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Battle of the Beltway Continues Tonight

June 22, 2012 in Uncategorized

Well… here we are again. A month ago the Nationals, the Orioles, and the Battle of the Beltway was the feel good story of the Major Leagues. Both teams were outperforming expectations and squarely in the playoff hunt. Guess what? They still are! The rivalry continues tonight at Camden Yards as Jordan Zimmermann (3-5, 2.92) takes on the resurgent Jason Hammel (7-2, 2.87). The Orioles took the first series winning two games, but can they continue to trend tonight?

The Nationals finally got back to their winning ways after being swept by the Yankees and a pine tar incident. The combination of Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez seemed to be the perfect medicine for the Nats as they took the last two games of a four game set against the Rays. Despite only being two and a half games out of first place in the AL East the O's are also looking to replicate the Nationals bounce back. After sweeping the Pirates and taking a series from the Braves, the Orioles were swept by the Mets and RA Dickey's nasty stuff. Amazingly the Nats are still three and a half games up in the NL East despite the Mets sweep.

Beyond tonight's matchup tomorrow will feature Edwin Jackson (3-4, 3.02) versus surprise Orioles pitcher Wei-Yen Chen (7-2, 3.36). Chen was the lone losing pitcher for the O's in the last series for the Nationals. He didn't even last for five innings and got lit up for six earned runs. It will be interesting to see how the Taiwanese rookie responds tomorrow.

Sunday's matinee marks Ross Detweiler's (4-3, 3.34) return to the rotation as he replaces the struggling Chien-Ming Wang. The former first rounder will take on the disappointing Jake Arrieta (3-9, 5.83) who gave up four runs in seven inning versus the Mets this week.

Since the game is in Baltimore look for Michael Morse to shift back to the designated hitter spot and I would expect to see a lot of Nat's rookie Tyler Moore. Remember the Nats are 6-0 at AL East teams this year.

Why the Nationals and Orioles Could Be Looking to Make a Double Splash Part II

June 24, 2011 in Uncategorized

In Part I I looked at the likelihood of the 28 other teams bidding on either Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder next offseason and the results weren't promising. Only a handful of teams make sense, and most of them come with a fair share of question marks. Although most would say that it would be improbable for both of the Beltway teams to land a major slugger next year, I don't think it is impossible.

Why It Makes Sense For the Nationals:

Don't look now, but the Washington Nationals have actually collected the makings of a very good future team. For at least the next 4 seasons the Nationals have RF Jayson Werth, SS Ian Desmond, 2B Danny Espinosa, C Wilson Ramos, SP Stephen Strasburg, SP Jordan Zimmermann, and RP Drew Storen under team control (and in most cases it is even longer). In addition they could have top prospects C Derek Norris, LF Bryce Harper, and OF/INF Anthony Rendon ready by 2013 (if not sooner). Star 3B Ryan Zimmerman is a free agent after 2013, but he should be in line for an extension ensuring another spot long term. In fact the Nationals even have excess talent at some positions, and would really only be left with holes at 1B and CF. This means the time is now to strike for the Nationals and adding a premium bat like Pujols/Fielder could allow this team to contend as soon as next season.

In terms of money the Nationals are looking pretty good as they have yet to exceed $70 million in payroll since moving to Washington, despite having one of the richest owners, a new ballpark, partial ownership of a TV network, and one of the largest media markets in the country. Given all that the Nationals have going for them they could easily operate at a $100+ million budget, and if this team was contending and selling out games, a $120 million budget would be possible. Right now even with pay raises and Arbitration raises the Nationals should be somewhere in the $60 million range. While they'd need to spend $5-10 million to fill other holes, that would still leave plenty of money for one of the two big first basemen. The Nationals could also add a bit more room to their budget, by then being able to deal incumbent 1B Adam LaRoche. While the Nationals won't get much return since he is injured, there should be enough of a market for him that they save most of the $9 million they still owe him.

Now the question is who will be the Nationals top target. While Pujols has the bigger name, this latest injury and age could make Fielder the more desirable choice. The Nationals have a long history of working with Scott Boras, so that could give them an advantage in the negotiations as both sides respect each other. Fielder would also give the Nationals a left-handed batter to go along with Harper, to breakup the righties Zimmerman, Werth and Rendon. While there are obvious concerns about Fielder's longterm viability in the field, he's shown enough to allow you to believe that he can handle 1st for at least 4-5 more years.

Why it makes sense for the Orioles:

The Orioles might not have a core group of hitters as say the Nats, they aren't without their options in the lineup. C Matt Wieters, CF Adam Jones, RF Nick Markakis and top prospect SS Manny Machado, give Baltimore a solid group to build around. In addition they have an impressive collection of young arms led by SP Brian Matusz, SP Chris Britton, SP Jake Arrieta, SP Chris Tillman, and top prospect SP Dylan Bundy. Together the Orioles have a pretty good group going forward and if they can add 1-2 key at bats, they can find the complimentary players to put around them.

The Orioles might not have all the financial advantages of say the Nationals, but they have a good number of them. Baltimore has already shown that they can maintain a payroll in the $80-90 million range, and they are projected to be well under that threshold for next year. The Orioles can also clear another big chunk of change for next season if they look to move Jeremy Guthrie and Luke Scott, who are entering their final year of arbitration. If they do that Baltimore will not only have enough money to land one of the two big bats, but they could add a complimentary free agent or two.

With money not an issue the question remains, do the Orioles go for the younger bat in Fielder or the high prestige of Pujols. You could make a case that either player will need the DH role down the road, but I think Pujols makes slightly more sense here than Fielder (though Fielder with that short left-porch could be dangerous). Pujols will likely come at a bit less, in both years and dollars. And his higher prestige could even resonate more with Baltimore's dedicated but frustrated fan base. Adding Pujols would be a huge boost to morale of both the team and the city and could help lead to this team once again being a legitimate threat in the American League East.

Why the Nationals and Orioles Could Be Looking to Make A Double Splash Next Offseason

June 21, 2011 in Uncategorized

While I got some negative feedback from my forum post on whether or not the Nationals should pursue Albert Pujols next offseason, I think it is a real possibility. The Nationals have money to spend next year and a big hole (overall) at 1B, so I fully expect them to be in hot pursuit of either Pujols or Prince Fielder, and it wouldn't be too surprising if the Orioles end up with the other one. Now I know most fans would say 'not happening', but if you look around the league, there aren't as many suitors as you'd expect.

Here's a look at why or why not every team in the league could be in the market for these two sluggers with the O's and Nats being held until Part II:

A.L. East:

Boston Red Sox: They have the money to spend, but with just signing Adrian Gonzalez they aren't in the market for a 1B.

New York Yankees: Much like the Sox, they have the money but not the need with Mark Teixeira manning 1B

Tampa Bay Rays: They can't come close to affording either of these players.

Toronto Blue Jays: They could be a bit of a sleeper, they have a good bit of cost control in the next few years and can move Adam Lind to DH, a middle of the order of Jose Bautista, Lind and one of these two guys would be impressive. Money could be an issue though.

AL Central:

Chicago White Sox: Chicago just spent big bucks on Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko so they seem safely off the market

Detroit Tigers: They are highly invested in Miguel Cabrera, and don't seem likely to move him to DH (especially with the Victor Martinez signing).

Minnesota Twins: While the Twins could swing it maybe financially, they have Justin Morneau under contract for another two years. Also they are more likely to use their money on pitching or middle infield help.

Cleveland Indians: Adding one of these two bats would be intriguing for a young team on the rise, but they simply don't have the money.

Kansas City Royals: Money makes this a no go for the Royals, but they have a bright young future at 1B so they shouldn't be too disappointed.

AL West:

Oakland Athletics: While they have some money coming off the books, making a big splash isn't their style.

Seattle Mariners: The Mariners aren't shy about spending money and they have some bad contracts coming off the books so they are a possibility. They do have a good young prospect in Justin Smoak at 1B, but they could move him to D.H. If they do get in the market, Fielder would be their target as LH power plays better there.

LA Angels: While it is hard to exactly predict Kendrys Morales future, Mark Trumbo has filled in brilliantly for the Angels. They could look to make a splash next year, but the Angels would likely have to significantly raise payroll as Jered Weaver, Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar are all due significant raises via arbitration.

Texas Rangers: The Rangers are thought to be a potential suitor, but I'm not sure I see it. They need to lock up long term both Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz, as well as finding some quality pitching. Maybe if they find a way to move Michael Young's salary, but other than that I think money will get pretty tight.

NL East:

Philadelphia Phillies: The Phils are locked in with Ryan Howard so this is a no go.

Atlanta Braves: It's not really the Braves style, and they have Freddie Freeman as the future, but it isn't the worst idea. If they can move Derek Lowe's contract, then they can consider going after one of these two. It's not likely to happen, but I wouldn't rule it out completely if Lowe gets dealt this year.

Florida Marlins: I know the Marlins might start spending with the new stadium, but I don't see them coming close to making a splash like this.

New York Mets: The Mets are a tough team to predict. On one hand their financial situation is looking a lot better with their new minority owner, but they were so over budget, they might not be as big of spenders. They do have $40 million coming off the books in Beltran and a number of players that they have already released, but they will need to give Jose Reyes a big raise and fill in quite a few other needs. With Ike Davis being solid at 1B, I see the Mets using their money on other areas, but they are def. a wildcard.

NL Central:

Chicago Cubs: The Cubs are widely considered one of the major suitors for these two, but I'm not so sure if it makes sense. While the reports of their debt problems not being an issue, it is out there. Also, despite having a ton of money come off the books next year, they are still going to be saddled with Soriano's and Zambrano's contract. The other issue the Cubs have is going to be just their overall talent level. Sure Starlin Castro is a stud, and Garza is a pretty good pitcher, but beyond that there isn't much here to work with. The Cubs have a long road to recovery, and just landing a Pujols or Fielder probably isn't the answer.

St. Louis Cardinals: Now the Cards are going to do what they can to bring back Pujols, so they can't be counted out, but their funds could be limited, so I don't know if it gets done.

Milwaukee Brewers: I don't think there is any chance the Brewers can pay either one of these guys despite the fact that they would love to.

Cincinnati Reds: With Joey Votto in the fold their is no need to jump into this market.

Pittsburgh Pirates: The Bucs are rebuilding and have a bright future, but they simply don't have the money to do this.

Houston Astros: Astros are in a full rebuilding mode now and while a new ownership group could want to spend I don't see this happening. Not to mention Brett Wallace has been a good addition to this team.

NL West:

Arizona Diamondbacks: The D-backs haven't spent much in a while and probably won't start with a major splash like this. They also have a couple good young 1B in the minors so I'm guessing that will keep them out of this market.

Colorado Rockies: Todd Helton still gives Colorado solid production, and I don't see the Rockies making a huge splash.

San Diego Padres: The Padres didn't have the money to resign Adrian Gonzalez so this is a non-starter.

San Francisco Giants: Top prospect Brandon Belt makes it unlikely, and the fact that they are paying for bad contracts to Huff, Rowand and Zito means it probably won't happen. The Giants are likely to spend their resources at improving at a couple areas instead of going all-in at a position they could be set at with Belt.

LA Dodgers: A year ago this made a ton of sense. The Dodgers are a big market team, that has a ton of money coming off the books next year. And despite all that money coming off the books, they still are left with a solid core of players to build around a Pujols/Fielder. Also, 1B was a huge void with James Loney being among the league's worst starters. Now though with the current financial situation of the team, I don't think there is any shot that they spend this much on a single player. I'd also be shocked if either Pujols or Fielder would even consider going to the Dodgers at this point.

Conclusion:

There aren't many clear suitors for the two slugging first basemen, with the Blue Jays, Cubs, Mets, Angels, and Rangers probably being the most likely (Cardinals are solely for Pujols). And one of the most talked about, the Cubs, has a dismal outlook that probably will keep them from landing one of the two sluggers. As for the rest (as well as a few more wildcards) there isn't a real clear cut front runner. This is why speculation is mounting that both the Nationals and the Orioles could be landing spots for these two bats. In part II I'll look at the cases for each team, and see who might fit where.