Nationals Baseball: The Nats have a problem

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Nats have a problem

Back a couple years ago I went through a series of posts about how the Nats 2012 - ~2016 came together. About how it wasn't just about general managerial skill but a healthy dose of luck as well. These pieces of good fortune included:
  • The hitting of their pre-window nadir coinciding with the availability of two generational players in the draft. In more iffy years you may have a first pick that's more Luke Hochevar or Tim Beckham 
  • The timing of the development and free agency of players - a couple guys come a year earlier, a couple a year later and the composition of the window is completely different
  • The NL East collapsing - the most the Nats would have to face in divisional competition was one team and some years arguably even that
And another thing we'll talk about in a moment.

The end results of all that and, let's not diminish it, some great organizational work, left the Nats with a team in August of 2012 that you could see competing with little change through at least August 2015 and the reality that they did so with relative ease*.  That relative ease meant the Nats could look to set-up continued success rather than be forced to put in more resources for the now at the expense of the later.

Well things after Year 1 of Window 2** : Window Harder don't line up the same way
  • The success meant lower draft picks that were promptly given up to sign Soriano, Scherzer, and Murphy. The only 1st rounder the Nats did pick was Erick Fedde, who is staring down 25 trying to be successful in AAA.The core of this window isn't wrapped around generational talent.
  • The timing is off as the Nats are slated to lose numerous key components, Werth this year,  Byrce, Murphy, Gio, Madson next year, Rendon, Roark Kintzler after 2019
  • The NL East? Well who knows. It seems like the Phillies are going to be competitive starting next year and the Mets are content to hang around with a .500 team and hope something good happens. So maybe this is no worse than before, but it'll probably be a little tougher... starting next year.
And that other thing

The end result of all that is that the Nats of August 2017 are almost certainly not in general the Nats you will see on the field in August 2020. What that means for the Nats being competitive relies a lot more on how Rizzo (or whoever) put things together than the last window. And it may very well mean that to stay competitive in 2019 and 2020 the Nats may have to plan to rebuild a little in 2021 and beyond.

But let's get to that other thing. It's age. When the Nats window opened in 2012 they were incredibly young

2012 : Batting Age 27.2 - 2nd youngest in the NL; Pitching Age 27.0 - youngest in the NL

But as time has gone on the core aged, and then there were few young players to replace them. Instead the Nats made savvy trades and FA deals. That's great but it's less of a long term solution because the guys you trade for and sign are older

2013: 27.7 (2nd), 27.7 (5th)
2014: 28.7 (11th), 28.3 (8th)
2015: 28.4 (9th), 28.6 (10th)
2016: 28.8 (10th), 29.1 (13th)
2017: 29.2 (14th), 30.1 (14th)

The loss of Werth will help here but the core remains the same and a year older. Wieters, Zimm, Murphy, Kendrick will all be squarely mid 30s. Gio, Max, Tanner, Doolittle, Madson, Kintzler all early 30s. Outside of Robles, the replacements we are looking at are young but not very young. Dfio will be 26, MAT 27, Enny 27, Solis 29.

This is not to say the Nats are going to fall apart in 2018. Not at all. Players in their early-mid 30s may be more likely to see injury and drop off issues, but they are also pretty likely to in general remain productive. But in 2-3 years that group moves into their mid-late 30s and that is not good. If there were a strong young core you might feel better but there isn't. The 2012 team had a big handful of guys 26 and younger that could support the team. The 2017 team had Trea Turner and maybe MAT and Koda Glover? Maaaaybe Joe Ross?

On one hand this is just another bullet point noting that this window is different than the last one, that 2020 won't look at all like 2017, and there is more general manager work to be done to keep the team competitive than at the start of the last window. The age issue though - puts a little more of a sword of Damocles feel to it. The end could come more suddenly than we think.

*we're talking compete here not win. 

** I consider 2016 a transition year, and 2017 the first real year of the "new window"


JE34 said...

This post should be Exhibit A in the "Holy Crap Please Pay Mike Rizzo" campaign.

JE34 said...

The Nats need a top-tier GM to steer the ship through the next few years. If the Lerners don't see this, we're in trouble.

Chas R said...

Interesting insight and analysis Harper. Let's just hope the rebuilding is more like the Yankees than the Astros!

Anonymous said...

Been feeling the same way about this, which is why I'd say go all-in for Realmuto AND especially Rizzo. If the Lerners let Rizzo go, then it's going to be rough in the 2020s. Rizzo might want to stay, but he also might want to go somewhere the next window is opening.

sirc said...

I was reading the mlbtr article matching catchers with the Nats.

To Harper's point in this post, that is a list of short term options for the catcher position, with Realmuto the longest term solution. Do the Nats have a catcher of the future in the organization?

So tell me if I'm wrong:

The only way the Nats will know whether the catchers already in the organization (Read, Severino) can play is to go into the season with Weiters and one of those 2 as their primary catchers and let them play.

If they already know that those 2 guys aren't good enough or ready then sign Avila and kick the issue ahead a year. There are bigger organizational decisions to be made between now and 2019.

Anonymous said...

Nats just signed Hellickson. Any thoughts?