Nationals Baseball: Sellers? Ask yourself three questions

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Sellers? Ask yourself three questions

The Nats lost again. They are still hanging around the fringes of the playoff hunt but are now on their third week of "they should really make a move now. please" They have failed at that, but they also haven't found themselves removed from the race either. This puts the Nats in that unnatural spot, too close to give up, too far away to go all in. The choice to be made now is a complete choice, not one obviously dictated by circumstance.

Should the Nats be buyers? Sellers? Stand pat? Let's ask the important questions.

1) What kind of realistic chance do the Nats have at the playoffs? 

The Nats are currently 6 games back of ATL and 7 games behind the Phillies. They are 6 games out of the 2nd WC populated by the Braves and the Diamondbacks. The Rockies, Pirates, Giants, and Cardinals all have better records than the Nats.

You can go by the odds listed in various places.  Fangraphs has them at 45.2% for playoffs 33.6 to win division. Everyone thinks that's high.  Baseball America at. 15.2%, 8.5% seems low. 538 is at 21%, 14% That seems about right.  A punchers chance to win the division.  A decent chance to sneak into a 2nd WC if things break right. (FWIW MLB is at 52.6%, 38.3%, which is crazy)

You can go by the basic narratives that have to happen. Either (1) the Nats need to play like one of the best teams in baseball and the Braves and Phillies have to play like .500 teams, or (2) the Nats need to play really well and the Braves and Phillies both have to collapse, or (3) the Nats need to play like one of the best teams in baseball and a number of teams between them and the 2nd WC need to play no better than ok.*  How do you feel about these narratives? Pretty good? Eh? Don't buy it? It's going to depend how you feel about these players, this manager, this GM, and what you expect everyone else will do.

You can only answer this question for yourself but try to be honest. Don't just scream "NO CHANCE"

2) What will the Nats get back for what they want to trade? 

There's a sense of "well get anything for what you have" once you trade but really it's a balance against the chances of winning this year. What's better having say... Gio Gonzalez and a slim chance he helps you get to the playoffs this year or an middling 20yo A-ball prospect? The reality is - it's Gio 9 times out of 10. Baseball history tells us that.

Since no one is talking rebuild, we only look at expiring and the Nats have expiring contracts to deal. The problem is they are all underperforming players, the types that contenders aren't inclined to go after. Gio is pitching poorly. Murphy is coming back from injury and pitching poorly. Same with Wieters. Madson is injured and was pitching poorly. Herrera has looked shaky. All these guys are likely to get you back very little. Just think about what was sent FOR Herrera. When he was pitching well and there was more of the season to go. He got a nothing player and a prospect that's like 5 years off if all goes well. He'd get less now.

So who's of real value to trade? Well Gio still - starters are starters. Hellickson as well for that reason. Shawn Kelley and Matt Adams are probably the best two guys you have to deal, but each has a bugaboo holding value down. Kelley was real bad earlier, and at previous times, and has an injury history. Adams hasn't been a full time player in a while. All these guys can be traded with the idea of just getting a bag of trash and searching through it for something good. Sometimes that works (Guzman got Roark) but usually it doesn't (Willingham got Corey "Lesser Goodwin" Brown and Henry Rodriguez)

Of course I didn't mention the elephant in the room Bryce Harper. He could get you something back. Not nearly what he might have if playing well and probably not nearly worth what he could possibly do for this team down the stretch. But if you are going to trade you almost have to trade him. Of course if you do trade him you lose that draft pick you'd almost certainly get for losing him. Teams love their draft picks nowadays, Nats included and that's probably a big enough factor alone to keep him here.

3) What are the chances the Nats are in a better position next year?

Since you aren't rebuilding this is really the question you are asking. You are going to get some AAA pieces that may help next year, some far off prospects that may help way down the road. You aren't getting a good player for 2020, not by plan anyway. What are the chances those AAA are helping out a team in better straits?

Well What's the projected rotation, pen and lineup next year sans FA

Max, Stras, Tanner.... uh Fedde, and Jefry
Doolittle, Kintzler, and... well a mess of the other guys there. Glover, Solis, Grace, etc.
Eaton, Turner, Soto, Rendon, Zimm, Robles probably, Difo, and Severino

Guys - that's a .500 team if it's lucky. There's no back of the rotation, the pen is it's usual meh self and the lineup is half bad.

Of course you say "But they'll get better players!" and they will! But they need to hit 3 good players to get from .500 to playoff contender. (or one great, one good, and one ok). Let's say they sign Yasmani Grandal, Patrick Corbin, Asdrubal Cabrera, Craig Kimbrel - probably the best C, SP, 2B, and RP on the market. You think the Nats go 3 for 4 there and get enough good value for it to work out? Or any one is great? What about if it's Ramos, Dozier, and a flier on Lance Lynn and no relief pitcher. Or  more realistically a cheapo deal for Mesoraco, Murphy back on a bargain deal, money going to Dallas Kuechel, and a couple affordable deals for some relief arms like say... Cody Allen and Sergio Romo. Is that going to be enough?

And we're talking in a vaccuum here. The Braves will need to make some moves but are only losing two real keys, Markakis and both catchers. (Yes Sanchez is a key but if they are planning on a Sanchez 2019 like 2018 they are dumb). They'll likely be going after some of the same players the Nats will and will have a better team and likely better contract to sell them.  The Phillies are losing... Trevor Plouffe and have tons o' money. 

This last question is the one that makes me say "don't be sellers". The Nats have a chance now. Not a good one but a chance. I don't like the chance that they will be in this position next year. So if you aren't going to rebuild (which means trading Rendon, Doolittle, and Kintzler) then you need to stand pat and maybe add and go for it. Because there isn't a bright future right around the corner where sending guys off for nothing returns might help.

Of course this changes if the Nats do collapse - lose tonight - lose first 3 to Miami. The chance goes away and the Nats have nothing to play for this year. They may not get anything from these deals, but maybe nothing is better than definitely nothing.

*Yeah there is a fourth that would get the Nats into the WC doing just ok but the chances of all the teams ahead of them playing like crap (which would almost necessitate a couple bad NL teams playing like the best team in baseball - someone has to win) is too far fetched for me to consider.


Treaples69 said...

What about trading Kintzler? Glover is almost back and there is no spot available currently other than solis who can be optioned. He has an additional year of control and may actually bring something back and you wouldnt sacrifice a whole lot in terms of still going for this year

Jon Quimby said...

There's a tear in my beer after reading this post. I really thought this was going to be a good year. Horrible way for Gio, Murph and Bryce to go out.

Harper said...

Gabe Roark - sure but if you do that why not trade Rendon? Doolittle? Maybe Eaton? Kintzler is good, affordable and could help you next year. So the trade would be saying "we don't care about next year"

Sammy Kent said...

I think we're done. Look to next season and beyond. Don't be afraid to make the blockbuster trade....exactly what Mike Rizzo is deathly scared of. I would have already been talking to Scott Boras saying we either sign Bryce long-term now and get it done or we're trading him. Then I'd send him to the Dodgers for say, Austin Barnes and Alex Wood. Get Rendon signed for the long term.

Cooper Roark said...

What about Howie and Joe Ross? Ross will have a shortened season but it will still add value. Howie is a solid 2b until Kieboom comes up. Then you have a chance to get back Ramos this winter. From there you can move Jefry into the bullpen, get a pitcher or give Fedde a full chance in the majors, Zimm is 50/50 on a great season or a terrible one, but I'm okay with those odds. We can't have a ton of injuries like we have the last few years but some year you've gotta not have the most injuries in baseball. Am I wrong to think that's a team that can fight it out with the Phillies and the Braves?

Scherzer, Stras, Roark, Joe Ross, ?.
Eaton, Turner, Soto, Rendon, Robles, Howie, Zimm, C, P.
Trust in Rizzo on the bullpen.

Kubla said...

"Murphy is coming back from injury and pitching poorly. Same with Wieters." I think we've figured out what's wrong with the rotation.

G Cracka X said...

Good post, and well thought out.

Selling doesn't seem that appealing, since you want to try again in 2019 and the rentals aren't that valuable at this point. I do think that the Nats can be contenders in 2019 with a couple of smart free agents signings and/or trades and/or Kieboom makes it to the show next year and does OK. And yes, don't forget Joe Ross

CoolMoeSteve said...

Honestly, I can't make myself believe this team will make the playoffs. It's more likely they keep playing meh and stay around .500 and we'll be watching who can take on Boston or Houston in October.

I agree with a few of the other guys here, that next year could be a Carter Kieboom tryout in major league camp, and later this year, maybe we'll get a good look at how Joe Ross is coming back...

and Kubla: Bwahahahaha

Ric said...

@SammyKent said:

"Then I'd send him to the Dodgers for say, Austin Barnes and Alex Wood."

There's no way the Dodgers (or any other team) are trading away anyone on their 25 (or 40-) man roster for a two_month rental. Let alone multiple players on their roster.

Look at Manny Machado to the Dodgers for perspective. They gave up five prospects, and only one of those was an MLB top-100 prospect.

That's the fallacy of everyone who argues we should trade Harper. Realistically, the Nationals are much better off losing Harper in the off-season and gaining a compensatory pick, than any prospect that may or may not pan out in 2021 at the earliest that the Nats would get in a trade now.

PotomacFan said...

On balance, the Nats should stand pat. If they have an opportunity to pick up someone who has a contract that extends through 2019, they should consider doing so because they can, and should, be contenders next year. But no rentals. And if they have the opportunity to sell high, they should consider that too. But as the Machado trade shows, you can't get that much in return for a two-month rental. Still, the O's got a nice haul of prospects, but then Machado is more valuable than any player that the Nats might sell, including Bryce.

blovy8 said...

I could still see an August waiver deal for a pitcher coming if they rattle off a few good weeks and get closer. But that wouldn't require anything but a C prospect.

blovy8 said...

This is perhaps a .500 club, but I'm not really convinced that the Braves and Phillies aren't too. The biggest deal could be the one you avoid making. Anyway, you'd have to hope for some kind of Cardinals luck to win anything this year.

billyhacker said...

What can you get for Harper? I'd bet you might get a couple AA pitchers that have issues like injury and will need to be converted to relievers. Especially ones rehabbing and that are at least a year away. And then next July, the team would at least have a chance at not scrambling at the deadline and trading six years of control for a rental. Would be great to be the one giving up the rental even for a lottery ticket of six years of a cost-controlled middle reliever. Also, losing Harper might not hurt the team's playoff chances all that much, and it would let Harper see what it's like playing for the Cardinals. Might even give the Nats a discount after his experience away. So, sell something that you won't miss too much for a low upside chance at a couple relievers. Also, the projections are positive on the Nats because on paper, they are pretty good. That suggests luck or chemistry as issues - maybe a trade helps with that?

Huzzah! said...

Is there any rookie having a better season than Juan Soto? Will he be eligible for rookie of the year voting?

Froggy said...

Nats win one in Laverne and Shirley-ville. Mission accomplished?

Harper said...

Huzzah - yes. there is not eligibility issue for the season you are playing in, only that you haven't played too much before this season (and Soto hadn't played in the majors prior to 2018)

Now bc the question comes up - the fewest games played to win a ROY is Willie McCovey with 52 (219 PA) in 1959. In recent years Wil Myers and Ryan Howard won it with barely over half a season of games.

Froggy - take that Hasenpfeffer Incorporated

BxJaycobb said...

Harper: I disagree that next year the Nats are unlikely to contend. Given how quickly Rizzo moves players, I would expect Kieboom to play most of next year as the second baseman. You can’t count on him being good. But you can probably count on him being better than Difo, who is bad. I don’t believe you need to sign a FA to play 2B. Joe Ross will be returning and will effectively be replacing Gio in the rotation. Of course his health is a question mark, but still, he’ll be back. The Nats also have the best hitting rookie in baseball who also happens to be 19. You can say “it’s unlikely Soto will be a monster next year.” Thats true. It’s also true that what he’s doing is unprecedented, so I think you can count on him replacing a decent chunk of what Harper brings offensively, even if he doesn’t replace all of it (the fact is, Harper has been a truly big-time middle order offensive player in only one season that the Nats made the playoffs: last year. I like Soto’s chances of lessening the sting of Bryce’s departure from the lineup. Robles will be up. How good will he be? I don’t know. But he’s supposed to be pretty good, and it seems like young players are reaching their potential earlier than ever these days, especially with respect to power/pop (thanks juiced baseball). Catcher is an enormous problem. We need to sign one. End of story. But where exactly are the gigantic holes on the team? I see one at Catcher and I see the same rotation depth issues we had this year and we need some relievers. To contend next year I think the Nats will require some luck with performance of young players and fewer injuries than usual, but I think they can. And I most certainly think they can in 2020, although extending rendon would help. But yeah. I’m not as pessimistic about the next few years. It won’t be a waltz to a division title OBVIOUSLY but I think the team will be tough. If you include Turner with Soto and Robles, which rebuilding team has a better core of 3 young position players to work with? Not many. And then you have two monsters at the head of the rotation, though it would be helpful if strasburg performed well and could remain vaguely healthy before max turns into a pumpkin. And kieboom looks more and more like a decent regular. They need to fill in the rest of the team, but starting at .500 before you add any FAs and before you consider anything you would get from Ross or Kieboom, etc is a perfectly fine place to be. I don’t think the Nats would be wise to do anything resembling a tear down. And I’m also perfectly comfortable saying *right now* that the chances of them making the playoffs in 2019 is higher than it is in 2018 at this point.

BxJaycobb said...

I think the competition is probably Acuna in ATL. He gets a lot of attention because he’s an exciting talent but also because ATL as a story this year. I would say that if you getting invested in the Soto for ROY race, Acuna is currently behind Soto but could easily win it if he puts together a big last two months with better health.

Sammy Kent said...

@Ric, Bryce wouldn't be a two month rental for the Dodgers in my world. They'd jump at the chance to sign him to a new long term contract and avoid free agency. Bryce should easily buy us a first line catcher and a #3 starter. This season is an aberration. He's going to win two or three more MVPs and every GM in baseball knows it.

BxJaycobb said...

Ric: what are you talking about? If compensation draft picks were as good as prospects you get back in rental trades, nobody you would offer a QO to would ever be traded as a rental. Of course you could get something back for Bryce that’s more valuable than a comp pick. Compensation sandwich round picks are not good picks. Harper would 100% return at least one promising prospect. It’s possible you wouldn’t get a blue chip top 30 prospect back, but you would certainly get something better than you’d get as a compensation pick. And you could specifically ask for prospects who are close to the major leagues. A Chapman rental returned Gleyber Torres. Machado rental returned one top prospect and 4 others. Do I think the a former MVP and the current NL leader in home runs and walks would return a Gleyber Torres or as much as Machado’s return? Maybe not quite. But that’s the point. You see if somebody like say Cleveland or the Astros is willing to trade a top 40 prospect for Bryce. If not, don’t deal him. If yes, consider it. But I’m sorry. Your claim that the Nats are better off with a compensation draft pick over what Bryce would get in a trade is just flat out wrong.

BxJaycobb said...

@Harper. I really see 4 realistic options:
1. Hang tight and go for it this year, possibly with a modest buy of somebody like sort of coming off injury Ramos.
2. Sell off rentals, including Bryce if you can get decent value and benefit from just losing people to compensation picks (or no such picks) and that’s it....and try to reload for next year.
3. Say “forget 2019” let’s do a half rebuild for 2020. In this scenario you also trade rendon. Maybe Doolittle at waiver wire (or offseason) if he’s recovered. Maybe Eaton too.
4. The full enchilada. You say Max is available. Stras is available. Everybody is available, except for Turner, Soto, Robles, and Kieboom basically. This is the “shoot for 2021 and beyond” plan. I think it’s irrational.
I think that logic dictates either 1 or 2 is the most sensible. 4 frankly makes more sense than 3 though. You have Max and Strasburg in their primes only so much longer. Leaving them on noncompetive teams make no sense to me. So I think you either do a full rebuild of everybody but the young core, or you try to flip the roster over and see how you do in 2019. As I’ve said above, I think that any team with Robles, Soto, Turner, and Kieboom on the way, plus Rendon for a year and possibly willing to sign extension, plus max and Stras leading the rotation has what it takes to build on it with supplements and be competitive for next few years.

Robot said...

Great outing by Tanner. I hope he's figured out whatever was wrong.

Is it too soon to send Solis back down? This guy isn't good.

Ric said...

I’ll just quote what Harper said in this post, and leave it at that: “Of course if you do trade him you lose that draft pick you'd almost certainly get for losing him. Teams love their draft picks nowadays, Nats included and that's probably a big enough factor alone to keep him here.“

Ric said...

The Dodgers would not give up a first line catcher and #3 starter for a two-month rental. Again, look what they gave up for Machado: five prospects. And I think the Dodgers try to sign Machado long term.

I agree that the Dodgers would love to avoid free agency when it comes to Haper. And yes, the Dodgers might trade a starting catcher and pitcher straight up for Harper for a full season or more.