Insta-reaction: Nationals trade Zach Walters for infielder Asdrubal Cabrera

Mike Rizzo is smart enough to know holes in the roster are the most dangerous things for a pennant contender to have. Throughout most the 2013 season, the Nationals had holes at second base (with Danny Espinosa’s poor season), catcher (with Kurt Suzuki’s poor season) and outfield (with the inability to find a replacement for Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper, who both spent time on the disabled list).

Now that the Nationals are entering the home stretch of the 2014 season with the narrowest of division leads, they cannot go into it with a hole in their roster.

So the Nationals traded 24 year-old infielder Zach Walters to the Indians for 28 year-old former All-Star Asdrubal Cabrera.

Cabrera is just a rental, since he will be eligible for free agency after the season. But it was a rental the Nationals needed to make. Ryan Zimmerman is likely out for the regular season, which means Anthony Rendon will play at third base full time. This leaves second base open with few options on the Nationals roster to fill it.

Last season’s opening day starter Danny Espinosa cannot be counted on to provide the offense necessary for the Nationals to score enough runs to win the division. Despite being a switch hitter, Espinosa is batting .186 with a .245 OBP and .296 SLG in 216 plate appearances against right-handed pitching. Espinosa is batting much better against left-handed pitchers (.295/.375/.474), but since two thirds of his at bats promise to come from the left-side, he cannot be dependable as a full-time player.

Mike Rizzo obviously felt there were no other options on the roster to play 2B. Kevin Frandsen is close to worthless. Zach Walters was the only other option to play second base, but Rizzo probably had doubts about his ability to make consistent contact. Walter had 16 strikeouts in 43 plate appearances in limited action this season. His strikeout rates in the minors were equally high. Rizzo also places a premium on defense. He likely didn’t feel Walters had enough experience or skill to man second base the majority of the Nats’ remaining 2014 innings.

Personally, I was hoping for Matt Williams to platoon Espinosa and Walters, with them alternating against lefties and righties, respectively. Espinosa provides great value from the right side and Walters deserved a chance to prove himself based on his unbelievable numbers in AAA this season (.300/.358/.608). This past week would have been an ideal time to give Walters a tryout instead of wasting at bats on Frandsen and Espinosa from the left side.

But Rizzo probably felt he didn’t have time to waste on a Walters experiment. Players traded after today must go through waivers, so this might be the last chance to upgrade the roster. In Cabrera, Rizzo is getting a proven commodity. Cabrera’s best seasons were 2011 and ’12 when he got on base at a .332 and .338 clip, with the ability to hit for extra bases. In 2011, he had 60 extra base hits.

In Walters, Rizzo is not giving up a cornerstone of the future. In my Red Porch Report Trade Rankings, I ranked Walters as the 32nd most valuable player in the Nationals system. Despite his good AAA numbers, his high strikeout rates indicated that his upside was limited as a major league player.

Rizzo probably felt a combo of Espinosa/Walters was too risky. The Nationals are not a lineup constructed to allow holes in the lineup. There is no Miguel Cabrera or Nelson Cruz on this team. The Nationals are constructed with a high number of above average hitters with no superstars. They score runs by keeping the train moving. With a hole in the lineup, that train gets derailed. Too many automatic outs in 2013 killed the Nats playoff hopes. Rizzo wasn’t going to let that happen again.

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Please Stop The Phrase “Battle of the Beltways”

Now that the Nationals / O’s series is over (I know there is still a game on the 4th,), there is one thing that really bothers me about the coverage.  The marketing phrase “The Battle of the Beltways” is stupid for quite a few reasons.

You may think this is an overreaction, but a Google search turns up 29,100 results for “battle of the beltways.”  The phase was spouted by MASN over the last few days like they got a nickel every time it was used or it was part of a subversive drinking game to ensure regional inebriation.   Please make it stop.

It is the bastardization of the original marketing line “Beltway Series.” The only problem, Baltimore is not on the Capital Beltway.  So,  someone realized that Baltimore has a road they call the beltway so they just added a “s” and kept the phase.  The new phrase doesn’t even make sense.  How do two roads battle?

“The Beltway” is a phrase used to describe the road that goes around DC.  It is a pop culture idiom to describe things that happen in the Federal Government.  It’s a phrase used on the nightly news and a nickname used by political insiders. It is a world-wide phrase associated with the Nation’s Capital.  Nobody outside of Dundalk knows there is a road that goes around Baltimore or much cares.  “Battle of the Beltways gives way to much credit to a city whose claim to fame is being the subject of a very good HBO show about their corruption and a cheaper place to film movies and TV shows about Washington, DC.  I am sure they use the phrase Beltway like a little brother says “me too.”

I wouldn’t really care, but It looks like the name is becoming permanent and it needs to stop. Ironically the phrase “Battle for the Beltway” would be more appropriate considering how much the O’s covet the Washington DC area as a fan base.  Than again the Nats only exist due to the kindness of Angelos, right, Buck “get in the bleeping box” Showalter?

Nats Contract Recoup Tracker: Believe it or not Werth is on track to earn his contract this year

A little over half way through the season every Nats starter but Zimmerman has already or is on track to recoup their contract.  As far a Harper goes, he is not even close to playing at replacement level yet.

Player Salary WAR Value % Recoup Game
Rendon $2,700,000 3.1 $18,600,000 689%
Werth $20,571,429 1.9 $11,400,000 55% 157
Desmond $6,500,000 1.6 $9,600,000 148% 59
Span $6,500,000 1.4 $8,400,000 129%
LaRoche $12,000,000 1.3 $7,800,000 65% 134
Ramos $2,095,000 1.2 $7,200,000 344%
Zimmerman $14,000,000 0.7 $4,200,000 30% 290
Espinosa $540,850 0.3 $1,800,000 333%
Hairston $2,500,000 -0.1 -$600,000 -24%
McLouth $5,000,000 -0.1 -$600,000 -12%
Lobaton $950,000 -0.1 -$600,000 -63%
Frandsen $900,000 -0.1 -$600,000 -67%
Harper $2,150,000 -0.4 -$2,400,000 -112%

Jason Hammel tells his manager how to do his job, nobody cares

The unnecessary drama surrounding Bryce Harper this week was put into perspective by Cubs starter Jason Hammel, who was pulled from today’s 7-2 victory over the Nats after just six innings and 92 pitches. Hammel told the media after the game:

“I would have liked to have stayed out there in the seventh. I have no idea why I came out of the game.”

By any definition, this is “telling a manager how to do his job,” the same charge repeatedly leveled against Bryce Harper after he told the media he’d like to see Ryan Zimmerman stay in left field. Yet, we are unlikely to see Hammel’s comments on Sportscenter and Baseball Tonight. We’re equally unlikely to see the Chicago version of Tom Boswell write an entire column how Hammel needs to be a more “mature teammate,” just as we are unlikely to see the Chicago version of Mike Wise (God help us if there’s another Mike Wise out there) write a column how Hammel is acting like he’s 12.

We are likely, however, to continue receiving almost daily reminders there are two standards for Major League Baseball players: a standard for Bryce Harper and a standard for everyone else.

Harper has been living with this reality since even before he became a professional player. Considering all the circumstances, he’s actually doing pretty well. Since no one else seems likely to cut the kid some slack, maybe Nationals fans can be the ones to do it. He might appreciate it.

wRC+ Says LaRoche and Rendon Should be All-Stars This Year, but they won’t be

The Nationals have two viable position player All-Star candidates if you look at the team through the lens of wRC+ which uses weighted on base average and adjusts for park effect.

Adam LaRoche is tied for the best hitting 1st Baseman in the NL this year.  Goldschmidt leads in the voting after his near MVP season last year. ALR doesn’t even make the top five in voting.  This is a shame because the guy is having such a good year.

Name Team wRC+
Adam LaRoche Nationals 154
Paul Goldschmidt Diamondbacks 154
Freddie Freeman Braves 149
Anthony Rizzo Cubs 147
Matt Adams Cardinals 136

Adam LaRoche has been remarkably consistent this year too.  His wRC+ has stayed about 155 of 55% better than the average MLB all year.  He has avoided the hot and cold streaks that have defined his career so far.

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Rendon is an interesting case,  He has played most of the year at 3rd but is listed on the ballot as a 2nd baseman.  David Wright is the leading vote getter at 3rd and if the world is right Todd Frazier will make the team also, but Rendon is a solid #2.

Name Team wRC+
Todd Frazier Reds 140
Anthony Rendon Nationals 127
Matt Carpenter Cardinals 123
Luis Valbuena Cubs 120
Casey McGehee Marlins 118

Now the story gets interesting when you look at 2nd.  Chase Utley leading the vote, but he isn’t even in the top 5 hitters according to wRC+. Rendon is the run away best hitting 2nd baseman in the NL and if things are right with the world he will be representing the Nats at Target Field.  Unfortunately, I suspect bigger name players like Neil Walker or a big market player like Dee Gordon with all his stolen bases to make it.  (BTW I am not sure what a Scooter Gennett is, but from what I can tell he is a platoon player that only plays against right handed pitchers.)

Name Team wRC+
Scooter Gennett Brewers 128
Anthony Rendon Nationals 127
Daniel Murphy Mets 121
Luis Valbuena Cubs 120
Neil Walker Pirates 120

 

Why do Bryce Harper’s comments bother you?

So, you’re upset about Bryce Harper’s comments.

One question: why do you care?

Ryan Zimmerman didn’t care, or least didn’t appear to when he ripped 3 base hits including 2 doubles. Adam LaRoche didn’t appear to care when he hit his 12th home run of the season. And Ian Desmond definitely didn’t care when Bryce Harper’s imposing presence in the lineup allowed him to get a bases loaded situation in the bottom of the 6th inning yesterday after Harper was intentionally walked. Desmond didn’t seem too perturbed when he was standing on second after clearing the bases, pointing towards the dugout in celebration, Harper back at him.

No, these are big boys and they’re professionals. They have opinions and sometimes they share them. There are disagreements in the clubhouse, like any workplace. But collectively, it didn’t seem like the Bryce Harper Clubhouse Cancer had quite metastasized. They’re just happy to have Harper back in the lineup. He makes them a better team.

Perhaps you care because Harper’s comments were negative towards Denard Span. While not mentioning Span, by suggesting Zim in left and himself in center, Bryce was certainly implying Denard should be moved to the bench.

And while there’s no proof Zimmerman and Desmond were bothered by Harper’s comments, Span didn’t have a particularly good game. He went 0-3 and missed his best RBI opportunity on the night, meekly popping out to shortstop with runners on 2nd and 3rd with one out in the third inning.

But, then again, maybe that’s just who Denard Span is. After all, Span is the player with a whopping one home in 335 plate appearances and a .312 on base percentage despite batting first in the order. Despite Danny Espinosa’s struggles, maybe it’s not so unreasonable to suggest a Harper-CF, Zimmerman-LF, Rendon-3B, Espinosa-2B lineup is the Nationals best chance of winning.

Maybe that’s why you’re bothered by Harper’s comments.

You’re worried he’s right.