The Nats, with Danny Espinosa at 2B and Ian Desmond at SS, have two young middle infielder in their starting lineup. Espinosa is coming off a very good season, with a low AVG but decent OBP and good SLG, especially for a 24 year out 2B, hitting .232/.323/.414. That OPS put him 7th among qualified NL second basemen, not bad for a rookie. Desmond hit very poorly, although at .253/.298/.358, his .656 OPS was 8th among qualified NL shortstops, making you wonder about the 4 guys below him.
Both did had strong defensive seasons. Espinosa demonstrated why many want him to play SS, and Desmond displayed excellent range, cut down his errors by 1/3 from the previous year, and generally looked comfortable out there. But if Desmond never hits, and many people believe he won’t, his time as a starter could be limited. If that’s the case, it makes sense to slide Espinosa over to SS, and bring in yet another slick fielding middle infield prospect, Steve Lombardozzi, to play second base. That’s all well and good, but if Lombardozzi doesn’t hit, what’s the point? Well, here’s what Lombardozzi would bring with the bat.
Time for the annual spring “what the heck is going on in CF?” question. As of right now, it appears the starting center fielder for the Nationals is Roger Bernadina. Or Rick Ankiel. Which might be a nice platoon if they weren’t both lefties. With Bryce Harper being sent down (both for learning baseball reasons and for economic reasons) the dream that he would play CF or that Jayson Werth would is gone for the moment. So what should they do?
Maybe you think their current roster is just fine, and those guys will play well. Or you think it’s only a matter of time before Harper and Werth man RF and CF, in some order. Alternatively, there has been talk they’re going to try to trade for underutilized Arizona CF Gerardo Parra. They could also use Corey Brown, who has hit well this spring, but hasn’t seen much time in the middle of the outfield this spring.
Of course, if you, like me, think they might not truly believe they are going to be World Series contenders with 60% of Harper and no Strasburg at the end of the year, maybe it doesn’t matter what they do right now as long as they go after a free agent this offseason. So what’s your opini0n?
I have never been a big fan of Rick Ankiel as the starting CF on the Nats. I don’t know, maybe it’s the .675 OPS over the last three seasons. No, it’s probably the .297 OBP in that timeframe. But right now, they don’t have a real handle on who’s playing out there. I firmly believe that Bryce Harper isn’t going to start the year in the majors, so the whole, let Werth-play-CF might end up happening, but not in April or early May.
Roger Bernadina is, like Ankiel, a lefty who has spent time at the position, so maybe there isn’t a point in having both guys on the squad. But, while Bernadina is a questionable defensive CF, the case was made last year that Ankiel’s got the best arm of any center fielder in the league, and numbers indicate he’s good at catching the ball, too. But if Ankiel can’t hit, what’s the point in having him around? Simply as a defensive replacement? Actually, it turns out he can hit, well, sort of…
Earlier, we discussed the case for signing Ryan Zimmerman. Most fans probably agree with the sentiment there, but there is a case against re-signing, which mostly him rests on whether or not they think he’s good enough and healthy enough. I think my stance on the “good enough” part of the analysis is pretty clear from the previous post. However, we need to touch on that injury section of our assessment.
And for that, and the maybe the biggest bulwark for the case against, I present to you…
There has been a great deal of discussion recently regarding when the Nationals will offer Ryan Zimmerman an extension. Of course, it isn’t inevitable that they will do that at all. And an extension isn’t the only possibility to keep him – he’s signed through 2013, but they could rip that up and sign him to a 6 year deal right now (rather than a 5 or 6 year extension on the end) as suggested here. But I don’t want to get into the minutia of how, when or how long here. I just want to talk about why they should do it, in a few simple points.
He is a truly great hitter for his position, and while there are some questions about his throwing, it is pretty unanimous that he is one of the best fielding (pre-throw) players in the league right now. It puts him among the best players in the game. Here just a few points highlighting that:
The Nats acquired Mike Cameron today, because who doesn’t need outfielders that are almost 40? In reality, he’s probably signed to a bench role, and while normally you’d like to give a young guy a shot, there aren’t too many in the farm system that appear to be ready to do that. The guys that are decent need consistent playing time because they aren’t really knocking on the door. So what will Cameron bring?
Last year, Cameron hit an uninspiring .203/.285/.359, which makes you wonder why they’d even go after him. He probably isn’t that bad of a hitter, and unless he’s totally done, it’s not unreasonable to expect him to do something like his .252/.339/.441 from the previous two seasons. And hidden in that 2011 slash line is an ISO of a little over .150, which is pretty good. Of course, Cameron rarely hits over .250, so that’s still not adding up to a great slugging. If you take it for granted that his bat will be a bit better, than his ISO may recover as well. He may be a platoon candidate, as he’s always hit lefties better than righties. And their current CF on the roster, Roger Bernadina, does hit righties better. So it’s possible he starts in CF against lefties.
A Nats discussion was a small part of Dave Schoenfield’s chat on ESPN.com yesterday, in which I tried to quickly lay out what the Nats plans should be for the future, in terms of their position players. When I say future, I am intentionally vague, but I’m thinking beyond just 2012. I tried to write relatively succinctly, given the medium, but I’ll lay out a little more here.
Ryan Zimmerman, Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos are relatively set where they are. During the chat, someone named Adam made the excellent point that without a contract extension for Zim, everything is moot. But let’s go with the assumption that they do want to re-sign him for now.
Ian Desmond has yet to put together a starter-level season at SS, and while his defense did improve last year, his bat was terrible. The idea of moving him to the outfield strikes me as almost laughable – right now, he can’t hit for a SS. For now, it is hard to think you can rely on him as a starter
Bryce Harper will be up very soon, and he’ll play RF. He hasn’t played much CF, and he’s got a cannon, so let’s slot him into RF.
I am ignoring Adam LaRoche, because I can’t see him being with the team beyond the end of 2012
I think most people would agree with the above sentiments. You might argue that Desmond really is going to be great, but you’re just hoping. So let’s get to the more questionable parts. Here are my feelings on what should be done with the rest of the roster, as it stands.
Out of nowhere, a center field prospect has emerged, and he looks to be quite the talent. Ok, maybe this whole thing’s not out of nowhere, but I certainly hadn’t heard of Yoenis Cespedes before today. And now, thanks to his strange video below, which shows him hitting some slow mo homers, about 10 seconds of fielding, and lots of core training, he is clearly on his way to a hall of fame career:
All kidding aside, he’s probably considered the best position player in Cuba. He’s 26 years old, and defected from Cuba to the Dominican Republic. He’s looking for a major league contract, and people are taking him seriously. While Kevin Goldstein has a great overview of the ridiculous video, he also mentions a few important points. Cespedes hit .333/.424/.667 with 33 HRs last year, all those threes further adding to his mystique. He scored 89 runs and stolen 11 bases (caught 4 times) in his 90 games played. Goldstein writes that Cespedes is “a tremendous talent—arguably the best all-around player to come out of Cuba in a generation. He’s a legitimate center fielder with plus power and speed and is in his prime.”
And Goldstein isn’t the only one buzzing about Cespedes. Adam Kilgore over at the Post notes that the Nationals are definitely paying attention. He writes that Nats front office folks were in the DR, watching the Cuban star work out. And they are impressed with his talent, and his ability to hit and to field (although not with his arm). So will the Nats go after him?
The Nationals are in the market for a centerfielder, and a leadoff hitter, although they aren’t necessarily the same person. This week, both Keith Law at ESPN and Ben Reiter at SI released their top 50 free agents list. How about we take a look through that list to shop for a CF, and see what we come up with? While there are possibilities, like moving Werth to CF and picking up a corner guy, let’s just look for now at those guys who are or having been out there in center.
Carlos Beltran (#9 Law/#7 Reiter) – Beltran can still hit, as he showed at least in the first half last year. He really isn’t a centerfielder anymore, between his injury risk and his age. His range isn’t there anymore, and the Nats probably aren’t in the business of signing a 35 year old at this point anyway.
David DeJesus (#21/—) – Last year was a terrible season at the play for DeJesus, which might be why he didn’t even make Reiter’s list, but some of that might have to do with moving to Oakland. If you believe he can still hit enough, you have to convince yourself he can still play CF. I am not so much a believer of either, considering he hasn’t been a regular there since 2008, and he fell off a cliff against lefties this past season. At this point, he could be a platoon guy who can’t play CF.
Grady Sizemore (#25/#21) – Sizemore still gets some credit for being one of the best players in baseball in 2007-2008, and he deserves it. But for a guy who was never a great CF who is now a huge injury risk, why would you want to play him there? He’s a high risk guy who once was a star, so he might be able to do something special, but even if you get a great contract with him, sticking out in CF seems like folly.
His fielding appears to be improved, although with more and more disagreement about what numbers are relevant for even a full season, I can’t be sure. I do know his Range Factor per 9 inning is 4.57, better than the league average of 4.37 And although errors don’t mean what they used to, his total of 22 right now is 1/3 lower than his 34 last year – and that is in almost the exact same amount of time (at this point in the season, he’s played only 12 fewer innings than 2010). Whatever the numbers mean, it appears that he has range and has improved significantly on his errors, and those are both good things.
His hitting, though, regressed for much of the year. Right now sitting at .251/.295/.359, his OBP is unacceptable for a starting player. His wOBA is .289, ranking him 168 out of the 183 major leaguers with at least 400 PAs. His position allows him a positive VORP (15.9) and WARP (1.7) according to baseball reference, so maybe he isn’t that awful. But a .295 OBP for a guy that the manager wants to bat leadoff? Sheesh. Well it may not be as bad as it appears. He is tempting us with a strong second half, and looking at just that makes him seem much more promising.
But since July 1, he has hit .282/.330/.411, which is significantly better than his first half. That’s 47% of the season in which he has hit pretty well. If you’re believe he’s a better-than-average fielding SS, those numbers are quite good. The .330 OBP still isn’t what you might want from a leadoff guy, but it’s not too bad. The problem is, we have yet to see Desmond do this for more than half a season. Is next year the season that Desmond puts it all together, hits well and fields well for an entire season? Who knows. The Nats certainly think its possible. We really won’t know until next year, and there is some bad history with this kind of thing here.