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Washington Nationals: Gio Gonzalez Better for Team Than Mark Buehrle

It’s been almost 24 hours since the Washington Nationals acquired pitcher Gio Gonzalez, and fan reaction has pretty much fallen into two categories regarding the deal.

Either the team gave up way too much for a pitcher that walks way too many batters, or the 26-year-old Gonzalez will indeed help make the Nationals contenders in 2012.

But within both groups there is a common link. Many on both sides think that if the team wanted to add a top-end starter, they should have signed him as a free agent instead of trading for him. 

This way, the logic goes, they could have gotten him for “nothing.”

Makes sense?

Let’s take the case of Mark Buehrle, the former White Sox hurler who signed a four-year, $58 million deal with the Miami Marlins a couple of weeks ago. 

That works out to $14.5 million per year for Buehrle, who will be 33 at the beginning of the contract and 36 when it ends in 2015. 

Over that same period of time, Gonzalez will probably earn about as much in four years as Buehrle will earn in one.

In his two full years, Gonzalez has averaged a 16-10 record with a 3.17 ERA. During that same period, Buehrle went 13-11, 3.94 and hasn’t won 16 games in a season since 2005. 

After 12 major league seasons, Buehrle is as good as he’s going to get and will probably begin to decline fairly quickly, something that happens to all pitchers at this stage in their careers. Gonzalez though, at 26, continues to get better as he refines his game.

True, the Nationals gave up four quality prospects, but history suggests that only one or two of them will have successful careers. Popped tendons, lost release points and 100 mph fastballs will keep some of them from reaching their potential.

By not signing Buehrle, the Nationals also saved their top pick in the upcoming amateur draft, something they would have forfeited had they signed him. 

They also saved roughly $45 million which would just about cover the first two years of a potential Prince Fielder contract, or more than the amount required to sign local boy Joe Saunders, a John Lannan-esque pitcher capable of easily replacing him in the Nationals’ rotation

The Nationals could then trade Lannan and receive in return a couple of good-to-decent prospects, players that would help replace the kids lost in the Gonzalez trade. 

Trading for Gio Gonzalez instead of signing Mark Buehrle really didn’t cost the Nationals anything. It was just a different way of accomplishing the goal that team GM Mike Rizzo said was a priority for months—adding a durable starter to the pitching staff. 

The team “lost” four prospects instead of $45 million. Are each of those kids worth $11 million to the Nationals? While this might change, right now I’d have to say no. 

All in all, it was a good day for the Nationals.

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Ian Desmond’s Resurrected Career Helps Guide Nationals Toward Respectability

When former general manager Jim Bowden compared Ian Desmond to future Hall of Fame shortstop Derek Jeter, his team had yet to play a game as the Washington Nationals.  Fans had never heard of Desmond, a 19-year-old Floridian who was taken in the third-round of the 2004 amateur draft. 

Fans thought Bowden was out of his mind.

From 2005—the year of Bowden’s comparison—through 2008, Desmond played nothing like Derek Jeter. In fact, he played nothing like a prospect. He couldn’t field and seemed to make up for it by not hitting either. He was still playing for Class-A Potomac in 2007 and injuries took their toll. 

In five minor league seasons, he produced a career .248 batting average. When 2009 began, Danny Espinosa—and not Desmond—was the club’s top shortstop prospect.

Then, all of a sudden, Desmond “got it.” 

Splitting time between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse, Desmond batted .330/.401/.477 last season, hitting seven homers and driving in 32 runs.

In a September call-up, he batted .280-4-25 in just 152 at-bats (.280-15-92 over a full season).

Desmond beat out Cristian Guzman last spring and has played as well as anyone had hoped, perhaps even better.

So what about that comparison to Jeter? Was Bowden right five springs ago?

Let’s take a look.

In 2,371 minor league at-bats, Derek Jeter batted .308/.384/.418, hitting a home run every 111 at-bats. Desmond, in 1,777 games, hit .260/.326/.388 with a homer every 47 at-bats.

Clearly, Jeter was a much better minor league hitter, though Desmond showed more extra-base power.

Defensively, their minor league statistics were almost identical.

Jeter played 451 minor league games and committed 133 errors, one every 3.33 games. Desmond played in 638 minor league games and made 189 errors, or one every 3.33 games.


Desmond did have a better range factor in the minors, though, 4.47 to Jeter’s 4.40.

Both players had a September call-up before taking over as their respective team’s everyday shortstop the next season.  Let’s compare their offensive production at the May 29th mark of that first season:


Jeter: 156

Desmond: 152


Jeter: 26

Desmond: 18


Jeter: 42

Desmond: 41 


Jeter: 3

Desmond: 7


Jeter: 3

Desmond: 2

Home Runs:

Jeter: 2

Desmond: 4

Runs Batted In:

Jeter: 21

Desmond: 25

Batting Average/On Base Pct./Slugging Pct.

Jeter: .269/.374/.365

Desmond: .270/.311/.421 

At this stage of the season, Jeter was able to draw more walks and hit for a higher on-base percentage but Desmond has shown more power, having more doubles, home runs, and RBI. 

There is no question that Desmond, at least offensively, is the equal of Jeter at this early stage in their careers.

Now let’s compare Jeter’s rookie-season statistics with Desmond’s:


Jeter: 104

Desmond: 59


Jeter: 183

Desmond: 141


Jeter: 25

Desmond: 27


Jeter: 6

Desmond: 4

Home Runs:

Jeter: 10

Desmond: 10

Runs Batted In: 

Jeter: 78

Desmond: 65

Batting Average/ On-Base Pct. / Slugging Pct.

Jeter: .314/.370/.402

Desmond: .269/.308/.392

Jeter batted at or near the top of the Yankees lineup in 1996 while Desmond hit mostly at the bottom of the Nationals lineup in 2010. However, when he was moved up to batting second, his production blossomed. Desmond hit .326/.359/.489 in 201 at-bats.

That would explain some of the difference between the players’ on-base percentages and batting averages (Desmond, batting seventh or eighth, sees far fewer quality pitches than Jeter did batting first or second).

That said, it is clear that Desmond will never have the high batting average and on-base percentage of Jeter, but he will hit for a little more power.

In his young career, Desmond is averaging 14 home runs and 77 RBI over a 162-game season while Jeter has averaged 17 homers and 81 RBI (but it took Jeter four seasons to begin to show the power that Desmond is showing right now).

Defense is where the comparisons between Jeter and Desmond gets interesting.

Again, let’s compare Jeter’s first full season in the major leagues with what Desmond is projected to do this season:


Jeter: 22

Desmond: 34

Double Plays:

Jeter 83

Desmond: 87

Fielding Percentage:

Jeter: .969

Desmond: .947

RTOT (number of runs above or below average player at that position)

Jeter: -14

Desmond: -9

Range Factor (the player’s defensive range)

Jeter: 3.82

Desmond: 4.49

A couple of things stand out here. First, Desmond makes a lot of errors. Second, his far superior range allows him to finish more double plays and get to balls that Jeter can’t get to, saving his team some of the runs that his errors allow. 

If you look just at errors and fielding percent, Jeter wins hands down in the players’ first-year comparison.

But if you look at all the factors, Desmond has the potential to be a very special defensive short stop. 

Can Ian Desmond cut down on that ugly error total? Yes, I think so. Jeter once committed 56 errors in the minor leagues, so if Jeter can get better, so can Desmond. 

So, was Jim Bowden right that spring day in Viera Florida when he said flat out that Desmond reminded him favorably of the Yankees’ all-star shortstop? 

Derek Jeter is a one-of-a-kind shortstop, so any comparison to him is patently unfair. That said, it is conceivable that Ian Desmond could have a career similar to—but not as good as—Jeter. 

If Desmond’s power increases like Jeter’s did, Desmond could become an above-average defensive shortstop with 20 home run power.

Let’s forget Bowden’s comparison to Jeter and just say that Ian Desmond returned from the abyss of unfulfilled minor league talent and has helped transform a 100+ loss team into a franchise that is on the periphery of respectability.

And that’s good enough for me.

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Washington Nationals: With Top 3 Catchers Batting .679, Who Will Make the Club?

Heading into spring training, the Washington Nationals appeared to have four players who were capable of being quality every-day major league catchers.

And three games into the Grapefruit League schedule, nothing has changed.

Future Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez has gone 3-4 with an RBI. Wilson Ramos, obtained from the Twins last summer for Matt Capps, is 4-6, also with a run batted in. And minor league stud Derek Norris is 2-3 and hit his first home run yesterday against the Cardinals.

Oh, and Jesus Flores, the team’s former future catcher, is 0-5, which doesn’t really matter because he has yet to rip, pull, break or otherwise do anything to find himself back on the disabled list, his home for the better part of the last three seasons.

Depth and talent. My how things have changed.

Two years ago, there was a great void at catcher for the Washington Nationals. It was like a black hole, a huge expanse of nothingness with nary a star in sight.

Brian Schneider seemed to be the answer when the team moved from Montreal but did little in his three seasons with Washington.

In 2009, Josh Bard and Wil Nieves got most of the at-bats but combined to hit just .240/.305/.330.

But a smart free agent signing and a blossoming young star gave the Nationals hope. Add to that one of those “crafty veteran for promising young player” trades and suddenly the catching cupboard was no longer bare.

Heading into 2011, General Manager Mike Rizzo fully expected “Pudge” Rodriguez to split time with Ramos behind the plate.

Two roster spots, two players. It seemed easy.

But then something amazing happened.

Jesus Flores returned from the baseball dead late last season and seems ready to again compete.

Now what?

To be sure, Rodriguez will come North with the team. After an off year in 2009, Rodriguez bounced back enough last season to give the Nationals a steady presence behind the plate. In 400 at-bats, he hit .266/.294/.347 and made just four errors in 102 games.

Ramos, baseball’s No. 58 prospect last year, batted .278 with the Twins and Nationals and has an above-average glove. When the trade was made, it was with the expectation that by the upcoming All Star break, he would be the team’s starting catcher; ease in the prospect, ease out the Hall-of-Famer.

But does anyone remember how good Flores really was?

I had never heard of Flores before the 2006 Rule V draft, but front office assistant Davey Johnson certainly had. He had seen him play for the Mets’ Class-A Florida State League entry and bugged then GM Jim Bowden to take him in the draft if available.

As a 21-year-old, Flores had batted .266-21-70 for Port St. Lucie with 32 doubles and a .335 on-base percentage. He led the league in home runs, was eighth in doubles, 14th in RBI and 10th in OPS.

He made just four errors all season and threw out almost half of those attempting to steal.

So why would such a good player be left unprotected?

Because no general manager in his right mind would take such a young and raw player—especially a catcher—and force him to sit on the major league bench for an entire year.

Washington Senators fans—old ones like me—remember Harmon Killebrew who had to remain on the major league roster as an 18-year-old because of similar rules, getting just 104 at-bats over two seasons before being sent to the minors for seasoning.

No one is stupid enough to let that happen again. That’s why Flores was left unprotected.

Of course, stupid and Jim Bowden just seem to go together.

Said Baseball America the next day, “The best prospects lost in the major league phase include catcher Jesus Flores from the Mets to the Nationals, where new manager Manny Acta—who came over from the Mets—should be familiar with Flores. Still, it’s hard to imagine a catcher jumping from high Class A to stick in the major leagues. Then again, these are the Nationals.”

And from, “The Mets also lost possibly their best catching prospect in Jesus Flores who was taken by Washington in the Rule 5 Draft. Flores is a few years away and the Mets are probably expecting Francisco Pena to eventually overtake him as a prospect. They may even get Flores back, but I still think it was a mistake to leave him exposed when they had roster space.”’s Jonathan Mayo said that he was “very happy” with the pick and believed that the Nationals had found their “catcher of the future.” He said that Bowden was doing a solid job of finding “top-flight talent” in less than conventional ways.

Surprisingly, the Nationals didn’t hide him all that much in his first season in the major leagues. The 22-year-old batted .244/.310/.361 with four homers and 25 RBI. Expand those numbers over a full season and he would have batted .244-12-75.

But he just hasn’t been healthy since.

He started having headaches, suffered a severe ankle sprain, strained his calf, and that was just in 2008.

The following year, he injured his shoulder and missed more than 100 games. Then even before the 2010 season started, he tore his labrum and was out for the year.

Flores spent much of last summer slogging through physical therapy, healthy enough to be on the diamond but still unable to throw a ball to second base. When the Ramos trade was announced, he realized that he was now an afterthought to the Nationals.

I mean, Ramos was given Flores’ jersey number for goodness sake.

And then—just like that—Flores got healthy. He played in 25 games in the just completed Dominican Winter League, hitting .322/.365/.460 with two homers and 16 RBI.

If he’s healthy, the Nationals have two young starting catchers. So now what?

His scouting report is glowing. “He boasts a great arm and can singlehandedly curb the running game and a solid hitting stroke and power potential. He is a quality receiver. He is a talented catcher with all-around upside when healthy.”

Compare that to Ramos: “Has an ideal catcher’s build. Can hit for average and also displays some home run power. His defense is first rate.”

The Nationals, then, may have two young catchers capable of being quality starters, both with a great glove and an above average bat.

Oh, and they have that future Hall-of-Famer as well.

If healthy, Flores is my preference. He has a similar bat but with more power than Ramos and at least equal defense.

My guess is that—playing every day—Flores can hit .275-20-75 batting sixth while Ramos is more of a .270-15-55 hitter more suited for batting seventh.

Need proof?

Add up all of Jesus Flores’ major league at-bats and it equals one full major league season: .260-16-99, 30 doubles, 3 triples and a .313 on-base percent.

It makes no sense to keep both players, but because of his injury history, Flores has little trade value. Ramos, on the other hand, is worth one near All-Star closer. Matt Capps proved that.

Should the Nationals play it safe and keep Ramos, a very good catching prospect or trade him and keep Flores, who has already shown that he is a quality major league catcher when healthy?

Flores still has options and will likely have to prove his health at Syracuse, at least for a while.

But of course, this is all short-term conjecture.

The next great “catcher of the future” is Derek Norris, of course.

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4 Years Later: Was Washington’s Ross Detwiler Worth a High First-Round Pick?

A potentially new-and-improved Ross Detwiler took the mound in Viera, Florida yesterday and pitched two scoreless innings against the New York Mets. He allowed just two weak singles, struck out three and didn’t walk a batter.

A different release pointtwice now the Nationals have tinkered with his across-the-body throwing motionseems to have streamlined Detwiler’s follow-through and perhaps, finally, Detwiler 3.0 will take his place in the Nationals’ starting rotation.

Or will he? Many still believe that the team chose poorly when they made the then 21-year-old their top pick.

They point to the 2007 MLB amateur draft when the Nationalswho were holding a coveted No. 6 pickdrafted the left-hander from Missouri State. There were many highly respected players still available when the Nationals seemingly picked Detwiler’s name out of a hat.

Almost four years later, Detwiler has yet to mature and some believe he never will. He has been slowed by both hip surgery and changes in his delivery, and it seems that each spring, he has to start over.

Was Bowden wrong in choosing the lanky lefty or was Detwiler the appropriate pick that year?

Many forget that the Wentzville, Missouri native was considered the second best left-hander in the draft, behind only uber-prospect David Price, who went first to the Rays via Vanderbilt University.

But perhaps more importantly to Bowden and the Nationals, he was rated as being the third-closest prospect to the major leagues.

So really, for a team bereft any real talent, Bowden’s choice made perfect sense.

Coming out of college, Detwiler had a four-seam fastball that topped out at 94 mph and a solid two-seam sinker. His 12-6 curve buckled knees and his changewhen he threw itwas a show pitch that still needed work.

In his last two seasons in college, Detwiler went 11-9 with a 2.51 ERA, allowing just six hits per game while striking out 12. Scouts liked his deceptive delivery and his cerebral pitching style.

It was believed that while he would never be a No. 1 starter, he would be a solid No. 2, something Washington desperately needed.

Looking back on the choice, some think that Detwiler was chosen too early, that perhaps Bowden was after a player polished enough to make it to the major leagues quickly while not costing the team a great deal of money.

It turns out that was totally untrue. Listed below are seven of the most respected mock drafts from 2007, showing where Detwiler was predicted to be drafted: Fourth (Chicago Cubs) Second (Kansas City Royals)

John Sickels: Eighth (Colorado Rockies)

Jonathon Mayo, Fifth (Baltimore Orioles) Fifth (Baltimore Orioles) Fifth (Baltimore Orioles) Fifth (Baltimore Orioles) Second (Kansas City Royals)

Of the eight mock drafts, only one had Detwiler going to a team who picked after the Nationals. There is little doubt, then, that Detwiler was a well-respected player who most considered a top five talent.

With the Nationals’ sixth pick, the mock drafts predicted that Washington would select either Phillipe Aumont, Matt Wieters, Beau Mills or Max Scherzer.

I’m not sure why so many think that Ross Detwiler has not played well thus far in his career. Over four minor league seasons, his record is 17-17, 3.79, 10.1/3.5/8.1. Last season, splitting time with Class-A Potomac, Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse, Detwiler went 3-2, 2.27, 10.0/1.9/8.0.

With the Nationals, he pitched well last season up until his last start, when the Phillies clobbered him. Before that game, Detwiler had a record of 1-2 with a fine 2.52 ERA, striking out 15 in 25 innings. Even with that horrid game against Philadelphia, his ERA was still a solid 4.25.

So to those who believe that Detwiler was a bad pick, I ask, who is it the Nationals should have selected? There were 24 players taken after Detwiler in the first round. Let’s see if we can find a better choice.

Remember, Bowden was not necessarily locked in on a pitcher. In fact, he said later that had they been available, he would have taken either Josh Vitters or Mike Moustakas instead. “Pitchers,” Bowden explained, “come with a much higher risk of injury than position players.”

Vitters made it to Double-A last season, batted .247-10-39 and was ranked as the 70th best prospect by Baseball America. Moustakas is ranked 80th and batted .293-15-48 for the Royals’ Triple-A club.

So both of Bowden’s first choices are doing well enough, but neither has yet to play in the major leagues like Detwiler.


Here are the 24 players taken after Detwiler:

7. Matt LaPorta is now 25 and has batted .232/.307/.388 with 19 homers in 162 major league games with Cleveland.

8. Casey Weathers has a 2-3, 3.63 record in 88 minor league games. Last season, he walked 8.2 batters per nine innings while striking out 12.1. He has yet to make it to the major leagues.

9. Jarrod Parker has done well thus far, going 17-11, 3.31 in 44 career minor league starts. However, he underwent Tommy John surgery and missed all of 2010. He was the 36th best prospect prior to his surgery. He hasn’t pitched in the majors.

10. Madison Bumgarner made it to the majors in 2010 and went 7-6, 2.90 for the San Francisco Giants. He allowed just 2.2 walks per nine innings while striking out 7.1.

11. Phillippe Aumont was traded to Philadelphia in the Cliff Lee trade, but has yet to have any real success. In three minor league seasons, Aumont has gone 9-21, 4.57, 8.7/4.8/8.8.

12. Matt Dominguez hit .252-14-81 in Double-A last season and has a career .257 batting average. He has no major league experience.

13. Beau Mills batted .241-10-72 with a .312 on-base percentage in his second year of Double-A ball last season. He hasn’t played in the major leagues yet.

14. Jason Heyward is the one player who stands out in this draft. He joined the Braves last season as a 20-year-old and batted .277/.393/.456 with 18 home runs and 72 RBI.

15. Devin Mesoraco reached Triple-A last year and hit .231 in 58 at-bats. Splitting time at three different levels, he batted .302/.377/.587.  He has no major league experience.

16. Kevin Aherns has struggled throughout his four-year career, averaging .239/.309/.348 and showing little power or speed.

17. Blake Beavan went 14-8, 3.90 last year while playing at both Double-A and Triple-A. For his career, he is 33-22, 3.58 in three minor league seasons. He has yet to play in the major leagues.

18. Pete Kozma has a career minor league batting average of just .243 with a .319 on-base percent. He has yet to play above the Double-A level.

19. Joe Savery went 1-12, 4.66 for the Phillies Triple-A team. He hasn’t played in the major leagues yet.

20. Chris Withrow played in Double-A in 2010, going 4-9, 5.97.

21. J.P. Arencibia batted .143/.189/.343 for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2010.

22. Tim Alderson went 11-9, 6.03 while playing at Class-A and Double-A in the Pirates organization. He has a career 4.13 ERA in the minor leagues.

23. Nick Schmidt has gone 12-18, 4.85, 9.2/4.4/7.9 in four minor league seasons.

24. Michael Main has won 14 games with a 4.83 ERA in four minor league seasons.

25. Aaron Poreda has pitched in 14 games in the major leagues with a 2.70 ERA. He was the 63rd best prospect in 2009.

26. James Simmons had a 7-7, 5.72 record in Triple-A last season and has won 16 games in three minor league seasons. He has no major league experience

27. Rick Porcello was certainly the best player available when Washington chose Ross Detwiler, but he and his agent made it clear that they were looking to break new ground with their bonus demands. Ultimately, Porcello ended up costing Detroit almost $11 million in bonus money and guaranteed major league contracts. Porcello has won 24 major league games with an ERA of 4.43.

28. Ben Revere has played 10 games with Minnesota, batting .179/.233/.179. He has a career .328 minor league batting average, but with little power.

29. Wendell Fairley has a career .267 minor league average with six home runs. He has yet to play above Class-A.

30. Andrew Backman was 10-11, 3.90 in Double-A last season, striking out 8.1 batters per nine innings. He has yet to play in the major leagues.

So six players drafted after Detwiler, Matt LaPorta, Madison Bumgarner, Jason Heyward, J.P. Arencibia, Rick Porcello and Ben Revere, have played in the major leagues and only twoHeyward and Porcellohave succeeded. The rest have either failed to this point or simply don’t have enough games under their belt to be able to render a fair decision.

A few of those still in the minorsplayers like Jarrod Parker, Devin Mesoraco and Blake Beavanlook like they could become quality major leaguers, but are still a year or more away from being ready.

And just too many of these first rounder’s seem headed to the minor league scrap heap. A great many of them are still at the Double-A level and a few still haven’t gotten out of Class-A.

Detwiler, on the other hand, hasn’t pitched at the Single-A level for two years.

The difference between a prospect and a player is that the prospect’s statistics get better as he is promoted and faces better competition.

In 151 innings at the Class-A level, Detwiler went 10-10, 4.64, 10.1/3.5/8.1. In his time with the Double-A Harrisburg Senators, he improved considerably, going 2-5 but with a 2.90 ERA. His walks per nine innings dropped to 2.6 and his strikeouts improved to 8.8. With Triple-A Syracuse, Detwiler went 5-2, 2.98 in 13 starts.

In his first 10 starts in the major leagues, Detwiler looked very much like the rookie he was. He went 0-5 with a 6.40 ERA, allowing a batting average/on-base percentage/slugging mark of .322/.379/.457.

Since then, however, Detwiler has pitched extremely well for Washington. In his last 10 starts (since September 2009), he has crafted a fine 3.22 ERA and has allowed just a .252/.339/.330 batting average/on-base percentage/slugging. In those 10 games, he has had just one poor outing, against the Phillies.

Detwiler has had to deal with two problems since joining the Nationals’ organization. First, the organization tried to change his unconventional delivery which caused him to lose some of his effectiveness.

But they allowed him to return to his old form and he’s been sharp ever since (the new 2011 change is minor in comparison and seems to have tweaked, not changed his overall delivery).

Second, his hip surgery last year caused him to lose half of the 2010 season. But he is 100 percent healthy now and should be ready to compete for a spot in the Nationals’ rotation.

And here’s the thing: he deserves that spot. He has the baseball skills to be an effective major league pitcher, and has succeeded over the past year. Going back to the minor leagues isn’t going to help him in 2011. He needs 30 starts to prove his worth to the Nationals.

Is there a chance he will fail? Sure, but the team needs to find that out now.

Yes, it would have been nice to have a more experienced starter join the rotation, but I am perfectly content going into 2011 with a starting five of Jordan Zimmermann, Jason Marquis, John Lannan, Ross Detwiler and Livan Hernandez (with Yunesky Maya as the team’s first option at Syracuse).

Ross Detwiler, in spite of what we’ve heard, was the right pick with that sixth spot in the draft. Sure, Jayson Heyward seems to be the elite of that first round, but remember that 13 other teams failed to choose him as well. And the only other player who has outperformed Detwiler is Rick Porcello, which the team couldn’t have signed even if they did draft him.

No, Ross Detwiler made sense, both then and now. If given the chance, he can be an effective No. 3 or No. 4 starter, the kind of guy who can give a team 12-13 wins and an ERA around 4.00.

Now let’s see if he’s given that chance instead of being derailed by some guy with a little more experience and an ERA over five.

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Washington Nationals 2009 MLB Draft in Review: Few Stars, But Lots of Depth

By the time the 2009 baseball amateur draft finally came to an end, the Washington Nationals had added 50 players to their minor league system.

But really, other than the first two—Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen—the other 48 were either minor league “inventory” or relative unknowns who would probably slip into the anonymity of the low minor leagues, likely never to be heard from again.

A player’s first couple years can be very telling regarding his hopes of making it to the major leagues.

Let’s take a look at the “lower 48” and see how they have done in their first two professional seasons:


Second Round: Jeff Kobernus (2B), Cal Berkeley

His first year, 2009, wasn’t particularly impressive for the 21-year-old, as he hit just .220/.273/.244 in 41 at-bats for Class A Vermont.

He improved last season, however, batting .279/.316/.346 with 21 stolen bases in 312 at-bats. He committed just 12 errors and showed excellent range.

But with Danny Espinosa and Stephen Lombardozzi ahead of him in the organization, I doubt we’ll see much of Kobernus at the major league level.

His father was a minor league player in the 1980s.

Kobernus batted .341-8-17 his junior year before being drafted by the Nationals.


Third Round: Trevor Holder (RHP), University of Georgia

Playing for Class A Vermont, Hagerstown and Potomac, Holder was 4-3, 6.97 in 11 starts in 2009. However, he was 2-0, 3.55 for Hagerstown before being promoted to Potomac, where he was clearly in over his head, going 2-3, 9.26 in six starts.

He again split time at Hagerstown and Potomac last season and pitched very well, starting 26 games and winning seven with a fine 3.64 ERA.

He struck out 6.8 batters per nine innings while walking an incredibly low 1.9.

Holder was thought to be a sure first-round pick in the 2008 June draft, but shoulder tendinitis caused his stock to drop.

He was picked by the Marlins in the 10th round but did not sign. Holder had an up-and-down season in 2009 and fell to the Nationals in Round 3.

General manager Mike Rizzo believes that Holder will one day be a middle-of-the-rotation starter for Washington.


Fourth Round: A.J. Morris (RHP), Kansas State University

Though Morris went 0-4 in 10 starts with the Gulf Coast Nationals and Low A Hagerstown in 2009, he had a very impressive 3.38 ERA, allowing 9.3 hits, 1.7 walks and 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings.

He started 2010 with the Gulf Coast Nationals, but was promoted to Potomac after four games, finishing the season with a record of 5-3, 3.88, allowing 8.4 hits and 3.4 walks per nine innings while striking out 7.6.

Morris was the Big 12 Pitcher of the Year in 2009, going 14-1, 2.09 with 100 strikeouts. He has a 92-mph fastball and a “plus” slider.


Fifth Round: Miguel Pena (LHP), La Joya High School, Texas

Pena didn’t sign with the Nationals, opting to play for San Jacinto Junior College instead. He was drafted last season by the Padres in the 13th round, but has yet to play a professional game.


Sixth Round: Michael Taylor (SS), Westminster Academy, Florida

Taylor had planned to attend the University of North Florida, but was swayed by the Nationals’ offer of a six-figure contract. He signed just a few days after the draft.

In 141 at-bats over two seasons, Taylor has batted just .199 with a .276 on-base percentage and a .885 fielding percentage.


Seventh Round: Andrew (Dean) Weaver (RHP), University of Georgia

A teammate of Trevor Holder, Weaver split his first season between the Gulf Coast Nationals and Vermont Lake Monsters of the New York-Penn League. In 10 games, he was 0-1, 3.55 with two saves, allowing 9.9 hits, 2.8 walks and 7.1 strikeouts per nine innings.

Weaver pitched for Class A Hagerstown last year, going 1-3 with a 3.04 ERA, saving 16 games in 20 chances. He struck out 6.4 batters per nine innings.

Weaver was the closer for the Georgia Bull Dogs, saving 10 games while going 4-2, 3.60 in 29 games.


Eighth Round: Roberto Perez (SS), Dorado Academy, Puerto Rico

Perez signed in late August and played in just 11 games in the Gulf Coast League, hitting just .167/.211/.167 in 36 at-bats.

He returned to the GCL Nationals in 2010, and the 19-year-old thrived, batting .310/.392/.416 in 113 at-bats. His .952 fielding percent was good considering the level of play.

Perez is the nephew of former big league shortstop Dickie Thon.


Ninth Round: Taylor Jordan (RHP), Brevard Community College, Florida

Jordan started six games for the Gulf Coast Nationals in 2009, going 2-0, 3.63. He allowed just 6.5 hits and 2.3 walks per nine innings while striking out 8.6.

He split time between Class A Vermont and Hagerstown last year, going 2-4 with a 5.37 ERA. However, his 2.8 walks and 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings are intriguing.


10th Round: Paul Applebee (LHP), Cal State Riverside

Applebee played his first season for the GCL Nationals and Vermont, going 0-2, 3.24 while allowing just 8.4 hits and 1.1 walks per nine innings, striking out 7.5.

He was promoted to Class A Hagerstown in 2010 and went 6-6, 4.10 for the Suns, allowing 9.9 hits and 1.0 walks per nine innings while striking out 5.6.

If he keeps his walk rate to around one per nine innings, he’ll make it to the major leagues at some point.


11th Round: Justin Bloxom (LF), Kansas State University

Bloxom, a teammate of A.J. Morris at Kansas State, had a difficult first year, going .228/.346/.303 with 68 strikeouts in just 228 at-bats.

However, he became a full-time player in 2010, batting .309/.355/.476 with 11 homers and 70 RBI to go along with 10 stolen bases for Hagerstown.


12th Round: Nathan Karns (RHP), Texas Tech University

Karns signed just before the deadline in 2009 and has yet to play for the Nationals. I can’t find any information about why he has yet to appear.


13th Round: Patrick Lehman (RHP), George Washington University

Lehman was outstanding for Vermont and Low A Hagerstown, going 4.2, 1.97, allowing 6.5 hits, 0.3 walks and 4.6 strikeouts per nine innings.

Wait, 0.3 walks per nine innings? Wow.

In 59.1 innings, Lehman walked two batters.

Playing mostly for Class A Carolina last year, Lehman went 5-4 with a 4.53 ERA. Although his ERA jumped a bit, his control remained superb, allowing just 2.6 walks per nine innings while striking out 9.1.


14th Round: Naoya Washiya (RF), College of the Desert, California

Washiya went .246-0-14 for the Gulf Coast Nationals with a .331 on-base percent and a .314 slugging mark. He was released and signed in 2010 with a Japanese minor league team, the Ishikawa Million Stars.


15th Round: Corey Davis (1B), Coffee High School, Georgia

I can’t find any information about Davis. I don’t think he signed.

Among the remaining 35 rounds, many picks didn’t sign and those who did had a kind of first year you’d expect from a late-round draft pick. However, there were some exceptions:


16th Round: Sean Nicol (SS/2B), University of San Diego

Over the past two seasons, Nicol has batted .265/.362/.330, reaching Potomac late last season.


21st Round: Mitchell Clegg (LHP), University of Massachusetts Amherst

Clegg was very impressive for the Vermont Lake Monsters in 2009. In 10 starts, he went 2-4, 2.20, allowing 8.8 hits, with 2.0 walks per nine innings while striking out 4.7.

Last season, Clegg played for the GCL Nationals and Class A Hagerstown, combining to go 9-4, 3.20 and allowing just 2.1 walks per nine innings.

Those are good numbers for even a third- or fourth-round pick. Perhaps the Nationals found a sleeper in Clegg.


22nd Round: Daniel Rosenbaum (LHP), Xavier University, Ohio

Rosenbaum’s 2009 stats need to be taken with a grain of salt because he was a 21-year-old pitching against 18-year-old kids in the Gulf Coast League.

That said, he went 4-1, 1.95, allowing 7.1 hits and 2.2 walks per nine innings. He struck out 9.2 per nine innings as well.

But he pitched against players his own age last season, pitching for Class A Hagerstown and Potomac, combining to go 5-7, but with a sparkling 2.25 ERA.

He walked just 2.6 batters per nine innings while striking out 7.2.

I think Rosenbaum is the real deal.


29th Round: Evan Bronson (LHP), Trinity University

Bronson was a closer for Vermont of the New York-Penn League, going 3-0, 0.55 with four saves in 2009. He allowed just 5.1 hits and 0.5 walks per nine innings while striking out 6.9

He became a starter last year, going 8-9 and a 4.36 ERA with Potomac and Hagerstown. He walked just 1.5 batters per nine innings.


30th Round: Rob Wort (RHP), Jefferson Junior College

After a very “blah” 3-3, 3.91 2009 season for the GCL Nationals, Wort excelled as a closer for Hagerstown and Potomac, going 6-0, 1.92 with eight saves.

He walked 3.0 batters per nine innings, but doubled his strikeout rate to 11.1.


38th Round: Chris Manno (LHP), Duke University

He first played in 2010 as a 21-year-old in the Gulf Coast League. However, he went 1-1 with a 2.50 ERA and struck out 14.5 batters per nine innings. Anyone with that many strikeouts needs to be watched.

It’s very difficult to predict future greatness based on just two seasons, but the Nationals’ 2009 draft seems to be well stocked with pitchers, but bereft of any standout position players.

The offensive players averaged .237 in their first year, though most of them improved in 2010.

The pitchers’ ERAs were 6.97, 3.38, 3.55, 3.63, 3.24, 1.97, 7.20, 2.20, 1.95, 3.51, 4.15, 4.35, 0.55, 3.91, 3.44 and 3.95.

It has been the policy of the Nationals, under both former general manager Jim Bowden and current GM Mike Rizzo, to draft pitchers over position players so that one day—hopefully—the team would have enough depth to stock the big club and trade the excess for hitters.

Bowden has often said (and Rizzo agrees) that it’s easy to draft a bat but no one ever has enough pitching.

Other than the first two players, I doubt there are any more real stars among this group, but if pitchers like Daniel Rosenbaum, Trevor Holder and Mitch Clegg continue at their current pace, the team will indeed have enough pitching talent to trade for major league bats.

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Washington Nationals: Livan Hernandez Driving Bus on Road Back to Respectability

When the Washington Nationals signed the aging Livan Hernandez to a minor-league contract following the 2009 season, the move was met with a yawn and a shrug.

Hernandez—who claimed to be 34 at the time—had just completed his fourth consecutive bad year in which he combined to go 46-47 with a 5.28 ERA.

The Mets had released him late in 2009, and the woeful Nationals soon signed him, giving him six starts at the end of the year.

He pitched even worse, allowing a 6.23 ERA with Washington along with a .314 batting average-against.

And yet—somehow—the Cuban defector found himself in the 2010 starting rotation and he flourished, finishing the season as the Nationals’ best starter. He pitched 200 innings, won 10 games and his 3.66 ERA was his lowest since 2003.

Shortly after the season ended, Hernandez was quickly re-signed to a one-year, $1 million contract. Manager Jim Riggleman announced formally yesterday afternoon what most of us already assumed: Livan will be the team’s Opening Day starter.

But will Hernandez perform one more year of sleight-of-hand magic and keep that oh-so-slow fastball out of the upper deck of National League ballparks, or will he revert back to his days when his ERA and his waistline were equally bloated?

We all remember Hernandez’ start last season, when for the first two months of the year he was one of the best pitchers in the league.

Even by mid-season, he was still formidable. The second half of the season, though, seemed pretty ugly.

So will the Nationals get the Livan of the first half of 2010 or the second half? Surprisingly, the numbers don’t suggest as much difference as I remember.

Let’s compare his statistics from 2010, from Opening Day to July 1 and from July 6 to the end of the season:


First-half: 17

Second-Half: 16


First-half: 6-4

Second-half: 4-8

Innings Pitched:

First-half: 112

Second-half: 100

Innings Per Game:

First-half: 6.6

Second-half: 6.2




Batting Average/On-Base/Slugging Percentage Against

First-half: .260/.312/.376

Second-half: .280/.336/.748

Hits/Walks/Strikeouts Per Nine Innings:

First-Half: 8.8/2.7/4.4

Second-Half: 9.6/2.7/5.3

BABIP (Batting Average for Balls in Play):

First-half: .277

Second-half: .312

Quality Starts:

First-half: 12/17

Second-half: 10/16

Those first six weeks were pretty special for Hernandez.  In his first eight games, he had an ERA of 1.62, and he didn’t see his ERA go over 3.00 for good until July.

But really, his second-half numbers were certainly strong enough that the Nationals were in a position to win most of them.

And Livan did not wear down as I had initially thought. Take a look at his ERA breakdown over the course of the year:

First eight starts: 1.62

Second eight starts: 4.50

Third eight starts: 3.29

Last nine starts: 5.33

It wasn’t that his career 3,000 innings began to take their toll, but rather Livan Hernandez either performs at one extreme or the other.

In one three-game stretch in late August, Hernandez game up 20 runs in 14 innings. But in the four games that preceded them, he had a 2.28 ERA and a .255 batting average against.

And in the five games that followed, he crafted a 2.81 ERA and allowed just a .265 batting average against.

True, those last nine games of the season look a little ugly with that 5.33 ERA, and they seem the product of wear and tear on an aging pitcher.

But the last five of those nine games were superb. He allowed just a 2.81 ERA and a .269/.318/.403 slash line.

In other words, he finished the season as strongly as he started it.

This is purely a subjective assessment, but I think Livan has one more good year left in him, and the Nationals desperately need it.

Oh, his 10 or so wins won’t make much of a difference this year, but another 200-inning campaign will surely take the strain off the bullpen, as the young pitchers struggle to improve against major league hitters.

This time next year will find Livan Hernandez in someone else’s uniform, replaced by a healthy Stephen Strasburg. But what he did for the Nationals in 2010—and hopefully this year—will not be forgotten.

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Was Jayson Werth’s 4-Year Power Surge the Result of Playing in Philadelphia?

In a couple of weeks, the next savior of the Washington Nationals will trot onto the rich green Florida grass in rural Viera and begin the process of trying to live up to both his reputation and his $126 million contract.

Jayson Werth, who in his four seasons in Philadelphia averaged .282/.380/.506 with 29 homers and 90 RBI in a 550 at-bat season, is expected to take over for Adam Dunn and bat cleanup for the Washington Nationals in 2011.

Anything less than .300/.380/.500 with 30 homers, 100 RBI and 20 or so stolen bases could be considered a failure.

I have never given the possibility of a Jayson Werth regression a second thought. Since he signed with Philadelphia four years ago, he has been remarkably consistent. There was no reason, I thought, to suggest that he wouldn’t do for the Nationals what he did for the Phillies.


But todayfor the first time since his signingit dawned on me that Werth was leaving that veritable band-box that is Citizens Bank Park and is moving to the far more spacious Nationals Park. Now, to be sure, the Nationals aren’t playing in RFK Stadium any more, but unlike in Philadelphia, high-powered bunts don’t go for home runs.

How will playing his home games away from Citizens Bank Park affect Jayson Werth? Was helike so many other sluggers over the yearsa product of his surroundings?

Here are Werth’s home and away splits since 2007his first year with Philadelphiaexpanded to a full 162-game major league season for easier comparison:

Home: .292/.386/.506, 31 home runs, 97 RBI

Away: .262/.379/.474, 26 home runs, 80 RBI

Most major league hitters have better statistics at home, some marginally, some significantly. It’s simply easier to get out of your own bed and head to a park where sheer repetition has made it easier to succeed at the plate.

So some of Werth’s better home stats are as a result of simply feeling more comfortable, and batting average and on-base percent are more a product of comfort than environment. But the additional home runs and RBI are probably the result of the closer outfield fences in Philadelphia.

My guess is that three or four of those homers, and perhaps 10 of the RBI, were rewards for playing at Citizens Bank Park. If that is the only difference in production for Werth in Washington this season, there is no reason to worry.

But there is more.

In his first two seasons with the Phillies, Werth’s statistics were better on the road. In 2007 and 2008, he hit 20 home runs and drove in 58 runs away from Philadelphia, while garnering just 12 homers and 50 RBI at home.

In his last two seasonswhen Jayson Werth became a starhe was dominant at home. Though his batting average and on-base percent were the same (.270, .380), his slugging average was 125 points higher at home (.560). He also hit 15 more home runs at Citizens Bank Park and drove in 23 more runs (39, 104).

Why the difference? In his first two seasons, he was a part-time player, while he played every day in 2009 and 2010. Other than that, everything else seems the same.

Was there a bump in the numbers playing in Philadelphia?

Here are Werth’s home and away splits in his four seasons before he joined the Phillies, two in Toronto and two with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Again, they are expanded to represent a full 162-game season for comparison purposes:

Home: .250/.340/.410, 21 home runs, 90 RBI

Away: .245/.335/.430, 20 home runs, 82 RBI

Playing at the Rogers Centre and Dodger Stadium, his production at home and on the road was almost identical. This, of course, was a different Jayson Werth. He was still having injury problems and had not yet played enough at the major league level to polish his skills.

Still, he was the same hitter on the road that he was at home.

In the end, I think playing all those games at Citizens Bank Park did indeed tweak Werth’s offensive production. But by how much, I cannot say. I doubt there will be a significant drop off, but it will be obvious.

What can we expect from Werth in 2011? I think .290/.380/.490 with 26 homers and 100 RBI along with 20 stolen bases seems about right. No, those are not Adam Dunn numbers, but then Adam Dunn doesn’t have Jayson Werth’s defensive numbers either.

As long as Werth plays the defense we all expect and his offense is similar to what he hit in Philadelphia, Nationals’ fans and the team’s front office will be quite happy with his signing. Hopefully, the $126 million will never come up again.

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Signing Cristian Guzman Cost Washington Nationals More Than Just Money

When the Washington Nationals signed Jayson Werth to a $126 million contract this past offseason, they plugged a hole in their outfield and brought in one of the few true five-tool players in baseball.

And because their first-round pick was protected thanks to their dismal 2010 record, all they had to give up was their second-round pick in this June’s MLB Amateur Draft.

And that’s not much, right? After all, over the past two seasons, Werth has averaged .282/.380/.519 with 32 home runs, 92 RBI and 19 stolen bases. A second-round pick might—or might not—make an impact at the major league level, but almost certainly won’t be another Jayson Werth.

Since their first season in Washington, the Nationals have received far more draft picks for lost free agents than they have given up.

2005 was an exception, however. Shortly after Jim Bowden took over as team general manager, he found himself without a left side of his infield. Tony Batista, who had batted .241-32-110 (but with a .272 on-base percent) signed with a team in Japan and Maicer Izturis was traded along with Juan Rivera to the Angels for Jose Guillen.

There was no one in the farm system ready to take over at either short or third and because Major League Baseball—then owner of the team—had gutted the minors in anticipation of contraction, there was not enough depth to trade prospects for established major leaguers.

And so Bowden entered the free agent market to fill the holes.

On November 16th, 2004, Bowden signed Twins’ shortstop Cristian Guzman to a four-year contract worth $16 million.  Three days later, the Rockies’ Vinny Castilla agreed to a two-year, $6 million deal.

The two signings cost the Nationals their second- and third-round picks in 2005.

Was it worth it?

Castilla played in 142 games in Washington, batting .253/.319/.403 with 12 homers and 66 RBI. When Ryan Zimmerman was called up from the minors on September 1st, Castilla moved to the bench. He was traded to San Diego that winter for Brian Lawrence, who never pitched for the Nationals.

Cristian Guzman’s first year in Washington was his worst of his career, batting .219/.260/.314, and he needed a hot September just to get over .200. He missed most of 2006 and all of 2007 due to injuries, but averaged .301/.327/.416 in 2008 and 2009. He hit .284 before being traded to the Texas Rangers last season.

Castilla’s one year with the Nationals was not worth a second-round pick and Guzman’s roller coaster ride in Washington was probably—barely—worth the lost draft choice.

Let’s see who the Nationals lost.

With the fifth pick in the second round, the Colorado Rockies chose outfielder Daniel Carte. His best year was in 2007 when he hit .283-14-71. Over his six-year minor-league career, Carte has averaged .257-16-75 over 550 at-bats.

If he makes it to the major leagues, it’s going to be as a reserve. The Nationals didn’t lose much by signing Castilla.

However, the signing of Guzman hurt.

With the Nationals’ third-round pick, the Minnesota Twins chose pitcher Brian Duensing, a left-handed pitcher who went 17-2, 3.66 in three years at the University of Nebraska. In five minor-league seasons, Duensing had a record of 33-36, 3.61, allowing 9.3 hits and 2.2 walks per nine innings while striking out 6.4. He joined the Twins in 2009.

Though he started in the bullpen, Duensing has joined the starting rotation and has excelled. He has a record of 15-5 with an ERA of 3.03. He has allowed just 8.5 hits and 2.8 walks per nine innings with a 2:1 strikeout to walk ratio.

Last season he went 10-3 with a 2.62 ERA.

He is described as having “moxie” and never giving up. More than once, he argued with coaches in the dugout to let him go back out and pitch another inning. About the only negative is his size. At 5’11” and 175 lbs, stamina is a concern. But thus far, anyway, he has outperformed his expectations.

Look, I realize that just because the Twins chose Brian Duensing it doesn’t mean that the Nationals would have. But conversely, the Nationals—had they retained their second-round pick—might have chosen instead of Carte Yunel Escobar, who in four major-league seasons has averaged .289-11-64.

When the Nationals signed Vinny Castilla and Cristian Guzman, they knew what they were getting. There weren’t going to be any surprises (though one can say that Guzman’s 2005 season was very much a surprise). But high-round draft picks can either become a bust or a plaque in the Hall of Fame.

You just never know.

But man, wouldn’t Brian Duensing look really good in the rotation right now?

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And With the Sixth Pick In the 2011 MLB Draft, the Washington Nationals Select:

With the sixth pick in the 2011 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft, the Washington Nationals select …

…Taylor Jungmann?


While it is way too early to be making this kind of prediction, I’m going to anyway. And really, it does make a lot of sense.

The Pirates have the first pick and should take the consensus best player in the draft, third baseman Anthony Rendon. Pitchers Gerrit Cole (UCLA), Matt Pruke (TCU), Dan Norris (high school), and outfielder George Springer (UConn) seem to be the five best players in the draft.

That should leave Jungmann available and the Nationals on the board.

Nationals’ General Manager Mike Rizzo likes tall pitchers with power fastballs. Jungmann is 6’6” and has a fastball that consistently hits 93-95 mph. However, it’s more a “show me” pitch than an “out pitch.”

His curveball gets more swing-throughs than his fastball.

He has a solid slider that should one day be “devastating”, as describes it. Like Ross Detwiler, though (who is also tall and lanky), his mechanics are unusual, and at times, cause him to lose his rhythm.

But that three-quarter delivery unnerves right-handed batters. It leaves Jungmann’s hand and heads straight for them. But just as the knees begin to buckle, it moves back over the plate.

In two years at Texas, Jungmann has gone a combined 19-6 with a 2.01 ERA, allowing 6.1 hits and 3.3 walks per nine innings while striking out 9.7. He’s called cold and heartless on the mound, in the Bob Gibson and Roger Clemens “I’d bean my own mother if it meant getting a win” mode.

Jungmann is mature and polished, and if he can get his mechanics a little more under control, it wouldn’t take long before he would be ready for the major leagues.

If God finally shines some sunlight down on the Nationals, the future could be quite bright for Washington’s team. Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann should lead the rotation for years.

Sammy Solis—last year’s second-round pick—has a strong fastball, good breaking ball and excellent change. He commands all three very well. He was described before last season’s amateur draft as a No. 3 starter, without a terribly high ceiling but polished enough to make it to the major leagues in a year or so.

Cuban defector Yunesky Maya’s poor showing with the Nationals last September was General Manager Mike Rizzo’s fault according to Rizzo himself. Maya pitched well in the minors last season but wasn’t prepared for Major League opposition. But in the just completed Dominican Winter League, he had a 1.32 ERA in eight starts with an unbelievable 42:9 strikeout to walk ratio.

He should be a quality fourth-starter for the next three or four years.

The fifth starter could be former first-round pick Ross Detwiler or any one of several minor league pitchers that include:

A.J. Cole: Cole would have been a first-round pick in 2010 but his scholarship to the University of Miami scared away most teams. The Nationals grabbed him in the fourth-round and gave him first-round money to sign. He has a mid 90’s fastball and a great curve and change.

Tom Milone: A 2008 10th-round pick, he has been sensational in his three minor league seasons, going 25-16, 2.98, 9.0/1.7/.7.6 and a 1.18 Whip. He’s not a top-10 prospect, but all he does is pitch well and win.

Daniel Rosenbaum: Taken in the 22nd round in 2009, he’s pitched even better than Malone, going 9-8, 2.19, 7.9/2.5/7.6 in 33 starts.

That’s a pretty good pool of talent that will be available in a couple of years. And if the Nationals are able to draft Jungmann, it will make the back of the rotation even stronger.

And really, wouldn’t it be cool to have to starting pitchers with their last name ending in double-N?

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Washington Nationals’ Offseason Woes a Blessing in Disguise

Are you disappointed in how the Nationals’ offseason went?

So many seem to be, suggesting that the team’s relative inaction was the result of an ongoing malfeasance of management that still carries the stink of the Jim Bowden era.

But really, that isn’t true at all. All the non-deals left the team better off in the long run. Why wait all these years for the fruits of the farm system to ripen and then block their entry to the major leagues?

For reasons I don’t understand, some major leaguers with average-or-slightly-above histories have been become pearls of great price for the Nationals. Not long after the end of the season, the team made an offer to the Rockies’ Jorge de la Rosa that was much larger than what Colorado offered.

And yet he still signed with the Rockies.

De la Rosa is 29. He will be well into his 30s when the Nationals’ kids learn their craft. In seven seasons, he has won just two more games than he lost and has a 5.02 ERA. And please don’t buy into all the “Mile High” warped stats claptrap. His career road ERA is 4.76, just a little better than his home 5.02 mark.

He strikes out eight batters per nine innings. Wow. Cool. He also walks 4.5 batters per nine.

Who would he have replaced? John Lannan? Lannan is four years younger but has pitched just 100 innings fewer than de la Rosa. He only strikes out 4.6 batters per nine innings but only walks 3.3. His WHIP (base runners per inning) is 1.41, less than de la Rosa’s 1.52.

And yet de la Rosa signed a two-year deal for $21.5 million with a possibility of a third year totaling $32 million. Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post reported that de la Rosa left $30 million on the table when he turned down the Nationals’ offer.

Lannan will probably make $1 million or so in 2011. Are de la Rosa’s extra 3.4 strikeouts per nine-innings worth $10 million more per year? Would he really give the Nationals a better chance to win than Lannan?

The stats say no. He just looks better on the mound.

Former Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke almost became a National. The Nationals agreed to ship four of their kids—a package that likely included Jordan Zimmermann and Danny Espinosa—and then offered Greinke a long-term extension, but he said no.

He wanted to play for a winner, like…Milwaukee?

At 26, Greinke is the right age to build around, but is he really a No. 1 starter? Over his seven major league seasons, he has a 3.82 ERA and a 9.1/2.3/7.6 slash line. But those include a magnificent 2009 season when he went 16-8 with a 2.16 ERA.

But in his other six years, Greinke’s record is very pedestrian at 44-59, 4.32. Last season—the season after his Cy Young Award—he went just 10-14 with a 4.17 ERA.

Livan Hernandez—who I am not suggesting has the same talent as Greinke—also won 10 games last season but with a lower 3.66 ERA. And J.D. Martin, who may not even make the team in 2011, had a lower ERA in 2010 then Greinke.

Would the Nationals have been that much better if Greinke and de la Rosa topped the rotation in 2011 while costing the Nationals almost $30 million a year?

If nothing else changes, the Nationals will likely start the season with Jason Marquis, John Lannan, Jordan Zimmermann, Yunesky Maya and either Ross Detwiler or Livan Hernandez in the rotation.

Greinke and de la Rosa have averaged a combined 22 wins over a 162-game season. Last season, Hernandez and Lannan—the two most likely to lose their spot in the rotation—won 18 games.

The Nationals would have been much poorer with Greinke and de la Rosa but not that much better.

Carlos Pena also snubbed the Nationals and took his .196 batting average to Chicago. Derrek Lee, the man Pena replaced, also bypassed Washington and now the Baltimore Orioles have a .260 hitting first baseman.

Last season, the two combined to average .229-23-82. The Nationals had to “settle” for Adam LaRoche, who is four years younger than Lee and two years younger than Pena. He “only” hit .261-25-100.

Let’s see, who else? Oh yes, the Nationals also didn’t sign Carl Pavano, who is 34 and has averaged a 5.06 ERA since 2005.

And of course, they didn’t get Matt Garza, who was traded to the Chicago Cubs for the equivalent of Jordan Zimmermann, Derek Norris, Danny Espinosa and a lesser weight prospect.

After the season, several reports suggested the Nationals could get Garza for Tyler Clippard, Ian Desmond and a prospect. That made sense.

What Garza would have cost the Nationals is madness.

Yes, it is frustrating that the Nationals’ past is hindering its future. I have actually supported the team’s build-from-within-and-why-spend-money-now-when-it-won’t-matter philosophy. I never considered that it would have caused the team to become caustic to so many players.

The roster as currently constituted should be good enough to win 73-75 games this season, a few less if Danny Espinosa and Mike Morse falter, a few more if they succeed and Stephen Strasburg returns in August.

Come this time next year, the Nationals should be able to sign whoever they want if the dollars are right. I doubt the free agent class of 2011/2012 is going to go “ooh” and “yuck” when the team comes calling.

But don’t feel bad for the Nationals as spring training approaches. It was addition by subtraction. They got better by not signing all those players.


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