Nationals Arm Race

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

Pressing issues for the Nats this off-season

71 comments

Will Dusty get another contract here? Photo via UPI

Will Dusty get another contract here? Photo via UPI

Since our season is over (but the hot-stove has not yet kicked in), i’ll piggy back on the recent posts to this same topic done by Mark Zuckerman at MASN and by Chelsea Janes at WP.

Their posts both touched on some of the same issues; i’ll take those issues and add in a few of my own.

Major issues for the Nats to address this coming off-season, how I would address them and what I think the team will do:

  1. Resolve Dusty Baker situation.  Many reports have noted that the team wants him back and that he wants to return.  I see little that he could have done differently in the 5-game NLDS loss to use as evidence that he’s not the right guy (you can’t lose when your pitchers throw 6 no-hit innings in playoff starts), and he’s so clearly a better man-manager than his predecessor Matt Williams that I see no reason not to extend him.   I know that the Lerner’s don’t like to do long term contracts, and lets just hope they offer Baker the raise he deserves for two straight division titles (and, in my opinion, the NL Manager of the Year in 2017 award that he should get for working around so many injuries this year).
  2. Should we bring back Jayson Werth?   Yes he’s the “club house leader,” yes he’s been here for seven years and has settled in the DC area.  But he struggled this year with both injuries and performance, is entering his age 39  year, posted a negative bWAR in 2017, and the team has a surplus of outfielders who are probably MLB “starters” heading into 2018, more than we can even field.  I think the team says to Werth something along the lines of the following: Go see if you can find a DH/part time OF job in the AL for a couple years until you’re done playing and then we’ll hire you back as a special assistant/hitting instructor/bench coach or something.  I’m not entirely convinced that Werth is a DC lifer though; he’s been kind of a nomad in his career.  Drafted by Baltimore, traded to Toronto (with whom he debuted), traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, signed as a FA with Philly for four years, then with us for seven.  Yes he’s been with us the longest, but this isn’t a situation like Ryan Zimmerman where we’re the only org he’s known.  I think he heads off to the AL for a couple years then comes back to the fold with a front office job.
  3. What do we do at Catcher?  I’ll quickly repeat what we’ve been discussing in the comments of previous posts; yes I know Matt Wieters struggled badly at the plate this year, yes I know he botched the 5th inning of that fateful game 5.  But he’s not going to decline a $10M offer after this season, nor is the team going to swallow that amount of money.  Prepare yourselves for another season of Wieters, who we can only hope bounces back in his “contract year” and gets a bump in performance.  Meanwhile, as much as we love the Jose Lobaton cheerleader routine, we do need more production from the backup.  Even though Lobaton got just 158 ABs this year, he still managed to put up a -1.0 bWAR figure.  That’s hard to do.  If only we could just have him only play for us in the playoffs … (big hit in game 5 in 2017, the clutch 3-run homer in 2016).  I suspect the team will go with Wieters and Pedro Severino as his backup, getting Severino at least two starts a week to get him up to speed on MLB pitching, then making a 2019 decision based on whether Severino looks like he could hit enough to be a full time starter or if he remains the backup to some FA acquisition.  We have others in the pipeline who may prove themselves worthy soon (Raudy Read in AAA, Taylor Gushue in AA, Jakson Reetz in High-A, Tres Barrera in Low-A, plus long-serving minor leaguers Spencer Kieboom and Jhonatan Solano in the AAA fold who may or may not come back for 2018).
  4. Will they pursue FA extensions with key players?  Namely, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon and Daniel Murphy.  Lets take them one by one:
    1. Harper: lets face it, there’s NO WAY he’s not hitting free agency.  Scott Boras client with a chance to set the all time contract record?  Both guys have the ego required to pursue that avenue.  And yes, while some Boras clients (Stephen Strasburg) have taken pre-FA deals, very few do.  You hire Boras generally to get the biggest value deal and to leverage his relationships with owners so as to negotiate directly with them and that’s what Harper will do.
    2. Rendon: he’s still got two arb years: what I think the team will do is do a 2-year deal to buy out the Arb years and get cost containment.  MLBtraderumors projected Rendon’s arb salary for 2018 at $11.5M and they’re usually pretty accurate; I could see the nats offering Rendon a 2yr/$26M deal for $10M in 2018 then $16M in 2019 or something like that … maybe a little higher in his final year given his MVP-calibre season.  That’d be good for the team because Rendon might be a $20M/year player, and good for Rendon b/c he’s injury prone.  Past this though … Rendon is also a Boras client but he projects to me kind of like Strasburg in that he’s low-key and may want to commit to DC longer term.  Of course, Rendon is also a Houston lifer (born, high school and college there) so he could also want a return trip home to play for his home town team.  Probably an issue for the 2020 hot-stove season.
    3. Murphy: the Nats have gotten such a huge bargain with the Murphy signing.  He’ll only be 34 at the beginning of his next deal, and he plays a position (2B) that isn’t nearly as taxing as an OF or other infield position.  I would feel completely comfortable offering him another 3 year deal, increasing the dollars to maybe $16M/year (3yrs/$48M).
  5. Do they need to pursue a Starting Pitcher?  Absolutely, 100% yes.   Joe Ross is out for basically the whole of 2018, they traded away all their AAA depth last off-season, and the guys remaining in AAA (A.J. Cole and Erick Fedde) did not grab the 5th starter job like they had the chance to in 2017.  Edwin Jackson probably earned himself a shot elsewhere but was too inconsistent for my tastes.  I think the team splurges here, trying to get the best additional veteran starter they can find either on the free market or in trade.  The market for starters is intriguing: Yu DarvishJake Arrieta are Cy-Young quality arms available.  There’s some decent SPs like Masahiro Tanaka and Johnny Cueto who can opt out but who also may just stay put.  There’s #4 starter types like Lance Lynn and Jeremy Hellickson who are available and could be good 5th starters for us.  There’s guys who have put up good seasons but have struggled lately (Jaime GarciaFrancisco LirianoClay Buchholz) who could be intriguing.  So it’ll be interesting to see who they get.
  6. What is the Nats 2018 outfield?  Do they stick with Internal options or do they hit the FA/trade Markets?   I like a potential 2018 outfield of Taylor/Eaton/Harper.  I like Taylor in CF providing better defense than Eaton right now, given that ACL injuries really are 2-year recoveries.  Given Taylor’s big 2017 and his “Michael A Tater” NLDS, he’s more than earned a starting spot in 2018.  That leaves some surplus in the OF for 2018 … something we’ll talk about next.  There are some intriguing names out there on the FA market (J.D. Martinez, Justin Upton, Lorenzo Cain) who could slot into either LF or CF as needed and give a hopeful boost to the offense … but are any of those guys and their 8-figure salaries guarantees to be better than the cost-contained Taylor?  I don’t think so, and that’s why I think we stick with him.
  7. Do the Nats leverage their sudden depth of position players in trade this off-season?  In particular, i’m talking about Wilmer Difo and Brian Goodwin, both of whom played extremely well when given the opportunity and who both proved that they’re MLB starting quality.   If we stick with Taylor as a starter, then you have both Goodwin and Andrew Stevenson as able backups and that’s one too many.  If we (going back to the previous point) buy another outfielder, then that’s even more surplus.  I’m of the opinion that the team needs to sell high on both Difo and Goodwin and acquire needed assets (5th starter, bullpen help, near-to-the-majors pitching prospects).
  8. What do we do with the benchDrew, Lobaton, Kendrick, de Aza, Raburn all FAs, Lind has a player option but may want to try to parlay his excellent PH season into a FTE job.  So that leaves … not much.
    1. We have already talked about a backup catcher above
    2. We need a RH bench bat who can play corners (1B/LF): that was Chris Heisey to start the year .. but he’s long gone.  Kendrick ably filled this role … but he won’t sign back on as a utility guy given his excellent 2017.
    3. If Lind doesn’t exercise his $5M player option, we’ll need a big bopper lefty on the bench again.  We do have a guy like this on the farm and on our 40-man (Jose Marmolejos) but is he MLB ready?  He had a nice AA season, but AA to the majors is a jump.
    4. If we flip Difo, we’ll need a backup middle infielder.  Do we keep him assuming that Turner/Murphy will get hit with injuries (as they both are apt to do?)  Turner missed months, Murphy missed nearly 20 games in each of the past two years; is that enough to keep someone around versus flipping them?
    5. We do seem OK with backup outfielders right now, assuming that Andrew Stevenson is sufficient as a 4th OF/CF-capable defensive replacement/pinch runner type.

So, that’s potentially a brand new bench.  Luckily its not too hard to find veteran big-hitting RH or LH bats; we seem to do this every year and have some luck.  Middle infielders?  Would you sign up for another year of Drew?  I don’t think I would at this point; he just seems to brittle to count on.   I suspect the team will be quite active in this area.

9. What do we do with the bullpen Right now, given the departing FA relievers (Perez, Kintzler, Blanton, Albers), our “standing pat” bullpen for 2018 looks something like this:

  1. Closer: Doolittle
  2. 7th/8th inning guys: Madsen, Kelley, Glover
  3. Lefties: Solis, Romero
  4. Long Man: Grace/Cole
  5. Minors options: Adams, Gott

So, that’s a pretty solid looking bullpen if two guys in particular are healthy: Kelley and Glover.  Our entire strategy in the off-season seems to hinge on the health of these two.  I have no guesses; so lets assume one of them is good and one of them has a significant all of 2018 injury.  That means we probably pursue another Matt Albers type in the off-season.  Meanwhile, there’s a difference of opinion on the value of both our current lefties: Romero’s ancillary numbers were barely adequate and lefties hit him for nearly a .300 BAA, so he’s not exactly an effective lefty.  Solis blew up this season, posting a seasonal ERA of nearly 6.00 (his FIP was much better) and getting demoted at one point.  But he gets lefties out, Baker trusts him, and I can’t see him not being a part of the solution.  If the team thought they could improve upon Romero, perhaps they also pursue a lefty reliever (or resign the swashbuckler Perez).  I’m ok with Grace as a long man (though his K/9 rates leave something to be desired) but I’d also like to see the team convert Cole to relief at this point.  There’s some options issues to consider; Solis, Romero, Cole, and Grace are all out of options for next year, so they all either make the team or get cut loose.

 


So Summary:

  1. Bring back Baker
  2. Say good bye to Werth
  3. Stand pat on catcher with internal options
  4. Buy out Rendon’s arb years this year, talk about Murphy next year
  5. Get a decent 5th starter
  6. Go with Taylor/Eaton/Harper with Stevenson as your backup in the OF
  7. Yes, trade Goodwin and Difo for stuff
  8. Get one middle RH reliever, one middle LF reliever, convert Cole to relief
  9. Cattle call for bench bats next spring.

Am I missing anything?  Lots of talking points here.

 

 

71 Responses to 'Pressing issues for the Nats this off-season'

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  1. The roster needs more of an overhaul. Here are the steps that I’d like to see them make:
    (1) say good bye to all the FAs, with the possible exception of Albers
    (2) trade either Rendon or Murphy, and play the other one at 3rd, opening 2B for Difo. I’d prefer it to be Murphy but Rendon has more value, so it could make more sense. And either of those guys should have a lot of surplus value, and should return young guys to either take over 3B in a year or two, or some pitching
    (3) trade Gio. I also think he has surplus value, albeit not a ton, and the returning players can fill some longer term needs
    (4) sign a couple of reclamation projects/5th starter types to make-good contracts and hope to catch lightening in a bottle. Rizzo is usually good at this. Rely on the top 3 to get you most of the way there
    (5) keep Goodwin/Stevenson etc. I don’t think they have much trade value, and add more value being on the roster. Goodwin could easily see 300 PAs even without a major injury
    (6) re-sign Kendrick or Lind (I prefer Kendrick)
    (7) sign Bryan Shaw, maybe another quality guy. make the pen a real asset.
    (8) let Dusty walk

    I don’t think they’ll do much of this, or that many here will agree with my bigger suggestions, but its doable within current payroll constraints. And I think they still make the playoffs in 2018 after these changes and substantially reshape the team going forward to pitching, defense and speed.

    wally

    16 Oct 17 at 1:08 pm

  2. Todd, you’ve got a lot more confidence in Stevenson than I do. I saw a guy who looked really overmatched by MLB pitching. I’m not saying that he won’t find his grove over time, but I don’t see him as making the bench on a win-now team.

    I agree with Wally that Goodwin and Difo don’t have much trade value. I disagree strongly with Wally’s belief that Difo is an everyday player for a contender. He isn’t. He proved himself this year as a pretty adequate utility guy. That’s not a bad thing, considering how much the Nats have had to overpay the last few years for adequate utility guys like Drew.

    I’m conflicted about a Murphy extension. He’s been one of the biggest values in baseball offensively and as a team leader. But he’s not very good defensively, and that ain’t gonna get better with age. Moving him to 1B isn’t an option, though. I wouldn’t have a problem if the Nats offer him three more years . . . or if the Nats don’t offer him anything. It’s going to be a tough call.

    Werth’s gone, unless he wants to be a coach or take $1M to be the RH bat off the bench. I don’t even think it’s worth discussing any other plans for him here.

    KW

    16 Oct 17 at 2:00 pm

  3. Taylor: kudos for a great playoff performance. But even in his “break-out” season in 2017, he struck out 31.7% of the time. He’s going to regress. There’s no player who strikes out that much who doesn’t. I just don’t see him as a building block for the future, despite his “tools.” I’m advocating selling high on him.

    KW

    16 Oct 17 at 2:12 pm

  4. Wally; that’s just such a massive radical overhaul. I just don’t see it. I think trading Rendon is crazy; he’s so undervalued/underpaid for what he contributes that I think he’s one of the guys you build on. Same with Gio; he’s getting paid probably half what he’s worth on the open market … i mean would you rather have Gio for $12M or Jon Lackey at $16M? Because that’s what Lackey is getting paid to provide a fraction of the value that Gio does.

    Todd Boss

    16 Oct 17 at 3:14 pm

  5. Stevenson: not that i have confidence in him necessarily … just admission that you don’t need a superstar from your 4th outfielder.

    Taylor: yeah he strikes out a lot. The difference is that he’s above the league average OPS figure now and hitting for power. With a full season of at bats he’s a 30/30 guy. A 30/30 player who gives you plus defense in center is worth a 31% K rate.

    For context, here’s the entire league averages for batting: https://www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/MLB/bat.shtml

    In 2017, there were an average of 38.13 PAs, 34.07 ABs and 8.25 Ks per game. So that’s 21% of PAs, 24.2% of ABs. Taylor in 2017: 31.7% pas, 34% of ABs. Yeah he’s above the norm. So you put him further down in the order so his homers aren’t always rally killers.

    Todd Boss

    16 Oct 17 at 3:20 pm

  6. When I suggest trading a Rendon (for example), my assumption is that Rizzo gets back that surplus value in trade, just in a different format. Meaning Rendon is an all star level player controlled for two years at cost-suppressed prices, which is worth a lot. I doubt that only means ‘worth a lot to us’, so other teams recognize it and, in the right circumstances, would pay it back to us in other forms. Wouldn’t you think the Red Sox and Yanks would pay a lot for Rendon at those prices (ie luxury tax relief)?

    As for Gio, no way is he worth $24m/yr. But he’d probably be worth a lot to the Rockies, mariners, maybe Angels or twins as a team on the playoff bubble and pitching needs getting a quality starter on a reasonable 1 year deal. Get value back then find someone on a make good deal for $5m or less, (a guy like Tillman, maybe), plus a couple NRI guys. And then live with mediocre performance out of your 4/5 guys, knowing the division is still likely to be weak. they didn’t need to win 97 games this year, and it sure as heck didn’t help any in the playoffs.

    But mainly, my belief is that this group, while talented, isn’t going to win in the playoffs, and substantial changes are needed.

    wally

    16 Oct 17 at 4:03 pm

  7. “But mainly, my belief is that this group, while talented, isn’t going to win in the playoffs, and substantial changes are needed.”

    I think it’s fine to think that the team could be improved upon and that radical changes are necessary to realize those desired improvements. But if the impetus for that is a belief that the team as currently constructed won’t win in the playoffs, I think you’re crazy. Exhibit A: the Nats lost two consecutive G5s by one run in which ten plays in each game could have made the difference between winning and losing. You don’t conclude the team “can’t win in the playoffs” because of that. Exhibit B: the Cleveland Indians were objectively worse last year and made the World Series. With many of the same “clutch” players and a bunch of other, better ones, they got bounced in the first round. A five-game series is a crap shoot. The Nats have crapped out a bunch (though I think they choked more than crapped out in 2012 and 2014 and crapped out the last two years).

    Todd, Andrew Stevenson absolutely CANNOT be the 4th OF on a team that expects to contend. He was terrible at the plate in the majors. In 65 AA games last year, he put up a 76 WRC+. In 79 AAA games this year, he put up a 72 WRC+. The only time he’s hit at all above A-ball was 20 games in AA to start this year (143 WRC+, fueled by a cool .459 BABIP). The guy isn’t an ok hitter or even a bad hitter. He’s a TERRIBLE hitter. He might get better. I need MONTHS of good hitting at AA or above to think he belongs on an MLB roster. I’m all for exploring trades for guys who may be sell-high opportunities (MAT, Goodwin, and Difo fall into this category). But if trading MAT or Goodwin means that Stevenson is on the roster for even a little bit, a mistake has been made.

    Derek

    16 Oct 17 at 5:25 pm

  8. The one thing the Nats absolutely have to do is add another starting pitcher. This is too important a season for the franchise to try to muddle by with Fedde/Cole/???. The hope would be that they could get someone who would be the obvious #3 starter for the playoffs, and preferably someone who could be in the rotation for a few more years going forward with Gio facing his final year. I also wouldn’t mind extension talks with Gio, if they’re reasonable. He’s a very good regular-season pitcher. The Nats don’t have a whole lot of internal options on the immediate horizon with both Fedde and Ross coming off injuries and with Fedde still a question mark as an MLB starter.

    The Nats have a regular track record of at least one big addition every offseason: Eaton for 2017, Murphy for 2016 (although he was their third choice!), Scherzer for 2015, Fister for 2014, Soriano for 2013, Gio and Span for 2012. That’s off the top of my head and may not be exactly right, but the point is that Rizzo and Co. seem to identify at least one area in need of significant improvement. A starter pitcher seems to be the biggest area of concern right now. I could also see an OF upgrade over Taylor, but that’s more subjective than the pitching need.

    Note how amazingly quiet the “need” conversation is about the bullpen.

    KW

    16 Oct 17 at 5:47 pm

  9. Crazy is as crazy does :-)

    I didn’t expect my suggestions to be agreed with. I stand by them, though or something like them. I think big changes are necessary.

    Normally I trend analytical in my thinking, but in this case, I believe the emotional position is the more correct one. I don’t believe in ‘clutch’ – that a player can consistently outperform his talent level in important situations. I do believe that someone can consistently under perform their talent level, though. How do you identify it? How many times do you need before you accept it isn’t just randomness? 1 year? two years? maybe 3? Is no amount of times enough, its always randomness? For me, its losing out 4 times in six seasons, when at least 3 times they were the superior team (imo). If its a crapshoot, at some point it would go the Nats way, so I think something more is at play. Of course I don’t know exactly what that is. But it pushes the edge of my ability to accept randomness and makes me search for another reason. I am going with this. I’m not going to use the word choke. They try hard, they are talented, they don’t quit, but something always ‘happens’. I think they need to change the mix.

    As for the other comments, the point that I disagree with strongly is any suggestion to improve them for the regular season. Every other NL East team is likely to project at or below .500; I think the Nats could take a step or two back in 2018 talent and still comfortably project to win the division. Of course that’s no guarantee, but I don’t think they should expend valuable resources to improve those odds even more.

    Plus, Mike Rizzo, in whose abilities I have a healthy respect, is on record as saying something like his philosophy is building 90 win teams and then take his chances in the playoffs. These suggestions like a better 5th starter are in line with that philosophy, but I think it’s time to change it up to get a championship.

    Wally

    16 Oct 17 at 8:36 pm

  10. KW – I still think bullpen is a very big need.

    Wally

    16 Oct 17 at 8:36 pm

  11. Wally, define “very big need.” They have a solid closer who wasn’t afraid of the postseason at all, a solid 8th-inning guy, and younger power arms in Romero, Solis, and (we hope) Glover. Kelley is under contract, so we just hope he gets back up to full speed. He seemed to be trying to pitch through something all season. Adams and Suero have the promise to move up, and Grace is still around. Maybe Cole gets a look as the swing man.

    Is that “enough”? I don’t know. I’d like to have Albers back, although I fear Todd’s take from a few days ago might be right, that Albers won’t be able to repeat his magic.

    I see no “very big need” here. What am I missing? I’m not busting on you; I just honestly don’t see too much need here at all.

    KW

    16 Oct 17 at 10:02 pm

  12. Needs:

    1. Starting pitcher; prefer stud, but they can get to the playoffs with an innings eater.

    2. Something more at catcher beyond Wieters and Severino. (Some may classify this as a “want.”)

    3. A veteran bench bat of some quality. I think Lind is gone. Kendrick may be willing to come back at a reasonable price.

    Wants:

    1. To add a star-level OF.

    2. To start getting some resolution on whether or not Harper, Murphy, Gio, and Rendon will get extensions. I’m really beginning to think that Harper want. Of all the four, Rendon would be the most important to keep, but as a Boras client, who knows? As noted, I’m conflicted on Murphy and Gio, and they shouldn’t overpay for them.

    KW

    16 Oct 17 at 10:08 pm

  13. That Harper “won’t” get extended. He really is the “face of the franchise,” no matter who else gets called that name. The Nats won’t give him $400-500M, and they shouldn’t. The question is, will anyone else be willing to play at that price level? Bryce still hasn’t been able to stay healthy, and hasn’t been able to find the superstar gear in the postseason.

    KW

    16 Oct 17 at 10:11 pm

  14. KW – here’s why I think the bullpen is a big need. By the end of the season, I thought it was a good (but not great) bullpen. I think they should try to create a great one (suggesting improvement from the status quo), plus they are losing their 3rd, 4th and 6th best arms (Kintzler, Albers, Perez).

    Kelley and Glover have shown past ability to pitch at that level, but injuries and age make them a question mark to produce it in 2018 and I don’t think it’s smart to count a complete bounce back by both.

    So I’d add at least 1 really good arm like Shaw, plus another decent one like Albers. I do like the younger kids like Cole, Adams, Suero for depth at the 6,7,8th spots, but they need.

    If the plan is to reserve the ability to add 1-2 quality guys at the deadline, I’d be ok with that as well. But what’s there isn’t a playoff bullpen without multiple surprise improvements from existing pitchers.

    Wally

    17 Oct 17 at 7:04 am

  15. Wally, I would agree that the Nats can do some shoring up of the middle of the bullpen, but I don’t see that as a dramatic hole or something on which they’ll need to spend big.

    Perez was overpaid for what little he provided (ERAs of 4.95 and 4.64). I do think they could use another lefty, though. Beyond Doo, they’ve got the inconsistent and injury-prone Solis, the fair-to-mediocre Grace, and Romero, who is much better against RHB than LHB.

    Kintzler is going to get something like 3/$30M from some team to be The Closer (TM). A much smarter team would give Albers 3/$9M to fill the same role. He could probably be had for even less than that . . . and if so, I hope the Nats bring him back.

    I think the guiding question for Rizzo & Co. as they consider the bullpen in the offseason is how much they trust that Glover and Kelley will be full speed next season. They have five potentially good RH bullpen arms to choose from in Glover, Kelley, Suero, Adams, and Cole. The first two may not be completely healthy, though; the second pair may not be ready for prime time; and unless they add a starter, Cole may be competing for the #5 slot.

    Right now, you’ve got a seven of Doolittle, Madson, Glover, Kelley, Solis, Romero, and Cole or Grace.

    KW

    17 Oct 17 at 8:14 am

  16. Svrluga now floating that the Baker situation may be more up in the air than people suspected. I agreed with Boz’s take in his chat yesterday, which was that while Dusty may not be the greatest, he’s probably better than most other available options, plus he really has the team behind him. The names being floated for the Met and Tiger managerial openings are uninspiring, so I’d really hate for the Nats to have to start fishing in that same pond.

    KW

    17 Oct 17 at 8:34 am

  17. On the pen: I agree that having two guys with closing experience helps a lot, better than last year. And I am not saying to sign Kintzler at that price (although I’ll bet a beer that you are too high) or Albers at 3 years, just that they need replacing with quality arms. I do like Shaw, although it will take good money to get him. But I’m not wedded to a particular option or guy, just think it needs the most help.

    Where else do you see they need more improvement? The lineup, if they don’t trade anyone, is superb. Their top 4 starters are excellent, perhaps the best top 4 in the game, and sure, they have mediocre options for the 5th starter, but do you really see more impact from a 5th starter than replacing or improving on the bullpen arms that are leaving? I don’t.

    No option currently under control after Madson and Doo is reliably above average, is it? We might hope for Kelley to return to his 2016 levels, and that Glover also gets healthy and returns to (and improves upon) his earlier work, but neither is a given. Everyone else is erratic (Solis/Romero), unproven (Adams/Suero) or uninspiring (Grace/Cole). So I say add Shaw plus another quality guy, giving them 4 reliable guys, and leave the others to develop in low pressure situations.

    wally

    17 Oct 17 at 9:17 am

  18. On manager, I’d be very happy with Randy Knorr. I thought in his limited time earlier, he showed good communication with the players, and was willing to make tough decisions.

    I don’t even know if he is still in the organization.

    wally

    17 Oct 17 at 9:18 am

  19. Knorr is still in the Nat front office in the Player Development department.

    It’s hard to estimate Kintzler’s value based on last year’s market. There really was no second tier behind Chapman/Jansen/Melancon. The Nats really would have liked to have gotten such a second-tier guy. Wounded Holland got 2/$21M, looked great early, then faded. Ziegler got 2/$16M and was terrible. I think Kintzler is in their price ballpark and can command a third year since he’s healthy and posted 29 saves in an All-Star season.

    I guess Wade Davis will be the #1 closer on the market. Kintzler or Holland (said to be declining his $15M option) would be #2.

    Anyway, nice that the Nats don’t need to worry about that slot. But yes, a good mid-bullpen arm or two could help.

    KW

    17 Oct 17 at 10:05 am

  20. Brian Duensing might be an affordable lefty to consider. Even in his down years he’s been better than Ollie.

    KW

    17 Oct 17 at 10:11 am

  21. I know it’s against conventional wisdom, but I’m in the trade Harper camp. Whatever the return is, and I am sure that some GM will pay dearly for him, the return will be better than it would be for Michael Taylor, who is controllable, has postseason clutch pedigree playing for this team, and who is, in my opinion, still on an upward trajectory. And of course, a lot more than selling on Difo (also not selling high).

    Selling on Taylor is not selling high. Harper is a trade asset that enables the Nats to build with insurance beyond the next wave of free agents (Rendon-Murphy-Gonzalez-Madson). Let’s face it, the Nats won without Harper, too.

    Victor Robles will be a star. So will Trea Turner. and an outfield of Robles-Taylor-Eaton will be stronger defensively. And that OF could be in place by June 2018.

    I don’t even think Difo has hit his ceiling. Having him as a depth piece was pivotal in the Nats winning the division. Can’t blame him for the Nats not hitting in the playoffs. Is he the future, post Murphy? I think Murphy is worth holding on to and agree that a multi-year deal can work. He is a proven playoff performer and a coach on the field and team leader who will be a good piece in a post-Werth world.

    What should the Nats go out and acquire? What Wilson Ramos, whom they should not have let get away, was. A rising all-star caliber two way talent. Another top flight starter, preferably lefthanded – or two. A closer caliber player to replace Kintzler, unless he can be signed reasonably (Kintzler won’t). Sign Albers. Overpay for Lind. His bat was unbelievable.

    In the right package, I would definitely trade Gio Gonzalez as well. He has peaked, and I feel about him in the playoffs as I did Drew Storen. I’ve seen enough, Miami will want him.

    I don’t buy for a minute that the Nats are merely going to mildly tinker. It’s not in Rizzo’s nature, and he has to keep up with franchises, like the Cubs and Dodgers, that make major changes.

    In my opinion, the Nats have many remaining pieces that will keep them at the top of the East. They can leverage some very high value assets to throw out the mythical Bryce Harper window and extend it for much longer, especially long enough for talents like Soto and Kieboom and maybe even Marmolejos to ripen.
    A team with this much speed and Davey Lopes coaching 1B was exposed as reliant on the longball in the playoffs. Was that a sign of injured legs or bad managing? I don’t know, but the team is better served with the electric, dynamic players in the lineup.

    And yes, cut Wieters. His decline is even more pronounced than his stats. They can pay later, like they did by holding onto moldy closers like Soriano and Papelbon, or get in front of his going from Nats to oblivion.

    Todd makes the point that Bryce puts people in the seats and is a generational player, and that is why one does not trade him. I just don’t agree. Face it, the Nats will never sign him. Were this to be a dynasty, maybe, but I don’t see it happening, especially with MASN tied up as it is.

    There are other all star players the Nats can build around, and the Nats did not win the World Series with Harper, 2012-2017. Since others share the opinion that Bryce is a generational player, and Gio is certainly desirable to some, we ought to be able to get a terrific, affordable, controllable starters among other selected pieces that complement team needs. Better a huge truckload than a first round pick.

    I know that Bryce jerseys and Bryce stuff is profitable. But I also think that this team has a lot of marquee players that people will pay to see.
    Turner is a charismatic player, and Robles will be as well. Max and Stras and Murphy and Doolittle and yes, MAT and Eaton are plenty reason to enjoy the team.
    So what if Bryce is here for the All-Star game? It only increases his price tag, it will not make the All-Star game any more for the Nats.

    I think the Nats are better off having the money to keep Rendon (whom I also think is only going to get better) and get the upgrades they need as needs arise, rather than getting bogged down paying Harper 45M+ a year when they have excellent depth available to them, and more if they choose to include that as players coming back in. I’m in favor of shopping the overpriced for what they can return, and not at the trading deadline but now.

    If the Nats get talent that gets them to the level of the teams they are chasing and not good enough to catch (Cubs-Dodgers), and key upper minor starting pitching depth to boot, why not? The team has the talent to win without Bryce.

    I remember how much many of us, myself included, once looked ahead to the departure of Zimmerman, Fister, Span, and Desmond with trepidation. Well, Scherzer replaced Zimm, Roark replaced Fister, Eaton has replaced Span and Turner has replaced Desmond (roughly). We are not worse for the wear and got on first round pick for thew hole caboodle of these players walking – and not a single damn World Series ring, either.

    No one knows what kind of shape Bryce is in, only that Boras will oversell it. So sell high.

    Since trading may commence soon after the World Series, it is interesting to see how it times with front office movement. What is the Nats front office succession plan if Doug Harris leaves for Atlanta? Harris’ departure for a GM spot somewhere is inevitable, and he has been terrific.

    As for Baker, Svrluga is a rumormongering lowlife with writing talent. Only a couple of years ago he was peddling that no one wanted to play for the Nats. Sheesh. These guys are so predictably manipulated by one side of the story. Perhaps Baker is hoping to get Boston to throw a lot of money at him, to gin up the price the Lerners pay in order to prove their social justice bonafides to the race-obsessed ESPN class. Personally, I too am sick of the Nats losing in the first round, and Dusty is 0-8. It’s a difficult dilemma.

    On the one hand, Bobby Bowden could never win the big ones, and then he eventually won two national championships. The clubhouse is great and Baker gets the deserved credit, as does Rizzo. On the other hand, John Farrell is available, and he has actually won a World Series, as has Gardenhire. Tough decision, but Werth’s departure and Harper’s plan will factor in.

    I’m hopeful for Glover, because he is so young. We don’t know anything about his injury, though. Kelley, I dunno…that is really starting to look like flushed money. Between Kelley and Blanton, that was 9m in waste this year. Ouch.

    forensicane

    17 Oct 17 at 10:24 am

  22. Once more, on Lind. The Nats have NEVER had a bench bat this valuable. Never. For that I would pay him, or give him multiple years.

    forensicane

    17 Oct 17 at 10:30 am

  23. Fore, I’m sorry you have such a hard time telling us how you really feel!

    I would LOVE to have Lind back. If I were Lind, though, I’d want a chance to play every day, and to cash in on such a strong season. The difficulty there — and perhaps an opportunity for the Nats — is that boppers were undervalued last offseason, and during midseason trades. (That was a curious development considering the big power surge in 2017.) Anyway, I expect the Nats to extend the $5M option offer to Lind and for him to decline it. That doesn’t mean that they’ll stop talking, though.

    A Harper trade ain’t happenin’. Even if it was a possibility, no team would give up very much for just one season of control.

    If the Nats want to make a big move, it would be to go on and bring in Harper’s replacement now in the form of someone like Stanton. I’d sure hate for Stanton to end up in LA or Chicago.

    KW

    17 Oct 17 at 11:08 am

  24. This team *needs desperately* to be better in the playoffs. The 5th (and 6th) starters are what you need to make the playoffs, not to succeed in them.

    The thing that makes you better in the playoffs is a better bench and a better bullpen. Rizzo did that this year, and I think another year tweaking that is the right answer.

    So I’m happy dumpster-diving there, for rotation depth and moving some of the kinda-sorta guys to the bullpen. Spring for another back-end bullpen arm – Kintzler is probably gone. Extend Albers.

    Might as well hang on to Weiters, but the money’s spent, and I’m okay making him a backup if he stinks. But we have to get someone better, and there’s nobody in the Nats’ pipeline.

    Make a play for Harper now. Show you’re serious. Yeah, he’ll say no, but, well, act like you mean it. We’re obviously going to want Rendon for another 10 years – make the deal. Can we afford Murphy too? If so, try to extend him.

    Kevin rusch

    17 Oct 17 at 11:18 am

  25. I agree with KW that a starting pitcher is by far the most important thing the team needs to do in the offseason. Yes, the Nats could probably win the division with 180 innings of 4.5 ERA pitching from the fifth starter. But that would likely require the other four guys staying healthy and pitching full seasons. We need a better fifth starter not only because someone needs to pitch those fifth starter innings, but also because we need better fill-in candidates for the inevitable (but hopefully minor) injuries. If there’s a way to get someone who is an eventual Gio replacement, all the better.

    I think all of this “proven playoff performer” stuff is absolute f*cking nonsense. Jayson Werth was a proven playoff performer (15 HR!)…until he wasn’t. Barry Bonds had horrific playoff numbers…until he didn’t. Daniel Murphy literally carried a mediocre offense to the World Series in the NLDS and NLCS…and then he stopped hitting and made key errors in the World Series. Is Bryce Harper a proven playoff performer? He’s got a bunch of homers in the playoffs in late inning situations (including two enormous homers to tie Very Important Games). But his numbers overall are middling.

    You’re deciding whether to trade for a player or give him a free agent contract. What’s the best information to use in deciding how much to offer? Is it the handful of at bats in the playoffs? Or is it the hundreds/thousands of at bats during the regular season? Here’s the thing: hot and cold streaks are real and sometimes those streaks occur in the playoffs. You can never predict when they will begin again (or end again) and you certainly can’t predict whether they will occur again in the playoffs. You can buy good or bad players. You can’t buy whether they will be good or bad in the playoffs. You just can’t. Mr. Clutch, Derek Jeter, has a career 119 WRC+. In 158 (!) playoff games, his WRC+ is 121. With enough ABs in the playoffs, he turned out to be exactly who he is. The same is almost certainly likely to be true of every other MLB player.

    Derek

    17 Oct 17 at 11:53 am

  26. If I’m counting correctly, Jeter-led teams also lost in the first round eight times. There’s no magic formula.

    KW

    17 Oct 17 at 11:58 am

  27. I just want to chip in to join the guys advocating for trading Gio. I don’t care that he’s a solid regular season starter; he’s a choking dog in the playoffs. You can practically see the fear in his eyes, and that sort of thing is infectious. 6-0 early lead against the Cards in 2012; 4-1 early lead this year. Competitors yearn for those chances. Gio flounders. Max never should have been put in that position. We needed 6-7 innings from our starter. I audibly moaned when I heard he was getting the start over Roark. Gio needs to go.

    Clark17

    17 Oct 17 at 12:41 pm

  28. Clark on Gio: yeah … we’ve now seen his schtick in the playoffs 3 times running. Ironically the #3 starter to start this season (Roark) was the one passed over so that Gio could pitch. So you just never know; if roark had a more solid season woudl he have been the game 5 choice? You buy yourself a high end starter, then let the season play out and use that high end starter to make sure you get through the inevitable back or neck or strains that these guys get for weeks at a time.

    Todd Boss

    17 Oct 17 at 1:22 pm

  29. Other things: I keep Dusty. The chances of getting someone better are slim. The players seem to like him, and he generally does a good job of resting guys. I don’t agree with all of his tactical decisions, but he’s not incompetent in this area the way his predecessor was.

    Gio: I’d certainly be willing to trade him if we got good value in return. But if we trade Gio, we need two starting pitchers instead of one. For this reason, I think trading him is really unlikely.

    Difo, MAT, Goodwin: there’s a case to be made that each of these guys is at or near peak value. There’s also a case to be made that there’s still some improvement left – each guy could get better. I think Michael A’s ceiling as a hitter is probably what he did this year – a lot of pop, a lot of Ks, a bit above average overall. I think he’s probably likely to regress to league average or slightly below. With his speed and defense, though, that’s still a good player. Goodwin’s hitting numbers were similar overall to MAT’s – a bit above average – but less fueled by a high BABIP. The question with his bat is whether his power spike is real. His ISO was 100 points higher than anything he’s done since A-ball. At the same time, he’s at the age – 26 – when power peaks, and he’s probably benefiting from the league-wide dinger surge. I think Goodwin is more likely than MAT to put up a league average season with the bat next year, but he just doesn’t have the same upside as a defender or on the basepaths. I think he’s a fine 4th OF and I would have no problem starting him at any OF spot for a month while someone is on the DL. But if someone likes him as a starter and wants to trade commensurate value, I’d explore it. But then I’d want a 4th OF outside the organization.

    Difo, in my view, is the most likely of these three not to have reached his offensive ceiling. He’s also the youngest, but not by much (he’s 25). And he’s the most likely not to have reached his ceiling primarily because what he’s done in the majors has been well below average (76 WRC+ in his “breakout” 2017). The next time he has a league average season with the bat will be his first time since A ball (though to be fair, he was close to league average in AA ball in 2015). I like him as a utility guy, but we have to remember that Steve Lombardozzi hit MUCH MUCH better than Difo in the minor leagues (Lombo was well above average at every stop for four straight years) and crapped out in the majors. Yes, Difo is a real shortstop and Lombardozzi wasn’t, and Difo has speed and Lombardozzi didn’t. I just don’t see any reason at this point to think Difo is a starting-caliber major league hitter. If someone else does and is willing to pay the price, I’d trade him in a nanosecond.

    Derek

    17 Oct 17 at 5:02 pm

  30. Derek — very good breakdown on MAT, Difo, and Goodwin. You put stats to a number my concerns.

    Gio: 100% agree that I don’t want to see him starting another playoff elimination game. That’s why I want to get a stud third starter. But trade a guy with a 2.96 ERA who is only owed $12M? Not so fast my friends. You’re not going to replace that level of regular-season quality. Plus as Derek said, you’d then have to come up with two starters, not just one.

    KW

    17 Oct 17 at 7:13 pm

  31. Say bye to Dusty. If he couldn’t see that Lind and Kendrick needed to play over Werth and that Roark should have gotten > 0 innings, then he needs to go.

    I want a third huge arm – perhaps MadBum or Stroman. Im willing to trade anyone not named Max, Stras, and Trea. To others’ points above, we need to be preparing to win a playoff series, not just compete in the NL east. Having Fedde or Cole as a 5th starter is fine when you have Scherzer, Stras and MadBum as your top 3.

    Andrew R

    17 Oct 17 at 9:01 pm

  32. Andrew — I’ve been on the MadBum kick since the Giants fell out of contention, even while he was injured. He’s controlled for two more years at $12M per. He’s the greatest playoff pitcher of this generation.

    The Giants are in a real pickle because they need to go into rebuild mode, but they’ve A) got a sold-out-stadium fan base that would have no patience for it, B) have a bunch of lousy contracts with guys who have past their sell-by dates, a la the Phillies of a few years ago, and C) have nothing in their farm system. Bumgarner is exactly the type of asset they should try to move, as he’s one of the few who could bring a nice return, but a trade of someone like that might signal surrender to the fan base.

    To me, Taylor could be a big piece in a trade with the Giants, who desperately need OFs. He would be a win-now type of guy for them. I really doubt they’d move MadBum, but he’s my dream acquisition.

    KW

    18 Oct 17 at 8:24 am

  33. The more I see about the impending 1B/LF/DH glut, the more I’m beginning to think the Nats might have a shot at retaining Lind. He might even have a hard time turning down the $5M option to face a market that might be as bad or worse than the one was for him last offseason.

    I wouldn’t even be opposed to trading Taylor and having Lind start in LF. It would be a defensive adventure, but not much more than it has been with Werth out there.

    Speaking of JDub, the glut mentioned above will affect him too . . . and might increase the possibility that the Nats would bring him back as a bench bat. I’m not necessarily advocating for it, but if he likes the area, doesn’t want to move his family, and can’t get very much elsewhere, I’m just pointing out that it might be in play.

    KW

    18 Oct 17 at 8:30 am

  34. Carl’s Jr. walks the opposing pitcher on four pitches with the bases loaded. Not looking good for the ol’ Cubbinos.

    KW

    18 Oct 17 at 8:34 am

  35. Dusty’s lineup choices in the playoffs: Look, Werth hit .143, I get it. Lots of clamoring for replacing him with hindsight with Kendrick.

    https://www.baseball-reference.com/postseason/2017_NLDS2.shtml

    Turner hit .143. Zimmerman hit .150, Wieters hit .143, Rendon hit .176, Murphy hit .211, Harper hit .211. The only regular to have a decent BA was frigging Taylor.

    So the series was not lost because Werth didn’t hit. The series was lost because the ENTIRE TEAM didn’t show up to hit.

    Todd Boss

    18 Oct 17 at 9:10 am

  36. It didn’t help though. There were three starts by RHPs that Lind should have had 3-4 PAs and didn’t. Against righties, he’s their third best hitter and needed to be up there.

    I wouldn’t say any one decision won or lost the series. Baseball rarely lends itself to that conclusion. And I didn’t think Dusty had a particularly bad series. But I was calling for this one well before the series started, absolutely knew he wouldn’t do it and continue to think it was his worst decision. I do not think Dusty is the worst manager around. He’s ok. Clearly has rapport with the players. But my reasoning to move on is that I dont think he makes decisions that maximize their chance of winning. I’m not much of a critic of in game decisions like pitching changes. Those things always seem complicated and could go either way. But I do think playing time decisions are important and where the manager has the most impact. Just tired of Dusty always deferring to the vet.

    Davey was the best at playing the best player, I thought. Still think he was the best manager in Nats history.

    Wally

    18 Oct 17 at 9:37 am

  37. Wally, I agree with you about Dusty in that he sometimes makes decisions for reasons other than playing the best players. There are definitely guys out there who would be better tactical managers – who would have played Lind in LF against rightys (Lind is worse in LF than Werth – but not by much; but even still, what’s the worst that could have happened? Lind loses a liner in the lights and lets the winning run score in G5? Gee, that happened already). I just don’t think making the optimal tactical decision all the time is the most important factor to a manager’s success. I can’t prove it, but I think Dusty’s “human” skills have been a significant factor in the Nats’ success these last two years. Over the course of a season, those skills probably matter more than being the best possible tactician. And even if he’s not the best, I think most of Dusty’s tactical moves are either correct, or close enough to correct that it doesn’t matter. He’s not a tactical nimrod like his predecessor. Davey was also my favorite Nats’ manager. I think the odds of getting someone better than Dusty (much less as good as Davey) are too small to make the risk worth it.

    Derek

    18 Oct 17 at 11:02 am

  38. I also loved Davey, and I thought the Nats “arrived” at least a year earlier than expected in large part because of him. That said, he “lost” the team in 2013 in the face of injuries, slumps, and whatnot. Dusty didn’t “lose” the team in 2017 despite even more injuries. Admittedly, there was no team in the NL East putting any pressure on the Nats, but it would not have been surprising to see this team limp home with a win total in the mid-80s, not 97.

    I’m ambivalent on Dusty. He’s loyal to a fault, but that loyalty has his players willing to run through walls for him. How pissed would the key players be if the Nats turned over the staff right before what would seem to be such a pivotal season for the franchise? Would a new bench coach have as much impact as a new manager? It would have to be someone who could work with Dusty, maybe Ron Wotus of the Giants, who Dusty originally hired there and who the Nats interviewed for the managerial opening in 2015. Would he come here with the chance to be the heir apparent?

    The silence on Dusty by the Nats has gotten deafening, though, hasn’t it?

    KW

    18 Oct 17 at 11:20 am

  39. At the risk of igniting a “you can’t prove that” kind of argument about Werth …

    How many times have we read that Werth is the “clubhouse leader?” Is he the only guy on that has won an actual World Series title? I think he is; Murphy made it to the WS with the Mets but didn’t win. Kendrick lots of playoff experience, no WS appearances. Drew won a WS with Boston in 2013 but wasn’t even on our playoff roster. Scherzer had one WS start with Detroit in a series loss to SF. I didn’t bother looking up all our random relievers.

    Point is; Werth was by far the most experienced player on this team in terms of post-season experience. So how would it have played if he got sat in the playoffs after all the’s done for this team? How do we know that the players wouldn’t have had a fit because a guy who’s been around for a couple months (Kendrick) was playing ahead of a guy who helped BUILD this team for the last 7?

    I dunno. Maybe your counter argument is “well if they win, who cares how they win right?” Fair enough. But none of us are in that clubhouse to see how it was playing out.

    Todd Boss

    18 Oct 17 at 12:58 pm

  40. FWIW, Madson has two World Series rings (from Philly and KC), but he’s quite new to the team.

    Also FWIW, Werth had two hits, two walks, and a run scored in Game 5. He did produce. But he also lost a ball in the lights and struck out in the 9th.

    KW

    18 Oct 17 at 1:07 pm

  41. Werth striking out against one of the better RH closers in the game in the 9th isn’t reprehensible. The fact that HARPER struck out and didn’t even put wood on the ball as a lefty going against the righty was more disappointing to me.

    Todd Boss

    18 Oct 17 at 2:25 pm

  42. I don’t dock Harper too much for this series. He rushed back with NO time to get his swing back because the team needed him. I actually thought it was a smart move by Dusty to bat Bryce #2 so he would concentrate more on just putting the ball in play. It also worked better having Rendon behind Harper instead of Zim. We all thought, or at least hoped, that Harper was all the way back after the bomb in game 2, but his timing was not good all series.

    Bryce hasn’t been healthy for a playoff series since 2014.

    KW

    18 Oct 17 at 3:22 pm

  43. Bryce’s playoff performances have not been great. I went through and looked at why he’s got a career .211 BA in the post-season:
    – 2012: went 3 for 23 but had just 2 at-bats against a lefty that whole series. Just didn’t do much (was also kinda young; that was his rookie/age 19 season)
    – 2014: was solid; 5 for 17, 3 homers, 2 walks. not much more you could ask of him.
    – 2016: 4 for 17 with 6 walks, but LA just destroyed him with lefties. 13 of his 17 Abs in the LA series last year were against lefties. but as we now know, he was battling a bad shoulder injury that basically prevented him from goign opposite field the entire 2nd half.
    – 2017: 4 for 19 with 10 of those ABs against lefties, but having rushed back from his knee injury.

    \\

    Todd Boss

    18 Oct 17 at 4:42 pm

  44. Guess the Cubs aren’t planning to re-sign Wade Davis. Man, Maddon has been abusing him in the postseason.

    KW

    19 Oct 17 at 7:58 am

  45. Luke Erickson had posted links to these summaries from someone he knows at Hagerstown during Luke’s wrap-up of the Suns’ season. That page got eclipsed a day later as Luke has been doing daily updates on the AZ Fall League. The conversations the Hagerstown guy had with a Nats official about Soto (first link) are pretty amazing, though:

    http://thoughtsofrs.blogspot.com/2017/09/hagerstown-suns-hitters.html

    http://thoughtsofrs.blogspot.com/2017/10/hagerstown-suns-pitchers.html

    Makes me wonder, if the view of Soto is shared in the organization, whether there might actually be more willingness to trade Robles than we know. Just something to keep in mind as we dream of deals for Stanton and MadBum . . .

    KW

    19 Oct 17 at 11:06 am

  46. Better than Harper, huh? I’ll take the under :-)

    I’m not dreaming of Stanton and MadBum, but if you really feel like Soto is better than Harper, Robles will get you one of those guys. I’m in the ‘no’ camp on that. I am willing to trade anyone for the right deal, but those wouldn’t be it.

    wally

    19 Oct 17 at 11:36 am

  47. Soto and Harper is an interesting comparison in that their two seasons at Hagerstown took place when each was almost exactly the same age (Harper DOB is 10/16/92 and his Hagerstown season was 2011; Soto’s DOB is 10/25/98). Overall, in their low-A season, Harper hit 164 WRC+ in 305 plate appearances, and he ripped 19 bags too. Soto hit 172 WRC+ in 96 plate appearances with 1 SB. Soto appears to have elite contact skills – 10.4 BB% and 8.3 K% (Harper 14.4/20). It looks like there’s not a lot of swing-and-miss in his game. Soto has fine power – .163 ISO and .523 SLG (for reference, Robles’ ISO/SLG at Hagerstown was .155/.459 when he was a bit younger than Harper/Soto). Harper had a lot more power, his ISO/SLG was .236/.554, and of course Harper was a significantly bigger human than Soto, with a few inches and probably 30lbs on him at age 18. Interestingly, both ran almost identical BABIPs – .373 for Soto, .372 for Harper.

    Before doing this exercise, I expected to find that Soto’s numbers just didn’t compare to Harper’s. That’s really not true. Soto hit pretty much just as well as Harper did in the same league at the same age, although he did it in a third of the plate appearances. I could imagine someone liking Soto’s bat better than Harper’s because he/she thinks Soto’s ultra low K% at 18 projects better than Harper’s obvious power. But 18 y.o. Harper had to be seen as a better athlete than Soto, having stolen 19 bases in half a season and his cannon throwing arm. Of course, Harper did get those extra 200 plate appearances at Hagerstown and another 150 at Harrisburg that year and Soto did not. So Soto’s clearly not on the starring-in-the-big-leagues-at-19 trajectory that Harper was on. But still, it’s not an absurd comparison. Let’s hope Soto stays healthy and progresses next season.

    Derek

    19 Oct 17 at 12:03 pm

  48. Derek, that’s an interesting breakdown on Soto vs. Harper. Yes, it seems a far-fetched comparison in some ways, and yes, we remember a number of Hagerstown superstars who never quite made it. (Cue the Matt Skole fan club.) But I thought the link had some interesting observations worth sharing.

    I’ll admit that I’ve never been 100% convinced that Robles is an MLB star waiting to happen. He’s an electric player, and he doesn’t lack in confidence, but he’s yet to produce enjoy power to have me completely sold. Right now, he looks more like the next Eaton than the next Harper.

    That said, I think Rizzo would really have to be wowed by a trade opportunity to part with Robles. At some point you’ve got to go for it, though. Could a willingness to part with Robles have added Sale to the rotation? (The Bosox package might still have been stronger even with Robles.) I don’t think I’d give up Robles for just two years of Bumgarner, although he could well be “the missing piece.” I don’t know whether the Marlins can get a prospect as highly regarded as Robles for Stanton because of the baggage of the contract. I don’t really fear that contract, though. It’s much less than Bryce is going to want, both annually and in total.

    I don’t know. If there was ever a time for a “go big” deal or two, I think it’s this offseason. But of course it’s not my money!

    KW

    19 Oct 17 at 1:02 pm

  49. Robles — produce “enough” power, particularly the HR variety. He has good gap power.

    KW

    19 Oct 17 at 1:04 pm

  50. Glad he’s so high on Soto. But the odds of him eclipsing Harper seem slim. That’s a ceiling of “one of the best players in baseball.”

    The team was over the luxury tax last year, and based on my calcs will shed about $28.5M in payroll (not counting the $10M deferred from Werth’s 2016 salary). so that’s not a ton of room to go after someone like Stanton or bumgarner.

    Todd Boss

    19 Oct 17 at 1:22 pm

  51. Harper gets an $8M bump for 2018, Murphy +$5.5M, Eaton, +$2M, and that’s before you get to big arb jumps for guys like Rendon and Roark. Their baseline for 2018 is going to be pretty close to the 2017 total, even with Werth’s $21M coming off the books. So no, there’s not a lot of room salary-wise if they want to stay around where they are. Ted Lerner just turned 92 over the weekend, though, . . . and he can’t take it with him.

    KW

    19 Oct 17 at 1:42 pm

  52. I’m a lot higher on Robles than Soto for a few reasons (and if Robles turns into the next Eaton, we should be thrilled; expecting even the best prospect to be like Harper is almost always going to leave you disappointed). First, Robles has hit in AA. In my view, there are two big jumps: from wherever to AA and then from wherever to MLB. He who has made one of those jumps and continued to produce is far more likely to be a contributing piece for the big club. Second, Robles doesn’t have to run a 130 WRC+ to be a very valuable MLB player. His speed is elite – like top five fastest guys in MLB elite. It stands to reason that his defense will be at least good (and potentially great) at an up-the-middle position. If both were able to play CF full time in 2018 for a major league club, I bet Robles would put up more WAR than MAT. At age 21. I don’t know if he’ll develop McCutchen-like power, but he’s certainly on the trajectory to do so.

    Soto, by contrast, has to hit like a top 30 player to be a top 30 player in terms of value. He’s certainly on a trajectory to do so, but batting flaws get exposed in AA and MLB. Soto could still get exposed.

    In my view, whether the Nats window as a division title contender (and therefore a world series contender) stays open beyond 2018 depends a lot on Robles and Soto. If one or both of them has a few MVP-candidate seasons, the window will stay open. If not, it will take Rizzo finding gold somewhere unexpected or the rest of the NL East continuing to be terrible.

    Derek

    19 Oct 17 at 1:47 pm

  53. So, thinking about Robles/Soto and potential future outfields. If Harper averages out to be a 5.5 win player over the last three years (9.9, 1.6, 4.7) while Werth has averaged as a -0.67 win player … basically we’ll have the same production if we replace Werth/Harper with two outfielders who can basically provide 2.5 wins each.

    so if Robles is better; he seems like he’s projecting to be a 4 win player, and Soto gives us anything much above replacement, then you can say good bye to someone like Harper and be assured you’re going to have just as good of a team (for a LOT less money).

    Todd Boss

    19 Oct 17 at 1:58 pm

  54. McCutchen is the comp that came to mind when I saw Robles this September. And I agree that the defense and baserunning make him a safer pick, but he looks like he is going to do well with the bat too. I think he is an allstar.

    Soto – I hope that he fulfills some of these projections. I haven’t seen him at all and have no opinion on him yet.

    wally

    19 Oct 17 at 2:15 pm

  55. I’d love to keep Harper but I don’t think any player is worth such a long and big investment, so if its in the 10/$400m range I would not pay it.

    wally

    19 Oct 17 at 2:16 pm

  56. Wally, even though I’ve been holding out hope longer than most that the Nats would somehow find a way to retain Harper, I’ve about come to the same conclusion. I think Harper/Boras/Rizzo/Lerners will at least have some conversations this offseason, but I can’t see the Nats going into the $400M stratosphere.

    Here’s the question, though: will any other team come close to paying that much, either, particularly if Bryce has another season where he misses around 40 games and is mediocre in the playoffs? The Yanks have Judge and now really don’t need Bryce. The Dodgers have Bellinger, and I would make them the leading contenders to trade for SoCal native Stanton (which would be scary). The Red Sox have been burned by some big contracts recently. The Cubs might have the money, but they’re also going to have to pay Rizzo and Bryant soon plus come up with more pitching. I’m only naming rich contenders here, as I think people are dreaming if they think Bryce is going to a bad team with a lot of cash available, like Philly.

    Do Bryce and Boras force the free agency issue anyway? If so, could they still come crawling back in February 2019 in more the $250M range? Boras certainly has been known to overplay a hand in free agency many times.

    KW

    19 Oct 17 at 3:13 pm

  57. Robles vs. Soto only becomes a question if the Nats reach the point that they have to decide which one to trade. Right now, Robles is at peak “prospect” trade value. That value disappears quickly if the early MLB returns aren’t good, as we’ve seen with Giolito and Fedde. If they keep him, they sure better hope he turns into an all-star, because right now, he could be the primary piece in trading for one.

    I’m not saying he won’t be good. I don’t know. No one does. I do wonder, if they keep him, about having the next-generation team built around three speed-first guys in Robles, Turner, and Eaton. Is that at the sacrifice of too much power?

    KW

    19 Oct 17 at 3:19 pm

  58. I think Bryce is gonna get $500 million, not $400 million. He just turned 25 – he’s younger than Judge, Rizzo, Bryant, and of course Stanton. If the Cubs signed Harper, why would they need to pay Rizzo – a 1B-only guy who’s going to be 32 when he’s a FA? Bryce will be selling his age-26 season and beyond. His floor is his 2016 season, where he went 20/20 with a .373 OBP. His ceiling is a Ted Williams/Barry Bonds-type season. If he makes it to free agency, he’ll be the most valuable free agent since A-Rod. It’s going to be insane.

    There is sooooo much money in baseball right now. Some team is going to give a lot of it to Bryce.

    Derek

    19 Oct 17 at 3:29 pm

  59. So Derek, do you think it’s worth that much to the Nats to pay that “market value” to retain him? As noted, I’ve really gone back and forth on this issue. And while I know some bristle at inclusion of this in the conversation, there’s no doubt that Bryce has “superstar” marketing appeal challenged by only two or three others in the game.

    KW

    19 Oct 17 at 5:39 pm

  60. Tough lefties can make Bryce look foolish. That’s why his playoff average is not good, as he can be neutralized in the playoffs, and that’s why I would not pay him $400 million. I would take Stanton over him long term at their projected salaries going forward.

    I for one am glad to see Werth get out of here. His entitlement probably cost us the series and basically ruined the Kendrick trade and Lind signing. He became a cartoon character with casual fans more enamored of his hair and beard than his game. I hated his walk first approach watching thousands of meatball early count strikes with the bat on his shoulder for a $20 milion+ 6 foot 6 monster. It rubbed off on Rendon and Zimm. Rendon watches way too many good pitches. Zimm finally got back to swinging early this season and got his career back. Murphy probably cured Zimm of the Werth watching strikes disease.

    Turner needs to change his game next season. Love the guy but his stat line was way better than his play this year. Lots of garbage time stats for him, many very ugly ab’s and little clutch.

    I’m curious as to what happened to Murphy last part of season. He had some ab’s and K’s we’ve never seen of him here before. Injury or fatigue or father time?

    Bright spots…. Strasburg became legendary. The young guys played awesome and created big value. Doolittle and Madson was the perfect trade. Zimm showed up big all year. Rendon mostly great, but not sure I’d build the team around him. I’m really looking forward to Carter Kieboom, Soto, Robles forcing their way in – seeing Eaton play every day and if Taylor can keep it going.

    Marty C

    19 Oct 17 at 8:53 pm

  61. Stanton is owed 11/$305M (AAV of 27.7) without the buyout, 10/$285M (AAV of 28.5) with the buyout. However, it could end up being just 3/$77M as he has an opt-out after the 2020 season. Compared to where the contract bar is going to be reset next offseason, it’s not a particularly onerous deal for a superstar, especially for a guy who just hit 59 homers.

    Just as with Harper, there are caveats. Stanton, like Harper, has struggled to stay healthy. He also had a monstrous slump in 2016, and he strikes out a lot. He did, however, significantly lower his K rate in 2017 to 23.6% after 29.9% and 29.8% in the last two seasons. That’s an unusual and impressive mid-career improvement. (Curious how much he improved AFTER Bonds was fired as the hitting coach!)

    I don’t know whether the Nats should trade for Stanton and his contract. Maybe they should just let everyone walk and hope that Robles, Soto, and Kieboom all turn into stars. I don’t know. Of Bryce, Murph, Two Bags, and Gio, the only one who seems totally straightforward to try to extend is Rendon . . . but as a Boras client, there’s no likelihood he will. In fact, I fear that Boras is going to convince Rendon that he’s worth at least as much as Machado gets . . . and he might be right.

    KW

    20 Oct 17 at 9:09 am

  62. Oh, and the big Cub deal for Quintana now isn’t looking so great, is it?

    So much for the great Cub dynasty and their genius manager. The Nats really should have beaten those poseurs.

    KW

    20 Oct 17 at 9:20 am

  63. Boz’s rambling take on the issues we’re discussing:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/bryce-harper-is-a-year-from-free-agency-so-whats-he-really-worth/2017/10/19/907c83aa-b4e0-11e7-be94-fabb0f1e9ffb_story.html

    He’s all in on finding a better #3 starter, though.

    KW

    20 Oct 17 at 10:27 am

  64. Tough lefties make almost all lefty hitters look bad. For the record, in 2017 Bryce against lefties was: .311/.357/.445 for a 110 WRC+. This is not all that different from Adam Eaton’s career numbers against all pitchers. Although guys like Freeman and Rizzo hit better against lefties than Bryce did this year, their career splits against lefties are similar to Bryce’s. This suggests (a) that they’ve improved against lefties over time and (b) were starting from a lower floor than Bryce against lefties. Of course, neither of those guys is going to get $400 million plus.

    In a vacuum, I would gladly pay Bryce $400 million. I think that will turn out to be a bargain in the long run. I wouldn’t want to pay him $500, which is what I think is going to take to win the bidding (the winner’s curse). The Nats don’t operate in a vacuum, though. I don’t know what their real budget constraints are. I do know that they’re sitting on an asset that’s rapidly appreciating – all MLB franchises are appreciating – so any talk of “we’re spending all our revenue” is a little misleading. I suspect they could find the money to pay Bryce $400 million and keep payroll at or near an amount that allows the Lerners to keep food on the table. The other, more important (to me, at least) issue is whether Bryce is the best way to spend $400 million. The Nats’ outfield depth matters here. What they think of Robles, Soto, and MAT matters. If they really think either or both Robles/Soto is going to be a true star MVP-candidate type, it’s probably wise to allocate that money elsewhere. Rendon is the natural place to put it. But he’s two years older than Bryce and derives a lot of his value from defense. He made a significant (and I think sustainable) improvement this year – look at his BB% and K%. But Harper’s career 141 WRC+ is essentially the same as what Rendon put up this year in his career year (142). They are not in the same league as hitters. Bryce is better and younger. But Rendon isn’t going to cost $400 million. It’s a tough decision, but I’d pay Bryce. The track record of guys who a) debuted in the majors and hit well at 19 and b) had a season like Bryce’s in 2015 is just too good. He’s going to have a handful of MONSTER years. It seems unlikely he will be consistently transcendent year after year like Trout, but it would be nice to have a few more of those monster years in DC.

    Boz has gone 0/2 in his last two columns. He needs to stop using runs and RBI to mask how good Bryce is. An interesting column would have been “Bryce is a super duper star when you look at rate stats. He’s not as good when you look at counting stats. This means he hasn’t played as much as other guys who are worse players. Do we think that will continue? What do the Nats think about that?”

    Derek

    20 Oct 17 at 11:33 am

  65. Marty; nobody hit in the series. You can’t just pin it on Werth. When you have to starters who throw 6 no-hit innings and you win neither game in a short series, you’re not going to advance.

    Todd Boss

    20 Oct 17 at 12:26 pm

  66. bTW, just announced that Baker isn’t coming back. i’m going to do a post on manager churn with this front office.

    Todd Boss

    20 Oct 17 at 12:26 pm

  67. Wow, big news on Baker. I feel like the Nats will be starting from behind in the manager derby.

    KW

    20 Oct 17 at 12:36 pm

  68. On Harper, there are a number of interrelated issues that never to seem to get discussed as a whole:

    — Is he worth it?

    — Would paying him what he’s worth hamstring the Nats in other areas?

    — Even if the Nats are willing to give him what he wants, would he stay in DC, or are the lights brighter elsewhere?

    — How much does he really want?

    I think the outline of what would get it done would be something like 12 years x $35M AAV = $420M + $30M bonus = $450M + two opt-outs. Like Stanton’s contract, it probably would be back-loaded, with the larger-salary years after the first opt-out. So it’s possible that he would “only” cost around 3/$90M (plus some bonus money) before the first opt-out.

    KW

    20 Oct 17 at 12:45 pm

  69. Nightingale reporting that Rizzo wanted Baker back.

    KW

    20 Oct 17 at 12:49 pm

  70. Here’s my out-of-the-box managerial suggestion: Mike Maddux.

    KW

    20 Oct 17 at 12:53 pm

  71. new posted.

    Todd Boss

    20 Oct 17 at 1:00 pm

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