Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for September, 2018

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?