Nationals Baseball: Monday Quickie - these aren't open windows! They're paintings!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Monday Quickie - these aren't open windows! They're paintings!

Oh Boz, Boz, Boz. Someone forgot to take his medicine

The crux of the article is that the Nats are good, and they are good despite their "best-known faces" Strasburg, Bryce, and Zimmerman having off years so obviously that must mean they are going to be good forever right? That their 3-pronged approach of smart trades, smart drafts, and smart FA signings have set the team up for years upon years of success.

Of course the first thing you'd say is Strasburg, Bryce, and Zimmerman aren't their best known faces. That would be Strasburg, Bryce, and Werth. But Werth has had a good year so that doesn't fit the narrative. You could also say "young stars" and go with Strasburg, Bryce, and Rendon, but again - good year - doesn't fit narrative. So I guess you just say whatever?

But let's get down to brass tacks here - are the Nats set up for future success, like long-term future success? The easiest (and arguably best and obvious and why didn't Boz do it like this) way of looking at it is seeing who is doing well and looking at their ages and contract situations. Where do these players stand in terms of helping the Nats in 2016/2017? Here are the players who have given the Nats at least a half-win of WAR this year, which is basically saying "not a bit player". I've ordered on roughly this year's importance but don't take this as definitive. 

Rendon : 24; FA after 2020. Rendon is the best thing the Nats have going in regards to future success. Good, young, cheap and in team control forever.  He could get better. He can play important, harder to fill positions. Big win right here

Fister : 30; FA after 2015.  Fister is great. Fister is also unsigned after 2015, and has made it somewhat clear like ZNN there isn't a discount coming. Could be helpful in those years, if signed, but can't be counted on to do that.

Roark : 27; FA after 2020. Roark has been great. He doesn't have the history of the other guys you like but it's hard to argue with results and another year like this one will force everyone to say "ok this is who he is". Given the team control of Roark that would be another big win. Of course that caveat still hangs out there.

Span : 30: FA after 2015 if the Nats decide to pick-up his option.  Span is a 30 year old having maybe the best year of his career. You can like him but the chances he's on the team and helping them 3 years down the road have to be considered slim.

LaRoche : 34; FA after 2015 again option based.  See Span. change 30 to 34 and "best year of career" to "surprisngly good year".

Werth : 35; FA after 2017.  The increased fragility and declining production peg Werth as a iffy contributer for 2016 and beyond. That he's bounced back to give the Nats what he has after the horriffic 2011 has to be a big win but leaning on Werth at 37 would be a mistake.

ZNN : 28; FA after 2015. ZNN has been a rock for the Nats the past few years. He's also almost certainly gone after next season. Age makes him a little more likely than Fister to be helpful in 2016+ but he's also probably not as good. But again, almost certainly gone.

Desmond : 28; FA after 2015. Desmond has anchored the infield as a power hitting, good fielding SS. That's a tough find. That's why it'll cost an arm and a leg to keep him. Peripherals (high K's, low BB's) make his long-term impact uncertain but for the 2016-2017 time frame I'm looking at he should be better than your average SS. Unfortunately, no promises he'll be here.

Stras : 25; FA after 2016.  You could argue at this point that Strasburg is the player you could count on 2nd most (behind Rendon) to (1) be here in 2016 and (2) be contributing at a higher level. Think about that. Not sure of his long-term commitment to DC over his home on the west coast.

Ramos : 26; FA after 2016. A key figure for the long-term Nats as age, position and talent all combine to be a big-time part of the 2016 team if not further. But can he stay healthy? As a catcher and getting older? Hard to bet on that.

Zimm : 29; FA after 2019. See Ramos but remove position. Should still be an impt piece a few years from now but has same injury issues. 

Bryce : 21; FA after 2018. Definitely should be a big part of 2016-2017. Should be starting peaking in fact. Whatever that means though, superstar or very good offensive force, remains to be seen.

Clipp : 29; FA after 2015. Hard to see the Nats spending the money on Clip he'll get on the FA market but maybe he'll stay here for a bit of a discount. He certainly has blossomed here.

Storen : 26; FA after 2016. Will very well be closer for 2016 team. After that who knows. Wouldn't be surprised to see the Nats make a good budget play for him long-term after this season.

Soriano : 34; FA after 2014. Gone right? Can get more than the Nats would likely give him. Do the Nats even want him?

Gio : 28; FA after 2016 if the Nats so want. After 2018 definitely. Tough to rely on Gio as more than a back-end starter in a few years. I mean he SHOULD be better than that but I'm talking something you consider a safe bet. I don't consider Gio a Top 3 starter on this team's rotation in 2016-2017 that.

Ok so let's wrap this up. What do we have here?

Likely gone before the 2016 season : Fister, ZNN, Desmond, Clippard, Soriano, Span, LaRoche.  They don't all have to be gone but age, cost, and talent suggest most will be, if not all. You could stretch and see two staying here. I'm thinking one (Desmond or Fister) at best.
Likely here but of questionable contribution : Roark, Werth, Ramos, Zimm, Gio.  A combination of injury, age, and general question marks lead to unreliability. The odds for any single one of these to be a replacement level contributer in 2016 isn't that low. (Roark is the biggest stretch here so if you want to shift him to the next category feel free)

Likely here and contributing : Rendon, Storen, Strasburg, Bryce.  Why does it matter that those guys are not performing to their capabilities? Here's why.

So that's 2016 - just two years from now. After 2016 Storen, Ramos, and Stras could all walk, which would leave 2017 a mess.

What about the minor leauges? I'll say this - it's very likely the Nats could develop a rotation ready starter and a major league outfielder by 2016.  How good can they be? Potentially very good, with the starter (likely Giolito, but maybe Cole) looking like a better bet to be impactful. As for anything more, I'm sure they'll find a decent bullpen arm. Those aren't hard to get if you have any competence as a GM.  Other than that there is nothing I would bet on. So if you don't lose both ZNN & Fister and if Stras/Gio/Roark are all ok and if the Nats young guy hits roughly his potential the rotation should still be top notch. If. The OF should be able to handle the eventual loss of Span. But the pen? 1B? SS? There's nothing certain here.

I'm not saying the Nats future is grim. To look two years down the road and say you've got Rendon, Stras, Bryce, and Storen as a core is a future most teams would like to have. The Nats shouldn't be a bad team. But the perennial contender Boz makes them out to be?  I can't be as sure. The rest of the Nats team is on the way out either because of age or contract. The Mets and Marlins are improving and the Braves are always decent (Wood, Minor, Teheran, Beachy and Hale would all still be under contract in 2016 and at oldest 30) With some injury luck and a slow aging star the Nats could stay in it up through 2016 and 2017 isn't a "doom and gloom" year as much as a big fat question mark. But a new machine that has no real down cycle? That's a stretch considering they haven't passed their first run at that.

This is why I like the Nats to play for now. At the end of 2012 you could take a 3 more years of contending as a given. Gio, ZNN, Stras, Zimm, Bryce, Danny, Ian, Detwiler, Clippard, Storen; all good, all 27 or younger, all except for Zimm sure to be here for a while. If Werth could hang on and if Ramos could stay healthy the holes needing to be filled were extremely limited.  Now in 2014 you don't see the same thing. There isn't as much youth. There aren't nearly as many guarantees to be around in 3 years. You are still hoping for Werth to hang on and Ramos to be healthy. This isn't the time to be looking rosily in the distance. It's time for looking hard at what's in front of you.


Matt said...

I largely agree with your point, but I think the way you've written it up, it seems grimmer than it actually is.

My objection is that you're not thinking carefully enough about how players are paid, and the extent to which the Nats can buy replacement parts. ALR, for example, is outperforming his pay, but not by all that much. So, in theory for not too much $ (in the baseball sense, not in terms of my checkbook!) you can replace him with a comparable FA this offseason.

Of course, working against this is that the players under team control are going to keep getting more expensive through time.

But, overall, a really nice piece -- hard to see the Nats continuing at this level past 2015 unless payroll goes up a lot to replace all the lost parts or the farm system outperforms expectations (or both).

Bjd1207 said...

A few scattered thoughts on the post:

1. I still think most nation-wide fans peg Zimm's face to our franchise more than Werth's. Maybe not though, I could have a local-bias but our "top 3" in terms of reconizability would def be Harper, Stras, Zim

2. I think we'll lock up Desi. Everthing about him points to a team-first guy, and Rizzo loves him. Add in that he's a perennial 5-win (maybe 4 this year) player at a prime position and Rizzo would be an idiot not to lock him up for another 4-5 years. Big money for sure, but I think we can, will, and should pay it.

3. Hard to say what the outcome of the MASN negotiations will be, but given the rulings so far I can't find a scenario where we wouldnt come out at least even or a bit ahead. That plus the boosted attendance over the last year (and probly next) should allow us to expand our payroll a bit so I'd bet we keep another one of those from your category. If I had to bet I'd say Fister/Desi, but maybe ZNN/Desi (which I think I'd prefer).

4. Giolito looks very promising, so I feel comfortable slotting him in for whatever starter we lose. I'm loving the 'draft the injured low-stock players' approach

NatsVA said...

Not related to this post, but Werth has to be the most beloved, popular Nat in their nine year history up to this point, right? Even more so than Zimmerman? Who saw that one coming in 2011?

Bjd1207 said...

@NatsVA - you think so? Lol my post above claimed just the opposite. Like I said maybe the folks who started watching in 07/08 have a softer spot for Zim that Werth (or any FA really) would never fill.

Not talking contract or production or anything. Just talking "who'd you rather" (lol) I'm taking Zim 10/10

DezoPenguin said...

I agree with Bjd1207 about Zim being more "face of the franchise" that Werth; he's the homegrown talent who provided superb play during the awful years and is still here, still signed for the long-term, and the guy who makes the ESPN highlights providing "another clutch play" and "switching to LF for the good of the team" and all that.

Given that they're both signed long-term, I see Werth to 1B and Zim to LF; Werth's declining OF play worries me more than Zim's weak arm, which can be compensated for in left. Then Bryce and possibly Souza/Taylor/whatever in the other spots. Resigning Desmond long-term has to be a priority; it's not just that he's young and good but that he's at a position where players of his caliber aren't at all common; even on a "down" year he's clearly a Top 5 NL SS. Getting Fister or Znn back as well would also be key going forward.

At that point, that just leaves a 2B/3B and a starter as a real need (assuming that Roark can be a reliable fifth-starter type going forward, which I think is likely even if you believe 2013-14 is not likely to repeat)to be filled with FA, trade, or good luck (such as both Giolito and Cole developing), besides the bench and the more fungible part of the 'pen.

So, while I don't necessarily see a "lock" the way Boz does, I think that through 2017 at least, the future looks relatively bright.

BooyahSuckah! said...

So this is the trillionth time I've seen "ZNN definitely won't be here past the end of his contract" but I still don't know where it comes from. Everyone seems to assert this with authority, but I don't recall anything solid actually backing it up.

I know ZNN has said he doesn't want to take a home-team discount, but that doesn't mean he doesn't stay here. It just means he doesn't stay here for less. If you know you can either have ZNN (a known quantity, consistent, and very good) or someone else (unknown) to replace him at nearly the same money, I don't see why the Nats would let him walk.

Maybe there's just something I haven't heard. Someone clue me in. I have no idea where all this "ZNN definitely won't stay" talk comes from.

Harper said...

Matt - yeah it wasn't meant to be grim but it does come out that way doesn't it?

The problem with the FA solution situation is that the FA market in much drier nowadays then years past. Guys are getting locked up through 30-32 and then set free. Who are you bringing in for LaRoche for example?

Even if they aren't "topped out" there are unlikely to be big FAs available. (In fact most of the best ones in the next few years will come FROM the Nats, not to)

1. No Zimm gnome causing metro issues. Just saying

2. I think so to - which worries me for 2017+ (those peripherals) but remember he turned down something like 6/90 and I can't see the Nats going higher after this year. (I think they match - he now takes)

3. payroll should increase agreed, I'll believe both when I see both.

4. I'll note that strategy works really well when you had back to back #1s giving you years of something rather than nothing. One star turn every 3 drafts would be enough of a return at that point. But continuing into the future? Not so sure.

Chinatown Express said...

Although this is pretty grim, I'm willing to accept that bad news and settle for WS wins in '14, '15, and '16 with '17 being a rebuilding year. Grudgingly. I will grudgingly accept that.

I'm kidding. And I'm knocking on wood. But I do think this reinforces that the Nats really are a win-now team in a way you wouldn't guess from the players' ages alone.

@Bjd1207: Anecdotally, I'm going to say Werth is better known. I was at a sports bar in a small town in the mountain west earlier this season. The Nats were playing the Phillies and ZNN was pitching. The bartender, who watches sports all day, saw my hat and started asking about the Nats. When he saw Zimmermann pitching, he asked "don't the Nats also have a position player named Zimmerman," in a tone that suggested he really wasn't sure. But I would bet any amount of money he knows who Werth is. Zimm is very popular around the mid-Atlantic, but he hasn't been an all-started in half a decade and I don't think he has much of a national profile. He's a fan favorite, but Harper, Stras, and Werth are the faces of this franchise.

So Harper, let's say ZNN and Fister come with the same price tag for a 4 year extension. Which guy do you sign?

jesterboo said...

@Bjd1207 - Until a Zim bobble-head/gnome night shuts down L'Enfant Plaza, I would say that Werth is more beloved, though Zim is probably more respected.

@Harper - If ZIMM was offered a huge amount, do you still think he would stay? You keep mentioning that he doesn't want to be here.

Harper said...

dezo - relatively bright. At the same time the Nats are a ? - who do I like better in the NL East for 2017? No one. It's not like there is a sleeping giant about to wake up.

BS - ZNN and Nats have been discussing contracts for 2 years now and there has never been any indication that they are close. The Nats have not yet paid market price for FA pitching. They lowballed the last FA pitcher they went after (Buerhle). ZNN is probably looking for something like 6/120 (based on recent Homer Bailey, Cole Hamels type deals) and states no allegiance to DC. No DNA evidence but the circumstantial stuff is strong.


Zimmerman11 said...

Exactly why last year hurt so much. Have to capitalize on the window while its open. Not many teams can say they have that window open this year, next year, and the year after...

What is good is the Nats DONT have several albatross contracts to hurt them... Zim and Werth sure, but Z's deal is only 14 per...until Werth's is up in 17... so they have flexibility...

So part of what Boz was saying should hold true... Rizz has done good in trades, and we've done well in the draft (even the last copule of years when our picks were lower)... so if they stay flexible any retooling should be less painful... we're not in a Phillies situation.

Jay said...

I think Boz's point was more like, "this year, and the players who are contributing (especially Fister, Roark, and Span), suggest that Mike Rizzo really knows what he is doing. And that is the best thing for the long-term future of the franchise.

karl kolchak said...

Those who don't follow the minor league system will be very disappointed to hear that about half of the team's Top 20 prospects (as listed by have had misearble and/or injury plagued seasons. The only two real surprises on the upside (other than Taylor and Souza, who were already on the prospects list) have been pitcher Austin Voth (who went on the DL just the other day) and SS/2B Wilmer Difo, for whom this was a breakout year he'll need to repeat to become an elite prospct.

Otherwise, they are relying on another injury case draftee (Fedde) and some teenaged rookies (Jackson Reetz, Anderson Franco) to give us some hope for the future down on the farm beyond Giolito, Cole, Taylor and Souza.

It can be summed up pretty simply by looking at the horrific season suffered by AA Harrisburg despite starting the season with a boatload of the franchise's Top 20 prospects (Purke, Solis, Cole, Taylor, Skole, Vettleston, Rivero). Of those, only Taylor and Cole shined this year--the rest completely cratered.

Matt said...

Harper -- yikes, I hadn't noticed that the upcoming FA class isn't very deep at 1B.

I think the point remains, though -- you can still use the dollars freed up by LaRoche (and other departing players) to upgrade somewhere, or try to buy one of the soon-to-be FAs. Pretty much everyone leaving soon is providing value in excess of salary, so the team is definitely taking a hit. It's just a smaller hit than if they couldn't redirect those $s.

Kenny B. said...

This kind of thinking is a fun exercise in baseball market prediction, but after 2015 there are just too many contingencies to really come to much of a conclusion that should cause us all to worry or be excited. Maybe Danny Espinosa switches to be right handed, figures it out, and becomes the guy he used to be. Maybe Rendon craters like Espinosa did in 2013. Maybe the Lerners realize they like winning more than they thought and shell out Yankees money for top talent. Maybe one of our plucky young fans suffers a freak injury that causes him to develop an unhittable pitching arm. There's too much fog there.

That said, I really think you have to do what you can to keep Desmond, unless you think you can teach Rendon to play SS. Plus, he's developed into a pretty solid fan favorite. He's a great season away from being a big time jersey seller.

Personally, I wouldn't peg Werth as a face of the franchise, but I'm one of those '08 vintage fans who remembers when Zim was pretty much the only thing we had going besides the incomparable John Lannan and "Step right up and see how many innings he can eat" Livan Hernandez. But those terrible seasons led us to the new faces of the franchise, and at least we had a new stadium to play in. I can accept that Werth has become a fan favorite. I definitely like Werth, but my jersey is a Zimmerman jersey.

Side note, I've caught a couple of games on TV lately (haven't been able to attend most of the season because of other obligations), and it looks like attendance is remarkably good. Like, almost playoff-level good.

Anonymous said...

All of the perpetual contenders mentioned by Boz have this one characteristic in common: really good GMs. The Rizzo factor alone makes me believe we'll do more than just muddle in the middle.

Chinatown Express said...

@Kenny B. I'm worried about the Rookie of the Year situation, because this team has a history of signing players who claim to be near-adolescents but actually turn out to be a little older. Henry Rowengartner isn't our guy. However, Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch provides a template for future success. Do we think Rizzo is scouting the local pounds?

The attendance really has been great, even on non-giveaway days. As a partial season ticket holder with several dozen tickets to sell in September, this makes me pretty damn happy.

Anonymous said...

re: the farm system... How long until we get an international signing of note? Seems every single prospect is a product of the draft. Have we just sold off all the international scouts to help pay for all the gritty college kids?

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I agree with trading the future for the present, pretty much ever (as long as you have a future to trade!). A single extra year in the playoffs will increase your odds of winning the series more than adding Mike Trout at mid-seasion (assuming he raises your odds of winning a game by roughly 6%, which would be the equivalent of about 10 WAR - meaning you're replacing a so-so triple-A player with him). If your pieces are really worth anything, you can stretch your run even more than. And as part of the bargain, you get a whole extra year (or two, or three) of being one of the best teams in baseball.

Seems like a bad deal, even just based on the stated goal of maximizing your odds of winning a single world series.

JWLumley said...

I love NN and while I question some of the Nats overarching philosophies like undervaluing walks and pitching to contact, their philosophy of not signing free agent pitchers, unless it's at a discount is a good one. Look at the Philthies, I mean at the time even the Lee signing didn't look terrible, now which one of those contracts would you want: Halladay, Hamels, Lee? No thanks. Also, look at the teams that are winning, none of them pay for Free Agents, because it's a bad investment, other than the Angels and even if the Nats win the MASN disputer outright, I don't see them going crazy the way the Angels have done. Besides, there's some awful contracts in there.

blovy8 said...

I'm with the last anonymous, it makes more sense to keep extending your competitive window rather than losing future possibilities for the sake of a small extra advantage. To me, it's like taking a chip off black or red and putting it on a specific number you like on the roulette wheel. You're going to lose on that number a lot more of the time for the sake of going for it that spin. Either way the house (league overall) has an advantage on you. While it's not what the article talks about, the key will be attracting and keeping good talent evaluators as people move up and away, and developing an international presence, because it's going to be a long time, if ever, before a DC club can compete financially with the big markets. But I do think the free agent market will equalize, to the point where, as stated here with Zimmermann, Fister, Desmond, etc., guys will still look to get money outside their arbitrating franchise. The union will probably see to that. 1B Howard, Pujols, and Fielder got ridiculous money that the Nats should be totally uninterested in paying. If they're smart, they'll be looking at players undervalued or blocked on their teams, and not big free agents.

It seems like they're going to have to spend more on lawyers than they'll get from MASN. The window you speak of applies only insofar as the Mets are in a spot where they can't exploit their market, and the Phillies are being mis-general managed into the cellar. The Braves and Marlins have good systems, and if the Nats can come near that for the next few years they will be fine because they'll be able to spend the money to make up for the inevitable contract mistakes year to year more easily than those clubs. It really does look like Upton and Uggla weighed down that budget to the point where they weren't going to add salary of any kind. If they start out ahead of NY and Philly in talent, they can keep exploiting that to an extent provided they pay fair market value plus one dollar for what they need.

I know you don't believe there were Nats fans before 2010 or something Harper, but I have three times as much free Zimmerman crap as the rest of the active club combined. There is some institutional memory. I have more Nick Johnson junk than Werth junk in my house, for instance. Given their similar inability to stay on the field for the team, that makes a lot of sense, actually.

Werth's gnome thing is just a zeitgeist gimmick something like Morse's A-Ha song that played during the 7th inning stretch for a while after he was gone, or Teddy's losing streak. They'll wear beards until he sucks for a month. Apparently, you can speed as much as you want as long as you hit baseballs instead of other cars.

John C. said...

FWIW, Rizzo clearly has an awareness of the "win now" situation, as he traded high on a decent-but-not-great minor leaguer (Walters) to get a six week stopgap (Cabrera). That's as pure a "win now" move as you'll see, if not as dramatic as the A's going in for Samardijza [sp?] and Lester.

Other have already said it, but I also agree that you can't make assumptions more than a year or so out in baseball - too many variables. For example, while it isn't clear that there's a second wave of position player talent coming behind Souza and Taylor, I point out that no one really saw Taylor (or two years ago Souza) coming. Heck, Souza went unprotected and unclaimed in the Rule 5 draft two years ago.

The basic recipe for the Nationals' long term success, as Jay pointed out, is a good GM. And in addition to winning GM of the year in 2012 Rizzo has built a team/organization that is competing well this year despite a lot of turbulence. People denigrate Rizzo all the time for essentially riding the coattails of Harper & Strasburg, two "no brainer" picks, so it's absolutely fair to point out that the Nats' current success has very little to do with those two and a lot to do with the other 23-38 players on the roster that Rizzo has put together.

JWLumley said...

@John C. I think Rizzo is a good, but not great GM. I think he could be a great GM if he did a better job hiring managers and coaches and also was willing to admin mistakes quicker and move on. Still, I'd rank Rizzo somewhere between 7th and 14th best GM's in baseball. Yes, he's built a good team outside of the no-brainer picks (Harper, Strasburg, Rendon), but he's also had a good sized budget (top 10) and hasn't won a playoff series yet.

Shelton Moss said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Froggy said...

To be fair (and I'm usually not when it comes to Rizzo) he has only been GM of one team that has gone to the post season. So, I'm willing to cut him some slack depending on what happens this season. Still a lot of baseball to be played. The Braves are 1 game out in the Wildcard race.

I'm with blovy8 regarding the face of the franchise as it being Zim. Anyone who says it's Werth, Harper, Strasburg, etc is identifying themselves as a relatively recent Nats bandwagon jumper-onboarder. Can you say Dimitri Young bobble head!

Zimmerman11 said...

Three walkoffs in a row??? That is crazy. Hope Stras can go deep tmrw and get the bullpen some rest... that was a pretty great ending tonight. I wouldn't be opposed to a blowout win now and then though :)

Shane said...

The face of the franchise is undoubtedly Zimm. I tell my wife (huge Zimm fan) time and time again that if I had to pick any player to be at the plate in a crucial situation, it's Zimmerman. Despite his injuries, he has consistently performed throughout his career, and has a long track record of success. Not to mention, he has weathered the early years of the Nats, being the shining star.

Anyone who picks Harper, Strasburg, or Werth as the face is most likely a bandwagon fan that hopped on with the 98 win 2012 season.

I have Desmond's jersey and I have rooted for him to do well since he was a rookie. Even through his struggling seasons I kept faith in him, and was excited to see his breakout year in 2012.

Zimmerman on the other hand I just expect to be great, because he has that kind of track record. Mr. Walkoff, hello!?!?!

I'm not sure of the timetable on Zimm's injury, but I'm really hoping he makes it on the postseason roster. Even having his bat on the bench can provide a huge boost to the offense.