Nationals Baseball: Offseason Position Discussion : Shortstop

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Offseason Position Discussion : Shortstop

Presumed Plan : Ian Desmond starts at SS. Danny Espinosa, starting or backing-up 2B, backs him up.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : In 2012 & 2013 Ian Desmond was arguably the most valuable SS in the major leagues. In 2014, he dipped noticeably and is probably now... the third or fourth most valuable SS in the major leagues.  

Ian corrected his error prone ways of a few years ago and plays consistently good defense. He has always hit for power and still does especially for a SS. Specifically he has HR power something rare for the position. (Ian's 24 homers led all SS and were 7 more than 4th place on that list, 9 more than 5th). He might have lost something average wise but he has brought his patience up from OMG NO to barely acceptable to help compensate for that. All in all he's a good player in a position where it has become easy to find an ok player but is still hard to find good ones. It's an easy call.

Ian also plays all the time upping his value. He's missed 12 games in the past 2 years, and has played at least 154 games in 4 of the last 5 seasons. His back-up hardly matters but Espinosa, who came up the ranks as a SS, still plays the position well enough to cover on the rare off days for Ian.

Problems with Presumed Plan :  As you can tell from the above there aren't many problems with the plan here. I can think of two. The minor one is that Ian appears to be slipping offensively. His strikeout percentage went way up from say ~21% during his 2012-2013 peak to over 28%. It's not an issue of judgment. His swing percentage for pitches outside the zone is consistent with last year. He's just not making contact on those pitches. In fact contact on pitches outside the zone has dropped every year since 2011 from 65.5% now down to 53.5%.  We'll have a specific Ian post sometime later in the off-season but the gist of the problem is the size of the zone where Ian can hit a ball has shrunk. It's not a big problem right now. His zone was rather large before so the shrinkage hasn't made him a bad hitter just no longer a good one. But if it shrinks further then we might have a problem. And it will shrink - time gets to all men - the question is when.

The major problem is that Ian is up for free agency after next year. Ian is the type of player (high value at an important position, but heading into his 30's and ready for a big payday) that you LOVE to trade, but the Nats can't really do that. They have no acceptable back-up plan. They are a win-now team that needs a successful Desmond to be as good as they can be. Given that, the Nats are forced into a very difficult position of having to decide on a re-signing a player whose potential value over the next 5 years swings wildly. You love to avoid those type of coin flips. The Nats can't do that.

My take : Starting Desmond is a no-brainer. There's not only is no better option internally, it's hard to find a better option externally. As down as we may have been on Ian, his combination of power and defense makes him one of the best SSs in the majors. Plus, most of his competition is older. Peralta? Older. Aybar? Older. Rollins? Way older. Hardy? Hanley? Alexi Ramirez? Reyes? All older. Outside of Alcides Escobar, who as a true singles hitter has a value very dependent on his BABIP, Ian is a good year and a half younger than anyone close to his value. (And he's closer in age to the younger Escobar than any of the others, I think). Do I think he's slipping? Yes. Do I think it matters for 2015? Not even close to enough to question starting him.

The long-term deal is an issue and a tough one but that's neither here nor there when it comes to what to do at SS this year. The Nats can't deal Desmond without getting a good SS back. That isn't going to happen so he plays and they either work it out or they don't. 

As for Danny as the back-up, Ian plays so many games that it hardly matters who backs him up. Yes it is an issue if Danny is your starting 2B and Ian goes down with an injury. The drop off will be devastating. But there are bigger fish to fry when it comes to finding a good back-up for a Nats player who might get injured.

Outside the Box Suggestion : You know who doesn't have a SS and is desparate to win now? Detroit. The Tigers are facing a big offseason where they could start to rebuild. They very well may lose Martinez, Scherzer, Hunter, and some pen pieces. But really 2016 looks like the better rebuilding year. You still have Price, Porcello, Nathan, Davis, Soria, and Avila now but maybe not after 2015. So it makes sense that they make another last gasp attempt in 2015 before trying a quick rebuild. How best to do that? Well trading for a contract that expires after 2015 and giving up a contract that lasts until 2017 helps. A challenge trade of sorts; Desmond for Kinsler. Ian for Ian. Sure that gives DET an issue at 2B but that's an easier position for them to fill as they were already shifting their best minor league hitter from 2B to OF to get him up to the majors. Now they don't have to. 

Why would the Nats do this? Well Kinsler's contract fits the Nats window better. The Nats face the Tigers 2014 and 2015 offseasons a year later. They could look to do a quick rebuild after next year (ZNN, Fister, Desmond, Span, and Clippard can walk after 2015), or they could hold it off until after 2016 (when Stras, Ramos, & Storen might leave and the Nats can let Gio go if they want). With Kinsler instead of Desmond you make it an easier decision to try to keep that window open, removing one of those 2015 FAs.  Plus Ian has a nice deal where the back end actually drops in price. He's paid 16 million next year, but 14 in 2016 and 11 in 2017. This gives the Nats more flexibility payroll wise than a re-signed Ian.


JWLumley said...

I like the Ian for Ian idea. Kinsler is the kind of player Rizzo and Williams love. Basically he's like a really good Kevin Frandsen. A grinder, plus Danny Espinosa is a passable SS if he hits right handed because his defense is so good. How good you ask, methinks Omar Vizquel level. Not quite Ozzie Smith, but a more modern comp would be Andrelton Simmons. Yes, Dannie is that good defensively. He's kind of wasted at 2B.

If that doesn't work, I say re-sign Desmond, but try to make it as short of a deal as possible even if they have to pay more per year.

cass said...

Desmond will sign. Given how close he is to the organization - you can see it in his comments after the WS - I just find it hard to believe he'd go to another team. You never know, of course, but this guy has been here longer than anyone else and from everything I've heard and seen, it seems like he's going to stay.

Jay said...

I'd like to think they will keep Desmond, but I do worry that the Lerners are cheap. I don't think they end up signing Desmond, Fister, or Zimmermann. I think you will hear how the team is "capped" out. They'll blame the MASN thing - even though they were getting money from MLB to cover the difference. I hope I am wrong. You would think with Soriano and LaRoche coming off the books that frees up some payroll. We'll see. This could be a very interesting offseason. It would be hard to see them do next to nothing this offseason.

Harper said...

I felt originally they'd sign 2 of the 3. Now I'm not so sure. I think they definitely re-sign one of Fister/ZNN. I HOPE they throw the same offer at Desi they put at him last year. That was team-friendly then, but given his 2014 is probably close to fair. Then I hope he takes it. It's a lot and he's going downward but I don't think the Nats are at the same level of competitiveness without Ian.

Of course Rizzo's trade acumen has surprised me before.

Chinatown Express said...

I suppose this really comes down to your view of our window. Is it closed after 2015, with a major teardown to net prospects for stras, gio, Ramos, etc. and a rebuild around Giolito, Harper, and Rendon? Or do you spend to compete through '16,'17, or even '18?

If you think the window ends next year, there's no way you trade Desmond. A, you need a starting SS, and you're unlikely to get one back. B, if you trade Ian the receiving team can't net a compensatory pick for a QO. And that compensatory pick would be VERY valuable for a team that doesn't expect to compete until '18 or so. So he's worth more to the Nats than he is to anyone else, unless the Nats fall out of contention before the trade deadline and someone makes a Godfather offer, which seems unlikely.

K.O. said...

What about trading for Castro?

Nats Fan in Brazil said...

Trade for Tulo!

Anonymous said...

One point on accuracy of the assumption that Desmond "corrected his error prone ways". He had the most errors of any NL shortstop--24.

Harper said...

K.O. - I think it's the most bandied about idea when it comes to replacing Ian so I don't see it as "outside the box". We'll delve more into that when we get to posts about Ian/ZNN/Fister/Span/Clip in regards to their long term futures.

Brazil - The Nats are getting a little cocky with having player known for health occupy a position. Let's make every position an "if they stay healthy" proposition!

Anon - ok fair enough - "he moderated his huge, almost unplayable number of errors down to the edges of acceptability"

Jay said...

I think this offseason will show what type of "market" this team will be. I think with the Lerner family they can afford to spend as much money as they want. Many reports list them as the wealthiest owners in baseball. DC has shown itself to be at least a good baseball town. If ownership cries poor and signs no one this offseason then be very weary of how the next 5+ years are going to go. I would picture of many of the Nats homegrown stars leaving in that scenario. Rizzo would need to reload and have a stronger farm system in that scenario.

Maybe we get lucky and Ted decides he is going all in. We sign all three Zimm, Fister, and Desmond, and bring in some other free agents or high priced trades.

Either way it will be very interesting to see.

Also, a couple of quick questions.

Would you consider trading for Martin Prado or Aaron Hill? Both guys are pricey and older, but I wouldn't think they would cost much in prospects. Or sign Sandoval. He's rotund, but man the guy plays in the postseason (he won WS MVP years ago). We could use another guy who actually gets better in the postseason.

Finally, do you trade Storen? He was great last year but faltered somewhat in the post season again. Do you trade him and Detwiler for something of value and sign another closer?

Again, it seems it will be an interesting offseason. Plus it sucks to see the Giants keep rolling. Read an article today about how Giants scout thought the Nats were best team in baseball.

John C. said...

Anonymous: with +range, +arm, and +power from a SS, I'll live with a couple of extra errors. Noooo problem.

I love the fact that, no matter how much money the Lerners spend, the "TEH LERNERZ R CHEEP!" meme just won't die. Yes, they're wealthy. That doesn't mean they are obligated to run the team (a for-profit entity the last I looked) as a money sink.

Zimmerman11 said...

A money sink? They were given a half billion dolar stadium! They arent losing any money... thats bs!

blovy8 said...

I don't think Detroit is a good fit as a trading partner yet - they could have two starting-quality SS if Iglesias is healthy and Suarez continues to develop. Maybe at some point that's a deal we make to get Iglesias, perhaps if Fister were the guy extended (the cheapest to re-sign?). I don't know that Detroit is ready to hand the 2B job to AA prospect Devon Travis, and the options available to them are the same as ours. They could shift Suarez to 2nd, but they still wouldn't need Desmond, they'd probably be more interested in Span, since they had a tough time replacing Austin Jackson and that's a big OF. Span for Kinsler?

To an extent, everything about club's financial situation can be classified as BS, but past experience seems to show that the Lerners need to be sold on raising the payroll, be it Rizzo or Boras doing the selling. You hear things from Mark Lerner like "Our payroll has skyrocketed to like $140 million. It’s in the papers. I don’t think we can go much further with the revenue streams that we have.” Why does he have to say "it's in the papers"? Nobody read those things anymore. I guess it's better than saying "Ladson tweeted it already". I guess the Nats can still get three decent years out of Desmond, but will have to pay for five to get them. Durability is an underrated quality.

Anonymous said...

I'm willing to bet my bottom dollar that ZNN is a Chicago Cub in 2016.

The thought of a Tigers swap scares me, if for nothing more than the 600 ABs it creates for Danny.

Jay said...

I've always felt that people that buy sports teams do so for ego or as a sort of "trophy". You don't buy a team to run it as a profitable business. You make your money when you sell the team - see the Dodgers as an example. The day-to-day and year-to-year profits won't likely be there.

Again, these people are extremely successful and wealthy. Usually their businesses and investments that made them wealthy will more than offset any losses from the team. Essentially, the Nats or some other team one owns becomes a giant tax right off and a nice asset.

There were serious questions about how the Lerners ran the finances just 4-5 years ago. Remember the rumor was that Kasten left because the Lerners were too cheap to spend on ANY free agents and would only build the farm system. That question still lingers in my mind. You can't say trust the Plan for years and years, and then change course now because money is "tight". The Plan seems to be working with a lot of homegrown talent, but now the Lerners have to step up and pay to keep it.

I would also agree on the stadium. They were given a great deal on the stadium (in contrast to the TV deal) and then turned around and asked the city for a roof on said stadium.

Like I wrote earlier. I am very interested to see how this offseason goes. Are we Tampa Bay and lose most of our homegrown talent or are we the Cardinals and keep most of our talent? Or are we Texas (record aside) keep homegrown talent and go get free agents too? The Lerners have the ability to put the Nats in any of those three categories.

Anonymous said...

Any chance of a Andrus challenge trade?

Froggy said...

To add to Blovy8, durability is a tangible quality that the great ones have, Ripkin and that guy who just retired from the Yankees...what was his name....Derrick Jeepers or something like that. I think he did his whole career with the Bronx Bombers.