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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The Braves Said No To Papelbon For Vazquez?!?

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Yes. And they were right to do it.

Peter Gammons revealed on Twitter that in 2009, the Braves turned down an offer from the Red Sox of Jonathan Papelbon for Javier Vazquez.

Vazquez was subsequently traded along with Boone Logan from the Braves to the Yankees for Melky Cabrera, Mike Dunn and Arodys Vizcaino.

At first glance, it’s easy to say, “How could Frank Wren turn down Papelbon for Vazquez?!?”

But if you think about it and consider why the Braves were trading Vazquez in the first place, it made sense.

As great as Vazquez was in the 2009 season, he was on the block because he was making too much money and had the most trade value for the Braves at the time coming off a reputation-rejuvenating year; they would’ve preferred to have traded Derek Lowe, but with Lowe’s $15 million salary and length of contract, that wasn’t happening. The Braves were flush with cheaper starting pitching and had Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Lowe and Jair Jurrjens in the majors and youngsters Kris Medlen and Mike Minor on the way; they also had Kenshin Kawakami. Vazquez was a salary dump and trading Vazquez’s $11.5 million for Papelbon’s $10 million defeated the purpose of doing it. They got Cabrera who was coming off a solid season and playoffs for the Yankees and was set to be paid over $3 million in arbitration; they also received the lefty arm of Dunn whom they sent to the Marlins for Dan Uggla, and the big minor league prize, the flamethrowing Vizcaino.

They could’ve used Papelbon, but they signed Billy Wagner for $6.75 million; Wagner was excellent for the Braves in 2010 and wasn’t looking for a long-term contract. They also knew they had an option on Wagner for 2011 if he decided to pitch and Craig Kimbrel nearly ready—they were set for the future at closer.

In exchange for Vazquez the Braves got Uggla, Vizcaino, Cabrera and Wagner.

That’s a far better haul than Papelbon for Vazquez straight-up.

In hindsight, Papelbon would’ve been good for the Braves; Vazquez likely would’ve been a disaster for the Red Sox; it worked out well for all sides that the deal didn’t happen.

That doesn’t immediately assuage the shock when reading a splashy report that said the deal was offered, but Wren did the smart thing.

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From The Man Who Brought You Kei Igawa…

Management, Media, Players, Spring Training

Brian Cashman’s poor pitching decisions are becoming analogous to the schlock film producer who tosses out a lot of content and only hits when he has the star power of a C.C. Sabathia to rely on. Even the middling names with a modicum of said “star power” are enigmatic, good box office/bad box office dependent on the script, director, etc.

That would be A.J. Burnett.

The lawsuit filed against Aroldis Chapman‘s representatives claims the Yankees made an offer worth “more than $54 million” for Chapman; Cashman denies it—MLB Trade Rumors posting—I believe him.

While it and Cashman’s recent spate of honesty speaks well of his forthrightness exemplified in the contracts of Derek Jeter and Rafael Soriano, it doesn’t make his scouting eye look particularly good.

He’s got a rocky history with pitchers.

What makes it worse are the reports of how amazing Arodys Vizcaino has looked for the Braves this spring with a fastball that was clocked at over 100-mph yesterday.Vizcaino was sent to the Braves along with Mike Dunn in exchange for Javier Vazquez and Boone Logan.

In the Hollywood vernacular, Vazquez would equate to the ill-thought-out sequel for which no one was clamoring and against whose making they were warned.

Vazquez was a reasonable enough idea in theory, but was a disaster in practice; Logan is a useful lefty with a good fastball but isn’t a difference-maker one way or the other.

Two pitchers with 100+ mph fastballs—one from the left side (Chapman); and the right side (Vizcaino); both in their early 20s—are difference-makers.

Did Logan and Vazquez make the opposing manager think differently in how to approach a game against the Yankees?

No.

Would Vizcaino and Chapman?

Absolutely.

The failure to recognize that ability in Chapman, an ability that should’ve been clear in watching him throw once, is another blot on Cashman’s record in terms of pitchers. At one time, blame for errors in acquisitions and development could be shifted to the capricious lunatic George Steinbrenner; now there’s no one to blame for the gaffes with Joba Chamberlain; the trade of Vizcaino; and the inability to recognize what Chapman is.

Other clubs aren’t innocent here either. The Red Sox—who doled a ridiculous amount of money on Daisuke Matsuzaka—should’ve spotted Chapman’s talents as well.

As for the argument that because of the failures of Matsuzaka and Kei Igawa, the Yankees and Red Sox were rightfully reluctant to shell out more cash for an unproven commodity like Chapman, it’s self-righteous nonsense.

Similar to saying, “because Oliver Perez was a disaster, the Mets shouldn’t have pursued Cliff Lee“, it’s lumping everyone in the same pile. In fact, “lumping everyone in the same pile” is one of the reasons Chamberlain’s development has been stunted to the degree it has.

They’ve tried to formulate a set of guidelines to build up pitchers that are treating everyone the same. Akin to The Verducci Effect—why wouldn’t big league GMs listen and adhere to a sportswriter when developing pitchers?—they’re not treating each person as an individual who can’t be placed into a pure statistical, broad-based category and built as such.

And it’s a practical failure.

Speculation is rampant that because Cashman is being so open in his attempts to lower the Yankees payroll and build a club in a vein as the Red Sox and Rays do, he’d like a chance to be “small market Brian” and run a club under restrictive finances that would never constrain him with the Yankees and their financial might.

I’d like to see it; judging from his pitching decisions, it would not go well.

At all.

On another note regarding the Vazquez trade, Braves GM Frank Wren is looking like a bandit; not only did he get Vizcaino, but he spun Dunn off to the Marlins to get Dan Uggla. A year after the fact, the Braves have Uggla and Vizcaino for Omar Infante, Vazquez, Logan and Dunn.

In any configuration, that’s a terrific trade.

I’ll answer the mail later today.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe and it’s posted on Amazon. It currently says “Out of Stock”, but it must’ve just been placed on the site.


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