Nationals Baseball: Offeseaon Position Discussion : Starting Pitching

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.


G Cracka X said...

Thanks Harper. Actually, I don't hate at all the idea of trading Max, I just don't think they'll be able to figure out a win-win deal with anyone. I think Max has been awesome, and I love his fire, and he still projects to be very good even with the age, but I think trading him now would be selling high, which contenders should be willing to consider. You might be able to get an arm who you can start right away. And then with Max's money off the books, they could also sign another pitcher and maybe go for quantity over quality in the rotation.

I don't think the Rays go Robles+ for Snell, right? Wouldn't they be demanding Soto? Snell has got to be a Top 25 trade target in the league.

Anonymous said...

At 4pm ET we find out if my WOTB (Way Outside The Box) suggestion is viable: Clayton Kershaw.

The thought of trading Max is just silly.

That is all.

[Froggy on a public computer]

Harper said...

GCX - you can't trade Soto for Snell though and they have to know that. Or at least I can't see a way you trade a hitter (more certainty) with more years of control (and cheaper right now) for a pitcher with fewer yrs of control.

Johnny Callison said...

The team's approach to in-season personnel additions is a big part of this problem. Just imagine if they'd snared Hamels instead of the Cubs. Sure, you add payroll, but he had an option, he was till pretty good (very good with the Cubs after sruggling with the terrible Rangers), and 20M, while a lot of money, is probably less than you'd pay for Corbin, et al. Hamels also would have bolstered a key weakness and given the Nats a shot at the post-season. So many other teams added payroll and it helped them to the post-season. I don't get the Nats' strategy at all.

DezoPenguin said...

I think you're right about this one, Harper. I think they intend to add one real pitcher and let one of Ross or Fedde be the fifth man. Which...I don't like. I can see having Ross be SP6 (I'd actually forgotten about him in earlier comment threads), the guy who fills in for the inevitable injury, with Fedde SP7 and Rodriguez SP8 if he doesn't make the team as a reliever.

Like you, I think that they need to add two legitimate starting pitchers. One guy who's at least SP3 if not SP2 quality, and a second one who at least can be expected to reliably eat six innings a game if not more. Corbin + Happ, maybe.

OOB-wise, I was looking at the Royals a bit ago and noting that a trade of bulk prospects for Merrifield, Perez, and Duffy would address our most pressing needs at one go. But apparently the Indians are one-upping them and listening to offers on everybody except Lindor and Ramirez, very much including Kluber and Carrasco (each of whom comes with up to three years of control including team options)...

Froggy said...

If I'm reading the MLB Free Agent tracker correctly there are quite the selection of catchers available.

Question becomes: Suzuki or Ramos?

G Cracka X said...

2019 Steamer projections are in! I guess they haven't fixed the tab header yet, but here's the link for hitters:,d

Notables: Soto projected for 4.2 WAR and Turner projected for even more (4.6). Given that Steamer projections are somewhat conservative/reserved in nature, that's pretty good. MAT only projected for .2 WAR, and even Steamer600 gives him .4 WAR, which seems a little low for him. I would think 7. to .9 would be more reasonable.

Here's for pitchers:,d

Notables: Fedde is projected to be almost as good as Roark, despite projecting to start eight fewer games. Joe Ross is projected for about 1 WAR and 23 starts. So Steamer clearly likes Fedde better.

So, maybe sign a guy, make Fedde your 5, Ross 6, and Rodriguez/random vet your 7?? Although, Kyle McGowin projects to be better than Rodriguez (and in Steamer600, he projects to be better than Ross and almost the same as Roark), so maybe he's your 7. And I forgot that Aaron Barrett is back in the farm system!!

Stras is only projected for 3.2 WAR, despite 177 innings. They project a 3.57 FIP for him, which seems low but I trust projections more than personal intuition. They also project a tiny bit more WAR for Rosenthal, who didn't pitch last year, than for Doo, who was great last year when healthy.

DezoPenguin said...

On the catcher newsfront, the Rangers declined Robinson Chirinos's $4.5M option. wRC+ over 100 four years running and decent defense numbers, though his framing was really bad (on the other hand, Realmuto's framing also blew chunks last year...).

Anonymous said...

Interesting about the Stras projection. I think this has to mean that velo changes are an input into their model.

Johnny Callison said...

I don't know anything about Chirinos but based on his stats he seems an improvement over Wieters (who was an overpay from the get-go; Boras got the Nats to bid against themselves, which is one of his talents). I think the Nats should get on the phone to Suzuki and Chirinos right away, but Rizzo has a marked tendency to never revisit a player he's traded or let go, so maybe not Suzuki. Having Suzuki the last two years would have been good.

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blovy8 said...

Do you think Roark is getting close to 10m in arbitration? He could be non tendered, and then they might need three starters.

Jay said...

Can we review the Strasburg/Harper era in a post sometime this offseason? I think as far as regular season success the last 6 years have been a great success. However, based on playoffs and such I would argue that it was a failure. Despite the effort to not go "all in", the Nats are still at the end of the window with an iffy future. You could argue that the Nats will go into next year as the 3rd best team in the NL East. Also, even if the Nats win the division do you think they have anything for the Dodgers, Cubs, Astros, Yankees, and Red Sox. The Red Sox and Dodgers didn't luck into the World Series this year. They didn't just get some breaks. Anyway, would love a discussion about this topic at some point in the coming months.

blovy8 said...

Except for awards and gravy, it's probably the worst time to argue about anything in November. Teams may make a few moves...

Anonymous said...

To the guy who wanted Hamels midseason, let's put it this way: he looked like he was done. He may have come to the Nats and felt the race wasn't close enough and continue to do poorly. That's the type of player he is. I have no regrets the Nats didn't pursue him.

blovy8 said...

If Seattle retools, Paxton might be available - that is a perfect fit, but do the Nats have the will and prospects?

Ole PBN said...

In terms of legit prospects, we only really have Robles and perhaps Kieboom-The-Younger. Everyone else is filler to make up the bulk of a "quantity over quality" type deal. It seems we're locked in to draft at least 30 of these irrelevant prospects every year, so I don't have a problem with gutting our system that way. We got Gio with similar no-name assets. If Kieboom+Irrelevant names will get Paxton here, do it. But Robles needs to stay. I'm not operating in the fantasy that Bryce comes back DC - it's stupid for our team. Nothing against him, wish him the best, but time to move on. Too many other glaring needs.

DezoPenguin said...

Apparently (per ESPN), Bryce already turned down our multi-year offer during the exclusive window. Though in all fairness, I don't think we should have been making that offer unless the Lerners are willing to go "to heck with the luxury tax."

The nice thing about Seattle getting into the market is that, unlike Cleveland, they need to rebuild their entire farm system so that "quantity over quality" is the kind of offer that they might be inclined to take (though someone else might offer quantity AND quality, so that's a risk...). Paxton should absolutely be someone to look at; his injury history is off-putting (hello, Stras 2.0), but his talent is extreme. Zunino is also someone worth looking at there: the bat is meh (though with substantial power), but the defense is excellent and he'd be a firm step up over last year even if he's a part-timer or the #2 to a Grandal/Ramos/etc.
Leake could also be a useful replacement-for-Gio type; low ceiling there but high floor.

Josh Higham said...

I'm surprised people aren't talking about Charlie Morton to the Nats. From what I've read he wants to either be in Houston or near his in-laws in Delaware (apparently he and his wife don't want to hire outside help raising their kids) and DC fits one of those just fine. He'll also most likely want a 2 or 3 year deal worth good but not extraordinary money, which the Nats should be able to afford. I'd guess he re-signs with Houston, especially with McCullers having TJ this week, but if he doesn't the Nats should go hard after him. He's a good candidate to throw a decent number of very, very good innings.

blovy8 said...

Yeah, the timing of McCullers' surgery should mean the Astros to hard after him, but they do have McHugh that they can put back into the rotation. It's possible to outbid them.

The Mariners are in a tough spot, they probably can't spend like the Angels, and are way behind the Astros in talent. Oakland has a window right now where they can spend a little bit to compete. Texas has a ton of money they probably won't spend yet, but can retool fairly easily. It's got to be tempting for them to tear things down if they can get good prospects as Dezo is saying and try to be ready at the point where Houston gets old and expensive.

I think Paxton suits Rizzo's strategy of taking talent over health.

Ole PBN said...

It's sad but our front office's strategy revolves around penny pinching. Blovy8's comment about "Rizzo's taking talent over health" is spot on. Typically health-risk players are at a lower cost, so Rizzo/Lerners look guys like Giolito, Fedde, Rosenthal, and others as worth the gamble because we're getting these guys at a much lower price than if they were healthy. The talent is always there, just may or may not pan out.

We're due for another big signing (or re-signing/extension). Scherzer's deal was prior to the 2015 season and Stras' extension was the following year. Empty your pockets, Ted.

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