Nationals Baseball: Monday Quickie : Nats non-moves hit spotlight

Monday, February 06, 2017

Monday Quickie : Nats non-moves hit spotlight

Ken Rosenthal has an article up about the Nats lack of moves this off-season. For a person not following the team daily, it does seem head-scratching. It can even lead you to say things you think should be true, because that's how things typically go, but really aren't for the Nats.

"Their decision-making, though, is oddly inconsistent for a team that was nine outs away from..."

The thinking is the Nats spent a lot in 2015 because they felt urgency and pressure to win. That's why most teams start raising payroll. That's not the case here. They spent a lot in 2015 because they were convinced by Boras/Rizzo that they needed Scherzer going forward for the next ~5 years and the payroll could drop down to where they like it / need it to be by the next season. The inconsistency was the 2015 payroll.  Otherwise they've been clear in where they want to be (about 150 Million, about 10th highest ). This may change after the MASN deal is settled, but for now this is where the team is.

"Urgency is warranted, and the free-agent market has been a buyer’s market all off-season, full of opportunity. Yet the Nats barely have stirred,"

Since they haven't signed anyone the Nats must not have been terribly active. However, that's not true. Much like last year the Nats have made a bunch of offers, kicked a lot of tires. But as Rosenthal notes these offers tend to have a ceiling that prevents going over what they consider fair market value*, or involve deferred money. The Nats throw out a bunch of lines, hoping to catch something, but they don't use the best bait.

"If Lerner wanted to spend more -– even with the Orioles withholding money, at least some of which the Nats eventually will receive — he could."

This is true.

"And now would be the time."

This would be the case if the Nats were chasing a title. They are not. The Nats are trying to be consistently competitive and hope that titles will come their way by virtue of multiple playoff appearances. There is never "the time" for the Nats. Not how the organization is currently run.

"Over the past year, the owners occasionally have loosened the reins. The deferrals in the Nationals’ free-agent offer to Jansen were relatively minimal,"

People often use the supposed Jansen deal as a way to note the Lerners were ready to spend more. I guess that is possible. However when looking to bring in Chris Sale, the Nats had a dump trade for Gio on the ready. It's my assertion that if the Nats were successful in bringing in Jansen, that Gio would have to go. Who would start? I don't know. Cole? Voth? But I'll stick to my guns.

"But the Nats have yet to win a postseason series in their 12-year history, suffering first-round defeats in three of the past five years. You’d think ownership would want a different outcome."

They do! But they also aren't convinced spending will get that.

You need to stop thinking the Nats are like other teams. The Nats may have the same goal as other teams, to be champions, but they have a set plan on getting it based on quantity, not quality.  It's a plan that plays out in the math. Will it play out in the field? All we can say is that it hasn't so far.

*which often turns out to be under what the market will give them.


Fries said...

The Nats need to spend something, they're well on their way to another 2015 with a complete lack of bullpen/bench support. There are apparently still talks going on for Robertson, and that would quell my worries a bit. But, for example, CRob on a rate basis was statistically the worst player in baseball last year by WAR (yeah yeah you can't extrapolate that over the whole season, but still).

It's just really worrying me that there is no depth and that now that there's no farm system beyond Robles+, the team can't even make trades that don't involve eating a lot of money, which the Lerners have made clear they won't do. I wouldn't want to be Rizzo right now, I'm frustrated for him.

Chas R said...

With a top ten payroll, I don't feel like the Nats don't spend money or that the Lerners are cheap. I do scratch my head about the lack of spending money on quality depth for the pen and bench. I thought Cameron's recent Fangraphs piece was spot-on; the Nats star players are as good as any teams, but once you get past the top 10 best players/pitchers, unlike other contending teams, the Nats depth drops off a cliff. They don't need to spend a lot of money and the Drew signing was perfect, but they really need to spend more money on some quality depth or we will need a couple of the young guys to make big step ups.

Jay said...

I felt like Ken Rosenthal pretty much blasts the Lerners in an article on fox sports. He pretty much writes what I have been trying to say about the Lerners for the last few years. They aren't cheap, but in some ways they really are. If Harper is leaving in 2 years then you don't go into next year with the bullpen and bench they have. You're better off to trade Harper and go from there. This year looks like a big gamble where we will be holding our breath all year hoping for zero injuries to anyone of consequence.

I don't see how Rizzo doesn't eventually quit. A guy with his track recored shouldn't have to fight tooth and nail with ownership for every move. He had to threaten to quit over trading for Doug Fister. It doesn't seem like anything has changed since then. Sergio Romo signed with LA. The mystery team was supposedly the Nats. They upped their offer at the last minute, but ultimately it didn't make a difference. I think the Lerners are getting a reputation around baseball as being pennywise and pound foolish. We'll spend for the occasional Boras client, but we won't spend for lowly bullpen or bench help. As currently constructed the Nats are in trouble. Hopefully I'm wrong. Rizzo does have a great eye for talent.

Froggy said...

After an 9 year sample size (for me as a season ticket holder) I'm convinced that the Nationals organization (Lerners /Rizzo) priorities are to run the franchise as a profitable business first and foremost. Not that that is a bad thing at all, but as a fan I have to lower my expectations and stop transferring my desires for an 'all in' spending spree approach to roster shortfalls.

So, instead of fretting every offseason as to whether we spend stupid money to sign the Jansens, Melancons, or Chapmans of the league I'm going back to enjoying the Nats the way I did in the doldrum years, that of just having fun and watching hopefully good baseball for the love of the game of baseball. If we trip and stymble our way into a first round postseason victory then great. If not, then me and my kids got to eat a lot of hotdogs at the games together.

JW said...

I watch and follow baseball solely for the reasons that Froggy lays out -- just having fun/relaxing and enjoying the game of baseball. I've had to stop watching other sports because my attachments/desire for winning have sucked the joy out of the game over the years. So I am 100% in the camp that says "I just want to see good/competitive baseball over 162 games and whatever happens in the post-season happens." I recognize that not everyone shares that philosophy, so what I say might seem nuts to them.

But I am perfectly fine with the approach of trying to build for long-term competitiveness. Could the Lerners spend more? Of course and I would be happy to see them do it -- mostly because I look at it as an investment in the local community (winning sports spurs community pride and activity). But I understand why they don't and that's their choice.

At the same time, its absolutely true that the current bullpen construction likely minimizes the chances that they can truly compete with the best in the league (Cubs, Dodgers, Giants) and likely makes the NL East more competitive than it should be. So I do understand the frustration for many fans. From a competitive standpoint, the bullpen issues are amplified by the fact that the best teams in the league have arguably strengthened there.

The Eaton trade will likely contribute to longer-term competitiveness (particularly as it means they won't have to spend as much to replace Werth), so I am a fan of the move, but it probably does result in a hit to the team's short-term success ceiling.

Harper said...

Fries - presumably the Nats have a couple years to fix depth through drafting and shrewd non-contending killing trades. Werth can be replaces via FA given $ he saves. Murphy / Bryce too although probably not at same levels. If it fails and team falls, expect a big sell-off year after Bryce walks. Rendon, Roark, Eaton, maybe Treinen if he's good.

Chaz - it may boil down to simple economics. Why pay more money for something that may not matter? You may not use the bench. If you are forced to use the bench using a subpar player (like a Robinson or Drew) is likely to be a coin flip scenario on helping you or not. Your team may be so far ahead (or behind) that a better bench may not even matter. The smart allocation of resources, therefore, is to try to put little into the bench or deep pen.

Jay - I prefer to say the Lerners are pound-wise and penny-foolish. They get the big picture right then kind of mess-up the edges. You don't trade Byrce off last year, unless you think this year will be worse.

Froggy - Nah. If they wanted to just be profitable you'd see a TB type running. I bet Rizzo could create a competitve team (especially in this East the past 5 years) with a budget under 100 million. So it's not just profit or no-profit. It's the amount maybe but not getting the most.

JW- I do think it's worse that the top of the NL East seems so set and strong and willing to spend. You are always going to be compared to your peers.

blovy8 said...

The last two comments make a great point, and set an example that I wish I could follow. Which happens until we start to lose a game I'm watching...

It's good that they are willing to be a top 10 budget club. They have done a better job of international (at least Dominican) scouting. They have kept a good GM who knows how to trade and evaluate players in place for a while. They haven't really tied themselves into a crazy amount of money owed to anyone except maybe Scherzer if something happens.

The bad things are beyond the 1st round their drafting has kinda stunk, not a good thing for long-term contention. The Lerners continue to listen to Boras more than Rizzo, it seems they need him to convince them to spend rather than accept their GM's opinions. I begin to wonder if Boras agreeing so easily to Strasburg signing that extension was a thank you for past practice in a way.

I think Rizzo knows he needs another bullpen arm, and is bidding down the free agent depth chart. The newest rumor is they are back on Robertson, but I'll be really surprised if Chicago will eat anough money to make that happen.
If you wait for the market, you can get a deal like the Royals just did with Hammel, or the Nats did last year with Murphy. I think even given what we expected from him, that looked like a bargain at the time. I don't know how sure I am about this penurious reputation though, if they occasionally offer more than other teams and still don't get the player. How much are they supposed to overpay for a guy like Romo, who's peripherals have gotten a little scary? This off-season seems like last year where Zobrist took less, using other teams as merely leverage to get more from the team where he wanted to go.

Anonymous said...

"You need to stop thinking the Nats are like other teams. The Nats may have the same goal as other teams, to be champions, but they have a set plan on getting it based on quantity, not quality. It's a plan that plays out in the math. Will it play out in the field? All we can say is that it hasn't so far."

Isn't the "quantity, not quallity" precisely the St. Louis Cardinals' strategy? Since 2014, the Cardinals have actually been spending over $20,000 per year less than the Nats and before that, the Cardinals were never one of top five spending spending clubs, even in 2011 when they won the World Series, when their payroll was 11th in the majors. Wouldn't most MLB fans outside of New York and Boston trade their teams' success for the Cardinal's success over the last 20 years?

Froggy said...

Harper, I don't think the Lerners jUST want to run a profitable franchise oNLY, but I do believe it is a priority. (Why wouldn't it be, right?)

I don't think Rizzo hasn't created a competitive team' by any means. And I think I agree with you that he could for $100mm as well, especially among the current NL east teams. But, by lowering my expectations I am lowering my angst level a bit, and hopefully will enjoy the day to day play more.

Ric said...

Harper, delete this after reading:

"Then she just waves off a guy who prayed on cancer victims and took their money in an one-sentence aside."

Should be "preyed", not "prayed."

Should be "a one-sentence aside", not "an"

Flapjack said...

Bench and pen issues aside, the meme that the Nats can't get over the hump is belied by the loss of two key players -- Straus and Ramos (not to mention Ross) -- in the closing weeks of the 2016 season. Any team can have bad luck. You could say their depth was suspect. But, again, that depth included two highly rated pitching prospects -- neither of whom lived up to their billing when the going got tough. (We saw Rizzo's verdict on that in the Eaton trade.)

Once again, the Nats are counting on their farm system. I'm apprehensive, but, hey, let's see what they got.

Robot said...

@Flapjack - All of the post-season losses are explainable (2012 - Storen meltdown and the mishandling that led to it; 2014 - MW mismanaging pretty much every decision possible; 2016 - Stras and the Buffalo both out), but fans and sports-writers must have a narrative, and by God this is the one they've decided on.

Jay said...

Baseball prospectus has the Nats winning the wild card and the Mets winning the division.

I think to knowingly go into the season with fairly large question marks in the bullpen and bench is somewhat foolhardy. To do so bc your owners have picked an arbitrary number they don't want to go over is somewhat frustrating. Not hugely so, but still frustrating. The Lerners sort of talk out both sides of the mouth. On the one hand, when the Nats were horrible the narrative was we are working "the Plan". Remember?? We're grow home grown stars and keep them. We want to be great for a decade like the Braves. Problem is the only home grown stars the Nats have kept are Strasburg and Zimmerman. Now gone - Zimmermann, Desmond, Storen, Clippard, and Ramos. Likely gone - Rendon and Harper. Where exactly is "the Plan" here?

We sign big name Boras clients on occasion - Soriano, Werth, and Scherzer. Rizzo states that we can sign whomever we like. "The Lerner family has never put limits on us in performing baseball operations." Except the Nats have refused to give Greg Holland $8 million dollars, and Sergio Romo $3 million dollars. The mystery teams in on Romo at the end were reportedly the Yankees and the Rays. Supposedly the Nats are all in on the next two years bc Harper is leaving, but I sure don't see it.

People argue that the Lerners just want the team to be profitable. That is asinine in my opinion. No one asked the Lerners to buy a professional baseball team. The real money on owning any sports team is when you sell it. They are playing baseball in a publicly funded stadium and then ask the district to put a roof on said stadium. The Lerners are one of the wealthiest owners in the league. The Nats are not cash strapped.

All of this is mildly frustrating to me as a fan. Again, not horribly so. I still read this blog every day and I am following the team closely. Hopefully this is all Rizzo's plan. Hopefully Treinen is Zach Britton. Hopefully, Kelley is phenomenal. Hopefully Solis can stay healthy. Hopefully, Trevor Gott can stay in the bullpen instead of heading to AAA. Hopefully the rotation stays healthy. Hopefully Zim hits again and the rest of the line up has zero injuries. Hopefully minors produce some depth. Offering &10 million less than the Giants for Melancon is not a competitive offer. When the Dodgers increased their offer at the last minute for Jansen then the Nats should have increased theirs as well. Signing Holland is a gamble, but one that costs only a one year commitment of mid-level money. A $3 million one year contract for Romo is as close to low risk as it gets. The Nats are still a very good team, but it seems they could have made a few moves to give themselves a much better outlook for next year. Sorry this post is so long.

Anonymous said...

@Jay, yes...hopefully those things happen.