Archive for the ‘Mike Rizzo’ Category

Lannan Masters St. Louis

Monday, August 30th, 2010

John Lannan has now made it all the way back from exile: in his fifth start after his return from Harrisburg (where he was sent “to work on his command”), Lannan mastered the heavy hitting St. Louis Cardinals — leading the Nationals to a 4-2 victory and a much-needed triumph in three games of a four game series. Lannan pitched deep into the contest, allowing eight hits and only one earned run to up his record to 4-1 since his return. “I want to be confident with each pitch,” Lannan said after the game. “I think I did a pretty good job of that, especially to lefties. I made smarter pitches. I was more careful with the sliders today. I felt comfortable with my changeup, throwing the ball in and my curveball felt pretty good.” Michael Morse provided the lumber, going 2-4 and notching his 10th home run and Adam Dunn was 2-3.  But Lannan struck first, doubling into left field in the second inning off of Cardinals’ starter Adam Wainwright, plating the first two runs of the game.

Bad Blood? Jim Riggleman benched Nyjer Morgan on Sunday, the result of Morgan’s purposeful bump of Cardinals catcher Bryan Anderson at home plate on Saturday night. Riggleman apologized to Cardinals’ manager Tony LaRussa for the incident and called Morgan’s actions “uncharacteristic” but “inexcusable.” Anyone who saw Morgan during Saturday night’s game should not have been surprised — after being bumped from the leadoff to the second to the eighth spot in the batting order, Morgan spent most of the 6th, 7th and 8th innings talking to himself, apparently in disagreement over Riggleman’s decision. Riggleman admitted that Morgan was angered by what he viewed as a demotion. “It was building up all day,” Riggleman said. “I think he thought I was wearing that equipment at home plate.” Morgan denied that he was aiming his anger at Anderson. “It definitely wasn’t intentional,” Morgan said. “. . . It is not my style to play dirty. I don’t play that.”

But that’s apparently not the way the Cardinals viewed the incident: while the Riggleman telephone call to LaRussa should have buried the incident, it clearly didn’t. The Morgan incident rankled the Cardinals, as seen when Drew Storen pitched the last of the eighth inning on Sunday, and lost control of a fastball — which sailed behind Matt Holliday. Cards’ manager LaRussa was immediately out of the dugout: “We were told before the game that [there would be] no funny business because of the cheap shot that Morgan did,” La Russa said. “And here’s a guy [Holliday] that hits a single and a double and they throw the ball behind him. There was going to be no ifs, ands or buts. But in [the umpires’] opinion, the pitch got away [from Storen].” Riggleman denied that Storen was throwing at Holliday: “Clearly there was no intent,” Riggleman said. “It was a terrible pitch. It was 4-1. We certainly don’t want to be hitting anybody or get anybody on base and get a rally started. After what happened last night, you could see where this is coming from.”

Is there bad blood between the Nats and Cardinals, or between Riggleman and LaRussa? That seems very much in doubt. But the same is probably not true for the Nats’ skipper and Nyjer Morgan. Morgan’s irritation at Riggleman might represent some passing anger — and Morgan has had a tough week, having been accused of throwing a baseball at a fan in Philadelphia. All of this might be forgivable, but Morgan’s comment on Riggleman’s decision to bat him eighth in the line-up will probably stay with the Nationals’ manager. “I have to be able to handle what I am able to do,” Morgan told the press. “If (Riggleman) feels like this is what he needs to do, he can go ahead and do it.” Our bet is that Riggleman (and Rizzo) view these kinds of comments dimly. Which means that it’s a pretty good bet that Morgan will eventually (and inevitably) be headed out of town.

Tommy John . . . And Stephen Strasburg

Friday, August 27th, 2010

The player for whom Tommy John surgery is named was one of the smartest and tenacious pitchers to ever throw from a major league mound. Check the record: John pitched for 26 years, compiling a 288-231 record with a career 3.34 ERA and 162 complete games. He threw well (he led his league twice in winning percentage and three times in shutouts) and often brilliantly for four good teams: the White Sox, Dodgers, Angels and Yankees. It’s a shame, truly, that Tommy John is remembered best for the surgery that was performed, first, on him — after he “blew out his arm.” For while we credit medicine with inventing “Tommy John Surgery,” the procedure that repaired his arm was really his idea and was performed at his insistence by Dr. Frank Jobe. That fact is important, because most (and damn near all) pitchers before Tommy John who suffered from “forearm stiffness” or “a dead arm” (the names then given to symptoms that pointed to elbow ligament damage) simply left the game. Tommy John didn’t.

Baseball commentators (Peter Gammons, Steve Kurkjian and others), sports talk junkies (ESPN  980’s Tom Loverro and Rick “Doc” Walker) and Nationals’ fanatics (me and you and God knows who else) seem to have come to three conclusions about the news that Stephen Strasburg will have to undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery. The first is that the Strasburg injury is “devastating” and potentially career ending, that the injury derails Nationals’ plans to contend in 2011 (or even 2012), and that the news reflects the fragility of modern pitchers — whose susceptibility to blowing out their pitching arm shows they aren’t as tough as “old school pitchers.” All three conclusions are false. And here’s why.

Okay, okay: the Strasburg news is “devastating” for Strasburg because it will keep him off the mound for 12 to 15 months; but the news is not fatal either to his career or to the long-term prospects of the Washington franchise. Others have had the surgery, many others, and have come back as good as new — or better. After having “Tommy John surgery,” Tommy John went on to win 164 games. A.J. Burnett, Chris Carpenter, Tim Hudson, Arthur Rhodes, Carl Pavano and Billy Wagner have all had the procedure and have come back — in some cases they actually pitched better after the surgery than before. Tommy John surgery does not simply repair a damaged ligament, it replaces it. The goal of the procedure is to make the arm stronger than it was before the surgery. And isn’t it an irony (or, if you prefer, isn’t it nauseating) that the Nationals got the news on Strasburg on the same day that Jordan Zimmermann returned to the mound 12 months after having his own Tommy John procedure — and was able to throw well and without pain.

Is the news “devastating” for the Nats? It would be crazy to argue that the Strasburg news will have no impact on the club. It will. There’s little doubt that the 2011 rotation will suffer without his presence. But to believe that Stan Kasten or Mike Rizzo (or Jim Riggleman), have stated that they are “stockpiling pitchers” because they just happen to love pitchers is perverse. They know. They know that a certain percentage of pitchers will blow a ligament, tear a cuff or strain an elbow — and somebody will have to come in to take their place. The Nats have plenty of young pitchers who want to be in the show, and while none of them have the talent of the phenom, the team is not without hope. Then too, the era of free agency ensures that, should a team lose its best talent to the D.L, it’s possible to sign a savvy and healthy veteran (like, well . . . Tommy John) who can revive a franchise’s fortune. In 1974, while Tommy John was rehabbing from the first-ever Tommy John surgery, the Dodgers finished in second place in the N.L West. But two years later (in 1977) the Dodgers won the pennant — because of Tommy John, who had his best year ever (20-7, 220 innings, 2.78 ERA). Tommy John’s injury was “devastating” for Tommy John, but not for the Dodgers — who did just fine without him. They did what all ball clubs do: they compensated.

Is the kind of injury that sidelined Tommy John — and that is now sidelining Stephen Strasburg — a new development? Does it somehow signal some kind of systemic problem with developing major league pitchers? Weren’t pitchers just “tougher” in past years, and aren’t “these kids” being coddled just a bit too much? This is complete nonsense. The reason that Warren Spahn and Juan Marichal (the two examples most prominently cited, because of the Spahn-Marichal marathon) were able to pitch as effectively as they did for as long as they did is not because they “sucked it up,” but because they never suffered career ending ligament damage. If they had (in the era before Tommy John surgery) their careers would have been over. They weren’t tough, they didn’t “suck it up” — they were lucky. High school baseball, football and basketball squads of the 1960s were littered with coaches whose damaged arms ended their careers. They didn’t refuse to tough it out: they were out of baseball because their arm was “dead.” The difference between then and now is not a difference in “character,” it’s that now we have Tommy John surgery — back then we didn’t.

The news on Strasburg is bad news. It’s very bad news. But Tommy John surgery is not a death sentence. Not even close. It’s an injury — and it will take time to heal. There will be months and months of rest, even before rehab. “The kid” is in for a long journey. But my bet is that he’ll return. Wouldn’t be nice for him to know that when he does — we’ll be there, cheering him on. It’s not time for Stephen Strasburg to suck it up, it’s time for Nats fans to suck it up.

“Prying” Adam Loose

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

Adam Dunn hates to talk about trades, hates to even think about them. He’s made it clear — he’s happy in Washington and would like to stay with the Nationals. And Nationals’ General Manager Mike Rizzo agrees: Adam is good for the team, good at the plate, good in the clubhouse and is a plus, plus, plus all the way around. But it’s hard to deny the rumors that the Chicago White Sox are bidding for Dunn and would love to bring him aboard, though at a price they dictate. Rizzo doesn’t deny this. He simply says that the Nationals must be overwhelmed by any offer, which could or would or might include Pale Hose second sacker Gordon Beckham and right fielder home run hitter Carlos Quentin. Or both. The White Sox have recoiled from this, knowing that Beckham is a long term talent and that Quentin is one of the guys that led their surge into contention in the A.L. Central. They would like Rizzo to focus, instead, on accepting a much more modest package that would, could or might include young righty Daniel Hudson (above) and heavy hitting youngster Dayan Viciedo.

There are problems here: Beckham is a young guy who would solve Washington’s problem at second base for years to come, but he’s having a lousy year at the plate (.237, 4 HRs), while Quentin, after a breakout year in 2009 (21 HRs., albeit without a MLB standard BA), is having trouble finding his groove (.244 BA, .344 OBP). But shifting away from Beckham or Quentin also presents problems. Daniel Hudson has a lot of promise, but it’s really only promise and while the young righty’s “upside” (gag) seems good, the Nats know all about “upside.” They need a proven pitcher (right now) who can fill the second (or third, if you count Livan) slot behind “the kid.” Hudson would look good in that spot, or he might end up being John Lannan’s roomy in Harrisburg. Mr. Dayan Perez Viciedo has his own set of challanges: he is a freeswinging Pablo Sandoval (or “kung fu house cat” as one of our readers opined) in the making. This guy couldn’t hit the water if he fell out of a boat. Well, okay — Viciedo is a good hitter and potentially a great hitter and when he does hit it it goes a long, long ways. Translation: Dayan can really hit the ball, but he strikes out a lot. Still . . . still. The simple and blunt truth is that the more that you study Hudson and Viciedo, the more tempting they become.

The White Sox end of this, at least according to Chicago Sun-Times baseball guru Mike Cowley, is that Rizzo is asking for way too much — he’s dangling Dunn like he’s Ryan Howard. The White Sox are hesitant. They’re willing to pay a good price for Dunn, but Chicago G.M. Kenny Williams is simply not willing to part with a package of top prospects and major pieces. He is countering with a package of minor leaguers (probably Hudson and Viciedo), that would keep Beckham and Quentin in Chicago. Pale Hose partisans apparently agree with this strategy, as does the White Sox clubhouse. Williams is just unwilling to trade away parts of a surging squad that has put together one of the more astonishing June and July winning streaks in recent memory. And Rizzo’s attitude? Well, Mike seems to be standing firm. In truth, he’d like to have them all — and much as we love Adam Dunn, we have to agree. We would love to have them all too. But let’s be realistic. A package that would include Hudson, Viciedo and just one of Beckham (which would be our preference) or Quentin is tempting. Very tempting.

Zimmerman Becomes A Leader

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

Over the past two days Ryan Zimmerman has demonstrated, quite publicly, that he has become comfortable being the Nats’ team leader. Some people are born leaders and some figure out how to do it as they go along. Zimmerman is in the latter camp. And now that he has figured it out the team will be better for it. Zimmerman is no rush-the-parapets kind of guy. He’s much more of the quiet, lead-by-example, give-praise-where-it’s-due and criticize-in-private type. Given that the Nats are a pretty young team, Zimmerman’s personality fits that just fine.

After his walk off single Tuesday night a reporter asked Zim about the error by newbie shortstop Ian Desmond that led to San Diego scoring the tying run late in the game. Zim’s response was unequivocal:  “He’s very, very talented, and he thinks he can get every one out, which is a good thing,” Zimmerman said. “He’ll learn when not to throw balls, when to throw balls. It’s going to be part of the stuff we have to go through with him. I think it’s way more worth it to have him out there.” So there it is: for a kid like Desmond to have a guy like Zimmerman covering his back so publicly says a lot about Desmond’s talent (one of me Droogs reminded me that All World Cubbie Ernie Banks had 34 errors at short as a rookie)  — and a lot about Zim’s leadership style. By sticking up for a guy that the media would love to pick at Zimmerman was basically telling the wags to lay off the kid. And telling skipper Jim Riggleman that the kid will be okay.

In today’s edition of the Post, Zimmerman was at it again. Laying his cards on the table regarding trade rumors about Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham, Zimmerman was outspoken: “It’s really, really hard to find a 3-4-5. Look at what we’ve done for the past two years. We enjoy playing together, and we kind of push each other. It’s a good group we have. It would be bad if we broke it up, I think.”  He couldn’t have been more clear than if he said “Mr. Rizzo, please don’t screw this up.” Zimmerman may be feeling his oats a bit too. When asked about Stan Kasten and Mike Rizzo he said they “are very smart guys” and then added this coda — “they’ve done a great job so far.”  So far! Not beyond the pale. Just making his point. And a very good one methinks.

A note to Rizzo, Kasten and Riggleman: don’t overthink this. Play follow the leader — and leave Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham and Ian Desmond right where they are.

Stammen Buries The Hatchets

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Craig Stammen, just recalled from the Nats Syracuse Triple-A farm club, threw seven innings of brilliant baseball and super sub Alberto Gonzalez went 4-4 as the skidding Nats ended their five game losing streak with a 7-2 win in Atlanta. Stammen finally mastered what had been bothering him in successive starts prior to his demotion — he kept the ball down in the zone and threw strikes, keeping the Bravos hitters off balance. Stammen threw 99 pitches, 57 of them for strikes, before giving way to Sean Burnett in the 8th inning. “Craig was just outstanding,” skipper Jim Riggleman said after the win. And the skipper praised Alberto Gonzalez, who looked rusty at the plate on Monday. “He’s a great fielder,” Riggleman said, “and he can hit a little too.” This marked the second successive start for Gonzalez, who has done some spot pinch hitting. But Riggleman was uncertain whether the Gonzalez start was the beginning of a new trend. “He’s kind of the fourth guy among four guys, so it’s tough for him to get playing time,” Riggleman said.

In breaking loose for seven runs, the Nats end a despairing streak of one, two and three run games that saw them sink further into last place in the NL East. Relief seems to be in sight: Nyjer Morgan’s bat is finally heating up (he was 2-5 on Tuesday), Josh Willingham put one into the seats at Turner Field (his 14th), Ryan Zimmerman plated two RBIs — and then there was Alberto Gonzalez, whose 4-4 stint brought his BA to .292: oh, and he can field a little bit too. To cap it all off, Roger Bernadina is starting to look like a keeper (slapping balls to left field) and Tyler Clippard pitched a nifty clean 9th. The news gets even better from there. The Nats went errorless in nine innings, which must be some kind of record.

Today I Settle All Family Business, So Don’t Tell Me You’re Innocent: If you google “The Kid,” you get sites for a Charlie Chaplan movie, news that Angelina Jolie’s little girl wants to be a boy (“she likes to wear boy’s everything,” Angelina poofed), and a reach on Ted Williams who, it seems, was called “the kid” until someone thought of something better — like “The Splendid Splinter.” (Which reminds me: wasn’t Gaylord Perry once referred to as “The Splendid Spitter?” No? Okay, maybe not). But nowhere on the internet does anyone talk about our Anacostia Nine who, it is reported, are calling Stephen Strasburg “the kid” in the privacy of the Nats’ clubhouse. We’re betting the name will stick, confirming Angelina’s little pout about “Shiloh,” who “thinks she’s one of the brothers.”

Stephen’s nickname confirms that he too (and for sure) is now one of the Nats brothers (that’s what being given a nickname means) — albeit without the apparent transgender issues of Shiloh Vomit Pitt. And it’s a good thing. Strasburg took the heat after his Monday outing, as Braves fans everywhere (there aren’t as many as there once were for “America’s Team“) laid into “the kid” for giving up five runs (er, three earned) in the 7th inning of Monday night. Even some Nats fans were disappointed. Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God — what happened? So here’s the deal: we here at CFG have taken a poll of our staff (final vote? 3-0) and determined that we would take, any day, an outing from any pitcher on our staff who could throw 6.1 (!), give up three earned runs (!), and strike out seven. You never know, if we have outings like that every game, we could actually win the division. Yeah, there’s no question about it, Monday’s performance shows that we need to send “the kid” to the minors to “straighten out his stuff” and “build his self confidence.”

Say It Ain’t So Mike: The Nats are apparently “entertaining offers” . . . no, that’s not the right phrase. Damn. Let’s start over. The Nats are “actively considering” … no, that’s not right either. Okay. Here it is. The Nats are talking to at least two teams about a trade that would involve Nats first sacker and potential All Star Adam Dunn, the heart and soul of your Washington Nationals (if you don’t count Ryan Zimmerman, Pudge Rodriguez, Stephen Strasburg, Ian Desmond, Josh Willingham, Livan Hernandez . . .). The report must be true: MLB Trade Rumors has it by way of Ken Rosenthal, who has it from the Chicago Sun Times, who has it from the White Sox.

The Angels are already interested, Rosenthal says, and Joe Cowley of the Greatest Newspaper in the Greatest City in America (it’s ahead of the Trib, dontchaknow), says that the Nats and Pale Hose are exchanging names, though the Sox don’t have much to give in the way of pitching prospects — they were all traded to the Little Monks from San Diego for Jumpin’ Jake Peavy. No one likes this kind of talk, least of all Adam Dunn, who doesn’t want to be a DH and likes it just fine here in D.C.  We like him here too, Mike — as he is headed for another season of 40 home runs (oops, he had only 39 last year) and is one of the surprises, perhaps the surprise on the team: unlike the other nine we slap together to play the Baltimore Pathetics, he’s fielding his position like a pro. And who would have guessed that? Then too, don’t we have enough pitching prospects? I know, let’s try Danny Cabrera. In fact, the only positive thing we could really gain from such a trade is an end to that obnoxious public address announcer and his “now batting for your Washington Nationals …. Adaaaam Dunnnnnn.” Hey, on second thought . . .

Buying And Selling

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

While Nats bloggers have been going back-and forth about whether the team needs another bat or another arm, Mike Rizzo seems to have made up his mind. They need both. Yeah, okay — that’s the right answer. But if Rizzo was pressed (and trade bait was short), what do you think he’d really want? Given John Lannan’s continued troubles and the uncertainty surrounding the return of any number of potential starters, the answer should be obvious: not only can you can always play Roger Bernadina in right field, but you absolutely need to; we’re never going to find out whether this kid can hit unless we put him in the line-up every day. Which means that the Nats should be looking for a pitcher to supplement their front (and only) two hurlers — Stephen Strasburg and Livan Hernandez. Let’s be honest. You never know what you’re going to get with Atilano and Martin, Olsen is just too tweaky too often to be counted as a stalwart, pitching messiah Jordan Zimmermann is a ways away from rehabbing and Ross Detwiler is still an unknown. That leaves Chien-Ming Wang (who won’t be here until July) and Jason Marquis — who has yet to show the team anything. So . . .

So who’s out there?

There’s Cliff Lee, who will be available once the cratering Navigators figure out that doling out $91 million in salaries for a last place team isn’t going to cut it. Lee is in the last months of a four year deal, and the Nats would have to look to sign him longer term, but our guess is that the Mariners will happily take good prospects for him — including Triple-A pitchers and Double-A position players that have a future. The Nats have either, and both. In exchange, the Nats would get a veteran fastball pitcher who could mentor Strasburg and an absolutely lights out number two starter (number one anywhere else), who can rack up some badly needed wins. The folks in Seattle say they won’t part with Lee without getting a big time power hitter in return, but that sounds like wishful thinking. Lee isn’t going to stay in Seattle after this year, especially to anchor what promises to be a development team of young prospects and remaining big contracts. It’s an ugly but pertinent truth: the Mariners will take prospects — or they can keep Lee and try to catch the fast disappearing Belinskys, White Elephants and Whatchamacallits. They’ll make the trade — maybe Mike will too.

Then there’s Roy Oswalt, but his contract is a nightmare: just over $9 million over the rest of this season, $16 million in 2011, and $16 million in 2012 with a club option buyout of $2 million. The Nats say they have money to up their salary ceiling, but Oswalt’s price might be a little high — particularly if (as expected), the Nats would have to pick up most if not all of the salary and throw in prospects. Bottom line: he won’t be cheap. But then, there’s always Jake Peavy. Don’t laugh: the former Friar has struggled with the Pale Hose and it appears he’s losing patience with wheeling-and-dealing Kenny Williams and the perpetually enraged Ozzie the G. He recently told a reporter that he would rather be traded than go through a rebuilding process in Chicago. Translation? “Get me the hell out of here.”

It’s hard to blame him: Peavy was a part of a rebuilding process in San Diego — and the team only started to rebuild when he left. Then too, the ChiSox probably look at the Peavy trade with some remorse; they dealt prospects to San Diego, one of whom (Clayton Richard) has turned into a front line pitcher — 4-3, 2.71 ERA. That’s a damn sight better than Peavy (5-5, 5.62 ERA). Ugh. The White Sox might try the same magic, trading Peavy for pitching prospects in the hopes of striking gold. The Nats could help. Of course, Peavy sports a huge contract ($52 million, three years), a teensy bit bigger than Oswalt’s which (for paperclip counter Mark Lerner) is always a problem. But in the end (and if you carefully weigh this out), the Nats could find a rental (like Lee) for some front line prospects or they could take the longer view (which is probably what Rizzo wants) and pony up some prospects and some cash. In either case, while none of these pitchers are going to come cheap, bringing any one of them aboard right now (or in the very near future) will probably mean the difference between a club that will continue its slow-but-certain downward spiral and one that might be able to contend — and fill the seats.

Is The Willie-Willy Platoon Ending?

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

Here’s a pretty good hunch: Mike Morse is a Jim Riggleman favorite, and it was only a matter of time before he got his shot. That hunch might well be confirmed on Wednesday night, as Morse is reportedly slated to take the field against the Phillies, a move that could mark the end of the it-will-never-ever-work one-day platoon experiment in right field. And why not? If you’re going to get beaten 11-1, why not get beaten with your kids on the field? Of course, Mike Morse is hardly a kid. The former Pale Hose draft pick (82nd overall in 2000), Morse was traded to the Mariners, where he became a utility infielder behind the now-faded Yuniesky Betancourt (et.al.). He was up-and-down in Seattle and never quite settled in, though everyone knew he could hit. There were high hopes for Morse, something that usually comes with a hitter who’s 6-5 and 230 pounds.

The high hopes for Morse were sidetracked after a nasty knee injury. And things didn’t get better when he returned. After a short stint as a starter, the Mariners decided Morse wasn’t the answer for them at third base and he was traded to Washington for Ryan Langerhans (who remains in a career long slump). Shipped by the Nats to Triple-A, Morse played in only 32 games for the Nats in 2009, but he showed some power, with three home runs in 55 at bats. Riggleman likes Morse’s work ethic, which he saw up-close when Rigs was managing in Seattle. The hard work has continued in his tenure as a Nat. “Mike is always ready to play,” Riggleman said of Morse during Spring Training. “Mike took about 10 days or two weeks off after the season last year. He started hitting in October, and he’s never stopped hitting. He’s a year-round guy, looking for somebody to throw him batting practice, take swings. He’s dedicated to his profession. He’s in mid-season form.”

The final decision on Morse will apparently be made on Wednesday afternoon, when the Nationals’ brain trust will meet to discuss the right field situation. The platoon of Willie Harris and Willy Taveras was the first option for the Nationals, with the rationale that the team needed defense more than offense. But you don’t lose much with Morse in right and, after the Opening Day fiasco, it’s obvious the team needs a little more at the plate. If Morse is promoted to a starting role, it could also mark the end of Mike Rizzo’s search for a more permanent solution. Most recently, Rizzo has reportedly inquired about a number of available right fielders, including Kosuke Fukudome, Corey Hart and B.J. Upton. The Nats would undoubtedly have to give up some pitching to get any of the three — which is something that Rizzo would find more than a little distasteful.

Is “The Fook” Coming To D.C.?

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

MLB Trade Rumors is reporting that the Nats and Cubs have been in talks about a prospective trade that would bring Cubbie Kosuke Fukudome to Washington — though the reports add that the talks have not been “particularly substantive.” The Nats have apparently also floated the possibility of trading for the Brewers’ Corey Hart or the Rays’ B.J. Upton. The report, which originated with MASN’s Ben Goessling, reflects a distinct discomfort in Washington’s front office with the right field platoon of Willie Harris and Willy Taveras — players that would provide plenty of defense and speed, but not a whole lot of pop at the plate. From our perspective, a trade for Hart is more likely than a trade for Fukudome (the Brewers are unhappy with Hart’s lack of production), while Tampa is unlikely to trade Upton unless they decide, probably at midseason, that they can’t win with him.

That said, of the three players mentioned, Fukudome is the most intriguing. The Cubs had high hopes for the former star of the Chunichi Dragons (“the pride of Nagoya”) and spent oodles to get him — some $48 million over four years (with $26.5 remaining over the next two years). That’s a lot of money for a guy who hit .259 with 11 home runs in 2009. The plan for 2010 was to cut into Fukudome’s at-bats against lefties (just .242) by platooning him with former Buc and Yankee Xavier Nady (that is, Xavier Clifford Nady VI), whose kinky elbow is still kinky. But trading “The Fook” (a nickname that originated this year with Lou Piniella), would allow Cubs phenom Tyler Colvin to prove that he is, in fact, the next big thing in Chicago. And he probably is.

The question, of course, is what would Washington have to give up to get a player like Fukudome — and would they be willing to pay him the money he’s owed? The answers are: “a pitcher” and “it depends.” The name most often mentioned in these rumors, albeit by MLBTR commenters, is Craig Stammen. Stammen’s status as a solid three or four starter has been steadily rising and he’s clearly that other good young starter that the Nats need to complement Lannan and Strasburg. The Cubs could use a starter (who couldn’t?), but would more likely attempt to land another arm for the bullpen. The Cubbies bullpen is shakey, and was a year-long problem in the 2009 campaign.

It’s all spit-wadding at this point, but my bet is that if the Cubbies have their eye on anyone at all, they have their eye on Tyler Clippard, whose seventh and eighth inning heroics in Washington last year showed that he’s in The Bigs to stay. But Clippard might not be enough to land the high-profile Fukudome, which means that the Nats would have to agree to pay a good part of Kos-K’s obese contract, or throw in another arm to seal the deal. Of course, there’s more to the calculation: Fukudome is an absolutely legit big leaguer, has worn out his welcome in Chicago, is still searching for a way to hit something close to .300 — and would put fans in the seats at Nats Park. People would pay to see Kos-K play. Yeah, I agree: it would be tough for Mike Rizzo to part with a pitcher like Stammen, whose upside is only now becoming apparent. But it would be much less difficult (and after last year’s adventure in the eighth inning, I say this with a lot of hesitation) to deal someone like Clippard – and maybe a prospect or two. And why not? Willie and Willy are fine players with lots of speed, but they’re a temporary fix and are simply not going to get it done at the plate. And we all know it. Don’t we?

Desmond Is The New Shortstop

Monday, March 29th, 2010

The Nationals just got younger around-the-horn, the question is — did they get better? The naming of Ian Desmond as the Nationals’ new shortstop on Sunday was greeted with relief by most of Nats’ nation, but it comes with a Jim Riggleman caveat: “He may not be playing good in May, so Guzman may be our shortstop,” Riggleman said. “To open the season, we’re going to give Dessie a shot there to hold that position down. We hope that works.” Riggleman’s words sound like the mantra faced by rookies through all of baseball history – you’ve got a month kid, make the most of it. Desmond doesn’t sound worried (“Doesn’t really sound like it, but I am excited”), and neither does Mike Rizzo: “He’s a major league shortstop who’s proven he can hit,” Rizzo said. “We see him as an important part of our ballclub going forward.”

It’s Not A Motorcycle, Sweetie, It’s A Chopper: The only thing that might be worse than biting your nails over the performance of a rookie shortstop is having an All Star shortstop who can’t play. The Apples now say that their former all-world glove-and-bat Jose Reyes (he’s the heart of the team, or was) will not only not be ready to start on opening day, it’s not clear when he’ll be ready. Yet, for all of that, Mets’ GM Omar Minaya thinks Reyes is close: “We’re not going to rush for the sake of one game,” Minaya said. “Having him play the whole [or the vast majority of the games] is the most important thing.” Mets’ fans remain optimistic. Over at Real Dirty Mets Blog, “Mr. North Jersey” has Jose penciled in to start the season — the triumph of faith over reality . . . It’s not like the Mets need Reyes, not with the likes of Ike Davis, Ruben Tejada and Josh Thole smacking the ball . . . that said, we’ve turned over a new leaf on the Mets, dropping the word “chokes” to describe them, and retreating to something more palatable — like “Apples.” That doesn’t quite cut it, so we’re open to suggestion. “Chokes” is, I agree, a little over the top, as well as inaccurate: to “choke” you have to be good. And I’ll stick by my end-of-’09 prediction: the Nats will finish ahead of the Mets this year, and it won’t be close. Whether they have Reyes or not . . .

Jose Reyes #7 of the New York Mets poses during Spring Training Photo Day at Tradition Field on February 23, 2008 in Port Saint Lucie, Florida.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Jose Reyes

Strasburg Stellar In First Outing

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

Stephen Strasburg’s best pitch on Tuesday was his last — a 3-2 breaking ball that floated 12 to 6 over the plate, freezing Tiger Brent Dlugach for a strikeout. “I thought it was executed well enough to get him out,” Strasburg said of that last pitch. “I felt it was down in the zone, and if he swung, hopefully he would have grounded out. I wasn’t going to throw a hanger up there and I hoped that he was sitting on a fastball. I was going to throw [the curveball]. If it’s a strike, it’s a strike. If not, it’s down in the zone and hopefully he swings.” Strasburg’s outing may well be a sign of things to come: a young pitcher with a living arm that throws 96-98 with command of all of his pitches. I must be dreaming. And by nearly all accounts, Strasburg is bearing up well under all the attention.

If it wasn’t clear before just how much the Nationals need Strasburg, it oughta be clear now: the Nats are oh-fer in the no account Grapefruit League, where all embarrassing questions about performance are answered with two words: “it’s early.” Okay, it’s early. But early or not, Strasburg remains the single bright spot in the Nats Florida pitching outings — even Jason Marquis struggled yesterday. And while MLB Network’s Al Leiter argues (and vocally), that pitchers are simply trying to find their legs in the spring, the vast proportion of Nats pitchers have yet to find the strike zone. Still, there’s a different feel to the club — even on television. Seeing Adam Kennedy at second base (and really there, with his name stenciled on the back of the uniform and everything) brings an almost palpable feeling of security, while Nyjer Morgan’s return to the outfield (and basepaths) gives hope that the Nats will start where they left off after acquiring him last year. Morgan is as quick as ever: he bunted his way on on Tuesday, then stole second, sliding spikes up (albeit late) into the bag.

I swear, when I saw Kennedy wearing that uniform I damn near cried . . .

Those Are The Headlines, Now For The Details: Mike Rizzo joined the crew in the television booth during the second inning on Tuesday, and gave a hint of the team’s plans for Ian Desmond, who has been ripping the rind off the sweet stuff in Florida. No matter what, Rizzo said, Desmond would be playing full time, whether in the majors or in Triple-A. Rizzo has said this before, but he seemed more emphatic on Tuesday. Which is to confirm: if Desmond plays well enough, Cristian Guzman will be on the bench or he’ll be elsewhere — and probably elsewhere. If Rizzo and Riggleman decide the Desmond is ready for the show, the team will have to eat a lot of Guzman’s salary. If we here at CFG were the betting types, we’d bet on Desmond, and say “thanks for the memories” to Goozie. And why not? . . .

Who is Josh Whitesell and why is his name so familiar? Oh yeah, now I remember: Whitesell was drafted in the sixth round by the Expos back in 2003, played for the Harrisburg Senators and then was claimed off waivers by the  Showboats in 2008. The guy’s no slouch: he was Arizona’s 2008 Minor League Player of the year and he can hit the long ball. Seems he’s a natural first baseman. Or so it was said. But Arizona didn’t non-tender Whitesell because they’re stupid. (Well,except for this … ) Whitesell had an insipid year in 2009 and only a cup of coffee in the majors. The D-Backs got tired of waiting and lost faith and, and, and … there was a divorce. But Rizzo likes him, you can tell — and you never know, he might stick . . . Whitesell could back up Dunn at first (or, if he plays left field, he could back up Dunn at first) or that job could go to Chris Duncan. The only problem is that Duncan can’t hit lefties, while Whitesell is largely unproven. Then there’s Justin Maxwell, whose added attraction is that he can play the outfield . . . oh yeah, and Mike Morse — who’s proving he can play . . .