Monday, November 10, 2008

Nationals and Marlins Join the Trade Party

Apparently there was some action at the General Manager's meetings last week. With the news that the Athletics and Rockies are on the verge of completing a deal that will involve Matt Holliday, the Washington Nationals and Florida Marlins have agreed to a deal.

The deal will have the Washington Nationals acquire fiery lefty Scott Olsen, and left fielder Josh Willingham from the Florida Marlins for Emilio Bonifacio and one or two minor leaguers, likely to be pitcher PJ Dean and infielder Jake Smolinski.

Upon first impression, this looks like a win for the Washington Nationals, however I've never been one to call a trade in under 100 words. Let's begin with what the Nationals received:

At the point, the acquistion of Josh Willingham has got to be of secondary concern for the Nationals. That is, of course, assuming that Willingham cannot move back behind the plate (he has played behind the plate in 15 games at the Major League level). Even still, Willingham would not be much of an upgrade over Jesus Flores, giving the Nationals little reason to move him behind the plate.

This is also assuming that Nick Johnson, Wily Mo Pena, and Austin Kearns all remain with the team. The acquisition of Willingham certainly muddies this situation-as well as my WWOD.

Either way, Willingham is a fine player, and is under control for the next 3 seasons-although he is in for a pay raise, he will still be affordable.

The biggest piece of this trade for the Nationals is Scott Olsen.

Olsen has taken a substantial step back from his promising rookie season in 2006. While Olsen's strikeout rate regressed from a strong 8.27 to 5.04, his walk rate has gone from bad (3.74) to terrible (4.33) to good (3.08).

However, Olsen is young enough to continue to improve his walk rate, while potentially taking steps with his strikeout rate.

What is worrisome is the fact that Olsen's velocity dropped a fair amount this season. Granted, if a drop in velocity means throwing more strikes, it is certainly a justified adjustment.

The most valuable part of Olsen is that he is an extremely durable pitcher, having pitched in 31 or more games each of his 3 seasons in the majors. In addition to this, Olsen is entering his first arbitration season and should be affordable for the Nationals as they look to put together a Major League roster-something that the 2008 team hardly resembled.

In exchange for Olsen and Willingham, the Marlins receive salary relief-something they have always been interested in acquiring, and three young players.

The first of which, and only one of the three to be on the Major League roster before the year 2011, Emilio Bonifacio. I have writen at length about Bonifacio, and will not repeat everything that I had said in the past.

The short and sweet version; Bonifacio is a burner who lacks plate discipline. He is young enough to develope, but his ceiling is certainly Luis Castillo. If Bonifacio developes into Castillo, that would be great, but chances are he is a utility player at best, albeit a cheap one.

What the acquisition of Bonifacio does do, however, is begin the discussion of where and when Dan Uggla will be traded. After 3 straight seasons of 27 or more home runs, Uggla, entering his first year of arbitration, is bound to receive a major pay increase. It wouldn't come as a surprise for him to be making over $5M in 2009, leading to a larger increase for the 2010 season, and another for the 2011 season. In other words, he has more then played his way out of Florida's price-range and will certainly be moved at some point this offseason.

The Marlins are also acquiring 20 year old right handed pitcher PJ Dean. While Dean is at least three seasons from the Majors, his showing this year in the New York Penn League certainly did enough to put him on the prospect radar. At 6'3", Dean has the desired frame of a starting pitcher, and his early career numbers are favorable, but he is still a long ways away.

Equally as raw is the third player the Marlins are set to acquire, 19 year old middle infielder Jake Smolinski. Smolinski transitioned well from the outfield to second base, but in his second season of professional baseball, has begun to disappoint with his bat.

However, Jacob has an advanced approach at the plate, working the count well with quick hands.

The issue with Smolinski, is that he doesn't have a true position to play. Despite surprising many with his play at second base this season, his lack of athleticism will not enable him to excel at that position. Because he only a mediocre athlete, Smolinski is limited to playing in left field, if a move to the outfield is required.

The problem then is that Smolinski does not provide the pop that is traditionally expected from a corner outfielder. His development as a fielder and hitter will be interesting to watch.

While the Nationals won this deal, the Marlins did not really lose it. I am surprised that if the Marlins were actively shopping either player, that they were not capable of obtaining more. Which leads me to belief that the players they did acquire are ones that they were obviously interested in. When that is the case, it is impossible to call the team a loser.

The biggest positive to take from this move, is a payroll savings of $4M+ for the 2009 season. Another, is the evident trade of Dan Uggla, which will provide even more in salary relief.

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