Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Johnson and Beimel Deals

Yesterday, the Nationals made two moves, and they were moves that as OMG said they absolutely had to make.

Nick Johnson and Joe Beimel are free agents at the end of this season. They’re both likely gone, although the Nationals could theoretically bring either back for 2010 if they want, like they did with Mike Stanton a few years back. (And in fact I wouldn't mind seeing them bring back Nick.)

Nick has been worth 1.2 wins over replacement so far this year. Beimel's been worth 0.2 WAR. So that's 1.4 wins in two-thirds of a season. Assuming the same rate of production over the last one-third of the season, we essentially gave up seven-tenths of a win over replacement. And since Nick’s playing time is likely going to Elijah Dukes, we’re going to get better than replacement.

We gave up two players for 57 meaningless games and maybe a fraction of a win for a terrible team. The only way what we gave up could be meaningful is if Nick and Joe pushed us ahead of San Diego and Kansas City in the Bryce Harper Sweepstakes.

Although these guys have little value to the Scats, they have some value to contenders. That's the beauty of deadline deals. You can take present value and turn it into future value, and if you're a team with no present that's hoping to have a future, that's a pretty easy trade-off.

So what did we get in return?

For Beimel, we got Robinson Fabian, a 23-year-old still in A ball. You’ll probably never hear from him again. But we also got Ryan Mattheus. Mattheus is the value. A 25-year-old right-handed relief pitcher, he’s a classic Rizzo control groundballer. He features a sinker, four-seam fastball that can touch the mid-90s, and a good slider--sort of a Luis Ayala repertoire.

The problem is that he’s not young--he's 25. And like most minor league relievers has very limited upside. Still, he was the #19 BA prospect going into the season after whiffing nearly a batter per inning in AA in 2008. This year, he had a 3.81 ERA with 27 Ks and 11 BBs in 26 innings and figured to get a look in the big leagues at some point.

Then, the elbow gave out, and Tommy John surgery followed. He’ll be out till 2011 at least, and it’s a crap shoot what he’ll be when he’s back. Some TJ survivors, like Josh Johnson come back as good or better than ever. Others, like J.D. Martin, are never close to the same guy. I’d be delighted if he became Saul Rivera or Jason Bergmann, but odds are he won’t. Fans may have expected more, but for 20 or so innings of Joe Beimel they shouldn’t have.

The Nick Johnson deal brought back lefty Aaron Thompson, BA’s #13 prospect and a C+ prospect on the John Sickels scale at the start of the season. Thompson is a former #1 draft pick, and though he hasn’t been the guy Florida had hoped for, he’s progressed and remains a legit prospect.

Thompson features a good change, a fastball that sits at 88-91, and a curve. His strikeouts and walks both regressed pretty badly in his first tour through AA last year, with his K:BB rate falling from 2.40 to 1.33. This year, back in AA, his command has improved, though he's still striking out fewer than six per nine. It's clear what Rizzo likes: the groundball rate is a healthy 49.2%.

Thompson gets thrown into the pool with the Balesters and Martises of the world, competing for a back-end starting role for a future Nationals team. It’s sound practice to stockpile arms like this, because with enough of them one or two might break out.

I’ll also say that I like this deal better than, for instance, the Manny Delcarmen rumor that went around in May. If Thompson can become even a #5 starter, going 140 innings with an ERA under 4.50, he’ll be worth more than any middle reliever.

Again, fans seem to have expected more, but they shouldn’t have.

Bottom line, it would have been criminal not to move these two players, and the Nationals got it done. That’s good. I certainly would have liked to see the team make a more aggressive effort to move veterans (especially Willingham), but had they not traded Johnson and Beimel we’d be in serious head-slapping territory.

One other note on the Johnson deal is that the Lerners signed off on us picking up the remainder of his 2009 salary. That’s the only way that a deal with the Marlins was going to get done, and it’s good to see the team giving Rizzo the resources in this case to get the most value possible for Nick.


phil dunn said...

What is it with the Nats and their love for dead beat pitchers who have had Tommy John surgery? They can't seem to accumulate enough of them.

The one plus on these two deadbeat, oops, i mean deadline deals is that it guarantees the Nats will garner the first pick in next years draft. Of course, signing the picks (2009 and 2010) is another matter. Cheap franchises have a penchant for spending their money foolishly, like paying a key player with a .408 OBP to leave instead of re-signing him. Now, we have a huge hole at first base in addition to 2B, SS and RF.

Maximus said...

There is no such thing as a meaningless game. Nick broke his leg in a game that was 'meaningless' in August. NJ was one of the last tethers to the 2005 'good ole days'. Nats just got worse this year. An organization rotten to the core will not benifit from such marginal WARP. We suck, forever.

James Bjork said...

Good post, Steven.

I think folks in these parts expected more for those two, and IMHO this was not reasonable.

Contending teams really don't pay much for two-month rentals anymore.

estuartj said...

I think the team might actually be better without Nick then it was with him. I love NJ, he was my favorite, but this was not the Nick Johnson we loved in 2006, his range was limited and his power stroke has not returned.

Now that's the negative, here is the positive, the outfield defense has just improved significantly, Willingham, Morgan, Dukes is such a huge improvement on the Dunn, Morgan, Willigham set that it's almost impossible to compare them.

I also feel that in the long term Dunn is actually a better first baseman than he was an outfield, the key will be having him go every game there and develop a real feel for the position instead of part time duties. If he can catch the ball when Zim throws he'll be just fine.

On offense I also think that Dukes will (except for being a RHH) be more valuable than NJ, almost as good an OBP, much better power and great speed on the base path (if he can just improve the mental aspect of that).

Mr. Mustache said...

This post has to be the best post you have ever written Steven. Big time kudos to you.

Brandi said...


Dunn would be an adequate first baseman if wishing made it so. Unfortunately, Dunn the 1B makes Dunn the OF look like like Willie Mays. It may be the best deployment of the available talent, but it's nothing to look forward to.

David said...

Good analysis except that none of the games are meaningless. The Nationals are drawing 5,265 fewer fans than last year and about 10,000 less then their best year (2005). At a fan cost index (FCI) of approx. $50 they will reduce revenue over 21 million dollars. This does not even count the premium seats. 21 million dollars is just about what they pay Dunn, NJ, and Kerns. Even at the avg ticket price of $30.63 it is over 13 million. If the Lerners lose the fan base we will have the Pirates payroll level in the future without the Pirates ticket prices. As for Dunn he did clear waivers last year so the trading may not be over yet.

NatsGuy said...

Interesting comments by all. NJ was hurt in late September 2006 not August.