OK.... I know I'm not the only one thinking this, but it's time for the organization to focus on what's best for the long haul, focusing a lot less on the 7 weeks or so that are left in the 2013 campaign. With an 8 game deficit in the Wild Card race and a 14.5 game deficit in the division, calling the Nats playoff odds (listed at 3.0 % per ESPN's standings page, which is better than it feels like it should be) a longshot might be a bit of an understatement. Let's take a look at some old friends and a few new friends while showing a few guys the door. Let's start with an obvious one......
DFA Chad Tracy
Tracy obviously had a successful season for the Nats as their primary lefty bat off the bench last season, and while I wasn't a huge fan of re-signing him at the time, I can see the logic behind it. Given that the Nats were coming off of a 98 win season with most of the roster remaining in tact, a veteran left-handed bat off the bench isn't the worst luxury to have if you expect to be playing meaningful games in October again. He was only a $1 million investment for the season, which means that the financial investment wasn't (and still isn't) much of a strain for a big league club... even if they have to eat the remainder of it.
However, for a team that's falling farther and farther out of contention and still has enough in tact to hope to make another run in the near future, he's really only serving to block a potential 2014 contributor in the high minors from playing time. Again, the money is nothing. The spot on the 25 man roster is another thing entirely. He hasn't contributed this season, batting just .178/.210/.297 in 105 plate appearances through Monday's games (toss in a strikeout against Craig Kimbrel on Tuesday if you want). He's slugging under .300, yet every time there's a crucial pinch hitting situation, he's the one to come to the plate. The roster spot could be enhanced for the remainder of this season and give a player that the Nats hope to have on the 2014 roster a better look.
Call Up Tyler Moore
Moore was vital to the Nats 2012 success. Unfortunately, he was also partially responsible for the 2013 club's sluggish start, batting just .151/.195/.283 in 113 plate appearances, more than half of which came in May when Werth hit the disabled list. Since being sent to Syracuse and being given a shot to take more regular at bats, Moore seems to have found his groove, batting .306/.403/.554 in 144 plate appearances. The key is to get his bat in the lineup regularly and see whether he can contribute going forward (consistent minor league production throughout his career says he can) or whether he just had a lucky go of things in his rookie season.
How do the Nats get his bat in the lineup regularly? It's actually pretty easy.......
- Adam LaRoche is batting .186/.238/.320 against LHP this season. He has fairly pronounced platoon splits against LHP throughout his career as well, batting .244/.300/.434 against them... well short of his production against RHP (.272/.347/.491). LaRoche shouldn't necessarily sit every time they face a LHP, but it's almost hard for the lineup not to improve by putting Moore's bat in there when a lefty's on the bump for the opponents. LaRoche obviously represents a big investment ($10 million this year... $12 million next year... $15 million in 2015 with a $2 million buyout) to the Nats front office. However, it's more important to realize that they made the mistake of paying all of that money to a glorified platoon player than to keep playing him against a subset of pitchers that he can't hit.
- Denard Span has actually been even worse against LHP, with a .151/.211/.179 line against them. Yes... I had to do a double take. He's slugging below the Mendoza Line against lefties. Bryce Harper has looked pretty solid in the handful of starts he's played in CF, and could shift to CF in half of the games against lefties to put Span's bat on the bench and get Moore out there in LF.
- I'm probably one of Jayson Werth's bigger supporters around here, but in the past two seasons, he's fallen into one of the traps of his early career. He's obviously had the one big fluke injury (broken wrist last season) and seems to have put the hamstring injury from earlier this season behind him. However, he's a guy who has battled nagging injuries throughout his career, and he's currently battling a sore groin. I'm of the opinion that the ability to deal with these injuries is a skill (one that guys like J.D. Drew surely didn't have), and it's not one that generally improves with age. Moore's presence on the roster could help to give Werth that extra day off every week or so.
Nice and simple, easy peasy. Find Moore four starts a week between those three spots, and he's getting his regular playing time. If he hits, bonus. We've got a 1b/Corner OF guy (who next year's manager will ideally realize he can platoon with the lefties who... well... don't hit lefties) for next season. If he doesn't, we can kind of chalk last year up as a mirage and consider him AAA depth heading into next year.... and Rizzo would know that he's got to target someone for that spot (or just use Hairston, who is signed through next year) in the offseason.
I'm not calling for the immediate promotion of Danny Espinosa, though I will note that he's shown some progress in the past month or so in Syracuse. After a miserable June (.097/.186/.129) that made me wonder just how much he'd recovered from his shoulder problem, Espinosa's been his old self (.254/.326/.377) since the beginning of July. That's not spectacular, but it is 2011-2012 Danny, rather than the complete sinkhole that he was at the beginning of this season.
Lombardozzi, meanwhile, has done what we (OK... I) have come to expect of him as well. He's a slap-hitter who doesn't strike out that often, doesn't really work any walks (4 in 223 plate appearances... Jeff Francoeur walks more often than that), and provides absolutely no power (.066 ISO... 12 doubles and a triple). He's not an asset on the basepaths (2 for 5 in SB attempts this season... 7 for 13 career). He does all of this while providing a lesser glove than Danny Espinosa at 2b or SS, though he's improved his outfield play enough to go from awful to almost adequate. Anthony Rendon is our current and future 2b (depends on Zimm... I won't include Zimm and the questions of whether to move him off 3b tonight). I don't think Espinosa will (or should) get his 2b job back, but that's not saying that we should just eliminate him as the possible utility infielder for the 2014 Nats.
I'm all for giving Espinosa another week or two in the minors to allow him to keep getting his confidence back, but I don't think this is something that should wait until September either. Once September starts (particularly in the NL East) and the rosters expand, the competition that he'll face will get watered down. If the retooled swing is going to work as a big league utility man, we're not going to figure it out in September. I think we've seen enough of Lombo the past two seasons to know that he's a fringy big league utility option at best. Espinosa could/should be better... at least with the glove.
Shop The Shark/Scott Hairston
I assume they've cleared trade waivers at this point, though I can't say it with 100% accuracy. There's a real chance that the Shark is non-tendered after this season, so even if all you get is some organizational depth, it's better than nothing. Hairston is signed through next season at $2.5 million (ugh). They could always hope to get a lottery ticket out of a deal for one of them. I've always liked Bernadina, but he could be a good fit as a fourth outfielder/defensive replacement type on a contender or a guy that another second division club (I hate saying another.... man.... I thought these days were over for a little while) might want to take a chance on. Hairston obviously fits the bench right-handed bat that crushes lefties mold....... assuming that wherever he landed the manager believed in such things.
Listen to offers on Clippard/Storen
Again, guys who would have to clear trade waivers at this point (no idea if they have). Both are at the point where they're making legitimate money in the arbitration process. They could/should each be useful to the club next season, but it never hurts to at least hear what other clubs have to offer. While they're both making enough money to at least actually affect the payroll for next season, neither is making such an exorbitant figure so that other clubs won't have interest. If you can get someone to overpay for a bullpen arm (particularly one that isn't supremely cost-controlled), you almost always have to take advantage of it.
Last Player to shop: Kurt Suzuki
The Nats are obviously not going to exercise the $8.5 million option on him for next season. The Onion isn't a real exciting backup catcher for the remainder of the year, and (while he's had a nice injury-free run lately) I still don't know how much we can count on Wilson Ramos' health the rest of the way. Nonetheless, if we accept that we're not going to the playoffs this season (which I did several weeks ago), there are a handful of contenders who could use either a backup catcher or a guy who would temporarily upgrade their starter because their starter is injured (St. Louis [Molina] and Arizona [Montero] both come to mind). For Rizzo to get anything legitimate (say, a grade B-/C+ prospect... little better than a lottery ticket), he'd likely have to eat the remainder of this season's salary (about $1.6 million) and the $650K buyout for next year. There's no reason not to, though.
More Minor Leaguers to look at
Without adding players to the 40 man roster, it'd be worth giving Eury Perez, Corey Brown, and Jeff Kobernus a more extended look. I'm sure we'll see them all in September, but if they free up a 25 man spot by moving Bernadina or Hairston, it's worth seeing more of what you've got in terms of who could be a bench bat next season. If they do shop a reliever, it could be worth giving Nate Karns another look. They could put him in the bullpen to set him up in situations where he can build his confidence and then have him take over the starting spot when they shut Taylor Jordan down. There's not a ton to look forward to in the high minors, unfortunately. In terms of player personnel that's already in the organization, the guys that figure to form our big league squad in the next few years are mostly up.
I'd like to say that we shouldn't completely give up on Garcia as a starting pitcher, but we should. The man's had two Tommy John surgeries in his career, missed the early part of this season with a torn flexor tendon in his wrist, and he's currently dealing with a hamstring injury. Durability is most certainly not Garcia's middle name. While they wanted to try him as a starter, returning to pitching in one inning bursts seems like it would be better for his long term health.
If Detwiler does indeed need surgery, get it done......... now! Don't do the "rest and see how it feels in Spring Training thing." Be proactive. The starting pitching depth in the high minors isn't really there, so if it's a situation where rest should fix his recurring back problem or surgery absolutely will, have him go under the knife. Don't let it linger and return next season.
Don't fire Davey outright, but make it clear that this team is building for next season and that he needs to manage the team in that way
Taking away one of Davey's pet projects/toys (Tracy) should obviously help to do this, but insist that he manage the roster with the future in mind, even though he knows he won't be a part of it. Keeping both LaRoche and Span in the lineup against lefties becomes a fireable offense, etc. While I clearly don't think that Davey managing this year out is the best thing for the on-field performance of this club the rest of this season, firing him would turn into yet another clown show for an organization that's had a few too many of them over the years. Let him finish the season out and retire with some dignity, but also stress the importance of what's best for the organization's long term health.
That's all I've got for now. Here's to a better performance in 2014. With a few exceptions, it's going to be pretty much the same team, so let's hope that the hitters suddenly remember how to do their jobs the rest of the way... with some help from management putting them in situations where they're more likely to succeed.