December 11, 2019

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.

Washington Nationals can’t hit lefties: The Numbers

The Washington Nationals are getting a lot of ink lately regarding their struggles against left-handed pitching. It’s on the front burner since the first three games of the four-game set with the Phillies, with two losses so far, are against lefties. Monday, the Nats were completely dominated by former teammate John Lannan. Tuesday, it was Cole Hamels that held the Nats hitless for five innings until scratching a few hits out in the eighth.

Wednesday, they face the stiffest competition of all, Cliff Lee, who is 10-2 this season so far with a 2.73 ERA and limiting left-handed batters to a .268/.318/.341 slash line.

What looked like a grand opportunity after sweeping the Padres over the weekend and getting to four games behind the Braves now looks like an impending disaster, as the Braves have won both their games this week to be back to six games ahead of the Nats, and it’s all due to their ineffectiveness against left-handed pitching.

The Nationals are an N.L. worst against lefties, with a team slash line of .215/.281/.336. For a reference point, that’s not much better than Livan Hernandez’ career hitting line of .221/.231/.295. Reminder: Livan was a big, slow pitcher. And they’re doing that as a team.

GM Mike Rizzo went on the radio Wednesday and tried to explain his team’s utter failure to hit lefties. “We just haven’t done it,” Rizzo concluded. “We haven’t gotten it done. And against left-handed pitching, it’s your right-handed part of your lineup that’s got to get it done.”

But is that the case? Are the Nats RHBs really not getting it done? A quick glance at the numbers doesn’t support Mr. Rizzo’s assessment, despite particularly bad at bats by Ryan Zimmerman (0-for-4 with 2 Ks vs. Hamels) and Jayson Werth Tuesday with the bases loaded in the eighth inning.

This first table we’ll look at the Nats RHBs with the largest sample sizes, and the guys Rizzo counts on to drive in runs. We’ll examine their overall 2013 slash line and compare their 2013 vs. LHPs against their career numbers vs. LHPs.

PLAYER SAMPLE AVERAGE ON-BASE SLUGGING
ZIMMERMAN 2013-TOTAL .279 .358 .464
  2013-LHP .291 .404 .494
  CAREER LHP .316 .400 .506
 
WERTH 2013-TOTAL .288 .353 .451
  2013-LHP .273 .344 .542
  CAREER-LHP .287 .387 .527
 
DESMOND 2013-TOTAL .278 .322 .493
  2013-LHP .272 .318 .469
  CAREER-LHP .274 .321 .457

Upon inspection, I don’t see any of these three players suffering any statistically meaningful drop-off from their career norms against left-handed pitching. Werth’s OBP has dipped about 40 points, but his slugging is better. But even then, not much change.

Now, let’s examine the Nats left-handed batters against southpaws this season, using the same data.

PLAYER SAMPLE AVERAGE ON-BASE SLUGGING
SPAN 2013-TOTAL .264 .319 .359
  2013-LHP .154 .222 .176
  CAREER-LHP .278 .358 .373
 
HARPER 2013-TOTAL .276 .380 .541
  2013-LHP .196 .313 .333
  CAREER-LHP .240 .300 .415
 
LAROCHE 2013-TOTAL .256 .340 .440
  2013-LHP .193 .253 .337
  CAREER-LHP .246 .301 .437

Across the board, the three left-handed batters that, to this point, have stayed in the lineup when facing a LHP are all hitting significantly worse than their career averages against lefties. Span’s on-base is over 100 points lower than his career norm, his slugging almost 200 points. It’s no wonder Rizzo went out and traded for Scott Hairston to give Span the day off against lefties in the future.

Hairston’s career .269/.318/.499 isn’t all that much to write home about, but he does deliver some pop against left-handed pitchers and is a capable defensive outfielder, opposed to Tyler Moore or Steve Lombardozzi, the Nats other options for a right-handed bat in the outfield.

Harper’s sample size, obviously, is the smallest, but might be the most troubling. He’s 50 points down in average and almost 100 points in slugging. At least his OBP is hovering around the same, so he’s being a bit more selective, drawing more walks against LHPs but making less contact and weaker contact.

There’s nothing that can be done about LaRoche. His on-base is 50 points lower and slugging 100 points lower that career norms. The Nats have to hope he rebounds as the summer chugs along. There is no viable replacement for him, unless they sacrifice a relief pitcher to bring Chris Marrero back up and institute a platoon.

What’s the bottom line? With all due respect, I disagree with Rizzo’s assessment that it’s the Nats right-handed bats that are letting the Nats down against left-handed pitching. The players the Nats count on are all performing according to their career morns.

It’s the left-handed bats that are killing the Nats, more than normal: their prized off-season trade acquisition “everyday” center fielder, the aging first baseman who signed a two-year deal, and the phenom 20-year old. They seem to have accepted Span’s shortcomings in the Hairston acquisition, but Harper and LaRoche are on their own to figure things out.

Washington Nationals Spring Training Photo Gallery

Thanks to DistrictSportsPage.com fan contributor Wendy McDowell, here are some photos from Sunday’s chilly workout from Viera, FL. Most of the day players were bundled up underneath hooded sweatshirts, but most of the pitchers threw in the bullpen and there were some recognizable faces (and facial hair) floating about as well.

If you (or someone you know) is attending Nats spring training and would like to be a fan contributor for us this spring, please reach out to us at comments@districtsportspage.com. [Read more…]

NATS: 2013 NatsFest Details

Washington Nationals fans should check the website for updated information as all player appearances and activities are subject to change.

Ryan Zimmerman and fan at 2010 NatsFest (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Ryan Zimmerman and fan at 2010 NatsFest (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Nationals fan at 2010 NatsFest (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Nationals fan at 2010 NatsFest (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo answering fan questions at 2010 NatsFest (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo answering fan questions at 2010 NatsFest (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

WASHINGTON NATIONALS ANNOUNCE 2013 NATSFEST DETAILS

Event to take place Saturday, January 26 from 12:00 to 4:00 p.m. at
Washington Convention Center

The Washington Nationals today released new details about 2013 NatsFest, taking place for the first time at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on Saturday, January 26, 2013.

More than 25 Nationals players and prospects are expected to attend the fun-filled baseball festival, including but not limited to*: Corey Brown, Tyler Clippard, Ian Desmond, Ross Detwiler, Danny Espinosa, Christian Garcia, Gio Gonzalez, Brian Goodwin, Bryce Harper, Nathan Karns, Steve Lombardozzi, Ryan Mattheus, Tyler Moore, Michael Morse, Ryan Perry, Anthony Rendon, Will Rhymes, Matt Skole, Drew Storen, Kurt Suzuki, Chad Tracy, Jayson Werth and Jordan Zimmermann.

Nationals GM Mike Rizzo and Mark Lerner, one of the team’s Principal Owners, as well as team broadcasters Bob Carpenter, F.P. Santangelo, Charlie Slowes and Phil Wood will also be in attendance. In addition, Nationals fans will have the first opportunity to meet two of the team’s latest additions, Dan Haren and Denard Span. Please note that all autograph vouchers are SOLD OUT; autograph voucher holders are encouraged to visit nationals.com/natsfest for important information.

Open to fans of all ages from 12:00 to 4:00 p.m., NatsFest will offer a variety of activities including:
o Q & A sessions with players and coaches on topics including ‘Preparing for Games’ and ‘Life on the Road’

o Opportunities to take photos with players and team mascots

o A special Jr. Nats Kids Forum featuring Player Story Times and Kids Press Conferences

o The chance to learn about the team’s innovative virtual ticketing system

o Games, interactive events and surprises

The event will also feature:
o Live broadcast by 106.7 The Fan, the team’s official flagship radio station

o Opportunities to purchase the latest Nationals merchandise as well as game-used and autographed memorabilia

o Batting cages, inflatable games and 2012 trophy display

o D.J. Stylus Chris spinning music throughout the day

o Concessions for purchase

NatsFest will also offer fans the first opportunity to purchase individual and group tickets to see the Nationals take on the New York Yankees in a special preseason exhibition game on Friday, March 29 at 2:05 p.m. Tickets for NatsFest are currently on sale for Season Plan Holders at $15 for adults and $5 for children under the age of 12, and for the general public at $20 for adults and $10 for children under the age of 12 and can be purchased at nationals.com/natsfest.

Fans planning to utilize Metro’s Red Line to attend NatsFest are encouraged to add at least 20 minutes to their planned travel time due to scheduled weekend track maintenance. For directions and parking, visit the Convention Center website at www.dcconvention.com.

*All player appearances are subject to change

Washington Nationals trade Michael Morse in three-team deal

TEAM RECEIVES RHP A.J. COLE, RHP BLAKE TREINEN AND PLAYER TO BE NAMED LATER FROM OAKLAND

Michael Morse curtain call after his home run - Last Game of Regular Season-Philadelphia Phillies v. Washington Nationals, October 3, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Michael Morse curtain call after his home run – Last Game of Regular Season-Philadelphia Phillies v. Washington Nationals, October 3, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

It should come as no surprise that the Washington Nationals today traded OF/1B Michael Morse. The manner in which they did so — and return the received — is what makes the story that much more interesting.

Morse was send back to his original club, the Seattle Mariners, where he’ll be part of a logjam for playing time between left field, first base and designated hitter along with about 14 other players. The Mariners in turn sent catcher John Jaso to the Oakland Athletics and the A’s sent former Nats draft pick — and Baseball America’s No. 3 rated prospect for the A’s system — A.J. Cole, rigth-handed pitcher Blake Treinen and a player to be named later (most likely from this past season’s draft class) to the Nationals.

Morse, always a fan favorite, hit .291/.321/.470 with 18 homers and 62 RBIs in 430 plate appearances last season, as injuries limited him to 102 games. Now 31, he’s only had one season in the big leagues were he’s played more than 102 games. Morse’s power has never been in question, but his injury history and lack of defensive proficiency led the Nats to pursue a true center fielder this off-season. Once the Nats landed Denard Span — moving Bryce Harper to left field — the writing was on the wall for Morse to be moved.

Cole, 21, was drafted in the fourth round of the 2010 Amateur Draft by the Nats and quickly became one of their top prospects. He was ranked very high coming into the draft but was seen as next-to-impossible to sign as he had a strong commitment to the University of Miami. The Nats signed him right before the deadline for a reported record signing bonus for a fourth round player.

The 6’4″, 180 hard-throwing righty dominated batters in the South Atlantic League for Hagerstown in 2011, with 108 strikeouts and just 24 walks in 89 innings pitched. The Nats traded Cole, along with Tommy Milone, Derek Norris and Brad Peacock to the A’s last off-season for All-Star starter Gio Gonzalez.

Cole started 2012 in High-A Stockton for the A’s and was pushed around. In his eight starts, he pitched to an 0-7 record and a 7.82 ERA, giving up a whopping 14.2 hits per nine innings. His strikeout rate was down just s tad, but his impeccable control never deserted him. He was demoted in mid-May to Low-A Burlington, where he dominated, going 6-3 with a 2.07 ERA with 102 Ks against a mere 19 walks.

The scouting report still stands on Cole. He has a big, heavy fastball at 94-95 MPH, a plus breaking pitch and a good feel for his changeup. He was considered to be one of the top five high school arms in his draft class and nothing he’s done as a pro, even his struggles in High-A last season, has changed scouts minds on him.

Treinen, 24, is another big bodied righty at 6’4″, 215. He spent last season at Stockton, where he went 7-7 in 24 appearances (15 starts) with 92 strikeouts and 23 walks in 103 innings. Treinen has been more hittable at each level of the minors as his career has progressed, as evidenced by the 10.1 hits per nine innings he gave up in 2012. Still, a player with a 4.00 K/BB ratio that throws 97 MPH is one that deserves more than just one look.

The player to be named later probably will come from Oakland’s 2012 draft class.

In trading Morse, GM Mike Rizzo took the opportunity to help restock the Nats farm system that has been depleted by the Gonzalez and Span trades. Getting a top-notch prospect like Cole in the deal, with another big arm to watch and a potential third player, seems like a coup. Morse is a defensive liability at this stage in his career, and combined with the fact that he has trouble avoiding injury, this return seems like the maximum that could have been expected for him. Sure, an MLB left-handed reliever would have been nice in the package, but Rizzo did a good job maximizing his assets in this deal, despite the nature of Morse’s relationship with the fans of D.C.

Rizzo gets his man at his terms: LaRoche re-signs for two years

REPORTED $24 MILLION GUARANTEE, MUTUAL OPTION FOR 2015

Adam LaRoche taking curtain call after hitting 100th RBI - Philadelphia Phillies v. Washington Nationals, October 2, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Adam LaRoche taking curtain call after hitting 100th RBI – Philadelphia Phillies v. Washington Nationals, October 2, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

The biggest question this off-season for the Washington Nationals was: Who will play first base for the club in 2013 and perhaps beyond. Tuesday morning, we found out, as news spread quickly that the team re-signed Adam LaRoche to a two-year contract with $24 million guaranteed, according to at least one report, citing a sources with knowledge of the agreement. That source also described a mutual option for 2015 with a $2 million buyout that would pay the slugger and slick fielder another $15 million.

Nats GM Mike Rizzo, speaking with reporters via conference call said, “Adam was a huge part of our success last year…who is very well respected in our clubhouse.”

“We were in a pretty enviable position negoitiation-wise, which allowed us to be patient with Adam. I wanted to do what was right by him and were willing to wait as we really wanted him to be with the ballclub.”

“We were patient with Adam. In the end, both agreed this was the best place for Adam to be.”

LaRoche,  33, hit with .271/.343/.510 with 33 home runs  with 100 RBI for in 2012. After missing most of 2011 with a torn labrum in his left  shoulder, LaRoche was essential in the middle of the Nats batting order, which at some points during the season missed Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond and Michael Morse . LaRoche produced his best season to date, winning both the Silver Slugger and the Gold Glove at first base.

LaRoche and his representatives tried hard over the winter to secure a guaranteed three-year deal for a player that in all likelihood is signing his last big contract. But the new draft pick compensation rules limited the market for LaRoche, as a signing team would have surrendered their first round pick, while lesser free agents no longer required compensation. Other big-name free agents, such as Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse are finding the same problem this winter, that teams aren’t as willing to give up that first round pick as they might have been in years past.

Bringing LaRoche back creates quite the roster logjam, leading most to speculate about how Rizzo will shake up the roster. LaRoche at first base forces Michael Morse and Tyler Moore back into a crowded outfield, already staffed with Werth, Bryce Harper and recent addition Denard Span. Many pundits already assume Rizzo has a deal in the works to move Morse, and his reasonable $7 million salary (which expires at the end of 2013), most likely to an American League team that can utilize the slugger in his most natural position: Designated Hitter.

The Nats have a couple of areas they could use some depth when looking for a trade partner for Morse. Currently, they have one left-handed reliever on the 40-man roster, Zach Duke, a player that spent much of 2012 in the minor leagues — though Duke does have plenty on MLB service and was very strong for the team in limited duty at the end of last season. They are also thin at the upper levels in the minors at starting pitching, with the system being depleted in the deals for Gio Gonzalez and Span.

This move solidifies the Nats roster heading into spring training, leaving very few position open for the taking barring injury. The everyday lineup is rock solid and the bench looks to be as well, with Moore joining Roger Bernadina as backup outfielders and Steve Lombardozzi and Chad Tracy in the infield.

Washington Nationals trade for Denard Span

NATIONALS SURRENDER 2011 FIRST ROUND PICK ALEX MEYER IN DEAL

The Washington Nationals Thursday acquired the “dynamic” center fielder GM Mike Rizzo has coveted really since he was appointed GM of the team.

In a trade with the Minnesota Twins, the Nats receive Denard Span, 29 in February, a left-handed hitting centerfielder with terrific defensive instincts. The Nats sent Alex Meyer, the No. 23 overall pick in the 2001 MLB Amateur Draft.

Span is a career .284/.357/.389 hitter over five seasons (589 games) with the Twins. He actually has better numbers against left-handed pitchers than righties, hitting .293/.374/.398 in 344 games. For his career, he’s stolen bases at a 76.2 percent clip (90-for-118).

Span missed 92 games in 2011 with concussion symptoms, but returned healthy in 2012 to play 128 games, hitting .283/.342/.395 in 568 at bats. Span is under contract through 2014 on a five-year, $16.5 MM contract he signed with the Twins, with a team option for 2015.

In a conference call with reporters, Rizzo extolled the virtues of Span’s defensive capabilities.

With Span in center field, Bryce Harper will move to a corner outfield slot with Jayson Werth in the other position. That leaves the Nats in a quandary with what to do with Michael Morse. The slugger is under contract for another season, but it seems the only position he would qualify for now is at first base, where Adam LaRoche excelled last season for the club. LaRoche is a free agent this off-season, and while the Nats have had discussions with LaRoche, the player and his representatives are exploring their options.

What is crystal clear is that the team cannot keep both Morse and LaRoche on the roster.

Meyer, 22, was one of the Nationals’ top pitching prospects. The 6-foot-9 right-hander went 10-6 with a 2.86 ERA in 2012 with low-Class A Hagerstown and high-Class A Potomac. Many industry scouts think Meyer’s lack of a MLB-quality third pitch, plus the added burdens of his size and repeatability issues, have Meyer destined for a big league career in the bullpen, but there’s no doubt he has an MLB-quality arm.

Alex Meyer - Winston-Salem Dash v. Potomac Nationals, 8/12/2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Alex Meyer – Winston-Salem Dash v. Potomac Nationals, 8/12/2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Washington Nationals: Strasburg’s shutdown best for player and organization long-term

Stephen Strasburg pitches at Nationals Park earlier this season. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

The Washington Post had an article today where the Washington Nationals players discussed, in varying degrees of concern, GM Mike Rizzo’s plan to shut down All-Star starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg somewhere around 180 innings pitched this season, which would void him pitching the last two-to-three starts of the regular season and any potential playoff games. The players, generally, are resigned to the fact that they may have to play in the playoffs without their ace starter. Some are less happy about it than others. Their reaction is not shocking. [Read more…]

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