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How The Carl Crawford Deal Hurt the Nationals

December 9, 2010 in Uncategorized

From the Nationals perspective, the Red Sox signing of Carl Crawford for 7 years $142 million was an utter disaster. After the Nationals signed Jayson Werth, it looked as though Crawford might be out of the picture for the Red Sox, since they were already spending big money on Adrian Gonzalez. That meant that the Red Sox were likely suitors for the Nationals' Josh Willingham in the trade market. Also with the Red Sox making another big move, it just about forces the Yankees to increase their offer to Cliff Lee.

Despite needing a RH bat, the Sox likely won't have any remaining interest in Josh Willingham, and if they did it would be more of a role player than a starter. Despite trading away a couple of good prospects for Adrian Gonzalez, the Red Sox farm system had a lot of players that could interest the Nationals. It also hurts because it takes away a likely suitor, meaning that offers from other teams might not be as strong. While normally you'd say that the other teams who lost out on Crawford would be in on Willingham, but the Angels and Yankees haven't been linked too much to the Nationals outfielder. The Tigers were another Crawford suitor and they could get into the Willingham market, but considering they were a bit of a long shot for Crawford, they were already going to be a suitor.

Crawford's signing has a huge impact on the Cliff Lee negotiations, because it puts the Yankees into a deep corner. Had the Yankees missed out on Lee, their fall back plan was to sign Crawford and trade for a pitcher. Now with Crawford off the board, signing Lee is basically a must. The Yankees seemed to want to hold firm at a 6-year deal under the $150 million (i.e. $25 million a year) threshold, but with Boston making two huge moves how can they? If the Yankees held firm to 6 years under that $150 million mark, the Nats could have had a chance if they offered a 7th year or even just an option for a 7th year (and the $5-10 million buyout that would come with it). Now the Yankees are offering a 7th year and will likely increase their per year offer. While the Nationals could match that deal, it is unlikely they could really exceed it. At this point it is hard to believe the Yankees will miss out on Lee after the Red Sox have made additions like Crawford and Gonazlez.

I wouldn't say the Nationals are completely out on Cliff Lee, but things got harder with the Crawford signing. Losing the Sox as a suitor for Josh Willingham hurts as well, though I still think he will be traded in the coming weeks. The Winter Meetings obviously started out with a bang for the Nationals as they landed Jayson Werth, but the Crawford deal at the close definitely hurt the Nationals offseason plan.

What Should The Nationals Do With Josh Willingham? Part II

October 29, 2010 in Uncategorized

In Part I I looked at a case that could be made for dealing Josh Willingham, as well as some potential suitors for the Nationals to deal with. In Part II I will look deeper into the risk/reward of trading Willingham, as well as some potential replacement options.

Risk/Reward:

Anytime you trade a player you deal with risk vs. reward, and all factors need to be taken into consideration. Player value, contract length, contract amount, durability, replacement availability, and opposing team need, are all taken into account by a team in determining whether or not to make a deal, and that player's ultimate trade value.

In terms of Willingham his value is fairly high, as he finished 9th in WAR among left fielders, despite missing a 1/3 of the season.  His offensive WAR value was 7th, and had he played the entire year could have been as high as 4th among LF's. Considering he has posted an wOBA of .363 or better in his 5 years as a starter (and has been over .370 each of the last two), Willingham's offensive numbers aren't a fluke. He won't replace a Josh Hamilton or Matt Holliday in the lineup, but he is firmly in the 2nd tier of corner outfielders. With those types of numbers, Willingham would be highly attractive as a DH as well (his offensive WAR value would have been 4th, and easily could have been 1st with a full season).

As for the rest of the categories that go into the decision to trade him, most of them point towards moving Willingham. Willingham is under team control for only one more year before hitting free agency, meaning the Nationals need to decide now whether to extend or trade him. While his being under team control for only one more season would seem to hurt his trade value, it could actually help it as well since more teams will be interested. There are going to be a number of teams in need of corner outfield/DH help this offseason, and only two can end up with either Jayson Werth or Carl Crawford. Willingham will present a much cheaper option for teams that might not want to invest 5-7 years into one of those top free agents.

And since his contract value will be determined by Arbitration, there is a ceiling of how high it can be. Willingham will likely earn in the neighborhood of $7-9 million, so if the the Nationals were willing to take on some of that salary, he could be interesting to some budget conscious teams. In Part 1 I mentioned 7 possible suitors, but depending on how things shake out a handful of other teams could get interested, meaning the market for Willingham's services will rise.

Given the number of suitors, lack of available free agent options (the market is pretty dry behind Werth and Crawford, Huff is a possibility, but he is more of a 1B), and few other big OF bats on the trade block, it should be a seller's market for Willingham. Even if some non-Of big bats become available, like Adrian Gonzalez, and Prince Fielder they will be so expensive in terms of money/prospects that it would limit their suitor pool. Willingham will remain one of (if not the most) affordable bat available. Now the lone downside for trading Willingham is that the Nationals don't have a great short term or long term replacement for him.  Which means they will either need to get an outfielder back, sign a weaker option, or make a separate trade for a young outfielder.

Now the Nationals aren't going to get a major trade package, like what Texas received for Tex, or the Orioles got for Bedard, but it is still worth the risk for Washington. As Willingham is a very good player, but he isn't irreplaceable, and he can bring back good value to help build a sustainable contender.

Internal Options:

Mike Morse: Morse replaced Willingham after the injury and fared much better than expected, but I don't know if the Nationals can count on a repeat performance as well. In addition Morse is likely part of the plan to replace Dunn at 1B, and still help out in RF. Even if the Nats weren't concerned about those other positions, Morse could have very well been a one year wonder. He deserves a solid role for this team, but it is hard to peg him as a middle of the order hitter going forward.

Minor League options:

Micheal Burgess: Burgess is on the RF depth chart for this organization, but a move to LF is likely in his future. Burgess has the arm for RF, but he isn't the best athlete, so a move to LF would make sense. In addition with uber prospect Bryce Harper behind him, Burgess will need to switch corners if he hopes to play with the Nationals. Although Burgess could be ready within the next two years, he isn't a real 'sure-thing'. His power is legit, and he should put quite a few balls over the wall, but he hasn't shown great plate discipline so far. If he doesn't begin to improve in the upper minors, he might never become a regular starter, much less the impact bat the Nats are hoping for.

Destin Hood, J. R. Higley, J.P. Ramirez: These are the next three corner outfielders in the Nats system not named Harper, but none of them are ready to fill Willingham's shoes. All of them have potential, but none are on the prospect level of Burgess (much less Harper). And all three are at least 3 years away. Maybe one will develop into a starter, to take over when a potential Willingham extension would be up, but I wouldn't count on it.

Free Agent Options:

None: Let's be honest here Jayson Werth or Carl Crawford aren't really legitimate options for the Nationals. And while Aubrey Huff could replace Willingham's offensive production, unless they find a better option at 1B, Washington would use him to replace Dunn. There are plenty of lesser free agent options, but no one the Nationals should consider as a viable replacement. If they move Willingham, they might sign a stopgap/backup plan, but it can't be their primary LF next year.

Trade Options: Now I'm only focusing on young players here, since trading for a Luke Scott really wouldn't fix this need longterm.

Alex Gordon: I mentioned Gordon as a potential replacement for Adam Dunn, but he profiles better as a left fielder (while at the same time, being able to backup RF, 3B, and 1B). Gordon would be a nice 'buy low' candidate, and I really could see him breaking out with a change of scenery. His price tag will likely be even less than when the Nats acquired Willingham (and Scott Olsen) a couple of years ago, and he has plenty of upside. He is a great trade option, given his potential, price tag and versatility. He is only under team control for another 3 years (all at arbitration prices), but that will help keep his trade value low. Also, he will still be very affordable, compared to free agent prices, or Willingham's extension cost. The Royals, who seem to be in rebuilding mode won't have interest in Willingham, meaning this would be a separate deal.

Allen Craig: Craig is another option I mentioned as a Dunn replacement, but could also fit in as a future LF as well. He isn't as big of a name, and probably won't become a superstar, but he does profile as a solid 5th or 6th hitter in a playoff caliber lineup. He is by no means a perfect solution, but does get high marks for his versatility and hitting ability. His plate discipline could be better, but he makes good contact and has 25 HR+ power. He is redundant in St. Louis and still has 6 years of team control. The Cardinals could be interested in Willingham as another bat to go along with Holliday and Pujols, or might prefer to strengthen their bullpen (as well as always a prospect for prospect option), making it likely a deal could be worked out. *Note I'm not saying it would be Craig for Willingham straight up, just that he could be part of the package.

Chris Heisey: Heisey is a LF/CF from the Reds organization, that could make sense for the Nationals as part of a package for Willingham (or a reliever). He is a fringe 5-tool player, as his power is still a work in progress, but he has great speed, hits well, and plays very good defense. He might be a better fit as a center fielder, if his power doesn't come along, but he is an intriguing option going forward. He would significantly improve the Nationals OF defense if he is at a corner spot, something they might be willing to sacrifice power on if they feel Harper will be ready by 2012.

Fernando Martinez: Martinez was once one of the top prospects in all of baseball, but has since had his progress derailed by injuries. He is still just 22 years old so the upside is there, but he does come with plenty of risk. He would give the Nationals a very athletic LF, though at the cost of power. While the Mets have their own OF, problems I could see them looking to cash in on Martinez while they still can. Willingham, probably doesn't interest the Mets considering the fact they can't get out from under Bay or Beltran's contracts, but New York could be interested in a reliever or even just prospects.

Now these are just some of the Major League ready options, there are plenty of additional young OF's they could look to acquire with an eye towards 2012. Right now though, they should look to bring in one of these names (potentially 2 of them) to look to replace Willingham. Craig might be my first choice given his power potential, versatility, years of team control, and no major injury history, but I'd be okay with any of the options.

Overall I don't know If the Nationals will be bold enough to make a deal with Willingham (and subsequently add a young OF, if he isn't part of the deal), but they should. Signing him long term might appease a few fans bitter over the loss of Dunn, but it likely won't make a major difference in their win loss record. Willingham is a good player, and a great clubhouse guy, but the Nationals need more if they hope to compete. Trading Willingham can bring them closer to that goal, as it will help restock their system (see: Matt Capps trade). And if Willingham doesn't agree to an extension with his new club the Nationals can always pursue him as a few agent a year from now (plus they have the young players they received in return).

Why the Nationals Should Trade Dunn, Willingham and Capps

July 27, 2010 in Uncategorized

Part II: The Case for trading Josh Willingham and Matt Capps:

Josh Willingham: Willingham has been ultra productive in his time with the Nationals and has fully capitalized on the potential everyone saw in him in Florida. His durability, which had been an issue before, has not been a problem in a year and a half. And his defense which was shaky last season, has gone back to his career standard of being average. Willingham’s bat though is where much of his value lies and he has exceed expectations for the Nationals. Willingham is showing himself off as being a good 3rd power option on the Nats and could be a 5th-6th hitter on any team.

Willingham’s value is further increased by his contract status, as he is in his 5th year of service time, giving prospective buyers another year of team control with a price that should fall in the $6-9 million range (most likely in the mid –sevens). This makes him very affordable for a contender and gives them a good bat for two playoff runs.

Willingham isn’t an elite bat and not on the same level as Adam Dunn or Prince Fielder, but he makes a strong case for being the 3rd best bat on the trade market (Corey Hart is in the discussion but Willingham has been far more consistent). Willingham is both cheaper this year and under another year of team control compared to Jayson Werth. Wherever you rank them, Willingham is one of the best bats available on the trade market this season if the Nationals make him available.

Willingham’s trade value will likely be less than Dunn’s on the trade market, but it won’t be by much. His positional value, contract and team control make him marketable to a number of teams. Low and mid-market contenders will find Willingham’s contract very appealing and make it more likely for them to give up young prospects. Willingham should bring two quality prospects in return, with at least one of them a ‘top 100 guy’. Also I would imagine 1-2 additional filler pieces in the deal, either young guys with a little projection or a AAAA guy who could be a bench player for Washington.

Matt Capps: As for Matt Capps, I know it must be a little tough to trade your lone All-Star representative, but it needs to be done. Capps is having a great bounce back year for the Nationals and is in just his 2nd arbitration year, meaning teams will have another year of team control at a reduced price. Capps might not be a front line closer, but given his afford-ability he will appeal to most teams even as a set-up guy. Capps isn't a dominate closer and will make things interesting from time to time, but he gets results.

Capps' value is further increased given the lack of quality back-end guys on the market and the number of teams looking for relief help. Capps is by far the best 8th or 9th inning guy available (unless the Royals put Soria on the market) and given his extra year he should fetch a fairly decent price. As for suitors, I think just about every team would love to strengthen their bullpen, but the most likely candidates are the Reds, Phillies and Yankees, but the Angels, Red Sox, and Rockies all could be as well. I also wouldn't be surprised if the Rays get involved if they want a cost controlled option for next year (as well as a much deeper bullpen this year).

As for the price for closers it is pretty hard to peg since there never seems to be any consistency and there are times where teams grossly overpay (please). That being said, it is reasonable to expect the Nationals to receive a pretty good return, given the contract, the supply (or lack their of) and the demand. I would peg the minimal return at one good prospect, one solid guy and one lesser player, but with the possibility of more if some team gets desperate.

Now I know people will argue that the goal for the Nationals shouldn't be to have the best farm system, and that the goal is to win Major League baseball games, but the fact of the matter is you aren't doing that so maybe it is time to put your resources to better use. Over the years the Nationals have hesitated in trading Dimitri Young, Ronnie Belliard (when he had a little value), Christian Guzman, and Chad Cordero, and all they have to show for it is a bunch of last place finishes and a lot of wasted money. Dunn, Willingham, and Capps all have significantly more value and can bring back a much higher quality of prospect. And as for the argument that having the best farm system isn't the goal I don't know if I fully believe that.

With the exception of the Yankees of late pretty much every team has relied heavily on their farm system, either to produce their own starter or to trade for other major pieces. Free agency can supplement a team, but it won't build you a winner. The Nationals have a solid base but they need more young talent, and this is by far the best and quickest way to do that. While I gave approximate trade value the Nationals can increase that by adding a middle reliever or bench player to the mix as well. Washington can also look to pay part of these players salaries, which would mitigate the financial relief but could be made up into talent.

If the Nationals play their cards right they could be contending by 2012 and the benefit of doing it this way is you have set yourself up for long term success. I don't look at this as a fire sale (even though I believe the Nats should move some other pieces like Livan, Guzman etc.) because the Nationals don't need to trade any of these guys. I look at it as a smart baseball move that can help turn the Nationals into a perennial contender. In fact I'm all for the Nationals being very aggressive this year in the free agent market and taking a run at some of the top guys. I have no problem them trying to pursue Dunn in the offseason, but for me he isn't a guy you can't live without.

Even if the Nationals miss on resigning Dunn, there are plenty of solid 1B options they can pursue for a year or two. Also they might get a 1B prospect in return for one of these deals which might eliminate the need of going after a big time 1B. As for the outfield the Nationals could at least kick the tires on going after Carl Crawford, but otherwise their are a few decent 2nd tier options available. As well as any young guys they get in return for their players. Capps though is the easiest to replace with Drew Storen waiting in the wings and Tyler Clippard there to help bridge the gap. These deals might not be fan favorites in Washington, but if executed properly they will make the Nationals relevant in the National League.