Nationals Baseball: Off-Season Position Discussion - First Base

Monday, October 24, 2022

Off-Season Position Discussion - First Base

Next year will be a mess for the Nats, but there is a decent chance that first base won't be. I'm not sure that can be said of any other position where the plan B is someone shouting "OMG please don't tell me we're at Plan B!!!" as they stuff whatever they can into a go bag. So enjoy the talk of the first and last truly set position, even if "being set" might still end up as a below average position. 

This year the plan coming in was very clear. Josh Bell, who the Nats took a chance on trading for before 2021, was to be the first baseman. He had a very good 2021 and the hope was he'd do the same in 2022.  He did better. He was All-Star worthy if not an actual selection which made him excellent trade bait for a team going nowhere. Once he got traded, with Cruz unable to be off-loaded and clogging up the DH position, AAA place holder Joey Meneses and trade return Luke Voit passed off the position between each other like 75/25 to Voit. After the waiver deadline passed and the Nats realized playing Cruz served no purpose, the Nats settled into Voit at DH and Joey at 1B.  Joey, already getting attention for his hot month, continued to hit in September and became one of the precious few good things for the Nats at the major league level. He ended the season hitting .324 / .367 / .563 in 240 PA.

Presumed Plan : Joey Meneses gets a shot at first as a reward for an extremely hot finish to 2022.  If he falters, it's likely either Luke Voit and/or Yadi Hernandez (injured at the end of 2022) will get the at bats there

Reason for Presumed Plan : As noted above after Josh Bell left Joey hit. He hit for the whole two months he was playing. He hit in August. He hit in September. He hit the first week. He hit the last week. He hit lefties and righties. He hit home and away. If you are looking for a reason NOT to start him at 1B next year, he didn't give you any in the majors. His fielding wasn't good, but the alternatives wouldn't be any better.

The alternatives are probably first Yadi assuming he's healthy, and if not him, the far worse fielding Voit, but you never know. If Voit is the only one hitting and wants to play 1B, he could play there.  In general, one of these two will get the occasional start.

Why not someone UNDER 30? While 1B is generally an easy place to fill with a cheap young-ish hitter that has nowhere to go, especially if your DH is filled with an older lumbering hitter, the Nats don't have that. Behind Joey, who was doing meh in AAA before getting called up, the only 1B/DH guys hitting were a 23 year old rookie baller and a 28 year old AA player. It's brutal out there.

My Take :  The Nats don't have many good hitters left. Voit is probably the surest thing, Yadi the second, and Meneses the best chance for someone newer to the league to stand out. They all, if they are in the field, should play 1B. LOGJAM!

But not really. Yadi played some OF because Bell had to be at 1B and Voit really should DH so it works itself out. But it really doesn't because of three numbers: 31, 32, and 35. Those are the ages for Joey, Luke, and Yadi next year.  At a time the Nats should be throwing out kids to see what they got they've got three players at ages that make it pretty unlikely they'll be around for the next good Nats team. First base has a solution and the solution is time filler. 

About the players specifically, we'll talk about Yadi and Luke more at other positions but they are consistent above average bats that can't field. Meneses as much as he did this season, is more of a question mark. He should hit... probably. In the minors he generally did. Not anything so great you had to get him to the majors, but good enough to keep him moving slowly up in the minors. Hitting was never the issue, the issue was he got going at too late an age to make playing an ok hitting meh fielding corner OF / 1B make sense for a team looking to win, which is what ATL, PHI and BOS all were. But the Nats aren't that! 

Will he hit this well next year?  The fancy numbers say probably not. His BABIP (.371) is too high for a guy that doesn't run well. His HR/FB rate is higher than he ever had at any minor league stop. But before you get all sad he's not a huge whiff guy, and he did have pretty good power, and if he can keep a mild and more believable increase in LD% up and that soft hit % way down... well he could do something. Not the .320 40 homer season his numbers in 2022 suggest but 280 and 25? Sure, why not? But also a Lane Thomas .240 / 15 season is not out of the question. We just don't know.

Next year is a gamble on Joey filling the position so you don't have to think about it, with the hope that's the case for as long as possible. It will be what little excitement the Nats have to start 2023 depending who makes the OD roster from the minors and the Padres pick-ups. If he stumbles that's ok, no one is pressing him and expectations are pretty low. If he stumbles badly that's ok too because there are clear back-up plans with either Yadi or Voit filling in his role. This is the Nats best position for all that that means.


Anonymous said...

If Meneses plays the first half of next year as good as can be reasonably hoped, (say a 130 wRC+, but all the peripherals support it as non-fluky), does he become a valuable deadline offering as someone who is likely to give you ~2.5 years of cheap good hitting before aging out?

Seems like something a contender could use and is a bit wasted on our team, but as we discussed during Meneses week, there just aren't a lot of data points for someone this old and good without a long track record in the majors. So who knows?

DezoPenguin said...

If Joey can play LF without being...well, without being any more of a butcher than Yadi, then I'm wondering if this might be a good chance to take a flyer on Jose Abreu, with the assumption that he'll be flipped to a contender if he doesn't go full Cruz, mainly because the FA situation at other positions the Nats could fill with veteran placeholders is largely made up of sad trombone noises (assuming that the literal worst team in baseball in the middle of being sold isn't going to sign Aaron Judge, of course).

Cautiously Pessimistic said...

I don't really see him being trade bait without bigger numbers, Anon. Like 150wRC+. Mainly because he's old, and he plays a position where you typically stash a 120wRC+ player (130 would be 11th best 1st baseman in the league this year, 120 would be 15th). Meneses would need to be in the outer-fringe MVP conversation to be worth trading for, in my opinion, if I'm an opposing team. Like top 3 1B behind Goldschmidt and Freeman (which is exactly what he did this year, though in much fewer PAs). Maybe you can slide down behind Alonso and Vlad (assuming Vlad has a bounce back year). Meneses hit really really well this year, but he basically would have to continue that trajectory to be worth a trade to a contender and still get anything of value in return.

I'd love to be wrong, I just don't see a world in which a trade occurs where you'd get anything of value beyond maybe 2-3 lottery tickets. Bell for half a 30 year old season yielded a single lottery ticket, and he's much less of a question mark. So 2 cheap 32-33 year old seasons probably aren't that much more valuable in the grand scheme of things

Steven Grossman said...

Assuming he has a good first half, there is logic in trading Joey at next year's deadline for a prospect or two.

I am looking for reactions to the opposite possibility: because we have 5 to 6 years of control over him, a moderately successful Joey can be a valuable piece of the next winning Nats team. Having a 1B/RF/DH who is inexpensive will allow more dollars to buy free-agents in other areas of need.

Not to be misunderstood: it would be a surprise if Joey is nearly as good next year, so it is a huge stretch to see him as successful and durable for years ahead. On the other hand, 30 and 31 year-old first basemen/DH who can hit well are getting 6 year contracts--so holding on to him is possible despite his being much older than our other rookies.

Anonymous said...

I think the median, or even realistically optimistic, expectation is that his arb2 and arb3 years will generate very little surplus value. The arb process is going to reward his obvious offensive stats, and insufficiently punish him for being at the bottom of the defensive spectrum. Add that to the very probable age related decline, and I wouldn't trade much of anything for the tail end of Meneses's rookie contract.

That said, because those years are not guaranteed, they cannot have negative value. And 3 years of an average starter (so a 1B w/ a wRC+ of 120, hat tip to CP above) at a minimum salary is very valuable. There were 6 qualified 1Bs with wRC+s between 115 and 125. One was pre-arb last year, 3 were under arbitration, one is under a long extension and one is in a long FA deal. The average AAV across all of them is over $9M. A lot of teams would love to pay Meneses $700k for the next three years as long as he remains a solidly plus hitter.

A half-year of Bell for $4M got us a pretty good lottery ticket. If Meneses could get us two or three Sasuna's, I'd think we'd make that trade in a heartbeat.

ocw5000 said...

Joey Meneses is this decade's Mike Morse, don't overthink it