Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for the ‘stephen strasburg’ tag

Yan Gomes deal: I like it

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Gomes joins the Nats. Photo via nytimes.com

Gomes joins the Nats. Photo via nytimes.com

The Nats seemingly solved their catching issues for the next few years with the shrewd acquisition of Cleveland 2018 all-star catcher Yan Gomes.  And they didn’t have to break the bank to do it.

They part ways with Jefry Rodriguez, who was probably sat #6 on the current Nats roster of starting pitchers, soon to be pushed further downwards with whatever acquisitions may yet to come, and who had proven over the course of the last two seasons he couldn’t be trusted with the ball for a playoff team.  They also part ways with 2017 minor league POTY Daniel Johnson, cashing in on a guy who is still low minors but could flourish for a team like Cleveland.  There’s also a PTBNL thrown in, usually indicative of a lower level prospect that Cleveland gets to pick from later on after scouting the Nats low-A team or something.

Johnson becomes the 4th player flipped from the 2016 draft, which is more and more looking like the best Nats draft in a decade.  He joins Jesus LuzardoDane Dunning, and Sheldon Neuse heading out the door from that draft, and all three of these previously traded players have more or less flourished with their new organizations.   Luzardo is now considered one of the best left-handed prospects in the game, Dunning regularly is called an “under the radar” type pitching prospect who the White Sox seem to be depending on as a solid mid-rotation piece in the future, and Neuse played all of 2018 in AAA as a 23-yr old after a 3-level rise in 2017.

(Yes, I’d like to have all of them back, especially Luzardo, who the team spent so much to acquire, nursed back to health and really could help with the current rotation crunch).

Nonetheless, for me this acquisition kicks off a series of new consequences for the 2019 team:

  • No more pursuit of additional catchers, which should be a sigh of relief for Victor Robles fans, who had repeatedly been dangled to the Marlins for J.T. Realmuto.  No longer.
  • I like this Gomes acquistion, and I like the semi-platoon they now have setup with Kurt Suzuki.  If one goes down with injury, the other can cover while they bring back up Kieboom for protection.  This is such a better situation than we had the past two seasons, where had a crummy hitting, poor defending catcher in Matt Wieters with the likes of Kieboom or Severino as the guy getting regular day-after-night game starts.
  • Pedro Severino‘s days are numbered; no options, no roster spot for 2019.  He’ll hang around all spring to guard against injury, but faces a looming DFA next April 1st.  Will he get picked up by another team?  Perhaps.  He was just so bad at the plate in 2018 that its hard to project any team giving him even a backup role, no matter how good his defense is.
  • If Severino stays in the system though, he’ll likely push downwards in a cascading manner our current catching “depth,” since he’ll join Spencer Kieboom in AAA,   That pushes Taylor Gushue back to AA, likely with Raudy Read who seems lost in the shuffle here.  That then leaves Jakson Reetz and Tres Barrera basically repeating High-A for the time being.  I don’t think any of these guys are really pushing for promotion necessarily based on offensive performance: Gushue hit .212 in AA in 2018, Read hit much better in AA but showed almost no power in a half-season in AAA, Reetz has never hit even .240 in any stop since the rookie league, and Barrera hit good but not amazing in Potomac.  Probably the best case would be to just part ways with Severino, and have this be your C depth in 2019:
    • AAA: Read and Kieboom splitting time evenly
    • AA: Gushue and Barrera, who probably needs a promotion
    • High-A: Reetz and perhaps one of the low-A 2018 catches like Alejandro Flores or Alex Dunlop

Suffice it to say … we have very little reliable catching depth in our minors right now.  Thankfully Gomes has options through 2021 for reasonable money.

  • We already knew we had no SP depth, and now we just traded our primary backup hurler.  Not that i’m enamored of Jefry Rodriguez and think he’s our savior … but I do slightly question the choice of player to ship out.  I understand “trading from strength” and I also understand that you have to give up something to get something … but this team has traded away SO MUCH starting pitching over the past few years that I wonder if they need to, you know, save some of it?  As has been noted elsewhere, the last time the Nats developed and kept a for-real MLB starter was Stephen Strasburg, which, lets be honest, even the most incompetent organization could have done.  Here’s a list of the starters we’ve traded away in the last 2 years: Jefry Rodriguez, McKenzie Mills, Tyler Watson, Jesus Luzardo, Taylor Hearn, Pedro Avila, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Dane Dunning.  That’s a ton of starters.  And now we’re looking at acquiring even more via trade or FA.  At some point we have to stop spending money on FA starters and grow them from within.
  • This was actually a fantastic Salary Cap move: Gomes counts just $3.8M towards the 2019 luxury tax cap.  With all the tenders and salary estimates, I still have the team $43M under the cap, so that’s plenty of room to buy the upgrades they need.

In the end…. one major position of need down (C), two more to go (SP and 2B).

 

 

2018 Non-Tender Decisions

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Roark is the big decision the team faces. Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

Roark is the big decision the team faces. Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

Its that time of the year as noted.  Lets get right to it.

Nats have 7 arbitration-eligible players.   Four of them are no-brainers to tender and negotiate with in Arbitration.  2019 salary guesses are MLBtraderumor estimates that are now pretty well accepted as the best analysis estimates out there.  I feel like the Nats are a bit generous and usually end up paying slightly more than their estimates, but these will work for now.

Arbitration Eligible Player2018 salary/contract2019 estimate
Rendon, Anthony1 yr/$12.3M (18)$17.6M
Turner, Trea1 yr/$0.5772M (18)$5.3M
Ross, Joe1 yr/$0.5679M (18)1.5M
Barraclough, Kyle1yr/$1.9M (18)$1.9M

Joe Ross at $1.5M could be an absolute steal and could be a factor in consideration for Tanner Roark‘s decision later on.  If Ross returns to his 2016 form for this salary we’ll be in great shape for next year’s playoff race.  Rendon and Turner are obvious players to continue with, and/or to consider some longer term contract negotiations with.  Lastly, the team just traded for Barraclough, he’s relatively affordable, and will be a key arm in the 2019 bullpen, so he’s not going anywhere.

Lets talk about the more iffy candidates:

Arbitration Eligible Player2018 salary/contract2019 estimate
Roark, Tanner1 yr/$6.475M (18)$9.8M
Taylor, Michael1 yr/$2.525M (18)$3.2M
Solis, Sammy1 yr/$0.5603M (18)$900k

First, i’ll just say this: I feel like the team is going to tender Michael A Taylor  He’s got too much value  as a defender, his projected salary in the $3.2M range is going to be better than projections for similar outfielders on the market … but he’s 27 not 33, plays Gold Glove-calibre defense and has shown some flashes of capability at the plate.  I think he makes perfect sense as a 4th outfielder.

I also don’t think i’m going out on a limb saying that its likey that Sammy Solis has thrown his last pitch for the team.  He was patently awful in 2018, couldn’t get lefties out at all, and even though his projected salary is a pittance ($900k), his big limiting factor is his lack of options.  He burned his last minor league option in 2018, so if he can’t make the team he’s gonna get DFA’d anyway.  Might as well get it out of the way now and clear the roster spot.

So, lets get to the main discussion item.  What to do with Tanner Roark?  He’s projecting to a $9.8M salary in his last year of Arbitration.  That’s a hefty sum.  He was fantastic as a starter for this team in 2014 and 2016.  He struggled when the team jerked around his role in 2015.  And the last two seasons he’s essentially been a just-slightly-worse-than-average MLB starter.  Sounds like a classic 4th starter type.  So is a 4th starter worth $9.8M?

He’s not getting any younger; he’ll be playing in his age 32 season next year.  He’s trending the wrong way; you can easily make the argument that the odds of him being more 2018 next year than 2016 are high.

So the real question is this: can you replace him in the trade market or in Free Agency and find someone comparable?   There havn’t been many signings thus far to use as a barometer for this off-season, but one stuck out in my mind; CC Sabathia.  Sabathia is older, fatter, and better.  And he signed for $8M.  All the projections for 4th/5th starter types seem to be falling in the $6M AAV range.

Unfortunately for the team; they’ve basically shredded the top of their starting pitcher prospect ranks in trades lately so they have no real options for internal replacement here.  If you non-tender Roark, then w/o additional acquisitions your 2019 Rotation is:

  • Scherzer, Strasburg, Joe Ross, Erick Fedde, and Jefry Rodriguez with Austin Voth and Kyle McGowin in AAA.

That’s two aces and 5 question marks.  TJ surgery recovery rates are now in the 80% I believe … but Ross won’t be throwing more than 160 innings or so in 2019.  Does anyone here Fedde is ready to be anything other than a spot-starter?  Same with the others.  The Nats are already looking at buying at least 2 starters on the open market (to replace Gio Gonzalez and to compete for 5th starter in a Jeremy Hellickson– type signing).  If you cut Roark loose … you have to buy another starter.  (or trade for one of course … but at this point does anyone have the stomach to part with any more top prospects?)

So if you non-tender Roark, you lose a guy who has never gotten hurt, answers the bell, eats innings and can be pretty dominant.  Isn’t that what you want in a solid 4th starter?   What are you going to get on the FA market for that price that’s better?

If it were me, i’d tender him.

Prediction: only Solis is non-tendered.

Actual tender results for 2018:  all arb-eligible players tendered.  Solis (the one we thought was in most jeopardy) negotiated a contract ahead of time.  1 yr, $850k so just slightly below MLBtraderumor’s estimate.  If he flails in spring training the Nats can cut him in mid March for just 1/6th of $850k or just $141k guaranteed.  Not a bad deal.

 


Here’s a great history of the Nats non-tender deadline decisions over the years, research I first did for last year’s post and which I’ll keep carrying forward.

  • 2018: no-one non-tendered (Roark, Taylor, Solis all candidates in one form or another).  Solis negotiated a contract pre-deadline leading to his tender.
  • 2017: No non-tender candidates; all arb-eligible players tendered contracts at the deadline.
  • 2016: we non-tendered Ben Revere, waived Aaron Barrett before having to make the NT decision, and declined Yusmeiro Petit‘s option as a way of “non-tendering” him.
  • 2015: we non-tendered Craig Stammen, but kept NT candidates Jose Lobaton and Tyler Moore (eventually trading Moore after waiving him at the end of spring training).
  • 2014: we did not non-tender anyone, though a couple weeks later traded NT candidate Ross Detwiler to Texas for two guys who never really panned out for us (Chris Bostick and Abel de los Santos).
  • 2013: we did not non-tender anyone, only Ross Ohlendorf was a candidate, and in retrospect he probably should have been NT’d since he didn’t throw a pitch for the Nationals in 2014.
  • 2012: we non-tendered three guys (Jesus FloresTom Gorzelanny, John Lannan) in the face of a huge amount of arbitration players (10).
  • 2011: we non-tendered Doug Slaten deservedly, but tendered candidate Gorzellany.
  • 2010: we non-tendered Chien-Ming WangWil Nieves, Joel Peralta.  We also outrighted 5 guys prior to the NT deadline, DFA’d two more in December, and DFA/dreleased four more guys prior to Spring training in a very busy off-season.
  • 2009: we non-tendered Scott Olsen, Mike MacDougal
  • 2008: we non-tendered Tim Redding, now the Pitching coach for our Auburn Short-A team, so I guess there was no hard feelings there :-)
  • 2007: we non-tendered Nook LoganMike O’Conner.
  • 2006: we non-tendered or declined options for Ryan Drese, Brian Lawrence, Zach Day (it might have only been Day who was officially non-tendered)
  • 2005: we non-tendered Carlos BaergaPreston WilsonJunior Spivey.

 

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.

 

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.

Nats All-Star review: 2018 and years past

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2018-MLB-All-Star-Game-Logo-Washington-Nationals

Here’s my annual Nationals All Star selection post.

Fun Trivia:

  • All-time leader in Nats all-star appearances: Harper with 6 appearances.  Scherzer also has been named 6 times but some pre-dated his time here.
  • All-time leader in All-Star Game starts: Also Harper, getting his 5th start.
  • Total number of Starters in the history of the Franchise: Now is 10; Harper 5 times, Scherzer twice, and one each for Soriano, Murphy, Zimmerman.
  • Most all-star players named in a single year: 5 in both 2016 and 2017.
  • Least all-star game players named in a single year: 1 in multiple years during the “dark years” of 2006 through 2011.

(* == All-Star game starter)


 

2018

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Bryce Harper*, Max Scherzer*, Sean Doolittle
  • Possible Snubs: Juan Soto, Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon
  • Narrative: For the home-town All Star Game, Harper gets the starting nod from the fans despite his abhorrent season at the plate (his slash line on 7/8/18: .219/.371/.475).  However, by making the ASG, Harper now keeps his promise to participate in the Home Run Derby one last time before hitting free agency.   There’s no real “snubs” on this Nationals team; The #2 player on the team in terms of seasonal bWAR is Trea Turner but he’s not exactly having a head-turning season.  He was named to the “last 5 ballot” but was a huge long-shot to make it (update; he didn’t: the very deserving Jesus Aguilar did).  Anthony Rendon is having his typical under-rated season and got no love from the voters over the more famous Nolan Arenado (a common refrain when it comes to Gold Gloves/Silver Sluggers too).  None of our starters besides Scherzer are really deserving; Stephen Strasburg was having a decent but not spectacular season but missed a month and is on the D/L.  Nor is any of the bullpen past Doolittle.  Its an odd-season where a team-wide malaise is contributing to the team hovering at .500 at the All Star Break.  Only Juan Soto really is deserving … but he was never going to make the ASG (not when recent more spectacular rookies failed to make it) and thanks to his missing all of April and most of May he wasn’t on any ballots and may struggle to win the RoY over guys who have played longer this season.  Scherzer is named to the team on 7/8/18 was named the  NL starter for the 2nd year running on 7/16/18.

 

2017

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Bryce Harper*, Daniel Murphy*, Ryan Zimmerman*, Max Scherzer*, Stephen Strasburg
  • Snubs: Anthony Rendon, Gio Gonzalez
  • Narrative: For the second  year in a row, the Nats are well and properly represented in the All Star Game.  We have three starters named in the field, including Zimmerman who beats out a slew of 1B sluggers in the NL to not only make the team but get his first start.  Its also likely i’ll be editing this post and adding in Scherzer as an additional starter; he is the obvious choice to start the game for the NL given his first half production (7/10/17 update: yes indeed we did).  Rendon is having a very quiet solid season and is in the “last 5” popular vote, but he seems unlikely to win given that last year’s MVP Kris Bryant is also in the voting (Update: neither guy got in).  Gonzalez misses out despite having a better first half than Strasburg by nearly any statistic; he’s having a career year but seems unlikely to get rewarded with his 3rd ASG appearance.  There’s no other real snub from our 2017 team; certainly there’s nobody in the bullpen meriting a spot, and Trea Turner‘s torrid 2016 2nd half did not translate into the 2017 season (not to mention, he’s had two separate D/L trips).  Once again i’m slightly perturbed that Harper continues to refuse to participate in the HR derby; why the reticence?  Its a fun event that is quickly becoming better than the actual game itself and practically every other slugger is participating.  Is he afraid to lose?  On a larger scale, i’m really happy to see (finally) that deserving rookies are named: Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger are both named and are both on the inside track for ROY awards; too many times in the past we see deserving rookies unnamed.  On July 10th, the fourth Nat starter was named: Scherzer got the starting pitcher nod, a first for the Nats.  August Update: Rendon’s omission is looking even more ridiculous; he’s top 5 in the league in bWAR.

2016

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Bryce Harper*, Stephen Strasburg, Daniel Murphy, Wilson Ramos, Max Scherzer (named as replacement for Strasburg on 7/8/16),
  • Possible Snubs: Danny EspinosaTanner Roark
  • Narrative: The four obvious candidates from the Nats this year were all initially correctly selected, though voting shenanigans out of Chicago elected Ben Zobrist over Daniel Murphy by a scant 500 votes.   I thought perhaps Strasburg would have a chance to start the game, given his 12-0 record, but it seems the team pre-empted any such thought when Scherzer’s naming occurred.  For the first time writing this post, I can’t really name any “snubs” and the team has (finally?) earned the proper respect it deserves in terms of naming its players properly.  Espinosa had a week for the ages just prior to the end of voting but really stood little chance of selection in the grand scheme of things.  He’s not really a “snub” but is worthy of mention based on his resurgent year.  At the break, Espinosa ranked 3rd in NL fWAR but 7th or 8th in bWAR thanks to differing defensive value metrics, so maybe/maybe not on him being a “snub.”  As pointed out in the comments, even I missed the sneaky good season Roark is having; he’s 12th in the NL in bWAR at the break and 9th in fWAR but was left off in favor of any number of starters that stand below him in value rankings.  Unfortunately for fans (and for Harper’s “Make Baseball Fun again” campaign, he opted to skip the Home Run Derby again.  I guess its kind of like the NBA superstars skipping the dunk contest; the Union should really do a better job of helping out in this regard.  The new format is fantastic and makes the event watchable again; is it ego keeping him from getting beat by someone like Giancarlo Stanton?

2015

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Bryce Harper*, Max Scherzer
  • Possible Snubs: Yunel Escobar, Drew Storen
  • Narrative: Harper not only made it in as a starter for the 2nd time, he led the NL in votes, setting a MLB record for total votes received.  This is no surprise; Harper’s easily in the MVP lead for the NL thanks to his amazing first half (his split at the half-way point of the season: .347/.474/.722 with 25 homers and an astounding 225 OPS+).  I guess he won’t be earning the “Most overrated player” award next year.  That Harper is electing to skip the Home run derby in a disappointment; his father is nursing an arm injury can cannot throw to him in the event.  In a weird year for the Nats, the only other regular worth mentioning is newly acquired Escobar, who is hitting above .300 and filling in ably at multiple positions that, prior to this year, he had never played.  Storen is having another excellent regular season … but at a time when mandatory members from each team often leads to other closers being selected (there are 5 NL closers and 7 AL relievers), the odds of him making the All-Star team were always going to be slim.  Scherzer deservedly makes the team and probably would have been the NL starter; he’s got sub 2.00 ERA and FIP and leads all NL pitchers in WAR at the mid-way point of the season.  But his turn came up in the final game of the first half, making him ineligible for the game and forcing his replacement on the roster.

As a side note, the 2015 All-Star game will go down as the “Ballot-Gate” game thanks to MLB’s short-sighted plan to allow 30+ online ballots per email address.  This led to severe “ballot stuffing” by the Kansas City Royals fans, led to MLB  having to eliminate 60 million+ fraudulent ballots, but still led to several Royals being elected starters over more deserving candidates.


 

2014

  • Nationals All-Star representative: Jordan Zimmermann (Update post-publishing: Zimmermann strained a bicep, and had to withdraw from the ASG.  For a bit it looked like the Nats wouldn’t even have a representative, until Tyler Clippard was named on 7/13/14).
  • Possible Snubs: Adam LaRoche, Anthony Rendon, Rafael Soriano, Drew Storen
  • Narrative: Zimmermann’s been the best SP on the best pitching staff in the majors this year, and thus earns his spot.  I find it somewhat odd that a first place team (or near to it) gets just one representative on the team (as discussed above).  Rendon tried to make the team via the “last man in” voting, but historically Nationals have not fared well in this competition (especially when better known players from large markets are in the competition, aka Anthony Rizzo from the Chicago Cubs), and indeed Rendon finished 4th in the last-man voting.  LaRoche is having a very good season, almost single handedly carrying the Nats offense while major parts were out injured, but he’s never going to beat out the slew of great NL first basemen (Joey Votto couldn’t even get into this game).  Soriano has quietly put together one of the best seasons of any closer in the game; at the time of this writing he has a 1.03 ERA and a .829 whip; those are Dennis Eckersley numbers.  But, the farce that is the all-star game selection criteria (having to select one player from each team) means that teams need a representative, and deserving guys like Soriano get squeezed.  Then, Soriano indignantly said he wouldn’t even go if named as a replacement … likely leading to Clippard’s replacement selection.  The same goes for non-closer Storen, who sports a sub 2.00 ERA on the year.  Advanced stats columnists (Keith Law) also think that Stephen Strasburg is a snub but I’m not entirely sure: he may lead the NL in K’s right now and have far better advanced numbers than “traditional,” but its hard to make an argument that a guy with a 7-6 record and a 3.50+ ERA is all-star worthy.

2013

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Bryce Harper*, Jordan Zimmermann
  • Snubs: Stephen Strasburg, Ian Desmond
  • Narrative: Harper comes in 3rd in the NL outfielder voting, ahead of some big-time names, to become only the second Nationals position player elected as an All-Star starter.  He was 4th in the final pre-selection vote, so a big last minute push got him the starter spot.   Harper also becomes the first National to participate in the Home Run Derby.   Zimmermann was 12-3 heading into the game and was on mid-season Cy Young short lists in July in a breakout season.  Strasburg’s advanced stats are all better than Zimmermann’s, but his W/L record (4-6 as the ASG) means he’s not an all-star.  It also probably doesn’t help that he missed a few weeks.  Desmond loses out to Troy TulowitzkiEverth Cabrera and Jean Segura.  Tulowitzki was having a very solid year and was a deserving elected starter, while Cabrera and Segura are both having breakout seasons.  Desmond was on the “Final vote” roster, but my vote (and most others’ I’m guessing) would be for Yasiel Puig there ([Editor Update: Desmond and Puig lost out to Freddie Freeman: I still wished that Puig finds a way onto the roster but ultimately he did not and I believe the ASG was diminished because of it).   Gio GonzalezRyan Zimmerman, and Rafael Soriano are all having solid but unspectacular years and miss out behind those having great seasons.

2012

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Stephen StrasburgGio GonzalezIan Desmond, Bryce Harper
  • Possible Snubs: Adam LaRocheCraig Stammen
  • Narrative: The two SPs Strasburg and Gonzalez were the obvious candidates, and my personal prediction was that they’d be the only two candidates selected.  Gonzalez’ first half was a prelude to his 21-win, 3rd place Cy Young season.  The inclusion of Desmond is a surprise, but also a testament to how far he’s come as a player in 2012.  Harper was a last-minute injury replacement, but had earned his spot by virtue of his fast start as one of the youngest players in the league.  Of the “snubs,” LaRoche has had a fantastic come back season in 2012 but fared little shot against better, more well-known NL first basemen.  Stammen was our best bullpen arm, but like LaRoche fared little chance of getting selected during a year when the Nats had two deserving pitchers selected.

2011

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Tyler Clippard
  • Possible Snubs: Danny EspinosaMichael MorseDrew StorenJordan Zimmermann
  • Narrative: While Clippard was (arguably) the Nats best and most important reliever, I think Zimmermann was a more rightful choice.  He was 10th in the league in ERA at the time of the selections and has put in a series of dominant performances.  Meanwhile Espinosa was on pace for a 28-homer season and almost a certain Rookie-of-the-Year award (though a precipitous fall-off in the 2nd half cost him any realistic shot at the ROY), and perhaps both players are just too young to be known around the league.  Lastly Morse is certainly known and he merited a spot in the “last man in” vote sponsored by MLB (though he fared little chance against popular players in this last-man-in voting).

2010

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Matt Capps
  • Possible Snubs: Adam DunnJosh WillinghamRyan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg
  • Narrative: Capps was clearly deserving, having a breakout season as a closer after his off-season non-tender from the Pirates.  The 3-4-5 hitters Zimmerman-Dunn-Willingham all had dominant offensive seasons as the team improved markedly from its 103-loss season.  But perhaps the surprise non-inclusion was Strasburg, who despite only having a few starts as of the all-star break was already the talk of baseball.  I think MLB missed a great PR opportunity to name him to the team to give him the exposure that the rest of the national media expected.  But in the end, Capps was a deserving candidate and I can’t argue that our hitters did anything special enough to merit inclusion.

2009

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Ryan Zimmerman
  • Possible Snubs: Adam Dunn
  • Narrative: The addition of Dunn and Willingham to the lineup gave Zimmerman the protection he never had, and he produced with his career-best season.  His first and deserved all-star appearance en-route to a 33 homer season.  Dunn continued his monster homer totals with little all-star recognition.

2008

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Cristian Guzman
  • Possible Snubs: Jon Rauch
  • Narrative: The first of two “hitting rock-bottom” seasons for the team; no one really merited selection.  Zimmerman was coming off of hamate-bone surgery in November 2007 and the team was more or less awful across the board.  Rauch performed ably after Cordero went down with season-ending (and basically career-ending) shoulder surgery.   Guzman’s selection a great example of why one-per-team rules don’t make any sense.  Guzman ended up playing far longer than he deserved in the game itself by virtue of the 15-inning affair.

2007

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Dmitri Young
  • Possible Snubs: Ryan Zimmerman, Shawn Hill (though I wouldn’t argue for either)
  • Narrative: Young gets a deserved all-star appearance en route to comeback player of the year.  Zimmerman played a full season but didn’t dominate.  Our 2007 staff gave starts to 13 different players, most of whom were out of the league within the next year or two.  Not a good team.

2006

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Alfonso Soriano*
  • Possible Snubs: Nick JohnsonRyan Zimmerman, Chad Cordero
  • Narrative: Soriano made the team as an elected starter, the first time the Nats have had such an honor.  Our pitching staff took massive steps backwards and no starter came even close to meriting a spot.  Cordero was good but not lights out as he had been in 2005.  Soriano’s 40-40 season is a poster child for “contract year” production and he has failed to come close to such production since.  The team was poor and getting worse.  Johnson had a career year but got overshadowed by bigger, better first basemen in the league (a recurring theme for our first basemen over the years).

2005

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Livan HernandezChad Cordero
  • Possible Snubs: Nick JohnsonJohn Patterson.
  • Narrative: The Nats went into the All Star break surprisingly in first place, having run to a 50-31 record by the halfway point.  Should a first place team have gotten more than just two representatives?  Perhaps.  But the team was filled with non-stars and played far over its head to go 50-31 (as evidenced by the reverse 31-50 record the rest of the way).

Panic time for 2018

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The time has come to officially panic, both about Harper and this team. Photo via ftw/usatoday

The time has come to officially panic, both about Harper and this team. Photo via ftw/usatoday

I’ve certainly been among those making excuses for this team, and for players on the team, for a while now.   These points are true:

  • They are better than their pythagorean record; by runs scored versus runs against, they should be 45-39, in 2nd place ahead of the luckier Phillies but still 5 games back of the surprising Braves.
  • They’ve been incredibly unlucky in one run and extra inning games.  This is a direct input to the pythag record; they’re 8-16 in one run games and 2-4 in extra innings.  Both the teams ahead of them in the NL east have wildly better one-run records (13-6 and 18-7 respectively)
  • They’ve been just slaughtered with injury, at various times this year leading the NL in total players on the D/L and total man-games lost.
  • They’ve experienced a complete gutting of last year’s middle of the order, with Ryan Zimmerman disappearing for weeks on end with little-to-no idea when he’d come back, Daniel Murphy taking nearly half a season to recover from his surprise off-season knee injury, and Bryce Harper putting up one of his worst seasons … clearly pressing, expanding his zone and being amazingly unlucky in terms of BABIP thus far this season.

To add insult to injury, #2 starter Stephen Strasburg threw his annual arm injury into play early this year, our mid-rotation guys have struggled, and our #5 starters keep going down with injury.

What else is true?  This is a team that’s kinda old; average age 29.1 (which is only 10th), but which is helped greatly by the presence of youngest-guy-in-the-league Juan Soto.  And Old teams get hurt, a lot.  Meanwhile  young teams (like Atlanta at 5th youngest and Philly who are the absolute youngest teams) don’t get hurt a lot.

This season is starting to remind me of a couple of past seasons:

  • 2012, when the Nats were significantly improved from 2011 and took the league by storm, frankly, a year before they thought they would.  To me, this is the 2018 Braves.   The Braves only won 72 games last year; now they’re on a pace to win 94 games.  That’s a massive difference year over year and they’re doing it with almost  no off-season moves; all internal.
  • 2015, when the Nats themselves showed similar season-long malaise and only came to life at the end of the season when it was too late and all they managed to do was cost themselves draft position the next year.

So what now?  They just finished a relatively brutal section of the schedule, playing a ton of AL East teams.  AL teams are bad match-ups for any NL team thanks to the DH’s impact on roster construction … even if they’re playing a crummy AL team like Tampa or Baltimore.  But to face off against the likes of Boston and New York, who are juggernauts, with a sputtering offense and missing a couple of key arms … well its no surprise to me they got swept.

The next 3 weeks will be the season.  They have 3 series against poor teams where they should be able to go 8-3 or 9-2 if they’re a legit team.  The should get at least one arm back in Hellickson and maybe Fedde can be replaced like for like with the surprising Jefry Rodriguez until Strasburg shows back up.   Then we have to hope for a post-all star game bump and take it to Atlanta in the first season post ASG to make up some ground.

Now, what does this team have going for it?

  • Harper just cannot continue to hit this badly; at some point he should have a solid month.
  • This team was dominant in May; it can play .600 ball when it needs to
  • Strasburg returns likely after the ASG
  • The Nats have one of the easiest remaining schedules in baseball; slightly easer than Philly and significantly easier than Atlanta.   The Nats have no more interleague games either.
  • Furthermore, the Nats have already done all their West Coast trips; their worst remaining road trip is to Colorado the last series of the season.   Both their NL East competitors still have big west coast trips to make.

So the big question is this: can this team get it together a little now, a little in August and put themselves in a position to take back the division?   If they scuffle and go just .500 between now and the ASG … then no way.

 

 

Written by Todd Boss

July 5th, 2018 at 11:18 am

Nats Pitching depth to now be tested…

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It sounds like its Fedde-time. Photo via minorleagueball.com

It sounds like its Fedde-time. Photo via minorleagueball.com

Well, we can’t really seem to go a season without a Stephen Strasburg injury … and this annual affair hit us over the weekend, with Strasburg looking ineffective, getting pulled, going for an MRI and quickly hitting the 10-day D/L with “right shoulder inflammation.”

This comes on the quick heels of two other SP issues for this team:

  • miracle MLFA off-season signing Jeremy Hellickson yanking his hamstring and exiting precisely one batter into his friday start, also hitting the D/L.
  • Off-season SP depth re-signing Edwin Jackson opting out of his minor league deal and departing the team (he signed with Oakland soon after).

So, it seemed like we could stand the absence of Hellickson thanks to the schedule over the next week and a half (plenty of off-days and no need for a 5th starter), and since his injury is listed as “mild” meaning he may only miss the minimum time … but with the loss of Strasburg we’ll need to reach into our depth.  So who’s getting the call?

(oh, btw on top of this, on 6/9/18 Brandon Knitzler strained his forearm and seems likely to be at least unavailable for a bit, if not on his way to the D/L too, so they’re needing reinforcements stat.  He was officially put on the D/L just after posting this on 6/10/18, resulting in both Trevor Gott and Wander Suero getting their tickets for a DC return…).

We’ve now seen all three of our non-active roster 40-man starters get MLB action this year … and they looked promising enough to have the loss of Jackson or even the presence of Tommy Milone in AAA seem like after-thoughts.  So who gets the call to cover for Strasburg?  Options:

  1. Erick Fedde: got one spot-start this year and looked solid: he gave up 3 runs in 5 2/3rds but pitched a lot better than his stat line.  He hasn’t looked as great for Syracuse; a 4.76 ERA and a 1.48 whip showing how he’s giving up too many base-runners.  Do you believe what you saw in the majors, or look at his AAA line for the year?  His most recent start: in Gwinnet, 5 1/3, 2runs, 9Ks but 10hits allowed.
  2. Austin Voth: has turned his career around, going from “next guy to get DFA’d” to a MLB call-up earlier this year (he did not appear).  His AAA ERA of 4.35 is a bit inflated; he’s giving up less than a hit/inning.  He had two bad outings in a row just after his call up/send-back, giving up 12 ER in 2 innings … but his last out ing (6/6/18) was stellar; 7IP, 4hits, 6Ks, 0 walks, 0 runs.  That’s the kind of stat line GMs like to see.
  3. Jefry Rodriguez: he was thrown into action when Hellickson went down and did awesome: 4 2/3 scoreless innings in his MLB debut.  Can’t ask for more than that.  He’s been good for AA Harrisburg this year; 12 starts, 3.57ERA, a bit wild though (24 walks in 63 innings).  Its interesting that he’s gotten MLB time but has yet to get pushed to AAA; perhaps they’re waiting for the typical Nats mid-season shuffle.  His most recent outing?  6/9/18: 5ip, 1 hit and just 65 pitches thrown (a hint?  why would he have gotten  yanked so quickly?)

You have to think it’ll be Fedde first.  Maybe what they do is promote Fedde, move Rodriguez to AAA.  Then if you need a second starter … it seems like Rodriguez has jumped Voth in the pecking order and is next in line.

It isn’t a very opportune time for this sudden loss of their second ace; their next nine games are AL East interleague play … which will be tough games even though both Toronto and Baltimore are struggling.  After that they get 6 games versus Philly interspersed with five more AL East games (including three at home against Boston) … so this might be a pretty crucial stage for this team.  Lets hope our depth stands up.

Opening Day Starter Useless Trivia for 2018

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Felix Hernandez made his leading 11th opening day start. Photo Keith Allison via flickr/CCL

Felix Hernandez made his leading 11th opening day start.
Photo Keith Allison via flickr/CCL

Every year I capture the Opening Day Starters into an XLS and then capture some useless trivia on it.  This is that post.

Google Doc XLS link: (the data is too big to make an HTML table): https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Mv8gLgJOuJHEAf_pXNwPWGCNRL4RnYEyulH6rxMuudA/edit?usp=sharing

Max Scherzer made his 3rd  career opening day start, all in a Nat’s uniform (he never  got an Opening day start while pitching behind Justin Verlander in Detroit).   Stephen Strasburg has himself made four opening day starts, with these two guys covering every Nats opening day start dating to 2011.

The Nats have one other player with Opening day starts on their resume: Jeremy Hellickson made the 2016 and 2017 opening day starts for Philadelphia.  He currently sits in XST building up arm strength so he can take over for A.J. Cole as our fifth starter after he blows up a couple more times.  And its worth noting that former Nat Jordan Zimmermann earned his first ever such start for Detroit this year, shortly before getting hit in the head with a come-backer.

Here’s some useless trivia related to Opening Day Starts:

  • Active Leader: Tie at the top: Seattle’s Felix Hernandez with 11.  CC Sabathia also has 11, but hasn’t made the Yankee’s start since 2014.
  • Active Consecutive Leader: Also Hernandez, who has made 10 straight, missing one in 2008 when Erik Bedard took the mound in Game 1 as the new shiny FA signing that spring.  The next closest is Clayton Kershaw, who has made 8 straight for LA.
  • Other longish conseutive starts streak: Atlanta’s Julio Teheran with 5, Corey Kluber with 4, and Chris Archer with 4.
  • Madison BumgarnerMasahiro Tanaka and Dallas Keuchel all had 3-4 start streaks broken thanks to injury or being passed over for a different guy.
  • 13 of the 30 games were started by first time Opening Day starters this year, continuing a trend of new,  younger guys getting these starts.  In fact, I’d say that a couple of the opening day starters you’d be hard pressed to pull out of a lineup: Miami’s Jose Urena, Milwaukee’s Chase Anderson, and SF’s Ty Blach in particular.

All-time records:

  • Most Ever: Tom Seaver (16).  Tied for 2nd place with 14 is Jack Morris, Randy Johnson and Steve Carlton
  • Most Consecutive: Jack Morris (14)

Can Felix get 5 more starts to break Morris’ record?   He’s only signed through 2019 with an option for 2020, so he’d need to get an extension … something that’s more and more rare in today’s Baseball climate.

Thanks to that same trend against aging pitchers, a slew of former leaders of Opening Day starts may be permanently retired out of the game.  Guys like Jered WeaverTim Lincecum, Edison Volquez, Yovanni Gallardo (who was just DFA’d), Ricky NolascoJake Peavy and perhaps a few others, all of whom have at least 4-5 opening day starts to their name are struggling to find work right now or may be done.   Its turning into a young man’s game.

Ask Collier 1/11/18

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how successful will Martinez be here? Photo via wtop.com

how successful will Martinez be here? Photo via wtop.com

Another week, another slow news week.  So lets see what questions MLB Nats beat reporter Jamal Collier took.

Q: How will the Nats respond to the new coaching staff? They won so many games with the previous one, why wouldn’t management try and retain more of those coaches (besides Bob Henley)?

A: Well, lets take the 2nd question first.  Because its a good one: why the heck didn’t the ownership group give Dusty Baker and his staff another shot?  We have talked this to death of course, but to review: My opinion is that the ownership made an over-reaction/rookie mistake and and under-valued what Baker brought to the table.  I don’t put the 2017 play off loss on Baker.  Baker completely turned around the clubhouse after the Matt Williams debacle, and it made more sense from a roster transition stand point to make a staff change after 2018, not after 2017.  But whatever.

I can’t see how a veteran team of professionals would respond badly to Dave Martinez in particular though; he was a player, he had accomplishments on the field that will speak to the vets, and he comes from a well respected staff in Chicago.  But, sometimes you never know.  Maybe Martinez comes in and is totally rah-rah and turns off the vets like Murphy and Zimmerman, which sends the clubhouse into a death spiral.  Maybe he makes some bone-headed mistakes early with the pitching staff and turns off the two aces Scherzer and Strasburg.  I don’t know if anyone can predict what will happen here.  It isn’t like there was a huge obvious problem with the previous manager that they immediately get respite from; the prior staff by all accounts was respected and successful.

Collier mirrors what I said; we just don’t know what will happen.

Q: What are the most realistic options to improve at catcher or do you see us sticking with Matt Wieters all season?

A: I’m going to ask a different question, because it relates here.  Is the team willing to blow past the luxury tax threshold or not in 2018?  Because if they’re not … then people need to stop asking about upgrading at catcher.

That being said … my take on his ownership group is that they still cling to the notion that you run a team like a business to a certain extent.  And as a business owner, if you were in the hole for $10M in salary would you continue to throw good money after bad or would you just stand pat with what you have?  Furthermore … Wieters is a Boras client and i’m sure Boras has already bent their ear about layering his client and effectively destroying his FA value.   Plus, in case you’re clamoring for a trade for J.T. Realmuto, the Nats have already emptied the farm system, so any further prospect trades will be cutting deep.  Would you give up Soto or Robles for a mediocre catcher?  I wouldn’t.  I’d just suck it up, play out 2018 with Wieters hitting 8th and learn from my mistake (and this is no hindsight is 20/20 statement; everyone knew Wieters was a bad signing when it happened).

So, for me, i’m guessing they stand pat.

Collier notes that Wieters is in better shape , but also notes the team is pursuing a better backup catcher option than the untested Pedro Severino.

Q: For years we’ve seen Joe Maddon hit players such as Addison Russell ninth in the order behind a pitcher. With how dense the middle of our lineup is, could you see Martinez taking this approach with Michael A. Taylor or Trea Turner?

A: Well, the numbers are definitely there: batting the pitcher 8th definitely makes a difference over the course of a whole season.  But it isn’t much of a difference.  And you need a contact guy at the 9-hole to take advantage.  Is Michael A. Taylor that guy?  I don’t think so; I think Taylor is hitting 7th and Wieters hitting 8th all year, forcing the pitcher to the 9-spot with Eaton/Turner 1-2 in some combination.  This lineup kind of writes itself.

Collier disagrees, thinking Taylor could be that “second leadoff” guy in the 9-hole behind a pitcher.  Uh … have you seen how much he strikes out?  He lowered his rate year over year and was still striking out 31.7% of the time in 2017.  

Q: Do the Nats have genuine interest in bringing Howie Kendrick back?

A: I’m sure they do; Kendrick filled a bunch of nice holes and hit so well that many were clamoring for him to play over Werth last post-season.   But there’s no starting position for him, this team when healthy is stacked and he’d be riding the pine.  So i’m sure he’s holding out for a starting role, trying to parlay his excellent 2017 into a full time gig.  Maybe he fails and the Nats get him on a one-year pillow contract … but I doubt it, since he’s got more than just corner defensive capabilities.

Collier basically says the same thing I did, but with better quotes from Mike Rizzo.

Q: At this point, what other offseason moves do you think would be necessary? More bench players? Adding another to the rotation? Bullpen help?

A: Rotation.  Its all about the 5th starter at this point honestly.  We can live with this bench: Severino, Matt Adams, Wilmer Difo, Brian Goodwin and a RH corner bat to be signed or discovered in spring training.  I also think any additions to the bullpen mean difficult decisions given the options status of players this coming spring; the bullpen has basically has 4 guys signed to guaranteed contracts plus 3 guys who have no options left.  Not much room for wiggling there.

So that really means two more moves at most.  Do you want your 5th starter to be A.J. Cole?  If not, we need an arm.  Do you want your last bat off the bench to be Andrew Stevenson?  If not, we need a Chris Heisey like character.

Collier agrees.

Ask Collier & Happy Thanksgiving

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Why do so many people think TRADING Harper is the way to win the 2018 World Series? Photo via fanragsports.com

Why do so many people think TRADING Harper is the way to win the 2018 World Series? Photo via fanragsports.com

A nice little surprise just before the Turkey day weekend: an ask Jamal Collier post on mlb.com.


Q: Would you consider trading Harper? I am one of his biggest fans, and I know the desire to win next year, but would the return be worth it in the long run?

A: Forensicane; don’t bother reading this next answer, because you’re not going to like it.

Teams attempting to WIN THE WORLD SERIES in the coming year do not trade their marquee players.  Not only that, but teams attempting to win don’t trade one of the best players in the league.  \

Not only that, but lets say for the sake of argument that the Nats WERE willing to trade Harper.  He’s got one  year of control left.  He’s set to make north of $20M in 2018.  He’s an injury risk.  And he’s absolutely going to Free Agency.  How much does anyone really think he’ll realistically fetch in trade right now?  If he were cost controlled or had multiple years of control left (like an Adam Eaton or a Jonathan Lucroy when he fetched a lot a couple years back) he’d get a kings ransom.  But he’s not; he’ll cost a significant portion of a team’s payroll in 2018 and gets just one year of service.

And then there’s this: why does anyone think this ownership group will trade him??  For many years, we’ve asked why the Angels hold on to Mike Trout and “waste” his talents on a sub-.500 team.  The answer is always the same: the owner in Los Angeles doesn’t want to move his marquee asset.  Why does anyone think that the Lerner group isn’t thinking the same thing?  Baseball is still relatively “new” in this town, still fighting it out for the casual sports fan.  What kind of message does it send to the casual fan base if you move your most marketable asset?  Who else on the Nats is getting goofy TV spots with national telecom companies?

So, no, the team isn’t trading Harper, nor should they.  Instead they should be doing *everything* they can to win in 2018 before he (and many others) walk out the door.  And (lets not forget), while I think its a certainty that Harper is in NY or LA in 2019 … we also were pretty sure Stephen Strasburg was heading out the door too, so you just never know.

Collier also expresses similar exasperation at the number of these questions he’s getting, then re-iterates many of the arguments above.


Q: You don’t list Adam Lind as a possible signee. Why not? Is it that Brian Goodwin can fill that role … but who is the backup first baseman?

A: I think Lind could resign … similarly to the way that Stephen Drew thought he could parlay his successful 2016 into a starting gig for 2017, Lind probably thinks the same.  Finding veteran bat-only beefy 1B/PH types on the open market is not tough; the Nats have specialized in this for years.  So they’ll do what they always have done; wait out the market, sign someone on the cheap later in the off-season if they get desperate, or otherwise have a cattle call in spring training for the backup bench bat.

Its worth noting that, much like one-year relievers, sometimes you catch lightning in a bottle with your pinch hitters and its worth cutting bat early, not later.  Consider some of the year over  year stat lines for our primary bench bats recently:

  • Adam Lind: great in 2017 (.303/.362/.513): can he repeat that in 2018?
  • Clint Robinson: awesome in 2015 (.272/.358/.424), then awful in 2016 (.235/.305/.332)
  • Chris Heisey: adequate in 2016 (.216/.290/.446), then fell off a cliff in 2017 (.162/.215/.270)
  • Tyler Moore: fantastic in 2012 (.263/.327/.513), then a combined .216/.264/.362 over PT roles the next three seasons before finally getting cut loose.
  • Chad Tracy: good in 2012 (.269/.343/.441), then not so good in 2013 (.202/.243/.326)

And some of these guys never even had a “good” season (ahem, Matt Stairs).

So, perhaps the smart thing to do is to let Lind go (as well as Albers for similar reasons) and try some one new.

Goodwin as a backup 1B??   No, that doesn’t make a ton of sense (he’s only 6’0″ and is an outfielder by trade), but he could feature as a backup outfielder easily enough.  Honestly, the “backup 1B” if Ryan Zimmerman goes down for any length of time probably is Daniel Murphy, with his position getting covered by Wilmer Difo.

Collier notes that it was the Nats who declined their part of the $5M mutual option, which somewhat surprised me honestly.  I would have thought it would have been the player to decline that and shoot for something more.  Nonetheless, it makes the odds of a reunion a bit lower. 


Q: Can you do a bit of an explainer about the new luxury tax rules, where Nats are with respect to threshold right now, and how that’ll inform Rizzo’s offseason (speculating anyway)?

A: Without going into it in great detail (I have a post about Nats payroll coming soon), right now as we stand I have the Nats 2018 payroll at about $170M in “real dollars” (counting arb estimates and deferred payments), but about $10M  higher in the eyes of MLB’s luxury tax calculators thanks to the Strasburg and Scherzer deals.  The team broached $190m with last season’s mid-season transactions and thus became a luxury tax spender for the first time (which will cost them significantly if they were to go after a QO-attached free agent, not that I think they will).

The luxury tax threshold for 2018 is $197M (see this wikipedia page for the link and figures).  So, I suppose the team has about $17M or so of “wiggle room” for transactions this off-season plus next mid-season.  That isn’t a lot, and all the high-priced players on our payroll are either key pieces or immovable (thanks Matt Wieters).   So unless they swing a huge salary, or trade some young assets in payroll-offsetting moves, I think the team will do very little this off-season.

Collier notes similar sentiments.


 

Q: Last year, the four top outfielders were out due to injuries for extensive periods of time. Shouldn’t they have six top-notch outfielders to draw from next year?

A: Easy to say in theory, harder in practice.   You generally only care 4 or perhaps 5 outfielders on a 25-man roster … so how do you make an argument to your 5th and 6th “top-notch” outfielders that they have to hang out in Syracuse for half the season until they’re needed?  Not to mention options statuses, 5-year veteran limitations and other things that get in the way of stuff like this.  This isn’t the 1950s when you could just stash players all over without regard to service time issues.

No, the better way to go is to have your named starters, then depend on your prospect depth to cover things.  And honestly, that’s kinda where the Nats are.  Going into 2018 without any moves, you’re looking at:

  • Starting OF of Eaton, Taylor and Harper.
  • 4th and 5th outfielders Goodwin and Stevenson, both prospects that we developed and being paid the MLB min.
  • 6th outfielder in the name of Victor Robles, who is just one of the best prospects in the game.
  • 7th and further depth still with the likes of Bautista or perhaps the Cuban Yadiel Hernandez who is 30 and could be closer than we think.  We have Jose Marmolejos on the roster still; couldn’t he fill in at LF even if he’s primarily a 1B?  And then there’s further-away prospects like Daniel Johnson, who hit pretty well between Low-A and High-A, seems like he’ll start in AA in 2018 and might push his way up.

That’s not too bad.  Btw, how good defensively is our OF projected to be in 2018?  Eaton at a corner in 2016 was one of the best in the majors, Harper has consistently been a positive-metric fielding RF with one of the best arms in the game, and Taylor just showed how statistically he rivaled the best defensive center fielders in the game.  You can’t discount this fact, and it will show itself next year as more fly balls are turned into outs.

Collier likes where our OF depth is.


Q: Why should we believe in Dave Martinez? What makes him different ?

A: I have not weighed in on the manager selection yet.  I thought firing Dusty Baker was a mistake, and that the team did not need to break in a new manager in the critical transition year of 2018.

Nonetheless, Martinez does click some boxes for me; he was a successful player with a long career and can command respect from even the veterans on this team.  He may not have direct managerial experience, but 10 years as Joe Maddon‘s bench coach is nothing to shake a stick at.  He had interviewed for vacancies for years, and deserved a shot.  Details of his contract show that he’s severely under-paid and this probably factored into the team’s decision to hire him (for whatever reason, this team remains “cheap” at the manager’s position), but I think he can do the job.

What makes him different?  Well, he’s clearly learned the “ropes” of managing underneath the game’s best, and in that position he would have had many opportunities to evaluate Maddon’s decisions, privately decide what he would have done, and then seen how things play out.  So he should be able to take the best of what the Cubs are doing and augment those experiences with those opinions he had that were not necessarily taken but which he believed were right.   I’m hopeful that his regime will go well.

Collier notes the points above, but also very fairly says that in reality we have no idea how he’ll manage here since he’s never done so before.