Nationals Baseball: Nats Lose - Time marches on

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Nats Lose - Time marches on

The Nats put up another uninspired effort but I will say I was a bit more pleased yesterday than the previous couple nights. Last night was more about failure to get the big hit than it was a failure to get the guys on. That's progress right? I don't know. Like I said yesterday - season is too far gone to worry about East. HFA is still relatively secure (we'll revisit at series end) and all I really care about is that the Nats start hitting a week from now. And even then that's for impressions going into the playoffs more than anything dependable.

Let's talk about Ramos shall we? A big FA overview - not a look into his recent slump.

Wilson Ramos, gotten in a trade for Matt Capps so long ago, was supposed to be the Nats catcher of the future. In 2011, at age 23,  he was eased into the role playing 113 games. He had an OPS of 113 and finished 4th in ROY voting.* The Nats believed in Ramos so much they dealt away another potential starter, Derek Norris, in the deal to get back Gio. A solid receiver, it looked to be the beginning of a fruitful career, where the Nats could take advantage of having a plus player for cheap in one of the hardest positions to fill.

Then the injuries came. 

A torn ACL in 2012 limited him to 25 games in 2012. A pulled hamstring in 2013 kept Ramos out for much of the first half  and he played only 78 games. In 2014 he broke his hand on Opening Day and would be limited to 88 games. Finally in 2015 Ramos would be healthy enough to play a reasonable amount of games. The problem was he was terrible. He hit .229 / .258 / .358.  Given the last four seasons had been nothing but heartache it looked like 2016 would be the last time you'd see Wilson in a Nats uniform.

Then Wilson got LASIK and it all seemed to turn around. A .316 / .328 / .491 line in April was followed by an even better .333 / .400 / .522 line in May and an even BETTER .364 / .414 / .636 line in June. Wilson was an All-Star, the best hitting catcher in the league. But seasons are long and surprises usually find a way of stopping to be such. Wilson would have a solid July, .291 / .351 / .442, but August would be a slow down .261 / .293 / .446  and September would be a dead stop .229 / .288 / .354.

As Wilson prepares to enter free agency we have to ask ourselves 'Who is the real Wilson Ramos'? Was the first half just a fluke? Or is this just fatigue? Do the Nats re-sign him?

Let's look at it dispassionately

Wilson Ramos just turned 29. He's had an excellent 2016 overall. He has a history of injury but recently has been able to stay healthy. His history suggests that both 2015 and the first half of 2016 were not representative of his actual offensive talent level. It is more likely that he is a .270 hitter with 20+ homer power but absolutely no patience and no speed.  As far as you can trust the stats, he is still a solid defender, and not a great framer but not a bad one either.

If you believe in the above then Wilson is an attractive target as he would remain a Top 10ish catcher in the league with that profile. With catcher production hard to come by, fully a third of the league would do very well to pick up Wilson. Given his age he's not necessarily limited to only contenders expecting 1-2 good years as he could reasonably give you 4 years or more of similar production. There is also a dearth of quality FAs on the market. Matt Weiters, the only real likely rival, has not done well after taking that qualifying offer. The second best available catcher may be one-time Nat Kurt Suzuki, who has managed replacement level offense at a reasonable value.  Some of the teams that may be in the market for Wilson include rivals such as the Mets, the Braves, and the Orioles, along with teams like the Tigers and Astros.

As far as contract goes, four recent comparisons include Brian McCann (5/85), Russell Martin (5/82), Sal Perez (5/52.5) and Francisco Cervelli (3/31).  Given his age and production and the scarcity of the position, I'd probably say he'd be closer to the 17 million than the 10 average salary so let's give an estimate of 4years, 56 million for what Ramos would get. However, the Nats could offer him a QO which could diminish his value because teams are stupid.

The next question is will the Nats go there. If you go by history it's unlikely. As far as re-signing players go, the Nats love to get a deal on the remaining arbitration years to off-set the over pays necessary for the free agent years. This is what they offered for ZNN and Desmond, and seemingly talked about with Strasburg. Thanks to injuries and performance the Nats didn't do this for Ramos. They also apparently haven't made any overtures to Ramos about re-signing him this year.

But if the Nats don't resign Ramos they don't have a good plan B. Jose Lobaton was a fine back-up when they got him but is close to end of life for MLB. Organizationally they like Pedro Severino but he hasn't been impressive in AAA. He is starting to hit for a bit of average and he doesn't strike out a ton, but has no patience or power to speak of. He is only 23 so there's time for him to improve but the best you could probably hope for in 2017 from him is an empty .260+ average. He is supposed to be a very good defender though. Beyond Severino there really isn't anything. Kieboom is older and hasn't clicked at AA.  There's a handful of young catchers in the low minors, Read, Cabello, Reetz; worth keeping an eye on but no one that looks to be imminent.

Payroll-wise the Nats will likely have little flexibility. With Strasburg and Ross injuries in the second half, the retention of Gio is necessary. That keeps the payroll up in the 145 million range which is where they seem to like it. They could save about 10 million by letting Petit walk and jettisoning Ben Revere but the Nats are going to need the re-fill the bench (Drew and Heisey are FA) and do a little bullpen work. Melancon, Rzepczynski, and Belisle are all FA this year. Even if you key in say Kelley as closer and Treinen as set-up, you still probably want a reliable veteran arm in there. All that together will be pretty close to 10 million.

Competition wise the Nats find themselves with a leg up on the NL East competitors going into 2017. They are more talented than the Marlins, who find themselves lacking starting pitching with a depleted minor league system; and healthier than the Mets, who also desperately need to keep Cespedes. With Trea Turner looking like an All-Star caliber player there is enough of a core - Byrce, Rendon, Murphy, Turner - to build an offense around without Ramos, while if healthy the pitching staff should remain one of the better ones in the National League.

My guess is the Nats don't re-sign Ramos. They probably don't want to given the payroll and they can convince themselves pretty easily that a "good enough" solution for 2017 will work, while they see if Severino can hack it. Ramos' injury history and 2nd half makes him a gamble and the Nats may be less willing to make such a move given the questions raised by the recent long term retention deals signed, Zimmerman and Strasburg. I can see them offering Ramos something like 3/30+ to begin with to see if he would take it and then offering him the QO. I don't see Ramos taking either of those however. To me the most telling sign is the lack of contact between the Nats and Ramos. They aren't shy about saying they want to sign guys even if they don't think it will work out. The fact Ramos hasn't heard anything to me tells me they don't have any plans.

*Because you are wondering Kimbrel won it. Freeman was 2nd. Third was Vance Worley.  Espy was 6th.


JD said...

If they'd pay him 4/45-50 I could live with that. But I agree, even with the somewhat underwhelming offense of late, the Nats have a strong enough core to build around. We can survive a mediocre catcher, or more accurately, we'd have to. Bigger issues to deal with.

Also, when are you going to start a Yankees blog? Now that they're becoming increasingly more interesting, I need soulless automaton writing to balance the average Yankee fans rantings ��

Fries said...

LASIK Ramos is awesome but flukey I have to think. I'm with JD but I wouldn't even go 4 years, I'd say 3/35. Realistically I just want the Nats to give him a QO and then we hope Severino figures stuff out after going full-time in the majors. But with the current offense, what we need is a catcher that we can rely on not to get injured, and Ramos isn't that. We may not be able to rely on Severino to stay healthy, but at least he's got a better chance than Ramos.

Gr8day4Bsbll said...

The Nats are going to win the East, and are currently 8 games ahead in the division. These facts are due in no small part to Ramos's play before the ASB, when Zim was hurt and BRYCE became bryce. Nobody, perhaps besides Murphy and Max, has been consistently great this year or, frankly, any other year. If we take Ramos for what he is -- a pretty good defensive catcher who can show flashes, and occasionally extended periods, of above-average hitting for average and power -- then the Nats should probably pay him 3/35-40 to keep him. There's no clear better alternative out there in FA, and it's all about managing expectations -- don't expect May-July Wilson to show up for all 162, and you'll no doubt get what you paid for.

But that said, Wilson, could you PLEASE stop the GIDP with RISP!?! Thank you...

Jay said...

Ramos is best when going the other way and at his worst when he tries to pull everything and grounds to SS. I worry the Nats have been sleep walking the last 2-3 weeks now. I'd give him 3/45. A slight overpay but 1 less year. The problem is Ramos has become a bit of a gamble. Now it looks like he was just hot and a little lucky the first half of the year. His September looks a whole lot like last year. Hopefully they get it rolling again on offense including Ramos.

Everyone kept groaning about how Dusty needs to start resting people. He is doing that now with the plan to gear it back up next week and as a result they are losing. Now those same people are upset they haven't won the division already.

I will say that I have to give the Mets credit. They've shown a lot of heart battling through a tough season to likely make the wildcard. Last year's Nats were in a similar position and they just rolled over on MW. He was a horrible manager, but it doesn't change the fact they packed it in after the Mets series last year. Of course the Cardinals and Pirates finished with close to 100 wins, so I don't think the Nats could have caught them anyway. Anyway, kudos to the Mets.

BxJaycobb said...

@Harper: one thing I would say: I feel very strongly the Nats should let Gio go. He is a bad pitcher, and between Strasburg, Ross, Giolito, Lopez, and AJ Cole, I'm pretty confident we can fill 3 rotation spots for a season. Literally were talking about a 4.5 ERA guy who can't get past the 5th inning. Respectfully, I see very little reason to believe Gio will be much more effective than Cole or Giolito next year.
The reason I am hesitant to not go after Wilson is threefold: 1. finding a catcher who can both play defense and hit is incredibly difficult. 2. The LASIK makes it seem like this may not be a lends a clear possible reason to believe he will hit well going forward. And 3. He has actually been quite healthy for 2 full seasons now. That said....very tough call. Particularly because Wilson has an offensive profile that she's very poorly. I guess I say it wouldn't bother me to let him go. Get a bit younger and athletic. Severino may be a better framer, etc. see what he's got.

JE34 said...

Seems to me you gotta pay Ramos, which will mean overpaying for him in the coming offseason market... the devil you know (the injury bug, paying to keep him out of Flushing Meadows) vs the devil you don't, and all that. He'll get hurt (and need enough rest) to give Severino the chance to show he's ready.

If only Sandy Leon had showed off his skills a little sooner... at least at a cursory glance, his minor league time provided no real indication of what he's doing this year at Fenway. Who knows... maybe Spencer Kieboom could surprise in the same way. And his name would be pure gold for the marketing people.

Bjd1207 said...

@Bx - I think we may be just absolutely spoiled with our starting pitching here in DC. Even if he's not up to the standards of the rest of our staff, it's hard to make the case that he's objectively a "bad pitcher." Starting with ERA, he's posting an ERA- of 108, or basically 8% worse than league average. He ranks as #60 out of 78 qualified SP, but its important to remember that this population already represents those pitchers who are good enough to stay in the league and starting every 5th day. To put that in perspective, this group of 78 pitchers accounted for 53% of innings pitched by starters, with another 223 guys comprising the group who accounted for the other 47% of innings by starters.

By FIP he's actually BETTER than league average by 7%. His K numbers are right in line with career averages and his walk numbers are actually better. He's been slightly unlucky in terms of HR and stranded percentage. Put it all together for a guy who fangraphs rates at 2.7 WAR which is equivalent to $21M worth of value, and that's coming after a string of 6 years where he's put up similar numbers. And we've got him for $12M next year. That's a helluva safety blanket to have when guys like Cole, Lopez, and Giolito are all still young and volatile. Between injuries and bad performance, you're almost guaranteed to need more than 5 arms to get you through a season, and Gio's relatively cheap deal and strong track record (yes, up to and including this season) make it almost crazy not to keep him around as a 4/5 starter.

I pick up his option with very little hesitation

Chas R said...

C'mon, pay the man! That is hardly a lot of money by MLB standards. He's earned it. He wants to stay in DC and be a Nat for as long as he can. He's a Fan Favorite. Of course, none of that is dispassionate or in the Soulless Automaton Approach (SAP), but honestly, who makes decisions based solely on logic anyways???

Froggy said...

Let's see, everyday player Ramos or .500 pitcher with a 4.50+ ERA?
Ramos is the clear answer. I think 3 / 45 is reasonable.
First half of the season aside, a healthy Ramos is very likely not a .300 hitter, but he is likely a .275 20+ hr hitter who can absolutely crush a baseball.

Bjd1207 said...

@Froggy - Oh I never viewed it as one or the other. If I'm forced to choose yea I think I go Ramos. But Gio's deal is great for a guy that you're practically guaranteed 180+ innings at league average caliber.

Also if you go back in our history I think you'll find me writing the exact same sentence about Ryan "guaranteed .280" ya

blovy8 said...

i hope Sammy is ok. This road trip might have brought on a stroke.

Can't believe they didn't have Espinosa squeeze in the 8th if they weren't pinch hitting for him. Despite my opinion the Fernandez is the 2nd best pitcher in Baseball, there were some TIRED bats out there, rest or not.

Sammy Kent said...

I wish I had never suggested that these guys would pad their stats against the Braves and Marlins. They're padding stats all right....the other pitchers' stats. I have said it repeatedly: you can't win a 0-0 game no matter how many innings you play. We're going to see a lot of Fernandez type pitchers in the post season. But you don't have to be Fernandez good to beat the Nationals.

I don't know how Max can do any better than Tanner did tonight. What a shame that our pitchers are performing at Cy Young level and can't get any run support. Ironically our new found savior has also become our Achilles heel: now all you have to do to beat the Nationals is keep Trea Turner off base. Like Denard Span used to be for us, as Trea goes, so go the Nats.

For the fifth year in a row Rizzo has assembled a team with a division title ceiling...a group that can beat up on most of the bad teams and get by playing .500 or worse against the good teams over a 162 game schedule and come out with the most wins. But a team that is horribly ill-equipped to win post-season series because it cannot deliver hits and score runs against consistent first-place pitching game after game. Let's enjoy clinching the division because it's virtually certain to be our signature accomplishment again this year...even if we have to stagger and lurch and convulse to the finish line.

BxJaycobb said...

Oh hey. Here's more evidence the Nats have inexplicably continued to play Bryce while hurt. Why the Nats continue to deny his shoulder is hurt is a mystery to me.

BxJaycobb said...

@Sammy: I'm not sure the Nats are at the present moment reflecting their quality. Think about it: their two best hitters are effectively out (Murphy is out and Bryce has a debilitating shoulder injury that makes it tough to swing), their co-Ace is out, another starter is sorta still hurt (Ross)....and lets be honest. Dusty played Werth way too much this year and now his legs are shot.
Re the Bryce injury....whatever the Nats say to deny it is crap...sorry. We have eyes). It's easy to see why Nats are lying. They denied a shoulder injury because playing him then would've looked like incompetence and idiocy. But after they denied it, they can't now admit it having misled public already.

Anonymous said...

RE: Offensive struggles. The WashPost looks like it is trying to channel some of the soulless automaton-ness of our fav blogger: