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.