Nationals Baseball: November 2020

Monday, November 23, 2020

Offseason Position Discussion : Shortstop

 Last Year's Discussion

Trea Turner is the Nats shortstop until he gets hurt, traded, or leaves in free agency.  He's good. He's cheap. After a perfectly decent 2019 there were no questions other than could he stay healthy as he missed another 40 games in 2019 keeping 2018 as his only full season. 

In 2020 Turner was healthy the whole way and had his best season ever.  Some of that is a high BABIP but it's certainly not too high. Walk rate is good. K-rate is down. Most importantly he showed a lot more power than he had in the past.  There was a little glimpse of that last year as he went from 27 2B, 6 3B and 19 HR in 162 games in 2018 to 37 2B, 5 3B, and 19 HR in 122 games.  He kept improving hitting 15 2B, 4 3B, and 12 HR in last years limited season which would translate to like 40 doubles, 10 triples, and 31 homers in a full season.  31! That's big boy numbers!

Trea's defense was about how it always has been. So the loss of Rendon didn't particularly do anything.

Presumed Plan : Turner starts at SS.  His back-up is any number of guys but Kieboom is probably most likely unless they sign a FA.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : Turner last year was one of the best offensive shortstops in baseball.  Even if that's a fluke of the short season he's been improving and you'd expect him to be at least better than average. And really you are hoping it's not a fluke because Soto could really use another star bat in the line-up to help him out. Seeing that power go up while the peripherals go down is very encouraging. It means it's not an swing for the fences approach that's giving him his power.

His defense has been passable for the Nats and the fans think he's pretty good. 

Money wise he's still underpaid

Good, cheap, and can play the spot? This is an easy call. 

Problems with Presumed Plan : Nats fans have always overrated Trea's defense. From the early years when he was good and fans believed he was great, to now where he's not good and fans believe he is. He's aging out of the role. 

Hitting wise we might get be getting a little ahead of ourselves if we're thinking Trea's a star.  He could be - the trends are good, he's shown flashes before - but it could also be that fluke and he could merely be a decent bat. That's a problem not for him starting but for building around him in a cornerstone of the line-up sort of way. 

He does get injured pretty frequently with only ~1.5 (counting 2020) full seasons. 

My take :  There's no surprise here. You start Trea, but you don't quite plan around him being anything beyond a good player who can hold down SS for 140 games.  You hope he's great at the plate and good in the field. Worst case he's good at the plate and below average in the field. Likely he's somewhere inbetween but even if he hits the worst case, it's not enough to make him not worth his money or not a good player.  

Back-up doesn't particularly matter because since Trea is good he's going to play as much as possible. Yes, we do have to worry about injury but for the most part he's been healthy enough across the past three years so I don't think you have to take that into account. If he misses a month - oh well.  If he misses more - that's not a surprise but it's also one of those things that you just have to accept. Like Max going down at anytime given his age.  You can't bring in a full-time good SS to sit behind Trea.  Better is making that re-sign of AsCab and then if things happen to Trea and other guys hold their ground he fills in there. 

This is not a problem position. 

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Offseason Position Discussion : Second Base

 Last Year's Discussion

My thinking was Kieboom was going to get his play - and probably at 2nd - with a solid back-up while Asdrubal manned 3rd.  But they signed probably the best "back-up" in Castro and flipped the script putting Castro as a full-time starter and Kieboom splitting time with AsCab.  Part of this might have been the Nats excitement over Luis Garcia. 

That excitement got to be tested early as Castro would go down in mid August. September was a glimpse of the future with Kieboom and Garcia both in the lineup.  How'd it go? Ehhhh...

Luis Garcia was not good. But that's ok! Luis Garcia wasn't terrible for a barely 20 year old having his first cup of coffee. In terms of getting base hits he was pretty decent. It's just everything else that failed him showing limited power and little patience. But he didn't strike out too much so the expectation is that he'll grow into the role. All last year showed is he's not Juan Soto (which did disappoint some hoping he was going to be like a 90% Soto) 

Kieboom on the other hand WAS terrible even considering he was barely 23. You lose a lot of leeway in those three years and hasn't shown anything at the major league level.  Ok that isn't true. Last year Kieboom was proficient at taking walks and got himself an OBP that was ok. But nothing else worked - he didn't hit, when he did hit it went nowhere (1 XBH), strike outs were better but still too high, and his fielding wasn't stellar though he was learning a new position.  It was so bad the Nats did "send him down" to get his head on straight. He was brought back (bye bye Difo!) and played until a bruised hand benched him for the last week.  Maaaaybe he was marginally better.

Presumed Plan: Luis Garcia keeps playing second.  Castro shifts to play a mix of first and third depending on who they sign and how they feel about Kieboom.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan: Garcia was better than Kieboom and while not good, he was good enough at 20, to see what he'd do at 20/21 in 2021 (HEY! LOOK AT THAT! THE 2000 BABIES ARE HERE!). You could probably make up some reason to keep him down at the start of next year that wouldn't be too crazy but the Nats have never been that type of team. Once guys are up they are up and get their chances (see: too many 5th starters that could have been cycled through faster). Castro is too good not to play and he obviously won't play SS, so that leaves 3B and 1B.  If the Nats want to give Kieboom a full year you stick Castro at 1B. If not, or if you want to be pragmatic about both Kieboom and Garcia's chances of sticking, you keep Castro at 3B at least splitting time.

Problems with Presumed Plan: Simply put - Garcia and Kieboom could both suck. They were bad and terrible at the plate last year respectively, and there's no reason to expect a huge turn around. It could happen, yes. But neither of these guys were undeniable minor league stars (and even those types sometimes don't click).  Most likely they improve slightly which makes Garcia a second Robles in 2021 and Kieboom barely hanging on to a spot. That isn't great.

If they both suck and you've committed to both of them (with Castro at 1B) the Nats are likely sunk.  A three batter hole (if not more) at the end of the line-up is hard to overcome.  If they both suck and you've kept Castro in a floating role then you can shift him in as needed but you'd still have one guy in the line-up that shouldn't be there. I know Harrison has signed but he's past his prime and isn't a full time guy

My take:  Committing to seeing what you have with two youngsters in sort of overlapping positions is hard for the reasons I state above.  A lot of building teams find themselves caught in these traps.  But what are the Nats going to do. These are the two hitting prospects the Nats are counting on to fill gaps. They have really nothing else in a minor league system that is both kind of weak and pitching heavy. The sooner they figure out what these guys are the sooner they can plan out the "Soto is Cheap" future of the next few years.  This is far from ideal but it's necessary.  

If the Nats really want to be sure they can sign a 1B (see those ideas a few posts ago). They have Castro here. They brought back Harrison. The back-ups are in place. Commit to a 1B solution that isn't Castro/Harrison and that's probably the best the Nats can do.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Off-Season Position Discussion : First Base

 Last year discussion

First base was going to be a mix of players. A good bye year for Zimm. Marcus Thames filling the Adam Lind Memorial role. Howie Kendrick when not playing another position. Some Asdrubal if you felt you needed some better fielding. Maybe a call-up like Yadiel Hernandez. There wasn't a specific plan as much as an idea. It would be a catch-all position that the Nats would probably go with the hot hand. 

However, COVID made Zimm delay his victory lap. Howie, who was already mostly DHing to limit injury potential, got hurt for the season. Thames was terrible. The Nats ended up with one of the worst first base situations in baseball. Plus - as Howie, AsCab, Thames, and Zimm are all FAs - no plan for the future!

Presumed Plan : A free agent signing is pretty much given. Whether it's all new FAs, a mix of someone old and someone new, or just returning people we don't know.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : What's left here is Jake Noll and Hernandez.* The Nats were terribly thin in the minors to begin with and a year with no evaluation does not help. There is no possible way the Nats are going to go with what they currently have UNLESS they listen to me and move Soto to first and no one is going to listen to me. So they need to either sign or bring back someone.  There isn't a choice here really.

Both Howie and Zimm feel like they would come back if they want to play and if offered a reasonable deal so the Nats have the inside track on two guys. 

The FA class is pretty full with FA first baseman, FA guys who can play first, and guys who became FAs when their options weren't picked up in the past two weeks. That glut means value and the Nats being able to make a choice, not be backed into something.

Problems with Presumed Plan : Both Howie and Zimm could choose to retire rather than play next year. If you want them, the longer it takes them to decide the longer other teams have to sweep in and take the best of what's out there.

The free agent class is pretty weak currently CJ Cron, Jake Lamb...yuck.  It heated up with some options not picked up but it's a bunch of guys who hit previously who didn't hit last year and you'd be taking a gamble on them.  Mitch Moreland, Carlos Santana...There are some better bets than others but all in all you aren't dealing with great choices or even good ones. You have reasonable bets and unreasonable ones. 

The Nats already like going cheap at first base and now are looking at a position in a fire sale. How cheap can they go? Really cheap! So they might give in to their worst impulses and take whoever they can get at basically a minor league deal. 

My take : If Zimm wants to be back, let him come back.  Zimm has always hit when healthy and the possibility of a Zimm with a year off interests me greatly.  Besides I want Zimm to have that last year. Plus he came back for 2 million last year. Maybe he'd take a million for 2021? Either way there should be flexibility to sign him and someone else. 

Who else?  Ugh... If you want a bat I might take a flier on a Daniel Murphy reunion. The guy didn't hit in Coors but Coors can mess some guys up. He's old but so is everyone.  A quick rundown of guys available

Encarnacion - 38 and bad trends

Frazier - Nothing in past 5 years makes you think he's better than average. Not really worth the gamble

Gyorko - Might be best bet out there, age wise, hitting, fielding, which means someone will give him something which prices him out of the Nats' plan 

Moreland - an intersting choice, possibly the best fielder out there. Not anything special, mind you but Zimm will be terrible, also a lefty bat that compliments that.

Santana - One off year but didn't adapt to NL in short stint with Phillies. Maybe needs the occasional DH start? Walks a ton which might be of interest to a team that finished 11th in the NL despite teams pitching around Soto. 

AsCab - he's Asdrubal!  We like him! But he's probably too valuable with his ability to split positions to get back dirt cheap

Dietrich - Age is fine but now just a swing for the fences guy who will hit .200 if lucky.  Pass.  \

Brad Miller - SUPERSTAR.  Has decent all around plate skills but doesn't stand out in any.  Not at all a bad back-up choice for some team but I don't see him as a platoon or starter.

Logan Morrison - see Dietrich but worse. 

Sandoval - Big Panda is fun. He also was complete trash for the Red Sox which makes me like him even more. But at his age/shape when he goes he's going to go fast.  I wouldn't gamble

Neil Walker - An AsCab like who probably fields better but hasn't hit well since 2017.  No reason to gamble on. 

Cron -see Dietrich but better? The guy is going to hit homers.  An interesting bench piece for some team as you can see him come off it and mash some game tying shots but for regular play?  You need to be a pretty decent offensive team to let him just grip and rip and I don't quite know if the Nats are there.

Gurriel - Age and post cheating performance creates a lot of doubt. Who wants a cheater? Not me.

Lamb - Someone is going to look at his two weeks and Oakland and give him a shot. Hope it's not the Nats. As he hasn't been good for years

Smoak - Also like these guys - becoming a pure walk and homer guy. He's interesting to me because he's a switch hitter who's become a "really should only bat left" guy as he's gotten older.  I think he'd make a good platoon with a RHB like Zimm

I guess I've talked myself into trying to do a Zimm/Moreland platoon in 2021, or maybe even a Zimm/Smoak one Santana would also make an interesting choice if you are willing to put him ahead of Soto and see if he can get on base and get knocked in. 

*remember the week of "we should have kept Marmelejos!"  He finished his trial hitting .036 in his last two weeks. He isn't major league. 

Monday, November 09, 2020

Off-Season Position Discussion : Catcher

Last year discussion

By the time I got around to doing catcher last year, Gomes had been released and re-signed to break his contract and get him at a lower cost.  Anything in a 60 game season is going to be suspect but he was decent and Suzuki had an average year. Both were healthy all year too so no one else had to play the position. So catcher, for once, wasn't an issue at all.

Presumed Plan : Gomes and a back-up, unless.... they sign Realmuto.  I think they will give that a decent run.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : Suzuki might have another year in him but at 37 and with a championship in hand, I'm not sure there's a point to have him here, even at one year.  Gomes was perfectly decent, has a deal for 2021, and was always the idea of a long-term (read 3-4 year) solution when he was brought here.Year one didn't work out but year two did so stick to the plan.  As for the back up, it'll probably be Raudy Read, a guy they liked a couple years ago but has mostly fallen off track. He'll have next year to show something while guys like Tres Barrera and Israel Pineda develop and hopefully one becomes a solid choice to start getting playing time in 2022.

JT Realmuto is really good and if you want the best long term solution he's the choice.  There's certainly an argument not to waste cheap Juan Soto years not trying 

Problems with Presumed Plan  : Gomes has gone from great to terrible to good to bad to good again. There isn't a strong reason to buy that he'll be good next year and there's a better chance he'll be terrible than very good. Raudy Read also should be pretty bad so the chances of a terrible Nats catcher situation is pretty decent. Any time you are waiting for minor leaguers that aren't the top prospects (and neither of these catcher guys are) you are probably waiting for nothing.

If you want Realmuto... that's going to cost you.  Catchers are hard to find and not EVERY team is tanking.  If you expect anyone to get money this offseason it's JT. 

My take

How strong the Nats are on Realmuto will show you right away how they are looking at next year.  Are they waiting out what might be a shortened season or otherwise atypical year looking to go back big in 2022 or even later? Or are they going to try to keep winning every year? That was the plan in 2020 and that didn't work and while it was a shortened year it makes you wonder if it makes more sense to sit a year, shake off some more contracts, and come back strong. 

I think it's worthwhile to use 2021 as an evaluation year.  It's rare that as a team you have leeway with fans to do so, but a championship and a pandemic year will give you that.  You are going to be "post-Max" soon (probably) and have a lot of potential holes to fill, - 1B, 3B, OF, RP, SP, maybe 2B if they get unlucky, probably C, so being able to take a year to see exactly what you have before planning the next run is a good idea. 

That being said - if you want to have a next run soon and don't like your catchers - and since I noted "probably C' as being a hole you can tell I don't like their catchers - Realmuto makes a lot of sense. And for the Nats I think it makes too much sense to pass up (as well as keeping him from the Phillies and Mets) 

I don't think the Nats will actually do this. I think their focus will be on signing/trading for the pitcher that starts now and covers the post-Max years, especially given Strasburg's arm issues. But i want to maximize my success when I can build around Soto both in the "best hitter in baseball" sense and in the "way underpaid" sense. The Nats got about 3 years of that (his last years of arb are going to either be very expensive or hopefully bought out in a long term deal). Make it happen.


Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Election Day !

Are you a Doolittle or a Suzuki (and Zimm and Corbin and...) 

Here's a quick guide on how to watch tonight's elections if you care to

Simple :

It can be argued you only need to care about Florida at first.  It's a big electoral state. It swings to both parties. It should call relatively quickly even if it's only a couple percentage points apart*. 

If it's called for Biden it's likely over. Florida is a bit of it's own thing but it's hard to see Trump winning the Midwest state given the polling and the closeness of those states in the 2016 election if he's losing ground in a state he won back then. 

If it's called for Trump then hang around and wait for the next likely battleground results in AZ and NC. Biden still has several paths to victory. If these go for Biden, it's over. If they are called for Trump, now we're in a dogfight. Essentially Trump has held his ground on his 2016 states outside the Midwest and we gotta wait out Wisconsin, who will try to call it tonight at some point even if "tonight" is after 6AM, Pennsylvania, who have resigned themselves to call it later in the week if it's close, and Michigan which is in between.  Trump barely won these so even a slight turn back toward the Democrats would give Biden the wins and winning all three still gives him the electoral count he needs. But unless something crazy happens (Biden wins Texas! Trump turns Nevada!) this means a hell week.  Let's not hope for this. 


Complex :  

When the polls close at 7:00 the speed on how fast they call states will give us an idea of how the night will go.  A lot of these states are so NOT close that they'll be called extremely quickly regardless, but Indiana and Virginia might give us ideas of how long this will take. Those are both pretty partisan states this election but not overwhelmingly so and would probably normally be called within... I'd say 60-90 minutes this time. (Typical for Indiana, faster for Virginia which is progressively getting very blue)

It does matter if the reasons these are not called are because it's "too close" or "too early". What's the difference? Think of "too early" as "everything going as we think it will but we don't have enough votes to get to the confidence to call" and "too close" as, well, too close. Both of these should fall into the "too early" category, and if that's the case and they are taking a long time that's bad news for an early night.  That means counting all these other votes, even in states with relatively low counts or good processes, will add significant time to the call times.  If they are "too close" that tells you something else. Indiana too close - good for Biden. Virginia too close - good for Trump.  But I don't expect either of these.

Assuming we don't have those delayed calls when the counts do start, Trump will take a very small early lead then Biden will blow past around 8:00 as the NorthEast comes in and those call. They'll trade some other states with Biden expanding his lead. 
Early bellweathers at this point will be Maine and South Carolina. Neither are expected to be close but are in a range where a few percentage points can change that. If one side is making an unexpectedly good or bad showing (I guess that goes hand in hand) we'll likely see it as these states make their counts. 

Around now (9:00 ish) you can go back to the simple analysis above.  We see when Florida calls and to who Florida calls. It's big. Still, it's not enough to win the game for anyone. You can also look at some other close ones. Nebraska-2 could be telling. Same with New Hampshire.  (If you are wondering Maine-2 tends to take a while in any election) 

The midwest will be closed by now but because the closest ones, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, decided to barely (or not at all) process before election day it'll be hours for them to call unless it's a landslide, maybe even then. So that means the next "toss-up" will be Texas, who also counts quickly. Of course I only see this being notable in a very strong night for Biden and you probably will know by the time Texas is likely to call if that's a possibility. 

The West Coast will call next around closing (11PM) and if things have fallen as expected, Biden will have a strong lead over Trump but won't be at 270 outside of a crush and with most left in play being battlegrounds.  We start playing a waiting game looking at Arizona, North Carolina, maybe Minnesota, Ohio, maybe Iowa, Georgia, and the aforementioned Wisconsin and see if anything gets Biden over the top or if it's a string of Trump holds that keeps him in the game. If it's the latter then it'll be up to MI and PA to decide it, likely over the next couple days.

Outside of timing issues, anything outside of this above would be a surprisingly result. I'm not talking about a state or two flipping in a different direction (that's possible). I'm talking about the general flow
  • Very small, early Trump lead
  • Big Biden push over Trump
  • Some back and forth with Biden's lead expanding
  • The Texas call to close a lot of the gap for Trump
  • The West Coast call to open it back up and get Biden within a couple states
  • The wait and see what happens.
and in all that does Florida fall for Trump and make it tense, or does it go for Biden and make it a fait accompli? 

I set the over/under for Biden at 305, expecting a Biden win but with a lot of close losses that mitigate talk of a blue wave. Last time I said (in private) I thought Hillary would win but Trump had a chance. Now I'd say I think Biden wins but Trump has a prayer.

*Note here : A "close" election that delays calling a state is REALLY close. Like under a 2% win.  Even as low as a 0.50% win - these guys can call it right with limited delay - a couple hours.  (They've only missed one in all these years and that one was RIDICULOUSLY close). Of course absentee ballots will change things but in general a lot of these states can and will be called quicker than you may think**

 ** unless I'm wrong about these absentee things and in that case just go to sleep because we're likely looking at the middle of the night at the earliest.