The Josh Willingham Trade: Oakland’s Side

A few days after signing Hideki Matsui to DH, the Oakland Athletics have taken another step to invigorate an offense that ranked 10th in the American League in wOBA last season. The A’s have acquired outfielder Josh Willingham from the Washington Nationals for a pair of prospects: outfielder Corey Brown and right-handed reliever Henry Rodriguez.

Willingham, 32 in February, is expected to start in left field. After making $4.6 million in 2010, Willingham has one year of arbitration eligibility remaining and is likely to pull in $5 million-$6 million next year. Since becoming an everyday player for the Marlins in 2006, the right-handed slugger has been a metronome in terms of value. His park and league-adjusted wOBA, or wRC+, was 124 in 2006, 122 in 2007 and 2008, 130 in 2009 and a career-best 138 this past year. Willingham’s WAR totals since ’06? +2.4, +2.2, +2.9, +2.5, and +2.7.

The man known as “The Hammer” isn’t that fleet of foot, as his career -4.6 UZR/150 in the outfield corners indicates, and he does have a tendency to miss some time. Over the last three years, Willingham has averaged 116 games played and about 456 plate appearances per season, suffering from, among other things, a lower back injury in 2008 and a torn meniscus in his left knee in 2010 that required season-ending surgery in mid-August. But even though he surrenders some runs defensively and isn’t a picture of perfect health, Willingham’s superb strike-zone control and quality power make him a good bet for another 2.5-3 WAR season. That sort of performance is worth more than $12 million on the open market if you subscribe to a $5 million/WAR figure. Willingham could also bring back draft pick compensation next winter, as the latest Reverse-Engineered Elias Rankings on MLBTradeRumors list him as a potential Type A free agent.

To get Willingham, the A’s departed with Brown and Rodriguez. Neither is considered a top young talent, but both could be major league contributors. The left-handed Brown has a good deal of power and athleticism. However, he’s also 25 years old, has a history of injuries, and performed poorly in his first taste of Triple-A last year. Rodriguez, 24 in February, flirts with triple-digits on the radar gun and has some positive MLB experience (31.2 IP, 10.52 K/9, 4.26 BB/9, 3.86 xFIP). Oakland is more likely to miss Rodriguez, who whiffed 11.6 hitters per nine innings pitched in the minors. He’s far from a sure thing, though — while he seemed to make some strides with his control in 2010, Rodriguez’s career walk rate in the minors is 6.6 per nine frames. A so-so outfield prospect and a lottery ticket reliever doesn’t seem like an exorbitant price to pay for a year of Willingham’s services at a below-market rate and possibly a pair of draft picks.

The trade gives the A’s a starting outfield that includes Willingham in left, Coco Crisp in center, and fellow trade acquisition David DeJesus in right. While none of those players is a star, each has the potential for above-average production with a 2-3 WAR season. Willingham’s addition relegates Ryan Sweeney to a fourth outfielder role. Still, he figures to see the field quite often given the injury concerns with Willingham and especially Crisp, who missed much of 2009 with a torn labrum in his shoulder and was DL’d in 2010 with a strained intercostal muscle and a fractured pinky finger. A torn right thumb ligament took down DeJesus in late July. Of course, Sweeney has health problems himself — right knee surgery closed the book on his season in July. He had a DL stint for a sprained left knee in 2009, as well as for foot and hand problems in 2008.

Another frail fly catcher, Conor Jackson, will either be a pricey fifth outfielder (he made $3.1 million last year and is arbitration-eligible one last time in 2011) or more likely, trade bait that no one’s exactly fighting to get.

In picking up Willingham, the A’s appear to be guarding against a scenario in which Crisp and Sweeney’s fragility forces the team to give a prominent role to someone among the group of Jackson (he of an 86 wRC+ last season), defensively-challenged prospect Chris Carter or Michael Taylor, a former Phillies farmhand whose pop vanished at Sacramento last season. With Willingham in the fold, the A’s shouldn’t have to worry about Jackson avoiding the plague while getting his slugging percentage above .330, starting a DH-type in Carter or turning a job over to Taylor while hoping his tepid Triple-A performance was just a blip instead of a warning sign for a mid-twenties prospect.



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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.


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Forrest Gumption
Member
Forrest Gumption
5 years 7 months ago

You got to love Beane’s moves this offseason, DeJesus was in the middle of breakout (4-5 WAR) campaign last year before getting hurt and Willingham is basically a lock for a 850 OPS. Matsui had a 950 OPS in the second half last year and historically hits at the Coli pretty well, and hits excellently well at the 3 other AL West parks, he could really be an under the radar big time pickup. Both Dejesus & Willingham are big upgrades over Raj Davis & Ryan Sweeney. Swapping Cust for Matsui is about equal, and full seasons from Brett Anderson & Andrew Bailey mean this .500 club is only going up. You have to figure Oakland is at least an 85 win team next year when you factor in all these upgrades.

What this means in the bigger picture is: Adrian Beltre is going to decide the AL West. If he stays out of it: the A’s, Angels and Rangers look fairly equal. Beltre going to any of those three teams makes that team the favorite.

Danmay
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Danmay
5 years 7 months ago

I would love to hear something out of Beltre soon, as I agree that he will have a large role on the favorite in the AL West. With Crawford, Werth, and Lee off the table he is the biggest FA left, so what is there to wait for?

As an A’s fan it’s incredibly frustrating to have him practically ignore the A’s for the second straight year. Last year I can understand as all he really was looking to do was rebuild his value. But this year…has anyone besides the A’s even offered him a contract? I’m not saying that teams haven’t reportadly shown interest, but any actual contracts?

I love the Willingham trade. Willingham may not knock my socks off, but he will go into 2011 as the best A’s hitter. With the additions of Willingham, Matsui, and Dejesus the A’s offense might be league-average by wOBA. I will miss Henry Rodriguez next year as he was a lot of fun to watch, but at the same time I’ve been hoping that the A’s would trade him all off-season. I can only hope that I won’t miss Brown, but he definitely seems like a poor bet to be productive as a starter.

brendan
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brendan
5 years 7 months ago

disagree. I think the rangers are well ahead of the As and angels. beltre to the As would make it closer, but they have a very good club. As have a decent-to-good club w/ pitching that over-performed somewhat last year.

sleepingcobra
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sleepingcobra
5 years 7 months ago

The Rangers have a good club w/ pitching that over-performed last year.

suicide squeeze
Member
suicide squeeze
5 years 7 months ago

Nice trade. I can’t believe how little it cost to get Willingham. Henry Rodriguez was kinda fun to watch, but I don’t think he’ll ever be Marmol-like enough to justify the walks.

NEPP
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NEPP
5 years 7 months ago

Well, he’s fairly costly and coming off a knee injury…there are some concerns about him obviously.

Overall though, this was a solid deal for the A’s on paper.

sleepingcobra
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sleepingcobra
5 years 7 months ago

Oakland got a grand total of -0.7 WAR out of LF in 2010. Willingham, conservatively, is a 3 WAR upgrade. It would take Rafael Soriano almost 2 full seasons to replicate that kind of value. It’s going to take Henry Rodriguez much longer. Corey Brown is a non-prospect.

DavidCEisen
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DavidCEisen
5 years 7 months ago

How is he a conservative 3 WAR upgrade? That would require a 2.7 WAR year, which is hardly a given.

sleepingcobra
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sleepingcobra
5 years 7 months ago

Josh Willingham’s lowest WAR to date is 2.2. Lets call that his “floor.”

The A’s got a combined -0.7 (notice the minus sign) WAR from LF last year.

If The Hammer reproduced his floor season in 2011, he would be a 2.9 (that’s 2.2 + 0.7) WAR upgrade over last year.

That’s a conservative estimate.

brendan
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brendan
5 years 7 months ago

thats a bit harsh on corey brown. He has torn up AA with very good power for a CF. Still, I think the deal is ok.

Forrest Gumption
Member
Forrest Gumption
5 years 7 months ago

He tore up AA because he was playing against younger players.

ed
Member
ed
5 years 7 months ago

and a .419 (!) BABIP

Chad
Member
Chad
5 years 7 months ago

I don’t really get this for the Nationals, especially after the Werth signing. Rodriguez has a nice live arm, but as mentioned, he’s a lottery ticket arm. Brown might be able to crack in as a 4th outfielder but that looks like an optimistic ceiling. Seems they could have gotten more for JW. Banking on him to stay healthy enough to be July trade bait is a risky proposition, sure, but it seems like the gamble would be worth it to grab some better prospects. Solid deal for Oakland.

NEPP
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NEPP
5 years 7 months ago

I agree…If I were the Nats, I’d have kept him as he’s a very good underrated bat. He could have played 1B for them and given them a legit middle of the lineup with Werth and Zimmerman.

The prospects they got back aren’t top guys…both have concerns as the article mentions. Perhaps the Nats have a plan…but it seems odd. Good deal for Oakland as you say.

However, minor concerns on JW:

1. He’ll be in his Age 32 season…clearly on the decline side of his career

2. He’s coming off a fairly major knee injury

3. He’s switching leagues

4. He’s moving to a pitcher’s park

5. He’s a defensive liability these days…not a huge one but not above average by any means.

Positives:

1. He consistently gives you around a 120 OPS+

2. He can cover RF in a pinch

3. Fairly even splits but better against LHP

4. Great OBP skills.

There’s no indication that his bat will decline. His health is an issue obviously and he’s coming off an injury but Oakland definitely didn’t overpay.

Still, the Nats probably hurt their team this year by moving him…not that they’re really a contender in 2011 so maybe this is a move that looks more towards 2012 and beyond. The Nats seem to have a plan so I’ll give them some benefit of the doubt here. They clearly like Rodriguez.

mlbfan
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mlbfan
5 years 7 months ago

How much is age an issue? Willingham didnt play a fullseason until 2006 at age 27. So a couple yrs later than some. I read he had a torn miniscus which is fully healed

Streams of Whiskey
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Streams of Whiskey
5 years 7 months ago

Honest question, does a torn miniscus ever really fully heal? I tore my miniscus in my knee snowboarding once and various doctors told me that I had to just let it heal naturally but it would never be back to where it was and it would be sort of ‘creaky’ forever. Granted, I didn’t have the sort of medical attention JW has.

Anyone know for sure?

Forrest Gumption
Member
Forrest Gumption
5 years 7 months ago

Washington & Oakland have basically the same park factor. WSN was 18th and OAK was 20th last year.

Oakland Dan
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Oakland Dan
5 years 7 months ago

I’m pretty sure a torn meniscus can’t heal. It can “heal” in the sense that whatever inflammation there is can subside and be kept under control, but once a meniscus tears, it’s torn. They typically shave the rest of the meniscus down to provide a smooth surface for movement in the joint, and one’s problems from that point will thus depend on the original severity or depth of the tear.

If it tears all the way down it’s sometimes better to just remove it completely. See: Mauer, Joe. There is no way he stays behind the plate into his 30’s with that problem. He’s looking at problems pretty much no matter what, arthritis and all the rest of it.

coachalk
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coachalk
5 years 7 months ago

If 32 is on the downside of a career I would be really concerend over the Jayson Werth deal

Paul
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Paul
5 years 7 months ago

Seems obvious the Nats covet Rodriguez since they were reportedly asking for the moon for Willingham just a week ago. Brown looks to me like a total flier, low probability with upside kind of like Maxwell. If either works out they have a power bat in CF to go along with Harper and Werth in a couple years. It’s roughly an even haul to what the Royals got for DeJesus, and I thought that was about right. For me both teams got what they needed here.

DD
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DD
5 years 7 months ago

I wouldn’t be too worried about the knee. A torn meniscus is a pretty routine fix these days. Solid pick up for the A’s.

tomterp
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tomterp
5 years 7 months ago

“However, minor concerns on JW:
1. He’ll be in his Age 32 season…clearly on the decline side of his career
2. He’s coming off a fairly major knee injury
3. He’s switching leagues
4. He’s moving to a pitcher’s park
5. He’s a defensive liability these days…not a huge one but not above average by any means.”

To which I would add something overlooked in the article and comments, that Hammer will be a free agent after the end of this coming season. Whatever value he brings in 2011, is all back up for grabs at the end of the season, which diminished his trade value from the Nats’ perspective.

mlbfan
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mlbfan
5 years 7 months ago

Then why ask a supposedly “high price” at the winter meetings. Worst case they put him at 1b. Rather than overpay adam laroche. Who else is left at 1b, maybe derek lee who prefers west coast teams

Scott
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Scott
5 years 7 months ago

I like Willingham, but I don’t understand what direction Beane is taking the franchise. Coco Crisp, Hideki Matsui and players like Mark Kotsay and Jack Cust in the past. Put together all these middle of the road players plus a super conservative college heavy draft strategy leaves zero opportunity to develop a superstar.

Theoretically if you have a roster full of 2-3 WAR players you could get to the playoffs, but theres just too many moving parts and downrisk for that too all come together at once.

I used to be a Billy Beane fan, but now I’m seeing him as a guy who developed 3 superstar pitchers at the same time rather than a guy that started an entirely baseball philosophy.

sleepingcobra
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sleepingcobra
5 years 7 months ago

Beane, like all other GMs, is trying to get to the playoffs. This year may surprise you – but even if it’s a flop – he’s still a top ~third GM (win-loss record-wise) since he took the job.

I think if Beane heard you suggest that he “started a baseball philosophy” he’d laugh you out of the room. He’s just trying to construct competitive rosters within given constraints. Oakland’s contraints happen to be more constraining than just about every other team, yet Oakland continues to field competitive teams (2007-2009 notwithstanding).

It’s really as simple as that – and Beane continues to be a top-tier GM.

Forrest Gumption
Member
Forrest Gumption
5 years 7 months ago

The Giants won a WS using entirely middle of the road guys & one legitimate star hitter in Posey. Jeez, Willingham, Matsui & DeJesus would have been the 2nd or 3rd best hitter on that SF team.

You are wrong about Beane, he is still finding undervalued skills and exploiting them, the A’s really had no business winning 81 games last year with the offense they had, but pitching & defense got them where they were. Forget Gold Glove awards, Oaklands entire INF was the best all-round defensive INF in baseball last year. Beane saw the best he could get his team using only pitching & D and is now adding just enough offense to make them serious contenders.

CircleChange11
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CircleChange11
5 years 7 months ago

In OAK’s stadium, unless you have premier talent, pitching and defense is the way to go … even better if you’re on a budget.

Jesse011
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Jesse011
5 years 7 months ago

I think Beane is doing a great job with what he has to spend. In two mid-level players he made a huge upgrade to his outfield (and bench, now that Sweeney will be there). He’s also put together another good, young, cheap starting rotation and there always seems to be a closer in the waiting (from Street, Ziegler, Bailey).

The only mistake he’s made is telling everybody how he went about it because now everybody is after the high-OBP players more than ever.

His strategy was never to get superstar players but rather put together a lineup of high OBP/good plate selection guys like Cust, Willingham, etc who aren’t a big deal by themselves but as an opposing pitcher it’s a nightmare to work through a lineup full of guys like that

obsessivegiantscompulsive
Guest
5 years 7 months ago

Might have been easier if he just kept CarGon.

sleepingcobra
Guest
sleepingcobra
5 years 7 months ago

Might have been easier if Sabean didn’t pay a pitcher 7/126 that he didn’t even let pitch in the playoffs. If that doesn’t scream ‘luck’ at you, I don’t know what will.

kirk T
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kirk T
5 years 7 months ago

Might have been easier if the Giants just kept Joe Nathan.

Ever GM is going to have trades/draft picks they wish they could redo.

nolan
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nolan
5 years 7 months ago

Well written article. Enjoyed the read.

Sekrah
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Sekrah
5 years 7 months ago

Oakland looks like a legitimate darkhorse in the AL next year IMO.

There Pyth was 85.2 last year and Beane has improved this team significant. Would not be shocked in the least to see them win the AL West.

court
Guest
court
5 years 7 months ago

From the Nats perspective, they were not going to extend Willingham because he’s a below-average defender and has a history of back problems (he has some kind of herniated disc that he plays with) so they figure Rodriguez and Brown are better than two compensatory picks – maybe only one if Willingham were to get hurt. As a Nats fan, I don’t love the deal, but I understand it. If Josh can stay on the field and healthy (which he’s never done), he’s one hell of a consistent producer.

CarlosM7
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CarlosM7
5 years 7 months ago

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MC
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MC
5 years 7 months ago

When I first saw that the A’s got Willingham, I was stoked.

However, I think the price paid was steep. I’m not too sure why people are so down on Corey Brown. He seems to have solid numbers up until AAA. Maybe the A’s saw something in AAA that they didn’t like. However, he seems like a solid prospect. Rogriguez, too, seems like a good pitcher for the ‘pen.

I guess my post boils down to this: Why do GM’s EVER trade 2 or more prospects for major league players that will be free agents in 1 year? This goes for the DeJesus trade as well. OK you save money for 1 YEAR. Is that really worth it? At the same time, you’re giving up multiple players that will be cheap for multiple years. It makes little sense to me.

This actually does remind me of that atrocious trade that Beane made with Colorado where he gave up Street, Smith AND Carlos Gonzalez to get 1 YEAR of Matt Holliday. It’s another example of giving up a lot of depth in your farm system for a little 1 year sugar rush, and then when the rush wears off, you’re worse off than you were before.

I think the Rays are an excellent example of a team that doesn’t cave in to this temptation.

Souldrummer
Guest
5 years 7 months ago

Willingham’s probably going to be at least Type B if he leaves. He’s still flippable if the A’s aren’t contending and could generate a better haul than they gave up. Rodriguez is out of options and they like their bullpen. They may be more willing to extend Willingham than some other teams and like him as a moneyball kind of guy (slow but high OBP). He’s moving to the AL where DH is a resort that could save some of the wear and tear, although that isn’t but so much of a scenario unless Matsui falls off because Willingham has to be better than Matsui in the field.

For guys that aren’t even ranked in the top 10 of your prospects, seems like Beane gave up something that has a small chance of making a major difference in the long term, for something that could add 3 wins to your team in the short term.

Do you think the prospects he gave up are going to earn 3.0 WAR at the major league level in the next 2 years? Willingham’s also not that expensive since he’s under team control and his injuries have hurt his artibration value.

Unless the Nats move one of their more tradable and mature relievers, I’m not happy about this deal from the Nats perspective.

Todd
Member
Todd
5 years 7 months ago

There’s essentially no other means of acquiring a 2.5 win player on a 1 year/$6mil contract. It strips the long term risk that’s associated with signing a guy like Jason Bay to a 4 year deal out of the equation. Sure, you give up a couple of decent prospects; but you buy the chance to be competitive, sneak into the playoffs, then pick-up one or two draft picks. If the team isn’t in contention come deadline time, you’re sitting on an asset that has more value to other teams than it does to you.

The Holliday trade notwithstanding (and the timing on that deal was the biggest issue), it’s a solid means of acquiring talent; and let’s be realistic, buying talent off the free agent market has proven to be incredibly difficult for the A’s.

Forrest Gumption
Member
Forrest Gumption
5 years 7 months ago

You are vastly overrating Oakland’s young players. Mazzaro is kind of awful actually, his FIP last year was way over 5, you definitely trade him for an everyday OF like DeJesus. Brown stunk at his first stint at AAA and is 25. H-Rod is just a guy. He has potential, but when you have a clear issue in trying to find a bat, you flip him for a guy like Willingham. Beane pulled an ace closer who was a AA starter the year before, finding relievers has always been a strength, H-Rod was expendable.

Willingham’s agent is Beane’s next door neighbor, I wouldn’t be surprised if he signs an extension and moves to DH or 1B by the end of the deal.

blackout
Guest
blackout
5 years 7 months ago

“This actually does remind me of that atrocious trade that Beane made with Colorado where he gave up Street, Smith AND Carlos Gonzalez to get 1 YEAR of Matt Holliday.”

Yeah, except that Matt Holliday is a much more valuable player, and the players traded for him reflect that, just as those traded for Willingham reflect his value. I really doubt that A’s fans will be rueing the day that Brown and H-Rod were dealt.

mlbfan
Guest
mlbfan
5 years 7 months ago

Have you noticed the A’s offseason and last several ones, players dont want to go there, despite offerring decent money, they either bring in flawed free agents or trades.

MC
Guest
MC
5 years 7 months ago

If you look at just these 2 deals, it is:

@Souldrummer – I think there’s a fair chance that Rodriguez + Brown will, in the aggregate, total more than the 3.0 WAR that Willingham will contribute next year. They probably would even do so at lesser cost.

I have just seen so many of this type of deal from Beane before. Aside from Carlos Gonzalez, there was the Ethier deal, which was also for a one-year renta player I believe. And Ethier had similar numbers to Corey Brown except for AAA, at the time of the trade. Hmmm…

travis
Guest
travis
5 years 7 months ago

cargo didn’t do much in oakland, but who hits in oakland? holliday couldn’t. maybe they will move one day and have a chance at a real payroll.

Forrest Gumption
Member
Forrest Gumption
5 years 7 months ago

The last 30 games Holliday played in Oakland, he had an 880 OPS. Not sure what you mean by your post.

R M
Guest
R M
5 years 7 months ago

SSS….and I’m not speaking parseltongue

travis
Guest
travis
5 years 7 months ago

in 2009, he hit almost 100 points higher and slugged almost 200 points higer at Busch then at McAfee. not big samples but i think most would agree that hitters do worse there.

pm
Guest
pm
5 years 7 months ago

Where is the Nationals side of this trade? I always knew that Fangraphs was biased against certain teams. It doesn’t make sense why they are biased for certain teams that are even worse than the Nationals.

Forrest Gumption
Member
Forrest Gumption
5 years 7 months ago

Um, the A’s are going to win a LOT more games than the Nats next year. They are an 85+ win team, the Nats wont sniff that until Harper+Strasburg are on the 25 man active roster.

And I like the Nats, but that’s simply put, a really ignorant comment. The A’s won 81 games without any good hitters now they have added 3, they are going to be undoubtedly making noise in 2011.

pm
Guest
pm
5 years 7 months ago

I never said that the Nationals are a better team than the A’s, just that they are better than a certain team in the AL West that gets a disproportionate amount of attention relative to their relevancy.

sleepingcobra
Guest
sleepingcobra
5 years 7 months ago

The Mariners? What the hell are you even talking about?

cwj
Member
cwj
5 years 7 months ago

I’m not sure what PM is talking about, but it would be nice to see an article on how this trade helps the Nats. For example, the Nats just might have one of the top MLB bullpens in 2011. Storen, Clippard, Burnett, Balester and now Rodriguez.
Might be kinda cool to see an analysis of their pen after this trade.

Ton
Guest
Ton
5 years 7 months ago

for what its worth, willingham said he would sign an extension

R M
Guest
R M
5 years 7 months ago

There’s something happenin in here, what it is ain’t exactly clear

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