Monday, February 1, 2010

Inbox Infusion

I'm condensing the last 3 inboxes into one, so here they are!

Will the Nationals make Nyjer Morgan upgrade his sliding technique?
-- Dave C., Arlington, Va.

Ladson passes along the following quote from Tony Plush in November: "If I have to make the change, I'm definitely prepared to make the change. But I'm not going to stop my aggressiveness on the basepaths. I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing out there. If I have to change my slide for the team's sake, I will. We have something brewing and it will be special. I just want to be on board with everybody."

If Nyjer's willing to make the move, I'm all for it. But if he starts getting caught more often than not in Spring Training/April, don't be surprised to see him change back.

Would you rather have the Nationals sign Orlando Hudson, or play Ian Desmond and spend money on pitching instead?
-- Alex C., Montreal

I'm all for signing Hudson. I think if a Hudson deal happened, Guzman would get about 20% of the PT at 2B and 40% at SS. I don't see the Nats naming either Guzman or Desmond the full-time starting SS if Hudson signs; both have too many question marks IMO.

Adam Dunn has proven to be a real asset. Yet, you seem to want him gone because his defense isn't that great. How in the world are you going to replace 30-something home runs and a guy who lets Ryan Zimmerman see better pitches to hit? I like the direction the team is going and I hope that includes a slugger like Adam for years to come.
-- Tim H., Virginia Beach, Va.

Adam Dunn is an asset offensively, but he is not a long-term option. It might sound silly, but I think the Nats could (and should) take a run at somebody like Miguel Cabrera. His value is at its all-time lowest with his alcoholism problems, but his worth as a player is still incredibly high. He'll only be 27 in April and can handle 1B relatively well. For more on the topic, check out Matt Klassen's FanGraphs article from November about Cabrera's trade value.

By adding Jason Marquis, do you think the Nats will have a much stronger five-man rotation in 2010?
-- Thomas B., Boston

Umm...yes? Marquis instantly brings stability to the rotation. 200 IP of 4.50 ERA ball is better than most of what the Nats have gotten from their rotation since, oh, 2005.

Is there a place for Leo Mazzone in the Nats' organization? He has an excellent reputation as a pitching coach.
-- John H., Wyalusing, Pa.

I could see the Nats bringing Mazzone in as a roving instructor of some sort, but I think they're happy with Steve McCatty as the big league pitching coach for now.

What about platooning Willie Harris and Alberto Gonzalez at second base?
-- Bill P., Arlington, Va.

Like Ladson, I don't see it happening. Desmond and Guzman are the upper tier of Nats MI's right now and Harris and Gonzalez are the lower tier. If the Nats don't sign Hudson and Desmond or Guzman flop big-time, I might reconsider my position. But if we're talking about where we stand today, I can't see this happening.


I think Willie Harris is underrated. I would put him at second base and Ian Desmond at shortstop. Do you agree?
-- Ben M., Silver Spring, Md.

Harris is a solid backup at 2B, somebody you can count on in a pinch. But let's be serious: he is not a starting 2B. He hasn't even played 200 innings there in the last 4 seasons! He is significantly more valuable to the team as a super-sub or starting LF than a starting 2B.

Where does left-hander Ross Detwiler fit in with the Nationals? I saw you didn't include him in your possible rotation scenarios. Could he get a real chance in 2010, or are the Nationals grooming him for future years? Being a St. Louis native, I would love to see that talent in a Cardinals uniform.
-- Josh K., St. Louis

With the signing of Marquis, Detwiler won't be rushed/forced into a starting role. If the Nats think it's better for his development to send him to the minors, they will. I don't expect him to throw more than 100 IP in the majors this year, but at the same time, I expect him to pitch there at least a little bit. Unless he has a very solid Spring Training, I think he'll start in Syracuse or Harrisburg.

The Nats decided to non-tender Mike MacDougal, who had 20 saves with a 3.60 ERA and sign Matt Capps who had 27 saves with a 5.80 ERA. Why is this so smart?
-- Glynn P., Falls Church, Va.

Because MacDougal sucks. You're about 10 years behind in your logic; rather than signing guys based on what they have done, sign them based on what they can and will do. Invest in the future, not in the past.

Why didn't the Nationals go after Jon Garland? He could have provided another veteran arm and guided the young pitchers who aren't quite ready.
-- Dylan P., Shiloh, Ohio

I don't know why, but I'm not a big Garland fan. Ladson noted that the Nats did make an initial push for him, though, and you can't sign somebody that doesn't want to sign with you.

Why not add Pedro Martinez to the rotation? He looked good with the Phillies last year. I think he has enough gas left in the tank. It would be a great fit.
-- Phil F., Quebec City, Canada

Here's what I said at the end of June: "

I campaigned hard for the Nats to sign him a while ago, but every day he sits in free agency he makes less and less sense. They've found some nice young pitchers that need time in the majors. Maybe it could happen if he wants to take an offer to build up his value over the offseason in late August or early September when the young guns need to be shut down for innings totals but not now."

Here's what I said at the end of October: "

I doubt (the Nats will make a run at Pedro this offseason). They didn't go hard after him this season and he's only going to be more expensive and a year older next year."

One thing to consider: sample size. Pedro's "good" 2009 (3.63 ERA, 4.28 FIP) occurred in only 9 starts and 44 and 2/3 innings while his "bad" 2008 (5.61 ERA, 5.18 FIP) took place in more than twice the starts and innings (20 starts and 109 innings, respectively). And he averaged less than 5 innings per start in 2009. At this point, I think I'll pass.

Who is battling for a bullpen spot this Spring Training? Might we see Mock or Balester in the bullpen if they don't make the team as starters?
-- Alex C., Montreal

Here's my abbreviated bullpen outlook:

Locks (75-100% chance of making the roster): Capps (100%)

Semi-Locks (50-75% chance): Batista (~50%), Bruney


, Burnett (~75%), Clippard


, Walker


Bubble (25-50% chance): Bergmann (~40%), Mock (~30%), Slaten (~25%), Speier (~40%)

Outside looking in (<20%>


Why isn't Clippard a lock? Compare his 2009 to Steven Shell's 2008. An extremely lucky year in both cases leads to unrealistic expectations.

The Nats wouldn't trade for Bruney only to have him not make the roster, right? Wrong. Even if you're looking solely at sunk costs, the Nats didn't really give up anything for him, with a pretty weak Rule 5 crop this year. If Bruney doesn't impress during Spring Training, they won't be afraid to show him the door. At the same time, though, I expect that he will do what he needs to do to break the Opening Day roster.

I think Batista will be a heavily-used member of the Nats' bullpen this year. Maybe not good, but heavily-used.

Feel free to ask/challenge any of my guesses in the comments.


What do you think about Justin Maxwell playing right field on a regular basis for the Nationals?
-- Michael W., Silver Spring, Md.

I think that's a terrible idea. There's this guy who plays there now (you might have heard of him) named Elijah Dukes who is both more talented and more projectable. And anyways, Maxwell still has to do better than a >30% K rate and a <.250 batting average in the minors before he even sniffs regular ML time (not considering injury of course).

Is there any possibility the Nats bring in Johnny Damon to solidify the third outfield position?
-- Andrew G., Fairfax, Va.

Ladson says there is no chance, but if the Nats trade Willingham, it wouldn't surprise me. While Damon was brutal in LF for the Yanks in 2009, he wasn't far off from Willingham. I would much rather have a solid young pitcher and Johnny Damon than just Josh Willingham.

Will Willingham get traded?
-- Jennifer W., Gaithersburg, Va.

Yes. Rizzo isn't satisfied with the current state of pitching, and it's a whole lot easier to acquire a bat for the future than an arm. Willingham's value is at its highest, and Rizzo would be foolish to hold onto him long enough to risk that changing.

How does Matt Chico fit into the Nationals' plans in 2010? Do you see him competing and winning a rotation spot?
-- Benjamin C., Gaithersburg, Md.

I don't think he'll even compete for a rotation spot. His 2007 season was nothing special (below average, really) and he's been hurt since then. Do you really expect him to be better? Even his 2007 status would be a downgrade compared to most of the other guys competing for the starting job.

Do you think the Nationals will acquire a veteran starter before Spring Training?
-- Joy M., Washington

Yes. I don't know that it will be one that will be guaranteed a spot, but I am willing to bet that they'll acquire somebody in the Livan Hernandez tier at the very least.

How much better will the Nationals be if they acquire second baseman Orlando Hudson?
-- Kenny I., Baltimore

A ton, but not for the reasons that you might think. On the surface, Hudson would boost the offensive and defensive numbers from the past at 2B. If you look further, signing him would also give the Nats a contingency plan if Desmond needs more minor league seasoning or Guzman bottoms out. The one thing the Nats generally seem to lack is quality depth, and a Hudson signing would allow them to keep a ML-starting caliber middle infielder on the bench in either him, Guzman or Desmond in every single game.

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