Nationals Baseball: The lingering offseason quesitons

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

The lingering offseason quesitons

While it feels like the offseason ended with the flurry of trades around the 19th and then the Christmas break, it is in fact still going on. Max Scherzer is still unsigned as is James Shields and the underrated Nori Aoki. Guys who were thought to be potentially on the market - Cole Hamels, Tulo, Rangers/Cubs young IFers, Zobrist, Seattle's two SS, remain undealt. And the Nats still have lingering questions that you'd love to see resolved by the time Opening Day starts.

What's going on with 2nd base? 

Two years ago rolling with Espinosa seemed like a good idea. It didn't work out. Last year rolling with Espinosa was a questionable gamble. It didn't work out. This year rolling with Espinosa is a fool's errand, yet it's arguably the best plan the Nats could work out with the current roster. There's been rumors that he'll stop switch hitting, which would seem to make sense given his inability to hit from the left-side in the recent past, but it's just talk at this point. Assuming nothing changes he'll be a solid 2B in the field who is a strike-out black hole at the plate.

The FA options were slim to begin with and have gotten worse. Well actually the 2B market hasn't changed much which tells you what it was like to start. The two biggest names left are Gordon Beckham and Rickie Weeks. Beckham is an acceptable fielder who like Danny is an offensive hole. The one thing Beckham has going for him is a past as top prospect. Rickie Weeks looks to have some use left in the bat but is hard to keep at 2nd as age and injuries have turned him into a statue. While neither of these are appealing, Rizzo might be drawn by the potential very cheap 1-yr deal he could make for them if the market keeps stringing them along.

Zobrist remains the best option in trade that wouldn't cost an arm and a leg (just an arm), but the Nats are ever reluctant to deal control away and not receive control back and Zobrist is a FA to be after 2015 (not to mention 34 in May which makes following a deal with a long term signing questionable). There are some young MI that are available in theory but they'd be more costly and even with the recent influx the Nats system is not deep.

Are they going to sign or trade Desmond/ZNN/Fister? 

Negotiations are ongoing. I guess we're supposed to believe that but we haven't heard much beyond the initial "they are talking" reports. Zimmermann and Desmond are due for big money. ZNN should approach and maybe surpass Lester money (6/155). Desmond is probably looking for Sandoval like money (5/95). Fister something less but still a multi-year deal for something like 15+ a year. Chances for contracts like this coming from the Nats are slim as the Nats are not great believers in signing players to long term deals especially pitchers.

The Nats also may now believe they have replacements lined up for all of these guys. Giolito & Cole/Ross/Fedde for ZNN & Fister and Trea Turner for Desmond. Most of the more recent rumors haven't been about re-signing but about trading. However, teams are reluctant to deal because the Nats' price is expectedly high. It may end up that they simply keep all of these players and focus on the draft picks they can receive, however that's a longer and more variable process for keeping the team competitive than trading for top prospects.

Are they going to sign or trade Strasburg/Ramos/Storen? 

It's been hidden from sight because of the free agents to be with the bigger ticking clocks, but all three of these key players are just 2 years away from FA. Last year in the same position the Nats shored up the remaining arbitration years for ZNN and Desmond and at least offered them deals. They were unfair, team friendly, borderline insulting deals but deals nonetheless. They helped us gauge where exactly the Nats stood with these players (more serious with Ian (7/107) than ZNN (5/85))
This is important because while you think the Nats' general acceptance of Clippard leaving and reluctance to give ZNN market value may tell you all you need to know, there is a big fact in favor of Storen and Strasburg. They are a couple years younger. Something like that can make all the difference in the years offered in a deal.

Ramos is a bit different in that he is the one player of import coming off an off-year and may be able to be signed to a deal that would be below market in other circumstances. It's a gamble given his injury history but the temptation to lock up a young catcher at a cheap cost would be great to me.

Is there another LH relief arm or long reliever coming? 

Probably not. The Nats don't pay for relief pitching and have several decent in-house options. Still that was the role Detwiler had for at least some of the year and there are arms out there; Joe Beimel if you are serious, Phil Coke if you just want an arm, Sean Burnett if you like to gamble, that you may be able to pick up on the cheap at the back end of free agency to replace him.

Are the Nats not improving the bench?

After getting as lucky as one can be with the bench in 2012, the Nats did nothing in 2013 and paid the price. Last year they made some decent moves getting Lobaton and McLouth, but by year's end neither had worked out exactly as planned and the bench was just barely functional. Now going into 2015 they again haven't made any serious improvements. It can be seen as unnecessary, the Nats did in fact win 96 games with the bench as-is, but it seems once again a penny foolish.

There may not be much the Nats can do about catcher. It's a weak position and Lobaton, lefty and not old, is probably as good as any replacement. But at the other spots things get murkier. Werth and Bryce (and to a lesser degree Span) are injury risks in the outfield and the Nats presumed top option to replace either, Souza, was traded away. It's likely that Taylor, who will probably start in AAA to keep getting ABs, would fill in for any long absence, with McLouth covering the short ones. However that still leaves a 5th OF spot open and it's an important one as neither McLouth or Taylor are reliable at this point. Right now Frandsen is the IF back-up but virtually no one sees him as an everyday player if Espinosa once again can't hack it. Ryan Zimmerman should be healthier at the less demanding position of first base but he's still a risk. Tyler Moore, who has failed at the plate in two long auditions and provides no other value, is currently the most likely back-up.


Nick said...

The bench is not good. I can't understand why Rizzo let Asdrubal and Stephen Drew (great potential platoon mate with Espinosa) sign with other teams for relatively tiny, one year deals. I guess I'd go for Beckham over Weeks because at least Beckham can play some defense (3b in case Rendon goes down), but both of those guys basically stink.

Harper said...

Yeah, either of those guys are basically better Ugglas. Well I take that back Beckham is a better Uggla - a guy that you can plug on your bench right now. Weeks maybe could shift to 3B/LF/DH (or 1B if you are lacking there) and provide value as a starter but apparently he doesn't want to. He's not a great fit for the Nats but you know, sometimes you get those types and it all works out

MikeinDC said...

On the plus side, we're still pretty damn good.

Chinatown Express said...

I honestly don't understand how we didn't outbid the Yankees for Drew. At market value, that contract suggests Drew is valued at around .6 WAR (roughly?), which is right in line with the Steamer projection of .7. But he platoons well with Danny, he wouldn't be a defensive liability, and we can afford to DFA him if he doesn't work out. So I don't know why we couldn't overpay for 1 year at $6 or $7m. I wonder whether the Nats were even in the bidding. The fact that we DIDN'T make that move makes me think a trade is on the block.

Positively Half St. said...

Soriano, of course, was the one exception to the Nats "not paying for relief pitching" but I guess you meant other than the closer. As for second base, I can't help thinking that the reason Rizzo has not gone for Asdrubal or Drew or the lesser options like Beckham is that he is still striving for a bigger deal that just hasn't fallen into place yet. I agree with everyone that the bench is distressing; I hope McLouth can redeem himself and that Uggla eats the last handful of magic feed corn that makes reindeer fly.

Harper said...

MikeinDC - Yes. Still favorites to win East, possibly for home field. Love to see these tings resolved but not necessary.

CXP - Nats rarely overpay. They rarely spend money on bench. They also just tried it (with McLouth) and it didn't seem to work so probably gunshy for half a decade on doing it again (see: Maya, Yunesky and long-term pitcher deals)

1/2ST>0 - By all accounts Soriano wasn't Rizzo's decision it was Lerner's.

He could be striving for a bigger deal. I can see that. But if you do that you kind of gotta come through.

Bench is distressing but you always pray they don't matter even when they are decent. So just keep praying. Uggla eating corn that makes him fly would explain why he has such trouble getting down on ground balls.

Mark twain said...

For our free agents pay Ramos, ZNN, and Stras. The bench needs help but I hope mclouth turns it around. The bigger bench problem is in the infield as frandsen has no pop. At 2b do a gamble with weeks. If weeks hits start him and replace him with Espinosa for defense late in games.

Andrew said...

Way out of the box suggestion here. Fister played first in college what if we tried him at third on off days and moved Rendon back to second.

Nick said...

I am really hoping that Michael Taylor gets a decent amount of run as the 4th OF/first OF injury replacement instead of Mclouth.

Weeks was so horrendous defensively that it's tough to imagine him being a passable 3b. While he did have a nice 2014 season offensively (127 wRC+), he had a .355 BABIP, which sounds off all the regression alarms. I guess he's still better than Moore as a backup 1b though.

blovy8 said...

The Nats F.O. is really good at keeping a lid on things. There are still possibilities, and if Rizzo isn't going to add a former D-back, you know last year is telling them something more potent than his decent career #s vs. RH pitching. OTOH, I really don't think they are against one-year stopgaps, they've done that a lot with starting pitchers - the trouble with that here, is you may be looking at two infield positions and center to fill in 2016 if you let things lie because Taylor, Cole, Treinen etc are no sure things. They need to risk signing a few of these guys, and if a prospect is ready, to be able to deal from that strength or move a guy and eat money, that's the price of competing. We don't really know what they'll do since they haven't had to spend big yet on more than Werth really.

Re-signing Frandsen and re-habbing Uggla seem like CYA insurance. I don't think there's any way this is the roster they have in mind for opening day, barring some real magic concussion cure or an "everything looks like it's down the pipe" spring from Frandsen. Those guys don't cost you much and therefore do not stand in the way of some flexibility should other opportunities arise with a better player. Maybe having a guy keeps you from getting a better guy like Zobrist as the market shrinks or it becomes reasonable to consider their asking price somehow.

While I haven't read much of anything about the Nats being connected to those Cuban guys Fernandez and Olivera, it could also be they're ready to pounce and aren't going to pay for a stopgap knowing they can afford to blow apart their international money on a more controllable asset. After all this was a franchise that didn't much care about signing bonuses for Strasburg and Harper when it had to be done. I know the conventional wisdom Rizzo spouts is that scouts don't get enough info to be really sure about them, but I think it's been long enough that Maya's example won't hold them back, and they need infielders right now.

I think Boras would never let Strasburg sign and Storen isn't a sure enough bet to worry about buying out arbitration years. I think Rendon is the guy to try to lock up after Ramos, maybe even before thinking about him, really.

I would guess that Moore is the lynchpin to creating a better bench since he's out of options and they're not going to release him, that will certainly mean perhaps a different piece if he's part of a trade - whether we like them or not.

Bjd1207 said...

Have there been rumors from somewhere besides this (and other) fan forum about Danny giving up switch hitting?

John C. said...

Nick, I think Rizzo "let Asdrubal go" because Cabrera isn't very good. His offense is barely mediocre, and he gives back any advantage by being not very good defensively.

As for Drew, it's quite likely that he wasn't available to the Nats for the same rate that he signed with the Yankees. Why? Remember what his interest is - he wants a "pillow" season to rebuild his value, prove that he's a QO level player and cash in. The Yankees offer him a chance the Nats don't: a much better ballpark to pile up numbers in and (more importantly) a spot as a full-time starter, and not as a platoon guy.

The Nats would have to significantly overpay to trump those factors. And Drew isn't that good.

John C. said...

Bjd, it's not "rumors" on the site, Rizzo and Matt Williams have both talked about Espinosa giving up switch hitting. What the internet rumor mongers all assume is that, unless Espi is in winter ball, he isn't giving up switch hitting. And is a malingering malcontent on top of that.

THOSE rumors are completely unsubstantiated, FWIW.

blovy8 said...

In regards to Espinosa, while he might eventually come to the realization that he's not able to keep two different swings going, I'm not confident about his ability to adjust to what RH pitchers are going to throw him now in the little time he has available to see quality pitching.

NotBobby said...

It seems to me that in this day and age it is very tough to field a team that has no "holes." Just because Rizzo doesn't bring in another 2B doesn't mean that the Nats aren't committed to winning this year.

I fully believe in the concept of get in as many years as possible, rather than go all-in on one or two years. This team is set up to contend for several years in a row as long as too much of the minor league talent isn't shipped away for short term solutions.

I say go with Espinosa and Uggla (because even with one of them getting 2B duty the team is STILL REALLY GOOD) and keep making moves that will keep the Nats in contention year after year. If someone becomes available without giving up too much future value, then do it. But don't make a deal, just to make a deal.

Donald said...

I like Danny for his defense. If they have to start him against righties, I'd have him bunt 95% of the time. The other 5% I'd have him swing himself out of his shoes, just to keep the corner guys from charging in too fast.

Chaos said...

Shoulder surgery for Werth, gone for 2-3 months. I'm guessing that'll mean missing the first month of the season......

Clip&Store said...

Chaos - I agree, Harper will probably write about that next blog.

Zimmerman11 said...


Ben Zobrist, 2B/RF, Rays — Zobrist, 33, has one of the biggest trade markets out there. The super utilityman is being pursued seriously by the Giants, Nationals, Angels, and Cubs. The Rays recently acquired Asdrubal Cabrera on a one-year deal, sparking further speculation that Zobrist might be on the move. The Rays are said to be asking for at least one top prospect and a mid-level one.

Multiple prospects... Harper, you still in? Or is the negotiation pricing this dude out of range??? Seems like there is a lot of competition for one year of a good player.

Zimmerman11 said...

ANyone lend any credence to this? I know guys like Wright and Span were affected after beanings... I mean Uggla WAS pretty good... maybe we'll all be singing Rizzo's praises again?

Uggla seeing things clearly after treatment

We’ve given you the Dan Uggla story in bits and pieces the past few weeks. Here’s the rest of it.

Uggla was hit twice in the head by pitches, in June 2012 and in spring training 2013. His career went downhill fast after the first beaning, and Uggla never recovered. He was released by the Braves in early 2014 and was paid the more than $18 million remaining on his contract.

Dejected about how fast his career declined, Uggla had no answers. That’s when old friend Marquis Grissom called him last September and told him he knew the problem.

Grissom was hit in the head during his career and suffered a similar decline. He hooked up Uggla with Las Vegas orthopedist Robert Donatelli.

Donatelli and his staff put Uggla through a series of tests and determined he had suffered oculomotor dysfunction. Uggla, who had gone so far as to get Lasik treatment because he wasn’t seeing the rotation of the ball, had 20/15 vision. But the testing found that when Uggla moved his head or body, his vision was 20/100. This explained being unable to see the rotation of the ball. It also affected him in the field, Uggla saying it got to the point where he didn’t want the ball hit to him at second base.

Uggla was given two weeks of exercises to improve the condition. And in November, Donatelli declared him healthy, his motion vision back to normal.

The 34-year-old Uggla, who once hit 30 or more homers for five straight seasons, was signed to a minor league deal by the Nationals, who will invite him to spring training. The Orioles and Rangers were also interested, but Uggla had a relationship with Washington GM Mike Rizzo and decided it was the best opportunity for him.

The Nationals were familiar with the condition, having gone through it with center fielder Denard Span, though his dropoff in 2013 wasn’t quite so severe.

Unless the Nationals acquire a second baseman, they will go into spring training with Uggla getting a great chance to win the job against Danny Espinosa.

DezoPenguin said...

I think it would be darkly hilarious ("darkly" because it involves injury to an actual person, which it is sometimes hard to remember that baseball players are the way we all talk about them) if Uggla really was recovered from a head injury and was able to recover to above-average hitting, good power, slightly sub-average defense levels, after the Braves somehow missed this and ditched him. Bonus points that it was Grissom who pointed him in the right direction, since Grissom was part of one of the best outfields in franchise history (with Moises Alou and Larry Walker, a group probably even better than the Raines/Dawson/Cromartie OFs of the early 80s).

That said, I'm not going to count on that actually being the result.

blovy8 said...

I don't think Rizzo is going to give up Cole for Zobrist, let alone another guy on top of that. Maybe the Werth surgery changes things, but I doubt it. Probably another AAAA-type OF signing and more spring training atbats for Moore and McLouth. Probably another guy who could slot in as fifth guy until Taylor is ready when Werth comes back and Moore after hits .180 in April and plays crappy defense in left. God helps us if Frandsen is the backup 1st baseman...