Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Three Signings That Won't Make You Cringe

As the free agent market begins to dry up, the less desirable teams are forced to scramble to claim the best remaining players to fill the gaps on their rosters. Watching the Royals make a panic moves to acquire flawed veterans Scott Podsednik and Rick Ankiel, the fact of the matter is that Rizzo has made most of the right moves to improve the team 10+ wins for 2010. It is doubtful that the NL East will be as terrible as it was last season, but the improved pitching will make them a more difficult team to sweep.

Going into the offseason, the Nats did not have many "holes" (besides the abyss called the bullpen), but many "areas for improvement." The biggest hole outside the bullpen has been the farm. They were forced to call up anyone with a pulse, mostly with less than desirable results. Second base still needs to be addressed, and Rizzo has gone out of his way to put his card in every agents' hand. It has been the number of proven major leaguers and AAAA guys looking for a second chance they have shrewdly brought in via minor league contracts. Having a player blocked in AAA is never a bad problem; needing regular innings from Justin Maxwell is a bad problem.

The Nats picked up Tyler Walker for a one year deal for less than a million bucks, in an era that Brandon Lyon received 3 years and 15 million. Walker is considered more of short-relief guy, better at working against righties, but his splits improved in 2009. According to the Pitch f/x, he didn't change stuff or approach much, so it is possible he had a lucky 53 batters. However, Walker has sustained a BABIP well below average for three straight seasons, and those numbers are not dependent upon his split stats. He also strikes out more than twice as many as he walks, which is unheard of in the Nats organization). My inclination is that he figured out how to get guys out with his B-rated stuff. He is an epic upgrade over a leech like Julian Tarvarez, and a good experienced role player for a bullpen that lacked most of that phrase at the beginning of Spring Training last season.

Chris Duncan doesn't figure to be in the equation unless there is an injury... of course, that is what the farm is for. His bat shows some pop, but he moves like he should be playing with the old timers in the All-Star weekend softball game. (Random tangent: my roommate and I just happened to catch the greatest play ever made in history of that series. First inning of the 2004 game, 2 outs and a dying quail is flipped into shallow center field. The center fielder hardly moved, and it looked like a sure single. Out of the right corner of the screen, a gray moustached blur came skidding across the grass face-first, full extension, and robbed the batter. Then 57 year-old Rollie Fingers flipped the ball back to the infield and trotted off to the dugout.) Duncan is only signed to a minor league deal, so if he does rediscover his swing at Syracuse and can get on base around league average, he will be a valuable bat off the bench or backup for Willingham.

The coup went under the radar though, as the Nats also stole Chuck James for a minor league deal. Chuck James isn't an All Star. He is coming of rotator cuff and labrum surgery, but it will be 18 months when camp opens. It will probably take a few months to rebuild strength, but it is likely, given his 2:1 K:BB number when healthy, that he will be in a similar, if not better position to contribute to the organization in 2010. The trouble he brings is that he is slight and doesn't create much of a downward plane with his fastball, leaving him prone to flyballs. However, regardless of his style, he is a steady lefty that can fill in the back of the rotation better that JD Martin. He should be considered "Scott Olsen insurance. If he adds a third pitch, something that can change the hitters' horizontal plane more than his fastball/changeup combo, he will have an impact on the major league roster this season.

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