I don’t normally write news update style posts, but for the 4 seasons I’ve been writing this blog, two things have been constant. The first is the presence of Cristian Guzman on the roster, and the second is my insistence that the team get rid of him. Well, they finally did it, today they traded him to the Rangers, and I feel like celebrating! It’s nothing against Cristian, who I am sure is a great person, but he was always symbolic of a flawed organization to me, moreso than Jim Bowden or anyone else. His departure ends the Guzman era in DC, and hopefully ushers in a new era of winning, be it the Zim era, the Strasburg era or whatever.
What did they get for him? Don’t know! How much salary are they picking up? Don’t care! I’m just overly excited about a relatively unimportant move leading up to the 2010 trade deadline. Can you understand why, and humor me!
Yesterday Matt Capps, the Nationals closer and one of the biggest sources of stability in the bullpen was traded. In exchange, the Nationals received Wilson Ramos, a stud prospect from the Twins. They also acquired Joe Testa, a left handed pitcher. If you are worried about who might be given the ball in relief now, check out my post from Tuesday. The Nationals did lose their closer, someone they might not have re-signed in the offseason, but in exchange, they got one really impressive prospect.
A Little About Wilson Ramos
Ramos is very well regarded, and it isn’t surprising. He actually came up and played for a few games with the Twins this year, an impressive enough feat for a 22 year old. In only 27 ABs he hit .296/.321/.407, not bad for a guy his age, although way too limited of a time to glean anything real. In the minors last year, he really impressed, hitting .317/.339/.454 in 214 AA plate appearances. This year has been less impressive, in AAA he’s only hit .241/.280/.345, but he’s still young enough that you don’t panic. Unless, I suppose, you’re the Twins. As for what people have said about him, it makes you wonder just what the Twins were thinking.
For all of the bad things Nyjer Morgan has done on the basepaths, and with the bat this year, sometimes he really comes through. Rather than speculate on a pitcher’s shoulder injury, I decided to just post some pictures of the first inning run Morgan manufactured last night.
The latest trade rumor is not the shipping out of Dunn or Willingham. This time, they’re talking about moving the closer, Matt Capps. Capps is having a good season, with a 2.86 ERA and 24 saves, enough to rank him 4th in the NL. He’s been a solid bullpen member, something important considering where this team was a year ago. Some may worry that losing Capps puts the Nats right where they were before, losing close games late in heartbreaking fashion. While that’s possible, there are some important things to remember.
First of all, Capps has pitched well, but he hasn’t been spectacular. His WHIP of 1.364 is a little heart attack inducing. In his 44 IP, he’s struck out 36, which is good (not closer great, but good), and has only walked 9. But he’s given up 51 hits and opponents are hitting him surprisingly well – .283/.317/.428. His WXRL is only 0.171 ranks him only 8th on the team. It is somewhat smoke and mirrors, although the strikeouts are real. Couple a decent number of Ks, let’s say he finishes the season with 65, and a bunch of saves, he’ll get some real money in arbitration. So the Nats would be on the hook for some loot with him. And he may not be that much better than what they’ve got.
The Nationals are on the fence about what to do with Adam Dunn, who has 23 homers, 61 RBIs, and an OPS of .935. Sources say they could offer him a contract before the deadline, and if they can’t reach an agreement, they might trade him.
The view from here: The Nationals should put a competitive three-year offer on the table and be prepared to go to four years in their proposal, because the alternative for them is something they should avoid — a lineup without Dunn or someone like him. Look, Dunn is a subpar defensive player, but the Nationals’ lineup without Dunn is woefully thin, and the Nationals are not even close to the point where free agents want to go.
The Nationals are concerned about whether Dunn’s body would hold up through the duration of a three- or four-year deal. But an astute AL evaluator made this point: What Dunn does well — hit homers — is gaining more value as time goes on, and the two skills that last the longest in aging players like Dunn are the ability to generate on-base percentage and power. In other words, even if Dunn regresses defensively to the point that the Nationals feel compelled to trade him after a couple of years, he’ll probably still be hitting homers and drawing walks in 2013, and will remain attractive to AL teams at age 33 and 34. He’ll maintain some level of value.
The point is that if you trade Dunn, who are you going to get to replace him? Not now, but in the next few years. If you are a believer that the Nats can contend in the next couple of seasons, then the lineup has to be better than just Zimmerman and a couple of others that hit once in a while. And Dunn is the guy that fits in there well. The power is just not coming from anywhere else. Meanwhile, if you trade him for a prospect pitcher, it may not help the cause that much. And a prospect hitter is a possibility, but he won’t hit like Dunn, so he better play some spectacular middle infield or 1B or CF on top of hitting.
Since July 1st, a few bats have started to heat up in the lineup. Maybe it’s part of the reason they’ve gone 8-9 this month, as opposed to the 8-19 they put in for June. Not everything is spectacular by the guys outside of the middle 3, but much of it has been serviceable, something the last 2 months or so was missing.
Nyjer Morgan has finally started getting on base a bit. It’s not enough for a leadoff guy, but it’s better. Since July 1 he’s managed to hit .288/.342/.303. This may not seem like much, a but considering his OBP is .320 for the season, it’s a step in the right direction. He’s also managed to steal 7 bases and only get caught twice, a number that is much more palatable.
Ian Desmond has also started to hit, perhaps recovering from his late spring/early summer swoon. Since July 1 he’s hitting .286/.340/.469. These numbers aren’t enough to bring his overall stats up from the depths of where they fell, but they are about where you think he might be able to hit over a full season if he became more consistent. Maybe he’ll even do this for more than a few weeks.
Since Livan is already on the team, you know they can’t have just acquired him for the 4th time. They have instead signed a pitcher named Yuniesky Maya, sometimes seen as Yunesky, I’m sure it’ll get worked out at some point. It’s not official yet, as apparantly the Nats won’t make the announcement until all Visa type things are worked out, but everyone is sayingit’s a done deal. He’s listed at 28 years old, turning 29 in August, and given that he’s only pitched 6 seasons in the Cuban National Series, that may be accurate. Given that records from Cuba are usually looked at with some skepticism (they currently list Livan as 175 lbs and only 22 years old – kidding!), he may be 30, he may actually be 28.
What About His Pitching
Allegedly, it’s pretty good. According to ESPN’s La Esquina blog, he threw for scouts in the Dominican in December. He throws a fastball that tops out in the low 90s. MLB.com said it was clocked as high as 94, but that may be an occasional extreme. He has excellent command, and with a slower fastball but a ton of strikeouts, you’d expect some great command. He also throws a curve, a slider and a changeup, all considered to be plus pitches, at least by his agent.
In the Cuban League, he’s gone 48-29 with a 2.51 ERA over 6 seasons. He seems to have taken time starting and relieving in the Cuban league, where the roles are not as clearly defined as in the US. Last year, in the 2008-2009 season, he did very well, amassing a 13-4 record with a 2.22 ERA and 1 save. He struck out 119 in 146 IP.
When Luis Atlianocame up to the Majors this year, not that much was expected of him. He had pitched well in AAA, but he wasn’t a real prospect. Yet his first two starts looked good, and after 9 GS he was 5-2 with a 4.24 ERA. Not bad, but not meant to last. In those 51 innings he had only walked 22, which isn’t bad, expect that he had also struck out only 22. The ratio was a hint, as was his 6% of strikes from swinging. People didn’t miss his pitches.
Since that 9th start, things have really tailed off for him. He’s gone 1-5 (the team has gone 1-6), his ERA has been 6.49 in the last 7 games, and while his K/BB ratio has improved to 18/10, its because people are swinging and hitting him more. The opposition has gotten 44 hits in only 34 2/3 IP off of him in that time, and over the whole season, his ERA has gone up to 5.15, rising in all but 2 of his last 7 starts, those two against Baltimore and Kansas City.
It may be time to find someone else to fill Atilano’s role, at least for the moment. This isn’t to say he can’t be a decent 5th starter, or find a constructive role in the bullpen, but that right now it appears his starts are set up to be losses. So if they do make a switch, is there anybody out there to take his place? There sure is, and you’ve probably heard of a few of them:
Assuming the Nats have a chance to trade Adam Dunn, there are several paths they can take. They can try to trade him, they can sign him to an extension, or they can try to do both. Let’s assume if they DO trade him, he won’t give them a discount, and they’ll be stuck giving him 4 years/$60M like he’s asking, but he’ll choose here because he likes the players and understand the purpose of the trade. Finally, they could just let him walk and take a couple of draft picks for him Which would you rather see them do?
On Saturday and Sunday, the Nats put together an impressive bad offensive display, scoring exactly zero runs in 18 innings. They were blanked two days in a row, and wasted two very good outings by starting pitchers – Livan went 6.0 IP and gave up 2 ER, Stammen also went 6.0 and only gave up 1 ER. After losing 2-0 and 1-0, the Twitterers were out, commenting on everything from how this weekend was a waste to a confirmation that the guys in the middle of the lineup should be traded since they’re not scoring anyway.
These tweets, by the way, aren’t just coming from crazy fans that pretend to be journalists like me. Comments are coming in from people who get paid by networks, newspapers and MLB to cover the Nats. But breaking up the band based on this putrid weekend seems a bit rash. My problem with this is the idea that two bad offensive performances do not make a season. If you take a gander over to the right, you’ll see the Nats offensive rankings in the NL. It remains about where it’s been all year. They get on base, don’t lack completely in power, but don’t score. My feeling is that its because the middle 3 are the only ones doing anything. They can’t knock anyone in, because they’re the only ones really contributing to the OBP.
They need a few other hitters before they can score, and eliminating the heart of the lineup will make scoring that much more difficult. Adam Dunn is still hitting – his OPS this month is 1.234. Josh Willingham is hitting .300/.400/.450 this month. In that same timeframe, Ryan Zimmerman is at .340/.396/.596.