Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for December, 2017

Ask Collier; Pre-New Year’s Eve Mailbag


Is this what we're waking up to on 4/1/2019?  Photo via barstoolsports

Is this what we’re waking up to on 4/1/2019? Photo via barstoolsports


In this slow baseball off-season news cycle, anything is good.  We’ve signed a handful of MLFAs, some of which may even contribute, and we’ve fortified a couple of known roster spots.  But nothing major has happened really (at least not to us).

Lets check in with Nats beat reporter Jamal Collier, who posted a mailbag today on 12/28/17.


Q: What’s the impact of the Stanton to Yankees on Bryce’s next deal and potential for remaining with Nats?

A: I think its significant, and combined with a couple of other factors may actually help convince Bryce Harper to stay put.

First, the players union focused all its efforts on the Qualifying Offer  in the most recent CBA negotiations and gave up a huge concession in form of the luxury tax implementation.  Now, it isn’t a “salary cap” but it sure is acting like it.  When your biggest spenders (Yankees and Dodgers) are playing payroll games in order to get under neath the threshold … its serving as a defacto cap.  And it should be noted the Union did not get a corresponding “floor” … meaning that team after team will be punting on seasons ala Houston and Chicago and not spending money, thus bringing the FA spending down.  This situation will only continue into next off-season, which is setup to be the greatest Free Agency bonanza ever.  But are all these 2018 FAs fooling themselves into thinking they’re going to get the money they’re seeking?  You can already see the impacts; there’s been almost no movement in the 2017 FA market and I suspect that mid-level guys are going to get completely screwed.

Meanwhile, the Yankees have now committed $30M/year to an outfielder who basically plays the same position as Harper in Giancarlo Stanton.  And even the Yankees still need to find money to pay for pitching.  Can you field a competitive team with a thinned farm system and two players accounting for nearly half your payroll?  I don’t think you can.  Where would you even put Harper?  He’d have to commit to playing CF with Stanton and Aaron Judge in the corners … that’s a lot of power in the outfield yes .. but also not a ton of defense.

Lastly, there’s already rumors (a comment from a connected blogger recently) who is hearing that Harper may very well stay put.  And why not?  Thanks to a middling division filled with teams going in the wrong direction and a relatively young team with key players locked up … Washington isn’t the worst place to hang your hat for a while.  We offer him a deal with an opt out perhaps in 3-4 years, when he won’t even be 30 yet, and he’ll have another bite at the apple.

So, maybe Harper is going to be wearing the curly-W a while longer.

Collier thinks the Yankees are less obvious of a suitor … but that anything could happen.


Q: Should we read much into the lack of a Rizzo extension, or is it something that the Lerners would be more likely to do this summer (assuming everything is going well in-season)?

A: I wouldn’t read anything into the lack of movement; I continue to think the Lerner group treats its baseball employees no differently than its regular construction business employees, and have no issue letting employees go to the end of their deals before renewing.

Collier says the same.


Q: With news breaking of Realmuto wanting out of Miami, could you see the Nationals making a push for the young catcher?

A: Nope.  Nats are already overspending at the position and are going to be hoping for a Ryan Zimmerman-esque bounce back year from Matt Wieters.  And with them being so close to the luxury tax already (if not over it), I can’t see them spending even more money at a position where they’re already spending significant dollars.  I just don’t see this team throwing good money after bad at the catcher position.

Collier basically the same.


Q: I have to say that one of my biggest concerns with the new coaching staff is the absence of Davey Lopes. This is a team that should be using speed as a primary weapon, and Lopes’ coaching was essential to the younger speedsters on this team. Can you reassure me that both the coaching staff and Martinez will still buy into this approach and that they have the tools to make good on the potential headaches for opposing pitchers and defenders?

A; I dunno how anyone can make that claim honestly.  The only thing we have to go on is Joe Maddon‘s approach; will Dave Martinez use the same?  It will be a wait and see thing.

Collier thinks they’ll stay aggressive.


Man, that was kind of a lame mailbag.  No hot takes, nothing controversial.  We need some stuff to argue about.

Thankfully …. Hall of Fame voting is next week.  Can’t wait.

Operation Nats Off-Season; progress Report


Is Adams our savior?   photo via Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Is Adams our savior?
photo via Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

On the heels of the Matt Adams signing, lets get a status update on the “needs” of the team and what they’ve done so far now that we’re past the Winter Meetings.

Needs/Off-season todo list: Here’s what I listed as the team’s “pressing needs” in a 10/16/17 post.

  1. Resolve Dusty Baker situationStatus Update: they whacked him and hired Dave Martinez to replace him.
  2. Should we bring back Jayson WerthStatus update: no update here, in that Werth has not signed elsewhere but the tea leaves definitely seem to indicate he’s moving on.
  3. What do we do at Catcher? Status Update:  Nothing yet; our former backup Jose Lobaton has already signed, penning  minor league deal with the Mets.  Not that he was going to really be an option for us.  We’ve seen some rumblings about how the team is going to manage Matt Wieters‘ playing time, and there’s a couple more options out there at catcher (not the least of which is J.T. Realmuto, who has expressed publicly his desire to be traded now that the new Marlins ownership group has gutted the roster.  I still don’t see any change here in direction; I think the team will stay with internal options.
  4. Will they pursue FA extensions with key players?  Status Update: there were brief rumors of extension talks with Harper/Boras, same with Rendon.  Nothing with Murphy.  So not much.
  5. Do they need to pursue a Starting Pitcher?  Status Updatenot much news here yet; they’ve gotten Tommy Milone to return to the fold, signing a ML deal that I would think includes an opt-out if he doesn’t make the team (but that’s an assumption).  Right now the 5th starter is the winner of an A.J. Cole/Erick Fedde/Milone spring training run-off.  I would expect to see something happen here at some point this off-season.  One complicating factor: Cole is out of options…
  6. What is the Nats 2018 outfield?  Status Update: no news and no trades from depth, so its still looking like Eaton/Taylor/Harper with Goodwin and Stevenson as backups.  They did intimate that Victor Robles will be starting in AAA so that he can play full-time, a decision I fully endorse.  Goodwin in particular got some mention from John Sickels in his prep post for the Nationals farm system, wondering aloud what Goodwin’s numbers would look like with a full season of ABs.  I don’t see that happening here … so I still think there’s a trade coming.  Another complicating factor here: Goodwin is now out of options.
  7. Do the Nats leverage their sudden depth of position players in trade this off-seasonStatus Update: nothing yet here … maybe Billy Beane has been on vacation and he just hasn’t returned Mike Rizzo‘s phone calls for the next big Oakland-Washington trade.
  8. What do we do with the benchStatus Update: so far we’re starting next year with Severino as the backup catcher, we just signed Adams to replace Adam Lind as the lefty PH bench bat.  I still think we need a RH bat to replace the Chris Heisey role, a guy who could play a corner in a pinch.  Otherwise we’re on track here.  Keep in mind; Murphy may not be ready for opening day so right now we’re looking at Wilmer Difo in the starting lineup.
  9. What do we do with the bullpen Status Update: the team re-signed Brandon Knitzler, which I think is a quality move but may also complicate the bullpen.  We now have three relievers who are out of options (Grace, Solis and Romero), all of whom were utilized last year.  If you keep the four guys now signed for big money FA deals along with the 3 out-of-option guys … then you’re leaving in particular Koda Glover in the minors.  Or on the D/L.

So, just 3 of the 9 categories really addressed at this point, though not all 9 categories were really Mandatory to do this off-season.

What does our 25-man opening day roster look like right now?

  • SP: Scherzer, Strasburg, Roark, Gonzalez, Cole
  • RP: Doolittle, Madsen, Knitzler, Kelley, Grace, Solis, Romero.  (4 of these guys have guaranteed contracts, the other 3 are out of options)
  • C: Wieters, Severino
  • Inf: Zimmerman, Murphy, Rendon, Turner, Adams, Difo (likely one more here with Murphy on the 10-day D/L to start the season)
  • OF: Eaton, Taylor, Harper, Goodwin, Stevenson

Does that look like a World Series winning team?

Jack Morris gets his due


Morris finally in. Photo John Iacono via

Morris finally in. Photo John Iacono via

I’m about to embark on what may be a touchy subject.  With a significant lack of useful Nationals news (outside of one re-signing and a bunch of non-news coming out of Winterfest), what the heck.

Lets argue some more about the Hall of Fame!

A week ago, in what was of little surprise to those reading the writing on the wall, Jack Morris (and his long-time  and deservingDetroit teammate Alan Trammell )were selected to baseball’s Hall of Fame by the “Modern Era Committee,” which exists to make “amends” basically for voters who have shown themselves as a body to do a pretty crummy  job of evaluating players from the 1980s.

I have written on Morris in the past.  See this 2012 post specifically about him and the meaning of Stats versus Fame, and more generally about how badly the 1980s are under-represented in the Hall in this wide-ranging 2013 piece.

There are many who think Morris’ selection is an abomination.  He now as the highest career ERA of any Hall of Fame pitcher … often noted by the same people who then turn around and tell us that ERA isn’t that great of a measure.  He led the 1980s decade in Wins during perhaps the last ERA where pitchers were really expected to “finish” their games on a regular basis (its notable that Morris has 5 times as many complete games as the 1990s decade Wins leader Andy Pettitte, who himself is as controversial of a Hall candidate as Morris) … but then we also know that “Wins” aren’t that great of a stat either, at least not in the current era when starters rarely get out of the 7th inning.

Morris isn’t the “worst” pitcher in the Hall by bWAR: sort the register by bWAR and you’ll find that Morris is obviously below the Hall average, but well above several pitchers who you should quibble about more than Morris.  He certainly stands ahead of nearly every “closer” currently in the Hall, less of an indictment of Morris and moreso of the game’s obsession with the Save statistic.  Head over to Fangraphs and you’ll see that Morris ranks 63rd all time in fWAR, notably ahead of luminary Hall members Whitey Ford and surprisingly Sandy Koufax and miles ahead of the likes of Catfish Hunter or Bob Lemon or Lefty Gomez or Dizzy Dean or all the rest of the relievers.   So by both primary WAR measurements, Morris isn’t nearly the worst pitcher enshrined.

Yet he was easily the subject of the most vindictive anti-campaign.  Why?  Why was  his candidacy and his career so belittled while a career mediocre stats accumulator like Bert Blyleven so championed?  I don’t know.  Did we hear this much vitriol when we elected Hunter?  Ask yourself: If Koufax had played in the modern era, put up his stats for a few years then retired at 30 … would he be elected to the Hall?

Here’s the real reason i’m posting this: Bill James wrote a fantastic piece explaining everything about Morris that i’ve struggled to articulate over the years.  Its a great read:

In it, he talks about basically peak versus longevity, about Morris versus Johan Santana and the value of durability.   Here’s my takeaway quote from the article:

“It is my opinion that the Hall-of-Fame should reflect the history of game, and not whatever attitudes and opinions happens to rule the present. We might not want Jack Morris as the pitcher who reflects the current era of baseball, but there is no question that Morris was one of the most important pitchers of the eighties and early nineties.”

I couldn’t agree more.  And that, to me, is what the Hall of Fame should be about.  It is entirely possible that the whole of the 1980s was just a “down” era for starters; how else can we explain why the leading pitchers of the era got so little recognition?  I’m talking about Fernando ValenzuelaBret Saberhagen, Dave Steib, Orel Hershiser.  Maybe even Denny Martinez or even Dwight Gooden.  This list includes guys who won more than a quarter of the Cy Young awards from the 1980s, yet none of them even came close to enshrinement … and most of them fell off after one year of eligibility.

The Hall of Fame has gone *out of its way* to enshrine early baseball players, so much so that even a die-hard fan doesn’t recognize many of the names.  This 538 piece shows the statistical analysis: in the 1920s there were just 16 teams … yet there are 28 players from the era in the Hall, or above 12% of the eligible players.   Yet we sit here and make excuses as to why the guy who holds the record for opening day starts and leads the decade in Wins isn’t worthy.

I’m happy Morris is in the hall of fame.  He inarguably was one of the most “famous” pitchers from his era.  And that’s what an establishment with the word “Fame” should be striving for; showcasing those who were known for an era.




Written by Todd Boss

December 19th, 2017 at 10:46 am

Posted in Hall of Fame

So, how much did Shohei Ohtani just cost himself?


Ohtani signs with the ... Angels? photo via

Ohtani signs with the … Angels? photo via

We now know that Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani has signed; he’s going to the Los Angeles Angels … or in other words, the other baseball team in Los Angeles.  His selection of that team seems to have been driven by a desire to be on the West Coast, his apparent desire to be on an AL team to open up the DH opportunities in-between his starts … and his insane desire to leave literally tens of millions of dollars on the table.

I was listening to a podcast where some guy was trying to argue that Ohtani was actually making a “good” business move by coming over now.  I was flabbergasted.  The guy’s main argument was that by coming over now, he gets to free agency two years earlier and thus can get more money then.  But it gave zero credence to the fact that he’s going to be costing himself literally tens of millions of dollars by playing for MLB min salaries for three years.

I thought i’d try to map out just how ridiculously bad his financial decision was to leave Japan now versus in two years, when he’d be 25 and would be an unrestricted FA.  So, using some simple guesses and projections, here’s an attempt to discuss just how much money he’s leaving on the table.

By coming over now, he is subjecting himself to the same rules as any other IFA; he gets the maximum bonus that the Angels can offer ($2.315M after they acquired some bonus money just ahead of the signing).  He’ll play for the MLB minimum the next three years.  Then he’ll enter arbitration, with the caveat that any shenanigans in the contracts he may sign to buy out arb years will probably be voided by MLB.  So we’ll use the records for 1st/2nd/3rd year eligible arb players as benchmarks.

By year:

  • 2017: $2.315M bonus
  • Age 23-25 seasons: 2018, 2019, 2020: MLB minuimums or there abouts; lets assume he gets good raises and earns $545k, $800k and then $1.1M (Mike Trout owns the current record for pre-arb player salary of $1M).
  • Age 26 season in 2021: 1st arb year; $10M, which is Ryan Howard‘s current record for first year arb eligible players … and which is significantly higher than the 1st year record for pitchers (Dallas Keuchel‘s $7.25M).
  • Age 27 season in 2022: 2nd arb year: $11.3M
  • Age 28 season in 2023: 3rd arb year: $15.5M
  • Age 29 season in 2024: 4th arb year (why does he get a 4th year?  Because what’s stopping the Angels from keeping him in Spring Training until a few weeks have passed and keeping him for an extra year?  Wouldn’t you?): $19.75M.

So, adding that up; assuming he matches the absolute highest figures in arb figures and doesn’t sign an extension, he’d earn $61.31M in bonus and salary by the time he’s reached Free Agency.

Versus ….

  • 2018: plays in Japan at his current salary of about $2.378M
  • 2019: does the same.

And in 2020, he comes over here completely unencumbered and signs a massive deal.   The pundits that i’ve read, when asked what he’d be worth on the open market right now, say between $200M and $240M in total value.  Their argument would be that he’d easily be the best FA on the market, he’s got better stuff than any pitcher out there (he sits upper 90s, touches triple digits and per Dave Cameron of fangraphs has spin rates the equivalent of Luis Severino … all while producing at the plate and being an 80 runner).   $200-$250M is a crazy contract to try to project to … so lets assume, for the sake of argument, its a $25M AAV deal (which is probably light, but makes the point anyway).  To then cover the same years as the above scenario:

  • 2020, 2021,2022, 2023,2024 at $25M/per.

So that’d be $125M plus his two years of Japan salary.  That’s a difference of about $65M just between now and 2024 … and that assumes several key points (that he gets the arbitration record each year, that he continues to get his ridiculously cheap $2.3M Japanese salary, and that he “only” gets $25M AAV).

Odds are that the actual difference would be much higher, since he’s likely to get a lot more than $25M AAV.  Why?  Because unlike typical Pitcher FAs we see in the majors … he’s still in his early 20s, he’s got no injury history … and he can hit!  So if you think he’s likely to get closer to $35M AAV … then add another $50M to that $65M gap above and now you see why people are saying he’s making a $100M mistake.

Yes, Ohtani will be making bank through endorsements.  So he’s not going to be hurting for cash.  But the life of a pro athlete can be fleeting; you get as much as you can, as soon as you can, because there’s no guarantees about what happens tomorrow.  Ohtani might blow out his elbow twice in four years and he’s out of the league before he even hits free agency.  Or he might turn into the next Roger Clemens.  He’s making a huge gamble though in order to “compete” against the best now versus in a couple years.

(I think I got the above scenario right … let me know if there’s some detail of his contract that I missed).


Written by Todd Boss

December 12th, 2017 at 10:11 am

Nats Non-News: Non-tender deadline, FA (lack of) market and Ohtani


Are the Nats really in the mix for Japanese superstar Ohtani? Photo via

Are the Nats really in the mix for Japanese superstar Ohtani? Photo via

As many others have noticed … there isn’t a heck of a lot going on right now in the “hot stove” season.  But given where we are in the regular off-season calendar, lets bang out a couple of topics.

First: the Non-tender deadline.

For the first time in an awful long time, the Nats have no real obvious non-tender candidates on their roster.  They entered the off-season with just four arbitration-eligible players and they are all set to be crucial pieces for 2018:

  • Bryce Harper technically would have been arb-eligible but signed away his 4th year for north of $21M.
  • Anthony Rendon comes off easily his finest season as a pro (his numbers across the board eclipse his 2014 5th place MVP season) and he should be in line to more than double his $5.8M 2017 salary.
  • Tanner Roark struggled in 2017 (… perhaps caused/aided by the frequently-seen WBC hangover?) but is still slated to be our 4th starter on a rotation that doesn’t currently have a fifth and should be in line for about an $8M payday.
  • Michael Taylor has established himself as one of the premier defensive center fielders in the game, will be set to start in 2018, and faces arbitration for the first time (likely to get around a $2.5M check).

Compare this to previous non-tender years (with links to non-tender specific posts from years past):

  • 2016: we non-tendered Ben Revere, waived Aaron Barrett before having to make the NT decision, and declined Yusmeiro Petit‘s option as a way of “non-tendering” him.
  • 2015: we non-tendered Craig Stammen, but kept NT candidates Jose Lobaton and Tyler Moore (eventually trading Moore after waiving him at the end of spring training).
  • 2014: we did not non-tender anyone, though a couple weeks later traded NT candidate Ross Detwiler to Texas for two guys who never really panned out for us (Chris Bostick and Abel de los Santos).
  • 2013: we did not non-tender anyone, only Ross Ohlendorf was a candidate, and in retrospect he probably should have been NT’d since he didn’t throw a pitch for the Nationals in 2014.
  • 2012: we non-tendered three guys (Jesus FloresTom Gorzelanny, John Lannan) in the face of a huge amount of arbitration players (10).
  • 2011: we non-tendered Doug Slaten deservedly, but tendered candidate Gorzellany.
  • 2010: we non-tendered Chien-Ming WangWil Nieves, Joel Peralta.  We also outrighted 5 guys prior to the NT deadline, DFA’d two more in December, and DFA/dreleased four more guys prior to Spring training in a very busy off-season.
  • 2009: we non-tendered Scott Olsen, Mike MacDougal
  • 2008: we non-tendered Tim Redding, now the Pitching coach for our Auburn Short-A team, so I guess there was no hard feelings there :-)
  • 2007: we non-tendered Nook LoganMike O’Conner.
  • 2006: we non-tendered or declined options for Ryan Drese, Brian Lawrence, Zach Day (it might have only been Day who was officially non-tendered)
  • 2005: we non-tendered Carlos BaergaPreston WilsonJunior Spivey.

That’s a long trip down random memory lane for marginal Nationals players from yesteryear.

Post-publish edit: as expected, the team formally tendered contracts to the 3 arb-eligible players on 12/1/17.

The FA market in general seems to be held up by two major names: Giancarlo Stanton and Shohei Ohtani.  Jeff Passan argues there’s other reasons (see this link) for the lack of movement, but one has to think the big names are a big part of it.  I also believe that this year’s “crop” of FAs is … well kind of underwhelming.  Here’s Passan’s ranking of FAs: his biggest names past Ohtani are Yu Darvish (who just sucked in the post-season, is coming off TJ surgery and doesn’t rate as the “Ace” he once was), J.D. Martinez (who blew up in 2017 but who has normally gotten a lot of his value from defense and he’s not getting any younger), Eric Hosmer (a 1B only guy, even if he’s really good, who seems like a safe bet to get over-pad and age badly) and Jake Arrieta (who has taken a step backwards from his Cy Young win and has already entered his decline years).  Plus, the “price” for signing some of these QO-attached guys (Hosmer, Arrieta plus other top-10 FAs like Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and Wade Davis) will be quite steep for big-market and/or Luxury tax teams like our own Washington Nationals.

Frankly, between the higher price of forced loss of picks due to our over-spending last season, our current payroll tightness (we seem to only have about $17M to spend to stay under the tax for all of next year) and the underwhelming lot of available players … i don’t see us really participating in this year’s sweepstakes.    Do we want to pony up for a middling 5th starter type like Jaime Garcia at the likely going price of $10M/year?  Or roll the dice with a MLFA like we did with some success last year (Edwin JacksonJacob Taylor).  Or just stay inhouse and let Erick Fedde continue to mature every 5th day on the mound?

Stanton, according to the tea-leaves i’m reading this week, seems like he’s heading to San Francisco, who is in desperate need for offense, outfielders and a franchise makeover after last year’s debacle.  Stanton could fit all three.  Which is great for him (he’s born and raised in California and would be joining a franchise that, despite its 2017 season, still has 3 WS titles in the last decade and a slew of marquee players to build around), great for the Nats (getting him out of the division), great for the “franchise” of Miami (who rids themselves of perhaps the 2nd worst contract in baseball behind Albert Pujols‘ and lets them get a relatively clean slate to start over for the new franchise ownership group), and of course awful for the “fans” of Miami, who thought they were finally getting rid of one of the worst owners in professional sports only to get slapped in the face with comical missteps by the new Derek Jeter-led ownership group, who managed to embarrass themselves in the most ridiculous way (by firing ceremonial Marlins legends for no good reason) early and then put themselves on the defensive needlessly by immediately crying poor and saying that they needed to pare payroll within a few days of taking over.  If i was a Miami fan I wouldn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

I also think its notable that the first ex-Nat ranked on Passan’s list comes in at #43; the “ripe for regression” Matt Albers.  Brandon Knitzler comes soon after him (who could be a re-signing candidate frankly for us, to put the “law firm” back together), then you have to get all the way down to #62 to find Jayson Werth.  As compared to next off-season, when the Nats will have the #1 guy on the list.

Coming back to Ohtani (I’m going with the h in the name since after much research that’s what seems like the right way to spell it) ….

First things first: I desperately hope the Nats get him.  Anyone who thinks that they’re better off without Ohtani is a fool; he’s set to become one of the biggest bargains in baseball.  For the small price of a $20M posting fee, you get a guy who throws 100, is an 80 runner, and hits the crap out of the ball.  For a miniscule bonus figure (the max any team has seems to be about $3.5M; the Nats only have $300k) and then a MLB min contract.  Its just amazing.  His presence could literally change the face of a franchise for a decade for about the same amount of money we will have paid Gio Gonzalez this year and next.  I doubt he picks us though; it seems more likely he picks either a major market team (NY, Boston) on the east coast or (more likely) one of the west coast teams for better proximity to Japan and a larger Asian native market (LA, SF, Seattle).  But its all speculation.

Hey, did I mention that the Nats need both another starter AND a lefty-bat off the bench, right now??  Ohtani would be perfect!

Side Note: why the heck is he coming over now and subjecting himself to MLB minimum contracts and arbitration??  He’s literally leaving $100M on the table by not waiting just two years and coming over un-restricted.  I just cannot believe he’s doing this and costing himself so much money.  I get the lip service comments about wanting to challenge himself, yadda yadda, but when there’s literally 9 figures of money on the table, I just don’t understand the decision.  He’s projected to be better than Daisuke Matsuzaka, better than Darvish, both of whom got many times more money (Dice-K got $52M to him, $103M in total cost plus his posting fee), while Darvish got $60M to him and cost the Rangers $111M total with posting fee).  It seems crazy.

Can’t wait to see where he goes, and I can’t wait to see if he’s the real deal.