Nationals Baseball: Sale of the Century

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Sale of the Century

You ever watch that game show? Jim Perry's greatest work. Don't bring none of that Card Sharks around here.

Anyway Nats have gone from being THIS CLOSE to getting Andrew McCutchen to being THIS CLOSE to getting Chris Sale. Why the movement? Well a couple reasons. First the Pirates wanted Robles for McCutchen but the Nats didn't want to give up Robles for McCutchen. I disagree but it is their right. They will give up Robles however, and potentially Giolito as well, for Sale.  What's the difference? Well with Sale you aren't hoping for a bounce back year. He was good last year. Cutch wasn't. Also Cutch has two bargain years left. Sale has three bigger bargain years left, when you factor in the premium on pitching. In short you are likely to get more from Sale, at a lower price, for longer. That's the difference.

"Great", you say "but we don't need another starting pitcher. At least not more than a CF or a closer or a catcher or let's be honest a 1B. Why trade for another starting pitcher and not one of those?" Well you could say Rizzo is just doing what Rizzo does - getting the best available rather than worry about what's out there. They did "strengthen a strength" getting Soriano. But then you think back and realize that wasn't a Rizzo move. That was a Lerner move. If you look back though you do see that Rizzo believes you can't have enough pitching.

The 2012 rotation only lost Edwin Jackson, but Rizzo didn't bargain hunt or let rookies try to fill in the 5th spot, he went out and signed a decent veteran arm in Dan Haren. Haren would be out after 2013 and Detwiler got hurt, but the Top 3 was still in place. Rizzo could have went with those guys and tried a mix of Roark, Ohelndorf, Jordan, maybe Karns in the back of the rotation. Nope. He went out and traded for Doug Fister leaving only one spot up for grabs. After 2014 there were actually no holes in the rotation, but Rizzo knew holes would be coming soon so he went out and along with Boras/Lerner signed Max Scherzer. Roark got pushed off for a year to come back in 2016 when ZNN left and opened up a spot. Now that injury and performance has made us doubt Strasburg, Ross, and Gio Rizzo looks to go out and trade for Sale. It fits a pattern.

But there's another reason you trade for Sale as a priority beyond talent, value, and preference. A reason that I hate to bring up but hangs over the team almost every year. You trade for Sale because of payroll. You see the Nats are basically at 150 million in payroll right now, factoring in arbitration salaries. That's about what the Nats would like to spend by all indications, maybe slightly too much.  They've kicked Revere to the curb and let Petit walk as expected. Still though, that just gets them down to their max. They can't take in a big contract without losing one. They don't have that many left they can afford to lose though. Danny Espinosa is one but he can't cover a Cutch or Sale himself. The one contract that can is Gio. But if you bring in Cutch and trade Gio you've got a more questionable rotation situation. Gio wasn't great anymore but he was fine for a back of the rotation pitcher and more importantly he was reliable. You have to replace that. Bring in Sale and trade Gio... well everything matches up fine then. This is cynical but after the Nats went through last season at 145 and didn't add serious payroll at trade deadline it was clear the drop from their 2015 peak wasn't strategic. It was a return to normal.

The White Sox would have liked Turner for Sale. This is ridiculous. The White Sox kind of know that. Their fans don't.  But it is! Sale is a unique commodity, an ace, still young, under very reasonable contract control for three seasons. That should fetch a lot. It should fetch a #1 prospect (like Moncada) or maybe a top prospect who's done well in a month of playing (like Swanson) or even two guys who will definitely be Top 25 guys, might both be Top 10 (like yes, Robles and Giolito) but Trea Turner is none of this. Trea Turner is not a prospect. He is not really a question mark. Trea Turner came in and performed at the highest level for basically half a season. He would have won the ROY for half a season if not for someone doing a tiny bit less than he did but for a full season, in Corey Seager. Oh yes, Seager was a legit MVP candidate. Turner is a guy you feel real strongly will be good next year and if he's good next year , he should be good for the next several. It's very likely he'll be better than just good. It's certainly possible he'll be great. All for dirt cheap prices. So the comparision is a good, potentially great position player for no money for 6 years vs a probably great pitcher for reasonable money for 3.  There is no deal here.

Should the Nats trade for Sale? I said yes just a few weeks ago. It does mean potentially a rebuild rather than an ebb. A trading of Roark, Rendon, and maybe last year Sale for prospects going into 2019 with an eye on a getting back up by 2021. But is that so bad? I'll let you know something. This will come tumbling down at some point. No team wins forever. At least not with a "draft, develop, smart signings" plan. Eventually you run into just enough bad luck or bad judgment to drop you out of contention, and once out of contention - well the temptation to blow it up rather than set it back becomes real strong.

One more thing before we go, if the Nats trade - great. Makes the off-season that more exciting, sets up the likely end of the "Bryce era" as a true WS chase. If they don't though, don't be depressed. They should address their holes but they lived with them most of last year and won 95 games. They could easily do something similar in 2017. There are things that look down but things that look up too.  They could do nothing and right now I'd still probably have them winning the East. This isn't a team teetering between success and failure in 2017. It's a team that should be a success in 2017 regardless of what they do in the offseason. 


Anonymous said...

So how upset do we get if the past week of "Nats this close to Melancon/McCutchen/Sale" ends up without them getting any of the three?

And as for the elephant in the room, I think it's likely that Nightengale sat down with Rizzo and asked him, so, you paying Harp $400m for 10 years? And Rizzo, knowing he's got time and will end up sitting across a table from Boras anyway, said y'know, hey, he's a great player, but that's a lot of money...

...and Nightengale wrote 'they're balking and moving on'. And now it's blown up; I've seen other outlets saying they said it was exorbitant contract demand he'd made, or that they're resigned to losing him.

I don't know if they'll end up resigning him. I think it's probably less likely than more. But yesterday's story was a nothingburger.

Sirc said...

Sale's going to Boston.

What's next?

Anonymous said...

Seager did less than Turner did in a half season...funniest thing I read all day. you want to keep Robles? Or would you rather chase the headlines and get Cutch??

DezoPenguin said...


Seager did less than Turner on a per-plate-appearance basis. One inning of Turner was more valuable than one inning of Seager. Only Seager played a full season and Turner played half of one, so Seager gave more total value to his MLB team in 2016.

And...Sale's a Red Sock, which is probably the worst of all outcomes for Harper. Hope Hahn is in full fire-sale mode and we can still land Quintana.

Nattydread said...

Nats offer was substantial. Rizzo has a difficult line to walk. Boston overpaid badly.

Zimmerman11 said...

Harper dodged a bullet... follow-up to Sale trade was Gio Gonzalez to Yankees :)

Harper said...

Anon @ 8:16 - agree that the Bryce story wasn't anything but I've never thought they'd re-sign him. I still don't, especially after signing Strasburg. That was their decision - less $ to keep great pitching. (Prove me wrong, Nats.)

Sirc - Weiters will sign with Mets. Gets LASIK pulls a Ramos

Anon @ 10:56 - Dezo has it. That's what I was saying. Seager had the better year and it's quite likely that Turner couldn't have kept up what he did for a full year but without scaling performance to playing time Turner was slightly better. I don't expect that to be the case over a full year next season.


I'd trade Robles for Cutch yes. Not to chase headlines but to roll the dice on a return to form.

Dezo - It's pretty bad I admit but we'll just see how things shake out. I mean if Gary Sanchez is the greatest power hitter of all time the Yankees will be fine.

ND - I wouldn't say they overpaid badly but they did go high. They didn't just scrape by the Nats (assumed) offer

Harper said...

Z11 - Gio is fine! I like Gio! and fits Yanks well. Let them hit 390 ft bombs into Death Valley for long outs. Just gotta suck up the expected road kill he would be

BornInDC said...

Too bad about Sale going to Boston, but it's hard to fault Rizzo's focus on pitching.

Looking at the playoffs, it's hard to think of a team that has bashed its way to a World Series championship. Also, looking at the playoffs this year I can think of at least three series where a single extra pitcher might have made big a difference in the result of the series: (1) If the Giants instead of the Nats had Melancon, the probably win Game 4 in their series against the Cubs and force a Game 5, (2) If the Nats had Strasburg available for the playoffs, their odds would have greatly increased of beating the Dodgers; in particular, they would not have had to start Ross, who was still recovering from an injury, in Game 4, (3) given how close the Indian were to winning the World Series was, imagine if the Indians had their #2 starter Carrasco available. In addition, in general this year, managers kept trying to get the most out of their best pitchers, i.e., having #1 starters pitch on short rests, using starters as relievers, using closers for more than one inning, etc.

A second advantage of Rizzo's focus on pitching is that the Nats almost always have a prospect a potential trade partner might be interested in. Not every potential trade partner needs an third baseman or outfielder prospect, but virtually every team is interested in acquiring a good pitching prospect.

Sirc said...

My feelings on things so far:

-4 years for a reliever is dangerous. It might be better that the team dodged that bullet.
-I'm happy to know that the Nats were willing to offer what they reportedly offered for Sale.
-Rizzo's thing seems to be making the deal that no one sees coming, so I'm filled with hope.

I'd really like to see the team move Trea Turner to SS. Toward that end they need a CFer. They don't seem to have a 2017 solution in-house at the moment.

Also please please please don't sign Ian.

Fries said...

I wanted Sale, but not for the price the Red Sox paid so it stings less. Now it's time to double down on Cutch. In Rizzo We Trust

blovy8 said...

Yeah, I still expect stealth Rizzo to make a deal we're not hearing about - like Smyly from the Rays for not that much, or one of the KC guys on their last year - Cain, Duffy, Dyson etc. Probably not Davis. 10 mil for him is just a bit of a bargain, not worth a top guy until you get desperate in July. Of course, KC could take a shot at the Indians for the last year with all those guys and see how that goes.

Josh Higham said...

I think Rizzo still makes a deal with the ChiSox. Talks them into selling off just one more guy, Eaton or Quintana maybe, for just one of Lito or Lopez and middling prospects.

Zimmerman11 said...

DC is spytown USA... bet all those conference rooms are bugged! Think someone is streaming audio on the dark web someplace? :)

Zimmerman11 said...

Rizzo interview:

We’ve got our net wide

We’ve got a lot of things going on

We have a lot of lines in the water

We had a lot of balls in the air, and still do.

We’ve got a lot of things out there and we’re looking at a lot of players.

We’ve got a lot of offseason left

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