April 16, 2014

Washington Capitals land Halak for Neuvirth, Klesla

The Washington Capitals acquired goalie Jaroslav Halak, the man that almost single-handedly knocked them out of the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs, and a third round pick in the 2015 draft from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for G Michal Neuvirth and D Rostislav Klesla, acquired Tuesday in a trade with Phoenix.

From the press release:

Halak, 28, has posted a record of 24-9-4 with a 2.23 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage in 40 games with the St. Louis Blues this season. Halak currently sits ninth among NHL goaltenders in wins, 10th in goals-against average and third in shutouts (4).

Through his eight NHL seasons in Montreal and St. Louis, Halak has played in 260 career NHL games, earning a 139-81-26 record with a 2.38 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage. Additionally, Halak has appeared in 23 career playoff games with Montreal and St. Louis, posting a record of 10-11-0 with a 2.42 goals-against average and a ..923 save percentage. Halak’s career shootout save percentage of .711 ranks ninth among active goaltenders with at least 25 career shootouts.

While many thought goaltending was the least of the Caps problems this season, the move frees the team from Neuvirth’s salary next season. Combined with the Erat move on Tuesday, and the salary cap going up for next season, the Caps seem to be sitting pretty this offseason.

Washington Capitals acquire defenseman Klesla, prospect Chris Brown for Erat

Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee is a busy man these days. Tuesday morning he acquired LW Dustin Penner from the Anaheim Ducks, in the afternoon he shipped disgruntled winger Martin Erat, and minor leaguer John Mitchell, to the Phoenix Coyotes for veteran defenseman Rostislav Klesla, forward prospect Chris Brown and a fourth round draft pick in the 2015 draft.

From the press release on Brown:

Brown, 23, played in six games with the Coyotes this season, collecting 17 penalty minutes. In addition, he recorded 35 points (14 goals, 21 assists) and 68 penalty minutes in 51 games with the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League (AHL). Last season, Brown led the Pirates and all AHL rookies in scoring (29 goals) and ranked tied for third in the AHL with 14 power-play goals. He also made his NHL debut.

During the 2011-12 season, Brown recorded 29 points (12 goals, 17 assists) and 66 penalty minutes in 38 games with University of Michigan (CCHA), setting career highs in assists, points and penalty minutes. Brown led all Michigan rookies in 2009-10 with 28 points (13 goals, 15 assists), and led the team with seven power-play goals in 45 games. He was also named to the CCHA All-Rookie Team. Brown registered 80 points (34 goals, 46 assists) and 183 penalty minutes in 125 regular season games during his three-year career with the Wolverines. The Flower Mound, Texas native was the first ever Michigan recruit from the state of Texas.

And info on Klesla:

Klesla, 31, collected four points (one goal, three assists) and 24 penalty minutes with the Coyotes this season. The native of Novy Jicin, Czech Republic, is a 14-year NHL veteran who has played for Columbus and Phoenix. The 6’3’’, 215-pound defenseman has appeared in 659 NHL games, recording 159 points (48 goals, 111 assists) and 620 penalty minutes. Additionally, Klesla has collected nine points (two goals, seven assists) and 11 penalty minutes in 23 career playoff games. Klesla was originally drafted by the Blue Jackets in the first round (fourth overall) in the 2000 NHL Draft.

Both players will report to AHL Hershey for the time being.

With Erat’s $4.5 million off the books for this year and next, McPhee now has some flexibility under the salary cap to address the blueline in a meaningful manner. Of course, every team in the league that considers itself a playoff caliber team would like to upgrade its defensive corps this time of year, but McPhee is a lot better off now to do it than he was a day ago.

Washington Capitals acquire Dustin Penner from Ducks

CAPS SEND 4TH ROUND PICK, ACQUIRED IN PERREAULT TRADE, BACK TO ANAHEIM

The Washington Capitals traded the fourth round pick they acquired from the Anaheim Ducks back to its origin and acquired veteran forward Dustin Penner, the team announced on Tuesday.

The 31-year-old, 6’4″, 240 left-handed shot should join Alex Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom on the team’s top line, giving the Caps a big-bodied, experienced running mate for their best players.

From the press release:

Penner, 31, is a 10-year NHL veteran who has played for the Los Angeles Kings, Edmonton Oilers and Anaheim. The 6’4’’, 247-pound forward has appeared in 571 career NHL games, recording 307 points (150 goals, 157 assists) and 352 penalty minutes. In addition, Penner has collected 35 points (13 goals, 22 assists) and 58 penalty minutes in 78 career playoff games. Penner won the Stanley Cup with the Ducks in 2007 and with the Kings in 2012.

This season, Penner has recorded 32 points (13 goals, 19 assists) and 28 penalty minutes while playing in 49 games for the Ducks. The Winkler, Manitoba native ranked fifth on the team in goals, sixth in points and assists and tied for fifth in plus/minus (22).

Penner will wear jersey No. 17 with Washington.

The move costs the Caps very little in terms of trade assets and, for now, Penner fits under the salary cap with Jack Hillen and Aaron Volpatti both on long-term injured reserve. But Hillen is expected to be activated before Wednesday’s game against Philadelphia, so there could be more dominoes to fall.

With the move, GM George McPhee signals that the Caps aren’t folding their tents and expect to make a late push to qualify for the playoffs. This could be just the first of several moves in advance of Wednesday’s trade deadline.

Washington Wizards to trade for Andre Miller

According to multiple sources, the Washington Wizards will acquire veteran point guard Andre Miller from the Denver Nuggets in a three-way deal with the Philadelphia Sixers. Forward Jan Vesely will go to Denver, while a Wizards second round pick, a Nuggets second rounder and guard Eric Maynor goes to Philly. It’s unclear at this posting what Philadelphia gives up in the deal.

Miller, 37, hasn’t played for the Nuggets since late December after an altercation with head coach Brian Shaw. Miller is averaging a career-low 5.9 points and 3.3 assists in 19 minutes per game over 30 appearances this season. He is on the books for $5 million this season and $4.6 million in 2014-15, the final year of his current contract.

The Wizards told the little-used Vesely, the former No. 6 overall pick in the 2011 draft, before the start of the season the team would not pick up his rookie option for 14-15, so his departure is not unexpected.

Maynor, 26, was signed by the Wizards to a two-year, $4.1 million contract last summer with the goal of making him John Wall’s back-up. The 2009 first-round pick had little impact this season, though, averaging 2.3 points and 1.7 assists in 9.3 minutes over 23 appearances for Washington.

Miller gives the Wizards a veteran backup point guard to John Wall as they attempt to secure a playoff spot.

Washington Nationals acquire Lobaton and two minor leaguers from Rays for Karns

The Washington Nationals made a move Thursday to shore up their catching — and restock their minor league system a bit in the process as well.

From the press release:

The Washington Nationals today acquired catcher Jose Lobaton, outfielder Drew Vettleson and left-handed pitcher Felipe Rivero from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for right-handed pitcher Nathan Karns. The Nationals also placed right-handed pitcher Erik Davis on the 60-Day Disabled List with a right elbow sprain. Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo made the announcement.

A native of Acarigua, Venezuela, Lobaton played in a career-high 100 games for Tampa Bay last season and hit .249 with 15 doubles, seven home runs and 32 RBI en route to an above-grade .320 on-base percentage and a .394 slugging mark.

Lobaton, a switch-hitter, will back up starter Wilson Ramos and provide Major League insurance against the possibility of Ramos injury, always a concern with the burly catcher. The Nats signed veteran Chris Snyder to go along with holdovers Jhonatan Solano and Sandy Leon, but it’s been no surprise the Nats have been chasing Lobaton all offseason.

Lobaton is a highly-regarded defensive catcher, adept at framing pitches, something the Tampa organization specializes in. The 29-year-old backstop is a career .228/.311/.343 hitter with nine home runs in 564 plate appearances, with seven of his career homers coming last season when he amassed 311 plate appearances for the Rays.

The two other pieces the Nats receive are intriguing. Vettleson and Rivero were both ranked among the Rays top-10 prospects by different scouting services, though both might have stalled a bit in their development this past season.

Vettleson, 22, was a supplemental first round pick for the Rays in 2010, taken 42nd overall as a high schooler. As a 19-year-old in rookie ball in 2011 he hit .282/.357/.462 with seven homers in 267 PA. In 2012 at Low-A, those number dipped to .275/.340/.432, though his 15 homers and 24 doubles were encouraging. Last season at High-A, however, his numbers fell again (.274/.331/.388) with just four homers. The Nats will probably want to challenge him at Double-A this season, and this appears a make-or-break year for him prospect-wise.

Rivero, 22, is a slight (6’0″, 150) left-handed starting pitching prospect from Venezuela. In parts of five minor league seasons, he’s 29-25 with a 3.45 ERA, 1.298 WHIP, 7.3 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9; both peripherals went the wrong way in 2013 with a promotion to High-A though, as his walk rate went up by more than one walk per nine and the K rate dropped by 1.2.  Again, there’s talent there but Rivero is going to have to prove himself in Double-A this season or risk a transfer to the pen.

The Nats get this return in exchange for Nathan Karns, a former 12th round pick, who obviously had fallen in the pecking order in the Nats rotation prospects, passed by Taylor Jordan, Tanner Roark and possibly even A.J. Cole. Karns was rated the Nats No. 9 prospect by Baseball America this season and has a big fastball and hard slider, but his other offerings are little more than works in progress right now. He’s 26, so he’s old for a prospect and the Rays obviously see him closer to the bigs in their rotation depth than the Nats do at this time.

I see a lot of Craig Stammen in Karns, and have always believed Karns would excel in the role that Stammen does for the Nats. Still, the Rays gave up a lot to acquire him, so I’m sure they’ll give him every opportunity (and then some) to stick in the rotation.

The other news was bad: reliever Erik Davis, expected to compete for a role in the Nats pen this season, was placed on the 60-day DL with an elbow strain. Davis reported some soreness in the elbow during early throwing in January and after a four-week shutdown, the pain continued once he resumed throwing. He’s slated to be shut down for six to eight weeks at this point with the hopes that the strain heals and Davis can avoid surgery, which would cost him the entire season.

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.

D.C. United acquires Davy Arnaud from Montreal Impact

D.C. United announced today via a press release that the club had acquired veteran midfielder Davy Arnaud from the Montreal Impact, in exchange for an international roster spot for the next two Major League Soccer seasons.

Arnaud, who will be 34 in June, joins what is mostly a young group of United players who will be trying to pick up the pieces from a disastrous 2013 league season that saw United finish 3-24-7 – the fewest wins by any team in league history. United did win the U.S. Open Cup, the club’s 13th major domestic and international trophy, thus qualifying for the 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League, which begins next fall. [Read more...]

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.

Martin Erat demands trade from Washington Capitals

“It’s time for me to move on.” Martin Erat

Saying “I want be traded,” Martin Erat announced today following Washington Capitals practice that he has asked the organization for a trade. A report surfaced in a Czech source about his demands before practice. After he left the ice after the Caps skating-filled practice, Erat confirmed everything in that report — and then some.

“Since day one, I didn’t get the chance here,” Erat said  ”I got traded here to be top-six player, but never got the chance, never played more than 15 minutes. It’s time for me to move on.”

Erat was acquired by the Caps, along with Michael Latta, at last season’s deadline for former first round pick Filip Forsberg.

Erat conformed that he did indeed meet with GM George McPhee earlier this season, but was given little indication of why he wasn’t garnering more than the 13:07 average of ice time that he’s been assigned thus far this season. The veteran player was clearly emotional speaking with the media this morning explaining his situation. Asked his opinion of why he didn’t fit in with the Caps, Erat replied, “No idea.”

In 23 games this season, Erat has not scored a goal and has six assists, playing mostly on the bottom lines. Recently, he’s been moved around in an attempt to shake up the lines, but that has brought no better results. He was a healthy scratch last week, and Erat confirmed after practice it was indeed the first time in his NHL career he has been a healthy scratch.

 

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