A fan's observations on the Washington Nationals, from across the virtual divide.

The Case For Pedro

Does Pedro Martinez have an ego?

Uh huh.

Is Pedro a Hall of Fame starter in 2009?

Nope. If he was, do you think he’d be sitting the spring out?

So why would the Nats be interested in him?

Because they need him… in the ninth inning.

Honestly, the Nats don’t really need starters. Lannan, Martis and Zimmermann are good now, and may well be great in a couple years. Olsen is better than his statistics show, and would be better still if the defense would come to his rescue a bit. Cabrera… perhaps a lost cause… but the Nats have a slew of starters that are as good (or better) either languishing in the bullpen or in the minors. Pedro would be an improvement there, but only a marginal one, I think. If you look at the cost of Pedro, versus the cost of starters already in the system, you’re probably talking like $500,000 to $1 million per additional win with Pedro in the rotation – if you could get him for $2 million.

But imagine Pedro as a closer… He’d have his mug on television every other day. Opposing batters respect him, he’s fearless, he has the poise and demeanor to be in the game when it is on the line…

… and we got nuthin.

Suppose he really did cost $5 million for the rest of the season. Would it be a bad investment, if you could get him to be a closer? I don’t think so – he and Beimel would be anchors in the bullpen. I think anyone would suspect his ability to go five or six innings, but he could probably be counted on for one… not to mention that he’s not pitching now, so even if you were going to use him as a starter, you’d need to stretch him out a bit. Why not just leave him at 25 pitches an appearance?

To sell it to Pedro, you’d have to appeal to his vanity and ego: you’ve done everything else… finish your career showing that you can do this, too… and do it as only Pedro can.

To sell it to the Nats, I would point out that the Nats have a marketing problem – their team can’t play in a close game, and they need a closer. [As an aside, I think the Nats need a closer more now than ever in their history. This team's offensive strength is going to get them and keep them in games that they've never been competitive before. If they can solve the head problems they have with their fielding, the problem that is left will be left is the bullpen. It is the only problem that needs to be solved with personnel changes.] $5 million is a lot of money, but you could take it out of the marketing budget rather than personnel. It isn’t that people will come to see Pedro, but they’ll come to see the Nats win (or be competitive). If the Nats can’t put a .480 team on the field this year, they’re going to be in terrible trouble with the fan base. They’re not entertaining to watch right now. You’re sending fans home feeling worse about the team than when they walked into the park.

Does signing Pedro fix that? I don’t know… but maybe. The Nats can’t really afford to trade away the Major League-ready players (except for an outfielder, and you know how I feel about Lastings Milledge), and there really aren’t any prospects in the system that you’d want to part with. You could sign Pedro without giving up talent.

Of course, all of this presumes that he can actually still pitch. But assuming he can, I would remind the Nats that they’ve spent $5 million on a lot less than Pedro.

(Paul LoDuca)

The upside is, Pedro could be to the bullpen what Adam Dunn is to the lineup – his presence might make the whole team better.

But then, I could be wrong.

Phillies: The New Cowboys?

I live far away from Washington now, and so I am sure it happens to me a lot more often than it would in DC. I’ll be walking down the street, and I’ll see that dreaded blue star. Perhaps on someone’s hat, perhaps on a bumper sticker. Every once in a while, on a stadium jacket. My thoughts immediately turn to Tom Landry and Roger Staubach. Clint Longley sneaks in there occasionally, too… and the hackles stand up. A visceral dislike for the Cowboys is one of the hallmark traits of a Washingtonian.

But rivalry requires reciprocity, and the Redskins haven’t held up their part of the bargain as of late. Other teams in other sports have drawn their share of ire from Washington fans – back in the early 1980′s, when the Capitals experienced their first surge into respectability, the Flyers were always the most hated team to come to the Capital Centre.

Last night, we may have witnessed the beginning of the Nats first real rivalry.

The building blocks have been falling into place for a while – The famous 11 PM start to a rain-delayed Nats-Phillies game, ending in a Nats win back in 2006. John Lannan hitting Chase Utley and breaking his hand last year. Kyle Kendrick’s chin music to Ryan Zimmerman, followed the next at bat by a home run – These are just a few examples.

But things changed last night. It isn’t often that one gets to see a straight steal of home (whether successful or not). But it wasn’t just that Utley tried to steal home, but rather, that he turned himself into a human projectile, and endangered both himself and Jesus Flores in the process. The collision resulted in a very scary and probably season-ending injury to Flores, and taken in the context of the apparently-escalating tensions between the two teams, perhaps there was more at stake than just scoring a run.

Chico Harlan reported in Nationals Journal about the clubhouse reaction to the play at the plate with Utley and Jesus Flores. I found the comments to be rather tame. In Chico’s online chat today, I asked him about whether there was more to the comments than meets the eye, to which he said, maybe, and maybe not.

I think there’s bad blood. The kind that transcends seasons. The kind that makes almost-meaningless games a lot more meaningful. The Clint Longley kind of bad blood.

Interleague play and Beltway Series don’t make for a rivalry, especially between two second-tier teams. The Washington-Baltimore rivalry was a lot more intense in 1971 than it is in 2008, and until the Nats plays the Orioles in October, it is going to stay that way. A late-night loss in front of 200 fans, the loss of a star player to a broken hand on an HBP, a 23 year-old third basemen getting knocked down one inning and going yard the next AB and a straight steal of home that looked more like breaking up the wedge on a kickoff than a stolen base attempt – those may be the birth of a rivalry, because the players feel it… not just the fans.

Of course, I didn’t need any help disliking the Phillies anyway.

What To Do…

Filed under: Personnel,Players — Tags: , , , — Wigi @ 6:41 pm June 24, 2008

One of my good blogging friends and fellow Nats fan, Mike Henderson (whose blog can be found at nationalspride.com) wrote a recent posting concerning Cristian Guzman, and his potential to be the Nats’ All-Star for 2008. At the end of his posting, he wrote the following:

More importantly, now is the time to consider what the Nats should do with respect to Guzman at the end of the season, the final one of his current contract. If he is priced reasonably, should they think about trying to re-sign him to a multi-year deal?

Cold-hearted though it may sound, from where I sit the answer is no.

Lest we forget, the Nats are still in the process of rebuilding the system, from the MLB level right on down. What they should do is, first, shop Guzman to a contender during the season in exchange for prospects. If that doesn’t work out, by all means offer him arbitration at the end of the season.

If he accepts a one-year arbitration deal, fine. If not, the Nats should be happy to get the two draft picks that accrue when a Type A free agent (which I think Guzie will be) declines arbitration.

While it’d be heartwarming to say that Guzman should be welcome to a place at the Nats’ table for as long as he wants to stay and is effective, the big picture needs to be kept in mind.

And while it’s a little sad to consider the thought of perhaps having to say goodbye, the decision to continue to move the franchise forward shouldn’t be a tough one.

I don’t agree. Here’s why:

Let’s assume for the moment that Guzman is gone in 2009. For a different set of reasons, but just as certainly, we can also assume that Felipe Lopez will also be gone in 2009. This would leave the Nats with no middle infield, and the necessity to acquire at least one, and perhaps two major-league ready players to fill those positions (one could make the argument that Ronnie Belliard, under contract through 2009 could play every day at second base). Where would the Nats acquire one or two middle infielders?

  • In trade – The Nats have nothing to trade that would get them a majors-ready shortstop, with the possible exception of a starting pitcher, and I think it is safe to assume that we’re not trading John Lannan (or any of our other starters).
  • From within the system – There are no majors-ready middle infielders in the Nats system. There are some replacement-player-level players, some of whom are young, and might be diamonds in the rough. But these are not the players that you come north out of spring training, thinking that you’ve solved your middle infield problems.
  • Free Agency – There is some possibilities here. Suppose I told you I knew where you could find a 30 year-old free agent shortstop who is a switch hitter, is hitting over .300 and is having an all-around career year. Moreover, he’s been injured for most of the last few years, so his recent stats don’t look that great, so there’s probably some discount to be had. Plus, you can start negotiating with him today, rather than waiting for the start of the free agency period in November (the advantage being, no competition from other teams). Lastly, he’s probably among the best of the available 2009 free agent shortstops. His name? Cristian Guzman.

Some might argue that what the Nats need are prospects, and not majors-ready players. The Nats absolutely do need prospects (particularly in the infield). But the one area that the Nats are probably most in need is at second and short, and there is no hope that any infield prospects that they might acquire (or any that are already in the system) would be ready to play at Nationals Park anytime before 2010. So that leaves the Nats looking for a free agent shortstop (and/or second baseman) to play next year, and perhaps the year after. Why not extend the one you have, who has shown that he’s the real deal? Nobody knows more about Guzman than the Nats do now, so there would be few unanswered questions. Everyone will worry that his production will wane, but that is going to be the case with any free agent that you might select, so if you’re pretty certain that you’re going to have to sign a free agent, you may as well get the best available at the position.

Here’s the proper strategy for Cristian Guzman: Sign him to a four or five year contract. Spend some money, and load the back end with incentives. Look to trade him with a year on his contract. This gives the Nats time to find and develop the top-tier shortstop that they are going to need in the long run.