March 19, 2019

Know When to Hold Them, When to Fold Them

August 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Last year at this time the Washington Nationals were patting themselves on the back about reeling in Wilson Ramos for Matt Capps. It was a good trade because everyone was a winner. Fishing for Denard Span off the same pier in July 2011 has proved not as productive. The Twinkies wanted the keys to the vault and GM Mike Rizzo took his chips and moved to another table. It was a wise move. There was a game waiting at the table next door, one where the stakes are just as high, the returns even greater.

Every Washingtonian’s favorite sports writer–Jim Bowden–outlined the deal for Denard Span as likely costing the Nationals Drew Storen, Roger Bernadina, and Steve Lombardozzi. The Nationals would have gotten Span and a low level prospect in return. Such a deal would have left the Nationals organization reeling. Drew Storen for Denard Span straight up or Roger Bernadina and Lombardozzi for Span were reasonable deals, but the Twins were asking way too much. Perhaps they are still smarting from the loss of Wilson Ramos, wondering what life would be like with Ramos backing up the fragile Joe Mauer instead of Drew Butera.

The trade deadline passed with the Nationals adding only Johnny Gomes to an anemic attack. But there is another looming deadline, one where the Nationals could walk away big winners once again.

If it is August, then the signing deadline for players selected in the June amateur draft is right around the corner. Washington has three Scott Boras clients who are likely to go right up to the final day before putting pen to paper. Among those likely to sign is Brian Goodwin, an outfielder compared to another Minnesota alumni, Jacque Jones. Goodwin may not possess the defensive skill set of Denard Span, but he is the prototypical leadoff hitter the Nationals have been looking for since 2005. His college career has been marked by speed, and the ability to get on base. Those two assets could make him the long sought leadoff hitter, but he can hit for power as well. Once signed, it is unlikely he will require extensive seasoning in the minors.

The star of Washington’s 2011 draft class is Anthony Rendon, who will likely convert to either the outfield or second base. He is rated a plus defender in the infield, so it is likely he will play second and third base in the minors. Scouts have compared Rendon to Hank Aaron in that he generates his plus-plus power with off-the-charts wrist action. Projecting a 2013 infield of Michael Morse, Rendon, Danny Espinosa and Ryan Zimmerman, would put Washington in the mix with anyone for power and defense.

So the trade deadline comes with consolation prizes for the Nationals. Washington has no ready replacement for Drew Storen and while Denard Span may have solved Rizzo’s centerfield/leadoff quandry, he has to look at Wilson Ramos and remember that trade evaluation is a long term game.  Giving the Twins three chances for glory against one just for the Nationals was a fools bargain.

Wilson Ramos is a case study in how trades can play out. In the first half of the 2011 season Ramos made the trade for Matt Capps look like a lightning strike in its brilliance. Hitting over .300 and throwing out runners at a league-leading clip, he seemed a match for his tutor, Pudge Rodriguez, in almost every category.

But the average has dipped to .235 and while he has shown consistent power, his defense has slipped a notch as well. Baseball Info Solutions rates his defense as league average using their metric, Defensive Runs Saved. While Ramos may grow and mature into a better than league average catcher, his value is being re-examined in his first full year in the majors.

So Denard Span may have looked every bit the answer to the Nationals crying need in center, but how well he would have worked out long term with concussion worries called the question. And even if he thrived at Nationals Park, filling one hole only sprang another in the bullpen if Drew Storen was the keystone of the trade. And including Bernadina and dirt-dog Lombardozzi as well?  Not even close to the kind of balanced trade that Minnesota made in July 2010.

The failure to land Span will increase the pressure to sign all of the talent circling Nationals Park like jets at Dulles. And that is a good thing. Besides Goodwin and Rendon, the Nationals drafted impressive pitching talents in Alex Meyer and Mathew Purke. Landing all four of those very plus talents will line Mike Rizzo’s pockets for trade deadlines to come.

Adding all four of them to an organization that is fronted already by Bryce Harper will give Mike Rizzo the kind of depth that will allow him to make the outrageous demands in years to come. Mike Rizzo folded his hand at just the right time. Holding onto Drew Storen and the rest of the players the Twins wanted pushed into the middle of the table is a wise move.

Now Rizzo can push all his chips into the game for Anthony Rendon, Alex Meyer, Brian Goodwin and Matthew Purke. Those are more than table stakes. Raking them in will fill the coffers for years to come.

 

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