We thought, or at least I did, that the Nats would be lots of talk and no action in the Winter Meetings. Instead, they made tons of moves and unlike signing Vinny Castilla or Cristian Guzman (brought up to simply remind you what Bowden can do when left to his own devices, since fans are getting too giddy about him in my mind) all of them seem pretty good on the surface. A rundown in some order:
• Traded Ryan Church and Brian Schneider to the Mets for Lastings Milledge.
• Traded Glenn Gibson to the Rays for Elijah Dukes
• Signed Aaron Boone (1yr, 1 million)
• Traded Jonathan Albaladejo to the Yankees for Tyler Clippard
• Locked up Wily Mo (1yr 2 million with an option for a second year that'll make the total 4 or 7 million depending on how much they still love eachother)
• Brought back Ryan Langerhans (for all intents and purposes, 1yr 500K), and Ray King (minor-league deal)
• Got Matt Whitney and Garrett Guzman in the Rule V draft (They do know they don't have to pick someone, right?)
• And most importantly they brought in "the Tank"! Dennis Tankersley (minor league), which I think is totally cool because he had an infinite ERA in 2003. (seriously though I think he's going to "get it" one of these years and have 3 years of middle brow starting pitching. Why not with the Nats?)
Lot to talk about. I'll start out by saying I think they'll miss Church and Schneider in 2008 more than they think. Church was a decent everyday player who I'm going to make not-so-crazy statement #1 about and declare that he will outperform Milledge next year hands down. Milledge has yet to play a full season, and did you see what he did against righties last year? .250 / .304 /.395. Playing everyday we'll be seeing more of that. Schneider was nothing great, but have you seen what's available? Finding yourself stuck with a horrible offensive catcher is pretty damn easy. If Flores doesn't immediately get better or the Nats find a lefty platoon bat for him, fans could be pining for Brian Schneider, not 2007 Brian Schneider mind you, but a Brian Schneider. (Flores v righties last year .220 / .276 /.297).
Those are valid concerns, and they make sense in that even an upgrade from the status quo will present concerns. You gain your independence, and you have to worry about forming a workable governance model. You win the lottery, and you suddenly have to think about tax consequences.
All told, however, you'd rather have independence and/or several million dollars, and likewise you'd rather have Lastings Milledge even if it means patching through the consequences. We'll have to see how Milledge does against righties; his minor league splits, to the extent they matter, don't seem to indicate a particular weakness. Hopefully, we haven't acquired the short end of a platoon!
As for Schneider, isn't it sort of strange that he was praised for handling a young staff when there weren't really that many youngsters in '07 but he could've been charged with a potentially younger staff in '08 had he not been traded? I have no real reason to doubt that he was indeed a good handler of pitchers, but at the same time it seems like Schneider was afforded a reputation boost by Nichols Law of Catcher Defense: he couldn't hit anymore, so he must've been just short of a demi-god behind the plate. He was an Original Nat (and a popular one at that), so it'll be strange to see him gone from the roster, but how hard will it be for Flores and some crappy patch-veteran to approximate the 77 OPS+ or whatever Schneider put up? I'm not a LoDuca fan, but if you can luck into a .310 half-season from him, you can probably get something interesting in return at the deadline.
Definitely this is a deal you do 100 times out of 100 if you are in the Nats position (halfway back from nowhere). But the idea that's floating around that adding Milledge, Dukes, and Boone will make the offense better in 2008 is something I don't see. The offense will likely be better in 2010 because of these deals, that's why you make them, but in 2008 if the Nats are more potent the names Johnson, Zimmerman, and Pena will be the reasons. Along with the smaller park...
The smaller park is key. I definitely think that's going to have a much larger impact than we're expecting simply because RFK is so extreme.
As far as the moves not upgrading the 2008 team, I'm going to take the contrary view. They're better off short and long term.
Look at what the Nats got out of their outfield production last year. Left fielders batted .245/ .316/ .396. CFers hit .255/ .321/ .382. Trading for Dukes, Milledge and with Pena on the team takes away the 100 ABs they wasted on Snelling and Kasto and the 300+ they threw at Logan. The Nats are replacing that (on paper, of course) with actual major-league production, a healthy bump-up for the offense.
Yes, losing Schneider's probably going to hurt more than you'd expect, but if they do get Johny Estrada, at worst the catcher's offense will improve slightly, with a big upgrade if he comes closer to his career averages.
Hmmm, that's true - the right FA catcher signing I'd flip-flop on the no offensive improvement behind the plate, but that's still speculation. For all we know they could just try to run with Chad Moeller, he's so bad a hitter he must be Johnny Bench behind the plate.
That 3rd OF slot will (I'd hate to see what those numbers look like without Church's contributions) almost have to improve if Dukes starts (despite Boswell's insane ramblings about Dukes being a poor man's Austin Kearns) but are we certain that he will start? They still said they are looking for a "true leadoff hitter", brought back Langerhans, still have Logan. They have a history of playing hot potato with OFs. I'm not counting on 140+ games from him just yet.
Plus the fact that, you know, Dukes's a contemptible person that may very well bite the head off a bald eagle on opening day. I know others NFA, Nats Report tried to look on the bright side, but I this is the one move I don't make. Especially since it wasn't for nothing but for a pitching propect. Not a great one, and one that was replaced immediately by Tyler Clippard, but if I'm the Nats I'm taking the quantity approach here.
I think you do the Dukes deal 10 times out of 10, too. Well, maybe 8 times out of 10. You don't have to feel good about it -- part of what makes us blessedly human is feeling bad or even outraged about it -- but the object is to acquire talent. And Dukes has talent. I'm fine with it, provided there really is a zero-tolerance policy attached.
The aspect I'm a little cynical about is the "Dmitri as role model" angle, but I admit I'm often cynical for the sake of being cynical.
Except right now the object isn't just to acquire talent it's also to building a fanbase and you have to factor that in. The wrong player at the wrong time could set that back and Elijah is just the type to be that wrong player. But I guess that's me talking as a Yankee fan who had to sit through several years of "I hope the Yankees win the game and Roger Clemens gets hit in the head with a baseball and is forced to retire to breed more kids he can name Kirby or Khaki or Kinky or..." Having a player on your team you don't like isn't fun.
I also don't mean to be overly negative. I think the Elijah deal is the only one the Nats did that I don't do and even that is a completely defensible move since it is a winner talent wise.
I think the concerns about developing a fan base are often overblown, to some extent. What's going to bring people in, especially in a town that most regard as a transient one, is winning. And on the off chance that Dukes doesn't murder anyone or sire four more children AND lives up to his potential, he could help do just that -- or at least be a nice stopgap 'til someone like Michael Burgess is ready in 3 years.
What's with all this Elijah love? Certainly, Elijah's impact on the fanbase will be minimal, especially in the long run, but it's is another factor to account into the trade. I don't think that you can look at this trade as simply a talent swap and that's why I come out on the other side.
But it's just one deal. Let's talk about ones we can all agree are great (I think), like the Tyler Clippard deal. I can see him stepping into the back of the rotation next year. For what? A reliever that was gotten for nothing and can be easily replaced. That's a deal.
Sure the goal is to acquire all the talent we can get. Primarily because we don't have much of it right now. If the "think tank" were to turn around and trade Kearns tomorrow, then I'd be much more inclined to share your view on the trade. But nothing is being shuffled for Elijah's benefit at this point; he'll have to earn quite a bit of capital (not Capitol, Chris!) first.
Moving on to the Clippard trade, it's obviously a very good one. But I don't know if we can pencil in Clippard with a rotation spot yet. After a marvelous year at Trenton in '06, he was pretty meh at SWB last year. It was only a half-season, and there seemed to be a BABIP-type issue, but nevertheless I'm reminded of something Bill James (big surprise!) noted about a pitcher a decade or so ago: the pitcher thrived against more talented yet less experienced hitters from Double-A but struggled against less talented yet more experienced hitters from Triple-A. It's not a fault, per se, but it's a sign (potentially) that Clippard needs a little more savvy or, to be cliched about it, more "seasoning."
Or maybe not. Chico seemed more seasoned than talented at times last season.
I'm with Basil. My expectations of Clippard are low. Hey, you can never be disappointed that way! Apparently the Yankees tweaked with his mechanics a bit, leading to some of the struggles. We'll find out either way. The bats have a pretty good way of telling you how a guy can do. (Although getting out of the NL and from the Yankees infield defense can't hurt -- although this could probably be a glass houses and stones kind of comment)
Overall, how can any Nationals fan not be happy at this point? They added a decent batch of long-term talent without giving up a ton of value. The only question mark is Dukes' attitude, but maybe a change of scenery, getting away from some of the bad influences in his hometown will help. If they don't, they cut him.
But the puzzle is only half complete. Catcher's still a gaping hole, and while middle infield and starting pitching aren't holes, per se, there's definitely potential (and budget room!) to upgrade both. It's been a good start.
On Clippard, I don't think he'll ever be anything more than a mid-rotation starter but I like him better than Balester or Lannan, the two I see most likely to fight for those lower end rotation slots in Spring Training next year. That's why I see him on the opening day roster...but we'll see.
You're right Chris. Nats fans have to be feeling good right now. In two years they've made remarkable progress in the minor league system and the recent actions help fill in the "guys ready right now" gap that the team had thanks to the joke the system was for the past few years. They might still be a year or two away but they've just added interest to the next couple years beyond looking at minor league box scores and waiting for those drafts to bear major league fruit.