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The Nats Should Acquire Emilio Bonifacio

Coming into the off-season the most pressing need for the Nationals was to improve the bench. For the most part they've done it. The one MLB free agent contract they gave out was to Nate McLouth, a fourth outfielder, and they have signed 25 minor league free agents, many of them utility infielders. Between Danny Espinosa, Jamey Carroll, and Mike Fontenot the Nationals should be able to find a decent enough utility infielder, but the bench still could use some work. The Nationals never got the back-up catcher they wanted and while the depth at utility infielder is impressive all of them come with giant question marks. Jamey Carroll is 40 years old, Danny Espinosa may have too big an ego to accept the role, and Mike Fontenot is not a good enough defender. That means that the Nationals could upgrade that area by getting a known quantity.  With most free agents off the market and only the ones with draft picks attached and bargain bin types left Mike Rizzo and the Nats need a player to fall into their laps and they may have happened when the Royals signed Bruce Chen and designated Emilio Bonifacio for assignment. Bonifacio is a known quantity as a utility player with a career batting line of .262/.322/.340 batting line, solid for a bench player and great for one that can play three infield positions and three outfield positions as well as a stolen base threat. Bonifacio is due over $3 million and that may be why the Royals have been unable to trade him without designating him after they signed Omar Infante, but now they don't have much of a choice and the return isn't going to be that great.

It is unsure what the Royals would want back in a trade of Bonifacio but it shouldn't take more than a minor league pitcher or even cash considerations. Whatever it is that the Royals get back it won't be a lot and is close to irrelevant in the discussion of acquiring Bonifacio. The Nationals are a team with a need at the position and could use more bench help. Bonifacio's ability to steal bases makes him a good player for the system that it sounds like Matt Williams wants to use, and aside from being a stolen base threat when starting games or when getting on base when pinch hitting Bonifacio could be used as a late inning pinch runner. The Nats could do the same thing with Nate McLouth or Danny Espinosa but it is always better to have more of those guys and again it is an unknown if Danny Espinosa would accept a utility role.

Bonifacio makes sense for the Nationals. They still need to improve the bench and there is no better way to do that than acquiring a player that fills the weakest remaining spot on the bench, has good numbers for a utility player, and not only can back-up three infield positions but can also play three outfield positions. Bonifacio fits in with both the Nats needs and Matt Williams expected play style. Add it all up and this is a player Mike Rizzo and the Nats should make a run at.

Ian Desmond Should Bat Third

As I continue to think about the Nationals line-up I find one glaring weakness. If I thought like an old school manager this weakness wouldn't exist as I'd bat my best speed guy, Denard Span, first and my best contact guy, Anthony Rendon, second, and while there is value in that I do not think that is the best approach. It sacrifices too much OBP in favor of offensive skills that don't really matter. It could also be the way to go if Span can be around his career average .350 OBP and Rendon develops like many expect. Ultimately the components that make-up a line-up are far more important than the order they are placed in, but why teams shy away from having their best hitters in the spots that will get the most at bats is beyond me. In my dream scenario the first and second spots in the batting order belong to Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper.

This is where the weakness comes into play. In my imaginings I've always placed Ryan Zimmerman third because Ryan Zimmerman has always batted third and should always bat third. This is the way things have always been and the way they should continue to be, but that isn't exactly the case. Ryan Zimmerman spent a number of games last season batting second or fourth and for his career is virtually the same batter no matter where he hits in the order. That is as it should be. Announcers and TV analyst talk about leading-off or hitting third being different but a player is placed in those positions because of an already displayed skill set and not to bat differently. This is why in my preferred batting order Ian Desmond should bat third.

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Jayson Werth, Shin-Soo Choo, and Line-up Construction

The Shin-Soo Choo to the Rangers on a $130 million contract is old news and many people have pointed out that if Jayson Werth were a free agent this off-season the four years and $83 million remaining on his contract would be a fair deal. What hasn't been pointed out is one of the main criticisms of the Nats signing Jayson Werth was that when they did it they planned on batting him second. Werth as a National has batted all over the place but he has never been more effective than when he was leading off near the end of 2012. It should come as no surprise that with Werth and Harper batting one, two the Nationals saw the best offensive production of their existence. 

It wasn't that long ago where the thinking of the experts on television was that $126 million was too much for a top of the order bat, but that thinking has changed and it isn't because Choo is a markedly different player than Jayson Werth. Choo just signed a seven year $130 million deal to lead off for the Rangers. He is heading into his age 31 season whereas Werth was heading into his age 32 season, but that is only a difference of one season. Werth was signed to such a large deal based mostly on his .282/.380/.506 slash line he put up with the Phillies, but even Werth's career slash line before the contract of .272/.367/.481 is good and comparable to Choo's career line of .288/.389/.465. Werth has slightly more power, Choo gets on base a little better, but the numbers are close enough that it is easy to call them two players with similar skill sets.

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The Washington Nationals All Time Line-up

It seems like yesterday that Livan Hernandez, Brad Wilkerson, Nick Johnson, Chad Cordero, and the rest of the 2005 Nationals were playing baseball in DC for the first time in my life. 2005 will always be a special season for me, and it is about to enter our collective conscience even more. 2014 is the tenth season that the Washington Nationals have been in town. That is cause enough for me to look back and name the Nationals best line-up.

The rules for this are simple. One player at each position, including starting pitcher, and then one relief pitcher. As far as who those players will be I am going to use a combination of stats, sentimentality, and personal judgment. There are some positions with a clear cut statistical leader, but there are others where that person just isn't someone we'd want as a part of an all time line-up. That is enough for the introduction. It is time to get to the list which I am putting in the order I would bat the players. Not their fWAR ranking or personal measure of greatness.

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As Washington DC Sports Fans turn to Baseball Remember OBP equals Time of Possession

When baseball fans huddle together and complain about the masses one of the biggest complaints about Washington DC's sports fan base is that there are too many football fans. That they view baseball through the football colored glasses of a short season and reactionary moves. A player has a bad week or two to start the season and it is time to get rid of them, or a pitcher has a bad inning and it is time for the manager to come get them. The type of responses to baseball that a baseball fan wouldn't have. The lack of understanding that it is a long season riddled with small sample sizes and that players that are slumping at one moment can suddenly not only regress to the mean but past it and become the hottest player on the team. 

The Washington DC fan base is reactionary, but explaining baseball to a football fan shouldn't be that difficult. In some cases baseball may even be behind football when it comes to understanding some of the complexities of the game and what leads to winning. Nearly every football analyst on the planet talks about clock management and time of possession as being keys to the game. Baseball is no different. There is no clock in baseball but the team that ends up with the most base runners is most likely to win. Time of possession in football and OBP in baseball are close enough that one can be used to explain the other. 

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The Nats Final Bench Spot

If the season were to start this minute the Nats bench would be Scott Hairston, Nate McLouth, Danny Espinosa, Chris Snyder, and someone else. The Nats could still sign John Buck to be the back-up catcher or a utility infielder to either compete with Danny Espinosa in spring or to supplant him, but that open spot is currently filled by nobody with no obvious answer as to who it should be. There are many that think it should be Tyler Moore to platoon with LaRoche but only 24% of Adam LaRoche's career plate appearances have been against left handed pitchers and his career .729 OPS against them is better than Tyler Moore's .659. Even though LaRoche is significantly worse against left handed pitchers than he is against right handers but his numbers against left handed pitchers is still better than Tyler Moore's. 

The idea of finding a platoon partner for LaRoche isn't a bad one but it should be someone that can handle limited at bats and is a good hitter against left handed pitchers. In other words it shouldn't be Tyler Moore. Earlier in the off-season the Nats were linked to career bench bat, and Garfield High graduate Jeff Baker. As of now he remains unsigned. Unlike Tyler Moore he has shown an ability to hit in limited at bats and has a career .875 OPS against left handed pitching. He can also back up third base, left field, and right field. Jeff Baker would give the Nats more versatility and a better bat than Tyler Moore as well as giving them the platoon partner they may want for Adam LaRoche.

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The Ecstasy of Pitching

The Nationals currently have ten pitchers that could pitch in the big leagues and even more if you figure someone like AJ Cole or Paul Demny would be given shots out of Spring Training, that is if these were the 2008 or 2009 Nationals. In fact the five pitchers behind the projected starting five (Jordan, Roark, Ohlendorf, Karns, Young) would be a better Opening Day rotation than that calendar date saw in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 for the Nationals. The pitching rich Nationals is much more of a recent development, but even with four pitchers that project to put up top of the rotation level numbers and a bevy of guys that can fill the back of the rotation behind them the Nationals don't have enough pitching. 

The only reason being that there is never enough pitching, and there is no such thing as having too much talent. There are five rotation spots and seven bullpen spots on the majority of major league teams. There are thirteen pitchers that are going to start the season on the Opening Day roster, and last season in MLB the average team needed 23 pitchers to make it through the season. That brings us finally to the point that like the lust for gold, the lust for pitching can never be satiated. Sure the Washington Nationals traded for Doug Fister earlier in the off-season, but that only gives them four very good pitchers and leaves them with a couple of open spots in the bullpen. There is one additional move, one big fish still on the market, which the Nationals could make to solidify their roster even more.

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The Case Against Extending Jordan Zimmermann

With how much love role players like Michael Morse and Steve Lombardozzi have garnered from Nats fans as they've left town it will be amazing to see what happens when the Washington Nationals lose a legitimate star player. With Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann both two years away from free agency there is a high likelihood that that day is soon approaching. The Nationals have made several overtures to Jordan Zimmermann but no deal has been reached or even come close. Zimmermann wants fair market value which is understandable but what is fair market value for a pitcher like him?

Zack Greinke with a career 3.65 ERA and one Cy Young under his belt set the record for free agent pitchers with the $147 million contract he signed last off-season heading into his age 29 season. Jordan Zimmermann doesn't have a Cy Young and will be heading into his age 30 season when he hits free agency but with 4.00 ERA 200 inning starters getting between $10-15 million this off-season one can only imagine what Jordan Zimmermann would get as a free agent if he can pitch 400 innings over the next two seasons and maintains his career 3.40 ERA. When looking at this from Jordan Zimmermann's perspective and seeing the amount of money handed out to sub-par pitchers this off-season, free agency is awfully tempting.

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Strasburg is an Ace

This was the blog post I was hoping to not write this off-season and honestly I felt that the ‘Strasburg is not an Ace’ talk would come from the other side of the spectrum. That the talk of Strasburg not being an Ace would be due to his perceived mental issues and 8-9 record. Instead it came from courtswift over on Nats 101. I will say that I do have some issues with the methodology before getting into my opinion on why Strasburg is an Ace, but I can sum it up quite simply by saying that by using simply fWAR to define what an Ace is eliminates Tom Glavine. Tom Glavine average 3.215 WAR over a 20 year career. Glavine should absolutely be in the Hall of Fame and I have a hard time saying a Hall of Fame pitcher is anything but an Ace.

Defining an Ace is a funny thing. It is kind of like defining peace. It is term that is going to mean something different to everyone. I should say here that courtswift tends to be a small Ace person whereas I am a large Ace person. In my opinion there are 30 Aces in baseball because there are 30 teams and if the world were fair every team would have their own Ace. As we all know the world isn't fair and some teams like the Mariners, Phillies, and Tigers end up with more than one Ace whereas others like the Braves and Orioles have none.

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Frankensteining a Fifth Starter

Look at any rotation in baseball and it is obvious that no team is going to make it through the season using only five starters. Most people chalk this up to the high occurrence of injuries among starting pitchers and call it a day, but underperformance, weather, and trades can be just as much at fault as injury for teams using more than five starters. Get above a certain level of quality and those teams have two or three solid 180-200 inning starters and then a bunch of other names moving in and out of the rotation based on performance. Given the recent history of Strasburg, Zimmermann, Fister, and Gonzalez there is no reason to think that somewhere between 160-200 innings are likely from all four. That leaves the Nationals with one open spot in the rotation that is either going to be occupied by Ross Detwiler, Taylor Jordan, Ross Ohlendorf, or Tanner Roark, and there is no reason it can't be all of them.

The thought is that one of those four will win the job out of Spring Training and pitch until they are either so bad they have to be removed from the rotation or get hurt and then it will be the duty of the next man up to fill that spot, but there is another way. To find it takes only a quick glimpse to the north. The Orioles got 170 innings plus from two starters, Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez, over 130 from the injured Jason Hammels and Wei-Yin Chin and no more than 90 from anyone else. Most of the pitchers that made up the bottom of the Orioles rotation are what would be called swing men. Pitchers that are somewhere between being a bad starter and a mediocre reliever, but yet the Orioles found a way to somewhat use them effectively. This method worked far better in 2012 than it did in 2013 and the overall weakness of the pitching was exposed when trying to use it for three spots instead of one or two, but that doesn't mean it isn't a good idea or one that can't be refined to work for the Nationals fifth starter. 

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