Nationals Baseball: Offseason Position Discussion : Starting Pitching

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.


JE34 said...

The out-of-the-box idea sounds fun... as long as you find a Tier 1 closer during the shopping spree.

SM said...

Has any team--let's say in the last 25 years--really slugged its way to a championship?

I know some have tried. But it seems a combination of pitching and power usually wins it. Still, just because it hasn't succeeded doesn't mean blasting your way to the top can't be done.

Besides, it would be bracing tonic for Nats fans who, if nothing else, would get to see the Nats fall short in a radically different, infinitely more exciting way.

Harper said...

SM - It's hard because things change over course of season and pitching is concentrated in the playoffs in a way that hitting is not. Also to win you are going to win 11 games so bound to be some good pitching performances in there. So a team like say... the 2011 Cards were close to that but they really just slug their way in? Hard to say for sure. May be one or two other random ones with a couple great starters (which is what the OOB Nats would be)

Last team I'd say to def slug their way to title was probably the early 90s Blue Jays.

PotomacFan said...

The slugging approach has not worked for the Orioles. They've made it to the playoffs, but not past the ALDS.

Kansas City won the World Series based on pitching, relief pitching, contact hitting, speed and good defense. No slugging.

NotBobby said...

The problem with a slugging lineup is that you face better pitching in the playoffs. *most* sluggers feast on mistakes and do fine against everything else. When you have a contact hitting lineup you have a chance against even the best pitchers because you string a few together and lean on your pitcher.

To me, a contact lineup is best for the playoffs, but might not be best the regular season. A team needs sluggers but you hope they are good at contact too.

ClassOf87 said...

Agree with you on dealing Ross if it nets you Sale--and if it allows Nats to keep one more of their prospects. I'm sure WS will ask for some combo of Giolito, Lopez, etc; potentially putting Ross in the deal should take one of them off the table. Would WS do, say, Giolito-Ross-Difo-Kieboom for Sale? I would think that would be in the ballpark (pun unintended). Anything more (obviously Nats aren't trading TT, and probably not Robles either) would be too much.

Jay said...

I say sign Rich Hill, Cespedes, and bring back Melancon and Ramos. Keep all of those prospects. Money is easily replaceable when you have the richest owners in baseball. No need to trade the farm for Sale.

NotBobby said...

@Jay - you are correct - to a point. The Nationals have the wealthiest owner in baseball that is a person. Teams like the Dodgers and others which not owned by an individual have much more money.

Fries said...

I'd love to dump Gio for a less erratic lefty. Maybe Rizzo signs Rich Hill and we trade Gio for OF/1B help or C, but I don't trust Hill's age. Maybe there's a trade for Sale, but I feel a pitcher of his caliber may be overkill in the prospect department.

I honestly see Rizzo going out and trading for a completely random lefty like Daniel Norris on the Tigers. Young, under contract, decent peripherals. What more do you need from a 4/5 starter?

Jay said...

Rosenthal reporting Cespedes back to the Mets. That hurts a bit. Really helps out their offense.

Anonymous said...

I'm all in for trading for Sale or perhaps Billy Hamilton, whom the Reds seem to be shopping. Can you imagine Hamilton and Turner on the bases together???? What would teams do??

G Cracka X said...

Now that Ces is back with the Mets, who has the better outlook heading into 2017, Mets or Nats?

Josh Higham said...

I think the Nats have the edge if the Mets are only trotting out one ace and the Nats get either one great bat or two pretty good ones. Harvey very well might never be very good again after the nerve injury, and DeGrom is a bit of a wild card. If one of them returns to ace form the Mets look very formidable. I kind of expect that only Syndergaard pitches like an ace though, and the Nats are the better team again.

Froggy said...

Anthony Two-Bags Rendon named NL comeback player of the year.


Zimmerman11 said...

I want Sale. Make it happen Rizzo... Scherz,Sale,Stras? Good LAWD! Harper, would Sale cost Giolito AND Robles? I'm fine with sending Giolito 'cause SALE... but both seems too much.

Josh Higham said...

I saw one article suggesting the Nats should set their sights on Quintana, not Sale. Less elite, but still an upgrade over Gio, and only getting paid $7 mil a year. He's very very good and the Sox wouldn't part with him easily, but Rizzo seems adept at convincing teams to make questionable trades.

Admittedly, the guy making the suggestion uses a payroll at 165 mil, which as we've discussed, the Lerners probably wouldn't allow.

Bryceroni said...

Have to throw this out there: sign Dexter Fowler, bae Turner 2b, Murphy 1b

Dr Trea (formerly #werthquake) said...

Will there be an article on the cba and how it affects the nats?

mike k said...

I've only read about 2-3 tweets about the new cba, so obviously I'm not qualified to say anything on it, but I'm going to, because this is the internet.

One of the biggest changes in the new cba is that teams no longer lose draft picks for signing top free agents. I don't see the Nats signing a top free agent any time soon - perhaps if Harper leaves and/or the MASN issue gets resolved soon. So this is a benefit to some other teams that doesn't benefit the Nats right away, though there will be no real ramifications for the next several years as it only effects draft picks.

Anyone know what happened with the topic of international players in the draft? Or an international draft? Is either side really pushing it?

mike k said...

Well apparently everything I just said is wrong. So ignore all of it.

Don't rely on your breaking news from tweets.

Fries said...

Jayson Stark saying McCutcheon could be a Nat by the end of today. Interested to see what that package would look like...

Dr Trea (formerly #werthquake) said...

Yeah heard that about cutch also... Seems pretty likely to happen. I'm cautiously optimistic rizzo won't do anything silly... Robles is the only one I take completely off the table. Anything else is fair game. But rizzo I'm hoping realizes that last year for cutch is like more of a trend than an aberration.

Fries said...

Pirates apparently REALLY want Robles, and that makes me nervous. I think Cutch is due to bounce back, but we'd only get 2 years of watching him man CF and at that point I want Robles ready to step in. Give them Lopez or Giolito, but please don't give them Robles

NotBobby said...

Give them Lopez, Cole and Kieboom

Zimmerman11 said...

The tweets and rumors sites say it's Robles AND Lopez and Pirates want some extras thrown in. If it's not Giolito AND Robles I'm good. DO IT!

DezoPenguin said...

I'm of two minds about McCutchen. On the one hand, if he does bounce back then he's a great player under contract for two years. If he stinks again in 2017, we can at least decline his 2018 option and try something else.

What I worry about is, giving up valuable prospects--particularly a guy like Robles--in exchange for someone who was literally worth less than half of Danny Espinosa (0.7 fWAR to 1.7) in 2016. Dexter Fowler, for an obvious comparison, costs nothing but money, is only a year older, and coming off success instead of precipitious decline.

Plus, as Fries noted, we have depth in terms of starting pitching. Our entire ML rotation is available for the next two years, plus Giolito, Lopez, and on a lesser level Cole and Voth lined up. Robles is the only serious position player prospect our minor leagues have.

We're already going into the season praying that Zim can bounce back, that C doesn't turn into a dumpster fire, that Werth can keep his bat going enough to offset his defense for one more year...for that matter, we're also hoping for a bounceback from Bryce and that 2016 Murphy is somewhat close to his new skill level, that the league doesn't figure out Turner and that Rendon doesn't break again. Rizzo really seems to like rolling dem bones in his lineup construction.

Dr Trea (formerly #werthquake) said...

I agree. The only untouchable here is Robles who the Pirates seem to really want.. So I'm not sure what to think.

PotomacFan said...

I'm all in on McCutcheon. He's only 30, he had one down year, preceded by many years of excellence. It's true that Fowler is only $$, but Fowler is coming off his best year, and prior to that, he was only slightly better than average player, and he played in Colorado, where BA is inflated. I don't think the Nats want to spend the money (the Lerners). Sure, Robles may be the next BRYCE, but he could also be the next Michael A. Taylor. I'll take McCutcheon for two years, and assure that the Nats are real contenders. So, I'll give up Robles and one pitching prospect (preferably not Joe Ross, who is beyond a prospect).

Am I correct that a deal for McCutcheon pretty much precludes a deal for Sale? Nats wouldn't have many prospects left if they did both deals.

Dr Trea (formerly #werthquake) said...

Robles is a better prospect than MAT ever was.

DezoPenguin said...


Technically, Fowler is coming off his two best seasons; 2015 was his career best before 2016 surpassed it. He hasn't been in Colorado in three years, and he hit better in Houston in 2014 and Chicago in 2016 than he ever did in any of his years in Colorado (and in 2015, the "down" year, still put up a 110 wRC+ and .346 OBP.

Yeah, McCutcheon was a great player--an MVP-quality player (literally, in 2013). But his defense has always been highly variable, was God-awful last year, and his baserunning has been a net negative the last two years as well ( comparison, Jayson Werth is actually a positive-value baserunner despite his old man legs because he knows when to take the extra base and doesn't get TOOTBLAN'd when his third base coach isn't having a brain meltdown). These are not good trends; any value he actually produces is going to be based on his bat recovering.

tl;dr McCutcheon is a classic "buy low" candidate. You don't pay for "buy low" candidates by giving the other team the best position player prospect in your whole system. You especially don't pay for it by giving that prospect PLUS OTHER PROSPECTS.

Zimmerman11 said...

Blogger #Werthquake (Formerly clip & store) said...
Robles is a better prospect than MAT ever was.

MAT put up 900 OPS in AAA... and was still no good in bigs... Robles is 19 and is in A ball? MAT may never have had the PROJECTION of Robles, but Robles' future is hardly a foregone conclusion.

theNATural said...

McCutchen! MCCUTCHEN!!!

blovy8 said...

Z11. That stuff is fun for the majors too. Look at Revere. We all projected a .290 BA regardless of his arm and other flaws. Our team becomes:

Scherzer. Getting older, lots of innings on the arm, gives up homers, not efficient since he gets too many strikeouts, challenges managers regarding his usage, REALLY expensive
Strasburg. Head case, can't stay healthy, if he's good with his current deal, he opts out, if he's bad it's an albatross bundle o' money, great stuff that gets hit anyway, hothouse flower who can't get to October
Roark. No out pitch, better have good defense behind him, no intimidation factor, 200 IP workhorse is kind of overrated really in the age of 5-inning starts
Ross. Has pitched a full year exactly when? Can get lefties out? Is the new Roark in being passed over for a shinier toy?
Gio. A LH veteran back end starter at 12 million has what value exactly? Flaky is a kind adjective for him. Throws softer now with no more idea of control than previously.
Giolito - where's the velocity or breaking stuff that was promised? Will it come back and when and for whom?
Lopez - will the command arrive? He won't get tall enough for the braintrust to feel he's a durable starter, will he?
Cole - organizational depth now that he throws 91 instead of 94.
Voth - 4th round meh guy who will need ML results for anyone to care.
Closer will be a good reliever who probably has trouble pitching two games in a row or is somewhat unpredictable in another fashion
Starting catcher is who? Random slightly above replacement guy currently? Lowbattin may be a non-tender, honestly.
Zim - done, right?
Murphy - isn't that good a hitter is he? Subpar defender who everyone wants to play 1B already, so nowhere to go but down in value
Espy, can't hit a thrown pitch that isn't a mistake, but can he catch enough of Nats' pitchers mistakes to hang around? His upside is probably average and then he's a FA. Big whoopie do.
Rendon, not injured two years in a row? What does Vegas say? Best case, someone has to knock you in from second, and you need someone who can run past third if they're already on.
Werth, done, right?
Turner will be a sophomore who is ripe for a scouting report with a lower BABIP and is the power surge real?
Harper or HARPER?
"Players" manager is on a one-year deal, yeah, that always works out...

Anonymous said...

I am not in favor of giving away young, cheap, talent with years of contractual control to procure a former star player in decline in the hopes that his prior season was an anomaly.

Hopefully Rizzo isn't giving up the house on this one. Nats have already given up Rivero for a rental. Can't continue to trade away young talent for old.

SM said...

@ Zimmerman11

When did Taylor put up .900 OPS in Syracuse?

I'd point out that Robles put up better numbers in Hagerstown at 19 (.864 OPS) than Taylor at age 20 (.742 OPS)

And Robles--despite injury from sustained beanings--put up better numbers at Potomac, still age 19 (.741 OPS, .354 OBP), than Taylor at age 21 (.680 OPS, .318 OBP). And even in his second season at Potomac (his age 22 season), Taylor's .767 OPS (.340 OBP) wasn't substantially better than Robles's.

One more thing: In 7 seasons in the minors, Taylor posted a .736 OPS. In 3 seasons, Robles's is .860. He has outperformed Taylor at every comparable level.

Trade him if you will, but at least Pittsburgh knows exactly who Robles is.