Nationals Baseball: November 2021

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Mets to the Max? Maximum Mets?

In the past few days the ground shifted in baseball in a way that happens in very few short FA periods.  Seager joined Gray and Semien in Texas. Ray landed in Seattle. Gausman was grabbed by the Blue Jays. The Marlins signed Asavail Garcia. Starling Marte signed with the Mets. Kirby Yates, Daniel Hudson, Hector Neris found new bullpens. Corey Kluber, Michael Wacha, Yimi Garcia, Adam Frazier, Mark Cahna, Eduardo Escobar, and Jacob Stallings all moved teams. And that's not including the half-dozen more were settled before that.

Still for Nats fans nothing was as monumental as Max Scherzer signing with the Mets. 3 years, 130 million. The largest ever annual value for a player. It's hard to top that. 

Fans can certainly be disappointed but we are decades away from the time players developed enough hatred for rivals to regularly avoid signing with them. The Mets offered the most money and maybe the longest contract* and a player took it. There's nothing "mercenary" about that despite what Barry might say, or at least no more mercenary than nearly every other player decision ever.

But that feeling speaks to the feeling Nats fans have for Scherzer. Anecdotally to this soulless automaton on the outside looking in while the rain rusts his joints, it felt to me that Max was the most beloved National. More beloved than flashy Bryce Harper, of course, who never quite gave the fans something to hold onto until that last HR Derby, then went out the door. More beloved than exuberant Juan Soto, who just hasn't been here long enough and now has the question of 'how long' hanging over him. More beloved than enigmatic Stephen Strasburg, who couldn't please most fans for years and is currently hurt. More beloved than milquetoast Ryan Zimmerman, who's always just been but was too far gone to be more than a piece during the window. Max's combination of big emotion and big moments and seemingly love of playing is catnip to fans. Pitching with a black eye? Screaming at the manager to let him keep pitching? Fans eat that up and Max gave them seven full years of servings.

So to see that Max, "our Max", go to a direct rival... that's a bit much. 

But you forget Max was just as much a mercenary coming to the Nats. The Tigers nutured him from a good pitcher into a Cy Young one then offerend him lifetime security with a long wealthy deal.  Max thought he could do better. He refused the deal and he bet on himself. Turned out to be a smart move as the following year he left for a bigger and longer deal, the biggest and longest deal he could get (sound familiar?). It was with the Nats. 

What will Max do for the Mets? Well he's getting older and while Zimm might think he's the "Tom Brady of baseball", Tom Brady can last forever primarily by avoiding hits and baseball and its everyday grind isn't like that.** That's especially true for a pitcher who is attached to a ticking time bomb called a pitching arm. After throwing for over 187+ innings and 32+ starts for 8 consecutive years 2019 and 2021 brought fewer starts and innings. Not a lot fewer but enough that you can see the end from here. We should assume in 2022 something similar, 27-30 starts, an ERA no higher than 3.00. Something to give the Mets the best 1-2 in baseball if deGrom is right. You base 2023 on 2022 and 2024 on 2023. That's what you do at his age.  If you make me guess I'm saying 80 starts in 3 years with an ERA under 3.50 and value for the deal if not exactly living up to it. I don't bet against Max.

The Mets signings as a whole are pretty good in the short term. Which is how they should be thinking because they are trying to get as far as possible while having possibly the best pitcher of our time (yes, deGrom is that good - look at his stupid 2021) and a couple of recent long term deals for guys like Lindor and McCann who should be good now but no guarantee of that down the line. Their time if ever is now. Marte fills the CF hole with someone who can hit AND play the position, and allows Nimmo to play corner OF which he's pretty good at. Eduardo Escobar will cover multiple positions with a pretty good switching hitting bat. Cahna give the Mets the patient bat they sorely lacked.  It'll be interesting to see what they do with the pretty decent parts they may have pushed out.  Dom Smith, 4th OF? Either the off-year McNeil or the cement hands JD Davis have to sit. They still need to deal with the pen but right now you put them as the top team in the East, at the very least until you see what the Braves do. Freeman is still suspiciously unsigned.

Tough day for Nats fans but get used to it. It'll be a tough year. Yesterday was emblematic of the Nats offseason - quiet. And not sneaky quiet. Uninterested. Nothing from the beats, or the usual insiders. If anything what they said made you think THEY think the Nats are doing nothing. They'll wait. Pick up a few 1-2 year contracts on the cheap to roll for prospects at the deadline. What matters in 2022 for the Nats is not wins, but development. Cheer on every K by Cavalli, every homer by House. Because that's what's going to determine if next offseason is filled with talk about signing Soto or trading him.

*which is crazy - I know Max is 37/38 next year but if you want to win NOW he's as good a bet as any pitcher to be good in 2022 so why not give him an extra year, or two, or three even.  I can see not matching the money but the years thing is crazy to me. 

** not saying baseball isn't tougher than football. I am saying if you can somehow mostly avoid hits in football there is little action and only 16 games so you could last a very long time. Of course the point of most of football is taking or giving hits so avoiding hits is pretty much impossible. 

Monday, November 22, 2021

All quiet's on the Nats front

 Beacuse of the impending "lockout"* free agency is in a weird spot.  There were some early signings to get ahead of what most assume will be a delay into a new CBA with little practical impact, but others are waiting just in case there's something in the new CBA that might change their approach.  With the lock out date (December 2nd) coming close the question is whether we see a bunch of signings or a stall

 But one thing won't change - the basic disinterest it seems the Nats have in any moves.  Again if you are looking at the chicken bones you threw on the ground (pick those up! Dogs can choke on those!) it seems the Nats are more "can we be good in 2023?" than "we are going to try to be good in 2023" mode

 In other news - some Nats were in the AFL. While you shouldn't pay attention to AFL stats other than if you have a strong feeling going in and want to see some confirmation here's a quick rundown. 

Cole Henry struck a bunch of guys out but is wild. Todd Peterson you never heard of, he was ok. Jackson Rutledge looked bad. Not Brady House Jackson Cluff walked a bunch and got a bunch of singles. C Drew Millas they got in trade was bad. Israel Pineda was a no patience no power DH in limited ABs. Donovan Casey hit for some pop in limited ABs. 

Rule 5 guys were announced and no big surprises. Out of the guys they list that are internal prospects that might get taken it's hard to see Cate, a starter who was bad last year with no eye popping skill, or Pineda a catcher who was bad last year with no eye popping skill, being selecting.  Richard Guasch, a reliever, might draw some interest because he's got a live arm and sometimes these guys just "get it" and you can hide him as the last man in the pen. Jordy Barley also might get selected but that's a long play as he's almost certainly not ready for the majors and won't be anytime soon. You'd grab him, stash him, and then have him in your minors at 22 in 2023.  If you like him it's not a bad play... if you are going nowhere. But there are other guys available from other teams who fit both these profiles so we'll see. 


*technically true but who cares about a lockout or strike when no one is actually supposed to be doing anything? 

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

For the optimists out there

 I painted a pretty bleak picture Monday and nothing has changed but, BUT I'm hear to tell you if I'm wrong why things could be better just next year. 

First off is the obvious - if the Nats choose rebuilding for 2023 rather than figuring out if they will rebuild for 2023 then they'll be better. Maybe not playoff better but probably around .500 and the idea would be they'd be looking to be playoff ready in 2023. A SS and a few RP? Maybe Robbie Ray instead? Or a low-end SP and a solid OF? The Nats payroll would be around $140 million in my scenario, with around $155 million toward the cap of around $210. There is money available for them to do this. 

Second is - there is so much money available that they can probably spend their way to success without going over the luxury tax... if Strasburg is healthy and good.  If that's the case a big time SP, a decent rotation filler, a big time SS, and a decent OF gets you right around the luxury tax area and also around 90 wins. Is that enough? The Braves were legit good and will get back Acuna, but aren't going to keep everyone that was big toward their late season and playoff runs and will spend most of their money presumably on just keeping Freddie and seeing what happens. The Phillies remain a bat and an arm away.  They seemed primed to bring in a bat at SS but Phillies being Phillies I imagine they let the arm slide and continue to be not good enough.  Who knows with the Mets and the Marlins could be players but probably not next year - I haven't heard any rumblings (I also think they might be eyeing Trea next year). So yeah - it's likely enough or very close. 

Third - if Strasburg isn't healthy and good (honestly the most likely scenario) they could just go over the cap. They won't but they could. That's the beauty of baseball - if you want to win games and you aren't currently terrible, you can spend the money and make it happen.  You can't guarantee a title but you can pretty much guarantee a playoff spot if you are willing to go all in. 

As long as the off-season isn't over (and it's barely begun) there's still hope for those looking for more. And hell... 

Fourth... well I suppose they could not try and get incredibly lucky. Soto has a SOTO year and Bell hits like he has. Ruiz is a ROY winner type season, while Garcia looks like a good bat and Kieboom finally blossoms, at least to average.  Thomas is a steal and Robles finds his way back to average too.  Escobar will likely still be a hole but with a solid OF pick-up you have a 7 deep line-up.  Strasburg is an ace again. Corbin is average for him which is good enough. Gray shows as a real 3/4. Ross is a real 3/4 and finally stays healthy.  Rogers, Fedde, et al bounce around for a little bit until Cavalli burns up AAA and comes up and is good. The bullpen FA signings work out and they get those random good years that other teams pens seem to have. You get all that - that's a playoff team too. 

So like any good fan you can probably live out some fantasy of competitiveness even if your team shouldn't be good through Memorial Day.  That's the beauty of fandom in a sport where the best team wins 60% of their games and the worst team wins 40%.  Seasons are rarely over that quickly and you can enjoy a couple months every year. 

Oh I'll add if you want to play around with a potential Nats roster, James O'Hara set out his at this point annual web page to do that over here :

Obviously imperfect and guessing at some costs but gives you a general idea of the flexibility the Nats have (more than you might think) and the talent available (pretty sparse beyond those SSs) 

Monday, November 15, 2021

Monday Quickie - Bringing it all together

 If you take all my position posts together you get a team that looks like this 

  • 1B - Bell
  • 2B - Garcia
  • SS - Escobar
  • 3B - Kieboom
  • RF  - Soto 
  • CF - Thomas 
  • LF - FA
  • C - Ruiz
  • SP - Corbin
  • SP - FA
  • SP - Gray 
  • SP - Fedde/Ross/Rogers/Adon
  • SP - Strasburg/FA
  • Closer - FA
  • Set-up - FA

The rest of the roster includes Yadi Hernandez, Andrew Stevenson/Victor Robles as 4th and 5th OFs, a veteran to back-up/spot start 2B/3B, Riley Adams/FA as back-up C and 1B. Espino and Finnegan fit into relief spots with probably one or two more arms currently here and a third FA. 

Filling in spots lets say Corey Dickerson in the OF, DeSclafani as the SP1, Jordan Lyles as the SP2, Donovan Solano as the 2B, 3B guy and Ryan Tepara and Hector Neris and I don't know Corey Oswalt as the Closer, Set-Up, and other arm respectively. Suero and Thompson fill out the pen. 

That's clearly not a winning team  

The other day I said 2022 is a rebuilding year but it can go one of two ways

(1) It's a set-up year to possibly compete in 2023. The Nats buy in to a SS and a few SP/RP that will be her for the next 2-3-4 years while letting guys like Ruiz, Gray, Garcia, Thomas, and yes Kieboom have their 2 month, half-year, full-year goes at it. Based on how they do, you trade or sign the one or two guys necessary next off-season to compete, or 

(2) It's a complete organizational review year. You get a few guys because you aren't deep enough to just play young guys and not be embarrassing (see the end of last year) but they are grabbed with the thought of trading them if they are any good for more young players. You are here to evaluate anyone you can. Along with the guys noted above you want time for more questionable guys like Adams, Casey, Thompson, Adon, Rogers, McGowin, Klobosits, Clay, and guys past them.  Based on how everyone does you decide if you can compete in 2023 and beyond and respond accordingly in the next off-season. 

It wasn't supposed to be a choice here. It was always supposed to be (1). They'd reload with Strasburg, Corbin, Soto, Turner*, and Robles holding down the fort. Probably a usable Kieboom a decent 5th in Ross or Fedde and a couple relief arms like Harris and Rainey, set. But out of all that they only have Soto left that you can feel confidence in.  They managed to pull in a decent C prospect and some other things of interest but the truth is they have too many holes now. And a lot of how they move forward depends on how strongly they believe that what they have on hand will work out.  (1) can still work, if you think Strasburg will be ok by 2023, if you think Corbin is usable, if an OF and Garcia look decent. But if you aren't sure about that it's hard to move forward with (1).  You are very likely to build a team good enough to miss the playoffs by a few games. 

But as Nats fans (2) is scary because if you come away with the idea that you don't have enough on hand, then it becomes difficult to keep Soto around. You can't be sure that you will have enough in 2 years to convince him to stay and every year that passes the haul you can get for him drops. There probably isn't a haul worth dealing him anytime in 2022 but if you don't look competitive in 2023 there will be teams coming at the Nats with multiple Top 100 guys and how do the Nats resist? 

I'll be watching the signings and rumors. The Nats should be in the OF and SP talk - there isn't a lot there. They should be in the relief talk - that's the guys you bring in to deal later. But if the Nats are also seriously into the SS market that bodes well. If not, I get worried, unless all the deal the Nats do make look to go into that 3rd year or beyond. 


*In this scenario they still might have dealt Turner but only to grab a SS this offseason. Turning a potential issue (Turner's upcoming FA) into getting some talent while not having a hole.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Off-Season Position Discussion : Relief Pitching

Like most years, coming into 2021 you could find a way to see the Nats pen as a positive. The Nats spent some money and signed one of the better FA RP out there in Brad Hand to close and had Will Harris (solid in 2020) and Daniel Hudson (2019 hero, bad in 2020 but who cares about that half season, unless swe're talking about Will Harris). They had reason to be a little positive about Tanner Rainey. Kyle Finnegan and Wander Suero seemed capable.  That's a pretty deep pen!

And it started out pretty well. Yes, Will Harris got hurt and barely made it onto the mound and Rainey was bad but Hand, Hudson, Suero all had fast starts and Finnegan, along with Sam Clay and converted starter Voth looked ok.  But the pen was asked to take on more and more innings as the starting pitching failed and that took a toll. Suero would wear out. Every time someone looked decent, Davey would lean on them until they weren't decent anymore. Hand, who had been close to All-Star level for the first half after a minor blip in May, broke down at the worst time, driving the nails into the coffin of the Nats 2021 chances with a series of terrible outings. 

The Nats were able to offload Hand and trade Hudson, but with Harris out and Rainey terrible they were down their projected top 4 relievers to enter the season for the remainder of the year. The pen, which was actually pretty decent through the 4th, spent the remainder of the year cemented as one of the worst pens in the game.

Presumed Plan :  The Nats throw money at a lot (3-4-5?) of cheap short contracts hoping to grab guys who have good first halves of 2022 so they can flip them for organizational depth and lottery tickets.  Finnegan and Espino fill out two more spots and then whoever they seem to like in Spring Training. Mason Thompson if he looks decent. Ryne Harper maybe.

Reasons for the presumed plan : The FA market is lousy with relievers that weren't lousy. A guy like Adam Ottovino, for example, a usable arm but nothing more now, is like the 20th best arm available. The Nats can check out the market and grab 3 arms for like 15 million easy and come out with a pretty decent set. Maybe 4 because in all honesty the Nats pen is empty. 

Kyle Finnegan stays as the best of what was left at the end. Low bar, true, but the pen can't be 8 free agents. Paolo Espino who did an admirable job as a spot starter until he was worn down, has a decent chance of sticking around in a long man role or attempting to convert to a more traditional reliever.  If they do scrimp out on SPs but he doesn't make the rotation you could also see Josh Rogers who looked ok as a starter at the end of the year.  I'd bet on one of those two at least. 

The rest of the pen is filled by whoever they like the best now and in Spring because there aren't guys they really like and there are positions that have to be filled. This is the best way to do it I guess. 

My take : It'll be rough. How rough might depend on the starting pitching, even with 3 FA relievers. The Nats aren't going to grab something like 3 of the best 5 available. Given that they are likely to grab a guy who does good, a guy who is ok, and a guy so bad he barely pitches. So go relievers. Based on what we've seen in 2020 and 2021 a couple Nats guys will be usable, others will look good for short periods and terrible for others. It's a standard pen which means not all that good but could typically end up anywhere from 8th to 22nd best depending on how it breaks. Probably closer to the lower end there.

But I said "typically" because once you start heaping innings on these guys they can break and you are forced to use the guys you didn't like in the first place. The Nats don't have depth. There isn't a reason to try out a bunch of arms if you know you don't like them. In those instances you might throw 7-8 guys at a wall and find one you think you like and one you can use for a year. If you can figure that out from random short stints of pitching and not instead get confused by a good run by a bad arm that you knew was a bad arm. 

If the starting pitching holds I suspect this pen will be like many other Nats pens put together by Rizzo. Eighty percent complete, likely to be middling, with the possibility of being good or bad depending on luck. It's a pen to hold the fort until the trade deadline where you either add an arm or two you'll ride with your best ones down the stretch or you trade away your good arms and suck up the losses. Guess which one I think is more likely in 2021.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Off-Season Position Discussion : Starting Pitching

The Nats have been a team led by their starting pitching for years. From Strasburg-ZNN-Gio to Max-Stras-Corbin the key to their most successful years has been dominant starting pitching. And so that was the plan for 2021. Max would continue his dominance, Corbin would bounce back from a disappointing 2020 showing, and Strasburg would be ready to go after a full season of rest.  Anchor that with whoever of Ross/Fedde shows better and finish up with a dependable 160 innings of 4.50 ERA from Jon Lester and you have yourself another playoff rotation.  The best laid plans...

Lester would start off the season hurt letting Fedde and Ross fight things out from the start.  Neither looked worthwhile. Meanwhile Strasburg pitched poorly and would only start twice before trying to rest his arm, and Corbin didn't get hurt but pitched like he did. A complete implosion from the start wouldn't be an overstatement. Things got slightly better here and there; Stras came back and pitched well, Corbin improved, Ross was excellent for a month, Fedde ok here and there. However it didn't last. Stras only pitched 3 more times before going down permanently. Corbin would regress back to terrible. Ross would get injured. Fedde wasn't usually here or there. Add in a failure of Lester to pitch well and you have 4 problem spots in your rotation. That's almost everyone! Max pitched well but all this terrible pitching meant the team sold him off and ended the season with a mish-mash of starters. 

In the end we did see some starters who might be important for the future. Josiah Gray gave up a lot of homers.  Ummm... among the other starters were Paolo Espino (19!), Josh Rogers (6), Sean Nolin (5), Austin Voth, Jefry Rodriguez, and Joan Adon (1 apiece) 

Presumed Plan : Strasburg back healthy (at some point), Corbin rebounds, FA signing eat innings, Gray, Fedde/Ross/Rogers/Etc taking up the rest hoping someone comes out looking good. And if that someone is Ross, trading him. Possibly another FA that can eat innings, you know, just in case something in this glorious plan doesn't work out. 

Reasons for Presumed Plan : Stras and Corbin are signed forever. They have to be in the plan because even if you wanted to get rid of them you aren't getting value right now. Strasburg may not be healthy but as of early November 2020 your plan is he'll be fine and start most of next season. 

Gray you traded for to be part of your next playoff rotation and he's ready to pitch in the majors full-time so you let him. 

Given everything that you saw this year though you can't expect all three of these things to turn out in your favor. Given that, you need an arm you can rely on to give you 180 IP so the bullpen isn't destroyed. That's where the FA comes in. The Nats may even go two deep here. They definitely could use another one. Both Stras and Gray will probably be limited in innings somehow and if anything else goes wrong you'd need another reliable arm anyway.

The plan with Stras leaves only one spot and you have a mess of arms you want to run through because that's what the season is about. Fedde, Rogers, Adon - maybe one clicks and you have a starter for a few years. If not they are place holding for Cavalli who should reach the majors later in 2022. 

My Take : This is a recipe for disaster. We'll take it from the top. Strasburg's injury type does not lend itself to quick or complete returns to previous form. Ideally you'd might move on but Strasburg is too important and too contractually tied for the Nats to do that. Given that he has four more seasons here, the team's plan for him should be "we are going to be as cautious as necessary in his return to the mound and if that means he doesn't pitch in 2022 - that's ok" not "Hmmm maybe he'll be back for spring!" Regardless I think the recovery will take more time than that and he won't be back for Opening Day and he won't be good when he's back.

Corbin could easily be better and all the Nats really need is 200 IP of 4.00 ERA ball.  Just eat up innings without blowing games. I think Corbin can do that. But he IS getting worse - these are deserved ERAs so I'm not sure you can bet on it.  

Gray - ok Gray makes sense. But he also may not be good. He should ease into a back of the rotation role but he's far from a guarantee. The number of homers he allowed this year was crazy. Lyles from the Rangers led the majors with 38 allowed. Gray throwing 180 innings would have given up 49. Ideally he'd be the last guy in with some opportunity to go down to AAA for fine tuning if necessary, but he's the Nats 4th and such is going to be relied on to at least hang in the majors. He may not.

The 5th spot is right now a mess. Ross has got the talent but can't stay healthy. Fedde arguably doesn't have it. Rogers looked good but his history says he's bad. Adon is not a prospect. Espino did ok but there's no sense the Nats see him long term as a starter so he'll most likely relieve and spot start. It's a place holder for Cavalli who might be up at the end of the year. He looked good in A+ and AA but rocky in AAA. There's no rush to get him up so it's on his time table. The talent is there though. In the end it's 4 months of dumpster diving your own organization.

So to sum up : Your #5 is a hodgepodge of has beens, never wases, and broken arms. Your #4 is the early odds on favorite to lead the league in homers allowed. Your #2 could be so bad in 2022 that he often won't get past the 5th inning. Your #1 may not give you any starts.  Did I about cover it? 

That makes your number 3 very important. God I hope they nail this FA signing and by that I mean just bring in a guy who you feel REALLY REALLY good about hitting a lot of innings.  I've heard DeSclafani.  That's probably ok. But they can't scrimp out here or reach. There's too many innings on the relief staff from everyone else. Someone has to soak those up. 

As you can see - I really think the Nats situation is so obviously precarious that a second FA signing, even for just a year, is needed. Rich Hill? Jose Quintana if his shoulder looks ok? Tyler Anderson? You aren't looking for good here, you are looking for acceptable. But I'm not sure the Nats do it.  I think they wait out the FA period waiting on Strasburg and then only at the end grab some one off the garbage pile when it's clear Stras is out for a while.  Let's hope I'm wrong on many accounts here. 

Tuesday, November 09, 2021

Various junk

 Barry says Juan Soto is worth half a billion? Is he right? Probably so! 

We first floated the "half-billion" number out there for Bryce after his 22 year old season (which by the way was clearly better than any full season Soto has had)  But Bryce proved to be an uneven player who could be derailed for times by injury. By the time he was up for FA it was clear 500 million was an overpay. Soto on the other hand is a very steady hand, who yes can be affected by injury, but in a far less dramatic way.  At this point I don't think anyone believes he isn't a better hitter than Bryce in general and possibly the best hitter in generations. 

But Soto is limited in other ways. While athletic, he's is not a good fielder (I don't know how many times I have to say this) even when stuck in RF at 22 and is a middling base runner. His projection going forward is as a hitter pure and simple. This is in sharp contract to the player of his generation Trout who ways Mays/Mantle like in his all around ability, and doesn't even compare well with Bryce, who's natural aggressiveness on the base paths is more plus than minus and who's athleticism had the Nats wondering for a hot second if he could play CF (he really couldn't).  I'd rate the two fairly even off the plate and Bryce is a good 6 years older. 

That's not to say Soto isn't worth 500 million.  I did say probably so. He's that good a hitter and more importantly he's worth something to the franchise off the field.  But understand his future is just as a hitter. Potentially a first ballot HoF type hitter but a hitter. 

Awards "finalists" are out

Juan Soto is in the MVP list. He probably won't get it - it'll probably be Bryce. But each of the three would make fine winners stripping away team results.

Scherzer is in the Cy Young list.  He's probably third though. Wheeler was the third best pitcher, but still very good and is way ahead on innings.  Burnes probably slightly eeks out better pitcher from Max. 

Dusty is on the MOY list and should get it considering the job he did to deflect all the Astros stuff away, but they love to give it to surprise good teams and MOY is littered with mediocre guys having one-offs so Scott Servais riding a monster amount of luck will probably take it home. 

Nats bring in Francisco Perez off waivers, demote Kyle McGowan

The Indians need to protect a fair amount of prospects enough that some will have to go on the  40 man.  That means someone on the 40 man has to be unprotected and a slightly older question mark young reliever was tops on the list. The Nats snatched up the converted started who has looked pretty good but doesn't have a ton of relief inning behind him. That could mean the 24/25 yo has room to improve or that what he's done so far is an illusion.  Lets split that and say he keeps pitching as he has. That still makes him a useable man in the pen, albeit one of the last arms.  Given the Nats situation there though - grabbing even that to have cheaply for a few years is a good play.  

The question is though - they let Wade Miley pass.  He's a starter who yes pitched over his head but can give you close to 200 IP and alleviate what may be SEVERE innings issues if Strasburg isn't healthy and Corbin isn't right. And for $10 million, you probably aren't getting something this good and reliable.  You'll have to choose one or the other and hope. In the end though the Nats aren't thinking about 2022, they are thinking beyond and the question is whether or not Miley could get them something better than Perez when he's inevitably traded  I think he could have, but it's not a guarantee. A middling to bad season by Miley - which is probably an even bet - would get you something similar. The Nats though made their choice.  Hopefully it means there is someone in FA they are eyeing that they like beyond 2022. 

Friday, November 05, 2021

Off-Season Position Discussion : Outfield

 The Nats OF plan was actually fairly well-laid out coming into the season. Soto anchors RF, Robles shakes off 2020s weirdly bad season and mans CF, newly acquired Schwarber plays left. Disappointing Andrew Stevenson holds down the 4th position for pinch-running and late-inning defensive replacements.  This should be more than fine... as long as someone doesn't get hurt. 

But Schwarber missed a week early and a little more than a week after that, Soto went down for a couple of weeks. Stevenson gave way to Yadiel Hernandez who went from red hot to ice cold in the time it took Soto to get back. A couple weeks after that Robles went down and by June 1st, 50 games into the season Kyle, Victor, and Juan started together just 16 times. To add figurative insult to literal injury all three players started slow.

In June Soto would hit again and Schwarber became SCHWARBER with 16 homers in about as many games to end the month.  Robles didn't improve but you took that in stride, until Schwarber went down with an injury.  With the wheels coming off of the pitching there wasn't any room for a slow down in the offense and the Nats collapsed. That meant the still injured Schwarber would have to go and off he went for a lottery ticket minor league pitcher*. From there Soto and Robles went separate ways. Soto became SOTO again and nearly got himself an MVP** Robles hit even worse and got sent down to AAA so guys they wanted to evaluate like like Lane Thomas and Hernandez could play more. 

Lane Thomas, coming in from the Cardinals, who were stacked in the OF, hit like an All-Star before petering out a little to end the year.  Hernandez, playing full time basically the last two months, hit for decent average and power but showed no patience.

That was basically the OF. Only Stevenson would have more than 16 starts, while Harrison, Parra, Bell and Hernan Perez spent some time out there. 

Presumed Plan - Soto in RF. Thomas in CF/LF to start the year. A FA in the other position. Robles in AAA.

Reasons for Presumed Plan -

Soto in RF. That's given.

Thomas in CF/LF - Thomas isn't a natural CF but can man the position if needed. The problem is if you don't think Soto is great than your CF really can't be just passable or else you leave the OF as having the potential for huge defensive problems. Thomas would fit better defensively if moved over to LF but it becomes a question if can he hit enough. Remember you can chance onto a Schwarber and stick him in left.  

Really it depends on what the Nats pick up in FA.  A CF with good defense and Thomas shifts to left. An offensive LF and Thomas plays CF. There's also a chance they let it ride with Yadiel but an outfield of Yadiel, Lane and Juan Soto is a real risk to be very bad defensively and possibly quite bad offensively in two positions, with our limited knowledge of the non-Sotos. I just can't see the Nats doing that. I imagine we'll see a one-off like Schwarber, someone to play here for a year (with maybe a 2nd year option) with the idea they can be flipped if necessary. Seeing who shakes out and grabbing them for something reasonable and putting Thomas in as then needed. 

Why is Robles in AAA?  Along with bad hitting, Robles had some attitude and focus issues it appears. I think they want to see improvement in a lot of different things before they bring him back.

Why Lane and not Yadi? You go with the guy who's 26/27 next year, not the guy who's 34. Yadi is not part of the next great Nats team.

My Take

I still think Soto's not good in the field , and is destined for 1B or DH and will die on that hill but he's good enough right now (and probably for a few more years) and he hits like Ted Williams so you let it be until you are forced to make a move. You aren't forced right now. And it's not like he doesn't try. He'll give it his best shot. Any way this is too much talking about Soto in regards to "where he fits into your plans" He fits anywhere you can fit him.

Thomas over Yadi is a simple age play.  You have to go with Thomas because he could be a guy on the 2025 Nats. Yadi will be 37 in 2025. Yadi also plays bad LF. He's a 1B DH.  Honestly he's a guy that should be on an AL team and the Nats should trade him. I don't think they will.  He's got enough potential at the plate to make the Nats want to at least hold onto him until he breaks out so they can get better value. They are going to run the risk of no one wanting him though. I think they can get org filler for him now. That may not be the case after 2022. 

Thomas... I think we've seen the best of Thomas, but I also think he's likely to be a very solid 4th OF type who can fill in. His patience is impressive so if he can hit like .250 he can hang and I think he can do that. He could also hit like .275 and a little more power and you have a LF for the next 4 seasons. If he does that though - I really hope its not in CF. And while he probably doesn't become something better than a 3rd OF if there's a chance of lucking into something a player from the deep OF system of the Cardinals is the place it could happen

The FA market is ok. There isn't an ideal fit of a multi-year solution that can carry a team like there is at SS. (which is why we haven't talked about it) Marte is the best FA but at 33 you don't want him for a very long time and someone is giving him more than the Nats would or should. Tommy Pham?  Mark Cahna? Corey Dickerson might be ideal. He's a good LF which maybe gives you a little help and has potential for a surprisingly good season. Maybe take on JBJ from the Brewers - a plus CF type who was just awful last year but could just as easily be above average in 2022.  The Brewers don't need him and probably wouldn't mind freeing up cash and it might get you a lottery pick of a minor leaguer to boot.

As for Robles. I do think they want him back. Robles is still only 25 next year and easily has the potential to be a plus CF hitting averagely for the next 3-5 years. That's a big help to any team. (see what MAT is getting at a plus plus CF hitting below average). I think eventually he'll get a chance to work it out in the majors next year one way or the other, but I think he starts in the minors because it gives the Nats time to see what they have in Thomas and the FA and sends a little message to Robles.  

*How'd Aldo Ramirez do? Pretty terrible! But it was only like 7 innings so whatever

**Sorry. Don't get any feeling he'll get it

Wednesday, November 03, 2021

Off-Season Position Discussion : Third Base

 A foul cursed position! A pox on thee! Out! Out! 

The Nats third base was manned to start mostly by Starlin Castro.  As a player it was odd to watch the fans react to him.  Over two abbreviated seasons he basically did exactly what you'd expect him to do, fill in the roll and fill it averagely, but Nats fans acted like he was the worst player on the field. I think this might have to do with the Nats usual luck bringing in FAs only to watch them have better than expected years. An on-target year? Get out of here.  Castro the person was garbage though and got thrown out of the league basically when it was found he was hitting or otherwise being violent toward his partner. So no tears shed for him. 

When he got kicked out it was the perfect opportunity to see Carter Kieboom get an extended bit of playing time. A nearly untouchable prospect after 2019 primed to replace Rendon crashed and burned over the next season and a half.  He spent 2020's minor league less season up with the Nats and didn't do anything, hitting well below average and impressing no one in the field. 2021 was somehow worse as he struggled back in AAA and continued to look lost in the majors. Not only at the plate but in the field and maybe on the basepaths too? The Nats didn't need Kieboom to break out but it did need to feel like he could handle the position going forward and they didn't get that. It remains a question mark.

For completeness sake - Harrison played here and there as well.

Presumed Plan : Kieboom and doom. Kieboom starts the season at third and they get a pretty solid back-up jack of all trades that will cover for him and likely Garcia and maybe elsewhere.

Reasons for Presumed Plan : The Nats made their Kieboom bed a few years ago and now they have to lie in it. His trade value has plummeted because he's looked so bad so there's no sense in dealing him. There's no one in the minors nipping at his heels so there's no thoughts of internally replacing him. He's too young (24 for 5/6 of next season) to throw in the towel on him. There doesn't seem to be much point in dropping him back down to AAA given the poor results last time. So you try again. Stick him at third. Give him until Memorial Day. See what happens. 

Because he very well might play very poorly, it's important the Nats get a decent back-up and the league is going to be lousy with them. Leury Garcia, Donovan Solano, Josh Harrison redux, Eduardo Escobar, Wilmer Flores maybe, Jonathan Villar, to name a few.  There will also be a spate of guys you can get for nothing who'd probably be ok enough if you get shut out. There's really no excuse not to end up with someone decent at the plate, in the field, or both. Given Kieboom and Garcia both could be limited to 120-130 games if you want, you can probably fit this guy into 100 games no sweat. Especially if you stick him at first or OF or DH. It's worth getting a decent bat even if everything comes up Nats. 

There are name FAs out there - Kyle Seager and Kris Bryant specifically at third. Semien or another SS type if you want to get cute and shift them. Bryant as a commenter noted is of particular interest because he has played a lot of positions and can fit in to a lot of Nats position holes. But I think that makes him of particular interest to a couple better teams, probably closer to his home which puts the Nats in a tough position to get him. Seager is probably available and at this point in his career the D and homers guy is probably ripe for a short term deal for a team he could both help now and could flip him later. KC might be ideal here.

My Take : Yikes.

If you want to brightside this Carter has gotten better at the plate every season from "Is this guy an actual baseball player?" to "well at least he's working the plate" to "bad last man on the bench".  I guess another season could get him to "below average". That's not so say 2021 was entirely awful.  He had a couple of good weeks - one soon after he came up and one in mid-August not long after. That left him at a respectable .259 / .356 / .424 line about 30 games into his season. But he made terrible contact after that - he's a soft hitter and not fast enough to take advantage of that - and hit terrible the rest of the way. 

The BABIP and hit stats suggest some sort of bad luck was involved. Maybe that resolves and he's simply below average next year. That's not that bad and shows a progression at the plate. But given his defensive and baserunning issues it'd still be a guy you wouldn't want to play.  And given his age and experience you couldn't keep assuming more improvement is coming. These issues also showed up in 2020 so the question is not only can this kid hit enough but can he get his head on straight.  It's two full years since we have seen anything but awful play from him. 

The Nats don't have to play him. They can commit to a FA here. But given their need for pitching help (that was the real issue last year), likely huge hole at SS with lots of solutions, and possible upcoming issue in CF this drops in priority because playing Kieboom is an answer. Not one likely to succeed but one you can reason yourself into.  

The Nats play him. If he succeeds, great. If he fails this poorly again in 2022, then you can let him go. If he hits a little better improves a little better in general then... well then they have a problem. Because you'd have to figure out if that was close to his ceiling, make a guess, and move on that. If you are wrong you might lose a cheap position player through the key "convince Soto" years you don't have to think about. If you are wrong the other way you hitch your wagon to someone who hurts your team. Let's hope he succeeds and if not he fails miserably. 

The short here is there is an answer here, the Nats have other problems, and it would probably serve them well to make 100% sure that Kieboom is not the guy. Kieboom starts and probably flops as a guy not quite good at anything except maybe taking a walk.

Monday, November 01, 2021

Off-Season Position Discussion : Shortstop

Luckily we ease into this with the season recap which is fairly simple.  Trea Turner was the Nats shortstop and as one of the better shortstops in baseball put up a very good, nearing great, season at the plate and his usual acceptable fielding season. He also stole another 32 bases which lead the NL. Unfortunately for the Nats fans, this made Trea a hot commodity on the trade market and with the Nats in rebuild mode and unsure if they could re-sign Trea after 2022 it made too much sense not to deal him. Out went Trea, in came Keibert Ruiz*

At SS FA pick-up Alcides Escobar** took over and he actually did quite well. No one expected him to replace Trea and he didn't, but he fields well and hit above average and if the Nats were making any sort of push would have been that "OMG why is this guy doing this good?" player every run has.  (see : Cabrera, Asdrubal 2019).  They did try Garcia out there a few times but that was just kicking tires. No one thinks he's a potential full time SS. 

After the season they resigned Escobar but no one really knows what that means.

Presumed Plan : Huh. Hmmm. Uhhhh. 

The Nats have two wildly divergent possible plans so choosing one is hard. But the point is to make a guess here so I'll do that. I have to presume something.

I think the Nats will go into the season starting Alcides Escobar at shortstop.

Reasons for Presumed Plan :  The Nats don't have a starting SS in the system that's close to the majors. There was mild hope that Carter Kieboom or Luis Garcia might be that guy but fielding wise they are both better at other positions and the Nats basically need a full infield. Yasel Antuna then fit into the long term plan but he had a mixed bag season at High A. He probably still goes up to AA next year but in part to make space for the next guy up. All eyes are now on Brady House, the 2021 1st round draft pick who will move into A ball next year and is the Nats best offensive prospect (I'm not counting Ruiz here who I assume will be in the majors). Rizzo has never been shy about moving guys up quickly so he could move fast but he is still in the low minors. Neither of these guys are in the planning for 2022 and probably not full-season 2023, either. 

That leaves a hole and Alcides Escobar fits it. He still fields well, which can help Garcia and Kieboom and as long as he isn't a terrible hitter the Nats can stick him in and worry about watching kids. 

There are long term options available this year in FA but the Nats are in rebuild mode, have little history of big FA hitter signings, have a mediocre minor league system, and will be a hard sell right now to a player looking for a place to land for the 2nd half of his career.

My take :  First Escboar will be terrible at the plate. He has been pretty much his whole career and 2021's half season was definitely an aberration. Now, there wasn't a huge BABIP swing (it was high but not crazy unsustainable) but here are his last 4 OPS+ values from ages 28-31 for 140g+ each year: 67, 72, 66, 63.  Terrible, Less Terrible, Terrible, More Terrible. He did hit a little better in AAA in 2019 and 2021 but not good enough to translate into above average in the majors for a full year at 35. If the Nats get an 85+ OPS plus (think Jordy Mercer this year) they should be happy. 

OK so why don't they go out and sign someone better?  There are 5 top flight SSs (Correa, Seager, Story, Semien, Baez - ranked in my order.) available this winter. Surely one will be a bargain relatively speaking. Yes there are a lot of guys but a bunch of teams in contention needs SSs.  The Phillies, Astros, Athletics, Reds, Yankees (who have already said they are going to get a SS), and Twins are all going to need one. They all won't sign one (the Athletics are cheap, the Twins need pitching desperately) but 2-3 will. Then there are teams that hope to be competitive if not next year soon after; the Angels, the Tigers, the Marlins. My guess is 4 of 5 guys get mostly what they want from one of these teams. One guy slips and signs a short term deal hoping to get the big deal next time out. 

The short term guy wouldn't make sense for the Nats - even at a relative deal. They aren't looking to have an important FA position to re-sign after 2023. But could they be one of the four?  Perhaps.  I think they should be. But I think Correa and Seager get their big time market-setting deals. We all know the Nats aren't market-setters. And I think two of the other two will get market rate deals, the Nats might pay that - it's cheaper than it has been in the past - but I also think they aren't in that mindset. They've always been a sign pitching long-term type of team and it worked for them until Corbin. Also the Nats not getting the surer things and having to take a chance on good but not perfect Story (Coors), Baez (Ks), or Semien (old) gives me pause I'm sure the Nats have too. From the player's perspective the best chance is probably Baez, as Story and Semien are probably both looking for contenders. Baez, who won a series with the Cubs in 2016 might be more amenable to waiting.

To pull that altogether: I think the Nats need to sign a long-term SS. If they want to be good before Soto's FA comes back, they have to be because House is not likely to get up and make an impact in time. But I think they aren't looking to bust the bank this off-season because they don't know how all this is going to come together. If the pitching doesn't get right and enough young guys don't take a step forward you have to pull back on plans. That's kind of what happened this year. The pitching fell apart, the last chances for Ross and Fedde came up empty, Garcia and Kieboom did not break out or even look ok, Robles REgressed, no other young pitcher close to the majors surprised. It was a complete failure and the Nats responded as they had to - giving up on this season and the next. A repeat complete failure will make them do something similar. But they have to see and that means they have to wait. Waiting isn't necessarily bad. Trea could be back on the market after next season, same with Bogaerts, but it still means this market has to come to them, they aren't coming to the market. 

So IF things work out - if two guys are left in the cold late in FA, or if it's Baez that finds himself on the outs, we could see the Nats sweep in and get someone. But I'm not going to pin my hopes on things working out with what other teams do in FA.  They'll all see the same things the Nats will and if the Nats are looking to get a deal on Baez or whoever other teams will see the same and a SS can be a 2B or 3B pretty easily. The Giants could use a 2B as could the White Sox and the Blue Jays (who traded for Semien and stuck him there). The Brewers could use someone at 3rd. In the end I think other teams will either be more enticing or will provide better deals than the less than all-in Nats. And that means the Nats are waiting out another year, hoping that House had a great minor league season and if not that another 3 top-notch SSs are available again after 2022.

*That's pretty much how you can think of the deal. A year-plus of Turner for the ready now C of the future, a couple months of Max for the maybe 3rd, probably 4th starter and couple of throw-ins, one intriguing one not.  

**Sort of - they actually traded money for him to get him from the Royals where he was hitting like Alcides would in AAA.