Tuesday, December 29, 2009

One Step Forward, One Step Back

Josh Whitesell has proven he can abuse the Pacific Coast League, and the Nats are giving him a chance to audition as Adam Dunn's understudy. Dunn isn't going to be a National forever. He is worth 10-15 M to an AL team, and that type of investment for the Nats is foolish given his defensive liabilities. Bringing Nick Johnson back this season would also have been foolish, given that his value has peaked and his presence would require reshuffling the defense.

It isn't fair to judge Whitesell on his 115 ML at bats; that wouldn't even qualify for the rookie status (though his 45 games may... I forget). Plus, with the number of extra moves needed to work in pinch hitters for pitchers, it helps to have a first baseman who doesn't have to be lifted late in games. He should get a fair shake at the job should Adam Dunn choose to seek greener pastures next year. Obviously, the organization thought highly enough of his skill set to bring him back after Jim Bowden left him for dead on waivers.

Eric Bruntlett, on the other hand, doesn't really provide much to the organization other that utility value. He's an average fielder and a very weak hitter. It is difficult to argue he can improve a single position at Syracuse, let alone on the ML roster. Fortunately, minor league deals, unless they have a clause built into them like Mike MacDougal's, are a win-win for the player and the team.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Guardado to a Minor League Deal

If there is one thing Eddie isn't, it's everyday. Most 39 year old "athletes" with his body type are long done with professional sports, though there are exceptions (David Wells). He gave the 2-seamer/cutter a shot last year to extend his career and scrapped it mid-season. His velocity is way down across the board, especially on his slider, and his release point is all over the place.

I see him being a valuable set-up man under two conditions. First, if he figures out that 2-seamer/cutter; he needs to be able to occasionally get out right-handed hitters. And second, if he can share a little of his baseball IQ and experience with the band of young misfits running around Nats Park. Most likely, he gets a shot or two early, struggles with command and velocity, and sees much the same results as Ron Villone.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Matt Capps- 3.5 million

This isn't an unreasonable deal if he in fact is the closer. However, there is an equally reasonable chance that he isn't even the best ex-Pirate reliever to come to town. One year gives the Nats a low risk option to evaluate all their closer options, which should include everybody floating around. I really feel that Clippard and Storen are the two best options, followed by Capps and MacDougal.

To be fair, Capps was ridiculously unlucky (.370 BABIP) on an offensively challenged team, following two seasons of fortune (.272 BABIP). He's a standard fastball/slider closer, and his velocities have remained solid for three seasons. It's unlikely he will be as bad as his 2009 numbers would indicate, but I'm not sold loading up on former Pirates.

Jason Marquis Now? The Pros and Cons

Upon seeing the Nats bring in Jason Marquis, I wondered if the team was suffering an identity crisis. Sure, Marquis is Rizzo's wet dream starter. He keeps the ball low and in the park, works efficiently, and by all accounts is a team first guy. The numbers and timing leave much to be desired, though. Here is a simple run down of the deal.

Con: Marquis is coming off a career year during which he was selected to the NL All-Star team. His candidacy, while solid, were clearly boosted by an inflated win total. This bargaining chip gave his team a leg up in any negotiations. The Nats, being really bad, did not need any further handicaps.

Pro: He can work deep into games, taking the burden off John Lannan to play stopper every five days.

Con: He posted career highs in innings pitched and batters faced, all the while tailing off dramatically in September.

Pro: The last three years, he survived hitters' paradises Wrigley Field and Coors Field, posting an ERA+ of 100 or better. He approaches the game consistently and has adjusted to his environment.

Con: His FIP in 2009 was three-quarters of a run better than his career average. Trends are nice to see; spike raise question marks. He is likely to regress closer to his career numbers.

Pro: He has pitched for a playoff team every year in his career.

Con: He is not a strikeout pitcher, now pitching for a team that desperately needs one.

Pro: An understated talent of his, Jason Marquis is not useless with a bat in his hand. He isn't a power hitter, nor can he take a walk, but his aggressive approach puts pressure on the other pitcher and can move runners from first to third and second to home on occasion. The Nats had 39 successful sacrifices in 2009; Marquis has 32... in his career (with 9 last year).

Con: Last time he pitched as many innings in a season, he stunk the following year.

Pro: He is 6 days older than me... age is not a factor.

Con: His groundball success in Denver was greatly assisted by having Troy Tulowitzki and Clint Barmes swallowing everything behind him. There are currently no such luxuries on the Nats roster.

Pro: He throws his sinking fastball early and often, staying ahead of hitters.

Con: Two-seamers tear the hell out of fingers and forearms. He may not be injury-prone, but these register a cumulative toll.

In all, it is easy to slam the deal because the Nats were forced to overpay to acquire the services of a league average pitcher. However, league average is a lofty goal for the Nats, so this could be a savvy move buy a few wins to show improvement going forward. B- for not getting him last season.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Do the Nationals Think They Can Win in 2010?

After foregoing the Rule 5 Draft by dealing their top pick to the Yankees for Brian Bruney, a mediocre pitcher who will make Joel Hanrahan look reliable, a wondered about the realistic short term goals of the Washington Nationals. Everybody wants to win, and winning sooner is always better than winning later, but teams who try to cut corners sacrifice much more further down the road (see: Redskins, Washington).

The draft picks surrendered to acquire this batch of free agents may not amount to a bag of rosin at the major league level; that is the rub with the amateur draft. There are very few "sure things" and even the best picks take three to five years to contribute. However, the conventional way to improve the organizational talent is to draft and acquire other organizations' proven prospects via trade. This doesn't have to be "Moneyball."

Honestly, I expected the Nats to be somewhat dormant in the free agent market, maybe trading for a couple of early arbitration players to get a couple of roster spots filled cheaply. Most of the rest of the work would be done to bring in as many options as possible to grow the talent at Harrisburg and Syracuse to compete in 2011 and 2012. The existing talent on the roster is good for about a ten win improvement in 2010, then as the pitching staff shakes out, modifications through free agency could be made to boost wins in subsequent years. Rizzo, on the other hand, dumped several draft picks in favor of known major league quantities.

Doug Slaten: known quantity, familiar with front office players

Brian Bruney: known quantity with limited major league upside, but should put up better numbers than Hanrahan or MacDougal

Jerry Owens: Nyjer Morgan insurance... somebody to play quality defensive CF in AAA

Ryan Speier: Local kid whose numbers should be league average

Ivan Rodriguez: Offensive production will be easy to project (no a good omen, in this case), clearly a signal that they are worried about Flores

Scott Olsen: Very low-risk, possibly high reward deal... the outlier

Jason Marquis: A good fit if the Nats improve their middle infield defense... though this deal looks like one a team who thinks it is in contention makes to add depth (Jeff Suppan to the Brewers, Carl Pavano to the Indians, etc)... a deal with little reward other than he has more experience than all those AAAA guys

Jamie Burke: Crash Davis?

Joel Peralta: Definition of AAAA

Logan Kensing: Somebody put on their Bad Idea Jeans and handed out a contract.

The Nationals are clearly trying avoid 100 losses in 2010. They may even avoid 90 with these options. However, most of these guys have had a shot and proved that they couldn't contribute much to a contender, aside from Marquis. When the Nats are expected to make another step forward in 2011, they will still have a glut of guys who are past their prime and won't be expected to improve.

The Rays needed four solid years to develop their slew of top picks, and never quit acquiring young prospects. It took an astute GM to sort through the mess and jettison the ones not expected to fulfill their promise (Delmon Young). Mike Rizzo is putting too much faith in the level of talent in the low minors right now, and for the Nats to continue to improve, their cannot be a dud amongst them. If there are, which there always are, they will be playing the free agent scramble every December to piece together a 75-win team from the leavings.

Mike Rizzo looks to be doubling-down on the Nyjer Morgan move and gambling for similar results. The Nats do have more financial resources than many teams, and may feel that the next two years are critical for establishing a paying crowd and television audience; that cannot be done with a AAA roster. In the end, the tactics cannot be condemned, though it should be mentioned that few franchises have successfully rebuilt this way.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Beast Awakens...

Blogspot has apparently been blocked by my place of work, making it more difficult to post timely responses.

Gotta love the Winter Meetings

The Nationals filled one of the openings on their roster at catcher by replacing Josh Bard with Ivan Rodriguez, and opened another by trading for Brian Bruney.

Let's start with Pudge. The value for the deal is fine, but the truth of the matter is that he isn't here to push Wil out; he is in as insurance for Jesus Flores. If Flores can't make it back for the start of the season, a viable (although below average) 1-2 punch behind the plate exists. Nieves could probably move on, but is still a good clubhouse presence and the team. Rodriguez does not offer much of an offensive upgrade over Nieves (and I could easily extrapolate that he will be worse), but the biggest weakness the Nats had behind the plate in 2009 was experience. The pitchers were not well managed, baserunners were able to run at will, and there was no major league credibility off of which to build confidence.

The pressure is going to still be on Flores to match his hot 2008 start, and Rodriguez represents a mentor, not competition. The Nats probably could have driven a harder bargain, but losing out on Pudge and bringing in a younger backup represents pressure.

The Bruney trade will be covered later, as it reveals more about the philosophy of the front office moving forward.