Nationals Baseball: 2018

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

You got Corbin. Adams back. Suzuki / Gomes behind the plate. Bear Claw and Rosenthal, who aren’t terrible! And Anibal Sanchez.  That’s another division  worthy team.

Complain tomorrow.  Today be happy you aren’t 20+ other teams who have to hope, not expect, to contend.

Friday, December 21, 2018

It's a whole new Ani-bal Game

The Nats had a worry about the rotation for the first time in years this off-season. Gio was going leaving the Nats rotation clearly 3 deep for the first time since possibly the success began*  We knew the Nats would have to address this by bringing in an arm and they did. Patrick Corbin was signed giving the Nats a new bigger Big 3. However in one crucial way Corbin wasn't Gio. Gio was consistently healthy over the course of his career. Corbin already has one major surgery. So it was vital the Nats think about that, especially with "Miss a Month" Strasburg in the rotation.

But instead the Nats jettisoned rock-steady Roark, trading him to the Reds, presumably to clear up cap space. For what though? A top notch starter like Kuechel? The best 2B available like Lowrie or LeMahieu (depending on your view)? Finally, finally, getting the best back end of the bullpen FA could get them?

Apparently it was for Anibal Sanchez.

Sanchez signed a deal for 2 years 19 million, which means his AAV (to be counted against the cap) should be 9.5 million, a savings of maybe a million over Roark.  For that they get a pitcher who was, admittedly, much better than Roark last year. But they also get a pitcher who threw 50 fewer innings than Roark last year, almost 200 fewer IP over the past 3 years. They also get a guy who in 2016 and 2017 was much worse than Roark.

You could possibly understand this if it saved the Nats a lot of money but it didn't - at least in regards to the luxury cap. They still have say 5-15 million to spend (depending how much in-year flexibility they want to have) to stay under that figure. I suppose if they are down near the conservative end (which assumes a lot of hit bonuses, Rosenthal being all year healthy, and bolstering the team through mid-season deals) a million matters. Up near the other end it would be far less impactful. I am having a hard time understanding this. Rizzo didn't draft the guy for the D-backs! He's not a Boras client! I don't see any non-baseball reason for it either. Can me perplexed.

Is Sanchez really 2018 good? That's hard to say. 2018 wasn't a mirage in the stats not lining up with the performance sort of way. Anibal did pitch very well. Primarily he got back to getting those ground balls, which had been a hallmark of his early success, and everything that went with that (more guys LOB, better HR/FB ratio). I mean you can adjust and tweak and say that guy will be a 3.50 guy this year, but that's pretty good. Really good for a 4. But then you look at 2016 and 2017 and wonder. And then tack on the likelihood of a 5 month season at best. Those are the question marks that have you saying - he's not right for this team at this price.

Part of me wonders if actually the payroll this year is super important to the Lerners, despite it not being the actual cost against the cap. If that's the case the 4-5 million vs Roark makes a bit more sense. But I'm not sure why that would be...

I don't know. Maybe you guys can follow this. To me this is a little bit of a panic move in a rapidly shrinking FA market for SP, that they pivoted too after whatever was Plan A (Morton?) and Plan B (Lynn?) fell apart.

*of course going into 2012 they weren't entirely sure what they had. 2013 has an argument, with it being Haren & unproven Detwiler at the end. 2014 brought in Fister to supplement the Big 3. 2015 Scherzer. 2016 we knew Roark was at least an innings eater in the 4th spot. 2017 and 2018 were along the same lines.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Monday Quickie : Buffalo, New York

Wilson Ramos is a Met and that’s ok.  Ramos, to me, is a better catcher than Suzuki or Gomes.  The difference in what I project for offense is that great*. This is a smart move by the Mets. But that doesn't mean it's a smart move overall. In fact, I think it would have been a stupid move.

Ramos is a lottery ticket.  The Nats don’t need those.  They need stability. They need to ensure that an otherwise potential division winner isn’t undermined by a zero at a position like it was to some degree last year. By pulling in two catchers who are likely to be ok, you do that. Would I have preferred one very good catcher? Sure. But what I wouldn't have wanted is one lottery ticket and a Lobaton-esque back-up which is probably what the Nats would have had if they went with Ramos.

The Mets though - they need a couple lottery tickets. They are behind enough in talent they either need to spend out the nose, trade all their prospects or gamble. This is gambling. If Ramos is healthy they have one of the better catcher situations in baseball. (30%? ) If not (70%)then they don't and there's a decent chance in that 70% of either too injured to play or so injured he's not effective.

Just for completeness, since I've been doing this for most signings. This doesn't put the Mets ahead of the Nats.

What to watch for this week : If Keuchel or Kimbrel sign somewhere. These are the most likely targets of Phillies/Braves to get done sooner and where they end up will make a difference in the NL East race one way or another.           

*Again I've seen WAY too many "If you look at the last two years Suzuki..." notes. If you look at the last year, it's ok. If you look at the last three years, eh.  Picking two years is not stating facts, that's playing with numbers. Suzuki will be average. Which is good for a catcher and good for the Nats! That should be plenty!

Friday, December 14, 2018

Friday already?

Next week will be back to more normal posting here.

Winter meetings are over and the Nats dealt Roark but didn't do anything else. The trade of Roark was a surprise but now they have flexibility to make Marwin Gonzalez a member of the Washington Borases.  I actually like Marwin. He's not as good at 2017 but you could expect league average bat from him and a positional flexibility that the Nats crave. With Kendrick and Gonzalez they'd be insulated from nearly every reasonable (re: 2 guys out at same time at different positions) injury situation.

Several pitching options have been lost. Joe's brother Tyson went to Detroit. JA Happ went back to the Yankees. Charlie Morton signed with the Rays. Ivan Nova was dealt to the White Sox. Lance Lynn, who the Nats had their eye on supposedly, went to Texas. The cupboard for a Roark replacement isn't bare yet but the choices are getting smaller. Wade Miley has been floated out there and is interesting, but not as a Roark replacement, because the Nats need IP and Miley can't be expected to give them that.

On the rivals front, the Phillies made a deal that was a little odd in signing Andrew McCutchen. McCutchen still has value, especially as a corner OF for a poor fielding Phillies team but the contract size seems exorbitant (50 million). It also seems to be a signing that suggest a plan in place for a Bryce-less Philly.  With Machado pretty well sought after too this makes it look more likely that the Phillies end up empty handed when it comes to Top 10 free agents this off-season. Not that it's likely - I still think they sign someone big, just more likely. Such a situation would probably doom the Phillies to a projected 4th hoping to snipe off 3rd from whichever NL East team is bitten by the injury bug (re: probably Mets).  And no - their reliever flip of a more talented pitcher for a more stable one isn't worth noting.  The Mets re-signed Familia which along with Diaz gives them a pretty scary back end. However they still need a big impact signing (or several small impact ones) to start to be projected to have impact.

We got the particulars of the Corbin deal. 2.5m signing bonus. 12.5, 19, 24, 23, 24, 35 with 10 million of that last amount deferred to 2024 and 2025 so... 5million per?  This makes the Nats paying 30 for zero pitchers in 2025 and 2026.  But no luxury tax hit.  Although I think this bus has two drivers.

Bryce hasn't gone anywhere with the Yankees first saying they aren't interested because they don't have the room (debatable) but then coming back with a "well don't count us completely out". I don't think he goes there - I think the Stanton deal means one superstar and that will be Machado because he's needed more - but I think they want to stay open to Bryce if they lose out on Manny. This has been my take since the trade. Personally I've never liked the Stanton trade. I think the Yankees got big eyes when they saw all it would cost (re: close to nothing) to get Stanton and jumped in when they should have focused on trying to get Bryce (who fits the lineup and city better) AND Machado this off-season. But it was also gambling both those guys would be free. If they weren't then they passed up Stanton and would be in a bidding war for the one guy everyone wants. They gambled, and mildly lost, imo. I'd read the Bryce situation as

Dodgers, if they clear off a little salary, then
Phillies, if they get their act together and stop believing they can skip big time signings this off-season and somehow stay on track, then
Yankees, if Machado ends up elsewhere, then
White Sox, if none of those guys sign him, then
Nationals, if all else fails

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Roark traded

Quick thoughts. Roark was possibly an overpay but only very slight.  I’ve been noting for a while that Corbin essentially ended the Nats flexibility bc 1) they aren’t spending right up to the cap and 2) there’s a lot of bonuses to factor in.  This gives them flexibility back.

What it costs them is a decent starter and chances are that they won’t be able to sign someone as good for that cost.  But they don’t have to do that.  They can sign someone better for more or trade for someone the same but cheaper.

The biggest thing I worry about is Gio and Roark being good for 350+ IP over a year and now they are gone.  Corbin is a horse but that’s an arm you can’t 100% depend on and Stras is going to miss his month. So they need another super dependable (by 2018 standards) starter imo

Monday, December 10, 2018

Monday Quickie - and so it goes

Winter Meetings have started which is typically the time frame where big deals start to take place. Of course the Nats have bucked that trend and have nearly completed their off-season wish list early like that annoying person who tells you on December 1st that they've finished Christmas shopping. For the Nats the Winter Meetings are less about filling in those last few holes (2nd base? Reliever?) and more about seeing how the other teams maneuver around them. Do the Mets make any major moves? Where do the Phillies spend their money? Is there a surprise waiting from the Braves? Does any of this include Bryce Harper?

We shall find out shortly.  As it stands now I'd rank the NL East teams as such


With each team quite capable of winning enough games to make the playoffs.

Meanwhile the NL hasn't remained quiet as the Diamondbacks have begun their selling off, packagin Paul Goldschmidt to the Cardinals. Another team in the NL strengthened if indeed they are to be faced in the playoffs.  It's going to be a hell of a year and someone is going to win 15+ fewer games then they set out to (probably primarily because of injuries)  

Over the weekend we found out Harold Baines and Lee Smith were elected to the Hall by the Modern Era committee virutally ensuring the Modern Era committee faces some major changes in the near future.  Lee Smith was always going to be a close call. He was a dominant save gatherer for years and for a long while held the saves record. He was never so great though that he made a big impression on fans and it seemed like the line for closers were going to be "Better than Lee Smith" Now it shifts again.  "Better than Billy Wagner"?  Line has to be somewhere.The Baines election though is a mess and is going to be the issue. He's was a good hitter for a long while with some very good years in there. And that's it. He didn't field well (eventually he'd move to DH and spend most of his time there). He didn't run well.  He didn't have any post-season heroics. You can name a handful players off the top of your head better than him and if Baines is the bar there a seeral dozen players who probably should get in. But no one wants that, well except the players and managers. When clearly better players don't get the votes and most impactful personnel don't either seeing a guy like Baines get in is jarring.

We also found out last week Chelsea Janes is off the Nats beat.  Some people liked her, some didn't. The Post generaly has a good feel for hires, so we'll see what Red Sox fa... I mean random sports reporter, takes over for her.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Initial Corbin Thoughts

I'm super busy but you need a place to talk amongst yourselves about this. Some quick thoughts

Nats fans should be happy

For the past half-decade Rizzo has shown he is able to identify the issues and come up with a plan to address them. For the past half-decade, the Lerners have shown the willingness to back him monetarily to a point that does not impede competitiveness. They have both been able to execute these plans and keep the Nationals one of the better teams in baseball. This off-season is no different. The Nats needed, if I were to order it from most important to least, (1) a fix at C (2) A new SP, preferably front end (3) some relief help (4) the usual back-up to Zimm (5) maybe a 2B.  They have fixed C, and they got the best SP available. They also have added some relief help. And it's only December. I think we can be very confident the Nats will do what they want. Which is to stay under the cap and solve all these issues for next season to remain competitive.

Nats fans should not expect Bryce back 

The Nats would be ecstatic to have Bryce back, if the contract was structured as they like it. Which means cheap next year (to fit under the cap) and with a lot of deferred money, because that helps the Nats out (makes the contracts effectively cheaper).  I don't see that happening. I especially don't see that happening now that the Nats have gotten Corbin and left Atlanta and Philly out in the cold with money to spend.

Nats fans should not consider this all-in

I had this argument on Twitter with BxJaycobb I think. To me all-in is going after the best reasonable solution at every position you need help. It's potentially selling out the future for the now. In the Nats case that would have meant getting Corbin, yes. That is an all-in move. But it also would have meant signing Grandal or trading for Realmuto and signing probably both Miller and Ottavino and going after LeMahieu.or say trading Kieboom to the Mariners for Cano/Diaz  There is not necessarily a singular solution but there is an overriding theme of "best possible".  The Nats have never done this and when they went Suzuki/Gomes, while it's a fine plan, it showed me once again, they aren't doing it this season either.  Now you can argue either side pretty easily. You can say they spend enough and their methods have gotten them regular season success and so why try to do something that guarantees nothing other than a likely necessary rebuild in a few years. You can also say they have shown that their plan of "getting playoff good" means they miss the playoffs if they face any adversity and that in the playoffs they have flaws that get exposed. If the goal is to win it all it's been shown not to work over 5 years*. After 5 years of no ultimate success I fall into the latter camp. There has to be a time frame, does there not, where you say "this isn't working like we want" and for me - half a decade is it.

Corbin should be good. Great is questionable

When the Nats signed Max he was coming off two Cy Young vote getting seasons and had two other very good years in pocket. When they extended Strasburg he was one of the best pitchers in baseball over the previous 4 years. Corbin is a different animal. He was great one year before TJ way back in 2013. He was great last year. Other than that there's a half-year of good pitching out there. There is far less confidence that he's truly an upper eschelon pitcher than there was for Max or Stras. But still it would be surprising if he regressed all the way back to 2017 and 2017 was perfectly No. 3 in rotation acceptable. That's probably the baseline of what the Nats can accept here. So I'd be shocked if he (non-injury wise) doesn't hit that baseline and is very likely to be better. But don't dismiss that "non-injury wise" aside. Remember the Nats and the TJ ticking clock. They like to use eight years as a failure guess. For Corbin that would be sometime into year 3/4 of this contract**  But that's just a guess and last year saw him hit 200 IP for the first time since before the surgery.

This is just an overall view. We'll look into Corbin more later though with the fancy stats.

If you are the worrying type worry about the Nats in 2025-2028.

At that point, if Strasburg doesn't leave, the Nationals will be paying $25 million in deferred cash to Strasburg and Max (they won't be playing under original deal) and I'm going to guess about $15 million to Corbin (also not playing under original deal). That's possibly $40 million for NOTHING. Not "oh this guy might be hurt or old and not good", but "this guy is no longer under contract and we still owe him money".  While that doesn't count against the cap, it's hard to see the Nats not be effected by this in some way.  With 2024 also the last year before FA for Soto and Robles, you can easily see a rebuild happening at that time.But that's also WAY off. You know I don't like holding to anything three seasons ahead, let alone seven. So it's just something to think about, if I don't know, you plan to retire to the area to watch baseball in that time frame.

*I consider 2012 a surprise year and 2013 a year where the plan wasn't truly in place and it was a more of "maybe we can get away with doing very little" season

**More worrisome for the Nationals. Last year was year eight for Strasburg. 

Monday, December 03, 2018

Monday Quickie - Looting the corpse of the Mariners

Cano and Diaz went to the Mets. Segura might go the Phillies. Seager to the Brewers? I suggested earlier that the Nats get in on this by getting Segrua and Leake.  But why not pull a Mets.  Who do the Nats want? Gamel and Shawn Armstrong? OK we'll take Leake too and give you back... I don't know.  Sammy Solis! You'll love him. Honestly they should be plundering this team because they are willing to take great players to good players just to lower salary.  It's the closest thing to a fire sale we've seen in years.

In the meantime the Nats picked up Yan Gomes. Is this a good deal? Let's start off with what they gave up.

Daniel Johnson is better than Andrew Stevenson, not as good as MAT.  At least as a 22yo/23yo prospect (DJ was an "old" 22. Andrew is a "young" whatever he is. MATs on the younger side as well). He doesn't have any particular strength or weakness. He hits well but not great. He has some power, but not a lot. He's not very patient (ok that may be a weakness) but he makes more contact than the free-swingers. He's a decent fielder but not anything I've heard anyone rave about. And there's the big difference. You can say the same about Stevenson and you barely see him hanging on. Everyone loves MATs fielding and he's been a 4th OF with trials at starting for 3+ years now. You gotta have something to hang a hat on. Right now DJ doesn't. He's young enough that he could develop into something more special, and talented enough that there may be multiple ways that could happen, but there's nothing out there yelling that it WILL happen. His quasi-rehab AFL performance this year was full of kudos for his physical skills and dismal production. Seems like a 4th OF if you are lucky to me.

Jefry Rodriguez - well you saw him. He has some talent but it's real questionable if he will put it together (being 25 next year) in time to be useful in a rotation. After rough 2014 & 2015 it looked like he might not last much longer in baseball but he improved in 2016 and 2017 enough to be of interest to the main club in 2018 as an outside rotation possiblity. However, this seems more of a "let's see if we have something here" than a "this guy is ready for the show". He's probably going to be a reliever. His fastball is good in theory and if he can focus on powering it over rather than trying to save some for innings 4-6 it might be good in practice. Pair that with a decent second pitch and that may be enough.

What is likely to be a player that peaks at 4th OF and a bullpen filler. That's not much. Are the Nats getting back something better?

Yes. Yan Gomes is a professional major league catcher when healthy. He's a plus fielder and while his bat isn't the plus it looked like it would be early in his career, he worked it back to a average (which is pretty good for a catcher). He hasn't caught 120 games since 2014 but he's steadily working his way back up and got to 111 games last year.  His contract is reasonable (7M) with a couple reasonable options if the Nats choose to take then (9m, 11m).  Most likely you are getting a 110 g catcher who hits average and fields well. There you go!

Of course the problem is context and the context is two-fold. First you have Kurt Suzuki signed for two years who can also be like a 100g catcher, who may hit well, and maybe field average. And is also a RHB.  It's an awkward "platoon" with no real sense on who supercedes who. On a team with a strong manager that's built on hitting, this would probably work out fine. The hot hand would be ridden out and the other guy would have to deal with it. On this team with Davey and pitching lead, you face more potential problems as pitchers ask for "their" catchers and the manager wish-washes through decisions. Still having two decent options to figure out how to maximize is a small problem. Second you have Yasmani Grandal. A better hitter than Suzuki (to believe otherwise is to say "No we're not looking at 2018! We're looking at 2017 and 2018! 2016 through 2018? Why would we look at that?")  He's a better fielder than Gomes. He has caught more than 120 games recently. So you are choosing to create this odd situation with suboptimal pieces to do what?

Well it's to save money and avoid playing your catchers. Both might be reasonable. I'd like to see Raudy Read get a turn at the plate for 30-40 games in 2018 but he's certainly not a sure thing and we've seen enough of Can't Hit Severino and Almost as Bad Kieboom. You can't argue that the 150+ you'll get from Suzuki/Gomes won't have a potential hole like these Grandal and Nats minor leaguer. Still you will very likely get a blah year from one of these two guys and that's half a season of below average sitting out there you could have avoided. For how much though? They'll make 11 combined this year, 15 next. Is Grandal going to get over 15? If he goes close to 20 - you can see the savings be worth it. If he's closer to 13 then you paid more for less.  We'll have to see how the market works out.

Another thing to consider is the salary cap. For his year Gomes is on his original, non-option salary cap figures so Suzuki + him will be worth only like 8 million to the cap. That could free up some space that you wouldn't have signing Grandal (They'll be 14 next year, then just Gomes 11 the year after that). It won't be a lot but it is something for a team that wants to be below. And understand below doesn't mean just sneaking under. That only works if you keep the same roster all year. If you are in contention you are almost certain to add cost so the Nats can't end up at 205.9 million or something. They'll need to be much more under.   

So is it a good move? You can't argue it isn't. Is it the right move for the Nats now? That depends on what you think of 7 years of not going all-in has proven.  If you think it shows the Nats need to do more, to throw caution to the wind in form of cash or prospects, well it's another example of not doing that. Of settling for a lesser solution. If you think it's shows the Nats can keep up a competitive team and that's all you can hope for, well this is more of that.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Cano to the Mets - what does it mean for the Nats

You can say this is a bad deal for the Mets.  I'm not so sure. If you work out the money as it is so far it's sort of like this

Mets get Cano and Diaz, lose Dunn, Kelenic, and Bautista. But they get to dump the Bruce and Swarzak contracts and both guys were nearly worthless last year. They probably lose a little there but very little. The Cano and Diaz impact to the payroll would be something like +10 (that's right 10 million MORE to spend this year, being paid to have these guys), 4 million, 18 million, 21 million, 12 million.  My offhand guess is that Diaz & Cano will give more value than... 45 million dollars, over the course of 4 and 5 years respectively. They could arguably do that in 2 years.

Are the prospects any good? Buatista (Gerson I assume) is one of those guys that can throw it 100 MPH with little control and every team has like 3 of them in their minor leagues and eventually out of the like 90 - maybe 5 "get it" and become great. Given Gerson is pretty damn hittable too (even in High A at 22) I don't like those chances. Dunn is a fast riser. Lousy in 2017 He was great to start this year and seems to be a guy who learns. He also seems to be a guy who doesn't have a third pitch and has no stamina so I'd be surprised if he doesn't end up at the back end of a bullpen rather than the front end of a rotation. Kelenic is the "prize" the Mets #6 draft pick this year. He's a high first round draft pick. Everyone loves his talent but he hasn't proven it yet. His brief rookie ball time was perfectly good for an 18 yo but not so stellar to make you super excited. His fielding is good. His attitude is supposedly great but neither of those will really matter if he can't hit and can he? Nobody knows. What you do know is he won't impact a team until 2021 at the earliest.

Anyway that's for edification. For the title of this column the end result is the Mets are better after this than before. They have a Murphy like 2nd baseman back, at the plate and in the field, and a dominant closer. They have 10 million to spend this year if they want to (and they should spend at least this given the scenario) and probably extra payroll room for next year too. They aren't a better Mets team today that you'd like to pass the Nats in the standings. It could happen - healthy rotation for Mets, issues again for Nats - but you wouldn't bet on it. But a better Mets team means fewer wins for the Nats. Fewer wins for the Nats means a harder time getting in the playoffs because the Nats are right now a little worse than last year (+Barraclough, +Rosenthal, +Suzuki +Robles +Full season Soto, +Full season Eaton, - Gio, -Hellickson, - bunch of middling pen arms that need replacement - Adams, -Bryce) and the Braves are better. We don't expect the Nats to do nothing more but if they don't beat the Braves (and possibly the Phillies... or possibly Mets) then it's a dogfight for those WC spots against teams who don't have 4 quality teams in their division.

So the biggest issue isn't whether this was a good deal for the Mets (I like it bc I think they should capitalize on the deGrom/Syndergaard years as much as possible - but Cano will almost have to be a drag at the end even at 12 mill instead of 24) or if it makes the Mets better than the Nats (it doesn't).  It's about making it harder for the Nats to make the playoffs (it does) and potentially setting up another team to challenge the Nats (if the Mets make more moves). 

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Bumgarner isn't walking through that door

Although he should. For Robles. But I digress because the "NEVER TRADE ROBLES" camp seems firmly entrenched.

Going beyond Bumgarner - if the Giants are selling is there anything the Nationals could want?

Buster Posey? The gut reaction is Hell Yes.  A more tempered reaction is - he's a really good hitter for a catcher, but has only played over 120 games twice in his career and he hasn't broken 100 games in the past two years. So he's not the full-time catcher the Nats need, and he's a mediocre hitting first baseman.  He's also 32 next year and owed 22 million a year over the next 3 years. So... no? I mean he'd make the Nats better and I'm all for spending other people's money but it's pretty clear the Nats could get more bang for their buck anywhere else.

Longoria? I can't see how at those numbers both on the field and in the payroll.

Cueto or Samardzjia?  they pitched 53 and 44 innings respectively last year. Unless it's a Giants eats salary situation no possible way. And it would be a huge eat for San Fran which means minimal prospects... honestly though this fits better with the Nats reality of "never trade prospects" Eating 30 mill of Samardzjia's contract (Nats at under 5 million per for 2 years) for an Autstin Voth type?  Eating 50+ mill of Cueto's deal (Nats at under 5 million per for 3 plus a 5 million buy out) for a Fedde type?  I'd listen.

Crawford / Belt? Not needed.

Melancon? Again an eat salary situation for someone who now looks like a bullpen filler.

Anyone under control that's coming up for FA that the Nats would want?

Wil Smith? (FA 2020) YES!  If he's traded to someone else for a reasonable cost I will be angry. He's exactly the type of reliever the Nats should be trading for. Potential difference maker at low cost, but not too good or too in control to demand a Kieboom or Garcia. And a lefty!

Sam Dyson? (FA 2021) Eh. He's fine if he doesn't cost you much.  Just a guy in the pen for a couple years but you need those. Nothing to get excited about but nothing to write home about.

Hunter Strickland (FA 2022) Hahahahaha! Not good enough for the headaches, but possibly cheap enough for them.  I wouldn't want him but if the Nats got him I wouldn't kill them for it.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Monday - it's quiet. the right amount of quiet

The Nats have been extremely active for the pre-Winter Meetings off-season. Along with the Yankees they've been trying to get their ducks in a row early. Is it for Bryce? Patrick Corbin? Something else? Are they simply saying "Hey we owe it to Harper to do something"? I think it's the last one.

Meanwhile the rest of the league twiddles their thumbs waiting.What can I tell you I can't create news.

The Paxton trade, and potential Segura/Leake/Myers trade might suggest a Mariners fire sale and a question for the Nats. Wil Myers is pretty good. He's never become a star but he's good enough to start. Problem is he'll cost a bundle (22million +) for three years starting in 2020. The Mariners don't really want him. What they want is Segura and Leake off their payroll now, as they will cost more overall and specifically a lot more in 2019. The Nats can do better than Wil Myers. Why not a Carter Kieboom + package for Segura and Leake. You know what the Nats need? A second baseman. Segura is a second baseman. You know what the Nats need? A reliable lefty arm in the rotation. Mike Leake is a reliable lefty arm in the rotation.

Boom trade made. Nats done!

Well not done no, they probably would do well getting a better starter, so they could sign Corbin. But remember that cost I talked about? Yeah here's 25 million on the payroll with Segura and Leake. Another 20+ on a starter? Nope. Not according to the Nats at least. So this won't happen. It makes sense. It's right there, advertised at an affordable price. But it's not happening.

Is there anything else on the Mariners roster worth taking a look at? Edwin Diaz would be nice but as a top notch reliever making next to nothing he's going to come at a cost. Wade LeBlanc is an interesting possibility. At 33, he's not a long term fix but his contract is both reasonable (5 million a year, with 2 million in bonuses possible) and safe (he has to hit IP tagets and not get injured to guarantee that 5 million). He'd be a perfect slide in for a team looking to replace a non-impressive lefty without breaking the bank. Hey! I know a team like that!

There's fun to be had here if the Nats are willing to trade. I bet the Nats could get Cano for a song. Play with it. Nothing else to do right now.

Oh Iglesias signed with the Reds signifying a current attempt to rebuild. Doesn't mean he couldn't be dealt, just means he's not being dealt before this season starts. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Kurt Suzuki - Past and Future Nat

Kurt Suzuki was signed yesterday to play catcher. This comes as a mild surprise because Rizzo had been adamant before that he wanted a frontline catcher who could start 120 games.  Suzuki is not that. He hasn't played over 100 games at catcher since 2015 and that year the effort seemed to tire out his usual decent bat.

What is Suzuki? He's a guy who will play about a half-season at catcher. A platooner. You can be very negative about the guy. His defense is fair. His arm is poor. His framing is among the worst regulars in the league. He's very slow. He turned 35 a month or so ago.

So why sign him? Because even with all that - he's got value. He can hit and most catchers can't (see: Nats C - all). He is a contact hitter who, while he rarely walks, doesn't strike out much either. He gets good contact - and has revamped his hitting in the "launch angle" era to hit more fly balls. This has led to an increase in power (fluky in 2017, more reasonable last year) and almost as important fewer GIDP. He'll lean into a pitch to get on base mitigating some of the low walk rate. If we just look at last year (to skip the fluky 2017) he was one of only 7 or so catchers with any real offensive value.*  When he plays he's one of the better catchers in baseball overall.

This is still a curious move because of the above comments. The Nats didn't sign Suzuki to sit. He will play. But he'll almost certainly only play 100-110 games behind the plate. So what happens in the other ~60 games? Severino CAN NOT HIT. Kieboom is not much better. Do they sign someone to platoon with Suzuki? Well that would mean a LHB and that seemingly would mean McCann. But McCann is barely a catcher anymore and didn't have a year last year that would inspire any confidence in him. Could they trade for a good catching prospect and start him? I'm not sure who'd this be? One of the Dodgers guys? In my head I'm working out some sort of Strasburg/Kieboom/.Hedges/Tatis Padres deal but that's nonsense.

If you twist my arm I'll say I suppose Raudy Read is ready for his turn. They like his defense** and unlike Pedro Severino and Lesser Kieboom he has a bit of pop. But he could easily fail and you are handing him 40% of a season. That's not the move a contender makes unless they are pretty confident across the board. Are you confident right now?

This isn't a bad signing but it's a perplexing one that will hopefully make sense as the rest of the puzzle pieces fill in. The Nats expressed that they needed a good full-time starting catcher. Even though they are rare - two are available right now. Yet instead they rush to sign a good part-time catcher. Let's hope whatever else they do makes this make sense.

*This is why the Marlins won't budge on Realmuto's asking price. He is the best catcher. Age, cost, and offense.  His defense is fine.   He's the surest thing out there and if you don't have him or one of these other half dozen you have crap you are hoping won't hurt you too much.  

**Honestly - outsider of a catcher who is an offensive monster have you ever heard anyone say they didn't like a minor league catcher's defense? 

Monday, November 19, 2018

Monday real quickie - Suzuki?

Rizzo said he wanted a full time catcher. 

Suzuki has not caught 120 games since 2015

Suzuki is good, though. In an non-full time role.

So... what does this mean?

Other than "definitely going to sign a pitcher" I'm not sure. 

Monday Quickie - Where we stand

The Winter Meetings are creeping up on us.  Three weeks from today, we'll be in the thick of it (from Las Vegas no less) and soon after that, if history serves us, the deals will start coming with more speed and frequency. Where do the Nats stand and where does the league stand?


They've made a reasonable enough offer for Bryce and he rejected it and for all intents and purposes they've moved on. They are now doing the same for Rendon and we'll see if he wants to maximize value or not. They've traded for a reliever (Barraclough) and signed a reliever (Rosenthal) and while the risk cost is low, the potential cost is high making it seem like they could be done as far as the bullpen is concerned. Rizzo talks of value here which is not necessarily saying "cheap" but is hinting at that being the case, especially if money ends up elsewhere. As expected that place won't be second base as the Nats like their prospects there and are fine with Howie Kendrick. Where will the money go? Catcher is a good bet as the only guy that seems to be available for a team not willing to part with Top 20 ish prospects and fits Rizzo's wants is FA Yasmani Grandal. Starting Pitcher is the other place as Rizzo has always built around that and seems ready and willing to do that again.

NL East

The Braves expect to spend more money, but not go all in and get a star like Bryce or Machado. It seems like they are likely to add a closer (though not Kimbrel). Also likely is a reliable starter to front end their plethora of young and prospect arms, but don't bet on the top few names. A catcher of some sort to replace Suzuki is also probable though again on the cheaper end.  Given a lack of interest in spending money and a boatload of prospects, where the Braves might make the biggest splash is in trade deals.

The Phillies are going to spend big. It's almost fait accompli that either Bryce or Machado will end up there and there is not crazy talk of both being possible. They'll likely ship out Franco and eat salary to ship out Santana (a great deal for someone who needs a DH) to free up space and some cash for these guys. Then fill in the space left with quality players when those deals are done. Expect them to bolster the pen and the rotation with at least one more decent player apiece as well.

The Mets are a wild card. They hired an unconvential GM in Brodie Van Wagenen, While some want them to trade away what they got and reset it's arguable they still have the best potential starting rotation anchored by DeGrom, Syndergaard, and Wheeler and it's not like a group like that for cheap comes down the pike every few years. It's probably a smarter move to go heavy in. While they have a lot of payroll in 2019 they have almost nothing after 2020. They could do anything but it seems the most likely scenario is adding to the pen, and trying to shape an offense around cheaper pieces.

The League

As expected it's been slow. The biggest Nats related news would be on the catcher fron. The Rays traded for Mike Zunino, one of the few decent available catchers. Grandal got a QO and declined which means he'll cost a draft pick compensation, which we have seen is vastly over valued by organizations. Does that make Grandal cheaper for the Nats? Does that make the Nats not want Grandal?

Both Keuchel and Corbin are QO guys as well but figure to draw enough interest since you need 150 pitchers but only 30 of each position. Hyun-Jin Ryu, Boras client and potential FA pitcher, accepted his QO and he's off the table for the Nats although that was never really discussed.

Other than that the Rangers seem to be gearing up for a non competitive season and the Yankees re-signed Sabathia, a potential innings eating 5th starter for someone. Everyone else has been in a holding pattern for now.

It seems like the early interest is to try to get a cheap rotation and catching answers along with the now annual bullpen run. It wouldn't be surprising to see Suzuki, Ramos, Maldanado, maybe Lucroy, McCann, and Wieters, all go pretty quickly leaving a couple teams to fight over Grandal. In the same way expect Happ, Morton, Lynn, Eovaldi, Cahill, and yes Gio to fill out rotations first if they are willing to go cheaply (or briefly in Happ's case). GMs with money restrictions, which is like 27 of them, are going to try to get out of December with everything pretty much intact and if that means Garrett Richards or Matt Harvey as your #4 so be it.

What's the combination mean? On the budget end, they aren't likely to find themselves with any real value in the bullpen, as this will probably empty out pretty quickly. But I gather they understood that which is why they moved early. The second base gambit though should be fine as interest is low and supply is high. The can stick with Kendrick as they say, but it's very likely a mediocre cheap veteran will be here ready to back up. On the high end, It means if the Nats are in on Grandal, Corbin, or Keuchel it's a gamble. They could end up with leveraging position if everyone cheaps out, but more likely they'll be left in a 2-3 team bidding war if they let these things play out too long. To not get shut out it'd probably make sense for the Nats to make an early play on one of these guys, so I wouldn't be surprised if Dallas Keuchel has inked a deal by Christmas.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Max Scherzer - When will it end? Will it end?

Max Scherzer is a singular talent. This isn't just about pitching skill. When he came in I doubted Max's ability to stay healthy given his work load. But now, four years into his deal, which I think was my limit in how many full years Max would get to, he's thrown more innings than anyone and appears perfectly fine.

It's not just that he's thrown more innings than anyone. He's blown them away. Since 2013 Max has thrown 1313 innings. Second best is Corey Kluber at 1238 innings. Third is Verlander at 1205 innings. Max has thrown 100+ inning more than the third most durable pitcher in baseball in the past 6 years - about a half season more of pitching. It only takes until number 15 to get to over 200 innings in the lead, meaning Max has given his teams a full season more (or more) than the vast majority of pitchers in this league.

But nothing lasts forever. At some point Max will get hurt. For Nats fans the question is will it happen in the next three years?

Well the honest answer is - we don't know! Everyone is different! But we can sort of guess by looking at pitchers with similar careers to this point and see what happened to them.  To the similarity scores! (similar through 33 via b-ref) 

Roy Oswalt?  He's the comparison I liked for Max. But Roy broke at age 33. Max has not. And in case you are wondering about age finagling. Max is about as "old" as a player can get for assigning an age to a year. He turns the next age a few weeks after the deadline. So he's not squeaking by 33 here. It's long gone.

Johan Santana? Broke at 32.

Jon Lester?  Contemporary of Max chugging along fine at 34.

Roy Halladay? Broke at 35.

Tim Hudson? Missed massive time at 33 but came right back and was fine until arguably age got him at 37 or 39 depending.

Jered Weaver? Broke at 32.

Jim Bunning? HOF senator (not HOF Senator, or maybe it is - not a DC ballplayer is what I'm trying to say here. An actual US senator).  Off track at 36

John Smotlz? Missed a whole year at 33, then came back as a dominant reliever, then back as a starter until 41!  Really not comparable because of the reliever thing though

Verlander? Something went off around 31/32 but has since pulled it together and is doing fine at 35.

Zack Greinke? More Strasburg than Strasburg, he's missed time here and there but mostly still fine at 34.

and for funsies

Nolan Ryan? Rarely a great pitcher was still Nolan Ryan through 44/45.

OK so that tells us nothing much.  If we ignore Ryan as a pure freak and Smoltz as a guy whose arm was saved some wear and tear by moving to the pen for several years we get a peak of 37ish but with three contemporaries still pitching right now at least a little older than Max. One thing you notice right away from these guys is that for the guys right before Max's generation, Oswalt, Santana, Halladay, Hudson. Two were done by 33. Hudson missed massive time at 33. Halladay was done at 35.  Meanwhile out of Scherzer, Verlander, Greinke,Weaver, and Lester, who maybe debuted a half-decade later you see only one of the guys crashing out before 34. You have to wonder if there may be something about the pitch count revolution that's having an effect here. Maybe not an overall effect on the league - but allowing guys with strong durable arms to stay strong and durable longer.  Just a thought.

Anyway, is Max going to make it 3 more years? I don't know. If I wanted to be sure I guess I would make Max a closer next year, then move him back.  I wouldn't like him, or anybody really, going deep into their late 30s.  That's just extremely atypical. But with three contemporaries heading into age 35/36, why not Max? Right now I think it's no worse than a coin flip. Given that take, you'd probably give him a year and a half (basically until he turns 37) but that's just guessing.

He's already given the Nats everything he could (in the regular season). Let's hope he stays healthy and gets a chance to take away those parenthesis.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Grandal or bust?

Rizzo made a comment yesterday that he wanted a frontline catcher - a guy to catch 120 games.  I went ahead and took a shot and tried to find guys who played that much.  But it turns out catching 120 games is pretty rare. Only 4 guys managed the feat in 2018. So I gave a little leeway. 230 games played the past two seasons with at least 90% at catcher. That would put a minimum of something like 105 games. At least in the ballpark of being able to start 120 reliably.

That got me only 6 names. Because one wasn't Realmuto I did a little more digging and I had him at 90.5% but I guess baseball ref is doing something different because he pops up at 89% but not 90%.  So I dropped the requirement to 85%. That got me 8 guys.  That's gotta be the limit of guys you could reasonably expect to catch 120 games

Who are these guys? Well first let's take out two guys who aren't going anywhere.

Yadier Molina is one. He is going to retire a Cardinal unless something crazy happens. Wilson Contreras is one. The Cubs are contending and not dealing a starting catcher.

We are down to 6

Yasmani Grandal. He's the prize. He can hit.  He's a .240 bat with 20+ HR power and nice amount of patience. He might be the best framer in baseball. People were a little turned off by his post-season performance but that was atypical. He's a good fielder. The only real knock on the guy is that he'll be 30 next year and will probably get a contract that takes him into his decline years. Still, he's going to get a lot of money in free agency

JT Realmuto. We know all about him. He was thought of as possibly the best hitter of all available catchers before last year, then set himself apart performing really well in a dead line-up. He hits for power and good average which covers for middling patience. Defensively he's great at the usual stuff but not much of a framer. Still arguably the best catcher in baseball right now. The Marlins are asking the world for him.

Mike Zunino. He's also a guy with 20+ power who's a pretty good fielder. Solid framer with a rocket arm. But there are a couple problems. First problem is he's nothing else at the plate. After a surprisingly good 2017 he went back to hitting around .200 and he's not patient. Second problem is he's not a FA and he just got traded to the Rays. On one hand, maybe the Rays are looking to flip him. On the other he's exactly the cheap player they want now... and will flip later. He's probably not available. Like Realmuto though he's under control for two more years.  Also like Realmuto, 28 next year.  Very much a poor man's Realmuto.

Jon Lucroy. The best catcher in baseball just back in 2016 age has taken a quick toll on Jon. His power went last year and pitchers realized they could come right after him this year taking a bite out of his patience. His defense still looks good but his framing stats have also declined. You wouldn't think a guy would be done at 33 but he's a FA who will get one-year flier contract and nothing more.

Martin Maldanado.  Never heard of the guy? Not surprising. He's was an uninspiring back-up for the Brewers before getting a full-time job with the Angels in 2017.  Last year the Astros picked him up as a back-up. You couldn't ask for a better fielder. Very good framer who threw out a league high 49% of runners last year.  But a nothing with the bat and never will be anything. Still that defense should earn him a 2 yr deal in FA.

Tucker Barnhart. Sneaks in at 85% He's kind of the traditional defensive stalwart catcher, meaning he blocks everything but can't frame at all. His arm is good and when that broke right (led league in CS% in 2017) he found himself with a gold glove. He's a little better than Maldanado at the plate and younger but also not a FA.  He's under Reds control through 2021.

If the Nats want to get immediately better at catcher the choices are clear. You sign Grandal or you trade for Realmuto.  If the Nats simply want a body back there they can rely on being back there - they have some choices. I suggested a platoony type situation but Rizzo seems to want consistency. That means you are probably looking at someone on this list.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Offseason Position Discussion : Relief Pitching

Last year discussion revisited

The Nats set up a three-headed monster with Doolittle, Madson, and Kintzler - all acquired in-season 2017, sticking around for 2018.  It was probably the best pen the Nats had going into a season, but I was also wary that it felt like a pen that was lacking that dominant closer and was relying on at least one too few good arms. Either they had to find that capper or add another couple arms or else I was worried that the way it was set up it was still one injury from being a problem again.

Guess what? It was one injury from being a problem. Doolittle would be healthy and great and for a good chunk of the season someone stepped up be it Madson, Miller, Grace, or Suero. The Nats would have injuries and Rizzo would act quickly to get another arm, trading for Kelvin Herrera. Unfortunately Herrera didn't click, and the Nats really needed more, expecially as the Nats rotation pushed the pen harder than expected mid-season. All in all it actually wasn't the hole that it might have seemed like, but it also never developed into a strength. By the time the trade deadline rolled around, the Nats gave up on the season, traded away the pen guys they could and decided they'd start anew. As would be expected the Nats pen imploded and helped quash any late run the Nats might have had in them

Presumed Plan : Doolittle will close and then the Nats will assemble a motley crew around him.  They've already traded for Barraclough and signed Rosenthal and I wouldn't be surprised if one or two other cheap arms join them.  Miller, Grace and Glover are close to locks. Which leaves one spot open right now which would probably be Suero right now.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : Doolittle was great. Sticking with him makes sense. Rosenthal has potential, as he was great before injury so bringing him in is a decent gamble. The rest is just the best pitchers currently rostered. No one here is dominant, or likely to be (sorry Glover), but they are all solid. I'm sure they'd rather have another lefty in here but there isn't a strong candidate that has to be in there. Tim Collins is fine, and maybe sneaks in if he re-signs.

It's not like the Nats aren't potentially spending a ton of money on the pen. Rosenthal will cost a lot if he's good. But this limits the money they can add now. If you have a limit, and it seems like the Nats do, then Rosenthal's potential cost becomes a sticking point. So I can't see another big name coming in here. Instead I see maybe an ok lefty being dealt for or signed and filling in that last arm and that being that. Any more than that and the Nats are committing more to the pen than last year and I feel like last year's performance shies them away from doing that.

Problems with Presumed Plan :  How much time do you have?  Outside of Doolittle, nothing here is great and Doolittle himself is an injury risk who missed time in 2018. Rosenthal could be great, but who knows?  The depth is limited as the next guys up are untested (Austin Adams) or so far failures (Gott, Cordero, Solis). There's no match-up abilities given the one lefty arm. There are no long men which presented an issue in 2017.  This isn't a winning pen as designed. AGAIN.

My take : Design is one thing. Reality is another. It can be a winning pen. You can see Doolittle dominate again, Rosenthal come back near his former self and the rest of the pen keeping on. But more than last year the Nats are depending on the rolls of the dice coming up in their favor. Worse still, the depth.  Injuries are nearly a given and once you get past Suero you start pushing into pitchers you may not want to see at all.  Last year the pen was better formed, performed reasonably well (before being gutted) and Nats fans still weren't happy with it. How is this better?

All this pen improves on is the money spent for performance given. Because of Rosenthal's contract the Nats aren't going to spend a bunch of money for shoddy performance. But if they get a shoddy performance what are the chances that money comes right back into the pen?

I'd like to see Andrew Miller or Justin Wilson signed. I'd like to see J-Rod committed to the bullpen as long relief +.  Push out two of these ok arms (Suero and whichever of Glover/Miller looks worse) and run with a bullpen we can be potentially excited about. Even then it's not perfect. Miller isn't MILLER right now so the Nats don't have that killer arm and Rosenthal is a big fat question mark but this is the best the Nats could do right now.

Out of the box suggestion :
I hate the opener idea but in part because I don't think it's used correctly. Sergio Romo isn't a guy that's good enough that you want to maximize his appearances.  You know who is? Max. Whatever his throw schedule is - when it makes sense use him as the opener.  Something like Max - Stras - FA - Max Opener - Roark.  I'd say do it for Stras too but I have no confidence that guy would adapt to anything outside his routine. That wrings another 30-40 innings from your best pitcher and away from the last guy in the pen.The whole point of all this bullpen shenanigans is to in theory get the best arms on the mound for the most amount of time. Let's actually try to do that

Friday, November 02, 2018

Offeseaon Position Discussion : Starting Pitching

Last year discussion revisited

We assumed it would be the usual 4 with a cheap FA in the 5th role and it was with Hellickson filling that final spot. It became clear as the season started that the Nats plan was to use Hellickson less as a traditional starter and more as a 4-5 inning pitcher and use the bullpen to soak up the rest of the innings. This made sense in a way with a very solid 1-4 and a newly filled out bullpen. Then baseball happened

The Nats would suffer injuries and Martinez would push the pen early trying to compensate and get wins. The pen would begin to suffer. The starting pitching would hold through May. Hellickson pitching insanely well and the Nats looking like starting pitching would carry them to another division title. But then Gio and Roark would have terrible Junes, Strasburg would check in for his annual one-month vacation, and Hellickson would get hurt as well.  The Nats in house options (J-Rod and Fedde) would prove inadequate and the pen was no longer there to bail them out - now overused and trying to help out Roark and Gio. At the same time the offense sputtered and the Nats dug themselves a hole they wouldn't climb out of.

After the disaster of June, the 2nd half would be a mixed bag Roark would recover in the 2nd half, Gio wouldn't, Strasburg would return ,and Hellickson wouldn't quite finish out the season. They did ok, but the Nats needed great to come back and they weren't great.

Oh yeah. And Max nearly won another Cy Young.

Presumed Plan :Max, Stras, Roark, a free agent/ trade for a good pitcher, someone in-house

Reasoning on Presumed Plan :With Gio gone the Nats need to fill two spots in the rotation. While they might be tempted to go with another Hellickson type, Strasburg's continual missed time and Roark off-month should give them enough pause to understand that's not a plan for a contender.  The Nats need to bring in a real pitcher. We all hope it's a Corbin/Kuechel type or someone good and young in trade but it doesn't necessarily have to be that. I could see a trade for a decent rotation filler type like Clayton Richard.  Regardless it has to be someone because you can't expect two guys to shake out from what the Nats have on hand.

Why leave a spot for someone in-house? Well they have two guys they really want to decide on. Joe Ross, who came back from TJ surgery to look perfectly adequate, and Erick Fedde, the arm they bet on when they sent Giolito, Lopez, and Dunning away. Both these guys are under Nats control for a few more years and if they can develop into even a Roark-lite that would help the Nats immensely as they try to budget pitching for the next few seasons along with everyone else.

Problems with Presumed Plan : Starting pitching is hard to get right and a big FA contract here can be trouble. If they don't go with a big FA signing though all it would take is Strasburg to get hurt for a little longer this year or Roark to pitch like... well he has over the past couple season, for the rotation to stop being a strength.  There is always the option to deal for quality but the Nationals have balked previously when it came down to giving up what's necessary to get that back.

Leaving the fifth spot for one of the in-house options to fill is also a problem if only because the Nats track record is not great. Since Stras and ZNN came up in 2010 the Nats have developed one starter - Roark. That's 8 seasons of nothing. Sure, part of that is lack of need. They could focus their efforts elsewhere with the starters they had on hand and they used a lot of high round picks as trade bait.  But you have to believe they felt someone would break out by now. Of the Top 5 round draft picks they bet on Solis became a reliever. Turnbull, Purke, Mooneyham, Voth, Cole, Johansen, Dickey, Van Orden, Rivera not Jr all haven't come through. Who's to say anything the Nats have decided to keep is suddenly going to break this trend?

One year, eventually, Max won't be MAX anymore. He is well into his 30s now.

My take :  The Nats are a pitching team and have always had top notch starting pitching. Last year was the first year in the Nats window that they've dropped below 7th in starter ERA (they were 13th). This is their identity and it's a winning formula. That's why it's hard for me to believe they won't go after a top notch pitcher. However, I don't now exactly what the Nats plan would be here. The Nats are rightly cautious on FA types and in trade these types don't come around all that often. Are they willing to sell a Robles+ for a Snell, if that deal would even be considered?

I think the Nats should do something different then I think they are going to do. I think make a trade and sign a guy and forget about the in house options. Maybe, in fact, deal them away. I'd trade for Chris Archer. He was a dependable pitcher with health before last year, an underrated quality, and his injuries last year were more fluky and less worrisome (and still only cost him 50 innings). He would only be a one-year guy but I think they could extend him with ease and at a time where you might be able to do it for a bargain price. He's also likeable which is a good replacement for Gio, who was also likeable in a sea of otherwise forgettable Nats. The Pirates are trying to reset to win in the 2020-on time frame around a set of four young pitchers, of which Archer isn't one, and what they need is that MI type the Nats could give them... if the Nats will bite the bullet and not grip tightly to their current best prosepcts Kieboom and Garcia.

I would sign JA Happ, because (1) I'd like a lefty and (2) his age means you are going to be able to get him on a deal that could be two-years and a vesting option.  It's a riskier move, yes, because of his age, but one that has a much shorter time frame of pain if it does go wrong. And he's been relatively healthy and I value that.

Out of the box suggestion :
Oh you are going to hate this. Look, the Nats have one thing everyone wants despite the cost. Max Scherzer. Now, you don't deal Max if you are planning on winning. You deal Max if you are planning on rebuilding for the future. But that might not be the worst idea. The Nats have talent enough, in Max and Rendon, to bring back guys that can play if not, right now then debut next year. The best fit for Max would be the Yankees. They have the deepest farm system of the current contenders, the deep pockets to cover his salary but I won't push that. Just let it be known I wouldn't trade Max for anything less than near ready starter plus. But understand no option will be palatable for you. To the Astros for Forrest Whitley? Back home to the Cardinals for Alex Reyes+? To the A's for Jesus Luzardo? (Yep that's right). Then you deal Rendon for an 1B or C everyone likes. Can you stomach Rendon on the Dodgers for Kiebert Ruiz and Gavin Lux? or maybe more pitching. Dustin May?

Rebuilding, really rebuilding, is terrible because it's giving up on winning now for maaaybe winning later. But you know you have Soto and Robles here for a while and you know you have aging pitching and little in the pipeline. Are you willing to pay for more pitching in two years when expensive Max and Stras may be on the books and starting to break down in some way? If not, there's only one move.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Redux and Rosenthal

I keep forgetting that something obvious to me, who is here everyday for too many year, is not obvious to everyone, especially ones that may be just picking up a post here and there.  So as a quick reminder - the Out of Box plan is NOT to be taken seriously.

Here is my post last year on this subject of what these reviews are.

OK on to Trevor Rosenthal

For those unfamiliar with his oeuvre, Rosenthal as been a quality reliever for the Cardinals since 2012. He's a high strike out guy (12.0 K/9 for his career) who is not very hittable (7.8 H/9) and not prone to the long ball (0.5 HR/9).  His bugaboo is the walk as he is a little wild (4.0 BB/9). He had some issues in 2016, which cost him his closer role* but other wise he was an All-Star caliber arm through 2017.

What about 2018? Oh yeah - he didn't pitch.  In 2016 he had some shoulder issues and an in-hindsight completely telling flexor strain and pitched 2/3rds of a season. Feeling good with Oh in the closer role the Cardinals decided "Hey why don't we take this closer for the past 5 seasons and stretch him back into a starter!" Smart move, Lilliquist. Wait a second. That name sounds familiar. Anyway they didn't follow through with it and after toying with it a little in Spring gave up. A lat strain cost him a few games to start the season, occasional arm "soreness" would have him miss a game or two until finally the arm came tumbling down in mid August. The UCL needed replacement and TJ was done at the very end of the month. 

Rosenthal was cut by the Cardinals and remained a free agent through his recovery. He had a showcase right after the season was done and that's where we stand now.

It's hard to say exactly what Rosenthal is right now because of that injury. Whatver issues that sprang up in 2016 and 2017 could easily be the fault of the elbow injury and thus aren't telling us anything. At the same time 2015 is a long time to look back and try to draw a straight line from.  I can tell you what you want to see - a pitcher approaching 100 MPH. Rosenthal is a fast ball pitcher and if his fastball isn't elite anymore then I'm not sure he's worth a gamble. You'd also like to see a solid slider. But these are things we have to wait til Spring to see. Presumably the teams have that info.

The Nats are supposedly promising him 7M total - 6 million for next year, with incentives that can pay up to 14 million and a vesting option for 15 million if he hits targets of 50 games appeared, or 30 games finished, with a 1 million buy out.

What does this all mean
1) The Nats have a pretty good bead that Rosenthal is healthy and decent. 7 million is a lot to spend on a pitcher that's just a lottery ticket
2) The Nats have already spent their big money on relief pitching. Since his salary can get up to 14 million the payroll has to be budgetted that way. So if you are expecting another shiny new relief arm, I'd forget it
3) The Nats are setting up salary expectations quickly which bodes well for a big contract coming. Though that could be Bryce, a starter, or something totally unexpected.

Assuming the Nats are right and Rosenthal is good to go - this is a great signing. But I can't give a real opinion until I see him at least a few times in the Spring. Right now it's a black box.

*He led the majors in saves in 2014-15

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Offseason Position Discussion : Outfield

Last year discussion revisited

It was a pretty cut and dried plan. Bryce because he's Bryce. Eaton because that was the plan and he would presumably be healthy. MAT because he played well enough in 2017 to deserve it. Robles, most likely, would be the back up plan if any of these didn't work out. (and would hopefully be pushing MAT by July regardless)

But the whole thing fell apart pretty quickly.  Eaton got injured on April 8th. Robles on April 9th. MAT hit poorly in April and worse in May. Stevenson and Sierra, the early replacements, were terrible at the plate. Things were going bad fast. Then Juan Soto came up and put up a ROY type year and possibly the best year ever for a 19 year old. I'm not saying it saved the season, because... well it didn't. The Nats still missed the playoffs. But it gave them a shot at sticking in it this year and an answer for the future.

Why didn't a ROY type surprise have enough impact to put this team over the top? Well Bryce, who started out great, fell hard and put up an off May, where he just hit for power, and a terrible June, where he hit for nothing. Eaton would come back around that time and also struggle mightily. Other bad, non-outfield things were happening. This is when the Nats would dig themselves a hole. Bryce would right himself after winning the HR Derby, and Eaton would be Eaton in the 2nd half but Soto would be mortal in August and by the time they all got going at the same time the Nats had give up on the season.

I wouldn't be surprised if the Nats had the best OF in baseball in the 2nd half so it wasn't a problem or a failure for the season. However, it wasn't around to carry the team like it could when the team needed it.

Presumed Plan : We'll go into all the choices but this is the presumed plan - which to me appears to be the Nats let Bryce walk and Eaton, Soto and Robles/MAT take over in the OF.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : Bryce is going to cost a lot of money and the Nats OF situation looks pretty good without him. Soto showed MVP talent last year (and is super cheap). Robles is a highly regarded prospect and ready (and is super cheap). Eaton has been exactly what the Nats expected, if not for as many games as the Nats expected (and is at a reasonable cost). MAT is still a premier fielder (and maybe slightly overpaid - but still cheap). Bryce might cost 2 1/2 times what they cost combined by himself. Yes, Bryce would make the team better but the OF is set and GOOD! without him. That money could be used to fix catcher, fix the back of the rotation, fill-up the pen, and/or make 2B better. Or that money could be set aside to sign Rendon who is a FA next year.

Problems with Presumed Plan : Are you going to listen to me this year? Because you didn't last year when I tried to say OF could be an issue. Which ok, above I said it wasn't, and it wasn't but only because Soto shocked us all and put up MVP numbers.  He comes in and is ok, above average? The OF is a problem for the season.

The Nats are going in with a 2nd year player who could see a fall in performance, two players who were injured as much as they've were healthy in 2018, and a 4th OF has proven that he's not an everyday major league hitter. Looking here and seeing an MVP, a ROY, and a possible All-Star is seeing the outfield at peak possibility for these players. It's as likely as a scenario that sees them at their reasonable non-injured nadir. Soto putting up solid numbers while mangling D, Eaton an average everyday OF, and Robles hitting slightly below average with solid D. I'm not going to linger on that - I just want to be a realist. We have to consider the middle ground and use that to figure out how Bryce might fit in. The middle ground is Soto is fringy All-Star caliber, Eaton is his usual self - both these guys kind of meh on D and Robles hits a little above average while covering for both of them in CF. 

That's a good outfield! But Bryce's expectation would do no worse than match Soto here, and he's a better bet than Robles, a better bet than Eaton. He's also 27 next year and put up one of the great seasons of all-time while healthy. Do you really want to trade that away, when he's got 4-5 seasons where he's probably capable physically of duplicating that feat? Letting HOF talent walk rarely works out in your favor.

My take : There are two other plans here.
1) Sign Bryce, Trade Eaton
2) Sign Bryce, Trade Robles.

Both plans are based on the idea that if you sign Bryce the outfield is too crowded and someone needs to go. It's not even necessarily just a numbers game. You have 4 starting caliber players and some would consider it a waste to not turn one into help elsewhere.

Trading Eaton would be trading your player who is not for the future and costs the most money (but still cheap) to free up some money.  Thanks to two years of injuries, you probably wouldn't get much more back than a good reliever or a couple ok prospects to flip to someone else but it's the money more than anything you are concerned about, especially with the Lerners edict to stay under the tax threshold.

Trading Robles would be trading a legit prospect to get back legit help somewhere else. JT Realmuto behind the plate is most often talked about. Some sort of return that immediately fills a need with a near All-Star caliber talent at least.

What's my take given all three plans? Do none of them. Sign Bryce and keep everyone. You cannot replace the potential of Bryce and you don't give up on that. OF too crowded? Injuries happen and Zimmerman's deptarture next year frees up first base. There is room for Bryce, Soto, and Robles here in the future. Eaton is exactly the cheap player you want.

What does this mean for the 2019 plan? Well you saw me go cheap on C, forgoing Grandal for a couple vets. That's one part. You probably still sign a starter but you have to cut corners on relief. That's not ideal but I also don't kid myself. Fedde? Reliever. J-Rod? reliever. Anyone in AA or over not named Wil Crowe? Reliever. Stop playing games trying to eek out the next 5th starter. You have Ross or can sign a Hellickson. Oh and bring in a pitching coach, who ever it may be, that seems to be the best in developing relievers.

Out of the box suggestion :
BURN IT DOWN.  Bats are more affordable than arms and more reliable than arms so they make better FA signings. Trade for pitchers and sign hitters. Trade Robles for deGrom and Soto for Snell+. Maybe Eaton + Kieboom or Garcia for that headcase Bauer. Or get Raisel Iglesias for Kieboom and more. I'm not sure exactly how - just make it work. Sign Bryce, sign Brantley, sign Cutch? Maybe not Cutch. I don't know Don't try to walk the tightrope from window A to window B and fall into the 80 wins area for the next few years as this doesn't work or that guy gets injured. WIN NOW. FOR ONCE WIN NOW.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Monday Quickie - Winter of our BryceContent

WS over. Congrats Sandy Leon?

Madson was the more prominent former Nat and he failed big time. If there could be an LVP for the series, he would have won it. Part of this is his fault for sucking. Part of it is the Dodgers fault for saying "all he needs is to be rested" and then abandoning that in the series. Oh well.

So now we move into free agency and the number one thing is getting the Bryce Harper decision made and out of the way. We'll talk about it more tomorrow in the OF post-season review but this is the decision that informs everything else. Right now through 5 positions the Nats plans are pretty clear

- Get a 1st base back-up for Zimm
- Get a decent 2B to start or back-up Kendrick
- Get a catcher

You can finagle these all to be rather cheap but more likely you are looking at around 15 million in 2018 and that's with just getting a catcher. You get a good catcher and that jump up to 20 or 20+.  Bryce's savings is nearly spent and we haven't gotten to the rotation (they need a starter - a good one) and the bullpen (they need some good arms).

But a good and healthy Bryce covers a lot of problems. The 2015 Nationals' second best hitter was Yuney Escobar. Their third best hitter was Clint Robinson. And yet they still led the East half the season before the trade deadline and flirted with the playoffs. So you can bring him back and maybe roll with Severino/Kieboom/Read at catcher. Or Difo as your #1 back-up while you wait for Kieboom the Greater or Garcia to be ready.

But you have to decide. We're going to get some movement here very soon and if they wrong moves are made the Nats are going to find themselves making moves out of necessity rather than choice. These can still work out (see Murphy, Daniel) but let's not pretend that wasn't a fluke.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Offseason Position Discussion : Catcher

Last year discussion revisited

Last year we assumed the Nats would stick with Wieters because they were paying him and there were no better options. Severino would back up because they weren't paying him and there were no better options. In a completely forgotten about development the Nats had been speaking very high of Raudy Read to end last year and it seemed reasonable to believe they were hoping he might take a big step in 2018. We all hoped that the above, which objectively appeared to be a failure waiting to happen, would somehow work out. Or maybe the Nats would do something else.

The Nats didn't do something else and it didn't work out. Wieters would have an oddly effective start to the season (homers and walks) get hurt, and hit like 2016 when all was said and done. That wasn't as bad as 2017, but it was still below average. Despite 20% of the Nats fanbase fooling themselves into thinking he could do better, Pedro Severino, the guy who never hit in the minors, didn't hit in the majors. At all. .168 average, 2 homers in 70 games. Read would get suspended in the spring for PEDs. When he came back he hit like he had done before in AA (ok) and floundered in a brief AAA audition. Spencer Kieboom would take his place in the pecking order and he would hit like 2017 Wieters. With none of these guys seen as gold glove defenders to make up for the lack of production at the plate, all in all the Nats had possibly the worst catching situation in the NL.

Presumed Plan : The Nats bring in someone through trade or FA, while Severino, Kieboom, and Read fight for the back-up role

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : They can't enter 2019 as a serious contender with Severino/Kieboom as a plan. That would be taking that "worst catching in the NL" situation and somehow making it worse. No one thinks these guys are going to amount to anything. This is not a plan is a desperation heave into the endzone.

So that being said the only option is to solve this problem from without. There are a handful of catchers available on the market this off-season, most notably Yasmani Grandal, who has spend his whole career as an above average bat. Old friend Wilson Ramos is available. As is former hot thing, Jon Lucroy who can still hold his own behind the plate. The point is - there are catchers available better than Severino/Kieboom for nothing more than money

If trading is in the cards, JT Realmuto seems like the ideal candidate, but there are likely one or two others available (Sal Perez? Cervelli?) at various costs and returns. Again better than Severino/Kieboom.

Problems with Presumed Plan :  Free agents are always a gamble and the catcher position feels even more so. It's a demanding position with hard to define defensive qualities that is often filled with mediocre bats. Some catchers age like fine wine, especially in part-time roles, like former Nat Kurt Suzuki. Others just stop performing entirely, like Russell Martin. Good luck at figuring out which catcher will do that.  If they throw money at it, they could end up with another Wieters situation where the team feels obligated to start the signed guy for the length of the deal.

Trading is a little more secure because you could deal for a younger guy, which mitigates some of the injury risk. Unsurprisingly though - teams don't want to deal young good catchers (which makes Realmuto a rare breed) If a team deals for someone older, they could end up trading for a big fat nothing.

There's nothing here that doesn't apply to every signing but catcher feels more problematic than your average offensive position. That's why there are so many below average catchers out there.

My take : The Nats have to do something, but the catcher slot provides usually minimal rewards that it's very tempting to do little. Why spend 10 million a year over 4 years for a guy that is merely "above average" when 2 mill a year for 2 might snag you a guy just slightly below average? Betting on framing numbers (Grandals are very good)? Why not turn that money into a starter, reliever, or use it to help your Bryce/Rendon situations? 

What it feels like to me is the catcher situation is the last domino to fall. The Nats will grab a back-up 1B, some cheap 2B from the glut, decide what to do on Bryce, decide what to do on Rendon, grab a real SP, and then ok, deal with catcher. Is this ok? Assuming they make all the right decisions above I can see that.

The problem is though, the position isn't really deep enough to wait on. Sit on it too long and you'll find yourself with no good options again and what? Wieters back on a 1mill/yr deal?

Here's what I do - I throw reasonable but cheap contracts at Jon Lucroy and Brian McCann (say 3 mill a year for 2 years a piece) and say you guys are a platoon, deal with it.. Lucroy was a good hitter three years ago, McCann two, chances are you luck into something here. Guys like Lucroy behind the plate which is always appreciated and he may benefit from a split catching situation with more rest. McCann, I know Nats fans hate, but players seem to generally like him and he'll add something to the Nats that they didn't have this year - someone to take media attention if necessary. And it'll be for reasonable costs.

Would I rather trade for Realmuto? Yes. But I don't believe the Nats will part with Robles, or throw everything else at the Marlins, so what's the point of going down that road.  Would I like Grandal on the team? Yes. But I think the cost will be high on him and they haven't shown themselves to be flexible enough to win a bidding war and not let it effect their overall plans. With a strict payroll limit being set I don't want so much sunk into one player at one position.

Out of the box suggestion :

You want OOB? Here's OOB. Trade Strasburg to the Yankees for Gary Sanchez. Yes, yes crazy but hear me out here. This year was bad for Sanchez but everyone in baseball, including the Yankees - who are all but saying don't bother coming knocking around for Gary, seem to think it was just a perfect storm. A few defensive miscues, a few injuries, a slump to start, just snowballed. If everyone is right you get a monster hitter with solid defense for nothing, because you bought low. But you can't really buy low on this guy. Joe Ross + Erick Fedde is a joke offer. So you give up Strasburg. Why Strasburg? Because Strasburg is a guy who misses a month every year, who's working off a TJ arm, who probably tried to skip out on a playoff start last year because he wasn't 100% ready putting his team in an awkward bind, who you have 5 very expensive years left to pay for. At some point that's a check that's going to have to be cashed and better that the Nats aren't left holding the bill.  Sure you have to replace that production in the rotation but with 25+ million freed up with Strasburg gone, you can do it.

It was the era of Stras and Bryce. If it's to end, then really end it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Offseason Position Discussion : Third Base

Last year discussion revisited

We assumed Rendon would start and play. Despite pretty much full years in 2016 and 2017 I still bought him as an injury risk and suggested they needed a strong back-up. The Nats did bring in Kendrick who could have covered for Rendon but his position was third down on that list behind 2B, which we knew would have to be covered to start, and OF which is a 3 player deal.

Rendon this year bruised his toe, hobbled through a week where the Nats thought maybe it'd magcially heal fast (it didn't) then missed the rest of April and first week in May. Effectively, if the Nats training staff had been on it, he'd have missed a few days under a month. While he was out Eaton was out too and with Murphy already out this was the time guys like Adrian Sanchez and Moises Sierra were seen in the lineup. It actually didn't end up being too bad but in the end a few more wins may have changed some minds in regards to July decisions. He'd miss a week later in the year for paternity leave but otherwise remain healthy and play like Rendon should play.

Presumed Plan : Rendon plays 3B.  His back-up is contingent on the 2B moves. It could be Difo, it could be Kendrick, it could be whoever they sign in FA to play 2B.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan :Why does Rendon play? He's great. Sometimes it gets lost behind the super offensive skill of Bryce and now Soto, or the more heralded play of guys like Arenando or Bregman, but Rendon has been one of the most valuable players in baseball over the past three years, on par with everyone but Trout and probably Mookie Betts. He can hit. He can field. This is easy.

But he still remains they type of guy that can suddenly be out for 1 week that becomes 3+ in the blink of an eye so you do have to think about his back-up more than you would a normal player. But again - with other issues paramount 3B back-up has to roll into other decisions. Whatever they decide for 2B will inform 3B.

Problems with Presumed Plan : As we noted - Rendon is an injury risk. He has played a fair amount of games the past few years, enough that you can't make a Zimm like assumption he'll miss half a year. But a month? Sure. Do you want to see Difo for a month? Nope. That's too much Difo.  Kendrick might be a good solution for a month but he could be pencilled into 2B and if not, would be first up if Robles (injury risk) and Eaton (injury risk) go down* 

There's also the elephant in the room of Rendon being a FA after next year. Can the Nats really do nothing all year and possibly let him walk?

My take : Rendon has to be considered a mild injury risk. He seems to heal slow, this 2018 bone bruise being a more benign version of his two month "day to day" injury in 2015. And being older, injured in 2018, and playing baseball regularly we should expect he'll miss some time. As I said a month seems right and him playing 130-140 games is probably right.

I'd like to find a better solution than Difo but I'm not sure there will be. I suppose you could put MAT in the OF and Kendrick at 3B if you need both as the same time. That's probably marginally better than Difo at 3B and Kendrick in OF. I mean, none of this is bad. It's fine. But it's also assuming 2B is solved and not Kendrick and C is fine. Because Difo for a couple weeks... teams have to do stuff like that, even good teams. You absorb it because everything else is working. But if you have a hole at C and no injury cover elsewhere (which would be the case is Kendrick is at 2B and they don't get a starter level back-up) then Difo could be the tipping point that slows the offense to a crawl.

So basically I'm saying Rendon with Difo and maybe Kendrick covering is fine but only if those things are solved and there isn't this potential for it to blow up in the Nats face. If for some reason C is Keiboom/Severino and 2B is Kendrick then the Nats need to bring in a real back-up. (who that is I don't know - Pablo Sandoval? Adrian Beltre? I mean Asdrubal would be perfect in this situation but I have to imagine he finds a starting job somewhere. There's a big gap at 3B where there are above average guys and guys well below average and nothing inbetween. I suppose you sit and wait it out and maybe a Freese or Moustakas become a cheap grab?)

I don't worry about the FA move right now. First there's Bryce. If you don't sign Bryce you sign Rendon. If you do sign Bryce, maybe you still sign Rendon - that depends on if they spent money on pitching as well this off-season. Kieboom/Garcia make losing Rendon a little more palatable as they are likely to come out with one average guy here.

Or let me rephrase this whole thing - they need to get pitching. Sign a pitcher then they are likely to choose Bryce or Rendon (and I choose Bryce but you are fine choosing Rendon). Trade for a pitcher maybe you sign them both. Signing neither shouldn't be an option. Not getting a pitcher shouldn't be an option. But we'll get to that in a week or so. 

Out of the box suggestion :

The Nats seemingly have no compunction about moving Rendon around to fit the needs of another player. So Rendon can go back over to 2B (which may help out Zimm more than most other free agents) then you trade for Nolan Arenando. Great IF defense is set and for one year you are right back all-in (especially if Bryce was signed). Who goes to COL... well that's the tough one. They probably need pitching the most and damned if the Nats don't really develop that. You are likely throwing Fedde and Ross or Ross and Crowe or Fedde and Romero (basically "pick 2 of our imperfect pitching prospects") at them along with #1 pick and complete wild card Mason Denaburg. And you are hoping they love Denaburg.

*No Kendrick wouldn't play CF but they might shift someone there and put him in the corner.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Offseason Position Discussion : Shortstop

Last year discussion revisited

We all expected Trea would play and would be fine. I brought up he was a mild injury risk having come off a season with a wrist problem and his performance at the plate may disappoint. In the worst case scenario, Trea injured and/or not good, Murphy injured and/or not good, the Nats would have been in a real bind. But at least at (only at?) shortstop the Nats caught a break and had no issues over the year. In fact Trea played all 162. He was disappointing at the plate putting up an average year to match the average year in 2017 we were quick to pin on injury. However his defensive numbers picked up to make him a plus player. 

Presumed Plan : Turner plays short. Assuming nothing goes terribly wrong in the 2B plan, Difo backs up.  That seems the most reasonable guess. No surprises here

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : It's pretty simple. If Turner has an overall average bat and is average in the field for a SS that's a starter. I know you'd like to see him hit like he did before* but even league average puts him in/near the Top 10 hitting shortstops in the majors. It's hard to get even that level of production. He's young (25 until the very end of next June) so he could presumably get better.  Plus if he's any better than average in the field (which he might have been last year - fielding stats are iffy) then he's securely in the Top 10. And his speed! I didn't mention his speed! Only Billy Hamilton has more SB over the past three years. His main problem isn't his own production but just the expectations he set early and the fact that there are a handful of great SSs right now. But he's fine, really. He's good.

Difo as back-up is the idea because he's shown himself to be a very good fielder and competent enough with the bat for short time frames. He's not a starter but you don't need one here. At this point you are betting on Trea playing close to full seasons. Your limited bench money, with all the THEY CAN SPEND AS MUCH AS THEY WANT caveats, should go elsewhere.

Problems with Presumed Plan : If Trea gets injured, then Difo is a starter would be a drain on the offense. I think we've proven that now.

If average is Trea's natural offensive level, then variability means he could have a below average season. He was sort of there for the first half of the year.

My take : Let's not make this out to be harder than it is.  Trea's mild injury risk has to be put aside now. He played a full 162 last year. He played 156 in 2016. He played in 140 in 2015, and given the late minor league start, mid-season trade, and September bench role that's a full year. He's the starter and he's a starter you can count on. That means his replacement has to be the last thing the Nats look at here. Zimm, Howie, Rendon, Eaton, Robles all are off the bat easily more likely to see injury time. So, no Difo isn't good. But is he good enough for last man on the bench? If there is a better MI to play 2B/3B on the team? Yes. At least for now.

Long-term Trea is interesting only because they Nats have MIs in the minors. It's like all they have now that their OFs have graduated to the majors. Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia are their top prospects and both, right now, project out to be starters. If you like them to do better than Trea then he, with control through 2022, becomes a very valuable trade piece. But that's not where the Nats are in 2019. The minor league guys are still question marks. Trea is here and ready.

Do I think he'll get back offensively to anywhere near that magical 2016 year? Probably not. He swings and misses too much. That's why you'd even think of trading him down the road. But not now. Yes if he's a average hitter he could put up an even more disappointing year at the plate, going below average. But he's just as likely to put up a slightly above average one.

As for Difo - I'd really like the Nats to get a better MI back-up. Difo has trended the wrong direction with more and more PAs and at 27 next year I don't see how that's going to improve. If it gets any worse he stops being good enough. But I accept the reality of the above. Trea is a good bet to stay healthy so Difo shouldn't play too much. And he's a good defensive replacement which could be important for 2B (depending which direction the Nats go) and is probably what you want for a SS replacement, even in modern baseball. If they get a 2B and make Kendrick super sub - Difo is fine. If they make Kendrick play 2B and sign someone cheap to back him up - Difo is fine. Difo is only not fine if they go into the season and he's the primary 2B/SS/3B back-up.

Out of the box suggestion :

Move Trea to 2nd. Sign Machado. We'd love to bring back Bryce but the fact is Machado is almost as good at the plate compared to a 90% healthy Bryce (which is kind of Bryce's starting point) and he's far more versatile a fielder. So he's not a great SS anymore. You know what? With Rendon on one side and Trea on the other that gives him a lot of cover. Plus you get to have Trea over at 2B instead of Kendrick or some other schmo who can't field which helps cover Zimm. And if you like what you see in your MI guys - well they move up and Machado shifts to 3B.  And maybe he can play SS still. No he wasn't good at the beginning of the year for Baltimore but (1) small sample size (especially for defensive stats) and (2) he played it much better in LA. Change of venue? Getting that experience of playing back? It's certainly worth a one year flier to find out.

Also signing Machado keeps him from going to Philly who desperately need a shortstop and even a below average fielding Machado would be a big improvement overall at that position for them.

*I saw a thing about how Soto SLG'd .950+ to the opposite field last year and got poking around and did you know in 2016 Turner slugged 1.177 on pulled hits? And in about the same number of hits too.  No, I'm not comparing Turner to Soto - different hitters entirely. And no, I'm not warning you not to get overly excited about Soto. Well yeah I'm going to do that, but not here. And really it's more of a "it could happen that he's not a superstar or even a star next year" note - but this is SS talk! No more Soto! Get out of here Soto! 

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Off-Season Position Discussion : Second Base

Last year discussion revisited

Quick. How many games did Difo start at 2nd base? 40? 60?  Try 84.  That in itself should tell you what a mess the position was in 2018.  Murphy ended up being out longer than anticipated.  Kedrick and Difo started a 60/40 share, but when Rendon went out Difo had to slide to 3rd and Kendrick started playing every day. Rendon came back and it went back to 60/40, but soon after Kendrick went out.

At this point things didn't look that bleak. Kendrick had hit as he was expected to, and Difo, after a slow start, hit quite well in May.  It looked like the Nats might actually cover these injuries just fine. But Murphy's recovery remained slow and given more time Difo was exposed as the below average bat he is. June brought reality crashing down at second as Murphy returned but was kept from playing 2nd forcing Difo to continue starting. When Murphy finally moved back in to a defensive role pushing Difo's nonexistent bat to the bench it took another week before he'd hit any better (which he needs to given his suspect fielding)

The Nats finally got the second base play they expected for probably 120+ games from early July to mid August. Murphy would hit .364 / .409 / .551 over those 34 games. But it wasn't enough. The Nats remained out of contention and figuring Murphy was going to test free agency after the year, the Nats dealt him to the Chicago Cubs. Difo would reclaim the starting role for the rest of the year (Adrian Sanchez would spot start) and neither would surprise

The end result is a 2nd base position that was at the level it was in previous years only for 30 or so games. It had another 50 or so run of decent play to begin the year, but the remaining 80 it was an offensive hole.  On the flip side, defensively it might have been the best it has been in a long while, as Difo is a plus defender at 2B.

My OOB plan was trading for Dozier, which would have worked out better than Difo (assuming everything stayed the same) but only slightly as Dozier had an off year at the plate.

Presumed Plan : If the season re-started tomorrow Kendrick would start at 2B and Difo would back him up.  It is possible though they could pick up a FA 2B and let Kendrick take on a supersub role filling in as needed around the diamond.  The Nats do have MI depth in the minors with arguably their two top offensive prospects, Carter Keiboom and Luis Garcia, potential 2nd base replacements* But it's unlikely either will see the majors before September, if then.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : Presumably the Nats understand that the Kendrick/Difo is a precarious issue. We are not sure how Kendrick will recover from his injury, and assuming a reasonable time frame on injury recovery burned the Nationals just last year at this very position. If he is not recovered in time to start the year Difo has shown repeatedly he is not an every day player. However, this is a solution and the Nats have other issues (Catcher, Starting Pitcher, bullpen) arguably higher up on the list. So it's more likely they sit and wait on this then try to push it early.

They can do that because 2B is loaded with decent FAs Asdrubal, Dozier, Marwin, Lowrie, Josh Harrison (possibly), Kinsler, Walker, Descalso, LeMahieu (probably).  Something is going to shake out of that bunch cheaper than they deserve and the Nats can wait and then pounce on that for a one or two year team favorable deal.

There's no reason to do anything longer than 1-2 years because one of those two, Kieboom or Garcia, if not both, will probably be ready for a major league trial in 2020 or 2021. Neither are Soto/Robles level hitters but both have held their own at levels above their age making them rise up the prospect lists. Even if they don't develop into impact players - average position players for pre-arbitration salaries give the team a lot of flexibility to fix issues down the road (1B, SP, the ever present bullpen issue).  But that's long term. For 2019 don't expect either. Kieboom was merely holding his own in AA. He'd have to surprise to be seen earlier than September. Garcia is year behind him.

Problems with Presumed Plan : If they go with Kendrick/Difo the problems are obvious. Kendrick's injury might take more time to recover from or take more out of him as a player and Difo can't be expected to do more than spell someone else. It would be an ok plan if everything else on the team is "solved" but if not there's too much potential to learn the same lesson the baseball gods tried to teach the Nats last year.

Assuming they sign someone, anytime you wait to make a decision you risk losing the best options and taking something less than optimal. Lowrie (good bat, good glove), AsCab (good power, meh glove) and LeMahieu (good average, great glove) will probably go first leaving the Nats with the also-rans, where you are choosing one skill or another. Do you want defense? Choose the aging but spry Kinsler. Want pure power? Choose Dozier. Want some patience? Go with Descalso. All around decency? Marwin. Cheap bounce back potential? Harrison or Walker.  You make a compromise and you hope 2019 isn't the year where the remaining skill goes.

My take : Given how cheap it will be to get a Kinsler, Dozier, Descalso, etc. I say there's no harm in moving in that direction. It will cost you the same as you paid for Stephen Drew to back-up a few years ago and you'll get more out of it. If the contracts go how I think they will, it'd be almost silly not to.  Marwin is probably the most sensible, as he can play multiple positions, but that will probably price him into a starting role somewhere. There isn't really a need to sit and wait on Howie's recovery either. If this guy you sign doesn't start then he'll back up. Whatever. It's a good move anyway you slice it. Assuming Nats are priced out of Lowrie/LeMahieu and AsCab/Marwin go early, I guess I prefer Dozier - who is one year removed from being a force at the plate and acceptable on the field. He's the most likely to get you a Murphy like surprise.

Out of the box suggestion :

Trade for Merrifield and Sal Perez. It will take a lot (say bye to Robles and Kieboom at least) so it assumes a Bryce re-sign but Merrifield has quietly become a star at 2B and is just entering arbitration. Sal Perez is a solid beloved catcher who might be overpaid a little but consider it a package deal and it's still a bargain. You solve 2B and C for a few years without paying a ton of money which allows you to really dig into those pitching issues.

*though they have said no to Keiboom at 2nd. My take is that they are already feeling Keiboom/Sanchez Garcia as the keystone of the future and will either let Turner walk or shift him to third. Or both!