Nationals Arm Race

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2018 Draft coverage; Mock Draft mania plus my projected top-5 and Nats picks

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Casey Mize has been the consensus 1-1 for 2018 for most of the season. Photo d1baseball.com

Casey Mize has been the consensus 1-1 for 2018 for most of the season. Photo d1baseball.com

Mock Draft mania!  Since the draft is Monday i’ll publish this now to talk about it and talk about who we’d like to see the Nats pick.  I’ll keep adding mocks as they get published and update this post all the way til gametime.

First, here’s a preview of the names we’re talking about for the upper end of the first round.  This is an evolving list, with names who were prominently mentioned last fall falling by the way-side and helium guys rising up.  At publication, i’ve separated those who have fallen as indicated below.

College Upper 1st round names in the mix

  • Casey Mize RHP, Auburn. 2017 USA Nat’l team star, quickly rising to be the consensus 1-1 pick in 2018.
  • Joey Bart, C, Georgia Tech.  Helium candidate in spring 2018
  • Alec Bohm, 3B Wichita State.  Helium guy with strong 2018.
  • Brady Singer RHP, Florida. Dominant in 2016 CWS. 2017 USA Nat’l team.
  • Nick Madrigal 2B, Oregon State: Golden spikes semi-finalist 2017 as sophomore. All-american as Soph. 2017 USA Nat’l team.
  • Jonathan India, 3B, Florida. another Helium guy in spring 2018; was always solid but now hitting .400 in the SEC

College Candidates who have fallen to mid-1st round status: basically i’d be happy with nearly any pick on this list dropping to the Nats at #27.

  • Logan Gilbert, RHP Stetson; top Cape Code league prospect 2017
  • Ryan Rolison, LHP from Ole Miss; #1 pitching prospect from Cape 2017 league.
  • Travis Swaggerty, CF, South Alabama; has not hit well in 2018, lowering stock slightly.
  • Tristan Beck, RHP Stanford.  solid starter who missed significant time with back injury.
  • Sean Hjelle, RHP Kentucky: huge guy (6’11”) who doesn’t throw hard, but it appears so b/c of his reach.
  • Griffin Conine OF, Duke. Jeff Conine‘s son. Exploded in Cape Cod League 2017, All-Cape 2017, named top prospect, but has fallen precipitously in 2018
  • Luken Baker, 1B TCU; more “famous” than draft prospect thanks to lack of defensive value.  Suffered broke leg Apr 2018 after an arm injury in 2017, lowering stock.
  • Seth Beer, 1B Clemson: another “famous” name in the draft; his OBP skills may push him to 1st round.
  • Jackson Kowar, RHP Florida; U-Florida’s saturday starter who has scuffled a bit this spring but still should be a 1st rounder.

High School

  • Carter Stewart, RHP, Eau Gallie HS, Melbourne, FL.  Mississippi State commit, highest spin rate ever recorded?  helium guy spring 2018, jumping up over many names to be first prep player taken.
  • Matt Liberatore LHP, Mountain Ridge (AZ) (Arizona commit).  18U team, Gold Medal game starter, but has had inconsistent spring 2018, not consistently showing 96-97.
  • Jared Kelenic OF, Waukesha (WI) (Louisville commit). 18U team.  Considered best prep hit tool in the class.
  • Nolan Gorman, 3B Sandra Day O’conner HS (AZ): (Arizona commit).  18U team.  best power bat in the class, struggling spring 2018 b/c of being walked all the time.
  • Cole Winn, RHP, Orange Lutheran HS (CA).  Mississippi State commit, helium guy spring 2018.

High School guys whose stock has fallen:

  • Brice Turang SS, Santiago (CA) (LSU commit). 18U team.  Questions on hit took spring 2018; polarizing player among scouts.
  • Ethan Hankins RHP, Forsyth Central (GA): (Vanderbilt commit). 18U team.  Shoulder injury has lowered his stock.
  • Kumar Rocker RHP, North Oconee (GA) (Vanderbilt commit). 18U team.  Has lost velocity this spring, lowering his stock.
  • Nander de Sedas, SS, Montverde FL (Florida State commit): great 2017 summer.

Here’s the Mock draft collection.  I’ve generally listed their top-5 and then who they project the Nats to take at #27 (if they project out that far).  I got the first Mock draft link here just after the end of the 2017 season, when the BA guys did a mock once we knew the draft order.  I’ll continue to add in mocks as they get published post-posting up until the draft.

  • Baseball America (John Manuel) 2018 Mock Draft v1.0 dated 10/6/17: Singer, Hankins, Turang, de Sedas, Gorman.  Nats taking prep RHP Slade Cecconi from a FL HS who can hit 97 with 3 pitches.
  • Baseball America (Carlos Collazo) 2018 Mock Draft v1.0 dated 5/11/18: (behind a pay wall)
  • Baseball America (Carlos Collazo) 2018 Mock Draft v2.0 dated 5/18/18: (behind a pay wall)
  • Baseball Draft Report (Rob Ozga) 2018 Mock Draft v1.0 dated 10/7/17: Gilbert, Madrigal, Singer, Hankins, Rolison.  Nats taking LHP Konnor Pilkington from Mississippi State, a 2017 USA Nat’l team member.
  • MLBPipeline (Jim Callis) 2018 Early Mock Draft dated 12/5/17: Singer, Hankins, Liberatore, de Sedas, Turang.  Only projected top 10 so no Nats pick.
  • MLBPipeline (Jim Callis) 2018 Mock Draft dated 5/11/18: Mize, Bart, Bohm, Madrigal, Singer.   Nats taking prep RHP Cole Wilcox, RHP, Heritage HS (Ringgold, Ga.)
  • MLBPipeline (Jim Callis) 2018 Mock Draft dated 5/24/18: Mize, Bart, Bohm, Singer, Madrigal.   Has Nats on Mason Denaburg, a prep RHP from Florida (with a Florida commit) who is someone i hadn’t heard of prior to seeing it in print  here.  He was projected higher until shut down with biceps tendinitis; this could be a classic Nats move of taking a top-10 talent later in the 1st thanks to a slight injury issue.
  • MLBPipeline (Jim Callis) 2018 Final Mock Draft dated 6/4/18: Mize, Bart, Madrigal, Singer, India.  Still has Nats on Denaburg.
  • MLBPipeline (Jonathan Mayo): 2018 Early Mock Draft dated 12/5/17:  Singer, de Sedas, Hankins, Kowar, Madrigal.  Only projected top 10 so no Nats pick.
  • MLBPipeline (Jonathan Mayo): 2018 Mock Draft projection dated 4/30/18:  Mize, Singer, Madrigal, Bohm, Stewart.  has Nats on Xavier Edwards, SS, North Broward Prep (Coconut Creek, Fla.), an undersized but good prospect with a strong Vanderbilt commitment.
  • MLBPipeline (Jonathan Mayo): 2018 Mock Draft projection dated 5/17/18:  Mize, Bart, Bohm, Singer, Madrigal.  Has Nats on Denaburg.
  • MLBPipeline (Jonathan Mayo): 2018 Mock Draft projection dated 5/31/18:  Mize, Bart, Madrigal, Singer, India.  Nats again on Denaburg.
  • MLBPipeline (Jonathan Mayo) 2018 Final Mock Draft dated 6/4/18: Mize, Bart, Madrigal, Singer, India.  now has Nats on Xavier Edwards, a prep SS from Florida.
  • Fangraphs (Eric Longenhagen/Kiley McDaniel): 2018 Mock Draft v1.0 dated 4/19/18: Mize, Bohm, Madrigal, Swaggerty, Kelenic.  Only projected top 10, but notes that Washington wants a “quick moving” college pitcher (just like every year) and is tied to either Tristan Beck or Sean Hjelle.
  • Fangraphs (Eric Longenhagen/Kiley McDaniel): 2018 Mock Draft v2.0 dated 5/15/18: Mize, Bart, Bohn, Madrigal, Singer.  Also has Nats on Denaburg.
  • Fangraphs (Eric Longenhagen/Kiley McDaniel): 2018 Mock Draft v3.0 dated 6/1/18: Mize, Bart, Bohm, Singer, Madrigal.  Now has Nats on Wilcox.
  • Seedlings to the Stars/Calltothepen.com (Benjamin Chase) Mock draft v1.0 4/30/18: Mize, Bohm, Libratadore, Kelenic, Madrigal.  Has the Nats on Mike Vasil, a HS RHP pitcher from a Boston, MA high school  (with a commit to UVA/Virginia) with some possible arm issues so could be following their pattern of buying low in injured guys.
  • Seedlings to the Stars/Calltothepen.com (Benjamin ChaseMock draft v2.0 5/7/18: Mize, Madrigal, Bohm, Winn, Libratadore.  Has Nats on de Sedas, which would fit the Nats’ predilection of taking “famous” names.
  • Seedlings to the Stars/Calltothepen.com (Benjamin ChaseMock draft v3.0 5/15/18: Mize, Bart, India, Bohm, Singer.  Also has Nats on Denaburg.
  • Seedlings to the Stars/Calltothepen.com (Benjamin ChaseMock draft v4.0 5/21/18: Mize, Bart, Bohm, Madrigal, Singer.   Has Nats now on Wilcox instead of Denaburg now.
  • Seedlings to the Stars/Calltothepen.com (Benjamin ChaseMock draft v5.1 5/28/18: Mize, Bart, Bohm, Singer, Madrigal.  Has Nats back on Denaburg.
  • Seedlings to the Stars/Calltothepen.com (Benjamin ChaseMock draft v6.2 6/4/18: Mize, Bart, Bohm, Singer, Madrigal.  Same top 5 as last few iterations.  Has Nats back on Wilcox.
  • ESPN/Keith Law Mock draft v1.0 5/2/18: Mize, Singer, Bohm, Bart, Madrigal.  Has the Nats taking a prep RHP named J.T. Ginn from Mississippi, or perhaps taking one of the more “famous” prep arms if they fall (Hankins, Turang).
  • ESPN/Keith Law Mock draft v2.0 5/17/18: Mize, Bart, Bohm, Madrigal, Singer.  Has the Nats on Rocker, or perhaps one of the other prep guys who are “famous” but who are falling this spring, looking for value.
  • ESPN/Keith Law Mock draft v3.0 5/31/18: Mize, Winn, Bart, Singer, Madrigal.  Has the Nats on Denaburg.
  • ESPN/Keith Law Mock draft v4.0 6/4/18: Bart, Winn, Mize, Singer, Madrigal.  Still has the Nats on Denaburg.
  • Sporting News Mock Draft v1.0 5/17/18: Mize, Libratadore, Singer, Madrigal, Stewart.  Has the Nats taking Seth Beer, which I wouldn’t be totally against.
  • TheBigLead.com (Ryan Phillips) Mock Draft v1.0 5/17/18: Mize, Bart, Bohm, Madrigal, Singer (same as Law).  Only projects top 10, so no Nats pick.
  • TheBigLead.com (Ryan PhillipsMock Draft v2.0 5/30/18: Mize, Bart, Bohm, Madrigal, Singer (same as his first mock).  Has Nats on Wilcox.
  • TheBigLead.com (Ryan PhillipsMock Draft v3.0 6/3/18: Mize, Bart, Bohm, Madrigal, Singer (same as his first two mocks).  Has Nats on Ethan Hankins now.
  • PerfectGame.org (Brian Sakowski) Mock Draft v1.0: 4/20/18: Mize, Kelenic, Madrigal, McClanahan, Hankins.  has Nats on Grayson Rodriguez, prep RHP from Texas HS.
  • PerfectGame.org (Brian Sakowski) Mock Draft v2.0: 5/10/18: Mize, Stewart, Bohm, Singer, Madrigal.  Nats on Kumar Rocker as well; I’d love this pick if it happened.
  • PerfectGame.org (Brian Sakowski) Mock Draft v3.0 5/24/18: Mize, Bart, Bohm, Madrigal, Singer.  Nats on Jackson Kowar, RHP weekend starter for Florida.  Um, if Kowar makes it here, i’d be ecstatic and it’d be a great pick.
  • PerfectGame.org (Brian Sakowski) Mock Draft v4.0 6/4/18: Mize, Bart, Bohm, Singer, Madrigal.  Nats on Denaburg.
  • Prospect Digest (Joseph Werner) Mock Draft 6/4/18: Mize, Liberatore, Madrigal, McClanahan, Stewart.  Nats picking Stanford’s Tristan Beck.

Mock draft posters from 2017 who didn’t seem to do one this year.:

  • D1Baseball (Frankie Piliere)
  • HeroSports.com (Chris Crawford/Jason Crawford)
  • MinorleagueBall.com (John Sickels)
  • SI.com (Jay Jaffe), now with Fangraphs, so probably not doing prospect work anymore.
  • CBSsports (Mike Axisa)

Todd Boss’ Mock draft top-5 prediction?

My top 5: Mize, Bart, Bohm, Singer, Madrigal.   It seems like most all the pundits have arrived at this as a top 5 and it seems to make sense.

ACTUAL DRAFT Results (added after the draft): top 5 went Mize, Bart, Bohm, Madrigal, India.  First four no surprise … India at #5 a surprise.  So was Kyler Murray at #9 to Oakland … that came out of nowhere.

Who are the Nats going to take at #27:  Mason Denaburg

Its really, really difficult to project to the 27th pick; you just have no idea who will be there.  Just consider the 2011 draft; the Nats sat at the #6 spot and figured they’d have zero shot at Anthony Rendon, who for most of his college career was considered a 1-1 guy.  Suddenly Rendon has a slight injury, the first few teams pass on him … and he falls into the Nat’s lap.

Historically, Mike Rizzo drafts college guys.  And historically, he drafts college arms up high.  However, most of the mocks above have the Nats taking prep arms in the first.

The clear “word on the street” out of the Nats camp this year is prep arm.  Why?  I have no idea.  How many high school arms have you ever seen Mike Rizzo draft at the top of the draft?  How about in the top 10 rounds altogether?   I’ll give you the answer to the latter question: Three: Rizzo has drafted exactly three prep arms in the top 10 rounds in the entirety of his Nats career, dating to 2009.  Jesus LuzardoLucas Giolito and A.J. Cole.   That’s it.  Cole was under the prior bonus rules, when they threw 1st round money at him in the 4th.  Giolito was a case where he dropped precipitously thanks to an arm injury and the Nats snagged him mid 1st (which kind of fits the Denaburg projection this year) … and Luzardo was a 3rd rounder with 1st round talent but a TJ surgery on his resume who they got great value on.  So why would anyone think Rizzo is going to pick a prep arm unless its a Giolito situation where a top-5 projected guy suddenly falls?

Normally, i’d firmly in the camp that the Nats will follow their typical pattern here for later 1st round picks: college arm.  I like the mocks that project guys like Beck or Hjelle, or any one of several solid college arms who might drop down because of a crummy regional performance.  Ole Miss’ Ryan Rolison fits the bill here as a guy who might be available at 27, as does Jackson Kowar.

What about one of the famous “bats” in this draft?  Namely, Seth Beer or Luken Baker or Griffen Conine?  All seem like no-position/defensive liability sluggers, which may end up being tweeners between Late 1st round and mid 2nd round … so they’d be reaches for the Nats in the 1st but gone by our 2nd round pick.

 

Actual Nats #27 Pick (added after the draft): Mason Denaburg.  For the second year in a row, the Nats tip their hand and have their first round pick predicted by every major pundit.

Nats on a tear … while being hobbled on the D/L

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What a difference a year makes. Last year he was MLB's POTM; this year he's hitting .217 and is now on the D/L. Photo via WashingtonTimes.com

What a difference a year makes. Last year he was MLB’s POTM; this year he’s hitting .217 and is now on the D/L. Photo via WashingtonTimes.com

Another day, another D/L trip.  The latest is Ryan Zimmerman, whose position is more than ably being filled by Matt Adams, heading to the 10-day d/L with “back soreness” but which we know to be an oblique (which is a notoriously iffy injury, if indeed he has a real injury and this isn’t some sort of paper maneuver to get Adams more ABs.  Yes I’m a cynic).  This a day after starting catcher and $10M “homage to Scott Boras‘ ability to undermine Mike Rizzo‘s plans by repeatedly going over his head to ownership” Matt Wieters goes down with a “hamstring” injury (btw: he looked like a 50-yr old man running to first base; was it any surprise he came up hobbled?)

The Nats, as of 5/13/18, now have 10 guys on the D/L and an 11th suspended.  Only three of them even have a vague return date defined, and one of those is Joe Ross, who is recovering from Tommy John and whose return date is listed as “probably 2018.”  Nine of the 10 guys (not including Read) arguably are part of the “best 25” that our team would field, meaning we’re playing 9 guys out of 25 who should be in AAA.

This number of current players on the D/L, not surprisingly, leads the league and their cumulative totals of number of players, games lost and payroll wasted for the season is at or near the top.

Great.

Yet, somehow, during this period the team is on fire.   They’ve won 12 of 14.  They’re 13-7 in their last 20.  Went into the hot Arizona team and crushed them on their turf.

What’s going on?  How is this happening?

Part of this is the particular guys getting hurt; i.e. none of the rotation.  We’re getting a ton of quality starts, guys pitching deep into the games.  Under-rated at the time signing Jeremy Hellickson took a perfect game into the 7th.  That’s the definition of “found gold” for a 5th starter.   Five of the top Eight season-to-date guys by bWAR are the 5 rotation members.

But for the most part it has been part-time players stepping up big time.

  • Pedro Severino in for Wieters (and before that Miguel Montero, 2018’s first “Oblivion” candidate): posting a 98 OPS+ and providing stellar defense behind the plate.
  • Howie Kendrick in for Daniel Murphy?  113 OPS+ thank you very much.  Great signing.
  • Wilmer Difo covering for Anthony Rendon while he missed half the season thus far?  102 OPS+
  • Adams, as previously noted, is crushing the ball right now: 178 OPS+.
  • The hodge-podge of left fielders not named Adams?  well … that’s another story.  Thankfully  we can put most any ole stiff out there and still get production.

I thought this team did amazingly well last  year given its injuries … but now its looking even worse this year.   Yet they’re right where they need to be after a sluggish start.  What I worry about is missing a month of Scherzer, or having Harper  go down ye t again.

 

 

Nats Non-News: Non-tender deadline, FA (lack of) market and Ohtani

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Are the Nats really in the mix for Japanese superstar Ohtani? Photo via cbssports.com

Are the Nats really in the mix for Japanese superstar Ohtani? Photo via cbssports.com

As many others have noticed … there isn’t a heck of a lot going on right now in the “hot stove” season.  But given where we are in the regular off-season calendar, lets bang out a couple of topics.

First: the Non-tender deadline.

For the first time in an awful long time, the Nats have no real obvious non-tender candidates on their roster.  They entered the off-season with just four arbitration-eligible players and they are all set to be crucial pieces for 2018:

  • Bryce Harper technically would have been arb-eligible but signed away his 4th year for north of $21M.
  • Anthony Rendon comes off easily his finest season as a pro (his numbers across the board eclipse his 2014 5th place MVP season) and he should be in line to more than double his $5.8M 2017 salary.
  • Tanner Roark struggled in 2017 (… perhaps caused/aided by the frequently-seen WBC hangover?) but is still slated to be our 4th starter on a rotation that doesn’t currently have a fifth and should be in line for about an $8M payday.
  • Michael Taylor has established himself as one of the premier defensive center fielders in the game, will be set to start in 2018, and faces arbitration for the first time (likely to get around a $2.5M check).

Compare this to previous non-tender years (with links to non-tender specific posts from years past):

  • 2016: we non-tendered Ben Revere, waived Aaron Barrett before having to make the NT decision, and declined Yusmeiro Petit‘s option as a way of “non-tendering” him.
  • 2015: we non-tendered Craig Stammen, but kept NT candidates Jose Lobaton and Tyler Moore (eventually trading Moore after waiving him at the end of spring training).
  • 2014: we did not non-tender anyone, though a couple weeks later traded NT candidate Ross Detwiler to Texas for two guys who never really panned out for us (Chris Bostick and Abel de los Santos).
  • 2013: we did not non-tender anyone, only Ross Ohlendorf was a candidate, and in retrospect he probably should have been NT’d since he didn’t throw a pitch for the Nationals in 2014.
  • 2012: we non-tendered three guys (Jesus FloresTom Gorzelanny, John Lannan) in the face of a huge amount of arbitration players (10).
  • 2011: we non-tendered Doug Slaten deservedly, but tendered candidate Gorzellany.
  • 2010: we non-tendered Chien-Ming WangWil Nieves, Joel Peralta.  We also outrighted 5 guys prior to the NT deadline, DFA’d two more in December, and DFA/dreleased four more guys prior to Spring training in a very busy off-season.
  • 2009: we non-tendered Scott Olsen, Mike MacDougal
  • 2008: we non-tendered Tim Redding, now the Pitching coach for our Auburn Short-A team, so I guess there was no hard feelings there :-)
  • 2007: we non-tendered Nook LoganMike O’Conner.
  • 2006: we non-tendered or declined options for Ryan Drese, Brian Lawrence, Zach Day (it might have only been Day who was officially non-tendered)
  • 2005: we non-tendered Carlos BaergaPreston WilsonJunior Spivey.

That’s a long trip down random memory lane for marginal Nationals players from yesteryear.

Post-publish edit: as expected, the team formally tendered contracts to the 3 arb-eligible players on 12/1/17.



The FA market in general seems to be held up by two major names: Giancarlo Stanton and Shohei Ohtani.  Jeff Passan argues there’s other reasons (see this link) for the lack of movement, but one has to think the big names are a big part of it.  I also believe that this year’s “crop” of FAs is … well kind of underwhelming.  Here’s Passan’s ranking of FAs: his biggest names past Ohtani are Yu Darvish (who just sucked in the post-season, is coming off TJ surgery and doesn’t rate as the “Ace” he once was), J.D. Martinez (who blew up in 2017 but who has normally gotten a lot of his value from defense and he’s not getting any younger), Eric Hosmer (a 1B only guy, even if he’s really good, who seems like a safe bet to get over-pad and age badly) and Jake Arrieta (who has taken a step backwards from his Cy Young win and has already entered his decline years).  Plus, the “price” for signing some of these QO-attached guys (Hosmer, Arrieta plus other top-10 FAs like Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and Wade Davis) will be quite steep for big-market and/or Luxury tax teams like our own Washington Nationals.

Frankly, between the higher price of forced loss of picks due to our over-spending last season, our current payroll tightness (we seem to only have about $17M to spend to stay under the tax for all of next year) and the underwhelming lot of available players … i don’t see us really participating in this year’s sweepstakes.    Do we want to pony up for a middling 5th starter type like Jaime Garcia at the likely going price of $10M/year?  Or roll the dice with a MLFA like we did with some success last year (Edwin JacksonJacob Taylor).  Or just stay inhouse and let Erick Fedde continue to mature every 5th day on the mound?

Stanton, according to the tea-leaves i’m reading this week, seems like he’s heading to San Francisco, who is in desperate need for offense, outfielders and a franchise makeover after last year’s debacle.  Stanton could fit all three.  Which is great for him (he’s born and raised in California and would be joining a franchise that, despite its 2017 season, still has 3 WS titles in the last decade and a slew of marquee players to build around), great for the Nats (getting him out of the division), great for the “franchise” of Miami (who rids themselves of perhaps the 2nd worst contract in baseball behind Albert Pujols‘ and lets them get a relatively clean slate to start over for the new franchise ownership group), and of course awful for the “fans” of Miami, who thought they were finally getting rid of one of the worst owners in professional sports only to get slapped in the face with comical missteps by the new Derek Jeter-led ownership group, who managed to embarrass themselves in the most ridiculous way (by firing ceremonial Marlins legends for no good reason) early and then put themselves on the defensive needlessly by immediately crying poor and saying that they needed to pare payroll within a few days of taking over.  If i was a Miami fan I wouldn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

I also think its notable that the first ex-Nat ranked on Passan’s list comes in at #43; the “ripe for regression” Matt Albers.  Brandon Knitzler comes soon after him (who could be a re-signing candidate frankly for us, to put the “law firm” back together), then you have to get all the way down to #62 to find Jayson Werth.  As compared to next off-season, when the Nats will have the #1 guy on the list.


Coming back to Ohtani (I’m going with the h in the name since after much research that’s what seems like the right way to spell it) ….

First things first: I desperately hope the Nats get him.  Anyone who thinks that they’re better off without Ohtani is a fool; he’s set to become one of the biggest bargains in baseball.  For the small price of a $20M posting fee, you get a guy who throws 100, is an 80 runner, and hits the crap out of the ball.  For a miniscule bonus figure (the max any team has seems to be about $3.5M; the Nats only have $300k) and then a MLB min contract.  Its just amazing.  His presence could literally change the face of a franchise for a decade for about the same amount of money we will have paid Gio Gonzalez this year and next.  I doubt he picks us though; it seems more likely he picks either a major market team (NY, Boston) on the east coast or (more likely) one of the west coast teams for better proximity to Japan and a larger Asian native market (LA, SF, Seattle).  But its all speculation.

Hey, did I mention that the Nats need both another starter AND a lefty-bat off the bench, right now??  Ohtani would be perfect!

Side Note: why the heck is he coming over now and subjecting himself to MLB minimum contracts and arbitration??  He’s literally leaving $100M on the table by not waiting just two years and coming over un-restricted.  I just cannot believe he’s doing this and costing himself so much money.  I get the lip service comments about wanting to challenge himself, yadda yadda, but when there’s literally 9 figures of money on the table, I just don’t understand the decision.  He’s projected to be better than Daisuke Matsuzaka, better than Darvish, both of whom got many times more money (Dice-K got $52M to him, $103M in total cost plus his posting fee), while Darvish got $60M to him and cost the Rangers $111M total with posting fee).  It seems crazy.

Can’t wait to see where he goes, and I can’t wait to see if he’s the real deal.

2017 Rule-5 Addition analysis/predictions

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Will Gushue get the call this weekend? Photo via mlb.com

Will Gushue get the call this weekend? Photo via mlb.com

We do this every year.  We argue about it every year.  This is now the 8th version of this post (see the bottom for links/summary of the first seven).  Thanks to long-since implemented service time changes the Rule-5 draft remains mitigated in importance.  Yet here we are talking about it again, because we’re some of the few people out there who obsess about the edges of the 40-man roster, and who have meticulously studied our prospects for years and who don’t necessarily want to see the promising ones head out the door for a pittance.   So here we are.

Next Monday at 8pm is the deadline to set 40-man rosters ahead of the Winter Meetings, which include the Rule-5 draft.  With so many teams purposely tanking there’s going to be lots of usage of the draft this year.  Lets take a look at who is eligible, who might get protected and make some predictions.  I’ve got the Nats 40-man roster at 35 now, so there’s plenty of room to add names and do their off-season work.

As always, using the indispensable Nationals resource sites Draft tracker and the Big Board, and then looking up candidate acquisitions made via trade, here’s some thoughts on who might merit protection.   Also incredibly useful is Roster Resource’s Nats Roster, which keeps track of options, rule-5 status and the like.

The quick Rule-5 rules for 2017; any college-aged draftee from 2014 or before who isn’t already on the 40-man roster is Rule-5 eligible this coming off season, and any high-school aged draftee/International Free Agent from 2013 or before is newly eligible this year, assuming they were at least 18 as of June 5th of that year.


 

Newly Eligible 2014 draft College Players this year worth consideration for protection:

  • Austen Williams: he has featured at High-A 3 years running, got moved to AA for the 2nd year running this year and still continues to struggle with that leap.  I don’t think he’s a candidate to protect but is worth mentioning since he’s a long-serving starter in the organization.  The team sent him to the AFL perhaps as an audition for consideration.
  • Tyler Mapes: the 30th round pick continues to be found gold for this team … but he missed the entire 2017 with an injury.  Because of that he’s clearly not a rule-5 danger, but he could fit into the teams plans as a rotation member in AA or AAA this year.  He has a career 2.68 ERA in the minors, vastly outperforming most of the rest of his draft class.
  • Taylor Gushue: the 2017 trade acquisition had a solid year in High-A, is a catcher in a system that needs them, and seems like a lock to add.  He wasn’t set to the AFL for nothing.

Not mentioned: several other draftees from this class that are marginal prospects right now: Dale Carey, Matthew Page, Austin Davidson, Alec Keller, Robbie Dickey, Weston Davis, James Bourque.  All these guys are still in the lower minors.  Dickey represents the biggest investment ($400k signing bonus) and is one of the biggest disappointments from this draft.

Erick Fedde would have been the big name here to protect had he not already been added.  Trea Turner was also a 2014 college draftee.


 

Newly Eligible 2013 High School-age drafted players under consideration for protection

  • Drew Ward: he is literally the only 2013 HS draftee remaining in the system and is an interesting protection case.  He had a great 2016 (making the All Star team and shining in High-A) but has not translated that success to AA.  But, he’s only 22, and a 22-yr old struggling in AA isn’t that surprising.  Question is; do you protect him?  He’s blocked at the major league level by Anthony Rendon but that means little in a game where his value might be in trade versus production for the big league squad.  It wouldn’t surprise me if he got protected.

 

Newly Eligible 2013 signed IFAs under consideration for protection:

  • Edwin Lora: SS who has progressed neatly one level at a time for 5 years.  But he’s a career .238 hitter.  We need a backup utility fielder and he fits the bill, but he doesn’t seem to be ready.  I also don’t see him as a threat to get drafted.
  • Kelvin Gutierrez, 3B recently of the AFL who has shown some promise.  He’s a lock to get protected based on his production and his presence in Arizona.
  • Luis Reyes, RHP who started 26 games for Potomac this year.  He’s a bit wild, but he’s also a solid starter who projects to AA in 2018.  Is that enough to be a draft threat?   Maybe.
  • Anderson Franco, 3B: highly touted on prospect boards, but hit just .201 for low-A this year.  Not a draft candidate but someone to watch/hope for a rebound 2018.

Not mentioned: many 2013 IFA signings throughout the lower levels of the system.  This includes Aldrem Corridor, Joshual Ramirez, Luis Vilorio, Oliver Ortiz, Francys Peguero.  Honestly, I had not even heard of most of these guys and wouldn’t be surprised if I had their eligibility wrong.  They’re mostly in the very low minors.


 

Rule-5 Eligible hold-overs of note: 2013 or prior college draftees still hanging out in the system, or 2012 and prior HS/IFAs.

  • Wander Suero: the 2010 IFA exploded onto the scene this year as the closer in AA and then AAA, posting a 1.79 ERA for the year and heading to the AFL.  He was already added to the roster two weeks ago.
  • John Simms: I’ve always liked this guy; he’s now worked his way to AAA and made 8 starts there last  year.  He isn’t a big K/9 guy, perhaps is seen as an org arm, but he’s got a good pedigree (Rice) and has made it to the cusp of the majors.  Is that enough to protect him?  Probably not.
  • Spencer Kieboom: he struggled enough in 2016 to get DFA’d in early 2017 … but then he hit pretty well in AAA this year.  Is that enough to get him back into the mix?
  • Dakota Bacus: he pitched pretty darn well in relief across High-A and AA this year, and was sent to AFL to get more innings.  Is he an option to add?  He didn’t have the numbers that Suero did, but perhaps the team thinks he could be an option out of the pen.
  • Kyle McGowin: an interesting case since he was sent to the AFL: he struggled badly in 2017, getting demoted to AA at one point and posting a 5.95 ERA for the year.  I don’t think we’d shed a tear if he was drafted, but I don’t think he’s meriting a 40-man spot right now.
  • Joan Baez; power arms don’t grow on trees, and even though he was “only” in high-A this year he’s well known enough to perhaps merit protection.

2013 or before College Draftees that are Rule-5 holdovers include David Masters, Isaac Ballou, Justin Thomas, Matthew DeRosier, Robert Benincasa, Derek Self, Brian Rauh, Ronald Pena, Robert Orlan, Steven Perez, Bryan Mejia, Osvaldo Abreu, Wirkin Estevez, Hector Silvestre, Jefry Rodriguez.  Perhaps at some points in their careers some of these guys seemed like locks, but for now they all toil in the lower minors (for the most part) hoping to put themselves into contention.

MLFAs who are technically Rule-5 eligible:  Yadiel Hernandez,  Irving Falou, Greg Ross, Jaron Long, Jordan Mills.  Long in particular has worked in AAA for three years now, but may be considered an org arm at this point.  Ross looked promising for a while, but struggled badly in 2017.


 

So, who would I protect?

  • Wander Suero (already added)
  • Kelvin Gutierrez
  • Taylor Gushue
  • Drew Ward
  • Joan Baez

Who would I consider: Kieboom, Bacus.  Maybe.

If they added these four additional guys they’d be at 39/40 on the roster, still leaving them immediate room for a FA signing or trade.   But there’s more than a few names on our 40-man currently that could be cut (starting with Voth, Gott, Bautista).  So we could see some manouvering this off-season.

Did I miss anyone?  this is kind of tough analysis without a massive white board with every name in the organization listed … something none of us have time to do for free.

Nats official protection announcement: Gutierrez and Jefry Rodriguez in kind of a shocker.


For a fun trip down memory lane, here’s the same Rule 5 Protection analysis post for 201620152014201320122011, and 2010.

By year, here’s who I predicted we’d add and who we did add.

  • 2017: Predicted: Gutierrez, Gushue, Ward, Baez.  Actual: Gutierrez and Jefry Rodriguez.
  • 2016: Predicted Voth, Bautista.  Actual: Voth, Bautista, Marmolejos, Read and Skole.
  • 2015: Predicted Kieboom, Bostick, Marmolejos-Diaz.  Actual: Kieboom, Bostick, Lee
  • 2014: Predicted Cole, Skole, Goodwin.  Hedged on Grace, Martin and Difo.  Actual: Cole, Goodwin, Difo, Grace.
  • 2013: Predicted Solis as the only lock (Souza already added).  Possibles mentioned in order Barrett, Taylor, Grace, Holland.  Actual: Solis, Barrett, Taylor.
  • 2012: Predicted Karns and McCoy, with Hood and Rosenbaum as maybes.  Actual: Karns and Davis.  I think we were all surprised by Davis’ inclusion, despite his good AA numbers that year.
  • 2011: Predicted Norris as a lock, guessed strongly on Moore, Meyers and Komatsu.  Actual: Norris, Moore, Solano, Perez.    This was poor analysis on my part; I did not consider the IFAs newly eligible.
  • 2010: Predicted Marrero, Meyers and Mandel.  Actual: Marrero, Carr and Kimball.
  • 2009: pre-dates my blog and thus no predictions, but Actual was Jaime, Thompson and Severino.
  • 2008: I might be wrong, but I don’t see any evidence of the team protecting *anyone* prior to the Rule-5 draft.  A bit of an indictment of the farm system at the time, I’d say :-)

Nationals Screw Job: Rendon and Taylor miss out on Gold Gloves

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If you don't know just how good an OF Taylor is ... check out the stats below. (AP Photo/Nick Wass via nbcsports.com)

If you don’t know just how good an OF Taylor is … check out the stats below. (AP Photo/Nick Wass via nbcsports.com)

(Note: this is the 2017 version of the “Gold Glove Awards versus Defensive Metrics Review” recurring post that I do each year, even if I havn’t titled it as such thanks to the tie-in to our players).

In Keith Law‘s chat yesterday, someone asked him about his reaction to Gold Glove awards being announced and he said something along the lines of “I have no more Fs to give.”

(btw: someone named “Wally” asked a Nats question at the very beginning … same as our own Wally?)

Anyway, its not hard to understand Law’s stance on the awards: they’re often given more based on reputation than accomplishment on the field, they’re often tied to a player’s offense (inexplicably, since its a defensive award), and we’ve had more than a few ridiculous awards in years past (see Derek Jeter in his waning SS years, or the year Rafael Palmeiro got one for “playing” 1B when he mostly DH’d).

However; the voting has gotten much better the past few years; last year there wasn’t a single Gold Glove award that I thought was “fishy.”  Every guy who got an award last year was a deserving winner and you could make a compelling argument for them.

Not this year.

Here’s your 2017 Gold Glove award winners:

PosAL GG WinnerNL GG Winner
CMartin MaldonadoTucker Barnhart
1BEric HosmerPaul Goldschmidt
2BBrian DozierD.J. LeMahieu
SSAndrelton SimmonsBrandon Crawford
3BEvan LongoriaNolan Arenado
LFAlex GordonMarcell Ozuna
CFByron BuxtonEnder Inciarte
RFMookie BettsJason Heyward
PMarcus StromanZack Greinke

In my estimation,  more than 50% of these awards went to the wrong player this year.  Here’s the guys who I had a problem with:

  • Hosmer was actively BAD in the field this year, posting negative range factor and negative DRS figures.  Meanwhile Joe Mauer led several defensive metrics for his position.
  • Goldschmidt was a deserving winner, but Votto rated better than him across the board in nearly every defensive metric.
  • Dozier was behind Kinsler in most every defensive metric as well.
  • Longoria was only a slightly bad choice; clearly Todd Frazier was the better AL 3B in totality.  I wonder if his mid-season trade hurt him in this regard.
  • As we have discussed, Rendon rated 2nd in all of baseball in Fangraphs’ total defense figure, but lost out on reputation to the multi-time award winner Arenado (who did lead the league in DRS fwiw)
  • Ozuna also led NL left fielders in DRS … while Adam Duvall led in most every other stat category.
  • Our own Michael Taylor nearly had a clean sweep of NL statistical leads … yet lost out to Inciarte on reputation.
  • Heyward wasn’t a “bad” pick … but Yasiel Puig outshined him in the statistical category over and over.
  • Both Pitchers (not that its that easy to pick them) seemed rather indefensible versus the same two names that kept popping up on leader boards: Dallas Keuchel and R.A. Dickey.

Here’s some quick tables showing all the leading defensive metrics by position for reference:

Fielding Bible 2017:

PosFielding Bible Winner
CMartin Maldonado
1BPaul Goldschmidt
2BD.J. LeMahieu
SSAndrelton Simmons
3BNolan Arenado
LFBrett Gardner
CFByron Buxton
RFMookie Betts
Dallas Keuchel
UtilJavier Baez

7 of the 9  non-utility Fielding Bible winners also got Gold Gloves.  They gave the P to Keuchel as I thought the gold glove should have gone, and they gave LF to Brett Gardner over Alex Gordon in what was probably a toss-up.  But otherwise well done here.

Fangraphs Total Defense 2017:

PosAL Fangraphs Stat Avg (Def)NL Fangraphs Stat Avg (Def)
CMartin MaldonadoTucker Barnhart
1BJoe MauerJoey Votto
2BIan KinslerDee Gordon
SSAndrelton SimmonsBrandon Crawford
3BTodd FrazierAnthony Rendon
LFAlex GordonAdam Duvall
CFByron BuxtonMichael Taylor
RFMookie BettsYasiel Puig
Pn/an/a

This is the stat that shows that Rendon is the 2nd best defensive player in the game, by the way.   And that Taylor was the best CF in the National League, barely trailing Byron Buxton by a tenth of a point.

Just 7 of the 16 GG winners were leaders by this metric, which is either an indictment of the metric or the gold glove selections this year.  In case you couldn’t tell, you can guess which picks I trust more.

UZR/150 for 2017:

PosAL UZR/150NL UZR/150
Cn/an/a
1BJoe MauerJoey Votto
2BIan KinslerDee Gordon
SSAndrelton SimmonsBrandon Crawford
3BTodd FrazierAnthony Rendon
LFAlex GordonAdam Duvall
CFByron BuxtonMichael Taylor
RFMookie BettsYasiel Puig
Pn/an/a

I like UZR/150; it is the defensive stat I most frequently mention because it is mostly about a player’s range.  Generally speaking everyone can hit a ball hit right to them; i want a guy who can make plays out of their “zone.”   UZR/150 this year predicted just 5 of the 14 GG winners … but in my estimation identified fully 13 of the 14 most deserving winners.  So perhaps my bias shows through here.

DRS for 2017:

PosAL DRSNL DRS
CMartin MaldonadoTucker Barnhart
1BCarlos SantanaJoey Votto
2BIan KinslerD.J. LeMahieu
SSAndrelton SimmonsTrevor Story
3BEvan LongoriaNolan Arenado
LFBrett GardnerMarcell Ozuna
CFByron BuxtonMichael Taylor
RFMookie BettsYasiel Puig
PAlex CobbR.A. Dickey

DRS did the best job of predicting Gold Glove winners, and predicted 15 of the 18 guys who I “thougth” should have won.

FRAA for 2017:

PosAL FRAANL FRAA
CMartin MaldonadoAustin Hedges
1BMatt OlsenAnthony Rizzo
2BBrian DozierD.J. LeMahieu
SSAndrelton SimmonsOdubel Herrera
3BMatt ChapmanDavid Freese
LFBrett GardnerStarling Marte
CFByron BuxtonMichael Taylor
RFMookie BettsJason Heyward
PDallas KeuchelR.A. Dickey

FRAA is Baseball Prospectus’ Fielding Runs Above Average metric and was the worst performing predictor of both actual GG awards and those that I thought should have won.  Furthermore it spit out some truly random names (David Freese as leading NL 3B??).  So i’d probably put it as the least reliable defensive metric right now.

Total Zone for 2017

PosAL Total Zone rTOTNL Total Zone rTOT
CMartin MaldonadoTucker Barnhart
1BCarlos SantanaPaul Goldschmidt
2BJose AltuveD.J. LeMahieu
SSElvis AndrusOrlando Arcia
3BAdrian BeltreAnthony Rendon
LFAlex GordonBrandon Nimmo
CFByron BuxtonManuel Margot
RFMookie BettsJason Heyward
Pn/an/a

Technically “Total Zone Total Fielding runs above average” or the “rTOT” Baseball-reference.com stat.   It did a decent job predicting the GGs (50%) but also spit out some really random names (Elvis Andrus over Andrelton Simmons??) that make it a bit squirrelly to trust.


So, another year passes of Gold Gloves.  None of these defensive metrics are infallible, which is kind of why the three major flavors of WAR often disagree on positional players (each uses a different one of these defensive stats to measure value).  But looking across the landscape of the measurements it isn’t hard to see trends and patterns for who was the most deserving at each position.

 

 

My 2017 End-of-Season Awards Predictions

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Stanton may have solidified his NL MVP. Photo unk via rantsports.com

Stanton may have solidified his NL MVP.
Photo unk via rantsports.com

Hi there.  Its time to write about the “silly season” of baseball, now that they’ve announced the finalists for each of the major awards.

This year, I changed the way I have traditionally written this post and did not bother to check the pulse of the awards (or look at Players of the Month) until season’s end, since they’re generally useless for predicting these major awards.  So no running narrative of who was “in the lead” for the MVP at the all-star break.

Here’s my predictions for how the awards will go.  Important note: This is not necessarily how I believe the awards should go, it is how I think the current electorate will vote …  though I do tend to believe that the MVP award in particular is not just about naming the WAR leader in the league.

The writers have to submit their ballots at the end of the season; I finished this post in early October but waited until the awards season to arrive to publish it.  Thus, it contains no inclusion of any post-season accolades or accomplishments since the votes were already in before the playoffs started.   Therefore, I’ve left in my gross errors once the 3 finalists were announced.

How do I think the voting will go?

  • AL MVP: Altuve, Judge, Ramirez, Betts, Simmons (perhaps Kluber/Sale as 5th place vote-getters instead of their teammates)
  • NL MVP: Stanton, Arenado, Goldschmidt, Bryant, Rendon
  • AL Cy Young: Kluber, Sale, Severino, Carrasco, Verlander
  • NL Cy Young: Scherzer, Kershaw, Strasburg, Greinke, Jansen
  • AL Rookie: Judge unanimously, then Benintendi, Gurriel
  • NL Rookie: Bellinger unanimously, then DeJong, Kyle Freeman
  • AL Manager: Molitor (Minn), Francona (Cle), Girardi (NYY)
  • NL Manager: Baker (Wash), Lovullo (Ariz), Counsell (Mil)

Actual Award Results added as they were awarded (updated post-publishing)

My prediction results: 7 or 8, missing badly on NL Mgr of the year.

Links to other awards that I didn’t predict this year (again, updated post-publishing as they’re announced)

Other links to awards worth noting


Discussion:

  • AL MVP : I’ve got Altuve over Judge in a race that shouldn’t be that close.  Altuve was dominant all year, holds a sizeable advantage in bWAR (more than a win) over any other AL hitter and is the heart of the best team in the league.  Judge would be the winner had he had a 2nd half similar to his 1st half, and was the clear winner of the “Narrative” conversation.   However, Altuve’s defensive additions and Judge’s distinct lack of “clutchness” (he was dead last or close to it in terms of clutch hitting).  Judge just loses out at doing what just a couple of players have ever done; win the RoY and MVP in the seam season (Fred Lynn, .  Outside the top two, I think it could be any one of a slew of guys.  I think Trout‘s injury costs him in the race but he still is named on a bunch of ballots, but not enough to overcome Betts (who gets votes as Boston’s best player).  I think Jose Ramierez should be in the discussion as Cleveland’s best hitter, but he toils in anonymity for the most part and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sale/Kluber slide into 5th.  Also, don’t sleep on Andrelton Simmons, who has become a force on both sides of the ball this year.  With the finalists announced; I did get the top 3 correct at least and feel like i’ve got the right order.
  • NL MVP: I think Stanton‘s monstrous season (he has nearly 30 more homers than the next best NL hitter) puts him over the top in a year when the best NL teams (Washington, Los Angeles in particular) do not have dominant offensive players leading the way and making their case.  Washington’s best WAR position player is Rendon, who wasn’t even named an All-Star, and the Dodger’s best position player by bWAR is Justin Turner, who isn’t exactly mentioned in the MVP talks.  I think the 2nd and 3rd place votes go to the clear leaders of the two surprise wild card teams (Arenado and Goldschmidt), then 4th and 5th go to Rendon and Kris Bryant in some order.  Bryant has been amazingly quiet despite continuing to be a top player and being the defending MVP; perhaps its Cubs fatigue after their amazing win last fall.  Joey Votto fails to get mentioned despite his amazing season toiling for the last place Reds.   With the finalists announced; I was shocked that the voters gave Votto the votes to get into the top 3; again, more evidence of the electorate getting “smarter” and appreciating the best performances.  I still think it goes Stanton 1st, Goldschmidt 2nd, Votto 3rd.
  • AL Cy Young: Despite Sale‘s 300 strikeout season, Kluber leads the league in most every pitching statistical category and should win this award.  Sale got blasted in one of his last starts of the season, possibly changing some voter’s impression of him at the death of the season.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the voting is really close though.  Past the top two it could be anyone: Verlander stayed in the same league and caught on fire upon his trade to Houston, Luis Severino will get the attention of the many NE-focused voters.  I have no idea who might come in 5th; Carrasco has been great, but it could also be some random closer.  With the finalists announced; I did get the top 3 right at least but feel like its going to be really, really close between Sale/Kluber.
  • NL Cy Young: Both the leading candidates missed time due to injury, but Scherzer only missed a couple of starts and has sizeable lead on Kershaw in both bWAR and in total Ks.  I could see either guy eventually winning though; you can make arguments for either.  Kershaw will have many more innings than he has last year, when he still managed to come in 5th in the vote, and he’ll have a significant lead in ERA.  Past these two, there’s a slew of good hurlers who deserve recognition.  Strasburg has put his name firmly in the argument with his scoreless inning streak, and ironically as of mid-September neither Stras or Scherzer was the bWAR pitching leader on his own *team* (Gio Gonzalez was).  Former Nat Farmhand Robbie Ray has had a great season, as has Greinke, as has Alex Wood and his gaudy W/L record.  3/4/5 could go a number of ways.  And don’t forget Kenley Jansen, who gave up about as many earned runs this year as he did unintentional walks.  Some even mention Jacob deGrom as a back of the ballot guy, but I think there’s enough voters impressed by Jansen’s season that he’ll make it in there.  With the finalists announced; I got the top 3 right and think i’ve got the right order too.
  • AL Rookie: No surprise here; if Judge doesn’t win unanimously then someone needs their vote revoked.  More interesting will be predicting the 2nd and 3rd place guys.  Did Benintendi (the pre-season favorite) do enough?  Did Gurriel and his Rookie of the Month award lift him?  Are there any pitchers worth mentioning?  Keith Law mentioned Oakland’s Matt Olsen as a good 3rd place player but he didn’t play nearly as much as these others.  Rafael Devers?  Who knows.  With the finalists announced; I missed on Mancini versus Gurriel, but again that’s your 3rd place winner in this one-horse race.
  • NL Rookie: As with Judge, this should be unanimous as well, with Bellinger setting a rookie HR record for the Dodgers (who are easily the most illustrious of teams when it comes to rookie history).  Does pre-season RoY favorite Dansby Swanson even get mentioned on ballots after his struggle of a 2017 season?  Who comes in third in the NL?  With the finalists announced; I missed on Bell versus Freeman but either way they’re playing for 2nd place.
  • AL Manager: The Twins went from 100 losses to the playoffs; I think Molitor wins this narrative-driven award thanks to this feat.  Franconia might get it b/c of Cleveland’s amazing winning streak.  With the finalists announced; Missed on Hinch versus Girardi, but does not change my prediction.
  • NL Manager: I can’t see how Baker does NOT win this award,given the ridiculous injury issues he worked around and the whole-sale bullpen change at mid-season.  With the finalists announced; Baker does not even make the top 3.  I guess my homer-ism missed out here.  I got just one of the 3 finalists right, with the voters picking Dave Roberts and Bud Black instead of Baker and Counsell.  Re-guessing now that I see the finalists I think Bud Black is the new favorite, with Arizona’s Lovullo 2nd and Roberts third.

 

 

Pressing issues for the Nats this off-season

72 comments

Will Dusty get another contract here? Photo via UPI

Will Dusty get another contract here? Photo via UPI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


So Summary:

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

Am I missing anything?  Lots of talking points here.

 

 

Missed opportunities result in a Short Series loss; Season over

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Werth ends his Nats career with a K. Photo via getty images

Werth ends his Nats career with a K in the 9th. Photo via getty images

It was a tough watch, to stay up til nearly 1am watching the inevitable.  And it seemed inevitable to watch this team fritter away another NLDS clinching win through another wild outing from Gio Gonzalez to a rather inexplicable “failed starter giving relief innings attempt” from Max Scherzer.  That was the shocking part to me honestly; how does he give up 4 runs?

Just like in 2012 and in 2016, reliable bullpen guys leaked runs to either cut into hard-earned leads or to drip drip and put the game just slightly out of reach in the end.

The Nats drop a series to Chicago where they hit better (both teams were god-awful at the plate but the Nats only slightly more so), where their team ERA was a full point better than Chicagos, and where they outscored the Cubs 20-17 over five games.  Just as in 2016 when the Nats similarly outscored the Dodgers but dropped the series 3-2.

It was tough watching Ryan Zimmerman flail at a very tough slider from Wade Davis to end the 7th with runners in scoring position.  It was ridiculous to watch the umpires call Jose Lobaton out despite zero “conclusive evidence” that showed that the tag stayed on, killing a rally that looked like it was about to turn the tide of the game.  And it was pretty tough watching both Werth and Harper get punched out by the same uber-reliever Davis to end the game.  All in all, the Nationals batters left an astounding NINETEEN runners on base in this game.  Nineteen.  I guess they left their “clutch” pants at home.

Baseball Playoffs rarely distill down the “right” champion.  In fact, the team that had the best regular season record has subsequently won the World Series just five times since 1990 (the 1998 Yankees super team, the dominant 2007 Boston team, the 2009 A-Rod Yankees team, again with the 2013 Boston team and last year’s Chicago Cubs).   The other 22 champions during that time were not the best teams in their leagues and in some cases weren’t even the best teams in their divisions.  Miami famously has two WS wins but zero divisional titles in their history, which seems kind of ridiculous.  I’m not saying the Nats were necessarily “better” than the Cubs … they were separated by 4 wins over 162 games, but they deserved to win this series.

End of the line for Werth most likely, also for a handful of bit players, but the core of this team gets another shot at it next year.

Shout out to Michael A. Taylor, who may have shared series MVP honors with Strasburg for his exploits in this series (he drove in 8 of the 20 runs we scored in five games).  Between his renaissance this season at the plate and his exploits this series, it has me rethinking what to do with him for next season: I was pro-trade of Taylor and going with FA/Eaton/Harper outfield … but now i’m thinking you put some combination of Eaton/Taylor/Harper in that OF and save your cash for a 5th starter and/or more bullpen help.  But we’ll get into off-season moves later on in depth.

As for the rest of the offense, tts telling that the only  other guys on this team who drove in runs were the “key men” in the lineup: Harper, Rendon, Murphy, Zimmerman.  So our key guys struggled at the plate but still drove in the runs to keep it close.  Turner finishes off a disappointing season with a disappointing series … lets hope an off-season of rest gets him back to his late 2015 days for next year.

One last series stat.  Strasburg’s line: 14 innings, 6 hits, 3 walks, 22 punch-outs, a 0.00 ERA … and a 1-1 record.  He took a loss for his efforts in game 1.  Bully for him for taking his game 4 start and shoving it down every pundit’s throat who questioned him.  He really turned the narrative on his career with this performance … do you believe there’s still people out there who don’t think he’s an “Ace” in this league?  Maybe that nonsense will end, given his dominance down the stretch and in this series.

Next up for me; i’ll do playoff predictions I guess, because i like looking at pitching match-ups and guessing who might win.  Quick predictions: Houston beats over-their-depth Yankees, LA crushes the exhausted Cubs, and LA fulfils their destiny by holding the Houston bats at bay in the WS.  But we’ll dig deeper into it later.

See you 2016.  Another playoff opportunity lost for this team.

 

Nats salvage the split; how’s our chances of getting back to DC for a 5th game?

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Harper certainly liked Zimmerman's homer. Photo via fanragsports.com

Harper certainly liked Zimmerman’s homer. Photo via fanragsports.com

It was looking pretty gloomy heading into the 8th inning.  Trea Turner had just struck out for the 8th straight time (ok that was an exaggeration, but he is 0-8 with four punch-outs from the lead-off spot this series) with the bases loaded and the Nats had gone 17 innings and scored precisely one lucky run (Anthony Rendon‘s excuse-me-opposite field homer).

Then Carl Edwards Jr. hung a curve-ball to one of baseball’s best sluggers.  And I mean, he frigging hung it.  It came up to the plate on a big ole loop and Bryce Harper, who has been hitting majestic homers to the upper deck in RF since he was in his teens, did not miss.   Tie Game, and the curious bullpen usage of the 8th inning by Joe Maddon continued a few more batters, enabling Ryan Zimmerman to hit one *just out* of left field off a lefty reliever to cap off a 5 run 8th inning come back and seal the victory.

(Note, per comments, yes this definitely cracks my all time top 10 games list … we’ll publish it again in the off-season.  I think i’ve got it 8th or so).

So we head to Chicago with a 1-1 split and disaster averted.  How do things look in Chicago?  Lets look at the presumed starters here on out:

  • Game 3: Max Scherzer vs Jose Quintana: Scherzer is (hopefully) healed from his hamstring issue, and hopefully can get the Nats the win they need him to get.  Meanwhile, lefty Quintana has been decent for the Cubs since his acquisition, posting a 3.74 ERA for the team (which, ironically, is exactly the same ERA as Max’s career post-season ERA).  Not one current National has ever batted against him, so I’d expect some struggles at the plate from our team, especially our big lefties.  But, we also have some important RH batters who should benefit from facing a lefty starter who doesn’t have as good of stuff as Jon Lester has.  Advantage Nats.
  • Game 4: Tanner Roark vs Jake Arrieta: Arrieta’s 2nd half was awesome (he went 7-2 with a 1.29 ERA in the season’s last two months), but he also suffered a Hamstring issue that pushed his start back.  He hasn’t pitched since 9/26; how rusty will he be?  Roark got bombed in his last start (9/27), then struggled in a mop-up inning to keep him fresh (3 hits and a walk), and is a creature of habit in terms of preparation … so how will he look on October 10th after not having started for 2 weeks?  I suspect this game could get to the bullpens early on both sides.  Advantage Cubs though for the obvious reasons: they’re throwing a former Cy Young winner and we’re not.
  • Game 5 if we get here: Strasburg against Hendricks again.  We feel confident Strasburg will continue his reign of dominance … but can the Nats figure out how to be more patient against the soft-tossing Hendricks?

Lets not get ahead of ourselves here; we need to get the split in Chicago before we talk about Game 5.  When we get there, we’ll talk again.

Bright Spots for the Nats so far: Strasburg, the bullpen, Adam Lind‘s game changing pinch hit in his first post season AB.  Even Gonzalez‘s start wasn’t that bad.

Areas of Concern: The offense in general; the team is hitting just .136 and is lucky to have gotten the split.  Turner is the biggest concern; Werth is 0-fer but is putting the ball in play, and Rendon’s paltry BA takes some of the context out of the harder hit balls he’s hitting; they’ll fall eventually.

Ask Chelsea – post-season/pre-playoffs mailbag

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Farewell Jayson Werth; its been a good 7 years. Photo via getty images

Farewell Jayson Werth; its been a good 7 years. Photo via getty images

Lets bang out a mailbag, this time with WP beat reporter Chelsea Janes at the WP.

I’ll do a Playoffs prediction piece once tonight’s WC game is settled; no point in speculating until we know who the Dodgers are facing.


Q: Is any contract extension for Dusty contingent on getting the team past the first round?

A: I wouldn’t think so, honestly.  I think Dusty Baker has done an excellent job with this team, turning it around starkly from the Matt Williams regime.  Yes its curious that he hasn’t been extended … but then again, the inevitable extension for Mike Rizzo seemed to be a little late coming too.  Maybe this team has told him privately that they’ll get it done this off-season and just focus on winning for the time being.

Janes has reported several times that everyone plans on Baker being back, that Rizzo wanted to do it in ST but ownership did not, and that’s the Nationals MO.  


 

Q: Is Stephen Strasburg going to start Game 1?

A: As of the point of this writing, it definitely seems like it.  This gives Max Scherzer one more day to recover, and gives the team the choice of selecting either guy for Game 5 thanks to multiple off-days in the playoff schedule.  I’d be up for this scenario honestly; Scherzer may be the Ace but Strasburg has been the best pitcher in the last two months.

Janes does not know but pointed out Strasburg’s unbelievable numbers since returning from the D/L in August.  He definitely merits a 2-game NLDS if it comes to it.


 

Q: Chances Anthony Rendon gets an extension this off season?

A: Hmm.  Good question.  Rendon is going to be due a sizeable arbitration raise this off-season and still has another Arb year, so I could see the team doing a 2-year deal now to avoid the arguing.  Perhaps 2yrs/$25M or something (with salaries of $10 and $15M?).  I’d take that for cost certainty for a guy who doesn’t get near the credit he’s due but is putting up MVP numbers.  As far as longer-term extension?  I dunno; is Rendon a lifer in Washington?  What will it take to sign him long term?  In this respect, his under-ratedness works to the team’s benefit.  I see him kind of in the Adrian Beltre mold; good defensive player, not as flashy, solid offensive contributions.  Beltre is getting $18M per right now and just finished a 5yr/$80M deal before that, so that’s a good benchmark.  Maybe Rendon can be had for something like a 5yr/$90M deal which would take him through his age-32 year, so we’d get his best years but he’d get another shot at the FA market at 32.

Janes agrees with my assertion that they’ll likely buy out his Arb years, but notes that he’s a Scott Boras client and likely hits FA.  Fair point.  But our read on Rendon is not the hyper-aggressive big character/ego guy, so maybe in the asme vein as Strasburg (also Boras client) he’ll sign an extension to stay comfortable.  He’s also a Houston guy born and bred (HS and college) and would make a ton of sense heading back there.  Houston has a log-jam of good infielders right now … but a lot can change in a couple years.


Q: Would you start Jayson Werth or Adam Lind in LF for playoffs Game 1?

A: Werth absolutely.  Especially since Jon Lester is likely to go Game 1.  Maybe you could get more clever in games 2-4 when RHP starters go for Chicago… but I still doubt it.  Unless Werth is hurt, he’s  your starting LF.  And if he was hurt … i’m not sure I’d go with Lind out there in lieu of Howie Kendrick honestly, given the defensive liabilities.

Janes agrees, thinks it would take an injury to get someone besides Werth out there, and points out that Werth was a rock in the playoffs last year.


Q: How worried should we be about the recent performances of Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark? 

A: Slightly worried, but not overly so.  The Nats have really had so little to play for for weeks that its possible that these guys just mentally relaxed enough to have bad games, especially in the season finale (which was emotional for it being Werth’s likely final regular season game in a Nats uniform).

Janes thinks Gio was a bit under the weather, and that Roark admitted to not being totally focused during the grind of the final week.


Q: Will Victor Robles make the major league roster out of spring training in 2018?

A: Oh, that’s a good question.  Something tells me he will not for several reasons:

  1. Adam Eaton will be back and starting in CF
  2. Harper is in RF
  3. The team still has TaylorGoodwin and Stevenson all in the mix, all pre-arb, all with more service time than Robles
  4. We still could buy ourselves a bigger bat to play LF and have these guys all jockeying to be the 4th OF.
  5. We still could see a trade in the off-season, flipping some of this sudden OF depth (along with Wilmer Difo) for the answer.
  6. Robles needs to be playing every day, not sitting on the MLB bench, and makes sense to be in AAA against near-MLB quality guys
  7. Robles needs, in the same vein as Trea Turner, to have his service time managed a little bit.

Now, I could be wrong, and the team could find itself in a dogfight early in Harper’s last season.  They could get hit with injuries again and he’d be right back up.  But to start, i’d have him in AAA.

Janes repeats practically everything I wrote.


Q: Who will be the last man on the bench? What will the bullpen look like? Will Robles make the playoff roster? 

A: I think …. if it were me i’d put Robles on the roster.  But Mr, Baker probably wants a more veteran player, so don’t be surprised if the kid is left off in lieu of some .200 hitting last man.  We’ll see.

We talked about this in the last post so we won’t do it again, and Janes posted a whole 2,000 word article on it … so we’ll defer to those discussions.