Nationals Baseball: Offeseaon Position Discussion : Starting Pitching

Monday, November 20, 2017

Offeseaon Position Discussion : Starting Pitching

Last year discussion revisited

The thought was in 2017 it would eventually be Max, Stras, Roark, Gio/Ross, and one of the Nats "on the cusp" starters - Lucas Giolito or Reynaldo Lopez. It made sense. The Nats love their bargain players, who doesn't?, and they had two starters with potential to be just that. At the same time Gio was trending down and Ross couldn't stay healthy, but both still had value. Bailing on one wouldn't be the worst idea. And indeed the Nats explored some deals for Gio or Ross that might have cleared up that issue.

We also acknowledged that the Stras/Gio/Ross trio presented a bunch of performance/injury questions and the Nats may go after another starter to shore up the rotation with a non-question mark. And indeed the Nats explored trading for at least Chris Sale. 

But instead they ended up trading Giolito and Lopez in the same deal for Adam Eaton and watched as Sale went to Boston. The Nats now needed both Ross and Gio.

The end results in 2017? Max was great again. Strasburg did stay relatively healthy and was great. Roark was good after a shaky first half. Gio would end up having his best season in a while. He didn't actually pitch too much better than recent years but everything came up Gonzalez. Ross though failed to make it a clean sweep. He had a poor first half and then went under the knife for another TJ surgery. The Nats internal solutions (AJ Cole, Jacob Turner, Erick Fedde) were mostly failures, so the Nats brought in an old friend Edwin Jackson to round out the rotation for the remainder of the year. He started well but unraveled in September. With Max being Max, Stras being Stras, and Roark/Gio being healthy, it was enough though.

My OOB plan would have been AWESOME. I traded (somehow don't ask me how) Gio, Ross, and Roark and prospects and got back Goldschmidt and Charlie Blackmon. That's an offense. Made more sense before 2017 when neither team looked to be all that good. 

Presumed Plan : Max, Stras, Gio, Roark, and some cheap free agent at first

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : Max just won his 3rd Cy Young. Strasburg finished 3rd.  Gio finished 6th. Roark finished the season still under team control.

To expand on this a little. Max and Stras are both paid liked aces and pitched to match that. They are in. Gio, even though he probably won't have as good results in 2018, is a deal for his salary, is left-handed, and is a reliable innings eater.  All things any team would be foolish to let walk. Roark is a little up and down but for his cost, general success, and recent health you pen him into any rotation.

That leaves one spot that is wide open. They would have ideally hoped that Fedde would have matured quickly into that role, but that doesn't look like the case. No other Nats "prospect" looked ready.  That leaves a trade for a good pitcher, or waiting out the FA market to try to grab a bargain.

Problems with Presumed Plan : There are some warning signs because of the age of the rotation. Max will be 33 and can now miss a game if he sleeps wrong. Gio will be 32 and is Gio. Even Tanner is over 31 now. These are the ages where nicks and dings are likely to spiral into something more. Gio's fancy stats suggest he won't pitch as well next year, and Tanner's suggest last year wasn't a huge fluke. He could simply be a back of the rotation guy. 

Strasburg will still be under 30 but is the question mark. He was relatively healthy last year but he still pitched only 175 innings, making it the third season in a row where he didn't pitch a full one.

Having no one for that fifth spot, even a pencilled in name, is pretty worrisome. The Nats don't have depth in starting pitching (Rizzo even acknowledged this) and we saw last season one bad option trotted out after another. When your saving grace is "more than half the time Edwin Jackson was here he was pretty good... and the other time he was awful" well... I hope you realize that's not ideal.

My take : Max has been healthy his entire career. Gio has had one missed month in his. In three seasons of starting in the past four years, Tanner has missed a handful of starts total. These are rotation worthy pitchers who are healthy. Are they bigger injury risks today than going into 2015? Yes. But you'd take "standard injury risk due to age" over "injury risk due to past injury" every day.

As for Strasburg, you can't deny the past, but you also can't deny the trends. 2017 was another step up from 2015 and 2016. I don't think the Nats will get the full season they are hoping for from Stephen, but another 180 IP doesn't seem unreasonable.

However, Strasburg's history only makes the gaping hole in the #5 spot that much scarier. Baseball tells you that for most of 2018 the Nats will need more than one starter other than the four already named. That they have zero is a bad start. I fully expect the Nats to bring in someone. While I'd like it to be a trade for a Gerrit Cole type, odds are they are going to come in asking for Soto and that's not going to fly.  So instead I see them waiting out the FA market.  What does that mean? It depends on how cheap the Nats want to go.

If they want to go with a warm body it could mean a Chris Tillman, a Jason Vargas, maybe even a Jhoulys Chacin or Jaime Garcia if the market is in their favor. If they don't mind if the body is cold we could see a Jeremy Hellickson or a Wade Miley.  If you twist my arm I think the body is more cold than warm and the Nats end up with a former Cubbie to match their manager. John Lackey's health (27+ starts since 2009) plays in his favor, along with his fair performance. I'd also imagine he'd want another crack at a World Series, something the Nats give him.

Out of the box suggestion :
Strasburg has an opt-out after 2019 (and 2020). He's finally put together a great season. So now's the time to sell high right? Package Strasburg and Bryce together - send them to the Dodgers and gut that farm. Can you imagine Strasburg back in CA in a pitcher's park? Bryce in his natural confines of Hollywood? The Nats with Bellinger and Walker Buehler and Alex Verdugo? Yeah, yeah, no trades clauses. Yeah, yeah "What do the Dodgers want to do, though?".  This isn't the section for rational thought. This is the section where the Nats squeak out another NL East title with 86 wins, miss the playoffs in 2019 with 84, then are set up again with a young dominant offense to carry them through the 2020's

*Plus the trade market probably won't favor the Nats. The FA after this year are "maybe Kershaw" - who won't be traded to Nats even if he walks. Drew Pomeranz, eh.  "maybe Price" I suppose the Nats could get him. Anyone else worth talking about has more years and if they are any good will fetch a hefty price the Nats are unlikely to pay.


sirc said...

I like the OOB suggestion. I'm not a "trade Bryce now!" kind of guy but I would do it in that case for certain. The Dodgers would not. =)

Harper, are you planning to do a post about the Nats payroll as part of this series? They went over the luxury tax for the first time and are currently still close to it with only 14 players based on 2018 salary projections. Those factors surely have to be considered when we theorize about a potential 2018 opening day 25 man roster.

For example, after reading your post today I thought that the Nats would invite several veteran bounce back candidates and reclamation projects to spring training, like Jackson or Cistern and pitchers along those lines. Except that those players, due to age and experience have very high minimum salaries and if the Nats truly are against paying luxury tax for a second time, every 100k matters.

It's coloring my own speculation.

I'd be interested in your thoughts, and the thoughts of others here, of course.

sirc said...

That second name after Jackson should have been Fister, not cistern. That is a disturbing autocorrect.

JW said...

I was not pleased to see the WaPo article on the TV funding and stadium naming rights deal. That's pretty much laying the groundwork for a disappointing offseason and setting up the "Poor Lerners" narrative.

I'm surprised at the numbers being thrown around for some of the middle tier pitchers this offseason. I mean a huge part of that is driven by a weak year for top end starters both this year and next, but still. It's a little mind boggling.

I don't see how the Nats make really any trades this offseason. The farm is already thinned out so badly. I don't see how you have enough to get someone who could make an impact without completely decimating the farm system. I don't even see how they have enough to get someone who could actually make an impact.

BxJaycobb said...

Harper: OOB is OOB, I understand, not reality based. But the Dodgers ain’t even considering doing that trade.
However I approve of, and would like to propose a Soto+Fedde+ X type trade for Gerrit Cole. I would do it 100%.
I also think Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb are both interesting FAs for Nats needs. I doubt they will win bidding for them, and I bet a trade is far more likely, but still. I like both those guys for them. If they’re serious, they don’t need a back of rotation guy so much as a solid number 3 starter that pushes Gio and tanner to 4 and 5 in my opinion.

PotomacFan said...

A.J. Cole was adequate at the end of last season. Better than Wade Miley. I expect the Nats to try to add a fifth starter, if for no other reason than to fill when the inevitable injury strikes. But I wouldn't be surprised to see the Nats hold off until the summer trade deadline to pick up a number 3 starter. For 2019, barring injuries, Scherzer, Strasburg and Roark will all be back, and maybe Ross is good enough to be a 4 or 5 starter. Nats will likely lose Gio (a bigger loss than we might think), and given the lack of prospects, they are going to have to plan for this.

Josh Higham said...

I'm curious about payroll too. The way I understand it, the Nats will almost certainly exceed the threshold this year and that cost per dollar over the threshold increases each consecutive year over the limit. This means that a team focused primarily on signing Bryce/Machado/etc would prioritize getting below the limit this year. A team focused on winning this year and willing to begin rebuilding sooner rather than later might be fine with exceeding the threshold each of the next two years. Is my thinking right?

Also, they use AAV, not actually $ owed in calculating payroll for the tax, right?

KW said...

Poor Lerners: I'll keep repeating until I'm blue in the face that they've left more than $100 million on the table by not selling the stadium naming rights. That's all on them . . . and a clear indication that they don't really need that money to do whatever they really want to do.

KW said...

Harper, I think you're being a bit too flippant here with what I see as THE most important roster fill the Nats have to make this offseason. You did identify part of the reason why: if any of the Big 4 go down or struggle, they need to have someone better than just an "innings eater" at the back of the rotation.

Everyone would love it if the Nats could bring in more of a #3 who could replace Gio in that role in the playoffs. Easier said than done, though. As you note, there aren't a lot of guys out there who directly will be on the market. My dream is Bumgarner, and if the Giants were being realistic, he'd be on the market, but he's probably not. Samardzija might be, but he's still owed a good bit of money, and he's made a career out of having peripheral stats that perpetually outpace his actual results. Several folks here keep mentioning Gerrit Cole, who I wouldn't mind having, but I'd fear the Bucs would want a big package for him. Manaea might come for less, but he's not as good (although he would be a lefty to replace Gio next season).

Do the Nats need to look on a prospective acquisition as a Gio replacement next season? Well, a lot of that depends on Messrs. Fedde and Ross, and we still don't know what we've got with them.

The FA first tier of Darvish and Arrieta and second tier of Lynn and Cobb are all serious gambles. Darish is probably the best of the bunch . . . unless you're planning to use him in the postseason. If there's a third tier, it's probably Sabathia, who is large enough to be his own tier. At age 37, do you really want to bet that he's going to be better than the next tier of Chacin/Vargas/Cashner/Fister/Lackey. (I think Tillman is in an even lower tier, if that's possible.) At the level of Retreads-R-Us, Jake Peavy has expressed an interest in coming back.

So . . . I think Rizzo will actually pull off a trade, but I have no idea for whom. I think it will be a trade that doesn't have to involve Robles/Soto/Kieboom but may include Fedde.

KW said...

Also, I'm curious to see how much D. Martinez backs off the starter usage. Will Max and Stras now essentially be six-inning starters?

I forgot A. J. Cole . . . because he's so forgettable. He was terrible at Syracuse and just barely sort of acceptable in the rotation. In an ideal world, he'd be back at Syracuse as the seventh-starter-in-waiting, but he'll be out of options. In the go-big-or-go-home year of 2018, I really have a hard time seeing him being a Nat MLB rotation option. Yes, they could probably still win the East by cobbling together a fifth starter from Cole/Fedde/Ross-back-late, but it's not advisable and leaves nothing in reserve.

The question then becomes where Cole is good enough to make the 'pen as a long man. Meh. They could do better, particularly if Albers will come back.

All of this to say that we shouldn't be surprised if Cole is included in a trade because he isn't good enough to make this team plus is out of options.

DezoPenguin said...

I would like the Nats to sign Alex Cobb as a FA. He's relatively young, his injury recovery progressed well (and the Nats are highly tolerant of post-TJ folks anyway), and he has better upside than Lynn (plus would be moving AL to NL). Darvish's epic World Series failures are small sample size flukes but the fact that he had the worst season of his career is not; he's going to be paid far more than he's worth. Ditto Arrietta. Cole and Fedde are fine for guys who make a handful of starts, and we might get Ross back mid-season as well. And while you can't ever have enough pitching, if your 6/7/8 pitchers are making 15-20 starts apiece, well, you're the 2017 Mets or Mariners; no team can recover from that.

KW said...

The 2017 Mets did that to themselves. They ruined those arms. The Braves have rotted for several years because of the arms they ruined, and the Mets deserve the same fate.

If Cobb is hanging out there at around 4/$60M, he's worth considering. Of the top four pitchers, he's probably the best "value," relatively speaking.

Chaos56 said...

4 years at 60 would be a great price for Cobb and he would be my first choice among the FA pitchers. I don't see any of the #1-4 pitchers dropping off a cliff this coming regular season and would be fine with Roark being the #3 starter in the playoffs. Cobb will never be the power pitcher that Stras and Max are but the upside is pretty high. If nobody is will to give him 4 years because of the TJ history, I'd pay him 2/40 if he's still around in February.

Chaos56 said...

........ I also get the feeling that when Rizzo says "pitching depth" he's talking about AA with potential and AAA arms, not a front line starter. I fully expect AJ Cole and Voth to get the first shots at spot #5 in the rotation. And I expect to see at least 2 older-than-dirt non-roster invitees.

Anonymous said...

I like your idea about Strasburg and Harper to the Dodgers. I wonder if a three way trade could include Gerrit Cole and others. Emphasis on the others, because Rizzo is very skilled at picking gems. Also this has the potential to free up a great deal of cash for FAs if we need them. I think Nats need to retain their hi-ceiling prospects. Also they need to shield themselves against long term contracts going bad and taking up space while undeperforming. I don't think Nats will ever live down what happened with their expired 7-year contract. I also ask whether marquee power is a lot of the value of BH and SS, which we no longer need.

Anonymous said...

Cobb is my favorite of the available free agent starting pitchers. I could see him being an option but I wouldn't be surprised if the Nats traded an outfielder for a starting pitcher. Coke and Fedde may turn out fine but the Nats with high aspirations can't risk finding that out if a starting pitcher was to get hurt.

The out of the box suggestion majes no sense. This ias a team that has made the postseason 4 of the last 6 seasons and should be geared to make another run. As fans we have to stop thinking of this team as rebuilding.

Flapjack said...

Given the luxury tax issues, I don't think they pick up a quality SP in the FA market. Look for a trade. Think lefty.

Bryce is a stud, and you don't give up even one year of him unless the deal is ridiculous. (The OOB package deal with the Dodgers certainly sounds ridiculous. I'd still need to see all those scouting reports on the minor leaguers you'd get in return.)

The priority should be to re-sign Rendon, a true team player. If you are going to re-sign Bryce, you'd probably want to sell high on Robles -- something they should have done with Giolito.

Regarding 2019 Bryce, I'm wondering how much air he will suck out of the Machado market. The rich teams that live in lux tax land either are stocked up (Dodgers, Cubs), or have dead money problems (Dodgers, Yankees). Aaron Judge may have sucked air out of the Bryce market. Maybe Philly returns the Werth favor and makes a run at him.

Fries said...

Murmurings about Nats' interest in JZim. Depending on how much salary is eaten and who's being given up, I'd be intrigued by that move for what amounts to a 3/4 starter. He's been TERRIBLE for the Tigers and they're looking to dump, maybe coming back to the NL (and particularly the NL East) would be beneficial. His velocity, movement, etc on his pitches have all been consistent, so I'm not exactly sure what caused the massive decline beyond potentially playing for a team with a terrible defense (BABIP this season skyrocketed)

If the Nats think they can fix that, and the $$ terms are right, I'd go for it

KW said...

JZim is owed 3/$74M!!!! Unless the Tigers are eating more than $50M, that ain't happenin'. Sounds like wishful thinking on someone's part.

sirc said...

JZim had some inflated numbers his last year in Washington, 2015. Control got worse after being great previously, and his velocity dropped which meant more hard hit balls. The combo led to a career high WHIP. It turned out to be a trend, though he wasn't particularly healthy that season or the next.

I like him, and if he came back in a favorable deal it would make me happy. But he isn't anything other than a 4 or 5 now, so the deal would have to be very favorable. He is probably better than Cole or Fedde right now.