Sunday, July 6, 2008

Buyer or Seller? Yes!

What to make of JimBo's latest "we'll do anything that makes us better" comments (courtesy of NJ)?
"We're open to any trade that makes us better long-term. That includes proven major leaguers that are successful, top prospects in the minor leagues; we're open to anything. We've told every club, we have complete flexibility on trading players and acquiring players. So we're keeping every avenue open to us. We've let all the clubs know that. If someone wants to know if we're a buyer or a seller, we're both. Any way that we can add long-term pieces, we're going to add long-term pieces. Because we're not in a structure where we're trying to make trades to help this team win right now. We're trying to build a baseball team -- to eventually win. This isn't the kind of team you add a piece to win. You need to have the Milledges and the Dukes and the Lannans and the Zimmermans and those long-term pieces."

It's almost like you're taking all implications on this season out of the picture, I suggested. It's more like an approach a team would have in the offseason.

"Completely. Sure. We'll trade a piece that hurts our team this year to help our team win a year from now or two years from now. Total focus is on the long-term. Same thing with bringing up a Collin Balester. We're going to have some growing pains. Every game is not going to be like the Florida game. We're going to have growing pains. But in the long run, it's going to help us. And we saw Elijah Dukes, for example, the first couple months... and now he's developing."

I don't think you can put much stock in these blatherings from JimBo or any other MLB exec. Of course we're sellers. I guess I could argue that when Bowden says we could be buyers, or the "we're not going to tear down" quote from a couple weeks ago reveal that his heart isn't really in the Plan, but I don't need to do that. We have 16 years of evidence that he doesn't really have the patience or aptitude for a long-term rebuilding effort.

But I do take heart in Harlan's line that "The front office's list of 'untouchable' players is shockingly small." That's as it should be. The list of guys I would be actively shopping for whatever youth we can get would include at least Rauch, Lopez, LoDuca, Kearns, Nick, Dmitri, Belliard, Guzman, Redding, Perez, Ayala, Hill, Rivera, Hanrahan, and anyone else born earlier than Sept. 27, 1984. (BTW--anyone else ever notice that Zimmerman and Lannan were born on consecutive days?) I don't think any of these guys are going to bring back any young Ted Williamses, but none of them are going to be a part of The First Great Nationals Team either, so if they can bring back a young arm or two like Armando Galarraga or Daryl Thompson circa 2006, then I'd do that.

I'd go still further. Take Dukes, for instance. We got him at a pretty big discount because of his reputation for being trouble. If some team out there decides that the kid's shaped up and wants to make an offer that gives value for his talent without factoring the risk of incarceration, I'd make that deal.

I would even (and prepare for apostasy) listen to offers for Zimmerman. You have to first recognize that of all the players on the active roster, he's the only one who really has any major trade value. Fangraphs is doing a series on the top 50 players in MLB in terms of trade value, and Zimmerman is (no shock) the only Nationals name there. You could probably do another 50 and not get another National.

Now, Zimmerman clocks in at just #46 on this list, and I wouldn't even consider trading him if that's really all the value he'd bring.
Fangraphs agrees, saying that he could be a top 10 value if not for the fact that he hasn't quite progressed the way we'd all hoped after 2006. And his injury hurts his value still more. But let's say he comes back and has a monster August and September and someone offered a package in the off season like what Bedard or Haren brought. I'd do that in a heartbeat.

If you think the talent from the 2007 draft is the beginning of the influx of young talent that will move us toward contention, then realistically you are looking at 2011-2012 as the nearest point at which this team starts to really come together. Zimmerman could be the centerpiece of that team, but he's also a free agent after 2011. Ideally, we would have signed him to a long-term deal by now, but we didn't, and going to arbitration next year Zimmerman has no incentive to even talk to the Nationals now. So if Zimmerman gets back on the near-MVP trajectory that we all foresaw not long ago, then we're talking about a huge bidding war and a very real chance of seeing Zimmerman in another team's colors.

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