Nationals Baseball: December 2010

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas, Aaron Thompson

You were claimed off waivers from the Nationals! You're like a toy plucked from the trash bin heading for a sleigh ride with Santa!

Oh no, why are you being dropped on that island up there? A bird that can swim? Ok, that's pretty cool, but who would you fill a water pistol with jelly? Nobody wants a Charlie (Morton) in the box!

Final Score on the Nick Johnson deal : Double squadoosh.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A clarification and a nightmare

Just to clarify I DO think Rizzo and the Sha Na Nats are trying to get better. I may not agree exactly with what they are doing, but no one can argue that they haven't gone after one player after another that would make the team immediately better. What I was saying though is that a team with the stink of consistent losing can't be picky and choosy about how they get better. They need to take advantage of the opportunities that are presented to them. They had an All-Star caliber first baseman that was ready to re-sign with the team despite their losing. They needed to make that happen first and build off that.

Here's something to ponder:

Thursday April 7th - Nats vs Marlins (righty pitching)

LFCF - Bernadina
SS - Desmond
3B - Zimmerman
RF - Werth
LF - Ankiel
1B - Kotchman
2B- Espinosa
C- Pudge

and on the mound JD Martin!

Whatcha think? 8K?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

This is why it's important not to suck

When you suck people don't want to come to your team.

This is why it's not ok to ignore the major league team for years and years. This is why, if you know you can overpay and get Werth, you do it AND you keep Dunn. You get better, you don't tread water.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Less confused. Not "unconfused" but less confused

Let's start out with something obvious, none of "us" know what the trade market is for Josh Willingham. It could be that this was a very fair deal for the Hammer, based on what Rizzo was seeing on the market. We don't know. I have trouble seeing that, but as I've said we tend to overrate the guys we look at everyday. Ok admitting our lack of knowledge, why do the Nats make this deal?

Well gambling on how Willingham did this year to see if you could increase his value is risky bet. Turning 32 in February, he's not young. He's also coming off surgery. Expectations were that he'd bounce right back into his usual productive self but that's probably a bit optimistic. Of course that risk is fine when you are paying Josh 3-5 million dollars a year, but that would be ending soon. Josh was out of option years, and next year would be a free agent. He was going to get a decent raise if he was any good this year. The Nats weren't likely to dole out a bunch of cash for Josh's 33+ years. Trading him now, when the Nats could be sure he still had value, was an understandable move.

The curious thing about the deal isn't that the Nats traded Josh Willingham, however; it is who the Nats got back. You would hope they Nats would get either (1) a couple of allright starting pitching prospects (quantity, people!), or (2) a decent major league contributing player better than what the Nats have now. Instead the Nats got one pretty good relief prospect and a major league hitter not better than what they have.

Henry Rodriguez is a classic relief prospect. Super fast pitcher. High K's (11.4 K/9 in minor leagues in 2008, 15.2 in 2009, 13.4 2010) High BB's (6.5 BB/9 in 2008, 7.2, 3.8). Most encouraging is that he doesn't give up homers - 0.4 HR/9 in the minors. So far averaging 10.5 K/9 and 4.3 BB/9 in the majors. That isn't bad but it is still too many walks to rely on. Since everything else looks ok though, I think if he's able to improve his walk rate, even just a little bit, he could be at least useful with the potential for a lot more. The problem is last year's 20 games in AAA was the only time he ever did that. I'd fell a little better if he was 21 next year not 24 but he's an ok pick-up, controlled through 2016. Of course relievers are a dime a dozen so you don't necessarily need to deal for them.

Corey Brown is an old 25 (turned it in Novemeber). He was kind of shuffled up the A's minor league system for the sake of doing so until AA where he got better as he got older than the surrounding competition. He takes a lot of pitches, which fits in with Rizzo's philosophy and he has moderate power. The question is whether he can maintain a high enough average in the majors to stick. When I see a guy bouncing around .260-.280 over many years and levels my opinion is probably not. Fitting somewhere between Maxwell and Bernadina on the prospect scale I just don't see the point of this guy. Wait, was he drafted by the Diamondbacks? Nope. Ok still don't get it.

It could turn out better, or another deal could be made, but the way I see it Willingham was dealt for basically organizational depth.

Wait what?


Confusion! Perplexity! Bamboozlement! I am completely without bobulates!

The Nats traded Josh Willingham, early, for a decent reliever prospect and an old OF prospect? I need to look at this closer. Update (and a 68 win season) soon.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Welcome 4th Lawrence brother

whoa! (at least that's what he looks like to me)

short version of the press conference involves the words "money", "house", and "dump truck".

Monday, December 13, 2010

Nats face sheer wall of rock to climb in the NL East

Just think of it this way: The Phillies youngest star will be 33 in 2013 and that's the guy that is most likely to age badly. That year or maybe in 2014 that could be an old, bad, expensive team. Either that or they'll be the team that let Jimmy Rollins walk and he's got that aura that if the team loses 3 games in a row the media will be all like "Why'd they let Rollins walk! He's a winner!"

Don't think of it this way : That's a lot of intra-divisional losses in 2011 and 2012.

REALLY don't think of it this way : This isn't a heartwarming story of a guy going where his heart is. This is a guy who wanted to pitch in the NL (easier) on a winner for roughly the hideous amounts of money he was going to get elsewhere. The Yankees are in bigger trouble (of maybe not having the best record in the AL East) but at least they can say "Ok this guy wasn't about the money". The Rangers were dumped like a summer camp girlfriend, for last year's summer camp girlfriend.

Wrong Lee? Nah.

He's not THAT old. Sure he's an old 35 (will turn 36 before the end of the season next year) but it's only 35. Trusting a player at 35 & 36 doesn't seem like a terrible idea. Eventually he'll fall off the cliff but if you don't think that was last year (and I don't) than it's fine to gamble on the short term.

He bounced back decently with the Braves. Over the last 39 games his line was .287 / .384 / .465. That seems pretty much in line with what I'd like to see from a 35 year old Lee.

He wasn't that bad with the Cubs
April : .205 / .327 / .352 (.222 BABIP)
Post -April : .267 / .337 / .433 (.311 BABIP)

That line for BABIP (batting average for balls in play) is usually pretty stable. For Lee (for anyone really) .222 is terribly low. It's usually is an indication of unluckiness more than a true slump. .311 is close to what Lee would usually have - so it's not like he bounced back with a run of luckiness at that point. Would the Nats be happy with .267 / .337 / .433? Probably not. Would they be happy with something between that and the Atlanta line? I think so.

I don't see much bad in the fancy stats to indicate trouble to come. His line drive percentage is pretty stable, walks are stable, K's are up but not past some of his past season lines. The FB% and HR/FB dropped a bunch but both were oddly high in 2009. That was the aberration and it makes last year look worse. In truth, 2010 is closer to career averages. He is swinging more at pitches outside the strike zone (18.7% -> 20.8% -> 21.5% -> 23.1%) but as he does that he gets better at making contact at these pitches. (52.5% -> 57.4% -> 60.5% -> 65.6%), so that mitigates the problem a bit. It's not ideal, I admit, but it shows an ability to adapt.

His defense has been consistently decent. He's not the best but it seems like whatever efforts he has made in the latter half of his career to turn his fielding into a plus is continuing to work.

So I like Lee, for a year or two (next year's first baseman market is dry unless you want to give Prince Fielder 150 million). Maybe see if Marrero is ready or if Bryce is moved. Three years? No way.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Winter Meetings over : Nats are losers for now

Yep, you heard me. The Nats are "losers". Of course that's in "Idiotic Mid-Stream Forced Judgement Need-something-to-talk about World" (just around the corner from Melmac) but it's still true. So far the Nats have in a very broad sense traded Adam Dunn, at 4 years and about 14 mill a year, for Jayson Werth at 7 years for 18 million a year. They traded a reasonable contract for an unreasonable one while letting everything else remain the same. They didn't fix the first base situation. They didn't get that front-line pitcher they talk so much about. Mission Not Accomplished.

That's not to say that the Nats won't be better next year for having Jayson rather than Adam. I think they will (but only very slightly because of Werth instead of Dunn). That's not enough though. Right now, like EXACTLY this moment, the hopes for a much better team lie in a lot of things working in the Nats favor. Which is exactly how every season has worked since the Nats arrived in Washington. In 2005 that plan panned out. In 2006 through ever, it hasn't.

Of course like I said, this is a practically worthless analysis. The off-season is far from over. The Nats will do something else. They have to. Then we'll take another look at the Nats. But for those wanting the Nats to walk away from the Winter Meetings big winners so they could get excited about the team... well, "Sorry".

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

This shocks me more than the Werth deal


The overpay for Werth (also a Boras client), the constant praise we heard of Pena from sources on the team, the actual mutual interest, the "Carlos 4 eva" homemade tattoo across Rizzo's chest... How could the Nats not get Pena?

Best guess I have : Boras convinced Pena that a one-year deal would be better for him (next year's FA first base market should be exceedingly slim) and Rizzo did not want a guy on a one-year deal.

Oh well, it's not like I thought Pena was best for the Nats anyway. He may be fine next year, but I wouldn't bet on it. I do like LaRoche, the supposed next target, better. He doesn't have the (super small) chance to be great like Carlos Pena, but he also doesn't have the (not so small) chance to be a complete nothing, either. LaRoche should be average or better for at least a couple more years. Plus, his name is Adam. After LaRoche, the next best available first basemen out there are the old Derrek Lee and the contender seeking Lyle Overbay (good luck with all that Lyle).

In more disappointing but far less shocking news, the Nats are likely a no-go for a Greinke deal. This makes perfect sense. The gap between the Nats best prospects (which they weren't going to give up) and their next best is pretty big. I suppose if the Nats gutted their system and offered up Norris and Espinosa and Solis and Storen the Royals might bite, but that would (1) leave the Nationals with a Bryce Harper and absolutely nothing else minor league system, and (2) give the Royals a couple of projected low average starters, a relief arm, and a guy that just became a modest starter prospect for their best chip. (If that sounds like a lot for Grienke remember that a fan will almost always overrate his team's own prospects. Storen is the only sure thing on that list and you don't make a reliever the key part of a package deal for your Cy Young winning, 2 reasonable years left, 27 year old starter.)

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Rizzo not stupid, says he's not done.

Signing Werth was a bold move. It was completely necessary in the short run, potentially stupid in the long run, the kind of move Nats fans had never seen. Take a step back from the madness of the deal and all it did was replace Dunn in the lineup. Oh, ok it helped the defense but defense is... well not overrated... how about "more variable than can be planned for in a season". You sign a guy for his offense you can be pretty sure of what he's going to contribute in that first year. You sign a guy for his defense and well it depends on a lot of stuff he can't control so maybe he'll be awesome and maybe he'll just be ok in year one. Over the course of the contract it should even out, and if he's good you should get overall good defense for those multiple years combined but in one single year it's difficult to count on "win-changing" defense.

Werth will help make the Nats better than Dunn would have but not necessarily next year. The most likely scenario for next year is simply breaking even. If you didn't notice the Nats weren't exactly in a position where breaking even in talent gained/lost would put them in the playoffs. Rizzo has figured out how to make sure the Nats don't get worse. Now he's got to figure out how to make the Nats better. It seems like he's working on it, but what exactly can he do?

Assuming the Lee deal plays out like everyone thinks it will, the Nats are left with the likely combination of signing one more bat and trading for a pitcher. It's going to be difficult to do that without treading water offensively. Josh Willingham, an affordable known commodity, is likely gone in any deal. Losing him and signing a Laroche or Pena is probably a wash. The pitcher the Nats would get in return then would have to be awfully good to make a difference in their talent level next year.

I suppose instead of those retreads the Nats could sign a Beltre (like Natsfanboylooser notes in a vague, please don't read anything into it, rumor) or better yet a Crawford but is that even possible? It seems unlikely with the money committed to Werth that the cash will also be there for one of these guys, but hey, we all probably thought the Werth money wasn't there. That kind of signing would allow for the Nats to make a deal and still end up better next year at the plate.

Of course there is just signing a pitcher but you are going to have to overpay for Pavano, who has a long history of injury issues, is hitting 35 and is going to be expensive. Carl is a win in the next two years signing, nothing more. After that there is little left, and certainly no #1s...unless you count Webb, but like Carlos Pena at first, that's a gamble move that could pay off or could crap out. The Nats need a more security than that by itself going into next year.

I suppose Rizzo could wow us with a bunch of smart little trades and signings but it seems more likely that in order to be secure that the Nats will improve severely next year they either need another BIG signing, like a Lee, or Crawford, or they need to make a steal of a deal for a #1 pitcher. That is if being much better next year is the goal. If it's 2012 they are aiming for, with Strasburg returning and Bryce likely appearing, well then they can sit pat - but that seems like a waste of a year now doesn't it?

Update: Would you want the Nats to go 7 for Lee? It's a game changer - but still maybe not enough... probably gets the Nats to around .500, then it would be up to that first base signing and how the young guys develop. 2012, the Strasburg/Bryce year though becomes VERY interesting.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Werth Deal - longer thoughts

The first thing that keeps coming back is that it's too many years. It just is. Whatever you think about Werth, and I think he's very good, and whatever you think of how much he's being paid, this is too much. Seven years will cover Jayson from age 32-38. Last year there were only 38 players ("how about that!" says Mel Allen) age 38 or older in the major league, 22 hitters. Only 8 had more than 300 at bats and only 2 (Jim Thome and the well-rested Jim Edmonds) were good. There is no way the Nats are getting 7 years of good play out of Jayson Werth. It's very likely the Nats won't get 7 years of any kind of play for Werth. The last 2-3 years of this deal, in those years specifically, is money thrown away.

As for the money, it IS too much, but I don't really care about that. You might be able to argue he was worth 18 million last year. That was his best year ever. Will he be worth that much in a single year ever again? I doubt it. Still, as long as you aren't setting strong limits in your spending on a yearly basis I don't think it matters. It's only when teams go "oh we can't pay for that over there, because we're paying for this over here" does it become an issue. The Nats were that kind of team, but maybe this signals they aren't going to be anymore. We'll see, right?

Anyway you look at it, yearly cost or amount of years, it was an overpay, and as Michael Richards would say - that's what's so insane about it. The Phillies were offering a deal of somewhere around 16 million a year for 4 years. With that knowledge I can see the Nats giving Werth 18 mill a year for 4 or maybe 5 years. I can see the Nats signing Werth to a 7 year deal, for maybe 90 million. But to overpay in years AND in dollars. I don't get why it had to be like that.

Draft picks? The most overrated thing in baseball today. I've said it once and I'll say it over and over again until I turn blue. Every team can't possibly succeed through draft pick hoarding, cheap player development, and smart budget-level free agent signing. It just can't be done. And that's a loooong process to go through just to fail and watch yourself have to start all over again. It's asinine to act like every team should follow this singular path to success. So if anyone starts talking in this manner, feel free to ignore them until the subject changes. I'm not saying the Nats move wasn't a mistake - you can make that argument. I'm just saying if they start framing it in the "well the Nats should have used the draft picks from Dunn to slowly develop, blah blah blah" that there is probably little actual thinking behind this.

I say it can be argued the deal was a mistake. Do I think it was a good deal? No. It isn't. I can't look at a deal that overpays in every way it can for a guy who will be 32 next year and say it's a good deal. I have to believe that they could have somehow worked out more favorable terms. Also, we all know they could have kept Dunn for 4 years probably 52 million or so. It isn't just signing Werth, it's signing Werth vs signing Dunn AND having 5 million a year for 4 years AND having 54 million more dollars for three years after that AND having a couple draft picks. That teeter-totter has Werth pretty high up in the air. Down the road, unless the Nats move to truly be big spenders, this could hurt them.

Of course that doesn't mean it's a all-time worst-ever deal. It only can be a debacle if Werth gets injured, which isn't out of the realm of possibility. You'll hear this contract compared to those given Barry Zito and Vernon Wells, both because they were paid 126 million and because they were good players that got paid like great ones. However, both of these guys also showed a tendency to mix pretty average years with good years, and that was in their late 20s. Chances were not only good that their contracts would be bad, but that they could be bad quickly. Which they were. Werth though has been consistently good the past few years... when healthy. That's the key. If he's healthy he will likely give the Nats 2-3 more excellent years and that's the point really. A terribly expensive point to make, but the point nonetheless. This is to give the Nats credibility and a better shot at keeping the young stars they have as much as it's for winning.

It's still not enough though. Unless they fill the first base hole and get that ace pitcher, the Nats are still also-rans, except now they would be also-rans with a unwieldy contract hanging over their heads. In for 1.8 billion pennies a year, are the Nats in for a pound?

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Werth Quick thoughts

The good : Werth is consistent. He's patient. He sees a lot of pitches fitting Rizzo's want to find people to grind out at bats. He hits for a decent average. He's a good baserunner. Offensively he's just a smidge below Dunn, and that's only because Dunn's power is the bestest. In other words JaYson's a VERY good offensive player. He's a good defensive outfielder that solves the RF issue for the next X years.

The bad : 7 years! That's a lot of years!

The good : It shows the Nats don't fall into the silly "only spend money when you are about to be good, else wallow in the misery of losing" that a lot of supposedly bright baseball analysts believe every team should do even though if every team did that some teams would find themselves losing year after year after year... stupid supposedly bright baseball analysts.

Friday, December 03, 2010

That was quick wasn't it?

Dunn signs with the White Sox 4 years - 56 million. A few stray Friday thoughts

That is more than I thought he'd get (I figured closer to 4 /50) but it's not a terrible overpay. Dunn was a 15 million dollar player last year, he's remarkably consistent, and extremely healthy. While he should decline during these next years as most players do, I don't see a harsh decline. Factor in the increases in payroll we seem to be shifting back toward, and I think 4/56 is pretty spot on.

Raise a glass to Kenny Williams who once again builds a winning team by paying top dollar for B/B+ talent. Most MLB teams are obsessed with a "Pay for the A talent, bargain everything else" line of thinking (some not even "pay for the A talent") leaving an exploitable gap for good to very good players if you are willing to throw away draft picks. Kenny is just the man to exploit that gap. Losing draft picks may seem like a bad idea but if you are going to be able to spend money consistently, draft picks aren't something you need to hoard.

Contracts do seem to be higher this year than in the recent past. Commenter Wally yesterday had Pena at maybe 2 /18. I think that's possible. I also think it won't deter Rizzo. As long as he can get 2 years, I think he'd bite.

You have to think that the White Sox offer was at least floated during the arbitration period, right? I mean there is no reason for it not to be and if you wanted Dunn and were afraid he would go back to the Nationals, you'd want him to know about it. But if that's the case then why did Dunn wait till the last minute to decline arbitration? One thing I can think of is that he was really hoping the Nats would come back with a 4 year offer.

Before you get all worried about the Hot Stove so far remember outside of an interest in De La Rosa (and perhaps a passing one in Vazquez) no one is off the table who the Nats actually wanted back. If you trust Rizzo, nothing's happened yet that should change that opinion.

It wouldn't surprise me at all if ZNN, Norris and Desmond aren't Nationals by the end of the year and they might all be going to the same place. The Nats don't want to (and shouldn't) deal Strasburg or Bryce so they are going to have to dole out multiple next level prospects to get anything of value back.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Done is Dunn with Washington, or something like that.

Dunn turned down the Nats deal of arbitration yesterday. It was no big surprise, but it virtually guarantees that he won't be back for the Nats next season. For one, if he and his agent really surveyed the free agent market and thought there was no chance he could get what he wanted (which is a 4 year deal) they might have accepted arbitration. At worst it would have given Dunn a nice little one-year deal of around 15 million, and at best it would have given him back leverage in dealing with the Nats for the best 3-year deal he could get. By turning the Nats down, we have to assume that Dunn feels he can get that 4 year deal somewhere. (I agree - but not at 15 million a year. I see something closer to 4 years 50 million)

Also now Rizzo is "free". As long as arbitration was hanging over his head, Rizzo couldn't move forward because Dunn could force his way back onto the team. If Rizzo signed a random firstbaseman, all of a sudden you'd need a place to put Adam. We'd have to start talking about OF rotations and other things that make Ozzie Smith wake up in cold sweats in the middle of the night clutching onto a stuffed Fredbird. With no contractual obligation to Dunn anymore, Rizzo can finally make that Carlos Pena deal that will make the 2011 Nats fans swoon once every 5 at bats. After he makes that deal there is no reason for the Nats to resign Dunn.

Dunn is gone. No matter how you slice it that's a lot for the Nats to make up.

A .264 / .378 / .533 line, with 76 homers and 208 RBIs, leading the Nats in OBP, SLG, HRs and RBIs over that period. That's also 3rd in the NL in homers, 5th in RBIs, Top 20 in OBP, and Top 10 in SLG.

Trying to encompass that into one adjusted offensive stat he had an adjusted OPS of 141, Top 10 in the league.

That's what you are trying to replace in the lineup. The fielding true, does hurt him. If we use an all encompassing stat that includes fielding, like WAR, Dunn is more of a Top 50 player the past two years... but then again that's against positions where you can really help a team with good fielding. Among first baseman he'd still be around a Top half guy overall, and last year he flashed the potential to be a top 5 guy. In other words - even factoring in the defense he's still helped the Nats a great deal in winning.

Carlos Pena can make up some ground in the field, but unless he experiences a renaissance at the plate, he's not going to match Dunn's total contribution. Anyway you slice it, with the loss of Dunn the Nats now need at least two more bats. They might be hoping that "bat" come from improvement from a young player or a comeback by Morgan. There's a chance, sure. I'd feel alot better for the team if they instead looked at a free agent OF, though.

Goodbye Adam. It's been fun. Hope you get that 4th year you've been looking for.