Picture at the top of his C.V. that he’ll be updating this off-season. Photo Nats official 2014 via sportingnews.com
How about some navel gazing to start the off-season? 2015 was a train wreck, both on the field (the projected opening day line up played together exactly 2 games out of 162 and there were something like 15 D/L trips among the projected starters this season) and off (the Barry Svrluga series at the Washington Post literally made me say “Wow” audibly while I sat alone reading the stories). What can this team really do to right the ship for next year?
Now, I realize the questions “What *should* they do?” and “What *will* they do?” are two completely separate questions. I have no idea what they will actually do; its hard to read Mike Rizzo and the Ted Lerner-led ownership group. We often hear that Rizzo has an “ego” and is sometimes afraid to admit mistakes. We hear rumors that Lerner is in bed with Scott Boras and has gone over Rizzo’s head to sign players Rizzo may not have actually wanted (Rafael Soriano, Jonathan Papelbon?). But we’re not blessed with a hidden camera inside the boardroom of the Nationals management offices, so its mostly speculation. In fact, Svruluga’s stories really led the reader to believe that the Papelbon acquisition was Rizzo’s idea as a consolation prize to acquiring Chapman or Kimbrel. So who knows.
This post is about what I’d do. From a front-office/managerial perspective:
- Fire Matt Williams. Sorry, the evidence is too overwhelming at this point. Here’s some quick qualifications for the manager i’d like to see: able to communicate properly, isn’t a Micro managing inflexible drill sergeant, knows how to read a Run-Expectancy chart, knows how to properly set a lineup, realizes that saves are useless and isn’t afraid to throw his best pitcher when needed, understands that bunting was exposed as mostly useless 10 years ago, is open to new ideas about usage, shifting, matchups and statistics in general, listens to his coaches, understands that sometimes the 23 yr old precocious rookie is actually a better player than the 38 year old vet on an 9-figure deal, and lastly, relates to the frigging players. Shouldn’t be too hard. Oh one more thing; I want someone who has actually managed a f*cking major league team before.
- I don’t have an opinion on the rest of the staff but would go under the general theory that a new manager wants his own staff in place. Who knows if hitting coaches, pitching coaches, bench coaches, bullpen coaches and 1st/3rd base coaches have any impact on the players. Hard to prove one way or the other; if the team hits well, the Hitting Coach is a genius. If the team can’t hit … the hitting coach gets canned. I like Steve McCatty … but hey, a new manager deserves his own coaches.
- Keep Rizzo, but have a serious talk with him about clubhouse chemistry and roster construction and the clear effects their actions have had over the years. Its really simple: when a guy who’s been with the organization is given an under-market, professionally insulting extension contract offer and then you give $210M to some outsider … that’s “Baaaaaaaad” for morale. When you tell everyone you can’t “afford” to keep Tyler Clippard (great clubhouse guy, grown up in the organization, thrown 70+ innings year after year for you) because he makes $8.5M …but then you bring in a clubhouse disaster like Papelbon at $11M to replace your UNION REPRESENTATIVE and all around well liked guy Drew Storen, you may have some downstream issues. Oh; one other thing: take your ego and throw it away and stop trading away useful bullpen parts like Jerry Blevins because he had the audacity of challenging you in arbitration over $200k. You either are or are not on a budget; $200k represented exactly 0.125% of the $160M payroll of 2015. That’s like killing a deal for a $500,000 house over a $625 bill for something or another. Its nothing and it should not have been a factor in the 25-man roster construction. That Blevins got hurt for New York or that Felipe Rivero (his replacement) worked out isn’t the point.
- Budget: here’s a brilliant idea; if Lerner is “freezing” the budget mid-season, then SAVE SOME PAYROLL MONEY for mid-season acquisitions. Look what the frigging Mets were able to accomplish this trade deadline by being flexible with their payroll and their prospects; they completely remade that team, bought a clubhouse presence and just raced ahead of the Nats. (Tangent: For you “clubhouse chemistry is BS” proponents, can you still tell me with a straight face that the 2015 fortunes of the Mets and Nationals had NOTHING to do with chemistry?)
Now, assuming that the Nats are going to reign back in the budget slightly from their $160M plus payroll in 2015:
- Let 8 of the 9 FAs go. Zimmermann, Uggla, Fister, Desmond, Span, McLouth, Janssen and Johnson. This frees up approximately $60M in payroll. You’re going to need some of it in arb extensions (there’s 8 arbitration cases pending though we may trade/non-tender a couple).
- I’d try to resign just one of my FAs: Matt Thornton. I think he’s done a pretty good job as a situational lefty.
- I’d offer Qualifying Offers to Zimmermann, Desmond and Span but not Fister. Both Zimmermann and Desmond turned down significant deals to stay here and have made their beds at this point. I think the team has made the decision to not allocate money there and go with internal options. I don’t think any of the three take the QO, not even Span. Why? Because Span just hired Scott Boras and Boras will tell Span there’s a long term contract to be had in the market. Span didn’t hire Boras so he could take a one-year Qualifying Offer (deeper discussion on QOs for the Nats pending FAs was previously done here: To Qualifying Offer, or not to Qualifying Offer (2015 version).
- I havn’t done major analysis of Tender/Non-Tender cases yet but the only guy seemingly in jeopardy of a non-tender is Tyler Moore; discussed more below. Maybe David Carpenter too depending on the severity of his shoulder injury.
- Rule-5: this is more about the 25-man roster and not the edges of the 40-man; we’ll do a separate rule-5 post later on.
So, this leaves the 25-man roster looking like this for 2016 as a starting point;
- Rotation: Scherzer, Strasburg, Gonzalez, Ross and Roark
- Bullpen: Papelbon, Storen, Treinen, Thornton, Rivero, ? and ?
- Inf: Rendon, Turner, Escobar, Zimmerman, Ramos
- OF: Harper, Taylor, Werth
- Bench: Robinson, Moore, Espinosa, Lobaton, den Dekker?
What do we need? In order: bullpen, lefty hitters, backups and maybe rotation competition. Every projected starter save Harper hits righty right now and that just needs to change.
So, section by section (using the mlbtraderumors 2016 FA list for reference):
Rotation: Could the team go shopping for a 5th starter? I like Roark and don’t think his 2013 and 2014 seasons were flukes, but the team doesn’t seem to rate him. I like Ross as #3 and think he’s locked in based on his performance this year. Depth wise, we have Giolito who probably will be ready for the rotation by mid 2016; he could see action as an injury call up if need be. I have little faith in the rest of the upper-minors depth right now. Cole, Jordan, Hill have all disappointed at the majors and may be traded for other spare parts. I like Treinen and Rivero … they are both former starters but both have struggled at times and seem likely to stay in the pen. I don’t think this is a high priority to supplement the rotation but I could see it. Maybe Voth gets a shot next year if we get shredded with injuries. Reynaldo Lopez and Erick Fedde are really more like 2017 options unless the Nats get creative and put Lopez’ 100mph heat in the bullpen short term (not the worst idea…) Rotation wise, I think they have bigger fish to fry and will stand pat with what they have.
Bullpen; Thanks to the ridiculous choking incident, I think the team needs to part ways with Papelbon. Won’t be easy; he’s due $11M next year, his performance tailed off badly, he’s proven once again in his third organization out of three that he’s a bad apple, and he has a partial no-trade. I’m sure his wife will be happy; reportedly they *just* bought a $2.9M house in Alexandria, like the day before he choked his teammate on national TV. (side note: why would they buy if he was only here for another year?? That just doesn’t seem like the best investment. Now they have a brand new property that they have to ditch). Worst comes to worse, they have to release him to eat $11M.
If they part ways with Papelbon, what do they do with Storen? I think Storen still demands a trade; this organization has jerked him around enough times, has now gotten not one but two higher-paid veteran closers to replace him despite regular season numbers that looked just fine each time. Problem is: The FA market for “closers” is pretty weak (there’s just one closer on the market: Joaquin Soria); maybe if Papelbon is gone the organization makes right by Storen and lets him reprise the role. Of course, on the flip side, the trade market for closers should be pretty good as a result and maybe Rizzo can spin some gold like he did with the Matt Capps trade. If Papelbon leaves, maybe they kiss and make up with Storen and give him a bigger-than-he-deserves arbitration award and makes him happy.
Even if they keep Storen, the team still needs to acquire two good power arms for the 7th/8th inning. I like Treinen, Thornton and Rivero to reprise their roles (Rivero in particular is intriguing; he can hit 100 from the left hand side, a rarity. Too bad he doesn’t have a 3rd pitch or i’d be asking why he isn’t in the rotation). They’ll get Stammen back so that’s a good 7th inning righty. Barrett may miss the whole of 2016 so he’s not an option. Carpenter’s got a shoulder injury and was AAA fodder anyway. They can fill the long man with Roark if he gets replaced in the rotation or someone else like our spare starters (Cole, Hill, Jordan). They could buy a whole lotta good will with the fans and re-sign Clippard. How about someone like Jim Johnson, who kind of re-made himself with his closer performance in Atlanta, to be your 8th inning guy? How does this look like for 2016:
- Storen, Clippard/Johnson, Treinen, Stammen, Thornton, Rivero and someone like Cole as your long man
- bullpen depth: de los Santos, Davis, Martin, Solis, Grace, Carpenter (if he’s ready to go for 2016)
Still kind of thin; how many of those “depth” guys proved they were ready to go in the majors this year? Are there any guys on the rise in the system who could make sense to push for a spot next year? How much would you pay for someone like Clippard on the open market? Maybe we’re going to see some kind of blockbuster trade where we acquire the surplus of arms we need.
Infield: seems rather set; Turner is a ready made replacement for Desmond. Healthy Rendon at 3B is a 5-win player. Escobar more than earned his money this year and defensively makes more sense at 2B where he can do less damage. Zimmerman isn’t going anywhere (except back to the D/L for the millionth time in his career). Espinosa remains one more year as the backup infielder and the team finds an additional utility guy from within (Difo?) or in the FA market for backup purposes. Ramos was finally healthy for a whole season … and took a huge step back at the plate; do we try to replace him? We could go for someone like a Matt Weiters, who hits lefty and addresses a need and flip Ramos for something we need like bullpen or bench depth.
Outfield: Harper and Werth are set in the corners .. .Werth for better or worse. Is his 2015 the start of his decline or an injury excuse? He’s got a no-trade and makes a ton of money and seems locked into LF as long as he’s here. Question marks remain about Taylor; is he a starter or a 4th OF? I think the Nats will pursue a lefty hitting outfielder, then position Harper in either CF or RF depending on the abilities of the acquisition. The name Gerardo Parra keeps popping up; they liked him at the trade deadline and could pursue him again. Or, if Span inexplicably takes the QO, there’s your lefty CF for 2016. Jayson Heyward is a lefty but doesn’t add much punch and is going to be crazy expensive.
How about a radical realignment: Zimmerman goes to LF to make way for a lefty hitting 1B like Chris Davis; Harper to center, Werth back in RF, Taylor the 4th OF. That’d give the team another lefty, a ton more power (imagine a lineup with both Harper and Davis?, and would fit in the budget even if Davis gets something like 6/$100M or so. Or do you say “Davis is a nightmare FA contract waiting to happen when he starts inevitably declining and/or his Ritalin prescription runs out” and not commit money in this fashion? I could buy that argument absolutely. How likely is this team, really, to extend Bryce Harper for $300M plus? Are they saving their pennies for that attempt or are they saying “he’s a goner lets just try to win while we have them?”
Bench: the team got a ton from Robinson and Espinosa this year; they’re both back. Moore? Probably DFA’d; he’s eligible for arbitration and there’s likely to be a dozen right handed power hitters who could play a corner and pinch hit here and there. Look for a cattle call of veteran MLFAs like we did for the lefty 1b/LF position that Robinson won this past spring training. I think the team likes den Dekker as “speedy backup CF outfielder” guy so he likely returns too. Plus he hits lefty and really hit well in September. No reason to mess with Lobaton; he gives flexibility at the plate and is cost-contained as a backup C.
Honestly, the core of the team is mostly still intact. If all these guys were healthy all year and hitting at their 2014 rates, this season would have gone a lot differently. I think we’ll see a lot of work in the pen and some activity on the fringes, but no major signings and no major trades. Payroll takes a step back; I can’t tell you how much b/c payroll projections will take time and depend on who gets tendered/re-signed/QO’d, but I could see this team back at $130M heading into 2016.
Does this sound like a winning formula? Did I miss anything?