Nationals Baseball: The cases for all-in vs not

Friday, January 02, 2015

The cases for all-in vs not

Read the comments and you'll see fans are torn. Trade something worthwhile for Zobrist? Yes! Be as good as you can be!  No! Don't rent a guy for a year when the Nats are favorites without him!

The math is fairly simple. If you can improve your odds of winning enough then you can have a better chance to win over X playoff appearances than X+1, but it's tough to improve them by that much (and that consistently). It makes far more sense to try to maximize appearances then, which is what the Nats seem to be doing. Be a perennial contender. Let the championships fall where they may.

It's that last point that sticks, though. Championships are not guaranteed things going to the best team every year, or the hottest team, or the most "teamy" team. They go to some combination of the before in a formula so dominated by game to game luck that it's probably meaningless to do anything more than get in with a solid squad.

But it's that word "probably" that gets me. It's "probably" meaningless. But what if it isn't? This is why, despite all the logic saying "don't bother", that teams try to improve all the way to the bitter end. It doesn't matter... until it does. Getting that 2nd lefty in the pen is a waste, until you need him in the 10th inning of a tie game. Picking up that 5th OF speedster is superfluous, until your lumbering slugger is walked in the 8th and you're down by one, The Nats are no different. Picking up Asdrubal Cabrera was doubtful to be the difference maker, but they could do it and it would make the team better so why not?

We also labor under the false pretense that post-season appearances are just going to keep coming. The NL East looks pretty beatable again with the Braves heading down and the Mets and Marlins not improved enough on paper. But it wasn't so long ago that a team suddenly went from .500 to 98 wins in the NL East. And it wasn't so long ago that that almost 100 win team missed the playoffs thanks to injury and a terrible bench (I'm sorry - because they tried too hard but didn't try hard enough or some clap trap).

Here's a scenario for you. Cuddyer is good. Harvey is good. The Mets make another move. The Mets are a 90 win team. Stanton is MVP again. Jose Fernandez is BACK and Latos is good. Prado is Prado. The Marlins are a 90 win team. Rendon gets hurt. Werth gets hurt. Gio gets hurt. Roark falters. The Nats are a 90 win team. The Nats gets squeaked out of the playoffs. ZNN walks. Desi walks. Fister walks. Clip walks. Rizzo deals Stras for something for 2018. Likely? No. Plausible? Yes.

There are no guarantees. This is what pushes the all-in mentality more than anything. Tomorrows aren't set in stone. Giolito is a year away, but a year away from what? Major league dominance or another injury for an arm that couldn't stay healthy pitching to high schoolers?  You need 6 playoff appearances to get to the point where winning one is more likely than not. SIX. You could win more than one in those 6 but it's just at that point where you get to "you should have won at least one by now". Six is a lot.

This above - this is first world problems. Does a team sacrifice some of an apparently bright future for a slightly (ever so) brighter today? The truth is there isn't a good answer. You either make good and fair deals (I think Cole for Zobrist would qualify - Cole+Taylor or Giolito wouldn't) or you stay the course. Either way what will ultimately decide if you were right is going to be the number of titles you bring home. Right or wrong that's the way it is. Because while we can say "make the playoffs then get lucky that's all you can do" in truth we can't prove that's all you can do and that will nag and claw at the soul if you end up hands empty years down the road.


JWLumley said...

Great article Harper, you really summed it up. Not to be contrarian, because I agree, but this is a good team. The glass is half full person might say, Rendon is the MVP instead of being an MVP contender, except Harper is Mantle in '56 and wins the MVP. Desmond, looks more like '12 and '13 Desmond than like '14 Desmond. Danny Espinosa hits like right handed Danny Espinosa against right handed pitching. Strasburg is finally the Strasburg everyone thought he would be. Zim is much better than LaRoche. Span lives right and has a BABIP fueled .350 BA. Werth gets jacked while in the can starts eating gluten again and his power returns. The pitching looks just like the pitching did last year and this team wins 115 games. NN basks in the glow of winning the world series and re-signs a team friendly deal. Desmond walks, but Turner rakes and is ready next year. Likely, no, but plausible, yes. Point being, doing absolutely nothing could very well be the right move.

Personally, I'd say if they could get Zobrist for someone like Fede--I wouldn't deal Cole, they'll need him next year and no one else is close enough--than I'd do it. If not, see what happens with Espinosa and try to make a deal with someone at the break if it doesn't work ala AsCab. Other than that, stockpile bullpen arms and this team is pretty much set.

Wally said...

I'd argue that the Nats are already substantially all in for 2015: going into the season with 25% of their lineup and 40% of their rotation on 1 yr deals is all in. Meaning that keeping them instead of turning them into longer term assets is the same as signing or trading for someone like Zobrist.

But there is always the question of 'can you do more''. Sure, but I'd argue that the question to solve isn't improving on Espy as much as avoiding trotting out replacement players for sizable PAs. That is broader but a better way to increase your odds of getting into the post season. So I think they have to run the scenarios of 'what if Rendon misses two months, Bryce, etc', and find the guy that covers that the most. Zobrist makes sense from this angle, but so might other players. They should be looking at Brock Holt types, too.

But as far as improving your odds in the playoffs, I think an especially 'hot' reliever or two would have more impact for a team like the Nats in a short series. And for that, I'd wait until the deadline in July to see who stands out next year.

Harper said...

JWL - certainly possible. I think the "safe" bet is the Nats win in the mid 90s and after a brief scare (more us than facts) take the NL East over MIA or NYM

I wonder if the hold-up on Cole is ZNN/Fister. Like if they get one signed then they can deal Cole but they can't until they do.

Honestly - I thnk we'll end up with Frandsen at 2nd to start season. Yep.

Wally - ok that's one way to look at it, though I'm not going to give the Nats some sort of psychic credit for not tearing apart a 2 times in 3 year division winner because contracts are coming to a head.

Holt. Olt. Get all the olts.

Chaz R said...

Well articulated Harper.

JWL- I LOVE that narrative! Is it Spring yet???

JWLumley said...

@Harper, Yeah, I agree mid 90's win team and perhaps they'd deal Cole if they re-signed either Fister or NN. Perhaps, if they think Giolito is only a year away they deal Cole or just expect that they'll be able to sign someone out of the glut of FA SP's available next year, but I wouldn't do it. This team needs cost-controlled players who produce, just like every other team in baseball, even the Yankees and Fodgers.

Totally disagree on Frandsen, even Rizzo knows that his gamery grittyness and awesome interview skills won't translate to an everyday spot. Espi has upside and his defense gives him some value vs. Franny's replacement level production. Perhaps a platoon to start, but I doubt it.

Anonymous said...

How competent is Zobrist at 3B and in the corner OF positions?

Assuming he's OK there, Zobrist's flexibility means that if Rendon, Werth, or Harper go down for extended times, Zobrist can fill in.

Zobrist + Espinosa >> replacement level fill-in + Espinosa.

Donald said...

Here's a different idea. Trade Roark for Zobrist and then sign Price. I'm assuming Roark is more valuable than Cole at this point.
Would you make that deal?

JWLumley said...

@Donald I'd make that deal, but doubt it gets done because I think Roark still has a smoke and mirrors feel to him. Had he been a highly regarded prospect he'd have more value, but clubs have to somewhat feel like he's a fluke.

John C. said...

Harper, the problem with your "what if ..." scenarios is that with only 25 roster spots you simply can't "what if ..." proof your roster. At some point you are creating a new "what if ..." for every old one that you address.

And I happen to be of the opinion that LHRP is not an issue for the Nats at the moment. Thornton, Blevins, Cedeno & Grace are a pretty solid set of options.

Chaos said...

Nobody is trading for Roark. No previous potential, limited track record. I am a big advocate of getting Zobrist and believe Rizzo should trade for him and sign a 2 year extension. Dude knows pitches, better than even Werth. You want the "book" #2 hitter? Sign Zobrist. The Nats have a sick 1-8 hitting lineup already, signing him would make it easily the best no rest for the pitchers lineup in the league.

Nick said...

I am all in for a Stephen Drew/Espinosa platoon for 2015. Costs a lot less than a Zobrist trade would (in terms of giving up prospects) and provides much needed infield depth while allowing Espinosa to do what he does best, hit lefties. Doesn't limit the team as much moving forward assuming ZNN and Fister walk but strengthens the 2015 team.

Steven Biel said...

2012 ruined me as a fan. Every time I think about stuff like this I just think "and that's why the Strasburg shutdown was idiotic."