Nationals Baseball: Tuesday Quickie - still nothing

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Tuesday Quickie - still nothing

The talk of the off-season is how there is no off-season. After a flurry of middle reliever signings the hot stove went cold and has been that way every since. There has been some work by the Giants to try to fashion together a contender while Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner can still carry the team, but it only has so much impact on the Nats.

Until another team makes a splash there are only 6 teams the Nats have to worry about, the Nats have to look at the Cubs and the Dodgers and the rest of the NL East.

The NL East has made it fairly easy on them. The Marlins have shut things down opting to go all-out instead of all-in, with the hopes of creating an Astros type cheap winner in the future. The Braves are already 3 years down that path very close to wasting Freddie Freeman's prime as neither their starters or offensive players have come together as they hoped and they have no interest in spending. The Phillies are starting to come out of that path but you can see a reluctance to buy in this off-season when they are likely a year away and next year may be full of FA gems.

This leaves the Mets, who only seem to find their way once every five years or so. They did get the magic of having pitching come together at the same time and carry them to the playoffs. But like the 2012-2015 Nats discovered, that's not enough by itself. Guys get injured or just don't dominate every year. You need a very good to great offense too to balance it out if you want every year success. The Mets aren't likely to get that from next year's team unless they do more work or hit on every prospect. So again, they are relying on everyone healthy and great on the staff to compete. It's a gamble unlikely to pay off.

The Cubs lost some big free agents and are attempting to patch the problem. Wade Davis was replaced by Brandon Morrow who is not as good.  Arrieta and Lackey are gone, but Quintana steps in to the rotation full-time. Tyler Chatwood fills the other role and again it's likely not as strong a player as the one who left. All this means is that today the Cubs are not as good as last year. Which is good for the Nats who are stable.

The Dodgers who won 100 games last year are going to be basically the same team. They lose FAs that either didn't matter (Franklin Gutierrez, Chase Utley) or who came by trade (Darvish, Granderson, Watson).  Only the aforementioned Brandon Morrow played a big role all year and it's difficult to see a middle relief pitcher loss derailing this team. They squeaked out enough health from a talented but injury-prone starting staff to survive but expect another trade for a starter mid-season. So the Dodgers may not be better but talent wise they won't be worse either - that's not great for the Nats but given the way things line up it's not likely the Nats will be worrying about that in the DS round.

You can see why the Nats don't feel pressure to move forward even in a buyer friendly market. The division threat level is low predicated on a Mets rotation hitting on all cylinders or a surprise. The playoff threat level is no stronger than last year a year where the Nats took the Cubs to the last few innings of the last game of the NLDS. Perhaps something more is needed for the playoffs, but it's hard to say it's needed today.

So the remaining offseason will likely be determined by long term planning (do you trade for someone assuming Bryce will leave) or by reactions. If Darvish signs with the Cubs, that pushes the Cubs ahead of the Nats. They probably wouldn't react but at least it gives them a threat. Maybe the Mets trade for Josh Harrison or surprise deal for a pitcher. They probably wouldn't react but again - it gives them something to think about.

Until then we sit and wait another 3-4 weeks until we can get excited for a single day as the players head to Florida.


KW said...

I don't think signing Darvish would put the Cubs ahead of the Nats. The Nats were better than the Cubs last year; they just didn't get it done. Now the Cubs have lost two starters and their closer. Frankly, if Darvish ends up with the Brewers, who led the Cubs for much of last season before Nelson went down and the Cubs ponied up for Quintana, the Cubs may be in a fight to even make the playoffs in 2018.

The real competition for class of the NL is the Dodgers. I'm also surprised that the Dodgers haven't done more to solidify their starting pitching.

There are two ways to look at the Nats' position: 1) they can likely win the division with what they've got, have a good chance to beat the NL Central winner in the NLDS, and then take their chances with the Dodgers; or 2) add a couple of more pieces and go big for what might be the last ride with Harper/Murphy/Gio. While I lean toward the "go big" camp, I've struggled all offseason to define what "big" would look like. Robles for Archer would be "big," certainly bigger (and smarter) than overpaying for Darvish or Arrieta. I haven't heard a closer mentioned as being legitimately available who be an upgrade on Doo/Mad. With the everyday lineup, the catcher position has been hashed to death, but giving up one of the big three prospects for just two years of Realmuto doesn't make sense to me. Adding Avila would be helpful but wouldn't be "big."

The only other lineup spot that really could be upgraded in a feasible manner (they're not trading or benching Zim) would be MAT. He still strikes out a third of the time he's at the plate. But he plays world-class defense and came up big in the postseason. Would trading Robles for Yelich provide that much improvement over Taylor? Or even any improvement at all, considering that MAT is a better defender in CF than Eaton or Yelich? (And of course the Nats can't trade Robles for both Yelich and Archer.)

So while I'd like to "go big," or at least a little bigger than right now, I'm not sure how they get to "big." I'd settle for just signing Lynn or Cobb, as well as Avila or Lucroy.

Jay said...

I agree. I would sign Lucroy and sign another pitcher. I read somewhere that Holland is going to end up in DC. I don't buy it. Anyway, we'll see. I'm not as big of a fan of waiting until the trade deadline. Trades cost prospects. Though Rizzo hasn't really given away the farm yet, except maybe Ray and it took years for him to develop. I'd love another LH starter but don't know of anyone out there worth chasing. Either way, Rizzo is their biggest free agent. If he leaves, they are likely in trouble no matter what.

Chas R said...

given Rizzo's history of late signings, I just can't help but feel (irrationally probably) that something big may yet pop

blovy8 said...

Yeah, if you want to have a better team than the Dodgers, they haven't done much about that yet. Relying on the vagaries of the postseason hasn't been a winning formula, Except for the other teams who were supposed to be worse than the Nats most series...

KW said...

I respect the Dodgers and see them as the primary challenge for the Nats in the NL. That said, there are chinks in the Big Blue armor. Kershaw has now had multiple years with injury issues. Beyond him, no Dodger started more than 25 games. Morrow was a huge link getting to Jansen, particularly in the postseason. Six of their eight regulars struck out more than 100 times, and it would have been seven of eight if Pederson had played a full season. (The Nats only had two guys over 100 Ks, MAT and Zim.) Is Chris Taylor really a star-level player? I'm not sure who they have signed for their bench, but they've got a number of ABs to replace for a team that likes to platoon quite a bit.

In short, when everything falls into place for the Dodgers, they're quite good, but they seem to be counting on everything falling into place with the same crew for two years in a row, and that rarely happens. (Although the Nats haven't really made any major changes, either, other that Eaton in for Werth, which should be significant.)

Dmitri Young said...

Harper: I'm late on my question. Do you think Bryce or Rendon has the better career from here out? I guess my question doesn't include the Yankees short porch. Rendons approach last year was much better than Bryces though it wasnt as good as Bryces MVP year.

sirc said...


What do you mean by "Rendon's approach last year was much better than Bryce's?"

Lower strikeout rate? Because in all other categories Bryce was better than Rendon last year, which more than offsets the strikeout rate. They are both good hitters. Bryce is significantly better.

Also Bryce is over 2 years younger. Rendon will be signing his first free agent contract at the exact same age (29) that Zimmerman signed his second contract extension. Whoever signs Rendon will be buying several decline years in addition to the few remaining prime years.

blovy8 said...

Rendon and Harper have almost identical fWAR from 2014-2017. You're probably right about the age curve, but it's not a crazy question. Harper might actually be more injury-prone, which I don't think anyone would have predicted five years ago.

sirc said...

fWAR adds in defense. Nobody would argue that Rendon is anything less than an elite defender at a premium defensive position. But that wasn't what Dmitri brought up.

I was responding to the "Rendon's approach was better..." observation, which I find puzzling.

Josh Higham said...

Bryce has been more injured recently than Rendon, but to me, the fact that Rendon has 3 significant injuries to his ankles (1 left, 2 right) says his legs are more likely to give out than any part of Bryce is. And playing premium defense as he does, he has a lot of value to lose if one or both legs starts to limit his range at 3rd. Bryce provides more value with his bat and (usually) on the bases.

Rendon last year was obviously more valuable than Bryce because of playing time and a couple of great months, but a great month for Bryce is historically transcendent wheras Rendon's great months are "merely" MVP level, and although Bryce is not particularly durable, I think he's got to project for greater health and gentler aging than Rendon does.

Rendon very well could end up outperforming Bryce over the course of their next contracts from a $/WAR standpoint, but Bryce probably has a couple of 9+ WAR seasons in him, which I don't think Rendon does. Ignoring money though, I think it's hard to argue against Bryce.

blovy8 said...

Sirc, your last paragraph also counts in the discussion. Rendon's approach to first base was certainly better.

Dmitri Young said...

I based the approach comment on watching their at-bats. The stat that probably best confirms the perception is the k rate. Look, I get the eye test is usually unreliable and results based stats are the way to judge players but I think it's fair to say Rendon had better at bats last year than Bryce over the course of the season.

Of course Bryce's power makes him more valuable. I guess I was thinking $ / WAR and who would be better to sign.

Robot said...

I say sign both!! I think the Lerner should spend ALL OF THE MONEYS and get Machado and that Kershaw kid, too!

sirc said...

We can't debate Bryce v Rendon. They are both amazing and both Nationals. It's just wrong.

Also pointless because the answer is obviously Bryce.

Froggy said...

How about this for a motivational topic:

Ending celebrations at Nats park by the visiting team during the playoffs.