The strangest thing just happened to me.
A few minutes ago, I received a call from Nationals’ team President Stan Kasten. He said that Mike Rizzo was fired by the Lerner family, after being found walking aimlessly along the Beltway, wearing nothing but a Mets’ cap.
Kasten told me Rizzo could have survived the “naked” part, but wearing the oppositions’ colors was a deal breaker.
They want me to take over on a temporary basis until Jim Bowden’s contract runs out with Sirius XM. I can make any deals I want until then—probably till the middle of January—and I can add no more than $10 million to last year’s $60-million payroll.
In an email, he gave me the private phone numbers of baseball’s other 29 general managers, as well as the names and numbers of all the current free-agents.
Kasten then wished me luck and hung up the phone. I’m on my own.
At one time or another, I’m sure all of us have fancied ourselves as the general manager of the Nationals, and have consummated a thousand trades in our head, each a steal for the home team.
Kasten asked me to report my trades and signings to YOU, a member of the board of directors in an email. You will then make your report to the Lerner family in the “comments” section below.
The below email was written to you, “Mr. Big,” at the end of December, after all the roster moves were completed.
From: Farid Rushdi, Acting General Manger
To: Mr. Big, Vice-Chairman, Board-of-Directors, Washington Nationals
Dear Mr. Big,
Since your ownership group purchased the Nationals more than three years ago, the concept of building a championship organization from within has been paramount in the process. But we have finally reached the point where we have enough talented young players—both at the minor league and major league level—that we can now begin the process of singing free agent players to fill the gaps in our roster.
Last season, our payroll was approximately $60 million. Through the trades of Nick Johnson and Ronnie Belliard, and the free agency of Austin Kearns and Dmitri Young, we have removed almost $23 million from our books. Additionally, the Nationals will decline arbitration on Scott Olsen, freeing an additional $2.8 million.
That means the Nationals can sign free agents to contracts totaling almost $26 million and not increase the payroll for 2010 by even a dollar.
Below are a list of the trades and free agent signings we have completed thus far. I believe these changes have created a team capable of making the playoffs in 2010:
1. The Washington Nationals have agreed to terms with first baseman Adam Dunn on a four year extension that will keep him a National through the 2014 season. The contract is worth $50 million ($12.5 million per season). There is a two year mutual option for 2015 and 2016.
Dunn will be 33 at the end of the contract and will be in the prime of his career. Chris Marrero, the team’s first-baseman-of-the-future, is no better defensively than Dunn and is not as powerful. I’d rather play Dunn and trade Marrero.
2. Second baseman Orlando Hudson has been signed to a two year, $10 million contract. Hudson, at 31, is in the prime of his career. He is a four-time Gold Glove winner and has averaged .282-12-69 over his eight major league seasons. Hudson gives the Nationals two Gold Glove infielders, and greatly increases the team’s defense up the middle.
3. The Nationals have signed shortstop Khalil Greene to a one year, $3 million contract that includes incentives. I believe that Ian Desmond has the ability to be a major league shortstop, but there are questions regarding his glove. He makes the difficult plays look spectacular but boots too many routine outs.
If Desmond wins the job, Greene will be a capable of overpriced backup. However, if Desmond is not ready, Greene will provide the Nationals Gold Glove quality defense with a good enough bat for a shortstop. Greene’s career average is .245-20-77 and it was just two seasons ago that Greene hit .254-27-97. It’s his career .302 OBP that has kept other teams from guaranteeing him a starting job.
If he starts for the Nationals, he will likely bat eighth and any offense he provides will be considered a bonus. The incentive clause could add an additional $500,000 to his contract if he starts more than 120 games in 2010.
4. Outfielder Marlon Byrd will be rejoining the Nationals for 2010. He has agreed to a three year, $16.5-million contract that will make him the team’s everyday right fielder.
After the Nationals released Byrd in 2006, he has averaged .295-13-71 and has played a flawless outfield for the Rangers. He started for the first time in 2009, and batted .283-20-89.
We are expecting Byrd to provide stability to the Nationals’ outfield and hit .290-15-75, while batting sixth in the lineup.
5. Brian Schneider has signed a one year, $2.5 million contract with incentives. Though Jesus Flores will be the team’s No. 1 catcher, his many injuries make me question his ability to play an entire season injury-free.
If he survives the year unscathed, then the Nationals have a quality backup catcher in Schneider. If Flores loses time to injury, Schneider can step in and provide the team with solid defense and timely hitting.
If all goes as planned, Flores will start 110 games next year with Schneider filling in over the remainder of the schedule.
6. The Nationals have traded outfielder Elijah Dukes, pitcher Craig Stammen, minor league catcher Derek Norris, first-baseman Chris Marrero, shortstop Danny Espinosa and pitchers Jeff Mandel and Colin Balester to the Kansas City Royals for Cy Young Award winner Zach Greinke.
This trade came as a stunner to the fans of both teams, and both sides think their team “was robbed.”
Without the depth of the minor league system, this trade could not have been made. Jesus Flores should be the team’s catcher for the next six or seven years, making Norris expendable.
And with the extension of Dunn’s contract, Marrero is blocked as well. Ian Desmond is the shortstop of the future, making it difficult for Espinosa to find playing time with the Nationals. Dukes might end up becoming a .280-25-100 hitter, but he might not. Stammen and Mandel seemed destined as relief pitchers, so their loss is not difficult to replace.
Though we gave up a lot of talent, each of those minor league players are currently blocked by someone at the major league level who is producing well and helping the team win.
7. To bolster the starting rotation, the Nationals have signed 29-year-old Jon Garland to a two year, $12 million contract.
Garland will provide depth to a talented rotation and will give some of our other pitching prospects time to mature. Playing with both Arizona and the Dodgers last season, Garland went 11-13, 4.01 and pitched more than 200 innings, something he’s done five times in his career.
8. Shortstop Cristian Guzman has been traded to the Dodgers along with $4 million in cash for a minor league prospect. This move clears an additional $4 million of payroll from our books.
9. Believing the team will be in contention in 2010, the Nationals have signed future Hall-of-Famer Billy Wagner to a one year contract, worth about $6.5 million. The team will use Sean Burnett in the seventh inning, Mike MacDougal in the eighth, and Wagner will close out the ninth.
Wagner was actively sought by other teams, some who offered more money, but he was very adamant about his desire to play close to his Virginia home.
He understands this contract is for just one season unless he is willing to take over the role of setup man. Drew Storen, the team’s “other” first round draft choice in 2009, has the talent to take over as the Nationals’ closer in 2010 but another year of seasoning in the minors will make him that much more formidable in 2011.
Here is our projected opening day roster with their career average statistics based on 162 games (italicized statistics are for 2009 in cases where career stats aren’t indicative of the player’s ability)
CF—Nyjer Morgan .303-3-42, 46 steals, .362 OBP
2B—Orlando Hudson .282-8-12, .348 OBP
3B—Ryan Zimmerman .284-25-100, .347 OBP
1B—Adam Dunn .250-40-100, .383 OBP
LF—Josh Willingham .264-26-83, .362 OBP
RF—Marlon Byrd .283-20-89, .340 OBP
C -–Jesus Flores .260-13-81, .313 OBP
SS—Khalil Greene .245-20-77, .303 OBP
Or Ian Desmond .280-4-17, .313 OBP
Zach Greinke 16-8, 2.16, Cy Young Award Winner
John Garland 13-12, 4.42
John Lannan 10-15, 3.91
J.D. Martin 11-9, 4.41
Stephen Strasburg No stats yet
Total payroll savings from 2009 is almost $30 million and new signings and trade acquisitions totals about $37 million.
In other words, by increasing the team payroll by just $7 million, the Nationals have added Zach Greinke, Jon Garland, Brian Schneider, Orlando Hudson, Billy Wagner, Marlon Byrd, and Khalil Greene.
I believe that the Washington Nationals are one of the best teams in the National League East—perhaps the best—and should secure a playoff spot in 2010. We have done this without adding any payroll and have certainly added a group of talented players.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts. Please leave them in the comment section below. Yes, we are taking a chance with some of these moves, but sometimes you have to take chances to reap the biggest rewards.