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Ask Collier 1/11/18

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how successful will Martinez be here? Photo via wtop.com

how successful will Martinez be here? Photo via wtop.com

Another week, another slow news week.  So lets see what questions MLB Nats beat reporter Jamal Collier took.

Q: How will the Nats respond to the new coaching staff? They won so many games with the previous one, why wouldn’t management try and retain more of those coaches (besides Bob Henley)?

A: Well, lets take the 2nd question first.  Because its a good one: why the heck didn’t the ownership group give Dusty Baker and his staff another shot?  We have talked this to death of course, but to review: My opinion is that the ownership made an over-reaction/rookie mistake and and under-valued what Baker brought to the table.  I don’t put the 2017 play off loss on Baker.  Baker completely turned around the clubhouse after the Matt Williams debacle, and it made more sense from a roster transition stand point to make a staff change after 2018, not after 2017.  But whatever.

I can’t see how a veteran team of professionals would respond badly to Dave Martinez in particular though; he was a player, he had accomplishments on the field that will speak to the vets, and he comes from a well respected staff in Chicago.  But, sometimes you never know.  Maybe Martinez comes in and is totally rah-rah and turns off the vets like Murphy and Zimmerman, which sends the clubhouse into a death spiral.  Maybe he makes some bone-headed mistakes early with the pitching staff and turns off the two aces Scherzer and Strasburg.  I don’t know if anyone can predict what will happen here.  It isn’t like there was a huge obvious problem with the previous manager that they immediately get respite from; the prior staff by all accounts was respected and successful.

Collier mirrors what I said; we just don’t know what will happen.

Q: What are the most realistic options to improve at catcher or do you see us sticking with Matt Wieters all season?

A: I’m going to ask a different question, because it relates here.  Is the team willing to blow past the luxury tax threshold or not in 2018?  Because if they’re not … then people need to stop asking about upgrading at catcher.

That being said … my take on his ownership group is that they still cling to the notion that you run a team like a business to a certain extent.  And as a business owner, if you were in the hole for $10M in salary would you continue to throw good money after bad or would you just stand pat with what you have?  Furthermore … Wieters is a Boras client and i’m sure Boras has already bent their ear about layering his client and effectively destroying his FA value.   Plus, in case you’re clamoring for a trade for J.T. Realmuto, the Nats have already emptied the farm system, so any further prospect trades will be cutting deep.  Would you give up Soto or Robles for a mediocre catcher?  I wouldn’t.  I’d just suck it up, play out 2018 with Wieters hitting 8th and learn from my mistake (and this is no hindsight is 20/20 statement; everyone knew Wieters was a bad signing when it happened).

So, for me, i’m guessing they stand pat.

Collier notes that Wieters is in better shape , but also notes the team is pursuing a better backup catcher option than the untested Pedro Severino.

Q: For years we’ve seen Joe Maddon hit players such as Addison Russell ninth in the order behind a pitcher. With how dense the middle of our lineup is, could you see Martinez taking this approach with Michael A. Taylor or Trea Turner?

A: Well, the numbers are definitely there: batting the pitcher 8th definitely makes a difference over the course of a whole season.  But it isn’t much of a difference.  And you need a contact guy at the 9-hole to take advantage.  Is Michael A. Taylor that guy?  I don’t think so; I think Taylor is hitting 7th and Wieters hitting 8th all year, forcing the pitcher to the 9-spot with Eaton/Turner 1-2 in some combination.  This lineup kind of writes itself.

Collier disagrees, thinking Taylor could be that “second leadoff” guy in the 9-hole behind a pitcher.  Uh … have you seen how much he strikes out?  He lowered his rate year over year and was still striking out 31.7% of the time in 2017.  

Q: Do the Nats have genuine interest in bringing Howie Kendrick back?

A: I’m sure they do; Kendrick filled a bunch of nice holes and hit so well that many were clamoring for him to play over Werth last post-season.   But there’s no starting position for him, this team when healthy is stacked and he’d be riding the pine.  So i’m sure he’s holding out for a starting role, trying to parlay his excellent 2017 into a full time gig.  Maybe he fails and the Nats get him on a one-year pillow contract … but I doubt it, since he’s got more than just corner defensive capabilities.

Collier basically says the same thing I did, but with better quotes from Mike Rizzo.

Q: At this point, what other offseason moves do you think would be necessary? More bench players? Adding another to the rotation? Bullpen help?

A: Rotation.  Its all about the 5th starter at this point honestly.  We can live with this bench: Severino, Matt Adams, Wilmer Difo, Brian Goodwin and a RH corner bat to be signed or discovered in spring training.  I also think any additions to the bullpen mean difficult decisions given the options status of players this coming spring; the bullpen has basically has 4 guys signed to guaranteed contracts plus 3 guys who have no options left.  Not much room for wiggling there.

So that really means two more moves at most.  Do you want your 5th starter to be A.J. Cole?  If not, we need an arm.  Do you want your last bat off the bench to be Andrew Stevenson?  If not, we need a Chris Heisey like character.

Collier agrees.

Ask Collier; Pre-New Year’s Eve Mailbag

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Is this what we're waking up to on 4/1/2019?  Photo via barstoolsports

Is this what we’re waking up to on 4/1/2019? Photo via barstoolsports

 

In this slow baseball off-season news cycle, anything is good.  We’ve signed a handful of MLFAs, some of which may even contribute, and we’ve fortified a couple of known roster spots.  But nothing major has happened really (at least not to us).

Lets check in with mlb.com Nats beat reporter Jamal Collier, who posted a mailbag today on 12/28/17.


 

Q: What’s the impact of the Stanton to Yankees on Bryce’s next deal and potential for remaining with Nats?

A: I think its significant, and combined with a couple of other factors may actually help convince Bryce Harper to stay put.

First, the players union focused all its efforts on the Qualifying Offer  in the most recent CBA negotiations and gave up a huge concession in form of the luxury tax implementation.  Now, it isn’t a “salary cap” but it sure is acting like it.  When your biggest spenders (Yankees and Dodgers) are playing payroll games in order to get under neath the threshold … its serving as a defacto cap.  And it should be noted the Union did not get a corresponding “floor” … meaning that team after team will be punting on seasons ala Houston and Chicago and not spending money, thus bringing the FA spending down.  This situation will only continue into next off-season, which is setup to be the greatest Free Agency bonanza ever.  But are all these 2018 FAs fooling themselves into thinking they’re going to get the money they’re seeking?  You can already see the impacts; there’s been almost no movement in the 2017 FA market and I suspect that mid-level guys are going to get completely screwed.

Meanwhile, the Yankees have now committed $30M/year to an outfielder who basically plays the same position as Harper in Giancarlo Stanton.  And even the Yankees still need to find money to pay for pitching.  Can you field a competitive team with a thinned farm system and two players accounting for nearly half your payroll?  I don’t think you can.  Where would you even put Harper?  He’d have to commit to playing CF with Stanton and Aaron Judge in the corners … that’s a lot of power in the outfield yes .. but also not a ton of defense.

Lastly, there’s already rumors (a comment from a connected blogger recently) who is hearing that Harper may very well stay put.  And why not?  Thanks to a middling division filled with teams going in the wrong direction and a relatively young team with key players locked up … Washington isn’t the worst place to hang your hat for a while.  We offer him a deal with an opt out perhaps in 3-4 years, when he won’t even be 30 yet, and he’ll have another bite at the apple.

So, maybe Harper is going to be wearing the curly-W a while longer.

Collier thinks the Yankees are less obvious of a suitor … but that anything could happen.


 

Q: Should we read much into the lack of a Rizzo extension, or is it something that the Lerners would be more likely to do this summer (assuming everything is going well in-season)?

A: I wouldn’t read anything into the lack of movement; I continue to think the Lerner group treats its baseball employees no differently than its regular construction business employees, and have no issue letting employees go to the end of their deals before renewing.

Collier says the same.


 

Q: With news breaking of Realmuto wanting out of Miami, could you see the Nationals making a push for the young catcher?

A: Nope.  Nats are already overspending at the position and are going to be hoping for a Ryan Zimmerman-esque bounce back year from Matt Wieters.  And with them being so close to the luxury tax already (if not over it), I can’t see them spending even more money at a position where they’re already spending significant dollars.  I just don’t see this team throwing good money after bad at the catcher position.

Collier basically the same.


 

Q: I have to say that one of my biggest concerns with the new coaching staff is the absence of Davey Lopes. This is a team that should be using speed as a primary weapon, and Lopes’ coaching was essential to the younger speedsters on this team. Can you reassure me that both the coaching staff and Martinez will still buy into this approach and that they have the tools to make good on the potential headaches for opposing pitchers and defenders?

A; I dunno how anyone can make that claim honestly.  The only thing we have to go on is Joe Maddon‘s approach; will Dave Martinez use the same?  It will be a wait and see thing.

Collier thinks they’ll stay aggressive.


 

Man, that was kind of a lame mailbag.  No hot takes, nothing controversial.  We need some stuff to argue about.

Thankfully …. Hall of Fame voting is next week.  Can’t wait.

Operation Nats Off-Season; progress Report

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Is Adams our savior?   photo via ksdk.com/Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Is Adams our savior?
photo via ksdk.com/Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

On the heels of the Matt Adams signing, lets get a status update on the “needs” of the team and what they’ve done so far now that we’re past the Winter Meetings.

Needs/Off-season todo list: Here’s what I listed as the team’s “pressing needs” in a 10/16/17 post.

  1. Resolve Dusty Baker situationStatus Update: they whacked him and hired Dave Martinez to replace him.
  2. Should we bring back Jayson WerthStatus update: no update here, in that Werth has not signed elsewhere but the tea leaves definitely seem to indicate he’s moving on.
  3. What do we do at Catcher? Status Update:  Nothing yet; our former backup Jose Lobaton has already signed, penning  minor league deal with the Mets.  Not that he was going to really be an option for us.  We’ve seen some rumblings about how the team is going to manage Matt Wieters‘ playing time, and there’s a couple more options out there at catcher (not the least of which is J.T. Realmuto, who has expressed publicly his desire to be traded now that the new Marlins ownership group has gutted the roster.  I still don’t see any change here in direction; I think the team will stay with internal options.
  4. Will they pursue FA extensions with key players?  Status Update: there were brief rumors of extension talks with Harper/Boras, same with Rendon.  Nothing with Murphy.  So not much.
  5. Do they need to pursue a Starting Pitcher?  Status Updatenot much news here yet; they’ve gotten Tommy Milone to return to the fold, signing a ML deal that I would think includes an opt-out if he doesn’t make the team (but that’s an assumption).  Right now the 5th starter is the winner of an A.J. Cole/Erick Fedde/Milone spring training run-off.  I would expect to see something happen here at some point this off-season.  One complicating factor: Cole is out of options…
  6. What is the Nats 2018 outfield?  Status Update: no news and no trades from depth, so its still looking like Eaton/Taylor/Harper with Goodwin and Stevenson as backups.  They did intimate that Victor Robles will be starting in AAA so that he can play full-time, a decision I fully endorse.  Goodwin in particular got some mention from John Sickels in his prep post for the Nationals farm system, wondering aloud what Goodwin’s numbers would look like with a full season of ABs.  I don’t see that happening here … so I still think there’s a trade coming.  Another complicating factor here: Goodwin is now out of options.
  7. Do the Nats leverage their sudden depth of position players in trade this off-seasonStatus Update: nothing yet here … maybe Billy Beane has been on vacation and he just hasn’t returned Mike Rizzo‘s phone calls for the next big Oakland-Washington trade.
  8. What do we do with the benchStatus Update: so far we’re starting next year with Severino as the backup catcher, we just signed Adams to replace Adam Lind as the lefty PH bench bat.  I still think we need a RH bat to replace the Chris Heisey role, a guy who could play a corner in a pinch.  Otherwise we’re on track here.  Keep in mind; Murphy may not be ready for opening day so right now we’re looking at Wilmer Difo in the starting lineup.
  9. What do we do with the bullpen Status Update: the team re-signed Brandon Knitzler, which I think is a quality move but may also complicate the bullpen.  We now have three relievers who are out of options (Grace, Solis and Romero), all of whom were utilized last year.  If you keep the four guys now signed for big money FA deals along with the 3 out-of-option guys … then you’re leaving in particular Koda Glover in the minors.  Or on the D/L.

So, just 3 of the 9 categories really addressed at this point, though not all 9 categories were really Mandatory to do this off-season.

What does our 25-man opening day roster look like right now?

  • SP: Scherzer, Strasburg, Roark, Gonzalez, Cole
  • RP: Doolittle, Madsen, Knitzler, Kelley, Grace, Solis, Romero.  (4 of these guys have guaranteed contracts, the other 3 are out of options)
  • C: Wieters, Severino
  • Inf: Zimmerman, Murphy, Rendon, Turner, Adams, Difo (likely one more here with Murphy on the 10-day D/L to start the season)
  • OF: Eaton, Taylor, Harper, Goodwin, Stevenson

Does that look like a World Series winning team?

Ask Collier & Happy Thanksgiving

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Why do so many people think TRADING Harper is the way to win the 2018 World Series? Photo via fanragsports.com

Why do so many people think TRADING Harper is the way to win the 2018 World Series? Photo via fanragsports.com

A nice little surprise just before the Turkey day weekend: an ask Jamal Collier post on mlb.com.


Q: Would you consider trading Harper? I am one of his biggest fans, and I know the desire to win next year, but would the return be worth it in the long run?

A: Forensicane; don’t bother reading this next answer, because you’re not going to like it.

Teams attempting to WIN THE WORLD SERIES in the coming year do not trade their marquee players.  Not only that, but teams attempting to win don’t trade one of the best players in the league.  \

Not only that, but lets say for the sake of argument that the Nats WERE willing to trade Harper.  He’s got one  year of control left.  He’s set to make north of $20M in 2018.  He’s an injury risk.  And he’s absolutely going to Free Agency.  How much does anyone really think he’ll realistically fetch in trade right now?  If he were cost controlled or had multiple years of control left (like an Adam Eaton or a Jonathan Lucroy when he fetched a lot a couple years back) he’d get a kings ransom.  But he’s not; he’ll cost a significant portion of a team’s payroll in 2018 and gets just one year of service.

And then there’s this: why does anyone think this ownership group will trade him??  For many years, we’ve asked why the Angels hold on to Mike Trout and “waste” his talents on a sub-.500 team.  The answer is always the same: the owner in Los Angeles doesn’t want to move his marquee asset.  Why does anyone think that the Lerner group isn’t thinking the same thing?  Baseball is still relatively “new” in this town, still fighting it out for the casual sports fan.  What kind of message does it send to the casual fan base if you move your most marketable asset?  Who else on the Nats is getting goofy TV spots with national telecom companies?

So, no, the team isn’t trading Harper, nor should they.  Instead they should be doing *everything* they can to win in 2018 before he (and many others) walk out the door.  And (lets not forget), while I think its a certainty that Harper is in NY or LA in 2019 … we also were pretty sure Stephen Strasburg was heading out the door too, so you just never know.

Collier also expresses similar exasperation at the number of these questions he’s getting, then re-iterates many of the arguments above.


Q: You don’t list Adam Lind as a possible signee. Why not? Is it that Brian Goodwin can fill that role … but who is the backup first baseman?

A: I think Lind could resign … similarly to the way that Stephen Drew thought he could parlay his successful 2016 into a starting gig for 2017, Lind probably thinks the same.  Finding veteran bat-only beefy 1B/PH types on the open market is not tough; the Nats have specialized in this for years.  So they’ll do what they always have done; wait out the market, sign someone on the cheap later in the off-season if they get desperate, or otherwise have a cattle call in spring training for the backup bench bat.

Its worth noting that, much like one-year relievers, sometimes you catch lightning in a bottle with your pinch hitters and its worth cutting bat early, not later.  Consider some of the year over  year stat lines for our primary bench bats recently:

  • Adam Lind: great in 2017 (.303/.362/.513): can he repeat that in 2018?
  • Clint Robinson: awesome in 2015 (.272/.358/.424), then awful in 2016 (.235/.305/.332)
  • Chris Heisey: adequate in 2016 (.216/.290/.446), then fell off a cliff in 2017 (.162/.215/.270)
  • Tyler Moore: fantastic in 2012 (.263/.327/.513), then a combined .216/.264/.362 over PT roles the next three seasons before finally getting cut loose.
  • Chad Tracy: good in 2012 (.269/.343/.441), then not so good in 2013 (.202/.243/.326)

And some of these guys never even had a “good” season (ahem, Matt Stairs).

So, perhaps the smart thing to do is to let Lind go (as well as Albers for similar reasons) and try some one new.

Goodwin as a backup 1B??   No, that doesn’t make a ton of sense (he’s only 6’0″ and is an outfielder by trade), but he could feature as a backup outfielder easily enough.  Honestly, the “backup 1B” if Ryan Zimmerman goes down for any length of time probably is Daniel Murphy, with his position getting covered by Wilmer Difo.

Collier notes that it was the Nats who declined their part of the $5M mutual option, which somewhat surprised me honestly.  I would have thought it would have been the player to decline that and shoot for something more.  Nonetheless, it makes the odds of a reunion a bit lower. 


Q: Can you do a bit of an explainer about the new luxury tax rules, where Nats are with respect to threshold right now, and how that’ll inform Rizzo’s offseason (speculating anyway)?

A: Without going into it in great detail (I have a post about Nats payroll coming soon), right now as we stand I have the Nats 2018 payroll at about $170M in “real dollars” (counting arb estimates and deferred payments), but about $10M  higher in the eyes of MLB’s luxury tax calculators thanks to the Strasburg and Scherzer deals.  The team broached $190m with last season’s mid-season transactions and thus became a luxury tax spender for the first time (which will cost them significantly if they were to go after a QO-attached free agent, not that I think they will).

The luxury tax threshold for 2018 is $197M (see this wikipedia page for the link and figures).  So, I suppose the team has about $17M or so of “wiggle room” for transactions this off-season plus next mid-season.  That isn’t a lot, and all the high-priced players on our payroll are either key pieces or immovable (thanks Matt Wieters).   So unless they swing a huge salary, or trade some young assets in payroll-offsetting moves, I think the team will do very little this off-season.

Collier notes similar sentiments.


 

Q: Last year, the four top outfielders were out due to injuries for extensive periods of time. Shouldn’t they have six top-notch outfielders to draw from next year?

A: Easy to say in theory, harder in practice.   You generally only care 4 or perhaps 5 outfielders on a 25-man roster … so how do you make an argument to your 5th and 6th “top-notch” outfielders that they have to hang out in Syracuse for half the season until they’re needed?  Not to mention options statuses, 5-year veteran limitations and other things that get in the way of stuff like this.  This isn’t the 1950s when you could just stash players all over without regard to service time issues.

No, the better way to go is to have your named starters, then depend on your prospect depth to cover things.  And honestly, that’s kinda where the Nats are.  Going into 2018 without any moves, you’re looking at:

  • Starting OF of Eaton, Taylor and Harper.
  • 4th and 5th outfielders Goodwin and Stevenson, both prospects that we developed and being paid the MLB min.
  • 6th outfielder in the name of Victor Robles, who is just one of the best prospects in the game.
  • 7th and further depth still with the likes of Bautista or perhaps the Cuban Yadiel Hernandez who is 30 and could be closer than we think.  We have Jose Marmolejos on the roster still; couldn’t he fill in at LF even if he’s primarily a 1B?  And then there’s further-away prospects like Daniel Johnson, who hit pretty well between Low-A and High-A, seems like he’ll start in AA in 2018 and might push his way up.

That’s not too bad.  Btw, how good defensively is our OF projected to be in 2018?  Eaton at a corner in 2016 was one of the best in the majors, Harper has consistently been a positive-metric fielding RF with one of the best arms in the game, and Taylor just showed how statistically he rivaled the best defensive center fielders in the game.  You can’t discount this fact, and it will show itself next year as more fly balls are turned into outs.

Collier likes where our OF depth is.


Q: Why should we believe in Dave Martinez? What makes him different ?

A: I have not weighed in on the manager selection yet.  I thought firing Dusty Baker was a mistake, and that the team did not need to break in a new manager in the critical transition year of 2018.

Nonetheless, Martinez does click some boxes for me; he was a successful player with a long career and can command respect from even the veterans on this team.  He may not have direct managerial experience, but 10 years as Joe Maddon‘s bench coach is nothing to shake a stick at.  He had interviewed for vacancies for years, and deserved a shot.  Details of his contract show that he’s severely under-paid and this probably factored into the team’s decision to hire him (for whatever reason, this team remains “cheap” at the manager’s position), but I think he can do the job.

What makes him different?  Well, he’s clearly learned the “ropes” of managing underneath the game’s best, and in that position he would have had many opportunities to evaluate Maddon’s decisions, privately decide what he would have done, and then seen how things play out.  So he should be able to take the best of what the Cubs are doing and augment those experiences with those opinions he had that were not necessarily taken but which he believed were right.   I’m hopeful that his regime will go well.

Collier notes the points above, but also very fairly says that in reality we have no idea how he’ll manage here since he’s never done so before.