Nationals Baseball: Offseason Position Discussion : Second Base

Friday, November 03, 2017

Offseason Position Discussion : Second Base

Last year discussion revisited

Pretty simple. Murphy was awesome in 2016 so we figured he would start in 2017. Despite being not a good fielder, and betting on a single great year, it's what we all wanted to.

It was the obvious choice and it worked. Murphy hit .322 / .384 / .543 this year. It was a step down from his MVP worthy 2016, especially given the offensive climate, but still All-Star level. His fielding was still suspect but when you hit like that as long as you aren't outright terrible, you take it. A late season injury would hurt Murphy's performance in the playoffs and an off-season surgery would put his 2018 in question but that's for the next section.

My OOB plan of extending Muprhy doesn't look great right now, because of the injury, but I wouldn't say it would have looked bad either. He still hit.

Presumed Plan : Currently the plan has Murphy ready a month in or so into the season. For the first month it is likely that Wilmer Difo will man the position. If not him, then whoever they bring in, in the Stephen Drew role.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : Murphy hit great again. He will play once he is ready to play. In the meantime, given that the current expecation is only a month out, it's not a huge deal who plays. Wilmer Difo was pretty good in a starting role at SS this year while Trea was out, so it seems fair that he gets the first crack at this spot as well. He'll be a big defensive upgrade at the very least.

The Nats may grab someone else to fill in the back-up IF role or the 5th bench spot guy might fit naturally into 2nd base. I'm not saying a Josh Rutledge type who is signed for nothing at Spring's end and then makes the team.  More say if Brandon Phillips is unsigned and the Nats can get him cheap

There is a possibility that the Nats will aim for some thing more earlier. Phillips, Asdrubal, Howie are out there (Neil Walker is probably first on any list for those wanting a starting 2B so I don't look to him). However, I don't expect them to go this way unless they find out that Murphy is going to be out longer than originally planned. 

Problems with Presumed Plan : Let's go with the most likely scenario - Murphy stays on track and the Nats use Difo. That seems reasonable for a month. Well the very real problem could be Difo can't hit and then either Murphy is out for longer than expected or comes back not ready to play like expected.   Difo not hitting should not surprise anyone. He didn't hit well, in fact he hit terribly, when he wasn't starting. This makes his overall 2017 numbers well below average. His minor league stats aren't encouraging either hitting basically like overall 2017 in two extended AA stints in 2015 and 2016. Difo is a guy who relies completely on singles. He doesn't have power or patience. Maybe something clicks for him like it did for Ian Desmond but more likely he struggles along, as a back-up IF playing everyday because he has to.

Daniel Murphy - at the end of his contract - will be motivated to get back and hit as well as possible but there's just no telling. The fact that he would be out until likely May already was a shock. He's no longer young and injuries tend to take longer to recover from as you age. Something else to think about - even if he recovers and is able to hit just fine, a knee injury will likely hurt his mobility and turn him into - what - the worst 2B in the majors? It'd be one thing if 1B was manned by prime Keith Hernandez, but Zimm also has range issues. That's quite a problem with the right side of the infield you could be exacerbating.

Of course signing someone better is putting money somewhere where it may not be necessary for questionable results. That's not a great idea either unless you are ready to continually pour money into the problem until you find a solution. 

My take : Difo then Murphy is the way to go today. I don't have much faith in Difo as a starter, but all I'm looking for is for him to hold ground with good defense until Murphy is ready. If that's May then I'm ok with this. Difo is a solid choice for a back-up IF (good fielding at multiple positions, good speed) and if he happens to show more then maybe your "post-Murphy" plans change.

However, if Murphy is hurt worse than you think and could miss two months or more you do need to bring in another starter. I like Kendrick the best, he seems to have taken here and might be more agreeable to a one-year deal than some of the others, but someone listed above would have to be signed.

If Murphy isn't hurt worse and comes back in May, the Nats should still be prepared to trade for a 2B at the deadline. There are a plethora of decent choices out there currently. Dozier, Harrison, Kinsler, LeMahieu are all currently FAs to be. At least one and maybe more will be available at the trade deadline. Let Difo have his chance. Let Murphy have his chance. But be prepared to act. No more holes going into the playoffs that you could have addressed earlier.

Out of the box suggestion :

Assume Murphy is done. Trade for Dozier now. "Oh no. We have too many good hitters" is not a problem. It's a strategy. Someone else will struggle. Someone else will go down. Instead of struggling to fill that position from a place of desperation you can trade now from a place of equal power. If it happens you don't need all these people and someone is unhappily sitting - boo hoo. Get over it. It's about getting over the hump and if that means paying for a bench with a couple of guys who'd be starting elsewhere, so be it.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why are we assuming Murphy is out a month? Justin Turner had microfracture knee surgery in the 2015 offseason and was ready by opening day. Castillo's article sounding the alarm bells about Murphy's return (a) didn't mention Turner's surgery and recovery, (b) had no quotes from the Nats or Murphy, and (c) was based on insight from doctors that perform the surgery on athletes that aren't baseball players.

We know next to nothing about Murphy's prognosis. It could be better, but it could also be worse.

Josh Higham said...

I think Murphy has had enough lingering leg problems that confirmation bias makes it very easy to assume he's a slow healer. That might be unfair and inaccurate, but it definitely doesn't make sense to assume a faster-than-average recovery for anyone under any circumstances, because you're counting on a statistically unlikely outcome. 6 months is the fast end of normal, with max normal recovery time being either 9 or 12 months, depending on the source. It's not out of the realm of possibility that he can't play baseball until NEXT OCTOBER, so I don't know how you could possibly feel like you've thoroughly prepared for the season counting on Murphy to be ready and up to speed on opening day.

Justin Turner is a data point, and has virtually no predictive power for Murphy's recovery. The universe of microfracture patients, however, tells us that expecting Murphy to be in baseball shape in May is on the optimistic side of reasonable.

Harper said...

Anon @ 8:36 - bc that's what's been bandied about and not dismissed. That's about it - have to go with something. I'm sure there will be a closer look heading into the Winter Meetings.

Josh Higham said...

I guess I misread your comment a little bit.

If the Nats had unlimited moneys, it would make sense to assume Murphy's out until the all star break and maybe not any good then, and therefore do something like Harper's out of the box idea. However, given the historical pattern of a tight budget and looking to add pitching over most other concerns, it's probably reasonable to assume he'll heal on the fast end of normal and be useable at that point, but be ready to do something midseason if necessary.

Missing a month and being good enough not to replace him is optimistic without being foolish, based on historical microfracture recovery times. Assuming longer would be safer but also expensive for a team that really ought to make the playoffs easily.

Anonymous said...

Josh, there is an enormous variation in the severity of microfracture surgeries. I think the key variable (which we don't know) is the size of the area that had to be microfractured. I think this is far more significant than whether Murphy is a "slow healer." Yes, Turner is one data point, but he's the only data point we have that plays baseball. The recovery times of athletes that play basketball and football for a living are relevant, but, to me, far less relevant than than the recovery time of a baseball player.

It's certainly possible that Murphy's surgery was more significant than Turner's. We haven't heard that yet.

KW said...

Rizzo commented at the press conference yesterday that the team has reason to think/hope that Murphy can be back by opening day, although he qualified it. At the least, though, you wouldn't think he would have made a comment like that if Murph had what looked to be serious issues that might sideline him for half the season or more.

Like Harper, I don't trust Difo as a regular for any period, either. He posted a wRC+ of only 76 during his supposed breakout year, and his numbers in the upper minors are not those of an MLB starter. He's probably fine for the bench, if for no other reason than to keep them from overpaying for someone else to be a backup SS.

To me, the most reasonable play is to bring back Kendrick, who is a 2B by trade anyway. He's a starter-quality hitter and has the utility that Martinez will want in a Nats version of Zobrist.

The real out-of-the-box move would be to sign Cozart, play him at 2B until Murph is back, and then figure out what you're going to do with him. In the meantime, you've already signed Murph's replacement for after next season. Plug Cozart's 24 HRs in with Kevin Long's approach and watch the fireworks.

ssln said...

Harper

I thought you wanted to trade Zim (out of the box) and put Murphy at first base. Now you are suggesting Murphy may be out longer than a month or may be done. Aren't you required to be consistent at some point?

JE34 said...

@ssln: each year, Harper analyzes each position, provides his take, then dreams up an "out of the box" suggestion as a wilder alternative to the likely outcome. He's not saying "this is what the Nats should do."

Fries said...

When you compare the Nats to the two other teams that made the NLCS, there's one glaring difference that I see: they didn't have consistent lineups because they had multiple starter quality bench players. Cubs had Heyward and Jay and Schwarber and Martin all moving around interchangeably, not to mention Zobrist and Baez trading off. Dodgers had Ethier (though not a lot), Kike, Pederson, Bellinger, Puig, and Taylor all being able to move around the outfield and then Utley/Forsythe/Taylor manning 2B.

The Nats could have done the same with Kendrick and Lind, but beyond that there was nobody on the bench you really trusted beyond a PH or defensive substitution. If the Nats truly want to go all in, they need to pick up a few players that will buy into the idea of platooning and THEN ACTUALLY PLATOON THEM (which I'm sure Joe Maddon 2.0 will be perfectly happy doing). A lot of those players for the Cubs/Dodgers are on short term contracts and/or are vets. Kendrick fits that bill. Ink him now.

Anonymous said...

Murphy's surgery and declining D concern me. First Base would be a good fit, but how on earth could the Nats find a trade partner for Zim? On the other hand, if you move Murphy to first and get a second basemen with good to decent D, you've really improved the defense. Trading Zim would be a real shocker, but if you could do it without eating too much of his contract, you would have to consider it. His chances of duplicating his 2017 season seem slim. But if Zim stays, and can be managed (plenty of rest) and coached (launch angle!) properly, he can still be a contributor. But between Zim and Murph, you have two 1B/DH guys. Lind made three, so he's gone.

Hope Rizzo has some tricks up his sleeve for an unexpected upgrade at catcher, infield, or starting pitcher. Go get Stanton AND Gordon! from Miami

BxJaycobb said...

My main problem with trade suggestion is I’m kinda looking to use all trade chips for a catcher or starter. Do we have enough attractive pieces to deal for like three very good players? I guess u can sign some of them. But still

KW said...

Zim has a full no-trade. Scenario that involve trading him are not real scenarios.

NotBobby said...

Plus Zim has a five year contract to work for the franchise once he retires. He is going nowhere.

BxJaycobb said...

Fries: the Nats non platooning is a good example IMO of how Baker (but also the front office to some extent) seems a bit behind on the analytics curve. Deciding not to platoon at positions where you don’t have stars is just bad, particularly when there are huge splits. The most glaring example of this is Werth, who Maddon or Roberts would have been platooning literally years ago (and probably benched a la Adrian Gonzalez this year). The idea of an old Werth, who even at his best could not really hit RHP being an everyday starter is just not the choice of a serious championship contender.

Josh Higham said...

Some people are speculating that Werth might be back on a 1-year deal. I have yet to find anyone saying more than "some speculate that," and no one gives a source, so I doubt it. But oh boy would that make me angry.

Anonymous said...

So Lind goes the free agency route...I suppose they could still bring him back, but either way, we need a solid back up at 1B!!

Nattydread said...

Nats have the highest number of team members poised for free agency in MLB. Wieters unsurprisingly is back. Most of the rest will walk, like Lind. It would be nice to see Kendrick back.

NotBobby said...

Let's be clear. I love Lind. He was a great bench bat and seemed to be a very good clubhouse guy.

But, Lind is a horrible 1b. His bat is definitely good but the defense is much worse than Zim. I like Lind as a spot start here or there but not playing everyday for an injury.

And I would rather the Nats sign Ethier than Werth on a one year.

Kubla said...

I would prefer some other team's washed-up stars or a completely unknown guy over Werth. Someone like that can get sent down/released/Uggla'd, while Werth's history with the team and personality wouldn't allow that. Another plus is that Jose Reyes or some AAAA journeyman getting a hit in a postseason game is less likely to inspire fans clamoring for an extension (The AAAA guy may still get the fawning Boswell column on playing the right way, in contrast to those glory boys with their excessive .800+ OPS's and ridiculous moonshots).

Robot said...

Murph will be out longer than what's being reported because that's how this teams rolls.

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