, or even Strasburg.
At some point you have to build, not just rebuild. Without straining my imagination I can see a 2011 Nationals club with a rotation headed by Strasburg and Zimmermann, with 3 of Wang, Detwiler, Olsen, Marquis, Lannan and free-agent-to-be-named rounding out the back. Behind them a bullpen anchored by Burnett, Clippard, Storen and Capps. Zimmerman, Dunn and Willingham in the heart of the order, supplemented by Ian Desmond and a Roger Bernadina/Mike Morse platoon, with Pudge Rodriguez and Jesus Flores splitting the catching duties. (Is this is a little fanciful? Yes, but no more so than projecting Derek Norris, Chris Marrero and Danny Espinosa to be offensive stalwarts in two years.)
Is the team outlined above good enough to compete for a World Series? Maybe, maybe not. One thing's for sure, if Dunn or Willingham is dealt at the deadline it will be well past 2011 before we see another Nats team with equivalent talent.
August 2, 2009
In his article recapping the Nats deadline deals WaPo's Chico Harlan says that Nick Johnson was overcome by emotion when notified of his trade to Florida.
Johnson, at first, was so emotional that he knew only one response: He stayed in the cages with Eckstein and kept taking swings. But eventually, he reemerged in the clubhouse, as team employees helped him with a travel itinerary. Johnson choked back tears. He hugged teammates. In previous weeks, the Nationals had discussed a contract extension with their starting first baseman but couldn't get anything done.MLB.com's Bill Ladson, somewhat to the contrary, says that:
"Interim general manager Mike Rizzo didn't have a choice but to trade Nick Johnson because the latter did not want to negotiate an extension with the Nationals."
To my mind, there is a great difference between being unable to get a contract extension done and being unwilling to do so. If Nick was truly uninterested in extending his time in DC, I can't blame him, but that makes it harder to believe the trade came as such a terrible shock. I suppose it's possible that Johnson anticipated the trade and was nonetheless overcome by emotion in the moment. Whether his tears were of regret or relief we may never know.
July 31, 2009
If the Nats don't deal Nick Johnson and Josh Willingham by 4 pm today they'll never be good in our lifetimes.
That my be the dumbest thing I've written in 4 years of blogging the Nats (feel free to slog through the archives to confirm) but it's also the prevailing sentiment across the Natmosphere. If that feels familiar, it's because that's been the prevailing sentiment every July 31st since Bowden didn't move Alfonso Soriano to Minnesota for P Kevin Slowey and OF/DH Jason Kubel. (I assume FJB would have approved that deal because it obviated the need for the Olsen/Willingham trade two years later.) Nats fans have gotten pretty good at seeing doom in the failure to move every marginally tradeable player.
Now, because other teams have gotten good hauls for Cliff Lee, Matt Holliday, Freddy Sanchez and George Sherrill, it stands to reason that the Nats are once again suckers for "sitting out" the trading action. Nevermind that the Nats don't have a Lee, Holliday, Sanchez or Sherrill (or for that matter an Adam LaRoche, Ryan Garko, Jack Wilson or Tony Pena.) The Nats should be out there giving away players for something, anything, because gosh darnit they're just terrible and the only way to get better is the Twins/Marlins/A's approach of churning veterans for prospects.
I've been accused of making excuses for the front office because I honestly believe that the trade deadline, for all the rumors, innuendo and supposition, is a black box and you can only evaluate the deals that were made, not the deals that never came together. That's not to say that GMs can't screw up. Dmitri Young should have been traded at the deadline in '07. If Mike Rizzo is running around telling people that Josh Willingham is untouchable, that's just, to quote our President "stupid." If, on the other hand, Rizzo is asking for a "Matt Holliday-lite" package and just not getting it, that's just good GMing. Players are happy to take advantage of career years, GMs should too.
Nick Johnson is an entirely different case. A potential free agent with a medical history longer than his stat sheet, Nick has seen both his power and his defense decline this summer. Yes he still gets on base and hits for average, but he's looking more and more like Sean Casey every day. Nats fans like to remember Nick as he was in 2005/06, but opposing GMs are looking at a two-month rental of OBP and a left-handed bench bat. Still, there comes a point when the best offer out there simply ain't good enough. Ryan Tucker? Aaron Thompson? They may have nice pedigrees, but the numbers are less than impressive. With no heir apparent at 1B (Adam Dunn is not an option on a serious team) I'd rather give Nick the two year deal he wants and hope that one of the kids comes through in time for 2011.
Deal Joe Beimel and Willie Harris. This team has a solid history of turning relievers (Stanton, Rauch, Ayala) and bench bats (Daryle Ward, Marlon Anderson) into interesting, marginally useful prospects. But spare me the hysterics if Johnson, Willingham and Dunn are all still here tomorrow morning.
July 30, 2009
Maintaining the status quo would be "an epic fail." There's no reason for Nick Johnson to be on this team come August 1st. The team cannot take this lineup into 2010. The Pirates have liquidated half their roster and prospects are falling from the skies. Even with all that, Mike Rizzo doesn't anticipate any big moves. Which makes sense when you consider that only Joe Beimel really needs to be shown the door.
L.A. Joe is a lefty reliever on a cheap one-year deal. He is archtypical deadline trade bait, and the third left-hander in a bad team's bullpen. Come October 5, 2009 he's gone one way or another. Joe Beimel is a less accomplished Mike Stanton, who became Shairon Martis in July 2006. The odds of turning a lefty reliever into a young starter aren't good, but it's a gamble you take every time.
Beyond that, it's not fair to say that the continued presence of Willingham, Dunn and Guzman on the roster next week is an unmitigated front office failure. A disappointment, maybe. Josh, Adam and Cristian are all under team control through 2010. Dave Nichols may be right to say that the Nats cannot "come into spring training with Johnson at first base, Willingham in right, Dunn in left and Guzman at short." That doesn't mean that everyone has to be dealt by Friday afternoon. Offseason trades work too.
As for Nick, he's a potential free agent, apparently seeking a lucrative two-year deal. Unfortunately there's no 1B-of-the-future waiting in the wings. The idea of moving Adam Dunn to first is superficially attractive, but if you think watching Dunn butcher 2 or 3 balls a game in left field is painful, imagine him trying to make every catch at first base. As for Josh Willingham, well you don't want someone with chronic back issues crouching on the infield every day.
So trade Joe Biemel. For anything. Do it today. As for the rest, if you can get a Matt Holliday/Jack Wilson/Cliff Lee-type package (quality and quantity) do it. Otherwise remember, the winter meetings are practically right around the corner.
July 27, 2009
Win a couple of series, manufacture a redeeming moment for the guy riding the end of the bench, generate a little buzz with trade deadline talk, draft signing panic and typical ownership ineptitude. All of a sudden, against their better judgment, a few more people are paying attention to the Nats than were at this time last week.
Do not be fooled! The pitching is still a patchwork mess. Defense is a crapshoot at best, and somebody forgot to tell the hitters that you can't bank runs from game to game.
There's no sign that the team is committed to moving its tradeable commodities and no evidence that they could get value in return if they did. Forget the talk about August 31st being the real trade deadline. For the Nats it's July 31st or bust. Washington's hottest properties (Johnson, Willingham, Dunn, Beimel) wouldn't make it through waivers unless they were physically anchored to Austin Kearns and Cristian Guzman.
Maybe the club is showing some improvement, or maybe they just ran into two of the other awful teams in the NL. Either way, the front office has 5 days to demonstrate that their commitment to improving the Nationals is more than just hollow happy talk.
July 8, 2009
Lord knows that watching the Nats as they are is too heavy a burden to borne by man. Now is the time for all epically bad teams to begin reimagining their club as it might be. Boswell is already underway. Granted, as profound thinking goes, "The Nationals Need a Roster Overhaul" fits nicely right alongside "The U.S. needs to rein in entitlement spending." Propositions that command near-universal assent generally make for poor blueprints. It's easy to say "Blow up the roster and trade everything that's not nailed down!" Finding people to take the players the worst team in baseball doesn't want is a taller order, and getting something of value for them will be the real test of our interim GM.
For purposes of the current exercise I'm discounting the return on any trades, assuming they'll be either A) prospects too young to contribute immediately or B) 18-24 month stopgaps like Morgan and Burnett, guys who are complimentary players, not building blocks. The question then becomes, "What do the Nats have in-house that provides even a scintilla of hope for 2010 and beyond?" The answer, unsurprisingly, is not a hell of a lot. But that's no reason to hold off on the necessary roster decimation. The farm system is still a long way from producing a pipeline of big league caliber talent. The 2009 Washington Nationals are (at least on the position player side) a veteran bad team. If the 2010 squad is a younger bad team, that by itself would be an improvement of sorts.
The NJ Conundrum: Nick the (Walking) Stick is still getting on base, but his bat has quieted considerably. Even less than the homeruns, he's not nearly the doubles machine he once was. His usually slick glove has also shown uncharacteristic holes this season. Would being a full season removed from injury help? Possibly, but he's still the Nats best trade chip and a constant injury risk. Deal him, and move Dunn to first. The defense will be bad, but it was already bad.
The Ascension of Elijah: Dunn to first moves Willingham to leftfield, opening up right for the return of Elijah Dukes. Clubhouse cancer or not, Dukes has a big league bat and a big league arm. Burying him at AAA in favor of Austin Kearns would be insulting the intelligence of all 20 people still following this team. Keep Kearns around as a 5th OF if you must, unless Roger Bernadina's ankle heals up ahead of schedule. If Uncle Teddy can be convinced to eat Austin's salary, so much the better.
Belly Flop: Look, I like Ronnie Belliard. I thought he was a good low-risk pick-up in 2007, and I even liked the relatively cheap 2-year extension. He was valuable enough with the bat last season to earn his money. That was then, but now he's done. Maybe he'd be rejuvenated coming off the bench for a contender, and he showed last year that he can play the corners in a pinch, but nobody's going to give us anything to find out. Cut him loose on August 1st.
The GUZMANIA! World Tour: Personally I think the days are over when you can convince a major league GM that Cristian's .314 batting average means anything. (Sabean maybe, but he's got his own disaster at shortstop.) Still, a contender in need could do worse, and while the Nats would miss his bat, they probably wouldn't miss his (decreasing) range and $8M salary next season. I can't actually advocate trading Guzman, not with Alberto Gonzalez and Mike Morse as Plans B & C, but I'm willing to turn a blind eye if Rizzo can make it happen.
Say Hey and Farewell: Now that the Nats finally have a competent major league centerfielder, Willie Harris is a luxury. A speedy, left-handed, affordable utility luxury, to be exact. Granted it would take two AAAA guys (Morse and Maxwell, maybe?) to replace Willie's contributions and it would be nice to have Harris, Morgan and Dukes playing OF defense in the late innings, but historically awful beggars can't be choosers.
A Willing Trade Chip: You can't blow up the outfield without mentioning Josh. Next to (perhaps ahead of) NJ, Willingham is the most tradeable Nat. He's swinging a hot bat, which is always nice, and he's team controlled for a few more years, which is even better. Jettisoning both Johnson and Willingham would take out a huge chunk of the offense, but the outfield defense might improve by default. Unless Dunn moves back to left and Brad Eldred gets promoted from AAA, of course.
A Bard's Tale: Josh Bard has quietly worked his way up to a 280/350/400 line on the season. Not bad for a backup catcher moonlighting as a starter. Also not bad for a team looking to add a veteran backstop for the stretch run. I shudder to think what a trade here would do to our offense, and minor league help is almost literally nonexistent, but if Bard's tradeable he should be traded.
The Bull$&!# Pen: We come into this world with nothing, we leave with nothing and in between we pitch relief for the Washington Nationals. Every man in the 'pen is expendable. The Nationals Review makes an excellent case for turning competent relievers into prospects whenever possible. Nats fans need look no farther than the Mike Stanton-for-Martis or Luis Ayala-for-Hernandez deals to confirm the wisdom of this approach. Hell, even Rauch-for-Bonifacio ultimately netted Willingham and Olsen down the road. Granted, competence is a high bar for our 2009 relief corps to clear, but Beimel, a rehabilitated MacDougal, Villone, even newbie Sean Burnett, one or two of these guys ought to be able to fetch something of value. Rebuild the 2009 'pen around Bergmann, Clippard, two innings-limited young starters and whoever's left over from the yard sale. In 2010, start fresh.
And For Starters: There's John Lannan. There's Jordan Zimmerman. And then...? If Scott Olsen's return from the dead is legit he makes three. Signing Stephen Strasburg is not even open to discussion, but it's a mistake to slot him in as a 2010 savior-of-the-rotation. You'll be lucky to get one back-end starter out of the Martis/Stammen/Detwiler trio. Maybe J.D. Martin, Balester or Mock impresses in a late season audition. Maybe Matt Chico returns from the dead. More likely the rotation remains a promising but jumbled mess for the forseeable future.
July 30, 2008
As the trade deadline draws near, there appear to be very few buzzards circling the desicated carcass that is the 2008 Washington Nationals. With a 25-man roster that would shame many AAA clubs, that's hardly surprising, but it does pose an unusual challenge for embattled GM Jim Bowden.
Obtaining the best deal for a top-flight player like Alfonso Soriano is one type of test. Identifying a promising minor leaguer to exchange for a Marlon Anderson/Daryle Ward-type role player is another. But pawning off your overpriced crap on another team may be the truest measure of a general manager's skill.
In that regard, Nationals fans have some cause for hope. Free agent signings and contract extensions may not be Trader Jim's forte (witness the nickname) but getting the Seattle Mariners to take on Jose Vidro (and his contract!) in return for Chris Snelling and ¡Fruto! was an undisputed masterwork of general managing. Sure, neither amounted to anything more than Langerhanscendetalism! (and, eventually, Wily Mo Penamonium!) but that's not the point.
JimBo successfully identified a GM who had convinced himself that our overpriced crap was the key to his season, and pulled the trigger. Doing that once is luck, but if he can do it again with Felipe Lopez, Paul LoDuca, Odalis Perez or, Deo volente, all three... well folks, that's a skill, and not one to be taken lightly.
Of course, that's an optimistic scenario. Overpriced crap doesn't usually generate a sellers market; and it's entirely possible that all three of the terrible triumverate will be on the roster August 1st. But the next 24 hours will be a good test for our GM, whose leash seems to be growing shorter by the day.
July 22, 2008
August 17, 2007
Lord, Jim Bowden loves him some Toolsy Former Reds Outfielders, don't he? Media out of Boston is reporting (and the Nats now confirm) that Trader Jim has snagged OF Wily Mo Pena and cash from the Red Sox for the ever popular PTBNL (player to be named later.) Might this be the first use of the Nats much ballyhooed newfound minor league pitching depth?
Here's what we know about Wily Mo: he's big, still youngish (just about to turn 26), slugged the crap out of the ball in the Great American Matchbox in Cincy, and is currently having an abysmal year as the 3rd/4th outfielder in Boston, and is eligible for his 2nd year of arbitration in the offseason. Sounds like your typical Jim Bowden reclamation project.
It should go without saying that Wily Mo is not an elite defensive outfielder, though he's not terrible either. But he's definitely here for his bat. He may also be here because of Austin Kearn's cramping/hamstring/knee injury. If he's not replacing Austin his acquisition causes something of a logjam in the corner outfield. If Pena is here, he's playing, so the question is whether he pushes Church to the bench or Church slides over to center field and bumps out teh Nook. We should know soon enough. Pena probably won't be here for tonight's game, but he should be around in time to start tomorrow for Lincoln bobblehead night.
JimBo has coveted Pena forever, so when Wily Mo cleared waivers earlier this month the question was not if this deal would get done, but when, and for what. And the what really is the key element. The whole point of building up farm system depth is to be able to trade for major league talent, but Pena is 2-3 years removed from being a hot prospect. He's basically been reduced to a spare part on a contending Red Sox team. So I hope Trader Jim didn't let his lust for former Reds get the better of him. It's fine to give up a talented minor leaguer, just don't sell the farm.
In the meantime, Washington Welcomes Wily Mo!
August 1, 2007
The morning after is often a time for regret. Sometimes the regret is active: "I got smashed and danced on top of a what with who?!" Sometimes the regret is passive: "Man, I am sooo hungry! I should totally have eaten that slice of pizza sitting on top of the trash can at 3 am! MMmmm... pizza." Right now the Nat(m)osphere is, to make an over broad generalization, deep in the throes of passive recrimination. Federal Baseball sets out the talking points. It's a long piece, but well-reasoned and worth the read, even if Basil is occasionally trying to possess his cake and consume it simultaneously. But I digress...
Much (too much, I think) has been made of the Nationals failure to make even one measly piddling little deadline deal. "Why, they didn't even deal Rauch!" has been a common refrain. And it's true, Big Jon remains Manny's 8th inning setup guy instead of slopping out the 6th and 7th for the Dodgers or the Yankees. I'll have more to say about that a little later, but first I want to take a big picture look at the State of the NATion as of July 31, 2007.
Long about the All-Star break I was onboard with the "Trade 'em all, let God sort 'em out" school of thought. Move Young and Belliard for anything, Cordero for the moon, anyone else if the right deal came along. But as the trade market started to shape up it became increasingly obvious that there was A) No interest in 1B not named Mark and B) a definite movement to covert closers on bad teams to setup guys on good teams I began to waver. I was sold on the Belliard move, virtually a minimum contract for a versatile and effective infielder. I was and am less sanguine about Da Meat Hook's extension, but my concerns lie more with the size of the deal than with the idea that Dmitri might be a handy guy to have around in a pinch.
Nevertheless, those two deals essentially took the Nationals out of the trade market. But I question whether it was worth it to be in the market at all. Bad teams are caught in an unkind Catch-22 at the deadline. Their players are, by definition, almost always worse than the equivalent player on a good team. (Sure, there are lone superstars on lousy teams, but bear with me here.) So players on bad teams almost always have more value to the team they are traded from than they will for the team they're traded to. That's why Eric Gagne and Octavio Dotel will go from closing in Texas and KC to setting up Jonathan Papelbon and Bob Wickman. That's why Kenny Lofton will likely end up as the platoon/4th OF in Cleveland.
In that environment Ronnie Belliard is a utility infielder, Dmitri Young is a DH/1B/PH, Chad Cordero is a setup guy, and Rauch is a 6th-7th inning middle reliever. So let's not kid ourselves that the Nats could have expected 4 or 5 future major leaguers in trade. The front office didn't pass up on a talent windfall by holding on to these guys. And, not for nothing, by keeping them the team has better-than-average major league caliber players at 1B, 2B, set-up and closer for the next two seasons. Now you can quibble with whether these are players and positions that need to be locked down, but you can't deny that it's true.
So, about Jon Rauch. If it's true that relief pitchers are essentially fungible, closers only slightly less so, then setup guys ought to be one of the most replaceable pieces on a 25-man roster. But if that's true they also won't be the most valuable trading chips, because they're interchangable, right? For all the talk of teams needing to shore up their bullpen, and acquire an extra veteran arm for the stretch run, only three true "setup" guys changed teams:
- Scott Proctor from the Yankees to the Dodgers (for Wilson Betemit)
- Scott Linebrink from the Padres to the Brewers (for 3 minor league pitchers)
- Dan Wheeler from the Astros to the Devil Rays (for Ty Wiggington)
Now, I love me some Nats as much as the next guy, but Jon Rauch is not Scott Linebrink, even given Linebrink's problems this season. Add to that the general consensus that Doug Melvin got fleeced in this deal, and there's no pot of multiple minor leaguers at the end of the Rauch rainbow. Big Jon is much closer to Proctor and Wheeler, established veterans who netted utility infield types with upside. Wiggington has power, Betemit has age on his side, but neither is much help rebuilding a farm system. And those are the types of guys who were likely available. So trade Rauch now for that? Why? If the Nats want a guy like that can't they do the same deal over the offseason?
Beware the "this guy doesn't fit into the long-term Plan, so we must get rid of him post-haste" mentality. Sure, the Nats don't need a $4M closer, a $2M set-up guy, a $1.5M utility infielder or $5M worth of Nick Johnson insurance. But they can afford to have them. And there's no sense pretending the Nats were passing up the next Ryan Zimmerman or Ross Detwiler in the process. So yes, rebuilding the farm should still be priority #1. And yes, it would have been nice to see the Nats do something to reaffirm that goal. But saints preserve us from a front office that makes moves to "send messages". Down that road lies Pittsburgh.
July 31, 2007
It's looking more and more like the trade deadline will come and go without any moves from the Nationals front office, and I'm getting more and more okay with that. With Belliard and Young under long-term contracts the team's most attractive trading chips are reliever Jon Rauch, closer Chad Cordero and outfielder Ryan Church. All are young (or young-ish) none are on the cusp of free agency, and only the Chief makes anything like big money.
The Nationals are not the San Francisco Giants. They don't have a pressing need to get younger for the sake of getting younger. Trading guys in their mid-to-late 20s for guys in their early 20s just because the latter are prospects is every bit as dumb as holding on to guys in their mid-to-late 30s just because they are established vets. (Hi Dmitri!) The whole point of the operation has to be to get better. Judging by the deadline deals completed so far, if your name isn't Mark Teixeira, you're not netting big league ready prospects in a trade. If the Nats aren't being offered prospects with higher ceilings than the guys we already have, then no move is the right move.
I guess Trader Jim is under the impression that July 31st, in addition to being the non-waiver trade deadline, is the "sign all your hefty infielders to multi-year contract extensions" deadline. Apparently Trader Jim is also under the impression that the National League will be adopting the DH next season. But believe it or not, that's the end of the snarky cynicism for this post. The knee-jerk reaction will be to say that this is another Bonehead Bowden move, Cristian Guzman Redux. I just can't get behind that this time.
I don't hate this contract. I don't love it either; 1-yr/$4M or 2-yrs/$6M and I'd like it a whole lot more. Still, the longer I think about it, the less terrible it seems. And here are those thoughts, in no particular order:
- Dmitri was a scrap heap find, but that's not the same thing as saying he was a scrap heap player. We got him at a discount because he had personal and professional issues, but the available evidence suggests he's worked through those. And if you can tie some of his physical decline to his previously untreated diabetes, then maybe this bounce back season isn't an isolated one year wonder.
- Someone has to play first base for the rest of the season and (possibly) into next year. Look, I know this team ain't going anywhere, but that doesn't mean I want to see Robert Fick trotting out to the 3-spot every day. Nick Johnson appears determined to challenge John Patterson's record for longest rehab, and Dmitri's not exactly blocking a hot young 1B down on the farm. If Johnson is done, then someone has to replace him anyway. And for all the talk of diamonds in the rough finding someone to replace Nick's stats (which is essentially what Da Meat Hook has done) is not a proposition best left to free agency dumpster diving.
- What were the alternatives? The trade market appears deader than a joint Fred Malek-Michael Vick kennel club. The Mark Teixeira deal (if finalized) made a splash, but tell me who the Twins got for Luis Castillo, or what Kyle Lohse netted the Reds. Next to nothing. If it was hard to get value for Alfonso Soriano, imagine how next to impossible it is to get anything for Dmitri Young. Yet in arbitration Young may well have commanded a one year contract above $5M. (As a point of reference Felipe Lopez's stinker of an '07 will probably still net him an arbitration award in the $5-6M range. Ain't baseball grand?)
- It's not like the Nationals don't have the money. Bumping the payroll up by $4.5M a season over the next two years ought to be a drop in the bucket of salary increases. Of course, this one is conditional. If the team uses this signing as a dodge to avoid the free agent market then yes, it's torches and pitchforks time for our skinflint overlords. But I'll allow for the benefit of the doubt on this one.
July 23, 2007
The Post is reporting that Ronnie Belliard has signed a 2-year extension that will keep him with the Nationals through the 2009 season. Terms, per Barry's "major league source" are: $1.6M for 2008, $1.9M for 2009, grand total of $3.5M for the life of the deal. It's a healthy raise over the $850,000 Ronnie's making this year, but not at all out of line for a top utility infielder and sometime starting second baseman.
Everything I said about Belliard when he came on board last spring still holds true. He's versatile, dependable and a steadying presence in the field or off the bench. He's been the Nats best pinch hitter and a better than average fill-in at second base. Jim Bowden excels at identifying diamonds in the rough, but nothing says the Nats have to turn over half the roster every offseason. Keeping Belliard in the fold gives the Nats middle infield flexibility, and between GUZMANIA's injury history and Felipe's struggles, that's a good thing.
The $64,000 question of course, is what did the Nats pass up on the trade market by retaining Ronnie? My gut instinct says "not much" but that's based on nothing at all. It's been a very quiet trade market so far this season, and all indications are that nobody's looking to give up prospects for quick fix infield help. It's possible that Ronnie could still be traded, even with this extension, and the larger contract makes it more likely that he'll pass through post deadline waivers, so there may yet be another shoe to drop.
In the meantime, settle in Ronnie, it's nice to have you around for two more years, or some fraction thereof.
UPDATE: Generally positive feedback from our colleagues at Capitol Punishment and Federal Baseball. Typically measured response from Just a Nats Fan. And this comment pretty much sums it all up: "There are far worse ways for an MLB GM to spend 3.5 mil."