The Nationals haven’t made any moves just yet in free agency, but it is a couple of non-moves that has me worried. In the past couple of days the Florida Marlins traded both Cameron Maybin and Dan Uggla for basically table scraps, and the Cardinals resigned Jake Westbrook, sadly those were three players the Nationals should have had an interest in, but missed out on.
Now Uggla is normally a player I’d tell the Nationals to run away from since he is a 1-year rental and wants a boatload of money to resign (above market value). Despite being an excellent offensive 2B, who could help out at 1B or corner OF, Uggla didn’t make sense for Washington due to his contract. One year rentals are great if you are a contender, but Nationals are likely on the outside looking in for the next year or two, so it wouldn’t make sense to give up a couple good young players for a one year rental.
As it turned out Uggla was traded for a Utility player making $2.5 million for one year, and solid but unspectacular middle relief left-hander. The Nationals could have easily topped that deal, and even if Uggla was only around for one year it would have been worth it. Uggla would have helped mitigate the expected loss of Adam Dunn with his offensive production, though it would have meant slowing down the progress of 2B prospect Denny Espinosa. While it is possible they could have moved Willingham to RF to allow for Uggla in LF, to keep Espinosa in the lineup I would have had no problem with Uggla at 2B. Sure the defense is awful, but if they signed a solid replacement 1B (Carlos Pena, Lance Berkman etc.), the Nats offense would have been pretty good. At the same time Espinosa would have had more time to fully develop, and would be ready to fill in mid-season if Uggla was dealt at the trade deadline. While we may never know since the Braves are likely to be contenders, Uggla should have more trade value at the deadline than what the Marlins received for him. At worse the Nationals would have gotten two draft picks when he left as a free agency (which I still think is more value than what the Braves gave up). Either way It would have been a solid move for the Nats that would have made them better in 2011, and given them options to get future value as well.
Maybin was at one time a heralded prospect, and at 23 still has plenty of potential left. While he has the speed, talent, and minor league numbers that would suggest a major league star, he has failed thus far to produce in the Majors. He would have been a great buy low candidate for the Nationals who truly don’t have a long term answer in CF. Maybin could use a change of scenery and a new approach at the plate, where he hasn’t shown an ability to hit off-speed pitches. He might never develop into a star, but should at least be a league average centerfielder, based on his defensive potential. Maybin was well worth the two relief pitchers he was traded for, and would have made a nice addition to the Nationals.
Losing out on him isn’t the end of the world, and there was some risk of being a bust or Milledge 2.o. But given his makeup, character, and work ethic (which are all thought to be exceptional) I think he would have brought value to the Nationals.
Westbrook was one of the top 2nd class pitchers in this free agent market, behind Cliff Lee. He had further value considering he wouldn’t cost a draft pick like Carl Pavano or Jorge De La Rosa. Now no one was going to mistake Westbrook for an ace, or a true adequate replacement for missing out on Lee, but he has a lot of value. He is a middle of the rotation starter, who actually projects better than last year’s free agent signing Jason Marquis. While it is true the Nats are stocked with middle-back of the rotation starters many of them are still very much unproven. There is no guarantee that Maya, Detwiler, J.D. Martin, Atliano, or Stammen are ever going to really figure it out. In addition, both Marquis and Lannan struggled last season, and Livan Hernandez might not be so successful in 2011. There are a lot of question marks in this rotation beyond Jordan Zimmermann (who also hasn’t established anything), and things could be murkier in 2012 when Strasburg comes back, but Marquis and Hernandez are free agents. Westbrook would have been a solid number 2 starter (for most other teams he is a 3 or 4) for Washington in 2011, and a good option for number 3 in 2012.
Westbrook ended up signing for roughly what Marquis signed for last year (though he does have a no-trade clause) so he would have been affordable to the Nats. I don’t think missing out on him is the end of the world, but he would have been a nice compliment if they somehow got Cliff Lee, and a decent cheap fall back option.
None of these moves would have put the Nationals over the top, but all of them could have benefited Washington next season (and likely beyond). Maybin and Westbrook would have been the smartest moves, while Uggla would have been the flashiest. Hopefully the Nats can find some other smart buys on the free agent and trade market (and they are out there), but so far I think they missed out on some interesting options.