Nationals Baseball: Off-Season Position Discussion : First Base

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.


G Cracka X said...

I'm fine with the presumed plan, but I think the Murphy OOB plan is also intriguing. I don't like the idea of moving Bryce or Soto to 1st. Soto's still trying to learn a position, so I wouldn't want to throw a completely different position his way so early in his MLB career. And it seems like moving Bryce to 1st would be a waste of his arm strength. Not too mention the time-sharing at 1st would be tricky to manage as presumably Zimm plays if healthy.

But Murph could work, because he could be plugged in at 2nd, and then if Zimm gets hurt again, then you move him to 1st and have Kendrick (who presumably will need some time to recover from Achilles) or Difo man 2nd. Murph can also play 3rd in a pinch if Rendon gets hurt.

Chas R said...

I'd love to have Murph's bat back in the lineup. Aren't all moves contingent on what happens with Bryce? If Bryce signs, they will have less money to do more expensive deal like the Murphy move.

Zimmerman11 said...

I'm all about bringing Murph back. Still assured of poor defense... but one of the two of them should be healthy at any given time, and either of them can carry the team offensively when healthy and swinging a hot bat.

I guess I was assuming some AL team would sign him for longer to DH... if he signs for 2 years 20M and it's NOT with WASH, I will be upset.

Anonymous said...

I've been thinking about the Harper-to-first plan for a while too and I would hope that the Nats are at least kicking it around. True, it seems to be a waste of Harper's arm strength but at this point it's pretty clear that he isn't going to win any Gold Glove's in right and I can't believe there is much of a difference overall if you subbed Robes or Soto there. If Zim is healthy, then you rotate around Robles, Soto and Eaton with Harper and use Harper to rest Zim but seriously, who thinks that Zim will be healthy. This makes much more sense then seeing Murphy at first who has got to have a much higher value in the AL. It's not perfect but it's only for one year and in 2020, Harper is playing first full time. Got to be on the table.

SM said...

The OOB idea is actually the most logical, because it removes Bryce from the discussion.

Suggesting that Bryce play first base presumes two things: That the Nats re-sign Bryce; and that Bryce would even want to play first base.

Judging by this year's playoffs so far--and the number of teams on the cusp of breaking through to playoff contention--some aggressive GMs are going to make irresistible offers to Bryce for his bat.

Throw in your brother-from-another-mother's observation that the Lerners are real-estate developers, not baseball men, and it seems likely Bryce isn't coming back.

blovy8 said...

How much will Marwin Gonzalez cost? He'll be winner-y enough to satisfy some fans and you can plug him in everywhere.

Anonymous said...

SM, I agree. There are a lot of "if's" to the Bryce-to-first scenario. Don't think it's likely but if Bryce really wants to sign with the Nats, it's one way it could play out, though more realistically you trade Eaton and get some pitching.

CardinalX said...

i would be happy as a PiS if re-signing Murphy was a possibility. but i got the impression (could be/hope i am wrong) that ship has sailed due to the abrupt trade to the Cubs. but i'd love love love Murphy's bat, clutchness (not a word i think) and active asst. hitting coach on the bench. can platoon at 2b/1b/dh/ph stretches the lineup and well... he's a hit machine. i hated letting him go for such a modest salary savings. also, if Harper IS returned (also love that st the right deal... not so happy if it means the team is hamstrung for the next half dozen years) i think there is a solution, not a problem. yeah, we'd have Soto, Robles, Taylor, Eaton and Harper in the OF. seems like a gluttony of OF's but what team doesn't want/need 4 quality OFs?? even without major injury, you're bound to get 70 starts just making up rest with the 4th player. Eaton is a beast. and affordable. unless someone offers a quality #3 or #4 SP at an equally or better contract... i say hold on make plans for an extension with Eaton. players like him dont grow on trees. and im not talking strictly the bat. that can have slumps and even an off year. but his gritty play. fiery attitude and eye for the strikezone make him an ideal leadoff guy. i'd almost prefer him at #2 though. Trea #1, Eaton #2, Rendon or Robles or Harper if he comes back... ok, i could go on forever. yeah, i want Daniel Hits Murphy back bigtime

Anonymous said...

Would love to have Murphy back but why would he come back and platoon with Zimm when he can join an AL team, play almost every game, and avoid wear/tear on his knees by not having to field most games?

I think the Nats will be able to find a capable backup first basement along the lines of Adams and Lind. Zimmerman's brittleness is a great selling point. The Matt Adams/ Washington Nationals was a mutually beneficial relationship. The same style relationship can be done in 2019. A free agent can join the Nats on a one year contract, get tons of playing time as a backup first basemen (more so than any other backup first basemen in the league), prove he is starting material for subsequent years, and make the post season as a National or be rented to another team at the trading deadline.

CardinalX said...

we dont have a bat that can equal his at 2b too. so Murphy would get his ABs. maybe bring in Difo as a defensive replacement in later innings as an option. move Murph to 1b to keep his bat in the game. there are options.

Anonymous said...

Angel Hernandez is simply terrible. For MLB's sake I hope this is the last we see of him in the post season.

DezoPenguin said...

Nats pick up Kyle Barraclough for international slot money. He'll fit right in with the rest of the Nats pen, as he underperformed his career significantly in 2018. At least he's pretty cheap and had a pre-2018 track record of success (actually including early 2018) and the cost to get him was also low.

I'd love to pick up Murphy since it's pretty clear he's healthy and hitting again. The only issues I can see would be whether he'd want to move off 2B and whether he'd be okay splitting time with Zim. I think he can find some team that would be happy to give him one or both of those things. I suppose the Nats could resign him to be their full-time 2B in 2019 (with the expectation being Kendrick at 2B and Murphy at 1B when Zim inevitably gets hurt) with the expectation he'd become full-time 1B in 2020?

I can't see Bryce moving to 1B, though if nothing else he's one of the few people the team could get to play there that would make benching Zim for him a palatable clubhouse and PR move. Soto to 1B with an Eaton-Robles-Harper OF is interesting since he's definitely the worst of the four OF defensively and it gets all four in the lineup on a long-term basis. Zim in that scenario then becomes our Adams/Lind--the 1B/PH backup. But it requires moving him, hoping that he can learn the position--and if that's the case, the move should happen NOW so he has the whole offseason to work on his 1B defense since at that point the hope is that he becomes our Freeman/Rizzo/Votto/Goldschmidt for a long time going forward.

ssln said...


St. Louis Cardinals & Matt Adams.
Chicago Cubs & Daniel Murphy & Brandon Kintzler.
Oakland Athletics & Shawn Kelley.
New York Yankees & A. J. Cole.

Anonymous said...

Sooo, how about that Barraclough move, huh?

Froggy said...

Harper, in this analysis is Reynolds out of the equation?

G Cracka X said...

Welcome to DC, Bear Claw!

@Dezo "I suppose the Nats could resign him to be their full-time 2B in 2019 (with the expectation being Kendrick at 2B and Murphy at 1B when Zim inevitably gets hurt) with the expectation he'd become full-time 1B in 2020?"

Exactly! Makes sense to me

Anonymous said...

"maybe bring in Difo as a defensive replacement in later innings as an option"

As absurd as it may sound, not sure if I want Difo as a defensive replacement, even for Murphy. I can recall him making two late game defensive miscues. Recall the Chicago debacle that ended in a grand slam - Difo started the choking with an error in the ninth. There was also another game after that, can't recall which game, where a ninth inning Difo miscue allowed the opponent to tie the game. Fortunately for Difo, Zimmerman absorbed most of the bad p/r as he later struck out looking with the bases loaded after getting a favorable call the pitch before.

blovy8 said...

MLB Trade Rumors has their arbitration estimates up for the Nats with the number for Rendon looking a little light to me:

Anthony Rendon – $17.6MM
Tanner Roark – $9.8MM
Trea Turner – $5.3MM
Michael Taylor – $3.2MM
Kyle Barraclough – $1.9MM
Joe Ross – $1.5MM
Sammy Solis – $900K

I know it's not much in the larger scheme of things, but the Nats could probably just DFA Solis rather than bump him up a few hundred grand for stinking. The Bear Claw number looks like a fair gamble.

NC_Nats_Fan said...

I'm initially intrigued by the OOB idea but think that $ is best spread across a number of needs (starting pitching, catcher, 'pen, middle infield depth) than paying a premium at 1B. The Lind/Adams plan has worked the last two years, in part, due to the devaluing of 1B in general. The last 2-3 years has seen quality options available on the cheap. I think this is a position that can be filled via stopgap solutions for several years (vs. a multi-year Murphy deal) and react with a permanent solution later if Soto's defense becomes too much of a liability in LF.

Also, I can't find it now, but saw Nat's 1B stats for various plug-and-play solutions this year. Surprisingly competitive with rest of league, I think, even if with 3 players rotating through.

Mr. T said...

Gio pitching game 1 for Milwaukee. He'll probably throw a 2-hit shutout, right?

Ole PBN said...

I'm all for the Murphy plan as he was a fan favorite and a stellar hitter during his time in DC. But part of me thinks that the way the trade went down, that he'd be less inclined to return here. Other than Aroldis Chapman going back to the Yankees, I can't think of a single guy who was traded by a team at the deadline and returned to said team during the offseason.

CardinalX said...

that's the sense i got as well. that the unexpected trade all but soured any opportunity for Murph to come back. i mean, what did we really gain from losing him and Adams? apparently we didn't even save enough salary to get under the luxury tax which would likely increase any 2019 luxury impact and we lost a couple of very productive players. waaaaa

G Cracka X said...

Reading Chelsea Janes' article today, it sounds like the Nats will be somewhat conservative in offseason spending (as they want to be well below the luxury tax line this time around), so they will likely do the backup LHB at 1st plan rather than the OOB Murphy plan.

Random question: does anyone know the difference between control and command? I was reading the FG article on the Top 10 Nats prospects, and it had this to say about Nick Raquet:

"His control is much better than his command, which is why he doesn’t strike out a lot of guys"

Ryan said...

control is more about just throwing strikes, command is putting the ball where you want it

Ole PBN said...

GCX - Never heard that before in regards to pitching, as the two are often interchangeable in my experience. If I had to guess, control = ability to throw strikes. Command = ability to hit spots within the strike zone. I suppose the difference is a guy who doesn't walk a lot of guys has good control, but is constantly leaving the ball over the middle of the plate and gets hit around a bit, due to poor command.

Josh Higham said...

Ryan and PBN are right. Control can be thought of as an abbreviation of "control of the strike zone" meaning the pitcher stays ahead in the count.

Command is something like "command of pitches," meaning the pitcher consistently hits the catcher's glove. Unfortunately you could swap the words in those expressions and there's no obvious difference in what they'd mean.

Control without command means lots of pitches over the middle because the pitcher can't reliably hit the corners but throws lots of strikes anyway. I don't know whether command without control happens, because if you can hit your spots, just throw strikes ya dummy. Control is contained within command.

SM said...

"Command and control" is military terminology, more generally explained as a commander's authority and direction over his/her forces during a mission or campaign.

Pitching isn't warfare, and a baseball doesn't follow chain of command. I think baseball men differentiate command and control because they think splitting hairs makes them sound smart.

"Throwing strikes" and "putting the ball where you want it" means if you can't throw strikes you have no control. But if you drill a batter in the rib you were aiming for, you have command of your pitches.

Baseball is a wonderful, complex sport. Pointy-headed pseudo-intellectualizing doesn't make it better.

Chris said...

What did Murphy have to be upset about? Seems like he would be grateful to be sent to a contender during a playoff race as opposed to staying here and counting down the days until vacation.

CardinalX said...

apparently the unexpected nature and somewhat rapid decision and timing of the deal fueled the speculation that he was or might be unhappy with the trade. i dont know if he was actually upset by it.

Jay said...

I would prefer bringing Murphy back to any other idea. Murphy actually wants to win and doesn't give away at bats. I didn't get the impression he was angry with the trade. If anything I think he was a little sad to leave. I am more convinced than ever that Zim is part of the problem in DC. His whole - we play hard, we want to win, but sometimes we don't that's just baseball, we'll get try again next year is old. Janes article about how the Nats players have a reputation around the league as not being able to handle pressure is right on the money.