The Nats traded for Denard Span today, dealing Alex Meyer to the Twins. The move likely means the Nats weren’t feeling good about re-signing LaRoche. That either means Michael Morse will play first base, or he will be traded. While his defense at first is nothing close to LaRoche’s, I kind of hope he stays there, in the spirit of team continuity and clubhouse cohesiveness. The Nats have great chemistry in their clubhouse, and to me that’s one of the biggest intangibles in baseball. I’d hate to see a lot of disruption there. As for losing Meyer, I hate to see a young pitcher with such promise get traded, but since it’s for a bona fide starter whom the Nationals control for the next 3 seasons, I can see why they made the deal. You need to give up quality to get quality. As for LaRoche, it will be interesting to see where he ends up. If it’s with a bottom-dweller, he may find himself wishing later he hadn’t demanded an additional year and a few extra million for his last big contract versus a chance to get to the playoffs for the next 2 years. Some guys are motivated by competing for a title, and some just want the big money. I thought he was the former, but time will tell if he is the latter.
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It’s been long enough since our heartbreaking end to the season that I can compose some thoughts without letting my emotions run roughshod over my writing. I can find solace in the fact that we are a team on the upswing and not an aging squad that was giving it one last hurrah this season. We were the second youngest team in the majors this season, which makes the team’s accomplishments that much more admirable. Congratulations to the 2012 team. You really provided us with a great season.
Moving on to our potential offseason moves, thankfully we don’t have a ton of holes to fill. We do have some interesting questions though. The first is obviously first base. I was at the game where the crowd cheered loudly when LaRoche got his 100th RBI. But that subtle uptick from a 2-digit to 3-digit total, combined with his subsequent Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards, likely made his new salary demand jump by a few million per year. I believe the key here is not the money though. If he would sign for 2 years, I’d love to have him back. His glove was truly impressive and saved a lot of potential errors this year. But I would not want to get locked into a deal longer than that. His offensive production is bound to drop substantially in a third or fourth year, and at something like $15 million per year, we don’t need that albatross in those years. Additionally, we have a capable young rising star that could play there: Tyler Moore. The guy needs a plce to play, and has some real nice pop in his bat. The big question is his glove. I have not see him play enough at first base (I don’t get to see any minors games where he played there extensively), so I don’t know his true fielding skills. But if that’s his natural position and the Nats had him paying there in the minors, then they must believe in his glove. Michael Morse could also be an option. Although he played capable defense as a regular there in 2011, he was not a gold glove caliber fielder. Whichever way the chips fall, I believe we’ll have a more than capable solution at first base.
I haven’t posted in a long time, and to be honest, much of the reason lies in the fact that I did not want to jinx a team that is having a truly magical season, by any measure. I’ll be the first to admit that I should eat some crow, for all of the criticizing I’ve done in past years over the decision-making with the team. But obviously this was done out of frustration, not dislike. Since we’re coming off of a 3 game sweep at the hands of the incessantly pursuant Braves, I felt it was ok to chime back in. Not to criticize, but to be comfortable that I can break my silence without jinxing the team. I still feel confident about winning the division. We hit a speed bump this weekend. But still maintaining a 5 1/2 game lead after that is our reward for building such a cushion throughout a consistent and sometimes dominant regular season up until this point. Let straighten this out against the Dodgers, lock down the division, and continue to fight for the best record in the NL and the home-field advantage that goes with it.
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.
Sixteen days until opening day, and the Nats have looked pretty good so far this spring. While Bryce Harper has received much of the press surrounding the team this spring, their steady play and winning record have not garnered as much attention. There is more optimism surrounding this team than any I can recall since their initial spring of 2005.
I do think there are a good number of supporters who drank a lot of the Kool-Aid this year; that is to say they have been impressed with the team’s spring performance so far but seem to have forgotten that the Nats went 0 for 2 this offseason when trying to land a couple of top-flight starters to the mix. I do believe that starting pitching will remain their weakest point this season. Livan and Jordan Zimmermann have looked great so far this spring, but we need to keep in mind that JZimm has all of 4 wins in his major league career and that we can’t expect Livan to duplicate his impressive season from a year ago. I do expect Marquis to bounce back nicely since he appears to be healthy. No one knows which John Lannan will show up this year, but we all hope it’s the one who may be primed for a breakout season. On the offensive side, I love that Morse has had a great spring and seized the LF job. I’ve been impressed by him ever since we acquired him. I really hope Espinosa matures quickly as a major league hitter, and I’m hopeful that Ian Desmond is able to cut down on his errors so that we don’t lose his bat in the lineup. Center field could be a mess for awhile until someone separates themselves. Let’s hope it happens sooner rather than later. I’m just trying to be optimistic but also realistic. Go Nats!
In terms of thumbs up, thumbs down, that is. I give the Nats props for trading Willingham and landing one fireballer with huge upside, and another player who was highly regarded coming out of the draft and played very well in the minors until hitting some bumps in AAA last year. My thumbs down goes to the Nats’ reluctance to sign Joel Peralta. He had a 2.02 ERA in 49 innings pitched last year. And he signed for a year for less than $1 million dollars! Wouldn’t it have been worth it to give him $1.25 million if he was willing to sign for only one year? Frankly I’m shocked that’s all the money he got.
Let me give the Nats another thumbs up for trying to acquire Zack Grienke. I’m not sure we’ll ever know the truth about who the Nats offered to the Royals, but I’m impressed that they were that serious about acquiring him. Now, please don’t overpay for Pavano if we go after him next. He is coming off a great year, but he’s 34 and has a history of injuries. Maybe a 2 year deal to stabilize the rotation somewhat, but please, nothing more than 2 years. I’d prefer one but I doubt he would accept that.
No thumb either way on the Ankiel deal. His stats don’t make him the answer to anything on paper. However, he might have a great spring, and elbow his way into the center field job over Nyjer Morgan, which would be a welcome development. And I applaud the Nats for only giving him a one-year deal. Smart move there.
Josh Willingham: I was hoping that talk of him playing first base was just a crazy idea from Bill Ladson, but the fact that Willingham has commented on it means the team has at least floated the idea. I’ve already mentioned how ridiculous this is. He said he could learn how to field ground balls in spring training. So we want to replace Dunn with someone who has to learn how to field ground balls again? Who is much shorter than Dunn and coming off of an injury? Don’t get me wrong, I like the guy, but I want to start winning at some point. Also, you heard it here first, but that knee will be a problem again next season for Willingham. He injured it back in the summer. They said it was a meniscus tear. Now they are saying he will begin baseball activities again around Christmas time. Conversely, Brandon Banks of the Redskins had a meniscus tear and subsequent surgery on November 3rd. He is suiting up and playing tonight again the eagles. It’s football. He gets hit on the knee every time to has the ball. He weighs 150 pounds.
Something else is wrong with Willingham’s knee. The only silver lining is that Morse may end up playing first base and given a chance to get his bat in the lineup every day.
Also, I hope the Nats’ “attempt” to sign Lee does not keep receiving press. Hopefully he’ll just sign with the Yankees or Rangers quickly and get it over with. There is zero chance that he would sign with us. They are just going to make him an offer as a PR move for the team. Sorry to be so pessimistic, but it’s just sad to predict and then watch another offseason unfold like this. I hope team ownership proves me wrong.