Nationals Arm Race

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

Ladson’s inbox 1/5/15


Desmond is the hot topic today.  Photo Drew Kinback/

Desmond is the hot topic today. Photo Drew Kinback/

Well happy new year.  After going 9 months w/o a mailbag, Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson has put out two in a row!

Here’s his 1/5/15 version.  I love doing these things.

Q: Do you see Trea Turner as a future leadoff hitter for the Nationals? If so, when? Ian Desmond has one year left on his contract, so I have to think the front office is counting on his rising through the Minor Leagues quickly like Anthony Rendon.

A: Yes, I can see Trea Turner as a lead-off hitter in the majors.  Blazing speed (some scouts have rated his speed at 80 on the 20-80 scale … which is a real rarity), excellent bat skills during his 3 years at NC State (a career college slash line of .342/.429/.507 playing in the nation’s toughest baseball conference), and in short sample sizes in the pros he’s got good OBP numbers.  Everything you want in a lead-off guy.  In college he had power (8 homers in 54 games his junior year playing with BBCOR bat, 2nd in the ACC); that’s a nice combination if it translates to the pros.

The question I have about Turner is whether he can stick at short.  Or, more to the point, if he’ll be a good enough shortstop to appease the defensive-minded Mike Rizzo.  All the scouting reports I’ve seen say the same thing: good fielder, great range … and an iffy arm that may push him to second.  Well, you have to think Rizzo acquired a guy like Turner specifically because he thinks Turner *can* stick at short, and is a ready-made replacement for Desmond.  Otherwise; why get him?  Its a heck of a lot easier to find a second baseman than a shortstop in this league (current issues replacing Danny Espinosa notwithstanding).

Can Turner be a fast riser? Well, he’s not nearly as accomplished a college player as Anthony Rendon (who, lets not forget, was College Player of the year as a sophomore).  Rendon ended his first pro season in AA and hit his way to the majors permanently by June of the following year.  That’s a pretty amazing trajectory.  And it included lost time to injury.  Turner ended his first pro season in low-A by way of comparison, and needs a two-level jump in 2015 to have a shot at a 2016 debut, and a 2-level jump next  year is going to be severely hampered by the fact that he’s likely to be languishing in San Diego’s spring training facility until June, when he can officially be traded.  He’s losing a half of year of development time most likely.  So, late 2016 to me is a more realistic goal, if everything goes well.

Meanwhile, that leaves a gap in the shortstop coverage if Ian Desmond leaves.  Here’s a thought; if Desmond leaves in FA after 2015, you put Espinosa back at his natural shortstop position, find a second baseman (Dan Uggla anyone? 🙂 ) and then wait for Turner to arrive.  If Turner can play short, so be it.  If he can’t, you put in at 2nd.  I like that plan.

Ladson says the Nats have “been quiet” on Turner since he’s not technically a Nationals player; makes sense; you wouldn’t want tampering charges.

Q: How is Desmond not locked up, or even the No. 1 priority? I understand Jordan Zimmermann is a staff ace, but shortstop is a prime position and every team desires one. Desmond is one of the best in baseball and can’t be replaced.

A: Because Desmond took a step back both offensively (from a 113 to a 103 OPS+) and defensively (UZR/150 from 4.4 to 0.1) in 2014 from the previous year.  I’d be slightly hesitant too.  I used to think that Elvis Andrus‘s contract was a fair comp for Desmond.  But now it looks like the Andrus contract was actually a massive over-pay, and valuing Desmond may be more difficult than we thought.

When I think about roster construction, you go up “the spine” of the team.  Catcher, Pitchers, Short and Center Field.  Those are the key positions to lock up with quality players.  So no arguments that Desmond and Shortstop in general are huge priorities.  But now the problem becomes this: is Desmond’s 2014 decline a one-off or a concern?  And, what is he worth?  If you think Andrus is an overpay ($15M a  year through 2022), and if Troy Tulowitzki is the best offensive shortstop in the game (at $20M/year for the next four years with annual injury issues), then where does Desmond fit in?  Some sampling of shortstop contracts: J.J. Hardy is 3/yrs/$40M for AAV of about $14M/year.  Jose Reyes makes $22M/year for the next three years, which seems rather high to me.   Jimmy Rollins is on an $11M option for 2015.  Jhonny Peralta is on a 4yr/$53M deal for an AAV of about $13M.  So clearly the market is at least $15M/year for a quality shortstop.

Based on who the Nats have in the pipeline at short (past Turner … practically nobody) and based on who projects to be available in FA in 2016 (also practically nobody), yes I think Desmond is a priority.  My guess is that the front office is juggling all sorts of stuff right now, and just hasn’t come to any conclusions.  I’d be perfectly comfortable offering him 5 to 6 years at an AAV of $15M (6yrs/$90M) with a club option; that’s clearly not enough as the team has offered him *more* than that in the past apparently and he’s turned it down.  He’s entering his age 29 season; that’d lock him up through his age 34 season … a gamble for a shortstop, but a good one for a franchise player who has been with the organization since he was 18.   I would have postulated that perhaps Desmond (with his Florida ties and the heavy Yankees presence down there) wanted to slide into the vacated Derek Jeter spot … but the Yankees just acquired a long term SS in Didi Gregorius, so maybe Desmond’s agent and him are strategizing.  Besides; Washington seems like a better positioned franchise right now than the Yankees (as hard as that is to write) for post-season positioning.

Ladson points out the Nats offered Desmond in excess of $100m and then cryptically says “lets see what happens in the next few weeks.”

Q: I noticed Rafael Furcal is a free agent. Might the Nats sign him as a veteran middle-infield stopgap until Turner and Wilmer Difo are ready?

A: Rafael Furcal?!  Wow,that’s a heck of a pull.  You mean the same Furcal who has played in a grand total of 9 major league games since 2012 thanks to injuries and will be 37 next season?  He hasn’t played a full season of injury-free baseball since 2009.  Why would we possibly consider this guy?   No way; there’s younger, more reliable middle infield options out there.  Difo, by the way, played in low-A last  year.  I don’t think we’re seeing him anytime soon.  Mid 2017 maybe?  Ladson says that Furcal *tore* his hamstring in Winter Ball; geeze.  He also states the obvious; we’ll see lots of Dan Uggla and that we should trade for Ben Zobrist.  Thanks for the scoops there, Bill.

Q: What are your predictions as to how the NL East will stack up in 2015, especially given personnel changes and improved health throughout the division?

A: Nats win the division with 90 wins.  Marlins 2nd with like an 83-79 record.  Mets in 3rd at about .500.  Braves in 4th at about 75 wins.  Phillies last place, with somewhere in the 68 range of wins.  Ladson seems to go Nats-Marlins-Mets too.

Q: I’m frustrated by Desmond’s strikeouts. If he could make contact for 20 percent of his strikeouts, he would be all world. What can the Nats do to help him make more consistent contact — just patience at the plate for better pitch selection?

A: Welcome to modern baseball.  Swing for the fences all the time; strikeouts be damned.  Nobody remembers you struck out 180 times when you  hit 20+ dingers from the short-stop position.  Now … strike out 122 times in 119 games and hit .220?  Then you’re in trouble, Mr. Espinosa.  As far as the question goes; maybe you park Desmond further down the order, tell him he’s not a run producer any more and tell him to focus less on homers, more on solid contact.  Maybe that helps.  Maybe not; the Nats offense is seemingly always a man down, which means Desmond is always pushed into a 3-4-5 hole spot, where he’s looking to drive in runs.  I expect similar numbers in 2015.  Ladson reminds us that Desmond had the flu last  year.  


71 Responses to 'Ladson’s inbox 1/5/15'

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  1. In-box – woo hoo!

    I can’t see giving Desi a 6 year deal. I’d love him for 4, but think he’ll be declining by that 4th year and might be unplayable in the 5th and 6th year. I say this and still think Desi is better than Andrus, who has to start showing up on lists of most untraceable contracts.

    I wonder if Rizzo is going to play it like STL, and let a lot of homegrown stars leave, while locking up non core guys (like Matt Carpenter, etc).


    8 Jan 15 at 8:44 am

  2. I wrote this the night he published but forgot to post it til this morning! 🙂

    Desi deal: per Ladson and other sources, the Nats have offered him a $100M deal. Based on what the best shortstops in the game are getting paid, it seems like the going rate is about $15M/year. So what did the Nats offer? 7/100? 6/100? Maybe a varying contract where Desmond gets 18m/yr for the first 5 years (90M) then two more years at like 14 and 10? I dunno. Because based on his current age, any deal more than 5 years seems clear to buy into a decline phase. I completely agree with you Wally.

    Todd Boss

    8 Jan 15 at 9:01 am

  3. I think it is hard to translate the Nats offer, since it included two years of arb control, which wouldn’t be priced at market rates. So a 5 year deal starting in 2016 is equal (in length) to the 7 year deal offered before last season. I highly doubt the Nats would offer him a 7 year deal starting in 2016.

    I think the Nats best strategy is to play it out. There is a decent chance that if Desi has a season in 2015 similar to 2014, that his FA contract looks more like Peralta than Andrus, maybe 4/$60m with a vesting option. At that point, the Nats should match it and retain him. Its unusual to retain a guy that hits FA, but it can happen (like VMart). If he has a massive season, then he will outdo that contract and they just collect a supp pick, and probably slide Espy over and make do. I certainly wouldn’t give Desi a contract now assuming a massive year.

    I think the Andrus’ contract (1) was a mistake, and (2) placed a large value on exceedingly high defensive performance throughout the deal, which may also look like a mistake. I do not think it will be used as the standard for SS.


    8 Jan 15 at 12:54 pm

  4. No time to get into this in any detail at the moment, but Desi has lost 102 points off his OPS since his 2012 peak while his K rate has alarmingly increased. Those are not the signs of someone who will still be worth $15-17M in 2022, or even 2018.

    I’m on board with letting him play it out. If he has a monster year and there’s a victory parade, then we can talk.


    8 Jan 15 at 1:23 pm

  5. Agree on all counts. 2 years ago Andrus contract was the benchmark. Now its an albatross. Why has Desmond lost so much offense? I think its because he’s subconsciously trying to hit for more power now that he’s a middle-of-the-order bat instead of a 2nd or 6th-7th bat.

    Todd Boss

    8 Jan 15 at 2:23 pm


    ???? WTF? Where did this come from?

    Werth having shoulder surgery, out for 2-3 months?? Would the Nats have traded Souza if they knew this?

    Todd Boss

    8 Jan 15 at 4:22 pm

  7. It might never happen, but putting Moore at 1B and Zimmerman in LF would make me content if it had to be for a month. Hate to give Moore away.

    As for Souza, you answered your own question. Can’t put toothpaste back in the tube, and Taylor is not ready offensively.


    8 Jan 15 at 4:45 pm

  8. Forensicane; that might be what I’d do too (Zim back in LF, where he was more than adequate) and Moore batting like 6th or 7th at first.

    Buuuuuut. This is also a team constructed by mr Defense Mike rizzo, and Taylor in LF is better.

    Maybe Taylor blows up in spring, earns his spot and starts for a few weeks until Werth is ready. I’d take that too; as we’ve said many times before, Taylor has nothing left to prove in AAA and this would be a great way to get him regular ABs at the MLB level.

    Todd Boss

    8 Jan 15 at 4:54 pm

  9. By the way, I put this all on Werth and not the team. He probably disclosed this to the team after the Souza trade because his competition got traded and he otherwise hid an injury that would have enabled Souza to steal his job in the spring.

    Maybe that’s not fair, but the team went through the same thing with Espinosa, and perhaps Uggla did the same to the Braves. It’s harder to take a seat when you feel Lou Gehrig behind you.


    8 Jan 15 at 4:59 pm

  10. Gehrig is a metaphor of course.


    8 Jan 15 at 5:00 pm

  11. Zimmerman with a full spring in LF will not hurt the team defensively. Certainly Moore is a quality 1B at this point, something we never thought we would see. And already in house.

    But perhaps Taylor does step up in the spring. I just cannot see the team trotting him out to RF (he has not played LF) if he hits .167 in Florida.


    8 Jan 15 at 5:03 pm

  12. Oh horse nostrils, forensicane. Stop trying to mind read, it’s just silly. Once a narrative like that is invented (and that’s just what it is, inventing) then everything from there on out is filtered according to the made up “reality.” With a couple of repeats, it can become “common wisdom” or “everybody knows” when in fact no one actually knows.

    Let’s stick to facts.

    John C.

    8 Jan 15 at 7:44 pm

  13. Is it invented with Werth but not in all of the back and forth on Espinosa’s wrist?

    The fact is that the timing is not in the team’s interest. And within weeks. The fact is that he lives with the injury every day. The fact is that he knows Souza and his skills better than we do. The fact is that any medical opinion would say that a cortisone shot gives no more than short term improvement. And the fact is that he has not exactly handled his off-field problems with the interest of the team.

    No one is reporting news here. We’re discussing and thinking out loud – as are you.


    8 Jan 15 at 8:02 pm

  14. I was as excited to see Souza play as most, but it’s hard for me to think that Werth was worried about his starting job. The combination of his salary, recent performance and the deference they show him in the org makes me think he is one of the more secure guys in the league.

    That being said, unless we hear about a new injury, I’d be disappointed if he wasn’t keeping the FO aware that it was acting up. Would they have still made the Souza trade? Hard to say. I think they really like their new guys, but it would be tough to give him up with this uncertainty.

    But the silver lining is that it is known now, for planning purposes. Nov is better than Jan, but Jan is better than April. It also crystallizes the need for a good backup corner IF/OF.

    BOS, CLE, COL have some options. No one is perfect, but better to look now than during the season. Do they take a chance on Allen Craig? If he could recover even halfway back to what he was, he would be worth every penny of his contract and create enviable roster flexibility. David Murphy? Drew Stubbs?


    8 Jan 15 at 9:11 pm

  15. Forensicane. Not sure I agree with your “Souza will take Werth’s job” theory. As in, no way in hell do I believe that. Just to name a couple of quick reasons: Werth makes Too much money, he’s a veteran playing for a player’s manager, and he’s still hitting the heck out of the ball even at his advanced age (note, I wrote this before seeing Wally’s post, which said the same thing).

    You have to think Werth aggravated the shoulder doing something this off season. Perhaps jerking the steering wheel of his Porsche while doing 100 on an I-66 on-ramp.

    Todd Boss

    8 Jan 15 at 10:16 pm

  16. Sounds like something Werth and the team have been tracking all along:

    Also sounds like he should be back very close to the start of the regular season, so no reason to panic. If Taylor has a hot spring, he gets a couple of weeks with the big club; if he doesn’t, McLouth and the surviving RH bat (T-Mo or someone else) can platoon. Zim needs to concentrate on learning 1B.

    If nothing else, I hope this is the straw that FINALLY gets Harper to RF, with no more questions asked.

    Of course Zobrist also has good experience in the OF . . .

    FWIW, I like Kobernus and am not sure why he couldn’t be better than Frandsen in the Frandsen role. They have an equal lack of pop, but Kobe has a lot more speed.


    8 Jan 15 at 10:49 pm

  17. Frandsen has functioned adequately as a role player – and offers the added benefit of being the team’s emergency catcher. Not sure Kobernus could do that.

    John C.

    8 Jan 15 at 11:37 pm

  18. We’ll agree to disagree. But eleven days ago, I was expressing my disapproval for the Souza trade because of the very scenario of one of the starters going down before Taylor was ready.

    Players mentality is different from ours. And teams eat fat contracts too, for the sake of winning. Werth is safe as long as he produces, but every aging athlete has his insecurities over the next generation and the pressure to produce. We would not have PED proliferation otherwise. Today you’re Prince Fielder – tomorrow you’ve Prince Fielder.

    You may not think Souza will provide high competitive production, but I’ll tell you who does: The Tampa Bay Rays do.


    9 Jan 15 at 4:21 am

  19. The organization shows veteran players deference. It’s why the organization is held in very high regard among players. But when it was time for LaRoche to go, it was time.

    With Rizzo, no one is incapable of being traded. We have yet to see Matt Kemp type moves, but Werth’s contract is unique to him and Zimm, and longer contracts beget the inevitable for many players, and the Nats are not immune.

    Werth will not play on this team indefinitely with the numbers he had his first year here, even if the team had to eat coin. He’s still around because he came back, but even Jerry Rice found his sunset.


    9 Jan 15 at 4:31 am

  20. According to Fangraphs, Werth was the twelfth-best player in baseball last year, just a tick behind Puig. Factoring in his negative defense, he was still #26 overall. He may be aging, but he’s aging well, much better than I ever thought he would, certainly better than any of his other Phillie compadres.

    That’s not to say that he may not be a part-time player by 2017, but if he is, he’ll still be a heck of a lot better than most of the stiffs the Nats have had on their bench the last few years.


    9 Jan 15 at 6:54 am

  21. That isn’t the point.

    The point is, an injury changes everything, and Werth did not consult Fangraphs before deciding when to report the seriousness of his injury. If anyone he called….

    Scott Boras

    Now, what do you think his agent would have told him to do?


    9 Jan 15 at 7:15 am

  22. This is the same guy who just sold a veritable dogpile to the Yankees to 5m.

    I may be wrong, but I’m certainly inspired by facts.


    9 Jan 15 at 7:18 am

  23. Todd, or, perhaps he jerked it before the playoffs, which is why he uncharacteristically failed.


    9 Jan 15 at 7:22 am

  24. I think the only thing being disagreed here is whether Werth felt that his job was in jeopardy going into 2015 spring training. Souza has a good chance to be a productive major leaguer, so there is no argument there, and he would be a better option to fill in than any of the other internal candidates.

    I hope they add someone from the outside. Zim has shown that shoulder rehab can take longer than expected, McLouth has his own rehab risk, Harper likes to run into things and Zim is no sure thing to play 150 games, even at first. I think there are 500 PAs for a quality corner IF/OF.

    Maybe there is a way to pick up Craig and Brock Holt from BOS for a deal centered around Clip + some other stuff, especially if BOS just wants to get rid of Craig. Kill two birds with one stone. I think Frandsen is only adequate as a back up if he is limited to 100-150 PAs. Much more than that, and he will start deducting value.


    9 Jan 15 at 8:23 am

  25. Holt is a good suggestion. Craig would be awfully expensive as a reserve in 2016 and 2017.


    9 Jan 15 at 8:43 am

  26. But if he can still hit, with the health uncertainties at corner OF and 1B, not to mention the risk that Taylor isn’t ready or productive in 2016, he probably gets 500 PAs each year, which makes him more than a bench player. But the huge risk is whether they can correctly assess whether he is done, or last year was just about an injury (foot).

    Plus, if we truly let all of these guys go next year, we should have plenty of cap space.


    9 Jan 15 at 8:51 am

  27. We will still haven’t heard anything from Rizzo on this, and given how close lipped he is, we might never hear his real feelings on it, but I wonder whether Werth kept him in the loop on this. It’s not like Rizzo to let a guy like Ruggiano go for peanuts when he has a need like this.

    Another thought, although this is more of a concern: while Zobrist is the even-more obvious move (or maybe just signing Ichiro), does he now up the ante for Miller? Would this make him offer Cole for Miller? I’d not like that, but there are multiple reports of how interested in him Rizzo was, and there are beliefs that Miller is versatile enough to play some OF.


    9 Jan 15 at 8:58 am

  28. Harper to RF: I’ve read somewhere this off-season that his move to RF was already planned and announced. To which I say, “about time.” Finally the Nats will deploy their optimal defensive outfield.

    Todd Boss

    9 Jan 15 at 9:10 am

  29. In looking at the stats, I have a hard time getting excited about Miller. He didn’t hit much better than Espy in 2014. He certainly doesn’t hit well enough to be a corner outfielder.

    For whatever they’re worth, the folks who do the prospect lists don’t seem as high on Cole as some of us have been. I’m not sure why. If there are really concerns about whether he can be an effective middle-of-the-rotation MLB guy, though, it might be worth at least exploring what he would bring in return. Kolko had a good piece yesterday looking at all the pitching that potentially will be on the market next year, basically making the point that the Nats don’t need to panic if Zimmermann and Fister walk and Cole isn’t ready.


    9 Jan 15 at 11:20 am

  30. KW: I tend to agree w/r/t Brad Miller. Every time I see his name popup in chats, invariably the chat host will defend him as being underrated and as a near superstar. I don’t see it. If you acquired him, you’re taking a huge gamble on which Miller you get; is it 2013 or 2014 version? Because the difference is an all-star versus an also-ran.

    Todd Boss

    9 Jan 15 at 3:40 pm

  31. I don’t love him either, but if I am making the argument in his favor: 5 years of control for an above average fielder at high value positions, positive BSR and defense gives him a floor of ~1.5-2 WAR/600 PAs. Decent walk rates with minor league pedigree suggesting a chance to move it to above average. Good athlete with chance to play multiple positions, and above average pop for an MI. Last year’s poor offensive stats were due to an abnormal spike in K%, which is out of character with his minor league profile.

    I don’t necessarily buy into that slant, but I believe that is what supporters would see. And, to his credit, he put up 1.4 WAR last year with such bad offensive numbers.


    9 Jan 15 at 5:10 pm

  32. Espinosa would post a higher WAR than that at SS on defense alone, no matter how badly he hit. (I see that he’s still vowing to switch-hit. Ugh.) I just don’t see how Miller is any better. Danny still has three years of team control. Besides, why trade for Miller as well after giving up Souza’s big bat to get Turner?

    It’s not that I don’t think the Nats shouldn’t try to upgrade from Espinosa, it’s that I don’t see Miller as an upgrade.


    9 Jan 15 at 8:17 pm

  33. Still speaking of middle infielders, getting back to some points in Todd’s original post about whether Turner projects as a SS, here was an interesting piece from Kiley McDaniel about how scouts tend to make snap judgments about whether guys can/should play SS:


    9 Jan 15 at 8:35 pm

  34. A’s close to acquiring Zobrist AND Escobar:

    OK, didn’t see that one coming. Of course if Billy has Zobrist, that just puts him one step closer to being a Nat, right? Maybe we can work out a three-way trade somehow involving Kurt Suzuki . . .


    10 Jan 15 at 1:42 pm

  35. But that means we have to give up Cole 🙂

    Beane certainly keeps it interesting. I need to give it some thought, but I haven’t liked any of his trades yet (except maybe this one), yet I think I like this team better than last year’s (taking Lester out of the equation).

    Lastly, Zobrist for Jaso (their actual return in the Morse deal), Robertson and an A ball OF seems light for Tampa. I assume Escobar was a negative, meaning it took away from the return.

    Can’t say I am disappointed, although I wonder at the price we could have gotten him for.


    10 Jan 15 at 1:49 pm

  36. Lots of people wondering about Beane’s strategy. I think it is simply churn for value + years of control propositions (in their view), and worry about roster construction much later. I think too much gets made of these far sighted ‘Trea Turner will replace Desi in two years’ kinds of things (just to use an example). Too many unexpected things can happen between point A and B (primarily whether a prospect can make the jump), so it is mostly about creating options and deciding on specifics much later.


    10 Jan 15 at 1:54 pm


    Wow, is this all Zobrist+ costs?? And we were talking about Zimmermann for Zobrist package?

    Todd Boss

    10 Jan 15 at 3:50 pm

  38. Actually I thought the Rays got a very nice return for Zobrist. Jaso can certainly hit and fills the DH/backup catcher role very nicely there. Jaso fills a need this year while adding a top-100 prospect (and former #1 overall A’s prospect) in Robertson plus an OF prospect who has no power but whose OBP has improved as he’s moved up the ladder and actually walks more than he strikes out.

    Zimmermann for Zobrist would have required an additional team, because a one year player making $16.5M is not a deal that works for the Rays.

    John C.

    10 Jan 15 at 6:12 pm

  39. Two big questions: 1) Would Billy be willing to keep Zobrist moving to the Nats? (He always has his price, and this guy’s a one-year rental anyway.) And 2) If not Zobrist, then what is Plan D for the Nats?


    10 Jan 15 at 8:19 pm

  40. Nobody is talking about what the Nats’ payroll needs to be for 2015. The Zobrist trade feels lighter than expected, but Beane took on Zobrist’s and Escobar’s salary. The suggestion of Holt & Craig would also make sense if we took on Craig’s salary.

    I think the Nats are subtracting payroll, not adding it. Certainly, Cabrera or Drew weren’t bad values and could have been good platoon partners for Espy, but Rizzo just isn’t adding payroll. Rizzo needs to figure out how to trade Clip, J-Zimm, or Fister while getting his 2B. Span could have been traded before, but I don’t see that anymore with Werth being hurt.

    Andrew R

    10 Jan 15 at 9:01 pm

  41. Andrew – I really hope that isn’t true. The Nats have a high payroll this year, but are actually in a pretty good spot moving forward. Between JZ, Fister, Clip, Span and Desi, that’s roughly $60m off the books next year. Now, they may resign one or two but that is still quite a bit of payroll relief. Maybe another $20m the year after, and then Werth is done the following year.

    So at a minimum, I hope they aren’t going to look to drop $10m or so off this year’s payroll, when they have big changes on the near term horizon.


    10 Jan 15 at 9:34 pm

  42. And $5MM for Nate McLouth!

    I don’t know, but the rumor mill sure makes it seem like salary subtraction, not addition. Remember, that $60MM is hopefully only $40MM if we sign one of our guys, and then we have raises for Stras, Harper, Ramos, and Storen that will cut it to $20MM. Then, we still need a 2B, CF, 2SP, bench, etc (assuming it’s Desi who signs). Will those all be filled from the farm? We will have some payroll flexibility in ’16, but I’m not sure it’s really that much if we intend to contend in 16.

    Andrew R

    10 Jan 15 at 9:53 pm

  43. I don’t think the decision is so rigid on adding payroll. If Zobrist were not a 5+, and the price so high, they would have traded for him. That ought to tell us plenty.
    This is a GM that was chasing Aroldis Chapman and Price Fielder. For that reason, he may yet chase Scherzer (to give the flexibility to flip a AAA prospect starter or a FA to be with an injury history and long term demands). Not wanting to add a Scott Boras-enhanced sarcophagus like Stephen Drew is not the same as ready to pay twice as much for real value.


    10 Jan 15 at 10:15 pm

  44. I don’t know that I characterized Werth as afraid of Souza taking his job. What is more likely the possibility is that, coming off a 1 for 17 playoff series that left fans agitating for offense, the last thing Werth needed to do with cheers from Souza’s grab echoing as the last great highlight of the year, was to tell Rizzo he had a bad shoulder.

    Someone like Boras is chatting up the GMs and most certainly knows who is getting trade discussion and interest. People like Boras, who use the media symbiotically, are the folks you often hear referred to as “sources” for the intel of Rosenthal, Morosi, Gammons et al.

    Boras would have known there was buzz about Souza and could just as easily have told his client to keep quiet. He gets paid to be afraid of things his client isn’t afraid of, and that includes fear of competition in 2016 as well. This is the same Scott Boras who was telling people this off season that his client Drew had a “personal issue” last year (that he of course, NEVER disclosed). Yeah, he had a personal issue, all right – he suffered a loss of ability to hit!


    10 Jan 15 at 11:47 pm

  45. AndrewR/Payroll: you’re absolutely right. In fact on 10/31 I posted to the same effect. Since that post the Nats have done some “around the fringes” moves (Detwiler and Souza) which didn’t really impact my analysis (I had thought the team might non-tender Detwiler, so I wasn’t even including his salary in the analysis).

    Now to today: if you believe that the wealthiest owner in the majors “can’t afford” a $150M payroll, then yes a trade of Zimmermann and his $16.5M salary instantly gets the team back to its opening day 2014 payroll … while inarguably weakening the team’s chances in 2015 … but then again, you only have to win your division by one game to win the division (not 17) … and having a stud like Zimmermann in the playoffs does you no good when your inflexible-strategy manager insists on pulling him when he’s given up just 4 hits through 8 2/3rds … but that’s another story.

    Todd Boss

    11 Jan 15 at 8:26 am

  46. Whatever the truth is, if the Desmond rumor is true, the Nats are ready to part company with him. It may well be that it’s not a matter of economics but a lack of confidence that he will have the same value in a few years.

    The problem is that no one (yet) is agitating to get him. But teams now know he is available, and the price (two starting players) is at least high.

    With a push to get Zobrist, tells us they are not sold on the Cubans (at the expected price).

    Somebody mentioned the Pirates, now that they are about to sign Kang, would be a good partner. Walker seems to make sense. There is life after Zobrist (unless Beane-Rizzo hook up), and the team has many chips that a low budget team would like as well.


    11 Jan 15 at 11:54 pm

  47. Assume we’re talking about this rumor: Desmond->mets, Zobrist+EScobar->Nats, prospects->Tampa.

    I would have hated that deal. Downgrade at the hardest position on the field to fill ably so that we could “upgrade” with a 34-yr old? I’d rather bat Espinosa 8th and live with him at 2b.

    Honestly, with what i’m reading about Uggla’s concussion, maybe he’s worth experimenting with. We are talking about a guy who hit 30+ homers five years in a row in his peak. Of course, his “peak” ended 4 seasons ago and he’ll be 35. I’ll bet he lights up spring training and makes the damn team though.

    Todd Boss

    12 Jan 15 at 9:03 am

  48. Todd Boss

    12 Jan 15 at 9:04 am

  49. Todd, I agree with you on the rumor. I would not have been happy with that.

    Uggla’s concussion issues aside, it’s hard not to see a drop in production like and wonder if one of his former doctors knows Alex Rodriguez.


    12 Jan 15 at 10:03 am

  50. That wouldn’t have been a bad trade for us, imo. Zobrist > Desi for 2015, so Escobar is just surplus, with a decent chance of a rebound defensively. I was surprised that Rizzo would accept his clubhouse presence, though maybe he would have flipped him.

    I don’t really put much stock in that article though, other than to say it was probably discussed along with 10 other ideas by multiple teams. Nevertheless, I agree with Forensicane that the sheer preponderance of Desi rumors suggest the Nats are more than willing to move him in the right trade that solves multiple needs. And I say multiple needs because I see a quality back up OF/1B as almost as critical as the 2B issue. With the age and injury profile of our corner OFs and 1B, I see a quality guy getting close to 500PAs.

    I have been trying to think of out of the box ideas, but nothing is very appealing. Desi + for Kipnis and Swisher? Would you take the financial risk that Kipnis and Swisher can bounce back? I suspect CLE would jump at the chance to dump Swisher’s salary, but might have to package him with something desirable to get it done. But if both were healthy and productive, that would be a good fit. But it’s probably too risky for my appetite.

    I would put Uggla’s chances of a productive 2015 season as <10%. Experimenting is fine, but I can't see him being a meaningful planning piece.


    12 Jan 15 at 10:15 am

  51. The rumor definitely seems like a shot across Desmond’s bow. Still, the deal would have been nuts from the Mets’ perspective, and I don’t think I would have liked it for the Nats. (I have no use for Escobar.) So once again, sometimes the best trades are those not made.

    The Rays discussed Desmond for the pair, or two major prospects, but ended up with Jaso and a couple of B-list prospects? I agree with Todd – that seems like a low return, particularly for TWO starters. Jaso is a nice bat, but Billy was going to trade him anyway, and there’s been speculation that he can’t catch anymore because of the concussions.

    Many commentators are praising Beane for getting Zobrist as an anchor for the 2015 team, but I’m still not convinced he won’t keep moving. If I’m Rizzo, I’ve already been on the phone offering Voth, Cedeno, and choice of either T-Mo or Skole.

    Todd has more enthusiasm than I do for Uggla, but the make-the-roster bar would seem to be to beat out either Frandsen and/or T-Mo, unless Werth starts the season on the DL. I did look at Uggla’s splits, and for his career, he’s actually better vs. RHP than LHP, so there would be the possibility of sort of a reverse platoon with Espinosa.


    12 Jan 15 at 12:40 pm

  52. Perhaps i’m colored by my remembering Uggla as being a fantasy god with his 30+ homers from 2B. 🙂 But yes … I’m of agreement that Uggla’s minor league signing seems like a typical “hey, here’s a spring training contract so you can get one more all-expenses paid trip to Florida for the spring.”

    Todd Boss

    12 Jan 15 at 3:15 pm

  53. KW, it’s unlikely that the A’s picked up Zobrist in order to move him. They just gave up Jaso, their #1 prospect and another prospect to get him (and Escobar, but Zobrist is clearly the engine driving that trade). You can call Robertson a “B List prospect” all you want, but just because you don’t know who he is doesn’t mean he’s a marginal guy. Robertson was a “B-” on John Sickels’ site before last year, and put in a very good season in 2014. As in, a 20yo SS who posted a .402 OBP with 15 HRs in High A ball and finished up in the AFL where he made the all-star squad. Remember that Sickels’ grading scale is extreme; Lucas Giolito, Nats pride and joy, is an “A-.” Here is the list of Nationals players with a better than a “B” grade from Sickels: Giolito (A-); Taylor (B+). Cole is a borderline B+/B. which is probably about where Robertson would fall after his performance this year. Remember the rumor that the asking price for Zobrist was one top prospect plus another prospect? they got that – and by throwing in Escobar got Jaso back as well.

    So the A’s are certainly not going to move Zobrist for a “crafty” (i.e., good numbers/marginal stuff) AA pitcher (Voth), a marginal LHRP with no options left (Cedeno) and a choice of an almost-was (Moore) and a never-was (Skole). That’s just talk-radio “here, have a crate of our crap in exchange for a star” type stuff.

    With the acquisition of Zobrist and Escobar the rest of Beane’s moves over the past year almost make sense. The A’s are a credible contender, even in a pretty tough AL West. Zobrist might be had on the cheap if the A’s fall out of contention before the trade deadline, but before that? Fuhgeddaboudit. He isn’t going anywhere, and most definitely isn’t coming here. Not yet, anyway.

    John C.

    12 Jan 15 at 5:46 pm

  54. The Nats have no reason to give up more than extraneous parts – which I’ll gladly concede that they are – for Zobrist because they don’t need him that badly. Billy needed him a lot more, but he didn’t give up that much, all in all, particularly for two established starters. He was trading Jaso anyway, so Robertson is the only potential loss, and he’s still a long way away. The point that Todd and I have both made is that the Rays didn’t get nearly the level of return for two guys that had been discussed just for Zobrist.

    As much as I’d like to see Zobrist on South Capitol, I didn’t want to pay much for a one-year rental, and still don’t.

    Moving on, I like the Carp signing, along with Stewart and Uggla. There’s no risk, and if any recapture the magic, bully for Rizzo.


    13 Jan 15 at 1:17 pm

  55. So we are right where we started weeks ago, really:

    The Nats off-season dictated by their decisions on Zimmerman, Fister, Span, Desmond, and Clippard.

    What we have learned is:

    1) The team reupped Span and now has only Taylor in the wings (unless Moore explodes in the spring and instigates a discussion about keeping him and Zimmerman in the same lineup). So, barring the appearance of an acquisition, the Nationals are committed to multiple years of Werth and will make the Span 2016 decision after enough months to see whether Span is a long term investment and whether Taylor belongs alongside him, instead of him, or not at all. If there is anybody who would sign under value to stay here, it seems to be Span (and Fister).

    2) Desmond decision will wait on what the Nats can get team threshhold for him and whether that exceeds the value of a qualifying offer and offers a high quality ceiling position player in return. It sure does not look like they want to give him his years, unless Rizzo is playing a stare down with him.

    3) Fister and Zimmerman decisions wait on whether the team can get a sufficient prospect haul that sufficiently exceeds the QO. Replacements will come from within the organization or the acquisition itself (a la Price – Drew Smyly). market waits on Shields, Scherzer, Hamels and whomever else is clearly on the move to dry up the market for the highest premium starters, and decision awaits resolution of how the team and its budget looks after one of them gets traded.

    4) Clippard – Will not get a QO, so market waits on the closers to dry up completely. I can;t see him bing on the roster opening day unless the offers for him are totally inadequate. He may move during spring when a team’s closer blows his arm out on March 1.

    The “sell before” signings (Uggla, Stewart, Carp) also reflect an open competition for bench spots and an open mind about the composition of the team with a heavy emphasis on veteran influence. Hard to argue, for example, with whether Carp ought to be compared to McLouth for value off the bench.

    No Ohlendorf-types in the bunch, though.

    Kobernus gets no mention here, but as a 2B option vs. Danny he gives up some defense for great speed. I wonder whether there is any plan to have him return to full time 2B at Syracuse this year. And Burrus, of course failed before, but stepped up his game (all-star) and at a position that is entirely unresolved.

    Internal talent evaluations are the key intangible here. What do the Nats think they have? We’ll know based on whom they move. Don’t forget that Tanner Roark was off the radar and took his game up a notch and elbowed his way in. And, that Burrus resigned with the organization at a time that he would have had value elsewhere in a middle infield poor market. What signals did they send him?

    I agree with what KW said above, about how nothing needs to be done. But I also think a lot will be done, once the dominoes alluded to above fall.


    13 Jan 15 at 11:20 pm

  56. Forensicane: while the macro pieces have not much changed … did we really expect them to that much? This team won 96 games last year, has no significant holes other than 2B, and is on most pundit’s lips as a 2015 favorite already.

    What the team has done is quietly and effectively re-stock the minors. Just read the first system rankings of the new year that has Nats at #11, believe it or not. With two under the radar trades of spare parts (Souza, Detwiler) we have gotten 4 guys back who all may play a part sooner or later.

    If Kobernus could hit at the major league level, he’d be in the conversation. But he hasn’t proven that to be the case at all, so experimenting with him at 2B over Espinosa at this point would be a mistake. I’d rather take the known quanitity over something that could be worse on both the offensive and defensive front.

    Todd Boss

    14 Jan 15 at 10:02 am

  57. In fairness, Kobernus has a total of 44 PAs over two years and he did have six walks (.295 obp). There is no way that he can be a worse hitter than LS Danny.

    Andrew R

    14 Jan 15 at 10:14 am

  58. Espinosa is the better bench guy, since he covers for SS too, and no one else does. But asking whether Kobernus is a better bench call than Frandsen is a fair question. He offers speed and D, whereas Frandsen may have the better bat. They are both versatile, although not necessarily at the same spots. I think that I would go with Kobernus, but the Nats will almost certainly go with Frandsen, since they seem to love his intangibles. But the bench looks like Frandsen, Lobo, McLouth, Espy (or another Utility guy if Espy starts) and then either TMo, Stewart, Carp, Uggla)

    There have been some recent filings in the MASN case, and my hunch is that we (Nats) lose this thing. Maybe that is a back drop to their moves on extensions. If they are budgeting $30m in tv payments, perhaps they want payroll back to the $100m area within the next year or two.

    I read through a 20+ page affidavit in support of Angelos, and while obviously biased in their favor, presents a fairly cogent case that MLB tried to force through a settlement without the legal basis and the O’s called their bluff. Now they are trying to embarrass MLB to prove the RSDC hearing was a sham. They might win, based on what I have seen.

    In the long run, I wonder if the O’s will be happy with their decision to fight in such a high profile manner: they are making Manfred look stupid and manipulative in this latest filing, and I am sure that the pulling of the ASB was a retaliation. Maybe it won’t mean anything, but I think they made an enemy of the new commish.


    14 Jan 15 at 10:37 am

  59. Nats just flipped Danny Rosenbaum for a minor league catcher (after just signing another minor league FA C). I am guessing that this is just to clear space at AAA, but maybe Lobo is part of a package somewhere?


    14 Jan 15 at 10:42 am

  60. Wally, I don’t think there’s any winning or losing in the MASN case. The Nats are owed a reset to market value, so if the Orioles “win” it would just go to a different arbitration away from the MLB forum. That’s why this is so strange for the O’s to fight this – maybe they win a little savings, but it’s going to be minimal for such a battle.

    Andrew R

    14 Jan 15 at 10:57 am

  61. When I said ‘win’, I meant keep the arbitration award in place – ~ $60m payment level and an acknowledgement to use a fair market test that is more current market focused. A ‘loss’ either reverts to the O’s offer of ~$35 (I think in each case, that number was for 2013 and then there are annual % increases through each 5 year reset period), or as you said, gets sent to a different arb panel.

    But more importantly, I think a ‘loss’ here (overturning the panel’s decision) primarily forces them to accept this ‘Bortz’ methodology, which would be a big set back for the Nats. Then, it doesn’t matter what other RSNs are doing, there is a specific methodology to follow and it will significantly lower their expected revenues looking out 10+ years or so. I think that kind of thing does have an impact on these big extension contracts.


    14 Jan 15 at 11:06 am

  62. Todd –

    It isn’t so simple. The team won 96 but faces major one-way attrition. One thing is for sure – it is the GMs responsibility not to treat his mission as all-in for one year. This GM has to win every year and the moves dictate not just winning in 2015, and winning the WS, but being in contention in 2016 and 2017.

    This is all the more tricky with a clear reticence on the part of management to give 1) Desmond the years he wants the RZimm contract is burning in them right now 2) JZimm the money and years he wants – he is a TJ survivor, after all. What TJ survivor went on to give 8 or 9 plus more years at peak performance? 3) Fister the money and years he wants – at least until the Zimmerman situation is resolved 4) Clippard the money he could get elsewhere.

    Furthermore, the team’s international policy has been to find diamonds in the rough with quantity. Until they make the big score, they will not be allocating big bucks internationally, either.

    So the team expanded its scouting and its developmental staff, and held onto many of its minor league developmental types. The team continues to show its greatest strength in identifying undervalued talents in pro baseball and coaching them up.

    I suppose my point is that we did not know, at the Hot Stove outset, what would become of the quartet of Zimmerman, Fister, Desmond, and Clippard. And we still don’t. But we know more than we did.

    The biggest difference this offseason compared to last has been in the nature of the talents coming back. Four who are starting with a higher floor than we are accustomed to seeing. But that also reflects the nature of the players being traded. There has been more depth in tradeable talent this year than before. Ross Detwiler has far more value than John Lannan once did. Souza has far more value than the MiLPOY before him.

    The restocking of the minors is underway. If they are going to move ML star talent, I’ll hold my judgment until they get the returns for people I am convinced are on the way out (Clippard for sure, perhaps Zimmerman and Desmond).


    14 Jan 15 at 11:10 am

  63. As for Kobernus, I am not doing anything more than raising his name. The team is better off with Espinosa in the starting lineup based on how things stand and the prospect that Danny will hit right side only.

    With that said, however, I think Kobernus gets overlooked. When he was healthy, he was tearing up AAA in his first year at the new level. Then he got hurt. But he has great basestealing ability (if he has fully recovered, a big if). And he has not been the same offensively since the organization has tried to convert him into a man of many positions.

    I brought him up to suggest that if he is healthy and gets half a chance in spring training, he may post the kind of offensive numbers that get us talking.

    BTW, I don’t see Lobaton going anywhere. He had a strong second half and the Nats have had enough adventures in dissatisfaction with backup catchers. It’s the same reason why I wonder whether Span, with another great year, has a longer life in DC than we ever envisioned. Prospects are wonderful, but the team went a long, long time without a viable leadoff hitter. Taylor can play anywhere in the outfield, has a great arm, and has the power to hit anywhere in the lineup if he proves to master the step up to AAA.


    14 Jan 15 at 11:18 am

  64. I agree forensicane. I see no upside in having Kevin Frandsen on the team – he can play a bunch of positions in mediocre fashion, he can hit singles, and he has limited speed. The epitome of a replacement player with no good tools.

    Kobernus can play a bunch of positions in mediocre fashion, he can hit singles, and he has a lot of speed. If KF is such a good clubhouse presence, maybe he would accept a coaching position… or they can get Mark DeRosa to hang out as a coach again.

    Lobaton is going nowhere – I think he’s a fantastic backup catcher. I just wish MW would give him more pinch hit ABs. I loathe having the backup catcher never get ABs, sitting there in the unlikely case that the catcher gets hurt. I’m sure someone else on the team (Harper, Frandsen, Werth) could catch an inning if there was a huge emergency. Lobaton has a decent bat and I’d like to see it used more.

    Andrew R

    14 Jan 15 at 11:24 am

  65. A few more notes for consideration…

    The minors continue to have certain glaring needs – power prospects, left handed starting pitching, middle infield depth, legitimate 3B prospects. That’s a lot.

    The model of how the farm system should be is utopian but should be the Nats RH starting and catching depth. With high ceiling prospects one after another, the system can cash in trade chips even as they one did Norris and the players in the Gio deal.

    The ridiculous overpayment for players on the free market will promote more free agency. There will always be franchises willing and able to flush money down the toilet like the Dodgers do.

    The only antidote to that, long term, is to build a minor league system where one has prospective stars at every level and at every position. Because then, when a need emerges, a team can make a Zach Walters trade.

    That is part of the reason why I am very happy with how the Nats have built up their Dominican operation as a powerhouse feeding large numbers of talents into the system. Players from the GCL miracle team will reach AA this year; Rey Lopez was brought in for 17K and was completely unknown here last year; the DSL team has some very intriguing bats coming stateside; and the GCL Nats had some toolsy players who just need to mature a little but will be on display in Auburn and maybe even Hagerstown. This is exactly how we discovered the heretofore overlooked Difo in 2014.

    So I totally support the idea of flipping 5+ players now, even the all-stars, for high ceiling prospect depth for the Potomac and Harrisburg rosters. Again, it is all about how the organization values its own talent. But we have people like Treinen and Cole literally there. Does that mean the team can churn one starter a year out of the system for a prospect haul? Consider what the system will look like next year with Giolito one year older, Ross more mature and other talents making the leap forward. That’s what great depth gets you. What the team has now is truly replaceable depth in starting pitching. What the team does not have is three Trea Turners at every level. That’s what the trades and continued Dominican mining will do on a schedule that parallels the due date of people like Ramos growing out of their contracts in time. When that happens, whomever emerges from Severino/Kieboom/Read/Reitz will truly be kind of the kill, at 500K replacing a 15 million dollar player. That is where the game is headed, that is where the franchise must head.


    14 Jan 15 at 11:57 am

  66. Sorry – “king of the hill”

    and Trea Turners (high prospects) — one at every level.


    14 Jan 15 at 12:00 pm

  67. Butler looks like a good pickup, certainly an improvement on Leon and the Onion. With Ramos’ fragility, he’s very likely to see time with the big club. And with Ramos’ fragility, no, Sheriff Lobo isn’t going anywhere.

    I don’t understand the Nats’ fascination with Frandsen, or why they felt they had to re-sign him immediately at twice the freight. I really hope that they will give a fair shake to all the guys competing against him, including Kobernus. And with the Carp signing, I wonder if we’ll hear more about the possibility of McLouth to the O’s.

    All in all, I’m glad the Nats are bringing in more guys to compete for the bench spots. If McLouth and Frandsen go out and wins theirs, more power to them. McLouth does have some high-quality seasons in his past. But none of those guys should have a guaranteed spot.


    14 Jan 15 at 12:40 pm

  68. And, there goes Clip. Still can’t believe that Rizzo is ok with Yunel in the clubhouse. I don’t think I have ever seen something like Beane’s offseason


    14 Jan 15 at 8:01 pm

  69. Original post about his suspension here:

    Its worth noting, if you wanted to give Escobar the benefit of the doubt, that the translation of his eyeblack message spans a wide swath of options. He very well could have meant it as meaning “you are a girly-man” to the more offensive “you are a f*ggot.” What isn’t mentioned and is now lost is this: he certainly didn’t write something like “I hate gay people” … so I always caveat the whole “Escobar used an anti-gay slur” summarization of the event as possibly not being an entirely true judgement of his character.

    New posting quick thoughts on the trade soon…

    Todd Boss

    14 Jan 15 at 8:41 pm

  70. new posted.

    Todd Boss

    14 Jan 15 at 9:10 pm

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