Nationals Baseball: Will Bryce be here in 2019?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Will Bryce be here in 2019?

The Nats are at somewhat of a crossroads. This offseason marks the first of two where a mass exodus of players will completely change the make-up of a Washington team that has been fairly stable and moderately successful since 2012. After that second year, we do not know whether the talent base that remains will be strong enough to continue to be successful. The Nats therefore are faced with a choice. They could focus on competing now. They could try to compete later.  Or they could attempt to thread the needle and field consistently competitive teams through the next half-decade or so. An important influencer for this decision is whether they believe Bryce Harper will be around in 2019. It seems like an unnecessary question to ask three years out, if Bryce will leave via free agency, but it isn't. Whether you think Bryce will be here after that time informs what the Nats should do right now.

The Nats know they can be competitive in 2016. The talent that had the pundits picking the Nats as runaway favorites for the NL mostly remains. Yes they will lose Zimmermann, Fister, Desmond, and Span (and don't forget Matt Thornton!). But Ross and Roark can probably replace what ZNN and Fister gave to the team in 2015, Espinosa should be able to compensate for 2015 Desmond, and Taylor may raise his game a bit in year 2. That would hold the team steady around 85 wins. If Rizzo can add a solid bat to compensate for the injury risk inherent in the offense and can bring in some reliable bullpen arms, the Nats will likely be seen as in a fight for the NL East title with the Mets.* Given health of course.

Beyond 2016 is hazy though. Strasburg, Stammen, Storen, Ramos, and Papelbon (and Escobar) will all likely be gone by 2017. In that year, Werth will be 38. Scherzer will be entering the danger zone for arms. Gio may still be sliding. Zimmerman will only be an older injury risk. Even if all those guys remain productive in 2017, it won't be enough by itself to make the Nats good. You would also be looking at the first or second full years for Giolito, Turner, and Ross and expecting them to be effective. You would be looking for Taylor to have turned a corner and Rendon to have bounced back, along with any other number of things going right. Free agency and trades can certainly help but there is no denying beyond 2016 there is a lot of uncertainty. As it has been since the 2012 offseason, it is a good bet the Nats will be competitive in the upcoming year, but, for the first time in a long time, it is not a good bet that they'll be competitive the year beyond that.

This is where the dilemma begins then. If you don't believe that Bryce Harper will be around in 2019 then it makes all the sense in the world to invest very heavily in players for this season. That doesn't mean you have to sign a bunch of old guys, but it could. As strange as it may sound, you can easily come up with a scenario where 2016 represents the best remaining chance for the team to win with Bryce. By going with good enough players you are only opening the chance for another wasted MVP type performance like the Nats got in 2015.

However, if you think the Nats can keep Bryce, it may be best to try to thread the needle. Hope that you get healthy in 2016 and compete, but if you don't, you haven't over-committed to aging players beyond that. 2017 is probably is a dip year, but assuming a clearer picture emerges via the development of the young players, you'd then likely have the money available to go out and get help via free agency to make the team good again in 2018.

A third option exists, too. If you are sure you are going to keep Bryce**, you could try to build a super team of youngsters around him in 2018 and beyond. How? By giving up on 2016 and trading the talent you do have (and potentially shedding contracts if possible).  It's a riskier move to be sure, but in the previous scenario there is a chance those young players haven't developed. Let's say Taylor never develops, Turner disappoints, and Giolito gets injured. It would be hard to see how you can simply trade and sign your way to a great team in 2018 and beyond given that scenario. So instead of relying on hitting all your gambles, you get enough that it doesn't matter if you hit on all of them. Trade Strasburg, Gio, Ramos, Storen, Papelbon, Escobar. Get rid of Werth and Zimmerman if you can. Get a BUNCH of guys who may be very good in a year or two or three. It's very unlikely they'd all fail and the idea of using FA and trades to field a very good team in 2018 seems a lot sounder. But it only works if there's a 26 year old Bryce to build around. 

The Nats are most likely going to try to thread the needle. It's the conservative choice. It's the choice that keeps them in it in 2016 and allows Rizzo to work something out for 2017 and beyond when the time comes. However, as we've seen twice now in 3 seasons, when you don't go all-in you have a smaller margin of error. We'd be looking at three more seasons of "if healthy and if all this goes right" planning. It could net the Nats three seasons of playoffs or no seasons of playoffs. And then Bryce could be gone. I think I'd rather see the Nats spend alot to win this year or spend alot to keep Bryce, then to spend a little and hope luck breaks their way.

*Of course this is dependent on what the Mets do. I'm assuming now that Uribe , Johnson, Murphy and Cespedes all leave and only one moderately good bat is signed. If they do more they would probably be a solid favorite.

** like how about offering him 13/500 now?


Chinatown Express said...

This question is unanswerable, but I'd like to ask it anyway: Would the fanbase rebel completely if the Nats tore down the current team, but extended Bryce at the same time? Would BRYCE rebel if the Nats did that, considering it means 1-2 more wasted seasons for him?

On a separate point, I have trouble seeing how the Nats project as an 85-win team if you assume the departures will all be covered by younger players of equal skill. The Nats underperformed their pythag last year, and their run differential was hampered by some seriously bad luck in sequencing. If we had a re-do for 2015, you'd expect them to win more than 85 games.

BornInDC said...

13/500 for Bryce now seems to me like the best thing the Nats could do with $500 million over the next 13 years; it would certainly make more sense than Scherzer's contract, because, unlike Scherzer's contract, most of those 13 years will be prime years.

As illustrated by your examples, such a contract is probably worth it just because of the flexibility it gives the Nats in making roster decisions for the next decade.

But that's not all the a Nats would be getting. Bryce's presence on the roster would make the Nats relevant every year. Plus imagine the promotions the Nats will be able to run as Harper breaks and chases records.

The Lerners need to read up on how things went for the Red Sox after they sold Ruth to the Yankees.

Donald said...

I'm pretty sure they try to thread that needle too. That seems like Rizzo's style. What would it take to sign Harper now? If they want to try to lock him up for his entire prime, it would obviously be very expensive, but maybe they can buy out his next 3 cheap years and add 3-4 more or something (say 6/150 or 7/175). That would still allow him to hit free agency in his prime but would extend the Nats window by a few. They could also make up a fantasy contract for 15/500 or something with mutual opt-outs so there'd be almost no chance of it actually going the full term. I don't see them actually guaranteeing hundreds of millions at this point.

Do you think Bryce would take that?

Harper said...

I don't know. I think BRYCE would have to know the plan and be ok with it. Is that possible? Well you aretelling him at 23 this is YOUR team and we're building it around YOU and you have 13 years to get it done and here is half-a-billion dolars. That goes a long way.

The fanbase? Probably would be upset but wouldn't rebel completely because it's doubtful that even with all I describe that the team would get that much worse. In the 70s in wins? The key would be making sure that 2017 was better than 2016, and 2018 better than that. They would accept it for a year but would expect return to prominence to be swift.

I'd worry most about Dusty in this situation. He'd rebel, I'm sure. And Max wouldn't be all too happy either but he'd be here for the rebirth (at least in contract).

I'm trying not to be overly generous to the Nats. Ross/Roark/Espy/Taylor will make up most of what is lost but not all. Plus other losses (like Thornton) age issues... I'm ok with 85 as a "as healthy as 2015" base, but if you want to haggle to get to 87 I won't fight you.

Harper said...

BiDC - Don't tell the Lerners that players can be sold, you idiot! You'll give them ideas!

Donald - Yes, Rizzo seems to think he can do anything so we'd welcome the challenge. Of course I'd hope he'd see 2013 and 2015 as proof he can't but who knows. Ego is a hard thing to get around.

If I were Bryce... hmmm right now he'd probably make over 30 mill a year those FA years so you're asking him to lose at least 15 mill there (probably more like 30+) for a gain of... 18 that first year, maybe 10 on average for the next two? so 38? Nah. Math doesn't work out for him. Maybe 6/180. You don't go over 6 though becuase then you can't sell the fact his next contract begins in his 20s.

Hmmm... it is a lot of guaranteed money and it leaves room for another huge deal later when the money might be (probably will be) higher. But it it keeps Bryce from getting biggest deal ever and it doesn't show same "respect" as a Stanton deal. I'd bet he'd reject it. But it'd be worth offering anything that gets a FA year from Bryce. Even 4/120

notBobby said...

I think Rizzo wants to offer the megadeal to Bryce, but Lerners will not okay it until MASN dispute is resolved. If that turns out in DC's favor, then I see a Bryce deal happening.

BornInDC said...

Harper, if the Lerners want to destroy their franchise, there's not much we can do to stop it. But if the want to let Bryce go without a fight, they should take a look at the thousands of seats that have been ripped out of FedEx, because of declining attendance, something no Redskin fan could imagine 20 years ago. Washington sports fans have a lower tolerance for owner stupidity than the used to have.

Regarding threading the needle, with Bryce the Nats will probably only need the following each year to have a chance competitive: two dominant stating pitchers, a high-OBA player in front of Bryce in the batting order to be driven in, a decent slugger behind Bryce in the batting order to protect him, and $10 million or so to fix problems at the trade deadline.

This is actually remarkably similar to the strategy that the Giants use with Buster Posey, and it has worked pretty well for them. Injuries can stop this strategy from working, as it did this year with the Giants, but I think the basic strategy is fundamentally sound with the expanded number of teams in the playoffs. It also takes advantage of Rizxo's strengths, i.e., finding those two dominant pitchers and some decent other pitchers in case the two dominant pitchers are not so dominant.

ProphetNAT said...

You could argue that the Nats went all-in this year with the Scherzer signing. Of course this could have been a move in anticipation that 2015 was going to be ZNN's last year, but they didn't trade him. They went all in with a once-in-a-generation rotation leading the way. Because of injuries, it didn't pan out. As a matter of fact, if we never signed Scherzer, we still would have missed the playoffs and we get the same result. If you're going by goals and end results, Scherzer in DC did nothing for the success of this team in 2015. People might say that they weren't "all-in" because we didn't trade at the deadline once the injuries hit, but the common belief is that the Lerner's have never been known to add payroll mid-season - so we shouldn't be surprised.
I agree that you can't straddle the line of win-now and be-good-now+later. But keeping a core together is what we've seen on the past several championship rosters. Our core is leaving, but I worry about this Bryce thing. The fan in me would hate to see him go, I do not want it to happen. But at the same time, I wonder if its a good idea to give him a megadeal that handcuffs us to improve in other areas for years. Its not like a QB - in which case, by all means, do whatever it takes to get a Brady or a Rodgers because they touch the ball every single play, every single game. But this guy plays a portion of the outfield and hits 4 times a game. If we are mediocre everywhere else, but we have Babe Ruth on our team - you get what you saw this year, an MVP on a mediocre team that misses the playoffs.

Case in point the Royals team leader in HR was Morales with 22. As a team they hit .269 and had quality pitching top to bottom. Side note: Buster Posey won the MVP in 2012 and a WS Title. Last player to do that was Kirk Gibson in 1988. Does Bryce give us the best chance to win? Or does a great team?

KW said...

This is the off-season to go after a Bryce extension. He's finally posted the season that Boras needed to get the contract he would want. They can talk in terms of 15-year deals all they want (a la Stanton), but there will be an opt-out after three or four years beyond the three arb years, so we're basically focusing on a six- or seven-year contract. Something like 6/180, like Harper mentioned, should be very much in the ballpark. Considering what Bryce is worth to the team and to the franchise, not to mention what the valuation of 1 WAR is these days, that's a phenomenal bargain.

Frankly, the Nats really need to get a read on whether they have a good chance to extend Bryce before they plot the other moves needed to keep the "window" open. Some moves seem pretty obvious, though: upgrade at catcher and get something for Ramos before he walks; probably trade Storen before he walks; sell high on Escobar while he has some value. I'm not keen on trying to trade Strasburg, in large part for the reason Harper notes: '16 looks like a strong year, and the top of the rotation would be diminished without Stras. If there were a big power bat among the OF free agents, I would pushing in that direction, but Heyward isn't that powerful and Upton and Cespedes are righties. Between Werth's age and brittleness and Taylor's K's, it would be a big gamble if they don't have another everyday-capable OF in the fold, though.

blovy8 said...

Well, there are risks to extending these guys too - everyone thinks the Zimmermann deal stinks now, but it was almost certainly a hometown discount that he gave out in signing it. Harper is coming off all of one big year where he was healthy. And given that any deal would have to be opt-out driven for an extension to happen, it probably only extends that period with Bryce a year or two in reality, I would imagine. It's probably worth the risk, but it's not nothing, and it would be massive. Stanton's deal may already be an albatross.

This roster has enough talent to compete for the division with a few additions, in my mind, there's really no reason not to try to fill in those gaps, there's just too much money to try to offload and a couple of guys you can still get something above-average out of now in Zim and Gio. They'd be an expensive sub-500 club if you gutted it, and the while Rizzo is a great dealer, I'm pretty sure they didn't hire Dusty Baker to rebuild. The reasonably priced guys like Ramos and Escobar are tradeable, and Taylor is easily expendable if they sign or trade for an OF, but it does open up paying more for replacements. The masn deal stinks, but they're still making money (though maybe they have to pay that MLB advance back now?) - an argument to keep trying to compete for attendance's sake is easy to make when the TV dough isn't going to be there. The competition looks about as down as you can ever expect - the Mets still aren't able to afford to spend much on offense yet, even if they probably have the pitching to trade for some, they've got spots to fill too. However, there's a good chance the Braves and Phillies won't stink as badly in a couple of years, and they'll have a head start on any Nats rebuild. The Phillies will have the money to spend again in their market. Hard to say with the Marlins as they buy and sell and keep producing good players anyway. The competitive landscape may be a lot worse in a few years, regardless of Harper's situation, it may be using Lerners' money now is the better way to go.

blovy8 said...

Should be Ryan, non Jordan Zim, obviously.

Harper said...

notBobby - maybe. At the very least you'd hope they'd have some effective difference in payroll after MASN is resolved.

Born in DC - "two dominant stating pitchers, a high-OBA player in front of Bryce in the batting order to be driven in, a decent slugger behind Bryce in the batting order to protect him" If you really limit it to this you just described the White Sox. The Giants actually built a pretty damn solid team at every position and a killer bullpen. So you still need to build a team as normal, as good as he is Bryce only can give you a batter or two leeway on things.

Prophet - You could argue but I wouldn't. They went all-in on the rotation but left a vagabond to try to cover an infield position (Escobar), didn't bring in onepen arm known to be reliable - and at least two were needed, didn't upgrade the bench, didn't compensate for injuries to start the year (ignoring the trade deadline stuff. That's not all-in. I seem to remember our thinking after Max deal was "ok now get a pen arm and it's all good" We're still waiting.

I think obviously a good team trumps even the best player. But there is no real reason you can't have both. If the Lerners say "From now on, we're only spending 100 million so if you sign Bryce that's 60 mill for the rest of the payroll" sure you can say "don't sign him" but really what you should be coming out of your mouth are swears for the Lerners.

KW - I didn't think about the opt-out. I would NEVER give an opt out to a player in the middle of a contract. That is a terrible idea. It's an only lose situation for the team granting that. If Bryce wanted it I wouldn't sign him. That's how much I don't like it.

But it is becoming somewhat standard and likely shortens the deal like you say. I think this is also the year to get this done. with one great year you can keep the money from being crazy with doubt fostered by those initial seasons. Two in a row though is a pattern that can't be denied and only solidifies that half-billion thinking.

blovy8 - well the Zimm deal doesn't "stink". It doesn't hamstring the team like other mega deals. It's just not good, not if he can't stay healthy. Bryce's though - yes that will define a team. The competition thing is important to note. WWe've already seen the management behind the NL East teams improve. They should be expected to as well. When? Well probably will take 2-3 years but then again we figured the Mets were a year away from fighting the Nats for the division. That uncertainty about the other guys only adds to the idea of attacking 2016 like it's the last best chance.

KW said...

I used to hate opt-outs, but they're here to stay - as we watch Greinke cash in yet again - and I'm coming around to them. As much as I'd like to lock Bryce up for 15/500, the last half of that cash would be for the decline years. (Let your Yankees pay for those!) The amazing thing is that if he had seven seasons before the opt-out, he'd just be turning 30 at the end of the last one. Or maybe Boras would go for a straight six- or seven-year deal, without the worry of the opt-out. Something tells me that Bryce and Boras would like to have the biggest contract ever, though, even if they're planning to walk away from two-thirds of it.

Froggy said...

MLB Trade Rumors has Matt Williams going back to the Diamondbacks as 3b coach.

DezoPenguin said...

Honestly, Matt Williams strikes me as the most Diamondbacks guy ever.

Anagramsci said...

No beaches for the Big Marine to hit in Arizona

markus said...

Really gotta say I think there is pretty much NO chance we will sign bryce. It isn't about the money, its about his legacy. If you read between the lines with what he says about making baseball as prominent again as it once was, that just won't happen with him playing here. He thinks (pretty accurately) that the popularity of the sport hinges on his success. If he wants to be in the spotlight, that will be from playing in new york. He will break records playing with the short porch, will date supermodels, and will win rings.

Its also worth noting that he probably wants to win MVP's over Trout (which he will). Bryce will stop at nothing to be the undisputed best living baseball player.

Donald said...

@markus -- I think you are probably right, and the lure of the short porch has to be strong. There are two caveats though and at least one may be in the Nats favor. While Harper wants to be the best ever, he greatly admires those players who stayed with one team their whole careers. The second is Boras. His agent doesn't care about Bryce's legacy or who he gets to date. He wants one thing only, which is to get Bryce the biggest contract possible. If the Nats outbid the Yankees, they will probably win. Whether or not they want to do that, however, is open for debate.