Nationals Baseball: Offseason Position Discussion : Outfield

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Offseason Position Discussion : Outfield

Presumed Plan :  Bryce Harper, Denard Span and Jayson Werth will retain their starting roles. Scott Hairston will likely be the 4th OF filling in with tough lefties (for Bryce or Span) or for injury sit outs. The 5th OF is yet to be determined. Could be Tyler Moore if another 1B is gotten for the bench.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : Bryce Harper is set in left as the next big thing. He's a supreme talent who put up one of the best seasons for a 20 year old in baseball history. Again he hit .274 with 20 homers in 118 games a year before most college players will even be drafted let alone play in the minors. Jayson Werth has a huge contract and will play in right because that's how things work. Thankfully last season, he put himself on the outskirts of the MVP discussion finishing with a .318 / .398 / .532 line over 129 games. Denard Span was brought over for his defense and he was impressive.

Scott Hairston was traded for to help with the failing outfield bench but wasn't able to provide much of a boost. Still history suggests he can hit lefties well enough to be a 4th.  As I said in the 1st base review, Tyler Moore has done all he can in AAA, and the Nats seem to like him more than the other B-level prospects that are in the high minors right now.
Problems with Presumed Plan :   Both Bryce and Werth could be seen as injury risks. Bryce spent most of 2013 dinged up in one way or another. Werth has barely played 200 games in the past 2 years. In the field both are falling short of what Rizzo probably expected. Bryce's poor instincts make him average in the field. Werth is aging out of being passable in the outfield. Span on the other hand failed at the plate. When three out of the last four years saying one thing, you listen to them. He's a below average hitter.

Scott Hairston might be aging out of usefulness as well. He struck out at his highest rate (25.3%) in any season where he played a decent number of games and he hit everything in the air (59.3% FB). He probably can't handle the outfield in any long-term situation. Tyler Moore, we talked about before. Plenty of at bats to prove he belongs in the majors and hasn't done it.

What you should obviously see here though is a lack of the traditional 5th OF. Speedy good fielder who can play late in the games and serve as a pinch runner. The Nats saw with the whole LH relief pitcher situation, what can happen when you take away options from a manager.

My take : Despite the fielding issues and injury risks you'd be stupid not to put Bryce and Werth in starting roles next season. Bryce may not be the best fielder but he probably has a half-decade at least of being good enough and he has a hell of an arm. It be stupid to move him anywhere. Werth on the other hand might benefit from a move, but given that his 1B play is limited, it makes more sense to give him a last chance in RF and start him spot starting at 1B here and there. Anyway you hit like that, you play. No questions.

Denard Span is a harder call. His defense does make him an easy start, but defense can be very variable. He might not be any worse but given balls hit to the right places his defensive contribution could be muted to the point where he's not helping the team much in a specific season. Still I think if you are going to have Bryce and Werth at the corners you need a plus OF in CF. He may not last past this year (if Goodwin can breakout). But Span's the best choice right now.

I also like Hairston in the 4th role. I think he's on the way out but not there just yet. Should hit in the low .200s but against lefties I'd bet on something in the .250s with good power. (even hitting .214 vs LH he still slugged .484 - which is basically better overall than everyone but Werth last year) The 5th spot... well this gets confusing because of what's going on with 1B. If Moore (or Hairston or Werth for that matter) start spelling LaRoche, well then maybe you have a spot to bring in a real "5th" OF. Then again you'd then have to default to Lombo as the 3rd base back-up. If you bring in a Jeff Baker type then you have to cut someone. Of course that's my take. I say bring in a Jeff Baker type and let Tyler Moore go.

With Tyler Moore out you have a couple choices. You could let Eury Perez take that 5th spot. He probably won't be a good hitter at the major league level (no patience with no power) but he can play D and run. Since the 5th guy is not expected to start, I don't mind his flaws as much as if he was a #4. Still we ran into the "well what if our #4 crashes and burns" situation last year and Eury is far from a safe bet on playing big minutes. Instead you could go for perennial DL star Franklin Gutierrez. Pairing with Scott Hairston as 4th OFs depending on the situation, he was amazing defensively just a few years ago and showed some ability at the plate. His power was back in his short stint last year. I know he's fragile but this is not even your first back-up. It's your emergency starter. The point is if you told me the Nats need someone to start in CF for 3 weeks I'd feel better if it was a (at least starting) healthy Gutierrez than Perez. If he does get injured then Eury is still around, right?

Outside the Box Suggestion

You know who's a speedy guy who can play D who might fit in as a 4th/5th OF? Denard Span. So go big and bring in Jacoby Ellsbury who can play that stellar D you need in CF and also provide you with a potentially well above average bat in CF. Also he's a Boras client. Perfect, right? Sure it'll cost you down the road (given his injury history I wouldn't trust him playing anything close to a full season past age 34) but as a win now strategy it's hard to beat. It covers what I consider a lurking problem. Span is fine as the worst hitting guy on your team, but one injury that puts in Lombo, or a back-up C, or someone else and the Nats could find themselves in a situation where 7-8-9 are a rest period for pitchers. 

This would show a team committed more to "winning now". Honestly they've made only one such deal (the Zimmerman extension) that shows they might sacrifice some winning later for winning now. The Werth signing, when it was made, wasn't about winning now. The Gio extension was about value. The Soriano deal, like any 1-2 year deal, doesn't sacrifice the later. No only Zimm's new deal showed that the team wasn't happy with just winning 85-90 games now and would either pay AND sacrifice to make it more. You can't make too many of these deals, but its easier to make a few of these than cross your fingers and hope for prospect development from a middling system.


Dr Trea (formerly #werthquake) said...

Hard to believe they were over .500. Feels like you're negative on every player and any outside options are an upgrade.

Anyways I don't mind the Ellsbury idea. Do you think Rizzo is also considering Werth getting time at first? I like the idea...certainly tall enough

Dr Trea (formerly #werthquake) said...

Though I would prefer the Hart/Choo/etc rout given the price tags.

Dr Trea (formerly #werthquake) said...

Harper had a Dwar (although which can be misleading with D) of 1.4 in 2012 from baseball reference. -.1 in left.

Unknown said...

I like the Ellsbury deal, if you're able to dump Span for some arms. Probably won't get any good prospects, but arms are always needed. If you can't dump Span, what if you just eat the LaRoche contract, move Werth to first and have an OF of Harper, Ellsbury, and Span.... 2/3s of the OF would see zero balls drop.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't cry if we got Ellsbury, but neither do I think he would make us that much better. Our greater need is middle-of-the-order power. If Stanton is truly available, then we should be offering half the farm system to get him. Give them everyone we've got in AZ right now (and I think highly of all four of the hitters). Throw in Karns and Jordan. Make them an offer they can't refuse. (I'm not *really* saying 10-for-1, but it will have to be good.)

Shorter term thought for an OF bat (or possibly at 1B): Beltran. Plus he has the postseason mojo.

Outside the box thought: give Espy a look in CF. What could it hurt? He's got the speed, and a better arm than most CFs.

4th & 5th OF: No more T-Mo out there, no more Lombo. Kobernus spent almost all of last season in the OF, can fly, and can play 2B and 3B. He doesn't hit for any more "power" than Perez, though. Corey Brown might be in the mix since they need a LH bat. Souza would seem to be blocked by Hairston.

Chas R said...

Very interesting Harper. Seems they need to figure out 1B before doing something with the 4 and 5 OFers. I definitely don't like T-Mo or Lombo out there.

Why do you think they got Dejesus then let him go so quickly? Seems he would have been perfect as 4/5 OFer.

John C. said...

Corey Brown is going to be in the mix for the Bernadina role until someone better pushes him out. If the Rays don't exercise DeJesus's option, I'd be all for picking up DeJesus and jettisoning Brown. Having Hairston and DeJesus as veteran depth the concern over Werth and Harper's durability lessens, and the RH and LH punch off the bench would be great.

I'd be OK with Moore (1b) and Lombardozzi as primary IF backups. if Zimmerman gets hurt then Rendon goes to 3b and Lombo goes in at 2b. Anything that lasts more than a few days you would call Espinosa or Walters up from AAA.

This is the year to swap Werth to LF and Harper to RF to take advantage of Harper's arm.

Estimates for Ellsbury is that it will take 6-7 years at $21 million per year to lock him up (plus forfeit a first round pick). Not only is that a serious risk given his injury history, but signing Ellsbury pushes the Nationals into the danger zone (aka, the Phillies zone) in terms of contracts. Unless the Nationals are being run as a charity it's going to torpedo their ability to sign extensions for Desmond, Zimmermann, Strasburg and eventually Harper. As much as I like to spend OPM (Other People's Money), I can see why the Nationals would balk.

blovy8 said...

I think the Lerners have the dough, but they keep pretty good tabs on where it's going. There isn't the revenue stream set up with the stupid cable deal to go all NY/LA/CHI/BOS/PHI etc. in free agency and outbid everyone just yet. Ellsbury would have to fall to the Nats in a recurrence of the Bourn yesterday deal from 2013. That's kind of a cautionary tale in itself, especially with the Nats losing ANOTHER 1st round pick. Didn't seem so great to get Soriano to me.

So far, the rhetoric is improving the bench, not upgrading any established position players.
I know the numbers say 97 ops which is technically "below-average" for Span, but maybe he just needed to get two months of 4-3's out of his system last year. He still looks like that .290 hitter who won't hurt you when he's focused, and I believe his D more than a prediction of his HR/FB or BABIP. It's getting picked off of first that frigging BUGS me about him.

I think Rizzo didn't want to be stuck with DeJesus' 6.5m option with a 1.5 mil buyout. That's not terrible for what he can do, but you have to wonder if the Rays set him back into the market anyway.
The fact that he acquired he and Hairston at all was a kind of progress. Maybe there will be some money spent on the bench of that caliber.

Zimmerman11 said...

Ellsbury/Choo are good thoughts. The way Span hit in the second half, though aren't you asking for drama in the clubhouse?

Number 4 OF for us plays a whole season though, when you think about Harper, Ellsbury, and Werth out there... one of them is always going to be nicked up...

Maybe Span wouldn't mind.

Anonymous said...

It's not a matter of whether Ellsbury or Choo might be a good fit for the next year or two, or whether the Lerners have the money. As John C. noted, it's the long-term contracts they would require. Look at Todd Boss's MLB payroll analysis from last week. The Phils were 3d in payroll and 24th in W/L, and there's nothing they can do. They all got old fast.

I don't want to hijack this thread, but Harper also seems skeptical of long-term contracts, so perhaps he will start a discussion on that subject in the future.

Getting back to the OF as well as the same subject, the Span deal made so much more sense than getting stuck with an Upton or Bourn contract. Span is what he is--a fine defensive outfielder, but borderline on offense, where he doesn't get on base enough or steal enough to be a great lead-off man. He's a bridge until something better comes along.

Someone mentioned Souza. He has nine SBs in five games in AZ after three today. He had one of the best SLG numbers in the organization as well as a .396 OBP. Not sure what more he has to do to get into the conversation for the big club.

Anonymous said...

Corey Brown regressed to .254/.326/.473 this year in Syracuse, down 89 points in OPS from 2012. He turns 28 next month. That said, Brown at 28 is probably a better bet than DeJesus at 34. Can we do better?

John C. said...

Steve Souza IS in the conversation as far as the Nationals are concerned. The reason that Marrero was let go today? Souza is in his 7th minor league season, the last of the minor league contract that he signed in 2007 as an 18yo. If the Nats don't put him on the 40 man roster he would become a free agent five days after the World Series. So Marrero goes, Souza will be added to the roster. He will start off in AA, but he's in the queue.

Anonymous said...

Let's think about Beltran (37 next year). He wouldn't want a long-term deal, no more than two years, perhaps $10-11M per (currently $13M with Cards). Oops, just looked at his splits. I had hoped that he could play against all LHP and split time vs. RHP with Span, but he didn't hit lefties well (but better than both Choo and Ellsbury vs. LHP).

However, for a team like the Nats that needs a little help in the clutch department, couldn't they learn something from a guy with a career postseason OPS of 1.167? And there he goes again, another RBI, as I write.

Froggy said...

Harper, what did you mean by, 'Denard Span is a harder call. His defense does make him an easy start, but defense can be very variable...'

He made NO errors last year. None. Doesn't that make him a Gold Glove? Not very variable if you ask me.

Anyway, I agree we should get Ellsbury or if can dream big here, Stanton (at whatever cost to the farm system) and make Span the 4th OF.

To agree with some other posters here, both Werth and ZNN should start getting reps at first as well.

BlueLoneWolf said...

Matt Williams has been named the manager of the Washington Nationals.

Nattydread said...

This discussion just shows what a crap shoot a baseball season is. So many predictions that the Nats were going to run away with it in 2013.

And now we need to replace LaRoche and Espinosa, retire aging Werth to first, use an ineffective Span as 4th outfielder, send a truckload of cash for Ellsbury, worry about Harper's development, etc, etc.

Getting to that elite level needs lots of luck in addition to tweaking. Except for LaRoche (who the team will have to carry), I see most of the team improving. We need to sort out 1B and 2B and the bench but otherwise --- lets roll the dice!

JWLumley said...

If nothing else, can Denard Span please stop hitting leadoff. Pretty please. I know lineup constructions doesn't impact things that much, but it would be great if I didn't have to watch Span ground out weakly to 2nd to start the game 100 or so times next year.

Anonymous said...

"Ground out weakly to 2nd" . . . on what should have been ball four. Dude gets way too few walks for someone who generally works deep into counts.

Bryce should lead off. Bonds did it for years early in his career, and it probably made him a more selective hitter. Plus you almost guarantee him a fifth AB each game.

Also agree with others who say that it's time for Bryce to be in RF . . . except in Dodger Stadium!

Anonymous said...

Dear Matty W.,

Welcome to the District! You're no doubt browsing these sites to see what your buddy Mikey isn't telling you, so here's the hard truth--your bench stinks. Tell Mikey to back up the truck and clean it completely out.

Here's your new bench:

IF: Skole, Espinoza

IF/OF: Kobernus, Souza (started out at 3B)

OF: C. Brown

C: Nieto

Yeah, Espy has struggled with the stick, but he'd be the best INF defender on the roster. Besides, you've got high OBP guys in Skole and Souza. Those two plus Brown have serious pop. Kobe can fly.

And forget all that stuff about these kids not getting a chance to play. Werth and/or Harper will hurt themselves, as will Ramos. Plus once you get a good look at Skole, you'll tell Mike to call Mayflower for ALR as well.

The added bonus for you is that Mike and the Lerners will love you, as this bench will cost peanuts. Alas, it won't include any washed up D-backs, but all of us around here except Mike would consider that a plus.

Don't forget to mention us when you hoist the WS trophy next year after the Souza pinch-hit homer.

DezoPenguin said...


The point about Span's defense being variable was not that he himself would be variable but that the value of that defense to the team was unpredictable--for example, if the staff ends up being heavily FB oriented, then he's more useful than if the staff has a higher GB rate. Plus, while good defense > bad defense, the value of good defense in terms of runs saved or WAR or whatever is subject to a lot less wiggle room that the hitting and pitching metrics.

(That said, I agree with the underlying assumption that long-term contracts are poison. I'd be happy to see the Lerners back up the money truck for Cano on a 5-6 year type of deal, but 8-10 years could become an albatross in a hurry, particularly in the NL. Bryce is the only guy on the current team I'd even think about such an extension for due to his age, and he's too injury-prone to risk it.)

The major problem that the Nats face is that at virtually every position on the diamond they have someone ranging from average to star quality. That means that to improve they have to start looking at the Canos and the Ellsburys of the world, because even slotting in an above-average player only qualifies as tinkering around the edges, and the marginal improvement so provided can cost more than is gained.

Ultimately, I think CF and 2B make for the best spots to upgrade simply because a new CF moves Span to 4th OF, in which role he is worlds better than anyone we were running out there last year (and provides veteran stability as a backup for Werth, Harper, and the new CF if injuries occur). Likewise, if we sign Cano or acquire another high-end 2B, then Rendon becomes the utility infielder, at which he is vastly superior to Lombo. These sort of moves would improve multiple roster spots at once.

Anonymous said...

Good thoughts, @Dezo. Here's the bottom line--the Nats need a power bat. Does Cano give enough bang for the buck? He hit 27 HRs last year and has never hit more than 33. I just feel like we can do better than that via trade. So let's consider some big-bopper options, all OFs so appropriate under this thread.

Stanton probably tops the list, and as noted he would cost a truckload of prospects. Two other guys are out there with 40 HR power, but because of a combination of slightly damaged goods plus big contracts, teams might not demand as much in return. They are Matt Kemp and Ryan Braun. The Dodgers have three OFs making big money plus Puig, and Puig is going to play. One of the others is going to move. As for Braun, well, he's got to have a change of address, for the same reason that everyone is going to hate this suggestion. He may not come back with 40 HR power, but his numbers will equal Cano's plus add 30 SB.

If the Nats got any one of these guys, they could either make Span the 4th OF or move Werth to 1B and unload LaRoche. Essentially, one of the power guys would replace LaRoche or Span. It's a big upgrade either way.

blovy8 said...

There aren't a lot of guys hitting 30 homers anymore, that's why they're keeping Moore around and it's why Nats fans rue the loss of the Morse full-season legend that can only happen as often as leap years apparently.

Clearly, the reason Rizzo harps on upgrading the bench, is that the best prospects the Nats have need months of AA/AAA to show they're ready to even be traded. AFL stats are cheap. The case Harper made for Baker is still the best one, at least he can fake a lot of positions on those days someone has an ouchie. When a guy needs a DL visit, hopefully it'll be late enough in the year that someone will deserve an extended look and Matt Williams will give them that chance. The Nats luck is such however, that Rizzo would be wise to lay in a GOOD player for the other outfield spot. DeJesus fits that pretty well given the FA options if Tampa buys that deal out. Maybe David Murphy.

If Ellsbury comes in, the most likely thing would be that Span's salary goes to get minors value again like last year's Morse deal. Span gave Rizzo about 95 percent of what he expected, so why would he be on the trading block? Doesn't make sense unless his plans change, and that guy is stubborn. I know this is Harper's money is no object roster, but it's inconsistent with the way the Nats have been run, it's easier to imagine getting another potential corner of/1b who's out of options from someone in a trade, that can work their way into the 1B equation than signing Ellsbury for $$$$$. That's just boring.

I still would bank on Zimmerman as a 3B for a few years, and while Rendon could be decent there, he is also more valuable if he can complete the conversion to 2B, in my opinion. We're seeing that with Carpenter in St. Louis, for instance.

Donald said...

@Anonymous 12:27pm -- With the hiring of Matt Williams, the likelihood of bringing in Braun decreases. Apparently prior HGH use by Williams was one of the teams real concerns. If they then sign Braun, it'll start a bad train of thought that leads to people questioning how Werth hit so well in his declining years or Bryce Harper got so big in the off season.

Zimmerman11 said...

Stras Harper and ALR all get surgery and Espy doesn't????????????????????? C'mon man!