Nationals Arm Race

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

Keep Asdrubal Cabrera?


Who would you rather have? Photo AP via

Who would you rather have? Photo AP via

One thing that continually pops up in baseball analysis conversations is “the narrative.”  Today’s narrative to address: Asdrubal Cabrera is the solution for the Nat’s 2015 second base “problem.”

Here’s the 2014 stat lines for both Cabrera and Danny Espinosa:

Cabrera 2014 28 WSN NL 49 200 175 20 40 9 2 5 3 22 29 0.229 0.312 0.389 0.7 92
Espinosa 2014 27 WSN NL 114 364 333 31 73 14 3 8 8 18 122 0.219 0.283 0.351 0.634 74

Espinosa’s prolific strike-out rate drives down his OPS+ figure.  Otherwise, he’s basically a small step down from Cabrera’s performance on the season.  But we’re not exactly talking about world-changing offense from Cabrera at the plate: a .229 BA with a bit of power.

Here’s some more quickie stats that will illuminate things.  Lets talk about their defense.  If we’re saying that Cabrera was a superior defender, here’s the 2B-only defensive stats for both players (UZR/150 and total Zone via fangraphs, DRS via either site, FRAA via

Player UZR/150 at 2B DRS at 2B FRAA at 2B
Cabrera -5.3 -10 -2.2
Espinosa 4 -1 0.1

So, across the board Espinosa statistically was a better defender than Cabrera.  You can make the argument that Cabrera was playing out of position; I can make the argument that Espinosa’s full-season stats have been even better than this (he is an elite defender year over year).

Lastly; contract status:

Player 2014 Salary 2015 contract status
Cabrera $10M Free Agent, 10-12M/yr projected
Espinosa $540k 1st year of Arb, $1.5M projected

I dunno. If someone said that the team should go out of its way to ensure they have a switch-hitting, slick fielding second baseman who can hit .220 … I’d say to you, “we already have him.”  And he’s pretty cheap.   And under team control for 3 more years, for a combined salary that’ll be less than one year Cabrera will fetch on the open market.

In reality, with a weak SS free agent market, Cabrera is going to get over-paid by someone to go back to short, despite his saying publicly that he likes Washington and wants to stay, so maybe this is all moot.  I’m not necessarily saying that Espinosa is the solution at 2B either: I think the team has found its Jamie Carroll for the next 3 years; a guy who can play either middle-infield position off the bench who switch hits.  I’ve seen rumors that the Nats will go shopping on the FA market: of course, the available player list isn’t exactly inspiring.  I’ve seen other rumors that the Nats will work the trade market; that’s impossible to project or guess, but Texas’ glut of middle infielders does present an opportunity (they have Elvis Andrus ensconsed at short, Rougned Odor at second, but have uber-prospect Jurickson Profar ready to play as soon as he’s healthy).  Oh, they also have a huge corner infield problem coming too, with Adrian Beltre and Prince Fielder under contract for years to come but minor-league homer leading 3B Joey Gallo not really needing to prove much at AA any longer.  I like the trade matchup (NL East to AL West) but can the GMs come to an agreement on something?

Or maybe just maybe Espinosa gets talked into giving up hitting lefty (career slash line: .271/.343/.460 for a career .804 OPS figure, which by way of comparison is slightly better than the OPS figure that MVP candidate Josh Donaldson put up in 2014.

Yeah, I’d take that out of my #8 hitter, while putting up good defense at 2nd and proving injury-coverage at short.

14 Responses to 'Keep Asdrubal Cabrera?'

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  1. I think the trade route is a good idea for filling the position. As was stated by others in an earlier thread, trading Gio (and Storen) could return some real value. The problem with trading Gio is that they’re likely losing two more starting pitchers next offseason—Z’mann and Fister—leaving just Stras and Roark from this year’s team. I’d love to prioritize re-signing Jordan, but I’m not optimistic. The most troubling development of last season was that the Indians paid the balance of Cabrera’s 2014 salary ($3m), which strongly suggests that ownership has reached its payroll ceiling, and it’s a hard ceiling. If so, this will make it increasingly difficult to re-sign key players as their contracts come up, and free agents would be out of the question. That makes trading Gio unlikely, because he’s under team control at a manageable cost.


    14 Oct 14 at 3:06 pm

  2. I think trading Gio is a) the worst trade candidate of any of our pending FAs right now thanks to his performance this year and b) a really dumb idea because of the contract he’s on. You move Zimmermann because he’s going to get paid a ton next year and will be unsignable so get something for him now. Or you trade Fister for similar reasons.

    Interesting point about Cabrera’s salary vis a vis a theoretical payroll cap.

    Todd Boss

    14 Oct 14 at 3:48 pm

  3. I thought AssCab was a nice pickup and added value for the Nats. I wouldn’t mind mind him at 2b for purely baseball reasons, but he isn’t worth $10m, and even though I think he is more likely to get $7-8m per, I don’t think he’s worth that either.

    I think they find someone on the trade market, and keep Espy as a utility guy. I don’t know who they will trade but I expect some big moves this winter.


    14 Oct 14 at 9:26 pm

  4. I agree with Todd that Espinosa easily makes the team as a backup. I also agree that Cabrera is likely too expensive an option, although I think that Todd downplays the offensive difference between them in that Cabrera will not only hit a bit better for contact, he will also take more walks and drive the ball better (wRC+ of 97, versus 75 for Espinosa). Overall Cabrera is an upgrade (1.8 fWAR in 146 games vs. 0.6 fWAR in 114 games). But likely not enough of an upgrade to justify the expense. If the market comes back to the Nats, sure. But they can’t count on that going into the offseason.

    Espinosa giving up switch-hitting is mildly intriguing, but would require one helluvan adjustment for him if it works at all. The team can keep that possibility in its pocket by penciling him in as a bench guy while seeing how it works out – but it would be hubris to go into a season with that as Plan A.

    So I agree a trade is the most likely solution. I would hesitate to trade either Zimmermann or Fister even if one or both doesn’t sign because I don’t want to weaken the 2015 team at all. The Nats have a good roster, but the NL East is almost certain to improve next season, to say nothing of the possibility of injuries/ineffectiveness. But if they could get a middle infielder that would be a solid upgrade over Cabrera I’d bite the bullet and do it. The question is whether a “rental player” is enough to get that done. The Nats might be better off trading from farther down in the system (one of the AAA pitchers not named Cole together with Drew Ward and another mid-level prospect) to get such a player.

    John C.

    15 Oct 14 at 10:00 am

  5. This is an important discussion because this is the one slot where the Nats could make a play to significantly improve their offense. With Rendon’s flexibility, it could either be at 2B or 3B.

    First of all, as much as we’ve drooled over the thought of Josh Donaldson, Beane would have to be nuts to part with him, wouldn’t he? The Nats could put together an attractive package, though – Souza, Moore, Det, Jordan, and Hill – although whether that type of group would be enough, I don’t know. At this point, there’s no reason to even think about dipping into the core unless the return is astounding, and there’s not much astounding out there. (Something like JZim and Harper for Trout, which would be borderline ridiculous to discuss.)

    At any rate, if I’m Rizzo, Donaldson is #1 on my list. My #2 is Zobrist, although he’s tricky since he’d have to be re-signed. But the Nats did a deal with the Rays last year, so they’ll at least talk. He might also come at a discount since he’s a short-timer. A significant plus for Zobrist is that he’s a switch-hitter and could provide a much-needed LH bat.

    There are also some free agents out there. Panda’s playoff performances make him intriguing, but I can’t think his body type is going to age well. He’s only a 3.0 fWAR and limited defensively, so not a good plan over 162. Headley will cost too much for someone with a disturbing recent offensive decline. Hanley Ramirez has strong offensive numbers, but he’s not worth $16M (and a draft pick) to the Nats and hasn’t been able to stay healthy.

    Todd also points out the truckload of trade prospects that the Rangers have. Beltre would be the best ready-now bat among them, but he’s old and expensive. He was, however, #3 in fWAR among 3Bs behind Rendon and Donaldson.

    I’m not sure which way I would look, but nearly all of these are better options than paying Cabrera $10M per for four or five years. The Nats might get him at a discount from that, but in doing so, they would be missing an opportunity to add a significant bat.

    And no, there’s no way to count on Espinoza as a regular option. Bench, yes; every day, no. Perhaps he becomes a RH-only miracle, but we can’t count on that while trying to outfit a top contender.

    So . . . Det and Hill for Beltre and cash for a third of his salary?


    15 Oct 14 at 8:59 pm

  6. Wow, Trout for Harper+JZimmermann right now. That consideration gave me pause.

    – Trout is inarguably best player in the game, plays a premium defensive position, and is under control for 6 years at $144.5M.
    – Zimmermann has elevated to near Ace status in league (top 15-20 arms) and is under control for one more year at $16.5M and then he likely departs.
    – Harper makes $2.25M next year, then has three arb years so he’s under control for 4 for something right around $40M for all those arb cases (logic: assuming he’s a $25M/year FA that’s 40% in arb year2 of $25M or $10M, then 15M then 20M in subsequent arb years).

    So if you’re the Angels you give up the best player in the game but get back an ace for one year and a very good/potentially awesome player for four more years with a ton of payroll relief ($90M or so).

    Nah; that’s not enough for Trout. Angels don’t care about money; they care about winning. I think you’d have to sweeten the deal with a couple more longer term elite prospects for after Zimmermann departs.

    Donaldson availability: Beane would be nuts to let him go. But Beane also jacked up payroll, blew $10M on a useless closer and may be completely cash strapped for next year. He may not have a choice but to deal a premium arb-eligible player and get something back.


    3B FA options instead of 2B: intriguing. Chase Headley has been mentioned by other pundits but I agree with Ken; one big season plus a bunch of mediocre ones.

    Beltre; old yes. But aging pretty well; still hits, still defends well. But if i’m getting a 35yr old i might as well get LaRoche back. I don’t think Detwiler and Hill would be enough. Rangers would want something of value, not a guy we’re thinking of DFAing and a 5th starter.

    Todd Boss

    17 Oct 14 at 8:36 am

  7. The Angels desperately need pitching. The Nats need a hitting upgrade. That was the inspiration for the Trout phishing idea. It never hurts to ask, right? Trout gets to the East Coast, Harper goes to Hollywood (or at least Anaheim), and the Nats get something for JZim before he walks. Yes, I agree it would probably take more than that to get the deal done, but if the Nats also threw in Det and either Hill or Treinin, the Angels could completely rebuild their staff and cut their budget while only taking a slight hit on the offensive front.

    Would I do it, from the Nats’ perspective? I don’t know. There’s certainly the temptation to keep the whole five-arm posse together for one more ride, even with the threat of losing JZim and Fister, *IF* everyone thinks the Nats are really close to getting over the top. Are they?

    Plus ESPN should be willing to chip in at least $20M to get this deal done for all the mileage it would get out of it, right?

    Getting back to reality, I wouldn’t give up that much to get Beltre. The Rangers need to clear spots for their kids, they need pitching, Beltre has a big contract, he’s old, and he’s not signed for long. He’s really only a good deal for the Nats if they can get him for crumbs. Donaldson, however, would be worth giving up a lot more.

    Of the FAs, I’m sort of intrigued by Hanley, even though he would be expensive. He would also give cover if the Nats can’t re-sign Desmond. Not saying I would do it, just that I’m intrigued and would at least ask the price. He hasn’t been able to stay healthy recently, and we shouldn’t pay him as an SS if that’s not where he is going to play.


    17 Oct 14 at 1:02 pm

  8. Trout on the east coast would have already won two MVPs and would be unanimous for his third.

    Angels do need pitching. But at the cost of their best player? Man, that’s a tough one. May be moot; he has no-trade in his new deal.

    Todd Boss

    17 Oct 14 at 2:24 pm

  9. Don’t you think he’d waive the no-trade to get to a place where he could win those MVPs, and be closer to home? He’d still be with a top contender as well, and he could be on the early SportsCenter every night, substantially increasing his endorsement opportunities.

    I know it’s not going to happen, but it’s fun to dream, isn’t it? I’d settle for the dream of Harper becoming the near-Trout that everyone wants him to be.


    17 Oct 14 at 3:11 pm

  10. Kilgore’s list of potential IF targets is decidedly less inspiring than ours:

    I may do a Harper and try to break a bat over my head if they sign Stephen Drew. In fact, Espinoza seems a better option than most of the guys mentioned, which I never thought I’d say! How’s that work going on the RH-only thing, Danny?


    17 Oct 14 at 3:51 pm

  11. No Cabrera resign.

    Can’t see a trade for Donaldson either with payroll ceilings and moneys being allocated for long term contracts. He is at peak value.

    I’ll get hooted down, but i still think Zimm is being considered for 3b and until his ability is ruled out, this acquisition is unclear.

    Timing is key. I think the early off season, pre-winter meetings, is all about ascertaining whether Zimm, Fister, and or Desi can and will be resigned. These chips have nothing to do with uncontrolled elements (injury rehab) but everything to do with positional flexibility and long term planning. The organization has to come into this off season thinking long term planning, and that includes the players they add. To me, I can’t see them bringing in anyone that is a couple of years or less from free agency.

    I value the trade chips they have more than I see from others, here, though. They have the depth to go out and get anybody.


    17 Oct 14 at 4:05 pm

  12. If Zimmerman’s shoulder goes, then he can’t hit, either. He’s *got* to play first to preserve the shoulder, and the six-year investment. I will be shocked if he doesn’t. That’s not even considering his defensive struggles at third.

    We’ll probably have more chances to debate whether to re-sign JZim, Fister, and Desmond. My concern with those contracts will be years more than money, although I could see JZim pricing himself out of town. At the least, I think he would want a premium to sign early and not go on the market. The other huge factor in these negotiations will be the MASN money. That silliness has to get settled.

    I do value prospects and at times am frustrated that there aren’t opportunities for guys like Souza who seem to have earned a shot. That said, I value a certain level of prospect. Like it or not, the Nats have reached the point where you have to be near-All-Star caliber to play for them. On this post, we’re basically saying that Cabrera, a two-time All-Star, isn’t good enough. So the eye of the needle for the Nats is tight. I don’t think Hill is good enough, and Moore probably isn’t. But they’d have good value for other teams, so get something for them and let them thrive elsewhere. I’m still on the fence on Taylor Jordan and Treinen. Taylor looks like he probably will be good enough, but he isn’t ready yet. Plus Harper and Werth will be tying down two OF spots for the foreseeable future. Cole may be good enough to make the MLB rotation by 2016, but there’s “good enough” and then there’s “replacing Jordan Zimmermann.”

    With internal talent, you’ve got to know what you’ve got, be brutally honest about the potential, and stay ahead of the curve in moving guys who don’t fit your club. Alex Meyer seems like a good example of the Nats getting it right, and they got decent value for Nate Karns. Corey Brown and Chris Marrero are ones they should have moved when they had a chance. I fear they’ve waited too long on Tyler Moore, and perhaps on Brian Goodwin, who just a couple of years ago was ranked on par with Rendon. Souza and Roark are classic examples of late bloomers, though.


    17 Oct 14 at 10:45 pm

  13. I have the solution guys!

    – Exercise Span’s option. there’s CF locked up.
    – Exercise LaRoche’s option. there’s 1B locked up.
    – Put Zimmerman at 3B. I’m sure he’ll be ok next year! After all, we were fed months of BS all last off-season about how he was going to be 100% by spring training…. and then opening day .. and then June 1.
    – Put Rendon back at 2B; he looks good there!
    – Espinosa as your backup.

    It’ll be like a bad buddy-movie; “We’re getting the band back together!”

    Todd Boss

    20 Oct 14 at 1:51 pm

  14. Perhaps we can also keep Bryce at the 6 hole and count on MW giving some ABs to the young guys like Souza and Moore.

    I also think our relievers should only be allowed to come into the beginnings of innings.

    Andrew R

    20 Oct 14 at 4:19 pm

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