Nationals Baseball: November 2018

Friday, November 30, 2018

Cano to the Mets - what does it mean for the Nats

You can say this is a bad deal for the Mets.  I'm not so sure. If you work out the money as it is so far it's sort of like this

Mets get Cano and Diaz, lose Dunn, Kelenic, and Bautista. But they get to dump the Bruce and Swarzak contracts and both guys were nearly worthless last year. They probably lose a little there but very little. The Cano and Diaz impact to the payroll would be something like +10 (that's right 10 million MORE to spend this year, being paid to have these guys), 4 million, 18 million, 21 million, 12 million.  My offhand guess is that Diaz & Cano will give more value than... 45 million dollars, over the course of 4 and 5 years respectively. They could arguably do that in 2 years.

Are the prospects any good? Buatista (Gerson I assume) is one of those guys that can throw it 100 MPH with little control and every team has like 3 of them in their minor leagues and eventually out of the like 90 - maybe 5 "get it" and become great. Given Gerson is pretty damn hittable too (even in High A at 22) I don't like those chances. Dunn is a fast riser. Lousy in 2017 He was great to start this year and seems to be a guy who learns. He also seems to be a guy who doesn't have a third pitch and has no stamina so I'd be surprised if he doesn't end up at the back end of a bullpen rather than the front end of a rotation. Kelenic is the "prize" the Mets #6 draft pick this year. He's a high first round draft pick. Everyone loves his talent but he hasn't proven it yet. His brief rookie ball time was perfectly good for an 18 yo but not so stellar to make you super excited. His fielding is good. His attitude is supposedly great but neither of those will really matter if he can't hit and can he? Nobody knows. What you do know is he won't impact a team until 2021 at the earliest.

Anyway that's for edification. For the title of this column the end result is the Mets are better after this than before. They have a Murphy like 2nd baseman back, at the plate and in the field, and a dominant closer. They have 10 million to spend this year if they want to (and they should spend at least this given the scenario) and probably extra payroll room for next year too. They aren't a better Mets team today that you'd like to pass the Nats in the standings. It could happen - healthy rotation for Mets, issues again for Nats - but you wouldn't bet on it. But a better Mets team means fewer wins for the Nats. Fewer wins for the Nats means a harder time getting in the playoffs because the Nats are right now a little worse than last year (+Barraclough, +Rosenthal, +Suzuki +Robles +Full season Soto, +Full season Eaton, - Gio, -Hellickson, - bunch of middling pen arms that need replacement - Adams, -Bryce) and the Braves are better. We don't expect the Nats to do nothing more but if they don't beat the Braves (and possibly the Phillies... or possibly Mets) then it's a dogfight for those WC spots against teams who don't have 4 quality teams in their division.

So the biggest issue isn't whether this was a good deal for the Mets (I like it bc I think they should capitalize on the deGrom/Syndergaard years as much as possible - but Cano will almost have to be a drag at the end even at 12 mill instead of 24) or if it makes the Mets better than the Nats (it doesn't).  It's about making it harder for the Nats to make the playoffs (it does) and potentially setting up another team to challenge the Nats (if the Mets make more moves). 

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Bumgarner isn't walking through that door

Although he should. For Robles. But I digress because the "NEVER TRADE ROBLES" camp seems firmly entrenched.

Going beyond Bumgarner - if the Giants are selling is there anything the Nationals could want?

Buster Posey? The gut reaction is Hell Yes.  A more tempered reaction is - he's a really good hitter for a catcher, but has only played over 120 games twice in his career and he hasn't broken 100 games in the past two years. So he's not the full-time catcher the Nats need, and he's a mediocre hitting first baseman.  He's also 32 next year and owed 22 million a year over the next 3 years. So... no? I mean he'd make the Nats better and I'm all for spending other people's money but it's pretty clear the Nats could get more bang for their buck anywhere else.

Longoria? I can't see how at those numbers both on the field and in the payroll.

Cueto or Samardzjia?  they pitched 53 and 44 innings respectively last year. Unless it's a Giants eats salary situation no possible way. And it would be a huge eat for San Fran which means minimal prospects... honestly though this fits better with the Nats reality of "never trade prospects" Eating 30 mill of Samardzjia's contract (Nats at under 5 million per for 2 years) for an Autstin Voth type?  Eating 50+ mill of Cueto's deal (Nats at under 5 million per for 3 plus a 5 million buy out) for a Fedde type?  I'd listen.

Crawford / Belt? Not needed.

Melancon? Again an eat salary situation for someone who now looks like a bullpen filler.

Anyone under control that's coming up for FA that the Nats would want?

Wil Smith? (FA 2020) YES!  If he's traded to someone else for a reasonable cost I will be angry. He's exactly the type of reliever the Nats should be trading for. Potential difference maker at low cost, but not too good or too in control to demand a Kieboom or Garcia. And a lefty!

Sam Dyson? (FA 2021) Eh. He's fine if he doesn't cost you much.  Just a guy in the pen for a couple years but you need those. Nothing to get excited about but nothing to write home about.

Hunter Strickland (FA 2022) Hahahahaha! Not good enough for the headaches, but possibly cheap enough for them.  I wouldn't want him but if the Nats got him I wouldn't kill them for it.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Monday - it's quiet. the right amount of quiet

The Nats have been extremely active for the pre-Winter Meetings off-season. Along with the Yankees they've been trying to get their ducks in a row early. Is it for Bryce? Patrick Corbin? Something else? Are they simply saying "Hey we owe it to Harper to do something"? I think it's the last one.

Meanwhile the rest of the league twiddles their thumbs waiting.What can I tell you I can't create news.

The Paxton trade, and potential Segura/Leake/Myers trade might suggest a Mariners fire sale and a question for the Nats. Wil Myers is pretty good. He's never become a star but he's good enough to start. Problem is he'll cost a bundle (22million +) for three years starting in 2020. The Mariners don't really want him. What they want is Segura and Leake off their payroll now, as they will cost more overall and specifically a lot more in 2019. The Nats can do better than Wil Myers. Why not a Carter Kieboom + package for Segura and Leake. You know what the Nats need? A second baseman. Segura is a second baseman. You know what the Nats need? A reliable lefty arm in the rotation. Mike Leake is a reliable lefty arm in the rotation.

Boom trade made. Nats done!

Well not done no, they probably would do well getting a better starter, so they could sign Corbin. But remember that cost I talked about? Yeah here's 25 million on the payroll with Segura and Leake. Another 20+ on a starter? Nope. Not according to the Nats at least. So this won't happen. It makes sense. It's right there, advertised at an affordable price. But it's not happening.

Is there anything else on the Mariners roster worth taking a look at? Edwin Diaz would be nice but as a top notch reliever making next to nothing he's going to come at a cost. Wade LeBlanc is an interesting possibility. At 33, he's not a long term fix but his contract is both reasonable (5 million a year, with 2 million in bonuses possible) and safe (he has to hit IP tagets and not get injured to guarantee that 5 million). He'd be a perfect slide in for a team looking to replace a non-impressive lefty without breaking the bank. Hey! I know a team like that!

There's fun to be had here if the Nats are willing to trade. I bet the Nats could get Cano for a song. Play with it. Nothing else to do right now.

Oh Iglesias signed with the Reds signifying a current attempt to rebuild. Doesn't mean he couldn't be dealt, just means he's not being dealt before this season starts. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Kurt Suzuki - Past and Future Nat

Kurt Suzuki was signed yesterday to play catcher. This comes as a mild surprise because Rizzo had been adamant before that he wanted a frontline catcher who could start 120 games.  Suzuki is not that. He hasn't played over 100 games at catcher since 2015 and that year the effort seemed to tire out his usual decent bat.

What is Suzuki? He's a guy who will play about a half-season at catcher. A platooner. You can be very negative about the guy. His defense is fair. His arm is poor. His framing is among the worst regulars in the league. He's very slow. He turned 35 a month or so ago.

So why sign him? Because even with all that - he's got value. He can hit and most catchers can't (see: Nats C - all). He is a contact hitter who, while he rarely walks, doesn't strike out much either. He gets good contact - and has revamped his hitting in the "launch angle" era to hit more fly balls. This has led to an increase in power (fluky in 2017, more reasonable last year) and almost as important fewer GIDP. He'll lean into a pitch to get on base mitigating some of the low walk rate. If we just look at last year (to skip the fluky 2017) he was one of only 7 or so catchers with any real offensive value.*  When he plays he's one of the better catchers in baseball overall.

This is still a curious move because of the above comments. The Nats didn't sign Suzuki to sit. He will play. But he'll almost certainly only play 100-110 games behind the plate. So what happens in the other ~60 games? Severino CAN NOT HIT. Kieboom is not much better. Do they sign someone to platoon with Suzuki? Well that would mean a LHB and that seemingly would mean McCann. But McCann is barely a catcher anymore and didn't have a year last year that would inspire any confidence in him. Could they trade for a good catching prospect and start him? I'm not sure who'd this be? One of the Dodgers guys? In my head I'm working out some sort of Strasburg/Kieboom/.Hedges/Tatis Padres deal but that's nonsense.

If you twist my arm I'll say I suppose Raudy Read is ready for his turn. They like his defense** and unlike Pedro Severino and Lesser Kieboom he has a bit of pop. But he could easily fail and you are handing him 40% of a season. That's not the move a contender makes unless they are pretty confident across the board. Are you confident right now?

This isn't a bad signing but it's a perplexing one that will hopefully make sense as the rest of the puzzle pieces fill in. The Nats expressed that they needed a good full-time starting catcher. Even though they are rare - two are available right now. Yet instead they rush to sign a good part-time catcher. Let's hope whatever else they do makes this make sense.

*This is why the Marlins won't budge on Realmuto's asking price. He is the best catcher. Age, cost, and offense.  His defense is fine.   He's the surest thing out there and if you don't have him or one of these other half dozen you have crap you are hoping won't hurt you too much.  

**Honestly - outsider of a catcher who is an offensive monster have you ever heard anyone say they didn't like a minor league catcher's defense? 

Monday, November 19, 2018

Monday real quickie - Suzuki?

Rizzo said he wanted a full time catcher. 

Suzuki has not caught 120 games since 2015

Suzuki is good, though. In an non-full time role.

So... what does this mean?

Other than "definitely going to sign a pitcher" I'm not sure. 

Monday Quickie - Where we stand

The Winter Meetings are creeping up on us.  Three weeks from today, we'll be in the thick of it (from Las Vegas no less) and soon after that, if history serves us, the deals will start coming with more speed and frequency. Where do the Nats stand and where does the league stand?


They've made a reasonable enough offer for Bryce and he rejected it and for all intents and purposes they've moved on. They are now doing the same for Rendon and we'll see if he wants to maximize value or not. They've traded for a reliever (Barraclough) and signed a reliever (Rosenthal) and while the risk cost is low, the potential cost is high making it seem like they could be done as far as the bullpen is concerned. Rizzo talks of value here which is not necessarily saying "cheap" but is hinting at that being the case, especially if money ends up elsewhere. As expected that place won't be second base as the Nats like their prospects there and are fine with Howie Kendrick. Where will the money go? Catcher is a good bet as the only guy that seems to be available for a team not willing to part with Top 20 ish prospects and fits Rizzo's wants is FA Yasmani Grandal. Starting Pitcher is the other place as Rizzo has always built around that and seems ready and willing to do that again.

NL East

The Braves expect to spend more money, but not go all in and get a star like Bryce or Machado. It seems like they are likely to add a closer (though not Kimbrel). Also likely is a reliable starter to front end their plethora of young and prospect arms, but don't bet on the top few names. A catcher of some sort to replace Suzuki is also probable though again on the cheaper end.  Given a lack of interest in spending money and a boatload of prospects, where the Braves might make the biggest splash is in trade deals.

The Phillies are going to spend big. It's almost fait accompli that either Bryce or Machado will end up there and there is not crazy talk of both being possible. They'll likely ship out Franco and eat salary to ship out Santana (a great deal for someone who needs a DH) to free up space and some cash for these guys. Then fill in the space left with quality players when those deals are done. Expect them to bolster the pen and the rotation with at least one more decent player apiece as well.

The Mets are a wild card. They hired an unconvential GM in Brodie Van Wagenen, While some want them to trade away what they got and reset it's arguable they still have the best potential starting rotation anchored by DeGrom, Syndergaard, and Wheeler and it's not like a group like that for cheap comes down the pike every few years. It's probably a smarter move to go heavy in. While they have a lot of payroll in 2019 they have almost nothing after 2020. They could do anything but it seems the most likely scenario is adding to the pen, and trying to shape an offense around cheaper pieces.

The League

As expected it's been slow. The biggest Nats related news would be on the catcher fron. The Rays traded for Mike Zunino, one of the few decent available catchers. Grandal got a QO and declined which means he'll cost a draft pick compensation, which we have seen is vastly over valued by organizations. Does that make Grandal cheaper for the Nats? Does that make the Nats not want Grandal?

Both Keuchel and Corbin are QO guys as well but figure to draw enough interest since you need 150 pitchers but only 30 of each position. Hyun-Jin Ryu, Boras client and potential FA pitcher, accepted his QO and he's off the table for the Nats although that was never really discussed.

Other than that the Rangers seem to be gearing up for a non competitive season and the Yankees re-signed Sabathia, a potential innings eating 5th starter for someone. Everyone else has been in a holding pattern for now.

It seems like the early interest is to try to get a cheap rotation and catching answers along with the now annual bullpen run. It wouldn't be surprising to see Suzuki, Ramos, Maldanado, maybe Lucroy, McCann, and Wieters, all go pretty quickly leaving a couple teams to fight over Grandal. In the same way expect Happ, Morton, Lynn, Eovaldi, Cahill, and yes Gio to fill out rotations first if they are willing to go cheaply (or briefly in Happ's case). GMs with money restrictions, which is like 27 of them, are going to try to get out of December with everything pretty much intact and if that means Garrett Richards or Matt Harvey as your #4 so be it.

What's the combination mean? On the budget end, they aren't likely to find themselves with any real value in the bullpen, as this will probably empty out pretty quickly. But I gather they understood that which is why they moved early. The second base gambit though should be fine as interest is low and supply is high. The can stick with Kendrick as they say, but it's very likely a mediocre cheap veteran will be here ready to back up. On the high end, It means if the Nats are in on Grandal, Corbin, or Keuchel it's a gamble. They could end up with leveraging position if everyone cheaps out, but more likely they'll be left in a 2-3 team bidding war if they let these things play out too long. To not get shut out it'd probably make sense for the Nats to make an early play on one of these guys, so I wouldn't be surprised if Dallas Keuchel has inked a deal by Christmas.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Max Scherzer - When will it end? Will it end?

Max Scherzer is a singular talent. This isn't just about pitching skill. When he came in I doubted Max's ability to stay healthy given his work load. But now, four years into his deal, which I think was my limit in how many full years Max would get to, he's thrown more innings than anyone and appears perfectly fine.

It's not just that he's thrown more innings than anyone. He's blown them away. Since 2013 Max has thrown 1313 innings. Second best is Corey Kluber at 1238 innings. Third is Verlander at 1205 innings. Max has thrown 100+ inning more than the third most durable pitcher in baseball in the past 6 years - about a half season more of pitching. It only takes until number 15 to get to over 200 innings in the lead, meaning Max has given his teams a full season more (or more) than the vast majority of pitchers in this league.

But nothing lasts forever. At some point Max will get hurt. For Nats fans the question is will it happen in the next three years?

Well the honest answer is - we don't know! Everyone is different! But we can sort of guess by looking at pitchers with similar careers to this point and see what happened to them.  To the similarity scores! (similar through 33 via b-ref) 

Roy Oswalt?  He's the comparison I liked for Max. But Roy broke at age 33. Max has not. And in case you are wondering about age finagling. Max is about as "old" as a player can get for assigning an age to a year. He turns the next age a few weeks after the deadline. So he's not squeaking by 33 here. It's long gone.

Johan Santana? Broke at 32.

Jon Lester?  Contemporary of Max chugging along fine at 34.

Roy Halladay? Broke at 35.

Tim Hudson? Missed massive time at 33 but came right back and was fine until arguably age got him at 37 or 39 depending.

Jered Weaver? Broke at 32.

Jim Bunning? HOF senator (not HOF Senator, or maybe it is - not a DC ballplayer is what I'm trying to say here. An actual US senator).  Off track at 36

John Smotlz? Missed a whole year at 33, then came back as a dominant reliever, then back as a starter until 41!  Really not comparable because of the reliever thing though

Verlander? Something went off around 31/32 but has since pulled it together and is doing fine at 35.

Zack Greinke? More Strasburg than Strasburg, he's missed time here and there but mostly still fine at 34.

and for funsies

Nolan Ryan? Rarely a great pitcher was still Nolan Ryan through 44/45.

OK so that tells us nothing much.  If we ignore Ryan as a pure freak and Smoltz as a guy whose arm was saved some wear and tear by moving to the pen for several years we get a peak of 37ish but with three contemporaries still pitching right now at least a little older than Max. One thing you notice right away from these guys is that for the guys right before Max's generation, Oswalt, Santana, Halladay, Hudson. Two were done by 33. Hudson missed massive time at 33. Halladay was done at 35.  Meanwhile out of Scherzer, Verlander, Greinke,Weaver, and Lester, who maybe debuted a half-decade later you see only one of the guys crashing out before 34. You have to wonder if there may be something about the pitch count revolution that's having an effect here. Maybe not an overall effect on the league - but allowing guys with strong durable arms to stay strong and durable longer.  Just a thought.

Anyway, is Max going to make it 3 more years? I don't know. If I wanted to be sure I guess I would make Max a closer next year, then move him back.  I wouldn't like him, or anybody really, going deep into their late 30s.  That's just extremely atypical. But with three contemporaries heading into age 35/36, why not Max? Right now I think it's no worse than a coin flip. Given that take, you'd probably give him a year and a half (basically until he turns 37) but that's just guessing.

He's already given the Nats everything he could (in the regular season). Let's hope he stays healthy and gets a chance to take away those parenthesis.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Grandal or bust?

Rizzo made a comment yesterday that he wanted a frontline catcher - a guy to catch 120 games.  I went ahead and took a shot and tried to find guys who played that much.  But it turns out catching 120 games is pretty rare. Only 4 guys managed the feat in 2018. So I gave a little leeway. 230 games played the past two seasons with at least 90% at catcher. That would put a minimum of something like 105 games. At least in the ballpark of being able to start 120 reliably.

That got me only 6 names. Because one wasn't Realmuto I did a little more digging and I had him at 90.5% but I guess baseball ref is doing something different because he pops up at 89% but not 90%.  So I dropped the requirement to 85%. That got me 8 guys.  That's gotta be the limit of guys you could reasonably expect to catch 120 games

Who are these guys? Well first let's take out two guys who aren't going anywhere.

Yadier Molina is one. He is going to retire a Cardinal unless something crazy happens. Wilson Contreras is one. The Cubs are contending and not dealing a starting catcher.

We are down to 6

Yasmani Grandal. He's the prize. He can hit.  He's a .240 bat with 20+ HR power and nice amount of patience. He might be the best framer in baseball. People were a little turned off by his post-season performance but that was atypical. He's a good fielder. The only real knock on the guy is that he'll be 30 next year and will probably get a contract that takes him into his decline years. Still, he's going to get a lot of money in free agency

JT Realmuto. We know all about him. He was thought of as possibly the best hitter of all available catchers before last year, then set himself apart performing really well in a dead line-up. He hits for power and good average which covers for middling patience. Defensively he's great at the usual stuff but not much of a framer. Still arguably the best catcher in baseball right now. The Marlins are asking the world for him.

Mike Zunino. He's also a guy with 20+ power who's a pretty good fielder. Solid framer with a rocket arm. But there are a couple problems. First problem is he's nothing else at the plate. After a surprisingly good 2017 he went back to hitting around .200 and he's not patient. Second problem is he's not a FA and he just got traded to the Rays. On one hand, maybe the Rays are looking to flip him. On the other he's exactly the cheap player they want now... and will flip later. He's probably not available. Like Realmuto though he's under control for two more years.  Also like Realmuto, 28 next year.  Very much a poor man's Realmuto.

Jon Lucroy. The best catcher in baseball just back in 2016 age has taken a quick toll on Jon. His power went last year and pitchers realized they could come right after him this year taking a bite out of his patience. His defense still looks good but his framing stats have also declined. You wouldn't think a guy would be done at 33 but he's a FA who will get one-year flier contract and nothing more.

Martin Maldanado.  Never heard of the guy? Not surprising. He's was an uninspiring back-up for the Brewers before getting a full-time job with the Angels in 2017.  Last year the Astros picked him up as a back-up. You couldn't ask for a better fielder. Very good framer who threw out a league high 49% of runners last year.  But a nothing with the bat and never will be anything. Still that defense should earn him a 2 yr deal in FA.

Tucker Barnhart. Sneaks in at 85% He's kind of the traditional defensive stalwart catcher, meaning he blocks everything but can't frame at all. His arm is good and when that broke right (led league in CS% in 2017) he found himself with a gold glove. He's a little better than Maldanado at the plate and younger but also not a FA.  He's under Reds control through 2021.

If the Nats want to get immediately better at catcher the choices are clear. You sign Grandal or you trade for Realmuto.  If the Nats simply want a body back there they can rely on being back there - they have some choices. I suggested a platoony type situation but Rizzo seems to want consistency. That means you are probably looking at someone on this list.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Offseason Position Discussion : Relief Pitching

Last year discussion revisited

The Nats set up a three-headed monster with Doolittle, Madson, and Kintzler - all acquired in-season 2017, sticking around for 2018.  It was probably the best pen the Nats had going into a season, but I was also wary that it felt like a pen that was lacking that dominant closer and was relying on at least one too few good arms. Either they had to find that capper or add another couple arms or else I was worried that the way it was set up it was still one injury from being a problem again.

Guess what? It was one injury from being a problem. Doolittle would be healthy and great and for a good chunk of the season someone stepped up be it Madson, Miller, Grace, or Suero. The Nats would have injuries and Rizzo would act quickly to get another arm, trading for Kelvin Herrera. Unfortunately Herrera didn't click, and the Nats really needed more, expecially as the Nats rotation pushed the pen harder than expected mid-season. All in all it actually wasn't the hole that it might have seemed like, but it also never developed into a strength. By the time the trade deadline rolled around, the Nats gave up on the season, traded away the pen guys they could and decided they'd start anew. As would be expected the Nats pen imploded and helped quash any late run the Nats might have had in them

Presumed Plan : Doolittle will close and then the Nats will assemble a motley crew around him.  They've already traded for Barraclough and signed Rosenthal and I wouldn't be surprised if one or two other cheap arms join them.  Miller, Grace and Glover are close to locks. Which leaves one spot open right now which would probably be Suero right now.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : Doolittle was great. Sticking with him makes sense. Rosenthal has potential, as he was great before injury so bringing him in is a decent gamble. The rest is just the best pitchers currently rostered. No one here is dominant, or likely to be (sorry Glover), but they are all solid. I'm sure they'd rather have another lefty in here but there isn't a strong candidate that has to be in there. Tim Collins is fine, and maybe sneaks in if he re-signs.

It's not like the Nats aren't potentially spending a ton of money on the pen. Rosenthal will cost a lot if he's good. But this limits the money they can add now. If you have a limit, and it seems like the Nats do, then Rosenthal's potential cost becomes a sticking point. So I can't see another big name coming in here. Instead I see maybe an ok lefty being dealt for or signed and filling in that last arm and that being that. Any more than that and the Nats are committing more to the pen than last year and I feel like last year's performance shies them away from doing that.

Problems with Presumed Plan :  How much time do you have?  Outside of Doolittle, nothing here is great and Doolittle himself is an injury risk who missed time in 2018. Rosenthal could be great, but who knows?  The depth is limited as the next guys up are untested (Austin Adams) or so far failures (Gott, Cordero, Solis). There's no match-up abilities given the one lefty arm. There are no long men which presented an issue in 2017.  This isn't a winning pen as designed. AGAIN.

My take : Design is one thing. Reality is another. It can be a winning pen. You can see Doolittle dominate again, Rosenthal come back near his former self and the rest of the pen keeping on. But more than last year the Nats are depending on the rolls of the dice coming up in their favor. Worse still, the depth.  Injuries are nearly a given and once you get past Suero you start pushing into pitchers you may not want to see at all.  Last year the pen was better formed, performed reasonably well (before being gutted) and Nats fans still weren't happy with it. How is this better?

All this pen improves on is the money spent for performance given. Because of Rosenthal's contract the Nats aren't going to spend a bunch of money for shoddy performance. But if they get a shoddy performance what are the chances that money comes right back into the pen?

I'd like to see Andrew Miller or Justin Wilson signed. I'd like to see J-Rod committed to the bullpen as long relief +.  Push out two of these ok arms (Suero and whichever of Glover/Miller looks worse) and run with a bullpen we can be potentially excited about. Even then it's not perfect. Miller isn't MILLER right now so the Nats don't have that killer arm and Rosenthal is a big fat question mark but this is the best the Nats could do right now.

Out of the box suggestion :
I hate the opener idea but in part because I don't think it's used correctly. Sergio Romo isn't a guy that's good enough that you want to maximize his appearances.  You know who is? Max. Whatever his throw schedule is - when it makes sense use him as the opener.  Something like Max - Stras - FA - Max Opener - Roark.  I'd say do it for Stras too but I have no confidence that guy would adapt to anything outside his routine. That wrings another 30-40 innings from your best pitcher and away from the last guy in the pen.The whole point of all this bullpen shenanigans is to in theory get the best arms on the mound for the most amount of time. Let's actually try to do that

Friday, November 02, 2018

Offeseaon Position Discussion : Starting Pitching

Last year discussion revisited

We assumed it would be the usual 4 with a cheap FA in the 5th role and it was with Hellickson filling that final spot. It became clear as the season started that the Nats plan was to use Hellickson less as a traditional starter and more as a 4-5 inning pitcher and use the bullpen to soak up the rest of the innings. This made sense in a way with a very solid 1-4 and a newly filled out bullpen. Then baseball happened

The Nats would suffer injuries and Martinez would push the pen early trying to compensate and get wins. The pen would begin to suffer. The starting pitching would hold through May. Hellickson pitching insanely well and the Nats looking like starting pitching would carry them to another division title. But then Gio and Roark would have terrible Junes, Strasburg would check in for his annual one-month vacation, and Hellickson would get hurt as well.  The Nats in house options (J-Rod and Fedde) would prove inadequate and the pen was no longer there to bail them out - now overused and trying to help out Roark and Gio. At the same time the offense sputtered and the Nats dug themselves a hole they wouldn't climb out of.

After the disaster of June, the 2nd half would be a mixed bag Roark would recover in the 2nd half, Gio wouldn't, Strasburg would return ,and Hellickson wouldn't quite finish out the season. They did ok, but the Nats needed great to come back and they weren't great.

Oh yeah. And Max nearly won another Cy Young.

Presumed Plan :Max, Stras, Roark, a free agent/ trade for a good pitcher, someone in-house

Reasoning on Presumed Plan :With Gio gone the Nats need to fill two spots in the rotation. While they might be tempted to go with another Hellickson type, Strasburg's continual missed time and Roark off-month should give them enough pause to understand that's not a plan for a contender.  The Nats need to bring in a real pitcher. We all hope it's a Corbin/Kuechel type or someone good and young in trade but it doesn't necessarily have to be that. I could see a trade for a decent rotation filler type like Clayton Richard.  Regardless it has to be someone because you can't expect two guys to shake out from what the Nats have on hand.

Why leave a spot for someone in-house? Well they have two guys they really want to decide on. Joe Ross, who came back from TJ surgery to look perfectly adequate, and Erick Fedde, the arm they bet on when they sent Giolito, Lopez, and Dunning away. Both these guys are under Nats control for a few more years and if they can develop into even a Roark-lite that would help the Nats immensely as they try to budget pitching for the next few seasons along with everyone else.

Problems with Presumed Plan : Starting pitching is hard to get right and a big FA contract here can be trouble. If they don't go with a big FA signing though all it would take is Strasburg to get hurt for a little longer this year or Roark to pitch like... well he has over the past couple season, for the rotation to stop being a strength.  There is always the option to deal for quality but the Nationals have balked previously when it came down to giving up what's necessary to get that back.

Leaving the fifth spot for one of the in-house options to fill is also a problem if only because the Nats track record is not great. Since Stras and ZNN came up in 2010 the Nats have developed one starter - Roark. That's 8 seasons of nothing. Sure, part of that is lack of need. They could focus their efforts elsewhere with the starters they had on hand and they used a lot of high round picks as trade bait.  But you have to believe they felt someone would break out by now. Of the Top 5 round draft picks they bet on Solis became a reliever. Turnbull, Purke, Mooneyham, Voth, Cole, Johansen, Dickey, Van Orden, Rivera not Jr all haven't come through. Who's to say anything the Nats have decided to keep is suddenly going to break this trend?

One year, eventually, Max won't be MAX anymore. He is well into his 30s now.

My take :  The Nats are a pitching team and have always had top notch starting pitching. Last year was the first year in the Nats window that they've dropped below 7th in starter ERA (they were 13th). This is their identity and it's a winning formula. That's why it's hard for me to believe they won't go after a top notch pitcher. However, I don't now exactly what the Nats plan would be here. The Nats are rightly cautious on FA types and in trade these types don't come around all that often. Are they willing to sell a Robles+ for a Snell, if that deal would even be considered?

I think the Nats should do something different then I think they are going to do. I think make a trade and sign a guy and forget about the in house options. Maybe, in fact, deal them away. I'd trade for Chris Archer. He was a dependable pitcher with health before last year, an underrated quality, and his injuries last year were more fluky and less worrisome (and still only cost him 50 innings). He would only be a one-year guy but I think they could extend him with ease and at a time where you might be able to do it for a bargain price. He's also likeable which is a good replacement for Gio, who was also likeable in a sea of otherwise forgettable Nats. The Pirates are trying to reset to win in the 2020-on time frame around a set of four young pitchers, of which Archer isn't one, and what they need is that MI type the Nats could give them... if the Nats will bite the bullet and not grip tightly to their current best prosepcts Kieboom and Garcia.

I would sign JA Happ, because (1) I'd like a lefty and (2) his age means you are going to be able to get him on a deal that could be two-years and a vesting option.  It's a riskier move, yes, because of his age, but one that has a much shorter time frame of pain if it does go wrong. And he's been relatively healthy and I value that.

Out of the box suggestion :
Oh you are going to hate this. Look, the Nats have one thing everyone wants despite the cost. Max Scherzer. Now, you don't deal Max if you are planning on winning. You deal Max if you are planning on rebuilding for the future. But that might not be the worst idea. The Nats have talent enough, in Max and Rendon, to bring back guys that can play if not, right now then debut next year. The best fit for Max would be the Yankees. They have the deepest farm system of the current contenders, the deep pockets to cover his salary but I won't push that. Just let it be known I wouldn't trade Max for anything less than near ready starter plus. But understand no option will be palatable for you. To the Astros for Forrest Whitley? Back home to the Cardinals for Alex Reyes+? To the A's for Jesus Luzardo? (Yep that's right). Then you deal Rendon for an 1B or C everyone likes. Can you stomach Rendon on the Dodgers for Kiebert Ruiz and Gavin Lux? or maybe more pitching. Dustin May?

Rebuilding, really rebuilding, is terrible because it's giving up on winning now for maaaybe winning later. But you know you have Soto and Robles here for a while and you know you have aging pitching and little in the pipeline. Are you willing to pay for more pitching in two years when expensive Max and Stras may be on the books and starting to break down in some way? If not, there's only one move.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Redux and Rosenthal

I keep forgetting that something obvious to me, who is here everyday for too many year, is not obvious to everyone, especially ones that may be just picking up a post here and there.  So as a quick reminder - the Out of Box plan is NOT to be taken seriously.

Here is my post last year on this subject of what these reviews are.

OK on to Trevor Rosenthal

For those unfamiliar with his oeuvre, Rosenthal as been a quality reliever for the Cardinals since 2012. He's a high strike out guy (12.0 K/9 for his career) who is not very hittable (7.8 H/9) and not prone to the long ball (0.5 HR/9).  His bugaboo is the walk as he is a little wild (4.0 BB/9). He had some issues in 2016, which cost him his closer role* but other wise he was an All-Star caliber arm through 2017.

What about 2018? Oh yeah - he didn't pitch.  In 2016 he had some shoulder issues and an in-hindsight completely telling flexor strain and pitched 2/3rds of a season. Feeling good with Oh in the closer role the Cardinals decided "Hey why don't we take this closer for the past 5 seasons and stretch him back into a starter!" Smart move, Lilliquist. Wait a second. That name sounds familiar. Anyway they didn't follow through with it and after toying with it a little in Spring gave up. A lat strain cost him a few games to start the season, occasional arm "soreness" would have him miss a game or two until finally the arm came tumbling down in mid August. The UCL needed replacement and TJ was done at the very end of the month. 

Rosenthal was cut by the Cardinals and remained a free agent through his recovery. He had a showcase right after the season was done and that's where we stand now.

It's hard to say exactly what Rosenthal is right now because of that injury. Whatver issues that sprang up in 2016 and 2017 could easily be the fault of the elbow injury and thus aren't telling us anything. At the same time 2015 is a long time to look back and try to draw a straight line from.  I can tell you what you want to see - a pitcher approaching 100 MPH. Rosenthal is a fast ball pitcher and if his fastball isn't elite anymore then I'm not sure he's worth a gamble. You'd also like to see a solid slider. But these are things we have to wait til Spring to see. Presumably the teams have that info.

The Nats are supposedly promising him 7M total - 6 million for next year, with incentives that can pay up to 14 million and a vesting option for 15 million if he hits targets of 50 games appeared, or 30 games finished, with a 1 million buy out.

What does this all mean
1) The Nats have a pretty good bead that Rosenthal is healthy and decent. 7 million is a lot to spend on a pitcher that's just a lottery ticket
2) The Nats have already spent their big money on relief pitching. Since his salary can get up to 14 million the payroll has to be budgetted that way. So if you are expecting another shiny new relief arm, I'd forget it
3) The Nats are setting up salary expectations quickly which bodes well for a big contract coming. Though that could be Bryce, a starter, or something totally unexpected.

Assuming the Nats are right and Rosenthal is good to go - this is a great signing. But I can't give a real opinion until I see him at least a few times in the Spring. Right now it's a black box.

*He led the majors in saves in 2014-15