Nationals Baseball: October 2018

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!

Monday, October 15, 2018

Monday Quickie - Bear Claws

The end of the regular season ends the year for 20 teams, with 6 more to follow in close succession. But the off-season doesn't truly begin until the World Series is over. There are only a certain subset of players available now. Players outrighted during the regular season who could have refused it but decided not to. (Tommy Milone!) Or guys they have tried to outright now to clear some 40 man space where the player refused. You'll see the occasional waiver claim related to these outrightings but generally these are players lucky to be any teams last man on bench/in bullpen. (Hey Danny Santana, I heard of you!)

Sometime in early November the normal contracts end and free agents become free agents. They'll be an option decision day a couple days later. And then a qualifying offer day. Maybe there's a trade or two in there to free up space again for a guy they couldn't agree with but that's it. Then - about a week into November the flood gates open.

Which makes it all the more surprising the Nats already made a move that would not be considered minor.  The Nats traded for Kyle Barraclough. The Marlins want International Bonus Pool money and the Nats were willing to deal it.  Is Barraclough good? well...

In 2016 Kyle was really very good. Outside of a tendency to be wild (5.4 BB/9) he did everything else well.  He was unhittable (5.6 H/9), struck out a ton of guys (14 K/9!) and didn't didn't give up homers (1 homer in 72 innings). That last one is important because it really is his M.O. Over 149 minor league innings Kyle gave up just two homers and in his first nearly 100 major league inning he matched that. This is a combination that works and you could let Kyle walk himself into trouble knowing full well he was going to get out of it. 2017 though brought more hits, fewer Ks, and more homers and the near dominant reliever became just a good arm in the pen. In 2018 he reigned in the hits a bit, but the Ks were down again and the homers were up. Last year, homers were a problem. He gave up 8 in just 55 innings.

That's worrying having a guys best feature disappear over two years. It's not necessarily a fluke, either. His HR/FB rate is pretty normal (16.3%) and his FB% isn't high.  His fastball speed is diminishing rapidly (95.6 in 2016, 93.6 last year). His slider used to be super effective, but it is no longer so he's trying to rely more on a change up with decidedly mixed results. With neither the fastball or the slider giving him an out, Kyle needs to grow into a pitcher.

This all sounds bad. What's good? He costs about 2 million. He's 29 in late May next year. He's probably better than a bunch of guys the Nats trotted out the mound last year. 

The question is what are the Nats expecting here with Barraclough. Is he a bullpen filler with a flier on maybe being something better? Then Kyle is perfect. He shouldn't have an age-related steep decline next year. He's been healthy his whole career. Get him to keep those balls in the park and he's Wander Suero or Justin Miller with an ability to step in and be the "Get a K or a BB here" guy.  Is he expected to be a late inning guy? Then that's too much to expect given his 2018 and his career trajectory.

The Nats still need late inning arms but Kyle makes a good edition to the "rest of the bunch" and people seem to like his last name.  Pair him with Koda Glover out there. Get Evan Gattis to quit baseball and sign him as the bullpen coach. Call the bullpen the Bear Den and we're set.

In other news :

The MLB Trade Rumors arbitration guesses are out and I think Rendon's is a little light but it's all just guessing anyway. It'll be something close to these if you want to throw some numbers back into the "how much money will the Nats have to spend" arguments. I think we were relatively close so nothing much changes about that.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Off-Season Position Discussion : First Base

Last year discussion revisited

We all knew Zimm was coming back. Both the contract and his play in 2017 (.303 / .358 / .573 in 144 G with a scorching hot start) merited it. But we all knew that the 115, 95, and 61 G played in the seasons before 2017 meant a solid back-up was necessary. We hoped for Adam Lind, but expected the Nats to move in another (cheaper) direction.

All this ended up being true. Zimm was penned in as the starter. They let Lind walk. They ended up saving a bit going with the 4 million dollar Matt Adams, who was arguably a better all-around player than Lind. Then the wheels fell off.  Zimm got injured and didn't participate in Spring Training. The team lied to the reporters who subsequently got snippy with us fans who were like "Obviously something is up" They'd pick up Mark Reynolds for AAA depth early in the year again sending up the fireworks of "ZIMM IS HURT" which was dutifully ignored by the media.

He'd heal up enough to start the year but struggle mightily then go out with an oblique for the late Spring and early Summer. The good news is the back-up plans worked as well as could be hoped. Adams and Reynolds would both play very well in replacement of Zimm. While both would tail off as the season went on, no one could complain about their overall performance for the year.  Zimm would eventually come back and put up decent numbers but would play in just over half the season.

My OOB idea would have flopped. I wanted to deal Zimm at a high, move Murphy over to first, have Kendrick at second. That's not a bad plan in retrospect but Murphy not playing for as long as he did, then slowly working back in would have derailed it from the start.

Presumed Plan : Zimmerman will play first base and some other player will take the place of the Lind, Adams role. Lucas Duda? Logan Morrison? Adams or Lind again? who knows.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : This is Zimmerman's last year under his big contract. When he's healthy he can hit, but he's rarely healthy. So you back him up with a pretty good replacement. If he is healthy that replacement can find a way to work in the line-up elsewhere (OF, DH, occasional spot start). The plan has worked well for two years now, I don't see why they'd change it in this last one.

Adams is gone, so it's a bit unlikely he'll be back but who knows. I think the Nats will dangle about the same contract out there (1yr 4/5 million, maybe with a team option for a 2nd year at about the same) and see what they can get.  Morrison got 5.5 + 1 for a (assumed) declined option in 2019. Duda got 3.5. 

Problems with Presumed Plan : The main thing is at some point the plan will fail. Lind and Adams were available because they weren't great. They managed to pick up their game for the Nats but you aren't going to keep getting it right.  Even a smart pick up (Duda for 3.5 would be that) could fail just because baseball is like that sometimes. And if Zimm is hurt and the back-up fails, that's a big hole that needs to be filled.

The other problem is that while Zimm seems like a fine firstbaseman at the plate, he actually pales in comparison to his competition. Freeman, Goldschmidt, Votto, Rizzo, Carpenter/Martinez, Bellinger/Muncy, Jesus Aguilar are all more impactful at the plate then Zimm. Guys like Belt and Santana could be.  That means Zimm isn't good - he's average. And that's just at the plate. He's a poor fielder given his arm issues and his continual accumulation of injuries. Basically, even if Zimm is healthy for the whole year he will probably still fall under the production most NL playoff teams get from their firstbaseman. He's not a plus. 

My take : Shrug emoji? You can't deal Zimm. He costs too much as an injury risk. You can't trade for a first baseman as they are basically all concentrated on playoff teams (and would cost more than the Nats are willing to give up considering you'd have to go after someone definitively better than Zimm). No, Zimm is your first baseman in 2019 and you cross your fingers and hope either he's healthy or that if he's not, your back-up plan works.  Unless...

OK the other idea would be to sign Bryce and have someone (Bryce or Soto) move to first and Zimm back them up.  It's an expensive move but it is an option out there. More likely if you sign Bryce you look to trade an Eaton but if you don't this is a possibility.  I don't think the Nats do this.

Out of the box suggestion :You know who might be available - not as a cheap back-up but as a deal because of recent troubles? Daniel Murphy. Sign him, platoon him with Zimm in some fashion for this year (and maybe next if Zimm wants to play that way to stick around DC and MLB for a couple more years). It's a bit of a gamble because Murphy will likely get a 2 year deal in the 8-10 million AAV dollar ranges (maybe with options but I don't count options because they'll almost always be team options for older players now) That's about twice as much as you'd pay for your cheap Zimm back up. But signing Murphy has a strong chance of paying off big time. If you believe he's healthy it has little chance of completely blowing up because he's such a solid hitter. AND it gives you a built in plan for 2020 when Zimm could be walking away.  There's not much in the pipeline. There won't be that much available in FA.  This might be a wise move.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Monday Quickie - the definitive take on the season

Sorry - all other one paragraph takes on the season are wrong. Here we go :

The Nats thought that however many games lost during the regular season caused by replacing Dusty Baker with Davey Martinez would not matter. They also thought they could weather the lack of depth in the starting rotation by using their 5th starter sparingly bolstered by a well-paid back end of the bullpen. However, overuse of the quality pen arms coupled with the early failings of the starting pitchers cost them a few games. The Nats also got injured early, then played poorly, and then got unlucky. With the Braves and Phillies both having better first halves than expected, the Nats found themselves in a deeper hole then they imagined they could be in as the trade deadline neared. The Nats management did not choose to add to their roster. Instead they tried to create addition by subtraction, hoping that shedding what passed for malcontents in the Nats clubhouse could spark a run without committing resources. When this plan failed the Nats slowly sold off the remaining free agents to try to save some cash and limped to the finish line just over .500 at 82-80.

Who's to blame?

You can blame everyone. You can blame the decisions to go with Davey Martinez or to not address the starting pitching depth. You can blame injuries, bad play, bad luck (both with their own games and with Atlanta and Philadelphia playing very well to start the year), and Davey Martinez himself for a couple of more losses apiece than they should have had by the All-Star break. Any one of these things changes and perhaps the Nats decision making at that point changes. Once you get to the All-Star break, you can blame the management for half-heartedly punting on the season and also blame every thing else again, except bad luck, for the Nats not going on a run with the talent that was still in house.

If you ask me, I put most of the blame on the management. They made a couple decisions early that were likely to cost them a few games. This created a situation for the Nats that made a slower start more possible. They did try to do some mid-season corrections (trading for Herrerra) but mostly stood around waiting for the team to click and the season to move forward as expected. When time began to run out they had no idea what to do. The moves made at the trade deadline - jettisoning Kintzler and Kelley - and the reasonings that were given to the media for these moves - were the work of a management that had no plan for this situation and flailed in the face of difficulty.

Going forward I have faith that they'll set up a team that is competitive next season, assuming they want to, and will be a few games on either side of their best competitor in the NL East as summer moves along. But at that point I lose faith in the management. They have no belief in the big move, to either fend off or chase down another team, and Nats fans are left with only hope the Nats pull away, either because their talent takes off or the other team fails.

The Nats have World Series dreams and have adjusted their thinking in seasons where the playoffs are assured accordingly. Melancon, Doolittle/Kintzler/Madson. Kendrick.  These are the moves of a serious team trying to fill in what remains of their gaps (with some measure of restraint). But to make the playoffs? The team has shown it does not have a plan for a playoff challenge and may never have one.  The cost of adding enough talent to ensure (as much as is possible) a playoff spot being too high. The likelihood of changing playoff odds with smaller moves being too low to warrant spending any moderate amount. They will tinker. They may try to find a player a team is desperate to move. They will not commit. They will accept what the season throws at them and regroup for next year. This is their way.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Payroll vs Luxury Tax

The Nats roster for 2019 is a mystery right now. All we know is that the Nats would like to get under the luxury tax threshold for next year, which stands at 206 million. They wanted to do it this year but even with the sell-off couldn't quite make it so in January they will be paying a tax.

The tax they pay won't be a lot. Much like the U.S. income tax, you pay based on the money made in each bracket, not the overall amount you make. In baseball there are only two brackets, under and over, and the under pays no tax. The over pays an increasingly larger amount 20% then 30% then 50% depending on how many years they've been over in a row. It resets once you get back under. So for an example if the luxury tax threshold is 200 million and the amount of yours that counts against the luxury tax is 210 million and this is your first year over you would pay 2 million dollars

(210-200) * 0.20

If it was your second year you'd pay 3 million, if your third or more 5.

The Nats will barely squeak over the tax so even though this marks year number 2 going over they are going to pay 30% on some small number. A couple million over maybe so a few hundred thousand in taxes. A lot for us, not that much for the Lerners.

If it's not a lot why do the Lerners want to be under so badly? The WaPo covered this pretty well a few weeks ago. Money saved is money saved. You get that tax amount reset in case you want to spend more later. You get better compensation for free agents leaving. The system is set up to try to get teams not to spend much, and it works for the most part.

Where do the Nats stand for next year? The luxury tax is not as simple as the amount paid out because it includes numbers we aren't really privy to and it doesn't care about your deferred money. For most teams that's not going to be a big deal. For the Nats it's everything.

Let's take Scherzer's contract. He signed a 7 year deal for 210 million total. It wasn't just salary. It was 160 in salary and 50 million in signing bonuses. Salary has to be defined within the years of the contract and Scherzer's was 10, 15, 15, 15, 35, 35, 35.  (2019 is the first 35 year). Even though they need to be defined like this they don't have to be paid like this and the Nats, as you know have deferred a bunch. Max's actual salaries are 10, 15, 15, 15, 0, 0, 0 (end of contract), 15, 15, 15, 15, 15, 15, 15. This would suggest that Max is getting paid nothing this year but that's not true. The contract stipulates the 50 million is to be paid out as such 5, 0, 0, 0, 15, 15, 15.

You can see here what the Nats did in effect. They gave Max a 15 million dollars a year for 14 years.

But neither the payroll (I guess for actual tax purposes) or the luxury tax sees it this way. For payroll Max is making what is defined in the contract - originally noted as 10, 15, 15, 15, 35, 35, 35, with the deferred amounts adjusted for reduced value** plus the 50 million spread out over those 7 years. that's 7+ million a year so it ends up being like 17, 22, 22, 22, 37+, 36, 34+

Luxury tax is easier as it has an equal value for each year. For Max's contract that would be 28.7 million. But as you may notice that 28.7 million times 7 years doesn't get you anything. Not the original value 210 million, nor the adjusted present-day value of like 190 million if you add up those payroll numbers. It's kind of like a half-way point between the two but I don't know. It uses a different methodology to calculate the annual salaries.

Anyway I'm getting in the weeds here. Max and Stras themselves cost like 54 million toward the luxury tax. Zimm and Eaton's AAV adds another 17. Doolittle himself, if I have this right, will throw in 6 million (the entirity of his option - which isn't factored into AAVs because it's not guaranteed) Kendrick 3.5. That's 80+.  Arbitration guys - which include Rendon - add their annual salary about 30 million. Let's say 110. So do the pre-arb guys, another couple million. 112? Someting like that. Let's say 110-115. Then you factor in medical benefits (yep this is part of it and no I don't know exactly but 15 million is a conservative high-end guess) so 125-130 is set.  The Nats have 75-80 million to spend for next year while still being under the threshold.  Could you fit Bryce and other fixes? Yes.

If Bryce's AAV is 30 then you have another 45 or so to spend. But that adds up quick. A very good starting pitcher (think Kuechel or Corbin), a catcher (Grandal) and you are already at 35 ish without doing anything to a pen that's just Doolittle. Can you fix hat for 10 million? AND the Zimm back-up that costs you a few million each year the last two years but you definitely needed?  You get really close. And the thing is - if you are close and you start picking people up at the trade deadline? Those costs come back at you. So if they want to be under AND want to have any flexibility for late season moves they have to stay a good 10 million under. This means Corbin-Grandal becomes Happ-LuCroy.

Assuming the bench and pen costs about 15 million to just fill with decent talent and you want that cushion you have 50-55 million to play around with to finish up this team. This is what the Nats are looking at going into the off-season.

*Why do a signing bonus instead of just paying him like this? I don't know. Some sort of tax thing probably. 

** what does this mean? It means that MLB says - well given inflation you aren't paying him 105 over those last three years it's more like 87 - and if we adjust that for each year depending on when you pay them out exactly you get salaries of 30+, 28+, and 27+  so 10, 15, 15, 15, 30+, 28+, 27+

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Lucky or Unlucky : 2018

We've gone over this before but every baseball season is a mix of things going right, things going wrong, and things going as expected.  We predict our fortune based on some sort of equal breaking of the right and wrong, but that rarely happens. Instead the breaks are unequal in distribution and impact and your record reflects that. Let's see what I take away from the Nats in 2018


Murphy being out longer than anticipated - The plan was initially made with the expectation that Murphy would be back, if not at season's start, then soon after. But as the off-season shifted to Spring Training it became apparent it was going to be longer than that. Slow injury recovery is not in itself unlucky but when one month became two and Murphy didn't get back in until mid June that meant half a year of subpar Murphy.

Eaton out early - Eaton was supposed to be a spark plug at the top of the line-up but was lost for 2017 a month in. Finally back he picked up right where he left off... and then got hurt again. Key piece missing a big chunk of time again.

Kendrick goes down - Injuries matter but how much they matter differ. What's important is not just there's an injury but who, when, and how long.  Kendrick was a key piece to the Nats providing coverage for multiple positions, specifically OF and 2B and when he went out relatively early in the season it created an issue because of the two injuries noted above. That was partially solved with Soto and partially not with Difo.

Doolittle, Kintzler, and Madson don't do what they are supposed to - this is a real tenuous unlucky because any group of three pitchers is going to have one likely get hurt or fail and we don't know how much of the failure here is the fault of Martinez's heavy usage (especially with Madson) but you'd kind of expect one to have a full very good year and the Nats didn't get that. Doolittle was very good, but hurt. Kintzler was ok, and hurt. Madson was not good and hurt.


Soto was more than ready - not much to explain here. He was forced into action and nearly won the ROY with possibly the best teenage season ever. You can't expect that. Short explanation for a big effect

Adams/Reynolds overperform - It was good planning to fill in the Zimm back-up role with quality players for the second straight year. But Adams, like Lind last year, was really good for most of the time, and Reynolds, who should have been just an ok fill in was better than that. Two for two here.


Max, Stras, Tanner - Max is to the point where Cy Young seasons are expected. Stras is to the point where good, but injury abbreviated seasons are expected. Tanner downshifted his expectations with his 2017 and matched it this year.

Wieters/Severino/Kieboom is a mess - We knew, we all knew catcher would be pretty bad in 2017. Well maybe not those that fooled themselves about Severino but the rest of us. They didn't overachieve and were all below average. This was painful but expectedly so.

Zimm is good at the plate for half a year - Look at his games played over the past few years. Look at his offensive performance the past few years. Nothing about this year could be considered a surprise. At this point 100G of 110 OPS+ is what Zimm is. There's a lot of variability but this is the base.

Trea Turner isn't special - Last year you could be disappointed by Trea's average performance but you could also chalk it up to injury recovery. This year you probably secretly hoped for more but there wasn't anything there despite being healthy enough to play in all 162.  Disappointing perhaps but not unlucky, not when what you are hanging your hat on is 70 games from 2 years ago. Now if you believe his defense suddenly became all-world then you might differ with this take but defensive stats are not meant to be annual and are iffy even in the 3 year view so I'm not going there

MAT is MAT - Look at MATs stats! LOOK AT THEM. THIS IS MAT. Low average, no walks, some pop, great D. In four of five seasons now he's been so remarkably consistent that expecting anything else would be insane going forward. Sure you might have hoped for more after last year's better numbers, but that hope should have been dashed when April produced MAT numbers again.

Deep bench depth was an issue - To be fair it's going to be an issue for most teams. You rarely go 25 deep. But Difo and anyone that needed to be called up bc of injury from AAA are barely major leaguers.

Pen depth beyond the three could be trouble - Lots of arms, but very little consistency or track record. There was a good chance most of them would flame out and most of them did. Did they find a decent arm here and there? Yep and that's expected too. Holland was very good in a brief spell. Miller was ok. Nothing here should surprise you. Why did it seem worse? Well they were supposed to compliment the top 3 but when those guys didn't hit their targets these guys became more important.


Bryce - unlucky? I wouldn't say so.  The season was a little worse than expected. The problem was more timing than anything else. He has his crash right when the Nats were crashing everywhere else with injury returnees and Gio and Roark struggling. But is that unlucky? I lean more toward as expected but I leave it open

Gio - same goes for Gio here. On one hand he didn't pitch that much worse than would be expected if you follow his historical track. On the other hand there last year was better so does that raise your expectations enough that you feel his fall is unlucky? I don't know. I'll leave it open but you'd have a harder time convincing me that this wasn't in the expected category.

One thing you may see - the Nats didn't get that unlucky when it came to performance. They hit a lot of expectations mainly, and Soto covered a chunk of their unluckiness. So maybe you have them a couple games off of expectations. 90 to low 90s instead of low to mid 90s.

Why then were they so far off? Well unluckiness outside of player performance is one reason. The one-run game issue* cost them a few games (but only a few). The rebirth of the NL East with a .500 Phillies team and a good Braves squad cost them a few more. You can't plan for the former, and the Nats were hoping to have a year longer before the latter became an issue. They were wrong there. The Nats were a little unlucky this year but not nearly unlucky enough to explain the 83 win record.

*you know I like to look at 2 run games too just to see if there was a wild swing there that either countered or enhanced what happened with 1 run games. Nothing to speak of. 21-22. Pretty normal.

Monday, October 01, 2018

Monday Quickie : The Coin Flip Team

Going into 2012 the Nats were hoping to compete for the playoffs and figure out what next steps would be needed to become a true contender. Instead they ran away with a division title and began a window where they started with a young, cheap, and talented team and could use that to set up move after move. Yesterday, the last of the underpaid and overperforming 2012 squad officially moved into free agency as Bryce Harper played his last game under Nationals control.

We can quibble about Bryce's worth and what he should be paid going forward but it's undeniable that even in his worst seasons he's been underpaid. That gap, between production and payment, is something the Nats have used over the course of 7 seasons to help shore up other positions without spending like the biggest of spenders.

Of course the Nationals have found other young players during this time that will help them in the same way. It would be almost impossible not to. But the discovery has been more typically staggered. Rendon and Roark who will enter free agency after next season.  Trea Turner who will be under control thorugh 2022. Robles through 2023. Soto perhaps further than that. There is no great en masse set of talent that was Ramos, Espinosa, Desmond, Bryce, ZNN, Strasburg, Detwiler, Clippard, Stammen, Storen. The Nats are now a typical major league team.

If you look at the record that may suggest bad things for the Nats, because even with that core of talent to plan around the Nats only made the playoffs 3 out of the next 6 years. It's one thing to believe in the 90s-00s Braves method of success, of getting in the playoffs year after year and hoping that you catch a break, it's another to make it work. The Nats didn't. Not only that but they failed in almost ideal circumstances with a division that featured only 4 above .500 teams during this same time frame, easily last in baseball. Little competition. Perfect set-up. While it's hard to say the results are disappointing, it's easy to say that you expected more.

What's next? It feels like the Nats only have one decision to make but actually they have more to deal with than just Bryce's departure. Doolittle's got a team option - 6 million for next year - we assume they'll pick that up as he is almost certain to be worth it. Wieters, Holland, Herrera, Hellickson and Benoit all are FAs. It's not anything the Nats are likely to worry about losing in general but those are guys whose existence needs to be replaced. It's also places, 5th starter, bullpen, catcher, where the internal solutions do not look satisfactory.

But while there are many decisions to make, they do probably hinge on that first one, which is why the Nats need to decide what they want to do with Bryce's contract sooner rather than later. They need to get to the Winter Meetings (early December) with a very strong idea if Bryce is coming back or not, so they can wheel and deal around that decision. Barring getting swept off their feet, Boras will likely hold off Bryce making any sort of deal at the very least until after the playoffs are over and all teams can bid. That means the Nats have a month to get their ducks in a row. It should start with a competitive offer now if they mean to keep him. Doesn't have to be "best and final" at this point, but something that shows the area the Nats are willing to go. If that's outright rejected as not even close then maybe you don't give up (the market may give you a chance you don't think you have) but you start planning with Bryce as your Plan B, not Plan A.
We'll start this week doing the off-season position discussions, maybe a look at how luck factored into this season, take a look at the salary cap/payroll as well.