Nationals Arm Race

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

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Ask Brittany 9/10/20

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Rizzo (finally) gets paid. Photo via mlb.com

Man, it seems like its been forever since we’ve seen a Nats beat reporter do a mailbag. And unfortunately the one I found is behind the Athletic’s paywall, By Athletic Nats beat reporter Brittany Ghiroli. No worries though; you’ll get the gist.

Q: What are your reactions to the (Mike) Rizzo contract?
A: It’s about damn time. I just do not understand why either Mike Rizzo or Davey Martinez entered this season w/o an extension. The only thing I can think is that both had had informal discussions with the ownership group that promised them extensions at a later time.

Brittany’s take: Finally. 3yr extension, with a big bump in pay from $4M/year on his previous deal. But she also notes how disrespectful this delay was to the rest of the front office staff, who live and die by Rizzo’s contract status. Hard to disagree.

Q: Have you heard about any extension talks with (Juan) Soto?  
A: I hope they have … but it seems unlikely. Juan Soto has already established himself as one of the league’s elite players, so there seems to be little incentive for him to sign away any flexibility. He got a “big” pre-arb raise, which frankly is still peanuts compared to his value, and he’s already guaranteed to be a Super-2 guy, meaning four arb years. If i’m the Nats maybe i’m doing what they did with Harper and Rendon; buy out the arb years with sizeable raises so they’re not arguing every off-season, see if they can get one post-arb FA year thrown in (he’s FA after 2024 season), and make it worthwhile to both sides.

Brittany notes that Soto’s agent is Scott Boras, so forget about an extension. She is unaware of any extension talk, but points out a couple of Braves deals that could serve as landmarks.

Q: Any details on whether the front office has moved on from competing this year to preparing for a stronger ’21 season?
A: Well, we saw no trades this year, meaning zero attempts to shore up multiple areas of need on the current roster. But then again, that might have been a factor of the price tag and our own depleted farm system. I mean, would you have wanted to give up Cade Cavalli or Jackson Rutledge for a month of a #3 starter hitting free agency after the season? Hell no. Meanwhile on the field, the team has been frisky this week, but (as of this writing on 9/11/20) remain 5.5 games out of a wild card spot and still projected for either the #6 or #7 overall pick next July.
Brittany notes the same thing: the lack of moves at the trade deadline tipped their hand.

Q: Any insight on moves Rizzo should consider in 2021 free agency?
A: man, it exhausts me to even start considering this. But here’s 2 minutes on their FA outlook. Using COTS site, they are set to lose Eaton, Sanchez, Doolittle, Suzuki, Kendrick, Thames, Holt, Cabrera, Zimmerman and Freeman to FA (yes some of these guys have options but … right now its hard to see any of these options exercised).

So that means the team is in need of: 1-2 Starting pitchers, a corner OF, two veteran lefty relievers, a starting quality catcher, and a big chunk of their infield depth. Assuming they go young in 2021 the infield could be anchored by Kieboom, Turner and Garcia, so they’d be in the market for a 1B/DH platoon, plus a couple of utility guys who can move around. So, not a ton but also some work to do. the have $126M committed before arb raises of roughly $25M (could be more depending on how much Soto gets), so that leaves about $50M of FA room to work with. We can’t get a good SP and a solid catcher for that, but we should be able to get the edges covered.

Brittany repeats the same list of players, and says the priorities will be similar to what I put.

Nats do absolutely nothing at Trade Deadline

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https://www.mlb.com/nationals/news/nationals-no-trades-2020-trade-deadline

The Nats on 8/31/20 are 12-20.  They have the second worst record in the NL.  They have the 5th worst record in the majors.  But thanks to the crazy 2020 playoff structure they sit just 3.5 games out of a Wild Card spot.  They’ve had season-ending injuries or opt-outs of multiple planned core players; they’ve lost to presumed rotation members in Joe Ross and Stephen Strasburg, they’ve lost a middle-of-the-order off-season acquisition bat in Starlin Castro.  They’ve lost both their lefty specialist relievers in Roenis Elias and Sam Freeman.  They lost an important bench bat/team leader in Ryan Zimmerman.  They’re now throwing out AAA starters twice every five games, and have had severely disappointing seasons from a slew of players they were counting on (Anibel Sanchez, Adam Eaton, Carter Kieboom, Eric Thames, Daniel Hudson, Sean Doolittle, and so on).

So what did they do at the deadline?  Zip.  Nothing.  Nada.

Maybe the farm system is now so utterly depleted (given that they’ve already called up their consensus #1, #2, #5 and #10 prospects on the year with little impact) that they couldn’t offer enough in trade to actually acquire someone they wanted.   Perhaps more to the point, the price tag it would have taken to acquire starters (given the spate of pitcher injuries this year and the competition in the area) may have been too high for the team’s taste (how pissed would you be if they had flipped someone like Jackson Rutledge or Cade Cavalli yesterday for a 3rd starter one-month rental?).   It seems foolish to think they have the cavalry coming in to help; right now the only 10-day DL player they have is Seth Romero, who is only up because they needed a lefty bullpen arm.  Brock Holt?  That’s not a savior.  Neither is Josh Harrison (though to be honest he has hit well).  So I guess the plan is to assume that all those veterans listed above who have sucked so far are short sample size regression to the mean candidates and they’ll be rebounding … within the next few days?

Meanwhile, the rest of the division at least tried to improve:

Not earth shattering moves, but it is notable that the Braves lead the division with a rotation that’s being held together with scotch tape, and they just acquired Milone to fill in because he’s better than whatever else they apparently have at their disposal (remember when people shuddered at the pipeline of starters in the Atlanta system?  yeah’ they’ve all crapped the bed this year).

So, what to make of this?  Are you happy they did nothing?  did we want a sell-off?  Or do we have confidence they can turn it around and squeak into the crap-shoot playoffs for 2020?