It’s hard not to describe the signing of Rafael Soriano as a response to the last game of the NLDS. But, much like the Adam LaRoche deal, even if you don’t like the specifics and the fallout, it’s also hard to argue that it doesn’t make the team better in 2013. My initial reaction to the deal was that while it was a strong addition to the team, it wasn’t necessarily a move I’d make.
It’s alot of money for a reliever (money that the Nats have to burn, so who cares) and it costs their first round pick. But just because I wouldn’t have necessarily made the move doesn’t mean I dislike it, and I don’t dislike it. Soriano is a big name, and so it was the biggest baseball news of the day, but we’ll get into that later.
First, My Take
With Soriano, they get a dominant reliever for 2 years. I say two years because his option kicks in only if he finished 120 games. Doing some advanced mathematical calculations, I discovered that he would have to average 60 games finished per season to do that. If there is any sharing of the closing duties with Drew Storen at all, that aint gonna happen. Since 2006, MLB has averaged 4.57 players per year that hit the 60 GF mark, and Davey has shown that he likes multiple closers. So you’re really looking at a two year deal. And what you’re getting is one of the best relievers in baseball.
In his last 7 years, he has thrown 391 IP, with 415 K to only 128 BB and a 1.031 WHIP. His ERA is 2.65, which is a 160 ERA+, and while he’s done this in some pitcher’s parks, he was also dominant last year with the Yankees in New York. New York is probably considered the ultimate test thanks to the new ballpark – it was already considered a pressure/media meat grinder, and now it’s got RF stands that snack on popups. He’s been great (that WHIP, probably more important for relievers than ERA, is historically impressive, as you’ll see later), and I am excited for what he does to this bullpen.
The Nats are pretty close to a complete team already – it’s still a bit odd to be able to name almost the whole starting lineup and rotation of this franchise in early January. But there are still a few pieces missing, including and sort of left handed relief pitching. Part of me thinks this isn’t such a big deal. The better relievers on the Nationals should be able to handle good hitters from either side of the plate in close games. But if they continue to not really have any lefty specialist (or, preferably like Sean Burnett, a good reliever who is just better against lefties), there will definitely be situations in 2013 where we will all wish they did. The pickins are slim these days, almost all of the free agents have been snatched up.
J.P. Howell is probably the best that’s left out there. He’s going to be 30, and has always been more effective vs. lefties, although he’s not bad against righties. He had shoulder problems that kept him out in 2010 and hopefully was the reason he was so bad in 2011. But in 2012, he was very good, especially against lefties. He was also great in 2008 and 2009. A decent $$$ short term deal is probably all it would take to get him, if they want him. There are some other guys out there who have had mixed results in their careers, like Rich Hill, Will Ohman, Manny Parra and J.C. Romero. While none of them are particularly exciting options, they could be effective is used solely as a LOOGY.
Of course, there are possibilities internally, like them or not. The first one that jumps out is Zack Duke, a lefty starter who they retained after the year. He may be set up to be a long reliever/swing man, but he has been more effective against lefties in his career, so it’s possible. They signed Bill Bray, who has been very effective against lefties in his career, to a minor league deal in December. But he has to prove he’s healthy after missing most of 2012, and that’ss no guarantee. Patrick McCoy is a 23 year old lefty reliever who pitched ok in AA Harrisburg last season, with a 3.70 ERA but 60 Ks in only 50 IP. There aren’t too many other options, at least not in the high minors.
Ken Rosenthal reported today that the Nats signed Dan Haren to a one year, $13M contract. The Nats needed another starting pitcher, and while some advocated trading some of their key position players for a starter, I always thought it would be unwise to do so. With the rotation of Strasburg, Zimmermann, and Gonzalez, I worried that any more real investment in the rotation might add a few wins during the year, but would be of no use in the playoffs. I worried that bolstering a rotation by taking away from their position players was trying to make an already top 3 rotation number 1 in the league, and it was unnecessary.
So what did the Nats do? It appears they threw more money at Haren than most were willing to do, without any long term commitment. This is what their payroll flexibility allows them to do. They end up getting a pitcher who is only 32, had been great up until last year, and was willing to sign short term. He isn’t totally healthy – what was worried to be a bad back (his issue this summer) actually ended up being a bad hip.
That bad hip is certainly of concern, but it didn’t affect him so much that he didn’t pitch well all year. Yes, he had a bad season. His final numbers from 2012 included a 4.33 ERA (87 ERA+) and only 142 K (his lowest total since 2004, when he wasn’t a full timer), but he sat out for a back injury, and pitched most of the year. He wasn’t so hurt that he couldn’t start most of the season, even if the hip was an issue. He ended up starting 30 games, with 176 2/3 IP, and only issue 38 BB. But his season numbers don’t reflect what he was able to do after coming back from injury. What may be more interesting to Nationals fans is how he performed after being put on the DL.
The Nats probably have a center fielder for next season in Bryce Harper. But there is a decent chance that they will need another outfielder, and they may not go after Josh Hamilton. Where does that leave them? Well, there are certainly some other corner outfield options, but if the CF options are better players, better hitters, should they go that way? It wouldn’t be a terrible thing to move Harper to LF and have an even better fielder out in center, as it would make quite a defensive outfield. (The Yankees did this with Granderson and Gardner the last few years and consensus was their defense was excellent out there).
Well wouldn’t you know it, there are 2 players that fit the bill for this conversation. Of course I’m talking about Michael Bourn and BJ Upton. They both play CF, they both can hit pretty well, although they have two very different strengths with the bat. They are also ranked as the #2 and #4 top free agents in the Keith Law Top 50 free agent list.
Bourn is a very talented player, and probably profiles better if you were to talk about the Nats “needs”. First and foremost, he is a speedy left handed hitting leadoff hitter. Ok, the leadoff part isn’t actually one of his talents per se, but you figure that’s where he’d play. His OBP, though, isn’t spectacular for that position, as his career line is only .272/.339/.365, although his last 2 seasons have looked better. He also led the league in steals each season from 2009-2011, and although he also lead in caught stealing from 2011-2012, his success rate is very high. A good part of his value is tied to his defense, which is really great.
If the title of this post doesn’t mean anything to you, stop everything that you are doing and watch one of the first (and for my money, probably the best) of the SNL Digital Shorts music videos right now. I’m serious, I’ll wait. (If you’ve already seen it, then enjoy your journey back to December 2005):
I will take your word that you’ve gone and done that. Hard to believe that’s almost 7 years old. On to the actual subject of the post – the best hitting free agent this offseason, Josh Hamilton. Keith Law called him the #3 available FA, behind a pitcher (Grienke) and B.J. Upton, a younger, faster, better defensive player who can still play a premium defensive position. It can certainly be argued that Hamilton deserves to be #2 or even first, because it’s hard to argue that there is a better offensive player available than Hamilton. So let’s start by taking a look at this offensive force, first the pros and then the cons:
I Told You that I’m Crazy Bout These Cupcakes Cousin
When we discuss the construction of the 2013 Nationals, the linchpin player is Adam LaRoche. It’s hard to figure out what other moves will be made until his situation is finalized. It’s widely assumed that he’ll opt out of his contract. The $10M option was good security for him at the time, but he can certainly command more now, and he can get multiple years with at least that much per year. For the Nats, he was certainly the most consistent offensive player, and possibly the best. He was #2 in PAs and led the team in HRs and OPS. People tend to think this was a “career” year, but that is colored by his hot start. In terms of OPS+, it was his 2nd best, and right around his numbers in 2006, 2008, and 2009.
What this year did show, however, was that he can still hit. After a somewhat disappointing 2010 season in where he did hit 25 HRs and have 100 RBI, but only had a .788 OPS (9th best among NL 1Bs), he sat out the majority of 2011 on the DL. Someone will offer him multiple years, and while he does profess that he wants to stay in DC, at 32 years old he would be wise to go with the best offer. It’s hard to imagine the Nats could low ball him and hold on. I figure most people who want him back would prefer 2 years or less, so anything longer than that would be considered “long term.” I seriously doubt he’d get any more than 4 years from anyone.
In terms of finding a replacement for LaRoche, there are some in house options with Tyler Moore and Michael Morse. There are also a few free agent possibilities, and while there aren’t any 28 year old superstars waiting on a big deal, realistic options for full time players include Mike Napoli, Lance Berkman (who may retire), Carlos Pena (who probably should retire), and Nick Swisher (who could also play OF). One possibility is to go with a Tyler Moore platoon, and sign a lefty who can hit righties like Aubrey Huff or James Loney (who actually has a .792 OPS vs RHP playing in that huge LAD stadium). My thought on that is they wouldn’t sign a guy to make a full time platoon, more as a bailout option in case Moore struggles.
The Nationals won another close game last night, thanks to some great pitching by Gio Gonzalez (who’s now going on 20 straight scoreless IP, still a bit away from Hershiser’s 58) and by a key 7th inning 2 run single by Chad Tracy. Yeah, that’s right, Chad Tracy. The Nats, thanks to injuries and roster turnover, have some new guys in the lineup. It hasn’t worked out well with the offense, but you wouldn’t know it if you look at the record. And you might not even know some of these guys if you saw them on the streets of DC. Can you identify these supposed bench players pressed into starting duty?