Nationals Baseball: Trade for Sale?

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Trade for Sale?

Barry Svrluga host of "The Grind" book edition (makes a great stocking stuffer! No seriously. I have it, read it.) says that the Nats should trade for Sale. Do I agree? Yep. But before I  go into the why I pretty much exactly agree with Barry I can't help but be nitpicky. 
The Washington Nationals’ 2017 rotation could easily be ...Gio Gonzalez, who has twice been an all-star and once won 20 games; and ...
Did Boz ghostwrite your first paragraph, Barry? Yes, Gio was twice an All-Star and won 20 games. That was in 2011 and 2012. That was a long time ago and really doesn't have bearing on the Gio that's in the rotation now. The Gio of today is a durable middle of the road pitcher who is just as likely to strike out 8+ as he is to have control issues and go out before the 5th inning ends. That's not great it's... not bad. But add to that he's a lefty and he's an arm that ~30 teams would line up for to slide into their rotation as a #3/#4/#5 (depending how bad their SP circumstance is). Come on! You're better than that!
Rizzo, as we’ve explained in the past, has a superb record of trading players. Those he has landed include Wilson Ramos, Trea Turner, Gonzalez, Roark, Ross, Denard Span, Doug Fister, Mark Melancon, on and on. The best player he has given up in such deals? Maybe Billy Burns? Maybe. Maybe it’ll turn out to be Felipe Rivero, dealt to Pittsburgh for Melancon, the closer at the end of 2016. Maybe it’s Derek Norris, who was once an all-star as a catcher. Jerry Blevins?
Billy Burns? That's really the first name you toss out there? Tommy Milone beats Billy Burns.* It's totally Derek Norris. Though he's right it could be Felipe (this is why Barry is great and I'm nitpicking out of love here). Blevins doesn't really fit as he was a "We're mad you tried to get more money! Get out!" dump. It was a very very rare loss by Rizzo, that was saved from being even more apparent by Blevins' injury in 2015.

OK that's it! See Barry is great! Really that's only one true nitpick and one bit of confusion. That's usually gotten to in the first paragraph of a Boz column when he's off.

Anyway another thing I wanted to pull from that column though.
“Imagine that in the playoffs,” one executive said Wednesday. “And Sale being there would completely take the pressure off Strasburg.”
I thought Max was supposed to take the pressure of Strasburg. Do they seriously think Strasburg is such a headcase that he needs TWO Cy Young caliber pitchers ahead of him to make him feel comfortable? I personally don't believe that. You can just peruse his stats and see he's fairly consistently very good. But if you do, why the hell do you keep someone like that on the team which a big contract? Just saying.

OK so Barry's point is the Nats should trade for Sale and should basically let the White Sox pick what they want (assumes not Turner). Ross, Giolito, Robles, Lopez, etc. He thinks it's time that the Nats move forward. Stop being good enough to get to the playoffs. Start trying to be good enough to win in the playoffs. He think Sale's contract (12m 2017 team options after that, 12.5m, and 13.5m) is an incredible bargain.

He's right across the board.

At least that's my thinking. It's not that the Nats have consistently tried to get away with just a couple good starters for the playoffs. Really the only year you can say that for was last year when they went in with Scherzer/Stras and hope someone steps up. But in doing that they did end up with only 2 great arms for the playoffs and that did put them in a bind. They don't want to end up there again. You could try to count on Scherzer/Stras/Roark, but if one gets injured now you're hoping for a Ross development or something out of the blue. Adding Sale makes you very confident that if you get to October you'll have three studs ready to go.

As for the prospects. They are prospects. Most don't develop into what you hope they might be. That's just the truth. We don't have 10-20 All-Stars entering the league every year. So gambling on giving them away is far more about depth in the future than it is about season-changing performance. I'm willing to take that gamble. Depth for the future is nice but it's harder to care about it when that depth is the difference between a 78 and 85 win team rather than an 88 and 95 win team.  Beyound 2018 that could be what we are looking at.

We are potentially in the waning days of the Bryce Harper era. Two more years is all that is guaranteed. After that yes there is Trea but what else? Murphy will hit FA at the same time. The Gio 5th starter saftey net will too (and you'll miss him when he's gone). Werth will be gone (and probably retired). It's hazy. A 30 year old Stras isn't old but the continued injury issues have to be concerning. A 34 year old Max isn't old, but is right on the cusp of it. A 32 year old Roark could easily still be good but with a only year left before FA. The same year before FA that Rendon would have too.

Rizzo bridged the gap between the end of the first great Nats teams and the potential end of the Bryce era. He may do it again. But as much as he did it with skill (draft and development of Rendon, trade for Ross, Turner) he did it with luck (Roark developing into top notch starter, Murphy busting out into MVP type hitter) and money (big contracts for Scherzer, Strasburg). The money likely won't be there - at least not as much as they'll have these two deals left to pay. The luck may not be. Are you willing to take the chance that Robles, Lito et all are going to be ready by 2019/2020 to keep the team in the playoff hunt? I'm not.

Sale solidifies the Nats for the rest of the known Bryce era. After that if they are good and lucky new guys drafted and developed and new trades made will put the Nats in a position to keep moving forward with a playoff contender. If they aren't, they'll have chips like Sale, Rendon, Roark that can be used to help restock for something further down the road.

*And if we're floating out potential. It's totally Alex Meyer who unfortunately went to the Twins who are notorious for being unable to develop pitchers. No seriously again. It's INCREDIBLY bad. Good luck to you in LA which even if it's below average is better than whatever Minnesota was doing. 

**The worst SP performance was probably Strasburg, who gave up 2 R (1ER) over 5 and had to be pulled for Blevins with two-on no outs in the 6th.  Gio's 4IP in G4 wasn't great but after a difficult 2nd (2 UER on 2H and a BB) he settled down and could have gone further if the situation didn't demand trying PHers early. 

22 comments:

PotomacFan said...

What? Wait. Max just won the Cy Young award -- and it wasn't even close -- and we are just skipping over that to talk about our next pitcher. Let's give Max his day in the sun.

With regard to Chris Sale, we need to recognize that every good team in baseball would like to have him on their roster -- and some of these teams need him more than the Nats, and thus, would probably be willing to give up more to get him. I'm not saying that the Nats cannot do a deal for Sale, I'm just saying that the odds are against us.

Harper said...

Stop living in the past P-fan! That's yesterday! Sale is tomorrow!

You're right. A team where the Nats are but with brighter names to offer like the Red Sox or Dodgers could go farther than the Nats can. A team not at the Nats level but that needs him more and with enough to give, like the Yankees or Pirates or Angels or Astros, could got farther than the Nats would. The Nats can make a legit try here and still fail. We kind of have to wait and see what the Nats offer and what the trade is (if it even takes place) before we judge. But we can still ask!

ok fine! Max post tomorrow!

Anonymous said...

You can never have enough Cy Young caliber pitchers to help the pressure off Strasburg. He's that much of a head case.

Not that it really helps in the end though, because in addition to being a complete and total head case, he's also a complete and total body case.

NotBobby said...

I know this is complete conjecture, but the White Sox know MUCH about about Sale's medicals than the Nats do (i do not trust the Nats medical staff further than I can kick them), so are they shopping Sale before a breakdown happens? I do not know. But i do know that talking heads have been talking about his delivery from the beginning and he had put a lot of innings on his body. The flip side is that the talking heads have said each year that THAT was the year Sale would get the big injury and it hasn't happened yet.

Just wanted to put that out there.

that being said - go get him! I am on board. (I know that is what Rizzo has been waiting on). To spend big time on catcher or RP would certainly improve the team, BUT the way to be looking at this is: is the team better with Lobaton/Severino, Whatever 2nd tier closer and Sale, OR is the team better with an upgrade at one of the other positions? I think Sale would probably be the bigger upgrade in a world with limited money and options.

Harper said...

Not Bobby - possible but I doubt it. I think they seeing what's out there now because 3 years of Sale should honestly get you ANY non-generational prospect (and should probably get you the generational ones too)

DezoPenguin said...

How about we trade for Quintana instead? He'll likely cost less thanks to his complete lack of publicity, he's not coming off a flag-raising down year*, he's not a scissor-wielding headcase (though, now that we've gotten the Strangler off the roster, the "Beltway Scissorman" sounds like a great nickname), and he's a shade less brittle.

*Yes, I acknowledge that Sale's "down year" is still "top 5-10 in the AL."

JE34 said...

At the risk of sounding like Sammy Kent... is starting pitching what's holding this team back? Sure it would be great to have Chris Sale (the jokes will write themselves... Fire Sale, On Sale Now, Going-out-of-business Sale... Crazy Eddie references, I could go on) but trade chips might be better spent on gentlemen who put the baseball in play, rather than those who pile up the Ks with ducks on the pond. I guess if you can address the more pressing problems (replacing Ramos, Espy, Melancon, maybe a platoon for Zim) via straight FA spend, then fine... Rizzo, you may proceed. If our starters are made stronger with Sale, but our bats are the same, and we don't have replacements for Ramos and Melancon, I don't think it will put the Nats over the top.

Josh Higham said...

JE34 - I agree that SP isn't a glaring hole. Not even a hole, really. But (and here I'll fall into recency bias, but bear with me) the ballyhooed Cubs this year had 3 guys put together ace-type seasons (Arrieta still would have been the best pitcher on several clubs this year even with drop-off) and their next two guys were quite solid. For much of the playoffs, their offense was quite Nats-ish with huge outbursts and a lot of nothing.

I'm not saying "try to be the Cubs," but a rotation where 4 out of 5 games you have a great shot at at 8 innings of one-run ball from a starter is a rotation that can carry all the Espinosas and Zimmermans.

With Sale on the roster, the Nats would almost certainly shop Gio, and he could be part of a deal for a pretty good outfielder so that Danny isn't playing every day.

Chas R said...

Yes and YES. Get Sale. Give them whatever prospects they want. Max- Sale- Stras-Roark is potentially fantastic.

mike k said...

While this can certainly be said regarding any trade...I like it, depending on what pieces are sent back.

Considering there will be lots and lots of interest, I am not holding my breath that the Nats will (or should) beat every offer. In Trader Mike I trust, but he very rarely, if ever, wins these sorts of sweepstakes, probably because they get expensive. His big trades are typically for prospects ready to make the leap (Turner, Ross, Ramos) or mlb players who are of high quality but are not highly sought after stars (Gonzalez, Span).

If, by some grace of the baseball gods, Sale can be had for a reasonable amount and the Nats get him, I agree that it makes Gio expendible and he can be traded for an everyday CF or catcher. But then again, so can the pieces it will take to get Sale. So, while I want Sale, I just don't see it happening. Prove me wrong Rizzo!

John C. said...

Again, the fallacy that there is a design to a team that will "win in the playoffs." Horse nostrils. Here's an example of a team that had crap for starting pitching in the playoffs: Cleveland after the injuries to Carrasco and Salazar(outside of Kluber). They went to the 9th inning of Game 7 of the WS. So did the Royals in 2014 despite having pretty questionable starting pitching. You know who had GREAT starting pitching? The 2011 Phillies with Halladay, Lee, Hamels and Oswalt in the "four aces" rotation for a team that was coming off three consecutive deep postseason runs. They lost in the first round. Huh.

It's not emotionally satisfying, but the name of the game is to get to the playoffs and hope the breaks fall your way. Which is also why pushing all of your chips into the center to go increase your chances of making the playoffs don't really impact your chances of advancing/winning. Too much short sample size noise/variation.

I get the sense that the Nats are willing to live with Severino at catcher if they can't get Ramos back - largely because there aren't really good options out there. I'm OK with that if they use their chips (trade/$$) to build another OF bat that would push Espi to a swing/utility role. I'd be willing to have one likely gaping hole in the lineup in Severino; having the bottom three be Espinosa-Severino-pitcher would be hard to watch.

Josh Higham said...

John C. - I agree. I don't think Sale is the best way to use the available resources, but I also don't think it's a bad idea. If they idea is to win as much as possible while Bryce is here and figure out 2019 onward later, which is not a terrible idea, you make some moves that are not the very best but are good.

I'd be stunned if Rizzo managed to work out a trade that he and the Sox are both happy with. Sale goes elsewhere, almost certainly. But I think it's a mistake not to try.

It's true that great rotations aren't a guarantee of anything, but a great rotation can make up for a lot of problems, just like a great offense or a great bullpen can. Rizzo and the Nats seem to believe that the rotation is the place where they can make the most impact to cover for holes elsewhere.

Josh Higham said...

John C. - I agree. I don't think Sale is the best way to use the available resources, but I also don't think it's a bad idea. If they idea is to win as much as possible while Bryce is here and figure out 2019 onward later, which is not a terrible idea, you make some moves that are not the very best but are good.

I'd be stunned if Rizzo managed to work out a trade that he and the Sox are both happy with. Sale goes elsewhere, almost certainly. But I think it's a mistake not to try.

It's true that great rotations aren't a guarantee of anything, but a great rotation can make up for a lot of problems, just like a great offense or a great bullpen can. Rizzo and the Nats seem to believe that the rotation is the place where they can make the most impact to cover for holes elsewhere.

John C. said...

Having Chris Sale on a baseball team is never a bad idea - if the price is right. If it basically condemns the team to several years in the sub-.500 wilderness after 2018, count me out. So it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if the Nationals were involved in the Chris Sale discussions. But I agree with Josh that it's unlikely that there is a meeting of the minds on price, so Sale goes elsewhere if traded.

One of the things that I really admire about Rizzo is that he doesn't get caught up in the emotions of the bidding war; he has a price point that he sticks to and if the bidding goes past that point he walks away. That kind of discipline is essential in operating any business, but perhaps doubly so in a field like baseball.

SM said...

@ John C.

You've identified the dilemma precisely: "If it basically condemns the team to several years in the sub-.500 wilderness after 2018, count me out."

It's a subject most posts tiptoe around. Harper has cautioned about it before, but there are times he's . . . um . . . conflicted, as in the above:

"As for the prospects. They are prospects. Most don't develop into what you hope they might be. That's just the truth."

And later: "Sale solidifies the Nats for the rest of the known Bryce era. After that if they are good and lucky new guys drafted and developed and new trades made will put the Nats in a position to keep moving forward with a playoff contender."

He argues, correctly, that most prospects don't develop. So trade them for Sale. But then argues that the Nats will continue to contend because future prospects will develop.

I'm not nitpicking so much as illustrating the point the stripping the Nats of their best prospects now for the dubious proposition that Sale carries the team to playoff glory has very specific consequences, notably the outfield.

The farm system has a damagingly limited supply of position players who can hit. The two who so far have shown they can--okay, I get it; they're just prospects--are both outfielders, Victor Robles and Andrew Stevenson. And the biggest holes the Nats need to fill in 2018 and beyond are in the outfield.

It's almost set in stone that in return for Sale, the White Sox will seek a starting pitcher and a position player from the 25-man roster to begin with, and then skim the most promising prospects from the top of the organization. And they sure aren't named Difo and Cole.

Josh Higham said...

@SM, At the risk of nitpicking, Harper argues more that if the Nats are good after 2018 it will be because they're both good and lucky in the developing prospects department. Which conflicts a lot less with his earlier statement that "most prospects don't develop into what you hope they might be," that they way that you're interpreting it.

On the whole, I agree though. Robles, Stevenson, and whatever new outfielders the Nats draft are very important given that the Nats currently have zero Major League-caliber outfielders after 2018. Most likely they are more valuable than an elite lefty SP because some combination of them ought to develop or be traded to fill the outfield moving forward.

SM said...

@Josh Higham

I think he forgot a comma after "lucky."

I read the sentence as three different elements: "good and lucky;" "new guys drafted and developed;" and "new trades made."

Hell, now I'M nitpicking.

Sorry, Josh.

Harper said...

What is the bigger fallacy - to expect that making your team better will drastically effect your short term playoff success or to expect that not unloading prospects from a ... top thirdish system will guarantee a continuation of the successful run 3+ years down the road?

Remember after 2012 when you looked "down the road" you had a system anchored by Rendon and Giolito, two guys that could have been #1 picks if not for injury concerns. After 2016 you now see Robles, a very good prospect but not a Rendon, and hey! Still Giolito! Also very good but not as promising as he seemed 4 years earlier.

I'll talk about it more next week but nothing has changed about my thoughts on the matter from before 2015. The Nats are not in as good a spot in now as they were during the first "window" the one that arguably producted 3 division titles in 5 years. The ages, the money, that youth are all more troublesome. That doesn't mean "GO ALL IN NOW BECAUSE DOOM IS COMING" but it does mean a more pragmatic look at the Nationals after 2018 is called for. Let's make sure we're not thinking tomorrow will be bright when the flashlights are full of Everyreadys of indeterminite age.

ClassOf87 said...

No, there is no guaranteed method to produce a championship team. (I don't know why people insist this is an "either/or" question.) All those of us who would like to see the Nats be aggressive in trades are saying is this: giving up some of your top prospects for a proven elite player, who is under contract for several more seasons, is not an untenable use of resources. It is a risk. So is doing nothing and assuming Giolito, Robles, etc. develop into the top-shelf players you HOPE they will be. Getting a pitcher like Sale for three pre-30 years at his salary is not "putting all your chips in the middle of the table." It's getting a hell of pitcher for under market cost. The benefits are both in the regular season (much better 3-4 starters, whoever you think they are, insurance in case SS gets hurt again, etc.) and in the playoffs--during which many of our starters have struggled to get deep into games. It might not work. Sale could come up lame and/or be a head case, while Giolito anchors the WS for a decade. Or...it might work. Advocating doing everything you can to have to best CHANCE--not guarantee, chance--to advance in the playoffs while your team is good enough to make the playoffs and contend for the WS, is not blithely mortgaging the future.

Flapjack said...

One way to make the Nets into a true "window" team is to deal away your best prospects by the bucketful for guys whose control years are relatively limited. One thing that we (including BS) don't know, however, is who among the promising prospects is really "best". Some of them are shiny bobbles and nothing more (as was Alex Meyer or Steven Souza). Taylor Jordan wasn't dealt when he was ripe, and look how that ended.

I'll agree with others here: it doesn't seem like the Strausburg extension made huge sense, given his injury proneness. But at least he is genuinely elite.

John C. said...

No, it's not an "either/or" question, balancing the future against the present. I agree with Classof87 that acquisition of Sale would be great in principle; he's really good and his contract is really affordable. The question is, what is the cost in prospects (affecting the future) and how much does moving those prospects inhibit the Nats' ability to address other "now" concerns (prospects traded to get a front line pitcher like Sale are then unavailable to use in getting a front line bat). I believe that the Nationals are already aggressive, just sanely aggressive. For example, moving Rivero was moving a promising prospect for a short term need. And Melancon was everything the Nationals could have wanted him to be.

I guess the difference is that I don't assume that, if no deal is made, that the Nationals weren't interested (or at least not sufficiently "aggressive"). Rizzo clearly has a price point in mind that he reaches on acquisitions, presumably based on a meticulous assessment of short- and long-term costs and benefits. He walked away from several discussions over the years when the bidding got past his price point. And the vast majority of those turned out well for the Nationals (O'Day, Heyward, Phillips, etc). You really have to cherry-pick your examples to conclude that Rizzo isn't really good at trading/running a team.

As for the Strasburg extension, at least Rizzo signed Strasburg and not Jordan Zimmermann - that deal looks potentially awful right now. I hope that JZ turns it around, but to have your durability and your stuff decline in the first year of a long term big $$ contract is very concerning.

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