Nationals Arm Race

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

Wagner’s Q&A: how I’d have answered the questions he took

36 comments

Zimmermann's status is on everyone's mind.  Photo Unk.

Zimmermann’s status is on everyone’s mind. Photo Unk.

I used to love answering the questions that MLB.com beat writer Bill Ladson would post.  But Ladson hasn’t done such a column in months, and the other outlet for such a post (Tom Boswell) usually is populated with too many non-baseball questions to be worth addressing.  So today WP beat reporter James Wagner took a crack at a Q&A session and I thought it’d be fun to do a version of his Q& (my) A.

As with previous posts, I write my response before reading his and edit the questions for clarity/conciseness.

Q: What was the Nats’ final record against winning teams & how did it compare to the other playoff teams?

A: Wagner summarized the answer well; the Nats ended up 23-23 against winning teams.  To show you how useless this stat is in predicting the playoffs, the team with the best record (the Orioles) was swept and the WS matchup features the Giants, who had a losing record against winning teams.  Once again we learn that the post-season is about getting hot (or in the Nat’s case, disappearing) at the right time.  Wagner did the same analysis.

Q: Will the Nats turn to Tyler Clippard as the 2015 closer?

A: Doubtful.  Despite Drew Storen‘s second playoff meltdown, he’s likely the closer in 2015 on the strength of his excellent 2014 season.  Tyler Clippard‘s of more use in generally higher-leverage 8th inning situations, and likely continues in that role.  This has to be a bummer for Clippard, who enters his last arbitration argument without the benefit of the lucrative saves, but who is also just as likely to cash in when he hits free agency with a team looking for a reasonably priced closer.  I’ll bet he can get a 3yr/$24M deal as someone’s closer.  He is a fly-ball guy (not optimal as a 9th inning solution) but fly-ball pitchers definitely play well in pitcher parks.  He’d make an excellent closer for most any team on the west coast.  Wagner agrees.

Q: Why not keep both LaRoche and Zimmerman and platoon them at first base?

A: Because that’s an awful lot of payroll to dedicate to a platoon.  LaRoche likely gets $15M/year, Zimmerman is set to earn $14M next year.  Both are middle-of-the-order bats who need to play every day.  Unfortunately we don’t have a DH, else you’d re-sign LaRoche immediately and they’d split time at 1B/DH like most every other DH in the AL.  LaRoche is getting one last crack at free agency and could get another 2 year deal (rumors have him as a great fit in Milwaukee).  I think sticking Zimmerman at 1B makes the most sense considering the description of his shoulder at this point (he used the phrase “bone on bone” to describe the state of his arm at this point).  In fact, I think Zimmerman makes a great first baseman, immediately becomes a Gold Glove candidate, and (hopefully) stays healthy.  Wagner makes the same points.

Q: How about Steven Souza as our 2B solution?

A: Souza started his pro career as a third baseman … and was moved to the outfield by the time he was 22.  I’m guessing there’s a reason for that.  I don’t see him coming back to the infield, either at 3b or 2B.  He’s way too big to play second base effectively (he’s 6’4″ 225); if I was forced to play him in the infield, i’d suffer with him at 3B and stick Rendon back at second.  But that’d be a waste of Rendon’s defensive talents at the hot corner; we’re much better off installing him at his natural position and finding another 2B alternative.  None of this really talks about what the team *should* do with Souza; he’s more or less blocked for 2015 (as we’ve discussed to death) but has nothing left to prove in AAA.  His best case scenario is an injury in the Nats 2015 outfield, which gives him playing time.  Wagner  points out Souza’s poor defensive record in his time at third.

Q: Should we care about the MASN outcome?

A: Uh, yes.  The Nats could easily expand payroll with a decision and a guaranteed income stream, and we’d not be hearing about how they “have to” let some of their core players walk because they can’t afford them.  The MASN issue has gone on way too long, and it seems like it is getting ready to affect both the Nats and the Oriole’s business operations soon.  Wagner agrees.

Q: Do players and broadcasters read blogs and the press?

A: I hope not.  We’re not professionals; we don’t have day in-day out access, intimate knowledge of the team’s comings and goings, nor insight into reasons that may be behind a player’s cold streak (does he have the flu?  Is he nursing a slight sprain that nobody knows about?)  I don’t think any good comes of professional players reading about themselves.  If a player called out something I wrote derogatory i’d probably profusely apologize and retract it.  Wagner says players sometimes read about themselves in the press … but that if they don’t, they’re likely to hear about it from family/friends/agents anyway.

Q: Which of the bench players (Frandsen, Hairston, Schierholz, McLouth) will be back and who will most likely leave?

A: Well, McLouth is still under contract for 2015, so he’ll at least start the  year with the team (whether he finishes depends on whether he can regain some value).  I’d guess that the other three are gone.  None of the three hit particularly well for us, and all three are replaceable by internal promising candidates.  Frandsen probably has the best chance of sticking around since he’ll be so cheap (he made $900k last year and is arb-eligible); he’ll be an interesting tender-deadline candidate.

Your 5-man bench needs a catcher (Lobaton), a guy who can play both 2b and SS (Espinosa, if he’s not the 2B starter), an outfielder who can cover center (McLouth), a utility guy who can play multiple positions (Frandsen fits  here), and then a big bopper who can pinch hit.  This last spot has been held by the likes of Tyler Moore, Chad Tracy, Matt Stairs, Jonny Gomes in the past few years.  In 2015 it makes more sense to have Souza in this spot.  Only problem is that it helps if this last bench spot is a lefty.  We’ll see how the transactions play out this off-season.

Q: If you must chose between Zimmermann and Desmond, whom do you chose?

A: Desmond.  Harder position to fill, less in the minor league pipeline, probably cheaper too thanks to Desmond’s sub-par (for him) 2014 season.  Zimmermann seems likely to earn nearly $20M/year at this point, which is going to be too rich for this team, and there’s ready-made replacements in the upper minors (A.J. Cole, Blake Treinen, Taylor Jordan) ready to step in immediately after he departs.  A better question might be this: do the Nats flip Zimmermann this off-season for something better than a compensation pick, admitting to themselves they won’t be able to extend him?  It makes 2015 team weaker obviously, but also could ease the transition to the next “phase” of this team that starts in 2016-2017.  Wagner agrees, but also mentions that Doug Fister plays into this decision too.

Q: If the Nats make it back to the postseason next year, can you envision them carrying a speed first guy like Rafael Batista or Wilmer Difo on their roster a la the Kansas City Royals?

A: No.  Williams is old-school and made it pretty clear that he was managing  his post-season team the same way he managed his regular-season team.  For better or worse.  The makeup of this team isn’t the same as the Royals, who have focused on speed, defense and bullpen strength to power their way through the post-season.  The Nats are a starter-first, adequate but fragile offense second.  Wagner isn’t as dismissive as I am.

Q: Why not find a FA third baseman and move Rendon to second?

A: A completely logical idea that we’ve talked to death.  Definitely on the table.  Wagner puts out some names that likely are going to be too expensive for the Nats to really consider.

Q: If the Nats offered Zimmermann a big extension and he declined it, could you see the Nats trading him?

A: If I were the GM, I’d consider it yeah.  You take a step back in 2015 to set yourself up for 2016 and 2017 with the right deal.  Maybe you flip Zimmermann for the 2b/3b player you need and a prospect or two further away, save some payroll and provide more continuity.  My reading the tea leaves though?  I don’t see this team doing it; they’ll “keep the band together” for one more run with this crew in 2015, and then make adjustments for 2016 depending on who they can sign and who walks.  Wagner thinks its possible, but also cautions that the 2015 salary ($16.5M) and just one year of control will limit what the Nats get back.  A very fair point.

36 Responses to 'Wagner’s Q&A: how I’d have answered the questions he took'

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  1. FWIW, Boswell’s chats have had a lot more baseball questions in them than any other types the last few chats. Even this week, the day after the local NFL team had an OT win against a first-place hated rival on the road for their second straight win (first “winning streak” since 2012, blech) there were a dozen baseball questions, about evenly split between the World Series and the Nationals. For example, go back and read last week’s Boswell chat. The baseball questions/comments far outnumber the football ones, and most of the baseball questions are about the Nats, including:

    (1) Who would you rather sign if you could only sign one of each? Zimmermann or Strasburg? Harper or Rendon?
    (2) What are the odds the Nats’ Opening Day starter at 2B is not currently under contract to the team?
    (3) Suppose over a two year window you only had enough budget to sign two among these four players: Ian Desmond, Doug Fister, Jordan Zimmermann and Astrubal Cabrera. You also couldn’t afford both of the two most expensive (Desi and Zmann). So who would you sign?
    (4) The Beast is going to the World Series, and he’s getting a lot of love from Washington fans, who have not forgotten him even after two years. Do you think he’s the most missed of all the former Nationals? Should we have kept the man who hit the home run that tied Game 5? We could have used his bat against the Giants! Another ex-National will be in the WS: the Royals’ Josh Willingham. I have seen no one (except me) mention him, however! I wonder why.
    (5) (a two part question about Game 4) (a) Why didn’t Williams use Strasburg to finish the game after Gio was done? I have heard him give non answers like ‘because he was the last resort option,’ which still begs the question of ‘why was he only the last resort option?’ Do you think Stras indicated he wasn’t comfortable on three-days rest, or was it solely Williams’ call? (b) Why isn’t Williams taking more heat about this decision? Everyone talks about Barrett, which had obvious issues, but this was the bigger one, in my mind.
    (6) Why can’t Danny Espinosa just hit from the right side? Hitting from the left doesn’t seem to be working for him.
    (7) I’m a disappointed Nats fan who’s having a hard time caring about the World Series. Help me care. What’s going to make it interesting?
    (8) Is it plausible that the Nats next three years will be better than their last three?
    (9) Harper to RF and Werth to LF? What do you think about switching Harper and Werth? I think Harper has the stronger arm at this point and could also get to more balls to hold other teams to getting to second following a hit with a runner on first base. Agree?

    There were also a few more general baseball/WS questions, and a couple of comments that weren’t really questions (one about the Nats’ organizational philosophy of focusing on pitching, and one commenter who really thinks the town is changing away from football to baseball). While I think that the questions on Boswell’s chats will become more even as we move into the offseason, they still could be fertile ground for some response posts.

    John C.

    29 Oct 14 at 1:07 am

  2. Desi v JZ? Well, it depends on the contract, of course. But I think JZ produces more value over the next 5-6 years. I love Desi and think he’ll stay the same valuable player for the next 2-3 years, but he seems like a guy that will fall fast, once his decline starts. And since his value is tied up in power and D, that decline could start earlier than we expect. I don’t think I’d want to be locked I to him for $15+m per for his age 33 and beyond seasons. Whereas, barring injury, I can see JZ still being effective, if not as dominant, as his velo starts to lose 1-2 mph in his mid thirties. Of course, that whole ‘barring injury’ thing ….

    Wally

    29 Oct 14 at 7:49 am

  3. John: sounds good, I’ll re-visit. After a very busy period at the gig, i’m at somewhat of a lull waiting for another event.

    Todd Boss

    29 Oct 14 at 8:26 am

  4. The thing that has always worried me about Desmond free agency is Elvis Andrus. I’ve written about it before (this post from April 2013). Andrus signed for 8/$120M. And you will have a hard time convincing me that Desmond is any less of a player when discussing both sides of the ball. Andrus may be better defensively, but Desmond is clearly better offensively.

    I think i generally agree with the masses: its easier to backfill a starter than a shortstop.

    Todd Boss

    29 Oct 14 at 8:31 am

  5. I don’t see this as an either/or paradigm of Desi vs. Zimm. I see it as a ceiling of payroll commitment until the team a) resolves MASN or b) wins a WS.

    But I also don’t see this as even an issue of what the team can afford, but rather, whether the players want to sign an agreement or test an open market.

    To that end, there are many expensive chips being cleared from payroll that go into payroll decisions. Soriano is gone, LaRoche is gone, and that clears A LOT of payroll. Span may be gone after this or next year, Clippard may be gone after this or next year. That’s more substantial coin. Werth is gone after 2017, so long term commitments have to factor that in as well. Perhaps Gio will be gone by then as well. That gives the team a lot more flexibility than we are acknowledging here, even with Ryan Zimm’s contract.

    I think replaceability is going to have more to do with these decisions than sheer dollars. I think Desi is going to resign, and so they will resign him. As for the pitchers, we know about the stocks on the minor leagues, just as we know how valuable Fister and Zimmerman are to a championship rotation.

    So it’s a matter of who will WANT to negotiate an agreement with the Nats. If any of the three pitchers we’ve discussed (Strasburg, Fister, and Zimm) WANT to hit free agency, as agents are pressuring players to do, the Nats won’t be able to sign them except by overpaying (which they won’t do because the replacements are there).

    I would not be surprised if the Nats have already hired their exec, and are not announcing this until after the WS. And if that is already done, I would not be surprised to see that the Nats are already negotiating with Zimm and Fister’s agents.

    If the players WON’T come back, then the trading issues are as they are, the team knows it early, and better that be certain before the GM meetings in which many of the hot stove groundwork gets laid.

    Thus far, the star of the fall is not Tony Renda OR Kieboom. It’s Tyler Moore! So great to see him getting his AB in and power groove back. It improves his stock, if that is possible, as has the oft-marginalized Renda.

    forensicane

    29 Oct 14 at 9:48 am

  6. Forensicane: no argument there; the way the question was phrased required an either/or answer.

    I’m working on the 2015 options worksheet and am seeing some interesting information. I may put up a “roster crunch” post soon, because Ohlendorf’s outright today illustrates one of several moves the team needs to make to help clear room for roster protection for coming rule-5 eligibles.

    Todd Boss

    29 Oct 14 at 10:08 am

  7. Forensicane, there really isn’t payroll coming off the books in total. There are big raises to JZimm, Des, Span, Thornton (kind of) and the arb guys that more than compensates for ALR and Soriano. Plus we still need a 2B.

    Payroll is going to be a big issue this offseason – I’m convinced the Nats dump one of their higher salaries (Span, Clip, JZimm, Des, etc) to make a little room and to prepare for signing some l/t deals.

    Andrew R

    29 Oct 14 at 11:08 am

  8. Andrew, that is a good point (about raises due Zimm/and actually Werth).

    With that said, I still think it comes down to whether these players want to resign or test the market or take a premium for not testing the market. I’ll let Todd crunch all the numbers as he does so well.

    But I also think that if Desi and Zimm and Fister want to get a “fair” deal done here, the team will make other sacrifices to make it happen. That includes losing Clippard or Storen, Detwiler, Gio, and Span. Desi/Zimm/Fister are that much a premium for a championship club and not replaceable as are the others. I think Thornton may be worth keeping as well, given the chronic team need he filled.

    IF the team feels they need to acquire an everyday infielder to accommodate Zimmerman’s 3B limitations, it will not be a high priced player. This team will make a Gio Gonzalez type trade of prospects to get young, controllable, affordable. I don’t see eight digit (10m plus) salaries coming in IF we are at a place where people like Clipp and Span have to go.

    forensicane

    29 Oct 14 at 12:22 pm

  9. Todd, I hear ya. I was just responding to the either/or thinking which is being fueled in the press. I experience it as a different paradigm that is actually player and agent-driven.

    It’s one thing for a player to seek a contract that is “no hometown discount.” It is another thing for him to be gunning for free agency to max out.

    If that is the case, I like the idea of the Nats partnering up with the Cubbies or even the White Sox. Zimmerman, of Wisconsin, would be essentially a hometown acquisition for them and Chicago teams might bid aggressively in the trade market. Rizzo knows this well already.

    The reality of Zimm is that there is no rotation in baseball for which he would not be an instant meaningful upgrade. There may be other intangible reasons for teams to target him, just as the Nats once targeted Werth. His upward star power works against the Nats in contract negotiation and for them in trade negotiation.

    Same with Strasburg and SD-Anaheim.

    Just sayin’

    forensicane

    29 Oct 14 at 12:30 pm

  10. Forensicane, I’m with you on Stras/JZimm. I may be Mr. Pessimist, but I don’t see a scenario where we keep either guy. I think we can keep Fister and Desmond, but I think the other two will want to max out and/or play near their hometowns.

    Andrew R

    29 Oct 14 at 12:33 pm

  11. Strasburg to San Diego: I just read a story that talked about how the Padres never sign long FA deals. Per this link, their biggest FA contract in their entire franchise history was Jake Peavy’s 3yr/$52M deal after his Cy Young season in 2007. Thats it.

    Strasburg’s eventual FA contract may come close to tripling that deal. I don’t think he’s going to San Diego. The profligate Dodgers seem like a better destination, where he could be part of one of the most sickening rotations in history.

    Shedding payroll; I saw an interesting analysis at the beginning of the year showing that the Nats were paying either the most or the 2nd most for their bullpen in the entire league in 2014. Now, they did get what they paid for … but you can do a lot better for less. Losing Soriano’s payroll will help, but I’m also on board with moving Clippard or Storen to a team in need of a closer and getting some rebuilding pieces in return. Storen will return more: less payroll, more control. But … if we get rid of two of our three “closer quality” guys … who steps up? Treinen as a late-inning reliever? The two best relievers at AAA were Grace and Martin; one profiles more like a loogy, the other a 30-year baseball vagabond who i know Forensicane loves … but something just gives me pause with assuming he suddenly is a MLB-quality shutdown reliever after all these years.

    Todd Boss

    29 Oct 14 at 1:17 pm

  12. Great point on the pen – I believe we were 2nd to the Dodgers. Bullpens are such a crapshoot that it seems illogical to spend too much there.

    If we were the Cardinals, I imagine AJ Cole would be considered a likely setup man this year along with Treinan (maybe even Giolito). I love how they work their top pitching prospects in the pen until a rotation spot opens. Between Storen or Clip, Barrett, Treinan, Cole, Thornton, Blevins, Det and the Milb guys like Martin, Grace, Holland, Self, and others, we have plenty of arms.

    Andrew R

    29 Oct 14 at 2:01 pm

  13. Well, not that I love Martin — I’ve never seen him pitch! Only that I’ve researched him enough to see that his pitching arsenal took a big step forward this year and that his success in AA-AAA was no fluke. So I’d like him to get a shot at the roster, CGarcia style.

    Treinen has more bonafides based on a small ML sample.

    Even then, and I know some will howl, I am not so sure that Barrett would not develop into a closer-apparent. Wild he was – HRod he is not.

    Grace and Holland have been meh this fall. Self has been pretty adequate. Stammen is still around and so is everyone’s designated castoff, Mattheus.

    Clippard’s an all-star. He’d fetch a lot. But he is still worth a lot to this team. More than Det. Maybe more than Storen. But I don’t know that his value could get any higher than it is.

    forensicane

    29 Oct 14 at 2:58 pm

  14. Does anyone ever think about rosters just in terms of watchability? Its silly, but every once in a while I try to put aside contracts, payrolls, agent bias, all that stuff, – all the real stuff, and just ask myself who is the most watchable. Meaning, literally, which players do I prefer to watch play, and which ones am I tired of watching. I don’t even really get caught up in roster construction issues, like what makes the best team.

    For pitchers, I like watching JZimm and Fister; don’t enjoy watching Gio and Roark. Not sure why. Stras is polarizing. Really enjoy how the stuff plays, but find, like many, the occasional blow ups are difficult to stomach. I also like watching Treinin. In the pen, it is mainly Storen. Clip I find frustrating somehow; and I couldn’t take watching Soriano. Blevins is kind of interesting, he’s like a large wading bird out there. Everyone else was meh. Barrett was interesting until … you know. Now I worry about how hard he is squeezing the ball.

    As for the lineup, Harper and Rendon clearly are the most enjoyable to me. Intrigued by Souza and, believe it or not, I like watching Espy, because of his play in the field. Desi is kind of mixed. When he is going bad at the plate, phew that’s ugly. And I can never quite let go of the ’34-error-Desi’, so I tend to involuntarily flinch on routine grounders. I am kind of tired of the rest: ALR, Werth, Span, even Zim, to be honest.

    So this means nothing, just a rainy October day with no Nats baseball.

    Wally

    29 Oct 14 at 3:18 pm

  15. Next two posts are about options and payroll. Perhaps in the reverse order; both are very, very telling as to what may happen next year.

    Todd Boss

    29 Oct 14 at 3:25 pm

  16. I like the “watch ability” factor to discuss. I’m always amazed at Roark’s ability to consistently work in and out w/o overpowering stuff. Clippard drove me crazy this year.

    Harper’s ABs have always been stop and watch. Rendon is such a consistent patient hitter, he’s good to watch. Souza too; his ABs, his bat speed, just amazing.

    Todd Boss

    29 Oct 14 at 3:31 pm

  17. The worst thing an organization (sports or otherwise) can do is make changes just for the sake of change. The second worst is to not keep evolving and improving, which generally involves change. So it’s a fine line.

    Related to this second deadly sin is the temptation of sports teams to think that they’re close to a championship when they’re not, and either A) essentially stand pat, or B) acquire a luxury item under the misapprehension that it’s the missing piece (we’ll call this one the Soriano Syndrome).

    As we’ve discussed a bit before, and Todd seems ready to detail, a lot will hit the fan after next season, with contracts up for Zimmermann, Desmond, Fister, Clippard, Thornton, Span, McLouth, and maybe others. That’s two of the regular eight, two of the top three starters, and two of the top three or four relievers. Some would say that the risky approach would be to mess with a good thing, but that only holds true for 2015. The riskier approach for the longer term would be to not go on and start some of the transition.

    But getting back to my original point, before you make changes, you should determine needs/weaknesses and not just do some random adjustments. I’ve felt for a couple of years that the Nats needed another impact bat. Unless they trade a core piece, the only place to interject that right now would be 2B or 3B. Another way would be to renew and trade Span and give Souza a shot in the OF. If he clicks, he adds significant power to the offense. If he doesn’t, well, he doesn’t. But if you’re not going to play Souza, perhaps he becomes a core piece of a trade for Zobrist (who would add to the glut of contracts expiring next year) or Donaldson. Those are significant impact upgrades. If you’re not going to go after someone of that level, then Espinoza is better than wasting $7-10M on someone who may be barely replacement-level.

    After bats for the immediate future, the next question would seem to be starting pitching for 2016 and beyond. Do you consider Fister a bargain, or would money spent on him limit what you could spend on Zimmermann or Strasburg? I don’t think there’s any way they re-sign both Zmnn and Stras. That would be around $50M or so – a third of the budget – tied up with two guys for six or seven seasons. Would it be worth it to invest $35-38M per on Zmnn and Fister? Would they sign? As Todd has perpetually noted, Zmnn seems intent on playing out his option and seeing what he’s worth on the open market.

    It would be hard to let Zimmermann and Strasburg play out the string and just walk away, with the organization left with nothing but draft picks in return. Therefore, you have to think seriously about trading them. I’d rather keep them out of the hands of the Dodgers (and out of the NL if possible), so I’d be talking with the Angels, Red Sox, and Yankees, the big-money teams that could afford to extend them. But the Nats don’t need prospects in return. They need guys who can contribute at a high level right now. (Zmnn, Stras, Clip, and Span for Trout? Hey, I can dream, can’t I?!) Seriously, though, there aren’t many players out there who would be legit returns for Stras and Zmnn, even with them on short contracts.

    I don’t know. My gut feeling is that the Nats will mostly stay the course through 2015. My concern is that it won’t be enough, and that doing so will hamstring them for the future.

    KW

    29 Oct 14 at 10:30 pm

  18. The Nats can certainly use prospects when guys like Souza, Cole, and Treinan are ready to contribute. Skole and Taylor aren’t far behind. We can man the 25 man roster with what we have and maybe a Zobrist/rental type and then trade for a guy like Addison Russell, Javier Baez, Jurickson Profar, or someone else that is close to ready to play, or even a year or two away. Better than letting JZimm and Stras walk for nothing, as I believe they will.

    Andrew R

    29 Oct 14 at 10:48 pm

  19. I would not describe JZ as determined to hit the open market. I would describe him as determined not to give the Lerners a deal below his market value. I like Rizzo, but by all appearances, he misread where contracts where going the last few off seasons. If he had offered 5/$110m to JZ last year instead of 5/$85m, I think he would happily have signed, and we would be very happy now with that deal. You can say similar things for Desi. The problem is that the market for JZ may be the Greinke contract. I still think they can do that, but of course, without other concessions, would present some payroll issues that have been well discussed here.
    There clearly was a failure by management over the last few offseason to correctly anticipate where salaries for some of their guys were going. They tried to get cheap deals done and the players refused, and I can hardly blame them for looking for a market deal. Feels un-American, doesn’t it? The more I think about this offseason, I agree with the thinking that perhaps Minniti’s departure is connected to the failure to have these situations resolved. Whether Rizzo blames him and forced him out, or he got frustrated that the team wouldn’t listen to him on what it would take to keep these players, I don’t know, but I see it as connected.

    Wally

    30 Oct 14 at 8:12 am

  20. Zimmermann’s contract: I see a lot of pundits pointing at the Homer Bailey deal (6yrs $105M with a mutual option). Bailey’s deal was also heavily backloaded (years went 9,10,18,19,21,23 with a 25m option), which you’d have to think will make him almost unmoveable later in the deal.

    Do we think Zimmermann is a better pitcher than Homer frigging Bailey? Uh yeah; Bailey’s got a career 58-50 record and a sub 100 ERA+. And he’s going to be paid an average of $20M the next four years. I personally think Zimmermann is going to get somethign closer to Greinke’s deal (6 years/$147M). Maybe not quite as much.

    So, something between 6/105 and 6/147. Lets split the difference: 6/126; average of $21M/year.

    Would you commit $21M/year to Zimmermann if you were the Nats, given who else they have to lock down in the next two years?

    Todd Boss

    30 Oct 14 at 10:59 am

  21. Wally, you bring to mind the idea that perhaps this management is unwilling to go beyond five years for pitchers, and perhaps even for Desi, because of the lessons of the Zimm contract and others you have pointed to.

    Todd, as long as you are taking requests, 😉 can you review the crazy long term contracts signed and the return that trading teams got for those players (like Sabathia)? It would be an interesting calculus to see whether teams are better off paying or flipping. Clearly the message you sent is that for a team of the Nats stature, the long and financially cumbersome contract is not worth the risk.

    forensicane

    30 Oct 14 at 11:00 am

  22. The way that I have heard the Bailey deal impacting JZ is, the Nats thought they were close on a 5/$85m kind of deal when Bailey’s deal came out. That deal, an inferior pitcher getting a much larger deal, made JZ decide to wait to see what his market price really is. He made a good call, because it has gone up quite a bit. I kind of agree with your logic Todd on his deal, but don’t think you have taken salary inflation into account. Greinke’s deal was signed a few years ago, and salaries have probably increased at least 10% since then. So I think the Nats would have to offer something like 6/$140m to get JZ to forgo the market.

    As for would I do it, yes I probably would. (1) payrolls are still going up with all these media rights deals, so $150-$175m payrolls may easily be considered just top 10-15, not top 5, in the not too distant future. (2) I do not believe they will win with this current core group of 10 players, and I would do what most here are against: I would shake things up quite a bit. Like everyone else, I’d let ALR, Sori and AssCab walk. I’d let Span and Desi play out their last years and give them a QO. I think each turns it down and we get a pick but I’d also be ok with them coming back on a 1 year deal in 2016. And I would look to trade Werth and RZimm, getting mostly salary relief and whatever players I could. Before I get shouted down, I do believe those guys are tradeable, since they are still productive players and no trade provisions are mostly economic vehicles, not absolute prohibitions. You may not love what you get back, but my motivation would mostly be salary relief in order to …

    Use the payroll space to lock up all of Stras/JZ/Fister, knowing the first two would be around $150m deals, and Fister maybe $85-100m. If I can do that, I’d flip Gio and use Roark and the farm for the rest of the rotation and pen. Then I would trade Giolito* for a controllable position player that I think could be a core guy with Harper and Rendon – Betts, Addison Russell, Francisco Lindor, those kinds of guys. Might have to add something to balance that out, but nothing major, I think.

    * idea trademarked by Nationals Baseball, although he suggested trading him for Carlos Gomez, which trade I didn’t like

    That is what I would do. Slightly worse playoff odds for 2015, but still pretty good, and much better in 2016-19.

    What do you think?

    Wally

    30 Oct 14 at 1:17 pm

  23. Forensicane: I do somewhat have war/big contract but only for pitchers. You know, somewhat related to the theme of the blog :-)

    Here’s the link: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Aoe2S6_m1TendEx3VGl0dlY3aUFSclM1U3luNjRlSWc&usp=sharing … its linked on the side of the blog here but it gets lost (titled “Starter Win ber Salary.”). I built in WAR upon request. You can sort that XLS by $/WAR to see some pretty interesting numbers.

    As far as doing that for all the big contracts signed by hitters? eh. Too much work for me right now. I’d rather do cool stuff like Nats payroll, options, and publish/finalize the off-season calendar (next 3 posts).

    Todd Boss

    30 Oct 14 at 2:01 pm

  24. Wally; fair point on salary escalations in general. No argument there.

    I would argue that I don’t see the Nats payroll going into that 150-175 range until MASN deal finalized … and we’re never going to get the same revenue out of our RSN that teams like LA/NY/Philly are going to get, thanks to Angelos’s deal with the devil. Which sucks, because it does mean we’re going to end up letting guys walk like a small market team instead of keeping the band together like Detroit has done.

    Span and a QO? I think he’d take that; do you think he’s a $15M/year guy? Or more, since the QO figure may be $16M at the end of next season.

    Trading Werth and Zimmerman? I’m not sure the team could get enough value back for either to make it worth while, both in terms of production, salary relief (they’d have to kick in dollars for both) or clubhouse impact. Zimmerman makes more sense to move; easier payroll and he’d clearly be useful to an AL team where he could play 3B in a pinch and then sub in/out at first with the DH. $14M/year isn’t awful either.

    Trading Giolito?? No way. They need him to replace Strasburg when he walks after 2016 with a one-for-one Ace.

    Todd Boss

    30 Oct 14 at 2:07 pm

  25. Todd – fair points; some random replies.

    If Span was a FA right now, I’d see him getting 4/$50m or so. If he has another year like the last two, he would be worth $15m on a 1 yr deal. I also doubt that he’d take it, but I would be ok with it once (although this was a smaller part of my plan).

    For the trades, it was mostly for salary relief, and trading Giolito was only assuming we locked up Stras and the other two.

    2016-2019 Nats
    (my version) Rotation:Stras/JZ/Fister + Roark, Fedde, Cole, Treinin
    Line up: Rendon, Harper, [Betts], Souza, Taylor, Ramos + maybe a mid level FA or a piece from the RZ/Werth trades.
    (current version) Roark, Giolito, Cole, Treinin, Fedde + 1 yr of Stras
    Lineup: Harper, Rendon, Werth, RZim, Ramos, Souza, Taylor

    I think my version wins more games because we have kept together an elite staff through their prime, and haven’t weakened the lineup to much. But I could see someone having a different opinion.

    Wally

    30 Oct 14 at 2:21 pm

  26. Ah, a Mookie Betts reference! Who are we trading to acquire Betts?

    Todd Boss

    30 Oct 14 at 5:04 pm

  27. Letting LaRoche and Soriano walk is no indictment of the team’s finances. They just picked up an option on Span at 9m. So if there is any tightening, we haven’t seen it. Yet.

    I still believe the team is resolved to sign whom they can and to get a feel for that possibility as soon as possible. Desi/Zimm/Fister are decisions that have long term money implications, but they are champion ballplayers and so they are all must signs.

    Whomever cannot or does not sign dictates the next moves. Between now and 2016, injuries will happen, as will unanticipated breakouts. We have no way of prognosticating that, including the pace of Giolito’s ascent.

    The team won 96 games, tore it up down the stretch with Zimm out of the starting lineup, and lost to the eventual WS champion. I believe in the nucleus of the team’s best remaining talent and so should we.

    If money is that tight, Span is a valuable trade chip. If it means the difference between having Zimmerman (or all three) or not having Zimmerman, Span will be traded first.

    This all makes sense.

    forensicane

    30 Oct 14 at 5:17 pm

  28. Maybe you’re right that Span is a trade chip. Because yes I think there’s a payroll crunch coming on this team, and soon.

    Wait til I post the payroll projections tomorrow.

    Todd Boss

    30 Oct 14 at 5:19 pm

  29. Todd,

    I was actually asking a more arcane — but pretty important question. Of those starters you profiled, some were actually traded before their contracts expired (like Zach Grienke, David Price, James Shields).

    Can you review the yield for the uber-biggest players traded before their big payday to see what kinds of yields teams hauled in?

    forensicane

    30 Oct 14 at 5:28 pm

  30. Other than the fact that as a Red Sox product, he inspires Peter Gammons foamage, exactly what is so special about Mookie Betts other than the fact that he can look Tony Renda in the eye?

    forensicane

    30 Oct 14 at 5:30 pm

  31. On Betts, I traded Giolito + a reasonably minor additional prospect for him (although in my defense, the proposal was Giolito for a strong position player prospect like Russell, Lindor or Betts). I don’t know if it gets it done, but it should certainly be close.

    As for why he is the current ‘it’ kid, I think the narrative is a just turned 22 yr old that projects to be a plus defender at several up the middle positions, that flew his way up through several levels of the minors without a hiccup, and put up > 800 OPS in over 200 big league PAs. His current hype almost certainly outweighs what his actual production will be (like MadBum’s currently), but even discounting for that, he seems poised to be a Rendon-lite player that is good all around, maybe with less power but more defensive value. Probably a 3-4 WAR middle infielder under control for 6 years. That is a valuable chip, and if Giolito wasn’t likely the top rated pitching prospect in all the minors, it wouldn’t come close to being enough for him.

    But forget Betts specifically. My point was to offer an out of the box suggestion that says (1) build your payroll around three pitchers you know are elite and in their prime, (2) supplement them with Forensicane’s group of unsung and under the radar pitching prospects, (3) Turnover your lineup and payroll by unloading expensive, productive but aging position players, despite how much you love them, (4) convert your super star pitching prospect (who you need less if you lock up your stud SPs) into a comparable position player prospect and add them to your two budding stars, and fill in around them as best you can.

    That is my plan. Go for it, Rizz.

    Wally

    30 Oct 14 at 7:49 pm

  32. Hmm, NO ONE is talking about Fister, the only guy to stare down Da Bum in the playoffs without blinking. Let’s get that contract done and then worry about the others. I know he’s a bit older, but he has incredibly low mileage on his arm innings-wise. He should also be in the range of $12-15M per I would think. So 5/$60-75M would get you a pitcher very close to the ones being discussed who would cost nearly twice as much.

    Also, few are talking about Strasburg. Look, folks, it’s either Stras OR Zimmermann. They can’t – and shouldn’t – afford both. I’m not completely convinced they should afford either of them. Of the two, who would your rather have? With both of them so up in the air, don’t be surprised if Rizzo is trolling for another Fister or Gio out there, even with the Nats’ current stock of arms.

    Prospects – first of all, the hotshot ones are way overvalued trade-wise so probably not worth the outlay. Second, there is a learning curve, even for the best. Look at Myers’s struggles as an example. If you plug in a prospect, including your own, you have to be prepared for that. (See the Bosox.) Third, teams that are in the championship conversation don’t need to be focused on acquiring prospects. They need pieces of the puzzle who can help them win now. Last but not least, if you really want to play a prospect, how about the guy who just destroyed the International League?

    As for whether Giolito or Cole might be traded, never say never. The Nats haven’t hesitated to trade Cole, Meyer, or Ray for valuable, immediate pieces: Gio, Span, and Fister. Giolito is more highly valued than any of those who were traded were, and Cole is now as well due to his progress.

    KW

    30 Oct 14 at 9:16 pm

  33. Wally, I’d suggest the opposite. I did this analysis on another site, but I’ll argue a team should NEVER give a pitcher a huge long term contract:

    http://www.baseballprospectus.com/compensation/cots/league-info/highest-paid-players/

    Large pitcher contracts are just too risky. What’s to say giving $120MM+ to JZimm or Stras will be any different from the other biggest pitcher contracts:

    Clayton Kershaw, $215,000,000 (2014-20) – Just started
    Justin Verlander, $180,000,000 (2013-19) – Shaky already
    Felix Hernandez, $175,000,000 (2013-19) – Good so far
    CC Sabathia, $161,000,000 (2009-15) – Ugh
    Masahiro Tanaka, $155,000,000 (2014-20) – Shaky already
    Zack Greinke, $147,000,000 (2013-18) – Good so far
    Cole Hamels, $144,000,000 (2013-18) – Good so far
    Johan Santana, $137,500,000 (2008-13) – Ugh
    Matt Cain, $127,500,000 (2012-17) – Ugh
    Barry Zito, $126,000,000 (2007-13) – Ugh
    Mike Hampton, $121,000,000 (2001-08) – Ugh
    Cliff Lee, $120,000,000 (11-15) – 1/2 wasted
    Kevin Brown, $105,000,000 (1999-2005) – Ugh
    Carlos Zambrano, $91,500,000 (2008-12) – Ugh

    Instead, draft pitchers in the early rounds and sign core hitters. I’d argue we should give Des the big contract and focus on Fister if he’ll take a 4 year deal (which he probably won’t). Re-up Harper and Rendon at whatever ridiculous pay they want. Use up the star pitchers like NFL running backs and keep bringing up highly touted, hard-throwing arms.

    Andrew R

    30 Oct 14 at 11:21 pm

  34. This is not about whether the team needs prospects. It is about whether the team needs to get return before losing highly valued pieces. It’s easier to make these deals when a team needs so much. When the team’s needs are fewer, the major league needs can be met quickly and the minor league needs can be met broadly.

    The Nats did not have an impressive draft this past year, at least unless Fedde returns and shows his promise. Their arguably best draft pick was a catcher, which right now is the deepest position in the organization. They drafted for power and failed to sign one of the big three; the other two (Page and Gardner) may be worth keeping but still are yet to demonstrate a ML ceiling. Other lower round players that have hit for other teams were passed on by the Nats. So the draft is right now a fail.

    The Dominican and international program is proving to be a promising success. We have no idea whether and to what degree this has expanded, but the ascent of Difo from raw unknown to breakout prospect, and the appearance of Lopez with a bullet has offset the draft disappointments. Others in the Dominican League are also showing raw skills early and the GCL team was not nearly as good, but definitely younger and very, very Dominican.

    Rizzo’s ace in recent years has been his trading for minor league talent and his acquisition of undervalued fringe players. This plays into the leveraging of his assets to account for the Nats needs.

    Facts:

    1) The Nats are closer than ever to a Championship roster.

    2) The Nats have minor league commodities ready to step in right now at the ML level to replace higher priced players that may need to be moved. I am speaking specifically of Souza (Span, with Harper to CF) and Treinen (SP, or setup, or…), Barrett (setup, closer), and possibly Cole (SP)

    3) The Nats biggest problem over the past two years has been offense, run scoring, and hitting with runners in scoring position.

    4) One of their biggest producers is now gone (LaRoche)

    5) Their pitching philosophy of P2C requires good defense in the infield.

    6) There are long term decisions to be made about Strasburg that do not have to be made until they have more data about the ceiling of several promising arms. In the meantime, he has shown signs of becoming an elite pitcher and that would only increase his marketability should flexibility and payroll demand it.

    7) The system is lacking in power prospects, replacements for middle infield who are major league ready, and left handed starting pitching. Felipe Rivero was a nice idea and a bonus in the Lobaton acquisition, but is not near ready and flaming out in the AFL. Other promising lefthanders at his level or higher (Solis, Purke, even Rosenbaum) cannot stay on the field.

    We will be able to watch the dominoes fall. I do not think the team will settle for compensation picks for losing Fister, Desi, or Zimm – because they won;t have to. What they get offered will be a lot more than they would have fetched for Adam Dunn.

    Right now, Rizzo is at the top of his game as a trade specialist. So I see this as win-win. Either they sign all three or two of three and then undertake a graduated reinvigoration of the system, along with the addressing of key needs, through trades of the unaffordable players and valued minor leaguers who are blocked.

    I apologize for being repetitive, but the Nats minor league hurlers are highly valued. The return for Karns (and from Tampa) was telling. There, Rizzo traded for prospect depth. The return for Robbie Ray was telling. The return for Peacock and Milone was telling. The return for Alex Meyer was telling. The system’s pitching, which has been underrated in its prospect depth the past two years, took a major step forward despite an unbelievable rash of injuries.

    So I am very optimistic about what is coming, and we will track it in a flow chart way of if, then and if not, then.

    Key for the Nats is resolving the first if (signing potential) quickly. Then they can consider the necessity of trading any or all of the triolka and allowing the competitive market to play into their hands. I’m still amazed at what Rizzo got for Morse, which was far more adverse circumstances.

    Right now, what they are watching is what we should be watching — who gets removed from the 40 mans, who are the minor league free agents and where they fit into organizational depth. They pounced on Florimon because they saw something, and Frandsen was a last second flea market pickup who earned a return next year. A cheaper bench and bullpen are coming, but this is an organization that is trying to build a dynasty and making a number of good moves, just not enough good moves yet. Rizzo and Williams and all of the players know they are that close. I’ll bet they are far more excited for 2015 than was the team for 2014.

    forensicane

    31 Oct 14 at 1:47 am

  35. Andrew – good stuff. I hate long-term contracts, all the more so for pitchers. To me, four years with an option for a fifth is long, particularly for someone entering his 30s, but it has gotten to the point where six or seven are the minimum starting point for discussion.

    Desmond since 2012 has lost 102 points off his OPS and gained 70 Ks. Those are disturbing trends, particularly for someone supposedly at his peak age-wise. Zimmermann had some slight improvements last year but appears to have peaked, and age-appropriately so. On average, if you give him six years, you could expect two more years near ’13-’14 level, two years in early decline, and two years where you do a lot of praying. With Strasburg, who knows? There’s still a small chance that he could become the HOF-type ace, but it’s very small now. He’s looking like he’s going to be more of a Hamels than a Kershaw. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it isn’t worth $25M per for six or seven years, either – not even close.

    KW

    31 Oct 14 at 7:42 am

  36. No argument to me that Fister is going to give the best dollar/value combination. I think the team focuses on extending him at some point. Perhaps when his arb hearing comes around and he demands $14M.

    Todd Boss

    31 Oct 14 at 8:55 am

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