Nationals Baseball: November 2015

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?

Monday, November 09, 2015

Monday Quickie - Qualifying

Qualifying Offers went out on Friday. For the few unfamiliar with the concept, these are one-year deals you can make to free agents where if they reject you get a draft pick as compensation. The QO number is set fairly high. this year it is 15.8 million, and because of that we end up with a situation where almost no one offered accepts the deal. If you are good enough to be offered a QO, you are good enough to make more in free agency. You reject. If you aren't good enough to make more in FA, the team doesn't want to pay you 15.8 million. There are borderline cases though and they often deal with injury risk.

The Nats offered to Jordan Zimmermann. Easy call. He's been worth more than that for several years and on the open pitchers market will likely easily surpass that annual value. In fact he should make around 20 million a year not just for one season but for something like 6 years. You offer. He'll reject.

The Nats offered to Ian Desmond. Another fairly easy call. Ian had an poor year and wasn't worth 15.8 million this year but has been in the recent past and the SS FA market is not strong. So if you want to get someone of Ian's talent on the Nats next year through free agency it would cost at least 15.8 miilion. You offer. He may or may not beat that salary annually but he should be relatively close and get offered a multi-year deal. For him there's really no reason to accept this when there could be 4/52 out there, and that's a very pessimistic number. (What's optimistic?  6/102)

Doug Fister is another easy call, at least to me. He wasn't worth 15.8 million next year and frankly 2014 was a mirage. You only offer if you are sure he won't accept and I don't see how you could be. Fister is likely to only get offered two types of contracts. The first would be challenge deals, one-year deals that maybe have team option years and incentives, that are a little under market.  The team is gambling that it might get a steal for a year on the player. The player gambles they might be able to turn it around and get a long term deal later. For Fister I don't see a better challenge deal out there than re-upping with the Nats for nearly 16 million. It'll be more money for likely a more talented team, then he could get on the FA market. The other type would be a way under value short mutli-year deal. 3/27, 2/22 something where the team is accepting risk on what could be useless years beyond the first and funneling into a lower annual salary.  If you can make 16 this year though and think you can turn it into a long term deal why accept a deal like that? You don't. So if I'm Fister I'm taking the QO if the Nats offer and nobody here wants that. You don't offer.

Denard Span is the injury risk tough call. When healthy, even this year, he's been very good. It's easy to see that if he plays a full year he'd be worth the money. However he has dealt with at least three separate injuries in the past year and has a concussion history to boot. It's more than fair to downgrade his value based on these risks. However even if the Nats don't want to pay Span 15.8 million for next year, they do have to think about the other side. Would Span accept that deal? Unlike Fister, who was awful last year and had most stats guys expecting that crash if not sooner than later, Span was great. He hit like he did in 2014 when he was pushed as a MVP-vote worthy player. Even with the injuries it is very likely he has a multi-year deal out there waiting for him. It won't likely be the "maybe last one of my career" one that he probably was hoping for but 3/4 years at 10-15 million? That's possible. Do you take say 4 million more in the hopes of turning it all around? I don't. I go for it. So if I were the Nats I'd have offered Span a QO. It's likely he rejects and if he accepts, for one year the risk is worth it.

What does it say that the Nats didn't offer the deal to Span? Well my guess would be they have an idea of the budget for the team without Span and don't want him to accept and mess that up and/or they feel his health is too big a risk to take a gamble on. On the latter they surely know more than me (or you). On the former that could be good or bad. It does sound cheap yes, and that's how I'd lean in thinking about it, but it could also mean they know exactly where they want to spend their money. It's a little presumptuous that they could hit all their marks and a little sad they don't have flexiblity to absorb Span if he accepts (not that 10 million isn't alot but it'd be nice if the Nats could gamble with what hoepfully amounts to less than 7 percent of their payroll) but it's not that problematic.

I was only going to be worried if they didn't offer any QOs. That would mean they couldn't even deal with ZNN, who is totally worth the money, accepting. That's very worrisome. But it didn't happen. The Nats did pretty much what they should have so let's move on.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Last year starting pitching discussion : revisited

Starting Pitching

Take : The 2014 staff was the best staff in the majors. Everyone could return, so why wouldn't you return everyone? Barring injury, it will be at least very good again. The depth was a little questionable though with AJ Cole or Blake Treinen seemingly most likely to get spot starts.

2015 Reality :We fooled ourselves.

While the rotation was great in 2014, the likelihood was that it would regress to "merely" very good in 2015. There were questions like:  Was Roark a one-season wonder? Would Fister continue to pitch like that and if so, could his luck hold up? Would Gio continue to slide? Would the Nats keep their amazing health? I think, to start the off-season, we kind of understood with that many questions, and just the general variability that comes with any baseball season, the chances of them being great again were slim.

Then Max Scherzer was brought in.

Suddenly, it was like his signing somehow answered all those questions positively. It was like there was no chance the pitching staff could be anything less than great. Except of course it could.  First off Max wouldn't replace the likely biggest problem in the Nats rotation, Doug Fister, because Fister had effectively camouflaged his issues. He had the best ERA on the team! You can't take that guy out even if everything shouted that pitching like that (no Ks, just good, not great, at keeping hits or homers down) and getting those results was a complete fluke. Instead, Scherzer would replace Roark. Upgrading from a very solid 2/3 season to an ace is not the same as kicking out a #5 type.  The impact would be felt, but it wouldn't be great.

Sure Roark to the pen would help answer the depth issue, but if the Nats needed to use depth that meant there were actually more questions to answer. Which pitcher would be getting replaced? If it was Max, ZNN or Stras then Roark would probably not be an upgrade. Was it injury or performance? If it was performance, how long would it take a pitcher to fail and how bad would he have to be before Roark would be used? How long would it take Roark to get his groove back? All valid questions but we went along assuming if someone goes down, the Nats would just stick in Roark and he'd be very good.

Seduced by the idea of a historic rotation things we'd normally assume unlikely to be repeated upon individual review; the career-type season by ZNN, the fluke season by Fister, the career-type season by Scherzer; we acted as if were near certainties. But only Strasburg was still at an age where improvement could be reasonably expected. Given the make-up of the rotation and the complete lack of under-performance in 2014, a bet on two or three of the rotation pitching noticeably worse in 2015 was where the smart money would be. That's even before factoring in that it was likely one or two would have some sort of injury troubles. The historic rotation was based on everyone hitting their best performance of the last couple years. What was far more likely was a season where everyone hit their expectations and then that total should probably have been adjusted down 10% or so for the injury possibilities.

You do that calculation and what do you have? You still have a rotation that's good enough to be Top 5 ish in the majors, but isn't team carrying. And you know what? By hook or by crook, that is pretty much where the Nats ended up this year. Despite how it looked during the season the pitching staff was fine. It was better than fine. It was almost exactly where it should have been expected to be. Gio hit his mark. Scherzer surpassed his. Zimmermann underperformed a little. Fister would get injured but would get replaced by Ross who would pitch very well. Strasburg would have half a terrible season and half a remarkable one. Maybe the rotation was a tick under where it should have been but just a tick.

The truth is the rotation did what it should have done. The problem wasn't with the rotation it was with our expectations. We kept saying "Last year's rotation did X" but "last year's rotation" wasn't a reasonable comparison to start out against. Last year's rotation was a fluke of 3 unlikely events coming together at once (ZNN's and Roark's probable career seasons and Fister's run of luck) combined with nothing going wrong at all with the other 2 starters AND near perfect health. Last year the Nats starting pitching drew a straight flush and then we complained that this year's rotation wasn't holding a Royal one.

What does this mean going forward? Well it means we need to be a bit more careful with expectations on the aggregate and we need to be a bit more careful when expecting great seasons to be repeated. That means that we have to temper the expectations for Scherzer and BRYCE. A very good Max and a very good Bryce are more reasonable expectations and the team needs to consider that the baseline when planning 2015. Historic seasons by players or teams are singular events. Planning on singular events to happen again is what fools do and in 2015 we were fools.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Offseason Position Discussion : Starting Pitching

Presumed Plan : Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Gio Gonzalez return to the rotation. Joe Ross and Tanner Roark take the place of the departing Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : Doug Fister flamed out and given his age there really isn't a reason to try to bring him back. They will probably toss a QO at Jordan Zimmermann, but he stands to make a lot of money on the FA market and the Nats aren't looking to make that sort of investment on ZNN. They've already put out there that they think TJ arms are ticking time bombs and won't give ZNN the years he probably wants.

Outside of an unfortunately ill-timed off month, Scherzer was arguably the best pitcher in the NL in a year filled with great pitching. He's in.

After returning from injury Strasburg was better than anyone not named Jake Arrieta to end the year. He's in.

Gio? He's fine. He put up another year of slightly better than average pitching, he's left-handed (the only one for the Nats), and he has a reasonable contract.  He's in.

Joe Ross assumed a role in the starting rotation after Doug Fister never got over his issues and he performed well above expectations to start. Later issues could be linked to fatigue as Ross pushed past his old high of ~120 IP to 150.

Tanner Roark had pitched wonderfully in 2014 as a starter, putting up a great ERA and earning a spot in the 2015 rotation until Scherzer was signed. While he did have some rough outings in 2015 as a starter most attribute that to having to move from the pen to starter and back. When finally given a good number of starts in a row to end the year it looked like Roark was settling back into his groove nicely.

The Nats organizational depth isn't spectacular. Giolito will be in the majors soon, but had to adjust to AA last year and will probably be given time to dominate there and adjust to AAA before being brought up to the majors. 2016 is possible but I think 2017 is more likely. Reynaldo Lopez, who the Nats were high on before last year, had an off year and is likely to start 2016 in AA with some question marks on him. AJ Cole, who the Nats thought may slide into a rotation role did not fare well at the major league level and is not enough of a prospect to force any of the supposed rotation out. Austin Voth and Austin Williams are interesting arms to watch in 2016 but neither are ready now. Note that these are all RH. The Nats LHSP depth is non-existant.

Problems with Presumed Plan : It's hard to find a fault with Scherzer. You do have to question why that bad month was SO bad. His ERA was 2.09 after his July 19th start. Then is his next 9 starts his ERA was 5.54 (over 6 in August). Then he'd finish the year with 5 starts at a 1.63 ERA. If it was fatigue then does a stubborn Max and an old-school Dusty lead to more of that? Still it's not like you don't use him.

Strasburg is like the Nats typical offensive player. "If he's healthy" he's good. But we saw what he was like pitching when he wasn't healthy (ERA at 6.50 after first 9 starts). 

Gio was perfectly fine but he continues to trend in the wrong direction. His WHIP was the highest since his rookie year (1.423) and he was completely inconsistent. Given his age and the innings on the arm you have to believe that if he does find consistency it won't be at "consistently good".

Maybe Joe Ross got tired. Or maybe the league caught up with Joe Ross a rookie who was liked but never seen as an elite prospect.  One has to worry too that after pitching 120 innings in 2013 and 2014 that in 2015 he pretty much started having issues right at that 120 inning mark. A guy should be able to stretch further each year, not hit a wall. Also his BABIP was rather low - luck makes more sense than the kid pitching like a crafty veteran in his first season in the majors. Ross is more of an unknown than Nats fans are probably thinking.

Roark wasn't good starting in 2015. What more do you need than that to cast doubt on him starting in 2016? Forget starting, he didn't pitch well overall. WHIP up, Ks down, walks up, homers up. That may seem unusual but those stats last year were far more in line with the guy that the Nats had seen in their minors up until his 2013 breakthrough. Maybe the Nats caught lightning in a bottle with the guy and now that is gone.

My take : Scherzer you run with, of course. I would keep an eye out on that hard use -> bad performance pattern that emerged but that doesn't mean I would not have him throw tough innings next year. In fact I might encourage it because we need to know if the guy just had a bad month or has aged into a place where he can't go 8+ over and over or else he'll need rest. Anyway you slice it though, we're nitpicking. He's a true #1.

Strasburg is a gamble because of his 2015 injuries but what are you going to do? Having a rotation with only one big injury risk is a victory in itself. He's good, he's been good for a while. He starts.

Gio... I'm worried about Gio, I'll admit. The Cy Young vote days are long since gone and they aren't ever coming back. Last year he suddenly became a GB pitcher which was effective but was also very weird after multiple season of success not being one. That change helped in large part because it helped his homers stay down but otherwise he was hit pretty hard and it showed in the number of hits he gave up (9.3 per 9 - most since 2009). It's like he's trying to transition to the second half of his career, where he's a "crafty lefty" but we don't know if he has what it takes. For various reasons you do stay with Gio but next year is going to be telling. Do the GBs stay down? Does he still get hit hard? Do the Ks drop some more? Last year was a bit of a tight rope season and 2016 will either show that he knows how to walk it, or he'll fall off.

I'll admit you guys like Ross way more than me. That BABIP, that HR rate, that K rate. It's as if you said "What's the best possible numbers Ross can hit" and then he hit them. But he did it in basically only 7-10 starts so that screams "caution" to me. A lot of his early success came from the fact that he started his time here striking out more guys than he ever did in the minors. That doesn't happen, especially from a guy who had issues with that starting out in the minors. Once it resolved to a more expected level the hits and runs came easier.  I do also worry about that 120 IP thing. Does his arm have what it takes? Then again 120 IP in the minors is not 120 IP in the majors. More stress could mean an earlier tiring than we thought. We'll just have to see - 120 IP is around the All-Star break so he should have a nice long break right when he might need it most.  All this makes it sound like I think he'll be bad. I don't but I think for 2016 a true #4 type pitcher is more likely than the #2 esque you saw to start. Which is fine! Because he will be a #4!

You have to write off 2015 for Roark because of the bouncing back and forth. Yes everything got worse. But it really doesn't chnage anything that you would have thought if Roark was a starter going into 2015. He did it for one year. He has to prove he can do it again. The Nats don't have a better fifth option and given that his 2014 was so good he deserves a shot to see if he can replicate it. Can he? I don't know. I doubt he can be that good. But good enough to hold a rotation spot is all that the Nats need here.

The problem with the Nats rotation in 2015 wasn't that it wasn't good. It was, even with the injuries and failures. The problem was that it was supposed to be great. That it wasn't and 2016's rotation doesn't have that same potential. Still if Strasburg is healthy all year, it could be better than 2015, with an unstoppable 1-2 at the top. Ross and Roark both represent good bets to make with your last rotation spots. There isn't really a problem here outside of the depth. Rotations almost always suffer injuries and the Nats don't have a strong Day 1 option for filling in. That will probably resolve in the first few months; Cole or Voth will do well or someone in AAA/AA will look good enough to deserve a fill-in shot, but if the Nats suffer injuries before Opening Day they could be in trouble. I'd love to see them grab a couple of on their way out veteran starters on minor league / cheap deals for org depth. 

Outside the Box Suggestion : The Nats need to maximize the time Giolito and Bryce Harper are together on the major league level. If you really believe in Giolito you put him in the majors now and try to give them 3 years together. If he is really awesome you give yourself the potential that you had last year - a great rotation. But we don't stop there. AJ Cole should get a long extended trial in the majors now and Austin Voth shouldn't be far behind. How do you make room? First, you don't trade Strasburg. He gives the team the best chance of winning in 2016 by far. What you do is you make Roark a back of the pen reliever. You tell him the Nats need him there, that's his new role, and if he balks you trade him for an effective 8th inning guy. You can get that for him given the years left under control. Second, you trade Gio. He's effective, lefty and the contract is good so he has value. At the same time he's only ok and why settle for that? Trade him for relief help too.

Sure this could blow up in your face, but the Nats have a Bryce window to deal with. We've talked about how hard it is to improve a team with good players because great players are rare and cost so much. Bryce is a great player NOW and costs relative peanuts. The Nats need to take advantage of these 3 years where he's sure to be here and cheap. One way is spending a lot of money - go out and get a Price/Greinke or trade for a guy at the end of his deal (there really is no one though) and do it that way. Bet on Strasburg. That doesn't seem likely to me. So we go the other way. Bet on Giolito. Try to find a great young rotation with what you have. By trying Giolito and Cole and getting Ross's second year and probably seeing some of Voth or Lopez, you'll have a better idea of if NEXT offseason you need that one more special starter or not.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

MASN ruling in plain speak

MASN ruling went against Nats. Here's a quick primer on the decision (from a non-legal expert)

Orioles said that the award (55-60 mill) should be vacated because :
  1. MLB is a bunch of lying cheats!
  2. Arbiter went out of bounds to get that number! Bortz!
  3. MLB wasn't being fair!
  4. Process was against the O's from the start - see the MLB to Nats 25 million dollar loan! 
  5. Process was against the O's from the start - the law firm involved represented everybody in there except the Orioles/MASN! 
Judge said :
  1. Come on, man!
  2. No. Maybe they were wrong to not use Bortz, but that's ok as long as they seem to stick to the basic rules you agreed to, which they did. 
  3. No. Seems adequately fair in terms of what they did procedurally which is the point here. 
  4. Nah. MLB loaned the money to the Nats after you all knew what the award would be. It didn't cause the award to be high, it was because the award was high. Plus it's not like whatever the award was, the Nats couldn't pay back $25 million over the life of it. 
  5. Now you got something. 
That last part basically said because the law firm representing the Nats worked for MLB and all three teams on the arbitration panel AND (and this is impt) because after the Orioles said "Hey! This doesn't seem right!" baseball said "Meh don't worry about it" and did absolutely nothing about it that's enough to show there may be bias here.

In other words it wasn't enough that it looked like there may be bias with the lawyers. The ruling went through because the Orioles pointed that it looked like there may be bias and then baseball did nothing in the slightest to try to address that. It was that inaction that showed enough potential bias to vacate the ruling. 

A conversation with myself about Dusty

Dusty? But he's history's greatest monster! He tore off Mark Prior's arm and used it to bludgeon Kerry Wood's arm! 

Dusty's status as the Destroyer of Arms is overblown. Yes, he did ride the Cubs young starters hard but 2003's role in their demise has been overblown, he showed no strong tendency for abuse in his last managerial role, and it's not like the Nats would sit back and let him make Strasburg throw 160 pitches. I'm not worried about this.

Ok then. There are 3 things that Matt Williams did not seem good at. He wasn't good in the clubhouse, he didn't handle relief pitching well, and he didn't seem to win in crunch time. Is Dusty proven to be better at those things? 

Clubhouse, yes. The vast majority of his former players loved him. He's a players coach.

What does that mean? 

It means that he generally lets the players have a strong voice in how they handle their time outside of game time. For example, if a player doesn't want to take BP that day and can explain why, Dusty would be more inclined to let him skip it. This is in opposition to certain Big Marines. But Dusty is an "old-school" players coach, and before you ask that means his leniancy scales with veteran status and somewhat with skill. A rookie will be expected to toe the line in a very standard professional ballplayer manner. A veteran who is still performing will be allowed to do whatever the hell he wants.

Sounds like a decent way to manage. What's the downside? 

In the clubhouse? It can rankle some rookies who expect a talent meritocracy to exist, and it can rankle some vets if other vets abuse the system : see Bonds/Kent in San Fran. In theory teams can get undisciplined but that really hasn't been a Dusty problem. He communicates well the need for professionalism on the field. So to answer your question - I doubt he loses the clubhouse.

Ok what about handling relief pitching? 

If you liked Matt Williams PBN approach you'll love Dusty. Your closer will not pitch before the 9th (in Dusty's last year with the Reds, Chapman pitched 1.2 innings before the 9th). Your closer is so wedded to save situations, Dusty can fall into the trap of not working the closer in enough. He likes the idea of set-up men and 7th inning guys as well, but he's not so committed to these guys that they won't see work. On one hand this does kind of suck, but on the other hand, this is the world that was created and baseball bought into it. Almost all managers will act in a similar manner. Dusty is an less an extreme example then just a little bit more rigid than the norm, which is already very rigid. So to answer this question - no he doesn't handle relief pitching with any skill, but if we're talking about using your best pitchers in high leverage situations hardly any manager does.

And winning in close situations?

Middling - some may point to 2003 and note that the Cubs were this play or that play away from a World Series. That's nice, but the guy has managed for long enough that there is a body of work to look at and his isn't great. 1997 and 2000, two DS losses, with one game won in total. 2003 infamous team meltdown. 2010 swept in DS. 2012 lost DS. 2013 lost WC. In short, he's 0-1 in WC games, 2-4 in DS series, 1-1 in CS series and 0-1 in WS.  His teams don't show any skill at coming from behind (3-3 when down in series) and have trouble putting teams away (3-10 in series clinching games, including two 3 games to 1 lead collapses in 2003 and 2012)

I didn't see any particular pattern late in seasons with collapses or rising to the occasion. I think the eternal optimist can look at these occurances and say he's probably average with some bad luck in short series where anything can happen. The pessimist points to 2 DS sweeps, those pretty bad records in the biggest of big games, and the overall record in general and sees a guy who maybe lacks the ability to give teams that final push they need.

Hmm and why should I be ok with him again? 

Well the Nats were going to hire Bud Black whose record in the playoffs is a sterling 0-0. Dusty's teams win. Since 1997 he has had 5 losing seasons in 16 years, and two of those were his first two in Cincinnati when the team was turning around. Even better, in 10 of those 11 winning seasons the team won 88 games or more. He's not squeaking over .500. He's producing playoff caliber team after playoff caliber team. Sure if your goal is to win the World Series he might have trouble with that, but as the 2013 and 2015 Nationals can tell you - it's real hard to win the World Series if you don't get to the playoffs.

I'll take playoffs. So Dusty may not be the most forward thinking manager and can have issues in the playoffs, but he gets his teams to win. Any other things I should know? 

When you say Dusty isn't forward thinking, the second most commonly cited issue is his problems with "clogging the bases". Basically Dusty was a successful aggressive player wants his teams to swing, not walk, just like he did. His teams generally rank low in walks. (easier to see on the non-Bonds teams). This hurts the offense a little bit as it takes a weapon away. However, the Nats aren't really a walking team themselves so it's already been established that if they hit they'll score, if they don't they won't. Dusty won't really make a dent in the Nats here unless he tries to change Bryce, but he didn't try to change Bonds so I assume he won't.

Because of his old-school "veterans have earned it" mentality, Dusty will give veteran players a 2nd and 3rd chance before going to young players. For the start of 2016 this isn't too much of an issue. Trea Turner is probably in AAA, leaving Michael Taylor as the only young guy out there. This may present a problem if Rizzo brings in a decent 5th OF like say Marlon Byrd. Then again if MAT isn't producing, it's doubtful after 2015 that legions will be clamoring to see more of him instead of a vet. It's more a worry for later in 2015 when we'll probably want Turner up and in the line-up and Dusty might be sticking with a failing Escobar or Espinosa.

Dusty is a player favorite but his style promotes a bunker mentality. We are a family, the rest of the world are outsiders who don't get it. Because he's media savvy this doesn't break down the relationship between the players and the media covering them daily. However, GMs, owners, and broadcasters related to the team have been fair game in the past, and he's not against using the fans as a villain either. If things are going well no one but the aggrieved will care about the petty squabbles. That does matter (it helped push Dusty out in San Fran and Cincinnati) but fans will take it. However, if things don't go well, it feels like things could go south pretty fast. One thing I've noticed in looking at Dusty articles over the past couple weeks is that he doesn't seem to be one to take blame. Expect it to be shifted somewhere.

Ugh. That's a lot of negatives! This isn't good! 

Eh I don't know. You manage for a long time and you are going to pick up a lot of negatives. His strong point - that players seemingly love playing for him - is really strong. Just look at the reaction to his hiring or go back and read about his handling of Joey Votto when he was dealing with anxiety issues. There's good reason for why they feel the way they do and it translates to very good regular season performances. The other things are sub-optimal but we don't know how many games "lost" to strict bullpen management, veteran dependence, or walk avoidance are made up by the intangibles which he does appear to have. We also can't assume that the other guy, whoever it would be, would handle those things much differently. And the whole potential for it being a big messy end? Well if things are going badly that the Nats are missing the playoffs again by a bunch do you really care if the end was a calm, stoic, "everyone agrees this isn't working" end? It's better but it's not the point.

The playoff thing is a bit concerning and the Nats will have to deal with that if the time comes. Let's hope it does.

Focusing on the fact he might not be the best strategic manager misses the larger picture. Managing is more than just strategic decisions. It's motivating players, dealing with the press, getting guys out of slumps and keeping guys hot. It's dealing with people; extremely talented, likely egotistical, special people. Since we can't measure that*, we have to use other things we can measure as a proxy. The best proxy, in my opinion, is wins. Dusty gets wins.

*OK we could probably do a survey of players from every team and measure manager satisfaction but that's not going to happen

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

It's Baker?

It's not Black it's Dusty Baker.

There are two immediate take-aways from this news. One is that the Nats organization is pretty much a joke right? They lowballed Black. He refused and they went with option #2.  Whatever crazy reason you can come up with for the lowballing - cheapness, Rizzo wanting out, MLB hiring asking for a favor - it does not look good.

Second is that - Dusty is a fine choice. Not a great one, but certainly no worse than Black if we're trying to be objective. Dusty has won more, has actually been to the playoffs and the whole Prior/Wood thing is both overblown and over a decade in the past. He does have his issues (teams should take a walk now and then, playoff managing hasn't exactly been stellar) but I'd expect that he should be able to make the Nats successful.

We're now in the info gathering stage so look for more takes to come.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Monday Quickie - MLB 2015 is dead. Long live 2016.

Congratulations KC.

Feel free to enjoy this right up until game 1. Hell until whenever your season ends next year. For the Nats though, well wishing time is over. Now let's start next season.

Bud Black will be officially announced soon I would think. Mike Rizzo will probably be there too. Three questions I'd like to hear the answers to :
1) Rizzo : Why didn't you interview DeMarlo Hale? I know you were going after experience but other non-managers were interviewed. (This is more my curiosity than anything else)
2) Black : If this teams goal is a World Series, how can you be confident in your ability to get them there considering you've never managed a playoff team?
3) Rizzo : What's the payroll estimated to be next year?

Oh that 3rd question. That very important, off-season and next-season defining question. Someone recently let float that the Nats payroll could go as low as 110 million this year. That would be a pretty dire situation where the Nats don't do anything while shedding some useful players. Around 130 is more of a reasonable guess. It makes the 160 mill of 2015 a one-year aberration, setting the Nats general level in the 10-15 range. It's a disappointing level, but one that can be worked with and would allow Rizzo some freedom this offseason. Then there are the optimists who think the Nats will maintain that 160 mill Top 5ish payroll next year. If that's the case then the Nats would like be big players in the FA market in the off-season.

Also this week - Qualifying offers go out. ZNN should get one. Desmond might. Span probably won't. Those are my guesses. They need to be out by Friday, players need to respond by next Friday. Once that's done true FA can begin. What can you read into QOs? Not too much because they can be offered because you want a player back at a reasonable price or because you know they won't come back and you want a draft pick. I would say that if the Nats offer NO QOs out, I'd be kind of worried that the 110 payroll is a reality. That's because if these guys accept QOs it throws a wrench into plans for a payroll that low. I suppose the opposite is also true - if they offer all of them QOs they aren't going to have a low payroll... but they could know none of them will accept. Still I'd take it as a positive sign (in regards to the payroll - team building is another story).

Of course things really don't get moving until the week of December 6th when the Winter Meetings take place (in Nashville).

OK let's get this thing started. Back on track for what should very well be the last seasons of Strasburg, Ramos, Stammen, and if he's still here Storen. Along with what may be the only season of Chokey Weinerface. Get it done guys.