Nationals Baseball: Offseason Position Discussion : First Base

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Offseason Position Discussion : First Base

Last year's discussion 

A lot of last year's discussions were obvious. The Nats were pretty much set all over the place. For first base, my take was no different than pretty much everyone else's. The Nats were stuck starting Zimm because even though he was rarely healthy (156 games played in 2014 and 2015) they had him on a big contract deal and when he did play - he hit, so there wasn't an obvious upgrade without spending a lot of money.  I noted it was a bad position for the Nats as they pretty much had to do this and it was almost sure not to work. So good for me on nailing that because it didn't work at all.

Zimm still got injured (missed 40+ games) and now lost his ability to hit, putting up a .218 / .272 / .370 line that was a Ryan Howard away from creating the worst first-base situation in baseball. The assumption that Robinson would help mitigate the problem didn't work out either as Zimm was healthy enough to play a bulk of the games and Clint only put up a .235 / .305 / .332 line when he did get to hit. First base was a disaster and in my mind is the Nats biggest problem going into 2017*

My out of the box plan would have been fine but not earth-shaking, at least not for 2016. Trading Zimm and starting Robinson would have probably produced better results. How much better? Probably just a little but every bit counts I guess. More realistically it would free up the Nats to make moves now based on the idea that first base needed an external solution. As for who the Nats got back I basically said trade him to the Mariners for any of their failing OF prospects (re: Not Alan Jackson). Would any of them had worked out? Austin Wilson - no. Gabby Guerrero - no. Patrick Kivlehan - no. Jabari Henry - no. Brayan Hernandez - eh.  Tyler O'Neill - yes! Ok let's say the Nats got O'Neill then! ... ok the trade would have been a nothing but the contract (or at least some of the guaranteed money) would now be freed up - so overall win.

Presumed Plan

The Nats start Ryan Zimmerman with Clint Robinson as his back-up.

Reasoning for presumed plan

If Ryan Zimmerman was almost untradable last year - to the point I had the Nats eating money and taking back a mediocre prospect from a thin system - then he's literally radioactive this year. Coming off his third straight partial year, having his worst offensive performance ever and still owed at least 48 million over the next 3 years (that inclues 2 million buyout at end) no one is touching Zimm, not unless the Nats eat 90% of this deal. Zimm's on the team then.

Ok well if he's on the team he likely gets at least one more crack at playing first full-time. Last year was a disaster, yes, but you can look to a few things to give you hope heading into 2017. First, last year was the only year he hasn't hit. Even when spending half the year on the DL, he was an above average bat when playing. He had an OPS of .858 in May before facing injuries the rest of the year. The fancy stats don't suggest he's hitting the ball too softly which is usually a huge warning sign of being done. He spent a lot of the year hitting the ball as hard as anyone.  His post-season performance (6-17 with 2 doubles and 3 walks) was promising.

If Zimm gets another crack at first, it only makes sense to give Robinson, a good hitter in 2015 who is cheap and compliments Zimm's RHB, another crack as his back-up.

Problems with the presumed plan

It's pretty obvious, isn't it? Zimm's always had an issue staying on the field.  Last year he wasn't just a bad hitter, he was terrible. It might have been a slight aberration but you have to think the most likely scenario for 2017 would have him playing say... 100 games and hitting like .230 with unimpressive patience and power. That'll put him, and the Nats, near the bottom of the first base rankings again.

All the reasons for hope can be dismissed. Yes, last year was his first bad year at the plate. But he's been trending down since 2013 so a 69 OPS+ might be a surprise but a below average number would not have been. His OPS in May was very good, but he wasn't hurt in April or most of June and his OPSs there (.603 and .573) were not good. He did hit the ball hard but that was more concentrated in the beginning of the year and as we've discussed before, while he could hit it hard, he had issues hitting it hard and not directly into the ground. His post season performance is of course dealing with small sample size and it came after extra rest that he wouldn't get during the regular season.

There are also more worrying fancy stats, like a big drop in contact in the zone coupled with an increase in swings overall. The second year in a row where Zimm can't produce results against fastballs.

Meanwhile, Clint Robinson has had so few major league plate appearances (590) that you can't really pin down which Robinson is the "real" one, 2015 or 2016. He could easily be as bad as last year again. Given he'll be 32 in February the smarter money is probably on more 2016 than 2015 in Clint's future.

We don't usually talk about these things because they don't usually apply to first baseman but it's important to note neither of these guys are wizards in the field and are slow around the bases, so if they don't hit they don't offer much.

My take 

The Nats got lucky last year. Basically the right side of the infield did what it was supposed to but in reverse and cranked up... to the extreme! Murphy put up an unexpected MVP type season while Zimm cratered. Along with that, the other line-up issues (Espy, CF) and his strong May keeping his stats ok, allowed Zimm to sort of fly under the radar during the year. There is no denying though, he was terrible and the Nats can't count on another lucky season

It's time to try something new. I'm not sure what (we'll get to one idea) but the Nats usually move on a season sooner rather than a season later. You could argue last year was a season too late, but this year definitely is. The Nats need to find a new answer at first base. There are multiple possibilities. You can always sign a FA or trade for someone, but the fact that it's first base opens things up. The Nats can sign/trade for a 2B and shift Murphy to 1st. The Nats can sign/trade for a LF and shift Werth to 1st. The possiblities are limitless**

It will be a tough move but it has to be done. You can't stick with Zimm. If he were relatively healthy and just had an off-year, ok stick with him. If he was still hitting ok, just not able to get on the field, ok stick with him. But he's doing neither. A move has to be made.

Out of the box idea. 

How about LaRoche?

Ok seriously there are literally so many options that are reasonable, if you accept Zimm doesn't have to start, that it's hard to come up with something out of the box. From offering the Twins a Giolito/Robles/plus package for Dozier and shifting Murphy, to offering the Diamondbacks an EVERYONE package for Goldschmidt  to signing Steve Pearce to a reasonable 2 year deal to take your pick.  So how about this:

Trade to the White Sox for Adam Eaton and shift BRYCE to first. I've talked in the past about possibly shifting Rendon to first to help keep him healthy. The problem with that is Rendon is an excellent third baseman. You'd be wasting that. Bryce is not an excellent OFer. I like Bryce but his athletic ability has never translated to anything more than "eh" in the OF with a strong arm. He may not like as it will hurt his potential FA market, but if the Nats aren't going to re-sign him what do they care? Bryce at first keeps him healthy as possible (remember we all think his struggles this year are at least partly injury related) and Eaton is a good defender in RF (he'd aged out of CF) and a good bat. Imagine a Werth type trading a little power for defense and speed. Plus he's cheap through 2021. 2021! With team options the last two years!

Seriously any team with a strong farm system not looking to throw it at the White Sox for Eaton + Sale or Eaton + Quintana is a foolish team.***

*A lot of talk is centered around the idea the Nats have to move Turner to SS to get Danny out of there. That's a plan. However in my mind Danny is 4th in line for "things the Nats must solve" behind First, Catcher, and Center Field. Maybe even behind closer though I don't think that's a talent issue like these other ones. That's more a question of choice.

**Not true. I literally listed them. There is a limit 

***Why aren't the White Sox better than with all this realitvely cheap tradeable talent? (There's also Todd Frazier! and Jose Abreu!) They played in the toughest division in baseball last year. They lack that one definite All-Star type bat (though Frazier or Abreu are capable of having that type of year), while having two gaping holes in the lineup. Sale/Quintana aren't the lights out #1/#2 you think they are, but merely above average starters, while #3/#4 were holding on and the #5 spot might have been worst in the majors. It's an interesting team, who's ages and contracts suggest "Strike Now" so the moves last off-season made sense but they needed to go further. Thing is - only Frazier is a FA after next year so there is still time to try in 2017, so an offer will have to be good.


SM said...

What a startling--and compelling--analysis.

Not that there should be one, but I don't think you offered a specific solution to what to do with Zimmerman other than replace him. (His contract is both an albatross around the Nats' neck AND the elephant in the room.)

Jay said...

No way Zim goes anywhere in my opinion. The Lerners won't eat his contract. He's not much help off the bench. He'll be at first opening day and we have to hope the playoffs are more indicative that he can still hit. If Henley holds Werth at 3rd and Espinosa drives Werth and Zim in in game 5. Espinosa and Zim's double are the heroic turning point that get the Nats to the next round. Of course reality is that Henley sent Werth hoping that the Dodgers air mail the throw bc he had no confidence Espinosa would make contact much less get a hit.

I think closer and catcher are the two big question marks in my book. I'd love it if they got an OF bat as well and move Turner to SS.

My priority for this offseason is closer, catcher, OF bat, possible starting pitcher, first base.

Harper said...

SM - well I don't know how compelling it is. There is certainly a lot more digging that could be done, but it comes down to an oft-injured guy who can't hit manning a prime offensive position. To be average you are now hoping he gets healthy, stays healthy, and hits better than he has in 2-3 years. It's hard to understand why'd one believe that was likely.

No I didn't offer any firm ideas. Honestly there are too many. I tossed out a couple. Rizzo likes dealing for long-term players and good deals. A non- out of box idea would be still trying to get Eaton (if White Sox are dealing) and moving WERTH not Bryce to first. More ideally - do a "sign and trade" with the Indians picking up Santana's contract. The offer will have to be good but if they win it all this year they may be more inclined to let him go.

also maybe one of the FAs shakes out cheaper than they thought - Pedro Alvarez is a possibility. Adam Lind certainly.

Jay - Closer is a big question but if the answer is "Move Kelley" or "Move Treinen" those aren't bad answers where you are hoping for a performance we didn't see in 2016 (like "start Severino" "stick with Zimm" or "stick with MAT/Revere" would be)

SM said...

Among other reasons, compelling because your case against Zimmerman is irrefutable. But it's irrefutable to other teams, too.

You're absolutely right, his was "a .218 / .272 / .370 line that was a Ryan Howard away from creating the worst first-base situation in baseball." Who else in baseball would want him? (He doesn't even have a modicum of DH value.)

Alas, I think Jay--and a host of others over last year and more--is right: the Lerners won't eat the contract. As you noted in the first of your off-season discussions, 2017 is probably going to look much like 2016.

Still, love the out-of-the-box stuff.

P.S. Do you ever wonder--even a teensy bit--if Rizzo occasionally peeks at this blog?

Harper said...

SM - on the P.S. - No. I'd honestly would be shocked if he did. I think someone in the Nats organization does (or at least should) take the occasional stroll through the internets - you'd be silly not to, but that someone isn't Rizzo.

blovy8 said...

Your assessment of Sale is hyperbole. He's going to make Gio money for being at least a run in era better. Clip me off a piece of another veteran ace AL starter with his numbers for 3/38. I think Kluber is the only guy cheaper. Certainly the White Sox got more out of their dominant lefty than the Red Sox did with Price at his ridiculous price.

The White Sox should ask for twice what the Yankees got for their two relievers in this market.

John C. said...

Every year people talk about trading Ryan Zimmerman. It's a fantasy; any list of possible offseason moves that begins with a Zimmerman trade should immediately be tossed in the trash. Trading Zimmerman is a non-starter, not just because of his contract value and health/hitting issues, but because he has a full no-trade clause, deep roots in the area, and a (now banned) personal services deal with the organization after his deal is over. I think that Zim's history of hitting when healthy gave him a long rope in 2016; he's not going to get that much rope in 2017. But I don't think that the team makes a big ticket move to replace him. I think if they make a big ticket move it will be for an outfielder - which gives the option of shifting Turner to the infield and Murphy to 1b.

Harper said...

blovy8 - I should have said " IN 2016 Sale and Quintana weren't the lights out #1/#2 youd expect" Sale's K's dropped from elite, HRs ticked up, hit harder, nothing unlucky in BABIP or HR/FB or LOB%. So that is part of reason they didn't do better last year. But yeah - 2014 and 2015 he put up undisputable #1 numbers. So the bway that statement blankets him is wrong.

Jay said...

The only thing that gives me hope for Zim for next year is how much better Werth was this year, bc Werth was finally healthy. Zim seemed to finally hit in the playoffs this year. If by some miracle he could stay fairly healthy next year, then maybe he hits like he used to. Again, we need to hope for that. He isn't likely to get traded (very unlikely in my book). He would be a waste on the bench. I highly doubt he retires anytime soon. The only way this ends well is for him to start hitting again.

blovy8 said...

I like John C.'s take, and it's pretty much just a matter of time before Zim gets hurt again, in which case that spot opens up for a good portion of 2017. Maybe they miss out on a FA deal in waiting, but it's just as likely that Rizzo can make a reasonable trade, or have a OF/1B in the system that can play there, than pay for a 1B on the downside with some value left. I doubt Zim is seen as a sunk cost, and catcher, closer or the OF will be the spots to spend, if they even mean to do that. It may look a lot like last year with fairly reasonable offers that fall short.

PotomacFan said...

Perhaps Zim and Strasburg could alternate 3 week rest periods (on the IR) through the season, so that both are healthy for the playoffs. Strasburg has started one game in 3 playoff series. He seems to do well, however, when he comes back from his IR stints.

DezoPenguin said...

@Jay: You've repeated this statement about Henley several times (ignoring the fact that Danny actually drove in a run earlier in that very game, so if Henley really thought that he was ignoring not only statistics but also immediate anecdotal evidence making him doubly an idiot) since the end of the season, and maybe it's even true. That doesn't change the fact that Zim and Robinson actually hit *worse* than Danny by almost every statistical measure last year. The two iron-gloved first basemen hit worse than the good-fielding shortstop whose hitting was allegedly so bad you want him off the team. By fWAR, Ryan and Clint together were so awful that they were worth exactly one Trea Turner less than Danny. This is a much, much worse problem.

There's definitely no way to trade Zim (okay, maybe there's a way; Vernon Wells got traded twice, but it's not a plan to assume that some other GM comes down with an acute case of stupidity, especially since Dave Stewart is out of a job), so basically I say accept that and give him Robinson's job: backup 1B, alleged power bat off the bench, bad-fielding LF. Then pick from one of the available options.

1) Werth can still hit. If he can play 1B, move him there. Corner outfielders who can field better than Werth and hit better than 2016 Zim/Clint are available; find one. Heck, if you believe that Revere can return to his pre-2016 numbers (a better bet than Zim, since Revere doesn't have the injury history) he can do that; he's a bad CF fielder but adequate in LF historically. Or get someone by FA ( I'd love to steal Cespedes from the Mets!) or trade if you have no confidence there. This is probably my favorite solution since it solves the "crappy OF" problem at the same time, and because finding a corner outfielder somewhere is easier than finding a center fielder or middle infielder (see #2 below).

2) Murphy can move to 1B, making him less likely to get injured and giving the option to have a better fielder at 2B. Again, there's an internal "if you believe" option in Difo, or the possibility of a trade. I like this option second-best, but think it's more likely since we know Murph can play 1B where we don't know that Werth can or is willing to, and because internally I like Difo's chances better than Revere's or Taylor's or the like. Or if a CF is obtained, Turner can take 2B in this scenario, or if we think Turner is destined to be SS forever, Turner SS and Espinosa 2B. The point being that Murphy-to-1B is allowed by getting a center fielder *or* a middle infielder.

(It's worth noting, Harper, that Sale and Quintana were 8th and 11th by fWAR and 16th and 11th by bWAR respectively; I'd like to think that qualifies for "ace.")

The real issue is going to be the team recognizing that Ryan Zimmerman is not the best choice to start. He's the face of the franchise, he's being paid a mint, he's a team leader, and Dusty likes his veterans, all of which suggest that they'll give him another chance. But given that Rizzo dislikes making big midseason changes to the lineup and the greater number of options to choose from in the offseason, now is the time to face up to facts and start planning. As Harper noted, there are many different ways to solve the problem, but the team *has* to be willing to move Zim to the bench and only let him back into the regular starting lineup if injury or incompetence forces their hand.

NotBobby said...

It seems to me that Rizzo and Baker will not be ready to move on from Zimm just yet. I think he is opening day 1b, but they have to understand that Zimm is on the ropes and needs a good first half and bc of that will go and get a backup 1b. In the alternative, they may think of Murphy as the backup and will get someone to be able to slide into 2b. If they believe in Difo then he is already in the system. If they believe in Danny's defense then he is already in the system. If you believe in Drew then re-sign him. If NOT, go get someone.

NotBobby said...

I believe Werth was asked to play 1b a few years ago (maybe as a Phillie?) and he did not like it. Maybe as he gets older he can see how manning first could extend his career and be on board now?

Sammy Kent said...

That's a lot of column inches to fantasize about a moot point. As long as Ryan Zimmerman holds his godlike status within the Nationals' front office--and by all appearances that time is nowhere close to expiring--no changes will be made vis a vis first base. Period. That's it. End of discussion. Move on to the next position.

Ole PBN said...

Murphy to 1st, Turner to 2nd and find a corner outfielder... for the 4th off-season in a row. Zimm - in all seriousness - can be the mascot, batboy, attend charity events, maybe hold Rizzo's phone during games, juggle baseballs in the clubhouse for entertainment - I don't care. He can't play 1B. Murphy or a FA is the right call.

Ole PBN said...

Or how about Edwin Encarnacion? Isn't he a FA?

Mike Rizzo said...

I love this blog. Keep up the good work, guys.

Anonymous said...

Encarnacion's likeliest new home is Boston. A perfect fit.

DezoPenguin said...

Boston's plan for two years has been to move Hanley Ramirez to DH when Ortiz retired, so I don't think they'll get off that idea just yet. (Mind you, signing Encarnacion to split 1B/DH time with Ramirez would not be a bad move for them.) I do think EE will go to an AL team, though; he simply has more value if he can DH at least part-time. Harper's Yankees might be a more likely landing spot; they have a hole at DH unless they plan to split McCann and Sanchez between C and DH.

Froggy said...

I was a proponent of moving Werth to 1b a few years ago, but frankly I don't see him being a better fielder at first than Zimm. Everyone is quick to point out his offense numbers (lack of) but he did make some pretty athletic plays there this year. I see Werth as Rocky Balboa statue next season no matter where he plays.

THE question is what will it take to get Colorado to move Charlie Blackmon to the Nats, since I'll bet money Turner is playing SS next season. Unless you are going to give Difo a shot at 2b (with Murphy moving to first), Difo becomes attractive trade bait, along with little Gio and Glover.

Bjd1207 said...

@Ole PBN - Wait then is Espinosa still playing short in your last scenario? If so, I'm OUT. I can't watch another season of Espi

Jay said...

I agree on Blackmon, but I don't see Colorado moving him. Plus, Colorado is going to want pitching, pitching, and more pitching.

I'd move turner to ss either way. Get an OF - I'd get a RF and move Harper to CF. Resign Drew. I would trade Espinosa.

JW said...

Its kind of hard to even begin thinking about solutions in a position-by-position vacuum (and I don't mean that as a criticism of Harper's post which I thought was great). It's unlikely that the Nats will replace both Espi and Zimm/Clint in the lineup for 17. But I would think it's equally unlikely that they will not replace one of them (at least as starters go). That replacement might be in the form of a CF or a new 2B (moving Murphy to 1B), so that gives you 4 different positions worth of options.

I don't see Rizzo making a trade for a significant improvement. I don't think he is generally willing to move that level of prospect and there aren't any veteran pieces on the Nats roster that would bring that much value back. The best case scenario is probably a multi-team trade that requires the Nats to yield some combination of higher level prospects (Cole, Difo, Robles, etc.) and maybe a low cost pitcher like Gio in return for a position player and #4 or #5 starter.

I think it's most likely that one of Espi and Zimm starts next year and one is on the bench.

Harper said...

Dezo - that's exactly what they plan to do. Or at least they definitely want McCann playing 80+ games in the DH role. If they keep Romine that could be a pretty pure split with Sanchez. If they deal Romine then maybe it becomes more of a catch-all. Judge/Ellsbury-Gardner when presumably injured/Clint Frazier toward years end/ etc. They definitely want/expect Bird to play next year so there isn't a 1B to sit Encarnacion in. Rangers - weak at DH/1B - would be arguably best fit

mike k said...

Getting Adam Eaton and moving Werth (not Bryce) to first does seem like an interesting idea. The only issue is both Werth and Zim are righties, so you're not really getting much of a platoon situation going...more likely just benching Zim (if Werth was a lefty it'd be perfect). It also gives the Nats more contact in the lineup, which they need.

Re: your first footnote, Harper - that would make Espinosa the third, not the fourth, issue for the team, because if he's kept at SS then CF is solved (Turner). Though I would argue that based on player history, even with Zim regressing the last three years, that Espinosa is a bigger problem than Zim for 2017...but reasonable minds can differ on that. At any rate that would make him the 2nd issue for the team.

It's easier to get a CF who can hit than a SS who can hit, which is also why I like moving Turner to short and getting a CF. Especially if Eaton can be had for the cheap in left, you can probably get by with a so-so defensive CF, increasing your options among available hitters.

Zimmerman11 said...

Reiterated Zimmerman is 1B. "Presumed" is now "Divulged"

Mark Zuckerman ‏@MarkZuckerman 13m13 minutes ago
Rizzo talked up versatility of roster, especially Turner, who he's comfortable with in CF, SS or 2B. That said, reiterated Zimmerman is 1B.

Mark Zuckerman ‏@MarkZuckerman 16m16 minutes ago
Mike Rizzo just wrapped up 15-min conference call, first since NLDS: "I definitely view it as a successful season that ended poorly for us."

mike k said...

^ Well 2B is irrelevant if Zim is at first. Murphy at SS or CF? lol I'm laughing just thinking about that. It actually wouldn't be a bad move from a financial perspective...I would watch EVERY Nats game if they did that.

Hopefully this means they are looking for another CF to replace Espinosa in the lineup.

Zimmerman11 said...

Until something happens you have to presume they're OK giving Danny another season at SS or they're ready to see what they have in Revere/Taylor/Goodwin while sliding Trea back to the infield.

Have Revere and Espinosa wear the same number. If you take their career numbers for owar and dwar and add them together, then you've really got something :)

Zimmerman11 said...

Oh geez... nevermind... Revere's career OWAR is negative too. :(

Ole PBN said...

@Bjd - no Espi would become our late-inning defensive replacement/utility guy (he still has one tool to offer, whereas Zimm has none). People may laugh, but I'd be willing to slide Turner to SS, Murphy to 1st and bring in Descalso to play second. He's cheap, not an offensive black hole, and doesn't strike out. What's not to like? Besides, could you ever imagine saying in mid-June: "We lost this game because of Daniel Descalso, where's Espi when you need him?!"

I don't think so...

Anonymous said...

Descalso a regular? People are laughing.

Ryan said...

Yeah, I can't imagine saying that because there's no way they'd replace Espinosa with Daniel Descalso

DezoPenguin said...

I don't know. Daniel Descalso appears to exist on this Earth for the sole purpose of getting clutch hits late in games to bury the Nationals. If he starts at 2B for us, he could be burying us with every at-bat he gets.

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