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 Outfield: Elijah Dukes, Lastings Milledge, and Austin Kearns
It was a bit of a tale of two seasons for Lastings. You probably missed the good part. In the first half, he hit .245 .312 .368. Same weak OBP he posted in NY, but less power. Not so hot. But in the second half, he leapt to .299 / .355 / .448, easily the best 250-AB stretch of his young career. His plate discipline improved steadily over the season as well, with a 7.2% walk rate in the second half that almost disqualified him from the ranks of the hacktastic. And the most important thing to remember--Milledge is just 23.
I wrote about Kearns at length in the last week of the season, so I won't recap all that. Bottom line is that he's not good. Check it out here if you're interested.
- Back-Ups: Wily Mo Pena and Willie Harris or Ryan Langerhans
I assume Langerhans will be non-tendered, but it's possible the team could re-sign him anyway or he may like his opportunities better somewhere else. If so, oh well.
In the Minors
- Michael Burgess
- Justin Maxwell
- Destin Hood
- Leonard Davis
- Roger Bernadina
Courtesy of MLB Trade Rumors, here are the free agent outfielders available this off-season:
Bobby Abreu (35)FJB's Take
Moises Alou (42)
Garret Anderson (37) - $14MM club option for '09 with a $3MM buyout
Rocco Baldelli (27)
Casey Blake (35)
Willie Bloomquist (31)
Milton Bradley (31)
Emil Brown (34)
Pat Burrell (32)
Mike Cameron (36) - $10MM club option for '09 with a $750K buyout
Carl Crawford (27) - $8.25MM club option for '09 with a $2.5MM buyout
Adam Dunn (29)
Jim Edmonds (39)
Cliff Floyd (36) - $2.75MM club option for '09 with a $0.25MM buyout
Brian Giles (38) - $9MM club option for '09 with a $3MM buyout
Luis Gonzalez (41)
Ken Griffey Jr. (39) - $16.5MM club option for '09 with a $4MM buyout
Vladimir Guerrero (33) - $15MM club option for '09 with a $3MM buyout
Jerry Hairston Jr. (33)
Raul Ibanez (37)
Gabe Kapler (33)
Mark Kotsay (33)
Kevin Mench (31)
Jason Michaels (33) - $2.6MM club option for '09
Craig Monroe (32)
Greg Norton (36)
Jay Payton (36)
Corey Patterson (29)
Wily Mo Pena (27) - $5MM club option or $2MM player option for '09
Scott Podsednik (33)
Manny Ramirez (37)
Juan Rivera (30)
Fernando Tatis (34)
Brad Wilkerson (32)
Dukes and Milledge are a very exciting pair, and Burgess, Maxwell, and Hood are an exciting batch of prospects down the road, but for the next couple years they need to upgrade from Austin Kearns. We just can't compete with him in right field, and Pena's just limping to the end of his time in the bigs.
Therefore, outfield is one of two places where I would like to see the team make a run at a free agent (starting pitching is the other). There are a lot of interesting names here, and some real sleepers.
I'm going to probably shock everyone and say I think Adam Dunn--Jim Bowden Reds-reunion punch-line--would make a lot of sense for us. First, he's a beast. Other than Manny, he's the best run-producer available. Some people don't like his strikeouts, but they don't understand how runs are scored in baseball. He has a .380 OBP and slugs with he best of them. Second, he could cover first base in a pinch. He played almost as much 1B for the D'Backs as he did outfield, and although again we have an awful lot invested in IF defense, Dunn wasn't really any worse at first than in the outfield (incidentally not every statistical measure hates him defensively; Clay Davenport's 'runs above average' stat has him really right around average the last two seasons). Third, I think it would only take a 2-3 year contract to get him, so we don't have to marry the late declining years of the guy like you would with most blockbuster free agents. Fourth, based on reports around the trade deadline, there aren't as many teams interested as I would have thought, including none of the really big-payroll teams. And finally, he'll only be 29 next year.
If not Dunn, another interesting name is former-Expo, momentary-National, Juan Rivera. He's had really only one full, healthy season in the Angels' crowded outfield, and that year, 2006, he ran circles around the guy he was traded from the Nationals for, Jose Guillen, hitting .310 / .362 / .525. Then he broke his leg in '07, and in '08 he got shuffled in and out of the line-up, had some bad luck (.242 BABIP), but showed the power is still there. He doesn't walk or get on base much, but he'd likely knock 25 homers a year for us, and that would be worth a short one or two-year deal.
Rocco Baldelli could be an interesting buy-low candidate, but I don't see how we could take on another injury risk. Still, he's arguably the best mix of youth and talent here.
Milton Bradley's another talented but high-risk guy we probably need to avoid. As great as he was this year, it'll take a multi-year deal to get him, and that makes no sense for any National League team.
I would stay away from pretty much all the other big names--Abreu, Burrell, Manny, Edmonds, Ibanez--all because they are older guys whom I expect to rapidly decline over the lives of their next contracts.
I'll also just throw out there that Mark Teahen could get non-tendered, and if so he'd be another interesting choice for the "versatile fourth outfielder who's good enough not to embarrass us if forced to start at 1B" slot.
Oh, and one last thing--Griffey's option will be declined, and if Bowden denies at least calling him to chat, he's lying.