Nationals Baseball: November 2016

Monday, November 28, 2016

Offseason Position Discussion : Starting Pitching

Getting close to the Winter Meetings now.  Are you ready to be sneaking around hotels hoping to overhear bits and pieces of information like good little spies? No? You have jobs and lives? What good are you?  

Last Year's Discussion
Last year's rotation was pretty set and we knew it. Max, Stras, Gio, Roark, and Ross.

We didn't have any real issue with the plan. Yes, we worried about Strasburg's health. Yes, we worried about Gio's decline. Yes, we (well more "I") worried about Ross' limited history. Yes, we worried if  Roark could do it again. But these were all good bets to take and as a whole the biggest rotation worry was depth. After these five it wasn't clear who would fill in, especially early in the year.

Well it turns out that didn't matter much early in the year. Stras would miss a couple games in June but the first 80 games were not only basically injury free, but free of worry as well. Max scuffled a bit in April but that cleared up fine. Roark did do it again. Strasburg looked good. Ross looked good. Yes, Gio really had us looking at alternatives after a poor May and June, but one pitcher in a rotation being in trouble isn't a worry. It's a season going well.

At that point things unraveled a bit. Ross' injury in July essentially put the Gio issue on the back burner. The depth issue we worried about did not get clearer as the year went on and Lopez, Giolito, and Cole all struggled as replacements. Ross would never really get back and worse, Strasburg would be shut down as the year drew to a close. Now the Nats, who half-way through the year were four deep, were two deep and if they hadn't faced the Dodgers in the playoffs would have had a very tough call on starting the struggling Gio or the maybe healthy Ross.

They made it to the finish line but just barely.

Presumed Plan 
Max, Stras, Roark, one of Gio/Ross, something new.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan 
Max won the Cy Young. He's got a huge long contract. He's in.
Roark got a Cy Young vote (just one but it was deserved). He's super cheap. He's in.

At this point we run into the problem the Nats would like to solve. They have two pitchers who they feel they can rely on (as much as you can) to be healthy and good. That means they have to hope things work out for one of the rest to set them up decently for the playoffs, which they presume to make. If it's Strasburg, great! It's hard to imagine him not being good if he's healthy. If it's not Strasburg then it's a question mark on how good a thing that is. Rather than leave it up to the fates again, the Nats would be wise to make a deal, and they've already floated out there that Gio is available and that they were willing to trade a starter last year.

Even if they don't get a new starter, it's very likely that Lopez or Giolito (or both) will need to start getting some full-time major league work next season. They both handled AAA pretty well last year. It was in limited innings, so a second go around would be advisable, but it would surprise me if at least one of them wasn't doing well enough by the All-Star break to warrant a long look in the majors.

It won't be Strasburg going though. Yes, he's got a team-friendly contract for someone with his age and performance record, but the injury history can't be ignored. His forearm issues probably make him expendable in trade by the Nats, but also probably make him not a target for anyone else. Perhaps if he came back fully last year, but he didn't. He's in.

It could easily be Gio. He's much older than Ross and clearly on the decline. He's got value though. He's on a team friendly deal. You wouldn't be tied to a long contract - 2 years at most. He's not old (31 next year). He's durable. Plus teams could always use lefties. Of course that goes for the Nats too.

It could also easily be Ross. Ross didn't do much wrong last year, but he also didn't make himself untradable, a la Trea Turner. He was more hittable last year, without improving in other areas. He failed to surpass the 150 IP mark he hit as a career high in 2015, leaving questions about his durability. But he's still young (24 next year), and figures to be at worst a #3ish type for 3/4 of a season and is under team control through 2021. Of course for the Nats he's a #4 and that means he has more value to some other team than he does for the Nats. That means it's worth exploring what he can bring back.

Problems with Presumed Plan  
There's always concerns with pitching injuries. That is baseball life. Given that, nothing much has changed about what we said last year. There isn't a clear replacement available right now if the Nats suffer injuries. So making a trade would potentially make things worse in that regard.

On the first guys mentioned you can nitpick issues. Max did struggle a bit going to the end of the year and you all know I think his workload and age is setting himself up for an extended period of missed time. As for Roark, his peripherals (highest BB/9, lowest K/9 of any Nats starter) do not inspire the confidence.

Strasburg... it all comes down to injuries doesn't it? He seemed to turn a corner last year in learning how to pitch and not just overpower the opponent but the fragility remains. Which ever of the last two are kept, big issues remain. Gio could easily finally go over the border into "innings eating 5th starter" land which he seems inexorably moving over to. Ross has to prove he can pitch a full season and some improvement or at least a steadiness, would be nice. 

My Take 
Max and Tanner are set. This isn't a question. You can nitpick Max, but CY YOUNG. You can nitpick Roark, but at this point who's betting on him not being at least good next year? Being hard to hit is hard to quantify in fancy stats but he seems to have it. Strasburg also has to be in. If you try to trade him you are selling low and the Nats need a healthy Strasburg as much as any other team.

Ok so who to deal? Gio is more expendable, but Ross will bring back more.  Gio has particular value as a lefty, as we saw in the playoffs, but Ross sets up the team better for the future, even if he settles in at the back of the rotation for the next few seasons.

I have to say you first try to trade Gio. Yes, lefties are necessary but it took a particular match-up to make that an issue and I'll take my chances that doesn't come up again. Good pitchers should beat any team any way. If you can keep Ross you do it because unlike Gio he can be in Washington 4-5 years from now, still cheap. At worst he'd be Gio, ably filling innings. At best he'd be another teams #2/#3 sitting in your four spot. There is an injury/durability question no-doubt, but at 24 I'm willing to bet on him, especially given that Gio is likely only in DC for one more year.

That being said if you can trade Ross to get much better for the next 2+ years you do it. Like if Ross is necessary to get Sale, well nice knowing you Joe! He does have more value for another team than the Nats where if things go right he wouldn't break the Top 3 until Roark maybe leaves in 2020. Let him flourish somewhere else for 4-5 years and let the Nats dominate here for 2-3. That seems right.

Out of the Box Idea
The Nats have gone starting pitching first for this entire time frame. It's gotten them a lot of wins, three division titles... and no playoff series wins. Let's shake things up. Let's trade Ross and Gio AND Roark. Ross, Gio and whatever else is necessary over to Arizona for Goldschmidt and Castillo. Roark and whatever else is left to Col for Charlie Blackmon. Let's try slugging it to a championship for a change.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Max and the Terrible, Not-Good, Very-Good, Excellent, Just Good, Passable Cy Young Season

Max Scherzer won the Cy Young last Wednesday and I was taken to task for not celebrating it in verse and rhyme. Cy Young! That's great! We must gather together and feast in his name! Right?

Well I can give you three big reasons why the celebration was a head nod and not a shout. First, there isn't anything particularly compelling about this. We've been pretty much talking about Max on and off all year. We know he's been very good. We realized he was a Cy Young contender and before the awards we noted he was a likely favorite. As a previous winner who wasn't short-changed in front of us it's hard to get all that excited for "excellent player gets his due, which he has also gotten before because he was an excellent player then as well". Second, Max was objectively better last year. No, he didn't win more games but other than a few Ks (and just a few 8 more in one fewer third of an inning) he walked a lot fewer, gave up fewer homers, and threw 4 complete games, 3 shutouts, and 2 no-hitters*. Third, let's face it Max got the "Clayton Kershaw got hurt, so who do we give it to now" Cy Young award.

So there's why we're not jumping up and down in the aisles. But that's not to say Max doesn't deserve his due. So how did Max end up with a Cy Young? The short answer is the meat of the Max Scherzer season was amazing.

As you probably remember, Max's season started pretty poorly. Seven starts in and his ERA sat at 4.60.  He had flashes of his dominant 2015 self but something was off. He wasn't unhittable. He wasn't as in control. And most disturbingly he was getting bombed, capped off by a four homer game against the Cubs. Giving up homers while not keeping guys off base - that's not just a bad combination - it's a losing one.

Max had to get it together and he mostly did. Over the next few games he got unhittable again. He got back in control. He... well he kept getting bombed but as he let fewer and fewer guys on base those homers mattered less and less. Solo homers don't kill you. He didn't have perfect games, but he gave the Nats games they should win. Max seemed to be getting back into form.

By mid-season, Max would conquer the HR issue as well. In June and July he'd have almost as many homerless games (5) as games with a homer (6) and only one multi-homer game.  He was on the top of his game. In 13 starts from June 1st through August 9th he put up these numbers. A .163 / .209 / .288 line against him. 1.7 BB/9, 11.8 K/9, 0.9 HR/9.** This was about as good as a pitcher can be over an extended period.  This 40% of an historic season is what got Max the Cy Young.

Why do I say that? Because things starting to unravel a bit as the season drew to a close. While he kept the homers down, he started to get hit a bit again. He started to walk a bit again. It wasn't a big deal. Without the homers he was still keeping offenses down and it was still Cy Young caliber type pitching, but it was a break from the dominance we had started to become accustomed to. For instance, during that 13 game stretch Max had allowed more baserunners than IP twice. In the next 7 games he did it 4 times. As much as Max was rounding into form to during the end of May, he was falling out of it now.

As the season ended all of issues that plagued Max to start the year were back. He was walking too many. He was getting hit more than he had all year and now the homers were back. It took guile and luck to keep the runs from getting on the board but he managed to mostly do that. It was a poor finish (4.38 ERA over last 4 games) but it could have been worse. While I still hold that it was that awesome middle that got Max the Cy Young, not falling apart at the end helped a lot too. He's not just a thrower, he's a pitcher and pitching well when he didn't have his best stuff kept the team in the game and the team rewarded him.

See the funny part of Max's season is that while he was falling out of form to end the year the team really had his back. They would win every single one of his last 10 starts and he would pick up the W in 8 of them. Wins don't mean what they used to, but it couldn't hurt voters to see that big 20 next to his name.

Max's season wasn't ideal. It did have some valleys, but they weren't so low to take away from the towering peaks. It was a deserved award and in a season where three other Nats members just lost out to slightly more deserving candidates, it's glad to see Max not get minorly screwed out of his rightful award.

*And a 9 inning, 1 hit, 16K game that proceeded a no-hitter. That's the best back-to-back pitching performance you are going to see. 

**I know I keep harping on this but I feel like some people may still not get it so let me note here that Clayton Kershaw's worst 13 game stretch was better than Max's best. That is how good Kershaw was last year and really the last 3 seasons. Not that he deserved to win the Cy Young. He didn't. 80 IP is a big difference.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Trade for Sale?

Barry Svrluga host of "The Grind" book edition (makes a great stocking stuffer! No seriously. I have it, read it.) says that the Nats should trade for Sale. Do I agree? Yep. But before I  go into the why I pretty much exactly agree with Barry I can't help but be nitpicky. 
The Washington Nationals’ 2017 rotation could easily be ...Gio Gonzalez, who has twice been an all-star and once won 20 games; and ...
Did Boz ghostwrite your first paragraph, Barry? Yes, Gio was twice an All-Star and won 20 games. That was in 2011 and 2012. That was a long time ago and really doesn't have bearing on the Gio that's in the rotation now. The Gio of today is a durable middle of the road pitcher who is just as likely to strike out 8+ as he is to have control issues and go out before the 5th inning ends. That's not great it's... not bad. But add to that he's a lefty and he's an arm that ~30 teams would line up for to slide into their rotation as a #3/#4/#5 (depending how bad their SP circumstance is). Come on! You're better than that!
Rizzo, as we’ve explained in the past, has a superb record of trading players. Those he has landed include Wilson Ramos, Trea Turner, Gonzalez, Roark, Ross, Denard Span, Doug Fister, Mark Melancon, on and on. The best player he has given up in such deals? Maybe Billy Burns? Maybe. Maybe it’ll turn out to be Felipe Rivero, dealt to Pittsburgh for Melancon, the closer at the end of 2016. Maybe it’s Derek Norris, who was once an all-star as a catcher. Jerry Blevins?
Billy Burns? That's really the first name you toss out there? Tommy Milone beats Billy Burns.* It's totally Derek Norris. Though he's right it could be Felipe (this is why Barry is great and I'm nitpicking out of love here). Blevins doesn't really fit as he was a "We're mad you tried to get more money! Get out!" dump. It was a very very rare loss by Rizzo, that was saved from being even more apparent by Blevins' injury in 2015.

OK that's it! See Barry is great! Really that's only one true nitpick and one bit of confusion. That's usually gotten to in the first paragraph of a Boz column when he's off.

Anyway another thing I wanted to pull from that column though.
“Imagine that in the playoffs,” one executive said Wednesday. “And Sale being there would completely take the pressure off Strasburg.”
I thought Max was supposed to take the pressure of Strasburg. Do they seriously think Strasburg is such a headcase that he needs TWO Cy Young caliber pitchers ahead of him to make him feel comfortable? I personally don't believe that. You can just peruse his stats and see he's fairly consistently very good. But if you do, why the hell do you keep someone like that on the team which a big contract? Just saying.

OK so Barry's point is the Nats should trade for Sale and should basically let the White Sox pick what they want (assumes not Turner). Ross, Giolito, Robles, Lopez, etc. He thinks it's time that the Nats move forward. Stop being good enough to get to the playoffs. Start trying to be good enough to win in the playoffs. He think Sale's contract (12m 2017 team options after that, 12.5m, and 13.5m) is an incredible bargain.

He's right across the board.

At least that's my thinking. It's not that the Nats have consistently tried to get away with just a couple good starters for the playoffs. Really the only year you can say that for was last year when they went in with Scherzer/Stras and hope someone steps up. But in doing that they did end up with only 2 great arms for the playoffs and that did put them in a bind. They don't want to end up there again. You could try to count on Scherzer/Stras/Roark, but if one gets injured now you're hoping for a Ross development or something out of the blue. Adding Sale makes you very confident that if you get to October you'll have three studs ready to go.

As for the prospects. They are prospects. Most don't develop into what you hope they might be. That's just the truth. We don't have 10-20 All-Stars entering the league every year. So gambling on giving them away is far more about depth in the future than it is about season-changing performance. I'm willing to take that gamble. Depth for the future is nice but it's harder to care about it when that depth is the difference between a 78 and 85 win team rather than an 88 and 95 win team.  Beyound 2018 that could be what we are looking at.

We are potentially in the waning days of the Bryce Harper era. Two more years is all that is guaranteed. After that yes there is Trea but what else? Murphy will hit FA at the same time. The Gio 5th starter saftey net will too (and you'll miss him when he's gone). Werth will be gone (and probably retired). It's hazy. A 30 year old Stras isn't old but the continued injury issues have to be concerning. A 34 year old Max isn't old, but is right on the cusp of it. A 32 year old Roark could easily still be good but with a only year left before FA. The same year before FA that Rendon would have too.

Rizzo bridged the gap between the end of the first great Nats teams and the potential end of the Bryce era. He may do it again. But as much as he did it with skill (draft and development of Rendon, trade for Ross, Turner) he did it with luck (Roark developing into top notch starter, Murphy busting out into MVP type hitter) and money (big contracts for Scherzer, Strasburg). The money likely won't be there - at least not as much as they'll have these two deals left to pay. The luck may not be. Are you willing to take the chance that Robles, Lito et all are going to be ready by 2019/2020 to keep the team in the playoff hunt? I'm not.

Sale solidifies the Nats for the rest of the known Bryce era. After that if they are good and lucky new guys drafted and developed and new trades made will put the Nats in a position to keep moving forward with a playoff contender. If they aren't, they'll have chips like Sale, Rendon, Roark that can be used to help restock for something further down the road.

*And if we're floating out potential. It's totally Alex Meyer who unfortunately went to the Twins who are notorious for being unable to develop pitchers. No seriously again. It's INCREDIBLY bad. Good luck to you in LA which even if it's below average is better than whatever Minnesota was doing. 

**The worst SP performance was probably Strasburg, who gave up 2 R (1ER) over 5 and had to be pulled for Blevins with two-on no outs in the 6th.  Gio's 4IP in G4 wasn't great but after a difficult 2nd (2 UER on 2H and a BB) he settled down and could have gone further if the situation didn't demand trying PHers early. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Tuesday Quickie - Awards

Trea Turner did not win ROY.  That is not surprising as Corey Seager was an MVP candidate and also a ROY candidate. It's tough luck for Trea, assuming he loves awards, but far from unfair.  We talked about this near certainty a few weeks ago while the season was in play.  Where do the other votes stand now?

Remember - votes are before the season is over.

NL MOY - I disqualified Roberts because the Dodgers would actually win fewer games this year. Apparently though he is the front runner. Yes, I know they had lots of injuries. But there's something funny to me about the idea of bringing a guy in, having him win fewer games than his predecessor, then proclaiming that he did the best job. Especially when he's competing directly with someone that was brought in and proceeded to win 12 MORE games than his predecessor.

I had Maddon taking it for sure if he got to 104 wins. He didn't. He got to 103.  I then said Dusty had a chance if the Nats were within 5 games of the Cubs. They weren't they were 8 games behind. So I'll say it finishes inexplicably Roberts - Maddon - Dusty.

NL MVP - Bryant or Murphy (as Seager would take the ROY) Final Lines

Bryant :  .292 / .385 / .554 39 HR 102 RBI
Murphy : .347 / .390 / .595 25 HR 104 RBI

It's close but Murphy had the better offensive season. Bryant had more patience and a bit more power (Murphy lead league in doubles and even had a couple more triples than Bryant) but it didn't make up that huge gap in average. Factoring defense and base running is always problematic but the general consensus between stats and scouts is that they go to Bryant. That alone probably puts Bryant over the top. Beyond that the Cubs won 103 games and were the best team in baseball. Everything says Bryant

NL Cy Young - Since we know the Top 3 we know how some things shook out. Bumgarner and Syndergaard both made the playoffs but neither had the lights out finish to the season that would put them over the top (Noah was much closer in that regard but given the love of MadBum I bet Madison beat him in votes... we'll see). This is also true of Jose Fernandez, who wasn't on pace to make the Top 3 prior to his tragic end.

Final lines
Hendricks : 16-8, 2.13 ERA, 170K, 0.979 WHIP
Scherzer : 20-7, 2.96 ERA, 284K, 0.968 WHIP
Lester :  19-5, 2.44 ERA, 197K, 1.016 WHIP

Hendricks has the best ERA and they love ERA... but not as much as wins. Plus Hendricks thing was having the lowest ERA since Gibson and he slowly but surely lost that. I think he finishes third.  Lester had the strongest finish, most wins, best winning percentage and a lower ERA than Scherzer. Scherzer had by far the most strikeouts and a lower WHIP, and is seen as the most dominant non-Kershaw* pitcher out there. I think it'll be close but I think the general feeling favors Max and I think there will be some "Well I didn't vote for a National for the other three awards and I don't have a favorite here so here's your bone" going on.

*Kershaw's final line 12-4, 1.69 ERA, 172K, 0.725 WHIP.  0.725!!!  His outside chance of winning even pitching 70 fewer innings than these guys was ruined by a lack of run support. You heard me. He went 12-4 with a lack in run support. 27 runs scored in his last 11 games by the Dodgers. Overall it just looked bad but the Dodgers scored 29 runs in two games for him. If we take out these (and even take out his two lowest in fairness) he'd drop much closer to the bottom. 

Friday, November 11, 2016

Propsects runway

Chelsea "Don't came me James" Janes says in her latest piece that the Nats have "plenty of upper- and mid-level prospects who continue to garner interest from other teams"

Do they?

I had a feeling that the Nats farm system was ok but top heavy, meaning Turner's graduation and the cooling on Giolito would have significant effects. I went back and looked and saw the Nats system ranked pre-season anywhere from 5th to 17th.  I lean more toward the latter. So let's look at some top and mid-level prospects and see what kind of interest teams might really have.

The Big 4

Giolito - Was basically the most prized pitching prospect going into last year but he didn't live up to that highest of high hype last year. He was in and out of the majors and each time in was a failure. He was hittable and gave up a ton of homers, 7 in 21 innings. There was also questions about a decrease in velocity which is a big deal for someone who already had arm surgery. And his AA numbers arguably took a step back. Still, he will be only an "old" 22* next year and everyone loves his stuff. His AAA numbers last year are exactly what you want to see. He's a 2017 or 18 full time player. The idea of him coming into the majors and immediately being a #1 type may be fading, but the idea of him being a very successful pitcher a few years down the line has not. His stock will drop a bit probably from Top 3ish to Top 10ish, but with very watchful eyes those first couple months.

Turner - off the table

Robles - A name that got a lot of attention as he did really well in A ball as a "young" 19 year old. He didn't do as well in A+ ball but he did better in his second stint after injury. There's a question on whether he gets power but right now the promise of his age wins out. Likely moves from a Top 30ish prospect to a Top 15ish. If he develops power he'd be a Top 10. Optimistically projects for a 2019 full-time role at 21-22.

Lopez - Like Giolito his time in the majors wasn't great, but unlike Lucas there were times you could point to what he was doing and feel good. Sure, about half of them were against the Braves but you gotta start somewhere. There was a lot of talk about him "breaking through" and maybe being better than Giolito as his K's went way up in AA this year. But they went back down in AAA, and dialing things up in MLB to get more meant a big increase in wildness. Like Giolito he's a 2017-18 full time player. Like Giolito I think that ranking is very tentative and could change radically in either direction based on just the first couple months. Unlike Giolito I'd expect his pre-sesaon stock to rise from a back quarter of Top 100 to a Top 50 ish player.

The next tier

Glover - Live arm who showed potential dominating AA with Ks and AAA with control. Trajectory says its hard to see how he doesn't end up set in a major league pen next year, if not to start then sometime. Could be a potential lights out closer - however that's a phrase tossed around for a lot of live minor league arms. Will break Top 100, probably in Top 75.

Cole - I'd love for Cole to get into the Top 100 of someone's list again because I bet he'd be the only guy to ever be ranked in someone's Top 100 in 6 different seasons. 2016 though was the first time he wasn't and nothing about last year changes that. Might develop into a back end starter but at 25 and looking at his 4th year in AAA he's more of a throw-in than a key piece.

Difo - The anti Giolito/Lopez, Difo was not bad in the majors, but in the minors he did nothing to raise his stock. His brief flirtation with pop in 2014 has faded and he's back to being seen as a speedy slap hitter. It's not entirely clear where he fits now. Major league bench? AA? I'd imagine most see him as a AAA which means 2016 is a make or break year for the "young" 25 year old if he's going to be a starter in the majors.

Fedde - He's on the cusp of being a top prospect and should be in the bottom of a few Top 100s. There is simply no doubt he is pitched better in 2016 than 2015. His A+ stats suggest the special pitcher teams thought he could be, but his subsequent finish in AA gives you a bit of pause. Where his ceiling now is a question. Does he keep getting better and become a real rotation prospect? He's roughly on target age (24 in 2017) but that means if the AA year goes poorly he'll start to be on the older side.

Voth - Everyone loves Voth and he'll break into some Top 100s. However the fancy stats don't really like him as he's not particularly good at striking out batters or having super control. I can't look at that and think the Nats didn't move him up to protect him from being exposed by major league hitting. But whatever, you have what you have and what you have is a guy that has shown he is not easy to get hits against in the minors. On the other hand, he did make the AFL and hasn't been all that impressive.

The other AFL hitters

Osvaldo Abreu - did nothing in AFL. did nothing in A+ ball. Not old but kind of stalling out. Difficult to see as a real prospect anymore, but has next year to change that.

Drew Ward - hitting for average in AFL. Nats have been aggressive in their moving of him and he's generally done just enough to justify confidence but last year's AA wall was slammed into.  Not a top prospect but he's only 22 next year so next year won't be make or break.

Andrew Stevenson - hitting for average and power in AFL. Also slammed into a AA wall, though not quite as hard with Drew. Will be a young 23 next year so pretty much same things I said about Ward apply to him. Not a top propsect. Not a fader either.

The rest

Nick Lee, Ryan Brinley, and Jake Johansen all were in the AFL too but I hate to even note what happens with like 10IP unless it's super special or super bad.  It hasn't been. Johansen is an A+ 25yo, a nothing. Lee is unable to throw strikes and almost a nothing. Brinley is the one to keep an eye on but not a top prospect

Max Schrock got some play in a satiric "find the next Donaldson" fangraphs piece, but he actually did hit really well last year. He probably doesn't have the power to break into top prospect lists but he'll probably make a few honorable mentions as people watch if he can keep hitting. Ed note - TRADED for Rep.  I'm an idiot.

Anderson Franco - way young (an old 18 last year), way too early to judge.

I guess they do have a decent mix. It's not a great mix, without Giolito being GIOLITO and with Turner now in the majors, I'd be surprised if the Nats were a unanimous Top 10 but top half again? Sure. It's not that the Nats are particularly deep. They don't have a lot of top guys (especially now) who will be definite contributors, or a bulk of toolsy interesting middle tier prospects that could be. It's more like they have exactly the number and type of guys you'd expect to have when poking around a system. So they do have some flexibility to trade. I will say because they don't have depth that if they do deal that it would probably gut the system, but I trust Rizzo et al enough to fill it back up to average status if not for 2018 than 2019.

*Remember - season ages based on age on July 1st. So way I look at it is guys with bdays April-June are "young" because they'll spend a chunk of season at a younger age than given. Guys with bdays July-Sept are "old" bc the reverse is true. Lucas (July 14th), for example, will spend almost half of next year as a 23 year old.  Other birthdays I don't use an adjective. This is more important the younger you are.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Offseason Position Discussion : Outfield

Last Year's Discussion
At that point Revere hadn't been traded for so the presumed plan was Werth, Bryce, and MAT getting his shot in CF. Why MAT? We thought it was clear the Nats wanted him as the CF of the future and that he did well enough in 2015 to get a chance. Span was dismissed because the QO was too expensive for a guy that couldn't play much in 2015.

I thought playing Werth was reasonable given his late season performance and the reality of the Nats situation. If you play Werth than a strong fielder in CF is the better play and that was Taylor not Span. I did however, say they should try to get Span on a team friendly deal as giving MAT another year of seasoning wouldn't be a bad idea. Failing that, I advocated for a strong OF bench to compensate for Taylor.

How did it play out? Well first off the Nats traded disgruntled closer Drew Storen for Ben Revere, which essentially re-demoted MAT for two seasons unless he busted out. It seemed like a smart move at the time but Revere would get injured early and would never hit like himself putting up a .217 batting average when he averaged ~.300 over previous 4 seasons. MAT failed to capitalize and hit exactly as he hit in a cup of coffee in 2014 and 130 games in 2015. Very low average (.231), some pop (7 homers in 76 games) too many strikeouts (32.5% rate - would have been 2nd worst if he had enough at bats). It was so bad that SS of the future, Trea Turner was moved to play CF and he was so good! .342 with 14 doubles, 8 triples and 13 homers and 33 stolen bases. In just 73 games he was ROY good in any year that didn't happen to have a rookie that was also a legit MVP candidate.

Surprisingly Bryce was an issue. A dip was to be expected but Bryce didn't just dip he dropped below what you probably would have had as his floor. A mediocre .243 batting average and only 24 homers.  Injuries and mind games (PETE MACKINNON STARTED mind games) caused a stumble early in the year and what HAS to be a lingering shoulder-area issue hampered his second half.

On the plus side Werth bounced back with an acceptable year at the plate. It was a lot of bouncing around with punctuated moments of hot play but that was enough for an old player coming back from an injury that lost him a productive 2015. Still a stiff in the field.

All in all it didn't work but the CF and Bryce issues were fairly surprising so it's hard to fault the Nats.

Presumed Plan 
Werth in LF. Bryce in RF.  Something new in CF.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan 
Werth hit well enough to take his last year in the field. Circumstances with Zimm mean that can't be at first so LF is where it's going to be. Generally you might see Rizzo move this type of player for something that could help the Nats in the future, but the contract makes Werth untradeable. You could argue a fading 38 year old starter should be replaced anyway but on the surprisingly long list of the Nats fixable issues, this doesn't even register.

Bryce starts because even crashing through the floor of his projections he was a useful bat and a solid, if unspectacular, corner OF. Given he's still under team control he's a bargain. You just have to hope he's healthy and you see a big increase in performance next year.

On CF we just don't know yet. We know they'd prefer if Turner played SS. They've now floated out there that Danny's available in trade. It would be very hard to go into next year with either Revere or Taylor or some sort of platoon as Plan A given how badly that failed last year. That leaves them to do something different. A trade is most likely given what the Nats are selling as their payroll limitations, but don't rule out a FA signing if they can get that money deferred. Unlike catcher I don't see the options being that limited and thus really can't put a finger on exactly what they will do.

Problems with Presumed Plan  
Bryce could be hurt again and if so he won't put up the numbers you hope. That'll hurt planning as the Nats are probably looking at Bryce to be a star at the plate again. You just have to roll with this possibility. The guy put up literally "best ever" numbers the year before and just turned 24.

I did just say you might want to replace a fading 38 year old, didn't I? Werth shouldn't be better than last year in 2017. That's nothing against him, that's just the reality of aging. If he's just a little worse so be it. If the crash comes you now have an OF who can't hit or field in your line-up. As concerned as you may be with Espy at SS or Zimm at first, neither is likely to be the complete zero that Werth would be in this scenario. You also have to accept he could get injured again. The grind (NOW IN PAPERBACK!) wears even young men down.

We can't really judge the solution to CF until we see it but we can say that solving CF will cost you, either money or prospects, potentially both. If it does include money then the Nats have less to spend on other issues a lot of us see as more pressing - C, 1B, closer. If it does include prospects, the Nats minor league system isn't particularly deep. Any scraping off the top would have a serious effect.

My Take 
You have to start Bryce. That's not even a discussion. But please just stop with the "he's healthy" shenanigans. You are not fooling anyone.

Moving to Werth, the Nats aren't inclined to replace something that's working passably just to do it and his bat is still passable as of the end of last year. You could move him to first and get a new corner OF as part of a play to sit Zimm, but it doesn't appear that the Nats are at that point yet. So the Nats will have to just accept his OF play and pray his body holds up and his bat doesn't drop any further. The bright side is Werth has proved very resilient and the Nats are only asking for one more year. It's not a good gamble, but there are certainly worse ones to take.

On CF? I would love to trade for McCutchen. Gambling on an MVP type coming off a bad year at 30 years old is a good gamble. Certainly a better gamble than Victor Robles becomes anything like McCutchen in the majors. I mention Robles because that is apparently what the Pirates want for McCutchen. That is a lot yes. He'll probably be the top prospect in the Nats system. But if you were trading for McC after a year like 2015 Robles wouldn't be enough. If you like McC, and I do, then Robles for him is a deal you make. His contract is not onerous. He still has power and some speed. While he's probably a below average CF at this point, his defensive failings were likely exaggerated in the stats.

Failing that the Nats need to go after a strong defensive CF. Leonys Martin would make an interesting target and is the kind of under control payer Rizzo likes. However his hitting is likely to be barely better than Revere/MAT. Dexter Fowler has developed into a strong bat, but even positioned correctly is probably just an average CF. Kevin Keirmaier is probably the ideal target but I have to believe the Rays know what they have there and it'll cost Nats more than they want to give. What does that possibly leave? Lorenzo Cain. FA after next season. Unlikely Royals keep him. Not a terrible contract (11 mill). You are just paying him to hit / field like you wanted Revere to, but at least he did it last year and you don't have to pay Revere. You can cut him.

Out of the Box Idea
I've got a wickedly terrible idea today.  The Nats pursued this guy and last year and came up short but he's available this year.  I assume. That last note should tell you I'm not talking about Yoenis Cespedes* but Jayson Heyward. This year and that contract should make him easily obtainable from a team that doesn't really need him. Are you making an insane gamble? Yes, yes you are. But with that D and his age he's not going to be worthless for a few years. He could be the very good CF this year and shift to be a great corner OF for a few more. Assuming his struggles at plate continue, that's the worst case. The best case is that his problems this year were a combination of fluke and fixable and you can get him back to a more normal bat. If the Nats, and a lot of teams, liked him before last year there must be something there. It's just a question of if the bat can be brought back to life. 

*What do I think of Yoenis? Not a good CF, would make the team better, very doubtful he signs here unless deferred money thing doesn't exist anymore.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Various news dumps

We had an election and if you wanted to dump some stuff out on the public, the last few days was the time to do it. So a short recap of the Nats news stories over the past few days.

Nats don't give Ramos QO

Some people debated it but that's only if you believe the injury risk Ramos is going to be worth playing at least half the year next year. Otherwise it's hard to see how he affects the season enough or gets ready fast enough to matter for a possible post-season. Nats obviously are thinking that's optimistic so take pragmatic route.  It is still possible he re-signs here. Don't rule that out.

Nats would trade Espinosa

This only makes sense to me if they feel he is going to be a liability on the bench. I'd rather have him that Stephen Drew and they are basically the same player. The trade market for Danny would be there, but would probably be slim. He's only an impactful upgrade if you are terrible at short and not a lot of contenders are. A Gott like return would be best Nats could hope for. And they might go for that. Rizzo likes his arms.

Nats aren't going to be big spenders

Doesn't mean they will not make a big deal but it would have to be a deferred one or something else that doesn't raise next year's payroll that much. Nats payroll is basically what it was last year. Granted there are not a lot of promising FAs out there. This is more about trades. We didn't notice much because of the winning and the lack of obvious need, but the payroll add in-season was again non-existant. So stop expecting the Nats to trade for anyone that will cost any money.

Bryce won't play in WBC. Max might. 

Someday someone will get injured during this and there will be an outcry. It's unlikely for any single player though. Let's hope it's not a Nat. 

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Offseason Position Discussion Third Base

I elect... to talk about Anthony Rendon! HAHAHAHHSHAHSHAHS

I'm terrible.

Last Year's Discussion

We had Rendon starting because it seemed to be the direction the Nats were heading. Remember in 2015 Rendon played 2B because Yuney was at 3B to start the year and didn't want to change.  Man the 2015 Nats were stupid about things.  We worried a little bit about Rendon's extensive injury history but realized that without a doubt he should be in the lineup somewhere. 2B gave them more options in theory but 3B was fine and probably where he belonged in a perfect world.

A lot of the problems with Rendon at third weren't about him, but about Yuney who was still on the roster at the time and needed a place to play. You put Rendon at 3B and Yuney probably moves to SS? That isn't good. But neither was 2B or anything really.  But hey! It didn't end up being an issue. Yuney was dealt.

Rendon started very slowly. Thirty games in you had reason to begin to worry. He was down to .218 / .289 / .297 in Early May.  But after that point Rendon hit like he did in 2014, putting up a  .287 / .364 / .494 line. Unfortunately things ended poorly - he hit only .150 in the playoffs. Still you look at that 130 game run that was like his fringy MVP year in 2014 and his continued plus fielding and you have to feel good about the future.

My OOB plan was trading Giolito (as usual) for Arenando. That would have worked out fine but any out of the box plan for the infield means not signing Murphy and Murphy was the best so basically the Nats plan was the best.

Presumed Plan  
Rendon starts at 3B.  Espinosa is the bench replacement for this and all IF positions.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan  
We talked about how Espy ended up on the bench with the SS discussion. There's been some talk about how he's not a great bench guy but you can't let a guys feelings effect whether he starts or not. If he can't handle being on the bench you trade him then.

As for why Rendon plays 3B, well I think we just covered it. He's most comfortable at third base. The stats and scouts agree, he fields the position really well. He can hit really well when healthy.  At this point he hasn't turned the corner from his .285 20 HR very good bat to something more special, but he's hitting his prime (27 in June) and if he can stay healthy this will be his first back to back healthy major league seasons so there's hope for that too.

We had talked before about moving Rendon to 2B because he can play there and it frees up 3B, an easier position to fill. Now though Daniel Murphy is at 2B so this isn't an issue. This is an obvious move.

Problems with Presumed Plan  
The biggest issue with Rendon is the obvious one. He gets hurt. A lot. He basically hasn't had back to back healthy years since starting college? High school? So expecting him to be healthy for all of 2017 is more than just your normal gamble.

As much as we can focus on the 130 games where he hit like he did in his best year, we can't deny those first 30 games happened.  If you want to be real pessimistic you can look at the last 2 seasons and see a guy that might be an average hitter, not an above average one.

It is arguable that it still makes sense to play Rendon at 2B, even with Murphy.  Murphy would then move to 1B, Zimm would sit and your offense and defense would be better.

My Take 
Yes, Rendon gets hurt a lot. What, are you not going to play him? He's young enough you can still hope that he puts that behind him - at least for the next couple of years.  He's good enough that you can't give up on him

Yes, you can spin it so he doesn't look like a very good hitter. But (1) even as just an average hitter his plus fielding makes him a startable third baseman and (2) it's a lot easier to spin it to make him look like a very good hitter. He got injured - hit worse - got healthy - hit better. That makes sense right?

As for playing him at 2B and Murphy at 1B - ok that can be argued as a 3B is easier to find than a 2B. But you know what's easier to find than a 3B? A 1B - so just replace Zimm and let your plus fielding 3B stay at 3B.

Out of the Box Idea
Trade Rendon.  If Rendon has another injured year his value will take another hit and worse you have to start thinking about how he can't be part of the future. 2017 will be partially lost as will 2018 in a way as he recovers. If you do feel like you have to move on with him then you can deal him but you'd be dealing him off of injury. Even with controllable cheap years on hand the return won't be great.  

But now he's coming off a healthy year. He has a lot of value. So maybe go for a flip. Of course trading Rendon means you are causing a problem so you definitively have to solve one in the trade. What about Rendon (plus?) for Jackie Bradley Jr? Benintendi can play CF. Devers, a question at time at 3B, could move to 1B or into the OF.  I hate making the Red Sox better but doesn't Rendon kind of feel like a Red Sox player? Plus I think we'd all be happy to solve CF for the next 5 years and JBJ would likely do that. Age wise it's a near match. Contract wise the Nats get an extra year - hence the plus question. Again OOB means unlikely to happen for various reasons (like Red Sox might be better served keeping OF as is and hoping Devers fits in at 3B) but it's an idea.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Monday Quickie - Bryce was he hurt? Or was he hurt? Or, possibly, was he hurt?

So this bit of info came up during the "Year in Statcast" show last night.

Short of it is - at the end of the season Bryce's arm died and as a result he started shifting in defensively. We all saw it, the shifting at least, but here is the arm strength evidence that backs that up. Will the team finally admit it now?

If a pitcher suddenly lost 4 MPH on his fastball you wouldn't just shrug your shoulders and move on. You can't just say "maybe it's a slump throwing the ball" as the Nats tried to do explaining away Bryce's drop in performance at the plate. Clearly he had a physical ailment that was negatively effecting his play. 

Now of course that doesn't mean the Nats were lying about the shoulder. But they were almost certainly lying about him being healthy and being purposely misleading about the shoulder. Outside the actual shoulder joint you can get away with saying it's a neck issue, an upper back issue, an upper arm issue, or a chest issue. It's all connected.

What does this silly subterfuge affect in the grand scheme of things?. Not the play on the field. No team looked at Bryce and thought "Well he looks hurt and can't throw and can't get his arm up to hit but if the team says he's healthy we won't try to attack that". Not the support of the fanbase in a meaningful way. No fan looks up today and thinks "Oh, they lied to us about Bryce's health! I'm done with the Nationals!" Where it matters is probably in the relationship between the reporters and the team. They were fed a bill of goods and reported those back to us. The team made them look foolish. So further reports will probably be taken with far more skepticism and if the reporters are any good, will be followed with as much digging for corroboration as possible. All for what?  I don't know.

Anyway tomorrow I'll tell you Anthony Rendon should start at third. Prepare your spit takes.

Friday, November 04, 2016

Offseason Position Discussion : Shortstop

Last Year's Discussion

What? No link? Well, I didn't do one! Went 2nd to 3rd to OF. Huh.

From reading 2B and 3B the idea was Yunel Escobar would play SS because it got Rendon back where he should be and it would be easier to transition Turner to SS that way. Also with Danny at 2nd and Rendon at 3rd, Yuney's defensive issues would be hidden. It wasn't a good plan and I'd rather they sign Zobrist (Espy to SS) or trade for Frazier (Rendon to 2B, Espy to SS) and sell high on Yuney.

As we talked about the did sell Yuney, whether it was high or not is a question (Hey. It's Trover Gitts!) and ended up signing Murphy which worked out pretty well in my opinion. Going out on a limb there.

What happened with SS? It fell to Danny with Trea Turner set up to come in if needed later in the year. Danny was terrible to start ( a .199 / .300 / .281 line after May 25th) which prompted the fans to begin to push for Trea Turner early. But the Nats stuck to their guns and Danny would be literally one of the best hitters in baseball in June and would go .303 / .394 / .713 over like 6 weeks.  That's like an MVP performance. By then CF had emerged as a gaping hole and so Turner was brought up to fix that, not SS. While performing great there, Espy crashed back down to Earth going .169 / .266 / .270 over the remaining 74 games, but there was little the Nats could do at that point.

Presumed Plan 
Trea Turner is your starting SS. Danny Espinosa is back-up for 2B-SS-3B on the bench.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan 
Rizzo doesn't like to be put into situations where he is forced to do something. That's exactly where he will be after this year if the Nats don't make a change. Danny goes to FA. Either Trea shifts to SS, to which Rizzo has to get a CF, or Trea stays in CF, so Rizzo has to get a SS.  Unless you love Difo or MAT these are facts. To be pro-active you look at getting someone now, and CF/OF makes more sense. It's generally an easier position to fill and it gets Turner back in the infield where most think he belongs. Turner at SS is the future for the Nats and there isn't a good reason not to start that future now if you can.

As for Turner at SS itself, Turner did everything you wanted him to last year. He crushed it at the plate over almost half a season (.342 / .370 / .567) and in his fleeting moments in the infield looked perfectly acceptable. If he can play SS, and it's generally thought he can, then you play him there. This is the same reasoning as with Murphy. A SS that hits like Turner can be a big advantage.

Sitting Espinosa is not going to hurt the offense. He can hit at times, but he's a boom and bust type, with more bust than boom. His pop might be missed a little but his inability to make contact won't be.

Problems with Presumed Plan 
Turner's fielding prowess at SS is a great unknown. Like I said the general thought was that he can do it just fine, but talk of moving him to 2B isn't too far in the past. We know Espinosa is a plus fielder so that does matter. It especially is important given that Murphy is a minus fielder at 2B.  Not a big one, but still a minus. Danny helps cover for that. If Trea is merely ok, or even good, that still means more hits up the middle. And that's not going into the internal knowledge Danny might have manning the IF for this team for 4+ years. How do you work with Rendon, throw to Zimm, set up for various pitchers. The little things add-up.

Add to that while Turner did hit in his almost half a season, that's still only almost half a season. He likely won't match those numbers next year. The smaller the offensive gap is between Espinosa and Turner, the more the defensive one might tip the scales.

Getting someone this year just shifts that issue from next season to this season. You still have to do it.

My Take
I do think there will be a defensive gap. I think Danny's D is often underrated and overlooked by fans. But still Danny is Danny. He's going to hit like he did last year. Maybe a smidge better, like a .225 average instead of .209, but his K's are going to keep him from ever really breaking through to that over .250 area where everything else he does (meh patience, decent speed, fair bunter, good pop) can make him into an overall offensive plus.

Meanwhile I think Trea Turner will suffer a bit of a sophomore slump. You generally don't move into the majors and immediately hit for higher average and more power than you ever did it the minors. I'd guess that the pitchers figure him out somewhat and the average and pop both take noticeable hits. But still look at that line up there. .300 with say 15 homers and 35 2B/3B would be noticeable hits. Sure, he didn't hit 2016 MLB well in the minors, but he hit in the minors. There's no fluke in the fact he can hit in the majors. It's just a matter of if he will be good, very good or All-Star level. As for his defense, I don't know. I have to go with what the team thinks and if they think he's fine, I assume he's fine. And if he's fine it's a drop.

Overall though that difference - between say .300 / .335 / .480 and .225 / .310 / .400 that's too much to overcome with some nice glove work. Trea's a better choice to start at SS at a baseline and because of his potential could be an much much better choice to start. The only argument is if you think he's better off in CF next year but I don't see that unless you want him in CF going forward not SS. Given the general mild question of his SS fielding I want Trea either learning the position at the major league level, or proving he can't, now.

The thing about shifting the "have to" makes sense, but the key is Rizzo doesn't "have to" this year. Turner in CF and Danny at SS worked to get this team to 95 wins and that's with Turner playing 70+ games. This gives Rizzo flexibility he doesn't have next year in dealing with FAs and trade partners. He can walk away from deals. Next year it'll be a lot harder because a plan that worked wont' be there and an internal plan that might work is unlikely to show up.

I like Danny. I think he can start for some teams as SS can be a hard position to fill. I like his bat as the worst one in the line-up. He has a lot of plusses to go along with those big minuses. (and I think he can walk more if asked to - it's not the Nats way though) I think in part fans are hard on him because of his position. A SS traditionally should be a slap hitting contact guy. Danny isn't. If Danny was a slick fielding RF, I think there'd be more forgiveness for his all or nothing approach. And SS if far more important to have a good fielder at! But the Nats have better options and other issues that may end up being holes that make starting Danny at SS a fallback plan, not something to start out with.

Out of the Box Idea
Stick with your slick fielding SS with pop.

Oh you think I mean Danny? No, I mean Stephen Drew. He's a gamble but unlike Danny he's a gamble that pays off at the plate sometimes. Meanwhile trade Danny for whatever you can get. The key here is there is not going to be a higher market for Danny than now. That doesn't mean it's a good market, but it does mean you are maximizing what you get back, which is something, rather than watch him walk away for nothing. So trade him now. That would normally mean then moving Trea to SS, but you don't have a player that played decent CF last year after him. You do have a player that played decent SS though. He'll have to be re-signed but you could probably get a nice bargain on a two year deal and if things go awry, he proved this year he's a fine bench player. You can always trade for a OF later in the year and shift things around. Trading for a SS is harder.

*What about C? Yeah well C is the hardest position to get ahead of. What about Werth in the OF? Hoping Robles suprises or something comes up. What about rotation post Gio? Lots of ptoential 5th starters there

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Game 7 - Watch it!

We can talk Nats tomorrow.

Also Maddon was not wrong in the Chapman usage. This is really driving me crazy but the idea that somehow pitching a relief pitcher in two straight games is setting him up to fail, or the fact a day off isn't enough to recover from a particularly long relief session is wrong. At least I think so, well actually I know so for the former, and I think so for the latter.

So bringing him out in the 7th when an errant pitch could have brought the Indians within two and the heart of their line-up coming? Makes sense. Pitching him in the 8th because you already got him up and it's still the heart? Makes sense. Pitching him in the 9th because you didn't have someone ready because you were still going to pitch him in the 9th if it was a 5 run game and the HR came late?

OK that was pretty dumb, but it was only a few pitches!

Anyway - go great game!

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Offseason Position review so far : C, 1B, 2B

Pulling stuff from the comments


Is resigning Ramos possible?   I suppose. In theory he could be ready in mid-April (6 month recovery) but from all I've read that seems quick and even June (8 month) would probably pushing it for a return as a full-time catcher. Early talk had the recovery taking as long as a year and Wilson is not the healthiest of specimens. It's just hard to see him impacting next season.

And there's a question if Ramos would even take the Nats bid. Apparently he wants a 4-5 year deal. Money hasn't been talked about so perhaps what he is seeking is security. Either way the Nats only wanted him for 3 years before the injury.  I don't see how they sign him for even longer than that.  There's also the money question - as was pointed out in the comments - spending 17 million on a catcher that doesn't play is going to eat up the bulk of what we expect the Nats have freed up. It was tough enough to work when you were paying less annually to a healthy Ramos. Now? Forget it.

Basically I think it's a bad idea for the Nats to put out the QO because it's quite likely they'll only get two months or less of play. It's a bad idea for the Nats to offer a long-term deal because Wilson is very likely going to have to move from catcher sooner rather than later. It's a bad idea for Ramos to take a short term deal (2 years) from the Nats because it probably leaves a money or years on the table he could get in FA. I don't see it.

A lot of people are fine with Severino because they assume Danny will be replaced by Trea and someone good will play in CF. That's an ok plan. One hole is workable. However in an NL line-up one-hole is only an injury/crash/Zimm away from creating an easy 7-8-9 situation, so set that up on purpose at your own risk. Personally too, I like Danny more than Severino as that 8th. However, I do understand that finding an ok CF/OF is probably easier than finding a catcher. As for other targets - buying low on Norris would be an interesting gutsy call, but a gamble. Drew Butera never hit before last year. I mean like never, not in minors either. No. I don't like signing Weiters. At this point you have to say he is who he is, right? And that isn't that good.

First Base

Zimm isn't going anywhere. I thought I made that clear. I don't think he can be traded. So don't go down that path. What they can do, and what some of you said, is that they can make a deal later in 2017 for a 1B or OF if Zimm keeps not hitting. I'm pretty much on board with that, or at least I'm accepting that that is probably the best likely option to happen. I do have Zimm starting at first.

Some people suggest Difo here, to take over for a shifting Murphy. I don't know. He's 25 to start next year and hasn't seem to solve AA pitching yet. I think he'll get eaten alive in the majors.  And the Descalso idea? He wasn't bad last year but that's in Colorado. Maybe if he were a couple years younger but not at 30. I'd buy him as a bench player though, why not?

Encarnacion is a fun thought. He's 34 next year and probably looking for that same 4-5 year deal, meaning he's likely a buy for a win-now team who will suck up the 37/38 years at the end where he might be useless. The Nats, by all rights, are a win-now team. However this isn't the type of move they make. Werth was an all-around great player and younger. Scherzer was a star. Edwin is a great masher but that's it.

Other names - Kendrys Morales - if you got him cheap maybe. Way up and down over past few seasons. You don't replace with a question mark unless it's a cheap one. Carlos Beltran - I'd love it for a year only. But given he's never played first I'm guessing that's not going to happen. He's worth more as a DH and can probably finagle a 2 year deal elsewhere. Justin Turner - I mean I guess? He's really come around at third so it would be kind of a waste to play him at first. I'd suspect because he is coming around at third he'll get more than the Nats would be willing to pay him to play first. Steve Pearce - can't stay healthy. If you are replacing Zimm health may actually matter more than production. Basically this goes for all FA 1B/OF/C etc. Look to see if someone is falling into Nats lap like Desmond last year did to the Rangers. Otherwise they are likely to get more money somewhere else. There isn't that guy that the Nats will go all-in for this FA season so I'd be shocked if they offered a ton to someone. It's not their way to overpay for second-tier stars. 

Yes technically SS is probably better labelled as "also third problem" behind 1B and C because when you "solve" the CF issue, which I said was the third, you also fix the SS issue. But since it's technically possible to solve CF without fixing SS, anyone up for a Trea Turner and Giolito trade for Mike Trout?, then I'll stick to my guns. CF 3rd, SS 4th.

Second Base

Murphy was a Plan C. Someone asked what other Rizzo plans failed but ended up working out for the Nats? Well last season they pursued Heyward and he went elsewhere - that looks like a lucky break. Further back he didn't want LaRoche. He seemingly wanted Derek Lee or Carlos Pena more. Dusty Baker wasn't the first choice and who besides me doesn't love Dusty*? That's about all I can think of. There are a couple internal offers declined that worked out better for the Nats but I can't really say they were Plan As when Plan A is "Hope they don't want more money that they can probably get elsewhere"

*I like Dusty. I don't love Dusty.