Consider for a moment this evening's dilemma: Consistent with prior reports (but in tension with my own apparently faulty preconceived notions), the Nationals aren't even interested in spending the comparatively meager coin it would take to sign an innings-oriented punching bag like Ryan Franklin. In response, I'd be inclined to jump on the "CHEAP!!!111!!!!" bandwagon, except is such a vociferous charge a waste of oxygen when the subject at hand is Ryan Franklin? Maybe this is sort of like the harmless error standard in law---even if not pursuing a low-grade innings-absorber is erroneous under the circumstances, the error itself yields no harm. And it might yield no harm because, really, who is harmed so badly by not employing Ryan Franklin?
I'm not ready to dissemble to that extent, because the answer could be far more elegant. But, for the moment, I'll advance the simple thought that if the Nats want Ryan Franklin, nothing in the world (other than Franklin's own free will) should stop them from signing him, and that nothing includes the vaunted "Plan." This wouldn't be a multi-year deal and---really now---if a 28 year-old guy with "good stuff" like Joel Pineiro signs for one year and $4 million, would the market for a slop-baller slated to be 34 by Opening Day be appreciably more? And yes, I continue to italicize Ryan Franklin's full name to stress the point---this is Ryan Franklin we're talking about here.
Nearly two years ago, I posited my Presumption of Competence. I can't say I always hold to that, but it's likely an appropriate standard. However, I've never posited a Presumption Against Ridiculous Frugality, and being priced out of the Ryan Franklin market just might foreclose the thought. A year or so ago, I talked a bit about the Stylites. Well, speaking of them, holding out of any free agent starter reminds me of such measures of "extraordinary endurance and privation." Just remember these individuals stood atop pillars for years on end; perhaps I do hyperbolize a touch when the subject is restraining from Ryan Franklin, but hopefully the drift has been conveyed.
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The more elegant solution---at least one more elegant than harmless error---is that the Nats don't need anyone like Ryan Franklin around to chew up innings. [Note: Franklin pitched only 77.1 innings last season, all in relief, but I don't think that has any bearing on whether he can log 200 or so innings, as he did on average from 2003-05.] If they don't need a Ryan Franklin (or a repeat Ramon Ortiz, or someone of the innings-eating ilk), then I had better readjust my thinking, because I've been beating this horse relentlessly.
To review my preconceived notion on the matter briefly, I will yet again note the average NL squad received 941 innings from its starters in 2006, and the Nationals---placing a much heavier burden on the relievers---received 879.1 innings from their starters. Viewed a slightly different way, the Nats received one fewer out per game from their starters than did the average NL team. One fewer out---per game, every game. Over the course of a 162-game season, that one out really adds up. It multiplies. By 162 (more or less; it doesn't figure bottoms of innings in road defeats the Nats didn't have to pitch). It's a liability. We've been over this before.
Keep in mind this 2006 contribution from the starters included two-thirds of a season from Livan Hernandez, who finished third on the staff in innings pitched. As a Nat, Hernandez averaged approximately 6.1 innings per start; this figure was basially an out better than the average NL starter and two outs better than the average of all Nats' starters. This contribution also included the efforts of Ramon Ortiz (33 starts, 190 innings), who basically matched the NL average of innings per start. Neither Hernandez nor Ortiz pitched well at all, but they did pitch.
In the interest of full disclosure, the ridiculously inefficient Tony Armas will also be gone; he averaged all of 5.1 innings per start in his 30 trips to the hill. Even if you cancel out Hernandez's relative durability with Armas' stunning inefficiency---which seems sort of a specious thing to do---you're still looking at 300 innings no longer with the team. Insert Ortiz's total, and the figure climbs to nearly 500 innings. That's over half of what the average NL team got out of its starters, and an even higher percentage when compared to the Nats' 2006 seasonal totals.
Strip away the numbers, and what does this mean? Simply, it means the Nats are turning over several slots in their starting rotation, a process that started with Hernandez's trade for two pitching prospects---one of whom, Matt Chico, is projected by some to be a member of the '07 rotation, ready or not. So as to keep this explanation brief, I'll add that, while turning over your rotation isn't a tremendously big deal, it could be a harrowing prospect when your replacements might not be reliable for sufficient innings pitched totals. Hence, my position (shared by many others) that some sort of "staff stabilizer"---of whatever quality---is needed to plug in some innings and keep the rotation somewhat orderly.
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Yet, this position is premised on the belief the "replacements" (for lack of a better term) won't be good for the innings. In the strictest sense, the starters have to be good for the innings, more or less; after all, someone has to pitch the required innings every game. But implicit in this position is the belief that it's rather unattractive to spend dozens upon dozens of pitchers to get through all of those innings. And, if an eye to attractiveness is not sufficiently important, perhaps I should also add it's counterproductive. Notably, if someone has to pitch those innings, someones will have to be employed to do so. The Nats could unneccessarily rush pitching prospects in the process; heck, in a worst-case scenario, they could pay a significant percentage of Franklin's 2007 salary just by working stopgap after stopgap at the league minimum, trying to find someone to fill the breach.
Others have pointed to the paltry depth chart, and it's instructive. I mean, look at it. Three starters listed. Among the guys listed under "Bullpen," you've got one other potential starter, Billy Traber, who incidentally seems to have fallen out of favor with the organization. On the full 40-man roster, you've got a few more (Chico, Joel Hanranhan, Beltran Perez, and Tim Redding). And then there are a couple of non-roster invitees, like Jason Simontacchi and Colby Lewis. Add all those guys up and sort them in some kind of orderly selection and arrangement, and you do have a five-man rotation---
But what if they can? I'm fond of the Redding signing---seemed intelligent to me. But am I too dismissive of Perez and Hanrahan? Am I overly hung up on Hill's injury risk? Do I doubt O'Connor too much (despite his GW-related excellence)? What I'm asking is whether the team has legitimate confidence in the pitchers on its roster and depth chart and invite list right now. I suppose it does; is this confidence not justified? It's something I'll have to explore further as the days and weeks progress. Forty-two days to pitchers and catchers, after all.
In the meantime, I can't say Ryan Franklin would hurt. Yes, even Ryan Franklin.
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The same Washington Post story linked above (second link at top of post) also pieces together Baseball America's ranking of the Nats' top ten prospects:
1. Colin Balester
2. Chris Marrero
3. Colten Willems
4. Kory Casto
5. Smiley Gonzalez
6. Zech Zinicola
7. Glenn Gibson
8. Matt Chico
9. Steven King
10. Ian Desmond
Aaron Fitt, who did the rankings for BA, was interviewed by Nats Farm Authority recently. Among other things, Fitt noted he overrated Desmond last year (No. 4), so, in light of Desmond's poor 2006 season, his fall nearly out of the top ten was not exactly unexpected. Additionally, Fitt noted the Nats overpaid for Smiley but added this was a strategic move to make in-roads in Latin America. And, sure enough, this effort might be paying off. As the Post story reports:
Now this is a plan!