Nationals Baseball: December 2023

Monday, December 18, 2023

Monday Quickie - Not much going on

Who here likes Spencer Watkins and Bellinger rumors to nowhere? 

Hmm, no one. I see.

As we round the corner into 2024 but the Nats FA play was always likely to be like this. Patience first, grab needs late for better prices. Since the options for the Nats are rather large they can't be shut out. They merely lose 1st or 2nd choices and have to go with 5th or 6th.  It's not dumpster diving.  Well Watkins was, but that's not what I see these other FAs to be.  It's bargain store shopping. Antiquing.

Currently still available (that's a possible get)

1B/DH : Carlos Santana, JD Martinez, Brandon Belt, Jorge Soler, Donovan Solano, Garrett Cooper, Cutch

Others with DH potential :  Mitch Garver, Justin Turner, Tommy Pham, Adam Duvall, Aaron Hicks

Starters : Stroman, Martin Perez, Giolito, Lorenzen, Clevinger, Kluber, Carrasco, Manaea, Montas, Wood

and like 20 guys who can throw to an average RP level.

What none of these really are are guys that say "Ok cornerstone for 2024-X" but they are players that would make the team better. Guys who signed late (after like mid Feb when camps open) last year include Donovan Solano, Matt Moore, Michael Wacha, and Micahel Fulmer. It's possible. 

But on the flipside most of the guys that did sign late were bad.  Talent will be there but the Nats need to ID it. Last year the Nats' late signings were Chad Kuhl and org depth that never made it to the majors.  The year before that they were far more aggressive and nailed several RP :  Carl Edwards Jr,  Sean Doolittle (in theory), Erasmo Ramirez, event Steve Cishek wasn't terrible; but coming up blank on bargain SP and big time FA, Anibal Sanchez, Aaron Sanchez, Nelson Cruz.

We'll keep these above lists as running tallies. Guys are still out there. They will still be out there after the holidays. They may still be out there into February. If the Nats are going to try to be smart, we can hold it against them if they are not.

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Off-Season Position Discussion : Relief Pitching

Was the Nats bullpen good or bad last year?  Quick. Guess. 

It was bad posting the 4th worst ERA in baseball.

The Nats best relievers put up some ok ERAs.  Hunter Harvey (MY BOY!) was clearly the best of the lot throwing to a 2.82 ERA, but Kyle Finnegan and Jordan Weems had perfectly ok ERAs in the high mid 3.00s. And Carl Edwards Jr was doing around the same before his injury limited him to 30 innings this year.  But outside of this there was almost nothing to look to. The Nats had a lot of bad relievers pitch for them last year. Mason Thompson, Andres Machado, and Cory Abbott threw the 4th, 5th, and 6th most innings for relievers and had 5.50, 5.22, and 6.64 ERAs respectively. Ten other guys were given innings in relief and only 1 (Robert Garcia) had an ERA under 4.76.  Only three were under 6.33.

The good news is the rotation didn't ask for that many innings. so this was no worse than it had to be, but this lack of depth presents a problem to fix for 2024.  You expect your pen to have issues. That's true for every team.  You don't expect to get into questionable areas on your 4th best arm and stock 2-3 unusable arms at any time.

The Nats have started to bridge this gap by signing Dylan Floro.  He's a guy whose stats (good control, never gives up homers, decent K rate, but does get hit) suggest a better ERA than he had last year. Yes, he gives up hits and it's not that fluky. He doesn't induce a lot of soft contact. But he does keep the ball on the ground and a .401 BABIP like he had last year is kind of crazy and unlikely to be repeated. The takeaway is the contact makes him a questionable mid-inning reliever to stop the bleeding but a decent arm to start a frame. It's not a bad gamble that he'll be something like a mid 3.00s ERA guy.

Presumed Plan : The Nats sign Dylan Floro.  NAILED IT! 

The Nats sign some cheaper guys to fill in that gap, but don't commit to that back end stopper.  Floro is one. There will probably be a number two. Anything beyond that is likely to be chaff. Minor league contract guys that they bring in because they are available for org depth.

Reasoning behind Presumed Plan : Relief pitching is usually the last thing a team addresses. This is because the cost for value is bad here and it's not that hard to find a decent arm that can throw one inning from a teams stockpile.  If you aren't competing or just about to, you let it slide and hope cheap internal alternatives show themselves. 

The Nats are not competing in 2024. 

But they won't do nothing because the bullpen was really half-terrible leaving them one injury away from disaster. Rainey coming back is good. Floro coming in is good. But the way they are talking they need at least one more Floro type. 

My Take :  Finnegan and Weems were not ok. I think they know this but they don't care. Hell they are selling Zuckerman on the fact that Machado was good when you have to parse it like "from August through mid September" to actually see that.  So this is why I have them only making one more signing even though it leaves them with a pen that is:

Harvey : Good! 

Rainey : Maybe Good but coming back from injury

Floro : Maybe good / Maybe Not good

Finnegan : Maybe good but a sneaky bad last year.

Weems : Probably Not Good

Machado : Probably Not Good


If their next signing slotted in above or after Harvey then fine, but you know it's going to be either a guy that might be good but has something against him or a guy that probably won't be good but not as terrible as the guys here.

So I think they are going to end up one arm short of a serviceable pen which leaves them at the mercy of injuries and crashes. If they had a deeper organizational depth at the position I might understand it but they don't - at least not for 2024.

But I guess I did say it would be the last thing a team looks to fix and the Nats aren't there yet so this is pretty much on schedule if a bit disappointing. 

And that's probably a take away from this entire position by position review. The Nats aren't there yet. They know it. Their moves for 2024 will reflect that and what they think about their chances for 2025. So far these still aren't moves to set up a winner, which means they are not bullish on 2025. Which means YOU shouldn't be bullish on 2025. At least right now.

The off-season is young though. Maybe they'll surprise us. And really it's not the Nats organization now that you should really want to surprise you, it's the Nats young players in the summer of 2025.

Thursday, December 07, 2023

Nick Senzel - Quick Thoughts

Not good but cheap so whatever.

The Good: 

Nick was a extremely well-thought of player coming out of college and ended up being drafted 2nd.  He was able to hit for high average through the minors before his final promotion

Nick was able to handle CF in his youth and seems to be an ok corner OF. 

The Bad : 

Nick never developed the power it was thought he would. Because they had no fear of the big hit major league pitchers didn't have to pitch around him and his decent eye was made useless.  He was left with only his contact skills but he can't make it translate into high average. 

Nick doesn't seem to be able to handle CF anymore and was always a questionable IF.  

Basically it's kicking the tires on a player to see if he really just didn't mesh with the Reds.  He's a high contact guy but the Nats are oddly full of such players and really need power. I don't like the signing but again it's cheap so as long as the Nats don't feel committed to him it's a nothing move.

Monday, December 04, 2023

Off-Season Position Discussion : Starting Pitching

In 2023 the Nats went ahead with a four pronged pitching plan

Prong 1 : Let Corbin cook. He's getting paid too much to get rid of. The Nats need innings.  Just throw him out there every 5th day. As far as the goals were set, this worked.  Corbin was bad, but not bad enough to be too bad for a bad team's rotation. He threw 30 more innings that last year and pitched to a less horrific ERA than either 2021 or 2022. 

Prong 2 : Give Trevor Williams the chance to start and trade him if he's any good. This is where the two-year deal was supposed to help bring dividends enticing other teams with another cheap year of good pitching. This one totally didn't work as Williams took the mantle as the Nats worst everyday starter - not an easy thing to do when everyone is throwing to an FIP close to 5.00.  

Prong 3 : Let the kids loose. Gray and Gore were allowed to be basically full time starters with the hope they would blossom.  They did not. Gray looked like he might and he really did cut down on the homers this season. Unfortunately at the cost of everything else. It would sort of catch up with him at the end of the year but good luck got him an AS appearance and a lower than deserved ERA.  Gore pitched better but it's hard to say the Nats were happy with the results which were firmly middle of the road. No aces here yet. 

Prong 4 : ???? The Nats originally went with Chad Kuhl who was too terrible to stick around.  Joan Adon was also given his 19th try at being a starter only to fail again*. They ended up landing on Jake Irvin who was usable.  He was a throw back to the bad old days when you'd see Tim Redding or Jason Bergmann and say "that wasn't too bad" and accept it because there were bigger problems. But he was perfectly ok for a bad team's rotation.

The Nats had one big loss, Williams' disappointment leading to no trade, and no big surprises. Young teams hope for big surprises so overall this was a bad season for the starting staff, even if it was pretty much as expected given the talent

Presumed Plan : 

Same prongs, different season. The big difference will be that there is a line of "ok, I'd like to see that guy get some time" types in the minors who should (will?) be given chances if they shine in the lower ranks.  Rutledge, Henry, Parker, Herz, Saenz.   

Reasoning behind Presumed Plan : The contracts say Corbin and Williams are here. The plan says Gore and Gray are here. The fifth spot will remain a ? with Jake Irvin given the first shot but the goal of 2024 is setting up 2025 and Irvin, William, maybe even Corbin should be on short leashes because they need to find good pitchers fast. If they don't find them internally they'll have to pay for them. 

Why won't they pay for them?  Because they are still working out if 2025 is going to be a run at bigger and better things or if this rebuild is a washout.

My Take : Sign a good pitcher. Let Williams and Corbin go. 

This is about the future clear and simple now.  Neither of these two guys is about that.  So why are they here?  To eat innings? To save relievers?  If you bring in a guy to take their place and he isn't managing to do those things, replace him with another.  It might be tough. You might find no one. But it makes more sense than sending these two out for 40% of the games through the end of July. 

As for the good pitcher.  There are a couple top notch guys they won't get in Yamamoto and Snell. I'd totally make a sell the farm run at Yamomoto but chances are everyone else will.  So what's the other choice?  I suppose Jordan Mongomery and security.  He'll still cost a pretty penny but he'll give you the performance you need. Will it be another Corbin contract? Yeah something like that but because he's not coming off his best year he'll cost a little cheaper. Look you have to take chances. The Corbin deal didn't work out long term but it did give them a title.  With no playoffs to stretch Jordan's arm he could expect to be a little more durable. 

As for Gore and Gray - they start. You hope they get better. There isn't much more than that to say. For each guy I mentioned as an up and comer, these two had more impressive resumes.  If they can from a solid 2-3-4 combo the Nats can work around that, finding/signing an ace and another mid-rotation guy from what's at hand. They are more in the 3-4-5 range. I'm more of a Gore fan than Gray (better stats and prospect evaluation) but always willing to give Gray the benefit of turning the corner when he looks good. I'm a sucker. What happens if they don't get any better?  I'm not sure. They probably still both remain in the rotation but it's hard to envision a playoff rotation forming in this situation. It will take a big commitment (re: $$$$)

*To be fair to Joan he really isn't much worse that any of the guys that started but with bad luck and no pedigree.