Nationals Sign OF Rick Ankiel, Seven Others

Posted by Dave Nichols | Monday, December 20, 2010 | , , , | 9 comments »

--Updated 4:07 pm.  Thanks to reader Todd Boss for the reminder, the Nats apparently need to clear three spots on the 40-man due to the Chien-Ming Wang signing.

The Washington Nationals signed 31-year old outfielder Rick Ankiel to a one-year, $1.5 million contract.  According to Nats Insider, the deal also includes $1.25 million in performance bonuses.

Ankiel, very famously, came up as a pitcher in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, lost the ability to control his pitches, and reinvented himself as an outfielder.  He spent three years in the minors before re-debuting in 2007, at the age of 27.  His best year was in 2008, hitting .264/.337/.506 with 25 homers and 71 RBIs in 463 plate appearances for Tony LaRussa's Cardinals.

He's been terrible the last two seasons at the plate, putting up OPS+ of 77 in 2009 and 93 in 2010, between Kansas City and Atlanta.

He is considered a good fielder with a great arm.  He has primarily played center field in his career, and he could challenge for playing time in left field as well.

Ankiel is not an answer to any of the Nationals most pressing questions, but could come in and show either in left or center field.  But it's an indictment of the talent at the big league level at those positions that GM Mike Rizzo deems Ankiel an alternative to what's already here.  Ankiel has never shown the ability to reach base consistently and his power has disappeared since that 25 homer season.

If this move is to try to catch lightning in a bottle, great.  If it's seen as a viable alternative, or Ankiel gets more playing time than the occasional pinch-hit off the bench and defensive replacement, it spells trouble. 

The Nats also announced the signing of seven players other players, six to minor league contracts and one to a big league contract.

The Major League contract goes to Ryan Mattheus, a 27-year old swing man acquired in the Joe Beimel trade last season.  He went 1-1 with a 0.79 ERA in 10 games/four starts last season with the Nationals' Gulf Coast League team and New York-Penn League affiliates in his first action since undergoing Tommy John ligament replacement surgery in July 2009.

Mattheus has not appeared in a Major League game, and it's baffling that the Nationals see enough in him to give him a Major League contract at this point in his career.

The six that signed minor league deals with invites to spring training are: RPs Joe Bisenius and Tim Wood, 1B Michael Aubrey, INF Brian Bixler and OFs Jeff Frazier and Jonathan Van Every.  All have big league experience and are 28-years old or older.

With Ankiel and Mattheus getting big league deals, two players will have to be removed from the 40-man roster to make room for the new acquisitions.

--Updated 5:43 pm.  Just recieved confirmation from the Nationals that Antonelli signed a triple-A contract without invite to major league spring training.

We're still trying to confirm this information, but according to his verified twitter account and theoretically "official" blog, former San Diego Padres second baseman Matt Antonelli has signed a free agent contract with the Washington Nationals.

From the blog post: 
Over the past week my agent has spoken with a bunch of different clubs about the possibility of me joining their team come February. It really is a interesting experience when you are a free agent and have to weight different options and ultimately decide where you are going to play. After looking through the potential destinations last night I decided this morning that my best opportunity was to sign with the Washington Nationals. I am really excited for Spring Training to get back to playing again and being a part of their team. It has been a while since I've had the chance to be out on a baseball field and I know it will feel great when I'm able to do it again, especially this time being fully healthy.
Again, we're trying to confirm this information with Nationals' officials.

Antonelli will be 26 in April.  He was a once promising second base prospect in the San Diego organization, taken with the 17th overall pick in the 2006 MLB Amateur Draft by the Padres, and spent 21 games in 2008 at the big league level, hitting .192/.292/.281 in just 65 plate appearances.  In five minor league seasons he hit .257/.369/.394 with 32 homers and 161 RBIs in 379 games.

His best minor league season was in 2007, split between A and AA ball, when he hit .307/.404/.491 with 21 homers and 78 RBIs.

Antonelli missed the entire 2010 season with a broken hamate bone in his left wrist and played in just 59 games in 2009 due to a leg injury.

Washington Nationals have acquired CF Corey Brown and RP Henry Rodriguez from the Oakland Athletic in exchange for LF Josh Willingham, General manager Mike Rizzo announced via press release moments ago

Overall last season, Brown, 24, hit .283/.370/.466 with 15 homers and 69 RBIs between Double and Triple A.  He stole 22 bases in 24 attempts.  He bats and throws left-handed.

Last season's Baseball Prospectus described Brown possessing "above average power and speed with the ability to play center field."  Brown had a knee injury in 2009 that hampered his development, but is said to be completely healthy.  He's prone to strikeouts, but "does enough things well that he should be able to carve out a career in spite of his flaws

Brown dominated the prospect-laden Arizona Fall League in 2009, hitting .333 and finishing among AFL leaders with 28 RBI (first), six home runs (tied for second), 65 total bases (second), 15 extra-base hits (tied for third) and 35 hits (fourth).

Rodriguez will be 24 in February.  He is
a hard-throwing right-handed reliever that went 1-0 with a 4.55 ERA and 1.373 WHIP in 27.2 IP last season with Oakland.  He struck out 10.7 per nine innings, while his K/BB rate was 2.54.  He averages 98.45 with his exploding fastball, fourth highest in the Majors last season, but has trouble throwing for strikes on occasion

Baseball America called Rodriguez "one of the hardest throwers in the game."  He is currently pitching for Leones in the Venezuelan Winter League, where he has five saves and a 1.77 ERA (27 K/20.1 IP) in 17 appearances.

This is a deal that if it had happened at the trade deadline last season, everyone would have been jumping for joy.  It's hard to see a dependable veteran, especially one as universally liked as Willingham, traded for two young, unproven players

But both players acquired have tremendous skill, if lacking in polish, and are the types of players Mike Rizzo wants to build around

Willingham, due a large raise in arbitration, was not one of those types of players.  While productive, the Hammer was average at best in the field and not a good runner.  This move allows Rizzo to put the faster, more athletic Roger Bernadina in left field, and gives the Nats a legitimate prospect to push Nyjer Morgan in center field, something the Nationals absolutely did not have until this trade

Rodriguez is out of options, so he will have to stay on the big league roster or be subject to waivers, so he's a certainty to make the opening day roster.  He's the prototypical big arm with control issues, but can be flat out dominating when on.  To come in as a 23-year old and strike out over 10 per nine innings is pretty impressive, and
his minor league numbers are even gaudier still.

As much as some like the how the Nats bullpen performed last season, relievers are very volatile, and several Nats bullpen guys had career years last season.  Rodriguez brings a big element to the Nats bullpen immediately, and should compete at the back end of the pen for save opportunities.

Nationals Trade Willingham to Athletics

Posted by Dave Nichols | Thursday, December 16, 2010 | , , , , | 0 comments »

(D.Nichols/Nats News Network)

Multiple sources have confirmed the Washington Nationals have traded OF Josh Willingham, due for a big raise in arbitration, to the Oakland Athletics for two players, one reportedly to have Major League experience.

We're still working on the details of the deal, as the transaction is pending physicals of the players involved.

Willingham will be 32 at the start of next season.  He hit .268/.389/.459 with 16 home runs and 56 RBIs in 114 games (450 plate appearances).  His season was cut short due to meniscus (knee) surgery.

The Hammer was in line for a big pay raise in arbitration over the $4.6 million he made last season, and the Nats were reluctant to negotiate a long-term deal for the oft-injured outfielder.  Plus, GM Mike Rizzo has made a point of increasing the athleticism on the team, and the most likely plan now is to see Roger Bernadina, a player both Rizzo and manager Jim Riggleman rave about, takeover that spot full-time.

More details as they become available.

(C.Nichols/Nats News Network)

"I've been in the post-season a lot the last few years, and that's what it's all about.  That's what you play for."

""You finally get to free agency, you have a chance to do something special for yourself and for your family. There's a lot of things that go into it."

--Jayson Werth, at his introductory press conference.

(D.Nichols/Nats News Network)
The obligatory handshakes and jersey presentation were there.  The Lerner family was fully represented in the front row and repeatedly acknowledged.  All the local TV, cable, print and Internet media were there as well.  And as normal as this press conference seemed to be, something unusual happened.

A bit of news actually leaked out.

Today, the Washington Nationals presented outfielder Jayson Werth to the media and fans of the team.  But among all the "Bull Durham" quotes Werth offered about being happy to be here, wanting stability for his family, and looking to build a championship-caliber team, something he said, probably as an after-thought, sparked renewed interest in evaluating his massive contract.

"You finally get to free agency, you have a chance to do something special for yourself and for your family. There's a lot of things that go into it," Werth said. "The years were important to me. The chance to come to a city, guaranteed to be here for a long time, the no-trade was a big deal for me. I have a chance to set my family up for years to come here."

GM Mike Rizzo not only gave a 32-year old player one of the richest contracts in the history of the game, and certainly THE longest and richest this organization has ever known, he also gave him a full no-trade clause to come here.

"I'd rather not have a no-trade clause, because it's another impediment to roster construction; I would term it that way," Rizzo told reporters after the grip and grin was over.   "A no-trade clause gives the players more control. That's why we're reluctant to do it. It's something that, for an elite free agent like this, I thought I would relent on it, because we had to do it to get the player."

(D.Nichols/Nats News Network)
Several times during the live telecast, and repeated afterward to the beat reporters, Werth described how the years of the contract were important to him and his family, that the security of a long-term deal was one of his motivating factors in choosing a team in his free agent year. 

In fact, I asked him in the locker room after things calmed down why he chose to come to building organization, rather than a contender, when he could have gone anywhere.

"I didn't have the opportunity to go anywhere," he explained.  He cited several reasons he chose D.C., including the Lerner family's "vision" of the organization and the chance to "help build an organization and mold young talented players". 

But he finished:  "The length of contract, obviously, to get a sense of normalcy, I guess you could say, being in a city for a long period of time.  Being able to set up family, my kids, and just get things the way I wanted them."

"I've played my whole life for this situation.  It's my life's work, my blood sweat and tears, since I was four-years old playing tee ball.  A lot of things going into this decision, more than most people would think."

Good for him to be able to provide for his family in the most financially secure way possible.

(D.Nichols/Nats News Network)
But on the field, things just got a whole lot more interesting.  He's no longer a complementary piece to a championship-caliber club.  He's the man.  Whether he likes it or not.  He'll be under contract long after Ryan Zimmerman becomes a free agent.  Heck, he'll still have a couple years left when Stephen Strasburg becomes a free agent.

And the contract is untradeable.

Rizzo and Werth are now joined at the hip.  This was Rizzo's signature deal, the one he'll be judged on the rest of his career.  Asked how he responds to the critics of the deal when they say the later years of this contract will be an albatross, both on the field and in the checkbook, Rizzo said, "I don't answer 'em.  I sleep like a baby knowing we got Jayson Werth."

What does Rizzo know about Werth that 120 years of baseball history doesn't?  History says a player in his mid-30's declines, and rarely does a position player get to his late 30's to prove people wrong.  But Werth got a seven-year deal worth $126 million.  To make matters worse, it's back-ended, so it'll be even more damaging than the contract average of $18 million per season during the last few years of the contract, which pays Werth until he's 39-years old.

Rizzo's answer: 
"This is the package that we were looking for going into the off-season. We wanted to get better skilled players that play both sides of the ball, offensively and defensively. We've got a guy here who can hit 30-plus home runs, drive in 100 runs, play Gold Glove defense, steal you 20 bases, lead in the clubhouse and be a middle-of-the-lineup hitter. The bigger the game, the better he's played in his career. He's playoff-battle tested. And he brings an edge to the ballclub.

I've seen it oh too many times with the Phillies. That's the type of guy we want. And I think that's what separated him as far as those elite free-agent candidates we were looking at: His skill-set fit with what Jim [Riggleman] and I are looking to do with the ballclub. But also his makeup, his persona and just the way he plays on a superstar-skill level and still plays like a guy that's not afraid to get his jersey dirty and would run through a wall for you."
Never mind that Werth has hit more than 30 home runs just once in his career and has never driven in 100 runs, even hitting behind Chase Utley and Ryan Howard the last three years in Philadelphia.  Nor has he won a Gold Glove.  But Rizzo sees it in him.
Well, he better do all that now, because Rizzo has staked his reputation on this one.  If it works out, and the Nats are competing for division titles in the near future with Werth manning right field (or center, or left, depending on a multitude of options), we can all pat Rizzo on the back and say "Job well done."
But if Jayson Werth's career takes a normal path of decline and degrade through his mid to late-thirties, and ends up being an albatross around Rizzo's neck, don't say nobody didn't warn you.
Look, Werth is a terrific player.  He's got some pop, speed and plays pretty good defense.  But he was the third -- or fourth -- best option on a championship-caliber club.  He's not going to come in here and be Superman.  He's just not that player, as much as Rizzo is trying to make him sound like he is.  And they just bought his declining years at an exorbitant price.
It's entirely possible that just when the Nats are getting good -- really good when Strasburg and Zimmermann and Harper and Desmond and Espinosa and Norris are all hitting their prime -- Jayson Werth will be broken down and washed out.  And the Nats will still be paying him better than $18 million per year.
Werth is an upgrade at one position on the field for the next couple of years.  What happens after that, and whether this club is contending or not is something no one -- not even Mike Rizzo -- knows.  But he spent a lot of the Lerner's money to try to find out.

Werth shares a smile with his representitive, Scott Boras (D.Nichols/Nats News Network)

FYI:  If you want a more complete re-cap of the Q&A session, check out Mark Zuckerman at Nats Insider, or catch the video at

Nationals Sign Pinch-Hitter Matt Stairs

Posted by Dave Nichols | Tuesday, December 14, 2010 | , , , | 0 comments »

Matt Stairs crossing home plate at Nats Park
as a member of the Padres.
The Washington Nationals announced this morning they signed 1B/OF/PH Matt Stairs to a non-guaranteed minor league contract, which includes an invitation to Major League Spring Training.

Stairs is an 18-year big league veteran who has competed in four post-seasons and won a World Series championship with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008. He owns the all-time Major League mark with 23 pinch-hit home runs. Stairs enters 2011 having played for a record-tying 12 different Major League teams and having homered for a record-tying 11 different clubs.

The 42-year-old tied for the Major League lead with four pinch-hit home runs last season, after leading all big league pinch hitters with five homers and 15 RBI (tied) in 2009. Overall in 2010, Stairs clubbed six home runs, six doubles and 16 RBI in 111 plate appearances with the San Diego Padres.

Stairs has reached the 20-homer plateau six times en route to hitting 265 home runs and posting 897 RBI during his career.

GM Mike Rizzo has said on several occasions this off-season he wanted to upgrade his bench with professionals that knew and understood their roles, and Stairs fills that requirement.  He made just 17 starts in the field last season of his 78 appearances, three at first base, 13 in left field and one in right field.

Cubs Do Nats a Favor with Pena; Attention Turns to LaRoche

Posted by Cheryl Nichols | Wednesday, December 08, 2010 | , , , , | 5 comments »

By all accounts, Carlos Pena is a quality human being and leader of men.  There are several people with the Washington Nationals that would have loved him to be a leader in this organization.  They liked his left-handed power bat and nimbleness around first base.  He would have been a great free agent signing for this team.

Four years ago.

Anybody in baseball could have had Pena for a song after the 2006 season, which he spent much of in the minor leagues, earning just 37 plate appearances for the Boston Red Sox.  Only dumpster-diving Tampa Bay took a chance on the one-time top prospect, and to Pena's credit, he finally put it all together, as the next season he had a career year (.282/.411/.627, 46 HRs, 121 RBIs).

Since then?  It's been a steady decline in average and on base percentage in each season, culminating in 2010 with .196/.325/.407. 

As I wrote several days ago, Carlos Pena's bat is falling apart.  I will be shocked if he rebounds anywhere near the normal numbers he's put up for the Tampa Bay Rays the last four seasons, and I feel the Chicago Cubs did the Nats a favor by signing him to a one-year, $10 million contract.

There were rumors around the Winter Meetings that Pena played hurt last season on a bum ankle, and that finally healthy he would return to establish precedents, in which case his agent was prescient in getting Pena to accept Chicago's one-year offer.  I don't buy it.  A bum ankle might be responsible for the power drop, but if anything his walk rate should have stayed steady.  Instead, it was the lowest in his four years in Tampa.

So now what?

The Nationals really don't want to fill the position with an in-house option, because frankly they don't really have any.  There's no one ready in the minors, and with GM Mike Rizzo's emphasis on building around pitching and defense, it runs counter to his beliefs to switch Josh Willingham or Michael Morse to full-time duty there.

Of course, that assumes Josh Willingham makes it to opening day wearing a Curly W.

So the Nats will presumably turn their attention to Adam LaRoche, one of the few remaining free agent first baseman still standing.

(Especially since Paul Konerko re-signed this morning with the Chicago White Sox.)

LaRoche is a decent hitter, a decent fielder, and a decent guy.  There's just not that much to get excited about.  But there's also not that much to really be afraid of.

He's a 30-year old left-handed lifetime .271/.339/.488 hitter, and in seven full-time seasons he's never hit above or below the .271 mark by more than .014 points.  He averages 26 homers and 93 RBIs per 162 games, and is competent -- but not elite -- at first base.  His range factor and fielding percentage are in the top half of NL first baseman over his career, and his UZR of 4.8 ranked him third among qualifiers in the majors last season.

He's decent.  That's the extent of what you can say about Adam LaRoche.  If the Nats can ink him to a two-year deal, he'd be a competent -- if somewhat unexciting -- alternative at first base.

Of course, the team just up the road 45 miles is still looking for a full-time first baseman as well.  Bidding war on Adam LaRoche?  Let's hope not.  He's a fall-back guy, not a prized commodity.  There's a reason he's played on five teams in seven years -- teams are always trying to upgrade the position.

Hopefully this season Chris Marerro finally puts it all together in the minors and gives Nats fans reason to hope the position can be filled with home-grown talent in the near future.  Otherwise, first base -- along with starting pitching -- has to be a point of emphasis for Rizzo when he prepares to use those extra first round picks he got when Adam Dunn walked.

Nationals Are "All In" with Werth

Posted by Dave Nichols | Monday, December 06, 2010 | , , , | 0 comments »

The last time Jayson Werth was at Nats Park he looked like this. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)

Mike Rizzo went all-in.

With the announcement of a seven-year, $126 million contact for right fielder Jayson Werth, Mike Rizzo, the Lerner family, and the entire Washington Nationals organization decided to go all-in, foregoing a steady growth pattern and instead choosing to try to buy a pennant.

That's the only way this deal makes sense.

Werth is 32 in May, and the deal he just signed, at an average of $18 million per season, will pay him until he's 39 year old, through the 2018 season.

Stephen Strasburg will be a free agent before Werth's contract is up.

Werth's contract will be an albatross to the franchise for at least the last several years of the deal, because contrary to Rizzo's stated opinion yesterday that Werth's "best years are ahead of him," players just don't get better after their 30th birthday.  The best you can hope for is steady production until the player reaches 35-36 then have a gradual decline.  Most likely, production drops precipitously after age 32-33.

Werth averages .272/.367/.481 with 25 homers, 85 RBIs and 16 SBs per 162 games, so he brings a lot of goodness to the table.  But he's not a first-level, automatic All-Star.  He's a really good right-handed bat, who didn't blossom until after his 28th birthday.

One of the benefits of his right-handedness and athleticism is that Werth can effectively platoon with Nyjer Morgan in center field, sliding over to center when the Nats face a left-handed pitcher, allowing Michael Morse to be utilized where his talent can me maximized.

It also makes moving Josh Willingham for a pitcher much easier and would open up a spot for Roger Bernadina in perhaps his best place in the lineup, in left field.

But the Nationals still have several holes to fill to be a contender for the next three years, and with this signing they've announced that's what they want to be.  Rizzo needs to go out and acquire a first baseman (preferably a left-handed hitter) and address the pitching staff. 

If the Nats seriously want to compete and challenge for the playoffs in the next couple of years, they can't rely on Livan Hernandez, Jason Marquis, Yunesky Maya and the stable of No. 5 starters they have.

And depending on what it takes to land a top of the rotation starter, the Nats might have to fill in the cracks.  The good news is that the Nationals have good, young, majro league ready (or almost) talent at two of the biggest positions of demand right now in the Major Leagues, catcher and shortstop.

Is it worth trading Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond or Derek Norris to land a Zack Greinke or Matt Garza if they can't land a dependable veteran to lead the staff via free agency?  That's for Rizzo to decide.

The Nats still appear to be "in" on Cliff Lee though, as Lee's agent said today at the winter meetings that they've already spoken with Rizzo.  But that would mean landing top of the top 10 free agent contracts ever in the same off-season.  Can the Lerner's wallets expand that wide that quickly.  I wouldn't expect it, but I also don't think we can discount it now.

Let's talk about Werth's contract though.  The last three or so years of this contract are going to make the list of "worst contracts ever".  The deal is being universally panned throughout baseball, both on the length and amount of the contract -- mostly by current and former GMs.  It's already impacted the Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford deals, and will be a barometer for free agent contracts for several seasons.

It's just crazy talk to give a 32-year old player a seven year deal at any amount, let alone $18 million per.  Rizzo said openly Sunday that the Nationals found themselves to be in a position to be forced to overpay in dollars and years to land a top free agent.  Well, that he did.

Another way to look at this:  the Nationals just signed a player that the best team in division decided was too old to sign to a long-term contract.  Of course, the Phillies have a Major League talent ready to take Werth's place in Domonic Brown.  The Nats don't have that luxury -- but they will soon.

It's interesting that the biggest acquisition in Nationals history happens to play the exact same position of their best minor league prospect, Bryce Harper, who might be ready to ascend to the big leagues at the start of 2012, or a little later in that year at worst.  Regardless of when it happens, either Werth or Harper are going to have to switch positions.

Could one Werth move to center field full-time, at age 34 or 35?  It's an interesting proposition.  You certainly wouldn't want to move either to first base, reducing their effectiveness as a complete player.  But I guess that's a debate to be had another day.

On last thing, as this related to Adam Dunn.  We now have to take Rizzo at his word that the Dunn decision was a "baseball" decision, not a purely financial decision.  Rizzo would have taken Dunn back on his terms, but it's now clear that the combination of his baseball skills and personality eliminated Dunn from being a "Rizzo guy".

So NatsTown is married to Jayson Werth, for better or worse.  It's hard to imagine the Nats ever being able to move that contract, so he'll be here for the duration.  Bringing him in makes the Nationals a better team immediately and for the next several seasons, but it will be a waste of time, money and effort if they don't seriously address the other major needs of the big league team.

The events of the last several days have left an indelible stamp on the Washington Nationals organization.  And it's quite possible events this week could add to that designation.  No, for the Jayson Werth deal to make sense, fiscally and baseball-wise, Mike Rizzo has to go out and continue to spend the Lerner's money. 

Because they're all in.  It's about winning in 2011, 2012 and 2013 now, future be damned.

Winter Meetings Edition of "Nats Weekly"

Posted by Dave Nichols | Monday, December 06, 2010 | , , | 0 comments »

Join me and host Greg DePalma LIVE at 4:00 pm today for a special Winter Meetings edition of "Nats Weekly",'s internet radio talk show about everything Washington Nationals.  The link takes you to the site's home page where the Live Radio Feed link is.

We'll obviously be discussing Adam Dunn's departure, Jayson Werth's arrival, and where the Nationals might go from here as baseball's Winter Meetings start today in Orlando, FL.  It's sure to be a lively discussion.

Call 1-877-244-0585 to ask a question or join in the discussion.

Why Adam Dunn is No Longer a National

Posted by Dave Nichols | Friday, December 03, 2010 | , , , | 31 comments »

Adam Dunn tosses his helmet after another strikeout. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)

Adam Dunn is no longer property of the Washington Nationals for two simple reasons:

1)  The organization decided the expense -- in terms of amount of money and length of contract -- was not worth the risk on a decidedly flawed player. 

2)  Dunn and his agent were convinced that on the open market he could sign a four-year deal that would give him financial and geographical security for the bulk of his remaining playing time in Major League Baseball.

The factors that went into the Nationals' conclusion are up for debate, but if you want to look purely for baseball reasons, they are certainly out there.

Dunn has been one of the most prolific home run hitters over the last ten years.  That fact cannot be ignored, and just about every article being written about him the last 24 hours has included this worthwhile statistic:  He's second only to Albert Pujols in home runs the last two seasons.

However, that's the extent of his dominance.

His high on base percentage is a product of his approach at the plate, which is entirely focused on one thing: finding a fastball to drive 415 feet, the average length of his home runs.  It's why he walks -- and strikes out -- so much.  His lone goal is to hit a home run every single time at bat.  If he doesn't get his exact pitch, he'll take his base or sit down.

Over his 10 year career, 28.4 percent of Dunn's hits have gone for home runs, while 26.9 percent of his plate appearances ended in strikeouts and 16.3 percent ended in a base on balls.  Remarkable statistics.

Want a comparison to realize how remarkable that is?  Barry Bonds, the all-time leader in home runs, homered on "only" 25.9 percent of his hits.

There's certainly value in that.  And the power numbers he's put up in his career are impressive.  But he's a one-trick donkey.  It's a trick that enamours him to fans, because we all know that homers sell.  But if he doesn't hit a home run, he adds very little value to the offense.

While I generally do not believe in the notion of "clutch", I do believe in statistics, and it's hard to ignore Dunn's statistics in crucial situations over the course of his career. 

With two outs and runners in scoring position, over the course of 771 plate appearances in his career in that situation, Dunn hit .214.  His OBP, however was an "impressive" .429.  He has hit less -- but walked even more -- than his career norms in the most crucial of circumstances over his career.  His home run rate in that situation (4.4 percent of plate appearances) is also lower than his career norm (5.8 percent).

There's a lot of hand wringing and hair pulling and teeth gnashing about Ryan Zimmerman's comments to select reporters yesterday in the wake of Dunn's leaving.  You know what?  Boo hoo.  Zimmerman's contract isn't up until after the 2013 season.  There are a lot of things that could happen between now and then. 

There's plenty of time to build a winning team before Zimmerman has to make the decision that Dunn did yesterday.  There's plenty of time for Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa and Bryce Harper and Wilson Ramos and Jesus Flores and Derek Norris and Chris Marrero and Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann and Drew Storen and Sammy Solis and A.J. Cole to form the nucleus of a winning baseball team.

And can we please dismiss the notion that Dunn "protected" Zimmerman in the lineup.  Protection is a fallacy, it doesn't exist.  There's no statistical evidence over the 120 years of professional baseball that proves that who hits behind a player in the order affects how that player will perform. 

Ryan Zimmerman has had his two best years the last two years because he's progressing as a player, reducing his yearly May slump, and just becoming a better-conditioned, better-prepared player.  His swinging strike percentage is getting better while the number of strikes he sees is getting lower.

He, simply, is an All-Star approaching his prime.

Will Zimmerman see a few more at bats this season where pitchers will pitch around him?  Perhaps.  But that happened this year as well, as the good starters knew that Dunn was an easier out than Zimmerman.

Frankly, there's a very good chance that Adam Dunn would be a broken down old man before this team was ready to compete, and Nats fans need to realize that.

Rizzo has been at the helm now effectively for two seasons, and he's rebuilding this team in the image he sees fit. There was a lot of work to do, more than what the casual fan can even fathom.

They're still digging out from the destruction Major League Baseball, Omar Minaya and Jim Bowden did to this organization. It sounds like an excuse, but reasons are different than excuses.

How to correct it? It starts by hiring competent, dedicated management. It starts by eliminating flawed players and finding better, more well rounded players. It starts by finding a stable of pitchers to build around and complementing those pitchers with enough offense as to not waste their efforts. It starts with deciding how you want to build your baseball team.

Rizzo knows what he thinks makes a competitive baseball team, and that's centered around ground ball pitchers with good strikeout rates and athletic defense; you can agree with it or not. He would have taken Dunn back -- on his terms -- but Dunn does not fit into Rizzo's mold of how to build a championship team. Only time will tell if Rizzo is right, and he's putting his job on the line to prove it.

Despite the obvious benefits of Dunn's prodigious power, Rizzo knows that Dunn is a lousy fielder, slow runner, and despite his friendship with Zimmerman, not necessarily a leader of men.

Not to mention that Dunn's on base percentage has declined the last two years and his walk rate last season was the lowest of his career.  In addition, his line drive rate has dropped the last three years, while his ground ball rate and ground out/fly out rate have both gone up.  These factors are not good for home run hitters.

It appears that his swing is slowly, but gradually deteriorating.  If I can find this out, so can Mike Rizzo.

Statistics don't measure how bad a fielder Dunn is, but they're a starting place. 

Granted, defense at first base is not the primary measuring stick, but does have to be taken into consideration.  Dunn's feet are so slow at the bag that he often could not get to balls hit five feet away from him.  He was terrible at going backwards on balls over his head.  He had no idea when to leave the bag to make a play.  And he was clueless on how to hold runners.

Some of that is attributed to having played the position for the first time last season.  But some of that is physical, and some of that was attitude. 

Phil Wood, of all people, had it best on this point yesterday, as he related a story about he and Dunn having a conversation during batting practice one day. 
He spoke at length about how hard he was working on improving his defensive skills, yet he was reluctant to come out early or stay late and take extra ground balls.  I spoke with him at length early this season about what batting practice meant to him. "It's just a way to loosen up," he said. But wouldn't it help to face someone who threw left-handed, or maybe made the ball move a little bit? "Probably," he said, and let it go at that.
Anecdotal, to be sure, but I think this not only speaks to the physical aspect of the game, but the leadership part as well.  Dunn loved to play "flip" with some of the guys before BP, but only half-heartedly would he participate in fielding drills before batting practice, often making jokes at his own expense as he would throw another ball into center field trying to make a throw to second base.

But that's his personality.  Dunn is, for lack of any better term, a goofball.  He doesn't seem to take anything seriously.  Some find that endearing.  Some find it annoying.

While we're on this topic, I am compelled to re-visit Dunn's trip to the Milwaukee Brewers radio booth DURING A GAME to visit his old buddy, Bob Uecker, following the Uek's return to the booth after heart surgery.  I took some flack on that for being over-reactive, but is that the type of thing a "leader" would do? 

Could you, even for a second, imagine Derek Jeter, or Pete Rose, or Cal Ripken -- or Ryan Zimmerman -- doing such a thing?

He left the bench, went through the clubhouse, up a public elevator in his uniform, sat in for a half inning on the opposing team's radio broadcast and returned to the bench -- while the game was being played.  As I wrote on July 25
There is plenty of time pre-game or post-game for Dunn to have caught up with Uecker. Before he reports, during batting practice, after the game. On HIS time. Dunn's personal time.

At game time, Dunn belongs on the bench, or the clubhouse, or the batting cage below the stands. Period. No exception. It's game time.
I ask again, are those the actions of a leader?  What if Scott Olsen or Elijah Dukes had done the same? 

"I wish you hadn't told me that," Manager Jim Riggleman said when he was told -- by reporters after the game -- what had happened.

I haven't even gotten into the whole financial aspect of the situation. 

It's entirely possible the Lerner family, faced with a complete season of Stephen Strasburg rehabbing his surgically repaired right elbow, simply decided they wouldn't pay $14 million per season to anybody this off-season, let alone a one-dimensional player. 

That seems to be the prevailing opinion on message boards and social media this morning.  And I'm not entirely discounting that opinion.

In fact, it's easy to see if that's what you're looking for.

But if you can look past that possibility, there are a lot of reasons why Adam Dunn is no longer a Washington National.  Most of which have to do with the actual game of baseball, and Mike Rizzo's idea of how to build a winner, on the field -- and off.

Time will tell if Rizzo made the right decision on Dunn, and it could very well be his signature decision with the Nationals.  If Dunn follows the path of Jim Thome toward the Hall of Fame and continues hitting 35-plus home runs for the next four years, and the Nats continue to be mired in mediocrity (or worse), we can all blame Rizzo for discarding one of the great power hitters of this generation. 

But if Dunn starts to break down, and by year two or three of his contract his stats look more like those of Richie Sexson, Mo Vaughn or this guy, Rizzo will have every right to say "I told you so."

Nationals Come to Terms with Flores, Gonzalez

Posted by Dave Nichols | Friday, December 03, 2010 | , , | 1 comments »

The Washington Nationals came to terms on contracts with catcher Jesus Flores and infielder Alberto Gonzalez before the midnight deadline to tender contracts to arbitration eligible players.  Terms of those contracts were not released.

The interesting similarity between Flores and Gonzalez is that they are both represented by Scott Boras.

The Nationals also non-tendered catcher Wil Nieves and pitchers Joel Peralta and Chien-Ming Wang.

Wang is a possibility to be re-signed and continue his rehabilitation process for less than he would have been due in the arbitration process.  The organization could also bring back Nieves as organizational depth and work with the stable of pitchers at AAA Syracuse, as Wilson Ramos is expected to battle Flores, who appears to be healthy, to back up Ivan Rodriguez.

Peralta is a little bit of a head-scratcher, as he fashioned a line of 2.02 ER and 0.796 WHIP with 49 Ks in 49 IP.  As a veteran though, he probably would have earned a bigger raise that the Nats would hope to slot a "long man" in the bullpen.

The Nationals tendered contracts to their five other arbitration-eligible players: outfielders Josh Willingham and Michael Morse, starting pitcher John Lannan, and relievers Sean Burnett and Doug Slaten.

The Nationals and the players have until January 18 to either come to terms or exchange arbitration figures to an independent panel that will rule on their cases in before spring training.

Dunn Deal: Where Do the Nats Go From Here?

Posted by Dave Nichols | Thursday, December 02, 2010 | , , , , , | 3 comments »

So that’s it.

Adam Dunn is officially no longer property of the Washington Nationals, having signed a four year, $56 million dollar contract with the Chicago White Sox.

As I've written many times in the last several months, it was never about Dunn's defense.  Kenny Williams, GM of the American League White Sox, gave Dunn his fourth year.  That's all this was ever about.  To pretend like defense was a factor -- on either side in the negotiation -- was nothing more than a smoke screen.

GM Mike Rizzo and the Lerner family simply decided they had a threshold for what they would offer Dunn in terms of money -- and years -- and essentially told him to go out and find someone to beat the offer. 

Williams happily did.

The Nationals will get the White Sox first round pick in 2011's amateur draft (No. 23 overall) and a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds (to be determined based on other free agent signings). 

That makes former scout Rizzo very happy. 

Whether Rizzo can turn those two picks into more productive players than what he might have been offered at last season's trade deadline won't be known for three-to-five years.  By that point, Dunn will either be on his way to Cooperstown or he'll be at the tail end of a good, but not great, career.

The big question now is:  Where do the Nats go from here?

Most of the fall, the media has speculated that if the Nats let Dunn walk they would quickly turn to free agent Carlos Pena, he of the .196 batting average in 2010. It’s a logical place to go.  As recently as 2009, Pena hit 39 homers and drove in over 100 and played credible (if not overrated) defense.  But last year saw a significant downturn in his statistics – and it wasn’t pretty.

His slash line was shocking: .196/.325/.407 in 582 plate appearances. He had 28 homers and 84 RBIs in that period as well, far below his established norms the previous three years with Tampa Bay.

What was the difference? The same thing that Dunn’s detractors fear will happen to him. He’s just getting older and less reliable.

For the last four seasons, Pena’s average and OBP has decreased from each season to the next. As his power slowly erodes, he is swinging at more balls and becoming less selective at the plate. His strikeouts are not increasing; rather he’s making an alarmingly higher number of ground outs, indicating poorer contact on the balls he does connect with.

Pena has gone from making 0.41 ground ball outs per fly ball in 2009 to 0.82 in 2010. That’s right, he's doubled the number of ground out to fly outs in one season.

It’s not a good trend.

The other indicator that his swing is eroding is his line drive percentage, which has decreased each of the last four years as well, from 22% in 2007 to 17% in 2010. Pena isn’t slumping, he’s falling off the cliff, the same way Mo Vaughn, Richie Sexson, and so many other power/batting eye guys have over the 120 year history of Major League Baseball.

It was knowing that that history that GM Mike Rizzo opted to allow Adam Dunn to leave for greener pastures.

Rizzo had to determine if he thought Dunn would follow the slow path of eroding skills to the cliff of no return, or follow Jim Thome down the path to immortality. In the end, Rizzo and the Lerners determined that they could not invest that much money in a player that provided one skill: home run power.

What this does to the eroding confidence around NatsTown in the ownership and management of this franchise is yet to be seen as far as dollars in the pocket and fans in the seats.  But early voices on social media sites and message boards are speaking load and clear: the faithful are not happy.

Dunn Signs Four Year Deal with White Sox

Posted by Dave Nichols | Thursday, December 02, 2010 | , , | 0 comments »

According to multiple sources, free agent first baseman (designated hitter) Adam Dunn will sign a four-year, $56 million contract with the Chicago White Sox.

Much more on this story coming later today as details become official.

History Lesson: A Quick Study in Futility

Posted by Dave Nichols | Thursday, December 02, 2010 | , , , | 9 comments »

Your syllabus:

"Nats interested in free agent Lackey", (Bill Ladson), Nov. 17, 2009
"Rizzo says Nats still pursuing pitcher", The Washington Times (Ben Goessling), Dec. 9, 2009
"Rizzo in attendance to watch Chapman", The Washington Post (Chico Harlan), Dec. 15, 2009
"Washington Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo Talks Hot Stove with Rob Dibble", Federal Baseball (Patrick Reddington), Dec. 23, 2009
"New Nats, Same as the Old Nats?", Nationals News Network (Dave Nichols), Dec. 29, 2009
"Rizzo reviewing Montgomery County (MD) Adult Men's Softball Free Agent List for veteran starter", The Nationals Enquirer, Feb. 23, 2010
"Nationals hope to sign veteran pitcher", MLB Daily Dish (Eli Greenspan), Aug. 26, 2009
"News from Nats Town: Nationals 'making a strong run' at Jon Garland", The Nats Blog (William Yoder), Dec. 19, 2009
"Nats were 'in it to the end' with Chapman [updated]", The Washington Post (Chico Harlan and Tom Boswell), Jan. 11, 2010
"Free agents, plaudits and poetry", The Washington Post (Chico Harlan), Jan. 20, 2010
"With Strasburg out for 2011, Nats will look to sign ace for rotation", (Ben Goessling), Sept. 9, 2010
"Rizzo says staff ace will be Nats' No. 1 priority", (AP), Sept. 29, 2010
"Washington Nationals: Random D.C. GM Mike Rizzo Quotes", Federal Baseball (Patrick Reddington), Nov. 14, 2010

Bill Ladson's article on Monday, "Ace on Nats agenda as Winter Meetings near", got me to thinking how all of this rhetoric sounded so familiar.  And no disrespect to any of the writers, they're only reporting what they believe to be true at the time.

Most of these articles simply quote Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo describing his desire to bring a veteran staff ace to the Nats -- or defending why it did not happen. 

You will notice the lion's share of these articles were from 2009's off-season though.  I included a couple recent articles to prove that history seems to be repeating itself.  I only included links to Rizzo talking about acquiring talent.  I don't think it's fair to compare him to his predecessor -- yet.

Last year's free agent crop was uninspiring at best (Livo), and downright awful at its worst (Bruney, Marquis).  This is Rizzo's second shot to prove he's as good a judge of talent at the big league level as he is at scouting amateurs.

It's ok to talk about doing something.  But to be successful, you actually have to do it.  The Nats have talked a great game since they got here, but as yet have failed to accomplish anything other than sign three slam-dunk first round draft picks (Zimmerman, Strasburg and Harper). 

Except, maybe, alienate a wealthy and affluent fan base.

***I understand any critique or discussion of the job the general manager is doing should come with the caveat that the ownership group has to approve any deal he wants to make.  I'll let today's Tom Boswell's column cover that.  If the ownership group truly thought the end of the season would be the time to re-sign Adam Dunn, and not mid-season or right after the trade deadline, then Nats fans have much, much worse to worry about than whether the GM signs an innings-eater for an already lost season.

Anyway, IF the Nats sign Brandon Webb, and IF he returns to anything resembling his Cy Young credentials, I'll be first in line to praise Rizzo for a job well done.  But color me skeptical that happens. 

As for trading for a No. 1-type starter?  The Nats just don't have the prospects for it.  A trade like that would gut the Nats of most of its soon-to-be-ready for MLB talent and would be be P.R. suicide, especially for one that places so much emphasis on building through the draft.

You can't say you're satisfied with taking the draft picks when Adam Dunn walks, then trade all your near-ready talent for a potential staff ace to lead a team that has too many holes to contend.

I'll offer one more link.  I think it's relevant here as sort of an ancient history lesson, as opposed to the more recent ones above.  In it, D.C.'s resident historian Tom Boswell describes how the Nationals were hamstrung by MLB that first off-season of 2005 when the team still had not been sold.  It's actually prophetic.

It's incredible to me that a) many of the issues Boswell describes still linger though the Nats have one of the wealthiest families in America at the helm now; and b) that we're STILL talking about Javier Vazquez, Kevin Millwood and Jarrod Washburn!

So there's news tonight from Denver that the Rockies have re-upped Jorge de la Rosa, left handed starting pitcher, to a three-year, $30-plus million contract.  The 30-year old hurler is just the latest free agent pitcher to remove himself from the market before getting into any meaningful negotiations with the Washington Nationals.

Not that I espoused signing de la Rosa.  Far from it.  But many in NatsTown are up in arms by the latest pitcher to spurn the Nationals.

GM Mike Rizzo famously went on record toward the end of last season saying a front of the rotation pitcher was his highest priority of the off-season.  He later recanted on a national radio show, saying that Cliff Lee was the only No. 1-type starter on the free agent market and he wouldn't delude himself that a pitcher who has pitched in the last two World Series -- for two different teams -- would pull on a new Curly W uniform.

But now, all the second tier starters seem to be removing themselves from the market before we even get to the Winter Meetings next week.  de la Rosa is only the most recent.

In addition, also gone are:  Javier Vazquez, Jake Westbrook, Hiroki Kuroda, Jon Garland.  None are All-Stars, but all are more reliable starting pitcher than anyone currently under contract with the Nationals.

Notice I did not say "better", only more reliable.

Sure, Brandon Webb is still out there.  And the former Cy Young winner hasn't thrown in a game in two years.  Chien-Mien Wang, anyone?

There's always the trade market, but with Kansas City wanting "two Zack Greinkes" to place Zack Greinke, we can well assume he won't end up leading the Nats staff this year -- primarily because the Nats don't have two Zack Greinkes to trade.

As has been pointed out now repeatedly, last year's bumper crop of free agents that the Nats were able to land were decidedly disappointing.  Jason Marquis, Brian Bruney and Matt Capps were supposed to stabilize the staff; only Capps pitched well.  Ivan Rodriguez was terrible at the plate and vastly overrated behind it.  Adam Kennedy was misled, unused, became discontented and ultimately discarded.

So far under the Mike Rizzo regime, the Nats have not been able to either land -- or more likely, legitimately pursue -- quality free agents, preferring to shop in the bargain and rehabilitation bin.  Though there was a slight uptick in the final record last season, that was more a function of the normalization of the bullpen than anything else.

And we all know that bullpen arms are highly volitle and extremely unpredictable, right?  Right?

I'm on the record saying the Nats shouldn't throw money around just because they have it, and that at some point they will have to sign players to contribute to a winning team, but that now isn't really that time.  But by missing out on what little quality is available this season, the Nats could lose whatever traction they made last season record-wise.

They still have to play the 2011 season.

Anyway, the genesis of this post was all the negativity and grumbling on message boards and Twitter with the news that de la Rosa was no longer available.  It's come to this: NatsTown mired in anger and despair over losing out on a 30-year old, career 4.22 ERA lefty.

What's the Nats new marketing slogan?  Expect it?  Is that right?  Ugh.

Random Thoughts: We're Still Here! Edition

Posted by Dave Nichols | Monday, November 29, 2010 | , , , | 2 comments »


*  The Washington Nationals hired Bob Schaefer as Special Assistant to the GM today.  Schaefer, 66, is a 30-year MLB veteran.  He joins the Nationals after serving as Joe Torre’s bench coach with the Dodgers the last three seasons (2008-10).

Schaefer has spent much of the last twenty seasons in either a special assistant to the GM role (2006 Braves under John Schuerholz, 1999-2001 Orioles) or as a big league bench coach (2008-10 Dodgers; 2007 Athletics; 1991, 2002-05 Royals). He twice skippered Kansas City in an interim capacity (1991, 2005).
*  Players are starting to trickle off the list of available free agents, with Javier Vazquez going to the Florida Marlins and Jon Garland signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers over the weekend.  Honestly, I think the Nats are better off with Vazquez going elsewhere.  His velocity was down considerably last season, and it screams of potential injury.  The Marlins gave him just one year, so their risk is limited, but I still say via vaya con dios.
The list of free agent starters after Cliff Lee wasn't particularly impressive to begin with, and with Vazquez and Garland gone it's even less so.  The "top" remaining free agents after Lee are 30-year old lefty Jorge de la Rosa and 35-year old righty Carl Pavano.  Both are Type-A free agents who were offered arbitration, so both will cost two draft picks to sign.
Of course, former Cy Young winner Brandon Webb is also high on the Nats' wish list.  But the 32-year old righty hasn't thrown comeptitively in two years fighting shoulder problems.
Webb won the National League Cy Young Award by going 16-8 with a 3.10 ERA in 2006 and finished second in 2007 and 2008, winning 40 games in that period.  When healthy, he has a devasting sinking fastball that not only generates ground balls, but strikeouts as well.
*  Adam Dunn has until Dec. 7 to accept the Nationals' arbitration offer, and it's very likely it takes that long for the slugger and his representitives to make their decision.  The Nats have been very coy about Dunn, and so far things seem to be working in their favor, with Victor Martinez signing to play DH in Detroit (for four years and $50 million), essentially eliminating one suitor.
In other developments, the Chicago White Sox offered arbitration to Type-A free agent 1B Paul Konerko, making him considerably less attractive on the market should the Sox not re-sign him.
I still think Dunn will end up with the White Sox regardless of what they do with Konerko, but the Nats are committed to waiting Dunn out to see if they can sign him to a two or three-year deal, instead of the four year deal his agent is shopping for.

Nationals Add Three to 40-Man Roster

Posted by Dave Nichols | Friday, November 19, 2010 | , , | 0 comments »

The Washington Nationals today added 1B Chris Marrero and RHPs Adam Carr and Cole Kimball to their 40-man roster, protecting all three players from the Rule 5 draft next month. All three players are among the Nats top prospects.

The 40-man roster is now full, so if the Nats were to pick up any Major League players in the future, or make a Rule 5 selection themselves, they would have to clear space.

Also, the Nationals lost pitcher Juan Jaime to the Arizona Diamondbacks, as the N.L. West team claimed the rehabbing Jaime after the Nats placed him on waivers to open a spot on the 40-man yesterday.

Among the players who are now unprotected and eliglible to be selected in the Rule 5 draft are pitchers Brad Peacock and Brad Meyers, the Nats minor league pitcher of the year in 2009.

Darkest Before the Dawn?

Posted by Dave Nichols | Thursday, November 18, 2010 | , , , , | 12 comments »

Can the Washington Nationals take a step back record-wise in 2011 and still progress as a team?  It's an interesting question to ponder.  Because as things stand right now, it looks more and more likely the team the Nats field next season will be filled with the same questions as last season.  Or worse.

It's clear now that first baseman Adam Dunn won't return to the Nationals.  This has been about the length of the contract all along, clear and simple.  Even the dollar figures aren't as important as the length of the contract. 

GM Mike Rizzo has remained streadfast in not going over three years for the hulking slugger.  Dunn's agent is insisting on a four year deal, and rumors floated yesterday that the Detroit Tigers were willing to even offer a club-option on a fifth year.  Dunn will get what he wants in this market.  But it won't be from the Nats and he'll have to surrender his glove to make it happen. 

This was never about the defense -- for either side.

Hypocrites, all. 

Word came out yesterday that Rizzo is satisfied with stringing left fielder Josh Willingham along on a series of one-year deals as well, that is if they don't trade him or refuse to offer him arbitration.

And Rizzo himself the other day said on the radio that he wasn't going to "delude myself to the fact that we have a great chance of landing Cliff Lee," and that it would be very difficult this off-season to entice any difference-making pitcher to join the Nationals.

So, where does that leave the 2011 Washington Nationals?

It's entirely possible the off-season goes by with the Nats failing to acquire any real significant major league talent.  Sure, they'll be able to claim they were in pursuit of Lee, de la Rosa, Crawford or Werth.  But in the end they will be outbid by contending teams, offering similar deals in terms of dollars but with the added enticement of potential playoff baseball.

They'll also be able to say that they kicked the tires on Zack Greinke, Matt Garza and the like via trade.  But again, the asking price will be just too steep, considering the Nats should be building their stable of prospects and close-to-the-majors talent, not trading it away.

All of the Nats real talent base is still younger than 26, led, of course, by Ryan Zimmerman.  Ian Desmond.  Danny Espinosa.  Wilson Ramos.  Bryce Harper.  Those position players represent the core of the Nats lineup, none of which are approaching their peak years.

The pitching staff is similarly situated.  Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Drew Storen all have yet to reach their 25th birthday.  It is here where the Nats still, after six years in the District, need to add to the stable.

Mike Rizzo knows this.  He knows that it will be 2-3 years before this core grows up and is ready to contend -- IF they all develop as he thinks they will.

But he also has to deal with an eroding and ever-frustrated fan base that is growing impatient for wins on the field NOW.

Last year's crop of free agents were brought in with the idea of stabilizing the Major League roster while letting younger players develop -- and avoiding 100 losses, which they were able to do barely.

Matt Capps.  Ivan Rodgriguez.  Jason Marquis.  Livan Hernandez.  Adam Kennedy.  Brian Bruney.

Stop-gaps all.  And mostly failed stop-gaps, at that.

I warn Nats fans to expect more of the same this off-season.  Expect a few fiscally conservative moves to attempt to bolster the pitching staff.  Expect a reclamation project (or two).  Maybe a couple role or bench players.  All in the pursuit of avoiding 100 losses.

Take a good look at last season's free agent class again.  Weren't we taking about these same problems at this time last year? 

I think that come spring training the names might be different, but the type of players -- and the problems -- will be about the same. 

Yes, eventually the Nationals are going to have to go out into the free agent market and sign players to contribute to a winning team. But they just aren't ready to do that.  The core of the talent on this team is still too young to justify signing older free agents whose contracts and Major League viability will be over by the time these guys are ready to contend.

And the thing is:  Mike Rizzo knows this.  It would really help if the Nationals organization were transparent about their plans, instead of leading their fans on with failed promises of the pursuit of free agent all-stars.

There are three ways to acquire talent in Major League Baseball:  drafting, trading and signing free agents.  But signing free agents is a way to supplement the talent you already have with older players, not a way to build a franchise.

This team is still building.

Hot Stove Headache

Posted by Dave Nichols | Tuesday, November 16, 2010 | , , , , , | 3 comments »

I hate this time of year on the baseball calendar.

The General Manager's meetings started in Orlando today, a precursor to baseball's Winter Meetings the first week in December.  This week lays the groundwork for future deals -- rarely is a big deal or signing completed during this introductory phase. 

I'm sure there are some GMs out there still just compiling their list of available free agents, let alone moving on to an evaluation or discussion phase.

Anyway, there's plenty of talk and speculation about where free agents are going to land, or who is available on the trade market.  It all bores me.

No one has any real idea where any of these players might end up.  Every big name has the Yankees and Red Sox attached, because their agents put that out in the press with the hope of driving up the price for their players.  Media, bloggers and fans might make guesses based on what they think are a team's needs, but only the GMs (and their owners) know what that organization's philosophy might be.

And GM's generally do not make thier plans known to the media.  They might talk a good game, but the last thing a savvy GM wants to do is let real knowledge slip into the media.

Which brings us, dear readers, to the Washington Nationals.

Dunn tosses helmet after another K. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)

The big decision facing GM Mike Rizzo is what to do about first baseman Adam Dunn. 

Dunn's power remains prodigious, but warning signs are starting to slip into his performance if you care to look for them.  He's obviously a fan favorite, but he also has severe limitations.  He's maintained his preference for remaining in D.C., but his representitives know this his last chance at a big payday, long-term deal.  Dunn also wants to stay at first base, but will see more offers from A.L. teams that want him to put his glove away.

The Nats seem willing to play the waiting game with Dunn, because if they really wanted him here, they could have had a deal done much earlier than this point.  Rizzo appears firm that he will not give Dunn a four-year deal, something his agents appear adament about.  If Dunn doesn't see the contract offer he wants, either in length, amount, or from the right team, he could end back up with the Nats in a semi-bargain status.

Rizzo recently went on Sirius/XM Radio and MLB Network Radio and described how he plans to operate the Washington Nationals for the foreseeable future. 
"Our philosophy is pitching, defense, speed and athleticism.  Specifically in the National League and especially in the National League East, so that's a philosophy that we've been working towards with our draft picks and our major league roster and we're going to continue to follow that philosophy throughout."
Where does Adam Dunn fit into that philosophy?

Anyway, after Dunn, there's rampant speculation about the Nats being active in both the free agent and trade markets. I'll believe it when I see it.

Rizzo has stated, on numerous occasions, that his top priority is to acquire a "No. 1-type starter" this off-season. Good luck with that.

The only free agent that fits that bill is Cliff Lee, who has pitched in the World Series the last two years -- for two different teams. He's not coming to D.C. Former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke is not going to waive his no-trade clause to move from Kansas City to the N.L. version of the Royals. Brandon Webb hasn't pitched in two years. Jorge de la Rosa and Matt Garza are not No. 1-type starters on any team other than the Nats.

So, the options there are limited.

As for the recent rumor of Dan Uggla?  Forget about it.  The Nats have spent months talking about getting better on defense.  If they then turn around and bring in Uggla at second base -- or worse, move him to first -- you know it was all a bold-faced lie.

You're perfectly welcome to fill up your winter months tracking MLB Trade Rumors, hanging on every word Ken Rosenthal, Jon Heyman and Buster Olney tweets. 

Me?  I think I'll wait until there's something real to discuss.