Nationals Arm Race

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

Ask Chelsea – post-season/pre-playoffs mailbag


Farewell Jayson Werth; its been a good 7 years. Photo via getty images

Farewell Jayson Werth; its been a good 7 years. Photo via getty images

Lets bang out a mailbag, this time with WP beat reporter Chelsea Janes at the WP.

I’ll do a Playoffs prediction piece once tonight’s WC game is settled; no point in speculating until we know who the Dodgers are facing.

Q: Is any contract extension for Dusty contingent on getting the team past the first round?

A: I wouldn’t think so, honestly.  I think Dusty Baker has done an excellent job with this team, turning it around starkly from the Matt Williams regime.  Yes its curious that he hasn’t been extended … but then again, the inevitable extension for Mike Rizzo seemed to be a little late coming too.  Maybe this team has told him privately that they’ll get it done this off-season and just focus on winning for the time being.

Janes has reported several times that everyone plans on Baker being back, that Rizzo wanted to do it in ST but ownership did not, and that’s the Nationals MO.  


Q: Is Stephen Strasburg going to start Game 1?

A: As of the point of this writing, it definitely seems like it.  This gives Max Scherzer one more day to recover, and gives the team the choice of selecting either guy for Game 5 thanks to multiple off-days in the playoff schedule.  I’d be up for this scenario honestly; Scherzer may be the Ace but Strasburg has been the best pitcher in the last two months.

Janes does not know but pointed out Strasburg’s unbelievable numbers since returning from the D/L in August.  He definitely merits a 2-game NLDS if it comes to it.


Q: Chances Anthony Rendon gets an extension this off season?

A: Hmm.  Good question.  Rendon is going to be due a sizeable arbitration raise this off-season and still has another Arb year, so I could see the team doing a 2-year deal now to avoid the arguing.  Perhaps 2yrs/$25M or something (with salaries of $10 and $15M?).  I’d take that for cost certainty for a guy who doesn’t get near the credit he’s due but is putting up MVP numbers.  As far as longer-term extension?  I dunno; is Rendon a lifer in Washington?  What will it take to sign him long term?  In this respect, his under-ratedness works to the team’s benefit.  I see him kind of in the Adrian Beltre mold; good defensive player, not as flashy, solid offensive contributions.  Beltre is getting $18M per right now and just finished a 5yr/$80M deal before that, so that’s a good benchmark.  Maybe Rendon can be had for something like a 5yr/$90M deal which would take him through his age-32 year, so we’d get his best years but he’d get another shot at the FA market at 32.

Janes agrees with my assertion that they’ll likely buy out his Arb years, but notes that he’s a Scott Boras client and likely hits FA.  Fair point.  But our read on Rendon is not the hyper-aggressive big character/ego guy, so maybe in the asme vein as Strasburg (also Boras client) he’ll sign an extension to stay comfortable.  He’s also a Houston guy born and bred (HS and college) and would make a ton of sense heading back there.  Houston has a log-jam of good infielders right now … but a lot can change in a couple years.

Q: Would you start Jayson Werth or Adam Lind in LF for playoffs Game 1?

A: Werth absolutely.  Especially since Jon Lester is likely to go Game 1.  Maybe you could get more clever in games 2-4 when RHP starters go for Chicago… but I still doubt it.  Unless Werth is hurt, he’s  your starting LF.  And if he was hurt … i’m not sure I’d go with Lind out there in lieu of Howie Kendrick honestly, given the defensive liabilities.

Janes agrees, thinks it would take an injury to get someone besides Werth out there, and points out that Werth was a rock in the playoffs last year.

Q: How worried should we be about the recent performances of Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark? 

A: Slightly worried, but not overly so.  The Nats have really had so little to play for for weeks that its possible that these guys just mentally relaxed enough to have bad games, especially in the season finale (which was emotional for it being Werth’s likely final regular season game in a Nats uniform).

Janes thinks Gio was a bit under the weather, and that Roark admitted to not being totally focused during the grind of the final week.

Q: Will Victor Robles make the major league roster out of spring training in 2018?

A: Oh, that’s a good question.  Something tells me he will not for several reasons:

  1. Adam Eaton will be back and starting in CF
  2. Harper is in RF
  3. The team still has TaylorGoodwin and Stevenson all in the mix, all pre-arb, all with more service time than Robles
  4. We still could buy ourselves a bigger bat to play LF and have these guys all jockeying to be the 4th OF.
  5. We still could see a trade in the off-season, flipping some of this sudden OF depth (along with Wilmer Difo) for the answer.
  6. Robles needs to be playing every day, not sitting on the MLB bench, and makes sense to be in AAA against near-MLB quality guys
  7. Robles needs, in the same vein as Trea Turner, to have his service time managed a little bit.

Now, I could be wrong, and the team could find itself in a dogfight early in Harper’s last season.  They could get hit with injuries again and he’d be right back up.  But to start, i’d have him in AAA.

Janes repeats practically everything I wrote.

Q: Who will be the last man on the bench? What will the bullpen look like? Will Robles make the playoff roster? 

A: I think …. if it were me i’d put Robles on the roster.  But Mr, Baker probably wants a more veteran player, so don’t be surprised if the kid is left off in lieu of some .200 hitting last man.  We’ll see.

We talked about this in the last post so we won’t do it again, and Janes posted a whole 2,000 word article on it … so we’ll defer to those discussions.






7 Responses to 'Ask Chelsea – post-season/pre-playoffs mailbag'

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  1. Well, you just compared Rendon to a pretty certain Hall of Famer. I don’t disagree, although in his prime, Beltre had more HR power. There was a time a few years when I was trying to line Zim’s career up with Beltre’s. Both Zim and David Wright had to talent to be in that conversation; both are cautionary tales of what can go wrong with a big contract.

    That said, of the stars whose contracts will be up within the next couple of years, Rendon makes the most sense for extension . . . if he’d do it. He’s going to give you 90% of Harper’s production for much less than 90% of the price. Since it’s Boras, you’d have to be prepared for multiple opt-outs and whatnot. But yeah, I’d do a big, long deal with Rendon without too much worry.

    As for Werth, he should get the start against Lester, and perhaps Quintana if he goes in Game 2. If Werth lays a couple of eggs in those games, you would hope he’s enough of a team player to tell Dusty to start Lind against the righties. That’s probably the only way it would happen, though.

    Robles is going to be on the same drill as all the other hot prospects. I’m sort of surprised that the new CBA didn’t address the Super Two issue. I don’t think they’ll worry about it with Stevenson, though, as he’s not going to be a star.

    I do wonder how seriously they’ll think about trading Taylor. He’s got some real value right now, and I’d think about cashing it in. They’ve seen how low-contact guys like Danny and Desi aren’t exactly prone to consistency.

    I would inquire seriously about any of the Marlin OFs. I’d even take Stanton’s contract, which is likely to be a bargain compared to Harper’s. Yelich has a very nice contract for five more years. Taylor is a Miami native. Cole is a very Marlin-type starter. Let’s make something happen here.


    4 Oct 17 at 1:01 pm

  2. A bit off-topic but since you mentiond the CBA: I think the players really screwed themselves in the CBA. They seemed to entirely focus on a) the qualifying offer and b) not really caring about the larger issues that are now staring them right in the face because they didn’t focus on them (luxury tax, bonus caps, super2, arbitration rules, etc).

    Todd Boss

    4 Oct 17 at 3:07 pm

  3. Remember all those folks who were mad for half a season that the Nats didn’t sign Greg Holland? How’d that work out when it really mattered? Somewhat Storen-esque . . .

    Since the Snakes burned Greinke and Ray, I’m now not so sure about them against the Dodgers. Could Ray still be available for Games 2 and 5? The D-Backs certainly have the RH offense to smack around all the Dodger lefties.

    Meanwhile, we’re still waiting to hear about the Nat rotation. It’s looking more and more certain that Stras gets Game 1, and I’m good with that. I think he’s becoming everything we’ve been hoping he would be. Now it’s time to prove it on a big stage.


    5 Oct 17 at 5:16 am

  4. Curious as to why no pushback on Eaton in CF. Michael Taylor is a 3.1 fWAR player in 118 games and widely viewed as a plus defender. He made $557K this year and has 3 more Arb years (so his cost will go up but still a bargain per WAR).
    On a team hoping to sign Harper, Rendon and, perhaps, Turner to long-term deals, you need low-cost/reasonable return players like Taylor.
    Personally, I admit to having severely depleted my patience for profligate and mindless Ks on Danny and Desi. So Taylor frustrates me. Throw in the Tootblans and occasionally odd outfield routes with that.
    That said, he grades significantly better than Eaton defensively in CF and if he plays 150 next year perhaps he hits 25-28 homers (which makes the Ks slightly more tolerable), steals 30 and again has an OPS over 800 (maybe gets his OBP to .350!). He is even more valuable then and Robles is surely ready after another year playing every day.
    Where are the Nats obvious major holes next year? 5th starter and catcher (IMO). Those can be filled in FA or through other means (go after Otani. Why not. He wants to compete. With Rizzo Nats are a top 5 MLB organization on a great 5-year run in an international city with global media coverage).
    Anyway, despite our doubts, Taylor makes financial sense AND he could be even more valuable after next season (with two more Arb years left) if he continues his current trends and Robles is truly ready.


    5 Oct 17 at 1:20 pm

  5. Not sure what you mean by “pushback.” Do you mean, you prefer Taylor over Eaton in CF, with Eaton pushed to LF? I suppose that’s the cheaper/inhouse way to go. Its also an option if the team thinks Eaton’s leg needs a year of lower leverage defensive assignments in Left. I could see that.

    I suppose my personal opinion goes something like this: I’m not sure I trust that the 2017 Taylor is what we are now getting, after watching the 2014-2016 Taylor struggle significantly.

    I will push back on your “Taylor grades significantly better than Eaton” in CF though, because it forgets about the context behind his stats. In 2014, he had a +11 DRS in center for the White Sox, and in 2015 his numbers plunged. That’s because he had a shoulder injury that whole year. Then in 2016 he got pushed to RF, where his defensive numbers were absolutely stellar, like best in the game. Taylor’s DRS figure this year was +9, about on a par with Eaton’s 2015 season. Point is; Eaton is still a great defensive outfielder and I think he’d be fine going back to CF. He’d be absolutely wasted in LF. Its probably just a one-year problem though: Eaton slides in to RF when harper leaves, Robles or somebody goes to CF and we just plug in someone in LF.

    Which Is why I think the team may cash in on Taylor. Similarly to the way they cashed in on Souza after he broke out; we got great value for him in the trade market. If they want to sell high, this is the off-season to do it. But remember; this OF is still crowded. Harper around for one more year, Robles is close, Stevenson is around too. So if you keep Taylor, you’re basically sending Robles back to the minors. If you’re saying to yourself “robles is ready to play now” then you flip Taylor and start an OF of Robles-Eaton-Harper.

    Todd Boss

    5 Oct 17 at 1:32 pm

  6. No ‘pushback’ refers to the appearance of general acceptance of Eaton in CF. That may or may not be the case, however.

    Agreed with regard to Eaton’s play his full year in center. He was diminished and, by all appearances, he would be very good anywhere in the outfield. As you note, he was great in RF when he was healthy.

    However, my guess is Taylor stays because of his pretty good overall performance, potential for incremental improvement and contract make him particularly valuable to the Nats. A Souza type deal would be fantastic. But that is one for the ages. What can actually be gotten for Taylor or a package including him? Hard to know.

    And, if he stays, they seem to like him in CF.

    It’s hard for me to believe that I am plumping for Michael A. Taylor as I can’t stand the Ks and I’m still not sure what percentage of him is athlete and what is baseball player.

    Especially since his staying would mean less to none of Robles which disappoints everybody.

    The Nats ‘found’ some nice and unexpected value this season with Taylor, Difo and Goodwin becoming reasonably attractive assets. However, we learned more about Taylor and Goodwin because our starting outfield this year missed close to 250 games among them. We needed the depth.

    It also appears that we have a bit of a donut in the system. Some viable players arriving this year or on the cusp (Robles) but with a general sense that many of the most promising players are a couple years away (Soto, Johnson) and then even younger.

    Taylor strikes me as an inexpensive, bridge asset that the Nats will value higher than most potential trade partners will be willing to go.


    5 Oct 17 at 6:37 pm

  7. ACLs by all accounts take 2 years to heal from and have the athletes feel totally comfortable. So … it wouldn’t surprise to me if he didn’t play CF and the team was already counting on him not playing CF. I just get irritated when I hear “Oh Eaton sucks in CF” because its not entirely accurate.

    So, lets say that they want Eaton in LF in 2018 to let his knee heal and gain confidence. Do you want Taylor starting in CF or Robles? I think you want Taylor, with Stevenson as your spare OF/defensive replacement/pinch runner type, with Robles playing FT in AAA until there’s an injury. This benefits us in two ways: Robles keeps playing and manages his service time. If there’s an injury so be it you call him up, but otherwise he stays down. If Taylor goes back to his 70 OPS+/strike out every third AB, then you replace him like for like.

    I think there’s a “hole” in the development right now thanks to all the trades we have had to do to supplement the MLB team. Just in the last year (plus last off-season) here’s the prospects we’ve traded away: Avila, Giolito, Lopez, Dunning, Rosa, Van Vossen, Luzardo, Neuse, Mills and Watson. Nine of those guys (I think) were pitchers. But that doesn’t explain why we have such a gap of position players necessarily in the upper minors; i think that is mostly on draft strategy that has been pitcher heavy as well as just poor drafting of position players by this org over the last few years. You look at the position guys we’re picking and they’re not panning out. This coincided with a big push in the IFA market, so those guys are starting to come to fruition now, which is great; honestly we don’t relaly have a true need for a couple more yars, so Soto/Robles/etc have some time.

    Todd Boss

    6 Oct 17 at 10:40 am

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