Nationals Baseball: Monday Quickie : Darvish a Cub, do the Nats react

Monday, February 12, 2018

Monday Quickie : Darvish a Cub, do the Nats react

Yu Darvish is now a Cub and that matters. It doesn't MATTER like if Yu Darvish was a Met or a Phillie, but it matters because the Cubs, who are one of the teams the Nats are looking to get past, have decided to go 5 deep in their rotation to start the year, and basically have set themselves up 5 deep for three seasons*. 

The deeper your rotation, obviously the better, not only because of what the security and talent does for the regular season, but how it sets up a post-season. If you have 5 legit starters, you are likely able to pick a better 4 in October or find three you may want to lean on heavily. This is a problem the Nats have vaguely had over the past couple playoffs - having little confidence in Gio Gonzalez and being forced to use a shaky Joe Ross last season.

Of course the Nats sit at four deep and that's probably good enough for 2018, especially when improving at the trade deadline is always an option. But beyond 2018 we start to get into uncharted territory. 

See before 2012, Rizzo traded for Gio. This set up a four deep rotation of Gio, Stras, ZNN, and Detwiler that in a perfect world, after Gio signed his extension, would give the Nats four years of an almost set rotation. It didn't work out perfectly, Detwiler wouldn't develop and would only give the Nats one good year, but aiming for four got the Nats three, and the team was able to work around that**; be it by signing Haren, trading for Fister, or developing Roark.

When the four years were nearing completion the Nats knew they had to do something to keep that rotation depth of at least three, preferably more, going. They tried to extend ZNN. When that failed they signed Scherzer. Then they tried to extend Strasburgand were successful. The Nats were set through 2018. But time inevitably marches on and here we are again, in a similar situation as the Nats were going into 2015. Two pitchers they've relied on are ready to leave over the next two seasons. Do they extend them?

It's not exactly the same situation. Gio and Roark aren't as key today as Strasburg and ZNN were before. Where as in 2015 it was young good pitchers getting ready to go, now it's older middle rotation arms. You tend to let those guys go. But at the same time, in 2015 it was younger, healthier, mid rotation arms staying as opposed to older or more injury prone top of the rotation guys. Where the walk/sign decisions might be clearer, what you have in hand is foggier. You knew what you were working around for the next couple years back then. You aren't as sure now.

The Nats are in a bit of a quandry then. They could assume Max and Stras will be good for about 3 more seasons. That's not crazy though Max will be 36 in that last year.  If so you can probably get by with bringing in a mid-rotation arm, a Jake Odorizzi type, that may not cost too much in return but can fill out that 3/4 role while Max and Stras take care of 1/2. Or the Nats may assume Max and Stras won't hold up over 3 years either due to age and injury and it's paramount to get a top of the rotation arm to compliment them. Darvish was that type. Arrieta is that type. Anything in trade is going to cost them guys they don't want to give up.

The Nats don't need to make a move to compete with the Cubs in 2018. They are good enough to be favorites to win the division, and we can see where the season takes them by the trade deadline. But they very likely will need to make a move to compete with the Cubs after 2018. They can set it up now, in a slow market through free agency. Or they can try to wait it out until next off-season.  Either way something needs to be done between now and Opening Day 2019 and the Darvish signing was the starting pistol going off.

*Lester is signed through 2020 with an expensive team option in 2021. Chatwood is signed through 2020. Quintana is for all intents and purposes signed through 2020 thanks to favorable team options. Hendricks is under team control through, you guessed it, 2020. 

**It helped that the guy that didn't work out was the #4 and not #1.


Chas R said...

It seems to be a buyer's market now. I get the lack of urgency to make a move now, but I would think the costs at the trade deadline will be much higher.

cass said...

Strasburg also has opt-outs after 2019 and 2020 I believe

And in double-checking myself on that, I found reminders of Game 4 of the NLDS which should've gone down as among the greatest in Nats history with Strasburg and Taylor as heroes. Why is this team so frustrating?

Detwiler as a pitcher to build around? I don't think you ever endorsed that approach! Memories.

You can't really have too much pitching depth so I'd sign someone now in this market. Use the 10-day DL like the Dodgers if you have to. We need to get Scherzer more rest in the season anyway so he's fresher in October. I guess we don't have proof that's a problem but it sure seems like it.

But everything is secondary to catcher. I don't understand how Storen lost his job after Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS but Wieters still has his. People love to blame pitchers but not any other players for reasons I'll never understand.

DezoPenguin said...


Wieters still has his job because he's being paid $10.5M, there aren't any solid replacements for him in-house, and at least on one of his big mistakes he got screwed by the ump. And Rizzo is genuinely trying to replace him with Realmuto, one of the genuinely decent options for doing so, just not at a cost that he thinks will hamstring the team (personally I think Soto might be worth giving up, but apparently Rizzo thinks differently, given the chance that Harper leaves in FA, Taylor returns to pre-2017 levels, and/or Zim's resurgence was a last gasp).

The real problem is that yeah, you can add pitching depth (hence why Jackson and Milone were added), just that said depth isn't easy to find at a level that matters. The Cubs just gave six years to a guy who's 31 years old, just had his worst year among his healthy years, has needed to have that "healthy years" caveat, and probably did more to help the Astros win the World Series than any actual Astro. Sure, I'd feel more confident about Arietta, Cobb, and Lynn than any of the current #5 options for the Nats, but I don't feel more confident about any of them than I do about Gio, which is the problem that most Nats fans seem to be focusing on--the idea that they don't want to see Gio making a playoff start (which...well, at least Gio left HIS allegedly horrible game after four innings with his team in the lead, as opposed to Darvish's WS starts), which means having four better starters, which means that Rizzo would need to make a trade--something akin to what the Cubs did to add Quintana last year. And as we've seen with the Eaton deal, trading for players who are good and under contract (say, Chris Archer) requires that we spend heavily to afford them.

Harper said...

cass - to answer your last question - Boras sold them Wieters, he's not pushing someone else on them

blovy8 said...

I hope you're right about the Lerners not taking another Boras guy, Harper. It's not just salary, it's 30 percent on top of that, draft picks and bonus money. So depending on how you value that, your upgrade from Cole/Fedde could be costing you Strasburg or Scherzer money for a #3 maybe. While I don't see Fedde's upside as very high, and Ross has never thrown enough or had a good enough 3rd pitch to feel comfortable projecting him either, the Nats aren't pushing for starting pitchers who are demonstrably better. I think they might have to take a shot where it's just money, and an extra few million is available to push Cole to long man/spot starter where he probably belongs. It's not going to retard Fedde's development to keep him in AAA as a depth starter, and honestly, that is a much safer idea than relying on Milone as your next guy up. I suspect even a guy like Jackson wouldn't care to stick around in AAA if he was pitching well enough to merit a spot - there would be a team that needs cheap innings more than the Nats with all the teams tanking this year. But who does the cheap route get you, Cashner? Garcia? Lackey? Vargas? Meh. Comes down how little they'll take and whether they want to win.

Harper said...

Chas R - well maybe they won't need someone at the trade deadline. So you factor that in. Maybe you get a surprise from Fedde or Cole or just accept you are going to muddle through again and deal with losing Gio in the off-season.

Cass - that is right, though right now I don't see him going anywhere. I didn't hate Detwiler in the 4/5 slot going into 2013. He seemed pretty ok - then he got hurt.

Dezo/blovy8 - I think a question is - how tired is the fanbase with this? If the Nats go into the playoffs again start Roark and Gio again, lose again (assuming only they aren't awesome), does the more casual part of the fanbase revolt and stop coming back? So rather that deal with that - would it be better to (1) address the upcoming likely rotation issue while (2) "showing that you are trying to win" by signing (or trading) for a top of the rotation guy?

Jay said...

I don't think they will sign anyone of consequence. This entire offseason has the feel of we'll reload with the same team and Martinez will get us where Dusty couldn't. Only problem is that baseball is beginning to skew like the NBA. You have super teams and then a few mid-level teams in both leagues and then the bottom 10 to 14. I agree with the thought that more teams may be trying to get the #1 pick than trying to win the World Series. It seems the Lerner family feels confident the Nats will win the division and that is enough. Usually at this point, Rizzo and the Lerner prove me wrong and come up with a big signing. Hopefully, it happens again. I'd like Arrieta in the #3 spot.

Flapjack said...

Is this a year when the Nats could pick up someone good on the cheap? Or might that year really be 2019? With the Darvish deal, not only have the Cubs hampered their ability to compete for next year's big name FAs, they have also reduced the amount of cash on the market. Harper, Kershaw, et al. will have a smaller number of deep-pocket teams bidding for their services. Those big names, in turn, will soak up dollars that otherwise might chase the remaining quality SPs. That tells me next year could be the better time to go shopping, assuming we lose Bryce. Also, I have to disagree with some who argue that the Darvish signing now sets the market for the mid-rotation starters waiting in the wings. Though Darvish is good, and should help the Cubs compete in a tough division, his long-term guarantee is the kind of millstone teams are shying away from now -- the kind of deal that, if you are unkind, you wish on your opponents.

Anonymous said...

Arrieta's numbers were better last year than Roark, but on par with Gio's. But who do you 'want' pitching in the postseason, Gio, Roark or Arrieta?

Easy answer.

Jay said...

Keep in mind that the Yankees and the Dodgers are sitting out this year's offseason to be able to spend big next year. I don't know that I would count on next year.

Kubla said...


I think the casual fanbase is less likely to revolt. Hardcore fans and more astute baseball people can parse the numbers and know who is and isn't good. Others go by reputation and narrative.

My cousin was still talking in mid-July last year about how good of a pickup Weiters was. Werth being propped in the outfield a la Weekend at Bernie's would still score some sentimentality points in the cheap seats. When in search of concrete evidence that one of these players is not crap, they'll point to a time he hit a homer in the playoffs that was "so clutch."

Roark and Gio are both likable guys or at least framed that way. Columnists like Boswell love to harp on personality (smiling Gio and hidden gem Tanner as foils to prettyboy head case Strasburg). Add to that the tendency for the blame in playoff meltdowns to fall on the last guy pitching instead of the starter that couldn't go deep. There's also the uncalled catcher interference last year to set up some sort of "we were robbed" grievance, when there's no excuse for being in a position where that call should matter.

blovy8 said...

Part of it is that in the recent postseason usage pattern, a starter doesn't even get to go far enough to fail much. Four or five innings, two times through the lineup, until they get into a jam, etc. - are fairly recent developments that make having a dominant middle guy or two more important to teams that their 3rd and 4th starters. Plus, we get the dominant workhorse starter like Kershaw or Scherzer leveraged as middle reliever on his throw day. The issue for me is depth. If they don't have Scherzer and Strasburg healthy and ready - they're screwed. Having another really good pitcher like Arrieta might help if someone is dinged up - but the money Boras wants is not reasonable, and so, here we are again, hoping that Roark is his even year self with a moving fastball, to keep our angst a bit at bay.

Harper said...

Jay - what would you say to a Lackey? Consequential or not?

flapjack - that may be true. However the expectation is the Dodgers keep Kershaw. The Yankees will be in on someone, as will the Phillies. These teams could all go in on not just one but two guys. The Astros, Brewers, and Rockies will have space. And a team like the White Sox might be looking to move. What you don't want is to lose Bryce, Murphy, Gio and then try to tell yourself the deals you got on Kimbrel and DJ LeMahieu are game changers.

Anon @ 12:01 - Bumgarner? Wait did we have to pick from those three?

Jay - yes - have no expectations about next year's market today

Kubla - Yeah, but my fear is the narrative becomes "This team will never win" and then the casual people go away. I'm just spitballing here. Really I have no idea (no one does) until it happens again (which is hopefully won't)

blovy8 - I think the biggest problem is that Strasburg and suprisingly Max too are creatures of habit and won't likely go on short rest. What should be an attempt to bludgeon you with the best pitchers becomes convincing yourself that a fresh Roark or Gio is a better option.