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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.

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.  

 

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.

 

 

First off-season shoe drops: Dusty Baker is not coming back

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Sayonara Baker. Photo via UPI

Sayonara Baker. Photo via UPI

In a move that surprised me, the Nats announced mid friday 10/20/17 that Dusty Baker would not be renewed.  I’m guessing that also goes for his whole staff.

I think he did an excellent job with the team this year, given the ridiculous number of injuries the team faced.  He clearly stabilized the clubhouse post Matt Williams.  The knock on him prior to his Nats career was handling of pitchers, over-use of relievers, and a general lack of modern baseball strategy.  But his tenure here has seen none of these issues; there’s quibbles about starter over-use earlier in the year, but that was more about his decrepit bullpen than him riding his arms too heavily.  The team shifts and plays modern baseball; I see no evidence that he’s a Mike Scoscia-level old-school hard  head.  So I’m not exactly sure why they felt the need to move on.

I don’t think you can pin the playoff loss on Baker either; when your team  hits .186 and loses two games where the starter threw 6-no hit innings … its tough to win.  Some people keep mentioning his sticking with Jayson Werth instead of Howie Kendrick … or his lineup construction choices batting Werth 2nd (nevermind that lineup construction theory has been proven to be practically negligible over an entire season).   I’m not sure I agreed with the quick hook of Scherzer in his start, much like I hated the quick hook of Scherzer in game 5 of 2016’s NLDS.  But otherwise, its hard to blame the manager for this playoff loss.  I mean, if Jose Lobaton‘s foot doesn’t come off the bag, do the Nats rally and win game 5 and we’re still playing playoff baseball right now?  If the ridiculous 5th inning sequence of events doesn’t befell Scherzer’s outing … are we having a different conversation?

Mike Rizzo took over in 2009 and he’s now set to be on his 6th full time manager.   I’m beginning to wonder about the workability of this front office.  Here’s the history step by step of Rizzo’s manager selections:

  • in 2009, He inherited Manny Acta and an awful team and whacked him mid-season.  Fair enough.
  • He elevated then-bench coach players’ manager Jim Riggleman to the job and let him lead a mediocre to bad team for another year and a half.
  • In 2011, when Riggleman finally had the team playing .500 ball, by all accounts Rizzo refused to even take a meeting with him to discuss his job status, leading to Riggleman’s resignation (my take on it here from the time).
  • He then appoints the guy he apparently wanted all along in Davey Johnson … who led the team to a .500 record the rest of the way, just as Riggleman was doing.
  • The team improves 18 games in 2012, but then slumps and misses the playoffs in 2013, at which point Johnson gets whacked.
  • Rizzo brings in his old Arizona buddy Matt Williams, who catches the team as it recovers from its injury issues and leads them to the 2014 playoffs, where he badly over-manages and the team loses in four.
  • By the end of 2015, the clubhouse is in absolute disarray, as documented by WP beat writer Barry Svrluga  here: Part 1Part 2Part 3.  There’s some amazing information here, and its no shock that the team not only missed the playoffs but whacked Williams soon after the season was over.
  • The team then had the embarrassing interlude with Bud Black.
  • then they hired on Dusty Baker and tried to save-face with the Black situation, saying Baker was their choice all along.
  • And now they’ve whacked Baker after a season where he’s possibly in line to be Manager of the year.

That’s 5 full time managers in 8 seasons at the helm.  Does this sound like a good strategy to you?  Look at some of the better teams out there; they’re not cycling through managers every two seasons.

Is this a concern?

Pressing issues for the Nats this off-season

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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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Ask Collier 6/1/17

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I've got Harper in the 7th, TKO. Photo via Star Tribune

I’ve got Harper in the 7th, TKO. Photo via Star Tribune

This time of year is generally light on pure Nats coverage for me: I like to track local Prep tournaments, I like to track the CWS tourney, and I like to do draft prep.  All of these these things basically hit at the same time between Mid-May and Mid-June.  So bear with me if these aren’t your cup of tea.  I’ll get back to my “where are they now” series soon, as well as more regular stuff on the Nats.

I didn’t even bother to post about the ridiculous Bryce Harper/Hunter Strickland brawl.  I’ll say this: I got a MLB.com app notification on my phone that said simply, “Harper charges the mound in SF” and I immediately said to myself, “Strickland must have hit him.”  So clearly the intent was obvious, and I think personally the right punishment was arrived at (Bryce 3 games for charging the mound, Strickland 6 days for his ridiculous action).

But, I know my readers mostly care about the Nats.  So luckily MLB.com Nats beat reporter Jamal Collier posted an Inbox last night, so I have some Nats content to invent.  Here’s how i’d have answered the questions he took.


 

Q: Have any reason why Bryce has struggled the past few games? Seems like his batting average and other numbers has taken quite a hit.

A: I’d probably say “regression to the mean.”  Nobody can post a 1.200 OPS for an extended period of time (Harper had a 1.281 OPS in April).  But he’s also been a bit unlucky in May in terms of BABIP (.268), just as he was overly lucky in April (BABIP of .429).  I’m guessing he’ll eventually settle back into a .310-.320 BABIP (he does hit the ball hard, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to see his BABIP regularly higher than league average; his career BABIP is .320) and his numbers will rise back up to impressive levels.

I also notice that he hasn’t missed a game yet; he has sat just one game and got a PH appearance in it (April 24th).  Dusty Baker gives other guys regular rest but Harper hasn’t sat in 6 weeks … maybe he was just starting to drag a bit.  The suspension will be well-timed, especially since it takes him out of the Oakland series (death to hitters).

Collier attributes it to regression as well.

Q: If Glover keeps up his recent dominance, will he stay closer rest of season or do Nats trade for Robertson or Herrera?

A: Well, the question here really should be, “Has the Ownership learned its lesson about fiddling with the closer yet?”  I’m not entirely sure they have; they still seem to buy into the closer narrative, a mind-set that led to them jerking around Drew Storen constantly and demoting him during perhaps his best season.  So will the narrative continue in 2017?  It goes like this: “Gee yeah Koda Glover has been throwing the ball really well, but he’s a rookie so he can’t possibly handle the pressure of October baseball, so we better get the “Proven Closer” and pay out the wazoo for him because that’s what we really need in the playoffs.”

I hate that mindset.  Yes Storen blew a couple of games in the post season; he pitched a grand total of 5 1/3 post-season innings for the Nats across 6 games, and in four of those games he gave up zero runs.  Can  you say “small sample size?”  But to continue to over-react and over-pay for closers is something this team has to stop doing.  Lest I remind everyone of Joe Posnanski‘s research on the topic: teams have won 95% of games they lead in the 9th for about the last 100 years, irrespective of whether they were throwing Joe Schmoe in the 9th in the 40s or Goose Gossage in the 70s or Aroldis Chapman today.

Right now Glover, at league minimum salary, is posting a 200+ ERA+ figure and hasn’t given up a run in a month.  Meanwhile, two of the the three big-money closers on the FA market this past off-season have hit the D/L and have worse seasonal numbers for approximately 30-times the salary.  Which situation would you rather be as a team and a GM?

So; if Glover keeps pitching well (and as long as he’s throwing a 95mph cutter or slider or whatever it is, he should), then leave him there and augment the bullpen at the trade deadline with quality middle relievers who won’t cost as much in terms of prospects.  That’s my suggestion.

Collier thinks the Nats may still get a closer at the trade deadline, and noted (using Storen as an example) that they’ve not hesitated to replace a closer mid-season in the past.  In other words .. he thinks they may go ahead and do something stupid too.

Q: Question for your mailbag: can we expect Albers to revert to his norm? Same for Taylor? (That K rate and BABIP…)

A: Yeah, at some point.  There was a reason Matt Albers was a NRI this past off-season, and there’s a reason Taylor has now had nearly 1,000 major league PAs and is still slashing just .234/.285/.374 for his career.  As far as Albers goes … its ok to have a 6th/7th inning guy who gets blown up every once in a while, as long as those outings are mitigated and don’t really cost you games all that much.  So far, he’s been so much better than expected for us.  Projecting forward, his FIP is a bit higher than his ERA and his BABIP is unsustainably low (.208), so we’ll see some regression back to the mean.  But also there’s this: for as bad as he was in 2016, he was great in 2015.  Who is to say that 2016 was the one-off season and he’s re-gained whatever enabled him to post a 1.21 ERA in 30 appearances for the White Sox?

As for Taylor, I’m not going to re-litigate the whole “Can Michael Taylor turn it around” case.  There’s clearly people dug into the sand on both sides.  His BABIP with his current surge of productivity is .385; that’s all that we need to say.  At some point he’s going to stop having stuff fall in for hits and he’ll regress back to the .230 hitter he’s always been.  Lets just hope Baker is smart enough to keep him in the 8-hole as it happens.  That or recognize it as it happens and think about giving those empty ABs to someone else when it happens.

Collier thinks both players are coming back to earth at some point.

Q: In the time you’ve been covering the Nats, tell us about the value you see JW adding to the team and clubhouse

A: Hard for an armchair psychologist such as myself to give an intelligent answer here.  I know there are many who read this who put little to no value in “clubhouse chemistry,” “team leadership,” and other fuzzy emotional issues when it comes to professional athletes, and I’m fine with that.  I tend to think that clubhouses work like any other workplace team; you have “good” co-workers and “lazy” co-workers, you have respected leaders who have “seen it all” and who have “been around the block” and you have rookies who do dumb things because they just havn’t been around that long.  So in that respect, Jayson Werth should be a valued team-mate who steps up and helps lead the clubhouse, but I have no idea if he actually does.  Its all conjecture on my part, having never stepped into a MLB clubhouse.

Collier says … similar things to what I just said.  Its hard to value leadership.  But he also says (and I agree) that Werth has proven he deserves another contract.  I wonder if it will be with us.

 

 

 

 

Ask Collier 5/22/17 (i’m back!)

30 comments

Our newest little Nats fan!

Our newest little Nats fan!

So, after nearly a 3 week hiatus, i’m back.  And what better way to get back into the swing of things than to do a mailbag!  Nats mlb.com beat reporter Jamal Collier was kind enough to post a mailbag last night.

(In case you were wondering where I was, we traveled to China to adopt a little girl.  The above is a picture of her the day after we met her for the first time as we were walking the streets of Jinan, the capital city of the province where she was living in an orphanage :-).  She’s a natural in the curly-W hat).


 

Q: Any sense of urgency from the front office to get pen support? could we see a trade soon or will Rizzo play it cool and wait a bit more?

A: I don’t know how there isn’t a sense of urgency at this point.  We’re nearly a third of the way through the season and the bullpen is in shambles.  As we speak, the Nats bullpen ranks 29th in ERA, 27th in FIP, and 27th in fWAR.  Their best reliever so far in 2017 was a scrap-heap NRI pickup in Matt Albers, who now seems to be closing.  Five different guys have saves.  The two guys who we thought would be in the “closer” discussion ahead of the season (Shawn Kelley and Blake Treinen) have ERAs of 6.08 and 7.78 respectively.  The bullpen has 8 blown saves already, some of which were really, really egregious (like May 9th’s scuttling of Max Scherzer‘s 8 inning shut-down effort in Baltimore).

But its not exactly trade season yet.  You very rarely see trades during this time of year; front offices are preparing for the draft.  Then they’ll spend most of June negotiating with draft picks and making roster decisions on short season squads.  Then there’s the International Signing period leading up to the beginning of July.  Then there’s the all-star break.  Only THEN do you really get into “trade season,” the period in-between the all-star break and the trade deadline on 7/31.  So I’d be kind of surprised to see the Nats pull off a trade right now.  More likely you’ll see more of what they’re doing with Erick Fedde: looking at their AAA and AA teams and wondering who might be able to help.  Fedde could be a nice little 7th/8th inning helper, kinda like Koda Glover was last year.  Perhaps there’s another starter down there who might make sense to do the same in a pinch.  The team still has several options in AAA and on the 40-man roster that they’ve yet to explore: Austin Adams has 31 Ks in 19 innings with a 1.42 ERA for Syracuse so far in 2017 …. to go along with 17 walks (but hey, Enny Romero was able to fix his walk issue, right?).  Trevor Gott‘s numbers aren’t awful.  So perhaps there’s some options.

Oh Side note; the rumor that the Nats had a deal with the White Sox to move David Robertson (AND salary relief!?) for Jesus Luzardo and Drew Ward?   That came from Bob Nightengale from the USA Today, who is one of those reporters who seems to get a lot of “anonymous quotes” from unnamed front office types looking to air dirty laundry, especially from the slimy Chicago White Sox organization (go google his reporting on the Adam LaRoche situation for a decidedly pro-ownership take on that whole situation, trashing the player without anyone taking any credit for the quotes).  So i’m not sure how much credit to give it.  But if its true … then you have to scratch your head as to why the Nats didn’t pull the trigger on that one.  Ward is a limited prospect, completely blocked at the MLB level  and who is Rule-5 Eligible this coming off-season and Luzardo is a lottery ticket coming off TJ surgery who has yet to throw a pitch.  I’d have made that deal in a heart beat; you’re telling me the Nats balked because they didn’t get *enough* money coming back?

Collier says the team is well aware of the issue, is poking around, but as noted above its two months from the trade deadline so there’s not a lot of urgency from other teams.


Q: Does Eric Fedde have a chance that to join the Nats bullpen soon?

A: Duh, yes.  Why else would the team have taken its absolute best starting pitcher prospect  in Erick Fedde and put him in the bullpen mid-May?  I don’t think it was to see how he liked it.  I think it was clearly to fill a need at the MLB level.  And soon.  I’d say they’ll give him a call as soon as he a) shows he can handle pitching back to back days, and b) he clears the super-2 deadline.  When will Super-2 deadline be?  Well, its generally been falling in the 2yr, 135day range.   So we’re right in the range as we speak of being at the super-2 cutoff; to be really safe, teams could wait until the first week of June to do call-ups and likely be clear of the cut-off.  So that works  out well; Fedde gets 3 weeks or so in the bullpen, then gets the call.  That’d be my prediction.

Collier agrees; says absolutely Fedde is coming up in a relief role for 2017 to fill a need, similarly to the way the team moved Trea Turner last year.


Q: When can we expect solis to rejoin the team?

A: Beats me.  Sammy Solis just can’t stay healthy, and his current injury is listed on b-r.com as having “no time table for return.”

Collier reports that Solis is not even throwing yet; i’d say we’re at least a month from seeing him back.  Not good.


Q: Are Trevor Gott, Joe Nathan, and Bryan Harper being considered for call ups in bullpen? 

A: I discussed Gott above: his numbers aren’t stellar but they’re not awful either.  Joe Nathan has been looking his age in AAA: 1.60 WHIP, 5.65 ERA but getting a K/inning.  Does this sound like the bullpen savior?  Bryan Harper had TJ Surgery in November; he’s out the entire year for sure.  So he’s not an option either.

Collier notes that both Gott and Nathan’s numbers are from earlier struggles and both have pitched better lately.  Fair enough; the team has gotten lucky with NRIs so far this year, perhaps Nathan is another possibility.  


Q: When is Dusty going to name Glover as the closer? I think it needs to happen. Let him have a real shot since there are no better options.

A: Who cares who the “Official Closer” is?  You know who has the best bullpen in the Majors?  Cleveland.  You know who Cleveland’s best reliever is?  It isn’t the “closer.”  Its time people started realizing that bullpen usage is evolving.  I don’t care who the guy is getting the useless “save” statistic; I want my best arm pitching in the highest leverage situations, irrespective of what inning it is.  Does Dusty Baker get this?  Probably not … which holds the team back.  But at least  he’s not Matt Williams in terms of bullpen usage idiocy.

Right now Glover seems to be pitching well, but Albers is pitching better.  So those are my late-inning/high leverage go-to guys.

Collier says Baker danced around the issue when most recently asked.  Which isn’t a surprise for a team with 5 different guys who have gotten saves so far this year.


Q: The RHH bench consists of Chris Heisey (0-14 as PH) and Wilmer Difo (1 PH hit?). Upgrades?

A: SSS.  You’re grasping at straws if you’re worried about this team’s offense right now.   Nats team offense is #1 in the majors in BA, #3 in OBP, #1 in Slugging, #1 in wOBA and #3 in wRC+.  For a National league team, that’s astonishing considering that they’re basically punting the Pitcher slot in the order while AL teams have beefy designated hitters in their stead.  So if you asked me if i’m worried about the right handed pinch hitting options, i’d say no.  Heisey was just fine last year, earned his spot this year, and he’ll be ok eventually.   You can’t expect your bench guys to be awesome, all the time; if they were, they wouldn’t be bench guys.

Collier agrees; its early.


 

Q: With Adam Eaton out even as Zimmerman makes a resurgence doesn’t it make this team the exact same team that lost in NLDS?

A: Not really; last year’s team was good offensively but not this good.  Last year  Bryce Harper struggled most of the year; this year he’s back in 2015 form.  You replaced last year’s empty ABs given to Ben Revere and Danny Espinosa with theoretically “better” at-bats from Trea Turner and Adam Eaton to start.  Even with Eaton gone, Michael Taylor hasn’t been completely awful.   But this team won’t go far in the playoffs without some reliability in the bullpen, no matter now many pitchers their starters throw.  That’s your concern right now.

Collier thinks its pretty much the same team, also noting the bullpen as a weakness.

 

 

 

 

Eaton Injury reaction; holes and opportunities

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hate to see this. Photo via usatoday

hate to see this. Photo via usatoday

Just a placeholder post for discussion on the hot topic of the day/weekend.

Adam Eaton‘s ACL injury creates some short term and some longer term implications for the roster.  Lets talk and speculate while we wish him a speedy recovery.

sidenote: With modern medicine ACL injuries take time, but also take *time* before the player is ever feeling “right” about his leg again, so this is certainly a bummer for both Eaton and the team.  Reported 6-9 month recovery time before he’s back on the field.  But by all accounts it really takes athletes two full years to “trust” the repaired ACL.  We’ll get to what I think this means for our roster longer term below.

Short Term: obviously we’re seeing a like-for-like replacement in CF with Michael Taylor.  We are all well aware of his short comings, and i’m guessing this may be his “last chance” to show that he belongs in a starting role.  Interestingly, the team opted not to call up Brian Goodwin for the backup OF bench role, but untested Rafael Bautista.  Neither are really tearing it up in AAA this year; Bautista’s got a .291 BA but its rather empty, while Goodwin’s OPS is in the .640 range.   Dusty Baker installed Taylor in the 2nd spot in the order inexplicably (lineup construction theory tells us that you want your BEST hitter in the #2 hole, not your worst) and he was rewarded with a 3-5 day from him.  But I’d much, much rather see Rendon or a hot Werth batting 2nd with Taylor buried further down (like, 8th).

If Taylor fails to produce, there’s not a whole lot on the farm to draw from.  Victor Robles isn’t ready (and he’s hurt), nor is Juan Soto.   I’d probably dip to AA and pluck the hitting machine Andrew Stevenson to backfill in center if a need arose.  But that’s a tough jump for Stevenson, who basically has a season and a half of pro ball experience.

Trade market?  its probably too early for most teams to start thinking about a trade.  We’d have to ride out a sub-par Taylor for a couple of months before the trade waters started heating up.  But there’s definitely teams out there who are punting on 2017 who might have CF capable guys to flip; looking at Kansas City (Lorenzo Cain) if they continue to struggle Oakland’s Rajai Davis, Toronto’s Kevin Pillar if Toronto can’t un-bury themselves, or the Angels (Mike Trout) .. ok just kidding there.  I can’t really see any obvious trade candidate from an NL team; all the guys on floundering NL teams seem like prospects that they’d want to keep, not veterans or FAs-to-be worth flipping.  Anyway, we might not want to trade away more depth for a piece though, especially a rental.

Lets hope for a Taylor career resurgence, or perhaps a Stevenson call-up.

Longer Term: I wonder if this injury doesn’t make the Nats re-think their off-season strategy.  Will Eaton be able to play CF next season?  Will he have to move to LF while (as mentioned above) he learns to trust his knee again?  If Eaton has to move to Left, then there’s no possible way that Jayson Werth continues his tenure here.  I realize you guys may not think Werth could re-up on a shorter term deal .. but if he has a nice season and we still have a need in LF, why not?  Anyway; Eaton in LF, Harper in RF (because apparently Baker won’t even think about moving Harper to CF like i’ve advocated in the past), which leaves us short a CF yet again.  It could happen.  Like our rotating door at closer, are we looking at more rotating doors in CF?

Will Stevenson be ready for 2018 to man CF?  Will Taylor own it?  Will Eaton be ready?  Or are we looking at a FA stop-gap to Stevenson/Robles tenure?

Might be way early to worry about this stuff (ok, yes it is way early).  Just idle thoughts while we see if the Nats can salvage a win in this awful series.