Nationals Baseball: A tale of two FAs

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

A tale of two FAs

We're getting dreadfully close to entering the dog days of summer early, aren't we? That's not really a complaint. The Nats' pitching rotation has come back to life carrying the rest of the uneven injury prone talent to first place and slowly pulling away from the rest of the maybe completely not good NL East. If the Nats don't stumble soon, I just don't see how the season can break any other way than winning the division.

That NL East sucking might be a topic you are tired of but it is probably going to be a sticking point for the rest of the year. The Nats are clearly good, dozens of prognosticators aren't wrong, but how good are they? Are they very good or are they just very good in comparison? Unless the Nats start dominating the non NL East competition (they are below .500 against them right now) this is going to hang over their heads until the playoffs. (And it'll be decided by the playoffs even though that's completely not a fair way to do it, win or lose)

But what are you going to do? The Nats have to deal with the hand that has been dealt to them so if they win the pot, we can't worry too much about whether they won it with a pair of 10s or with a flush. At least we can't worry about it in early July.  We'll look at the team come the All-Star break, see where they could improve through moves (even though none will probably take place). We'll look at the team come September and see how they are setting up for the playoffs. Until then we wait. (Hopefully - injuries can derail the best of trains)

Last night was a microcosm of the season for Jordan Zimmermann (7.2IP, 6 H 6K, 0BB last night) and Ian Desmond (0-4 4Ks), who both refused big, but below market, deals from the Nats in order to cash in on upcoming free agency. We should bear them no ill-will for these decisions as they both did what anyone would do. Not "trying to get paid!" but "trying to get paid fairly". However, things have fallen apart for Ian, while ZNN seems in line to get a big deal

Ian Desmond had a bad start to the season hitting .211 / .279 / .316 in his first 24 games. Really that isn't far off the typical off month for Ian but it was coupled with a crazy 9 errors in his first 20 games. It's harder to ignore an poor hitting month when you hurt the team in other ways too.  The next 24 games were actually really good for Ian (.309 / .337 / .495 with 4 errors) but hardly anyone noticed for several reasons. As far as the middle infield was concerned, Yunel Escobar had a fast start and continued to hit, while Danny was surprising everyone with his comeback. Mostly though Bryce turned into a monster and overshadowed everyone. So the "oh ok Ian is back to being normal" that should have happened never did. As soon as Bryce returned to mere mortal status, and we could pay attention to everyone else, Ian floundered again. That's actually putting it lightly. Ian started the worst slump of his career. He's hit .149 / .187 / .248 in the past 27 games. He may be righting the ship (he hit .123 / .163 / .173 for the first 22, .250 / .286 /.550 in the past 5), and his error clip has been normal the past 50+ games. but at this point as far as Nats fans are concerned he stunk, they looked away, and when they looked back he still stunk.  They are ready for a replacement. Difo and Turner are theoretical replacements and Rendon being healthy looms over the MI.

It's a difficult spot for Ian. I don't see any reason why he shouldn't get to play through it. His bat, if right, would be more influential than Danny (who's been slumping) or Yuney (who's been lucky) and the team should be comfortably ahead. But if the Nats want to prepare for a post-Ian world, why not sit him? Because it would show all your FAs to be and possibly coming in how you treat players? Possibly, but FAs are 99% motivated by money, so it's a small worry. Short of it - Ian better right himself before Rendon is back or he may not get that chance. He'll still make money, but the huge deal we thought he might get will have faded away.

As for ZNN everyone talked about his FB speed to begin the year. I wasn't sure why everyone cared that much. Sure it was slow, but outside a disastrous outing in Boston he still pitched well. Isn't that what matters most?  Well, as far as that's concerned it's been climbing ever since. Is it still down on the past few years? Yes. But it was almost 2 MPH slower in April, to a mile and a half slower in May, to less than a mile slower in June. Consequently we see the one worry area of his pitching (the K/9 numbers being low) getting better each month. Maybe this tells Jordan something about his Spring Training approach that needs to change as he ages but I have few worries about his arm. I have no worries about his ability to pitch. His control is as good as ever. His ability to keep the ball in the park is still great. The K's give him ace potential but even without it he's still a top of the rotation type pitcher. (Even shaking off rust he's 28th in the NL in ERA).

Short of it - Jordan is going to get paid. Of the deep FA class Samardzjia, Fister, and Latos are all having off years so far. Fister, Latos, and Cueto all have injury questions hanging over them. Cueto and Samardzjia could be dealt and in this day and age teams are more likely to wrap up acquisitions than go for 1 year rentals. This leaves Price, Greinke and ZNN as the likely top of the class. You really never know what Greinke will do but personally I'd be surprised if he leaves LA. He's pitched very well there after a mildly disappointing stint in Milwaukee. Price has a decent chance to stay in Detroit. Worst case ZNN ends up 4th on a list of FA guys, but the way I see it he'll likely be one of the top 2 available. That's a dump truck full of money situation.


Chaz R said...

I would think Rizzo almost certainly will make him a qualifying offer. It will be interesting to see what Desi does, especially since he's such a big Nats team guy.

Do you think ZNN can command a $100m deal?

Anonymous said...

A minor correction: Zimmermann is 16th in the NL in ERA (28th in all the majors).

mike k said...

I think ZNN will command a $200M deal. Consistently great numbers, no large injuries since Tommy John, young for a FA pitcher, and did I mention consistently great numbers? 8/200 isn't out of the question. The only issue is whether teams will balk at a 6+ year deal because of the possibility the Tommy John will shorten his career. But it only takes one.

Harper said...

Chaz R - I actually don't even think he gets a qual offer. If Rendon finishes the year healthy and Turner/Difo seem ok in the minors having Ian come back would be more problematic than helpful. Draft pick be damned.

Yes, ZNN should pull in over 100 mill easy IMO.

Anon - Yep, sorry about that

mike k - I'm thinking Zimm ends up somewhere for 6/150. Long term deals are falling out of vogue but someone will up the dollars per yr or provide a nice bonus.

G Cracka X said...

What would Yunel Escobar have to do for his hitting to not be labeled, 'lucky'? I assume that is because of BABIP, but it seems like he's been hitting well enough for long enough to be uncomfortable using such a term for him

blovy8 said...

You may be right that the Nats won't give Desmond a QO, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't. They probably would have gotten away with it for Edwin Jackson, but were likely a bit conservative. It's way to early to decide that though, since we really don't know what Desmond's numbers are going to end up looking like. It's entirely possible another hot streak makes them look respectable. How many teams are set at short for the next 3-4 years? The demand will still be there if any teams even suspect Desmond can get close to the 4 WAR, silver slugger he was for three years. All it will take is one team desperate enough with nothing in the pipeline, the Mets could be ready to splash into that for instance. He is also a very durable guy. Once you subtract the unaffordable and rarely playable Tulo, you are left with Peralta as the best SS over the last 4 years. Does that seem like a high bar to you? Peralta is 33. I bet if Desmond hits .250 with 15-20 HR he gets more than Peralta, and would certainly not take a qualifying offer.

Anonymous said...

I still think Desi will get and reject a QO because this might be his only chance to get a multi year deal. Even if he continues to skuffle for the rest of the season, someone will offer multi year at low aav like 5/30.

Donald said...

I'm not sure that teams, or at least Rizzo, plays games with the QO. I don't think he makes one for Desi unless he wants him back. Making it just to get the draft pick pisses off the players and probably the other GMs as well. Plus, there's a risk he'd take it to rebuild value for a year in hopes of getting a bigger pay off. If he doesn't want Desi back, I don't think he makes a QO. And at this point, I don't think he wants Desi back.

Froggy said...

Unless the Nats go to the WS and Desmond is some sort of hero in game 7, I don't think there is a long term contract offer let alone a QO.

But why prolong the agony? Is a trade at the deadline out of the question?

Donald said...

@Froggy -- there's been some speculation about that but I don't see it happening for three reasons. First, there's a bit of a catch-22 that the Nats face. If Desmond continues to slump, they won't get a whole lot back for him. If he starts to hit this month, on the other hand, he's a better option at short for them than anyone else. Second, I don't think they have a ready replacement who's ready. I think they are trying to bring Turner along as fast as they can, but I'm guessing they would rather have him get some more seasoning. And finally, he's healthy and they've had issues with their infielders this year.

Froggy said...

@Donald, I tend to think Espinosa would do great at SS right now. Not to mention when Rendon comes back it would solve the 'where do we play Espi tonight' dilemma.

Desmond needs a fresh start with another team who will show him some long term, gazillion dollar love.

BxJaycobb said...

1. I highly doubt Jordan gets a 200 million dollar offer. He's far closer to the Jon Lester type pitcher (an ace maybe but not a top 10 pitcher in baseball that's quite in the kershaw/Felix/Cole/Scherzer/wainwright/sale/price/cueto group.) I would imagine if somebody gets Scherzer money it will be Price. 5 years at 160 million seems right.

2. Everybody plays games with a QO. That's why nobody has ever accepted one. Because no GM has offered one when they thought there was any chance the player would accept, and always offer one when the player won't. I agree however that if Desmond continues to play at this level (0-1 WAR season....right now he's at replacement level) he might take it to re-establish value. So Rizzo shouldn't. But if you know you're not going to extend a QO to a former all star and silver slugger SS, you HAVE TO trade him. Can't lose him for nothing.

3. Why on earth do we need Turner? Assuming Rendon returns, you play Danny at SS. He's currently a better offensive and defensive option than Desi, who is utterly lost at the plate and a liability making errors left and right. You can't play that guy in October if something doesn't change. Why not deal him to yankees (need a SS desperately) for a B prospect or controllable reliever as soon as he has a hot week or 2?

Anonymous said...

@BxJaycobb - To answer your 3rd point: Everything about prospects is what the hope/projections are. In that order. Whatever the projection is, fans and executives alike "hope" they hit the nail on the head and that prospect turns about better than projected. With Turner, there is an unknown factor obviously, but I would take that over Danny who should have been out of baseball a year ago, is currently hitting at a measly .250 clip, with not the same power he had 3 years ago. Defense has kept his career alive, and although its a nice story that he has revived himself, you have to remember that if Desmond was who he has been the past 3+ years and Rendon didn't get hurt, Danny wouldn't be playing. I'll take Turner every time.