Nationals Baseball: Offseason Position Discussion : Outfield

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Offseason Position Discussion : Outfield

Last year discussion revisited

The assumption was, at the time, Bryce would walk and Eaton, Soto, and Robles/MAT would fill out the outfield. Bryce walking we've discussed plenty at the time. Why the rest? Eaton tried to force himself back from injury in 2018 but after surgery and needed rest came back to have a very Eaton year cementing his spot. Soto busted out, nearly winning the Rookie of the Year earning the second spot. The third spot was Robles' to lose given his prospect status, strong audition, and MAT's failure at a larger role.

What happened? Eaton was Eaton, Soto kept being Soto, and Robles did well enough to hold onto CF the entire year. They played 151, 150, and 155 games respectively meaning the Nats didn't have to worry about throwing a Kendrick out there, or seeing if MAT would bounce back.  If you want to be critical Eaton definitely took a step back, going from an above average player to a more average one, and Robles really hit JUST well enough at times to hold on (his fielding was as advertised).  Soto? No complaints.

Presumed Plan : Same.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : Eaton is cheap. The other two guys are ridiculously so. They all performed well enough or better last year. They had the third best OF in the NL combined and you may be able to argue second (the drop to 4th is big) There's not really a question here unless you were going to try to shake things up to get a large improvement over Eaton or Robles (like a Betts trade) to cover for the loss of Rendon

Problems with Presumed Plan : Eaton is old and trending the wrong direction and Robles didn't break out as you hoped. A lot of the production you expect from the OF rests with Soto and he's not quite to the team carrying level. A Soto and Robles repeat and a Eaton drop would still be a fine outfield, but when you need to cover for the loss of Rendon you need to be getting better, not worse.

My take :You do what the Nats are doing and hope for the best.  It might be worthwhile to grab whatever decent OF doesn't end up getting a starting role for cheap (Cluberson, Dyson, Pillar, Maybin or everyone's hope : Puig) given the Nats needed depth and a guy who may potentially have a good year if needed. 

I'm not particularly worried about any single position though I do think the group as a whole may disappoint.  Eaton has the type of all-around skills that may slow a fall much like it did for Werth. But he still could easily fall below average over all.  Robles' defense is great and takes over MATs role as the CF protecting questionable corners, all he has to do it hit ok really. He may bust out but he may also suffer with the league now having a large book on him. He still strikes out a ton and that's always the most worrying sign for a young player, especially one that doesn't rely on moonshot power.  Soto of course is pretty much set. He's proven he can hit and his fielding, while suspect, is not anything that demands he get pulled into a less demanding position immediately. In fact he probably got a little better last year? Maybe? Though chances of him every being good are slim.  Hitting wise the one "worry" is that well.. Soto did hit worse last year. Just a smidge but adjust for the offensive environment and it did happen. So what? Well the Nats NEED Soto to become SOTO now. To hit like Rendon did last year, like Bryce did in 2015 (well 90% of that) and it's possible it's just not there?

We compare Soto with the greats because that's the kind of start he had. But when did these comparison have their first MVP-type year? Mantle? Age 20. Aaron? 22. Mays? 23( but did go fight in a war at age 22).  Trout? 20.  Bryce (who's not with these guys but is compared to Soto for obvious reasons)? 22.  Soto is going into his 21 season so there is a couple years for it to happen, but for a couple guys here it already did.

Oh just for fun remember mid year the Trout vs Soto comparisons were floating around and I was making sure you didn't think Soto was Trout because Trout is maybe the best player we'll see?  Well here's the first 266 games for each

Soto : .287 / .403 / .535   56 homers 
Trout : .309  / .383 / .540  50 homers

Seems pretty even. You may say Soto has an edge but first Soto at this point has about 120 more PAs so figure Trout for 5-6 more homers given equal PAs. Second, Soto has hit in a far more favorable offensive environment. Adjust for that and Trout takes the slight lead. It's still arguable but then you look at the speed (17 SBs for Soto vs 73 for Trout) and the very good CF defense vs maybe passable LF defense and it isn't close.

Ok But Trout IS slightly older at the time. Eventually we stop thinking about that but just for kicks let's give Soto another year to kick into high gear. About what would Soto have to hit in his next 150 games to hang with or pass Trout? Well by my calculations it would be something like :

.322 / .440 / .580 

Oh wait... that's 2013/2014 vs now... adjust up a little .325 / .450 / .595?

He needs to arguably the best hitter in baseball next year to keep the batting argument going.

Longwinded aside to say : Soto is no Trout but he's still great but maybe the Nats need him to be Trout, at least at the plate.

Out of the box suggestion :

There's a bunch of eh OFs available that can replace Eaton for cheaper and let's face it, it's very unlikely you are going to bring him back for 2021 for 10.5 million. So trade him now. OF depth is a concern for a lot of teams, even contenders. Work something out with the A's or the D-backs or back to the White Sox! Anyway trade Eaton, sign a Maybin or something and grab something that might turn into something.


Positively Half St. said...

I still hold onto the fact that Eaton's contributions were key to winning the World Series but have to admit that you are right that he can be replaced. Because he was an important part of the championship team, we don't have to justify the Giolito trade anymore. Therefore, you can trade him to try to open a new window of successful seasons without any regrets.

I think everyone else has thought instead about trading MAT, but what would that even get you?

Harper said...

MAT is at value now and soon to be a FA. A trade would get nothing worth trading him for

mike k said...

An OF of Soto, Robles, and Eaton, with MAT as the 4th OF, Kendrick as the occasional big-bat-in-the-corner, and the usual suspects as organizational depth to become bench pieces in case of injury is just fine and cheap and is what the Nats will roll with. I agree there is a temptation for a big upgrade to try and compensate for the loss of Rendon but this runs into the same problems as a trade for the big upgrade in the IF which was discussed in previous threads. Do you trade away the only prospects you have for a shorter, brighter window? Not the Rizzo way (with exceptions where the Nats could have lived without the prospect(s) and were filling a hole, but neither is the case here).

Trading MAT has been the idea among Nats fans for the last four years. Unfortunately it seems that rival GMs were watching the same games that we were. The Nats probably get more value out of him as a 4th OF right now than they do from his trade return (middle of the road reliever on a short contract or B prospect reliever is my guess - maybe you'd have gotten a B prospect starter/hitter if you traded him years ago but again, the Nats got more value out of keeping him on the team during those few years). I mean, you could always shop around and see if someone liked that WS HR, but I suspect rival GMs are smarter than that.

There's no harm in shopping for an impact player/prospect to play RF long-term as an outside-the-box if you can't find that for the IF, but chances are the price will not be worth it.

Cautiously Pessimistic said...

Yeah the Nats really can't do much better in the OF from a cost to performance standpoint. If the Nats do end up signing a big bat (which I desperately hope they do), it'll be in the IF, whether it's Donaldson at 3rd or somebody to man 1st with crappy defense like JD. We'll see how things play out, but I suspect what will happen is something nobody sees coming, because that's Rizzo's MO. I think the Nats sign Donaldson and then Rizzo makes some ridiculous trade that brings in a 1B that nobody thought was even on the trade block, likely in a 3-team swap.

BxJaycobb said...

The Nats need a middle of the order bat. At this point i would be marginally surprised if they don’t sign Donaldson. They seem determined just reading the tea leaves. If they strike out on him, they’re going to get the big bat somewhere else (Castellanos perhaps, hopefully they don’t do something dumb like sign Ozuna, who seems to be sliding downward.) Because it seemed like Rendon was definitely going to go, I was in favor of the Nats making a run at Grandal. I thought they could’ve made a major upgrade offensively and defensively at C in anticipation of Rendon leaving, but I suppose Rizzo still had hope of Rendon staying....and that’s the price you pay.

Anyway. I recommend they pay what they need to to secure Donaldson (4/100 really should do it), and sign a lefty 1B platoon like Thames for relatively cheap to pair with amazing/Howie. And then Howie can be the Nats security blanket of sorts for Kieboom at 2B. Just please tell me god that we don’t end up with a Kyle Seager contract do Maikel Franco, possibly my least favorite obnoxious crap player in MLB. He would drive me mental all year. Get Donaldson done. The Stras/Rendon decision’s success or failure is riding on it.

G Cracka X said...

I think this was a very good post, but I do have a minor quibble about Eaton's value. Per FG, he had 1.9 fWAR in 2018, worth $15mil, and 2.3 WAR in 2019, worth $18.8 mil. He's projected, per Steamer and DP, to be slightly north of 2 WAR next year. So, perhaps $16-17 mil in value?

If that is so, I don't think it is unreasonable at all for the Nats to pick up his 2021 $10.5 million option if he performs at least near expectation in 2020. I mean, break even for 2021 would be like, 1.3 WAR? Seems like Eaton could do that in 2021, based on current knowledge.

Josh Higham said...

@GCX this is one of the places where the linear valuation of WAR seems most wrong to me. Replacement level players are totally fungible, as you have a whole stable of decent AAA guys who would likely play about as well as a 0 WAR guy on a big league contract. League average guys are definitely not worthless, but it's really hard to convince me that paying $8m for a 1 WAR guy is as good of an idea as paying $564k for an assortment of AAA guys until one of them turns out to be pretty good (or your corner outfield spot turns into a black hole and you regret everything you did in the offseason, whichever comes first). Paying a Lind/Adams type salary for a guy who you expect to be good for 1-2 WAR over the course of a year seems right, but picking up a $10m option for a guy you expect to be below league average (but above replacement level) seems like the kind of cost-cutting that even I, owner hating idealist, wouldn't like.

Eaton (healthy, projected for between 1-2 WAR in 2021) is worth a major league deal north of $3m a year in my book, not a minor league deal like that hypothetical person would have probably gotten in 2018. But I just don't see that level of player realistically getting $10m unless the Nats love his clubhouse presence, which seems like a tenuous thing given the chatter around him in Chicago.

mike k said...

My understanding is there are two problems with the linear WAR value analysis. First, it's based only on free agents, which are inflated in value because non free agents are deflated in value. Second, it is a real world average of money to WAR, not an expected value. So, for example, it includes contracts like Miguel Cabrera's. It also includes the good contracts as well, but I would imagine the expected value of a player throughout a free agent contract is often higher than the real value of that player, especially since the player is most likely to go to the team that offered it the most (or valued the player the highest). Hence, often the player doesn't get a market value for his consensus expected value, but rather a market value for a team that valued him higher than that consensus. Also, the timing of a player's value also provides value that is not reflected in this analysis (i.e. getting a team "over the hump"). For instance, we assume that the reason why a team will offer a free agent contract to a player that extends well past their prime is because they expect surplus value in the beginning of the contract, when the reality is that surplus value isn't strict WAR value, it's WAR-value-during-the-window value. Now, of course, what we think we see is surplus WAR value, because our linear WAR analysis is based on these real world averages, so yea we'll see more WAR than $$/8 in the first half of the contract. What I'm saying is I don't think that's surplus WAR value, I think that's something else. In other words, do you value having a bunch of "surplus" value guys on the team at the same time and then bad contracts while you rebuild, or "even" value guys all the time. If you prefer the former, then those contracts just got more expensive. And this isn't even factoring in things like merchandising or branding value.

Or, you can put it this way - a 0 WAR team has about 48 wins. At $8/WAR, a 100 win team costs $416, and a 90 win team costs $336. I know a team will also have major league minimum guys and arbitration guys, but still, if you want a 90-100 win team for $200 over half your team is gonna have to be within 6 years experience (with the reminder that players do, in fact, make money in arbitration). An 81 win team would cost $264, which after factoring in the younger players starts looking more like a major league payroll in the high 100s.

Point is, unless you're ok with a $300M payroll you have to do better than $8/WAR.

I'm not averse to paying Eaton 10.5 on the Nats' self-imposed budgetary restraints depending on how he does next year and potential replacements.

The Ghost of Ole Cole Henry (JDBrew) said...

I just wish this team would hurry up and do whatever it is their gonna do. I can’t help but feeling like right now the Nats only have 2 out 4 starters on the infield. Not counting catchers. I just want to see what the rest of the team is. As constructed I feel like they’re the 3rd best team in the division. There’s 3 average-ish bats in the lineup (Catcher du Jour, Eaton, and assuming Kieboom is league average), 1 star (Soto), 1 great player (Turner), 1 wild card (Robles), and the rest Part Time players. (Sorry Howie, I don’t trust that you’re gonna be productive enough to count on). Where is the rest of this team?

The Ghost of Ole Cole Henry (JDBrew) said...

As a side note, does the nationals pushing for deferred cause agents to try to dissuade their clients from signing with them? What I mean is, does deferred contracts affect the agents earnings? Assuming Boras gets 5% (which he does), does he earn the up front based on total value, or does he earn it the same way the player is paid out? Not asking to sound stupid, just wondering if the structure of his contract with the player affect what contract he’s trying to push his clients contract with the team. What is the groups thoughts?

G Cracka X said...

I find the Bryce and Rendon departures quite interesting. On the one hand, Rendon seemed more likely to stay, since he was making counter-offers to the team. On the other hand, I agree with Boz' observation that its not clear that Rendon would have stayed if the Nats had matched the Angels' offer, vs. its likely Bryce would have stayed had the Nats matched the Phillies' offer.

I think Bryce wanted the biggest contract offered, and location was (somewhat) secondary, vs. the opposite for Rendon.

G Cracka X said...

Welcome back Fernando Abad!

Also, good FG article on the Nats' farm:

High praise for CK, whose swing is compared to Keston Hiura's. If CK's offense resembles 2019 Hiura, that will go a long way in helping the 2020 Nats Offense. Overall, the article refers to CK as an 'elite' prospect, and Garcia as 'very good'.

Ole PBN said...

GCX - Great article. But... That is one of the most glossy write-ups I've ever seen for a prospect - much less for Kieboom. I honestly don't buy it, but whatever. Hope they're right! We lost Rendon, but guess what? We have a "special hitting talent who projects as a middle-of-the-order bat with All-Star talent."

Anthony who?? Please.

DezoPenguin said...

Fernando Abad. Sure, why not. I like the idea of having eight guys in the pen who are "yeah, he's an okay pitcher" as opposed to "we're hoping on the upside." I mean, relievers are fungible enough (see: Grace, Sipp). And it's a MiLB deal, so if he doesn't crack the top group we can stash him in Fresno until somebody inevitably breaks or stinks up the joint.

Meanwhile, THANK YOU to the Royals for signing Maikel Franco. Every time some reporter mentions him in connection with the Nats' 3B situation my gut would clench. I mean, replacing Rendon is hard, but replacing him with a guy who's been sub-replacement level two out of the last three years and a career BEST of 1.9 fWAR, and that in his rookie season, is not at all what I want to see. If we want that kind of production we already have Difo.

SM said...

Ole PBN--
I like him, too, doggone it.

I think the kid will be all right.

SM said...

P.S. I was once admonished here for not paying proper obeisance to Fangraphs.

I now submit to its judgment.

Ole PBN said...

Oh I haven't forgotten, the old "site-that-shall-not-be-named" creeps up on me from time to time. If FG is right, everybody wins. And I'm okay with that :) If he's Tyler Moore 2.0... well....

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