Nationals Baseball

Monday, November 20, 2017

Offeseaon Position Discussion : Starting Pitching

Last year discussion revisited

The thought was in 2017 it would eventually be Max, Stras, Roark, Gio/Ross, and one of the Nats "on the cusp" starters - Lucas Giolito or Reynaldo Lopez. It made sense. The Nats love their bargain players, who doesn't?, and they had two starters with potential to be just that. At the same time Gio was trending down and Ross couldn't stay healthy, but both still had value. Bailing on one wouldn't be the worst idea. And indeed the Nats explored some deals for Gio or Ross that might have cleared up that issue.

We also acknowledged that the Stras/Gio/Ross trio presented a bunch of performance/injury questions and the Nats may go after another starter to shore up the rotation with a non-question mark. And indeed the Nats explored trading for at least Chris Sale. 

But instead they ended up trading Giolito and Lopez in the same deal for Adam Eaton and watched as Sale went to Boston. The Nats now needed both Ross and Gio.

The end results in 2017? Max was great again. Strasburg did stay relatively healthy and was great. Roark was good after a shaky first half. Gio would end up having his best season in a while. He didn't actually pitch too much better than recent years but everything came up Gonzalez. Ross though failed to make it a clean sweep. He had a poor first half and then went under the knife for another TJ surgery. The Nats internal solutions (AJ Cole, Jacob Turner, Erick Fedde) were mostly failures, so the Nats brought in an old friend Edwin Jackson to round out the rotation for the remainder of the year. He started well but unraveled in September. With Max being Max, Stras being Stras, and Roark/Gio being healthy, it was enough though.

My OOB plan would have been AWESOME. I traded (somehow don't ask me how) Gio, Ross, and Roark and prospects and got back Goldschmidt and Charlie Blackmon. That's an offense. Made more sense before 2017 when neither team looked to be all that good. 

Presumed Plan : Max, Stras, Gio, Roark, and some cheap free agent at first

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : Max just won his 3rd Cy Young. Strasburg finished 3rd.  Gio finished 6th. Roark finished the season still under team control.

To expand on this a little. Max and Stras are both paid liked aces and pitched to match that. They are in. Gio, even though he probably won't have as good results in 2018, is a deal for his salary, is left-handed, and is a reliable innings eater.  All things any team would be foolish to let walk. Roark is a little up and down but for his cost, general success, and recent health you pen him into any rotation.

That leaves one spot that is wide open. They would have ideally hoped that Fedde would have matured quickly into that role, but that doesn't look like the case. No other Nats "prospect" looked ready.  That leaves a trade for a good pitcher, or waiting out the FA market to try to grab a bargain.

Problems with Presumed Plan : There are some warning signs because of the age of the rotation. Max will be 33 and can now miss a game if he sleeps wrong. Gio will be 32 and is Gio. Even Tanner is over 31 now. These are the ages where nicks and dings are likely to spiral into something more. Gio's fancy stats suggest he won't pitch as well next year, and Tanner's suggest last year wasn't a huge fluke. He could simply be a back of the rotation guy. 

Strasburg will still be under 30 but is the question mark. He was relatively healthy last year but he still pitched only 175 innings, making it the third season in a row where he didn't pitch a full one.

Having no one for that fifth spot, even a pencilled in name, is pretty worrisome. The Nats don't have depth in starting pitching (Rizzo even acknowledged this) and we saw last season one bad option trotted out after another. When your saving grace is "more than half the time Edwin Jackson was here he was pretty good... and the other time he was awful" well... I hope you realize that's not ideal.

My take : Max has been healthy his entire career. Gio has had one missed month in his. In three seasons of starting in the past four years, Tanner has missed a handful of starts total. These are rotation worthy pitchers who are healthy. Are they bigger injury risks today than going into 2015? Yes. But you'd take "standard injury risk due to age" over "injury risk due to past injury" every day.

As for Strasburg, you can't deny the past, but you also can't deny the trends. 2017 was another step up from 2015 and 2016. I don't think the Nats will get the full season they are hoping for from Stephen, but another 180 IP doesn't seem unreasonable.

However, Strasburg's history only makes the gaping hole in the #5 spot that much scarier. Baseball tells you that for most of 2018 the Nats will need more than one starter other than the four already named. That they have zero is a bad start. I fully expect the Nats to bring in someone. While I'd like it to be a trade for a Gerrit Cole type, odds are they are going to come in asking for Soto and that's not going to fly.  So instead I see them waiting out the FA market.  What does that mean? It depends on how cheap the Nats want to go.

If they want to go with a warm body it could mean a Chris Tillman, a Jason Vargas, maybe even a Jhoulys Chacin or Jaime Garcia if the market is in their favor. If they don't mind if the body is cold we could see a Jeremy Hellickson or a Wade Miley.  If you twist my arm I think the body is more cold than warm and the Nats end up with a former Cubbie to match their manager. John Lackey's health (27+ starts since 2009) plays in his favor, along with his fair performance. I'd also imagine he'd want another crack at a World Series, something the Nats give him.

Out of the box suggestion :
Strasburg has an opt-out after 2019 (and 2020). He's finally put together a great season. So now's the time to sell high right? Package Strasburg and Bryce together - send them to the Dodgers and gut that farm. Can you imagine Strasburg back in CA in a pitcher's park? Bryce in his natural confines of Hollywood? The Nats with Bellinger and Walker Buehler and Alex Verdugo? Yeah, yeah, no trades clauses. Yeah, yeah "What do the Dodgers want to do, though?".  This isn't the section for rational thought. This is the section where the Nats squeak out another NL East title with 86 wins, miss the playoffs in 2019 with 84, then are set up again with a young dominant offense to carry them through the 2020's

*Plus the trade market probably won't favor the Nats. The FA after this year are "maybe Kershaw" - who won't be traded to Nats even if he walks. Drew Pomeranz, eh.  "maybe Price" I suppose the Nats could get him. Anyone else worth talking about has more years and if they are any good will fetch a hefty price the Nats are unlikely to pay.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A little clarification

I forget that you guys aren't all reading this blog religiously and these things aren't as fresh for you as they may be for me so as we wind down the offseason-previews (SP and RP to come) just a couple reminders.

Plan - What I expect Nats to do
Positives/Negatives of plan - self-explanatroy
My Take - What I think of the plan given those plusses and minuses with a strong dose of what I would do.
Out of the Box idea - some sort of idea that has little chance of coming to pass that I throw out there for discussion purposes.

So I don't want JD Martinez. I don't think the Nats should get JD Martinez. However, I think it's not CRAZY that the Nats could sign JD Martinez, and it would sort of address some problems so why not talk about it. The OOBs don't work as an overall plan though because they don't work together. You can't trade for Dozier AND sign Moustakas and move Rendon to 2B.

Anyway there you go. What would I do so far?
  • I'd trade for Realmuto and because I don't want to trade any real propsects I'd eat whatever salary that isn't Chin's that Miami wants me to eat. (not my money)
  • I'd let Zimm start but make sure to either bring back Lind or get the best back-up 1B out there. 
  • Unless they know something I don't, I'd sit on Murphy for now assuming he's back early next season, signing a decent MI back-up in the vein of a Stephen Drew (but not him - he's done now) but be prepared to go after a starting 2B in trade later in the year if Murphy can't recover and Difo is not above average. 
  • I'd start Turner and Rendon - duh - with that MI signing covering for them as well. 
  • I'd say I'm going with Eaton - MAT - Bryce, but I'd dangle MAT out there and see what bites I get. Probably nothing but maybe some GM is really feeling him. At the same time I don't NOT listen to Bryce deals but you gotta blow me away here. If the Nats do get a deal and no replacement OF is in it then Robles is starting for whoever is dealt.
GM Meetings are closing out soon. They will lay the groundwork for the Winter Meetings after Thanksgiving. We'll see how that all shakes out. Rizzo seems inclined to fix the margins again. A Marco Estrada, an Ivan Nova, a George Kontos in deals if the price is right. A John Jaso* or a Brett Lawrie in FA if the money makes sense. That's what we are probably looking at.

Very Side note : I'd totally sign Tim Collins again to a minor league deal. The Nats picked up the former Royals reliever last year with the idea that he may be able to help them by the end of the year. While he was able to pitch again, when they rushed him up to AA (which is totally understandable) he wasn't good enough to go further. But I'd like to see what he could do after an off-season of rest and training.

*Jaso is an interesting case as he CAN play catcher. Hint, hint Nationals

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Offseason Position Discussion : Outfield

Last year discussion revisited

"Werth, Bryce and something new" was how I put it, expecting a deal for a CF because that's how the Nats roll. This wasn't too surprising a spot to land on. Bryce was an "of course" and Werth was a "has to", leaving CF open. The Nats had Revere and MAT but you had to doubt either of them would start given their 2016 performances. I threw some names on that hoping for McCutchen but expecting maybe Lorenzo Cain.

Both had good years and would have worked, but the Nats ended up trading for another name we bandied about before (though not in that post) Adam Eaton. He had a very favorable contract so the Nats had to part with their two best SP prospects to make it work. Adam Eaton was everything the Nats could have asked for though... for 23 games before tearing up his ACL and his meniscus AND spraining his ankle. Done for the year.

MAT would be forced into action and would proceed, after two seasons of being told he was ready to break out and seeing nothing, to do really well. Between taking over the position and July 7th he would hit .295 and slug 12 homers. He would miss a month for injury (Brian Goodwin would come up and hit some homers) and upon return put up a pretty bad August, but in Sept would have a month very similar to his first starting stretch. It wasn't plan A but plan B worked well giving the Nats some more direction on the future of the outfield.

Meanwhile Bryce would be a star again, though not OMG BRYCE. He would injure his leg late in the year and be out until the playoffs and hampered in it but can't do much about that. Werth was injured too and would play about half the year hitting like an injured 38 year old and playing defense not as well as that.  But Adam Lind (25g) and trade deadline acquisition Howie Kendrick (39g)  would slot in along with Goodwin (69g) in the OF and do well covering for the team nicely as your bench should for short periods. All in all it wasn't as they planned but it worked for 2017.

My OOB plan - Jayson Heyward would have been meh but at the same time wouldn't have cost the Nats three SPs. And maybe he could have speeched the Nats to a DS win.  He had a whole rain-delay day off!

Presumed Plan : Bryce, MAT, and Eaton, Robles starts in AAA and if he forces himself into the conversation - so be it.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : Bryce is Bryce. He's got a superstar bat and he's competent in the field with a very good arm. If he's healthy he plays.

Eaton has a long history of playing well, and well, you traded for him to play. He was doing well before he got injured so there's no reason not to give him 2018 to work through his recovery. Plus he seemingly (seemingly) was getting close to full strength by the year's end. It wasn't enough to make him a serious contender to play in the playoffs but it bodes well for March if you think you can play in October.

MAT was good when he was healthy. He was always a top notch fielder with some pop, but if he can hit .275+ he becomes a key piece to the team, not just Robles' placeholder. Also his post-season performance was good enough it'd be a shame not to let him start some more.

Robles was ok, and looked like he could be ready but wasn't dominating in a way that forces you to play him. More minor league time couldn't hurt.

Problems with Presumed Plan :For Bryce and Eaton the problem is the same. Both were injured to end 2017. You do have to question how ready they will be for 2018, even if they seemed pretty good at year's end. You really won't know until Spring Training. Injury recovery takes time and if you aren't right - you don't play well. Bryce has several injuries that have turned his star bat pedestrian. Also - since both were leg injuries that could effect their defense.

As for MAT you are talking about about 3 months of bat in 2017 that makes him a definite major league starter. That's not a lot and there's his remarkably consistent 2014-2016 run that tells you he isn't really starting worthy. He's more likely to put up an average under .250 than over next year.  His bat compensates for some of that, but not all.

If Robles is ready you are wasting his talents in the minors.

Finally for Bryce - if he doesn't sign with the Nats you are denying yourself a chance at rebuilding this team by trading him off.

My take : You have to play Bryce and Eaton if they are ready come Spring. That just has to happen. If they are injured and slowly recovering through that you kind of have to suck that up too. For Bryce, it's not like when he's injured he's bad. He's actually been ok. So you aren't likely to have a 4th OF sitting around better than that. As far as Eaton goes - he's a long term solution in the outfield so you kind of have to let him play this season out regardless.

And MAT? Well sure he's probably not going to redo 2017 but he could and he's earned the chance. Last year was put up or shut up time for MAT and he put-up.  Sure it was like for half-a year (the other playing time dragged his stats down to average) but it was more than enough to see what he does in 2018.  Unless you can trade him for something nice, it'd be silly not to slot him into a starting role and see what he can do. Best case? He hits .285 with pop and you have a MAT, Eaton, Robles OF for the near future if Bryce doesn't come back.  Worst case? He hits .230 with pop, and as you probably expected last off-season you have an Eaton, Robles, ? OF moving forward if Bryce doesn't sign with a pretty decent 4th OF in MAT on the bench. 

Would it be fun to see Robles in the majors? Yep. But the above makes too much sense to disrupt it with a maybe ready Victor. If there's a trade in the works he should be first up but otherwise let him crush AAA for half a year and worry about what to do in July.  Chances are a spot will open up one way or another. 

Trading Bryce? It's a fun idea, but Bryce is a singular offensive talent. You don't trade those away if you are serious about winning it all. Trading Bryce is waving a white flag for 2018. The rest of the NL East may also wave white flags but it would be about as joyless a slog to an 89 win division title as I can imagine.

Out of the box suggestion :

JD Martinez is not a fluke player. In his last 4 seasons he's averaged .300 with 30+ homeruns. Sign him. Stick him in the outfield and push MAT to the bench or trade him. Unfair to MAT? Probably. But MAT isn't likely to hit .300+ with 30+ homeruns and there is a very possible scenario that has Nats' fans sucking up MAT's typical .230 with pop season, while Robles struggles a bit in AAA leaving the Nats with a blah bat in the line-up that is already currently carrying a hole at C, a ? at 2B, and the hopes and prayers of another miracle Zimm season at 1B.  This takes away the possibility of a bad line-up. It also solves your "what if Bryce and/or Eaton aren't at full strength or get hurt again" worries. You got a 4th OF right there. If this is really going to be the last night of the Bryce Harper era go all in and JD Martinez would be an all-in move.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Offseason Position Discussion : Third Base

Last year discussion revisited

Perhaps the easiest single position. The plan had to still be play Rendon even coming off another injury recovery year that looked merely ok. He was too young, too cheap, and too good when healthy to contemplate someone replacing him. Espy was the back-up at the time, which was fine.

The Nats of course did this (well they traded Espy but that didn't matter for 3rd) and Rendon stayed healthy all year. After a slow first month, he took off and might have been the best player in baseball from May through July. From the 6-6 10 RBI day on the last day of April, through a 1-3 double, RBI, and RS performance on the first of August Rendon hit .346 / .455 / .693 with 21 homers, 23 doubles, and 65 RBI in 75 games.  Just about then everyone started to notice him and the "maybe Rendon should be MVP" talk started.  It quickly ended as he had his worst month of the year, followed by a good to very good but not great September. Not that he shouldn't have been in the MVP discussion though.

It didn't really matter who backed-up Rendon as he started 143 games at the position. Drew was the early replacement. Difo and Adrian Sanchez took the games down the stretch.

OOB idea was trading Rendon for a young Red Sox player which would have worked out great for the Red Sox in most circumstances. I ended up bringing this up again later in the year making the "Well if you take sabrmetric analysis to its illogical end, you should only try to win as many games as it takes to make the playoffs. Any wins more are 'wasted'. The Nats are going to make it easily so they should trade a good player for future help. How about Rendon for Devers?" barroom argument. No one is going to make that deal, but dammit if it didn't strangely make a lot of sense at the time and even in hindsight. Still wouldn't have made it though.

Presumed Plan : Rendon plays.  Whoever backs-up is presumably going to be the guy they bring in to back-up MI to start year (or Difo if they bring in a starter) but we've talked about that enough. How this fits into 3rd base coverage is secondary

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : See above for what Rendon did this year - he was near MVP worthy for the season and maybe the best player in the game for half the year. You play those guys.

Rendon has pulled off two straight full years of play. Murphy's injury makes 2B a question mark to start the year, if not longer. It only makes sense that you worry about someone playing 2B first, then see how that fits with your 3rd base back-up plan.

Problems with Presumed Plan : Well those two straight full years of play are the first time Rendon has pulled that off since presumably high school so you are still taking a risk.

The other question is that planning needs to start one way or another on what happens after 2019 when Rendon becomes a free agent at 29. Do the Nats sign him and lock up 3rd base for hopefully the first half of the 2020s? If so, starting him every game should be the goal. Do they let him walk? If you are thinking about it, then maybe you start giving those youngsters some games, and maybe look at what you can get back for a guy with his talent.

My take : You can't dismiss Anthony's LOOOOONG injury history.  Add that to Murphy's injury and it's almost like the Nats need to bring in two starter worthy bench players just in case. Now if you love Difo I suppose he can be one, but I feel it's apparent the cheap last guy off the bench shouldn't be an option for the Nats in 2018. So Anthony starts - duh - but there should be a good option sitting on the bench if he gets hurt.

As for the post 2019 argument? You can't really worry about getting players time if you are shooting for a World Series. Plus enough guys get hurt that if you want to see Difo start again or Sanchez get more play, you'll have the time. Do you listen to what you can get for him? Sure, you ALWAYS listen. But I have a hard time seeing how this team is going to be better off in the next couple of years, when they'd like to compete for a title, without him.

Out of the box suggestion :

But they could be! The NL East is a mess. They don't need Rendon. Let's just rebuild - trade Bryce, trade Rendon. Maybe you can get someone to take Wieters while they are at it. Robles is a top prospect so you've got that next round coming. Who to trade with? I just threw out the Yankees in the SS OOB idea so let's skip them. You don't want to go in league so in the AL the Astros... have Bregman, but the Indians... have Jose Ramirez, but the Red Sox... have Devers, we just talked about that. WHAT IS WITH THIS?  Ok we'll work in league the Cubs... have Bryant. The Dodgers... have Justin Turner.  The Rockies... have Arenando. THIS IS CRAZY. The Diamondbacks! Jake Lamb isn't a great fielder.  They could shift him to first and push... off... Goldschmidt.  You know I'm getting annoyed here. What about the Twins? Sano isn't a good fielder. Mauer can DH for a year or Sano can DH. Now we'll just grab their Top 10 overall prosp... Top 20? No? Top 30. That isn't good enough.

Screw it. Move Rendon to 2nd and sign Moustakas.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Offseason Position Discussion : Shortstop

Last year discussion revisited

I expected and wanted Trea to start despite thinking he'd sophomore slump and wasn't as good a fielder as Espy. He was great in a long audition as a rookies. I thought he'd still be fine. He did sophomore slump (though I expected higher average and less power in my slump) and didn't field as well as Danny had, but was fine.When healthy. He ended up missing 2 months to injury.

I expected Danny to back-up, but Danny was dealt and the Nats brought back Drew to back-up. He was hurt too. That meant Difo did most of the backing up. When starting Difo did very well. It would have surprised 2016 Harper that it held together after Turner/Drew injuries, but it did.

My OOB idea was - deal Danny, let Trea play CF, start Drew.  Eh. Maybe Trea hits better playing same position as 2016? Maybe Drew doesn't get hurt? Or maybe they both play as they did and things bomb? Didn't matter as the Nats did trade for a CF and made this plan DOA.

Presumed Plan :Turner plays short. At the beginning of the season the primary back-up may be Difo or it may be someone new. It depends on who they get to be the MI back-up. If it's more a 2B guy they may shift Difo over to SS if needed and let that guy play 2B.  When Murphy comes back Difo will be primary back-up.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan :Turner did not repeat his ROY type opening year but hit well enough, fielded well enough, and remained a big threat on the basepaths. Even if you believe "Starting Difo" is the real Difo* Turner's hitting was still better than that. Plus after coming back from the injury Turner hit much better. There is no compelling reason not to start him at short.

As for the back-up, it is an easy call if Murphy is at 2B. Difo did well and is fine slotting in this year as the primary back-up (though since you are relying on one year of mixed results I would recommend a solid second back-up). Early it the year it could go in a lot of directions. If the Nats do as I think and let Difo start at 2B, then who is Trea's back-up will follow who gets signed to be a MI back-up to start year. If it's someone with little SS experience, Difo will likely shift when needed. If it's someone that can play SS then they will likely back-up but may not take the position if there is a full-time injury. If it's someone that is defined as a SS, they'll back-up and will take the position on if needed. If the Nats instead sign a 2B to start, then Difo is the main back-up.

Of course this only matters when Murphy is out, which ideally will be a limited time. The above paragraph is showing there are a lot of ways to hopefully travel one mile.

Problems with Presumed Plan : Well Turner now has to be looked at as a mild injury risk and he didn't hit great last year so you can worry about some sort of repeat. Average at the plate and missing a large chunk of time. That's a possibility.

You could also worry about the potential for other teams to have figured Trea out. In the 2016 playoffs they reduced him to a singles hitter. In 2017 they made him average. In the 2017 playoffs he was terrible. With more focus on him he has not been the transformative player he was for half a season in 2016. What if that continues?

There are plenty of decent worries that the back-up for this injury risk won't pan out, be it Difo or which ever cheapo FA they likely sign.

My take : I guess Turner is a mild injury risk but given his age (25 in late June), his general health historically, and his performance in September you can't be overly concerned by it. Let's just hope it was a one-off.

As for his reduced performances, the playoffs are so limited and so different it's hard to use them as any sort of fair judgment. The full season 2017 performance is more telling but the injury return makes you want to give him another full season chance at the top of the line-up.  If we get to the end of 2018 and he's still not much more than an average hitter then maybe you start looking at moving him around the line-up. If he's worse than average then maybe you start looking for other long-term SS answers (Kieboom?) but for April-August 2018 Trea should be starting if healthy.

As for the back-up, if the Nats don't sign a starting 2B type to cover Muprhy's time out and really believe he'll be back in a month, then the Nats are in a bind. Do they sign someone decent - who may rarely play that first month and barely play after? Or do they go cheap figuring those limited ABs don't matter. I think I'm leaning toward "last chance" mode which tells me - spend the 3+ million on a decent player. The fact Difo might be able to play should be taken as a nice bonus that allows you to do this. Worst case - too many good players - is not a worst case at all.  The Nats have leaned toward spending like this but that has been when this person would likely be first off the bench. Let's see if they can keep it up when it's theoretically not.

Out of the box suggestion :

I got nothing. The quick answer would be "Trea back to CF" but the Nats don't have too few OF they have too many, even with Werth gone.  I suppose you could move Trea to 2B and let Difo play SS?  What for? That's just doing something to do it. Trade Turner and let Difo play SS? First - who plays 2B while Murphy is out? The guy you traded for? Is he going to be better than Turner? Second - what do you want more than a young cost-controlled MI with star potential? The only thing I'd trade Turner for would be a great young SP. So there you go - if the Yankees want to trade the Nats Severino for Turner (which they wouldn't) take it. There's my OOB idea.

*It isn't

Monday, November 06, 2017

Monday Quickie - Long Live Wieters

He's back.  Please no anger at the guy for picking up the option. First, like 999 out of 1000 of us would do it. Second, if the team could drastically underpay a player it will. It's not a good guy being cheated here.

Fans, we tend to side with the management because underpaying is usually better for the team. But in a strict employee/employer relationship Wieters did what he should have done. The Nats were stupid. Now they pay.

There was a bit of a hope that something was going on after a "He's picking up his option" "Oh wait not yet" news cycle.  My best guess is that the Nats were trying to convince Wieters to defer some of that money beyond 2018. Of course to do that they'd have to make it worth his while, offering more and there you get to the sticking points. How much more? How far out?  Just a guess.

Wieters will be here and will be getting paid 10.5 million so he'll likely get first crack at starting. Let's hope he figures out what's wrong and gets back to his more average self.

Anything Else?

Robles was the AFL All-Star MVP. How is he doing in the AFL? He's only played 7 games (4 before being named) so you can see what a serious business this is. .261 with a a couple homers.  Anyone doing well?

Taylor Gushie (C) - nope .156  (.480 OPS)
Dacota Bacus (RP) - nope 7.36 ERA
Kyle McGowin (SP) - yes  3.00 ERA, 20 K, 0 BB in 15 IP
Jimmy Cordero (RP) - yes 0.00 ERA, 8K, 0BB, in 7 IP
Austen Williams (RP) - meh 3.86 ERA, 8K, 3 BB, 2 HR, in 11.2 IP
Kelvin Gutierrez (3b) - yes .429 with a homer
Daniel Johnson (OF) - nah .241  no homers, 5 SB but a .281 OBP

These are here solely for entertainment purposes - no one has played enough for it to really be telling you anything.

That's it - holding serve until the Winter Meetings.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Offseason Position Discussion : Second Base

Last year discussion revisited

Pretty simple. Murphy was awesome in 2016 so we figured he would start in 2017. Despite being not a good fielder, and betting on a single great year, it's what we all wanted to.

It was the obvious choice and it worked. Murphy hit .322 / .384 / .543 this year. It was a step down from his MVP worthy 2016, especially given the offensive climate, but still All-Star level. His fielding was still suspect but when you hit like that as long as you aren't outright terrible, you take it. A late season injury would hurt Murphy's performance in the playoffs and an off-season surgery would put his 2018 in question but that's for the next section.

My OOB plan of extending Muprhy doesn't look great right now, because of the injury, but I wouldn't say it would have looked bad either. He still hit.

Presumed Plan : Currently the plan has Murphy ready a month in or so into the season. For the first month it is likely that Wilmer Difo will man the position. If not him, then whoever they bring in, in the Stephen Drew role.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : Murphy hit great again. He will play once he is ready to play. In the meantime, given that the current expecation is only a month out, it's not a huge deal who plays. Wilmer Difo was pretty good in a starting role at SS this year while Trea was out, so it seems fair that he gets the first crack at this spot as well. He'll be a big defensive upgrade at the very least.

The Nats may grab someone else to fill in the back-up IF role or the 5th bench spot guy might fit naturally into 2nd base. I'm not saying a Josh Rutledge type who is signed for nothing at Spring's end and then makes the team.  More say if Brandon Phillips is unsigned and the Nats can get him cheap

There is a possibility that the Nats will aim for some thing more earlier. Phillips, Asdrubal, Howie are out there (Neil Walker is probably first on any list for those wanting a starting 2B so I don't look to him). However, I don't expect them to go this way unless they find out that Murphy is going to be out longer than originally planned. 

Problems with Presumed Plan : Let's go with the most likely scenario - Murphy stays on track and the Nats use Difo. That seems reasonable for a month. Well the very real problem could be Difo can't hit and then either Murphy is out for longer than expected or comes back not ready to play like expected.   Difo not hitting should not surprise anyone. He didn't hit well, in fact he hit terribly, when he wasn't starting. This makes his overall 2017 numbers well below average. His minor league stats aren't encouraging either hitting basically like overall 2017 in two extended AA stints in 2015 and 2016. Difo is a guy who relies completely on singles. He doesn't have power or patience. Maybe something clicks for him like it did for Ian Desmond but more likely he struggles along, as a back-up IF playing everyday because he has to.

Daniel Murphy - at the end of his contract - will be motivated to get back and hit as well as possible but there's just no telling. The fact that he would be out until likely May already was a shock. He's no longer young and injuries tend to take longer to recover from as you age. Something else to think about - even if he recovers and is able to hit just fine, a knee injury will likely hurt his mobility and turn him into - what - the worst 2B in the majors? It'd be one thing if 1B was manned by prime Keith Hernandez, but Zimm also has range issues. That's quite a problem with the right side of the infield you could be exacerbating.

Of course signing someone better is putting money somewhere where it may not be necessary for questionable results. That's not a great idea either unless you are ready to continually pour money into the problem until you find a solution. 

My take : Difo then Murphy is the way to go today. I don't have much faith in Difo as a starter, but all I'm looking for is for him to hold ground with good defense until Murphy is ready. If that's May then I'm ok with this. Difo is a solid choice for a back-up IF (good fielding at multiple positions, good speed) and if he happens to show more then maybe your "post-Murphy" plans change.

However, if Murphy is hurt worse than you think and could miss two months or more you do need to bring in another starter. I like Kendrick the best, he seems to have taken here and might be more agreeable to a one-year deal than some of the others, but someone listed above would have to be signed.

If Murphy isn't hurt worse and comes back in May, the Nats should still be prepared to trade for a 2B at the deadline. There are a plethora of decent choices out there currently. Dozier, Harrison, Kinsler, LeMahieu are all currently FAs to be. At least one and maybe more will be available at the trade deadline. Let Difo have his chance. Let Murphy have his chance. But be prepared to act. No more holes going into the playoffs that you could have addressed earlier.

Out of the box suggestion :

Assume Murphy is done. Trade for Dozier now. "Oh no. We have too many good hitters" is not a problem. It's a strategy. Someone else will struggle. Someone else will go down. Instead of struggling to fill that position from a place of desperation you can trade now from a place of equal power. If it happens you don't need all these people and someone is unhappily sitting - boo hoo. Get over it. It's about getting over the hump and if that means paying for a bench with a couple of guys who'd be starting elsewhere, so be it.