Nationals Baseball: Off-Season Position Discussion : First Base

Friday, November 15, 2019

Off-Season Position Discussion : First Base

Is it that time of year already? Actually we're doing this way later!

First thing though - what about the QO calls yesterday.  Quick thoughts - Odorizzi accepting and Abreu accepting bumps up the market for SP and 1B respectively.  I don't think it really effects what Stras was asking for (and what the Nats should pay him). Wil Smith going to the Braves is a shame - the Nats need relievers because the playoff plan won't work over 162 games in 190 days. 

Last year discussion

Another year of rinse (Zimm is your starter, with a LHB backup) and repeat.  I was surprised that the Nats could get Adams back because he was really good in 2018. In 2019 you saw why as the wheels came off and he struck out an amazing 115 times in only 333 plate appearances.  Ryan Zimmerman wasn't healthy either playing only 52 games and hitting a measly .257 / .321 / .415.  By all accounts the plan failed.

But Plan B worked great. Howie got nearly as many PAs at 1B as Zimm (166 vs 170) and was fantastic.  Parra got some decent ABs here early as well.  All in all first base ended up a disappointment in comparison to the league, but it did give Howie a place to settle and do his thing so it was merely below average instead of the terrible hole it could have been.

If there was any issue beyond that it was that no one playing first could really field the position. But first base is a place you can hide that and with Dozier bouncing back to OK, instead of Daniel Murphy manning the keystone, the Nats weren't in a terrible place there.

My OOB plan - which are remember just trying to come up with things that haven't been thought of or maybe have been and are crazy, I do not advocate these things as things that should be done. - was to bring in Daniel Murphy. He ended up costing too much, beyond what I would have been ok with for this role. Then he got injured, stunk when he started the season and never got his final season stats back to where they should have been

Presumed Plan : Is there one? I think the fans would welcome Zimm back. I know the fans would welcome Howie back.  Adams is gone to the ether. I'd love to see Soto there honestly but they aren't going to push that until they have to. So what happens? Bring Asdrubal Cabrera back?

Twist my arm and I'll say Zimm is back under a cheap deal and the starter is... (twist) OW!  Matt Joyce! 

Reasoning on Presumed Plan :
I think Zimm was ready to retire but winning (fun) and not leaving on his terms (disappointing) brings him back for another year. I think he'll be more than accommodating to whatever contract the Nats want to give him. But I think his play suggest he's a bench bat, not even a platoon.  A back-up for a full-time first baseman. (In that way I guess it doesn't matter if the full-timer is right or left handed.)

Howie would be ideal here but he deserves a solid 2 year deal, even in the new baseball, and would be best served by taking that sort of deal for an AL team where he could  also DH. So I think he's going to price himself out of returning. After him the first base market is dead slim. Eric Thames is the best option and he is good - but as the only option above guys like Moreland, Smoak, and Neil Walker he's going to get more than he should.

So that leaves guys you move around. Dozier is a possibility, though it feels iffy he'll stay here because I think he wants to play 2B and the Nats would be best served giving Kieboom time. Donaldson would be an idea or Moustakas but they are pricey and it's a waste of their skill set to sit them at first. They are more likely "post-Rendon" targets.  Going through the OFs there are again not a lot of good names, but there are more options that should hit ok.  Going through there I'm looking for the cheapest good option with relatively consistent work and I come up with Matt Joyce.  He'll be cheap because of his age (36 next August) but he's gone 118 OPS+ or better three of the last four year. He is not a bopper - instead has 10-20 HR power and spent last year walking like a machine and getting familiar with NL East pitching with Atlanta. 

Look it's just a guess here. There is no plan that I see so I'm looking at the best option given some assumptions - Howie gone, Dozier gone, Nats spend money on SP/3B situation not 1B. If you want my preferred order in plans it would be
  1. Howie back!
  2. Dozier back splits time between first and second, but mostly plays first
  3. FA 
although I'll admit there's a lot about 2 I don't like either. But I don't think 1 or 2 is going to happen so here we are in the presumed plan area.  After him I guess I can see the Nats going after Todd Frazier - same reasonably reliable production and health but hasn't gone over 118 OPS+ since 2014

Problems with Presumed Plan  : 
 For mine specifically - Joyce doesn't homer and isn't a natural fit in the Nats line-up that starts with Turner/Eaton. The best fit, assuming Rendon is back, would be a righty masher. He's old. He hasn't played first. He's slow. He's not a particularly good fielder.

For a FA in general - unless you move a great hitter moved or go after the best 1B available there are huge question marks with every choice. Todd Frazier? Asivail Garcia? Starlin Casto?  Slick defender Logan Forsythe?

My take
I don't like this move. Any choice I see the Nats making here is a compromise so it's not going to be ideal and it'll have the same downside as all the Ryan Zimmerman+ ideas that they've had for the past half-decade and little of the upside.  But I'm thinking that given $ to 3b and SP this is what I think they do. They make a compromise move to cover first base. 

I lean with a guy like Joyce because I am leaning a little more toward the Nats aiming for a guy likely to give ok production and likely to be pretty cheap. They've rarely see a reason to throw decent money at C+ players like say Frazier or Garcia might get given their range of production possibilities. But with something like this we'll all have our own opinions. I personally do like Frazier.  A bit more healthier. I think his power fits into the Nats line-up better. Maybe health is most important to you. Or homers. Or maybe you are willing to shell out a little more for a 1B and try to save money elsewhere (as usual with the Nats that would likely be skrimping on the bullpen). This is less a take, and more a shrug and a guess.

Out of the box suggestion :
The likely scenario is an out of the box suggestion I think but I guess I'll go back to MOVE SOTO.  He did get better yes, but he wasn't good. He doesn't get great jumps and he misreads balls all the time and at some point that body is going to age into something that can't compensate for those things. You can say he'll keep getting better but you are talking about a guy who's been instructed on the OF for half a decade now. Where is this magical improvement going to come from that makes him so good that when he starts to age in a year or two that his skill is good enough to cover for that?

Move him and use the entire selection of OFs to replace him in LF.


DezoPenguin said...

I'd just like to pause and point out that in defiance of all these "Soto to 1B" takes that Statcast actually thinks Soto is a *positive* defender, with 6 OOA and +1% catch percentage. (Of course, this is not universal...UZR thinks he's the 130-th best LF in baseball by UZR/150 measure and a net negative, but when you have to pick and choose between defensive measures to establish whether he's good or bad out there, maybe it's not quite time to give up on him at age 21?)

Also, I'd bring back Cabrera in a heartbeat over Dozier. Basically equal 2019s (99 wRC+ for Dozier, 98 for Cabrera), except that Dozier's been showing steady decline while Cabrera basically had a first-half-of-the-year hiccup. And Dozier's meaningful ability is to hit LHP and, well, that's the one skill Zimmerman still possesses (151 wRC+ in 2019, albeit in limited sample size), plus Cabrera's very likely to be cheaper ($3.5M for 2019 as opposed to Dozier's $9M).

dc rl said...

A few thoughts:

1) Todd Frazier has an apparently undying feud with Adam Eaton. He ain't coming here.

2) I sort of understand the conventional wisdom that Howie will go to the AL because he'll get more playing time, and presumably more money, from a team that needs a DH. But what do you think he'll be offered by an AL suitor? Fangraphs' expert guess is 2 yrs/$14M total, but Fangraphs crowdsourced guess is only 1/$7M. If either of those is an accurate guess, I'm not sure why the Nats wouldn't be in the running, or why he wouldn't be worth that much even as a 350 AB guy whose usage is carefully monitored as it was last year. Of course, if some AL team is prepared to pay him like a top-tier full-time DH (something more like 1/12M or 2/20M), then I don't see Mike Rizzo matching that -- nor should he, IMO. But I don't know if that offer will be out there.

3) For that matter, I'm not sure why you think Eric Thames is out of Rizzo's price range, such that he'd rather take a flyer on Matt Joyce. The Brewers declined a 1 yr/$7.5M option on Thames, which suggests to me that that's pretty much the maximum he can hope for as a FA. You don't think Rizzo would be willing to pony up a $5M or so offer (maybe 2/$10M) to a guy who is a clear upgrade from Matt Adams (who got $4M in 2019). Or do you think Thames ends up getting more than that?

4) It's hard to evaluate the Nats' 1B decision in a vacuum, because it seems so intertwined with their 2B decision. I assume they will be hoping for Carter Kieboom to take over at 2B, but will want to bring in a cheap veteran to hold down the fort just in case. For me, Howie and/or AsCab fit the bill better than Dozier because they offer more flexibility (positional, and in AsCab's case, handedness). But there are other possibly cheap 2B/utility types out there that could fill that role too (Sogard, Gennett, Brock Holt, Neil Walker) - the question is whether Rizzo has anyone he particularly wants to target (like Dozier last year), or if he will just try to land the lowest-price "acceptable" option. In the end, I think there's a good chance Cabrera comes back at a very reasonable price - he only got a 1yr/$3.5M deal with Texas last year, and while he had a great 6 weeks for us, he had a pretty lousy rest of the year with Texas, so much so that they couldn't even trade him for a grade D prospect at the deadline. Not sure why he'd get a better offer than that this year, and I think he'd be a good signing at that price.

dc rl said...

5) And yeah, completely agree with Dezo's comment on Soto. If he hadn't shown such a marked defensive improvement as the season went on, I'd consider moving him to first. But he did - and at least some of the defensive metrics supported the eye test on this. I don't see him becoming a great outfielder, but at this point in his career I think it's better to let him stay in LF and see if he can sustain average (or slightly better) defense, rather than making him learn a new position at a time when I'd rather see him focusing on taking yet another step forward in becoming a Hall of Fame level hitting talent.

2 cents said...

I came here to point out the blood feud between Frazier and Eaton, but was beat by dcrl.

I said so the other day, but still think Brock Holt would be a good early target by Rizzo. We have questions everywhere right now other than Trea at SS.

Sign Holt and then you can still build out an infield according to best available/best fit talent. You just now have tons more flexibility. He's second base to start the season and then still insurance there if/after you are comfortable calling up Kieboom. He's a lefty bat to start ahead of Zim at 1B or if you want a platoon mate with Zim and really, his splits fit well with being a platoon bat (much better against Righties). He could also play 3B if we get an older 3B that needs breaks or breaks down now and then.

If not Holt though, count me as another in the AsCab camp. With similar logic to the Holt approach with the added benefit that he's a switch hitter.

BxJaycobb said...

@Harper. I continue to not understand why you think Soto is so hideous in LF. He hadn’t played it in his life before last year and was tossed in at 19. He was super bad as a teenager for 2/3 a year. Then after an offseason of working on it, the metrics say he was literally an average defensive corner outfielder for LF. But perhaps more importantly than that, why do we think he can be better than HIDEOUS at first base? This dude has probably never fielded ground balls or tried to pick balls in his life. He’s fairly likely to be a disaster at first. Thirdly, I really don’t want to take some kid who appears on a rocket ship to superstardom and screw with his head offensively by having to stress about moving to the infield at age 20. I love you. But this is just a terrible idea given his performance, which both the eye test and the numbers say is perfectly fine. Particularly with Robles next to him. Why mess with it? (Note: I will point out last year you said “why is there any reason to think he will improve?” Well. He improved hugely. Went from crazy liability to adequate D. If he doesn’t improve at all anymore, he is still totally fine. Messing with him because we can’t find a competent first baseman is a way to take one problem and create 2. Sign Howie (safety net to Kieboom and starter at 1B and Thames. Let Zim retire. That’s the smart pure cold baseball move. Let Zim start his personal services time with the team and he can even say he decided after thinking about it he wanted to go out on top etc. bringing him back is just dumb. On an open market not a single team in baseball would give him a contract.
Howie 2/13
Thames 1/5
Right side of IF is 100% set for under 20m. I’ll take it.

G Cracka X said...

On a side note, I saw on MLBTR that the Rangers are aggressively pursuing Donaldson. On the one hand, that would take away a fallback 3B option for the Nats. On the other hand, it would take away what is presumably a desirable destination with Rendon, so maybe Rendon would be more likely to re-sign with the Nats?

I would assume Houston's not pursuing Rendon since they have AB

G Cracka X said...

On Soto's D, it's hard to say. Among qualified NL OFs, he has the 4th worst DEF score. But his UZR/150 is bad, but not horrible, his DRS is quite decent, and his Outs Above Average is downright good (21st out of 92). So, overall, I'd say he's below average, but improving.

BxJaycobb said...

The biggest threat for rendon (IMO) is the Dodgers offering a super high AAV shorter deal, which Rendon apparently wants. (According to Buster Olney).

BxJaycobb said...


Anonymous said...

Why would the Dodgers want to spend $35/$40 million AAV on Rendon when hitting and run production is not their problem? They had the 2nd largest runs scored and the 2nd largest run diff in the major leagues. Pursuing Strasburg/Cole would make sense to address their area of need. Rendon can't pitch and pitching is what let them down in the playoffs.

Anonymous said...

Agree with BxJ's approach to 1B (and am fully on board the "Soto is fine in LF" train). I think Howie is a much better target than Zim - he's a better hitter, doesn't have huge platoon splits, and has some defensive flexibility. The main concern I'd have about the Thames/Howie approach is whether Thames would agree to it. A straight platoon with someone like Zim means a lot of playing time for Thames. If I was Thames, I'd be somewhat suspicious that the platoon would be straight if Howie was on the other end.

Ultimately, I think we end up with something like Thames/Zim with Howie signing elsewhere. For a lot of reasons (mostly bad ones).

Anon said...

Even though I think Zim ends up re-signing on a one year deal, when it happens will be telling. I agree that there just won't be many MLB offers out there for him. This means the team should let him explore and find out he's just not worth that much. If they sign him early for anything above $2 mil, they've made a mistake.

Dustin M. Smith said...

I know this isn't strictly 1B related, but wondering if this idea has been tossed around at all...

3B Josh Donaldson (4.7 WAR / $20M projected for 2019)
C Yasmani Grandal (4.8 WAR / $16M)

instead of

3B Anthony Rendon (5.5 WAR / $30M)
C Chirinos / Castro / Gomes / other (~1 WAR / $5M)

*Fangraphs estimates

For the same $, you get (arguably) more value, without nearly as much long term commitment. Plus, you'd think a lot less injury risk.


Kubla said...

OOB move: Get Grandal and have him play some games as part of the platoon at first. He did it 20 times last year and 36 times in 2014. Weirder OOB move: have him play more 1B than catcher if Suzuki is doing okay and the 1b platoon sucks.

Mr. T said...

The issue with Soto is more easily understood by watching him than by looking at the stats. As Harper says, he's slow, and doesn't get good jumps, and these things are unlikely to get better. Remember that line drive Springer hit right at him in Game 7, where he fell down and barely caught the ball. If that's Robles, he jogs in and catches it at his chest--because it was an easy play for almost any decent outfielder. Soto is statuesque, Werth-like in left. Now, he makes up for this of course by being one of the best hitters in baseball ALREADY, which is insane and puts him on a HOF trajectory regardless of his defense. Maybe Harper is more pessimistic than some, but I think everyone knows it's only a matter of time before he's moved to 1B.

BxJaycobb said...

Well I’m not running the Dodgers. But just speculating. The Dodgers are a three true outcomes offense right now—they walk, they K, they hit homers. In the playoffs that occasionally lets you down (see Bellinger, Cody)....for multiple years now they have seen a lot of their big bombers go cold in the playoffs against elite pitching. Really the exception on the roster is Turner, who doesn’t K much and is a tough out. But his contract is up in a year and his defense at 3B is waning....Rendon is the exact type of hitter they would really benefit from. And no...pitching is not an area of need. They were best in league last year. And while they lose Ryu they have 3-4 young exciting kids taking his place. They have a bona fide Ace (Buehler), a strong number 2 at worst (Kershaw), and an absolute stable of young exciting arms that are projected to be Middle to top of rotation beasts (in particular Dustin May, Urias and Gonsolin). And then they have Maeda and Stripling. The Dodgers will probably have the best rotation in baseball next year. Their only true area of *need* is a dominant relief arm which I imagine they will trade for. But Rendon makes perfect sense to me. They need a high contact, pure hitter in the lineup who won’t get picked apart every october.

Anonymous said...

Baseball Savant has Soto's jump measured at "above average" - specifically, in the top quarter of all MLB left fielders. Considering how easily observation is warped by confirmation bias and anecdotal thinking, maybe we should take a step back and accept evidence that says he might actually be... kind of good? At least in some respects?

Ole PBN said...

I'll save the rest of the players mentioned above, for when their positional discussion arises.

Thames. Plain and simple. He's a perfect platoon partner. Plus, we need some power aside from Soto. Juan will be completely exposed if we settle for just platoon guys. We likely won'trade for an impact bat, so its gotta be Rendon, or Donaldson, or Thames. Of course, perhaps Thames wouldn't want to split time with an aging Zimm...?

DezoPenguin said...

Thames has three years in a row of basically being unable to hit LHP -- 71, 61, and 84 wRC+. He's going to split time with someone no matter where he goes, so why not with Zim. A straight platoon (with Zim being allowed to stay in against RH relievers since healthy Zim can still hit RHP a little bit--see 2017) is the right answer and allows the team to be sentimental about keeping Zim while using him in a way that actually helps the team win baseball games. And Thames is actually good enough in a way that would help suppress some of the "oh, but Zim's veteran presence is so important!" instincts that seem to possess Davey all too often.

mike k said...

I think some of you are underrating Zim's value (but not by much). He'll 100% get signed by another team if the Nats don't re-sign him (and he wants to play). He can still hit lefties. And there's always the possibility that you catch lightning in an uninjured bottle and get a few months of vintage Zim.

I agree with the calls for a true platoon, i.e., more true than the plan the last few years. Get a good lefty bat to play first. Maybe a starter-level player who doesn't hit lefties will agree to this over a bad team offering an everyday spot (like a Thames). Zim will start 20-25% of the games and will be the first guy off the bench against a lefty reliever. I'm cool with that.

Moving Soto to first is crazy talk. Harper I think that is your craziest seriously pitched idea since I started reading this blog. We need to input "positional values" into your soulless automaton value matrix to improve your technical player analysis.

mike k said...

(adding to above re: Zim's value) I think it takes more like 4M (3-5) to get him back, and I think he's worth it.

Also Dustin - I think your idea is interesting but I'd still prefer the former because:

a) If you can get a star on your team you do it. You worry about the other position yes but you get the star. I'd rather have a star (which is very difficult to achieve) and an average position than two above-average positions. Also, it's far more likely the Nats luck into an above-average situation at catcher (someone has a hot year, you platoon well, a young player surprises), over hoping that an above-average veteran will somehow behave like a star. So I think you have a higher probability of a "boom" with the former because all it takes is an average situation becoming above-average, as opposed to an above-average situation became a top 3.

b) It's more likely you re-sign Rendon, who has roots here, than you sign the best two remaining players at their position who have never played here.