Nationals Baseball: Offseason Position Discussion : First Base

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Offseason Position Discussion : First Base

Presumed Plan : Ryan Zimmerman will play 1B backed up by Clint Robinson

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : When healthy Ryan Zimmerman can hit. He put up a .249 / .308 / .465 line this year, which in the ever declining offensive climate was above average. Assuming that was at least partly injury related it's fair expect a minor bounce back to his normal numbers. Say around .270 with 20ish homers in the baseball of today. That's good enough to play everyday on pretty much any team.

Because of various injuries Ryan Zimmerman can't play 3B anymore and given that the injuries are primarily throwing related, it makes the most sense to play him at 1B. He flashed some D, reminding us of his 2007-2010 heyday, but wasn't as adept as we probably hoped. Though that was almost certainly injury related.

Possibly most importantly Ryan stands to make 14 mill for the next 3 years and 18 mill after that. Those types of players play unless they are so bad you start to talk about sunk costs. Ryan isn't bad at all.

Clint Robinson, one of those career minor leaguers who hit well but for various reasons get blocked from getting a chance in the majors (calling Mr. Short, calling Mr. Rick Short), finally got his chance and hit in the majors as you'd expect. .272 / .358 / .424. Perfectly acceptable number for a full time player and a boon to be able to have on your bench.  He's nothing special at first, but he can play the position and his lefty bat makes a good back-up for Ryan Zimmerman.

Other options are limited. Tyler Moore once again put up a terrible year in a bench role. Even if you believe he can hit, it's clear that he cannot be a bench player. As of today he can't push out either Ryan or Clint so unless both Zimm and an OF get injured he won't see consistent playing time. In other words, the place for him here no longer exists.

In the minors, they were keen on slugger Matt Skole, but an injury set back his career. As of last year he was putting up numbers in AAA that suggested at least another year there was probably the best course of action. If that doesn't excite you, I've got bad news for you. He's probably the best 1B prospect in the Nats system (they do have some players! Just not C & 1B)

Problems with Presumed Plan : Ryan Zimmerman can't stay healthy. He played 95 games this year, 61 last year, which combined isn't even a full season. His shoulder forced him off of third and along with that he fractured his thumb, strained his right hamstring, suffered from plantar fascitis, and strained his oblique. That's just in the past 2 years and doesn't cover the injuries that caused him to miss 60 games in 2008, or 60 games in 2011. Relying on Ryan Zimmerman at age 27 off of his second season with big time missed to injury was risky. Relying on Ryan Zimmerman at age 31 off of his fourth, the last two which were back to back is close to insane.

Plus while Ryan has been hitting when in the line-up he has been trending down, as you'd expect from a player his age. The trend doesn't suggest a bottoming out but he could easily just be average this year and a first baseman hitting average isn't a positive. His decent numbers this year ranked 13th in OPS for NL first basemen with at lesat 350 PAs. 

Clint Robinson is a good back-up but since last year was his first full year in the majors we really don't have any security that he can repeat it. He is also going to be 31 next year (he's only 6 months younger than Ryan) so he too should be starting the downside of his career. And again - for a 1B his numbers are below average (he ranked 12th)

Still most of us have liked what we've seen from Clint, but his overall usefulness creates another problem. If the Nats lose an OF, it's likely that Clint would be first one in line to replace them as well leaving less security behind Zimm.

My take : What are you going to do? (I hope not to say that again). The Nats problems are ones of uncertainty. As I talked about during the trade deadline, if all these guys, or even most, come back healthy and hit, then the Nats are fine. But if they don't, the Nats need help. The question is, do you want to potentially waste money/talent, or potentially waste a season? The Nats chose to potentially waste a season and successfully wasted it.  The same issues face them going into next season though right now at a lesser degree than to start 2015.

Unlike Werth or Rendon, Zimmerman ended the season injured and has missed a ton of time for two straight years. He's simply unreliable. The Nats should move on... but they can't. Even though his contract isn't onerous, they can't deal him because of the injury history. He has to stay. If he has to stay, he's good enough when healthy to have to play, and he can only play first so end of story. At least the offense isn't as bad as you might think from the raw rankings. (which is why I tell you to never rely on rankings without looking at the numbers) Zimmerman (and Robinson) are really 4th tier firstbaseman, below average but not so terrible.

Robinson makes sense as a back-up both in handedness and skill.

Unlike catcher, there is a potential FA that could make a big difference here in Chris Davis. The sheer power that he represents makes him a likely upgrade even if Zimmerman is healthy. He'd also represent a big lefty bat to protect Bryce. But he'll be costly and at some point his inability to make contact (3rd worst in majors last year) is going to catch up with him. Will it be at age 30 or age 34? That's the question. And if you do sign him, then what happens to Zimm? Super sub? Then what happens to Clint?

The Nats are in a bad position. They almost have to go with Zimm and Robinson and it's almost sure not to work in a way that the position will be a plus for the Nats. 

Outside the Box Suggestion :

Unless the Blue Jays for some reason want to part with Encarnacion (who will be a FA after 2016) there isn't much available in trade. Votto is great but that contract is crazy and the rest that are noticeably better than Zimm aren't going to be traded.  Hosmer maybe? I don't know. I don't see a good trade here that makes the Nats better at first.

So don't get better. Stay neutral. Trade Zimmerman for parts and insert Robinson in at first.  I said Zimm was untradeable but that just meant no one was going to eat his full contract. The Nats will have to pay for some of it. But if they do eat some of it, they'll free up room in general. Where do you trade Zimm? To a team in the AL that's unhappy with their 1B/DH situation and is looking to win sooner rather than later. Houston is an interesting case, full of young talent and iffy in those positions. But I think the best fit would actually be our old friends in Seattle.  Logan Morrison and Mark Trumbo are both meh at best and they don't necessarily have a lot of near-ready talent in the pipeline. So Zimm fits the bill for a team trying to get something out of the Cruz signing and Cano before he might fade into nothingness.

What can the Nats get for Ryan? Whoever the Nats want to take a gamble on. The Mariners have a lot of "should have been good"s that haven't panned out yet. While I don't see then getting a pitcher from the Mariners, Seattle does have a depth of seemingly failing power hitting OFs that the Nats could probably snag a couple of and kind of need. If you believe that Seattle is flawed in developing hitting talent (and it's not a crazy belief) then maybe you get a currently disappointing duo and hope the Nats can do something with these guys. (and maybe Rizzo mind controls them into giving up Tijuan Walker)

At this point you have to think because of injuries and now age Zimmerman could be a big nothing for the rest of his contract. As painful as it might be, you could argue it's time to cut bait. It may be he can't get back much this offseason, but another 70 game season in 2016 and you might not be able to get anything.


Anonymous said...

Zim has a no-trade, right (either through a contract or through 10-5 rights)? That makes a trade more complicated.

Bote Man said...

Because of various injuries Ryan Zimmerman can't play 3B anymore and given that the injuries are primarily throwing related...

Zim throws with his feet? His hamstrings??

Harper said...

Anon - yes. We're going for ideas out of LF at that point, but you're right - any trade of Zimm is going to be hard. Given he's a VA kid and has only played for this organization it almost has to be a trade to a WS contender as part of a rebuild that will make him give up those rights.

Harper said...

Bote Man - You throw with your whole body! That's why you never made the big time, Bote! Always trying to arm those throws !

The injury that moved him off of third was his shoulder. That's the point I was getting at - but yeah that's not exactly what I wrote there.

Chaz R said...

Realistically, I just don't see them trading Zim. He's the "Face" for chrissakes! He's likely to be good enough and barely healthy enough to keep and play as much as possible. CRob is a decent back-up; all not preferable but certainly passable, and they have greater needs.

SM said...

Encarnacion would have been a nice addition at the trade deadline, had the the Jays not been contending.

A year older than Zimm, he isn't exactly an ace defender. The Jays acquired Justin Smoak as a late-inning defensive replacement and occasionally platoon him. Plus, the Jays have the option--and use it--to deploy Encarnacion as a DH (85 of of the 144 games he played this year.)

I'm not sure if plantar fasciitis can be labeled a "fluke injury." But if it can, one can't say Zimm is plantar-fasciitis-prone. (Then again, maybe he is.)

Maybe the Nats need a yoga instructor to complement their fitness regimen. Or hope Zimmerman's 2016 season is defined by fluke health.

Donald said...

If the Nats think they can compete next year, then I don't see them starting Robinson all year and dumping Zim for prospects. Dealing him would have to be part of a bigger rebuilding effort. It sounds like they are on the fence about whether that's what they need to do or not. But the NL East still isn't going to be very good next year, so it seems most likely they split the difference and put out a decent team while hoping for the best. That means sticking with Zim who has a lot of upside, though he will almost certainly not reach it due to injuries.

Also, I don't know that Zim would accept a trade, particularly to a west coast team. It would be a pretty tough sell.

Anonymous said...

Out of the box idea: give Werth a 1b glove for Christmas, make him learn the position, and then go out and find a middle-of-the-order OF bat. The theory: Werth and Zim both are injury prone and appear to be declining, yet have contracts we can't do much about. For reasons you say, we can't upgrade 1b. Yet there is a real prospect that Zim (or Werth) loses substantial time to injury. Bank of 1 of them being able to play 1b at any given time, with CR as back-up. Assuming both are healthy, then Werth is the 3.5th outfielder. If Werth can play 1b--and given his statute-esque appearance in the OF lately, it may do him well--that gives us much more flexibility when the inevitable injuries occur. And it makes it more palatable to get a middle of the order OF bat this off season.

SM said...

How about a not-out-of-the-box idea: What if Robinson is injured?

The more you drill down into this team, Harper, the more it appears the Nats have painted themselves into a corner.

Mattyice said...

I think Rizzo also needs to save some of his budget for in season upgrades. For the past couple of years we have heard and seen how the nats can't make big in season moves because Lerner doesn't want to add to the payroll. At some point (hopefully now) Rizzo has to accept this and instead of maxing out payroll over the off-season save some money for an in season addition. Not sure if the Lerners' would go for this, but especially with this injury riddled team, some in season flexibility is highly important.

Hoo said...

I feel so old with Zim now labeled injury prone. This was a guy that at one pt had one of the longest game streak records and was noted for his durability. Which helped add to all the Ripken comparisons.

Now's he Nick Johnson. I blame Acta.

Froggy said...

The Zimster is going no where thank you very much. Robinson did a fine job filling in and IMO has earned his right to play a sophomore year here (or somewhere else) but I do like the idea of Werth transitioning over to first. (or firstbase coach)

Harper, since a reoccurring theme has been the propensity (or is it preponderance?) of injuries to players on this team, I'd be curious to hear your take on the Nats fitness / training staff, etc. Or did they get pink slips as well?

msl said...

It's easy to identify the problems with this team-it's a lot harder to rectify them. For Rizzo to go to the Lerners and try to convince them to either allow him to sit Werth, Zimmerman and Papelbon or unload them where the Lerners eat the contracts would be the death knell for him. The only GM that I can think of who did this is when Theo Epstein came to the Cubs and got rid of those terrible contracts. This would signal that the Nationals were in full rebuilding mode and perhaps this is the approach they should go in. I don't think that the players they have are capable of winning the world series. There are too many deficiencies that need to be addressed. They can be competitive with what they have but remember the Braves, Marlins, and the Phillies are in rebuilding modes and sooner or later so will we. I guess the question is are you content to win the NL east and make an early exit or be like the Astros, Cubs and Royals and develop great young talent where you are in a position to be vying for the World Series for a number of years.

blovy8 said...

I think you're kidding yourself if you believe you're guaranteed durability out of any baseball player. The biggest weaknesses are LH hitting beyond Harper and the bullpen. Robinson looks to be a solid LH hitter. The third guy ought to really have another position as his focus before 1st - if you start complaining about needing a third option there before you have enough options for getting outs in the 6-9 innings, you're in serious trouble. Zim will have four months to put his feet up, with any luck (yeah, I know, there is no such thing as luck), he can deal with it like Pujols did. You can be pretty sure he'll pick up an injury here and there, but hey, we still have a whole offseason to get another perennial AAAA guy who just needs a chance. With another few months of rest maybe Zim's shoulder will get well enough to play left field again...

Already in March 2016 mode, that's just crazy talk.

ProphetNAT said...


"I guess the question is are you content to win the NL east and make an early exit or be like the Astros, Cubs and Royals and develop great young talent where you are in a position to be vying for the World Series for a number of years."

Isn't this exactly what we did from 2011 to now? Currently, 5 of our 8 starting position players are homegrown. 2 of our 5 rotation guys are homegrown (you can throw in Roark there as well to make it 3 of 5). Every bullpen arm aside from Thornton and Papelbon is homegrown. Not sure what you are suggesting we do... In 2012, we WERE what the Astros, Cubs, Royals (insert homegrown rising talented team here) came to be.

Donald said...

The thing about the Nats is that they have a chance to be really good, assuming they just fix the bullpen. Harper could have as good or better year than 2015. Rendon could return to form and compete with him for MVP. A healthy Strasburg and Scherzer could be as good as any 1-2 starters in baseball. Zim could stay healthy and play gold-glove defense at 1st while hitting 20 hrs. Turner could turn out to be a spark who hits .300 and steals 40 bases. The reality, though, is that it's not very likely to happen. But it's tough to go into a full rebuild mode when there's a chance the team could win 95 games next year. The problem is the odds of that happening are probably less than 20%. But probably not much less than that?

Harper -- what do you think the odds are of the Nats winning 95, 90, 85 or 80 games next year with just shoring up the bullpen and making minor moves? It seems like most teams that rebuild, do so when the odds of them winning much above .500 are pretty minuscule.

DezoPenguin said...

Apparently the Nats gave Dusty Baker a five-hour interview today, involving not only Rizzo, but members of the Lerner family, per Ladson on Twitter.

The only way in this would be less of a train wreck than bringing Williams back is that...I dunno, maybe they don't disrespect him enough to choke each other mid-game? My God, I thought Rizzo was at least brighter than "Hurr hurr hurr, math are hard!" I don't WANT my favorite team to become the Kevin Towers Diamondbacks!

Josh Higham said...

@DezoPenguin For real, kill me now if Rizzo is about to hire Dusty "MW without upside" Baker. Hire someone who meets at least one of the following criteria:
a) knows how to use pitchers
b) is not geriatric
c) has a World Series ring as a manager

Any one of those would be fine, and all three rule out Dusty.

ProphetNAT said...

Its all about expectations guys. Its also hard not to buy into the hype your favorite team receives. Problem is, whether we have a level-headed outlook or not, the players need to feel that way too. Get excited for Bryce and Max next season as they are sure to dominate. Get excited to watch Turner grow as a professional. Aside from that, everything is up in the air. Things could go great, like Donald said, and they win 95 games, or it could go really south (see 2015). Just be prepared for both and don't be surprised when either happens.

Also, as a baseball fan base, we haven't felt ANY pain compared to about 80-90% of the rest of the league. If you're not a Cardinals, Giants or Yankees fan, chances are that things have been rough for you and your team. The Nats, and our 10 (TEN!) year history need some sour before we taste the sweetness of the postseason.

blovy8 said...

The fact you only cite 10 years of history is telling. I would contend that a significant portion of even that limited period was plenty sour - from 2006 until DJ comes in 2011, where, just for one example, you had your team president begging Philly fans to come to the ballpark. I don't think it's fair to not include the 1/3 of a century where there was no baseball at all in DC. The history of the city for baseball is such that it's been 82 years since a world series appearance. The history of the franchise we received is doomed enough that the best chance at a championship club came when the strike happened and the world series was cancelled. Just like getting a good team together just to have it stripped away by Minnesota for an expansion one, and then losing that one too. No, not sour at all. Anyone who's lived here for any period of time would be hard pressed not to think of pretty much everything up to 2012 as sour unless they're over 90.

John C. said...

msl said:

I guess the question is are you content to win the NL east and make an early exit or be like the Astros, Cubs and Royals and develop great young talent where you are in a position to be vying for the World Series for a number of years.

In addition to the point that prophetNAT made earlier - that the Nationals are in a position to be vying for the World Series for a number of years (that vying just hasn't gotten them there yet), I will point out that no particular level of talent puts a team into a better chance than simply being the "win the NL East" team. This is the "postseason is a crapshoot" reality. You can win 116 games and not make the WS (hello 2001 Mariners) or win 82 games and make it (1973 Mets).

Anonymous said...

@JohnC Why are the Astros, Cubs, In Royals in a good Position, but the Mets aren't with Harvey, deGrom, Syndergaard, Matz, Wheeler who are all only going to get better, Conforto, and soon to come Dominic Smith, Brandon Nimmo, players like D'Arnaud and Flores who are just getting started with getting experienced?

SM said...

@Anonymous 11:17

@John C. needs no defending but . . . if you sit up straight and read carefully, you'll see he was responding to @msl.

Yes, the Mets appear to have a limitless upside. No one disagrees. But John C.'s point stands nonetheless.

DezoPenguin said...

Getting back to the original issue raised by Harper, I'm not actually all that down on the default plan for 1B. Zim, when healthy, is an adequate hitter and defender, possibly even a good one. Robinson was a perfectly adequate backup next year, and of all the positions on the diamond, finding a replacement for 1B that doesn't completely suck (not a "star," just "not sucky") is probably the easiest thing to do on a National League roster (heck, if you look at Jeff Zimmerman's work this year on the DH penalty, it's quite likely that it's no harder than replacing a hurt DH).

Moreover, Zim's contract, as noted, makes him hard to move. His history with the team makes him hard to move. And while he's been injured repeatedly over these last few years, it's not like those injuries have been related to each other. The shoulder did not lead to plantar fascitis.

Furthermore, replacements that are clearly better than Zim are relatively few and far between. Replacements that are better than Zim's upside are basically nil. Unless we have blackmail material that would make the Cubs give us Rizzo or the D'Backs Goldschmidt, of course. (Votto's clearly a better player, but comes with that albatross of a contract. Maybe Greg Bird of the Yankees?)

Actually, it's too bad that the Yankees don't want to trade their prospects, and that we really don't have anything to trade them that they'd want, 'cause a deal for, say, Bird/Heathcott/Sanchez would be the kind of thing we could really use to strengthen our team.

The problem with Harper's outside-the-box idea is that it involves paying money to replace our current Risk A with a different Risk B. I want to replace risk with near-certainty, not with different risks, especially if we don't even get salary relief, because risk and uncertainty is the basic problem with the Nationals' roster as currently constructed. (I wouldn't mind trying this with Werth, because his risks are much higher--age AND injury--but the question of who'd take him for any value at all is trouble.)

John C. said...

Thanks SM. Yeah, my point had pretty much nothing to do with the Mets. Not sure how anonymous went there.

ProphetNAT said...

Not to beat a dead horse, but last night Terry Collins had Syndergaard warming up as early as the 2nd inning. He finally came in to pitch the 7th - a hitless inning. In a game in early August against the Mets, Williams put Thornton in after warming up repeatedly throughout the game, only to come in the next day - Thornton blew it on a costly HR by Duda. Many fans and other players on the Nats believe Thornton was fatigued from excessive throwing in the bullpen from the day before, and Williams blunder cost us that game. Now compare that with Syndergaard, warming up excessively as well. One succeeded, one did not. This is not the managers fault. If Syndergaard collapsed and gave up a few runs, Collins would be lynched for a terrible bullpen move, and ultimately losing the NLDS. These things can either have success or blow up in your face, and it is all on the players executing. We aren't going to win the WS because we get Bud Black, Cal Ripken, or Casey Stengel. Players need to thrive in the moment and we haven't done that when it matters, unfortunately.