Nationals Baseball: Mar-quis to winning?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Mar-quis to winning?

Trading Marquis should be a no-brainer. He's a free agent to be. He's performing above what would normally be expected of him. He's only been with the Nats for 2 seasons and most of the first one he was injured, forming minimal connection with the fans. And yet, if the comments here are any indication, the fans don't necessarily want to see him traded.

Everyone would be fine getting back a top tier Grade A prospect for Marquis (preferably in CF). That isn't in question. The question is would you make the deal for a Willingham like return - a sure thing with limited value and a question mark? Do you trade for something better but further down the road? Do you trade Marquis just to trade?

There are a lot of unknowns here, the biggest of which is what Marquis expects to get in a deal. This matters because if the Nats don't trade Marquis they HAVE to sign him. He's going to be a great trading chip for precisely the same reason he stands to make a good amount of money in the off-season. There are very few decent pitchers coming up in free agency. CJ Wilson, Mark Buerhle, and Roy Oswalt (all guys that won't be dealt mid-year) head the FA class with a precipitous drop off beyond these guys. Buerhle is expected to target only a few cities. Oswalt is mulling retirement and is expected to be picky if he does pitch in 2012. Wilson, if he doesn't re-sign, is probably the best target available to everyone but he only will have 2 full seasons of starting under his belt after this one.

What all this means is that if Jason will get his multi-year deal. He will easily be paid well for 2 years, and likely could get 3. More than 3 is iffy, as there have been very few 4+ year contracts for pitchers doled out in the past few years. Looking at the last two years of signings the "going rate" is around 8 million per. Given the market, the trending, etc. ... I'd like Marquis to get something close to 20 mill for 2 years. Something in the 25+ million neighborhood for 3. Are you willing to have the Nats go there, probably paying a little more to keep him from looking at free agency? Because once July 31st comes and goes without a contract extension or deal, Marquis will have all the bargaining power.

The other huge unknown is what the Nats will get back. Chances of a good young prospect just ready to burst out on the scene is more than unlikely. It's impossible. Sure Capps brought back Ramos but Ramos was blocked, and Capps is young with a year of team control left. (and it was a terrible trade made by the Twins) Marquis is at best a rental leading to a market singing of a good mid rotation starter. You don't trade potential star value away for that. More likely will be a struggling 26+ year old current player, or a decent prospect but one in Single A now that's looking at a likely 2014 call up. Even more likely is something not even that good. But we won't know until teams start kicking the tires.

Do the Nats even need Marquis? It's true that the Nats will need a starter to eat up innings next year. You can't rely on ZNN, Lannan, and an injury-returning Strasburg. Another round of Livan is possible but if you are looking to start making a push in 2012 and looking for a #2/#3 to help you do it, Livan is trending the wrong way. If you're going to try to sign a guy in FA anyway, and you aren't going to get that true star, maybe Marquis is a good bet.

But the 2013 pitching class is as deep as the 2012 one is shallow. The Nats could far more likely pick up an impact arm then, rather than overpay for Marquis now. Next year they could gamble on an injury recovery or sign a Jeff Francis type cheap just to kill innings. 2012 isn't the year for the Nats it's 2013. And Marquis, at 33 and a year removed from a serious injury, isn't without his own risk. As good as he's pitching now he's not a lights out starter, and will likely be a #3, sliding back in the rotation over the next 3 years.

It's not as cut and dried as it is for Nix, who because he's almost certainly performing at an unsustainable pace, and plays the position destined for Bryce, is in a gotsta go situation (you do realize he's going to want a multi-year deal to be a starter if he can keep up anything like this right?) You always need pitching. Marquis has a history of being... well ok. Not trading Marquis is defensible.

Still I think you do trade Marquis and it comes down to realizing the the team the Nats are, not the team the Nats want to be. As much as we all think 2012 will be a better year and that having a Marquis around could keep the Nats' heads above .500, that can't be counted on. What if Mike Morse is playing over his head? What if Strasburg takes longer than expected to come back? What if something is wrong with Werth? What if Ramos and Espinosa don't progress much past league average hitters? What if Zimmerman becomes injury prone? These aren't worst case scenario questions. These are legit questions. Things that should give you pause that the Nats are ready to make that next step right away. And if the Nats do have to look past 2013, wouldn't you rather have that decent prospect in Single A rather than a couple more wins today?

I don't mean to bring you down. I do think things are coming together. I do think in the next 2-3 years the Nats will be significantly mid 80s win better. I do think that we'll have to debate this more when we see what the Nats can get for him. But at a base level not trading Marquis to sign him is a win-now move. If he were younger or better it may be different, he might be a key to winning for several years to come. But as the pitcher he is this is a move you make to round out a rotation hoping to make the playoffs next year. The Nats aren't there just yet.


Anonymous said...

If they can get a great prospect for Marquis, even one 2-4 years from callup, then trade him. Trade Nix too. If he saw more pitches and drew some walks, then Nix would be a good enough hitter to start in the outfield of a division-winning team. But he's just not that patient. Find someone else.

DezoPenguin said...

When did we get to the state that the immediate reaction is, "Hey, we have some good players playing well. We should trade them!" As a fan, I want to see the major league team win baseball games. And as a fan, I honestly feel a distinct difference between a team that wins 65 and a team that wins 75, let alone finishes over .500 or competes for a division title. The Tampa Bay Rays proved that one can lose forever and suddenly be excellent when all the prospects bloom at once, but what's more usual is teams like the Pirates (which have served as everyone ELSE's farm team for two decades) or the Royals (who've been touted as having great prospects for years).

What the Nationals do not have is legitimacy. Loria killed the team, to the point it got taken over by MLB, then moved to a new city where it's done nothing but lose. A lot. It would be stupid for us to trade prospects for second-rate vets (let us NOT become the Astros, please), but I do want to see us win games. This offseason we've seen Dunn walk for nothing, Willingham traded for nearly nothing, Morgan traded for possibly less than nothing. Other than the Capps deal, I see no indication that Rizzo could get equal value for a competent, major-league-proven #3 starter.

Nix is a different story, of course, because he's performing over expectations and therefore might be able to bring back value, *and* because even though he's hitting well for the Nats, he's not such a talent that resigning him would be a priority.

I guess what it boils down to is, it's fine to kick the tires and if someone's willing to hand over a Ramos-for-Capps kind of deal, trading Marquis is fine. But we absolutely need to avoid the mindset that we somehow "have" to trade. If Marquis is such a hot commodity, let other teams do the work of selling *us* on why we should trade him. The instant we step up and say "X is available for trade"; X's potential return goes down.

Bryan said...

The difference between us and the Pirates is that we haven't traded away our Zimms, Strasburghs, and Harpers.

It not out of character for a non-competing baseball team to trade away mid-level and over performing players to contenders to get future prospects. I guess what I'm saying to Dezo is that it isn't just the teams he names that do it. Almost anybody who isn't competing who has anyone who could possibly serve as trade bait does it.

Personally, I'm mixed on Marquis. Good pitching, even Marquis variety, is so, so hard to find. But that, of course, is what makes him valuable. But its either trade him or sign him. You can't not trade him and then lose him. If he isn't traded, you need a deal essentially done and signed.

Nix I'd trade in half a heart beat. Not only are we stocked, but there is no way he keeps this up. Give him to some poor sucker for half a season and who cares.

Harper said...

Dezo - The question isn't "When did we get to the state..." The Nats have been at that state for a while. It's have we moved past that point yet.

I thought they had for young and or special players (which is why I liked them keeping Dunn... although that hasn't been justified has it?) but I don't classify Marquis as such a player.

I think winning should matter. I think the Nats do need to fill out their rotation with someone ok to eat innings next year. But I think they can get the same production cheaper and for shorter duration (freeing up spots for better FAs and young arms) than from Marquis.

Donald said...

I think your analysis is spot on. This is just like Dunn -- what Marquis is worth to us (a decent mid to back of the rotation innings eater) versus what he can get on the market mean he's not going to stay. Unfortunately, Rizzo and probably all of the other GM's will make the same assumption that we won't re-sign him and that means we'll get just what you said -- a good single-A prospect.

That is unless we can get Ramos-lucky again. Do you know of any teams with a strong AAA CF prospect who's blocked that really could use a pitcher to get them over the hump?

Wally said...

I was going to disagree, per my comments in the previous blogs, but then decided that I actually don't disagree (yet). I just don't know how I feel about it until I see the other half of the transaction. I do know that I don't really want the Low A guy.

So trying to be more productive, our best (realistic) hope for a Marquis trade is a relatively good, not great, upper level prospect that is in a contender's system that is blocked by someone at the major league level, or a guy displaced by that prospect. Ideally at a position of need, other than pitcher (because people don't give up good pitching prospects for Jason Marquis).

A few names that I could think of: Yonder Alonso, Josh Reddick, Ben Revere. Alternatively, some youngish guys who may get moved aside for prospects: Peter Bourjos, Dexter Fowler, Brett Gardner, Gordon Beckham (how the mighty have fallen?)

Nattydread said...

How much longer can we go on gathering prospects?

Letting Dunn go (either in a trade or for draft picks) did work out. We've got some good value for him. Rizzo-style defense (did you see the way Morse stretched long and low off first to get Cora's 9th inning throw yesterday?).

Marquis, on the other hand, puzzles me. We trade him, and we have a big hole in our pitching staff which I'm not so sure is easily solved. We KNOW what we have with Jason.

Unless we get a monster hitter in a trade, we don't really gain --- and we need immediate gains now.

Sign him up for 2 years with a team buy-out option in the 3rd. He is number 3/4 behind Zinn and SS. Work on the hitting and CF in the off season, because that IS the problem now!

Harper said...

Bryan - The toughest thing about Marquis is how quickly the pitching ranks fill out as you get worse. 2007-2008 Marquis can be found anywhere. It's basically 2009 JD Martin. 2/20 mill may be fair market value but if he just backsteps a little he'll be grossly overpaid.

Donald - it's going to be hard to get a blocked CF because if they were that good you'd have to assume people can be moved around to accomodate him. Even a LF or RF could be pushed to 1st if needed.

That being said the Twins org is stacked with ptoential CFs. Span, Revere, Hicks, Benson. But they aren't dealing anyone right now.

Wally - It would be tough but if it were a Grade A... I don't see how you turn down that bet.

Alonso : have to think the Reds want more than a rental for him.
Reddick : Seems to be a AAA guy if that.
Revere: makes sense on every level except why the Twins are dealing.
Bourjos: hmmm. Not a good deal for the Angels (unless Marquis carries them to a WS) but they traded for Wells didn't they? They love Trout. Can't sit the corner guys. It;s at least possible in theory.
Fowler: Ok I'll bite, I don't love him but he might be the best choice in theory
Gardner : I see the Yankees all the time. He was playing over his head and he's on the downside of his career. 2-3 more years tops.
Beckham : Rizzo would kill for that wouldn't he. He might even get a hit off Daniel Hudson... one day.

Harper said...

ND - That whole can be patched. Maybe not as well as with Marquis but for a lot cheaper. Hell it could be patched with Marquis again.

I'm getting the distinct impression of a fanbase at the end of their rope with this rebuilding process Strasburg/Bryce be damned. 2012 MUST be better and 2013 MUST be close to (if not) competeing for a playoff. That's the only reason I can think of to worry this much about keeping a #3 pitcher entering the decline phase of his career. He HAS value but not more than a couple wins over FA pitcher X.

Sectio said...

I think your diagnosis of the fanbase is correct. Few Nats fans seem to agree with the premise that the win total this season is fairly unimportant (at least, the difference between 74 and 76 wins is fairly unimportant. Isn't that really what we're talking about with Marquis? Does he make more than a couple win difference over the remaining course of the season?) - so we don't want to trade anybody who is at all decent right now because we fear backsliding into 59 win hell. From my perspective, this expiration of patience is a direct result of the time lost by the Lerners apparently facing a pretty steep learning curve.

I'd trade him, but I think there are a lot of fans who will be really, really bitter and angry (to the point of not going to games) if the team wins less than 70 again. So, Rizzo's in a tough spot - the Nats aren't good enough to be anything but sellers at the deadline, but the fanbase is tired of a familiar ennui at the end of the season and wants to see wins right now.

Donald said...

So when do we get your goals for the next stretch of games -- aren't they home for the next 24 of 39? Would be nice to see them go 22 - 17 and be knocking on the door of .500 again.

Anonymous said...

Marquis doesn't even have the best era of the Nats starting pitchers right now, and Strasburg healthy yet. If he was getting the run support Hernandez has, then he wouldn't be .500 either. He wants money and a big contract and the Lerners are cheap. It makes sense to trade him for a prospect, but the jury is still out on Nix. if he can hit anywhere near as well as he is hitting now he would be huge to have on the roster.

von_bluff said...

Screw the fans, they are just like people-dumb, panicky, dangerous animals ($1 if you can name that movie)

Anyway, the smart thing to do is trade him for proper value, whether that's an A-ball prospect or a fledgling outfielder is besides the point. At 33, he'll be almost useless in a year or two and he can be replaced by any of them young guys in AAA.

You never know what could happen with a young player, he could blossom into something special. Either way, I doubt I'll ever hear a fan reminisce on the good ol' days and recall Marquis' filthy slider.

Harper said...

Anon - but won't Nix also want a big contract? He is also a FA at year's end and unlike Marquis hasn't made one peep about staying.

Von Bluff - It's Men in Black but I had to look it up. Do I still get my dollar.

Marquis won't be done in two years but he very likely won't be as good as this season. If that happens he'll be vastly overpaid because he'll be an average pitcher and those are easily found. Even with that being said I don't mind resigning him. It's the "not trading him" that bothers me. But we'll see what's out there in deals. If all he gets back are Roger Bernadinas then by all means keep him.

Anonymous said...

Harper - great post. Well thought out, convincingly argued. I think there's one other angle that is interesting to think about here and that's the backlog of AAAA type guys at Syracuse (and even Harrisburg). I think you keep Marquis only if you think Milone, Stammen, Detwiler, Peacock, Meyers, etc. aren't ever really going to pan out and turn into Marquis. I think if you decide that they won't, then you need Marquis as a bridge to get you to the next wave of younger arms and the 2013 FA class.

That's the fundamental call, I think - if you think you have somebody in the system who can turn into that #4-5 in 2012 and 2013, then you go ahead with trading Marquis and have Stras, ZNN, Lannan, Livo, Gorzelanny + Milone/Peacock/Detwiler etc. as 2012. ZNN, Lannan, Livo and Gorzelanny should all eat a fair number of '12 innings.

Here's one semi-provocative thought. If Lannan brought back that real Grade-A CF prospect, would you do it and resign Marquis?