Nationals Baseball

Friday, December 02, 2016

McCutchen - what's your price

The talk around the Nats getting Andrew McCutchen from the Pirates is heating up.  Personally, I don't think anything will happen before the Winter Meetings.  Why? Because it doesn't really make sense for either team to get the deal done right this second.

The Pirates probably have several prices set in their mind for McCutchen. There's a price they'd love to get, a price they expect to get, and a minimum price they'd take if they had to. In order to get a price closer to the former rather than the latter, it makes sense for them to shop around McCutchen to the most teams possible and the Winter Meetings is a great place to feel out if they've completed that work. Of course the Nats can force the issue by giving the Pirates something close to that "love to get" price. But...

The Nats probably have ideas to about what they'd give up for Cutch. What they'd like to give up, what they will give up if necessary. Right now all they can do is offer roughly what they'd like to and keep ramping it up if it feels like the Pirates aren't going to take it. The Pirates have all the leverage. Go to the Winter Meetings and get a feeling that the market for Cutch isn't that hot and then you've got some leverage and can keep the price low. Sure you risk someone coming in with a better deal, but if you know the other people involved and feel you are very likely to be able to outbid them, waiting makes sense.

So I don't expect a deal to get done until Sunday or after. Sorry. But maybe I'm wrong!

What would I give up for Cutch? I'd go two good prospects deep.  I would go Robles and Giolito or Robles and Lopez. But I love Cutch. Something I wouldn't do? Robles and Ross. Do I think Lito and maybe Lopez will be better ML pitchers than Ross... I guess so. But I think with much higher certainty that I know what Ross' floor is and that's still a major league pitcher. I don't mind giving away potential. I do mind giving away actual. Ross himself? Sure. But not with your best offensive prospect.

What about Cutch himself? Contract wise it's a fine grab.  He's not super expensive (14 million) and the team has control over a second year (14.75 team option). He's normally worth so much more that even a big drop in stats would be still worth the price. And yet last year he wasn't worth it.

The average dropped but so did the patience. His speed isn't quite there anymore. It may have been a particularly bad defensive year but the general trend is yes, he's not below average in CF. (Which is completely understandable as a guy who at his peak was probably just a bit above average).  The only thing that's holding up is the power.

What do the fancy stats say? Is it bad luck? BABIP... a little low for him, even considering a speed drop. However the way he hits' the ball suggests more flyball and fewer hard hit balls. That's a good combination for lowering BABIP. The more flyballs thing has been a several year thing so it's the drop in hard hit balls (and increase in soft hit balls) that is driving this issue. So then we look at swings - is he swinging at worse pitches? Not really - swings on pitches outside the zone is down and contact on these pitches (usually bad contact) is down too. But that's another thing - He's making a lot less contact meaning the K-rate is up. Highest of his career - up four straight year. So if it's not the type of contact is it bat speed? That's not a bad guess.

The gamble on him is then, that he will improve. I'd say there's a pretty good chance he will. The pretty good chance though is not of back to MVP level, just a mild general improvement, the defense won't seem as bad (it bounces around and was particularly low last year), the BABIP might tick up, the K-rate and BB-rate can probably be worked on a little as it doesn't seem to be a recognition issue.  If that happen then it's a good chance he'll be worth his contract and that means a good chance he'll be a good player.

Can he be a great player again? That's more of a gamble but it is in the realm of the possibility.  Guys have off years for whatever reasons all the time. Some lingering injury, something psychological, some early bad luck rolling into a situation where you are pressing all year long. For example what happened to your own beloved Dusty Baker in 1978?(the 76 was clearly an injury thing) On the flipside can he be terrible? I suppose so. If he continues to decline - let's say more Ks fewer walks and no change elsewhere, then you are just repeating the problems of this year - a non-performing CF at a MUCH more expensive price plus below average defense (though I'd bet you anything that improves from this year).

The potential tipping point though is the fact it would probably be ok if he just stays the same for two more years. Again - let's say D "improves" and offense is same. That's an above average player.  This year was a disaster in CF before Turner and while Espinosa has a lot more going for him than people like to admit, he's not an above average player. This would improve the team a decent amount. Sure you can probably get this improvement more cheaply.  Sitting on Revere for a year might do it. But you would likely be gambling on that being as high as you get. No chance for the MVP season like you get from Cutch, while probably having the same "this could still be a disaster" floor.

So that's why I lean toward trading for him.  And I'd go ahead and do Lopez/Robles and not think twice.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Offseason Position Discussion : Starting Pitching

Getting close to the Winter Meetings now.  Are you ready to be sneaking around hotels hoping to overhear bits and pieces of information like good little spies? No? You have jobs and lives? What good are you?  

Last Year's Discussion
Last year's rotation was pretty set and we knew it. Max, Stras, Gio, Roark, and Ross.

We didn't have any real issue with the plan. Yes, we worried about Strasburg's health. Yes, we worried about Gio's decline. Yes, we (well more "I") worried about Ross' limited history. Yes, we worried if  Roark could do it again. But these were all good bets to take and as a whole the biggest rotation worry was depth. After these five it wasn't clear who would fill in, especially early in the year.

Well it turns out that didn't matter much early in the year. Stras would miss a couple games in June but the first 80 games were not only basically injury free, but free of worry as well. Max scuffled a bit in April but that cleared up fine. Roark did do it again. Strasburg looked good. Ross looked good. Yes, Gio really had us looking at alternatives after a poor May and June, but one pitcher in a rotation being in trouble isn't a worry. It's a season going well.

At that point things unraveled a bit. Ross' injury in July essentially put the Gio issue on the back burner. The depth issue we worried about did not get clearer as the year went on and Lopez, Giolito, and Cole all struggled as replacements. Ross would never really get back and worse, Strasburg would be shut down as the year drew to a close. Now the Nats, who half-way through the year were four deep, were two deep and if they hadn't faced the Dodgers in the playoffs would have had a very tough call on starting the struggling Gio or the maybe healthy Ross.

They made it to the finish line but just barely.

Presumed Plan 
Max, Stras, Roark, one of Gio/Ross, something new.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan 
Max won the Cy Young. He's got a huge long contract. He's in.
Roark got a Cy Young vote (just one but it was deserved). He's super cheap. He's in.

At this point we run into the problem the Nats would like to solve. They have two pitchers who they feel they can rely on (as much as you can) to be healthy and good. That means they have to hope things work out for one of the rest to set them up decently for the playoffs, which they presume to make. If it's Strasburg, great! It's hard to imagine him not being good if he's healthy. If it's not Strasburg then it's a question mark on how good a thing that is. Rather than leave it up to the fates again, the Nats would be wise to make a deal, and they've already floated out there that Gio is available and that they were willing to trade a starter last year.

Even if they don't get a new starter, it's very likely that Lopez or Giolito (or both) will need to start getting some full-time major league work next season. They both handled AAA pretty well last year. It was in limited innings, so a second go around would be advisable, but it would surprise me if at least one of them wasn't doing well enough by the All-Star break to warrant a long look in the majors.

It won't be Strasburg going though. Yes, he's got a team-friendly contract for someone with his age and performance record, but the injury history can't be ignored. His forearm issues probably make him expendable in trade by the Nats, but also probably make him not a target for anyone else. Perhaps if he came back fully last year, but he didn't. He's in.

It could easily be Gio. He's much older than Ross and clearly on the decline. He's got value though. He's on a team friendly deal. You wouldn't be tied to a long contract - 2 years at most. He's not old (31 next year). He's durable. Plus teams could always use lefties. Of course that goes for the Nats too.

It could also easily be Ross. Ross didn't do much wrong last year, but he also didn't make himself untradable, a la Trea Turner. He was more hittable last year, without improving in other areas. He failed to surpass the 150 IP mark he hit as a career high in 2015, leaving questions about his durability. But he's still young (24 next year), and figures to be at worst a #3ish type for 3/4 of a season and is under team control through 2021. Of course for the Nats he's a #4 and that means he has more value to some other team than he does for the Nats. That means it's worth exploring what he can bring back.

Problems with Presumed Plan  
There's always concerns with pitching injuries. That is baseball life. Given that, nothing much has changed about what we said last year. There isn't a clear replacement available right now if the Nats suffer injuries. So making a trade would potentially make things worse in that regard.

On the first guys mentioned you can nitpick issues. Max did struggle a bit going to the end of the year and you all know I think his workload and age is setting himself up for an extended period of missed time. As for Roark, his peripherals (highest BB/9, lowest K/9 of any Nats starter) do not inspire the confidence.

Strasburg... it all comes down to injuries doesn't it? He seemed to turn a corner last year in learning how to pitch and not just overpower the opponent but the fragility remains. Which ever of the last two are kept, big issues remain. Gio could easily finally go over the border into "innings eating 5th starter" land which he seems inexorably moving over to. Ross has to prove he can pitch a full season and some improvement or at least a steadiness, would be nice. 

My Take 
Max and Tanner are set. This isn't a question. You can nitpick Max, but CY YOUNG. You can nitpick Roark, but at this point who's betting on him not being at least good next year? Being hard to hit is hard to quantify in fancy stats but he seems to have it. Strasburg also has to be in. If you try to trade him you are selling low and the Nats need a healthy Strasburg as much as any other team.

Ok so who to deal? Gio is more expendable, but Ross will bring back more.  Gio has particular value as a lefty, as we saw in the playoffs, but Ross sets up the team better for the future, even if he settles in at the back of the rotation for the next few seasons.

I have to say you first try to trade Gio. Yes, lefties are necessary but it took a particular match-up to make that an issue and I'll take my chances that doesn't come up again. Good pitchers should beat any team any way. If you can keep Ross you do it because unlike Gio he can be in Washington 4-5 years from now, still cheap. At worst he'd be Gio, ably filling innings. At best he'd be another teams #2/#3 sitting in your four spot. There is an injury/durability question no-doubt, but at 24 I'm willing to bet on him, especially given that Gio is likely only in DC for one more year.

That being said if you can trade Ross to get much better for the next 2+ years you do it. Like if Ross is necessary to get Sale, well nice knowing you Joe! He does have more value for another team than the Nats where if things go right he wouldn't break the Top 3 until Roark maybe leaves in 2020. Let him flourish somewhere else for 4-5 years and let the Nats dominate here for 2-3. That seems right.

Out of the Box Idea
The Nats have gone starting pitching first for this entire time frame. It's gotten them a lot of wins, three division titles... and no playoff series wins. Let's shake things up. Let's trade Ross and Gio AND Roark. Ross, Gio and whatever else is necessary over to Arizona for Goldschmidt and Castillo. Roark and whatever else is left to Col for Charlie Blackmon. Let's try slugging it to a championship for a change.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Max and the Terrible, Not-Good, Very-Good, Excellent, Just Good, Passable Cy Young Season

Max Scherzer won the Cy Young last Wednesday and I was taken to task for not celebrating it in verse and rhyme. Cy Young! That's great! We must gather together and feast in his name! Right?

Well I can give you three big reasons why the celebration was a head nod and not a shout. First, there isn't anything particularly compelling about this. We've been pretty much talking about Max on and off all year. We know he's been very good. We realized he was a Cy Young contender and before the awards we noted he was a likely favorite. As a previous winner who wasn't short-changed in front of us it's hard to get all that excited for "excellent player gets his due, which he has also gotten before because he was an excellent player then as well". Second, Max was objectively better last year. No, he didn't win more games but other than a few Ks (and just a few 8 more in one fewer third of an inning) he walked a lot fewer, gave up fewer homers, and threw 4 complete games, 3 shutouts, and 2 no-hitters*. Third, let's face it Max got the "Clayton Kershaw got hurt, so who do we give it to now" Cy Young award.

So there's why we're not jumping up and down in the aisles. But that's not to say Max doesn't deserve his due. So how did Max end up with a Cy Young? The short answer is the meat of the Max Scherzer season was amazing.

As you probably remember, Max's season started pretty poorly. Seven starts in and his ERA sat at 4.60.  He had flashes of his dominant 2015 self but something was off. He wasn't unhittable. He wasn't as in control. And most disturbingly he was getting bombed, capped off by a four homer game against the Cubs. Giving up homers while not keeping guys off base - that's not just a bad combination - it's a losing one.

Max had to get it together and he mostly did. Over the next few games he got unhittable again. He got back in control. He... well he kept getting bombed but as he let fewer and fewer guys on base those homers mattered less and less. Solo homers don't kill you. He didn't have perfect games, but he gave the Nats games they should win. Max seemed to be getting back into form.

By mid-season, Max would conquer the HR issue as well. In June and July he'd have almost as many homerless games (5) as games with a homer (6) and only one multi-homer game.  He was on the top of his game. In 13 starts from June 1st through August 9th he put up these numbers. A .163 / .209 / .288 line against him. 1.7 BB/9, 11.8 K/9, 0.9 HR/9.** This was about as good as a pitcher can be over an extended period.  This 40% of an historic season is what got Max the Cy Young.

Why do I say that? Because things starting to unravel a bit as the season drew to a close. While he kept the homers down, he started to get hit a bit again. He started to walk a bit again. It wasn't a big deal. Without the homers he was still keeping offenses down and it was still Cy Young caliber type pitching, but it was a break from the dominance we had started to become accustomed to. For instance, during that 13 game stretch Max had allowed more baserunners than IP twice. In the next 7 games he did it 4 times. As much as Max was rounding into form to during the end of May, he was falling out of it now.

As the season ended all of issues that plagued Max to start the year were back. He was walking too many. He was getting hit more than he had all year and now the homers were back. It took guile and luck to keep the runs from getting on the board but he managed to mostly do that. It was a poor finish (4.38 ERA over last 4 games) but it could have been worse. While I still hold that it was that awesome middle that got Max the Cy Young, not falling apart at the end helped a lot too. He's not just a thrower, he's a pitcher and pitching well when he didn't have his best stuff kept the team in the game and the team rewarded him.

See the funny part of Max's season is that while he was falling out of form to end the year the team really had his back. They would win every single one of his last 10 starts and he would pick up the W in 8 of them. Wins don't mean what they used to, but it couldn't hurt voters to see that big 20 next to his name.

Max's season wasn't ideal. It did have some valleys, but they weren't so low to take away from the towering peaks. It was a deserved award and in a season where three other Nats members just lost out to slightly more deserving candidates, it's glad to see Max not get minorly screwed out of his rightful award.

*And a 9 inning, 1 hit, 16K game that proceeded a no-hitter. That's the best back-to-back pitching performance you are going to see. 

**I know I keep harping on this but I feel like some people may still not get it so let me note here that Clayton Kershaw's worst 13 game stretch was better than Max's best. That is how good Kershaw was last year and really the last 3 seasons. Not that he deserved to win the Cy Young. He didn't. 80 IP is a big difference.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Trade for Sale?

Barry Svrluga host of "The Grind" book edition (makes a great stocking stuffer! No seriously. I have it, read it.) says that the Nats should trade for Sale. Do I agree? Yep. But before I  go into the why I pretty much exactly agree with Barry I can't help but be nitpicky. 
The Washington Nationals’ 2017 rotation could easily be ...Gio Gonzalez, who has twice been an all-star and once won 20 games; and ...
Did Boz ghostwrite your first paragraph, Barry? Yes, Gio was twice an All-Star and won 20 games. That was in 2011 and 2012. That was a long time ago and really doesn't have bearing on the Gio that's in the rotation now. The Gio of today is a durable middle of the road pitcher who is just as likely to strike out 8+ as he is to have control issues and go out before the 5th inning ends. That's not great it's... not bad. But add to that he's a lefty and he's an arm that ~30 teams would line up for to slide into their rotation as a #3/#4/#5 (depending how bad their SP circumstance is). Come on! You're better than that!
Rizzo, as we’ve explained in the past, has a superb record of trading players. Those he has landed include Wilson Ramos, Trea Turner, Gonzalez, Roark, Ross, Denard Span, Doug Fister, Mark Melancon, on and on. The best player he has given up in such deals? Maybe Billy Burns? Maybe. Maybe it’ll turn out to be Felipe Rivero, dealt to Pittsburgh for Melancon, the closer at the end of 2016. Maybe it’s Derek Norris, who was once an all-star as a catcher. Jerry Blevins?
Billy Burns? That's really the first name you toss out there? Tommy Milone beats Billy Burns.* It's totally Derek Norris. Though he's right it could be Felipe (this is why Barry is great and I'm nitpicking out of love here). Blevins doesn't really fit as he was a "We're mad you tried to get more money! Get out!" dump. It was a very very rare loss by Rizzo, that was saved from being even more apparent by Blevins' injury in 2015.

OK that's it! See Barry is great! Really that's only one true nitpick and one bit of confusion. That's usually gotten to in the first paragraph of a Boz column when he's off.

Anyway another thing I wanted to pull from that column though.
“Imagine that in the playoffs,” one executive said Wednesday. “And Sale being there would completely take the pressure off Strasburg.”
I thought Max was supposed to take the pressure of Strasburg. Do they seriously think Strasburg is such a headcase that he needs TWO Cy Young caliber pitchers ahead of him to make him feel comfortable? I personally don't believe that. You can just peruse his stats and see he's fairly consistently very good. But if you do, why the hell do you keep someone like that on the team which a big contract? Just saying.

OK so Barry's point is the Nats should trade for Sale and should basically let the White Sox pick what they want (assumes not Turner). Ross, Giolito, Robles, Lopez, etc. He thinks it's time that the Nats move forward. Stop being good enough to get to the playoffs. Start trying to be good enough to win in the playoffs. He think Sale's contract (12m 2017 team options after that, 12.5m, and 13.5m) is an incredible bargain.

He's right across the board.

At least that's my thinking. It's not that the Nats have consistently tried to get away with just a couple good starters for the playoffs. Really the only year you can say that for was last year when they went in with Scherzer/Stras and hope someone steps up. But in doing that they did end up with only 2 great arms for the playoffs and that did put them in a bind. They don't want to end up there again. You could try to count on Scherzer/Stras/Roark, but if one gets injured now you're hoping for a Ross development or something out of the blue. Adding Sale makes you very confident that if you get to October you'll have three studs ready to go.

As for the prospects. They are prospects. Most don't develop into what you hope they might be. That's just the truth. We don't have 10-20 All-Stars entering the league every year. So gambling on giving them away is far more about depth in the future than it is about season-changing performance. I'm willing to take that gamble. Depth for the future is nice but it's harder to care about it when that depth is the difference between a 78 and 85 win team rather than an 88 and 95 win team.  Beyound 2018 that could be what we are looking at.

We are potentially in the waning days of the Bryce Harper era. Two more years is all that is guaranteed. After that yes there is Trea but what else? Murphy will hit FA at the same time. The Gio 5th starter saftey net will too (and you'll miss him when he's gone). Werth will be gone (and probably retired). It's hazy. A 30 year old Stras isn't old but the continued injury issues have to be concerning. A 34 year old Max isn't old, but is right on the cusp of it. A 32 year old Roark could easily still be good but with a only year left before FA. The same year before FA that Rendon would have too.

Rizzo bridged the gap between the end of the first great Nats teams and the potential end of the Bryce era. He may do it again. But as much as he did it with skill (draft and development of Rendon, trade for Ross, Turner) he did it with luck (Roark developing into top notch starter, Murphy busting out into MVP type hitter) and money (big contracts for Scherzer, Strasburg). The money likely won't be there - at least not as much as they'll have these two deals left to pay. The luck may not be. Are you willing to take the chance that Robles, Lito et all are going to be ready by 2019/2020 to keep the team in the playoff hunt? I'm not.

Sale solidifies the Nats for the rest of the known Bryce era. After that if they are good and lucky new guys drafted and developed and new trades made will put the Nats in a position to keep moving forward with a playoff contender. If they aren't, they'll have chips like Sale, Rendon, Roark that can be used to help restock for something further down the road.

*And if we're floating out potential. It's totally Alex Meyer who unfortunately went to the Twins who are notorious for being unable to develop pitchers. No seriously again. It's INCREDIBLY bad. Good luck to you in LA which even if it's below average is better than whatever Minnesota was doing. 

**The worst SP performance was probably Strasburg, who gave up 2 R (1ER) over 5 and had to be pulled for Blevins with two-on no outs in the 6th.  Gio's 4IP in G4 wasn't great but after a difficult 2nd (2 UER on 2H and a BB) he settled down and could have gone further if the situation didn't demand trying PHers early. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Tuesday Quickie - Awards

Trea Turner did not win ROY.  That is not surprising as Corey Seager was an MVP candidate and also a ROY candidate. It's tough luck for Trea, assuming he loves awards, but far from unfair.  We talked about this near certainty a few weeks ago while the season was in play.  Where do the other votes stand now?

Remember - votes are before the season is over.

NL MOY - I disqualified Roberts because the Dodgers would actually win fewer games this year. Apparently though he is the front runner. Yes, I know they had lots of injuries. But there's something funny to me about the idea of bringing a guy in, having him win fewer games than his predecessor, then proclaiming that he did the best job. Especially when he's competing directly with someone that was brought in and proceeded to win 12 MORE games than his predecessor.

I had Maddon taking it for sure if he got to 104 wins. He didn't. He got to 103.  I then said Dusty had a chance if the Nats were within 5 games of the Cubs. They weren't they were 8 games behind. So I'll say it finishes inexplicably Roberts - Maddon - Dusty.

NL MVP - Bryant or Murphy (as Seager would take the ROY) Final Lines

Bryant :  .292 / .385 / .554 39 HR 102 RBI
Murphy : .347 / .390 / .595 25 HR 104 RBI

It's close but Murphy had the better offensive season. Bryant had more patience and a bit more power (Murphy lead league in doubles and even had a couple more triples than Bryant) but it didn't make up that huge gap in average. Factoring defense and base running is always problematic but the general consensus between stats and scouts is that they go to Bryant. That alone probably puts Bryant over the top. Beyond that the Cubs won 103 games and were the best team in baseball. Everything says Bryant

NL Cy Young - Since we know the Top 3 we know how some things shook out. Bumgarner and Syndergaard both made the playoffs but neither had the lights out finish to the season that would put them over the top (Noah was much closer in that regard but given the love of MadBum I bet Madison beat him in votes... we'll see). This is also true of Jose Fernandez, who wasn't on pace to make the Top 3 prior to his tragic end.

Final lines
Hendricks : 16-8, 2.13 ERA, 170K, 0.979 WHIP
Scherzer : 20-7, 2.96 ERA, 284K, 0.968 WHIP
Lester :  19-5, 2.44 ERA, 197K, 1.016 WHIP

Hendricks has the best ERA and they love ERA... but not as much as wins. Plus Hendricks thing was having the lowest ERA since Gibson and he slowly but surely lost that. I think he finishes third.  Lester had the strongest finish, most wins, best winning percentage and a lower ERA than Scherzer. Scherzer had by far the most strikeouts and a lower WHIP, and is seen as the most dominant non-Kershaw* pitcher out there. I think it'll be close but I think the general feeling favors Max and I think there will be some "Well I didn't vote for a National for the other three awards and I don't have a favorite here so here's your bone" going on.

*Kershaw's final line 12-4, 1.69 ERA, 172K, 0.725 WHIP.  0.725!!!  His outside chance of winning even pitching 70 fewer innings than these guys was ruined by a lack of run support. You heard me. He went 12-4 with a lack in run support. 27 runs scored in his last 11 games by the Dodgers. Overall it just looked bad but the Dodgers scored 29 runs in two games for him. If we take out these (and even take out his two lowest in fairness) he'd drop much closer to the bottom. 

Friday, November 11, 2016

Propsects runway

Chelsea "Don't came me James" Janes says in her latest piece that the Nats have "plenty of upper- and mid-level prospects who continue to garner interest from other teams"

Do they?

I had a feeling that the Nats farm system was ok but top heavy, meaning Turner's graduation and the cooling on Giolito would have significant effects. I went back and looked and saw the Nats system ranked pre-season anywhere from 5th to 17th.  I lean more toward the latter. So let's look at some top and mid-level prospects and see what kind of interest teams might really have.

The Big 4

Giolito - Was basically the most prized pitching prospect going into last year but he didn't live up to that highest of high hype last year. He was in and out of the majors and each time in was a failure. He was hittable and gave up a ton of homers, 7 in 21 innings. There was also questions about a decrease in velocity which is a big deal for someone who already had arm surgery. And his AA numbers arguably took a step back. Still, he will be only an "old" 22* next year and everyone loves his stuff. His AAA numbers last year are exactly what you want to see. He's a 2017 or 18 full time player. The idea of him coming into the majors and immediately being a #1 type may be fading, but the idea of him being a very successful pitcher a few years down the line has not. His stock will drop a bit probably from Top 3ish to Top 10ish, but with very watchful eyes those first couple months.

Turner - off the table

Robles - A name that got a lot of attention as he did really well in A ball as a "young" 19 year old. He didn't do as well in A+ ball but he did better in his second stint after injury. There's a question on whether he gets power but right now the promise of his age wins out. Likely moves from a Top 30ish prospect to a Top 15ish. If he develops power he'd be a Top 10. Optimistically projects for a 2019 full-time role at 21-22.

Lopez - Like Giolito his time in the majors wasn't great, but unlike Lucas there were times you could point to what he was doing and feel good. Sure, about half of them were against the Braves but you gotta start somewhere. There was a lot of talk about him "breaking through" and maybe being better than Giolito as his K's went way up in AA this year. But they went back down in AAA, and dialing things up in MLB to get more meant a big increase in wildness. Like Giolito he's a 2017-18 full time player. Like Giolito I think that ranking is very tentative and could change radically in either direction based on just the first couple months. Unlike Giolito I'd expect his pre-sesaon stock to rise from a back quarter of Top 100 to a Top 50 ish player.

The next tier

Glover - Live arm who showed potential dominating AA with Ks and AAA with control. Trajectory says its hard to see how he doesn't end up set in a major league pen next year, if not to start then sometime. Could be a potential lights out closer - however that's a phrase tossed around for a lot of live minor league arms. Will break Top 100, probably in Top 75.

Cole - I'd love for Cole to get into the Top 100 of someone's list again because I bet he'd be the only guy to ever be ranked in someone's Top 100 in 6 different seasons. 2016 though was the first time he wasn't and nothing about last year changes that. Might develop into a back end starter but at 25 and looking at his 4th year in AAA he's more of a throw-in than a key piece.

Difo - The anti Giolito/Lopez, Difo was not bad in the majors, but in the minors he did nothing to raise his stock. His brief flirtation with pop in 2014 has faded and he's back to being seen as a speedy slap hitter. It's not entirely clear where he fits now. Major league bench? AA? I'd imagine most see him as a AAA which means 2016 is a make or break year for the "young" 25 year old if he's going to be a starter in the majors.

Fedde - He's on the cusp of being a top prospect and should be in the bottom of a few Top 100s. There is simply no doubt he is pitched better in 2016 than 2015. His A+ stats suggest the special pitcher teams thought he could be, but his subsequent finish in AA gives you a bit of pause. Where his ceiling now is a question. Does he keep getting better and become a real rotation prospect? He's roughly on target age (24 in 2017) but that means if the AA year goes poorly he'll start to be on the older side.

Voth - Everyone loves Voth and he'll break into some Top 100s. However the fancy stats don't really like him as he's not particularly good at striking out batters or having super control. I can't look at that and think the Nats didn't move him up to protect him from being exposed by major league hitting. But whatever, you have what you have and what you have is a guy that has shown he is not easy to get hits against in the minors. On the other hand, he did make the AFL and hasn't been all that impressive.

The other AFL hitters

Osvaldo Abreu - did nothing in AFL. did nothing in A+ ball. Not old but kind of stalling out. Difficult to see as a real prospect anymore, but has next year to change that.

Drew Ward - hitting for average in AFL. Nats have been aggressive in their moving of him and he's generally done just enough to justify confidence but last year's AA wall was slammed into.  Not a top prospect but he's only 22 next year so next year won't be make or break.

Andrew Stevenson - hitting for average and power in AFL. Also slammed into a AA wall, though not quite as hard with Drew. Will be a young 23 next year so pretty much same things I said about Ward apply to him. Not a top propsect. Not a fader either.

The rest

Nick Lee, Ryan Brinley, and Jake Johansen all were in the AFL too but I hate to even note what happens with like 10IP unless it's super special or super bad.  It hasn't been. Johansen is an A+ 25yo, a nothing. Lee is unable to throw strikes and almost a nothing. Brinley is the one to keep an eye on but not a top prospect

Max Schrock got some play in a satiric "find the next Donaldson" fangraphs piece, but he actually did hit really well last year. He probably doesn't have the power to break into top prospect lists but he'll probably make a few honorable mentions as people watch if he can keep hitting. Ed note - TRADED for Rep.  I'm an idiot.

Anderson Franco - way young (an old 18 last year), way too early to judge.

I guess they do have a decent mix. It's not a great mix, without Giolito being GIOLITO and with Turner now in the majors, I'd be surprised if the Nats were a unanimous Top 10 but top half again? Sure. It's not that the Nats are particularly deep. They don't have a lot of top guys (especially now) who will be definite contributors, or a bulk of toolsy interesting middle tier prospects that could be. It's more like they have exactly the number and type of guys you'd expect to have when poking around a system. So they do have some flexibility to trade. I will say because they don't have depth that if they do deal that it would probably gut the system, but I trust Rizzo et al enough to fill it back up to average status if not for 2018 than 2019.

*Remember - season ages based on age on July 1st. So way I look at it is guys with bdays April-June are "young" because they'll spend a chunk of season at a younger age than given. Guys with bdays July-Sept are "old" bc the reverse is true. Lucas (July 14th), for example, will spend almost half of next year as a 23 year old.  Other birthdays I don't use an adjective. This is more important the younger you are.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Offseason Position Discussion : Outfield

Last Year's Discussion
At that point Revere hadn't been traded for so the presumed plan was Werth, Bryce, and MAT getting his shot in CF. Why MAT? We thought it was clear the Nats wanted him as the CF of the future and that he did well enough in 2015 to get a chance. Span was dismissed because the QO was too expensive for a guy that couldn't play much in 2015.

I thought playing Werth was reasonable given his late season performance and the reality of the Nats situation. If you play Werth than a strong fielder in CF is the better play and that was Taylor not Span. I did however, say they should try to get Span on a team friendly deal as giving MAT another year of seasoning wouldn't be a bad idea. Failing that, I advocated for a strong OF bench to compensate for Taylor.

How did it play out? Well first off the Nats traded disgruntled closer Drew Storen for Ben Revere, which essentially re-demoted MAT for two seasons unless he busted out. It seemed like a smart move at the time but Revere would get injured early and would never hit like himself putting up a .217 batting average when he averaged ~.300 over previous 4 seasons. MAT failed to capitalize and hit exactly as he hit in a cup of coffee in 2014 and 130 games in 2015. Very low average (.231), some pop (7 homers in 76 games) too many strikeouts (32.5% rate - would have been 2nd worst if he had enough at bats). It was so bad that SS of the future, Trea Turner was moved to play CF and he was so good! .342 with 14 doubles, 8 triples and 13 homers and 33 stolen bases. In just 73 games he was ROY good in any year that didn't happen to have a rookie that was also a legit MVP candidate.

Surprisingly Bryce was an issue. A dip was to be expected but Bryce didn't just dip he dropped below what you probably would have had as his floor. A mediocre .243 batting average and only 24 homers.  Injuries and mind games (PETE MACKINNON STARTED mind games) caused a stumble early in the year and what HAS to be a lingering shoulder-area issue hampered his second half.

On the plus side Werth bounced back with an acceptable year at the plate. It was a lot of bouncing around with punctuated moments of hot play but that was enough for an old player coming back from an injury that lost him a productive 2015. Still a stiff in the field.

All in all it didn't work but the CF and Bryce issues were fairly surprising so it's hard to fault the Nats.

Presumed Plan 
Werth in LF. Bryce in RF.  Something new in CF.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan 
Werth hit well enough to take his last year in the field. Circumstances with Zimm mean that can't be at first so LF is where it's going to be. Generally you might see Rizzo move this type of player for something that could help the Nats in the future, but the contract makes Werth untradeable. You could argue a fading 38 year old starter should be replaced anyway but on the surprisingly long list of the Nats fixable issues, this doesn't even register.

Bryce starts because even crashing through the floor of his projections he was a useful bat and a solid, if unspectacular, corner OF. Given he's still under team control he's a bargain. You just have to hope he's healthy and you see a big increase in performance next year.

On CF we just don't know yet. We know they'd prefer if Turner played SS. They've now floated out there that Danny's available in trade. It would be very hard to go into next year with either Revere or Taylor or some sort of platoon as Plan A given how badly that failed last year. That leaves them to do something different. A trade is most likely given what the Nats are selling as their payroll limitations, but don't rule out a FA signing if they can get that money deferred. Unlike catcher I don't see the options being that limited and thus really can't put a finger on exactly what they will do.

Problems with Presumed Plan  
Bryce could be hurt again and if so he won't put up the numbers you hope. That'll hurt planning as the Nats are probably looking at Bryce to be a star at the plate again. You just have to roll with this possibility. The guy put up literally "best ever" numbers the year before and just turned 24.

I did just say you might want to replace a fading 38 year old, didn't I? Werth shouldn't be better than last year in 2017. That's nothing against him, that's just the reality of aging. If he's just a little worse so be it. If the crash comes you now have an OF who can't hit or field in your line-up. As concerned as you may be with Espy at SS or Zimm at first, neither is likely to be the complete zero that Werth would be in this scenario. You also have to accept he could get injured again. The grind (NOW IN PAPERBACK!) wears even young men down.

We can't really judge the solution to CF until we see it but we can say that solving CF will cost you, either money or prospects, potentially both. If it does include money then the Nats have less to spend on other issues a lot of us see as more pressing - C, 1B, closer. If it does include prospects, the Nats minor league system isn't particularly deep. Any scraping off the top would have a serious effect.

My Take 
You have to start Bryce. That's not even a discussion. But please just stop with the "he's healthy" shenanigans. You are not fooling anyone.

Moving to Werth, the Nats aren't inclined to replace something that's working passably just to do it and his bat is still passable as of the end of last year. You could move him to first and get a new corner OF as part of a play to sit Zimm, but it doesn't appear that the Nats are at that point yet. So the Nats will have to just accept his OF play and pray his body holds up and his bat doesn't drop any further. The bright side is Werth has proved very resilient and the Nats are only asking for one more year. It's not a good gamble, but there are certainly worse ones to take.

On CF? I would love to trade for McCutchen. Gambling on an MVP type coming off a bad year at 30 years old is a good gamble. Certainly a better gamble than Victor Robles becomes anything like McCutchen in the majors. I mention Robles because that is apparently what the Pirates want for McCutchen. That is a lot yes. He'll probably be the top prospect in the Nats system. But if you were trading for McC after a year like 2015 Robles wouldn't be enough. If you like McC, and I do, then Robles for him is a deal you make. His contract is not onerous. He still has power and some speed. While he's probably a below average CF at this point, his defensive failings were likely exaggerated in the stats.

Failing that the Nats need to go after a strong defensive CF. Leonys Martin would make an interesting target and is the kind of under control payer Rizzo likes. However his hitting is likely to be barely better than Revere/MAT. Dexter Fowler has developed into a strong bat, but even positioned correctly is probably just an average CF. Kevin Keirmaier is probably the ideal target but I have to believe the Rays know what they have there and it'll cost Nats more than they want to give. What does that possibly leave? Lorenzo Cain. FA after next season. Unlikely Royals keep him. Not a terrible contract (11 mill). You are just paying him to hit / field like you wanted Revere to, but at least he did it last year and you don't have to pay Revere. You can cut him.

Out of the Box Idea
I've got a wickedly terrible idea today.  The Nats pursued this guy and last year and came up short but he's available this year.  I assume. That last note should tell you I'm not talking about Yoenis Cespedes* but Jayson Heyward. This year and that contract should make him easily obtainable from a team that doesn't really need him. Are you making an insane gamble? Yes, yes you are. But with that D and his age he's not going to be worthless for a few years. He could be the very good CF this year and shift to be a great corner OF for a few more. Assuming his struggles at plate continue, that's the worst case. The best case is that his problems this year were a combination of fluke and fixable and you can get him back to a more normal bat. If the Nats, and a lot of teams, liked him before last year there must be something there. It's just a question of if the bat can be brought back to life. 

*What do I think of Yoenis? Not a good CF, would make the team better, very doubtful he signs here unless deferred money thing doesn't exist anymore.