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Where Josh Willingham wants to be

Morning roundup

I've written this before, but his walkoff home run Sunday underscored the point: Josh Willingham is having one of the best seasons of any left fielder in baseball. He has more walks than anyone in the National League, and his .425 on-base percentage ranks fourth. Willingham is on pace this year for 29 home runs, 120 walks and 94 RBI. Among left fielders in 2009, those totals would have ranked fourth, first and fifth.

Another thing I've written before that bears repeating: Willingham, playing on a one-year contract with another season of team control in 2011, wants to remain a National for the rest of his career.

"He doesn't have any interest in playing anywhere but Washington," said Matt Sosnick, Willingham's agent. "It's at the team's discretion, but he loves playing there. He thinks he's going to be part of something really great the next couple years there. He doesn't want to be somewhere else."

The Nationals have not approached Willingham about any kind of contract extension, and they probably won't until the end of this season at the earliest. He is under team control until the end of 2011, giving his situation little urgency. The Nationals, though, could avoid arbitration and lock up Willingham, 31, for a few additional years.

"In a perfect world for Josh, he would do something now," Sosnick said. "He also understands it's a business. They have his rights for a year and a half. If they didn't do something until then, I think he'd still look forward to coming back. He'd like to stay there over the long term.

"He loves playing there. We'd be open to doing something tomorrow. We'd be open to doing something when he's at the end of his arbitration."

The lone drawback to Willingham -- "the ultimate pro," Manager Jim Riggleman has often said -- is his age. He would be 33 in the first season after his arbitration season ends. But the Mets signed Jason Bay, 31, to a four-year, $66 million contract this offseason. Willingham would presumably come much cheaper at this point, and his numbers aren't all that far off of Bay's.

FROM THE POST

The Nationals placed Ivan Rodriguez on the disabled list, putting them in a tough spot for their 10-day road trip.

Stephen Strasburg went five innings and revealed a new weapon in his latest start, Dave Sheinin writes: guile.

Dan Steinberg examines, in wondrous detail, how Julio Lugo may have kicked dirt on Josh Willingham.

NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Syracuse 6, Toledo 3: Pete Orr went 2 for 4 with a triple and a home run. Chase Lambin went 2 for 3 with two doubles and a walk. Joel Peralta allowed one hit and no runs in two innings, striking out two and lowering his ERA to 0.86.

Bowie 7, Harrisburg 3 (15 innings): Both teams scored one in the 14th, and Bowie scored four in the 15th. Danny Espinosa hit a home run. Brad Meyers allowed two earned runs on three hits and two walks, striking out five in six innings.

Kinston 10, Potomac 6 (15 innings): No one scored in extra innings until Kinston scored four in the 15th. Martin Beno pitched three scoreless relief innings, allowing two hits and walking two while striking out four.

Hagerstown 6, Lakewood 3: Trevor Holder allowed zero earned runs in six innings on four hits and one walk. J.R. Higley went 2 for 4 with a double.

FROM AROUND THE WEB

Tony Gwynn lets Post-Standard columnist Bud Poliquin know how good Stephen Strasburg is.

Bryce Harper went crazy this weekend, hitting four homers in one game. ESPN's Keith Law says the Nats have to take him No. 1.

By Adam Kilgore  |  May 25, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
 
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Next: Stephen Strasburg's next start

Comments

Bryce Harper went crazy this weekend, hitting four homers in one game. ESPN's Keith Law says the Nats have to take him No. 1.

With a wood bat still? Can we get a tape measure and see how many feet each one was?

Posted by: alex35332 | May 25, 2010 8:42 AM | Report abuse

Harper's team lost 21-14 and then won 25-11 in the Junior College District Tourney. What the hell is that? Beer league slow-pitch?? I think his last two HRs actually counted as outs.

Posted by: g3jr | May 25, 2010 9:31 AM | Report abuse

I've said it before; I'll say it again. Imagine a team with Walter Johnson on the mound and Babe Ruth as a hitter. That's what the Nats may luck into with Strasburg and Harper. Not just two good, or even two great players, but two players for the ages -- the kind of combination that people will be remembering for generations after they've finished playing.

I've said this before, too -- but not in this forum: If the Nats continue as a contender, can they continue with Tyler Walker in the bullpen...when there are seemingly much better options in Syracuse, like Peralta?

Posted by: fischy | May 25, 2010 9:40 AM | Report abuse

JWill is clutch when it count's like Zendo posted last night i'd rather have DaHammer with the bases loaded then anyone else he's a pro with the bat and he's made himself into a good leftfielder.

Posted by: dargregmag | May 25, 2010 9:41 AM | Report abuse

I also have to admit that I was wrong about Willingham's potential. He's become a pretty decent left fielder. His range is limited, of course, but he's shown a decent glove in making plays a lot of guys might not make. He's also become a much more consistent hitter -- or, at least a more consistent batter in improving his K/BB numbers. I'd sign him to a new 2 year deal in an instant, but he's worth a 2-year extension, at least. Even if his production tails off in the third year, they're gonna get 2 more productive seasons. That would also line up nicely with Burgess and Hood coming up.

Posted by: fischy | May 25, 2010 9:50 AM | Report abuse

I'm also comfortable with the Silver Hammer at the plate in key situations, as I was saying to my seat mates this weekend. :-)

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | May 25, 2010 9:52 AM | Report abuse

@fischy:

I think if you look closer, you'll find that Peralta is a very good AAA pitcher, but is frangible at the Major-League level. Also, he's 34 - same age as Walker.
http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=2332&position=P

Posted by: BinM | May 25, 2010 9:54 AM | Report abuse

Glad to see this post. Over the last few weeks I've been thinking that Josh deserves more love than he gets. Generally quiet and under the radar, he's pretty dependable and easy to cheer for.

Posted by: jenjensn | May 25, 2010 10:01 AM | Report abuse

You know, the Nats must be doing something right if their stars seem to want to stay in DC. This speaks to many things -- one of which is: the players themselves must realize that the Nats are a young team with terrific potential, and are headed in the right direction (as in: up)

The left side of their infield might be set for a decade (Zimm and Ian -- both of them age 25 or younger). Dunn and Willingham are seriously solid. Bernadina has potential. (And maybe a Bryce Harper in the future).

For pitching, the Nats might have one of the deepest bullpens in the majors. Clipp and Save are ages 25 and 26. Storen's only 22.

And, for starters -- they have so many potential stars that if even just half of them pan out, the staff would be quite solid: Strasburg, maybe Lannan, Jason Marquis, Ross Detwiler, Chien-Ming Wang, Olsen, and perhaps Livo.

Pudge might have a few more good years, and who knows, Flores or Norris might pan out.

The Nats are clearly headed in the right direction, and, apparently, the players know it.

Posted by: ADCWonk | May 25, 2010 10:09 AM | Report abuse

Love the Hammer. I also love how consistently under-rated he is. He had the quietest breakout season of anybody last year - his 127 OPS+ actually felt like a disappointment because he tailed off so bad in Sept/Oct. He's really a superb #5 hitter - that said, I'd offer two years with a team option for a third. He's in his peak now, and should be solid in '11, but by '12 and especially '13, he's likely to start tailing off. He's still a struggle defensively, but that's the tradeoff - if he had Nyjer's range and his bat, he'd be the '90s Ken Griffey, Jr, and he'd be making $25m a year. Plunk him in left, and enjoy the Bay-like, Braun-like levels of production.

One more thing to love about the Hammer so far this season. Among the top-10 OPS-ing LF's in baseball, Willingham is the only one doing it WITHOUT a BABIP north of .300 - basically, he's got a .929 OPS and he's been a little UNlucky - he could have .20 or so more points in the OPS if he were average lucky. Among the top-5 LF's (Soriano, Hammer, Braun, Crawford, Bay), he and Braun are the only two with BABIPs under .370, so you can expect some backsliding out of that group.

In short, he's an even more underrated good-to-great player than Zimm is an underrated all-star.

Love our 3-4-5, now if only we could get an RF who could hit 6 and OPS .850 for us.

Posted by: Highway295Revisited | May 25, 2010 10:32 AM | Report abuse

ADCWonk - I didn't know Capps was only 26 so that was interesting as I would have guessed 30.

The problem with the Veterans you are mentioning are the guys that are only under team control for the short term.

For the starters you mentioned, only Strasburg and Lannan and Detwiler are under team control for at least 2 more years.

Dunn is only under team control for the rest of this year and Willingham thru 2011.

It would be nice to start to see some of the veteran pieces of the puzzle tied up for a few more years as the Minors sure doesn't have much depth in position players.

Posted by: dmacman88 | May 25, 2010 10:44 AM | Report abuse

@dmacman88 . . . that's true that many of their players are under control for just 2 more years, but, still, they seem the team going upwards, and, e.g., Willingham, would prefer to stay here. That's only a good sign.

Posted by: ADCWonk | May 25, 2010 10:59 AM | Report abuse

Dare I say it, if you love the Hammer and love Olsen, then you've got to give props to you know who, who pulled off a steal for Bonaficio. He was dead on picking Zim and was also right on Guz. And probably not wrong on Dunn. So is it time to revisit Mr B's influence on this year's club? Just sayin.

Posted by: dovelevine | May 25, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

Ps: That's 1st, Shortstop, 3rd, LF, and of course there's also Lannan and Hernandez, to go alongside Olsen. That's 3/5 of your starting rotation, almost your entire infield along with your best hitting outfielder. Dylan could do an album, Highway Bowden revisited.

Posted by: dovelevine | May 25, 2010 12:05 PM | Report abuse

I'd agree that Bowden wasn't always wrong. But he was wrong way too often to keep the job, not to mention how embarrassing the guy was in general. You don't want to have a GM with the nickname "Captain Leatherpants."

Posted by: zimbar | May 25, 2010 12:05 PM | Report abuse

I've always thought that the Nats' chance to pick Strasburg and Harper back to back is a bit like the Mariners getting the chance to pick Junior and AROD.

You know it's unlikely that you'll keep both of them for the long term, particularly because you'll want to give Zim a big payday down the line.

So, figure we'll have a four-year window with Strasburg, Harper, Zim, Dunn, Desmond and Storen all together.

Does that make you more inclined to go get Oswalt now? I think it does. If you think about the Braves' development, Oswalt might be the Maddux piece.

Yeah it's probably a year too soon, but how often do aces become available?

Posted by: Drew8 | May 25, 2010 12:08 PM | Report abuse

@dove:

Admittedly, Trader Jim had his moments of lucid behavior as a GM, but had just as many, if not more "What was he thinking" moments. He had a hand in gathering large parts of the current team, but also built the teams that crushed fans hopes between 2006-2009.

Posted by: BinM | May 25, 2010 12:15 PM | Report abuse

>>but how often do aces become available?

Cliff Lee will be available after this season for nuthin but cash. I would wait and throw the bank his way. He's a year younger than O and simply nails. And you don't have to mortgage your future players.
But don't pull a Nats and go after him with a lowball offer just enough to say you were in it but lose. Youre on the cusp. Pay a premium and get the guy.

Posted by: dovelevine | May 25, 2010 12:16 PM | Report abuse

>>Admittedly, Trader Jim had his moments of lucid behavior as a GM, but had just as many, if not more "What was he thinking" moments. He had a hand in gathering large parts of the current team, but also built the teams that crushed fans hopes between 2006-2009. Posted by: BinM

Good 1.

Posted by: dovelevine | May 25, 2010 12:21 PM | Report abuse

It will be important for Will Nieves to keep the opposing runners close i'm sure the giants,padres,and stroh's will be running at every oppoutunity it will be up to McCatty and Riggleman to stress how important it is for the pitchers and Nieves to be on the same page on this road trip,by the way is their any word on a temporary backup until Pudge is healthy?

Posted by: dargregmag | May 25, 2010 12:23 PM | Report abuse

BTW, How on earth dan you go into a season with no contingency plans behind a 38-year-old catcher. Now that's Bowdenesque.

Posted by: dovelevine | May 25, 2010 12:27 PM | Report abuse

>>is their any word on a temporary backup until Pudge is healthy?


Wasn't Carlos Maldonado called up because he wasn't available to catch Stras last night.

Posted by: dovelevine | May 25, 2010 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Yes, they brought up Maldonado from Syracuse.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | May 25, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse

I think there was a contingency plan - IIRC, when the Nationals' signed Pudge, they felt that Flores would be back in May. Toward the end of ST, as it became clear that Flores wasn't where they needed him to be, so they signed Coste - Nobody could have known he was going to have elbow problems that resulted in surgery.

Posted by: BinM | May 25, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

Ps: That's 1st, Shortstop, 3rd, LF, and of course there's also Lannan and Hernandez, to go alongside Olsen. That's 3/5 of your starting rotation, almost your entire infield along with your best hitting outfielder. Dylan could do an album, Highway Bowden revisited.

Posted by: dovelevine | May 25, 2010 12:05 PM
______________________

And Maybe K.Costello (aka Positively 1/2 Street) could sing back up...

Posted by: TimDz | May 25, 2010 12:51 PM | Report abuse

@Drew8

I suspect the market in DC is much larger than Seattle. I think it's quite a questionable assumption that "Strasburg, Harper, Zim, Dunn, Desmond and Storen" constitute only a four-year window.

Posted by: ADCWonk | May 25, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

and quite a bit of cash it'll be, too.
But wouldn't you love to have him to pitch to the Phils 4 or 5 times a season?

********
Cliff Lee will be available after this season for nuthin but cash.
Posted by: dovelevine | May 25, 2010 12:16 PM

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | May 25, 2010 1:37 PM | Report abuse

Indeed, Flores was Plan A, Pudge was Plan ... A-1/2, maybe. Nieves was C, Coste was D, and Derek Norris was probably Plan E.
Eight weeks later, and we're at C+F. Stuff happens.

********
I think there was a contingency plan - IIRC, when the Nationals' signed Pudge, they felt that Flores would be back in May. Toward the end of ST, as it became clear that Flores wasn't where they needed him to be, so they signed Coste - Nobody could have known he was going to have elbow problems that resulted in surgery.

Posted by: BinM | May 25, 2010 12:40 PM

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | May 25, 2010 1:41 PM | Report abuse

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