Friday, November 30, 2012

Lannan, Flores, Gorzelanny cut

The Nationals will elect not to tender contracts to left-handers John Lannan and Tom Gorzelanny and catcher Jesus Flores before tonight's midnight deadline, officially cutting ties with two of the organization's longest-tenured players and the only remaining lefty in their bullpen.

The decisions to non-tender Lannan and Flores weren't surprises; neither figured into the club's plans for 2013 or beyond. The removal of Gorzelanny from the roster was more surprising given the lack of any other left-handers in the Nationals' current bullpen.

The moves aren't official yet, but a club source confirmed all are planned before midnight.

Lannan, who was drafted in 2005 out of Siena College and reached the big leagues two years later, is the Nationals' all-time leader in starts (134) and ranks second to Livan Hernandez in wins (42) and innings (783 2/3).

His standing within the organization dropped significantly this year, though, after the Nationals shipped the lefty to Class AAA Syracuse after going 10-13 with a 3.70 ERA and earning a $5 million salary through arbitration. Lannan initially requested a trade, but wound up spending the majority of the season in the minors, ultimately returning to make six starts for Washington down the stretch (he went 4-1 with a 4.13 ERA).

The Nationals could have kept Lannan in the organization for another season. He actually has one more minor-league option and could

Span might have been best option at CF

Photo by US-Presswire

After searching for a long-term solution in center field for several years, the Nationals entered this offseason with a bevy of options at the position. The free agent class was deep with B.J. Upton, Michael Bourn, and Angel Pagan. Throw Josh Hamilton in there, the year’s top overall free agent, and few offseasons offer as many choices.

But instead of taking the free agent route, the Nationals pulled the trigger on a trade target long rumored to be on their wish list. In comes 28 year old Denard Span from the Minnesota Twins in exchange for top pitching prospect Alex Meyer. The Nationals decided to go with a cheaper, more short-term choice in Span, but still got the leadoff hitter and defensive stud they were coveting.

Acquiring Span shows that general manager Mike Rizzo opted for flexibility over flash. But looking at Span in comparison to this year’s other options, the difference really isn’t that dramatic. 

Take a look at how Span stacked up against the free agents in 2012:

B.J. Upton (28 years old)

146 G - .246/.298/.454 – 79 R – 28 HR – 78 RBI – 31 SB

Michael Bourn (29 years old)

155 G - .274/.348/.391 – 96 R – 9 HR – 57 RBI – 42 SB

Denard Span (28 years old)

128 G - .283/.342/.395 – 71 R – 4 HR – 41 RBI – 17 SB

Angel Pagan (31 years old)

154 G - .288/.338/.440 – 95 R – 8 HR – 56 RBI – 29 SB

Despite being tied to the Nationals in rumors, Upton was a poor fit from the beginning. He bats right handed, doesn’t slot well at the leadoff position, and would require the biggest contract of the group. He does have the best power numbers of the four, but when healthy the Nats’ lineup has plenty of big bats. They needed someone who could set the table and slot their core hitters later in the lineup.

Dissecting the deal for Denard

The Nationals have been searching for a leadoff hitter and center fielder since ... well, since before they were the Nationals.

This is a franchise that has tried in vain for eight seasons to develop or acquire someone who possessed both the ability to play center field and hit at the top of a big-league lineup.

First there was Endy Chavez. Then there was Brandon Watson. Then Nook Logan. Then Lastings Milledge. Then Nyjer Morgan. The list also included, at various times, Justin Maxwell, Marlon Byrd, Willie Harris, Preston Wilson, Ryan Langerhans, Ryan Church, Elijah Dukes, Roger Bernadina, Rick Ankiel and even a guy named Jorge Padilla who even the most knowledgeable Nationals fan would never remember existed.

All told, 32 different men have played center field for the Nationals since 2005 (tied with the Red Sox and Athletics for most in the

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Rizzo and Span on the trade

US Presswire photo
Denard Span says he's "definitely ready" to join the Nationals.
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo and new center fielder Denard Span each held a conference call with reporters this evening to discuss today's trade with the Twins. Here are some highlights from both men...

Were you surprised this trade came about quickly, and how did it come about?
"I wouldn't say I'm surprised to get it done quickly. We've been in contact with Terry Ryan and the Minnesota Twins for approximately 3-4 weeks when we started discussing the deal. It started gaining momentum last week after the GM meetings and we started really making some progress the past couple of days."

What does this mean for Adam LaRoche and Michael Morse?
"Michael Morse is under contract for us. He's a guy that's a middle of the lineup, productive player for us. And Adam LaRoche was our first baseman last year. We're still discussing with him and in contract negotiations with him. So it gives us some options in dealing with our roster."

What made Span the guy you wanted?
"He fits very well for us. First of all, outstanding character, big-time makeup guy, teammates love him on the field, off the field,

Updated: Nats acquire Span for Meyer

US Presswire photo
Denard Span owns a career .357 on-base percentage in five seasons with the Twins.
Updated at 6:27 p.m.

The Nationals addressed their longstanding need for a leadoff hitter and center fielder this afternoon, acquiring Denard Span from the Twins in exchange for top pitching prospect Alex Meyer in a move that will have all sorts of domino effects on the roster.

Span, 28, is a classic leadoff-hitting center fielder who owns a .284 batting average and .357 on-base percentage in five seasons with Minnesota. He'll immediately jump into the Nationals' starting lineup, bumping Bryce Harper to one of the corner outfield positions.

"I think he's going to bring a dimension to the club that we haven't had before," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "A fast-moving, exciting guy that makes contact and moves the ball around and can fly around the field."

The trade, though, means the Nationals will have only one available spot in their 2013 lineup for Adam LaRoche or Michael Morse. LaRoche is currently a free agent and is seeking at least a three-year contract. Morse remains under contract for one more season and

Lannan has another option

US Presswire photo
John Lannan spent most of last season at Class AAA Syracuse.
The Nationals' unconventional decision to have veteran John Lannan pitch most of last season at Syracuse despite a $5 million salary seemed like a one-time move with no chance to be repeated.

Turns out the Nationals do have the ability to send the left-hander back to Class AAA in 2013 because he still has one remaining minor-league option.

The remaining option, confirmed by a club official, comes as a surprise to many who believed Lannan had already used up all three given to professional ballplayers. What most didn't realize what that the option the Nationals used on Lannan at the beginning of the 2008 season didn't count because he was recalled to the majors only eight days later.

The "option" terminology is a bit misleading, because each one encompasses an entire season. For example, Lannan was optioned to Syracuse three separate times this year, but that counted as only one

Would a team of ex-Nats be any good?

Photo by US-Presswire
Sometimes when teams get good they have to let good players go. The 2007 Philadelphia Phillies, for instance, had Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse on their roster and neither were major contributors. Jayson Werth was of course also on Philly before coming to Washington.

It took a lot of roster turnover to transform the Nats into what they are today, a playoff team and division champion. Just look at the 2010 squad, nine different pitchers who made appearances with that team have yet to pitch again in the majors. (Luis Atilano, Scott Olsen, J.D. Martin, Tyler Walker, Jesse English, Matt Chico, Joe Bisenius, Garrett Mock, and Jason Bergmann)

The Nationals over the past few years have traded players away and let others go via free agency, some simply because it was time they switched to the American League. But looking at who has left and where they are now, the talent pool of ex-Nationals players really

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A controversial Hall of Fame ballot

US Presswire file photo
Barry Bonds will appear on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time.
The most noteworthy and controversial Hall of Fame ballot in history was released this afternoon, one that includes several of baseball's all-time bests, many of them linked to performance enhancing drugs.

Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa are the three biggest first-time nominees on the 37-player ballot released by the Hall of Fame, with Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling and Craig Biggio also making their first appearances.

Members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America with at least 10 years of consecutive service -- there are approximately 600 who qualify -- must cast their ballots by Dec. 31. The results will be announced Jan. 9, with any player who receives at least 75 percent of the vote inducted into Cooperstown next July.

Astute baseball fans and media have long known the 2013 ballot would be a major spectacle, the combination of so many great

VIDEO: On first base and the rotation

With the Winter Meetings fast approaching, I stopped by the studio at Comcast SportsNet yesterday to discuss the biggest issues facing the Nationals: Adam LaRoche and the search for a No. 5 starter.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tender decisions await

US Presswire photo
John Lannan is a candidate to be non-tendered before Friday night's deadline.
Another of baseball's offseason deadlines arrives late Friday night, when all clubs must tender contracts to all players who aren't already signed for 2013.

For most, this is a mere formality, the acknowledgment by the organization that it intends to keep said player for another season. But for a handful of players -- typically those who have more than three years of service time and thus are arbitration-eligible -- this can be a tense time.

Arbitration-eligible players are guaranteed to make decent money, at minimum 80 percent of what they made the previous season but typically much more than that. If a player who falls into this category hasn't performed up to snuff but stands to earn a raise through the arbitration process, he becomes a candidate to be "non-tendered," which is just a fancy way of saying he's released and becomes a free agent.

Most clubs non-tender at least one or two players each winter, and the Nationals have shown a willingness to do just that over the

Monday, November 26, 2012

Final Nats playoff share: $37,045.32

US Presswire file photo
The Nationals' first-ever trip to the postseason resulted in a nice holiday bonus for all of their players and coaches.

Major League Baseball announced the amounts of all postseason shares today, revealing the Nationals received $2,124,312.75, to be dispersed among uniformed personnel.

Players voted to divvy that sum into 49 full shares (worth $37,045.32 a piece), plus 6.65 partial shares and three cash awards.

That $37,000 bonus may not amount to much for veterans like Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman, who make more than that for each game they play. But it's a significant chunk of money for players who made at or near the league minimum of $500,000, not to

Hot Stove ready to ignite at last

US Presswire file photo
Mike Rizzo has plenty of options as he seeks to bolster his roster.
Technically speaking, the baseball offseason began the moment the San Francisco Giants wrapped up a four-game whitewashing of the Detroit Tigers in the World Series. That was 29 days ago.

In reality, the offseason has barely registered a blip on anyone's radar screen to this point. Yes, free agency kicked off five days after the Fall Classic ended. But do you know how many of the sport's 175 free agents have signed contracts so far? Twenty-one. That's all.

Baseball, as everyone knows, likes to take its time. This is the rare sport, of course, that doesn't feature a clock. So it's only appropriate that it always takes a while for the offseason to kick into high gear.

That time, though, has finally come. Thanksgiving has come and gone, the annual Winter Meetings begin one week from today and

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving in NatsTown

Photo by Bob Youngentob /
The Nationals and their fans have plenty to be thankful for this year.
Everyone has something to be thankful for today, and that includes the Nationals roster, coaching staff and front office.

And for the third straight year, I've somehow managed to get my hands on a comprehensive list of these fine folks' Thanksgiving blessings. I'm just that good (or creative, depending on how you choose to look at it).

So without further ado, here's what everyone in NatsTown is thankful for this holiday season...

DAVEY JOHNSON: That he said the Nats could fire him only if he didn't win the NL East in 2012 (not the NLDS).

MIKE RIZZO: That he won't have to explain to the world why he's voluntarily shutting down one of his best big-league pitchers before

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Nats add Karns, Davis to 40-man

The Nationals purchased the contracts of Nathan Karns and Erik Davis tonight, adding both right-handers to their 40-man roster and protecting them from being selected in next month's Rule 5 draft.

All major-league clubs were required to finalize their 40-man rosters before midnight, with any eligible players who were not added to the roster now available to other clubs via the Rule 5 draft.

Among those left unprotected by the Nationals were left-hander Danny Rosenbaum, second baseman Jeff Kobernus and outfielder Destin Hood.

The Nationals were more worried about Karns and Davis being plucked away in the draft, which requires the player's new club to keep him on the big-league roster for a full season or else offer him back to his former organization.

Karns, who turns 25 on Sunday, earned organizational pitcher of the year honors after going a combined 11-4 with a 2.17 ERA in 24

Who needs to be protected?

US Presswire photo
Mike Rizzo has some roster decisions to make today.
One of baseball's many obscure deadlines strikes tonight at midnight, when players eligible for the Rule 5 draft must be added to their club's 40-man rosters or else risk being snatched away by other organizations.

Rarely do these decisions result in total disaster for teams -- how many people even remember the Nationals lost Brad Meyers and Erik Komatsu in last year's Rule 5 draft, and how many of those remember both players were ultimately returned to the organization? -- but there's always a chance a team could make a major miscalculation and lose a top prospect.

So general manager Mike Rizzo and his player development folks have some important decisions to make before the end of the night.

For the uninitiated (or the confused) here's a quick refresher course on how this all works...

-- Any players in the Nationals' organization who signed at age 18 and have played in parts of at least five seasons, plus any who

Go for broke in 2013?

US Presswire photo
Adam LaRoche and Michael Morse would be big pieces in 2013, but after that?
Throughout their history in Washington -- and most definitely in the four years since Mike Rizzo became general manager -- the Nationals have adhered to one simple philosophy when it comes to player acquisitions and roster building: All moves must be in the best long-term interests of the organization.

It's a philosophy that has done the Nationals well, allowing them to build a team that not only reached the postseason for the first time this year but is built to keep on winning for years to come.

Might it be an appropriate time, however, to tweak that philosophy? For the first time in their history, might the Nationals sacrifice long-term potential in exchange for short-term satisfaction?

This might be the most compelling, over-arching question of the offseason. Clearly, this is a team that will enter 2013 with a real shot at winning the World Series, no matter what moves Rizzo makes

Monday, November 19, 2012

AFL season wraps up

US Presswire file photo
Anthony Rendon finished with a .338 average in 22 Arizona Fall League games.
While most of the country is busy preparing for Thanksgiving -- or watching a whole lot of football, as the case may be -- there were a select few professional baseball players still in action over the weekend.

The latest edition of the Arizona Fall League wrapped up Saturday when the Peoria Javelinas toppled the Salt River Rafters, 4-3, in the annual championship game, one that featured several Nationals prospects on the losing end.

Though their team came up short in the title game, a couple of Nats acquitted themselves quite well out in Arizona over the last six weeks.

Let's start with Anthony Rendon, who after a slow start to his AFL season finished strong, posting a .338 batting average, 10 doubles, 11 RBI, 15 walks and a .930 OPS in 22 regular season games. The 2011 first-round draft pick then went 1-for-4 with a triple in

Friday, November 16, 2012

Spring training schedule released

US Presswire photo
Space Coast Stadium could host its final Nats spring training in 2013.
The Nationals have announced the exhibition schedule for what likely will be their final spring training in Viera, a 32-game slate that underscores why the franchise hopes to relocate to Florida's Gulf Coast in 2014.

Washington will open the Grapefruit League on Feb. 23 in Port St. Lucie, the first of six spring encounters with the Mets (who train about an hour south of Viera). The Nationals also face the Astros (who train 50 minutes west in Kissimmee) six times. They'll face the Braves (who are an hour west in Lake Buena Vista), Cardinals and Marlins (who train nearly two hours to the south in Jupiter) five times a piece, while facing the Tigers (who are nearly two hours away in Lakeland) four times.

The Nationals also must make a six-hour round trip to Clearwater on March 6 for a single exhibition game against the Phillies.

All told, the Nationals will spend more time on Florida's highways than any other club in the Grapefruit League, the primary reason

Catching up after an eventful week

Associated Press photo
Davey Johnson and Bryce Harper each won major BBWAA awards this week.
And so I have returned from my week-long respite. Mrs. Z and I had a wonderful time on our vacation, thanks for asking. But it's time to get back to the daily grind, and I see there was plenty of Nationals news in my absence.

The manager finally has a contract for 2013. He's got a new coach on his staff, as well, not to mention a new piece of hardware for his mantel. As does the no-longer-19-year-old outfielder. The 21-game-winning left-hander, was not as fortunate.

So let's rehash the major events of the last week...

Not that there was ever any doubt this would get done, but it's nice to finally have some resolution to this lingering issue. Johnson and the Nationals agreed late last week to a new contract that ensures

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Nats breakout stars of 2012

Photo by US-Presswire
As the true breakout team of the 2012 MLB season, the Washington Nationals benefitted from a lot of players performing above expectations. The Nats saw injuries to nearly every key player early in the season and had to rely on depth and in some cases guys who weren’t intended to play major roles.

Along the way, several Washington players had what can be called breakout seasons. Some played above what was expected of them, and some finally reached the potential people always thought they had.

Here are a few that legitimately became break out stars for the Nationals:

SS Ian Desmond - .292/.335/.511 – 25 HR – 73 RBI – 72 R – 21 SB

The talent was always there with Desmond, but the shortstop didn’t put it all together until 2012. He cut down his errors in the field to become one of the game’s best defensive shortstops and raised his offensive numbers all around. Desmond lost out on the Gold Glove award, but won a Silver Slugger award and may get MVP votes. A case could also be made he was the best overall shortstop of the 2012 campaign.

SP Ross Detwiler – 10-8 – 3.40 ERA – 105 SO – 1.223 WHIP – 164.1 IP

Detwiler was the 6th overall pick in 2007 and before 2012 hadn’t established himself as the reliable starter Washington had hoped he would be. He wasn’t expected to be in the rotation at the beginning of the season and spent time in the bullpen, but through the year proved consistent and sometimes even dominant. His stellar playoff performance in Game 4 of the NLDS further guaranteed his spot as a core player for the Nationals in the future.

OF Bryce Harper - .270/.340/.477 – 22 HR – 59 RBI – 98 R – 18 SB

Considered a ‘can’t miss’ prospect, Harper was expected to be a good major league player. But being called up in April and thriving from the start was not predicted by many. The former number one overall pick immediately showed he belonged and finished the season as the National League Rookie of the Year. He had perhaps the best season ever for a teenage position player and could reach another level as soon as next season.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Gio falls short of Cy Young award

Photo by US-Presswire
Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez finished third in N.L. Cy Young voting with R.A. Dickey taking home the most first place votes. Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers placed second as Gonzalez received just one first place vote.

Gonzalez lost out to the Mets knuckleballer after going 21-8 with a 2.89 ERA in his first season with the Nationals. Gonzalez was acquired by Washington last offseason in a trade with the Oakland Athletics.

Gonzalez represented the Nationals in the All-Star game in 2012, the second appearance of his career. He finished with 207 strikeouts in 199 1/3 innings pitched.

Dickey, 38, went 20-6 this season with a 2.73 ERA across 233 2/3 innings pitched. He struck out 230 batters, had three shutouts, and posted a 1.053 WHIP.

Tarasco added to 2013 staff

Davey Johnson and hitting coach Rick Eckstein talk during a 2012 batting practice. (Photo by US-Presswire)
The Washington Nationals have announced the addition of Tony Tarasco as first base coach to Davey Johnson’s 2013 staff. Trent Jewett will transition from first to third base coach next season with the departure of Bo Porter to manage the Astros.

The bench coach will remain Randy Knorr, Steve McCatty will stay on as pitching coach, Jim Lett will coach the bullpen, and Rick Eckstein will be back once again as hitting coach.

Tarasco joins the Nationals at the major league level after seven seasons in various roles in the organization. He spent the last two seasons as the outfield and baserunning coordinator after serving three years as hitting coach of the Hagerstown Suns. Previous to his time in Single-A, Tarasco was the hitting coach for two seasons for Vermont of the rookie-level New York-Penn League.

Tarasco played under Davey Johnson for the Baltimore Orioles in 1996 and 1997 and was the right fielder on Derek Jeter’s controversial home run in the 1996 ALCS. He was under the ball at the warning track when Yankees fan Jeffrey Maier reached over and interfered to make the catch.

VIDEO: Davey Johnson in 2012

Check out this video from last night's Geico SportsNet Central looking back at Davey Johnson's year with the Nationals.

Also, here are a few Nats links from CSNwashington:

- Harper tweets to Giancarlo Stanton to join the Nats
- Nats sign infielder Rhymes
- PHOTO: Gio Gonzalez as a little leaguer
- Rollins on N.L. East: 'It still runs through Philly'

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Davey Johnson: N.L. Manager of the Year

Photo by AP
The awards just keep rolling in for the Nationals. A day after Bryce Harper was named N.L. Rookie of the Year, Davey Johnson has been honored as the league’s best manager.

Johnson managed the Nationals to 98 wins and a N.L. East division title in his first full season with the team in 2012. They improved their record by 18 victories from the season before and jumped from third in the N.L. East to first.

This is Johnson’s second time winning a league manager of the year award, he took the honor in the American League with the Orioles in 1997. He is just the fifth manager in MLB history to win the award in both leagues and the first in Nationals history to win one at all.

After winning the award in 1997, Johnson left the Orioles because of a rift with the owner. On Tuesday after learning he had won the award once again, he joked about avoiding the same fate.

“If we didn’t win the division I thought I was going to get fired, and if I won this award I thought I was going to get fired,” he said. “Hopefully I can live through getting this award and manage the Nationals in 2013.”

Johnson originally joined the organization in June of 2006 as a consultant. He took over the Nats on June 17, 2011 after two managers resigned midseason, moving to the dugout from an advisor role. The Nationals finished 40-43 under Johnson in 2011 with an 80-81 record overall.

After watching the team closely for several years, and managing them for half a season, Johnson knew he had a talented roster heading into 2012.

Ranking Nats rookies over the years

Photo by US-Presswire

On Monday night Bryce Harper became the first Nationals player since the team moved to Washington to win the N.L. Rookie of the Year award. He was, however, not the first player in club history to have a good rookie year. The Nationals have built a winning team on young talent and have seen several players have success right from the start.

Here are the best rookie seasons since the Nationals moved to Washington in 2005:

1. Ryan Zimmerman - 2006

157 G - .287/.351/.471 – 20 HR – 110 RBI – 84 R – 47 2B

Zimmerman finished second to Hanley Ramirez in N.L. Rookie of the Year voting in 2006, but with the numbers he posted could have won it almost any other year. After being picked fourth overall in the 2005 draft, Zimmerman needed less than a calendar year to establish himself as a franchise cornerstone. He is still a major part of the Nationals’ operation and signed his second contract extension with the team in 2012.

2. Bryce Harper – 2012

139 G - .270/.340/.477 – 22 HR – 59 RBI – 98 R – 18 SB

Harper became the first Nationals player to win the N.L. Rookie of the Year award on Monday after a tremendous first season. The number one overall pick in 2010 was called up on April 28 and provided a quick spark to a Washington team dealing with major injuries at the time. He and the Nationals won 98 games and their first N.L. East division title. To think he did all of it at just 19 years old suggests he could some day, perhaps very soon, be an MVP candidate.

3. Stephen Strasburg – 2010

12 G - 5-3 – 2.91 ERA – 1.074 WHIP - 92 SO – 68.0 IP

Taken with the number one overall pick in 2009, Strasburg was an instant sensation. He struck out 14 batters in his major league debut and showed immediately he was one of the best young pitchers in baseball. His rookie year was cut short by a torn ligament in his elbow that required Tommy John surgery, but it was a season baseball fans will remember for a long time.

Davey: 'This is my last shot'

Davey Johnson appeared on last night's SportsNet Central and talked about coming back with the Nationals for the 2013 season. He said he thought inexperience caught up with the club in 2012 and that he hopes to walk away with a championship like Tony LaRussa did with the Cardinals.

Check out the video:

Monday, November 12, 2012

Harper wins N.L. Rookie of the Year

Photo by AP
Bryce Harper has been named the 2012 National League Rookie of the Year by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, becoming the youngest position player ever to win the award.

Harper, 20, also becomes the first player to win the honor with the Nationals since the team moved to Washington. Ryan Zimmerman finished second in 2006, missing first place by just four votes.

Harper received 16 first place votes to beat out Wade Miley of the Arizona Diamondbacks who finished with 12. Reds outfielder Todd Frazier placed third with three first place votes.

Afterwards Harper was humbled to be now share a distinction with players he grew up idolizing.

“Just to be up there with names like Jackie Robinson and Mike Piazza and all the guys that won it is just an honor,” he said. “To be able to have a great team to play with all year, they really made this year fun. This is just icing on the cake, definitely.”

Harper was called up by the Nationals to make his major league debut on April 28 after beginning the season in Triple-A. He was given a chance to make the team out of spring training, but struggled and was sent to play with the Syracuse Chiefs.

After joking that his initial concern was about the cold weather in Syracuse, Harper said the experience was valuable in his quick adjustment to the major league level.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Is Desmond MLB's best shortstop?

Photo by AP
Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond had by all accounts a breakout season for Washington in 2012. He upped his batting average and power numbers significantly, and in turn cut down on errors which had always been his most glaring flaw. The combination of improvements he made turned him into a National League All-Star, a Silver Slugger, and a Gold Glove finalist.

Desmond was one of the best players on the N.L. East champion Nationals and, with a closer look at the numbers, may have been the best shortstop in the majors in 2012.

Take a look at Desmond’s 2012 stats and where they rank in baseball among shortstops:

.845 OPS – 1st in MLB
.292 BA – 3rd in MLB (1st in NL)
25 HR – 1st in MLB
73 RBI – 2nd in MLB
21 SB – 7th in MLB
72 R – 7th in MLB

Tops in the league in homers and OPS, and with 21 stolen bases to complement, no one at the position provided the tools Desmond did in 2012. He, at least at the moment, is arguably the most versatile shortstop in the majors.

Desmond reaching this height was aided by several factors. For one, Derek Jeter and Jimmy Rollins are older and not the MVP’s they used to be. Jeter and Rollins both had solid years, especially for their age, but Desmond’s youth gives him better range and a higher upside. Desmond also posted his numbers despite missing 32 games to an oblique injury.

Best and worst offseason moves

US Presswire file photo
Was the 2010 signing of Jayson Werth for $126 million a great move or a disaster?
Every offseason has its highs and lows, moments when teams are lauded for moves they make (or don't make) and chastised for other moves they make (or don't make).

Truth be told, it's almost impossible to judge the merits of those transactions when they occur. Only after the passage of time do we learn whether the moves were savvy or suspect.

So with that in mind, let's take a stroll down memory lane and revisit some of the most significant offseason transactions the Nationals have made since arriving in town. With the advantage of hindsight, we can now select the best and worst moves from each winter...


BEST MOVE: Trading Brad Wilkerson, Terrmel Sledge and Armando Galarraga to the Rangers for Alfonso Soriano

What was at the time perceived as a bold (and potentially foolish) deal by Jim Bowden proved to be one of the best the former general manager ever made. Soriano made a successful transition to the

Friday, November 9, 2012

Johnson's contract with Nats finalized

The Nationals and Davey Johnson have finalized details of a contract that ensures the veteran manager will return in the same capacity next season.

The question of Johnson's return was never seriously in doubt, but it had yet to be formalized because of the unusual nature of his employment with the Nationals.

Lured back to the dugout in June 2011 following Jim Riggleman's surprise resignation, Johnson was given a three-year consulting contract. Within that contract were provisions to give him the manager's job, though those provisions had to be enacted on a year-to-year basis, with financial aspects of the deal open to negotiation.

The two sides went through a similar process last fall, with Johnson and the Nationals finally agreeing to terms on October 31. This year's time frame actually was comparable because the Nationals' season didn't end until October 12 thanks to their first-ever playoff appearance.

According to Johnson will call it a career as a manager following the conclusion of the 2013 season.

Though financial details weren't disclosed, it's believed the Nationals are paying Johnson far more than any of their previous managers, who all ranked among the lowest-paid in baseball at the time with salaries in the range of $500,000.

Johnson, who turns 70 in January, is the frontrunner to earn NL Manager of the Year honors next week after guiding a Nationals club that had never posted a winning season before to an MLB-best 98-64 record and its first NL East title. Since taking over for Riggleman, he owns a 138-107 record, bringing his career managerial mark over 16 seasons with five franchises to 1,286-995. Johnson's .564 career winning percentage ranks second among all active MLB managers, behind only the Yankees' Joe Girardi (.573 over six seasons). His six career postseason appearances rank second only to the Tigers' Jim Leyland (seven).

 Only one change is anticipated to Johnson's coaching staff in 2013, with a replacement needed for departed third base coach Bo Porter (now manager of the Astros). The Nationals could add a new third base coach (potentially Class AAA manager Tony Beasley) or shift first base coach Trent Jewett to the other side of the diamond and replace his position.

Could the Nats sign a closer?

Joakim Soria is a free agent after missing all of 2012 due to injury. (Photo by AP)
Despite receiving much of the blame for the Nationals’ devastating loss in Game 5 of the NLDS, the team appears confident in closer Drew Storen. The 25-year-old saved 43 games in 2011 and was excellent for most of 2012 up until the playoff disaster. He was a first round pick for the Nationals and replacing him after one terrible outing would be quite the knee-jerk move.

But even with Storen back, and Tyler Clippard in the fold, the Nationals could conceivably look for an insurance policy. Last season they signed Brad Lidge in late January to seemingly fit that role, but that experiment didn’t work out. One could see Washington going after a similar veteran this offseason with hopes for a better result.

Here are some of the best relievers on the market this year and how they may fit in with the Nats:

RHP Rafael Soriano (32 years old) - $11M in 2011

2-1 – 2.26 ERA – 1.167 WHIP – 42 SV – 67.2 IP

Soriano is by far the biggest prize of the 2012 closer free agent market and therefore an unlikely fit for the Nationals. It can’t be ruled out, but the Nationals

Vacation time

Given the year-round nature of the baseball season and offseason these days, there's never a perfect time for reporters to go on vacation. But we all need our share of time off, especially after the long and very eventful season the Nationals just experienced.

So I'm punching my time clock today and heading out of town for a little while to spend some quality time with Mrs. Z on a beach in a much warmer climate than this. I'll return at the end of next week, hopefully tanned, rested and re-energized to cover the real meat of what should be an eventful offseason for the Nationals.

Obviously, there are several potential stories that could break in the coming days. Davey Johnson's contract to return as manager next season is all but finalized and could be announced sometime today. Adam LaRoche will likely decline the Nats' $13.3 million qualifying offer before today's deadline (though that doesn't preclude him from re-signing with the team this winter). And Bryce Harper, Johnson and Gio Gonzalez are all finalists for BBWAA awards that will be

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Three Nats win Silver Sluggers

US Presswire photo
Stephen Strasburg hit .277 with a home run, four doubles and seven RBI.
The first major award of Stephen Strasburg's big-league career was not for anything he did on the pitcher's mound. Instead, it's for what he did in the batter's box.

Strasburg tonight won the Silver Slugger Award, deemed as the best offensive pitcher in the National League by managers and coaches, who also gave the award to Nationals teammates Ian Desmond and Adam LaRoche for their offensive performances at shortstop and first base.

Strasburg, Desmond and LaRoche become the third, fourth and fifth players in Nationals history to earn Silver Slugger honors, joining Alfonso Soriano (2006) and Ryan Zimmerman (2009, 2010).

LaRoche joins Zimmerman as a dual Silver Slugger and Gold Glove award winner and becomes the seventh NL first baseman ever to win both awards in the same season, joining Keith Hernandez (1980,

Beltway Baseball -- 11/8/12

There was plenty to talk about during our first offseason edition of Beltway Baseball, and Chase Hughes and I tried to touch on just about every important subject facing the Nationals as the Hot Stove League gets underway.

Among the topics of discussion: Adam LaRoche and the domino effect his situation has on so many others, the need (or lack of need) for another outfielder and the various possibilities for a No. 5 starter. We also brought up what I think is perhaps the most fascinating storyline of the offseason: Should the Nats "go for broke" in an attempt to win the World Series in 2013, but in the process potentially hamstring themselves down the road?

And, of course, we answered your questions on a variety of subjects. Hope you enjoy the show!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Nats finalists for BBWAA awards

Davey Johnson, Bryce Harper and Gio Gonzalez have all been named finalists for major awards that will be handed out next week by the Baseball Writers Association.

Harper is a finalist for NL Rookie of the Year, which will be announced Monday evening. Johnson is up for NL Manager of the Year, to be revealed Tuesday evening. And Gio Gonzalez was among the top three finishers in voting for the NL Cy Young Award, the winner set to be named next Wednesday evening.

The only BBWAA award without a finalist from the Nationals will be NL MVP, though both Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond are expected to have received top 10 votes by the writers.

Of the three Nationals who were named finalists, Johnson appears the likeliest award winner. The 69-year-old manager guided a franchise that had never posted a winning season since it arrived in Washington in 2005 to an MLB-best 98 wins and the NL East title before it lost the NLDS to the Cardinals in five games.

Johnson's toughest competition will come from Dusty Baker, who led the Reds to a 97-65 record. Bruce Bochy, whose Giants went on to win the World Series, is the third finalist among NL managers.

(Voting for all BBWAA awards are submitted before the start of the playoffs, so only regular-season performance is taken into

Rendon heating up in Arizona

US Presswire file photo
Anthony Rendon has 10 hits in his last 21 at-bats in the Arizona Fall League.
After a slow start to his Arizona Fall League season, top Nationals prospect Anthony Rendon has gone on a tear at the plate over the last week.

Rendon has 10 hits in his last 21 at-bats for the Salt River Rafters, with three doubles, five RBI and four walks, to raise his AFL season batting average to .317. His seven total doubles are tied for the league lead, while his .411 on-base percentage ranks ninth among all the upper-level prospects participating this fall.

Rendon, the sixth overall pick in the 2011 draft, is one of the least experienced players in the AFL, having appeared in only 43 professional games, only 21 of them above Class A. (He missed most of this season with a fractured ankle.)

The 22-year-old third baseman, who received a major-league contract from the Nationals before the new collective bargaining

Submit questions for Beltway Baseball

The World Series is over. The 2012 election is over. The Hot Stove League has begun.

So it's time to turn our attention to the offseason plan for the Nationals and look at what steps they could (and should) take to not only repeat as NL East champions in 2013 but to make a deeper run through the postseason all the way through the Fall Classic.'s Chase Hughes and I will be touching on a number of subjects this afternoon when we tape our first offseason edition of Beltway Baseball. But we also want to know what subjects you want addressed.

Submit your questions in the comments section, and we'll pick the best ones to answer on-air. The full show will be posted here tomorrow morning, so be sure to check back and watch it in its entirety.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day Nats poll

Associated Press photo
More than 100 million Americans are expected to vote today.
All across the United States today -- in big cities and small towns, in schools and in churches, in battleground states and in states where the outcome has long been known -- Americans will perform the simplest, yet most important act of democracy: They'll vote.

It's not officially a national holiday, but it might as well be one. Because on this day, more than 100 million citizens will stand in line at polling places and decide who will lead this country for the next four years.

I sincerely hope that every one of you who is registered to vote will do so, no matter which candidate you prefer. I also hope (to a lesser extent) you'll complete our own little Nats Insider Election Day Ballot.

We've come up with the most important questions facing the

Monday, November 5, 2012

Corrales headed to Dodgers

Pat Corrales, who has spent the last six seasons as a member of either the Nationals' coaching or player development staff, is leaving the organization to join the Dodgers.

Corrales will become a special assistant to Los Angeles general manager Ned Colletti, in the process rejoining Dodgers president Stan Kasten (who previously employed him in both Atlanta and Washington).

The 71-year-old Corrales was originally hired by the Nationals in 2007 to serve as manager Manny Acta's bench coach. He was reassigned in 2009 as a special consultant but rejoined the big-league staff as interim bench coach both when Jim Riggleman replaced Acta as manager during the 2009 All-Star break and when Davey Johnson replaced Riggleman as manager during the 2011 season.

Corrales returned to his consulting role this year and spent most of his time scouting and as a roving instructor within the Nationals' minor-league system. He was a particularly close confidant of Johnson.

The Nats' possible free agent targets

US Presswire photo
Could the Nationals splurge for right-hander Zack Greinke?
While most of the sporting public spent the weekend watching football and perfecting the art of changing channels the moment yet another incessant campaign ad overtook their TV screens, baseball's free agency period officially opened for business.

You most likely didn't hear a whole lot about it, because as anyone who follows baseball knows, no free agents actually sign the moment free agency begins. This isn't the NFL, and Ted Lerner didn't have his private jet gassed up and ready to hit the skies at 12:01 a.m. Saturday in pursuit of the Nationals' top target.

No, baseball operates at a slower, more calculated pace than other sports on the field, and the same holds true off the field over the winter. Players want to test the market and see just how many teams are willing to pay how much for their services. And general managers want to wait and see just how things play out around them and not overpay in a fruitless effort to pounce on a guy before he has a chance to talk to anyone else.

Truth be told, the Hot Stove League won't really kick into high gear for several more weeks, not until the Winter Meetings (Dec. 3-6 in Nashville) draws closer. But any good GM has already put together his wish list and knows what he's looking for well before the holiday shopping season arrives, and Mike Rizzo is no different. The

Friday, November 2, 2012

Qualifying offer for LaRoche, not Jackson

The Nationals made a qualifying contract offer to Adam LaRoche before today's 5 p.m. deadline, but not to any of their other free agents, ensuring they would receive at least one draft pick as compensation should they lose the veteran first baseman.

LaRoche was given the one-year, $13.3 million offer all free agents are eligible to be offered under MLB's new compensation system, according to and The 32-year-old can either accept the offer (which equates to the average salary of the top 125-paid players in the majors this season) and return to the Nationals for 2013 or decline the offer and seek a multi-year contract with any of baseball's 30 clubs.

If LaRoche (who has seven days to make a decision) declines the offer as expected, the Nationals would receive a compensatory draft pick (a "sandwich" pick between the first and second rounds) should he ultimately sign with another franchise this winter. That franchise would then lose its first-round draft pick (unless it's one of the top 10 picks) under a system installed under the new collective bargaining agreement that eliminated the old

How much is Burnett worth?

US Presswire photo
Sean Burnett owns a 2.81 ERA in 3 1/2 seasons with the Nationals.
Plenty of attention -- and rightfully so -- has been given to the Nationals' ongoing attempt to re-sign Adam LaRoche. And a good deal of time has been spent debating the Nationals' need for a new No. 5 starter with Edwin Jackson unlikely to be in the picture next season.

There's another brand-new free agent, though, who deserves to be mentioned right behind those two, because he has played a huge role on this ballclub for more than three seasons and would continue to play a significant role in 2013 and beyond if he's re-signed.

Sean Burnett may not have appeared in as many headlines during the Nationals' 98-win season but he was no minor player on this team.

Burnett, like LaRoche, declined his side of a mutual option on a 2013 contract with the Nats, this one worth $3.5 million. The decision wasn't unexpected; Burnett had made it clear all along he wanted to become a free agent and attempt to secure a multi-year deal. But it does add another important item to general manager Mike Rizzo's

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Nats' all-time leaderboard

US Presswire photo
Ryan Zimmerman, not surprisingly, leads many offensive categories.
This has become one of my favorite annual blog posts: the revised Nationals all-time statistical leaderboard. It's both a fun trip down memory lane and (these days) a reminder of how far the organization has come from its humble past.

Some of the categories are stats of longevity (games played, home runs, wins, saves). Some of them are stats of performance over a minimum number of plate appearances or innings pitched (batting average, OPS, ERA, WHIP). And new this year is the all-encompassing WAR stat, which attempts to show exactly how many wins (above the mythical replacement player) one person has been responsible for over their Nationals careers (you'll notice I also included the two players in Nationals history with the lowest WAR figures.)

With each passing season, new players join the top-10 leaderboards while others get lopped off the bottom. As always, I offer the advance warning that reading these names may cause such extreme emotional reactions as laughter, sobbing and possibly spontaneous combustion.

So with that, here are the Nationals' updated all-time stat leaderboards...

  1. Ryan Zimmerman     2005-12       990
  2. Cristian Guzman    2005-10       550