Nationals Baseball: Offseason Position Discussion : Third Base

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Offseason Position Discussion : Third Base

Presumed Plan : Probably Rendon. At least that's what they said.  Who's backing up?  We assume Yuney will definitely be starting (as of today). If Danny isn't starting he would back-up. If he is starting then the Nats need to find a guy

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : Rendon is a third baseman by trade playing second because that is what is needed. He wants to be at third, the Nats want him to be there so the sooner he slots back in the better. When Rendon is healthy he has proven to be one of the better hitting 3B in the league putting up a .287 / .351 / .473 line in 2014 and showing that kind of offensive skill in spurts during a lost 2015 campaign.  He was also a superior defender at third. Assuming his injuries haven't taken that from him (and there's no good reason to think so - he was solid at 2B) Everything works out pretty nicely.

Escobar shifts back into SS, where he's played most of his career but couldn't last year with Desmond still around. This was the plan all along, we assume. A cost-effective SS replacement for the bridge year between Desmond and Turner.

If 2nd is Danny's, and we assume as much, then the Nats will have to find a bench player to be the MI/3B back-up.  There isn't an internal solution unless you want to bring up Turner to sit at first and transition to a starting role. Only Espinosa, Rendon and Escobar played 3rd base last year. Uggla shouldn't be in the majors. Difo needs more time in the minors.

Problems with Presumed Plan : Relying on Rendon, who has now been injured in 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2014 2015, has to be seen as a huge gamble. If he is healthy and plays he is a superior player. However the chances of him being healthy and playing are no better than a coin flip.

Yunel Escobar is known to be temperamental and they kept him at third because he was hitting well. He may throw a fit about being moved. Or not. We'll see. The real problem though is the Nats were hoping for a return to form from Yunel defensively after a terrible 2014. Instead they saw that 2014 wasn't a fluke and he can't hack it in the field. Moving him back to a more demanding defensive position would be questionable to say the least.

My take : You have to go with Rendon somewhere. He's young, cheap, and when healthy, very very good. He's the type of player you accomodate, not Escobar. True, I think it makes more sense to stick him at 2B. Yuney can remain as hidden as possible at 3B. Meanwhile, Rendon would be possibly the best at 2B, and the good players only run about 5-10 deep. At 3B he's more Top 5 and the good players run around 15 deep. But that only matters if you assume the Nats will try to get one of those good players. Just getting a healthy Rendon in the lineup is the most important thing. I'm not revolting at Rendon playing 3B.

Escobar playing short is unfortunate but the necessary move to accomodate Rendon. It's not optimal but that's pretty much as bad as I can put it. Yuney playing defense anywhere is going to be bad and he can't be hidden completely at 1B or a DH so it's going to be an issue. Yuney 3B, Danny SS, Rendon 2B is probably ok. Rendon 3B, Yuney SS, Danny 2B is probably slightly worse. The first one doesn't solve a problem though, and the second one doesn't create one.

If you actually want to solve the problem (problem being Yuney and Danny are both ok players who might be negatives in 2016 and Rendon can't be relied on) you need to do something more than shift to the optimal positions. How about trading for Todd Frazier? That seems like a popular idea. He's good offensively and defensively and under a reasonable contract for two more seasons. Of course that means he won't come cheap and if the Nats won't deal Giolito or Turner or Ross the Nats really don't have anything of value to offer other than bulk.

Oh and I've said it before but I think Stephen Drew will end up being the bench guy. Juan Uribe would be the ideal one for me, but could get starters money somewhere. Given his last few years, "Old Espy" as I'll call Drew for his power/D/nothing else combination, should be cheap. The Nats could do worse (and just did with Uggla!)

Outside the Box Suggestion : Trade Giolito for Arenendo. Pitching prospects are generally questionable. First on whether they can make it, and second on whether they can make an impact. Strasburg was more highly regarded than Giolito and he's been really really good but has gotten the Nats all of home field advantage in one playoff series. So even if Giolito manages to make the majors without suffering another injury and is really good, he's only able to impact the season so much. A great young power hitter though? That's more of a game changer.

Stupid? I'm trying to go outside the box here and there are a couple of things about Giolito that should be addressed. One is that in AA he didn't dominate. In 8 starts he merely did well. Now as a 21 year old in AA "well" translates to "really good" and no one thinks he isn't on a path to a major league rotation, but it does start to question whether he'll be top of the rotation and if so how long it might take for him to get there. Also he's only up to 117 IP. It's likely next year the Nats top him off at 140ish meaning that it's very unlikely he's an impact player for next year's Nats either. The most likely scenario at this instance puts him at having an #3 type season with less than 180 IP in 2017, not even 2016. If you think the Nats fortunes over the next few years are going to be driven by Bryce Harper, understand he could be gone after 2018. Meaning the overlap for great Giolito and prime Bryce might only be a single season. Is that enough to not go all in now for?

21 comments:

DezoPenguin said...

I'll repeat my comment from the 2B thread, which is that Rendon 3B and Yuney 2B was the front office's plan before Rendon's injury last year and I like that even though "Desmond is a fixture at SS" is no longer the excuse there. Danny at SS is the better defensive alignment and 2B is less demanding for Escobar than SS at least. Of course, it's a new position, but hey.

I actually like your OOTB suggestion, simply because adding Arenado adds another notch of offensive and defensive certainty. How many years of control does he have, though? I'd think that was important. (Though, I doubt highly the Rockies would let him go, having just jettisoned Tulo at the deadline. They'd probably demand Rendon+bulk, in the same way that Beane did for Donaldson last year...and then they'd ask for more, because Arenado is younger than Donaldson and they saw what happened there. And giving up Rendon defeats the purpose even though Arenado is better and less injury-prone. Unless, of course, Turner is ready to go, which would leave a Danny/Yuney scramble at 2B.)

SM said...

In front of every silver lining is a dark cloud.

In an earlier post you mentioned the possibility of a million singles through the 2B hole if Escobar played second base. That's about half of what would hop into the outfield if Keep-Him-Happy Yuni played shortstop--unless whoever played 2B and 3B were planted on either side of each foot.

His range right now is about that: from his left foot to his right foot.

Beyond that that, though, is his hitting. As flawed as the stats are, his Isolated Power in 2015 was lower than Bryce's (obviously; hell, everybody's in the Majors was lower than Bryce's), Desmond's, Taylor's and Ramos's. And even Desmond and Taylor had better Secondary Averages.

(Hmmm . . . Desmond Taylor was a silent film director who was murdered in what was Hollywood's first great scandal.)

If the Nats are somehow hoping, praying, and/or crossing their fingers that Escobar will be a productive offensive force in 2016, they might as well sacrifice a goat to the volcano goddess. It'll be just as effective. (The goat could probably field better, too.)

Which is a long way of saying that a Giolito-anchored trade for Arenado is closer to a "must" than an out-of-the-box suggestion.

(What's that you're thinking? That I don't like Escobar as a player? You'd be correct.)

blovy8 said...

My guess is still that Giolito is being seen as a replacement for Strasburg in 2017, but you make an interesting case. I'm dubious about getting Colorado guys and expecting them to hit. It looks like Arenado's power holds up, but he strikes out more and walks less on the road. Great fielder and really cheap, but he's right-handed, so that doesn't scratch an itch. Why wouldn't Colorado prefer to build around him? Everyone else is probably available though - Carlos Gonzalez has boring road numbers, but he's got the kind of contract that the Rockies will want to dump, and fits into a Nats OF if you consider Harper as your CF. 2/37 for what he's likely to be may not really be worth much. I'm thinking Parra is the guy on Rizzo's shopping list. Better for the OF discussion to come.

How ready Turner is affects all of this. They're not having him play winter ball - maybe they're thinking of him as a starter on opening day. He has adjusted to new levels quickly, and they could gradually work him into that SS spot from 2B, while deciding on the Defense/Offense question between Escobar and Espinosa at SS next year with the guy sitting a capable backup barring the usual catastrophes. But I'd really expect a trade to clear this up a bit. Someone is going to believe that Escobar's a .314 SS after they miss out on Desmond, kind of hoping that isn't us, but I was wrong about Escobar's value last year too.

1natsfan said...

I got to say how utterly depressing these reports on players position by position have been. We went from the team to beat to let's pray that everyone is healthy because it will cost too much in trade to upgrade the positions and you haven't even mentioned the frigging bullpen. Do we even stand a chance for contention. What makes this even worse in my mind is if the play continues to be inconsistent, why would Harper want to stay. I believe he is eligible for FA in '18 so is there a chance that the team can be built/rebuilt that would give us a legitimate shot at a World Series before then?

SM said...

@1natsfan

That's it. You have just summarized the heart of the issue.

ProphetNAT said...

@1natsfan:

"Do we even stand a chance for contention" - *if we stay healthy, yes we do haha

1natsfan said...

So, if the whole point of fielding a team is to win the World Series and the current crop of players don't represent a reasonable chance to do so, then why hold on to these players. Would it make more sense to trade away pretty much everyone and get back prospects and play for the worst record in baseball to get the #1 pick so that hopefully you'll get a once in a generation player to build around. With the players present now, there are just too many "ifs."

DezoPenguin said...

@1natsfan:

Yep, pretty much. The putative lineup consists of:

RF -- Harper (great)
CF -- Taylor (young, good defense, definitely question mark on offense due to youth)
LF -- Werth (old, injury risk, bad defense, definitely question mark on offense due to age and injury)
1B -- Zimmerman (injury risk, good defense, definitely question mark on offense due to injury)
IF -- Espinosa (good defense, definitely question mark on offense due to regression concerns and medium-low ceiling)
IF -- Escobar (poor defense, definitely question mark on offense due to regression concerns)
IF -- Rendon (young, injury risk, definitely question mark on offense due to injury)
C -- Ramos (good defense, definitely question mark on offense due to steady downward trend)

Since our team doesn't play in St. Louis, we can't assume that all seven of those question marks will suddenly turn out OK or be replaced by random players who are just fine. And the worst problem is that the biggest, most-likely-to-fail risks are likely the hardest to fix/replace (Werth? Age, huge contract, and declining performance make him immovable. Ramos? Who are you going to replace him with that's better? Zimmerman? Large contract and injury risk make him hard to trade, plus clubhouse chemistry/team leader/face of the franchise issues.)

Chaz R said...

I really like that Arenado trade! With the Nats' philosophical emphasis on SP, I wonder how realistic it is though.

Harper, I must admit I continue to be puzzled by your insistence on putting Yuni at SS rather than 2B. Is it just because you think he will be a malcontent?

1natsfan said...

@DezoPenguin
This might be a stupid question but if players performance degenerates as they age, then why do teams continue to give monster multi-year contracts with no trade clauses to players who may be good for perhaps half of the contract and an anchor for the rest? Is the pressure to win so great, that teams view multi year contracts as good investments to get that 1-3 years of performance from a FA?

John C. said...

DC sports fandom is really bipolar - it's either manic "championship here we come" or depressive "OMG we suck, blow it up!" In baseball that comes with the frisson of "Harper won't want to stay!" Last March it was mostly "glass half full" types. Now it's "glass half empty" (if that).

(1) Why would Harper want to stay? $$$ I do think they make a big push to sign him to an extension this season and, if not successful this season, next offseason.
(2) This team right now has a legitimate shot at the WS. Yes, it does. No, it's not the favorite now nor likely to be the favorite on Opening Day. Big, fat, hairy deal. Every year preseason prognostications are revealed to be garbage. The Nats have had two years where they were sexy preseason WS picks: 2013 and 2015. No one saw them coming in 2012, and in 2014 the roster was chock full of question marks and the Braves had just signed a bunch of "savvy," long term extensions and looked like the team to beat. By the end of the season the Nats had won 96 games and the Braves folded their hand and went home. This year the Mets had serious roster problems going into the season, and finished with the 4th best record in the NL even after considerable retinkering. They're going to the WS. Last year the Giants won 88 games - and the WS. Over the Royals, who won 89 games. Over and over baseball's postseason proves that if you make the postseason you have a legitimate shot at the WS. And the Nationals start Day One with a roster that gets them in the playoff discussion.
(3) "Yuni as malcontent" doesn't really seem to have much basis other than internet chatter. After meeting in ST he agreed to move to 2b and worked hard at it - it was due to his injury in ST (cutting into his practice time) and Rendon's injury that prompted the move to 3b. I do agree that Rendon/Espinosa/Escobar/Zimmerman is the best around-the-horn alignment. When Turner is "ready" (i.e., his service clock permits) he slides into the middle infield spot whose incumbent is injured/struggling the most.

Harper said...

Dezo - Arnenando is controlled through 2019. I too would think they'd go "Sure for Turner and Giolito" or something to that effect. but hey, just shooting out ideas

SM - Yes, Escobar is sneaky bad. One tricker who hits a lot of singles. It's a gamble for 2016 for sure but it's the same gamble you were looking at before trading for him and getting a surprise acceptable because of high-average 2015. Does that mean they have to get a replacement for him? I don't think so. Does it mean somehow one of CF, C, MI not Rendon needs to get better, I think yes.

blovy8 - I think they would build around them but when will they contend again? If it's 2017 - which would be fast - you'd be looking at 3 useful playoff push years. If it's 2018 or beyond you are saving him for just a couple. That makes dealing him now when you can get a Giolito tempting. In two years if it hasn't come together he might not fetch that. (Then again he might) Plus Their pitching is so poor that say Giolito + Cole would be hard to resist.

But I don't think they do it if I'm being honest.

They probably don't need a trade - Turner in AAA until June, by then someone will be injured or playing bad and if not the Nats are probably good enough to hold Turner in AAA until Sept again.

1natsfan - Can the Nats contend next year? Yes. Prophet mockingly notes the health caveat but it has to be said. If healthy they should compete. Scherzer/Stras is as good as any 1/2 and the rest of the rotation will probably be very good. Zimm, Rendon, Werth all hit when healthy and Bryce can carry a team. As long as they don't let the pen suffer and find something for the bottom half of the line-up they'll win 85+ games which is a playoff contender.

The real problem is post-2016. Ramos is a marginal C but they don't have better coming. Giolito should replace Stras but will he right away? As much as we all dislike Storen that is a ton of good innings in relief out the door. They'll basically need Turner/Giolito to step up immediately and a smart FA move or two to keep in contention. So I like 2016 fine, it's 2017 that worries me. But you do have a point - the Nats COULD jettison Stras, Storen, Ramos and try to build for 2018. But you'd be wasting Max's good years and probably whatever Zimm and Werth have left. It's a question to ask if you don't feel good about 2016.

But don't worry I'm sure for Bryce... it'll come down to money, Nats just have to have the biggest pockets.

Dezo - one of the things to note is there is two stages of luck to beat here - one is getting more to work out than not. You'd expect 3-4 to work out. If 6 do, good for the Nats, If 2 do, then they can't compete really. Then if you get 3-4 you have to hope it's the right 3-4. Espy/Escobar/Taylor playing to expectations will be different then Werth/Zimm/Rendon doing that.

Chaz R - it's more of an apathy. Compared to all those other question marks out there Yuney at 3B vs Yuney at SS won't matter as much. Of course I'd put him at 3B (where I think he does least damage) 2B may or may not be better than SS. It is slightly easier but he did play SS for years. He knows it. 2B would be new. SO I'd say 3B-SS-2B would be my preferred order

1nats - about the contracts - teams know what they are doing. Part of it is that they hope to get value above and beyond the cost in the initial years to make up for the cost lost down the road. They expect inflation (both country wide and within the game) to make payments down the road effectively smaller. There is tangental things like increasing gate, ratings, the benefits of a championship if it comes. That's all in their calculations. At some point you even go above and beyond that but it's not as bad as you might think.

Harper said...


John C
(1) Yes - I think $ is the deciding factor. If the Nats are basically identical to what other teams offer he might stay for "less" but not any significant amount.
(2) Agreed
(3) He kind of put up a "I don't want to move from 3B now" whining when Rendon coming back was in the picutre. Not a big deal in itself but he had a rep coming in of being difficult - for example both Bobby Cox and John Farrell had issues with him. So it's not from nowhere.

DezoPenguin said...

@Harper: re: contracts

One of the most interesting things about this season was that apparently the Blue Jays managed to pay for Tulo's extra years (over and above Reyes's contract) just through the increased tickets, concession, and merchandise sales associated with their sudden run to the playoffs. So those tangential things really do matter.

SM said...

Last time into the breach on this subject.

@Dezo

Actually, Tulowitzki's salary over the next three years is lower than Reyes's: $20 million per/season vs. $22 million for Reyes. One principal reason for acquiring Tulowitzki was defense (power being another).

Reyes's range was narrowing visibly (those million singles again), nagging injuries were beginning to eat into his playing time and he was hurting the offense. Used as a lead-off man, his OB% began to fall precipitously: .353 to .328 to .322 when he was traded. (He posted a .291 OB% for the Rockies.)

Why did the Jays make the big 3-way blockbuster--D'Arnaud and Syndergaard to the Mets was part of it--that brought them Reyes?

Well, they needed a shortstop after riding Escobar out of town. They rode him out of town, first, because his defense and offense were declining. Some of it due to age, some of it because he just seemed indifferent.

There was a second--perhaps more significant--reason. In the city with the biggest Gay Pride parade in the world, wacky old Yuney takes the field with "tu ere maricon" written on his eye-black strips. Whoops! Selig suspends him for 3 games, and the Jays send him packing at their first opportunity.

It isn't so much that Escobar is a malcontent, as a buffoon with questionable judgment. A flake in the bad sense, not the good sense like Bill Lee or Joe Maddon.

As for his offensive potential, I'll only note that 2015 was his best year since 2009. (He had a fine rookie year in 2007.) His numbers have whipsawed since 2009. He seems to do well in his first year with a new team--the Nats are his fourth--then declines as if he's lost interest. It's a career pattern that I suspect will be reinforced in 2016.

My guess is the Nats know it, too.

DezoPenguin said...

SM: Tulo's contract is longer, though--I was referring not to the annual cost but the total cost over the length of the contract. Here's the story:

http://www.sbnation.com/2015/8/14/9154901/blue-jays-ticket-sales-merchandise-tulowitzki

(Absolutely no argument with anything you say about Escobar...or Reyes for that matter.)

SM said...

Thanks, Dezo. I was comparing only the three remaining years of Reyes's contract against Tulo's next three.

You are correct, of course-- both about the total cost of the length of the contract, and the loot pouring in from merchandise and ticket--and beer--sales.

(My oldest son works for Rogers, owners of: the Blue Jays, a chunk of the Maple Leafs and Raptors, the ballpark, the hockey and basketball arena, half the media platforms in Canada, a piece of my first-born, one or two governments, and probably a couple of countries in the Balkans. Every little bit helps, I guess.)

Thanks again.

Froggy said...

I was caling for Arenado and CarGo before the trading deadlinel. Glad to see everyone sees tge light!

As for the argument of eating salaries and a tradel, if you trade a Papelbon as part of a package for a CarGo or Arenado you are just swapping near term for near term salaries. Essentially offsetting some of the costs, no?

John C. said...

I think that there is very little chance that Escobar has a season as good as this one next year. But I don't base that on anything to do with his attitude or his work ethic. I base it on the fact that his BABIP was 50 points higher in 2015 than it's been in years. There's nothing in particular in his batted ball profile to justify the increase; he just had one of those seasons where the ball falls in. When the ball falls in, you are considered to be "focused" and "motivated" and to "have a good attitude/approach" and whatever. And when the ball doesn't fall in the player is routinely judged as the opposite of all of those things. The reality is that the player doesn't really have control over all of that.

This goes for pitchers, too. A lot of Nats fans are down on Gio Gonzalez for what they see as a bad season in 2015. If you look at Gio's peripherals, not only were they essentially the same as they've always been, in many ways they were better. His walks drive us crazy, but his walk rate was down in 2015. His BABIP allowed was nearly 50 points higher than normal. Again, there's nothing in his batted ball profile to justify this; heck, his GB/FB ratio improved to the best of his career. So his results are more likely a combination of bad luck in general and bad luck to be focusing on grounders when the infield behind you typically has Escobar at 3b, often has Clint Robinson at 1b, Desmond's early season adventures and occasional bouts of Uggla at 2b. Gio's fine - and at $12M a season, a bargain.

VI said...

@SM

Not sure it affects your point, but the Blue Jays acquired Reyes from the Marlins. The d'Arnaud/Syndergaard deal was for R.A. Dickey and didn't involve a third team.

DezoPenguin said...

...Reports are now that the Nats are down to Black and Baker as managerial candidates. Jim Bowden reporting Black is the lead candidate...which makes me worry, given Bowden's long track record of being dead wrong about things.

Honestly, the fact that Rizzo is seriously taking Baker seriously as a possible manager for the Nats makes me think we need a new GM immediately. The way he operated as manager of the Reds was no different than Williams, just with more personal charisma in-clubhouse.