Nationals Baseball: Monday Quickie - Not done yet

Monday, December 16, 2013

Monday Quickie - Not done yet

“We’re very happy with the group we have”

Even though you can't trust Rizzo to speak the honest truth to the media*, this quote from late last week can't help but make you a little bit nervous.

Zuckerman outlines the team roster at this point and there remain three big holes.  All three might not be filled but leave it the way it is and factor in Hairston's limited usefulness and you have the recipe for another bench disaster.

Danny Espinosa shouldn't be the middle infielder of choice. Did everyone forget 2013? He couldn't hit in the majors. He couldn't hit in the minors. I know they say he's healthy now. They said he was healthy then too. I suppose a whole nother offseason off might heal his shoulder up but who wants to go in with that being plan A. While Desmond can be considered a lock, Zimmerman is a perennial injury risk and Rendon has yet to prove himself. The Nats need more of a sure thing backing up these guys.

Tyler Moore shouldn't be the 1st base back-up of choice. Really? The Nats are doing this again? Third time's the charm?  Let's recap - Moore can't field, can't run, doesn't hit for average or get on base. He does one thing - hit for power - and he didn't do that last year. In his first 25 games Moore was great, in the 110+ that have followed he's hit .220 with a .260 OBP and slipping slugging numbers. Last year Adam LaRoche was pretty damn bad. Replaceable at the plate overall, useless versus lefties and continuing a downward trend in the field. I think he'll bounce back a bit but you can't look at the above for a 34 year old and bet on it. The Nats need more of a sure thing backing up this guy.

Jhonaton Solano and Sandy Leon combined (in very limited at bats) to hit something like .140 / .170 / .175. Solano in AAA hit .214 / .245 / .279. Leon in AA hit .177 / .291 / .252.  And you want these guys to be your latex salesmen? Wilson Ramos is the obvious everyday starter but he broke a finger and injured a hammy in 2009. In 2012 he tore his ACL. In 2013, he injured his hammy again and again again. In his healthy seasons he's played 113 games and 113 games. The Nats need  more of a sure thing backing up this guy.

I doubt Rizzo is done with his moves but just in case he might be thinking he is, let's keep his feet to the fire rather than say "hey this roster looks pretty good now" because on the bench it doesn't.

*This isn't a slight against Rizzo. Telling the honest truth to the media rarely serves to make the team better. You got to puff up the team sometimes. Make the players feel better. Make the players seem better to both potential trade partners and potential ticket buyers.  You don't want straight out lies from your team's management but if you're not getting a steady stream of half-truths they probably aren't doing their jobs right. 

16 comments:

nicoxen said...

@harper

This column is exactly why I wanted Omar Infante so bad. The Nats cannot afford to stand pat with the lineup they have if the team has serious playoff aspirations.

This team has struggled on offense every year since they arrived, including the 2012 season. Last year they suffered a 4 month scoring drought to start the season and wasted many quality pitching performances. They can blame injuries all they want, but injuries are the rule, not the exception. You can count on Werth, Zimmerman, Ramos, and LaRoche for at least 1 15 day DL stint per year. This is why we need to add depth in the lineup and on the bench.

It seems Rizzo is doing the same thing he did last season: counting on his current players out-performing their previous seasons at the plate. And while that might be a fair assumption for young guys like Harper, Rendon and Desmond, you cannot assume better play from aging veterans like Zimmerman, Laroche, and Werth.

The trade for Fister was a masterstroke, but if they don't add another big stick Fister will join Strasburg as a another pitcher with great stats and few wins.

Mythical Monkey said...

The Nats may well go into the season with Tyler Moore as the backup at first, but no way are they going with Danny Espinosa and Jonathan Solano, no matter what they say. The latter seems like a nice guy who can't hit, but the former is paranoid and twitchy and really can't hit and no way is he going to sit on the bench and be anything other than a complete bastard about it.

But I can't think of a single Rizzo off-season move that didn't come as a complete surprise. So the lack of whispers and rumors doesn't mean anything at this point.

If this is still the bench when pitchers and catchers report, however, then I'll panic.

JWLumley said...

They're not done, but they're pretty close. Personally I would be happy with Geoff Baker and a backup catcher. Send Moore to the Astros for whatever they'll give you and while Espinosa is a risk as a backup, he plays great defense and they can always trade for someone else if it doesn't work.

Here's a crazy big splash idea though. The Giants are not big fans of calculators and/or math in general, so why not capitalize on this? They have been quite lukewarm on Brandon Belt for some time and seem to be in desperate search of power. Why not package LaRoche (even if you have to pay his full salary) and some other guys like Moore and Espinosa and trade them for Brandon Belt. Belt has more power than he's shown playing in the cavernous Telephone Park along with the other large parks in the NL West like Dodger Stadium and Petco. He plays great defense and is young and controllable. Even if the Nats actually had to include a valuable prospect, it could be worth it given the lack of talent available at 1B around the major leagues. I mean James Loney was targeted by multiple teams this offseason as a 1B. Let's face it, there's not a ton of talent out there at 1B around baseball.

I know the Nationals will probably move Zimmerman to 1B next year, but that would create a hole at 2B with no obvious candidate to step in unless Espi learns how to hit baseballs. I know it's probably a crazy idea, but I think teams that don't value statistics at all like the Giants and Philthies should be targets to be taken advantage of by teams that do.

Zimmerman11 said...

I am beginning to worry that it IS Rizzo's plan to count on Espinosa's comeback. I like the guy, I hope he DOES find his swing... but you can just see how Rizzo would be enamored with Rendon, Desmond, Espinosa, and Zimmerman across the diamond.

I agree we need a big bat... problem is there aren't many/any available... and signing one might mean letting go of Znn or Desmond in the near term, and Stras/Harper in the not so long term.

blovy8 said...

Before we get all greedy and unrealistic about having 13 starting position players on the roster, Tyler Moore really isn't going to hurt the club much if he does what he's supposed to do, and he wouldn't really stop them from acquiring another player if they want or need to according to circumstances. His projection is to be an average hitter (yeah, I know, not for a 1B, but just for the bench he'd be average). Keep him from having to start too much in the field, and that's fine. I really hope they CAN trade him to the Astros, because I feel like he'd be a reasonable DH/1B for them along with Carter while they wait for their prospects to force their way into the lineup. Rizzo is wily enough to get an overlooked prospect from the depth they have. That rumor sounded like Rosenthal just speculating.

I'm also inclined to believe Rizzo will keep Espinosa on the roster rather than Solano. He's more likely to be stubborn about his evaluation of him, and presumably, barring another acquisition, Espinosa will get a fair chance to show that the pre-2013 version is still lurking around. The difference between a healthy Espinosa (which I actually don't imagine will show up), and the average middle infielder is probably not as big as we think. It's very difficult to find a guy who can even hit at a 90 OPS+ that can play short capably. Nick Punto and Willie Bloomquist are making about 3 mil a year to hit poorly and play middle infield. I bet the floor for utilityman Espinosa is something like Cody Ransom. The batting average would be terrible, but there will be enough defense and power to be above replacement. The ceiling for him is much better, obviously, especially if he faces more lefties. There's zero chance he's not getting competition for that spot in spring training though.

I really wouldn't be surprised to see another trade happen which addresses this, because Rizzo has gotten a sense of what the market for Espinosa is without having to put him on the block. There's no rush to move him, and given the dearth of shortstops, I really believe he might have some value over the next two months. The issues from last year weren't all about performance, and he'll have one less guy (Davey) in his corner.

Solano is an organizational guy, and while Leon is clearly a better prospect, you can't look at last year's numbers and forget them after a couple of good weeks in a fall league. A serious club like the Nats will pick up a veteran guy who is at least good defensively back there. Hell, Suzuki probably isn't even that guy anymore.

John C. said...

There is no team in baseball that has a "perfect" roster. Waiting for the Nats to have one is a fool's errand. Rizzo will make the moves he can make (deals take at least two parties) without costing more than they are worth. Four years, $30.25M (plus incentives) for Omar Infante isn't smart because it completely blocks Rendon.

Rizzo builds his team for the long haul, and that's probably the right way to do it. It doesn't make the talk radio callers happy, but others are more impressed. The crew on the MLB Network is talking as I type, and the quotes are "[the Nats] are a finished product" (John Heyman) and "I can't think of anything else they need to do" (Ken Rosenthal). They are certainly more impressed with the moves than most here.

I can see that there are some questions on the roster, but no team in baseball (aside from maybe the Cardinals) has fewer questions going into the season. Keep working on the questions, but don't create more problems that you solve by trying to address them.

PS: For a team that "has struggled on offense" the Nats sure have been scoring a lot of runs the last couple of years. They finished 6th (of 15) in the NL in 2013, 4th (of 16) in 2012. This with the second youngest lineup in the NL last year.

Donald said...

If you need a guy as a spot starter here or there, the Nats bench may be fine. If you need a guy to step and and play for a month or two due to an injury, it probably isn't. But in terms of strategy, you don't have to have the replacement player on your bench when a starter goes down. Guys are generally on the bench because they aren't quite fit to start. You can sometimes find exceptions -- guys willing to sit who could start on a non-playoff team or something, but maybe it's better to plan on using your bench sparingly, with the thought towards making a mid-season trade if a starter goes down for an extended stretch.

cass said...

Tyler Moore was worth -1.2 wins last year. And that was split evenly between offense and defense. He most definitely could hurt the team compared to acquiring even a replacement player.

DezoPenguin said...

I can see why Rizzo wouldn't want to give up on Espinosa, since through August 2012 he was one of the better 2Bs in the NL, combining stellar defense with power, some speed, and not a completely hopeless OBP. If he gets that back he deserves to start on most teams not suiting up somebody named Cano or Pedroia at the position, and it's hard to accept that somehow he could have completely fallen off a cliff (which is why everybody at this blog seems to think there's something structurally wrong with that shoulder). At the least, he gives a good glove, no-hit player off the bench and the Cardinals got to the series with Kozma at SS and the Braves won the division with Simmons, ditto. So with him, I mostly worry about his head. Hopefully, spring training will be enough for Williams to notice any warning flags there.

We do need a better backup catcher. Solano and Leon either need to learn to hit or we need to get somebody else. Ramos gets hurt way too much to not have a backup plan ready; some teams can go the route of having a subpar or a glove-only backup but experience suggests that's not the case for the Nats.

Likewise, Moore either needs to develop a second skill or he has to go. He can't field, he can't run, and last year he couldn't hit. He's a sub-replacement guy.

So at this point we have, as far as the evolving bench:

McLouth > Bernie/Moore/Hairston as 4th OF.

Hairston > Moore/Lombo as 5th OF.

Espinosa = Lombo (better speed, better glove, more potential, worse hitter, possible headcase) as utility IF

Solano/Leon < Suzuki as backup C

Moore < Tracy/Brown as backup 1B/PH

John O'Reilly said...

If zimmerman gets hurt, then you're playing Rendon at 3B -- where's he never played in the bigs -- and Espinosa at 2B. Hard to replace Zim, but moving two guys in would be trouble. How about Eric Chavez as a backup? Could play 1B too.

Zimmerman11 said...

Pretty harsh article on the Yanks today, Harper...

http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/10150907/the-new-normal-new-york-yankees

What's your take on the Pinstripers?
Did they do enough to contend in AL East? i.e. is McCann, Ellsbury, Beltran, Johnson >> Cano, Granderson, Cervelli, and Wells? Are they sticking to the cap number or will they go out and get one of the remaining SPs?

blovy8 said...

In 2012, Moore was 0.6 WAR with a 127 RC+ in about the same amount of time, why can't that be just as likely? The guy tears up AAA. Bench stats are a crapshoot because there just aren't going to be regular at bats to help consistency.

Look at these Steamer projections for Moore - 148 PA 6HR 16R 18RBI 239/293/432 with adjusted runs created at 99. 100 is average. He's a bit below average defensively. The projection is splitting the difference essentially. If you use him mostly against lefties when he starts, and as a pinch hitter generally, what's the big deal? The guy is pretty much already Mark Reynolds.

blovy8 said...

I think the Yankees will be paying luxury tax again, it'll just be less of it. If A-Rod's suspension gets knocked down to 100 games, the Yanks will around the cap with them on the hook for that 10 million extra I think. Maybe they could slip in under it if everything goes exactly right, but I doubt it. If Tanaka doesn't get posted, I bet they'd blow off that issue and sign Garza, Santana, or Jimenez because their rotation is weak, too.

Anonymous said...

Off topic, but i just read over at zuckerman that the nats signed a 4 yr extension with syracuse. i have some basic questions.

If they hadn't reupped, who gets the players? The Nats? Syracuse? Assuming the nats keep players under AAA contracts with them, how many players on a typical AAA team are under contract with the associated MLB team? 25%? 50%? 75%? Who owns the other 75, 50, or 25% of the players, the AAA club?

cass said...

Anon:

All of the players are under contract with the Nationals. The big league clubs determine rosters for all affiliated milb teams. The minor league clubs just handle logistics and such.

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