Distinguished Senators, the Washington Nationals Blog That Is Great

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

His Name is Rios and He Dances on the Sand

The Pixies were great again. The austerity of the performance (no chit-chat between songs) made it all the more hilarious when Joey Santiago went all Nigel Tufnel during "Vamos," doing some kind of weird theremin thing with his guitar. I would have liked a little more variety to the set lists (they never did play "Dig For Fire" or any of the B-sides except "Winterlong"), but I don't mind hearing "Debaser" twice.

Time to weigh in on Johnson v. Rios before it's old news. First off, I'd rather have 150 games of Nick Johnson than 150 games of Alexis Rios. Johnson provides the on-base skills this team so desperately needs, and as a Baseball Prospectus subscriber I don't think I have a choice but to like him. The problem, of course, is getting 150 games out of Johnson - it's more than he's ever played in a year. The D.C. Baseball blog misses the real problem, I think, with this comment:
Nick, obviously has an injury history that needs to be accounted for. However, his most recent injury seems so random and unrelated that it is hard to hold it against him. Still, he is less likely to play a full season.
True, his most recent injury was random (he got his pretty face busted by a baseball), but that's not the only time he missed in 2004. Let's not forget that he started the season on the disabled list with the same wrist problems that have cost him scores of games over the years. Let's also not forget that wasn't even very good when he did play (.251/.359/.398, 7 HR). This isn't the kind of injury that goes away, and I'm becoming increasingly skeptical that Johnson will ever put in a full season or match his 2003 output (.422 OBP!).

What would Rios bring to the Nats? Our outfield at the moment consists of Brad Wilkerson in left, Endy Chavez in center, and Jose Guillen in right, with Terrmel Sledge and Ryan Church on the bench. Chavez, as you've probably heard, needs to go. He doesn't get on base, he has no power, he doesn't steal bases, and he's not a particularly hot centerfielder. Rios' rookie season was better than any year Chavez has had with the bat, and he was only 23 last season. Rios' defensive skills are open to question, but if he's put in center he wouldn't exactly be replacing Andruw Jones. Centerfield is the one position on this team that most needs an upgrade, and Rios could be the guy to do it. Meanwhile, Wilkerson should stay in left for two reasons: he's an above-average fielder there, and it keeps Terrmel Sledge out. I've wanted to keep Sledge on the bench ever since I saw this column on MLB.com:
Sledge will be the first to tell you, however, that he needs to improve his defensive skills. He often had problems with fly balls in the outfield and hard ground balls at first base.
So here we have a guy who didn't make the bigs until he was 27, put up a less-than-inspiring-for-a-corner-outfielder 799 OPS, can't hit lefties (643 OPS), and admits that he has trouble not only with fly balls but also with grounders. He sounds like a useful fourth outfielder/pinch-hitter type, but to entrust him with a starting job would be foolish.

So that leaves us with a gap at first base. When faced with a gaping whole like this, I find it instructive to look at last year's Cardinals. Having let Fernando Vina go, the Cards were faced with the challenge of finding a second baseman. They had Hector Luna in the system already, and they signed Tony Womack and Marlon Anderson for $300,000 and $600,000 respectively - three second sackers for less than $1 million total. Thus, the Cards found themselves an effective 2B (Womack, as it turned out) and deepened their bench all for less than the cost of one-fourth of Cristian Guzman. This is what the Nats should do with first base. Bowden has been pursuing Team Leader Wil Cordero, so bring him on. I like Tony Clark (he looks like a mad scientist and slugged .472 and .458 the last two years), so throw him an offer. Give Sledge a chance at some of those scary grounders. Nobody gets more than a million and one year, and no one gets promised the starting job; if they don't like it, get someone else. It's the concept of replaceable talent at work. You give yourself flexibility and the chance to find a guy having a surprising year, like Womack last year. I'd be shocked if you couldn't get Johnson's .251/.359/.398 line out that or a similar group.

If this trade offer is real, it's an easy decision. Replacing Johnson with Rios might hurt the Nats' offense slightly in 2005. But what about after that? Rios is two years younger than Johnson, and Nick is very unlikely to age well. He is possessed of old player skills (good strike zone judgment, no speed), and big, slow first basemen don't age gracefully. Add in his chronic injuries, and you have a player who's much older in baseball terms than in years. Rios would add youth and potential, save money, improve the defense, and is much more likely to play 150 games.

In other news, is Jim Bowden consulting for the Yankees on the side?


Ryan said...

Nick Johnson is a perfect example of a guy with "old player skills." That alone shouldn't prompt a trade, but combine it with his injury history (and I don't think those wrist problems are going away), minimal defensive value (he's already at the bottom of the defensive spectrum, so where does he go if he gets worse?), mediocre power potential, extra two years of age, and a couple million extra in salary, and I'd much rather have Rios. Yeah, he's a free swinger now, but he put up a 286/338/383 at age 23. Jose Guillen at 23 had a 253/315/340 line. Sosa? 260/317/393. The fact that Toronto apparently wants Armas thrown in shows just how lopsided a straight-up Johnson for Rios trade would be in our favor.

Chris Needham said...

I was with ya up until the Tony Clark comment. I had to watch that POS strike out 4 times in a cold October rainstorm, costing us game 6. He may be a great person, but as a ballplayer, he'd make a good well... umm... he wouldn't be a good anything. /Yankee fan rant.

I agree that you're overrating defense a little. Wilkerson's a pretty good defensive outfielder and Sledge is probably below average--but I don't think he's the second coming of Greg Luzinski either.

Sledge isn't a great offensive player, but he has a decent track record in the minors and he's cheap. I really don't think that either Wil Cordero or Tony Clark--hell, even Julio Franco--would be an improvement.

I'd be just as inclined to find a platoon partner for Sledge in left and take the few hundred K and upgrade the bullpen a bit.

Ryan said...

Yeah, I've got an unreasonable thing for Tony Clark. I do think he could be a useful part-timer, though.

I don't know anything about Sledge's performance in the minors, but would he have been three years older than everyone else for most of it? Regardless, I don't think he deserves to start full-time at any position. Left field defense isn't the most vital thing, I realize, but it seems kind of a waste to put a fine athlete like Wilkerson at first when he should be roaming free on the outfield grass.

I think we're getting Wil Cordero no matter what - there's your Sledge platoon partner. That might not be so bad, actually. Cordero's pretty effective against lefties.

Olivier said...


Johnson's got, for what it's worth, emerging power. To my knowledge (I don't read Caroll UTK, but I do live in Montreal), the injury that disabled johnson at the beginning of last season wasn't wrist related, it was something piched in his back. When he came back, he flat out raked, and then slipped into some nasty funk. Then, as somebody wrote somewhere, his face broke.

But From what I've seen, the guy has 30HR potential; he can hit HR at any field and could make a great #2 hitter nested between Wilkerson (whom I'd keep leadoff until someone proved he can take a walk) and Vidro.

That being said, Rios is really intriguing. If they hadn't sold Pascucci to some Japan team for 300k, He and Sledge would've made a nice 1B platoon. But hey, Bowden has provided me so much Shadenfreude over the last month, I shan't criticize.