Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

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Patrick Corbin; that’s one way to go to address the 2019 Rotation

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Nats make as big of a splash in FA as they can. Photo via getty images

Nats make as big of a splash in FA as they can. Photo via getty images

Was walking into dinner last night and happened to glance at RSS sports feed … and saw this shockerPatrick Corbin signs with the Nats.  6yrs/$140M.

And my first reaction was this: wow, the Nats just beat out the frigging New York Yankees for a player.  In the FA market, straight up.  Wow.  Reports from earlier in the day had indicated Corbin was down to just the Yanks and the Nats and I figured, “well, he’s on record saying he has dreamed about playing in New York, oh well.”  Then a few hours later he’s wearing a Washington hat.

I have a few immediate thoughts on this.  Negative and positive.

  • Its not my money, but $23M/year AAV does seem like a lot for a guy who posted a 5.15 ERA just two years ago.
  • Its also a ton of money to commit to a player who really has only performed like a real Ace worthy of this level of financial commitment for one year.
  • That being said, he’s in-arguably the best pitcher on the FA market and the Nats got him.  Before the winter meetings even.
  • He’s a lefty too, nicely replacing the near replacement-level we got out of Gio Gonzalez this past year.
  • I daresay he might now be the best 3rd starter in the majors.   Houston’s rotation is half out the door in FA, Cleveland’s rotation is in the process of getting dismantled this off-season.
  • Its worth mentioning that Corbin has been pitching in one of the better hitter’s park in the majors … and probably will benefit and get a bump in numbers by moving to the NL East and moving to a more neutral park in Nationals park.
  • We get his age 29-34 seasons.  That’s not too bad honestly, given what we know about player decline.  He’s got less than 1,000 MLB innings on his arm, which is not a ton by age 28.  By way of comparison, Max Scherzer had 1,017 MLB innings through his own age 28 season.
  • Corbin is also the kind of guy who seems like he’d age gracefully, in a similar fashion to a guy like Tom Glavine.  He doesn’t depend on a ton of velocity (vFA in 2018 of 91.3).  Something obviously clicked with him in 2018 because his K rate skyrocketed, his walk rate fell, the value of his slider exploded, and he seemed to add a curve to his repertoire.  He’s already had his Tommy John, so that’s nice that he’s gotten that out of the way.
  • Is this yet another Rizzo-to-Arizona connection?   Maybe not: he was drafted in 2009 by the Angels, traded to Arizona in 2010 by which time Rizzo was in Washington.  Hopefully we’re now completely out of that cynical view of player acquisition from Rizzo’s background.

Speaking of, Mike Rizzo is being incredibly aggressive this off-season.  For all the concerns we may have had about Bryce Harper‘s signing possibly gumming up the works … this team is moving.   We had three-to-four major issues this off-season:

  • Catcher; he’s signed two guys, including the 2018 AL All-star
  • Starters: he’s signed the best available hurler.
  • 2B: nothing yet … but this was always going to be the easiest position to fill in FA thanks to a glut of available players
  • Relievers: he’s traded for a solid middle-relief RHP and has signed a high-upside former dominant closer to a reasonable contract.

Other information about this transaction that may have other implications:

  • Nats roster now at 38/40.  Still room on the broom.
  • Payroll implications: before this move I had the team with $43.8M available under the luxury cap.   This moves cuts them to about $20.5M under the cap.  I’ve read stuff in the press saying the team wants to stay a bit under the cap to allow for mid-season upgrades … so maybe we’ll see another $10-$15M in spending.  That should be enough to buy what they still need:
    • 5th starter reclamation projects
    • starting 2B (Marwin Gonzalez, Lowrie, LeMahieu, Dozier, Kinsler, Phillips, WalkerDaniel Murphy?).  Lots of options, not all of which will cost a lot
    • lefty bench bat (Justin Bour?  just got non-tendered, is from the area, would fit in perfectly)
  • This move will shred the 2019 draft for this team, costing them their second- and fifth-highest picks (as well as $1 million in international bonus pool money).  Poor cap management comes back to bite them.  Definitely an “all-in move” throwing draft caution to the wind.  They better really hit on that 4th round comp pick :-) (update: well technically if Harper leaves, then that 4th round comp pick would be the 5th highest pick … so it’d instantly disappear like it never got awarded.  Just to clarify).
  • Rotation now projected to be Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin, Ross and Roark.  All 5 with guaranteed deals, four of them with 8-figure deals likely for 2019.  No room for Erick Fedde here, despite his Winterfest statements.  That’s got to be a tough nut to swallow for him, even given the fact that he hasn’t really earned it.  But, as we all know teams end up giving starts to 8-9 guys generally, and he’s first in line right now, so he still has hope.  But our SP depth is ugly: Fedde, Voth, McGowin, fresh-from-the-Mexican-league Henderson Alvarez, and then whatever MLFA reclamation project we can find in the Jeremy Hellickson ilk.  I do think this signing makes it a lot tougher for the Nats to find this role since they really can’t promise that player a non-injury shot at a 5th starter 25-man role.  So we’ll be looking at players who will be willing from the go to accept an AAA assignment … and one in Fresno to boot.

Any other thoughts?  Is this the move that pushes the team back to the top of the NL East and really makes them a contender in 2019?

My official take: the Nats bought the best arm they could.  This is better than the alternatives they faced this off-season.  It only cost them money, not more prospects, and in that respect its a complete win.  They’re using the payroll that they earned by virtue of 2018 expiring contracts well.

Does this move preclude them now from signing Harper?  Well, unless the team plans on trading away Scherzer … it should.   Or if the Lerners decide to go Boston-style and really blow out payroll and say “F it completely,” then they still can (and always could).  But if i’m Scott Boras i’m kinda shaking in my boots today, knowing that the likelihood of Harper’s baseline pillow 10yr/$300M deal from this team is likely gone.

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.

 

Turner hits Super-2: so who gets fired?

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Turner now stands to make millions more than he would have otherwise. photo via wp.com

Turner now stands to make millions more than he would have otherwise. photo via wp.com

We found out last week that Trea Turner qualified for Super-2 status by a scant two service days.   Two frigging days.  Great for him; instead of getting $600k next year he’ll probably get $5M or more (mlbtraderumors.com estimates $5.3M for his first year).  He’s certainly deserving of this money after  delivering bWAR seasons of 3.4, 2.6 and then 4.1 in 2018.  The first two numbers are even more impressive given that they were done in partial seasons.

But this is a huge issue for the franchise.  And yet another critical payroll management error that is now making even more evident that there needs to be some accountability.

To give you an idea of how much this little situation will cost the Nats, lets look at what our last significant Super-2 guy did: Anthony Rendon. Even though he signed to avoid arbitration each time, and even though he was one of the last pre-CBA deals that outlawed 40-man/MLB deals, he’s still a super-2 guy and we can project his salary with and without the extra year.

  • 2016: 2.8M
  • 2017: 5.8M
  • 2018: 12.3M
  • 2019: MLBtraderumors estimates $17.6M.

Total outlay: $38.5M

Instead, had he been a normal arb player, he’d have basically gotten the first three years of this scenario plus the 4th year of MLB min.  So his salary would have looked like this:

  • 2016: $550k
  • 2017: 2.8M
  • 2018: 5.8M
  • 2019: 12.3M

Total outlay: $21.4M

Pretty significant difference.  You may quibble with the player and with the estimates … but the fact remains, a 4th arbitration year for a very good player will likely mean a $18M-$20M payroll difference.  If you really want to see a team that screwed this up, look at Tim Lincecum‘s salary progression with the Giants.  He qualified for Super2 by just a few days and went from a MLB min salary to $9M, with escalators up to $22M by the time he was done.

Anyway; why do I care?  It isn’t my money right?  Well I care because this little screw up cost the team $5M more than it was expecting just a few weeks ago, in a critical off-season where they need to fill multiple holes and are clearly dead-set against even coming close to the luxury tax cap again.  And now they have $5M less to play with.  $5M less to try to shoe-horn Bryce Harper into a deal maybe, or $5M less to spread around to catchers, starters, relievers and infielders that they need.

And this situation was ENTIRELY AVOIDABLE.  Entirely.   The Nats made two significant errors in the handling of Turner’s service time:

  • August 2015: The team calls up the 22-yr old to essentially be a bench-bat for a team going nowhere.  In case you don’t remember, on the day of his call-up the Nats were 60-61, below .500, 5 games out of first place and with no place to play him.  Turner basically gets pinch hit appearances for weeks, finally getting to start a game on Sept 18th, and then starting every day the last week of the season as the Nats were eliminated and busy doing other things (you know, like having our idiot closer choke out our most important player on national TV).  To this day, I don’t understand how the manager (Matt Williams) and the GM (Mike Rizzo) were so far apart on this situation.  Why call him up if he’s just going to sit?  Who was asking for the call-up and who was forcing the call-up?  Why not send him back down if it became apparent he wasn’t going to play?  They didn’t have a position for him, with two veterans entrenched at 2B and SS at the time (Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa).  The entire move made no sense … and put the team in a significant pickle with Turner to start 2016.
  • June 2016: the team calls him up on June 3rd, he starts a game, rides the bench for a game, then gets sent back down.  Why??  There was no corresponding D/L trip that I can find for backup infielders; the only  move at that time was Ryan Zimmerman going on paternity leave … but he’s a 1B, not a middle infielder.  Two days later the team signed veteran MIF Steve Lombardozzi to a contract the same day they sent Turner down.  Wtf?    You couldn’t have covered for whoever was unavailable out of on-hand options instead of screwing around with the service time of one of your best prospects, one who you knew was in flux thanks to the previous year’s decisions?  Who made the decision to call up Turner instead of just batting some replacement level utility infielder 8th for a couple of nights?  Was it Dusty Baker who demanded the player to come up … so he could sit him the next night??

Those two moves, more than two years ago, come home to roost now.

Maybe it won’t matter.  Maybe the team doesn’t need that extra $5m because they’re going to move someone else.  Maybe the team has already decided to move away from Harper and knows they won’t need every penny of payroll.  Maybe the team already figures 2018 was their big shot and they frigging blew it and are ready to stop really trying and just rake in the MLB Advanced Media revenue for a while.

Maybe there’s a severe disconnect in this front office, evidenced by the manager selection this year, evidenced by the petulant ridding of certain players, evidenced by the in ability to see early enough they didn’t have the horses and shedding payroll … only STILL not able to get underneath the penalty or 2018 (still amazed by this).

So anyway, can’t wait to hear ownership tell us they just couldn’t afford to keep Harper or to buy a needed replacement when it comes up because they have to stay under the luxury tax.  I’m not one to say I told you so … but remember this post if and when it happens.

Ask Collier: first mailbag of the 2018-19 off-season!

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The off season all revolves around Harper.  Photo via GQ Magazine

The off season all revolves around Harper. Photo via GQ Magazine

Hey there!  If its the Nat’s off-season, it must mean mail bag time.  We havn’t seen one from MLB.com beat reporter Jamal Collier in a while (what, was he busy or something? :-) but now we get one with some good discussion-generating questions.

Here’s how i’d answer the questions he took.


 

Q: As a fan of the great outfield we had at the end of the year. Are the Nationals considering trading Adam Eaton if they resign Bryce Harper?

A: Indeed, an outfield of Soto, Eaton, and Harper is pretty awesome, if (biiiiig if) all are healthy and producing at optimal levels.  And the on top of that we have a top-5 prospect in all of baseball Victor Robles who no longer can be kept in the minors.  So that’s four solid players who all would start for any team in this league on one team.  So what do we do?

Well … only one of these four guys is a Free Agent: Harper

And, only one of these guys is projected to make a ridiculous, franchise altering amount of money in free agency: Harper.

Harper has played for 7 nearly full-seasons: he has a total bWAR figure for his career is 27.4.   That’s an average of 3.9 bWAR per season.  Yes he had a monster 10 win season in his MVP season of 2015, but he’s also lost huge portions of several seasons to injury.  And that has to be part of the conversation when you consider whether you commit $200M to him for the next 7 years.

For me the answer is easy.  Juan Soto will make the MLB minimum (or near to it) next year; call it $600k.  He generated 3.0 bWAR in 116 games, which projects to a 4.1 Win season with 162 games.  I’d rather pay Soto $600k to give the team the same expected level of production as Harper would for 30-TIMES more money.   You let Harper walk, you go to war in 2019 with Soto in left, Robles in center, Eaton in right, finally have three outfields all in the “right” positions defensively, and then deal with a 4th outfielder from internal candidates.

NOW.  Letting a tranformative player like Harper go is … well its an “above the GM” decision.  Not only because of the impact on payroll, but because of his role with the team.  He’s a massively marketable star, transformative not just for the team but for the sport of professional baseball.  His $30M/year salary (or whatever he wants) is not just about payroll; you can’t put a price tag on the marketability of a player of his stature and what it means for the team.  He puts “butts in the seats.”  He is in national commercial ad campaigns.  He’s a foil (for better or for worse) across the sport.  Do you just let a guy like this walk?  They’re getting basically *nothing* back for him (a compensation pick between the 4th and 5th rounds, thanks to the criminally poor job the team did in managing the luxury cap over the last two years), so that barely factors into the discussion.

Now, lets say, for the sake of argument, that the team does re-sign Harper.  Yeah for me, if you re-sign Harper, you’re going to have to move either Eaton or Robles.  So … which do you move?   Eaton, like Harper, has been just crushed by injury the last two years, producing a fraction of his value the 3 years prior.  So even though he’s still quite affordable, trading him this off-season would be trading pretty low.  Robles is still the unknown; yeah he’s an amazing prospect, but is he going to have a Juan Soto-like 2019?  Robles can be the centerpiece of a trade that could return a significant player in an area of need for this team (mid-level Starter or quality starting Catcher).  Would you prefer to go that route?

For me; i’m on record.  I want to part ways with Harper, field a starting OF that costs less than half of a one-year Harper salary figure and allocate his projected payroll towards other areas of need.

Collier echos my concerns about trading Eaton low, but also notes that … well this is THE decision that the team faces, probably the biggest one in a decade.  We can’t know until the Harper decision is made.


Q: What’s Michael A. Taylor’s future with this team?

A: For me, despite Michael Taylorawesome 2017 season, he’s reverted back to form.  He’s a 4th outfielder.  Great defensively, poor offensively.  Can play all three OF positions, plays CF excellently.  But he still strikes out 33% of the time and cannot be trusted.  After his 2018, its not like he has real trade value, and he’s now also arbitration eligible so he’s not exactly cheap.  Is he a non-tender candidate?  Probably not, but assuming the team goes with my plan of letting Harper walk and going with a starting OF of Soto-Robles-Eaton, then for me Taylor is an ideal 4th and competes in the spring with Andrew Stevenson for that role.  He should win it, then be coupled with a corner-OF bench bat type who can play LF in a pinch.

Honestly, you learned everything you needed to know by looking at the amount of playing time Taylor got this past September once Robles came up.  Almost none.

Now, if the team reasigns Harper?  I don’t think much changes; the team moves either Eaton or Robles, still leaving Taylor as the 4th.

Collier thinks they’ll explore moving him “before his trade value falls anymore.” Uh … too late dude!


 

Q: Who are the free agent starting pitchers that Nationals will attempt to sign?

A: Taking a quick gander at the list of available starters …  there’s all kinds of interesting names.  Who knows who they may end up with.

Lets start with, what do they need?  They’re keeping Scherzer, Strasburg, Roark, and Ross.  They can either go to war with a 5th starter like Fedde or McGowin or Voth or Jefry Rodriguez, or look at free agency to improve the back end.  I’d love to get a 3rd starter-quality guy to slot in behind the big two, then hope for a better season from Roark (something closer to 2016 than 2018), and hope for Ross to come back to what we know he’s capable of.  That’s a potentially solid rotation for me.

We also might be focusing on a lefty, since Gio Gonzalez was our only lefty starter.  But I don’t think that should be a huge factor honestly.  The team needs to find the best value and availability.

I don’t see them pursuing a $20M/year guy.  Not with the amount of money already going to their two #1 starters and certainly not given the possibilty of their re-signing Harper.

So, lets think about middle-of-the road lefty veteran starters.  How about someone like a Jaime Garcia, or Hyung-Jin Ryu?

If they can’t land a lefty, there’s a slew of interesting names out there that are righties.  I like Nathan EovaldiWade Miley, Garrett Richards.

Collier hedges and says the obvious; we won’t know until they decide what they’re doing with Harper.  Yeah i get it.  He mentions that Patrick Corbin is probably out of the conversation (duh; he’ll be like the 4th most expensive player this off-season) and mentions re-upping with Jeremy Hellicksonwhich I don’t think happens b/c he pitched himself into a decent sized contract..  Its also worth mentioning; maybe the team goes the trade route, which opens up the realm of possibles to half the league’s starters if they’re willing to give up Robles or Carter Kieboom in trade.


 

Q: At what point will the Nats start looking for a more durable first baseman? Zim has averaged only 100 games a season over the last five years.

A:  Uh, the second Ryan Zimmerman isn’t guaranteed 8 figures a year?  And, by the way, what is this guy missing with the current roster construction?  We were nearly to the point of an 1980s Orioles John Lowenstein/Gary Roenecke type platoon this year between Zimmerman and the lefty hitting Matt Adams.  The team is already mitigating Zimmerna’s annual health issues with a backup.

And guess what?  They’ll do it again this off-season.  Look for the team to sign another Adams clone, someone like Lucas Duda or Steve Pearce or Pedro Alvarez.  Heck, maybe they’ll re-sign Adams.

Collier basically says the same thing I did.


Q: Will Riz let Difo and Kieboom fight it out for 2b in spring training or will he look for a veteran 2b, using Kendrick in a super utility role?

A: The question probably should have read: “Wil Rizzo let Difo and Howie Kendrick fight it out…”  Because Kieboom aint’ making this team in 2019.  For one, he’s never played 2B professionally.  Not that its a heavy lift going from SS to 2B (it isn’t) .. but he’s also just 60-some games removed from A-Ball.  Kieboom needs to go from the AFL back to AA and return his OPS figures back to the .880 level before even being considered for AAA.

Honestly, I think the team goes with Kendrick (assuming he’s recovered from his bad achilles injury) as the starter, with Difo as the utility guy.  Thanks to Kendrick’s injury and Daniel Murphy‘s prolonged recovery, Difo was essentially a starter this year.  And he did not impress, his average dropping 40 points from where it was last year.  I think that cements his status as a backup utility infielder who can cover middle infield positions in a pinch.  I’m glad we have someone on the bench who can at least hit at a 75 OPS+ figure; lets not push it.

That being said, for me Kieboom is the future here.  I think he might be ready after a half a season, and at that point you bring him up and slot him in at 2B.  He could eventually move to 3B if the team cannot retain Anthony Rendon, or can stay at 2B and be a Jeff Kent-style slugger.  I’d love to see that come together and have him join Soto and Robles as the core of the next generation of this team.

Collier thinks the team might look elsewhere for a starting 2B.  I think they can make-do from within and not waste money chasing another  Murphy replacement.

 

Romero: I’m not the kinda guy to say I told you so …

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Hopefully you recognize the title of this post as a quote from one of the most entertaining movies of all time, "Midnight Run."

Hopefully you recognize the title of this post as a quote from one of the most entertaining movies of all time, “Midnight Run.”

News that should surprise practically nobody who follows Nats prospects dropped over the Labor Day weekend: 2017 lightning rod 1st rounder Seth Romero will likely miss the *entirety* of the 2019 season as he undergoes Tommy John surgery.

Just to recap Romero’s stellar tenure with the Nats thus far:

  • He gets kicked off his college team, multiple times for multiple different knuckle head moves (drugs, curfew, fighting with teammates, etc)
  • The Nats telegraph their 2017 first round pick to basically every draft-predicting pundit and select Romero with the 25th overall pick in the 1st round.
  • They pay him an *over slot* bonus for some fool reason, despite the fact that he (like a college senior) has no college team to return to.
  • He throws just 22 professional innings in 2017, including six short-A starts with a (short sample size ugly ERA of 5.40).
  • He’s sent home from spring training for “multiple team rule violations,” and misses fully two months of the 2018 minor league season.
  • He finally debuts in 2018 in Low-A (a 1st rounder of his stature should be in at least High-A in his first full pro season), throws 6 starts of 3.91 ERA.
  • He hits the D/L in early July, misses another 6 weeks
  • Comes back mid-August, throws 2 innings, is removed from the game … and then three weeks later we find out about his TJ.

Grand total pro starts to this point: 14 (two of which were of the 2-inning “pseudo start” varieties).  Age he’ll be in spring training 2020 when he’s ready to go again?  23, turning 24 as soon as the 2020 season starts.

Extent to which this entire situation has blown up in the Nats’ faces: very high.

I’m really beginning to question this group’s ability to execute on first rounders in the new CBA.  I focus on the 1st rounders because, really, that’s where you spend the most money and that’s really the one pick you cannot afford to screw up.  Here’s the Nats first picks since the new CBA went into effect:

  • 2012: Giolito, Renda, Mooneyham
  • 2013: No 1st rounder, Johansen, Ward
  • 2014: Fedde, Suarez (who didn’t sign), Reetz
  • 2015: No 1st rounder, Stevenson, Perkins, Wisemann
  • 2016: Kieboom, Dunning, Neuse, Luzardo
  • 2017: Romero, Crowe, Raquet
  • 2018: Denaburg, Cate, Schaller

I’m sorry, but tell me which of these sets of players is a “success?”  2012?  Nope; Giolito may pan out, maybe not, but he’s been at best the definition of inconsistent in 2018 … and for another team.  2013?  Absolutely not.  2014?  Fedde looks like maybe a 5th starter right now and Suarez didn’t sign; how do you not sign a 2nd rounder under the modern draft rules?  2015?  A 5th outfielder, a guy who may have peaked in low-A and a corner org-guy.  That’s not a win.

2016 looks pretty damn good … except that three of these four players were traded to other teams to make up for other team deficiencies!  Dunning is projecting like a mid-rotation guy perhaps, Neuse looks solid, but Luzardo is now being called perhaps the best lefty prospect in the minors.  All gone.  At least they managed to retain Kieboom.  But its ironic that perhaps their best draft in the last 7 years essentially ends up benefiting primarily other teams.  Ok, yes that’s unfair given that we traded these guys to get assets to help us now, but its worth noting that the two guys we flipped Neuse and Luzardo for are now traded and injured, and the guy we acquired for Dunning (and others) missed essentially the entirety of 2017.  Yeah you can’t predict injuries, blah, blah, but given how 2018 has turned out don’t you wish you had these moves back at this point?  Do you think this team would have done any differently in 2017 and 2018 without those moves?  Just a thought.

2017?  Crowe looks like a great pick.  Nothing personal against Raquet, but I hated the pick when it happened, and he’s done little to impress since.  In High-A this year he struck out just 36 guys in 55 innings, had a .319 Batting average against (giving up an astounding 72 hits in 55 innings) and finished the season with a 4.91 ERA (greatly helped by his managing to throw a 1-hit shut out his last start).  I mean, where do you go from here with him?  He’s not a starter; do you dump him to the bullpen and have him repeat High-A?

2018?  Obviously too soon to pass judgement, but where the hell is Denaburg?  He got assigned to the GCL team in mid July and never appeared.  Cate ended the year in the low-A rotation, which would normally indicate a nice season, but he posted ugly ERAs in both Short-A and Low-A with mediocre peripherals.  Schaller was drafted as a reliever but stretched out as a starter professionally and struggled; a 5.90 ERA and just 16 Ks in 29 short-A innings.  Not good.


Conclusion: I’m not sure this front office can draft anymore.  And after watching them him and haw at the trade deadline and then eventually get little to no return for departing vets, i’m not sure they are effectively managing things either.  And lastly, having the GM come in and trade away two veteran players in order to save his rookie manager’s face smacks of having your big older brother come in and slug the neighborhood bullies because you’re too weak to handle your own problems.

All in all, not a very good 2018.  I’ve been a defender of Mike Rizzo in the past, but a lot of these moves are reminders that  he has some weaknesses as an overall GM.  He’s now on his 6th manager in 10 years in charge (Acta, Riggleman, Johnson, Williams, Baker and now Martinez, not counting a few interim games post-Riggleman resignation).  He’s clearly struggling to handle the draft correctly.  Scott Boras routinely goes over his head to management to make bad moves (its no surprise that Romero was a Boras client), and as a result of poor roster construction they’ve gutted the farm system over the past few years only to completely lose the plot in 2018, the year they were supposed to win it all.

At what point do you really question the direction of this team under Rizzo?

 

Strasburg to DL again; is this the official white flag?

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"My Neck hurts." "Oh yeah, something always frigging hurts with you, you snowflake." -- photo via WP

“My Neck hurts.” “Oh yeah, something always frigging hurts with you, you snowflake.” — photo via WP

At some point, you have to stop performing CPR and just call it.

I wonder if we’re at that point.  Today we learned that #2 starter Stephen “the Orchid” Strasburg is heading back to the D/L for what will be his 50th* career D/L trip (* estimated).  I just don’t see how this team goes on the run it needs without one of its best starters.

Even given Tanner Roark‘s wonderful start yesterday, the team (as of this writing) sits at 50-51.  They’re 7 games out of the Division lead, 5.5 games out of the WC, and face a massive uphill climb to make the playoffs.

To get to 90 wins (often regarded in the 2-wild card system as the minimum you’ll need) the team needs to go 40-21 in its remaining games.  That’s a .622 W/L percentage.  I suppose they could go on a 20-7 rampage like they did in May and make it up… but it seems less likely the longer this season goes along.

Of their remaining 61 games…

  • 7 against Atlanta
  • 9 against Philly
  • 7 against the Cubs
  • 7 against the Cardinals
  • 3 more against Milwaukee
  • 3 in Colorado to end the season

So that’s 36 of the remaining 61 games against teams that I think are patently better than us.  And we’ll have to play .622 ball against them AND hold serve against the scrubs we’re playing too.

Oh, and now we’re doing it with, by my count, our #9 starter in Tommy Milone called up.  Scherzer, Strasburg, Gio, Roark, Hellickson, Fedde, JRodriguez, Voth ahead of him in the pecking order.  I’m sure things will go great; lest you forget, Milone’s ERA in 2017 was 8.56 in 27 innings.  Actually, with an ERA like that, he’ll fit right into this team.

So yes, the Braves have scuffled recently and the Phillies are treading water.  And yes our Pythag record shows we’re better than 50-51.  All fair points.  But we’re nearly to August and are still playing .500 ball, with no signs of getting better.

And, as become apparent this week, thanks to the Nats doing such a bang-up job with payroll management this year, they snuck over the luxury tax threshold so the comp pick they’ll get for a once-in-a-generation player leaving next year via FA in Bryce Harper will be … voila!  A supplemental 4th rounder??  Are you frigging kidding me?  That’s all we’ll get by offering him a Qualifying Offer??  Wow, that Matt Wieters contract just keeps looking better and better doesn’t it?  I sure hope Scott Boras enjoys the boat he bought off of that commission that he screwed the Nats out of.  Can someone change the Lerner’s cell phone number so Boras can’t go over Mike Rizzo‘s head to make bad deals any more?

Nats should trade Harper and hope to get a MLB top 100 pick for the rental.  They should also shop around basically every other guy set to leave in FA.  That means Murphy, Gio, Madsen, Wieters, Kelley, heck lets through in Benoit and Reynolds and Adams and all the one-year MLFAs we’ve got too.   Its bargain basement shopping time in DC.  First come, first served.

Will this leadership team admit defeat and make these trades?  Probably not.  They’ll probably do something dumb in the next few days like trade a top prospect for 2 months of a dead-arm starter or a catcher we can just go buy next off-season with the $80M of saved payroll.   They’ll leverage the farm system yet again so they can be an 86 win team instead of an 81 win team.

But I could be wrong.  We’ll see what happens.

ps: I managed to write this whole post without mentioning the manager.  My stance is as clear now as it was the day they let Dusty Baker go, and nothing that Dave Martinez has done has made me think that he was in any way a better choice to manage this team and this set of players in the year 2018.  Any argument about the manager is tough to quantify … i prefer arguments I can back up with stats frankly, so my opinion on his handling of veterans, of Ryan Zimmerman, of the bullpen, of baserunning strategy, of lineup-construction, and of his seeming inability to stand up to the veterans on this team will stay with me.

2018 Draft coverage; Mock Draft mania plus my projected top-5 and Nats picks

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Casey Mize has been the consensus 1-1 for 2018 for most of the season. Photo d1baseball.com

Casey Mize has been the consensus 1-1 for 2018 for most of the season. Photo d1baseball.com

Mock Draft mania!  Since the draft is Monday i’ll publish this now to talk about it and talk about who we’d like to see the Nats pick.  I’ll keep adding mocks as they get published and update this post all the way til gametime.

First, here’s a preview of the names we’re talking about for the upper end of the first round.  This is an evolving list, with names who were prominently mentioned last fall falling by the way-side and helium guys rising up.  At publication, i’ve separated those who have fallen as indicated below.

College Upper 1st round names in the mix

  • Casey Mize RHP, Auburn. 2017 USA Nat’l team star, quickly rising to be the consensus 1-1 pick in 2018.
  • Joey Bart, C, Georgia Tech.  Helium candidate in spring 2018
  • Alec Bohm, 3B Wichita State.  Helium guy with strong 2018.
  • Brady Singer RHP, Florida. Dominant in 2016 CWS. 2017 USA Nat’l team.
  • Nick Madrigal 2B, Oregon State: Golden spikes semi-finalist 2017 as sophomore. All-american as Soph. 2017 USA Nat’l team.
  • Jonathan India, 3B, Florida. another Helium guy in spring 2018; was always solid but now hitting .400 in the SEC

College Candidates who have fallen to mid-1st round status: basically i’d be happy with nearly any pick on this list dropping to the Nats at #27.

  • Logan Gilbert, RHP Stetson; top Cape Code league prospect 2017
  • Ryan Rolison, LHP from Ole Miss; #1 pitching prospect from Cape 2017 league.
  • Travis Swaggerty, CF, South Alabama; has not hit well in 2018, lowering stock slightly.
  • Tristan Beck, RHP Stanford.  solid starter who missed significant time with back injury.
  • Sean Hjelle, RHP Kentucky: huge guy (6’11”) who doesn’t throw hard, but it appears so b/c of his reach.
  • Griffin Conine OF, Duke. Jeff Conine‘s son. Exploded in Cape Cod League 2017, All-Cape 2017, named top prospect, but has fallen precipitously in 2018
  • Luken Baker, 1B TCU; more “famous” than draft prospect thanks to lack of defensive value.  Suffered broke leg Apr 2018 after an arm injury in 2017, lowering stock.
  • Seth Beer, 1B Clemson: another “famous” name in the draft; his OBP skills may push him to 1st round.
  • Jackson Kowar, RHP Florida; U-Florida’s saturday starter who has scuffled a bit this spring but still should be a 1st rounder.

High School

  • Carter Stewart, RHP, Eau Gallie HS, Melbourne, FL.  Mississippi State commit, highest spin rate ever recorded?  helium guy spring 2018, jumping up over many names to be first prep player taken.
  • Matt Liberatore LHP, Mountain Ridge (AZ) (Arizona commit).  18U team, Gold Medal game starter, but has had inconsistent spring 2018, not consistently showing 96-97.
  • Jared Kelenic OF, Waukesha (WI) (Louisville commit). 18U team.  Considered best prep hit tool in the class.
  • Nolan Gorman, 3B Sandra Day O’conner HS (AZ): (Arizona commit).  18U team.  best power bat in the class, struggling spring 2018 b/c of being walked all the time.
  • Cole Winn, RHP, Orange Lutheran HS (CA).  Mississippi State commit, helium guy spring 2018.

High School guys whose stock has fallen:

  • Brice Turang SS, Santiago (CA) (LSU commit). 18U team.  Questions on hit took spring 2018; polarizing player among scouts.
  • Ethan Hankins RHP, Forsyth Central (GA): (Vanderbilt commit). 18U team.  Shoulder injury has lowered his stock.
  • Kumar Rocker RHP, North Oconee (GA) (Vanderbilt commit). 18U team.  Has lost velocity this spring, lowering his stock.
  • Nander de Sedas, SS, Montverde FL (Florida State commit): great 2017 summer.

Here’s the Mock draft collection.  I’ve generally listed their top-5 and then who they project the Nats to take at #27 (if they project out that far).  I got the first Mock draft link here just after the end of the 2017 season, when the BA guys did a mock once we knew the draft order.  I’ll continue to add in mocks as they get published post-posting up until the draft.

  • Baseball America (John Manuel) 2018 Mock Draft v1.0 dated 10/6/17: Singer, Hankins, Turang, de Sedas, Gorman.  Nats taking prep RHP Slade Cecconi from a FL HS who can hit 97 with 3 pitches.
  • Baseball America (Carlos Collazo) 2018 Mock Draft v1.0 dated 5/11/18: (behind a pay wall)
  • Baseball America (Carlos Collazo) 2018 Mock Draft v2.0 dated 5/18/18: (behind a pay wall)
  • Baseball Draft Report (Rob Ozga) 2018 Mock Draft v1.0 dated 10/7/17: Gilbert, Madrigal, Singer, Hankins, Rolison.  Nats taking LHP Konnor Pilkington from Mississippi State, a 2017 USA Nat’l team member.
  • MLBPipeline (Jim Callis) 2018 Early Mock Draft dated 12/5/17: Singer, Hankins, Liberatore, de Sedas, Turang.  Only projected top 10 so no Nats pick.
  • MLBPipeline (Jim Callis) 2018 Mock Draft dated 5/11/18: Mize, Bart, Bohm, Madrigal, Singer.   Nats taking prep RHP Cole Wilcox, RHP, Heritage HS (Ringgold, Ga.)
  • MLBPipeline (Jim Callis) 2018 Mock Draft dated 5/24/18: Mize, Bart, Bohm, Singer, Madrigal.   Has Nats on Mason Denaburg, a prep RHP from Florida (with a Florida commit) who is someone i hadn’t heard of prior to seeing it in print  here.  He was projected higher until shut down with biceps tendinitis; this could be a classic Nats move of taking a top-10 talent later in the 1st thanks to a slight injury issue.
  • MLBPipeline (Jim Callis) 2018 Final Mock Draft dated 6/4/18: Mize, Bart, Madrigal, Singer, India.  Still has Nats on Denaburg.
  • MLBPipeline (Jonathan Mayo): 2018 Early Mock Draft dated 12/5/17:  Singer, de Sedas, Hankins, Kowar, Madrigal.  Only projected top 10 so no Nats pick.
  • MLBPipeline (Jonathan Mayo): 2018 Mock Draft projection dated 4/30/18:  Mize, Singer, Madrigal, Bohm, Stewart.  has Nats on Xavier Edwards, SS, North Broward Prep (Coconut Creek, Fla.), an undersized but good prospect with a strong Vanderbilt commitment.
  • MLBPipeline (Jonathan Mayo): 2018 Mock Draft projection dated 5/17/18:  Mize, Bart, Bohm, Singer, Madrigal.  Has Nats on Denaburg.
  • MLBPipeline (Jonathan Mayo): 2018 Mock Draft projection dated 5/31/18:  Mize, Bart, Madrigal, Singer, India.  Nats again on Denaburg.
  • MLBPipeline (Jonathan Mayo) 2018 Final Mock Draft dated 6/4/18: Mize, Bart, Madrigal, Singer, India.  now has Nats on Xavier Edwards, a prep SS from Florida.
  • Fangraphs (Eric Longenhagen/Kiley McDaniel): 2018 Mock Draft v1.0 dated 4/19/18: Mize, Bohm, Madrigal, Swaggerty, Kelenic.  Only projected top 10, but notes that Washington wants a “quick moving” college pitcher (just like every year) and is tied to either Tristan Beck or Sean Hjelle.
  • Fangraphs (Eric Longenhagen/Kiley McDaniel): 2018 Mock Draft v2.0 dated 5/15/18: Mize, Bart, Bohn, Madrigal, Singer.  Also has Nats on Denaburg.
  • Fangraphs (Eric Longenhagen/Kiley McDaniel): 2018 Mock Draft v3.0 dated 6/1/18: Mize, Bart, Bohm, Singer, Madrigal.  Now has Nats on Wilcox.
  • Seedlings to the Stars/Calltothepen.com (Benjamin Chase) Mock draft v1.0 4/30/18: Mize, Bohm, Libratadore, Kelenic, Madrigal.  Has the Nats on Mike Vasil, a HS RHP pitcher from a Boston, MA high school  (with a commit to UVA/Virginia) with some possible arm issues so could be following their pattern of buying low in injured guys.
  • Seedlings to the Stars/Calltothepen.com (Benjamin ChaseMock draft v2.0 5/7/18: Mize, Madrigal, Bohm, Winn, Libratadore.  Has Nats on de Sedas, which would fit the Nats’ predilection of taking “famous” names.
  • Seedlings to the Stars/Calltothepen.com (Benjamin ChaseMock draft v3.0 5/15/18: Mize, Bart, India, Bohm, Singer.  Also has Nats on Denaburg.
  • Seedlings to the Stars/Calltothepen.com (Benjamin ChaseMock draft v4.0 5/21/18: Mize, Bart, Bohm, Madrigal, Singer.   Has Nats now on Wilcox instead of Denaburg now.
  • Seedlings to the Stars/Calltothepen.com (Benjamin ChaseMock draft v5.1 5/28/18: Mize, Bart, Bohm, Singer, Madrigal.  Has Nats back on Denaburg.
  • Seedlings to the Stars/Calltothepen.com (Benjamin ChaseMock draft v6.2 6/4/18: Mize, Bart, Bohm, Singer, Madrigal.  Same top 5 as last few iterations.  Has Nats back on Wilcox.
  • ESPN/Keith Law Mock draft v1.0 5/2/18: Mize, Singer, Bohm, Bart, Madrigal.  Has the Nats taking a prep RHP named J.T. Ginn from Mississippi, or perhaps taking one of the more “famous” prep arms if they fall (Hankins, Turang).
  • ESPN/Keith Law Mock draft v2.0 5/17/18: Mize, Bart, Bohm, Madrigal, Singer.  Has the Nats on Rocker, or perhaps one of the other prep guys who are “famous” but who are falling this spring, looking for value.
  • ESPN/Keith Law Mock draft v3.0 5/31/18: Mize, Winn, Bart, Singer, Madrigal.  Has the Nats on Denaburg.
  • ESPN/Keith Law Mock draft v4.0 6/4/18: Bart, Winn, Mize, Singer, Madrigal.  Still has the Nats on Denaburg.
  • Sporting News Mock Draft v1.0 5/17/18: Mize, Libratadore, Singer, Madrigal, Stewart.  Has the Nats taking Seth Beer, which I wouldn’t be totally against.
  • TheBigLead.com (Ryan Phillips) Mock Draft v1.0 5/17/18: Mize, Bart, Bohm, Madrigal, Singer (same as Law).  Only projects top 10, so no Nats pick.
  • TheBigLead.com (Ryan PhillipsMock Draft v2.0 5/30/18: Mize, Bart, Bohm, Madrigal, Singer (same as his first mock).  Has Nats on Wilcox.
  • TheBigLead.com (Ryan PhillipsMock Draft v3.0 6/3/18: Mize, Bart, Bohm, Madrigal, Singer (same as his first two mocks).  Has Nats on Ethan Hankins now.
  • PerfectGame.org (Brian Sakowski) Mock Draft v1.0: 4/20/18: Mize, Kelenic, Madrigal, McClanahan, Hankins.  has Nats on Grayson Rodriguez, prep RHP from Texas HS.
  • PerfectGame.org (Brian Sakowski) Mock Draft v2.0: 5/10/18: Mize, Stewart, Bohm, Singer, Madrigal.  Nats on Kumar Rocker as well; I’d love this pick if it happened.
  • PerfectGame.org (Brian Sakowski) Mock Draft v3.0 5/24/18: Mize, Bart, Bohm, Madrigal, Singer.  Nats on Jackson Kowar, RHP weekend starter for Florida.  Um, if Kowar makes it here, i’d be ecstatic and it’d be a great pick.
  • PerfectGame.org (Brian Sakowski) Mock Draft v4.0 6/4/18: Mize, Bart, Bohm, Singer, Madrigal.  Nats on Denaburg.
  • Prospect Digest (Joseph Werner) Mock Draft 6/4/18: Mize, Liberatore, Madrigal, McClanahan, Stewart.  Nats picking Stanford’s Tristan Beck.

Mock draft posters from 2017 who didn’t seem to do one this year.:

  • D1Baseball (Frankie Piliere)
  • HeroSports.com (Chris Crawford/Jason Crawford)
  • MinorleagueBall.com (John Sickels)
  • SI.com (Jay Jaffe), now with Fangraphs, so probably not doing prospect work anymore.
  • CBSsports (Mike Axisa)

Todd Boss’ Mock draft top-5 prediction?

My top 5: Mize, Bart, Bohm, Singer, Madrigal.   It seems like most all the pundits have arrived at this as a top 5 and it seems to make sense.

ACTUAL DRAFT Results (added after the draft): top 5 went Mize, Bart, Bohm, Madrigal, India.  First four no surprise … India at #5 a surprise.  So was Kyler Murray at #9 to Oakland … that came out of nowhere.

Who are the Nats going to take at #27:  Mason Denaburg

Its really, really difficult to project to the 27th pick; you just have no idea who will be there.  Just consider the 2011 draft; the Nats sat at the #6 spot and figured they’d have zero shot at Anthony Rendon, who for most of his college career was considered a 1-1 guy.  Suddenly Rendon has a slight injury, the first few teams pass on him … and he falls into the Nat’s lap.

Historically, Mike Rizzo drafts college guys.  And historically, he drafts college arms up high.  However, most of the mocks above have the Nats taking prep arms in the first.

The clear “word on the street” out of the Nats camp this year is prep arm.  Why?  I have no idea.  How many high school arms have you ever seen Mike Rizzo draft at the top of the draft?  How about in the top 10 rounds altogether?   I’ll give you the answer to the latter question: Three: Rizzo has drafted exactly three prep arms in the top 10 rounds in the entirety of his Nats career, dating to 2009.  Jesus LuzardoLucas Giolito and A.J. Cole.   That’s it.  Cole was under the prior bonus rules, when they threw 1st round money at him in the 4th.  Giolito was a case where he dropped precipitously thanks to an arm injury and the Nats snagged him mid 1st (which kind of fits the Denaburg projection this year) … and Luzardo was a 3rd rounder with 1st round talent but a TJ surgery on his resume who they got great value on.  So why would anyone think Rizzo is going to pick a prep arm unless its a Giolito situation where a top-5 projected guy suddenly falls?

Normally, i’d firmly in the camp that the Nats will follow their typical pattern here for later 1st round picks: college arm.  I like the mocks that project guys like Beck or Hjelle, or any one of several solid college arms who might drop down because of a crummy regional performance.  Ole Miss’ Ryan Rolison fits the bill here as a guy who might be available at 27, as does Jackson Kowar.

What about one of the famous “bats” in this draft?  Namely, Seth Beer or Luken Baker or Griffen Conine?  All seem like no-position/defensive liability sluggers, which may end up being tweeners between Late 1st round and mid 2nd round … so they’d be reaches for the Nats in the 1st but gone by our 2nd round pick.

 

Actual Nats #27 Pick (added after the draft): Mason Denaburg.  For the second year in a row, the Nats tip their hand and have their first round pick predicted by every major pundit.

Nats on a tear … while being hobbled on the D/L

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What a difference a year makes. Last year he was MLB's POTM; this year he's hitting .217 and is now on the D/L. Photo via WashingtonTimes.com

What a difference a year makes. Last year he was MLB’s POTM; this year he’s hitting .217 and is now on the D/L. Photo via WashingtonTimes.com

Another day, another D/L trip.  The latest is Ryan Zimmerman, whose position is more than ably being filled by Matt Adams, heading to the 10-day d/L with “back soreness” but which we know to be an oblique (which is a notoriously iffy injury, if indeed he has a real injury and this isn’t some sort of paper maneuver to get Adams more ABs.  Yes I’m a cynic).  This a day after starting catcher and $10M “homage to Scott Boras‘ ability to undermine Mike Rizzo‘s plans by repeatedly going over his head to ownership” Matt Wieters goes down with a “hamstring” injury (btw: he looked like a 50-yr old man running to first base; was it any surprise he came up hobbled?)

The Nats, as of 5/13/18, now have 10 guys on the D/L and an 11th suspended.  Only three of them even have a vague return date defined, and one of those is Joe Ross, who is recovering from Tommy John and whose return date is listed as “probably 2018.”  Nine of the 10 guys (not including Read) arguably are part of the “best 25” that our team would field, meaning we’re playing 9 guys out of 25 who should be in AAA.

This number of current players on the D/L, not surprisingly, leads the league and their cumulative totals of number of players, games lost and payroll wasted for the season is at or near the top.

Great.

Yet, somehow, during this period the team is on fire.   They’ve won 12 of 14.  They’re 13-7 in their last 20.  Went into the hot Arizona team and crushed them on their turf.

What’s going on?  How is this happening?

Part of this is the particular guys getting hurt; i.e. none of the rotation.  We’re getting a ton of quality starts, guys pitching deep into the games.  Under-rated at the time signing Jeremy Hellickson took a perfect game into the 7th.  That’s the definition of “found gold” for a 5th starter.   Five of the top Eight season-to-date guys by bWAR are the 5 rotation members.

But for the most part it has been part-time players stepping up big time.

  • Pedro Severino in for Wieters (and before that Miguel Montero, 2018’s first “Oblivion” candidate): posting a 98 OPS+ and providing stellar defense behind the plate.
  • Howie Kendrick in for Daniel Murphy?  113 OPS+ thank you very much.  Great signing.
  • Wilmer Difo covering for Anthony Rendon while he missed half the season thus far?  102 OPS+
  • Adams, as previously noted, is crushing the ball right now: 178 OPS+.
  • The hodge-podge of left fielders not named Adams?  well … that’s another story.  Thankfully  we can put most any ole stiff out there and still get production.

I thought this team did amazingly well last  year given its injuries … but now its looking even worse this year.   Yet they’re right where they need to be after a sluggish start.  What I worry about is missing a month of Scherzer, or having Harper  go down ye t again.

 

 

Who is really “trying” this year?

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Is someone going to sign this guy?? Photo via mlb.com

Is someone going to sign this guy?? Photo via mlb.com

We’re in a weird time in baseball.  The players drastically misplayed their hand in the last couple of CBA negotiations, allowing the luxury tax to become so penurious that it now basically functions as a hard cap … but without the corresponding hard floors that would prevent the wholesale tanking we’ve been seeing lately.  This has resulted (along with a couple other factors) in the worst FA market we’ve seen since the days of collusion.

I thought i’d do a little noodling to see just how bad this problem is.

Taking a quick look at 2017 off-season spending patterns and looking at the general activities of teams, here’s what seems to be going on:

Trying and Spending Big

  • Boston: not really a surprise that they’re spending money, with more just announced with J.D. Martinez.  The Boston-NYY wars are back on.
  • New York Yankees: obviously trying … not necessarily “spending” a ton of money on the FA market but spent a ton to acquire Giancarlo Stanton in terms of added payroll
  • Los Angeles Angels, who won the Ohtani sweepstakes, signed Justin Upton to a 9-figure deal and have made moves.
  • Philadelphia: Added nearly $40M in payroll … but in really odd moves for a team that seems like it should just be waiting things out another year.   Does anyone really think they’re a playoff team?
  • Milwaukee: they even bought a compensation-attached FA in Lorenzo Cain, perhaps looking at their division and sensing that a WC run is in the offing.
  • Chicago Cubs: they’re the big spenders this off-season, having more than $50M of payroll AAV
  • Colorado: still spending money in an attempt to get into the NL WC game.

Trying and Spending “some”

  • Minnesota: the most surprising team on this “trying and spending” list; the Twins keep signing guys.  Good for them.
  • New York Mets: they definitely have signed FAs … but they’re not signing marquee guys who might actually help them get better.
  • San Francisco: they havn’t signed a ton of guys, but have “spent” a ton of prospect depth to acquire the likes of Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria this off-season.
  • San Diego: in one of the more inexplicable deals of the past few years, San Diego signed Eric Hosmer to a $144M deal so that they can continue to finish 30+ games out of first in the NL West.  But hey, they spent some cash!

So, that’s just 11 of the 30 teams that are actively spending on the FA market.  About a third of the league.   And it includes half the teams you’d project to make the playoffs this year right now (Boston, NYY, Milwaukee, Colorado and Minnesota).

How many of these teams are “done”  spending at this point?  There’s still several QO-attached FAs who are/were expecting $50M or bigger contracts; where in this list above do you see anyone still willing to absorb a $20M/year AAV?


 



Trying but not really Spending:

  • Houston: the defending champs havn’t really had to spend a ton, having acquired Justin Verlander last season to address their biggest need.  They’ve signed just two minor FAs.
  • Arizona: have added about $10M of contracts … but are just augmenting the edges of their surprise 93-win team from last year.
  • Los Angeles Dodgers: the league’s wealthiest team has added a grand total of $3M of salaries for the new  year.  $3M!!
  • Cleveland: successful small market team is just working the edges of their 102-win team and trying to maintain their success while the window is open.
  • Washington: we’re at the luxury tax threshold, it seems like the owners don’t want to go over it, and we’ve added around the edges of the roster only.

Can’t fault these 5 teams for having done the work to put themselves in near-guaranteed playoff position (in fact, they’re probably the “other” 5 teams making the playoffs in 2018).   This has also contributed to the problem; most of the time playoff teams want to get better to get to the next level; half your likely 2018 playoff teams are tapped out and standing pat on last year’s rosters.



Treading water and not spending

  • Oakland: what’s new?
  • Toronto: seem to be in a no-man’s land in a division with two teams absolutely trying; should probably sell off
  • St. Louis: not exactly lighting the world on fire with off-season moves.
  • Seattle: they made a flurry of moves last season and have spent very little this off-season; they cannot outspend or outperform two other divisional teams right now, so are just treading water.
  • Baltimore; as normal, nobody knows what’s going on with this front office.  They’ve bought two veteran 5th starter FA pitchers and … that’s it.
  • Texas: i’m not entirely sure what Texas is doing; they have money to spend, desperately need starting pitching .. and are doing very little.
  • Chicago White Sox: little new spending; they’re like a couple other teams that are coming out of a rebuild and waiting for their prospects to mature.

Most of these teams are staring in the face of a tank job.  Only Chicago is on their way out (well, technically Philadelphia too, who should be sitting here but instead spent $60M on a DH to “play” first base for them in Carlos Santana).  Not one of these teams really can look at their situations or their divisions and say that they’re favored to make a playoff run.



Not Trying/Tanking and not spending:

  • Atlanta: they’re still waiting for all their prospects to grow up; may not be “tanking” but definitely are not spending the money to win in 2018.
  • Miami: we’re all painfully aware of the shambolic sell-off in Miami; yet another stain on MLB for enabling a billionaire owner to suck freely at the revenue trough while not putting anything back.
  • Pittsburgh: traded their franchise player, have not committed one penny of MLB FA dollars.  The chickens have come home to roost in Pittsburgh; we’ll see you in 20 years when you’re relevant again.  They should have sold off last season frankly.
  • Tampa Bay: you don’t trade your franchise player w/o officially waving the white flag.  Maybe we need to contract both Florida teams like certain curmudgeon NY-based columnists have advised
  • Cincinnati: last place last year, payroll flat, no real chance of winning the division == tanking.
  • Kansas City: their grand plan of offering QOs to all their FAs is being killed by the weird circumstances of this off-season, but they’re reading the writing on the wall and gearing for a rebuild.
  • Detroit: like with Tampa and Pittsburgh, jettisoned their franchise player recently and probably wishes they could do even more.  they’re looking at $75M LESS in payroll in 2018 versus last year, and would do more if they could.  It could be pretty ugly in Detroit for a while.

That’s a lot of teams not really trying, or actively shedding players.    And it won’t take much to push some of the “standing pat” teams into this category.

The larger point is that 19 of the 30 teams, for one reason or another, are not spending this off-season.  Two thirds of the league basically went into the off-season not planning on doing anything except roster-fine tuning on the open market.

Great news for the Nats; Miami will be lucky to win 60 games, Atlanta still isn’t trying fully, Philly has done practically nothing to help make the leap, and the Mets seem like they’re going to be in Bernie Madoff-hell for years.  Will they win the division by 20 games again in 2018?  Probably not … but it shouldn’t be close.

 


There’s a slew of other underlying issues that are making the issue worse.  Kiley McDaniel summarized them pretty well in this chat answer from last week:

I think teams have

  • 1) been getting more similar in their methods
  • 2) more careful to avoid long-term deals
  • 3) owners have been getting less involved
  • 4) the league has been getting younger and rookies have been making more of an impact and they’re all cheaper than vets
  • 5) it’s worked out that deals get better the longer you wait, so teams are seeing how much you can stretch that principle, so we were moving toward this gradually.

What made it all happen now was

  • 1) the big market teams are trying to get under the tax for next off-season
  • 2) Boras overplayed his hand but with more players than usual and
  • 3) teams that can spend, big or middle market, want to wait until next off-season to spend huge money when there’s better players.

Sounds like a good summary of the off-season.

Post publishing update: just after I posted this, word comes out that the MLB player’s Union is filing a grievance against four teams for not spending their revenue sharing money.   Miami, Tampa, Pittsburgh and Oakland, four perennial violators of this rule and 3 of which I named as actively tanking.  Frankly, I would have put Oakland as an active tanker too except … they’re so poor right now they have no assets to sell.  Heck, even Mike Rizzo hasn’t been able to swing a trade with Oakland this off-season.

Spring Training conversation Place holder

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Maybe its the inverted W that keeps causing Glover shoulder issues? Photo via mlb.com

Maybe its the inverted W that keeps causing Glover shoulder issues? Photo via mlb.com

Hey guys.

So … in case you couldn’t tell, I’ve been swamped and have not been posting.  Its a job transition thing; I’ve gotten hit on all fronts and just have had no time to do much of anything outside of work.

At some point this spring, I hope to do a review of the non-roster invites, like I do every year, since we’re almost guaranteed to get an NRI making the roster.

Big news so far in camp, of course, Koda Glover lasting about 5 seconds into spring training before getting shut down due to shoulder soreness.   I’m beginning to think Glover is the latest incarnation of Christian Garcia, a guy with an 80 arm and a 20 ability to stay healthy.

I guess the other big news is non-news; Bryce Harper preemptively telling reporters to not bother asking him about  his pending free agency.  Fair enough; good luck having that directive stick as Harper (the biggest personality in the sport) travels to all the major baseball cities with beat reporters looking to fill inches.  Harper also made an off-hand comment about the Marlins, quickly retorted by Don “get off my lawn” Mattingly, who was subsequently ridiculed for  his over-reaction by none other than frequent Nat-hater Craig Calcaterra over at Hardball talk.

Chalk all that up to “slow news day.”

Glover’s injury quickly led to a 40-man deal for the ageless Joaquin Benoit, which will require a corresponding 40-man move.   I’m wondering if Glover to 60-day D/L won’t be the play, since they were pretty quick to shut him down post-MRI.  Actually, it probably makes more sense to officially move Joe Ross to 60-day D/L first,  since we won’t be seeing him til August  at the earliest.  (Post-publishing update: yup, that’s exactly what they did when the signing became official; moved Ross to 60-day d/l).

Speaking of Benoit, even given his guaranteed signing, I don’t see a pathway to the 25-man roster for him.  As I’ve noted before, the Nats bullpen is pretty full:

  • four veterans on guaranteed contracts in Doolittle, Madsen, Knitzler and Kelley.
  • three younger guys, all of whom have zero opens left: Grace, Solis and Romero.

Soooo, unless there’s another injury, or a DFA, I’m not quite sure how Benoit makes this team.

In other non-news … the Nats still don’t have much of a 5-th starter competition.  Mike Rizzo was quoted a few weeks ago “naming” A.J. Cole as his 5th starter.  And why not?  Also out of options, Cole makes the team or faces the waiver wire.  So it only makes sense for him to break camp with the team as its 5th starter.

Not much else to report for now.  Can’t wait for games to start so we can have our typical over-reactions to stat lines!

Written by Todd Boss

February 21st, 2018 at 10:15 am