Nationals Baseball: Monday Quickie - Questions

Monday, July 13, 2015

Monday Quickie - Questions

Back at work and only a couple hundred of email to sort through. So while I do that you ponder the questions facing the Nats over the 2nd half of the year and we can meet back tomorrow to talk more about it.

1) When will all the guys come back from injury and is that even a good thing?

The Nats have five key players out right now in Stras, Werth, Zimm, Span and Rendon. They could all be back by the beginning of August, though there isn't a set timetable for anyone just yet. In theory that would be great but anyone that saw Werth and Zimm hit while they were "healthy" has to have reservations. After a strong start Span had hit an slappy .279 (.315 SLG) in his last 29 games. Rendon looked ok, but was failing to generate power. Strasburg looked good in his brief return but was really bad before that and the Nats have options at SP.

It's not hard to argue that having all these guys back may not actually help the team.

2) In the meantime, and after that, what to do about Desmond?

I like Ian and I don't think this is all about his skills eroding, so I think there will be bounce back, but there is no denying that he's been one of the worst offensive players in baseball for the past month and a half hitting .137 / .179 / .229 since May 29th.  That's a bat that is nearly impossible to keep in the lineup. There's an easy out if Rendon can ever come back healthy. As painful as it may be, sitting Ian for a Espinosa, Yuney, Rendon IF makes the most sense. But what if Rendon doesn't come back soon?

As long as the pitching remains strong, the Nats can carry Ian and that seems the likely scenario, but fans will be tempted by the do-it-all promise of Trea Turner sitting in AAA.

3) Any improvement to the bench?

If everyone comes back healthy and hits the Nats have a nice little bench there with Espinosa (let's say Ian is hitting in this scenario), Taylor, and Robinson along with the perfectly usable Lobaton. There's no need for another bat. But the opening phrase "if everyone comes back healthy and hits" is a pipe dream. So do they grab another bat in case everything stops falling in for Yuney and Danny cools and Robinson cools and they are left grasping at straws?

It's a difficult position for Rizzo, because you could be bringing in a guy that plays a couple weeks then rides the pine the rest of the year or he could be asked to bat 5th through the playoffs. The injury and play situations as it is right now leave both as distinct possibilities.  Trade big and you could waste a propsect. Trade little and you could waste a season.

4) What about the pen?

The Nats are having a devil of a time finding a bridge from starter to Storen. Going into July it looked like they were settling in on Janssen and Roark having major roles.  Which two relievers had the worst July? Roark (ok maybe not fair but true!) and Janssen. Every button Williams pushing ends up not working out. Perhaps that turns itself around by why not just give him a button that only ends up with success when you push it?

5) Can the rotation keep it up?

It was supposed to be potentially the best rotation ever, but it had a terrible time getting out of the gates. From Mid June through the holiday, however, the rotation put together a remarkable stretch that carried an offense that would start to falter again. It had a iffy last week before the break but if you ask baseball followers what they think they'd probably say that that run you saw was something that could easily be repeated. Will it though with Strasburg out and Fister yet to return to form (He and Roark put up the only non-good outings from the 19th of June to July 5th)?

6) Are the Mets legit threat or not?

This will be answered real soon as the Mets and Nats meet six times in the next 16 games. Just when you thought the Nats were pulling away, sweeping SF and putting 4+ games between them and the Mets with only unimpressive Cincy and Baltimore left before the break, they stumble and the Mets streak. The Nats have a dsitinct schedule advantage in the past two months. Outside of a 6 game LA/SF stretch in mid August and a STL series it's nothing but patsies and Mets from August on. Step on the Mets now and they should cruise. Let the Mets in and things may get interesting.

Yes, I will note at this point the Nats have improved to the point they could make the 2nd WC not winning the division, but who wants that?


Flapjack said...

Excellent questions.

Last year, measured by OPS, Werth (.849), Rendon (.824) and LaRoche (.817) were the Nats' best hitters. Zimm (.790) was marginally better than this year's best replacements, Robinson (.768) and Espy (.766). Last year's Desi (.743) was way better than this year's version (.589) (who, BTW, would not be in the majors if all we knew about him was his first half 2015 stats). This year's Span (.798) is slightly better than last year's version (.771), but basically the same guy. Escobar's bat (.776) almost replaces LaRoche's.

With this in mind, I'd say that getting Span and Rendon back in the lineup offers the best upside. Werth is going to need a long rehab in the minors and probably won't hit better than Taylor (.671) for a while -- though I'm guessing he could be productive again by mid-Sept. Zimm, given the nature of his injury and the importance of rest, might be a better bet coming off the bench, or at least not being used every day.

The real downgrade is Desi, who we had hoped to get a draft pick for when he leaves this off-season, but now wouldn't merit a 2016 offer based on his first half performance. That's one reason to keep betting on a second half recovery. The other is that he is capable of going on a tear.

Straus' last three outings confirm that, when well, he is indeed an elite pitcher, a stopper. Gonzalez (surprisingly) has been much better of late, too. Fister? It's not like he's going to start in the playoffs. He's probably fine as a fifth-in-the-rotation guy, but he'll need run support. The rotation is fine.

So that leaves question #4: the pen. There are guys out there, we all know who they are. The question really revolves around the details of a trade. Would we give up seriously valuable prospects (say, Cole and Difo) for Chapman, Papelbon or even Clip as a 3 month rental? I kind of hope not, but even that would better than giving up valuable talent for a second or third tier guy. Billy Beane picked our pockets with the Blevins for Billy Burns (303/340/399) trade. Now, if you could sign a guy like Chapman to a 2-3 year deal as part of the trade, that might work.

WiredHK said...

I think Rendon, Span and Stras will all help out a great deal once they are back and truly healthy (in that order). Werth and Zim will be trickier questions -- especially since they may appear back but not really be fully healthy (unsure Zim will ever even be back, really). I hope both get very long runways on their path back to play - there's no need to rush either one. Clint Robinson has been legitimately good so far and, even with a healthy team, he provides a really nice left-handed bat. I have no real desire to rush him out of the lineup. And Danny cannot sit, not with 2015 Ian here to stay. No, Danny should play no matter who comes back and when. He's earned it and proved it at this point. Ian can take some starts from him now and then, but Danny should be on point at SS.

The stretch coming out of the break for both the Mets and Nats should be very interesting. Both teams play each other as well as other good teams (LAD, SF, StL) for basically the first 5-6 sets. Hopefully Span and possibly Rendon are options sometime in that period, as well as Stras.

Bjd1207 said...

@Question 1 - Span and Rendon have definite impact. You touch on why Rendon is so important in question 2, namely to push Desmond out of the regular lineup. Someone pointed it out on the wnff forum the other day, but Dan freaking Uggla just improved his slash line up above Desmond. He's quickly heading toward the Mendoza line, and that's where he's unusable if he had all-star defense, not 18 errors. As for Span, not sure why you quote his slugging as that's not at all where his value is. He's also had a .376 OBP over that stretch which is invaluable in front of someone like Harper (or even Escobar this year). And I still trust him more than Taylor in CF as well.

Werth and Zimm are harder questions, but I think if they come back anywhere near their true form then they'll improve us, however so marginally. Dunno how long we can count on Clint's production, but if Zimm returns to anything but his 2015-self then he's good for a .270/.340/.450 slash line and his defense is wayyyy better than Clint/T-Mo at 1st.

Also Taylor has dropped off a bit in his power, which drags down his overall line. So getting a real Zim back would mean Clint in LF with Taylor as the defensive sub, which starts to make our lineup look real good with Rendon/Zim essentially replacing Desmond/Taylor.

Chaz R said...

I don't see a trade for a bat at this point. Rendon and Span will return soon and will strengthen the lineup. Now, where everyone plays is another important question. I could really see Danny at SS and Desi on the bench, but I doubt that will happen until Desi continues to deteriorate. They will give him (and probably should) a VERY long leash.

I think Rizzo will wait until August to see if Barrett's return helps, and whether Janssen can be consistently solid.

Max said...

1) I agree with all of the other comments thus far. I think Strasburg will become an exceptional #3 when he returns. Rendon will not be quite as good as last year, but still pretty damn good (with real potential to be hot when it most counts, like last year). Span will also have a lot of impact- he's so solid and I'm sad that he's probably gone after this year. I think Werth/Zimm are more of a concern, because they are guys that I think the Nats will be hesitant to sit, but I can see them really stinking for the rest of the year. Werth's timing never developed in the beginning of this year and Zimm never got his hitting back at the end of last year when returning from injuries. These two guys are also a big concern of mine for 2016 and beyond...

2) Poor Desi. I like him a lot, but my God this has been terrible. I think he still gets every opportunity to prove otherwise, but I will probably work himself into a PH role come October. Next year Espinosa is your starting SS until Turner is ready.

3/4) I prefer the "put all of your eggs in this season's basket" approach. I'd be willing to trade Difo and/or Cole for a decent bat and/or relief pitcher. We got Turner, Rendon, Zimmerman, Espinosa holding down the IF for the future (+ another year of Yuni). And we have Ross/Giolito/Roark to step into the rotation after the two FAs leave this year. IMO we have a surplus with Difo/Cole (although I don't know a whole lot about them so I could be underrating them) and I think they are worthy trade candidates in order to maximize this team. I know we have a lot of young talent, but I think this year is the year to go for it all.

5) Yes, yes they can.

6) Not yet, but I can see us sucking enough in the 2H with more injuries that they make it interesting.

SM said...

Your questions summarize the issues and concerns with the ballclub that have existed almost from the beginning of the season. What drives your blog's nation--federation? union? posse?--crazy is that there are no immediate or dramatic solutions forthcoming. We simply have to wait. Wait until the injuries heal, until (or unless) Desmond and the bullpen figure it out, until the Mets or Nats decide to make a move, etc.

Only time will settle most of the issues. It's just that we can't wait. It's what makes this blog--and following this team--such excruciating fun.

Nattydread said...

Consider also that any bat purchased or traded for --- likely at great cost --- could end up in the same heap as Werth, Rendon, Strasburg, Span or Zim. Between the 4 position players it's very likely that we will get the 2 superior bats this team needs to be a top contender. No sense wasting prospects right now. Bullpen, yes, something needs to get done....

Anonymous said...

When the Nats were fully healthy just without Rendon for a month, they went from 6 games under 500 to 9 games over. Im sorry, if they are somewhat healthy after the break, just like last year, they are easily the best team in that division. Hands down. No one in that division can match their rotation/lineup combo. I would just like to add one more reliever for the 8th inning. Health = Wins.

blovy8 said...

A bullpen arm is the most obvious thing, and almost every contender does it, so there's that. But it also means there are going to be too many teams close to contention to get a steal. It'll be another Carpenter-type DFA if history is a guide. To be honest, I'd still rather them get Cole used to being a 7th inning guy and let him throw 97 to both sides of the plate for an inning. Of course he's hurt, who isn't.

It seems to me they're going to want to find out if Werth, Rendon, Span, and Zim can play daily or near enough and if you trade for another starting position player, how do you do achieve that? The OF situation is such that maybe if Taylor were suckier you could see it, but I doubt you'd get enough upgrade to bother. Marginal guys are just that, and unless they're hiding some useful platoon skill, the demand in return isn't worth it to a team who has bench players performing pretty well right now in Taylor and Robinson, and even prospectively if you consider Desmond/Espinosa as a future one. Maybe there's a LH guy lying around to kick Moore off the bench if Desmond is sent there by August, but I doubt it. Barring some more trouble we already know the guys who will be getting the atbats are the same as who they thought would in April because the same guy is in charge, and the only calculus that's changed is perhaps the Desmond/Espinosa dynamic. This is just not a team that's going to fork out top prospects to have 12 capable everyday offensive players on the roster, it's not the Dodgers, and it's not a reasonable expectation to have. The other thing is, even if you get into the blockbuster market, the guys who are available are probably not only going to be expensive either in cash or prospects, but you will force a guy into a role they won't really be used to, i.e., part-time. If you think Werth was bad in April, imagine him as only getting part time work. Same with Zim, has there been a better "clutch" National with all the walk-off homers? Do you really want that guy not to hit in October? Seems to me we could have used him last year. Think about whether Zobrist at 34 is the guy you want at the plate instead. I don't feel better about it. He might not be a better hitter than Clint Robinson with regular at-bats at this point, fer cryin out loud.

Donald said...

It's hard to imagine the Nats sitting Werth or Zimmerman very much once they rejoin the team. Both are established veterans with long-term contracts remaining. That being said, there are just so many bats the team can carry who are trying to get their swings back. That puts Desmond into a difficult spot. The Nats really, really want him to get back in a groove to both help them this year and to get them a draft pick through a qualifying offer next year. But the longer it continues like this, both of those options drop off. And unlike Werth and Zim, they don't have anything invested in Ian for the long term. With the injuries to Rendon, Zim and Escobar, they won't trade Ian but they won't be able to keep playing him as is, either. Best case for Ian is that the all star break does him some good and he comes back refreshed and starting to get out of his slump. If that happens, when Rendon comes back, they find ways to keep everyone getting regular starts with days off. If Ian continues to slump, though, once Rendon is back, they need to find some 'lingering injury', previously undisclosed, that's been bothering him all year that he just needs time off on the DL to 'let heal'. Follow that with a long rehab assignment.

Harper -- what are the odds of Trea Turner getting a September call-up? They have to be better than 50%, right?

DezoPenguin said...

Bjd summed it up nicely for me. Rendon coming back and being the Singly Joe he was when he was there earlier this year is worlds better than Desmond, plus the Yuney-Espi-Rendon infield is much better with the glove. Even more so if Williams can somehow be persuaded to put Rendon at 3B and Yuney at 2B as was the actual frickin' plan going into this year. Span, again even without slugging, actually gets on base early and often, and you can't ask for much more out of a leadoff hitter unless the project to clone Tim Raines is coming along well. Span's return, moreover, pushes the functional 4th OF (Taylor) back to LF and Tyler Moore out of the lineup (always a good thing), or if Werth comes back functional makes Taylor the actual 4th OF. Strasburg was pitching well before he hurt the oblique, so that would be good, especially since there's always the chance the league will figure out Ross after a few starts or Williams will insist on using Jordan or something like that. Werth and Zim's return I'm mostly meh on. At least Zim was fielding his position well pre-injury?

As for players, I say bat first, bullpen second. I really think last year's KC pen is clouding our perceptions. Overpaying for a rental bat is one thing, but overpaying for a rental reliever? Jeff Bagwell-Larry Andersen is not something I want to recreate! And the problem isn't so much "we need a good reliever" as "we need the relievers we've got to pitch like they ought to, damn you sample size." It isn't that I wouldn't love Papelbon or Chapman or Kimbrel (though Kimbrel's April is a pretty good argument for "don't trade even for lights-out relievers," come to think of it), but the price isn't going to be worth the cost. On the other hand, a good bat either in the OF or IF (or, y'know, Brock Holt or Ben Zobrist) would be very likely to be extremely useful, simply because while we might get *some* of Rendon, Span, Zim, Werth, or Desmond back and/or playing well, we're not likely to get *all* of them (and for that matter, there's also the question of whether Ramos will somehow get through the season intact, or Escobar, Espinosa, or Robinson will somehow not turn back into pumpkins). The bullpen's full of "probablys" while the lineup is full of "maybes" at best.

What I would definitely not do is nibble. If they go after a bat, get a BAT, not Mark Trumbo. If they get a reliever, the *worst* one I'd consider is, well, Tyler Clippard.

Froggy said...

Get Papelbon!

Eat his salary and give him a new contract. Then our pen problems are 80% solved.

Jerry Crasnick's article

Bjd1207 said...

@Froggy - Yea I'd love to get Papelbon, but Amaro is a freaking moron and might ask for wayyyy more than we're willing to pay. He's already shown he'd rather let his dying assets rot on the shelf than take a deal that's not ridiculously 1-sided

John C. said...

Even putting aside the ridiculous price that the Phillies would likely insist on to trade Papelbon within the division, Pap is likely to be a problem also because he will insist on closing - he has a vesting contract clause for big money that hinges on his finishing games. And even when he is closing Papelbon is kind of a loudmouth malcontent and has a firmly established reputation as a clubhouse cancer type. Spending significant talent and contract assets in order to blow up the clubhouse for an incremental gain seems pretty foolish to me.

Anonymous said...

Rizzo should continue acquirng bullpen lottery tickets because they will hit eventually. And if treinen ever learns to command that sinker...

Froggy said...

John C., Although what you say might be right, it probably applies more to the pre 34 year old Papelbon, who has been on a couple of horrible, losing Phillies teams, and less to a guy who obviously wants the heck out of Pennsylvania.

Yes he would probably want to be the closer. So? The best man should be the closer. Besides, where does it say you can't have two legitimate closer-types in the pen?

Additionally to the point as to the 'malcontent-ish' label, something tells me guys like Werth and Zimmerman could aid in curbing that kind of behavior.

Finally, playing with a team like the Nationals might be close to his last chance to go to another WS.

I'm just looking at the upside is all.