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.