Sunday, June 20, 2010

Repeat after me: the Nationals Are Sellers, the Nationals Are Sellers

There's been a lot of talk lately about the Nationals as buyers at mid-season this year, potentially making moves for a starting pitcher like Roy Oswalt or a bat.

The team's recent skid may have come just in time to remind this front office that they are not really that close to being a contender and should be focused, when possible, in turning current value into future value.

There's certainly a chance that the Nationals make the playoffs in 2011. And if you have a chance at the playoffs, then you have a chance to win it all. If you're thinking as a fan, then by all means, root for that.

But management's job is to look at the situation without red-colored glasses and understand that while it's possible that the Nationals could contend sometime soon, that they probably won't. In fact if I had to bet on next season's record right now, I wouldn't put their win total any higher than 75-76.

Just look at the players who have contributed this year. Their top value performers have been Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn, and Josh Willingham. All of them could maintain their current level of performance next year, but chances are as a group they will either plateau or decline at least a bit. And of course Dunn's contract is up. Willingham becomes a free agent the year after that. Only Zimmerman might possibly have another level in him, and that's a lot to expect from a player who's been one of the most valuable position players in the NL over the last 18 months.

On the pitching staff, they have a true ace in Stephen Strasburg. His value should only increase. Jordan Zimmermann could return from Tommy John surgery and pick up where he left off--which might make up for Livan Hernandez coming back to earth.

After that, it's all a wash. There are no more big time prospects in the system who can expected to be major players in 2011, and by 2012 Willingham and Dunn will both be entering their mid-30s, if they're still with the team at all.

So while it's not popular to say so around these parts, the Nationals should be shopping their most valuable trading chips right now. That means Dunn, Willingham, Matt Capps, and if anyone wants to buy in, Ivan Rodriguez, Cristian Guzman, and Livan Hernandez. Either because of age or contracts, those guys are all very unlikely to ever be a part of a contending Nationals team, so if they can flip them for young, improving talents under team control, they should.

Now, I'm not arguing for a fire sale. If no one offers value, you stand pat. But certainly, the talk of trading away young, improving players for short-term rentals or declining veterans should be over and done with.


Unknown said...

I couldn't agree with you more Steven!

Nate said...

Dunn will be 31 all next season, Willingham 32. You've got a generous strike zone for mid-30s.

Dave Nichols said...

The Nats should be sellers. The Nats should be sellers.

Steven said...

@Nate--I meant to say "by 2012," the year after next, when Willngham hits FA and the year they hit 32 and 33 respectively. Good catch though.

Kevin Rusch said...

On cold, hard logic, I'm with you. However, this season of competence is like a drink of water for someone who's been in the desert. And trading away Dunn, Willingham, and/or Pudge would make the present that much worse. And unless they're trading for someone who can help in 2011 (rather than 2012, 2013 and beyond) losing Dunn and/or Willingham would really harm their chances of contending in 2012.

Just a thought.

Roberto said...

I could agree with you about Dunn and/or Willingham if there was any reason to believe that they could get something of real, as opposed to notional, value in exchange for them.

But there's very little evidence that this is the case. "Sellers" usually wind up getting maybe 40 cents on the dollar. In the Nats' case that means that we would send our one true power-hitting threat for someone else's Chris Marrero. Since we already have one of those how does acquiring another make this tram better over the medium-to-long haul? When you throw in Dunn' defensive limitations, the likelihood of getting something of real value goes down further.

The other thing is that you have made it clear that you are a "contend or rebuild" kind of guy: for you, winning 75 instead of 59 games isn't that big a deal. For many of us, it's the difference between enjoying baseball here in DC and having to tune out the local team so as to not let their ineptitude ruin the game for us.

Steven said...

Willingham and Dunn are both free agents by 2012, so to keep them you have to say you want them more than let's say Adrian Gonzalez or Prince Fielder.

John O'Connor said...

"Willingham and Dunn are both free agents by 2012, so to keep them you have to say you want them more than let's say Adrian Gonzalez or Prince Fielder."


Yes and no. You have to say you want Dunn and Willingham more than you'd want Fielder or Gonzalez AT THE PRICE THEY WILL COMMAND. You also have to assume that we can have those guys if we want them. There's a limited quantity of those guys, and it's no sure thing that even a market offer would get them (though it helps that the Yankees are set at first base, and the Bosox can be set there is they play Youkilis at first).

Unknown said...

Again the real issue isn't to sell or not, but to sell at what level. I agree a firesale would be counterproductive, just lowering th value to the product you DO have.

Like the Soriano non-trade it's difficult if not impossible for outsiders to judge return on value for deals that don't happen and the "We should trade Dunn & Willingham for top end starters" is nice, but not realistic.

Would you trade Willingham for Madison Baumgarner or Michael Bowden? Of course, but what about another teams equivilent of Jordan Zimmerman or Ross Detwiler....or Brad Meyers?

You can drive yourself crazy worrying about this, so I will root for my team and our players and IF they get traded for a solid return great, but until then I'll just hope Dunn, Capps & Willingham are Type A FA when their contracts end. Much simpler and less morally confusing

James Bjork said...

I agree with Steven about the value in the Nats' regression back to earth, in snuffing out notions of adding Oswalt and the like.

I agree more with other posters, though, that rentals to contending teams (specifically Dunn) don't get the yields they used to- such that compensation draft picks compare favorably. If Rizzo gets a truly stud prospect, then yes, bite the bullet.

And as before, count me among the fans who would rather watch a tolerable 75-win team, than endure a 65-win team on the *chance* that some prospects in trade might actually pan out.

Unknown said...

Didn't the D-backs opt to not offer arbitration to Dunn because they knew he would take it? If the goal is to take advantage of type A then we would have to hope Dunn doesn't want to stay here. I knew all along that the Nats should never have been buyers unless the price and player was good for the Nats but I don't forsee Guzman getting traded for a Oswalt... I wouldn't realistically anticipate a playoff run until Strasburg is allowed to pitch 200+ innings a year so it would seem like 2012-2013 would be good years to anticipate the playoffs. Next year being a more competitive .500. Like James Bjork said, I'd take a 65 win season for 75 or even 81 win season if we got a good return on veterans this year.

Section 222 said...

These are solid arguments, but there is one perspective on which I'd like to hear your opinion. It seems to me that the front office has to be thinking about trying to be decent next year and contend in 2012 if they are going to have any hope of resigning Ryan Zimmerman to keep him in the fold after 2013. They need the revenue from frequent sell outs and they need to convince Zim they are serious about winning it all. Signing Dunn (and to a lesser extent Willingham) to an extension helps in that process. They have Strasburg under team control for longer, but that's an issue there as well.

I'm just not convinced that Dunn can be traded for player(s) who, even if they pan out, will help us win soon enough to have the trajectory we need. If you can unload Guzman, great. But I'm not so sure about Dunn. His performance this year certainly does not suggest a severe drop in skill over the next several years.

TBC said...

In reality, despite all the media frenzy at the trade deadline most teams are neither buyers nor sellers, but rather they stand pat. Which is as it should be. And which is as the Nats should be and probably will be this year.

DCJohn said...

There is still a lot of season left. The delimena is starting pitching. Slumps are part of baseball. These will end. My beef is with Nyjer, whose pulled a Nook Logan this year. I'd let Willie Harris and Levan go. Bring up Pete Orr. Send Lannan down. And keep Willingham and Dunn. Put Baradino in one or two spot and sit Morgan down and Morse in right. Forget about pitching to contact. The umps won't give us the call. And spend some money on a real second baseman and a power hitting right fielder until Harper comes along.

Wally said...

Also agree to sell if the return is good. Only off limits players are SS, Storen, Zim, Zimm and Desmond. I think that Willingham should return some quality; productive player with moderate pay with 18 months of team control, but the market will decide if I am right. Hopefully Rizzo is at least listening to people. As for Dunn though, I doubt that he brings back quality. My plan for him would be to tender him arbitration - if he takes it, great, I get a 1 year deal for a player that should still be productive; if not, 2 high picks into a stacked draft. Capps and Clippard should also bring back value.

But I would selectively buy too - if there was a player that you expect to positively contribute for the next few years that is being dumped for salary reasons (ie minimal return), then I would buy. Yes, Oswalt, I am talking about you.