Nationals Arm Race

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

Nats Catcher Depth Chart; whole system

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Gomes looks like the 2019 starter... Photo via nytimes.com

Gomes looks like the 2019 starter… Photo via nytimes.com

I’m not sure why i got on this mental tangent, but here goes.

When was the last time the Nats developed a quality starting catcher from cradle to grave (so to speak) from our system?   Here’s a quick glance at the Nats leading catchers by  games played since they arrived in Washington:

  • 2017-2018: Matt Wieters  free agent acquisition
  • 2014-2016: Wilson Ramos: trade acquisition for Matt Capps while still a minor leaguer
  • 2013: Kurt Suzuki: trade acquisition from Oakland
  • 2012: Jesus Flores: rule-5 draftee
  • 2011: Ramos
  • 2010: Ivan Rodriguez : Free agent acquisition
  • 2009: Josh Bard: free agent acquistion
  • 2008: Flores
  • 2005-2007: Brian Schneider: drafted by Montreal Expos 5th round 1995

The answer is Schneider.  Not since Brian Schnieder has this franchise started a home-grown catcher.  Thats more than a decade of drafting and player development.

(No, I don’t count either Flores or Ramos by the way.  Flores as a rule-5 draftee was developed by the Mets, and Ramos spent 6 years in Minnesota’s farm system before we got him).

Sprinkled into the above include backups that we’ve definitely developed in house, guys like Spencer Kieboom and Pedro Severino and Sandy Leon and Jhonatan Solano … but none of these guys were really starters for any period of time, and none were impactful enough to not force the team to go back into the FA market again and again.

This trend continues for 2019, with the team buying not one but TWO catchers this off-season: Yan Gomes via trade and then the return of Suzuki via FA.

So I thought it’d be interesting to look at what depth we have now under Gomes/Suzuki, project where last year’s frequent MLB contributors like Kieboom will end up in 2019, and see what the pipeline looks like.


 

Nats Full-system Catcher Depth Chart:

  • MLB: Gomes/Suzuki

They’re on record (per the reports we’re reading from bored beat writers) as both being “ok” with the planned split in playing time.  They’ll also get PH opportunities, which makes sense as long as its a low-risk situation (this also implies we’d need to have a designated emergency 3rd catcher: Matt Adams anyone?)


  • AAA: SKieboom, Severino, Raudy Read.

So, both Kieboom and Read have 2019 options, while Severino does not.  Severino’s defense speaks for itself, but unfortunately so does his offense; his career OPS+ in four part-time MLB seasons and nearly 300 plate appearances is just 48.    I think the team keeps him around til the end of Spring Training to cover for injury, then DFAs him and tries to sneak him through to AAA.  If that happens, I think Read gets pushed back to AA.  Or maybe not; maybe they just cut ties with him completely.   I think we know what we have with Kieboom too.  Read is the interesting one; his PED suspension cost him both development time and good will within the org; will he start over Kieboom and continue to develop at AAA?  He hit decently enough at AA last year (.286) so I think he’s ready for the AAA challenge.  He remains generally the highest ranking Catcher prospect in the system … but may not be the first line of defense called up to cover for injury right now.

  • Next guy promoted: probably Kieboom, then Read.
  • Most likely to succeed at MLB level: Read.  I think we’ve seen what we will see out of Kieboom.
  • Most likely to get cut first: Severino for options purposes in April.

 

  • AA: Taylor Gushue, Tres Barrera, Matt Reistetter

Ironically these first two are also the two NRI catchers invited to 2019 spring training.  They’re not there to make the team; they’re there to catch the gazillion arms who need to throw.  Gushue struggled at the plate in 2018 in AA (.212) but by all accounts is a pitcher favorite to call games (sounds a lot like Severino).  Meanwhile Barrera hit decently splitting time in High-A in 2018.  I can see an even split between these two in Harrisburg in 2019.  Meanwhile the system still has the NDFA Reistetter hanging around; in his 6 year minor league career he’s got appearances at literally every domestic team.  He likely gets assigned to the Harrisburg roster but hangs out in XST waiting to cover for injury.

  • Next guy promoted: Barrera
  • Most likely to succeed at MLB level: Barrera
  • Most likely to get cut first: Reistetter

 

  • High-A: Jakson Reetz , Alex Dunlap, Alejandro Flores,

Reetz is nearly in “draft bust” territory, basically hanging around thanks to his being a 3rd rounder in 2014.  He’s now got 4 full minor league seasons under his belt and seems to be getting pushed northwards in the system less based on production and more based on his signing bonus.  At some point, the team may have to cut bait.  I see him serving primarily as a backup.  Meanwhile, Dunlap (a 29th rounder in 2017) hung around XST for a bit, then out-played Flores in Hagerstown and basically became the starting catcher.   I put both Dunlap and Flores here though b/c of who’s targeted for Low-A.  There’s still somewhat of a gap here in the system, but we could see some fast-movers pushing into Potomac this year.

  • Next guy promoted: Dunlap
  • Most likely to succeed at MLB level: none here really projecting to MLB at this point.
  • Most likely to get cut first: Reetz

 

  • Low-A: Israel PinedaNic Perkins

Perkins was a 28th rounder in 2017, was the main catcher in Short-A in 2018 and could make sense to slide right to Low-A, but he’ll play second fiddle to Pineda, who has burst onto the scene, does not turn 19 until April and now looks like our best chance to develop a starting catcher since Schneider.  Of course … it is folley to project an 18 yr old’s future success.  But, like Yasiel Antuna and Luis Garcia before him, the Nats should have no qualms of promoting a successful teenager right to low-A.  So Look for Perkins to back up Pineda in Hagerstown to open the season.

  • Next guy promoted: Perkins
  • Most likely to succeed at MLB level: Pineda
  • Most likely to get cut first: none in the short term

 

  • Short-A: Tyler CropleyWilmer PerezAdalberto Carrillo, 2019 draftee(s)

Perez was an J2 IFA signing in 2016 who hit well in the DSL in 2017 and adequately in the GCL in 2018 and makes sense to be the starter in Short-A in 2019.   Carrillo was a late-round 2017 draftee who is hanging around.   Cropley was our 2018 8th round pick, a senior low money sign who was one of just two 2018 drafted catchers, and may have to really impress to stick around give the small amount of investment the team has in him.  All three appeared briefly in Auburn last year and seem to make sense to return this year.

  • Next guy promoted: Perez
  • Most likely to succeed at MLB level: none projecting to MLB from here at this time.
  • Most likely to get cut first: Cropley

 

  • GCL: Onyx VegaAnthony Peroni, Geraldi Diaz, 2019 draftee(s)

Both Vega (a 2018 draftee) and Peroni (2017 draftee) were subs in GCL last year behind the likes of (primarily) Perez, and both seem like they should return to GCL.  Peroni only hit .177 and is entering his 3rd pro year so he likely seems like he’ll be released upon the 2019 drafting of more catcher talent, or upon the potential promotion from the DSL catcher candidates like Geraldi Diaz (a 2017 IFA signee who might be ready to come state-side).

  • Next guy promoted: Vega
  • Most likely to succeed at MLB level: none projecting to MLB from here at this time.
  • Most likely to get cut first: Peroni

 

So that’s our Catcher depth.  Did I miss anyone?

Spring Training 2019 NRI Discussion

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Kieboom is probably the surest NRI thing in 2019. Photo via PerfectGame

Kieboom is probably the surest NRI thing in 2019. Photo via PerfectGame

The Nationals, on the eve of spring training, announced their list of Non-Roster Invitees (NRIs) for 2019.

Here’s the list:

  • RHP — Henderson Alvarez, Aaron Barrett, Scott Copeland, Wil Crowe, J.J. Hoover, Ronald Peña
  • LHP — Vidal Nuño
  • C —Tres Barrera, Taylor Gushue
  • INF —Luis Garcia , Carter Kieboom, Jose Marmolejos, Jake Noll, Matt Reynolds, Brandon Snyder, Jacob Wilson
  • OF — Hunter Jones, Chuck Taylor

Now, before you say “who cares” here’s some stats.  In the last four seasons:

  • 5 NRIs made the 25-man roster straight out of Spring Training (and Guthrie technically made it 6 since he got called up a few days later and was always intended to be the 5th starter in 2017)
  • 18 NRIs eventually played for the MLB team at some point that same season.

So its likely that we’re going to see these NRIs at some point in the future.  Like, on average at least 4-5 of these NRIs are going to play for this team in 2019.

So lets squint and make some predictions.

  1. Do any of these guys stand a chance at making the Opening day roster?  Yeah maybe.  I think a couple of the relievers (especially Nuno) have a real shot at the bullpen if they perform in Florida.  Three of the seven guys I’m projecting to the MLB bullpen have options remaining (Barraclough, Suero and Glover), the team only really has one legit lefty in the pen (Grace) and may end up carrying 8 relievers through some roster chicanery early on.
  2. Do any of these guys project to feature at all in 2019?  Absolutely: I think Alvarez, Hoover, Nuno, Reynolds, and Snyder in particular seem likely to get call-ups to cover for injury, unless they exercise opt-outs.  Reynolds is one of the few SS capable guys in the high minors, Snyder could be Zimmerman or Adams injury coverage, and Alvarez could get the call to provide spot starts if in-house options like Fedde continue to struggle at the MLB level.
  3. Who among these guys project to eventually get on the 40-man?  The top-end prospects on this list for sure: Crowe, Garcia, Kieboom, Barrera and perhaps Gushue all seem likely to eventually make the 40-man.

 


NRI Details by year, in case you were wondering…

Summary of NRIs from ST 2018: 21 NRIs total:

  • One (1) made the 25-man roster out of spring: Miguel Montero
  • Four (4) eventually got added and called up:  Tim Collins, Moises Sierra, Jimmy Cordero, Spencer Kieboom.  Special Mention to Edwin Jackson, who opted out of Washington then excelled for Oakland later in 2018).
  • Zero (0) others have since been added to 40-man

Summary of NRIs from ST 2017: 24 NRIs total:

  • Zero (0) made the 25-man roster out of spring (though technically one kinda was; see next).
  • Five (5) eventually got added and called up (Jeremy Guthrie, Matt Albers, Grant Green, Jacob Turner and Andrew Stevenson): Guthrie was the 5th starter, stashed in XST for a few days before his ill-fated debut.
  • Five (5) have since been added to 40-man (Erick Fedde, Taylor Hill, Kyle McGowin, Wander Suero, Tim Collins)

Summary of NRIs from ST 2016: 20 NRIs total (plus perhaps a couple more that got signed late):

  • Two (2) made the 25-man roster: (Chris Heisey and as noted in the comments, thanks for the correction, Matt Belisle).
  • Two (2) eventually got added and called up (Lucas Giolito, Sean Burnett)
  • Two (2) have since been added to 40-man (Matt Skole, Austin Voth)

Summary of NRIs from ST 2015: 20 NRIs total:

  • Two (2) made the 25-man roster out of spring (Dan Uggla and Clint Robinson)
  • Two (2) others eventually got added and called up (Rafael Martin and Emmanuel Burriss)
  • Two (2) others were young catchers since added to the 40-man (Spencer Kieboom, Pedro Severino)

(I believe the above analysis is correct; feel free to comment if i’ve missed someone.  this is a bit tougher to keep track of b/c the team often signs MLFAs mid-spring then technically gives them NRIs … especially for Vets, and I may miss some from the original announcements).

 

Pitchers and Catchers reporting for 2019 … here’s an “all FA Team”

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Still waiting. Photo via fanragsports.com

Still waiting. Photo via fanragsports.com

Unbelievably, its now mid February, pitchers and catchers are reporting to Spring Training … and the two best FAs and two of the best players in the game remain unsigned.

If there was ever a sign that baseball’s collective pay system is broken, we’re seeing it.  An amazing combination of tanking, salary cap, poor CBA negotiating and GMs too smart for their own good has the game barrelling towards a large, ugly work stoppage in a few years time.  But we have to get there first.

Here’s my all-still unemployed team.  Every one of these players is unsigned as of the date/time i’m writing this and per mlbtraderumors: https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2016/12/2018-19-mlb-free-agents.html

How many games do you think this team wins?

  • Catcher: Matt Wieters starting with A.J. Ellis backing him up (post publishing correction per comments; Ellis has retired so we’ll go with Evan Gattis as the backup/DH).  Poor defense, but halfway decent offense based on 2018 numbers.
  • 1B: Logan Morrison: he fell off a cliff in 2018, but had an OPS+ of 133 in 2017.  Bet on a rebound.
  • 2B: Josh Harrison.  2 time all star, solid player.
  • SS: Manny Machado
  • 3B: Mike Moustakas: four straight years of above MLB average production.
  • LF: Carlos Gonzalez: would you bet against CarGo with a chip on his shoulder?
  • CF: Adam Jones: maybe he can’t really play CF anymore, but he can still play
  • RF: Bryce Harper
  • Utility: Marwin Gonzalez: can play 6 positions, hits the ball and isn’t 30 yet.  Why is he still a FA?

Lots of power potential here: I’d go Harrison, Machado, Harper, CarGo, Jones, Morrison, Moustakas, Wieters and Pitcher.

My Rotation?

  • #1: Dallas Keuchel
  • #2 Gio Gonzalez
  • #3: Clay Buchholz
  • #4: Ervin Santana
  • #5: Yovani Gallardo

That rotation is better than 10 teams’ rotations right now.

bullpen?

  • Closer: Craig Kimbrel
  • Setup: Jim JohnsonSergio Romo
  • RH middle relief: Bud NorrisAJ Ramos
  • LH middle relief: Xavier CedenoAaron Loup

————-

Is that a lot of talent still waiting to be signed?  I think so.  I still count at least 15 starters who could impact nearly any team in the league on the bench.  its just crazy.

 

Ask Collier 2/1/19

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Taylors days may be numbered. (AP Photo/Nick Wass via nbcsports.com)

Taylors days may be numbered. (AP Photo/Nick Wass via nbcsports.com)

Another week passing with barely any FA movement, and another set of questions taken by Jamal Collier.

Big Nats news of the week seems to be the team beating Michael A. Taylor in arbitration … over $250k.   That’s 1/10th of 1% of their team payroll, for context.  I *hate* it when teams go to arbitration battle with their players; by all accounts the team basically trashes the player in the presentation, making all the arguments about why they’re NOT worth the salary.  I think it completely poisons the relationship between player and management.  The Nats under prior management used to do this constantly; they were among the league leaders for  years in arbitration cases.  This is the 5th arb case that I believe Mike Rizzo has argued in the 10 years he’s been in charge.  Here’s the previous cases the team has argued:

  • 2006: Alfonso Soriano.  After acquiring him they immediately went to war with him … which was only a precursor to the Spring Training war, basically forcing him to play the OF.   Great way to treat your team’s best player.  Asked for $12M, got #10M when the club beat him, and he left via FA after the season.
  • 2007: Chad Cordero: Cordero beat the Nats in Arb over $500k difference.  The team and player were able to come to a pre-arb agreement in 2008 but Cordero’s days were numbered.
  • 2007 John Patterson: The team and Patterson were way, way off (1.8M vers 1M); the club won, then releaesd Patterson before the season had even started.
  • 2008: Felipe Lopez: the club beat Lopez over $300k … then released him mid-season.
  • 2009: Shawn Hill; went to battle again over $275k … then released him in the spring before they had to pay a dime.
  • 2010: Sean Burnett: went to battle over $150k.  That’s right: 150,000, one of the smallest argument values I can find in the last decade.  Club won.
  • 2010: Brian Bruney: just after acquiring the guy (similar to this year’s Kyle Barraclough situation) they immediately argued against him in arbitration and won.  Bruney never contributed in a meaningful way and the team cut him loose in May.  I thought at the time he was suffering from a “Bruised Ego” as the source of his crummy performance, but he didn’t pitch any better the next year for the White Sox and was soon out of the league.
  • 2012: John Lannan, who the club beat to only pay him $5M versus $5.7M … then immediately relegated him to AAA for most of the season.  He made 33 starts for Washington in 2011 … then 24 starts for Syracuse in 2012.  What an insult.  Unsurprisingly, he was non-tendered before the 2013 season.
  • 2015: Jerry Blevins, who beat the team for $200k … and was then dumped in trade a few weeks later in what I read at the time (and still believe) as an act of petulance from Rizzo.

We havn’t had an arb hearing since the 2015 debacle.  But now it seems like the team will battle not once but twice.

Of these 10 hearings (including the Taylor hearing): here’s some interesting stats:

  • Club has won 7 of the 10 hearings
  • Seven of the Nine players that went to arbitration were GONE from the team (one way or another) that same season.   Most of them cut either in spring training or quickly there-after.

So, it doesn’t bode well for Taylor or Barraclough’s future the fact that they’re arguing against the team.

Lets get to the questions.

Q: How are the Nationals matching up against the rest of the division this 2019 season?

A: What, you can’t read the papers?  Here’s the summary:

  • Nats have filled every hole they had and spent more than 14 other teams combined this off-season.  They’ve conservatively added 10-12 “wins” and are projecting on Fangraphs to win the division.
  • Braves have grown a very solid core and did a little FA work on the edges, but have no reason not to repeat what they did last year.  They’re only projecting to a $122M payroll, and that’s AFTER signing Josh Donaldson to a $23M one year deal.
  • Phillies have signed a couple guys, but already had a fully formed rotation and still have $50M of room.  But they could still land one of the two big FAs and improve quickly.
  • Mets have made some odd choices (acquiring Robinson Cano), have a ton of payroll just to Cano and Cespedes, and have completely re-made their bullpen.  Are they contenders?
  • Marlins continue to be a dumpster fire, projecting to spend just $84M in 2019.

So i’m predicting Nats win division, Braves to WC, Phillies just miss out but still win 88 games, Mets go about .500 and Marlins lose 105 games.  Its going to be the most competitive division in the game.

Collier predicts a competitive division with four teams actually trying.  That’s refreshing.

Q: What are the Nationals’ needs? Do they need left-handed bullpen help and maybe a utility player?

A: In an ideal situation sure they’d love more Lefty bullpen options.  But they’re kinda out of cash.  They could also use rotation insurance, but looking at the list of starters still available (nearly 20 who had MLB starts last year, several of whom could improve nearly any rotation in the game) I doubt we’ll be able to spin a MLB deal for any of them.

Collier agrees, thinks the bench is fine.

Q: I would rather have another pitcher like Dallas Keuchel or even Wade Miley, and let Harper go. What do you think?

A: well, this guy clearly missed the news, b/c Miley is already gone (to Houston, improving them to be at least a top 10 rotation now if not slightly better).  But this asker also clearly doesn’t know just how close to the luxury tax the team is.

If you’re going to go over … then frigging go over.  Sign Keuchel, sign another loogy, blow past the cap by $20M, Sign Harper, blow payes st it by $50M.  It seemed to do pretty well for Boston last year.

I don’t think there’s a team in the league that wouldn’t like having Keuchel in the fold (maybe the Cubs or Indians); certainly Keuchel would be an upgrade over Joe Ross for us.

All this being said … the tea leaves say one thing to me pretty clearly; Harper is gone, the team has already moved on.  Is this even a discusCollsion?

Collier notes they’re about $11M under the cap, have indicated pretty frequently they intend to stay below it, and 

Q: With the injury history regarding Stephen StrasburgPatrick Corbin and Ross, is it possible there will be a six-man rotation instead of five?

A: So, on the one hand its true that no team can go 162 games without having to rely on additional starters…. but it’d be stupid to go to a 6-man rotation with a bunch of veterans like what the Nats are projecting.  This isn’t high school; these guys are trained professionals, highly paid, and are conditioned to pitch ever 5 days.

What is true is this: our 6th, 7th and 8th depth chart starters WILL get starts.  So while it’d be awesome to have a ton of depth … you have to store it somewhere.  So project Erick Fedde and Austin Voth and some veteran 35-yr old MLFA  hanging on for one more shot to contribute in 2019.

Collier says the same thing about routines.

Q; Any word yet on non-roster invitees to Spring Training? 

A: Yes; there’s going to be a few of them.  Some of them will look great.  A couple will stick around.  In fact, we do an annual post here every year about NRIs who make it.  Here was 2018s http://www.nationalsarmrace.com/?p=15657 and 2017’s: http://www.nationalsarmrace.com/?p=13409 .

Last year, 1 NRI made the team out of spring, another 4 played for the team in the 2018 season, and Edwin Jackson was an NRI for us and excelled for Oakland.

So, NRIs are important.

Collier notes a couple of specific NRI arms who may very well be options to make the bullpen at the expense of someone like Sammy Solis.

Ask Collier 1/28/19

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it was all downhill from here for Martinez. Photo via Geoff Burke/USA today

it was all downhill from here for Martinez. Photo via Geoff Burke/USA today

I’ll admit, I’m struggling for content this off-season.  I love nearly all the moves the Nats have made, as one of (arguably) only about 6 teams that actually seem to be trying to improve themselves in the FA market this off-season.  Thank gosh for these Inbox/mailbags to give me a chance to opine on the state of the Nationals.

Latest one from MLB.com beat reporter Jamal Collier dated 1/25/19.

Q: With all the additions they have made, can that help in keeping Harper in Washington or is that a negative factor?

A: I can’t imagine how these moves have been a negative for anyone, Team, Fans or Harper.  If Harper was re-signed, and the team made the decision to go well over the luxury tax to do so, then the team is going to be better for it.  Lets be honest with ourselves; if there was no ridiculous luxury tax, would we even be debating this?  Yes, there’s a clear debate on value versus pay, given his injury history and general inability to stay healthy.  But we’re still talking about one of the most marketable players in the game, a guy who you build around, not try to repel away.  If the going rate is $9M/WAR … then a 4 win season (his average since arriving in the league) will make a $35M/year AAV contract “worth it.”

After watching all the other moves the team has made this off-season, which have essentially filled every hole we had, and then adding Harper back to the mix?  Yeah that’d be a hard team to beat.

I’m of the opinion (a difficult to quantify one of course), that Harper played it very conservatively in 2018 knowing he was going into a FA year.  I also wonder about his relationship with the new manager (we’ll get into that more later).  If he comes back, knowing he had security and his big pay check … wouldn’t you be betting on a massive 2019 for him?  Like another 8-10 win season?  I mean, I’d like him to do that for us and not for the Phillies.

Its just money right?  And, its not our money.  The Nats can’t draft past the 1st round anyway (quick; tell me the last time a 2nd round pick worked out for this team?), so who cares if we forgo a few draft picks.

Collier thinks signing Harper would be a positive.  duh.

Q: What does Davey have to do in Spring Training / the early season to prove himself after last season?

A:  Is he really called “Davey?”  What is he, 12?   I’m not sure I particularly care about what he does in the Spring (with the exception of #1 below).  His regular season performance is what is going to matter obviously.  What mistakes do we think rookie manager Dave Martinez made in 2018?  For me:

  • Failed to manage his veteran players from the start (see Ryan Zimmerman‘s play zero games spring training, and see Mike Rizzo‘s transactions in ridding the team of veteran relievers at the trade deadline).
  • Over used starters (at one point last last season the Nats rotation led the league in both IP and pitches thrown)
  • Over used crummy relievers (the fact that Sammy Solis and Ryan Madsen were ever allowed to throw as many innings as they did was crucial to the team’s demise in late innings)
  • Showed poor end-game management (resulting in a -8 pythag record on the season, a 4-10 extra innings record, and an 18-24 record in one-run games)
  • Had questionable management decisions in all other aspects of his job: lineup creation, shifting, double switches, strategy, etc.).

So.  One year in, with his “problem children” mostly now gone, he’ll have another shot at “controlling” the clubhouse.  He’ll have learned his lesson on starters.  He’ll have a whole new stable of relievers to abuse.   And he’ll have a year of in-game practice to learn from all the other mistakes he made.  So call 2018 a big internship for Martinez.  I suspect we’ll see him do better.

And, to be fair … he should have better relievers at his disposal, or at least some more street cred to demand for personnel moves earlier.

Collier notes the need for improved “messaging” related to Zimmerman’s 2018 situation.  But he notes spring training means nothing.  

Q: How likely is it that the Nats go out and improve their bullpen even more before the offseason is over?

A:  At this point … i’m not sure how likely this is.  They’re pretty tapped out from a payroll perspective.  I’ve got them at about $13M under the luxury cap, Cots has them about $10.9M  under the cap.  And those cap figures do not include any of the incentives built into the contracts of the many players who could earn them.  From what I can tell, these are the “hidden” incentives that may come back to pad the 2019 salary cap figure:

  • Stephen Strasburg gets $1M if he hits 180 innings (he’s done it twice, but not in his last four seasons, each of which had a month or so of D/L time).
  • Max Scherzer has all sorts of award bonuses ranging from $100k to $500k for various awards he can earn.  He’s been in top 3 of Cy Young voting every year, so it seems likely some money is spent here).
  • Patrick Corbin  has similar award-based bonuses.  What are the odds Corbin can repeat his 2018 performance and have another top3 Cy season?
  • Anibal Sanchez can earn up to $2M if he gets to 30 starts.  He’s done it 3 times, all many years ago in his  youth, but he may get some additional bonuses for lesser number of starts.
  • Trevor Rosenthal has all sorts of bonuses based on games pitched, games finished … its complicated, but if he pitches in 50 games (as he did in his last season 2017) he can earn another $4-$5M.  This is the big danger line item.
  • Howie Kendrick has per-season bonuses worth $1.1M based on plate appearances.  Based on injury recovery and the buying of Brian Dozier, this seems unlikely to be met.

So …. that’s a lot of money that could hit the books and jack up the 2019 payroll very close to the cap.   So ask yourself; what do you think the team is going to do?

I think the team is going to go one of two ways:

  • stand pat if the luxury tax is treated as a hard cap
  • Sign Harper, blow way past, throw caution to the wind and keep signing guys.

Collier kind of gives a wishy washy answer,  saying well maybe!

Q:  How would you rank the likelihood of: Nats re-signing Harper, Nats re-signing Rendon, both, neither?

A: At this point, i’ll give the following percentage likelihoods:

  • Harper: 5%.  I think Harper is going to follow the paycheck and end up with literally the only team bidding on him; the Phillies.
  • Rendon: 65%.  I think he likes it here, I think he’s a great bet to age gracefully, and will be the next Zimmerman “face of the franchise” kind of guy.

Collier kind of agrees, thinking the most likely scenario is signing Rendon, not Harper.

Q: Who are the candidates for a surprise break out season?

A: A “surprise” breakout season?  Well if Victor Robles blows it out and wins the Rookie of the Year i don’t think that’s a surprise.  I’ll go with newly added reliever James Bourque.

Collier has almost the same answer as me :-)

Ask Collier 1/11/19

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Harper Harper Harper. Photo Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Harper Harper Harper. Photo Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

On deadline day for doing arbitration contracts, MLB beat reporter Jamal Collier did a mailbag.  Its been a notable week with more Bryce Harper rumors and the Nats running their payroll right up to the limits of the Luxury tax cap with the Brian Dozier signing.

Here’s the questions he took:

Q: Harper is on my mind. Spring Training is days away. Aren’t the guys worried about will happen? No way they can be just “whatever,” right? Especially if he ends up in Philly?

A: If they can’t figure out from the slew of Mike Rizzo moves what the team’s intention is with Bryce Harper by now … well maybe a sledgehammer would be more subtle.  Its mid January and Rizzo has made 8 moves that should impact the opening day 25-man roster and another 2-3 that may be impactful down the road.  He’s now got the payroll north of $190M.

So what if he goes to Philly?  I think the whole “don’t trade within the division” is nonsense.  Yeah we’ll see him a lot.  But its a closed loop; he has to go to one of the 30 teams in the league, and we are bound to see him no matter who he plays for.  There’s 30 teams, and only half of them are even frigging trying to win right now, and then halve that again for those who even have payroll room to compete for Harper (or Machado).  And Philly is one of them.

As far as “the guys” … are you talking about his team-mates?  Well one of two things would be true about his teammates:

  1. They hate his guts and are like, “good riddance.”
  2. They are his fellow union members and want him to get every dollar possible because their union so royally screwed them selves in the last couple of CBA negotiations.

Collier notes that his fellow players know this is “part of the business” that Harper may eventually leave, and that he’s been a national figure since he was 16.  

Q: If Harper re-signed with the Nationals, how would they work the outfield? Would Victor Robles start the season in Minors? Or would they trade Eaton?

A: You’d have to trade Adam Eaton.  And you’d be trading low.  You can’t move Juan Soto … he’s making MLB Min and could be an MVP candidate.  You really shouldn’t move Victor Robles; he’s supposed to be a *better* prospect than Soto, so you’re hoping for 4-5 win performance for (again) MLB min salary.  These are the kinds of players you keep when you’re trying to win.  Putting Robles in the minors would be an absolute waste, and if that was their plan then i’d advocate attempting to flip him as a centerpiece for a top 20 player in the league (like a Corey Kluber or something).

Collier agrees.

Q: If Harper returns, how does it change how the team will handle Anthony Rendon negotiations?

A: Hmm.  That’s a good question, because despite the fact that Anthony Rendon dropped in the draft over injury questions he’s actually been pretty solid as a pro.  I liken Rendon’s reputation and capabilities to Adrian Beltre; fantastic defender, sneaky good at the plate, and suddenly you look up and he’s put up a hall of fame career.

Will that translate into a $200m salary?  Probably not.  But Rendon is no dummy, and neither is his agent Scott Boras.

That being said … can the Nats do this whole “stars and scrubs” thing for ever?  If you have 5-6 guys on high 8-figure salaries (Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin, Harper, Rendon) can you put a good enough team behind them?

I personally think Rendon is an incredibly important player for this team, even if he isn’t that high a profile.  And because he’s not high profile, I think you can get him for $20M/year or something like that on a longer term deal, which would be a steal value-wise.  I hope committing money to Harper doesn’t close the door on a Rendon negotiation.

Collier says …. he has no idea, nor does Rizzo.

Q: How should we look at 2019 Dozier replacing ’18 Daniel Murphy? Both are above-average offensive second baseman with liability at fielding. Is this an upgrade, downgrade or equal move?

A: Absolutely an upgrade; Daniel Murphy had negative bWAR last year while even playing through injury Brian Dozier contributed.  If Dozier is healthy and performs at his 2015-2016 level again … watch out this is one of the steal signings of the off-season.

Collier basically agrees and gives good contextual numbers.

Q: Do you think Washington will add a starter? If it does, I think Wade Miley is fine.

A: I think they will … but not a guy to replace Joe Ross in the rotation.  I think they’ll be looking for MLFAs with 5/1 or 6/1 buy-outs, like Edwin Jackson or Tommy Milone signings last year.  I can’t see them breaking the luxury tax for a 5th starter.

Collier agrees, remembering that the team has already signed Henderson Alvarez for just such reasons.

 

Quick Dozier signing reaction

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Dozier slides nicely into the 2B hole on the Nats roster. Photo via mlbtraderumors.com

Dozier slides nicely into the 2B hole on the Nats roster. Photo via mlbtraderumors.com

Well, for those who were not convinced that the Nats would roll into 2019 with a Wilmer Difo/Howie Kendrick platoon at 2B … the Nats solved your problems just now, signing former all -star 2B Brian Dozier to a one year deal worth $9M.

Immediate reactions seem to think its an overpay.  He did see his BA  and his overall production plummet in 2018, going from All Star/down-ballot MVP levels in 2015-16 to abhorrent in 2017.  Even so, he still provided a full 1.0 bWAR in 2018 … which would significantly improve upon the combined -0.8 bWAR the Nats 2B provided the team last year.

Another gamble from Mike Rizzo, betting he can get a rebound year out of a former star.

I like the gamble.

  1. Dozier’s signing is a one year deal; the old adage “there are no bad one year deals” comes to mind.  If he’s a total bust, its just money.  Yes perhaps money that could have been spent elsewhere (bullpen) but there’s more P depth in our minors than 2B dept right now.
  2. He doesn’t block Carter Kieboom at all.
  3. Even if he hits .220 again, he hits for power, and would be an improvement over the black hole we had running last year at 2B.
  4. This mitigates any concerns you had about starting Kendrick, or Difo for an entire season
  5. You can do worse than a Gold Glove-calibre former All Star defender in the #7 or #8 hole.

Add a couple more incremental wins to the ledger for this team.

Roster implications:

  • This puts them at 41 players; someone needs to drop.  My guess is Matt Reynolds, who is out of options and who was never going to make the 2019 team.
  • This also likely pushes Difo back to AAA; he’s gone one option left and there’s no room on the active roster.

I saw a couple of comments on the previous thread expressing some dissatisfaction over the move.   But feel free to discuss more.   The question I have for you is this: does this signing make the team better in 2019?

Written by Todd Boss

January 10th, 2019 at 3:59 pm

Obligatory Post on the 2019 Hall of Fame class

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Rivera's last Yankee Apperance. Photo Jim McIsaac/Long Island Newsday.

Rivera’s last Yankee Apperance. Photo Jim McIsaac/Long Island Newsday.

Its that time of the year, so that means Hall of Fame Ballot time.  BBWAA Writers should have mailed in their ballots by 12/31/18, and we should start seeing a glut of “this is who I voted for and why” posts come out this week.

Nearly 25% of the voters got a jump on things and published early; as of Christmas more than 90 ballots were in Ryan Thibodaux‘s tracker and as of the new year he’s got more than 130 of the total 412 ballots available.

If you’re still “in” on the hall after the inexplicable Harold Baines election, then read on.

Here’s two key links for you, if you’re still reading:

And, here’s a link to one of the best “imaginary hall of fame” ballot stories i’ve ever read, from Jay Jaffe, he of JAWS fame, breaking down the ballot in a great way.

My consideration of candidates for the Hall, unlike my consideration of a lot of stuff in baseball, comes down more to “feel” than it does to stats.  I know Jay Jaffe  has his great JAWS thing that tries to do both peak and longevity.  I know b-r.com has a bunch of metrics per player.  That’s all great.  But it isn’t the hall of stats, it isn’t the hall of WAR.  Its the Hall of Fame.  Its the hall of marquee players from their day.  I look at the players I’d vote for and … they’re the guys you paid money to see.  They’re the arms that were on the mound and you gave the opposing team little chance.  They’re the sluggers who you wanted up in the 9th inning of a tie game.  That’s what makes the game exciting and that’s the lens I like to use when judging players.  Yeah its subjective and partisan; so is every person voting in the BBWAA.  Even Jaffe admits there’s stats and then there’s consideration in his excellent article linked above.

With my imaginary ballot, here’s how i’d vote.  Since there’s a (ridiculous) limit of 10 players per ballot, I’ll list these players in rough order of voting priority to start:

New to the 2019 Ballot Candidates:

  • Absolute Yes on Mariano RiveraRoy Halladay.
    • Rivera may be the closest we ever get to a unanimous player; a dominant closer who impacted the post-season for two decades and was a great guy with no enemies in the press.
    • Halladay was the best or among the best pitchers in baseball for nearly a decade, winning Cy Youngs in both leagues and throwing a post-season no-hitter.  He unfortunately also gets posthumous votes thanks to his ill timed death early in 2018.  Yes, his inclusion technically “lowers” the SP bar .. but I think its just about time people started realizing we have to re-think the way we evaluate SPs in our game.
  • Slight pause to consider Todd Helton, Lance BerkmanAndy Pettitte and Roy Oswalt, but then still vote no.  For each, here’s a couple of thoughts:
    • Helton had a 5 year stretch where he was once of the most feared  hitters in the game, and accumulated a ton of WAR … but was kind of a lack-of-power 1B who got a boost playing in Colorado and probably wasn’t anywhere close to the player that Fred McGriff was, who couldn’t sniff the hall.
    • Berkman was an even better, more dangerous hitter … he retired with a career OPS+ of 144, but aged badly and was done by 37.  His intolerant political views can’t be helping him either (in the same vein they’re affecting Schilling)
    • If you didn’t like Jack Morris, you probably don’t like Pettitte either, as they profile very similarly.  Pettitte has the distinction of having the most Wins in the first decade of the new year … and with Morris’ inclusion every “decade leading” wins getter is in the Hall.  But something tells me that streak ends here.  He also has a bona-fide PED testing result that, for some reason or another, isn’t viewed with nearly the vitriol as other PED-associated players (Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Sosa, etc).  Amazing how the media narrative changes based on the player (Pettitte == “good guy” while Bonds == “bad guy.”)
    • Oswalt burst onto the scene and was one of the best pitchers in the NL for the first half of his career … then disappeared and was done as an effective pitcher by the age of 33.  He’s like the Orel Hershiser of his generation, but only half as accomplished.
  • No on everyone else, and there’s nobody really close.

Returning Ballot Candidates; i’m not re-litigating these candidates, since i’ve written many times on them in the past.   Plus, most of these guys have been on the ballot so long that, frankly, nobody wants to hear your justification any more.  Its like politics; reading my blog post isn’t going to change your opinion on the Border Wall.

  • Absolute Yes on Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina
  • More tepid Yes on Curt Schilling, Manny Ramirez, Fred McGriff
  • Almost ready to say Yes on Gary Sheffield, Billy WagnerScott Rolen
  • Pass for now on Jeff Kent, Larry Walker, Sammy Sosa, Omar Vizquel, Andruw Jones.

So i’ve got absolute Yes’s on 6 guys, tepid Yes on another three, then would probably throw on Sheffield as my 10th.

I vote Yes on Mariano, Halladay, Clemens, Bonds, Edgar, Mussina, Schilling, Manny, McGriff and Sheffield.

I get the arguments for Walker, for Wagner, for Sosa, for Jones.  That’s why lots of people say there’s 14 worth candidates on this year’s ballot but only 10 spots.  Maybe next year.

 

Ask Collier 12/26/18 Edition

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Did the team make the right decision on Roark?  Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

Did the team make the right decision on Roark? Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

MLB.com Nats beat reporter Jamal Collier gives us a holiday gift with a post-Xmas mailbag dated 12/26/18.

Here’s how I would have answered the questions he took.

Q: It Harper comes back to the Nats looking for 330/10, do the Nats go over the tax or let him walk?

A: Isn’t it obvious by now?  You let him walk.  I think this was pretty clear from two observations:

  1. Mike Rizzo has already spent his $30M AAV, and spent it quickly
  2. Mark Lerner pretty much said as much in ill-advised remarks to a reporter.

The Luxury Tax strikes yet again; the Lerner family, multi-billionaires, will not spend an additional 10-15M above some imaginary payroll number to keep one of the league’s most marketable players.   Player salaries actually FELL for the first time in two decades, as clubs in total spent less than they have since 2004.   Maybe one of these big-spending clubs will break the bank and hand Bryce Harper and Scott Boras their goal; the largest contract in the history of the game.  But it sounds like its a reach, and it definitely doesn’t seem to be happening in Washington.

Collier refuses to get into hypotheticals, then notes that the Luxury tax for last year was “only” a couple million dollars.  Yeah, and only a couple of high-end draft picks, and only the reason why the club fired one of Rizzo’s most trusted advisors for absolutely screwing it up.  

—-

Q: Roark trade more about getting a LHP or the analytics told them he was on MAJOR decline year? $10M for innings eater is the going rate

A: I think the team was taking a calculated gamble that Tanner Roark‘s best years are behind him.   Despite appearances or opinions, Roark was basically a league average pitcher last year.  That’s a significant step ABOVE a replacement level/5th starter type.  But, he’s been trending down, he’s heading into his age 32 year, and the team thought it could spend his $10M better.  I don’t think lefty versus righty had anything to do with it.  Of course, they basically replaced him with an even older Anibal Sanchez, so sorry for sounding hypocritical on his age.  But while Roark struggled to even get to his 98 ERA+ figure last year … Sanchez had a late-career ephiphany that led him to being one of the top pitchers in all of baseball for the 2nd half of last year.  A better trend line in the end.

Collier agrees, that this was a gamble betting that Roark is set to regress in 2019.

Q: If the Nats go out and sign one or two back end of the rotation starters, what does that do to the development of Joe Ross and Erick Fedde? Moved to the bullpen? Sent to Triple A?

A: I’d have a hard time seeing the Nats signing a MLB-contract for another starter at this point, because Joe Ross has nothing to prove in AAA.  But Erick Fedde does.   Joe Ross has proven he can be an effective MLB starter, with his 125 ERA+ in 19 starts in 2016 as evidence.   Now he’ll be 26, with a new elbow, and looking to answer the question whether he’s back from TJ surgery.  For me, for a relatively affordable salary (1st year arb estimate of $2.5M), that’s a great gamble to go with on your 5th starter.  If he suddenly comes out in 2016 mode, 20-25% above league average

Technically both players have one minor league option left, so the team could opt to send them both to Fresno to get lit up in PCL parks and prove nothing.  I expect that for Fedde and we’ll have to take his stats with a grain of salt.

That being said, I do expect the team to sign at least one more MLFA veteran starter in the Jeremy Hellickson ilk, to go to Fresno and be some rotation insurance/catch lightning in a bottle again.

collier kind of gives a non-answer, but he does think Ross could work out of the bullpen (I don’t).

Q:  In my opinion, 2B is their biggest [remaining] priority. Any movement on that front? There are so many available as an upgrade!

A: Well, either 2B or maybe more middle relief help.  Right now the team is looking at this for each spot:

  • 2B: Howie Kendrick starter, Wilmer Difo backup, with Adrian Sanchez and Matt Reynolds as options (Sanchez has an option, Reynolds does not).
  • Middle Relief: right now you’re looking at Justin Miller/Wander Suero/Koda Glover as RHP middle relief options, and Sammy Solis/Matt Grace as lefty options.

Which one of those scares you more?  For me, probably middle relief.  Reliever performance is so variable that its hard to look at the guys who did well last year (Miller, Suero, Grace) and count on them in 2019, just like its hard to look at the guys who struggled (Glover, Solis) and just assume they’re washed up.  But, if you buy more arms, its one in, one out on the roster, so who makes way?

Collier says the team is focusing on one-year deals for one of the many 2B out there, to coincide with the expected arrival of Carter Kieboom.  Makes sense.

Q: Other than what Zimmerman and Rizzo have said publically, is there any rumblings about reworking Zim’s contract? Sentimentality aside, would it be wise for the Nats to lengthen the deal in any way?

A: Hmmm.  man tough question.  Zimmerman is owed $18M for 2019, then has a $2M buyout or another $18M year in 2020.   He’ll be 34 in 2019, 35 in 2020.

When he’s healthy,  he’s good for 25-30 homers, a .300 BA, a .500 slugging, and an OPS+ figure in the 120-130 range.  When he’s not … he misses vast chunks of the season, hits in the .250 range, and has about as many homers as a typical middle infielder.

Its notable that he *already* has a 5yr/$10M personal services contract with the team in place upon his retirement, so even if he hangs them up after playing for an other team he’s coming back here for the long haul.  So he’s going to be associated with the team for a while.

First things first: if he puts up another 120 OPS+ season in 2019 and is healthy, I think its an easy option to pick up for 2020.  From there, again if he continues to provide value I can see perhaps the team extending him on a year by year contract kinda similar to what they’ve given Matt Adams the last couple of years.  I’m sure Zimmerman would take that, given his history, his Virginia roots, the fact that he’s settled here, etc.  At some point it’ll become pretty clear its time for him to hang it up … at which point he transitions to the front office nicely with a hope of staying in management for a while.

That’s what i’m hoping for.

Collier notes that both sides want to continue the relationship, so something should get worked out.

 

Happy Holidays from NAR

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Soto in his younger years.  Like the beginning of 2018.,   Photo via minorleagueball.com

Soto in his younger years. Like the beginning of 2018.
Photo via minorleagueball.com

Quick post to say thanks to everyone who contributes here and makes for a nice place to have a conversation about our favorite team that often drives us nuts.

As a Nats fan, i’m grateful this season for the furious work our GM has done to shore up the team for 2019.  Just thinking about his moves from a bWAR perspective:

  • Replacing 90+ innings from Ryan Madsen and Sammy Solis and A.J. Cole (combined 2018 bWAR: -1.7) with comparable innings from Trevor Rosenthal and Kyle Barraclough (combined bWAR for 2018: 0.4) is addition by subtraction, but we’ll call it 1 full win.
  • Replacing the black hole of production on both sides of the ball from our Catcher spot (combined 2018 bWAR: -0.1) with the production of our two new C signings Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki (combined 2018 bWAR: 4.7).  Call it 4 additional wins, since both catchers can’t play at the same time.
  • Replacing Tanner Roark and Gio Gonzalez in the rotation (combined 2018 bWAR: 4.5) with Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez (combined 2018 bWAR: 7.6).   Call it 3 more wins.
  • Replacing Bryce Harper‘s abhorrent defense in the outfield this season (dWAR component of an astoundingly low -3.2 in 2018) with someone who actually plays the outfield competently in Victor Robles (a plus plus defender in center, allowing Adam Eaton to slide to RF, where he has posted dWARs in the 1.5 to 1.8 range.  I’ll call this at least 4 more wins.

That’s 1+4+3+4 more wins just based on the moves we’ve already made.  That’s 12 wins on last year’s 82-80 season.

And then there’s this: first year rookie manager Dave Martinez‘s learning on the job season contributed to an astounding -8 on the Nats pythagorean record, which just isn’t sustainable.  Between a better bullpen and better luck, the team should improve by this factor going forward.  Lets call it 4 additional wins.

Voila.  that’s 16 wins over last year’s 82-80 season, which equates to a 98 win season.  And that’s before we find out if Robles can put up a Juan Soto season, or if Soto improves on his 2018, or if we find a competent 2nd baseman to add more value, or if Ryan Zimmerman doesn’t blow off an entire season and puts up 2017-esque numbers, or if we find out that Joe Ross can return to his 2016 form (2 bWAR season in half a season starting).

So that’s some optimism heading into the new year.

Written by Todd Boss

December 25th, 2018 at 6:48 pm