Jim Riggleman Hired as Double-A Pensacola Blue Wahoos Manager

Former Washington Nationals Manager Jim Riggleman has been hired as the Manager of the Double-A Pensacola Blue Wahoos of mobile casino no deposit bonuses the Cincinnati Reds organization, according to Jon Heyman of SI.com.  This ends the five month mini-saga trying to predict where the former Nats skipper would land next.

As every Nationals fan remembers vividly, Riggleman abruptly resigned on June 23rd following the team’s 1-0 win over the Seattle Mariners.  It was the teams 11th victory win in 12 games, and they were above .500 (38-37) that late in the season for the first time in quite a while.  No one, and I mean no one, saw it coming.

It was a disgraceful moment for Riggleman, who abandoned a team and a city that finally saw hope in its baseball team.  It took the Nats a while to truly recover from the incident until they exploded with victories in September under new bench boss Davey Johnson.

In Pensacola, Riggleman will attempt to rehabilitate his tarnished image with a minor league affiliate when he could have been a manager of a playoff contending Washington Nationals MLB team in 2012 with nearly endless talent, aggressive owners, and a huge budget.  All he had to do was stand by the players he was under contract to support.  He couldn’t.

Over time, some other organizations may afford Riggleman the chance to manage again, but I just can’t imagine it can ever be at the MLB level.  He has many more losses than wins as an MLB manager, and worst of all, he walked out on his team for personal, selfish reasons.  He didn’t hold up to his end of his contract.  It’s a moment that DC baseball fans will never forget, and most other teams won’t either.

But in the mean time, Riggleman will put on a uniform again as the skipper of a baseball team, and he’ll try to convince the players on the Blue Wahoos’ roster that he won’t walk out on them like he walked out on the Nationals on June 23, 2011.  Good luck with that, Jim.

Does Jose Reyes’ Contract Increase Ian Desmond’s Trade Value?

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports.com reported Sunday evening that José Reyes accepted a 6-year, $106 million deal with the Miami Marlins.  That’s one whole heck of a lot of money in a state without income tax.  This obviously changes the market for shortstops quite a bit.

Only one Type A Free Agent shortstop remains, Jimmy Rollins.  Rollins was the NL MVP in 2007, but has posted disappointing numbers since.  In the last 4 years, his slash line is .261/.325/.412.  After that, the market consists of candidates that are far less impressive: Alex Gonzalez, Rafael Furcal, Yuniesky Betancourt, and Alex Cora, among others. 

As a result of Reyes’ huge contract and a weak market otherwise, trade interest in shortstops may significantly increase for teams that still have a need for one.  One thing that the Washington Nationals have no shortage of, though, is talent at shortstop.  Ian Desmond has been the team’s starting SS for 2 seasons, filling the role admirably for the departed Cristian Guzman (remember him?).  Though his defense got much better in 2011, his OBP somehow got worse.  He reached base at just a .298 clip, which is far, far below league average; his OPS+ was just 80.  He struck out 139 times.  It’s certainly nothing like what you’d hope to see from someone that hits near the top of the order, which is another need for the organization.

The Nats do have options to fill in at short should Desmond depart.  Many called for Danny Espinosa to take over for Desmond throughout the 2011 campaign, and he would certainly move over there if Desmond was moved this offseason.  There is no doubt that Espinosa would be a marked defensive improvement over Desmond, and his .323 OBP isn’t ideal, but it’s a full 25-points better than Desmond’s.  This would leave Steven Lombardozzi to take over for Espinosa at second base the season after Lombo earned the 2011 Position Player of the Year in the Nationals minor league system.  The team could do worse.

Because of an unbelievably weak Free Agent market for shortstops, this could benefit the Nationals in several ways.  The Nats could finally have a trade chip for the CF they’ve been coveting for years.  Desmond would have to be part of a package that included some minor league talent, but the Nationals could conceivably come away with something significant, like BJ Upton of the Tampa Bay Rays, an organization in need of a shortstop.

The Nationals are no longer in the building phase, they’ve moved on and should be ready to make a splash this season.  The Marlins just made that a lot harder in an already difficult NL East by signing Heath Bell as their closer and José Reyes as their shortstop.  Who’s to say they won’t go out to grab either Mark Buehrle or CJ Wilson before all is said and done?  The Nats have to stay competitive by making moves to make their club better now, or else the future may pass them by.

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Stan Kasten Teams Up With Magic Johnson To Try And Buy The Dodgers

Former Washington Nationals president Stan Kasten is reportedly part of an ownership group with former NBA legend Magic Johnson that will attempt to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers from embattled owner Frank McCourt, the Los Angeles Times reports.

“Stan Kasten is my man,” Magic told the LA Times. “He’s a winner, he’s built two incredible organizations, and he’s well respected. That is what was important to me. I had to get with a winner, a guy who understands baseball inside and out.”

You’ll remember that Kasten left the Nationals on somewhat surprising terms following the 2010 season. While he had apparently told the Lerner’s at the start of the year that he would be leaving the club following their sixth campaign, no one felt the need to tell us until he was gone. The man who was tapped by the Lerner’s to be the architect of baseball in Washington had made the decision to leave just when things started to look good.

In 2010, Kasten helped bring excitement back to Washington when he and Mike Rizzo were able to sign Stephen Strasburg to a last second record contract. He also played an influential role in helping the Nationals secure funding and a location for Nats Park, which opened in 2008, and some believe that his inclusion as one of the owners along with the Lerner’s helped convince Commissioner Bud Selig to allow the Expos to be relocated to Washington. His time with the Nationals was certainly frustrating, at times overwhelmingly so, but when you look back at his work on a whole you have to admit, the franchise is in good shape based on the groundwork he laid several years ago.

This news is encouraging for baseball, but perhaps a scary prospect for anyone who is a fan of a team that plays in the National League. Kasten proved in Atlanta what he can do with a team that has a solid talent foundation, something Washington didn’t have, and an owner that is willing to spend money right away. The Dodgers have a fan base, a huge city craving a winner, and they have arguably the best starting pitcher and position player in the National League in Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp. If he gets smart baseball people around him, the Dodgers could have the front office leadership to create a dynasty.

Biggest Surprises of 2011 – #1: Michael Morse

In the final installment of the five biggest surprises on the Washington Nationals roster, we take a look at the team’s MVP: Michael Morse.

Entering the 2011 season, there was no doubt that NatsTown expected big things out of Morse, who hit .289 with 15 HR and 41 RBI in just 266 at-bats in 2010.  There was no doubt that Morse would get much more playing time in 2011 than in previous seasons, it just wasn’t clear where until 1B Adam LaRoche went down for the season with a shoulder injury. 

After a rough April coming off of an outstanding spring training, Morse simply went on a tear for the next two months, batting .337 with an astronomical 1.060 OPS and 14 HRs in May and June.  If it weren’t for the month of April, when Morse sported a .211/.253/.268 slash line, he would have been a guaranteed All-Star for the Nationals.

Looking back to do some comparative work, Morse’s numbers during his first 5 MLB seasons with the Mariners and Nationals are surprisingly impressive.  He hit .293 with a .764 OPS in 352 at-bats during those 5 years as he went up and down from the majors to the minors.  Despite his above average cumulative numbers, the Nationals somehow traded Morse for Ryan Langerhans, straight up.  Langerhans was older, hitting .234 at the time of the trade, and didn’t ever show signs of serious power.  It was a truly confusing trade that Nationals reaped all of the benefits of.

However, one thing that no one could have possibly seen coming was the monstrous offensive power explosion.   In his first 5 seasons in Major League Baseball, Michael Morse had 6 home runs.  Not each year, but cumulatively.  Even with his promising 2010 season, when he put up 15 homers in less than 100 games, it got better yet in 2011.  He more than doubled his home run total from the previous season from 15 to 31.  He more than doubled his RBI total from 41 to 95.  He also joined Ryan Zimmerman (2010), Cristian Guzman (2008), and Dmitri Young (2007) as the only 4 Nationals to have a batting average above the .300 mark on a season.

Morse also became a de facto team leader.  He had a quirky personality, and a funny superstitious pre at-bat routine.  He always looked like he was having a blast in his post-game interviews, and he was the original Beast Mode, wearing t-shirts displaying those words on camera regularly.

Depending on where you look, Morse was either first (Baseball-Reference) or second (FanGraphs) on the team in WAR for position players.  And he got two votes from the BBWAA in National League MVP voting, one seventh place and one tenth place vote.  Impressive from a guy that was a pinch hitting, substitute player just one season prior.

Morse’s explosion reminds me of Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays.  It’s certainly not the same, as Bautista had 6 years of MLB experience with much more playing time before he won the AL Home Run Title in 2010.  Still, though, Bautista had just 13 homers in the 2009 campaign before his rocked 54 in that 2010 campaign.  He was an All-Star and a Top 5 AL MVP candidate the last two seasons.  Before that, he never got a single MVP vote.  He never made an All Star Game.  Maybe Morse is on a similar trajectory.  After all, Morse is 29, the exact age Bautista was before he broke out of his shell.  The Nationals and their fans can only hope.

That’s it for the Biggest Surprises of 2011 series.  Check out the No. 2, No. 3, No. 4, and No. 5 posts from earlier in the week.  And listen to Episode 2 of Nats Talk On The Go, our new Washington Nationals podcast.

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Biggest Surprises of 2011 – #2: Wilson Ramos

In today’s installment of the five biggest surprises on the Washington Nationals roster we take a look at Wilson Ramos and his impressive breakout season.

Wilson Ramos may have gotten more publicity for his kidnapping than his actual performance on the field last year, so I think its time we finally recognize his breakout 2011 season.

Entering last March, the Nationals plan at catcher was to have Ramos platoon with veteran Ivan Rodriquez and see where it would take them, hoping that eventually Ramos would be well prepared by his mentor. The plan couldn’t have gone any smoother as Ramos ultimately took hold of the starting duties as the season progressed. In 113 games, Ramos hit .267 with 15 home runs and 52 RBI earning him a fourth place finish in the NL Rookie of the Year voting and a spot on Baseball America’s All-Rookie team. The catcher was also a force behind the plate establishing a great rapport with his pitchers and was third in all of baseball throwing out 32.4% of runners on the base paths.

When former manager Jim Riggleman was around Ramos was batting all over the lineup; there was no consistency, which can be hard for a young hitter trying to establish himself on the major league level. It wasn’t until Davey Johnson took over where he found himself batting primarily in the seventh and eighth spot of the order. In those 59 games played under Johnson, Ramos improved his hitting drastically with a .284 batting average, 9 home runs, and 30 RBI, saving his best for September making himself the clear cut starter for the Washington Nationals.

The upcoming 2012 season will be an interesting one for Ramos. Not only does he have to live up to the high expectations Nationals fans have set for him, but he must also deal with the attention from his off-season abduction. I truly believe he has what it takes to put the incident behind him and concentrate on baseball, as he’s done with his Venezuelan team in the winter league.

Click here to see surprises No. 3, No. 4, and No. 5.

Nats Talk On The Go podcast: Episode 2

Today, we release Episode 2 of Nats Talk On The Go, a Washington Natonals podcast featuring Craig MacHenry of Capitol Baseball and Joe Drugan.  Listen here, or subscribe to our podcast on iTunes.  Thanks for listening and for the suggestions for topics on Twitter.  We’ll be doing another podcast next week for the winter meetings, so hopefully there are some new developments to discuss in NatsTown.  Stay tuned, and keep the suggestions coming!

Contents: 

  • Follow ups with Episode 1 Topics
  • First Base Changes
  • Collective Bargaining Agreement and the Draft
  • Yoennis Cespedes
  • Mark DeRosa 
  • Adam Kennedy
  • Question of the Week: What were the best and worst transactions in Washington Nationals history?
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Aaron Crow To Be Given A Chance To Start In Kansas City

One-time Washington Nationals draftee Aaron Crow will be given a chance to compete for the Kansas City Royals starting rotation, according to, you guessed it, Jim Bowden. You’ll recall that the Nationals (and Bowden) drafted Crow with their first pick in the 2008 draft only to lose the rights to the potential-filled starter when the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement before the MLB signing deadline.

Crow re-entered the draft the following year and was selected by the Kansas City Royals, who he inevitably signed with for a $4.5 million deal including signing bonus. The Nationals had offered him as much as $3.5 million.

In his second year with the organization Crow, to the surprise of some, excelled as a powerful middle reliever for the Royals. In 57 games pitched he posted a 2.76 ERA, while posting 65 strikeouts in 62.0 innings pitched. His performance, as well as the overall lack of talent on Kansas City’s active roster, resulted in an All-Star appearance for the 24-year-old.

Yesterday it was reported that the Royals had agreed to a deal with Jonathon Broxton to be their set-up man for closer Joakim Soria, which has opened the door for the club to attempt to convert Crow back into a starter. What made Crow’s success in Kansas City so peculiar, however, was that at no level in the minor leagues had he pitched well before his haphazard promotion. At no point in his minor league career did he pitch in Triple-A, and in 22 games as a starting pitcher he posted a dreadful 5.66 ERA and a truly less impressive 90 strikeouts in 119 innings pitched. He was even worse in seven starts in high Single-A Wilmington.

The Royals might be in line for a major disappointment from Crow. While he stormed on to the scene before the All-Star break as a shutdown reliever, his second half ERA ballooned to 4.34. In the month of August he posted a 8.53 ERA in nine games, and in September he posted a 5.79 ERA in six games. It appears to me that the switch to the bullpen allowed him to overthrow certain pitches in a way he had never been able to before as a starter…unfortunately it looks like in the long run that transformation wasn’t able to provide consistent production.

It’s certainly possible that Crow could magically transform himself into a strong starting pitcher with literally no experience above Triple-A and no positive minor league experience at all, but I’d be surprised. All I can say is Drew Storen is looking pretty good, and pretty cheap, in comparison these days.

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Biggest Surprises Of 2011 – #3: Ian Desmond’s Defense

In today’s installment of the five biggest surprises on the Washington Nationals roster we take a look at Ian Desmond, and perhaps more specifically, his glove.

If you’ll remember, one of the biggest questions entering 2011 for the Nationals was whether or not Desmond, who underwent a terrible rookie year defensively in 2010, could survive the season as the Nats shortstop. It was a particularly relevant question because the club had a plus-defensive shortstop who was about to start the season out of position, Danny Espinosa, and were in need of a centerfielder, a position that the athletic Desmond might be able to acclimate to quickly.

Mike Rizzo stuck to his guns though, with the firm belief that Desmond had to get better at shortstop.

So how bad was Desmond in 2010? Historically bad. At the age of 25 he not only led Major League shortstops with 34 errors, he posted the highest error total at the position since Jose Valentin committed 36 gaffs in 2000. He had the second worst UZR among National League shortstops, -8.8, and had the worst ErrR.

In 2011 however, Desmond cut down his error total by nearly a third by committing 23 errors on the year. While that total still ranked No. 3 in the league among shortstops, Desmond’s numbers improved significantly following Apr. 26. Prior to that date Desmond had committed seven errors through the team’s first 21 games, after, he committed just 16 through the next 131 games. The significance of the Apr. 26 date you ask? That just happened to be the date that Ian and Chelsea Desmond gave birth to their first child. Prior to Desmond becoming a dad in 2011 he had one error in every three games, after it improved to one error in every eight.

Perhaps the jokes about whether the doctor would let him hold the baby got to him.

We wrote prior to the season that we believed Desmond had the ability to greatly improve his defense. While in 2010 he posted a -8.8 UZR, a closer look at his UZR rating shows that it was mostly weighed down by his terrible -10.5 error rating. His Range Rating actually was relatively good, at 2.7. This means that the majority of Desmond’s 2010 problems likely stemmed from physical mistakes, mental lapses that resulted in something completely preventable, an error. We believed with more confidence Desmond had the tools to become a solid defender.

Oddly, in 2011, Desmond’s ErrR rating improved dramatically to -1.7, but his range rating regressed to -2.9.

Click here to see surprises No. 4 and No. 5.

What Chris Marrero’s Injury Means for the Nationals

Yesterday on this blog, Will wrote an outstanding article about what Prince Fielder could bring to the Washington Nationals this season.  The first base situation got increasingly complicated after Bill Ladson of MLB.com tweeted, “#Nats 1B Chris Marrero will not start Spring Training on time because of a torn left hamstring. #MLB”

Many expected Chris Marrero to be the team’s back up first baseman to start the season.  The starter would either be Adam LaRoche or Michael Morse if LaRoche wasn’t ready to start the 2012 campaign.  This has all changed in a big way with Marrero down for the count for the next several months.  That means no offseason workouts, no training.  It’s not a good situation for Marrero, who was hoping to break through to the 25-man roster on Opening Day for the first time in his extended minor league career.

Now, Chris Marrero and Adam LaRoche are essentially off the trading block because of their injuries, creating an unexpected log jam on the first base depth chart for the Nationals and opening some new options for the team to consider.  Here are some of them, bullet-point style.

  • Sign Prince Fielder: This scenario may have gotten a bit more plausable with Marrero’s injury.  If the Nationals sign Fielder, it gives Michael Morse time to focus on his outfield defense to prepare for the 2012 season.  The team can worry about the backup, hopefully Marrero is ready by Opening Day, a bit later on.  LaRoche would be put on the trading block or possibly even released.
  • Wait on LaRoche: Despite people sort of forgetting about him, Adam LaRoche is one of the best defensive first basemen in baseball, and he provides power from the left side when he’s not suppressing a significant shoulder injury.  His talent level doesn’t compare to Fielder, but he also doesn’t cost nearly as much money.  The Nats could wait on LaRoche, hope he returns to 2010 form (.261/.320/.468, 25 HR, 100 RBI), and see what happens from there.  This is, I’d imagine, the likeliest scenario.
  • Put Morse at First:  This is another interesting possibility.  Morse had significant success at first base last season, and he will be far less of a defensive liability there than in left field.  This would create a need for a left fielder that could be temporarily filled by Roger Bernadina until June, when Bryce Harper could make his MLB debut.  Or you could forgo the entire Bernadina situation and bring up Harper on Opening Day, but that’s not the likeliest scenario.  Plus, you still have Adam LaRoche to deal with or move.  This is not entirely out of the question if LaRoche isn’t ready by Opening Day.

So what say you, readers?  Like any of these options or have others to suggest?  Hit up the comments.

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Biggest Surprises of 2011 – #4: Jordan Zimmermann

In today’s installment of the five biggest surprises on the Washington Nationals 2011 roster, we look at Jordan Zimmermann, the young right-handed starter who solidified his place in the Nationals rotation with a strong 2011 campaign.

We all know the hype that has come with all-world prospects Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, but lets not forget about another young stud by the name of Jordan Zimmermann. It wasn’t too long ago when he was ranked the top prospect in the organization…of course this was before Strasburg was drafted but the point is that Zimm will be pretty darn good.

Like Strasburg, Zimmermann fell victim to the injury bug and was sidelined for parts of the 2009 and 2010 season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. The 25-year old right-hander proved to be yet another cornerstone player for the Nationals in the years to come boosting a rotation with several glimmers of hope in his first full season in the bigs.

Zimmermann was shut down for the final month of the season as part of his continuing rehabilitation from Tommy John, but in his 26 starts, Zimmerman compiled an 8-11 record with an impressive 3.18 ERA and 124 strikeouts. What stands out to me is that he issued just 31 walks in his 161 1/3 innings pitched which equates to a 1.7 BB/9 average. Throwing strikes is so important, especially at the major league level, and Zimmermann has shown maturity and confidence where control will not be an issue. To put things in perspective, Zimmermann’s 1.7 BB/9 ratio led the team where Henry Rodriquez’s 6.2 BB/9 was the highest.

Zimmermann was fantastic pre-All Star break for the Nats going 6-7 with a 2.66 ERA in 18 starts. His overall win-loss record may not be that impressive, but remember this Nationals team did not have any consistent firepower in their lineup with injuries to Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche and lack of production by Jayson Werth. There were also a few instances in the season where Zimmermann was the tough luck loser. For instance, Lets take the June 29th game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim where he went 8 innings allowing just one run on 4 hits but was the losing pitcher in a 1-0 Nationals loss.

With a full off-season to strengthen his arm, expectations will be even higher as Strasburg and Zimmermann will make a scary one-two punch at the top of the rotation. Is it reasonable to hope for 15 wins and an ERA under 3.50? I think so.