Nationals Baseball: Offseason Position Discussion : Outfield

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Offseason Position Discussion : Outfield

Last year discussion revisited

"Werth, Bryce and something new" was how I put it, expecting a deal for a CF because that's how the Nats roll. This wasn't too surprising a spot to land on. Bryce was an "of course" and Werth was a "has to", leaving CF open. The Nats had Revere and MAT but you had to doubt either of them would start given their 2016 performances. I threw some names on that hoping for McCutchen but expecting maybe Lorenzo Cain.

Both had good years and would have worked, but the Nats ended up trading for another name we bandied about before (though not in that post) Adam Eaton. He had a very favorable contract so the Nats had to part with their two best SP prospects to make it work. Adam Eaton was everything the Nats could have asked for though... for 23 games before tearing up his ACL and his meniscus AND spraining his ankle. Done for the year.

MAT would be forced into action and would proceed, after two seasons of being told he was ready to break out and seeing nothing, to do really well. Between taking over the position and July 7th he would hit .295 and slug 12 homers. He would miss a month for injury (Brian Goodwin would come up and hit some homers) and upon return put up a pretty bad August, but in Sept would have a month very similar to his first starting stretch. It wasn't plan A but plan B worked well giving the Nats some more direction on the future of the outfield.

Meanwhile Bryce would be a star again, though not OMG BRYCE. He would injure his leg late in the year and be out until the playoffs and hampered in it but can't do much about that. Werth was injured too and would play about half the year hitting like an injured 38 year old and playing defense not as well as that.  But Adam Lind (25g) and trade deadline acquisition Howie Kendrick (39g)  would slot in along with Goodwin (69g) in the OF and do well covering for the team nicely as your bench should for short periods. All in all it wasn't as they planned but it worked for 2017.

My OOB plan - Jayson Heyward would have been meh but at the same time wouldn't have cost the Nats three SPs. And maybe he could have speeched the Nats to a DS win.  He had a whole rain-delay day off!

Presumed Plan : Bryce, MAT, and Eaton, Robles starts in AAA and if he forces himself into the conversation - so be it.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : Bryce is Bryce. He's got a superstar bat and he's competent in the field with a very good arm. If he's healthy he plays.

Eaton has a long history of playing well, and well, you traded for him to play. He was doing well before he got injured so there's no reason not to give him 2018 to work through his recovery. Plus he seemingly (seemingly) was getting close to full strength by the year's end. It wasn't enough to make him a serious contender to play in the playoffs but it bodes well for March if you think you can play in October.

MAT was good when he was healthy. He was always a top notch fielder with some pop, but if he can hit .275+ he becomes a key piece to the team, not just Robles' placeholder. Also his post-season performance was good enough it'd be a shame not to let him start some more.

Robles was ok, and looked like he could be ready but wasn't dominating in a way that forces you to play him. More minor league time couldn't hurt.

Problems with Presumed Plan :For Bryce and Eaton the problem is the same. Both were injured to end 2017. You do have to question how ready they will be for 2018, even if they seemed pretty good at year's end. You really won't know until Spring Training. Injury recovery takes time and if you aren't right - you don't play well. Bryce has several injuries that have turned his star bat pedestrian. Also - since both were leg injuries that could effect their defense.

As for MAT you are talking about about 3 months of bat in 2017 that makes him a definite major league starter. That's not a lot and there's his remarkably consistent 2014-2016 run that tells you he isn't really starting worthy. He's more likely to put up an average under .250 than over next year.  His bat compensates for some of that, but not all.

If Robles is ready you are wasting his talents in the minors.

Finally for Bryce - if he doesn't sign with the Nats you are denying yourself a chance at rebuilding this team by trading him off.

My take : You have to play Bryce and Eaton if they are ready come Spring. That just has to happen. If they are injured and slowly recovering through that you kind of have to suck that up too. For Bryce, it's not like when he's injured he's bad. He's actually been ok. So you aren't likely to have a 4th OF sitting around better than that. As far as Eaton goes - he's a long term solution in the outfield so you kind of have to let him play this season out regardless.

And MAT? Well sure he's probably not going to redo 2017 but he could and he's earned the chance. Last year was put up or shut up time for MAT and he put-up.  Sure it was like for half-a year (the other playing time dragged his stats down to average) but it was more than enough to see what he does in 2018.  Unless you can trade him for something nice, it'd be silly not to slot him into a starting role and see what he can do. Best case? He hits .285 with pop and you have a MAT, Eaton, Robles OF for the near future if Bryce doesn't come back.  Worst case? He hits .230 with pop, and as you probably expected last off-season you have an Eaton, Robles, ? OF moving forward if Bryce doesn't sign with a pretty decent 4th OF in MAT on the bench. 

Would it be fun to see Robles in the majors? Yep. But the above makes too much sense to disrupt it with a maybe ready Victor. If there's a trade in the works he should be first up but otherwise let him crush AAA for half a year and worry about what to do in July.  Chances are a spot will open up one way or another. 

Trading Bryce? It's a fun idea, but Bryce is a singular offensive talent. You don't trade those away if you are serious about winning it all. Trading Bryce is waving a white flag for 2018. The rest of the NL East may also wave white flags but it would be about as joyless a slog to an 89 win division title as I can imagine.

Out of the box suggestion :

JD Martinez is not a fluke player. In his last 4 seasons he's averaged .300 with 30+ homeruns. Sign him. Stick him in the outfield and push MAT to the bench or trade him. Unfair to MAT? Probably. But MAT isn't likely to hit .300+ with 30+ homeruns and there is a very possible scenario that has Nats' fans sucking up MAT's typical .230 with pop season, while Robles struggles a bit in AAA leaving the Nats with a blah bat in the line-up that is already currently carrying a hole at C, a ? at 2B, and the hopes and prayers of another miracle Zimm season at 1B.  This takes away the possibility of a bad line-up. It also solves your "what if Bryce and/or Eaton aren't at full strength or get hurt again" worries. You got a 4th OF right there. If this is really going to be the last night of the Bryce Harper era go all in and JD Martinez would be an all-in move.


Anonymous said...

I see no mention of Goodwin; presumably he is the 4th OF in a number of these scenerios. Also, if they sign Martinez (which I like), either Harper or Robles doesn't stick around.

Harper said...

I'd prefer if they got a more sound 4th OF - given you have injury, injury, half a season out there, but I do think Goodwin has a better than 50% shot to be "first off the bench". Yeah - chances are a Martinez signing would lead to another deal but the OOB stuff is for playing around more than serious consideration.

Anonymous said...

Harper i understand your argument from an offensive standpoint. But MAT brings a defensive dimension that eaton and bryce do not. With MAT in there. you have PLUS arms at all positions and PLUS defense at two out of three with bryce being right around average. MAT was one of the leaders in defensive metrics in center. We are compensating defense for offense on the right side of our infield so it is important to be strong defensively in the outfield.

Fries said...

Yeah my worry with JD is that you're then looking at a really tough payroll situation. If you want to sign someone, bring in Bruce or Jackson who will cost you $10M/year less than JD (if not more) and will still give you significant production.

My opinion is try and sell high on MAT for a prospect or two and bring up Robles. MAT right now is worth about as much to the Nats as Souza was, and look who they brought in return for that. Granted that was arguably the steal of the century, but I think Rizzo could still swing something positive out of an MAT trade.

KW said...

I started mentioning J.D. Martinez at the end of the season . . . back when I thought his price tag would be 5/100-125 or so. At $200M, forget it. Is Boras going to get $200M for him? If not, will he come crawling to the Nats in February with a much better deal? It's happened before . . .

I see OF as the one real spot where the Nats could add an impact player. I don't believe in Taylor's "breakout" season at all, as he still struck out 31.7% of the time. A Danny-level K rate is a regression waiting to happen. I think the Nats should be looking to sell high on Taylor, be it as part of a deal for an OF or a starting pitcher.

I'm also not against considering a Stanton trade. If he stays healthy, he's owed 3/77 and then opts out. That's A LOT less than Bryce is going to want, and perhaps less than even J.D. Martinez is going to get. Even if you pay Stanton his full contract, that's still A LOT less than Bryce is going to get.

I'll add that I'm not as confident as some are that Robles is an elite player. In his chat a couple of weeks ago, Eric Longenhagen at Fangraphs compared Robles to Lorenzo Cain (results-wise, not body type). If you look at their stats, it's a good comp. Cain has been a very competent MLB player, but he's only reached double digits in HRs twice. Even if Robles fully pans out--which is never a given--there's still going to be a huge production hole if he's "replacing" Harper.

Anonymous said...

Since Cain became a regular in 2013, he's been worth 20.6 WAR and Harper has been worth 23.2 over that same time period. If Robles becomes Cain (a big "if," but Robles has been a better hitter than Cain at every minor league level at a MUCH younger age), he would come very close to replacing what Harper has done over the past five years. This is different from what we might project Harper to do over the next five years, which is what Robles would actually be replacing. In any event, the "hole" between Harper and Cain is actually quite small.

KW said...

Fair enough, although a fair chunk of Cain's WAR value has been defensive. I'm talking more about replacing Bryce's offensive production. Of course trying to parse Bryce's future value is about to become a half-billion-dollar parlor game . . . (For the record, unless he has a monster 2018, I'm not sure he gets a contract much bigger than Stanton's.)

My other concern about how Robles fits into the lineup is that the Nats already have two players like him in Turner and Eaton who derive much of their value from speed and defense more so than from significant power. Can you have too many of that type of asset, particularly in what seems to be the new age of the HR? I don't know.

Robles's value as a prospect right now is enormous. I'm not necessarily advocating that the Nats trade him, but I also don't think he should be untouchable. He's not the next Bryce, though, and no one should expect him to be.

Anonymous said...

I'm with KW's line of thinking, if you are willing to sign JD Martinez for the $$ he'll probably want, just trade for Stanton!

sirc said...

I like MAT a lot. Also the Nats haven't put a premium defense on the field during the Rizzo era but Eaton, Bryce, and MAT would be a premium defensive outfield.

That said, trading MAT right now could yield some young pitchers which the Nats desperately need. And I really don't want them to trade away Robles.

PotomacFan said...

Robles cannot, should not and will not be traded because he could be good, very good, or great, but no matter what, he'll be inexpensive and under team control for many years.

The Nats cannot and will not get Stanton. Miami wants top prospects. The Nats don't have top prospects, except Robles (see above).

The Nats could trade Bryce. They won't and I'm not pushing for it. But, if you go by the old Nats theory -- get in the playoffs every year and see what happens -- trading Bryce for top prospects and an SP3 should be considered. The Nats don't need Bryce to make the playoffs. See 2016. The Nats will lose Bryce at the end of the season. So, sell now. Just make sure he goes to an AL team so that we won't see him unless we get to the World Series.

BxJaycobb said...

Your suggestion is interesting, but I’m not a huge fan. What you don’t mention is JD Martinez is also a terrible defensive outfielder. Like...WELL under average, approaching Werth levels. If you plug him in the lineup looks excellent, but you have a pretty rough defensive outfield. If MAT comes anywhere close to replicating his year last year, believe it or not he and JD Martinez are not that different in terms of overall WAR value (one being a plus defender in CF, the other a liability in a corner.....this is why I see Martinez signing with an AL team, he’s just way more valuable there.) man OOB suggestion would be trading MAT along with other OF depth for a mid rotation starter type, and giving Robles the starting job in CF. Could he be not ready? Sure, although he didn’t look overwhelmed at all in his brief apparatance. So keep Goodwin in case Robles comes out of the gate as a disaster. But this is the time to deal MAT. His value will never be higher and his K rate remained as high as ever. Use the money you would on JD Martinez on an Alex Cobb/Lance Lynn type starter or a catcher.

KW said...

Saying "I'm also not against considering a Stanton trade" is not the same as "heck yeah, let's go all in and go for Stanton." I'm interested only if the price is right. Most think the Marlins are delusional right now with what they're asking, unless they're going to kick in a lot of salary relief, which kind of defeats the purpose of trading him. Everyone knows that ownership has said that his contract has to go, so they're not bargaining from a position of strength.

The huge, massive need for the Marlins is pitching, so I would think that conversations with them would begin with Fedde and Cole, maybe Seth Romero. Would those three plus Taylor get Stanton? I'd do that in a heartbeat. That may not sound like a world-beating package, but the Fish aren't going to get a world-beating package unless they're willing to kick in some salary.

The Stanton story still has a long way to go. He has a full no-trade so has to approve anything. Despite all the scuttlebutt, I don't think he's going to the Giants because A) they suck, and B) they have nothing to trade. He's made it clear that he wants to go to a contender.

Asking price on Martinez now reportedly 7/210. Yep, Boras is setting himself up to have to be trolling for a bailout deal in February!

Josh Higham said...

Re: "Sell high on MAT"

It seems like fans sometimes believe they are the only people who have eyes on their players. Does anyone truly believe that the 29 GMs who might make a move for MAT don't see a great defender with an atrocious K rate who had probably a fluky year at the plate? "Sell high" means "Yunel Escobar was worth 2 fWAR this year instead of replacement level like last year, quick, let's get no-good Trevor Gott and some minor league filler for him." GMs can look at fangraphs and watch video, and read beat reports and have every bit of information we have about MAT, then ask their trained scouts who see much more than we do. It's not like we can get anything more than mediocre for a player who has been, for his career, mediocre. And why are we trying to get rid of a solid defender who is arb-eligible for the first time? He's not dead weight, and the Nats really aren't likely to get much of anything for him in the offseason.

Now, if an AL wild card contender loses their CF for the season in June, and MAT continues to play like 2017, he could have really substantial value at the deadline, and Robles will have had a few more months of seasoning. That, to me, is a time where urgency means the Nats can get a real return for MAT and I think it would make sense.

Harper said...

Josh - I get that everyone basically sees the same thing but the latest stats are what set the trend. MAT is a very good defender with power - Best case he really does hit like .280 + and he's your cheap CF for 3 more seasons. Worst case is he hits like .220 and is someone who fights off AAA talent for a 4th OF role. This hasn't changed. What has is that the latest stats suggest something closer to best case than worst case (as opposed to 2014-2016 with suggested right smack dab in the middle) That's all that's meant by selling high. Not that other GMs are fooled into thinking that MAT is a lock for a starting role but that they all have the same slightly positive buzz coming off of 2017 that Nats fans do. What does that get you in comparison to last year? Well it might mean the difference between an ok (non-closer) reliever and a good one, or a low A pitching prospect and a High A one.

Josh Higham said...

I appreciate that, see my Yunel example. Selling high on Yunel was good since they went and got Murphy who was a clear upgrade and Yunel was a bad fit for being a bench utility guy.

MAT is a talented and cheerful 4th OF so if you get another outfielder, you don't need to unload him. But you're really unlikely to get a player more valuable than MAT in a trade because everyone has basically the same idea about him--certainly a useful player and possibly a very good one.

"Sell high on MAT" and spend money on another position, as Bx suggested, doesn't make sense to me because MAT doesn't cost any money (relatively) so you don't need to unload him to make budget room for a catcher or starting pitcher, and he has good value to the Nats in the outfield--especially if they spend their money not on the outfield.

sirc said MAT could fetch "some young pitchers" but I think he could probably only be swapped for multiple non-prospects or a single fine but unremarkable prospect. I don't see how moving MAT, who is useful now and down the road, for a guy who may be better than him down the road makes sense for a team that apparently expects to make a run this year.

Of course, if MAT becomes the core piece of a trade for Realmuto or some other player who fills a glaring need and/or is excellent, I'll eat my words.