Jon Rauch is possibly one of the more underrated relievers in baseball. While he's not necessarily one of the best closers, his numbers as the Nationals emergency closer weren't all that bad, and he was showing all the signs of getting even better. Through his time in Washington this season, Rauch had a career 3.63 ERA and had really only been pitching as a reliever since coming to the majors with the Nationals in 2005. Prior to that, he had been a run of the mill starting pitcher, but took to his new role and became one of the more effective set-up men in the game. This season, with Chad Cordero gone early, the Nationals thrust Rauch into the closer's role and he had converted 17-of-22 save opportunities.
Another plus with Rauch is that he's signed through 2010 at a very reasonable rate ($2.0 million in 2009 and a team option for $2.9 million in 2010). For a team that likes to keep their payroll relatively low, Rauch was a good deal.
What they got in return:
Many people around baseball are saying "is that it?" when they find out what Arizona had to give up to get Jon Rauch. While it's not necessarily a knock on Emilio Bonifacio, Rauch's numbers and contract status would have seemed to demand that the Nationals would have gotten more in exchange for him.
Keith Glab of FutureBacks.com says that while there is an upside to Bonifacio, he's not exactly a blue-chip prospect. Glab believes that he may not be an everyday player, but can play a number of positions and could be helpful in a utility role. "He's basically a raw tools type prospect with a pretty ugly swing right now," said Glab. "I'm not sure why the stolen base numbers were so low this year, but the lack of improvement in walks and strikeouts is a big concern."
New coaches, putting a fresh eye to Bonifacio may be able to fix some flaws in his game, which is something that Glab sees as a possibility. "Obviously, he is still pretty young, so maybe a change in instructors is just what he needs to jump-start his development."
D'backs manager Bob Melvin had been impressed with what he saw from Bonifacio and ranks him higher than Glab. "He needs to continue to develop, and we think he can be a great everyday player," said Melvin. "But we envision him being an every day player at some point."
Time will tell whether or not Bonifacio fits the bill as an everyday player.
Let's bottom line this thing:
While Bonifacio brings decent defense, a lot of speed and a good amount of potential, the fact that the Diamondbacks were moving him around defensively seems to hint that they were hedging their bets on whether or not he could play everyday at the Major League level. As Glab pointed out, his stolen base numbers are down - he went from 61 stolen bases in 130 games in 2006 to 41 in 132 games last season and had just 17 in 85 games this season - and his swing has a lot of holes.
It's somewhat surprising that with teams like the White Sox and Rays openly scouting Rauch, that the Nationals didn't choose to hold out and hope for more of a bidding war as the trade deadline drew closer. It's possible that they could have even turned to the Mets, who may now be in the market for bullpen help since Billy Wagner is experiencing muscle spasms in his left shoulder. They likely could have held out for a lot more from the Mets, using the inter-division trading excuse to demand more to send him to a division rival. Actually, there are now and likely will be even more teams looking for relief help that would have had interest in Rauch.
While Bonifacio isn't a bad player, he's too raw to acquire straight-up for a reliever like Rauch. Especially since the Nationals are without their closer and there's no clear cut choice to step into the role for them. There's a little more than a week to go before the trade deadline and while that may not seem like much, it can be an eternity when teams are looking for a key player to plug into an open spot. The Nationals could have played this better simply by waiting for even just a few more days to see how things would play out.