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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.

 

 

How do we stack up against Chicago for the NLDS?

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Nats Nation breathes a sigh of relief; it was just a cramp. Photo via thesportsquotient.com

Nats Nation breathes a sigh of relief; it was just a cramp.  Or was it? Photo via thesportsquotient.com

Warning: lots of judgments based on short sample sizes and possibly not taking into account other factors that may have been in play during 3- and 4-game series, which are in reality a small fraction of a season.  And  yes I know, past performance is no indicator of future performance.  Just read and stop being a buzz-kill will ya?  :-)

So, we’ve known for a while that we were going to face the Cubs in the NLDS.  But now its official.  So lets peek back at our two series against them this year to see how our guys matched up to see if there’s any places to keep an eye on.  On a macro level, we took the season series from the Cubs 4-3, outscoring them 39-28 in the process.  We split four games at home in June, then took 2 of 3 against them on the road in August.

Nats Starters:  Here’s how our playoff starters fared against the Cubs this year:

  • Max Scherzer went 6, gave up 2 hits and a run with a victory over Chicago at home in June.  That sounds pretty good.
  • Stephen Strasburg went 7, punched out 13 (!) and gave up 3 runs (2 earned) in a home victory in June.  I’ll take that.
  • Gio Gonzalez went 6, gave up just two hits (good) but walked 5 (bad) , managed to give up just one run (good) and was an unlucky loser in the June home series.
  • Tanner Roark went 6+, gave up 2 runs on 5 hits and took a loss in Chicago in August.  Not bad.
  • The other three starts against the Cubs were Joe Ross in June, Edwin Jackson in August and Erick Fedde in August, so the Cubs have only seen our starters once each this year.

So, all four of our starters basically had quality starts against the Cubs this year.  That sounds promising.  No red flags.  We’ll ignore the fact that both Gio and Roark got bombed on the season’s closing day.  Maybe they were hung over.

Cubs Starters: How did Chicago’s presumed playoff rotation fare against us?

  • Jon Lester went 6, gave up 3 hits and a run in a no-decision in the June finale.  Tough.
  • Lester threw another QS in August, going 6 2/3rds, giving up 3 runs on 6 hits and getting a ND against Fedde.  Not bad.
  • Jake Arrieta was super-wild, walking 6 in 4 innings and taking the loss against Scherzer in June.  Uncharacteristic performance.
  • Kyle Hendricks went 7, giving up 3 runs on 5 hits and took a loss against Roark in the August series.  About what you’d want out of a 3rd starter.
  • Jose Quintana was a mid-season acquisition and did not pitch against us this year.
  • The other starts against us were thrown by Eddie Butler (who hails from Chesapeake, went to power-house Greenbrier Christian and was a 1st rounder out of Radford a few years back) and Jon Lackey (twice).

So, Lester was solid against us twice, Arrieta had an uncharacteristic struggle, and Hendricks was good but not dominant.  Quintana has thrown to a 3.74 ERA in his 14 starts, good but not lights out.  I have no idea how they’ll line up for the playoffs but think it may be as they’re listed above (maybe Quintana is #3 and Hendricks is #4).  It does look like Lackey is odd-man out of the Chicago rotation, which should be a fun conversation with their manager.

Summary: I like how our Starting Pitching lines up frankly; Scherzer is Scherzer, Strasburg has been unhittable for two months, and Gonzalez has been sneaky good all year.  Gonzalez and Roark project to pitch in Chicago … but Gio’s away splits are pretty good this year (11-5 with a 3.12 ERA).


 

Nats Hitters; here’s how some of our key hitters have fared against Chicago starters in their career (thanks to the wonderful baseball-reference.com per-Pitcher stats):

  • Bryce Harper is 1-7 against Lester, 4-14 against Arrieta, 4-13 against Hendricks and has never faced Quintana.  At least his one hit against Lester was a dong.
  • Daniel Murphy is 4-14 against Lester, 6-19 against Arrieta, 4-15 against Hendricks and also has never faced Quintana.  Better.
  • Ryan Zimmerman is 2-16 against Lester, 5-21 against Arrieta, 0-9 against Hendricks and has also never faced Quintana.  Might be a rough series for Zim.
  • Trea Turner is 1-2 against Lester, 1-2 against Arrieta, and has never faced either Hendricks or Quintana.  Not much to go on here.
  • Jayson Werth is 2-4 against Lester, 2-9 against Arrieta, 0-3 against Hendricks and has never faced Quintana.  About what you’d expect.
  • Anthony Rendon is 1-5 against Lester, 4-11 against Arrieta, 2-11 against Hendricks and has never faced Quintana.  Not bad.

I didn’t bother looking up Wieters or Taylor numbers because I expect little from them this off-season; anything they contribute is gravy.  Our 1-6 hitters need to make it happen.

Cubs Hitters; here’s the same analysis against our guys for Cubs key hitters (career figures):

  • Kris Bryant is 1-10 against Max, 2-5 against Stras, 2-10 against Gio and a strong 5-11 against Roark.   Might be an interesting series for the defending NL MVP.
  • Anthony Rizzo is 3-10 against Max, 2-13 against Stras, 2-22 against Gio and 4-18 against Roark.  Clearly the lefty and Roark’s swing-back fastball is effective against him.
  • Willson Contreras has never faced Scherzer, is 1-3 against Strasburg, 1-2 against Gio, 1-3 against Roark.  Almost no history go go on.
  • Javier Baez is 0-5 vs Max, 0-6 against Stras, 0-6 against Gio and 1-3 against Roark.  Not a lot of success here for Baez.
  • Kyle Schwarber has just two ABs against any of our starters, going 1-2 in a game against Roark.

I’m not entirely sure that Schwarber will play (he had 30 homers but an awful BA), nor Baez (since the Cubs have Ben Zobrist).  But these are the key bats for the Cubs and there’s not a ton to go on.  It seems like Bryant will be a handful, Rizzo may be an issue against some of our guys, and the rest of the squad could hit or miss (which, perhaps, is what you’d say also having not seen any of these stats).


 

So how does it look overall?  I like our chances, honestly.  I don’t like how Harper has looked since his “return” so that’s a huge worry, but I like our chances with the Cubs having to beat Scherzer twice and Strasburg once in a short series, and I like Gio going against the power hitting lefties in Chicago’s lineup.  I like our revamped bullpen, especially if we never have to depend on the 5th and 6th guy out of it.

It comes down to this injury scare at this point; is Scherzer going to be ok?  Can the Nats survive if Scherzer is out and we’re forced to give a playoff start to Jackson?

Assuming Scherzer is ok, Nats in 5.

 

So what did we learn from the LA series?

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Strasburg is the man. Photo allansgraphics.com

Strasburg is the man.
Photo allansgraphics.com

When you squinted at the possible pitching matchups for the big weekend series, I thought perhaps we’d at least get two decent match-ups.  Instead, We got the following thanks to the Nats “6-man rotation:”

  • Edwin Jackson vs Alex Wood
  • A.J. Cole vs Rich Hill
  • Stephen Strasburg vs Hyun-Jin Ryu

So, that’s certainly not LA’s best (we missed both Kershaw and Darvish, who you’d have to say are their #1/#2 right now), but we didn’t exactly throw our best either.  Jackson is a MLFA signing/substitute #5 starter and Cole had a nifty 5.88 ERA in AAA and is our notional “6th starter” right now.

Jackson got bombed, Cole leaked a couple of runs but the Nats could do nothing with Hill (one hit over five, a solo HR).  To their credit, there were no spring training split squad lineups this weekend, so maybe there’s a slight concern about “fatigue” in the offense as we wind down the season.

What the Dodgers did get was a lovely tour of our bullpen, thanks  in no small part to Jackson’s 2 1/3 inning outing friday.  So there’s that.  And to their credit the bullpen pitched amazingly.  6 2/3rds innings on friday giving up just 3 hits and 0 runs, 4-hitless innings on saturday,  Plus our standard 7/8/9 guys throwing three more shutout innings in the finale when our bats finally got going.

So, here’s what I think we learned this weekend:

  • Roark will be the 4th starter in the playoffs: I think Jackson’s outing clearly took him out of any 4th starter conversation that might have remained.  I still think he’s a threat for the last bullpen arm, unless they decide to go with one extra lefty who can throw lots of innings in the form of Matt Grace.  In the end it might just be matchup driven as we’ve discussed.
  • We need Harper back; we didn’t even face LA’s best and in a long series we get Kershaw twice plus whatever other shenanigans he does on short rest.  We scored 9 runs in 3 games … 7 of them against LA’s flailing bullpen.
  • Our offense struggles against good lefties: which is not good news, since we didn’t even face LA’s *best* lefty starter this past weekend.
  • Our bullpen is … solid: for all the angst it caused us in the first half of the year, this bullpen just *completely* shut down a stellar offense.  That’s great news for our chances in October.
  • Strasburg is better than Scherzer right now: great start last night; 3 hits and 1 run in 6 innings … and one of those “hits” was a ball that Taylor absolutely should have caught.  Not sure why that was not an E-8.  Nonetheless, you have to like the chances of a series where someone has to go against Scherzer/Strasburg 4 times out of 7 games.
  • A LA-DC series will be epic, if we can get there.  We took 2 of 3 in their house and they returned the favor, with both sides not really getting their optimal lineups or rotations going for either series.  No such excuses if both teams can get to the NLCS (which, I might say, is no given … LA has a losing record against both its potential WC opponents and the Nats have never won a post-season series and are set to face the Cubs).

What are your thoughts?

 

 

Congrats on 4th Title in 6 years and a mailbag to kick off discussions

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Can Harper come back from this unnatural-looking injury? PHoto via si.com

Can Harper come back from this unnatural-looking injury? PHoto via si.com

The subject says it all.  This is easily the earliest the team has ever clinched; normally its like the 2nd to last game of the year.   (Previous clinch dates in order: 10/1/12, 9/17/14, 9/25/16).  I will be adding the 2017 clincher to my running/ever growing list of notable Nats games, to be republished this off-season after we win the World Series ;-).

From a content generation standpoint I have started (after not doing them in 2016) the pitching staff reviews for the minor leagues … but they’re slow to develop because we ran through SO MANY pitchers in AAA and AA.  So those are coming eventually.  Its been a challenging couple of months for me personally, hence the lack of content.

Meanwhile, with the off-day comes a mailbag from Nats beat reporter Jamal Collier.  Since i’ve been struggling with content generation lately, lets do a response to kick off some conversation.


 

Q: What does your beat reporter’s gut tell you about Bryce & October? If Werth can’t get his timing either… OF is looking tough

A:  Well, this is the million dollar question isn’t it?  I read somewhere and will paraphrase someone’s research about the Nats offense with and without Bryce Harper … and its about a run/game less.  That’s significant.  His knee injury was worse than we originally thought and includes a calf strain too.  He’s got about 3 weeks left to get back.  My prediction is that Harper makes it back but is hobbled/not 100%.   Meanwhile Jayson Werth has fewer at bats in June/July/Aug/Sept combined than he had in April alone, and now he has a shoulder issue.  No wonder the team called up its #1 prospect Victor Robles.  I’m also beginning to think that Robles is part of the post season discussion, since these two guys are struggling and Alejandro de Aza isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire.

OF prediction for October: Werth, Michael Taylor and Harper starting but struggling, with the team turning to Howie Kendrick as needed and carrying Andrew Stevenson as its 5th/defensive replacement/pinch runner.  Robles comes into play if there’s another injury over de Aza or Rafael Bautista or anyone else we can think of.

Collier thinks Harper will be there in October but doesn’t speculate any further on the OF


Q: Right now, I have no faith Kelley won’t give up hard hit balls whenever he comes in. Odds he makes the playoff roster???

A: We may have to revisit our post-season roster predictions, published on 8/26/17, given what’s been going on.  At that time I went with Doolittle, Madsen, Kintzler, Albers, Glover, Perez, Grace,  Romero as the bullpen, leaving out Shawn Kelley.  However, it does not look like Koda Glover is making it back, so we need another name up there.  That could be a lefty like Solis, or one of struggling vets in Kelley/Blanton, or perhaps more likely Edwin Jackson.  Nonetheless, I think Kelley has pitched himself out of contention.

Collier agrees; he does not think Kelley merits a spot on the post-season roster either.


 

Q: Will @EJ36 be on the postseason roster?

A: Well, speaking of.  Yeah I think he makes sense as the 8th man in the bullpen right now.  He can spell a starter if they get into trouble early and he’s certainly pitched like he deserves it.  He also has experience relieving and could come in and throw middle innings if need be.  I like him as the Glover replacement in the above question.

Collier completely agrees.


 

Q: Based only on the Nats Park locations: what’s better, Ben’s or Mike Isabella’s?

A: I don’t know how anything can ever top Ben’s Chili Bowl for ballpark fare.

Collier is a huge fan of the subs at Mike Isabella’s.  Maybe he doesn’t like getting chili all over his game notes.


 

Q; Will some of the vets who don’t make the playoff roster still travel with the team?

A: Oh yeah, they’re still part of the team and will want to take part.  They know how things go; you can get onto the NLCS foster even if you’re not on the NLDS roster.  You aren’t going to just give up on your season’s accomplishments because you got squeezed out of the roster.

Collier says the same.


 

Q; Since Goodwin looks like he is not returning, who do you think will be our backup CF for the playoffs?

A: I kind of answered this above, but I do think its going to be Stevenson over Robles or others.  Primarily because I think he’s more of a CF than other options, he’s sufficiently fast to pinch hit, he’s older and more experienced, and he’s projecting to be a very good defensive CF (24.5 UZR/150 in his limited time there).

Collier goes with Stevenson too.

 

 

 

 

 

Who is on your Post season Nats roster?

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So, is this photo from 2012 or 2017? via federalbaseball norm hall getty images

So, is this photo from 2012 or 2017? via federalbaseball norm hall getty images

Assuming that the expected players on the D/L come back (all 10 of them as of this writing), there’s a ton of decisions to make in September.

This is probably premature, but it keeps coming up, and the Nats now have a 100% playoff odds chance right now per fangraphs, so might as well speculate.

Who is on your post-season roster?

Assuming that all of Drew, Glover, Goodwin, Harper, Madsen, Raburn, Romero, Scherzer, Turner and Werth come back and are fully healthy (yes, huge caveat), here’s what the Nats are looking at by category:


4 SPs: Options: Scherzer, Strasburg, Gonzalez, Roark, Jackson.  Plus for completeness sake, Fedde and Cole.

As discussed previously, it’d take an injury to one of the first four to get Jackson to the post-season roster and in the rotation (more on this later).  Gio’s great 2017 moves him up to 3rd starter and possible 7th game decider in a long series.  Lets hope we get there.

Who plays in October:  Scherzer, Strasburg, Gonzalez, Roark, in that order.


8 RPs:  Options: Doolittle*, Kintzler, Kelley, Albers, Perez*, Blanton, Grace*, Solis*, Glover, Madsen, Romero* plus 40-man guys Gott and Adams.

I think you have to carry the 7th-8th-9th guys we just acquired, so that’s your law-firm of Doolittle, Madsen and Kintzler.  Madsen apparently is more hurt that we thought and may not be back until the end of September, a situation to monitor for sure.  Albers is a lock as a middle reliever.  Perez’s capabilities of soaking up innings plus doing match-up puts him on the roster too.  I think Grace and Romero have earned their spots, thought that makes for e very lefty-heavy bullpen (which might really come in handy against the Dodgers, if we get there).  One remaining spot; i’d say that it should go to Glover …. but maybe it goes to EJackson instead if Glover isn’t healthy.  I know the assumption here is that everyone is healthy, so we’ll go with Glover for now, but I could also see Dusty Baker going with the experienced arm that could start in a pinch if Roark struggles.

So that leaves Blanton and Kelley having pitched themselves out of contention.  Solis’s up and down season costs him a post-season spot too.  Gott/Adams never had a chance based on MLB performance.

Now, the question is this; does Baker leave off vets like Blanton/Kelley for youngsters like Grace or Romero?  Maybe.  Grace/Romero’s ERAs on the season are in the 4 range … not the sub 2.00 range that would guarantee the spot.  So I dunno.  Maybe they go righty-heavy against Chicago in the NLDS then switch things up and go lefty heavy if we make it to the NLCS against LA.

Who plays in October: Doolittle, Madsen, Kintzler, Albers, Glover, Perez, Grace,  Romero.


Starting lineup: I cannot disagree with Jamal  Collier’s predicted playoff lineup from his Mailbag earlier this week.

1 SS Turner
2 LF Werth
3 RF Harper
4 1B Zimmerman
5 2B Murphy
6 3B Rendon
7 C Wieters
8 CF Taylor

Werth can work the count in the 2-hole, makes good contact and can drive the ball; if Rendon wants to stay in the 6-hole then there’s no better person to put up top with Turner.  Perhaps you switch Wieters and Taylor.  Perhaps you switch Zimmerman and Murphy if you’re not worried about having two lefties in a row.   If Goodwin could play CF, maybe he’d be starting there but right now its a coin-flip between them performance wise.  I don’t think the playoffs are a good time to experiment with Harper in CF so you can slip in Goodwin in RF so as to gain a few incremental points of OPS.  Still can’t quite believe that under-the-radar MVP candidate Rendon is batting 6th.

If Werth still isn’t healthy … then we slot in Kendrick nice and neat into LF/#2.  He’s done great there for us since his acquisition.


 

Bench 
INF/OF Kendrick, INF/OF Lind, C Jose Lobaton, INF Drew, OF Goodwin

This Bench means that the likes of Raburn and more specifically Difo are off the roster.   I’d much rather have Drew off the bench in a critical situation than Difo.  But the thing is … Drew may not be healthy, which would leave Difo on the roster.  Maybe you carry Difo instead of Drew b/c that’d make one too many lefties on the bench (Lind, Drew, Goodwin all lefty only), while Difo can switch hit.  I could see that argument … but then again, does the player’s manager Baker go with Difo over the vet?  It may not matter; if Werth isn’t healthy, both Drew and Difo make it while Kendrick starts.

 

 

MLBpipeline.com mid-season Nats top 30 shows our Farm turnover

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Robles is a beatt. Photo via milb.com

Robles is a beatt. Photo via milb.com

Now is about the time when you start to see a few of the more enterprising pundits out there releasing Mid-season top X lists.  Most guys just do minors-wide updates:

MLBPipeline.com though has a fully updated Nats system top 30, including the 2017 draft prospects, and the list is kind of telling.  Lets dive into it, looking at some of the new guys, the guys who are off the list, the movers and the fallers.

(Note: for reference, here’s my master list of Nats prospect rankings, updated to this MLBpipeline list and updated for player movement even up to the most recent trades).

  • The Top 4 hasn’t changedVictor Robles, Juan Soto, Erick Fedde and Carter Kieboom remain our top 4 prospects, as they have been ever since we parted ways with Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez (more on them later).  Now, whether this will still be the case in a week’s time, when the trade deadline has passed, remains to be seen.  Robles remains the #1 guy, the guy who I think the team is looking at to have a “passing of the torch” moment once Bryce Harper departs town, and remains an incredible bargain in terms of bonus-dollars-versus-prospect status ($225k bonus in 2014).  Soto has streaked up the ranks: prior to the beginning of the 2016 season he wasn’t even in the top 30 lists; now he’s pushing Robles at the top.
  • Six of our Top 30 are 2017 draftees: This was the point that surprised me, looking at the list.  MLB’s #5, 6, 16, 19, 22 and 24th ranked players have played for about a month now in our low minors.  #5 and #6 (the ones that are somewhat meaningful) are of course our top two drafted arms Seth Romero and Wil Crowe.  The reason there’s so much room for adding new draftees though is…
  • We’ve lost a TON of prospects in the last 12 months: Just looking at my master list, here’s the departures from prospect lists lately:
    • Graduated: Grace, Glover, Cole, Goodwin this year, Turner last year
    • Traded:  Neuse, Luzardo this year, Giolito, Lopez, Dunning, Hearn, Schrock, Avila last year or last off-season.  Dunning in particular was in our system so shortly that he never made it to a ranking list.

That’s 13 guys, some of whom were pretty prominently ranked and all of whom were mentioned here or there on various lists.

Now, how about the guys that are left?  Here’s some guys who are really shooting up, rankings wise (and yes, some of their rise is due to the surgical removal of so many guys above them … nonetheless, these guys have all played well):

  • Juan Soto: as mentioned above; MLB has him #2 now.  A year ago he was in the 15-17 range, and prior to 2016 season he was a nobody, outside the top 30.
  • Yasel Antuna: our big-money 2016 IFA signing is not disappointing; he had no playing time this time last year and was ranked in the 19-25 range just based on his bonus.  Now?  He’s hitting .300 as a 17-yr old in the GCL with nearly a .40o OBP (as of this writing).
  • Daniel Johnson: recently promoted and it was well earned: Johnson hit 17 homers in the first half in Hagerstown (not an easy place to hit for power), made the all-star team, and got promoted.  MLB.com has him 10th right now; they had him #29th in April.
  • Blake Perkins: It looks like he’s finally getting the hang of switch hitting, and his OPS in Low-A is 200 points higher than it was last year.  He has generally been in the 16-20 range of prospects; now he’s at #11.
  • McKenzie Mills: the lefty Low-A starter has exploded this year; he sits at 12-2 with more than a K/inning for Hagerstown, made the All-Star team and seems ready for a promotion.  MLB has him at #18 in our system; he’s never even been an honorable mention before.
  • Raudy Read: he’s stepped it up a bit, hitting for some power and holding his slash line to respectable levels as a 23-yr old in AA (and on the 40-man roster).
  • Taylor Gushue: also a 23-yr old catcher, with an OPS above .820 one level below Read in High-A.  Never before ranked (at least for us), MLB.com has him 25th now.  I could see these two catchers pushing each other and pushing the likes of Severino and Lobaton off the 40-man.

And here’s some guys whose prospect value has taken a nosedive this year:

  • Pedro Severino: speaking of catcher depth; Severino has seen his stats take a nose dive as he repeats AAA; his 1.048 OPS figure for the Nats last September seems like a mirage.   He’s still on the 40-man, and his reputation is more about his defense than his offense, but that’s still just a backup catcher ceiling.
  • Drew Ward: Year after year, Ward’s prospect value drops.  He used to be top 10; now he’s fallen to the 20-range.  He’s repeating AA and hitting just .224; he’ll be rule-5 eligible this coming off-season but I can’t see saving him with a roster spot right now.  If he doesn’t turn it around, he’ll end up in org-guy territory soon.
  • Austin Voth: perhaps the most curious of our falling prospects.  He was in the 6-7 range just a year and a half ago, then finished a full strong season in AAA.  2017?  He’s struggled, gotten demoted, and struggled further.
  • Jakson Reetz: he’s now pushed down to 26th, after routinely hanging out in the 10-15 range after being such a high draft pick.  He’s basically been socially promoted by virtue of his bonus figure, having never hit above .230 outside of complex ball.  He’s now backing up a guy in Gushue who’s 2 years older, but also has an OPS that’s 200 points better.
  • Anderson Franco: what happened here?  He was solid in rookie ball … and barely at the mendoza line in full season ball.  Another guy routinely given top 10 rankings early on; he’s now just hanging on ranked #27 by MLB.
  • Osvaldo Abreu: he’s moved up a level a year, now playing in AA, but his numbers have had corresponding declines with each promotion.  He wasn’t ever considered a major prospect, but now he’s barely considered a minor one.
  • Telmito Agustin: he couldn’t hack it in High-A and was demoted back to Low-A this year.  He’s only 20, so he has time, but he’s basically out of the prospect discussions for now.
  • Nick Banks & Rhett Wisemann: both big-time college program upper-end draft picks, both scuffling professionally.  Neither now ranked by MLB whereas both had cracks at the top 10 of our prospect lists at some point.
  • Joan Baez: you can’t teach velocity right?  Well for Potomac this year Baez had more walks than Ks … and more walks than innings pitched.  He’s now a 22-yr old in GCL beating up on a bunch of kids, hoping to get his mojo back.
  • Matt Skole: he’s still a “prospect” remember?  He’s 27, hitting .235 in AAA, and has yet to be called up even though the team is so short on hitters that they called up Severino this past week.  I put Skole in here just to see if MartyC is still reading.

And now for some predictions related to our prospects:

  • Fedde is getting called up and soon, and will exhaust his rookie eligibility before the season is over.  The team can’t let Edwin Jackson post 5+ ERAs like he’s been doing for the last few seasons.
  • Robles, Soto, Kieboom stay put to keep our top 4 in tact at the trade deadline.
  • I can see the team cashing in some lesser prospects in trade though, perhaps guys ranked in the 8-15 range.  Selling high on Daniel Johnson perhaps, or flipping some C depth from Severino, Read, Gushue, Kieboom.
  • #1 prospect next year: still Robles; he’s not debuting until at least the super-2 deadline next year.
  • # prospect once Robles graduates: It’ll be Soto.  For reasons explained in the next bullet point…
  • How quickly will Romero get to the Majors?  Pretty quickly.  I could see him ending next year in AA, then pushing for a spot in the 2019 staff.  He won’t be in the minors long enough to get ranked above Soto.  That is unless he turns out to continue his knuckle-headedness… at which point we’ll all write many comments about how we “told you so” for drafting him.

Did I miss anyone?

PS: fun trivia; there have only been eleven (11) different players to hold the title as “#1 Washington Nationals prospect” since Nov 2004.   I’ll bet you can’t name them all.

 

Ask Collier 7/21/17

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Doolittle has settled right hin. Photo via federal baseball/getty images

Doolittle has settled right hin. Photo via federal baseball/getty images

Off days seem to be accompanied by mail bags.  And that’s good, because i’m kind of in a writing lull.  I have no interest in looking at the hundreds of players in the game and trying to write one of those speculative, useless “hey we should make this trade” posts.  So here’s MLB.com nats beat reporter Jamal Collier‘s latest mail bag and how i’d have answered the questions he took.


Q: With the A’s trade and Robertson traded, do you think the Nats still look for a closer? Or do they go for another bullpen piece (ie Neshek)?

A: …. and yet,  here we are, needing to look at all 30 teams and all the theoretically “available” closers to write an educated answer.  *sigh*

Ok: here’s who is for certain selling: Detroit, Chicago WS, Oakland, NY Mets, Miami, Philly, Cincinnati, San Diego, San Francisco.  And here’s who probably should be selling: Baltimore, Toronto, Atlanta, maybe Texas.

That’s 12-13 teams, some of which have pretty good closers.  So there’s some arms available.  But at what cost?  Does anyone want to stomach the trading of yet another set of higher-end prospects for a rental “proven closer?”  I’m hoping the team goes a different direction, with a trade of lesser quality prospects for another couple 7th and 8th inning guys.

Bullpen now:  Doolittle, Madsen, Albers, Romero, Perez, Blanton and Grace.  Lefty heavy, and Blanton just cannot seem to get it together.  So another righty to replace Blanton could work, given how bad he’s been this year.  Maybe the return of Glover or a healthy/effective Kelley is what the team really needs instead of another trade (because who else on that current list of 7 do you want to jettison?).

Collier says that the team added a lot of payroll and may not do another blockbuster.


 

Q: Will the Nats make a push for a fifth starter at the trade deadline?

A: Nope.  They’ll give Edwin Jackson starts until he gives them a reason to dump him, may try existing internal solutions, and will eventually call up Erick Fedde to try him out too.  But they seem likely to cull the veteran 1yr FA market next off-season instead of overpaying now.  Of course, that being said seemingly the next available option in AAA (Jacob Turner) just got absolutely shelled (1 2/3rds innings 6 runs) … maybe he had transaction-lag from being activated and DFAd within like a 24 hour period.  A.J. Cole seems to have nearly exhausted his effectiveness as a starting pitcher; wow how far has he fallen.  Hill and Voth both now demoted to AA, along with Greg Ross.

Collier agrees.


 

Q: Who are the tradeable assets on the big league squad & in the minors? Likeliest to be dealt?

A: Hmm.  Most tradeable assets (outside the obvious all stars/marquee players we’d never move) on the big league squad might be Taylor and Goodwin thanks to their excellent seasons, and Gio Gonzalez who has pitched great and has two more option years.  But now that Ross is on the shelf for a year, we can’t possibly trade Gio.  Eaton should be back  in 2018 so there’s no room for both Goodwin and Taylor; i’d guess they’d trade one of them and let the other start in LF after Werth plays out his contract.  That is unless the Nats seek to improve offense in LF (like I think they should) and go for a big bopper … then they might have two OF trade assets (I think i’d rather move these guys than have them sit to be the 4th option).

In the minors?  Andrew Stevenson comes to mind as someone who might be surplus to requirements in the short term and be someone worth flipping.  That is unless we move both TAylor and Goodwin; then he’d make a perfect 4th OF for 2018 behind a LF FA acquisition.  Past that?  Its pretty empty in AAA and AA, so you’d be looking at guys in Low- and  High-A as trade assets.  Perhaps even lower; we have a number of high-dollar IFAs in the GCL right now.

Collier doesn’t even speculate; i guess he’s not a minor league guy.


Q: Will Koda Glover close games when he returns?

A: Lets get him to return first.  Is there even a time table for him to return?  Honestly I was almost assuming he was done for the year.  If he does return … then yeah, absolutely he’s in the closer mix.

Collier says the same thing basically.


 

Q: Any word on Davey Lopes return?

A: didn’t even know he was gone.  Its been a busy summer.  :-)

Collier has no updates; he’s away on personal matter.

 

A weekend of injuries, moves and trades

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Ross down and out. Photo Getty Images via federalbaseball.com

Ross down and out.
Photo Getty Images via federalbaseball.com

As I mentioned in the comments on the previous post, I was away from computer all weekend so I missed the opportunity to comment on all the major things that went down.

So this is a clearing house of thoughts.


 

Joe Ross to undergo Tommy John; I don’t think anyone saw this coming, but then again nobody saw it coming with Stephen Strasburg either.  With Stras it seemed to be a one-pitch injury.  Ross’ pitch f/x data for his last start indicated that he was definitely off his typical velocity; compare his 90mph average on July 9th to his July 4th start, where he started routinely in the 93-94 range, before dropping off a cliff towards the end of his outing.  If I had to guess, I’d guess he might have injured his arm somewhere in the 7th inning or so of his July 4th start and tried to give it a go the next outing before his teammate Max Scherzer spotted his distress.  Ross finishes a struggle of a 2017 season where he got an amazing 10.55 runs per 27 outs of support; in 6 of his 13 starts the team scored more than 10 runs for him.  He clearly had settled down from early season issues, throwing four consecutive quality starts and again looking like perhaps the best #5 starter in the league.  Now he’s out until the all star break of next year at best, likely until September of 2018.  He’s only 24, mind  you, but this injury comes at a tough time for him; he’ll be arbitration eligible for the first time after the 2018 season, one in which he may only  make a handful of starts.  So this will cost Ross millions of dollars…. and will save the Nats at a time when they may be looking to save pennies for Bryce Harper.

Looking at the rotation for 2018; as we’ll soon find out (read on), there’s not a whole lotta help on the farm, so the Nats are probably shopping for starters this coming off-season, unless you guys think Erick Fedde will be ready for prime time next April.

In the meantime, it leads to a sticky situation in the near term yet again for this team.  They traded away all their near-to-the-majors starting depth last off season, and have had to give starts already this season to three non-rotation guys (Jacob TurnerA.J. Cole and the ill-fated Jeremy Guthrie start early on).  Well, now their starting depth in the minors is even weaker; A.J. Cole’s AAA era this year  is a nifty 6.00 and the only other 40-man roster starter (Austin Voth) is even worse; he’s pitched to a 6.38 ERA in Syracuse this year and is either doing a rehab assignment or is being outright demoted to Harrisburg as we speak.

 


 

So instead of going with an internal option, the brain trust is enlisting the help of MLFA Edwin Jackson, who eternally owes Mike Rizzo a bottle of champagne for NOT offering him a qualifying offer when he became a FA after his run-of-the-mill 2012 season for us.  The lack of the QO enabled Jackson to get a 4 year deal he never would have gotten otherwise, but cost the Nats a pick that they probably could have used … heck a junior college starter drafted towards the end of the first round in 2013 … probably would have been Sean Manaea, currently dominating for the same Oakland As who just sent us our next wave of bullpen reinforcements (more on that in a moment).  But I digress.

We plan on giving Edwin Jackson another shot in the majors, despite his giving up 11 hits and 4 walks in 5 innings for Baltimore earlier this year, despite his pitching to a 5.89 ERA in San Diego last year (where everybody looks like a Cy Young winner).   I’ll say this: if the Nats can score in double digits for Jackson the same way they did for Ross … maybe it won’t matter than his ERA sits in the 6-7 range.  It’ll look like a slow-pitch softball game.

But what choice do the Nats have?  Erick Fedde you say?  Have you seen his inconsistency in Syracuse?  Its like the Nats didn’t learn from jerking Tanner Roark around a couple years ago; Starting pitchers are creatures of habit.  They eat the same meal 2 hours before they pitch, they do the same running and lifting sessions in-between outings.  If you have a successful starter, you don’t suddenly decide he’s a middle reliever.  So it should be of no surprise that Fedde’s all over the road right now.

Jacob Turner?  Well, he’ll be around too; I’m guessing he’s option 1-B to Jackson as 1-A.  But Turner is no savior; you don’t get DFA’d and pass through waivers and accept an outright to AAA as a pitching prospect in the modern game unless the rest of the league really, really doesn’t like you.  To say there’s a lack of quality starting pitching depth in the league right now is kind of an understatement.

Who else is starting for this team in the upper minors?  Here’s the rest of the Syracuse rotation right now: Sean O’Sullivan, Jared Long, Greg Ross.  Her’es their current AAA ERAs respectively: 4.40, 5.29, 6.34.  Here’s how we acquired them, again respectively: MLFA  in May of this year, MLFA in April of last year, and again MLFA in April of last year.  So three org guys just eating up AAA innings, none of which are pitching especially well.  No wonder Luke Erickson over at www.nationalsprospects.com has given up tracking the AAA team this year.

Maybe we drop down to AA: how’s that look?  Bleak.  Taylor Hill is already demoted once this year and is closer to a release than a promotion.  Austen Williams: 6.85 ERA.  Matthew Crownover is pushing a 5.00 ERA.  They just got Wirkin Estevez off the D/L: he’s only got 26 innings of 4.10 ERA pitching above A-Ball.   Lastly there’s  John Simms, the “Ace” of Harrisburg’s staff who is pitching there for the *fourth* successive season.  He’s got solid numbers: 4-6 with a 3.57 ERA but middling K/9 rates  and some hittability; would you rather roll the dice on a grizzled veteran with more than 1700 innings on his MLB resume or go with a guy who you refuse to promote even to AAA despite the same decently solid numbers year over year?  I think you have your answer.

So lets see how it goes.  Jackson’s Syracuse numbers for 2017 are pretty nifty; 20 innings, 9 hits, 22 ks.  Oh and 10 walks; we’ll just say that last part a little more quietly and focus on the positive.  As I noted in the comments section in another blog … we’re about to see just what the difference is between AAA and the majors.


Meanwhile, after more and more ridiculousness in the late-innings of games (including a 7 run collapse late last week that nearly blew a 10-run cushion), the Nats finally made their move to bolster the bullpen (and hopefully grease the skids for a wholesale shedding of deadweight off the 40-man roster by everyone involved in the latest debacle).  Rizzo called up his best buddy Billy Beane and pulled off what I think is a pretty good trade:

  • Acquire: Sean DoolittleRyan Madsen: both mid-30s one inning guys with excellent numbers this year and neither being one-year rentals.
  • Give up: Blake TreinenJesus Luzardo and Sheldon Neuse

Treinen just needs a mental D/L trip; there’s nothing appreciably different with his stuff from last year (when he was good) to this year (when he has been awful).  Classic change of scenery guy who returns to his drafting team and probably has a solid rest-of-2017.  Luzardo and Neuse are good prospects but  young and several years away; perfect for what Oakland wants.  I’m bummed they’re leaving (especially Luzardo, who by all accounts has come all the way back from TJ surgery and had looked solid in his early GCL outings).  Prior to 2017, Neuse was generally about our 8th best prospect and Luzardo 12th or so.  Both have improved their rankings with their play this year, so this may look more foolish if Luzardo becomes a #2 starter in a few years.   But as they say, you have to give up stuff to get stuff.

As others noted, the Nats managed to get these two guys without giving up any of their top ranked prospects (Robles, Soto, Fedde, Kieboom), which is a huge win.


 

Crazy weekend.  Sorry I missed it in realtime.

Qualifying Offer analysis: Nats and Leaguewide

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

Desmond gets a QO. Photo Drew Kinback/Natsnq.com

Qualifying Offer (QO) extension time has come and past, and a record 20 players received the 15.8M one-year contract tender for 2016.

The Nationals, as has been typical, went the conservative route and only gave a QO to the two players they expect to reach significant, multi-year deals.  Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond.  They opted not to extend offers to their other 7 free agents, nor to the two guys who a  year ago you would have thought to be locks to get one (Doug Fister and Denard Span).

(coincidentally: am I the only one who thinks that the Nats actually have 9 free agents on their end-of-year 40-man roster?   Zimmermann, Desmond, Span, Fister, Uggla, McLouth, Janssen, Thornton and Johnson.  Why is it that all the other stories I read only list the first 8?  Is Reed Johnson actually not a FA?  Look at the Nats XLS on Cots‘; Johnson is absolutely listed as a FA, as are 6 others, plus the two with options that we’ve already declined.  Am I wrong?)

Anyway.  I’m on record as saying that the Nats should have extended 3 QOs to include Span.  Yet not for the first time, the team has opted not to offer a QO to a guy who clearly would have declined it.  And this will be the third time they have made a crucial mistake as an organization and gave away a high draft pick needlessly.  Edwin Jackson was always going to sign a multi-year deal and the Nats inexplicably failed to give him one.  Same with Adam LaRoche, who clearly still had a market for his services and would have garnered another pick.

I’m not sure exactly what Scott Boras seems to “have” on the Lerners … but not for the first time they’ve cut him a break and done him and his clients an inexplicable favor.  So, what exactly do the Nats get out of this?  Span should send the team management a fruit basket for not destroying his FA market this coming off-season.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Span didn’t hire Scott Boras so that he could hand over a commission check on a gift of a $15.8M one year deal.  Span was never going to accept that QO.  Just dumb.  But hey, it isn’t exactly the first dumb thing this front office/ownership group has done this off season…

So, of the 20 players who did get a QO … the annual question remains.  Will someone actually take it this year?  Just as a reminder, here’s the entire list of QO-offered players since the system began, with their eventual contract offer and a judgement of whether or not the QO “hurt” their next contract.  Eight in 2012, 13 in 2013, and 12 after last season.  That’s 33 total players and so far NOT ONE has signed the deal.  I’m still not entirely convinced that there’s not a Player’s Union-wide conspiracy going on where they decline the QOs en masse because they don’t agree with it for some reason.  Certainly it seems like the next CBA will eliminate it, since it has clearly done little except harm the market for FAs.

Here’s a quick opinion on the 20 guys who got QOs and what I think may happen (AAV = Average Annual Value on their contract):

  • Easily surpass AAV of $15.8M and get monster deals: Greinke, Heyward, Zimmermann, Upton, Gordon: All of these guys are marquee free agents, are the kind of guys you give up a pick to sign gladly, and will sign for significant money well eclipsing the QO AAV or guaranteeing a significant amount of money (like, in the $80M+ range).
  • Will sign multi-year deals with significant money, even if AAV is “only” at or near $15.8M: Desmond, Davis, Iwakuma, Gallardo, Samardzija: I can see Desmond doing 4/$60 or something like that in New  York, I can see the two pitchers getting nice deals in the 3/$45 range and I can see Davis banking a short high AAV deal.  For me, even Samardzija’s 2015 decline won’t scare off some teams, especially teams out west in pitcher’s parks and especially since he could be a nice 2nd-tier deal of an arm once you get past the significant FA pitchers.
  • Might not get $15.8M AAV, but will sign for at least 2/$25M or 3/$40M or something: Lackey, Chen, Kendrick, Weiters, Anderson: Most of these guys probably take less AAV but guarantee more total cash, like several guys did last off-season.  I’ll bet some of these guys re-sign with their current teams too (Anderson, maybe Kendrick, maybe Lackey too).  The draft pick compensation likely scares off some teams here, so their market will be limited, but if a team has a protected first pick they might be ok giving up a second rounder for these guys.  Or, a team like Washington, which will get two supp-1st picks, may be willing to give up its 1st rounder to just “drop down” 10-15 slots to sign these guys.

So that leaves more than a few guys who might be crazy not to sign the offer sheet:

  • Rasmus: made just $8M this year; does anyone really think he’s getting significantly more in FA on an AAV basis?  Plus, who is going to give up a 1st or even a 2nd round pick to sign him?  And he hit just .238 in a hitter’s park.  This seems like a “dare” move from the Houston front office, known in the industry to be just a bit too clever for their own good sometimes.  As in, “I dare you to break with your union and take this deal.”  If there really is some un-spoken agreement among players to never take a QO, he’s a great test case.
  • Fowler: Similar situation to Rasmus ($9.5M this year): he’s not the kind of guy you commit significant money to, is he?  He does have value in a very small CF market, so perhaps you  make the argument he belongs in the same conversation as Lackey or Kendrick.
  • Murphy: made just $8M this year and hit half as many homers in the post season as he had all year.  So clearly he made himself some cash with his post-season exploits .. but enough to double his pay on an AAV basis?  A shrewd move from the NY front office, pressing the issue here with Murphy.
  • Kennedy: $9.8M this year but has been awful.  Might not even be a 5th starter, and has Scott Boras as an agent.  Who’s giving up a 1st rounder to make him their 5th starter?  Who’s signing him to a long term deal?  Without the QO stigma, I could have seen him signing a 1yr/$8M deal but not much else.  How can he possibly not take this offer, a gift of a pillow contract to re-gain some value for next off-season?  One reason: his agent.  Is Kennedy going to be the next Stephen Drew or Kendrys Morales, who gets talked into hitting the open market by his aggressive agent only to find himself sitting until next year’s draft passes since nobody’s willing to give up a high round pick to sign him?
  • Estrada: he made just $3.9M in 2015 and has made just $10m TOTAL in his career, yet got offered $15.8M for next season after a breakout  year in Toronto.  Uh, why wouldn’t he take this QO?  He’s on the wrong side of 30, would more than double his CAREER earnings with one stroke of the pen, and if he repeats his performance could get a 3-year deal taking him past age 35 to lock up his financial future.  This is easily the craziest QO we’ve seen yet and will be the biggest test of the system.

It just seems to me that this last group of players are either going to re-sign with their own team or are going to get really screwed in the open market.  Look at that last group of 5 players and tell me who’s giving up a 1st round pick to sign them?

Good further reading on the same topic:

 

To Qualifying Offer, or not to Qualifying Offer (2015 version)

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Zimmermann will get a QO: who else? Photo Unk.

Zimmermann will get a QO: who else? Photo Unk.

We’ve talked around and about this issue.  Here’s a post entirely about it.

Which Nats pending Free Agents should the team offer a Qualifying Offer (QO) to this coming off-season?

First, for completion of Analysis, here’s the canonical list of FAs on the 40-man roster as of the end of the 2015 season (using Cots as a source):

  • Jordan Zimmermann, Dan Uggla, Doug Fister, Ian Desmond, Denard Span, Nate McLouth, Casey Janssen, Matt Thornton, Reed Johnson

So, lets just get this out of the way; we’re not talking about Uggla, McLouth, Janssen, Thornton or Johnson here.  Maybe the team could think about re-signing some of these guys to non-guaranteed/minor league deals, or negotiate an extension for one of the relievers.  I wouldn’t be entirely against that (especially for Thornton, who has been pretty durn good both in general (2.43 ERA on the year even if he got hit hard a couple times in August) and against lefties in particular (.203 BAA against lefties on the year), but this post is about the 4 big names.

Important links for this analysis: Here’s the total 2016 FA list at mlbtraderumors.com and their take on the 2016 FA power rankings.  We won’t know what the QO amount is until mid-October, but we can estimate that it will likely be somewhere around $16.3M.  Here’s my Qualifying Offer worksheet, listing every player who has gotten one and their eventual signed contract details with Average Annual Values (AAVs) listed.

By the way, here’s some salient points ignored for the purposes of this post, but which could make this post obsolete.

  1. I’m assuming that all pending FA players are acting rationally and in their own interest, and not working in concert with the players union and en masse turning down the qualifying offers.  So far, evidence shows this point may not be the case, as we’ve seen several players who inexplicably turned down QOs in the past.  The most blatant examples were Michael Cuddyer in 2014 and Kendrys Morales in 2013.  Cuddyer in particular was curious mostly for the timing; he signed a 2yr/$21M deal even before officially rejecting the 1yr/$15.3M qualifying offer, and it is hard not to make the argument that Cuddyer would have been much better suited to just taking the one-year deal for what was nearly the entire sum of the two year deal he eventually took.  I have no idea if Cuddyer just desperately wanted out of Colorado, which could be true … but then his destination didn’t support that argument either (prior to the season, the Mets were projected to be just another also-ran in the NL East; nobody predicted their run to 90 wins).
  2. I’m assuming that Mike Rizzo hasn’t already made a “hand shake” deal with any of these players to specifically NOT offer the QO, since it can be such a huge damper on their eventual FA market.  We have argued this conspiracy theory before, with lack of QOs to both Adam LaRoche but especially Edwin Jackson being examples of players who may have had a gentlemen’s agreement prior to departing the franchise.

Lets take these guys one by one.

  • Zimmermann: he’s a member of the likely “big 4” of FA starting pitchers to be available this off-season (also including David Price, Johnny Cueto and presumably Zack Greinke if/when he opts out of his existing deal).  Given Cueto’s issues at the end of 2015, I’d likely put Zimmermann as the third most valuable starter available.  And he’ll have no shortage of suitors.  We know he spurned signing a longer term deal on two different occasions (first when they negotiated his 2-year arbitration-buyout deal and then again last off-season) and the rumors are that the Nationals management/Rizzo are hesitant to commit major dollars to a post-Tommy John survivor.  He seems likely to sign a nine-figure deal somewhere, easily outdistancing the AAV of the QO.  Verdict: Offer the QO, he’ll reject it and signs elsewhere for more money than the Nats are willing to commit.
  • Desmond: he’s *easily* the best middle infielder on the FA market, a good combination of offense and defense whose best season was in 2012 but has three straight Silver Sluggers and sort of rebounded towards the end of his otherwise dismal 2015.  I agree with other analysts; he likely was a fool to turn down $107m as has been widely reported, and will be lucky to get 60% of that in the FA market.  I’m guessing he gets a four year deal with an AAV of $18M or so.  Verdict: Offer the QO, he’ll reject it and signs elsewhere because that’s kind of the corner he’s painted himself into, and the Nats have their ready-made replacement for him in Trea Turner.

Those two were obvious.  These next two are not.

  • Span: Another guy who picked a really bad year to miss 2/3rds of the season.  Span’s 2015 numbers are exactly in line with his excellent 2014 numbers, a point that his agent will be making this off-season. His injuries however could give teams pause.  He had “core” surgery in the spring, recurring back issues in the summer and then a torn Hip labrum in August that put him out for good.  Would you want to risk signing a 31yr old center fielder who just had hip surgery?  A good question.  Span does have competition in the CF free agency market, with decent players like Dexter Fowler, Colby Rasmus and Austin Jackson in the space.  The interesting tidbit that just popped up though is Span’s announcing that he’s switched agents and is now with the Scott Boras Corporation.  Boras is Mr. Free Agency, and has gleefully advised several prior clients to decline QOs and go head long into free agency only to watch them flounder (see Kyle Lohse, Stephen Drew and the aforementioned Morales as examples of players under Boras advisement who declined QOs in seemingly ill-conceived decisions).  Why did Span just switch to the super-agent Boras unless he needed someone to go out and drum up a good offer?  I think this is evidence enough that he’ll decline the QO and test the market.  And, even if Span accepts the QO (which I don’t think he would), he’d be competing with Michael Taylor for the starting CF job … on a team where our starting OF missed hundreds of games in 2015 and where the presumed 4th OF got 500+ at-bats this year.  So having Span around (who, by the way, hits lefty on a team that desperately needs lefty-hitting players) wouldn’t be the end of the world if he accepted the offer.  Verdict: Offer the QO, Boras will tell him to decline it anyway and the Nats will get an additional comp pick.
  • Fister: Prior to 2015, Fister was one of the more under-rated starters in the league and seemed like a safe bet to sign one of these 5yr/$65M deals that we see all the time.  Believe it or not, Fister ranked 17th in the league in fWAR among starters for the combined seasons 2011-2014.  17th!  That’s better than the likes of Cueto, Darvish, Strasburg, and a whole  host of “better” pitchers.  Unfortunately, he chose his walk year to fall off a cliff, with his average fastball velocity (which has already been trending down for 4 seasons) falling more than a MPH and a half just this year.  He was ineffective in the rotation and was removed, and has been pitching out of the bullpen for weeks.  He’s making $11.4M this year but it seems like he’s going to be lucky to get a 1yr $8M deal now from a team willing to give him a shot at the back of their rotation.  If the Nats were to offer him a QO and he took it,  he’d likely be the leagues most expensive long-man (now that Tim Lincecum is out of contract that is) and/or he’d block a spot that really needs to go to either Joe Ross or Tanner Roark.  I just don’t see how the team can risk extending one.  VerdictNo QO, and Fister tries to find a pillow contract with a team like Oakland or San Diego where he can likely put up decent numbers.

So, that’s my thinking.  Nats make three QOs, cut ties with everyone, replace internally across the board like they were always planning to, and net a slew of extra supplemental first rounders in a 2016 draft that is significantly deeper than this year’s.  Sounds good to me.