Nationals Baseball: It's a whole new Ani-bal Game

Friday, December 21, 2018

It's a whole new Ani-bal Game

The Nats had a worry about the rotation for the first time in years this off-season. Gio was going leaving the Nats rotation clearly 3 deep for the first time since possibly the success began*  We knew the Nats would have to address this by bringing in an arm and they did. Patrick Corbin was signed giving the Nats a new bigger Big 3. However in one crucial way Corbin wasn't Gio. Gio was consistently healthy over the course of his career. Corbin already has one major surgery. So it was vital the Nats think about that, especially with "Miss a Month" Strasburg in the rotation.

But instead the Nats jettisoned rock-steady Roark, trading him to the Reds, presumably to clear up cap space. For what though? A top notch starter like Kuechel? The best 2B available like Lowrie or LeMahieu (depending on your view)? Finally, finally, getting the best back end of the bullpen FA could get them?

Apparently it was for Anibal Sanchez.

Sanchez signed a deal for 2 years 19 million, which means his AAV (to be counted against the cap) should be 9.5 million, a savings of maybe a million over Roark.  For that they get a pitcher who was, admittedly, much better than Roark last year. But they also get a pitcher who threw 50 fewer innings than Roark last year, almost 200 fewer IP over the past 3 years. They also get a guy who in 2016 and 2017 was much worse than Roark.

You could possibly understand this if it saved the Nats a lot of money but it didn't - at least in regards to the luxury cap. They still have say 5-15 million to spend (depending how much in-year flexibility they want to have) to stay under that figure. I suppose if they are down near the conservative end (which assumes a lot of hit bonuses, Rosenthal being all year healthy, and bolstering the team through mid-season deals) a million matters. Up near the other end it would be far less impactful. I am having a hard time understanding this. Rizzo didn't draft the guy for the D-backs! He's not a Boras client! I don't see any non-baseball reason for it either. Can me perplexed.

Is Sanchez really 2018 good? That's hard to say. 2018 wasn't a mirage in the stats not lining up with the performance sort of way. Anibal did pitch very well. Primarily he got back to getting those ground balls, which had been a hallmark of his early success, and everything that went with that (more guys LOB, better HR/FB ratio). I mean you can adjust and tweak and say that guy will be a 3.50 guy this year, but that's pretty good. Really good for a 4. But then you look at 2016 and 2017 and wonder. And then tack on the likelihood of a 5 month season at best. Those are the question marks that have you saying - he's not right for this team at this price.

Part of me wonders if actually the payroll this year is super important to the Lerners, despite it not being the actual cost against the cap. If that's the case the 4-5 million vs Roark makes a bit more sense. But I'm not sure why that would be...

I don't know. Maybe you guys can follow this. To me this is a little bit of a panic move in a rapidly shrinking FA market for SP, that they pivoted too after whatever was Plan A (Morton?) and Plan B (Lynn?) fell apart.

*of course going into 2012 they weren't entirely sure what they had. 2013 has an argument, with it being Haren & unproven Detwiler at the end. 2014 brought in Fister to supplement the Big 3. 2015 Scherzer. 2016 we knew Roark was at least an innings eater in the 4th spot. 2017 and 2018 were along the same lines.

27 comments:

DezoPenguin said...

I suppose if you're fishing for "why Sanchez in particular?" reasons, we did sign his primary catcher from last season earlier in the offseason. Maybe Suzuki had some long talks with Martinez and/or the coaching staff about the changes Sanchez made in his pitching repertoire that made him such a different pitcher in 2018 in contrast to his '16-'17 and that helped convince them that this performance was replicable a la 2015-postseason Murphy?

Josh Higham said...

Steamer likes Anibal a hair better than Roark (1.6 WAR in 144 IP to 1.3 WAR in 133 IP), and I don't know what ZiPS thinks about Roark, but it only projects Anibal to accrue 1.0 WAR.

This sequence of moves is absolutely bonkers unless Anibal's true level is something like the 2+WAR per 100IP he managed during his renaissance last year. Neither of these guys is very good. Lance Lynn is not very good, so expecting to land him is no excuse. If you already had a deal in place with Morton, an actual upgrade, then the move to jettison Roark for basically nothing is fine. These two moves have the neat effect of souring me on the whole (actually very good) offseason.

Zimmerman11 said...

Still wanna believe Rizzo has some trades available once the Bryce situation is settled.

Nats #2 in payroll? Only team besides BOS to pay luxury tax? Hard to fault the Lerners for not trying to win in the light of that... the worst you can really say is they're a lot LESS cheap than all the other owners?

Hope they get the extension with our third baseman RenDONE... even at the expense of Bryce's departure.

Adam VB said...

At the end of the day, as long as the Nats have warm bodies providing a 4.5 ERA from their 4/5 spots, who cares? The top 3 arms are good enough to get into the playoffs (if healthy.)

Now go get Josh Harrison for 2B so we can kick our feet up and read hype articles from now til Spring Training.

cass said...

This makes no sense to me. Roark was a dependable starter who had a bad year but picked up toward the end as I recall. Something about a tweak he made at the suggestion of Kinzler?

But overall, he is what he is and he's younger than Sanchez and has been way healthier. The Nats need dependable starters when their #2 and #3 are big injury risks.

We cannot be running Voth out there when injuries inevitably happen. Nats still need one more starter to avoid the Voth scenario. This feels like a politics/personality thing with Roark.

Weirdly, this basically the opposite of what they did at catcher.

Kubla said...

I'm sure they will still go into ST with a few reclamation projects as the potential SP#5. I can't think of a time this move actually worked and one of those guys the rotation, but why not. It's a pretty standard Rizzo thing at this point to have the ghost of Chien-Ming Wang around for a couple May starts. Maybe this will be the year of the Yovani Gallardo comeback.

That or they miss the playoffs by five games due to their collection of Schmoes not coming through (or the new SP#4 lays an egg in a crucial playoff game), Roark goes 8-2 with a 3.3 ERA, and the trade looks catastrophically dumb in retrospect.

BxJaycobb said...

@Harper. I would make one point. In the National League Sanchez has been consistently great. In the AL he was consistently beat up. He also changed his pitch usage and mix last year. See recent fangraphs article. I think it’s likely he pitches better than Roark on a rate basis. The problem is innings. They need another starter to at least eat innings and give them a chance to win on his days in order for me to feel decent about the rotation. But yeah. I don’t really follow this move either. It’s a bit odd.

PotomacFan said...

Presumably, Cincinnati is hoping that Roark pitches decently in the first half of the season so they can trade him for prospects in July. That's a win-win for Cincy: they dump half of Roark's salary and get prospects in return. Roark is a free agent at the end of the season, and he's not going to stay with Cincy. So, Cincy may have given up the other Tanner (who may never pitch in the majors), but will get better prospects mid-season.

DezoPenguin said...

@Bx: Sanchez was also fine in Detroit in '13-'14 (in fact, IIRC he won the AL ERA title in '13). It was from '15-'17 that he was, respectively, bad, worse, and oh-my-God-help-me. In '18 he was genuinely good again thanks to significant changes in his pitching mix with Atlanta. The question is, will that improvement stick, and will he avoid injury enough for it to matter since he's been dinged up many a time through his career?

I have, honestly, no problem with swapping Sanchez for Roark. Roark's great strength is consistency--he's as close as anyone with "pitcher" in his job title to a sure thing to give you 32 starts of 6 IP each over the course of the year. But he hasn't actually been very good since '16. Reliable back-end starters have value. Meanwhile, Sanchez has much better upside, we save about $4M in real spending and $500K in tax value per AAV, and that option is genuinely useful *if* he's good over these next two years, but that comes with more risk: the risk of age, the risk of injury, and the risk that the team will be stuck with him for an extra year if he reverts to pre-'18 form. The Corbin signing already indicated that Rizzo was willing to take a chance on upside.

The problem, as basically everybody here agrees, is that Roark is in turn much better than anything we have floating around to take the #5 spot. With the known fragility of Strasburg, the moderate fragility of Sanchez, and the hypothetical fragility of Corbin (he's made 32 and 33 starts over the last two years, so he's not a Strasburg case), rotation depth is necessary. And right now, the roster is burning that already-weak depth on the #5 slot.

We'll see. Thus far Rizzo's made plenty of moves to satisfy positions of need. SP5, 2B/IF, and possibly LHRP are the only spots left and he's got two months to fill them.

@PotomacFan: The flipside is, if Roark pitches like he did in '17-'18 for Cincy, and they can't move him. No one looks to add "steady, reliable depth" at the trade deadline; that's something teams like, well, us do to anchor the back end of the rotation. But since they're not really a contender, they can take that risk, plus they definitely seem like they have an interest in putting an adequate product on the field instead of going for a full-Houston tank job.

Fries said...

Harper's a dodger. LA just dumped a ton of salary and cleared out the outfield. It's a matter of hours before LA and Harper come to terms. Ugh. Why couldn't Bryce go to the White Sox? It's hard to hate the White Sox.

Froggy said...

As I predicted in the previous post where Bryce would be a Dodger, I think he gets an AAV of $39-40mm. But I think he goes for a shorter contract.

BxJaycobb said...

I think Cincy believes they’re gonna contend this year. Why else would they deal their best prospects for kemp Puig and alex Wood who are all entering their walk year?

BxJaycobb said...

As I said above, Cincy appears deluded into thinking they’re a contender next year. They just traded high end prospects for kemp and Puig and alex wood....all entering their walk year.

BxJaycobb said...

@Harper: I think Dodgers are now favorites. That said, Dodgers still don’t want to give him long term contract. He would have to be happy taking 180m or something. Moreover it’s entirely possible LAD are clearing payroll to sign AJ Pollock and deal for Kluber, Realmuto. It doesn’t HAVE to be Harper. He would put them over cap limit as of now. But it certainly gives them flexibility.

Screech said...

I get the innings-eater part: Roark is more durable. But it's also possible that Sanchez is a brand new man, with new pitches and a philosophy geared to producing weak ground balls in an era of HR-oriented swing angle. In which case, he has more upside. But for the sake or argument, let's call Roark v Sanchez a wash. We get a suitable replacement for Roark with one more year of control plus a pitcher who Fangraphs ranks 11th in the Nats minor league system -- a guy who, if he improves his control, could be a major leaguer this year. While Sanchez's durability is clearly a downside, the upside from this trade is multi-dimensional. Roark himself was a pitcher with unproven consistency when the Nats quietly acquired him back in 2010. Succeed or fail, that's what Rizzo does -- works the probabilities and gambles at the margins. We can disagree, but he has better research. I'll trust Rizzo.

Johnny Callison said...

Sanchez is okay at #4, would be a good #5. But I still feel we are shaky in terms of #5 and depth. It would be wonderful if no one missed a start next year, but what are the chances of that happening? It looks like the Nats overpaid slightly for Corbin (but probably had to in order to get him) and are determined not to exceed the cap, so have limits. They incorrectly predicted where the market would go and probably had to spend more than they wanted on Sanchez (let's say 5M more, and that would pay for your 2B! or a LHRP). The Lance Lynn contract was what changed the market, I think, and then Harvey/Cahill with LAA.

I think they still need one more SP. I can live with Difo/Kendrick at 2B, but would love it if they got an upgrade there. And the BP scares me, as usual.

Here's hoping they are healthy next year.

BxJaycobb said...

I think actually the better way to spend 10-12m would be to sign Ottavino.

DezoPenguin said...

@Bx: With this hypothetical Ottavino signing, would you make Rosenthal the closer and use Doolittle (LH) and Ottavino (RH) as the set-up men with use based on which suited the situation?

@Johnny Callison: The health issue is made worse by the fact that they've already stated Ross is on a 110-inning limit this year as he recovers from last year's surgery, so even if he stays perfectly healthy AND good he won't be able to pitch the full year as #5 (it's why I think he's perfectly suited to be #6). And while our bullpen depth is at least worth a "meh," our starter depth beyond Ross is unproven and/or outright bad. I think you're right--Lynn got that third year for no apparent reason, and then Harvey got $11M plus incentives and it's raised everyone's prices.

Johnny Callison said...

DezoP: Is 110 the usual limit post TJ?

BxJacobb: I like the idea of at least one more excellent RP. Ottavino looks good, but don't Nats need a LHRP?

As much as I'd like them to add a 2B, #4 quality SP, and LHRP, I think they are probably thinking they need to have some $$$ available to cover any mid-season additions. But the Lerners are more averse to adding payroll than almost any other ownership of a team regularly in contention.

Will they sign EdJax or Helly again? Either would be a passable #5/#6.

BxJaycobb said...

Johnny C: who is the best LHRP available? I don’t think any of them are as good as Ottavino. Could be wrong

DezoPenguin said...

@Johnny C: Not that I've ever heard; it seemed to be just a decision made internally, though now I'm having trouble digging up where I read that figure in the first place (at at least one statement in early December from Rizzo that I did find seems to counter that, so hopefully I'm just misremembering what I read--if they can reliably get 140-160 out of him, that would be nice, as he's clearly the best option among the guys currently on the roster).

Mainelaker said...

If they want a lefty- I believe Britton and Justin Wilson are at the top of the unsigned list.

NotBobby said...

They also got rid of Homer who had another year on his contract. I think they are looking for improvement this season but really competitive next year when all if those contracts are gone.

DezoPenguin said...

For a lower-tier LHRP option, the Nats might consider a reunion with Oliver Perez. He was very quietly really, really good last year (1.1 fWAR in only 32 innings!) and has always been a reliable LOOGY. Of course, he should never be allowed to pitch to right-handed batters, no matter what Dusty Baker thought, but honestly I'm not sure that Solis should be allowed to pitch to batters of EITHER side. And Perez would be worlds cheaper than Britton or Wilson. The other reasonable lefty options (Jennings, Loup, Sipp) are pretty uninspiring.

Froggy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Froggy said...

If im Bryce going into negotiations I ask myself: "self, what team do I want to be synonymous with my HOF induction?" Then I say: "Bryce (cause u talk to myself in the third person all the time) I will be a Dodger or a Cub at either a 10 year stupid amount of money or a 4-5 year AAV of $50mm. Either way, stupid money.

But great for Bryce.

sirc said...

The thing that should happen is Stanton to the Dodgers for ptbnl and Yankees sign Bryce. They are each better matches with those teams, including financially. The Dodgers need a right handed hitting, middle of the order outfielder badly. The Yankees are lacking a lefty power bat.

I am far from the first to make this observation and yet I've read nothing that indicates that it could happen.