Nationals Baseball

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

The MASN excuse

 Svrluga's column

The Lerners aren't cheap.

Subjectively this is easily proven. During the lean years we worried for a while that they would run this team solely to maximize profit, but the past few years have shown those worries to be misguided. The Lerners have spent more as the team has turned into a contender. They even spent enough to close in on a Top 5 payroll in 2015. Their payroll will likely be lower in 2016 but fears that they would revert all the way back to a 130 million or so "topped out" base were also unfounded. It appears they will find a happy middle, spend around 145 million and be close to, if not in, the Top 10 payrolls.

The Lerners spend this much while not having a great TV deal in comparison with other teams, meaning that a higher percentage of their revenues are put toward the team on the field.

So the MASN deal is understandable. There is a relationship between revenue and payroll. The team is already likely on the high end of that in comparison with other teams. If payroll has to go higher, then the revenue must go up just to maintain that relationship. That is expected to happen, one way or another, in the next couple of years as the MASN deal is re-jiggered. Whether the Nats get what the MLB promised them (come on, you know that is how it went down) or what is decided by the industry standard method, it will be more money. Putting off contracts until this money is expected to come in is the only way to make this work.

The Lerners are cheap

Objectively though things are different. Most outside team valuations confirm that almost all major league teams turn a profit. Washington is one of those that seemingly do. That could be even underselling what teams make. It isn't clear how much of the ancillary income is included in here. The MLBAM cut? Nearby parking owned by owners that isn't technically part of the club? Increased sale prices for land the owners bought up nearby the tax-payer financed stadium? Plus revenue doesn't consider the greatest money maker in the long run - the increased value of the team when sold.

Sports are one place where telling someone what to do with their money is understandable, even expected. You know when you buy into the business that the people that care about the product aren't just the few employed but millions of others who all wish for the same thing. Success for their team, namely championships. You are supposed to be running a team to win a title, not to compete regularly, and certainly not to make money for yourself.

So the MASN deal is just the extension of an sports owner doing what an owner does. Trying to maintain a steady (and fairly large) profit stream from their professional sports team. The Lerners could spend more and make less but they are not interested in that in the long haul. They have reached the point they are comfortable with. Now it's about maintaining payroll, about not spending more in order to ensure that money is made on this venture, potential wins are a secondary concern.

I've been pretty consistent on where I stand. The industry is cheap. MLB specifically but sports in general. The owners make a ton, they spend less than that and for what amounts to a toy for them but a lifeblood for millions of others that seems wrong. You should always press the owners to spend more because they can and they aren't. Payrolls aren't hard and fast limits against making or losing money, but arbitrary limits against making a whatever amount they wish to make. If an owner doesn't want to spend nearly all his profits on the team, he shouldn't be an owner.

Of course that's not how most fans think. We go by the standard operating procedures that we've seen done for as long as we've followed sports. Think of how we give managers an out for using their #4 best relief pitcher in a crucial spot in the 6th. That's just how everyone does it. We can't blame Joe Manager! We give owners the same sort of out for not spending. Everyone tries to make a bunch on sports. We can't blame Joseph Owner III!

Except we can, and we should.  MASN isn't a reason. It's an excuse to keep up a facade. You can spend. You don't want to. Be honest at the very least. It's not like fans won't keep coming. We always do.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Monday Quickie - Top FAs

FAs? Can the Nats use any? Let's put money and draft picks aside for a second and look at the players left and the talent at hand. 

Ian Desmond 
How he'd help -  Fan Favorite, knows clubhouse. Could allow Danny Espinosa, who looked pretty bad toward the end of last season, to sit. Give Trea Turner as much time as he needed to get ready.
Why he wouldn't be wanted - Nats don't like guys who don't take their offers. Danny is just holding spot warm for Turner. Bad performance last year.

Dexter Fowler
How he'd help - Makes lineup better with RH OF power. Could platoon well with LH OF speed in Revere if you'd like. Adequate fielder. Takes walks. Can trade Taylor or Revere then.
Why he wouldn't be wanted - RH OF power is what Taylor brings, and he's a great fielder.  Line-up already RH heavy, that was part of the point of bringing in Revere.

Yovani Gallardo 
How'd he help -  established decent pitcher who has a reliable arm. Pushes Roark back into pen for depth. Covers injury concerns with Strasburg. When on heavy GB type who can really limit the long ball.
Why he wouldn't be wanted - Last year worst year by most fancy stats. K's are rapidly disappearing, more of a back of the rotation guy who may not make a big difference for this team.

Tyler Clippard
How he'd help - solid relief pitcher with rubber arm known to hold down 8th inning. Would allow Nats year to figure out which of Kelley, Rivero, et al were really in line for a move up.
Why he wouldn't be wanted -  Lots of innings on that arm and a slight slip in results in 2015. If they were fine getting rid of him before 2015 do they really want him back now?

David Freese 
How he'd help -  Good D, decent power, solid offensive player. Far, far better than Stephen Drew as bench player.
Why he wouldn't be wanted - Nats already have a 3B and he's not IF flexible. Not exactly reliable looking at health.

Austin Jackson
How he'd help -  Good D, not terrible at the plate.  If you don't believe in Taylor, Jackson gives you a 4th OF that can field sort of like he does with more offense.
Why he wouldn't be wanted - If you do believe in Taylor, Jackson doesn't give you anything. 

Mat Latos 
How he'd help - Similar to what Gallardo with more potential to be a mid to top rotation type. Prior to 2015, a very effective pitcher. Peripherals haven't change much execpt one.
Why he wouldn't be wanted - the one was "getting hit". Far more bust potential than Gallardo. Arm not reliably healthy. Thought to be a clubhouse problem for a team stuck with one already.

Marlon Byrd
How he'd help  - See Fowler's first two sentences.
Why he wouldn't be wanted - aren't Nats old enough already? Doesn't offer walks or defense. More of a DH type at this point.

Jeff Baker - MD guy they had vague interest in prior to 2015 who crushed lefties... before last year. Maybe better than Tyler Moore but they already have Tyler Moore signed.
Matt Belisle - another arm for the pen. Decent last year and coming out of Colorado might have needed year to get back to form
Justin Morneau - veteran leader who can still swing a bat but can't play in the field at all.  Maybe better than Tyler Moore but they already have Tyler Moore signed.
Matt Thornton - didn't he just prove last year he could pitch here and pitch well? He is old but I'll take good before I'll take young.  
David Murphy - adequate middle of the road hitter who can't play field anymore. Maybe better than Tyler... hey! this sounds familiar.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Around the league

Nothing's really going on is it?So I'm going to ramble a bit

Fister signs with the Astros.

When the Fister had his great 2014 a lot of us were thinking that he was incredibly lucky. His strikeouts dwindled down to nothing and while his walks followed that down it still took a big drop in BABIP and increase in LOB% to get him to where he was. While a few optimists thought "Maybe Fister suddenly started learning how to get guys to hit it where he wanted to AND started bearing down with men on base!" most understood that as a 30 year old if he could control that, he would have done it already. Perhaps he wasn't a ~4.00 ERA pitcher as xFIP suggested (Taking out the fielding of his team) but he certainly wasn't a sub 2.50 ERA pitcher either.  So we braced for a mediocre bad year and prayed it would take place after his time with the Nats was done. No such luck.

Injuries probably played a part but the main problem still exists with Fister. He doesn't strike anyone out. Given that he can't work out of trouble by himself. Even if he induces a GB when he needs one he has to get lucky in a sense that it's weak enough and doesn't find a hole. In short Fister has to keep his BB% down, GB% up, and HR/FB rate down to have any sort of quality season. His BB% rate was the highest it had been since his rookie season of 2009, but it's low in general so that's good. His GB% is going down since peaking in 2013 and he's spent more of his career as an middle of the road creator of grounders, so that doesn't bode well. His HR/FB rate is also up and that has varied, so that's a question mark.

So is Fister a bounce back candidate? Not in my mind. He should be very average and with a FB speed that was down to 86.4, I think there is a good chance he could be terrible. Other stats (like how many times he was hit hard) are trending the wrong way, the expected way for a guy at his age. Those that think Fister can bounceback look at 2014, but 2014 was an aberration. Unless he gets lucky again the best Fister should be is a 4.00 ERA type guy. Now is that worth what the Astros paid? Probably. And I guess that's the important part. Assuming you don't REALLY care about winning, just about plugging a hole.

Dickerson was dealt for McGee

Those are two guys some Nats fans wanted. Now of course getting them would mean trading or moving around some guys already here but both would be good pieces to have and maybe are available still. For Dickerson, who I think is least likely to be available given his control and the fact the Rays have wanted an OF for some time (say hi to Souza for me!), the "he plays in Colorado" thing is mostly overblown. As many noted yesterday for the 80 games where a player gets a Rockies bonus, there are like 40 where they get a San Diego, LA, SF problem. So you can't look at road splits and go "Oh that's how he'll play". Really I think what you'll get is roughly the same player but scaled back for what that means in a normal environment. That means the power and average will take a hit but he'll still work out to be roughly the same OPS+ type player.  So instead of .305 and 25 homers, expect him to hit .290 and 20 homers in Tampa. But that's not a drop, really. Relative to the team he retains the value he did in Colorado. That's my guess anyway. 

That would have been nice to have but the Nats were in no position to trade a good reliever to get him and that's what Jake McGee is. Other than a 2013 that looks like an aberration Jake has been damn well dominant; ERAs around 2.00, good against both sides of the plate, not old, cheapish. He's the player now the Nats hope Kelley or Rivero becomes.  Unfortunately the Nats didn't have a young OF to tra... wait. Yes they did. That is a question - would you have given Taylor up for McGee. The Nats do need Taylor. I've said this before but I don't see him being traded because right now he's the only + outfielder on the roster and he's cheap and in control for a long while still (until after 2020). But this is more about belief. As nice a 4th OF he may be, if he's never more than that than an impact reliever for two years could be worth more. I lean toward, no though. I wouldn't deal Taylor for McGee. It's not really about Taylor, who I'm pretty suspect about. Two injuries for McGee last year to me means I can't count on him next year for sure and with only two years of control I think I'd have to feel that way to pull the trigger on a deal like this.

Nats prospects

Last year a lot was made of the Nats pipeline with 6 prospects in the Top 100. I tried to tell you though "6 in 100" wasn't really fair. More like "one of the best, one good one and a bunch of ones that have promise" Now that Ross - who surprised - and Taylor - who was a needed graduate but shows you really how most ~50th best prospects may pan out -  are officially out things are bleaker. Giolito is still the best. Turner though is not - should be a useful everyday player, could be better than that (I think he will be) and everyone else... is gone from the lists.Victor Robles, impressive but not even out of low A yet, has generally passed the Difo, Lopez, Cole crowd who all had various levels of disappointing 2015s.

This isn't so much a big deal for the Nats OD rosters in 2016/7. The Nats have things pretty well in place for that time frame. It's more for the in-season acquisition. If no one steps up to become that mid-100 level prospect then you have to offer bulk. If the Nats offer bulk though it'll pretty much empty out the organization. It's not a problem today, but it could be a problem tomorrow. Just keep an eye on these guys and let's hope a few guys really start to impress.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Toxic Amender

Are the Nats Toxic?

Briefly, no but the baseball off-season has drifted into the post-holiday funk where you dig for news when none is presented to you and the fact the Nats have been in on so many free agents and have landed only one, well that's something to talk about. But let's do it intelligently. Let's look at the facts and come to a conclusion, not start with a conclusion and try to work the facts around it.

Are the Nats toxic? The Nats lost out on O'Day, Zobrist, Heyward, Leake, Upton and Cespedes. Phillips chose not to waive his no trade to come here. Doesn't that say something? While admitting each decision made sense, is there something running through all of these situations that causes FAs to flinch?

O'Day - Nats deal was posted at 3/25. O'Day really wanted the 4th year and the O's caved and gave him 4/31 (4 mill deferred).

Zobrist - Nats deal was at 4/60, as was Giants. Went with Cubs 4/56 claiming love of the weird wuss.

Heyward - Nats deal was presumably around 200 million. Cardinals also had a deal and were thought to have offered the most money. Years were not disclosed for either though. Went with Cubs 8/184 with opt out.

Leake - Nats deal wasn't disclosed and their interest seemed decidedly minimal. Would sign with Cardinals 5/80 presumed to be the best deal offered.

Upton - Nats interest was again tempered, only really coming out after Tigers deal disclosed. Nats apparently offered a shorter term deal for less money than the 6/132.75 Upton would get from the Tigers.

Cespedes - Nats offered 5/100 with an opt out after 2 but the money, if reports are to be believed, was to be paid out over 15 years, making the true value of the deal closer to 75-80 million. Signed with Mets for 3/75 and an opt out after 1.

Phillips - Wanted an extension to leave Cincinnati. Already being paid 27 million for next 2 years. Even reporters thought this was an unacceptable stipulation.

For the most part O'Day, Leake, Upton, and Cespedes, we see what we expect to see. The player takes the most money/best deal and runs with it. There isn't much more that needs to be read into this. If we look at pretty much every other FA signing this year, we see the same thing. This is standard and not telling of anything in particular.

The Phillips deal is also pretty clear. What he wanted was nonsense that no one backed and the deal fell apart. It wasn't about the Nats it was again about money, money he felt he left on the table to stay in Cincy that he now wanted back if he was to be traded. The Nats weren't going to pay for Cincy's deal and Cincy wasn't going to offer that money and lose the deal they got. Again read nothing into it.

So we're left with Heyward and Zobrist, the two guys who did take less. (Even if Heyward took more value per year it's still odd to leave 16 mill on the table so I think it's still relevant to look at him). Is the "toxicity" of the Nats the most logical reason for the rebuttal here? Easily you can see it's not. Heyward left even more on the table to snub the Cardinals and Zobrist left probably the same amount to snub the Giants. You can't extend the toxic argument to the Nats and not these clubs. Yet these are two beloved organizations reporters would chop off their own fingers first before even hinting that they may be toxic.

If it's not the enviroment what could it be? Zobrist claimed Maddon love. Heyward claimed the best chance at long term success. Both are probably partly true. However looking at two signings that did happen might be more telling. The Nats did land Max Scherzer last year but deferred half his contract until after it was over. The Nats did land Daniel Murphy but had to defer about 1/7th of the money over the course of 3 extra years. Given those were the last two big deals the Nats made and given the contract offered to Cespedes included even more deferred money, it's fair to believe the Zobrist and Heyward deals included large amounts of deferred money as well. This makes the "turned down more money" point that looking at these players hinged on moot. They likely went for contracts that offered more real value.

This is the thread that runs through all the Nats deals. They offered contracts that were less than these players got from other teams. The Nats looked at a loaded and slow-moving market and tried to snag some players at fair cost. This usually fails. Toxic has nothing to do with it.

I can't help but also comment on this column. Not to be rude but does this guy even know Span was terribly injured most of 2015? Zimm/Murphy/Werth is bleak? I mean, I can totally see the issues with it but even I, soulless automaton, knows there's a good chance one of the three guys will be good. (Plus I'd be more excited by any of these 3 than Revere.)  And the offense was fine last year and lost a bad hitter in 2015, so... it'll be bad now?

The Nats went into the off-season with minor goals and major questions. The minor goals were to get rid of Storen, shore up the bench, and shore up the pen. They completed all three. The major questions were what would become of Papelbon, would they replace Desmond or wait for Turner, and would they get one more big bat. They did replace Desmond...after trading Escobar made it necessary. Effectively they are waiting for Turner. They are keeping Papelbon probably not by choice, but under the understanding that he is good and hard to replace. So what they really didn't address was getting one more big bat. A disappointment sure, but "nothing going right"? Hardly. (granted that's the copy editor and not him - the column is far less hot takey than the headline in it's final point).

I've said this before but this is what happens when national writers pop in to write about teams. It's hard to get a full picture when you are just stopping by and poking around. There's some value to what amounts to an outside opinion, but you should use what you know to inform what is being said. In this case the views in this column are just too negative. The Nats off-season is a little disappointing from their view. They thought they could make a FA splash without spending the big FA bucks. They were wrong. But they were pretty much able to accomplish every hard and fast goal they needed to. Now if it's more than a little disappointing to the fans, that's up to the fans. 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Monday Quickie - Lesspedes

Nats didn't get Cespedes. He signed a deal with the new hotness - an opt out. For Yoenis it was after a year. You might think the money would have swayed him - the Nats had to have been offering more for 5 than the Mets gave for 3, but as some noted, given the back-loaded and deferred money the Nats put in there the "real" value of the contracts were probably very close. Add in the opt-out and the Mets deal just might top it. (Plus I do think he wanted to stay in NY - he had a very good experience there)

What does this do? It makes the Nats worse than they could have been, yes, but not all that much worse. Cespedes, unless he's year long a player like he was to end 2015, is not a difference maker by himself. He's a great piece. Revere is an ok one. The Nats should be fine.

Really though it makes the Mets better and probably keeps them ahead of the Nats in terms of favorites for the East. Losing Cespedes would have hurt. Losing Cespedes to the Nats would have put them behind the eight ball. They avoided that scenario. It doesn't mean anything for sure but it's preferable to the alternative that was staring them in the face. 

Are the Nats not a desirable location? I think they are fine. Outside of the draw of Madden it's still about money and the Nats are offering fair deals, not great ones. That's smart business but more often than not someone will offer a deal that's great for the player and bad for the team so the Nats lose out. You think they would have learned from Werth and Scherzer, both of who they overpaid, but I guess not. 

Still time for stuff to happen. 

Quick enough for you? 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Snow day Cespedes thoughts

Quick bursts of thoughts on Cespedes

My biggest concern would be the league getting used to him. I feel like that might explain why he did great in 2012 and 2015 with the Mets but only good in between. The AL figured out how to pitch to him. If that's the case then sometime next year the NL will too and the Nats will be left with a decent hitting OF (with a power focus), on a team full of decent hitters. That's not a bad thing, but Clint Robinson is a decent hitting OF. You aren't paying Cespedes 20 million a year or so just because he has an arm.

Of course Bryce plays CF in this case, right? I mean Cespedes is proven to have his issue. You aren't sitting Werth (not for Revere to play CF) so Bryce, more of an unknown gets it. I'm not as high on Bryce in center as some are but it's better than the other options.

Does someone get traded? MAT is the obvious choice because (1) he's the worst so Nats won't play him, and (2) he's the "prospect" so other teams will want him but I'm not sure I see that. Revere is only on a one-year deal, Werth is a perennial injury risk, and MATs defense is something the Nats need. If I were Rizzo I would want MAT around if only because he'll be a cheap 4th OF for a while. Werth of course is untradeable. 40 million for a DH who may or may not play and if he does play may or may not hit? No thank you. Revere? That's probably the best bet.

Biggest thing that's being undersold with Murphy and Revere (and maybe Cespedes)? Health. They should play which means you can more rely on their projections than Werth/Zimm/Rendon. This was important in losing Desmond - a very reliable guy playing time wise.

How does he effect the clubhouse? Well I'll guess he's probably not great in the clubhouse - he has  been traded 3 times in 2 seasons and has surprisingly low FA interest. But it's the same in almost any situation. If the Nats win, which is more likely with him, they'll be fine with him (and fans will like him) if they don't win, that's when we see problems.

I don't mind 5 years covering the 30-34 seasons. That should be ok. The cost? Well we don't know 100 million would be too rich for me objectively. Subjectively of course - spend all your money.

We are mostly missing the second part of this as Donald noted - as a defensive move this matters too. Next year the competition for the NL East crown should be only the Mets, with an outside chance of the Marlins. If it's Nats or Mets then where Cespedes ends up counts double so to speak. Of course that should really only be figured as a set + for the team getting him in 2016 to be reviewed after every season.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Are you a Cesped-ophile?

Wait.  That phrasing may be problematic. Oh well.

The Nats are kicking all the tires on Yoenis Cespedes. He has been seeking a big-time deal in the range of what Justin Upton got (6 / 132, opt out after 2). The Nats didn't offer that. In fact, we have no idea what the Nats offered. If they really want him the deal has to be at least 3 years which is what the White Sox offered him. Other than that we have no idea. 3 / 75?  4 / 90? Guess away.

Does he fit? Not exactly. It would leave the Nats a bit defensively challenged and he's exactly the opposite of the contact driven team it seemed like the Nats were putting together.

But he can hit and honestly if Revere was manning centerfield and not MAT then the defense was going to take a hit anyway. It gives the Nats another power bat when it all it's righty bats (Zimm, Werth, Rendon) are in a state of flux. And this would have to free up someone - either Revere or MAT - for a deal.

I'll take it for 2016. It's the time to go all in.