Monday, February 1, 2010

The MLB Doppleganger

The Reds outbid the Nats for the services of Aroldis Chapman, and now it looks like they have also won out on Orlando... Cabrera. I do find the tactics employed by the "New Front Office" fascinating. Rizzo is playing this like the drunk guy at the bar at last call; he will show interest in any girl with a pulse, and it all comes down to finding that one mark willing to go home with him. Most of these players on the Nats radar are ones that playoff contenders (the top 20 teams) covet to fill in the missing link, to push them over the top. And now with Cabrera a Red, Rizzo may actually get the second baseman of his dreams, Orlando Hudson.

The consensus was that the Nats needed to "rebuild." However, browsing the Washington farm reserves must have inspired a different approach. These signings look like that of a team trying to win, and of course the Nats are not trying to lose. However, look back to last year. The major league roster was so terrible last season, too many untested players were forced into roles they were not ready to handle. By bringing in some of these players on the cheap, hopefully some of these younger arms (Strasburg, Storen, Detwiler, Meyers... Stammen and Zimmermann) are able to develop outside the pressure of the major leagues and stay healthy. Most people feel the model for rebuilding is the Florida Marlins, an organization that sends their younger, cheaper players out there early and often, then trading them for more prospects prior to arbitration. The Nats have the money to keep their arbitration eligible players, so they make good use of the money.

However, take a look at these numbers: 73, 80, 72, 74, 78. Those are the win totals of those same Cincinnati Reds that have picked up Cabrera as a "final piece." The Reds are caught in the cycle that many teams get caught in year after year. They have enough capable major league players to feel they can compete, but never take the next step to breaking .500. Their problem, for quite a while, was holding on to players instead of cashing them in when their market value was highest, such as Adam Dunn, Aaron Harang, etc. Then they bring in second tier free agents, hoping Albert Pujols blows out a knee and they can sneak into the playoffs. In reality, they used up their young pitchers to quickly and are now hoping that Harang, Volquez, and Cueto can come back from injury. Had they eased of the accelerator in 2007 and 2008, they would have those guys healthy to join a peaking Homer Bailey and anchor Bronson Arroyo on opening day.

The Nats are likely to win 70-75 games this year, and making another small move coupled with the maturation of the young players on the roster, could improve on that to 75-80 wins. However, without a deep farm system, they will be forced to rely on getting lucky with a Jason Marquis or Orlando Hudson (both players who had outstanding impacts on their team last year) as a free agent, or hit home runs with the draft each season to avoid the type of sustained mediocrity posted by a team like the Reds. Sure, 78 wins looks so good to Nats fans right now, and given the current economic landscape, maybe that is as far as the Lerners feel they have to take the team to keep the fan base. The fans, though, really want to beat the Phillies, Mets, and Braves regularly, and probably will not hang around to watch ticket prices go up for a team destined for 70-80 wins each year because they invest too much in the present and past and not enough in the future.

Tough call

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