Nationals Non-Tender Two: Will They Try to Sign Other Team's Castaways?

Farid RushdiAnalyst IDecember 12, 2009

SARASOTA, FL - FEBRUARY 18:  Johnny Gomes #31 of the Cincinnati Reds poses for a photo during Spring Training Photo day on February 18, 2009 at the Cincinnati Reds training facility in Sarasota, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

It’s the night of the Non-Tendered, a scary, Halloween-like time when perfectly healthy baseball players are culled and cut from the body that loved and nurtured them.

It’s the baseball version of “The Night of the Living Dead."

The Washington Nationals, as expected, decided to non-tender pitcher Scott Olsen, who they received in a trade with the Florida Marlins a year ago. This was not unexpected, as Olsen was coming off his worst year as a major leaguer on top of undergoing surgery for a torn labrum a few months ago.

Olsen is supposed to be 100 percent, but at a likely arbitration salary of $3 million, the Nationals couldn’t take a chance. I am sure that the team has already been in talks with his agent in an attempt to bring him back with an incentive laden contract.

My perspective is that you can never have enough pitching, and my instinct is to have taken the chance and paid Olsen the money. A healthy Olsen would have provided Washington 200-plus innings and 10-12 wins.

That said, the Nationals allowed John Patterson and Chad Cordero to walk because they were concerned with their health, and they were right both times. So I’m going to defer to the brain trust and say they did the right thing, at least for now.

However, the Nationals also non-tendered closer Mike MacDougal, who went 1-1, 3.60 with 20 saves in 21 chances after being claimed off waivers from the White Sox early in the season.

I’m trying to decide how I feel about this one.

True, once he took over as the team’s closer, the Nationals settled down and began to win. In the second half, four other teams had a worse record than the semi-streaking Nationals.

But his internal numbers are very scary. He allowed 9.1 hits per nine-innings, a very solid number. However, He struck out just 5.6 batters per nine, while walking an identical 5.6 batters. His 1.52 WHIP (base runners per inning) is ridiculously high for a closer (Mariano Rivera’s career WHIP is 1.01) and MacDougal’s career walks-per-nine is also 5.6. So it wasn’t an off year.

The Nationals may try to re-sign him, but I would guess those 20 saves will get him his $3 million for 2010 somewhere else, about what he’d have made going through arbitration with the Nationals.

Brian Bruney, obtained in a trade with the Yankees earlier this week, is the likely heir-apparent for the Nationals’ closer job. His career walks-per-nine-innings is even worse than MacDougal’s at 6.2, but he strikes out 8.3 batters per nine, so all those walks are lessened a bit by the higher strikeout rate.

We all know that Drew Storen is the future closer for the team, and he could be taking over that job as soon as next year. So I suppose it’s not terribly important who comes out of Spring Training with that title. That said, the team can’t afford to start 2010 poorly, so whoever closes has to get the job done.

But the Nationals aren’t the only team throwing quality players out into the snow. There are already several players who have been non-tendered who could help the Nationals in 2010:

Ryan Church—OF (.273-4-40)

Church was one of my favorite players before he was traded to the Mets. No, I don’t think he’s an everyday outfielder anymore, but he would be an ideal fourth outfielder, spelling Josh Willingham, Nyjer Morgan, and Elijah Dukes without costing the team any great loss of offense. 

As much as I love Willy Harris, the team suffered with him in the lineup because he didn’t hit very well last year.


Johnny Gomes—OF (.267-20-51)

Gomes doesn’t play every day because he doesn’t hit right-handers particularly well, a bad scenario for a right-handed hitter. However, he crushes lefties. Over a 550 at-bat season (something he’s never done), Gomes has averaged .241-27-74.

If the Nationals are concerned at all about Elijah Dukes in right field, Gomes could be a decent Josh Willingham-esque answer for about $2.7 million. He’s just 28, and could be a quality “bridge” player between the terrible Nationals of today and the contenders of tomorrow.


Garrett Atkins—1B/3B (.226-9-48) (Injured)

Atkins is a five-year veteran who has averaged .286-21-100 for the Rockies and I was surprised to see that he was non-tendered. He made $7.5 million last year, though, and would have probably made $8.5 million or so this year.

No, I don’t think the Nationals are terribly interested in Atkins, partly because of the price, partly because of his impending free agency in 2011, and partly because they would have to moved Adam Dunn back to the outfield, something they don’t want to do.

But you don’t find many bats like his floating around the flotsam and jetsam of baseball’s castaways this time of the year.


Jack Cust—OF (.240-25-70)

Cust is the second coming of Adam Dunn, just not as powerful. In the last three years, Cust, 30, has averaged .241-28-76 with a solid .387 on-base percentage.

Cust has been playing right field for Oakland, a position that it still unsettled in Washington because no one knows what will become of Elijah Dukes.

He made $2.8 million last year, and will command a salary in the $3.5-3.8 million range. That’s not a lot of money for someone who can deliver solid offensive numbers (with a high on-base percentage mitigated a fairly low batting average).

However, when it comes to fielding, he has even more in common with Adam Dunn.

I think the Nationals will try to resign Olsen, will say goodbye to MacDougal, and might consider bringing in one of these non-tendered players to fill a hole opened by an upcoming trade.

For instance, the Nationals could trade Josh Willingham for a starting pitcher, and replace him with a platoon of lefty Ryan Church and righty Johnny Gomes. The two would combine to hit somewhere around .270-23-80 while playing a better defense than Willingham.

It should be an interesting couple of weeks.