Washington Nationals Can Upgrade First Base with Jorge Cantu and Call It Good

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Washington Nationals Can Upgrade First Base with Jorge Cantu and Call It Good
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For the last couple of days, I have been doing a lot of writing about the loss of Adam Dunn and how that affects the Washington Nationals.

I've been comparing Dunn's offensive capabilities against two of his most likely replacements, Carlos Pena and Adam LaRoche, and have come to the conclusion that even those two might be more than the Nationals need in 2011.

The Nationals are going to be a better team next season, but not so much better that they are going to be in any pennant chase, even on the periphery. So why spend $8 or $10 million on a replacement when that player will be little more than a public relations move for the fans?

There is no make-or-break player available on the free-agent market or available for trade this off season, so why not lay the foundation for bigger moves next year? Also, Stephen Strasburg won't be back until late in 2011 and his return will be like adding a type-A free agent.

So 2012 is the future of the Washington Nationals.

Following the 2011 season, Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez (now with Boston) and Albert Pujols will be free agents. Certainly, other teams will be in pursuit as well, but the Nationals would certainly have the resources to sign any one of them.

If the Nationals show improvement next season, one or more might be willing to listen.

Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Further, first base prospects Chris Marrero (.294-18-82) and Tyler Moore (.269-31-111) are still too young to be able to project if and when they will be able to play first for the Nationals any time soon.

So if the Nationals aren't interested in moving either Josh Willingham or Mike Morse to first (and that seems to be the case), they need a cheap, capable first baseman who has shown in the past he can be counted on.

Enter Jorge Cantu.

Cantu, 29, has spent seven years in the major leagues, splitting time between Tampa Bay and Florida (before being traded to Texas late last season). Over a 162-game season, he has averaged .274-21-94 with 41 doubles and a .320 on-base percentage.

Offensively, he's similar to Nick Johnson but without the walks (Johnson has averaged .270-20-80 over 162 games played).

He had an off year last season due mostly to his difficulty in learning the pitchers in the American League but his statistics with the Marlins, expanded to 162 games, were just fine. He was on track to hit .262-26-90 in a full season with Florida but his one home run in 98 at-bats with Texas derailed his season.

But as we've learned with Adam Dunn, power numbers don't tell the whole story. Let's compare Cantu's lifetime clutch hitting stats with those of Dunn to see just how much he really will be missed.

Is Adam Dunn's home runs and RBI more important to the Nationals than Jorge Cantu's clutch hitting?

Submit Vote vote to see results

First, let's take a look at just their stats while playing first base. Both players have played extensively at other positions so this is how the two players' stats would look based only time at first and averaged into a 162-game season (easier for comparison purposes)

Jorge Cantu: .285-28-92, .340 OBP and .459 slugging

Adam Dunn: .248-39-102, .376 OBP and .522 slugging

Over 162 games, and based only on offensive production while at first, the differences between the two players are not as much as you would think.

Now lets look at the clutch statistics:

Two out, runners in scoring position:

Cantu: .280/.358/.453

Dunn: .214/.429/.443

Now that's ugly for Adam, but it gets even worse. His batting average for balls in play (strikeouts don't effect batting average) is just .191 while Cantu's is a robust .307.

Late in the game with the score close:

Cantu: .274/.320/.413

Dunn: .233/.382/.476

While Dunn's batting average for balls in play is better at .295, it still pales when compared to Cantu's .324.

Greg Fiume/Getty Images

When the game is tied:

Cantu: .279/.312/.464

Dunn: .247/.386/.539

Dunn's batting average for balls in play here is just .240, 56 points below Cantu's .296.

When team is behind:

Cantu: .274/.323/.444

Dunn: .253/.364/.511

Dunn's .306 average when he puts the ball in play in this category is actually higher than Cantu's .301.

So, just like Adam LaRoche and Carlos Pena, while Jorge Cantu's offensive numbers at first glance don't look as impressive as Dunn's, he is a far better clutch hitter in the later innings and with the game on the line. So while we all loved Adam, he couldn't field well and didn't hit very well when we needed him most.

Cantu was traded by the Marlins this season in part because of the 16 errors he committed but he was playing third base in 2010. At first, he plays acceptable defense and certainly much better than Dunn.

As much as in pains me to say, Adam Dunn won't be missed by the Washington Nationals in 2011. Either Jorge Cantu or Adam LaRoche can provide the team with more hits and runs when they are needed most, late in the game and with runners on base.

Either Cantu or LaRoche would be a good one-year stop-gap until someone better comes along. 

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