Archive for November, 2009

Lackey, DeRosa . . . Or Both?

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

CFG writer and droog DWilly (here he is, in case you’ve forgotten), is pessimistic about the possibility the Nats will sign Belinski free agent pitcher John Lackey: “The Red Sox will be in the mix and they’ll bid him up, but only to make sure the Yankees don’t get him,” he opined during a break in the action this last week. “And for good reason: can you imagine the Phillies facing C.C., Pettitte and Lackey in the World Series? Forget Burnett – in that mix he’d be number four. For the Red Sox, the Yankees getting Lackey would be their worst nightmare.” Add the Angels to that list: Anaheim owner Arte Moreno says that he can afford either Lackey or third sacker Chone Figgins, but not both — making his choice a no-brainer. With the crosstown Dodgers taking a pass on Lackey that leaves the Red Sox, Yankees, and Nats bidding for his services. Oh, and the Mets, who are desperate for pitching. Bart Hubbach of the New York Post says that Lackey tops the Chokes’ wish list, ranking well ahead of both Jason Marquis (who “badly wants to be a Met”) and Joel Piniero — the 31-year-old Cardinal slinger.

The Lackey-to-the Nats rumor surfaced last week, when Nats beat writer Bill Ladson reported that the Nats “are looking for an ace who can tutor pitchers such as John Lannan, Ross Detwiler and Stephen Strasburg. Washington has been looking for this type of pitcher since after the Trade Deadine.” True enough, but Lackey won’t be cheap — and at least some baseball executives are questioning his health: Lackey got off to a slow start last year due to a sore elbow and he’s spent a part of each of the last two years on the DL. And the price tag? The figures are all over the place, but current betting is that Lackey would ask for (and get) an A.J. Burnett contract — somewhere in the range of five years and $82 million. At the top end, the contract would max out at five years and $100 million, at the low end a Lackey contract would be for three years and $30 million. Lackey’s a tough, nose-in-the-dirt pitcher who could feast on N.L. hitters, but that’s a lot of change for a potential sore elbow and a tutor. And it’s a lot of change if, after spending (say) $80 million, you have nothing left to shore up your infield or add to your bullpen.

Signing a top flight innings-eating pitcher had to be a priority of Nats GM Mike Rizzo — but it will do little good for the Nats to spend oodles on Lackey and have little left over. So a rejiggering the priority list makes a lot of sense: back in ’08, the Nats spent a good part of their season scrambling to put together a roster that had Ryan Zimmerman struggling to overcome a left shoulder tear. Zim ended up losing 56 games, a nightmare for a team that has few marque players. While this unthinkable knock-on-wood scenario seems unlikely for 2010 (knock on wood, and hard), the Nats’ unsettled up-the-middle problems — including the distinct possibility that wunderkind Ian Desmond might not be the solution to the Nats’ shortstop woes that they think he is — would stretch the Nats to the breaking point were something to happen to Zim (or Adam Dunn, or Josh Willingham, or Cristian Guzman).

Which means that John Lackey isn’t the only priority for the Nats, and maybe not even the top priority. The Nats need pitching and desperately, but if they want a tutor and innings eater they can find one among a free agent class that includes Jon Garland, Joel Piniero, Jason Marquis or even (gasp) Carl Pavano. Garland (just as an example) won’t be cheap ($25 million over three years), but he won’t be as expensive as Lackey — and the Nats can use the savings they might have spent on JL for Mark DeRosa. The more you think about DeRosa the more you have to like him, especially as a fit for the wobbly Nats’ infield. Forget for just a moment that he’s a helluva player. Remember, instead, that his glove work eclipses that of Desmond or Guzman or Gonzalez. He can play short and second and he can spell Willingham in left and if worse comes to worse (knock on wood) he can play third. And he can hit. Then too, taking a pass on Lackey means there’s more money to not only plug the holes in the infield, but in the bullpen.

Here’s what all of this might come down to: signing John Lackey (and no one else) doesn’t make the Nats at .500 ballclub, but signing Garland (or Piniero, or Marquis) with DeRosa behind them and Mike Gonzalez in the bullpen does.

Meet The New Boss . . .

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

Same As The Old Boss: Jim Riggleman has been hired as the manager of the Washington Nationals, according to information coming both from the team and from baseball sources. The official announcement is expected to be made sometime on Thursday during a press conference at Nationals Park. The final decision apparently came down to a choice between former Mets manager Bobby Valentine and Riggleman, but what is surprising is the news that the Nats considered several other candidates, including St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa. The other names in the running included Tim Foley, Bo Porter and Bob Melvin. An early candidate, Don Mattingly, took himself out of the running for the job.

The news of Riggleman’s hiring brought mixed reviews from the Nats blogosphere. Nationals Inquisition criticized the decision: “This move will do little to nothing to change the losing culture of the team. I can hardly be excited by putting the team in the hands of a guy who in a whole ‘decade’ of his managerial career has only had two seasons over .500,” NI’s writer noted. FJB was also critical: “So for all practical purposes, it was Fizzleman from the start. Oh well. At least we don’t have to feel conflicted when it comes time to call for his head. And I give him a year. If he survives in this death march of a job longer than Manny did, then he’ll really have achieved something.” Nationals Pride, on the other hand, greeted the news by outlining the series of steps that brought Riggleman the job — a so called triple play that included signing Stephen Strasburg and hiring Mike Rizzo. Nationals Fan Boy Looser, on the other hand, was positive:  “If the braintrust says this is the right move, I’m on board. In Mike We Trust has been the motto since Mike Rizzo was named GM and it will remain that way until he gives me reason to no longer feel that way.”

It’s impossible to read into the Lerner-Kasten-Rizzo calculation, but there were a number of factors that probably weighed in on the final decision — and that undoubtedly cut against the hiring of Valentine. The first, and most important, is that Riggleman is a known quantity. Lerner, Kasten and Rizzo know Riggleman and work well with him, while Valentine’s “fit” was an unknown. Riggleman’s 33-42 record as the Nats’ skipper for 2009 is hardly a reason to keep him on, but his ability to get along with the front office (despite the team’s struggles), had to be viewed as a plus. Then too, hiring Valentine would have made “Bobby Ball” the focus of the media: a negative for a guy like the low profile and low key Kasten, who consistently urges reporters to focus on the ballplayers. The last thing the Nats need is a volatile skipper. Say what you will about Riggleman, at least he’s steady. Finally, there is a sense of impermanence about Bobby V, who might well have viewed the Nats job as a stepping stone into something bigger – including a final triumphant stint in the Big Apple. If it’s anything the Nats need it’s predictability. Riggleman gives them that.

And there’s this. Jim Riggleman knows this team and knows the game. He wants to succeed and he wants to do it in Washington. He’s not a big name, not a public figure, not a controversial or outspoken celebrity. He’s the anti-Valentine. Sure, he’s not Broadway, but the Nats don’t need Broadway. This is a decision that makes sense.

Zim’s Glove Is Gold

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman was named the recipient of the National League Rawlings Gold Glove award for third basemen for 2009. It was the first time that Zimmerman has won the award. Zimmerman led all National League third basemen for 2009 in total chances (an MLB-best 459), assists (an MLB-high of 325), range factor per game (2.97) and games started (153).  At the beginning of the year it was thought that New York Mets third sacker David Wright was a shoo-in for the award, but the Mets third baseman suffered through a difficult year of injuries. San Diego Padres’ third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff was in the running against Zimmerman for the award — and was actively touted for it by the San Diego front office. Two Cardinals and two Phillies were also named as recipients of the honor: Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino and shortstop Jimmy Rollins and Cardinals backstop Yadier Molina and pitcher Adam Wainwright.

Alberto vs. Orlando

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Now that the Phuzzies have become the former world champions — dropping the World Series to New York’s Jedi Knights – we can return to baseball’s second season: as ultimate a test for GMs and owners as the on-the-field play of their counterparts during the regular season. So it is that the Nats’ off season rumor mill is finally in full swing, with reports circulating that the Nats are once again eyeing second sacker Orlando Hudson as the solution to the team’s problems in the middle infield. Jon Heyman over at SI says that Hudson is looking for other opportunities — as Trolley manager Joe Torre “employed Ronnie Belliard over him” through much of September and into the playoffs. In fact, it was downright weird watching Belliard shine in the L.A. post-season, particularly considering his embarrassing swing-from-the-heels style of play for the Nats through nearly 120 games. Can it be? Would L.A. really pick Belliard as their second sacker over Hudson?

Ah . . . well, not really. L.A. is all a-glitter over the prospect of signing free agent Adrian Beltre to play third base, with Casey Blake moving over to second — an experiment that keeps Blake’s bat in the line-up while adding a power hitter at the corner. Beltre could, in fact, pump about 20 dingers into the left field seats in Dodger Stadium, giving the kind of power to the Trolley line-up that Raul Ibanez provided in Philadelphia this last year. And L.A.’s his home town. That puts Belliard on the Dodger bench (which is where he, ah, belongs): and makes Hudson expendable. There’s no doubt there’s been an on-again off-again flirtation between the Nats and Hudson which dates back to late 2008 — when the Nats seemingly pursued the glove man, hoping he could fill the infield hole next to Cristian Guzman. In any event, the Hudson-to-the-Nats never quite happened and the “O-Dog” ended up in Hollywood. Now, it seems, there is revived interest in Hudson: the flirtation continues.

But is Hudson the right fit for D.C.?

Right here (in this paragraph), we might take a look at Hudson’s stats, which are more than presentable (.283, 9 HRs, 62 RBIs — and, more importantly, a good glove), and then follow that with talk about how Hudson would add some badly needed punch to an anemic middle infield. But all of that would beg the question: the problem up the middle for the Nats is not at second base, it’s at shortstop — and bringing Hudson in not only doesn’t solve that problem, it short-circuits the end-of-season discussion about moving Cristian Guzman to second and finding someone (like Ian Desmond) to play Guzman’s position. I’ve argued before that moving Guzman to second doesn’t solve anything. And it doesn’t. In fact, signing Hudson only creates an additional problem: for if Guzman can’t play second any better than he played short and if Ian Desmond doesn’t work out (and he might not) then you don’t have one problem, you have two.

Even so, the “we want Orlando” bandwagon is entering its first stage, in large part because no one is sold on Alberto Gonzalez — including outspoken MASN announcers Bob Carpenter and Rob Dibble and regular Nats commentator Bill Ladson. Ladson pegs Gonzalez as no more than a sometimes substitute. “I think it’s pretty clear that he is no more than a backup,” Ladson said in a recent column. “I was shocked with the way he played after interim manager Jim Riggleman made him the everyday second baseman. There were times I thought he wasn’t fundamentally sound with the bat and glove.” Really? Gonzalez hit .265 in 105 games, and while he wasn’t exactly a whiz kid at second, he wasn’t a disaster. While Gonzalez ended the season with an admittedly paltry OBP of .299, he finished the season strong, hitting .344 in his last ten games. Gonzalez is young, has a good attitude and he’ll only get better. In fact, he might get a lot better.  

Hudson, on the other hand, will make somewhere in the range of $5 million to $7 million per year (and he’s not about to sign a single year contract) and his rumored wrist problem is worrisome. He will be 32, on the down side of his prime years. Gonzalez will only get better: Hudson can only get worse. Why spend $5-$7 million a year (over three years, I’ll bet you) for a guy who might have a problem staying in the line-up. Of course, Hudson hits a hellava lot better than Gonzalez (no question) and has a stellar glove (he’s one of the best fielding second sacker in the majors), but he’s iffy in a way that Felipe Lopez was iffy. Then too (we might remember) Joe Torre thought that, when the chips were down, Ronnie Belliard was the better player. That oughta tell us something. So what should the Nats do? At least one of the options they should consider would be to take the money they would save on signing the “O-Dog” — let’s call it “Hudson Money” — and spend it on buying a solid front rank free agent pitcher. It comes down to this: who would you rather have? Orlando Hudson — or Jon Garland? Or Joel Pineiro? Or even Jason Marquis?