New Nats, Same as the Old Nats?

Posted by Dave Nichols | Tuesday, December 29, 2009 | , , , , , , | 3 comments »

Despite my little hiatus, I was paying attention.  The Washington Nationals, over the last few weeks, have made a series of significant moves to try to bolster the 2010 team in advance of some home-grown talent arriving in 2011 or 2012.

Stephen Strasburg.  Drew Storen.  Derek Norris.  Danny Espinosa.  Chris Marrero.  Brad Meyers.  Definitely some upside there.

Maybe by then this organization will actually be in a position to compete within the division, something they haven't been able to accomplish since Frank Robinson's inaugural team of 2005 was in first place in the N.L. East as late as July 24 before succumbing and finishing at an even .500 at the end of the season.

The big question is:  How much will Ivan Rodriguez, Jason Marquis, Matt Capps and Brian Bruney actually help the product on the field?

All of the four players come with a certain amount of bona fides, but all come with caveats as well.

Pudge is a 14-time all-star and 13-time Gold Glove winner, but it's been several years ago that he garnered either accolade.  He's 38, and he hit .249/.280/.384 in 121 games last season.  If you look at his splits, he had a couple of decent months at the plate, but several atrocious ones as well.

If he's coming in as a backup/mentor to Jesus Flores, great.  But this signing will blow up if the Nats have to look at 500 at bats from a 38 year old catcher.

Marquis, 31, is a veteran sinkerballing workhorse.  Again, he'll be counted on as a mentor to a very young starting rotation.  He's coming off an all-star season, one in which he was much better in the first half of the season than the second, though his K/9 actually went up in the second half along with his ERA and WHIP.

It's indicitative of his career numbers though, as he wins at a 60 percent clip before the all-star berak and 43 percent after. 

And of course, in 2006 he had an ERA of 6.02 and led the league in allowing home runs and earned runs--in St. Louis.

Matt Capps is a 26-year old fireballing closer.  The Nats got him for one year.  Bully.  He's a good gamble to take, as he's has some good success in the role in Pittsburgh, and I guess his agent, by insisting on the one-year deal, figures he'll return to form.  Because last season, he stunk, despite the gaudy saves total.

Let me throw some 2009 numbers out and I'll let you decide which player you'd rather have closing games.

Player A:  4-8, 5.80 ERA, 1.656 WHIP, 7.6 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 in 54.1 IP
Player B:  1-4, 4.78 ERA, 1.672 WHIP, 10.1 K/9, 4.8 BB/9 in 64.0 IP

Player A is Capps.  You've probably guessed by now Player B is former Nats' reliever Joel Hanrahan.

Brian Bruney?  He is most famous for starting a fight with Francisco Rodriguez.  He was left off the Yankees playoff roster in favor for a third catcher.  All he's done since being traded for a Rule 5 pick is talk about how he wants to be the closer.  In his only experience at closing games, he had a 7.43 ERA with Arizona in 2005.

You might think by now that I'm tearing the Nats down for signing these players.  Back at the begining of December I wrote that if I were Mike Rizzo, I wouldn't spend $20 million on free agents just because I had it.  And I'm not implying thats what he's done.  All but the Pudge move were done efficiently and relatively cheaply.

All I'm saying is that when you read the Nats' press releases on these players, and listen to the talking heads about how the Nats are doing things "the right way", just keep in the back of your mind these other things they aren't reminding you of.

I guess we'll find out as the season goes just how much these players help the Nats.  If Marquis can avoid injury after pitching so many innings, if Capps returns to 2007-2008 form, if Flores is healthy and can keep Pudge off the field for four days a week, and if Bruney actually proves an upgrade over Saul Rivera, then the Nats shold be better off in the ledger at the end of the season.

Let's just say I'm skeptical of all those things happening at once.  Hopeful, but skeptical.

Today, the Washington Nationals announced the signing of utilily infielder Eric Bruntlett and 1B Josh Whitesell, to minor league contracts.

Bruntlett comes over from Philadelphia, where he was a valuable reserve and defensive replacement.  He is primarily an infielder, but has played every position on the field except pitcher and catcher.  He hit .171 in just 105 at bats last season.

He'll be inthe mix for the utility spot on the big club, but if he gets more than 100 at bats in 2010, something has gone terribly wrong.

Whitesell returns to the organization that drafted him in 2003 after spending the last two seasons in the Arizona system.  He actually got some play with the big boys last year, batting .194 (108 at bats) with one homer, 14 RBI and 24 walks for the D-backs.

Whitesell has shown ability to work counts and has become decent with the glove at first.

The Other Shoe Drops: Flores "Shut Down" Until February

Posted by Dave Nichols | Monday, December 14, 2009 | , , , , | 0 comments »

No sooner did I hit "post" on my previous entry did news from Bill Ladson pop up that Jesus Flores has been, in Ladson's words, "shut down from doing any baseball activities until February..."

Now, let me preface my following comments with this:  I like Jesus Flores and Wil Nieves, both as people and as baseball players.  They are two of the kindest athletes I've had the good fortune of meeting since I started my little blog, and I wish nothing but health and success for the both of them.  It's difficult for me to write completely objectively when they are concerned.

Whether or not Flores has been performing baseball related activities (i.e., hitting and throwing) is undetermined in the article, but Flores' quotes in the piece seem to indicate that he is building up strength but the team is being cautious in his return.
"I'm doing great," Flores said. "After surgery, I'm feeling much better. My strength is coming along. I'm moving my arm lot better. I'm going to be ready for the season. I'm completely shutdown [for Winter Ball]. I guess I will start to throw a baseball in February."
Flores is rehabbing from a stress fracture, labrum surgery AND elbow surgery to remove bone spurs in his throwing arm. 

This news seems to be at least incongruous to the report we got from GM Mike Rizzo last week at the Ivan Rodriguez press conference that Flores should be ready for spring training. 
I can only go by what the medical people tell me. They say he should be 100 percent and ready to participate in spring training. Now, we take them at their word, but we all know that specifically shoulders are very difficult to predict.
News from the player himself that "I guess I will start to throw... in February," is somewhat disconcerting.

I'm not a doctor, but I know a little about rehabbing a throwing shoulder, and it certainly seems that if he's not even going to start throwing until February, that will not leave him, according to Rizzo on Friday, "100 percent" ready to participate in spring training.

It could take him months to get into throwing shape if he doesn't start until February.  It's not like he's a pitcher, with all the stress of throwing off a mound, but he had labrum and elbow surgery since we last saw him.

When questioned about the major league depth at catcher, Rizzo responded,
“We have three capable catchers on the Major League level. We have (Jaime) Burke on the AAA level and we have (Derek) Norris—who is an up and coming and potential significant contributor for us in the future."
Perhaps the part of that quote that got glossed over at that point was "three capable catchers".  We can only assume now that Rizzo meant Rodriguez, Flores and Nieves, with Burke re-signed for Triple-A Syracuse.

So maybe we shouldn't have been surprised that Nieves was offered arbitration after all.  Rizzo apparently told us as much on Friday.

I'm sure this revelation in Ladson's story will get some glossing over, organizationally speaking, in the next day or so.  "Shutting down" until February will turn into "part of the doctor's plans all along" and that they expect Flores to be ready, etc.

But expecting in the media and planning for the worst-case scenario are often two different things.  And right now, it looks like the Nats are stocking up at catcher.  Hopefully it's just out of an abundance of caution, but it seems, from today's news, that the caution is at least warranted.

Nationals' Weekend News and Notes

Posted by Dave Nichols | Monday, December 14, 2009 | , , , , , , , , , | 0 comments »

There are a couple of expected moves in the above list, and a couple of surprises.

First, the expected.  The Nats' non-tendering of MacDougal and Olsen.  Both players stood to make a pretty big payday with arbitration, and figured they could re-sign both -- if they wanted -- after non-tendering.

They were right about Olsen, as he was a free agent less than one day, signing a $1 million contract, with incentives that could push the total to just under $4 million.  Olsen is coming off of season-ending labrum surgery, and according to GM Mike Rizzo, he is ready to start getting into baseball shape.

Whether Olsen returns from the surgery to be a valuable member of the Nats rotation is a story for another day, though, because we won't know until well into spring training how his shoulder responds to the procedure.

MacDougal has to be considered questionable at this point to return, though MASN.com's Byron Kerr indicates talks are continuing. 

MacDougal led the team in saves last season, and was third in the league in save percentage last year, but his underlying stats tell a different story.  He hard-throwing righty posted a career low K/9 at just 5.6, while his walk rate for the Nats was the same 5.6.  His overall WHIP was 1.520, much higher than one would expect for the No. 3 save percentage closer in the game.

His gaudy save total (20-for-21) though would have driven an arbitration salary through the roof of what the Nats would have wanted to pay him.

And it was completely expected that the Nats would offer arbitration to Flores, Willingham, Bruney and Burnett.

On to the (mild) surprises:  bringing back Nieves and Bergmann, and the signing of Justin Speier.

All off-season, the Nats have maintained their need to upgrade at backup catcher.  Primary to the point, the signing of Ivan Rodriguez.  That the club decided to retain Nieves, a player at a position they were vocal about upgrading from, has to be considered a bit surprising.

The team has been very careful not to name names when talking about addressing their needs at catcher, but Rizzo didn't want to go into the season with Nieves as the main backup again, that much is clear.  But offering him arbitration now indicated to me that he will indeed be the primary backup, this time to Rodriguez, at least to start the season.

Everything the Nats have done at the catcher spot (signing Rodriguez, who made it clear he's ready to play every day, bringing back Nieves and Jamie Burke), indicates to me that Flores is not only not going to be ready in spring training, but probably well into the regular season.

Bergmann's return surprised me as well, his quality down the stretch last year notwithstanding.  Overall, though, his season numbers were less than inspiring, and with his track record with the team, I thought this was going to be the season they let him test the free agent waters. 

But we can now expect Bergy to be one of the known elements to a bullpen in flux going into spring training, along with Burnett, Bruney and Tyler Clippard.

Ryan Speier is an interesting case.  A local kid from West Springfield High, he has a lifetime 3.99 ERA in 90 appearances, all for Colorado.  He doesn't strike a lot of guys out, and puts his fair share of runners on base, but manages to mostly keep them off the scoreboard.

He only pitched five and two-thirds innings on the big league level last season, and wasn't particularly impressive in AAA, but he does have a track record and getting out of the "mile high" air of Colorado could help him out.

The Washington Nationals unwrapped their shiny, new toy today, just in time for the holidays, introducing 14-time all-star and 13-time Gold Glove winner Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez to the media today at a press conference held at blustery Nationals Park.

First, let's get this out of the way:  the man really shouldn't be called "Pudge" anymore.  His features on his face and neck are as chiseled as any marble statue.  There's nothing pudgy about the man, as even Mike Rizzo mentioned his "five percent body fat."

Anyway, Rizzo and Rodriguez were both introduced and made brief opening comments.  Rodriguez then donned his familiar No. 7 jersey for all to photograph, then both took questions from the smallish press contingent, perhaps made smaller by the hour-and-a-half delay in the festivities.

Pudge's preliminary comments:  "It's an honor for me to be here today. I want to say thanks to the Washington Nationals' organization for giving me the opportunity to be with the Nationals for the next two seasons."

"My goal is just bring my experience into the ballclub, as a baseball player, and be ready to play in the field. I'm a player that I love to win, I love to play hard in the field, and I look forward to my teammates doing the same thing when we play."

On his influence on the young pitching staff:  "Spring Training is for that, to work with the pitcher. I know that I've never seen, I've never caught them, but at the same time, communication is very important, you know, in Spring Training we want to sit down and first of all, I want to talk to them and see what they like to do, how they like to pitch, and then we go from there."

"I'm not a difficult catcher, I just try to things very simple for the pitcher, so I just go with what they feel comfortable and we go from there."

On playing time:  "Well I'm ready to play every day.  I'm a player that can still play every day and I will play every day and basically do my best for the club. I know it's hard for me to play 162 games -- that's impossible for a catcher. But as long as I'm healthy, feeling great physically, I'll be in the field playing."

"I'm a guy that I take care of myself very well; I'm keeping myself in good shape. And I'm gonna be in spring training in February ready. Those decisions are not in my control. My control is just to go to spring training in good shape and be ready mentally and physically to play on an everyday basis."

On working with Jesus Flores:  "We're all teammates, and the goal is winning games. He's a talented player, hits very well, good catcher, and I'm sure that we're going to talk a lot. He's a guy that, I've talked to him before, he comes to me and says hello to me when we're against (each other)...and he's a very nice guy."

"So I look foward to talk to him, and whatever he needs, I'm here for that, but the most important thing is that we're here to win, we're here for one goal, just to win and have a good season and be in the playoffs in October."

On similarities with Detroit [signing with 100-plus loss team]:  "When I sign with Detroit in 2004, I think I see this team [Nationals] is better than 2004 in Detroit."

"Coming here my goal is to put my piece in the team and to support the whole team and win ballgames."

Rizzo on Jesus Flores:  "Jesus Flores is still rehabbing [from shoulder surgery]. It's been passed along to me yesterday that he should be full-go, ready to go by the beginning of spring training. We'll go to spring training with that in mind, but in the past, specifically with arm surgeries and labrum surgeries, we go into kind of cautiously optimistic."

Overall, the impression Rodriguez left is that he is ready to play every day.  Whether or not he's treated as an everyday player comes down to two things:  Jesus Flores' health and manager Jim Riggleman's whim filling out the lineup card.

My recorder stopped working at some point during the festivities, but after the press conference was over, Rodriguez and Rizzo were both available to the media.

Rodriguez maintained his desire to play regularly, citing his good health and desire to win and play the game the right way.  He also mentioned a goal of reaching 3000 hits, which he's just 289 short.

"You have to play 27 hard outs every game."

Rizzo was asked about Rodriguez' reaction to his playing status, and responded that Pudge is a 14-time all-star, that he thinks his skills are still intact and that he will be a "significant contributor" to the ballclub, but whether it's 70, 80, 90, or 100 games, that will be answered as they go through the summer.

I specifically asked Rizzo if he looked at Pudge's splits from last summer, in a season where he hit .249/.280/.384 overall.  He a couple of months where his numbers were slightly lower that his career numbers would indicate (career .336 OBP), but nothing alarming, and he had a couple of really poor months.  Rizzo indicated that yes, they looked at that, and attributed that "somewhat" to playing as often as he did, especially the first half of the season with Houston.

Rizzo concluded, "The best problem I could have all season is, 'Who of these two hot catchers [Pudge or Flores] are we going to play on an everyday basis?'"

So to recap:  Pudge is preparing as if he's going to be the everyday catcher, and Rizzo said the doctors indicate that Flores should be ready for spring training, but we'll have to see how Flores' arm responds at that point.

Drama at the catcher position?  It's a good problem to have, if Rodriguez is up to the task.

Nats Should Let Desmond Sink or Swim at Short

Posted by Dave Nichols | Thursday, December 10, 2009 | , | 0 comments »

The Washington Nationals are faced with very few decisions with regard to the make-up of their daily lineup.  There are all kinds of questions about the pitching staff, but that's fodder for another day's column.

We know (barring trade) that Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham, Nyjer Morgan, Elijah Dukes and Cristian Guzman will be in the opening day batting order, with either Jesus Flores or Pudge Rodriguez behind the plate.

The only question is whether Ian Desmond will join them in the lineup.

One of the biggest off-season points of emphasis for Mike Rizzo and the rest of the Nats pro personnel department is to upgrade the middle infield defense.  They have instructed Guzman to be prepared to play second base come spring training, which signals an intent to do one of two things:  acquire a shortstop or begin the season with Ian Desmond in the position.

With a couple of the free agent shortstops already spoken for, and with the premium placed on that position, it's highly unlikely at this point the team could find an appropriate starting shortstop via free agency.  It was a down year at the position anyway, as Marco Scutaro was the prize gem available.

Trading for a major league shortstop is a dicey proposition as well.  They just don't grow on trees, and would probably cost more in player resources than Rizzo would be willing to spend.

What's more likely at this point is that the Nats could find a player that can play both short and second base adequately to be a late inning defensive replacement, or in the possibility that Desmond would fail, could play second base full-time with Guzman sliding back to short. 

Not an ideal situation.

So, we're left with Desmond as the starter from Day One.

Desmond is not really a kid anymore.  He’s 24 years old and has six years in the minors leagues under him.  If he isn’t ready to be playing by now, a couple more months in Triple-A isn’t really going to help.

The Nats have a built-in emergency shortstop on the roster already: his name is Cristian Guzman.  If Desmond starts off 2-for-45, the Nats can send him down, slide Guz over and whoever they bring in for the utility spot to second base. 

There are in-house options as well.  Alberto Gonzalez and Pete Orr are both still kicking around, and Willie Harris can play second in a pinch -- not that it would be preferential for him to get a lot of at bats there. 

But it’s not like the Nats are going to contend this season.

This is what lousy teams (and let's face it, two-straight 100-loss seasons qualifies as lousy) have the luxury of doing: turning positions over to almost-ready players and letting them learn how to be major league players.

Desmond should be given the opportunity to sink or swim.  He'll probably do a little of both.  But September showed us that he's capable of playing the position and hitting a little bit from there as well. 

Let's give him the opportunity to show us that potential he showed us is for real.

Nats Make Rule 5 Selection for Yankees; Lose Zinicola

Posted by Dave Nichols | Thursday, December 10, 2009 | , , | 0 comments »

The Washington Nationals selected OF Jamie Hoffman from the Dodgers organization in the major league portion of the Rule 5 Draft and will send him to the Yankees as the oplayer to be named later in the Brian Bruney deal.

Honestly, judging from the names that were selected in the draft, it's not surprising that the Nationals agreed to send the No. 1 pick to the Yankees for a servicable middle reliever.

The Nats also lost Zech Zinicola, selected by the Toronto Blue Jays, in the draft.  Former Nats minor league director Dana Brown now has similar duties in  Toronto, so they are well familiar with the player.

Teams must keep Rule 5 picks on their major league roster the entire season, or they have to return the player to their original team or make a trade to send the player down to the minor leagues.

Nats Sign Ivan Rodriguez For Karma's Sake

Posted by Dave Nichols | Tuesday, December 08, 2009 | , , , , | 0 comments »

The Washington Nationals checked another item off their Winter Meetings to-do list, signing catcher Ivan Rodriguez to a two-year, $6 million contract.  The team envisions the future hall-of-famer to back up Jesus Flores, play his mentor, and help nurture a young, up-and-coming pitching staff.

Whether or not the 38-year old Rodriguez is up to the task is anybody's guess.  But GM Mike Rizzo surely believes that the man they call "Pudge" is up to it.

Last year, between Texas and Houston, in 448 plate appearances, Rodriguez hit .249/.280/.384 with 10 home runs, 23 doubles and 47 RBIs.  He walked just 23 times, for a woeful 4.8% walk rate. 

On the defensive side, he threw out 6 of the 13 runners that tried to steal against him, a 46% rate, up from recent years in the 35% range.  He was 11.2 runs above average at catcher in 2009, a huge jump and his highest  Rtot/yr since 2006.

The general opinion so far is that "yeah, he's washed up, but it's better than what we had last year."  But is he really?  And at the cost?

Wil Nieves hit .259/.313/.299 in 249 plate appearances with one homer and 26 RBIs, and had a 28% CS rate.  Josh Bard hit .230/.293/.361 with six homers and 31 RBIs in 301 plate appearances with a 27% CS rate.

So maybe performance-wise, Pudge is marginally better than the duo that filled in for Jeus Flores most of the summer.

But the Nats handed over $6 million over two years, which seems awfully high, especially when he was on a one-year, $1.5 million contract last season.  Are we left to believe that the "loser sur-tax" to bring credible free agents to D.C. is four times the market rate?

Count me in the column that doesn't particularly like this deal.  But hey, at least they attracted one washed up future Hall-of-Famer.  Maybe that'll help lure another one (John Smoltz, anyone?).

This is starting to look like how the Tigers accomplished their worst-to-first journey a couple years ago.  Draft a stud pitcher (Verlander/Strasburg), sign Pudge, then trade for Miguel Cabrera.  So who is going to play the part of Miguel Cabrera for the Nationals?

Nationals Acquire Bruney, Waive Rivera

Posted by Dave Nichols | Monday, December 07, 2009 | , , | 1 comments »

In the first deal of the 2009 Baseball Winter Meetings, the Washington Nationals traded a player to be names later to the New York Yankees for RHRP Brian Bruney.  To make room on the 40-man roster, the Nats unconditionally released veteran RHRP Saul Rivera.

Bruney, 28, went 5-0 in 44 appearances covering 39.0 innings for the Yankees last year.  He had a 3.92 ERA and 1.513 WHIP, striking out 8.3 per nine innings.  For his career, he has a 4.27 ERA in 221.3 innings.

Bruney immediately threw his hat into the ring for the available closer job, telling Nationals Journal
"I love closing ballgames.  There's nothing better than that in my opinion. I felt like New York was a good stepping stone with lots of pressure-filled situations. But to be honest, I had talked to my agent and I said, 'I can't wait to get to the place where I can try and close somewhere.' "

Bruney (6'3", 219) has 13 career saves in six major league seasons, 12 of which came in one season, 2005 with Arizona.

This past June, Bruney criticized New York Mets closer Francisco Rodriquez after a game and the two needed to be separated the following day during batting practice when "K-Rod" confronted Bruney prior to the game.
 
Rivera was a dependable part of the Nationals bullpen for parts of four seasons, but had a 6.10 ERA in 30 appearances last season and spent part of the year in the minors.  Rivera turned 32 today.

Next Tuesday at 6:00 pm, I will join co-host Greg DePalma on Prime Sports Network's "Nats Weekly", an internet radio show we did on a weekly basis throughout the 2009 season. 

We figured next week's Winter Meetings would be as good a time as any to discuss the Nationals and their off-season thus far, and what to expect going forward, as Mike Rizzo goes about the challenge of finding more talent for this club.

You can check out the show here, and you can call in with questions and comments at 1-877-266-1909.

Join us LIVE next Tuesday, December 8 at 6:00 pm, or check out the archive any time after that.

Memo to Rizzo: Stay the Course

Posted by Dave Nichols | Thursday, December 03, 2009 | , , , | 1 comments »

There are plenty in the Natosphere that want Mike Rizzo and the Washington Nationals to make a big splash and sign a bunch of free agents this winter to improve the product on the field.

After two-straight 100-loss seasons, I'm sure Rizzo is tempted to make a run at Matt Holliday, John Lackey, etc. But prudence, rather than exuberance, should rule the day.

If you take a good look at the Nats 2010 lineup, the hitters are credible enough to imitate a wild card caliber team.

If Nyjer Morgan can replicate his season from last year (minus the season-ending injury) and Cristian Guzman has one .300-hitting season left in him, those are decent enough table setters in front of All-Star 3B Ryan Zimmerman and sluggers Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham.

The six-seven-eight hitters are going to be a combination of Elijah Dukes in right field, Jesus Flores (once healthy) at catcher, and Ian Desmond at shortstop.

Solid at the plate, and somewhat better in the field with Desmond replacing Guzman at short, and the Guz sliding over to second base.

And as long as "Running" Jim Riggleman doesn't call for a suicide squeeze every other game they should score enough runs to field a fairly competitive offense, just like last season.

Combine that with the prospect of having a couple of really decent trade chips at this year's deadline (Dunn, Willingham), and some of the minor league talent starting to show (Espinosa, Norris), the Nats have a reason to feel somewhat optimistic about the future of the lineup.

The problem is pitching, both starting and relieving.

Rizzo went on record last summer stating a preference for finding two starters to take some of the pressure of youngsters John Lannan, Ross Detwiler, Garrett Mock, Collin Balester, J.D. Martin, Craig Stammen at the major league level, while not rushing the more highly regarded prospects still in the minors, such as Stephen Strasburg, Aaron Thompson, Brad Meyers, et al.

And there's even more talent in the lower minors, with '09 draftees Trevor Holder and A.J. Morris just coming into their first full season as professionals.

Should the Nats spend $20 million this off-season, just because they have it?

Already one of the lower payrolls in the big leagues, the Nats see at least that much coming off the books this season, as the contracts of Dmitri Young, Ronnie Belliard, Nick Johnson, and Austin Kearns all either expired, were traded, or bought out.

They could even afford to offer Scott Olsen arbitration, get stuck with a 25-year old lefty recovering from shoulder surgery, and still have monopoly money to throw around.

But again, should they?

There are two "Type A" free agent starters available this season, John Lackey and Randy Wolf. Signing either would require the Nats to surrender their first round draft pick in the 2010 draft.

For a club whose best players are still several years from their prime, this doesn't seem to be prudent to me.

There are a bunch of "Type B" starters available that might be interesting, costing the Nats a little less, a second round pick. But most of these players are either injury cases (Erik Bedard, Justin Duchscherer, Rich Harden, Carl Pavano), old (Randy Johnson, Andy Pettitte), of questionable pedigree (Doug Davis, Braden Looper, Jason Marquis, Joel Piniero), or just bat-guano crazy (Vicente Padilla).

Do the Nats give up a chunk of the future to acquire any of these gentlemen? There's not a name in there that doesn't scare me to one degree or another.

And if the Type B's frighten, you can imagine what the rest of the list looks like. Reclamation projects, one-hit wonders, and former Nats (Odalis Perez or Daniel Cabrera, anyone?).

My advice to Rizzo? If you want to take a chance rolling the dice on Doug Davis, Joel Piniero or Jarrod Washburn, and can do it reasonably, via con dios.

Otherwise, let the stable of young guys that you have fight it out again this season, bolster your bullpen with the rest, wait for Jordan Zimmermann to recover from Tommy John surgery and Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen to arrive next season, THEN supplement with a veteran starter.

Just because you have $20 million to spend, doesn't mean you should.

Nationals Release Spring Training Schedule

Posted by Dave Nichols | Thursday, December 03, 2009 | , | 0 comments »

The Washington Nationals just released their 2010 spring training schedule.  Please forgive the crummy formatting, I'm kinda swamped with my day job, but wanted to get this info out as soon as I received it.  Home games are in ALL CAPS.

One thing you will notice right away:  No Orioles.  The O's moved to Sarasota, which is on the gulf coast in what would be the worst possible commute for a spring training game.  It's an almost three hour drive from Viera to Sarasota.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS 2010 SPRING TRAINING SCHEDULE

DATE DAY OPPONENT LOCATION TIME

March 4 Thursday Florida Marlins (SS) Jupiter, FL 1:10 PM
Houston Astros (SS) Kissimmee, FL 1:05 pm
March 5 Friday Atlanta Braves Orlando, FL TBD
MARCH 6 SATURDAY NEW YORK METS VIERA, FL 1:05 PM
March 7 Sunday New York Mets Port St. Lucie, FL 1:10 pm
MARCH 8 MONDAY FLORIDA MARLINS (SS) VIERA, FL 1:05 PM
MARCH 9 TUESDAY DETROIT TIGERS VIERA, FL 1:05 PM
March 10 Wednesday St. Louis Cardinals Jupiter, FL TBD
MARCH 11 THURSDAY HOUSTON ASTROS VIERA, FL 1:05 PM
MARCH 12 FRIDAY NEW YORK YANKEES VIERA, FL 1:05 PM
March 13 Saturday Houston Astros (SS) Kissimmee, FL TBD
MARCH 14 SUNDAY ST. LOUIS CARDINALS VIERA, FL 1:05 PM
MARCH 15 MONDAY ATLANTA BRAVES VIERA, FL 7:05 PM
MARCH 16 TUESDAY FLORIDA MARLINS VIERA, FL 1:05 PM
St. Louis Cardinals Jupiter, FL TBD
March 17 Wednesday Houston Astros Kissimmee, FL TBD
March 18 Thursday * * * Off Day * * *
MARCH 19 FRIDAY ST. LOUIS CARDINALS (SS) VIERA, FL 7:05 PM
MARCH 20 SATURDAY FLORIDA MARLINS VIERA, FL 1:05 PM
March 21 Sunday Florida Marlins Jupiter, FL 1:10 pm
MARCH 22 MONDAY NEW YORK METS VIERA, FL 1:05 PM
March 23 Tuesday Detroit Tigers Lakeland, FL 6:05 pm
March 24 Wednesday New York Yankees Tampa, FL TBD
MARCH 25 THURSDAY DETROIT TIGERS (SS) VIERA, FL 7:05 PM
MARCH 26 FRIDAY ST. LOUIS CARDINALS VIERA, FL 1:05 PM
March 27 Saturday Atlanta Braves Orlando, FL TBD
New York Mets Port St. Lucie, FL 1:10 pm
MARCH 28 SUNDAY ATLANTA BRAVES VIERA, FL 1:05 PM
MARCH 29 MONDAY NEW YORK METS (SS) VIERA, FL 1:05 PM
March 30 Tuesday Florida Marlins Jupiter, FL 1:10 pm
March 31 Wednesday St. Louis Cardinals Jupiter, FL TBD
April 1 Thursday New York Mets Port St. Lucie, FL 12:10 pm
April 2 Friday Boston Red Sox Ft. Myers, FL TBD
APRIL 3 SATURDAY BOSTON RED SOX WASHINGTON, DC * 4:05 PM

Espinosa, Norris Named Topps' 2009 Class-A All-Stars

Posted by Dave Nichols | Wednesday, November 25, 2009 | , , | 0 comments »

The Topps Comapny, in conjunction with Minor League Baseball, named their 2009 Class A All-Stars today, and two Washignton Nationals proscpects were on the team.

Danny Espinosa, for Potomac of the Carolina League, was named at shortstop for the team.  From the press release: 
Danny Espinosa (22), of Santa Ana, Calif., scored 90 runs for the Potomac Nationals, tops in the Carolina League. He also led league third baseman with a .965 fielding percentage. Espinosa ranked in the top five in the circuit in homers (18), walks (74), on-base percentage (.375) and extra base hits (53). The Washington Nationals tabbed him in the third round in 2008 out of Long Beach State (CA) University.
Derek Norris, catcher for Hagerstown of the South Atlantic League, was named at designated hitter.  HIs press bio: 
Derek Norris (20), of Goddard, Kansas, finished among the top five in the South Atlantic League in homers (23), extra-base hits (53), RBI (84), runs (78) and slugging percentage (.513). The Hagerstown Suns catcher led the league with a .413 on-base percentage and 90 walks in being named the SAL’s Most Outstanding Major League Prospect. The Washington Nationals tabbed Norris out of high school in the fourth round in 2007.
Espinosa is fresh off his experience in the Arizona Fall League, where he acquitted himself quite well.  Norris was supposed to play in Arizona as well, but broke his hamate bone and had surgery to remove the bone. He was thus forced to miss the top off-season prospect league.  He is expected to be ready for spring training.

Congratulations to both players from Nationals News Network.

Nationals Complete Field Staff

Posted by Dave Nichols | Friday, November 20, 2009 | , , | 0 comments »

The Washington Nationals announced today the hiring of Jim Riggleman's 2010 field staff.  Some of the names we knew.  Others?  Not so much.  But the new names certainly aren't new to the skipper, each having extensive experience working alongside Riggleman at various points in their careers.

Returning are Rick Eckstein (hitting coach), Steve McCatty (pitching coach) and Pat Listach (infield/third base coach).

The new hires are John McLaren (bench coach), Dan Radison (first base coach) and Jim Lett (bullpen coach).

What's apparent (and important) is that the organization allowed Riggleman the opportunity to bring in folks he was familiar and comfortable with.  Radison worked with Riggleman in Chicago and San Diego, and Eckstein in St. Louis, while Lett was with the Dodgers when Riggleman was Jim Tracy's bench coach there.

And of course, Riggleman was MacLaren's bench coach in Seattle, and took over for him when he was dismissed in mid-season of 2008.

Here the press release:

Eckstein returns for a second season in Washington, as his offense showed significant gains in 2009 in runs per game (+0.40 per game), home runs (+39), batting average (+.007), on-base percentage (+.014), slugging percentage (+.033) and OPS (+.047) compared to the previous season.
McCatty was named Nationals pitching coach on June 2. The Nationals’ Triple-A pitching coach for four seasons before being summoned to Washington, McCatty employed numerous pre-existing relationships with Nationals pitchers to help his staff post an ERA exactly one run better than that recorded in the season’s first two months (5.69 ERA from Opening Day-May 31, 4.69 ERA from June 2 through season’s end).

Listach will return for a second season as Nationals third base coach. Last season, Listach’s judgment saw only 11 Nationals thrown out at home plate on non force-outs, a figure bettered by only the Cardinals (eight) in MLB. With added responsibilities as the Nationals infield instructor, Listach had a hand in Ryan Zimmerman earning his first career Rawlings Gold Glove.

McLaren, 58, will draw on 22 seasons of big league coaching experience, including a stint as Mariners manager for portions of the 2007 and 2008 seasons. He replaced Mike Hargrove as Seattle’s manager on July 2, 2007. While skippering the Mariners, McLaren hired Riggleman as his bench coach in 2008.

McLaren has worked on Lou Piniella’s staff for 15 seasons, and also enjoyed stewardships under Mike Hargrove, Cito Gaston, Jimy Williams and Joe Morgan. He has experienced five post-seasons, including four division titles (Toronto in 1989, Seattle ‘95, ‘97, 2001). McLaren spent the 2009 campaign as a Rays special assignment scout. He also served as Team USA bench coach during the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006.

Selected by Houston in the 1970 Draft, McLaren caught for seven professional seasons before beginning his coaching career in Toronto’s system in 1977. After serving the Blue Jays for nine seasons as a minor-league coach, manager and scout, McLaren joined Toronto’s big league staff as third base coach in 1986.

Lett, 58, will draw on 15 seasons of Major League coaching experience, 11 spent as a bench coach with the Reds, Blue Jays, Dodgers and Pirates. He served as Dodgers bullpen coach from 2001-04, where he worked alongside Riggleman, who was Jim Tracy’s bench coach at the time.

Lett joins the Nationals after spending the previous two years coaching in Milwaukee’s minor-league system. Lett has worked in professional baseball for each of the last 35 seasons as a player, coach, manager or front-office executive. Lett is also a highly respected catching instructor.

The 59 year-old Radison begins his third tour with Riggleman, as the two worked together during Riggleman’s managerial stays in San Diego and Chicago (NL). Outside of his stints with the Cubs and Padres, Radison has managed, coached or scouted for the Yankees, Cardinals and Mets organizations from 1984-2006.

He spent the previous three seasons as the Cardinals Minor League Hitting Instructor. While there, Radison worked closely with Eckstein, and helped Rick Ankiel (as a hitter), Skip Schumaker and Colby Rasmus graduate to St. Louis.

Radison was drafted by the Cardinals in 1972 and played professionally for three seasons. He commenced his career in coaching at the college level, serving as an associate or assistant coach at Broward (FL) Community College, the University of Georgia and Old Dominion (VA) University.

Nats Add Davey Johnson to the Fold

Posted by Dave Nichols | Wednesday, November 18, 2009 | , , | 0 comments »

The Washington Nationals announced today that Davey Johnson has been hired as Senior Advisor to the General Manager.  Here's the press release: 
The Washington Nationals today named Davey Johnson Senior Advisor to the General Manager. Nationals Senior Vice President & General Manager Mike Rizzo made the announcement.

A former World Series winning player and manager, Johnson joins the Nationals after managing Team USA to a semi-finals berth in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. Johnson has managed or coached five Team USA professional squads since 2005, including the 2008 Olympic team that claimed the bronze in Beijing. Johnson spent the summer of 2009 managing amateur players with the DeLand Suns of the Florida Collegiate Summer League.

Johnson skippered four big league teams—the Mets, Reds, Orioles and Dodgers—for 14 seasons, compiling a 1148-888 (.564) record. In those 14 big league seasons, Johnson’s clubs finished first or second 11 times, including five division titles, one pennant and one World Championship earned with the Mets in 1986. In 1997, Johnson was named American League Manager of the Year after guiding the Orioles to a 98-64 (.605) record. He was recently named one of 10 managers to be placed on the new Veterans Committee ballot for potential induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

As a player, Johnson hit .261 with 136 home runs and 609 RBI in 13 big league seasons during a career that included a stint in Japan. Johnson was a four-time All-Star, won three Gold Gloves, played in five post-seasons and earned a pair of World Series rings with the Orioles in 1966 and 1970. He is also the only player to have hit behind Hank Aaron and Japan’s all-time home run king, Sadaharu Oh.
While the last sentence is a bit fluffy, it still speaks to the wealth of baseball information Davey Johnson brings to the Nationals organization.  If he's going to be Mike Rizzo's trusted right-hand man, I'd have a hard time nominating anyone more qualified.

Rizzo has done an exceptional job this fall surrounding himself with top-notch assistants, and a conference call with many of those new lieutenants took place the other day with the regular media.  According to reports, each spoke to the quality of the man hiring them as one of the primary reasons they would leave jobs in other markets and come to a franchise that has lost 100-plus games two years in a row.

Hopefully, some top-notch personnel that actually play the game will feel the same way once the free agent signing period opens up.

Nats Add Smart Guys to Braintrust

Posted by Dave Nichols | Monday, November 16, 2009 | , , | 1 comments »

The Washington Nationals announced today the hiring of Bryan Minniti and Jay Sartori to the front office.  Minniti was named Assistant General Manager and Sartori Director of Baseball Operations.

From the press release (emphasis by NNN): 
Minniti joins the Nationals after spending the previous nine seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the last two as their Director of Baseball Operations. With the Pirates, Minniti’s focuses included rules compliance, transactions, budgeting and contract negotiations. Minniti graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a double major in Mathematics and Statistics.

Sartori worked for the Commissioner’s Office as Salary and Contract Administration Manager in Major League Baseball’s Labor Relations Department before accepting his position with the Nationals. His expertise included knowledge and interpretation of the Basic Agreement, contract language, salary arbitration and Rule 4 Draft bonus recommendations and analysis. Sartori graduated with a Finance and MIS degree from Boston College and is currently working on an MBA from the same institution.
So the Nats hired two men with upper degrees in math, statistics, finance and MIS for positions in the baseball operations departments.  Sounds like they felt like they needed serious upgrading in the number-crunching business.

Bringing on a couple of young numbers guys with good pedigrees in the department will allow Mike Rizzo to concentrate on what he knows best:  finding good baseball players.

Here's an article by The Bucco Blog about Minniti.  It sounds like he has a really bright future. 

Dukes Made DWL Debut Saturday

Posted by Cheryl Nichols | Monday, November 16, 2009 | , , | 0 comments »

Elijah Dukes made his DWL debut Saturday night starting in centerfield. He went 1-for-2 with a walk and a two-run homerun.


Photo Courtesy of http://www.licey.com/

Grissom will not return as Nats coach

Posted by Cheryl Nichols | Sunday, November 15, 2009 | , , | 0 comments »

According to Bill Ladson, former Major League outfielder Marquis Grissom will not be back as the Nationals' first-base coach.  No reason was given for Grissom's departure, and Grissom and general manager Mike Rizzo were not available for comment. A baseball source said that Grissom has been offered a job in the organization.


Photo © 2009 Cheryl Nichols. All Rights Reserved.

Ryan Zimmerman Wins Silver Slugger!

Posted by Cheryl Nichols | Thursday, November 12, 2009 | , , | 0 comments »

It is a good thing that Silver and Gold go very well together.  In just over 24 hours, Ryan Zimmerman earned his first Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards for this amazing play at the hot corner and power at the plate.

Thank you Ryan Zimmerman for giving your all every single game.  It is a joy to watch your talent unfold right before our eyes.  I have a feeling that these will be the first of many awards to come.

CONGRATULATIONS TO RYAN ZIMMERMAN
ON THE SILVER SLUGGER AWARD!


Photo © 2009 Cheryl Nichols. All Rights Reserved.

Jim Riggleman Named Nats Manager

Posted by Cheryl Nichols | Thursday, November 12, 2009 | , , | 0 comments »

CONGRATULATIONS JIM!

Photo © 2009 Cheryl Nichols. All Rights Reserved.

The Nationals have selected Jim Riggleman as their 2010 skipper, promoting the former interim manager to the full-time position.  All of Washington's coaches from this season were assured by general manager Mike Rizzo they would be retained either on the big league staff or elsewhere in the organization (Former bullpen coach Randy Knorr already agreed to become manager at Class AA Harrisburg.).

*On a personal note, I think that it is a little odd that the Nats were so hush hush on the managerial search and then decided to make manager announcement on the website late Wednesday night.  Why not wait until Thursday to do a formal announcement and give Ryan Zimmerman a few hours to enjoy his Gold Glove?

Ryan Zimmerman Earns First Gold Glove in Nats History

Posted by Cheryl Nichols | Wednesday, November 11, 2009 | , , | 0 comments »

CONGRATULATIONS
RYAN ZIMMERMAN!!

Exciting news for a rainy day.  Zimmerman earned his first Gold Glove and is the first Nationals players to win the award.  #11 on 11/11.  Click here for the complete list of winners.


Photo © 2009 Cheryl Nichols. All Rights Reserved.

Nats Make More Hires; Strasburg Pitches in AFL

Posted by Dave Nichols | Tuesday, October 27, 2009 | , , , | 0 comments »

The Washington Nationals today announced more front office hires:  Casey McKeon (son of Jack) as Director of Player Procurement and Jay Robertson as Special Assistant to the Genereal Manager.

Here's the nitty-gritty from the press release:
McKeon joins the Nationals after spending the previous seven seasons with the Colorado Rockies, where he was Assistant to the General Manager to Dan O’Dowd, the Rockies Executive Vice President and General Manager. The Rockies won the 2007 National League Championship in the first of two post-season appearances made during his tenure in Colorado. McKeon previously worked for Cincinnati, Cleveland and San Diego in various scouting capacities, including a stint as the Reds Scouting Director. McKeon served on Team USA’s Selection Committee in 2003. A graduate of San Diego State University, McKeon played two professional seasons as a catcher in the Tigers chain. He is the son of longtime baseball manager and executive Jack McKeon.

Robertson spent the previous eight seasons as Special Assistant to the General Manager with the Texas Rangers, where he worked under the leadership of John Hart (2002-05) and Jon Daniels (2006-09). Previously, Robertson spent 11 seasons with the Cleveland Indians, culminating with an appointment as Special Assistant to General Manager John Hart for the 2000-01 campaigns. His tenure in Cleveland included time as Scouting Director, during which Cleveland signed Richie Sexson, Sean Casey, Russell Branyan and Jaret Wright. Robertson pitched for five seasons in Toronto’s chain before enjoying both coaching and scouting stints with Philadelphia and Minnesota.
Both seem like solid baseball men with strong resumes.  Sounds like McKeon will assist Rizzo with the major league roster, and he can't get him in here quickly enough with the World Series getting started and the GM and Winter Meetings just around the corner.
-----------

Stephen Strasburg started for the Devil Dogs today in the Arizona Fall League, and was quite a bit better than the last time out.  He went 4.1 IP, allowing just one run (after he left the game) on one hit and two walks.  He struck out five and threw 42 of his 67 pitches for strikes.

Fellow Nat prospect Josh Wilkie relieved Strasburg after he gave up a double to the gap in the fifth, and Wilkie, who's had his trouble out in Arizona, gave up a two-out triple to let the run score.

But the good news is that Strasburg, the No. 1 overall pick in last spring's amateur draft, bounced back after his rough outing last week and really competed.  Accounsts say he had some trouble spotting the changeup, but that his slider was downright filthy and only one batter managed to pull the ball against him.

More Awards for Zimmerman

Posted by Cheryl Nichols | Monday, October 26, 2009 | , | 2 comments »

Ryan Zimmerman collected the most web gems and web gem points from ESPN throughout the season. And tonight, ESPN is naming him their first ever Web Gem Champion. The "Web Gem Awards Show" will air Monday at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2 with Zimmerman as a special guest.

Ryan Zimmerman has been nominated for "Best Defense" in MLB's "This Year in Baseball" Awards! Vote for Zim here.


Photo © 2009 C. Nichols. All Rights Reserved.

Strasburg Makes AFL Debut

Posted by Dave Nichols | Saturday, October 17, 2009 | , , , | 0 comments »

Stephen Strasburg made AFL debut Friday night, going 3.1 IP. He didn't allow a run on two hits and one walk, striking out two. He threw 32 of his 50 pitches for strikes and picked up the win.

The 21-year old, No. 1 overall pick in last year's amateur draft got two double plays behind him and exited in the middle of the fourth inning seemingly on a strict pitch count.

Drew Storen, the No. 10 overall pick last summer, gave up two unearned runs on a two-out error by shortstop Shawn O'Malley.  He threw 28 pitches -- 20 for strikes -- in one inning, allowing three hits and no walks.

The Devil Dogs beat the Scorpions 9-2.  Danny Espinosa went 0-for-2 with two walks from the two-spot, and played designated hitter.

Nationals Break Silence, Confirm Recent Hires

Posted by Dave Nichols | Thursday, October 15, 2009 | , | 0 comments »

The Washington Nationals issued a press release today finally making official all the news reports of recent front office hirings.  One has to believe now that this wave of personnel have filled out their W-2s, general manager Mike Rizzo can turn full attention to interviewing candidates for field manager.


WASHINGTON NATIONALS ADD ROY CLARK, JOHNNY DiPUGLIA AND DOUG HARRIS TO FRONT OFFICE

KRIS KLINE NAMED DIRECTOR OF SCOUTING

The Washington Nationals today named Roy Clark Vice President of Player Personnel, Johnny DiPuglia Director of Latin American Operations and Doug Harris Director of Player Development. The Nationals also promoted Kris Kline to Director of Scouting. Nationals Senior Vice President and General Manager Mike Rizzo made the announcements.

Clark joins the Nationals after an impressive 11-year run as Director of Scouting with the Atlanta Braves. Clark joined the Braves as an area scout in 1989, and he later enjoyed successive stints as Atlanta’s southeast supervisor (1995) and national supervisor (1996-99). His efforts helped the Braves earn Baseball America’s prestigious Organization of the Year award three times (1991, 1996, 2005) and USA Today’s Organization of the Year citation in 1996. Clark sports a World Series ring from the Braves’ 1995 World Championship campaign.

Clark is best known for having procured talents such as catcher Brian McCann, right-handed pitcher Tommy Hanson, right-handed pitcher Adam Wainwright, shortstop Yunel Escobar, right-handed pitcher Joey Devine, right-handed pitcher Kevin Millwood, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and outfielder Jeff Francoeur for the Braves. Meanwhile, Braves minor-league outfielder Jason Heyward was recently cited as Baseball America’s 2009 Minor League Player of the Year and is regarded by many as baseball’s top prospect among position players.

DiPuglia joins his fourth big league organization with his Nationals appointment. DiPuglia spent the previous 10 seasons working in the Red Sox scouting department, the last four as Boston’s Latin American Scouting Coordinator. While in that position, he was responsible for coverage in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Panama, Mexico, Curacao, Nicaragua, Aruba, Columbia, as well as all of Central and South America. He earned World Series rings while with the Red Sox in 2004 and 2007.

DiPuglia, who also enjoyed stints with the Giants and Cardinals organizations, signed or had a hand in the signings of shortstop Hanley Ramirez, second baseman Placido Polanco, outfielder Rick Ankiel, right-handed pitcher Anibal Sanchez and right-handed pitcher Rene Arocha.

Harris carries 20 seasons of baseball experience as a player, amateur scout and professional scout into his new role with the Nationals. He spent last season as a Major League Scout/Advance Scout with Cleveland after a 12-year tenure with Texas in various scouting capacities. Harris played seven professional seasons in three organizations.

Kline earned the Director of Scouting promotion after spending his initial three seasons in Washington as Assistant Scouting Director/National Crosschecker (2009) and Western Crosschecker (2007-08). A scout for 20 seasons, Kline joined the Nationals in the fall of 2006 after spending the previous seven seasons with Arizona, the last three of which were spent as the Diamondbacks’ Western Supervisor. Kline earned a World Series ring in 2001 as the Diamondbacks topped the Yankees in seven games. Before joining the Diamondbacks, Kline worked 10 seasons scouting for the Angels after completing his four-year professional playing career.

According to multiple sources, the Washington Nationals have hired former Atlanta Braves scouting director Roy Clark as assistant general manager, with his duties to be varied and wide-ranging.  Clark worked for Atlanta for 20 years in their scouring and development department.

According to the AJC story, Clark will oversee the Nationals player development and all scouting functions, including international scouting, an area of particular weakness in the Nats organization.

This is the second time Clark has been linked to a job with DC, apparently turning down a role withe less responsibilities in 2006.  He obviously has long-time ties with Nationals president Stan Kasten.

This news comes on the heels of Dana Brown leaving the organization, as he took the assistant general manager position with the Toronto Blue Jays.  Brown has been with the Nationals since their days in Montreal, and had a stated desire to work his way "up the ladder", hopefully ascending to a general manager position.

With that job full in DC, Brown rejoins a man he once hired, Alexander Anthopolis, back north of the border.

Kris Kline, currently the assistant scouting director and highly thought of in the organization, could be elevated into Brown's former roll.

Buried in the excitement of all this turmoil was the news that Moose Stubing was releived of his duities as special assistant to the general manager.  How many Nats fans even knew Stubing was on the payroll? 

Regardless, Bob Boone still has his job...for now.

Of course, all this news has to be supported by published reports, as the Nationals have been completely mum on any topic of front office restructuring.  There have been no press releases to date, nor have they comments for any of the published reports.

First, Elijah Dukes' handler, James Williams, was dismissed.  I guess the Nats thought Dukes was ready to ride without training wheels. 

To be fair to Dukes, he seemed like he had picked up a thing or two while he was in exile.  And he had a pretty solid September.  It should be interesting in the spring whether he's given a job, or has to fight Maxwell, Bernadina, Harris, et al for rightfield.

Yesterday, Jose Cardenal, one of the nicest guys you'd ever want to meet, was let go.  He had been operating as special advisor to assistant general manager Bob Boone. 

"If you are a baseball person, you know that it's going to happen with the new GM coming up and them wanting to clean house," Cardenal said. "They knew I was close to Jim [Bowden]. I have nothing but positive things to say. The Lerner family treated me well."

What will bear watching is if Boone himself is spared in the housecleaning.

Then today, words comes out that a trio of minor league instructors have been fired.  John Stearns, formerly manager of Double-A Harrisburg, Rich Gale, pitching coach for Triple-A Syracuse, and Gulf Coast coach Cesar Cedeno have all been relieved of their duties in the organization.

Stearns, joined the organization in 2006 and guided the Senators to a 70-72 record this season. Gale started the season with Class-A Hagerstown but ended the season in Syracuse after Steve McCatty was promoted to the big leagues.

Cedeno was a baserunning and outfield coach for the Gulf Coast league team.

All of these moves coincide with Mike Rizzo's stated goal of developing a better overall system for training the drafted talent into competent major league-ready players.  It also gives him a chance to mold the system to fit more with his vision of planning for the organization.

Of course, he still has to hire an assistant general manager, several pro and minor leeague scouts, and oh yeah, a field manager.  But finally, after four years of floundering, at least someone has the authority to develop this franchise with a consistant, unified vision.  Call it "The Plan 3.0".

Yup, More Awards!

Posted by Dave Nichols | Thursday, October 08, 2009 | , | 0 comments »

As a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, I get to vote for the awards that the group hands out each season.  We vote just like the BBWAA does; for Manager, Rookie, Cy Young and MVP of each league.  Since I cover the Nats, I get to vote for the N.L. awards.

Et voila!  Here are my votes (and admittedly shaky reasoning behind them).

N.L. MANAGER OF THE YEAR

3.  Joe Torre, LAD
2.  Bruce Bochy, SF
1.  Jim Tracy, COL

Let me go on record saying I think the job that managers do is completely overrated.  At best on the positive side, they provide mostly motivation and discipline for their teams.  More appropriately, this award goes to the managers that messed up his team the least. 

All three managers from the West?  Sure, why not.  All three teams overachieved to a certain degree, two of the three teams are in the playoffs, and the third is the next best team.

Colorado was destined to hang out with Washington and Pittsburgh until Clint Hurdle was ousted and replaced -- on an interim basis -- by Jim Tracy.  Whether he was that much better at the X's and O's, or just a better motivator, he got more out of the Rockies than I think should have been expected.

N.L. ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

3.  Chris Coghlan, FL  (.321/.390/.460, 9 HR--47 RBI--8 SB)
2.  J.A. Happ, PHI  (12-4, 2.93, 119 K in 166.0 IP)
1.  Tommy Hanson, ATL  (11-4, 2.89 ERA, 116 K in 127.2 IP)

The only rookie pitcher to average a strikeout an inning was DC's Jordan Zimmermann, but Tommy John surgery put an end to his season in August.

But it's hard to argue with Hanson or Happ.  Both were leaned on heavily by playoff contending teams, and both pitched equally as well, with Hanson's K rate just slightly higher. 

Coghlan was recalled by Florida when Emilio Bonifacio was OBPing .285 in May, and be became the sparkplug and table setter the Marlins needed.  And he played out of position in left field most of the season.  If they can get him back in the infield, he's be even more valuable.

N.L. CY YOUNG

3.  Chris Carpenter, STL  (17-4, 2.24 ERA, 144 K in 192.2 IP)
2.  Adam Wainwright, STL  (19-8, 2.63 ERA, 212 K in 233.0 IP)
1.  Tim Lincecum, SF  (15-7, 2.48 ERA, 261 K in 225.1 IP)

There were eight pitchers that qualified this season with an ERA under 3.00 in the NL.  You could really put all the names (above, plus Jair Jurrjens, Clayton Kershaw, Javier Vazquez, Matt Cain and J.A. Happ) into a bag, shake them up, pull out three and go with that.

But the three on my ballot were exceptional in many ways.  Carpenter walked just 38 batters all season.  Wainwright led the league in wins and innings pitched and Lincecum was his usual dominant self, striking out 261 in 225 innings.

N.L. MVP (AVE/OBP/SLG, HR/RBI/RUNS/SB)

10.  Andre Ethier, LAD (.272/.361/.508, 31/106/92/6)
9.  Ryan Zimmerman, WAS (.292/.364/.525, 33/106/110/2)
8.  Pablo Sandoval, SF (.330/.387/.556, 25/90/79/5)
7.  Derrick Lee, CHC (.306/.393/.579, 35/111/91/1)
6.  Ryan Braun, MIL (.320/.386/.551, 32/114/113/20)
5.  Prince Fielder, MIL (.299/.412/.602, 46/141/103/2)
4.  Ryan Howard, PHI (.279/.360/.571, 45/141/105/8)
3.  Troy Tulowitzki, COL (.297/.377/.552, 32/92/101/20)
2.  Hanley Ramirez, FL (.342/.410/.543, 24/106/101/27)
1.  Albert Pujols, STL  (.327/.443/.658, 47/135/124/16)

After No. 1, this is really tough.  You look at these guys, and a dozen others with similar numbers, and how do you differentiate?  I feel qualified enough to have Zimmerman make a token appearance at the bottom of my ballot, because I watched him play third base AND half-shortstop all season long.  If you saw Cristian Guzman's range, you'd know what I'm talking about.

But what make one player more valuable than another?  I'm voting on this award using the literal meaning, not necessarily voting for "Best Player" or "Best Offensive Season", which I think are two things totally different than "Most Valuable Player".

Obviously, Albert Pujols is just a different kind of cat.  He walked 115 times (third in N.L.) and still put up his normal outrageous numbers.  Hanley Ramirez led the league in average, was sixth in on base percentage and drove in and scored over 100 runs.  And could you imagine the middle of Colorado's order without Tulo in there?  He shook off his rough 2008 to lead the Rockies back into the playoffs.

There you have them, my picks for the 2009 post-season awards.  Please feel free to leave your picks or critiques of mine in the comments.

Surgery Thursday for Guzman and Norris

Posted by Cheryl Nichols | Thursday, October 08, 2009 | , , | 0 comments »


Nationals shortstop Cristian Guzman is scheduled to have arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder Thursday.  The procedure will be performed by Dr. Wiemi Douoguih at The Washington Hospital Center in Washington, DC.  Bill Ladson is reporting that Guzman has been hampered by shoulder problems for over a month and the shoulder grew worse when Guzman twice threw to home plate against the Dodgers on Sept. 24. Guzman did not play shortstop for the rest of the season after that game and was instead regulated to pinch-hitting duties.

Catcher Derek Norris fractured his left hamate bone while working out in the Instructional League. He will have surgery performed by Dr. Thomas Graham in Baltimore to remove the fractured hamate bone on Thursday, October 8. He is expected to be able to resume baseball activities in December.   See Nats Farm for more information.

Ryan Zimmerman, Ian DesmondKory Casto have also fractured a hamate bone during their career.

Photos © 2009 C. Nichols. All Rights Reserved.

Final "Nats Weekly" of the Season Today LIVE at 5:00 pm.

Posted by Dave Nichols | Tuesday, October 06, 2009 | , | 0 comments »

Join me and Greg DePalma on Prime Sports Network's "Nats Weekly" LIVE today at 5:00 pm.  Click the link for the live internet radio feed, or call the hotline at 1-877-266-1909 to ask a question or join in the discussion.

We'll be wrapping up the season that was in Natstown, including a look at the DC-IBWA Awards, Highlights of the Year, possible draft scnearios and the manager position.

Should be a great show to wrap up the season.  Join us LIVE if you can.

DC-IBWA Announces 2009 Player Achievement Awards

Posted by Dave Nichols | Monday, October 05, 2009 | , | 0 comments »

The Washington, DC chapter of the Internet Baseball Writers Association is an organization comprised of internet writers, on-line media outlets, and bloggers.

In accordance with its stated goal of promoting the members of the association and increasing awareness and respect as active members of the media that cover the Washington Nationals Major League Baseball club, the DC-IBWA is pleased to announce its member-voted winners of Post-Season Player Achievement Awards.

Each individual award is named after a member of the district’s storied baseball heritage, to promote awareness of the significance of the history of Washington, DC baseball. Biographies of the honored historical players can be found attached to this press release.

Voters were asked to name first, second and third place for each category. First place votes received five points, second place votes received three points and third place votes received one point.

Twenty ballots from association members were submitted from the following online media outlets: Nationals News Network, Nationals Pride, We’ve Got Heart, Centerfield Gate, FJB, Federal Baseball, The Nationals Enquirer, DC Sports Box, Nationals Inquisition, Nats Fanboy Looser, Planetary Nats, Bang! Zoom!, Nats Nation, Let Teddy Win!, Nationals Review, DC Sports Plus, Passing Time Between Wil Nieves Bombs.

You can find more information about the DC-IBWA, or our membership, by visiting our website at http://dc-ibwaa.blogspot.com/ or contacting us at DCIBWA@gmail.com.

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THE AWARDS


Goose Goslin Most Valuable Player
Player most valuable to the success of the Washington Nationals:

1st: Ryan Zimmerman (92 points, 16 first place votes)

2nd: Adam Dunn (41 points, one first place vote)

3rd: Nyjer Morgan (25 points, three first place votes)

Others: John Lannan (19), Josh Willingham (3)

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Walter Johnson Starting Pitcher of the Year
Excellent performance as a starting pitcher

1st: John Lannan (96 points, 18 first place votes)

2nd: Jordan Zimmermann (42 points, two first place votes)

3rd: Craig Stammen (22 points)

Others: J.D. Martin (6), Garrett Mock (4), Livan Hernandez (3), Ross Detwiler (2)

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Frederick "Firpo" Marberry Relief Pitcher of the Year
Excellent performance as a relief pitcher

1st: Tyler Clippard (80 points, 13 first place votes)

2nd: Mike MacDougal (55 points, six first place votes)

3rd: Sean Burnett (29 points, one first place vote)

Others: Jason Bergmann (6), Joe Beimel (5), Ron Villone (3),Saul Rivera (1)

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Sam Rice Hitter of the Year
Excellence in all-around hitting, situational hitting and baserunning

1st: Ryan Zimmerman (81 points, 14 first place votes)

2nd: Adam Dunn (39 points, two first place votes)

3rd: Nyjer Morgan (26 points, three first place votes)

Others: Josh Willingham (14), Nick Johnson (9, one first place vote), Cristian Guzman (6)

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Frank Howard Slugger of the Year
Excellence in power hitting

1st: Adam Dunn (100 points, 20 first place votes)

2nd: Ryan Zimmerman (46 points)

3rd: Josh Willingham (27 points)

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Joe Judge Defensive Player of the Year
Excellence in fielding

1st: Ryan Zimmerman (88 points, 14 first place votes)

2nd: Nyjer Morgan (69 points, six first place votes)

3rd: Willie Harris (12 points)

Others: Alberto Gonzalez, Elijah Dukes, Nick Johnson (3), Wil Nieves (1)

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Mickey Vernon Comeback Player of the Year
Player who overcame biggest obstacle in the preceding season to contribute on the field

1st: Nick Johnson (50 points, 10 first place votes)

2nd: Mike MacDougal (20 points, one first place vote)

3rd: Ryan Zimmerman (18 points, three first place votes)

Others: Jason Bergmann (16), Josh Bard (9), Ron Villone (8), Josh Willingham (7), Mike Morse (7), Justin Maxwell (5), J.D. Martin (4), Nyjer Morgan, Livan Hernandez, Ross Detwiler, Elijah Dukes (3),
Adam Dunn, Ian Desmond, Jorge Padilla, Sean Burnett, Garrett Mock (1)

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Josh Gibson Humanitarian Player of the Year
Player who meritoriously gave of himself to the community

1st: John Lannan (72 points, 12 first place votes)

2nd: Ryan Zimmerman (44 points, four first place votes)

3rd: Wil Nieves (21 points, three first place votes)

Others: Josh Willingham (9), Nyjer Morgan, Willie Harris, Elijah Dukes (3), Tyler Clippard (1)

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Minor League Player of the Year
Minor league player most destined for big league success

1st: Derek Norris (54 points, nine first place votes)

2nd: Ian Desmond (53 points, nine first place votes)

3rd: Drew Storen (41 points, two first place votes)

Others: Bradley Meyers (16), Chris Marrero (7), Mike Morse (4), Daniel Espinosa (2), Ross Detwiler, Jorge Padilla (1).

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BIOGRAPHIES

Leon Allen “Goose” Goslin

Goslin was a left fielder for the Washington Senators from 1921-30, 1933 and 1938. He also played for the St. Louis Browns (1930-32) and the Detroit Tigers (1934-37).

From his page at National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum:
Burly and strong-armed, Leon Goose Goslin swung the bat with Ruthian effort and forged a reputation as a powerful clutch-hitter. He spearheaded his teams to five American League pennants -- three with the Senators and two with the Tigers. He drove in 100 or more runs on 11 occasions and hit .300 or better 11 times, compiling a .316 lifetime average and 2,735 hits. He led the Senators to a World Series title in 1924 with a .344 average and three home runs.
Goslin was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1968 by the veteran’s committee.

Walter Perry “Big Train” Johnson

Johnson was, without question, one of the best pitchers in the history of the game. He played exclusively for the Washington Senators from 1907-1927.

From his page at National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum:
There were no sophisticated measuring devices in the early 1900s, but Walter Johnson's fastball was considered to be in a class by itself. Using a sweeping sidearm delivery, The Big Train fanned 3,508 over a brilliant 21-year career with the Washington Senators, and his 110 shutouts are more than any pitcher. Despite hurling for losing teams most of his career, he won 417 games -- second only to Cy Young on the all-time list -- and enjoyed 10 successive seasons of 20 or more victories.
Johnson was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in the inaugural vote in 1936 by the writers.

Frederick “Firpo” Marberry

Marberry was a right-handed pitcher who played for the Washington Senators from 1923-32 and 1936, the Detroit Tigers (1933-35), and the New York Giants (1936)

From his page at Baseball Library:
Marberry's physique and dark, scowling look suggested boxer Luis Firpo, "The Wild Bull of the Pampas," who had once knocked Jack Dempsey out of the ring. The nickname suited the pitcher, though he was said to have hated the nickname and preferred to be known as “Fred”. He was one of the first pitchers to be used almost exclusively in relief, leading the American League five times in saves.
The sport's first prominent reliever, he has been retroactively credited as having been the first pitcher to record 20 saves in a season, the first to earn 100 career saves, the first to make 50 relief appearances in a season or 300 in a career, and the only pitcher to lead the major leagues in saves five times.

Edgar Charles “Sam” Rice

Rice was a right fielder for the Washington Senators (1915-33) and Cleveland Indians (1934).He was a teammate of the more-heralded Johnson and Goslin, but certainly no less important.

From his page at National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum:
Though he didn't play his first full campaign until age 27, Sam Rice collected 2,987 hits, finishing his career with a .322 batting average and six 200-hit seasons. Small but swift, Rice starred on the Washington Senators' only three pennant-winning teams and still holds franchise records for hits, runs, doubles and triples. His disputed catch of a fly ball in the 1925 World Series saved Game 3 for Washington and remains one of the most controversial plays in baseball history.
Rice had 200-plus hits in six different seasons, and collected 351 stolen bases. He led the A.L. in hits twice and put outs for outfielders twice.

Rice was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1963 by the Veteran’s Committee.

Frank Oliver “Hondo” Howard

The “Capital Punisher” played left field, right field and first base in his 15 years in the major leagues. He played with the Los Angeles Dodgers (1958-64), Washington Senators (1965-71), Texas Rangers (1972), and Detroit Tigers (1972-73).

One of the most physically intimidating hitters in the sport, he was named the National League's Rookie of the Year in 1960, and went on to lead the American League in home runs and total bases twice. His 382 career home runs were the eighth most by a right-handed hitter when he retired; his 237 home runs in a Washington uniform are a record for any of that city's several franchises, as are his 1969 totals of 48 HRs and 340 total bases.

After his retirement from playing, he managed parts of two seasons for the San Diego Padres and New York Mets, and coached for several teams thereafter.

Hondo once hit 10 home runs in 20 at bats over a six-game span, May 12-18, 1968. He also struck out a record six consecutive times in a July 9, 1965 doubleheader against the Boston Red Sox in Boston. After grounding into a double play to end the streak, he jokingly noted, "The only guy to make eight outs in seven at-bats and get a standing ovation for it."

Joseph Ignatius “Joe” Judge

Judge played first base for the Washington Senators (1915-32), Brooklyn Dodgers (1933 and Boston Red Sox (1933-34).

Judge was a perennial Washington favorite who, in 1924, with Bucky Harris at second base, Ossie Bluege at third base, and MVP Roger Peckinpaugh at shortstop, formed a defensive unit which is thought by many to be the best ever assembled.

He set American League records for career games (2,056), putouts (19,021), assists (1,284), total chances (20,444), double plays (1,476) and fielding percentage (.993) at first base, and led the AL in fielding average five times, then a record. He also batted over .300 nine times, and hit .385 in the 1924 World Series as the Senators won their only championship.

At the end of his career he ranked tenth in AL history in hits (2,328) and doubles (431), seventh in games played (2,129), eighth in triples (158) and at bats (7,786), and ninth in walks (958). In a 20-season career, Judge hit .298 with 1034 RBI in 2171 games; he also collected 2,352 hits and 213 stolen bases with a .378 on base percentage. He ranked second to Sam Rice in Washington history in games, at bats, hits, runs, RBI, doubles, triples and total bases.

James Barton “Mickey” Vernon

Vernon played for 21 seasons, for the Washington Senators (1939-43, 1946-48, 1950-55), Cleveland Indians (1949-50, 1958), Boston Red Sox (1956-57), Milwaukee Braves (1959) and Pittsburgh Pirates (1960).

Despite missing two seasons to military service during World War II, he retired with 2,495 hits, and holds the major league record for career double plays at first base (2,044), as well as American League records for career games (2,227), putouts (19,754), assists (1,444) and total chances (21,408) at first base.

In 14 full seasons (400 at bats or more), Vernon batted over .335 twice, over .300 five times, and over .290 nine times.

Vernon managed the expansion Senators from 1960-63. He also coached for several other teams and scouted for the New York Yankees when his field days were completed.

Joshua “Josh” Gibson

Gibson was a catcher for the Pittsburgh Crawfords (1930-37) and Homestead Grays (1937-46), who split their home games between Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.

He was credited with having been Negro National League batting champion in 1936, 1938, 1942 and 1945. Gibson hit almost 800 home runs in his 17-year career.

From his page at National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum:

A tragic and legendary figure, Josh Gibson was the greatest power hitter in black baseball, pounding out home runs with regularity despite playing most of his career in two of baseball's most cavernous ballparks: Forbes Field and Griffith Stadium. He utilized a fluid, compact swing to hit for both average and power, and tales of his mammoth home runs became legend. In recorded at-bats against big league pitching, Gibson batted .426. He died just three months before the integration of baseball in the Major Leagues.
Gibson was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972 by the Negro Leagues Committee.