Wednesday, January 18, 2012

One month to go

US Presswire photo
Davey Johnson's roster has only a few question marks at this stage of the offseason.
If this long, cold winter has got you down -- er, actually, there's been very little cold to speak of in D.C. this winter -- here are some words that should perk you up: Pitchers and catchers report in one month.

Yep, we've just about reached the homestretch of the Hot Stove League. Nationals pitchers and catchers are due to arrive in Viera on Feb. 19, one month from tomorrow, and not a moment too soon for a franchise that ended 2011 on a high note and can't wait to pick up where it left off on Sept. 28.

So this seems like a good time to step back and take a broad view of the Nationals, who to date have made only a handful of offseason moves but already appear to have most of their roster set. Perhaps this team has been less active this offseason when compared to previous ones. But never before did the Nats have this many pieces already in place.

They did enter the offseason with a handful of goals: 1) Add another front-line starter, 2) Add a center fielder, 3) Improve their bench.

How have they done at addressing each of those needs? Let's run through them all...

The path that led the Nationals to acquire Gio Gonzalez from the Athletics for four top prospects was a bit winding and featured some surprises along the way. But it's hard to argue with the end result: The Nats got a very good, young starter who should help give them a formidable rotation both in the short- and long-term.

GM Mike Rizzo went into the offseason pining after Mark Buehrle. The veteran left-hander became the club's No. 1 pitching target, and Rizzo and the Lerner family put the hard sell on him before ultimately learning he had spurned them for the suddenly free-spending Marlins.

You have to wonder whether Rizzo actually is happier the way things turned out. Sure, Buehrle would have been a nice addition to the rotation. But even had he agreed to a three-year contract -- he wound up signing with Miami for four years and $54 million -- the Nationals would still be paying him roughly $13 million per season to be their No. 3 starter.

Instead, they got Gonzalez at the relatively affordable price of $42 million over five seasons, with a couple of $12 million options for 2017 and 2018. This for a 26-year-old who should slot in nicely between Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann and give the Nationals a potent 1-2-3 pitching punch for years to come.

How has that one worked out? Uh, not exactly as planned. The Nationals explored some options to fill a hole that has existed for quite some time, but none of them made particular sense.

With no strong free agents on the market this winter, Rizzo was forced to explore the trade route. What he found were some incredibly high asking prices from his counterparts for the likes of B.J. Upton, Peter Bourjos and others.

So the Nats moved onto Plan B, in which Jayson Werth is likely to shift from right field to center. It's not an ideal scenario, and certainly isn't a long-term answer. But Werth proved capable of playing the position during a September tryout, and his shift would open right field for Bryce Harper.

We still don't know, of course, when Harper will make his big-league debut. Despite pressure from manager Davey Johnson to include the 19-year-old on the Opening Day roster, the most likely scenario will see Harper begin the season at Class AAA Syracuse and earn his promotion sometime before midsummer.

Which means the Nationals will need to find a short-term center fielder. At the moment, the candidates are Roger Bernadina and Mike Cameron. Rick Ankiel, still available on the open market, could be re-signed.

One of the majors' least-productive groups of reserves has received only a modest makeover this winter, though it may not yet be complete.

The most prominent addition to date is Mark DeRosa, the soon-to-be 37-year-old utilityman who signed for $800,000. Otherwise, Rizzo has signed potential bench players to minor-league deals: Cameron, Chad Tracy, Xavier Paul, Jason Michaels, Brett Carroll.

The group still is lacking a reliable left-handed hitter, one of Johnson's preferred "hairy-chested" sluggers. Ankiel could fill that role, though his specialty is defense over offense. This seems like a position that still needs to be addressed from outside the organization.


Anonymous said...

Hey Mark, any word on Gomes? Seemed like he was a good presence in the club house and could fit the Davey Johnson mold of what he would like to see in a bench player said...

Especially since Gomes only cost the Nationals a promising young LHRP.

NatsLady said...

Does Detroit have money to take the PF Flyer? I said a week ago the Nats were a lock, but Detroit worries me.

Bowdenball said...

Why would Detroit want Fielder? They have a pretty good hitting first baseman. They're not gonna pay $150 million to replace Victor Martinez at DH for the 2012 season.

NatsLady said...

Bowdenball--just scanning the Detroit blogs, that's all... Maybe they are smoking something up there.

Natsochist said...

Gomes, while a good presence, was atrocious as a Pinch Hitter last year. Nothing against the guy, but I think I'd pass there. I'm betting Rizzo would like that trade back.

Positively Half St. said...

Yes, Gomes was on his way to getting the Nats a draft pick back in compensation when he signed elsewhere this winter, but 1) he stuck up the joint and fell out of the Class B status as a free agent, and 2) the new labor agreement took away that pick the team would have received anyway.

It seems that the next bench player might have to come off the waiver wire at this point, unless Rick Ankiel is the man.


Diz said...

Detroit has Miguel Cabrera at 1st, so unless PF wants to take over the DH position, he probably won't go to Detroit.

I think it all hinges on Darvish and Texas. If he signs, I don't think the Rangers will go all in on PF with Hamilton's contract coming up next year.

Joe Seamhead said...

A month to go! I wonder if some day we'll have something akin to "Truck Day" like the Red Sox Nation celebrates, i.e. press coverage of the equipment leaving Beantown and heading south?

Steve M. said...

NatsLady, if anything Detroit is looking for a 1 year rental at either 1st base or DH as they have Miggy Cabrera and VMart will miss a year and they have him long-term. Could Dombrowski be calling Rizzo w/ "Hey, if you sign that Fielder guy we're interested in borrowing your guy LaRoche"

Constant Reader said...

After the Rangers sign Darvish today and the asking price for Fielder drops to 6 years with an opt-out in year three, the biggest competition to signing him will come from the Giants.

May as well go out on a limb every so often.

Positively Half St. said...

I'm not so sure about the Giants. I was listening to the likely $19M they will need to pay Lincecum this year to avoid arbitration, and he has one more arb year left. Combine that with Matt Cain's similar salary, and they are going to have trouble keeping both of them. If you threw Fielder into the mix, I think that would be all the harder.

At least I hope that will get in the way. I still want Fielder to come to the Nats.


Binx Bolling said...

Cameron, Tracy, Paul, Carroll and Michaels will likely combine for less than 300 at-bats. More than that will be a disappointment.

Steve M. said...

Constant, the Giants definitely have the need for Prince and supposedly have the infusion of TV revenue. They have the unknown with Lincecum's record breaking arbitration looming. They wouldn't retain Cody Ross which was an odd financial decision. I just don't think the timing is right for them.

I agree with NatsEnquirer on Texas, Toronto, Miami and the Nats are the remaining 4 in the picture. Texas would do it if the contract was severely backloaded so they can figure out Napoli and Josh Hamilton.

Toronto is wide open although Prince doesn't seem to want to go to a team that would have to fight to secure 3rd place.

Miami would want a backloaded deal and have Prince waive the no-trade clause.

Nats want a 5 year deal that is incentive-laden and also backloaded.

Would Lerner do a 7 year deal with no incentives at $23 mill a year w/ an early opt-out?

I think Boras is open to structuring the deals to make it appear long-term as he has boxed himself in the corner. He publicly laughed at a 3 year deal and wants to top Ryan Howard's deal.

Ted Lerner is 86. He may go for it and let his son in 4 or 5 years clean up the mess it left behind. In the short-term, of course Prince makes sense. Great numbers life-time vs. Mets, Marlins and Phillies.

Like I wrote last week, sign Prince and trade LaRoche + cash to Tampa for Upton and the Nats could become the team to beat in the NL East. The Phillies still have the best rotation but the Nats aren't far behind and will be better offensively and in the bullpen.

greg said...

yeah, it's hard to see SF as a legit buyer on fielder...

Mark'd said...

Texas doesn't have an issue scoring runs. They need a true Ace anchoring their pitching. After they sign Darvish they should sign Oswalt. He isn't an Ace any more but can Mentor their young staff.

Theophilus said...

Oswalt isn't going to the Rangers. Assuming they sign Darvish, they will also have Lewis, Holland, Harrison and Ogando. There is no room for Oswalt. If Rizzo could find someone dumb enuf to take Lannan off his hands at $5MM, Oswalt might end up here.

Tim said...

Re: Mark's article: this offseason really wasn't a prime to pick up a CF, so I can't blame Rizzo. I'd rather have Ankiel than Cameron.

I agree with the above posts re: Detroit & SF on Fielder. SF doesn't have the money, according to all the experts and they want to keep their pitching. I can't see Detroit paying megadollars for a DH, and Fielder, like Dunn, wouldn't like it.

I do like Steve M.'s idea of signing Fielder, and then trading LaRoche (and probably Desmond) to Tampa Bay for BJ Upton. But then you have to figure out what to do with Morse when Oppo-boppo comes up.

JD said...

Steve M.

Why would Tampa trade Upton for LaRoche when they can pick up Kochman, Pena or Derek Lee for nothing?

Section 222 said...

From your lips (or keyboard) to the Lerners' ears @SteveM. "The team to beat in the NL East": Has a nice ring.

I actually think we're the team to beat in the NL east if we sign the Prince, even without a trade for Upton. LaRoche can be that leftie slugger off the bench that Mark mentions in this post, and a pretty decent late inning defensive replacement at 1B to boot. Sure he's expensive for that role, but I don't know that we'll get much in return for him without some playing time to show he's healthy.

Gio's a good start, but Rizzo definitely has some work to do in these last 32 days to meet his goals for this off season.

Bowdenball said...

Yeah, there's just no way Tampa trades Upton for LaRoche and cash. Especially when LaRoche is coming off an injury and hasn't played an inning since surgery, and there are still FA options who can probably come close to LaRoche's projected production even if he is 100%. We'd need to deal A LOT more to get Upton. The Rays aren't stupid.

Nat Tee Shirt said...

I'm very disappointed in our efforts to improve the bench. We lost a major contributor when Hairston departed, and I don't believe we've come anywhere near replacing him. The guys we've added to the bench are pick-overs. Nix had more upside than the guys we've added.

This, of course, hurts another priority: improving our overall offense in 2012. In this area, we really haven't changed much from the low-scoring, high-strikeout team of 2011.

Without new, big bats coming in, we make this bet in 2012: most of the following guys (Werth, Zimm, LaRoche, Desi, Espi, and Ramos) will simply have better years in 2012 than they did in 2011.

If they do, we win a lot more games than 2011. If they don't, we could be about the same as 2011.

We know our pitching is stronger now, but I believe we all remember how the Nats have tortured their starters with lousy run support.

rfabs said...

I watched "Moneyball" yesterday, which inspired me to run some numbers on the Nationals for 2012.

Let's see what it would take for the team to get to 90 wins this year. That may or may not make the playoffs (more likely if they add another wild card), but it would be another 10 game improvement, which seems like a reasonable goal.

Last year, they allowed 643 runs. The pitching as it stands now is better than last year, with a full year of Zimmermann, more of Strasburg, and a year of Gonzalez. But let's say they allow 643 again.

In order to win 90 games, then, they would need to score about 725 runs (using the Pythagorean formula a la Moneyball). Last year they only scored 624, which means finding another 100 runs (no small feat).

But last year they had a lot of guys who were hurt (Zimmerman, LaRoche), or were young and should improve (Desmond, Espinosa, Ramos), or should revert to closer to his established performance (Werth). So I did some projections of runs created, based on last year's numbers and the players' past performances. So here are my relatively conservative projections for 2012 (all figures from

Desmond - 70 (had 63/64 last two years)
Werth - 90 (78 last year, but 84/115/120 last three years in PHI)
Zimmerman - 100 (had 104/114 in 2009-10)
LaRoche - 84 (between 84 and 98 2006-10)
Morse - 102 (had 102 last year, but sat 16 games)
Espinosa - 85 (had 81 last year, so modest growth)
Ramos/Flores - 75 (three C last year had 69)
CF tbd - 60 (about Ankiel's performance grossed up to 162 games)
Pitchers - 10 (about same as LY)
Bench - 20 (they had more LY, but largely Cora and Hairston filling in at 3B)

That gives you 696 as a modest projection for 2012. That would work out to about 87 wins; an improvement, but probably no playoffs.

So where could the additional 25-30 runs come from? Some ideas:

1. Prince Fielder - had 135 RC last year, or 50 more than my LaRoche projection
2. A real CF - even an upgrade to someone like Adam Jones (82 RC last year) would fill most of the gap
3. Return to the Jason Werth of 2009-10 (115/120 would fill the gap)
4. More improvement across the lineup - An average 4 RC improvement over my projections would do it
5. Forget hitting, a 25 run pitching improvement would do just as well

On the other hand, if Zimmerman gets hurt again, or Morse can't keep it up, or Werth stays in a funk, or the bullpen implodes, then all bets are off.


DFL said...

I suppose the Rays will never do it but I'd rather trade Desmond(local native) and Lannan for Ben Zobrist and put him in centerfield and lead-off. Extend Zobrist 2014-16. Put Lombardozzi at second and bat him eighth. Move Espinosa to short. Sign Oswalt for two years as fourth starter(third starter after September 1). Sign Keppinger as infield reserve.

NatsJack in Florida said...

With all the arms the Rays have in their organization, why in the world do you think they'd want Lannan?

Bowdenball said...

Nat Tee Shirt:

Who would you have them add? Bench players are bench players for a reason- they're not good enough to start. Hairston was a good find, and that's why he's now signed for two years and six million dollars with the Dodgers. Guys like him don't grow on trees and you can't predict them. DeRosa is as good a bet to be productive as any other available bench type.

I also don't understand your logic in projecting that "the pitching is stronger now" but that if the offense is the same as 2011 we'll still win about the same number of games. Wouldn't stronger pitching + similar offense = more wins?

Steve M. said...

Upton signed for $7 million yesterday which gives them no room in their budget to sign a $8 million 1st baseman/DH as was reported after looking at getting Carlos Lee w/ Houston eating 1/2 his salary. Tampa gets Upton off their books and out of their locker room which is a goal they have tried to accomplish for a long time.

If the Nats traded LaRoche to Tampa on a deal where the Nats pick up most of his salary, that should entice them. Tampa's last piece on their shopping list was a 1st baseman. They may also trade Jeff Niemann for outfield depth.

PAY TO PLAY said...

SteveM, here's the problem with your thinking. Nats sign Prince w/ lets say $18 million in 2012 in a backloaded contract then eat lets say $6 million for LaRoche and take on $7 million of Upton.

That's a net of $27 million added to the budget.

Diz said...

If we sign Fielder, there is no room for a CF with Morse, Werth, and Harper on the roster come June.

Steve M. said...

NatsJack in Florida said...
With all the arms the Rays have in their organization, why in the world do you think they'd want Lannan?

11:41 AM

Agreed, they don't really need him or his $5+ million salary.

Tampa's last holes to fill is 1st base and DH to go with Luke Scott. If they trade Upton they may want a veteran outfielder to go with Brandon Guyer, Desmond Jennings, Sam Fuld and Matt Joyce.

PAY TO PLAY said...

Diz, would you rather leave LaRoche wilting on the bench or trade him for a real CF? I will take the CF and let Davey figure out what to do with 4 outfielders.

That's a good problem to have.

Will said...

Last year, the non starting OFs (those not named Morse, Werth or Ankiel) got 1,127 plate appearances. It would be wildly optimistic to hope for less than 300 ABs from those 5 guys.

I'd be willing to bet Cameron, alone, gets nearly 300 plate appearances. Unless he has an abysmal ST, he'll make the team as the RH CF option/back up corner OF. All it will take is a minor injury to either Morse or Werth for those plate appearances to skyrocket.

Bowdenball said...

Steve M:

The Rays made the playoffs last year. They want to contend. Even a 100% healthy LaRoche costs them a couple wins as compared to Upton.

I think you're really overestimating the Rays' motivation to move Upton. It's not like they haven't had plenty of chances to do so in recent years, and by all accounts have turned down a LOT more than just a cheap year of an 32 year old 1-2 WAR first baseman coming off a serious injury. I don't what their plan is for Upton, but they obviously value his 2012 season more than that or they would have dealt him already.

Theophilus said...

Let me see if I have this right . . .. Incentive for TB to trade Upton for Lannan is to "get [him] off their books and out of their locker room . . .."

And we want Upton, why? Because Nats can afford to waste money on a knucklehead?

PAY TO PLAY said...

SteveM, Luke Scott played mostly Left Field last year which is possible for Tampa if they got LaRoche. Desmond Jennings moves to CF. I'm sure Joe Maddon will figure it out.

To JD, they are not signing Kotchman, Pena or Lee after shelling out $6 million for Luke Scott.

Constant Reader said...

Again, I'll come back and admit I was totally wrong when I am totally wrong, but if Fielder retreats to an opt-out at year three, he becomes extremely attractive to teams who think they are in a position to go for the trophy and rings now and the next couple of years. You assume, as a franchise, he will leave after year three. So who would think Fielder is a bargain at 3 years-$75M? Yes, the Nats. But also the Giants and Lemire over on CNN/SI makes a case it could still be the Rangers. If Fielder decides he is going to take a deal with a three year opt out, he'll go someplace where he can both mash AND have a shot at a ring. I love my team, but I wonder that both Texas and SF aren't better fits for him in that scenario.

A lot of fun to speculate.

Steve M. said...

Bowdenball, its called 7 million reasons. Their payroll was at $41.1 million last year on Opening Day. Right now the Rays are at $56.9 million if they keep Niemann and Upton and Shields. They want to be at $52 million or less. Coincidence?

Tampa if you include Matt Moore has 6 starting pitchers right now: James Shields, David Price, Wade Davis, Jeremy Hellickson & Moore & Niemann.

They have to shed payroll. Will it be Upton ($7mm) who is their 2nd highest paid player behind Shields ($8mm) or will it be Shields or will it be Niemann($3.1mm) or a combination of 2 players.

Wally said...

I think Texas winds up with Fielder, regardless of Darvish. It will be a 'hefty' commitment, to be sure, but they are flush with TV cash, they are built to win now, they need a 1B more than any other contender, they have the Angels as their main competitor who made big moves this offseason and they are a very aggressive organization. From Fielder's view, they are built to be successful for a while, and that is a good hitters park (downside is switching leagues).

I hope that we get him, but Texas may sign both today.

DFL said...

I take back the Lannan portion of my previous post. The logic criticizing that portion of a trade was formidable. How about Desmond and Brown/Moore?

As for Binx and Will's discussion about Cameron, it would seem very likely that he is finished as an offensive force. If Cameron makes the team and is hitting .194 on May 1, he will likely be dropped shortly thereafter.

Steve M. said...

Caveat emptor. Opt-out clauses are only as good as the performance of the player meaning they won't be opting out if Prince in year 3 is playing like Adam Dunn cira 2011.

The opt-out isn't a "given". If it was, you do a straight 3 year deal which Boras is not doing.

After Texas writes that $51.7 million check to the Ham Fighters + $10 million for Darvish's 2012 salary, they are going to be extremely cash strapped this year. They still have to settle up with Napoli.

PAY TO PLAY said...

Having Fielder in the Texas discussion has been good leverage to get the Darvish price down but Wally could be right and they sign both.

Can they afford both and keep Nelson Cruz, Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli next year? Hard to say. I agree, writing that $51.7 million today is a big rock!

Bowdenball said...

Steve M:

Even if we assume that they want to shed Upton's salary- and I'm not convinced that they do- I think they can do a lot better than a year of Adam LaRoche in return, even if he's basically free.

Those "7 million reasons" weren't enough to convince the Rays to accept offers for Upton before, and those offers included prospects under club control for many years. LaRoche is a high-risk, low-reward 32 year old at a position where there's a huge seller's market at the moment. I don't see how he gets you Upton where a pile of cost-controlled prospects did not.

PAY TO PLAY said...

Here's the SF Giants as currently constructed:

Pagan - CF

Sanchez - 2B

Posey - C

Sandoval - 3B

Cabrera - LF

Huff/Belt - 1B

Schierholtz - RF

Crawford - SS

If they were an American League team I could see them going after Prince. Its either Texas or Washington and still betting on Washington w/ LaRoche traded to Detroit.

PAY TO PLAY said...

Bowdenball, they lose Upton after this year with no comp picks on him. Tampa needs a cost controlled 1st baseman.

Mark'd said...

All I can say is the next 7 days should be interesting

fpcsteve said...

This morning on ESPN Tim K. said that if the Rangers sign Fielder, Hamilton is gone (next year). He made it either-or and then said he thought Hamilton was done in Texas.

Nat Tee Shirt said...

Bowdenball asked me two good questions.

1. Who would I add to the bench? I would've signed Hairston for the money the Brewers/Dodgers gave him, and I would've kept Nix. I think the team's lack of foresight on these losses will hurt us. I'm saying an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

2. How can I say the Nats will be about the same, overall in 2012 as they were in 2011, while I say they'll have better pitching and about the same offense? Doesn't better pitching and the same offense mean more wins?

I think if you look at our runs scored/runs allowed numbers in this thread, in light of my comment, I think you can picture a number of games where instead of losing 3-1 we lose 2-1, and instead of losing 4-2 we lose 3-2. This is what I think happens when your pitching reduces the number of runs scored against the Nationals in 2012, while our offense stays about the same.

I bet Jordan Zimmermann would agree with me on this. His 2011 W-L record is not impressive at all, but not because of his (outstanding) pitching, but because of the lack of run support. Going by memory, I think they starved Strasburg a number of times going back to his first year, and last year I think they starved Livan, I mean at historic levels, as well.

Bowdenball said...

Pay to Play:

I'm aware of that. But that was the case two months ago, too. Yet they didn't trade Upton for a pile of prospects then. You really think they value a high-risk LaRoche more than a pile of prospects? If not, why would they turn down the prospects but trade for LaRoche? If they're trying to contend this year they're better off with Upton than LaRoche even if he costs a few million more, and you can be sure that they know it.

If they want to trade Upton for a cheap B rental they can hang a flag outside the stadium and plenty of clubs will make offers better than LaRoche. People seem to be overestimating his value and completely forgetting that he hasn't played a single inning of baseball since undergoing surgery. You don't throw away an asset like BJ Upton for that. I hope I'm wrong, but I don't think I am.

Anonymous said...

If the Nats sign Fielder(big if) then I could see them offering Laroche, Marrero (no good to the Nats if Fielder signs) plus cash to TB for Upton. They may still have to trade Lombardozzi also but then get back another minor league player in return that isn't as close to being in the majors as Lombardozzi.


Anonymous said...

Nobody is counting the Cubs in the Fielder mix. Just because Theo already signed a first baseman, don't count him out. Remember he had Adam LaRoche in Boston--for 6 games, then traded him to Atlanta. He hasn't dropped his bomb yet, and I could easily see a multi-team, multi-player deal, the kind that Theo has made in the past. Heck, we could be in on it.

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