Nationals Baseball: 2015

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Stephen Drew?

If you are creating a good bench you don't have any pieces on it that are one-trick ponies, unless they do that one-trick about better than anyone. Of course that usually only holds for defensive specialists, or speedy players, because if you are a guy who has pop or hits for average about better than anyone, teams will try to find spots for you - even if you do nothing else. (see : Trumbo, Mark)

Stephen Drew can still (probably) field adequately. He can hit with power from the left-side of the plate. His isoSLG last year would have been second amongst all SS and his projected power is around Top 5 for the position. Given those skills he makes a passable back-up MI on the bench (while Espinosa is starting and Turner is in AAA, waiting out his service time... I mean "honing his skills") and a fantastic last MI on the bench (when Turner is up and Espy sits). Yes, yes Drew is a Boras client. And yes yes Drew was drafted by Rizzo when he was in Arizona. Both these things helped get him here I'm sure. But if he's played correctly there really doesn't have to be a downside here.

If played correctly...

So how do you play him incorrectly? Well Dusty, known to favor veteran players, could put Drew in place above Espinosa (better in just about everyway, which tells you where Drew is at). Drew shouldn't be playing everyday, not even as an injury replacement, or a stop-gap. Not when you have a better option and the Nats do. Scarier than that would be the potential logical extension where if Baker puts Drew at SS and the Nats are doing moderately well and he's not god awful, that he stays with him not only over Espy but over Turner as well. Turner is the future and is very likely to hit very well in his "get Nats another FA year" turn in Syracuse. If so, there won't be any reason to keep him down but you can picture that situation arising.

Of course no sense worrying about things that haven't happened yet (Like say the Murphy deal falling through and Drew being pencilled in as the 2nd base starter). I see how this can work out. I'm going to assume that's how it's going to go.

Who does this most effect? Espinosa, certainly. He will at least lose some at bats versus RHP and possibly lose his role entirely. We hope not but the potential is there. Wilmer Difo, thought to have a role in the 2016 Nats, is almost certainly now pushed back into AAA to try to fight the fade into organizational depth (hey! It's the ghost of Tony Renda!). And the aforementioned Tyler Moore may finally, mercifully lose his spot on the bench, seeing as Drew offers the same pop, but can also play in the field as well. Of course Moore does hit from the other side of the plate and today would still make my expected* OD roster (bench : Lobaton, Clint, den Dekker, Drew and Moore)

All in all, this is much like every deal the Nats have made this offseason. It makes them a little bit better. That all adds up. Of course they got worse to start FA and still have a couple moves to make that will do more of that, at least on the field, so we still have to hold back any evaluations until later.

*not to be confused with my preferred OD roster.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Why Murphy?

While we sit here and wonder when exactly this deal will be finalized* the big question that sits out there is why would the Nats go with Daniel Murphy.

The obvious first answer is that the Nats need another MI. That's simply the truth. They could go with Danny Espinosa and he might be fine. Certainly his defense will be solid if not better. But man, weren't you around for the second half of the year? The .206 / .259 / .346 second half? Danny is a great defender and a source of some pop. But he also can't hit and strikes out too much and was terrible in 2014 and made grown men cry in 2013. Add it up and he's a great bench player but a bad gamble as a starter.

Daniel Murphy is a good gamble as a starter. Consistently providing a level of offense that offsets his mediocre? poor? not terrible? defense. He will hit .280-.290.  He will hit for just enough power. He will make contact. Defensive issues can be hidden, worked around, camoflauged, or you can get lucky and just have a year where the balls aren't hit in the areas that matter. Offensive issues rarely disappear like that. That's why Danny is a bench player and Murphy is a starter.

But still Yunel Escobar hit .314 with almost "just enough power". Why not just stick with Yunel Escobar?  Well Yunel Escobar in a matter of just two years, has seemingly proved himself worse in the field than Murphy. Whereas Murphy is ill-suited for 2B but occasionally passable in other less demanding positions, like third base, Escobar just spent a year proving he wasn't even suited for third. At the plate 2015 Yunel was essentially a match for Murphy, but he is also historically not this good of a hitter. The assumption has to be that average will drop and if things revert back to "normal" as opposed to a middle ground... well Yunel would be an negative everywhere. Should we worry about such a drop? For 33 year old Yunel who has collapsed on the field, I'd say yes, yes we should. Murphy, 31 in April, doesn't have the same age issue.

Espinosa is a gamble. Murphy is security. Escobar can't be relied on. Murphy is stability.

So... great?  Well there is another side. Like I said Murphy is ill-suited at 2B. You'd want to play him somewhere else. LF, 1B, 3B. What would be best for the Nats is Rendon at 2B and Murphy at 3B but I think the reverse will happen. While Murphy gives the Nats the LHB and contact stats they need, he doesn't give them the patience or power that they need too. He doesn't walk and his power is merely ok. When playing second he's an imperfect solution. Also we must consider that the Nats paying a premium for a post-season that was almost certainly a fluke. If the Nats are a strict budget team (we'll find out this year) then that could hamper improvements in the upcoming seasons.

My feeling is that Murphy, for 2016, is a solid addition to the team but should not be a singular one. He is not the impact bat I think is needed with the injury risk this offense continues to be. It's doubtful the Nats will now pay in money or prospects to add an all-in-one impact bat (if one is even still available) so perhaps they will find a way to get a complementary bat who provides a little patience and pop without breaking the bank (Dexter Fowler?) or someone that will provide one of those things in spades (trade for Khris Davis?). At three years, the contract doesn't bother me at all. I like it as he's likely to give value all three years. If you are building a "Bryce Time" team that contract means he slates in perfectly.

If this ends the Nats dealings for the off-season then it's bad, but there is no reason to think it will. This is one brick. Let's see what Rizzo builds.

*My guess continues to be once Papelbon or Storen are dumped to some team that will eat that salary. I found the Escobar trade then Kelley deal goes through timing suspicious and assume all Nats trades need some sort monetary balance.  So I will only believe that this won't be the case when it is actually not the case

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Merry Christmas!

Here's Gio in a Santa hat from 2011 

Look at him! Just a baby!

I'll probably have some more posts between then and Christmas about movies or such. (Here's my list of what to watch in general from last year) but nothing on the Nats unless they do something, which I doubt.

Anyway again - Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Delightful Days Off!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Monday Quickie : Bum Phillips

So apparently Brandon Phillips won't be coming to the Nats. It's not entirely clear to me what the hold up was. Well I know it was money / years but apparently it fell on the Reds and not the Nats to figure that out? I would get it if he told the Nats "Hey, give me an extra year at 15 mill and I'll waive the no trade clause" but there was no indication that was the case. Instead it was the Reds talking to him. The only way I see that working out is if they Reds would redo his current contract in some phony baloney way to pay him more NOW, like say add a team option to the end and add a bonus for re-signing? Give him a piece of the team? Heyman suggested an extension was needed but why then didn't we get him talking to the Nats?

Honestly I don't get what was supposed to happen here. As it was being explained as "Nats and Reds have deal. Reds have to convince Phillips to waive no trade. He may want incentives from Reds to do so" That seems odd to me. Help explain this based on what we actually saw reported.

Other than that nothing of note. We're pretty close to Christmas now so I don't expect much of anything for a week or so. We're about half way through the offseason (Christmas is usually basically half-way) and fittingly the Nats are half-way done with a complete bullpen overhaul. They have the all the minor pieces in place. The easy stuff has been done. Now all they have to get rid of Papelbon and Storen and bring in a lock down closer in their place.

The secondary issue of an outfield bat has also not been addressed but the market is still flooded with talent. Upton, Gordon and Cespedes are still out there as top tier guys. As are solid 1-2 year player types the likes of Fowler, Byrd, Parra. Good 4th OF types like Austin Jackson, and de Aza remain, platoon guys like Wil Venable, risks like Denard Span. The Nats, like pretty much everyone else, have waited out this market and it hasn't gotten away from anyone yet. There was thought Heyward could start the dominoes falling but more likely it'll take 1 or 2 more guys going to set things in motion. Early January I bet, will be a busy time.

So the Nats aren't nearly done, (or more accurately they really shouldn't be nearly done) but aren't in a bad position either. Stay patient.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Phillips in a nutshell

What I wrote on Wednesday still holds true. I would lean toward not getting Phillips, but it's a money thing.  Since it looks like it is happening - here are the biggest questions in increasing order of importance.

How much are the Nats going to pay him?

Brandon Phillips is set to make 13 million next year, 14 the year after. This is probably more than he'll be worth but it's not a terrible overpay. However, some people are saying that to get Phillips to agree to this deal the pot has to be sweetened. The Nats would have to pay him more or extend him.

I don't buy it. I don't even want to take it to one of those mid-aisle scanners to see how much it is.  The fact that he supposedly gave a hometown discount to the Reds, which spurs on a lot of the "have to give him more" talk, is his problem. It shouldn't be the Nats. In fact by "correcting" for the fact he'd have to move, he would essentially turn his contract into a huge bargain for the Reds and a bigger burden for the Nats. Why agree to that? Don't do it Nats. Open market today he's getting paid more than enough. Stick to those guns.

Who are the Nats giving up for him?

The talk is "several minor leaguers". Given that it's more than one I'm going to guess it doesn't include anyone you may care about. Of course that takes Giolito and Turner off the table, but also probably sweeps Cole, Difo, Fedde, Lopez, Voth and Robles into a napkin as well.  Best I see included might be Drew Ward (20 but stalling) or one of their myriad of future back-up catchers.

The truth is though, outside of Turner, none of these guys are needed for 2016. With Exodus Part 2 coming up after this year, I care about making a run now more than anything so if they do give up one of those latter 6, whatever. I can deal with it.

Does he make the Nats better?

Yes. We discussed this the other day. His consistency assumes a better offensive season than you can expect from Espinosa and he's a very good fielder so you don't lose as much in that swap as you would for other replacements (see Murphy, Daniel).  Anything that makes the team better is worthwhile. Technically you will lose a LHB when Turner comes up and replaces Espinosa (This is my expected Nats infield - Espinosa at SS until Turner gets called up mid-May) but Espinosa wasn't much of a lefty bat to begin with.

Also the secondary function of the trade - pushing Danny to the bench, gives the Nats a nice solid bench player.

How will he affect the Nats spending the rest of the offseason?

Ah - now here's the kicker. What is the Nats payroll? I've talked considerably that they may actually be around the amount they'd like to spend for the year already and they only have money to spend if they consider Papelbon and Storen gone with minimal salary absorbed. If that's the case then Phillips may eat a big chunk of the Nats payroll leaving them unable to say - deal for Cargo or even sign a Parra. If they don't put anything in for Papelbon/Storen then they might have a little money, say about 10 million, left to play with. If they expect to eat half of Papelbon/Storen then Phillips uses it all.

Phillips is a good player but only makes the Nats slightly better in 2016. If they Nats only have around 10-15 million to spend I think they could make a higher impact move.  So really whether the Phillips move is good or not doesn't come down to him, it comes down to the salary the Nats are paying and the payroll the Lerners are willing to shell out for 2016. If Phillips is essentially the last piece, because of some combination of his salary going up and the payroll going down, then it's a bad move. If he is just another cog and a closer or good OF bat is still on the horizon, then it's a good move. We can't know. But Rizzo must.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

More Movies

Nats are resting. Hallmark is not

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas
X(Mas)-Factor: Mandated
Kids acting: One moppet in a soup kitchen scene.
Watchability: Background noise approved
"Hey it's"! : Big fan of "Breakout Kings"? Love "Skulls 2"? No? Then absolutely no one. Rare for a non-cheapy movie.

This is the rare Christmas movie that actually made me say " that was clever", but before we get to that let's get one thing clear right off the bat. The lead female is BONKERS. 10 years ago a friendquaintance offers her an emergency ride home for Christmas. They get caught in a snowstorm and afraid he won't get her home in time (apparently they have school until Christmas Eve at what I'll call Heathen U), he pulls over to the side of the road and shows her a fun Christmas time. Now I would be pretty mad at the guy for wasting hours building snowmen and riding sleds when I want to get home to my loving family, but such whimsical nonsense is irresistibly charming in these movies. She falls for him but he never comes back to school! Cut to modern day and she hears him on the radio and she's all like "THAT'S THE GUY I LOVE! MY SOULMATE!" It's been a decade, lady. A decade. "Hmm, I remember that guy. Maybe I should look him up" is a fine reaction. "I love him! I need to help him!" is stalker territory. I assume what we didn't see after the movie ends is the uncomfortable scene the next morning where she shows up on his front door in a wedding dress.

Anyway it's easy enough to get past that and once you do the story is allright. He has soured on Christmas. She remembers he loved Christmas and vows to fix that failing. That may seem a bit much, people do have other traits other than "love Chirstmas" that you might want to explore, but then you remember that is literally all she knows about him, so it makes sense. Now the clever part - she starts sending him secret Santa gifts and as he is new in town, his radio station manager tries to use this secret Santa mystery to drum up publicity. The manager calls the local paper to cover it and the paper assigns her to cover the story. So she's covering herself. See clever! (We're talking Hallmark movies here).

You may think "Hey isn't that a big conflict of interest?" Yep. But they address it and deal with it in a way that seems fair to me. So again good for the writer. You don't really have to closely follow the movie from that point to the point when he finds out she's the Secret Santa as it's just a slow steady progression to him getting to the endpoint of loving her and Christmas. But it's a light and easy as opposed to dull. Now if only his dream gift wasn't a girl bike from the early 70s.

I'll give it socks for Christmas. But no socks when you are a kid. Socks when you are an adult and you need socks and hey! These are pretty nice socks.

A Family for Christmas
X(Mas)-Factor: Low - a shoehorned Santa away from none at all
Kids acting: There, necessary, and not terrible
Watchability: I've seen better
"Hey it's"! : A titan of the genre, the woman I affectionally call Lacy Sherbert, Lacey Chabert

Santa's roles in these movies is all over the place. Sometimes he's just like US! Usually those are the "Santa's kids" movie where his son "Chris" or daughter "Holly" blah blah bah. Sometimes he's an integral moral center, sometimes just in need of help. In this movie he's basically an accidental genie. He asks Chabert if she has a Christmas wish and she doesn't answer but maybe kind of thinks of something and suddenly she's in an alternate reality. When she meets up with him in the alternate reality (he's the only one that knows what's going on naturally) he doesn't know why this happened or what exactly she can do to "get back". Basically it was her wish that did it. Jesus, Santa. If you have that kind of power where people can warp time and space by wishing something in their minds while next to you, maybe stay inside more.

Anyway, in the alternate reality she isn't a successful reporter with no ties about to take a big NY job. She's a supermom to 2 girls married to her old boyfriend, who decided not to go to SF for an internship 10 years ago (Hey! Review theme!). The overtone of "Mom" beats "career woman" is very strong here and almost derails the whole movie. She was seemingly a great TV reporter and that carries into her new life where she manages to get a chance at doing the same thing despite being stuck in her small town. At that point her husband almost screams "You want to work at something you loved at one point and are preternaturally good at, instead of stay at home all day taking care of your school aged children while I work!? You goddamn monster." but the movie has him pretty quickly reverse his stance and puts the onus back on her. Would she rather be a mom, or have any sort of career that wouldn't allow her to see your kids all the time. In a Hallmark Christmas movie that's not a choice.

Ah but the kicker. SPOILER! After making said decision she wakes up back in her old life. She runs to Santa again and he's like "we can't change the past only the future" to which she doesn't say "Didn't we just do that? And did you create children out of thin air only to rip them from existence?" but "I should follow my heart not my instincts" or whatever. So to show that she's on the right path now, she seemingly unnecessarily quits her reporter job maybe, then meets up with that ex-boyfriend who had contacted her at the movies start. They go off to have babies and to stop her from working because women raising kids and not having jobs is the true meaning of Christmas.

The movie isn't complete garbage because her family over job choice only existed in a dream and was, if we're being honest, out of nowhere and kind of crazily life altering for dream family. But still  it's all but explicit that good women choose mom stuff. Of course when your audience is a millions of moms and a soulless automaton that blogs about baseball, you don't worry about appealing to the automaton.

I give this 3 out of one dozen Christmas cookies made at home by mom because store bought cookies are for people with black, black hearts according to this movie. So maybe 9 out of 12 store bought cookies if you want to look at it that way.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Next Up : Brandon Phillips

This year I'll split up my Xmas movie stuff from the baseball stuff. That way it's easier for those that want to skip, to do so. Anything for you guys. I'll post movies in the afternoon.

The Nats are rumored to be interested in Brandon Phillips. He's a Red that played under Dusty. Those things might be related in one way (Dusty wants guys he knows) or another (media will just assume any Red who played under Dusty has the interest of the Nats) but it's out there. Do the Nats want him?

Yes - Phillips might be aging but he's still consistently provides close to average offense. In the past three years he's put up a .274 / .315 / .389 line, with a .704 OPS and hasn't really wavered. Danny Espinosa, who is pencilled in right now, has put up a .217 / .279 / .361 line (.640 OPS) and is a year removed from awful and two years removed from "shouldn't he be selling cars?" Brandon also doesn't strike out often, basically doing it half as often as Espinosa does.

No - But if Danny is "back to normal" (assuming last year in total was "normal") then he should provide virtually the same offense as Phillips.  Danny .719 OPS last year, Phillips .723.  Yes Danny will strikeout but that's part of his game. Other parts of his game are patience and power. Phillips' power is dying and he's not patient at all.  Brandon's more of a singles guy and gets more of his value through batting average.  Given a choice I like a guy who can work a bad pitcher into a walk or send a bad pitch over the fence than Singly Joes.

Yes - But Brandon Phillips is more than offense - he's defense too. He had been one of the best second basemen in the game in the last 00s and he's still a solid defender at the keystone.

No - But Danny is probably better there. Not much mind you but he probably had a better year there last year (defensive stats... you know how it is) and he's six years younger. Solid money is on Danny giving you better defense.

Yes - But will Danny play? Phillips is an extremely healthy guy. He's played 141 games or more 9 times in the last 10 seasons. One of the things the Nats lost with Desmond was stability. If you get Phillips you can feel pretty good about plugging him in and expecting him to start as long as you need/want him to. Espinosa hasn't played a full season in the majors since 2012.

No - But that one off season was 2014 and Phillips will be 35 (a young 35, but still) next year. At that age you start moving into the "they are old, they can get injured at any moment" part of their career. It's not that big an advantage.

Yes - But Phillips also gives you speed. 23 SBs last year (to only 3 CS). Danny, despite being over half a decade younger hasn't approached that since 2012.

No - But that's a product of the team. Nats were 14th in the NL in stolen bases last year and they aren't particularly a slow team. Danny might be able to steal more bases. We won't know until (if?)  Dusty unleashes the team

Yes - But Brandon is a proven veteran. The Nats lost two long time Nationals last year, includin Desmond, who was seen as a quiet clubhouse leader. They need to replace that dynamic.

No - But do they? It's not like that type of leadership kept this team playing at it's highest level.  Plus no one is saying Brandon is that type of guy. In fact, he seems to most as overly sensitive about how he is perceived outside the clubhouse causing him to be very sensitive about media matters.

Yes - But Dusty will control that. That's what he does.

No - But that, "overly sensitive to how he's perceived, very sensitive about media" is also who Dusty is. It may work but it may also help foster the paranoid "us vs everyone - fans, media, ownership" clubhouse attitude some of us fear Dusty can bring. Also Brandon Phillips also makes a ton of money. 13 Million next year. 14 million after that. It's not a long commitment but it is a pricey for a guy that's being argued as whether he's better for the team than Danny Espinosa (who will make around 3 Mill this year)


I don't want Brandon Phillips because I don't want his contract. I think he's a slightly better bet to be decent than Danny. Brandon is consistent. Danny has not been. But I think you can get more improvement to the team spending that 13 million somewhere else. As for any attitude thing? Eh. I always prefer to judge a player when he gets where he's going. Sometime a change of location does wonders. New clubhouse, new city, Dusty at the helm? I'd at least give him a few months to see. But really I wouldn't because like I said - I don't want to pay him.

Now if it's the only way to dump Papelbon or Storen and get something worthwhile back? Ok. I can deal with that. But that's not what we've heard so far. We've heard prospects. In the end, I can't believe that this is the best deal out there for the Nats.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Christmas Movies

It begins (way late) My Blog. My Rules. You can always skip with your eyes and with button clicks. Biology and Technology working as one to avoid my obsession with bad holiday movies. It's your only hope, really. In fact I'm trying to come up with a biology + technology angle on a bad Christmas movie. Cyborg reindeer? I love it.

Run now.

Christmas Movie Reviews
Wish Upon a Christmas
X(Mas)-Factor: Like a mall before Halloween. Sparse but there.
Kids acting: Is this a kid? Is expressing little more than "I love Santa" acting?
Watchability: If you can stay awake, it's fine.
"Hey it's"! : Alan Thicke!  The younger daughter from "10 Things I hate about you"! (Yes yes she's Alex Mack and Ken Cosgrove's wife and like a half-dozen other things. Sorry. Mad Men was fine, but Julia Stiles dancing to Notorious BIG on a table is definitive cinema.)

Here's my guess. The original plot of the movie was a Lifetimeified "Up in the Air". This woman travels around and fires people as her job and she's good at it. She's forced to go to her hometown and do something similar to a factory there, but it turns out it is run by an ex-boyfriend. He teaches her the value of not being a corporate stooge. She teaches him how to not run a business into the ground. Add some magic with his kid wishing on star yada yada yada happily ever after. The end. Then someone told the writer what they really needed were Christmas movies to which the writer replied "I can make it a Christmas movie!" and sold! Everyone is happy except me.

What happens when you Christmasfy a movie? (1) Corporate sends you to fire people, not on a random day, but on Christmas Eve. No business would do this. Forget that it's unnecessarily mean it's not even practical. It's the holidays. Who's working? Not you, not them. Too many people would be out to judge the business and then fire people. But not in this world where ornament makers are in such demand, even with the business in trouble, that they are working literally up until Christmas. How does this work logistically? The time I've lost trying to figure it out... (2) The factory, instead of furniture or whatever, becomes an ornament factory. Seriously. Why not toys? Overdone? It's a Lifetime Christmas movie, an overdone plot point is not frowned upon but cheered. I suppose it was the best choice though if you didn't go toys. Can't be a nativity factory - too religious. Can't be a Christmas tree factory - real trees=good guys in these movies. Wrapping paper? Candy Canes?  (3) The falling object isn't a star the kid wishes on. Instead it's Santa's sleigh crashing. Why? Because this movie still needed to be Christmas-fied by 40% It's not like you actually have to show it crashing either. Or crashed. Or the crash site. Or really deal with it at all as it's apparently gone immediately. They just say they found a hole. And anyway the titular wish is just in a letter he writes to Santa so it's not like he wished on the sleigh, even if that would make sense, so... what's the point again?

Oh that's right - his Dad pointed out a bauble in a Christmas book that he said was Santa's magic thing needed to get to everyone on Christmas to his 12 year old who still believes in Christmas like all 12 year olds do. The kid finds that bauble (apparently falls off sled in crash) and that becomes something to bring Santa in as he's looking for it. It gets lost again and finding it is what brings the woman back a final time. But why do we need Santa at all? Because he's delivering the kid's gift of NEW MOM aka business woman! Huh? Why would he need to be there at all? Why the bauble? Why not do some other magic or...

Or maybe it was originally just some random piece of jewelry connected to his mom that got lost and when business woman brings it back it's like the mom is bringing her back implicitly saying it's ok for the guy to move on! Oh that makes so much more sense! Then the fact the kid never says anything about missing mom, or the fact he has no personality (To wit, he likes baseball. Which team? No team. Just the sport. He's got posters like you had growing up. Some unidentified player hitting a ball, some unidentified field, a bat and glove) makes more sense because his "miss mom, mom wants you to move on" scenes had to go to fit in Christmas junk. Am I giving the writers too much credit for their original script that may or may not exist? Maybe.

I haven't even talked about Alan Thicke! He phones-in his performance and I mean literally. This is my favorite role you occasionally see in these movies, the name they can attach to it that is never actually on set with anyone else. Think Randy Quaid in Major League 2. Better yet, don't ever think of Major League 2. Thicke walks in set at 10AM, shoots 3-4 phone conversations with someone reading the lead's lines, walks out at 10:50 saying "Bada bing, bada boom, I'm done" Did someone involved in the movie sell it with Thicke's name? Did a corporate stooge demand it? Do either of those questions make sense in a world that exists outside of Alan Thicke's head? His character is actually supposed to be wherever he is with her mother but what daughter wants to talk to their mother when she costs the price of another speaking role?

Anyway this isn't a movie. It's an office that was decorated for the holidays. We see the festive trimmings, but we also see the dull sadness underneath.

3 out of 8+1 reindeer, who they say in the song is the most famous reindeer of all, but preface it with "do you recall".  That doesn't make any sense, especially after assuming I know all the rest of them. WRITE BETTER SONGS.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Monday Quickie

The Nats have a gaggle of new relievers. You can't swing a dead cat in DC without hitting someone currently being called a relief pitcher for the Nationals. That's great.


But when will Papelbon/Storen go? Will there be another big signing?

The latter seems inevitable. They've made market offers to O'Day, Zobrist, & Heyward. If they manage to get rid of Papelbon and Storen they should have 15-20 million to play with, if they aren't eating too much salary. Not to mention whatever flexibility they may have between where they are now (~130 million) and where they were last year (~160 million). This is what we wait for. The other shoe to drop.

What seems likely too is that other things may happen. Gio was talked about in a trade. It was assumed some of the Voth/Lopez type arms might be going if the Nats sign another arm. We've heard Cargo rumors and rumors for the cheaper Charlie Blackmon as well. And Chapman is still out there - though everyone is waiting to see what MLB does first. It's kind of amazing how much of interest is still on the table.

Yunel Escobar was traded for Trevor Gott.

Last year, at 32, Escobar had a great season at the plate. When you luck out and get something like that - that is almost certainly going to be a one year thing (BABIP of .347 - even with the better hitting that is going to come back down) - you almost have to trade high on it. The Nats have. They didn't get much, but they never were going to. Everyone sees the same thing the Nats do when looking at Yunel. He had a lucky year at the plate and he can't play in the field. The Angels are hoping he can man third hitting not too far from .300, walk a little, make a little more contact than your average Angel, and not embarrass himself in the field. The last point is important because he should have value at the plate. The question is how much his play in the field takes away. If he's even just ok, the Angels have a good value and a choice to keep him another year for a reasonable price if they see fit. If he's not ok, well maybe Adrelton Simmons can cover for him. Anyway you slice it though - it's probably a better move than something like 3/30 for David Freese, an every so slightly better player who they had last year and is now a FA.

What about Gott and the Nats? There is something worrisome about Gott in that he basically was your typical flamethrowing reliever who struck out a lot but also walked a lot (though some argued this wasn't a control issue as much as an approach one). Then he got up to the majors and struck no one out. He still did fine because he forced a lot of groundballs but that isn't his game. One school of thought is that he learned a new trick and once he gets those K's back he can be a dominant reliever. The other school of thought, populated by the kids whose parents can afford to send them to the good school, is that his stuff isn't quite translating into the majors and he'll top out as a middle reliever. (There's also the med school of thought that worries that he's a few months away from injury) The good thing is that he is only 23 next year so really anything is possible.

The biggest issue for the Nats is the same that comes with dealing/losing any one. The Nats have to make up what they lost. Yunel Escobar 2015 was a positive player who hit .315 and kept the offense from stagnating for much of the year. The assumption is healthy Rendon will make up for that or healthy Werth. That's probably true. But we all saw what relying on guys that "should be healthy" did for 2015. This is why we push for a new bat. Not a better offense in projections, but a more security for that offense. We'll see. Plenty of off-season left.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Moe Rumors - this time with more Heyward

Payroll Check

We are all interested in what the payroll will be for the Nats in 2016. While no one thinks we're going back to the days where we could dream of one day being the 25th highest payroll, there are real questions of whether the Nats are committed to being a Top 5 ish payroll (like in 2015) or was that a one-year aberration brought on by age and Boras? Let say for the sake of argument they knew early on McLouth was not going to have his option picked up. What else have they done since then budget wise?

Declined Janssen's option : saves 5.5 M  (rolling payroll effect :  down 5.5 M)
Non-tendered Craig Stammen : saves around 2.5 M ( down 8M)
Signed Oliver Perez : costs 3.5 M  ( down 4.5 M)
Signed Yusmiero Petit : costs 2.5 M ( down 2 M)
Trade Yunel Escobar for Trevor Gott : saves 6.5 M* (down 8.5 M)
Sign Shawn Kelley : costs ~5M (down 3.5 M)

*cash was exchanged but the exact number is unknown.

So as of right now the Nats are in the neighborhood of 3.5 M less than what was assumed was possibly their payroll on October. That seems about right with Baseball-reference estimating the payroll at 130.5 M without the new signings and factoring in the addition of Papelbon late in the year? 

At this point we can't really say anything. They have maintained a stable payroll. There is an assumption that they will be able to lose Papelbon (-11M) and Storen (~9M). If this is the case then they would be able to add around 20 M in salary and maintain their current level of around 140. That's important because

The Nats have interest in Jason Heyward

Heyward is the Mike Leake of the offensive free agents in that he is young (turns 27 next August) and relatively injury free. He is more impactful than Leake though being an offensive player who doesn't do anything poorly. He's a plus defensively, good on the basepaths, can hit for decent average, has a good eye, and can hit for a little power. He's sort of Jason Werth but trading some pop for some defense. The Nats would likely play him in CF which bring the D into question a little (he's played corner OF most of his career) but it's doubtful that he wouldn't be worth his contract for the next several years even with a slight dip in defensive production.

Of course the issue would be whether you could get him for the next several years, or does that contract have to go 7, 8, 9 years or even a full decade. Given the current contract climate something no worse than 8 years with an opt out after 3 is probably the floor. Assuming Heyward remains healthy he'll likely make that worth it regardless of whether the option comes into play. However the opt out presents a bit of an issue for the Nats. If they want to do more than just add Heyward (and the payroll isn't going up) then they would normally scale the salary so that the big payday starts kicking in after some other payroll (Werth) is freed up. But there isn't a chance Heyward is going to play for 2 years at below market without the guaranteed promise of more money down the line, and not just money he could choose to get (at presumably the cost of other money).  No, if the Nats want Heyward they'll have to pay now.

The other issue a Heyward deal setups up is a 2018 and 2019 with 35-40 million already committed to two players (Max and Zimm). If you add 20+ million for Heyward you are committing around 60 million to 3 players before considering Bryce Harper. We've noted he could get 40 M a year. Can the Nats function as a franchise in 2019 with 100 million commited to four players? At least one of who (Zimm) is likely to be a non-factor?

The Nats signed Shawn Kelley

The Nats brought in Shawn Kelley on a three year deal last night. It's an oddly long deal in my opion for a guy who had been average in relief up until June of last year. But if you believe what you saw from June on it is worth it. In those 40 games he put up an ERA of 1.19, with an opponents batting line of .191 / 241 / .221.  The BABIP was not crazy low (.273). He had an 11 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9. That's some dynamite pitching.

He was particularly unhittable by right-handed bats. Nothing seems out of whack fancy stat wise but when you look at them as if he just got lucky, is there anything to expalin it? One thing might be a huge increase on first pitch strikes in 2015. Could he simply be attacking the zone better early? Another is a big increase in GB%. But his zone profile doesn't suggest a huge change to pitching at the bottom of the zone? A combination? Or maybe it was his his first year in a new league pitching primarily in a pitchers park to help mitigate HR issues?

Either way I don't see much of a downside unless you consider Kelley an injury risk. It's likely that there was some luck involved in his awesome finish of 2016 and he isn't a lights out guy you can depend on as a potential set-up or closer. In that case the Nats get a decent middle relief pitching, who can get a big K when needed but might not be able to consistently shut down innings, at a slight overpay. However, if I'm wrong then the Nats could get a very good reliever for about half-price. The downside is small compared to the upside.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Rumors rumors rumors

Nats want Mike Leake

What Mike Leake is, is young (turned 28 about a month ago), durable, and a starter with limited wear and tear. As far as good bets to give you what you expect for the duration of a contract go, Mike Leake is about as good a bet as you can make. What you expect, though, may vary. He's had fairly average results and the fancy stats that back that up and suggest he might have even been lucky to be average. He doesn't do anything particularly well, but nothing particularly poorly. If you like him, think maybe he can get a bit better, you've got a #3 type pitcher for the next 5 years. If you don't like him, think he might lose that luck as he passes over his peak, then you've got a #5 type. But like I said - you've likely got him for 30+ starts a year which is more valuable than we give credit for.

Nats sign Yusmiero Petit

With Petit you get a Craig Stammen type. Middle innings, reliable, former starter so can go multiple innings. You also get Craig Stammen costs though as he comes at 2.5 million. But he's Craig Stammen 2014 (ok), not Craig Stammen 2012-13 (very good!), or at least that's the best guess of what he is. Petit has wavered between starter and reliever since coming into the league. Perhaps with a focus on relief for a few years he will blossom. Perhaps. All the Nats are really looking for with Petit is average, consistent innings. Don't blow up in big spots. He's been in his share in SF and he's been... average! So good.

Mets get Walker for Neise

Makes the Mets better than they were a day ago. Walker has more patience and power than Muprhy (don't let the post-season fool you on Muprhy's power) but Murphy is a better pure hitter, making more contact and hitting 30-40 points higher than you'd expect from Walker. That is enough to even out any difference. Walker is a better fielder but in the "Murphy is bad, Walker is not bad" way. Neise is a fine pitcher. If you buy into last year than it's probably a bad deal for Pittsburgh, but if you think he's more like previous years, or even in-between than the Pirates get their own Mike Leake, with two team options to keep him on the team. For the Nats it makes their current rival a bit tougher than the day before, but it's not the big move we're worried about.

Mets sign Asdrubal Cabrera

You know Asdrubal. He's ok! He can hit ok, and he's not terrible in the field. Is he better than Wilmer Flores? Yes a little. If it's just a little why bring him in? Well, Flores did just break a bone and if you don't bring someone in and he suffers a set back the Mets are back to having the black hole of Ruben Tejada hitting. With this and the Walker deal the Mets haven't made themselves any better per se, but they've set up a situation where its hard to see them being terrible again on offense without massive injury issues. (thosse do happen!)

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

No O'. No Zo. So?

The Nats are not going to get Darren O'Day. People have been kind of underselling O'Day. Yes his FIP merely suggests a good, not great relief pitcher, but at some point you have to shift over from reliance on "This is what he should do" to buying into "This is what he is doing repeatedly". I think four years is enough time to do that. Hitters can hit O'Day, at least enough so he shouldn't be dominant, but have real trouble hitting him hard (sidearmers always give guys fits) so he is. Is the contract out of line? Maybe a bit, but if you are going to pay closers a ton, paying set-up men who can also serve as firemen for tough spots in earlier innings makes a lot of sense.

Yes, these one-inning guys are the easiest to develop internally but as we saw last year, that's not the same as saying it's easy to develop them internally. Just compared to "good guy who can throw 6 innings" or "good guy that can field and hit around average at 2nd", "good guy who can get 3 outs" is a lower hurdle. You need to have 2, 3, 4 of these guys on your roster to start the season. That's baseball today. If you don't have them you have to go get them. I don't have any problems thinking that O' Day will be at least good through at least 3 years of the contract so I think it's a shame the Nats missed out on him. The apparent cause was they didn't want to go 4 years. I'm not sure I find that all that reasonable, you pay the value the market sets or you get something lesser, but it's their prerogative. 

The Nats are not going to get Zobrist. Zobrist for four years is a definite gamble. He is already old (35 in May) so you'll be paying for years where history tells us decline will happen. He definitely will not be as good at the end of this contract than at the beginning. The only question is how fast and how hard. Players can continue to be effective full time players into their late 30s (just to point one out - Raul Ibanez) but it's not the usual situation. So most likely this is an abbreviated long term signing. In that I mean when you sign someone like Scherzer to a 7 year deal - you hope to get a couple years at prime to start, with diminishing results until the last couple where you'd be happy with anything not terrible. Zobrist's deal dismisses with the years of diminishing results. You hope to get a couple years as he is now and you accept the fact the last couple might give you nothing. It's a gamble totally based on the idea that he will make a difference in the next couple of years, but in sports 3 years is forever. Worrying about the back end of a deal only makes sense if there are several other back-ends already on hand to worry about AND your team won't spend money.

And that may actually be where the Nats are. Werth is often brought up here, but Werth's deal is over in 2 years. If you are having problems with Zobrist and Werth at the same time then something went terribly wrong. But the Nats do have Zimms contract, he can't stay healthy, and there is Scherzer's deal, which should be fine for at least a couple years but relying on a 30yo+ pitcher to be healthy three years down the road is a bad bet. Do the Nats need another dead weight contract potentially? Especially when they'll hopefully be trying to throw money at Bryce Harper to get him to stay. It's debatable. Really it does come down to Bryce. If you expect him to stay, or at least you expect to make a fair (re: $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$) offer to him, then Zobrist for four years is a bit iffy. If you don't expect him to stay, well then you have 3 years with the kid and you better make them count.

Zobrist himself is diminishing. He has great positional flexibility (which does NOT MAKE HIM A UTILITY GUY) but prefers to play 2nd. Last years stats say he had a bad year there. Even if that is just the annual variability of defensive statistics coming into play it is likely he is getting worse there and is better suited for corner outfield. Yet he wants 2nd and will likely play 2nd, at least in 2016. Offensively, he's been remarkably consistent and I wouldn't go against the idea that he'll be above average for the next two years. Now will he be healthy? That I can't answer but last year was his first year with injures this decade. That's worrisome for an old man in his mid 30s (trust me). Still he did play 126 games and if you can pencil him in for 140 for 2 years, above average offense and defense at 2nd that doesn't kill you? That's great for a team competing for it all. That's why I wanted Zobrist. I think the Nats are still in it and I'm not bullish about the future post 2016 right now. It has potential but is hazy. 2016 isn't hazy. The Nats should be good. Go after it.

 Ok, but the title of this post said "So?" What is that about? Well I think it's bad the Nats didn't get O'Day and Zobrist. That's true. But this is a deep free agent class and there are always trades to be had. This offseason isn't over. It has barely begun. The Nats haven't done much... yet. But that doesn't mean they aren't going to do a lot.
  • Before 2012 the Nats dealt for Gio, signed Chad Tracy and Edwin Jackson (who would both help that year). 
  • Before 2013 the Nats dealt for Denard Span, signed Dan Haren, Rafael Soriano and Ross Ohlendorf , re-signed Adam LaRoche.
  • Before 2014 the Nats dealt for Doug Fister, Jose Lobaton, and Jerry Blevins. Signed Nate McLouth.
  • Before 2015 the Nats dealt for Joe Ross, Yunel Escobar and signed Max Scherzer and Casey Janssen.
All these things didn't work out (I removed my eyeball and duck-taped it to your forehead, McLouth) but they were all at least relatively sound moves made to improve the team. Rizzo has always managed to make me feel better about the team going into Spring Training. He hasn't been perfect, no. We all know the issues with the bench and relief. And this is a particularly hard year to bounce back from with the FA losses the Nats have. But looking at the above I'm definitely willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. With all these names out there in FA, some team is going to come out a winner without breaking the bank. I'm not going to bet against Rizzo being that guy. 

Monday, December 07, 2015

Monday Quickie - I blame you

It wasn't me. 

I hate the guy and from Day 1 I told you all you shouldn't root for him or celebrate him in any way. But did you listen? NO. You cheered him when he got a save. You welcomed him in. Well, you know what they say. You sleep with dogs, you wake up with fleas.

Itching much? 

Papelbon's crew are trying to say there is "no precedent for a team suspension for this type of incident". That may be true.  I pulled out other team suspensions without pay last night on Twitter.

There was Julio Mateo beating his wife. Yunel Escobar and the homophobic slur adventure.  Jose Guillen being Jose Guillen. No, nothing in particular about a clubhouse fight. You could certainly argue that the first two don't really compare to what Papelbon did. Maybe the third one? Maybe?

The problem is that non-criminal related suspensions are generally for on the field incidents. Brawls are the most obvious example, but you can find suspensions for quitting on the field, bashing up the dugout, umpire interactions. But fights with teammates, real fistfights I'm talking here, don't normally happen in view of the cameras, they happen in clubhouses or the tunnel or somewhere else. Those things can be hushed up or ignored and dealt with using fines so much easier. Sure occasionally guys get into it in the dugout and it happens to fast that a blow or two (usually more a slap or shove) is exchanged, but even then you can simply pretend it didn't happen if everyone agree and no one cares about your team at the time. And even if you can't do that, if everyone just gets ahead of things and says they are past it and it won't matter on the field, ala Bonds/Kent, usually that's enough.

But the Nats situation was different. The fight was in front of everyone. The nation's eyes were still on the Nats, having just found themselves eliminated from the playoffs after being huge preseason favorites. Despite both Bryce and Papelbon saying what they should post-game, Williams wasn't able to corral the situation. First he sent Papelbon back out into the game then making it seem like he didn't understand what was going on. Add to that the Nats were already waiting on a looming suspension for Papelbon for throwing at Machado. They couldn't do nothing - and with season's end so close it was just easiest to suspend him for the rest of the year and not deal with this again.

So they did - but they didn't pay him. And like I said - it's iffy if that was the standard procedure.

Why wait until now to file grievance?   Why now to leak grievance?* Probably they were judging if the Nats were seriously shopping Papelbon or not. If the Nats were really looking at keeping Jon on the team, there isn't a big reason to fight over 400K if you are making 11 million. It's not nothing no, but compared to keeping your employer happy and maybe showing them you are a team player and worthy of signing to a deal after you hit FA, it's minimal. But if they Nats are actively trying to ship Pap somewhere else? Then hell, get that 400K if you can. That's my guess.

Anyway it's a mess, as is everything dealing with the back of the pen. Like I said, your fault. Personally I'm waiting for the Mike Patrick blow-up about the Nats after Drew Storen gets sent anywhere. Not your fault, though so there's that.

*Since I know nothing apparently my take isn't right - but it may not be wrong either. If they can withdraw a grievance than it is possible that the basic thought holds true. If they can't, well then I don't know. 

Friday, December 04, 2015

Quick Perez Take

What he does: Offers somewhat reliable middle innings and lefty specialist work

What he might do: allow Felipe Rivero to pitch in set-up (closer?) role

What he doesn't do : tell us anything about Papelbon/Storen or budget. Contract is about market and no Janssen, No Stammen frees up money for this. 2016 budget is unchanged. Perez should not be a 8th/9th guy

Stammen, better than you think.

Craig Stammen was non-tendered the other day. Like most of the little moves the Nats make it hardly seems consequential. Stammen had been a solid, middle innings reliver but was never quite a shutdown guy (walked too many and was too hittable for that) so he never graduated to late inning work. Last year he got injured tearing his forearm flexors and he never got back during the season. This season he'll be 32 and he would have been a free agent after the year. The Nats might have figured it was better to move on from Stammen now and continue to try to develop some other, younger, arms who might be with the team for a while.

Of course this undersells what Stammen actually did over his time with the Nats. He didn't just eat up some middle innings. No reliever on the team, not even Clippard, threw more innings for the Nats from 2012-2014. In fact not a single pitcher who didn't start a game from 2012-2014 pitched more innings than Craig's 242. Second closest was Adam Ottavino at 222 about 10% less. That's a big gap. He probably appeared for multiple innings more than any one during that time, certainly more than any NL relief pitcher.

He was not a shut down guy, true, but he could get a strikeout when needed and rarely gave up the home run (16 in 250+ innings as a reliever). That meant that he kept the team in games and that bears out if I peruse the fancy stats. He didn't let many inherited runners score. He often left the team in a better position to win when he left the game. He didn't just pitch in easy situations, putting the team in better situation when considering the importance of when he was pitching. He was not the best, but we was better than most.

After you get through the "great young arm we're moving to be a closer" types, Stammen was almost the ideal middle relief pitcher. Add him to an equally effective Tyler Clippard in the set-up role and you had a quiet but extremely competent bullpen for close games. It wasn't "You aren't scoring on us after the 6th!" like the Royals and others may have had over the years. But it was "you aren't likely to come back enough to win this game" and it showed.

Who takes over these roles? Last year, with Clippard gone and Stammen out, the Nats tried Blake Treinen who was good... except when it mattered. He turned in an extremely "un-clutch" year, pitching worse when it mattered. To a lesser degree the same happened with Casey Janssen. Aaron Barrett wasn't nearly as bad but did nothing to turn around the image of failure he first left Nats fans with in the 2014 playoffs. Matt Grace was disappointing in a short run, as was Sammy Solis. AJ Cole is not a reliever. Matt Thorton, who was actually good, is gone into free agency.

This was just one season worth of pitching. It may have been just an off year or a few bad games for a couple of these guys. Don't be surprised if the Nats try a couple of these arms in important situations again, but the Nats may have stumbled onto their middle relief guys at the end of last year in Rafael Martin and Felipe Rivero. Felipe will probably be limited to a lot of lefty heavy work, so that leaves Martin, who had a bad first impression but was much much better in September to get first crack at being the "new Stammen".  It's not a bad plan to start the year and it may work. But given the situation the Nats saw last year and the limited data on Martin, I think I'd feel best if old Stammen, all of 2 months older than Martin mind you, was taking that first crack.

Of course, given that he hasn't pitched since April, the Nats know the injury situation with Stammen far better than I do. I'll have to trust that is what drove the decision to non-tender, not his likely cost  (probably near 2.5 million) or the fact they were likely to head to arbitration with him. One hopes that they wouldn't let a reliable arm walk to save a few dollars, especially after last year.

Given that trust, we just have to wish Stammen well and hope he surprises and does well at his next stop too, where ever that may be. (Don't be surprised if he tries to hook up with the Reds)

Of course this is all just a prelude to the bigger question that is what happens with the back end of the pen. Which is anyone's guess because man, the Nats created a mess there, didn't they?

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Analysis Still in Action

One of the knocks on Max Scherzer entering last year was that he threw a lot of pitches. That happens if you strikeout a lot of people (which Max does), throw a lot of innings (which Max does), and aren't particularly known for precise control (which Max wasn't until last year).

That last point is important because there was some hope during last season that Max wouldn't end up throwing a lot pitches because he was giving up a lot fewer free passes. While he did successfully lower his P/PA to a career low (3.73 after usually being over 4.00) there were enough innings, HRs and various other things to keep his pitches up near the top of the majors. That marks his 6th season in a row of being such.

Last season I tried to analyze the issue by looking at those pitchers who threw a lot of pitches in multiple seasons (10000 in 3 years). You can check out what I did here. The end result was both grim overall and grim specifically.

It was grim overall because pitchers just break down. Up until age 31 it seemed, pitchers were ok. Don't kid yourself, they weren't paragons of health at any age. Pitching was still a wasteland of broken arms and broken dreams, but at least with the group I was looking at (guys who pitched a lot from 26-29 and pitched well) ages 30 and 31 were coin flips. Didn't really matter if you had a lot of work or not, you had a decent chance of putting up a full good season*.  After that though the chances crashed and burned. Age 33 was particularly chilling with only 2 pitchers out of like 25 having a full good year.

It was grim specifically because when I compared those that threw a lot of pitches 26-29 vs those that didn't (but still pitched the equivalent of full seasons during those years) the ones that threw a lot of pitches did fare worse**. Not a lot worse but given that things were so grim you are looking for any hope you can find. With those that did not throw a lot of pitches, there were the occasional bright points. Arms that seemed to last through 35. Buerhle, Hudson, Lee. There were none of these for the group Scherzer was part of.

But this was admittedly with a very limited sample. Not only do few pitchers stay healthy enough to be part of this comparison but the comparison can only go back to 2002 because we only have pitch count data from 2000 on. So I was looking forward to seeing what another year of data would tell us. What did it?

Out of the guys who threw a lot in age 26-29 the bad outweighed the good. Verlander (ages 26-31 falling under "3rd season, 10000 pitches in 3"; 32 this year) couldn't throw a full season. Lincecum (26-29; 31) was bad and not full. Sabathia (27-31; 34) was full but not good. Shields** (29-33; 33) was the same. Weaver (27-29; 32) broke down. The exceptions were Scherzer (28-30; 30) of course, Jon Lester (29-31; 31) and Dan Haren (26-31, 34), who after flirting with above average years finally put one up

It was pretty much the same in the other group. Ubaldo Jimenez*** (26-27; 31). Greinke (26; 31) and Cole Hamels all had good years and Matt Cain (23-27; 30)**, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez, Gavin Floyd and Scott Baker all remained injured with various effectiveness.

Twist my arm and I might give a slight edge to the "didn't pitch alot group" because the bad pitching was from people that were injured staying injured as opposed to getting bad (like Weaver did) and frankly a caliber of pitcher a step lower than in Scherzer's group, but that's only if you twist. It's not really that big of a difference between the two groups, honestly. And its pretty apparent that we just don't have enough data points, especially in the Scherzer group. In this day and age using a guy like Max is used is an anomaly. Add that to walks going down and I'm not sure we'll get another data point any time soon. The other group added 7 pitchers this year (Price, Felix, Gallardo, ZNN, Gio, Cueto and Wei-Yin Chen) that we can use in comparison next year. Max's group added nobody.****

The takeaway from the analysis previously was "it seems like if you don't pitch a lot you have a chance to be good into and maybe past mid 30s. If you do pitch a lot it seems like you don't". Nothing here really changes anything. To do so we'd need a pitcher throwing a lot then be doing well right through his mid 30s. Dan Haren's good year was after 3 years of mediocre pitching, not to mention a reduced number of pitches (and now he's promptly retired so we really can say nothing). Shields could have been notable but right now looks like another log on the fire. Scherzer and Lester are still too young.

What this limited data has suggests is that Scherzer and Lester will breakdown, probably in the next 2 seasons, while one or maaaaybe two of Jimenez, Greinke, Hamels might do well for the next 4+ years. That's about as strong as I can go. It'll take at least 2 more years (for Lester) to really begin to refute this assumption.

*"full, good season" defined as 28+ starts, 100+ ERA+
** I was very interested in Sheilds because he was an outlier. Most guys throw a ton of pitches while younger, like starting at 24/25. Shields didn't really get going until 27 and was doing something no one else had been doing - throwing a bunch of pitches at an advanced age and doing well. 2015 though ended that. I'll again be interested this year to see if he bounces back though.
***some of this group pitched a lot either before that full 26-29 range or too limited time to fit into the "alot in 26-29"). The years they did pitch a lot are reflected here.
**** and no one will be added next year. The one guy with an outside chance was Lance Lynn and... well there you go. 

Wednesday, December 02, 2015


I just wanted to go into a little more about age as a limiting factor because I think it's being undersold.

As far as just looking at age by itself, there is no magic number where one year you are great and the next you are terrible. Age is a slow process that effects everyone differently. However, the overall decline is clear and it eventually comes for everyone. That means the longer you rely on a pitcher the more risky the proposition. Late 20s are a lower risk than early 30s are a lower risk than mid 30s etc. etc.

Since we can't determine when the decline will happen (or what kind of decline it will be) it makes a lot of sense to try to get as much production in lower risk time frames as possible. When looking at ZNN vs Scherzer in 2016 and beyond* the edge for ZNN is clear.

I've used the term "old 26" and "young 30" before. I do that because baseball reference considers a player age for a season to be his age on July 1st. You have to pick some date, that's the reality of it. While not perfect, their solution is a pretty good compromise between getting a date close to game #81 and getting a date that's easy to remember. However, you can see the problem that happens with having to pick a singular date. A player 29 turning 30 on June 30th would be considered the same age as a player 30 turning 31 on July 2nd, even though clearly they are more accurately thought of as being a year apart. To compensate for that I like to call players with in-season birthdays "old" and "young". If you have a birthday in-season before July 1st you are "young" and if your birthday happens after that date you are "old".

Really this is far more useful for prospects (being "old" vs " young" in the low minors can be the difference between elite and good) and only comes into play in the majors if you happen to be directly comparing a "young" player and an "old" player relatively close in age. Hey! That's what we are doing here! ZNN is a "young" guy (May 23rd birthday) and Max is an "old" guy (July 27th). And that means we are getting a big heaping handful of starts from a younger ZNN.

On April 1 2016 Max Scherzer will be 31 years and 247 days old (give or take a day on these things - leap years and all). Jordan Zimmerman will reach that same age sometime during February in 2018.  Every start Jordan Zimmermann makes in 2016 and every start he makes in 2017 will be at a younger age than Max Scherzer will be to start next year. 

To me that matters, that matters a lot. When you look at career pitching aging curves and see the declines that seem to be precipitous between 31 and 33, when you look at Hall of Fame careers and notice that they all pretty much peak in their late 20s/early 30s**, you get nervous. Sure Scherzer is a great pitcher right now, better than ZNN. But ask me if I want basically 30 and 31 year old ZNN or if I want basically 32 and 33 year old Max, I hesitate and land on ZNN. Ask me if I want basically 32 and 33 years old ZNN or basically 34 and 35 year old Max and I don't even hesitate.

I'm not saying it's wrong to see it another way. Maybe you care more about that Tommy John injury or think there is something special about Max that will allow him to be good longer***  I am saying that for me what I can feel sure about knowing is limited to the fact that in general as you age you get worse. That makes age paramount to me over any single injury and the age advantage for Zimmermann is big. 

Now there's also another thing to consider. I did say in the beginning that I was "looking at age by itself". As Indy once said though "it's not the age, it's the mileage".  What kind of mileage do these guys have and what does that say about them? Does that age plus something else lead us to look at a specific age in the future that may in fact be a point of no return? Tomorrow, my friends.

*I'm not asking here which is the better contract or who will give the Nats the most value over time. If you want to look at that you would put Max and ZNN a year closer in age since Max signed it last year. I'm looking solely at who I would want from 2016 forward. You can argue that "Max w/ ZNN for a year then Max alone after that" is better than "No Max at all and ZNN alone after" but that's a different question. 

** What's up with Randy Johnson's career? Freak arm, am I right?  

*** I tend to believe the opposite though - that ZNN's career that leans more toward pitch to contact lends itself more to a Mark Buerhle type 2nd act than MAx Scherzer's get them to swing and miss career. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

Monday Quickie - Bye Bye ZNN

Jordan Zimmermann went from unofficially gone to officially gone this weekend, signing with the Tigers.  It was a 5 year deal for 110 million which is one fewer year but more dollars per year than most people were pegging for ZNN (somewhere in the 6/20 range). That tells us that ZNN probably went to the Tigers for a little less than he might have been able to squeeze out of the market. Why?

Well, the obvious place our minds go is the whole "get to the MidWest" idea. A lot has been made that ZNN, born and raised in rural central Wisconsin, wanted to get back to that area. The four closest teams were the Brewers, Twins and Cubs/White Sox. The Brewers were not looking for a big signing, nor the White Sox, which leaves the Twins and Cubs. The Twins are expected to look for starting pitching, but haven't been linked to any big names and have only one player being paid more than 14 million. ZNN doesn't seem to fit. That leaves the Cubs as the only logical landing place but there seems to be a "Price or nothing" mindset forming in Chicago. They want Price and will try to get him but if they fail they won't spend a ton on starting pitching in free agency, either going for a cheaper deal (Samardjzia back?) or perhaps pursuing a trade instead.  With all the driveable cities out it then becomes a question of flying, preferably flying into the local airport, Central Wisconsin Airport in Wausau. That has flights direct to Detroit, making it the next best option for staying "local".

There are also other reasons though. ZNN might have preferred to get a deal sooner rather than later for security reasons. Occasionally a player can wait himself out of a good contract, as all the big money teams commit to others. When this happens players will be forced to take market value deals for one year. You get a year older, add the risk of failing, and have to run through FA all over again. While it's likely that this wouldn't happen for a player as good as ZNN, it's not impossible given the depth of the pitching available. Someone is not going to get paid. He might also want to do it sooner, rather than later, just because that's what he favors. Don't drag it out. Get a fair deal. Take a fair deal. Now he's got all winter to find a place, move his family, get situated. I don't know the guy so this is the randomnest of speculation but it's worth putting out there.

The other thing this tells us is that the Nats initial deal (5/105) was exactly what we thought it was - the lowest end of fair. Coming off his 2014 season, where he went 14-5 with a 2.66 ERA, 1.072 WHIP and the best K and BB numbers of his career the Nats offered him 21 mill a year for 5 years (essentially). Coming off his 2015 season, where he went 13-10 with a 3.66 ERA, 1.205 WHIP and career average K and BB numbers the market valued him at at least 22 mill a year for 5. Coming into 2015 it was likely that ZNN's market value was closer to 6/132 or 5/120. The Nats tried to get a deal. They failed. All ZNN had to do was not collapse and he was better off. He didn't.*
What does this tell us about the Nats other FAs to be? Well, I'd say for most we can expect the same sort of "low end of fair" offers.  Stammen might get offered a 3mill for 1 for 2017 if he seems healthy. Ramos might get a 2/8mill year deal if he repeats last year. Maybe they are talking to Gio about locking in 2017 (right now a team option) in return for a team option in 2019 for 15 mill or so.  But Strasburg? Bryce? These are Boras clients and the Nats don't "low end fair" Boras clients. They'll either let them walk or pay them what they deserve. For Strasburg I'm thinking walk. For Bryce I'm thinking we'll have to wait.

How is this deal for the Tigers? Pretty good assuming ZNN's arm holds up. That's the big question - how long can you rely on an TJ'd arm? The Nats have an idea that it's about 8 years meaning ZNN has about 3 years left before BOOM. But at that point, age 32, it's not like pitchers without TJ history are completely healthy. I think if the Tigers get 3 years of solid ZNN pitching they'd take it. I think ZNN has the attitude you want. He doesn't seem to be the type to get fat and happy now that he's gotten paid. Plus Comerica tends to udnerplay HRs slightly more than Nats Park and a shift back to average HR/FB rates was a big reason his stats went up. Change of venue could help. Normally I worry about NL -> AL but the AL Central offensively is not particularly powerful and ZNN didn't particularly feast on the NL East this year. I've said it before I'm bullish on ZNN

For the Nats? Losing ZNN matters. That's 200IP that needs to be replaced by Ross, who has never pitched that many** and is a second year question mark or Roark, who did pitch 200 IP a couple years ago but had a legitimately mediocre 2015. Yes he was bounced back and forth and his breif stint in 2013 and full year in 2014 were much better. But it's also true that he's 29 next year and 2009-2012 Roark looks a lot like 2015 Roark. Chances that 2013-14 were Roark's peak are pretty good. The Nats will miss ZNN. Hopefully a little, maybe a lot.

*Poor Ian. 

**152 last year most ever, wouldn't be surprised if he was on an unofficial until it becomes official 180 IP limit in 2016

Monday, November 23, 2015

Monday quickie - Nats on the move?

There hasn't been any rhyme or reason to the Nats dealings time wise in the past. Last year the Nats major trades were in mid December (bye Souza, hello Ross/Turner), mid January (bye Clippard, hello Escobar), and late March (bye Blevins, hello denDekker).  The year before that traded for Fister right before the winter meetings, and got Lobaton and Rivero in med February. The year before that Meyer for Span was late November and Morse was mid January.

So, the take away is that there isn't one. Rizzo will make the deal when it's there. But it could be next week. He's certainly done it before.

We've been a little rough on Rizzo so far. It feels like he's setting the Nats up for doing nothing ("We got new doctors and they are soooooooo expensive") and we've seen some prominent closers be traded when the Nats seemingly have an unresolved, untenable bullpen situation (bye Kimbrel! bye Benoit!). But in the end I have to give Rizzo the benefit of the doubt. Every season it seems that he has the team ready by Opening Day (well maybe not 2013...) and maybe pulls out a surprise deal. So until we get to Pitchers and Catchers, I'm not really going to worry about it.

Hopefully a rough and terrible podcast up late tonight. If I do it, it will be everything I already know not to do - not make it just me, not use mic on computer, etc. etc. but apparently planning to do it the week leading up to Thanksgiving when you are going to travel isn't the best idea. So you get what you get and you be happy with it! Or not!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Quick Notes on Bryce

You ever been to Oklahoma City? There's a lot of stuff named after Mickey Mantle there. That's where a steakhouse is, at least one road, the plaza of the minor league stadium (Dodgers AAA) along with a big Mantle statue outside. Mantle actually, as far as I can tell, didn't really have an association with Oklahoma City. He was born (Spavinaw) and raised (Commerce) in far NE Oklahoma, closer to Kansas City than Oklahoma City. He played semi-pro in Kansas, minor league ball in Missouri.  After his career he opened up restaurants in Texas and NY, invested in land development in Texas, hotel management in Missouri, lived in Georgia, and died and is buried in Texas. Even his eponymous steakhouse that now does, as far as I can tell, pretty well in downtown Oklahoma City, opened a few years after his death. Compare that to someone like Bobby Murcer, who was born and raised there, lived there, supported businesses there, owned the minor league team there, died and is buried there. No statue, no road, just a bust alongside other Oklahomans. It just goes to show you that what you do on the field, ultimately trumps all.

Just an aside really before talking a bit about Bryce Harper. Bryce won't have the Mantle problem. He was born and raised in Vegas and I'm sure at some point there will be roads and statues there and probably some themed slot machines as well.*  Why am I sure about it? Because he just had one of the greatest offensive seasons ever.  By OPS plus (a fair enough metric in my mind) there have only been 60 or so seasons by anyone this good or better, never by someone younger. The ones to do it within three years of Bryce are all HALL OF FAMERS, and the capitalization is on purpose. These are no doubters. Williams, Cobb, Foxx, Mantle, Ruth, Gehrig. That's it. Go to age 26, 27, 28, 29 and you find the first non HOF player (Norm Cash**) but you also find more HOF names. Lajoie, Hornsby, Frank Thomas, Bagwell, Musial, Brett, Bonds.

Think about that for a second. A handful of baseball players in 100+ years of history have had an offensive season this good and done it under 30***.  All but one are Hall of Famers. All but one did it while being older.

As for MVP you look at the other hitters around as young who won it and you see the same thing. Bench - HOF. Musial - HOF. Ripken - HOF. Trout - on track. Mays - HOF. Aaron - HOF.

I just noted how much he affected the Nats. (I really am going to do more with that. I promise!).

This guy is great. This guy is so young. That's important because usually when you see a season like this you are seeing a player's peak. A 22-27 year old at his baseball physical peak combining with health and overall luck to produce something special. Bryce is young enough that this may NOT be his peak. That's obvious just because no one had a season this good at a younger age, but it's also true looking at some of the youngest performers. Mantle would have a better season a year later. Cobb around 30. Ruth would have multiple better seasons. Even for the ones where the youngest season was the best, it was not the only season they had that was around as good.

Unless Bryce is the next Norm Cash, and no one thinks he is, the downside isn't down. The floor, where this past season was the peak, would likely be something like 6+ years of MVP caliber performance slowly degrading after that. More than half a decade hitting like Trout, Stanton, Cabrera dropping down to something like say... Ryan Zimmerman's best for a few years. The ceiling would be over a decade of performances that add a few more entries into the "best ever offensive seasons" club. Assuming health of course.

The Nats can pay him a ridiculous amount of money now and work around that. They can keep not paying him and work payroll (most likely adding very few big contracts) with the hope of signing him later. Or they can keep not paying him, assume he's gone, and add some big contracts now. If I were a Nats fan I'm hoping against hope they take that first road.

13/500 oh ok 15/500 make it "for life"

Oh yes, don't forget to ask me any questions below. Should you break up with your boyfriend because he hasn't proposed? What about asking for a raise? What's the best way to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner?  Maybe even something baseball related!

*Fun fact : There's a Mickey Mantle Ct in Las Vegas. There are no other baseball/sports themed roads around it so I got nothing on why it's there. I assume someone living there picked it out. Good for you, sir or ma'am!

**Cash was partially a victim of war - he spent some time in Korea - and got a late start on his career. His first 120+ game season coming as an "old" 25. Partially it was just a once-in-a-generation lucky season. Even he realized that season was something crazy too noting everything was just dropping in (.370 BABIP when his career was like .270). Basically at his power peak, he had the luckiest season of his career average wise, and at the same time pitchers walked him because he was doing so well. Perfect Storm really. Cash also did this.

*** At 30-34 you add a mix of HOFers and almost HOFers career years. Frank Robinson, Mike Schmidt, Willie McCovey, Honus Wagner show up here, along with Jim Thome (probably a HOFer) and Dick Allen. You also get a couple of... you know, those guys. Giambi, McGwire, Sosa.

Thursday, November 19, 2015


Hey I've got an idea. How about a podcast?

I've always wanted to do a podcast. I enjoy listening to them - I basically spend any time I'm doing something that doesn't require much thought listening to one. The problem with baseball podcasts though, is that it's tough for them to stay interesting* because of the day to day nature of the game. I also figure they are a lot of work. So the end result is you end up doing something that might deserve a listen for about... 3 days. Hard to get worked up about something like that. I suppose Day 1, the All-Star break, and the playoffs are all possibilities but there's usually something more pressing I feel like writing about.

But the offseason is different. Nothing pressing. Things don't change fast enough (usually) to make the work useless. Seems perfect, especially now when little will happen between now and thanksgiving and you might be in the car with time to listen. So how about a little QandA, a little AMA, a little FAQ. Just ask a q below by Saturday and I'll do my best to Q it up.

*In my opinion of course

Friday, November 13, 2015

The BRYCE effect

I'll do a little bit more of this later but I wanted to leave something to chew on for the weekend. Yesterday, we had a little discussion on Twitter about the Nats offense and how it had the potential to be bad. I'll admit when you look at the numbers at the end of the year it didn't seem so terrible this year, 3rd in the NL in runs and all. However I've noted that there are two really big caveats to that ranking.

The first, is that rankings can be misleading. What matters really is how far you are (relatively) from the average. The NL is much more tightly packed than in the past and being 3rd doesn't mean as much as it may have in a previous season. I'll talk about this more next week with numbers and such.

The second, is that Bryce put the team on his back and carried them to that ranking. Without Bryce the team would look at lot worse. I got some push back here when I floated "without Bryce" numbers because it was rightfully noted that it wasn't fair to compare the Nationals minus their best player to other team's full rosters. I said I'd go ahead and do a look at all the teams minus their best player then and compare. This is a taste.

In the NL East the Nationals ended up with the best offense. Here are the final rankings.

Nationals : .251 / .321 / .403  .724 OPS
Mets : .244 / .312 / .400  .712
Marlins : .260 / .310 / .384  .694
Phillies : .249 / .303 / .382  .684
Braves : .251 / .314 / .359  .674

Nats pretty good! Mets ok (certainly good post trade deadline), the rest garbage! Now let's remove the most productive offensive player over the 2015 season* from each team and see what we get.

Mets : .243 / .305 / .393  .699
Nationals : .243 / .304 / .376  .681
Marlins : .260 / .308 / .372  .680
Phillies : .247 / .300 / .375  .675
Braves : .249 / .310 / .350  .660

The Nats lose an amazing 43 points of OPS if you replace Bryce with a "team average" player. That takes the team from a step above the Mets to a step below and from clearly better than the Marlins to just barely squeaking by them.  In the no BRYCE world they are closer to the last place Braves - who were terrible WITH Freeman -  than they were to the Marlins in the with Bryce world. I'll note now that the Phillies, Marlins and Braves ranked 13th, 14th, and 15th in the NL in runs scored respectively.

What does this tell you? It tells you that the Nats offense around Bryce last year was awful. That group was barely better than the groups around the best player on the worst offensive teams in the league. Ok not the Braves, who were special bad, but the Phillies and Marlins. It highlights starkly how the team depended on Bryce last year and how the 2016 offense could flounder if Bryce downshifts to very very good and the rest of the team doesn't pick it up somehow. The potential is there for a struggling offense so much so that getting another reliable bat (arguably reliable bat #2 given that Werth, Zimm, and Rendon are all injury risks, Escobar is coming off a surprise year, and Robinson is a 30 yr old career minor leaguer) should be on that off-season to do list. Where? Corner OF? C? MI? 3B? That's for Rizzo to figure out.

There is good news though. The Nats do have Bryce. Maybe he can carry them again. Also 13/500 million, Unca Ted. Think about it. 

*I bet you are wondering so to clarify. Bryce for the Nats (duh), Freeman for the Braves, Stanton for the Marins (despite playing only half a season - Gordon is a one trick pony and couldn't beat Stanton through average alone. Yelich might have passed Giancarlo but he missed 40 games himself), Granderson for the Mets (he had a really good year and Cespedes wasn't around long enough - another couple weeks might have done it though), and Franco for the Phillies (Herrera almost passed him).  All this was verified by seeing the OPS drop with each player gone.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Can't live with him, Can't live without him

Wagner had a short litte piece at the Post the other day on Wilson Ramos. It quickly outlined the positives and negatives of Ramos and gave you Rizzo's (mostly fair) impression of the situation. In short, Ramos has some real skills and as far as catchers go, that can be hard to find.

The Nats are in a hard place as far as the catcher position. It was not good overall last year, but if they attempt to improve it's not impossible that they'll make it worse. There's always going after someone currently disappointing that may surprise, but given his skill set and age Wilson Ramos may be the best bet of those types of catchers. What to do?

Well let's put defense aside for right now. Wilson has hit well in the past. If he can do it again, or better, there isn't a problem here. Wilson hit really poorly last season. If he does that again, or worse, the Nats may have to stop playing him. Which is more likely?

The biggest offensive draw for Ramos is his pop but the flash of real power in 2013, when he hit 16 homers in 303 PAs was likely a fluke. That was the highest isoSLG of his career in any decently long stint, including the minors. You do grow into power yes, but you also tend to show some pop when facing lesser competition. Ramos hit for average but never really was more than a mild power hitter while coming up. The HR/FB rates back this up. 27.6% in 2013 was unusually high for Ramos. Everything says that last year was more reality.

Wagner notes that this still may be good for a catcher.  He was 4th in HRs for the position in the NL. True, but some of that is PAs (being healthy is a big plus for the catcher position) and it ignores the other part of power. Ramos was 10th (looking at NL C with at least 300 PAs) in doubles, and didn't hit a single triple. Hitting homers is great, but hitting doubles is important too. Ramos is all or nothing and probably doesn't have enough "all" to make up for the nothing*. That's why his isoSLG ranked merely 17th out of all catchers (min 300PAs). He's ok power wise, but not special.

OK, well I said he hit for average in the minors. Can he do that again? I'm not sure about that. I'm pretty sure he can do better than .229. His .256 BABIP is low even considering he's not fast and getting slower. He put up a .290 BABIP last year, .270 in 2013.  So just by luck the average will go up. But it won't go up by a lot. His hitting in 2015 was actually remarkably similar to his hitting in 2013 (and not too different from 2014), in the type of hit and where he hit the ball. That would suggest that luck was the difference, but we have one more thing to look at.

There is a strong downward trend in how hard he has hit the ball. 40.7% in 2013, to 27.5% in 2014 to 26.2% last year. It's all "real" but given how hard he hit the balls prior to 2013 the 2014/15 numbers are more in the expected range than that 2013 number. Sometimes you can point to an increase in swings outside the strike zone to explain the change but there is nothing here that really suggests that it's a change in approach. He is just missing a lot more on pitches outside the strike zone (70.5% contact in 2013 to 60.8% last year). He's striking out more. That feels like a loss of skills. So I see him hitting better but like .240 better.

And walking? No. That's not him. Don't expect that.

2013 was a fluke - at this point everything screams that. It was a half-season of almost everything going right. Looking for the positive, we combined that season's power and average with 2012's patience and formed a very good offensive catcher in our mind. While this wasn't crazy to do given Wilson's age and injury history, we now have 200+ games much closer to the present that tell us it was more realistic to take 2013's patience and 2012's power. We didn't get the best case, we got the worst case. The worst case isn't unworkable... but it's close. I have no faith he'll get any significantly better than he is now. low average, no walks, occasional homer

But is the defense good enough to make up for it? Maybe, but good luck figuring that out in any reliable way.  As Wagner notes, he's become great at throwing out runners and his passed ball and wild pitch numbers are very low. On the other hand his pitch framing has been middling the past two years. What matters more? For now I'd consider these things pretty reliable (catcher stats are based on thousands of pitches) so I assume he is pretty good at defense. But the question isn't is he good but is he good enough?

The best guess says we're back where we started. It isn't good enough to make up for it. It's merely good enough to get him to "below average" as a catcher, maaaaaybe average if he can hit a little better. But below where he sits now are a handful of catchers that start that are terrible. There isn't going to be an easy to find fix sitting on some bench that will improve on what Wilson does. And above where he sits is a group of 10 or so catchers only marginally better. There isn't going to be an easy trade target to improve on him either. To better the Nats at catcher they have to go after either a true catching prospect or a Top 10 catcher. Either will cost them plenty.

This all brings up the biggest question of all. We accept going with Wilson Ramos in 2016 because he's not terrible and there is nothing better easily obtainable. But if that's all true, what happens in 2017, when the Nats let him walk via free agency?

*However, I will note that I think he's better than the typical all or nothing guy. I think he hits balls that will drive in guys but just can't get himself into scoring position. So he gets half the benefit of a double type hit. Which is more than nothing, and probably explains some of his relatively high RBI total. But don't get me wrong. It's still not great. And I didn't even mention GIDP this whole time either! Which probably wipes out whatever I'm talking about here. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Will Bryce be here in 2019?

The Nats are at somewhat of a crossroads. This offseason marks the first of two where a mass exodus of players will completely change the make-up of a Washington team that has been fairly stable and moderately successful since 2012. After that second year, we do not know whether the talent base that remains will be strong enough to continue to be successful. The Nats therefore are faced with a choice. They could focus on competing now. They could try to compete later.  Or they could attempt to thread the needle and field consistently competitive teams through the next half-decade or so. An important influencer for this decision is whether they believe Bryce Harper will be around in 2019. It seems like an unnecessary question to ask three years out, if Bryce will leave via free agency, but it isn't. Whether you think Bryce will be here after that time informs what the Nats should do right now.

The Nats know they can be competitive in 2016. The talent that had the pundits picking the Nats as runaway favorites for the NL mostly remains. Yes they will lose Zimmermann, Fister, Desmond, and Span (and don't forget Matt Thornton!). But Ross and Roark can probably replace what ZNN and Fister gave to the team in 2015, Espinosa should be able to compensate for 2015 Desmond, and Taylor may raise his game a bit in year 2. That would hold the team steady around 85 wins. If Rizzo can add a solid bat to compensate for the injury risk inherent in the offense and can bring in some reliable bullpen arms, the Nats will likely be seen as in a fight for the NL East title with the Mets.* Given health of course.

Beyond 2016 is hazy though. Strasburg, Stammen, Storen, Ramos, and Papelbon (and Escobar) will all likely be gone by 2017. In that year, Werth will be 38. Scherzer will be entering the danger zone for arms. Gio may still be sliding. Zimmerman will only be an older injury risk. Even if all those guys remain productive in 2017, it won't be enough by itself to make the Nats good. You would also be looking at the first or second full years for Giolito, Turner, and Ross and expecting them to be effective. You would be looking for Taylor to have turned a corner and Rendon to have bounced back, along with any other number of things going right. Free agency and trades can certainly help but there is no denying beyond 2016 there is a lot of uncertainty. As it has been since the 2012 offseason, it is a good bet the Nats will be competitive in the upcoming year, but, for the first time in a long time, it is not a good bet that they'll be competitive the year beyond that.

This is where the dilemma begins then. If you don't believe that Bryce Harper will be around in 2019 then it makes all the sense in the world to invest very heavily in players for this season. That doesn't mean you have to sign a bunch of old guys, but it could. As strange as it may sound, you can easily come up with a scenario where 2016 represents the best remaining chance for the team to win with Bryce. By going with good enough players you are only opening the chance for another wasted MVP type performance like the Nats got in 2015.

However, if you think the Nats can keep Bryce, it may be best to try to thread the needle. Hope that you get healthy in 2016 and compete, but if you don't, you haven't over-committed to aging players beyond that. 2017 is probably is a dip year, but assuming a clearer picture emerges via the development of the young players, you'd then likely have the money available to go out and get help via free agency to make the team good again in 2018.

A third option exists, too. If you are sure you are going to keep Bryce**, you could try to build a super team of youngsters around him in 2018 and beyond. How? By giving up on 2016 and trading the talent you do have (and potentially shedding contracts if possible).  It's a riskier move to be sure, but in the previous scenario there is a chance those young players haven't developed. Let's say Taylor never develops, Turner disappoints, and Giolito gets injured. It would be hard to see how you can simply trade and sign your way to a great team in 2018 and beyond given that scenario. So instead of relying on hitting all your gambles, you get enough that it doesn't matter if you hit on all of them. Trade Strasburg, Gio, Ramos, Storen, Papelbon, Escobar. Get rid of Werth and Zimmerman if you can. Get a BUNCH of guys who may be very good in a year or two or three. It's very unlikely they'd all fail and the idea of using FA and trades to field a very good team in 2018 seems a lot sounder. But it only works if there's a 26 year old Bryce to build around. 

The Nats are most likely going to try to thread the needle. It's the conservative choice. It's the choice that keeps them in it in 2016 and allows Rizzo to work something out for 2017 and beyond when the time comes. However, as we've seen twice now in 3 seasons, when you don't go all-in you have a smaller margin of error. We'd be looking at three more seasons of "if healthy and if all this goes right" planning. It could net the Nats three seasons of playoffs or no seasons of playoffs. And then Bryce could be gone. I think I'd rather see the Nats spend alot to win this year or spend alot to keep Bryce, then to spend a little and hope luck breaks their way.

*Of course this is dependent on what the Mets do. I'm assuming now that Uribe , Johnson, Murphy and Cespedes all leave and only one moderately good bat is signed. If they do more they would probably be a solid favorite.

** like how about offering him 13/500 now?