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BALDELLI TO NATIONALS?

[November 8th] -- Be careful of what you wish for.

There are several sources claiming this morning that the Nationals have been talking with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in hopes of trading for outfielder Rocco Baldelli. For the lowdown on the 26 year old, read the story below that I wrote two weeks ago.

As I pointed out, Baldelli's career numbers - based on a 162 game season - are about the same as Ryan Church, though with a little more speed and a little less on-base percentage.

One thing is for sure: if the Nationals make a deal for Baldelli, he becomes the de facto starting center fielder and Ryan Church is on his way out of Washington.

Read the story below and decide if this is a good idea or not.

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[October 23rd] -- Rocco Baldelli. Sounds like a guy who grew up in St. Louis in the 1940's along with Joe Garigola and Yogi Berra. It's a great baseball name. Baldelli, however, is a modern-day man, an outfielder for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Following an outstanding rookie year, it was thought that Baldelli would become the face of the Devil Rays for the next decade. It didn't happen, and the team moved on.

Where is Baldelli going to play in 2008? Washington, maybe? Maybe. I can certainly see the logic in such a move, at least from Jim Bowden's perspective.

Baldelli, 26, is a 6'4", 200 lb outfielder from Rhode Island (he sounds more like Carl Yastremski than Berra when he talks). He had an outstanding prep career and was taken with the 6th pick in the June 2000 draft by Tampa Bay. His scouting report read like this:

"Baldelli has outstanding speed and power for a high schooler. He has great natural instincts for the game. He is an excellent outfielder with tremendous range and the ability to be where the ball lands. Projects as a 30-30 player. The only thing that is keeping him for being a true five-tool player is his throwing arm, which is only slightly above-average."

After three very-good-but-not great years in the minors, Baldelli was named the team's starting center fielder in 2003 at 21, more the result of a very bad major league team than his being totally ready for the major leagues. That said, Baldelli had a great rookie season, going .289-11-78 with 27 stolen bases. He finished 3rd in the Rookie-of-the-Year award, behind Angel Berroa and Hideki Matsui. 2004 was even better; he hit .280-16-74 in 136 games. He missed several games during the year with a variety of nagging injuries, but nothing a quiet off season wouldn't have fixed. The off season, however, was anything but quiet.

Baldelli tore his ACL while playing basketball during that off season. The surgery was successful, and he was feeling pretty good when he reported to Spring Training in 2005. While long tossing, however, he felt soreness in his throwing elbow. Within days, he was back in the operating room, this time for Tommy John surgery. He missed the entire season and wasn't able to return until June of 2006. He finished that season .302-16-57 in just 92 games.

2007 was supposed to be the year that Baldelli had a break out year, that he showed he was healthy and able to play a full season.

Never happened.

Baldelli bruised his leg in late April, and while he didn't miss any games, it slowed him down. A month later, he strained a hamstring and was done for the year. He was batting .281 when he bruised his leg, and ended the year .204-5-12 in just 35 games.

Now, it's obvious that Baldelli shares much in common with Alex Escobar and Nick Johnson in that he has unlimited talent but limited availability to play the game of baseball. He also shares something with former National Jose Guillen though. Both players were offered long term, cash-rich deals that were turned down just before their careers went down the toilet. Baldelli was offered a 5 year / $23 million dollar contract at the age of 22 after just two major league seasons. Jose Guillen turned down his deal with Washington because he was stupid. Baldelli? Well, his agent at the time was none other than Scott Boras.

Boras is no longer Baldelli's agent. Gee, I wonder why?

In total, Rico Baldelli has played in 419 games since he began his career in 2003. He has not played in 379. Basically, he was available to play half the time, which means the Devil Rays decision to move on without him makes perfect sense. Here are Tampa's top four outfielders from 2007:

Carl Crawford: .315-11-80, 50 steals [Age 26]

B.J. Upton: .300-24-82, 22 steals [Age 23]

Delmon Young: .288-13-93, 10 steals [Age 22]

Jonny Gomes: .244-17-56, 12 steals [Age 26]

A healthy Rocco Baldelli has no place to play in Tampa Bay next year. Upton and Young are both very young and haven't even begun to reach their potential. Crawford has averaged .302-15-75, 55 stolen bases since he became a starter. Gomes has averaged .245-20-54 over the past three years while averaging 100 games per season.

Baldelli, then, isn't returning to Tampa in 2008. He's still young, but his trade value is limited because of all the injuries. I mean, what do you think the Nationals could get for Nick Johnson this off-season?

So he's going to get traded, but to where? Perhaps the Nats have an interest? He is, after all, a "toolsy player," the kind of guy that makes Jim Bowden salivate.

Count on Wily Mo Pena as a lock in left, just as Austin Kearns is a lock in right. Justin Maxwell has shown he has a bright future in the major leagues, but not just yet. And Ryan Church? Well, we all know how the team feels about him.

It wouldn't take much to bring Baldelli to Washington. But would he be that much of an upgrade from Ryan Church?

Here is Baldelli's average major league season based on his yearly average of 640 at-bats:

Runs: 94 -- Hits: 181 -- 2B: 31 -- 3b: 7 -- HR: 19 -- RBI: 85 -- SB: 22 -- BB: 32 -- K: 122 -- Ave: .282 -- OBP: .324 -- SLG: .443

Pretty impressive, over all, though his walks and on base percentage are poor. He normally batted second, third and fifth in the Rays' batting order.

Now lets take a look at Ryan Church's career averages, based on those same 640 at-bats:

Runs: 84 -- Hits: 176 -- 2B: 49 -- 3B: 4 -- HR: 31 -- HR: 99 -- SB: 8 -- BB: 68 -- K: 143 -- Ave: .271 -- OBP: .348 -- SLG: .462

Church's numbers are for the most part identical to Baldelli's save stolen bases and batting average. But his .348 OBP is much better than Baldelli's .324 and his OPS is 43 points higher as well. And though Baldellis does have a higher stolen base total, his last two years - since his ACL surgery - looks just like Church's.

Some team, somewhere, is in need of a center fielder and will take a chance on Rocco Baldelli. The Nationals will at least take a look at him, but what they now have is a certainty vs. Baldelli's "maybe." And just so it's clear, while Baldelli is a good center fielder, his career fielding average is .984, whereas Ryan Church has fielded at a .993 clip over that same time.

I think if Baldelli stays healthy, he'll likely hit .280-20-80 or so next season. Ryan Church, if given the opportunity, will likely hit .274-18-80 or so but with a better fielding percentage.

Unless Church can be packaged for a top-flight starter, someone like Johan Santana, then the "brain trust" needs to plug their noses and just let Church play.

It makes just too much sense. I guess that's why Jim Bowden continues to waffle about the guy.

Arizona Fall League: This year, Nationals pitchers are doing much better than hitters. Justin Maxwell is hitting just .174-1-3 in 46 at-bats. Kory Casto is at .238-0-1. Devan Ivany is still doing well at .333-3-6, but his average has dropped over the last few games.

Adam Carr is 0-0, 3.38, Zech Zincola is at 1-1, 3.38 and Garrett Mock is 0-0, 0.00.


Comments:
Tried to promote your blog's Baldelli story in a BPG thread, Farid. I don't know how many noticed. Nice piece, I thought.
 
Where've you gone, Farid?
 
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