Nationals Baseball: Sitck or move.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Sitck or move.

We are now one-third through the 2012 season.  I know, it kind of feels like more, doesn't it?  The Washington Nationals remain in first place and I don't know how someone could deny that this team will be in the playoff hunt all year long. The harshest criticism you can lay on the team is that they've been a .500 squad, 18-18 to be precise, since their hot 14-4 start. I don't buy that exactly (the 18 games at the beginning matter, too) but I'll concede that as constructed during that time they might be a .500 team. So what? Just because they went 14-4 doesn't mean they are going to go 4-14 at some point.  No, being .500 from here out means finishing the season 86-76 and that's certainly in the playoff hunt. That's not taking into account the possible improvments from returning players like Morse, Storen, and Werth. Outside of injury or freak disappointments in the remainder of the year, the Nats will be in at least a hunt for a WC.

With that being said - what do the Nats do? It's hard to deny that this whole thing has been set up for 2013 to be the year the Nats make a serious run.  They didn't make any major signings to help a blah offense. They weren't necessarily planning on brining up Bryce this early.  They were planning to shutdown Strasburg at some point. 2012 was a practice run and if they managed to stay in the hunt and sneak into the playoffs, great. But all of a sudden it's not practice.  It's real.  The Nats could easily grab a WC, and could even take the division. They could do it without making another move but a little bit of bad luck, like honestly 2 or 3 games just break the wrong way, and the Nats could not make it. Do they shore up their chances now?  And how do they do it?

Almost every possible move is a gutsy one that forces changes that you might not be happy with. They need a CF.  You've seen Bryce in the field. He's got a great arm but he can be real awkward out there. The other option Werth isn't going to age gracefully if you put him in center. But you can't get a CF in 2012 because now means forcing Morse or LaRoche out of the lineup. You could deal for a MI. None of Ian, Espy, or Lombo is irreplaceable. But they've all shown flashes of major league talent and they are young, cheap and controlled for a while. That's the type of player Rizzo wants to keep. Plus bringing someone in means not playing two of these guys (though you'd have to figure one would go in the deal). You could deal for a starter, in part to keep with the plan of sitting Strasburg. You'd probably get them a bit early so Wang or whoever would lose their spot but you'd have to be ok with that right? But Rizzo prefers to develop his own starters. True he traded for Gio, but Gio was a special case. Again: young, cheap, controlled.  And a starter is nice, but they are less impactful than a bat and it's not like anyone thinks the pitching is a problem.

With no clear move it's quite possible they do nothing. You can envision a season where they keep up this + or - 2 games from first dance until the trade deadline and Rizzo pulls a "Getting Werth back is like making a trade!". Like I said they could easily still make the playoffs doing nothing, but that would feel like the move of a team one year away, wouldn't it? And even though it seems like the Nats will be a serious playoff contender in 2013, nothing's a given in baseball. What if Gio and ZNN get injured?  What if Bryce has a sophomore slump and Werth reverts to 2010 form? The iron is hot now, shouldn't they strike it?

This is a nice dilemma to be in, what to do when you are a year early in your plan to make the playoffs, but it still is s dilemma. Trade and move a couple pieces you were interested in looking at for the whole year? Stretch Strasburg out or bring in someone to help? Fans only care about results and if the Nats do nothing and get nowhere, they won't be happy.


Jeff Hayes said...
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Jeff Hayes said...

I'd be satisfied if they just sat on what they have now. They are where they are despite all the injuries. By comparison, the Phillies are now back under .500 with a similiar situation injury problem.

If we were to make a move, I'm wondering if Lombardozzi might be the odd-man out. Sure he gets on base at an amazing rate, which is nothing to sneeze at, but does he have the second gear needed in a lead-off man? He doesn't have any stolen bases and neither his speed nor power at the plate gets him beyond first base very often on his own. Don't get me wrong, I'd prefer to keep him, but if we could trade for someone more fleet footed, I think he'd be the guy to let go.

People will immediately point to Danny as the guy to trade, but I still believe his upside potential isn't fully realized yet. He has more power than Lombo and has more stolen bases as well.

Trading either would still leave you with benching the remaining one once Werth returns. That too, in my opinion, isn't an attractive option.

Unfortunately this could all be moot, given the rate our team has sustained injuries this year.

Let me finish by praising the depth Rizzo has built, which allows us to have this conversation in the first place and has keep us in first place, depsite the injuries.

Donald said...

There are two reasons to trade at the deadline. The first is to upgrade the existing team by dealing away something you don't need as much, like a prospect. On that side, I don't see the Nats making a move. Their big hole is in CF, but I think they have better long-term CF options in free agency next year or in their own farm system. They don't really have a place for another big bat to play every day. At most, they could trade something small for a bench player with power to pinch-hit, but I don't see that as being the difference in making the playoffs.

The other reason is to trade away surplus to someone in need in order to get back more -- like Capps for Ramos. This is a more interesting scenario, maybe, though it probably wouldn't change this year's playoff picture either. But if they believe in their young pitching prospects enough, they may get a big haul by trading Detwiler or a decent haul by trading Stammen. I don't think they do this, but who knows. It might show that Rizzo isn't only focused on 2013, but also 2015 and beyond.

Anonymous said...

There is no player to bring in right now. Everyone is doing their jobs and there is no reason to make anyone starting right now the odd man out. The team also has great versatility right now to combat any injuries that may pop up.

Once Werth gets healthy, Johnson will have seen enough of the Lombo/Espinosa batting competition to know which one is the starting 2nd baseman and which is the bat off the bench for the stretch run/playoffs.

Rizzo should also know which one he would be more willing to part with in an off season move. In the off season he can make a move for a CF if he cannot resign LaRoche. The spot would open up by moving Morse to 1st. But if he does resign LaRoche, I am not sure that anyone would consider Morse, Harper, and Werth in the outfield such a defensive liability that CF will still be a "Need" position.

Positively Half St. said...

I think it is great that we have arrived at the point at which someone would write, "If he cannot sign LaRoche." At any point last year, folks would be talking about "when we finaly get rid of LaRoche," and not wondering whether the Nats could successfully bid for his services.


Positively Half St. said...

I actually thought LaRoche had an option year in the contract. Perhaps not.

Shane said...

A trade at this point will take a position from good to great, and that's what we need to take us to the next level.
That being said, I don't know who to trade or who to trade for. But I will be able to complain when it happens or not!

It's also a lot less stressful being a fan of a bad team! a few years ago we didn't need to win to keep our place in the standings!

Chris Needham said...

This is the growing pains of building a team.

It's a lot easier to upgrade from replacement level to league average than it is to go from league average to all-star talent.

There just aren't that many 3-5 win players... so the price for them is much higher on a marginal basis than when trying to go from 0 to 2.

The Nats are stuck in that trap. Right now, they're getting perfectly average production from a great number of their lineup spots. The players may be able to do a bit better. Maybe they'll do a bit worse. But they're perfectly average.

So there's no real room to upgrade unless you're bringing in an All-Star type talent... and then the price is going to be much higher than they're probably willing to pay, especially given the Strasburg innings thing, etc.

If anything, the Nats should probably dump a piece or two from the bullpen. They've got much more depth there than most teams. Maybe that gets them an incremental upgrade in CF. But you're not going to get a Michael Bourn-type for that.

Hoo said...

Trade for a right-handed bench hitter. Maybe Rizzo thinks the team can squeak by with DeRosa's return. The combo of Nady/DeRosa looks like a horrible set of right-handed bats. The left side is a wee bit better with Bernie, Tracy's eventual return and Ankiel as a defensive replacement.

Getting a scrapheap to replace Nady seems like a good move. You're not going to get a big CF at this point and not replace Dez or Espi this summer.

Strasburger said...

But the Nats are getting places. We're pulling out games left and right, some that we shouldn't be. I like Lombo batting first (even though he is a terrible switch hitter). Like we assumed the guys that were really hot (LaRoche and Desmond early) cooled off, though we have to assume they will return to their streaks soon enough. It seems as though the rest of the guys have picked up the slack, Danny seems to be doing a little bit better, and if not his fielding is making up for it. As we know, the rotation is still kicking ass. I think the key to this whole thing is Storen, if anyone disagrees tell me, but when were up a run and H-rod is relieving or Clippard closing, I am less than confident. With Storen, I say to my self "we're in the clear". When we get him back, if we can give him leads, he WILL earn a lot of saves. The management may be thinking 2013, but you need to remember that the players are NOT thinking that way at all. They are excited out there, and want to win, badly. This team can go on a nasty win streak if we get everyone hitting on all cylinders at the same time for a stretch

DezoPenguin said...

@Strasburger: Frankly, Clippard is a better reliever than Storen; the reason he wasn't initially made the closer is that Davey wanted to be able to bring him in when needed for the high-leverage outs rather than be shackled to having him in the "closer role" at the end of the pen (okay, he could still do that, but let's face it, no major league manager would; that's the nature of the game we're in right now). Of course, getting Storen back at the back end lets Clip move back to set-up and Stammen to the 7th and everything better all around.

As for improving the pitching staff, with Det, Gorzo, and Lannan, there are at least "league-average fourth-fifth starter" quality fill-ins, maybe better, so it's not a huge priority. With the 1B/OF logjam, if there needs to be a trade made, then possibly moving LaRoche or Morse to help get that quality CF might help. Still, if Werth does come back as the same guy from the beginning of the season, that's not really a problem that needs to be addressed. Better to, if possible, acquire that guy for some of the Nats' pitching surplus if the deal can be made. But with Bryce's success, Desmond's playing league-average ball (and not iron-thumbing everything in his range any more) and Lombo getting on base, the lineup no longer looks like a series of sucking chest wounds.

How about an upgrade at C? If you get someone with an expiring contract on a one-year rental the price wouldn't be too high, and the Nats wouldn't want more than that since Ramos would be back next year. Flores isn't killing the team, but there's plenty of room for improvement.

A Fly Moses said...

Harper's certainly not Andruw Jones, but to my eye he's looked a lot better in CF than in RF; I don't think there's any problem with leaving him there unless/until he outgrows it. Or am I missing something?

michael k said...

It depends, it depends, it depends.

Do the Nats pull a deal for a CF/piece they need that's worth it for the longterm? Then do it. If not, don't. I don't like rental deals/now over later deals unless the team is absolutely definitely going to make noise in the playoffs, and the Nats are not that.

For I am Michael, and I am Lord of the cop-outs!

Anonymous said...

No sense in making an uncertain/short term move. All things equal, the only reason to make a move will be for someone that will be around longer than the end of the season that is also a definitive upgrade. That or an injury. I just don't see that happening. The NL East is so tight that we could make a move or two and still not make the playoffs. Or we could get one of the WCs and be one and done. This was never the year. Yes, we are in first place and surprisingly so. But this was never the year. We should ride the wave and know that this team is far superior to those in the past and await 2013 as we always have.

Anonymous said...

If Henry Rodriguez didnt blow three games where he needed one out to get for us to win, we would have been 21 - 15 in that span instead of 18 - 18. We just have to stop losing close games.

Harper said...

Jeff - If your talking pitching depth than certainly. If you're talking hitting depth - well he has a truck load of mediocrity available to replace the mediocrity in place I guess. Also, I'd trade Ian.

Donald - I don't know if they'd get a big haul trading Detwiler AND Stammen. The issue is the team needs to improve but it doesn't have a glaring hole (except maybe CF) so you either have to get back someone great or take a challenge trade risk.

Anon - Morse/Bryce/Werth would be livable, that's about the best you can say. I think Nats fans are a bit too hung up on Adam. I know LaRoche has been good but he's rapidly returning to his - ok for a firstbaseman form. If he wanted more than 2 years I wouldn't sign him.

+1/2st - It's a pleasant surprise after last year yes, (but don't be surprised if he's exactly where he always is very soon)

Shane - I'm too wordy. Your first two sentences basically encapsulated my entire post.

Needham - always with the astute analysis. Now is when you either got to shell out the big bucks or decimate the farm. I think Rizzo believes he can pull a Tampa and build everything from the inside, but I don't see that happening anytime soon, not offensively. (They were relying so much on Rendon) So if that's the case the Nats might be suffering through this for a while, watching Bryce mature as Werth and Morse decline and hoping some other player is a surprise star. I'll also be real curious to see what happens when/if Edwin walks at years' end, too. They've gotten lucky a bit that their pitching has been THIS good.

Of course they've been plesantly surprising me the past year or so on what they are willing to do so we'll see.

Hoo - I think that's exactly what they do. bullpen arm(s) for decent bench bat.

Strasburger - like Dezo says - Storen will help but really the relief pitching outside of that one terrible H-Rod week has been very good so it's not going to make a huge impact.

Dezo - good luck finding a C worth getting that someone would trade.

AFM - It's just not ideal. CF is the key position to OF defense and most pitching/defense minded guys (like Rizzo) want that spot to be set with a great fielder. Bryce isn't it. Certainly the way he hits you can live with him anywhere, but you'd rather have him in a corner OF spot.

mk - I hear Michael Lord of Copouts is a new character on Game of Thrones. I got no problem with your wishy-washiness there isn't an easy answer here.

Anon - Sound and reasonable thinking. You are pinning alot on a successful 2013 that might not come, but odds are in your favor that the Nats will be competitive. I think this is the safest choice baseball wise but bound to be very unpopular if the Nats miss out on the playoffs by a game or two.

Anon - you can't play that game (well you can but you shouldn't) I can point out probably the same number of games the Nats won because the other team screwed up late. They could have been 15-21 as easy as 21-15.