Nationals Baseball

Thursday, February 14, 2019


We're moving into trying to will something into existence territory now.


Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Nothing in a vacuum

The Nats should pounce.

I mean some team should and the Nats are as good as any.

The ownerships are playing a long con on the fanbase. The way the payment in the game for a while now was kind of unfair, but tacitly agreed upon. Players would give up value at the beginning of their career, providing potential production for minimal cost, for the chance at a bigger pay day down the line. It was clear that FA contracts were often not going to pay for themselves, but that was part of the point. The "survivors" - those that proved they could produce with some consistency and remained healthy - would reap the benefits from age 26-35 of the value everyone lost from 18-26. In place of production we talked about leadership and presence and nonsense. It was a little bit delusional but everyone bought in.

But now the ownerships are pointing to the back end with analytic numbers and saying "See you aren't worth it. We want to pay you what you are worth!" and trying to sell that to the public. The obvious problem is they aren't pointing at the front end as well and saying the same thing. They are looking to continue to underpay to start, but no longer make up for that later. They are trying to squeeze more cash from the players, plain and simple.

And people are buying it.

Not everyone. Maybe not even most. But a good percentage of fans fall back on the "greedy players" who can't be happy even making millions. I've talked about this before but I think a big big big part of this is how athletes are perceived in general. "Baseball player" isn't seen as a real job.  "Owner of business" is.  Owner makes billions - that's just the way the world works. Baseball player makes millions - I can't believe it! For a kids game! I'd do it for free!.  But I digress, the point isn't the why, just the fact that it is working for some, and if it works for enough they can keep pushing it.

We already give the owners a lot of leeway. Another thing we've talked about is how I don't see this as a business but a hobby. You don't make money on hobbies - you spend money on them. Owners should. And if it IS a business - it's a lucrative one that makes money not so much on the day to day, but in the eventual sale. The team end up being worth far more than what you paid for it. Do owners lose money each year knowing you'll make it up in the end? Rarely ever. See we give the owners leeway on these things. We pretend it's a regular business that has to match annual revenue to expenditures and assume that's what teams are doing. We accept small-market designations (even for teams that are clearly not small-market) and allow for rebuilding periods where we accept low spending. All in all we give ownership more than enough chances to make money. We don't have to provide them with another.

Bringing this back around, ultimately you can only effect your team. For me it's the Yankees, and honestly I'm pissed they aren't just giving Machado 250 million for 8 years or whatever. Being a fan is a hard thing to walk away from but at the very least my feet are on a path of "what's the point of rooting if you aren't really trying" For you it's the Nats. And while the Nats have made a good faith effort in the old ways, or at least their "minimum of what the best teams" effort that they have settled on over the last few years, I see no harm in taking them up to spend more. Sign Bryce, extend Rendon and build a core that's Bryce, Rendon, Corbin, Soto, Robles - that's a core that's still under the cap with room to fix SP as Max and Stras do what they do. (because that money frees up). Or look at this market and think - "the overpays we have to make for a Kuechel or a Kimbrel are less than normal. Let's get in there" so the Nats aren't essentially running with the same back end of the rotation and question mark pen that failed last year.

I don't know. To me this has always been pretty clear. Yeah, it's spending other people's money but it's telling them to spend your money if you want me to spend mine.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Monday Quickie : JT Real-ly Still Not Enough

At the end of last week, while we were mourning Frank, the Phillies pulled off a big trade. They got JT Realmuto, arguably the best catcher in baseball right now to augment their offense.

First off, was it a good deal?
Is JT Realmuto that good? Yes! If we just look at last year offensively here is Realmuto's line
.277 / .340 / .484
And here are the next best offensive lines for "full-time" catcher
.259 / .378 / .431
.241 / .349 / .466

A step behind at least. Only a few catchers - Grandal, Gary Sanchez, Mike Zunino, Sal Perez, maybe Austin Hedges and Robnison Chirinos - showed the power Realmuto showed. Only a few catchers - Ramos, Elias Diaz, Posey, Oscar Narvaez, Suzuki - hit for average like Realmuto. Only a few catchers - Contreras, Lucroy, Grandal, Molina, Barnhart. James McCann, Martin Maldanado, Gomes, Zunino - caught as many innings as Realmuto.

Notice there aren't a lot of overlap here. You see Grandal - another top target this offseason. Zunino - who was targeted in a trade. But only Realmuto is tops in all three categories. This doesn't consider that Realmuto is considered a good defender (he is), that he's relatively young (will turn 28 just before the season starts), has a favorable contract (cheap for another 2 years) or mentioning his level of play has been high for three years now. He's produced 25% more fWAR than the 3rd best catcher, 20% more bWAR - although he's 2nd to Posey here. Don't get caught up in the mumbo jumbo here. Just know the fancy stats agree with what you would get from eyeballing catcher stats over the past few years. JT Realmuto is probably the best catcher in baseball, significantly better than even some guys that might sneak into a Top 5 list, and he's a huge value.

But you don't get that for nothing. The Phillies gave up...
Jorge Alfaro, who is a good athlete (pretty fast for a catcher) who has consistently improved defensively while offensively he is a huge free swinger (very few walks, lots of Ks) with good power. The combination of all that gets you a catcher who is fringy Top 10ish. That's both good (Top 10!) and bad (Top 10 catchers are very average players) but he's perfect for the Marlins giving them a dirt cheap answer at catcher for another two years and a cheap one until 2023. If he improves his approach even a little bit the Marlins will be very happy. If he doesn't, well at least C isn't a worry spot.

Sixto Sanchez, who is a pitching prospect who is battling his first set of questions as he goes into the real deal AA minors in 2019. The first part is being harsh, but such is the life of a prospect. At 18 in low A he had perfect control and was almost unhittable. In High A last year he still had good control, but it wasn't perfect, and still kept the hits down, but wasn't unhittable. High A batters got around on his stuff more often and as he's not a huge strikeout pitcher, there is concern that at the next step he'll begin to see some real obstacles to overcome. This isn't a huge deal, and he'd probably not even be dinged for these normal development questions except for the fact he got hurt last year, only started 8 games, and didn't pitch in the Fall League as expected.  If he's right, he should quickly get into the majors... probably 2020 being cautious. If he's not...

The last piece, Will Stewart, showed some solid promise in A ball last year but is not young (will be 22 in high A this year which is about on target) and is primarily a guy that depends on getting grounders. That can be tough to translate if he can't keep those Ks up above a certain level.

It's a big package but the Phillies  didn't derail their chances over the next two years by doing this trade. Alfaro is ok, but Realmuto is very good and playing the same position as Alfaro is a strict upgrade.  Sixto was supposed to be the next ace for the Phillies, but given his injuries it was probably 2021* at best. Will Stewart wasn't coming along any quicker. Does this effect the long term plan for the Phillies? Yes. But you know what started that effect? The fact that nothing they hoped for last year came to pass. No starting pitcher break out. No OF break out. Kingery was terrible. Crawford remained terrible. Alfaro regressed. Santana aged. They have some pieces in place for the now, but nothing outside of Nola and Hoskins that would reliably bridge the gap between now and when maybe a new batch of young players comes to help.  Maybe.

The team was built to compete in 2019 and beyond and not buying into today means very possibly resetting for another rebuild. This trade helps buy into today.

But is it enough? Is it enough to generate a playoff caliber offense when combined with Segura AND McCutchen? Is it enough without bumping up the starting pitching?  Probably not.  The Phillies hitting was bad.  Not terrible mind you, but the worst of the rest. McCutchen and Segura help. Realmuto helps more. But the end result is still a line-up that you don't see being anything more than maybe above averge. This means the pitching needs to match that above average level to get the Phillies in playoff position** and they were below average in that last year as well.  While the improvements in the pen help, it probably only gets them to around average. This is a team a little over .500 (81-83 wins) as it stands, and probably on the lower end given the level of competition in the NL East.

At this point, signing Keuchel, and getting to two not quite Top 5 groups and around 85/86 projected wins, might work in a normal division but in the East? I don't see it. No they still need what we've talked about before Bryce or Machado AND Dallas.  Do they do it? I don't know. But I do know they still CAN do it after this move, since Realmuto is not expensive. And I also know right now they are a healthy Mets rotation from still being projected 4th in the division despite all their moves.

*Phillies might have pushed it if he looked healthy this year and dominated AA because they really need that last starter. 

**Generally playoff teams excel at both areas (Top 5ish hitting and pitching), sometimes they are the best at one area and get carried by that, and every once in a while sneak in while being just above average in both.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

RIP Frank

Rememberances should be separate not tacked onto my column about Rendon. 

Here's Barry's piece.  (FIXED)

Better than anything I'll write. 

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

The question beyond the question

The Rockies are looking to wrap up Nolan Arenando long-term. The Rockies have the money to do that and something like 5/150 isn't out of the question. (Long terms are all now relative - don't be expecting 7+ year contracts for anyone that isn't 22). Arenando has been a great player - a plus bat with very good defense at a position that's traditionally harder to fill than you'd think. While he suffers from the same home/road question that all Rockies players do, most thought falls into the "that's what happens when you play in Colorado" rather than "Home = Fake. Away = Real".  Arenando is a very good to great player going into his age 28 season and should be locked up.

Anthony Rendon has arguably been better than Nolan Arenando. Not quite the pure power hitter than Nolan is, Rendon makes up for it in other ways. Factoring in the parks, over the past two seasons, he's a better hitter for average and shown more patience, while providing superior defense. I'm not going to fight anyone that argues Arenando is better, but it is an argument. And Rendon is also up for free agency after this year. This begs the question - where is Rendon's 5/150 deal?

 Now there are some key differences between the two. Rendon is about a year older. More importantly Arenando has been a relatively healthy player (156 GP or more in each of the last four seasons) while Rendon has not.  Rendon however has been a lot healthier in recent years then to start his career where he lost huge chunks of 2012 and 2015 to injury. His 136 GP last year is not ideal, but you can work around a few missed weeks.

There's just enough that even though you may argue he's better, Rendon might actually walk away with a little less than Nolan.  5/130?  It's been quiet on this front though with the Bryce stuff making for a nice distraction. There are suggestions that the Nats have made efforts on this front, but given how little has been written about it, these are doubtful to be more than probes and bargain deals the Nats have floated to get some idea of where Rendon stands.

I think the talks will heat up once Bryce gets settled, but make no mistake, this is not an either or situation. The Nats could likely sign both, and can almost certainly fit both under the cap with Zimmerman either leaving, or returning on a deal closer to 5 million than the 18 his option stands at in 2020. It shouldn't be dependent on Bryce.

Is Rendon worth it? There are no real trends to suggest not. He's morphed into a little more of a flyball hitter which is probably better. He still hits the ball hard and to all fields. He was more aggressive last year but still made good contact swinging more, so there's more a sense that this is a conscious adjustment rather than an attempt to cover for something beginning to go wrong. He's probably peaked as a defender but he's coming off a high of "maybe best in baseball" so as long as the fall is moderate he'll be worth playing at 3B for a while and still good for nearly all of a long term contract. He's not a particularly good runner, but not a bad one either and still seems about roughly in the same shape as he was when he came in.

What it comes down to is it's a complete health gamble. When healthy you can pencil in Rendon for .300 and the high 20s in homers with excellent D. That's worth it. But unlike Bryce, who can mostly bash his way to all-star level seasons at the plate when he's not 100%, Rendon seems to suffer more, becoming more of an average bat. His defense is still strong though and an average bat who can play excellent third is not without value. It's just not 25 million dollars worth of value.

The Zimm contract may be a deterrent. He's held up decently at the plate but wev'e watched as injuries have forced him to become unable to hold down a job at 3B, and become a half-time bad fielding first baseman. His contract was actually signed off and injury filled year, but like Rendon he had been mostly healthy before that playing 142 and 157 games. It was a different time though - before the team was good, when the Nats still felt the need to keep certain players around or bring certain players in to feel like a winner to fans. There's not that impetus now, after the team has established it can keep a winner on the field.

What am I thinking? Well of course, I'm spending the money that's not mine. In the end you make this deal today. Rendon seems to have turned around early career health issues enough that while maybe he's not an iron man, he can be relied on to be out there for almost what would be considered a normal season. Given that assumption, he should hit about .300 with about mid 20s in homers and with very good defense at third he's a keeper. There is nothing other than the spectre of injury that would make you fell otherwise.

Monday, February 04, 2019

Monday Quickie - Is this the week?

Pitchers and Catchers will report beginning sometime next week, depending on your team. There are still a good number of FAs that remain unsigned. You can take a look over here. They rank by WAR but consider that a rough ranking.

We're mostly waiting to see what happens with Bryce (and Manny.. (and Kuechel)) as where they go can change the balance of a division. But given the availability of decent talent is there anywhere the Nats can go to finish up their roster? Or do you consider it complete right now?

Here's the depth chart.  This hasn't been entirely updated. (Matt Adams where are you?) but it's pretty close. And what you see is that the Nats are pretty well set, but they aren't without areas that could be improved. That's in theory doesn't mean you can improve them with what's left, though.

4th OF - MAT.  I like MAT as a 4th OF and advocated him sticking around. He's a top notch fielder to be a late-inning defensive replacement (Hey Soto!) and fast enough to be a pinch runner when needed (hey Zimm!). He's has enough offensive ability that he can give any of the guys out there a rest for a day and if you need him to start for a week or two, he has enough experience to do that as well.  However, he's not perfect as he's a big whiffer and probably peaked at the plate. Is there a better option out there? 

Guys with more reliable bats (Granderson, Span!, Deitrich) are questionable fielders and not as fast so I'm not sure they fit the bill for the Nats (more on that in a second) Craig Gentry I suppose has made himself into a reasonable 4th OF and maybe you prefer a higher average and more contact to MAT's approach but as he's a good deal older than MAT I wouldn't make a change here just to do it. Adam Jones looks tempting but has two years of data now saying he's not a plus OF anymore. So he fits in the Granderson/Span area - just a bit younger for those that are choosing between these guys.

So it's hard for me to pick someone over MAT.  That becomes more apparent when you work out the roster.

If Adams is on, and he should be, as the primary LHB PH / Zimm's rest guy, and Kendrick is on as the primary 2B/3B utility guy that leaves possibly no room for Difo.  It depends on how the Nats roll with the pen, but last year they did start with 8 men. If there is no Difo (or more accurately if they use Difo's one remaining option to stash him in AAA in case a SS is needed) then there is no late inning pinch runner on the team except for MAT. As for MATs offensive hang-ups, well it's likely that Kendrick would take over any long-term OF replacement position (If it's CF then Eaton would probably shift - not ideal but they'd make a go at it).

All in all I have a hard time pulling out MAT for any FA given his fit

UTIL - Difo.  Now we just talked about how Difo could very well be a Fresno Grizzly to start the year. But if the Nats choose to go with a 7 man pen then Difo, or a util player, is in.  Difo's strengths are similar to MATs - good defense, good speed - but he lacks any sort of bat to make him playable as more than a spot start and even that's probably not ideal.  Beyond Turner and Rendon the rest of the bunch (Dozier, Kendrick, Adams, Zimm) aren't top notch fielders so a D replacement is nice, but it's not as explicitly necessary as it might be in the OF.  Is there a speedy, good field option out there who isn't a hole at the plate?

Jose Iglesias is an interesting option. Oh he's definitely a hole at the plate, however while Difo is a good defender Iglesias is a superior one. He wouldn't be quite the pinch runner Difo would be but as a defensive replacement it's hard to get better. Adeiny Hechevarria is probably a little better version than Difo but it's hard to see the point on getting 20% better on a spot you don't plan to use very often. Andrew Romine? No. Sean Rodriguez? No.

All in all I see one option for the Nats here, and that's Iglesias if they are so inclined. I'd like him slightly better in the "last man - super D sub" role than Difo. But this is only if the Nats are inclined to fill that role and not, like I think they may, use the spot for an extra pen arm

Pen - Here is the current state of the Nats pen

Closer - Doolittle - He's really good. He's also a constant injury risk hitting even the low bar of 50IP once in the past 4 years.
Set-up - Rosenthal - Huge question mark given he didn't even pitch last year. He's been bouncing around between lights out and very good for his career outside of one off year but again, he didn't pitch last year.
Next guy up - Barraclough - We talked about him when the Nats made the trade. This role is probably one pitcher too close to the end for Kyle. Maybe someone else in the pen steps up. Then again maybe Doolittle or Rosenthal get hurt and Kyle is needed more.

Rest - Probably Glover, Miller, Grace, Suero and Solis? Glover was hurt and didn't look great. Miller was a revelation until he wasn't. Grace was... actually pretty good! I mean he's not dominant or anything but he filled that middle relief role admirably. Suero was fine. Solis was bad.

Other options - Cordero, Williams, Voth, McGowin. The Nats try to talk up guys like Cordero, who have stuff. They are never good. Voth has converted from starter to reliever and could be a long relief type, except he's not good. McGowin is just an arm.  That leaves Williams who they had high hopes for but didn't come through at all.  There may also be options in the minors, notably Austin Adams,  but consider them Cordero/Williams types. Old, might click, probably won't.

All in all there is definitely a spot here. Now if you ask me it's a top spot.  Getting a Kimbrel would set everything up in a way I see it for a championship team. But I doubt they are going to do that. So that means a checking of what else is still there. There's Tony Sipp who was quite good for the Astros last year. He was also quite lucky (no homers) and has a track record that bounces around a lot. Nick Vincent has been quality bullpen filler for a while now. Romo is intriguing as a guy who may be able to be stretched out a little. Diekman on the other hand is one of those pure talent guys who if he put it all together could be dominant but never has. Still he's enough together that unlike a Cordero or Williams he's useful. You know I love Clippard but he is just another arm, better than most, but that's a low bar. Xavier Cedeno, another former Nat, is an interesting arm. He found himself after leaving the Nats and then became an effective cutter thrower. His speed has dropped after injury but the effectiveness has remained. I feel like there is potential here.  Aaron Loup is also out there as another decent arm.

Any of these guys would improve the Nats pen allowing the Nats to stop "trying out" guys who need to show dominance in AAA first. A Tony Sipp trial or a bet on Xavier Cedeno (who could become a LOOGY type if the bet fails) would be the way I go. Whatever they choose though I see a move here being both possible and necessary.  Ideally it's Kimbrel after watching Bryce walk away, but if not, something else from here would be nice.

OH - they could definitely improve at SP. But I don't think they have any intention of even looking at that so it will be what it is. Three top guys, hope Sanchez works out at 4, see what happens at 5. There are definitely worse rotations than that - like 20+ of them. 

Friday, February 01, 2019

Former Nat Round-Up

Slow news Friday means aggregation. But not links to stories type. The stuff you could look up yourself but haven't.

2018 Nats
Matt Wieters - still a FA, enough interest around him that he's pretty sure to sign somewhere, probably soon.
Mark Reynolds - minor league COL contract
Daniel Murphy - major league COL contract (basically the only person they've signed)
Gio Gonzalez - still a FA, interest has been decidedly minimal with Mets & Padres current newest suitors.  Expect him to end up somewhere on a 2 year deal for less than you think
Ryan Madson - still a FA,  as relievers are being picked up in droves he should get a deal somewhere. Twins are newest suitor.
Shawn Kelley - signed with TEX.
Greg Holland - signed with AZ.
Kelvin Herrera - signed with CHW
AJ Cole - claimed by CLE
Jeremy Hellickson - nowhere - assume anyone else not mentioned is either on the same team as last year bc that's the deal they signed (like Kintzler/Albers) or I don't care enough to mention them

2017 and before Nats
Jose Lobaton - minor league deal with SEA
Enny Romero - playing baseball in Japan.
Oliver Perez - signed with CLE
Wilson Ramos - Sadly reminding you he's on the Mets
Marc Rzepczynski - had a showcase recently, but no signings
Asdrubal Cabrera - signed with TEX
Zack Duke - still a FA, really close to signing with Reds
Ian Krol - signed minor league deal with CIN

Two things you note when you look back. One, this game, like all sports, chews them up and spits them out. A lot of "what about this guy... still a free agent. No prospects either".  Two, if you are going to be anything in this world - be a reliever. Relief corps have expanded which means about 30+ new jobs that have to be filled by someone. On that account I'd expect Tyler Clippard signed and a few guys looking around Storen, and maybe a minor league deal for him.

The only guy at the plate I expect to see somewhere next year not on this list is Denard Span who is still hitting slightly above average though age and injury have sapped his D. If he's ok with it though - hard not to see someone picking him up as a 4th OF.