While I've butted heads with a few of you around here about what would or would not constitute a strong deadline for the Nats, there were some things that I've loved about the frenzy in the past few weeks leading up to the deadline and some that I hated. Here's a quick look.
Biggest Winner: Pittsburgh Pirates (Organization)
I know that few of you will agree with me on this. Pardon me if (as a fan of the Expos from the early 80s until they moved to Washington and a fan of the Nats ever since) I have a small market mentality. I could easily put the Pirates fans who want to see a short-term return on their team as the biggest losers as well, but I have to love what Neal Huntington did for this club's future.
- He gutted a cast of misfits that was left for him by previous GM Dave Littlefield, accepting that an effort to build upon a base of a few decent players by sprinkling in some talent wasn't going to be as effective as adding a quality core of players that fit his system. In short, rather than making the goal to break the seventeen-season streak of finishing with a losing record, he went out and tried to build a team that he hopes will compete for a division title within the next 3-5 years.
- To do so, he dealt away quite a few quality players and fan favorites. Players such as Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez, Adam Laroche, and John Grabow. He dealt away one player that defied the scouts and appears to be an emerging star in Nate McLouth. He also dumped a couple of starting pitchers, one of whom had fallen out of favor with the organization (Tom Gorzelanny), and another who just plain didn't want to pitch for the organization anymore (Ian Snell, who at one point after his demotion told the Pirates that he would rather stay in Indianapolis than return to the majors in Pittsburgh). The returns for these players figures to give the Pirates a solid core to build around, including several replacements at the positions they traded away...(cont. after the jump):
- Nate McLouth netted the Pirates a potential future leadoff man in Gorkys Hernandez, a solid left-handed pitching prospect in Jeff Locke, and a quality (though there's not a lot of upside) big-league ready right-hander in Charlie Morton who can help hold down the fort until some of the younger guys are ready to produce. More importantly, the move opened up room for top prospect Andrew McCutchen.
- Adam Laroche netted the Pirates about what Joe Beimel netted the Nats. A below average middle reliever and a middling infield prospect who will likely just be organizational filler. It did clear Laroche's contract off the books, though, and opened up room for the Bucs to take a look at the guy who killed the Nats tonight (Steve Pearce.... not a bad power prospect) as well as the replacement they picked up later on in the Wilson deal.
- Snell and Wilson got the Pirates Jeff Clement (a guy who had fallen out of favor with the Mariners for some reason or another), a quality utility infielder in Ronny Cedeno, and three A-level pitching prospects, two of whom are expected to have big league futures. Once a terrific catching prospect (third overall pick), Clement destroyed AAA in 2007 and 2008 (we're talking an OPS just south of 1.000) only to be stuck in Tacoma to start this season again behind the likes of Kenji Johjima, Rob Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr., and Mike Sweeney. Part of that was because he had offseason knee surgery, and it doesn't necessarily look like he's ever going to catch again. His bat plays at first base, though (obviously not as well as it would behind the plate, but it'll play), and that's where we can expect to see him next year (probably just a September call-up this year.... his big league experience is limited enough so that they can probably delay the arbitration clock another year and he's pretty much been the DH for Tacoma all season). If even one of the two pitching prospects comes through, this should be a win for the Bucs.
- Freddy Sanchez got them Tim Alderson. I don't think I need to discuss how badly the Pirates ripped the Giants off here, apart from wishing that it had been the Nats that somehow pried Alderson away instead. Alderson doesn't throw particularly hard (88-92, and there are some rumors that his velocity is down), but he has Maddux-like control. He's considered among the top 10 starting pitching prospects in baseball, and was ranked #26 overall by Baseball America coming into this season. Sanchez is a solid role player who is a "three time All Star" largely because... well... every team has to send someone. He did win a batting title, but he's an empty hitter devoid of power or speed. There's not much there in terms of plate discipline either. His glove is slightly above average. Nabbing a top prospect for Sanchez is an absolute no-brainer for a team in the Pirates' (or Nats') position.
- Tom Gorzelanny and John Grabow netted the Bucs Kevin Hart, Jose Ascanio, and IF prospect Josh Harrison. In terms of WAR, the Pirates broke even by getting Kevin Hart. Hart doesn't look like anything special based on his short stays in the big leagues, though he does have a pretty attractive minor league track record (575:224 strikeout to walk ratio in 604 innings. 4.10 ERA) and despite some struggles, has posted solid numbers on the face at the big league level this season (3-1, 2.60 ERA, though he's walked more batters than he's struck out in 27 innings). Ascanio gives them a big league ready middle reliever from the right side who misses plenty of bats. Harrison isn't real toolsy, but he's had a fantastic first pro season statistically (.303/.357/.429 with 5 homers, 8 triples, and 26 steals) and could easily turn into a Willie Harris type.
- And, of course, there's the Milledge/Hanrahan for Morgan/Burnett deal. While the Nats got the two guys who figure to be better in the short-term (and I don't think there's any hope for Hanny.... don't like Milledge's future either. Just don't think he has the mental game to live up to the hype), he did pluck the two higher upside players from the Nats.
All in all, it was an outstanding deadline for the Pirates if they really want to be a team that can challenge down the road instead of just try for that .500 mark. They added more than 90 potential years of control for 28, and the talent (even now, before some of the prospects have matured... When they do, it's likely they've improved) didn't really see a major dropoff in the short-term. As is my concern with the Nats, what's the worst thing that could happen? Could they lose 105 games instead of 100?
Red Sox - The fact that they were able to add Victor Martinez to an already loaded roster makes them better. The fact that they were able to do so without including either Clay Buchholz or Daniel Bard is scary. It wasn't a terrible haul for the Indians by any means, but it was just the cost of doing business for the Yankees' little brothers.
Phillies - When you have a team that won the World Series last season and add a Cy Young winner on top of it, you've done fairly well for yourself. Like the Red Sox, they avoided dealing their top prospect, but did give the Indians four players who figure to have a big league future. I love both of those deals for each side.
Indians - Yes, fellow Nats fans. This is what I'm trying to say to you. Note that the two big deals that the Tribe made saw the other teams as winners at the deadline in my eyes, but the Tribe did quite well themselves. They didn't poach the absolute top prospects from either the Sox or Phillies, but they did end up grabbing two guys who project as parts of their rotation in 2010 (Justin Masterson and Carlos Carrasco), a pretty nice prospect who projects as a reliever (Bryan Price), two high-upside arms that might have been a little on the buy low side coming off of injuries (Jason Knapp and Nick Hagadone), a shortstop who is probably big-league ready and would be an upgrade over their current situation (Jason Donald), and a decent enough catching prospect who will probably just serve as a backup (to Carlos Santana) in Lou Merloni. Oh.... and they moved Ryan Garko, who was just blocking Matt LaPorta at this point, to the Giants for a nice overachieving prospect in Scott Barnes. Could they have done better? Maybe in the Lee deal, but not much. I don't like saying his name (or the former Expos/current Mets GM who he fleeced), but Mark Shapiro has pulled some real coups with his deadline deals in the past decade. Part of what Huntington has done in Pittsburgh reminds me of Shapiro's first deadline. It's worked on and off (let's remember... the Tribe did miss going to the World Series by a game just a few years back) for him.
Padres - They didn't go quite as crazy dealing everyone as many thought they would. They held onto fan favorite (local boy) Adrian Gonzalez, who still has a couple of years under club control. They weren't able to move Heath Bell, but such is life. They were able to revisit the Jake Peavy deal, and both their ownerships' wallets and their future roster will thank them for it. Aaron Poreda was the jewel of the deal for the Pads, and figures to bring a big power lefty arm to their rotation as soon as next season. Clayton Richard is big league ready, though I don't see a huge ceiling. I've seen conflicting reports on Dexter Carter, but the fact of the matter is that his performance since turning pro blows me away a bit (232:57 strikeout to walk ratio in 186+ innings in the low minors.... posted a 2.49 FIP in Rookie ball last year.... 2.84 in A ball this year. It might take some time, and I'd like to see how he pitches at the higher levels, but he's destroying the lower levels). Adam Russell doesn't look like anything special, but is a fringe big leaguer out of the bullpen.
A's - I really liked what they did with Holliday. I know.... some of you guys love your free agent compensation. I'm not sure Billy Beane would have felt too comfortable offering Holliday arbitration, though. Holliday's raked since going to St. Louis, but whose to say he's hitting that well right now without Albert Pujols flanking him in the order. He's making that free agent push now (and was starting to in Oakland), but there's a chance that with the economy how it is, he won't make $15+ million on the open market. In other words, who's to say he definitely would have rejected arbitration? Wallace is going to be a star, and I think the A's win the deal on that strength alone. However, they got little back for Orlando Cabrera..... and they'll be paying his $4 million the rest of the year.
Giants - Worked for the short-term, but if they fail to make the playoffs, they're going to regret it. Alderson is a terrific prospect and Barnes is a very good one. They paid a hefty price.
Marlins - Hey... I like Nick Johnson almost as much as most of you do. He's a nice cog, and he'll get Bonifacio out of their lineup. They didn't give up the world to get him, though I do think that Thompson has a future. I just don't think it'll be enough to get them into the playoffs. I guess the fact that they're not paying for Johnson could make them a winner, but the fact that they didn't address the bullpen might outweigh that.
Cardinals - There are two ways they end up winners here. 1) They win the World Series. 2) They re-sign Matt Holliday to a long-term deal. Otherwise, I think losing Wallace, who not only will bring a big bat but covers a position of need, will haunt them. Holliday's recent hot streak (provided he keeps playing anywhere near this level) assures that they can at least offer him arbitration and end up with a couple of draft picks without worrying he'll accept it (which the Cardinals are in a better position to deal with than Oakland was anyway). Don't discount the addition of Lugo (for free... well... errr... Chris Duncan, but they don't have to pay the albatross contract) either. Losing Jess Todd as the PTBNL in the DeRosa deal could hurt, too.
White Sox - It's hard to fault the Peavy deal, and it's a long-term thing as much as a short-term fix (probably moreso). The concern is for this season, since the White Sox were making a buyer's deal. Peavy's out until at least the end of August, and there was some concern he might be done for the year.
Tigers - They needed to add a bat about as much as they needed to add a starter. Washburn has benefitted from the Mariners' defense first philosophy this year, and his BABIP against is currently below .250. All in all, I don't think he helps them that much.
Yankees and Devil Rays - When your primary competition goes out and grabs Victor Martinez at the deadline and the best answer (either of) you have is to add Jerry Hairston, it could be a long last couple of months.
Blue Jays - We'll save our team for last (yeah... they'll be in this category), though the Blue Jays were the biggest losers at the deadline in my eyes. Oddly, I think that part of the reason that they didn't trade Halladay fits in with what happened to the Nats. For one thing, they overvalued their trade chips a bit. For another, rather than budging even slightly and taking something just a bit smaller than what they were after, they allowed the market to dry up a bit. This doesn't just go for Roy Halladay. They may have had one of the best sell high options we've seen in years in Marco Scutaro, a career utility man having an absolute monster season at the age of 33.
Nats - As promised, they get their very own special section since... well... we're all Nats fans here. I chalk them up as fairly significant losers at the deadline, and I attribute most of it to the fact that they didn't seem to want to decide whether to sell or not at the deadline. I've both written and read many words on the subject of the Nats roster and its current construction here at Federal Baseball. Here's how I see things on the whole:
C - Flores is the catcher of the present, and he's under club control until the team could conceivably compete. Bard and Nieves had no trade value, and Bard at least figures as a solid backup/platoon type option if there's a healthy Flores
1b - Johnson (held until the dying moments before the deadline and then dealt). 30-year-old expiring contract. Wouldn't have been easy to re-sign. I wouldn't say there was ever monster interest, but it was more than sparse interest on the trade market all year long. Doesn't provide much power. Solid glove man at a position where many teams hide their worst defenders. Back and forth on the possibility that he'd become a Type B free agent, but there's far from a guarantee. To me, it was a no-brainer to trade him. The Nats waited until the last possible moment and got a considerably lesser haul than they probably could have gotten. To put it quite simply, a better player than Freddy Sanchez! (If the Giants gave up Alderson for Sanchez after they'd already acquired Garko, would they have given up Alderson for NJ before they'd acquired Garko?)
2b - Honestly, I've got nothing. I think Alberto Gonzalez sticks here. He has a bat that's capable of playing in the majors consistently as a middle infielder. He doesn't have a shortstop's arm.
SS - Guzman - We watched three shortstops traded within the month before the deadline. He's perceived as better than two of them (Jack Wilson and Yuniesky Betancourt) by most people outside of the industry, and most likely by some people in the industry. Personally, I'd take Wilson (good glove, similar below average [on the whole] bat) over Guzman, and I'd certainly take Cabrera over him. Cabrera's the only one who didn't bring anything of value back to his team in trade. Guz is 31, showing signs of decline with the glove, and he's never seen a pitch he didn't like (unless it's right down the middle). He's also signed to an $8 million deal through next season. Someone needs replacing, and a sell high (May) was missed badly here.
3b - Zimmerman - Face of the franchise. Signed long-term. One of very few areas where they don't need help.
OF - Dunn, Willingham, Morgan, Albatross, Dukes - Either Dunn or Willingham could have fetched a pretty hefty price on the market. My DNTJW was a counter to the DNTNJ stuff I've been seeing all year. Honestly, he's under club control for two more years and (while there's little doubt in my mind this season has been a bit of an outlier) he's strong both from a power and OBP standpoint. He's poor defensively, but not in Dunn's league. Give me a monster offer for him (buy him high), and I'd have dealt him in a heartbeat. As I tried to bring up in the roundtable the other day, Dunn isn't just having his typical season. He's had arguably the best season of his career with the bat so far in 2009..... and he's still on a 32-71 team. He's pricey (think moving his contract would have made signing Strasburg easier?), but he would have fetched a heck of a haul by dealing him. Morgan wasn't moving. Nobody would have taken Albatross Kearns even if Rizzo had agreed to pay off his salary for this year and thrown in another four players. Dukes should be up with the big club (and now is), but I'm probably preaching to the choir there.
Long term offensive prospects who should make an impact in the next few years: Chris Marrero (1b? [probably]), Michael Burgess (OF), Derek Norris (C), Ian Desmond (SS, but I'm not real sold... certainly having a good year), Bernadina (OF), Danny Espinosa (SS), Jeff Kobernus (2b)?
I know there are a lot of you on that Jorge Padilla bandwagon. He's had an outstanding year with the bat. He's also a 30-year-old (ok... in ten days) minor league journeyman.
Rotation - Lannan (good middle of the rotation starter, under club control for four more years)
Zimmermann - Only other guy who looks like a mainstay
Detwiler/Martis/Martin/Stammen/Balester/Mock/Josh Towers?/Clint Everts? - Trying to find a group of 2-3 more I have confidence in sticking long term. There are some in the group that I like as maybes at least. Ideally, Stras is signed for one of the three spots.
Bullpen - Only long term guys I feel good about are Clippard (could be thrown back into the rotation mix) and..... well.... I like Storen, but it's too soon to tell. I like what I've seen from Burnett, too.
The farm system needs an overhaul (if three of the seven offensive names I put above pan out, that'll be a decent success rate.... take that number down to 2 of 7 in the pitching dept.). Syracuse and the P-Nats have done well this year, but part of that can be attributed to the fact that there are a bunch of guys on both rosters that are old for the level. Quite a few (well... the majority) of them aren't really big league prospects, but guys who are older/stronger than the level they should be at and are succeeding for that reason. I'm sure there will be some overachievers (I know... you all want one of them to be Jorge Padilla) who have some surprise success at the big league level. There usually are. Still, given the chance to get some guys who will probably help the big league club in the future was an important step for the club to take here in my mind.
Of the eight bats that primarily start in the Nats order, six of them (counting Bard, as Flores appears done for the year) are 29 or older. Most scouts and analysts agree that offfensive players tend to peak around the age of 27. So, what this is telling me is that, not only are the Nationals well on their way to finishing with the league's worst record for the second year in a row, but that 6 of their 8 primary bats are either in their peak years, approaching the end of their peak years, or beyond their peak years. The result is that they've worked their way to a 32-71 record thus far. Again, two of these players (Dunn  and Willingham ) should have commanded a very good to excellent return through trade. Two more (Johnson  and Guzman ) should have commanded good to very good return through trade. One of the bullpen arms (Beimel ) should have commanded a significantly better return than what he got.
There are really only three ways to explain what could have happened here, and (much as many of you would prefer this hadn't been the answer) keeping Nick Johnson was never really a logical one.
1) As was the reported case, Rizzo was overvaluing his trade chips and asking for too much
2) Rizzo was actually looking for legitimate value, but wasn't seeing many offers better than the ones that he accepted in a panic this afternoon
3) Rizzo didn't have the guts to try and do what was best for this team (his in the future or not) moving forward, instead trying to hold onto whatever pieces he had until the very last moment in an effort to win a few more ballgames in 2009 and keep his job (or some other explanation of why he wouldn't pull the trigger on deals that would be a little more harsh... I'll refrain from that one)
Rizzo's logic in holding onto some of the players (Johnson, Guzman, Hammer, Beimel) could well have been the product of his lack of job security, which could mean the front office was partially to blame here. Gaining an extra handful of wins from those players could help give him a better shot at retaining the job full time next season, but should it? Prior to the trade deadline, my feeling was that Rizzo needed to do one of two things to warrant taking over full-time.
1) Have a good trade deadlne
2) Sign Stephen Strasburg
Right now, I'm thinking he'd better sign Strasburg.
I'd have been behind him if he'd pulled a Neal Huntington and blown up the (Bowden's) team.
I'd have been behind him if he'd assessed the fact that the roster, as currently constructed, doesn't have the pieces to contend in 2010 or 2011 before it was too late.
I'd have been behind him if the two moves he made on deadline day hadn't been panic deals because of my last sentence.
I'm going to have a hard time staying behind him as the GM of this team if he's making moves that will reflect just a little better on the team's short-term needs when all those short-term needs are going to do is take it from a 50 win team to a 55 win team (and that's probably being generous with the five win differential). There's a time when five wins make a difference, but it's not when you're losing more than 100 games. The only way this saves his job is if ownership and Kasten are extremely concerned about putting a bow on a turd. The sad thing is, they just might be.