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Mr. Wang goes to Washington

It’s not official-official yet, but there’s more than enough evidence to say that Chien-Ming Wang has joined the Nationals. This is a fairly disastrous decision by Mr. Wang, whatever the status of his rehabilitation, because the Nationals are not going to give him the defensive support he requires for his groundball-generating, pitch-to-contact ways to pay off in outs instead of baserunners.

The Nats were one of the worst defensive teams in baseball last year and it’s possible that they will be worse this year. It was initially assumed that Cristian Guzman would be sliding from shortstop to second base with prospect Ian Desmond taking over at short. That wouldn’t have solved anything for Wang, because Desmond doesn’t have the greatest defensive reputation, but the theory was that he’d at least be better than Guzman, who has slipped badly in recent years. The signing of Adam Kennedy seems to have thrown that plan out the window, with Guzman sticking at short and Desmond either taking on a super-utility role or retreating to Triple-A.

Ryan Zimmerman is a good glove at the hot corner, but Adam Dunn is making the move from the outfield to first base and based on past experience won’t remind anyone of Keith Hernandez over there. In the outfield, Wang will have the benefit of pitching in front of a rangy center fielder in Nyjer Morgan, but Josh Willingham and Elijah Dukes are nothing special in the corners. Wang’s strikeout rate should increase in the NL, just by virtue of his losing the designated hitter (gee, you wonder if he can run the bases without injuring himself), but he’s going to need a greater uptick than that will provide to survive his fielders.

Earlier in the winter, there was talk of the Cardinals kicking the tires on Wang, and it’s a shame that the rumors weren’t true or the sides couldn’t come to an agreement. Not only are the Cards reasonably solid defensively and have a winning tradition, but pitching coach Dave Duncan has had tremendous success getting pitchers like Wang back on track. If it was just a question of money that kept Wang out of Missouri, he might have badly miscalculated, taking short-term gain but risking long-term failure.

THE BOSTON BRAVES DID NOT PLAY FOR THE FATHERLAND

Why were the Braves wearing swastika caps on Opening Day 1914? That year, Adolph Hitler was 25, living in Munich, and months away from beginning his galvanizing service in the First World War, which wouldn’t start for another four months, so it has to be more complicated than that. Fine historical work here by Tom Shieber.

NOTE FOR BRETT GARDNER
Read today that Stuart Sternberg, owner of the Rays, said that they will be paring payroll next year. That means that soon-to-be-free agent Carl Crawford could be in play as soon as the All-Star break. Play hard, Brett. Get hot early and stay hot or you’re going to find yourself riding the pines. Heck, you might find yourself there anyway, because Crawford is a heck of a player. Still, best not to go down without a fight, right?

"Heck of a player" needs to be qualified. Crawford’s game relies on batting average enough to make you nervous. Note what 2008’s injury-compromised season brought: .273/.319/.400. The point there isn’t the injury, it’s what happened to Crawford’s rates when 25 points of batting average was taken away. His signature speed is another problem, as he’s just one really good leg injury away from losing half his value. As excited as the local fan base would be by a Crawford acquisition, as exciting as he himself can be, he’s not without risk.

There’s some Marquis Grissom in Crawford. Grissom’s best years, 1993 (.298/.351/.438, 19 home runs, 53 stolen bases) and 1996 (.308/.349/.489, 23 home runs, 28 stolen bases) wouldn’t stick out too badly on Crawford’s baseball card. After the latter season, Grissom’s batting average went away for five years; aside from a little resurgence in 2002 and 2003 he was through as a productive player at 29. From 1997 through the end of his career he hit .264/.305/.414. He still had some power, hitting 138 home runs in that time, but the stolen bases and good defense had ebbed. He was a replacement-level player being paid like an All-Star in those years.

I’m not saying that Crawford will go the same way, though Grissom does show up on the low end of his list of comps. It’s just that when you look at a player’s skills, you hope you can make an argument that the player is worthwhile even with diminished skills. Alex Rodriguez at .250 is not going to be as valuable at .280 or .300, but you figure the walks and home runs will still put some runs on the scoreboard. Those attributes fluctuate less than batting average, which tends to bounce all over the place even for the best hitters. Even Ichiro is up or down by 30 points a year. If Crawford doesn’t hit for average, he’ll steal some bases, hit a few home runs, play good defense, but the overall package would be diminished in a way that a player with more selectivity and power would not be.

I CHAT HERE AT YES FRIDAY AT NOON
Details to follow. Hang out and talk baseball and whatever else you like. I look forward to seeing you.