Monday, November 28, 2011

Zimmerman for McCutchen?

Talking about trading one of your most popular franchise players is often not a wise thing to do; you don't see many Brewers fans chanting "trade Ryan Braun," Red Sox bandwagonites asking to get Tacoby Bellsbury out of town or Stuart Sternberg (the only Rays fan in existence) trying to find Evan Longoria a new cap. Yet here I stand, suggesting that the Nationals move Ryan Zimmerman for the apparently (and idiotically) available Andrew McCutchen.

Let me first start with why the Nats should entertain the idea of moving Zimmerman in general. One note: I'm not screaming TRADE ZIMMERMAN, as he is an immensely valuable player...simply stating that his value to the Nats may be at his highest now.

1) Zimmerman is relatively expensive now ($12 mil in 2012, $14 mil in 2013) and will be a free agent after the 2013 season. Adam Kilgore in August spitballed the idea of an 8 year, $175 million deal for Zim ($21.875 mil/year); an extension could end up lower than that, but we're still talking about a major, MAJOR investment. McCutchen, on the other hand, is under team control through 2015, still one season away from arbitration. MLB Trade Rumors suggests that the Justin Upton 6 year, $51.75 mil contract could be a model for a McCutchen extension, but even a 6 year, $60 million deal would be a bargain.

2) Zimmerman's injury history, while perhaps overstated, still exists. He played in only 106 games in 2008 due to a small tear in his left shoulder, couldn't finish the last 10 days 2010 season because of a rib sprain and missed significant time in 2011 due to abdominal injuries. I'm much more worried about Rendon's injury history than Zimmerman's, but it's still at least a minor point of concern. Besides missing a few games due to a bum hand from being hit by pitch, McCutchen hasn't been significantly injured in his 2 years of MLB service

3) Zimmerman is an elite 3B, but 3B's are a lot easier to come by than CF's. The Nats have Rendon in the system behind him already (top prospects aren't slam dunks, but Rendon >>> anything the Nats have in CF). It's basically impossible to find an elite CF, which makes an already above-average CF like McCutchen so valuable.

On July 18, Dave Cameron of FanGraphs listed Zimmerman as the player with the tenth greatest trade value. His write-up:
Zimmerman is one of the game’s best players, but also one of the game’s best kept secrets. He is consistently ignored in things like All-Star placement and MVP voting despite the fact that he’s one of the best players in baseball. Because he’s not a premier power guy or an up-the-middle player and his value is largely tied to his defensive excellence, his excellence gets lost in the crowd, but it shouldn’t. He’s awesome. At $26 million over the next two years, he’s also one of the cheapest elite players in baseball, though the lack a true long term deal drags him down a bit. Still, his present value is sky high, and offsets most of the lack of value beyond 2013.
McCutchen came in at number six on Cameron's list:
Already a terrific all-around player, McCutchen has added power this year and made himself into a legitimate MVP candidate at age 24. His broad base of skills suggests that he’ll age extremely well, there’s no injury history to worry about, and the Pirates control his rights for four more years after this one. They haven’t yet locked him up to a long term deal, but even if he goes through the arbitration process, he’ll still be a tremendous bargain. If you want to start handing out praise for why baseball is relevant in Pittsburgh again, start with McCutchen.

There are many factors that can't be measured objectively, such as Zimmerman's local ties (grew up in the Tidewater area and went to UVA) or his charity work with the ziMS Foundation, but from a strictly baseball-oriented point of view, I think the Nats would be foolish to not make a trade like this if it were ever on the table.

This all being said, the Pirates probably aren't really shopping McCutchen and despite his 2011 awfulness, Pedro Alvarez is still a solid prospect at 3B for them. But who knows.

Vote in the poll:

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Ranking the Nats' minor league free agent pitchers

Baseball America releases a beautiful list of 500+ minor league free agents every November. In the past, I have attempted to do write-ups on all of them (or at least all of the relevant ones). This year, I'll simply rank the Nats' 26 minor league FA's and perhaps in a later post list some of the more intriguing names on the list from other organizations. Today, we'll look at the 8 pitchers who are now FA's.

One note - I will try to keep this updated as any of these players sign with other orgs or re-sign with the Nats. I haven't been able to keep up over the last week, though, so leave comments (with links) if you read anything on these guys.

1. LHP Oliver Perez
Perez' bugaboo across his entire career has been his control. His best 2 ML seasons control-wise featured walk rates of 3.7 (2004) and 4.0 (2007); coincidentally, those were his best 2 ML seasons overall, putting up a 2.98 ERA in 196 innings for the Pirates in '04 and a 3.56 ERA in 177 innings for the Mets in '07. That's what gives me so much optimism about Perez' 2011 season; after putting up BB/9's around 8 for the last 2 seasons for the Mets, Perez made it all the way down to 3.2 for Harrisburg this year. His K/9 rate suffered (6.9 this year, 9.5 career minor league rate), but he could still be a much more effective LOOGY than Doug Slaten. With a career major league line of .226/.317/.374 against lefties, I would be more than happy to see Perez return to pitch in the Nats' organization in 2011 (assuming there were no underlying attitude problems that I didn't hear about).

2. RHP Shairon Martis
Martis was a kinda bright spot for the 2009 Nats, starting out the season 5-0 despite having crappy overall numbers. After spending the second half of that season and all of last year in Syracuse, Martis found himself in Harrisburg for the entire 2011 season. What happened there was very intriguing. Martis finished the year with a 3.06 ERA and 2.79 FIP in 133 innings, with solid BB and K rates; Martis' 9.9 K/9 from 2011 is a huge improvement over his career numbers (7.3 across the minors for his entire career, 6.1 in AAA and 6.6 in his previous AA stays) and he lowered his BB rate an entire walk from 2010 to '11 (3.6 in AAA in 2010, 2.6 in AA in 2011). Inferior competition could be part of the explanation for his upswing in numbers, but we're still talking a very significant improvement. At 24 now (25 in March), Martis is still young enough to try to turn into a useful ML piece.
FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference

3. RHP J.D. Martin
While Martin's upside is low, he's an excellent guy to have around. His control is excellent (2.5 career ML BB/9, 1.4 BB/9 career AAA BB/9) and his results have been decent as well (2.66, 3.51 and 3.93 ERA's in his 3 seasons pitching AAA ball for the Nats and 4.32 ERA in 125 career ML IP). At 29 in January, he's still young enough to make an ML contribution for many organizations, but given the Nats' pitching depth, he will probably have to look elsewhere to get a better shot at getting back to the bigs. The 2012 Astros could very well be a haven for minor league lifers (like the 2006 Nats were), so I would advise Martin's agent to start calling Ed Wade.
FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference

4. RHP Garrett Mock
Mock has been a frustrating player to follow since the Nats received him in the Livan Hernandez-to-the-Diamondbacks deal in 2006. His stuff was both never the issue and always the issue, with major inconsistency problems despite having a mid-90s (albeit flat) fastball and solid secondary options. Todd Boss of Nationals Arm Race put it best, calling Mock "a guy with a plus fastball but who has proven time and again that he can’t produce consistent results stays in the system to provide continual tempting of the club management (the leader of whom Rizzo has a soft spot for him, having drafted him while working in Arizona)."

Mock missed most of the 2010 season due to injury and did not recover well this season, putting up a 6.39 ERA in 49 and 1/3 innings spread across four levels. His 9.3 K/9 rate from 2011 is slightly above his 7.8 career average across all levels, but he apparently lost all control of the strike zone at the same time, putting up a BB/9 rate of 5.3 this year. The walk rate is likely an anomaly, as Mock's career BB/9 in the minors is 2.7, but his time in the Nats organization is probably done. Mock is a Houston native, so that could also be a nice fit for him given the Astros' lack of talent across all levels.

5. RHP Luis Atilano
Like Martis, Atilano spent time in DC before being sent all the way down to Harrisburg in 2011. Unlike Martis, he was injured for basically the entire season and gave up 9 runs in 6 innings in the two starts he did make. Even when healthy, Atilano was not a key ML piece but rather a spot starter/injury call-up. Alex Remington of FanGraphs described Atilano best in his 2011 Second Opinion Profile: "The Quick Opinion: A fly-ball pitcher who doesn't miss bats or keep the ball in the park: basically, he's a No. 7 starter."
FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference

6. RHP Jimmy Barthmaier
Barthmaier came to the Nats in 2010 after being a highly-regarded prospect in the Astros system in 2005 and 2006, reaching the bigs for the Pirates in 2008 for a cup of coffee and missing all but 1 inning of the 2009 season due to Tommy John Surgery. He pitched well for Potomac in '10 and as a result spent '11 with Harrisburg, posting a nice 9.2 K/9 but failing to recreate his 1.9 BB/9 from the '10 season, posting a 4.1 BB/9 in '11. At 27 years old (28 in January), Barthmaier's role with the Nats if they bring him back is as an organizational soldier, so he might be best off looking for opportunities elsewhere.
FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference

7. RHP Sam Brown
After turning down a chance to join the Nats as a 7th rounder in 2006 to attend NC State, Brown finally found himself with the organization in 2011. The 24 year old was not very impressive, throwing 59 innings of 5.34 ERA ball. His 2.6 BB/9 and 7.3 K/9 are decent ratios, but not good enough to lead me to overlook his otherwise mediocre numbers.
FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference

8. RHP Carlos Martinez
This organizational soldier may soon have no organization; the 27 year old (28 in March) spent his 7th season with the Nats' organization across three levels, putting up a 6.26 ERA in 69 innings. Having only reached AAA for a grand total of 3 and 1/3 innings at the age of 27 without great rate stats (his decent 2.9 career BB/9 is majorly outweighed by his 4.9 career K/9), Martinez's time in the game is probably close to being up.
FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference

Nationals top prospect lists

The reader voting here has concluded, so I figured I'd put up a table comparing some top prospect lists. Please add links if you see any that aren't included here. My list is a slightly revised version of my original list made on August 7.