Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for December, 2018

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

Anibal Sanchez as #4 starter; I like the risk

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Sanchez joins the Nats on a 2 year deal. photo Atl official via ESPN

Sanchez joins the Nats on a 2 year deal. photo Atl official via ESPN

 

Well, now we can have the argument; was the Tanner Roark salary dump worth it?  Because just a few days later the team signed his replacement; Anibal Sanchez last night to a  deal to be his replacement.  Contract details are a bit complicated by the reports i’ve seen: 2 guaranteed years, $19M of guaranteed money, with $6M deferred and a 2021 option worth $12M, and some unspecified details that could add $4M to the package.

From what I can tell, the luxury tax implications are just the guarantees; $19M over two years means $9.5M of a luxury tax hit this season … which is almost identical to the $9.8M we’d been using to project Roark.

So, is the team better off?  Probably.  Roark has had flashes of brilliance (2014 and 2016) … but his last two years he was losing velocity and had plateaued as a slightly below league average pitcher.   Despite being much younger, we all kind of saw where he seems to be going, and the team clearly didn’t think his potential performance was worth the money.

Sanchez was a solid, familiar opponent in our division for years, always a solid competitor, an under the radar solid rotation piece.  He was god-awful in the AL, then suddenly found a new pitch and a new approach upon returning to the NL and pitched like a #2 starter most of last season.

So the Nats are betting on his 35-year old resurgence continuing, and paying him for it.

Implications for the team:

40-man: this is the 40th guy on the 40 man; the next move requires us to cut loose someone.

Salary Cap: We’re basically treading water from where we were a week ago; i’ve got the team at $188.8M in luxury tax dollars for fy2019, versus a cap of $206M, still leaving $17.6M of room.  I’ve seen other reports saying the Nats are now above $200M for the year and I don’t really see how people are arriving at that conclusion:

  • $134M for 12 signed players for 2019
  • $32.75M estimate for 6 arb eligible players
  • $4.6M for the other 7 pre-arb players that will make up the rest of the 25-man roster
  • $2.25M for the other 15 guys on the 40-man in the minors
  • $14.5M for benefits

That totals $188.8M, leaving the $17.6M of room.  I know some people want to use “real” dollars instead of lux tax dollars, but the difference really isn’t that much.

Rotation: obviously this bumps Erick Fedde to AAA, where he probably should be.   This makes for a pretty solid rotation improvement over where we were yesterday.   I’m not sure where this places the Nats rotation in the pantheon of the league right now; i have a worksheet that I’ll turn into a blog post that ranks them 1-30 once the remaining impact starters sign (Dallas KeuchelYusei KikuchiWade Miley, Gio Gonzalez, Drew Pomeranz, Mike Fiers, etc).  But I think there’s a clear top 5 of rotations in the league in some order: Chicago Cubs, Boston, Washington, Cleveland and the Dodgers.  Right now i’ve got them roughly ranked in that order.  This move bumped up the Nats a couple of slots by replacing a sub-#5 starter in Fedde with at least a #3 quality guy.

Verdict; I think they did pretty darn good considering what’s out there and what they have to work with.   I’ll take Sanchez and his 2018 performance as my 4th starter any day.  The question is … is it sustainable?  Is it a one-off?  Scouting reports seem to indicate he found a new pitch and worked it heavily, but that his numbers had some luck involved w/r/t BABIP and soft contact.  He’s also 35, so we’re counting on an older guy to continue a sustained late-career surge.  Kinda like what the Dodgers have done with Rich Hillso it isn’t out of the realm of possible.

Fangraphs Nats Prospect top 22 released

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Robles remains our #1 prospect for one mor eoff-season. Photo via milb.com

Robles remains our #1 prospect for one mor eoff-season. Photo via milb.com

The two prospect experts at Fangraphs (Kiley McDaniel and Eric Longenhagen) have released their prospect list for the Nats farm system for the 2018-19 off-season, ranking 22 guys using FAngraphs somewhat unique ranking system.

The link is here: https://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/top-22-prospects-washington-nationals/

This is the first publicly available ranking of the off-season of our prospects (Baseball America released their top 10 last week, but its entirely behind a pay-wall that I havn’t brought myself to pay for yet).  But its also a very interesting look into the evolution of the Nats system.

Our top 5 really isn’t surprising: Victor RoblesCarter Kieboom, Luis Garcia, Mason Denanburg and Wil Crowe.  Most of us could have probably made that list from memory, knowing what we know about our depth.  Also not surprising; the dropping of Seth Romero and Raudy Read (who was not even mentioned in the top 22).  Romero likely doesn’t pitch again until Spring of 2020, and Read’s suspension and subsequent stacking of Catchers on top of his head by the big club essentially buries him in the minors for another season save a massive spate of injuries.

Other interesting omissions: Jake Irwin, who was #10 on BA’s list but doesn’t make Fangraph’s list.   Jackson Tetreault‘s stock has plummeted; he was once on the breach of being a top 10 prospect for the system and now isn’t even being mentioned.

Nick Raquet, our 2017 3rd rounder, also does not appear anywhere in this list despite his slot-value bonus that year.  He joins a less-than-illustrious history of 3rd rounders by this organization (year by year starting with 2018 Reid Schaller, Raquet, Jesus LuzardoRhett WisemanJakson Reetz , Drew Ward, Brett Mooneyham. Matthew Purke, Rick Hague,  and Trevor Holder in 2009.  For the record, that’s 10 years and one legitimate prospect or guy who worked out (that being Luzardo .. who will succeed for someone else).  That’s pretty ridiculous.  (2008 was Danny Espinosa, so i don’t want to be accused of arbitrary end-points).

The system still seems kind of top-heavy; 3-4 sure things, then a bunch of question marks.  i”d guess we’re ranked in the 16-20 range among the 30 teams as a system.

Lets be more positive; there’s a slew of names on this 2019 Fangraphs list who have literally never been mentioned on any other list that i’ve tracked.  So lets focus on them:

  • #9 Israel Pineda, an 18yr old Catcher who just held his own in Short-A against a bunch of guys 3 years his senior.  Maybe we’re finally developing a catcher that can make it?
  • #11 Tanner Rainey: our trade bounty in the Tanner Roark salary dump.  He’s not much of a “prospect” in that he’s 26 and is a AAA/4-A guy already.  But he does have a big arm and seems like he could be a 6th/7th inning solution soon.
  • #12 Malvin Pena, a 2014 IFA signing who signed for so little that he’s not even mentioned in the press releases from the time (meaning, he probably signed for like $5k).  Fangraphs complains about his mechanics, but he walked just 7 guys in 50 innings this year while making it to Low-A as a 21 yr old who has lost two full seasons to injury).   I think he starts in the Low-A rotation again in 2019 as they build his innings back up and see if he can improve on his already decent 2018 performance.
  • #17 Taylor Guilbeau: we just talked about him with Rule-5; he was eligible but didn’t get picked, despite switching to the bullpen and halving his ERA.  I think he appears on this list mostly due to his AFL performance.  I’m hoping he quickly becomes a LOOGY option for the big-league club in perhaps a year and a half or so.
  • #18 Jeremy De La Rosa, a $300k IFA signing this past June, and already on the list.  The thing that I noted: 6’1″ and he hasn’t turned 17 yet.
  • #19 Jordan Mills, another guy I thought took great strides forward in 2018 and was a Rule5 threat to get drafted.  He’s a step ahead of Guilbeau in terms of being an option for the big club; not bad for a MLFA signing a year ago.
  • #20 Joan Adon, part of the massive 2016 IFA class, but probably paid a pittance compared to the 6- and 7-figure deals there.  Now 20, he fared pretty well in the GCL then struggled in Short-A.  He’ll be in his age 20 season in 2019 so he’s a bit ahead of the curve as compared to (say) a college-age draftee who is his same age.  No matter; he’s the 20th ranked prospect on a list where usually only guys in the top 4-5 ever make the majors.
  • #21 Ben Braymer, one of my favorite Nats prospects right now.  18th rounder in 2016, he solved two successive lower levels in two successive years, then went to the AFL this past October.  He’s still a year away from Rule-5 but signed for relatively nothing ($100k bonus in the 18th out of Auburn).

 

fyi, here’s an updated link to my now massive Nats prospects Rankings xls: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1rTcspPOLJH685G9PUlmTlHU1g9AtlX4-Z9pOWP92Ne8/edit?usp=sharing

It now has more than 125 system rankings dating to the beginnings of the franchise in Washington.

 

 

So if you didn’t like Jack Morris in the Hall … what are you saying about Baines??

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Baines comes from out of nowhere to get elected to the Hall. Photo via BroBible.

Baines comes from out of nowhere to get elected to the Hall. Photo via BroBible.

Last week, we heard that Lee Smith and Harold Baines were selected by this 16-person “Today’s Game Era Committee” to be in the Hall of Fame.

Honestly, I’m not sure why we pay so much attention to this institution at this point; literally every decision they make seems to be in direct conflict with what the general consensus of the sport’s fandom thinks makes sense.

  • Too many players on the ballot?  By all means, don’t expand the ballot.
  • Too many players on the ballot needing more years to get elected?  Oh, lets shorten the amount of time players can stay on the ballot.  Of course!
  • Tired of seeing illogical votes?  The writers themselves voted to make their votes public … but the Hall of Fame said no.
  • Old-timey players found out to be relatively unworthy due to new knowledge of the game?  Oh, lets ignore years/decades of writer voting and just hand them a spot in the hall.

Lets talk about them one at a time

Smith aged off the ballot after 15 years in 2017, getting 34.2% of the electorate vote his final year, peaking just above 50% in one of his years on the ballot.   He was a journeyman closer (8 teams in 18 years) with a gazillion saves (478) and a 3.00+ ERA with a middling bWAR figure (29.4), 16% of which came in his best season.  We talked about him for years; he was a mediocre to good closer, nothing special, and came into the ballot at a time where there was a huge glut of candidates as well as better/more famous closers in the discussion.   He made 7 all-star teams and had three Cy Young leading seasons back when people thought that saves were actually worthy of voting for (to wit, he finished 2nd in Cy Young voting in 1991 b/c he led the league in saves with 47 saves … and had a 2.3 bWAR season.  Meanwhile, last year Tanner Roark, you know the guy who a lot of Nats fans were convinced we should non-tender due to his crummy performance … he posted a 3.0 bWAR for 2018.  Yeah; even a replacement level starter right now is more valuable than an all-star closer).

That is a hall of famer?

Meanwhile Baines was even more of a journey-man; playing 22 seasons across 5 franchises and hanging around as a lefty DH type with a solid bat but not highlight power.  He accumulated 38.7 bWAR in his long career, his career apex being a 4.3 bWAR season in 1984.  He made 6 all-star teams and never sniffed even a top5 MVP vote.   He hung on the ballot getting just north of the 5% threshold for several years, then was dropped off when the glut of candidates started in 2011.  That’s right; people lost their minds because Jack Morris got in despite his 3.90 ERA and peaking at 61.5% of the HoF vote … yet Baines is now in despite never getting more than 7% (!) in any year and having a career BA of .289.  His best argument for getting into the Hall seems to his high career hit total (2,866), which will now also be the eventual argument for the likes of Omar Vizquel (career hits: 2,877) and Johnny Damon (career hits: 2,769) to also get added by a chummy veterans committee filled with current employees and former managers.

That’s a hall of famer??

.289 will not be the lowest batting average for any Hall of Famer (not like Morris’ 3.90 being the highest ERA).   Not by a long shot; there’s plenty of guys in the .250-.270 range or lower.  But many of those who have these lower averages also have 500 homers, or are 10x gold glove winners.  Or have some other redeeming qualities.  Baines was often not even the best player on his own team, let alone the league.

I mean, good for him.  He gets to make a speech and join a pretty exclusive club.  He’ll also basically serve as a low-end benchmark going forward for comparison purposes.

But most of the rest of the baseball world is pretty troubled by this.  I’ve always thought that a committee would do a better job of electing players to the Hall, in the same vein that the NFL selection committee seems to do a pretty good job.  But clearly not THIS committee, that includes the arrogant and patently-anti-analytical Joe Morgan (whose letter to the electorate literally led some respected writers to quit the process), and the equally arrogant Tony la Russa, who failed so spectacularly in management with Arizona recently and literally used game winning RBI during an on-screen interview to defend the selection of Baines while claiming anyone who argues against Baines are using “weak *ss superficial bullsh*t.”

Wow.

Whatever.  I’m sure we’ll get some good candidates elected and can argue for or against them during the slow period in early January like always.  But the inclusion of Smith and Baines while the likes of Edgar Martinez and Mike Mussina (in particular) is yet another nail in the coffin of believe-ability for the Hall of Fame as an institution.

Written by Todd Boss

December 16th, 2018 at 9:53 am

Goodbye Tanner

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Roark parts ways with the club. Photo via milb.com

Roark parts ways with the club. Photo via milb.com

The rumors ended up being true.  The Washington Nationals, who have traded away half a dozen top pitching prospects in the past few years and who have now cut ties with an additional half dozen starters just since the trade deadline of 2018, have traded away their #4 starter Tanner Roark.

Their return?  Tanner Rainey, a 25yr old RHP 8th inning type who apparently throws hard, just finished his age 25 season,  has 5 years of control, and got shelled in his MLB debut last year.

I dunno; why exactly did the team make this move?  Was it a salary dump?  Was the prospect of paying Roark a projected $9.8M too much to stomach, given that he’s provided just slightly worse than league average pitching over the past two seasons?  I guess so.  Was it worth the return?  I mean, a AAA reliever isn’t exactly something to write home about, so its kind of clear that moving the salary was more important here.

But why would a team that has practically no SP depth … get rid of its 4th best starter?  A guy who eats innings, who never gets hurt, who has shown flashes of brillance in the past, and who represents one of the best player development/low-end acquisitions in the history of the franchise?

Here’s all the starters the team has parted ways with just since the beginning of last season: Gio Gonzalez, Jeremy Hellickson, A.J. Cole, Edwin Jackson, Tommy Milone, Jefry Rodriguez and now Roark.

here’s all the starting pitching prospects the team has shed since the 2016 Winter Meetings shock Adam Eaton move: McKenzie Mills, Tyler Watson, Mick VanVossen, Jesus Luzardo, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Dane Dunning.

I mean, that’s a lot of arms now out of the system.  And now the team needs to augment in the FA market.

Implications of the move:

  • 40-man: no change: one man off, one man on.  We saill sit at 38/40
  • Payroll: losing Roark’s 9.8M (and offsetting it by the same $150k that Rainey will make that was already accounted for), Nats now project to be at $177M or so, leaving about $28.6M of payroll room.
  • The 2019 Rotation, without any more moves, is now quite iffy looking.  The big 3, then Joe Ross, and then Erick Fedde nicely slotted into the current #5 slot.

Still plenty of starters on the market.  Are the nats going to get one as good as Roark for the $10M estimate they clearly didn’t think he was worth?

Written by Todd Boss

December 13th, 2018 at 4:26 pm

Posted in Majors Pitching

Patrick Corbin; that’s one way to go to address the 2019 Rotation

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Nats make as big of a splash in FA as they can. Photo via getty images

Nats make as big of a splash in FA as they can. Photo via getty images

Was walking into dinner last night and happened to glance at RSS sports feed … and saw this shockerPatrick Corbin signs with the Nats.  6yrs/$140M.

And my first reaction was this: wow, the Nats just beat out the frigging New York Yankees for a player.  In the FA market, straight up.  Wow.  Reports from earlier in the day had indicated Corbin was down to just the Yanks and the Nats and I figured, “well, he’s on record saying he has dreamed about playing in New York, oh well.”  Then a few hours later he’s wearing a Washington hat.

I have a few immediate thoughts on this.  Negative and positive.

  • Its not my money, but $23M/year AAV does seem like a lot for a guy who posted a 5.15 ERA just two years ago.
  • Its also a ton of money to commit to a player who really has only performed like a real Ace worthy of this level of financial commitment for one year.
  • That being said, he’s in-arguably the best pitcher on the FA market and the Nats got him.  Before the winter meetings even.
  • He’s a lefty too, nicely replacing the near replacement-level we got out of Gio Gonzalez this past year.
  • I daresay he might now be the best 3rd starter in the majors.   Houston’s rotation is half out the door in FA, Cleveland’s rotation is in the process of getting dismantled this off-season.
  • Its worth mentioning that Corbin has been pitching in one of the better hitter’s park in the majors … and probably will benefit and get a bump in numbers by moving to the NL East and moving to a more neutral park in Nationals park.
  • We get his age 29-34 seasons.  That’s not too bad honestly, given what we know about player decline.  He’s got less than 1,000 MLB innings on his arm, which is not a ton by age 28.  By way of comparison, Max Scherzer had 1,017 MLB innings through his own age 28 season.
  • Corbin is also the kind of guy who seems like he’d age gracefully, in a similar fashion to a guy like Tom Glavine.  He doesn’t depend on a ton of velocity (vFA in 2018 of 91.3).  Something obviously clicked with him in 2018 because his K rate skyrocketed, his walk rate fell, the value of his slider exploded, and he seemed to add a curve to his repertoire.  He’s already had his Tommy John, so that’s nice that he’s gotten that out of the way.
  • Is this yet another Rizzo-to-Arizona connection?   Maybe not: he was drafted in 2009 by the Angels, traded to Arizona in 2010 by which time Rizzo was in Washington.  Hopefully we’re now completely out of that cynical view of player acquisition from Rizzo’s background.

Speaking of, Mike Rizzo is being incredibly aggressive this off-season.  For all the concerns we may have had about Bryce Harper‘s signing possibly gumming up the works … this team is moving.   We had three-to-four major issues this off-season:

  • Catcher; he’s signed two guys, including the 2018 AL All-star
  • Starters: he’s signed the best available hurler.
  • 2B: nothing yet … but this was always going to be the easiest position to fill in FA thanks to a glut of available players
  • Relievers: he’s traded for a solid middle-relief RHP and has signed a high-upside former dominant closer to a reasonable contract.

Other information about this transaction that may have other implications:

  • Nats roster now at 38/40.  Still room on the broom.
  • Payroll implications: before this move I had the team with $43.8M available under the luxury cap.   This moves cuts them to about $20.5M under the cap.  I’ve read stuff in the press saying the team wants to stay a bit under the cap to allow for mid-season upgrades … so maybe we’ll see another $10-$15M in spending.  That should be enough to buy what they still need:
    • 5th starter reclamation projects
    • starting 2B (Marwin Gonzalez, Lowrie, LeMahieu, Dozier, Kinsler, Phillips, WalkerDaniel Murphy?).  Lots of options, not all of which will cost a lot
    • lefty bench bat (Justin Bour?  just got non-tendered, is from the area, would fit in perfectly)
  • This move will shred the 2019 draft for this team, costing them their second- and fifth-highest picks (as well as $1 million in international bonus pool money).  Poor cap management comes back to bite them.  Definitely an “all-in move” throwing draft caution to the wind.  They better really hit on that 4th round comp pick :-) (update: well technically if Harper leaves, then that 4th round comp pick would be the 5th highest pick … so it’d instantly disappear like it never got awarded.  Just to clarify).
  • Rotation now projected to be Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin, Ross and Roark.  All 5 with guaranteed deals, four of them with 8-figure deals likely for 2019.  No room for Erick Fedde here, despite his Winterfest statements.  That’s got to be a tough nut to swallow for him, even given the fact that he hasn’t really earned it.  But, as we all know teams end up giving starts to 8-9 guys generally, and he’s first in line right now, so he still has hope.  But our SP depth is ugly: Fedde, Voth, McGowin, fresh-from-the-Mexican-league Henderson Alvarez, and then whatever MLFA reclamation project we can find in the Jeremy Hellickson ilk.  I do think this signing makes it a lot tougher for the Nats to find this role since they really can’t promise that player a non-injury shot at a 5th starter 25-man role.  So we’ll be looking at players who will be willing from the go to accept an AAA assignment … and one in Fresno to boot.

Any other thoughts?  Is this the move that pushes the team back to the top of the NL East and really makes them a contender in 2019?

My official take: the Nats bought the best arm they could.  This is better than the alternatives they faced this off-season.  It only cost them money, not more prospects, and in that respect its a complete win.  They’re using the payroll that they earned by virtue of 2018 expiring contracts well.

Does this move preclude them now from signing Harper?  Well, unless the team plans on trading away Scherzer … it should.   Or if the Lerners decide to go Boston-style and really blow out payroll and say “F it completely,” then they still can (and always could).  But if i’m Scott Boras i’m kinda shaking in my boots today, knowing that the likelihood of Harper’s baseline pillow 10yr/$300M deal from this team is likely gone.

Yan Gomes deal: I like it

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Gomes joins the Nats. Photo via nytimes.com

Gomes joins the Nats. Photo via nytimes.com

The Nats seemingly solved their catching issues for the next few years with the shrewd acquisition of Cleveland 2018 all-star catcher Yan Gomes.  And they didn’t have to break the bank to do it.

They part ways with Jefry Rodriguez, who was probably sat #6 on the current Nats roster of starting pitchers, soon to be pushed further downwards with whatever acquisitions may yet to come, and who had proven over the course of the last two seasons he couldn’t be trusted with the ball for a playoff team.  They also part ways with 2017 minor league POTY Daniel Johnson, cashing in on a guy who is still low minors but could flourish for a team like Cleveland.  There’s also a PTBNL thrown in, usually indicative of a lower level prospect that Cleveland gets to pick from later on after scouting the Nats low-A team or something.

Johnson becomes the 4th player flipped from the 2016 draft, which is more and more looking like the best Nats draft in a decade.  He joins Jesus LuzardoDane Dunning, and Sheldon Neuse heading out the door from that draft, and all three of these previously traded players have more or less flourished with their new organizations.   Luzardo is now considered one of the best left-handed prospects in the game, Dunning regularly is called an “under the radar” type pitching prospect who the White Sox seem to be depending on as a solid mid-rotation piece in the future, and Neuse played all of 2018 in AAA as a 23-yr old after a 3-level rise in 2017.

(Yes, I’d like to have all of them back, especially Luzardo, who the team spent so much to acquire, nursed back to health and really could help with the current rotation crunch).

Nonetheless, for me this acquisition kicks off a series of new consequences for the 2019 team:

  • No more pursuit of additional catchers, which should be a sigh of relief for Victor Robles fans, who had repeatedly been dangled to the Marlins for J.T. Realmuto.  No longer.
  • I like this Gomes acquistion, and I like the semi-platoon they now have setup with Kurt Suzuki.  If one goes down with injury, the other can cover while they bring back up Kieboom for protection.  This is such a better situation than we had the past two seasons, where had a crummy hitting, poor defending catcher in Matt Wieters with the likes of Kieboom or Severino as the guy getting regular day-after-night game starts.
  • Pedro Severino‘s days are numbered; no options, no roster spot for 2019.  He’ll hang around all spring to guard against injury, but faces a looming DFA next April 1st.  Will he get picked up by another team?  Perhaps.  He was just so bad at the plate in 2018 that its hard to project any team giving him even a backup role, no matter how good his defense is.
  • If Severino stays in the system though, he’ll likely push downwards in a cascading manner our current catching “depth,” since he’ll join Spencer Kieboom in AAA,   That pushes Taylor Gushue back to AA, likely with Raudy Read who seems lost in the shuffle here.  That then leaves Jakson Reetz and Tres Barrera basically repeating High-A for the time being.  I don’t think any of these guys are really pushing for promotion necessarily based on offensive performance: Gushue hit .212 in AA in 2018, Read hit much better in AA but showed almost no power in a half-season in AAA, Reetz has never hit even .240 in any stop since the rookie league, and Barrera hit good but not amazing in Potomac.  Probably the best case would be to just part ways with Severino, and have this be your C depth in 2019:
    • AAA: Read and Kieboom splitting time evenly
    • AA: Gushue and Barrera, who probably needs a promotion
    • High-A: Reetz and perhaps one of the low-A 2018 catches like Alejandro Flores or Alex Dunlop

Suffice it to say … we have very little reliable catching depth in our minors right now.  Thankfully Gomes has options through 2021 for reasonable money.

  • We already knew we had no SP depth, and now we just traded our primary backup hurler.  Not that i’m enamored of Jefry Rodriguez and think he’s our savior … but I do slightly question the choice of player to ship out.  I understand “trading from strength” and I also understand that you have to give up something to get something … but this team has traded away SO MUCH starting pitching over the past few years that I wonder if they need to, you know, save some of it?  As has been noted elsewhere, the last time the Nats developed and kept a for-real MLB starter was Stephen Strasburg, which, lets be honest, even the most incompetent organization could have done.  Here’s a list of the starters we’ve traded away in the last 2 years: Jefry Rodriguez, McKenzie Mills, Tyler Watson, Jesus Luzardo, Taylor Hearn, Pedro Avila, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Dane Dunning.  That’s a ton of starters.  And now we’re looking at acquiring even more via trade or FA.  At some point we have to stop spending money on FA starters and grow them from within.
  • This was actually a fantastic Salary Cap move: Gomes counts just $3.8M towards the 2019 luxury tax cap.  With all the tenders and salary estimates, I still have the team $43M under the cap, so that’s plenty of room to buy the upgrades they need.

In the end…. one major position of need down (C), two more to go (SP and 2B).