December 22, 2014

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.

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.

Washington Nationals select pitchers with top two picks in MLB Draft

“Early in the year we had him certainly as a Top 10 guy and possibly even higher than that,” Nats GM Mike Rizzo said of their first round pick, RHP Erick Fedde

The Washington Nationals selected UNLV right-handed pitcher Erick Fedde with the 18th overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft. With the 57th overall pick, the Nats selected U. of Miami left-handed pitcher Andrew Suarez.

From the press releases:

Fedde:

The 6-foot-4, 180-pound junior is regarded as one of the top collegiate arms in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft.

A native of Las Vegas, Nev., Fedde went 8-2 with a 1.76 ERA (15 ER/76.2 IP) and 82 strikeouts in 11 starts for the Rebels this season.  He was named the 2014 Mountain West Pitcher of the Year and to the All-Mountain West First Team after going 6-1 with league-leading 1.60 ERA (10 ER/56.1 IP) in eight starts in conference play.

For his efforts during the ’14 campaign, Fedde was named a Louisville Slugger Second-Team All-American by Collegiate Baseball and named to the midseason Golden Spikes Award watch list.

The 21-year old entered the 2014 season rated as the No.12 pitching prospect and the No. 17 overall prospect in collegiate baseball, according to Baseball America.

Suarez:

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound southpaw went 6-3 with a 2.95 ERA (36 ER/109.2 IP) in 16 starts for the University of Miami in 2014. He struck out 87 while walking just 15 batters.  His 109.2 innings led the Hurricanes’ pitching staff and were second-most in the Atlantic Coast Conference, while his 87 strikeouts were good for eighth in the league.

A native of Miami, Fla., Suarez attended Christopher Columbus High School where he was named All-Dade County First-Team and an AFLAC All-American. He was previously selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the ninth round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.

Fedde was considered a top-15 talent in the draft but was available to the Nationals at 18 as Fedde underwent Tommy John surgery on June 3. Fedde will not be expected to pitch for at least a year.

Suarez required labrum surgery as a freshman at Miami due to a shoulder injury he sustained in high school.

Nats GM Mike Rizzo and Scouting Director Kris Kline spoke to the media following the Fedde selection, and naturally has glowing praise for their newest draft pick, while acknowledging the risk of selecting players with an injury history.

“You really do have to balance the risk and the reward,” Rizzo explained to reporters. “What we’ve looked at in the past, is that the upside has to really trump the risk of a player not coming back from injury. Usually we really weigh elbow injuries a lot more favorable than shoulder injuries, so that goes into it. And a lot goes into the character of the player and the type of makeup that he has. The rehab process is not a simple one, so you have to have the right character and makeup to go through it and to come out the other end better than when you started it.”

“We’ve known [Fedde] for a long time,” Rizzo said. “He went to high school with Harp [Nats OF Bryce Harper] and he said a lot of good things about him. And we talked to, obviously talked to his college coach and did an extensive background on the guy and like I said, we’ve known him, we feel comfortable with him and have known him, have a history on him, known him for a long time back to his early days at UNLV and also Team USA and his junior year at UNLV. So we felt we know the player well, we know the character and the makeup of the player and you could tell on the field he’s a very competitive, athletic, bulldog-type of mentality.”

“He’s a plus stuff guy,” Rizzo explained. “We’ve scouted him intensely over the last three years. He’s got two plus-plus pitches and his third pitch, the changeup is on the come. We think that’s going to be an above-average pitch. Big physical guy, and we had him towards the top of our draft board and we thought the risk of him rehabbing and coming back to pre-injury form was worth the draft pick.”

“I actually saw his first start of the year at UNLV, and it was really, really good,” Kline added. “I walked out of there thinking that we’ve got no shot at getting this player because he’s a Top 5-type guy. Through the sixth inning he was still 95-98 [mph]. He doesn’t throw anything straight. A lot of life, very heavy. Above-average slider, up to 88 and the makings and flashes of an above-average changeup. A lot of strikes. Very competitive guy. Looks a lot like, if you guys remember Jack McDowell, body-type, delivery, that type of thing with a little more fastball.”

The deadline to get draft picks signed is July 18. The allotted signing bonus for the 18th pick in $2.145 million. Fedde is represented by the Boras Corporation.

Nats acquire LH reliever Jerry Blevins from A’s

The Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo made another checkmark on his offseason shopping list, acquiring left-handed reliever Jerry Blevins from the Oakland A’s in exchange for speedy outfielder Billy Burns, recently named the Nats minor league hitter of the year in the minors.

From the press release:

Blevins, 30, has spent parts of the last seven seasons in the Athletics’ bullpen, where he’s worked to a career 3.30 ERA while averaging 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings. Working against both left-handed batters and right-handers, Blevins has thrown back-to-back 60-plus inning seasons (60 IP in 2013, 65.1 IP in 2012).

In 2013, Blevins held opponents to a .218 batting average against while possessing a 5.60 strikeout-to-walk ratio against left-handed batters in particular. Blevins also held opponents to just a .202 batting average in games away from the O.co Coliseum.

“We are thrilled to welcome Jerry Blevins to our bullpen,” Rizzo said. “We look forward to him bolstering our depth in that unit.”

Burns, 24, was selected by the Nationals in the 32nd round of the 2011 draft out of Mercer University. A speedy outfielder, Burns stole a career-high 74 bases in 2013, between Single-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg.

With the addition of Blevins, the Nationals’ 40-man roster is full.

Burns came to be a fan favorite in Potomac this past season for his work on the bases and speed in the outfield. While an interesting prospect, his physical strength will be challenged as he moves up the organizational ladder.

Blevins was a leader in the A’s bullpen and he’s not necessarily just a LOOGY as he was actually more effective against righties last season (.190/.267/.314) than lefties (.253/.299/.442). Last season, Blevins posted the lowest walk rate of his career (2.6/9) while posting a 5-0 record and 3.15 ERA and 1.067 WHIP in 60 innings, striking out 7.8/9.

OPINION: Rizzo steals Fister from Tigers for spare parts

You don’t need me to tell you that the Washington Nationals flat-out stole Doug Fister from the Detroit Tigers on Cyber Monday.

But I’m going to anyway.

If you’re a baseball fan, you’ve no doubt by now read dozens of opinions that Mike Rizzo absolutely robbed his counterpart, Tigers’ GM Dave Dombrowski. Actually, most of the professional comments have been more of the bewildered sort than any other trade in recent memory.

Let’s not mince words here: The Nats acquired one of the top 25 pitchers in all of baseball, under contract for two more years at a reasonable rate, for a Quad-A middle infielder, a LOOGY with maturity issues, and a mid-level left-handed pitching prospect.

This gives the Nationals a starting rotation with four of the top 25 starters in the game.

Fister is one of the more underrated players in the game today. By all metrics, he ranks among the most durable, consistently excellent starters in the bigs. He’s a ground ball machine, and going to be playing the next several seasons with the best defense he’s had behind him. He doesn’t walk batters, and he very rarely gives up home runs.

There are two reasons he’s largely been ignored when the discussion of the best starters in the league comes up: his fastball sits around 89 MPH and he doesn’t put up gaudy strikeout totals. His career average of 6.3 per nine is rather pedestrian, but coupled with a career walk rate of 1.8, his K/BB rate of 3.46 is awesome.

Number one on Baseball-Reference’s “Similarity Score” for Fister, which compares players based on statistics accumulated and projected, is Jordan Zimmermann. Enough said.

But to get, you have to give. What did the Nats really give up?

Let’s discuss Robbie Ray, the only player the Nats gave up that might have a ceiling, first. The 6’2″, 170 22-year old just completed his 4th minor league season, split between A+ and AA. He posted a combined 11-5 with 3.36 ERA, 1.254 WHIP and 10.1 K/9. He pitches in the low 90s and can hit mid-90s when he dials it up. His command though is still a work in progress, as his BB/9 was 3.9.

He was ranked as the Nats’ third or fourth highest pitching prospect depending on who you like to listen to, but if he can’t develop his changeup in the next year or two he’s going to end up in the pen.

We had Ray as the Nats’ 12th overall prospect and the sixth pitcher behind Cole, Giolito, Karns, Solis and Purke.

Ray could develop into a quality MLB starting pitcher, a lefty to boot. He could end up a quality arm in a big league bullpen. He could be a LOOGY. He could get exposed at Triple-A, where he has yet to throw a pitch.

But we know that Doug Fister is a quality Major League starter.

What about the two roster players the Nats gave up?

I want to be kind here, as I know that Steve Lombardozzi has more than his share of fans in the D.C. area. But he’s exactly like his father with regards to his potential as a big leaguer: he’s already reached it. He is — at best — a utility middle infielder, and really nothing more than a backup second baseman. He barely has the arm strength to cover second at the big league level, let alone trying to make the long throw at short. It’s just not there, not to mention his lack of range.

At the plate, Lombo is a “Punch-and-Judy” slap hitter, devoid of any power whatsoever. He has no plate discipline, and can’t run. What gets him by is his unwavering work ethic and willingness to play anywhere the manager puts him, however out of position that might be. Shoot, he was the emergency catcher last season.

Ian Krol, the “player to be named later” in the Michael Morse trade last season from Oakland, has a decent power lefty arm, but should never be allowed to face a right-handed batter. He is the very definition of “replacement player”.

Lesser starting pitchers than Fister have been acquired via trade the past two seasons for far more quality than the Nats gave up in this deal. The Royals gave the Rays Wil Myers for James Shields, and Fister is every bit Shields’ equal, if not better.

Perhaps Dombrowski knows something about Fister health-wise we don’t. Maybe Fister spent his off-season kicking babies and throwing rocks at people at charity events. Who knows? But what we do know is that Fister is one of the top two dozen or so MLB starting pitchers, and he’ll be wearing a Curly W next season, making the Nats rotation one of the top-three in the league.

And all they gave up to get him was a backup middle infielder, a LOOGY and a marginal lefty starter prospect.

BREAKING: Nationals acquire Doug Fister from Detroit Tigers

The Washington Nationals have acquired right-handed pitcher Doug Fister from the Detroit Tigers in exchange for infielder Steve Lombardozzi, left-handed reliever Ian Krol and left-handed prospect Robbie Ray.

Fister went 14-9 with a 3.67 ERA in 2013 for the defending AL Central Champions. He allowed just 0.6 home runs per nine innings pitched, which ranked second-best in the AL. The 29 year-old, 6-foot-8 Merced, Calif. native holds a five-year career 3.53 ERA and 44-50 win-loss record.

In eight career postseason appearances, including one World Series start, Fister has earned a 3-2 record with a 2.98 ERA.

The acquisition is – no doubt – a win for General Manager Mike Rizzo. Lombardozzi recorded a less-than-stellar slash line of .259/.278/.338, although his 13 pinch hits ranked second-most in baseball.

“This is an exciting day for the Washington Nationals,” Rizzo said in a press release. “We feel we’ve added a talented, young veteran to our starting pitching corps. Doug is battle-tested through playoff experiences, and the depth he brings to our staff is exceptional. We are thrilled to welcome him aboard.”

At 22 years-old, Krol showed some promise for the Nationals, who acquired him in a three-way deal that brought A.J. Cole and Blake Treinen into the Nationals’ organization and sent Michael Morse to Seattle. Krol’s record sells short the fact he did not allow a run in his first nine appearances in the Big Leagues. He earned a 2-1 record and a 3.95 ERA in a season which few would have predicted to see him take the mound.

Ray, also 22, was rated the fifth-best prospect in the Nats’ system by Baseball America. He earned a combined 3.36 ERA with Single-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg.

Fister was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the seventh round of the First-Year Player Draft in 2006. He was acquired, along with David Pauley, by the Tigers on July 30, 2011, in exchange for Charlie Furbush, Francisco Martinez, Chance Ruffin and Casper Wells.

By  trading Fister, the Tigers will reportedly save about $6 million. Fister was arbitration-eligible and projected to earn about $7 million.

Rumors had circulated in recent weeks that the Tigers were looking to free up room in their rotation to allow left-hander Drew Smyly to return to a starter role.

Washington Nationals name Matt Williams as new skipper

The Washington Nationals formally announced the hiring of Matt Williams as the team’s new manager via press release Thursday morning.

Williams, 47, becomes the fifth manager of the team since relocating to the District in 2005.

“I could not be more pleased to welcome Matt Williams and his family to the Nationals and the Nation’s Capital,” Rizzo said in the press release. “In some ways, my interview with Matt began during our days together in Arizona, where his undeniable toughness, attention to detail and intensity established a foundation for a Diamondbacks expansion franchise that reached the postseason in its second season and won a World Series two years later.”

Via conference call with media, Rizzo added, “It was a very difficult decision. But Matt, we felt, possessed all the characteristics of a successful manager and a guy we  think can take us to the next level.”

Williams was known as an intense player, nicknamed “The Big Marine”, but he’s earned a reputation as a coach that’s tough but fair and is well respected among his former teammates and players on teams that he’s coached. Williams brings no full-time managerial experience to the job, but had a short stint managing Arizona’s Double-A team after former teammate Brett Butler suffered a stroke. He also skippered an Arizona Fall League team in 2012.

“I feel privileged and honored to be a part of this team,” Williams said in the press release. “It’s a wonderful group of guys and a great organization. I’m simply here to help take us to the next level.”

Williams is to be introduced in a press conference Friday at 2:00 pm ET at Nationals Park.

REPORT: Nats to hire Matt Williams as next manager

According to multiple reports surfacing Friday, the Washington Nationals are set to announce the hiring of Matt Williams, former MLB All-Star and Gold Glover, and current bench coach of the Arizona Diamondbacks, as their next manager. MLB discourages teams from making major announcements during the World Series, so a formal announcement and press conference won’t come until its conclusion at the earliest.

Williams, 47, was a third baseman for 17 major league seasons with the San Francisco Giants, Cleveland Indians and Arizona. He’s been with the D-backs as a coach for the past four seasons and was a broadcaster before then following his playing career. He managed in the Arizona Fall League last season, but beside that, he has no further managerial experience.

According to reports, the Nats also interviewed bench coach Randy Knorr, first base coach Trent Jewett, former big league catcher and Padres front office official Brad Ausmus and Blue Jays bench coach and long-time MLB coach DeMarlo Hale.

It’s mildly surprising, with the Nationals considered a contending club, that GM Mike Rizzo didn’t even interview an experienced manager.

According to The Washington Post, the team would like to keep Knorr with the club in some capacity.

Williams is widely respected by former teammates and D-backs players. He’s known for his intensity, but current players have praised him as being accessible.

It’s debatable how much influence managers have on today’s game. With so much emphasis on on-base skills and reluctance to give away outs, managers are required to do much less “button pushing” and are more motivators and gurus than tacticians in the modern game. Essentially, the modern manager is asked to be a facilitator, charged not with not getting in the way of the assembled talent. An ideal candidate is one with a strong knowledge of the game, but also a good rapport and motivational style with the modern athlete.

Obviously, Williams’ style is yet to be seen. If he manages like he played, he’ll bring a fiery, no-nonsense approach to the dugout. He was a slugger with good — but not great — on base skills and a terrific fielder, having won the Gold Glove four times and was a five-time All-Star.

Washington Nationals future payroll

Yesterday’s post by Editor-in-Chief and benevolent dictator Dave Nichols got me thinking about the Nationals’ payroll situation for 2014 and beyond. Just how bad is it? So, I culled information from Cot’s Baseball Contracts to see where the Nationals have their assets promised over the next few years. The table below shows contract commitments through 2024.

For all players, I assumed that the Nationals would take the buyout (instead of exercising an option) when they had the right to do so. For arbitration eligible players, I took their 2013 salary and increased it by 50% – a conservative figure based on prior year averages. In 2013, the average raise was 119%. In 2012, the average raise was 89%. In 2011, the average raise was 100%. I didn’t carry arbitration calculations past 2014.

The current Nats payroll is $118M. For 2014, they have committed approximately $116M.  They don’t have a fifth starter. This chart assumes that they keep Detwiler as one of their starters. If not, they’ll have to hunt for two starting pitchers. They will almost certainly need to upgrade their bench. And will they search (as Dave opined) for another outfielder and slide Span into a fourth outfielder role?  And they will need better depth at the AAA level if they are going to compete for a playoff spot next year.

All numbers below are in (000,000s).

Nationals Payroll - 2014 - 2024
Key
FNT = Full no trade clause
NT = partial no trade clause
© = Club option
MO = Mutual option
A1, A2 or A3 = Arbitration eligible year 1, 2, or 3.

Notes

Ryan Zimmerman has a club option in 2020 for $18M with a $2M buyout. He has a $10M ($2M per year over five years) personal services contract after retirement.

Rafael Soriano has a club option in 2015 for $14M that vests with 120 games finished in 2013 – 2014. Half of his salary is deferred each season with payments from 2018 to 2024.

Adam LaRoche has a mutual option for $15M in 2015 with a $2M buyout.

Kurt Suzuki has an $8.5M option in 2014 with a $650k buyout. The option vests with 113 starts in 2013.

Gio Gonzalez has a club option in 2017 for $12M with a $500k buyout and a player option in 2018 for $12M.

Denard Span has a club option in 2015 for $9M with a buyout of $500k.

Bryce Harper’s salaries in 2014 and 2015 assumes he hits all roster bonuses.

Washington Nationals problems lie within, this season and beyond

The Washington Nationals aren’t going to make the playoffs. The hole they’ve dug for themselves is too great. They won’t win the N.L. East and they won’t qualify for the gimmicky play-in Wild Card either. Nor do they deserve to. They are playing at a 78-win pace, and with the offense the way it has played all season, that’s about right.

It’s a far cry from where most folks expected this team to be this season.

The biggest problems have all been documented.

1) Denard Span hasn’t been the player Mike Rizzo thought he was trading for when he sent one of the Nats top pitching prospects to Minnesota in exchange for the light-hitting center fielder. Span has been as advertised in the field, but for most of the season at the plate he’s been a 4-3 groundout waiting to happen.

2) Adam LaRoche has failed to back up his career season in the first year of a two-year $24 million deal.  In 2012, LaRoche was sixth in the N.L. voting for MVP with 33 homers and 100 RBIs. This season, he’ll be lucky to break 20 and 60, while reaching base at a paltry .315 clip.

3) Key members of the bullpen have been injured or just simply bad. The Nats started the season with Drew Storen, Henry Rodriguez and Zach Duke, and Ryan Mattheus broke his hand punching his locker. The first three are all gone, with Fernando Abad, Ian Krol, Xavier Cedeno and now Tanner Roark taking their place.

4) The back end of the rotation has been invisible. Dan Haren was brought in (at $13 million) to be a stabilizing force and has instead been the weakest link with an ERA over five all season, “leading” the N.L. in homers allowed. Ross Detwiler has regressed from his breakout 2012, with two stints on the disabled list — and now out for the remainder of the season — with just two wins to his credit.

5) The top of the rotation has been merely good. Jordan Zimmermann had a stellar first half, but seems to be wearing down in the middle-to-late part of the season. Stephen Strasburg has been the victim of some really poor run support, but he’s not the same dominant starter since before his surgery. Gio Gonzalez has been good, but a far cry from his Cy Young caliber season in ’12.

6) The team gave far, far too many plate appearances to Danny Espinosa when he was (and still is) clearly injured. Espinosa “hit” .158/.193/.272 in 44 games before being placed on the D.L. with a broken right wrist he tried to play though, all the while needing surgery on his left shoulder. His poor health decisions, going back to when he originally injured the shoulder during last season’s pennant run, could end up costing the better part of three seasons instead of one — if not jeopardizing his entire career.

7) Ryan Zimmerman isn’t right. He’s not right at the plate (12 homers in 416 plate appearances) and he’s far from right in the field, where his throwing motion with time resembles more of a shot put throw instead of that of a Major League third baseman. He’s still playing too shallow to either cover for his throwing or the disturbing lack of range all of the sudden. He used to be one of the best in the game. Now, his fielding is a liability.

8) Bryce Harper can’t hit lefties. Tom Boswell just discovered the fact today, but we’ve been saying it in this space all season. If Harper were a “normal” second season player, he’d be platooning right now. Overall, his .271/.365/.526 line looks awesome for a 20-year old big leaguer. But in 93 plate appearances against left-handed pitching, Harper’s hitting .175/.272/.288. If he’s going to ascend to the lofty heights he’s expected to, he’s gotta figure that out. Oh, and he needs knee surgery to remove that pesky inflamed bursa that ruptured when he collided with the Dodger Stadium wall in the spring.

9) The bench… how do you put this politely… stinks on ice. Steve Lombardozzi is the bench valedictorian, hitting .249/.259/.315. He’s followed by newcomer Scott Hairston (.182/.250/.273), Roger Bernadina (.181/.247/.275) and brought up in the rear by Chad Tracy, who has produced a Matt Stairs-like .176/.208/.294 season.

10) Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not the “little things” that are doing the Nats in. They are above only the quad-A Marlins in runs per game and on base percentage. That’s the root of baseball — getting on base. The more runners a team gets on base, the more runs they score. We know this — over 120 years of professional baseball stats don’t lie. The Nats aren’t very good at it collectively. If you can’t get on base, you can’t score. The “little things” (sacrificing, hit-and-run, stealing bases) only lead to giving yet more precious outs away on the bases.

Herein lies the kicker — Almost the entirety of the roster is locked in for next year as well.

There are no quick fixes for this roster next season. Every single starting position player is under contract. The top of the rotation is set. They have another season of the prickly Rafael Soriano in the clubhouse. Drew Storen and Danny Espinosa will finish the meaningful part of this season in the minors, but they’ll be back too. How will they fit back into the team dynamic? Jayson Werth and LaRoche will be another year older.

And all the while, Ian Desmond, Tyler Clippard and Zimmermann — three players living up to their expectations this season — are all due long-term contracts or will face free agency.

The biggest departure for next season is the field manager, Davey Johnson. His “World Series or Bust” swan song has turned into a sad lame-duck walk, maybe saddest in baseball history. Where will Rizzo turn to guide his club next season? In-house candidate Randy Knorr is very well thought of here and elsewhere around the league, but can Rizzo turn to a first-time MLB manager after such a season of disappointment, one where many pundits believe the inmates were allowed to run the asylum?

Rizzo’s options to pull off a splashy move in the off-season are limited. He’ll have to buy a starting pitcher or two, depending on whether they stick with oft-injured Detwiler or trust Taylor Jordan to start the season. Either way, they need more MLB depth at starter, that much is certain. Would Rizzo move Harper back to center and bring in a power-hitting corner outfielder, relegating Span to defensive replacement and fourth outfielder? Will they cut the cord with LaRoche and move Zimmerman over to first, his inevitable resting place?

Or will Rizzo stand pat, trusting his original decisions and allow the work ethic, dedication and urgency to win to catch up with the perceived talent level?

So what will it be? Is this team the 98-win juggernaut of 2012, or is the 78-win pace of 2013 closer to the reality? Rizzo will have little time to think about what direction he wants to go, but at least he won’t have to worry about the pursuit of the playoffs clouding his judgment for very much longer.

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