Nationals Arm Race

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Spring Training 2021 Judgement Day Arrives

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Kieboom sent down; a major domino falls for the 2021 nats roster. Photo via Federal Baseball

One major, significant story line that Nats fans have been talking (and fretting) about all spring was decided quickly and decisively on 3/27/21, when the Nats made a slew of moves that greatly shaped their opening day (and longer) roster.

3/27/21 moves announced:

  • Jordy Mercer added
  • Hernán Pérez added
  • Jake Noll DFA’d
  • Carter Kieboom optioned
  • Luis Garcia optioned
  • Sam Clay optioned
  • Kyle McGowin optioned
  • Yadiel Hernández optioned
  • Yasmany Tomás released
  • T.J. McFarland released

(Note; I have updated the big board for all these moves at this point, as well as prior options/releases to this point).

First, lets talk about the obvious; the Infield Impact , both at the MLB level and below. Kieboom was given all spring to win the 3B job and failed. Furthermore, Garcia’s numbers last season did not merit his being given the starter job either. I think the team is making the right move (even if it took them a bit too long to adjust) by sending both young players down and giving the big team the best chance to win.

Kieboom’s luster as a prospect is now basically shot. I would not be surprised in the least to see him flounder in AAA and struggle to recover from the disappointment of being cut, which will further prevent him from recovering his prospect shine. Garcia was always over-promoted to me, and needs a year of seasoning in AAA.

Presumably the starting lineup will now feature Josh Harrison at 3B and Starlin Castro playing 2B (or perhaps the reverse). Getting Harrison in the lineup certainly improves the offense, likely at the expense of some 3B defense. How far the team has fallen from having Anthony Rendon providing Gold Glove defense and middle-of-the-order steady offense for half a decade.

Since Castro is struggling with some injuries, and since the team needs someone who can play SS as a backup … it was always a certainty that the team would carry a SS-capable player. I was hoping it would NOT be Garcia, because I want him to play every day … and now he will. I figured honestly the team would carry Perez, but Mercer is somewhat of a surprise. I’m guessing Castro may face a DL trip, which then would put Perez in as a starter, Mercer as the defensive replacement … and when everyone is healthy again Mercer may get the Axe.

To make room for the two new additions, Noll mercifully gets the DFA axe. This was the obvious move; Noll has been #1 on my “next player to get DFA’d to make room on the 40-man” roster for the better part of two years. I think he’s a nice story, making the team as such a long shot, and i’m surprised he made it so long on the roster. Odds are high that he’ll pass through waivers and accept the outright, but the odds of him returning to the majors seem slim.

The cascading effect of sending both Garcia and Kieboom to AAA, where they will be playing full time, has to be crushing to a slew of long-serving minor league vets in the org. Now there’s no room for the likes of Cole Freeman and Adrian Sanchez to play full time, to say nothing of several MLFA signings who seem like they’re a few days from getting cut (namely, Osvaldo Duarte, Ali Castillo, and Humberto Arteaga. That being said, the infield at AAA projects to have a very interesting set of prospects: KJ Harrison, Garcia, YaselAntuna and Kieboom. It’ll be fun watching AAA boxes in May.


Now lets talk about the Outfield Impact. Fan favorite Hernandez gets sent to AAA; some fans are already shocked that he gets cut based on his hitting this spring, but to me it’s pretty obvious. The team needs a spare outfielder who can actually play CF and that isn’t Hernandez. But it also may be that the injury to Castro forced the team’s hand to carry Mercer at the expense of Hernandez. Maybe we’ll see him back up soon to cover for a corner OF injury, or if (when) Ryan Zimmerman gets hurt.

Hernandez clearly has made Tomas expendable; he’s given his release. He just didn’t show much this spring (7-30 with no extra base hits) and the team has other options.

Gerardo Parra clearly isn’t ready so he will remain in roster limbo; it should be interesting to see what the team does with him once he’s ready to go, and who makes way. Does he replace Mercer like for like? Does he go to AAA and play for a bit? How does he fit into this team?

Speaking of outfielders in AAA, Hernandez will presumably man LF down there, as Tocci will man CF. That leaves just one OF position for a slew of org guys, and playing time will be tight for the likes of Rhett Wisemann and Nick Banks if Parra is on the roster. We’ll see. Maybe they’ll all just juggle DH duties.


Lastly, lets talk briefly about what we now know about the Pitching situation. We now seem to know at least how the “2nd lefty bullpen option” competition has shaken out: Clay lost and was demoted, McFarland lost and was released, and the team is waiting a day or two to make a 40-man corresponding move/DL assignment to add Luis Avilan. Makes sense and all seems logical.

The MLB bullpen now though still seems light: The big board shows only 6 relievers on the Washington roster right now, though Fedde and Voth seem like they’re both now being carried. That puts them at 8 … but we know that Harris and his blood clot will cause a short DL trip. So stay tuned for more machinations on the pitching. I’ll bet we’ll see at least one more RHP reliever addition (Javy Guerra?), but that’ll require another 40-man/60-day DL move. It is interesting that McGowin was sent down; to me this means he lost out to Guerra as a middle relief option.

Lastly, two starters remain in limbo: Armenteros and Romero. Romero the far more interesting case; where the F is he? Zero IP all spring, zero indication if he’s a starter or reliever. For a guy with such a track record/history it just leads to nothing but (bad) speculation. We’ll find out soon enough; they have to do something with him in the next few days.

So, lots of moves, lots of clarity already, with a bit more to come.

Post Publishing update: about 20 minutes after publishing, the team made the next logical bullpen move, adding Luis Avilan and DFA’ing Dakota Bacus. As noted above as a likely possibility but officially made today.

Spring Training 2021 NRI Discussion

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Parra may bring the shark back to Washington in 2021 as an NRI. Photo Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

This is our 7th straight year doing this recurring post; a look at the Non-Roster Invitees (NRIs) upon their official announcement ahead of spring training.

Here’s past posts by year: 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015.

The team has invited 71 players to spring training, which means that joining the 39 members of the 40-man roster are an astounding 32 NRIs. FYI: the big board is now updated for all 32 NRIs, who are shaded in purple. 2020 was a weird year, which probably is why we’re seeing so many NRIs, and so many NRIs who are so young. Normally NRIs are veteran MLFAs, AAA/4-A guys and perhaps one or two top prospects. This year, the team has invited a slew of guys who have never played above A-ball, or who were drafted just last year.

Why do we care about NRIs? Because there’s a high likelihood we’ll see these guys either make the roster or get called up later on this year. Since the 2015 season:

  • 9 NRIs have made the 25-man roster straight out of Spring Training (and Guthrie technically made it 10 since he got called up a few days later and was always intended to be the 5th starter in 2017).  Basically every year an NRI has made the roster for six seasons running.
  • 29 NRIs eventually played for the MLB team at some point that same season they were in spring training.

So its likely that we’re going to see a lot of these NRIs at some point in the future.  Like, on average at least 4-5 of these NRIs are going to play for this team in 2021.


Lets review the NRIs and make some predictions.

Here’s the list of 32 NRI’s for 2021, organized by player type:

  • RH Starters: Jefry Rodriguez, Paolo Espino, Jackson Rutledge, Cade Cavalli, Cole Henry, Tyler Dyson, Todd Peterson
  • RH Relievers: Aaron Barrett, Tyler Eppler, Javy Guerra, Gabe Klobotis, Jacob Condra-Bogan, Bryan Bonnell, Jeremy Jeffress
  • LH Starters: Tim Cate
  • LH Relievers: Luis Avilan, TJ McFarland, Matt Cronin
  • Catchers: Raudy Read, Wellington Castillo, Israel Pineda, Jakson Reetz, Blake Swihart, Brandon Snyder (who is oddly listed as a Catcher but really is a 1B)
  • Infielders: Adrian Sanchez, Hernan Perez, Jordy Mercer, Jackson Cluff, Drew Mendoza
  • Outfielders: Carlos Tocci, Yasmany Tomas, Gerardo Parra, Cody Wilson

(note: post-publishing edit; I had Bonnell as a LHP; thanks for the correction. 2/22/21 added Jeffress).


So lets squint and make some predictions.

  • Do any of these guys stand a chance at making the Opening day roster?  There are a couple of opportunities for these guys this year, absolutely. All of this is assuming no injuries to the current 40-man.
    1. Lefty Reliever: right now the bullpen has two lefties: Brad Hand and Sam Clay. Hand seems like he’s going to be the closer, while Clay has never pitched in the majors. So, yeah, there’s opportunity here. Avilan has the most MLB time but his numbers have been iffy lately. McFarland has as much MLB time as Avilan and has better recent numbers. Cronin could surprise here, but he’s never pitched above A-ball. He’s got amazing numbers though. The team could also be looking to convert one of its lefty starters to a reliever (Romero, Braymer) … but those guys would be far more valuable as effective starters. At the end of the day, I think McFarland breaks camp as the loogy.
    2. 7th/8th bullpen arm/RH Reliever: Right now on the depth chart, the team only has 9 true “relievers” on its 40-man. They’re going to break camp with 8 of them. The options game probably means they carry the loser of Ross/Voth/Fedde 5th starter competition as the 8th reliever, meaning that there’s possibly some competition for that last righty out of the pen. Look for that spot to be competed between Finnegan, Bacus and then the likes of veteran NRI Guerra. I’ll bet the team breaks camp with Guerra; he’s been there before and the team knows him, sending Finnegan and Bacus to AAA. 2/22/21 update: with the Jeffress signing, I think he goes to the head of the list above Guerra.
    3. 4th OF; Is there really a competition here? I don’t believe there is. But a 5th OF could be in the works as a bench bat. See next.
    4. Bench Bat: here’s our current projected Bench bats: Harrison, Zimmerman. Not much there. I like Parra as a glue-guy, clubhouse guy, spare part kind of player. Plus he hits lefty. Plus lets be honest; his Baby Shark thing is the kind of fan engagement phenomenon that you just can’t buy in terms of publicity. Not that there’s going to be any damn fans.
    5. Spare Infielder: do we really think Garcia is the backup infielder? I don’t think so: i think Garcia goes back to AAA and one of Sanchez/Mercer/Perez makes it as a veteran infielder. Given our Pittsburgh connection, money on Mercer.

So my prediction? multiple NRIs joining the team: McFarland, Jeffress, Parra and Mercer.

Do any of these guys project to feature at all in 2021? Absolutely. Past my four NRI predictions, I can see more than a few of these guys getting call-ups later on if they stick.

Who among these guys project to eventually get on the 40-man?  There’s a bunch of our top prospects on this list: Cavalli, Henry, Rutledge, Cate, Cronin. And there’s lesser-known but older/effective guys who seem like good bets to put themselves onto the roster. Nats spring training games should be great.

Are there any surprise non-NRIs in the system right now? Yeah a couple surprise non-invites. Two arms that were on the 60-man last year are not invited: Nick Wells and Sterling Sharp. Wells is a lefty reliever; why not invite him and have him compete? Sharp has MLB time; why not put him in camp? No other real surprise non-invites.


NRI Details by year, in case you were wondering… (this is recycled material, carried along year by year)

Summary of NRIs for 2020: 22 total

  • Three (3) made the 30-man roster out of Spring training: Javy Guerra, Sam Freeman, Emilio Bonifacio
  • 4 more eventually got added and called-up: tbd by end of 2020 season (Wil Crowe, Dakota Bacus, Luis Garcia, Yadiel Hernandez).
  • 0 more since been added to 40-man post 2020-season: tbd before 2021 season, but thanks to odd 2020 60-man roster all the NRIs under consideration here already got the callup.

Summary of NRIs for 2019: 18 total

  • One (1) made the 25-man roster out of spring: Jake Noll
  • Three (3) more eventually got added and called up:  Aaron Barrett, Tres Barrera, Carter Kieboom
  • Zero (0) others have since been added to 40-man (as of 2/6/20).

Summary of NRIs from ST 2018: 21 NRIs total:

  • One (1) made the 25-man roster out of spring: Miguel Montero
  • Four (4) eventually got added and called up:  Tim Collins, Moises Sierra, Jimmy Cordero, Spencer Kieboom.  Special Mention to Edwin Jackson, who opted out of Washington then excelled for Oakland later in 2018).
  • Zero (0) others have since been added to 40-man

Summary of NRIs from ST 2017: 24 NRIs total:

  • Zero (0) made the 25-man roster out of spring (though technically one kinda was; see next).
  • Five (5) eventually got added and called up (Jeremy Guthrie, Matt Albers, Grant Green, Jacob Turner and Andrew Stevenson): Guthrie was the 5th starter, stashed in XST for a few days before his ill-fated debut.
  • Five (5) have since been added to 40-man (Erick Fedde, Taylor Hill, Kyle McGowin, Wander Suero, Tim Collins)

Summary of NRIs from ST 2016: 20 NRIs total (plus perhaps a couple more that got signed late):

  • Two (2) made the 25-man roster: (Chris Heisey and as noted in the comments, thanks for the correction, Matt Belisle).
  • Two (2) eventually got added and called up (Lucas Giolito, Sean Burnett)
  • Two (2) have since been added to 40-man (Matt Skole, Austin Voth)

Summary of NRIs from ST 2015: 20 NRIs total:

  • Two (2) made the 25-man roster out of spring (Dan Uggla and Clint Robinson).  Adding Reed Johnson as a late-spring signee who made the team after his release from Miami (H/T Sao)
  • Two (2) others eventually got added and called up (Rafael Martin and Emmanuel Burriss)
  • Two (2) others were young catchers since added to the 40-man (Spencer Kieboom, Pedro Severino)

(I believe the above analysis is correct; feel free to comment if i’ve missed someone.  this is a bit tougher to keep track of b/c the team often signs MLFAs mid-spring then technically gives them NRIs … especially for Vets, and I may miss some from the original announcements).

Nats do absolutely nothing at Trade Deadline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pitchers and Catchers reporting for 2019 … here’s an “all FA Team”

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Still waiting. Photo via fanragsports.com

Still waiting. Photo via fanragsports.com

Unbelievably, its now mid February, pitchers and catchers are reporting to Spring Training … and the two best FAs and two of the best players in the game remain unsigned.

If there was ever a sign that baseball’s collective pay system is broken, we’re seeing it.  An amazing combination of tanking, salary cap, poor CBA negotiating and GMs too smart for their own good has the game barrelling towards a large, ugly work stoppage in a few years time.  But we have to get there first.

Here’s my all-still unemployed team.  Every one of these players is unsigned as of the date/time i’m writing this and per mlbtraderumors: https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2016/12/2018-19-mlb-free-agents.html

How many games do you think this team wins?

  • Catcher: Matt Wieters starting with A.J. Ellis backing him up (post publishing correction per comments; Ellis has retired so we’ll go with Evan Gattis as the backup/DH).  Poor defense, but halfway decent offense based on 2018 numbers.
  • 1B: Logan Morrison: he fell off a cliff in 2018, but had an OPS+ of 133 in 2017.  Bet on a rebound.
  • 2B: Josh Harrison.  2 time all star, solid player.
  • SS: Manny Machado
  • 3B: Mike Moustakas: four straight years of above MLB average production.
  • LF: Carlos Gonzalez: would you bet against CarGo with a chip on his shoulder?
  • CF: Adam Jones: maybe he can’t really play CF anymore, but he can still play
  • RF: Bryce Harper
  • Utility: Marwin Gonzalez: can play 6 positions, hits the ball and isn’t 30 yet.  Why is he still a FA?

Lots of power potential here: I’d go Harrison, Machado, Harper, CarGo, Jones, Morrison, Moustakas, Wieters and Pitcher.

My Rotation?

  • #1: Dallas Keuchel
  • #2 Gio Gonzalez
  • #3: Clay Buchholz
  • #4: Ervin Santana
  • #5: Yovani Gallardo

That rotation is better than 10 teams’ rotations right now.

bullpen?

  • Closer: Craig Kimbrel
  • Setup: Jim JohnsonSergio Romo
  • RH middle relief: Bud NorrisAJ Ramos
  • LH middle relief: Xavier CedenoAaron Loup

————-

Is that a lot of talent still waiting to be signed?  I think so.  I still count at least 15 starters who could impact nearly any team in the league on the bench.  its just crazy.

 

Ask Jamal from 11/9/18

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To Robles, or not to Robles, that is the Harper question. Photo via milb.com

To Robles, or not to Robles, that is the Harper question. Photo via milb.com

MLB Nats beat reporter Jamal Collier did another mailbag last friday … which came out before reports about what Nats turned down for Bryce Harper at the trade deadline.

Which was a lot.

According to Ken Rosenthal, the Nats turned down this offer:

  • RHP starter and 2017 1st rounder J.B. Bukauskas, who had matriculated to AA by the end of 2018 and is a DC-area native.
  • Catcher Garrett Stubbs, a 2015 8th rounder who was Round Rock (AAA)’s starting catcher in 2017 and 2018, hitting .310/.382/.836 last year
  • and another minor leaguer

So, let me get this straight.  The Nats could have gotten a much, much needed nearly MLB ready 1st round starter, a guy who looks like he could very well step into the 2019 starting Catcher conversation, and a third prospect instead of what they will eventually get for Harper (i.e., a pick between the 4th and 5th round in June 2019)?

You can call this revisionist history if you want.  But this report makes me sick.  It was clear in early July they were in trouble.  On July 26th their #2 starter Strasburg went back on the D/L and left an already struggling pitching staff relatively decimated.  They were 50-51 and thus needed to go 40-21 from that point to get to 90 wins (which, as it turned out, was precisely what they needed to win the division).  And the team turned down this package only to dump everybody just a couple weeks later.

I mean, Mike Rizzo still has a job, so to me this was an over-his-head decision.  Well fans, ask yourself how you feel now bout the entirely of 2018 at this point and the decisions they made from the first week of the season to the final trade of FAs to be in mid August.

Anyway, onto Collier’s questions:


Q: What are the odds the Nationals do the smart thing and sign everybody else they need before Bryce signs somewhere else rather than after?

A: Slim.  If the Nationals spend all their FA money before the Harper-bazaar gets going, then Scott Boras doesn’t have his baseline 10yr/$300M contract to use as leverage with other teams.  And as we’ve seen time and time again, the Nationals ownership seems to exist to enable Boras, hire his cast offs, give him his record-breaking contracts and generally serve to make sure Boras Corporation continues to gain new customers.

Here’s what’s going to happen: the Nats will hem-and-haw, miss out on all the top Starters, miss out on a Catcher, basically do nothing but acquire middle relievers (they’ve already got two there) and 1 year corner sluggers to provide cover for Ryan Zimmerman, all the while having daily breathless media reports about their negotiations with Harper.

What *I* want them to do is to be aggressive, assume Harper is going to Chicago or New York or Los Angeles liks we always though he would, and spend his salary fast and swiftly.  But this is not Rizzo’s team; this is Lerner’s team, and we’re beholden to that ownership group and their idiotic decisions.

Collier points at the Barraclough and Rosenthal signings as evidence that Rizzo will make moves.  I don’t buy it.  A $6M reliever coming off of injury is one thing; a $20M starter with significant competition from other teams is another.


 

Q: If Bryce is re-signed, how does the outfield shake out for next year? Or does he play first base?

A: If Harper signs, the team moves either Eaton or Robles (likely Robles since Eaton’s two injuries in two years has destroyed his value) to acquire a position of need (SP, C, 2B).

Will Harper play 1B??  What a dumb question.  This team has been bending over backwards for Ryan Zimmerman for years now; what makes you think anything changes for 2019?  Zimmerman isn’t riding the pine.

Harper, in theory, is a 26yr old athlete in his absolute prime of athletic ability.  As others have noted, he appeared to be “dogging it” in the outfield last year, which contributed to god-awful defensive stats.  But in years prior he’s proven himself to be more than elite defender, with one of the top outfield arms in the game.  Maybe the security of a long term contract enables him to return to form.  But he’s 10 years from being the kind of immobile player to waste at 1B.  I mean, Zimmerman is only there because he’s forgotten how to throw across the diamond; he’s still an excellent range defender.

Collier agrees.


Q: What’s a fair expectation for Victor Robles next season?

A: Great question.  Things go one of two ways:

  • Harper signs elsewhere and Robles plays a full season of CF for this team, hits 6th in the order right after Anthony Rendon, posts an .830 OPS figure, threatens 20/20, puts up nearly 4 bWAR or perhaps more if he’s really as good defensively as advertised and is a Rookie of the Year finalist.  All for about $575k in salary.
  • Harper signs here for $30M/year and the team has to move Robles.   They can’t move Eaton b/c they’d be selling low, and they’d be completely morons to move Juan Soto.  So its Robles out; he goes onto star for some other team (Miami?) and becomes a force of nature for 6 years for some other franchise while we get like 2 years of some veteran player and play a different “what if” game related to a hamstrung payroll and an aging team.

Can you tell which way I want this to go?

Collier kinda says, well he could be good, no idea which team.


Q: Should the Nats be looking at a second baseman/utility man (a Josh Harrison type) given the lack of production at second and the unknowns of Howie Kendrick‘s rehab?

A: I think Josh Harrison might be an excellent piece.  I’m more confident of a Kendrick return than others.  So my answer is kinda like this: there’s a slew of good 2B on the market and I woouldn’t mind getting one of them … but for me its priority 3 of 3 in terms of major acquisitions for this off-season.  I’m ok going to war with Kendrick as my starting 2B and 7th hitter.  HE had a 112 OPS+ in 2017, 110 in 2018 before getting hurt.  That’s fantastic for a 7th or 8th hitter (depending on what we get for a C).

Collier notes that Rizzo has been on record saying he’s ok with 2B too.  So we’re in line.  Collier also notes that there’s two significantly good prospects coming up soon in Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia, both of whom could play 2B and one of whom (Kieboom) was in the AFL getting some time at 2B, perhaps in preparation for a mid-season callup to do just this.


Q: Do you feel it’s more realistic for the Nats to address an everyday catcher via the free-agent market or via a trade?

A: Usually the answer here is trade, since the FA market will bid up services of good players and thus you overpay for what you get.  If you can even get them.

FA signings just cost money.  Trades cost players.  This team has been shedding players for a long time in pursuit of playoff glory … and this off-season are in a great position to use MONEY to get players and not shred their depth any further.  I think they should go after Yasmani Grandal hard and make him their starter for the next 3 years, and then should focus heavily on developing a catcher from within from the draft or from somewhere.

Collier says FA is more likely.