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Ask Brittany 9/10/20

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Rizzo (finally) gets paid. Photo via mlb.com

Man, it seems like its been forever since we’ve seen a Nats beat reporter do a mailbag. And unfortunately the one I found is behind the Athletic’s paywall, By Athletic Nats beat reporter Brittany Ghiroli. No worries though; you’ll get the gist.

Q: What are your reactions to the (Mike) Rizzo contract?
A: It’s about damn time. I just do not understand why either Mike Rizzo or Davey Martinez entered this season w/o an extension. The only thing I can think is that both had had informal discussions with the ownership group that promised them extensions at a later time.

Brittany’s take: Finally. 3yr extension, with a big bump in pay from $4M/year on his previous deal. But she also notes how disrespectful this delay was to the rest of the front office staff, who live and die by Rizzo’s contract status. Hard to disagree.

Q: Have you heard about any extension talks with (Juan) Soto?  
A: I hope they have … but it seems unlikely. Juan Soto has already established himself as one of the league’s elite players, so there seems to be little incentive for him to sign away any flexibility. He got a “big” pre-arb raise, which frankly is still peanuts compared to his value, and he’s already guaranteed to be a Super-2 guy, meaning four arb years. If i’m the Nats maybe i’m doing what they did with Harper and Rendon; buy out the arb years with sizeable raises so they’re not arguing every off-season, see if they can get one post-arb FA year thrown in (he’s FA after 2024 season), and make it worthwhile to both sides.

Brittany notes that Soto’s agent is Scott Boras, so forget about an extension. She is unaware of any extension talk, but points out a couple of Braves deals that could serve as landmarks.

Q: Any details on whether the front office has moved on from competing this year to preparing for a stronger ’21 season?
A: Well, we saw no trades this year, meaning zero attempts to shore up multiple areas of need on the current roster. But then again, that might have been a factor of the price tag and our own depleted farm system. I mean, would you have wanted to give up Cade Cavalli or Jackson Rutledge for a month of a #3 starter hitting free agency after the season? Hell no. Meanwhile on the field, the team has been frisky this week, but (as of this writing on 9/11/20) remain 5.5 games out of a wild card spot and still projected for either the #6 or #7 overall pick next July.
Brittany notes the same thing: the lack of moves at the trade deadline tipped their hand.

Q: Any insight on moves Rizzo should consider in 2021 free agency?
A: man, it exhausts me to even start considering this. But here’s 2 minutes on their FA outlook. Using COTS site, they are set to lose Eaton, Sanchez, Doolittle, Suzuki, Kendrick, Thames, Holt, Cabrera, Zimmerman and Freeman to FA (yes some of these guys have options but … right now its hard to see any of these options exercised).

So that means the team is in need of: 1-2 Starting pitchers, a corner OF, two veteran lefty relievers, a starting quality catcher, and a big chunk of their infield depth. Assuming they go young in 2021 the infield could be anchored by Kieboom, Turner and Garcia, so they’d be in the market for a 1B/DH platoon, plus a couple of utility guys who can move around. So, not a ton but also some work to do. the have $126M committed before arb raises of roughly $25M (could be more depending on how much Soto gets), so that leaves about $50M of FA room to work with. We can’t get a good SP and a solid catcher for that, but we should be able to get the edges covered.

Brittany repeats the same list of players, and says the priorities will be similar to what I put.

MLB 2020 Draft to be just 5 rounds

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Amateur players who have already lost an entire year of playing time got another huge punch in the gut late friday, when MLB took their option to have the shortest possible draft in 2020 (5 rounds), to drastically reduce the max bonus for anyone not drafted in those 5 rounds (just $20k, as compared to $125k last year), and to basically screw hundreds of players who were set to matriculate into the pros this season.  They’ve even negotiated to delay bonus payments!

All in the name of saving a few bucks (estimated to be $1M each at best likely a lot less)  for franchises whose values are generally measured in the billions.

MLB officially shortens 2020 draft to five rounds

I agree with Scott Boras here, who blasted this move.  https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2883387-scott-boras-slams-mlbs-2020-coronavirus-draft-plan-says-it-hurts-young-players

I just can’t get over how, year after year, in the name of minor savings figures, the owners continually attack the draft, the international signing period, over and over, putting in limits and regressive taxes that while saving a few dollars ends up driving away players from the game.   This comes on the back of the highly opportunisitc plan to eliminate entire  *leagues* of minor league players, again in the name of saving money on the backs of players who are non-unionized.

I mean, is the goal to eliminate the entirety of the minor leagues too?  To somehow improve the major league product by doing what the NFL does; throwing rookies right onto the active roster of the NFL and have them basically sit until they learn?

As for the current crop of players, hundreds of them now face a brutal choice:  sign for a pittance to then earn a pittance and try to make it, or go back to college, where their partial scholarship may not even be guaranteed anymore, or … give up.  I wonder how many players are just going to give up.  How is this a good solution for anyone involved?

 

Written by Todd Boss

May 9th, 2020 at 1:01 pm

Posted in Draft

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Astros Cheating Scandal; my two cents

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Altuve's post-season heroics now in serious question. Photo via nytimes.com

Altuve’s post-season heroics now in serious question. Photo via nytimes.com

A pause to talk about the biggest topic of the off-season; the sign stealing scandals currently rocking the Astros, Red Sox and by association Mets franchises.

Summary: the Astros were found to be relaying the catcher’s signs to a monitor just within the clubhouse, and were able to signal their teammates in near real-time in express violation of an edict from the commissioner.  This comes from “whistleblower” Mike Fiers, who was a member of the team and witnessed the situation, which then sparked an investigation and has resulted in:

  • 1 year suspension (and subsequent firing) of Astros GM Jeff Luhnow
  • 1 year suspension (and subsequent firing) of Astros Manager A.J. Hinch
  • Lost of 1st and 2nd round picks in 2020
  • Loss of 1st and 2nd round picks in 2021
  • $5M fine to the organization

Commissioner’s report is here: http://vendettasportsmedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/cglrhmlrwwbkacty27l7.pdf

What’s missing here, of course, is any player penalty.  And when it came out in the report that this was a scheme “driven by the players, executed by the players” it becomes a little harder to swallow that not one player has been suspended.  The “banging” evidence is pretty damning: https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/28476354/how-internet-helped-crack-astros-sign-stealing-case kind of covers it and has some examples of internet sleuths who found pretty clear examples of it.

Why no player penalties?  CBA/Union of course.  But also … without hard evidence as to who was doing what, its awfully hard to pin blame on a particular player.  So the MLB essentially offered players immunity to testify so they could get to the bottom of the scandal.  But if there was direct video evidence of a player doing something nefarious and MLB moved to suspend them, it’d be awfully hard for the MLBPA with a straight face to defend the player at this point.

What’s more upsetting is the newer accusations of Astros players taking this a step further and wearing buzzing devices.  I know that MLB issued a statement that they “found no evidence” of this … but the video that’s surfaced and the comments made by the same twitter account that correctly predicted other parts of this scandal are pretty damning:

  • Jose Altuve‘s adamance of not having his jersey ripped off: https://www.12up.com/posts/jose-altuve-dont-rip-my-shirt-off-aroldis-champman-walk-off-hr-alcs-astros-yankees-01dyqxcze7n0
  • Josh Reddick appearing to have a wire taped to his chest; https://ftw.usatoday.com/2020/01/astros-cheating-scandal-buzzers-new-allegations-altuve-yankees
  • Robinson Chirinos‘ having … something … fly off his person and hit Yan Gomes in the mask: https://foxsportsradio.iheart.com/content/2019-11-19-astros-accused-of-using-electronic-buzzers-at-bat-to-signal-certain-pitches

Ok.  By themselves each of these links has arguments against.  Altuve’s screaming not to tear his jersey off isn’t evidence of anything, but its completely incongruous with his tendency to run around shirtless (as a response to the ridiculous “he’s shy” defense offered by his agent Scott Boras).  Reddick’s “confetti” argument … ok, I think I can tell the difference between a piece of plastic and a wire.  And, whatever flew off Chirinos’ bat doesn’t seem to be what he claims (an authentication sticker?  put on a live game bat??  that’s ridiculous).  So … Occam’s Razor here; what the heck is going on?

Let me put this to you a different way.  The Astro’s organization ALREADY had an awful reputation for repugnant behavior and top-level arrogance before this stuff all hit ; if they were so brazen as to bang trash cans … would it really surprise you if it was discovered they’d taken it a step further and used electronic buzzer devices?

I’m no conspiracy theorist; I believe in fact checking and that 99% of the time internet meme-driven stories are BS.  But this one I can’t shake.

I was chatting with my dad recently, and he asked me if this was the biggest scandal since the Steroids news broke.  Part of me wanted to say yes, but mostly I say “no” in that there’s only credible evidence that one or two franchises partook in electronic sign stealing.  It isn’t a wide-spread, hundreds of players across the sport issue like the PED issue was.  So in that sense, I think we’ll see this go away as an isolated set of incidents.  But every franchise has this capability, so It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if we saw more rumors come out.

Do I think the Astros players need to be penalized?  Absolutely.

Do I think the franchise should have its World Series title stripped?  No.  I just can’t see how you do that.  This isn’t the NCAA, which routinely vacates wins and titles … ask a USC fan whether they frigging care that Reggie Bush‘s scandal caused them to vacate their wins while he played.  Who cares.  The WS titles are etched in stone, they’re already paid out and the parades have been held.  Do you really think it makes sense to retroactively award the title to the Dodgers from 2017 because potentially one or two guys knew what pitch was coming?  Can’t say I think that’s a workable solution.

Something tells me we havn’t heard the last of this … but this is how i’m feeling about it right now.  Who said the off-season was boring?  🙂

 

Written by Todd Boss

January 19th, 2020 at 1:05 pm

Stewart to do end-around of MLB Draft; brilliant!

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Carter Stewart is going to be a heck of a trail blazer. photo via PerfectGame

Carter Stewart is going to be a heck of a trail blazer. photo via PerfectGame

(tangent from our Nats miseries; yes we just got swept in NY, yes our manager needs to be whacked, yes the team is in serious trouble for 2019.  We’ll talk about it more next week).

Here’s a quick story about Carter Stewart.

He was a top prep player last spring, recording the highest spin rate *ever recorded* on his curve ball.  He was the 9th overall pick of the 2018 draft, couldn’t come to an agreement with the Braves over medicals (not related to his elbow or shoulder fyi .. they were related to MRIs of his wrist, stemming from a skateboarding injury apparently incurred when Stewart was a kid), didn’t sign, bailed out of his 4-yr college commitment to Mississippi State, enrolled in a Florida JuCo so he could do one-and-done in college and re-enter the 2019 draft, played this spring and didn’t wow the scouts (despite sterling statistics) and saw his draft projection (and thus his bonus) fall to perhaps an early 2nd round status.

So what is he doing?  He’s doing what Scott Boras  has dreamed of for two decades representing (ahem, “advising”) amateur players: he’s doing an end-around on the MLB draft.  Stewart announced that he’s opting out of the MLB draft, and signing a 6yr, $7M deal in Japan.

And its a brilliant plan.

Here’s how the numbers work.  Lets say that, for sake of argument, Steward got drafted in 2019, signed for $2M (a stretch frankly, but useful for this conversation).  Here’s likely how the next 6-10 years of his life would go:

  • 2019: signs, $2M bonus.  Barely plays, since most prep pitchers spend their draft year in XST learning how to be a pro.
  • 2020: XST and then GCL time as a minor leaguer earning $1200/month for 6 months.  Call it $10,000 in total salary for ease of calculation.
  • 2021: pitches full season in Low-A as a 21-yr old.  Another $10k in salary
  • 2022: moves up to high-A.  Maybe we’ll even give him AA.  10k in salary
  • 2023.  He’s not breaking camp with the team, even if he merits a rotation spot .. so he starts in AAA for a few weeks, then moves up and basically earns a full MLB pre-arb salary of $575k.
  • 2024: 600k as a 24yr old, 2nd year pre-arb; he earns a small raise

Total earnings through 6 years of service: $2m + 30k + 575k + 600k = $3,205,000 total pay.

So, now he’s through 6 pro seasons, he’s at the end of his age 24 season and he’s got two full years of MLB experience after 4 minor league seasons … and he’s facing another two full pre-arb seasons thanks to service time manipulation in 2023 (which everybody does), taking  him through 2026/age 26, then 3 years of arbitration that limits his salary drastically versus what he’s worth on the open market … and he hits FA in 2029 after 10 years of team control … possibly with a Qualifying Offer tagged to him (unless they CBA it out of existence).

INSTEAD, he signs a $6M deal to go to Japan for those same 6 years, nearly doubles his potential pay, gets legitimate pro experience, and comes out of his experience as a completely free 25yr old.   Oh, and if he hits incentives he can actually triple that $6M pay.  If he had played by the rules of the MLB system at the end of 2024, he’d still be facing another FIVE seasons of artificially limited pay.

Oh, and if he burns out (like a lot of HS arms) and never gets to the majors … he’s got basically 3 TIMES the pay versus his projected bonus.

It makes one wonder; why hasn’t this happened before??  This is a complete no-brainer plan for huge chunks of pro prospects.  If you’re a college-aged top 5 pick making $4-$5M of bonus and perhaps facing just a year and a half in the minors, no.  But consider what Mason Denaburg is now facing (our first round pick out of HS last  year).  He signed last year for $3M … and has YET TO PITCH for our organization now a 1/3rd of the way through his 2nd pro  season and still hasn’t been assigned.   Unless Denaburg is the second coming of Clayton Kershaw, he’s going to spend a good chunk of the next  3 years in the low minors, earning less in a month than major leaguers earn in a day.

The downside to this is, of course, a 19yr old kid from Florida has to go halfway around the world to a culture and a language he doesn’t know.  Sounds daunting … except for the fact that MLB basically has half its minor leagues in the same position, importing non-english speaking talent from the DR, Venezuela, Mexico, etc as well as a slew of other international players who end up here w/o knowing our culture or language.  It isn’t the end of the world.

Honestly … I hope he blazes a path towards forcing MLB to take a pretty hard look at its entire draft and pay structure, which is incredibly tilted towards the owners as the MLBPA has failed for more than 2 decades now to stem the tide of owners chipping away at younger players salaries and earning possibilities.  And, given the embarrassment baseball  (and Oakland) just went through having their 2018 1st rounder Kyle Murray very publicly reject a $4M+ bonus amount and a guaranteed contract offer (specifically outlawed in the last CBA but offered here) so as to go pro in the NFL … it makes you wonder if there’s a need for a revamping of the system.

I hope this isn’t a one-off; I hope Stewart succeeds in Japan and makes a mint coming back to the US as a top-line 25-yr old un-encumbered free agent.  Because that might really spur some change.

Written by Todd Boss

May 24th, 2019 at 9:21 am

Ask Jesse; a just-before-the-season Mailbag

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Jake Noll looks to make the 2019 opening day roster. Photo via milb.com

Jake Noll looks to make the 2019 opening day roster. Photo via milb.com

In order to move on from my Fantasy Baseball post, here’s a mailbag that WP Nats Beat reporter Jesse Dougherty posted on 3/25/19.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2019/03/24/nationals-mailbag-regular-season-is-just-about-here/?utm_term=.e92f4a56efd8

Interesting notes here from today: the demotions of Adrian Sanchez in particular, which seems to indicate that NRI and 2016 7th round draft pick Jake Noll may very well be making this team.  Noll signed for $190k in 2016, which definitely wasn’t a senior sign/throw away pick out of FGCU, but he’s gotten absolutely zero prospect love in his career thus far.  He was ranked 26th on 2080 Baseball’s 2019 list, and got an “Honorable Mention” in John Sickel‘s post 2016 minorleaguebaseball.com list, but that’s it.  And how he’s set to be the Nats primary backup middle infielder until Howie Kendrick can return.  So great for Noll.

Questions she took and how i’d answer them:

Q: What do you think the chances are the Nats extend Rendon? I’m not too optimistic after this most recent report.

A: A good question.  I’m guessing that at this point, Anthony Rendon will head to FA.  He better have an action plan though with his agent Scott Boras, who has absolutely blown several high profile cases over the last couple of off seasons.

That being said, I’m hoping Rendon is taking a hard look at the landscape, taking a hard look at the contracts that some of his comparables are signing (Nolan Arenado 8yr/$260M for $32.5 AAV) and perhaps coming back to the table before he faces an embarassing off-season.  Rendon is a year older than Arenado, less accomplished from awards and year end recognition … and will have to eat deferred money to stay here.  Can a deal get done?

Dougherty notes that Rendon has instructed Boras to work on an extension, and they’ll work into the season.  So perhaps we’ll see something like a 6yr/$180M deal in our future with deferred dollars.

Q: How is the team preparing for having AAA players in Fresno instead of Syracuse? Any chatter from likely minor leaguers about the switch?

A: That’s a great question, one that fans like us can’t really answer other than noting the obvious: the team has “demoted” the likes of Erick Fedde and Spencer Kieboom to Harrisburg so they can be a couple hours away in case of an emergency.  Meanwhile longer-term strategic assets like Joe RossKyle McGowin, and Raudy Read are instead heading to Fresno to get stretched out or further tested against more senior competition.

Ironically, Spencer and his younger brother, phenom prospect Carter Kieboom, are both scheduled to now be in AA.  I wonder if they’ll room together 😉

Dougherty notes the same players that I do, but has little else to offer in terms of player insights.

Q: Can you talk about the OF depth issue with Michael A. Taylor’s injury and Kendrick’s? Any insight on the organization’s view of its internal outfield options? Any indications if General Manager Mike Rizzo thinks he needs to go outside the organization to address?

A: Well, it certainly didn’t help when exactly one third of the outfielders on the 40-man got hurt (Taylor and Kendrick).  So the team is breaking camp with their 3 starters and their one remaining option in Andrew Stevenson to start the season.  Depth?  The next likely guy up probably is Rafael Bautista, who was on the 40-man last  year and got DFA’d/assigned to AAA .  Our top OF prospect is probably Gage Canning, who was in short season last year.  Brian Goodwin just got released by Kansas City; maybe he’s worth taking a MLFA flier on and getting him back into the fold.   The team has added some MLFA 4-A type talents that are also sitting in AAA; my guess is that they’d go there first for a short-term fix.  If it turned out that Taylor was done for the season, may be then we’d go for an outside option.

Dougherty says that since Taylor’s injury is short term, nothing will happen, and that in-house options like Wilmer Difo and Matt Adams can cover.

Q: Jake Noll has been tearing it up in spring training, Nats’ OF depth is thin, does Jake have any experience in the OF? Could his success translate to the big leagues soon?

A: This question was a day early, given today’s press reports of Noll’s likely making the team.   So his hot spring training has definitely paid off.

I see no evidence of his playing the OF: he spent his first two pro seasons playing 2B, then split time between 1B and 3B last  year.  Conventional wisdom would seem to indicate that this level of athleticism on the dirt would translate to at least a passing ability to play LF in a pinch.  But it doesn’t seem like that’s his path for now.

Dougherty notes that Noll played some OF in high school, but he only played the three positions in which he has pro experience this spring.

Q: Do Nats fans boo Bryce on April 2?

A:  I’ve been asked this many times by my Bryce Harper hating friends.  His first AB will be a video tribute and a standing ovation.  Perhaps by the 3rd or 4th AB he may get some boos.  He’s slated to face Scherzer in the 4th game of the season on regular rest, unless the team decides to keep its rotation intact.

Dougherty seems to think the reception will be chilly.  We’ll see!  Maybe the team should sell out the stadium to traveling Philly fans to make a buck like they used to in the old days.

 

 

Ask Collier 1/11/19

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Harper Harper Harper. Photo Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Harper Harper Harper. Photo Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

On deadline day for doing arbitration contracts, MLB beat reporter Jamal Collier did a mailbag.  Its been a notable week with more Bryce Harper rumors and the Nats running their payroll right up to the limits of the Luxury tax cap with the Brian Dozier signing.

Here’s the questions he took:

Q: Harper is on my mind. Spring Training is days away. Aren’t the guys worried about will happen? No way they can be just “whatever,” right? Especially if he ends up in Philly?

A: If they can’t figure out from the slew of Mike Rizzo moves what the team’s intention is with Bryce Harper by now … well maybe a sledgehammer would be more subtle.  Its mid January and Rizzo has made 8 moves that should impact the opening day 25-man roster and another 2-3 that may be impactful down the road.  He’s now got the payroll north of $190M.

So what if he goes to Philly?  I think the whole “don’t trade within the division” is nonsense.  Yeah we’ll see him a lot.  But its a closed loop; he has to go to one of the 30 teams in the league, and we are bound to see him no matter who he plays for.  There’s 30 teams, and only half of them are even frigging trying to win right now, and then halve that again for those who even have payroll room to compete for Harper (or Machado).  And Philly is one of them.

As far as “the guys” … are you talking about his team-mates?  Well one of two things would be true about his teammates:

  1. They hate his guts and are like, “good riddance.”
  2. They are his fellow union members and want him to get every dollar possible because their union so royally screwed them selves in the last couple of CBA negotiations.

Collier notes that his fellow players know this is “part of the business” that Harper may eventually leave, and that he’s been a national figure since he was 16.  

Q: If Harper re-signed with the Nationals, how would they work the outfield? Would Victor Robles start the season in Minors? Or would they trade Eaton?

A: You’d have to trade Adam Eaton.  And you’d be trading low.  You can’t move Juan Soto … he’s making MLB Min and could be an MVP candidate.  You really shouldn’t move Victor Robles; he’s supposed to be a *better* prospect than Soto, so you’re hoping for 4-5 win performance for (again) MLB min salary.  These are the kinds of players you keep when you’re trying to win.  Putting Robles in the minors would be an absolute waste, and if that was their plan then i’d advocate attempting to flip him as a centerpiece for a top 20 player in the league (like a Corey Kluber or something).

Collier agrees.

Q: If Harper returns, how does it change how the team will handle Anthony Rendon negotiations?

A: Hmm.  That’s a good question, because despite the fact that Anthony Rendon dropped in the draft over injury questions he’s actually been pretty solid as a pro.  I liken Rendon’s reputation and capabilities to Adrian Beltre; fantastic defender, sneaky good at the plate, and suddenly you look up and he’s put up a hall of fame career.

Will that translate into a $200m salary?  Probably not.  But Rendon is no dummy, and neither is his agent Scott Boras.

That being said … can the Nats do this whole “stars and scrubs” thing for ever?  If you have 5-6 guys on high 8-figure salaries (Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin, Harper, Rendon) can you put a good enough team behind them?

I personally think Rendon is an incredibly important player for this team, even if he isn’t that high a profile.  And because he’s not high profile, I think you can get him for $20M/year or something like that on a longer term deal, which would be a steal value-wise.  I hope committing money to Harper doesn’t close the door on a Rendon negotiation.

Collier says …. he has no idea, nor does Rizzo.

Q: How should we look at 2019 Dozier replacing ’18 Daniel Murphy? Both are above-average offensive second baseman with liability at fielding. Is this an upgrade, downgrade or equal move?

A: Absolutely an upgrade; Daniel Murphy had negative bWAR last year while even playing through injury Brian Dozier contributed.  If Dozier is healthy and performs at his 2015-2016 level again … watch out this is one of the steal signings of the off-season.

Collier basically agrees and gives good contextual numbers.

Q: Do you think Washington will add a starter? If it does, I think Wade Miley is fine.

A: I think they will … but not a guy to replace Joe Ross in the rotation.  I think they’ll be looking for MLFAs with 5/1 or 6/1 buy-outs, like Edwin Jackson or Tommy Milone signings last year.  I can’t see them breaking the luxury tax for a 5th starter.

Collier agrees, remembering that the team has already signed Henderson Alvarez for just such reasons.

 

Ask Collier 12/26/18 Edition

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Did the team make the right decision on Roark?  Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

Did the team make the right decision on Roark? Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

MLB.com Nats beat reporter Jamal Collier gives us a holiday gift with a post-Xmas mailbag dated 12/26/18.

Here’s how I would have answered the questions he took.

Q: It Harper comes back to the Nats looking for 330/10, do the Nats go over the tax or let him walk?

A: Isn’t it obvious by now?  You let him walk.  I think this was pretty clear from two observations:

  1. Mike Rizzo has already spent his $30M AAV, and spent it quickly
  2. Mark Lerner pretty much said as much in ill-advised remarks to a reporter.

The Luxury Tax strikes yet again; the Lerner family, multi-billionaires, will not spend an additional 10-15M above some imaginary payroll number to keep one of the league’s most marketable players.   Player salaries actually FELL for the first time in two decades, as clubs in total spent less than they have since 2004.   Maybe one of these big-spending clubs will break the bank and hand Bryce Harper and Scott Boras their goal; the largest contract in the history of the game.  But it sounds like its a reach, and it definitely doesn’t seem to be happening in Washington.

Collier refuses to get into hypotheticals, then notes that the Luxury tax for last year was “only” a couple million dollars.  Yeah, and only a couple of high-end draft picks, and only the reason why the club fired one of Rizzo’s most trusted advisors for absolutely screwing it up.  

—-

Q: Roark trade more about getting a LHP or the analytics told them he was on MAJOR decline year? $10M for innings eater is the going rate

A: I think the team was taking a calculated gamble that Tanner Roark‘s best years are behind him.   Despite appearances or opinions, Roark was basically a league average pitcher last year.  That’s a significant step ABOVE a replacement level/5th starter type.  But, he’s been trending down, he’s heading into his age 32 year, and the team thought it could spend his $10M better.  I don’t think lefty versus righty had anything to do with it.  Of course, they basically replaced him with an even older Anibal Sanchez, so sorry for sounding hypocritical on his age.  But while Roark struggled to even get to his 98 ERA+ figure last year … Sanchez had a late-career ephiphany that led him to being one of the top pitchers in all of baseball for the 2nd half of last year.  A better trend line in the end.

Collier agrees, that this was a gamble betting that Roark is set to regress in 2019.

Q: If the Nats go out and sign one or two back end of the rotation starters, what does that do to the development of Joe Ross and Erick Fedde? Moved to the bullpen? Sent to Triple A?

A: I’d have a hard time seeing the Nats signing a MLB-contract for another starter at this point, because Joe Ross has nothing to prove in AAA.  But Erick Fedde does.   Joe Ross has proven he can be an effective MLB starter, with his 125 ERA+ in 19 starts in 2016 as evidence.   Now he’ll be 26, with a new elbow, and looking to answer the question whether he’s back from TJ surgery.  For me, for a relatively affordable salary (1st year arb estimate of $2.5M), that’s a great gamble to go with on your 5th starter.  If he suddenly comes out in 2016 mode, 20-25% above league average

Technically both players have one minor league option left, so the team could opt to send them both to Fresno to get lit up in PCL parks and prove nothing.  I expect that for Fedde and we’ll have to take his stats with a grain of salt.

That being said, I do expect the team to sign at least one more MLFA veteran starter in the Jeremy Hellickson ilk, to go to Fresno and be some rotation insurance/catch lightning in a bottle again.

collier kind of gives a non-answer, but he does think Ross could work out of the bullpen (I don’t).

Q:  In my opinion, 2B is their biggest [remaining] priority. Any movement on that front? There are so many available as an upgrade!

A: Well, either 2B or maybe more middle relief help.  Right now the team is looking at this for each spot:

  • 2B: Howie Kendrick starter, Wilmer Difo backup, with Adrian Sanchez and Matt Reynolds as options (Sanchez has an option, Reynolds does not).
  • Middle Relief: right now you’re looking at Justin Miller/Wander Suero/Koda Glover as RHP middle relief options, and Sammy Solis/Matt Grace as lefty options.

Which one of those scares you more?  For me, probably middle relief.  Reliever performance is so variable that its hard to look at the guys who did well last year (Miller, Suero, Grace) and count on them in 2019, just like its hard to look at the guys who struggled (Glover, Solis) and just assume they’re washed up.  But, if you buy more arms, its one in, one out on the roster, so who makes way?

Collier says the team is focusing on one-year deals for one of the many 2B out there, to coincide with the expected arrival of Carter Kieboom.  Makes sense.

Q: Other than what Zimmerman and Rizzo have said publically, is there any rumblings about reworking Zim’s contract? Sentimentality aside, would it be wise for the Nats to lengthen the deal in any way?

A: Hmmm.  man tough question.  Zimmerman is owed $18M for 2019, then has a $2M buyout or another $18M year in 2020.   He’ll be 34 in 2019, 35 in 2020.

When he’s healthy,  he’s good for 25-30 homers, a .300 BA, a .500 slugging, and an OPS+ figure in the 120-130 range.  When he’s not … he misses vast chunks of the season, hits in the .250 range, and has about as many homers as a typical middle infielder.

Its notable that he *already* has a 5yr/$10M personal services contract with the team in place upon his retirement, so even if he hangs them up after playing for an other team he’s coming back here for the long haul.  So he’s going to be associated with the team for a while.

First things first: if he puts up another 120 OPS+ season in 2019 and is healthy, I think its an easy option to pick up for 2020.  From there, again if he continues to provide value I can see perhaps the team extending him on a year by year contract kinda similar to what they’ve given Matt Adams the last couple of years.  I’m sure Zimmerman would take that, given his history, his Virginia roots, the fact that he’s settled here, etc.  At some point it’ll become pretty clear its time for him to hang it up … at which point he transitions to the front office nicely with a hope of staying in management for a while.

That’s what i’m hoping for.

Collier notes that both sides want to continue the relationship, so something should get worked out.

 

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.

 

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?