November 26, 2014

What if Nats don’t sign Prince Fielder?

So say Mike Rizzo’s on the up and up in this article, and the Washington Nationals really aren’t going to cave to the demands of Scott Boras and his client Prince Fielder.  Where does that leave the Nats?

Well, frankly, right where they started.  Still looking for a center fielder and upgrades to the bench.  And starting a domino effect throughout the Nats roster.

If we assume Fielder does not reduce his demands, and signs an 8-to-10 year contract elsewhere, that leaves Adam LaRoche and his surgically repaired left shoulder as the everyday first baseman.  Forget Rizzo insisting LaRoche is a “25 home runs, 85-100 RBI” guy — numbers barely average for full-time first baseman, by the way.  He’s only been able to accomplish those numbers in three of his eight full big league seasons.  Besides, RBIs are solely a product of the players around him in the lineup.

LaRoche has accumulated 6.9 WAR in his career, which even takes into consideration his above-average defense.  Fielder provided 5.2 WAR just last season, as a base of reference.  We’ll give LaRoche the benefit of the doubt and say that as a MLB regular he has been worth about 1.0 WAR per season.  Emphasis on “has been”, because we don’t know what he’s going to be worth this season recovering from injury.

If LaRoche is at first, last year’s breakout player Michael Morse goes back to left field, where he is a significantly less-than adequate defensive player.  If you have Fielder’s offense at first base, you can live with giving a few runs back on defense.  But with LaRoche’s barely-average numbers, Morse’s value is reduced that much more by his play in the field.  For all the noise about Morse emerging, he was only worth 3.0 WAR, losing almost a full point due to his lousy defense.

The question then becomes, do you rush Bryce Harper to the Major Leagues for opening day if you don’t sign Fielder or trade for a full-time, lead-off center fielder?  At that point, is it worth a) the risk to Harper’s development; and b) forfeiting a year of arbitration?  Probably not, as tempting as that might be.

Then, take into consideration Stephen Strasburg’s surgically repaired right elbow and the fact he’ll be limited to roughly 150-160 innings as Jordan Zimmermann was last season, effectively ending his season just as any playoff race was truly heating up, and that just further reinforces the idea that the Nats should use 2012 as another building year, and not blow the budget on one player.  I’m not advocating that, I’m just pointing it out for when/if it happens.

That puts Jayson Werth, and his hideous contract, back into right field, and the Nats searching for options again at center.  The in-house, on-the-roster options consist of Roger Bernadina and Mike Cameron, which is convenient since one is a lefty and one is a righty.  As backups, both players have some merit.  Bernie has a nice blend of pop and speed, and Cameron provides terrific defense.  But neither have any plate discipline, nor should either be receiving regular at bats at this point in their careers.

If the Nats were to re-sign Rick Ankiel on the cheap, he’d replace Bernadina in the equation, but the result is the same.  Center field would still be a gaping hole in the Nats batting order, lucky to break even at WAR.

There has been a lot of excitement around NatsTown the past week, talking about Fielder.  He’s a bona fide star in the league, and his presence would lift everyone around him — in the batting order, in the clubhouse and in the media, both locally and nationally.  Signing him would make the Nats the talk of the league.  It would make the Nats legitimate contenders for at least a wild-card spot this season

But if Rizzo sticks to his guns and doesn’t match Fielder’s demands — and fails to find an adequate center fielder — it starts a ripple effect that goes to the very core of the Nats offensive problems, and certainly limits the Nats chances to contend for anything other than third place in the N.L. East again in 2012.

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

Comments

  1. You make a great argument.. for this season. Any 7+ year deal should examine the long term future over the one year impact of a player. LaRoche, as much as he ends up playing, will only be in D.C. for one more year. The years that really matter (2013-2015) will be post-LaRoche years. Even if we never see the 2011 Morse again, going by his career numbers he’ll be far better than LaRoche for years to come. Fielder would provide 1.5 to 2 WAR per year over Morse, and his addition to the payroll would make fixing the team’s real offensive holes (CF, SS) that much harder. While plugging a hole the Nats don’t really have, Fielder would make upgrading other positions that much harder down the road. A wild card spot in 2012 would be great, but is relatively meaningless because winning a WS without Strasburg may be a tall order. Sell me on 2013, when Morse has been traded and the Nats still don’t have a good center fielder.

    • Dave Nichols says:

      Thanks for the comment. I’ve said all off-season the Nats plans would hinge on LaRoche’s health, and if Rizzo’s convinced he’s healthy I think they stand pat, not give into Boras, and live to fight in 2013 — regardless what popular opinion might be.

  2. If the Nationals don’t sign Fielder (which I think would be a mistake), then I’d hope they add Roy Oswalt for a year. I know it crowds the pitching rotation, but at least it is some signs of life from the team.

    I think it is very important that this team finishes over .500 this year, and we can’t rely on ‘good health’ or ‘development’ to ensure that. The N.L. East will be tougher this year with the Marlins, so adding an Oswalt can help improve our chances without a long term commitment. Also with the increased pitching depth, maybe we skip more of Strasburg’s starts early in the year so he’s still pitching into Sept.

    Other moves I’d make (though not necessarily exclusive of Fielder): Sign Cody Ross to a two year deal. Him and Ankiel could handle CF (not ideal, but better than nothing) for a year, and he can also be the stopgap for Harper.

    Sign Ryan Madson: Madson’s market has crashed, you could probably get him for a 2 year deal plus a team option, without really overpaying. Now the Nats don’t need a closer, but adding him makes this bullpen flat out nasty. He can help the team get some extra curly W’s, and can always be used as a trade chip.

    • Dave Nichols says:

      Steve, thanks for the comments. I said it as the beginning of the Hot stove league when I appeared with Patrick from Federal Baseball on CSNWashington’s Nats Lunchbox: it won’t surpirse me if the Nats don’t make any large free agent acquisitions this off-season. their one big move thus far was the trade. we’ll see if they add someone via free agency, but it’s gonna take a sweetheart deal to land Fielder, I think.

      • Boy I think that would be a huge mistake. Especially now with the draft system being changed. You have to get premium talent when you can, and Fielder is just that.

  3. MasonPerry says:

    The “have your cake and eat it too” part of me says, “all in”.
    the “a penny saved is a penny earned” part of me says, “pass”.
    The latter has most almost always worked out best for me.

    • Dave Nichols says:

      thanks for the comment. i guess we’ll all see soon enough which way Rizzo and the Lerners are leaning on your scale.

Trackbacks

  1. […] • “So say Mike Rizzo’s on the up and up in this article, and the Washington Nationals really aren’t going to cave to the demands of Scott Boras and his client Prince Fielder. Where does that leave the Nats?” – “What if Nats don’t sign Prince Fielder?” – Dave Nichols, District Sports Page […]

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