Nationals Baseball: Could have been better, could have been worse

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Could have been better, could have been worse

This season has gone pretty well for Nats fans. Thanks to more positives (ZNN, pitchers 2-4, Morse, Nix, Espinosa, Ramos) than negatives (Werth, Desmond, LaRoche, Zimm's injury) the team is doing as well as could be expected sitting right around .500 with no obvious crash in sight. But seeing Carlos Pena (.344 OBP, 17 homers) on the other side of the diamond the last couple nights reminds me that things could have even been better with just one or two moves that could have easily happened in the last year. On the flip side, with another set of completely reasonable moves the Nats could be looking at another season where mid 70s looks like the best they can hope for. Color-coded here's how Nats fans could have been jumping for joy, or resigning themselves of another season of meaningless baseball.

(sure this whole thing is based on a hell of a lot of assumptions, the first one being that everyone does exactly the same as they have done regardless of different lineups and locations. Completley erroneous? Yes. Way to pass the time? Yes. It also looks at this in a clear - better record in July 2010 kind of way. Some of these things I still think would be great moves even if they didn't work themselves out in 3 months time)

First off, Rizzo could have "lost" the Dunn deal. The Nats wanted to deal Adam Dunn. The White Sox wanted to acquire him. The Nats asked for Gordon Beckham. White Sox countered with "any one minor leaguer". Rizzo countered with "so I can get Daniel Hudson and who else?" Talks broke down. Hudson went to the D-Backs for Edwin Jackson. The Nats let Dunn walk for a pick couple of picks. But let's say that Rizzo flinches at the last minute and takes Hudson straight up for Dunn. Hudson, who has been great this year, becomes the second best starter on the Nats. Who's place does he take? Well given his age and inexperience I'd say it's likely that they still sign Livan and don't trade for Gorzelanny. Short of it is - the Nats pitching staff is even better right now with two young studs leading the way.

First off, Rizzo could have "won" the Dunn deal. The Nats wanted to deal Adam Dunn. The White Sox wanted to acquire him. The Nats asked for Gordon Beckham. In the real world the Sox say no way, but let's say Williams was desperate and didn't like the struggles he saw so far in Beckham. Always favoring experience over youth, Williams bites and Beckham is now the Nats property. He's pencilled in as the starting 2nd baseman and Nats fans rejoice at getting a former #1 pick who's still a young prospect at a hard to fill position. Except that Beckham struggles terribly this season. He and Desmond, by now, are creating a big gaping hole at the end of the lineup, and the Nats offense is even more stagnant than we've seen.

With Dunn gone the Nats need to sign a first-baseman and their primary target appears to be Carlos Pena. But the Cubs sweep in and snatch him for 10 million dollars and the Nats go with LaRoche. It doesn't seem like a bad consolation prize until LaRoche comes up lame. But what if the Nats managed to get Pena? The early part of the year is similar as Pena struggled just as much but in the past month he's really turned it up. The Nats are the hottest team in June thanks to Pena and the sweet Nix / Morse platoon that has developed in left field.

Of course there's always Espinosa to fill in for either, but given Desmond and Beckham's age and Lombardozzi's rise - Danny is expendable. In fact he was already seen that way this year when offered in a deal for Zach Greinke. But Greinke didn't want to come to DC. He vetoed the deal and shipped off to Milwuakee instead. In alternate world red though, Greinke oks the deal. Drew Storen, Danny Espinosa and a couple of other guys head off to KC and Grienke is a Nat. The Nats don't sign Livan (they have their innings eater), but still make the Gorzelanny deal to see what he can be. Then Zack injures himself during the off-season. The Nats struggle to fill that hole with Maya and Detwiler, trying desperately not to start the clock on a real prospect before they have too. They hold off with a few more Ls then they would like until Greinke comes back. Then he struggles upon return. Not to mention the closer problems. With Storen out of the mix the Nats tried to make Burnett work, and then Coffey (to pull another Capps-ification) but both failed. They've settled on Clippard now but it took longer than anyone would have liked.

Why don't Morse and Nix play at the same time? That's because CF is taken by Mr. Tony Plush. Instead of Rizzo throwing out another guy who he doesn't like for a bag of used baseballs, the two work it out like grown-ups. Morgan apologizes to the fans citing a year-long slump making him crazy. Rizzo doesn't see any viable CF alternatives out there and goes against his nature a bit to give Morgan a 2nd chance. After a rocky and injury-riddled start he now is giving the Nats plus D in centerfield and the fans have once again come around to his infectious drive (or is it his good stats?). Other teams may hate him but he's their guy.

But that mess pales in comparison to the OF where Laynce Nix was never signed. It didn't make a lot of sense to sign Nix. Rick Ankiel, lefty bopper decent D, has almost the same skill set and was already signed for a million. The Nats could have easily chosen to roll with Bernadina as their 4th OF. Without Nix though the team has no fall back when Morse slumps early on. Bernadina is forced into action in left while Morse sits and Hairston takes over center most of the time. Those are the good days. On the bad ones Bernadina takes over center and Stairs plays in left. It's a bad offensively, and bad defensively for a while. Eventually Morse hits his way back into a starting role at first when LaRoche goes down but the OF looks like an unsolveable mess with two positions needing to be filled the rest of the season and no prospects to do it.

This team is stacked and ready to go. It probably still isn't ready to complete this year even though the Wild Card is right there. A lot of people think that with Morse doing pretty well and under a nice contract the Nats will still deal Nix and turn left field over to Morse full-time. They need to make some room anyway given that Bryce will be up sooner than later. The Nats have a killer young rotation in the works, have every position locked up, most cheaply, for the next few years. It's a team primed to explode next season. Enough so that Rizzo is thinking about trying to get the Lerners to eat year 2 of LaRoche's deal and make a play for Fielder. The future is now.

This team has promise for next year. Who wouldn't want a rotation led by Greinke, Strasburg, ZNN? But middle infield looks like an issue and at least this season the OF is one of the worst in the majors offensively and defensively. Morse will likely slide back to left in 2012, but given the hole the fans are desperate for Bryce to be moved up quickly. Next year does seem brighter but Nats fans have heard that before.


traderkirk said...

TWO picks. White Sox #1 and the first supplemental for Dunn.

Meyer and Goodwin.

Harper said...

you're right, two picks.

Section 139 said...

Is it wrong to say I like the black font best? The team that actually got us here talking about what ifs. Not the AAAA team of the past that has most Washingtonians thinking about anything other than the Nats.

Harper said...

Nothing wrong with that. You can't expect everything to go right so what the Nats are right now is pretty close to best case scenario heading into 2012. It's a long year and sometimes the mind wanders. That's all this post is meant to be.

Donald said...

I think we're really lucky Rizzo didn't deal Espinosa. That seemed like a distinct possibility in the off season. But now, I don't think there's a 2B in baseball that I'd do a straight up swap with given Danny's age and potential.

EverySection said...

Prince Fielder to the Natinals would be just dandy. That opening day lineup would definitely show some promise. With Desmond and Laroche as bench players, it'd be pretty good.

Sec 204 Row H Seat 7 said...

This is why I read you almost every day. Going back to Oleanders days, what did the Cubs or anybody offer Bowden for Sorriano? Also, have you noticed how the Cubs are channeling last year and certainly the year before last NATS' teams? One two run error provided the margin of victory.

Anonymous said...

Nix/Morse platoon would have failed miserably, though. They only have produced because they have played every day. Both have proven in their careers that is the only way they can perform well.

The team is perfect right now. No second guessing necessary anywhere. Try to pick up Prince & a good starter in the offseason and they will be in the playoff hunt.

TheYellowSlant said...

I think you're giving Nyjer too much credit. He is one bad streak away from going all Mr. Hyde on the Brew Crew.

Harper said...

Donald - hmmm I guess you'd listen to an argument for Pedroia but 25 vs 28 to start next year... how could you. Side Q - If the Brewers didn't have Weeks you think they'd do Espinosa for Grienke straight up? I bet so given the contract left. Funny how things can change but it has only been a few months. It can change again.

ES - how did Desmond end up on the bench? Lombardozzi, FA, or do the Nats just stick Danny right behind 2nd and go with 4 OF?

sec 204 - rumors were always Kevin Slowey from the Twins. The Nats passed hoping they could get something better from the picks. In general I think that's a bad strategy but in the Nats case it made a little more sense (rather take a gamble on getting a very good pitcher a few years from now then settle with ok one right now) Still didn't like it but they got Zimmermann. (and Smoker - who they liked better. Just saying. Could have easily been two Smokers, or in other words, nothing.)

With the Cubs I'm still impressed that Marlon Byrd carved himself out a nice little career.

Anon - I think it would have been ok. Morse was pretty much a starter at the beginning of this year and flopped and last year he did better before getting regular playing time. Not that he did bad after, just better before. I can see how playing everyday would hlep but I doubt Morse would have flopped in a platoon role. Also Nix is pretty much a platooner now. There just aren't a lot of lefty starters out there so his days off don't stand out.

Perfect? CF and SS both are iffy right now. Good enough if the Nats go after one more big bat and Werth bounces back? Possibly. But I'm not sure Fielder is coming. Rizzo loves his D and LaRoche is good at that. Also Morse seems better suited for first than the OF. Of course if the Nats do want to make a play for next year it does feel like they have to get someone doesn't it?

Harper said...

TYS - possibly. we'll see. I don't think he'll have the prolonged problems that helped cause him to snap last year. I'll stick to my initial Nyjer prediction - great all year, leads Brew Crew to playoffs. Gets a nice extension. Slowly fades over course of it.

Wally said...

Harper - your columns/blogs have been terrific. Thoughtful and interesting, even when I don't agree with some of the conclusions. This one especially, where you look at what could have happened. Great idea. Also winds up being a humbling experience for some of us readers, when I remember how I felt about those things at the time.

Dunn, for instance. My plan A 'Want' was to resign him. I wasn't adamant, though. But if he wasn't coming back, I wanted a trade rather than picks, and particularly wanted Hudson. I would still take Hudson over Meyer/Goodwin, although that is a better draft combo than I would have guessed last year. Mainly I don't like Goodwin so much
but was very pleased to see Meyer fall. Anyhow, I never really gave much thought to what they would or wouldn't do if they got him. But thank God they didn't bring Dunn back. Not just the hitting, but watching Morse and even Nix field the position makes me realize just how bad he was, even at 1st.
Greinke - i was not in favor of the rumored trade, but ONLY because JZimm was included. I would have given up Espy and Storen plus whatever non Stras starter they wanted. But not now.

Just goes to show how much of a crapshoot the talent game is. Because while i'll give Rizzo credit when something works out, in truth some of it is pure luck, not plan. How often do you think Rizzo goes 'holy shat, thank
God they rejected that Greinke trade?'

Really enjoying your stuff.

Anonymous said...

Daniel Hudson has not been great this year, he's benefited from a weak schedule. He is a 4th starter and it's a strech to say he would be the second best starter on the team. From an ESPN chat with Keith Law "In his last 11 starts the only offenses in the top half of MLB runs scored were KC (11th) and CLE (14th)."

JDBrew said...

I was actually happy with the Laroche signing. He's been a very consistent hitter pretty much his whole career. It's a shame that he went down with an injury and played so poorly early on. He seems to me to be this years the 2010 season Jason Marquis. It'll be interesting how first base pans out. Personally I don't think they need to sign another first base. I think I'm bias a little because I don't like prince fielder. He's a great player, I just don't like him. I feel he's a bad teammate. He seems to have a poor attitude. That's just my take on him. Not saying he wouldn't help. Just that I don't care for him. I don't really think they need to sign someone. Once Laroche is healthy, he'll be a good player. He'll be a solid hitter. And if he doesn't recover well then Morse is a fine option there at first. I feel like in the upcoming offseason, they should continue the search for an outfielder, preferably center field. But if a good left fielder comes available then definitely pursue him. After outfield, I feel like your next need is more pitching, more starters. Then look for shortstops, if you can fill that internally then by all means. I am really, really hoping desmond works out his problems. He can be very good if he can just raise his average up to a steady .270-.280 range. I certainly hope the club can work out everyday players and move away from this platoon system. They've been platooning players for a long time. I really want starters that you don't have to platoon. I'm pleased with the team so far this year, I hope they continue to play well. Could have been better. But I'm just happy not to lose 100 games again. And to be doing better than the Orioles.

Harper said...

Wally - thanks for the kind words. I kind of feel like Rizzo is the type of guy who thinks things worked out for these guys BECAUSE they were here, and if they were in KC and Greinke was in DC that he'd be fine, Lombardozzi would be rocking and they'd be struggling.

Anon - How about this? "Daniel Hudson has been great this year, but in not small part because he's benefited from a weak schedule. He would probably be the 2nd best starter in the current Nats rotation, but projects more to a 3rd or 4th starter for his career." Is that ok?

Keith Law's take on Hudson is a bit iffy. He's always been more down on Hudson than anyone else. I don't mean that as an insult. We all have players we like / don't like for various reasons, but that's the way it is.

JDB - I think most people agree. As much as first base looks like a hole and Fielder looks available, the Nats already have two options for that position for next year. CF and a pitcher should be a priority. Unfortunately the 2012 class is dreck. (On the other hand 2013 could be very very deep, but will Nats fans be able to take an offseason with little movement?)

Hoo said...

Harper: What about Marrero at first? He's in the top 20 in his league in OPS, RBIs. He's showing some pop and hitting close to .300. And he just turned 23 this week. He'll be up in September but in Cuse in '12. I'd guess that he gets a shot at first in '13 or is traded. But I think he gives Rizzo a security blanket at first or a nice trade piece.

I'd rather spend the $$$ at CF/Pitcher given the LaRoche/Morse with Marrero logjam at first.

Harper said...

I think the Nats are concerned with his diminishing power. A first baseman that hits .280 with 15 homers isn't going to make anybody excited. He has worked very hard on his fielding I've heard. I think he's something to keep an eye on next year while they stumble through year 2 of LaRoche and what to do with Morse. Another reason to hold off on a big offseason signing at first.