Nationals Arm Race

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

2014 playoff team payroll analysis

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An annual post done at the end of each season.  Here’s 2013’s version.

Money can’t buy me love.  And, in baseball, more and more we’re seeing that Money also can’t buy playoff spots.  Of the ten teams that made the 2014 MLB playoffs, only half of them were among the top 10 spenders in terms of opening day payroll (payroll numbers courtesy of Spotrac.com).  Here’s the full list:

Team SpotRac Opening Day Payroll SpotRac Opening Day Rank Final W/L W/L Rank Playoff Status Payroll/Record Delta
Los Angeles Dodgers $232,899,930 1 94-68 4 NL West -3
New York Yankees $194,460,757 2 84-78 13 -11
Philadelphia Phillies $177,729,966 3 73-89 22 -19
Detroit Tigers $163,285,500 4 90-72 5 AL Central -1
Boston Red Sox $155,912,125 5 71-91 25 -20
San Francisco Giants $148,589,474 6 88-74 8 NL WC -2
Los Angeles Angels $146,647,750 7 98-64 1 AL West 6
Washington Nationals $133,319,078 8 96-66 2 NL East 6
Toronto Blue Jays $133,070,557 9 83-79 14 -5
Texas Rangers $131,657,214 10 67-95 28 -18
St. Louis Cardinals $112,768,000 11 90-72 5 NL Central 6
Atlanta Braves $112,658,731 12 79-83 16 -4
Arizona Diamondbacks $112,298,833 13 64-98 30 -17
Cincinnati Reds $111,694,938 14 76-86 21 -7
Baltimore Orioles $104,045,833 15 96-66 2 AL East 13
Milwaukee Brewers $103,397,967 16 82-80 15 1
New York Mets $96,554,970 17 79-83 16 1
Colorado Rockies $94,079,071 18 66-96 29 -11
Seattle Mariners $91,739,642 19 87-75 11 8
Kansas City Royals $90,837,000 20 89-73 7 AL WC 13
San Diego Padres $90,361,600 21 77-85 18 3
Chicago White Sox $89,792,166 22 73-89 22 0
Chicago Cubs $89,046,356 23 73-89 22 1
Minnesota Twins $85,465,000 24 70-92 26 -2
Cleveland Indians $84,809,134 25 85-77 12 13
Oakland Athletics $80,360,900 26 88-74 8 AL WC 18
Tampa Bay Rays $76,746,916 27 77-85 18 9
Pittsburgh Pirates $71,929,833 28 88-74 8 NL WC 20
Houston Astros $50,032,900 29 70-92 26 3
Miami Marlins $44,136,900 30 77-85 18 12

As you may have already surmised, the “delta” column to the right quickly shows which teams were badly over or under performing their payroll ranks.  Specifically:

  • Boston, Philadelphia, and Texas are three obvious teams that badly underperformed their payroll.  We’re all well aware of Philadelphia’s problems: too many long term contracts given out to guys in their 30s, locking that franchise into transactional inertia for the past few years.  Texas suffered from injury problems that were beyond ridiculous; they ended the season with 10 players on the 60-day D/L, used 15 different starters and no less than *40* pitchers on the year.  Fourty different pitchers!   Texas started the year with $130M payroll and finished with a worse record than their in-state rivals Houston, who have been *not* trying for years.
  • Arizona is a sneaky under performer, but also merits discussion.  Ownership finally has admitted that the brain trust that has been running players out of town for 50 cents on the dollar for years because of “character” or “make-up” issues has, well, not worked (see Justin Upton, Trevor Bauer most famously, but also see the moves that jettisoned Tyler Skaggs, Ian Kennedy and Brandon McCarthy in the same vein).  Gone are former GM Kevin Towers and the on-field managerial staff who has valued “grit” over “capabilities” for years, led by Kirk Gibson.  However, now running the show in Arizona is a newbie GM Dave Stewart whose accomplishments during his brief front-office experience in Toronto were not exactly well thought of by his former staff-member Keith Law.  Nonetheless; they’ll have the #1 overall pick in 2015 thanks to their ineptitude, and a chance to put some depth into a middling farm system.
  • The three teams who have already replaced their GMs this off season (Colorado, Atlanta, Arizona) all were on the under-performing list.  Colorado had the second worst record with a mid-sized payroll but has replaced its odd executive structure from within (which some pundits think will lead to more ineptitude).  Arizona’s odd choices are discussed above.  Atlanta’s GM switch is surprising to me (as i’ve mentioned before) and seems to be the result of an odd power-struggle going on within the Atlanta executive suite.  How do you fire a guy who constructed a team that has gone to the playoffs three out of the last five years on a budget immediately following a season when he lost 3/5ths of his starting rotation to injury before the season began?

How about on the “good” side?

  • Three of your four WC teams are among the smallest payrolls in the game.  Oakland, Pittsburgh and Kansas City rank 26th, 28th and 20th in 2014 payroll.  Also worth mentioning as overachievers are Cleveland (who missed out on the AL wild card by a game), Baltimore (who won 96 games with the 15th ranked payroll) and (of course) Miami (who sported the lowest payroll *by far* but still won 77 games).  Miami in particular seems like it is ready for another boom and sell-off cycle; they have a good team without the services of its best pitcher nearly all year; one or two more acquisitions and/or successful call-ups could have Miami competing for a divisional title again, and soon.
  • Washington Nationals: 8th highest payroll, 2nd best record.  That’s certainly good news.  Our opening day payroll of $133M may have been on the high side to some observers, but the team lived up to its reputation.
  • The Angels bashed their way to the best record in the league on just the 7th highest payroll, ironically, considering the over-spending they’ve been accused of in the past few years.  Don’t worry though; the Angels payroll will begin to have its own issues when Trout’s $30M/year contract years hit.  $30M a year.

What happens next year?

  • The Nats may be holding steady; LaRoche‘s $12M and Soriano‘s $14M salaries go away, but huge increases to Desmond and Zimmermann‘s salaries in 2015, stepped-up increases for Gonzalez and Span (who I’m assuming we’re going to exercise for 2015), and arbitration cases for a number of key and expensive players (Fister, Strasburg, Ramos, Clippard, Storen) will probably  more than make up for the $26M coming off the books.
  • The Phillies, to my constant amusement, already have $127M committed to just nine players for next year.  They’ll continue to be a top payroll, bottom performer for at least two more years.
  • The Yankees, who dipped underneath $200M for 2014 thanks to a gift-wrapped Bud Selig suspension for Alex Rodriguez and an equally generous $14M payoff from the cubs to take Alfonso Soriano off their hands, have $161M committed next year for just 10 players, with five of those players each earning north of $20M a year.  Wow.   Plus, they stand to lose their closer, two of their five SPs (Kuroda and McCarthy), and several position players to either FA or retirement.  They could be a train wreck again next year.

 

 

60 Responses to '2014 playoff team payroll analysis'

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  1. One overlooked hindsight decision was the flipping of David DeJesus to Tampa Bay for Spann.

    DeJesus was signed to a contract identical to that of McLouth. His production was certainly better. It’s too late to consider how he might have helped in the postseason, perhaps in the eighteen inning game, though that was when Schierholtz showed up.

    Like life, money saving decisions are so often followed up by money wasting decisions.

    History has taught us that its too early to write off established MLB players after injury/horrible years. LaRoche had three more years with the Nats after his atrocious start. Perhaps McLouth will be reborn as he was after an apparent trajectory out of the league.

    Souza has to be on this roster in 2015, though. No way would I trade him unless there is some political atheist who cannot bear 24/7 Jesus in the clubhouse.

    I love Souza and love his story and have been touting him here (as I did Tanner Roark) long before it was cool.

    I say that only to call attention to Rafael Martin as the next improbable developmental success who deserves any consideration in a retooled bullpen with cheaper payroll. He has absolutely nothing to prove and i, for one, hope he makes the 40 man rather than to be snapped up as a minor league free agent. These cheaper options exist.

    Why pay for the cow (trade, FA) when the milk is free?

    forensicane

    21 Oct 14 at 12:18 pm

  2. Dejesus vs McLouth may be some “hindsight is 20/20” judgement. And frankly he may not have wanted to come to Washington full time. He was starting for Tampa Bay until he broke his hand … and when he saw that he’d be the starter in Tampa versus bench guy in Washington for the same cash, likely made his decision for him.

    Same decision may come into play for Martin; as it stands right now is he guaranteed a bullpen job in Washington? Without any new signings, 2015’s bullpen is Storen, Clippard, Stammen, Barrett, Blevins, Thornton and ?. I’m assuming Detwiler and Mattheus get non-tendered at this point. Would you rather go with someone like Martin for that 7th spot or how about someone like Treinen there? More likely, the team signs a middle reliever FA to fill that spot and/or maybe makes a trade to free up some bullpen salary (since Storen and Clippard together > $10M).

    Todd Boss

    21 Oct 14 at 2:21 pm

  3. Mattheus is clearly gone. I think Detwiler is likely gone, although I think the Nats tender him. Frankly, he’s been so mediocre that it’s not like he’ll pull a mint in arbitration – and tendering him leaves open the possibility of a trade. Which I think is the likely outcome.

    John C.

    21 Oct 14 at 2:57 pm

  4. chat on mlbtraderumors stated a couple of interesting items:
    – since Souza is blocked at corner OF for the next four years, he could be a centerpiece in a trade to acquire 2B/3B missing link
    – chat host thought the Nats were the leading contender for FA closer David Robertson.

    Todd Boss

    21 Oct 14 at 3:29 pm

  5. One note on Soriano – because of the way they structured his contract, I believe the Nats only paid $7M of his salary this year. Looks like the remainder of the salary comes off the books sometime after 2018.

    Natsochist

    21 Oct 14 at 4:56 pm

  6. Soriano’s deal: Yeah … i omit that for the sake of levity when talking about payroll. Cots does too; noting that it was a 2yr/$28M deal with a ton deferred, with estimates of its Present Value being $11m or so. But when quickly talking about “money coming off the books” its a heck of a lot easier to just say $14M. :-)

    I also noted that the Mets page does not list all those deferred payments owed to Bobby Bonilla; it may just be too difficult to keep track of that stuff when talking about “total payroll.”

    Todd Boss

    21 Oct 14 at 5:08 pm

  7. Why the Nats would trade Souza: Because they believe his trade value is peaked

    Why they would not: Dearth of multitool position players, not mere outfielders in the system with 25 HR/25 SB potential – basically Souza, Taylor, Difo and that’s all.
    Cheap
    Controllable

    Do they believe he is starting caliber? Or not?

    As for the bullpen, they could just as well trade Storen, or Stammen (replace with Treinen) in addition to the aforementioned DFA of Mattheus and departure of Untuck.

    None of us, myself included, had Barrett penciled in to the 2014 bullpen. He was at best the planned 2014 AAA closer.

    And so if Martin makes the 40 man, he gets to spring training, and we see what he “see what he has between his legs (oh God, I hate it, but it proved to be true!). Or, in the case of certain Nats, what he has between his ears.

    forensicane

    21 Oct 14 at 5:58 pm

  8. I don’t think that Souza is blocked as a corner outfielder for the next four seasons, because Bryce could always slide to CF. In the meantime I expect that Souza will quickly become the first off the bench in case of injury to any of the outfielders – or to Zim at 1b. Souza played one full season at 1b in Potomac, and according to Luke Erickson at Nats Prospects (a Potomac STH) ultimately did well there. His sense was that Souza was moved because of organizational need at the time; remember that Moore and Skole were both ahead of Souza at 1b. How things change!

    John C.

    21 Oct 14 at 6:28 pm

  9. I’m with John here.

    It’s all about what the organization sees for Souza, and they trust their scouts’ eyes.

    I’ll say this – Souza was the most exciting prospect in the eyes of Doug Harris in Spring 2013. Yes, 2013 – coming out of A+ ball and the AFL.

    This is still a 96 win team, which won despite many injuries and players rehabbing while on the field. Whatever the team needs, you trade a player like Souza as a 90 win team with major holes, not a 96 win team that chokes with runners in scoring position and about to lose LaRoche.

    forensicane

    21 Oct 14 at 6:38 pm

  10. Skole will rise again. And when he does, we’ll love him because he hits when the game is on the line.

    forensicane

    21 Oct 14 at 6:40 pm

  11. Bonilla could probably still hit better than some of the LH bench stiffs the Nats have auditioned over the last couple of years. (And for those who don’t know about his contract, Google it. It’s insane.)

    Closer to home, Skole missed an absolutely golden opportunity to make it DC this year during the desperate search for LH pop. Chris Marrero lapsed/was injured in 2012 in a similar situation, opening the door for Tyler Moore to pass him and become a folk hero.

    KW

    21 Oct 14 at 8:29 pm

  12. Souza – I agree that he’s not blocked and that Harper could play CF. Souza is a real wild card for the Nats right now. I don’t think anyone still knows what they’ve got in him. My guess would be that they will re-up Span this year but try to get Souza a lot of ABs so they know what they’ve got before 2016.

    There’s a lot of talk about Souza’s trade value peaking right now, but I’m curious about that. This is the same guy who is still struggling to get considered as a “prospect” despite destroying the IL. Still, if he does have trade value, the Nats should listen, as there are no guarantees. I think he would be the type of player that our buddy Billy by the Bay would value, though.

    KW

    21 Oct 14 at 8:42 pm

  13. Todd – great material on the original post, and good timing, too, considering the latest news on the MASN deal. Boz said in his chat today that he thinks it will be settled soon. (I’m not so sure, as I don’t think “settle” is in Angelos’s vocabulary.) Boz also believes the deal will give the Nats $20-25M more per year. He doesn’t know if the Nats will put that all into salary.

    If they do, that will put them at around $150M. But life is about to get significantly more expensive. It’s popular for people to say “re-sign everybody.” Well, let’s put a few ballpark figures to that with the projected long-term contracts:

    Fister – $12M per
    Desmond – $15M per
    Zimmermann – $20M per (or more)
    Strasburg – $25M per

    That’s HALF the projected payroll, $72M for just four guys, three of whom don’t play every day (and the fourth who gets on base at a disturbingly low rate). It just won’t happen, people. Nor is it advisable. The Phils extended everybody except Werth, and of course they’ve just crumbled, with no relief in sight. (But Amaro still has a job.)

    Also, the Nats have to consider what they’ve already committed, as Werth + Zim by themselves = $35M over the next few years.

    So the Nats have some tough decisions ahead. Of the four above, to me, the only no-brainer to try to extend is Fister, and I might be underselling him at $12M, particularly if he matches his 2014 performance. I’m saying no to Desmond. Would either “ace” be worth extending? In that price range, it’s very hard to say.

    KW

    21 Oct 14 at 9:12 pm

  14. A few anecdotes pertinent to Souza’s “rating” as a prospect and ratings in general.

    1) Luke Erickson recently posted an article that speaks to how Baseball America and team prospect rankings are often formulated to validate draft decisions, bonuses paid, etc.

    2)A recent anecdote about Andrew Friedman’s pursuit by the Dodgers – seems his actions in the trade talks on Price are what impressed them. Namely, that he knew what prospects THE DODGERS THEMSELVES QUIETLY VALUED, rather than WHAT EVERYONE ELSE was talking about. Example from Nats — the Nats are not surprised by Rey Lopez. They knew what they had before he ever made landfall.

    3) Souza is an exhibit A in the age-obsessed nature of prospect rankings. The same BBA that would rank him #5 in his own league ranks him as one of the top five power-speed combination players in all of the minor leagues. Why? Because star players in the IL are younger than him. That’s IT.

    4) Souza has, for three straight years and in several stops, clearly exceeded expectations of the pundits:

    1) 2012 Hagerstown (to Potomac)
    2) 2012 Potomac
    3) 2013 Eastern League (though injured)
    4) 2013 AFL
    5) 2014 Syracuse

    That is argument enough for him to exceed expectations — which is to say that he could, not surprisingly, win those over who do not feel he can start outfield for a Nats team aiming to win a World Series.

    Does the Nats brass think he has the future of Rendon (as in, a fixture in the starting lineup)? They got trade inquiries about Rendon, too, once. Or do they think he has the future of Walters (does not transition into starting role for championship team)? What THEY believe will dictate whether he stays as a starter, a fourth OF, or moves on. Not what they would get in a trade. If the team believes in his ceiling, they will NOT trade him because of the skill set he has and how that approximates what the team needs.

    By important contrast, the team does not *need* starting pitching, especially if they sign Fister or Zimm. That is why pitchers like Cole or Treinen, though not expendable, are more likely trade chips in big deals. Because they are replaceable, even if they are expected to succeed in the majors like the Alex Meyers of yesterday.

    So I think Souza stays. And I think the team gives him a chance to show his value while Taylor ripens and the team restocks the minors with power and middle IF prospects.

    Again, at this time next year we will absolutely be touting folks we never were considering now, Not because Keith Law tells us, but because they turn the corner, much to our delight.

    Bottom line, I think the Nats trade for their needs with pitching.

    forensicane

    21 Oct 14 at 10:29 pm

  15. (1) I would be very surprised if Rizzo keeps all of the guys on 1 year deals and watches them walk at the end of the year. He has never taken a big ‘all in for this year’ approach, and the fall off from Desi to a supp pick is enormous. And I think this is likely the most true with Fister and JZimm, meaning that if both are unsigned to extensions this winter, one will be traded.
    (2) whether MASN is resolved soon or not, their payroll is already fairly robust and is unlikely to go much higher. So to make room for a pitcher, someone has to go. Can Werth be moved? The knee jerk reaction is no, but he is now down to 3/$63m and coming off a 4+WAR season. Would a team like SEA see what we saw? A professional hitter and leader to guide a young team on the bubble to the next step, with the ability to give him 35 games a year at DH? What if WAS kicked in $10-15m? I think there is a chance, and maybe Brad Miller plus a pen arm comes back, filling a need, creating space for Souza and also creating some payroll space for JZ or Fister.

    Wally

    22 Oct 14 at 8:15 am

  16. Werth trade: no way. he has a no-trade and has bought a house/settled with his family in DC, and he plays for a playoff team. What more could he want? I’m sure his wife would throw a fit if he said, “hey honey, the team wants me to move to Seattle … tomorrow.”

    Resigning our guys (Zimmermann, Fister, Desmond, Strasburg). Of this four, i’d pursue Desmond and Fister. Zimmermann is going to get a $20M/year deal and has earned it, and will go to one of the major payroll teams when he’s done here. I like pursuing Fister because he’s underrated and will be underpaid. Strasburg to me is always going to disappoint; i don’t want to pay $20-$25M to a guy unless he’s in the Cy Young conversation every year. Lastly; Desmond makes sense to lock up because we have nothing in the farm to replace him, and power-hitting SS are hard to come by.

    Nab a couple of comp picks after you offer QOs to those guys to help kick-start the farm, replace like for like with AJ Cole and Lucas Giolito, and that’s not too bad a strategy for 2016 and beyond.

    Harper to Center: I’ve been saying it for years; great arm, good range, wasted in LF. But from what I’ve seen of Souza and Taylor … i’d rather put one of them in center once we’re done with the Denard Span era.

    Todd Boss

    22 Oct 14 at 8:44 am

  17. I’m pretty much with you on this Todd.

    Desmond has a higher ceiling than 2014, he (has hit, sometimes) hits well in the clutch, is a team leader, and is hard to replace anywhere in the league. I can see him doing this for years, barring injury.

    The replacing Desmond brings to mind the important caveat for all prospect lovers – none of the folks that we (and me especially, I admit) get excited over have done anything in the majors (unless you count spring training). If Rizzo gambles and the prospect falters, then what?

    The Nats were saved from prospect euphoria this year (the fading of Taylor Jordan) by the full maturing of Tanner Roark. Desmond’s skills are not to be taken for granted and they are not replaceable by Didi Gregorius or Asdrubal or RSOD.

    As for Strasburg, Jeff the poster cryptic on Luke’s site had the sage suggestion that San Diego would overpay for him. I agree.

    As for Fister, he hasn’t the hype of Zimm and if that means a few less dollars, take him. He also has far broader of a positive impact on the entire pitching staff than any of the other starters. The caught stealing was way up this year, runners were held better, he fields his position, and is a stopper. Fister is a champion. I think Fister is a must sign.

    I would make a run at Zimm, too, at big money, but all of this is $$ permitting.

    If there is only enough $$ for Fister, Desi, and Harper, JZimm’ll bring a terrific haul.

    The Harper FA situation is also a money question that I think keeps Souza in DC. The outfield may not be as deep as we think. Other than the ususal suspects in the PF, the closest to DC may be Ike Ballou, a smart player with power/speed skills who can lead off and is ticketed for either more A+ or AA next year.

    As for Harper in center, the kid is a quick study and can dominate if he stays on the field. The team was not suffering with him in CF and if it is merely transitional while Taylor seasons in AAA, so be it.

    Rizzo has done so well to stock the long term pond. The team, once it calculates whom it signs, also has to calculate its long term needs. Looking ahead, it needs power bats, and great offense-defense combination at all infield spots. The system is deep in catching and in pitching, if thinner in lefthanded starters. That appears to be Rizzo’s default return, if for nothing more than future trade chipping (Ian Krol).

    One last point about Martin. He is closing in the winter leagues. Don’t think the Nats had nothing to do with that.

    forensicane

    22 Oct 14 at 1:22 pm

  18. Todd Boss said …Nab a couple of comp picks after you offer QOs to those guys to help kick-start the farm, replace like for like with AJ Cole and Lucas Giolito, and that’s not too bad a strategy for 2016 and beyond.

    This is where I part company with the strategy. AJ Cole + comp pick will be a vast step down from either Stras or Fister for at least 3-4 years, so I’d look to trade at least one of the unsignables now, so that the return includes a Smyly type (like Price returned) or a better prospect than Cole. One guy playing out the last year of his contract is fine, if we let several of them go at once, we’ll have a big drop off in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

    Wally

    22 Oct 14 at 1:25 pm

  19. We don;t talk about him much, as Souza gets the understandable attention, but I think Blake Treinen is analagous. It’s hard to see 2015 without him on the staff. With the bullpen as high priced as it is now, and Thornton being a keeper, I see Treinen as a guy who is here to stay – whatever his role.

    forensicane

    22 Oct 14 at 1:26 pm

  20. One of the reasons I liked the Morse trade so much was that everyone in baseball knew the Nats had no room for him. Everybody. And the clock was ticking.

    And Rizzo got a return of a top prospect on the downside (Cole), a complete unknown sleeper, and a guy who had lost luster and needed a change in organization. For Morse! Unbelievable haul.

    I think that if the Nats have to deal a star with more value than Morse, to more teams making competitive bids, he’ll be as good as anyone in getting young value for veteran talent. he hasn’t been perfect, sure, but he’s refined his strategies and has flipped veterans repeatedly for outstanding return.

    I know this is completely immaterial. But look at what he got for HRod. A guy with unimpressive stats who looked like a batting practice pitcher in A-. Well, Ian Dickson, in the last month and a half in the A+ rotation in 2014, made a case to be in AA next year.

    And then there is Rey Lopez for 17K. And Difo. And the 2013 GCL Nats backbone from unheralded, cheap international players. Look at Silvestre, and Bautista. That’s a scouts eye you trust.

    Now, if they could just get their act together on their drafts of high schoolers in later rounds and the 2015 amateur draft. That is an area for improvement and definitely worth investment.

    forensicane

    22 Oct 14 at 1:34 pm

  21. Sorry, meant to say Stras or JZ.

    Let me try to say this differently. If we ‘play it out’, we’ll be a top 5 team next year, and then drop to 10-15 in 2016 (when JZ, Fister, Desi, et al leave), and 15-20 in 2017 when Stras leaves. Comp picks and the farm guys will not replace those guys, value for value, plus some of the core guys will start to decline. That starts looking like a weak, old team.

    My suggestion is (a) they can probably sign at least one of JZ/Fister/Stras long term, and I’d make it a relative cost benefit analysis to decide which one and (b) swap the others now while they have more value than a comp pick, since we could probably trade out JZ from 2015’s rotation for AJ Cole/Treinin/Jordan and still be a top 5 NL team in 2015, while picking up pieces that’ll help them remain top 5 in 2016 and 2017. Same decision for Stras next year (or this year, if you decide you can’t sign him long term and could get a bonanza for him by trading him with two years of control). Although it would be hard to replace both JZ and Stras in the same year and stay a top 5 team.

    Wally

    22 Oct 14 at 1:36 pm

  22. Another fun take on payroll and playoffs: what would the standings look like with divisions dictated by payroll?

    http://www.breitbart.com/Breitbart-Sports/2014/10/22/The-Karl-Marx-Theory-of-the-World-Series

    Todd Boss

    22 Oct 14 at 3:02 pm

  23. If Cole and Giolito live up to expectations, best case we’re looking at a #2 starter in Cole and a #1 in Giolito. That’s a good replacement for Strasburg and Zimmermann (who themselves project basically as a 1 and a 2, or may be a 2 and a 1 depending on your opinion).

    But, yes, a known quantity is better than a prospect, especially one in low-A no matter how highly touted he is.

    Todd Boss

    22 Oct 14 at 3:43 pm

  24. I think Rizzo shops JZimm and Span hard this winter, for the same reasons you discuss.

    I also wouldn’t be surprised if Rizzo has a talk with Werth and tells him that he is going to have a somewhat-reduced role and see if he would be willing to entertain a trade to the AL. Werth has a pretty decent contract for a team like Seattle to take on and he would be a good veteran presence. And Seattle is a very nice city – for $21mm/yr I bet his wife could find another really nice house in a great community.

    Even without Span and J-Zimm, the Nats likely make the playoffs again next year, but unless they develop some 2016 talent, there will be a big dropoff then. If Souza or Taylor can pick up Span’s role and Cole or Treinan or even Giolito can pick up J-Zimm’s role, we’ll be in great shape for 2016-2018.

    But, nobody is talking about Harper’s contract… that has to come into play soon, right?

    Andrew R

    22 Oct 14 at 4:45 pm

  25. I didn’t think Cole projected to a #2. I thought it was more #3 with a non zero chance of needing to go to the pen.

    I actually feel better about the success rate on the Giolito types (excluding injuries, always excluding injuries). The mid level guys seem to have a much more variable hit rate. But in no way should that be interpreted as me being down on Cole.

    I just don’t want to think our 2016 success depends on Cole hitting his #3 projection quickly (or at all).

    Wally

    22 Oct 14 at 4:45 pm

  26. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love for the team to sign its stars, who are all top tier starting pitchers. I just say that even Giolito has proven nothing, and so there is a risk to presume that a pitcher the ESTABLISHED caliber of Zimmerman or Fister is replaceable by even Giolito (right now). Never mind the #1 or #2 or whatever. The two of them, and Strasburg at his best, are dominant starters who gave the team a great edge in the latter part of the year when the team blew away its division.

    But if trades have to be made for fiscal reasons, it is what it is.

    With that said, I think we would be happily surprised with what is in the starting pitching cupboard. Cole’s performance in AA at age 22 and on an extremely bad team was followed up by a AAA performance that only burnishes his bonafides. Had he not been shut down, perhaps Syracuse would have won their series.

    Treinen has everyone’s interest as a reliever, but he was a very effective starter at AAA last year.

    Taylor Hill was an all-star who fields his position expertly and who keeps improving. He does not turn on the velo nuts, but he has nothing more to prove in AAA and wouldn’t be the first guy who struggled in his ML debut and was ready the next year.

    Taylor Jordan was injured but did not die. Just one year ago he was the presumptive sixth starter. We do not know of his injury and will likely find out soon enough (though he is still MIA this winter).

    That’s four (!) realistic candidates without even considering Ross Ohlendorf. Before you laugh, look at how Chris Young did in Seattle this year. Aaron Laffey was a AAA all star. Rizzo may have his yen for Wang, but Christan Garcia was not a failure – he was plus plus plus and just got hurt.

    That’s the wave that can fit in now. So if the Nats trade a superstar for a haul, and even if they traded two, I believe that competition would yield a suitable replacement for either just as one could argue that Tanner Roark was better in the rotation than Strasburg. Roark snuck in and made his auditions in the rotation count. They call Roark a #5. If that’s a #5, Cole being a #3 is fine with me!

    So that’s just for 2015. By 2016, we will know a lot more about Giolito and Rey Lopez, as well as Austin Voth, Jordan, Hector Silvestre, and likely a surprise or two who turns the corner next year, just as Cole and Jordan did in 2013.

    forensicane

    22 Oct 14 at 5:22 pm

  27. Andrew R – pretty sure they keep Span for next year. Thankfully, with Taylor looming, that causes them to avoid extending him but I bet he is the bridge to Taylor in 2016. I don’t think they quite have the confidence in Harper in CF for a full time gig. I don’t know Souza well enough to know if he can play CF, but I think they really like Span (and regardless of if he stays or is traded, exercising the option is a no brainer; he’d probably get 4/$50m if a FA right now).

    Speaking of Souza, I know he started as an IF, but he seems awfully big now to go back to 3b, but boy, wouldn’t that fit nicely.

    Forensicane – I don’t object to anything you are saying, just that it is very unusual for rookies to come up and have years like Roark. That is far and away the exception, so even if our replacement guys are good, we should realistically expect it to take 1-2 years of MLB time for them to hit their true levels, at which point Harper and Rendon are that much closer to their exits….

    Hey, I just figured out its hard to keep a team competitive through all these cycles

    Wally

    22 Oct 14 at 6:58 pm

  28. There are enough teams with enduring success, the Braves, Yankees, Cardinals, Giants, that lessons from those franchises can be implemented.

    Even if Roark is the exception, the Nats won 98 games with Edwin Jackson in the rotation. Question: would any of our potential starters give a performance on par with that?

    forensicane

    22 Oct 14 at 8:40 pm

  29. Harper’s contract has to be at the root of all thinking, doesn’t it? If anyone needed a reminder of who will be driving the bus in the coming years, he and Rendon delivered it in the playoffs.

    I have mixed feelings about extending Desmond. I know all middle infielders don’t age like Rollins and Utley, but man, that’s been painful to watch. Desi is among the best-hitting shortstops, but his K’s have been on the rise, his OBP declined this year, and he was really swinging from his heels in the playoffs. But the Nats have few internal options, other than Espinoza.

    With any of the extensions, I would hope the Nats go against the grain and front-load the contracts rather than back-load them. That way, you’re paying the prime money in the prime years, you’re reducing your obligations (slightly) as you move into the Stras/Harper/Rendon years, and you also leave more trade options later in the contract. So perhaps with Desmond you would go 16/16/14/14/12, with another option year at 12. When you increase at the end, you make them almost untradeable. (And yes, I’m with Todd in thinking that there’s no way they can move Werth and his contract.)

    As for Souza, I have been on his bandwagon a long time as well. I WANT to believe that he’s as good as his AAA numbers and 450-foot taters. I don’t think there’s any doubt that he can play in the majors, but can he be a star? Every prospect has to prove it. Heck, in this space last off-season, there was a spirited debate on whether Rendon would end up being better than Espinoza, and much talk in the Natosphere of trading Rendon for someone “better.” Not hearing a lot of that now!

    My guess for Souza would be to compare him to another late bloomer, Josh Willingham, albeit with a lot more speed. I would take a Willingham-like baseline, with the potential for more. The real key for Souza will be OBP. The power will be there if he can make contact.

    KW

    22 Oct 14 at 9:02 pm

  30. Jayson Werth a “reduced role??” Why? What has he done to indicate that he’s not earning a starting spot? He had a .849 OPS (134 OPS+) this year. That translates to 18th best OPS and 21st best OPS+ in the entirety of baseball.

    Why would Rizzo possibly sit down the 20th best hitter in the game and tell him its time to send him to pasture??

    Todd Boss

    23 Oct 14 at 8:53 am

  31. There’s a difference between not starting at the 3 spot 100% of the time and being put out to pasture.

    We have 8 guys for 7 spots including Souza if not can play 2b. They all need to play. Further, Rendon Zimm and Harper should be 2,3&4 in the lineup. Werth has been reported to want to be starting and in the 3 spot everyday.

    At $21mm/yr, if we could trade Werth and keep Span and JZimm instead , I’d explore that. If Werth doesn’t like the thought of being less of the focal point, maybe he would be willing to be traded.

    All hypothetical talk radio junk anyway…

    Andrew

    23 Oct 14 at 9:09 am

  32. Jayson Werth, Point 1: He’s not going anywhere. It’s not solely the contract (more on that in a minute), but he has a full no trade clause. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/12/15/AR2010121506670.html. So just stop with the “Werth to the AL” patter. Ryan Zimmerman has one, too – so stop trading Ryan to the AL. Not going to happen.

    Jayson Werth, Point 2: Trading him now would be pretty dumb for a team that wants to contend. Why? We won’t even get to the intangible/winning attitude that he is often credited with instilling in the team. No, it’s because right now he’s one of the best players on the team. For the last two years he’s put up between just under 10 WAR. Even with the emergence of Rendon, Werth still led the team in wRC+ last year. Even at 35 he’s still one of the best baserunners on the team.

    No, he’s certainly not being paid pennies on the dollar the way Rendon, Harper and Roark are. But Werth IS earning the big $$ he’s being paid, and depending on the $/WAR ratio you use he’s even a slight bargain. Werth is the guy you hope Souza will be some day. For a contending team like the Nationals, trading Werth to open a spot for Souza in 2015 would be idiotic.

    John C.

    23 Oct 14 at 9:11 am

  33. Never heard one scouting report saying Cole couldn’t sustain his mechanics/needed to go to the pen. Consistently i’ve read #2 starter ceiling. 6’5″ with a top fastball and excellent control, though to be fair one of the reports i’ve linked to below does say “#3 starter.”

    I don’t think you make it onto these top 100 lists of the best prospects in baseball by projecting as just a #3 starter though. Cole was #63 prospect in MLB.com/Jim Callis’s mid-season ranking, #67 in John Sickels/minorleagueball.com’s mid-season ranking. And things are likely moving up; all he did in 2014 was go 13-3 in 25 starts in the two highest levels of the minors.

    Two 2014 scouting reports on Cole at BA.
    http://www.baseballamerica.com/minors/2014-international-league-top-20-scouting-reports/
    http://www.baseballamerica.com/minors/2014-eastern-league-top-20-prospects-scouting-reports/

    Todd Boss

    23 Oct 14 at 9:11 am

  34. Flip Desmond next year for prospects, install Espinosa at stereotypical “light hitting shortstop” and acquire middle infield depth to cover in a backup capacity?

    Todd Boss

    23 Oct 14 at 9:14 am

  35. Desmond is more valuable than Werth. Werth’ defense is declining and he is reaching an advanced age. He has definitely been worth the contract and $63/3yrs isn’t outrageous, but we do have a cheap replacement (or 2) in the minors. Des plays a hard position at a high level and led the team in rbis. No trade contracts can be worked around.

    No Espinosa! He is a head case a la Henry Rodriguez. Lots of talent, but not much else.

    Andrew R

    23 Oct 14 at 9:31 am

  36. Yeah, i’m not getting the “get rid of Werth” discussion. Of all the positional players on the team right now/projected starters for next year, he’s on the low-end of the list in terms of concerns/action items. 20th best OPS last year, was even better in 2013. When he hurt his hand in 2012 and had no power, all he did was be a better lead-off hitter than anyone else the team had anyway (.309/.388/.450 as a leadoff hitter in 2012; those are nearly Rickey Henderson lead-off numbers). Yeah he’s 35. Yeah he’s not Ichiro-in-his-prime in the outfield, but who cares? If he becomes *that* much of a RF liability, move him to LF where he likely regains a league-leading UZR figure.

    He still merits a middle of the order lineup spot.

    Lets face it; you can pretty much predict the lineup for opening day next year already, thanks to the personnel we have and the manager we have. Span, Rendon, Werth, Harper, Zimmerman, Desmond, Ramos, Espinosa, Strasburg. *Maybe* we see some slight variation on this if we acquire a left handed hitting option for 2b/3B; if so then switch Ramos and Espinosa to provide more lefty-righty balance.

    Todd Boss

    23 Oct 14 at 9:42 am

  37. I’d flip Werth and Harper in that lineup, but yeah – not only is that lineup likely very close, but it’s not terribly far off from optimum. I know, there is residual Span dislike in the system. But he really made the offense go for much of 2014. A .355 OBP is nothing to dismiss. The team prefers to have Jayson Werth hitting in the middle of the order, and that’s close enough to right to make it not worth arguing over.

    John C.

    23 Oct 14 at 11:24 am

  38. Just to add to what Todd says here, two additional points on Cole:

    The Harrisburg team on which he was pitching was awful defensively, offensively, and in every phase of the game. They s%43ed, and their fans criticized some of the players for giving up. And he won there and just brought his A game. So he has a STOPPER’S mentality.

    That may not mean much to some, but flash back to Strasburg’s reaction to Zimmerman errors — as a major leaguer.

    Then Cole goes to AAA and has an even better won loss, before shutting down. The rub on him is the consistency of his command of secondary pitches, but the guy is 22! He’ll get there, and next spring might be that time. Rizzo did not go out and get him back because he is destined for the bullpen — especially with the success of Treinen.

    forensicane

    23 Oct 14 at 12:24 pm

  39. I was in the anti-Span camp for a long time. But I have come to believe a couple of things:

    – I do think he’s an elite defensive CF, a better option than sticking Harper there in 2015 (though I think Harper can do it)
    – I also think Taylor is an elite defensive CF … but the team may not be ready to go with him as a starter.
    – Same with Souza, who I also think could play CF but also has all sorts of positional flexibility from playing in the minors for so long.
    – You cannot argue with Span’s production on the whole this year. He finished with an OBP of .355, tied for 32nd in baseball. But among non-power/typical leadoff hitters he was a top 7 or 8 leadoff hitter in terms of OBP.
    – He’s only 30; prime of his career.
    – His $9M option is *cheap* and should be exercised tomorrow.
    – He’s a lefty on a team that’s clearly losing its leading lefty hitter and is suddenly very RH heavy.

    Todd Boss

    23 Oct 14 at 2:07 pm

  40. Cole was named “best fastball” in his minor league system one year from BA … then the next year he was named “best control.” Rare to see something like that. He’s big, so he has the downward plane on his ball, naturally leading to fewer homers/more grounders. He’s a good prospect.

    AAA is going to have an embarrassment of riches next year in its rotation: Jordan, Hill, Cole and Treinen joined perhaps by Felipe Rivero, assuming no trades or injuries. I havn’t started any 2014 minor league rotation analysis, let alone think about projections, but I sense that we may be done with the MLFA AAA filler signing (see Laffey, Espino, Kroenke, McGregor, Lively and technically Poveda just for this year).

    Todd Boss

    23 Oct 14 at 2:12 pm

  41. I was the one who suggested to trade Werth, but it wasn’t to make room for Souza or because Werth is a liability. It was to make room to sign two of Stras/JZ/Fister. I think they can sign one right now, but lose the other two to payroll considerations. Werth is good, if he wasn’t you couldn’t trade him, but I’d rather have the 2d pitcher than him, and unfortunately, that is where their payroll is at.

    I also do not think ‘win now’ should mean ‘win-only-in-2015’, which is currently what their roster looks like. This core has had three seasons together, and have produced two excellent regular seasons and two poor post seasons. But MLB is tough, you’re mostly graded on the post season and I don’t think they have earned the right to all play one last season together and then go off into the sunset (or everyone gets re-upped on bloated Philly deals).

    I know I keep repeating myself, sorry for that. I was trying to offer an out of the box suggestion.

    Wally

    23 Oct 14 at 2:18 pm

  42. Agree 100% Wally. All of my thoughts are based on thinking that the Nats are not going to hit $150MM in payroll and that Harper/Rendon will eventually need big deals and likely a few others soon.

    That means to me that:
    1) At least one more of our vets needs to go this year (Span/Clip/J-Zimm/Des/Werth/Gio), even if that guy is worth their salary.
    2) We can’t “pull off the bandaid” and have too many guys go at the same time. So, it’s important to kick the tires on Souza and Treinan/Cole this year to see if they can be core guys.

    I like all of the guys we have left on the roster incl Werth and Span, but if payroll is going to be an issue (which I strongly believe it will be), then someone has to go… soon.

    Andrew R

    23 Oct 14 at 9:12 pm

  43. Tyler Moore off to a hot start in the Dominican Winter League. And, six walks in eighteen plate appearances. Just adding to the plate here (now that everyone has given up on him).

    forensicane

    23 Oct 14 at 11:58 pm

  44. When you look at Cole’s numbers, they’re good but not dominant. He gave up more than a hit an inning at both stops in 2014. He has progressed very well for his age, though, and with his frame, you figure more strength (and K’s) will come. Still, as he stands, he projects much more as a 4-5 guy in a MLB rotation than a 1-2. That’s not putting him down; it’s just saying that he’s not going to be capable of replacing Zimmermann’s production level anytime soon. Unless Cole puts on 20 lbs. of muscle and really starts to dominate more, I would say that his ceiling is a #3, a 12-15 win/yr. guy.

    As Todd notes, Syracuse may have a full rotation next year of guys who could be 4-5s on a number of MLB rosters elsewhere.

    KW

    24 Oct 14 at 8:54 am

  45. KW, I have seen the numbers, including the age, but obviously I’ve never seen him pitch or talked to scouts who have seen him pitch. I will note that people who do this for a living tend to rate Cole as one of the top 50-100 prospects in MiLB, and give him a higher ceiling than a 4-5 guy. While not conclusive, that does carry some weight with me.

    John C.

    24 Oct 14 at 9:10 am

  46. Quick blurb on Wilfer Domo from Jim Bowden today (which is applicable to the is conversastion):

    • The Nationals are thrilled with the development of second baseman Wilmer Dilfo, who is playing well in the Dominican Republic. The switch-hitter can really hit, as shown by his .315/.360/.470 slash line with 14 homers and 90 RBIs at Hagerstown in the South Atlantic League. He could make the jump to Double-A by season’s end and should be the Nats’ long-term solution at second base. His rapid development might have some influence on them not re-signing Asdrubal Cabrera at his expected three-year, $24 million price tag.

    Interesting thought. If he’s 2 years away, does the team then say “Rendon will go to his natural position at 3B for the long run, we find a stop-gap for 2B who may or may not be named Espinosa, and wait for Dilfo to arrive?”

    I’m sure they could find a middle infielder on a short-term deal that makes sense. Looking at the FA list on mlbtraderumors, I wonder if there’s a guy there who profiles as a better fit than what we have in house in Espinosa?

    Todd Boss

    24 Oct 14 at 9:14 am

  47. Fair enough on Cole’s numbers except for this one caveat; he was only 22. A 22yr old putting those numbers up in AAA (or even AA for that matter) is significantly more impressive than were he older. According to my research earlier this year on median/quartile ages per level, the 25% quartile for ages in AAA for 2014 was 25.83. Thats almost four years older than Cole.

    Can Cole replicate the production of Doug Fister?

    Todd Boss

    24 Oct 14 at 9:19 am

  48. On the larger question of whether the Nats should stand pat for 2015 (sans LaRoche, Cabrera, and Soriano), call me a skeptic. The teams that have remained at the top for an extended period have been willing to keep turning things over. Few Yankees from the 1990s-2000s run have finished their careers as Yankees, with Jeter the notable exception. With the Braves, it was Chipper; they even let three HOF hurlers go eventually. The Red Sox have turned over everyone except Papi during their 2004/2007/2013 “run.” Even the Giants have evolved a fair amount since 2010, and the Cards have made a number of changes while staying in contention.

    With the Nats, the long-term guy(s) would figure to be Harper and/or Rendon, plus they have lengthy commitments to Zimmerman and Werth (as discussed). Beyond those guys, they (and we) shouldn’t get too attached to anyone. Over-attachment is the recipe for peak and crash (a la the Phillies).

    If the Nats essentially stand pat, at the end of 2015, they would be looking at losing (or having to overpay to re-sign) Zimmermann, Fister, Desmond, Span, Clippard, and Detwiler. That would be a lot of churn at one time, even if it results in a championship. I know they wouldn’t lose all of them, but I doubt they’d keep more than two of the six.

    I’m not advocating wholesale changes now. But if someone is interested in Span, and you’ve got someone like Souza in the wings, you’ve got to be open to possibilities (to renew Span and trade him). As I’ve noted before, I wouldn’t trade a core piece like Desmond unless you could get a core piece in return. But it couldn’t hurt to feel out Beane about a three-team trade in which the Nats would get Donaldson while Billy gets Desmond and Clippard (among others) to flip for what he can. The same goes for Zimmermann. You had better be getting a major piece in return, which may not be likely for a “rental.” He would be less of a rental for a big-money team that would think it could re-sign him, though.

    All of this to say that I’ll be concerned for the longer term if the Nats essentially stand pat for 2015.

    KW

    24 Oct 14 at 9:26 am

  49. Cole – I’m not putting him down by any means; a 12-15 win guy is extremely valuable (think Fister, as Todd said). My point is that it’s a stretch at this time, even with him so ahead of the age curve, to try to project that he could “replace” Zimmermann or Fister in the rotation by 2016.

    Of course when you look at the WS teams, you do have to start to wonder whether it’s worth it to overpay for more than one real top-of-the-rotation guy.

    KW

    24 Oct 14 at 9:40 am

  50. Turnover questions: completely agree. We all love the prospects here and are dying to see what Souza and Taylor (in particular) can do when given the chance.

    Problem is, my take on the manager and the executive team is this: Veterans preferred over rookies, experience over the unknown. We see it over and over with lineup selections, trade acquisitions and free agent signings.

    Can you imagine Zimmermann pitching in the AL West with those collection of pitchers’ parks? A’s would never want Zimmermann though b/c of his salary; $16.5M would be 20% of their 2014 payroll … which was significantly jacked up from previous payrolls. A’s want younger controllable guys generally. That’s why a flip of multiple minor leagers for Donaldson makes sense. That’s be the answer to your “turnover” concern, eh?

    Todd Boss

    24 Oct 14 at 9:49 am

  51. World Series rotations. Good point. The Giants could win the WS with this rotation: Bumgarner (legit Ace), Hudson (1yr FA nearing 40), Peavy (mid-season re-tread acquisition in twilight of career), Vogelsong (somewhere between a #5 and a 4-A starter at this point), and Lincecum (who posted a 4.74 ERA and hasn’t thrown a pitch in the post-season).

    That’s not exactly the collection of sub 3.00 ERA pitchers the Nats threw together this year.

    I know less about KC’s rotation other than the obvious: Shields is more of a #2 workhorse than a CyYoung candidate Ace, Ventura is barely of legal drinking age, Guthrie and Vargas were both basically 2nd tier FAs (both averaging about 8-9M/year profiling as #3-#4 starters with 2WAR/year expectations), and Duffy is a rookie who finally made it after seven years in the minors. Again, not exactly the same as collecting together multiple guys with Cy Young top 5 votes on their resumes.

    then again, I’m pretty sure we’re all in agreement that the Nats didn’t lose the NLDS because of pitching. They lost it because of cojones.

    Todd Boss

    24 Oct 14 at 9:57 am

  52. And who do we trade for cojones?!

    Zimmermann is the 800-pound gorilla, isn’t he? He’s the guy most likely to bring something significant in trade return, even as a rental, and yet he may be the one most likely to help put the Nats over the top. My hunch is that the Nats won’t be looking to trade Zimmermann, unless someone brings a deal to them. I think they would be willing to ride him to the end, even if it means seeing him walk.

    I’ll reiterate that I still don’t know why Beane would trade Donaldson, even if he’s due a considerable arbitration raise. But if he is available, he should be an object of our desires. Billy is in the same boat that Rizzo is, though – he wants to win now, so he can’t just flip one of his most valuable assets for prospects. Would he take on Zimmermann’s salary for one year? Desi really isn’t his type of player, but he could keep him moving to a third party (Dodgers or Yankees come to mind). Regardless, I think Beane would also insist on Souza as part the deal, as he strikes me as the type of player the A’s covet.

    I don’t know. We’ll see. Yes, the stick-with-the-vets mentality bothers me. Davey liked to bring up the kids (as did Bobby Cox), although Davey still preferred old stiffs on his bench.

    Great discussion everyone, by the way.

    KW

    24 Oct 14 at 10:21 am

  53. Just to clarify, I’m not saying Zmnn AND Desi for Donaldson; that was an either/or. I might say one of those guys and Clippard, though, with Clippard also likely flipped to a third party, although Billy has shown a strange recent propensity to overpay for relievers.

    KW

    24 Oct 14 at 10:29 am

  54. Good comments here. Back to the Cole point: he is a promising guy. I am optimistic about him. But there are what, roughly 20-30 pitching prospects each year that are roughly equivalent to him?

    JZimm is one of the top 15 SPs in baseball; Fister top 30-40. Like, in the whole world. If Giolito, who may be the top pitching prospect in baseball right now, has JZ’s career, that is a huge win, for him and the Nats. For Cole to do it would be even more extraordinary. And it happens: Jordan wasn’t rated as highly as he turned out, and for most of the guys that made it, similar stories can be made. But we tend to look at the success stories, not the 29 other guys that looked just as (or more) promising as JZ that didn’t make it, for whatever reason.

    So, where I am going with this rambling comment, is that I love having Cole in the system and having the team getting the right to see how well he does, but for planning purposes, it doesn’t seem to be sound logic to assume he slots up in there as your #2 or #3 to replace JZ or Fister. It may happen, but it sure would be better to have him fill the #5 slot with fallback options, until he proves himself.

    Wally

    24 Oct 14 at 11:18 am

  55. Circling back to a few points.

    Span – Have to pick up the option, because it gives positional flexibility. The Nats have overpaid to create a roster that is 35-45 deep (per Rizzo philosophy) and Span as the penciled in starting OF for 2015 is part of that. The team waited a long time to get a bona fide leadoff hitter who plays great defensive CF and Rizzo is not going to take that for granted at this stage. And, Span is not expendable until Taylor proves he is here to stay. It’s a risk the team does not have to take, and the team won’t take right now.

    Ryan Zimmerman – No one anticipates his return to 3B. Until HE says he is NOT coming back to 3B, and until Rizzo and Williams says this, I would not make this concrete, especially with the team’s investment in him. No one on this board can measure his heart. He is a gamer and it was only September 2013 that he set the world on fire with his bat and literally carried the team. He hits in the clutch. I say the team has an aggressive rehab program for him going on already. Not one credible rumor has surfaced about the team shopping for a Zimm replacement.

    The team philosophy is highly conservative medically and playing for long term. I look at Zimmerman’s shutdown in the playoffs as akin to Strasburg’s in 2012. Why risk an injury with huge long term implications when you can use his bat off the bench and you have a winning (Cabrera/Rendon) formula?

    As long as we are trashing Zimmerman’s 3B defense, does anyone have the defensive metrics for him at 3b from later in 2013 and in 2014 when the team was winning with him in the lineup at 3B? Can we say that his decline was more pronounced than that exhibited by Gold Glove finalist LaRoche?

    Rendon to 3B is an easy insurance policy if Zimmerman tanks, while the organization develops from below. Difo is at least two years away, apparently. SO trading is for organizational depth at the upper levels but not necessarily for a Zimm replacement. Does Zimm count himself out? Do the Lerners count him out? Until they do, I read this as message board impatience with a guy who has played hurt and now gets a chance to rest.

    The Beltre interest was dictated by the reference point that Zimmerman’s bat was out for the year. he was never a long term trade interest. When that door was not open, they acquired Cabrera for the same reasons. The frame of reference is not NECESSARILY the same now.

    Prospects – No matter what the Nats do, they will retain a surplus of quality starting pitching. Even if they trade Zimmerman or Fister — because they would only do so with replacements coming back. That’s how Rizzo rolls.

    So starting pitching is who is going to get dealt, not valued position player chips. Last year, the surplus was in the OF, and Billy Burns had sufficient marquee value if limited organizational ceiling. Karns, too. Both trades worked out for Oakland (they are still high on Burns) and for TB (who have Karns ticketed for the majors in 2015).

    Souza is not a DH; he is a hitter-fielder-thrower. There is no more surplus in OF-IB types unless Tyler Moore reignites this fall or in the spring. Brian Goodwin is hurt and has not yet mastered AAA. Matt Skole may get promoted to AAA, but he has not proven anything more. Destin Hood does not yet have the power production or speed tools to get promoted to bench OF and may be unprotected on 40 man. So Souza is part of that needed roster depth to protect the Nats from Nate McLouth or Tyler Moore as defensive players in the event of injury.

    Pitching is another story. Ohlendorf was signed purely for roster depth last year. It was wasted only because of his injury. I cannot see the organization taking a different philosophy, especially as things worked out for all parties with the Chris Young situation. The depth is in starting pitching, and that brings great yield — the team got three players (including a player who upgraded the 2014 roster and will be around for 2015) just for Nate Karns!

    Robbie Ray IS valued. Alex Meyer IS valued. And Cole was more highly regarded than Karns before his 2014 season, which only improved his stock. So we may underplay the haul that even a Cole could bring, but don’t think the Nats do. And regardless of what we think, Rizzo is the same exec who would not trade Jordan even if it meant not getting Fister.

    Team needs – Are defined by the signability of Fister/Desi/Zimmerman right now (before the winter meetings). That also means that Minitti (who failed to get this done just as he failed on the Suarez/Byers/Salters front) is replaced by an exec who has excellent negotiating skills – why, perhaps, Miller (ex of Reds, who negotiated Hunter Bailey and won with Aroldis Chapman) may be important to this discussion.

    If the team’s starting P situation is solidified, and Desi signs, then trading this winter, and retools of the roster, take on a different complexion and the Nats are absolutely in a sellers driver’s seath with the number of high grade starting P prospects they have in AAA.

    Money – I do not envision taking on a Donaldson type talent for the money he will command when the team is already on the cusp of offloading big money talent for money alone. If a major chip is acquired, it will be in the mold of Span-Fister-Gio. A talent with projectible (by the Nats) higher ceiling with controllability, signability, and affordability. They specifically targeted Fister because he was an under the radar talent. Donaldson is not.

    forensicane

    24 Oct 14 at 12:19 pm

  56. Good point about Minitti. Since he ended up with a lateral move from one of the best organizations in baseball to the absolute worst, you have to wonder if he was pushed. The Nats said all the right things, though, as class organizations do.

    Here’s what I know about Ryan Z: he told the Junkies about three weeks ago that his shoulder is basically bone-on-bone, and there’s not much anyone can do about it. The Nats still owe this man $92M (or 76 with a buyout of the last year) whether his arm falls off or not. So what do YOU do? If it’s me, I’m playing him at first base to try to keep him healthy and keep his bat in the lineup. I don’t care whether he can make throws from 3B in March in South Florida; I care about whether he can still play on South Capitol in late October. Hey, I agree that it would solve a lot of the positional issues if he could play 3B, but I fear that his next shoulder injury will put him out for more than a few months.

    I do agree that Rizzo likes to make the stealth trades and is always looking for a comparable but less-expensive alternative. Here’s another: thank God he didn’t sign B. J. Upton or Bourn and instead traded for Span!

    Donaldson made only $500K last year and won’t be a free agent until 2019. He’s the best bargain in baseball, although he’d cost a mint to pry loose.

    KW

    24 Oct 14 at 2:11 pm

  57. 500K! That’s Rey Lopez money 😉 Did not know that.

    OK, I am with you on his fitting the profile, then. The Nats do a mint to trade. That is my point.

    As for Zimm’s injury, bone on bone is not avascular necrosis. It’s just painful. In addition, bone on bone is a factor for him in the outfield, and there has been no discussion that he was limited to 1B only. As for waiting for the next injury, rehab is not to be confused with avoiding playing at all because the next injury will end a career. There is no career if he is fit to play and does not.

    This is not a concussion issue. Think about the NFL and how many players have to play with multiple knee reconstructions, like Willis McGahee. You sign a contract, you play.

    forensicane

    24 Oct 14 at 3:10 pm

  58. One can decry the “prefer the vets” mentality, but I’ll point out that:

    (a) except for Werth, who isn’t going anywhere, and ALR, Soriano and Hairston, who are all gone – the Nats’ vets aren’t old, or even particularly approaching old at this point. Span is 30, turns 31 in February, and will be gone next fall. Zimmerman just turned 30. Oh, OK, McLouth is 32 … is a bench guy at best and will be gone by next Fall. This isn’t a “riding the vets into the ground” team. If the vets are performing, there is no reason to replace them on the assumption that they are about to decline.

    and

    (b) “going with the kids” doesn’t always, or even generally, work. But look at Trout! Look at Bryce! one might say. Everyone sees the guys who take off. No one notices the ones who struggle. The Red Sox took a World Series winning team, churned the roster to play a bunch of prospects much more highly touted than Taylor and Souza (Jackie Bradley, Xander Bogaerts, Wil Middlebrooks). Yeah! What happened? First-to-Worst, 20 games under .500 and in last place. But they did save a lot of money and got a great draft pick slot, so there’s that. The Royals went through years of bringing up kids, playing them and watching them flop until the light finally went on this year. Alex Gordon was the #1 prospect in all of MiLB and varied between mediocre and awful his first four years. The Nats don’t have that kind of time.

    The Nats tend to most strongly to preferring the vets for bench roles. And that’s largely so their prospects get to play every day and further hone their skills. The balance comes when a regular is injured and a McLouth or Hairston or Frandsen starts to play more. Then it’s a balancing act.

    John C.

    24 Oct 14 at 5:19 pm

  59. The Nats don’t have much youth ready (Souza, and maybe a bullpen arm), so there are no concerns about a mass throwing out of the vets. But in general, the Bosox are a good example of a team that didn’t plan ahead for churn. They went for it in 2013, leaving a lot of guys to play out contracts. They got the championship, but they couldn’t come close to maintaining a competitive team.

    Also, good points on the struggles so many young players endure. Matt Williams should have a good understanding of this issue, as he was stuck around the Mendoza line for his first three seasons. But a team playing for championships can’t stick with struggling players for an extended period. The Nats didn’t wait long with Espinoza as the starter before trading for Cabrera.

    Will Souza get an everyday shot in 2015? Probably not, as the Nats are likely to renew Span. Taylor is on the horizon, but there are no middle IFs ready to compete now for 2B and probably no one to give them options at SS if Desmond leaves. (Hard to believe Difo will be ready by then to compete for an everyday job.) So the Nats are left to trade, or to overpay for marginal free agents. We’ll see.

    KW

    24 Oct 14 at 10:58 pm

  60. A closer study of Todd’s very interesting list leads me to wonder how much of the higher payroll on team’s rosters, like the Phillies, is devoted to long term contracts of decaying players.

    And, how many of those high contract players were injured. An investment may not work out if a player gets hurt, but that does not make payroll management imprudent.

    There has to be a way of drilling down into those numbers to more fully appreciate whether money does or does not buy love. Clearly injuries happen to even high priced players on low payroll teams.

    So what were the payrolls of the starting players, starting rotations and key bullpen? What is the spread between that figure and overall payroll?

    forensicane

    29 Oct 14 at 9:55 am

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