Monday, 5 April 2010

Off-Season 2009-10, Final Grade

Spring training is over and the first game is today. Thus, the off-season is officially closed. How do we rate Mike Rizzo's performance?

Rather than moan about what I think he should have done, I'm more interested in interpreting the targets he set himself. Back in January he gave an interview to my favourite punch-bag, Old Leatherpants, and by reading between the lines one can establish some priorities. Here are my grades.

We're trying to get better defensively up the middle. [...] And we think we've helped ourselves with Pudge behind the plate and Morgan in center. Guzzie at shortstop, he's got fairly good hands and fairly good feet but his range obviously has backed up on him a little bit, and we do need to get better at second base

Grade: C+
In this case, Guzmán's shoulder has simply shifted the second-base instability to shortstop. The knock on Desmond has always been his glove. Pudge, Kennedy and Morgan give stability on paper to the other positions, but none of them is a long-term solution, and all of them are injury risks to one degree or another.

the moves like a Marquis and others have given us time for our minor leaguers, the guys that we've grown through our system, to reach their fulfillment in the big leagues

Grade: B+
The Marquis signing, and the return of Livan!, have bought a bit of time for Balester, Martin, Stammen, Martis, Chico and Strasburg. Whether any of them other than Strasburg is really good enough to benefit from the time is a rather different matter. The move I liked best was putting Mock on the 25-man roster. It's time for us to know if he has any long-term future here, regardless of his poor showing last week. That's part of the same overall project of gaining time for younger pitchers.

to get him on a two-year deal kind of gives us a timetable to get our other catching prospect, Derek Norris, into the big leagues. We think the timetable worked out well for us. We needed a guy who was more than a backup, a guy who could play on a every-day level for 80, 90 games, in case Jesus Flores is not coming back from shoulder and elbow surgery that he's had over the winter.

Grade: A
Jesus Flores did not come back from surgery, so Rizzo did a good job anticipating a problem and fixing it with a stable solution that also will potentially lead to a long-term solution. Pudge isn't the All-Star he once was, but he's got leadership abilities to match his ego.

I think that we've improved our bullpen.

Grade: D+
Oh really? Taking a gamble on Capps was a shrewd move, and picking up English shows promise, but Walker had a difficult spring. Last year the bullpen was a trainwreck and the highest hurdle for the Nationals' trying leap away from the dreaded '100' number in the loss column. It tripped them up then, and I could see Capps doing a Hanrahan 2009. The holdovers are a mixed bunch, to be honest. Fixing the bullpen would have required a more solid acquisition than these hopefuls we've got now.

Overall grade: B-
There are still far too many uncertainties in the team, and more worrisome is the mediocrity of the farm system, rated 21st overall by Baseball America. Any gains made this year could easily bleed away as the Nationals lack the young talent in the system to keep the forward march going. The biggest concern to my mind is that few players have been developed from within, which suggests that either development staff or philosophy needs a major overhaul. Low-level prospects seem to stagnate at the A+ and AA stage, and the AAA roster is populated with retreads. Keep things in perspective, though. This was Mike Rizzo's first offseason; a B- grade is a decent showing. His problem is a lack of room to manoeuvre, and he faces a major challenge in offseason 2010-11.

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