Nationals Baseball: Dead at the Deadline?

Monday, July 27, 2015

Dead at the Deadline?

In July of 2012 the Nats were playing great baseball and were in a fight to keep the Atlanta Braves off their backs.
In July of 2013 the Nats were finally healthy and struggling to get back in the playoff picture
In July of 2014 the Nats were playing middling baseball and were in a fight to keep the Atlanta Braves off their backs

In 2012 - August 3rd - the Nats dealt David Freitas to Oakland for Kurt Suzuki and cash to cover remaining 2012 salary. It would be their only trade of the deadline.
In 2013 - July 8th - the Nats dealt Ivan Pineyro to the Cubs for Scott Hairston and cash to cover some of the remaining 2013 salary. It would be their only trade of the deadline*.
In 2014 - July 31 - the Nats dealt Zach Walters to the Indians for Asdrubal Cabrera and cash to cover his remaining 2014 salary. It would be their only trade of the deadline.

Notice anything similar? Only one deal made. A minor leaguer of little to no consequence dealt. Most importantly - the Nats always got cash back.  Why is that important?

Aroldis Chapman - due almost 3 million
Craig Kimbrel - due over 3 million
Jon Papelbon - due almost 5 million
Tyler Clippard - due over 3 million.

The Nationals don't seem to get a lot of deals made. You can rationalize that if you want. In 2012 the window was opening - there was no impetus to deal young players for an old player. In 2013 the Nats were rather far out of the Wild Card and would stumble going into the deadline making deals closer to the end of July look foolish. In 2014 the Nats, much like this year, seemed to have the talent to separate from their next best competitor, they just didn't yet.

However, rather than rationalizing each year with a separate reason, it makes more sense to look at the thread going through all of them. The Nationals don't add salary for the current year. Hairston was the only one who didn't cost the Nats $0 in their current year. He only cost 1.5 mill or so AND the Nats got 500K for the following season. Also - the Nats would actually end up dropping the payroll later by dealing Suzuki.

This fact alone naturally limits the type of deals they can make, explaining both the low number of deals and why these deals lack the impact you might expect from a contender over three seasons.  Teams may throw in salary for a good player but either you have to up the prospect (Zach Walters was at least on the outskirts of propsect radars) or you have to eat other money. For both Hairston and Suzuki the Nats were committed to paying them the year after the deal as well. It wasn't a lot for the following year but it was something.

If this holds up - what does this mean for the Nats at this trade deadline? Clippard isn't owed anything in 2016. To get him back and pay nothing the Nats would have to up the prospect.  Papelbon isn't technically owed money for 2016... yet. There's a vesting option that he's in line for right now, but not so obviously in line for that the Phillies couldn't weasel out of it. The Nats are helping the Phillies out if they take him in a deal, but more out of a difficult situation than eating money. So the Nats would have to up the prospect, maybe not as much as with Clippard but somewhat. Either one then would be a pretty good prospect.

Chapman will be owed money in 2016 - he makes 8 million now and is due for arbitration, making a 12 million due not unlikely. So Chapman in theory could be had with cash without causing the Nats to up the propsects needed. Problem is of course the current asking price for Chapman is very high. Not upping it doesn't mean that much. Kimbrel is owed the most. 11 million for 2016 and 13 for 2017 plus a million buyout in 2018. His current cost is high but not as high as Chapman. That makes Kimbrel the most likely target for the Nats. Of course right now they supposedly asked for Turner so the cost isn't low, it just isn't the current asking price for Chapman.

The other possibility is rather than getting cash, getting the other team to take Fister or Desmond, two guys making a lot and not likely to sign next year, back in the deal. Desmond would be pretty unlikely. Despite the fans turning on him, the management never did (and luckily never were in a position to) and he seems to be coming back into form. The Nats need pop more than any other offensive attribute and that's what he gives them. Fister though... if Strasburg is healthy you have to like Ross at least as much as Fister. So Fister could go. But it would be just like asking for cash. The effect on the prospect asked in return would be the same.

In the end I can't bet on the Nats do anything of note. They haven't in 3 other seasons. This season is different though - being at the end of a window - so maybe that spurs them on, but I have to put a lot of weight on what we've seen so far. But if they do do something, what could it be? I still think Rizzo tries to pull a deal - decent prospect for a good young relief arm (potential Storen replacement). Maurer in SD, Blazek in MIL, Smith in SEA. Something unusual this time of year, getting a young guy from a team dealing. But the Nats have some SP depth - certainly enough to toss Cole into any deal. Sure wish he didn't look like crap and have a history of teams being half-heartedly behind him.  The other option would be getting Uehara or F-Rod, both owed money, but not an onerous amount, in 2016, from their prospective clubs.   Uehara especially is interesting and the Red Sox just want live arms and the Nats have that.

So there you go - have me bet on one thing? Uehara in to fill in that 8th inning role for say Cole and some A ball guy (Pivetta)? Voth+?

*Later in August - far after what I would consider the deadline - they'd do the funky DeJesus deal where they got him just to flip him. They'd also give up and send Suzuki back to the A's. 


SM said...

Is lack of a crafty, 40-year-old set-up man what ails this team?

Nattydread said...

Harper, compelling arguments. However, first, 3 years is quite a small sample size to draw real conclusions. Secondly, its hard to argue that any given move would change the odds of winning the WS --- your number one stated objective.

So take your argument. Its all about the WS. If you go down that road, then perhaps the best strategy would be to find out what Madison Bumgarner was doing during his playoff weeks last year and get the whole Nats team on the regime. He carried the Giants to the WS. I didn't see any fiddling with the roster -- it was a crap shoot.

But give Rizzo credit. Scherzer or Strasburger: Who would you really want to hand the ball to, and handle all of the complicated and heavy pressure of a couple of WS games? I thought so.

Harper said...

SM - he's not crafty. Well maybe he is but he K's a ton. He's not a game changer but he helps solidify the bullpen situation

ND - true but it's the only sample we have. I don't think it's hard to argue that it changes it - I think it's hard to argue that it changes it enough to matter... Still at this point even a possible increase is worth it to me, given that I do not feel confident at all about the Nats making playoffs next couple of seasons.

Kevin Rusch said...

Nutso suggestion - put Ross into the rotation and Fister in the bullpen? Fister's walking and is a grown-up - who cares about his development, and let's face it, the nats just need a 7th reliever who's better than Cole/de los Santos/et al, for 9 weeks. He'd probably get at most 18 appearances, and maybe 3-4 innings in some marathon extra-innings game. Isn't he likely to be better at the job than Treinen/Jordan/Hill/Grace/Cole/etc?

KW said...

FWIW, Papelbon vests for 2016 ($13M) with 55 games finished in 2015 (currently at 34) or 100 finished over 2014-15 (currently at 86). That all but guarantees that the Nats very likely would make him the eighth-inning guy and not let him close, which would probably make him mad. Of course any other team that gets him likely will do the same thing, as will the Phillies.

KW said...

I now see that Papelbon has vowed that he won't approve a trade to any team unless he thinks they will let him close. So close the door on that one.

cass said...

Papelbon has a no-trade clause and has said he'll veto a trade to a team that won't let him earn his vesting option. So that won't work.

Also, Ross is going to be shut down after 150-160 innings, so we can't replace Fister with him for very long.

Haven't found FIP for playoffs, but Scherzer has a 3.73 career playoff ERA. Strasburg's is 1.80 in his one playoff start. Just saying.

Harper said...

KR - I wouldn't bet on him being better. Not sure what Fister could add to pen. His stuff isn't swing and miss, but I guess maybe he'd adjust in pen? I think you'd almost rather have Ross go back to AAA stay ready to start in case of injury/sucking than make Fister a LR have him have to work back up... assuming you feel good about 2015 chances so that you don't need good #5 right now.

KW - He wants to close which makes it an issue. Phillies kind of forced to deal to Jays or Cubs, because his Papelbon-ness will turn others off. Phillies could though sit - move Giles to closer role. Usually manipulation to avoid payment gets everyone's danders up but if Papelbon is torpedoing trades with attitude no one will care.

Harper said...

cass - people are real high on Max crushing in the playoffs when he's kind of slowing down in late July.

John C. said...

I guess the reason that I don't anticipate the desperation overpay type of move is that (1) Rizzo is smart enough to see that that rarely works; and (2) I simply don't think the window is closing. Given the team they've put together I think the Nats are certainly in the playoff picture even with no moves, and with a couple of tweaks and some moderate good fortune would be WS contenders once again.

After 2016 will be some more serious turnover, with Strasburg, Storen and Ramos all eligible for free agency. But the team's moves in acquiring Scherzer, Ross and Turner all tell me that the Nationals believe that the "window" is open going forward and are making moves to keep it that way.

John C. said...

FWIW, no one is going to give up value for Fister unless and until he re-establishes himself - and at point he's valuable to the Nationals, too. Fister isn't going anywhere.

Froggy said... comments to the possibility of facing Clippard a bunch more times in a Mets uni for the rest of the season.

Also, Rizzo must do a deal that nets Kimbrel or Chapman. I don't see this as a bad problem as not only could two closer types finish, they could split the setup duties as well.

Froggy said...

...with Drew Storen of course. Just think, no more Barrett, Jansen, Thornton, or (insert AA ball pitcher du jour here)

Harper said...

JC - tossing Fister in the deal isn't for what we get back, it's in lieu of asking for cash.

Froggy - Lets see the Clippard trade happen first. Thornton isn't bad!

blovy8 said...

Cole back to Oakland for Clippard and his salary makes too much sense to happen, right?

blovy8 said...

Well, that and another guy, I suppose even at his current standing, Cole is maybe worth more.

Froggy said...

Well, looks like I was right about Clippard, and the Mets have not conceded the season to the Nationals.

What are your thoughts now Harper?

Bryceroni said...

Didn't really think that rizzo would bring clip back, but it is very bittersweet that he is a met now.

Upside: I will definitely cheer him when he takes the mound in a mets Nat's game.
Downside: then I hope he throws meatballs and can't control the change ;(

blovy8 said...

If Rizzo wanted him back, he could easily have beaten that deal without much pain. Now does that mean there's another target in mind, or that he really thought Clip would not be worth having in the BP for 2 mil?

BxJaycobb said...

Blovy8: Actually Rizzo couldn't have beaten the deal without much pain. Per Keith Law a number of other scouts on Fangraphs and elswhere, the Mets supposedly overpaid big time and gave up a minor league pitcher with No.2 upside who at worst is a back of rotation, to beat that deal would have meant somebody like Joe Ross. Eager to deal him for 2 months of a good not elite set-up man?

Harper: I'm surprised you're so sure the Nats window is closing. They have a top 5 farm system in baseball (per Keith Law) including a few possible studs. If you take the team from 2012-2014 and subtract Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister and Ian Desmond and Span from the best team in National League, and replace them with Scherzer (upgrade over Jordan), Ross (maybe approaches good Fister over next few years, Trea Turner (guy with supposedly fringe-y All Star upside who's likely to be decent regular), and Michael Taylor....I'm not sure you lose THAT MUCH, particularly when you consider you have the best pitching prospect in the minor leagues on the way. I definitely think the NL East and the NL as a whole has gotten better since the 2012-2014 time period, but I don't see any reason why the Nats can't compete with the Mets, Marlins, and Fish every year for the division through the Bryce-Rendon-Scherzer-Giolito era. No? For example, it's entirely possible Lucas Giolito either gets hurt, God forbid, or never quite matches the hype. It's also entirely possible that he becomes Gerritt Cole and thus ends up being better than any pitcher the Nats have had up until Max.

BxJaycobb said...

And with regard to players like Werth and Ryan Z's offensive production diminishing over next few years (definitely already happening and will continue to), I would bet that the value of BRYCE F'ING HARPER vs. 'bryce harper' basically makes up for that. (Just one example, if you take the difference in WAR between this year and last year's version of: Werth, Ryan Z, Span, and Bryce, you come out on top. That's how much of a monster we now have. He basically compensated for all the old guys getting old.

Harper said...

BX - All of what you say about the replacements may be true (maybe) but you ignore everything around them - a Ramos who clearly cannot hit, Espinosa likely playing over his head, a 37 yr old Werth coming back from injury, a 31 Zimm ditto - with worse injury history, a Strasburg that might have arm issues, a Gio becoming more inconsistent, a Roark who might not be the sure rotation arm everyone assumed he was, and also Bryce becoming BRYCE... The Nats have a wildly large variance going into the next few years. They could win 95 next year or 80 and I wouldn't be surprised. Problem is 80-90 gets you nothing.

blovy8 said...

Well, I don't think Meisner is all that. He was around their 15th best prospect, which seems pretty generous for a guy who doesn't really have a strikeout pitch yet. He doesn't throw hard, that's mostly about projection from his size so far, I've read that he doesn't even hold that velocity over a start, so there's still stamina issues. Law is comparing him to Chris Young, who landed in a bunch of places before he got it together. HE seems more like a Fistery player who needs a lot of things to go right, which is fine as a prospect, but not a high-ceiling guy either. The Fangraphs guy was a lot lower on him than Law, and a guy on BP saw him and wasn't impressed by any of his pitchers it seemed. He had mediocre peripheral numbers in High-A where they kind of aggressively promoted him I suppose, as he's only 20, but he was way down on their pitching depth chart. With Harvey, DeGrom, Syndergaard, Matz, etc. losing a guy like that is no pain at all for the Mets, and is a clear upgrade over their other late-inning guys. There were statistics that had Clippard as the most valuble set-up man for 2012-2014. Maybe he isn't that anymore, but with a little more control, and a few more grounders, he could be again.

blovy8 said...

Harper, you are pretty knee-jerk about saying guys can't hit. Wasn't it a few weeks ago that Desmond couldn't hit? Wasn't it only last year that Span should have already given way to heir apparent Michael A and was a big gaping hole in the lineup as a leadoff hitter who just HAD to regress to some kind of Nook Logany level? Ramos may never catch a throw home again, but I bet he'll hit some.

Harper said...

blovy8 - (1) I was pretty sure Ian would hit better. I held out for Ian for a very long time and was only in the past month planning for a "if he is still this bad when Rendon comes back" situation. That was the reality facing the Nats. I still had Ian starting too because I didn't/ don't trust Danny.

Taylor is a big unknown. He could be terrible. He could be very good. We don't know. We won't know even after this year. But the possibility he could be terrible has to be at least acknowledged.

Ramos is doing exactly what Ian is doing - regressing continuously - but he started from a lower point and doesn't offer any speed offensively (in fact his slowness is another mark against). We never got a good feel for Ramos because he never got to play everyday, but he is now and the feel is... eh, not a good hitter. He could have a year or two of merely below average in him, or not. I'm certainly willing to bet he won't hit above average for 90+ games the rest of his career.

blovy8 said...

What team doesn't have a variance? Even the Cardinals could suck. Well, if Satan forgets their deal for a year or something. Unless you're positioned to pay for your mistakes, I wouldn't count on anything even two years out.

Catchers aren't made to last, you have to expect attrition. Look at a guy like LuCroy. Unless they've got Bench-like skills, if they're any kind of hitter, teams try to play them someplace else early or late - like what happened with Harper and Werth before, and in the majors even with Posey. I'd say if you really want to replace Ramos, get a defense-first guy who's just above lousy with the bat with perhaps some potential, because of the young starters they'll be breaking in after Scherzer and Gio. Hell, Gio still needs a that. I'd settle for Lobaton playing more until you get that guy, I mean somebody has to make the last out. The infield is in pretty good shape with Rendon, Escobar, Espinosa, and Turner and Difo pushing for time soon. They have some time to fill in 1B and LF, which honestly ought to be the easiest places to get help offensively. I'm not expecting much from Skole in that regard, but he's around. Maybe you suffer Robinson's defense a couple of times a week. A free agent or two is still affordable, if you didn't want to touch the minors in a trade this offseason. They don't all have to turn out like McLouth. The pitching depth looks pretty good.

blovy8 said...

I disagree about Ramos, I would predict you'll see something in line with his past offensively, and acceptable for his position by the end of the year. For four years he hit about .265-.270 with kind of variable power that fell around average overall. I think catchers tend to be aggressive at the plate, so that lack of walks aren't a big deal to me. They don't run well either by and large. Ramos has hit some LOUD homers, maybe louder than Harper. It makes me believe the slugging potential is there. The real issue for me now, is his lack of movement behind the plate and never catching the frigging throws home. You can't have that.