Nationals Baseball: November 2023

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Off-Season Position Discussion : Outfield

There was no area of the Nats team more unsettled than OF last year, specifically CF and LF.  (Oh ok, middle relief pitching but that's par for course for any baseball team.) While Thomas manned RF for 148 games* doing both better at the plate and worse in the field than expected, the others had no stability.  

Oh they tried in CF, forcing Alex Call into the position for almost half the season after Robles got hurt. But Call was so bad with the bat (.200/ .307 / .307) that the Nats couldn't keep doing that. So they played Jacob Young (not good), Derek Hill (very bad) and even Lane Thomas (shouldn't be there) but found no answers.  

LF was even harder though there they might have found something in Stone Garrett.  Hitting .269 / .343 / .457 with decent defense it seemed like the Nats found themselves another dia... well tasteful piece of jewelry in the rough. But Garrett broke his leg and much like CF the other options tried all year; Dickerson, Call, Alu, Rutherford, Blakenhorn, and Vargas, didn't stick.

 But that's ok right? Because if the Nats have anything it's young OFers in the minors . Draft pick Dylan Crews, traded for players James Wood and Robert Hassell, random guys they liked before like Jeremy De La Rosa, or like more now like Daylen Lile.  The solution wasn't expected to be found in 2023.

Presumed Plan : 

Huh. Well Thomas will play RF. That's given. If we assume his poor D was more a fluke of yearly defensive stats (more likely) than a downward trend (less likely) he will be fine if not the Werth like figure they'd love to make him into. They've brought back Robles so he will probably be in CF, if only to play out the string on his Nats career. LF will be Stone Garrett if he's healthy. If not... I guess a random OF FA would be the choice. Something meh usually shakes out for cheap. 

Alex Call, who they love more than life itself, can play defense so probably sticks on the roster as the 4th OF.   

Reasoning behind Presumed Plan : 

OF is the Nats position of the future and they fully expect to have at least one young guy if not two starting on OD 2025, so they aren't going to pony up for a long term OF signing. Thomas is fine. Garrett would be fine. Robles seems to be the guy they can't quit but also can't fix.  As I noted they love Call and a defense first 4th OF makes sense as Thomas didn't look very good and Robles is probably the shakiest of the guys to hold their position.  

That's, of course, if Garrett is healthy. He may not be and if that's the case look for the Nats in late January early February to scour the OF market for the best cheapest option because, like I said, there isn't much reason to put money here when your prayers are you are starting a rookie here in July. This is a spot to save money for the team where fans can't really go after them because the plan is clear. They are going to take advantage of that.

My Take :  

Another holding pattern year isn't exciting but it's what the team needs to do. Of course they could go big but doing that at 1B or DH makes more sense than OF and as we keep saying SP is the one they really should do this for. I would have released Robles, better for him and the Nats, but GMs hate to lose and if someone else got Robles to be good (a distinct possibility in my eyes) Rizzo would flip. With Robles here you play him and you of course play Thomas who isn't as good as he's made out to be but he's a perfectly cromulent 3rd OF. 

LF is a question that Garrett answers well enough.  If he doesn't heal fast enough though I worry that the Nats will slap Call in there and "call it a day" (Ha!) and that will be bad. They should at least take a chance on someone else at this point. Because it would be very cheap to do so, I have them doing just that and there are going to be guys out there that won't hurt the team. Get a win or two better for a million bucks. It'll be worth it 

 *second most? Garrett and Call each played RF for 5 games. 

Monday, November 20, 2023

Off-Season Position Discussion : Third Base

Third base worked exactly as the Nats wanted last year. They brought in a (probably) good player who had an off 2022 in the offseason in Jeimer Candelario on a short term deal. He performed very well, bordering on an All-Star season, and at the trade deadline brought back something of interest in a young live arm DJ Herz. 

Meanwhile with the arrival of CJ Abrams Brady House shifted over to 3B and had a renaissance at the plate after a disappointing injury marred 2022*. His AA work doesn't demand an immediate promotion and he's likely to start there in 2024, but AAA is also possible and the understanding is if he's as good this year, he'll start getting major league reps later in 2024. 

So the past was fine, but it's past. The future looks set up, but it's the future.  What is the now?

Presumed Plan : Your guess is as good as mine but I'll say Vargas and Alu and maybe Kieboom or Darren Baker later, spinning tires waiting on House to arrive and if not House than a rocketing Yohandy or a surprise again Lipscomb.

Reasoning behind Presumed Plan : Vargas and Alu are on the 40 man still. There's my reasoning. I think the Nats are looking to spend some money but FA SP has to be goal 1 and 1B or maybe a big bat DH/OF would make more sense than a 3B when really what they want for 2024 is House to be great in AA/AAA and force their hand to bring him up. 

Their remains a possibility of signing a 3B guy I guess as the guys available (Candelario, Chapman, Urshela) combine D and O in a way that makes them more valuable then what they'll probably get. But I think it's a long shot because of the needs noted.  Nats aren't really in "get cute to try to get value" mode, or at least shouldn't be. 

My Take :  


If the Nats have made a commitment to try something at 1B (which the DFA of Smith suggests) then trying something at 3B doesn't make much sense. I suppose you could shift any of those guys to 1B, the Cubs did that to Candelario, if House is ready quick or even if he isn't and you just want to, but then that value you got at 3B that took into account their defense is lessened. 

So you do nothing. 

Well maybe not. You could try to recreate 2023 in that you sign a guy with comeback potential and turn that into another live arm type.  Is there another target like this? Brian Anderson or Joey Wendle, two decent defenders with offensive success in the past might work but the offensive success is futher off and not as high as Jeimer's was. In fact when we look for just offense really no one has that potential sitting out there. They are all mostly several years older.  Man, what a smart move signing Candelario was. 

Out of what's out there - utility man Donovan Solano is a guy who doesn't need to come back as he's been hitting enough to stay good. Maybe the Nats can offer him a starting role that he can't get elsewhere.

Another vaugely interesting move could be signing Evan Longoria. You've got the "veteran leadership" GMs and coaches love and there's some sense he can still hit the lefties, so you could move him to DH. But he seems to be very much a Nelson Cruz risk a guy that will age out in 2024. 

There are no good moves here. Let it ride and focus on the SP and getting someone up here after the trade deadline to take their first stab at the majors.   

*In the sense they wanted House to rocket to the majors and he did not

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Dom Smith gone but what's the plan

The Nats made a bunch of roster moves yesterday. 

Robles and Rainey were re-signed.  Rainey was pretty much a given. He doesn't cost much. The Nats have always really liked him. If he's really recovered from TJ (and most guys do) then he'll add to a decent back-end of the bullpen, a necessity for a team whose rotation is still a question mark. Robles was more of a question as the team and him have had a rocky relationship and he showed pretty well last year when healthy. But that last part is the key as Victor didn't play a game in the last 3 months of the year. While teams may have been interested it's unlikely they would have offered more than a minor league deal for Robles if he was out there. He probably could have had his pick of which team to end up with but the money was going to be better here. For the Nats he's a placeholder until the prospects are ready and even if he hits his potential he's likely done in DC after this season. 

In Alphabetical order Zach Brzykcy, Cole Henry, D.J. Herz, and Mitchell Parker were added to the 40-man to protect them from the Rule V.  These moves mostly make sense. Except for Henry these are all guys with really live arms and the Nats don't have a lot of those types. Herz and Parker are technically starters now but could be shifted to the pen at any point, especially for a year if selected in Rule V. Cole was a decently well thought of SP prospect and those guys always draw interest from pitching poor teams. Zach was probably the biggest stretch protecting - a pure reliever recovering from TJ who looked good in 2023 but in fairly limited innings - but you can still see it especially given the corresponding moves. 

Matt Cronin was move #1 a week or so ago. DFA'd because he's down with back surgery after being added himself to the 40man last year for Rule V protection.  He should be back in the minors as he works back. But the Nats needed three more spots.

Cory Abbott was one. At 28 and with a few tries in the majors showing little there isn't much reason to keep him around, although he might come back as AAA starter filler. Was one of those guys derailed by the pandemic. Not that he was going to be a star but he was asked to jump from AA where he was ok to AAA after the off-year because he was aging out of minors and couldn't do it. Probably too late for the guy to get the year of AA reset he needs especially given he wasn't thought of that highly to begin with. 

Andres Machado is just a guy. From the release he's looking at Japan where he can probably do ok and make a little more money than he would as a journeyman last man in the pen he'd be over here for a couple years. Nats need arms but arms like Machado are replaceable.

Now to the biggy -  Dominic Smith was designated for assignment. One one hand - this is good because Dom Smith was not really a positive player here. He wasn't the negative he seemed to be because he didn't hit homers. Overall he was meh. So the Nats can improve here. But as I noted in my post a while ago - the market for 1B isn't strong. The Nats can spend money here or they can get worse and I'm not 100% sure what the plan actually is. 

What I don't get is the interaction here with Meneses and presumably Riley Adams. Neither is good enough that they can't be pushed out of a position, even DH.  Neither is reliable enough that you can say you are going to get above average hitting from them in 2024. So forcing out Smith to go with some sort of Meneses/Adams/? rotation at 1B DH or even worse a set Meneses Adams duo would be asking for trouble. You are accepting worse defense, maybe terrible defense, for unclear gains at the plate from non-prospects. If this is the plan after Smith it's a terrible one. 

So that means looking at FA and if they are great. But as noted the market is Bellinger and Hoskins, with Santana and Candelario as back-up plans and then a lot of questions. The Nats don't need to commit to a question.

Dom is not a contending 1B in most scenarios. The Nats would have had to move on from him at some point. But if they move on from him laterally in 2024 I don't see the point. Do you really like Adams? Well then you let him DH! Joey is a 31 year old with questionable defense that had a below average bat this year. I don't know. This suggest something bigger and better but it also sets us up for a let down if they don't go for that.

Friday, November 10, 2023

Off-Season Position Discussion : Shortstop

The Nats have their shortstop of the future!

Of course last year we said the Nats have their second baseman of the future and that didn't exactly turn out as expected. While people are treating CJ Abrams as the answer, it's better said that he's a question that after 2023 you want to see played fully out. He has all the talent in the world and we saw it on display.  He was one of the major league leaders in stealing bases, swiping 47 bases while only being caught 4 times. He had one of the best ranges at SS in the game. He showed a nice increase in power hitting 11 homers after the All-Star Break among the leaders at his position.

And yet... 

He wasn't as effective a total baserunner, not showing great ability going from 1st to 3rd or scoring from 2nd.  He wasn't able to turn that range into more outs, still ending up in the lower ranks of fielders for his position. He didn't end up with a positive offensive year, unable to get that average up high enough and not currently capable of getting on base consistently through walks.

Behind him Vargas played some decent SS and wasn't awful at the plate. Mostly though he covered other positions as Adams covered the vast majority of playing time at short.

Presumed Plan : Abrams backed up by Vargas, with possibly House/Lipscomb/? getting playing time if there's an injury

Reasoning behind Presumed Plan : CJ Abrams is one of the main prospects gotten in the Soto trade. He can play SS.  He was ok last year overall and brought some excitement when he flashed the complete package in July. He gets another full year obviously with the idea being unless he tanks he's going to be playing SS for the Nats for a while.  

The Nats high minors situation at SS isn't very good. You've seen the Jeter Downseses and Lucius Foxeses. Vargas is here and capable and shouldn't be pushed as a back-up.  If something happens, as a 31yo journeyman, he also is easy enough to keep as a back-up and try something different over him, as noted in the presumed plan.

My Take :  

In Abrams, you have a player with the tools to be great. That's why he was a Top 10 prospect at one point. 

You also have a player with the reality of improving merely to be maybe average. That's why the Padres could part with him. 

But he did improve.  He cut down on his errors that made him a clear liability at SS. He increased his power taking his batting profile away from "does nothing good". He got more aggressive on the base paths utilizing that plus speed effectively. 

If he can improve just a little bit more in the field and at the plate, with his speed he'll be an above average player. If he can improve more than that he has star potential.  He probably won't ever be a complete player.  He's just not a natural fielder and he will likely never hit for average, but he could easily be a Lindor lite, hitting almost like Francisco and trading plus base-stealing for plus defense. That's worth less but still worth a fair amount.

Behind him Vargas played some decent SS and wasn't awful at the plate. A team looking to win it all would probably want something better. They'd want a player that could step in if there was an injury and overall be average.  Vargas isn't that. But he's going to play solid D, be able to be used at all the infield positions, and he shouldn't be an automatic out at the plate. That probably won't be the case much longer but for this level of team,  Vargas is a decent bench guy. 

So all in all I'm fine with the plan here too. The Nats are in "give young guys a lot of playing time" mode and Abrams is a perfect example of a guy you want to give more playing time to, without being an obvious good player. 

Wednesday, November 08, 2023

Off-Season Position Discussion : Second Base

2023 at second base did not go as the Nats wanted it to and yet it went exactly as should have been expected which makes the Nats reactions this year extremely curious.  After 2022, Luis Garcia had a lock on the position. He was average at the plate and while a disaster at SS, seemingly average in the field at 2B. He provided a cheap combo to not worry about moving forward. Just do that again and the Nats would be fine. Grow into a better player, a distinct possibility for a 22 year old, and the Nats would be very happy. 

Instead Garcia sort of floundered taking a step back both offensively and defensively. Instead of an average position it was a negative. To try to shake things up Garcia was sent down where he promptly didn't do much better. But the Nats talked about him trying harder and focusing and they brought him up again after a month. He didn't immediately do anything either but finished with a flourish, maybe being the Nats best hitter in the last two weeks. Motivation? Randomness? 

Another reason he was brought back up were the replacements for Garcia in his time off did little. Chavis and Vargas could field but neither could hit and Alu, in his limited time did neither. There were no quick solutions. 

But perhaps is there a long term one? Abrams took a step forward this year to a viable player and was once one of the top prospects in the game. He should hang onto SS. That means Brady House, who had a rebound year, moves to 3rd. If not guaranteed it seems likely that duo will be seen from the end of 2024 through 2025 as the Nats test the youth movement to its fullest. That means any other FA or minor leaguer now looks at 2B as their way in. Trey Lipscomb, hot for 2/3rds of 2023 then ice-cold? Fan favorite Not my favorite Jake Alu who made the least of two short major league opportunities? Super young riser Yohandy Morales? Try to force it one more time Carter Keiboom?  All have to be eyeing 2B.

Presumed Plan : 

Garcia starts at 2B. If he plays well he stays. If he doesn't the Nats start to rotate in anyone good on the 40 man

Reasoning behind Presumed Plan : 

A FA is pretty much out. 2B manned by a flawed 24 year old who was perfectly OK in 2022 is not where this team should focus. 

That leaves the minors to push Luis and while there are several players knocking on the door it's a soft knock a couple rooms away. There's no immediate push to Luis. With no one forcing the situation giving him another go at it makes sense. If someone suddenly bursts through the doors the Nats can re-evaluate then. 2024 is not a competitive year in the plans. 

My Take :  

Garcia seems like the next Robles. A guy with talent that's probably underperforming but who also is made a scapegoat by the Nats.  He should be allowed to make his large amount of contact and field ok letting age and development add a little power to it. But the Nats seem to want to make him a more selective hitter. It's not producing more walks or better hit balls instead making him more vulnerable to lower pitches in the zone that he now feels he needs to go after since he can't chase higher pitches out wide.

If the Nats leave him alone I think Garcia holds off the competition. If the Nats keep forcing him to go away from what probably is a 100-110 OPS+ major league bat on the small chance of making him something greater, I think he fails. 

Whether or not that failure leads to replacement is anyone's guess. You all know that I am not high on Alu.  I am low. Very low. He stinks.  Lipscomb got everyone excited but just died at the end of the year. Probably that's the grind getting to him but hitting .136 / .174 / .185 for a fifth of the season can't be ignored completely. Yohandy is probably the most exciting one - a guy that just hit in college who continued to do just that in the minors albeit with strangely limited power.  Do the Nats try the former SS at 2B? It's possible. But it's probably more likely they start using him at 1B. He's a big unknown only playing 18 g in A, 18 in A+ and 4 in AA and it's hard to project anything for him just yet. 

Given all that Garcia likely plays 2B for most of, if not all the year. This is what I would do so... good! After that I don't know. He seems to be on Rizzo's bad side but he probably slots in as the perfectly acceptable 4th in an all-young all-cheap infield in 2025, or in a young infield with a 1B FA.

Monday, November 06, 2023

Off-Season Position Discussion : First Base

The Nats 1B situation feels bad. Dom Smith, who manned the bag in 2023 couldn't hit and only fielded ok. The Nats were fine with that this past season because they wanted to provide their young infielders with a decent defensive target and they wanted someone young enough that they could maybe get a surprise improvement.  Dom checked both of those boxes.  But going into 2024 it's hard to say he checks the second box now four years removed from his brief moment of pandemic season stardom. 

It seems pretty obvious that the Nats should upgrade here, that first base is an easily place to upgrade with a big bat even if they can't field well. But the Nats don't seem inclined to put money into the team right now and even if they did pitching seems like more of a necessity.  Also, sneakily, maybe Dom isn't so bad after all? 

Here are 1/3 of the MLB's 1B situations in 2023

SEA :  Ty France - barely average hitter and a stiff in the field

SDP : Jake Croneneworth mostly - barely average hitter and mediocre in the field

DET : Spencer Torkleson - ok hitter should get better, fielding wise... let's generously say waiting for Miggy to clear out of DH 

MIL : Rowdy Tellez - bad hitter, bad fielder. Replaced mid-season with Carlos Santana - a good hitter and good fielder who also will be 38 next year

CHC : A lot of Bellinger who was pretty good but you'd rather have in the OF. Forced to play there bc Mancini and Mervis were terrible with the bat

MIA : Yuri Gurriel got old and Garret Cooper was never special, not particularly good in the field

HOU : Jose Abreu got old and is also not particularly good in the field

COL : Montero, Cron - a bunch of awful bats with no real redeeming fielding.

KC : Pasquatino can hit but is a butcher in the field.  A big improvement over Nick Pratto though who was awful in every way. Still might end up as Sal Perez's landing spot so maybe that works

LAA : After trying 3-4 guys that couldn't hit or field, would use Drury but he was kind of wasted at first, until they got to Schanuel a prospect that should hit ok and should field ok. 

 Anyway the point is this is the state of first base in baseball today. There is not a bunch of guys that can hit ok and field ok out there.  There aren't bunch of good bats needing a place to land even if it's not ideal. No, about half the league would love to upgrade their first base and they can't. This includes competitive teams.

Presumed Plan : Dom Smith returns, Joey backs up while they keep fiddling around with Riley Adams and maybe start fiddling around with Lane Thomas.

Reasoning behind Presumed Plan : See above. There aren't a lot of options and there will be a fair amount of competition to the options that do exist.  Bellinger will probably get the big money and Hoskins will likely get the follow-up with anyone else worth getting having to be a position shift. The Nats might be interested in spending money but it's doubtful they will reach for anything when what they have isn't broken. Instead expect a SP focus as the market there has some depth and the Nats need something decent and reliable, if not great. 

They like Dom. Dom seems to like it here. He serves his purpose and will likely take another 1 year contract so the Nats don't have to commit to him past this upcoming season. They like Joey and Joey is very cheap.  Value wise the Nats are actually doing pretty well here.

My Take :  We've come a long way from the roid days when you couldn't lift a first base without finding a guy hitting .270 with 30 homers. With the pharmaceutical propping up of bats no longer happening, there is no longer a surplus. The ones that can play a position are doing so, and with the expansion of the DH the ones that can't play a position aren't. That leaves 1B a no-man's land full of 2nd/3rd best non-fielding bats and slick fielding 1B prospects whose bats never developed. Dom sort of fits the latter.

Not that there isn't big potential issues here. Dom's mediocre 2023 was better than either of his previous two seasons and an upset Dom in the past has been flat out terrible. If his situation here gets murky and he gets unhappy history says he'll tank hard. 

There isn't much better behind him either. Joey showed his true nature last year which is a guy that can hit ok. That's also fine I guess. Riley Adams might get more of a shot but given his glove work I can't imagine it working out unless he puts everything together at the plate and we just forget about it. Although at that point you'd probably want him at DH.  

I do think Lane Thomas at 1B is an interesting possibility. He's worse in the OF than he looks and even if he bounces back he was never a plus guy out there. But he does seem athletic to a degree and if that translates to decent 1B defense it can solve that issue of where to put his bat which is decent but not really want you imagine a DH to be.

Look I don't know.  It's hard to shake off the memories of our youth but the facts are the 1B situation today resembles the 70s more than the 90s. In this environment Dom is... fine? He easily could drift back to an even worse place with his bat but if he's under the expected one year deal (or one year plus a team option - which is what I think is most likely) then you just cut bait in August/September and move on. There's no downside other than it hurting 2024 but there is no indication the Nats are in it for 2024.  Oh, I suppose it keeps the Nats from setting up the position for 2025 which they may actually care about but I just don't see them putting the money into getting one of the two guys who'd definitely be worth it. But if they do - great! I'd be all in for Hoskins, older but more reliable than the wild potential of Cody Bellinger. I just don't see it happening. 

The Nats need to make FA moves but only SP is a must especially in this environment. If they go for a bat, be it 1B, 3B, or OF then that should be a secondary move. It would be a strong one, showing real commitment to competing sooner rather than later but a gutsy one with the reliance on prospects to fill out holes.  I don't think the Nats are that gutsy.  So I expect Dom back.