December 11, 2017

Whiplash in DC

April 30, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Leaving Nationals Park on Saturday afternoon, the chants of “Let’s Go Mets,” still ringing in my ears, I realized I was suffering from “whiplash.” It is a tragic condition that can strike without warning when your team goes from winning nine out of ten games on a daunting road trip to losing two straight at home. The trigger mechanism that launched the illness was watching our newly arrived center fielder, Adam Eaton, lost for the season to an ACL tear.

Eaton was not the best player on the team, but he was so much fun to watch. The ball exploding off Bryce Harper’s bat, Max Scherzer stalking the opposition back behind the mound like Al Hrabosky, those are the visions that warm the hearts of Washington Nationals fans. Ryan Zimmerman poling one into the right field bullpen is a retro vision that has come roaring back like a Bogart Movie. But one worries that Adam Eaton was the catalyst somehow, that “Mighty Mouse,” was the spark and what ARE we going to do now?

Well buckle in Mouseketeers, we need to move on and win one for Spanky–the other nickname for Eaton.

The first order of business is the bullpen and after scanning the possibilities for several weeks, I was heartened to see Trade Rumors come up with the notion that the Nationals were focusing in on Kelvin Herrera. The source for the rumor was Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, who characterized Herrera as Mark Melancon 2.0. Good read with one exception. Herrera is only 27 years old and is just coming into his own conceivably as a late inning reliever. According to FanGraphs, Herrera had his best season for the Kansas City Royals in 2016 when he was promoted to the closer role after Wade Davis went on the DL in July. His K/9 and BB/9 ratios were both noticeably improved in 2016.

When the Nationals traded Felipe Rivero to the Pirates for Melancon, the latter was a 32-year old proven closer looking to cash in for the last time. The SF Giants gave him his best deal and that is that. Herrera would be an excellent option moving forward. He might prove more signable at the end of the season, but more importantly he is trying to prove that he has big time closer stuff. He does not have the long record of ninth-inning success that Melancon had. But he DOES have that 97 mph fastball. So does Blake Treinin, but unlike Treinin, Herrera has increasing ability to control his heater.

Another heartening idea, also floated in Trade Rumors, is the notion that Kansas City center fielder Lorenzo Cain could be a suitable short-term replacement for Adam Eaton. Like Herrera, Cain is in his walk year. But Cain is more like Melancon. He is 31 and will be looking for his last big contract at year’s end and the Nationals are not a fit going forward in all likelihood. They have outfielders Victor Robles and Juan Soto as prospects #1 and #4 respectively, so Cain is not a great fit. But he would be perfect hitting second after Trea Turner in 2017 and playing a solid center field, much as Adam Eaton did for the month of April.

If Felipe Rivero was enough to pry Melancon away from the Pirates, what does a legit offer look like for Cain and Herrera? Cain should come cheap, but Herrera might cost more, but an overall package could be relatively affordable with all respect to the Royals. The Nationals should be willing to trade any bullpen arm not named Koda Glover. Blake Treinin might be benefit from a change in scenery and there are other good young bullpen arms that could fit like Sammy Solis and Matt Grace. Blake Perkins is a gifted center-fielder who is having a fine season for the Hagerstown Suns and might be a reasonable upside trade chip. Add in Washington’s #5 overall prospect Andrew Stevenson who could step into the center field job tomorrow for the Royals and there is more than enough for a deal.

If Andrew Stevenson is a suitable alternative to Lorenzo Cain in Kansas City, why isn’t he a suitable alternative to Adam Eaton in Washington? Good question and one you will have to ask Mike Rizzo. The probably answer is that Dusty Baker has a man-crush on Michael (A.) Taylor and is just waiting for him to blossom into a major league hitter, which he has not done yet in two seasons. Andrew Stevenson may not be any more able to hit at the next level than Taylor has been, but it is worth finding out. The Royals should be willing to trade for Stevenson’s proven defensive chops and the hope that he can hit at the next level somewhere in near enough proximity to his gaudy .364 average at Harrisburg.

The bottom line is that the Nationals have enough to swing a deal for both Herrera and Cain. They might do better to trade for Herrera alone and let Stevenson and Taylor fight for the right to succeed Adam Eaton with the winner moving into the outfield full time in 2018 for Jayson Werth. But Cain is a proven commodity and he should be a nice fit in the Nationals lineup.

Either way, one thing is an absolute certainty. The Nationals should not hang a failed 2017 season on the injury to Adam Eaton. He doesn’t deserve it and there is every reason to move forward aggressively in pursuit of the same lofty goals the team had before Eaton’s injury. Let the Mets fans have their Bernie Madoff team. Adam Eaton is all the inspiration we need.

 

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