Nationals Arm Race

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

Ask Brittany; Brittany Ghiroli Mailbags on the Athletic


Strasburg is the lynchpin in the Nats off-season FA plans. Photo

Strasburg is the lynchpin in the Nats off-season FA plans.

Happy Thanksgiving!

You guys know I love mailbags.  I havn’t seen one in a while from the usual sources (MASN beat reporters, beat reporters, etc).

But, the Athletic has assigned a beat reporter to the Nats, one Brittany Ghiroli, who was hired away from a couple years ago (where she was the Baltimore beat reporter).   And guess what?  She’s doing chat responses to questions received on twitter.  I know the Athletic is a pay-for service, but I’m in and I love it and you wouldn’t believe how much content they’re producing.  Its almost overwhelming at a macro level now that they’re covering the EPL fully.

So, here goes.  Here’s Questions Brittany took on Nov 25th and Nov 26th in a two-parter.  Its got a ton of questions worth exploring as to where we are.


Q: Would it make more sense for the Nationals to adopt the same methodology they did with (Bryce) Harper for Rendon? Take the huge price tag Rendon will demand and spread it among several positions like (Mike) Moustakas, (Yan) Gomes, and a couple of arms? 

A:  For me?  I think the answer might be Yes.  Not because I don’t want Anthony Rendon  back or because I don’t rate his abilities … but because (as we discussed in the payroll piece) I see no evidence that this team is willing to broach the salary cap, and if you bring back both Stephen Strasburg and Rendon, each for the 30M+/year they will cost … it doesn’t leave a whole lotta room for what this team needs.

What does this team need this off-season?  Squinting at the current roster, we need:

  • A starter
  • A backup catcher (Late breaking news; we re-signed Yan Gomeslast night so that’s done; good move).
  • Probably three relievers unless you trust Hunter Strickland/Javy Guerra, or unless you’re convinced that Koda Glover will be healthy
  • three starting infielders: 3B and 1B (I’m assuming that Carter Kieboom can play 2B ably at this point)
  • A bench bat or two to replace what we got out of Howie Kendrick/Matt Adams

So, that’s a lot.   Can you get all of that on about $20M  I don’t think you can.  So the Nats may have to make some hard choices.

Ghiroli doesn’t equate the Rendon situation with the Harper situation, noting that Robles was waiting in the wings.  Fair enough.  But I think she underestimates  how much we need to fill out the rest of the roster.


Q: If Rendon leaves, is Josh Donaldson a player the Nationals would have an eye on? 

A: Absolutely.  He’d probably take a shorter deal, still is an elite defender, still hits the heck out of the ball, and weakens a division rival if he signs here.  I’d be all in, assuming we could get him for roughly $25M AAV and use the delta between his AAV and Rendon’s AAV to fill out roster holes.

Ghiroli agrees i think, and talks about Donaldson’s firey approach that often rubs people the wrong way.

Q: Is the media downplaying the likelihood of the Nats going after Gerrit Cole? I have heard next to nothing connecting the two sides, but you have to think that Cole is the type of free agent ace that Mike Rizzo dreams about.

A: I don’t think the Media is driving anything here.  Cole’s the #1 target on the market, and has the wealthy teams salivating.  I think the Nats decision is simple:  you want the home grown guy versus the hired gun.

Ghiroli notes that the reason there’s no Nats-to-Cole buzz is … because there’s none to be had.  We have two major FAs, and that’s where we’re focusing.

Q: If the Nats are able to sign Rendon and Stras, do you see them winning the division? Too many people seem to be counting them out already by assuming that Rendon is gone.

A: Keeping both guys and assuming they have the same production really helps the 2020 projection … but lets be honest.  When this team was 19-31, they had both guys as well and were projecting for dead last.  Its a big team, its a long season, and you can’t just give them the division title if they retain both players.  Injuries happen, both guys are on the older side, etc etc.

Ghiroli agrees.

Q: Realistically, how much money will be available for the payroll? Is there any appetite for exceeding the luxury tax? 

A: well, we just discussed this.  I came up with roughly $80M and am pessimistic about broaching the CBT.

Ghiroli came up with $90M available, which I’m not sure how she arrived at that b/c right now Cots and I are only about $800k apart in our analysis.  Like KW and others, she notes that of all the years to do so, next year is the right y ear to blow past a luxury tax.

Q: Will Joe Ross be a member of the rotation next season?  What’s your take on the young arms — Ross, (Erick) Fedde, (Austin) Voth and bullpen prospects? Some of the younger starters started to shape up.

A: hard to see it.  I’d peg it Voth, then Ross, then Fedde for a 5th spot competition right now.  Gotta go with performance on the field.

Ghiroli doens’t even mention Voth in the discussion, which I think is a mistake.

Q: What clutch role players are the Nats targeting to re-sign? Of the non-premium free agents, who do you see as most likely to return? How do you see first base shaking out?

A: who knows who they’re targeting.  I’d love to have Zimmerman back and Kendrick but it seems like the latter may be more appropriate for an AL team at this point.   They need a lefty bench bat to replace Matt Adams.  I would like to upgrade the backup SS.  I guess I like our backup OF in-house options right now if they can sign Taylor to something reasonable.

Ghiroli agrees

Q: The Nats have two young catchers on the 40-man and another couple in the farm. Do any of them look like potential long-term everyday catchers?

A: I don’t think so.  I don’t think the team trusts either catcher on the 40-man (Read or Barrera), and their catcher depth chart from there is thin.  Here’s our current Catcher depth chart all the way to High-A:

Suzuki, Gomes, Barrera, Read, Gushue, Reistetter, Reetz, Dunlap, Pineda, Perkins, Cropley

Read is out of options with 63 total days of MLB service time.  Gushue was left off the roster and is exposed to the Rule-5 draft.  Barrera has 3 weeks of service time and spent all of 2019 at AA.  Reistetter is a classic “org guy injury cover” catcher who played in a grand total of 9 games in 2019.  Now you’re at A-ball catchers like Reetz (entering his 7th year of pro-ball, never been above high-A), Dunlap (a backup in high-A), Pineda (who took a big step back this year), Perkins (who hit .209 as a backup in low-A) and Cropley (a 2018 senior sign who hit .187 last year in low-A).

Sooooo not a lot of catcher depth in the farm right now.  Reetz was a  high round pick who has struggled, Pineda had a lot of prospect shine in 2018 that he squandered in 2019; can either take a 2020 step up?

I think they’re buying a backup on FA market.  (update; they just did)

Ghiroli says same as I’m saying, thinking perhaps Gomes comes back on a cheaper deal.

Q: How close is Luis Garcia from making the Nationals roster and where would he slot in if Rendon returns? He seems to be behind Kieboom in the pecking order and they both play the middle infield.

A: I think he slots in as a 2B/SS, moves Kieboom to 3B but he’s years away.   He was 19 in AA and struggled; he needs to go back to AA and thrive before moving up to compete in AAA.  That could take another two years.  Maybe he replaces like for like by the time he’s ready?  Its also worth noting that, despite his lofty rankings in our system and on top 100 lists, there are some who don’t rate him as a prospect at all.  So i don’t think we can count on him to be much more than a Wilmer Difo guy in the end.

Ghiroli says don’t look for him  until mid 2021.

Q: Will Michael A. (Taylor) be traded or stay as the fourth outfielder?

A: Better question; is a guy who spent most of the year in AA worth paying north of $3M/year?  That’s the decision.  He’s not going to get a pay cut.  Arbitration doesn’t work that way; so either you tender him and negotiate or you cut him.  Sure you can try to trade him; who’s giving the team value for him?   He’s now got a career 80 OPS+ across six years and more than 1700 PAs.  Whatever he figured out to hit so well in 2017 is clearly gone; i think he’s non-tendered and cut loose.

Ghiroli says traded or non-tendered and is a little pricey for a 4th OF.  yeah.

Q: How much was the World Series win worth financially to the Nationals franchise, in terms of ticket sales (including projected rise in season plan holders and general ticket interest next year), merchandise, and, well, anything else?

A: Its impossible to tell.  But i do know this: in order to secure 2019 playoff tickets, you could buy 2020 season tickets… and a lot of people did so.  So you’re going to see a bump next  year in attendance, which is great.

Maybe you also acquire some fair weather/bandwagon fans too.  One would only hope.

There’s studies out there showing financial impacts to the franchise with long playoff runs like the Nats just had; its worth tens of millions of dollars, both tot he owners and the players.  The players just split some $30M in bonus money … and the owners get much more than that.  Its one more argument towards having the Lerners blow past a CBT to “use” that money towards next year.  Will they do it?  We’ve been discussing it.


10 Responses to 'Ask Brittany; Brittany Ghiroli Mailbags on the Athletic'

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  1. Lots to unpack here. First of all, I’m glad to have Gomes back, at a reduced rate, even though he disappointed at the plate last season. Catching at the MLB level is solved. Barrera will be the minor-league shuttle guy, probably with Gushue in emergency behind him. Read will be gone, unless he clears the inevitable DFA. Reetz hurt a knee in AZ and may miss a good bit of ’20.

    I think the Gomes signing is indicative of what Rizzo has been doing, even though some seem impatient. I’m guessing he sent several guys home with a number and told them to check with him if a better offer materialized. I would think those guys included Gomes, Cabrera, Kendrick, and Hudson. A number of folks think Kendrick is destined to DH in the AL, but I’m not so sure. I could see him coming back to the Nats in a 60/40 split at 1B with Zim. Howie’s hitting numbers are still phenomenal. Reunions with Gomes, Cabrera, Kendrick, Hudson, and Zim collectively would probably cost around $28M I would think.

    I wouldn’t rule out a Dozier return if Rendon leaves, with Kieboom given 3B. Dozier certainly would be a cheaper option than Donaldson or Moose. I’m not sure this is the route I would prefer, but I think it might be considered.

    Quick hits:

    — Nuts not to include Voth in 5th starter talk. They gave him two starts against the Braves down the stretch, over Fedde and Ross. I still say Fedde is the odd man out.

    — I can’t seem them paying Taylor $3.25M (projected arb number). I would think that Rizzo is shopping him, but he may not be generating much interest since other teams know he’s a likely non-tender.

    — Todd, I think you’re selling Garcia very short with a Difo comp. Garcia was one of the youngest players in all of AA last season, and one of the youngest in the AZ Fall League, where he got off to a blazing start before fading. He’s already considered a top-100 prospect, which Difo never was close to being. All of that said, though, I’m not totally sold on Garcia, either, as he still hasn’t shown much pop, so I wouldn’t be upset if they take that top-100 status for a spin on the trade market.

    — I would be surprised if the Nats have much interest in Gerrit Cole, even if Stras were to surprise them and leave. The FA starter who intrigues me is Ryu, even with his injury history. He’s a Boras client, and he probably could be had for 2/$32M + an option year/buyout.


    29 Nov 19 at 8:55 am

  2. Ryu is better across the board than Wheeler or MadBum, neither of whom have been the models of health, either.


    29 Nov 19 at 8:58 am

  3. I loved what Ryu did this year of course (he was the Cy YOung winner hands down for most of the season before fading), but even before that he’s been solid. I’d take him as a #3 any day.

    Todd Boss

    29 Nov 19 at 9:27 am

  4. Call me crazy, but I’d rather trade Carter Kieboom than Luis Garcia at this point, say if all I had to do to get someone like Jon Gray or Matt Boyd was part with one of them. I’d love to be wrong, but I just don’t believe Kieboom has the hands to be a long-term middle infielder or the bat to carry him at third or first. He seemed to have settled into a slappy approach at the plate to try to keep his average up down the stretch; his XBH% nosedived hard in the second half. The Nats didn’t even bother bringing him back in September.


    29 Nov 19 at 11:43 am

  5. Sao — I know you follow the minor-league stuff pretty closely, so your opinion carries some weight. I think it’s way too early to write off Kieboom, though. That was his age-21 season, so he’s the age of a college junior draftee just starting pro ball. I’m very pleased with his progression overall. And if he has developed some bad habits at that plate, the great Kevin Long will straighten him out in the spring.

    Frankly, the Nats really need Kieboom to succeed for budget purposes, particularly if they’re going to stay competitive with the Braves and their cheap, controlled talent over the next half decade. Maybe Kieboom doesn’t develop the corner-level power for 3B, but he probably can provide above-average production for 2B.

    I wouldn’t mind having two controlled years of Jon Gray, but I can’t get excited about Boyd, who doesn’t look too much better than the Voth/Ross/Fedde level we’ve been discussing (which is a big part of the reason I think Ross and/or Fedde has trade value).

    If the Nats are going to swing a big trade, though, I’d be more interested in Yates or Giles. But of them only have one more year of team control, so I wouldn’t want to give up too much, probably not Kieboom-level compensation.

    I guess that’s part of it — I don’t see the Nats as having a gaping acquisition need that would require a top prospect in return. Maybe that becomes a level of concern if Stras heads west, but there are also some good FA starter options, as there are for 3B and 2B.


    29 Nov 19 at 2:03 pm

  6. I think if the Nats seriously considered Kieboom to be part of their Opening Day 2020 plans, they would have called him up in September. The fact that they didn’t tells me they don’t think he’s ready. Not just that, but exposing him to the majors again could tank his value if they were to decide to trade him this winter.

    I like to say the proof is in the pudding. It may be too soon to write Kieboom off, as you say, but it’s clearly too soon to expect him to fill a spot in the everyday lineup come March.


    29 Nov 19 at 3:32 pm

  7. I was also a little surprised by Kieboom’s non-call-up in Sept., but it makes sense. The Nats were in a very tight race to make the playoffs and weren’t going to play a rookie, so why have the service-time clock ticking? Rendon and Turner literally played every day at 3B and SS, respectively, and Kendrick and Cabrera were so good offensively at 2B that 20-HR Dozier could barely get on the field, despite his superior defensive numbers. They had Difo and Sanchez for emergencies, but they barely played down the stretch, either. So holding back Carter K proved to be a wise move for not adding to his service time.

    Whether the Nats think Kieboom is ready to be a starter as of Opening Day 2020 is a whole different question. Normally, their modus operandi would be to try to keep him in the minors until past the Super Two date in June, but in such a tight and loaded division, if they think he’s ready to contribute, they can’t hold him back.

    Perhaps some of that question will be tied to whether Rendon comes back. If he does, and they can sign or re-sign someone the quality of Cabrera, maybe they can wait a little longer on the next generation, unless they truly think he’s ready. At the same time, if Rendon does come back, they may not have the extra scratch left for $5-7M for Cabrera and might need Kieboom ready to go for pennies on those dollars.


    29 Nov 19 at 7:05 pm

  8. Let’s see . . . Todd and Cots think the Nats have about $80M under the CBT line. I think it will take a collective $65M for Stras and Rendon, sliced however you wish. (I don’t think both will get $35M per.) That leaves $15M under the line. I suggested above that they could get Zim, Hudson, Cabrera, Kendrick, and Gomes (done) back for a collective total of $25-28M AAV. That would put the Nats $10-13M over the tax line, although a little of that could be mitigated by non-tenders. Just Taylor and Difo together would save almost $5M. Fill out the rest of the roster with a couple of bullpen arms, and they’re still around $12M over or so. That’s far from “blowing it out,” and certainly possible that Rizzo could sell that number to Mark Lerner.

    People do need to remember that the delta between Rendon and Donaldson probably isn’t quite $12M, so if part of the point of not bringing back Rendon is to stay under the CBT line, then they’re probably looking at Moustakas or some other option.

    Yes, whether TTB comes back or not, the Nats could choose not to spend as much on vets for the bench and ‘pen. It’s pretty clear that they never would have come close to a championship without that caliber of folks, though. Plus the most expendable among the ones I listed is likely Zim, and it’s hard to see them not keeping him. There are also cheaper 1B options than Howie, and he may be headed to the AL anyway, but his hitting numbers over the last few years have been incredible.

    We’ll see. We’ll also see how long they wait on the big-ticket guys.


    29 Nov 19 at 7:28 pm

  9. I think the likelier answer is that Kieboom’s power vanished down the stretch. He hit just two doubles in July, then just one home run in August. In the PCL. That is appalling. Yes, he’s 21, but you can’t convincingly argue that on one hand he’s young for the level and will get better, and on the other hand he’s MLB-ready now. I hope he has a better season next year, but he needs to start in the minors and prove himself there.


    29 Nov 19 at 9:01 pm

  10. There was no reason to call Kieboom up in Sept. and run the service-time clock. He wasn’t going to contribute.

    I’ll agree that his power outage in the latter part of the season is concerning. We have no visibility on possible minor injuries, though. The league may have figured him out a little, and the ridiculous travel of the PCL could have worn on him. Who knows? He did continue to hit — 12 hits in his last 10 games, but only two for extra bases. Maybe the league started pitching him consistently outside and he just kept going the other way. For the season, his slightly high K rate remained consistent with what he posted through the minors, while his 13.8% walk rate was outstanding, leading to a .409 OBP.

    I doubt that Kieboom is Bregman or Rendon, but he has the tools to be an above average MLB hitter. As I said above, the question related to whether he can stick at 3B is whether his power comes, or if his ’19 is truly a negative trend and he becomes more of a LeMahieu type. We’ll see. At least for the early stage of his MLB career, I would bet that Kieboom is ticketed more for 2B than 3B.

    I have no idea whether he’s “ready” to start the season with the big club. That’s part of the reason I’m eager to get Cabrera back, as insurance if Kieboom isn’t ready, and terrific bench capability if/when he is.


    30 Nov 19 at 8:58 am

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