Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Age: Just A Number?

The Nationals are getting older. That is silly to say, in that, time only moves forward and every player on every team is always getting older. But when you look at the Nationals signings, and the players they were "in on" its clear to see that they are getting older, and aren't too worried about it. Mike Cameron, Roy Oswalt, Mark Buehrle, Jason Michaels, Greg Dobbs, Mark DeRosa, Jeff Fulchino...not a spring chicken among them. Should we be worried? Not yet. Centerfield not withstanding, the Nats moves are based on three things, improving the bench by adding power, (because its what Davey Johnson wants), versatility (because its what Davey Johnson needs), and improving the back end of the rotation.

Mike Cameron (38), Rick Ankiel(32) and Mark DeRosa(36) are three signings that are very interesting to me. Mike Cameron adds a ton on the bench, good power, and good defense. 6 of his top 9 years slugging were in the NL, and the other 3 were spent in Seattle, a spacious park, not known to be hitter friendly, so a return to the NL could provide a boost, similar to what he enjoyed in Miami at the end of 2011. He can play all 3 outfield spots and provides a wealth of baseball knowledge for the clubhouse.

Rick Ankiel is his mirror. But only if you don't know anything about baseball. Statistically and in terms of perception, perhaps similar. But Rick is different. While Cameron has been an outfielder and batter for over 20 years, Rick has had only 6 years as a full-time outfielder and batter. So he is still learning the ins and outs of every day baseball. He has been surviving on raw skill since he broke back into baseball as an outfielder and if he were to learn to approach hitting the way a pitcher approaches a start (i.e. a game plan, based on tendencies, strengths and weaknesses, etc.) he could take off. He has all the tools, watch him throw from right-center to third base or watch his swing on a long bomb to right and tell me he doesn't.

Mark DeRosa has played every position but Pitcher, Catcher, and Centerfield in his Major League career. In 3344 career ABs, he has 610 Ks. For reference, Mark Reynolds has 963 Ks in just over 2500 ABs. DeRosa is a super-utility guy who puts the ball in play and will help... well pretty much every position player on the Nats roster develop as a person and ballplayer. Danny Espinosa is still young, as is Ian Desmond, and Ryan Zimmerman has had a few Non-Ripkensian seasons. So a veteran backup would not be a bad idea.

These are all guys Davey Johnson likes because they add offense off the bench. But the best part about each of these players is the versatility they provide. Davey Johnson has not managed in the National League since 1995, is 68 years old and an Earl Weaver disciple. He needs the security blanket these players provide. It turns late inning PH situations into a simple left/right decision while affording Davey the ability to pinch-hit for almost any fielder in the line-up without creating a gaping hole in the field.

These guys are back-ups and "clubhouse guys"; the in-case guys. Given the make up of the Nats roster, getting older in that area is not a bad thing. The Nats are young in all the right areas, Starting Pitching and up the middle. Signing a Roy Oswalt or a Mark Buehrle to anchor a young rotation is not a good idea. Carlos Beltran as opening day CF would not be a good idea (it hasn't even been mentioned, I am just using him as a for instance). Rizzo needs to stick with the plan, young starting pitching, and cornerstone players in the middle of the field, and don't panic, or listen to the Weaverese that Davey Johnson is whispering in his ears.

Now just solve the CF problem and the Nats might go 162-0.

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