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Nats Off-Season Roster Considerations

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Do the Nats bring back this famous celebration couple? Photo via Brobible

Since we have no playoffs to discuss, we’re pivoting immediately into off-season mode.

The Nats procedurally on 9/28/20 activated all their 10-day DL players. They also procedurally recalled the last three remaining players from the 40-man alternative site for the purposes of off-season moves. Amazingly, they ended the season with 9 players on the 10-day DL and just one healthy player on the 40-man roster not already playing (Raudy Read).

https://www.mlb.com/nationals/roster/transactions/2020/09

Free Agents to-be are immediately declared FAs at 8am Central time the day after the World Series ends. The team doesn’t have to restore its 60-day DL players until 5 days after the World Series ends, which allows them to add them back after free agents are declared and after the team has a small exclusive window to negotiate. So, we have to wait for about a month to see the next dominos fall, but we can start to speculate now.

Based on my records, here’s how our roster will look in the off-season, which will drive the decisions to make. We’ll classify these players into 5 categories

Category 1: Players under a “veteran” contract for 2021 (7): Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin, Hudson, Harris, Gomes, Castro. Seven players but a huge payroll hit (per Cots, these 7 players count for $120M or so in cap space next year.


Category 2: Pre-Arbitration players under full team control (22): Voth, Fedde, Crowe, Finnegan, Harper, McGowin, Braymer, Espino, AWilliams (TJ aug 2020), Read, Garcia, Noll, Robles, Stevenson, Hernandez, Bacus, Rainey, Bourque, Kieboom, Sanchez, Romero, Barrera. That’s a ton of players on pre-arb deals, which is important since they will represent a huge chunk of the active roster in 2021. I think a few of these pre-arb guys are in discussion for “first 40-man guy to get DFA’d when the team needs room” territory (Noll, Williams, Sanchez) but for now, they’re all in play. Note: a couple of these guys were technically MLFA signings in 2020 so i’m not sure if they are now pre-arb or still FAs. Apologies if I got their status wrong).


Category 3: Arbitration-eligible players for 2021 (8). Here’s where we start discussions. Player by player:

  • Suero (A1); lock to tender
  • Turner (A3): lock to tender
  • Soto (A1): lock to tender. I saw something recently that seemed to indicate he may or may not be a Super-2 guy, but he was projecting to be Super-2 after last off-season so i’m assuming he’s Arb-eligible this year.
  • Taylor (A4); Nothing has really changed with Taylor; he struggled at the plate again but hit a few bombs, which drove his OPS+ figure up a bit from what you’d expect for someone who hit below .200. The change in Taylor in 2020 is that his defensive numbers COST him WAR this year instead of helped. Probably Small Sample Size driven, but Taylor’s bigger problem is that his direct competition as “4th outfielder” on this roster Andrew Stevenson just blew up in 2020, making Taylor an obvious non-tender candidate.
  • Guerra (A4); his contract status is odd; he has bounced back and forth on and off the roster and signed a combo major/minor FA deal this past off-season. But Cots lists him as arb-eligible, so i’m not entirely sure if he’s a FA or if he’s arb eligible. My guess is that the team cuts another deal with him and non-tenders him if he’s eligible then immediately re-signs him the next day.
  • Barrett (A3); another odd case; how much does sentimentality count? The team called up a slew of other prospects before recalling Barrett this year, he pitched in 2 games then hit the DL. It seems to me he’s a non-tender candidate and at age 32 could be facing one last shot at making a MLB roster next year.
  • Elias (A3); 2020 a lost season for Elias, who went onto the 60-day DL early and barely pitched in 2019 for this team as well (thanks to the idiotic decision in Aug 2019 to allow him to hit, which resulted in a leg injury with him running out a grounder in a meaningless at bat). The Nats didn’t give up a ton to acquire him (giving up two decent minor league arms in Taylor Guilbeau and Elvis Alvarado) so I can’t imagine them non-tendering him, but how do you do salary evaluation of a player who misses an entire year?
  • JRoss (A3); he opted out in 2020, and his absence was felt immediately when it became clear his 5th starter replacements could not cut it. I think you tender him and he goes back into the starter competition for 2021. Worst case he gets cut mid-way through spring training and the Nats escape with 1/6th of his salary.

Category 4: Players with Options for 2021 (5): here’s where we start having some tougher decisions.

  • Sanchez: $12M club option, $2M buyout: I’m not sure how you take this option if you’re the Nats after the season we just saw. Sanchez was lucky to post the numbers he did in 2019 (his FIP was more than a half a point higher than his ERA), and he bottomed out in 2020. Decline the option, pay the buyout.
  • Thames: $4M mutual option, $1M buyout. Thames posted just a 65 OPS+ playing primarily as a 1B/DH type. That’s just patently awful, considering how many options there were on the market for “non-mobile mid-30s slugger.” Decline the option, pay the buyout.
  • Holt: $5M club option, $750k buyout. He took a significant step back from his Boston numbers, which resulted in Milwaukee cutting bait on him a month into a 2year deal. Despite his positional flexibility (he played 6 positions in 20 games for the Nats) I don’t see how you guarantee $5M to a guy who didn’t “wow” you in his audition. Decline the option, pay the buyout.
  • Eaton: $10.5M club option, $1.5M buyout. Phew; what do you do here. His fourth straight year in offensive decline. He was awful defensively. But he’s only 31; does the team take the $10.5M option and roll the dice that 2020 was an anomoly? If they cut him, do they have a replacement minor leaguer that makes sense (not really no). So do they roll the dice that they can get comparable production on the FA market for the same price? How much does sentimentality factor in here? Clubhouse presence and managerial relationship? Again, he’s only 31, which is a lot different from 36 (see next). I think the team exercises the option.
  • Kendrick: $6.5M mutual option, $2.25M buyout. Word came out a few days ago that Kendrick was considering retirement until he got hurt. I’m not sure I buy that, not with a 6.5M option on the table and more gas left in the tank. Another sentimental pick here; a guy who can plug in multiple positions in a pinch and who now has the DH to settle into if need be. Also a factor here; much like in poker, if you’re into a hand already for the big blind, why not make a call for a little bit more? Declining the option only saves them $4M, and it may be worth the cost to keep a veteran presence around one more time. I mean, if Eaton is there, you gotta keep his buddy Howie right? Exercise the option.

Category 5: Unrestricted FAs (6). Now, there’s nothing the team can really do with these guys since they’re FAs. But we can talk about whether or not we think the team pursues them in the off-season:

  • Suzuki; do you re-sign a 37yr old catcher? He’s been amazingly consistent at the plate the last few years while splitting time pretty evenly with Gomes. Still sporting a decent OBP. Is he getting pushed out by rising minor league depth (hardly, unless you think Read or Barrera is an option in the majors in 2021). I might pursue a 1-yr deal.
  • Cabrera: reverted to his 2018-19 form at the plate, league average providing poor, slow, aging defense at multiple infield positions. I think you move on.
  • Harrison really showed a jolt for this team, but he’s a 2B on a team with a prospect seemingly installed there for the longer run.
  • Doolittle: tough one. Struggled last year, struggled this year. A huge part of the community, outspoken leader. Maybe bring him back on an incentive-laden deal?
  • Freeman (TJ Aug 2020); really bad timing on his TJ surgery, as he’s a FA and will be rehabbing on his own.
  • Zimmerman, the most difficult decision of all. The team was onboard with a $2M deal for 2020 before he opted out for completely understandable family reasons. 2020 was his age 35 season; I’d guarantee him a $2M incentive-laden deal to be a 1B/DH platoon with a lefty slugger for 2021 absolutely. When he’s healthy he can hit, and doing nothing but DHing will help keep him on the field. Its worth a flier for a guy who is either retiring to the Nats front office or playing in 2021.

If the team does exactly what I say here, what would be our needs heading into the off-season? First lets see how this would look from a roster perspective (not counting FAs):

  • SP: Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin, JRoss (A3), Voth, Fedde, Crowe, McGowin, Braymer, Espino, Romero
  • RP: Hudson, Harris, Suero, Elias, Finnegan, Harper, Bacus, Rainey, Bourque
  • C: Gomes, Read, Barrera
  • INF: Castro, Turner, Garcia, Noll, Kieboom, Sanchez, Kendrick
  • OF: Soto, Robles, Stevenson, Hernandez, Eaton

Immediate thoughts on areas of need:

  • Another starter. I’m just not sure you can go into 2021 with your 4th/5th starters being Ross, Voth, Fedde and Crowe. I’m not sure I trust what I saw from McGowin or Braymer. Espino has never really succeeded in the majors and seems like the definition of a 4-A guy. And Romero? Maybe he can step up now that he’s gotten his debut out of the way.
  • Reliever help: I see 5-6 mlb-quality relievers here, but we’d need like 12 on the 40-man roster.
  • Catcher; as discussed with Suzuki above
  • Infield: well, right now your starting infield in 2021 is Castro/Kieboom at 3rd, Turner at SS, Garcia/Castro at 2nd, Kendrick at 1st (if they exercise his option), with Noll and Sanchez in AAA or released. They probably need more depth here.
  • Outfield: If they exercise Eaton’s option, then little needs to be done. If they don’t, then they’ll need a starting corner OF.

In other words, they need help basically everywhere.

Thoughts? did I get anything wrong?

Evaluation of IFA draft classes; 2005-present

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Soto is by far the best IFA product in the Nats history.  And he's only 20.  Source NYPost

Soto is by far the best IFA product in the Nats history. And he’s only 20. Source NYPost

So, i’ve been critical of the Nats top-end drafting lately in this space, as it has contributed to our overall paltry farm system rankings.  And i’ve been critical of the handling of the farm system in general.
But a counter argument is, if you do well in the IFA market … you can paper over bad drafts.  Absolutely true!  So, lets take a look at the fruits of the Nats IFA endeavors over the years.
Here’s an overview of the best products from each IFA July 2nd signing class.
Before we start, its worth reviewing the CBA rules set forth that govern IFAs over the years.  Full CBA details here: https://legacy.baseballprospectus.com/compensation/cots/league-info/cba-history/ .  As the rules change here i’ll put in a note, because they drive context for various IFA years.

IFA starting point for 2005: no rules; free-for-all, no spending limits, its the true wild west.
The Nats, of course, are a steward of the MLB and were barred from even attempting to improve the 2005 roster mid season, let alone spend big money in the IFA market.
  • 2005: Jhonatan Solano only real prospect
  • 2006: Smiley Gonzalez; $1.4M bonus: all eggs in this one basket; nobody else from class ever appeared as a prospect

In July 2006, the Lerner’s took over.  But retained the existing management team and (as was frequently noted at the time), did not really invest in the team for some years (“Lerners are cheap!”)

  • 2007: Adrian Sanchez, Sandy Leon, Eury Perez; not bad in that three players made the majors; none really an impact player
  • 2008: not one signee ever appeared on any prospect ranking; fall out from the Smiley Gonzalez situation
  • 2009: No prospects of note and none remain, still fall out from rebuilding of entire DR operation under Rizzo
So, we’ll take a break here to discuss the obvious.  For basically three years as the team transitioned away from the Smiley Gonzalez scandal we had basically nothing come from international scouting.  The team had to cut ties with all its DR operations, it fired its staff in-country (Jose Rijo) and fired its general manager Jim Bowden.  So, its worth a quick discussion as to the context the team and Mike Rizzo began with starting in 2010.
  • 2010: Big money signing in Yunesky Maya that didn’t really pay off.  Also got Difo and Suero, each for almost no money.  Ruiz in AA remains in org.  Pretty good class.
  • 2011: 7 players from class appeared on rankings at some point: Raudy Read, Pedro Severino best players, several guys got to AA or AAA.  Jose Marmolejos in this class too.

When you’re signing 16yr olds … it may very well take 7 years to see any progress.  Here we are in 2020 and Raudy Read still has options, is still in the mix.  Difo an edge-of-the-roster backup middle infielder, Suero a solid middle reliever.


Starting for the 2012 season, the new CBA attempted to put limits onto IFA spending, imposing taxes and penalties for those who went over the bonus limits.  But what teams discovered was that the pathway forward with these new rules was to pick a year and “blow it out,” basically spend without limits and then take the penalties for the next two seasons.  You saw lots of teams attempt this strategy, including the big-money teams like New York and Los Angeles.
  • 2012: Reynaldo Lopez for just 17k biggest win, Rafael Bautista still in org
  • 2013: 7 guys on prospect lists, Anderson Franco biggest money signing for $900k, Steven Fuentes probably highest ranked prospect at this point.  Still several guys on AA and high-A rosters from class.
  • 2014: Victor Robles big win for just 225k.  Pena, Baez still in system.  Gilbert Lara was the big money guy, but he’s not exactly lighting it up in A-ball right now.
So, the first 5 years of the Rizzo regime featured a big swing and miss on the Cuban Maya.  I always liked him; loved that he had 8 pitches, but his fastball was just never as advertised.  We thought we were getting the next Livan Hernandez (age 23) but instead we got the next Livan Hernandez (age 35).  But, they had some HUGE wins here: Lopez for $17k is fantastic.   We still have some Fuentes fans who think he may succeed.  Robles for just $225k is perhaps an even bigger win than Lopez, given his development path and all star projection.  Plus we still have a ton of guys who might feature as role players.  So the rebuilding plan is back on track.
  • 2015: Juan Soto for 1.5M; obviously a win.  but little else from class to note.  Taveras, Chu, German, Alastre at various lower minors stops.
A change in strategy; the Nats went for an “all eggs in one basket” approach for the first time since 2010.  And it has paid off in spades.  $1.5M for Soto, who is now an MVP candidate.  One hit like this from your IFA makes up for more than a few classes.  We still may see something out of someone like German, who got an NRI this year and may be the next Wander Suero.
  • 2016: a TON of money spent: Garcia (1.3), Antuna (3.9m), Pineda (450k), Sanchez (950k); so far, plus Yadiel Hernandez as an older signee.  The potential is there for sure, as at least four of these guys are listed as top prospects.  Niomar Gomez in low-A rotation a sleeper.
This was finally the year Washington exploded their bonus pools, and the timing was solid.  They figured that the new CBA would eliminate the “binge mode” loophole so they spent and spent.  Lots of these acquired prospects remain in the system now and will for years to come.    Garcia is our #2 prospect, Antuna should return to the prospect fold after he gets over his injury-riddled 2019.  A lot of people look at Pineda as a sleeper; his star dimmed in 2019 but it might improve with a solid bounce back season.  I know there’s Hernandez fans out here who point at his massive 2019 AAA numbers … but the dude is 32 now, limited defensively to a corner at best; how is this a prospect?

In late 2016, a new CBA was signed that changed the rules here yet again.  The complete rules are detailed here: http://m.mlb.com/glossary/transactions/international-amateur-free-agency-bonus-pool-money, but basically we went from the soft limit with penalties to more hard caps.  So the IFA market now operates more like the Rule 4 draft; no going over, no chicanery.
It also means that, like the draft, you have to hit on your money picks.  Of course, its also far, far too early to pass any judgement on our three classes since.
  • 2017: way too early to tell; the 4 guys getting prospect love from this class are all at GCL.  Yeah, Arias leading guys right now.
  • 2018: Jeremy De La Rosa only top-30 prospect so far but the GCL/DSL is littered with 2018 IFA signees
  • 2019: Already getting prospect love for Andry Lara and Roismar Quintana; we spread more money around this year so promising.

Conclusions?
So, since moving to Washington really they’ve had just two stars out of IFA work; Robles and Soto.  they’ve had a couple more slightly better than replacement players (Lopez, Suero).  And they’ve had a ton of guys who have hit the majors in some fashion or another at the replacement level (Difo, Solano, Perez, Leon, etc).
The nats will probably roll out a 2020 lineup that contains at least three and perhaps four IFA home-grown signings (Robles, Soto, Suero for sure, perhaps Difo or Sanchez).  That’s pretty darn good, considering that the 2020 25-man roster likely only features 5 players that the team drafted (Stevenson, Taylor, Zimmerman, Strasburg and Voth) and only one of them will be in the “core 14 players” that comprise our starting 8 positional players, 5 rotation mates and closer.
but you have to ask; in 15 years they’ve generated precisely two above-replacement level WAR guys.  Is that a failure?

State of the Nats 40-man roster and Payroll post Arb-settlements

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Turner last arb case to settle. photo via wp.com

Turner last arb case to settle. photo via wp.com

The Arbitration deadline has come and gone, and for 2020 there’s no Club vs Player disputes.

Here’s how the payroll looks now.  https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/186nm-v5F-zTCoR2Be7TFYM3e2cZ-gYi2WVqJLEkHdmc/ is the 2020 Payroll worksheet on the Big Board.  You can see the details there but quickly:

  • 14 players under FA or established contracts: $154,772,709 in 2020 luxury tax salary
  • 6 players arb eligible: $16,850,000 in negotiated salary
  • 6 additional pre-arb players at an estimated $575k each: $3,450,000
  • 14 non-active 40-man roster players at an estimated $150k each: $2,100,000
  • Estimated player benefits figure for 2020; $15,000,000

Total right now: $192,172,709

Room under the $208M cap: $15,827,291

This figure is slightly off of Cot’s figure, which I think has an error when calculating the non-active roster guys (if 26 are active, then 14 are non-active 40/man guys; they currently are calculating for 15).   This salary guess is going to be slightly off of reality; we don’t know what our 6 pre-arb guys will get assigned as salaries but we can probably guess that Juan Soto and Victor Robles in particular will not just get assigned the minimum.  And, technically we’re only at 38 on the 40 man right now, so  you could theoretically subtract 2 * $150k from the salary figure to be exact.

The Arbitration salaries came in under what Cots, Mlbtraderumors and I all predicted as a whole.  MLBTraderumors is usually the closest and was spot on with several of their guesses.  I was way off on most of my guesses.

So, $15M left to play with.  You have to think $4M or so of that will go to Ryan Zimmerman.   Or maybe not?   If you look at the make-up of the roster right now … i’m not sure where Zimmerman fits in.  Position players now under contract:

  • Catchers: Suzuki starter, Gomes backup
  • Starting Infield: Kendrick 1B, Castro 2B, Turner SS, Cabrera 3B
  • Backup infielders: Difo, Thames
  • Starting OF: Eaton, Robles, Soto
  • Backup OF: Taylor
  • Minor Leaguers: Read, Barrera, Sanchez (if he makes it through waivers), Kieboom, Noll, Stevenson.

Ok so that’s 12 position players on the active roster plus another 6 in the minors.  So I guess there’s a Zimmerman-sized hold on the bench for the 13th position player, since with the new expansion you can’t carry more than 13 pitchers.  Who are those pitchers by the way?

  • Rotation: Strasburg, Scherzer, Corbin, Sanchez, Ross
  • 8th/9th inning guys: Doolittle, Hudson, Harris
  • 6th/7th inning guys: Rainey, Strickland, Suero, Elias
  • Long man/spot starter; Voth
  • Minor leaguers: Fedde, McGowin, Braymer*, Finnegan, Barrett, Bourque, AWilliams

So that’s 13 major league arms plus another 7 in the minors.

18 position players, 20 pitchers = 38 on the current active roster.

Still room for Zimmerman, and coincidentally still room for Sterling Sharp (oh whoops, he’s gone).

how we feeling about the roster?

 

Written by Todd Boss

January 14th, 2020 at 9:34 am

Getting the band back together: Cabrera re-signs along with other moves

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Cabrera is back. Photo via newsday

Cabrera is back. Photo via newsday

It was a busy Saturday for Nats GM Mike Rizzo.  In quick succession we heard about three moves:

  • The team re-signs 2B/3B Asdrubal Cabrera, 1yr $2.5M.
  • The team signs 2B Starlin Castro to a 2yr/$12M deal
  • The team previously signed RHP David Hernandez sometime in Dec 2019 to a minor league deal (which was just announced on Baseball America)

Cabrera was awful for Texas last year and got outright released; he lit it up for Washington, mercifully taking over for the completely ineffective Brian Dozier and lighting it up for the team down the stretch (slash line for DC last year post-signing: .323/.404/.565).   Cabrera played 3B for Texas but mostly 2B for DC; right now he’s your starting 3B opening day save any other move.

Castro clearly is the starting 2B; he moved there a few years ago, played it exclusively for several years but moved to 3B last season to make room for a prospect.  He was reportedly telling teams in FA he was only interested in playing 2B … so we have our starting 2B.  His signing seems to clarify what the team’s infield will be looking like come April.  He has two straight years of right around league average OPS+, but in 2019 he spiked homers, hitting 22 of them on the year playing a lot of games in pitcher-friendly NL East stadiums.

Hernandez was a great middle reliever in 2018 for Cincinnati, but blew up last year and signs a MLFA deal in an attempt to get back to the majors.  I like this as a low-risk/high reward move for a team always looking for the next 6th/7th inning RH reliever.

With these moves … as per the updated Big Board, your starting lineup come 4/1/20 looks like this (here’s a guess as to the lineup)

  • Eaton (RF)
  • Turner (SS)
  • Soto (LF)
  • Kendrick (1B)
  • Castro (2B)
  • Cabrera (3B)
  • Suzuki (C)
  • Robles (CF)
  • Pitcher

That’s  … a big step back from what we showed offensively last year, obviously.  The loss of Anthony Rendon in the middle of the order is pretty apparent.

Is this a playoff team?

—————-

Cabrera becomes the fourth 2019 team member/FA to re-sign with the team, joining Stephen StrasburgHowie Kendrick and Yan Gomes.  Pretty much the entire industry assumes Ryan Zimmerman is re-signing to be a bench bat as well.  So a lot of the veteran crew that was credited with helping the team win in October is now back.

Is this a good thing?

The oldest team in the majors last year has now resigned FAs who will be playing in their

  • age 34 year (Cabrera)
  • 32 (Gomes)
  • 31 (Strasburg) and
  • 36 (Kendrick).

They join other presumed starters and key relievers north of 30 in :

  • Kurt Suzuki (2020 will be his age 36 year)
  • Max Scherzer (35),
  • Anibal Sanchez (36)
  • Adam Eaton (31)
  • Sean Doolittle (33)
  • Hunter Strickland and Roenis Elias (both 31)
  • Wil Harris (35)
  • Starlin Castro (30).

Um.  That’s a lot guys on the wrong side of 30.   And a lot of assumptions that the production like we got out of Cabrera (143 OPS+) continues into 2020 if he’s indeed the starting 3B.

———————————-

Oh, ps: all appropriate tabs in the Big Board are now updated for these transactions.  We’re now at 36/40 on the 40-man roster.  New payroll estimate is $185,452,709, leaving us $22,547,291 under the cap for 2020.  For all of you still holding out hope for Josh Donaldson … you should stop.  He’s soliciting 4yr deals north of $100M; the numbers don’t add up.  If this team has $22M and change left and are not going over, then we’re out of the Donaldson mix.

I’m not sure what’s next.  Does the team pursue a trade for a 3B?  Clearly they don’t want to give up Victor Robles in a Kris Bryant trade (and I don’t blame them, whether or not they have one year or two of his services).  Maybe we’re going to see some Rizzo trade magic coming soon.

Gold Glove awards versus advanced stats for 2019

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Arenado well represented on these leader boards this year. Photo via legitsports.com

Arenado well represented on these leader boards this year. Photo via legitsports.com

(whoops, forgot to post this earlier this off-season)

Every year I have kept a spreadsheet with each year’s Gold Glove award winners and then shown how the leading advanced statistical measures listed out the best in the league.

Here’s the same post for past years: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013.

In 2019, for the first time in a while, I think the selectors really did an excellent job picking the Gold Glove winners in each league.  Of the 18 winners, I think 15 of them were spot-on, inarguable selections.  And the 3 that I quibbled with each still led in some statistical categories, or were selected by the blue-ribbon Bill James-led panel of fielding Bible winners.  So you’d be hard pressed to even argue that those three were troublesome selections.  There’s no Derek Jeter esque selection (he won the Gold Glove in 2005 posting a -27 DRS figure) and no Rafael Palmeiro esque selections (he won the GG in 1999 playing just 28 games in the field and DHing the rest).  I feel like the selection committee is really getting good at picking the best defenders in the league.

Here’s your 2019 GG winners:

PosAL GG WinnerNL GG Winner
CRoberto PerezJT Realmudo
1BMatt OlsonAnthony Rizzo
2BYolmer SanchezKolten Wong
SSFrancisco LindorNick Ahmed
3BMatt ChapmanNolan Arenado
LFAlex GordonDavid Peralta
CFKevin KiermaierLorenzo Cain
RFMookie BettsCody Bellinger
PMike LeakeZack Greinke

I had quibbles with the following players (along with counter arguments):

  • Nick Ahmed: did not lead the NL in Fangraphs all-encompassing Defensive Statistical measure (Paul deJong), nor UZR/150 (Miguel Rojas), but was the top SS in DRS and in Baseball-Reference’s Total Zone.  Ahmed was given the Fielding Bible award though (as we’ll see in a moment) but missed out on the Wilson defensive POTY award to Andrelton Simmons (which seemed to be a reputation award).
  • David Peralta: This is a very slight quibble; Peralta missed out on officially qualifying for some of the Fangraphs lists by virtue of missing a bunch of time; otherwise he’d have gotten a clean sweep of statistical and named awards.  Marcell Ozuna was pretty much #2 across the board in all statistical categories.
  • Lorenzo Cain: Cain wasn’t the leader in a single statistical category, but was the Fielding Bible and Wilson POTY.  Harrison Bader was the CF leader in both Fangraphs total Defense and UZR/150, while our own Victor Robles ended up leading the qualified DRS candidates in the NL.

Lets look at other fielding awards for 2019:

Fielding Bible

PosFielding Bible Winner
CRoberto Perez
1BMatt Olsen
2BKolten Wong
SSNick Ahmed
3BMatt Chapman
LFDavid Peralta
CFLorenzo Cain
RFCody Bellinger
PZack Greinke
UtilCody Bellinger

Every Fielding Bible recipient in 2019 also matched a Gold Glove winner; a first that I can remember.

Wilson Defensive POTY

PosWilson Defensive POTY
CRoberto Perez
1BFreddie Freeman
2BKolten Wong
SSAndrelton Simmons
3BMatt Chapman
LFDavid Peralta
CFLorenzo Cain
RFAaron Judge
PZack Greinke

Simmons seems like (as i said above) an award based on his reputation for years being the best defender in the league.  He’s not that anymore.  I’m not sure where the Freddie Freeman award came from; he did not lead any defensive measures in 2019.  The Aaron Judge award wasn’t too egregious; he led DRS in the AL, one of two primary defensive stats I like.

Fangraphs DEF stat (for a definition see here: https://library.fangraphs.com/defense/def/); it’s basically a combo state that tries to equate all players into one stat using positional adjustments.

PosAL Fangraphs Stat Avg (Def)NL Fangraphs Stat Avg (Def)
CChristian VazquezJT Realmudo
1BMatt OlsonAnthony Rizzo
2BYolmer SanchezKolten Wong
SSMarcus SiemenPaul DeJong
3BMatt ChapmanNolan Arenado
LFAlex GordonMarcell Ozuna
CFKevin KiermaierHarrison Bader
RFMookie BettsCody Bellinger
Pn/an/a

So, 11 of the 16 GG winners are here, for about 70% match rate.  That’s not too bad.  A couple of the deltas we’ve already discussed (Ozuna and Bader).  Both SS figures resulted in different leaders here versus the GG winners, oddly.  But for the most part, this state predicted the GGs well.

Ultimate Zone Rating averaged over 150 games (UZR/150):

PosAL UZR/150NL UZR/150
Cn/an/a
1BMatt OlsonAnthony Rizzo
2BYolmer SanchezKolten Wong
SSFrancisco LindorMiguel Rojas
3BMatt ChapmanNolan Arenado
LFAlex GordonMarcell Ozuna
CFKevin KiermaierHarrison Bader
RFMookie BettsCody Bellinger
Pn/an/a

This is one of my two go-to defensive stats; it does suffer from Short Sample Sizes so you really need a full season, but the range factor it measures does seem to tell a good story about how much ground the defender covers.  Its interesting to go through and look at certain players UZR/150 machinations; when Mike Trout and Bryce Harper were hurt, their UZRs plummeted accordingly.

In 2019, 11 of the 14 GG winners also led their leagues in UZR/150, a great showing.  Two of the three outliers are guys we’ve already talked about (Ozuna, Bader).

Defensive Runs Saved (DRS)

PosAL DRSNL DRS
CRoberto PerezJT Realmudo
1BMatt OlsonChristian Walker
2BYolmer SanchezKolten Wong
SSWilly AdamesNick Ahmed
3BMatt ChapmanJosh Donaldson
LFMichael BrantleyDavid Peralta
CFKevin KiermaierVictor Robles
RFAaron JudgeCody Bellinger
PZack GreinkeMax Fried

this figure is often the go-to stat for people: I like using it in conjunction with UZR to tell a more complete picture.  DRS is context-sensitive; if you (for example) reach over the fence to save a grand slam … you get 4 defensive runs saved added to your total for the year (as opposed to the fact that you just made one out, albeit a tough one).  Its an accumulator stat … but its also worth noting that a player can accumulate a lot (or cost his team a lot) in a short amount of time.  So often times the DRS leaders don’t technically “qualify” by ABs or percentage of games played like other stats show.

DRS leaders include our own Robles, Josh Donaldson, Judge (in the only stat he led), and have some random players not present on any other stat.  So its kind of hard to depend on this stat for the purposes of saying, “So and so was the best defender at his position this year.”

Baseball-Reference total Zone

PosAL Total Zone rTOTNL Total Zone rTOT
CRoberto PerezJT Realmudo
1BYuli GurrielChristian Walker
2BYolmer SanchezKolten Wong
SSWilly AdamesNick Ahmed
3BMatt ChapmanNolan Arenado
LFRobbie GrossmanDavid Peralta
CFMallex SmithManuel Margot
RFAaron JudgeAustin Slater
Pn/an/a

This is B-R’s equivalent to Fangraphs total Defense stat … and its always had issues.  I’m not sure why.  but for 2019, in only was in line with the GG winers half the time, and was the only stat that had a number of players listed as the leader.  Its the least dependable advanced defensive stat of those listed here.

Baseball Prospectus FRAA: I gave up on it this year b/c BP has gone to a subscriber model, and you have to be a subscriber in order to get sortable stats on their page.

——–

So that’s it.  Not sure if there’s much interest in this stuff but its something I track every eyar so I thought i’d post it.

Ask Brittany; Brittany Ghiroli Mailbags on the Athletic

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Strasburg is the lynchpin in the Nats off-season FA plans. Photo allansgraphics.com

Strasburg is the lynchpin in the Nats off-season FA plans.
Photo allansgraphics.com

Happy Thanksgiving!

You guys know I love mailbags.  I havn’t seen one in a while from the usual sources (MASN beat reporters, mlb.com beat reporters, etc).

But, the Athletic has assigned a beat reporter to the Nats, one Brittany Ghiroli, who was hired away from MLB.com a couple years ago (where she was the Baltimore beat reporter).   And guess what?  She’s doing chat responses to questions received on twitter.  I know the Athletic is a pay-for service, but I’m in and I love it and you wouldn’t believe how much content they’re producing.  Its almost overwhelming at a macro level now that they’re covering the EPL fully.

So, here goes.  Here’s Questions Brittany took on Nov 25th and Nov 26th in a two-parter.  Its got a ton of questions worth exploring as to where we are.

————–

Q: Would it make more sense for the Nationals to adopt the same methodology they did with (Bryce) Harper for Rendon? Take the huge price tag Rendon will demand and spread it among several positions like (Mike) Moustakas, (Yan) Gomes, and a couple of arms? 

A:  For me?  I think the answer might be Yes.  Not because I don’t want Anthony Rendon  back or because I don’t rate his abilities … but because (as we discussed in the payroll piece) I see no evidence that this team is willing to broach the salary cap, and if you bring back both Stephen Strasburg and Rendon, each for the 30M+/year they will cost … it doesn’t leave a whole lotta room for what this team needs.

What does this team need this off-season?  Squinting at the current roster, we need:

  • A starter
  • A backup catcher (Late breaking news; we re-signed Yan Gomeslast night so that’s done; good move).
  • Probably three relievers unless you trust Hunter Strickland/Javy Guerra, or unless you’re convinced that Koda Glover will be healthy
  • three starting infielders: 3B and 1B (I’m assuming that Carter Kieboom can play 2B ably at this point)
  • A bench bat or two to replace what we got out of Howie Kendrick/Matt Adams

So, that’s a lot.   Can you get all of that on about $20M  I don’t think you can.  So the Nats may have to make some hard choices.

Ghiroli doesn’t equate the Rendon situation with the Harper situation, noting that Robles was waiting in the wings.  Fair enough.  But I think she underestimates  how much we need to fill out the rest of the roster.

—-

Q: If Rendon leaves, is Josh Donaldson a player the Nationals would have an eye on? 

A: Absolutely.  He’d probably take a shorter deal, still is an elite defender, still hits the heck out of the ball, and weakens a division rival if he signs here.  I’d be all in, assuming we could get him for roughly $25M AAV and use the delta between his AAV and Rendon’s AAV to fill out roster holes.

Ghiroli agrees i think, and talks about Donaldson’s firey approach that often rubs people the wrong way.

Q: Is the media downplaying the likelihood of the Nats going after Gerrit Cole? I have heard next to nothing connecting the two sides, but you have to think that Cole is the type of free agent ace that Mike Rizzo dreams about.

A: I don’t think the Media is driving anything here.  Cole’s the #1 target on the market, and has the wealthy teams salivating.  I think the Nats decision is simple:  you want the home grown guy versus the hired gun.

Ghiroli notes that the reason there’s no Nats-to-Cole buzz is … because there’s none to be had.  We have two major FAs, and that’s where we’re focusing.

Q: If the Nats are able to sign Rendon and Stras, do you see them winning the division? Too many people seem to be counting them out already by assuming that Rendon is gone.

A: Keeping both guys and assuming they have the same production really helps the 2020 projection … but lets be honest.  When this team was 19-31, they had both guys as well and were projecting for dead last.  Its a big team, its a long season, and you can’t just give them the division title if they retain both players.  Injuries happen, both guys are on the older side, etc etc.

Ghiroli agrees.

Q: Realistically, how much money will be available for the payroll? Is there any appetite for exceeding the luxury tax? 

A: well, we just discussed this.  I came up with roughly $80M and am pessimistic about broaching the CBT.

Ghiroli came up with $90M available, which I’m not sure how she arrived at that b/c right now Cots and I are only about $800k apart in our analysis.  Like KW and others, she notes that of all the years to do so, next year is the right y ear to blow past a luxury tax.

Q: Will Joe Ross be a member of the rotation next season?  What’s your take on the young arms — Ross, (Erick) Fedde, (Austin) Voth and bullpen prospects? Some of the younger starters started to shape up.

A: hard to see it.  I’d peg it Voth, then Ross, then Fedde for a 5th spot competition right now.  Gotta go with performance on the field.

Ghiroli doens’t even mention Voth in the discussion, which I think is a mistake.

Q: What clutch role players are the Nats targeting to re-sign? Of the non-premium free agents, who do you see as most likely to return? How do you see first base shaking out?

A: who knows who they’re targeting.  I’d love to have Zimmerman back and Kendrick but it seems like the latter may be more appropriate for an AL team at this point.   They need a lefty bench bat to replace Matt Adams.  I would like to upgrade the backup SS.  I guess I like our backup OF in-house options right now if they can sign Taylor to something reasonable.

Ghiroli agrees

Q: The Nats have two young catchers on the 40-man and another couple in the farm. Do any of them look like potential long-term everyday catchers?

A: I don’t think so.  I don’t think the team trusts either catcher on the 40-man (Read or Barrera), and their catcher depth chart from there is thin.  Here’s our current Catcher depth chart all the way to High-A:

Suzuki, Gomes, Barrera, Read, Gushue, Reistetter, Reetz, Dunlap, Pineda, Perkins, Cropley

Read is out of options with 63 total days of MLB service time.  Gushue was left off the roster and is exposed to the Rule-5 draft.  Barrera has 3 weeks of service time and spent all of 2019 at AA.  Reistetter is a classic “org guy injury cover” catcher who played in a grand total of 9 games in 2019.  Now you’re at A-ball catchers like Reetz (entering his 7th year of pro-ball, never been above high-A), Dunlap (a backup in high-A), Pineda (who took a big step back this year), Perkins (who hit .209 as a backup in low-A) and Cropley (a 2018 senior sign who hit .187 last year in low-A).

Sooooo not a lot of catcher depth in the farm right now.  Reetz was a  high round pick who has struggled, Pineda had a lot of prospect shine in 2018 that he squandered in 2019; can either take a 2020 step up?

I think they’re buying a backup on FA market.  (update; they just did)

Ghiroli says same as I’m saying, thinking perhaps Gomes comes back on a cheaper deal.

Q: How close is Luis Garcia from making the Nationals roster and where would he slot in if Rendon returns? He seems to be behind Kieboom in the pecking order and they both play the middle infield.

A: I think he slots in as a 2B/SS, moves Kieboom to 3B but he’s years away.   He was 19 in AA and struggled; he needs to go back to AA and thrive before moving up to compete in AAA.  That could take another two years.  Maybe he replaces like for like by the time he’s ready?  Its also worth noting that, despite his lofty rankings in our system and on top 100 lists, there are some who don’t rate him as a prospect at all.  So i don’t think we can count on him to be much more than a Wilmer Difo guy in the end.

Ghiroli says don’t look for him  until mid 2021.

Q: Will Michael A. (Taylor) be traded or stay as the fourth outfielder?

A: Better question; is a guy who spent most of the year in AA worth paying north of $3M/year?  That’s the decision.  He’s not going to get a pay cut.  Arbitration doesn’t work that way; so either you tender him and negotiate or you cut him.  Sure you can try to trade him; who’s giving the team value for him?   He’s now got a career 80 OPS+ across six years and more than 1700 PAs.  Whatever he figured out to hit so well in 2017 is clearly gone; i think he’s non-tendered and cut loose.

Ghiroli says traded or non-tendered and is a little pricey for a 4th OF.  yeah.

Q: How much was the World Series win worth financially to the Nationals franchise, in terms of ticket sales (including projected rise in season plan holders and general ticket interest next year), merchandise, and, well, anything else?

A: Its impossible to tell.  But i do know this: in order to secure 2019 playoff tickets, you could buy 2020 season tickets… and a lot of people did so.  So you’re going to see a bump next  year in attendance, which is great.

Maybe you also acquire some fair weather/bandwagon fans too.  One would only hope.

There’s studies out there showing financial impacts to the franchise with long playoff runs like the Nats just had; its worth tens of millions of dollars, both tot he owners and the players.  The players just split some $30M in bonus money … and the owners get much more than that.  Its one more argument towards having the Lerners blow past a CBT to “use” that money towards next year.  Will they do it?  We’ve been discussing it.

 

Nat’s 40-man Option Status for 2020 and what it means for the off-season

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Ross is one of the tougher options crunch players the Nats have to decide upon this off-season. Photo Getty Images via federalbaseball.com

Ross is one of the tougher options crunch players the Nats have to decide upon this off-season.
Photo Getty Images via federalbaseball.com

We’ve alluded to this point in multiple comments under past comments, but its time to put pencil to paper.

Right now (ahead of any FA signings), the Nats 40-man roster sits at 31 players, with Ben Braymer having been added to avoid Rule-5 exposure yesterday … and one third of those players are out of options for next season.  A number of those players also seem to have little chance of actually making an active roster of a major league team, which means that they could be early off-season outright fodder if the team wants to try to slip them through waivers and outright them back into the system.

Lets take a quick run through each of the categories of Nats 40-man players and option status.

(by the way, yes I know its a 26-man roster in 2020; all my XLSs need updating).

Category 1:  Vets who can refuse demotion (5 or more years of service) – 6 current players

Player2020 25-man opening day GuessService Time post 2019First Added to 40-manOption Years UsedOptions left?Notes
Scherzer, Maxx11.079May 200720082
Eaton, Adamx7.030Sept 201220132Achieved 5yrs service time mid 2017
Doolittle, Seanx7.122Nov 20102011,20121Achieved 5yrs service time mid 2017
Suzuki, Kurtx12.113Jun 2007none3
Corbin, Patrickx7.105Apr 201220122Achieved 5yrs svc in 2017
Sanchez, Anibalx13.083Nov 200520062

Interestingly, the Nats roster last  year had no less than 16 such players; Veterans with 5+ years of service who could refuse demotion/make any available options immaterial.  Indeed, it was a veteran team.  Now 10 of those guys are FAs or out of the organization.

Category 2: Options Avail but are MLB entrenched – 5 current players

Player2020 25-man opening day GuessService Time post 2019First Added to 40-manOption Years UsedOptions left?Notes
Turner, Treax3.135Aug 201520162still pissed he was called up so early, but he's in AAA to start 2016, which preserved an extra yr of control but did not save Super2 status for 2019
Soto, Juanx1.134May 2018none3yet to be optioned
Robles, Victorx1.052Sep 201720182
Suero, Wanderx1.123Nov 201720182
Rainey, Tannerx0.158Apr 20182018,20191
Jk

Not much to see here; all 5 of these guys are important parts of next  year’s team.  As noted, the early call up of Trea Turner eventually came back to bite the team, and probably costs them in the range of $10-$12M in payroll over the course of his four arbitration periods.  An expensive mistake.

Category 3: Options Available, jeopardizing 2019 25-man roster status – 3 current players

Player2020 25-man opening day GuessService Time post 2019First Added to 40-manOption Years UsedOptions left?Notes
Glover, Koda3.051July 201620162No option used in 2018 or 2019; either hurt or on roster
Stevenson, Andrew1.063July 20172018,20191Optioned but recalled too fast in 2017 for it to count
Kieboom, Carter0.012Apr 201920192

I suppose one could make the argument that Carter Kieboom should be in the Category 2; right now we don’t really have a 2B or a 3B on the roster and he could play either.  But for now, i’m going on first impressions … and he did not make a good one early in the season.

Category 4: Options almost guaranteed to be used in 2018 – 7 current players

Player2020 25-man opening day GuessService Time post 2019First Added to 40-manOption Years UsedOptions left?Notes
McGowin, Kyle0.069Sept 201820192
Williams, Austen1.028Sept 2018none3
Bourque, James0.005Nov 201820192
Barrera, Tres0.022Sept 2019none3
Barrett, Aaron2.170Nov 201320142
Noll, Jake0.017mar 201920192

I’m guessing that if any of these six players start on the active roster next opening day, then we’ve had a huge injury spike in Spring Training.  Is Austen Williams healthy?  Was Aaron Barrett‘s call-up more than just a feel-good story?  We’ll see.  Nonetheless, it seems like all 6 of these guys are in AAA next year to start.

Note: I wrote this prior to the rule-5 additions Ben Braymer.  So technically this section is 7 current players, not 6.  But I think its safe to say that our new rule5 additions are guaranteed to both start the year in the minors in 2020.


 

Which leaves us with…

Category 5:  No Options Available – 10 current players of the 30 on the active roster.

Player2020 25-man opening day GuessService Time post 2019First Added to 40-manOption Years UsedOptions left?Notes
Guerra, Javyx4.415Nov 2009?0
Strickland, Hunterx4.163Nov 2012?0
Taylor, Michaelx4.129Nov 20132014,2016,20190
Elias, Roenisx4.069Mar 2014?0
Ross, Joex4.018June 20152015,2017,20190Optioned for roster reasons in 2017.
Difo, Wilmerx3.016Nov 20142015,2016,20180Optioned but recalled too fast in 2017 for it to count
Fedde, Erickx1.099July 20172017,2018,20190
Sanchez, Adrian1.083June 20172017,2018,20190
Voth, Austin0.127Nov 20162017,2018,20190
Read, Raudy0.063Nov 20162017,2018,20190

So, this is kind of the point of this article.  Which of these 10 players are going to stick, which are players the team has to make some tough decisions on?  Lets go player by player in the order they are in this table (which is sorted by Service time):

  1. Guerra, Javy: the team outrighted him mid-season, then recalled him the next day and he eventually made the post-season roster.  An odd set of circumstances for a DFA.   His overall 2019 numbers weren’t great; I wonder if he’s thrown into a general “RH middle reliever” competition in Spring Training 2020 and then either makes the team or gets DFA’d again.  He can’t be outrighted again, so he’d have to choose whether to stay with the org.
  2. Strickland, Hunter: seems like a guarantee to make the 2020 roster, irregardless of his option status.
  3. Taylor, Michael: you have to think his time has some to an end with this team.  Optioned to AA despite being on a $3.25M contract; they can’t possibly tender him for 2020 can they?   Hit kind of an empty .250 this year (1 homer in 53 games/97 PAs), and is arbitration eligible so he’ll “earn” an increase in pay.  But he played really well in the post-season, hitting two homers while covering for an injured Victor Robles.  Do you tender him and pay him $4M to be a 4th outfielder?  He’s undoubtedly solid defensively.  But he offers little to no value as a PH.  Do you save $4M and use Andrew Stevenson as a 4th OF instead?
  4. Elias, Roenis: another guy like Strickland who wasn’t acquired to get cut.  He’s on the 2020 roster … and oh, Davey Martinez?  Don’t f*cking let him hit this year.
  5. Ross, Joe: Well, the 2020 Nats need a 5th starter right now (and, technically also need a 2nd starter if they don’t resign Stephen Strasburg).  Is Ross the leading candidate right now?  I think so: in 6 starts last year after the team finally figured out that he couldn’t be a reliever he was competent: 4-2 with a 3.05 ERA but a 1.455 whip that probably made his FIP look awful.  Is that 5th starter material?   I’ve always thought so … but now he has competition, mainly from two guys on this list.  If he doesn’t make the rotation, I don’t know what you do with him.  Clearly he can’t be a reliever; and if he is facing an options crunch DFA … nobody’s going to trade for him.  They’ll just wait for him to declare FA and pounce.
  6. Difo, Wilmer: everybody needs a utility guy who can play SS in a pinch; is Difo that guy for us?  He has been, traditionally, for years now.  But without options he’s gotta earn his spot.  There’s a slew of guys out there who can do what he’s done: play competent middle infield and hit above the Mendoza line.  I’m guessing, like Guerra above him, he’ll face competition from NRI veterans and Sanchez (see below) who do the same thing he does and if he makes the team so be it, otherwise he faces the DFA deadline come 4/1/20.
  7. Fedde, Erick: this one is tough.  Like Ross, he was called into reliever duty in 2019 and was not great at it.  And he was in the rotation for a bit, with weaker numbers than Ross.  Fedde now has 26 starts across three seasons with ERAs and FIPs north of 5.00.  I know he has his defenders … and maybe you could argue that his relief numbers in 2019 weren’t as bad (he did have just a 1.132 FIP in 9 relief innings), but the clock has run out.  What do you do here?  I’m guessing he competes with Ross and Voth for the 5th starter (again, going under the assumption we re-sign Strasburg) and if he doesn’t make it he becomes the long-man in the pen and begins life as a reliever.
  8. Sanchez, Adrian posted just an OPS+ figure of 23 for 2019.  In 32 ABs he did not have one extra base hit.  I’m guessing, like Difo, he’s in ST2020 competition and gets DFA’d on 4/1/20.
  9. Voth, Austin: he’s got the least service time of any of the three starters he seems likely to compete with for the 5th starter job, but easily out-performed both of them in his 2019 starts.  8 starts, 3.30 ERA, 1.053 whip; he got it done this year.  I think Voth has the inside track on the 5th starter job right now over both Ross and Fedde, which puts both of them at a disadvantage.
  10. Read, Raudy; He’s got the least amount of service time here (just 63 days) and seems the least likely to make the opening day roster (i’d have to think the team is investing in a veteran FA catcher).  I’ve got Read ahead of Taylor Gushue on the Catcher depth chart; they both hit well in AAA this year with the PCL parks and the inflated ball, but Read has also shown a solid bat all the way up the chain.  Is that enough to get him onto the opening day roster?  I don’t think so; i just don’t think he’s got enough experience to merit a 2x/week backup catcher role to a starter in Kurt Suzuki who’s on the wrong side of 35 and will miss time.  I sense Read comes to ST, helps out with the catching load, sticks around just in case there’s an injury, then hits the DFA trail.

Summary of what I think eventually happens to all 10 guys in one (or two) words:

  1. Guerra, Javy: DFA’d
  2. Strickland, Hunter: 2020 bullpen
  3. Taylor, Michael: Non-tendered
  4. Elias, Roenis: 2020 bullpen
  5. Ross, Joe: DFA’d
  6. Difo, Wilmer: 2020 bench
  7. Fedde, Erick: 2020 bullpen
  8. Sanchez, Adrian DFA’d
  9. Voth, Austin: 5th starter
  10. Read, Raudy; DFA’d

I mean no offense to any of these players of course; its just that options crunches force teams into tough decisions.  But I see half these guys getting shed at some point.

WS Pitching Preview: Nats vs Astros

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Corbin is the key to this series. Photo via Arizona republic

Corbin is the key to this series. Photo via Arizona republic

The 2019 World Series is here.  And boy does it look like its going to be a heck of a pitching duel.  Thanks to the Astros finishing off the Yankees in 6 games, they (like our Nats) are able to perfectly setup their rotation as they wish.  Which means … wow we’re going to have some pitching duels.

Here’s a preview of the pitching matchups, with my predictions game by game.

  • Game 1; 10/22/19: Was@Hou: Max Scherzer vs Gerrit Cole: Cole is either finishing 1st or 2nd in AL Cy Young voting and has been unhittable this post season (3 starts, 22 2/3rds innings, 10 hits, 8 walks, just ONE earned run, 32 Ks).  So its going to be a tall task to get to him in Game 1.  Scherzer is Big Game Max: he got hit a bit in the WC game, but his three NLCS and NLDS appearances are pretty solid: 15 innings and one earned run vs the Dodgers and Cardinals, including a 1-hit 7 inning domination of St. Louis in Game 2 to really put the series out of reach.  Prediction?  I think Cole continues his hot streak and out-duels Scherzer in a 1-0 or a 2-1 type game.
  • Game 2: 10/23/19: Was@Hou: Stephen Strasburg vs Justin Verlander: Verlander likely wins the Cy Young (if it isn’t Cole) thanks to an amazing age 36 season … but he’s been quite hittable this post-season.  He’s got 4 starts, has given up 10 runs in 23 innings.  Strasburg has not been hittable, this off-season or any other; he continues to put up Sandy Koufax esque post-season numbers; he got hit in LA but held on to keep the team in the game, then blew away St. Louis.  I like Strasburg here and think the Nats can sneak a win in game 2.
  • Game 3: 10/25/19: Hou@Wash: Zack Greinke vs Patrick Corbin: i wonder what Arizona fans are thinking when they watch this game.  Greinke might be the best #3 starter in the game, or maybe Corbin is.  Greinke got knocked out by Tampa in the NLDS, and wasn’t lights out or anything in the NLDS either; the Nats can score runs against him.  Corbin has also been hit or miss this post-season, with an ugly 7+ ERA despite striking out 26 in 13 innings.  The Astros hit the ball, irrespective of lefty or righty, so this game might be one where the bullpens of both teams get exposed a bit.  Can Corbin make it happen?  One good thing going for him; he’s significantly better at home vs on the road (2.40 ERA versus 4.18 ERA away).  Of course … Greinke shows reverse H/A splits himself, and is no stranger to playing the Nats (he dominated the Nats in June, shutting them down in our park to the tune of 7ip, 2h).  I think Astros can get back home-field advantage here.
  • Game 4: 10/26/19: Hou@Wash: Bullpen vs Anibal Sanchez: Game 4 could be interesting; the Astros don’t really have a 4th starter they trust; they’ve gotten to this point riding their big 3 starters and getting by with openers and bullpen games otherwise.  So this could be former Nat Brad Peacock or perhaps Wade Miley, who seemed to be their 4th starter all season but who didn’t even appear in the ALCS.  Can Sanchez do what he did again against St. Louis?  Can a bullpen game shutdown the Nats?  I like the Nats here to get a solid start and to get at the slightly-hittable Houston bullpen.
  • Game 5: 10/27/19: Cole vs Scherzer: You think big-game Max is losing a home start?  I don’t think so.  The Nats get to Cole and take a 3-2 series lead heading back to Houston.
  • Game 6: 10/29/19: Verlander vs Strasburg: Verlander recovers and pitches the game of his life to push the series to Game 7.
  • Game 7: 10/30/19: Corbin vs Greinke: Nats get to Greinke again, Corbin gets hit … game turns into a bullpen game … Nats pull another late-inning come back and win in 7.

Sound good?

One thing I did want to point out.  There’s a very solid sportswriter narrative out there that teams can get “cold” with long layoffs like the Nats have had.  And there’s some SSS proof that indeed teams who sweep have a struggle in the series.  Teams are just 1 for 9 in the World Series after sweeping the LCS in four games since 1985 (when the LCS was expanded to 7 games).  See https://sports.yahoo.com/tbs-crew-explains-nationals-avoid-044927265.html (thanks Luke Erickson for the link, which you can also find on ESPN and other places).   This is obviously worrisome for the Nats, who have taken some steps to stay hot.  On the one hand, I think a veteran team will benefit from the longer layoff to rest muscles and get bodies ready to go.  I think Victor Robles will cherish the time to let his leg heal a bit.  And of course, the rest lets all the starters (most of whom were pulling double duty starting and relieving) to rest up and get into their regular schedules.   On the other hand …. 1 for 9.  And they’re going against a 107-win team.

One other thing worth pointing out: the four games in the AL gives the Nats a unique opportunity to finally be able to play their best defensive roster and stick MVP Howie Kendrick in the DH spot.  I like having Asdrubal Cabrera in the lineup with his switch-hitting bat and veteran approach and his better-than-Kendrick defense.   That’s huge for this team.

 

Ask Collier 6/12/19

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Victor Robles ... under performing expectations in 2019? Photo via nbcsports

Victor Robles … under performing expectations in 2019? Photo via nbcsports

Hey team.  A surprise mailbag from MLB Nats beat reporter Jamal Collier, dated  6/12/19.  A good time for a mailbag, we’re post draft, post subtle winning streak, and now the Nats are kind of in seasonal limbo.

Here’s the questions he took and how i’d have answered them.

Q: Feeling good here — this stretch will at least make the season respectable. Question 1: How are you feeling after this run? Some on Nats Twitter want a fire sale of the team, saying everyone must go (for good return). Your thoughts?

A: This has been a good stretch.   The Nats bottomed out after the 4-game sweep in NY, sitting at 19-31.  From there the team has gone 12-4 against Miami, Atlanta, Cincinnati, San Diego and the Chicago White Sox to now sit exactly at 31-36.   Not to sound cynical, but really only two of those games were impressive (the two game mini-sweep at division-leading Atlanta).  Miami is awful, Cincinnati is 6 games under .500, and San Diego/Chicago WS are basically treading water at .500.  But, good teams beat mediocre to bad teams, so 12-4 is a good sign.

Their next Eleven games are against better teams, all with winning records but all at home.  A massive 11-game home-stand against Arizona, Philadelphia and Atlanta.   Right out of the gate the Nats are getting Arizona’s 1-2 starters in Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray (who, lest we forget, was a Nats draft pick many years ago).  After that the Diamondbacks throw one Taylor Clarke, who just happened to grow up in the DC area and went to Broad Run HS in Ashburn.  So an interesting weekend series for sure.  From there, we’ll have two pretty important show-me series against the two divisional leaders, and we know the way the rotations line up that they’ll get Jake Arrieta in the opener.  Which means they’ll then get Zack Eflin, another former Nats hand in Nick Pivetta, and then Aaron Nola if the expected rotation holds.   That’s tough: Eflin has been good all season, Nola has shown some life lately, and Pivetta has been awesome since his return from the minors.

You tell me; this smells like a 6-5 home-stand; a split with Arizona, a split with Philly and then a series win against Atlanta.  Maybe worse if the Nats run into hot Philly pitchers and/or Keuchel with Atlanta.

BUT, but, after that, their next 12 games taking them to the all-star break are against three of the worst teams in the league: Miami, Detroit and Kansas City.  I think this team can and should go 9-3 or 10-2 in those games.

So, assuming the team goes 6-5 in the homestand against quality teams and then 9-3 heading into the all star break, that’d have them sitting at 46-44.   That’s probably a good enough record to convince management to hang in there to compete in 2019 and not have a sell-off … at least not yet.    If the team was sitting a 2 games over .500 right now, they’d still be several games behind in the WC standings, but certainly not out of it.

But that doens’t mean the team won’t eventually do a sell-off.  Their schedule post-all star games goes like this: At Philly, at Baltimore, at Atlanta, home to Colorado, home to LA Dodgers, and then home to Atlanta, taking us up to the trade deadline of 7/31/19.  There’s your season.  If the Nats come out of the ASG break and fall flat in those first 9 away games, mostly against tough divisional opponents, that could be it.

So my new stance is this: Its nice that they went 12-4.  Yay!  Call me in mid July b/c that’s when we’ll really now if its go time or sell time.

Collier mentions the weakness of our recent competition, and says he’s positive about the team … but thinks they may have dug themselves too much of a hole.  He also notes that Atlanta just added a former Cy Young winner in Dallas Keuchel, which significantly improves their rotation and makes them even harder to catch.

Q: What is going on with Patrick Corbin? After that complete game, he’s been struggling. Is he overworked? Injured?

A: I wonder if this isn’t just what we get with Corbin.  Here’s his 2018 game log: check out the end of May/early June.  Inside of four starts, he saw his seasonal ERA jump from 2.47 to 3.48.  A full point in four starts.  Now look at his 2019 game log:  he’s jumped from 2.85 to 4.11 in his last three starts.

Its notable that his last three mediocre starts followed … a 9-inning complete game 116-pitch outing.  Was that a factor?  Doesn’t seem like it; if you notice he got an additional day of rest after 116 pitches, which wasn’t even his season high.

He mentioned in interviews perhaps a slight mechanical issue was at hand; I suspect he’s just run into a rough patch that a couple starts against crummy opponents may very well fix up.

Collins says no injury, just missing locations.  We’ll see what happens next.

Q: Is it fair to say that Victor Robles is underperforming expectations?

A: Yes.   So far he’s slashing .236/.310/.413.   That’s 50 points of a BA below last year’s sample and more than 100 slugging points.   And compare to his career ML slash line of .300/.392/.457.

I dunno; he is trending to a 20/20 season (currently sitting at 9 homers, 9 SBs).  And so far in 2019 he’s showing *really* bad range stats in CF (-17.4 UZR/150 so far after positive figures last year) to go along with a slightly positive DRS figure and negative arm values.   but, as Collier notes, he’s in the 89th percentile for a Stat-cast centric defensive measure.  So who knows (defensive stats are tough).

This for a prospect rated well ahead of compatriot Juan Soto, who has slightly cooled off from last year’s debut numbers, but is still rock-solid in the 128 OPS+ range right now for 2019.

Collier says he started hot, has cooled off significantly and perhaps we were all expecting too much from him.  All true.

Q: What is a realistic timetable for Ryan Zimmerman’s return?

A: Great question.  Planter Fasciitis (speaking as someone who once had it) can be a pretty bedeviling injury to overcome.  You can’t really “rest” a foot.  You kind of have to run on it.  So you’re constantly re-injuring it.  My cynical feeling is that, if  Ryan Zimmerman had been hitting .290 instead of .213 he’d still be starting, with shots of cortisone in his foot to help.

Collier says he traveled with the team to Chicago and is hitting in cages … just not running.  He’s guessing its still weeks away, and will have to include some rehab appearances in the minors.  Certainly his 2020 option decision is not looking good for the team.

Q: What is Koda Glover’s status? Haven’t heard anything about him in a long time.

A: wow, doesn’t this kind of feel like Christian Garcia redux?  What is Koda Glover doing?   Officially the injury is “Strained forearm” and the date was 2/24/19.  So we’re now nearly at 4 months onwards for a forearm injury for a former TJ guy.  Not good; if I had to guess (since that’s all we have) i’d say he probably re-tore the UCL and the team is rehabbing in lieu of a second TJ.

Side note: also with zero updates is Austen Williams, who struggled through one appearance, hit the D/L with a “Sprained shoulder” (notice the slightly more dangerous diagnosis sprain versus strain) … and yet still sits on the 10-day DL (now approaching two months), when clearly to me he could have also gone to the 60-day DL and the team could have then kept Austin Adams or maybe Jimmy Cordero …both of whom immediately got claimed by other teams and/or have had some success this year.

Collier says he’s playing catch and doing long toss.  That’s … not much for 4-months onward.  No pitching from flat ground, no mound work, no sim games, no XST competition.  

Q: What is your favorite HR celebration right now — Eaton/Kendrick going for a drive, Suzuki catching some waves, or a DJ Parra dance party?

A: I have no opinion here 🙂

Collier says its the dance party.  You have to hand it to Gerardo Parra, he has definitely brought some intangibles to this team.  Its Narrative bs … but you can see it with your eyes.

If we’re waiving the white flag … what moves should we do?

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Rendon; to trade or not to trade? Photo Nats Official via espn.com

Rendon; to trade or not to trade? Photo Nats Official via espn.com

Yeah, the team just won 3 of 4 from Miami.  They’re still almost guaranteed at this point not to make the playoffs.  As suggested in the comments from the previous post … Here’s a sweep through the 40-man roster as of today, to talk about possible trade chips and who may or may not be in the future of this team.

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1vnTLwaXYeHFjahCNrTFLzAVebGw0Fj_-__igrTplZA0/edit#gid=1393584019

Outright Free Agents after 2019:

  • Anthony Rendon: who would also be the most likely to fetch prospects in trade mid-season, but who also is someone the Nats may very much want to sign to an extension.  Will the ownership group learn their lesson after dragging their feet last year with Bryce Harper, costing them the Houston trade that almost certainly would have brought back better stuff than a post 4th round pick (#139 overall, which is what we got instead thanks to criminal cap mismanagement over the past two years).  Is this leadership group going to keep him instead of trading him because they think trading him for half a season will damage their negotiations with him?  Trust me, Rendon WANTS to be traded; it removes the Qualifying Offer from burdening his off-season negotiations.   Frankly, getting moved to a contender shouldn’t preclude his returning to the Nats on a long term contract, but a bigger question is what is he worth?  Unlike other major 3B players who signed mega deals lately (Nolan ArenadoManny Machado), Rendon will be 30 upon signing, has injury history, and thus his value is limited.  This is a tangent conversation to the subject at hand, but factors in.
  • Brian Dozier; so far, he’s not only not earning his 2019 $9M salary, he’s putting his career in serious jeopardy.  If he is still hitting .210 at the end of the year, its hard to see him getting a guaranteed contract next year at age 33.
  • Howie Kendrick, who it should be noted was expected to be basically a 4th OF/utility guy and has been batting frigging cleanup for the team lately.  He continues to be a professional hitter even at advancing age (he’s in his age 35 season), and should be worthy of some halfway decent return in prospects in trade.
  • Jeremy Hellickson: for as good as he was in 2018, he’s been as bad in 2019.  He’s not going to fetch anything in trade, and is closer to a release than a trade.
  • Javy Guerrero: we’ll see if  he even makes it to July 1.  Fungible asset, trade if you can get anything.
  • Gerardo Parra: we’re paying him a pro-rated MLB min … as with Guerrero, trade if you can get anything for him.

If you waive the white flag on 2019, every one of these players should get moved for whatever you can get, if anything.  Rendon and Kendrick bring the most back at this point.

Players with 2020 Options

  • Ryan Zimmerman: boy, is he putting the team into a tough position.  Instead of producing in his possible walk year, he’s been awful at the plate and has gotten hurt with a typical “old guy” injury (Planter Fasciitis).  Yes he’s the Face of the Franchise, yes he’s the longest tenured player, yes he was the first player the team ever drafted, yes he’s the clubhouse leader, yes he means a ton to the community, yes he holds a massive fundraiser each year, yes he’s set down DC roots, yes he’s got a 5 year personal-services contract with the team (since deemed illegal in the CBA), and yes he wants to be with the team post playing career.  Yes to all of that.  However, there’s no way he’s worth his 2020 option of $18M.  that’s 10% of the payroll for a guy who is easily replaced with readily available mid-30s sluggers for a quarter of the price.  This is going to be ugly.  I don’t think you trade him (who would want him and who would give up prospects?), but I also don’t think you sign him at his option.  I privately suspect the team will renegotiate his $18M option to something like a 4-yr/$20M deal that pays him right around what Matt Adams is making, takes him to his late 30s, establishes him as a utility/bench bat for the duration, and keeps him in the fold til that point in his career where inarguably he is done playing.
  • Adam Eaton: his 2020 and 2021 options are ridiculously affordable ($9.5M and $10.5M).  The team gutted its top-end starting pitcher depth to acquire him (a decision that looks worse and worse as Lucas Giolito throws 4-hit shutouts and Reynaldo Lopez maintains 12 K/9 rates and Dane Dunning remains a viable future MLB starter even despite his TJ surgery).  But Eaton is now 30, and his 5-6 bWAR seasons seem past him.  If he’s a 1-2 win player, he’s worth the salary and picking up the options.  If he ends 2019 hitting a punchless .273 …. do you dare cut him or trade him?  Maybe not after 2019, but another season of this after 2020 and they may be cutting bait.
  • Yan Gomes: $9M 2020 option.  While the team didn’t trade as much for Gomes, catchers are difficult to come by in this sport.  So even despite his current BA, I can’t see the team cutting him loose after this year and declining his option.
  • Sean Doolittle has a ridiculously cheap $6.5M 2020 option and is the first stable closer we’ve had under longer term team control since Drew Storen.  He’s not going anywhere.
  • Trevor Rosenthal: $10M option on the table which increases to $15M player option if he pitches in 50 games (he’s appeared in 7 so far).  You may laugh right now at even considering this option; what if he comes back and pitches lights out in June and July?  I think you trade him for whatever you can get and let his options be someone else’s issue.  More likely, he’s going to come back from his “rehab” appearances, continue to struggle and the team will summarily cut him, and he’s exhibit 1A for the 2019 team’s issues.
  • Matt Adams: $4M 2020 mutual option; he’s not earning it right now.  Trade him for what you can get, and find some other middle 30s lefty slugger on the open market next year.
  • Tony Sipp: $2.5M 2020 option, that’s a steal.  But he’s got a 5.40 ERA in limited action; would you pick up this option?

Of this group, i’d move Rosenthal, Adams and Sipp if you can get anything.

Signed for 2020/longer term:

  • Max Scherzer; signed through 2021, and  honestly if he wins another Cy Young he’ll be wearing a Nats cap in Cooperstown.  can’t move him.
  • Stephen Strasburg: signed through 2023, can’t move him.
  • Patrick Corbin; just signed new deal through 2024, why would we want to move him.
  • Anibal Sanchez: $9M for 2020 guaranteed … but he’s not really putting himself into position to get anything back in trade based on performance and injury so far.
  • Kurt Suzuki: $6M for 2020, and he’s playing great.  If you move him you just have to replace him and what has changed in terms of our ML catcher depth from last off-season to now?  We still don’t trust Spencer Kieboom with major league ABs, i’m not sure why Raudy Read continues to take up space on the 40-man, and our best prospect Israel Pineda is in Low-A.  So we need Suzuki for 2020.

I’d keep the big 3 starters and Suzuki; move Sanchez if you can (doubtful).  I just don’t see how you can justify moving any of our big 3 starters unless you’re planning a complete, 59 win season overhaul.

Arbitration eligible next year: 

  • Trea Turner
  • Michael Taylor
  • Kyle Barraclough
  • Justin Miller
  • Wilmer Difo
  • Matt Grace
  • Koda Glover
  • Joe Ross

An interesting set of players.  I’d say the team faces some interesting tender choices next off-season.   Right now looking at this list i’d clearly tender Turner, Barraclough and Ross, I’d probably take a hard look at Miller, Difo, Grace but eventually tender, and I’d probably cut loose Taylor and Glover.  Who of these guys are trade bait?  Honestly, everyone but Turner, Ross and Barraclough.

In terms of Trade deadline … i’m not sure i’d trade any of these guys … they’re all either untouchable or un-tradeable.

Pre-Arbitration players:

  • Juan Soto, Wander Suero, Andrew Stevenson, Victor Robles, Jake Noll, James Bourque, Erick Fedde, Spencer Kieboom, Kyle McGowin, Tanner Rainey, Raudy Read, Adrian Sanchez, Austin Voth, Austen Williams, Carter Kieboom.

No reason to part ways with anyone here; if they’re starters (Soto, Robles, Fedde, etc) they’re too valuable on their current $575k (or so) contracts, and if they’re role players they’re fungible assets who are probably not really trade-able.

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Summary: there’s not really a ton of return value here.  Rendon, Kendrick, Adams seem to be the best trade chips.

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added bonus: CBS sports did some similar analysis of Nats potential trade chips: https://www.cbssports.com/mlb/news/mlb-trade-deadline-anthony-rendon-and-other-nationals-trade-chips-ranked-if-they-become-sellers-by-july-31/  .  They came up with similar names here.