Nationals Baseball

Friday, August 12, 2022

Needed a title - so here's one

"Never trade a young superstar" 

Yes? no? 

What this doesn't mean is "Even if a guy is not going to sign with you, you should not trade a young superstar".  That doesn't make any sense. Assuming you aren't currently in contention (... checks standings... nope) then you are better off dealing and having something than nothing in the post young superstar time frame. 

What this does mean is "There shouldn't be a functional amount of money that keeps you from re-signing a young superstar".  Money should be no object. You should be the highest bidder. And hell, if you are so sure of re-signing the player that you think you can do it with no advantage in straight up FA, it probably makes sense to deal him a few months before the end of the deal. (Two + Years though - I think you are pushing it in terms of giving the receiving team and advantage and losing whatever connection you may have with him)

For Soto the question is do you believe the Nats would be the highest bidder? Do you believe they would let money be no object? If your answer is no then you are faced with two truths : 

1) The Nats should trade Soto

2) Whoever owns the Nats quite possibly should not

I think this is where a lot of people land.  The Lerners had to trade Soto because the Lerners are who they are. Be both mad at the Lerners and resigned to what the reality of the situation is. 

Some people don't follow though - if you think 1 but not 2... well God help you because the owners got you right where they want you, "money bucket" thinking believing whatever revenue vs spending numbers they throw at you disregarding the appreciation of the team (in monetary terms), the likely indirect benefits received (from say nearby real estate and parking also owned), and the fact these people are rich and bought a sports team for what should be fun. 

if you think 2 but not 1, I get it. Two years of Soto is still two years of Soto and maybe something changes. New ownership may be more inclined to keep him. He might get hurt and make himself more affordable. But I do think you have to assume a 24/25 year old stays healthy and he's still great and that he'd at least have a very good chance of leaving. 

If you think neither - well you loved that World Series didn't you? Sorry that the Lerners are going - they were NOT bad owners. Might not be the best owners, but there are a dozen easily worse out there. And the offer for Soto was ok. It was! It wasn't enough and we know it but it wasn't insulting. It wasn't "come play with us for a deep discount" or anything. But still - I don't get why people own a team and don't want to try to win constantly when they have other money sources.

Anyway I'm babbling a bit. 

What I'm trying to get through in the last post is even if you land where a lot of people do and you know they have to trade him AND you believe this is a pretty good haul* it's still not going to be as certain to be as good as Soto would have been alone beyond 2025 (let alone trying to factor in Bell here)**. Most prospects become nothing special, or worse, become nothing. Baseball is hard.  Here's the 2015 MLB draft - long ago to rule out a late comer. Even in the first round it's more misses than hits and in the Top 10 it's half miss.  The 2014 international signings - going back a year because these guys are young... oh well apparently it's historically bad.  Here's the 2013 international prospect list. Still you see. Among the VERY VERY VERY best, like the top 2,3 maybe 5 you feel ok - but it gets dicey fast

There are 1200 players on 40 man rosters. In the now short draft there were 616 picks. There are hundreds of international signings and non-roster invites.  The game COULD turn over every two years. Every player playing in year 3 or 4 in the majors means a guy that didn't make it. Lets say every season about 250 guys debut.  That means get a random group of five from any incoming set of draftees, signees, and invites and four of them never see the major leagues. That's just seeing the major leagues. That's Austen Williams, and Kyle McGowin, and Jimmy Cordero. 

These guys aren't 20% chancers. Even Wood and Susana aren't that low. Well... maybe Susana I bet it's generally lower for pitchers and higher for batters but I'll give that up. But unless they are in the majors they aren't 100% and from there you take on chances of being ok for a couple years? Being good enough to get to FA? Being great to get paid? Yeah there are 150 or so FA signed each year but the bulk of those are guys getting signed again. How many actually break in? 50? 25?

The Nats had a bird in the hand. They weren't going to expend the effort to keep it so now they look toward a bunch of birds in a bush. But they are still birds in a bush and looking at them as seeing it as a good chance to have multiple birds in hand is setting yourself up for disappointment.

*most experts seem to think so. I mostly agree, but its not what I want to see back. I wanted a surer star bat or two pretty sure rotation guys. This didn't get either of those. But that's me - the potential production here is probably about the same 

** yeah some places will do projected WAR for prospects but the variance on that has to be insane. Like we expect 10 WAR from these guys total in 2026.  My suspicion is it's an average which would be dragged up by rare star turns. So it's like a 30% the combined group gets you 3 WAR and a 1% chance it gets you 25 WAR. Something like that. Your more likely to get a lower WAR but the 'expectation" doesn't tell you that. I'd have to dig into how it's calculated but as I know expectations and statistics it is not a median related value which would make more sense here in the "are we likely to be better off" figuring out.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Other Gores, Other Abramseses

While we transition from having one of the greatest young hitters in the long history of the game to NOT having that guy, the organization, and some fans that follow it, will naturally move back toward hope. It does spring eternal. But I want to give you a good idea of what type of players we actually got back. 

Mackenzie Gore was a Top 5 prospect in all of baseball.  That is very high, but pitchers are fragile beings and being highly ranked is very unlikely to actually correspond to having a good career. We can look at the set of similar prospects in recent years to see that. (Please note this is rough and doesn't account for age which it should
Top 7 pitching prospects 2011-2019 
Jeremy Hellickson 
Aroldis Chapman 
Matt Moore 
Julio Teheran 
Shelby Miller 
Dylan Bundy 
Taijuan Walker 
Jose Fernández 
Archie Bradley 
Lucas Giolito 
Julio Urías 
Alex Reyes 
Forrest Whitley
That's not even a mixed bag. That's meh.  Urias is great.  Fernandez was great, RIP. Some guys were good and went down to injury (Miller), others transitioned to other roles. But this should make it clear the chances gore ends up a long term multi-year all-star starting pitcher are pretty slim
Abrams Top 5-10 MI prospects 
Dustin Ackley
Manny Machado
Jurickson Profar
Javy Baez
Carlos Correa
Francisco Lindor
Addison Russell
Corey Seager
JP Crawford
Orlando Arcia
Yoan Moncada
Dansby Swanson
Amed Rosario
Fernando Tatis Jr
Royce Lewis
Brendan Rogers

First of all - prospect lists LOVE their SS types. Stick a guy at short and it's worth it just for the prospect ranking bounce. Second - hey there's a LOT of great players here! But I'll say for the most part those are guys that can play SS well. Abrams... he can't. He can hang maybe, unlike Garcia and probably House, but he's not going to get extra help from his fielding stats.  

But still the chances Abrams is something useful is pretty good. While these can't misses do occasionally miss completely, more often a miss is just a guy that ends up a useful major leaguer

Robert Hassell OF Top 17-23 OF prospects

Bubba Starling
Wil Myers
Byron Buxton
Albert Amora Jr
George Springer
Jorge Soler
Nomar Mazara
Austin Meadows
Lewis Brinson
Mickey Moniak
Bradley Zimmer
Manuel Margot
Kyle Tucker
Austin Hays

A lot of solid OF, a few busts, fewer stars. 

So that's the Top 3 guys the Nats got. Recent history would suggest they become (1) A SP of limited help probably because of injury (2) A pretty good MI and (3) a solid 2/3 best OF. This is good BUT it's not enough to either make up for the loss or make the Nats a great team. Great teams need great players. The Nats don't have one. Right now there's a chance that Abrams is great, and very slim chances Gore or Hassel are. 

Of course stars have to come from somewhere. Why not these guys? I guess that's where the hope comes from. But this is not a given, or even likely. It barely borders on possible.  You luck into stars and they generally show young. Maybe James Wood is it. He was putting up a .337 / .453 / .601 line before getting dealt and he's only 19.  When Juan Soto was Wood's age he had just finished a .292 / .406 / .517 season. Of course Wood is in A ball and Juan was in a Nationals uniform at the time so I'll give Soto some slack here. 

The best likely scenario is that these guys, with what the Nats have on hand (House, Cavalli, Green, Garcia, Ruiz, Gray, etc. ) have the core of a decent players that they don't have to pay for. But they aren't going to win unless they get a star or two. They can pay for it or they can luck into one. They didn't pay for it in 2022 but maybe in a few years when these guys are giving DC an 80 win year they'll change their tune. Hell, maybe it'll be Soto.  One can hope. He'd fit in pretty well.

Monday, August 08, 2022

Monday Quickie - 2018, the year it all fell apart

A lot of the discussion late last week turned from lamentations about the loss of Soto to angry yells at the Nats management for letting it get to this point. A lot of "Rizzo should be fired" and "Lerners only care about getting ready for the sale" talk which is in part true but also these were the same people who got the Nats to the top. You can by luck and by chance find yourself on top of the mountain for a year or two, but the type of sustained excellence the Nats had, being a legit playoff and usual title contender for 8 straight years from 2012-2019, is something that takes work and commitment. 

But the question still must be asked - what went wrong? How did the plan fall apart such that the Nats ended up with both a bad team and a barren farm putting the rebuild in enough of a question and far enough away to make trading Soto years before they had to make sense? 

The short answer is 2018. 

A quick rehash of stuff we talked about before - to have a bad team you have to draft/sign/develop bad, not trade in good talent, and mess up FA.  We noted how, after doing well on these for years, they did all three. Part of it was by the design of the sport - good teams draft lower and it's hard to draft, good teams trade away young guys - and partly it was them messing up. If you want to pinpoint the turning point though I'd put it on 2018. 

The Nats went through a dry spell from 2017-2019 and that's what we are seeing now. 

Internationally it makes sense. The Nats spent in 2015 and 2016, giving the big money to the can't miss prospect of... Yasel Antuna. But they also gave pretty good sums to Juan Soto and Luis Garcia.  Antuna and Garcia in the same year put the Nats into penalty and basically they couldn't sign anyone worthwhile until 2019. Eddy Yean, who got included in a trade, and Jeremy de la Rosa, a low current prospect, were probably the best. 2019 they began spending again but Andry Lara and Pablo Adonis were too young and raw and haven't made a strong surge.

Draft failings are tougher to accept. The Nats drafts had never been great, but that had been in part lower draft picks. They knew this and usually signed FAs and gave up those picks. But as recently as 2016 the Nats had had decent draft. That year they brought in Kieboom, Dunning, Neuse, Luzardo, Daniel Johnson, and Tres Barrera, along with three other cup of coffee guys who have seen the majors. That's a pretty good return and it was one they used in trades in 2017 and 2019 to help try to win it all. 2017 though was an off year. Seth Romero was the first pick and that gamble busted. Wil Crowe and Jake Cousins* have shown to be at least major league level but no one else so far. 2018 was the nadir Mason Denaburg and Tim Cate as the 1-2. Three low round picks have made the majors but the two to do so for the Nats are hard pressed to say they really deserved it. 2019 is pretty bad but Jackson Rutledge is working back from injury (his last two starts were good) and should make his way to the majors as well as Matt Cronin, but little else.  Three years and likely fewer major leaguers than the 2016 draft alone. Off years are fine but the very weak 2017 and 2019 sandwiching a near complete nothing of a 2018 right when the Nats couldn't bolster the minors by signings made a huge impact. 

But the biggest miss was in trades. Yes the Nats sent out talent, not brought it in, but in 2018 that wasn't the case. An off-year led to a late season sell off of multiple players the Nats didn't expect to keep. The returns could not expect to be very good, but you hope to get a usable player or two  out of it. 

Jacob Condra-Bogan - out of baseball

Jhon Romero - waived after being quickly brought to majors, now hurt with Twins

Andruw Monasterio -traded to Cleveland for nothing

KJ Harrison - awful in AA probably about to be released

Gilbert Lara - awful in AA but younger so maybe not released this year

Andrew Istler - hurt out of baseball

No one helpful. No one good. Given the rare opportunity for a contender to do something to bolster their minor leagues the Nats completely struck out.

Over three seasons the Nats in the international scene (understandably) and through the draft (less so) got nearly no usuable major leaguers. They also squandered an opportunity to use a rare trade off to shore up the minors bringing in guys that couldn't even break deep lists of a weak system.

How bad was it?  By 2021 only Jackson Rutledge remained in the Top 10 from 2017-2019 organization building. It was a complete wash out of talent.

2017 and 2019 were off years. They made a choice to go big internationally before and hurt 2017 signings and they traded off talent. The draft failures hurt in this environment. 2019 when traded away again but they could sign guys might be worse though we still have to hold off on some guys in development.  2018 though was a complete disaster - no signings, terrible draft, and traded in but traded in nothing. This is when it turned and even if since 2020 has been ok (Cavalli, Henry, House, int'l signing Armando Cruz, Christian Vaquero all look like major leaguers of a sort) it was too late. The damage had been done. 

*he was released by the Nats and grabbed by the Brewers for his so far mediocre stint

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Soto deal analyzed - the return

Time is such that we can only go forward. There is no going back*. Soto is a Padre and a bunch of youngsters, yes players younger than Soto - all of them!, are now Nationals. Well, they are in the Nationals system at least. This is done. We now need to ask the question - who are these guys? How good are they? And how does that paint this deal? 

Mackenzie Gore 

This guy has always been thought of highly and that's made him a Top 30 prospect his entire career.  He was drafted third and proceeded to do, well, let's be honest, not all that much if you look at the results. He was great in rookie ball, but it was for all of 21 innings in 2017. In 2019 he had his best showing dominating A+ ball as a 20 year old. But other than those moments? He's been moving up while doing just ok. It's still impressive as he's been young for these levels, but that dominant guy hasn't really shown up for more than brief periods of time.

One of those times was early this year in his major league debut. About a third way into the season he was sporting a 1.50 ERA (2.20 FIP) but he slowly got worse and now he's out with an elbow injury.  I know, that doesn't sound good, but the Nats assure us he's ok and can take it easy with him. That worked wonders for Strasburg I think. Someone find him and ask him because I don't see him on a mound.

To spell it out more bluntly, it hasn't been about results with Gore it's been about promise and the guy has that in spades. He has three plus pitches in a fastball, slider, and curve. It's swing and miss stuff and his stuff is difficult to make good contact with meaning both homers and hits are hard to come by.  He can be a little wild but you take that given everything else. Simply put he's got number one starter talent, it's held up under the rise through the minors, and that's not something you can say about a lot of guys.

CJ Abrams

This guy is fast and can hit. And unlike every other guy here he does have results. He hit in rookie ball. He hit in AA. He hit in AAA.  Sound great, what's the catch? 

Well he doesn't walk and his power is not there... yet.  That's the key. He can be a good player now, slapping and running and providing a spark if not getting on base as much as he should. But if he develops power, even a little, he could elevate to a very good player - every gap hit a double or triple. Maybe a few homers? He is said to hit the ball hard so the thought is it should come. Should. 

How's his fielding? Eh. He's fast! He's another Nat now who they will try to get to play SS who really should not. Cornered the market on those, didn't the Nats. 

Robert Hassell

He's a hitter. Average, patience, power. He's also pretty fast. He has exceeded expectations and might be able to hang in CF. If not he should be a very good corner OF. It's hard to find a flaw in his prodcution so far. 

Why, with all this, isn't he higher up the prospect list then? Well it's all good, very good in fact, but there isn't a blow you away talent here. It's a good average, good patience, good power, good fielding. Nothing individually to get excited about. He's young for his level but not crazy young (21 in a few days). He hasn't done anything in the high minors yet. Everything says - a no-red flag good ballplayer, but when you are looking at prospects for greatness, you don't quite see it here.

James Wood

A beast. 6'7" with tons of power and solid other skills you can squint and see Aaron Judge here. Unlike Hassell that power is a WOW skill, and he's probably faster too, if not as polished in the field and might have a better eye. In other words, he could be a better prospect than Hassell. But similar to Hassell he isn't that young for his league (20 in September) and his league is low.  His patience is interesting but he also has had K numbers that give you greater pause. That's probably the big reason there's still a question mark hanging over him. He did adjust in low A, so he passed that test, but can he keep this up in High A? Double A? Or will the pitchers begin to eat him alive?  He's the type that could make a BIG jump in prospect lists if he can keep up that drop in K-rate. 

Jarlin Susuna 

A true lottery ticket. He was the best international pitcher but in a year light in international pitching. He's looked good but it's rookie ball and under 30 innings. Basically he'll move up to A ball and we'll see if he's something special on the fast track, some one that looks good but on a traditional path, or if he needs work. Rookie ball just weeds out the big problems.

If this sounds good to you it is! You have three guys I feel pretty confident will be contributing major leaguers and two guys who could really blossom into something special.  There's no trash in these prospects, no throw-ins. Any org would want to have each of these guys.

Why the long face then? Well you know my stance. I want a guy with the best chance of being a star or a couple of guys for the rotation. Perhaps I didn't explain why but it's because that's what costs you money. Stars and non-replaceable pitchers. By getting those guys in place and cheap you can use your money to fill around them. This deal doesn't give the Nats the best chance of getting either of those things.

PLUS the Nats aren't just making a trade - they are are trading a 23 year old with Hall of Fame hitting skills with 2+ years left on his contract.

PLUS PLUS - you also traded away a find in your not old slugging first baseman. 

Trading Soto right now, mid-prime for three playoff runs, should get you EXACTLY what you need for the best chance at a rebuild. A good odds bet on a high payout. Adding Bell should just cement that. Instead the Nats got an approximation. Bets with good odds but lower payouts, best with higher payouts but longer odds. It's a good mix, but a mix I'd expect for only Soto and maybe after this year. 

It would be near impossible to get a good trade for Soto on face value, but even adjusting for the circumstances I still can't call it a good trade. It's an acceptable one. Now Nats fans hope the team catches the breaks and ends up with some mix of Kershaw, Altuve, Holliday, Judge, and Sale and not Daniel Norris, Jose Peraza, Austin Hays, and two guys that never make it.

*Well this is a big generalization. If you want a little mind blowing this book really explains "time" is likely how we view a set of characteristics that to our perception only go in one direction, mainly entropy, and doesn't exist like we act like it does. But that's probably a little above Soto trade talk.

Tuesday, August 02, 2022

It's done

 Soto Traded. 

Initial thoughts is it's an iffy trade... without Bell.  With Bell it's a joke BUT I try to be fair and the Nats landed two former Top 10 prospects in Gore (2020) and Abrams (2021) and a current Top 20ish guy in Hassell. The other guys are an intriguing Top 100 bat in Wood (huge guy, huge pop - very young), and the top ranked International pitcher of last year's signing class in Susana (though a weak pitching class to be honest).  It's a lot of high upside talent but little high performance in high leagues outside of Abrams. For me it's lacking both the "oooh this guy feels like a lock to be a very good player", which I thought of Walker and the "these two guys will be major league pitchers" which I thought of Miller and Pepiot, that I wanted in a deal.

There may be more but this feels like a trade made because they needed to make a trade. It feels more evident that the Nats wanted to put the team in best position to deal and that meant an undervalued (if however slightly) deal for Soto or to send him away. It did not mean paying him market value. 

I'd expect a sale announcement rather soon. 

It's the end of an era in many ways but try to remember - flags do fly forever.

Who is the best player ever traded? This young?

 A question was raised.  Is this unprecedented?  Has a player this good and/or this young ever been traded? 

Well, no, not THIS young, but yes in a sense. It's not typical but great players do get traded.  Usually it's at an older age - Eddie Murray after his age 32 season, Frank Robinson was after his 29 season. Same with Griffey Jr.  Orlando Cepeda during age 28. 

The ages though make those hardly comparable.  The Nats are giving up 4+ seasons of play compared to these guys. 

There's Babe Ruth - sold at age 24 - but the Red Sox had no limit on how long they could keep him which made things worse.  Also he was a great player but mainly as a pitcher. He wouldn't become BABE RUTH until the year after he was traded. 

But I did find three guys

Honus Wagner - originally a Louisville Colonel (it was different times) he was technically traded at age 25 but only technically.  The Colonels were folded and the trade was part of a deal to move players to other teams, in this case the Pirates.  Doesn't really count but I do love a technically right factoid.

Rickey Henderson -  Rickey was traded after his age 25 season from the A's to the Yankees. We was dealt for Tim Birstas (short career as a middling middle reliever), Jay Howell (pretty good closer), Stan Javier (long 3rd/4th OF career), Eric Plunk (good career as a middle reliever - would be traded back to Yanks for Rickey), and the crown Jose Rijo (A's didn't realize what they had, dealt him to Reds where he'd be one of the best starters in baseball for 7 years). It was a pretty good haul for Rickey and it was the core to a good A's team, but not directly.  Guys would mainly be dealt for other guys and not a single one of these guys would be around for the entire 88-90 run.  But I guess this is the ideal? Every player did become a contributing major leaguer. That's huge actually

Miguel Cabrera, on pace for a huge contract, was traded after his age 24 season to the Tigers for Dallas Trahern (at 21 already in AAA as a starter but that would be as far as he could go), Burke Badenhop (decent AA starter who would stick in the majors for a while as a decent middle reliever), Frankie de la Cruz (meh AAA minor league reliever but with STUFF who did make the majors), Mike Rabelo (27 utility player), and the crowns Cameron Maybin (Top 10 prospect who flopped but hung around as a speedy 4th OF), and Andrew Miller (Top 20 starter prospect who just couldn't get his stuff to play at the major league level until being moved into a reliever role - then a better reliever for half a decade).This was supposed to set the Marlins up for a quick turnaround but it didn't work as Miller and Maybin both were big disappointments. Hard to overcome 0 for 2 in Top 20 prospects working out.

There you go - a couple examples.  If the Nats make out like the As did you may not be happy but you get 4 guys who played over a decade in the majors providing value, mainly though through smart trades that would bring in veterans Dave Parker, Bob Welch, and Rickey Henderson himself. The A's ended up with 4 of the Top 5 Yankee prospects, but they also had Canseco, McGwire, Steinbach and Weiss in system.

 If the Nats make out like the Marlins they get more guys but fewer that last a while in the majors and with nothing to show in the end. They got the Tigers Top 3 prospects and 4 out of their best 10, but their own system was dead. The best player in there was either Chris Volstad (a few years of middling starting pitching) or Chris Coghlan. Matt Lindstrom? Robert Andino?  These aren't those A's guys.

What this says is not that you can get value, or that you get nothing. What this says is it matters a lot what is already in place as a big trade can be Step 2 in setting up your great team. But it's not what's going to turn your team around by itself.

Monday, August 01, 2022

Monday Quickie - Juan gone?

The depressing Nats season continues.  The Nats are on pace for 55 wins, they are tied to a millstone of a manager, and they are maybe going to trade their best player - a likely future Hall of Famer. Ugh

However, they may not because getting what they want for Soto may not happen right now.  What they NEED to get is player who projects to a future major league All-Star type - that's like a Top 10 type - or a coupleo of projected starters (Top 100 types).

With the names currently in the mix the Top 10 type is Jordan Walker from STL. The two pitchers are Bobby Miller and Ryan Pepiot from the Dodgers. Anything else doesn't interest me unless current major leaguers get thrown in the mix (doubtful because you need them to win now too), or you flood the Nats with a dump truck full of prospects. 

Still it's not value, it will never be value and with Soto it's not about being competitive and only about the money. Soto is 23. He will likely be very good for over a decade. Do you think you can be good again in a decade? Then you sign him. The Nats should sign him.


 Sigh. Ok got a lot of emails to catch up on.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

On vacation

 I'll jump back in here if like Soto is traded. That seems like something worth noting.