Nationals Baseball: Offseason Position Discussion : Shortstop

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! 


Ole PBN said...

Interesting take on the outside the box plan. I dig it. But don't you think Machado would cost more than Bryce would? Yes he's a year older (still 26), but plays a premium position and has been more consistent at the plate.

blovy8 said...

I think at a few thousand above league minimum, the only thing that would keep Difo off the roster is if Kendrick looks really spry and they sign Marwin Gonzalez. But Difo actually wasn't embarrassing batting lefty which is useful in a backup guy where you are looking for spots to rest the all RH infield.

You keep saying teams can spend more - BUT THEY DON'T.

If the oligarchs of the ML (as in the Dodgers and Yankees) contort their teams to get under the luxury tax, why do you think the Nats should be different? It's a sure way to get yourself on the outs with The Cartel that is the MLB. It'd be the third time so it's 50 percent for dollar over, not to mention the big surtax if they really go over, like 20-40 million, the Rule 4 draft penalty, and lesser compensation for exiting free agents like Rendon and any opt-out guys if the do sign someone (I doubt Strasburg bolts). I prefer that money to be scouting and retention, rather than guys who will be a-holes that stink even worse during the last half of their huge contract like Machado.

G Cracka X said...

@Ole PBN Yes, I agree, even with the shady postseason plays.

And for the OOB, would it be better to put MM at 2nd? I get that defensive stats are iffy, but I would still think that TT projects to have better range at SS.

Josh Higham said...

@GCX I don't think there's any chance you get Machado to sign if you tell him off the bat he's playing second for you.

DezoPenguin said...

@Josh Higham True. Machado's been relentless in saying he wants to play SS over the past year and change. I think any scenario where he's not given the SS job right from signing isn't going to get him, no matter how much the fans (and his actual level of ability) might like the "sign him to play 3B" idea. And he's never even been a regular 2B before, so that's even farther out of the box.

Harper said...

Ole PBN - 2015, that's why. You get entranced by those numbers as his potential. And guys that hit this rarified air - most repeat something similar and stay with superior offensive potential through early 30s. Consistency is great but last year we are all like "what's wrong with Bryce" and he put together numbers that might qualify as Machado's 2nd best year at the plate.

blovy8 - I'd rather they spend money on everything! No they won't be different than everyone else but part of the reason teams get away with this is because fans let them. We don't see teams as long term investments that make massive money upon sales, not to mention ancillary money makers like parking lots nearby or TV deals etc. We still see them as $ in - $ out businesses and so we buy into "surely they can't spend more if the attendence went down" type talk which is nonsense. In conclusion - SPEND MORE

GCX - what everyone else said. Manny wants to be a SS so you start there. Maybe if he's terrible in 2019 he can be convinced to move.

blovy8 said...

That's not how it's ever going to work Harper - this "let them" idea is more about the whole product than an individual team - it's a cartel. They all do mostly the same thing, and if one strays and it works, they copy it pretty damned quick. And it's all about making money. We let them get away with $7 hotdogs, $60 parking, prepaid postseason packages for imaginary games where they make money on "processing" regardless of what happens, rain delays where there's no rain, and hurricane rains where they don't call it for six hours, nevermind the ballpark financing and how most every city gets screwed to play for that. You can bring in food, stay sober, take the metro, buy tickets on stubhub - but their bottom line is rarely affected. Hell, they OWN stubhub now, so they get paid twice.

The MLB is like the oil industry and fans are driving trucks. You're gonna pay a lot for gas.

Jay said...

I don't want Machado on any team I am rooting for. I still say sign Daniel Murphy to play some second base next year and first base after Zim is gone. Turner, Rendon, and Soto are the few non question marks on this team. I wouldn't move him unless you are trading him for Chris Sale someone of similar talent level as a SP.

ssln said...


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

Josh Higham said...

@ssln, The fates have decreed that the Red Sox will win by virtue of having no 2018 Nats on the team. Why are we even playing the games? Oh right, @everyone, revenue.

Anonymous said...

Harp - I'm not saying we could have predicted Trea's average-ness at the plate, and I know he's a plus defender and plus-plsu base stealer...but if you could make the trade happen for Chris Sale by including Turner a couple years ago, would you? Would it have been worth having Sherzer, Sale and Strasburg, do you think? Hindsight being 20/20 and all...

G Cracka X said...

@Anon Even with hindsight, its hard to say that it would have been a good deal. The Nats probably would have had to give up both Turner and Robles to beat Boston's offer. And then they would start to look like the Diamondbacks, when they traded for Shelby Miller. Not in that Miller = Sale, but more like trading away major league talent that will be starting games for you in order to acquire MLB talent. You add in one area by subtracting from another, and the overall effect is muted.

Harper said...

Yeah - I can't say without putting the deal out there first. If you say Turner, Giolito, Lopez, Dunning for Eaton/Sale then I... do. Knowing all I know today - Sale great. Eaton mostly hurt. Turner playing as he is. Giolito is having trouble staying in a rotation. Lopez up and down. Dunning not a break out. But ask me again next year and I could have a different answer.

If you give up more in there... Turner, Robles, Giolito, Dunning... maybe not. Or maybe so since Soto is a star and Lopez seems like the best bet to have helped the Nats this year and next.

Anonymous said...

Machado??? What an awful idea. I don't want a player like him on my team and you get the feeling that he won't play hard if not happy. This team has a TON of NEEDS but SS isn't one of them.

ssln said...

Jeff Madson just brought a little of the Nats bullpen to the World Series as he allowed two runners to score. Kershaw looked sick.
Nice going Jeff. Maybe you forgot to tell Roberts you were injured or had an upset stomach.

Ole PBN said...

Watching Boston play is like watching a different sport. Makes me feel like the Nats have such a long way to go. The amazing situational hitting, 2-out RBI's, and the ability to make a team pay for a mistake is pretty fun to watch. I've never seen a team deliver with two outs like this, ever. I don't think there will be any controversy when the best team wins the last game of the season.

CardinalX said...

who is Jeff Madson?