Nationals Baseball: Offseason Position Discussion : Second Base

Friday, October 28, 2016

Offseason Position Discussion : Second Base

I sometimes forget that not all of you have been reading my every word for a decade so a quick refresher on these posts.

Presumed Plan : What I think the Nats are going to do
Reasoning for Presumed Plan : Why I think they Nats are going to do it. Basically why it makes sense for them. A lot of it is "Why it could go right" but not all. Sometimes your hand is forced.
Problems with the Presumed Plan : Why it could go wrong.
My take : Basically more talk with an eye on if I think the Nats are making a mistake, with a little "if I were GM" thrown in.
Outside the Box Suggestion : Something just reasonable enough to suggest that almost assuredly won't happen. Not the best plan, maybe not even a good one. Just coming up with something different.

Ok moving on

Last Year's Discussion

So at the time last year it didn't look like the Nats were going to do anything. They had Yunel Escobar, who hit above expectations; Danny Espinosa, who hit perfectly acceptably for a defense first guy; and Anthony Rendon, who we all assumed would start hitting when healthy. They didn't need to make a move. They just needed to figure out where to put people. Personally I was advocating selling high on Yuney and starting Trea (also noting that I expected Stephen Drew to be a bench player), while hoping the Nats would sign Zobrist. However I expected to see Rendon at 3B, Yuney at SS, and Danny at 2B. It was on hand and it would work just fine.

Lo and behold the Nats DID sell high on Yuney. They shipped him off to literally Anaheim, figuratively LA, for Trevor Gott. That left the Nats with a hole that they did try to fill with Zobrist, who chose timely payment for services rendered and signed with Cubs, and then Brandon Phillips, who only wanted to move if he got more money in the deal*. So the Nats went with Plan C signing the underrated competence of Daniel Murphy to play second.


Daniel Murphy, who flipped a switch in the 2015 playoffs, ended up making that a life change. He put up MVP type numbers for the Nats last year hitting .347 / .390 / .595 for the year and carrying the Nats to first place. I always liked Daniel really! Keep reading, you'll see where I'm going. I always liked Murphy. I had him in fantasy for years. I had pretty good knowledge of Met players from the combination of Nats games, WFAN, and general baseball following. I knew he would hit decently and I felt his defense and baserunning issues were slightly overrated and WAY overrated, respectively. Sorry Gary Cohen. But even then I didn't see this coming. I had him giving value to the Nats for the contract, but nothing more. Certainly nothing like last year.  I'm not sure anyone saw it coming. Murphy surely didn't or he wouldn't have signed that deal. The Nats surely didn't or else they wouldn't have bothered going after Zobrist and Phillips. Nope last year was a complete and utter surprise** in the best way and the Nats are reaping the benefits

My OOB plan - Trade for Longoria, move Rendon to 2B - would have worked too. But pretty much because the Mets couldn't stay healthy and mount a good challenge. Obviously in hindsight the Murphy signing was the best possible decision

Presumed Plan

Murphy starts at 2nd

Reasoning for Presumed Plan

See 2016

...ok that's a bit reductive, but only a bit. Murphy can make the routine plays at 2nd. If someone can do that and hit like Murphy does, that's a big plus. 2nd basemen don't hit like that. So you keep him at 2nd.

Problems with Presumed Plan

Murphy cannot play 2nd well. You can argue that. You are wrong. His career defensive stats agree with the scouting reports which agree with pretty much everyone's eyes. At best he's below average. So you're losing something by putting him at 2nd instead of hiding him in LF or 1B of something. Do you think an Espinosa would have been this far from a normal-hit GB? Or watch Toles' single in the 5th of Game 5. It didn't amount to anything - Max would K Ethier - but at first Murphy moved laterally instead of laterally & back and then got caught somewhat flat footed on his jump. It's not that a normal 2nd baseman would make these plays, but a normal 2nd baseman would have a shot at them. Murphy does not.

The other "problem" is that Murphy may not hit like this again. It was a surprise. So if you play him all year at 2B, he has a particuarly bad year in the field, and hits more like he did before 2016, your value from Murphy is severely diminished.

My take

Well even in that worst case you are probably getting close to what you paid for, so I'm not too worried about it. At least in terms of what to do at second. To me it's pretty simple, while Murphy ideally should be playing somewhere else, he has sure hands and is acceptable enough at 2B that you can stick him there. And sticking him there gives the Nats an advantage other teams don't have.

If you can stomach sitting Zimm though, I'd kick the tires on any above average 2B (or CF! or 1B!) that may be available. That would either give you the most value (shifting Murphy) or take best advantage of a great hitting second baseman (if you sign a 1B that can hit).

Out of the Box Suggestion

This isn't a 2B idea. At least not a 2017 2B idea. Extend Murphy. Yes the Nats have a great deal on hand - why ruin it? Well here's my thinking. Even if last year is a fluke, Murphy has always hit. I mean seriously look at his career stats. I'd be willing to bet he's got at least 4 more years of above average hitting left. So I find it doubtful that even if you are giving him say... 2 more years at 18 per, that you'd end up with no value from it, especially if he shifts position. The Nats don't have a 1B in the minors they love. Their first baseman right now can't hit. So it's likely they'll need one. At the same time, like we said, Murphy shouldn't be playing 2nd. It's a pretty good fit. And if last year wasn't a fluke then you can probably grab a couple more years at what ends up being a bargain price. If we play out the second scenario and Murphy comes up with another MVP type year in 2017 you aren't going to be able to just tack on 2-3 more years and under 20 per. He'll have a 4+ year 80+ million contract waiting for him if 2018 is anything close to 2016/17. So go for it. The relationship is on a high right now You might be able right now to grab those extra years.

*He left money on the table to re-sign with Cincinnati. He felt if he were to be traded, that he needed to recoup that money since he was no longer getting the "stay at home" benefits. Of course no team with interest in him wanted to pay that money. He wasn't worth it anymore. And the Reds weren't going to do it either, they're cheap.

**While no one expected this pretty much everyone in the comments was fine with the deal, too. Hooray! We're not dumb!


Anonymous said...

It's kind of remarkable how many of Rizzo's "great moves" were actually Plan Bs that happened mostly because his Plan A fell through for whatever reason.

If I had his luck, I'd be living in the casino.

mike k said...

What other of Rizzo's great moves were plan B's?

IMO Murphy stays at 2B. I don't think the Nats will sit Zim - he gets one more abysmal year before that happens. And the Nats have other holes to fill (C, SS/CF, relievers) that they don't have to create another one by sitting Zim. Besides, having someone who *can* play 2B and who can hit like Murphy is a huge plus.

SM said...

It's a relief to see at least one position stabilized.

Yet somehow, improving the roster in other areas remains contingent on resolving the same obstacle/dilemma: "If you can stomach sitting Zimm though, I'd kick the tires on any above average 2B (or CF! or 1B!) that may be available."

Here we go again.

Ole PBN said...

I realize the market for 1B might be thin. But you cannot have someone hitting like Zimmerman is playing first base. That's like having Lobaton as your DH. Zimmerman shouldn't be our plan A. Murphy 1st, Turner SS/2B/CF depending on who you can find on the market at those positions. At this point, I'd stomach Espi in the lineup, as crazy as that sounds, if we can't find someone better (although I think Drew is better). He's not playing a position that every other team is miles ahead in. For a shortstop, his numbers are not that far off and we know of his defensive prowess. Zimm on the other hand, is well-below his 1B peers and its just not acceptable. If we consider ourselves a contender, we can't have a WEAK 1B. I'd allow a sub-par middle infield bat, or defensive wizard in CF who can't hit. I'd allow a Dan Haren/A.J. Cole 5th starter and mediocre long-men/mid-releif guys, if we must have a weakness. It can't be at 1B.

Fries said...

Zimm's the 1B, Rizzo reiterated that yesterday. I suspect they give Zimm until the ASB. Normally you wouldn't give that long a leash, but this is Zimm who historically heats up in the muggy DC summer. If he doesn't give the production you need from 1B then Rizzo tests the trade market for either a 1B or 2B (with Murphy moving to 1B of course in that scenario)

No denying Daniel HITS Murphy was a lucky move by Rizzo, and we'll all gladly take that luck. Like you said Harper, I would've been perfectly happy with career average Murphy, so him carrying the team into another postseason berth was quite a bit more enjoyable.

Zimmerman11 said...

I thoroughly enjoyed hearing my Mets fan friends belly aching about how Murphy was KILLING them... at first I had to point out that Desmond was also killing me in TEX so the Nats basically had a draw out of signing Murph... then Desmond stopped producing.

Murphy was especially cruel to the Mets. It was a good year for our NL East rivalry :)

Ole PBN said...

Although I know its the 2B discussion thread, but 1B isn't resolved yet. Any thoughts on these guys?

- Kendrys Morales (1B) - made $8.5M/year
- Carlos Beltran (1B/LF/RF) - made $15M/yr, but pushing 40. Shouldn't be that expensive but can still hit
- Justin Turner (1B/2B/3B) - 'ol red beard. Would require some maneuvering in INF. A steal at $5M per year, perhaps due more next season, but how much more?
- Drew Butera (C) - ditch Lobaton, this guy's your backup. Making pennies right now. Starter is TBD. Still like Ramos.


Fries said...

@Ole PBN

I like Morales, but he may be too pricey for the Nats since his numbers will be putting him in the range of twice that number in free agency

I'm not touching Beltran with a ten foot pole, we don't need another aging player on the team.

Turner may be making $5M/year now, but he's going to get something along the lines of a Werth deal (slightly less) according to a number of rumor sites. No way Lerners sign another one of those contracts right now.

Ramos isn't going to be playing before the ASB I'd bet, so we definitely cannot bank on Ramos being the starter even if he wants to continue catching (I gotta think he signs as a DH)

Chas R said...

Murph should really be at 1B and Zim should be a bench player. Of course, that will never happen given the politics... and anyone who thinks there will a trade for another first baseman is smoking some good sh**

Zimmerman11 said...

Was Zim's postseason just small sample size, or the result of a timely cortisone injection? If so then Harper is right the team needs to move on. But given the amount of $$$ owed to the player the team is unlikely to do so until at LEAST midseason. Moving Murphy to 1B is a good thought... and Rizzo has a lot of flexibility to just find help at basically ANY position and be able to move the current pieces around to support it at any time between now and the 2017 trade deadline. In Rizzo we trust, right?

Jay said...

I am now hopeful the Lerners may go for a bigger signing this offseason bc Werth comes off the books in 2018. I like the idea of Turner, but where would you put him. In that scenario, he pretty much goes to 3b, Rendon to 2b, and Murphy to 1b. I still am not convinced they will sit Zim. The hard part is that Rizzo runs so silent in the offseason. Did anyone see the Fister trade coming? The Scherzer signing prior to the week or so before the signing? Even the Strasburg signing? I guess you could see the Haren signing, maybe the Escobar and Storen trade. Everyone in the industry figured they were going to trade Papelbon but didn't. Even the Hayward and Cespedes failed signings I didn't see coming. We'll see. Every offseason has brought a surprise or two.

NotBobby said...

What about signing someone like Steve Pearce? If Zim hits, then he can platoon and fill holes around the infield. If Zim doesn't hit then Murphy slides to 1b and Pearce takes over 2b.

Then TT can fill the opening at either SS or CF depending on the options...

DezoPenguin said...

Murphy, like Turner, falls into that category of "we don't know where he's going to play, but he'll be in the lineup somewhere." The idea of moving him off 2B has more to do with how awful our 1B options were in 2016 (and the lack of any current alternatives) than anything else. Even pre-2015-playoffs Murphy was a productive player at 2B, hitting enough to overcome his poor defense to produce 2.5-ish WAR, and obviously current model Murphy is awesome pleasekeephittinglikethatpleasepleaseprettyplease.

Honestly, it's amazing how much of the roster debate is tied up in the "we have three bad positions and Trea Turner can only fix one of them" issue. Murphy, Harper, Rendon, Turner, and Werth are going to play. Catcher is its own pocket issue, related to the others only inasmuch as Rizzo may have to spend money and/or prospects to solve it that can't then be spent elsewhere. But who fills the other two spots in the lineup and where everybody goes in the field, it's all an interconnected mess (but more fun for Hot Stove debates and more options for Rizzo to play around with--it's much nicer to be able to say "we need a center fielder, middle infielder, OR first baseman" to solve the Zimm problem* than "we need a first baseman."

*Presuming that they can even bring themselves to admit that the worst problem on the team IS a problem. I do not want Ryan Zimmerman to be the new Ryan Howard!

Anonymous said...

I say we package prospects for Freddie Freeman... Boom, problem solved. Send little gio over there, lord know ATL needs "pitching" right? He's not spoiled talent yet!

Anonymous said...

@ Anon 12:24

We traveled this road two weeks ago:

Blogger Sammy Kent said...
Giolito for Freeman would be a great deal for both teams. The only reason to call it delusional is that Rizzo would never do it, and we all know why.

SM said...
Sammy--Delusional not because Rizzo would never do it, but because Atlanta would never do it.

Harper said...

Anons - Yeah if they didn't trade Freddie in the great sell-off they aren't doing it. He's a fringy MVP player, he's 27 next year and they have him signed through age 31. Perhaps you could overwhlem them with prospects but "Giolito after a middling year" is not overwhleming them or anyone.

Sammy Kent said...

This is another exercise in fantasy. The only other place Murphy can play is first base. See previous blog entry. Move on.

G Cracka X said...

Murph hit great in the regular season, and his BA was almost 100 points higher in the post-season. That after missing the last few weeks of the season due to injury. Incredible!

Flapjack said...

Murph (who knew?) notwithstanding, I am looking at the FA market as a cesspool of financial risk, the kind that wrecks imprudent mid-market teams. Sure, Scherzer has been a winner. (Straus scares me, though.) But generally speaking, giving long term contracts to marquee players is risky. Justin Heyward had a Baseball Reference WAR of 1.5 in 2016. Werth's last year, in 143 games, was 0.3. Sign Bryce for half a billion? His WAR was 1.6 last year. Danny's, on the other hand, was 1.7.

A review of the Nets' top performers in 2016 shows that nearly all were drafted or acquired by trade. With the exception of Malancon, a rental, most of the acquired players (e.g. Ross, Turner, Ramos, Roark) were works in progress when they joined the organization. Was the Yuni trade really a "sell high" success (considering, ahem, what we Gott )? We'll probably know next year or the year after. Which goes to prove: Much of the success in our still-wide open playoff "window" over the next 3-4 years will be the result of unheralded decisions made by the scouting staff and GM over the last 3-4. If Lopez, Giolito, Fedde and Cole live up to their potential, our RH arms will keep us in contention for quite a while.

Relatively few contenders have as few holes, or as much pitching depth, as the Nets. This is a poorly understood luxury. It creates room to sluff off proven veterans, such as Gio or even Roark, to acquire quality under-the-radar depth. That said, Murphy, Yuni and Asdrubal were exceptional FA acquisitions, as was Drew. Obviously, Rizzo has a clue. From where I sit, we're fine at 2B (and more importantly, at GM). I'm kinda hoping we don't go big in the FA market for infielders.