Monday, March 28, 2005

There Went Peter Cottontail

If you're like me, and who'd admit that anyway, you can't think of a better way of celebrating the ressurection of our Lord and Savior than by ripping your groin. Tony Armas, demonstrating that he's in the holiday spirit, at least partially, decided he'd participate too. Although he didn't fully rip it, he tweaked it enough to have to be removed from a game against the Mets.

Neither Armas, nor the Patron Saint of Nats, St. Barry, think there's much to it -- it was more of a precautionary move. Yet, nothing good can come from it.

First, Armas hasn't pitched deep into a game yet this spring. The article notes that the deepest he's gone is 3.2 innings. Given that he would have, at most, one more pitching outing this spring, it would have been beneficial to stretch that arm out and work out his endurance a little more.

Second, this is the first incident this year of a trend that's prevented Armas from living up to the high expectations on his gimpy shoulder when he was traded for Pedro J. Martinez. He can't stay healthy. Last year, he got nailed in the leg by a line drive, had a sore biceps (I think it's still with an s for singular?). The year before that he had his shoulder rebuilt.

In the last two seasons, he's combined for just 103 innings over 21 starts. Do the math, and you can see that he's not very durable even when 'healthy' enough to start.

But, he has youth and potential on his side. His 2001 season, when he was just 23, was an excellent season, and is probably the up-side of what we can expect. That year, he threw 196.2 innings and struck out 176 batters. His won-loss record stunk (9-14), but that was much more a product of the miserable team he was pitching for than the 4.03 ERA he put up. (League average was 4.65 that year.) He walked too many batters, 91, but it was a very solid season overall, and one he could reproduce if he stays healthy.

The other reason why the Nationals need to stay healthy and produce: he's trade bait.

He'll be a free agent at the end of the year, and still relatively young. Scouts still glow about his 'stuff' and his potential. In other words, there'll probably be a market for his pitching, which might preclude the still-small market Nationals from making a serious push if his salary jumps up to the $7-8MM range.

And, if we're realistic, the Nats likely won't be in the heat of the pennant race, though we can hope damnit, and can sell him off without crushing the team's chances. If he's healthy, most of the contending teams could use him, and they could easily slot him in the third spot in their playoff rotations. He could be a difference maker and could command a premium price.

With the weakness of this club's farm system, any deal which gives us prospects is a good one!

So on behalf of those Nationals fans who will still be rooting for the team long after you've left, Tony, please stay healthy and remember... Easter's over. You don't need to rip your groin anymore!


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