WHAT TO DO ABOUT DUNN?

I wrote yesterday about how the Nats are on the fence with free agent first baseman Adam Dunn and how he can start entertaining offers from any club after midnight Saturday night. 

Let me say this:  I think the Nats have no intention of signing Adam Dunn, unless he fails to garner a four-year offer elsewhere and he lands in their laps much as he did two years ago, hat in hand.  If they did, he'd already be under contract and NatsTown could be worried about something else right now.  But let me add:  If Dunn really wanted to stay in D.C. as he has proclaimed all along, he could be signed already as well.

This was inevitable.  Dunn's camp knows this is his last chance to lock up a big money, mulit-year contract.  There was no way they weren't going to free agency once they learned (very early on this year) that the Nats would not go to four years under any scenario. 

And once Stephen Strasburg got hurt, the Nats' need to invest heavily in players that could be part of a contending team in 2011 went right down the drain.  Without Strasburg, the Nationals simply need too many players to compete, especially at starting pitcher.

If Strasburg had finished last season healthy, the team could have probably convinced themselves that they just needed to plug in a bona fide Major League starter in right field (coughJaysonWerthcough) and find a platoon partner for Nyjer Morgan in center (hell-o Cody Ross) and they could field a .500 team in 2011 and really compete in 2012.

Now?  They'll be patching together a pitching staff all season long, just like every year since they arrived in 2005.  It would be financially foolish to throw money at a select one or two free agents knowing that your team isn't going to compete anyway.  They'd be better off looking for younger, cheaper talent that can grow with the the rest of the core players in the franchise.

Because with the state of the team right now, the Nats would have to re-sign Dunn, AND sign Cliff Lee and Jayson Werth just to have that shot at being a .500 team in 2011.  Then, next off-season they'll have to pay or replace Josh Willingham and Nyjer Morgan and probably bring in another pitcher to truly be a contending team.

So watch this off-season as the Nats bring in another innings-eating starting pitcher and Carlos Pena (or Aubrey Huff) to play first base.  Maybe they'll upgrade a couple spots on the bench.  But if they don't spend the money it would take to re-sign Dunn in the first place and pocket it instead, don't say I didn't warn you.

NEW THIRD BASE COACH HIRED

The Nats brought in Bo Porter, fromerly Arizona Diamondbacks bench coach, as their new third base coach, replacing Pat Listach at the position.  Listach left the Nats to take the bench coach job with the Chicago Cubs.

Porter was a candidate for at least one managerial position this off-season.  He has extensive experience as a third base coach, having manned the position with the Florida Marlins and the D-backs before graduating to the bench last season after their mangerial shake-up.

Porter also will coach the outfielders and base runners, and has worked with Josh Willingham when both were with the Marlins.

"Bo was at the top of the list of the people that I had in mind," Riggleman told The Washington Post's Nationals Insider. "Definitely, I think it's a great hire."


BUILDING A WINNER?

We saw with the recently concluded World Series how the San Francisco Giants caught lightning in a bottle and won on the strength of three really terrific arms (Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner), a young phenom  (Buster Posey) and a few veterans contributing at the right time.  Don't think all of baseball didn't see it and want to emulate their "formula", especially the Nationals.

Bottom line though is the Giants were extremely fortunate that the cast of postion players they surrounded their young and extremely talented pitching staff with came through when needed, because other than Posey, there probably isn't a single hitter on the Giants you'd take over their counterpart on the Nationals.  And that's pretty damning.

Congratulations to them, of course.  They have the hardware and no one can take their names off this year's trophy.  But I'll be shocked if the Giants are much better than .500 next season, even with that great pitching.

SPRING TRAINING SCHEDULE SET

The Washington Nationals released their 2011 spring training schedule yesterday, some four weeks earlier than last year. Awesome, gives more time to plan for our annual trek for Florida for springtime baseball. Looking at the list of opponents though, it's hard to not to lament the Dodgers and Orioles exodus from Florida's east coast, with L.A. moving to Arizona and the O's off to Fort Myers on the Gulf Coast.

The Nats have 30 spring training games scheduled this season, against just seven teams. Worse, three of the seven are division opponents (New York Mets (seven games), Atlanta Braves (four games) and Florida (soon to be Miami) Marlins (four games)). As if it isn't bad enough we nave to sit though 19 Marlins games a year?

16 comments

  1. Anonymous // November 3, 2010 at 1:31 PM  

    Dave, keep in mind when thinking about the Giants that they won 88 games in 2009. This year wasn't out of nowhere, completely. And the pitching isn't just good, it's great, and was all year long.

    Keep up the good work :)

  2. Mark // November 3, 2010 at 2:06 PM  

    I don't think that the Nats can afford to Not spend money this winter.

    This team has a lot of needs - too many to be met by the farm system in the near term.

    They can continue to piece together 60 win teams and hope that the cavalry arrives and end up with another 60 win season, or they can start adding players and show everyone that they are turning the corner. If they want to win 95 games in 2013, they need to win 85 in 2012 and 75 IN 2011. If they spend little this winter, than they'll end up in the same place in October of 2011 as they were in October of 2010 and 2009 and 2008.

  3. Dave Nichols // November 3, 2010 at 2:37 PM  

    Anon: thanks for the kind words. that '09 Giants team hitting was even worse than this year's squad. i guess it really is a tribute to great pitching.

    Mark: I agree with you that the Nats need to spend money to improve the club. i'll be shocked though if they do so this off-season

    i think they can do it more wisely than investing in older, "big name" free agents though. spending $60M on aging free agents this year might actually be detrimental when the core of this team is really ready to compete,and I still think that's in 2-3 years.

    not that the fan base wants to hear or accept that.

    thanks both for your comments!

  4. Wally // November 3, 2010 at 3:13 PM  

    Dave - nice article.

    I disagree, though, with the concept of not adding players until you are 'ready' to compete. Let's take it as a given that there is no way they are a playoff contender in 2011. I still think that they should add good players whenever their formula of expected performance @ price = a positive number. If they signed Cliff Lee this year, they still won't make the playoffs but will he stop being good in 2012? If they wait until next offseason, is he available? No, and then they run the real risk of bad FA decisions, giving a Barry Zito contract to an inferior player just because he is the best available when you want to add someone. And these decisions should never interfere with investing in the draft wisely and vigorously, since the difference between a 'great' draft v. a mediocre one (in dollar terms) is what, $3m? That is not the decision of whether to reupp Dunn; just avoid Wang, if you really feel like you are maxed out on total dollars spent on baseball operations.

    So while I have no doubt that you are right about what they actually will do, I just don't think that the Nats ought to think about it that way. They ought to sign whomever they think will be productive for the next 3-4 years if they like the price they can get it done at. Don't wait and try to fill them all at one time.

  5. Dave Nichols // November 3, 2010 at 3:41 PM  

    Wally, i buy that. But I still think they would be better served looking elsewhere for talent (trading for younger MLB players, minor leaguers blocked by a big leaguer) than throw money at 30-somethings on the free agent market.

    the best players on this team are all younger than 26: Zimmerman, Desmond, Espinosa, Ramos (Flores, for that matter), Zimmermann, Strasburg, Storen, Harper, Norris, Solis etc.

    signing anyone over 30, IMO, is a risky move as that player might not ever take the field for the Nats by the time that core is reayd to compete.

  6. Anonymous // November 3, 2010 at 4:07 PM  

    "But I still think they would be better served looking elsewhere for talent (trading for younger MLB players, minor leaguers blocked by a big leaguer) than throw money at 30-somethings on the free agent market."

    Is this not exactly what they have already been doing for the past 2-3 years? Look at the young players acquired by trade: Ramos, Clippard, Burnett, Olsen, Willingham, Morgan. (The last two are young in terms of major league service if not in age.) The fact that some of these trades did not pan out is immaterial - that they were made at all indicates the approach that has been taken. So why do you think they will quit taking this approach now? And you advocate that they not spend big money on FAs, yet out of the other side of your mouth you damn them in advance for not spending enough money to satisfy the fan base by producing a winner. You're flip-flopping even more than Boswell!

  7. Anonymous // November 3, 2010 at 4:35 PM  

    "Bottom line though is the Giants were extremely fortunate that the cast of postion players they surrounded their young and extremely talented pitching staff with came through when needed, because other than Posey, there probably isn't a single hitter on the Giants you'd take over their counterpart on the Nationals. And that's pretty damning."
    -->I'd probably take Sanchez over Guzman or Espinosa(at this point).

    And to be honest with you, I know the homerun totals don't matchup, but I don't think Huff is that much of a downgrade from Dunn, he hits better in the clutch, plays better defense. More importantly, the Nats it looks like won't have Dunn so he's better than whatever first basemen, they will probably bring in.

    Also, I'd probably take the Giants outfield over the Nats outfield. I'd definitely take Torres over Morgan, I don't think there's any question on that one. Willingham is slightly better than Burrell. Cody Ross definitely was overachieving (Or Schierholtz for that matter), but is Mike Morse really better? The Nats have one of the worst, if not the worst outfield in the majors right now.

    Come to think about, only Zimm and Desmond are clear upgrades over any of the Giants. So I'd probably take the Giants lineup over the Nats.

    Of course, their pitching is what blows them out of the water. Does anyone without the last name Strasburg get into the Giants rotation? Wilson over Storen(at this point) also.

    "But I'll be shocked if the Giants are much better than .500 next season, even with that great pitching."
    -->As noted by a previous commentor, they did win 88 games last year. Also, you noted they had a better hitting club this year. No Posey, Burrell, Ross, or Huff last year. In the weak NL West, I could see them winning their division again.

    Also to little corrections, the Orioles moved from Ft. Lauderdale to Sarasota last year and the Dodgers moved to Arizona last year, one of their last ties to Brooklyn along with Vince Scully.

  8. Dave Nichols // November 3, 2010 at 5:01 PM  

    anon at 4:35: thanks for the correction on the O's move to Sarasota, not Ft. Myers. I did not say that either the O's or Dodgers moved this season, but I guess since you are now going to pick every single nit within anything I write, I guess i'll have to be more careful about that.

    you are, of course, entitled to your opinion to take whatever Giants over whatever Nats you like. i'll stick by my statement.

    Torres is a 32-year old career backup that didn't have a single MLB at bat from 2006-08 and only this year logged more than 168 at bats.

    Huff is almost as bad a fielder as Dunn without Dunn's power.

    Freddie Sanchez IS Cristian Guzman: empty batting average.

    I was also very clear when I said there isn't a single HITTER I would take. I said nothing about the pitching. Of course SF has the vastly superior pitching staff: it won them the World Series.

    as for talking out of both sides of my mouth, you're going to have to point me to a quote with me saying anything about satisfying the fan base. I said "if they don't spend the money it would take to re-sign Dunn in the first place and pocket it instead, don't say I didn't warn you." That's readying the fan base for disappointment.

    Honestly, the only way I criticize the Nats for not signing Dunn is if they waste money chasing after mediocre and risky free agents like they did last season.

    in fact, as I have now written several times, I am of the opinion the Nats should take the money they would have spent on Dunn and re-invest it in younger, more athletic players, as I reiterated again today. I don't think anything I wrote today contradicts that, but I'm sure you'll find something.

  9. Anonymous // November 3, 2010 at 5:26 PM  

    First off, you are the one who said, "because other than Posey, there probably isn't a single hitter on the Giants you'd take over their counterpart on the Nationals." I completely disagree with this. I don't think the Nats win the World Series with their lineup and the Giants pitching as you imply.

    May I ask what other team Nyjer Morgan would start since you refer to Torres as a career backup? I think most would take Torres. Again, the Nats have one of the worst if not the worst outfield in all the majors. You could argue Cody Ross and Pat Burrell are better than Willingham and Bernie/Morse. It's not clear-cut, but it's definitely debatable. Truth be told only Zimm is a significant upgrade over Uribe and I'd think Desmond is pretty close to clear cut over Reneteria despite his struggles this year.

    Let's, do a little comparison between Cristian Guzman and Freddie Sanchez since your a big numbers guy. Sanchez hit .292/7 homers/47 RBIs, while Guzzie hit .266, 2 HR, 26 RBIs. Even though Sanchez had a little bit less than 70 ABs, I think he's better. Also, Sanchez has been an All-Star in 2006 (when he was the batting champion), 2007, 2009. Yes, I know he was the Pirates lone representative(I'm guessing) but so was Guzzie with the Nats in 2008). Who starts between Sanchez and Espinosa in 2010 on the same team, my guess is the former.

    I'm admitting that Huff is better. Dunn defense is arguably the worst in the league though. He also has more verstality at the plate and is more clutch. I should also point out since they are both lefties, Huff plays at more of a pitching friendly ballpark.

    Also, I know you didn't talk about the pitching, I did. I thought I made that clear. I was just trying to point out what how laughable the Nats rotation is compared to the Giants.

  10. Dave Nichols // November 3, 2010 at 6:08 PM  

    anon: again, you are certainly entitled to your opinion. i just don't share your opinion.

    Morgan is a perfectly acceptable option in CF and leadoff, if he is used correctly as part of a platoon. his lifetime .308/.361/.387 against RHPs is more than sufficient to bat leadoff. the problem is the Nats insist he is an "everyday" player, when his lifetime .200/.292/.269 against LHPs suggest the contrary.

  11. Anonymous // November 4, 2010 at 7:37 AM  

    Two corrections on my part, Guzzie had 70 less ABs not Sanchez(Kinsler was better after all) AND I meant to say Dunn was better than Huff.

  12. Wally // November 4, 2010 at 8:05 AM  

    Dave - if they could acquire younger, more controllable guys with mostly comparable skills I would welcome that if the cost in prospects wasn't ernormous. I was only looking at the FA because I think they have room to spend money without busting their overall budget.

    But if they can't think about competing within the next 2-3 years, then they seriously need to think about trading Ryan Zim right now. He is one of the few players in baseball that might bring a texiera like package, given his age and contract status. But if the team keeps meandering for the next two years, he'll be 28 and entering free agency. Even if they can keep him, he will be looking at an expensive long term contract covering years where he will be declining in performance. Heresy, I know, but I think that should either start surrounding him with current stars or completely reload. I vote for the former.

  13. Anonymous // November 4, 2010 at 1:42 PM  

    Wally,
    If Zimm wasn't the franchise player. I think they would consider it. He's to big of a fan fave I think to trade him. It's like we're having a Stras-free year, (most likely) losing Dunn, and then Zimm is out. I think the Lerners would need Secret Service protection at that point. I think if they don't improve it might have to come to that but for this season, I think he's safe. I don't think he'll quite bring Teixera value though. I also don't think you trade players like him just because you know you will be getting a good return. If that's the case, all losing teams should trade their top talent. Cubs should've traded Ernie Banks. I also can't believe we're talking about Zimm's potential declining performance, he's 26.

  14. Anonymous // November 4, 2010 at 6:54 PM  

    Worried about being locked into an albatross of a contract through Dunn's "declining years?" Leaving aside that he's 30, not 34; the decline for the next couple of seasons at least is unlikely to be dramatic.

    OK then: front load the contract - pay him more the first year or two and drop the salary the next two seasons. Four years, yes - but for $16 million in 2011, falling to 14 in 2012, 12 in 2013 and 10 in 2014. Average contract value: $13 million per season, a 30% upgrade over his current $10 million per season.

    It's not like you're on the hook for less money - baseball contracts are guaranteed. But it allows you to pay more when you have more free payroll $$ laying around (2011) and save money for when Zim becomes a free agent and some of the other players become arbitration eligible. It also has the benefit of making Dunn more tradeable the last two years of his deal if the Nats don't contend.

    d_c_guy

  15. Wally // November 4, 2010 at 7:15 PM  

    ANON 1:42 - totally agree on the PR nightmare for them for trading Zimm. And to be clear, I do not want them to trade him; I want them to start adding quality pieces wherever they find them, including in the free agent market. I was making a point more about how to gain real pieces more quickly than just drafting them.

    And my point about Zim's decling years wasn't that he is in them; certainly not. It was to say that in 3 years, when he is a FA (and assuming that he holds or even increases his play from current levels), it will probably take a Crawford like deal to resign him. So you are looking at possibly giving a 29 yr old a 6 year contract, which would include a premium for his declining years later in the contract life.

  16. Anonymous // November 5, 2010 at 10:38 AM  

    Wally,
    I agree the time will come as with all players where at the end of their contract, they are declining. In baseball, which Zimm has pointed out though, you are paid in part retroactively because of the relatively low amount you make at the beginning of your career. Now he has already gotten the first part of that with his extension last year.

    Look at Jeter, the Yanks didn't get his worth this year and will probably overpay for him again. Aroid is stuck until like 2017 at $20-30 million a year.

    Unless the Nats start winning and doing it relatively soon, this won't be a problem at all because Zimm will probably want to play for a contender. Look at someone like Mauer in Minnesota, if they didn't add the necessary parts like Morneau and Thome, who knows if he would've agreed to his long-term deal. Zimm has only known losing and losing bad. I don't think this year is a make-or-break year in the Zimm sweepstakes but 2012(and more so 2013 when his contract ends) will be.