Sometimes the best moves a general manager can make are the ones that look confusing at first. Keep in mind general managers are allegedly smarter than the media and bloggers, and should be a couple of steps ahead of us. One the surface, the David DeJesus trade looks weird. The Nats don’t need him for this season and his $6.5 million option is a lot to pay for a bench player for 2014, but let’s look at the Nationals bench, or let’s not because H.P. Lovecraft couldn’t describe a monster as hideous as their numbers.
As far as the Nats offense goes, it has been average to above average for two stretches of the season. Before Ryan Zimmerman hit the DL in April, the Nats were averaging 4.3 runs a game. That is hardly a large sample size of games, but the number compares well to the 4.1 runs a game the team averaged after Jayson Werth came off the DL. The time between was when the offense really stank up the joint, and it is those 44 games that color the perception of the Nats offense. And it was dreadful. They scored an average of 3.1 runs a game with a team batting line of .219/.275/.347.
It is hard to have a good offense when the lineup features four batters with an OPS below .600. For that stretch, that is what the Nats had, and if they want to avoid that again they are going to need some quality bench players. Look at the Nats’ current lineup. Seven of the eight regulars have an OPS above league average and the one who doesn’t is a wizard with the glove in center field. Denard Span leads the team in plate appearances, but that isn’t a personnel problem; that is a managerial problem. Teams can have and need players that derive most of their value from defense, but those players shouldn’t be leading off and soaking up plate appearances.
The Nats acquisition of DeJesus makes sense if you look at it as a move for next season. While $6.5 million for a bench player sounds like a lot, it doesn’t sound like a lot for a player that hasn’t had a season below 1.3 fWAR since 2004 and is capable of starting for long stretches of time.
One of the teams that tends to be out in front on trends are the Oakland A’s, and this past offseason they made two trades that were questioned at the time because the players seemed redundant. They traded for shortstop/second baseman Jed Lowrie and outfielder Chris Young. Lowrie ended up as the A’s starting shortstop as Hiro Nakajima never made it out of spring training with a hamstring injury and has since been removed from the 40-man roster. Young has had a disappointing season as a bench player, but his .666 OPS is better than the MLB average of .613 for a pinch hitter.
The Nationals need to improve the bench. A lineup of Werth, Bryce Harper, Zimmerman, Ian Desmond, Adam LaRoche, Wilson Ramos, Anthony Rendon, and Span is one that can get it done at the major league level. The issue comes when one or two of them need a day off or are hurt. The Nats had no one competent to put in the lineup when that happened this season, and it is the major thing that needs to be fixed in the offseason. Over 1,000 plate appearances were wasted on Roger Bernadina, Steve Lombardozzi, Danny Espinosa, Kurt Suzuki, Tyler Moore, and Chad Tracy. The Nats have to do better next season. Having 1,000 plate appearances go to players who all have an OPS under .600 is not going to help a team.
DeJesus is owed $6.5 million on his option next season, but the Nationals have him in hand, and if he isn’t the player they have on the bench, they should be willing to spend close to that same amount to get competent bench players. If the Nats do take the $1.5 million buyout, they end up right back at $6.5 million if they sign a bench player to a $5 million deal. That is the course the Nats need to take. Relying on AAA talent and minor league free agents worked for 2012, but it failed in 2013. Next season, the Nats should fill the bench with players reaching the twilight of their careers, but who have had a track record of success. In other words, players exactly like DeJesus.
David Huzzard blogs about the Nationals for Citizens of Natstown, and offers his viewpoints as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.