The San Francisco Giants starting rotation is a dangerous collection of spitfire strikeout machines, but their lineup is worse at hitting than Joe Morgan is at broadcasting. The Washington Nationals, though they need to improve almost everywhere else, have a glut of good corner OF/1B bats.
Could this amount to something?
Where the Giants Need Help
When you’re looking for good hitters on a team, you tend to look at 1B and the outfield. When you try this with the Giants, you wonder if their team might be broken. None of their starters at the traditional middle-of-the-lineup positions are actual middle-of-the-lineup hitters.
The Giants OF right now: Fred Lewis (.282/.351/.440), Aaron Rowand (.271/.339/.410), and Randy Winn (.306/.363/.426). Among those, Winn is the most productive hitter, based on his above average OBP and speed, with modest power. He’ll also be in his age-35 season and is as good as he’s going to get.
Lewis is a younger version of Winn who could develop 15-HR power but will never be a middle-of-the-order bat.
Rowand, though he was coming off 27 HR when the Giants signed him, is heading into his age-32 season and last year put up the kind of mediocre-to-weak season that characterized his career before the '07 breakout.
Travis Ishikawa (.274/.337/.432) played well enough to land the 1B job last season, but that doesn’t mean he’s a good starter. Considering the average NL 1B put up .277/.359/.479, what it really means is that the Giants are desperate.
This collection of No. 2 and No. 7 hitters would be serviceable if it was complemented by a couple of real stars, like the left half of the Mets infield. But Edgar Renteria and Pablo Sandoval are no Reyes and Wright.
Who Do the Nationals Have To Offer?
The best player on the Nationals right now is probably OF Elijah Dukes (.264/.386/.478), but they’re unlikely to move their most promising prospect. Ditto for OF Lastings Milledge (.268/.330/.402), although he looks like another Winn/Lewis type.
That leaves Adam Dunn (.236/.386/.513), Josh Willingham (.254/.364/.470), and Nick Johnson (.220/415/.431). All three have the skills the Giants are sorely lacking—high OBP and 20-HR power.
Winn, Lewis, Sandoval, Willingham, Molina looks like the top half of a Major League lineup—not a good one, but one that can keep you in the game. Willingham is the worst of the three Nats, and he would automatically become the Giants best power hitter and a good bet for 100 RBI.
The best scenario for the Giants involves replacing Ishikawa. Winn and Lewis are decent hitters while Rowand plays good defense at a position none of the Nats can handle (CF). On the other hand, Johnson is a good fielding 1B, Dunn played some 1B for Arizona last season, and Willingham played a little 1B in the minors.
Are They Available?
After being spurned by 1B Mark Teixeira, who decided he wanted to both win and get paid, Dunn was the Nationals' big consolation prize. He is supposed to make sure the team leader in HR has more than 14 this season, and that their lineup has a bigger headliner than Cristian Guzman. So he is probably untouchable.
Willingham is another offseason acquisition but is currently squeezed out of a job by Dunn. He has a balky back, and combined with Nick Johnson’s balky everything, the thinking must have been that only one of them would be healthy at a time. Well, they’re both healthy, and paying almost $3 million for a backup who can rake like “The Hammer” can doesn’t make much sense. So, he could be available.
Nick Johnson’s .220 BA last season looks terrible. OK, it is terrible. But his .415 OBP, which is a much better measure of value, looks AMAZING. Furthermore, Johnson is a career .269/.396/.456 hitter, so he’s likely to do better when he’s healthy. In '06, his last full season, he hit .290/.428/.520—which would make him a top-five 1B and one of the biggest offensive threats in the league overall.
Johnson’s problem has been chronic injuries. He missed all of '07 and all but 38 games of '08. In the two seasons before that, he played in 147 and 131 games, respectively. If he’s healthy, the Giants will want him, and the Nats should be willing to move him before he gets hurt again. Right now, he’s healthy.
What’ll It Take To Get Them?
The Nationals need pretty much everything, but they especially need a starting second baseman and pitching. This season they plan on starting Anderson Hernandez at 2B, despite his .232/.283/.292 career line in 63 games. They probably ought to be starting Ronnie Belliard and his .275/.340/.416 career line, but if they don’t want to start a mediocre infielder on the wrong side of 30, who can blame them?
The Nationals starting rotation looks pretty dismal this season. Retreads Scott Olsen and Daniel Cabrera are exactly the sort of high talent/low performance guys who make fans cringe. Last season’s surprise ace was John Lannan, but a 4.79 FIP underlies his 3.91 ERA—an indication that he was pitching over his head. This season’s ERA is likely to be closer to the first number than the second. The last two slots are up in the air.
Luckily, the Giants have second basemen and pitching. Three young prospects are competing for their 2B slot—Emmanuel Burriss (.283/.357/.329), Kevin Frandsen (.269/.331/.379), and Eugenio Velez (.262/.299/.382). Frandsen is likely to be the starter, leaving Burriss available as trade bait.
Burriss would be better than Hernandez right now and is young enough to develop into a decent starter. For the time being, he could face righties (.278/.366/.318) in a platoon with Belliard, who crushes lefties (.285/.362/.466).
In terms of pitching, young strikeout machine Jonathan Sanchez would instantly become the best starter on the Nationals. He’s only the No. 4 or No. 5 on the Giants depth chart (depending on what you want to do with Barry Zito), and leaving his spot open for Noah Lowry to try and regain his form (and trade value) while superstar prospect Madison Baumgardner develops makes a lot of sense from an organizational standpoint.
Willingham for Burriss straight up probably makes sense, given their salary differentials. Both teams are giving up a backup player for someone who will start on their team, as well as alleviating a logjam at those positions.
Johnson for Sanchez is the core of a good deal, but one side or the other might want a minor leaguer thrown in. This is a high risk/high reward proposition, so the Giants may want to wait until May on this one to see if Johnson really is healthy. If he is, he could put them in the playoffs.
Sanchez had a 3.85 FIP last season, struck out 157 in 158 IP, and gave up less than one HR/9. He still needs to cut down on his walks (4.27 BB/9), but he has a lot of potential and could be in the middle of the Nats rotation for years.
Let’s get Mike Rizzo and Brian Sabean on the phone. I think we have a deal.