Nationals Baseball: The proof is in the 2017-2021 pudding

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The proof is in the 2017-2021 pudding

The Nats lost out on Greg Holland. My first feeling, which denies certain realities in favor of my own desires, says the Nats should just spend whatever. Payroll is whatever. Rich man's toy. etc etc. My second feeling, more steeped in understanding, says is that's a fair amount of money (assumed - club nor Holland hasn't officially stated deal) and if that would mean the end of the Nats FA signings well then I'm fine losing out. The Nats need an arm and a bench player. I'd rather get two B- level of these then one huge question mark with A potential.

There are a lot of decent FAs still left out there. Maybe they'll be available cheap. Maybe that doesn't even matter. We'll see.

What I wanted to really talk about though was the fact we are now completely removed from the "first window" of Nats success. You could argue that it ended after 2015 if you like, when ZNN and Desmond walked away and Storen was dealt. But there's no argument that at this moment, with Ramos out, Espy traded, and Strasburg here on a new deal, that we're in a different era. No longer are the Nats living off the unique set of circumstances that had them looking up after 2012 and seeing themselves as potentially division favorites for 4 more years. That was due to a combination of things in place before Rizzo, things Rizzo set up through the draft, things Rizzo and the Lerners finished out with deals, and a division that parted like the Red Sea. Everything in place now was set in motion by Rizzo alone. There is nothing here that he serendipitously found himself with. There are no #1 generational draft picks to help things along. This is all him.

Why I focus on this is because the Nats have a very specific plan in mind. Be good enough to get into the playoffs more often than not. As we talked about, this is a sensible goal because more playoffs appearances are the biggest factor in increasing your chances of winning it all. Improving the team beyond "playoffs" is a marginal concern when it comes to championships.  And this plan has worked for the most part over the past 5 seasons. However the Nats also seem to have a very specific idea of what their budget should be to accomplish this. It is not a cheap budget, but does not extend to the highest in the league. Instead they feel secure settling on a competitive level around 10th in the league. Rizzo has been able to meet these two concurrent goals up to this point, which makes it seems reasonable. However, the next 4-5 years will tell us if that is really sustainable or just a function of those unique set of circumstances.

Can the Nats compete like this if more than one team in the NL East mounts a serious challenge through high payrolls or a timed explosion of young talent?  With just "one at a time" the Nats planned seemed to acheive acceptable but just acceptable on again, off again, success. Can the Nats keep up a playoff level team without expanding payroll?  This is where Eaton's bargain deal really matters. But even with that deal they'll have far more committed in 2018-2019 before looking at FAs then they ever did in the first window era. Does the age of the team work against it? After 2012 the team was full of players entering their primes. Now the team isn't old but no longer is almost everyone important 27, 26 or younger. Now multiple key players Strasburg (28), Roark (30), Gio (31), Murphy (32), Scherzer (32) are exiting prime years.

I don't want to suggest that doom and gloom is coming. I have no idea if it is and I'll tell you right now it's not coming next year barring something crazy happening. At worst they miss the playoffs with a high 80 win team. That's not doom nor gloom to me. What I do want to suggest though is that the Nationals haven't proven that they can really manage long-term, decade long type success with a payroll around 10ish in the league. Not yet. There are too many things that went into that first window to believe in that plan with certainty. If they do it over the next five years though. That changes things. Then it shows me it can be done, at least by these people, in this era.

Here's where I leave you - from 2017-2021, in those 5 years let's guess how the Nats will do.  How many playoff appearances, how many division titles. (no playoff result guesses necessary).  Do they maintain a team that's say... 85 wins or better in 4 of these 5 years?

I'll say 2 - 1 division title and no.


sirc said...

2 - 2 and yes.

Now thay they've re-signed Drew I'm considering 2017 a division title year. =)

Jay said...

They brought back Drew. That is a good thing. He allows Murphy to move over to 1st if Zim still can't hit.

I agree with Harper. I think if the Lerners want to spend in the top 5 then they can stay competitive. If not, then I think they will drop off. A couple of worrisome things to me. First, I think Harper is as good as gone. I'd consider trading him now (I know it's crazy but I think you have to consider it). Second, the Braves and Phillies are definitely improving. The Phillies and Mets have shown a willingness to spend big money in the past. I worry that if the Nats are going to be 10th in payroll that the Phils and Mets will spend their way past the Nats eventually. Final concern, the Lerners and maybe Rizzo have shown a real inflexibility the last few years. Don't add payroll during the year. Don't spend more than you think someone's worth. They are swinging and missing on a ton of free agents the last two years. They swung and missed at Bud Black. Taken as a whole that is concerning.

I agree 2 playoff appearances and 2 division titles. I think they don't do much in the playoffs as they are currently run.

Dusty's Toothpick said...

I say they do. Especially if they can pull of Harper. (3) out of (5) 85 plus season with (2) stinker years in there while they patch up age and hurry along young guys.

Fries said...

It all hinges on Bryce. Land him and I say 3/5 appearances with 2 titles. Don't land him and I'd say we've got this year and that's possibly it. Obviously further moves will make a difference, but losing Bryce will hurt a lot, and our farm system isn't too great right now. Lots of future bench pieces, very few future starters.

JE34 said...

The Nats' pitching keeps them in the hunt, Bryce or no Bryce. You either spend on Bryce, or on multiple other guys with less upside but potentially fill more holes. As Scherzer and Stras age and/or break down, so goes this team... so I think if they can hang on to Roark, and if Ross continues to develop, they can win two division titles.

Where does the Nats farm system rate when compared to that of the Braves, Phils, Mets, and Marlins? If the Braves dredge up some pitching, they will be a very good team soon, because they can hit. Those jerks have had a knack for developing some good arms over the years.

Jay said...

Keith Law has the Nats ranked 22. He has the Marlins 29. He has Philly 14. He has the Mets 7 and Braves 1. Interestingly, he has 0 Nats prospects from 21-100. I'm guessing Robles will be higher, but it seems like Nats prospects in the top 100 are scarce.

I just don't see Harper staying. He's too busy doing under armor and jaguar commercials. I think he ends up in LA. He should be very motivated the next two years. We'll see what happens.

blovy8 said...

Probably 3 of 5, 2 divisions, one WC, and a WS in 2018. 2019 will be a close miss with a 83-win fairly talented, but underachieving, shallow club. By 2020, the club will have a money infusion from park-naming by a Chinese corporation, after Ted dies, the all-star game banners come down, and Mark gets pissed off at the Philly and NY ownerships jacking up the cost of business with their huge cable money and the Nats will sign several free agents with deferred payments through 2032.

I think they won't be able to afford Harper, and it's possible that Strasburg opts out after 2019 - so the question would be how many more free agents they would have to pay for to stay a team in contention. I can't imagine they would want to weaken the club in their 2018 all-star season, so a deal for Harper would have to be massive in it's return. 2019 shapes up to be the tough budget spot to pivot from because after that, they'd only be really stuck with Scherzer's big salary, and I don't think they'd exercise Zim's option year. I suspect efforts to lock up Rendon and Roark would have been made, but probably unsuccessful, so they would have to come up with cheap replacements in addition to a best case scenario of Robles and Fedde having major roles and a few prospects becoming useful like Severino, Voth, Kieboom, Soto, etc. - if not for the team at least for trades. Plenty of TJ guys to rehab...

DezoPenguin said...

Three appearances, two titles, and yes, at least 85 wins 4/5.

I don't think Strasburg will opt out because, honestly, if Strasburg wanted to opt out I don't think he'd have signed an extension right in the middle of a year in which he was killing it and would be a free agent at the end of it. In this year's horrid starting pitching market he'd have gotten paid-with-a-capital-P, so I don't see him leaving unless the team craters or the fans start pelting him with pineapples or something.

Harper...I'm bearish on keeping. If he has another season like 2015, he's going to cost ridiculous amounts to keep. If he doesn't, we're not necessarily going to want to pay what he wants to keep him. And that's assuming he even wants to come back--he may be more interested in chasing fame.

The Drew signing is nice; at least we now have our utility infield positions taken care of between him and Difo. If he plays like 2016, then we have a fallback option if Zim also plays like 2016

Zimmerman11 said...

Drew hit .200 for the Yankees the last time he had significant playing time. Drew is an OK bench piece. Glad he's back. Let's get some BP guys and do this thing!

3 playoff appearances in 5 years (WC counts), at least one trip to the LCS, and I'm hoping it ends in a WS this year or next.

blovy8 said...

What healthy guy hasn't opted out though? Getting a deal in hand now means nothing then, it becomes leverage to get more - 4/100 might look weak by 2019 if he's pitching well. Strasburg also could end up being trade bait in 2019 with that uncertainty, the 45 million owed in 2023, and the 10 and 5 rule making it his choice to allow a trade. That huge amount at the end just begs for renegotiation if nothing else.

Josh Higham said...

At the start of this offseason I felt good about the chances that Bryce stays. I'd have said maybe 40-45% likely he would stay. The bottom is falling out of that estimate though, the more loyalty he shows Under Armour and the more he chirps about the moves management is/isn't making. Loyalty to the Nats is clearly not something he feels the same way that Stras, the other generational talent, does. I absolutely believe him when he says he wants to bring a title to DC, but I mostly think he wants the glory of being the star who does it, which would certainly inflate a future payday.

Flapjack said...

This is a good, forward looking take. Most baseball analysis is backward looking (that's where the stats are). But the Rizzo focus of this piece is maddeningly correct.

GMs look ahead, evaluating things we can't see. Through this lens, the Nats' quiet offseason might be viewed not as cheapness or complacency, but confidence, both in the projected 25 man roster and minor league depth.

Things you can't control -- the other teams in the division, injuries, bounce backs -- will probably determine whether a division title is in the cards. Ah, the exquisite gods of baseball.

Patience is always the worst part about being a fan.

Fries said...

I like the Grant Green signing. He's basically the infield version of MAT. Hits well in the minors, can't seem to get it going in the majors. But it's another low risk, high upside signing that could turn into a valuable bench piece and get Difo more ABs in the minors

NotBobby said...

Agreed Fries. I love the signing. Infield depth is always needed.

mike k said...

Can the season start yet? I'm sick of the cold and I'm sick of no baseball.

Harper do something.

BornInDC said...

Hard to predict even 3 years in the future, much less 4. For example, consider that in February 2013 would you have predicted the following 5 starters for the Nats in 2016: Scherzer, Strasburg, Roark, Ross and Gonzalez, the equivalent today of trying to figure out who will be starting in 2020. I don't think too many people would have guessed Scherzer, Roark and Ross being part of that rotation, and they were arguably the number 1, 3 and 4 pitchers on the Nats last year.

Whether the Nats are competitive in 2018-2021 will depend a lot on Rizzo's ability to continue to find and acquire starting pitching talent, A team, such as the Nats have been since 2012, that has one of the best set of 1-3 or 1-4 starters in the league, usually has a decent chance to make the playoffs. And, in the playoffs, at least in the last 10 years or so, pitching seems to usually matter more than hitting, i.e., there a lot of teams that have pitched their way to winning World Series, but very few that got there just by overpowering hitting.

Josh Higham said...

Young guy question for less young guys. Is it fair to compare Max to Nolan Ryan, in characteristics if not excellence? I'm only 25, so I never really saw Ryan pitch, and certainly not when he was the best and it wasn't close. I've seen him in documentaries and I had a few of his baseball cards, and the picture they've painted is basically this:

Fireballer who showed lots of potential but wasn't all that great for the first few years of his career, but really turned it on with his second and third teams. Seemed to get better with age, at least to a point. Never, ever wanted to come out of games, no matter how many pitches he'd thrown, and managed to be durable anyway.

Based on that, it seems reasonable to make the comparison, as long as we're clear that Max is not anywhere near as good. Thoughts from those who actually saw Ryan pitch?

Anagramsci said...

Max's control makes him a completely different pitcher from Ryan at whatever age. Ryan was a far more remarkable athlete, but I don't think he was ever as good a pitcher as Max is right now. Maybe in 1981

Robot said...

SIGN BRYCE 4EVAH!!!~~`!11!!!!