Monday, December 05, 2005

(Not So) Stumbling Into The Winter Meetings

A couple of things first.

One, driving to work on the G.W. Parkway this morning, I noticed I was driving near a silver Honda Accord with the Virginia license plate, "CM Burns." All I could think was...."exxxxxxcellent." To you, young lady driving this car, I say, "Hmmm. . . Eternal happiness for one dollar? I'd think I'd be happier with the dollar."

Two, let me get this straight. Brian Billick is an offensive genius with Minnesota, and gets hired by the Ravens, whereupon he wins the SuperBowl with a team that can't score at all but plays great defense. The defensive coordinator for Billick's team is defensive genious Marvin Lewis. Marvin Lewis wins with a team with a great offense, but really can't stop anyone on defense. Got it.

To the Nats. Dexy's and I had another one of our discussions at lunch today (Chilis, Dexy's had the Baby Back ribs, I had the Chicken Ranch sandwich, although I had blue cheese dressing instead of ranch on the sandwich, making it something of a Chicken Blue Cheese sandwich. But I digest). Dexy's lamented the fact that the Nats were missing out this offseason and that they've done nothing while losing two of their starting pitchers.

My rejoinder to Dexy's was that the Nats were doing well this offseason by doing nothing. What were the Nats supposed to do free agent wise? Pay B.J. Ryan $47 million for 5 years? Pay A.J. Burnett (of the 3.73 career ERA, 110 career ERA+ Burnetts) $55 million for 5 years? You already know what I think about the 3 year, $21 million deal that Esteban Loaiza got. There was simply nothing for the Nats to do in this free agent market so far.

That probably is changing. The first decent catch (contract wise) of the free agent market was Paul Byrd, who signed a 2-year, $14 million deal with the Tribe. Byrd is a great indication of how one number - ERA - can make two pitchers look similar when they aren't. Here's Byrd and his $7-million-per-year buddy, Esteban Loaiza, side by side:



So guys with similar figures in 3 columns - wins, losses, and ERA, get the same money despite the fact that, when one takes into account the leagues and parks Byrd and Loaiza pitched in, the difference between Byrd and Loaiza was about the same as the difference between Mark Prior and Jerome Williams. Byrd was about 1/2 a run per 9 innings better than his league, Loaiza was about 2/10 of a run per 9 innings better than his league.

[Of course, Loaiza is 1 year younger than Byrd...but his contract is for 1 year longer, too].

There are still some good arms that the Nationals might afford out there. Jarrod Washburn, who has a 0.74 career groundball-to-flyball ratio, would do well in the spacious confines of RFK. In fact, if I were the Nats GM, I would try to convince Washburn to take a 2-year deal at $9 million per, have a couple of RFK-induced great seasons, and then light up the free agent market in 2007. Other flyball-heavy pitchers ripe for big things at RFK:

Scott Elarton - 0.67 GB/FB in 2005.

Jeff Weaver - 1.00 GB/FB in 2005 (but a career GB pitcher)

Eric Milton - 0.68 GB/FB in 2005 (the Reds may want to get out of his blasphemous contract).

These pitchers all fit the use-RFK-to-your-advantage theory so strongly espoused on Nats Blog. And there may be others out there, too.

With at least 2 rotations spots to fill (perhaps giving the #5 spot to Ryan Drese, or perhaps Jon Rauch), still have time to do everything they need to do this offseason. But watch the Winter Meetings to see what pitchers are going for; it could be critical for the Nats to jump into the starting pitching market very soon.


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