January 31, 2015

Nats add 1B/OF Mike Carp on minor league deal

VETERAN OUTFIELDER COULD PROVIDE INSURANCE AT SEVERAL POSITIONS

The Washington Nationals signed 1B/OF Mike Carp to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training. Carp, 28, is a .254/330/.414 career hitter in part of six seasons played exclusively in the American League and exactly 1,000 career plate appearances.

Carp is adequate defensively in either corner outfield slot or first base and will provide insurance as several positions, granted his problems at the plate last season were an aberration and not the new norm.

Carp split time between Boston and Texas last season and hit a woeful .175/.289/.230 in 149 plate appearances with no home runs, five doubles and 13 RBIs. That was a drastic departure from his valuable 2013 season with Boston, when he hit .296/.362/.523 with nine homers in 243 appearances.

Carp’s career year was in 2011 with Seattle, when he hit .276/.326/.466 with 12 homers and 46 RBIs in 313 plate appearances.

This is another in a long line of moves by Mike Rizzo to keep costs down with potential medium returns. Consider these separate but related facts:

  • Jayson Werth is out due to surgery on his right shoulder and questionable for opening day
  • Ryan Zimmerman has been injured and missed significant time in each of the past five seasons.
  • The Nats bench is slated to include Nate McLouth, Tyler Moore and rookie Michael Taylor

When Werth went down, it was all but assumed the Nats would bring in a veteran to compete for playing time while the hirsute left fielder mends and bolster the bench upon his return. Mike Carp seems to fit that mold…if the bat comes back.

The Lent of Baseball

In 1989, my beloved Oakland Athletics put together the sort of season you read about in the history books. They had pitching and panache, they had hitting and heroism, they had defense and domination. As an 11-year old, they were the best sort of magic: the kind that you could count on to come through for you when life was nothing but uncertain. That was when I fell in love with baseball and became a convert from soccer and football.

The peak was short-lived.

I tell you this by way of introducing myself, and for this one story: I’m told that the Attendance Secretary at Emerson Junior High School kept the note that my parents sent that day in October. It began, “We believe in the Church of Baseball.” My excuse was granted, and off we went that afternoon to the Coliseum to watch them in the World Series.

They lost.

That was the year they got swept by the Big Red Machine from Cincinnati. That was the year I almost gave up on baseball.

Over time, I’ve come to appreciate the ups and downs of baseball’s many turbulent moments. The wins and the losses mark the time between the seasons, and when it is dormant and sleeping in the middle of Winter, I miss it the most. Hot days in the sun, in the midst of a playoff chase, those are the things I dream of when the temperature drops below freezing and stays there for a week come January.

A few years ago or so, my friend Lisa remarked that the middle of January marks The Lent of Baseball. It’s after the end of the Winter Meetings, there’s hardly a bubble in the pot on the hot stove, and the fan’s mind turns with desperation to any hint of news about their favorite club. There are 40 days, starting today, until Pitchers & Catchers report down in Viera, before the first strikes are thrown, the first homers are hit, and the first web gems are coined. This is the single most agonizing time as a fan. You are anxious either to repeat the successes of the previous year, or to recover from the year’s previous failings.

This is that dark place where there is no data but past data. This is that dark time where all of the unknowns in a roster seem as if they are their worst possible outcome, and where rebuttals to those arguments are impossible to back with results. It’s a pretty terrible time of year to be a baseball fan, when everything is still theoretical. I try hard to tune out the pundits and armchair general managers, as I find the conclusions of hypothetical position battling and prediction building to be tedious at best, and rumor-mongering at worst.

Over the last few years, I’ve used the 40 days before pitchers and catchers report to Viera as a personal meditation on my relationship with baseball, and focused my efforts on better understanding the game that I have come to love and respect. One year, I did nothing but work to understand advanced statistics. Another I spent in pursuit of the perfect trilogy of baseball movies (Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, and The Sandlot). One year I got lost in nothing but the work of W.P. Kinsella that concerned baseball.

This year is feeling a lot more scattershot. This is my second off-season as a new father, and the first one where I’m getting regular sleep. After a season off, my general goal for this Lent of Baseball is a firmer understanding of the difficult personnel terrain the Nationals find themselves in, and how that will affect their pursuit of the Commissioner’s Trophy. What shape that will take is yet to be determined.

Making sense of their present situation can be instructive on understanding where they’re going and how they’ll arrive there.

I hope you’ll join me as I go exploring. What are your goals for the next 40 days?

Jayson Werth has “successful” shoulder surgery; out 2-3 months

The Washington Nationals (via Twitter) announced outfielder Jayson Werth had “successful” surgery to correct a problem with his right shoulder, specifically his A/C joint, and went out of the way to mention that there were “no structural abnormalities” found in the process.

Despite the sort of strangely-worded part about structural abnormalities, Werth is expected to be out 2-3 months, which definitely impacts his availability for opening day. In reality, due to the lengthy healing and rehab process, Werth might not be the “Jayson Werth” we’ve come to expect in a Nationals uniform until well into the summer, if at all this season.

Werth’s excellent on-base skills certainly shouldn’t be impacted that much, but his already diminishing power will be something to keep an eye on once he’s able to return to the field.

Another thing to watch: his fielding. He’s being moved to left field this season as much for his own protection as putting Bryce Harper in the position he’ll probably settle into for the next decade. Werth’s injury is to his right shoulder, his throwing arm, and as someone with a history of A/C problems, I can tell you that sometimes surgery does the trick, sometimes it doesn’t.

The A/C joint (acromioclavicular joint) is where the clavicle meets the scapula (technically, the acromion, the part of the scapula that forms the highest point of the shoulder). It really doesn’t have much to do with the ball joint that comprises the shoulder, what we usually think of with throwing injuries.

Rather, the A/C joint allows us as humans to lift our arms above our head, acting as a pivot point resulting in arm rotation.

Essentially, the surgery Werth had will “tie down” the clavicle to the acromion, repairing the torn ligament that previously did the job. A/C repairs are notoriously finicky and take quite a while to rehab and gain strength back.

Ryan Zimmerman had a similar surgery following the 2012 season, but in the news about his procedure, he was expected to miss six weeks.

Obviously, Werth is older than Zimmerman and had his procedure later in the year than Zimmerman (late October rather than January) so we have to assume Werth’s injury was more extensive than that of his teammate.

Nats officials hope that Werth has a complete recovery, but they better have a Plan B just in case.

Nats Nightly: Washington Nationals mid-winter update; trades; Harper

Dave Nichols of District Sports Page and Patrick Reddington of Federal Baseball discuss the Washington Nationals offseason moves thus far, including the Steven Souza and Ross Detwiler trades and the Bryce Harper grievance non-hearing.

Check Out Baseball Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with District Sports Page Nats Nightly on BlogTalkRadio

Washington Nationals acquire Trea Turner, Joe Ross from Padres; send Steven Souza to Rays

According to multiple sources, the Washington Nationals completed a three-way deal with the San Diego Padres and the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Nats will acquire SS Trea Turner and RHP Joe Ross from San Diego and sent OF Steven Souza, Jr. and LHP Travis Ott to Tampa. Tampa sent Wil Myers and others to San Diego.

Turner and Ross are both former first round picks and were on the Padres Top 10 Prospect List.

Since Turner was drafted this past summer, he will have to be included in the deal as a “player to be named later” and will most likely play in extended spring training next season until the deal can be consummated.

Turner, 21, was the 13th overall pick by the Padres in last summer’s amateur draft. He hit .323/.406/.448 with four home runs and 23 steals in 27 opportunities between low- and high-A last year in 321 plate appearances. He grades out with 80 speed according to MLB scouts with the defensive ability to stick at shortstop.

Ross, 21, was the 25th overall pick in the 2011 draft by the Padres. In 62 minor league appearances (60 starts) he’s 15-18 with a 3.90 ERA, 1.308 WHIP, 7.2 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9. His strikeout numbers took a tick up last season moving from low- to high-A and he made four appearances in AA at the end of last season. According to one report, Ross features a plus fastball in the low 90’s with heavy life, a slider that projects as above average, and a changeup that is still mostly a show-me pitch.

Souza, 26 on opening day, enjoyed his career last season in Syracuse, hitting .350/.432/.590 with 18 home runs in 407 plate appearances. He will forever be remembered by Nats fans for making the spectacular diving catch to save Jordan Zimmermann’s no-hitter on the last day of the 2014 season.

Ott, 19, is a former 25th round pick in the 2013 draft. He’s 4-4 with a 3.96 ERA, 1.310 WHIP, 6.8 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 in 23 appearances, mostly in rookie league and short-season A ball. He’s a soft-tossing lefty with limited MLB upside.

This trade, as with last season’s deal for Doug Fister, is a bona fide and clear win for Nats GM Mike Rizzo. He moved an older prospect and a fringe at best lefty for two of the Padres top minor league prospects, both legitimate MLB talents. Turner obviously becomes the Nats best middle infield prospect, providing strong insurance if the Nats can’t — or won’t — re-sign Ian Desmond to a long-term contract. Ross is added to an already crowded stable of hard-throwing right-handed starters in the Nats minor league system.

Souza was clearly a fan favorite for his catch and power potential, but he had no place in the Nats outfield and, frankly, has limited MLB potential. He owns a long swing and is not a quality defender, despite his tremendous diving catch. The Nats got two of the three best players in this 11-player deal and didn’t give up the third. The Nats got better for the future without giving up any of the present.

Win-win for Rizzo and the Nats.

Nationals avoid hearing with Harper with 2-year deal

OUTFIELDER SIGNS TWO-YEAR, $7.5 MILLION CONTRACT

Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper signed a two-year, $7.5 million contract Sunday evening according to reports, which will allow the sides to avoid a messy, potentially ugly grievance hearing which was scheduled for Tuesday.

The grievance stemmed from a complication in the original rookie contract Harper signed after his draft. The player’s agent, Scott Boras, believed Harper had the right to opt out of that original contract and be eligible for salary arbitration this season, as Harper qualifies for “super two” status.

The “opt-out” clause is common in the industry but not standard, and was not included in Harper’s original contract. There has been speculation why the language was not included, but the team reported said it was an oversight due to the speed of last-minute negotiations as the sides approached the deadline for a deal.

Harper will make $2.5 million in 2015 and $5 million in 2016, comparable to what he might have made in arbitration. He will then have two arbitration years before becoming a free agent after the 2018 season.

Washington Nationals trade Ross Detwiler to Rangers for minor leaguers

According to multiple reports, the Washington Nationals on Thursday traded LHP Ross Detwiler (29 opening day) to the Texas Rangers for two minor leaguers. According to USA Today, those players are 2B Chris Bostick and RHP Abel de los Santos.

Detwiler, the former No. 6 overall draft pick of the Nats, was left off the playoff roster last season as his stock had fallen from Game 4 playoff starter in ’12 to middle reliever to afterthought in two seasons.

The tall lefty battled delivery issues early in his career, which led to hip injuries and decreasing velocity. With the loss of speed, Detwiler also lost any semblance of a strikeout pitch, as he turned completely into a “generate weak contact” type of pitcher. He threw his sinking fastball over 90 percent of his pitches and never did develop suitable secondary pitches.

He has never struck out more than 5.8 per nine innings in his career.

Bostick, 22 in March, hit .251/.322/.412 in 130 games in double-A single-A last season in the Rangers organization with 11 homers and 24 steals. He exclusively played second base the past two seasons.

de los Santos, 22, was 5-3 with a 1.92 ERA, 0.959 WHIP and 10.4/2.9 K/BB ratio in 41 appearances between low and high-A for the Rangers last season. In 105 minor league appearances he owns a 9.2 K/9 ratio.

Perhaps the most significant by-product of the deal is shedding Detwiler’s $3 million contract for the upcoming season as the Nats still do not have an answer for their 2B/3B opening as the Winter Meetings come to a close.

Should Washington Nationals trade Tyler Clippard?

I usually stay out of the fray when it comes to the Hot Stove league. Generally, I’d rather comment on what happened rather than try to sift through all the noise that the click-baiters are trying to generate this time of year.

But one of the Washington Nationals biggest decisions — among several, I might add — is whether to seize a good opportunity to move a reliable, veteran player that is going to get expensive very quickly before he is eligible for free agency.

Not Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister or Ian Desmond, though the same applies to all three.

No, obviously from the title of the article you know that I’m already talking about Tyler Clippard.

Clippard, 30 on opening day, is already getting bites from general managers across the league. Nats GM Mike Rizzo said on the radio the other day he’s already “penciled in” Drew Storen as closer for next season, which leaves Clippard as the main set-up guy again, a role he’s performed admirably the past six-plus seasons, including two all-star campaigns.

Clippard has shown no signs of slowing down, posting a 7-4 record, 2.18 ERA, 0.995 WHIP and 10.5/2.9 K/BB ration last season. In fact, it might have been his most impressive season, including his 32-save year of 2012.

But here’s the deal: desperate teams will dramatically overpay for a closer, and Clippard could fill that bill. He’s reliable, consistent and excellent. He’s also going to get very expensive for a set-up guy very quickly, but still have a quite reasonable salary for a closer.

Think that’s screwed up? Sure it is. But that’s how desperate teams think. To go out on the free agent market to acquire a veteran closer is a fool’s errand, and it’s prohibitively expensive. One needs to look no further than the two-year Rafael Soriano experiment here.

So smaller or mid-market teams looking for a veteran reliever that can close can do that on the trade market easier than outbid the bigger-market teams in free agency.

Clippard made $5.875 million last season and is 3rd year arbitration eligible, meaning this is his last arbitration before becoming a free agent at the age of 31 after the upcoming season. Considering his track record of excellence, two all-star noms and almost unprecedented reliability, Clippard will probably command $8 million-plus in arbitration this year.

Can the Nats afford to pay their set-up guy $8 million, and have any hope of re-signing Zimmermann, Fister or Desmond? Not to even mention looking down the road at Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper.

Mike Rizzo and the Lerner family are going to have some bridges to cross in the next couple of seasons, and this is one of them. The team has plenty of arms currently in the bullpen and plenty more candidates where they came from. If Rizzo has proven one thing as GM, it’s that he loves stockpiling mid-level starter prospects with big arms and has had real good success turning them into reliable relievers.

Clippard was the first.

Despite the Lerner’s deep pockets, they aren’t limitless — at least when it comes to baseball finances. Rizzo might have to start to pick-and-choose on the players he retains and the players he moves to re-stock the cupboards.

Clippard might be that first hard choice this winter, even before Zimmermann, Fister or Desmond.

Nationals Matt Williams Named NL Manager of the Year

Matt Williams NL Manager of the Year

NATIONALS MANAGER MATT WILLIAMS NAMED
2014 BBWAA NATIONAL LEAGUE MANAGER OF THE YEAR

Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams was named the 2014 National League Manager of the Year Tuesday night by the Baseball Writers Association of America. Williams received a total 109 points, including 80 first-place votes. Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle finished second in the voting, and San Francisco Giants Manager Bruce Bochy was third.

Williams, who becomes the second manager in Nationals history to earn this honor, had an exceptionally successful rookie season in the dugout as he led the Nationals to an NL-best 96 victories and the National League East Championship.

“On behalf of the Lerner Family and the entire Washington Nationals organization, I want to offer heartfelt congratulations to Matt on this well-deserved award,” said Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo. “His first year in the dugout was excellent, and it was a pleasure to watch him grow throughout. He is a respected leader, and the steady hand that navigated our team through many challenges this season.

“What we accomplished this season would not have been possible without the right man at the helm. That was Matt this season, and we’re all looking forward to 2015.”

Since the inception of the award in 1983, Williams is just the fourth first-year manager ever to win it. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he joins Hal Lanier (Houston Astros, 1986), Dusty Baker (San Francisco Giants, 1993), and Joe Girardi (Florida Marlins, 2006).

“I am incredibly honored and humbled by this award,” Williams said. “This was a very special year for us, and I am proud of what we accomplished in my first season at the helm. For me, as a newcomer to the managerial fraternity, it is a privilege just to be considered amongst the best in our game. Clint and Bruce are certainly that.

“While this is an incredible acknowledgement by the writers, I know we have bigger goals to accomplish in Washington and I look forward to the challenge that the 2015 season will bring.”

The Nationals, though besieged by injuries, won their division by the largest margin (17.0 games) of any in the Major Leagues under Williams’ watch. Over the course of the season, the Nationals saw 948 total games missed due to stints on the Disabled List, with key players like Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Wilson Ramos, Doug Fister, Gio Gonzalez, Adam LaRoche and Denard Span accounting for 284 of those games.

While the Nationals withstood that barrage, Williams’ guided them toward steady improvement as the season progressed. After playing to a .500 record (27-27) through the season’s first two months, the Nationals were at least four games over the .500 mark in each remaining month of the season, finishing 69-39 from June through September. That stretch included a 19-10 month of August that featured a 10-game winning streak from Aug. 12-21, the longest winning streak in the National League this season.

On Sept. 16, the Nationals clinched their second National League East Division title in the last three years, and they finished the regular season with a 96-66 record.

Williams, 48, was named the fifth field manager in Nationals history on Oct. 31, 2013. The five-time All-Star third baseman was also voted by his managerial peers as the 2014 Sporting News Manager of the Year.

NATIONALS MANAGERS TO WIN BBWAA N.L. MANAGER OF THE YEAR (2005-2014)
2012 Davey Johnson
2014 Matt Williams

Washington Nationals exersize option on Span; decline LaRoche and Soriano

According to multiple sources, the Washington Nationals exercised their $9 million team option on Denard Span on Thursday, ensuring the team’s leadoff hitter and Gold Glove caliber center fielder will remain on the roster for at least the next year.

Span, who will be 31 on opening day, hit .302/.355/.416 last season, leading the Nats in hits and setting team marks for hits and multi-hit games. He was 31-for-38 in stolen base attempts and hit five home runs to boot.

Bringing Span back reduced the Nats decisions on potential free agents down to five (ages on opening day).

Adam LaRoche (35, .259/.362/.455, 26/92): LaRoche had a mutual option for ’15 of $15 million with a $2 million buyout, but declined the option. With Ryan Zimmerman’s limitations in the field, it would be very surprising if the Nats re-upped with LaRoche.

Rafael Soriano (35, 4-1, 32 svs, 3.19/1.129): The veteran reliever looked like the Nats’ All-Star rep at the break, but was atrocious in the second half before going lights-out in the playoffs in a very limited role. Team option for $14 million was declined and considering the way things ended, very unlikely he re-signs in DC.

Asdrubal Cabrera (29, .229/.312/.389, 5/21 in 49 games for Nats): Cabrera became free agent at conclusion of World Series. Was excellent defensively and had a couple of offensive highlights, but his age and already diminished results suggest Nats will let him walk.

Scott Hairston (34, .208/.253/.299, 1/8): Hairston has outlived his usefulness as a Major League Player. That might sound harsh, but it happens to everyone. Was once known as a “lefty-killer” (even if it wasn’t entirely true, but his .293 OBP against lefties this season seal his fate.

Nate Schierholtz (31, .195/.243/.309, 1/4): The “other” Nate, Schierholtz was a waiver wire pickup midseason when Nate McLouth went down for the season to injury. Schierholtz was even worse than McLouth at the plate overall, though did chip in in the playoffs. With another $5 regrettably due McLouth, Schierholtz rides off into the sunset.

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