Thursday, January 17, 2013

If 2013 Doesn't Get Me Blogging Again, Nothing Will

Ken McMullen
Well, I've never had the best of timing.

I started blogging about the Washington Nationals a few days after it was announced the team was moving from Montreal.

I stopped blogging a year ago Christmas when I got a real, paid job writing for my local paper. 

In between, I wrote a thousand stories about some of the worst teams ever to wear a major league uniform. 

Last May I had the chance to go back home to Washington for a couple of weeks and got credentials from the team to cover a few games against the San Diego Padres. I spent some time in the press box and in the club house, and man, was it fun.

I mean, when Bryce Harper walks by, nods and says "Hey bro," you know life is pretty good.

I'm thinking if I can't find a reason to write about the upcoming season I never will. A 98-win team adds a fleet center fielder, a former number-one ace and perhaps the premier closer in the American League and didn't lose a single player they wanted to keep.

This could be a very special season in Washington.

One my favorite years was 1969 when Ted Williams led the Washington Senators to an 86-76 record. I'm guessing that 2013 just might be even better. Oh, I'm not talking wins. An 86-win season will be a bitter disappointment for Nationals' fans.

No, I'm talking about the special feeling a sports team can provide its fans.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

$26 Million For Carlos Beltran? Nationals Lucked Out

There were a lot of Nationals' fans unhappy with the team last winter when they signed outfielder Jayson Werth to that 7-year, $126 million contract. 

Unhappy not because they got Werth, who was and continues to be a quality major league outfielder. It was that contract that left a bad taste in the mouths of so many fans.

That wasn't a bad contract. You maybe could call in questionable, but not bad.

The contract that the St. Louis Cardinals gave Carlos Beltran a couple of days ago--now that was a bad contract. And really, that could have been Washington who, fearing that they would not be able to fill a hole in their lineup for 2012--gave an aging star far too much in return for what probably will be far too little.

Bad contract, man. I'm talking $26 million bad.

There is no question that Beltran was at one time a premier player. From 1999 through 2008--playing for both the Royals and the Mets, he averaged .281/.357/.497 with 29 home runs, 108 RBI and 30 steals. 

But injuries limited both his effectiveness and his playing time in 2009 and 2010. The 34-year-old averaged just 72 games per season and hit .295-17-75. Yes, he rebounded in 2011,batting .300-22-84, using a combination of health and his own personal fountain of youth.

That said, there is no way that Beltran is worth $13 million a year.

The Cardinals, still hurting over the loss of Albert Pujols to the Angels, decided to sign someone quick, anyone, to replace him. 

That turned out to be Beltran.

Sure, there is a chance that Beltran hits .300 and hits another 24 homers like he did last year, but is that worth $13 million? No way. 

In the end, that is just too much money for too many expectations and not enough talent left in the tank.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Signing Mark Buehrle or Trading For Gio Gonzalez: Which Would Have Cost The Nationals More?

It's been almost 24 hours since the Washington Nationals acquired pitcher Gio Gonzalez and fan reaction has pretty much fallen into two categories regarding the deal.

Either the team gave up way to much for a pitcher that walks way too many batters, or the 26-year-old Gonzalez will indeed help make the Nationals contenders in 2012.

But within both groups there is a common link. Many on both sides think that if the team wanted to add a top-end starter, they should have signed him as a free agent instead of trading for him. 

This way, the logic goes, they could have gotten him for "nothing."

Make sense?

Let's take the case of Mark Buehrle, the former White Sox hurler who signed a four-year, $58 million deal with the Miami Marlins a couple of weeks ago. 

That works out to $14.5 million per year for Buehrle, who will be 33 at the beginning of the contract and 36 when it ends in 2015. 

Over that same period of time, Gonzalez will probably earn about as much in four years as Buehrle will earn in one.

In his two full years, Gonzalez has averaged a 16-10 record with a 3.17 ERA. During that same period, Buehrle went 13-11, 3.94 and hasn't won 16 games in a season since 2005. 

After 12 major league seasons, Buehrle is as good as he's going to get and will probably begin to decline fairly quickly, something that happens to all pitchers at this stage in their careers. Gonzalez, though, at 26, continues to get better as he refines his game.

True, the Nationals gave up four quality prospects, but history suggests that only one or two of them will have successful careers. Popped tendons, lost release points, and 100 mph fastballs will keep some of them from reaching their potential.

By not signing Buehrle, the Nationals also saved their top pick in the upcoming amateur draft, something they would have forfeited had they signed him. 

They also saved roughly $45 million which would just about cover the first two years of a potential Prince Fielder contract, or more than the amount required to sign local boy Joe Saunders, a John Lannan-esque pitcher capable of easily replacing him in the Nationals' rotation

The Nationals could then trade Lannan and receive in return a couple of good-to-decent prospects, players that would help replace the kids lost in the Gonzalez trade. 

Trading for Gio Gonzalez instead of signing Mark Buehrle really didn't cost the Nationals anything. It was just a different way of accomplishing the goal that team GM Mike Rizzo said was a priority for months--adding a durable starter to the pitching staff. 

The team "lost" four prospects instead of $45 million. Are each of those kids worth $11 million to the Nationals? While this might change, right now I'd have to say no. 

All in all, it was a good day for the Nationals.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Gio Gonzalez: Taking A Different Look At Nationals New Rotation

Newest National Gio Gonzalez
Gio Gonzalez is now a National and the Washington Nationals are now contenders. 

Just like that.

The American League all-star cost the Nationals Brian Peacock, Tommy Milone, Derek Norris and A.J. Cole, a rich haul to be sure. But none of those players were in the team's plans for 2012 and now a good rotation is close enough to great that it's no longer a long-distance call. 

Gonzalez joins Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, giving the team as good a top-of-the-rotation as you'll find in the league. Add John Lannan and Chien-Ming Wang and there isn't a breather for the opposing team.

Take a look at these stats. Strasburg, Zimmermann and Wang's numbers are based on last year's numbers based on 30 starts. Lannan's and Gio's are their actual stats:

1--Strasburg: 12-8, 2.54 (6.9/1.9/11.3)
2--Zimmermann: 10-11, 3.18 (8.6/1.7/6.9)
Ross Detwiler
3--Gio Gonzalez: 16-12, 3.12 (7.8/4.1/8.8)
4--John Lannan: 10-13, 3.70 (9.5/3.7/5.2)
5--Chien-Ming Wang: 12-9, 4.04 (9.7/1.9/3.6)

And if one of them gets hurt, here are Ross Detwiler's numbers from last year, based on 30 starts:

6--Ross Detwiler: 12-15, 3.00 (8.6/2.7/5.6)

The four National League playoff teams from last season averaged 65 wins from their top five starters. The Nationals' top five listed above would have won 60 games. 

They are close, really really close. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Mark DeRosa Ready To Join Nationals

It looks like Mark DeRosa is going to be joining the Nationals in 2012.

The 36-year-old will be the team's super-utility player. In 2009, his last full year in the majors, he played significant time at first base, third, as well as both left and right field.

From 1998 through 2005, DeRosa was mostly a part-time player, averaging .263/.320/.380 with 3 home runs and 13 RBI. But over the next four seasons, he was an every-day player, hitting .281/.356/.448 with 17 homers and 80 RBI. 

Injuries, though, have kept him either on the disabled list or the bench the past two seasons. He hit just .194/.279/.258 in 2010 with the Giants in just 93 at-bats. He rebounded somewhat last year, hitting .279/.351/.302 in 86 at-bats with San Francisco.

He has played for Atlanta, Texas, Chicago and San Francisco over his 14-year career.

Dear Mike Rizzo: Forget Fielder, Keep Adam LaRoche

In most every story written about premier free agent first baseman Prince Fielder, the Washington Nationals are listed as one of the teams pursuing him. 

Some suggest the team is making the 27-year-old a signing priority while others say they are at least in the mix.

If the Nationals were to somehow sign Fielder, he will end up costing them more than $20 million a year. Does that make sense for Washington, who still controls Adam LaRoche for another year?

Here are the two player's stats based on their last five years and based on a playing 162 games (LaRoche's numbers are based on 2006-2010 because of his injury-shortened 2011 campaign):

Fielder: .284/.400/.537, 38 home runs, 112 RBI

LaRoche: .273/.343/.493, 29 home runs, 99 RBI

Over the course of a full season, Fielder will reach base 39 more times than LaRoche, will hit 9 more home runs and drive in 13 more runs.

Defensively, Fielder is adequate and LaRoche, while not a Gold Glover, is close to it. 
Adam LaRoche will earn $8 million in 2012 while Fielder will probably sign a contract worth $23 million or so over seven or eight years.

Is that additional offensive production (roughly one run every 12 games) worth the extra $15 million, especially when those extra 13 runs will probably be offset by Fielder's so-so glove?

Absolutely not. 

LaRoche--assuming he is healthy this season--will hit 25 or so home runs and drive in close to 100 runs. Next season, Michael Morse will return to first base and the top-rated prospect in all of baseball--Bryce Harper--will take over in left. 

And with the $15 million that the Nationals would save by not signing Prince Fielder, the Nationals could acquire a top-of-the-line center fielder.

Sometimes, the best thing to do is to do nothing. The Nationals can contend in 2012 with Adam LaRoche at first. Prince Fielder would be little more than decoration for the Nationals. 

Very expensive decoration. 

Chatter About Gio To Nationals: I Say Go For It

Ken Rosenthal reported on Monday night that the Washington Nationals are trying very hard to get a deal done for the Oakland Athletics' Gio Gonzalez.

Reports suggest some type of a four-for-one trade would be needed to obtain the lefty 26-year-old from the Athletics. 

Because he plays in a division far far away and in a league we almost never see, Gonzalez isn't a well known commodity to most Nationals fans. 

But he is a really good pitcher. 

A lefty, the six-foot, 200 pounder has averaged 16-10, 3.17, 7.7/4.1/82 over the last two seasons.

He is controllable for the next four years and would provide the Nationals a fifth solid arm for next year's rotation. Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gonzalez, John Lannan and Chien-Ming Wang would in all likelihood comprise a playoff rotation. 

Who would the Nationals be willing to give up for Gio Ganzalez? Certainly the Athletics would want to replace Gonzalez in the rotation, and Ross Detwiler would fit the bill. They'd need to throw in another starter, someone like Tommy Milone, Daniel Rosenbaum or Brian Peacock (probably Peacock). Catcher Derek Norris would certainly make sense, and adding Roger Bernadina as one of those change-of-scenery-might-help players might sweeten the deal.

This time last year, the Nationals had completed a 4-for-1 trade for then Royals' starter Zack Greinke but it fell apart when Greinke invoked his no-trade clause and ended up in Milwaukee.

But the team wasn't close enough to contention at that time and adding Greinke at the cost of the team's future made no sense. But it does now. Stephen Strasburg is healthy. Danny Espinosa is a Gold Glove second baseman with power. Micahel Morse is a 30-home run power hitter.

And Wilson Ramos is a superb catcher.

Now is the time to give up prospects--especially blocked ones like Norris--and turn a good starting rotation into a great one.

Hey Mike, the time has come. Make the deal.

Monday, December 12, 2011

For the Nationals, There Are A Lot of Good "Plan B's" Out There

Just because the Washington Nationals struck out at the just completed Baseball Winter Meetings, there is no reason for the team to throw up their hands and say, "Well, at least we tried." Team General Manager Mike Rizzo went for the creme of the free agency crop, and creme is always more expensive than the milk that is left behind.

Maybe for the Nationals, milk is just fine.

This Nationals team has the capability to contend in 2012, even without that much needed middle-of-the-rotation starter and a top center fielder. So why not split the difference and get a couple of good-but-not-great players through a trade, from perhaps a team that is going to continue the fire sale that began last season.

There wasn't much left in the Houston Astros outfield after Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence was traded away. But one player remaining could certainly help Washington.

Jason Bourgeois is a 29-year-old outfielder who played for three teams in three years before returning to Houston last season. Playing half the season, Bourgeois hit .294/.323/.357 and if you base his stats on a 500 at-bat season, would have collected 140 hits, 16 doubles, 4 triples, 2 home runs, 32 RBI and 64 stolen bases. He doesn't hit righties as well as I'd like, but he does play a solid center field. 

You would think that a 29-year-old player with just 401 career at-bats wouldn't cost much in a trade, and Bourgeois could be a quality stop-gap until such time when whatever happens in the Nationals outfield (say: Bryce Harper) happens. 

I think Bourgeois would provide she short-term relief the Nationals are seeking, both in center at as a leadoff batter.

And if the Nationals are still seeking that veteran starter capable of throwing 200 innings, the team would need look no farther than a few spots up the Astros roster until they find the name Wandy Rodriguez.

At 32, Rodriguez is John Lannan with a higher strikeout rate. Over his last four seasons, Rodriguez has averaged 13-12, 3.40, 8.6/3.0/8.2. He's old enough now that he'll never be around when the Astros begin to win with the talent they have been acquiring the last couple of seasons. 

Both players will cost the Nationals minimal salary increases. Wandy Rodriguez will make $11 million over the next two seasons before he gains his free agency while Bourgeois will make $500,000 dollars in 2012. 

To get the two players, the Nationals will likely offer one or two of their young pitchers, perhaps Tommy Milone and A.J. Cole. Thrown in as well to cover Bourgeois would be someone like Roger Bernadina, someone who has the ability to be an everyday player but has yet to do it.

That's a win-win for both sides and gives the Nationals a serviceable outfielder and a solid pitcher. 

Here's hoping that the Nationals don't stop looking because they didn't get their first choice to take to the dance.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Nationals Should Have A "Plan B" And His Name Should Be Edwin Jackson

Now that the Washington Nationals have missed out on both Mark Buehrle and C.J. Wilson, they claim that the team really never had a "Plan B," and that they are content heading into the 2012 season with a rotation made of players they now control.

I have no problem filling the back of the rotation with John Lannan, Chien-Ming Wang and Ross Detwiler or Brad Peacock, but if the team really wants to contend next year--or at least try to--they need to add one more top-of-the-rotation starter to  join Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann.

My guess is general manager Mike Rizzo is still looking for another starter, and Roy Oswalt certainly remains a potential target.

But there are several quality starters still available, some with the same talents and statistics that made Mark Buehrle and C.J. Wilson so intriguing. 

What about them? 

What about, say, Edwin Jackson?

Jackson is an aggressive pitcher with a good fastball. He pounds the strike zone and breaks bats. His problem, though, is with his control. When he can't find the strike zone, he forces his team to endure long at-bats and even longer innings.

That said, he would be an ideal number-three starter. Over the past four seasons, Jackson has averaged 12-10 with a 3.99 ERA, allowing 9.4 hits and 3.2 walks while striking out 6.7 batters per nine-innings.

No, that's not great, but it's pretty good. And Buerle would have cost the Nationals more than $15 million, about twice what Jackson would cost. 

Picture what Jason Marquis did for the Nationals last season before his trade to Arizona and that's what the Nationals would likely get out of Jackson. In 20 starts last year, Marquis went 8-5, 3.95, 9.8/3.0/5.3. During his time in Washington, he was the team's second-best pitcher behind Jordan Zimmermann.

Marquis cost the team $8 million per season and would have won 10-12 games had he remained all year. Jackson will cost the team about $8 million and would win 10-12 games for the Nationals. 

Jackson, however, is just 27, five years younger than Marquis, and has the talent to improve as his career progresses.

Sign Jackson to a three year contract (or a two year deal with a club option) and then trade Ross Detwiler, Tommy Milone or Brad Peacock as part of a package for that coveted center fielder.

Someone like Adam Jones of the Orioles.

Just because the Nationals didn't get the pitcher they wanted doesn't mean they still can't the pitcher they need.