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Rough Winter For the NL East

Judging by Chico's post over at NJ last night, we are starting to get a clear answer to what I believed was the key question in the aftermath of the Teixeira pursuit: What was going to happen to that money the Nationals were prepared to hand to Teixeira? Apparently, it's not going to be spent this winter.

And that's fine. Clearly, the Nationals viewed Teixeira -- young, telegenic, locally grown, switch-hitting, outstanding on both offense and defense -- as a once-in-a-lifetime exception to their strategy of building through drafts, player development and the stockpiling of younger players.

But as Chico also points out, the Nationals, at this point, seem prepared to open 2009 with the same collection of players, excepting one position player and two starting pitchers, that lost 102 games last year.

How would you grade the Nationals' winter thus far? I can't justify giving them anything less than a C, because (as we've been over before) the trade for Josh Willingham and Scott Olsen was tremendous, and the signing of Daniel Cabrera (even if he is designed to break your heart) was a solid, low-risk move with the possibility (even if it's a slim one) of a huge payoff. But I also can't justify going much higher than a C, given the failure - so far -- to land a center fielder, a first baseman or a back-of-the-bullpen stopper.

On the other hand, is it possible a grade of C would give the Nationals the best winter so far in the National League East?

Let's take a look on a team-by-team basis, from best to worst, as we sit here today -- roughly five weeks from the opening of spring training camps:

*Mets. Major moves: Acquired relievers J.J. Putz and Francisco Rodriguez; traded away RHP Aaron Heilman, OF Endy Chavez, RHP Joe Smith, LHP Scott Schoeneweis.
Grade: B-. Even though they got closer Francisco Rodriguez for roughly half what he was originally seeking, I still think they'll come to regret the deal by its end. Rodriguez has been trending poorly, has a violent delivery and generally seems a candidate for future arm trouble. He is also overrated because of those 62 saves. The trade for Putz, on the other hand, was outstanding, as long as the Mets can keep him happy setting up for Rodriguez. (Undoubtedly, the Mets would raise this grade by signing Derek Lowe or Oliver Perez, as seems likely.)

*Marlins. Major moves: Traded for 2B Emilio Bonifacio and RH relievers Jose Ceda and Leo Nunez, signed RH reliever Scott Proctor, traded away closer Kevin Gregg, 1B Mike Jacobs, LHP Scott Olsen and OF Josh Willingham.
Grade: D. I understand they needed to rid themselves of some of their many arbitration-eligible players, but I don't think they got enough in return. Apparently, they see something in Bonifacio that no one else sees--and they still don't have an obvious place to play him in 2009. The Marlins could be going from 84 wins in 2008 to oblivion in 2009.

*Phillies. Major moves: Re-signed LHP Jamie Moyer, signed RHP Chan-Ho Park, signed LF Raul Ibanez.
Grade: D-. The Phillies totally botched the left field situation, failing to make an offer to now-departed Pat Burrell and replacing him with someone (Ibanez) who is essentially same player, only older and left-handed--at a time when the Phillies desperarely need right-handed pop. On top of everything else, they gave Ibanez an extra year and about $2.5 million more in annual salary than what Burrell wound up getting from Tampa Bay. They also needed a rotation upgrade, but instead wound up giving two years (!) to the 46-year-old Moyer.

*Braves. Major moves: Traded for RHP Javier Vazquez, signed backup catcher David Ross.
Grade: F. Wow. Let's tally it up: They failed in their attempt to trade for ace Jake Peavy (then settled for a No. 3 starter in Vazquez), made a failed run at A.J. Burnett but lost out to the Yankees, saw their apparent signing of SS Rafael Furcal turn into a highly public fiasco when Furcal changed directions and signed with the Dodgers, then made John Smoltz upset enough that he ditched a 21-year marriage with the Braves and signed with the Red Sox. A signing of Derek Lowe could salvage things somewhat, but these words from Chipper Jones suggest things are very bad and could get worse.

So, there you see--in the context of the rest of the NL East, the Nationals are having an absolutely fabulous winter.

By Dave Sheinin  |  January 9, 2009; 10:10 AM ET
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I think the Marlins have earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to personnel moves, and their moves will probably all end up positive in the end. So you might be giving them a D now, but I'm guessing in October 2009 that will change to an A.

Posted by: ilikeike | January 9, 2009 11:19 AM | Report abuse

Would the words from Jones perhaps have been these (pulled from a Mark Bowman piece on the MLB site)?

"We played most of this past season without Smoltz and we got used to not having him out there on the mound," Jones said. "The hope of having him back this season gave us some hope that we'd be able to salvage something out of this season.

"People always come up to you at this time of year and say, 'How you looking?' I've always been optimistic. Right now, you find that difficult to do and this is the first time in my career that I've ever felt that way."

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | January 9, 2009 11:40 AM | Report abuse

I like the spin and context, BTW.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | January 9, 2009 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Dave - the problem is, the other teams had a lot less progress they needed to make than the Nationals.

Mets were close to winning the Division and made changes that upgrade their biggest weakness. They are also likely not done yet and still looking at major potential additions.

Phillies won it all and didn't make a lot of changes. I agree with you on Burrell vs Ibanez, but they were starting with a team that won the division the last 2 years and the ES last year.

Marlins, at their payroll will always have years like this and it is part of thier plan.

Braves - disaster. Agreed.

Nationals - continue to create heartbreak for their fans. Bid all that money on Tex and then say you won't sign people who are going at what look like bargain basement prices and would significantly upgrade your team and potentially give you the clout needed to get a FA like Tex in the future. The Riches to Rags change, even if it is in line with "the Plan" stinks for their Fans. They just do not understand how their decisions impact their fan/customer relations and their box office revenues.

Posted by: NatsWin | January 9, 2009 11:47 AM | Report abuse


I'm not exactly ready to declare victiry when our 102 loss team gets a C+ for its winter activities.

I's also add that the Nats Front Office did nothing to stop the rapidly declining season ticket holder base.

Posted by: comish4lif | January 9, 2009 11:51 AM | Report abuse

Ah, the link leads to the quotes. Never mind.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | January 9, 2009 12:29 PM | Report abuse

Nice perspective. I do think the Braves winter has been absolutely horrid. The Marlins do get some benefit of the doubt, but not much. The Marlins probably made a great trade in dumping Gregg to the Cubs but their other deals have looked pretty suspect. The Mets did not have as many losses as the Nats but their failure last year was easily greater. They were expected to win and though their record was not abysmal, you never really got the feeling that they were close. They've addressed the bullpen, but not the outfield, secondbase, or starting pitching. The grade on the Phillies can be further lowered by the bad news that Utley will miss a minimum of 2 months, a key bullpen arm was suspended, and they signed Chan Ho Park.

Posted by: natbisquit | January 9, 2009 12:45 PM | Report abuse

natswin and comish4lif got it right: nats need to do better than a C grade. They should be willing to pay a little extra for a Dunn or Hudson, given their need for some more offensive clout. Or pull off a big trade. I'm one who drinks the Bowden KoolAid usually, and even I'm getting worried the team's at risk of coming up nearly empty this offseason. Willingham's wonderful, but he ain't enough.

Posted by: jdsp2000 | January 9, 2009 12:50 PM | Report abuse

My opinion is that 20-25 losses last year can be written off to devastating injuries. Providing that down't happen again(I think it was a freak thing) the Nats could in reality win 25+ more games, putting them around .500. I do think we could use a Jon Garland or Randy Wolf starter type. I however believe Milledge, Zim, Dukes, Nick, Flores, Willingham,etc have the capability AND possibility of getting 20-25+ HRS and 90 RBIs Also Zim, Dukes, NJ ,Guz and Lastings can hit above .280 and actually push .300 Olsen, Lannan,Garland or Wolf,
can provide three good starters, and JZ(Jordan Zimmerman) and Ballister, etc could provide the starting five. Shawn Hill if in old form could make us a REAL contender. No,I am NOT on drugs, or suffer from post Tampa Bay Ray Syndrome.

Sounds pie in the sky, but we can get this done!! Yes We Can.......Go Nats

Posted by: nickgoldblatt | January 9, 2009 1:04 PM | Report abuse

Obvioulsy Ibanez for Burrell is a disaster given what he got from the Rays.

Don't get how the WS Champs "have" to upgrade their rotation. They beat everyone they played. Moyer is a freak, you have to ignore the number that is his age and eval his arm and that is as likely to have 2 more years as anyone's.

Mets are coming off back to back epic choke jobs and needed major changes to turn the tide of that psychologically. They failed there and so have no reason to think they can beat Philly this time around.

Marlins don't get much benefit of doubt from me. Those were firesale moves by a franchise that may not be able to survive in that market. They are a safe bet for last place.

Nats had historic injury numbers, reverting to mean should put them back at '07 level which was approaching decent. Slight upgrades at a few places will help.

Mostly concerned that the minor league talent is panning out yet. Need break-outs years from several of them; both Zimmermans, Balester, Dukes, Lannan, etc.

Yes I included RZ. Go ask HIM if he is panning out the way he is supposed to yet. Why do you think he keeps turning down the LT deal the Nats have tried to give him. He thinks he's going to break out and get way more in arb and FA. He's probably right and I sure HOPE he is.

Posted by: Avar | January 9, 2009 1:07 PM | Report abuse

Oh yeah, the Braves. I think we can say they are no longer a top tier franchise. What a complete disaster. No top FA is going there now and their farm system is not what it was. Probably time to re-start down there.

Hopefully Kasten was the secret and now we'll take over the division!

Posted by: Avar | January 9, 2009 1:10 PM | Report abuse

I want to draw attention to this quote because I continue to be annyoed by it.

"But as Chico also points out, the Nationals, at this point, seem prepared to open 2009 with the same collection of players, excepting one position player and two starting pitchers, that lost 102 games last year."

The collection of players is the same except they didn't actually play that much on the way to losing 102 games last year. Willie Harris did. Ryan Langerhans did. Kory Casto did. Aaron Boone did. Harris is the only one of those four likely to be on our opening day roster. I know you can't bet on a roster staying healthy, but the Nats were historically injured last year.

I still think we need another starting pitcher, but I don't think this is a 102 loss starting eight if healthy.

Posted by: ArlingtonNatsFan | January 9, 2009 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Re: Phillies. Ibanez v Burrell was not a disaster for the Phils. Ibanez can catch and chase down fly balls, don't forget that Burrell is going to Tampa as a DH, and was regularly pulled for a late inning defensive replacement.

After last season, it was easy to say "The Nats can only go up from here", but this offseason, the Nats have done anything but go up. Sideways, maybe.

Posted by: kolbkl | January 9, 2009 1:25 PM | Report abuse

I agree with you on the Phillies, but not on the Marlins. They did not get much for Jacobs, Willingham and company, but don't forget that we saw enough in Bonafacio to trade Rauch for him. Regardless, Florida has better starting pitching than anyone in the NL East, and a lineup with Hanley Ramirez, Uggla, and Cantu--any of whom outhit the top three Nationals combined. They are not going to oblivion with that. Given how little the rest of the division has done to upgrade, I think the Marlins have as good a chance as the Mets or Phillies. That leaves us to fight with the Braves for the last spot. The Braves might think about that Dylan line, "it's not dark yet, but it's getting there."

Posted by: Juliasdad | January 9, 2009 1:37 PM | Report abuse

It is true that Burrell was a lousy fielder, but Ibanez is not good either. If anything he has LESS range than Burrell. That's why the Mariners played him at DH. And at 38 he simply was not worth 3x what Burrell was paid.

Posted by: natbisquit | January 9, 2009 2:02 PM | Report abuse

Why does no one talk about Ben Sheets? Does anyone but me think he'd be a good fit here?

Posted by: dand187 | January 9, 2009 3:51 PM | Report abuse

Our Nationals have improved slightly in some areas but aside from the Marlins, we should have the lowest grade. It's simple, if you loose 100 + games and face the possibility of repeating that, you do everything you can to improve by aquiring impact players. As it stands, we are looking at a 96 loss season. Some things never change.

Posted by: NatsandSkinsareclassclassclass | January 9, 2009 4:18 PM | Report abuse

dand187. Sure, Sheets is a decent gamble at the right price. He could benefit from a year in a big NL ball park. If he's healthy and excels, he can go FA again next year when the economy may be better, the Nats young hurlers will be closer to ready and his injury riddled year in '08 forgotten. The question is: will he price himself as a risk? If so, the Nats get a potential one year ace with an extra draft choice when he rides off to NY for 2010.

Posted by: advocate2 | January 9, 2009 4:41 PM | Report abuse

Natsbisquit - agree on Ceda. Great pick up. Bonifacio? Would they have had to give up less if he was not forced on them?

As for the Phils, I'm an Ibanez fan. He's less streaky offensively than Burrell, so I suppose he'll not be a drag on the offense. He is old, but he has not shown signs of deterioration offensively over the 3 -4 seasons. It's not so much his O as the impact on Howard having to face more lefties.

Defense? Well, the M's played him almost exclusively in LF (153 games there, 9 as DH in 2008). His ratings are bad, but so were Burrell's. How good of a left fielder do you need in Citizen's Bank?

Financially? It looks like an overpay given the current market, but if they offered Burrell arbitration, he would have taken it. Coming off a $14 million contract, he would have been guaranteed no less than $11.2. More likely, he'd have made $13 million (how many arbitration cases cut pay?), so the Phils may be $1.5m ahead this year.

So, the real question may be, "for a team looking to repeat as champions, would it have been worthwhile to pay an extra $1.5 million for a less reliable player who is coming off of a weak second half but is younger?"

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | January 9, 2009 5:19 PM | Report abuse

my error. $2.5 million if you buy my $13 million number.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | January 9, 2009 6:40 PM | Report abuse

I am a Mets fan but with a season ticket holding Nats friend and business partner. We trade barbs and such. However, having grown up in a household where my dad was a fan of the Mets before 1962, I commiserate with much of the excitement of a new team as well as the frustrations you all experience.

With that said, it befuddles me that the Nats have take the approach to this year as they have. Texiera would have been a coup. However, there was no way he was going to the Nats. The Nats need a few things before they can get a player of his caliber. First, they need to get a solid pitching staff. You don't need a Johan Santana yet. what you do need is a couple of solid starter who are work horses and can win a game. Trading away your closer last year was the most moronic thing I heard. Rouche was a monster...albeit being burnt out quickly by management.

1. Spend money on pitching and let that be the basis from which to bring in young pitchers into a successful program.

2. Good defense up the middle. - Yeah, Guman used to have the best range and ability in MLB but he must be bored or declining. Trade him now for a young up and coming guys.

3. Get some solid defensive players who take pitches....

Posted by: phikappanyc | January 10, 2009 12:24 PM | Report abuse

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