Hello everyone. I am back in D.C. after a successful stay in Nashville for MLB’s annual Winter Meetings.
Obviously, our biggest strike came with the signing of right-hander Dan Haren. When word of the signing began to leak out on Monday, there was a palpable buzz resonating from Nashville. Everywhere I turned at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center (and trust me, there are a lot of twists and turns due to its EXPANSIVE layout), there was someone from the media or from another club complimenting the signing. Most commented on the ideal length and quality of our rotation.
Haren fits and he really wanted to be here. He was born just outside of Los Angeles and played the vast majority of his career on the West Coast. He had other offers, but in the end, he saw an opportunity to win with us here in D.C. That really closed the deal.
There is a belief that Stephen, Gio, Jordan and Ross will really learn something about pitching from watching Haren. He is a three-time All-Star and pitched in two postseasons. And at the same time, Haren might just benefit from the jolt that comes with keeping up with our four young guns.
– I had the opportunity to have breakfast with Bo Porter while in Nashville. Both personally and organizationally, we are so proud of Bo. He is obviously very excited about the opportunity with the Astros. He knows that they have some work to do and the switch to the AL will present its own unique challenges. But the Astros picked the right man, in my opinion. And he’s a hometown manager to boot.
– I very much enjoyed our annual Affiliates Reception on Tuesday night. Most don’t know this, but Minor League Baseball’s 150-plus affiliates actually account for the vast majority of the 3,000 that annually attend the Winter Meetings. I enjoyed chatting with our extended family from Syracuse, Harrisburg, Potomac, Hagerstown and Auburn. The Nationals are very thankful for their warmth, kindness and professionalism in welcoming players as they migrate through our system.
– Unofficially, most in baseball view the Winter Meetings as the offseason’s midpoint. So, take note … Spring Training is coming quick.
The Nationals officially signed veteran right-handed pitcher Dan Haren to a one-year contract on Friday, after he passed his physical. Haren brings a solid presence and track record to the Washington rotation, giving the Nationals the fifth starter they were looking for heading into the Winter Meetings. But to call the 32 year-old Haren a “fifth starter” does not do his resume justice.
The right-hander eclipsed 216 innings in seven straight seasons prior to 2012, and carries a 119-97 career record with a 3.66 ERA. The three-time All-Star has won at least twelve games in each of his eight full seasons as a Major Leaguer, and has terrific peripheral numbers, carrying a career strikeout-to-walk rate of 4.02, averaging 189 K’s per season over that span.
Haren throws a two-seam and four-seam fastball, as well as a cutter, a splitter, a spike curveball and a changeup. His ability to mix speeds with accuracy (as evidenced by his low walk rate) helps keep hitters off-balance and makes him a highly unpredictable pitcher.
The Pepperdine product was originally selected in the second round of the 2001 First-year Player Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals. After breaking in with St. Louis, Haren was traded as part of the Mark Mulder deal to Oakland, where he came into his own as the ace of the Athletics staff from 2005-07. He was dealt to the Arizona Diamondbacks prior to the ’08 season as part of a blockbuster trade that included both Carlos Gonzalez and Brett Anderson. He was then dealt mid-season in 2010 to the Los Angeles Angels, with whom he pitched through the 2012 season.
It has been a while since Haren has been to the postseason (2006 with the A’s), but he has had success, going 2-0 with a 3.26 ERA (7 ER/19.1 IP) in seven career playoff appearances (two starts). Regardless, his wealth of regular season experience brings exactly what the Nationals were looking for in their final addition to the rotation entering the offseason.
The Nationals also announced on Monday that they have come to terms one a one-year Major League deal with pitcher Zach Duke. Duke started the 2012 season on a Minor League contract with Triple-A Syracuse, where he opened eyes with a 15-5 record and 3.51 ERA in 26 starts. That solid season earned the lefty a September call-up and he was added to the 40-man roster for the stretch run.
Duke pitched very well in his limited duties, going 1-0 with a 1.32 ERA (2 ER/13.2 IP), striking out 10 while walking four over eight relief appearances. He gives the Nationals a solid long relief option out of the ‘pen, and has the starting experience to possibly compete for a job in the rotation, or at the very least fill in as a spot starter. The 29 year-old was an All-Star with the Pirates back in 2009 and has twice notched double-digit win totals at the Major League level.
When the Nationals and Giants matched up in early July in the Nation’s Capital, the series promised to be a stiff test for Washington, facing San Francisco pitchers Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain. But after dispatching the first two, handing each their worst loss of the season, the Nationals needed only to beat Cain – who had thrown a perfect game just four starts earlier – to complete the sweep. The teams both donned 1924-era jerseys that night, the fifth of July, in commemoration of the 1924 World Series between Washington and the then-New York Giants, which the Senators had won in dramatic fashion, erasing a late deficit and eventually taking the series in the bottom of the 12th of Game 7.
Cain was in command, as the Giants built a 5-1 advantage entering the bottom of the seventh. But Washington began chipping away, riding back-to-back solo shots from Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa and a two-out, RBI-double from Bryce Harper in the seventh to cut the deficit to a single run. The score remained 5-4 until the rookie brigade took over in the ninth, with Tyler Moore doubling, Steve Lombardozzi laying down a sacrifice and reaching on an ensuing error, and Harper coming through again with an RBI-single to tie it up. After an intentional walk and a force at home, Adam LaRoche batted with the bases loaded and one out. He chopped a ball towards the hole at second, where Ryan Theriot fielded the ball and threw to second base for the force out. Brandon Crawford tried to relay the ball to first base to complete the double play, but his throw short-hopped Brandon Belt at first and got away, as Harper crossed the plate with the winning run. Just like 1924, Washington had come from behind for a thrilling, walk-off win.
With months’ worth of build up and anticipation leading into NATITUDE Weekend, Nationals fans were ready to explode with enthusiasm. And despite the Nats hot start and the Phillies slumping out of the gates, the two teams were separated by just 4.5 games entering their first matchup of the 2012 season on May 4. The opening game of the series saw Washington fall behind twice by two runs, but the hometown nine battled back with single tallies in the sixth and eighth innings to tie the game at three runs apiece, eventually forcing extra innings.
The game remained tied into the bottom of the 11th when, with two out, Steve Lombardozzi singled. Bryce Harper then worked the count full, eventually drawing a walk, and Jayson Werth took a free pass as well to load the bases for the pitcher’s spot in the lineup. Down to his final reserve player on the bench, Davey Johnson took the gamble and pinch-hit Wilson Ramos, who fell into a 1-2 hole against Phillies reliever Michael Schwimmer. The right-handed pitcher tried to throw a slider off the plate away, but the Washington backstop reached out and served it into center field, Lombadozzi racing home with the winning run. As Ramos cruised up the first base line, he turned his outstretched arms into wings, carrying the Nationals to an epic, walk-off win.
Before we get too deep into our next Down on the Farm report, let’s explain the significance of the recent roster designation of a couple players. Both Erik Davis as well as Nathan Karns, who we profiled last week, were added to the Nationals 40-man Roster, guaranteeing them an invitation to Major League Spring Training in February. In the meantime, though, the moves had a more immediate purpose: they protected the two players from potentially being snagged away by another club in the Rule 5 Draft, an annual ritual which took place Thursday morning in Nashville.
For those not well versed in this process, allow us to explain how the process works, and why it can be a very big decision. The Rule 5 Draft stands in contrast to the Rule 4 Draft, which takes place in June and is more commonly referred to as the First-Year Player Draft. It is a process in which any Minor League player who was 18 years or younger when drafted who has accumulated four years of service time (or 19 and up at time of selection with three years service) becomes eligible to be taken by other teams. However, that team must keep said player in the Major Leagues for the entire season to follow, or else the player is returned to his original team. Due to that requirement, in the last 60 years, a range of just three to 24 players has been taken per year.
So why does all of this matter? Well, both Davis and Karns are Rule 5 eligible, so the Nationals added them to the 40-man Roster in order to protect them. That means they are safely in the farm system for another year, and each could be called up to the Major Leagues at any time without making a 40-man roster move. For Karns, who topped out at High-A last year, that possibility may seem more remote for the 2013 season. But for the 26 year-old Davis, who put up impressive numbers at Double-A in 2012, it could mean much more.
We spoke recently with Harrisburg Senators Director of Broadcasting and Media Relations Terry Byrom, who shed some light on the skill set Davis brings to the diamond. A former starter who throws downhill with a great off-speed pitch and a solid curveball, he has drawn some comparison to current Nationals reliever Tyler Clippard. But Byrom had another member of the Washington bullpen in mind.
“I would say at this point that he and Christian Garcia are very similar,” he explained. “Garcia probably has better stuff, but I’m not sure I would say it’s a lot better. Erik’s stuff is good enough to play in the big leagues, absolutely, no doubt about it. He could make that roster out of Spring Training.”
Those are likely reassuring words for Davis, who saw Garcia’s ascent first-hand, both as a teammate and a roommate at various stops in the minors. And with Washington still sorting out its final bullpen spots for 2013, Byrom’s projection is not such a stretch. Given the organization’s track record of converting starters into quality relief arms once they reach higher levels of the Minor Leagues (see: Clippard, Craig Stammen, Zach Duke), there is no reason to believe Davis couldn’t follow the same path.
“I think that’s something that the Nationals have been incredibly successful at,” said Byrom, who has seen many of those pitchers make their way through Harrisburg. Especially the Minor League (instructors), they do a really good job of migrating guys from starting roles.”
Once a promising starting prospect in the Padres organization, Davis won 16 games for Low-A Fort Wayne back in 2008, and owns a career Minor League record of 45-24. The former 13th-round selection out of Stanford was acquired prior to the 2011 campaign for infielder Alberto Gonzalez, and ran into his first trouble as a starter, going just 5-12 between two levels of Washington’s farm system.
After that disappointing 2011 season, Davis moved to the ‘pen and rebounded with a very strong 2012 campaign. In 40 relief appearances with Double-A Harrisburg, Davis went 7-3 with five saves and a 2.52 ERA (18 ER/64.1 IP), striking out 69 while walking just 18 and stranding 20 of 25 inherited runners. He was promoted to Triple-A Syracuse for a short stint in August, but might have put up his most impressive showing in the Dominican Republic this fall. Pitching for Los Gigantes del Cibao, Davis went 3-0 with a 0.47 ERA, holding opponents to a .149 batting average while fanning 19 in 19.0 innings pitched. Davis credited a greater comfort in his second season with the Nationals as a reason for his improved numbers.
“When you go into a new system, obviously it’s a good thing because they traded for you, so that means they want you,” he explained. “But it’s tough not to put extra pressure on yourself to go out and do more than you’re capable of.”
Given a second chance to make a first impression, Davis has made the most of it. And despite a longer road than he may have initially expected, pitching in the Major Leagues is as close a reality as it has ever been before.
“I have the same goal with the Nationals that I did with the Padres,” he said. “I still haven’t really accomplished that goal of getting there and staying there.”
Byrom believes Davis’ continued improvement is certainly possible given his talent, and explained that if the pitcher can maintain his big league work ethic in 2013, it could very well lead to big league results.
“If he chooses to put the time and effort into it, I think that Erik Davis is going to be a guy that pitches for a long time in the bullpen in the Major Leagues.”
The Washington Nationals enjoyed unprecedented success in 2012, recording the best record in Major League Baseball. The team relied on the contributions of many different players, whom we will catalogue throughout the offseason as we look ahead to the 2013 campaign. Today we take a closer look at the other left-handed Gonzalez on the Nats pitching staff, Michael.
Every year, some teams make big splashes around the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, slinging prospects for superstars, or vice versa. The Nationals made one modest trade, landing catcher Kurt Suzuki, but one of their more intriguing pickups came well before then. In need of an extra reliever due to a bullpen thinned by injury early in the season, Washington took a flyer on veteran free agent lefty Michael Gonzalez.
While he flew under the radar much of the season – as non-closing relievers often do – Gonzalez played an integral role in Washington’s 2012 success. The 34 year-old found a home as both a lefty specialist and a high-pressure situational pitcher for the Nationals.
The Corpus Christi, TX native got off to a great start, as he did not allow a run in his first 11 appearances out of the bullpen and carried an ERA under 3.00 until the final week of the season. As expected for a southpaw with a sweeping delivery, he was particularly strong against left-handed hitters, holding them to just a .179/.257/.269 line with 23 strikeouts in 75 plate appearances. But it was his success in high leverage situations, the ones that often dictate the outcome of close games, where he truly shined.
Gonzalez was often called upon to get the Nationals out of jams, coming on with runners on base in the middle of innings. In his 47 appearances, he came on 18 times with a runner on base and 12 times with more than one. Of the 33 total basrunners Gonzalez inherited, only seven scored, meaning he stranded 26 of them (79%), the most of any Nationals reliever this past year. He also notched 39 strikeouts in just 35.2 innings of work, good for 9.8 K/9.0 IP.
Originally a 30th-round pick by the Pirates back in the 1997 Draft, Gonzalez has put together a solid 10-year Major League resume, with a career ERA of just 2.94 in nearly 400 innings, all out of the bullpen. As a free agent, it remains to be seen whether Gonzalez – who has also pitched for the Pirates, Braves, Orioles and Rangers – will return to the Nationals for the 2013 season.
Greetings from the Opryland Hotel in Nashville.
Baseball’s Winter Meetings are well underway and almost at its halfway point.
But remember, Mike Rizzo made his primary strike last week with the addition of Denard Span.
In the weeks approaching the actual trade, Mike sold us on Denard and his place within our culture in D.C. His intangibles fit. As does his offensive game. As does his left-handed swing. As does his defense in center field, which frees up Bryce Harper from the rigors of that position and nudges Jayson Werth into a lineup spot befitting his talents (although he really was a heck of a leadoff hitter last year).
And when was the last time a Davey Johnson team had a true leadoff hitter of this caliber? I’ll have to ask him later today. Perhaps Eric Young in 1999 with the Dodgers?
As attractive as Denard is, to trade a young pitcher with Alex Meyer’s obvious talents is always difficult. We truly enjoyed having him in our organization and wish him nothing but the best in his future with the Twins.
I again have enjoyed the dialogue and debate that Mike cultivates in our War Room here in Nashville. The expertise and recall that all of our scouts possess on so many players is really remarkable. The stories told can only be described as priceless. It really is a fantastic group that Mike has brought together. Trust me when I say, these guys have it all covered.
I am also very much looking forward to NatsFest (Saturday, January 26 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center), which was officially announced yesterday. We think the timing and venue for NatsFest are the ideal way to celebrate last season and pivot toward what is setting up to be an exciting 2013 campaign. Cannot wait.
Until we blog again …
It’s December, the time of year for oversized family meals, eggnog, lots of gift-giving, and colder weather (eventually… we think). The end of the year also brings about all of the “Best Of” lists. With so many signature moments to choose from this year, we thought we’d let you vote on the Top 12 of ’12, the best of the best in an unforgettable year.
Watch the videos below, then go to the bottom of the page to cast your vote. Our poll is an open one, meaning you can vote for as many different moments as many times as you would like through Thursday at noon. However, we’re keeping the results secret, and will begin unveiling our list with Number 12 on Thursday afternoon. Which moment deserves to be Number One? You decide.
Opening Day Walk-off (4/12 vs. CIN)
After Gio Gonzalez introduced himself to the Nationals faithful with a gem in the home opener, Ryan Zimmerman scampered home on a wild pitch in the 10th inning to give the Nationals a walk-off win.
Desmond’s “Dunk” (5/2 vs. ARI)
Trailing by a run with two outs in the ninth, all while sitting on a season-high, five-game losing streak, Ian Desmond delivered the biggest blast of his season, a two-run, game-winning bomb to the visiting bullpen in left-center field.
Ramos Flies To Victory on NATITUDE Weekend (5/4 vs. PHI)
In Washington’s first meeting with the five-time defending division champion Phillies, the teams battled into the 11th before Wilson Ramos, the last bat on the bench, delivered a bases-loaded single up the middle to send the crowd into a frenzy as he sailed up the first base line.
Harper Steals Home (5/6 vs. PHI)
Phillies hurler Cole Hamels thought he’d welcome Bryce Harper to the big leagues by plunking him with the first pitch of his first at-bat. Harper responded by racing first-to-third on a two-out single, then breaking for the plate on Hamels’ lazy pick-off throw to first, swiping home for his first Major League steal.
Teenage Dream (6/5 vs. NYM)
After Desmond tied the game three times late, Harper delivered the first walk-off of his career (and the first by a teenager in Major League Baseball since 1988) in the bottom of the 12th inning.
Old School Walk-off (7/5 vs. SF)
On Turn Back the Clock Night, with both teams sporting their 1924-era jerseys, the Nationals completed a three-game sweep of San Francisco by coming back late against Matt Cain and – just like the Senators did against the Giants in ’24 – walking off to victory.
Beast of a Comeback (7/29 @ MIL)
Sometimes, one set of late heroics isn’t enough. That was no problem for Michael Morse, who delivered a game-tying, two-run home run in the ninth, followed by a game-winning, two-run double in the 11th to lead the Nats past the Brewers, 11-9, in one of the craziest games of the year.
“The Catch” (8/7 @ HOU)
There were plenty of great catches in Major League Baseball this year, but few were more important than the improbable, disappearing act grab that Roger “The Shark” Bernadina pulled out of his hat, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.
Gi-000000000 (8/31 vs. STL)
As dominant as Gio Gonzalez can be, he had yet to notch a complete game shutout on his impressive resume. That all changed on August 31 against the defending champs, as he blanked the Cardinals for nine frames to earn his 17th win of the year.
Dirty Dozen (9/4-5 vs. CHC)
The Nationals set a club record, blasting six home runs to beat the Cubs on September 4. How did they follow up that epic performance? By blasting six more the very next night, including three in one inning (the “Nat Trick”). All told, eight different players got in on the act, with Adam LaRoche accounting for three of the bombs.
Washington Nationals (@Nationals) September 06, 2012
Morse’s Phantom Grand Slam (9/29 @ STL)
What do you do when your grand slam – initially ruled a single – is upheld on video replay? If you’re Michael Morse, you head back around the bases, all the way to the batter’s box, then toss in a phantom swing for good measure before heading into your trot.
Werth Game 4 Walk-off (10/11 vs. STL)
When you’re embroiled in a classic postseason battle, with neither team giving an inch, the game often comes down to one pitch. For Jayson Werth, Game 4 of the NLDS came down to the 13th pitch of the longest at-bat of his career, which he hammered into a red sea of deafening euphoria for the win.
With the 2012 Baseball Winter Meetings kicking off today in Nashville, we sat down with Nationals Assistant General Manager Bryan Minniti to gain some insight from the game’s premiere offseason event. This year marks Minniti’s 10th attending the meetings, the dynamics of which have changed fairly dramatically over that time. He provided some perspective on the event’s evolution, as well as insights into what goes on behind closed doors as baseball’s hot stove is ignited in earnest.
Curly W Live: What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the decade that you’ve been attending?
Bryan Minniti: The biggest change is the media. There’s a significant amount of media there now that didn’t used to be there. Also agents, many more agents attend now than used to attend. It was always a crowded occasion – you have all the Minor League folks, all the Major League folks. Now almost every agent is there at least for a day or two and every media outlet from everywhere. Not only that, but the national media tend to camp out almost 24 hours a day in the lobby and they’ll run programming on their networks.
CWL: How much have the meetings grown over the years?
BM: It feels like there’s a million times more people. The reality is it’s hard to say. Every hotel holds it a little differently, too. When these things are in a hotel like The Opryland in Nashville, you can get lost very easily there. There’s a ton of space and a ton of places to hide, where a lot of other hotels there’s nowhere to hide, everyone’s in the same lobby and it’s just a massive hoard of people.
CWL: Everyone talks about “the lobby,” which is essentially just that – the lobby of the hotel hosting the meetings. Why has that became such a social meeting place, and how much time do you spend there?
BM: I’m a nobody. There’s a reason GMs can’t go to the lobby almost at all, except at three in the morning. It’s pretty rare to see GMs float through the lobby, and that’s because there are agents, there are media members, there are other team executives who you know, scouts, what not, all there who want to say hello, catch up, talk to you about a player, talk to you about an affiliate, talk to you about whatever’s going on. So there’s people all over the place. And that’s part of what makes the meetings fun, but also part of what makes them challenging – there’s thousands of people there, a lot of people you see and you want to have conversations with, but you don’t always have the time because there are so many folks in the same room.
CWL: Some people still cling to the old image of Winter Meetings, with General Managers sitting around into the wee hours chatting and swinging late-night deals with one another. Was that ever really the case, and how has that dynamic changed?
I think in the past it was a lot more focused on team-to-team interactions. I think the times you’re describing – even when I first started – there were more baseball executives in the lobby talking substance, and I think going back to the old days of the Winter Meetings, there were GMs just setting up shop in the lobby and meeting with other GMs and talking about trades and getting deals done right on the spot. I don’t think that stuff happens quite as much anymore because there’s a little bit of a resistance to go down to the lobby and spend so much time. You can’t have a direct conversation with another team’s General Manager without a media member seeing it and tweeting it and talking about it and all of the sudden it’s news everywhere. You have people staking out agent’s suites and team’s suites to see who is coming and going so they can talk about it on whatever the program is they’re doing. I think that’s part of the challenge in trying to get away from that stuff. You’ll see less people interacting face-to-face in the lobby on substantive issues.
CWL: Describe a typical day for you during the meetings.
For us, our typical day is to spend a good chunk of the day in the team suite. Every team will have a suite, a lot of agents will have suites. Occasionally you’ll go to another team’s suite or an agent’s suite to talk to them about potential trades or what’s going on with their roster, that type of stuff. For the most part, you spend a lot of time in your own suite with your own staff talking through different trade scenarios, different free agent scenarios, Rule V Draft scenarios, that type of stuff.
CWL: You mentioned the Rule V Draft (which we will take a deeper look at on Wednesday). How much attention is paid to that, and how important is it?
You always pay attention as soon as the reserve lists are filed. You send documents out to all your scouts and coaches to try to identify players who were left off rosters that you think could contribute to the Major League club either next year or in the future. If it’s a high enough upside guy, you may have to get creative and hide him for a season, then continue his development the following year. I don’t want to say we spend hours on end each day, but we analyze it. Nowadays it’s much easier – you go through all your scouting reports, your tools analysis on all your reports and you talk to your scouts about if they had a good read on this guy, or on that guy. At the end of the day, you end up boiling it down to five or six names you’re talking about for the Major League Draft and a handful of players for the Minor League side. There’s less consequence for the Minor League side, so you’ll see more players taken on the Minor League side.
CWL: For someone who’s never been to the Winter Meetings, what are some of the pros and cons, and what are your highlights of the week?
It’s probably not something as a fan that you want to spend more than a half-hour or an hour around (laughs), because it’s just a bunch of people talking shop. You’re probably not going to get into the conversation unless you know them. But it’s pretty exciting as a team executive. And again, it’s changed a lot over the years, but there’s a huge buzz when you get there. You get to see a lot of folks from other teams that you only get to see a handful of times a year. There’s a lot of energy and a lot of stuff happening. You do get to spend a lot of time with people, so you never know what’s going to happen – trades, free agent signings. We have a reception we do every year with our Minor League affiliates. We do a staff dinner. There’s a Scout of the Year banquet we go to every year which is a lot of fun and really cool to see a lot of veteran guys get honored. So things like that are fun traditions every year.
Thanks again to Bryan Minniti for sharing his insights. We’ll have more coverage of the Winter Meetings all week long here on Curly W Live, so make sure to check back in for the latest happenings from Nashville.