Editors Note: It was suggested by a reader that we play copy cat to Brew Crew Ball and rank the top 20 Nationals based on their overall value. Here’s our take at it 20-16, with the rest to follow this week.
20. Jesus Flores - Flores was put on the fast track to the Majors when the Nationals took him as a 22-year-old in the Rule Five Draft. At that point, Flores had never played a game above high A ball. Washington took him knowing full well that he would either sink or swim. Either he would be able to handle the big leagues and they could keep him on their roster moving forward, or he would flounder as a result of being rushed too quickly and the club would have to send him packing. Flores pleased everyone by putting together 197 strong plate appearances in 2007, batting a respectable .244/.310/.361 with some solid defense.
Unfortunately, from there on everything went down hill for the once promising prospect. A heap of injuries coupled with massively diminished plate patience and power over the course of the last four seasons has kept Flores off the ball field and has seen him go from puzzle pice of the future to an afterthought. Still, despite missing all of 2010, Flores is only 26 and has three seasons of MLB experience. He has a respectable career MLB line of .260/.318/.406 at a position that is always at a premium, and he’s cheap. If he can prove that he is healthy, it is likely that a team would take a chance on him.
The harsh reality though is that he’s the fourth most valuable catcher in the club’s system. The Nationals have insisted that he is still one of their top catchers, likely to keep his perceived value up as they try and shop him around, but the truth is that even if he returns to full form he will never have the experience of Rodriguez, the power of Norris, or the glove of Ramos. This alone means the club can’t ask too much in return for Flores.
19. Yunesky Maya - The Nationals appeared to make a big splash in the summer of 2010 when they beat out several other teams to sign this former Cuban star. Unfortunately Maya couldn’t make the same splash in his rookie season as he struggled going 0-3 in five starts while posting a 5.88 ERA. The Nationals are likely to chalk this up to the fact that he was rusty after sitting out almost a year from the point when he defected from Cuba in September of 2009 to his minor league debut in August of 2010. Numbers though, don’t lie.
In his five starts his fastball averaged only 88.7 MPH and got knocked all over the field. According to Fangraphs it was by far his least valuable pitch, ranking 6.4 runs BELOW average. His slider and curve however did perform well, leading some to think that if he can improve the location and velocity of his fastball he may be able to be the pitcher some had initially hoped.
For Maya it all comes down to his age and his contract. As a 29-year-old rookie, Maya performed terribly. With his $8 million contract it would be hard to move him on his projected talent alone. If Maya comes out in 2011 and proves that he can be a major leaguer, he would likely rocket up this list. However, until we see that he can get professional hitters out consistently, he’s just an overpriced contract.
18. Ivan Rodriguez – This inclusion may surprise you, considering he’s a 38-year-old catcher who got on base below .300 this season and is set to make $3 million in 2011. And hey, maybe it surprised me too. However as I broke it down I got to thinking that there are a few players in the league that actually do have true intangible value that teams would be willing to take a financial and statistical hit for. Rodriguez is one of them. It is very easy for me to envision a team making a move for the future hall-of-fame catcher this July, looking for a guy who can come in, help a young pitching staff, and provide veteran leadership as a team marches to the playoffs.
With that, the numbers don’t lie. In 2010 he got off to a monster start batting .413/.449/.524 in April, providing a base for a high stat line that he clinged to all season. Rodriguez’s .231/.257/.297 second half was likely a showing his true colors. However, despite his massive drop-off in the middle of the season, he still earned 1 WAR and was valued by Fan Graphs as being worth $3.9 million in 2010, meaning he somehow outperformed his contract.
He likely won’t bring in a big return, but he is definitely a tradable commodity for someone looking for a Jason Varitek type leader.
17. Chris Marrero - In 2006 Marrero was drafted in the first round by the Nationals as a power hitting bat without a real position. In 2008 he was named by Baseball America as the 27th best prospect in baseball. Sadly, it’s been consistently downhill since as he has struggled at each level of the low minors.
Things may be turning around though. In his second attempt at Double A, Marrero put together his best line as a minor leaguer batting .294/.350/.450 with 18 homers and 82 RBI. He lowered his strikeout rate from 24% to 19.5%, while keeping a steady .339 BABIP, meaning he didn’t compromise by slowing down his swing. At 22, he is still young enough that he can be considered a major league prospect, but if other teams are evaluating him based on his past inability to adjust to a higher level of competition, they may not view Marrero as quite so young.
Marrero spent 2006 in Rookie Ball, and split 2007 between high and low Single A. He spent all of 2008 and most of 2009 in high Single A. After his second go around in Double A he will likely get his first shot at Triple A this season…with first base open, it’s up to him how long he will spend him.
Despite his slow development, the young slugger still has value. He still mashes baseballs and he has shown a commitment to cut down on his strikeouts. Any team looking to add a young power bat in return for a major league player would likely want to add him to a mid-season deal.
16. Nyjer Morgan – Nyjer Morgan was really, really good in 2009. In his first full major league season he hit .307/.369/.388 while stealing 42 bases with an unbelievable 27.6 UZR in centerfield. That stat line earned him 4.9 WAR, and was evaluated by Fangraphs as being worth $21.9 million, making him arguably the best value in baseball considering he earned just 426,500 that year.
2010 revealed some major things that immediately hurt Morgan’s value however. His BABIP came back down to earth, falling from .355 to .304 and with it his stat line fell to .253/.319/.314. His UZR fell to 3.0 and his WAR to 0.9. Oh yeah, and we found out that he is absolutely crazy following several confusing and/or violent outbursts. For the second half of 2010, he was public enemy number one in Major League Baseball.
With that, Milton Bradley has been traded six times, so anything is possible. Morgan of course is no Bradley at the plate and he is also a 30-year-old center feilder who showed diminished speed this season. Still, an injury to the right team, or Dusty Baker demanding more stolen bases/bunts could lead to a team having demand for Morgan. While his tradability is low, his razor thin contract coupled with his strong MLB performance in the past two seasons means he does in fact have strong value.