Nationals Baseball: Offseason Position Discussion : Outfield

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Offseason Position Discussion : Outfield

Presumed Plan : Werth in left. Bryce in right. While there's a small chance they offer a QO to Span, his injury situation and the cost (almost 16 mill) make it more likely that they don't. There's also a possibility they re-sign Span, but the deal would have to be cheap and short so again, more likely that they don't. That leaves Michael Taylor in center as the most likely scenario. Backing them up will be Clint Robinson and Matt denDekker probably has the inside track for the 5th OF spot.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : Bryce plays. If I have to explain that to you I'm not sure why you are reading this.

Werth plays. Ignore the contract for a second. Werth hit well above average in 2012-2014. 2015 wasn't good but at the same time after returning from injury he hit for power and walked a fair amount. The former was a big worry as injuries can sap power pretty easily and had done it to Werth during his first comeback in 2015 and times before. So assuming he can boost that average back up he'll be a good hitter and worst case he'll be a prime Danny Espinosa, who was a useful piece. Also he's paid a ton to play. 

You would prefer if Werth, who is aging, didn't have to play outfield, but 1B is unavailable and there is no DH so you work with what you have.

Span was a key figure for the Nats the past 2 seasons, hitting better than anyone expected he could in 2014 and giving the Nats solid CF defense. However this past season was almost a complete wash as hip and core issues made him miss 100 games. A qualifying offer is tempting as it would only bind the Nats to Span for a single season. However that is a lot of money to throw at a guy who couldn't get on the field for a number of reasons. Also his defense is likely slipping a bit due to age so a lot of his value is going to be maintaining that offense. He was able to do it while playing in 2015, but that's still a gamble. A FA deal would produce a number more in line with what he'd get on the FA market but it would also almost certainly have to be multiple years, which the Nats don't want to give thinking Taylor at most needs one more year. So the easiest thing to do is let Span walk.

Michael Taylor played CF for most of the year and was excellent in the field. He struggled a fair amount at the plate but that was his first full season. Expectations are that he'll improve over time and he showed a nice tendency for hits in big situations. Whether that's repeatable or not (likely not) you'd still rather see that than the alternative.

Problems with Presumed Plan : Bryce is not a problem.  

When I say we'd rather have Werth not play outfield that isn't a minor concern. He's been flat out bad since 2012 and last year was bordering on terrible. Is it the jumps? The legs? I don't know. What I do know is that Werth in LF means more hits dropping in than should and a necessity that the CF be a very good fielder.  The other issue with Werth is the same as has been for a while. He's injury prone playing 81, 88, and 127 games in 3 of the last four years, and he's not getting any younger. Chances are very good another couple of nicks and bumps take away 40+ games from him in 2016 and the wrong nicks and bumps could severely effect his offense which is the only reason to play him.  Last year was bad, but there's legit potential for far worse.

It's quite possible that Michael Taylor will never really hit in the majors. He had that extremely high strikeout rate in the minors that serves as a red flag. It's common for guys like that to end up being AAAA players, who look good mashing minor league pitching but can't get over the hump to be consistent in the majors. And while he has nice power the guys who swing and miss like him tend to have great power. Will it develop? That's still a fair question, but Taylor isn't a young kid anymore. He'll be 25 to start next year and should be beginning to peak. The Nats can afford a question mark bat like his in the line-up if everyone is healthy, but if not he helps create a hole.

My take : Bryce plays

The rest of the OF is a puzzle that offers one reasonable solution. Werth pretty much has to play. I think that even ignoring the contract. If he didn't show power at the end of the year things might be different but he hit with pop all through August and September so the potential is still high that he can have a very good offensive season. As long as that potential is there and reasonable, you have to play him.

If you have to play Werth you need a CF who can compensate for him in the field and as of today Taylor is a better choice for that than Span. I think Span could do the job, but given the trajectory of his defensive stats, his age, and his injury status, I can't go beyond "I think". Taylor, on the other hand, young and healthy and with the experience of 2015 under his belt (and better stats) I feel strongly would be able to do it. His offense is a problem yes, but he was a real prospect in the minors and deserves a real shot. There were flashes last year and it's quite likely he just tired out at year's end. As late as the first week of September he was simply "below average" and only a three week collapse (.151 with 1 double to end year) dropped him to terrible. Plus the Nats don't have any other good CF options or really any good OF options in the minors, so it behooves them to find out sooner rather than later if Taylor is their guy. Another half-to-full season of starting would help clear that up.

If Taylor is the starter, than there is no reason to keep Span around. I find it really hard to commit either a ton of money or a couple years to Span given that he broke, then broke again, then broke again, and I think broke one more time in a 12 month time frame. I'd offer something team-favored (say 1 yr, 8-10 million with a team option for a 2nd year) and if he takes it great. Taylor can bench it for a year (or as long as everyone is healthy and hitting). If he doesn't, so be it.

Clint Robinson is a good hitter, bad outfielder but passable for most situations. The worst case would be Bryce moving to CF and Clint and Werth on the corners but you'd probably even take that if those three were all hitting. denDekker isn't the plus CF you really want as a 5th OF, but he's solid and hit ok to end the year. If it's him or if it's not it doesn't terribly matter... wait

See this is the trap we fell into last year. Lots of questions, but treating the bench the same. No. It has to be different in this year. If Span is here than Taylor and Robinson are a fine bench. They have complimentary skills and potential to do well in long stints. But if Span isn't here that puts more pressure on the bench and by going with denDekker you make your bench weaker. (Plus we haven't even considered the real possibility that Robinson will be playing first at some point for Zimm) No. The Nats either bring back Span, using the QO or getting him in a cheap deal, or they sign a guy who would be a 4th OF for their 5th OF. Byrd, De Aza, Rajai Davis. Or they do something the equivalent of getting Span, like signing Parra. That's gotta be the way.

Outside the Box Suggestion : Bryce wants to play CF. He is motivated to play CF. Oddly he doesn't seem to suffer when he's put in CF despite corner OF stats that suggest he would. So play Bryce in CF. Like name Bryce the CF and then go out and get a huge corner lefty-hitting OF bat. Take a chance on Jason Heyward, who's entering his prime and can field so Bryce can shift over near Werth.  Go out and get Cargo from the selling Rockies.

Remember Bryce is likely here for only 3 more years. There needs to be a plan to be playoff competitive over that time frame. You aren't going to have that type of player fall into your lap again.


Chaz R said...

I really don't see Taylor as the everyday CF yet. He certainly deserves some starts, but Taylor and denDekker as the 4a and 4b OF, and getting one of the available FA OF would seem to be the way to go if you truly want to contend next season. Clint can play some in LF, but I tnink he would be best primarily in a LH bat off the bench and sub for Zim at 1B. Heyward, Upton, Gordon are all available, let's get one of these guys and you have legitimately solid MLB OF.

HammerAce said...

Go get CarGo from the Rockies, make Taylor and denDekker the 4th and 5th outfielders to take over when Werth goes down with an injury.

Anonymous said...

As I said during the 1b discussion, I think (a) we need to get a big outfield bat, and (b) have Werth learn to play a passable 1b. That provides insurance in the event that either Werth or Zim is injured. And it provides us an outfield boost. Plus, if Taylor struggles, then can move Bryce to CF. A big OF corner bat, who can play better defense than Werth, should be a top priority for this off season.

DezoPenguin said...

Werth is my #1 pick for riskiest problem with this team. He's bad on defense, he's blocked by Zim and Robinson in moving to the infield (and hasn't played it before; at least Zim can field the position well), and his bat comes with both age and injury risks instead of just injury risks. Plus he's being paid a ton.

I actually love Harper's outside-the-box suggestion here. Put Bryce in CF. Sign Heyward, whom I have loathed for years because (a) he was Brave, then a Cardinal who played well for said teams, and (b) has been slobbered over by the media, first the mainstream media who were all certain he'd be the next Mike Trout, then the stathead media when he stopped hitting because hey, his magic glove makes him an uber-superstar even when he doesn't hit. Then this year he started hitting again. And he's still young. He's as reliable a bet as you can get on the market, and more reliability in this lineup is a goal in and of itself. Plus, as noted, his stellar defense would help cover for Bryce's inexperience in CF and allow Bryce to help shade to protect Werth in LF. This also gives us Taylor and Robinson as OF 4-5, and that's a combination that's pretty useful.

Better yet, we keep Taylor and den Dekker as OF, pretend Robinson's a pure 1B guy on the roster list although not when making up the lineup card, and get Tyler Moore the heck out of there completely. If Taylor's not starting, he can strike out and hit for power as well as Moore can (conveniently, both are righty bats), and unlike Moore, he can also defend so as to make a double-switch, say with Werth, a worthwhile move.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the analysis. The Nats' big problem during this run is that there has been no clear place to upgrade the lineup without making dramatic changes, e.g., trading Desmond or Ramos. There has been a hole at 2B for the last two offseasons, but there has been really no way to make a significant offensive upgrade at 2B. I suppose Zobrist would have come close to doing that.

Now with Span a free agent, the best way the team can upgrade the lineup dramatically is to move Bryce to CF. Good hitting corner OFs are available. I like Gordon quite a bit, but the best target has to be Heyward because of his age (Gordon is older than Ryan Zimmerman). Also he's certainly capable of filling in at CF if that becomes necessary. I like Cespedes/Upton less than Gordon or Heyward, but they may be more affordable.

Signing a corner OF would probably make Taylor a valuable trade piece. A cost-controlled CF who has proven to be a plus defender and has star upside is very valuable.

SM said...

Looks like your Outside-The-Box suggestion is everyone else's Inside-The-Box suggestion.

Let's say, though, the Nats decide to give Taylor a half-season or so to determine if he's a proven big league starter. If doesn't pan out, and the Nats are contending, does that mean a dramatic, trade-deadline acquisition to replace him?

But if he doesn't pan out, but the Nats are out of it--and not necessarily only because of Taylor--then what would their choices be?

Or what if Taylor does improve significantly, but the Nats are out of contention?

It just seems like Taylor may be saddled with an unfair burden. The success or failure of the Nats, as this blog's commentators have anguished over ceaselessly, is hardly dependent on Taylor. (In fact, today's blog points that out yet again.)

If, however, the team has decided a power hitting--preferably left-handed--outfielder is what they need and Taylor is the odd man out, then they'll the Nats will have to act fairly quickly. It also means they will have already made up their minds about Taylor's potential.

Considering how restricted the team is given the Werth and Zimm contracts, there is no Inside- or Outside-The-Box. They're in a steel drum.

KW said...

Taylor struck out in 33% of his ABs (31% of his PAs). That's a staggering amount. Love his defense and his power potential, but the K's are a black hole.

As much as I like the general thought of CarGo's LH bat, here are his numbers away from Coors in 2015: .243/.294/.464. He's also owed $37M over the next two years. If you're going to invest that much scratch, spend it on someone younger, like Upton or Heyward (not Cespedes, who is too inconsistent and tends to wear out his welcome).

While Heyward's LH bat would be helpful, he doesn't have the power the Nats need for someone to bat behind Bryce. (His OPS/OPS+ numbers are actually pretty close to Span's.) Upton does. Not many teams would pitch around Bryce to face JUp.

With Span now a Boras client, I don't think he'll come back at a price that the Nats would be willing to pay, considering his injury and aging concerns.

Who else might be on the market? Bruce? Maybe Puig?

Here's what is perhaps the bottom line: unless the Nats can get a hitter formidable enough to bat behind Bryce, my guess is that they'll probably stick with Werth/Taylor/Harper.

Anonymous said...

I actually quite like Taylor's potential. He reminds me a lot of Desmond - toolsy, good power, up the middle position, with contact problems. Like Desmond, he really does have star potential. The problem is that his variance is quite high. Unplayable and 5-WAR are both somewhat likely outcomes for Taylor.

The difference is that the 2010-2011 Nats could absorb Desmond's struggles and wait for him to turn into a star. The 2016 Nats are in an entirely different position. Even though I believe in Taylor's potential, I wouldn't be surprised if it doesn't really happens for him until 2018. The advantage somebody like Heyward or Gordon has over Taylor is in certainty.

KW, I'll take another good hitter in the lineup regardless of whether he has sufficient power to "protect" Bryce. Heyward gets on base. If he hits in front of Bryce and gets on base, that will make pitchers have to pitch to Bryce too.

Donald said...

Questions -- if they offered Span a QO, would he take it? He'd be the first player to do so, but I think he might. If there's a QO anyone signing him would give up a draft pick which would depress his market quite a bit. Just curious, as I don't think they'll offer one for him.

With the proposed plan of having Harper, Werth and Taylor, how does that compare to the Mets? I assume they will have Granderson, Conforto and Lagares as their starters.

Nattydread said...

Also like the outside the box solution. An impact bat is sorely needed and the most realistic spot is corner outfield. I worry that both Robinson and Taylor might regress but at least Taylor can play D,

Francis P said...

Bryce is what makes the 2016 Nats unique in all of MLB, so the team's priority should be to maximize the benefits he brings. That means, to me, having a strong hitter behind him - he said it himself, it's what he wants and thinks he needs, and he's right. So the Nats should go get the best (outfield) hitter on the market; he doesn't have to be LH, in fact it's probably better if he's not. Cespedes (gulp) ?

1natsfan said...

Here's an outside the box suggestion-move Bryce to catcher (his natural position), move Ramos to backup and go get 2 power hitting outfielders.

blovy8 said...

The outside the box ideas are pretty boxy...

Span hired Boras, he's NOT taking a QA, I think that's safe as milk. There's no way he couldn't sign for a deal worth more than that over 2, 3, or whatever years, provided he's healthy, which is what's important. But even if I'm completely wrong, he's a competent player with obvious skills, and why would there be any harm to Taylor as your 4th OF? Just as he has nothing left to prove in the minors, he's not owed anything as a guy who hasn't demonstrated he can hit ML breaking balls. I don't see this a risk at all - if Span takes it, it's only money, and a healthy Span is worth that, while an injured Span is no worse than last year or trading for expensive a-holes like Papelbon. The only time Rizzo gets to spend is now.

The larger issue is, do the Nats see Bryce as a center fielder for the near term? That would be new unless Davey Johnson manages again. I feel like the Nats can pay the price for another LH outfielder, but again, it's a bit contingent on the balance of the rest of the club. While I believe Taylor's upside is Mike Cameron, I'd rather someone else take the risk of him reaching that if I can work a deal. If we allow ourselves to forget about Werth's salary, it's clear that they shouldn't settle for Taylor as the set center fielder even if he isn't traded.

blovy8 said...

Francis P. - the Nats have Zim, Rendon, Werth, and Ramos as potentially good RH hitters. If they all fade again, one hitter won't matter. I vote for another LH guy to force the RH-centric NL East pitching to get a breaking ball over the plate...

W. Patterson said...

KW mentions a LH batter. I noticed that last nights line-ups for both KC and NYm had LH/RH (or Switch) alternating, for all nine players. Considering that the Nats had one LH full-time and a couple of SH that played periodically . . .

How important would it be for the Nats to focus on getting a LH when they look for someone to fill in for Werth when he gets hurt?

Robot said...

What are your thoughts on moving Zim to LF and putting Werth on 1B?

Old Hoss Radbourn said...

Having an alternating lineup is important, I believe. Although the below could just be a coincidence?

WS Winners:
2014 Giants - L/L/R/L/R/L/R/L/(p)
2013 Red Sox - L/R/L/R/R/R/R/L/R
2012 Giants - S/R/L/R/R/L/L/L/(p)
2011 Cardinals - S/L/R/R/S/R/R/S/(p)
2010 Giants - S/R/R/L/R/L/R/R/(p)
2009 Yankees - R/L/S/R/S/L/L/S/S
2008 Phillies - S/R/L/L/R/S/R/R/(p)
2007 Red Sox - R/R/L/R/R/S/L/R/L
2006 Cardinals - R/R/R/L/R/R/R/S/(p)
2005 White Sox - L/R/R/R/S/R/L/R/R

notBobby said...

what about going out and getting someone like Dexter Fowler? He could man centerfield in a pinch or could play great defense in a corner.

Nats Fan in Brazil said...

Play Werth LF, Bryce CF, Heyward RF, Rendon 3B, Escobar SS, Zobrist 2B, Zimmerman 1B, Ramos C Bench: Taylor, Robinson, Espinosa, Lobaton, Byrd. If Werth goes down mid season, trade for Cargo.
Pitchers: Max, Stras, Joe, Gio, Roark (mid season Giolito up, start him late so he can play deep in the season)
Overall: the Nats either win a world series until 2018, or Rizzo and ownership blew it. Spend big the next three years, and lets see if pays out, if doesn't the Lerners can sell the franchise with a profit of almost 100% and the Nats can move on.

John C. said...

Off topic, Harper forced Rizzo's hand. By endorsing Baker over Black the other day, he seems to have provided the last push for Rizzo to select ... Bud Black. Because it's clear that Rizzo's goal is to look at what Harper suggests and do the opposite. Use this wisely, Harper.

On topic, I think extending the QO to Span is a no brainer. Every season fans say "oooh, [player x] is going to accept the QO." And they never do. And as blovy8 points out, Span hired Boras. He's going. It's a free draft pick. And to entertain the 1% chance that Span signs, big, fat, hairy deal. It's a one year deal. And as for injury concerns, Span averaged 150 games a season for 2013 and 2014. Most fans have no problems contemplating backing up the money truck for Bryce and Rendon, who have been as injury prone as Span over the past three years. Age? Span is 31, not 38. Sure, he's closer to the end - but he's not at the edge. That comes another year or three down the road - and the Nats wouldn't care.

I suspect that amassing comp picks has been the plan all along, so that the Nats will have a draft pool and picks to be insanely aggressive in a draft that is much more highly regarded than last years draft. Which is also why, incidentally, I don't think that the Nats will sign a FA that would require them to forfeit their #1 pick. I also think that this is a year where the Nats may decide to blow up the international signing cap on the theory that the CBA is going to change in the next round of bargaining.

KW said...

One thing I will give Heyward credit for is cutting down his K's. It's something Upton and Cespedes haven't learned to do. And if there's one thing the Nats should be learning from the WS is that you beat the Mets with contact. In the three spots where the Nats could upgrade their everyday lineup - Taylor, Espinosa, and Ramos - the common denominator is a very hit strikeout rate.

blovy8 said...

Ramos used to have a decent K rate before last year. Taylor and Espinosa are awful though.
I'll go out on a limb and predict Turner will strike out less than Desmond did.

That is an encouraging thought regarding the international pool John C., but the Nats haven't seemed to be secure about spending there.

Next question is to we get Rick Renteria, Dave Roberts, or someone else as bench coach?