Nationals Baseball: Offseason Position Discussion : Shortstop

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Offseason Position Discussion : Shortstop

Last year discussion revisited

I expected and wanted Trea to start despite thinking he'd sophomore slump and wasn't as good a fielder as Espy. He was great in a long audition as a rookies. I thought he'd still be fine. He did sophomore slump (though I expected higher average and less power in my slump) and didn't field as well as Danny had, but was fine.When healthy. He ended up missing 2 months to injury.

I expected Danny to back-up, but Danny was dealt and the Nats brought back Drew to back-up. He was hurt too. That meant Difo did most of the backing up. When starting Difo did very well. It would have surprised 2016 Harper that it held together after Turner/Drew injuries, but it did.

My OOB idea was - deal Danny, let Trea play CF, start Drew.  Eh. Maybe Trea hits better playing same position as 2016? Maybe Drew doesn't get hurt? Or maybe they both play as they did and things bomb? Didn't matter as the Nats did trade for a CF and made this plan DOA.

Presumed Plan :Turner plays short. At the beginning of the season the primary back-up may be Difo or it may be someone new. It depends on who they get to be the MI back-up. If it's more a 2B guy they may shift Difo over to SS if needed and let that guy play 2B.  When Murphy comes back Difo will be primary back-up.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan :Turner did not repeat his ROY type opening year but hit well enough, fielded well enough, and remained a big threat on the basepaths. Even if you believe "Starting Difo" is the real Difo* Turner's hitting was still better than that. Plus after coming back from the injury Turner hit much better. There is no compelling reason not to start him at short.

As for the back-up, it is an easy call if Murphy is at 2B. Difo did well and is fine slotting in this year as the primary back-up (though since you are relying on one year of mixed results I would recommend a solid second back-up). Early it the year it could go in a lot of directions. If the Nats do as I think and let Difo start at 2B, then who is Trea's back-up will follow who gets signed to be a MI back-up to start year. If it's someone with little SS experience, Difo will likely shift when needed. If it's someone that can play SS then they will likely back-up but may not take the position if there is a full-time injury. If it's someone that is defined as a SS, they'll back-up and will take the position on if needed. If the Nats instead sign a 2B to start, then Difo is the main back-up.

Of course this only matters when Murphy is out, which ideally will be a limited time. The above paragraph is showing there are a lot of ways to hopefully travel one mile.

Problems with Presumed Plan : Well Turner now has to be looked at as a mild injury risk and he didn't hit great last year so you can worry about some sort of repeat. Average at the plate and missing a large chunk of time. That's a possibility.

You could also worry about the potential for other teams to have figured Trea out. In the 2016 playoffs they reduced him to a singles hitter. In 2017 they made him average. In the 2017 playoffs he was terrible. With more focus on him he has not been the transformative player he was for half a season in 2016. What if that continues?

There are plenty of decent worries that the back-up for this injury risk won't pan out, be it Difo or which ever cheapo FA they likely sign.

My take : I guess Turner is a mild injury risk but given his age (25 in late June), his general health historically, and his performance in September you can't be overly concerned by it. Let's just hope it was a one-off.

As for his reduced performances, the playoffs are so limited and so different it's hard to use them as any sort of fair judgment. The full season 2017 performance is more telling but the injury return makes you want to give him another full season chance at the top of the line-up.  If we get to the end of 2018 and he's still not much more than an average hitter then maybe you start looking at moving him around the line-up. If he's worse than average then maybe you start looking for other long-term SS answers (Kieboom?) but for April-August 2018 Trea should be starting if healthy.

As for the back-up, if the Nats don't sign a starting 2B type to cover Muprhy's time out and really believe he'll be back in a month, then the Nats are in a bind. Do they sign someone decent - who may rarely play that first month and barely play after? Or do they go cheap figuring those limited ABs don't matter. I think I'm leaning toward "last chance" mode which tells me - spend the 3+ million on a decent player. The fact Difo might be able to play should be taken as a nice bonus that allows you to do this. Worst case - too many good players - is not a worst case at all.  The Nats have leaned toward spending like this but that has been when this person would likely be first off the bench. Let's see if they can keep it up when it's theoretically not.

Out of the box suggestion :

I got nothing. The quick answer would be "Trea back to CF" but the Nats don't have too few OF they have too many, even with Werth gone.  I suppose you could move Trea to 2B and let Difo play SS?  What for? That's just doing something to do it. Trade Turner and let Difo play SS? First - who plays 2B while Murphy is out? The guy you traded for? Is he going to be better than Turner? Second - what do you want more than a young cost-controlled MI with star potential? The only thing I'd trade Turner for would be a great young SP. So there you go - if the Yankees want to trade the Nats Severino for Turner (which they wouldn't) take it. There's my OOB idea.

*It isn't


Anonymous said...

Why do you suggest Turner is injury prone? He got hit by a pitch on the wrist. Happens to lots of players, unless you are suggesting his bones are brittle.

20/20 said...

Hindsight: Difo is good enough, and if you trade Turner to ChiSox in the almost-deal for Chris Sale, you have the best triple threat Starting Rotation that might be worth the trade!

JE34 said...

I had the same reaction as Anon above... Trea got unlucky on a wild fastball and broke a bone. If it were nagging stuff from the prior year, then fine, but it wasn't.

Trea flashed some power early on. Whenever I saw a big loopy swing from him, I wondered what his coaches were telling him. Maybe "Yeah Trea - you can be a leadoff guy with pop!" I'd be very happy to see Trea shorten up now and then, put it in play, and use his wheels. Power from Trea is a bonus, not something I'd count on.

Coaches should help players maximize their strengths. His talents are best applied on the basepaths, where he can haunt pitchers' and catchers' dreams, and make fielders hurry on anything not hit hard. I would pay him bonuses for every 25 walks he worked.

Josh Higham said...

He had a leg issue early in the year. Didn't miss a lot of time, but a hamstring strain is an injury, and not a freak one. Anyway, all Harper said was "mild injury risk," in the context of "is there any possible problem with starting Trea Turner at shortstop and counting on him all year"

JE34 said...

@Josh - you're right. I forgot about that hammy issue.

Josh Higham said...

It was such a short-term, minor thing compared to Eaton, Bryce, and his second injury.

KW said...

MLBTR suggested Trea back to CF and Nats sign Cozart. I actually suggested Cozart as the 2B insurance for Murphy, then to be on hand as Murph's replacement if they don't re-sign him. I seriously doubt that the Nats will look seriously at Cozart, but with so few teams looking for shortstops, he's likely to be an undervalued asset this offseason.

Difo will probably be fine as the bench guy, but I'm still not sold on his bat. His "breakout" 2017 produced only a wRC+ of 73, and he has never hit well at AA or AAA.

As for Trea, I think he bounces back. He got off to a very slow start in '17 and was just finding his groove when the Cubs drilled him. The Trea of '16 looked like a star in the making. I think we'll see that guy again in '18, perhaps with even more sneaky power thanks to Kevin Long.

Keith Watts said...

Turner got hit on the wrist cause Maddon is a genius and knew they'd be facing us in postseason. Joe put the word on the street he was a marked man. Strop must pay.

elchupinazo said...

It was a long time ago and for a pretty short period, but I feel like Trea performed better as the #2 guy behind Eaton? I know Trea has some of the best wheels in baseball and Eaton is certainly not going to be any faster than he was post-surgery, but I feel like hits (if the #2 slot is where he gets them) are more important than the prospect of swiping bags.

Ole PBN said...

I have confidence in the coaching abilities of Kevin Long. That was a big pickup. He did wonders for Murphy, so I hope the rest of the team takes to him the same way. One thing that I'm wary of is that while Murphy is a true student of hitting, other players may not be open to adjustment (as stupid as that sounds) - guys like Zim - who just want to "hit the baseball" and not overcomplicate things. Turner is someone who could really benefit from a good hitting coach at the major league level.

So many of these guys rely on the talents/mechanics that got them there. But while that was good enough to get you where you are, why no interest in pushing beyond that? I absolutely love Murphy's story. Same way when I heard Scherzer, coming off a CY Award in '13, decided to add a slider/cutter to his repertoire - as if being the best is not good enough. Always finding way to better themselves. Those are the players I love. Hopefully Trea is interested in this type of "further education" because that loopy swing with minimal patience in the lead-off slot spells trouble as the league adjusts. Good thing Kevin Long is just the man to help with that.

Harper said...

all - yeah let me clarify "injury risk" is not "injury prone". There isn't a good predictor of injuries because they can be so random, but generally the best of the mediocre bunch is (recent) past injury. I don't think it is as much fragility as it is compensation. You hurt your wrist and can't generate power, you may swing harder to compensate thus opening up back and shoulder muscles to more stress. That kind of thing. Now that the damn has burst for Turner, he's an injury risk. But because he has no real other injuries in his past, he's young, and he showed health before the end of the season he's about the mildest of risks. Assuming he plays ~150 games in 2018 I'd probably be fine shelving the risk beyond that.

JE34 said...

@elchupinazo - sample size of Eaton-Turner 1-2 was very small... only 6 games batting 2nd. He raked (15 for 31), and stole no bases. Eaton's sample size was also small in the leadoff spot, and he was also good (16 games... 22 for 70 with 8 walks)

Me, I'd start with Turner-Eaton (if Turner can improve his patience) because Eaton's a lefty, and holding Trea on makes for a great big hole on the right side. Of course I'd happily go with Eaton-Turner with a repeat of their prior production in that order.

@PBN: amen. Didn't Scherzer say it took him 2 years to confidently add the pitch to his repertoire? Love hearing that stuff.

sirc said...

Harper, I like reading all of your assessments but the one we all want to get into is the OF. Skip to the juicy part!


Josh Higham said...

This is not a shortstop comment, but Rendon arguably got robbed of a gold glove this year. His UZR/150 was like 60% higher than second place. But this is good, right? Awards, arbitrary as they are, most likely push up his price tag. No All Star appearances, no gold gloves or silver sluggers, limited MVP votes, these all should make him a little more affordable whenever the Nats start negotiating a new contract, right?

sirc said...

@Josh Highman

Two words: Scott Borax

All those modifiers applied to Jayson Werth in 2010 and look how he did.

sirc said...


Thanks Sumsung.

Josh Higham said...

I think I'll be calling him Borax from now on.

Anonymous said...

Not a SS related question. I see the Nats and Cards swapped pitching coaches. who wins? was it a money issue? i've always thought Maddux was considered a strongpoint as pitching coach for the Nats. did Nats sleep on Maddux, get robbed by the Cards and then settle for next best? the Cards must feel that way or they wouldn't have let their coach go to take Maddux i would guess. i'm not feeling all rosey on this move. also, Davey Lopes was always touted as a great 1B coach? was it age, health (Lopes missed some time in 2017) i would guess Lopes would never be more valuable than a year like 2018 with Turner, Taylor, Eaton, Robles, Difo etc hopefully running wild on the bases. who better to learn from than Lopes?? Bogar has been coaching on the bench etc. did we step back here possibly too? (if the pitching coach swap might be considered a step back) thx. last point, i'd prefer to see Turner than Eaton 1-2. but i can see the possible benefit of the reverse. bottom line, which ever puts the most base runners in front of Harper, Murphy, Rendon and hopefully Zim!! also, love to see them get Lind back. awesome off the bench and great possible platoon if Zim has any drop off. Darvish??? what a #3 he would be! although Arietta would fit better, dont like giving up the QOffer cost to sign him on top of the $$$

Josh Higham said...


I think letting Maddux go is just part of the package when you wait so long to let Dusty go. If I'm Maddux and I don't have a contract or any promise that I'll get one, I don't wait around for the Nats to make up their mind. The Cards decided he'd be an upgrade, or at the very least that they needed a fresh face, and the Nats weren't in any position to make Maddux any promises.

And Lopes missed a big chunk of last year and I think was mulling retirement even if his buddy Dusty came back. I'm not at all surprised to see him go. I doubt he'll coach this year.

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