Nationals Baseball: What this tells us

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

What this tells us

Not signing Prince is disappointing but it does clear up a couple things that were cloudier just a week ago:

The Lerners are not going to use their vast fortune and position in a wealthy, powerful city to make the Nats the Yankees/Red Sox of the National League. If you had dreams of the Nats being in the Top 5 in payroll every year while making the playoffs with regularity you can probably forget it.  Now fans must hope for the "big payroll for a few years at the end of a rebuilding cycle" type of team.  That looks like where the team is headed, but I do get the feeling Rizzo will need to keep pushing the Lerners through this. 

The Nationals are not going to challenge for a National League East title in 2012. They had more go right for them (lights out bullpen, no major injuries to the Opening Day rotation, LaRoche's injury leading to Morse's career year, Ramos and Espinosa performing well, rookie pitchers doing great at year's end, a decent-season from Laynce Nix) then go wrong (Zimm injury, no Strasburg, Werth's collapse), and they were still lucky to win 80 games.  The likely reversal of those three wrongs are big corrections, but some of those rights are likely to reverse as well, and the Nats need to pick up another 7 wins to feel good about WC chances, let alone a division title. That's too much to ask.  Wild Card challengers, sure.  Division champs, unlikely.

Bryce Harper needs to have immediate impact if the Nats are going to contend* over the next few years.   The Nats offense was not good last year. A full year of Zimm and a rebounding Werth will help, but we'll see a lot more of declining Werth in the years to come, not to mention Morse should come back to earth.  While I like Ramos and Espinosa, neither are game changers, and right now every other position mentioned is a big black hole. The Nats need at least one more big bat. FA is slim next year and any CF they want isn't going to have a big lineup impact outside a BJ Upton hitting like people think BJ Upton should hit, not how BJ Upton actually does hit.  People love Rendon but as always I want to see him in the minors before I decide he's gonna make it. So right now the Nats have one star potential bat and that's Bryce.  He should be good, but good is not good enough.  He needs to be great and he needs to be great soon.

*serious WS contension

Also we learned something new

Davey Johnsons said this :
"When I was [managing the New York Mets], they never signed one free agent, so I'm used to playing without going out in the free-agent market," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said.

Pshaw I said.  Then I checked it out. It's pretty much true. They signed Rafael Santana just around when Davey got there then basically no other offensive starter.  They did sign some decent pieces, like Ed Lynch, Doug Sisk, Rusty Staub, but very few and no big names. Now, of course Davey makes it sound like they didn't get big names at all.  That is misleading.  They didn't sign anyone big, but they did trade for them quite often.  Keith Hernandez (season before Davey), Gary Carter, Kevin McReynolds, Bob Ojeda, David Cone...  So true, but missing the point. Davey's used to not going in the FA market, but he is used to getting infusions of talent from other organizations.


Positively Half St. said...

In response to your first point, and playing off MASN's "what if" exercise, I offer the question, "What if the Lerners had not been awarded the Nationals?" I vaguely remember descriptions of some of the other potential ownership groups, and a sense that at least one of them featured personalities that might have been a bit more free-wheeling. What moves might a free-spending ownership group have made over the last 5 years that would have helped, not following Stan Kasten's "Plan?"


Harper said...

It hard to deal with hindsight. What if they got Cliff Lee and Adrian Gonzalez? What if they signed Johan Santana and Carl Crawford?

I think it's possible an ownership group could have extended Soriano. That would have been a mistake, not only because of the deal, but because he could have been good enough to cost the Nats the Strasburg pick. Which might mean they are trying out Dustin Ackely in CF right now...

Kevin Rusch said...

I think you're being a bit more pessimistic than is necessary.
1) To be a WS contender, all you need to do is get into the playoffs. Period. After that, the #8 team has just about as much of a shot as the #1 team does.

2) You're right, a lot went right last year and not a lot went wrong. However, the team has more good depth in the rotation than ever (the #6 and #7 starters are pretty decent) and while I'm really mourning the loss of Peacock and Milone, there's a lot of flexibility in case things go wrong.

3) I certainly would have liked to get Fielder, but that would have meant Fielder at 1b (bad defense), Morse (bad at LF), Werth in CF (eh, not much good defense), and an unknown in right until Harper was ready. (probably good defense.) Next year, with the coffers ready to spring for the CF answer that we need, you'll have Morse at 1b (where he's good at it), Harper in LF (where his defense will be above-average), Werth in right (where his defense will be above-average), and PTBNL in CF who will give above average defense and average offense.

So I really don't think the gloom-and-doom is necessary, and this also doesn't mean "oh, the Nats are too cheap to get the very best, and will never get anywhere."

Just look where that approach got the Phillies, Mets, Dodgers, Cubs, Sox, and, for 20 years in a row, the Redskins.

Harper said...

Kevin -
1) I don't think that'll be the case anymore with the WC play-in game. Division winning will matter more.

2) I do like the potential starting pitching depth in case of injury. Even if its just Detwiler and Gorzelanny they are at least decent 5th starters. But the bullpen depth I question, and the offense can't take any big failings.

3) "you'll have Morse at 1b (where he's good at it - NO HE REALLY ISN'T, THOUGH BETTER HERE THAN LEFT), Harper in LF (where his defense will be above-average) - WE ASSUME, Werth in right (where his defense will be above-average) - MAYBE, HE'S AGING INTO AVERAGE, and PTBNL in CF who will give above average defense and average offense - WE HOPE.

They won't challenge for a East crown next year but they could be WC contenders with just a little luck. The year after they could still be East crown contenders if Bryce is as awesome as everyone thinks he could be and they make a couple smart signings. Hell, if they grab one of the great FA pitchers out there next year or some guys develop surprisingly well they could be favorites in 2013. Where's the "doom and gloom", here?

Wally said...

I agree with your conclusions about the Lerners, even though I don't want to open up the 'Lerners are cheap' debate. My hopes to see them get up into top 10 payrolls regularly is probably a pipe dream. I guess that it is possible that the attitude changes once Ted Lerner no longer makes the decisions, but until that point, I think that we shouldn't expect large increases in spending that aren't part of a one time 'go for it' campaign. Nor should people expect that future years will see them spending of all the money 'saved' now through low payrolls that are $20m+ below even the MLB average. Rather than the Go trade, we should have traded the Lerners for Ilitch.

But going back to a comment that I made in a previous post, I don't get the poor spending on bullpen, bench and OF options. Derosa for $800k as the primary bench bat? Especially after watching your two best bench guys last year (from whom they publicly stated a desire to uprade) sign MLB deals for $2.25m and $6m, respectively. Just seems pennywise, pound foolish.

Even more importantly, why not get an MLB average OF to play full time while Bryce gets ready, and then get a lot of ABs giving Werth and/or Bryce some days off? I am not even talking about someone who could be a star, just someone that is clearly not at or below replacement level. Right now, it looks like Bernadina and Cameron will split 600-800 ABs, and that is not a situation that I would expect a team that traded 4 top 10 prospects for to be in. Since guys like Cody Ross lingered for so long on the market, I assume that $$ were the primary reason.

Sec314 said...

Fielder was not the right fit...esp. for 9 years. If he played CF, then it might have made sense

Anonymous said...

Rarely do I disagree so strongly with the illustrious Harper....but:

The Lerners have been gradually spending more money. The Fielder contract is ridiculous and has no business on the Nat's books. I believe that come next off-season if there's a Cain available or an able CF (like the pun?) they will pay whatever is necessary. There are roster restrictions (Strasburg's innings, Bryce's FA timing) this season. I believe they would have broke the bank on a 4 or 5 year deal. 9?!? No way.

Agree with the no Division title this year unless some stars line up; even if they do a short stint in the playoffs is likely....but then there are the '69 Mets

Harper does not need to have an immediate impact. He will play in the majors this year. He might even play well. Barring injury, he is going to be the best hitter the Nats have next year, maybe this year.

Continuing on the offense, if Ryan plays 150 this year we will be okay. If Morse is close to last year and Ramos doesn't regress, Werth will have a good year. Average a half a run more than last year and we'll be golden. And there's no team in the NL East not looking at a lot of if's. What I'm really looking forward to is the pitching, which I believe is highly underrated. I'm a big Wang fan, particularly with the infield we have and believe the Stras/Zimm/Gonzo trio is potentially the best in the majors. I also think the bullpen will be better this year because it will be managed with a better plan.

Call me a hopeless optimist, but I grew up believing the Senators might finish 3rd, after all. Wild card this year, win the play-in, lose the first series. Next year is the division title and see the WS at home.


Anonymous said...

We have a team that's about .500 this year and has a reasonable chance of making the playoffs. It's great cos' it means we can actually care what happens this year. Ask Pittsburgh or Kansas City or Baltimore fans and they would kill for what we have - interesting baseball.
PS- the previous poster wrote 'I'm a big Wang fan'- we don't need to know you're sexual preference :)

cass said...

Don't have much to add to the discussion, but I just wanted to thank you, Harper, for keeping up the blog. Almost all of the old Nats bloggers have packed their bags. It's great that you're still on the beat putting out good stuff and maintaining a decent comments section.

Harper said...

Wally - I've been thinking about bench construction and I don't know that the bench NEEDS a lot of spending, just as long as what they do spend is in the right places. (However I don't think they've spent in the right places)

As for the OF - defense I guess?

Sec 314 - you fit team around great players. That being said 9 years is still crazy for that body type.

Anon #1 - They can prove me wrong, but right now I don't see that Top 5 payroll every year coming from this ownership group. A big payday for someone next year won't necessarily prove you or me right one way or another. It's what they end up doing around 2016 when all these contract come to an end and some of the key players are getting to the other side of peak.

"he is going to be the best hitter the Nats have next year, maybe this year." so he doesn't have to have an immediate impact... but he will?

An offensive improvement of half an run a game is big, and without adding a big bat, I'm not sure it's possible. The only two teams
to do it from 2008-2011 were the 2009 Dodgers (who added Orlando Hudson, Rafeal Furcal, Casey Blake and ManRam) and the 2010 Reds (who added Ramon Hernandez and Scott Rolen)

I'm not saying WC this year WS next is impossible, just that as of this instant it looks more like WC (if lucky) this year, good chance at WC next. A lot can change

Anon #2 - I'm not complaining! I'm just explaining! Man, I need to get a tone generator or something.

cass - So I can't quit tomorrow as planned? Oh well. Thanks for the kind words. Don't discount the new guys though. Usually even if they just flash across the net for a while some are doing an excellent job.

Harper said...

chaos - thought about it a bit more and really total run improvement is not the best way to guage in this era of falling offense. It would be deviation from the average or something like that... so maybe it's possible to make a big jump without a big player. I'd have to look at a few examples. Certainly a Byrce Harper being good to great all year would be like adding a player.

Anonymous said...

"They had more go right for them (lights out bullpen, no major injuries to the Opening Day rotation, LaRoche's injury leading to Morse's career year, Ramos and Espinosa performing well, rookie pitchers doing great at year's end, a decent-season from Laynce Nix) then go wrong (Zimm injury"

Does this seem contradictory to anyone else?

blovy8 said...

#1 Who dreams of that? NYC, Chicago and LA are bigger markets than Baltimore/DC. If we spend like the Giants, I'll be ok with that, and it should match up not too badly with Philly, Atlanta and Florida. The Mets are really the sleeping giant. We need to get our revenues more in line with that, I think it will get better with the renegotiated cable deal making up for no revenue sharing. They can afford to be near the top 5 on occasion and regularly around 10-12.

#2 I disagree slightly. To me it's a wash. If you believe Morse's playing time was fortuitous, think about how he was supposed to be the regular left fielder and ended up being the 1st baseman AGAIN. Think about expecting Ankiel to have power or Werth to be 120 OPS guy. Hairston played less in center and more at third, that was unexpected, peformance a little better but c'mon - 100 OPS is average, Zim missing 60 games is not. Flores gave the team very little, even if you ended up having to use Pudge less, you didn't gain another offensive catcher there as he has shown in the now distant past. Desmond's numbers tanked and the team's faith in him, kept Lombardozzi from getting more playing time, perhaps enough to devise a role for him for a cheap multi-positional bandage allowing for luring a more offensive-oriented guy for the bench this year. Bernadina didn't develop much at all. I think if some of the starters did go down, perhaps Milone and Detwiler get an opportunity to show they were ML ready and either change the offseason emphasis on getting TWO starters, to getting a better offensive player in the lineup be it 1st, short, center, or open up a better return in a trade. Same thing if Norris hit better than .210 at AA. Lucky would have been Harper torching AA and showing he could play OF passably, and playing in September and hitting half a dozen home runs and forcing his way into the lineup.

#3 I agree as things now stand, but the real trick is going to be improving at short and center, and finding a home for Rendon. Crap, why not try HIM in center.

Is it true that DJ almost always opts for offense over defense? If so, Werth in center is going to sound fine to him, and Bernadina/DeRosa in right will be the modified platoon, with Ankiel shift guys around for defense when there's a late lead.
I think I will wait to call him a genius until Desmond hits something like 290/340/440 as the leadoff guy with average defense at short.