Friday, October 8, 2010

2009 roster vs. 2010 roster

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Danny Espinosa hadn't played above Class A this time last year.
At the conclusion of any baseball season, it's common to want to look forward, to figure out how a club's roster might change between now and spring training. And obviously that's a worthy endeavor. You want to identify a team's flaws and figure out how to fix them.

But there can also be some value in looking backward, not only to the beginning of the just-completed season, but all the way back to the end of the previous one. That can offer some perspective on what progress, if any, an organization has made over the last 12 months.

It's easy to forget now just what the Nationals' roster looked like one year ago. I tried to run through their end-of-2009 lineup, rotation and bullpen in my own head and flat-out couldn't remember who held certain spots. After doing some quick research, I was reminded that among the significant contributors at the end of 2009 were Josh Bard, Pete Orr, Garrett Mock and Ron Villone. Yikes.

So I decided to analyze, position-by-position, the state of the Nationals' roster in October 2009 vs. the state of the roster in October 2010. Have they made significant progress? Are they essentially the same? Have they gotten worse in any areas?

Let's take a look...

End of 2009: Josh Bard, Wil Nieves, Jesus Flores (injured)
End of 2010: Ivan Rodriguez, Wilson Ramos, Wil Nieves, Jesus Flores (injured)
Wow, how quickly we forget what a disaster this situation was a year ago. The Nationals really put all their eggs in the Jesus Flores basket, and when he went down with his shoulder injury, they had no fallback plan. Bard and Nieves split the job all season, and that convinced Mike Rizzo something needed to be done. So he signed Pudge, then acquired Ramos over the summer. Now a position of weakness looks like a potential strength if Ramos pans out and if Flores indeed returns healthy (he's looked good in the instructional league so far).
Verdict: Significantly better

End of 2009: Adam Dunn
End of 2010: Uncertain
One year ago, the Nationals had no worries about who their first baseman and cleanup hitter would be. They can't say the same right now. Dunn is about to become a free agent. If they re-sign the big guy, they'll be in good shape there. If they don't, they've got to find a legitimate replacement. It's the team's biggest question mark heading into the offseason.
Verdict: Very much uncertain

End of 2009: Alberto Gonzalez, Pete Orr
End of 2010: Danny Espinosa, Adam Kennedy
The Nats basically had a revolving door of second basemen in 2009, from Anderson Hernandez to Ronnie Belliard to Gonzalez to Orr. Even Ian Desmond got some time there. At season's end, it was clear Desmond was better off at shortstop, so the club had to either move Cristian Guzman over from shortstop or acquire someone from outside. They pursued Orlando Hudson, then settled for Kennedy, who still lost out to Guzman in spring training. In the end, the long-term answer was in their farm system. Espinosa ended 2009 without ever having played above Class A. But he shined in the Arizona Fall League, dominated at Class AA, made a brief stint at Class AAA and then got called up for his big-league debut on September 1. Now he looks like a real keeper.
Verdict: Better, possibly significant better

End of 2009: Cristian Guzman, Ian Desmond
End of 2010: Ian Desmond
By the end of 2009, it was clear Guzman no longer had the range or the arm to play shortstop. Desmond had an impressive September, though the organization still didn't want to just hand him the job, so both guys came to spring training competing for it. Desmond forced the issue, and though he had an up-and-down rookie season, he got better along the way (both at the plate and in the field) and looks firmly entrenched in that spot moving forward.
Verdict: Better

End of 2009: Ryan Zimmerman
End of 2010: Ryan Zimmerman
Not too much to say here. With Zim, you know what you're going to get: elite defense and very good offense. He ended 2009 with a flourish, winning both the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards, and he kept performing at that high level in 2010. He should win his second Gold Glove, though he might lose the Silver Slugger to good friend David Wright, in part because of some nagging injuries that sidelined him in early-April and then in late-September.
Verdict: Same, which is just fine

End of 2009: Josh Willingham
End of 2010: Roger Bernadina, Josh Willingham (injured)
By the end of 2009, Willingham had established himself as a solid left fielder and No. 5 hitter, though he tailed off considerably over the second half. His 2010 seemed to be headed on a remarkably similar path, until a lingering knee injury forced him to shut down in mid-August and have season-ending surgery. The Hammer remains a good, solid player, though there's still a bit of question about his durability and whether he can sustain a high level of play over a full season or not.
Verdict: Same, provided Willingham is healthy

End of 2009: Willie Harris, Justin Maxwell, Nyjer Morgan (injured)
End of 2010: Nyjer Morgan
There's no understating just how good Morgan was from the time he was acquired from the Pirates on June 30 until he broke his wrist sliding into third base on August 27 (which forced Harris and Maxwell into a shared starting job for the season's final month). And there's no understating just how much Nyjer regressed in 2010, in all aspects of his game. All indications from Mike Rizzo and Jim Riggleman are that he'll be back in 2011, though not assured of retaining his spot. But if not Morgan, who? Will they go out and acquire another center fielder? Another significant question mark.
Verdict: Worse

End of 2009: Elijah Dukes
End of 2010: Michael Morse
At the end of 2009, Dukes still looked like a big part of this club moving forward. He hadn't been able to put his whole game together, but he had shown even glimpses to suggest he deserved another long look. Then he was surprisingly released during spring training, leaving the Nats with a mishmash of options in right field to open the season: Willie Harris, Morse and Willy Taveras. Roger Bernadina joined the group soon after. The position remained a revolving door all season, with Morse finally taking over as the everyday guy only after Josh Willingham's injury forced Bernadina to left field. At this point, the Nats are looking at a Bernadina/Morse platoon heading into 2011, though that could easily change.
Verdict: Better, but still a question mark

End of 2009: Alberto Gonzalez, Willie Harris, Justin Maxwell, Michael Morse, Pete Orr
End of 2010: Alberto Gonzalez, Willie Harris, Justin Maxwell, Adam Kennedy, Kevin Mench
The Nats' bench wasn't anything to get excited about at the end of 2009, though Gonzalez remained a strong defensive infielder, Harris remained a valuable utilityman who could do lots of things and Morse appeared to provide a nice bat off the bench. One year later, many of the names are the same, but the production is worse. Gonzalez still is a good defensive player who can't hit a lick. Same for Maxwell. Harris struggled all year and is probably gone. Same for Kennedy. Same for Mench. This is an area that needs to be addressed over the winter.
Verdict: Slightly worse, and it wasn't good to begin with

End of 2009: John Lannan, Livan Hernandez, Garrett Mock, Ross Detwiler, J.D. Martin, Craig Stammen (injured), Scott Olsen (injured), Jordan Zimmermann (injured)
End of 2010: John Lannan, Livan Hernandez, Jason Marquis, Jordan Zimmermann, Yunesky Maya, Ross Detwiler, Scott Olsen (injured), Stephen Strasburg (injured), Chien-Ming Wang (injured), Luis Atilano (injured), J.D. Martin (injured).
Yes, Mock was their third-best starter at the end of 2009. And he was penciled in as their No. 3 starter in spring training, too. That unit needed some significant upgrading over the winter, which Rizzo thought he accomplished in acquiring Marquis and Wang. Neither veteran worked out, though Marquis finally started performing by the end of 2010 after recovering from elbow surgery. The biggest change from 2009 to 2010 was the return of Zimmermann from Tommy John surgery. Well, that and Strasburg's magical arrival in June and then gut-punch departure in August. There does seem to be the makings of a good rotation in there, but it requires Strasburg's eventual return, Zimmermann's continued progression and the addition of another legitimate arm this winter.
Verdict: Better, but still needs improvement

End of 2009: Mike MacDougal, Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett, Saul Rivera, Jason Bergmann, Ron Villone, Logan Kensing
End of 2010: Drew Storen, Sean Burnett, Tyler Clippard, Joel Peralta, Doug Slaten, Miguel Batista, Craig Stammen, Joe Bisenius
The bullpen that ended 2009 was significantly better than the one that started 2009, but it still wasn't that good. MacDougal walked on eggshells every time he got the ball in the ninth inning. Clippard and Burnett had moments but weren't quite polished yet. And Bergmann and Villone held key roles. One year later, this is by far the Nationals' biggest improvement. They're still not sure who the closer will be on Opening Day 2011, but the relief corps as a whole is deep with young talent and should remain a strong point moving forward.
Verdict: Significantly better

So, what's the overall verdict? Is the Nationals' end-of-2010 roster significantly improved from the end-of-2009 roster? In many areas, yes. There are still question marks at first base and center and right fields, plus the stated need to add another starting pitcher and a need to improve the bench. But overall, this organization is in much better shape today than it was one year ago.


Mark Zuckerman said...

If you didn't see this posted under one of last night's playoff game threads, check out this Taiwanese video report of Chien-Ming Wang's one inning in Viera from the other day. Includes quotes from Mike Rizzo (who was there) and a shot of Jesus Flores throwing out a basestealer...

Anonymous said...

I think the roster looks better. If Dunn doesn't re-sign, could there be a chance at moving Hammer to first base in attempt to keep him more durable? Good read, as always

nationals anthems said...

Amen. You could say the same thing about all the minor league rosters too. There's a lot of water still gushing through the sieve (win value lost on the field?) but less this year than last and less next year than this.

joemktg said...

FO did a nice job replacing some of the bad tiles, but to be a playoff team, we need a new roof.

I'll settle for a competitive team that is slightly above .500, and to do that, I agree with the need to resolve the issues with CF, RF, 1B, the bench and TWO more starters. But that doesn't get you to October.

LoveDaNats said...

Would they consider Michael Morse at first if they don't sign Dunn? And what are the odds Morse develops into a power hitter?

JD said...


In my opinion you are mostly correct but I do have a couple of areas of disagreement:

1) I don't agree that Espinosa 'dominated' at AA; he hit .262 .334 .464 .798; in fact his numbers at AAA where somewhat better (small sample); I would caution against counting on him as the long term solution just yet.

2) If Dunn isn't signed I would seriously consider moving Morse to 1st and solving the lineup issues through trades for better outfielders.

Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me said...

This is putting lipstick on a pig. Team still lost 93 games. Sum was less the whole of its parts. Team needs much better starting pitching, defense, team speed and inspiration. Baseball IQ must be among the lowest in the game. Fundamentals, such as hitting to the right side with man on second and less than two out, are horrible. Missed cutoff men, missed signals, missed opportunities galore. How many errors in the field did our pitchers make? Can we turn a simple 1-4-3 double play? At times, it seemed insurmountable. When we watch the elite teams take endless pitches, work the count, foul off good pitches and excel in the field on the basepaths, I get more and more depressed compared to what I saw here for 162 games. Let's not fool ourselves -- there is mucho work to be done to even get to .500, not to mention look the Phils and Yanks in the eye.

swang said...

quick translations:
WCM (Chinese family names are first) basically said that he felt nervous, and uncomfortable with the first batter, and that it was a relief to go past that. He felt OK. (didn't use any superlatives.) and essentially said "we'll see how I feel."

Not exactly the everything is good, I feel wonderful type of stuff that 'Znn was talking about when he came back.

WCM also mentioned that he wanted to stay with the Nationals and work through a full season in the MLB for a championship next year. Somebody has been hitting the Rizzo-weed a bit much, methinks.

JD said...

The playoffs this year are really a showcase of what you need to succeed: You need 4 or 5 above average pitchers to get to the playoffs but you need 2 dominant type pitchers to win in the playoffs; this is why I think that philly and Texas look good and why the Giants with a mediocre lineup still have a chance.

For the Nats only Strasburg and Zimmermann even have the potential to be dominant; I think that pitchers like Livo, Lannan and Maya would be destroyed if they had to pitch in the playoffs; Greinke is scheduled to earn $27 mil over the next 2 years and I think he wants out of KC; I would make them a very aggressive offer (provided he would want to come to DC; he has a limited no trade).

Anonymous said...

Awesome post Mark.

Jeeves said...

My problem with the Nats getting better extends very much into the minor leagues where in all the leagues, the organization managed only one all-star-Danny Espinosa. Other than than this year's draft, there are next to no quality pitchers or, for that matter, position players. And that has nothing to do with the bleak Expo years. The lower minors are stocked with Bowden and Rizzo draft picks, especially Rizzo's. Other than Ramos, Rizzo has made no significant trades and like his predecessor, over evaluates his own talent. He had a chance to get a good pitcher in Dan Hudson but wanted another top prospect as well. Now, what do the Nats have, possibly one draft pick. Rizzo does get his picks signed, I'll give him that, but how good are they going to be, excluding the obvious. The emphasis was going to be on potting and defense, but next year I see the distinct possibility of having Dunn, Willingham, and Morse all on the field at the same time, not to mention an inconsistent Desmond (who I like a lot and believe will cut down on his errors significantly next year-but...) and the head case Morgan, who can be great or terrible-take your pick.

Another_Sam said...

You nailed it, MZ. I can nitpick with you on two of your findings, though: right field: so bad on both counts that one can't say which is better. same for starting rotation.

Anyone else out there already eager for spring training?

Feel Wood said...

"My problem with the Nats getting better extends very much into the minor leagues where in all the leagues, the organization managed only one all-star-Danny Espinosa. Other than than this year's draft, there are next to no quality pitchers or, for that matter, position players."

If that is true, then how do you explain this?

AAA Syracuse 76-67 2nd place in their division
AA Harrisburg 77-65 2nd place in their division
A Potomac 70-69 2nd place in their division, won the Mills Cup

These teams were made up largely or even completely of players NOT from this year's draft. Yet in competition with their peers, these players did quite well. How can you reasonably say that there are absolutely no quality players among them?

Anonymous said...

Other than Ramos, Rizzo has made no significant trades and like his predecessor, over evaluates his own talent.

There's the Langerhans for Michael Morse trade?

How about the Hanrahan + Lastings Millege for Burnett and Morgan? Burnett looks like he is another Matt Capps (also a former Pirate) as well as a Pirates #1 pick. Millege? He still fields worst than anyone the Nats have tried in right field in spite of his athletic gifts. Hanrahan has improve and some might say Millege looks better than Morgan (not in the field sorry). But Burnett and Morgan are left-handed ... and that made all the difference people.

Then there's the Guzman trade which led to two AA pitchers from the very deep Texas system who helped H-burg get to the playoffs.

I think Mike Rizzo values his talent in the right way, I believe its the other franchises who say, hey it's the Nats!? So they low ball Rizzo. And Bowden although Bowden was a lot more disagreeable about it.

Yeah, Rizzo wanted Beckham but that was before Espinosa made the scene. Plus we don't what other players were in that package to the ChiSox? Plus knowing Dunn hates to DH had to affect the decision making some.

Rizzo has had only 2 years where he basically ran the draft and could not be overruled. That IS NOT I repeat IS NOT enough time to rebuild a farm system that was still in a shambles from MLB and Luria ownership? Most of the upper minors starting in Advance A were filled with older journey man players needed to fill in due to a lack of real prospects. The #1 starting pitching prospect in 2007/2008 was Balester? Bill Bray was considered a top potential? Michael O'Connor? Yep Bowden.

I don't know about you but I sure am happier thinking about Silver Spikes finalist (to Strasburg) AJ Morris perhaps joining the team next year in the rotation or in the bullpen. Competition for Drew Storen. Lefty Danny Rosenbaum looks pretty good so far ... and Solis.

Rizzo knows he has to make some moves this offseason as far as trades. And FA signings. Let's wait and see what transpires. He is new at this job but he seems pretty organized and on top of things ... let's give him a shot shall we!

Anonymous said...

Note the team that finally got Hudson ... AZ and a guy who worked pretty closely with Mike Rizzo. And they traded a guy Rizzo puportedly had interest in?

AZ made the right moves. They got younger and better fast. Going with their own young prospects ... and for other team's. Very much a Rizzo mindset.

As for a potential first baseman other than Morse? Well the guy playing third base for the D-backs used to be Zimm's teammate at UVA. He might be available. Sure as shootin' he could play first base ... and he has some huge power as well.

Steve M. said...

This is UGLY with a capital "F":

End of 2010: Alberto Gonzalez, Willie Harris, Justin Maxwell, Adam Kennedy, Kevin Mench

Jeeves said...

Feel Wood, I did not say there were no quality players, but I suppose it depends on how you define quality. What pitching prospects anywhere in the organization would be considered a number one through three part of a good pitching rotation. I'm only counting those with rookie status, not Strasburg, or Zimmermann. Obviously, the so called experts couldn't find any. As far as position players are concerned, there is Espinosa, Norris, Marrero, who is poor defensively, and Burgess, who is definitely a question mark. Of course, there is Harper, who, like Strasburg, my poodles would have known to select. But remember, I wasn't counting this years draft, which, as yet, we know very little about. Sure, Pontomac won their league, but who on the team, other than Norris, would be considered first string major league material.

Steve M. said...

Mark Zuckerman wrote...There are still question marks at first base and center and right fields, plus the stated need to add another starting pitcher and a need to improve the bench. But overall, this organization is in much better shape today than it was one year ago.

Well said and I agree with you that this team looks better today in the offseason than last year.

Mark, if you re-signed Dunn and had $25,000,000 left to raise the payroll to $87,000,0000 and freely spend Uncle Teddy's money, which player(s) would you get?

natsfan1a said...

Livo (or at least the Livo of yore) begs to differ on this point (scroll down to the postseason stats when you get there):


I think that pitchers like Livo, Lannan and Maya would be destroyed if they had to pitch in the playoffs

JD said...


There were some good games there but some real stinkers too and this was when his fastball was in the 90's not the 70's. I would not want to face Lee, Lincicum or Haliday with his stuff today.

natsfan1a said...

Maybe we could do some sort of back to the future thing with Livo in those cases, JD. Eh, probably not. At any rate, I think it's going to be some time before we need to worry about Nats playoff scenarios. ;-)

JD said...


When we get there I don't want to be the Twins; I want to be able to send out SS, Zimmermann, Greinke? knowing that we have a chance to win every time out.

BTW; what does everyone think it would take to pry Greinke? I,m thinking we should make Zimmerman,Zimmermann,Strasburg and maybe Storen untouchable and then let them take any 3 players from our whole system.

dale said...

I think a good piece would be about what the Nats need to do get into the second tier of teams (first tier being division winners). That would mean how far apart are they from Atlanta in terms of personnel? What would they need to become winners against the Marlins? Philadelphia, as currently built would destroy anyone, so lets not even go into that sphere.

MZ, I pretty much agree with your assessment, looking at it from an improvement from October 2009 is a fair way of measuring progress.

Donald said...

Excellent analysis. Now we need to wait to see how the team at the end of 2010 compares to the start of 2011. If we go into next season with basically this same set of players, I think that only buys us 10 more wins and another last place finish.

JD said...


10 more wins gets us out of last place; no way the whole division is over .500. Look for the Mets (no Santana) to take a further step back; Atlanta (weak lineup without Chipper and a downturn by Hudson) will also have trouble repeating their numbers.

Phil Dunn said...

I am not so sure the Phillies will dominate the NL East three years from now. They have traded away a lot of their young talent for Halladay, Oswalt and Lee (last year). Beyond that, they are a rather old team presently.

WeatherB said...

1) Re-sign Dunn (just pay the man, Rizzo!)
2) We need to agressively go after Greinke, Lee and, in my world, Garza. All existing starters with the Nats (except Stras, Zimmermann and Livo) are expendable - that means Lannan, Marquis, Detwiler, Olsen.
3) Re-deploy outfielders, without Morgan and add a REAL centerfielder.
I know, this is a huge order, but achieve this and winning 85+ games becomes likely in 2011.

BinM said...

In terms of roster roll-over in the NL East, The Phillies will probably lose Werth, Moyer, maybe Durbin - just about everybody else is controlled through 2011. The Braves will lose Bobby Cox at the helm, Saito, Proctor & Wagner from the 'pen, Glaus & Hinske, from the IF, and maybe Diaz, Ross, D.Lee & Cabrera to FA; They'll have some rebuilding to do.

The Marlins only have Hanley and J.Johnson under contract for next year; Otherwise, it's a bunch of renewable youngsters, Arbitration cases, or Free Agents. Loria reportedly has the $$ to spend to keep this team intact, but will he? The Mets, OTOH are saddled with a lot of long-term contracts (nine players for $104.25M+ in 2011), as well as a new GM/Manager search, so they don't have a great deal of either time or financial wiggle room to work with.

The Nationals will have $$ coming off the books (some 'dead money' along with Olsen, Harris, maybe Kennedy & others); RZim is due an increase, and Arbitration cases (Willingham, Lannan, Burnett) will take up a bit more. They should, however have the funds available to fill some gaps ('LH power hitter'/SP/1B/RF/bench) through either trades (taking on some salary for talent), or Free Agency. Two or three 'smart' trades or signings in the off-season could jump the Nationals out of the cellar for 2011, imo.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately you might have to lose Zimmermann to get a Greinke. Plus some other pitchers. Desmond might also be a possibility.

But how valuable is a top of the rotation guy? To understand the value you need only look at who is in the playoffs, who almost made it and of those that did which assets are currently dominating.

Anonymous8 said...

Anon @ 6:52, unless I am mistaken, Greinke is a Free Agent so all it will take is money to sign him and you don't have to lose JZim'nn.

JD said...

@non @ 12:39.

Greinke is signed through 2012.

Anonymous said...

Actually I understand that Grienke is under team control though 2013. To get him requires a trade of significant prospects.

Andrew said...

Greinke is signed thru 2012 on a backloaded 4 year $38 million contract. He will be making $13.5 million for this year and next year. So the only way to get him is via a trade.

I am sure the Royals would entertain low dollar prospects in trade for Greinke. Just depends what prospects they would want. Greinke didn't have a great 2010 as he went from a 2.16 ERA in 2009 to 4.17 in 2010.

What do you give up for a career 3.82 ERA guy that you have to $13.5 million to?

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