Nationals Baseball: Trade Soto or no

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Trade Soto or no

The Nats need a catcher

Ok the Nats don't NEED a catcher. They have catchers - the same catchers they had last year when they easily won the division and came (again) a hair's breadth from making the NLCS. So they can survive simply as is.

But the Nats want a catcher.

This is for two reasons. The first is their catchers stink for 2018.  Wieters surprisingly crashed - going from an average bat to a terrible one (.225 / .288 / .344).  The Nats favorite guy , Severino, would likely be worse at the plate, almost matching Wieters garbage numbers in the minors. Read is a little better bet to be passable, but nothing he's done so far makes you think he can hit well in the majors next year. The second is their catchers stink for the future. Severino can't hit. Read isn't that much better. There isn't anyone in system who looks promising. It's likely the Nats need not only an answer for 2018 but for 2019 and 2020 as well.

JT Realmuto would solve that. He hits well. Not great but well. And he's under team control through 2020 getting paid the peanuts young guys get paid.

So what's the hold up? Well the Marlins know Realmuto is a commodity. They know unlike Stanton (huge contract), Ozuna (making good money and only two years of control), or Dee Gordon (bad player being paid too much) Realmuto should fetch back something very good. Not Top prospect on team good but top prospect in league good. As far as the Nats are concerned that means one of two players, the hyped Victor Robles, and the possible up and comer Juan Soto.

The Nats won't trade Robles and they probably shouldn't. Robles is a Top 5ish prospect. Those guys tend to end up useful major leaguers if not more. He is ready to contribute in 2018 so the Nats would be losing something in the now and the later. If the Nats are unsure about Bryce's future here, Robles serves (hopefully) as some level of insurance to losing him.

But Juan Soto is different. Juan Soto is a Top 50ish propsect (varies from 29 to 56 right now). He is almost certain not to play for the 2018 Nationals and likely to premiere maybe by the end of 2019. He plays outfield which will at best have one open spot (if Bryce leaves) before 2021 and if MAT keeps doing OK, could have no spots open until then. He has already shown a tendency to injure. There's a lot to like about Soto - when healthy he shows both a power and patience beyond his years (19 in 2018) and he should be fine in a corner OF slot. But there's a lot of space and time between A-ball success and major league success. A lot of things can happen. Not the least of which is the Nats may no longer be good anymore.

But Rizzo seems to strongly be against letting Soto go. Rizzo has repeatedly held onto his best bats, which have a higher hit rate than arms, and it's worked out for the team. He can win without Realmuto so it seems like it will remain his line in the sand. Yet, if I were him I'd deal.

Why? Well because the Nats can trade a lottery ticket for actual value. They don't need lottery tickets right now. They have a team that can be very competitive through 2020 if they can avoid injury so why not maximize that team rather than worry about the team that may be coming down the road after that? Kept bats like Robles, Turner, Rendon, were all closer and higher when Rizzo made them off limits. Soto is hasn't even played in High A yet. The MLB pipeline is the one that likes him most (29) where have #29s gone?

  • After 2015 it was Gleyber Torres a good match age wise- he turned into a top prospect, got traded, and got injured. He should still be good but it's likely he won't impact the Yankees until 2019. Apply that to Soto and that's 2021. You're talking a team with only Strasburg, Robles and Turner possibly left (and Turner a year away from FA) 
  • After 2014 JP Crawford was 32 - (Josh Bell was 29 - went looking for someone closer in age) - He was loved and rose up to a Top prospect as well but progress slowed as he hit a wall in AA. He's managed to get into AAA but he's merely ok, no longer looking like the pre-destined star. He's ready for a full try out in 2018 but we're far more skeptical today than after 2014.
  • After 2013 the closest baby (under 21) was Albert Amora who ranked 22. He was pushed up to the majors for 2016 and did ok. He followed it with a full year 2017 that was also ok. He's in the majors and helping, but he's far from a star. More a piece that you can maybe set and forget for a few years to worry about bigger issues
  • After 2012 it would be Byron Buxton at 28.  He'd be up inthe majors in 2015 but wouldn't fully stick until 2017 and is still looking to break-out. 

I could poke around a little more and find guys that make Soto's rankings look good, or look bad. But I'm trying to be fair. What all this means is nothing specifically to Soto. He'll develop how he develops. But if you want to make a guess at it - it would be very fair to guess that at best Soto will be an useful player for the Nats no earlier than 2020. Being this good at this age means it's doubtful he won't make the majors. However, there is no security that he'll be good in the major leagues even 6 years out.

Is that worth not dealing him for Realmuto? For a team more than 4 years down the road? For me it's not. Trade Soto.


Positively Half St. said...

It would pain me if Rizzo made the trade, but we would have a full 3 years of Realmuto. If it were 4 (compared to the 6 we could get from Soto), I would be completely sold. I'm just trying to think of whether Realmuto would make the difference in the post-season, given that the Nats should get there this year.

That's when I remember how Wieters sank us in Game 5 last year, fair or not. That tips my balance, and I am with you, if that is the only way to get it done.

Fries said...

I agree with this analysis. Everything I've been reading says the Nats have Soto and Robles off limits and that they want to give up quantity as opposed to quality. But I HATE that idea because quantity means dipping even further into the pitching depth (as mediocre as it is).

The only downside here is that Soto, if he pans out, could help keep the window open down the road. But the key word is "help" because it will take a number of other moves.

PotomacFan said...

I don't disagree, but I don't see the urgency of getting a better catcher now. Why not let the season play out, and then pick up a catcher at the trade deadline? It's possible that a good catcher will be available for a lower price (and it's also possible that no good catchers are available or the price will be higher).

I like the idea of waiting, because by mid-season the Nats may have other needs in the event of injuries. Like a starting pitcher if Scherzer or Strasburg goes down.

The Nats don't need a better catcher to make the playoffs. However, if they want to increase their chances of getting past the first round, they will ultimately need a better catcher. It was painful watching Wieters in the playoffs last year (all season, for that matter).

Anonymous said...

These are the tough calls a GM has to make. As a general matter, I believe in statistical analysis. From a value perspective, JT Realmuto over the next three years is very likely to be worth more than a 19 y.o. prospect ranked in the 30-50 range. Thinking about it like that, the Nats should trade Soto for Realmuto for the reasons Harper laid out.

HOWEVER, you have scouts for a reason. Soto's prospect ranking is a reasonable representation of his market value. But Rizzo & Co. know Soto better than the market does. If they think he's going to become a truly elite bat - and remember they gave him a huge bonus a few years ago - then it probably makes sense to keep him even though the Nats won't realize his value for a few years. The thinking here is that Soto's market value is lower than his actual value right now, so it makes sense to hold rather than to sell.

From a stats perspective, Soto's brief low-A hitting stats compare favorably to Bryce Harper's stats at the same age (18) for the same team. Soto ran a 172 WRC+ whereas Harper ran a 164 WRC+. Both guys' numbers were inflated somewhat by high BABIPs, but raked any way you slice it. Harper hit for a lot more power (.236 ISO to .189 ISO), stole a bunch more bases, and by all accounts played better defense. So there's no question Harper was a much better prospect than Soto at the same age. BUT, the statistical case is there if you want to make it that Soto could turn into a monster bat in MLB. If Rizzo & his scouts really think that's what Soto will become, I think keeping him off limits for someone like Realmuto is reasonable.

Anonymous said...

dont worry we got miguel montero...

blovy8 said...

Why bother? Any upgrade will affect what percentage? And how does that transfer over with framing, caught stealing, and other metrics, not to mention offense. If the Nats don't get a guy NOW, they should stand pat. Worry about pitching.

blovy8 said...

Having said that, they don't have to stop getting better, but the $$$ should be on pitching.

Jay said...

I agree that I wouldn't trade either. Soto and Robles are both considered top notch "elite" prospects. There are people that think Soto is more can't miss than Robles per reports last year. Realmuto is good but not elite as a catcher. Soto or Robles are guys you give up for elite players imo - Chris Sale, Andrew Miller a few years back, etc. Plus I agree with an earlier post that it is very possible that the Nats will need more pitching at some point this year secondary to injury. I'd rather sign someone now and not have to give anything up for said pitching depth, but it seems the Lerners are going cheap this offseason to keep costs down for next year.

Natsochist said...

Harper, does Realmuto’s plus running speed factor into the value / desire equation at all? If you look at the Statcast sprint numbers for last year, he measures up favorably with even outfielders.

NotBobby said...

I do not mind trading Soto. But I only want to do so for a star player. I don't think Realmuto fits that bill. But if Rizzo thinks Realmuto will become that level of player then I am fine with it.

Ryan DC said...

Wasn't Brian Goodwin also a can't-miss outfield prospect? I say make the trade.

Nattydread said...

Hype is hype. Go for the sure thing.

Anonymous said...

Soto is rated #29 and could have been a lot higher. The Brewers gave up a similarly ranked player for Yelich who us better than Realmuto and has two more years of team control. Realmuto is good but he's not elite. Why would we want the Nats to overpay?

Flapjack said...

Honestly, I'm surprised teams are not inquiring more about Goodwin, a pretty good fielder whose injury shortened breakout last year had him on a 28 HR pace. Just as well, though. At some point, we're going to need some high ceiling minor league arms, particularly a lefty. Here's hoping he continues to rake this year.

Anonymous said...

Regarding our catcher prospects, I don't thibk either is ready for the majors but can't be ruled out going forward. Severino will never be a power hitter but he was making nice progress until he took a step backwards last season. He's also been a strong defensive player in the minors. As for Read, he's got a nice bat for a catcher and it could be major league ready but he needs to make major strides with his defense.

westcoastnat said...

A few thoughts,
1. Goodwin's power last year seems like a fluke to me. His career slugging percentages were below .400 at every level. No GM honestly thinks he has 'power' any more than they think Wilmer Difo or Andrew Stephenson have power (two players who's profile are similar to Goodwin's power).
2. Catcher's speed is a nice to have, because you never expect it, but shouldn't really factor in because that will absolutely be quick to go with the toll of the position (those 12 steals will be a career high, and I'd guess he doesn't steal more than 5 in a season ever again)
3. Do something now, or don't do it. Adding a catcher mid-season is very hard on the pitching staff. Getting a year together will be critical come fall.
4.I think Grandal makes the most sense. It'd just be really weird to trade with our biggest competitors and vice versa. They'd be helping us get better. We'd likely have to send them a decent prospect (Kieboom/Fedde/Romero or a Crowe/Romero/Johnson/Perkins/Bautista/Stevenson and a Severino/Read/Gushue/Reetz package at a minimum) and we'd be helping them get under the luxury tax to make an even better pitch to Bryce. They are our #1 competition (PHI being #2). So for that reason, I think it has to be a no.
5. MOST IMPORTANTLY What no one has talked about is the fact that it appears Soto is the only guy in our entire minor league system that has the potential to hit 30+ HRs at the big league level. While I do like our minor league system*, there is very little to no power. That is why we can't trade him, imo.

Thankfully, we signed Montero to take the pressure off a little bit.

John C. said...

When a player is ranked as highly as Soto when he's only played in A Ball - that's an indication that he's got a solid chance to be REALLY good. As in, an impact player. He's not a garden variety 22yo prospect ranked in the top 30. And "solid chance" isn't a "lottery ticket," and it's misleading to write off a prospect like Soto as a lottery ticket. No player comes with a guarantee ... but it doesn't surprise me that Rizzo has taken Soto off the table in Realmuto discussions.

It's not that I'm against trading Soto. Like Jay, I see the greater need as keeping the elite prospects as ammunition for a possible future trade to address potential starting pitching issues as the season unfolds. The Nats were able to win 97 games last year getting nothing from Wieters, because their pitching was great. Keep the pitching great, they can live with Wieters/Severino/Montero/etc. behind the plate. But if one of the top two starters goes down, then their chances take a real hit even if they have Realmuto behind the plate.

Josh Burley said...

You trade Soto if they are willing to take on Wieters contract for 1yr. It is common place for a team to give up a better prospect in exchange for a team taking on a bad deal. As it stands now, they are up against the luxury tax and have little room to maneuver in season. The Nats are in win now mode, if they can get a significant upgrade at the catching position and create room to maneuver in season, they have to do it. If they cannot offload Weiters contract, they would simply have too much money tied up in the catching position and it would not make sense, they cannot go into next season as 3rd time luxury tax offenders. In the event that they can get Realmuto and rid themselves of Weiters money, the return would be in 2 parts 1- Realmuto 2-whatever piece they add in the summer.

DezoPenguin said...

(On a side note, I don't understand why you'd call Dee Gordon a bad player--he's posted 3 fWAR or better three out of the last four years and the fourth year he only played 79 games because of the suspension. Excellent fielder, good baserunner, wRC+ in the 90s, he's basically Good Michael Taylor with less power and fewer Ks/better OBP.)

With regard to Soto, I think every fanbase loves its prospects better than the world at large. He's killing it in A-ball, but that's still A-ball, and there's a lot of prospects who hit a wall between there and the majors. He's a lottery ticket: he may be great one day, or he may stink.

What we do know is that he's a corner outfielder. It's not hard to find at least competent corner outfielders on the open market. We already have Eaton long-term. Victor Robles is going to play one OF slot. Michael Taylor *may* play the third slot, in which case Soto is blocked. If Bryce signs an extension, then Soto's only chance of seeing the field for the Nationals is a plague of injuries. (And if Bryce *doesn't* sign an extension, then it makes the urgency for 2018 all the more significant.)

On the other hand, good catching is rare. Good-hitting catchers who can also field are horribly rare. The Nats have no such thing in their system. If Soto can buy us three years of above-average catching, I think it's absolutely worth it. (Mind you, if Rizzo can get the Marlins to take less than Soto, then more power to him.)

Anonymous said...

I liked the idea of Soto, MAT and prospect/s for Realmuto and Yellich followed by a full-court press to extend Rendon with an attractive offer. That would have led to an extraordinary lineup in 2018 and taken off the pressure to re-sign Harper. Tough call on Soto for Realmuto, though the worth of the latter is obvious. Note that the Nationals will need a first baseman and that Soto could fit well there if his bat lives up to its potential.

BxJaycobb said...

Harper. I think Rizzo’s thinking (you can call it stubborn thinking) is the same old story. It’s better to try to be good for as many years as possible than incredible for a few years. Now. That philosophy has not helped the Nats advance in the playoffs. And the crappiness of the NL east may frankly have a hand in Rizzo/Lerner’s being too willing to try to extend the window at the cost of putting together a phenomenal team instead of a good-great time in short term. IMO you trade Soto. If it comes back to bite you, well, you can know that—barring some sort of Adam Eaton injury the first month to realmuto, you improved your chances of a title. But can I offer an alternative: 1. Keep Soto. 2. Sign Lucroy. He is an improvement from the Nats catchers, even if he’s no longer as great as he was and MAY* have fallen off a cliff. OR maybe you catch lightning in a bottle and he returns halfway to back to his awesome former version and you end up with a fine defensive catcher who hits like .270/.330/.450 or something. I actually think if the Nats aren’t looking at lucroy they’re nuts. I mean he can be had for a very cheap contract I’m assuming at this point.

Anonymous said...

"Surprisingly crashed" - HUH? Take a look at Wieters' downward trend since 2013 - he had Chris Hoiles syndrome!