Posts Tagged ‘John Lackey’

Another Bullpen Arm: Capps Signs With Nats

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

Nationals fans will be forgiven if they now view Pittsburgh as part of the Washington franchise feeder system — a kind of waiting room for Nats-to-be. With the signing of reliever Matt Capps on early Thursday morning, Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo has added a third Ahoy to the rebuilding Nats: a trio that also includes fleet centerfielder Nyjer Morgan and lefty set-up whiz Sean Burnett. The new Nats relief corps is also expected to include aging former star Eddie “Everyday Eddie” Guardado, who once notched 45 saves with the always surprising Twinkies. While the Guardado signing is not final, it is expected soon. Capps, team officials say, is expected to compete for the job of closer with Bruney in Spring Training.

With the signing of Capps, Nats fans will go into the Christmas holidays knowing that (while everything else might collapse), the ballclub’s end-of-game options will include a set of potential closers that includes a young Yankee, a steady Bucco and (perhaps) an ageless wonder. Coupled with Burnett and Clippard, the Nats’ bullpen seems stronger now than it has since the departure of sore-armed closer Chad Cordero, felled by a labrum tear back in 2007. The signing of Capps probably ends Mike Rizzo’s off-season efforts to shore-up the Nats bullpen (barring a bit of tweaking here and there), leaving the Anacostia Nine with several more holes to plug: the addition of a middle-of-the-infield glove (the Nats are still interested in signing second sacker Orlando Hudson), an add-on in the starting rotation (Jon Garland is still an option — albeit one that seems to be fading) and (as we hope) the signing of a versatile bat-and-glove man that could play second, left, short and (under a worst case scenario) third. The Nats could (could!) go into Spring Training with a rotation of Jason Marquis, Jon Garland, John Lannan and Craig Stammen (or maybe what’s-his-name) and an infield that includes Mark DeRosa or Orlando Hudson — and (will wonders never cease) two steady catchers. It’s certainly not out of the question that the signing of either Hudson or DeRosa would include a trade (and salary dump) of Cristian Guzman, who has been making noises about not wanting to switch to second.

Don’t Let It Go To Your Head: Remember all the yacking about how this year’s free agent class was weak with few marquee (ahem) players? Well, maybe. But don’t tell the Phillies — who have solidified their reputation as the Yankees of the National League. While Mike Rizzo has been busy deftly filling holes in the bullpen, starting rotation and behind the plate (and others have been sucking their thumbs about the eventual destination of Jason Bay and Matt Holliday), the Ashburns have been busy getting stronger — adding Placido Polanco as their new third baseman and engineering a blockbuster trade for Roy Halladay. While a gaggle of analysts say that the Mariners were “the big winners” in the Halladay sweepstakes (nailing down Cliff Lee), that’s not the way it looks from our perch outside a snowed-in Nats Park, where the spectre of a Halladay-Hamels-Happ-Blanton front four makes the Phillies (with a Polanco-Rollins-Utley-Howard infield) the class of the National League. And the Phuzzies aren’t done . . .

But The Mets Might Be: Whatever happened to the Mets front office? While the silence in New York has Mets fans upset, our friends over at TRDMB cite Newsday reporter David Lennon’s claim that Mets’ fans should learn to appreciate Omar Minaya’s patience in going after the likes of Bay and Holliday. After all, Omar says, the Mets are not as attractive a destination as Philadelphia and these things take time. “It’s not that they [free agents] don’t want to come here,” Omar says, it’s that the timing didn’t work out. As for Halladay and Lackey — well, the Mets were never really in the running on Halladay and Lackey – and Lackey “blindsided” the Mets when he signed with the Red Sox. That son-of-a-bitch, what was he thinking? Don’t worry, Omar says. All of this can be explained, Omar says. “Players like going to situations where they can win,” Omar says. Never fear, Omar says, the Mets have a plan. “I like our plan,” Omar says.

Yikes.

A Marquis Signing

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

The Washington Nationals have signed Jason Marquis to a two year contract worth $15 million, the team announced today. The 31-year-old righthander was pursued by both the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies — but the former Braves-Cards-Cubs-Rockies front-liner had said just two weeks ago that he would consider the Nats. The signing of Ivan Rodriguez probably did as much as the silver-tongued convictions of Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo: the Rodriguez signing was a needed first step in convincing baseballs’ 2009’s free agent class (and particularly the pitchers) that Washington had changed its ways and was committed to winning. What is so surprising about Marquis is that, despite his obvious talent, he has been kicked around to four teams in an otherwise solid career — he was 15-7 for the 2004 Redbirds, but was left off the postseason roster and 11-9 for the hardly pitch-rich 2008 Chicago Cubs, whose management spent the year bad-mouthing him.

The “Jason is good but not great” label and even “too inconsistent” (a puzzling tag given him by Cubs whiner Lou Piniella) shouldn’t bother the Nats, who need all kinds of things: an innings eater (Marquis consumed 216 frames last year with the Heltons), a mentor for their young pitching staff (he’s 31, they’re 14), someone who throws down in the zone (he’s a ground ball wizard), a history of good health (he has only flirted with the DL) , an experienced hand with all the right role models (Greg Maddux!) and an all around good citizen (three kids, one wife, no Milton Bradley software). There are things not to like about Marquis, I suppose: he’s not Walter Johnson (and never will be), but he’s also not  Daniel Cabrera. And he will come into Washington as the number one guy on the staff — something he’s never been. Then too, the Nats and Rizzo have been navigating the league’s treacherous off-season waters not only with sophistication (the Brian Bruney pick-up gives them a solid back-of-the-rotation stopper), but with something approaching actual insight. Rizzo has deftly ticked off a list of must-haves that, in the space of one month, has remade the team into a middle-of-the standings .500 club that has given the Nats something approaching league-wide respectability, something they haven’t had since the middle-of-the-decade.

There are skeptics: Tim Dierkes at MLB Trade Rumors thinks the Nats overspent: ” . . .  this is an uninspired move by the Nationals,” he writes. “I understand that an innings-eater is needed to take pressure off young pitchers, but it’s likely that similar pitchers will be available in March at a fraction of the commitment.  Plus, unlike an Erik Bedard type gamble, Marquis doesn’t have upside.” Here’s what I take to be the rough translation: Marquis is not John Lackey (which is true enough) and he’s not a roll of the dice — which is precisely what (as the Seattle Navigators will tell you) Eric Bedard would bring, along with a stint on the 30, 45 or 60 day DL. Then too, as Tim must know, the inspired Cubs of 2008 deemed Marquis not good enough to stick with the club, choosing instead to spend their money elsewhere. They regretted the decision last June, when Marquis was lining himself up as Colorado’s best producer, while the Cubs were holding a tryout for Randy Wells.

“A Fit For Us”

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

Sure it’s the off-season, sure there’s a lot of other things to do and yes, there’s not always a lot to report (or comment on), but everytime one of us droogs sits down to write something for CFG, we are stopped cold by the idea that Mike Rizzo’s Big Idea for strengthening the Nats’ front four includes setting out hook and bait for Florida Marlins right hander Ricky Nolasco.  It’s not that Carlos Enrique is such a bad pitcher — it’s just that he’s not what Nats fans had in mind for an off-season upgrade of baseball’s worst starting rotation. Once upon a time, the list for a rotation make-over included the possibility of signing John Lackey or Jon Garland. Those were the days: “We don’t think that the free-agent class leads us to [pay big money],” Mike Rizzo told Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson. “I believe the things we need or want the most are out there, and we are going to address it. I don’t see us going after that super free agent like Matt Holliday or Jon Garland. I don’t see us playing on that level. We don’t think it’s a fit for us.”

It’s the last sentence that is bound to send shivers through the upper arms of Nats’ fans: when Mike Rizzo says that something’s not “a fit for us,” what he means to say is: “we’re not going to spend money to improve.” Ladson then opines that Nolasco’s name is being bandied about — which is hardly a surprise since, if you’re a Marlin, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll be traded. This isn’t the first time that Nolasco’s name has been linked to anywhere-but-Miami: Yardbarker says that Nolasco and Jorge Cantu are on the block (as well as Dan Uggla, of course): “Trading Nolasco, who had a terrible first two months of 2009 and returned to form after being sent down to the minors, should net the Marlins some top major league ready prospects. Nolasco pitched better than his 2009 stats indicate, so there should be many teams looking to deal for him.”

Okay, fine. So the Nats line up a trade for Nolasco. What top prospects in their top-notch farm system do they give up to get him? A recent Baseball America ranking of MLB farm systems put the Nats at #26, with this comment:  “They have the best prospect in the game in No. 1 draft pick Stephen Strasburg, plus solid talents in catcher Derek Norris, right-hander Drew Storen and shortstop Danny Espinosa. Beyond that, though, the Nats have very little help, especially at the upper levels, which is a pity considering the state of the big-league roster.” Who of that bunch would you give up to get Ricky? Derek Norris? Drew Storen? Danny Espinosa? How about: none of the above. It may be, of course, that Rizzo has something up his sleeve that will equal the Nyjer Morgan theft. Or it may be that Rizzo’s veto of signing a “super free agent” (a description he applies to Jon Garland) means that the Nats go into the Winter Meetings in Indianapolis next week with nothing to offer — and come out empty handed.

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.