Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Ask Collier: first mailbag of the 2018-19 off-season!

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The off season all revolves around Harper.  Photo via GQ Magazine

The off season all revolves around Harper. Photo via GQ Magazine

Hey there!  If its the Nat’s off-season, it must mean mail bag time.  We havn’t seen one from MLB.com beat reporter Jamal Collier in a while (what, was he busy or something? :-) but now we get one with some good discussion-generating questions.

Here’s how i’d answer the questions he took.


 

Q: As a fan of the great outfield we had at the end of the year. Are the Nationals considering trading Adam Eaton if they resign Bryce Harper?

A: Indeed, an outfield of Soto, Eaton, and Harper is pretty awesome, if (biiiiig if) all are healthy and producing at optimal levels.  And the on top of that we have a top-5 prospect in all of baseball Victor Robles who no longer can be kept in the minors.  So that’s four solid players who all would start for any team in this league on one team.  So what do we do?

Well … only one of these four guys is a Free Agent: Harper

And, only one of these guys is projected to make a ridiculous, franchise altering amount of money in free agency: Harper.

Harper has played for 7 nearly full-seasons: he has a total bWAR figure for his career is 27.4.   That’s an average of 3.9 bWAR per season.  Yes he had a monster 10 win season in his MVP season of 2015, but he’s also lost huge portions of several seasons to injury.  And that has to be part of the conversation when you consider whether you commit $200M to him for the next 7 years.

For me the answer is easy.  Juan Soto will make the MLB minimum (or near to it) next year; call it $600k.  He generated 3.0 bWAR in 116 games, which projects to a 4.1 Win season with 162 games.  I’d rather pay Soto $600k to give the team the same expected level of production as Harper would for 30-TIMES more money.   You let Harper walk, you go to war in 2019 with Soto in left, Robles in center, Eaton in right, finally have three outfields all in the “right” positions defensively, and then deal with a 4th outfielder from internal candidates.

NOW.  Letting a tranformative player like Harper go is … well its an “above the GM” decision.  Not only because of the impact on payroll, but because of his role with the team.  He’s a massively marketable star, transformative not just for the team but for the sport of professional baseball.  His $30M/year salary (or whatever he wants) is not just about payroll; you can’t put a price tag on the marketability of a player of his stature and what it means for the team.  He puts “butts in the seats.”  He is in national commercial ad campaigns.  He’s a foil (for better or for worse) across the sport.  Do you just let a guy like this walk?  They’re getting basically *nothing* back for him (a compensation pick between the 4th and 5th rounds, thanks to the criminally poor job the team did in managing the luxury cap over the last two years), so that barely factors into the discussion.

Now, lets say, for the sake of argument, that the team does re-sign Harper.  Yeah for me, if you re-sign Harper, you’re going to have to move either Eaton or Robles.  So … which do you move?   Eaton, like Harper, has been just crushed by injury the last two years, producing a fraction of his value the 3 years prior.  So even though he’s still quite affordable, trading him this off-season would be trading pretty low.  Robles is still the unknown; yeah he’s an amazing prospect, but is he going to have a Juan Soto-like 2019?  Robles can be the centerpiece of a trade that could return a significant player in an area of need for this team (mid-level Starter or quality starting Catcher).  Would you prefer to go that route?

For me; i’m on record.  I want to part ways with Harper, field a starting OF that costs less than half of a one-year Harper salary figure and allocate his projected payroll towards other areas of need.

Collier echos my concerns about trading Eaton low, but also notes that … well this is THE decision that the team faces, probably the biggest one in a decade.  We can’t know until the Harper decision is made.


Q: What’s Michael A. Taylor’s future with this team?

A: For me, despite Michael Taylorawesome 2017 season, he’s reverted back to form.  He’s a 4th outfielder.  Great defensively, poor offensively.  Can play all three OF positions, plays CF excellently.  But he still strikes out 33% of the time and cannot be trusted.  After his 2018, its not like he has real trade value, and he’s now also arbitration eligible so he’s not exactly cheap.  Is he a non-tender candidate?  Probably not, but assuming the team goes with my plan of letting Harper walk and going with a starting OF of Soto-Robles-Eaton, then for me Taylor is an ideal 4th and competes in the spring with Andrew Stevenson for that role.  He should win it, then be coupled with a corner-OF bench bat type who can play LF in a pinch.

Honestly, you learned everything you needed to know by looking at the amount of playing time Taylor got this past September once Robles came up.  Almost none.

Now, if the team reasigns Harper?  I don’t think much changes; the team moves either Eaton or Robles, still leaving Taylor as the 4th.

Collier thinks they’ll explore moving him “before his trade value falls anymore.” Uh … too late dude!


 

Q: Who are the free agent starting pitchers that Nationals will attempt to sign?

A: Taking a quick gander at the list of available starters …  there’s all kinds of interesting names.  Who knows who they may end up with.

Lets start with, what do they need?  They’re keeping Scherzer, Strasburg, Roark, and Ross.  They can either go to war with a 5th starter like Fedde or McGowin or Voth or Jefry Rodriguez, or look at free agency to improve the back end.  I’d love to get a 3rd starter-quality guy to slot in behind the big two, then hope for a better season from Roark (something closer to 2016 than 2018), and hope for Ross to come back to what we know he’s capable of.  That’s a potentially solid rotation for me.

We also might be focusing on a lefty, since Gio Gonzalez was our only lefty starter.  But I don’t think that should be a huge factor honestly.  The team needs to find the best value and availability.

I don’t see them pursuing a $20M/year guy.  Not with the amount of money already going to their two #1 starters and certainly not given the possibilty of their re-signing Harper.

So, lets think about middle-of-the road lefty veteran starters.  How about someone like a Jaime Garcia, or Hyung-Jin Ryu?

If they can’t land a lefty, there’s a slew of interesting names out there that are righties.  I like Nathan EovaldiWade Miley, Garrett Richards.

Collier hedges and says the obvious; we won’t know until they decide what they’re doing with Harper.  Yeah i get it.  He mentions that Patrick Corbin is probably out of the conversation (duh; he’ll be like the 4th most expensive player this off-season) and mentions re-upping with Jeremy Hellicksonwhich I don’t think happens b/c he pitched himself into a decent sized contract..  Its also worth mentioning; maybe the team goes the trade route, which opens up the realm of possibles to half the league’s starters if they’re willing to give up Robles or Carter Kieboom in trade.


 

Q: At what point will the Nats start looking for a more durable first baseman? Zim has averaged only 100 games a season over the last five years.

A:  Uh, the second Ryan Zimmerman isn’t guaranteed 8 figures a year?  And, by the way, what is this guy missing with the current roster construction?  We were nearly to the point of an 1980s Orioles John Lowenstein/Gary Roenecke type platoon this year between Zimmerman and the lefty hitting Matt Adams.  The team is already mitigating Zimmerna’s annual health issues with a backup.

And guess what?  They’ll do it again this off-season.  Look for the team to sign another Adams clone, someone like Lucas Duda or Steve Pearce or Pedro Alvarez.  Heck, maybe they’ll re-sign Adams.

Collier basically says the same thing I did.


Q: Will Riz let Difo and Kieboom fight it out for 2b in spring training or will he look for a veteran 2b, using Kendrick in a super utility role?

A: The question probably should have read: “Wil Rizzo let Difo and Howie Kendrick fight it out…”  Because Kieboom aint’ making this team in 2019.  For one, he’s never played 2B professionally.  Not that its a heavy lift going from SS to 2B (it isn’t) .. but he’s also just 60-some games removed from A-Ball.  Kieboom needs to go from the AFL back to AA and return his OPS figures back to the .880 level before even being considered for AAA.

Honestly, I think the team goes with Kendrick (assuming he’s recovered from his bad achilles injury) as the starter, with Difo as the utility guy.  Thanks to Kendrick’s injury and Daniel Murphy‘s prolonged recovery, Difo was essentially a starter this year.  And he did not impress, his average dropping 40 points from where it was last year.  I think that cements his status as a backup utility infielder who can cover middle infield positions in a pinch.  I’m glad we have someone on the bench who can at least hit at a 75 OPS+ figure; lets not push it.

That being said, for me Kieboom is the future here.  I think he might be ready after a half a season, and at that point you bring him up and slot him in at 2B.  He could eventually move to 3B if the team cannot retain Anthony Rendon, or can stay at 2B and be a Jeff Kent-style slugger.  I’d love to see that come together and have him join Soto and Robles as the core of the next generation of this team.

Collier thinks the team might look elsewhere for a starting 2B.  I think they can make-do from within and not waste money chasing another  Murphy replacement.

 

My 2018 End-of-Season Awards Predictions

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Another season, another MVP runner-up for Trout at the behest of another player? PHoto via redsox life

Another season, another MVP runner-up for Trout at the behest of another player? PHoto via redsox life

Hi there.  Its time to write about the “silly season” of baseball.   Its my annual awards predictor piece.

Here’s my predictions for how the awards will go.  Important note: This is not necessarily how I believe the awards should go, it is how I think the current electorate will vote …  though I do tend to believe that the MVP award in particular is not just about naming the WAR leader in the league.  And I also tend to favor giving a pitcher the Cy Young and a non-pitcher the MVP.  But feel free to discuss in the comments if you think i’m wrong.  I can be argumentative either way :-)

How do I think the voting will go?

  • AL MVP: Betts
  • NL MVP: Yelich
  • AL Cy Young: Snell
  • NL Cy Young: Scherzer
  • AL Rookie: Ohtani
  • NL Rookie: Acuna
  • AL Manager: Melvin (Oakland)
  • NL Manager: Snitker (Atlanta)

 

Discussion/Reasoning

  • AL MVP: Mookie Betts is the best player on the best team, always a good place to start with MVP thoughts.  Yes, once again Mike Trout is having a phenomenal year, and once again he toils on the West Coast and for a team out of the playoff race.  I’m eternally sympathetic to those who think MVP should not include team performance … and i’m perennially finding myself agreeing with “old school” sentiments that ask a simple question; how can you be the most valuable player when your team isn’t a factor for most of the year.   Also in the mix would be Betts’ teammate J.D. Ramirez, the Oakland phenomenon Matt Chapman, Houston WAR leader Alex Bregman, and Cleveland stars Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor.  My personal hedge statement here: I’d be rather surprised if Betts did not win.
  • NL MVP: Christian Yelich has really exploded late in the season to put his name into this discussion.  But the question may end up being this: is this one of those weird years where no dominant, obvious position player candidate steps up and thus the award goes to a pitcher?  I’d suggest this might be possible … except that the top 3-4 pitching candidates all play for non-playoff teams.  And that doesn’t match the narrative.  I’m going to go with Yelich, then the top NL pitchers right behind him, with perhaps Javier Baez,  Nolan Arenado and Freddie Freeman getting some votes as their respective “best player on a playoff team” status.  Coincidentally … did you know that Anthony Rendon is 2nd in the NL in fWAR behind Yelich?  I certainly didn’t.  Personal Hedge statement: I’d still be shocked if a pitcher for a non-playoff team won here, and would find it hard to vote for one of these other position players mentioned.
  • AL Cy Young: Blake Snell.   This might be an interesting case of whether you’re wow’d by conventional stats or not.  Snell has a sub 2.00 ERA, but he’s doing it thanks to a ridiculously low BABIP, which drags down is fWAR and puts him well down the league leader list.  Meanwhile in bWAR … he’s the top AL pitcher, ahead of his competition for this award.  I think the fact that he’s put up the numbers that he has playing in the AL East and having fully 25% of his starts this year come against Boston and the Yankees is pretty amazing.  I’d vote Snell.  Also in the mix here: Verlander, Cole, Sale, Kluber, Bauer.  Personal Hedge: wouldn’t be surprised if this went to Verlander or Sale instead.
  • NL Cy Young.  Max Scherzer  Yes i’m convinced that his broaching the 300k mark put him over the top, despite the unbelievable season that Jacob deGrom had.  I could be wrong; maybe the electorate has now advanced to the point where they recognize that a guy who finished 10-9 was indeed the best pitcher of the year.  We’ll see.  Either way, I sense these guys go 1-2.  After them, look for Aaron Nola Kyle Freeland, and Patrick Corbin.  Personal Hedge: deGrom is getting enough “holy cow look at this season” buzz that it wouldn’t really surprise me if he won.  And he’d be completely deserving.
  • AL Rookie: Shohei Ohtani: it shouldn’t be close honestly.  He had a 4.0 WAR season, clubbing more than 20 homers and looking pretty darn solid on the mound before the inevitable elbow injury derailed his season and cost him 60 games or so.   Only Gleybar Torres is close; this should be a unanimous vote and I hope Ohtani comes back from injury sooner than later.  Personal Hedge: a vote against Ohtani is really a bad one honestly.
  • NL Rookie: Ronald Acuna; its Acuna or Juan Soto, both of whom had historic seasons at a young age.   Acuna’s monster September pushes him over the top, and his stat line for the season is just slightly better than Soto’s, despite the missed time.  By narrative, Soto would have this hands-down though; he advanced from Low-A to putting up a 4-win season as a 19yr old, has had perhaps the 2nd or 3rd best teen-aged season in the long history of our game, and might have been in the MVP race had the Nats won the division.  Hedge: I begrudgingly have to admit that Acuna is slightly better, and rookie status isn’t given context (ie, its not part of the equation that Soto started the year in Low-A and Acuna was in AAA and a known #1 overall prospect).
  • AL Manager: hard not to say that Bob Melvin‘s performance taking an expected also-ran to nearly 100 wins isn’t the Mgr of the year.  He’s on his like 18th starter of the year, he’s winning with a bunch of non-prospects, he’s turned trash into treasure (Blake Treinen).
  • NL Manager: Brian Snitker, who took the NL east by 8 games in a complete surprise based on nearly every pundit’s pre-season predictions.  No other NL playoff team was really this big of a “surprise” so he gets it.

 


Actual Award Results added as they were awarded (updated post-publishing)

  • AL MVP: 
  • NL MVP:
  • AL Cy Young:
  • NL Cy Young:
  • AL Rookie:
  • NL Rookie:
  • AL Manager: 
  • NL Manager:

My prediction results: tbd

Links to other awards that I didn’t predict this year (again, updated post-publishing as they’re announced)

Other links to awards worth noting


 

Post-2018 Season Payroll Analysis; how much will we have to spend?

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Hope that Wieters contract was worth it; its the reason we're over the cap 2x years running. Photo via District On Deck

Hope that Wieters contract was worth it; its the reason we’re over the cap 2x years running. Photo via District On Deck

Note! thanks to Wally for pointing out I had Strasburg and Scherzer Luxury tax figures wrong.  I’ve updated the tables and the calculations… it made a significant difference.

Inspired by this series from John Sickels at minorleagueball.com, here’s a first pass related to what this team may do this coming off-season.

In order to know what we need to do, we kinda need to know how much money we have to play with.

In 2018, despite a sell-off of salaries at the trade deadline and into August (which resulted in roughly $8M in payroll saved for this year), the team wasn’t able to stay under the luxury tax for the season.  2018’s luxury tax payroll figure was $197M, and at the end of all the machinations … we were still several million over.

Cots tries to do the ridiculous payroll accounting to figure out how much over or under a team is on payroll; their Nats 2018 calcs are here.   The key point of looking this up is this: the annual payroll figure is not just about player salaries; it has to include Player Benefits too.  So 2018’s Benefit figure was roughly $14M and 2019’s will be $14.5M.  So we have to remember to take this figure back later on when figuring out how much money the team has to spend…

Here’s the list of FAs coming off the 40-man from this year (if they havn’t already done so) and their 2018 salary:

  • Bryce Harper, $21M
  • Daniel Murphy, $17.5M (waived, traded)
  • Gio Gonzalez: $12M (traded)
  • Matt Wieters, $10.5M
  • Ryan Madsen: $7.6M (traded)
  • Shawn Kelley, $5.5M (DFA’d, traded)
  • Matt Adams: $4M (waived, traded)
  • Joaquin Benoit: $1M
  • Kelvin Herrera: $4.4M remaining
  • Jeremy Hellickson: $2-$6M depending on incentives (use $4M in total)
  • Mark Reynolds: $? but probably $1.5M or so
  • Brandon Knitzler $5M (traded)
  • Tim Collins: (nominal)
  • Tommy Milone: (nominal)
  • Miguel Montero: $1.3M (released in April)

total payroll savings: roughly $95M …. but we’re not going to have *nearly* that much in free cash for 2019.  Read on.

There’s three factors involved.  Using the invaluable Cots payroll tracker, but accounting for “real” dollars versus what Cots lists for players (which is their luxury tax figure that has annualized shares of bonuses paid), here’s how I think things are rolling for this team’s payroll in 2019:

#1. Payroll Commitments for those signed for 2019 (i.e. non-arb eligibles): $81.4M in “real” dollars, $90M in luxury tax/cap dollars:

PlayerCurrent or 2019 Contract2018 Luxury tax2018 Real2019 Lux Tax2019 Real dollars
Scherzer, Max7yr/$210M (15-21), half deferred22142857150000002868937615000000
Strasburg, Stephen7yr/$175M (17-23), half deferred18333333150000002500000030000000
Zimmerman, Ryan6 yr/$100M (14-19)+20 opt 14000000140000001800000018000000
Eaton, Adam5 years/$23.5M (2015-19), options6000000600000084000008400000
Doolittle, Sean5ry/$10.5M plus options4350000435000060000006000000
Kendrick, Howie2yr/$7M (2018-19)3500000350000040000004000000
68326190578500009008937681400000

There’s a delta between what Scherzer and Strasburg are scheduled to be paid in actual 2019 dollars versus luxury tax calculated dollars, but thanks to ridiculously bad payroll management at the edges of the cap this team has now gone over two years in a row, and there’s just no way they’ll go over in 2019.  So we’ll use the cap numbers for calcs.

#2. Arbitration Eligibles for 2019.  I count 6 players (as does Cots right now), but I’m not sure if someone like Justin Miller got enough service time to qualify.   For now we’ll use these 6.  I estimate $35M in total payroll.

PlayerCurrent or 2019 Contract2018 Luxury tax2018 Real2019 Lux Tax2019 Real dollars  
Rendon, Anthony1 yr/$12.3M (18)12300000123000001500000015000000
Roark, Tanner1 yr/$6.475M (18)6475000647500085000008500000
Taylor, Michael1 yr/$2.525M (18)2525000252500045000004500000
Turner, Trea1 yr/$0.5772M (18)57720057720030000003000000
Ross, Joe1 yr/$0.5679M (18)56790056790025000002500000
Solis, Sammy1 yr/$0.5603M (18)56030056030015000001500000

This might go up or down slightly, especially if i’m wrong about Miller, or if the team non-tenders Sammy Solis (a distinct possibility).  I don’t see the other 5 arb-eligible players as non-tender candidates.  You may quibble with my arb salary estimates; Rendon might be a bit low.  Roark may be a bit low too but he had a middling 2019 honestly.  Ross‘ figure may be generous given his lost season to injury.  Do I have Turner’s first year figure too low based on what he’s done?  He was so much flashier in 2017 than 2018; is he worth more?  Maybe this figure at the end of the day is closer to $40M.

#3. Pre-Arb players.  Thanks to the massive shedding of veterans, right now 21 of our 33 40-man players are pre-arb players.  And they’re on or near MLB-min salaries.

PlayerCurrent or 2019 Contract2018 Luxury tax2018 Real2019 Lux Tax2019 Real dollars 
Fedde, Erick1yr Minor League deal (18)555000555000
Miller, Justin1yr Minor League deal (18)555000555000
Grace, Matt1yr Minor League deal (18)555000555000
Suero, Wander1yr Minor League deal (18)555000555000
Glover, Koda1yr Minor League deal (18)555000555000
Cordero, Jimmy1yr Minor League deal (18)555000555000
Williams, Austen1yr Minor League deal (18)555000555000
Kieboom, Spencer1yr Minor League deal (18)555000555000
Severino, Pedro1yr Minor League deal (18)555000555000
Difo, Wilmer1yr Minor League deal (18)555000555000
Sanchez, Adrian1yr Minor League deal (18)555000555000
Soto, Juan1yr Minor League deal (18)555000555000
Robles, Victor1yr Minor League deal (18)555000555000
Rodriguez, Jefry1yr Minor League deal (18)
Voth, Austin1yr Minor League deal (18)
McGowin, Dustin1yr Minor League deal (18)
Adams, Austin1yr Minor League deal (18)
Gott, Trevor1yr Minor League deal (18)
Read, Raudy1yr Minor League deal (18)
Reynolds, Matt1yr Minor League deal (18)
Stevenson, Andrew1yr Minor League deal (18)

If 2019 started tomorrow, 13 of these guys would make the opening day roster, costing the team roughly $7.2M in payroll.

So if you add up these figures;

  • 2019 Veterans under contract: $90M
  • 2019 Arb players: $35M
  • 2019 pre-arb players: $7.2M
  • 2019 Player Benefit estimate: $14.5M
  • Total: $146.7M or there abouts.

The 2019 luxury cap for payroll is $206M.  $206M less $146.7 = $59.3M.  wow, that’s not a bad amount to work with.  Even if I’m wildly conservative with arb figures and they cost $10M more, that’s still $50M of FA dollars to spend.

Does this look about right to you guys?

In the next post we’ll talk about what this $59.3M can buy us … but one things seems rather certain.  If the team allocates $30M of it or so to Bryce Harper …. there’s not going to be a lotta room to buy what this team needs to buy (pitching, a catcher, a couple relievers and a couple of bench bats).  But we’ll expand on this later….

Written by Todd Boss

September 26th, 2018 at 10:53 am

Posted in Nats in General

2019 Draft Race to the Bottom; we have a winner!

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MLB_Draft_Logo.0

Its that time of year; for all the non-playoff contenders, the last few weeks of September are for “showing some fight” and “making a run to build on for the next season.”

In reality, wins in September for a lost team are really only good for one thing: “costing your team spots in the 2019 draft.”

Luckily for one team though this year … the #1 draft pick in 2019 is already sewn up.  The Baltimore Orioles, the pride and joy of Peter Angelos and the major’s best (and most expensive) team back in the mid 1990s … has officially bottomed out in a way that not even the Houston Astros could accomplish.

As of this writing (9/20/18) they sit at 44-108, a .289 W/L percentage.  They sti an astounding 59 games out of first place.  They project to around 46-47 wins, which means the 2003 Detroit Tigers’ ignominious record is safe.  But they’re still projecting to be one of the worst teams in the history of the 162-game era.

Baltimore currently has an 8 game “lead” for the #1 overall draft pick.  Amazingly, Kansas City sits at #2 … and they have nearly as large of a lead for that pick over the next worst teams.

So, how about our Nats?  After selling off and waving the white flag (a few weeks too late, and without getting under the damn luxury tax threshold so why did they bother but thats a different story for a different post), the Nats as of this writing sit at 77-75, projecting to 82-83 wins.  They sit precisely in the middle of the 1st round: 15th overall pick (technically they are the 14th worst team, but Atlanta will get the 9th overall pick thanks to blowing their negotiations earlier this summer with Carter Stewart).  Thanks to the machinations of the standings, its likely that irrespective of how they play out the string, they’ll pick no better than 14th overall in the 1st (and 13th of 30 there on) and no worse than 18th overall in the 1st (and 17th of 30 there after).

So, that’s not bad.  They’ve picked in that general area a few times just in the past few years actually.

  • In 2012 they picked 16th overall and got Lucas Giolito.
  • In 2014 they picked 18th overall and got Erick Fedde

I guess the consolation prize for this year is a slightly better shot at a good arm in that 14-18 overall pick range.

Written by Todd Boss

September 20th, 2018 at 9:24 am

Romero: I’m not the kinda guy to say I told you so …

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Hopefully you recognize the title of this post as a quote from one of the most entertaining movies of all time, "Midnight Run."

Hopefully you recognize the title of this post as a quote from one of the most entertaining movies of all time, “Midnight Run.”

News that should surprise practically nobody who follows Nats prospects dropped over the Labor Day weekend: 2017 lightning rod 1st rounder Seth Romero will likely miss the *entirety* of the 2019 season as he undergoes Tommy John surgery.

Just to recap Romero’s stellar tenure with the Nats thus far:

  • He gets kicked off his college team, multiple times for multiple different knuckle head moves (drugs, curfew, fighting with teammates, etc)
  • The Nats telegraph their 2017 first round pick to basically every draft-predicting pundit and select Romero with the 25th overall pick in the 1st round.
  • They pay him an *over slot* bonus for some fool reason, despite the fact that he (like a college senior) has no college team to return to.
  • He throws just 22 professional innings in 2017, including six short-A starts with a (short sample size ugly ERA of 5.40).
  • He’s sent home from spring training for “multiple team rule violations,” and misses fully two months of the 2018 minor league season.
  • He finally debuts in 2018 in Low-A (a 1st rounder of his stature should be in at least High-A in his first full pro season), throws 6 starts of 3.91 ERA.
  • He hits the D/L in early July, misses another 6 weeks
  • Comes back mid-August, throws 2 innings, is removed from the game … and then three weeks later we find out about his TJ.

Grand total pro starts to this point: 14 (two of which were of the 2-inning “pseudo start” varieties).  Age he’ll be in spring training 2020 when he’s ready to go again?  23, turning 24 as soon as the 2020 season starts.

Extent to which this entire situation has blown up in the Nats’ faces: very high.

I’m really beginning to question this group’s ability to execute on first rounders in the new CBA.  I focus on the 1st rounders because, really, that’s where you spend the most money and that’s really the one pick you cannot afford to screw up.  Here’s the Nats first picks since the new CBA went into effect:

  • 2012: Giolito, Renda, Mooneyham
  • 2013: No 1st rounder, Johansen, Ward
  • 2014: Fedde, Suarez (who didn’t sign), Reetz
  • 2015: No 1st rounder, Stevenson, Perkins, Wisemann
  • 2016: Kieboom, Dunning, Neuse, Luzardo
  • 2017: Romero, Crowe, Raquet
  • 2018: Denaburg, Cate, Schaller

I’m sorry, but tell me which of these sets of players is a “success?”  2012?  Nope; Giolito may pan out, maybe not, but he’s been at best the definition of inconsistent in 2018 … and for another team.  2013?  Absolutely not.  2014?  Fedde looks like maybe a 5th starter right now and Suarez didn’t sign; how do you not sign a 2nd rounder under the modern draft rules?  2015?  A 5th outfielder, a guy who may have peaked in low-A and a corner org-guy.  That’s not a win.

2016 looks pretty damn good … except that three of these four players were traded to other teams to make up for other team deficiencies!  Dunning is projecting like a mid-rotation guy perhaps, Neuse looks solid, but Luzardo is now being called perhaps the best lefty prospect in the minors.  All gone.  At least they managed to retain Kieboom.  But its ironic that perhaps their best draft in the last 7 years essentially ends up benefiting primarily other teams.  Ok, yes that’s unfair given that we traded these guys to get assets to help us now, but its worth noting that the two guys we flipped Neuse and Luzardo for are now traded and injured, and the guy we acquired for Dunning (and others) missed essentially the entirety of 2017.  Yeah you can’t predict injuries, blah, blah, but given how 2018 has turned out don’t you wish you had these moves back at this point?  Do you think this team would have done any differently in 2017 and 2018 without those moves?  Just a thought.

2017?  Crowe looks like a great pick.  Nothing personal against Raquet, but I hated the pick when it happened, and he’s done little to impress since.  In High-A this year he struck out just 36 guys in 55 innings, had a .319 Batting average against (giving up an astounding 72 hits in 55 innings) and finished the season with a 4.91 ERA (greatly helped by his managing to throw a 1-hit shut out his last start).  I mean, where do you go from here with him?  He’s not a starter; do you dump him to the bullpen and have him repeat High-A?

2018?  Obviously too soon to pass judgement, but where the hell is Denaburg?  He got assigned to the GCL team in mid July and never appeared.  Cate ended the year in the low-A rotation, which would normally indicate a nice season, but he posted ugly ERAs in both Short-A and Low-A with mediocre peripherals.  Schaller was drafted as a reliever but stretched out as a starter professionally and struggled; a 5.90 ERA and just 16 Ks in 29 short-A innings.  Not good.


Conclusion: I’m not sure this front office can draft anymore.  And after watching them him and haw at the trade deadline and then eventually get little to no return for departing vets, i’m not sure they are effectively managing things either.  And lastly, having the GM come in and trade away two veteran players in order to save his rookie manager’s face smacks of having your big older brother come in and slug the neighborhood bullies because you’re too weak to handle your own problems.

All in all, not a very good 2018.  I’ve been a defender of Mike Rizzo in the past, but a lot of these moves are reminders that  he has some weaknesses as an overall GM.  He’s now on his 6th manager in 10 years in charge (Acta, Riggleman, Johnson, Williams, Baker and now Martinez, not counting a few interim games post-Riggleman resignation).  He’s clearly struggling to handle the draft correctly.  Scott Boras routinely goes over his head to management to make bad moves (its no surprise that Romero was a Boras client), and as a result of poor roster construction they’ve gutted the farm system over the past few years only to completely lose the plot in 2018, the year they were supposed to win it all.

At what point do you really question the direction of this team under Rizzo?

 

Nats (finally) wave the white flag

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The Nats drop kicked Murphy to Chicago. photo via federalbaseball.com

The Nats drop kicked Murphy to Chicago. photo via federalbaseball.com

It feels like perhaps it was 3 weeks too late … but today the Nats started trading away whoever they could get through waivers for whatever they could get in return.

Moved so far: Daniel Murphy and Matt Adams.

Apparently not moving due to negotiations: Bryce Harper (you gotta hang on to that supplemental 4th round pick you’re picking up for him!).

Still worth moving: all our other FAs to be, which are Matt Wieters, Gio Gonzalez, Ryan Madsen, Joaquin Benoit (a great use of payroll he was), Kelvin HerreraJeremy Hellickson, and Mark Reynolds.  And maybe Tim Collins and Tommy Milone too.

I’m not sure how much you could get back for any in that last group; maybe someone wants to take a flier on Hellickson or Herrera.  Reynolds could be a bench bat for some contender once the rosters expand.  The rest are either at replacement level or hurt.

I’d like to take this time to note just how much payroll is coming off the books for the coming off-season FA period:  $94M.  That’s right: $94M.

  • – Bryce Harper, $21M
  • – Daniel Murphy, $17.5M (waived, traded)
  • – Gio Gonzalez: $12M
  • – Matt Wieters, $10.5M
  • – Ryan Madsen: $7.6M
  • – Shawn Kelley, $5.5M (DFA’d)
  • – Matt Adams: $4M (waived, traded)
  • – Joaquin Benoit: $1M
  • – Kelvin Herrera: $4.4M remaining
  • – Jeremy Hellickson: $2-$6M depending on incentives (use $4M in total)
  • – Mark Reynolds: $? but probably $1.5M or so
  • – Brandon Knitzler $5M (traded)

Add that up and even with my middle of the road estimates for Hellickson and Reynolds its $94M.  That’s an awful lot of money.  And it doesn’t include the random MLFA signings who have since come up to the majors and may have had split contracts (Tim Collins, Tommy Milone in particular).

And here’s what your 25-man roster looks like for 2019, right now, with no additional acquisitions:

SP: Scherzer, Strasburg, Roark, Ross, JRodriguez/Fedde
RP: Doolittle*, JMiller, Grace*, Suero, Glover, Cordero, Adams, Solis*
C: SKieboom, Solano
INF: Turner, Rendon, Zimmerman, Kendrick, Difo, Sanchez
OF: Soto, Eaton, Robles, Taylor

Admit it, that’s not half bad.  Remember, Joe Ross was pretty darn good before he got hurt and before the team yo-yo’d him for no good reason at the beginning of 2017.   I’ll take that outfield, with Michael Taylor as a 4th outfielder/defensive replacement.  Did you forget we had Howie Kendrick?  I’ll take him starting at 2B to get his solid bat in the lineup in the #7 hole.

So the bullpen looks a little rough, and nobody trusts that 5th starter spot, and yes that’s a big black hole at Catcher.  But $94M should be able to buy fixes for those holes right?

Written by Todd Boss

August 21st, 2018 at 3:37 pm

Posted in Nats in General

Braves at Nats: this is the 2018 season-deciding series

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Can Milone get another win? Photo: Tom Priddy/Four Seam Images/milb.com

Can Milone get another win? Photo: Tom Priddy/Four Seam Images/milb.com

So, despite winning 5 of 6 over the past week against two teams that havn’t really been trying for years, the Nats …. failed to make up a single game on Philly and head into the Atlanta series 6 games out.

That’s because Philly was also playing a team that isn’t really trying (Miami), and just finished off a nifty 4-game sweep at home.

But hey, at least the Nats scored 3 touchdowns in a game, driving their RS/RA average so far up that now by Pythagorean record they’re leading the division by two games!  You know, in that fantasy world of stat nerds that nobody cares about but which I’ve been guilty of pointing at myself and saying, “See!  they’re just unlucky and will win more soon!”

So here it is.  I’ve already basically written off the season … but hey, maybe if the team plays a 22-7 August … and both Atlanta and Philly scuffle along at .500 … they can get close.  But to play a 22-7 august … they need to take 3 of 4 against Atlanta this week.

Here’s the pitching match-ups they’ll go to war with:

  • Game 1: Max Fried versus Jefry Rodriguez.  Hmm.  Not a good start, having to call up a guy who has now fallen behind Tommy Milone on the depth chart.  I see the Braves jumping out to a quick 4 run lead and the “veteran leadership” packing it in early to regroup for the nightcap.
  • Game 2: Sean Newcomb vs Max Scherzer.  Scherzer will probably be unhittable, but Newcomb nearly threw a no-hitter against the Dodgers his last time out.  I see this as a close Nats win.
  • Game 3: Mike Foltynewicz vs Tommy Milone: Atlanta’s best pitcher in 2018 versus the Nats … #10 starter?  #9?  Foltynewicz has already started against the Nats four times, throwing a 2-hit shutout against them in June (albeit in Atlanta).  Odds are he’ll give up a few runs on the road against the Nats … can Milone keep up his magic show?
  • Game 4: Anibel Sanchez vs Gio Gonzalez.  Sanchez has been pretty good.  Gio has not.   Any guesses how I think this one will go?

So, you squint at these match-ups and … well a series split seems like an optimistic outcome.  Frankly, I could see just winning the Scherzer start and the other starters getting bombed by Atlanta’s youthful, powerful lineup.

The Phillies head to Arizona (tough), then to San Diego (not so tough) … but a 2-2 or even a 1-3 series here could really spell the end of it.

how are you feeling, heading into this series?

 

 

Written by Todd Boss

August 6th, 2018 at 4:33 pm

Strasburg to DL again; is this the official white flag?

66 comments

"My Neck hurts." "Oh yeah, something always frigging hurts with you, you snowflake." -- photo via WP

“My Neck hurts.” “Oh yeah, something always frigging hurts with you, you snowflake.” — photo via WP

At some point, you have to stop performing CPR and just call it.

I wonder if we’re at that point.  Today we learned that #2 starter Stephen “the Orchid” Strasburg is heading back to the D/L for what will be his 50th* career D/L trip (* estimated).  I just don’t see how this team goes on the run it needs without one of its best starters.

Even given Tanner Roark‘s wonderful start yesterday, the team (as of this writing) sits at 50-51.  They’re 7 games out of the Division lead, 5.5 games out of the WC, and face a massive uphill climb to make the playoffs.

To get to 90 wins (often regarded in the 2-wild card system as the minimum you’ll need) the team needs to go 40-21 in its remaining games.  That’s a .622 W/L percentage.  I suppose they could go on a 20-7 rampage like they did in May and make it up… but it seems less likely the longer this season goes along.

Of their remaining 61 games…

  • 7 against Atlanta
  • 9 against Philly
  • 7 against the Cubs
  • 7 against the Cardinals
  • 3 more against Milwaukee
  • 3 in Colorado to end the season

So that’s 36 of the remaining 61 games against teams that I think are patently better than us.  And we’ll have to play .622 ball against them AND hold serve against the scrubs we’re playing too.

Oh, and now we’re doing it with, by my count, our #9 starter in Tommy Milone called up.  Scherzer, Strasburg, Gio, Roark, Hellickson, Fedde, JRodriguez, Voth ahead of him in the pecking order.  I’m sure things will go great; lest you forget, Milone’s ERA in 2017 was 8.56 in 27 innings.  Actually, with an ERA like that, he’ll fit right into this team.

So yes, the Braves have scuffled recently and the Phillies are treading water.  And yes our Pythag record shows we’re better than 50-51.  All fair points.  But we’re nearly to August and are still playing .500 ball, with no signs of getting better.

And, as become apparent this week, thanks to the Nats doing such a bang-up job with payroll management this year, they snuck over the luxury tax threshold so the comp pick they’ll get for a once-in-a-generation player leaving next year via FA in Bryce Harper will be … voila!  A supplemental 4th rounder??  Are you frigging kidding me?  That’s all we’ll get by offering him a Qualifying Offer??  Wow, that Matt Wieters contract just keeps looking better and better doesn’t it?  I sure hope Scott Boras enjoys the boat he bought off of that commission that he screwed the Nats out of.  Can someone change the Lerner’s cell phone number so Boras can’t go over Mike Rizzo‘s head to make bad deals any more?

Nats should trade Harper and hope to get a MLB top 100 pick for the rental.  They should also shop around basically every other guy set to leave in FA.  That means Murphy, Gio, Madsen, Wieters, Kelley, heck lets through in Benoit and Reynolds and Adams and all the one-year MLFAs we’ve got too.   Its bargain basement shopping time in DC.  First come, first served.

Will this leadership team admit defeat and make these trades?  Probably not.  They’ll probably do something dumb in the next few days like trade a top prospect for 2 months of a dead-arm starter or a catcher we can just go buy next off-season with the $80M of saved payroll.   They’ll leverage the farm system yet again so they can be an 86 win team instead of an 81 win team.

But I could be wrong.  We’ll see what happens.

ps: I managed to write this whole post without mentioning the manager.  My stance is as clear now as it was the day they let Dusty Baker go, and nothing that Dave Martinez has done has made me think that he was in any way a better choice to manage this team and this set of players in the year 2018.  Any argument about the manager is tough to quantify … i prefer arguments I can back up with stats frankly, so my opinion on his handling of veterans, of Ryan Zimmerman, of the bullpen, of baserunning strategy, of lineup-construction, and of his seeming inability to stand up to the veterans on this team will stay with me.

Nats All-Star review: 2018 and years past

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2018-MLB-All-Star-Game-Logo-Washington-Nationals

Here’s my annual Nationals All Star selection post.

Fun Trivia:

  • All-time leader in Nats all-star appearances: Harper with 6 appearances.  Scherzer also has been named 6 times but some pre-dated his time here.
  • All-time leader in All-Star Game starts: Also Harper, getting his 5th start.
  • Total number of Starters in the history of the Franchise: Now is 10; Harper 5 times, Scherzer twice, and one each for Soriano, Murphy, Zimmerman.
  • Most all-star players named in a single year: 5 in both 2016 and 2017.
  • Least all-star game players named in a single year: 1 in multiple years during the “dark years” of 2006 through 2011.

(* == All-Star game starter)


 

2018

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Bryce Harper*, Max Scherzer*, Sean Doolittle
  • Possible Snubs: Juan Soto, Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon
  • Narrative: For the home-town All Star Game, Harper gets the starting nod from the fans despite his abhorrent season at the plate (his slash line on 7/8/18: .219/.371/.475).  However, by making the ASG, Harper now keeps his promise to participate in the Home Run Derby one last time before hitting free agency.   There’s no real “snubs” on this Nationals team; The #2 player on the team in terms of seasonal bWAR is Trea Turner but he’s not exactly having a head-turning season.  He was named to the “last 5 ballot” but was a huge long-shot to make it (update; he didn’t: the very deserving Jesus Aguilar did).  Anthony Rendon is having his typical under-rated season and got no love from the voters over the more famous Nolan Arenado (a common refrain when it comes to Gold Gloves/Silver Sluggers too).  None of our starters besides Scherzer are really deserving; Stephen Strasburg was having a decent but not spectacular season but missed a month and is on the D/L.  Nor is any of the bullpen past Doolittle.  Its an odd-season where a team-wide malaise is contributing to the team hovering at .500 at the All Star Break.  Only Juan Soto really is deserving … but he was never going to make the ASG (not when recent more spectacular rookies failed to make it) and thanks to his missing all of April and most of May he wasn’t on any ballots and may struggle to win the RoY over guys who have played longer this season.  Scherzer is named to the team on 7/8/18 was named the  NL starter for the 2nd year running on 7/16/18.

 

2017

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Bryce Harper*, Daniel Murphy*, Ryan Zimmerman*, Max Scherzer*, Stephen Strasburg
  • Snubs: Anthony Rendon, Gio Gonzalez
  • Narrative: For the second  year in a row, the Nats are well and properly represented in the All Star Game.  We have three starters named in the field, including Zimmerman who beats out a slew of 1B sluggers in the NL to not only make the team but get his first start.  Its also likely i’ll be editing this post and adding in Scherzer as an additional starter; he is the obvious choice to start the game for the NL given his first half production (7/10/17 update: yes indeed we did).  Rendon is having a very quiet solid season and is in the “last 5” popular vote, but he seems unlikely to win given that last year’s MVP Kris Bryant is also in the voting (Update: neither guy got in).  Gonzalez misses out despite having a better first half than Strasburg by nearly any statistic; he’s having a career year but seems unlikely to get rewarded with his 3rd ASG appearance.  There’s no other real snub from our 2017 team; certainly there’s nobody in the bullpen meriting a spot, and Trea Turner‘s torrid 2016 2nd half did not translate into the 2017 season (not to mention, he’s had two separate D/L trips).  Once again i’m slightly perturbed that Harper continues to refuse to participate in the HR derby; why the reticence?  Its a fun event that is quickly becoming better than the actual game itself and practically every other slugger is participating.  Is he afraid to lose?  On a larger scale, i’m really happy to see (finally) that deserving rookies are named: Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger are both named and are both on the inside track for ROY awards; too many times in the past we see deserving rookies unnamed.  On July 10th, the fourth Nat starter was named: Scherzer got the starting pitcher nod, a first for the Nats.  August Update: Rendon’s omission is looking even more ridiculous; he’s top 5 in the league in bWAR.

2016

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Bryce Harper*, Stephen Strasburg, Daniel Murphy, Wilson Ramos, Max Scherzer (named as replacement for Strasburg on 7/8/16),
  • Possible Snubs: Danny EspinosaTanner Roark
  • Narrative: The four obvious candidates from the Nats this year were all initially correctly selected, though voting shenanigans out of Chicago elected Ben Zobrist over Daniel Murphy by a scant 500 votes.   I thought perhaps Strasburg would have a chance to start the game, given his 12-0 record, but it seems the team pre-empted any such thought when Scherzer’s naming occurred.  For the first time writing this post, I can’t really name any “snubs” and the team has (finally?) earned the proper respect it deserves in terms of naming its players properly.  Espinosa had a week for the ages just prior to the end of voting but really stood little chance of selection in the grand scheme of things.  He’s not really a “snub” but is worthy of mention based on his resurgent year.  At the break, Espinosa ranked 3rd in NL fWAR but 7th or 8th in bWAR thanks to differing defensive value metrics, so maybe/maybe not on him being a “snub.”  As pointed out in the comments, even I missed the sneaky good season Roark is having; he’s 12th in the NL in bWAR at the break and 9th in fWAR but was left off in favor of any number of starters that stand below him in value rankings.  Unfortunately for fans (and for Harper’s “Make Baseball Fun again” campaign, he opted to skip the Home Run Derby again.  I guess its kind of like the NBA superstars skipping the dunk contest; the Union should really do a better job of helping out in this regard.  The new format is fantastic and makes the event watchable again; is it ego keeping him from getting beat by someone like Giancarlo Stanton?

2015

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Bryce Harper*, Max Scherzer
  • Possible Snubs: Yunel Escobar, Drew Storen
  • Narrative: Harper not only made it in as a starter for the 2nd time, he led the NL in votes, setting a MLB record for total votes received.  This is no surprise; Harper’s easily in the MVP lead for the NL thanks to his amazing first half (his split at the half-way point of the season: .347/.474/.722 with 25 homers and an astounding 225 OPS+).  I guess he won’t be earning the “Most overrated player” award next year.  That Harper is electing to skip the Home run derby in a disappointment; his father is nursing an arm injury can cannot throw to him in the event.  In a weird year for the Nats, the only other regular worth mentioning is newly acquired Escobar, who is hitting above .300 and filling in ably at multiple positions that, prior to this year, he had never played.  Storen is having another excellent regular season … but at a time when mandatory members from each team often leads to other closers being selected (there are 5 NL closers and 7 AL relievers), the odds of him making the All-Star team were always going to be slim.  Scherzer deservedly makes the team and probably would have been the NL starter; he’s got sub 2.00 ERA and FIP and leads all NL pitchers in WAR at the mid-way point of the season.  But his turn came up in the final game of the first half, making him ineligible for the game and forcing his replacement on the roster.

As a side note, the 2015 All-Star game will go down as the “Ballot-Gate” game thanks to MLB’s short-sighted plan to allow 30+ online ballots per email address.  This led to severe “ballot stuffing” by the Kansas City Royals fans, led to MLB  having to eliminate 60 million+ fraudulent ballots, but still led to several Royals being elected starters over more deserving candidates.


 

2014

  • Nationals All-Star representative: Jordan Zimmermann (Update post-publishing: Zimmermann strained a bicep, and had to withdraw from the ASG.  For a bit it looked like the Nats wouldn’t even have a representative, until Tyler Clippard was named on 7/13/14).
  • Possible Snubs: Adam LaRoche, Anthony Rendon, Rafael Soriano, Drew Storen
  • Narrative: Zimmermann’s been the best SP on the best pitching staff in the majors this year, and thus earns his spot.  I find it somewhat odd that a first place team (or near to it) gets just one representative on the team (as discussed above).  Rendon tried to make the team via the “last man in” voting, but historically Nationals have not fared well in this competition (especially when better known players from large markets are in the competition, aka Anthony Rizzo from the Chicago Cubs), and indeed Rendon finished 4th in the last-man voting.  LaRoche is having a very good season, almost single handedly carrying the Nats offense while major parts were out injured, but he’s never going to beat out the slew of great NL first basemen (Joey Votto couldn’t even get into this game).  Soriano has quietly put together one of the best seasons of any closer in the game; at the time of this writing he has a 1.03 ERA and a .829 whip; those are Dennis Eckersley numbers.  But, the farce that is the all-star game selection criteria (having to select one player from each team) means that teams need a representative, and deserving guys like Soriano get squeezed.  Then, Soriano indignantly said he wouldn’t even go if named as a replacement … likely leading to Clippard’s replacement selection.  The same goes for non-closer Storen, who sports a sub 2.00 ERA on the year.  Advanced stats columnists (Keith Law) also think that Stephen Strasburg is a snub but I’m not entirely sure: he may lead the NL in K’s right now and have far better advanced numbers than “traditional,” but its hard to make an argument that a guy with a 7-6 record and a 3.50+ ERA is all-star worthy.

2013

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Bryce Harper*, Jordan Zimmermann
  • Snubs: Stephen Strasburg, Ian Desmond
  • Narrative: Harper comes in 3rd in the NL outfielder voting, ahead of some big-time names, to become only the second Nationals position player elected as an All-Star starter.  He was 4th in the final pre-selection vote, so a big last minute push got him the starter spot.   Harper also becomes the first National to participate in the Home Run Derby.   Zimmermann was 12-3 heading into the game and was on mid-season Cy Young short lists in July in a breakout season.  Strasburg’s advanced stats are all better than Zimmermann’s, but his W/L record (4-6 as the ASG) means he’s not an all-star.  It also probably doesn’t help that he missed a few weeks.  Desmond loses out to Troy TulowitzkiEverth Cabrera and Jean Segura.  Tulowitzki was having a very solid year and was a deserving elected starter, while Cabrera and Segura are both having breakout seasons.  Desmond was on the “Final vote” roster, but my vote (and most others’ I’m guessing) would be for Yasiel Puig there ([Editor Update: Desmond and Puig lost out to Freddie Freeman: I still wished that Puig finds a way onto the roster but ultimately he did not and I believe the ASG was diminished because of it).   Gio GonzalezRyan Zimmerman, and Rafael Soriano are all having solid but unspectacular years and miss out behind those having great seasons.

2012

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Stephen StrasburgGio GonzalezIan Desmond, Bryce Harper
  • Possible Snubs: Adam LaRocheCraig Stammen
  • Narrative: The two SPs Strasburg and Gonzalez were the obvious candidates, and my personal prediction was that they’d be the only two candidates selected.  Gonzalez’ first half was a prelude to his 21-win, 3rd place Cy Young season.  The inclusion of Desmond is a surprise, but also a testament to how far he’s come as a player in 2012.  Harper was a last-minute injury replacement, but had earned his spot by virtue of his fast start as one of the youngest players in the league.  Of the “snubs,” LaRoche has had a fantastic come back season in 2012 but fared little shot against better, more well-known NL first basemen.  Stammen was our best bullpen arm, but like LaRoche fared little chance of getting selected during a year when the Nats had two deserving pitchers selected.

2011

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Tyler Clippard
  • Possible Snubs: Danny EspinosaMichael MorseDrew StorenJordan Zimmermann
  • Narrative: While Clippard was (arguably) the Nats best and most important reliever, I think Zimmermann was a more rightful choice.  He was 10th in the league in ERA at the time of the selections and has put in a series of dominant performances.  Meanwhile Espinosa was on pace for a 28-homer season and almost a certain Rookie-of-the-Year award (though a precipitous fall-off in the 2nd half cost him any realistic shot at the ROY), and perhaps both players are just too young to be known around the league.  Lastly Morse is certainly known and he merited a spot in the “last man in” vote sponsored by MLB (though he fared little chance against popular players in this last-man-in voting).

2010

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Matt Capps
  • Possible Snubs: Adam DunnJosh WillinghamRyan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg
  • Narrative: Capps was clearly deserving, having a breakout season as a closer after his off-season non-tender from the Pirates.  The 3-4-5 hitters Zimmerman-Dunn-Willingham all had dominant offensive seasons as the team improved markedly from its 103-loss season.  But perhaps the surprise non-inclusion was Strasburg, who despite only having a few starts as of the all-star break was already the talk of baseball.  I think MLB missed a great PR opportunity to name him to the team to give him the exposure that the rest of the national media expected.  But in the end, Capps was a deserving candidate and I can’t argue that our hitters did anything special enough to merit inclusion.

2009

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Ryan Zimmerman
  • Possible Snubs: Adam Dunn
  • Narrative: The addition of Dunn and Willingham to the lineup gave Zimmerman the protection he never had, and he produced with his career-best season.  His first and deserved all-star appearance en-route to a 33 homer season.  Dunn continued his monster homer totals with little all-star recognition.

2008

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Cristian Guzman
  • Possible Snubs: Jon Rauch
  • Narrative: The first of two “hitting rock-bottom” seasons for the team; no one really merited selection.  Zimmerman was coming off of hamate-bone surgery in November 2007 and the team was more or less awful across the board.  Rauch performed ably after Cordero went down with season-ending (and basically career-ending) shoulder surgery.   Guzman’s selection a great example of why one-per-team rules don’t make any sense.  Guzman ended up playing far longer than he deserved in the game itself by virtue of the 15-inning affair.

2007

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Dmitri Young
  • Possible Snubs: Ryan Zimmerman, Shawn Hill (though I wouldn’t argue for either)
  • Narrative: Young gets a deserved all-star appearance en route to comeback player of the year.  Zimmerman played a full season but didn’t dominate.  Our 2007 staff gave starts to 13 different players, most of whom were out of the league within the next year or two.  Not a good team.

2006

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Alfonso Soriano*
  • Possible Snubs: Nick JohnsonRyan Zimmerman, Chad Cordero
  • Narrative: Soriano made the team as an elected starter, the first time the Nats have had such an honor.  Our pitching staff took massive steps backwards and no starter came even close to meriting a spot.  Cordero was good but not lights out as he had been in 2005.  Soriano’s 40-40 season is a poster child for “contract year” production and he has failed to come close to such production since.  The team was poor and getting worse.  Johnson had a career year but got overshadowed by bigger, better first basemen in the league (a recurring theme for our first basemen over the years).

2005

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Livan HernandezChad Cordero
  • Possible Snubs: Nick JohnsonJohn Patterson.
  • Narrative: The Nats went into the All Star break surprisingly in first place, having run to a 50-31 record by the halfway point.  Should a first place team have gotten more than just two representatives?  Perhaps.  But the team was filled with non-stars and played far over its head to go 50-31 (as evidenced by the reverse 31-50 record the rest of the way).

Big Draft Bonuses: why you should always take the money

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Carter Stewart just turned down more money than he's likely to see even if he's an All american in 3 years time.. photo via PerfectGame

Carter Stewart just turned down more money than he’s likely to see even if he’s an All American in 3 years time.. photo via PerfectGame

The signing deadline for this year’s draft class has passed, and just four players from the top 10 rounds failed to come to terms with their drafting team.  This was slightly higher than the previous couple of seasons, but interesting this year because all four non-signing players were basically the same situation: high-end 1st round prep players with big price tags who in the end each turned down at least $2M each (and in some cases a ton more) to go off to school and lock themselves in for 3 years of playing for unaccountable, arm shredding, self-interested NCAA coaches who often could care less about player development and more about their next conference title and regional hosting bid.

And each of them probably made a huge mistake.

Its a common refrain among pundits in the amateur baseball world (Keith Law in particular) that HS players should “take the money” if they’re drafted high enough.   Certainly any first rounder would be a fool to turn away that kind of money, and mostly any prep player offered something in the upper 6 figure range should give serious consideration.  MLB contracts generally include college tuition … so even if you sign out of HS you still have 4 years fully paid for in case you wash out.  So instead of gambling on your health, or the fickleness of the baseball draft (where one bad start can cost you 30 spots in the draft and millions of dollars), take the cash when its offered.

But, don’t take our word for it.  Lets look at the empirical evidence of every player over the past seven drafts who has forgone the cash to see if there’s any trends.

Here’s a summary of the last few years of players who did not sign from the top 10 rounds.  This only goes back to 2012, since that’s the beginning of the new draft rules.

  • 2018: 4 (all 1st or supp-1st rounders)
  • 2017: 3
  • 2016: 2
  • 2015: 6
  • 2014: 6 (two of which were Nats picks: Andrew Suarez and Austin Byler in that ill-fated draft class, and one more who didn’t sign thanks to Houston’s screwing up the Brady Aiken deal and who was eventually granted free agency).
  • 2013: 8
  • 2012: 8

These are the total non-signings for the top ten ROUNDS of draftees, meaning anywhere between 300 and 350 guys comprising the top 10 rounds and supplementals.  So in the seven years and roughly 2200 players drafted in the top 10 rounds in the last 7 seasons, a grand total of 37 have failed to sign.

Side note: each year we hear about all these players who aren’t going to sign or that negotiations are tough, when in reality the modern CBA rules nearly guarantee 100% signing among drafted players (unless there’s a huge misunderstanding on draft day, or a huge disagreement about medicals).  The draft pools are structured so that the penalties for NOT signing players can cascade and affect your ability to sign other players  (see Houston’s issue in the 2014 draft), so teams are now basically calling players in advance and saying, “If we draft you at X, will you sign for $Y?” … so the only reason players don’t sign is if there’s a serious breakdown or mis-understanding.

So, why do i say that you should always take the money?  Well, lets ask ourselves: out of these 37 players who didn’t sign.. who actually IMPROVED their draft status by not signing?  Lets go year by year and look at the players who failed to sign.

(a caveat here: I did not look at the dollar amounts offered here; this is basically draft round analysis.  Its possible that a 5th rounder in one year went in the 8th the next and got offered more money … but its quite rare with the new draft rules and bonus pools.  Everything changed with the new CBA that went into effect in 2012.  The Nats in particular spent $14.6M on draft bonuses in 2011.  The next  year?  $4.6M, with most of it going to one player in Lucas Giolito).

2018: 4 players did not sign

  • Carter Stewart, RHP Fla HS. 1st/8th overall. Atlanta didn’t like Physical, offered 40% of slot value ($1.9M); going to Mississippi State
  • Matt McLean: 2B Calif HS. 1st/25: Asked $3M, Arizona offered $2.6M didn’t budge, going to UCLA.
  • JT Ginn: RHP Miss HS. 1st/30th: LA dodgers offered $2.4M, asking $2.9M, going to Mississippi State
  • Gunnar Hoglund: LHP Fla HS. 1supp/36: Pittsburgh didn’t like physical, low-balled and he declined. going to Ole Miss.

Obviously its too early for these four players … but all four turned down significant dollars being 1st rounders, and the odds of them improving their bonus amount and/or their draft value (especially Stewart) seems slim.  Why?  Keep on reading.

Its clear though that Mississippi State is going to be STACKED for the next few years though … they’re getting two first rounders to school and into their rotation.  Phew; good luck to the SEC running up against this rotation for the next three years.  That just doesn’t happen very often.

Verdict: 4 too early to tell.

2017: 3 players did not sign

  • Drew Rasmussen, RHP, Oregon State, 1s/31st overall. Failed to sign with Tampa, who (I guess) didn’t like his medicals.  He was coming back from TJ and only had a few weeks of action before the draft. Went 6th round in 2018 to Milwaukee in 2018
  • Jack Conlon, RHP, Clements HS (Sugar Land, Texas). 4th round/128 overall. Failed to sign with Baltimore, went to Texas A&M
  • Jo Jo Booker, RHP, Miller HS (Brewton, Ala.). 5th round/145 overall. failed to sign with LA Angels, with to South Alabama

Two players too early to tell.  Rasmussen didn’t turn down the Rays as much as they refused to tender him a contract … they must have tendered him something because they got a comp pick in 2018 draft.  So he turned down 40% of first round money in 2017 to sign an underslot deal in the 6th round of 2018 ($135k, just $10k more than the non-top 10 rounds minimum).  I’d say this was a bad move by the player unless Tampa flat out refused to pay a dollar.

Verdict: 2 too early, 1 worsened his draft position.

2016: 2 players did not sign

  • Nick Lodolo: 1S/41st overall; LHP from Damien HS in California. failed to sign with Pittsburgh, went to TCU instead, draft eligible in 2019
  • Tyler Buffett: 7th/217 overall; RHP, failed to sign with Houston. returned to Oklahoma State, drafted in 6th round in 2017 and signed with Cincinnati

One guy still too early to tell, but its fair to say that Lodolo is probably pitching his way into the upper 1st round in 2019.  So he’s trending on improving his stock… as long as he doesn’t destroy his arm in the shredder-program at TCU (thought to be fair the notorious coaches who destroyed more than a few arms there, including a Nats pick in Matt Purke, have moved on).  Meanwhile Buffett improved his draft position one round by going back to school.

Verdict: 1 trending good, 1 improved his draft position one round.

2015: 6 guys did not sign.

  • Kyle Funkhouser: 1st/35th overall: RHP from Louisville, failed to sign with LA Dodgers, turning down an above-slot $2M. 4th rounder in 2016, signed with Detroit.
  • Brady Singer, 2nd/56th overall: RHP Florida HS. failed to sign with Toronto, went to Florida and was 1st rounder in 2018, signed with Kansas City
  • Jonathan Hughes, 2nd/68th overall: RHP Georgia HS. failed to sign with Baltimore, went to Georgia Tech and not even drafted in 2018…
  • Kyle Cody, 2nd/73rd overall: RHP U Kentucky. failed to sign with Minnesota, drafted in 6th round in 2016 and signed with Texas
  • Nicholas Shumpert, 7th/220th overall. SS Colorado HS. failed to sign with Detroit. Went to San Jacinto CC, drafted in 28th round 2016 by Atlanta and signed.
  • Kep Brown, 10th/311 overall. RF South Carolina HS, failed to sign with LA Dodgers. went to Juco, then to UNC-Wilmington, not drafted in 2018.

Funkhouser was the biggest “whoops” here; a poor spring took him from his pre-season top 10 draft position all the way out of the first round, but he still demanded upper 1st round money.  He didn’t get it … and then fell to the 4th round the next year.  That was a big fail.  Singer clearly improved on his 2nd round status by going to college.    Cody slipped from being a 2nd rounder to a 6th rounder.  The other three guys drastically fell on draft boards; one of them going from a 10th rounder to not even being drafted.

Verdict: 1 improved, 5 hurt draft stock

2014: 6 failed to sign

  • Brady Aiken: 1/1 overall, RHP from San Diego HS. failed to sign with Houston, went to IMG Academy in FL, drafted 1/17 by Cleveland
  • Andrew Suarez: 2nd/57 overall LHP from UMiami, failed to sign with Washington. Drafted 2nd round/61st overall in 2015 by San Francisco
  • Trevor Megill; 3rd/104th overall RHP from Loyola Marymount. failed to sign with Boston, drafted 7th/207 in 2015 draft and signed with San Diego
  • Jacob Nix: 5th/136 RHP from Los Alomitos HS; couldn’t sign when Tampa lost bonus money, sued, FA, signed with San Diego
  • Zack Zehner: 7th/204 OF from Cal Poly, failed to sign with Toronto. Drafted 18th round 2015 and signed with NYY
  • Austin Byler, 9th/274 1B from nevada-Reno. failed to sign with Washington, drafted 11th round in 2015 and signed with Arizona

Aiken became quite the rarity; the first #1 overall baseball pick to fail to sign in 30  years.    But his lack of signing cascaded and cost the Astros both their 5th rounder Nix and another player later on thanks to the new draft rules on bonus pools; Nix ended up being declared a FA in a face-saving move by MLB so as not to admit that their new bonus cap circumvention rules were BS.  Aiken had no where to go but down from 1-1 so he obviously cost himself money.  The others all fell, if only slightly in Suarez’s case.

Verdict: 1 didn’t count, 5 lowered draft stock

2013: 8 failed to sign

  • Phil Bickford: 1/10 RHP California HS. Toronto failed to sign. went to Southern Nevada juco, drafted 1/18 by SF and signed.
  • Matt Krook 1s/35 LHP calif HS. Miami failed to sign, went to Oregon State, drafted 4th round by SF in 2016
  • Ben DeLuzio 3rd/80 SS from Fla HS. Miami failed to sign. Went to Florida State, played 4 years … undrafted out of college, NDFA with Arizona
  • Ben Holmes, 5th /151 LHP Oregon State. Philly failed to sign. went 9th round in 2014
  • Jason Monda 6th/181 OF Washington State. Philly failed to sign … then accused him of NCAA violations. he wasn’t drafted again and quit to go to Med school
  • Stephen Woods 6th/188 RHP NY HS: Tampa failed to sign, went to Suny-Albany, drafted 8th round 2016 by SF and signed
  • Dustin DeMuth 8th/230 3B from Indiana, Minnesota failed to sign, became 5th rounder in 2014 and signed with Milwaukee
  • Ross Kivett 10th/291 2B from kansas State. Cleveland failed to sign, became 6th rounder in 2014 and signed with Detroit

Bickford fell 8 slots year over  year but still fell.   DeMuth and Kivett both improved their stock.  The rest fell, drastically in some cases.

Verdict: 2 improved, 6 fell

2012: 8 failed to sign

  • Mark Appel 1/8 RHP Stanford by Pittsburg. failed to sign, was 1/1 in 2013 with Houston
  • Teddy Stankiewicz 2/75 RHP from Texas Hs. failed to sign with Mets, went Juco, 2/45 in 2013 by Boston
  • Alec Rash, 2/95 by Philadelphia from IA HS. went to Missouri, 2015 drafted in 23rd round by Washington but still didn’t sign; quit baseball and started playing NCAA basketball
  • Kyle Twomey, 3/106 LHP Calif HS Oakland. Drafted 13th round 3 yrs later out of USC by Chicago Cubs.
  • Brandon Thomas 4/136 OF from Ga Tech; didn’t sign with Pittsburgh, drafted 8th round one year later and signed with NYY
  • Colin Poche 5/162 LHP texas h s. failed to sign with Baltimore, went to Dallas Baptist, undrafted Jr year, drafted 14th round 2016 by Arizona
  • Nick Halamandaris 8/251 1B Calif HS. failed to sign with Seattle, played 4 years at cal, undrafted jr and Sr year, NDFA with Seattle, played one season
  • L.J. Mazzilli 9/280 2B from UConn. 4th rounder in 2013 signed with NY Mets

Appel managed to improve from 8th overall to 1st overall.  Stankiewicz also improved his stock about a round’s worth.  Mazzilli improved from a 9th rounder to a 4th rounder.  The others all fell.

Verdict: 3 up, 5 down.


Summary: of the 37 players who failed to sign:

  • 7 too early to tell yet
  • 22 hurt their draft stock by failing to sign
  • 7 improved their draft stock.  Of those who improved:
    • Two improved one round
    • Two improved slightly within the same round
    • One went from 8th round to 5th round
    • One went from 10th round to 6th round
    • One went from a 9th rounder to a 4th rounder.
  • 1 didn’t really count b/c of the Houston 2014 shenanigans

So there you have it.  7 of 37 turned down money and look like they slightly made out (19%).   22/37 (60%) did not … and in some cases clearly cost themselves millions of dollars.  And even those 7 who did improve their ranking … not one of them in my opinion drastically improved their stock by going to college.  In fact, you can make the argument that getting drafted in the 8th round in one year, playing another year in college and then going in the 5th round probably *hurts* a player’s pro prospects because now he’s a year older versus his peers and has lost a year of pro development time.  A 22 yr old college senior draftee is already “old for the level” until he gets to at least Low-A, which is no guarantee even in his second pro year.

Now, has it ever worked out for a player to turn down significant 1st round money?  Yeah a couple times; Mark Appel gambled and improved his stock just before the new CBA took hold; in fact he managed to go 1-1 despite being a college senior with zero leverage.  Garrett Cole also made out by going to school.  So did a few others in the pre-2012 CBA eras.   But its a rarity; I’ve got another post that goes over these and some of the biggest nightmares for a later date.

Food for thought.