Nationals Arm Race

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

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Lucas Giolito – First Look

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WASHINGTON DC, JUNE 28: Washington starting pitcher Lucas Giolito (44) makes his major league debut as the Washington Nationals play the New York Mets at Nationals Park in Washington DC, June 28, 2016. (Photo by John McDonnell / The Washington Post)

WASHINGTON DC, JUNE 28: Washington starting pitcher Lucas Giolito (44) makes his major league debut as the Washington Nationals play the New York Mets at Nationals Park in Washington DC, June 28, 2016. (Photo by John McDonnell / The Washington Post)

Its been a while since I did one of these, but what better occasion than to eyeball our newest and biggest prospect on his MLB debut.

Lets talk about Lucas Giolito‘s abbreviated debut.  Here’s what I saw.

Smooth and easy delivery, almost effortless.  He seems like he’s just lobbing it in.  According to TV, FB at 94-96.  Here’s his Pitch F/X link on the night: they classified  his change-ups mostly as curves, had his average velocity at 93.9 and his peak at 95.9 (so the TV gun wasn’t embellishing).  In the first, He gave up a weak single to Granderson to lead-off, got the benefit of some high strikes against Cabrera before blowing him away with a “show me” 96 mph fastball down the pike.  Cespedes sat on a first pitch fastball and absolutely gashed it … right at Rendon.  Walker got a really nice change-up to start him off (nice to see that confidence to command his change-up 0-0), got him down 0-2 and kind of knew a a curve was coming and hit it pretty hard, but Murphy made a nice play to retire him and save the run.  Huge delta between his FB and change, and he controlled the change.  He only threw 2 curves in the first inning, one of which broke so sharply that the ump missed the call (it was borderline low anyway) and the second got hit.

Second inning even though he’s “only” 93 Loney was way behind.   You have to attribute that to his length and the fact that he’s releasing the ball probably a foot closer to the plate than a normal guy.  Loney then froze on a beautiful curve before flying out harmlessly.  The umpire’s high strike zone worked to Giolito’s advantage; his adreneline was definitely working against him and his pitches were trending up.   Flores got a good swing on his curve, better than I would have liked to have seen.   Weak fly ball opposite field for Nimmo and Giolito is through 2 having retired 6 straight.  Interesting.

We go into live blogging mode briefly: here’s some thoughts during the bottom of the 2nd:

  • At 8:30pm in my Vienna home it starts pouring; not a good sign for Giolito’s start.  I’m guessing they may have a brief delay.  Yup, like clockwork, 9pm the tarp goes out on the field.  Well at least I now know how long it takes for a storm to get from my house to Nats Park :-)
  • Side tangent; why the F is Zimmerman hitting before Rendon??  In fact, why is Zimmerman hitting anything but like 8th right now?   Rendon gets Giolito a 1-0 lead with a crushed triple to right center.
  • Another tangent: boy seems like Harvey is short arming it.  I think I’ve mentioned this before in a comment somewhere; his mechanics just do not look like they did last year, or prior to his injury.  I wonder if this is just what he throws like now post TJ, or if he’s got some sort of mechanical issue.
  • Why exactly are they pitching to Espinosa with Giolito on deck?  That was kind of dumb.  The kid has 9 at bats in like the last 5 years.  I’m going to laugh if he gets a hit.
  • Giolito is a little rusty at the plate.  Of course, professional hitters can’t hit Harvey, so it isn’t like its any shameful thing that Giolito is swinging after the ball is in the catcher’s mitt.  He manages a grounder to second that for a second looked like it might weasel its way through.

Top of the 3rd, he makes quick work of 8-9 hitters on weak grounders; now its second time through the lineup.   He nibbled a little bit with Granderson and walked him on 4-straight; same with Cespedes.  Maybe that’s fair; those are the two most dangerous hitters in the Mets lineup these days.

He’s pitching efficiently, he’s working contact and getting a lot of weaker outs.  He’s not over throwing, hasn’t shown much above 96.  But he’s in control; just 32 pitches through three complete.

I’m trying to gauge the movement on his fastball; I saw one really nice tailing fastball that might have been a two seamer, but mostly its straight 4-seamers.

True to scouting reports, he has a sick curveball; a true 12-6 curve, straight over the top and it drops straight down.  Wow; that’s something you just don’t see that often.  It curves enough that a pitch that looks way up is going to drop into the zone.  Its no wonder why pundits rave about the hook.  By the 4th inning Ramos was loving the curve and calling it more frequently.

He’s getting great defense behind him; Rendon, Murphy and Espinosa all have turned in really nice plays for him on grounders that were sometimes pretty sharply hit.  But its all outs on the board.

Through 4 complete; 1 hit, two walks on just 45 pitches.  29 strikes, 16 balls (8 of which came on the two batters where he seemed to nibble/lose focus).

At this point, it started pouring, and when they didn’t remove the tarp after like 5 minutes you knew his night was done.  Team wins easily on the night 5-0 and I wonder how much longer Giolito could have gone.

In the end, we’ve seen him throw a couple of clicks faster (he was 97 in spring), and we’ve certainly seen him with more strikeout capacity (353 Ks in 324 career minor league innings with almost exactly 9 k/9 in AA this year against the best hitters in the minors).  I wonder if tonight’s outing was a managed gameplan kind of thing from the Nats brain trust; don’t over throw, pitch to contact, don’t worry about Ks or throwing max effort.

What did you guys see?

 

 

 

Qualifying Offers; Are they Working (updated for 2016)

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Desmond gets a Q.O. ... and gets screwed. Photo Drew Kinback/Natsnq.com

Desmond got a Q.O. … and gets screwed. Photo Drew Kinback/Natsnq.com

When former Nat Ian Desmond signed, he became the final Qualifying Offer-attached player to come off the Free Agency board for the pre-2016 season.  So its time to publish our recurring “Are Qualifying Offers working” post.  We first visited this topic ahead of the 2014 season and again prior to the 2015 season.

I don’t think i’m “burying the lede” by saying that, No, Qualifying Offers are not working (at least as far as the players are concerned).  But lets look at the results of this past off-season’s free agents with compensatory draft pick attachments and do some analysis (fyi, from here on out “Qualifying Offer” will be abbreviated QO):

Here’s my QO Worksheet in Google Docs, which tracks all the QO-offered candidates going back to 2012 and is the basis of a lot of this analysis.

Here’s some summary stats for this year’s QO candidates:

  • 20 Free Agents were offered QOs heading into this past off-season.  That’s a significantly higher number than in any of the year’s past (9 after the 2012 season, 13 after 2013 and 12 after 2014)
  • 3 Took the QO to remain with their original team (Brett Anderson, Colby Rasmus and Matt Wieters).  This represents the first time that anyone has actually taken a QO and, frankly, was something I never though we’d see.  The players union has convinced players to not act rationally to such an extent that I was sure that there was an unstated agreement to never take a QO.   After all was said and done though, I’m sure there’s probably 4-5 more players who probably wish they HAD taken the QO.  As it stands, Anderson, Rasmus and Wieters all get huge raises and nice healthy “pillow contracts” to re-establish value for the following off-season.
  • 3 more eventually Re-Signed with their QO-offering team (Chris Davis, Marco Estrada and Alex Gordon).  I’d only qualify one of these three as really being a significant re-signing; Estrada’s 2015 salary was $3.9M and he declined a $15.8M QO.  I guess you could argue that Gordon’s market was depressed by the QO … but I also think he was reticent to “leave home” and leave a team at the top of the game.
  • 9 guys who got paid just as they would have anyway; 5 of which got many millions more in AAV than their walk year contract.  But these are also the marquee FAs of this past off-season, so QOs were meaningless in the equation.  We’re talking about Zack Greinke (6/$205M), Chris Davis (7/$161M), Jason Heyward (8yr/$184M), Justin Upton (6/$132M) and Jordan Zimmermann (5yr/$110M).
  • 8 of the 20 players who ended up taking LESS in AAV with their new contract.   Now, two of these players (Estrada and Ian Kennedy) may have taken less in AAV but both ended out well on the “plus side” of the free agent accounting; Estrada signed a 2yr/$26M deal (career earnings prior to this point: just over $10M) while Kennedy signed an astounding 5yr/$70M deal after completing a mediocre season in San Diego that had me personally predicting he may be still unsigned in June.  But the other Six?  Well they’re the QO system victims…
  • 6 Players who were clearly negatively affected by the QO and have a serious beef with the system.  Lets look at them one-by-one
    • Dexter Fowler: Walk year of $9.5M salary, after a media-misstep re-signs with his original club for 1yr/$8M with a $5M buyout (so $13M guaranteed) and a team-affordable option year for next year.  Now, you could argue that Fowler took a “home team discount” to stay with what everyone is calling the best team in the majors and I wouldn’t argue.  But Fowler was just the kind of mid-level veteran who frankly never should have declined the QO in the first place.
    • Yovani Gallardo: Walk year of $13M salary, a guy who just badly over-estimated his market after posting mediocre numbers in Texas.  Ends up with a sh*tty franchise (Baltimore) who hemmed and hawed with his medicals (as they’ve done in the past) and he ends up with just a 2yr/$22M contract.
    • Hisashi Iwakuma had a walk year of $7M and who probably wouldn’t be on this list were it not for his own medical issues causing the Dodgers to balk at a 3yr deal; he goes back to Seattle on a discounted 2yr/$20M deal.  I guess its arguable whether the QO really was affecting this guy; it didn’t seem like he wanted to even explore the market outside of a handful of west coast teams.
    • Howie Kendrick languished on the FA market until the end of January before decamping back for his old team, signing for just 2yrs/$20M.  Another guy who just never was going to be worth giving up a 1st rounder.
    • Daniel Murphy ended up taking $3.3M/year in AAV less than the QO value with Washington; it remains to be seen whether the Nats vastly over-paid for a poor defensive 2B whose value seems to be entirely propped up by a fantastic 2015 post-season.
    • Last, but not least, Ian Desmond who managed to leave more on the table (in terms of delta in his new contract AAV versus what he gave up in QO guaranteed salary) than ANY OTHER player in the history of the system.  His 1yr/$8M deal is 7.8M less than his QO; that’s more “lost money” than even Kendrys Morales, Nelson Cruz, or Stephen Drew left on the table … and a couple of these guys didn’t sign until May or June!  And this doesn’t even mention the 9-figure extension he turned down a couple years ago.

There have been plenty of lamenting pieces on Desmond in the last few days; i hope he’s not reading about how everyone is calling him a dummy for leaving $100M on the table between his spurned 7-year Washington deal and his declined QO.  He just got unlucky; he had an awful walk year, he fell squarely into the “mid-level veteran not worth giving up a draft pick” category, and he hit the off-season at a time when a huge number of teams are, to use a word, tanking.  Half the teams in the NL and a couple more in the AL are in positions where they’re not spending extra dollars in FA and are depending on in-house options for SS; combine that with those teams who already have quality short stops and you suddenly have a completely dried-up market for Desmond.  Take a quick peek at the RotoWorld depth charts for the NL and look at the guys who are slated to start … and then ask yourself if Desmond is a better option.

I still can’t quite figure out specifically why the White Sox didn’t sign him; who is their slated starter at short?  They had a protected 1st rounder and are not quitting on 2016, so instead of getting a quality guy like Desmond they’ve signed Jimmy Rollins as a MLFA/NRI and that’s who might be the starter?   The Mets are another obvious team that may be wishing they’d signed Desmond when it becomes more apparent that the guy they actually signed (Asdrubal Cabrera) can no longer play SS .. or hit for that matter.  Anyway…

I think Desmond has gotten pretty sh*tty representation, honestly.  He should have signed the extension and not held out for an Elvis Andrus contract that was never going to happen.  And he should have read the tea-leaves, seen how the market was looking, seen how teams are hoarding 1st round draft picks, seen how his .233 BA was going to hamper his market and just taken the QO to try for a bounce-back season.

There’s lots of people talking about the QO system and what to do with it; i’m guessing its going to be front and center in the next CBA.  But how do you compensate teams for losing FAs?  I don’t have a good option and I don’t think the “just sever ties between FA and the draft” is the answer either.  I guess we’ll see some creative solutions proposed as we get closer to the CBA negotiations.

Ladson’s inbox 3/1/15

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Roark; the lost starter.  Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

Roark; the lost starter. Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

I havn’t posted something in weeks.  I was facing writers block.  What is there to really write about in the early weeks of Spring Training?  Thankfully, MLB.com beat reporter Bill Ladson piped up with an inbox!

As always, these are (presumably) real questions from (presumably) real Nats fans who took time out of their busy day to email Ladson personally.  And as always, i write my response here before reading his so as not to color my own opinion.


Q: Would the Nationals consider a six-man rotation so Tanner Roark isn’t left out?

A: Uh, no.   You don’t commit $210M to Max Scherzer and then immediately tell him and all the other veterans in the rotation that their entire work preparation process is going to be adjusted, for the first time ever by any MLB team, to account for a guy with a year and a half of service in Tanner Roark.

By going to a 6-man rotation for an entire 162-game season,  you’d be lowering the number of starts for each guy by at least 6.  What would you rather have, 6 less starts by the likes of Scherzer and Strasburg, or 20-some starts for Roark?  I like Roark too, and trust me I wouldn’t mind a bit for a trade to enable him to be the 5th starter again, but this team has made its bed with this contract.

Ladson says that Roark will be in the bullpen as the long man when the season starts.  Cutting-edge analysis!

Q: If the Nationals and Jordan Zimmermann cannot come to an agreement and he signs somewhere else, what kind of effect will this have on the Nationals in general?

A: Not as much as you might think.  Yes, losing a near-Ace is never good, but this team has a 5-win starter pushed to the bullpen right now, and has significant depth in AAA.  I’m of the belief that a lot of the Scherzer signing was about providing rotation stability through the next few years as the team (likely) parts ways with a significant portion of its current rotation through free agency.  Two years from now you’re probably looking at a rotation that goes Scherzer, Gonzalez, Roark, Cole and Giolito.  And the Nats will have likely acquired a whole slew of upper-level prospects either by trade or by virtue of supplemental draft picks.  Ladson confidently says “there will be no effect at all” because Matt Williams “won’t allow it.”  Beat reporter bravado?  Of *course* there will be an effect; we’re talking about what will probably be a difficult and nasty separation when all is said and done.

Q: Why is Gio Gonzalez starting over Roark? Roark is clearly better. Gio won’t throw strikes.

A: Simple answer: because Gonzalez is lefty.  Secondary issue; Gonzalez is getting paid more than 20 *times* what Roark is in 2015.  I’m not entirely in disagreement here; I’ve been a Roark believer ever since he got called up.  But he’s going to be the odd man out in this competition no matter how good he looks this spring.  Ladson says Gio was his good ole self after getting past his shoulder injury.

Q: I like Drew Storen and his numbers are, overall, excellent. I have to admit, though, I worry about him in close games in the postseason. Am I overly concerned about the fact that 2012 and ’14 playoffs saw him blow saves in key games?

A: Three words for you: Short.  Sample.  Size.  Like it or not (and I too fall victim to this), you just can’t look at a couple of outings in the post-season and judge a guy.  Exhibit 1a: Clayton Kershaw‘s career post-season era is 5.12.    I killed Storen‘s 2014 NLDS performance too, but in reality he was rather unlucky to blow Zimmermann’s gem (Posey kind of fisted the ball into center and then Sandoval hit a down-and-away pitch for a very well-placed double to tie the game).  Storen’s regular season record speaks for itself right now: he had a frigging 1.12 ERA last year!

I say, lets worry about *making* the post-season first, then lets see how the games go.  At some point you have to think the Nats will, you know, hit the ball in a post-season series to the point where it won’t matter whether our closer will pitch a 1-2-3 ninth.  Lets you forget: the team slash line in the 2014 NLDS was .164/.222/.258 and in the 2012 NLDS was .232/.290/.393.  That’s not very good.

Ladson basically says the same thing.

Q: Do you expect a significant contribution from any of the players signed to Minor League contracts?

A: We already talked about the NRIs in depth.  Short answer is this: *maybe* one of the veteran right handers might have an impact but not immediately.  And we might very well see one of the lefty-hitting vets pushing Tyler Moore for the last spot on the roster.  Ladson thinks Mike Carp in particular is going to contribute off the bench … which means he’s predicting Carp to make the 25-man roster?

Q: Which Minor Leaguers could get called up during the season?

A: I think we’ll see at least three of the AAA starters at some point during the  year (guessing Treinen, Cole and Jordan).   I could see Matt Grace getting some MLB time.  I’m sure we’ll see a backup catcher in Dan Butler at some point.  If Michael Taylor doesn’t start out on the 25-man roster to replace Jayson Werth, then i’m sure we’ll see him at some point.

Perhaps a better question would be this: what non-40man roster guys could you see getting call-ups mid-season?  Rafael Martin comes to mind, as well as someone like Emmanuel Burriss or Matt Skole if the team gets stuck on the injury front.

Ladson mentions Cole and Grace … and then says that he could see Giolito getting a September call-up.  That’s the dumbest thing i’ve read in a while.  Why in god’s name would we want to start Giolito’s clock early like that??  If he’s MLB ready by the end of 2015 …. then you sit on him in AAA for two weeks in 2016 and call him up mid-April.  That’s it.  Every day he spends pitching useless innings in Sept 2015 would be another day the team has to wait for him in 2016. 

Q: Do you see Danny Espinosa on this team in 2016? It seems like he has gotten a lot more slack than anyone on the team. Additionally, what are the team’s long-term plans for second base?

A: I see no reason for Espinosa not to be on this team in 2016, if he continues to serve as an adequate backup.  There’s no reason to cut him, and there’s not really anyone better who is that close to the majors.   I’m not sure if i’d characterize the way the Nationals have handled him as “slack;” in fact the Nats have now gone out of their way to replace him as the starter both with the Cabrera trade mid-2014 and with the Escobar trade this past off-season.  Long term you have to think the team is waiting for Wilmer Difo as the long-term 2B solution .. if he can step it up and advance two levels in 2015 he may be ready by mid 2016.   I’m not as convinced that Tony Renda (who is “ahead” of Difo on the org 2b chart) is a real MLB prospect at this point.  There’s practically nobody of interest at either AAA or AA right now who rates as a prospect.  There’s also a possiblity that newly-acquired-but-not-yet-with-us Trea Turner could be a solution … but the team is hoping he can stick at short.  Ladson basically agrees.

 

 

Ladson’s inbox 2/2/15

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Scherzer is on everyone's mind.  Photo via Scherzer's twitter account.

Scherzer is on everyone’s mind. Photo via Scherzer’s twitter account.

Love it; another inbox to analyze.  In the wake of the Scherzer signing, lets see what kind of questions MLB.com beat reporter Bill Ladson fielded this week.

As always, I answer as I write before reading Ladson’s answer, and edit questions for clarity as needed.

Q: How much better will the Nationals be now that right-hander Max Scherzer is on the roster?

A: Well, if you play the “WAR analysis” game, then Max Scherzer replaces Tanner Roark in the rotation for 2015.   Scherzer posted a bWAR of 5.5 in 2014 while Roark posted a bWAR of 4.8.  So on the face of it, assuming that both players provide identical value in 2015 as they did in 2014, perhaps Scherzer won’t immediately impact the team.  This is the essence of those immediate-post signing blogs and columns that questioned why the Nats needed to make this acquisition.

However.  I offer some counters.

  1. Roark immediately becomes your spot-starter to cover for injury.  Lets say that Gio Gonzalez (bWAR in 2014 of just 2.1) gets hurt and Roark covers for him; well that’s nearly a 3-WAR improvement.  Certainly Roark is going to be better than whatever AAA cover we could promote to provide injury relief.  The Nats only gave 12 13 starts to non-core rotation guys in 2014 but more than twice that number in 2013; the odds are that an injury is going to hit the rotation at some point.
  2. Scherzer will be better in 2015 than he was in 2014.  Why?  He moves to the NL, gets to face pitchers instead of DHs, faces generally weaker lineups, plays in a weaker division and pitches in more parks that are pitcher friendly.  You can make the argument that his K/9 is going to increase significantly (if he faces the pitcher 60-70 times in a season, he likely strikes them out at least half of that), and his ERA likely falls at least a half a point.  That will boost his WAR for 2015.
  3. Scherzer going twice in a seven game playoff series is going to be better than having any one else getting that second start.  In fact, a 1-2-3 punch of Strasburg, Zimmermann and Scherzer is one heck of a daunting task for any opponent.
  4. And there’s this: not to completely re-hash my post on the Scherzer signing, but i’ll note that this signing (to me) seems like a way to bridge the gap and guarantee an “Ace” in the rotation through the next two off-seasons of rotation transition (where the team likely loses Zimmermann, Fister and Strasburg).  The Nats rotation looks an awful lot better after these three guys are gone if Scherzer is leading the line.  So to me this isn’t a move about 2015 as much as it is about getting this team to 2017 and maintaining competitiveness.

Ladson said very little about answer the question, using his answer to immediately talk about the offense and the bench.  Yeah we know there’s issues there.  And we all remember how the middle of the order went like 1-for-the NLDS.  Wasn’t the question.

Q: Why didn’t Espinosa work on hitting right-handed exclusively after the season ended? If Espinosa made that transition successfully, he would be the answer at second base.

A: A good question.  Not the first time this topic has come up.  We’ve discussed it to death here but the reasons seem to fall along the following:

  1. Espinosa may be getting “advice” from his agent (Scott Boras) to put his own interests first.
  2. Espinosa may be “stubborn” about maintaining his switch hitting, given that it is a differentiator in the marketplace for him.
  3. Espinsoa may just be uneasy about suddenly facing right-handed curve balls from the right-hand side, probably having not faced such a situation in more than a decade (a fair point).

We all know about his splits lefty versus righty.  We all know he has not chosen to try RH-only.  I think its also safe to say that the organization has gone out of its way (Asdrubal Cabrera last season and now Yunel Escobar) to replace him in the starting lineup despite his defensive skills.  It is what it is; we now have a backup infielder on the roster to cover both 2B and SS and who has some pop from the plate in a backup capacity (and the associated K-rate of course).  Not the worst thing in the world to have.  Ladson says … well he stated the obvious (Escobar is the starter) and then says that the “Nats hope Espinosa cuts down on his strike-outs.”  Non-answer.

Q: How come Jeff Kobernus is not being considered for the starting second-base job? Why not have a young, cost-controlled guy play every day?

A: Because Kobernus hasn’t played 2B basically since college full-time since a half-season stint in Harrisburg in 2012.  The team moved him to the OF and he’s mostly stayed there.  Even if you thought he could play second effectively, he’s got a career minor league slash line of .285/.331/.363.   He is what he is: a utility guy who can cover in case of a slew of injuries and makes for a good 9/1 pinch running/6th outfielder call-up, but that’s about it.  I don’t think you can count on him to produce at the major league level day-in and day-out.  Ladson says Kobernus has a chance of making the bench out of spring training this year, which I disagree with.

Q: Asdrubal Cabrera signed with the Rays for one-year, $7.5 million. Why couldn’t the Nats make that deal? Or something close to it?

A: Probably because Cabrera wanted to play short-stop, and the Nats have a short-stop.  Besides, Escobar at $5M is a good deal.  I mentioned at some point in the off-season that Cabrera’s offensive output with Washington wasn’t too much better than Espinosa’s frankly (Cabrera’s split line with Washington in 2014 was .229/.312/.389; Escobar brings more to the table.  Ladson agrees, and says that the Nats weren’t willing to bring Cabrera back at his asking price based on what he showed last year.

Q: Why didn’t the Nats consider Tyler Clippard as their closer?

A: Hmm.  Good question.  Perhaps because when Clippard was given the closer job in 2012, he really struggled with it as compared to his typical 8th inning performance.   ERA in 2012 as closer: 3.72.  Career ERA: 2.88.  Besides, there was more in play for Clippard’s trade than just who was going to be the 2015 closer.  Clippard’s got a ton of miles on his arm, Clippard was set to make nearly 8 figures as a reliever, and the Nats felt like they could afford to part ways with him to acquire a player who filled a need.  Ladson notes what I noted, and said that Clippard’s pending free agency played into the decision.  That’s a great point that I didn’t mention; Clippard wasn’t going to be offered a qualifying offer (likely worth $16M next off-season), so he’d depart to no compensation.  With this trade, the Nats got some compensation for him.

Q: I know he’s had plenty of success as a general manager, but I’m surprised Mike Rizzo doesn’t feel any sense of urgency to try to sign Desmond or Jordan Zimmermann to an extension. What are your thoughts on this?

A: I think Mike Rizzo has been trying to extend these guys for more than two years.  “Sense of urgency?”  What else do you want to ask of the guy?  He by all accounts has offered both guys 9-figure deals, and has been rebuffed.  Do you think Ian Desmond is worth a 7yr/$100M deal?  Do you think Zimmermann is worth a 6yr/$150M deal?  Clearly to me the two players are valuing themselves higher than what the GM is valuing them, the GM has made what he thinks to be fair market value deals, and both guys have opted to test the market.  Baseball is a business, both on the player side and the team side.  Ladson thinks Rizzo will step up discussions once spring training happens.  I don’t; I think that the ship has more or less sailed on extending these guys at this point.  Now, will the team move Zimmermann?  I think we may see offers once James Shields signs…. if there’s teams out there that want to improve but miss out on Shields, they may come calling to the Nats with deals we cannot turn down.  We’ll see.  Overall thougth I’m doubtful any trades occur at this point.  My prediction: the juggernaut rotation goes into 2015 in-tact.

 

Nats Payroll projections for 2015

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Jayson Werth remains the Nats highest paid player ... but for how long?  Photo via fansided.com

Jayson Werth remains the Nats highest paid player … but for how long? Photo via fansided.com

As we start to debate what the team may do this coming off-season, it is worth discussing the projected payroll for 2015 and the impact it may have on the moves this team makes.

A couple of salient points to start with:

  • The Nats opening day 2014 payroll was somewhere in the $135M range (depending on your source; USA Today had opening day payroll at $133M, Cots had it at $136M).
  • Owner Ted Lerner was quoted in April that “payroll was beyond topped out.”  Which probably can explain some of the cost-savings moves the team made later in the year (acquiring Asdrubal Cabrera and getting the Indians to kick in his salary).
  • The MASN debacle is still not sorted out, meaning the Nats are still operating on a smaller budget than they should be, and the Nats are likely holding down payroll to a certain operating level until they know exactly how much money they can expect out of the deal going forward.

So, based on the above three facts, I’m working under the assumption that the Nats 2015 payroll isn’t going to change much.  The Lerners may be the league’s richest owners, but they’re not running the Nats as a money loser.

Which will make the following analysis kind of scary, honestly, because I’ve got the 2015 Nats payroll projecting at close to $150M.  I’ve posted my work here (a Google xls, also available as a “link” along the right hand column of the blog), so you can see if I made some egregious errors in calculation.  Let’s play along by section to see how I arrived at this number and what I think it means for this off-season.  This accounts for all 39 guys currently on the 40-man roster:

Under Contract for 2015 – 10
Werth, Jayson 7 yr/$126M (11-17) $21,571,000
Zimmerman, Ryan 6 yr/$100M (14-19)+20 opt $14,000,000
Gonzalez, Gio 5yr/$42M (12-16)+17,18 options $11,100,000
Zimmermann, Jordan 2yr/$24M (14-15) 7.5 and 16.5 $16,500,000
Desmond, Ian 2yr/$17.5M (14-15), 6.5 and 11 $11,000,000
Span, Denard 5 years/$16.5M (10-14), $9M club opt 15 $9,000,000
McClouth, Nate 2yr/$10.75M (14-15) with opt $5,000,000
Rendon, Anthony 4yr/$7.2M ($6M bonus)  (11-14)+15 opt $1,800,000
Harper, Bryce 5 yr/$9.9M (11-15) $2,250,000
Thornton, Matt 2yr/$7M (14-15) $3,500,000

Total Payroll for Players under Contract for 2015: $95,721,000

$95M already, and we’re only to 10 players of the 40-man roster.  So much for all that savings we were getting by declining Soriano and LaRoche’s options.  By the way, I am assuming that the team exercises Denard Span‘s $9M option, but not Soriano or LaRoche’s (Update: after I wrote this but before I published, the Nats indeed exercised Span and declined the others).

Arbitration Eligible Players for 2015 – 11 my arb estimate
Fister, Doug 1yr, $7.2M (14) (arb2) $11,000,000
Clippard, Tyler 1yr, $5.85M (14) (arb3) $7,500,000
Strasburg, Stephen 1yr/3.975M (14) (arb1) $6,500,000
Storen, Drew 1yr/$3.45M (14) (arb2) $5,000,000
Detwiler, Ross 1yr, $3M (14) (arb2)
Ramos, Wilson 1yr/$2.095M with $105k incentives (14) arb1 $4,000,000
Blevins, Jerry 1 yr/$1.6M (14) (arb2) $2,000,000
Stammen, Craig 2yr, $2.25M (13-14) $2,000,000
Lobaton, Jose 1yr/$950k (14) arb1 $1,500,000
Frandsen, Kevin 1yr/$900k (14) arb2 $1,250,000
Espinosa, Danny 1yr/mlb min (14) $1,000,000

Total Estimate for all 2015 Arbitration Raises: $41,750,000

The team has 11 players eligible for Arbitration this year.  I’m assuming the team tenders 10 of them, which may be a bad assumption.  Would you tender Ross Detwiler and pay him $3M (or close to it) again?  Would you tender Jerry Blevins?  How about Kevin Frandsen?  Do you think Fister gets $11M after the season he had?

Either way, even if some of guys aren’t tendered, it barely moves the needle here thanks to the expected paydays for the top guys.

Pre Arbitration MLB players – 18
Purke, Matthew 4yr/$4.15M (2.75M bonus) (11-14) with 2 opts $1,037,500
Roark, Tanner 1yr $506k (14) $550,000
Florimon, Pedro Jr 1yr $517.5k (14) $520,000
Jordan, Taylor 1yr $504k (14) $515,000
Davis, Erik 1yr Minor League deal (14) $505,000
Barrett, Aaron 1yr Minor League deal (14) $500,000
Cedeno, Xavier 1yr Minor League deal (14) $510,000
Kobernus, Jeff 1yr Minor League deal (14) $505,000
Leon, Sandy 1yr Minor League deal (14) $505,000
Mattheus, Ryan 1yr/$520k (14) $525,000
Moore, Tyler 1yr/mlb min (14) $510,000
Rivero, Felipe 1yr Minor League deal (14) $500,000
Solano, Jhonatan 1yr Minor League deal (14) $500,000
Solis, Sammy 1yr Minor League deal (14) $500,000
Souza, Steve 1yr Minor League deal (14) $510,000
Taylor, Michael 1yr Minor League deal (14) $505,000
Treinen, Blake 1yr Minor League deal (14) $515,000
Hill, Taylor 1yr Minor League deal (14) $500,000

Total Estimate for all 2015 pre-Arb 40-man players: $9,712,500

I’m guessing on Purke‘s deal frankly.  And i’ve put in some nominal raises for the likes of Roark who did so well this year; he may get more than just a $50k raise.  A few of these players may be DFA’d or released (wait for the post on options status to see just how many of these players are in jeopardy of a late March DFA).  But we’re not talking about a ton of payroll difference if we cut a guy making a split deal worth $500,000.

 


Total Payroll estimate for 2015: $95,721,000 + $41,750,000 + $9,712,500 = $149,183,500.

That’s $149M … way above the number this team sat at on 4/1/14 (which Lerner said was “maxed out”), and that’s before we count LaRoche’s $2M buy-out (not sure if that technically goes against 2014’s or 2015’s payroll).

Oh, and that’s before the team even thinks about any free agents to fill holes.

Maybe i’m a bit too generous with arbitration raises (Clippard from $5.85M to $7M?)  But those estimates aren’t that far out of line with what will happen and combined won’t change the $149M more than a couple million one way or the other.

So, what’s going to happen?  Does this team go into the off-season thinking about shedding payroll through trades?  Food for thought.  We’ve talked in previous posts about flipping the likes of Jordan Zimmermann ($16.5M), Span ($9M), Clippard ($7M estimate) or even Drew Storen ($5M estimate) … maybe the team is thinking of flipping them to save cash and to acquire future pieces.

Thoughts?

Keep Asdrubal Cabrera?

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Who would you rather have? Photo AP via mlb.com

Who would you rather have? Photo AP via mlb.com

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

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

Player Year Age Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
Cabrera 2014 28 WSN NL 49 200 175 20 40 9 2 5 3 22 29 0.229 0.312 0.389 0.7 92
Espinosa 2014 27 WSN NL 114 364 333 31 73 14 3 8 8 18 122 0.219 0.283 0.351 0.634 74

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

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

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

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

Lastly; contract status:

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

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

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

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

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

NLDS Post Mortem

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Not Aaron Barrett's finest moment. Photo via lockerdome.com

Not Aaron Barrett’s finest moment. Photo via lockerdome.com

So, if you told me that the Nats would lose the deciding NLDS game because Matt Williams chose to work the 7th inning with Matt Thornton, Aaron Barrett and then Rafael Soriano as the savior, I would have asked you, “was everyone else in the bullpen dead?”

Instead of going to war in a tie game with any of his three longest serving and most effective relievers (i.e., Craig Stammen, Tyler Clippard or Drew Storen) he went with a waiver claim, a rookie, and a deposed starter with an ERA after the all-star break north of 6.00.

I get bringing in Thornton to go against the first two lefties in the 7th; why the hell do you leave him in to face the Giant’s best hitter in Buster Posey?

When Posey inevitably singles to put guys on first and second with one out … clearly the key point in the game and the post-season … why do you bring in a frigging rookie instead of your #1 shut-down, high leverage reliever (Clippard)?

Was anyone really shocked when Barrett walked the next guy to load the bases?  Was anyone then subsequently surprised when he overgripped, overcome by the moment and bounced a mid 90s fastball to the fence?   Wilson Ramos looked like an amateur trying to “block” that pitch, stabbing at it backhanded like someone who’s never caught before, but whatever.  The damage had already been done.  If it wasn’t a wild pitch, it would have been a deep ground out, or a sac fly; the run expectancy of bases loaded with one out is more than 1.5.  I won’t even go into the little league IBB wild pitch; the poor guy was clearly still thinking about the run he just gave up and the weight of the team’s season was on his shoulders.

For the record, you’re not going to win a ton of games where you get just four hits.  Gio Gonzalez once again proved he wasn’t up to the task, and the Nats were lucky to get out of the 5th without giving up a run (also a bases-loaded, one-out jam that Tanner Roark mostly created on his own but also mostly got out of thanks to a ballsy 2-0 changeup to Pablo Sandoval).

No, the story of this game and this series can be summarized with the following list of lines for the 4-game series:

  • Leadoff hitter Denard Span: 2 for 19 with one walk.
  • #3 hitter Jayson Werth: 1 for 17
  • #4 hitter Adam LaRoche: 1 for 18
  • #5 hitter Ian Desmond: 3 for 18.

All of those hits?  Singles.  No power, no driving the ball from the heart of the order.  Basically, the top half of the Nats lineup played four games of automatic outs.  Hard to win like that.  The bottom half of the lineup wasn’t much better: Cabrera was just 3 for 15 though with two clutch hits and Ramos was just 2 for 17 in the series and was a guaranteed weak ground-ball to shortstop every time.

You’re not going to win games when your 3-4-5  hitters get 5 combined hits in four games, none for extra bases and none driving in any runs.  Did you know that Anthony Rendon was 9-17 with a walk and scored ZERO runs in the series?  He was on base TEN times in four games and never scored.  That’s a huge indictment of the middle of the Nats order.

The only hitters who showed up in this series were the two youngest regulars on the field; Rendon and Harper.  With three homers and a double in four games (driving in four of the 9 total runs the team scored), Harper showed once again why it was folly that he was batting 6th.  He drove in exactly four runs; had he been batting with Rendon on all the time, he may have batted in double that and we’re talking about a different series.

Its a bummer; the Nats offense picked a really crummy time to shut down, to make Ryan Vogelsong look like a staff ace.  And they’re out in the divisional round for the 2nd time in three years despite being the #1 seed.  Tim Hudson: you have your answer.

DC-IBWAA 2014 Poll results and my vote

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Each year, David Nichols of the District Sports Page blog does a great job getting all the Nats bloggers to participate in pre-season and post-season polls, voting on awards for the team for the year.

For 2014, here’s his post-season awards as voted on by us nerd bloggers.  2013’s post-season poll results and my post here.

Here’s how I voted and why.

2014 DC-Internet Baseball Writers Association

POST-SEASON ACHIEVEMENT AWARDS BALLOT

 

 AWARD FIRST (5 POINTS) SECOND (3 points) THIRD (1 point)
Goose Goslin Most Valuable Player
Player most valuable to the success of the Washington Nationals
Rendon Werth LaRoche
Walter Johnson Starting Pitcher of the Year
Excellent performance as a starting pitcher
Zimmermann Fister Roark
Frederick “Firpo” Marberry Relief Pitcher of the Year
Excellent performance as a relief pitcher
Storen Clippard Soriano
Sam Rice Hitter of the Year
Excellence in all-around hitting, situational hitting and baserunning
Rendon Span Werth
Frank Howard Slugger of the Year
Excellence in power hitting
LaRoche Desmond Rendon
Joe Judge Defensive Player of the Year
Excellence in fielding
Rendon Harper Span
Mickey Vernon Comeback Player of the Year
Player who overcame biggest obstacle in the preceding season to contribute on the field
Storen Roark Barrett
Josh Gibson Humanitarian Player of the YearPlayer who meritoriously gave of himself to the community Zimmerman Desmond Ramos
Minor League Player of the Year Minor league player most destined for big league success Souza Taylor Giolito

Award by Award:

  • Team MVP: Have to go with Rendon; easily leads the team in WAR (by a nearly 3-win margin in bWAR over Werth/Span in second place).   Werth continues to steadily hold on to his skills and contribute well into his mid 30s, while LaRoche put up a great contract year performance.
  • Starter of the Year: No argument here: Zimmermann was the best starter on the year.  Fister‘s advanced stats don’t like him (his FIP is above 4.00) but he gets results.  And Roark remains the best “found gold” the Nats have had in terms of prospect matriculation since the likes of Brad Peacock.
  • Reliever of the Year: Storen‘s great bounce back  year has to put him in the lead, followed closely behind by Clippard.  Still think the Soriano acquisition was worth it?  I have him 3rd here just by virtue of his first half … and because the rest of the relievers were either long guys (Stammen, Detwiler), matchup loogies (Blevins, Thornton) or guys who spent more time in AAA than the majors (Barrett, Treinen).
  • Hitter of the Year: Rendon, Werth obvious top 3 guys, but I like what Span‘s done this year in terms of jacking his average up.  Another classic contract year performance.
  • Slugger of the year: I just went with the team leaders in homers 1-2-3.  You would have thought that Harper would be here by now.
  • Defender of the year: looking at the various advanced stats, I ended up with Rendon for his excellent work at 2B and 3B, then Harper (an excellent UZR/150 in left on the year).  Span has a negative UZR/150 in center on the year, but passes the eye test.  I’ll be curious to see how he ends up looking in the other defensive metrics.  So he gets 3rd place essentially because there’s not another regular who has a positive UZR/150 on the team.
  • Comeback player: Storen makes the most sense … his comeback has been two years in the making.  Roark isn’t really a comeback guy as much as he’s a “making the most of his chances guy.”  Neither is Barrett honestly; but there’s not a good example of someone who was hurt or really came out of nowhere to make this team better.
  • Humanitarian: Honestly I only know of two guys on the Nats who actively do humanitarian/charity stuff and that’s Zimmerman and Desmond.
  • Minor League Player of the Year.  As discussed in the comments of another post recently, for me “Minor League Player of the Year” is a completely different list than the subtitle offered of “Minor league player most destined for big league success.”  POTY for me this year went Souza, Taylor and Giolito, while the top 3 prospects in our system probably are Giolito, Cole and Taylor.

Additional Questions

1) Of the players on the current active roster (or DL), which players do you think will not be part of the organization next season?

Pitchers: Blevins, Mattheus, Ohlendorf, Soriano, Detwiler

Out-field players: Solano, Cabrera, LaRoche, Frandsen, Span, Hairston, Schierholz

I’m guessing the team declines Soriano’s option, non-tenders Ohlendorf, Mattheus and Detwiler, and DFAs Blevins after his poor season.

Of the positional players, the team won’t exercise its options on LaRoche or Span, will have to end up DFA-ing Solano (and perhaps others; I havn’t done my options analysis yet) due to having no more options, and will let veteran FAs Frandsen, Hairston and Schierholz hit free agency.  I think Cabrera is going to command too much money for the team to realistically consider him.

2) Will Ian Desmond or Jordan Zimmermann sign a contract extension before they hit the free agent market?

No.  Both will go to FA.  Desmond to the Yankees to be the next Derek Jeter, Zimmermann to highest bidder.

3) Who was the biggest pleasant surprise on this year’s team?

Rendon’s advancement and central role on the team.

4) Who was the biggest disappointment?

Zimmerman’s continued inability to stay healthy.  A close second is Harper’s injury riddled season and struggles.

5) Who is your favorite professional Nats writer?

Mark Zuckerman #1.  After him, i’ll go with Adam Kilgore 2nd and Byron Kerr third.

6) Which is your favorite non-professional Nats blog or writer?

Luke Erickson; sorry to see him take a step back.  My #2 probably is NatsGM Ryan Sullivan, #3 Luigi de Guzman of Natsradamus (when he infrequently posts).

My 2014 Fantasy Baseball Team

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Adam Jones; my #1 fantasy draft pick in 2014.  Photo unk.

Adam Jones; my #1 fantasy draft pick in 2014. Photo unk.

As with years past … feel free to skip this post if you don’t care about fantasy.  I know for certain that reading about someone elses’s fantasy sports team can be a bit grating.  But, if you do play fantasy i’m sure you’ll at least appreciate reading the selections and then looking at the team’s strength analysis at the end.

I’ll include a jump line so your RSS feeds aren’t blown out either.

Read the rest of this entry »