Nationals Baseball: Howie doin?

Monday, July 31, 2017

Howie doin?

The Nats season is a hard one for those that like drama. The Nats opened the season going 21-9 and taking a 6+ game lead. They went a mediocre 30-27 over the next two months... and gained two games in the standings. The rest of the NL East has made the Nats drive to a division title a race against themselves.

But now, after weeks and weeks of fun but kind of meaningless feeling baseball, finally we are at the part of the season that matters. We are to the trade deadline, where the Nats may, or may not, shore up their team for the playoffs. After this will come the positioning of August and September, getting players healthy and potentially fighting off the surging Cubs for home field in the NLDS. The Nats went into the trade deadline with three potential tasks.

The undeniable one, the one they HAD to do, was address the bullpen with at least two arms. They did that right away.  The other ones were more questionable. In a perfect world they would add a top half of the rotation starter (to compensate for the 4/5 troubles they've had this year and cover for the potential Strasburg injury), a proven closer (because - you know they don't have one), and a solid corner OF (to cover the injuries of MAT and Werth, and give them a great bench if/when these guys return). Of course in a perfect world these would cost nothing as well.

In the real world it was more realistic to hope for MAYBE one or more of a fair back of the rotation guy (to fill-in as necessary at the back of the rotation and save some pen arms), another bullpen arm (because Doolittle is an injury risk), and a decent 4th OF corner OF type.

Well the Nats did get the last thing done, bringing in Howie Kendrick for McKenzie Mills.

Why did the Nats need Kendrick? Well Jayson Werth last played on June 3rd. He's just now swinging the bat and still has to run and throw. He's a few weeks out at best. MAT last played on July 6th.  He's up to playing catch.  He could be back soon if he feels good swinging. Six weeks is a good guess for an oblique. But even back to health an oblique injury is an easy one to reinjure because you use it for everything and can't really compensate for it. Chris Heisey strained his groin, putting himself out for some extended period and he was also hitting .162 with 1 homer this year.  Ryan Rayburn is out too! In short - a lot of OF options were not looking good.

That's why they needed an OF. Why Kendrick? A few reasons. He's a rental and the Nats, for the most part, want a rental for this spot. They like Bryce, Eaton for two of their OF spots and are probably looking to let MAT try and hold off Robles for the 3rd OF spot next year. They aren't looking for an ok OF with another year. The Phillies were willing, for the right prospect price, to eat the remaining 3 million or so of Kendrick's salary. This is something the Nats like more than other teams it seems. Kendrick can play multiple positions. He was a 2nd baseman, and a good one, for a long time but the Dodgers (and the numbers) saw something in 2015 that made them think his time there was at an end. He shifted to the outfield and became a pretty decent outfielder. He's put in time at first and third as well. It's not necessarily what you want to see - Kendrick playing something other than OF - but it's nice to know he can do it in a pinch. This is especially true with Stephen Drew facing an uncertain amount of time off due to injury. Plus he's not a bad runner making him a PR option as well.

But the most important reason is Kendrick can still hit. He had a little bit of a down year last year but otherwise has been a dependable bat all his career. At just 34 (birthday about 3 weeks ago) and hitting so far this year, you'd have to feel good that this year is not the year when it all goes away. He's an average hitter - and by that I mean he hits for average with just enough patience and power to make him a positive player if he can hit above .280 which he has done 9 out of the last 11 seasons. He's exactly the type of reliable contact bat you like to have on the bench, put the ball in play, move a runner over, that Raburn and Heisey are not.

Sounds great! What's the downside? Well he's been hurt a lot this year, missing seven weeks earlier this year and he's just coming back from missing a few days after getting hit in the hand. This isn't terribly new. He missed 40 games in 2015. 30+ in 2013. He'd mostly missed the big injuries but now the little ones are adding up. Also like I said, if he can hit above .280 he's fine. The further he goes under that the less value he has at the plate. A .260 Kendrick is... well... it's where you'd be saying "Difo hit pretty well this year. Let's stick with him".   Also his lack of patience and power means he has a very specific role coming into the game. He's not giving you a long bomb or working a tough walk. He's hitting the ball in play.

Of course if he didn't have these flaws he wouldn't be a 4th OF on a contender would he?

The downside is basically the downside with any player you get at the trade deadline. If he doesn't do what he's good at, he doesn't have much value. The good news is that Kendrick is good at a few things. Runs well, fields well, contact hitting. So if he doesn't contact hit - yes he's a minus at the plate - but it doesn't make him a useless player.  He can still contribute. It's a very nice pick-up in my opinion.

What did the Nats give up for this very nice pick-up? McKenzie Mills. Who is McKenzie Mills? Well he's one of those "high school guys given more time" that we talked about at the end of last week. He was drafted, and after a poor rookie league stint was brought up Low A. He did so poorly they dropped him back to Rookie League. If he were a 23 year old college guy that would be the end of it. but he was only 19, he had the size that teams love (6'4" 200+), and he was left-handed.  So Mills got another go at low-A and what do you know? He improved. Not enough to get you excited but enough to move up and see what he could do in A-ball. What he has done is found himself. His big issue was always walks.  To give you an example of how bad it was, when he improved himself in 2016  by cutting down his walks a TON they went all the way down... to over 4.5 per 9 IP. (If you don't know that's BAD).  This year that number is down under 2 and his strikeouts, never impressive before, are up over 10.

Did the Nats give up a gem? Perhaps. The trend is what you want to see and this year has been good. But he's a ways off and whatever he's done to make this improvement has made him prone to the long ball. He's still got to prove things in High A. If he does that then you can start to worry that maybe something special got away.  And I mean that very literally. If he has a similar season to this one, next year in High A, you can START to worry about this. That's it.

What's left for the Nats? Some targets for that back of the rotation and another pen arm are gone now. But we'll see. With news of Strasburg probably sitting out a second start coming out yesterday maybe we see something more dramatic than we would have expected a couple of weeks ago.

20 comments:

Fries said...

Stras is more injured than they're letting on, and every GM in the league knows it. I'm just hoping Beane and Rizzo can work some magic together again and make a win-win trade involving Sonny Gray. With the Yanks snagging Jaime Garcia to bolster the back end, Tanaka turning his season around, and the fact that they really only need their starters to go like 5 innings now, I'm not sure how sold they are on trading for an ace like Gray. That leaves the Dodgers and the Astros as other likely landing spots, but most of the murmurings involving those teams have been around Darvish. So maybe Gray is ripe for the taking.

At least that's what my optimism is telling me to believe...

Also, I'm wondering what the Wilson trade's holdup is. It sounded like a done deal between the Cubs and Tigers, but it's yet to be officially announced as I'm typing this. Seems odd

Harper said...

Fries - I may be slightly familiar with the Yankees so I can tell you they would REALLY like Gray. CC, Pineda will be FA at the end of the year and potentially Tanaka too. That leaves them with Severino, Montgomery and ? ? ? Darvish will probably be a target but if they can use their vast store of prospects to bring in Gray who's set for next year and 2019 then whoever they bring in (if not Darvish then Tanaka back or Pineda or Arrieta or Cueto) will give them a strong 4. Which you almost have to have.

Fries said...

Harper, fair enough. I wasn't factoring in free agency. Given all the rumors around the two teams, though, I guess I'm confused why a deal hasn't been made already. What's the hangup? That, mixed with the Garcia trade, is just indicating to me as an AL-naive outsider that the Yanks don't think a deal is going to go through. So the optimistic part of me is hoping Rizzo can swoop in.

mike k said...

IMO Yanks and Gray make a lot of sense (dependable guy for a couple years, which is what the Yanks don't have and really need), and mlbtr puts them as a just-working-out-the-margins done deal right now.

I like the Kendrick deal. I've posted before that I didn't think the Nats needed to give up value for a corner outfielder because the marginal gains won't be that high come playoff time, but Kendrick - and the low price to get him - is just perfect for them right now.

mlbtr says Orioles want a higher than Chapman haul for Britton. I can't see the Nats doing that. It's not even that he's worth less...the Chapman haul was just so ridiculous, that it's gonna prevent top players from moving because teams will get inflated expectations (like here!).

BxJaycobb said...

What makes you think Stras is more injured than they're letting on? Do you have inside information? I have no idea whether Stras will like not be able to pitch like himself in playoffs vs being back in 2 starts and back to himself after a nerve issue that they treated extra careful because they had a 12 game lead. If that was the situation (small pinched nerve irritation that probably only requires a start off but Nats are being extra extra careful because no urgency, would they be acting any differently?)

Froggy said...

I like the Kendrick deal as well. Seems like a net plus for the Nats offensively as long as he stays off the DL.

I think there is more to the Werth injury than a bruised / now fractured bone in his foot. More like management wanted to find / test drive a player with defensive consistency and above .245 offense in the lineup rather than a continue with the 'hope' strategy with Werth. Rather have Lind or Kendrick in LF to finish the season.

As to pitching, right now the Nats have two horses that can be depended on: Scherzer and Gio. Strasburg is a question mark, Jackson and Roark are at best a .500 pitchers for the rest of the season and Fedde is not ready (that rhymes!).

I would rather have a Verlander going out there every 4th day than the above.

BxJaycobb said...

It seems clear that a team like the Cubs under Epstein is more willing to deal prospects in a go for it mentality than Rizzo is (last year traded Torres for Chapman, this year has now traded candelario AND Jimenez for Justin Wilson, alex Avila, and Quintana.) that's a pretty large improvement of the Cubs roster at a huge expense to future. Maybe it's because Cubs have deeper talent reservoir than bats but I personally think Rizzo should be willing to deal some of our top prospects although not Robles.

ssln said...

So Harper you said my man EJ stinks. I told everyone what he was--a 50-50 pitcher who is going to be good some nights and not so good other nights. He will eat innings and give you his best every time out because this is his last go around. He didn't cost much and that is what the Nats need in the 5 hole. Last night was a classic example.
Stinks is a little harsh. BTW do I get to say you stink when you write a bad blog without being banned?

Harper said...

ssln - I have no idea how to ban people so you get to say whatever on the rare instance (re: Once a week) I write a bad blog entry

Harper said...

Fries - apparently Oakland has set a price and the Yankees won't meet it. First they asked for Frazier and Torres (Arguably op 2 NYY prospects going into year like 3 and 40). That of course was denied and they've gone down to Mateo & Florial. Two guys that would be like 4&5 in Yankees system (and in lower half of Top 100 overall) PLUS more. This first was a ridiculous set-up ask for their real price which is high, but I'd do it. I think the Yankees blink but either add pretty much nothing or make it one of those two plus several other lower level guys

Anonymous said...

I would have loved for the Nats to pick up Avila. Seems like he was almost a add-on to the Wilson deal and would fix a serious hole in the line-up. Agree on another RP arm, but upgrade like that at catcher seems like a similar low-cost upgrade option to what they did in adding Kendrick.

Anonymous said...

The waiting is killing me. With all the rumors that were swirling, I HAVE to think the Nats made a move for another arm, but it's been 20 minutes and no word...

Anonymous said...

Can someone explain to me how these guys are completely inactive for months at a time? Jayson Werth (out since June 3) JUST started swinging a bat? Are you serious? Please tell me he's been confined to a wheel chair the entire summer. Trea Turner has been out since June 29 with a fractured wrist and is not only able to swing a bat, but is able to begin his rehab in Florida. I know that some of these injuries are more severe than they seem. I know that some players (like Werth vs. Turner) take longer to heal due to age, etc. But give me a break...

blovy8 said...

Kinzler. Lots of fungible, effective late inning parts now without the headache of an annoited closer.

Jay said...

Darvish to LA. Seems both LA and Cubs are willing to give up prospects to improve team. Kinzler was an ok move. Just like Rizzo, a lot of other moves would have been better but would have cost more both in money and prospects. Plus why are they trading international signing pool money in the last two trades. Are the Nats a small market team?? Nats still have a chance. They were a couple of Danny Espinosa K's from beating Kershaw last year. But beating Kershaw, Darvish, and Hill plus another is going to be tough. Plus I'm not convinced they'll even beat the Cubs. We'll see.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what (or even if) the fancy stats have anything to say about this, but is there any strategic value in getting 3 really good relievers from the traditionally-more-hitting-oriented AL? Obviously Kintzler was an All-Star this year and is having a career year in the AL, but I mean are there stats besides the gut-feeling people who'll think "they've faced AL hitters so we're set for the World series, right!?". What say ye o fancy stat meisters?

Prolestes said...

@Jay

The nats are trading the international signing pool money (for this year) b/c they blew their load last year and were penalized for this year.

Ole PBN said...

Fellas... I don't know if the baseball gods have heard my pleas, but Bob Carpenter is not calling the game tonight. Instead Dave Jagler (sp?), from the radio, is calling the game alongside FP. And it sounds.... great. Just fantastic. "Please, please, don't let this be a temporary change!"

Anonymous said...

My guess is that Dave Jageler will continue through this series at least, as over on the radio side, Charlie said he'd be gone all week!

JE34 said...

...and Kevin Brown (up from Syracuse) is pretty good on the radio in Dave Jaegler's place too. Brown is heading to the bigs full time, taking over as the voice of the White Sox next year (I think that's what he said on air yesterday).

Amen, PBN, amen. Dave is a ton better than Bob Carpenter. On the one hand, I wish Charlie and Dave would stay together as the best MLB radio team in the league (with a respectful nod to the Giants booth, as the only team I've heard that's even close), but it is great to see Dave get a richly deserved opportunity.