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Bowden Signs Quantity, Not Quality

[December 29th] -- Call it, "Two for the price of one." Jim Bowden added the final two pieces of the Washington Nationals' pitching puzzle by signing former Red Ramon Ortiz and resigning Tony Armas Jr. Ortiz signed a one-year, $2.5 million dollar contract and Armas Jr. inked a one-year, $2.1 million dollar deal, the same amount he made in 2003 and 2004, and down a bit from last season's $2.4 million dollar salary.

Let's dissect both deals.

Ramon Ortiz - Age: 32 - Career Record: 68-60, 4.72 Of all of the "bargain-basement" pitchers remaining in the free agent market, Ortiz was my personal favorite. There has been a constant throughout his seven-year major league career: He wins a lot of games and he does it with an very high ERA. Check this out: 2001] 13 wins, 4.36 ERA --- 2002] 15 wins, 3.77 ERA --- 2003] 16 wins, 5.20 ERA --- 2004] 5 wins, 4.43 ERA --- 2005] 9 wins, 4.72 ERA. Being an American League pitcher for most of his career adds three-quarters of a run to his ERA, giving Ortiz a pretty good 3.97 adjusted NL ERA.

True, he had a 4.72 ERA with the Reds last season, but it was his first year in a new league, and in a very hitter friendly park. Balls that were flying out of Anaheim and Cincinnati should die on the warning track at RFK. He pitched very well away from the Reds' band-box. He had a 1.50 ERA at Dodger Stadium, 2.51 at Shea, 2.35 at Turner Field and 3.00 at PNC in Pittsburgh. Look at his Turner Field number closely, as Atlanta's ballpark is almost as pitcher friendly as RFK. Don't be surprised if on the back of his jersey, right above the number, the name "Loaiza II" appears next season. Loaiza has a career ERA in the American League of 4.64, but went 12-10, 3.77 with the Nationals last season. If Ortiz has the same type of improvement, look for him to win 12-14 games with an ERA of 3.80 or so.

Ortiz is relatively short for a pitcher, which causes his release point to throw a very straight fastball. Taller guys, guys like John Patterson and Randy Johnson, throw down at batters, making their heaters seem especially formidable. Although straight, his fastball is fast, crossing the plate at 95+ mph consistently. However, his set-up pitches are mediocre at best, giving hitters the opportunity to wait on his fastball. If they guess right, the ball goes very, very far.

Ortiz has a career winning percentage of .538 with an NL adjusted ERA of 3.98. He's making $2.5 million with the Nationals. Mr. "All Everything," Kevin Millwood, has a career winning percent of .569 with an ERA of 3.76. He's making $12 million a year. Is Kevin Millwood better than Ramon Ortiz? You bet he is. Is he better to the tune of nearly $10 million per season? You be the judge. I can tell you where the Rangers got the money to pay him. They traded Alfonso Soriano to the Nationals. Thanks.

Tony Armas Jr. - Age: 27 - Career Record: 39-48, 4.32 Tony Armas Jr. didn't resign with the Nationals because of any great sense of loyalty to the club. No other team except the Colorado Rockies were willing to offer him a contract, and if you had to sign a one-year contract in hopes of earning a multi-year, major dollars deal down the road, would you sign with Colorado or Washington?

It's a no brainer from my perspective.

For yet another season, Armas was injured. In 2005, he didn't even make it out of the dressing room before landing on the disabled list. He will go into spring training in competition with Ryan Drese to fill the 5th slot in the rotation. My money goes on Armas. He's dang mad that no one wanted him this free-agency season. He wants to prove the baseball world wrong, and he wants to sign a Loaiza-type contract in 2007. The only way to do that is to stay healthy and win 14 games next season. And he just may.

The scouting reports on Armas are uniform in that they all indicate a tremendous talent with outstanding mound "presence." He knows how to pitch and what to pitch. He just can't stay healthy. The TSN scouting report believes that Armas will be a consistent 15 game winner in his career once he gets over the injury bug-a-boo. And they very well could be right. Of course, it'll never happen with the Nationals. The best we can hope for is a great bon-voyage year in 2006.

Here's the [likely] starting rotation in 2006:

1-Livan Hernandez, 15-10 - 3.98

2-John Patterson, 9-7 - 3.13

3-Brian Lawrence, 7-15 - 4.83

4-Ramon Ortiz, 9-11 - 5.36

5- Ryan Drese or Tony Armas Jr. [Numbers for both to scary to list here]

All in all, it's a rotation that I can live with. Livan and Patterson, Drese and Armas Jr. remain from 2005. Ramon Ortiz should produce numbers similar to the departed Esteban Loiaza. Lawrence is a plus over the conglomeration of Sunny Kim, Hector Carrasco, Claudio Vargas, Zach Day and Tomo Ohka. They certainly have the potential to repeat the 81 win season that the previous starting staff crafted last year. But the offense should be better, so 2006 should be a better season for the Nationals.



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