Nationals Baseball: December 2021

Friday, December 24, 2021

Merry Christmas!

It was just over a decade ago when the Nats made the move that I think really set in motion the next 8 years of constant contention. A decade ago the Nats send AJ Cole, Derek Norris, Tommy Milone, and Brad Peacock to the Athletics for Gio Gonzalez. 

We've gone over what the Nats needed to happen to actually make the window open. A stroke of timing and luck that had prospects develop, signings work out, and trades happen all coalescing on a brief 1-2 year period. But to me the Gio deal was the biggest. It was the one that signaled the team wasn't in it for tomorrow anymore but today.  All four of the guys they dealt were good enough to be major leaguers and all eventually made it. In fact all three pitchers were in the majors last year. But they were willing to give that up for the security of a guy who looked to give you 200 IP of 2-3 type pitching for the next few years. The Nats were going for it. 

Gio would work out really well for three seasons then follow that with three very useful, if in an infuriatingly 100 pitch for 5 inning fashion, seasons before being sent out for next to nothing in 2018. That covered nearly all of the Nats window giving the Nats something every year. 

Anyway, just thinking that a decade ago the Nats made it clear they were going for it NOW and gave the fans quite a ride that luckily ended up with the ultimate prize. Regardless of what happens now you still have that to look back on. 

Monday, December 13, 2021

Monday Quickie - Last minute roster stuffers

You got any last minute gifts you need to buy? The Nats do. It's been a lean year so they aren't looking at putting any big gifts under the Christmas tree. Instead they are stuffing that stocking (Stirrup? No it would fall out of that) with a bunch of cheap stuff that you might have heard of and get a couple days of play out of but really are there to make you feel like you are getting a lot. Silly Putty. A mini plastic slinky. A $5 gift card to Starbucks. Dee Strange-Gordon. A couple candy bars. An orange. Maikel Franco. Socks.

Dee Strange-Gordon 

Last Good - In 2017 at age 29 DSG hit about league average and played above average defense at 2B making him a minor plus for the Marlins

Last Year - In 2022 at age 33 DSG hit .248 / .288 / .370 across three different AAA teams splitting time between SS and 2B. 

Strange-Gordon probably isn't as bad as his last partial season in the majors showed, hitting to an embarrassing .213 SLG, if you can call that slugging. But even still he hit to 79 and 80 OPS the previous two years. The Mariners tried him in CF as that's what they needed which proved to be a mistake and since returning to the MI he hasn't been the plus fielder he was.

Maikel Franco

Last Good - Maikel's 27 year old 2020 audition with the Royals was ok, producing a line of .278 / . 321 / .457 over 60 games. His defense was ok as well. Together they put him in the mix of a bunch of decent third basemen.

Last Year - Maikel's 28 year old 2021 was an abysmal failure at the plate producing the worst season of his career by far and a .210 / .253 / .355 line. Defense was still solid though.

There's kind of a knock on Franco that he can't keep his attention or interest up leading to wildly varying production. His OPS+ the past 5 seasons are 79 - 106 - 81 - 102 - 63.  If he hits with his defense you have a useful player. If he doesn't hit he DOESN'T HIT and you don't.  There's talk the Nats could use him as a DH which is silly considering his decent defense is probably why you signed him as his offense doesn't fluctuate far enough into positive to be worthwhile.

Cesar Hernandez

I like this format so I'll put Cesar into it 

Last Good - At 30 in 2020 Cesar put up solid numbers at the plate, not trying too much for the homers and some strong defense at 2B which he is capable of doing.

Last Year - At 31 in 2021 Cesar once again swung for the fences and got his highest HR total yet (21) at the expense of everything else. His defense was solid but not exceptional

Said this a week ago but Cesar is swinging and missing a tick more in the past few years and walking a bit less and he doesn't have the overall skills to keep that from dipping him into a below average bat. It's just a tick below average though and his defense is still solid making him a kind of borderline starter / back-up in the league depending on the team. 

Cesar is the best bet to be usable. He'd be a great back-up for some team, a decent "worst bat" starter at a tough position to fill, and questionable as anything more important. Franco is a gamble. He seems to oscillate between bad and good at the plate so this year he could be good again. That's more average actually but with his decent glove that's a starter. But he tends to be very bad when he doesn't hit.  Gordon is probably still a good fielder but his bat is likely not good enough to keep him on a team in any form but PR / late inning defense.  I'm not sure why the Nats would grab him. 

There you go! Baseball news.  And if you do need a last minute gift let us know in the comments and maybe the collective audience can help you out.

Friday, December 10, 2021

The fifth rule of no-fight club

Is you don't talk about the Rule V draft. But no baseball can go on, not even FA talks so here we are.  The Nats selected 4 guys in the minor league section of the Rule V draft (which means they don't have to stay on the 25 man roster)

Andrew Young

Young is ironically the oldest player the Nats picked up as he'll be 28 early in 2021. He has one big skill - power and that's only grown as he's matured. The problem is that he strikes out a lot and the last two times up he's only managed to be above average at the plate by maintaining a Top 10 in majors type HR/FB rate. That usually doesn't hold up as major league pitchers have more time to adjust to you AND the fact that he should be starting his decline soon... well its a tough sell.  Made even tougher by the fact he doesn't have a natural position, the kind of guy who plays around the IF because he can and he can't hit enough to play 1B. That's not going to age either. 

But could he play a full season and you get lucky as he turns into something someone else might like? Sure.  Or could he cut down on those Ks and be a decent back up IF who can hit a homer, a C-Fielding Danny Espinosa? Maybe. Of course you don't grab him for that, you grab him for the 1 in 1000 chance he clicks and is a power hitting MI. 

The rest are live arms

Curtis Taylor  Impressive K numbers in some minor league outings. Generally had been hard to hit and hard to homer too.  Why was he available? He's 27 next July, he walks a ton, and the Blue Jays had a bunch of guys they liked more. Also all the trends have been bad as he's moved up. Guys with better patience and hitting seem to catch his mistakes and hold off the rest.

Matt Brill Repeat above. More unhittable and unhomerable but also wilder and has seem to hit a wall in AA where his combined numbers over 2 years and 60 IP is an ERA of 6.34 and a BB/9 of 6.  I don't care how many guys you K that's too many.  He was a converted offensive player but he converted in college because he couldn't hit enough there so it's not like he's going to switch back in AA. 27 next year

Dakody Clemmer 26 next year, the Indians have a very deep system. He's had decent results in the minors but in different ways.  Early on he was an ok control, meh K, fantastic homer control guy ( 7 homers in nearly 200 IP). Coming out of the missed 2020 he went big into Ks and they went way up... but so did the walks. Homer control was still there.  I find him more interesting than Taylor or Brill but the truth is if 2 months into this season the K jump shows itself to be a fluke there's nothing here with the guy unlike the others who truly have those live arms. That's why he's draft in the last round 

Nats have plenty of holes, so certainly fine grabbing these guys. The age says these aren't long term fixes (such is the way for most of Rule V) but if the Nats are looking at 2022 with an eye toward 2023 these are the types you want.

Wednesday, December 08, 2021

What's going on? HoFers

 Nothing nothing is going on. 

A few guys got elected to the Hall by the veteran's committe or whatever it is called now.  Two guys, Bud Fowler and Buck O'Neil are special cases. Fowler is often noted as the first Black professional baseball player, Buck a tireless advocate for Negro League recognition and a great ambassador for the game itself.  Neither are good enough players to make it but there are these types in the Hall. 

The rest are the usual veteran's committee guys who were good enough to get writer votes but not good enough to get enough writer votes. Kaat and Minoso are in the gray area of career stats where sometimes other things can get you in. Hodges and Oliva aren't there but have their own circumstances.

Minoso was another compiler to the point of sort of being a joke at the end, a fun one though.  During the normal part of his career the guy could hit and run (95 career triples, leading the league 3 times) but wasn't necessarily an intuitive base stealer (career 216 SB to 130 CS - with things getting really dicey after hitting 30). He was seen as a good fielder, wasn't afraid of taking a walk, and was also healthy for a long while basically not missing more than a week in every season but one from 25-35. A lot of games and a lot of hits and walks and good fielding means racking up a lot of value. Being available may not be a skill (injury luck is what it is) but it's important and can't be dismissed. He'd finish his ML career with a .299 BA and nearly 2000 hits. At this point we have to mention his first few years were in the Negro Leagues and he played a year in the competitive PCL bc loaded Cleveland didn't need him. You can imagine a scenario where if baseball wasn't racist he plays around 4ish more full years. That's another 700 hits for a guy like Minnie and at 2600 hits and more major league time he moves up not quite to automatic HoF level but in with the guys where it's more a coin flip. To the point of my first sentence, he'd go on to make appearances at 50 in 76, and 54 in 80 (thanks Veeck!) which was silly but you know what, that's ok.    

Kaat was a good pitch to contact control starter. Just good. But he was good for a very long time and remember that's a skill in my book. He started at least 24 games from the age of 22 through 39 with the exception of one year and started over 40 twice. He was better than league average 14 of 16 years from 22 through 37. He was a slick fielder (though not 16 gold gloves good - that's just inertia) and add that up and... well it's not quite a Hall of Famer.  The 283 wins sort of is right in that sense. If 300 is automatic then Kaat is missing something. Granted if there was no strike in '81 though maybe he powers through to try for 300 as he probably would be sitting around 290. So kind of like Minnie you can imagine a scenario where Kaat gets in. Instead he stuck around long enough to finally win a series at 42 with the Cardinals but with minimal impact.* He's been an ever present broadcast presence since.

Hodges was a premier power hitter of the early 50s with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He struck out a TON for the time but made up for hit by hitting a lot of homers. Never did lead the league but was Top 5 ish each year before losing a step for the second half of the decade. Still when he retired his 370 homers were third most for a RHB.  Seen as a great first baseman he was a very important part of the 50s Dodgers who won pretty constantly. Then he went on to manage, did ok with a middling Washington team before going over to the Mets and being in the dugout for the Miracle '69 title. At 47 with a decent track record you could see him managing another 10+ seasons in various places and another title would be a pretty sure in to the Hall as a manager, especially given his good enough to be reviewed player case. Hodges though would die of his 2nd heart attack just a couple days short of turning 48. This young death has always been one of the things pushing his case forward, sympathy and what ifs matter to voters. 

For an 8 year span Tony Oliva was nearly as good as anyone. He lacked a truly special season but he put out very good to great ones every year and really the only thing holding him back was his free swinging ways (he'd only walk 448 times in his career). He hit for average, he hit for very good power, and he was a solid fielder and baserunner. At 32 he had the best average of his career... and then seriously hurt his knee trying to catch a fly ball. That knee would cost him the rest of 71 and pretty much all of 72. It would take his power as well, turning a 20-25 HR guy into a 15 homer one. Injury stuff is pretty hard to figure out but a normal career trajectory given his averages he probably ends up over 2500 hits and near 300 homers. Again not quite HoF level even then which is probably why he was out but that had less to do with what he did in the majors then his late start. He didn't get here from Cuba until 22/23 and didn't debut until his 25/26 season. It's just hard to hit some numbers given that and his stats from 25-retire would have ended up similar to many HoFers... but he did get injured. Usually that keeps you out, but Tony did enough that his peers wanted him in.

*Fun fact the Cardinals would use 4 pitchers total in the last three games. The three starters and Bruce Sutter would pitch every inning.

Thursday, December 02, 2021

Locking the Doors when the store is closed

 MLB is now locked out and I forgive you if you don't care because it doesn't mean all that much.  

Especially as we head toward the holidays, which are typically quiet, and have come off of a especially active period of FA signings, this won't really effect anything for a while. Some Winterfests, some access to off-season facilities for a couple guys, some derailing of what would be occasional GM or manager quotes about the upcoming year to fill time, some weird website changes. You may not notice it at all. 

And because of that there isn't really impetus to get anything done for... like 2 months or so. Not until arrangements start to have to be made for pitchers and catchers in mid February.  So don't expect any movement for a good 6 weeks, because there doesn't have to be movement. 

This has been spurred on by the recent spate (last few years but not this one) of cool FA periods as teams realize the vast middle that they've been paying for of sort of expensive veteran players 30+ can be replaced pretty effectively by guys 22+ under their control. There's a bit more variability there but it's a TON cheaper. If the rest of your team is pretty solidly built or if you don't care if you crash to 70 wins instead of 80 because you aren't trying it's a way to save millions.

What are they actually arguing about to address this shift? Not much.

In brief, the players want more money and want it faster - so an increase in the luxury tax cap and a quicker start on FA for younger players. 

The owners want to reign in giving the players more money as much as possible, more playoffs and ads as additional revenue sources, and some rules changes that may not work but might make the game move faster. 

Both seemingly want the DH, but the players want it more so the owners can negotiate a little off it.

 Here's a good run down of everything 

A couple owners of course have a more hardline stance, which is why you may have seen  earlier proposals that were bad for players once you put them under any scrutiny.  The owners offered up a salary floor - which would raise the payroll of a bunch of teams and the money currently in the system - but with a lower and harder cap, which very quickly (a year? two?) would hurt the players as MLB revenues are still going up.  The owners also offered up no arbitration at all, which sounds good, but ties it to a weird fixed budget for players under control and stretches control through an age (29.5 yrs) rather than a number of years. The likely effect would be an team having a bunch of very young players, as that's the most efficient way of splitting that money and having a player give the team the most for the least for the longest time. A lot of mediocre 24yo costing something tossed to the curb for complete question mark 19yos costing nothing.

These aren't serious discussions.

If you want to break it down to one thing - they are arguing about the increase in the luxury tax and everything else is just negotiations based on that. 

Expect an increase in luxury tax (no floor or some very nominal number set only because some owners don't like others not spending), a very slight change in how fast players get to FA, a bump on minumum salaries, DH, expanded playoffs, ads on jerseys

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

New Nats

 Lest you thought it was going to be a quiet off-season the Nats have brought in two players! 

Lucius Fox was a very highly touted international free agent (Bahamas( signed by the Giants for a ton of money... then dealt after a single season to Tampa. He hit well in A-ball at 18 and 19 and in High A at 20 showing good average and patience and made a Top 100 prospect list and the Futures game after that. But Lucius also had a decent amount of Ks and not the corresponding power to go with it, and 2019 he couldn't get it going in AA. He was traded to KC and after the 2020 break last year showed a lot of the same stats.  More interested in protecting other guys from the Rule V draft the Royals dropped him from the roster. The O's picked him up, tried to sneak him off the roster into the minors, but the Nats grabbed him. 

He's interesting. From all I read he's got a decent bat, good eye, and good speed, but he's not a particularly good fielder and like said above has no power.  At 24 he's not too old to turn it around but this would presumably be his last shot. 

Cesar Hernandez, the long time former Phillie middle IF has bounced around a couple of teams the past couple of years maintaining his decent fielding, and average-minus bat. It's not a terrible gamble that he keeps that up another year.  He's no longer young (he'll be 32 most of next season) his swinging and missing is trending in the wrong direction. But he's also fast and had some bad luck with balls in play last year and has shown an uptick in power over time.  You can see him hitting .270 with 15 homers by the trade deadline and be a piece that gets you something back, or you can see him hitting and empty .240 and getting you nothing. Similar to Alcides he fills a role.