Nationals Baseball: December 2018

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

You got Corbin. Adams back. Suzuki / Gomes behind the plate. Bear Claw and Rosenthal, who aren’t terrible! And Anibal Sanchez.  That’s another division  worthy team.

Complain tomorrow.  Today be happy you aren’t 20+ other teams who have to hope, not expect, to contend.

Friday, December 21, 2018

It's a whole new Ani-bal Game

The Nats had a worry about the rotation for the first time in years this off-season. Gio was going leaving the Nats rotation clearly 3 deep for the first time since possibly the success began*  We knew the Nats would have to address this by bringing in an arm and they did. Patrick Corbin was signed giving the Nats a new bigger Big 3. However in one crucial way Corbin wasn't Gio. Gio was consistently healthy over the course of his career. Corbin already has one major surgery. So it was vital the Nats think about that, especially with "Miss a Month" Strasburg in the rotation.

But instead the Nats jettisoned rock-steady Roark, trading him to the Reds, presumably to clear up cap space. For what though? A top notch starter like Kuechel? The best 2B available like Lowrie or LeMahieu (depending on your view)? Finally, finally, getting the best back end of the bullpen FA could get them?

Apparently it was for Anibal Sanchez.

Sanchez signed a deal for 2 years 19 million, which means his AAV (to be counted against the cap) should be 9.5 million, a savings of maybe a million over Roark.  For that they get a pitcher who was, admittedly, much better than Roark last year. But they also get a pitcher who threw 50 fewer innings than Roark last year, almost 200 fewer IP over the past 3 years. They also get a guy who in 2016 and 2017 was much worse than Roark.

You could possibly understand this if it saved the Nats a lot of money but it didn't - at least in regards to the luxury cap. They still have say 5-15 million to spend (depending how much in-year flexibility they want to have) to stay under that figure. I suppose if they are down near the conservative end (which assumes a lot of hit bonuses, Rosenthal being all year healthy, and bolstering the team through mid-season deals) a million matters. Up near the other end it would be far less impactful. I am having a hard time understanding this. Rizzo didn't draft the guy for the D-backs! He's not a Boras client! I don't see any non-baseball reason for it either. Can me perplexed.

Is Sanchez really 2018 good? That's hard to say. 2018 wasn't a mirage in the stats not lining up with the performance sort of way. Anibal did pitch very well. Primarily he got back to getting those ground balls, which had been a hallmark of his early success, and everything that went with that (more guys LOB, better HR/FB ratio). I mean you can adjust and tweak and say that guy will be a 3.50 guy this year, but that's pretty good. Really good for a 4. But then you look at 2016 and 2017 and wonder. And then tack on the likelihood of a 5 month season at best. Those are the question marks that have you saying - he's not right for this team at this price.

Part of me wonders if actually the payroll this year is super important to the Lerners, despite it not being the actual cost against the cap. If that's the case the 4-5 million vs Roark makes a bit more sense. But I'm not sure why that would be...

I don't know. Maybe you guys can follow this. To me this is a little bit of a panic move in a rapidly shrinking FA market for SP, that they pivoted too after whatever was Plan A (Morton?) and Plan B (Lynn?) fell apart.

*of course going into 2012 they weren't entirely sure what they had. 2013 has an argument, with it being Haren & unproven Detwiler at the end. 2014 brought in Fister to supplement the Big 3. 2015 Scherzer. 2016 we knew Roark was at least an innings eater in the 4th spot. 2017 and 2018 were along the same lines.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Monday Quickie : Buffalo, New York

Wilson Ramos is a Met and that’s ok.  Ramos, to me, is a better catcher than Suzuki or Gomes.  The difference in what I project for offense is that great*. This is a smart move by the Mets. But that doesn't mean it's a smart move overall. In fact, I think it would have been a stupid move.

Ramos is a lottery ticket.  The Nats don’t need those.  They need stability. They need to ensure that an otherwise potential division winner isn’t undermined by a zero at a position like it was to some degree last year. By pulling in two catchers who are likely to be ok, you do that. Would I have preferred one very good catcher? Sure. But what I wouldn't have wanted is one lottery ticket and a Lobaton-esque back-up which is probably what the Nats would have had if they went with Ramos.

The Mets though - they need a couple lottery tickets. They are behind enough in talent they either need to spend out the nose, trade all their prospects or gamble. This is gambling. If Ramos is healthy they have one of the better catcher situations in baseball. (30%? ) If not (70%)then they don't and there's a decent chance in that 70% of either too injured to play or so injured he's not effective.

Just for completeness, since I've been doing this for most signings. This doesn't put the Mets ahead of the Nats.

What to watch for this week : If Keuchel or Kimbrel sign somewhere. These are the most likely targets of Phillies/Braves to get done sooner and where they end up will make a difference in the NL East race one way or another.           

*Again I've seen WAY too many "If you look at the last two years Suzuki..." notes. If you look at the last year, it's ok. If you look at the last three years, eh.  Picking two years is not stating facts, that's playing with numbers. Suzuki will be average. Which is good for a catcher and good for the Nats! That should be plenty!

Friday, December 14, 2018

Friday already?

Next week will be back to more normal posting here.

Winter meetings are over and the Nats dealt Roark but didn't do anything else. The trade of Roark was a surprise but now they have flexibility to make Marwin Gonzalez a member of the Washington Borases.  I actually like Marwin. He's not as good at 2017 but you could expect league average bat from him and a positional flexibility that the Nats crave. With Kendrick and Gonzalez they'd be insulated from nearly every reasonable (re: 2 guys out at same time at different positions) injury situation.

Several pitching options have been lost. Joe's brother Tyson went to Detroit. JA Happ went back to the Yankees. Charlie Morton signed with the Rays. Ivan Nova was dealt to the White Sox. Lance Lynn, who the Nats had their eye on supposedly, went to Texas. The cupboard for a Roark replacement isn't bare yet but the choices are getting smaller. Wade Miley has been floated out there and is interesting, but not as a Roark replacement, because the Nats need IP and Miley can't be expected to give them that.

On the rivals front, the Phillies made a deal that was a little odd in signing Andrew McCutchen. McCutchen still has value, especially as a corner OF for a poor fielding Phillies team but the contract size seems exorbitant (50 million). It also seems to be a signing that suggest a plan in place for a Bryce-less Philly.  With Machado pretty well sought after too this makes it look more likely that the Phillies end up empty handed when it comes to Top 10 free agents this off-season. Not that it's likely - I still think they sign someone big, just more likely. Such a situation would probably doom the Phillies to a projected 4th hoping to snipe off 3rd from whichever NL East team is bitten by the injury bug (re: probably Mets).  And no - their reliever flip of a more talented pitcher for a more stable one isn't worth noting.  The Mets re-signed Familia which along with Diaz gives them a pretty scary back end. However they still need a big impact signing (or several small impact ones) to start to be projected to have impact.

We got the particulars of the Corbin deal. 2.5m signing bonus. 12.5, 19, 24, 23, 24, 35 with 10 million of that last amount deferred to 2024 and 2025 so... 5million per?  This makes the Nats paying 30 for zero pitchers in 2025 and 2026.  But no luxury tax hit.  Although I think this bus has two drivers.

Bryce hasn't gone anywhere with the Yankees first saying they aren't interested because they don't have the room (debatable) but then coming back with a "well don't count us completely out". I don't think he goes there - I think the Stanton deal means one superstar and that will be Machado because he's needed more - but I think they want to stay open to Bryce if they lose out on Manny. This has been my take since the trade. Personally I've never liked the Stanton trade. I think the Yankees got big eyes when they saw all it would cost (re: close to nothing) to get Stanton and jumped in when they should have focused on trying to get Bryce (who fits the lineup and city better) AND Machado this off-season. But it was also gambling both those guys would be free. If they weren't then they passed up Stanton and would be in a bidding war for the one guy everyone wants. They gambled, and mildly lost, imo. I'd read the Bryce situation as

Dodgers, if they clear off a little salary, then
Phillies, if they get their act together and stop believing they can skip big time signings this off-season and somehow stay on track, then
Yankees, if Machado ends up elsewhere, then
White Sox, if none of those guys sign him, then
Nationals, if all else fails

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Roark traded

Quick thoughts. Roark was possibly an overpay but only very slight.  I’ve been noting for a while that Corbin essentially ended the Nats flexibility bc 1) they aren’t spending right up to the cap and 2) there’s a lot of bonuses to factor in.  This gives them flexibility back.

What it costs them is a decent starter and chances are that they won’t be able to sign someone as good for that cost.  But they don’t have to do that.  They can sign someone better for more or trade for someone the same but cheaper.

The biggest thing I worry about is Gio and Roark being good for 350+ IP over a year and now they are gone.  Corbin is a horse but that’s an arm you can’t 100% depend on and Stras is going to miss his month. So they need another super dependable (by 2018 standards) starter imo

Monday, December 10, 2018

Monday Quickie - and so it goes

Winter Meetings have started which is typically the time frame where big deals start to take place. Of course the Nats have bucked that trend and have nearly completed their off-season wish list early like that annoying person who tells you on December 1st that they've finished Christmas shopping. For the Nats the Winter Meetings are less about filling in those last few holes (2nd base? Reliever?) and more about seeing how the other teams maneuver around them. Do the Mets make any major moves? Where do the Phillies spend their money? Is there a surprise waiting from the Braves? Does any of this include Bryce Harper?

We shall find out shortly.  As it stands now I'd rank the NL East teams as such


With each team quite capable of winning enough games to make the playoffs.

Meanwhile the NL hasn't remained quiet as the Diamondbacks have begun their selling off, packagin Paul Goldschmidt to the Cardinals. Another team in the NL strengthened if indeed they are to be faced in the playoffs.  It's going to be a hell of a year and someone is going to win 15+ fewer games then they set out to (probably primarily because of injuries)  

Over the weekend we found out Harold Baines and Lee Smith were elected to the Hall by the Modern Era committee virutally ensuring the Modern Era committee faces some major changes in the near future.  Lee Smith was always going to be a close call. He was a dominant save gatherer for years and for a long while held the saves record. He was never so great though that he made a big impression on fans and it seemed like the line for closers were going to be "Better than Lee Smith" Now it shifts again.  "Better than Billy Wagner"?  Line has to be somewhere.The Baines election though is a mess and is going to be the issue. He's was a good hitter for a long while with some very good years in there. And that's it. He didn't field well (eventually he'd move to DH and spend most of his time there). He didn't run well.  He didn't have any post-season heroics. You can name a handful players off the top of your head better than him and if Baines is the bar there a seeral dozen players who probably should get in. But no one wants that, well except the players and managers. When clearly better players don't get the votes and most impactful personnel don't either seeing a guy like Baines get in is jarring.

We also found out last week Chelsea Janes is off the Nats beat.  Some people liked her, some didn't. The Post generaly has a good feel for hires, so we'll see what Red Sox fa... I mean random sports reporter, takes over for her.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Initial Corbin Thoughts

I'm super busy but you need a place to talk amongst yourselves about this. Some quick thoughts

Nats fans should be happy

For the past half-decade Rizzo has shown he is able to identify the issues and come up with a plan to address them. For the past half-decade, the Lerners have shown the willingness to back him monetarily to a point that does not impede competitiveness. They have both been able to execute these plans and keep the Nationals one of the better teams in baseball. This off-season is no different. The Nats needed, if I were to order it from most important to least, (1) a fix at C (2) A new SP, preferably front end (3) some relief help (4) the usual back-up to Zimm (5) maybe a 2B.  They have fixed C, and they got the best SP available. They also have added some relief help. And it's only December. I think we can be very confident the Nats will do what they want. Which is to stay under the cap and solve all these issues for next season to remain competitive.

Nats fans should not expect Bryce back 

The Nats would be ecstatic to have Bryce back, if the contract was structured as they like it. Which means cheap next year (to fit under the cap) and with a lot of deferred money, because that helps the Nats out (makes the contracts effectively cheaper).  I don't see that happening. I especially don't see that happening now that the Nats have gotten Corbin and left Atlanta and Philly out in the cold with money to spend.

Nats fans should not consider this all-in

I had this argument on Twitter with BxJaycobb I think. To me all-in is going after the best reasonable solution at every position you need help. It's potentially selling out the future for the now. In the Nats case that would have meant getting Corbin, yes. That is an all-in move. But it also would have meant signing Grandal or trading for Realmuto and signing probably both Miller and Ottavino and going after LeMahieu.or say trading Kieboom to the Mariners for Cano/Diaz  There is not necessarily a singular solution but there is an overriding theme of "best possible".  The Nats have never done this and when they went Suzuki/Gomes, while it's a fine plan, it showed me once again, they aren't doing it this season either.  Now you can argue either side pretty easily. You can say they spend enough and their methods have gotten them regular season success and so why try to do something that guarantees nothing other than a likely necessary rebuild in a few years. You can also say they have shown that their plan of "getting playoff good" means they miss the playoffs if they face any adversity and that in the playoffs they have flaws that get exposed. If the goal is to win it all it's been shown not to work over 5 years*. After 5 years of no ultimate success I fall into the latter camp. There has to be a time frame, does there not, where you say "this isn't working like we want" and for me - half a decade is it.

Corbin should be good. Great is questionable

When the Nats signed Max he was coming off two Cy Young vote getting seasons and had two other very good years in pocket. When they extended Strasburg he was one of the best pitchers in baseball over the previous 4 years. Corbin is a different animal. He was great one year before TJ way back in 2013. He was great last year. Other than that there's a half-year of good pitching out there. There is far less confidence that he's truly an upper eschelon pitcher than there was for Max or Stras. But still it would be surprising if he regressed all the way back to 2017 and 2017 was perfectly No. 3 in rotation acceptable. That's probably the baseline of what the Nats can accept here. So I'd be shocked if he (non-injury wise) doesn't hit that baseline and is very likely to be better. But don't dismiss that "non-injury wise" aside. Remember the Nats and the TJ ticking clock. They like to use eight years as a failure guess. For Corbin that would be sometime into year 3/4 of this contract**  But that's just a guess and last year saw him hit 200 IP for the first time since before the surgery.

This is just an overall view. We'll look into Corbin more later though with the fancy stats.

If you are the worrying type worry about the Nats in 2025-2028.

At that point, if Strasburg doesn't leave, the Nationals will be paying $25 million in deferred cash to Strasburg and Max (they won't be playing under original deal) and I'm going to guess about $15 million to Corbin (also not playing under original deal). That's possibly $40 million for NOTHING. Not "oh this guy might be hurt or old and not good", but "this guy is no longer under contract and we still owe him money".  While that doesn't count against the cap, it's hard to see the Nats not be effected by this in some way.  With 2024 also the last year before FA for Soto and Robles, you can easily see a rebuild happening at that time.But that's also WAY off. You know I don't like holding to anything three seasons ahead, let alone seven. So it's just something to think about, if I don't know, you plan to retire to the area to watch baseball in that time frame.

*I consider 2012 a surprise year and 2013 a year where the plan wasn't truly in place and it was a more of "maybe we can get away with doing very little" season

**More worrisome for the Nationals. Last year was year eight for Strasburg. 

Monday, December 03, 2018

Monday Quickie - Looting the corpse of the Mariners

Cano and Diaz went to the Mets. Segura might go the Phillies. Seager to the Brewers? I suggested earlier that the Nats get in on this by getting Segrua and Leake.  But why not pull a Mets.  Who do the Nats want? Gamel and Shawn Armstrong? OK we'll take Leake too and give you back... I don't know.  Sammy Solis! You'll love him. Honestly they should be plundering this team because they are willing to take great players to good players just to lower salary.  It's the closest thing to a fire sale we've seen in years.

In the meantime the Nats picked up Yan Gomes. Is this a good deal? Let's start off with what they gave up.

Daniel Johnson is better than Andrew Stevenson, not as good as MAT.  At least as a 22yo/23yo prospect (DJ was an "old" 22. Andrew is a "young" whatever he is. MATs on the younger side as well). He doesn't have any particular strength or weakness. He hits well but not great. He has some power, but not a lot. He's not very patient (ok that may be a weakness) but he makes more contact than the free-swingers. He's a decent fielder but not anything I've heard anyone rave about. And there's the big difference. You can say the same about Stevenson and you barely see him hanging on. Everyone loves MATs fielding and he's been a 4th OF with trials at starting for 3+ years now. You gotta have something to hang a hat on. Right now DJ doesn't. He's young enough that he could develop into something more special, and talented enough that there may be multiple ways that could happen, but there's nothing out there yelling that it WILL happen. His quasi-rehab AFL performance this year was full of kudos for his physical skills and dismal production. Seems like a 4th OF if you are lucky to me.

Jefry Rodriguez - well you saw him. He has some talent but it's real questionable if he will put it together (being 25 next year) in time to be useful in a rotation. After rough 2014 & 2015 it looked like he might not last much longer in baseball but he improved in 2016 and 2017 enough to be of interest to the main club in 2018 as an outside rotation possiblity. However, this seems more of a "let's see if we have something here" than a "this guy is ready for the show". He's probably going to be a reliever. His fastball is good in theory and if he can focus on powering it over rather than trying to save some for innings 4-6 it might be good in practice. Pair that with a decent second pitch and that may be enough.

What is likely to be a player that peaks at 4th OF and a bullpen filler. That's not much. Are the Nats getting back something better?

Yes. Yan Gomes is a professional major league catcher when healthy. He's a plus fielder and while his bat isn't the plus it looked like it would be early in his career, he worked it back to a average (which is pretty good for a catcher). He hasn't caught 120 games since 2014 but he's steadily working his way back up and got to 111 games last year.  His contract is reasonable (7M) with a couple reasonable options if the Nats choose to take then (9m, 11m).  Most likely you are getting a 110 g catcher who hits average and fields well. There you go!

Of course the problem is context and the context is two-fold. First you have Kurt Suzuki signed for two years who can also be like a 100g catcher, who may hit well, and maybe field average. And is also a RHB.  It's an awkward "platoon" with no real sense on who supercedes who. On a team with a strong manager that's built on hitting, this would probably work out fine. The hot hand would be ridden out and the other guy would have to deal with it. On this team with Davey and pitching lead, you face more potential problems as pitchers ask for "their" catchers and the manager wish-washes through decisions. Still having two decent options to figure out how to maximize is a small problem. Second you have Yasmani Grandal. A better hitter than Suzuki (to believe otherwise is to say "No we're not looking at 2018! We're looking at 2017 and 2018! 2016 through 2018? Why would we look at that?")  He's a better fielder than Gomes. He has caught more than 120 games recently. So you are choosing to create this odd situation with suboptimal pieces to do what?

Well it's to save money and avoid playing your catchers. Both might be reasonable. I'd like to see Raudy Read get a turn at the plate for 30-40 games in 2018 but he's certainly not a sure thing and we've seen enough of Can't Hit Severino and Almost as Bad Kieboom. You can't argue that the 150+ you'll get from Suzuki/Gomes won't have a potential hole like these Grandal and Nats minor leaguer. Still you will very likely get a blah year from one of these two guys and that's half a season of below average sitting out there you could have avoided. For how much though? They'll make 11 combined this year, 15 next. Is Grandal going to get over 15? If he goes close to 20 - you can see the savings be worth it. If he's closer to 13 then you paid more for less.  We'll have to see how the market works out.

Another thing to consider is the salary cap. For his year Gomes is on his original, non-option salary cap figures so Suzuki + him will be worth only like 8 million to the cap. That could free up some space that you wouldn't have signing Grandal (They'll be 14 next year, then just Gomes 11 the year after that). It won't be a lot but it is something for a team that wants to be below. And understand below doesn't mean just sneaking under. That only works if you keep the same roster all year. If you are in contention you are almost certain to add cost so the Nats can't end up at 205.9 million or something. They'll need to be much more under.   

So is it a good move? You can't argue it isn't. Is it the right move for the Nats now? That depends on what you think of 7 years of not going all-in has proven.  If you think it shows the Nats need to do more, to throw caution to the wind in form of cash or prospects, well it's another example of not doing that. Of settling for a lesser solution. If you think it's shows the Nats can keep up a competitive team and that's all you can hope for, well this is more of that.