• For the American League, CLICK HERE.
Continuing our team-by-team look at offseason needs, here are the shopping lists for the National League. (If you missed the American League, here you go).
What They Need: Unless they want a short-term deal for a veteran starting pitcher, absolutely nothing
What They’ll Likely Do: As much as new-school general managers like Andrew Friedman get credit for successful dumpster-diving, no GM sweats the small stuff more than Kevin Towers. You could argue none do it more effectively, too. The Diamondbacks hired Towers as their new GM in September 2010, at the end of a terribly disappointing season. Towers didn’t see a roster that needed blowing up. Instead, he saw the worst bullpen in baseball. Fortunately, building great bullpens at affordable prices has always been Towers’ calling card (see the careers of Heath Bell and Mike Adams). As he said in a 2003 interview with No-Gray-Hair Jonah:
As far as spending money on the bullpen, when you’re a club in a small- or mid-size market, the ballclub can turn over by 50% every year. You have to work to your strengths. In our case, it’s a hell of a lot easier to address the bullpen than to go get a top starting pitcher. You can put together one of the best bullpens in the league for the price of one starter.
The Snakes picked up once-dominant closer J.J. Putz and flameout starter David Hernandez, handed them the eighth- and ninth-inning jobs, and presto: from worst bullpen in the majors to ninth-best in a span of one year. Towers has already locked up several small moves this offseason, inking John McDonald and Willie Bloomquist as righty-swinging caddies for lefty shortstop Stephen Drew, and as insurance in case Aaron Hill reverts to the post-36-homer disaster form he showed in Toronto (665 OPS in 2010, 584 in 2011) rather than the small-sample hero he was in Phoenix (.315/.386/.492 in 142 plate appearance with the D-backs last season). The back of Arizona’s rotation is shaky with Josh Collmenter unlikely to repeat his surprise rookie season and Joe Saunders being Joe Saunders. But Jarrod Parker could be ready to crack the rotation by Opening Day, 2011 draftee Trevor Bauer’s not far off, and Tyler Skaggs and others offer hope for the nearish future, either by advancing through the system or as trade bait. This is a balanced offensive team with two very good starting pitchers, excellent defense, and a GM who can patch holes should they emerge in the bullpen or on the bench. Another D-backs division title is a very realistic goal.
What They Need: SS, LF
What They’ll Likely Do: In the Japanese prefecture of Okinawa, locals practice a unique kind of diet. It’s called hara hachi bu, which roughly means, “eat until you’re 80 percent full.” Sounds both logical and awful, right? Okinawans eat less than people in Western societies, and also live longer. And forget 100 percent — we slam two helpings of turkey smothered in gravy, three plates of stuffing and sweet potatoes, and four kinds of pie every Thanksgiving, then feel like garbage afterwards. But dammit, it tastes good, and it’s our right to stuff ourselves silly and destroy our health and waist lines. Hara hachi bu might make sense on paper, but it hasn’t caught on in most other first-world nations.
The Braves are the Okinawans of Major League Baseball. Sure, plenty of teams run much lower payrolls and keep draft spending in check. But those teams do so because they’re poor by MLB standards. The Braves are not. They’re a mid-market team not far removed from one of the greatest runs of success any team has seen in half a century. But where previous owner Time Warner bankrolled one of the top payrolls in the game, Liberty Media has clamped down on spending, with the Braves ranking a modest 15th at $87 million last season. They could probably spend more money and still turn a profit. They choose not to. Meanwhile, the new collective bargaining agreement’s restrictions on draft spending should have zero effect on the Braves. They were one of very few teams that stuck to slot recommendations every year. In fact, Braves president John Schuerholz was a driving force behind the new spending caps and the penalties that result from going over those caps. The Braves continue to pump out great players, using superior scouting in the draft and on the international market to bring in new generations of exciting talent. But in a division that features a new, big-spending superpower in the Phillies, that hasn’t been enough, with just one playoff berth and no division titles for Atlanta in the past six years.
Which brings us to this offseason. The Phillies have a huge hole at shortstop, and could be at least a bit vulnerable with one of the oldest rosters in the game. Meanwhile, the Braves have their own gaping hole at shortstop with Alex Gonzalez a free agent who they won’t miss anyway (.281 wOBA in 2011) and incumbent shortstop prospect Tyler Pastornicky a long shot to make a big major league impact. The go-for-it move would be to sign Jose Reyes, or even poach free agent Jimmy Rollins away from Philly, giving the lineup a big boost. But Dan Uggla’s $60 million deal aside1, that’s not a Braves kind of move. Meanwhile, the Braves looked into trading deeply flawed left fielder Martin Prado for Delmon Young, a hitter with some talent who also doesn’t get on base or catch the ball. The move would have amounted to more settling — but talks went nowhere. The Braves are overloaded with pitching, and might still flip Jair Jurrjens for a legitimate bat following their aggressive trade for Michael Bourn last summer. And yes, any team that can graduate Brian McCann, Jason Heyward, Tommy Hanson, Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, Brandon Beachy, and Mike Minor to the big leagues is doing pretty damn well.
Still, the team content to be 80 percent full must prove it can overcome a team that treats every day like Turkey Day. Given the way last season ended, Braves fans are surely hungry for more.
What They Need: 1B, 3B, SP, 2B, an Alfonso Soriano amnesty clause
What They’ll Likely Do: Play the margins and bide their time. Despite the Cubs’ big market and big name, Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein have been granted a license to value-shop in a way they couldn’t in Boston, at least not since they hit the Bill Mueller/Kevin Millar/David Ortiz trifecta nine years ago. The Cubbies took a step in that direction yesterday, signing David DeJesus to a two-year, $10.75 million deal that should net a profit, assuming DeJesus continues to hit right-handed pitching and play defense and isn’t asked to play 162 games. The signing would seem to push back top outfield prospect Brett Jackson’s timetable by a year, until Marlon Byrd’s contract is up — though simply eating the rest of Alfonso Soriano’s stupefying contract might make the most sense, especially if Jackson truly is ready. Either way, that still leaves the Cubs with multiple holes. Aramis Ramirez’s departure has third base wide-open; first base is vacant unless the Cubs want to take a shot with (productive) minor league lifer Bryan LaHair; second base needs an upgrade, though Darwin Barney will probably stick for a little while longer; and the starting rotation is paper-thin and potentially about to get thinner with Matt Garza on the trading block.
Still, that’s not stopping rumors floating out of Wrigleyville of interest in Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder. And really, why not? Hoyer and Epstein are almost certainly dipping into their old Red Sox bag of tricks, trying to drive up the price of big free agents so their rivals will spend more to secure their services. And on the very remote chance the market happens to crater with the Yankees, Red Sox, and other big spenders unlikely to bid, a $150 million deal could become as big a bargain as a $10.75 million one. Otherwise, take advantage of ownership’s patience, let a few big deals expire, and look to 2013 and beyond.
What They Need: SP, RP
What They’ll Likely Do: A year after their surprise NL Central title, the Reds fell back below .500, buried behind big years for the Brewers and Cardinals. Blame the pitching staff, which finished second-to-last in the majors with a 4.37 FIP. Bronson Arroyo imploded, and Johnny Cueto was the only Reds starter to produce a FIP below 4.00, or more than 1.5 Wins Above Replacement. The simplest fix might be to promote fireballing lefty Aroldis Chapman to the rotation after babying him in the bullpen to start his career. But the Reds remain cautious, having ordered Chapman to skip winter ball due to his sore shoulder.
More broadly, the Reds face an interesting dilemma with Joey Votto. If they feel the defending World Series champion Cardinals and NL Central-winning Brewers are too tough and their pitching can’t hack it, it might be worth exploring a blockbuster trade, especially with Votto two years from free agency and set to make $17 million in 2013. The Reds could reload with Cueto, Jay Bruce, the loser of the Devin Mesoraco-Yasmani Grandal megaprospect catcher battle and various trade booty. They could even kick-start the process by trading Brandon Phillips, if the two sides can’t come to terms on the multiyear deal they’re currently negotiating. Cincinnati could be a good barometer for how middle-of-the-road teams react to the coming second wild-card spot. If they keep all their big guns, go get a starter, and fortify their bullpen, that might be a sign that teams will take Bud Selig’s hope-and-faith campaign to heart.
What They Need: 3B, 2B, SP
What They’ll Likely Do: With depth at multiple positions (especially outfield and, even after yesterday’s Chris Iannetta trade, catcher) and several glaring needs, the Rockies could be active over the next few weeks. Lefty-swinging right fielder Seth Smith is one of the team’s best hitters, which is precisely what’s made him an attractive target for other teams. Top catching prospect Wilin Rosario is blocked after the Rockies signed Ramon Hernandez to a two-year deal. Third base isn’t a position of depth, but the Rockies seem eager to trade strikeout factory Ian Stewart anyway.
They’d better hope for a better return than what they got for Iannetta: Tyler Chatwood, the still-just-21-year-old right-hander acquired from the Angels whose youth can’t fully explain this putrid performance since reaching Double-A: 232 IP, 4.8 strikeouts, 4.2 walks, and 0.8 homers allowed per nine innings (hat-tip Baseball Prospectus’ R.J. Anderson). Chatwood might lack the stuff and résumé to flourish or even survive in Denver, but with Jorge de la Rosa and Juan Nicasio out with injuries and one or both of the top pitching prospects acquired last season from the Indians (Drew Pomeranz and Alex White) possibly not ready for the bigs by Opening Day, he might take the mound anyway. With so many holes in the rotation, and a strong (but small) core in place with Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, and new staff ace Jhoulys Chacin, the Rockies would figure to target more young talent as they pursue more offseason deals.
What They Need: New GM, new lineup
What They’ll Likely Do: Hire the right GM and give him at least five years to turn things around, hopefully. The Astros hit bottom in 2011, losing 106 games to finish with the worst record in baseball. But thanks to high draft picks and some key trades (notably Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn), the farm system is much better than it was just a year or two ago. Veteran lefty Wandy Rodriguez could be the next to go, given there’s a 0 percent chance Rodriguez will still be under contract the next time the Astros are ready to contend.
The bigger question is which young players are afforded opportunities to win jobs, and which ones aren’t. The Astros might have a bunch of under-25 players nominally ticketed for starting spots in 2012, but that doesn’t mean all those players have the talent to justify given them such a chance. It’s entirely possible, in fact, that not one of Jordan Schafer, Jose Altuve, Brett Wallace, Brian Bogusevic, Jason Castro, Jimmy Paredes, J.D. Martinez, or Angel Sanchez grows into a worthy everyday player on a championship-caliber team. With the Astros’ pitching depth looking much stronger (even if Rodriguez is dealt), finding bats will be the new GM’s top priority. Houston product Andrew Friedman would be the big catch for the big chair, but Rangers senior director of player personnel A.J. Preller and other names being vetted by new owner Jim Crane could also be good picks. Just as long as Crane’s willing to watch a lot of lousy baseball for the next few years, while the new guy sorts everything out.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS
What They Need: No more Frank McCourt, good players beyond Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw
What They’ll Likely Do: Are the Dodgers signing crappy players because the league hasn’t yet punted Frank McCourt and freed the team’s finances? Or are these moves GM Ned Colletti would choose to make regardless of circumstances? It’s the latter scenario that should scare Dodgers fans. The McCourt saga has been well documented, with the Dodgers owner and his now-ex-wife chopping the team up into multiple shell companies, then looting those entities for personal needs. But even with scant resources and constant distractions was $8.75 million for an aging, can’t-hit Mark Ellis the best use of funds? Juan Rivera? Matt Treanor? Going back to last year Rod Barajas? Three years and $21 million for Juan Uribe?! If the Rays can find a shutdown closer for $3 million and the Twins can get a middle-of-the-order thumper for half that, why do the Dodgers keep signing near-replacement-level players for more money?
In Kemp and Kershaw, the Dodgers might have both the best position player and best pitcher in the league — advantages that give any team a fighting chance. But the roster is a near-wasteland beyond those two, made worse when Jamey Carroll, one of Colletti’s few good signings, took his desperately needed on-skills to Minnesota. Now we’re supposed to believe that James Loney will ride his two-month 2011 hot streak to a 25-homer season when he’s never hit more than 15 in one year? That Ellis will suddenly start hitting again as he approaches his 36th birthday? That Dee Gordon, who couldn’t draw a walk if his life depended on it, is a legitimate major league leadoff hitter?2 The bullpen has some exciting, young arms, Andre Ethier could bounce back nicely if his health cooperates, and you’ve got Kemp and Kershaw coming off a season in which they delivered 15.5 Wins Above Replacement. It’s incredibly frustrating that this team can’t execute on the little moves they need to build a credible roster beyond that? Blame whomever you like, but that’s where we’re at.
What They Need: SP, RP, CF, fans to fill the new ballpark
What They’ll Likely Do: Of all the implications surrounding the Marlins’ supposed full-court press to sign Albert Pujols and Jose Reyes this offseason, my favorite is this: No position on Miami’s roster is better spoken for than first base and shortstop (with the possible exception of right field). Let’s just say Pujols and Reyes won’t be Marlins by Opening Day, not that there’s any harm in people reporting that possibility. After a decade of lobbying and cajoling, Jeffrey Loria will finally see his team play in a new stadium, and creating the necessary buzz to pack the place is a worthy goal.
Thing is, this isn’t a bad team, and the Marlins figure to win more games in 2012 simply by keeping Josh Johnson healthy and getting an inevitable rebound season from Hanley Ramirez. Of course the sweet spot for win totals starts around 90 wins (the Cardinals won the NL wild card with that many, and the Rays won 91 to claim the AL wild card last season), and the Marlins don’t figure to have enough to get to that point. At least not yet. If Loria is serious about spending money, though, the Marlins could give themselves a shot at that goal, even if Pujols and Reyes aren’t involved. C.J. Wilson or Mark Buehrle would offer a big boost to a rotation that’s thin even if Johnson returns to 200-inning ace status. The bullpen needs help, too, with overrated closer Leo Nunez likely gone and a lack of high-strikeout pitchers left behind — issues that could easily be addressed with some cash, given the deep free-agent and trade markets for relievers. Spending is rarely a cure-all, and the Marlins could make multiple acquisitions and still come up a bit short in a solid (and improving) NL East. But after taking hundreds of millions of dollars from South Florida taxpayers, it’d be swell to see the Marlins spend even a fraction of that money on actual baseball players.
What They Need: 1B, SS, 3B, RP
What They’ll Likely Do: The homegrown core of Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks, and Yovani Gallardo finally got their long-awaited NL Central crown last season, the Brewers’ first in 29 years. A repeat could be a tall task. Fielder became a free agent after the second-best year of his career, and appears unlikely to re-sign. Shortstop and third base, both black holes in 2011, must also be addressed, though playing a broom and dustpan at short would be an improvement over Yuniesky Betancourt. And the bullpen could use a replacement for departed setup man Francisco Rodriguez, if not more.
The good news is that the Brewers should have some cash to spend with Fielder and others leaving town. Jose Reyes, for instance, would be an ideal leadoff man and a gigantic upgrade at short, allowing Hart and his power bat to move back to the middle of the lineup. Failing that, Rafael Furcal is a high-upside play on a one-year deal if his health would cooperate. Or maybe you devote your big bucks to Aramis Ramirez at third, then patch at short with a low-risk, moderate-reward pickup like Ronny Cedeno. If the Cardinals re-sign Pujols, they’ll be tough to beat in 2012 regardless. But the Brewers own a very good starting rotation and enough hitters still in place to make things interesting — whatever they do from here.
NEW YORK METS
What They Need: A long leash for Sandy Alderson
What They’ll Likely Do: Sandy Alderson was Hipster Moneyball — he practiced team-building through statistical analysis years before it got cool. If the Mets hope to succeed the way Alderson’s A’s teams did, their GM will need the same latitude to do his job, both in methods and timeframe. Year 1 was an evaluation process for Alderson, as the Mets made few radical moves last season. With Jose Reyes a free agent, the door is now open to expedite a radical rebuild. Trade David Wright, who’d still be attractive to other teams in the last year of his contract, the media’s scorn be damned. Nothing you can do about the bloated last two years of Jason Bay and Johan Santana’s contracts. But knuckleballer deluxe and soon-to-be-author R.A. Dickey would be a good trade chit, as would virtually any other veteran not likely to be part of the next winning Mets team.
Whether Alderson will get that chance is the big question. For years, the Mets have done everything in their power to try to keep up with the Yankees, overextending themselves on big contracts. In the past three years, especially, they’ve refused to acknowledge their mediocrity, deluding themselves into thinking that people will talk a lot more about an 80-win team than a 70-win team (even though they haven’t cracked 80 once in that stretch). A complete roster overhaul just isn’t done in New York, we’re told, because the fans and media won’t tolerate it. Maybe, maybe not. But no one’s going to throw any parades for a bunch of fourth-place finishes either. Cashing in veterans for prospects now could slice a year or more off the time it’ll take the Mets to get back to their winning ways. The Reyes-Wright-Beltran-Santana group had their chance, and came up a bit short. Time to move on and let the next group get theirs.
What They Need: SS
What They’ll Likely Do: We’ve already hashed out why Jonathan Papelbon wasn’t the best use of the Phillies’ money: At some point down the road they’re going to wish they had that $50 million for more valuable players, with budding ace Cole Hamels and his contract extension demands the most likely casualty. Still, lament the high failure rate of lucrative, long-term deals for relievers and the principles of opportunity cost all you like, but Papelbon has been an elite pitcher for years now, and the Phillies needed a power arm for the ‘pen with Ryan Madson hitting free agency and Brad Lidge flaming out. There’s no disputing that Papelbon filled a big need in the here and now.
That’s a good thing for a very good, very old3 Phillies club that’s built to win now more than virtually any other team in baseball — maybe even more than the Yankees. No sense skimping on the one big need still left on the board. Ruben Amaro Jr. should flex the full strength of the Phillies’ newly elite revenue streams and either re-sign Jimmy Rollins or go get Jose Reyes. You’re beyond pot-committed at this point, so going all in is not your best option. Credit Amaro for some savvy, smaller moves, too: Jim Thome will be a defensive nightmare as long as he holds down first base for Ryan Howard, but he can still hit, and he’ll be a killer bench bat even when the most maligned $125 million man in the game returns. Like the under-the-radar minor-league deal for Brian Sanches (2.84 FIP vs. right-handed batters in 2011), too, given the Phillies likely needed more than one new reliever to patch their depleted bullpen. Rany Jazayerli’s doom and gloom predictions notwithstanding, the Phillies are still the odds-on favorites to repeat in the NL East in 2012. If their aging roster and somewhat depleted minor league system make them bust out after that, so be it. No one will look back at their incredible six-year run and wish it hadn’t happened.
What They Need: Heart medication for fans, if the Pirates follow through on their claim that Andrew McCutchen could be available, and trade their franchise player
What They’ll Likely Do: Let’s get this straight first: The Pirates are still likely a few years away from contending. Many of their best assets are pitching prospects drafted in the past couple years who still have a long way to go to crack the big league roster, let alone anchor a staff for a contending club. And yes, we spend a lot of time ’round these parts stressing the importance of success cycles. Even if cycles are rarely as clear-cut as posited a decade ago, the idea of cashing in players who won’t likely be part of your next playoff push makes lots of sense. But McCutchen isn’t some thirtysomething vet who’d only be attractive to win-now teams. He’s a rising star who’s still four years away from free agency. Yes, the Pirates have needs everywhere on the diamond. But when was the last time a player of McCutchen’s stature and service time was dealt, and the team trading him actually got full value in return? If the Bucs are concerned about their best player one day walking, hammer out an extension. The Pirates got their beautiful, new, publicly financed stadium years ago. They still ranked 28th in major league payroll last season. Spend some damn money.
Otherwise, GM Neal Huntington’s mandate should be to give more chances to the team’s other young players, and see who’s worth keeping for the long haul. The start of Pedro Alvarez’s career has been racked by injuries and ineffectiveness. But Alvarez should be afforded the same chances as Neil Walker, the top prospect whose outlook started to dim before a position change and a spot in the everyday lineup turned him into a keeper. Let Jose Tabata and Charlie Morton and James McDonald sink or swim with regular playing time, too, and see what happens. After two decades of post-Barry Bonds losing, what’s a couple more years?
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
What They Need: 1B, 2B, SS
What They’ll Do: The Cardinals just won the World Series. If they re-sign Albert Pujols, there’s an excellent chance they’ll be better in 2012. That’s what you get when Adam Wainwright sits out a whole season and now looks good for Opening Day. And when your bullpen can have a whole season of dynamic arms like Jason Motte, Lance Lynn, and Marc Rzepczynski throwing high-leverage innings, instead of entrusting those jobs to senior citizens like Ryan Franklin and Miguel Batista. And when talented playoff heroes like Allen Craig and David Freese get a chance to play more, whether due to job shifts or just better health.
Now it’s just a matter of making all the pieces fit. In a free-agent first-baseman market depressed by the absence of the Yankees and Red Sox and the Cardinals’ having incentives beyond homers, RBIs, and WAR to re-sign their franchise player, Pujols seems likely to play the next several years in St. Louis. If that happens, the Cards need to figure out where to play Craig’s bat. Tony La Russa showed a willingness to shoehorn players into unlikely positions4; Mike Matheny might need to do the same with Craig. The Cards will have multiple avenues to choose at short. Re-signing Rafael Furcal to a one-year, incentive-laden deal would beat most other options, with Ryan Theriot, Tyler Greene, and Daniel Descalso being better choices for bench jobs than everyday duty. A team headed by veterans like Wainwright, Pujols, Chris Carpenter, Matt Holliday, and Lance Berkman might even have some hidden upside: If top prospect Shelby Miller cracks the bigs, or even if Rzepczynski gets a chance to start, there’s enough pitching depth here to make deadline deals and address whatever needs the Cards might still have. This was a good team that now has an excellent chance to be great.
SAN DIEGO PADRES
What They Need: Bats
What They’ll Likely Do: Jed Hoyer pulled off one of the best trades in recent franchise history last offseason, cashing in some spare relief depth for Cameron Maybin, who promptly led the Padres with 4.7 WAR last season. With Hoyer now gone to Chicago, replacement Josh Byrnes just needs to do that again. And again and again and again. The Pads ranked 29th in team wOBA in 2011. Ryan Ludwick led the team in home runs with 11. Granted, it takes a bazooka to launch the ball out of Petco Park, especially in right-center. But at some point, you need a little offense to go with your pitching, defense, and baserunning.
They made a minor move toward that end recently, flipping spare starter Wade LeBlanc to the Marlins for lefty-hitting catcher John Baker. But Baker is nowhere near the impact they need, and incumbent catcher Nick Hundley’s actually one of the team’s best bats, so Baker doesn’t figure to play much. Unless the Padres suddenly change the way they do business, except a buy-and-hold approach, as management waits to see if top prospects like Anthony Rizzo can deliver the pop the Padres so desperately need. One way to speed up the process might be to dip further into the team’s young pitching depth and offer better arms for better bats. Trade acquirees Casey Kelly and Robbie Erlin project are future members of San Diego’s rotation — but they might be better leveraged as trade bait for long-term answers at second, short, or corner outfield. While Byrnes sorts all that out, look for Mat Latos, impressive 2011 rookie Cory Luebke, the rest of the pitching staff, and Petco’s misty marine air to create a lot more 3-2 games.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
What They Need: BATS, BATS, BATS
What They’ll Likely Do: It’s one thing for the low-revenue, light-on-talent Padres to suffer through a terrible offensive season. But the Giants were coming off their first World Series in 56 years, with a chance to fortify a team that relied on great pitching and also a lot of hitting luck for their success. Instead, Brian Sabean and company put too much stock in the flukish seasons put up by Aubrey Huff and others, mistaking a World Series ring for a sustainable winning model. The result was a Giants club that finished 28th in team wOBA. And that’s now a team that pitched better than anyone except the mighty Phillies ended up missing the playoffs.
Hopefully the first lesson learned was to put top prospect Brandon Belt in the everyday lineup and leave him there. Getting a full season out of Buster Posey after his horrific home-plate collision injury would also help a great deal. Melky Cabrera probably isn’t going to get 200 hits again, and he’s a terrible defensive center fielder, but he’ll probably help, too. Still, the Giants have several holes remaining. Freddy Sanchez isn’t much of a hitter anymore, and Brandon Crawford has never hit, and probably never will. Slot Jose Reyes and a better second baseman into a team that has three fantastic starters, a loaded bullpen, and some Ryan Vogelsong pixie dust, and you can start to imagine another parade. Go with the status quo, and another good-but-not-good-enough season likely awaits.
What They Need: 1B, CF, a Jayson Werth mulligan
What They’ll Likely Do: Every Hot Stove season, we get at least one signing that elicits nothing but WTFs. The seven-year, $126 million deal the Nats gave Jayson Werth last winter was so egregious, I remember exactly where I was when I heard about it: standing on a stoop in Brooklyn, tweeting ironically about it in colorful shoes and two weeks’ worth of patchy stubble.5 As with any move, the problem lay not only with the choice of player, but with that ever-vital concept of opportunity cost. By dropping that much money on a thirtysomething outfielder with no chance to earn his keep, the Nats were tying up cash they could have found better use for, such as signing their own young players, and also pursue free agents better than Jayson Werth.
The good news is that even after Werthpocalypse, the Nats ranked just 22nd in team payroll in 2011, and the Lerners have promised to upgrade the payroll considerably over last season’s total of about $64 million. Hence the rumors of strong interest in Prince Fielder, a move that could give the Nats a hell of a middle three in the batting order, teamed with righty swingers Ryan Zimmerman and 2011 breakout man Mike Morse. With Stephen Strasburg poised to return and join Jordan Zimmermann atop a young, intriguing rotation, and ownership potentially willing to green-light more than one significant offseason deal, you’d have a very compelling NL sleeper. The Nats have had exactly zero winning seasons since moving to D.C. seven years ago. It’s time for that streak to end.
Jonah Keri’s new book, The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First, is a national best-seller. Follow him on Twitter at @JonahKeri.
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