While much of the Nationals’ focus this winter has revolved around center field and the starting rotation, one additional area that will need to be addressed is the remainder of the 25-man roster, notably the bench. In particular, it is currently unclear who the team’s reserve outfielders will be once the season begins in April. There has not been much discussion on the subject, as let’s face it, filling out the bench is not a priority at this point in time when there are still holes in the starting lineup. However, let’s take a look at an outside the box idea that could benefit the team overall.
* I feel as though this post should contain a warning. Like most of Joe Posnanski’s work, this one gets a little wordy.
In the season were to start today, the Nationals’ starting outfield would likely consist of Jayson Werth in right field, Roger Bernadina in center field, and Michael Morse in left field. Presuming the team does acquire a center fielder at some point this winter, Werth and Morse are still likely to be flanking them in the corner outfield positions. Bernadina, if not traded, would move to a 4th outfielder role. But, that would still potentially leave an opening for another player on the roster with the capability of handling the outfield (a need which could increase if/when Morse starts to see more of his at bats coming at first base).
Before I continue on to address this outside the box idea, I should take a moment to address the inevitable question: What about just giving Bryce Harper an opportunity in April?
I’m not opposed to giving Harper a chance to win a spot on the roster this Spring. He needs to do just that, however, win a spot on the roster. Harper is an incredible talent by all accounts and will ultimately play a vital role in the Nationals push for contention in the coming years. But rushing his arrival in Washington serves little purpose (outside of perhaps an attendance boost) and won’t be beneficial to Harper’s development. It is believed that the organization hasn’t ruled out the idea of Harper making the team out of Spring Training, but it is far from a foregone conclusion. Hopefully missing out on some of the bigger name free agents thus far won’t cause the organization to feel pressured to rush Harper’s arrival as a way to appease a disappointed fan base.
Personally, I’m hoping that Harper spends a month or two in Triple-A – gaining more exposure, more experience, and more seasoning. I think it will be good for him, in terms of longterm potential. The fact that keeping him in the minors for two months pushes back his arbitration clock is irrelevant in this discussion, as I quite simply don’t think that’s a big concern for the organization at this point in time. But, to get back to our original point, for the sake of argument let’s not include Harper in our look at the team’s current outfield options.
As I mentioned, the current projected outfield for next season looks to be Werth, Bernadina, and Morse. Werth and Morse are assured starting spots, so we won’t bother talking too much about them for now. Bernadina, however, is currently finding himself on the proverbial roster bubble at this point in time. The 27 year old is out of options – meaning the team needs to carry him on the active roster or else expose him to waivers, through which they could lose him for nothing – which further complicates his roster status to a degree.
Bernadina is a career .242/.304/.364 hitter in 889 plate appearances. He’s added 18 HR, 76 RBI, and 38 stolen bases in inconsistent playing time over the past four seasons. He’s appeared in 254 career games, spread fairly evenly between the three outfield positions – so his defensive versatility is certainly a plus, though most defensive metrics rate him below average in center field (just part of why he isn’t a serious candidate to fill the open starting job there). Bernadina will head to arbitration this winter, as a Super Two, and is likely looking at a contract for next season in the neighborhood of $2-3 Million. He will be under team control for four more seasons, including 2012. If Washington is serious about moving him, it seems reasonable to believe that there could be some level of interest out there*.
* Minnesota, for one, could be a possibility considering they wanted Bernadina as part of a package last July when the two teams were discussing Denard Span as they approached the trade deadline.
Tangent aside, as this post wasn’t intended as a discussion of why Bernandina could be traded (though his weaknesses do reinforce my point that the team needs a solid bench option who can handle regular playing time), let’s move on to the crux of the argument – the Nationals need to add depth and there’s a trade which just might resolve that need.
Mid-Thursday afternoon the Chicago Cubs and Colorado Rockies agreed to a four player trade. The Cubs received infielder Ian Stewart (who’ll likely be given a chance to win the third base job in light of Aramis Ramirez leaving via free agency) and right-handed pitcher Casey Weathers (a former 1st Round pick who has yet to pitch above Double-A due to control problems). The Rockies received outfielder Tyler Colvin (another former 1st Round pick who’s struggled in limited MLB action) and infielder D.J. LeMahieu (who figures to see playing time at both second and third base). The move – concurrent with other moves the Rockies have made this winter (claiming Jamie Hoffman off waivers for additional depth) and are rumored to be pursuing (the team is rumored to be considering a three year offer for Michael Cuddyer and has also been connected to Cody Ross) – gives the Rockies a wealth of outfield depth and potentially a surplus they would be willing to further deal from.
Colorado has already been fielding offers for the past few weeks on Seth Smith, though no deals seem imminent on that front and he isn’t the option I’d like to see the Nationals pursue anyway – yes, finally the outside the box idea I mentioned in the first paragraph of this post. The option I’d like to see the Nationals pursue is actually Eric Young Jr.
Young has served in a utility role for the Rockies for parts of the past three seasons, seeing limited playing time when he’s been with the big league club in Colorado. The better part of that playing time (93 out of 106 career games) has been split evenly between left field and second base – the same two positions his father, Eric Young, played during a 15-year career. EY Jr. isn’t going to win a Gold Glove anytime soon – his speed makes up for poor reads which limit his range as an outfielder and he has some trouble at times making the routine plays in the infield – but he is still serviceable in the field and wouldn’t be considered a serious defensive liability by any means. He’s seemed stronger as a second baseman, like his father was, but the defensive versatility is a plus.
In 479 career plate appearances with the Rockies, Young has hit .246/.324/.295 with a home run, 19 RBI, and 48 stolen bases. He hit .247/.342/.298 with 10 RBI and 27 steals in 229 plate appearances during the 2011 season. In an additional 275 plate appearances with Triple-A he added a .363/.454/.552 line with 2 HR, 28 RBI, and 17 steals.
Over parts of 8 minor league seasons since he was drafted by the Rockies in 2003 (30th Round) Young has received 3,015 minor league plate appearances. He’s batted .297/.388/.423 over that span, showing a strong on base ability. He also totaled 330 stolen bases and 340 walks (to just 471 strikeouts). Young hasn’t shown much in the Majors at the plate to date, but the potential is certainly there.
In total Young has amassed just over a year’s worth of MLB service time, meaning he won’t be arbitration eligible until after the 2013 season and won’t reach free agency until after the 2016 campaign. That’s five years of team control remaining, an important factor to keep in mind when it comes to this discussion. That fact limits Colorado’s reasons to deal him and increases the potential bounty another organization might need to pay for his services.
With Washington Young could potentially serve in a number of roles. Primarily he would be a versatile option off the bench for defensive reasons – be it a late game substitution or potentially coming off the bench in an injury situation – due to the fact that he can handle second base and the corner outfield positions. Young does have some experience in center field, though it is far from his strongest position. The versatility gives the organization flexibility with the remainder of the active roster – potentially allowing the team to carry an extra bat in place of a more defensively inclined option. Young gives the organization outfield depth – especially if Bernadina is traded – and could serve as depth in the infield as well – depending on whether the team needs to include Stephen Lombardozzi or Ian Desmond in a trade for a regular center fielder and/or starting pitcher.
Young also has shown an ability to get on base with consistency and has hit in the minor leagues. It’s possible with some consistent playing time he is able to hit more in line with his career minor league numbers as well. I’m not suggesting he could be a starter with Washington, but given the current roster makeup and the role I can envision Young filling, I see a high probability that he could receive 350+ plate appearances this coming season – more consistent playing time than he’s seen thus far in his career. In addition, Young is a strong baserunner and a threat to steal bases. Having such a player coming off the bench, late in games as the team approaches a pennant race perhaps, is going to be a nice option. He’s never going to develop into a power hitter, but if he can get on base with regularity and continue stealing bases with a high degree of success then he would still be capable of getting himself into scoring position.
Young fits the needs of the Nationals right now. He’s under team control for a number of years at a cost affordable salary. His strengths (speed) can help him overcome some of his weaknesses (brick hands, poor reads off the bat) and he’s shown the potential to get better. So, what then could it take to acquire him from the Rockies, presuming they’re willing to discuss moving him?
Taking a look at the Rockies current 40-man roster, it would seem at first glance that Young could certainly be available. The team’s outfield looks to include Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler and some combination of Ryan Spilborghs, Charlie Blackmon, Smith, Colvin, and Hoffman. Plus, rumors continue regarding the team’s interest in Cuddyer – which would only further add to the team’s ability/need to make a trade.
In the infield it’s clear that Todd Helton and Troy Tulowitski will have starting roles. Beyond that the team is likely looking at some combination of Chris Nelson, Jonathan Herrera, LeMahieu, and Young. Jordan Pacheco could also factor in here at the infield corners. Of course, that’s assuming the team doesn’t pickup another infielder somewhere. Plus, don’t forget at some point top prospect Nolan Arenado will arrive, at which point he’ll likely take over third base. Once again, it would seem that the team has the depth to withstand making a trade.
However, not only would it appear that the Rockies have enough infield and outfield depth to make a trade, it also means that the team has little need for another infielder or outfielder. Instantly we’ve limited the possible pieces that could be dealt in an effort to acquire Young. This means we have to look at Colorado’s pitching staff.
With consideration to the additions the team has made last July and this winter, the starting rotation is likely looking to be some combination of Jhoulys Chacin, Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, Tyler Chatwood, and Esmil Rogers. While all five pitchers show a great deal of promise – particularly Pomeranz and Chacin – none are very experienced and the team is going to end up needing depth at some point during the upcoming season. Jorge De La Rosa will eventually return from injury, but it would be surprising to see the team merely stand pat and wait for him to be fully healthy. So, a starting pitcher could perhaps be an option here.
The Rockies also could potentially use a reliever. They just recently shipped Huston Street to San Diego, opening a need for a new closer. It seems likely that role will be filled from within – perhaps Rafael Betancourt, with Matt Belisle and Matt Lindstrom in setup roles ahead of him.
So, pitching could potentially be an appealing option for the Rockies if Washington were to approach them about a deal for Young. Considering Young’s place in the depth charts – essentially as a backup, an option off the bench (again, the same role I’d like to see him fill for the Nationals) – he may not be overly expensive to acquire. The Nationals’ top pitching prospects – Brad Peacock, Tom Milone, even Cole Kimball – are all likely too much to give up, so they can easily be eliminated from the discussion. That also eliminates a number of the team’s current options on the active roster – John Lannan, Tyler Clippard, or Sean Burnett would also likely be too much for Young.
That pushes us down to the next tier of Washington pitchers where we do find some possibilities. I’d be comfortable with any one of Tom Gorzelanny, Doug Slaten, Craig Stammen, Atahualpa Severino, or Yunesky Maya being dealt. I don’t see any of them having a significant role with the Nationals moving forward. Now, obviously some of these guys may not appeal to the Rockies (or anyone else, for that matter) so I’m not suggesting that any of these could be viable options. Colorado could potentially have interest in Gorzelanny or Stammen in an effort to fill out their bullpen with an arm who has some starting experience. In addition, it is possible that a deal could be reached without a player currently on the Nationals active roster. For all we know, Colorado may prefer to deal Young for a minor leaguer which could potentially open up the possibilities.
Bottom line, I don’t see how the Rockies can’t afford to make a deal and part with some of the depth they have accumulated. The Nationals currently have holes on their roster, one of which could potentially filled by an acquisition of Young. While he’s under team control for a number of years, the potential cost to acquire him may not be overly substantial. Given everything I’ve written here in this Posnanskian-like post, it couldn’t hurt for Washington to at least pick up the phone.