Nationals Baseball: February 2016

Monday, February 29, 2016

Monday Quickie - Quick thoughts

Totally forgot to do the "nightmare" and "dream" stuff last week so that'll be this week. Random thoughts as we are mere hours away from watching baseball for about 2 innings and then waiting until Opening Day.

Ian signed. I still think he could have gotten a multi-year deal if he waited until after the draft but I can also understand not wanting to wait for that. If you are desperate to prove your worth, you want to play Day 1, even if it's at a different position in a different league. That is where Desmond is. Was Desmond stupid not to take the extension? In hindsight definitely. Now his future lies heavily in how he does in 2016. But the failure was based in him having arguably the worst year in four years at 29 in a walk year. Even a simple average offensive performance would have kept him paid. It's a bet most would take.Was he stupid not to take the qualifying offer... well I think this is more of an agent thing. A few guys read the market and took those QOs understanding the depth of the market and the shift toward (overoverover)valuing draft picks. You have to think though they were heavily influenced by the guys they hire to read the market. Anyway - it's over now. We can get on with the Spring.

Everyone loves Dusty don't they? Man the guy plays the media like a virtuoso and dammit if he doesn't win over a lot of fans too. But I state again: a winning manager doesn't get fired three times for no reason. He likes to find enemies from anywhere outside the clubhouse, and while that can be unifying, it can also make his continued presence untenable as it is often upper management or ownership that he's clashing with. (but don't think you're safe - he's made the fans the bad guys too). I see a lot of potential for a Bobby V in Boston type crash here. Not that it's likely, but all the same elements are basically in play. Despite that, I feel like the coverage and attention Dusty gets has been pretty much completely positive. At worst it's "This is a question for Dust..... NAH! LOVE THIS GUY!" Am I crazy here? Aren't there important potential negatives? Let's just hope things go well and the Nats win a bunch of games and it doesn't even matter.

I'm not sure how Revere/Taylor will play out, but I'm getting fairly certain Arroyo and not Roark will get that 5th rotation spot. Which means after a great 2014 they'd have relegated Tanner to long relief two straight years. I'm all for depth but Tanner was a hot commodity after 2014. If you didn't internally think he was good enough to be a rotation regular for the Nats, he should have been dealt then and there. Depth can be found or developed. Tradeable players at the top of their value you can afford to lose are rare beasts.

Friday, February 26, 2016

A quick thought on re-signing Ian

With the recent Dexter Fowler return to Chicago, the idea of Ian Desmond returning has gotten more interest. I don't think the Nats will re-sign Ian. I think they probably have a budget that doesn't allow it. I think they have a plan in place for the rise of Trea Turner that they like. I think they are petty when guys decline their low, but within market value, deals. I think that they have some trepidation on whether the production that Ian would have would outpace Espinosa/Drew (I don't share this). I also think Ian probably has a multi-year deal waiting for him after the draft.

In short I'd be very surprised if he's came back.

Now would I re-sign Ian? Assuming it was a one-year deal and not expensive? Probably for the reason I noted. I think there is a good chance that he outperforms Espy/Drew. But it's not a slam dunk for me either and I don't even have all those other reasons to think about.

For me the question is about leadership. Not that Ian wasn't a good clubhouse leader, just that he was one at all. From the outside - this should have been Zimm's team, but he doesn't want it or have that in him. Other Nats who have been here a while ZNN, Stras, Ramos, Gio, Espy, they either didn't want it or play at a level that makes it hard for them to claim it. Werth seemingly wants it but has spent his time here flippantly breaking laws, undermining managers, and telling everyone how great he is, all while injuries force him into bi-polar episodes of play. Ian almost was a leader by default. Someone gets the mantle placed on him. But Ian didn't seem a forceful personality and didn't carry the team on the field. It was Ian's team but in the broad sense. It was a collection of good players who played well and, you know, maybe things work out for them in the end.

But now there is someone on the team who is a forceful personality and can carry the team. There is someone who seems to step up his game when it's important (and seeming to do this is the most important part - it's about perception). This should be Bryce Harper's team. He should lead the Nats in the clubhouse. The Nats should live and die with him.

By bringing Ian back you set the old ways back in place. Quiet, heads down, get it done and move forward. That's not a terrible thing, but when it hasn't quite produced results and you have a reasonable alternative... why go back?

I don't know. I'm not a player in the clubhouse. I'm not even a media guy who is there everyday and can take the temperature of the team. But from the outside looking in I say put a C on the Bryce's chest and run with that.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

In all the unfamiliar places

Just for the hell of it - round up of old Nats in new places

Storen the Blue Jay

ZNN the Tiger

Span the Giant

Stammen the Indian

and even though he's been gone a year Clip the D-back.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Ian Desmond Situation

Barry Svrluga, author of 'The Grind' soon to be released in paperback - makes a great Easter gift!,  wrote a column yesterday about Ian Desmond and why he hasn't signed. It's a good piece so read it.

In the column we get the why but we don't get the nitty-gritty. It's easy enough to say "draft pick compensation" is the reason, because it is, but does that reason even make sense?

The equation - as far as performance on the field - is simple. What will Ian Desmond bring to the team and when versus what a draft pick will bring to a team and when? The projections aren't kind to Ian, given how terrible he was last year. Let's look at what is probably the low-end and give him a projection that has him giving a team ~6 WAR over the next 4 years. That's not very good. Clearly a draft pick would be better than that, right?


Even looking at high draft picks and that low a bar your chances of getting better production from a draft pick than from Ian is worse than a coin flip. For those at the bottom of the first round it's hardly better than a roll of the dice. Don't believe me?

Here are the drafts. Figure a few years to get to the majors so let's start in 2012 and go back five years.... 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012.

There's a lot more nothing in these things than even average MLB players. So there's a better than even chance the player you draft ends up giving you nothing and hey - even if they do give you something it's at least a good 3 years away. NOTHING on the field says a draft pick is better than signing Ian for anyone competing today or tomorrow really.

Well that's Ian's problem #1. A lot of teams, like half the National League really, are not competing for today or tomorrow, they are competing for some time down the road. They have no use for a player like Ian because they don't care about production for the next few years. But that's not all the teams - what is it about for the rest of them? Money.

Let's say you hate Ian and you project him to give you that 1.5 WAR a year for four years. Let's say you also have a draft pick 16-20 and you project on average for him to give you .5 WAR a year. That's worse. But Ian costs you 10 million dollars for each of those four years, and the draft pick costs you maybe 500K each. 40 million for 6 WAR vs 2 million for 2? It's not even close what is the better deal.

In theory the better deal can help you spend more money on better players down the road, but it's not about the hypothetical. It's about the reality. Draft picks are excellent bargains when they pan out. So much so that if what you care about is value than it is silly to give them up for a FA signing unless you can get a good deal, or perhaps you plan to sign multiple FAs (you lose another draft pick but 2nd round picks have garbage chances at being good helping spread that lost value among more deals)

Wait though - didn't the other QO decliners all get signed? Well yes. But...
  • Three players (Gordon, Iwakuma, Kendrick) re-signed with original teams meaning no draft pick loss. 
  • Three teams signed more than one (O's, Tigers, Cubs), spreading out the value loss among seven players. 
  • Two teams (Tigers and Marlins) had protected first round picks that couldn't be lost and it cost them a 2nd round pick instead. 
  • The Cubs pick was so low, 28th, to be more comparable to a 2nd round pick.
So only four signings really, not 15, were really of the "give up decent draft pick for a single player" variety. 

Normally it may be enough to only have a handful of teams (these four teams, D-Backs, Royals, Giants and the Nationals, and let's add the O's, Tigers, and Cubs) ready to spend money on FAs but this was a particularly deep class that highlighted the compensation issue that had been only touched on before.

It was supposed to work out because some teams were supposed to put winning ahead of value. But the system is suffering because too many teams in a given year make value the driving factor in their business model. That sounds like a good idea. Rebuild smartly, get good young players, compete and when ready sign a few good free agents. Except... aren't all those other teams not competing this year doing that? And it's not like the teams that aren't giving up on 2016 are going to fade away to nothing. This isn't any smarter strategy for winning than what was done before. It's a smarter strategy for not losing a lot of money when you don't win.

Where does this leave Ian? A player that can help you win today but costs a lot and worse yet loses you that potential value down the road? Waiting for the clock to run out on that value question hanging around his neck or hoping for a team that has already made a signing to just go ahead and pick him up. Come on O's... you know you want to.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Monday Quickie - Papelbon being Papelbon

He's still here. He's still Papelbon off the mound. Is he still Papelbon on the mound? Probably so, at least for 2016, and does anyone care beyond that?

Nothing else to speak of as it is pitchers and catchers time which by definition means nothing is happening but beat writers warming up the daily news machine and columnists waxing poetic. Enjoy it for what it is. Not baseball but the general excitement that real baseball is coming... in about 5 weeks.

The Nats should have a boring Spring because there are really only a couple outstanding questions to resolve and you can only ask the same questions so many times.

(1) How will CF shake out? Will it be a strict platoon? Will it be Revere heavy with MAT back up? Vice versa? Will one be the clear starter and the other labeled 4th? Revere isn't overall good enough and MAT is not a strong enough prospect anymore for this to be very consequential assuming everyone else is healthy, but how it shakes out will tell us a few things; how the Nats view Taylor, will Dusty over emphasize the veterans.

(2) What's the lead-up to Papelbon going to be? I assume Rivero-Kelley-Papelbon (from what I've heard) but it could be anything. Honestly this can change week 1 so I wouldn't be overly concerned about it. Papelbon is the closer and they'll try someone out before him in the 8th spot. If it works out great. If not another arm will take the first arm's place.

Ten days until the first taste of baseball.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

2015 Nightmare in review

About now is when I start running through the dream and nightmare scenarios for the season. But before I do that for 2016, I'd like to look back at the one closest to what actually happened and see how it compared to reality. Thankfully the Nats haven't really split the difference in any season making it easy to figure which one to compare it to. So let's get to looking at the Nightmare that was 2015.

First off my opening paragraph was dead on and super sad in retrospect.
It would mean that in the 4 year window where the Nats were arguably the best team in baseball, they would have made the playoffs twice and never made it past the first round. There's no good way to spin that as a positive. This nightmare scenario (is) ... real tough on Matt Williams who will have missed the playoffs with a better team than Davey missed with. How can he be kept around?
Answer? He couldn't be. 

I initially set the Nats "everyone healthy and plays to expectations" talent level at 102 wins. Yikes. I was right about some issues that I thought could lead to a big drop. Desmond's continued slide, Rendon, Strasburg, Fister, and Zimmermann being less productive, Werth and the pen being much less productive.

I was wrong however thinking Yuney might be a win less than LaRoche (the guy he was in practice replacing offensively). Escobar was actually better. I was wrong that Scherzer might be less productive. He was even better than he was in 2015. I was wrong thinking Gio would go down. He was stable. I was also wrong thinking Span would have to be less productive. He was actually just a good as 2015. And I was wrong thinking the Nats couldn't lose that many games without Bryce plateauing talent-wise. Bryce exploded.

Looking at those last two paragraphs in a vacuum it would be hard to see how the Nats actually missed the playoffs. Some things went right, some things went wrong. Even if you say "more went wrong than right" you aren't looking at a 19 game drop from the above. Maybe a couple of wins. Well it turns out two other things crushed the Nats.

One was injury. This can't be helped. I don't predict injury in these scenarios beyond saying this guy might play a handful of fewer games than a full season. (I had Ramos and Zimm at 120 for example) This is the only way to do it because long-term injuries are hard to predict. So it was great say that 2015 Span was equally productive when he played to 2014 Span, but 2015 Span played 60 games and his replacement, MAT, wasn't good. Zimmerman at the plate wasn't too far off 2014, but he didn't put up anything close to a full season. I flat out said "missing the playoffs without injury is almost unreasonable". We have to state this, because some people still think it isn't the case, but the Nats missed the playoffs in large part thanks to injury.

But even that doesn't exactly explain everything (although it certainly explains a lot and ties into what I'm going to say next). The other thing that happened is that I underestimated the slides that the talent could take. Desmond slid further than I thought. Rendon went from All-Star to average. Werth was worse than that. I had Zimmerman holding his disappointing ground and he was less productive. I had Ramos hitting just as bad as in 2014 and he somehow managed to do even worse. ZNN was well off his 2015 season. Once guys like Espinosa were pressed into regular service, the bench was exposed. The Nats not only got hurt but got worse and that combination countered the few bright spots that would have normally kept them very close to a playoff spot, if not in.

What does it mean for this year? Obviously injuries matter but that could be said of any year. It more importantly means that the "healthy & hit expectations" baseline production for the Nats has dropped a ton. 102 wins to some number I'll guess right now at least 10 wins worse. All these guys still here : Ramos, Zimmerman, Werth, Rendon, literally half the offense, have big drops in what we can reasonably expect they will do. That'll make the dream scenario that much harder to get to, and the nightmare scenario that much closer. However, I still expect to be able to work my way to a very very good year for the Nats from their "healthy & hit expectation" base.

I haven't felt this unsure about a Nats team in years. I could go into a coma today, wake up in October and you could tell me the Nats won 98 games or 80 games and I probably wouldn't be surprised. No breakouts and no injuries are needed, I think, to reasonably get the Nats anywhere from hugely disappointment to WS favorite. At least that's what I think I'll see. We'll find out next week.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Tuesday Quickie - The real problem in 2016

The Nats are a good team that had an off-year. They rebuilt in some minor but important ways to make up for some important losses. They have a good division rival, in the Mets, but it isn't a team that stands head and shoulders above them. The Nats can certainly win a bunch of games and potentially win the division, which is about all you can ask for to start the season.

But there is a problem, or more accurately there are 5-7 problems amplifying the 7 other ones.

The Reds, Braves, Phillies, Rockies, and Brewers all stink. They are predicted to be among the worst 6 or so teams in the majors this year. The Padres and Marlins could stink. They aren't much better than that. There are a lot of wins to be had against these teams.

The Mets, Cardinals, Cubs, Pirates, Dodgers, Giants and potentially the resurgent/remade Diamondbacks are all solid teams. They are going to rack up said wins.

That means the race the the Wild Card is likely to be another race to the mid 90s or higher. Last year the 2nd Wild Card won 97 games. That's a lot of wins.

It's hard to say today which teams have the advantage. I guess you can say the Dodgers/Giants/Dbacks are at a disadvantage (3 good teams, only one surely bad one), but even that isn't a given. Nothing happens exactly like we assume. One of those teams I say "stinks" will likely have a surprise year and play around .500 ball. The Padres or Marlins could surprise and skirt the playoff picture. So the Braves surprise and the Marlins do well too, while the Padres crash and burn? Suddenly the Nats and Mets are the ones in trouble, not the NL West leaders.

From day one the Nats need to look at the season as a race to win as many games as possible. That sounds silly, but there is usually a "let's find our footing, we'll get them later" sense to games in April and May. There shouldn't be in a normal season, but it makes even less sense for 2016. Start at full throttle and ease up if you can later. Do not start slow expecting to catch up because, hey, 2015.

The worst thing about the Nats of 2016 is the same thing that can be said about the 2015 Nats (and 2014 Nats to be fair). They aren't built for 2016. They are built for 201x. They are a rolling 90-95% in on any season. They lack starting pitching depth (unless you think Giolito is coming up early) and are relying on question marks to fill gaps. They replaced a set of dominoes in the bullpen anchored by a potentially unreliable closer in big games with a better set of dominoes anchored by a potentially unreliable closer in the clubhouse. They improved the IF bench slightly but still lack a player on there that you are ok with playing everyday for a few months (I'm ok with trying Turner - not so much with Espinosa so that evens out). A better team than last year... let's say yes. A much better team? Given the injury circumstances of 2015? I can't say that.

Last year felt a lot more certain because the young teams hadn't arrived yet and we had no idea when they would. The Nats looked to have weak competition for the East. The non-division winners between St.Louis/Pittsburgh and Los Angeles/San Francisco had the inside tracks for the WC. To mix things up you could put another name there. The rebuilt Padres were the most popular, followed by the full of potential Marlins. But you only KNEW the Pirates and Giants should be pretty good. In this environment, the Nats approach could be said to make sense. Didn't work though.

In 2016? There should be no certainty. The Mets and Cubs have joined the rest of the good teams giving the Nats competition for the division crown and making the Wild Card picture more crowded. If the Diamondbacks are more Cubs than Padres, then there's no margin for error. The Nats approach is far riskier and makes less sense.

Obviously, even if it is riskier, all that matters is if it works out or not. The Nats are a deGrom and Syndergaard double injury from clear sailing. But I can't help thinking the stakes have been raised and the Nats haven't kept up with them, that the team isn't good enough for the fall back position of "get in and get lucky" and the season is going to boil down to "Beat the Mets or Bust".

Friday, February 12, 2016

Not a False Idol

I like to think there are two-levels of "worst-case" and "best-case". One is the literal interpretation of the phrase picking out the absolute worst thing that could happen. The other is the reasonable interpretation picking out the worst thing that has some potential of happening that is not close to zero.

For Giolito the "literal worst-case" in the baseball sense is something like he gets injured before this season and never pitches again. Ok, that has a potential that is probably not close to zero, but it's also something that hangs over the head of every athlete in every sport. It's kind of unnecessary to say it because we all know that this threat exists. We have to take injuries out of these worst-case potentialities, because they'd dominate them and make them boring. If we do that, I'd say "literal worst-case" become Giolito struggles in AA and AAA (and majors probably - guys with this talent you move up just to see) to the point where the Nats have to shift him to relief. Where he also fails. Again this is something that I'm putting out there saying that the chance of it happening is very close to zero. An ignorable thought-exercise, not a scouting report .

The "reasonable worst-case" is probably just slightly grimmer than the "fair" pessimist take I put out yesterday. He stumbles a bit in AA and AAA but gets to the majors in 2017 at some point. Spends several years as a mid-back rotation guy because of some combination of finding his level and being consistent. Good, helpful, but not something to build a team around. This sounds bad, but we're setting a worst-case scenario as "Nats have a cheap rotation pitcher for 4-5 years"

The "reasonable best-case" is really nice, in my opinion. It would put Giolito in the rotation at some point this season, doing well but not dominant (think Ross last year), and have him graduating to a full spot next year with a "only if someone better comes along" ROY worthy season.  After that the sky is the limit.

(The "literal best-case"? He wins a spot in the rotation in Spring and begins a HOF career with a dominant 2016. Also, the kid can hit!)

I fall closer to reasonable best-case than reasonable worst-case. I see him up this year (late unless injuries force the Nats' hand). Where in relief he shines, much like David Price in 2008. He pitches in the rotation next year and is good to very good and is definitely in the ROY discussion (though it's not an obvious thing). Then he progresses nicely forming into #1 type pitcher by 2019 at the latest. That would be where I am.

Why am I here? Well I feel the Nats have a pretty good rotation so they don't have a strong impetus to push Giolito. They also won't want him to bounce up and down between minors and majors. You also have to consider his service time clock, which they probably won't want to start early this year, kicking arbitration and free agency a year closer. So it would take at least one and possibly two long-term injuries (plus Giolito starting strong) to get him up before September.

Every pundit agrees his stuff is great, so I have a hard time seeing him really struggle for long in the majors. I also understand that even the best pitchers have a year or two of adjustment. Those guys I talked about yesterday? Kershaw's Year 1 was blah. Bumgarner's Year 1 was very good but was followed by two ones that were just ok. Felix's first year was great, but his second year was average at best. Greinke's Year 1 was good/very good but then he had mental health issues and needed a year and a half to get back to the majors. He didn't come into his own until his 6th year. So thinking Giolito will come in and dominate immediately, to me is going a step too far. However the Nats are cautious and worked Strasburg well so I think the time they've taken with Giolito will help with some of these issues adapting to the major leagues. So I give him a first year that may not be as good as it could be but I also don't give him any regression. We'll see.

That's what I think will happen. What would I do? Throw him in the deep end. It'll probably end up with a start like these guys; some great, some meh, for the first 2-3 years. But there's potential there for the quick adjustment. Kershaw's 2nd year was close to great and he hasn't looked back. I want to be sure he is providing Nats with elite level pitching as soon as possible. I want to maximize the BRYCE/Giolito ace time as much as possible and I think that's the way to do it. Of course, the Nats presumably know more than me about what Giolito needs.

Let's get this season started

Thursday, February 11, 2016

God Killer

If you haven't been paying attention Lucas Giolito has been getting a lot of high marks as a prospect for a while now.  Baseball Prospectus currently has him at #3, as does ESPN's Keith Law and Sickels had him at #3 last year. He's thought to be a sure thing, a lock, as much a can't-miss as a pitching prospect can be. He's actually been called a rotational "demi-god". Even I, who tends to downplay, won't try to tell you that Giolito won't be an impact arm for the Nationals in the future.

However, commenter BJD1207 asked if I could temper the Giolito love. Can I bring a fan soaring on high expectations, down to Earth?

Of course I can! The easy way would be to go the "There's no such thing as a pitching prospect" route. These guys are notoriously fickle and big gambles. Or we could go with the "He could get injured at any moment!" However, that's a bit too easy. I wanted something a bit more substantial. So I dug around until I found some things I feel you can hang onto... you know, if you want to downplay expectations.

These aren't going to be great reasons. All these pundits aren't wrong. Giolito is a great prospect. But without further adieu :


Reason #1 : The fact he did great as a 19-year old in A ball doesn't mean much. 

Prospects get love because of skills, but they also get love because of production and Lucas Giolito was damn productive as a 19 year old in A ball in 2014. That's part of why he gets a lot of excitement behind him. He threw 100 innings of 1.00 WHIP ball basically showing no problems dominating guys around 2-3 years older. This would seemingly be a good indicator of future success but historically we actually don't see that.

I took a look at all 19 year olds (age is impt here - no 18 year olds or 20 year olds allowed) who had a WHIP of less than 1.100 in the Sally League (that's important too - sometimes these leagues are very different in results) over the past decade to see how these type of seasons predicted future success. Here is what I saw :

Tyler Glasnow - doing well, likely to debut in 2016
Clayton Blackburn - doing well, though less dominant, likely to debut in 2016
Jose Fernandez - Immediately impressive in 2013, injured
Arodys Vizcaino - injury prone, finally put up a good major league season in 2015... in relief
Casey Kelly - injured, has not pitched a good season yet
Kelvin de la Cruz - hit wall in AA, never made it. 
Carlos Carrasco- hit wall in majors, injured, eventually had a good major league year in 2014. 
Wil Inman - struggled through AA and AAA, converted to relief, never made it
Troy Patton - hit wall in AAA, converted to reliever, had several decent major league seasons... in relief.
Gio Gonzalez - Hey! Gio! A bit of an struggle upon initial debut. Good to very good major league pitcher since 2010
Gaby Hernandez - Hit wall in AA, never made it.
Phil Hughes- struggled in majors for a long while, finally had a decent full year as starter in 2012 and a good one in 2014
Matt Harrison - struggled in majors for few years, had good years in 2011 and 2012 before losing it

At least over the last 10 years this hasn't been predictive. There are a number of reasons why: lucky A-ball years being exposed, injury, talent hitting its level in upper leagues, small sample size, but it's not nothing. I especially think that this tells us that the idea that Giolito will be very good in the majors in 2016 or 2017 might be reaching. Out of 12 (Glasnow excluded for this) the only one to have a very good year within 3 years of his A-ball performance was Jose Fernandez. All these other guys, nearly all Top 100 prospects took at least 5 years to do it, if they ever did.

"But Harper", you say, "Giolito is like Jose Fernandez!  He's not like these other guys! He's a stud!" Funny you should say that because comparison to other pitching studs is what the next reason is all about.

Reason #2 : The dominant pitchers of today were better in the minors than Lucas Giolito

Lucas Giolito is like Jose Fernandez you say? Well what the above should tell you is while they match up as 19 year olds Jose Fernandez was dominating in the majors at age 20 while Giolito was working on adapting to AA ball. This isn't an isolated case. If we look at the dominant pitchers of 2015 who were drafted out of high school we see notable differences from Giolito's minor league experience.

Zack Greinke - at 19 had no problems in AA, at 20 dominated in AAA and debuted.
Clayton Kershaw - at 20 really dominated AA and debuted.
Madison Bumgarner - at 19 dominated AA and debuted, at 20 had a Top 25 PCL year before sticking in majors for good 
Felix Hernandez -tore up minors, debuted and was great at 19

These are the guys you want to compare Lucas to and Giolito's minor league career is definitively behind these guys.  You'd probably even put his minor league climb right now behind those of Carlos Martinez and Yovani Gallardo who both had very good long stints in AA ball at age 20.  Who's then left of the non-college guys? Jose Quintana was still stuck in rookie ball at age 20. Chris Archer was good in A-ball and would basically have Giolito's age 20 season at age 21. Carlos Carrasco wat 20 was in AA adapting to the league.

If you look objectively at this Lucas Giolito probably fits more into the Martinez/Gallardo model than the Greinke/Kershaw/Bumgarner/King Felix model.

"But Harper", you say "the reason Giolito hasn't moved up fast is because he was injured to start. He could be dominating like those guys but the team is taking him slow!" You just know how to lead into my reasons don't you?

Reason #3 : The Nats themselves believe Giolito doesn't have that much major league time on that arm. 

The Nats have been quoted as saying they believe your "second elbow" the repaired one after Tommy John surgery has a lifespan of 8 good years. This is why it was relatively easy for them to say goodbye to Jordan Zimmerman and will likely do the same for Stephen Strasburg after this year. Thing is Lucas Giolito had one of those Tommy John surgeries too, a long time ago, like in Obama's first term. Assuming the Nats are correct, Lucas has already put 3 of those seasons on his arm without giving the Nats any major league value and it's possible that 2016 will mark a fourth.

It's more likely that Lucas will give the Nats something this year but not a full year, meaning that 2017 or "Year 5 of 8 on elbow #2" will be the first full season Giolito will give the Nats. If he's immediately great the Nats' themselves would expect four seasons from him. Throw in a struggle year, maybe an injury and the possibility of 2 years seems just as likely. While it could be a awesome two years, it's still just two years, and that's hardly something to get excited about as a Nats fan.

There you go. Did I make you come back down from that cloud? There's always a way to be pessimistic if you try. Take all these together and you could see a Giolito that doesn't make an impact until 2019, is only good not great, and is promptly injured by 2021. However, that's a bit of a stretch though.

A fairer pessimism is that Giolito, while a great prospect, is just under that level of the true aces in the majors. That means he may very well be very good to great in the majors but the road there may be a bit longer. He may struggle a bit in the upper minors or the majors first. It shouldn't be much, he's kind of behind them by one year now so maybe one more year. That wouldn't be too much of an issue except for Giolito is on a clock. A timer counting down from an unknown number. The longer he takes to get to the majors and get great in the majors, the less time the Nats have with this #1 type arm on their staff. If he takes a year longer than expected or the elbow goes a year earlier than expected then that's a big issue.

He's got the stuff. The question is how will the timing work out for the Nats.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

The MASN excuse

 Svrluga's column

The Lerners aren't cheap.

Subjectively this is easily proven. During the lean years we worried for a while that they would run this team solely to maximize profit, but the past few years have shown those worries to be misguided. The Lerners have spent more as the team has turned into a contender. They even spent enough to close in on a Top 5 payroll in 2015. Their payroll will likely be lower in 2016 but fears that they would revert all the way back to a 130 million or so "topped out" base were also unfounded. It appears they will find a happy middle, spend around 145 million and be close to, if not in, the Top 10 payrolls.

The Lerners spend this much while not having a great TV deal in comparison with other teams, meaning that a higher percentage of their revenues are put toward the team on the field.

So the MASN deal is understandable. There is a relationship between revenue and payroll. The team is already likely on the high end of that in comparison with other teams. If payroll has to go higher, then the revenue must go up just to maintain that relationship. That is expected to happen, one way or another, in the next couple of years as the MASN deal is re-jiggered. Whether the Nats get what the MLB promised them (come on, you know that is how it went down) or what is decided by the industry standard method, it will be more money. Putting off contracts until this money is expected to come in is the only way to make this work.

The Lerners are cheap

Objectively though things are different. Most outside team valuations confirm that almost all major league teams turn a profit. Washington is one of those that seemingly do. That could be even underselling what teams make. It isn't clear how much of the ancillary income is included in here. The MLBAM cut? Nearby parking owned by owners that isn't technically part of the club? Increased sale prices for land the owners bought up nearby the tax-payer financed stadium? Plus revenue doesn't consider the greatest money maker in the long run - the increased value of the team when sold.

Sports are one place where telling someone what to do with their money is understandable, even expected. You know when you buy into the business that the people that care about the product aren't just the few employed but millions of others who all wish for the same thing. Success for their team, namely championships. You are supposed to be running a team to win a title, not to compete regularly, and certainly not to make money for yourself.

So the MASN deal is just the extension of an sports owner doing what an owner does. Trying to maintain a steady (and fairly large) profit stream from their professional sports team. The Lerners could spend more and make less but they are not interested in that in the long haul. They have reached the point they are comfortable with. Now it's about maintaining payroll, about not spending more in order to ensure that money is made on this venture, potential wins are a secondary concern.

I've been pretty consistent on where I stand. The industry is cheap. MLB specifically but sports in general. The owners make a ton, they spend less than that and for what amounts to a toy for them but a lifeblood for millions of others that seems wrong. You should always press the owners to spend more because they can and they aren't. Payrolls aren't hard and fast limits against making or losing money, but arbitrary limits against making a whatever amount they wish to make. If an owner doesn't want to spend nearly all his profits on the team, he shouldn't be an owner.

Of course that's not how most fans think. We go by the standard operating procedures that we've seen done for as long as we've followed sports. Think of how we give managers an out for using their #4 best relief pitcher in a crucial spot in the 6th. That's just how everyone does it. We can't blame Joe Manager! We give owners the same sort of out for not spending. Everyone tries to make a bunch on sports. We can't blame Joseph Owner III!

Except we can, and we should.  MASN isn't a reason. It's an excuse to keep up a facade. You can spend. You don't want to. Be honest at the very least. It's not like fans won't keep coming. We always do.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Monday Quickie - Top FAs

FAs? Can the Nats use any? Let's put money and draft picks aside for a second and look at the players left and the talent at hand. 

Ian Desmond 
How he'd help -  Fan Favorite, knows clubhouse. Could allow Danny Espinosa, who looked pretty bad toward the end of last season, to sit. Give Trea Turner as much time as he needed to get ready.
Why he wouldn't be wanted - Nats don't like guys who don't take their offers. Danny is just holding spot warm for Turner. Bad performance last year.

Dexter Fowler
How he'd help - Makes lineup better with RH OF power. Could platoon well with LH OF speed in Revere if you'd like. Adequate fielder. Takes walks. Can trade Taylor or Revere then.
Why he wouldn't be wanted - RH OF power is what Taylor brings, and he's a great fielder.  Line-up already RH heavy, that was part of the point of bringing in Revere.

Yovani Gallardo 
How'd he help -  established decent pitcher who has a reliable arm. Pushes Roark back into pen for depth. Covers injury concerns with Strasburg. When on heavy GB type who can really limit the long ball.
Why he wouldn't be wanted - Last year worst year by most fancy stats. K's are rapidly disappearing, more of a back of the rotation guy who may not make a big difference for this team.

Tyler Clippard
How he'd help - solid relief pitcher with rubber arm known to hold down 8th inning. Would allow Nats year to figure out which of Kelley, Rivero, et al were really in line for a move up.
Why he wouldn't be wanted -  Lots of innings on that arm and a slight slip in results in 2015. If they were fine getting rid of him before 2015 do they really want him back now?

David Freese 
How he'd help -  Good D, decent power, solid offensive player. Far, far better than Stephen Drew as bench player.
Why he wouldn't be wanted - Nats already have a 3B and he's not IF flexible. Not exactly reliable looking at health.

Austin Jackson
How he'd help -  Good D, not terrible at the plate.  If you don't believe in Taylor, Jackson gives you a 4th OF that can field sort of like he does with more offense.
Why he wouldn't be wanted - If you do believe in Taylor, Jackson doesn't give you anything. 

Mat Latos 
How he'd help - Similar to what Gallardo with more potential to be a mid to top rotation type. Prior to 2015, a very effective pitcher. Peripherals haven't change much execpt one.
Why he wouldn't be wanted - the one was "getting hit". Far more bust potential than Gallardo. Arm not reliably healthy. Thought to be a clubhouse problem for a team stuck with one already.

Marlon Byrd
How he'd help  - See Fowler's first two sentences.
Why he wouldn't be wanted - aren't Nats old enough already? Doesn't offer walks or defense. More of a DH type at this point.

Jeff Baker - MD guy they had vague interest in prior to 2015 who crushed lefties... before last year. Maybe better than Tyler Moore but they already have Tyler Moore signed.
Matt Belisle - another arm for the pen. Decent last year and coming out of Colorado might have needed year to get back to form
Justin Morneau - veteran leader who can still swing a bat but can't play in the field at all.  Maybe better than Tyler Moore but they already have Tyler Moore signed.
Matt Thornton - didn't he just prove last year he could pitch here and pitch well? He is old but I'll take good before I'll take young.  
David Murphy - adequate middle of the road hitter who can't play field anymore. Maybe better than Tyler... hey! this sounds familiar.