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Nationals Take a Smart Risk With Dan Haren

December 5, 2012 in Nationals Offseason

The Washington Nationals today signed SP Dan Haren to a 1-year $13 million contract to roundout their pitching rotation for next season. Though it wasn't the mega-deal either via trade or free agency that some were hoping for, Haren represents an upgrade to the Nationals rotation as well as a tremendous value.

Haren is coming off his worst season since becoming a full-time starter in 2005. Haren was limited to just 30 starts and 176.2 innings pitched. Going 12-13, with a 4.33 ERA. Prior to last season though, Haren had never pitched fewer than 216 innings or won fewer games than he lost. It's that prior consistency, that the Nationals are betting on him returning to with this contract.

From 2005=2011 Haren had a WAR (wins above replacement) In terms of value of at least 4.0, and three years was over 6.0 (according to Fangraphs). To put those numbers in perspective, in the last 8 seasons, typically between 4-6 pitchers have a WAR of 6.0 or higher (and it never was higher than 10), and between 24-27 pitchers have a WAR as high as 4.0. With the exception of Zack Greinke (5 times), no other top free agent starter (Hideki Kuroda, Edwin Jackson, Anibal Sanchez, Kyle Loshe, Ryan Dempster), had broken that 4.0 barrier more than once (most though had multiple seasons in the high 3.0's), and none had come close to 6.0.

Now is WAR the be all end all? Of course not, but it's a pretty good baseline stat (whether you use Baseball reference or Fangraphs). While there is always a lot of debate about the stat, it ends up being pretty accurate when you think of the players or pitchers who are Top 10, Top 25, Top 50, with maybe slight adjustments with the order. Which means that based on those WAR numbers, Haren has been a Top 25 pitcher for his first 7 years as a full time starter, and for three of those years he was Top 10. That is a very impressive resume, and could be a nice boost over Edwin Jackson who has typically been more of a Top 30-50 starter.

The big question of course is will Haren go back to that level of value, given both some concerns with his hip and back. It's tough to say until the season gets under way, but there is some reason for hope. In addition to the fact that he was so highly durable for nearly all of his career, Haren is just 32 (turns 33 in Sept.), meaning that he's still near his peak. Haren also pitched better after returning from the D.L. in late July. In his first 17 starts last season (prior to going on the D.L.), Haren allowed 3 or more earned runs in 11 starts, including 5 or more in six of those starts. After the D.L. stint, he allowed 3 or more earned runs in just four out of 13 starts, and only twice did he allow 5 earned runs or more. In fact Haren gave up just 29 earned runs in the those final 13 starts which breaks down for an average of 2.23 runs per game. That is below Haren's 2005-2011 average of 2.59 earned runs allowed per start. Now it is a small sample size and probably not sustainable, but does show that he can limit runs, like he had in the past.

With a fair expectation that he can return to form, the Nationals should get excellent value with this deal. Had Haren not fallen off last season, the Angels would have never let him hit free agency exercising their $15.5 million option on him. If he had just been on the market and healthy, he reasonably could have expected a 4-5 year deal at $20 million a season. So getting him at $13 million is a steal for just one season, even with the added risk. Yes if he pitches like last year or is significantly injured, the Nationals aren't getting their money's worth, but any pitcher regardless of their track record can get injured. If Haren is healthy though he's likely to outshine every free agent pitcher not named Zach Greinke, and for less money and less years.

In addition to the injury risk, the Nationals do have a slight long term concern with signing Haren for just one year. Washington doesn't have much in the way of starting pitching depth in the high minors, especially top end quality guys. That means the Nationals will have to either trade for or sign a starter next season as well, and it's possible (and somewhat likely) that the Nationals won't get as much value next season (even if they re-sign a healthy Haren next year, it will be for a significant amount). The Nationals are passing on the chance of adding Zack Greinke, who while more expensive, would have locked up a position and a top of the rotation for the Nationals of Stephen Strasburg, Zack Greinke, Gio Gonzalez, and Jordan Zimmermann for at least the next three years. Greinke is also a safer bet for this season, though Haren is very capable of matching him. Whether or not this was the better choice is really unknown until Greinke's price is known and Haren's health and production are determined. For 2013 this is a very good deal, but leaves open some future questions.

 

Nationals Win Big in Denard Span Trade

November 29, 2012 in Nationals Trades

The Deal: Minnesota Twins trade CF Denard Span to the Washington Nationals for High-A SP Alex Meyer

Denard Span:

Span is the center fielder/lead-off hitter the Nationals have been looking for the last couple of years. He's got very good speed and for his career is a 76% base stealer (74% last year). He doesn't hit for power, but did have 38 doubles last season in just over 500 AB's. He hit .283 last year with an on base percentage of .342 and a slugging percentage of .395, which was slightly below his career average. He hits lefties and righties equally well, with an OPS last year vs southpaws at .737 and against RHP's hit .739. One shocking split from last year for Span was his home vs road split. At home Span had an .881 OPS, on the road it fell to .593. Hopefully Span finds the confines of Nationals park as friendly as Target Field in Minnesota.

Span's greatest value though may come from his contract. Span is signed through 2014, with an option for 2015. According to Cot's Baseball Contracts Span is due to make $4.75 million in 2013, $6.5 million in 2014, and $9 million if his option is exercised in 2015. That is just $21.25 million for three years for a lower end top 10 centerfielder. Compare that to B.J. Upton who just signed a 5 year $75 million deal, and it is easy to see how much of a value Span is. Other CF's like Michael Bourn, Angel Pagan and Shane Victorino would all be looking at commitments north of $12 million a year, with Bourn's deal potentially costing $17 million over 5 years. Yes those players may be better than Span (though not consistently), but not when contracts are factored in.

Alex Meyer:

The Nationals did have to give up a very promising prospect in pitcher Alex Meyer. Meyer was the Nationals first round pick, and compensation for losing Adam Dunn in the 2011 draft. He excelled in Low and High- A last year, and has the potential to be either a number 2 or 3 pitcher, with a worst case scenario of him being an effective back of the bullpen arm, given his power fastball.

Though a significant prospect, he was at least two years away from being major league ready, and like any prospect is not a guarantee. With the Nationals having control of Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, and Ross Detwiler for at least the next three years, the Nationals could comfortably make this deal.

What this means for the Nationals:

This deal gives the Nationals a big upgrade in the outfield as Michael Morse will no longer be counted on out there. It also gives them a lead-off hitter  who has good speed and on base abilities. Teaming him with Werth, Harper and Zimmerman at the top of the line-up gives the Nationals a very effective top of the order. Also by getting Span under a very affordable contract the Nationals have plenty of money to re-sign Adam LaRoche, and address their pitching needs.Span was also more preferable to a Bourn or Upton, 5 year deal because the Nationals have a good young centerfielder prospect in Brian Goodwin, who can be ready in 2-3 years.

Conclusion:

This was a very smart play that helps the Nationals in both the short term with production and long term financially. Meyer is a good prospect, but he's a bit of a wild card. It was going to be a couple years before he was major league ready, even if everything went perfectly and it is conceivable that he could take a couple years to figure it out and be an effective starter. The Nationals now have great financial flexibility, and if they can re-sign LaRoche can move Morse to an AL team in need of a DH.

Washington Nationals Offseason Series: Why Standing Pat Doesn't Work

November 29, 2012 in Nationals Offseason

There seem to be two essential schools of thought when it comes to Washington Nationals fans on how they approach this offseason. The first school of thought recommends maintaining the status quo, and not making any significant changes to the roster with the possible exception of re-signing free agents like Adam LaRoche or Sean Burnett.The other camp, favors a more aggressive approach of being major players in the free agent/trade markets, getting the team over the next hump onto the World Series. Both schools have a fair amount of validity behind them, but the question remains which one (or more precisely, which camp the Washington Nationals offseason should follow.

Read Also: Nationals Win Big In Denard Span Trade

On paper the "standing pat" crowd has a very strong case. The Nationals led the majors in wins last season despite these situations with the following players:

Bryce Harper- Harper played the first month of the season in the minors and dealt with some growing pains throughout the year. He should be both more developed and play in more games this season.

Ian Desmond- Desmond had a breakout year with 25 HR's and 21 SB's despite missing 32 games throughout the year. You could easily expect to see Desmond for an additional 25 games.

Jayson Werth- Werth might not have been the 'impact' bat the Nationals were hoping for, but he had a .387 OBP and .827 OPS. He only played in 81 games though and should be counted on for 150+ games this season.

Michael Morse- Morse didn't have as strong as a year as was expected, but still showed some nice power numbers. He missed 60 games on the year, and could see his numbers rise being fully healthy.

Kurt Suzuki- Suzuki played in just 46 games for the Nationals, and was a big improvement offensively and defensively over what they were starting. He's not a great catcher, but having him for the full course of the season helps.

Wilson Ramos- Ramos is kinda forgotten, but he only played in 25 games for the Nationals. It's unclear how he'll split time with Suzuki, but what is clear is that a year of him and Suzuki is a vast improvement than what the Nationals had last year.

Tyler Moore and Steven Lombardozzi- Both of these rookies were key utility players and injury replacements for the Nationals last year. While ideally they won't get as many overall at bats if some of these other guys are healthy, both should see their performance improve.

Stephen Strasburg- Strasburg has the best stuff on the staff and was limited to 28 starts and under 160 innings. He should be capable of 32+ starts and at least 200 innings next year. Add in the fact that pitchers are typically stronger after their first year back from TJ surgery and it is even more promising.

Drew Storen- Storen missed the first half of the season due to injury and was only able to pitch 30 innings last year. He also took a while to get back to form, so his performance over at least twice as many innings should be improved.

In addition to improvement in health and or performance of a number of players, the Nationals face a division where they appear to be the clear favorites:

Miami Marlins- The Marlins have sold off nearly all their moderate to high impact talent players and are very much in a rebuild mode for next season. Not only does this mean they aren't a threat for the division, but the Nationals should be able to win more games in their head-to-head series. Last year the Nats were 9-9 against the Marlins. With Miami selling their assets the Nats should be able to pick up a couple of games here.

New York Mets- The Mets are building for the future, and really don't look like a threat in the division. It's also possible that the Mets trade away their two biggest stars, David Wright and R.A. Dickey, as they look to build for the future. Regardless of what the Mets do, the Nationals should be favored to win their season series.

Philadelphia Phillies- The Phillies finished 81-81 last year and a full 17 games behind the Nationals for the division. They still have their three aces at the top of their rotation, but as a whole their performance dipped considerably. Add in the loss of some good secondary players and key contributors and Philly's outlook is up in the air. If they make some big free agent splashes they could be a threat, but they need a lot to go right for them.

Atlanta Braves- The Braves are still the Nationals biggest threat, but they are facing the loss of a couple key players in Michael Bourn and Chipper Jones. Though they have signed B.J. Upton over Bourn, and though he's probably the better long term investment, for next season the Braves overall CF production (offense and defense) will be down a bit. Martin Prado may end up taking over at 3B for Chipper Jones, but it's unclear who will take over for Prado in LF. Likely whomever it is will be a slight downgrade at best as well.

So with improved player production and a favorable outlook in the division the Nationals shouldn't do a thing right? Wrong, now is exactly the time to strike. The Nationals could probably stand pat and be a contender, but they'd be missing an opportunity to improve their chances. Sure their bullpen figures to be pretty solid, but why not try to add an arm to see if you can improve it? Michael Morse and Tyler Moore could handle first base, but they'd probably be a downgrade still to Adam LaRoche (particularly defensively). Adding a LF or CF to improve the outfield's defense would be ideal as well. And though the Nationals appear to have four good starters even without Edwin Jackson, why weaken the rotation and take a risk on an unproven 5th starter?

The Nationals can't get complacent, because if they do it will cost them more later than it will now. Look at the San Francisco Giants, who last year after trading a top prospect for Carlos Beltran let him walk in free agency, only to then see the need later to trade multiple prospects for Hunter Pence at the trade deadline. Instead of addressing a hole in their team, they tried to go a cheaper route and it cost them more in the long run. The Braves are a great example of thinking that you have too much pitching. I doubt anyone thought the Braves needed to add to their rotation at the beginning of the year, as they looked strong 1-5, with top prospect depth in the minors. Yet this team needed sign Ben Sheets off the street, trade a high prospect for Paul Maholm, and pull Kris Medlen out of the bullpen to get through the season.

Washington doesn't have many needs, but they should be aggressive filling them. The Nationals have a strong farm system and good depth so they can both make some trades, as well as use their financial status to sign some big name players. Any myths about not having the money will be dispelled in Part II, while I'll outline some bold proposals in the rest of the Series.    .

 

2012 Washington Nationals Season in Review

October 18, 2012 in Uncategorized

By DC Staff Writer John Manuel:

Even with last Friday's game 5 devastating loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, I still see the Nationals 2012 season as a success.  Yes, it was disastrous how it ended and yes the team expected to still be playing this week but winning the National League East has to be a major accomplishment for the organization.  And at least Robert Griffin III helped DC fans start to move on and forget with his performance on Sunday.  Sorry I had to tie RG3 into this.

So where do the Washington Nationals go from here?  They have laid a solid foundation which will have them starting the 2013 season once again as a contender to win the National League.  So what questions have the Nats left us with this winter?

The Nationals biggest decision stands with who will manage the team in 2013.  The obvious situation is for Davey Johnson to return to the dugout but he doesn't have a contract yet and it’s been pretty quiet.  If the Lerners weren't willing to splurge to keep the metro open, will they to keep Davey around?  And it wouldn't be the first time Johnson didn't come back to a team after having success as he left the Orioles after winning AL Manager of the Year.  The team has already lost Bo Porter to the Astros so losing Johnson would put them into a tough spot.  Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre are around, but so is Manny Acta.  I think that the Lerners, Rizzo and Davey Johnson know too much is at stake to blow this and it gets worked out in the end.

The Nationals have many positives lined up for the future and it has to start with the starting pitching staff.  The Stephen Strasburg shutdown debate hopefully is over, but I doubt it as the "league's most hated team" will have to answer questions if they fail to make the playoffs.  With Strasburg ready to fully go, the staff should be as good as anyone in the majors.  Gio and Zimmerman will need to bounce back from tough playoff starts and Ross Detweiler could be ready to join the big 3 at the top.  The Nats are in a situation where they know they have four legit starters but will they be able to keep the five intact and bring back Edwin Jackson?  Jackson has said he wants back but do the Nationals make the investment in him?  Most likely coming down to a dollars game here between the two sides.  John Lannan could also be back in the rotation if Jackson doesn't come back.  All in all, the starting staff looks to be in great shape for a few years to come.  Not sure they need to mess around right now with what they have.

So where do you go when it comes with the position players?  Wilson Ramos will be back and if it takes some time, Kurt Suzuki could return to cover at catcher.  Ian Desmond may have been a question mark at shortstop before the season, but he is no longer after 2012.  Desmond arguably was the team’s MVP in 2012 and at only 27 puts the Nats in a solid spot at short.  Ryan Zimmerman is at third, no more commentary needed.

As for the outfield, Bryce Harper should explode in 2013 much like the Angels saw in Mike Trout this year.  Jayson Werth's contract is always a point to discuss but his magical home run in game four should have quieted some critics.

Question comes in three spots with this team.  Does the team work to resign Adam LaRoche?  If they do, then the other team MVP candidate returns and a solid lineup is set with Michael Morse in the outfield.  Or do they let LaRoche walk, put Morse at first and finally look for a true centerfielder like a BJ Upton?  I have a feeling that Upton could be the call in center and that LaRoche unfortunately is the odd man out.

Finally, they have to decide what to do at second base.  Danny Espinoza struggled in the playoffs when many felt that Steve Lombardozzi should have been at second.  Are either these guys the answer right now at second or they just holding the spot for potentially Anthony Rendon to one day take over?  My guess is they start the season with what they currently have at second and see where it goes, no drastic moves.

And finally the bullpen, which looked to be solid for most of the season, minus the Henry Rodriguez days.  But then everything unraveled last Friday.  The true question is where is Drew Storen's head after the game 5 implosion? Does the organization still have confidence in Storen as the closer?  Do they have still have confidence in Clippard as a setup man or potential closer?  Does the team have more confidence Storen can put the game behind him or do they have more confidence in going after a veteran like Francisco Rodriguez?  I wouldn't expect them to give up on Drew Storen as the team’s closer but it’s a real important spot you need to be sure of come playoff time, so it could get interesting.

So as the fall and winter moves forward the key questions are Davey, Edwin, LaRoche, 2nd Base and who closes?  It should be an interesting off season in DC.

 

 

Ian Desmond: Unlikely Star

September 14, 2012 in Uncategorized

Perhaps it is fitting that on a team that wasn't expected to compete, an unlikely star emerged. That is what has occurred in Washington, as shortstop Ian Desmond has become one of the Nationals most important players, and a clubhouse leader. It wasn't supposed to be that way, and if you asked a fan at the beginning of the season how important Desmond was, he'd be lucky to crack the top 10 Nationals on people's minds. Now though, despite being surrounded by bonafide stars Desmond would be near the top of the list.

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What Ian Desmond has done this season is pretty remarkable. Among all shortstops Desmond ranks 4th in batting average, 7th in onbase percentage, 1st in slugging, and 1st in wOBA (which is probably the most accurate stat on offensive productivity). He's just one home run off of Hanley Ramirez for the lead, despite playing in almost 30 fewer games. Though Desmond has been unable to run as much due to injuries (even when he is playing), he still ranks 6th in steals (among shortstops), and has shown good speed throughout the year. His defense which has always been a bit of an enigma, as he possessed fantastic range and a cannon for an arm, but would make some bad errors or miss plays he should have had. This season though, Desmond's defense has been even more consistent and has made a number of highlight worthy plays.

Desmond in his previous two seasons as a starter hadn't come even remotely close to these types of numbers. A .269/.308/.392 line was Desmond's better of those two seasons, and that is well below his .295/.331/..522 current line. Perhaps most impressive is his .331 on base percentage. Desmond has never been a patient hitter, and still isn't this season. His walk rate has remained roughly the same (5.1%), Desmond is just making better contact and getting more hits this year. Now typically the fear would be that it is just luck, but his BABIP of .332 shouldn't be a huge concern because he posted a .317 BABIP number each of the last two years. In fact the biggest jump for Desmond in his numbers is the fact that he's hitting the ball out of play. His 23 home runs in 474 plate appearances, are five more than his previous two seasons combined which spanned 1,213 plate appearances.

Despite very impressive numbers, Ian Desmond's best contribution to the Washington Nationals this season probably hasn't come in the batter's box or in the field, as his leadership has set him apart. Desmond is almost always the first one out of the dugout to take the field each inning, and leads by example. When a batter has a poor at bat or a pitcher is in trouble typically it will be Desmond who will be talking with them to settle them. Reports behind the scenes also speak to Desmond's character and leadership. It is that leadership from Desmond and others, that has allowed the Washington Nationals to deal with so many injuries and slumps this season and still be firmly in first place. A more talented team, but weaker in the locker room would have been more likely to collapse. That hasn't been the Nationals though as they have faced every adversity thrown their way.

Ian Desmond may have been an unlikely star and an afterthought to many at the beginning of the season, but he's now a core Washington National (note to Mike Rizzo sign him to an extension ASAP). His bat, his glove, but most importantly his character has set the tone for the Nationals all season, and should continue as they look to head into their first playoffs since coming to Washington.

Nats Sweep Sox and Head North of the Border

June 11, 2012 in Uncategorized

The Nationals (35-23) came into Fenway Park on Friday night having never one a game in Boston in franchise history. Not even the Expos found success in one game at the historic venue. Well, now the Nats have three wins under their belt as they swept the Red Sox (29-31) this weekend behind phenomenal outings from Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Jordan Zimmermann. Bryce Harper even flourished in his Fenway debut hitting a three-run bomb on Friday. All in all it was a memorable weekend for the first place Nationals.

Tonight the Nats stay in the AL East but head north of the border to the Rogers Centre in Toronto to take on the Blue Jays (31-29). Tonight's matchup will feature Edwin Jackson (2-3, 3.11) versus the Blue Jays most steady pitcher this year Brandon Morrow (7-3, 2.90). Tomorrow Chien-Ming Wang (1-2, 5.11) will take the hill to face Henderson Alvarez (3-5, 3.76). The series finale will feature two talented youngsters in Nat's ace Stephen Strasburg (7-1, 2.41) and Kyle Drabek (4-6, 4.43), who was the main piece in the Phillies' trade for former Blue Jays' ace Roy Halladay. It's a shame that Strasburg gets the finale for this series because it means he will not pitch in the Nats showdown with the New York Yankees at Nationals Park this weekend.

Staying at an AL East venue of course means that Nationals can continue to use Michael Morse as the designated hitter. This is also good news for recently called up Tyler Moore, who had a stellar series in Boston where he had three hits, three runs, and two stolen bases in two starts. Also, look for rookie sensation Bryce Harper to be back in the field after sitting out most of Sunday's game as a precaution for his back.

The Blue Jays are not hitting for a high average this year but Nats' pitchers will need to avoid the power bats of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. The two sluggers have combined for 34 home runs and 88 RBIs already this season. They trail only Josh Hamilton and Curtis Granderson in the AL in home runs. With the Nats generally playing in tight games they will need to proceed with caution when pitching to the two Blue Jays power hitters.

Nationals Set to Visit Fenway

June 8, 2012 in Uncategorized

The Nationals will travel to Fenway Park tonight for first time since 2006, where they were pounded in a three game set against the Sox. Despite the Red Sox being in last place in the AL East, playing at Fenway Park has to be a big deal for the Nats and their young stars. Also, the last place label may be a bit deceiving for the Sox because they are only three games behind the first place Ray and Orioles. The Sox are coming off a series in which they only took one win from the Orioles in a three game set.

Tonight Stephen Strasburg (6-1, 2.35) makes his Fenway debut after coming off a seven inning, nine strikeout, shutout win over the Braves last Friday. The Friday night matchup versus the Sox has to be a big deal for any young pitcher, but especially for Strasburg. The atmosphere at Fenway is sure to be electric tonight. To counter Strasburg, Red Sox first year manager will send his own youngster, Felix Doubront, to the hill. Doubront has been solid for the Sox this year with a 3.75 ERA and a 6-2 record. His most recent outing was a win in Toronto where he struck out seven Blue Jays and gave up a pair of solo home runs.

Saturday will also present an interesting matchup when Davey Johnson will send the National League's statistically best pitcher, Gio Gonazalez (7-2, 2.31), against Daisuke Matsuzaka. This will be Matsuzaka's first start of the year after season ending surgery the year before. It'll certainly be intriguing to see how the 31 year old, Japanese veteran will respond in his first game. The Red Sox could certainly use help in the pitching department.

Sunday's matchup will pit Jordan Zimmermann (3-5, 2.82) versus John Lester (3-4, 4.64). Zimmermann has been phenomenal for the Nats, but it seems as if run support just disappears when he hits the hill. Hopefully a Michael Morse at the DH position will help remedy the Nats offensive woes for "Two Ns".

The Red Sox have some interesting young players like Will Middlebrooks and Daniel Nava to keep an eye on this weekend, but its the veterans that you have to watch out for. "Big Papi" David Ortiz has had a resurgence this year hitting .304 with 13 home runs and 34 RBI. Dustin Pedroia is also back from injury and hitting .280 with five home runs and 23 RBI. Also, Jarrod Saltalamacchia has been great in replacing former captain Jason Varitek. The veteran catcher is batting .278 with 11 home runs and 27 RBI.

This series, along with the rest of the interleague play, should certainly be an exciting time for the Nationals and their fans.

Who Can Help the Nats Tread Water?

May 16, 2012 in Uncategorized

The Nationals' injury bug has been well documented this year. Luckily (I guess you can say), the Nats are lucky that the bug hasn't hit the pitching staff as hard as it has hit rest of the team. As long as the rotation is healthy the Nats can like tread water waiting for the return of some key players, like Michael Morse who is expected to return June 8. As we look down on the farm for the Nats who are some guys in Harrisburg or Syracuse that could help the Nats continue to keep their head above water in the NL East?

Corey Brown, OF, Syracuse: Brown is 27 year old minor league veteran who is having the best year of his career batting .281 and 7 home runs. He had a cup of coffee with the Nats  last year but failed to get on base in three plate appearances. Perhaps with a second chance Brown could help supplement some the Nats starters.

Jarrett Hoffpauir, 3B, Syracuse: The 28 year old veteran has had opportunities in the past with the Cardinals and Blue Jays, and with the way he's hitting this year could earn another shot with the Nats.  Currently Hoffpauir is batting .321 with 13 RBI for the SkyChiefs.

Jeff Kobernus, 2B, Harrisburg: The 23 year old Kobernus is doing some big things in Pennsylvania's capital this year. Kobernus .310 with 7 RBI and 24 stolen bases. The middle infield remains solid for the Nats but Kobernus is certainly a guy to keep an eye on.

Eury Perez, OF, Harrisburg: Perez is a member of the Nats 40-man roster but is having a rough time in AA by just batting .234. Nonetheless, the 21 year old still is a talented young ball player who could come in to help the Nationals if their outfield thins out any more.

Nationals Rotation Options:

October 7, 2011 in Uncategorized

The Nationals will have a young rotation next year with John Lannan the 'veteran' of the group. Right now two other spots are set in Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, but beyond that there are three guys fighting for two spots. The problem is all three, Ross Detwiler, Brad Peacock, and Tom Milone, are young pitchers, whom the Nationals might not be able to count on. Not to mention all three of them (plus Zimmermann and Strasburg) will likely be on innings limits next year, and won't be able to make a full season's worth of starts. Which could really put a strain on the Nationals bullpen next year. Also, it would probably be good to have a quality veteran around to help be a sounding board for all these young pitchers.

Now some might point to resigning Livan Hernandez or putting Tom Gorzelanny back in the rotation, but neither option makes sense. Hernandez had a nice year for the Nationals, but Washington needs more if they want to take that next step to being a playoff team. While signing Hernandez might make sense for the bullpen, Washington needs an upgrade for their rotation. As for Gorzelanny, he is probably better served as either trade bait or a non-tender candidate.

So what options are available for the Nationals? Unfortunately not too many, but there are a couple intriguing choices in both free agency and through trades.

Free Agents:

Roy Oswalt- Technically Oswalt isn't a free agent yet as the Phillies control a $16 million option on Oswalt, but they aren't expected to exercise it. Oswalt is 34 and missed some time this year (though still made 23 starts), but in the previous 7 seasons he started at least 30 games. His numbers were down a bit this year, but were still very impressive. In fact outside of Zimmermann no pitcher who started 10 or more games for the Nationals managed his type of numbers. The other benefit to Oswalt is that the Phillies aren't likely to offer him arbitration, since by accepting it they'd have to pay him probably more than the $16 million they would owe with the option, so he won't cost a draft pick. Now the real question becomes price and whether or not he would sign here. As for price I think it depends on how long he signs for. If it is just a year he might be able to squeeze out $13 million, but if it is 2 or 3 years, it will probably be more in the $10-11 million range. Now would he sign here is an interesting question. Oswalt is likely to prefer the National League, by all accounts, so that is a positive. But he's also wants to be on a contender. Washington obviously hasn't been that yet, but with a strong end to the season, and the return of Stephen Stasburg next year Oswalt could bite. Especially if the Nationals land another bigger name free agent.

Edwin Jackson- Jackson is making himself quite a payday after the season, as he has pitched well for St. Louis down the stretch and into the playoffs. He's a hard throwing righty who'd definitely be an upgrade for Washington. He's also under 30 giving him a big advantage on the free agent market. On the downside though, he is very erratic as a pitcher, and doesn't display a lot of consistency year-to-year. Jackson is also looking at a huge payday, probably in the neighborhood of $15 million a year over 5 years (if not more). Given the price, the lack of reliability and the fact the Nationals will need to give up a draft pick, I'd probably look to avoid him.

Trade Market:

Wandy Rodriguez- The Astros declined to trade Rodriguez this summer, but I'm sure they will look to deal him this offseason to clear payroll. Rodriguez has turned himself into a quality lefty these past few years, and would slot in nicely in the number 3 role with the Nationals. His price tag, $36 million remaining over three years, is a bit steep, but not completely unreasonable. Rodriguez has also been quite healthy these last few years and is a good bet to reach 200 innings. Now the Nationals would need to deal for him, so they'd have to give up something. The exact value will be dependent on how much salary the Nationals have to take on. If Washington takes on all $36 million then a couple 2nd tier prospects should do the trick. Depending on what the Astros want in return, this could be a good deal for Washington.

Jeremy Guthrie- Guthrie has been a solid component of the Orioles rotation for the last few years. While his numbers don't jump out at you, he's pitched pretty well on a bad team, in the toughest division in baseball. If he survived the A.L. East, the N.L. East shouldn't be much of a problem. The Orioles are expected to go after a couple big name free agents, and would probably like to move Guthrie's salary off the books. Guthrie is in the final year of arbitration and is expected to make about $8.5 million next year. The bad news for the Nationals is he's only a one year fix (though if they truly believe in their young starters, that might be appealing), and could leave them in a market for a starter in 2013 as well. Despite only being under control for one year, the Orioles should be able to get at least 1-2 decent prospects for him, given his price. Guthrie comes a lot cheaper than most free agent pitchers, and a number of small market contenders could be interested.

Overview: Of the four options (and there are other lesser or less likely choices as well), I'd order my preference Oswalt, Rodriguez, Guthrie, and Jackson (I really don't like Jackson at all, but I get the feeling that the Nationals might like him). I'd really prefer to add a top 3 type of pitcher like Oswalt or Rodriguez, so that the Nationals aren't so overpowered when they face Philly or Atlanta. I'd offer Oswalt a strong 2 or 3 year contract, that is at the peak of what I suggested earlier ($12 million range), and really make a commitment to winning with him by adding some other pieces. Now that the Nationals have shown that they can be a .500 team, there is no reason for them to not act like it, and be aggressive in free agency.

Time to make a change at the top of the Nationals lineup:

April 15, 2011 in Uncategorized

Now most Nats fans have been saying this from the beginning of the season, as they'd like to see 2B Danny Espinosa move up to the top spot in the lineup, and SS Ian Desmond move to the bottom of the order. While I understand why they want to make that move, I don't think it is really the best choice. The move the Nationals should make is to put Espinosa in the leadoff spot, Desmond in the 2-hole and move Rick Ankiel to the bottom of the lineup.

Now I realize that right now Desmond is struggling some, but lets be honest in the long run who is going to produce more, Desmond or Ankiel? Simply put, Ian Desmond needs more at bats than Ankiel especially since he can hit both RH and LH pitching. Desmond in limited time thrived in the 2-hole last season, when he posted a .326/.359/.489 slash line in 201 plate appearances. Also, (and not surprising) he was able to utilize his speed at the top of the lineup, stealing 9 bases in 10 attempts.

Putting Desmond at the 2 spot will make the Nationals very RH heavy through the early part of their lineup, but it is not as if Ankiel is exceptional against righties and there would be a huge difference. Also, when Ryan Zimmerman comes back from injury, both him and Jayson Werth still hit RH pitchers very well, so it shouldn't have much of an impact at all.

The fact of the matter is both Desmond and Espinosa are good young players, with the potential to be good young hitters, why not give them as many at bats as possible. Keeping one or the other at the bottom of the lineup will only lead to more outs at the top of it.

This move isn't the answer to all of the Nationals hitting woes, but I think it will be a good first step, and should put the players in their best possible position to help the team. Ideally when Zimmerman is back I would shift the regular lineup to the following:

2B Danny Espinosa
SS Ian Desmond
3B Ryan Zimmerman
RF Jayson Werth
1B Adam LaRoche
C Wilson Ramos (if Pudge/Flores are starting than either Ankiel or Morse depending on the pitcher)
CF Rick Ankiel (if a lefty is starting than Morse)
LF Mike Morse
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That is a pretty dramatic fall for Morse on days when Ramos is catching, but I think he needs to earn his way back up into the lineup. And the difference between him and say Desmond, is the fact that Desmond has always been projected to hit, where Morse kinda came out of nowhere last season. Right now he doesn't look comfortable at the plate and needs to work his way back into a more prominent position in the batting order.