Nationals Baseball: Off-Season Position Discussion - Shortstop

Monday, October 31, 2022

Off-Season Position Discussion - Shortstop

What a mess. If there was a position that was the 2022 Nationals in a nutshell it was shortstop. The Nats didn't have a solution to who would play the position after trading away Trea late in 2021. They lucked into a decent 70+ games from Alcides Escobar but no one could consider him a serious solution or even stop gap. Within the system they knew Garcia didn't have the defensive chops for the position and the only true prospect in Brady House was years away, if he would even play the position when he got here. 

So the solution seemed obvious - get a FA to play the position. If the Nats were willing to gamble they could sign a big name, with the idea that they would be good again soon enough for such a FA to matter. If they were not then any decent SS would do, someone to fill the role for a season while other parts of the Nats world worked themselves out. 

But that was not to be. The Nats decided to try several terrible ideas and waste 3/4 of the season on hubris.  Fun! They brought back Alcides Escobar and he failed as anyone would have expected. There was a quick attempt to use an out of position Dee Strange-Gordon.  He did do better than expected, but was still below average with the bat and glove. After that came the "force Garcia to be a SS" trial which again was something everyone knew would not work and didn't. And finally post-Soto trade it landed on an actual SS that made sense to try there., CJ Abrams. 

All in all Abrams did not hit well for the Nats, but he had some stretches that got fans excited. He is a singles hitter primarily and at times would run off 1-2 weeks of hitting .350 or better. However he did not walk or homer (1 and 0 in his time with the Nats respectively.  I'll now pause as you take in the one walk as a Nat...  




).  Defensively he was probably the best pure fielder, but also the most error prone. 11 errors in 366 innings at SS for the Nats, or about one every 3-4 games. If you are wondering yes 35+ errors in a season would be a lot. 

Presumed Plan : Abrams starts the season at SS and plays the full season barring complete hitting or fielding collapse. He is backed up by... ? Vargas? You guys seem very into Vargas. If not than a FA because there's little in house.

Reasons for Presumed Plan : For Abrams, it is full-scale rebuilding time for the Nats and that means playing kids and Abrams is a very high rated prospect that they got back in the Soto deal. Granted he was very highly ranked like 2 seasons ago, but still you don't get that highly ranked for no reason. You could stick him down in AAA to learn fielding but he can hit in the minors and there is little for him to gain by being down there for that. Eventually he will have to field in the majors so why not just try it now? Garcia, although out of position, probably, hopefully, showed them the folly of putting a guy that is more than ready at the plate back in the minors to field. 

As for back up well Escobar is gone. Strange-Gordon is gone. Garcia is at 2nd. Lucius Fox is no good. That doesn't leave many options. Brady House is years away and possibly not a SS. Vargas did play SS a little so if Abrams is your everyday guy then having him play once every 2 weeks isn't going to kill you. However he's more of a 2B/3B guy and it's a deep SS year and maybe you get lucky and a real decent back-up SS is there in February waiting to be picked up.

My take : On the back-up.  You are going to have to sign someone - a MI or CI so why not a SS which usually gives you a built in emergency 2B/3B, unlike the other way around?  Well one reason could be because you want to sign a real 3B rather than let Kieboom take another crack at things.  Ok I'd be for that and we'll talk about that next time. But assuming an "all kids" strategy, a SS just makes more sense than a 2B/3B.  Of course the competition for signing will likely be tough. I really don't like Vargas as the primary back-up here as he has big no-hit no-field potential as a SS. Jose Iglesias would be ideal and maybe seeing if Abrams can play 3B? Eh - won't happen. 

Why? Well the Nats want Abrams at SS and he has the range so if it works out it's great. It's worth giving it a try. I'm not sure if it will. Abrams is in that period where we are going to find out what kind of player he is. What we know is he can put the ball in play and he's pretty fast, that can last actually. But it would be MUCH better if he could supplement that with power or patience. That way he doesn't have to rely on being a good to great fielder (which he isn't yet but probably will be - errors can be corrected, range and instincts, which he has, is much harder to learn). 

 Having a high-contact guy is great but funnily enough the Nats are one team that doesn't necessarily need that change of pace in the line-up. Ruiz is a big contact hitter and Garcia and Yadi both have under 20% K skills, if perhaps they need to be directed to use them in that way.  Long play - Abrams might be better used as a trade chip for a young arms. Not if he develops into a star - you want to keep those, but into a solid SS.  There's a lot of value in a good D, .300 hitting, low K SS but there's more value in a top of the rotation arm... but now I'm going way out there.

It's a good plan Abrams at SS, but it needs a solid backup because we don't know if Abrams can hang full-time in the majors at the plate. Unlike Garcia he hasn't proved it. That makes it more of a gamble and you don't want him to be in the line-up hitting .150 on Memorial Day.  You need to fix that if it happens. Having a real back-up SS give you that ability.


Nattydread said...

Hard to believe that the Nats lucked into Trea Turner at SS in a trade where much less was offered than the Soto deal. TT was runner up for rookie of the year, a big piece in the Nats playoff window after 2016 and a central part of Dodgers' runs over the last two years.

Would have hoped that Abrams, 6th overall first round pick ($5.2M bonus) would have a higher ceiling than Trea, 13th selection first round. Am I missing something? Is the ceiling gone?

Or was Trea just incredible luck? How did the Padres let him go?

Steven Grossman said...

@Nattydread. I can't speak with certainty on this point, but my recollection is that Trea was seen as a good pick-up (and with Joe Ross in the deal, a steal). However, it was a couple of seasons before Trea's play was considered "star" level, rather than just the play of an excellent trade pick-up. If that's correct, then I would think we want to be patient with Abrams; not burden him with comparisons to the current Trea rather than the rookie Trea.

Steven Grossman said...

I went back and looked a bit harder--yes, Trea was runner-up rookie of the year in 2016--playing center-field. He was in the National's minor league system for almost all of 2015. He also had played college ball, so arrived older and presumably more polished than Abrams, who was drafted out of high school. Trea is a tough comparable for any young shortstop, but it doesn't diminish Abrams ceiling until you see how the next 2 years go.