Feb 262012
 

With the long-term extension of Ryan Zimmerman’s contract, the landscape for Nationals prospects has changed. Things just got a little tougher for infielders in particular. The current starters at second, short, and third are now under team control through 2016, 2015, and 2019 respectively. They will be 28, 30, and 31 by the end of the 2015 season.

The biggest difference is how folks may view Anthony Rendon. Well, at least by Nationals fans; prospect gurus still believe in him as a future third baseman. Prior to the extension, he could be legitimately viewed as a hedge against Zimmerman leaving via Free Agency. Now, it appears he’s going to be a bat in search of a position, a contender to push one of the incumbent MIs out in a couple of seasons.

Take the Baseball America projection of the 2015 Washington lineup, for example. Here’s a refresher, with some obvious tweaks (yada yada yada Gio Gonzalez):

C Wilson Ramos #1SP Stephen Strasburg
1B Michael Morse #2SP Jordan Zimmermann
2B Anthony Rendon #3SP Gio Gonzalez
3B Ryan Zimmerman #4SP Alex Meyer
SS Danny Espinosa #5SP Matt Purke
LF Jayson Werth CL Drew Storen
CF Brian Goodwin Italics = Not under team control in 2015
RF Bryce Harper Bold = Currently in minors

That’s presuming, of course, that the BA projection is even close to accurate. Three years ago, BA predicted an IF of Chris Marrero, Esmailyn Gonzalez (*ahem*), Christian Guzman, and Zimmerman. But that was following a 102-loss season (2008) with players that wouldn’t be starting anywhere else (e.g. Willie Harris) and/or were in decline (e.g. Aaron Boone).

As several of the beat writers have pointed out, 40 percent of the projected 25-man roster (10 players) is under team control through 2015, with five players under control through 2016, two through at least 2017 (Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper), and Zimmerman through 2019.

This is highly reminiscent of the 1990s Cleveland Indians, which are often credited with the strategy of buying out the arbitration years, beginning with Charles Nagy, Carlos Baerga, and Sandy Alomar Jr in 1992, and continuing with the likes of Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, and Bartolo Colon. The difference is that, contrary to constant carping common belief, Washington is a top-third market (#8 according to the most recent Nielsen DMA) whereas Cleveland is middle-third market (#18).

Getting back to the prospects… the net effect is that it appears that more of them are going to be blocked for the immediate future. But as we all know, competition has a way of working these things out. Espinosa and Desmond may be the incumbents for the DC middle infield, but Steve Lombardozzi is waiting in the wings now, and there are nearly half-a-dozen others on the radar (a.k.a. the watchlist) that could be in his situation over the next three or four springs.

Likewise, even though Werth and Harper are likely to be in the outfield mix for the next few years, centerfield is still a position that’s yet to be claimed for the long term. The Nats drafted three last June (Brian Goodwin, Caleb Ramsey, Billy Burns) while converting a SS (Michael Taylor) and protecting a 21-y.o. that’s just now about to play AA (Eury Perez).

Ultimately, this all a good thing. Just as I wrote a couple of weeks ago that the lack of agonizing over options is a sign of progress, that the path to DC isn’t so clear for prospects as it used to be is also a positive. It means that it’s going to take more than just being younger and cheaper to get out of the minors. They’re going to have to be better.

  8 Responses to “The Ripple Effect of the Zimmerman Contract”

  1. Nice analysis … just about perfect. Too bad JayB doesn’t concur. ;)

  2. Terrific writeup. I like that 2015 team that’s projected, but of course there will be major changes by then.
    Good point about all the CF’s drafted and converted.
    Do you think that will stop all all the carping about CF for 2012. Think not.
    On every level of the system, this is going to be a great year to be a fan. This is still a bit of a transition year for the parent club, but we have a clearer vision now.

  3. Much can be said about where Rendon fits. But what happens if the guy who had 53 stolen bases and a .282 average learns to cut down the strike outs and raise the OBP? Kobernus should also be in Harrisburg with Hood. And then there’s fellow Owl Rick Hague? Rendon could be playing next to him again? And if Carlos Rivero turns out to be a sleeper?

    Makes it interesting I think.

  4. Great analysis. You succinctly summarize where the team is without provocative judgments, letting the facts speak for themselves. It is a wonderful time to be a Nats fan.

  5. When you look at this projection it makes the Gio trade not sting as much. If we hadn’t pulled that trade, does Norris supplant Ramos at catcher? I assume he is still blocked (though maybe Flores would have been moved and Norris would have been the back-up). And which of the three pitchers traded (Milone , Peacock, Cole) projected higher than Meyer and Purke? I mean, I was impressed with Milone and Peacock in particular during their September call-up, and I know Cole was supposed to have a high ceiling, but it seems like the projection for Meyer and Purke is even higher. Am I right?

    • No. As of now, Cole (B+) is higher rated than both Purke (B-) and Meyer (B) by Sickels and doesn’t have the health and mechanical issues (respectively).

      This is actually a trade that would work well for both teams — the Nats should get the more immediate payoff, obviously — but the A’s could end up with a starter as a position player, and three potential major-league pitchers down the line for a 26-y.o. all-star MLB pitcher and a 24-y.o. High-A pitcher.

      We could be seeing more trades like this. We just have to hope that the trades are more like Matt Capps and less like Jonny Gomes.

  6. Watching all this talent will certainly be an enjoyable thing. One is almost tempted to start imaging the trade package possibilities that this new surplus might be enabling.

  7. Looks like Solis is going to be an older prospect getting past TJ surgery. Won’t be ready until next spring training … innings limit … then 2014 at age 26.

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