How’s that for some alliteration? It was announced (unofficially) about an hour ago that the Nats have signed Rafael Soriano to a 2-year, $28 million (wow!) deal, with a third year option. Personally I was surprised that we would add another right-handed closer to the bullpen, as we already have a logjam at closer with Storen and Clippard. Assuming no egos get permanently bruised, I do like the prospect of being able to throw those guys in the 7th-8th-9th, with a yet to be determined lefty specialist in the mix somewhere. Who knows, one of those three could now be a trade chip for a big-time lefty. That would make things really interesting.
I am surprised that the Nats would be willing to give up their 1st round draft pick next year to the Yankees as a result of making this signing. I’m going to heed some of the wisdom that I’ve read in the short amount of time since this story broke. Some are saying that the 2013 draft class is not particularly strong, so giving up a pick this year is not as devastating. I’ve also heard the point that we don’t have a ton of room down on the farm, so to speak, with a pretty crowded system and no room to protect guys on the 40-man roster. Those points may be valid, and I’m going on faith with Rizzo here that he thought all of that through before signing Soriano. I do like the fact that we are officially now a destination where guys prefer to sign. Now let’s just hope signings like this don’t cause our season ticket prices to skyrocket!
James Wagner had an interesting piece in today’s Washington Post, discussing the team’s lack of left-handed relievers in the bullpen. Mike Rizzo has stated that he’s comfortable going into the season with only one lefty, although another one would be nice. Personally, I’m glad they didn’t pay inflated prices for Sean Burnett or J.P. Howell. But then again, decent situational lefties will almost always get overpaid. Those who know baseball well will acknowledge this. But I feel like we got the best of what Burnett had over the past few years. Call it a gut feeling. We’ll see how he does this season for the Angels.
I don’t believe we will enter the season with only one lefty in the bullpen, nor should we. Zach Duke had decent success after we called him up last year, but he spent most of the season in the minors. He does have a lot of major-league experience, but he is also somewhat of a retread. Rizzo points out that right-handed relievers Ryan Mattheus and Tyler Clippard held lefty batters to .219 and .186 averages, respectively. But here’s the catch–you can’t use up those guys for situational at-bats. Clip cannot come in to snuff out a rally with 2 outs in the 6th. Mattheus could, but do you want him reduced to that role? What if you need him in the 7th, and a batting order issue makes this impossible? You can’t always make a double switch when you insert him to prevent this. So I do feel we need another lefty specialist in the bullpen, and a pretty good one at that. I believe we’ll see it, possibly though a trade, or at a minimum from someone rising up to the challenge during spring training.
Speaking of which, Bill Bray is a possible candidate to do just that. I must close by pointing out one interesting anecdote about Bill Bray’s first win in the majors, as I remember watching it on TV. Bray threw exactly one pitch in the eighth against the Brewers, a strike, after which a runner on first was caught stealing to end the inning. Catcher Brian Schneider then hit a 2-run homer in the 9th to win it, and Bray got the win. I hope he bought Schneider a steak dinner after that.
I said i wouldn’t mention LaRoche again until he signed somewhere, so now I will open my trap again. I welcome him back, with a smirk on my face of course. What he may lose in productivity for being another year older, we will likely get back in continuity, defense, and locker room presence. Thankfully the initial reaction is that we do not necessarily have to trade away Morse. I really hope we keep him. Although he deserves to play every day, he will be a great asset to have in case someone gets hurt. Not to mention that he can spell both Werth and LaRoche fairly regularly, as they both have a lot of seasons on their bodies and can use some days off. Speaking of Werth, as clutch as that homer was in the playoffs, I’ll note again what an albatross that contract will be in the coming years. It would be interesting to see if we could get anything for him in a trade, then play Morse and/or Tyler Moore in that third spot. I realize that would upset team chemistry, but it would be yet another forward-thinking move by GM Mike Rizzo.
When I saw that Jack McGeary had been taken by the Red Sox, my first reaction was surprise. It seems like yesterday that we drafted him in the 6th round, but paid him first round money and paid for his education at Stanford, granting him a unique schedule as well so that he could go to college as well as pursue minor league ball. Time flies, and that was five years ago. It’s also one UCL surgery later, and his stats last year in the minors were not impressive. Perhaps a fresh start in Boston will motivate him to live up to his lofty expectations of 5 years ago. If not, he won’t make the team and he’ll be offered back to the Nats by rule. We lost 4 other players as well, which is always unfortunate, but at the same time a compliment to our scouting staff and minor league system
A quick note on some recent free agent signings, specifically Scutaro and Victorino. I’m so relieved that we are not a team overpaying for a past-his-prime player that will have a very difficult time living up to his contract. I was shocked by the money those two got. And as for today’s Josh Hamilton signing, I’m just glad he stayed in the American League!
A couple of things just give me a warm feeling. Mike Rizzo saying they’ve pretty much laid their offer to LaRoche on the table and are not changing it. We’ve come a long way from a few years ago where we had to way overpay to sign a ‘big’ free agent in Werth. Haren signed a 1-year deal to play here because he wants to win. Rizzo is now holding fast because he believes LaRoche feels the same way. With Loney and Napoli being signed and filling 1B needs for other teams, the market for LaRoche is growing smaller. I’d welcome him back, but again only for the 2 year deal.
If that happens, some baseball minds are saying that we’ll trade Michael Morse. I would hope that only happens if we get some solid value in return, not just a few low level minor league guys. Sure, he’ll be a free agent next year and if we lose him we’ll get nothing. But these are the new Nats. We don’t have to wring every piece of value at every turn. In past years, we did this to prepare for the future. Well, the future is here. I’d be happy keeping morse. There will always be injuries on any given team. Look at the outfield last year. Morse himself missed significant time, as did Werth. While I don’t wish for injuries, they do happen and it would be great to have Morse around for insurance. I really like his bat, and I believe he’s well-liked by teammates and an important part of the clubhouse. The biggest issue may be a roster crunch, with Tyler Moore and Roger Bernadina both needing bench spots as well. But it’s still early in this process, and the roster numbers are a long way out from being detemined.
First off, I like to see the addition of Dan Haren to the pitching staff. I expect he’ll be an almost identical plug-in for Edwin Jackson, in terms of eating innings and hopefully hitting a double-digit win total. He brings some solid veteran experience to the staff and team. But he’s also a few years older than Edwin, and he had some injury issues last season. Let’s hope he does not break down this season and leave us with a hole there. Kudos to Mike Rizzo for getting him on a one-year deal. Also great that we did not have to surrender any draft picks, since he was non-tendered by the Angels.
On the flip side of this, the move apparently puts to rest for now the rumors of an Espinosa for Shields deal with the Rays. I’ve been meaning to examine our second base situation, and this provides a good opportunity. Simply put, Espinosa needs to cut down on his strikeout total or he needs to be traded or moved into a utility role. He’s a great fielder, but his batting average and strikeout totals need to improve if he is to remain an everyday player. Hopefully the rumors will serve as a wakeup call to him and he will work on his hitting in the offseason. I’d be interested to see what Lombo could do in a full-time role. Obviously you lose some power, but his average might make up for it in other ways. His range is also similar to Espinosa’s. We’ll see what happens in this regard over the next few weeks.
After letting the Gio Gonzales trade digest for a few weeks, I’m finally ready to talk about it, as well as some recent thoughts about Prince Fielder. When I first learned of the Gonzales trade, I was pretty disappointed. My main reason being, why trade away prospects that you’ve drafted and developed, and who have seen some early success in the major leagues? You could just as easily sign a free agent, and still keep your prospects! Trades make sense during pennant races. I get it. But ones like this disappoint me. The simple reason for this trade though, is money. The Nats control Gonzales for several more seasons, and they will have to pay him far less, even after arbitration, than they would have had to pay a C.J. Wilson type player. (and I’m not saying I really liked Wilson as a solution here).
However, if it turns out that the Nationals are truly serious about signing Fielder (today’s wildly conflicting reports notwithstanding), then the Gio trade makes good sense to me, because we’d be truly ready to contend this year. I’m usually one to temper people’s enthusiasm over the Nats’ 2012 playoff prospects, if only because the Phillies are still the Phillies, the Braves are the Braves, and the Marlins signed some huge free agents. That all being said, if we sign Fielder, I may jump on the playoff bandwagon for this season. The protection he would give to other hitters in the lineup, not to mention his flat-out production, would be amazing. I truly hope they can pull this off. And I don’t mean a 10 year contract where we will eat the last 4 years of it. How about a 6-7 year deal, where we’ll only need to eat the final year of it?
There are people who are saying that if we sign him, we can’t sign 2-3 of our other core players. This is absolutely not true. It’s not an either/or situation. That’s totally up to the Lerners and how much money they would like to spend. While I certainly would not like to be a foolish spender on overpriced free agents, you can’t argue with the success of a team like the Yankees, who sign the players they want no matter what it takes. The result is that they’ve been to the playoffs 16 out of the past 17 seasons. It’s hard to poke a hole in that kind of success. I’m not saying they are perfect or should be our model by any means. But you don’t have to budget for just one or two big contracts. You can invest more money at your discretion and the team, franchise, fans and owners can all be winners.