Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for January, 2019

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.