Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Nationals Trade for the Worst Attorney General in History!!

What's JimBo thinking? Is this part of his plan to escape from SmileyGate by currying favor with the Justice Department? Doesn't he know that Gonzalez isn't the AG anymore??? Oh, it's not that Alberto Gonzalez? My mistake. (An attempt at humor? Another mistake. Moving on...)

Here are some thoughts, collected stats, comments and links on the Nunez for Gonzalez deal as well as some other ruminations on the trade deadline:

On Jhonny Nunez:
A 6'3", 22-year-old righty, Nunez throws in the mid-90s has some big SO numbers--over 9 K/9 in high A and AA ball this year. He has a combined 4.86 ERA in 89 IP this year. But with just a plus fastball and a minus slider, he doesn't project as anything more than a bullpen arm. I'm a huge huge huge believer that you can never have enough arms and that power arms in particular can vastly exceed (or fall far short) of projections, but if he's just a below average RHRP, then those are kind of dime-a-dozen. Here are some other things to read:
  • The Baseball Prospectus 2008 Annual says: "It wasn’t a great first season in the Nats organization for former Dodgers prospect Jhonny Nunez, but he flashes power stuff in the 90s with a promising slider."
  • John Sickels ranked him the Nationals' #18 best prospect. He didn't appear on Baseball America's top ten or "best tools" lists.
  • Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus said today in their trade deadline roundtable: "If this is actually official, I think it is, it's a prospect/prospect deal. Nunez is a long, lanky Dominican with a plus fastball, but that's the only offering he has that's even at least average. Slider just ok, sometimes. What'd you want for a defensive shortstop who can't hit?"
On Alberto Gonzalez:
Right-handed 25-year-old SS; hitting .250/.313/.356 this season in 188 AB at AAA and put up almost exactly the same line last year; billed as an excellent fielder, at SS he has a career .972 fielding percentage and 4.46 range factor (meaning he doesn't make an error on 97.2% of his chances and fields 4.46 balls per game), though fielding stats are not that useful in general and especially suspect at the minor league level. At a premium defensive position like SS, you can win with a no-hit glove man, and while developing young pitchers it's especially useful to have a great fielder there, but he's probably a utility man on The First Great Nationals Team. He does seem to hit lefties quite a bit better than righties, so perhaps he could be useful at some point as a weak-side platoon partner. Here's what others had to say:
  • The Baseball Prospectus 2008 Annual says “Alberto Gonzalez, the shortstop that some have nicknamed ‘The Attorney General,’ began the year at Triple-A, but headed back down a level for a refresher on the strike zone before his September call-up. His glove will inspire someone to give him a shot at some point. His bat is of the Rey Sanchez shelf—better than Tony Pena Jr.’s but that’s all.”
  • He did not make Baseball America's Yankees 2008 top 10 prospects list, though he was listed the "best defensive infielder."
  • John Sickels rated him as the Yanks’ #15 prospect in 2007 , but he was dropped from his 2008 top 20 list entirely.
  • Brian at NFA says (I assume you read this several hours ago):
Gonzalez is a solid acquisition for the Nationals. His glove is his calling card, not his bat. Not sure he is an everyday starter but in exchange for a minor league reliever (which Nunez had apparently evolved into), it’s a good move. In the short term, Gonzalez can allow the Nationals to take their time with Cristian Guzman, if he’s more hurt than reports are letting on. Additionally, I would almost have to guarantee this ends the Felipe Lopez era in Washington.

In the long term, I’m intrigued by the idea of Emilio Bonifacio and Gonzalez playing up the middle defense. That is a solid way to build a team. I realize Guzman will be the starter but it’s at the very least solid up the middle defense for later in the game.
  • Bowden, over-hyping both players, said:
Alberto Gonzalez: Major League defensive shortstop. Mike Rizzo, (and scouts) Kris Kline, Bill Singer, Ed Durkin know him really well. They scouted him since they signed him. Major League shortstop. .250 or .260 hitter, but can really play shortstop with a gun. Hard to get middle infielders that can do that. So we feel now that with Gonzalez and (Emilio) Bonifacio and with Cristian Guzman signed, with (Ian) Desmond and Smiley (Gonzalez) coming, we feel like we've really stabilized our middle infield for the short-term as well as the long term. It was tough to trade Jhonny Nunez; he's one of my personal favorites. We acquired him in the Marlon Anderson trade (in 2006); I think Nunez will be a seventh-inning set-up guy down the road. I really like him. It was hard to do, but at the end of the day, I was convinced -- because all of our baseball people unanimously felt that Gonzalez was an everyday shortstop. Not just an extra player.
Otherwise, here are some thoughts on where we stand at the deadline:
  • Lo Duca and Lopez gone: this is serious addition by subtraction. These were two guys who were not only bad on the field, they refused to drink Manny's Kool Aid and in my view have been dragging down the team for months. A bad team like the 2007 Nationals becomes a truly awful team like the 2008 Nationals when the team gives up. These two gave up a while ago. Lannan, Balester, Zimmerman, Flores, and Bergmann haven't, but we needed to get rid of these two guys to stop the bleeding.
  • Manny gets to actually manage a young team. That's what we brought him here for, right?
  • Credit the Lerners for eating these salaries. It had to be done, but a lot of people out there would have said they never would do it.
  • Good to see Kory Casto out there tonight at first. That answers my question about why on earth Manny was insisting on playing bad, old catcher Paul Lo Duca at first every day--just a desperate effort to move him for something. We all suspected as much, but I'm glad to be done with him. Chances are Casto’s no better than a utility guy, but we need guys like that. And we may as well find out what he can do in an every day role.
  • The Lopez-Kearns trade cannot be considered anything but an absolute loss. The world owes Wayne Krivsky an apology. In 2007, Felipe had a 0.2 VORP and this year he's been an awful -9.3. We'd have been significantly better off with any AAA scrub available and miles ahead with Brendan Harris at 2B. Kearns will have to transform himself into one of the worst to one of the best RFs in baseball in a real hurry to offset the losses of Brendan Harris, Bill Bray, Gary Majewski, and Daryl Thompson.
  • We still don't have 25 guys available until Guzzy goes on the DL. We still don't have anyone who can play first base. We need to see one of our AAA or AA 1Bs, but it sounds like instead we're going to get Casto and Langerhans.
  • Boy, am I glad I’m not a Dodgers fan. After throwing huge money at Andruw Jones and Juan Pierre when they had younger, better players in Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp, they trade for Casey Blake to block their outstanding third-base prospect Andy LaRoche. And now they trade LaRoche to get Manny Ramirez, who at 37 is a DH on his last legs even if he doesn’t lose complete control of himself acting out. Now, what do they do in the outfield? They have $$80.2 wrapped up in Pierre and Jones, and Torre loves his vets, so they're going to play some. Manny’s obviously going to play. So Ethier and Kemp, who are probably the best of the five, will be left once again scrambling for PT. It’s a miracle Colletti didn’t find a way to shove James Loney and Clayton Kershaw aside. And with all that, chances are they still won’t make the playoffs, and if they do because of the terrible NL East, they will have no chance.
  • This tidbit from Zuckerman doesn't sound like Bowden's thinking about trades for youth. This sounds like a trade for, oh I don't know, Nick Swisher (I know, everyone says that rumor was BS, and I have no reason to think otherwise):
Bowden was asked about if any of his trade talks involved acquiring a first baseman. His answer: "It's interesting, because I think what we accomplished the most at the trade deadline is beginning trade discussions for the offseason. There are some clubs in the pennant race that we had good discussions with. But at the end, they couldn't make moves because to trade those players would affect their season this year. And they have more interest in continuing the discussions in October. We came a long way in those discussions. We feel that we have a couple of things going for October that we're already planning on discussing."
The Prospects

Gonzalez, 25, shares a name with the former U.S. Attorney General but is not related. He began his career in the Diamondbacks organization and came to the Yankees, along with since-traded righty Ross Ohlendorf and righty Stephen Jackson, in the deal that sent Randy Johnson back out to Arizona. Gonzalez is an above-average defensive shortstop with solid range, soft hands and a plus arm, but he wasn't the top defender at the position in the Yankees system—that's Double-A Trenton's Ramon Pena. Gonzalez had not shown he could hit upper-level pitching yet, hitting just .250/.313/.356 at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and was just 10-for-66 in his two short big league stints, including 9-for-52 (.173) this season. He's shown some plate discipline throughout his career but lacks the power to be an everyday regular at just 5-foot-11 and 165 pounds.

Nunez, 22, came to the Nationals organization from the Dodgers in the 2006 Marlon Anderson trade. He went 4-6, 4.05 last year at low Class A Hagerstown in his steady full-season debut, which he spent almost exclusively as a starter. But Nunez struggled to maintain his velocity late into games and lacked a quality third pitch, so a move to the bullpen seemed inevitable. He advanced to high Class A Potomac to start this year, going 2-8, 5.22 with 82 strikeouts and 21 walks in 81 innings over 21 appearances (17 starts). Nunez has worked out of the bullpen since earning a midseason promotion to Double-A Harrisburg, going 0-0, 1.13 in eight innings. He profiles as a middle reliever down the road, with a lively, sinking fastball that tops out at 94 mph and an improving slider from a low three-quarters arm slot.

Quick Take

This trade is puzzling for the Nationals, who recently extended shortstop Cristian Guzman's contract for two more years and acquired second baseman Emilio Bonifacio from Arizona for Jon Rauch. Gonzalez is a spare part who does not project as a big league regular. The Nationals are expected to place Guzman on the disabled list, but it seems short-sighted to part with a young, power arm for a low-upside, short-term insurance policy. Maybe Nunez will be just a middle reliever, and maybe he won't reach the big leagues at all, but he certainly has a higher ceiling than Gonzalez. The Nationals system is thin in the middle infield, but acquiring more utility players is a strange solution.
  • Update 2: I'm realizing I haven't really given this trade a bottom-line grade. I'm going to call it a C-. Probably in the long run it'll be inconsequential, but power arms like this have a lot of upside (and downside, to be sure). Look at the breakthrough Hanrahan has had in the last year. If we were getting someone who was going to represent an offensive upgrade, then ok fine you have to give up to get. But for me 1. I don't like that we once again gave up a pitcher, and 2. I don't like that we got the guy with the lower ceiling.


Hendo said...

Think Bowden's finally getting your message?

Steven said...

I think Bowden's had handcuffs on since Kasten came in. Christina Kahrl called it "adult supervision." I tend to think JimBo would have done some stupid Swisher for Lannan-type deal if he was allowed. That just sounds too much like a trade he would make. But Kasten has set the parameters and Bowden is stuck.

What I will never understand is why they want a GM to execute a plan that is so clearly not what he would want to do left to his own devices. This is like putting Dennis Kucinich in charge of the troop surge.

Steven said...

And to be clear, when I say he's had handcuffs on, I think that's a good thing.

Hendo said...

For Bowden to have handcuffs on is, I suppose, the least of evils. In general, though, I think it stinks to have to handcuff someone.

Don't hire an employee, or keep him on, not to let him do his job. That's an indignity no one deserves. Either let him do his thing or let him go.

Steven said...

I agree totally. It's been a dysfunctional arrangement from the start that reflects very poor judgment on how to best run an organization--any kind of organization.

One of the reasons I'd like to see Bowden go that isn't his fault at all is that he's never really had Stan's confidence. He's a holdover and a misfit. Even if Bowden was an above average GM, I kinda think we'd have been better off letting Stan hire his own guy and then letting that guy hire a manager, and that guy hire a batting coach, etc. The chain of command should be clear like that. Instead Stan didn't really want Bowden, Bowden didn't really pick Manny or Rizzo (that's more my impression than anything I have evidence on), Manny didn't pick his coaches, etc. It's all fubar.