Tuesday, January 31, 2012

First of Many 2012 Previews

It's almost February and, being obsessive baseball fans, we feel that it's time to lay out our visions for the 2012 Nationals season. Today we will go over our thoughts on the team's Win/Loss record and the keys to the season. Later in the week we will take a look at individual players and who might lead the team in several statistical categories. Let the prediction and prognostication begin!

Sean's W-L prediction: 91-71

An 11 win improvement seems like a large jump. But take a look at where the Nationals' pitching staff will be. If you were to ask any Major League GM to rank pitching staffs, from ace to last man out of the pen, on talent, youth, and contract friendliness, the Nationals would be on top, and I don't think its close. A full year of Strasburg, Zimmermann and Gio, plus an improved pen with talented and experienced reserves at Syracuse, may very well allow for that 11 win jump on its own.

But the offense will also be better. Ryan Zimmerman is healthy, Mike Morse is power-hungry, Jayson Werth is eager to shove success in the face of doubters, and the rest of the young Nats will be another year older, and smarter. A few questions remain, most notably the make-up of the outfield. I see a platoon of Mike Cameron and Roger Bernadina (or Rick Ankiel) until Mike Rizzo is ready to allow Bryce Harper to play in the majors. While a long term solution would be ideal, I do not see the Nats finding that solution (unless it is Bryce Harper) this year. A 2 or 3 month platoon would not sink the season and may, in the long run, add value to the Nationals roster if Cameron, Bernie or Ankiel breakout. Other issues to watch: how Adam LaRoche and Wilson Ramos recover, how Mike Morse deals with left-field, and how quickly Strassy reaches his IP limit.

Sean's Key to 2012: Ian Desmond. He is poised to make a big leap this year and realize his potential. If he does that, the Nationals will be a special team and could compete for the Division and easily win one of the two wild card spots.

Craig's W-L prediction: 87-75

This season is going to be one of the most interesting in recent memory, not just for the Nationals but all throughout MLB. The Marlins made a splash for the first time in their existance, we had once-in-a-generation players bolt their homes for money, we had managers and GMs being traded, and there may be 10 playoff teams for the first time ever - there was no projecting these kinds of things and because of that I think that the book is going completely out the window for 2012. And that is why my prediction is one of tempered optimism.

The Nationals made a fantastic move to acquire a young left-handed stud from Oakland but they have done little else aside from a few minor moves - Cameron, DeRosa, Perry, and Lidge. No doubt that a 160IP season of Strasburg and the appearance of Harper at some point will help the team, but I honestly don't know how much. Assuming the Nats have a standard season with normal injuries and average regression/progression, than I would expect the team to increase their win total by about 7 wins.

Craig's Key to 2012: Adam LaRoche. His career slash-line leading up to 2011 was .271/.339/.488, and last year he had a .172/.288/.258... That's right, he slugged .258. Or, .007 BELOW Brian Bixler. Also known as the lowest of all MLB 1st basemen with at least 175 ABs.

Now, I know that LaRoche was trying to play through a torn labrum, but it still goes to stand that at the biggest power position in the NL we had the absolute worst offensive production. If he is still feeling ill effects at the dish then the Nats will once again have a hard time trying to replace that power again.

Your turn, CapBallers. What are your W-L predictions for 2012? The Comment's section awaits.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Nats and Cooperstown

It is a question for those many Nationals fans who are also baseball historians, philosophers and romantics: Who will don the first curly W to grace the walls of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY?

It is an interesting question to say the least. For sure Ivan Rodriguez is headed there, but he most certainly will not enter the Hall as a Nat. Several other players who may garner HOF votes have played here in Washington, like Vinny Castilla who received a handful of votes this year. Livan Hernandez may one day get some consideration, and given his fondness of the Nats organization, a Livo election could very well mean a Curly W on the wall.

In my mind, there are 3 real options for who will be the first Washington National to give a speech in Cooperstown, NY on a tepid July day: Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, and Ryan Zimmerman. Stephen Strasburg is as an electrifying a figure as there is among MLB pitchers. He will strike out 20 in a game and throw multiple no-hitters. But given the violence of his delivery, and the general crap-shoot that is power pitching, it is 50/50 that he pitches more than 6 or 7 full seasons. Kerry Wood and Mark Prior come to mind when thinking about Strassy, which is depressing, but I'm a Nats fan, so I am used to it. But, if he defeats the odds and is a dominant power pitcher for 10+ years, he will be enshrined in Cooperstown.

Bryce Harper's chances seem, in comparison to Stephen Strasburg's, better. And circumstance is the only reason. Each are ultra-talented, each seem to have the winning instinct. The deciding factor is position and injury likelihood. Simply put, a dominant corner OF who manages to play for 15 years is more likely to get elected to the HOF than a SP who is dominant for a handful of years and totals 7 or 8 full seasons. Fair? No. Neither I nor my brother vote for the Hall of Fame. Rest assured Cooperstown would be drastically different if we did. (Edgar Martinez belongs in the HOF, 1st Ballot, best DH ever, best Mariner ever). Bryce will be tremendously successful. He has the skill set, the swagger and the stage set. He is not a player that will slump for extended periods, nor will he start slow because of a down spring training. He defines Crash Davis' quintessential baseball advice, "Play with fear and arrogance". Except maybe not so much fear.

Most likely, in my mind, to be the first National player to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame is Ryan Zimmerman. Are injuries a problem? Yes. But Ryan's attitude, baseball IQ, natural ability and the Nats' seeming rise to national relevancy, make Zimmerman the prime candidate to be the next Ryan Braun (minus the PEDs of course). They also make him the first National to be inducted in the the Baseball HOF. Zimmerman's career will not be perfect. He may be injured 2 or 3 more times. He may not win a World Series. He won't win a batting title or HR crown. But he will be, as time progresses, the best all-around third-baseman since Brooks Robinson. And as the reactionary baseball media grows further away from the steroid era, all around baseball play will (hopefully) become paramount in HOF discussions.

The first Nationals player inducted into Cooperstown will be a must attend event for any Nats fan, especially those of us here from the beginning (If you haven't been, don't wait that long. Go. As soon as possible). Is it at least 1% sentimental to hope that player is Ryan Zimmerman? I would admit to it being almost 50%. But given his skill set, his personality and the dearth of third-basemen who grace the walls of the Hall of Fame, I believe he is the most likely Nat to enter Cooperstown and break the curly W barrier.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Fielder Chooses Father's Footsteps

Well, the long hold-out is over and Prince Fielder has finally signed a contract. Much to the surprise of everyone in baseball, Scott Boras was able to procure a 9 year, $214 Million deal with yet another Mystery Team, this time the Detroit Tigers - Fielder's estranged father's team.

According to Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post, Davey Johnson said that the Nationals never actually exchanged a number with Boras Corp; though you can get pretty far without actually exchanging figures. Not too surprising, considering that Mike Rizzo has said all along that they never really were too interested in the slugging 1st Baseman. It has been widely reported that the club was unwilling to go beyond 6 or 7 years - possibly due to the exorbitant contract given to another Boras client last year...

In my unprofessional opinion, I would say that the Nats are pretty much done making moves for the Winter and will go into Spring Training with the players they currently have on the roster.

It has also been speculated that the team might take this time to lock up the Face to a Troy Tulowitzki-type deal, keeping him a National for the bulk of his career. Stay tuned to Capitol Baseball for more on that...

But for now, let's just mourn that Fielder won't be sandwiched in a lineup by Zimmerman and Morse and thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster that we aren't paying Fielder $214 Mil over 9 years.

Nats Talk On The Go: Episode 6.5

The Nats Blog's Joe Drugan and Capitol Baseball's Craig MacHenry talk about the Washington Nationals on Nats Talk On The Go.

In this week's podcast, we talk about Prince Fielder for the last time ever. Seriously. Plus, how his signing with the Tigers affects the Nats future.

Subscribe to and rate our podcast on iTunes or download it if you don't use iTunes.

Let us know how you feel about our podcast on Twitter @TheNatsBlog or @CapitolBaseball.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Something Cool That's Not Prince Related

Is anyone else getting tired of waiting? If you listened to the latest edition of Nats Talk On The Go (Now available on iTunes!), you heard both Joe and I talking about how we are bored to death talking about waiting for Prince Fielder to sign. Wake me when he signs somewhere, anywhere.

With things not quite ready to ramp up for Spring Training 2012, I just wanted to share with you something cool.

I recently moved to the Leesburg area, about a 45-50 minute drive from the city, and when I was at Target looking around for things we don't have for our new place I saw it... The most glorious canvas of Nats Park (sparse crowd included). I had to have it for my wall.

The price tag was a little bit much considering I had just dropped a good bit of coin on a(n?) U-Haul, various organizational supplies, and the fact that my rent went up considerably. But, I still had to have it...

Well, it so happens that I just had a birthday and I am a tough guy to shop for (Nats, Flyers, and beer is pretty much all I get or ask for - and some hip new argyle socks). So my amazing and beautiful fiancee surprises me with the very same canvas print of Nats Park that I so desired - and the first thing I said was, "I have to find out what game this is from" So, I did what any investigative blogger would do - went to baseball-reference.com.

Let me take you through my deduction process:
- It was a day game between the Nats and the FLORIDA Marlins and the Nats were up 2-0 after 4 innings, the runs coming in the 1st and the 3rd.

- Looking at the visible names on the scoreboard (both lineups), I saw that Adam Dunn was still a Nat. Boom - narrows down the window to 2009-10.

- It was pretty clear that it was early in the season, because the batter (who I found out to be Anibal Sanchez) had just a .300 average with 0 HR, 0 Runs, and 0 RBI - so it was obviously from early in the season. Also, Livan Hernandez (who was the Nats' Starter that day) had a 0.89 ERA - which is pretty low...

- I also remembered that Livan came over to the Nats (again) in late 2009, so that ruled out early 2009 as a target for the game.

- Armed with this info, I headed to the 2010 Nationals Schedule and found the dates that the Nats played the FLORIDA Marlins early in the season. They played a 3 game set at the end of April, but it was at Sun Life Stadium - but the next time they played them was at home; Friday, May 7 - Sunday, May 9th.

- Figuring that they would play a day game on Sunday, I checked there first. BINGO!

We have a winner! The game in question is from May 9th, 2010 - a game that the Nationals won 3-2 on an 8th inning Home Run by Josh Willingham. Tyler Clippard got the win while Matt Capps notched the Save.

And HERE is what Joe wrote in this space about that game. How cool is that?

So, if you are out at Target or Bed, Bath, and Beyond and you see the Nats, you can impress your friends/significant other/spouse/stranger with knowledge about said game - I'll even give you a sample conversation:

You: "Oh hey! Cool! Look at this awesome Nats canvas!"
Friend/Significant Other/Spouse/Stranger: "Yea, that is pretty neat, I guess. You sure do talk about baseball a lot..."
You: "Hmm, I bet you a beer that I can figure out the game from just looking at it"
Friend/Significant Other/Spouse/Stranger: "No way you can do that, you are on!"
You: "May 9, 2010. Pay up"
Friend/Significant Other/Spouse/Stranger: *Stunned Silence*

I hope you enjoyed this story of awesomeness and baseball geekdom. I can't wait to put this up on my wall. Now, will Fielder sign soon so I can write something about the current Nats???

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Nat-Gio Extended Edition

[UPDATE - 4:43]: Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes has reported that the 5-year deal is for $42 Million - or an AAV (Average Annual Value) of $8.4 Million. The Option years would add another $23 Million to the total value of the contract - bumping it up to $65 Million or $9.3 AAV.

As The Nats Blog stated, the Nats were willing to give Mark Buehrle a 3-year/$39 Million deal for an AAV of $13 Million. This gives the team a younger pitcher (with a higher upside), more years on the contract, and a lesser contract by about $3 Million a year.

This gives the Nats control over Jordan Zimmermann through 2015 plus Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg through 2016. A Top 3 that will rival any in baseball for the next 5 years.

[Original]: According to @NationalsPR, the Nats have signed Gio Gonzalez to a 5-year contract extension that runs through the 2016 season. The deal covers all four years of his arbitration eligibility (he is a Super Two player, so he would have been arb. eligible four times) plus one year of Free Agency. No financial terms have been released yet, but one would think that this would be a pretty solid deal; but most intriguing to me would be the price tag of the two club option years for 2017-18.

If the Nationals end up holding on to Gonzalez through the 7-years that this contract would run, it would take Gio from his age 26 season through to his age 32 season - or through the prime of his pitching career.

For the Nationals, this was almost a necessary deal. Mike Rizzo sent four of his top prospects over to Oakland to get a proven pitcher who wouldn't break the bank. You want to make sure that after you commit to such a deal, you will have the player for years - that it isn't just a rental.

Stay tuned to Capitol Baseball for the latest - including financial details!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Selig Extended

On Wednesday the MLB owners decided to extend the contract of commissioner Bud Selig through 2014. Previously set to retire after his current contract was up, it appears Selig isn't done as the commish and has a few more years left in him. What does this mean for baseball and the Nats?

Well to be sure, as has been the hallmark of his tenure, the status quo will not remain. As he has shown throughout his career, Selig wants the push the game forward, make it more exciting, cleaner and fairer. The advent of the Wild Card (and now the second Wild Card), Interleague play, drug testing, and even the World Baseball Classic have seen baseball set record attendance numbers, while fattening owner's (and player's) wallets. More than any Commissioner since baseball's first, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Bud Selig has been proactive as opposed to reactive and it has benefited the game, the fans, the players, and the owners.

His greatest decision as commissioner, at least in the rose colored glasses of this blog, was the transfer of the Montreal Expos to Washington, DC. Now 7 seasons in, it is clear that Washington not only needed a MLB team, but could become a preeminent contender and cornerstone franchise. The only negative of the whole situation was the ceding of TV rights to Peter Angelos, and that will (hopefully) soon be remedied as the 5 year renegotiation window has been reached and the Nats are in line for a huge chunk of change on a new TV rights deal.

Selig's tenure has been so fruitful, it makes you wonder why he would want another 2 years. Well to be certain he wants to see the second Wild Card through to implementation. I'm sure he also wants to ensure a smooth, baseball friendly resolution to the Dodgers ownership situation. They are a flagship franchise and baseball is better when they are relevant. As much as ever he wants to expand the games borders and grow the game internationally. And Mr. Selig probably does have a bit of residual guilt from presiding over one of the most tainted eras in baseball history. So he probably feels he has more penance to pay.

Bud Selig is as polarizing a figure as there comes, but minutia aside, he has been a tremendous agent of chance for a game that had become complacent. He has overseen the most progressive era in baseball history and put baseball on a course to survive and prosper over the next 30-50 years. Why not retire? Well, Bud loves baseball, and isn't ready to give up the game. And really, do you blame him?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Extension Talk

At this point in time baseball talk is at a bit of a calm before the storm - Fielder hasn't signed yet, the trade market is at a stand still, and players are into their last month of the off-season. And over the past few weeks there have been several extension discussions (both local and national media) about some of the Nats upper-caliber players. Let's dig into a few of these and see if they make sense for the ballclub.

Michael Morse: MLB Trade Rumors
- Morse is a unique candidate with no real comps in recent memory, MLBTR makes this point more than anything because it would be extremely difficult for both agent and team to see what exactly the player is worth. His 2010 and 2011 campaigns are well documented, but what he lacks is a long track record of success - working into the teams' favor. The fact remains that Morse will be 30 in March and is still under team control for another two seasons. Tim Dierkes of MLBTR suggests a 3-year/$18.5 Million deal, with the Nats trying to get a $10 Million option for the next year. Morse is pretty much at the tail of his peak, but looking at his value the past two years (tied to WAR) this would be a very team-friendly deal.

John Lannan: Adam Kilgore - Washington Post
- This is kind of awkward... John Lannan has been the Nats Opening Day starter in both 2009 and 2010 - only to get the yips and need a little time at Harrisburg to work out some kinks. Coming into the 2012 season however, Lannan is going into Spring Training in competition for the 5th spot against fellow lefty Ross Detwiler. Kilgore argues that Lannan's durability is just a valuable to the club as his numbers; he isn't necessarily wrong. It should be noted that Lannan has two more years of club control before reaching free agency. Adam Kilgore suggests that something around 3-years/$20 Million to be an appropriate deal. I can't see a player that might be the odd man out come Opening Day (love the options game) getting a $20 Million dollar extension.

Tyler Clippard: MLB Trade Rumors
- Like Michael Morse, Tyler Clippard poses a very rare case in terms of potential future earnings due to a variety of factors. Working in the teams' favor, Clippard isn't a closer and therefore he doesn't have saves to pad his resume in an arbitration hearing - saving the ballclub money. Although he has been one of the top relievers in all of baseball, closer or not, the market doesn't really reward non-closer relievers top dollar or multi-year deals. We have written in this space several times about how Tyler Clippard is not human; citing durability and freakish stats. Rizzo and company usually don't do multi-year deals for relievers, but Dierkes writes that Clippard's numbers have only improved - and that he is only 27 years-old. Based on his projected 2012 Arbitration amount, MLBTR suggests a 2-year/$4.5 Million or 3-year/8$ Million deal for the bespectacled reliever.

For the record - I would take the Clippard and Morse deals and hold off on Lannan.

Which of these deals would you take? Who else would you extend on the Nats (be more creative than Zimmerman(n))?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Fielder(s) in the Outfield

Welcome back after a wonderful holiday break! We sure are glad to be back here talking about baseball in what seems to be a rumor-filled and results-less offseason.

We here at Capitol Baseball like to go in a bit of a different direction every now and then, and now is no exception. Everyone in NatsTown knows exactly what is going on with Prince Fielder - nothing at all. The Nats are in play, obviously, but so are a lot of teams and there really is no way of knowing anything at all about where he could be going. That being said, there has still been a lot of internet ink focused on the slugger of large pedigree - our stand is out there in podcast form (hint: let's do it!). We think it's time to focus on other things until there is something real to report on that front - so today we are going to discuss the options out there in the Outfield.

(Get it? Fielder(s) in the Outfield? You thought I was going to write about Prince Fielder... See what I did there?)

As of now the Nats have a few different options in the outfield, but that all changes with the signing of a certain player so let's just go with what we have at this exact moment:

The Shoe-Ins:
- Jayson Werth - Owed a metric butt ton of dollars over the next 6 years, get used to seeing his soul patch roaming the outfield - the only question is where. There are a few different ways that this could break depending on who makes the Opening Day roster - which we will get into a bit later.

- Michael Morse - As of right now, pencil him in for Left Field on Opening Day in ChiTown. Those in the National Media saw Morse rise to fame this past season, but those loyal NatsTown followers saw the spark start in the 2010 season when he would go 3-4 with a Double and Home Run only to be benched the next day by Riggleman. If he can repeat his 2011 performance the Nationals will be in contention for most of the year. I know it sounds cliche, but this is a make-or-break year for Michael Morse's future.

The Contenders:
- Roger Bernadina - Many pundits and fans though that this would be the year, but once again he failed to deliver when given the chance to be an everyday starter. He is still under team control so he provides the team with a cheap option, as well as some speed and solid defense. The issue being that his OPS (.664) doesn't compute offensively with his best defensive position, Left Field, where he posted a 24.1 UZR/150 in 2011. I wouldn't be surprised if Bernadina doesn't break camp with the Nats in 2011.

- Mike Cameron - Signed a few weeks ago to a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training, Mike Cameron has had a long and impressive career for just a one-time all star. And although he is 39 years-old, all current defensive metrics project him as an above average defender in the outfield. He can easily manage to roam around CF (where he had a 17.7 UZR/150 in 2011) until he gets bumped to a 4th spot when our next player cracks the big leagues.

- Bryce Harper - The phenom. It is no secret that Davey Johnson yearns for this kid to make the majors out of Spring Training - a season in which he will be 19 years-old the entire time. If he were to have a solid March there is definitely a chance he could break camp with the big club (especially if Cameron and Bernadina struggle) - most likely in RF with Werth moving to CF. Don't rule it out - he is that good.

- Eury Perez - I've included Perez only because he is on the 40-man roster; placed there to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. He played 2011 at High-A Potomac, and unless he hits 1.000 and Slugs 4.000 in at least 30 ABs in Spring Training he will be earmarked for Harrisburg to start 2012.

- Mark DeRosa - At the downswing of a solid career, DeRosa projects as much more of a utility infielder during 2012 than an outfielder. He will be 37 years-old when the season begins, and he hasn't played outfield since playing just 21 games there back in 2010 - don't count on DeRosa logging any significant time (if at all) in the Nats outfield.

- Rick Ankiel - The only player on this list that is not on the roster. Joe and I have discussed the possibility of bringing back Ankiel for the 2012 season, and frankly we are surprised that he doesn't have a deal anywhere yet. When he was signed last winter, everyone expected him to have some offensive pop while struggling in the field; the reality was the exact opposite, a solid defender with a weak bat. Ankiel would be brought back on a 1-year deal, which would most likely be a half-year and trade once Bryce Harper ascends to the Bigs in June. His 11.6 UZR/150 in CF would fit nicely between the Morse and Werth sandwich.

So, there you have it. The 2012 options for the Nats outfield based on the currently constructed roster (plus Ankiel).

What combination would you like to see (based on current roster only!)?


Its inevitable. At some point in the 2012 season the Nats are going to need a player to come up from Triple A and give them a week, 2 weeks, a month of solid play in place of an injured player. In past years it has been a cavalcade of scrapheap vets and far-too-young boarderline prospects. Hopefully that will not be the case in 2012. I want to take a look at 1 player from each group on the field (SP, RP, IF, OF) who could be the first up from Syracuse in this situation.

Infield - I am going to go ahead and predict that Steve Lombardozzi doesn't make the 25 man roster out of spring training. It's not a matter of talent, I just think that the Nats brass feel he needs regular at-bats and time in the field. So if Ian Desmond or Danny Espinosa go down with a nagging hammy or twisted ankle, look for Lombardozzi to get the call and split time with Mark Derosa at 2B/SS.

Outfield - Eury Perez. He is already on the 40 man roster and he is different than every outfielder the Nats currently have at or near the Major League level. He is beyond rangy, and he is quick footed. An outfield of Morse, Werth, Ankiel and Cameron could use a quick outfielder should one of them go down. He could also be first up if Adam LaRoche gets hurt (again) and we see a repeat of Morse at first.

Relief - I have a feeling that Ryan Mattheus is going to get left out in the cold (literally) after Spring Training and will be headed for Syracuse...in April. That makes him my choice for most likely to join the Pen. He is a talented relief pitcher and will definitely pitch some key innings for the Nats in 2012. It is also very possible that Davey's one right one left long man approach proves ineffective early on and Mattheus is called on to be an extra short reliever.

Starter - The hardest one to predict. I think Stras, Zim, Gio and Wang are safe. Its Lannan v Detwiler. Hard choice to make. Lannan has been loyal and the closest thing to a safe bet the Nats have had the last 3 years, he deserves something in return. But doing that would basically be bailing out on a 1st round left hander who has shown flashes of greatness. I lean towards Lannan because I'm sentimental and I love his make-up, especially compared to Ross, who's confidence seems to be made of candy-glass. My pick, Cory Van Allen. He has been with the organization for a while (2005) and has made slow and steady progress. Maya is not an option and with Peacock and Milone gone, the bulk of the Nats' SP prospects are low level.

A team can sign, trade for and expect growth from any number of players, but many times a season is made or broken by the influx of talent and energy an emergency call-up provides. Are the Nats in a better position than previous years? The loss of Peacock and Milone wasn't ideal in regards to minor league depth, but there are still bullets in that gun. However the Nats are not in a position to survive multiple injuries at similar positions in 2012, not that it is entirely possible to plan for that sort of contingency.

Bottom line: the Nats can deal with an injury or two in the infield and in the bullpen, one in the outfield, but any starter going down for any serious length of time could spell disaster for the season.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Nats Talk On The Go: Episode 5

The Nats Blog's Joe Drugan and Capitol Baseball's Craig MacHenry talk about the Washington Nationals.

In this week's podcast, we talk about Prince Fielder, Prince Fielder, and... Prince Fielder.

We also talk a bit about hockey in baseball parks, Stephen Strasburg vs. Jordan Zimmerman, and beer.

Subscribe it from iTunes or download it directly. We hope you like it.