It’s Milledge Time

November 30, 2007

The Nats finally made a trade! It’s a little late, because I was hoping for trades before the deadline. Now it’s like, what? December? Anyway, I’m not one to complain. Ok, I am, that’s the basis of much of this blog. But in this instance, I think the deal is absolutely great for the Nationals. The trade is Lastings Milledge (I get to write his name in bold, since he’s now a Nat, splendid!) for Brian Schneider and Ryan Church.

First, about Lastings

First things first, anyone calling him L-Mill should be beaten. Blastings or Lasty, please. Anyway, Lasty is only 22 years old right now, and last season in limited play he hit .272/.341/.446. More on that later. He is a plus defenMilledgeder, and he is actually a CF. No he didn’t play that in NY, but that’s because they had Beltran patrolling the mean CF streets of Queens. Thankfully, it should clear up the OF debate, having Wily Mo Pena, Blastings and Austin Kearns out there. That is assuming Kearns can hit next season. He has had spots of trouble, but nothing major, and really as long as he isn’t hurting people and or getting himself suspended, I don’t care. Oh my, he has a rap CD and dreadlocks… lock the door, dear! Not exactly a crimin-imin-al. Let’s be honest, if he’s a bastard but hits .350, Nats fans will figure out a way to like him. However, signs point to young and cocky rather than bastardy. He is still a potential stud, at only 22. Here is what Baseball America said about Milledge in November 2005, the last time he was a “prospect”:

The first thing scouts mention about Milledge is his lightning-quick bat speed. Milledge boasts one of the fastest bats in the minor leagues, allowing him to wait on pitches longer than most. He uses the entire field and has the strength to hit for average as well as power once he matures as a hitter…It’s still unclear as to whether Milledge profiles better at the top or in the middle of the order. He has above-average speed that he uses to his advantage on the bases and in center field, and he also has a plus arm. With his package of five tools, Milledge has few peers in the minors, and he has produced throughout his minor league career.”

Yeah, I’ll take that. Since then he has done pretty well in the majors, too. According to well informed reader andrewstebbins, the Nats control him until 2012. That’s  past the Kasten plan date of winning the World Series, so good news there.

Next, What We’re Losing

Examining the Church aspect of the trade first, last season, Church hit .272/.349/.464. Look familiar? It’s the exact same AVG as Milledge and it’s .008 higher OBP than him. The big different is in SLG, which is .018 different. Not much of a concern since you’d expect Milledge to exceed that 6 years from now when he’s Church’s age (and park effects are negligable, Shea aint no fun place to hit either). Either way, let’s say they both stay the same with the bat and Milledge doesn’t improve at all (ridiculous since he’s 22, but for the sake of argument…). They both are basically hitting as above average CFers and below average corner outfielders. The Nationals seem averse to playing Church out there, but hopefully they will have the brains to put Milledge in center. So the trade allows them to play the OF as they should.

As for Schneider, well I haven’t held back my distaste for his hitting abilities as of late. I actually was a big B.S. fan until recently, he is a seriously good defensive catcher, and from the Montreal days until 2005, he hit better than most catchers in the league. There isn’t much a team loves more than a catcher with a great arm and a good bat. Unfortunately those days are gone. I was hoping 2006 was a fluke, but his OPS of .649 only improved to .662 last year. That’s right, the beloved Washington catcher has averaged splits of about .230/.323/.332 in ’06-’07. It’s unfortunate, but it’s real, and Nats fans should accept that he is no longer the guy he used to be. Trading him to the Mets allows them to explore their future, rather than holding onto their past.

Overall Reaction

I’m not going to go as far as saying the Mets got fleeced on this deal. They money definitely went from DC to NY. Milledge is getting paid less than $400 K a year (again, thanks andrewstebbins), while Schneider somehow was owed $10 M over the next 2 years. Milledge was having a tough time with the New York media, and who knows if he could have lived up to his potential under the pressure there. He should be a great player though, and neither Schneider nor Church project to ever be great again. The Mets in return got a great defensive catcher as a backup, and in the NL, they outhit almost everyone, so it may be the perfect place for him. As for Church, well, my assessment remains the same. He COULD be a .280 hitter with 25 HRs. He COULD be. But he’s gonna be 29, and he’s yet to do that, simply playing the percentages means it’s unlikely. Ultimately, though, I don’t think this is the end of the Mets dealings. Whether Church ends up going to Baltimore, Oakland, Minnesota or somewhere else, he may be acquired to help them deal for an arm or two. It would make alot of sense, at least.

Oh You Crazy Metropolitans

What’s really fun about this? Jesus Flores will likely start at catcher now for that Nats. He was a rule 5 pickup from the Mets. So if both pan out to be good players (Milledge is a lock if he doesn’t get hurt or in trouble, Flores looks promising), we’ll have two 23 year olds playing that the Mets gave us for very little. It’s so much more enjoyable that way.


Prospect Report

November 20, 2007

Baseball America, which is THE source for all things related to high school, college and minor league baseball, has started publishing their top 10 prospect reports for all the teams. They tackled the Nationals not too long ago, and here are the basics of their findings.

Baseball America believes that the Nationals have gone from having the worst farm systems last season to something much better. The rankings aren’t out, but they basically think the Nats have a lot of talent, albeit young talent lower in the system. Additionally, they comment on some operational moves the team has made to make the farm system stronger as positives moves for the organization.

For the top 10 prospects, as well as some other gems, like best infield arm in the system, just follow the link, because this page is free.

I agree with the assessment for the most part, it’s hard to argue with rankings when you’re not seeing each player every day. Stats in the minors are nice, but they form only part of the story. And some leagues are better for pitchers, some are better for hitters, which can also inflate or deflate stats. So I’ll go with their ranking, as well as their “best tools.” But, I am gonna take issue with some of their 2011 lineup predictions.

Nats of 2011 vs 2012

A few months ago I decided to make a list of the potential Nats lineup in 2012. Baseball America totally ripped me off by doing this for the 2011 season. I’d go after them, too, if I didn’t originally get the idea from them. Here is a quick comparison of the teams by position as judged by BA and by TNR.

Future Lineups

So we do have some similarities here. We both have the obvious choice of Zimmerman, plus we have the same C, 2B, LF, CF, and 2 of the 5 starters. I agree with them in retrospect that Marrero will probably be at 1B, he has started to transition there and may now be considered a full time 1B. I have no problem with Desmond at SS either, although it would be nice if they went out and got someone completely different. There really aren’t any middle infield stars in the farm system as of yet. Moving Marrero to 1B, I might have even put Burgess at RF myself, as he made my honorable mention. And I really hope he does end up there, because he’s got serious power, and if he makes it to the majors, he’ll have cut down his ridiculously high K rate. Baseball America has him as the #4 guy in the system already, and believes he could be a 40 HR hitter in the majors.

In terms of pitching, though, I am not so sure that in only 3 seasons the entire starting staff will consist of pitchers with a total of 1 IP prior to 2008 (that 1 belongs to Detwiler). Hopefully Hill and Chico can establish themselves in the rotation, but if not, then maybe BA is right. However, I refuse to believe that Chad Cordero will still be closing for this team 3 1/2 years from now. I just don’t think it’s possible. I like the Smoker pick in the rotation, but I’m sticking by my placement of Colton Willems in there, more because of 97 mph fastball than his high ceiling. Hey, if Willems can’t get better with his secondary pitches, a role in the bullpen is always an option.

A few more things

It is nice to see just how high BA is on Marrero. In the scouting report (which unfortunately you have to pay to see) they list strengths and weakness for each player. The only thing they could come up with for Chris is that he has a weak arm in the OF and it may take him some time to adjust to 1B, but even that was qualified with saying he has taken to the move and seems to have the range, reaction, and hands to do it In terms of his future, they go all out, saying:

He’s not far from big league ready as a hitter, and how fast he learns first base could determine how soon he reaches Washington. That could happen as early as the second half of 2008, and by 2009 he figures to be a fixture in the middle of the big league lineup. His massive power gives him a chance to be a star.

That is a pretty sweet writeup! I really can’t wait until he comes up. As for the #2 prospect, Detwiler, they say “With a chance for three above-average pitches, Detwiler has a chance to be a legitimate ace.” As for others in the top 10, they forecast Balester as a #2 starter, McGeary as a 2 or 3, and say that Justin Maxwell‘s speed/power/low average make him comparable to Mike Cameron.

We gotta remember not to get too excited. Prospects are only prospects, they have to continue to develop and stay healthy. But it is nice to see that the Nats farm system has improved greatly in a short amount of time.

New Stadium Tour

November 13, 2007

I still find it hard to believe that we’ll get to watch the Nationals in a brand new state of the art stadium next season. You know, one where you can’t look through the floor of the upper deck down to the concourse like you’re at a high school football game. I assume HGH-popping (allegedly) former Nat Jose Guillien will be there to survey the power alleys before opening day, just to make sure they don’t have those crazy measuring errors they had when they first started playing at RFK.

Anyway, Dan Guzman of CBS channel 9 (comically, i mean comcasticly, channel 29 on my tv) was cool enough to take notice of my blog and alert me to alert readers of an online stadium tour. I normally don’t just post links, it makes me look much smarter to summarize what other people write (making sure to acknowledge their contribution) than to send a straight link. But they do a good job with lots of photos, so here you go:

One thing I love is the grey stone backstop. Trying to be unique without being ridiculous (like the center field hill in Houston) is a good thing to do. I’m also a big fan of the “Nationals” above the scoreboard. So far it is looking to be pretty cool place to play some baseball.

More on the Free Agents, Wrists and Trades

November 9, 2007

The Winter Time also Means Trades

And trades are something that could be very helpful for the Nationals. As mentioned before (very proudly) this team has a glut of good relief pitching. Arguments can be made, but I believe, as do many actual baseball analysts, that the role of closer is overrated. Without getting too much into the save being the only statistic that really changed the game on the basis of being a statistic alone and the fact that closers are very often used in a less important part of the game than their bullpen-mates despite being the “best” reliever of the team, I think its possible that this team has 4 potential closers with Cordero, Rauch, Ayala, and Rivera. Heck, throw in Colome, Schroder and Albaladejo (who may end up being the best of the bunch) and you have a serious number of guys who could get 3 outs with the bases empty 80% of the time. Add some stress, and most of them are still likely to succeed. So maybe handing over the closing duties to walk happy Rivera or Colome is a bit of a stretch, but I think you see my point.

Oh wait, I haven’t really made my point. The fact is, there is a shortage of closers on the market, and people are happy to pay for them. Here are the names of the pitchers with more than 10 saves over the last 2 seasons that are free agents this offseason. Ready? Mariano Rivera, Francisco Cordero, Bob Wickman, Todd Jones, Eddie Guadardo, Jorge Julio and Armando Benitez. Benitez and Julio are head cases who probably won’t be looked at as legit closers, Guardardo came back from surgery and has been awful (and hasn’t really been much of a pitcher in years) and Wickman is thinking about retiring. Jones is likely to be re-signed by the Tigers, if not, his peripherals are bad and everyone knows it, it’s improbable that many want him to close. That leaves Mariano Rivera and Francisco Cordero. Mo will probably be given a ridiculous deal from the Yankees, and the other Cordero will be the ONLY FREE AGENT CLOSER ON THE MARKET!!!one!!one!!!! That, to me, seems to be a signal that now is the time to trade Chad Cordero. Don’t trade him for crap, don’t trade him for the sake of trading him. He’s one of the top 3 players on this team right now, he isn’t worth trading for nothing. But he’s worth dangling out there, and letting people know about. Now, more than ever, seems to be a great time to offer him up. The Nats are in the position to get a serious building block player in exchange for something they have a huge surplus. If nothing comes, so be it, you’re left with a great bullpen pitcher, but don’t be blind to the market right now.

Wrist Injuries are bad, right?

I thought wrist injuries are supposed to be terrible. One of those things that can linger and really foul up a player’s swing for the rest of the season. So when Ryan Zimmerman broke his wrist swinging a bat, my first instinct was to panic, you know, run around the room like my head was on fire until I slammed into a wall and knocked myself out. But nobody else seems to be concerned. Not even an ESPN fantasy guru who I’ve never heard of Brendan Roberts, who put out his preliminary 3rd baseman ranking and had this to say about Zim:

Ryan Zimmerman (Current rank: 10; With a surgically repaired wrist: 10). As Buster Olney mentioned, Zimmerman did the right thing by telling the Nationals right away that he had injured himself while swinging the bat last weekend. Zimmerman broke his hamate bone, a common injury to young hitters. He’ll be fine, and the simple fact that he was hitting and/or swinging the bat hard enough in early November to break a bone means well for his 2008 preparation.

I don’t know if breaking bones ever “means well” for the next season unless you’re in the mafia enforcer business. But, I’ve yet to find articles from real baseball people who seem to think this will do anything to hurt his production. Until I do, I’ll keep away from the walls.

Final talk on Free Agents (for now)

Adam Dunn’s option was picked up by the Reds the other day, so he is out of the free agent consideration market. Mike Cameron is going to miss the first 25 games of the season due to being caught for some banned stimulant. So my 2 suggestions on the hitting side are right out. Torii Hunter and Andruw Jones both seem to be bad ideas to me. Neither is terribly old, but these are guys in their prime or just leaving it. Facing facts, the Nats aren’t ready to contend in 2008, and will need some serious development for 2009. By 2010 or 11, Hunter and Jones will be overpaid, even if there is value in the interim. Both Rivera and Posada are now more available than ever thanks to the departure of Joe Torre. Posada is really getting old for his position, and even the Yankees beat writers are conceding that signing him to a 4 year deal is worth it for them, even if he can’t catch by year 4. For the Nats, the year 4 roster is much more important than the year 1 roster, so they can’t sign a catcher that won’t be able to catch by then. As for Rivera, even if you could guarantee health in the future, the bullpen is this team’s one strength, so I’ll pass.

That leaves… A-Rod. Yes, Alex Rodriguez is a total mercenary. Yes, he follows the money, and yes, he hasn’t shown postseason success. What’s most fascinating about him is how he is the best player in baseball, by most metrics, and yet he still has serious confidence issues. Regardless, there isn’t someone better out there, and won’t be for a long time. They’re not going to, but the Nats should pursue him.

To satisfy my curiosity and attempt to validate my own thoughts, I asked Keith Law of ESPN what he thought they should do, including my idea of picking up Glavine

Charlie (Gaithersburg): If you were the Nats GM would you go after Glavine to “teach” the young staff or is that all a waste? Also, is their anyone out on the market they should be going after?

SportsNation Keith Law: (1:53 PM ET ) That’s a waste. They don’t have young pitching talent on their big-league roster anyway, unless they rush Detwiler into the April rotation. I think they’re going to make a big splash with a couple of free agents, probably costing themselves a draft pick and doing little to advance this club long-term.

Funny thing about Keith Law is, I think he really knows his stuff, but I don’t always agree with him. Although maybe getting someone like Glavine is a waste. I hope the Nats don’t make a big splash, because there aren’t too many valuable big splash players out there. Big splash means Hunter or Jones, which could end up being big albatrosses. But they’d be fun to watch play while the rest of the team is trying their best not to suck.

Free Agent Japanese Players in ’08

November 6, 2007

There are some Japanese players looking to make the jump this season. Not including them on the last couple of posting was a problem of lack of information on my part. But I’ll do my best to show what we might expect from them. The ability to transition is still tough to call. Daisuke Matsusaka was very good, but not quite what Boston expected, whereas even Theo was shocked at how good Hideki Okajima was. And most were surprised that Kei Igawa couldn’t even hack it as a bottom of the rotation guy. One thing is clear though, hitters are probably easier to judge, their abilities translate well enough. And they lose power. Both Hideki Matsui and Akinori Iwamora lost some power coming over from the Pacific, but their other categories weren’t too badly hurt. Which is why the #1 prospect is a hitter.

Kosuke Fukudome

Besides having a name that could be hilariously mispronounced in so many ways, baseball fans may know him from some late-inning heroics in the WBC. He is a great right fielder, with a killer arm, and is only 30. He most likely doesn’t have the speed to be a regular CF in the US, but what’s really important is, of course, his bat. According toFukudome, he is a career .305/.398/.543 hitter, but those numbers are dragged down by his early career where he was playing 3B and SS. Since being a full time OF, he had blossomed, only posting an OBP below .400 once, and was over .430 the last 3 times. He hits with power, and is known as a gap hitter. He has hit over 30 HRs twice, but he probably can’t be counted on to hit with serious power in the US. Between his hitting style and the historical drop in power for Japanese players, he may be more of a 15 HR guy. But his patience probably will translate wonderfully to the majors. According to baseball prospectus, he:

relies on patience and a level left-handed swing. At roughly 6’0” and 190 pounds, Fukudome isn’t a classic slugger. There is power in his bat, but it’s of the line-drive variety. Looking at his numbers over the years, it is noteworthy that he has challenged the single-season doubles record in Japan–52 by Yoshitomo Tani in 2001–on several occasions. Last season’s 47 doubles is the highest total ever by a Central League player.

Reminds me of Ryan Church, only much better. I should say, Chuch hit 15 HRs and 42 doubles last season. Fukudome probably would do similar there, but instead of hitting .272 with a .349 OBP (like Church), he’s probably closer to .300/.400. He is worth looking at, and if he could play center, where Church probably should be playing, then maybe even worth pursuing. But there are other teams that need a player like that more, and will probably be able to show that with salary. Fukudome wouldn’t be a bad investment for the Nats, but they do have Church. If Fukudome does anything for this team, maybe it will show how good Church’s bat is compared to other center fielders. Of course, if there is something the Nats really like about him, they could also put him at RF, but Kearns probably has another year there to prove himself (and isn’t that far from being a gold glover himself).

Hiroki Kuroda

The best starting pitcher on the entire free agent market may be Kuroda. He is 33, and hasn’t had a great W-L record, but he’s played on some really poor Hiroshima Carp teams. His K/BB ratio looks nice at 3/1 for his career, but even nicer when you realize that it’s closer to 4/1 over the last 6 or 7 years. His career ERA is a solid 3.69, also dragged down by his early career, he’s only exceeded that average once in the last 7 seasons. There is some worry about his arm, mostly because he pitched more complete games than most other pitchers in the league. And Japanese pitchers tend to burn out younger than American pitchers, because of the way they’re used. He’s probably yet another guy whose abilities need to be taken advantage of sooner rather than later, not exactly what the Nats are looking for. And its not like he’s a star in the making, he’s projected by places like Prospect Insider to be more of a back-of-the-rotation starter. If he was lauded the way Daisuke was, I’d suggest the Nats had a chance to get their ace and should pursue him. But his age and ceiling just make him another free agent not appealing to a rebuilding team.

Koji Uehara

A former starter who most likely will continue to pitch in relief, he could be a quality pitcher in the US. His K/BB ratio for his career is close to being a ridiculous 7/1. He has some questions on the health of his shoulder, but he looks like he could add significantly to someone with a weak bullpen (Yankees?). But, it’s hard to imagine why the Nats would need to spend money on a reliever.

Masahide Kobayashi

Kobayashi is a closer for Bobby V’s Chiba Lotte’s Marines. According to the great website MLB Trade Rumors, Mr. Valentine is very high on Kobayashi’s abilities. He can strike people out, and has some good peripherals (4/1 K/BB, close to 10 K/9 since he’s been a full time closer). He may be a closer and probably would be at least a pretty effective reliever for someone out there who doesn’t have a bullpen with Cordero, Rauch, Ayala, Rivera, and Colome. I know you know who’s there, it just makes me happy to talk about it.

Tomohiro Nioke

Nioke is an interesting one for the Nats. Unlike the other players, he plays somewhere they could actually use some help – SS. Even if you are a big believer in Guzman, or Lopez, there’s nobody out there who thinks both are really valuable starters is there? I mean, you start believing that we have enough with Belliard, Guzman and Lopez at Middle Infield, that we have enough with Wily Mo, Church and Kearns, with Zimmerman, Young and Johnson, well what’s left to fix? Are you saying we just need a good hitting catcher and suddenly we’d stop being among the worst hitting teams in baseball? No, and middle infield seems to be more of a problem than most places. So if they could find a great SS, they should go after him.

But is Nioka that guy? Well, he has some pop for his position, hitting over 20 HRs in 4 seasons. And we know that these should go down in the US. His splits are a respectable .285/.334/.440, but they aren’t spectacular. Also, at 33 as well, he may be closer to the end of his career than the beginning. He is intriguing because his numbers are so close to big time free agent Torii Hunter (.271/.324/.469) but remember these are numbers in the AL, not the Nippon League. If we see only a slight drop in average, and the expected drop in power, you may be looking at a .275/.320/.400 hitter. Of course, I’m not doing real math here, just off the cuff numbers. But yuck, I can expect that out of the 3 guys we have (who need to be upgraded in some way). So no, not worth it for the Nats. Seems to be more of a fill-in guy than a real stud FA signing.

My take is that while there is something interesting about each of these players there aren’t many worth pursuing. However, if either of the relievers can be had cheaply enough, there is no such thing as having too much of a good thing. You can always package a few together and see what you can get in a trade.