For more check out Bloomberg Sports’ Front Office 2011.
BY ROB SHAW
It was a lively off-season in the Big Leagues for certain as the best leadoff hitter and two of the best sluggers moved to new teams this winter. While a great deal of the attention turned to the Marlins who unveiled a new logo, new jerseys, a new stadium, and new acquisitions, the quiet Nationals should attract the most attention because of their sudden rise in expectations in the NL East.
The news with the greatest impact coming from the Nationals during the off-season wasn’t the trade for Gio Gonzalez or even the latest news from top phenom Bryce Harper. Instead, the it came at the end of February when the face of the franchise, Ryan Zimmerman, signed on the dotted line to a six-year $100 million deal. The deal sends an important message to the Nationals that they are not just about developing young talent, but keeping that talent around for the years to come to compete with the best in the NL.
The star third baseman told us, “I’ve been here through the not too good years, I wanted to make sure to be here for the good times that are about to come.” Zimmerman added, “They’ve done it the right way, they drafted good, they built out their farm system, kind of made it so that we won’t be good for one or two years, but 10 or 15.”
The fact that Zimmerman opted to stay long-term with the Nationals was met with affirmation from his teammates. Hurler Jordan Zimmerman said, “Yeah he made it clear that he wanted to stay here and stay here for the long haul, and build a team around him. The owners are all for it and I think it is going to be good for the club in the long run.”
There are a lot of household names on the Nationals this season. Jayson Werth did not meet expectations last season, we discussed Zimmerman, Michael Morse is now a star after what he did last year, but one guy who is sneaking under the radar despite the fact that he posted sensational numbers last season was Jordan Zimmerman.
Zimmerman is an ace. Last year, he actually truly was the number one, and maybe that explains why his record is not as impressive as his ERA and his WHIP. On the other hand, this year he will be matching with a lot of number twos and threes since Strasburg is the opening day starter. This is really big for the Nationals, because that gives them an advantage in every game that he pitches. Maybe 15-17 wins is a realistic target for the young hurler.
Zimmerman is optimistic about the team’s chances of clinching the division. “We had some key pickups this year and I think we are going to have a great starting staff and picked up Lidge and a couple of other guys in the bullpen who are going to help out big time. So I am pretty excited to get going this season.”
I see Washington as the favorite in the NL East. The Phillies may have that big three, but there’s a big three in Washington now that is younger and perhaps will end up more durable this season. You look at the offense for the Nationals, they took away Jayson Werth from the Phillies and with the Phillies having injuries to Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, there are some serious concerns there. I think the offense is better for the Nationals, perhaps the numbers won’t reflect that because of the pitcher’s park.
The Braves are a good team. I don’t think they have the rotation that the Nationals have. The Marlins are a good team too. They don’t have the depth in the rotation. Also, the Nationals bullpen ace is Tyler Clippard, one of the best middle relievers in baseball, and when Drew Storen comes back healthy, he could be lights out yet again.
This Nationals team should be the favorite in the NL East. And it’s great because it’s going to surprise a lot of people. So as far as expectations, they should be sky high. Washington fans, you have something to be excited about this season.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C, Red Sox
After a slow start to the season Jarrod Saltalamacchia is red-hot for the Red Sox. He is batting .400 this month with a home run, two doubles, and a triple. His season average is now a respectable .252 with five home runs. Remember, as bad as he was early in the season, Salty was once a mega prospect who was traded for Mark Teixiera. He may never reach that potential, but if he can hit .280 with 15 home runs in Boston, the run production will pile up. My only warning is that his defense is still not very good, so it will remain a platoon with Jason Varitek.
Charlie Blackmon, OF, Rockies
Lost in the rookie rush a few days ago was the call-up of Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon. A former second round pick out of Georgia Tech, the 24-year old has the highly sought combination of power and speed. He was hitting .337 in Colorado Springs with 10 home runs and 12 steals. With Dexter Fowler injured, Blackmon will enjoy a shot at playing everyday. If he contributes, look for him to become an everyday player, which means tons of fantasy value.
Carlos Carrasco, SP, Indians
Before the season began we asked Jay Levine from LetsgoTribe.com who was the top hurler on the staff and he surprised us with Carlos Carrasco. At first we questioned his call since Carrasco was just 1-2 with a 5.29 ERA through six starts into the season, but since then, Carrasco has gone 5-1 while lowering his ERA to 4.09. He has not allowed a run in either of his two starts while fanning season highs six and then seven batters. What was most impressive about his last win was that it came in Yankee Stadium against the hot-hotting Bombers. At just 24 years old, Carrasco is a great long-term investment.
Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals
After more than a month on the DL, Ryan Zimmerman will be activated to play tonight. Zimmerman was batting .357 through eight games when he got hurt. His presence should help the entire lineup that has struggled to replace their third baseman as well as their injured first baseman Adam LaRoche.
Johan Santana, SP, Mets
The idea was for the Mets to simply be competitive for the next few weeks until David Wright, Ike Davis, and Johan Santana returned. Well it looks like Johan is not on the path to recovery as fast as we all thought. He has been dealing with soreness and now at the earliest, the Mets ace will not make it back until August. By then, a lot of his teammates could be traded.
Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees
What does it mean that Derek Jeter is nearing 3,000 hits. Sure, he’s an all-time great, but he is also really old at 36-years old. Well age may have gotten the better of him this week as he strained his calf. This makes the guessing game even harder to play about when he will hit number 3,000. My guess is that because of his age the Yankees will be conservative and place him on the DL, though this could end up being just a day-to-day issue. My guess is that the New York media will keep you updated on his status.
by Eno Sarris //
This past week has been a tough one for the third base position. Ryan Zimmerman underwent abdominal surgery and will be out up to another six weeks. Pablo Sandoval will miss at least that much time with a broken hamate bone. David Freese also broke his hand. Scott Rolen is having shoulder issues. Ian Stewart was sent down to the minor leagues. Pedro Alvarez is struggling with the whiff. If you have multiple teams, odds are you are looking for a third baseman in at least one league. We’ll break down some options here, tiered by league depth, so that you can sort through the mess.
It’s hard to know exactly which players are available on your waiver wire, but chances are, if you’re in a ten-teamer, Chase Headley is out there for you. Ideally, you’d like to play him against righties and away from home – so if you can platoon him in this manner, go ahead. As a batter, Headley has made some strides. He’s showing the best walk rate of his career and his power is up from last year. He has a lifetime BABIP of .330, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him get a little luckier on balls in play despite owning a current .301 BABIP. By the end of the year, Headley should be hitting around .260 with double digit home runs and steals, so he’s a decent stop-gap player. Of course, if you are lucky enough to find Chipper Jones on your waiver, he’s a much better option. But Headley’s no bum. Finally, the best option is probably Jed Lowrie, who made his fifth start (eighth game) at the position on Tuesday night. If he’s available and eligible, he’s your man.
Standard Mixed Leagues
Edwin Encarnacion is doing everything he’s always done in terms of his plate discipline and hit trajectory stats, but the power hasn’t been there. It’s a little much to ask him to recover his power so soon after a wrist injury, but that might be what you are stuck with. If power is your sole goal, you may want to go with Ian Stewart, who is now back in the major leagues. In interviews he has practically demanded that he play every day. If the team allows him that – it’s not like Jose Lopez is a better option (with his 1 OPS+!), and Ty Wigginton is also a flawed player – he could go back to striking out a little less than a third of the time, which would probably result in an Encarnacion-ish .250 batting average with power. If every hit counts, Danny Valencia has had bad luck so far this season and should at least be able to hit .265 or so going forward.
AL- and NL- Only Leagues
In these leagues, you’re mostly just screwed. In my 11-team AL-only, the best waiver option is either Omar Vizquel or Matt Tolbert. I’d take Tolbert, mostly just because he’s playing often because of the current state of the Twins infield. If Andy LaRoche is available in your league, he’s been seeing more time for the Athletics and has been acquitting himself well. On the NL side, Mike Fontenot is getting more playing time at shortstop and, because of his position eligiblity, actually create some trade value for himself by stealing the starting shorstop role in San Francisco while your third baseman is out. That’s how bad Miguel Tejada has been this year. Over with the Reds, Daniel Descalso is probably the man taking over for Freese right now, but watch Allen Craig if he’s available, as he’s the best bat in this paragraph – but he’ll have to build up eligibility at the positon, most likely.
Third base is hurting right now, literally and figuratively. Hopefully some of these free agent options will help you survived until you get your third baseman back.
For more check out Bloomberg Sports’ Front Office 2011.
by Eno Sarris //