CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

Futures Guide 2014 is Now Available in Paperback and Three E-book Formats.

Premium and Super Premium Subscribers Get a 20% Discount at MLB.tv!

<< Previous Article
Premium Article Rumor Roundup: Thursda... (01/17)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Skewed Left: Filling t... (01/15)
Next Column >>
Skewed Left: The Best ... (01/22)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: ... (01/17)

January 17, 2013

Skewed Left

Washington's Winning Way with Trades

by Zachary Levine

the archives are now free.

All Baseball Prospectus Premium and Fantasy articles more than a year old are now free as a thank you to the entire Internet for making our work possible.

Not a subscriber? Get exclusive content like this delivered hot to your inbox every weekday. Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get instant access to the best baseball content on the web.

Subscribe for $4.95 per month
Recurring subscription - cancel anytime.


a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Purchase a $39.95 gift subscription
a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Already a subscriber? Click here and use the blue login bar to log in.

Draft well, scout well internationally, develop players well, and when the time is absolutely right, go all in for that big free agent—the last piece of your World Series champions. Or at least the last piece of the best team in baseball that will still have to win three near-coin-flip series to lift the hardware.

You watch teams like the Astros trying to emulate this plan to get to the top, and meanwhile, you observe the Nationals following through on it with the addition of Rafael Soriano to an already loaded bullpen. It’s a move of luxury, not necessity, the final component of what is arguably baseball’s best team.

Yet there is a step missing in that narrative when it comes to Mike Rizzo’s meticulous construction of the Nationals.

Yes, they drafted well, from the gimme no. 1 overall picks in Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg to the other stars in the Zimmerman(n) brothers to the outstanding middle infield combination of Danny Espinosa and Ian Desmond, both third-round picks. And they have gone beyond their usual Expo ways in acquiring Jayson Werth and Soriano in the last three seasons and giving a contract to free agent Adam LaRoche when they could have cut costs and settled for in-house option Mike Morse.

But in the middle of those two stories is a 2013 Nationals roster that was built largely through trades that have benefited the club greatly.

It’s not a story of perfection. When Werth was acquired in 2011, the Nationals went with the pretty awful outfield of Laynce Nix, Rick Ankiel, and Werth, trading away Josh Willingham and Nyjer Morgan in loser deals while watching them both go on to have very strong years. And you could argue that Joel Hanrahan would have prevented Wednesday’s splurge, but Morgan and Sean Burnett was not a bad package.

The helpful deals, more numerous, are an inescapable part of the story of the 2013 Nationals, who had the best record in baseball last year and probably got better this winter.

July 31, 2009: Received Ryan Mattheus and Robinson Fabian from Colorado for Joe Beimel
Quick: The Nationals relievers with sub-3.00 ERAs in both 2011 and 2012. Drew Storen and… no, not Tyler Clippard. It was Mattheus, who somewhat improbably put together a 2.81 and a 2.85 mark in the last two seasons.

Beyond a pretty good groundball rate, his peripherals aren’t all that reassuring, though they’re better when you take out the eight intentional walks and credit him for 26 walks and 53 strikeouts in 98 1/3 career innings, all in 2011 and 2012. But considering Beimel was released by his third post-Washington team last spring and sent to the Tommy John operating table, the Nationals will take their chances with a fine option for slightly lower-leverage spots as the bullpen solidifies ahead of Mattheus.

June 28, 2009: Received Michael Morse from Seattle for Ryan Langerhans
Okay, so this one won’t have a direct impact on the 2013 team unless one of the prospects they acquired for Morse on Wednesday makes it to the majors, but it’s fascinating to watch the Nationals flip and improve. Maybe Mike Rizzo is really this guy. Langerhans since the deal has hit .199/.325/.349 and has merited just 320 plate appearances in four years, effectively landing as a Triple-A full-timer last year. Morse, meanwhile, had an excellent year in 2011 and was flipped before he started to get too expensive.

Michael Morse

Ryan Langerhans

Year

PA

WARP

Year

PA

WARP

2009

55

0.2

2009

122

0.6

2010

293

1.5

2010

132

0.9

2011

575

3.4

2011

64

0

2012

430

0.1

2012 (LAA)

2

0

Total

1353

5.2

Total

320

1.5

The salaries haven’t been even since Langerhans was non-tendered the winter after the trade (he’s been on a series of split contracts since). But an additional four wins for the additional $3-4 million that Morse has made is a trade you’d take any time.

Actually, the two seem surprisingly close in value considering the perception of a heist, and much of that is attributable to Morse’s defensive value, which is consistently negative across metrics. He’s probably not an outfielder even if Seattle sees him that way, but more power to the Nationals if they sold him as one.

July 29, 2010: Received Wilson Ramos and Joe Testa for Matt Capps (and cash)
Rizzo has made a living off of trading based on immediate roster needs, but sometimes he gets lucky with somebody else’s. The Twins had no need for Ramos with Joe Mauer behind the plate and no plan to move him, so Rizzo was able to snag him for a bullpen piece that hasn’t been wonderful.

Related
August 3, 2012: Received Kurt Suzuki (and cash) from the Athletics for David Freitas
The A’s were already set at catcher as well, wanting to give the spot to Derek Norris, so Suzuki became expendable and the Nationals built one of the league’s strongest one-two combos at the catcher position without giving up much.

Dec. 23, 2011: Received Gio Gonzalez and Robert Gilliam from the Athletics for Tommy Milone, Derek Norris, Brad Peacock and A.J. Cole
Just as Soriano was the signing of luxury once the roster was ready, this was the trade of luxury once the farm system was full. Washington’s system, built up over several drafts beyond just 1-1s, was finally ready to take on a trade like this, and the Nationals pounced. It’s impossible to evaluate mathematically now, and there’s no question the Nats gave up a lot of what became Oakland’s present and future despite getting Cole back in Wednesday’s three-team trade. But Gonzalez became an immediate Cy Young contender and one who is still cost-controlled for up to six more seasons.

Nov. 29, 2012: Received Denard Span from the Twins for Alex Meyer
The white whale (though neither white nor particularly whale-shaped) of the Nationals’ trade search— that leadoff hitter and true center fielder—was a fitting final trade of their buildup.

Faced with the option of keeping center field in house with Harper slotting in between Werth and Morse or going out and getting that big free agent—the Scott Boras-represented Michael Bourn—the Nationals did neither. Their best option was a trade—yet another one that has contributed to their current status as the National League’s best-positioned team.

Zachary Levine is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Zachary's other articles. You can contact Zachary by clicking here

Related Content:  Trades,  Mike Rizzo,  Nationals

2 comments have been left for this article.

<< Previous Article
Premium Article Rumor Roundup: Thursda... (01/17)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Skewed Left: Filling t... (01/15)
Next Column >>
Skewed Left: The Best ... (01/22)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: ... (01/17)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
The Call-Up: George Springer
Premium Article Minor League Update: Games of Wednesday, Apr...
Premium Article Pebble Hunting: Every Manager's Face: The Ne...
Premium Article What You Need to Know: Cueto in Control
Premium Article What Scouts Are Saying: April 17, 2014
Premium Article Notes from the Field: Carolina League Notes ...
Overthinking It: Lessons We Learned Yesterda...

MORE FROM JANUARY 17, 2013
On the Beat: Final Free-Agent Blitz
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: Bring Me the Bat Man
Premium Article Rumor Roundup: Thursday, January 17
In A Pickle: The Disunited States of America
Fantasy Article The Keeper Reaper: Starting Pitchers for 1/1...
Fantasy Article Resident Fantasy Genius: The Losers Club

MORE BY ZACHARY LEVINE
2013-01-25 - Premium Article Skewed Left: Ruben Amaro and the Rabbis
2013-01-24 - BP Unfiltered: A Definitive Ranking of the D...
2013-01-22 - Skewed Left: The Best of FDR's Baseball Corr...
2013-01-17 - Premium Article Skewed Left: Washington's Winning Way with T...
2013-01-15 - Premium Article Skewed Left: Filling the Free Agent Voids
2013-01-10 - Premium Article Skewed Left: Murphy, Morris, and Using the F...
2013-01-09 - Premium Article Skewed Left: The Worst Parts of Last Season'...
More...

MORE SKEWED LEFT
2013-01-30 - Premium Article Skewed Left: The Sunk Costs of 2013
2013-01-25 - Premium Article Skewed Left: Ruben Amaro and the Rabbis
2013-01-22 - Skewed Left: The Best of FDR's Baseball Corr...
2013-01-17 - Premium Article Skewed Left: Washington's Winning Way with T...
2013-01-15 - Premium Article Skewed Left: Filling the Free Agent Voids
2013-01-10 - Premium Article Skewed Left: Murphy, Morris, and Using the F...
2013-01-09 - Premium Article Skewed Left: The Worst Parts of Last Season'...
More...

INCOMING ARTICLE LINKS
2013-12-03 - Premium Article Transaction Analysis: Dombrowski's Puzzling ...
2013-08-15 - Premium Article Skewed Left: The Nationals' New Future