Nationals Baseball: Die trying

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Die trying

The Nationals want to play off the lack of movement at the trade deadline as a positive.  They don't need any help. They aren't going to make a deal just to keep up with the Joneses. They are confident of winning with the guys already "in the room".  These guys are good enough to win 61 games so far, they can make the playoffs. It's hard to argue with that but here goes.

It's not about being good enough, it's about realizing you can always be better. The Nats have had the "problem" that there is no glaring weakness with the team (that's not exactly true - catcher is a glaring weakness but it's also a spot almost impossible to vastly improve by trade) There isn't a singular focus point where you can say "fix this and the Nats will be much better", but there are places that the Nats could improve. By doing nothing the Nats are implicitly saying they don't believe that's true. They think the catching situation is fine as it is. They like their MI backups to to be punchless bench bats. They believe the guy who hasn't hit for the past few years and hasn't shown any particular acumen for pinch hitting over his career will keep coming up with the big hit, and that the rookie call-up that strikes out all the time will come up with the big blast. They are betting that there will be no more big offensive injuries for a team that's been plagued with offensive injuries all year long.

It's almost as if because this wasn't supposed to be the year the Nats were a dominant force at the top of the NL East, that it's ok for the club not to go all in. This is a gift year, let's not do anything stupid, and let's set ourselves up for next year. That bush over there is so full of birds, who cares if this one flies away? Playoffs aren't guaranteed even for teams that appear set up to make it. Look at the Red Sox. Someone gets injured, someone else underperforms and suddenly your 90 win team is an 85 win team and you are on the outside looking in. The window is already small, 3-5 years for most teams, that to not take every year you are playoff contending as a serious chance to win a title is asinine. The Nats are good enough that the cost of "being serious" was small. Few were asking to trade the farm for a rental pitcher, or an CF with potentially no place to play.  It was about making a couple gambles on tossing some weak prospects for some bats that may be able to show their old talent one last time.  Betting on a couple of new has-beens as opposed to relying on the less talented has-beens and never-will-bes you are currently employing.

The lack of movement isn't a death knell for the Nats. This all should work out fine anyway.  As I've been saying all year the starting pitching is that good, that this team shouldn't fall out of the playoffs. They have a series lead on the Braves who have shown a tendency to lose when it matters most.  The Pirates have been playing above their heads all year. The Giants and Dodgers have 9 games left against each other where either one team beats up the other or they both lose 4-5 games. Once in the playoffs, even in the undesirable Wild Card role, anything can happen.

The Nats team will win enough games. But wouldn't you have liked to see the team go out trying everything they reasonably can do to win just one more than "enough"?


Donald said...

Not to be too critical of this analysis but it lacks specifics. I think what you are saying is Rizzo should have replaced DeRosa and maybe Tracy since any addition requires a substraction. Tracy leads the league in pinch hits even with his injuries, so I'm not sure you could come up with an improvement there or not. You could gamble there, but that's what it would be. With DeRosa, he's supposed to be a great club house guy who's mentoring the younger players. You might be able to pick up someone who performs better at bat, but would that improve the team over all if it messed with the chemistry? Might depend on who they got. Any suggestions?

DezoPenguin said...

I...honestly, I disagree. I'm not disappointed by the lack of movement at the trade deadline. I know that going in I was much more afraid that Rizzo would do something stupid than I was afraid that we'd do nothing.

Regarding starting pitching: Basically, the reason to make a move for a new SP is to solve how much of a drop-off we'd get between Strasburg and Lannan down the stretch drive. Absent getting a genuine ace-level pitcher to go with the three we already have =) there's not much to be gained there. Heck, you've analyzed this already. And as yesterday's results showed, hey, even Stras tosses a stinker once in a while.

Catcher? Again, as you say straight out, we're not likely to find a significant improvement on Flores/Leon/Solano on the trade market. Improvement, yes, but not a notable one. And factored into this analysis is the addition that this catcher would not be part of the team's future plans, with Ramos coming back from injury next year. Sure, it would be nice if Flores hadn't morphed into Wil Nieves all of a sudden, but notable gains are not easily found.

Relief pitching? I'll take Clippard, Burnett, Stammen, Mattheus and Storen over most 'pens in the league. Gorzo's not half bad (plus he can spot start if absolutely necessary). Trading to get a better 7th guy in the bullpen is not an urgent situation. HRod can be trusted to mop-up games that we were down by ten runs anyway.

So basically, the moves we would be making are for depth: replacements for people like DeRosa, Brown, Lombo, and Moore. And maybe that's possible. Certainly, it's possible to upgrade from DeRosa--but on the other hand, we can do that once Werth comes off the DL and Moore and Bernie become the reserve OFs. Lombo's a weak hitter, yes, but there's not a lot of mashing utility infielders out illustrated by the fact that Desmond is a genuine All-Star and Espi is a league-average-ish 2B despite his hellish slump.

Harper said...

Don't assume DeRosa will be cut. Moore has options and could be moved down now to be called up when rosters expand. Rizzo seems to love DeRosa.

The two moves I would have made where trading for Marco Scutaro (who the Giants got for basically a guy worse than Lombo and cash), and a catcher.

Scutaro is an average MI player who is better than DeRosa or Lombo. If Desmond (or Zimm or I guess Espy for that matter) where to miss an extended period of time he would be a very reasonable fill-in.

The catcher it depends on what you want. If you want defense - you trade for Soto and hope his bat bounces back to "ok". If you want a hot bat Shoppach might do. Both would serve as better bench bats in terms of pop and patience than the current back-up catcher (unless you choose to believe the hot start in the major leagues over everything he's done so far in his career)

And while it's hard to replace Tracy based on what he's done, I may have tried to work out a deal where the Nats ended up with Carlos Lee. It would have had to go through a third party though.

Harper said...

This isn't an "OH NO! THEY DID NOTHING!" feeling it's a "Really? They did nothing?" feeling. It's a completely valid way of thinking - not to give up anything for what will be marginal gains. But when that anything is likely to be nothing of consequence I think it's wiser to make the moves than not.

Donald said...

While I could see picking up a catcher or Scutaro, the tenor of the post was that by doing nothing, Rizzo signaled that he wasn't all in this year. Would making either of those deals really seemed like they were doing everything possible to win this year? And would either or both of those moves had much of an impact? Cutting DeRosa might have hit morale on the team. Sending Lombo down until the roster expansion might not have upset things too much, but it might have signaled to some of the players that the team was willing to sacrifice them at a moments notice? Not sure. Chemistry, particularly with such a young team may be a fragile thing.

Chris Needham said...

Winning begats chemistry.

They're not playing well and happy because DeRosa's on the bench, striking out every third time to the plate.

They're winning because they're playing well. And they're happy because they're winning.

Donald said...

Maybe part of why they are winning is because Davey has expressed confidence in them that they are better than everyone else. Maybe he's gotten them relaxed by letting them know that they don't have to worry about their jobs every day just because they get into a slump. Maybe part of why they are winning is that they really feel like a team and if someone got cut they'd be bummed. I'm not an expert on this and it's also possible that making a change signals to the rest that the team is commited to winning and that boosts their spirits. Dunno. Not sure anyone knows, but I think they are leary of tinkering with it for marginal gain.

Harper said...

Donald - Chemistry might matter but it's unknowable and likely marginal as well. I think it's smarter to base decisions on what acn be proven (like Scutaro > DeRosa) than feelings that can't be quantified and are subject to wildly different interpretations.

Really the argument for doing nothing is based on GM self-preservation. The worst case scenario for Rizzo is he makes a deal and the Nats hit a losing streak. It's like 95%+ certain that it's just because, "Hey. It's a long season. Sometimes you don't play well" but half the people will be screaming at him for messing with the chemistry. If they are to lose right now he can fall back on "trusting his guys" and "it was working" things that intrinsically we believe though they don't really hold up to scrutiny.

To look at it another way - if chemistry was so important why did every other playoff contending team make trades that would impact their rosters? Are they only getting rid of bad guys?

Anonymous said...

Rizzo was on the MASN broadcast last night briefly going into the non-actions before the deadline. Basically, there was nothing available at a Rizzo type of price that was a clear-cut upgrade than what they already have. He kicked some tires, and made some phone calls, but honestly the team was built in the winter and himself, Davey, and the owners like what they have. Myself and I am sure more than a few other fans also like what they have.

The plan appears to be to ride the season out, see how the young team handles the stretch run and hopefully the playoffs, and then do some more building/tinkering next winter. It seems like a very solid plan to me.

Also those other play-off contending teams you speak of who were making moves are not in the driver seat, but actually fighting for their division or a wild card, I include the Rangers in this group, they have been in a slump and losing ground.

Of the Nats, Yanks, and Reds, the Reds added a reliever... big move there, those 25 or so innings will totally make the difference and win them the World Series this year. -vdub

Anonymous said...

This article reveals your lack of understanding of how baseball works at the GM level.

You can't just say: "You know what? We should be better.", snap your fingers and improve. It takes a bit more finesse than that.

Example: There is no way we could get Shoppach. Give that dream up. The Sox are making a playoff push and they need Shoppach to do that, so stop bringing him up. And Soto is just absolutely horrible, so getting him would be a colossal mistake.

Carlos Lee? What the fuck? What are we going to do with Carlos Lee? You want to trade prospects for a former all star that can't field and use him as a pinch hitter? I'm sure he'd leap for joy at that opportunity, that's a great clubhouse move.

"Scutaro is an average MI player who is better than DeRosa or Lombo": Scutaro is not, never will be, and never was better than Lombardozzi at anything.

Harper said...

vdub - It's possible that Rizzo did all that and just didn't find a deal he liked, but since that everyone else did, it just seems more likely that Rizzo either wasn't serious or was only looking for impossible deals way in his favor. Since I've never gotten the latter vibe from Rizzo, I swing toward the former.

You don't know what will win the series, all you can do is make yourself the best team you can be.

Anon - You're right Shoppach probably wouldn't have been available, but when you talk about finesse I think this would be a good example. Hit them with the right deal on the morning of the 28th and maybe they pull the trigger.

Soto isn't terrible... as a back-up. He's a very good defensive catcher and he has more pop than Flores. He makes a nice compliment. As a part-time starter, true you are hoping his bat picks up (it should a little), but it's not much different than hoping that Leon or Solano hit/keep hitting. There's a reason the Nats were looking at Torrealba who's arguably worse than Soto. They don't fully buy into these guys either.

Lee - depends what you mean by prospects. Not anyone I'd expect or think could make a major league impact outside of the pen, no.

Scutaro is hitting better than Lombo now. Scutaro hit well last year, and the year before. I'm not saying trade Lombo for Scutaro (haven't looked at that) but for this year you'd expect Scutaro to hit better. That;s it.

Mythical Monkey said...

I think my thoughts on trade deadline moves have been permanently shaped by the 1983 Braves deal for Len Barker, the solid lefty starter they needed for their pennant push. Barker went 1-3 (and was worse the next two years), and the Braves finished three back of the Dodgers. The three players to be named later were Rick Behenna, a pitcher who never amounted to anything, Brook Jacoby who played 11 years at third base and would have at least been an improvement over Bob Horner, and Brett Butler who played 17 seasons with a career .370 on-base % and who would have solved the leadoff problems that plagued Atlanta for years to come.

Or maybe I just imagine that Butler wouldn't have let Chuck Knoblach juke him ala Lonnie Smith in game seven of the 1991 World Series ...

Oh, and by the way, the Nats won't wind up sending anybody down when Werth comes off the DL -- Rizzo says HRod has been experiencing "back" issues lately. I'd bet my next paycheck HRod goes on the DL as Werth comes off.

Froggy said...

The trade deadline came and went and as they say in medicine, First do no harm. And we didn't. So, I guess that says a couple things. One Rizzo and the Lerners are going to go with what they have and see how far into the post season it takes us. And two, Werth and Desmond will be back in a couple weeks, and should be hitting stride by the end of Aug beginning of Sept so their is no reason to panic.

Still think we have a couple batting average black holes in the form of DeRosa, and catcher. And as much as I like Flores, Leon, and Solano, I mean how many guys has Flores thrown out trying to steal in the past few weeks? Like hardly no one!

I'm not sure I buy the 'DeRosa is such a great clubhouse guy BS'. How can you go and strike out 4 times in a row and be an all season .153 BA guy and come back to the dugout and be a positive influence? We are over a 100 games in to the season and I don't think clubhouse chemistry is in jeopardy. I throw the red challenge flag on that one.

DeRosa must have dirt on Rizzo or Johnson to still be hanging around like he is.

Last thing, I agree that Scutaro would be a solid addition to the infield, and I KNOW he can hit better than DeRosa!