The news this week that Espinosa will be playing through a torn rotator cuff this season and that Jayson Werth’s wrist is still not back at full strength certainly caused more than a little concern. Let’s not forget that Zim is coming off offseason shoulder surgery, and that Stras is not all that far removed from his Tommy John procedure. On the bright side, I can speak from experience that it is possible to play through a torn labrum, assuming you are not a pitcher. I had a torn labrum and rotator cuff for many years and only finally got it repaired 14 months ago (although often referred to interchangeably, they are not exactly the same injury). The rehab was brutal, and makes me even more impressed that LaRoche went through it and then came back last season and put up the numbers that he did. Hopefully Danny can keep his shoulder strong and play through the injury. If not though, Davey must not hesitate to play Lombo. He should at least see some increased time there to give Espinosa a rest more often.
As for Werth, I actually liked him as a leadoff hitter. Wrist injury or not, I think his days of hitting 25+ homers per year are over. I’m fine with him in the 6th spot if Span lives up to expectations. But for all the heat I’ve given Werth, he is a smart player. He took a lot of pitches (and walks) in that role, when I’m sure he would have rather been swinging the bat. Working a pitch count, and letting other players see what pitches a guy throws in a particular count, is a valuable skill that does not show up in a stat sheet. Not to mention his stalling tactics when there are 2 outs and the pitcher just batted. Team player. They should not hesitate to put him back at leadoff if Span need a day off or spends any time on the DL.
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.
My last comment on Adam LaRoche for a while. Promise. I’ve come to the conclusion that I almost hope he goes elsewhere, such as the Rangers or Orioles. Why? Because 1) he’s not worth that third year and 2) we will get a first round sandwich pick from whichever team signs him. I know we’ve only been to the playoffs once in this reincarnation of a baseball team in Washington, but we do need to think long-term if we’re going to keep this success going. Let Morse and Tyler Moore play. There is a lot of pop in those 2 bats. Not as much glove, but definitely more pop. And younger pop.
That comment brings me to this: For the second time in the past few weeks, Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post has penciled in Bryce Harper as the cleanup hitter for the Nats next season. I will eat crow if he is correct, but I do not think the Nats will put that kind of pressure on a 20-year old guy who has less than 1 full season on his resume. You can pencil in Morse (or LaRoche) as your cleanup hitter next season. Write that one down.
And that point leads me to one more thought. The Nats made a good move in acquiring Span to bat leadoff. But compare his last season to Harper’s first season. In 139 games, Harper put up a .270 average, 9 triples, 18 stolen bases, 56 walks, and a .340 OBP. In 128 games, Span had .283 average, 4 triples, 17 stolen bases, 47 walks, and a .342 OBP. Harper had significantly more strikeouts, but made up for it in HRs and OPS. Just think of what he’ll do with some more seasoning and better pitch selection. It’s scary. He could bat anywhere in the lineup, but my guess is it will be 2nd or 5th, not 4th.
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.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, so I figure I better get something up in November before the month totally passes me by. Been recovering from rotator cuff surgery, so typing takes twice as long as usual. I’m using Chien-Ming Wang as a little bit of inspiration, since my shoulder feels worse right now than it did pre-surgery. Eventually they say it will be much better, so I have to hope I’ll be 100% again at some point. Wang came back to pitch in MLB, so I’m optimistic that I can get back to a weekend warrior level.
Many fans are keeping their eye on the winter meetings in Dallas, to see if the Nats come out of there with a piece or two that would enable a playoff push next year. I’m all for finding the right pieces, but not at the expense of mortgaging the future. Like many close observers of the Nats, I think 2013 will be the year to make a serious playoff push. I’m not trying to be pessimistic, just realistic, while playing in the same division as a few other perennial playoff teams. I would like to see us acquire a front line starter, either as an innings-eater and staff leader, such as Buhrle or possibly Oswalt (with an incentive-laden contract) via free agency, if the price is right. Or, we could trade for a higher-caliber, entering-their-prime starter, if they are under contract for at least 3 more years. A center fielder with either leadoff capability or power would be great, and I acknowledge that need along with everyone else. But I’d like to see a 1-2 year solution there, barring a trade. In 2 years, we’ll have a glut of outfielders, and not enough room to play them.
As for first base, I’m not sure whether to laugh or be angry at those who suggest we sign some help at first base. I’d prefer to keep Morse at first, for no other reason that him playing there coincided with him hitting over .300 and 30+ home runs. But if the front office is intent on playing LaRoche at first, then Morse can shift there when LaRoche needs a day off, which also frees up an outfield spot for a bench player to get a spot start and some ABs. To use a roster spot on another 1B would be downright silly.
If we enter spring training with no major signings or trades, I’m fine with that too, as long as that means we get a long look this season at Milone, Peacock, Lombardozzi, and others to see if they are going to be long-term pieces of the puzzle. And my acquiescence to that plan in 2012 would be with the strong assumption that we would be major free agent players for the pieces we need going into 2013.
The hot start by our Nationals this spring has gradually turned into a 7 game losing streak. Most worrisome, the patchwork of starting pitchers have pretty much all turned in their worst outings of the spring recently. While part of that is due to hitters finding their rhythm later in the spring than pitchers, I can only hope our starting five regain some form and also some confidence. Some offensive outbursts by the team around them would help in the confidence regard as well. I just hope they do not try and pick up Oliver Perez now that he has been released by the Mets. I’d rather give some of our youngsters an opportunity to show what they’ve got instead.
By the way, even though I was in favor of keeping Dunn this past offseason, it certainly looks like we ended up with the better of the 3 first basemen we were targeting over the winter. LaRoche is expected to be his usual consistent self and has hit .343 so far, while Derrek Lee just played in his first spring training game, and concerns linger about thumb, wrist, and potentially foot injuries. Carlos Lee has been fine so far for the Cubs, but looking at the three of them right now, I’m glad we ended up with LaRoche.