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A Walk and Talk With Potential Closer Drew Storen

February 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

By Guest Blogger Alan Z Lot:

If the good Lord picked one weather day to represent spring training for every baseball team spread out over Florida and Arizona, he would have chosen today.

With clear blue skies and temperatures hovering around 80 degrees, the Washington Nationals picked up the pace on the fourth day of workouts for pitchers and catchers.

Yesterday’s big story was no doubt Stephen Strasburg’s pain free throwing session. Strasburg had Tommy John surgery at the end of last season and the Nationals are in no hurry to rush the pitching phenom back any time soon.

The talk around camp today was the impending arrival of another ready made MLB phenom, outfielder Bryce Harper. Harper is due to report on Sunday when the rest of the positional players report. Strasburg and his battery mates worked on the fundamentals of the game like covering first base and they even did some situational bunting.

Of course, there was also lots of running and stretching. Strasburg did no throwing today.

The Nationals spring training facility is located in Viera, Fla. The team reports to Space Coast Stadium each morning and then walks the quarter mile to the four beautifully groomed and perfectly greened practice fields, which surround the stadium.

Upon seeing the walk by the players today, I came up with the name for my diary segment that will include player’s interviews, “the walk and talk with…”

Today I was fortunate enough to meet and interview a fantastic young personality in the Nats bullpen.His refreshing attitude on playing the game of baseball really made me feel as though the future of Americas Past Time is in safe hands.

Today’s walk and talk is with pitcher Drew Storen. Nats Manager Jim Riggleman has called Storen the closer of the future in DC.Storen had quite a whirlwind of a year in 2010. Aside from turning just 23 last August, Drew was promoted from the AAA Syracuse Chiefs to the Nationals on April-30.

In the span of six days, Storen accomplished a lot for a young major league relief pitcher. He debuted in the show May 17 against the St. Louis Cardinals.In three batters faced, Storen collected two outs, with Matt Holliday becoming his first MLB strikeout, as well as hitting his first batter, Ryan Ludwick.

Working two-thirds of an inning two days later, Storen would collect his first major league win against the NY Mets. Four days later in an inter-league game against the Orioles, Storen smacked his first big league hit, a line drive to left center field off Kevin Millwood.

Storen is a born closer. He was one of college baseball’s premier closers during a stellar two-year collegiate career at Stanford University. He was a first team All-Pac-10 selection following each of his two seasons in a Cardinal uniform (2008 and ’09) and he led Stanford in both wins and saves in 2009, becoming the first Cardinal pitcher since Jeff Ballard in 1984 to accomplish the feat.

Originally drafted by the Yankees in 2007, Storen did not sign so that he could attend Stanford. After selecting pitching phenom Steven Strasburg with the number one overall pick in 2009, the Nationals drafted Storen, a native of Brownsburg, IN, nine spots later, making him the tenth overall pick.

The Nationals added a little more to Storen’s whirlwind year when, on Jul. 30, they traded his good friend and their saves leader, Matt Capps, to the Minnesota Twins at the trade deadline.

Capps was leading the Nats with 26 saves at the time of the trade and was the winning pitcher for the National league in the All-Star game. Storen has said on numerous occasions that Capps had a big part in his success last season, taking him under his wing after the two met at the Nationals Fan fest last February.

Eight days following the Capps trade, Storen knew his time was coming to collect his first major league save. He figured it would probably come in L.A on the road and he was right. “I kept sitting out there (in the bullpen) knowing that the call was coming,” Storen said. “When the call came I was so pumped up and excited that I don’t even remember who I got out, I think I got Belliard to end it.”

It was Bellliard he got out to end it. Belliard pinch it for Brad Ausmus and grounded out to Adam Dunn to end the game. Storen would go onto to record four more saves last season with a 3.58 ERA in 54 appearances. He would boast a record of 4-4 with 52 strikeouts in just 55.1 innings pitched.

“I had closed at Stanford and was pretty good but this was like nothing I had ever prepared for, I was so happy when I got that first one (save)”. Storen said. “I was nervous and excited all at once, it was all like a big blur.” He ended the year 4-4 with a 3.58 ERA.

When I asked him if Nats Manager Jim Riggleman had sat with him to discuss expectations he said: “Not really, I know what I have to do and I don’t really feel like that I have actually won the job yet. There are some guys here that are capable and I just have to go out there and do what I know how to do”.

The scouting report on Storen is that he defiantly has a closers mentality. He does not get rattled and is intensely competitive; giving him the perfect closer’s makeup. He has a devastating slider and a mid 90s fastball. Storen developed a changeup during the fall two seasons ago where he worked as a starter to further enhance all three pitches, as he throws a lot of strikes and attacks the hitter.

When asked about the veteran leadership the Nats acquired in the off-season by signing free agents like Jason Werth and Adam Laroche, he simply replied: “I’m excited, the leadership these guys bring is important to me, as a young guy I just love the experience a guy like (Jason) Werth comes with.

Originally drafted by the Yankees in 2007, Storen did not sign so that he could attend Stanford. After selecting pitching phenom Steven Strasburg with the number one overall pick in 2009, the Nationals drafted Storen, a native of Brownsburg, IN, nine spots later, making him the tenth overall pick.

The Nationals added a little more to Storen’s whirlwind year when, on Jul. 30, they traded his good friend and their saves leader, Matt Capps, to the Minnesota Twins at the trade deadline.

Capps was leading the Nats with 26 saves at the time of the trade and was the winning pitcher for the National league in the All-Star game. Storen has said on numerous occasions that Capps had a big part in his success last season, taking him under his wing after the two met at the Nationals Fan fest last February.

Eight days following the Capps trade, Storen knew his time was coming to collect his first major league save. He figured it would probably come in L.A on the road and he was right. “I kept sitting out there (in the bullpen) knowing that the call was coming,” Storen said. “When the call came I was so pumped up and excited that I don’t even remember who I got out, I think I got Belliard to end it.”

It was Bellliard he got out to end it. Belliard pinch it for Brad Ausmus and grounded out to Adam Dunn to end the game. Storen would go onto to record four more saves last season with a 3.58 ERA in 54 appearances. He would boast a record of 4-4 with 52 strikeouts in just 55.1 innings pitched.

“I had closed at Stanford and was pretty good but this was like nothing I had ever prepared for, I was so happy when I got that first one (save)”. Storen said. “I was nervous and excited all at once, it was all like a big blur.” He ended the year 4-4 with a 3.58 ERA.

When I asked him if Nats Manager Jim Riggleman had sat with him to discuss expectations he said: “Not really, I know what I have to do and I don’t really feel like that I have actually won the job yet. There are some guys here that are capable and I just have to go out there and do what I know how to do”.

The scouting report on Storen is that he defiantly has a closers mentality. He does not get rattled and is intensely competitive; giving him the perfect closer’s makeup. He has a devastating slider and a mid 90s fastball. Storen developed a changeup during the fall two seasons ago where he worked as a starter to further enhance all three pitches, as he throws a lot of strikes and attacks the hitter.

When asked about the veteran leadership the Nats acquired in the off-season by signing free agents like Jason Werth and Adam Laroche, he simply replied: “I’m excited, the leadership these guys bring is important to me, as a young guy I just love the experience a guy like (Jason) Werth comes with.

Nationals Spring Training Diary With Alan ZLot

February 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

By Guest Blogger Alan ZLot:

Let us just get right down to business. The current temperature in Viera Florida is 74 degrees and articles are popping up in all local papers about spring training and spring break. Since I am a 41-year-old happily married man with four great kids, you will get the diary from spring training. My wife does not allow me near the beaches this time of year.

My name is Alan Zlotorzynski and I can usually be found writing about the Washington Capitals here on Fanspeak. I am fortunate and blessed to live less than five miles from the Washington Nationals Spring Training complex in Viera, Florida.

Since Fanspeak is working to established itself as the NUMBER ONE website for the voice of the fan, I am going to keep a Nationals spring training diary. I promise to deliver stories that one can only get from being less than five feet from your favorite Nationals on a daily basis during the spring.

I will take great photos and I am working on some interviews with some of the players that will be an integral part of Washington’s 2011 season. I am currently trying to get credentialed (hint…hint…anyone that can help) and will work almost daily to capture the best of the 2011 Washington Nationals before they head north in April.

The walk to work

If you have anything specific, you would like to read or see in a photo, please feel free to send me an email atzlotsports@gmail.com

Check back tomorrow for my first report from spring training.

Should The Nationals Pursue Francisco Liriano?

February 11, 2011 in Uncategorized

With news that the Twins starting pitcher Francisco Liriano could become available in a trade deal by the deadline, speculation has begun as to who might be in the mix for the Twins ace. Given the Nationals failed pursuit this winter of an ace pitcher, their name has naturally become attached. While I understand the logic, and like Liriano, personally I don't think a trade makes sense for the Nationals.

While the Nationals desperately need an ace, they don't match up well as Minnesota wouldn't be interested in Washington's catching depth, which is one of their best trade chips. The Twins shipped catcher Wilson Ramos to the Nationals last year for Matt Capps so, bringing him back or centering a deal around Derek Norris is going to be a non-starter. While the Twins could use another bullpen arm, who is under control for multiple years, Tyler Clippard or Drew Storen aren't going to be the centerpiece in this deal. Also, now that all the top free agent relievers have signed, the Nationals would be creating a huge hole in their bullpen, that couldn't readily be fixed. The same holds true if the Nationals decided to center a package around one of their young middle infielders. Sure the Twins could have some interest in either Desmond or Espinosa, but then the Nationals would have to go with Jerry Harriston Jr. as an every day player. While Washington touts their middle infield prospect depth, they don't have anyone near ready to take over for Desmond and Espinosa, so it would also create a hole going forward.

One possible option for the Nationals would be to center the deal around former top prospect Jordan Zimmermann. The problem with that of course is Liriano is a free agent after the 2012 season, and Zimmermann will still have 3 years of team control remaining. Could it still work? Sure, Liriano is a much more complete pitcher than Zimmermann, and due to arbitration, comes in well below market value. But I don't think it is that prudent to trade 5 years of Zimmermann for two years of someone else (not to mention the other pieces the Nationals would have to throw in). Especially because this season the Nationals simply won't contend. They have done a lot of things to improve this team this offseason, with a deeper rotation, stronger bench, and far better defense, but they simply lack the pieces to be a legitimate contender for 2011. Certainly Liriano would help, but if you have to trade away Zimmermann to get him, the gain is much smaller and doesn't make you a contender.

While it is tough to swallow, I think the Nationals need to stay the course and not enter into any Liriano bidding wars. They need to focus on letting their farm system grow so prospects like Eury Perez, A.J. Cole and Robbie Ray (among others) become centerpiece prospects and not just secondary and tertiary players. Yes the Nationals might be without an ace until Strasburg returns, but they keep their 'war chest' intact, and will have the prospects to make a move when it is more prudent. The Nats pitching staff has improved to the point where acquiring a frontline pitcher isn't nearly as dire as it has been in the past.

One final side note, is that while I don't want to see the Nationals get into the bidding for Liriano, I do hope they keep the lines of communication open with the Twins, as Minnesota has a pair of young center fielders who could interest the Nationals. Going forward CF is the Nationals biggest need (unless they move Bryce Harper there, which is an intriguing idea), as Nyjer Morgan is quickly wearing out his welcome. The Twins have the best center fielder depth in the league and with Denard Span entrenched in the majors and Aaron Hicks being one of the top prospects in the game, there is little room for Ben Revere or Joe Benson. Both Revere, and Benson are basically major league ready (with Revere being more of the sure thing). Neither is what you'd define as a true star, but both could be very good every day starters. I'd love to see the Nationals work out a deal for one of the two young outfielders to fill a true hole in their future lineup. Liriano might not end up a National, but the Nationals having discussions about him, could lead them to landing a center fielder.

Where Will the Nats Finish in 2011? Part 1 – Offense:

February 11, 2011 in Uncategorized

If you talk to most Nationals fans, it is clear that they realize that 2012 has the potential to be their year. 2012 marks when Stephen Strasburg will be healthy again, and when top prospect Bryce Harper could look to make his major league debut. Beyond those two, the Nationals have a number of other reasons to be optimistic a year from now. Young players such as Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Wilson Ramos, and Jordan Zimmermann (among others) should be established pieces of a good team. Other prospects like Catcher Derek Norris and LHP Sammy Solis should be ready to contribute as well. Also, if the Nationals choose a top college pitcher with their first round pick in this year's draft he could be ready as well. In addition to all of that young talent that the Nationals are looking forward to, Washington has one of the best players in the game in Ryan Zimmerman, and two offseason signings, Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche to build around. The question remains, just how good can the Nationals be this season?

To figure this out I am going to compare the Nationals offense, defense, rotation, and bullpen to their fellow N.L. East compatriots:

OFFENSE:

The Nationals swapped Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham for Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche, but I'd expect a significant improvement in their offense. Now Werth is the key, as he might not have the power of Dunn, but he is just as dangerous of a hitter. The most important thing for Werth though is to just stay healthy. The Nats lost Willingham for 1/3 of the season last year and their offense suffered without him. If Werth can be counted on for 150+ games, their offense should be fine. LaRoche needs to stay healthy as well, but he isn't near the concern of Werth.

The Nationals will need more than just a healthy Werth to improve on an offense that ranked in the bottom third (and usually closer to the bottom) in every major category. The first thing to point out is just why Werth's health is so important. If Werth can play just about every day, then that means only one of Roger Bernadina and Mike Morse is in the lineup every day, allowing the Nats to take advantage of their strengths. Also it means a much more potent bat is on the bench for pinch hitting duties. Now obviously the Nationals need to see Morse sustain his success from last year, and Bernadina to continue to grow. While neither player is a star, they can be an effective platoon for the Nationals.

Another area where the Nationals can improve is the 660 at bats that Adam Kennedy and Christian Guzman had last year, that now should go to Danny Espinosa (and a few more going Ian Desmond's way), which should be a big improvement. Espinosa at his peak profiles as a solid-to-good starter, and should perform near that level this season. I'd expect him to offer more production than what Guzman and Kennedy combined for. The Nationals will also likely see a boost in production from the catching department. Pudge Rodriguez held his own last season, but in reality his numbers died off after a huge April. He should probably receive no more than half a season's work at this point in his career, which is exactly why the Nationals went out and acquired Wilson Ramos. Ramos is a pretty good catching prospect, who likely won't be an All-Star, but should be a very good starter. He will definitely improve on last year's back up catcher's Wil Nieves at bats (.554 OPS, ouch), and will be at least a slight improvement over Pudge's at bats as well.

One area where the Nationals greatly improved, but is often overlooked is their bench. Last season Justin Maxwell, Alberto Gonzalez (still could be back), Wil Taveras, and Willie Harris combined for about 550 at bats and the results weren't pretty. This year you can expect the majority of those at bats to go to Jerry Harriston Jr., Rick Ankiel, and Matt Stairs. While none of Harriston Jr., Ankiel or Stairs are stars, they should offer a big time improvement over the bench options from last season.

Now I don't want to make it seem like the Nationals will have a top ranked offense or mash their way into the postseason, but I do think it is important to acknowledge that improvements have been made, and while there aren't any additional superstar players (i.e. Werth=Dunn), the quantity of major league talent as gone up. I'd expect the Nationals offensive numbers to be somewhere in the high teens (15-19 range) in most major categories. While it won't be a drastic change, it is a step in the right direction.

Now even with those improvements the Nationals offense is far from great, but it should be more competitive. Pound for pound it pales in comparison to both the Phillies and Braves, but it definitely is a lot closer than it was before. The Marlins had a solid offense last season, right about where the Nats should be this year, so you could go either way as to who is better. Florida did lose Dan Uggla from the middle of their lineup, but they should get better full seasons from top young guys Logan Morrison and Mike Stanton, so that is basically a wash. I think overall I'd give it to the Marlins by a slight edge, but the Nationals offense will be right behind them. The Mets on the other hand are trending downward, and while they should have a few players returning from injury this year, I think their offense will be well below the Nationals in terms of production.

While the Nationals improved on offense, it is really just one part of the equation, and in the coming days I'll look at their defense, rotation and bullpen and how it stacks up.

Did the Nationals Accomplish Their Offseason Goals?

February 11, 2011 in Uncategorized

The Washington Nationals came into this offseason with the willingness to spend money and help begin their climb to atop the NL East. While Rome or a contender wasn't built in a day, the Nationals made some strides that should at least get them out of the basement of their division. Washington never met their top stated goal of finding an ace pitcher, but on the positive side they didn't sell out their farm system either for a short term fix. Here is what Washington did do and how it might affect them going forward:

STARTING ROTATION:

The Nationals didn't land an ace, but they did bring in some help for the rotation, in Chien-Ming Wang (he was with the Nats last year, but never threw a pitch due to injury) and Tom Gorzelanny. Neither pitcher will make fans forget about Stephen Strasburg this year, but both can be effective starting pitchers when healthy, which is a big step in the right direction from previous years.

Wang- He very well could start the season on the D.L. and with a rehab assignment, so he can work his way back into shape. I don't think he will be the 18 game winner that he was with the Yankees, but he can be a a solid ground ball pitcher, and should give the Nationals a number of quality innings when he is healthy.

Gorzelanny- The Nationals made the trade for Gorzelanny when he became expendable in Chicago and its not a bad fit. Gorzelanny has had a couple of bad years prior to last season, but he seemed to figure some things out with the Cubs. Although he is still no more than a number 3 pitcher on a mediocre staff (which would be a generous name for the Nationals sans Strasburg), he does have some value. He is a lefty and he does have three years of team control left. The first two years of which Gorzelanny will be extremely cheap, making him a good fit. With Jason Marquis a free agent after this year (as well as Livan Hernandez) it's not a bad idea to acquire another veteran pitcher.

ANALYSIS:

Wang and Gorzelanny don't really dull the sting of losing out on Lee or Greinke, but they do make this rotation better if they can ensure that the likes of J.D. Martin, Scott Olsen, and Craig Stammen aren't getting a high number of starts. They might not be the type of pitchers who can dominate a game, but they can keep it close enough for the Nationals bullpen and lineup to win the game.

BULLPEN:

While the Nationals kinda bizarrely let Joel Peralta go this offseason, what they really needed to replace this offseason was the 4 months of Matt Capps last year. Unfortunately I really don't know if they accomplished that goal. They brought in Henry Rodriguez via trade and Todd Coffey off the free agent market, but I don't think that equals Capps (maybe Peralta, but not Capps).

Todd Coffey- There really isn't anything special about Coffey, he is your typical right-handed middle reliever. He's hung around the big leagues and posted okay numbers for much of his career, but has never been a real stopper. His signing is more for depth purposes than anything else.

Henry Rodriguez- Rodriguez is a 23-year old fire baller they acquired in the Josh Willingham deal. While stuff wise he could close, he lacks the command and control to do so effectively. While his fastball can be used as a weapon, he's the type of guy that will need to be on a short leash and kept away from high leverage situations until he shows he can handle it.

ANALYSIS:

While Rodriguez has some upside, I think the Nationals made a mistake not acquiring a more veteran reliever (or two). Yes the bullpen was a success last year and Capps can be 'replaced' if guys like Storen continue to improve, but its not enough. Washington should have added an arm like Jon Rauch, to help stabilize things in case some of the young relievers regress this season.

LINE-UP/BENCH:

The Nationals wanted to improve their defense this offseason without sacrificing too much in the way of offense. So Washington watched Adam Dunn leave via free agency and traded away Josh Willingham to replace them with Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche. While those moves will hurt them in the home run department, and a little overall offensively, they were sound moves overall. Defensively the Nationals should be a lot better, which will save quite a few runs for D.C.

Also the Nationals received value in both the Werth for Dunn swap and LaRoche for Willingham. The Nationals traded away Willingham netting them Rodriguez and another prospect (nothing too significant, but he could be a platoon guy), and the two draft picks the received for Dunn are both higher than the single draft pick they gave up for Werth. The Nationals also added Matt Stairs, Rick Ankiel, and Jerry Hairston Jr. as bench/role players.

Jayson Werth: The Nationals may have very well overpaid for Werth, but he does bring them a significant offensive and defensive threat. He will offer a good amount of protection for Zimmerman and LaRoche, and quickly become a fan favorite. The Nationals need to hope that he can stay healthy all year, and make people forget about Adam Dunn.

Adam LaRoche: LaRoche is a slightly above average first baseman, but he is consistent and offers good defense. Now he doesn't have the range of top defensive first basemen, but he is a major improvement over Adam Dunn in another way, his receiving skills. Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond were both among the league leaders in throwing errors (Desmond was by far). While some of that had to do with their errant throws, another piece of that was that Dunn couldn't save anything that wasn't right to him. LaRoche should be a big upgrade in that area for the Nationals and save them a number of free bases.

Rick Ankiel: Ankiel at one time was considered an effective everyday player, but now is considered really just a role player. He should be a solid pinch hitting option and potential platoon guy for the Nationals. While he shouldn't start for any long period of time, he is an okay injury fill in, and bench guy.

Matt Stairs: Stairs at this point in his career is purely a pinch hitter, but he is a pretty good one to have around. He too can fill in for the outfield as well at first base, but his best role is that of a pinch hitter. If he makes the Nationals, he will be a good option for Riggleman to have late in the game.

Jerry Hairston Jr.: Hairston Jr. is a bit of a do everything utility guy who can play any position except catcher. He is a good guy to have on the bench and can even be a solid spot starter if someone hits the 15 day D.L. While not a major offensive threat, he puts up okay numbers for a middle infielder/center fielder (his numbers were a bit deflated last year due to Petco). He also is a positive defender at every position, making him a great late inning defensive replacement as well. Hairston also gives the Nationals insurance in case Espinosa or Desmond struggle and need to make adjustments in the minors.

ANALYSIS:

While the key to the Nationals will be how their young guys (Wilson Ramos, Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa) develop, and if Michael Morse can expand upon his 'breakout' year, the Nationals did improve around them this offseason. I think the defensive improvement will go a long way to making the Nationals better, and improving their young pitchers' confidence (not to mention their young fielders). While the offense might be a little down, it shouldn't be a drastic downturn, and it should be made up for with improved play from the rest of the lineup and a vastly improved bench. This is the area I think the Nationals did the most work and improved the greatest.

OVERALL:

It wasn't a great offseason for the Nationals, but it was a good start. I really like what they did with their lineup and defense, the latter of which will help with their pitching staff as well. Not landing an ace was disappointing, but somewhat expected. They made minor improvements to their rotation, but it is far from perfect. The bullpen is one area where I'm disappointed as there were a number of free agent options that would have made the Nationals strength, even more dominate. I think best case scenario for the Nationals is their bullpen stays as effective as it was last season, but doesn't really improve.

All-in-all the Nationals laid the groundwork to be more of a contender in 2012, when Strasburg should return and Bryce Harper could be ready for the show. The Nationals though I think have done enough to work their way out of the cellar in 2011, but are likely destined for another below .500 finish.

Nationals Trade Willingham For Upside And Little Else

February 11, 2011 in Uncategorized

The Trade:  The Washington Nationals traded OF Josh Willingham to the Oakland A's for RP Henry Rodriguez and OF Corey Brown (AAA):

Why this deal makes sense for the Athletics: Oakland needed to continue to add bats to their lineup and they landed a big one with Josh Willingham. After already adding Hideki Matsui and David DeJesus to their roster, Willingham represents the final piece to the puzzle and a true impact bat. His injury history and final year remaining on his contract help keep his price low, as the A's didn't need to surrender any of their top prospects. Willingham does seem open to an extension, but if he does leave should net the A's two draft picks. Willingham thrived in his two year stint in Washington, posting a combined .856 OPS. Injuries slowed him down this past season and he missed the final third of the year, but he still proved himself to be a very productive hitter. His WAR of 2.7 was top 10 in the league for LF's despite the missed time, and had he been healthy, he would have been over a 4 win player.

Why This Deal Makes Sense For The Nationals: With the addition of Jayson Werth, Josh Willingham was a redundant player on the Nationals, and he was a trade candidate even before the signing. Willingham is in the final year of his deal, and wasn't likely to be resigned by the Nationals. Given the outrage of losing Adam Dunn for just a pair of draft picks, the Nationals probably wanted to capitalize on Willingham now, instead of chancing it at the deadline. The Nationals received two young prospects for Willingham that they will have control of for 6 full seasons. Rodriguez could one day pitch at the back of the Nationals bullpen, while Brown has the tools to be the Nationals future every day center fielder.

Why I Don't Like This Deal: For me this is selling a bit low on Willingham, and I've been arguing for a Willingham trade since the July 2009 trading deadline. While I understand that Willingham's injury history and single year remaining on his deal kept his value low, he also will be paid at a significantly reduced price this year and bring back draft picks if the A's don't resign him. Willingham might not be a true superstar (i.e. Matt Holliday), but a .378 wOBA is very impressive and should warrant a bigger return.

Here is my take on the two prospects they received:

RHP Henry Rodriguez: I know a lot of hype will surround Rodriguez as a fair return for Willingham in the coming days, but I'm not buying. Rodriguez who will turn 24 before the start of the season has an electric arm, but little else to go with it. While his fastball can dial up to 100mph, and sits in the 96-99 range, he doesn't control it well enough. His slider and changeup also project as Major League pitches, but without being able to throw at least one of his three pitches for strikes, he remains a risk. Relievers, even one with the potential to close don't bring a ton of value unless you are confident in their ability to reach that potential. While Rodriguez could prove me wrong, I think the Nationals are taking a big risk here. For me he shouldn't be the 'centerpiece' in a trade for a bat like Josh Willingham. The one positive I see about adding him, is that it could provide the Nationals with the depth to trade either Burnett and/or Clippard for another piece.

OF Corey Brown: I'm actually a big Corey Brown fan. But since the first part of their trade (Rodriguez) is a risk in my book, I would have hoped the Nationals got more value in the rest of this deal. In fact I believe that Brown is really the 'centerpiece' of this trade, despite the fact he has lost some of his prospect luster these past few years. Brown struggled mightily during a AAA promotion last season, but I still believe in his overall potential. He will need to figure it out soon as he will be 25 this season, and his window for success is closing. Right now Brown looks more like a league average outfielder, though if he can play center field his value does improve. Brown possesses both power and speed, and if all goes well could be ready by midseason for the the Nationals. Brown is still far from a sure thing, and while he improves the Nationals center field depth, he doesn't eliminate the problem.

ANALYSIS:

I think the A's won this deal. While it wasn't a landslide, I think the Nationals might regret this trade. Neither Rodriguez or Brown are what I'd classify as sure things, and are more likely to be moderate major leaguers (i.e. a middle reliever and 4th outfielder) than stars. If the Nats had been able to get  a 3rd or a 4th piece at least a quantity argument could be made, but as it stands I think their return is a little light.

The Rest of the Nationals Offseason Plans (Post Cliff Lee) Part 2

February 11, 2011 in Uncategorized

In Part I I discussed potential trades the Nationals should make the rest of this offseason to reshape their team. Part II I will discuss what free agent signings the Nationals should look at the rest of the way.

Adam LaRoche: The Nationals have been rumored to be after LaRoche for a little while now, and it makes perfect sense. He's not going to break the bank, but he is a great fit for the Nats. He will hit about 25+ home runs a year with an OPS around .825, and he plays pretty good defense as well. For some reason he gets very little credit, and despite having multiple teams after him, I think he will be a bargain on the free agent market. You will probably have to offer at least a 2-year with an option deal, or potentially 3 guaranteed years, but LaRoche is worth it. LaRoche would be a very good lefty bat to break up Zimmerman, Werth, and Morse in the lineup.

Derek Lee: Lee has a similar profile to LaRoche, moderate power, low-mid .800's OPS, good defense and left-handed. There are two major differences though. One, Lee has a more extensive injury history, so some risk is there. Two, Lee is a couple of years older, so the potential for a steep decline is real. Signing Lee for one year or one year with an option isn't a bad idea, and you could even trade him at the deadline. The only problem is you'd have to also acquire a young 1B who could be ready by mid-year. A guy like Lars Anderson from the Red Sox could be an option, but it would mean using one of your trade chips from Part I.

Brandon Webb: Now since the Nationals did't acquire Cliff Lee, signing Brandon Webb to an incentive laden contract would be a solid fall back plan. Webb at one time was an ace who would have commanded $20 million a year like Lee, but injuries these last two years has made him a major risk. Now he probably won't be ready for opening day, but if you believe he can regain at least 75% of his effectiveness it would be a good signing.

Kevin Millwood: Now Millwood got rocked last year in the AL East, but I think he could have a bounce back year in the National League. Yes, a 4-16 record isn't too promising, but some of his other numbers point to more success. Both his FIP and xFIP were both under 5 (compared to his ERA that was 5.10). That shows that Millwood was hurt by both poor fielding and an unluckiness with homeruns. When you also factor in playing in the American League East, I think he could be a solid 4.25 or less ERA in the National League. With the uncertainty of a guy like Webb, Millwood would be a good signing to hedge your bets with. Only a couple million guaranteed with maybe $2 million more in incentives would be well worth it for your 5th starter. While the Nationals have some young, interesting options, last year proved they need more consistency.

Jon Rauch: In Part One I advocated trading some of their bullpen depth to try to acquire some young major league ready prospects (or at least close to ML ready). Signing Rauch would be the counter-balance to ensure that the bullpen doesn't become too weak. Since the Nats didn't land Lee they will have plenty of money to spend, so no need to save money on the bullpen. As with any moderately known reliever, you can always trade them at the deadline for a solid prospect or two if you are out of the race. Rauch has some ability to help close if need be, but otherwise he is a very valuable 7th-8th inning guy. He's got great command and was a fan favorite his last stint in Washington, and seems like a no-brainer for the Nationals.

Brian Fuentes: Fuentes like Rauch would be another back of the bullpen option, but really shouldn't be a team's closer. He struggled some during his time with the Angels, but really improved after the Twins acquired him midseason. He isn't as dominate as he once was, but he is a lefty and should provide similar value to what Sean Burnett would have given the Nats. There will be a solid market for his services, but I think the Nationals can land him.

Bobby Jenks: Why not! Jenks was the one time closer for the White Sox, but they look to be moving in a different direction and being a non-tender he doesn't cost the Nationals a draft pick. While his strike out rate has fluctuated in the past and has some cause for concern, he is coming off a good year (despite what most White Sox fans think) and could help ease Drew Storen into the closer role. If Jenks comes back strong and puts up big numbers (which could happen in the NL in a more neutral park), he could have BIG time trade value (i.e. twice what the Nats dealt Capps for). Now Jenks will cost a pretty penny in terms of money, but should be well worth it to the Nationals. Nats fans will appreciate his ability to avoid the long ball (which is pretty impressive considering he was in the AL in one of the best HR hitting ballparks).

CONCLUSION:

LaRoche and Lee are a 'one or the other' situation, but the rest of these guys could all be Nationals this year. Webb and Millwood won't make up for missing out on Lee, but the upside of Webb combined with the solid innings by Millwood do improve the Nationals in 2011. They aren't a long term solution, but a decent (and cheap) stopgap option. There presence could help lead to a Livan Hernandez or Jason Marquis trade if either have value at the deadline. I know most Nats fans will have the most issue with trading Clippard and Burnett and replacing them with Rauch, Fuentes, and Jenks. Yes there are some lesser options the Nats could explore, but if they aren't spending big bucks on Cliff Lee, why not invest in the bullpen. First of all, none of these guys will cost a draft pick, and two, 1 or 2 of them could be traded at the deadline for some good prospects. Yes, other teams could pursue these relievers instead of trading for Clippard or Burnett, but low to mid market teams (even some of the big boys) might rather trade their prospect depth than pay the full price on these relievers. The Nationals, who have plenty of payroll flexibility can afford the $12-15 million it will cost to add these guys. When you factor in the prospects/young players the Nationals could acquire for Clippard and Burnett, it is well worth investing that much money for bullpen help. These trades and signings won't totally put the Nationals in the playoff hunt, but it does move them closer. And if a few of their guys develop correctly, they will be there in a couple of years.

The Rest of Nationals Offseason Plans (Post Cliff Lee): Part 1

February 11, 2011 in Uncategorized

Earlier we covered the Nationals pursuit of Cliff Lee and their backup plan if they can't land the ace. What about the other moves the Nationals should make the rest of this offseason? Well in addition to a staff ace the Nationals need a first baseman, a center fielder and some bullpen help (in that order). Now the free agent market can't provide all the solutions, so the Nationals will also need to explore the trade market as well.

TRADE MARKET:

Trade Chips:

Josh Willingham – Willingham might have just one year remaining on his contract, but he comes cheap and should bring back draft pick compensation for any club that acquires him. A number of contenders including Detroit, Cincinnati, Dodgers, Angels and Rays could be interested. The Athletics, Orioles and Mariners are also rumored to be interested.

Tyler Clippard- Clippard has revitalized his career as a back of the bullpen option and is very capable of being a setup man/closer for a number of teams (most contenders will see him as a setup man). His control isn't the greatest, but he has a high strikeout rate and has continued to show signs of improving. He has at least 4 more years of team control, which should make him very marketable considering middle relievers are getting $3-4 million a year from some teams. He won't be easy for the Nats to part with, but with Storen and some other bullpen options they can survive without him. In addition the Nationals are more likely to spend money on a free agent than a number of other teams, so if he can bring back a good young starting prospect or an every day positional fix for CF or 1B the Nationals have to do it.

Sean Burnett- Burnett is very similar to Clippard, with the exception that he only has 2 years remaining of team control. His salary should still be under $2 million this year making him an attractive option. Also Burnett is a lefty, who has the ability to be pretty sound against right handers as well. Both Clippard and Burnett will appeal to just about any team in baseball, but contenders will be the most likely scenario.

Derek Norris- Norris might be the best prospect you've never heard of (unless your a Nationals fan). He is one of the top catching prospects in the game and should be a lock for most top 50 lists. He is very likely to stay behind the plate and should be a strong offensive catcher if he does. It is not impossible to see him develop into a Brian McCann type of player. He is still probably two years away, but the Nationals have a promising young catcher in Wilson Ramos, and could move Norris in a major deal.

Jesus Flores- Flores has barely played the last two seasons, but he still could have some trade value simply because he is a cheap catcher with upside. The Nationals already have Ramos and Pudge Rodriguez for next year and Norris waiting in the wings. Given his injury history he can't headline a deal, but he could be used in a smaller deal or for a lesser piece. Cardinals, Orioles, Rangers, Padres, Dodgers and the Yankees (assuming they don't land Russel Martin) could all be interested in Flores.

Trades I'd Look to Make:

Josh Willingham to the Tigers for Andrew Oliver (SP): There is no guarantee the Tigers (or the Nationals) would do this deal, but I think it makes sense for both sides. Detroit needs left field help, and while signing Magglio Ordonez is an option, they might look to upgrade to Willingham here. While there is a risk of Willingham there for only one year, the Tigers would get draft picks if he leaves. Oliver is a power lefty pitcher who struggled last year (his first year overall in professional ball) in his major league debut with the Tigers. He did pitch well in both AA and AAA, but it is clear he isn't major league ready for a contending team. For the Nationals they could have him work in the minors, or he could make the Major League rotation (esp. if Cliff Lee doesn't sign) out of Spring Training. While there is some thought of him being a frontline pitcher, he profiles more of a 3 or a 4. There might be a lesser prospect involved from the Tigers as well, but Oliver would be good value for Willingham if the Nats can get it.

Trade Tyler Clippard or Sean Burnett to the Twins for Ben Revere or Joe Benson (CF's): The Twins bullpen took a major hit this offseason with a number of free agent departures. In addition Matt Capps is under contract for just one more season and Joe Nathan is coming back from a major arm injury. To say that the Twins could use back of the bullpen arms is a gross understatement, and either Clippard or Burnett should interest them. As for deciding between Revere or Benson, your guess is as good as mine, because I want both of them on my team. Either player could be expendable for the Twins since they have better options both behind and in front of Benson/Revere for their long term CF option. Benson will probably hit for enough power to play a corner spot, but he has the most value as a CF. He is a better all around player with a better defensive arm, and very good power (should hit 20+ Hr's in the majors). Revere on the other hand is a burner (though Benson has some wheels as well), and could easily sit atop the lineup as a leadoff hitter. He is a major base stealing threat and hits for a much better average. He could develop into an on-base machine, but he must maintain his OBP and steal rate to have value since he has about zero power. Revere is basically Major League ready, though Benson isn't far behind him. Depending on which reliever the Twins like more and whether the Nats are getting Benson or Revere will determine the rest of the package. It won't be much (though I wish it could be both), but one or two other solid prospects could be added to the deal.

Trade Clippard/Burnett to the Rays for Nick Barnese (RHP) and Kyle Lobstein (LHP): The Rays, like the Twins had their bullpen hit hard in free agency and could use some cost control options to stay in their payroll range. Tampa would probably prefer Clippard given the longer cost control, but could also use a lefty reliever. Barnese and Lobstein are two solid pitching prospects, but not among the Rays top pitching prospects. They are both 2+ years away, but project as middle of the rotation starters. It would be a solid return for the Nationals as it would add some quality depth to their farm system.

Trade Jesus Flores to the Cardinals for 1B/OF/3B Allen Craig: The Nats would probably need to add a minor prospect, but if the Cardinals aren't satisfied with Bryan Anderson as their backup catcher, Flores would be a great option. Craig is extremely redundant in St. Louis with no starting spot in sight. Craig wouldn't necessarily have a starting role in Washington though his utility should allow for him to receive a couple hundred at bats. He would be a great insurance policy in case the Nats don't get a first baseman or Micheal Morse can't repeat his 2010 success. The Nats would probably perfer a LH bench option, but I imagine Craig will interest them.

How the Nats Can Afford Cliff Lee & Potential Back-up Plans

February 11, 2011 in Uncategorized

I know the Nationals chances for landing Cliff Lee look dim after both the Yankees and the Rangers increased their offer yesterday, but I wouldn't count them out just yet. The Nationals have the money to spend and if they want to, they can match any offer to Lee. Also, as the Jayson Werth deal showed, they are willing to offer a contract that goes above the consensus of what a player is worth.

Many people were surprised that the Nationals were able to offer Werth that kind of contract, as well as be in on Cliff Lee, but I think it is time we stop thinking of the Nationals as a small market team. They are in a top 10 television market and share in owning a television deal with the Baltimore Orioles which gives them even more expansive coverage. While the Orioles own the lion-share of MASN still, the Nationals own a significant percentage (that continues to grow each year), as well as a price guarantee for their broadcast rights. Despite having the lowest viewership in the country, the Nationals have been making quite a profit for their broadcast rights. Washington D.C. is also surrounded with many of the richest counties in the country throughout Northern Virginia and Maryland, as well as a number of companies. Both of which should make selling their luxury boxes and premium seats fairly easy when there is a quality product on the field. Combine that with one of the richest owners in the country, and the Nationals should have no trouble affording Werth and Lee.

In addition to their various revenue streams, the Nationals have two other things going for them to be big spenders in free agency. The first is the fact that their payroll has been pretty low since they've moved to Washington. Meaning they have some money saved up to afford to splurge on some big name free agents. The second is that even if they sign Cliff Lee for $25 million a year, their payroll will be just around $90 million. Which isn't bad when you consider they added two of the top free agents for a combined $43 million year. (*Note I assumed they signed a 1B like LaRoche or Lee for roughly the same money that Willingham will make. Which will make it a wash when they trade him). The Nationals will also have another $11 million coming off the books after this season, giving them more financial freedom in the future.

The Nationals should have no problem maintaining a payroll north of $100 million if they are competitive, given the added benefits of a rich owner and previous savings it can be even higher. Washington is also blessed in the fact that they don't have a single significant free agent for the next three years (again assuming Willingham is traded). Everyone of their key contributors or stars are locked up for at least that long (and most aren't eligible for 5 or more years). This gives the Nationals a window to spend big on the open market before they need to extend R. Zimmerman, J. Zimmermann, Strasburg, Harper and anyone else. Also by spending now, they can build the fan base to support them giving even more lucrative deals to their own stars in the future. In addition, if the Nationals become a contender, guys like Zimmerman, Strasburg and Harper might be interested in staying around awhile longer.

So what does all of this mean, and what kind of contract can they offer Cliff Lee? If I'm the Nationals, I offer Cliff Lee a 6-year $168 million contract. I would have the first five years average $26 million, with $25 million in the 6th year. I would add both a 7th and 8th option year at $20 million a piece, with a $13 million buyout for the first option and a $5 million buyout for the 2nd option year. The high buyout in year 7 would be almost like a guarantee that it would be picked up, but protect the Nationals if he can't pitch effectively any longer. With the 7th year almost guaranteed, Lee's 7 year total will be $180 million (when you count the 2nd buyout at $5 million). That would give Lee a 7 year average of $25.7 million, but the Nationals would have their ace.

Now it is possible that Lee could still choose the Yankees or Rangers, but it would be mighty hard for Lee to turn down between $168-180 million, plus a few nice perks, if the Nationals offer it to him. If Lee doesn't come to Washington, the Nationals need to have a Plan B. Unfortunately the pitching market is pretty bare after Lee, with Carl Pavano being the next best option. Pavano is a nice pitcher, but far from an ace. The Nationals might not want to get into a bidding war for a mid-rotation starter like Pavano.

It is likely the Nationals will turn to the trade market, but top targets like Zack Greinke and Matt Garza aren't great fits for the Nationals because of how much they cost. Now their salaries aren't the problem, but what they cost in terms of prospects is. Both the Royals and the Rays want to be blown away in a deal (as they rightly should), and the Nats don't have the farm system depth to 'blow them away' and not significantly hurt their future. Geinke may be worth Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond, Derek Norris and a few other prospects, but that would leave more holes than it is filling. The Nationals need an ace in front of Zimmermann, not a pitcher replacing him.

Right now the trade market isn't going to bring any stars to the Nationals unless they hurt their future. Instead I'd do a combination; and add a prospect (likely in a Willingham deal) who is nearly major league ready, a injury reclamation type (i.e.  Brandon Webb/Chien-Ming Wang), and a veteran starter on a one year deal (i.e. Kevin Millwood, Jeff Francis etc.). No that group won't come close to producing like Lee or Greinke, but they can make up for a Pavano/Garza type of pitcher, with the chance of being even better (depending on the prospect or reclamation project). It's not a perfect solution, but it prevents the likes of Craig Stammen, J.D. Martin etc. from making too many starts. It would also keep the Nationals young major league talent together, and allow them to use some of their relief/minor league depth to trade for a young center fielder, which is an area of need.

How the Carl Crawford Deal Hurt the Nationals

February 11, 2011 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.