As always, I have two key questions in mind, the first far more important than the second: 1. what can we do to speed the arrival of The First Great Nationals Team (FJB target date: 2011), and 2. what can we do to move towards respectability in 2009. The first step is to evaluate accurately and honestly where we stand now, and the next step is to look at opportunities to upgrade.
- Starting second-baseman: Emilio Bonifacio
Bonifacio, 24, will never have any power, but, with his speed and good defense, can become a useful starting player if he can figure out how to avoid making outs often enough. To be a starter who actually helps us win, he needs to get his OBP up to the .350-.360 range or better. If he's down in the .310-.330 range or lower, he'll be hurting us more than he's helping. This year his OBP was .305. Left-handed, however, he got on at a .337 clip.
To get that high OBP, he needs to never strike out, take a ton of walks, or both. Just slapping at the ball all the time can produce decent results, but it's inconsistent. Sometimes the ball finds holes, and sometimes it doesn't, and the luck doesn't always even out over the course of a season. Case in point: Cristian Guzman. In his horrid '05, his BABIP was .255; this year, it was .339. There were other differences, but an 84-point difference in BABIP is huge, and a lot of that is seeing-eye dribblers he just didn't get in '05.
That's why Luis Castillo is thrown out there as Bonifacio's most favorable comp. In his prime, Castillo had not only a tiny K%, but also a very good walk rate. For his career, his K/AB is 13.3% (average is ~17-18%), and his walk rate is 10.7% (average is ~10%).
Alas, this year, Bonifacio struck out a whopping 27.2% of the time, while walking just 7.7%, so he has a long way to go to become Luis Castillo, especially on the contact side. And although Castillo struggled in his first partial season in the bigs too, posting a 28% K-rate, he is probably not a reasonable expectation. Let's look at their ages 19-23 major- and minor-league numbers:
From year to year, Castillo out-performed Bonifacio in both K/PA and BB/PA, even while playing at higher levels. Players develop at all different paces, so it's possible that Bonifacio will get there eventually, but it's not at all likely.
The comparables generated by PECOTA (Baseball Prospectus's trademark projection system) are probably more realistic. Weirdly, his top PECOTA comps include Anderson Hernandez and Nationals cast-off Alejandro Machado. Others mentioned include Alfredo Amazega, Alexi Casilla, Tony Womack and Miguel Cairo. None of these guys ever hit in the .340-.360 OPS range except for a career year or two here or there. So he's going to need to develop contact skills that don't yet appear evident based on his stats. Hopefully Rizzo sees something the numbers don't show.
Finally, he's supposed to be a plus-defender, but committed a whopping 7 errors in 37 games last year. I imagine he'll come around, but that's a concern. And despite blazing speed, he needs to improve on his 6 out of 10 steal rate.
- Back-up: Anderson Hernandez
He too is expected to play a plus-defense and has some wheels.
- Back-up: Ronnie Belliard
In the Minors
- Stephen King
- Jake Smolinski
Courtesy of MLB Trade Rumors, here are the second base free agents available this off-season:
Willie Bloomquist (31)FJB's Take
Jamey Carroll (35) - $2.5MM club option for '09 with a $0.15MM buyout
Craig Counsell (38)
Ray Durham (37)
Damion Easley (39)
David Eckstein (34)
Mark Ellis (32)
Mark Grudzielanek (39)
Jerry Hairston Jr. (33)
Orlando Hudson (31)
Tadahito Iguchi (34)
Jeff Kent (41)
Felipe Lopez (29)
Mark Loretta (37)
Nick Punto (31)
As much as Bonifacio struggled after coming over from Arizona, you have to look at 2009 as his chance to show he can do it at the big league level, at least as a strong-side platoon guy. More than anything, watch those strikeouts. He needs to get his Ks/PA down to at least under 20% next year--ultimately it needs to be in the 14-15% range or better. It would help if he could get that BB/PA number closer to 9-10%, but really it's the Ks that are killing him.
Hernandez is a bench utility guy, and if there's a GM somewhere in the league who is fooled by his 2008 and thinks he's a starter, trade him, but no one's that easily duped.
Belliard has to be traded this off season. He doesn't fit on our roster anymore, and there's a whole slew of contending and near-contending teams who need a second-baseman. The White Sox, Brewers, Cardinals, Mets, and Cardinals are all in that category, while the Giants, Royals, Rockies, and Padres are all in the market for a second-baseman as well. One of those teams will sign Orlando Hudson, but after that Belliard is as good or better than any of the other options in free agency. Ray Durham fetched P Steve Hammond and OF Darren Ford (a couple fringy prospects but prospects nonetheless) from the Brewers at mid-season. Belliard should bring back at least that much or more.
Looking ahead, if Bonifacio doesn't take a step forward, Brian Roberts (Orioles), Placido Polanco (Tigers), and Mark DeRosa (Cubs) will headline the free agent class of 2009-10.