Nationals Baseball: What's the future?

Thursday, August 30, 2018

What's the future?

After the season the Nats are going to be looking to make moves. They have to as there will be obvious holes to address even if everyone is back. It could be tweaking, they are a better team then they have shown and with health, luck, and some smart moves, could be right back in the division hunt. It could be major, they were pretty old, don't have a lot of youthful answers to problems, and have more key guys coming up for free agency after 2019. Either way the team lands some moves will be made and that got me thinking - what exactly is the future for the Nats at each position?

I'm not even talking about the far off future. Anything beyond 3 years I tend to avoid talking about because that is a long time in sports and a lot can change. I'm just talking about the next two years. Do the Nats have a plan in place for that limited time frame? A little preview of the position specific posts I do at year's end.

First Base -  Not really. Zimm remains a quality bat when healthy, primarily against LHP. Zimm also remains unable to stay healthy. I suppose another Lind/Adams type would be likely but there isn't anything in place. He is up for a buyout after 2019 which the Nats will likely take rather than pay his 18 million dollar salary. So there's a plan here for 2019 but not 2020.

Second Base - No. Difo is not the answer. They haven't begun moving Carter Kieboom, and even if they did he doesn't currently look like he'll be an important piece in the next two seasons. Luis Garcia may be the answer down the road but not in the next two years. No plan

Shortstop - Yes. Turner will play shortstop. He hasn't developed exactly as you'd like (which is probably why they haven't committed to moving Kieboom) but he's improved defensively and has shown you offensive flashes that can be exciting. Plus he's cheap for a good long while.

Third base - No. The plan for 2019 is obvious. Rendon plays. He can hit. He can field. But he becomes a FA after 2019 and will be an injury prone 30 year old in the 2020 season. Are the Nats going to pay for that? Like first base, plan for 2019, none for 2020.

Outfield - Yes! Soto in now in there in pen. Eaton technically has a buy out but his contract is so cheap (9.5 million) that you'd keep him unless he misses 80% of next season too. MAT is still under control. The Nats like Robles. Even without Bryce you can see what the plan would be. Start Soto, Eaton, MAT - work in Robles. See what sticks. So there's a plan in place already.

Catcher - No. Wieters will be gone. Severino showed everyone he can't hit (LIKE I SAID HE WOULD) Kieboom the Older (really - he'll be 28 next year) is not the answer either there's no plan here.

Starting Pitching - No team is going to have a plan in place for all 5 slots for 2 years.* I'd say if you have 3 spots set you are doing very well.  The Nats aren't there and worse, the whole thing could be in chaos in 2020. Let's get the one sure thing out of the way. Max is signed and despite getting up there in years will have to show that he's not worth the ace status. 2019 looks acceptable for the Nats Stras and Roark going 2-3 forming a very good top. The bottom is dicey, with no one banging on the door it's very likely that something like a re-signed Hellickson and Jefry Rodriguez could round out the rotation. But this is kind of par for course in the majors. 2020 is where the trouble starts. Roark is a FA after 2019. Stras has an opt-out. If they both are walking the Nats now need 4 slots filled. In the minors, Seth Romero didn't climb. Wil Crowe has stalled out in AA. Fedde is hurt again and wasn't impressive in his chances. One may have a good enough 2019 to show up in the rotation in 2020 but there's no confidence here for 2020.

Relief pitching - Like Eaton, Doolittle has some buyouts / team options but is cheap enough he should be around. After that it's anyone's guess. Kintzler was pencilled in for 2019 but now is gone. They were hoping guys like Gott and Glover would be dominant by now but both are barely hanging on. There's a couple of ok arms like Miller, Suero, and Grace under control but it's a piecemeal pen right now for the next two years.

So in conclusion

For 2019 the Nats have a plan in place for first, short, third, the outfield, the top 3 rotation spots, and the closer.   That's not too bad and includes a good deal of solid players or better. You can see how they could compete with a little tweaking. You bring in a lot of bullpen help, a solid pitcher, a star at catcher or MI and you are close to reset

For 2020 the Nats have a plan in place for short, the outfield, the top rotation spot and closer. That's not much to work with and is kind of a team that you decide to rebuild not reload.

This seems like a pretty clear cut case and we'll see how the Nats react in the offseason. They could reload with an honest chance at taking back the division in 2019 and remaining competitive beyond that if a few things break their way. They could sell hard taking assets like Roark and Rendon and Doolittle (assuming health) and maybe even Eaton and Strasburg, and try to reset for the Soto/Robles era in 2021 and beyond. There's even a third path. A hard buy for 2019 alone. A lot of one-year deals, early opt-outs, that reload for the chance at the title in 2019, but gives them freedom to tear it all back down if they come up short rather than be stuck with some dead money as they might be if they try and reload. 

If I'm guessing? I think they don't fall easily into any one of these categories. I think Rizzo is just a long term hoarder and he'll bring in some long-term talent through trade or signings next off-season. Not enough to reload, but enough that the team should be ok and could be great if they get lucky.  It'll probably be something that doesn't get them a division in 2019, but maybe a WC and keeps them in that 85ish win range looking to pounce on a fast start. No fire sale. No big reload. No 2019 grasp. Just continued solid but not spectacular roster management.

*Well ok - the 2012 Nats kind of did. It's possible. But it's a rare thing and it's usually actually 4 guys set and one "we'll try our young guys" or "we'll sign a cheap vet" 5th position spot. Which is a plan, but not one where you have any idea what you are getting.


Anonymous said...

You need to mention Joe Ross in the starting pitcher discussion. Obviously he's an injury risk but he was a competent MLB starting pitcher before he started breaking down. I have a lot more faith that he will get guys out consistently than Jefrey Rodriguez. There's no reason to have faith that he will stay healthy, but he certainly could. If you're ranking all Nats' SP arms in the organization by talent/stuff, Ross probably slots in third behind Max and Stras.

blovy8 said...

So you don’t believe Kendrick can play 2B in 2019? They might have something in Austen Williams who is a recently converted starting pitcher. James Bourque is the usual hard thrower without command, but they’re moving him aggressively. They have a reasonable crop of AAA mid 20’s relievers to try out next spring.

G Cracka X said...

Good stuff as usual, thanks Harper.

Also worth mentioning (that supports your guess of what Rizzo will actually do in '19) is that Mr. Lerner wrote a letter indicating that ownership plans for the team to be competitive in '19. So that rules out the likelihood of a hard sell. And given that the Nats don't really do 'all-in', then the solid, sensible talent acquisition strategy seems to be the likliest course of action.

W. Patterson said...

Speaking of starting pitchers . . . What's the Q.O. going to be for Gio? Or will they not offer? (Never clear on the rules but I seem to recall there's a draft pick involved . . .. And whether he accepts or declines will depend on the voices in his head.)

G Cracka X said...

@WP There will be no qualifying offer for Gio. If the team doesn't end up trading him in the next few days, they don't want to offer him a 1 yr/$17m contract via the QO, which Gio would surely accept

W. Patterson said...

Thanks, G Cracka. I figured he'd snap that up in a heartbeat; thanks for clearing that up.

Of course, we'll see him go to another team, get some meds, and be a 20-game winner with a 1.25 ERA next season.

Harper said...

Anon - I don't think Ross can be part of the plan until he looks good - which he hasn't yet. Also back from long injury shouldn't be plan in itself

blovy8 - see above comment. He can but I don't think "guy not set in that position to begin with back from long injury" is a plan.

What team doesn't have a half-dozen guys like that? Those are middle relief arms that maybe you get lucky with but I'm looking more at 7-8-9.

GCX - Yeah I don't feel a sell-off coming. I also don't see a big buy in so it'll either be a push for 2019 or reaching for the space under the stars

WPatterson/GCX - it was 17.4 million last year, usually bumps up so 18? Like GCX said - I don't think the Nats offer. Not with the way 2018 is ending

SM said...

Both you and @blovy8 are correct, I think, about the bullpen. I detect a sense of urgency on the Nats' farm to find some kind of answer to the big club's erratic bullpen (something that plagues most teams, not just the Nats). Nothing currently on the farm, though, leaps out as anything better than 7-8-9.

(To give you some idea of how urgent, if not desperate, bullpen issues have become, Aaron Barrett--remember him?--is rehabbing at short-season Auburn. Then again, it could be one of those cockamamie, pie-in-the-sky gambles that pays off.)

It's your conclusion, though, Harper--"No fire sale. No big reload."--that makes me wonder how much longer the team hopes to remain competitive. (It's a recurring theme: "All In vs. Stay-Competitive-And-Hope-One-Year-To-Catch-Lightning-In-A-Bottle.") The Nats' model of incrementalism hasn't worked, and I wonder if the 2018 season isn't its final gasp.

At the start of 2018, given the injuries to Zimm and especially Murphy; the constant worry of a Stras injury, Gio's fluctuant performance and nothing in the system to shore up the back of the rotation, it's as though the organization shrugged its shoulders and said, "We'll go with what we got. Besides, we're better than anyone else in the division." (Sometimes a little hubris goes a long way.)

The team's refusal to make a determined play for Arrieta, and their earlier signing of Dave Martinez, suggests--to me, anyway--a bigger turnover for 2019 than might otherwise be expected given Rizzo's recent history. The canary in the mine, I think, is whether the team re-signs Harper, even with an opt-out clause. If not, an 85-win team until and unless the Nats get serious about challenging again.

The Hot Stove League has officially begun.

Shelton said...

Could DJ LeMahieu be an option at 2B in free agency?

NG said...

One thing I'd take issue with is the description of Rendon as "injury prone." That was certainly the concern for him coming out of college, but it really has not materialized in the pros.

From 2014 (his first year as a full-timer) through 2017, he played 153, 156, and 147 games. He only had one shortened season (2015), a lingering knee injury. He's on pace to play ~135 games this season, only having missed a couple weeks having fouled a ball of his foot -- which happens to a lot of guys, not the kind of freak injury that should label someone as injury prone.

Max David said...

OF is set with Eaton, Soto than either Harper or Robles (depending on whether Harper accepts the QO or resigns) with Taylor as the 4th OF, so no need to mess around with that even IF Harper leaves that's in good shape.

As Harper said the IF is OK, not as good as the OF, but not a barren wasteland either. Turner will be entrenched at SS, Zim is fine when healthy but you know he is inevitable going to get injured so as long as you have a competent backup you should be able to withstand that (i.e bring back Reynolds or Adams, Smoak has a club option with the Jays & Duda as a FA would both be intriguing pickups). I really like the FA options at 2b: LaMahieu from Colorado, Lowrie from Oakland & Dozier from the Twins & Dodgers. Lowrie would actually be a great stop gap for Carter Kieboom, imo.

Should be able to upgrade at C next year with LuCroy (doing a great job with the A's), Ramos & Yasmani Grandal all available, as well as the never-ending Realmuto rumors, which would be heightened even further if Harper is on the team in 2019 & makes Robles expandable.

The SP market is loaded, but they are still in pretty good shape with Stras, Scherzer & Tanner. Dallas Keuchel or CC Sabathia would be 2 names I would be after hard in the winter with Sabathia the one I would go after more because I believe he would be a great clubhouse leader which is something this team severely needs. I really wanted Miller, but the hamstring issues have me concerned, but David Robertson, Craig Kimbrel or Cody Allen despite his struggles would all be good gets in the winter.

My top 3 winter moves (not including Harper):
1) Sign Sabathia, give the team a veteran prescence and a leader in the clubhouse. Plus I believe he still likes hitting, and would have a great chance to end his career with a ring (assuming he doesn't do that this year with the Yankees)
2) sign Lowrie. I'm thinking Lowrie would take a 1 or even 2 year deal with an option for years 2 or 3 whereabouts Dozier & LaMaheiu would be more inclined for multi-year deals, and with the future at 2nd not quite ready we don't need to invest in a long term plan, we just need something that is better than Difo and Lowrie clearly fits that bill.
3) Upgrade at the Catcher position.

Mr. T said...

@Max David: Thanks for the rundown. I was gonna say something snarky about your #1 offseason goal being to sign Carsten Charles Sabathia, Jr...but it looks like he's actually having a pretty good year, especially lately. I'd still be a little hesitant given his age and injury history, but maybe he could be a better Gio than Gio if he's willing to take the Lerner discount.

I would love to watch LeMahieu play every day. That guy is awesome.

Harper said...

NG - don't know what to tell you. He didn't finish his college seasons in 2009 and 2010. He got injured in his first minor league season in 2012. He missed major time in 2015. And in 2018 he missed enough time to cost him a full year. That's 5 out of 10 seasons. Injuries beget injuries so even if they have fluky causes they can start a chain reaction that leads to fewer games in the future. I'm not saying he's a Zimm type risk but I think you don't bet on him reaching 145 games next year (which is my person "full time" marker)

DezoPenguin said...

My concern with Kendrick as a 2B plan for 2019 is entirely centered around his injury return; "play Difo for 1/3 of the year while he gets back like Murphy" is not a plan, and he's no spring chicken. If he's healthy, though, I think he's a perfectly valid plan. He's a good hitter and a functional second baseman (again, coming from the POV of a team that's run Daniel Murphy out there as the primary 2B for three years). Hopefully, we'll know by winter whether he's a viable plan or not.

Notable for Severino, the problem with him isn't that he can't hit. We knew that going in, and if that was his only problem it'd be Kieboom in the minors instead of him now. Sandy Leon can't his his way out of a paper bag, but he plays godlike defense, frames, catches basestealers, and has Red Sox starters worshipping his game-calling skills (it helps, of course, that the Sox are in the AL and so can bat J.D. Martinez instead of a pitcher...). But Severino hasn't been able to do all of that other stuff to an acceptable ML level this year. (Either way, though, I agree with the conclusion; we have no plan.)

So for 2019 we already have in place:

1B Zimmerman
2B Kendrick (?)
SS Turner
3B Rendon
OF Soto
OF Eaton
OF Robles/Taylor
C ???
OF4 Taylor/Robles
OF5 ???
C2 Kieboom (?)
UIF Difo
1B2/PH ???

SP1 Scherzer
SP2 Strasburg
SP3 Roark
SP4 ???
SP5 ???
CL Doolittle
RP2 ???
RP3 ???
RP4 Glover (?)
RP5 Grace
RP6 Suero
LGR Rodriguez (?)

This is my list of what I think the Nationals need to be competitive for a championship in 2019 (assuming average injury luck), in roughly the order I prioritize it:

- An acceptable starting catcher. He doesn't have to be Buster Posey or prime Lucroy, just somebody who can do at least SOME part of the catching job right, or be kind of average across the board.
- A starting pitcher that can be reasonably expected to put up about 3 WAR and 180 innings. Basically what Gio Gonzalez has been in his tenure here. Preferably without the game-to-game variance Basically somebody who's going to eat innings and give us a chance to win every night.
- A high-tier relief pitcher, somebody you can respectably trust to pitch the 8th or 9th to deploy in tandem with Doolittle.
- 2-3 adequate-to-good relief pitchers, guys who are better than the Miller/Grace types (a healthy Koda Glover might be one of these guys)
- A long reliever (maybe Jefry Rodriguez can be this guy)
- An Adams/Lind type to fill in with the near-inevitable Zim injuries or in the event he can't hit RHP any more.
- A couple of Hellickson types to compete for the SP5 job with Ross/Fedde/Rodriguez and be ready to provide adequate SP6 protection for the inevitable Strasburg injuries as well as other variance.
- A backup catcher

That's a pretty long list, and it's going to take some work. Rizzo and Lerner first need to make a decision on Bryce and resolve it--if they resign him, then Eaton or Robles becomes trade bait to help fill other areas, while if they don't, they have more money to use in those other areas, but they need to know right away.

Attractive FA targets for me include Yasmani Grandal, Wilson Ramos, Patrick Corbin, J.A. Happ, Justin Wilson, Matt Adams, Adam Ottovino, Adam Warren, Bud Norris, Wade Miley, Nathan Eovaldi, and Jeremy Hellickson.

Stupid Lerners said...

At what point will the stupid Lerners figure out that they are completely clueless about baseball and quit making stupid decisions?

Their inability to figure out what it takes to win in the post season is mind boggling.

Building a competitive team, and building a potential World Series team, are two very different things.

No one remembers who loses in the NLDS every year. Losers in the NLDS are competitive teams, but not World Series teams.

Why is the goal slightly better than average?

Kevin Rusch said...

"At what point will the stupid Lerners figure out that they are completely clueless about baseball and quit making stupid decisions?"

Look at the SF Giants roster in their 3 World Series years, or the Cards in 2012, and tell me that strikes *any fear at all* in your heart. At least the Penguins were very good when they kept beating the Caps. The unfortunate reality is that baseball playoffs are a crapshoot, and the best team of the 8 only win about 1/3 to 1/2 of the time. These Nats aren't the Redskins - this is a good team that has just been able to do anything useful in the playoffs. But they're not a "just good enough to get in and lose" kind of team.

Max David said...

Wouldn't it be funny if they swept this week?? And really the NL is still leaving them on life support: Phillies stink just like I said 2 weeks ago. They are only 3-8-2 in 13 series since the break despite playing the Padres twice, Reds, Mets, Blue Jays, and Marlins, and lost the first game to the Marlins Monday afternoon.
D'Backs have lost 4 straight
Rockies just split 2 games against the Padres.
Dodgers lost to the Mets Monday, and aren't leading the division
Cards lost a home series to the Reds this past weekend.
Braves still have a West coast trip to Arizona & SF along with a series against the Cards still upcoming.

It's still an incredible long shot, but I don't think it's going to take much more than 90 wins to make the playoffs. I know the GM quit, not just trading everyone, but trading everyone to NL teams, but have a good week, and keep having these teams in front of us lose, who knows what can happen??

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