Early Season Underachievers: Washington Nationals

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Just a note: these “underachievers” are based on what the majority of the prognosticators thought prior to the season and not what I thought. For example, I had the Phillies at 79-83 in my book (which, for the record, is now available on I-Tunes). The majority of the predictions I saw had the Phillies as contenders. I had the Nationals winning 103 games.

For a team as loaded as the Nats to have a .500 record after almost 20% of the season is unexpected. Is it something to be overly concerned about though? The answer is no.

Both Adam LaRoche and Danny Espinosa are proven players who are batting under .200. That won’t continue. The starting pitching and bullpen are deep and diverse and as the season moves along, GM Mike Rizzo will find a lefty specialist somewhere—Wesley Wright, Mike Dunn—because several will eventually become available.

That’s not to say there’s not potential for things to go wrong. They’re leading the Major Leagues in errors and manager Davey Johnson made a typical Davey Johnson managerial move when the Nats were playing the Mets two weeks ago and it neatly summed him up for better or worse. With the Mets leading 2-0 in the top of the eighth inning Mets reliever Scott Rice gave up a single to Steve Lombardozzi, walked Denard Span, and went to 3-0 and Jayson Werth. Werth was given the green light, swung at a low, outside pitch and grounded into a 6-4-3 double play. The Mets won the game.

That’s Johnson. It’s always been Johnson. It always will be Johnson. With the Mets in the 1980s, the lack of discipline, overaggressiveness and arrogance in believing that the fundamentals would be unnecessary as long as they pitched and hit home runs cost them playoff spots multiple times to teams like the Cardinals who were schooled in playing the game properly. Whitey Herzog’s hardline treatment of his players was well-known and if they didn’t do what they were supposed to do when they were supposed to do it, they didn’t play.

Is it a problem for the Nats? Yes and no. One of the reasons he’s been so successful is that the players love him and know he’s going to put the game in their hands. There wouldn’t be a debate if Werth hit the ball out of the park. It’s not the strategy that was the issue, but the execution. Werth was overanxious and swung at a bad pitch and criticizing him or Johnson won’t matter because telling Johnson what he did was wrong is only going to accomplish one thing: he’s going to do it more just to prove how smart he is and how dumb his critics are.

The Nats are too talented and deep to play in so mediocre a fashion for much longer.

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Javier Vazquez’s Comeback and Potential Suitors

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Javier Vazquez surprisingly retired after a solid season for the Marlins in 2011 in which he posted a 13-11 record; a 3.69 ERA; a hits/innings pitched ratio of 178/192 with 50 walks and 178 strikeouts. It must be added that he also had a dreadful start, pitching terribly until mid-June. For the entire second half, he was a different pitcher, one who was in demand as a free agent and chose to “retire” at age 35.

He can still pitch, just not as a Yankee, having failed there twice. I certainly wouldn’t bring him back to the Yankees, nor to Boston or Baltimore, but every other contending or would-be contending club is an option and Vazquez, while not saying he’s definitely returning, will pitch in the World Baseball Classic for Puerto Rico and has said he’s considering a comeback to MLB. For a $10 million payday, why not?

So which teams could use Vazquez and meet the criteria as contender?

Let’s take a look.

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays don’t really need another starter, but I suppose they could trade Ricky Romero and attach Adam Lind to him to get Lind’s contract off the roster in exchange for a 1B/DH bat and install Vazquez into the spot, but I’d keep Vazquez away from the AL East.

Tampa Bay Rays

Vazquez isn’t coming back for an incentive-laden deal with a low base salary, which is essentially the only method in which the Rays invest in free agents as they did with Roberto Hernandez (née Fausto Carmona). Tampa would be a good spot in every aspect, but they can’t pay him.

Cleveland Indians

The Indians agreed to terms with Brett Myers yesterday and are using him as a starter. They’re clearly intent on trying to win within their means under new manager Terry Francona and Vazquez would fall into the veteran starting pitcher template. Francona’s gentle handling of his players would suit Vazquez.

Los Angeles Angels

Vazquez is better than Joe Blanton, Tommy Hanson and Jason Vargas, but again, teams didn’t know Vazquez was available. The Angels don’t have any room for him now.

Texas Rangers

His penchant for allowing home runs is a concern in Texas, but their infield defense would also help him greatly. They’re a contender, would prefer a pitcher on a short-term contract and have had success with pitchers like Colby Lewis who’ve left for Japan and came back to MLB making Vazquez’s departure and return a non-issue.

The Rangers are a definite possibility.

Washington Nationals

The Nationals are waiting out Adam LaRoche and his free agency tour. In a free agency family tree sort of situation, LaRoche might go to the Red Sox if their contract snag with Mike Napoli isn’t ironed out and the deal comes undone. If that’s the case, the Nats won’t be able to trade Mike Morse. If they can trade Morse, they can move him for a starting pitcher. Or they can sign Vazquez and worry about the other stuff later.

Vazquez spent the first six years of his career with the Nats organization when they were in Montreal. He’s a perfect fit back in the NL East where he had his best years and pitching for a legitimate World Series contender in Washington.

Atlanta Braves

The Braves have enough starting pitching, so much so that they traded Hanson to the Angels for Jordan Walden. But Brandon Beachy is returning from Tommy John surgery and Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado are kids, so there’s a spot for a veteran like Vazquez if they want him. Vazquez had the year of his life with the Braves in 2009, won 15 games (he should have won 22) and finished 4th in the NL Cy Young voting. It’s doubtful they’d do it, but it’s logical.

Philadelphia Phillies

Vazquez is better than John Lannan and Kyle Kendrick—the two pitchers at the back of the Phillies rotation and gigantic steps down from the top three of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels—but the home run ball would be an issue for Vazquez and the Phillies offense and defense aren’t what they once were to account for Vazquez’s faults. He’d surrender a ton of homers in Philadelphia. He’s probably ill-suited mentally to the fans of Philadelphia booing him if he pitches 6 no-hit innings and then gives up a run in the seventh with the team leading 10-1.

Milwaukee Brewers

They desperately need starting pitching and have money to spend, but I’m not sure they’re contenders even though they can hit.

Pittsburgh Pirates

They just spent a large portion of available funds on Francisco Liriano. But they might be able to swing Vazquez. They’re intriguing for Vazquez and vice versa. The Pirates are a NL Central club with a big ballpark and enough young talent to be taken seriously as a contender, so perhaps they can work something out with Vazquez if they clear some money elsewhere.

San Diego Padres

The Padres don’t have a ton of money to toss around nor status as a winter contender, but they could surprise in 2013 with their onrushing young talent. They also brought the fences in and lowered the walls at Petco Park, which would affect a homer-prone pitcher like Vazquez.

They could jump in on him in a surprise move.

Vazquez didn’t plan this very well if he wanted to start a bidding war. He realistically could’ve guaranteed himself $12 million if he’d made his services available at the conclusion of the 2012 season and seen the bidding go up with a 1-year deal plus an option with the requisite buyout. He could’ve made $15 million if he’d played it right.

All things considered, Vazquez and the Nationals are destined to wind up together. That’s if he decides to pitch; and if the Nats don’t trade Morse; and Yankees GM Brian Cashman doesn’t try to prove himself “right” by going after Vazquez again for the Yankees.

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Washington Nationals vs St. Louis Cardinals—NLDS Preview and Predictions

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Washington Nationals (98-64; 1st place, NL East) vs St. Louis Cardinals (88-74; 2nd place, NL Central; Won Wild Card Game over Braves)

Keys for the Nats: Don’t be overconfident; get good starting pitching; let the game come to them.

The Nationals have taken the tone of being very impressed with themselves. This stems from their large number of young players who’ve never been in the post-season, nor have they been on clubs that were as dominant as the Nats were in 2012. Manager Davey Johnson has always been somewhat egotistical to say the least. He’s been able to back it up in regular seasons past, but in the playoffs, his clubs have been disappointing considering talent levels.

Gio Gonzalez won 21 games in the regular season and shed the “wild” and “inconsistent” labels he brought with him from the Athletics. He strikes out a lot of hitters, allowed only 9 homers in 199 innings, and had a great innings pitched/hits ratio of 199/149—the entire tone of the series will be set by Gonzalez’s performance. With Stephen Strasburg having been shut down, game 2 falls to Jordan Zimmerman, game 3 to Edwin Jackson, game 4 to Ross Detwiler.

The Nationals will be excited to be in the post-season and with the number of first-timers and young players, there could be an aspect of trying to get it all done at once from the likes of Bryce Harper, Danny Espinosa, and Michael Morse.

Keys for the Cardinals: Take advantage of the Nats’ inexperience; catch the ball; don’t put manager Mike Matheny in a position where his strategic gaffes can cost them.

The Cardinals have plenty of playoff and World Series history behind them from the top of the roster to the bottom. They got by the Braves in the Wild Card play in game with Kyle Lohse starting and now have the battle-tested Adam Wainwright ready for game 1 and Chris Carpenter for game 3. The Cardinals have been here before as heavy underdogs and they’re feisty in their own right so the Nats won’t be able to bully them as Johnson’s teams have been known to do.

The Cardinals defense is not great and they don’t want to give extra outs or miss catchable balls to give the Nats baserunners for the bashers to knock in.

Matheny has no managerial experience and that is a factor when going against one as experienced as Johnson. The more times he’s in a position to make a mistake, the more likely he is to make one.

What will happen:

Gonzalez truly surprised me this season with his Cy Young Award-caliber season, but a game 1 playoff start is a whole new level for him. I still don’t trust his command and if his adrenaline is exploding the Cardinals will take advantage of walks followed by a fat, get-me-over fastball.

Fear and not knowing what to expect will not be a factor for Wainwright or Carpenter. Cardinals’ closer Jason Motte has gotten the big outs in the playoffs and World Series. Nats’ closer Tyler Clippard hasn’t.

The Cardinals are one of the few teams in baseball that have the offense to get into a shootout with the Nationals and win it. Carlos Beltran, David Freese, Matt Holliday, and especially Yadier Molina have—for the most part—relished the playoff spotlight. The Nats’ only key players with post-season experience are the veterans Jayson Werth, Jackson, and Adam LaRoche. It’s not necessarily a key component to winning. It helps more to have good starting pitching and a solid bullpen with an experienced closer. The Nats have the potential in the starting rotation, but I’d like their chances exponentially better if they were pitching Strasburg in the playoffs. They’re not. He’s doing the equivalent of taking violin lessons while his friends are outside playing ball.

Davey Johnson’s teams have a history of regular season dominance, lots of yapping, and a playoff flameout. The Cardinals starting pitching is deeper and more experienced and the offense can score with the Nationals. Those factors will get them through the first round.

PREDICTION: CARDINALS IN FOUR

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Harper’s Promotion Is Not Just About Playing Baseball

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With the injury to Michael Morse, the Nationals have a huge hole in left field. Ryan Zimmerman is on the disabled list with inflammation in his shoulder that has been negatively affecting his throwing and could be a recurrent problem. Rick Ankiel is a good defensive outfielder, but his offense is limited to an occasional home run and stolen base speed with lots of strikeouts and little plate discipline.

Bryce Harper’s recall from Triple-A is, in small part, baseball-related but there are other factors involved in the decision.

On the field, Harper won’t be worse than the left field combination of Xavier Nady, Roger Bernadina and Mark DeRosa. He has star potential and can provide immediate impact. At worst, he’ll hold his own between the lines.

Off the field, at 19-years-old and as self-involved, bratty, catered to and obnoxious as he’s shown himself to be, is he ready for the scrutiny, attention, jealousy and outright loathing he’ll attract? Probably not, but that will take care of itself.

In spite of a league-best 14-6 record, the Nats are 12th in the National League in attendance and there is a spot in the lineup for Harper—it’s not pure shtick to fill the park. They have nothing to lose by bringing him up now. His arbitration clock is ticking, but he’s not going to be eligible for free agency under any circumstances until after 2018. So why not have a look? They can always send him down.

It’s not going to happen this season, but the Nats’ configuration in the field will possibly have Zimmerman shifting to first base to account for his shoulder and inability to throw. Current first baseman Adam LaRoche is off to a hot start, but has a team option for 2013 that’s unlikely to be picked up. Anthony Rendon is a top third base prospect and Harper can find a home somewhere in the outfield.

The Nats are one of the few organizations in baseball with depth at third base, and they can replicate what the Dodgers of the early 1970s did when they had two big league-ready third basemen (Steve Garvey and Ron Cey) and one—Garvey—who couldn’t throw the ball to first base without it being a hair-raising adventure. They moved Garvey to first base and he became an MVP, perennial All-Star and Gold Glove winner. For all of Garvey’s polished good looks, crafted image and Hollywood star power, the awkward and strange-looking Cey (known as the Penguin because of his odd body type and style of running) was an excellent player in his own right and as much, if not more, of a key to the Dodgers dominance in that decade and beyond.

The Nationals have similar options.

For Harper, it’s not the actual playing of that game that will be the attention-grabber, but how opposing clubs, umpires, the media and even his own team react to his first tantrum.

As far as playing, he’ll be fine, but if the Nats suggest that it’s a purely baseball-related decision, it’s simply not the truth.

My book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide, is now available in the I-Tunes store.

Check it out here.

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The Pirates, Andrew McCutchen and the Crocodile Arm Snap

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With the Pirates, there’s always been a reluctance to believe that they’re doing something smart without doing something foolish immediately thereafter.

It’s like feeding a crocodile—arm extended, cringing, hoping that the only thing taken is the food and not the arm up to the elbow.

In retrospect the Pirates maneuvers of perpetual housecleanings and bargain basement payrolls didn’t turn out as badly as they looked upon their completion. Jason Bay, Xavier Nady, Damaso Marte, Nyjer Morgan, Nate McLouthAdam LaRoche, Jack Wilson, Octavio Dotel and Freddy Sanchez were all dealt away in recent years. Most didn’t perform up to expectations with their new clubs and the Pirates got some usable pieces for them after savage critiques in their immediate aftermath.

The deals may not have worked out as hoped for the Pirates and they probably could’ve gotten more for than they did for some of the above-listed players, but apart from Bay, most were total disappointments in their new venues in one way or another.

Of course there are the things like non-tendering Matt Capps and declining the option on Paul Maholm, but potholes of idiocy will continue to exist no matter how desperately they’re patched over.

From those trades, they have James McDonald, Jose Tabata, Jeff Karstens and a couple of minor leaguers that might eventually be of use.

Now the Pirates have signed star center fielder Andrew McCutchen to a 6-year, $51.5 million contract to buy out his arbitration years and first two seasons of free agency—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story.

After the Pirates had implied that they’d be willing to listen to offers on McCutchen, the crocodile-cringe became more pronounced.

“Uh oh, the Pirates are about to do something stupid.”

The entire “we’ll listen on anyone including McCutchen” rhetoric was like something out of The Onion. “You can call and we’ll listen. Then we’ll laugh and tell you to take a hike.”

The “stupid” was ever-present, but for now it’s gone.

McCutchen is a foundational star at a hard-to-fill position and only getting better at age 25. He’s exactly the type of player a club either spends their money to keep or gives up the majority of their farm system to get.

With him onboard, the Pirates are turning their attention to signing Pittsburgh native and second baseman Neil Walker to a contract extension.

With the young stars in the fold for the long-term; Clint Hurdle—a manager who doesn’t take crap or “we’re the Pirates” as an excuse for losing; and an improved farm system, the Pirates are capable—you’re reading it here first—of a .500 season in 2012 and finishing as high as third place in their division.

Keeping McCutchen is a great decision and indicative that the Pirates’ front office is no longer content to be the big league talent mill for the bullies and are looking to follow the lead of clubs like the Rays who develop and try to win simultaneously.

The Pirates have an advantage the Rays don’t: a beautiful, fan friendly ballpark.

Believe it or not, the Pirates are on the way to getting much, much better.

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The Nationals Need a Pitcher More Than a (Prince) Fielder

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Any team can use a bat that will hit 30-40 homers and get on base 40% of the time, but when that bat is attached to a body of jiggly flesh that’s going to grow larger and more jiggly as time passes; when the team doesn’t have the DH available to stash said player to account for his defensive deficiencies that are going to grow worse as he grows older (and larger); when the player is represented by an agent whose demands are starting at 10-years; and when the team has holes on the mound bigger than in their lineup, it makes little sense to spend the vast amount of money it’s going to cost to sign that player.

The Nationals have the money to sign Prince Fielder; they can certainly use his power; their ownership is very wealthy; and the team is on the cusp of legitimate contention, if not already there. But do they need him?

Their offense finished 12th in the National League in runs scored, but that’s misleading. Jayson Werth was awful in 2011 and will absolutely be better in 2012—in fact, I think he’ll have a very good year. Ryan Zimmerman missed a chunk of the season with an abdominal injury. They’re replacing offensive hindrances with occasional power, Rick Ankiel and Laynce Nix, in the regular lineup.

If Adam LaRoche returns and hits his 20 homers, they’ll score enough to win if their pitching performs; the rotation as currently constructed is good enough to loiter around contention; the bullpen is shutdown with Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen shortening the game. But they need another starting pitcher who can be trusted to take the ball every fifth day and give them a designated number of innings. Mark Buehrle would’ve been perfect, but he signed with the Marlins.

The Nationals will eventually start to win as a matter of circumstance even as the front office does baffling things like trading a package for Gio Gonzalez that would’ve been suitable for a far better pitcher like Matt Garza; signing a good background player like Werth to a contract befitting a star; or seriously considering meeting agent Scott Boras’s* demands for Fielder.

*Do people realize that Boras was a minor league player before becoming an agent of evil? Click on his name above; he was actually a good hitter.

As much as the Nationals are playing up their starting rotation with the addition of Gonzalez, they don’t have a horse at the front. Stephen Strasburg is an ace talent, but your number one starter cannot be on an innings/pitch count—he’s not going to give them 200 innings next season. John Lannan is a good pitcher, but he’s not an every fifth day, “put the team on his back” guy either. No one can predict what Chien-Ming Wang is going to do. Jordan Zimmerman is in the same position as Strasburg.

The Nationals have talked about moving Werth to center field until next winter when B.J. Upton—in whom they’ve long had interest—will be available; Werth can play center field serviceably enough, but the smart thing for them to do would be to steer clear of Fielder; sign a pitcher who will give them 200 innings like Edwin Jackson; sign Cody Ross as a left field stopgap; and install Michael Morse in right.

Also, Bryce Harper is going to get a legitimate shot to make the team out of spring training. The Nats have to be careful with Harper and manager Davey Johnson must learn from the mistakes he made with a similarly hyped prospect and immature personality, Gregg Jefferies. Johnson coddled Jefferies and enabled the diva-like behaviors exhibited by the then 19-year-old; when he stopped hitting and his self-centeredness drew the ire of the Mets veterans, Johnson continued writing his name in the lineup creating a fissure between himself and the players with whom he’d cultivated a relationship from their formative years.

He cannot do that again.

If Harper is in the big leagues and Werth or Zimmerman feel the need to dispense old-school clubhouse discipline on the mouthy youngster, Johnson has to stay out of it; and if Harper isn’t hitting, he shouldn’t play simply because his name is Bryce Harper.

The one free agent bat at a key position they could’ve used was Jose Reyes; like Buehrle, he signed with the Marlins. Now the big offensive name remaining on the market is Fielder. But having a lineup inhabited by two players who are going to be contractually locked in for the next eight years limits flexibility and will result in diminishing returns quickly. If the Nationals have a budget, it will hamstring them financially as well.

They don’t need Fielder.

Signing him would be spending just for the sake of it and not help them achieve their goals any faster than they are now.

They’d be allowing Boras to play them just as they did last winter with Werth and it’s a mistake.

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Prince Fielder’s Free Agent Possibilities

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Prince Fielder will not be back with the Brewers.

And I don’t want to hear how he’d “love” to stay in Milwaukee; if he truly wants to stay in Milwaukee, I’m sure he could find a way to live on the $100 million or whatever amount of deranged sum they offer. Part of the reason players generally shun their original, mid-market home is due to union pressure to take the largest offer; and that they want to outdo their peers in terms of zeroes on the check.

It’s the same form of egomania that was evident in Moneyball as Billy Beane wants a monetary value on what it is he does. (And what it is he does is becoming increasingly mysterious as time passes; it’s an existential question: what does Billy Beane do? I dunno—he’s becoming Kim Kardashian; he’s famous and we don’t really know why.)

You can forget about the Yankees and Red Sox being in on Fielder despite fan greed about bringing in another $140 million bat. Fielder won’t want to DH, the Yankees have a first baseman and don’t want to clog up the DH spot with another immobile body and onerous contract. They have to re-sign CC Sabathia and/or bring in some better starting pitching.

With the Red Sox, owner John Henry openly regretted the Carl Crawford contract and expressed his wariness at the whole free agent process—do you really think they’re going to bring in an $140 million DH? Really? They, like the Yankees, need pitching.

With that established, let’s handicap and eliminate Fielder’s possible landing spots based on who could use him and who can afford him.

Teams that could use him, but can’t pay him.

Oakland Athletics: It’s pretty funny (no, it’s very funny) that Fielder was singled out in Moneyball as being “too fat” for the team that was portrayed as openly looking for fat players, and Fielder wound up being the most productive bat in the draft.

He’s not going to Oakland and it’s not because of the ballpark or that he doesn’t appreciate the value of being around “genius”; it’s because they can’t pay him.

Pittsburgh Pirates: After their mid-summer flirtation with contention, it only took a few short weeks for whatever spell had been aiding them to wear off and they reverted back into being…the Pirates.

They were 14th in runs scored in the National League in 2011, but they’re supposedly about to ridiculously repeat the same mistake they made with Matt Capps (they non-tendered him) and decline the option on a useful arm in Paul Maholm.

Um, he’s a guy you can trade, y’know? Sort of the way the Nationals traded Capps for a starting catcher they’ll have for the next 10 years in Wilson Ramos? Get it?

Why would anyone with options want to go to Pittsburgh?

San Francisco Giants: There’s a bit of an upheaval and apparent tightening of the pursestrings with Bill Neukom forced out as CEO. They’re more likely to keep Carlos Beltran than bring in any difference-making free agent. They also have to sign Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Brian Wilson in the coming years, so forget Fielder.

San Diego Padres: They just traded a better all-around player in Adrian Gonzalez because they weren’t going to be able to pay him, so it would make zero sense to sign Fielder.

Teams that could use him, pay him and won’t pursue him.

Los Angeles Angels: The Vernon Wells contract is now their problem and it got Tony Reagins ousted. They have two first basemen with Mark Trumbo, the (hopefully) returning Kendrys Morales and Fielder doesn’t want to DH. I would expect them to pursue a trade for the likes of David Wright or chase Jose Reyes instead of jumping in on Fielder.

Chicago Cubs: Theo Epstein has enough problems; they’ve got Carlos Pena, who’s okay; and you can find a first baseman relatively easily.

Baltimore Orioles: Buck Showalter is running things and prefers to have a more versatile, defensively-balanced club with interchangeable parts. Offense wasn’t the Orioles problem, the pitching was.

Teams that could pay him, use him and go after him.

Washington Nationals: Are they agent Scott Boras’s new “go-to guys”? He somehow managed to get them to give Jayson Werth $126 million, are looking to make a splash and rapid leap into contention and have the money.

Adam LaRoche is owed a guaranteed $9 million, but missed most of the 2011 season; the Nats desperately need a bat; they’re better off going after Reyes, but don’t discount them on Fielder.

Los Angeles Dodgers: The McCourts are now divorced and Frank has the Dodgers; but the legal red tape requires a machete to cut through and they have to sign Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier and must begin considering locking up Clayton Kershaw.

I don’t see Fielder going to the Dodgers, but they spent last winter when no one thought they had any money; they have to be considered.

Seattle Mariners: They were last in the AL in runs scored. It’s ironic that the double-dealing they pulled on the Yankees with Cliff Lee looks like they wound up with a worse deal from the Rangers. Will ownership interfere and force GM Jack Zduriencik to keep Ichiro Suzuki rather than look for a legitimate offensive force like Fielder?

Zduriencik drafted Fielder with the Brewers.

They do have the money to sign him and their young pitching can’t go on with a team that simply doesn’t score any runs.

Florida Marlins: They’re repeatedly referenced as teams that are going to go all-in for players in free agency. Albert Pujols has been talked about, but he’s not leaving the Cardinals. One drawback of the Marlins pursuing and getting Fielder would be the homers he’d hit in Florida would be accompanied by this monstrosity.


Here’s my guess: Fielder goes to Seattle for 7-years and $148 million.

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Werth Batting Second?

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The Washington Nationals have announced their intended lineup to start the season. Their big free agent signing ($126 million to be exact), Jayson Werth is going to bat second—Washington Post column.

There will be undisguised outrage at this decision.

I’m not as ironclad in lineup beliefs as others—I prefer the old-school style of having a speed/on-base guy leading off; followed by someone with a little pop, on-base skills of his own and reasonable speed to prevent the double play; the best hitter in the lineup batting third; the most feared hitter fourth; and RBI men fifth and sixth.

But it all depends on the personnel.

If the Nationals are going to think outside the box with Werth and bat him at the top of the lineup for the reasons presented (he walks and has power), why not bat him leadoff?

It’s not as if they have a prototypical leadoff batter; if they plan to use Ian Desmond in the role, it defeats the purpose of batting Werth second. I like Desmond, but he doesn’t get on base and strikes out a lot.

Werth strikes out a lot as well.

This concept of having a runner or runners on base for the middle of the lineup to drive in is, more often than not, going to be sabotaged.

Batting Werth leadoff might not be a conventional approach, but he would be a potential rally-starter. He gets on base, has power, hits plenty of doubles and can run. There have been players of this kind—who also struck out a lot—that have been very good leadoff hitters. Bobby Bonds was one such player.

In his early years with the Giants, Bonds would bat leadoff with Willie Mays and Willie McCovey behind him and he’d score well over 100 runs a year. He’d either strike out, homer or start something with his speed.

The Nationals don’t have that kind of power behind Werth, but there are hitters who will drive in runs—Adam LaRoche, Ryan Zimmerman and Mike Morse.

If they so desperately want to bat Werth at the top of the lineup, I’d bat Werth first; rookie Danny Espinosa second (he can hit—watch); Zimmerman third; LaRoche fourth; and Morse fifth.

Batting Werth second is an attempt to be too clever. Rather than that I’d prefer to go for the bomb early, especially considering how outmanned the Nationals are in terms of talent when comparing them to the rest of the National League East and NL proper.

Either bat him leadoff or bat him fourth.

Not second.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

The book is available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

Now it’s also out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.


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Sparkle And Fade

Hall Of Fame, Hot Stove
  • Prosper and fall:

The most interesting aspect of free agency, for me, isn’t where Cliff Lee and the other biggest names available wind up—the players whom everyone wants—it’s the players who are good and productive but, for one reason or another, fall through the cracks and don’t get the amount of money or years they were expecting.

Players in this category are still available and looking increasingly desperate right now. Rafael Soriano is one such player. He had a fantastic year; he is a marketable commodity as a strikeout reliever who can close; but he’s in fact be hindered by the great year he had and that his agent is Scott Boras and his demands are too great for a team to pay.

It winds up being a catch-22 for a Soriano—he should get a big contract for his performance and abilities, but won’t get the big contract because of the asking price, that the signing club is going to lose a draft pick and the market for relief pitchers has essentially crashed as building a bullpen has been put into greater statistical and practical context.

It doesn’t help Soriano that his reputation isn’t great. He gives up too many homers and gacks up big games; plus, as Bill Madden wrote in the NY Daily News yesterday, Soriano refused to pitch for more than one inning several times for the Rays in 2010. The combination is not a winning one for an iffy performer with an injury history and high financial demands.

You see it with other free agents who should probably be more in demand than they are.

Adam LaRoche just signed a 2-year, $16 million contract with an option for 2013. LaRoche is a consistent all-around player from whom you know what you’ll get: 25 homers, 60 extra base hits and adequate-to-good defense. The Nats probably could’ve gotten LaRoche for a little less money, but the contract’s not ridiculous considering they needed another bat and after the loony contract they gave Jayson Werth. Why run the risk of LaRoche going to Seattle or some other bat-hungry team?

Every year Orlando Hudson finds himself looking for work and taking a short-term contract. He’s touted by the stat zombies as a plus defender and productive hitter, but the statistical analysis and resulting financial valuations may actually be harming Hudson’s hopes for a long-term contract. Those that are signing him know his options are limited; that he’s injury-prone; and the numbers are such that a value is placed on his services; teams are unwilling to go beyond that because of his numbers and history of being on the outside looking in as January/February rolls around. Hudson got 2 years from the Padres with an option, but is only guaranteed $11.5 million.

It’s the other end of the spectrum from Werth’s $126 million insanity.

  • Speaking of the other end of the spectrum:

Of course there are players who take advantage of their impending free agency by having a career year and getting paid as a result of it. Adrian Beltre, A.J. Burnett and Carl Pavano come to mind.

Beltre has had career years in two of his seasons prior to free agency and gotten paid. Like Hudson, Beltre is beloved in stat zombie circles for his defense and bat; after having an MVP-quality season for the Red Sox, Beltre just signed a 5-year, $80 million contract with the Rangers.

In 2008, Burnett won 18 games for the Blue Jays and, more importantly, stayed healthy knowing that he could opt out of his contract. He did and got a bigger deal from the Yankees.

Pavano won 18 games for the Marlins in 2004, signed with the Yankees and subsequently, rather than pitch, he went to the beach and the doctor. (He might’ve been better served to find a doctor on the beach, but that’s neither here nor there.) After rejuvenating his career with the Twins, Pavano won’t get the same money he did from the Yankees, but he’s going to get a multi-year contract in the $22-25 million range from someone. Considering his reputation after the Yankees debacle, that’s great for him.

For a long time, I’ve seen this type of behavior as a negative; now, I’m thinking it may not be as bad as it looks on the surface. While a player raising his game when money is on the line could be judged as untoward and self-serving, as long as the club knows what they’re getting, they can’t complain about it.

The Yankees didn’t know what they were unwrapping with the Pavano package and that’s why I’ve never given them a hard time about his signing. Had they not given Pavano the money, the Red Sox, Tigers and Mariners were prepared to do so. The Yankees did know what they were getting with Burnett and this is why the ripping into him is unfair. He is what he is and nothing more.

Would this type of seasonlong pressure play bode well for a post-season calmness that would result in success? Players have raised their games in the post-season. Orel Hershiser, Lenny Dykstra, Dave Henderson, Dave Stewart—all have reputations as “money” players in the playoffs.

It might be the magnitude of the moment or the desire for fame and fortune that have spurred them. Will Beltre be a similar player? We don’t know because he’s only been in the playoffs once in his career—in 2004—and went 4 for 15 in the Dodgers 4 game NLDS loss to the Cardinals.

Pavano has been very good in the playoffs; Burnett’s been Burnett—up and down.

While the “big free agent year” followed by a lull can be seen as a profound negative, judging it from a different and more realistic angle, said success in a pressure year could be a portent of success in the playoffs. Finding something a player can do well and accepting him for that isn’t such a bad thing; in fact, it’s necessary and can help a club win a championship.

Unless something big happens, I’ll do the mail tomorrow.