Nationals Baseball

Monday, January 16, 2017

What the arbitration awards mean

The Nats settled with everyone avoiding the possible "who can we dump this recalcitrant malcontent for" reaction from the team. That's good because the Nats needed all these players in one way or another. But beyond the fact they signed the actual awards are of interest because of what that means for the payroll.

The Nats expected payroll for 2017, that we were playing with, was set in part with the arbitration awards estimated by mlbtraderumors. They aren't perfect of course but they do a reasonable job. Where did things end up this year?

Lobaton : Est 1.6 M,  Got 1.57 M
Norris : Est 4.0 M,  Got 4.2 M
Roark : Est 6.1 M,  Got 4.32 M
Rendon : Est 6.4 M,  Got 5.8 M

Bryce : Est 9.3 M, Got 13.62 M

If you look at Lobaton, Norris and Rendon - those are pretty close. Rendon is the furthest off - around 10% but he might have been sold on taking a little less since the Nats arguably gave him a little more than they needed last year (2.8 when expectation was 2.5 again). This is all rough though so I consider it close enough.  In total for the three the estimate was 12 million and the Nats put up just over 11 and a half.

The hardest call for these types estimates is often the first call because you aren't working off a normal previous year salary as a base. That's where the Nats were with Roark. He was coming off a year making 500K+. So maybe he got underpaid, maybe he didn't. But any assumed saving they got for getting Roark under the estimate was blown out for Bryce. That's a big difference and the end result is that the money spent in arbitration looks like this :

Total Est 27.4 M,  Spent 29.51 M

That's 2 million more than expected. For an average team that shouldn't matter much but there's a palpable sense that the Nats have a 145-150 million payroll expectation for the 2017 season and right now they are right at that 150 million payroll. (assumes normal salary increases for pre-arbitration players) If the Nats were to bring back Drew and sign another arm... that's at least 5 million, probably closer to 8 if they are trying to keep these deals as one-year things. Are they Nats going to increase their payroll by 10 million over last season? I just don't believe so.

If I'm right the arbitration moves mean that the Nats are in one of two spots. They are going to either/or the last bench spot and bullpen arm - spending ~3million for one but not the other, or they are going to go cheap across the board - the Ackley / Hochevar future I imagined.

We'll see. I've was very mildly surprised last year when the Nats didn't follow-up acquiring Melancon with a dump trade of someone - meaning they added 2.5+M to their payroll.* So maybe they bite and do something similar here. That's all we're really talking about 2.5 or so more than they probably had envisioned as their ceiling.

*I'm sure though they desperately tried to get someone to take Papelbon in a way that took the payroll back down but no one wanted him for anything.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

A whole lot of nothing

When the off-season started it was pretty well decided that the free agent class was a particularly weak one. So the excitement that would come, if it did, would probably be through the trade market. And the offseason delivered with a bunch of stuff between Thankgiving and The 13th of December.  Cespedes, Melancon, Sale trade, Eaton trade, Fowler, Chapman, Jansen. Even things only interesting to the Nats took place during this brief fortnightish period. Desmond signs, Ramos signs, Espinosa was traded.

Since then there's been a couple somethings but given the players involved and the general lack of activity it's been a big yawn. We're closing in to Spring and it's time to turn the page on the off-season. I suppose if Bautista and Napoli and Trumbo and Weiters and Hammel all went in a hurry that'd be interesting, but that's not very exciting to begin with and less so for Nats fans when you realize that Trumbo and Napoli are very unlikely to end up in the NL. 

I guess I'm saying I'm bored.

The Nats aren't likely to get a big-name closer at this point. So we're waiting to see what kind of secondary pitcher, if any, they manage to wrangle to DC.  They may or may not be waiting for a bench player - Drew, or perhaps a better 1B/OF alternative (Moss? Lind?). The longer it goes the more I expect a late off-season clearance sale pick up.  Hochevar for 2 million. Ackley on a minor league deal. And that be that.

Eaton was a good deal, probably very good, but all that given away really killed the offseason for a team with a set budget like the Nats.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Hey where's Stephen Drew?

Aren't we supposed to have Stephen Drew back by now?

You may have forgotten but Stephen Drew was not unimportant for the Nats last year. He hit .266 with good pop (8 homers and 11 doubles in 143 ABs) with reasonable defense.  He spelled Danny at short, Rendon at 3rd and Murphy at 2nd, ended up playing 2nd when Murphy's butt got hurt and was the teams most effective pinch hitter.*

So why isn't he back?

Well the last news we heard - 2 weeks ago - was that he could end up with a starting position somewhere.  This makes sense as he would be a better option at SS or 2B then some of the players currently manning those positions. Probably not even half, but some and really just a handful is enough. It would be more playing time and more money than the Nats would dish out.

But this protracted hunt by Drew is hurting the Nats in two ways. First, if he doesn't come back it leaves Difo as the top bench option for the infield. There's no good reason to think Wilmer will be that good next year. Could he? Sure. It's the bench. You have limited at bats. Weird things happen in limited at bats.  In 2012 the Nats got much better performances than one would expect from Lombo, Bernadina, Moore, and Chad Tracy.  But you have to start with the expectation and the expectation for Difo is not great. Last year in AA Difo hit .259, with limited patience and no power. He did hit .276 in the majors, but it's hard to believe 66 PAs as opposed to almost a full season in AA. Plus his AA season corresponds with what he has done for most of his minor league career.  He had a bit of a breakout in A-ball in 2014 followed by an impressive start in High-A in 2015, but by all appearances that impressive start was a fluke of sample size. He's not quite old yet - but he's almost there which means his chances of surprising are growing smaller everyday. Short of it - the bench is worse with Difo there in place of Drew.

The second way this hurts the Nats is something that I presume. I'm guessing we haven't had any movement on the relief front because Rizzo is unsure of his budget. If Drew comes back, it might mean they have only a couple million and he needs to dumpster dive or trade. It might mean they have nothing. If he doesn't come back than surely they have at least some money to spend. Whether that means bargain hunting or competing for the names left on the market I don't know but it means they don't have nothing. That alone would have me expect a signing or move or some bullpen activity.

My guess is we hear nothing from the Nats camp about relief pitchers until Drew is signed or until that last week in January. That's about as long as you can wait on it with pitchers and catchers coming up. You don't want to be the one left on the side of the dance floor or whatever.

So hurry up Drew and either come back or go.  The Nats need to move on and they can't until you decide.

*He had the same number of PH homers and one fewer hit than  Heisey in 18 fewer PH situations.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Nothing Happened - But I can still fill a post!

Hey! We're back so let's talk about what happened in the two weeks we've not been talking about the Nationals!


... and we're done!

It's not only been a quiet period for the Nats. It's ben a quiet period for baseball. I'm pretty sure Daniel Hudson was signed before we shut it down for Christmas so after that...

Clay Buchholz was traded to the Phillies.  Does this make the Phillies better? Yes, but probably not as much as you think. I do love AL -> NL moves and Bucholz has had some really good years so there's potential there but the most likely scenario is he's fine and eats up necessary front of the rotation innings for the cost of a few dollars and a nothing prospect. Could the Phillies then surprise? Probably not. They were bad in all aspects of the game, so even if their young starting pitching comes together around Bucholz and Hellickson, they still have to solve the pen and get some real offense toghether. I like them for no more than 75 wins. That puts them out of surprise range. They are at least a year away, probably more.

Ivan Nova signed with the Pirates.  Good for him. If he pitches like he did in Pittsburgh last year, it's a steal and the Pirates are still in the thick of things.  I like the Pirates to be better than 2016 even trading Cutch. I feel they caught some bad breaks last year and there's potential for that offense.

Encarnacion signs with Cleveland. Hey did you know Mike Napoli had sleep apnea? Encarnacion is younger and better than Nap. This should help them keep pace with the Red Sox and starts putting gaps between them and the rest of the Central on paper. 

Inciarte extends with Braves.  He's a bit of a slappy Joe, but a good slappy Joe, with great fielding and very good speed. The defense is a big thing because the Braves are still going to play Kemp in a corner. Part of the Braves rebuild. So could the Braves then surprise? Maybe actually. If Dansby Swanson is an immediate impact bat then with Kemp they are immediately a much better offensive team (5th best offense in Aug, best in Sept). The olds will have to come through for them in the rotation, but they threw a lot of terrible junk out there last year. Dickey and Colon should allow them to only put out, if not good arms, then arms worthy of a look.  I think the Braves will be .500 ish and that means they have a shot to surprise. 

Tigers re-sign Avila.  I don't have anything to say about this but it's what passes for news during this dry time.

Angels sign Revere. One year deal - 4 million.  It was a good thought bringing in Revere (while at the same time unloading Storen). You'd be blind not to see the consistency that led you to believe that at worst he would be "not awful" at the plate and good everywhere else. But then he got injured and presumably never really got healthy and that was that. Revere is not really a player who was very good at a lot. He had no power or patience. His D was allright. His speed is very good, but if he's not hitting singles he's not getting on base and thus his speed is meaningless. Basically that left him as a contact hitter. A bunter, move the guy over type. That's a dime a dozen in the minors. Turned out as bad as it could have. So is it a bad signing? Not at all. As a gamble on a fourth OF I think it's real smart. Off the bench his speed can be used at your discretion. For the Angels he can play a corner OF position (presumably LF) late in the game where he'd probably be perfectly fine. And again - that contact bat is useful off the bench. This is all if he's not healthy.  If he is and can be the.290 contact hitter - even better. That's a very good plug and play guy when the inevitable injuries happen.

Brian Dozier's name floated out there. It would fit, despite what some might think. You have to bench Zimm but hey - you probably should bench Zimm. If he can hit his way back then that's a good problem to have. You want good problems, not bad ones, which is what the Nats very likely could have if Zimm can't hit. However if what I see is true - the Dodgers offered at least Jose DeLeon tstraight up for him - I don't think the Nats can match that.  It would have to be Robles plus and I don't see the Nats making Dozier the player to trade Robles for. Note that even if the Dodgers don't get Dozier (and they probably will) the other likely landing spots aren't good for the Nats either. The Cardinals, Giants, and Braves have all been mentioned.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Holiday Q&A 2 : The HoliDay After

Ok so the Nats related stuff is still going on over here. Any non-Nats or non-baseball stuff can be asked over here. I'll be checking this through Christmas and come back with something new the 26th or 27th barring some big move that I have to talk about so feel free to ask away.

Do you have any new terrible Christmas movie recommendations/reviews?

Oh god yes!  Since Thanksgiving I've added about 15-20 new XMas movies to the list of ones I've seen. Mostly new ones but some old ones, and of course I've watched some returning classics. I'll hold off on any reviews as that could take up pages and hours. Instead I might live-tweet a day and night of watching nothing but Holiday movies.

I'll recommend a few but note that these are recommendations based on knowing what you are getting into here. These movies aren't fighting for an Oscar here. In terms of new movies "Married by Christmas" on the UP channel, which my cable guide assures me is a real thing, is probably the best one I've seen this year. It is completely shoehorned into the Christmas movie genre as the plot doesn't need to revolve around it but that'll happen. What is enjoyable about it, and probably biases me toward it, is it goes for actual laughs rather than the "A reindeer ate my hat!" kind of laughs that usually pepper these types of movies. I'm not saying it's a laugh riot. It's a generic sitcom. But in a world of romance movies aimed toward 40 year old housewives that's a big difference.  The best generic one I watched this year, was actually a 2015 premiere I think "Sound of Christmas" on the Hallmark channel. If you want to just hit all the notes of this type of movie this is a fine example of the form. If you've seen that and want something new that fits the bill "My Christmas Dream" (not to be confused with the also new and also acceptable "A Dream of Christmas") with Danica McKellar would be my recommendation.  Sometimes people you recognize from other stuff are just cashing those checks, but the stalwarts of the genre, your Chaberts, your Witts, your Cameron-Bures aren't. McKellar falls in this latter category. 

To avoid? Assuming for you it's not "ALL OF THESE HARPER!" I've got a couple. Speaking of cashing checks, Eric McCormack and Kristin Davis do nothing for nobody in "Heavenly Christmas". The "Christmas with the Andersons" movie was unwatchable and coming from me, that's something. If you want to watch a BAD Christmas movie that's fun for being terrible, Haylie Duff's "Christmas Belle" is delightfully stilted, overacted, and filled with shirtless running.

Oh if you are into "movies normal people find watchable" here's a post I did a few years ago on what I watch of those.

Yankees were pretty good post trade deadline. Do they have a shot at second place in the division? 

The Yankees have two issues. They weren't all that good last year. There are three other teams in the division were. Let's talk about the latter.  The Red Sox have lost Ortiz but gained Sale and all those young guys have another year under their belt. It would be surprising if the Yankees can catch them given the gap in talent set up.  The Orioles are a mirage managed by a quality manager. Unless Dylan Bundy becomes an ace it's hard to see where they've improved on last year and Jones and Davis could easily be falling into oblivion.  They should be .500+, 81-84 range.  The Blue Jays will lose Encarnacion and Dickey but the latter wasn't that important last year and you get the feeling they can make up the former. It's hard to believe their pitching will be better though as they were best in the AL last year. They'll probably be in the 84-87 range.

That gives the Yankees one or two more games to win - if they are better. But are they? They got some 2nd half performances that won't be repeated (Sanchez and Billy Butler hitting like .350!) and lost Beltran but I'd still expect the offense to be a tick better as they introduce some young blood into the lineup, bring in Holliday to just hit, and hopefully have some better health. But they were 12th in RS in the AL last year so a tick means only maybe average at best. So the pitching will have to carry them. The bullpen should be great again - Chapman, Betances (not closing), MLBs greatest middle reliever every Tyler Clippard.  So the question comes down to the starting pitching. Tanaka is good enough to be your #1.  Sabathia has learned how to effectively eat innings now. If Pineda or Severino can make a star turn the Yankees have a shot. If not, I just don't see how they don't get stuck where the Os will probably be. That leaves 2nd place possible if the Jays falter or the Red Sox surprisingly fall but not likely and probably not enough wins for a WC in any case.

Didn't the wedding coincide with NatsFest? Do you think most or all Nats were invited to Bryce's wedding, or just his good friends?  

No he got married - seems like the 16th. Winterfest was the previous weekend. It interfered with a Duke UNLV game which is why Bryce wasn't there (and wedding planning - sure). I'd guess just good friends were invited out but not everyone. It's like giving out rings - where do you draw the line?

Recommend an introductory volume or two on baseball analytics for those, such as myself, who are stats curious, but not SAS programmer-types. Thanks? 

 OK I have an answer. People seem to like "Baseball Between the Numbers", "The Book:  Playing the Percentages" and I've seen a couple recommened "Understanding Sabermetrics" 

What is your favorite Christmas Carol?

Straight up "carol"... I do love the urgency of "Carol of the Bells" but the Trans-Siberian Orchestra version has kind of ruined it? I mean I kind of like that song while acknowledging it's too much. A well sung "O Holy Night" can be super powerful but it needs a great voice behind it. So I'll go with the jaunty "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"

For songs... I mean there are so many good ones. The solid swing of "Let it Snow" (Vaughn Monroe version please) The joyous bombast of "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year". The longing soul of "Please Come Home for Christmas" The creepy fun of "Zat you Santa Claus". The Elvis-ness of "Blue Christmas" I could make a top 10 list - so I will. But I already know #1. The simple straight forward "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas" - Burl Ives version - album Burl Ives not shortened Rudolph Burl Ives.  There's just a touch of mischeviousness in it that appeals to me so much.

Can I pretend that Star Wars 7 and Rogue One are Christmas movies?


Have the Nationals been trying to sell the naming rights to Nats Park?

Yes. They kind of made on and off gestures early on probing the market but didn't like what they found. They made it known last year that they now were definitely looking to sell them again. What's the hold up? I assume what holds up all Nats deals. They have a set value in mind and aren't looking to go much under that. It may seem small but if you think you can get 10 mill a year and someone is offering you 7 - these are usually 10+ year deals. That's 30 million you cost yourself. So in theory you can wait 4 years before you'd start to "lose" money by have not taking that deal. (Sort of - it's all a rich tapestry of when the deal ends and other deals changing market etc)

My guess right now is too is that the digital billboard thing will have to be settled before they sell.  Right now the council approved them - but not as many or on as long as the Nats wanted. They may try again? Sue? Who knows? They really have to sell this year though because a big ad thing - the All-Star game - is set for 2018. Once that is past the deal loses value. So don't expect to be going to Nationals Park on Opening Day 2018.

Would you rather have a crazy, win at all costs owner of the Nats (think Dan Snyder) or an owner that tries to run the franchise in a more respectful/classy way (aka Lerner's)?

I'm going to choose the latter, but it's not a slam dunk.  I think the key word in the whole question is "crazy". This to me signifies, much like it has with Snyder, that the guy doesn't have a good idea on how to translate his money and effort into wins. He puts too much stock in his own opinions, doesn't hire the right people, etc. A guy like this is just as likely to drive the team into the ground for half a decade as he is to make a couple years of runs into the playoffs.

Throwing money around (in baseball*) IS very effective. In my opinion most of us could create a "winner" with just an unlimited payroll and a fair sense of the game. But that just means being over .500.  Getting to playoffs regularly takes some skill. Getting to the playoffs as a favorite even more. So unless I can confirm that the win at all costs guy isn't an idiot - give me the latter group

*Baseball's salary structure lends itself to being able to bludgeon your way to over .500 with money. NFL does not.  Instead money in the NFL seems to create a floor around 5 wins. It's hard to be truly terrible by spending a lot.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Holiday Q&A

I could keep posting original stuff but that's hard and vaguely sometimes time consuming. Q&As make more sense for the work week leading up to Christmas, at least for me. So ask away in the comments and I'll try to answer in the post at my earliest convenience. For the sake of  not mixing things for people that come here for baseball only thank you very much - I'll put another post up tomorrow for non-Nats / non-baseball Q&A if you are interested in non Nats questions. But what kind of freak isn't interested in Nats questions?

How does the replacement of Espinosa at SS by an inferior fielder --- and the knock-on effects on the rest of the positions --- effect the overall fielding of the Nationals. They seemed to be in the top quarter of fielding teams last year. How does this affect their overall competitiveness?

Well I guess the first question is how much of an inferior fielder will Turner be exactly. Danny had been one of the best fielding 2B during the 2012-2015 run, but as a SS he was merely very good last year. While that can be a fluke of single year fielding statistics, I can buy it. He's not young anymore and he's probably living on that cannon of an arm. Turner barely played SS in the majors so we have no fancy stats to go on there, but his 2B numbers (still on a very small number of innings mind you) were a tick worse than Danny's when he played there. I can see him matching Danny's range just with pure speed, but without the same arm. The end result my best guess is that Turner will be worse than Danny in the field but only slightly worse than Danny 2016/2017 which is the comparison that matters. 

I'd expect the Espy to Danny move  not to effect the defense and the Nats competitiveness all that much. Remember that Rendon at 3B is a top defender which gives Turner some cover in the hole if he needs it. No the left side of the infield should be pretty much the same. What I'd be more worried about is Murphy.  Historically he's not been a good defender but he worked hard and got himself to "not embarrassing" last year though was a step back and I don't see how he move forward anymore. Not only is age working against him, that butt injury is going to limit him in some way I'm sure. With Zimm's D not translating across the diamond that right side of the infield could be a big issue.

I'm convinced that if Rizzo gives out though minor league deals to has-been starters that at least one of them will pan out as an acceptable reliever. But exactly how viable is that in actuality?

Quick answer : I'm not sure. I'd imagine it's a combination of stuff, age, and effort that turns a former starter into an effective reliever. Looking at the top relievers (I just used fWAR - good as anything for something vague like this) it seems rare for someone to start until around 30 and then transition. A good handful transition very early or never were starters. The rest transition around 25-27. That seems to be the agreed upon "Give up on them starting" age range. So I'd say if you aim for guys around that age with one or two really good pitches you probably have a better shot. But I have no idea how many guys attempt to make this move. I imagine dozens every year. If that's true than the success rate is low. It's probably more viable than sheparding middling minor leaguer relievers, these guys had some sort of major league stuff to get there, but I certainly wouldn't bet the farm on it.

how do you think the current configuration of the Nats matches up against the Dodgers and Cubs (likely front runners in the other 2 NL divisions)?

The Cubs are a complete team and no one is going to match-up well against them. The Nats could match their offense but things would have to break right (Bryce MVP, Murphy MVP, Turner MVP type of thing). So give the Cubs the edge there. The Nats had the 2nd best starting staff and were more than a half-run worse than the Cubs. Cubs edge. Relief wise with the Cubs getting Davis and Nats doing nothing so far you'd give the Cubs a slight edge. They should win a bunch more games than Nats and while not overwhelm in a playoff series would be favored for sure.

I'm not sure why everyone is excited about the Dodgers though. They basically just recreated their team from last year which means their flaws (fragility, LHP) remain. You'd give them the clear pen edge right now but the Nats maintain an offensive edge and SP staff is up in the air with LA having more to worry about with getting innings. Assuming perfect health I guess you expect LA to win a couple more games? Maybe? Depends on how divisions develop honestly. I can see the Nats winning a few more just as easy. In a series - I see a toss-up just like this year. The Nats pen really didn't fail in the playoffs. In fact they didn't really fail just got beat by a slim margin. Play that series 10 times, Nats win 5. Now this year - without bullpen help - maybe Nats win 3-4? But it's a LONG way from here to a 2017 playoff series.

Any word on Tyson Ross from brother Joe?

I haven't seen anything.  Rumors currently have the Cubs hot on Tyson Ross and if you can join the Cubs...

Is the Wieters talk just Boras smoke and mirrors or would the Nats actually flip Norris??

I believe yes and yes.  The Nats situation makes too much sense (Nats need C, Weiters is right here, Boras client) for people not to think this but the money doesn't work (unless they'd flip Gio with no replacement in mind) I won't totally exclude it, Boras got the Nats to take in Soriano unecessarily, sign Max, but I don't see it. You can't clearly say Weiters is a star like you could for those two (at the time).  As for Norris - they'd flip him if they felt the return was good enough and they had a workable plan B in place. Maybe even not with a plan B if return was somehow well beyond expecations. He's a gamble that's cheap and controlled, but not so cheap and controlled for so long you can't let him go. He's not necessary to future plans.

What do you expect from Gio in the last year of his contract? Over perform expectations or under? 3+ or 4+ERA? LHP trade bait at the deadline? 

What's expectations? 4.00 ERA? Then I'd say under. I think he'll have a 4+ ERA though not necessarily worse than last year.  (so if your expectations are 4.50 ERA he might overperform that). Generally it's been a slow decline because as he's gotten hit more, he's better controlled his pitching (believe it or not). It's not a fair trade - a hit IS better than a walk, but it helps slow the decline. Why think it'll change this year? I don't think he'll be traded unless Nats are out of it. Assuming Dodgers in it they still can't hit LHP.

Did you read the WashPost article on MAT? Thoughts? How would you procede to give him a shot turning it around?

Yes! Pretty standard fare. You'd expect a guy who sees himself as a major leaguer not to defer to "I just don't have the talent to do this" when faced with failure. I wouldn't give him a shot to turn it around, though. Outside of one fluky AA season in 2014, MAT has never maintained a high average and has struck out way too much.  That was him in A ball, that was him in AAA, that's been him in the majors. Chances are - that's him. I'd make him 4th OF and if a shot happened to come to him via injury to Werth (or god forbid Bryce or Eaton) then so be it. If somehow he impresses in limited play in 2017 and you can fix 1B and C more easily, maybe he gets a shot in 2018. But I doubt that those circumstances arise. 

Is eaton going to replace BRYCE? 

So this question in full is more "Since they traded away Giolito and Lopez, won't the money saved with Eaton's cheap contract have to be used in the future to pay for starting pitching and not go to Bryce?"  Well there are two assumptions here we'd have to address first. (1) that Lito and/or Lopez would be starting pitchers worth having in your rotation and (2) that the Nats are serious about bringing Bryce back with a contract that likely starts at Stanton.  Both are decent gambles to be no, but let's assume they are both true. Does that mean no Bryce?

I don't think that's going to be the kicker. Even without Giolito and Lopez the Nats are in a great position SP wise. If all goes well the Nats don't have to really address the pitching staff until after 2019. At that point Roark goes into FA and Scherzer crosses 35. Chances are another strong arm will be needed. If they want to stay cheap that gives the Nats 3 more years to develop someone. That's not an unreasonable time frame. Could that someone had been Lito or Lopez? Sure but there wasn't a strong consensus anymore that it would happen, and certainly not a feeling that you could bet on them being #1/2 types. You lose something here, but not as much as you think.

So Bryce! Welll maybe. What's going to matter more, imo, is all the other issues that need to be solved between now and then. Catcher, if Severino doesn't develop. Replacing Werth and Zimm and Murphy. Looking to maybe re-sign Rendon (also a FA after 2019). There's a lot of outstanding issues on the offensive side of the ball that should come into play before SP is an issue. So to answer the question - I don't see Bryce's stay in DC linked directly to letting Giolito and Lopez go.

I just thought it was crazy to let Melancon get to one of your potential chief rivals in the NL, filling their biggest hole, simply because the Lerners/Rizzo believe you shouldn't spend beyond a certain amount for anyone. This, to me, was a special case. What say you?

Almost any FA contract lost where you seemed to be the runner-up can be argued would have just cost you a few million more to get. If you think like that you'll go crazy. You have to take it at the full value spent and at the full value Melancon is just not worth it. There's a team to consider over the course of four years and unfortunately for whatever reason a pretty strict budget right now. That's the crux of it. If you accept the Nats payroll to be what it is - there are better places to spend that money in upcoming years than in a closer.

While we note that alot of winning teams have great closers, they don't have great EXPENSIVE ones. The last team to win it all with a great expensive closer they had all year? Arguably the Yankees in 2009. Last team to make it to series with said expensive closer? The 2012 Tigers with Papa Grande. It's hard to be really good all over if you are paying a lot for a closer and not spending a lot everywhere else too.

Is Greg Holland a viable possibility, or is no news bad news? (Rizzo asks why we think reporters should know who he's negotiating with?) Is Holland riskier than the other guys without his upside stinking up the pen? Who is the next friend of Dusty to sign?

Possibly? The market on Holland is hard to read. He's off TJ surgery and missing a year. The scouts had a showcase but don't seem to be jumping on him. Still closers are going for premium prices and he's a Boras client so he shouldn't be cheap. If he goes for the 2/18 incentive laden deal predicted by MLB trade rumors - (which looks a little cheap right now) I don't see the Nats being in on that, unless it's severely backloaded, like 5/13. Which I suppose is possible. Holland IS riskier because he hasn't pitched in a year so there's less of an idea of how he'll do in 2017 and he'll cost a lot more than most of those bullpen guys.

Next FOD?  Let's say Alfredo Simon gets a minor league deal with the team. Him or Ryan Hanigan.

Do you think actor Tom Holland might be available to close for the Nats?

No but maybe someone from Holland.

2017 will be a Werth-like return to form by Zim. Am I crazy for thinking this?

Depends on your definition of Werth like. Something like his injury below average to super star turn during the early years of the contract? No way. Something like a mild improvement from a terrible year - like Werth did last year?  Sure. In fact I'd bet on it. However that's betting on Zimm going from "maybe worst regular in baseball" to "among the worst first basemen in baseball".

Monday, December 19, 2016

Where the Nats stand today

We've spent a lot of the off-season mired in specific moves. Will they re-sign this guy? What trade will happen next? How are they going to get a closer? But now that we've hit the holiday home stretch, it's time to zoom out and look at the Nats as a whole. Do they project out in our heads to be better or worse than the 2016 Nats? By how much? This helps us get a feel for what needs to be done after the New Year when there is only a  month and a half (woo!) before actual players start doing actual things*

Likely Better

The Nats are replacing a full-season of Danny Espinosa, a half-season of Revere/MAT, and a half-season of Trea Turner with full-seasons of Trea Turner and Adam Eaton. 

Revere/MAT was a disaster and it's hard to imagine anything replacing that half-season that isn't a huge improvement. Danny was at best production-neutral meaning anything positive would be a noticeable change. Turner looks to be a positive player the only question is how much. Eaton should be a positive player even if his fielding in CF is more what we fear than what we hope.

Bryce should be better, right? 

The guy put up a season for the ages at 22 and then hit for his lowest average ever in the majors in the next season. Injuries make the most sense, especially given that he started the season almost exactly the way he finished 2015 and that was with a .228 BABIP.  So the offseason should improve that. At least we'd think so.

A full healthy season of Anthony Rendon is possible

He hit .254 / .341 / .406 in the first half. .291 / .357 / .508 in the second half. It's the difference between average and All-Star.

Likely worse 

The catching situation went from career year Wilson Ramos to hoping a Lobaton/Norris platoon will be successful. 

Best case Lobaton hits like his .737 OPS line vs RHP in 2016. Norris like his .810 OPS line vs LHP in 2015. That still won't match Ramos' .850 OPS overall for 2016. Worst case it's a giant sucking pit of despair. As usual expect the middle - a small pothole of disappointment.

The Nats bullpen has not yet made up for the dropping of the combined arm of a top-notch closer and the 50 IP of better than you think pitching that was traded for said closer. They also haven't replaced the 60 or so innings from Belisle and Rzepczynski.

This isn't quite the 2014 into 2015 idiocy of letting 200 IP of your bullpen walk and replacing it with hopes and dreams but it's getting closer. 137 innings of quality relief pitching is out the door, and while no one would ever want it back - 35 innings of sometimes effective relief pitching is gone too with Papelbon. Granted the 2014-15 situation broke when Stammen went down to injury but are you betting against a pitching injury to someone now important to the pen? With Glover and Kelley ending 2016 with issues? You have to make those innings up with quality somehow. Doesn't mean "top notch closer!" Just with quality somehow.

Right now the bench is a little worse

It wasn't great last year but it had one really good bat and one very useful one. The useful one, Heisey, is back. The really good one, Drew, is not yet. It may be tough to get him back as he's likely got a chance to start - or play a super utility role - somewhere else.

Hard to tell

How dead is Ryan Zimmerman? / Can Murphy repeat his 2016?

Murphy will be hard pressed to do better, Zimm hard pressed to do worse. But based on eyeballs and stats, repeats of last year are not out of the question. However, these are both singular seasons for these players which immediately prompts a "do it again before I believe it" response. There's a lot of variability here but also no strong reason to predict a likely better/worse swing. 

Can Werth squeeze out one more decent year at the plate?

I've written Werth off twice and twice he's come back though the last one was last year and the comeback was definitely muted. All the Nats need is 2016 again. It's not much but Werth is 38 and he hasn't played two full seasons back to back since joining the Nats.

How's Strasburg's arm? What about Joe Ross? 

Since they were both pitching at the very end of last year you have to go into 2017 thinking they are healthy and ready to go. If so there is room for improvement - mainly in IP but also in pitching. At the same time neither pitched full years and neither got back to full-time starting status by the time the season ended. So like Zimm/Murphy - a lot of variability here.


The Eaton/Turner/Bryce/Rendon should easily balance out the known drop at catcher. Even if Zimm doesn't bounce back, Murphy dips a little and Werth is more 2015 than 2016 (all slightly negative outcomes in coin flip scenarios) the Nats offense should be pretty similar to last year. Very good - not great. Enough to make playoffs. Enough to win division easily with a top notch pitching staff.

The pitching staff unfortunately is looking more down than up. The relief core is not gutted but has suffered a decent stomach stabbing and the injury question hangs over the rotation. If the Nats don't fix these issues the pitching staff will mirror the offense. Very good not great.

That's not terrible - but it sets the Nats up for another "odd year" situation. In those the bats and arms were both very good and the Nats had an 85-90 win team that was beat out for the division and kept out of the playoffs. There isn't a guarantee that would happen this time. The Braves were an obvious rival in 2013. The Nats had some bad luck in 2015. But it leaves the door open wider that it could.

So in the next two months I'd like the Nats to sign/trade for a couple decent bullpen arms. Doesn't half to be a closer, just something reliable. Boone Logan, Jhan Marinez, Liam Hendricks.  Since a reliable starter is almost certainly out of the question, both because of cost and because if Ross/Strasburg are healthy there isn't a place for them, I'd suggest a handful of minor league deals / 1 million dollar flyers for starters that make it to the end of FA unsigned and might have been good say 3 years ago? Henderson "shoulder surgery" Alvarez? Dillon Gee? Scott Feldman? Doesn't anyone else think there's a junkballing two-year decent stretch before Jered Weaver goes into retirement? You need to fill up AAA with major league ready guys, if not major league good guys because right now the Nats have a hole there with the current next up selections being Austin Voth and "The A stands for 'Are you sure Austin Voth didn't work out?" AJ Cole.

*Even if those things are best ignored for any real news