Nationals Arm Race

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Nats Winter Meetings Preview

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Winter Meetings 2016

Winter Meetings 2016 … here in DC!

As requested from Dr. Cane in the comments, lets chat about what we may see transpire at the upcoming Winter Meetings.  This year’s Winter meetings are a week from now, running from Sunday 12/4/16 to 12/8/16 at the Gaylord Hotel in the National Harbor.  I’m halfway curious to drive over there to witness the “scene” in the lobby/hotel bar, having read about/listened to multiple podcasts over the years describing how these meetings work.  On the other hand, I’m sure I wouldn’t appreciate it if some nerd was hanging around my office while I was trying to get work done, so maybe not :-)

In this space we’ve talked about a couple of items related to what we may see transpire in DC in the next week:

We still have some significant issues to address on the roster.  How many will we see resolved at these meetings?  Here’s some of the rumors (two good links: mlbtraderumors.com FA predictions and BleacherReports predictions)  I’ve been hearing about as they relate to the obvious holes we have to fill; apparently the Nats and Mike Rizzo are expected to be “aggressive” this winter.  I’ll take them position by position:

Center Field/Outfield

  • One rumor has the Nats moving Bryce Harper to center and buying one of the big corner OF bats on the market.  Jose Bautista or Brandon Moss.  Josh Reddick was an early name but he got snapped up quickly.  Carlos Gomez could be an interesting name.
  • I’ve read that the team will splash out cash for Yoenis Cespedes and really “go for it” during the Harper window.
  • Mark Zuckerman recently reported that Ben Revere basically played with a bum shoulder the whole season and the team may very well tender him and go into 2017 with him as the starter.
  • I’ve heard the Nats associated with Andrew McCutchen, who may actually not be a good CF any longer, but any trade for him may be tough to do since he struggled so badly in 2016.
  • Also heard that the team could be involved in trade for someone like J.D. Martinez if the Tigers attempt to re-tool their roster.
  • My Take: i’m on the “move Bryce to CF” and acquire a corner bat.  I’d be happy with any of these names as a way to bolster the offense.

Shortstop

  • All of these CF moves assume Trea Turner returns to Short and Danny Espinosa either becomes a trade candidate or assumes the Stephen Drew utility infielder role.
  • I fully support Turner back to SS; i just don’t understand those that want to keep him in Center when he’s a natural short stop and, frankly, its a heck of a lot easier to find a CF than a SS.
  • My Take: I’m on the “we should trade Espinosa” boat if he’s not the starter, if only for the rumors we read about him as a clubhouse presence when he’s not playing.

Closer

  • There’s three major closers on the market and more than three teams chasing them.  Nats not expected to be a massive overpay … but you never know.  One rumor has them on Aroldis Chapman, banking on him retaining his velocity.
  • Another rumor has the Nats being more sensible and rolling the dice on a former closer like Greg Holland and then buying up a middle reliever (someone like a Brad Ziegler) to supplement the loss of several arms from this year’s bullpen.
  • But there’s all sorts of middle relief arms out there.  Joe Blanton may get 8 figures.  Who knew.
  • My Take: I like the Holland + Ziegler/Blanton route to add to our existing Kelley/Treinen/Glover trio, then add in the two lefties Solis/Perez and you have your bullpen.  Kelley could be the closer if Holland can’t do it and that’d still give the team three really good 8th/9th inning arms.  Replace Glover with a long-man if you want, or consider that both Perez and Blanton are former starters who could suck up innings, or be original and forgoe the darn long-man and just depend on call ups if you get a ton of innings thrown by the bullpen over a short period of time.

Catcher

  • Matt Weiters to the Nats makes a lot of sense; Scott Boras client, no draft pick compensation this year.
  • The team has already missed out on a couple of catchers who have gone off the board early.
  • They may be looking a some trade targets.
  • Clearly they’re not going to go into 2017 with just Jose Lobaton and Severino.
  • Wilson Ramos seems more and more likely to be gone, perhaps a remnant of the insulting pre-injury offer they gave him, perhaps just a reality of the market for his services coming off a 2nd major knee injury.  We love the Buffalo, but he may be better suited for an AL team that can DH him every once in a while, and one that can survive until July when he’s ready to go.
  • My Take: I have no idea what they’ll do.  But they have to do something.

I don’t really think the team needs or seeks any upgrades elsewhere, but yet we still hear weird rumors every once in a while.

  • Chris Sale acquisition via trade; don’t really understand the need; yes that’d give the team three “Aces” at the top but at what cost if it requires them to gut the farm system?
  • Moves to replace Werth or Zimmerman just seem silly to consider, given the payroll implications of having those two clubhouse leader/10-and-5 guys suddenly be bench bats.  I don’t see this team, this manager or this executive group knee capping franchise defining players like that, especially when they’re still relatively serviceable.   Werth was a 1.1 win player last year with a WRC+ figure north of 100.  Zimmerman was worth negative fWAR of course, but he was hurt most of the season, so its kind of hard to gauge what he’ll do in 2017.  He’s only 32 after all, and is under contract for a while longer.

Its impossible to predict trades that come out of the blue, but it is worth noting that the Nats have some surpluses of talent that they can trade from:

  • I count nine starters on the 40-man roster, which means that several could be trade bait.  We’ve heard rumors about Giolito, Lopez, Voth, Cole, Fedde and Gonzalez all getting packed up to move out.  And that leaves out some lesser-renounded but still promising arms lower down in the system (Dunning of course, but also the likes of Avila, Baez, Watson, etc).
  • There’s now TEN (10) infielders on the 40-man; I see a couple of DFAs/trades (Espinosa of course, and the loser of Skole/Robinson perhaps), and its hard to see a pathway for others (where does Marmolejos play for example?), but that’s a lot of infielders for 4 starting spots and and at most six 25-man jobs.
  • We have more than a few rising quality outfielders, headed by Robles and new 40-man member Bautista, but also including the likes of Stevenson, Agustin, Wiseman, Perkins and Banks.

What do you guys see happening?

 

My 2016 End-of-Season Awards Predictions

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Scherzer may have the best shot of our 4 "finalists" for awards this week. Photo via washtimes.com

Scherzer may have the best shot of our 4 “finalists” for awards this week. Photo via washtimes.com

Quick break from Nats off-season stuff to talk about the “silly season” of baseball.  Its awards week, with all the major BBWAA awards to be given out this week.

Here’s my predictions for how the awards will go.  This is not necessarily how I believe the awards should go … once again, I think narrative wins out over Mike Trout‘s 10+ WAR season, and we may see an east coast bias in the AL rookie award.  But lets see how it goes.

Here’s the list of finalists, published last week.

The writers have to submit their ballots at the end of the season; I finished this post in early October but waited until the awards season to arrive to publish it.  Thus, it contains no inclusion of any post-season accolades or accomplishments since the votes were already in before the playoffs started.

How do I think the voting will go?

  • AL MVP: Betts, Trout, Donaldson, Machado, Altuve (maybe some 5th place votes for Ortiz).
  • NL MVP: Bryant, Seager, Murphy, Rizzo, Freeman/Arenado
  • AL Cy Young: Kluber, Verlander, Porcello, Sale, Britton
  • NL Cy Young: Scherzer, Fernandez, Hendricks, Lester, Snydergaard
  • AL Rookie: Sanchez, Fulmer, Mazara
  • NL Rookie: Seager, Turner, Maeda
  • AL Manager: Franconia, Bannister, Girardi
  • NL Manager: Baker, Maddon, Roberts

Actual Award Results added as they were awarded:

My prediction results: 4 for 8.  Got Seager, Franconia, Scherzer, Bryant.  Missed on Fulmer, Roberts, Porcello, Trout.  Historically i’ve been pretty good at these predictions; this was a very bad year for me.  Which is good, because it means that the electorate is improving and that generally my over-thinking of voters picking bad results should lessen.

Links to other awards that I didn’t necessarily predict:


 

Note: I made some prediction mistakes based on the publication of the 3 finalist links; I’ll note those in the discussion links below.

Discussion:

  • AL MVP : I know some view “MVP” as “Best Player,” but it isn’t.  And I’m in agreeance with the narrative that with like candidates, the playoff chase matters.  Who cares that the Angels went 74-88 with 10-win Trout; Betts had nearly as valuable a season while doing a bit of everything for Boston.  Betts wins, Trout gets another 2nd place finish.  With the publication of the finalists, we now know that I was wrong on Donaldson for 3rd and that it will go to Altuve; i get that, since Altuve was “in the lead” for a lot of the season.
  • NL MVP: Bryant and it isn’t close.  I think Seager gets 2nd over Murphy b/c he’s a short stop.
  • AL Cy Young: I like Kluber slightly over Verlander but I could see arguments on both sides.  What I really hope does NOT happen is over-emphasis on Britton’s season.  Yes he’s had a nice season; no he isn’t the best pitcher in the AL.  I am slightly proud of myself for at least getting the top 3 right.
  • NL Cy Young: Kershaw’s injury has opened the door for a slew of guys: Scherzer probably has the combination of wins, IPs, Ks to be the “leader” even if he’s eclipsed in WAR by Fernandez, Snydergaard.  Lester, Cueto and Hendricks also each have cases.  This could be a completely wide-open race.  I wrote most of this before the tragic death of Fernandez; will he now win out of sentimentality?  No he won’t; with the publication of the 3 finalists we know Fernandez wasn’t in the top 3.
  • AL Rookie: Michael Fulmer was a shoe-in until Gary Sanchez hit 20 homers in his first 45 games; this race is closer than you might think.  Fulmer really should get it, but the NY media narrative game is strong.  I think Sanchez ekes it out; it was a pretty historic debut.  I did get the third finalist wrong, Cleveland’s Naquin sneaks in.
  • NL Rookie: Seager is in the MVP discussion and should win unanimously.  Trea Turner’s probably top 3, as is Seager’s japanese teammate Maeda.  I am guessing Maeda pips Turner for 2nd place based on playing a full season.
  • AL Manager: No idea how this goes: maybe Franconia in Cleveland still?  Perhaps Girardi for having the Yankees in the WC mix after their sell-off?  Maybe John Ferrell for getting Boston’s act back together?  Maybe Bannister in Texas for running away with a division that most thought Houston would win?  I thought Girardi would sneak in over Francona; if we knew about Francona’s post-season exploits we may be giving him the award unanimously.
  • NL Manager: Baker in Washington still for me.  Yes Maddon will get some love, but Baker’s going to improve the Nats by 13 wins; the Cubs were widely expected to get to 100 wins.  Maybe Roberts in LA gets some love too.  Honestly this is the award i’m least confident in guessing.

 


 

Running Diary of Awards candidates.

End of April; Here’s MLB’s players of the month link.

  • MVP : Manny Machado and Bryce Harper had fantastic months.  Names also in the mix early in 2016: Dexter Fowler, Nolan Arenado, Josh Donaldson.
  • Cy Young: Jordan Zimmermann and Jake Arrieta, picking up right where he left off.  Also off to great starts: Chris Sale, Stephen Strasburg and Noah Snydergaard.
  • Rookie: Nomar Mazara and Trevor Story.  Also in the mix: Kenta Maeda, Aledmys Diaz, Vincent Velasquez.

Mid May Check-in:

  • MVP : Jose Altuve now in the lead in the AL.  Machado and Mike Trout in the mix.  In the NL Harper has tailed off, opening the door for Clayton Kershaw and Anthony Rizzo to nose their way into the discussion.  Arenado also tailed off a bit in May but still strong.
    Cy Young: Sale has won his first 9 starts and looks unbeatable; Zimmermann has taken a step back in the AL race.  In the NL, Kershaw remains the class of the league and the likes of Arrieta and Strasburg stay close behind.
  • Rookie: Nomar Mazara leading the way in the AL: Twins 1B Byung Ho Park close behind.  In the NL, Diaz is also an MVP candidate right now and remains in the NL ROY lead.  Story’s “storybook” start keeps him close.

Half-way point of the season: Cliff Corcoran’s First half Awards,  Jeff Passan‘s mid-way awards article.  The Ringer’s Mike Baumann‘s mid-season awards post.

  • AL MVP : Jose Altuve has cooled slightly, leaving last year’s 1-2 finishers Trout and Donaldson in the lead again this year.  But if Altuve continues to produce at these levels (with slash lines nearly identical to Trout’s) he’ll win as long as Houston stays in the playoff hunt.  And once again, Trout finds himself leading the league in value-based stats while playing for a dead-last team, and once again he likely finishes 2nd to someone like Donaldson, who has a good but not as good of a season but plays for a winner.  Ortiz’s monster farewell season gets him top 5 votes.
  • NL MVP: Harper has never regained his bat since the walk-a-thon in Chicago, and with a lack of any other candidate it seems ripe for another Kershaw double.  He’s hit the D/L though, having some wonder if the likes of Kris Bryant could get the award since he’s the best player on (one of the) best teams.  Matt Carpenter is quietly having a fantastic season.  If the Giants (as of the halfway point owning a better record), then their leader Buster Posey will get votes.
  • AL Cy Young: Sale has started the season 14-2 and Cleveland’s entire rotation (led by Danny Salazar) sits among various league leader categories.
  • NL Cy Young: Kershaw remains the class of the league and needs to miss significant time to lose out.  Its hard to fathom the season he’s having, with just 9 walks in 121 innings in the first half.  Strasburg is the first NL starter in 100 years to start a season 12-0 and seems like the likely 2nd place finisher.  But there’s a slew of NL starters with sterling numbers right now: Bumgarner and Cueto in particular.  NL East beasts Snydergaard and Fernandez have been awesome as well.
  • AL Rookie: Nomar Mazara has tailed off and Park got demoted to AAA; the leader in the  clubhouse seems like Detroit starter Michael Fulmer right now.  Tyler Naquin is in the running, and Baltimore’s Hyun Soo Kim is there as well.
  • NL Rookie: Diaz and Story are still on the whole having great seasons but Dodger SS Corey Seager is running away with this and could hit 30 homers from the shortstop position this year.  Don’t sleep on Seager’s teammmate Kenta Maeda though; he’s rebounded from a rough patch to be a solid starter.
  • AL Manager: probably Jeff Bannister for the turnaround in Texas.  Perhaps Terry Franconia for the surprise in Cleveland.
  • NL Manager: likely our own Baker for having the Nats on a 96 win pace, which would beat 2015 by 13 games.  But likely it goes to Bochy or Madden for leading good teams to good records.
  • Comeback Player of the year: I have nothing narrative-driven for either league.  Maybe Stephen Wright in the AL and maybe Anthony Rendon in the NL?

Mid August check in:

  • AL MVP : I think it goes Altuve-Trout-Donaldson at this point.  Betts and Machado fill out the top 5.
  • NL MVP: With Kershaw’s injury, I think its Kris Bryant’s to lose.  Daniel Murphy gets some top 5 votes, as does Buster Posey and Nolan Arenado.
  • AL Cy Young: Hamels and Quintana seem like the obvious choices, even if Fulmer is leading the league in bWAR.
  • NL Cy Young: Kershaw’s injury has opened the door for a slew of guys: Bumgarner, Scherzer and Strasburg, deGrom and Arrieta.  Who knows how it shakes out.  If Strasburg finishes the season 21-3 though, it’ll be hard to vote against him.
  • AL Rookie: Michael Fulmer leads the AL in bWAR midway through August; he seems like a shoe-in for ROY.  And he’s crushed it for my fantasy team too; that Cespedes trade isn’t looking so hot now is it?
  • NL Rookie: Seager sits 3rd in the NL in bWAR; he has to be the unanimous vote right now.
  • AL Manager: Franconia in Cleveland.
  • NL Manager: Baker in Washington.

Mid September check-in:

  • AL MVP : Its tight: Trout has now eclipsed 10 WAR on the season.  Altuve has dropped out, but Betts has risen.  Its going to be close, but I think it goes Betts-Trout-Donaldson with Machado and Altuve filling out the top 5.  You have to think Ortiz’s monster farewell season will get some votes too.
  • NL MVP: This is now Bryant’s to lose.  Daniel Murphy gets some top 5 votes, as does Buster Posey and Corey Seager.  Anthony Rizzo also gets some MVP votes, and if the Mets somehow sneak into the playoffs so does Cespedes on narrative.  Freddie Freeman getting some attention with his monster WAR season but he’ll be a 5th-place type vote getter at best.
  • AL Cy Young: this race is wide open.  Kluber leads the league in bWAR but may not be the best pitcher on his staff.  Porcello has reached 20 wins but is vastly eclipsed by Kluber in terms of Ks.  Sale, Quintana in the mix, as is Verlander.  Tanaka has quietly had a solid season too.  Some narrative-driven writers are pushing for Zach Britton.
  • NL Cy Young: Kershaw’s injury has opened the door for a slew of guys: Scherzer probably has the combination of wins, IPs, Ks to be the “leader” even if he’s eclipsed in WAR by Fernandez, Snydergaard.  Lester, Cueto and Hendricks also each have cases.  This could be a completely wide-open race.  I wrote most of this before the tragic death of Fernandez; will he now win out of sentimentality?
  • AL Rookie: Michael Fulmer was a shoe-in until Gary Sanchez hit 20 homers in his first 45 games; this race is closer than you might think.  Fulmer really should get it, but the NY media narrative game is strong.
  • NL Rookie: Seager is in the MVP discussion and should win unanimously.  Trea Turner’s probably top 3, as is Seager’s japanese teammate Maeda.
  • AL Manager: No idea how this goes: maybe Franconia in Cleveland still?  Perhaps Girardi for having the Yankees in the WC mix after their sell-off?  Maybe John Ferrell for getting Boston’s act back together?  Maybe Bannister in Texas for running away with a division that most thought Houston would win?
  • NL Manager: Baker in Washington still for me.  Yes Maddon will get some love, but Baker’s going to improve the Nats by 13 wins; the Cubs were widely expected to get to 100 wins.  Maybe Roberts in LA gets some love too.

 

Qualifying Offers 2016; Will the Nats give up a pick for one of these guys?

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Desmond gets a Q.O. ... and gets screwed. Note this is the same picture and same caption I put in this post last year. Photo Drew Kinback/Natsnq.com

Desmond gets a Q.O. … and gets screwed. Note this is the same picture and same caption I put in this post last year. Photo Drew Kinback/Natsnq.com

This year’s crop of Qualifying Offer-attached FAs has been announced; lets look at the ten guys who will have to deal with draft pick compensation as they attempt to find a new team:

YearPlayerPOSAgentOld TeamPrevious ContractPrevious Contract AAVWalk year salaryQ.O.
2016Yoenis CespedesOFBrodie Van Wagenen / Roc NationNew York Mets1yr/$27.5M27.5M27.5M$17.2M
2016Dexter FowlerOF (cf)Casey Close/Excel Sports ManagementChicago Cubs1 year/$13M13M13M$17.2M
2016Justin Turner3BLegacy AgencyLos Angeles Dodgers1 year/$5.1M5.1M5.1M$17.2M
2016Edwin Encarnacio1B/DHRep 1 BaseballToronto4 years/$39M9.75M10M$17.2M
2016Neil Walker2BExcel SportsNew York Mets1 year/$10.55M10.55M10.55M$17.2M
2016Kenley JansenRHP (closer)Wasserman Media GroupLos Angeles Dodgers1 year/$10.65M10.6510.65$17.2M
2016Ian DesmondOF (cf)/SSCAA Baseball (was Sports One Athlete Management)Texas1 year/$8M8m8m$17.2M
2016Jeremy HellicksonRHP (starter)Scott Boras/Boras CorporationPhiladelphia1 year/$7M7m7m$17.2M
2016Jose BautistaOF (RF)Jay Alou, Epitome SportsToronto6 years/$79M13.16M14M$17.2M
2016Mark Trumbo1b/OFWasserman Media GroupBaltimore1 year/$9.15M9.15M9.15M$17.2M

And here’s a list of the 10 worst teams from 2016 who have protected 1st rounders:

  1. Twins (59-103, .364)
  2. Reds (68-94, .420)
  3. Padres (68-94, .420)
  4. Rays (68-94, .420)
  5. Braves (68-93, .422)
  6. A’s (69-93, .426)
  7. D-backs (69-93, .426)
  8. Phillies (71-91, .438)
  9. Brewers (73-89, .451)
  10. Angels (74-88, .457)

Of these 10 teams, I think its fair to say that only a couple of them are possible FA shoppers anyway. Twins, Reds, Padres, DBacks, Brewers all seem to still be in “re-boot” mode, the Braves and Phillies are probably in a “cautious shopping” mode, the Rays and A’s are in a “never spend money” mode, and the Angels are in a “we’re already spending way too much money” mode.  So it’d be a  huge surprise if a protected team even takes advantage of this FA crop.

Here’s 11-30, in order, all of whom will have to spend their 1st round pick if they sign players:

11. Rockies (75-87, .463)
12. White Sox (78-84, .481)
13. Pirates (78-83, .484)
14. Marlins (79-82, .491)
15. Royals (81-81, .500)
16. Astros (84-78, .519)
17. Yankees (84-78, .519)
18. Mariners (86-76, .531)
19. Cardinals (86-76, .531)
20. Tigers (86-75, .534)
21. Giants (87-75, .537)
22. Mets (87-75, .537)
23. Orioles (89-73, .549)
24. Blue Jays (89-73, .549)
25. Dodgers (91-71, .562)
26. Red Sox (93-69, .574)
27. Indians (94-67, .584)
28. Nationals (95-67, .586)
29. Rangers (95-67, .586)
30. Cubs (103-58, .640)

I can’t really see the first few teams giving up picks; maybe you have to get to Houston at #16 before you have a real big-market team looking to spend money.  From about the Yankees on down, practically all these teams may be considering one of the 10 QO players and forfeiting their pick.

There’s a couple of interesting players here, so here’s some commentary.

  • Yoenis Cespedes: opted out of two years and $43M to hit FA again; he’s the marquee hitter on the market and he’ll get a 9-figure deal.  I think he’ll struggle to match $27.5M AAV, but that won’t bother him.  Teams shouldn’t have any issues cashing in a 1st rounder for him.  Linked to the Nats but not really; there’s just no way they can get him to fit into their payroll unless they drastically jack it up from 2016 levels.
  • Dexter Fowler decides to roll the dice again; that may be a mistake, maybe not.  If he gets 3yrs and $40M guaranteed he’ll be happy.  Linked to the Nats; see below.
  • Justin Turner came out of nowhere to earn a $17M offer; he’s only making $5M this year.  Is he tempted to take the offer?
  • Encarnacion and Bautista both seem likely to leave Toronto; I think the limits on their markets is less about the QO and more about their aging “old-man” skill sets.
  • Neil Walker is coming off a back injury; but there’s also not a ton of depth in the 2B market for those teams looking.  Still, $17M is a hefty improvement on his 2016 $10.5M salary.
  • Jansen seems crazy to pass up this kind of money … except that there’s several big-market teams dying for a new closer (ours included).  I don’t see the Nats forking over this cash, instead taking a cheaper option like Holland (assuming he can still throw).
  • Desmond; poor Ian Desmond, saddled with the offer yet again.  Maybe he takes it this year.  I’m not really sure what has changed in terms of his market.  Recently linked with Baltimore.
  • Hellickson taking the QO just to screw Philly would be awesome … but he also knows that despite his mediocre career he’s one of the best 2-3 options this off-season.
  • Trumbo; Only $9.15M this year; could he take the offer and double his pay?  Probably no reason to; he likely just had his best career year and he’ll get the best contract offer he can right now.

In the end; i don’t see an obvious QO taker.  Last year 20 players got offered the QO and a number took it, finally calling the owner’s bluff.  So many players that might have entertained offers didn’t get them this year, and of the above list only one or two possibly could take it if they were worried about their markets, but likely nobody takes it.


From a  Nats perspective; do any of these players move the needle for you, enough so to give up the #28 overall pick?  We have definitely shown a proclivity towards cashing in that pick to acquire players.  But of these 10 guys, who are really targets for the Nats?

We can rule many out of the way immediately:

  • Turner: we don’t need a 3B.
  • Walker: we don’t need a 2B
  • Hellickson: we don’t need a starter
  • Desmond: can’t see a reunion, not for a guy who barely plays CF.
  • Trumbo: this FO seems smart enough to see what Trumbo is (a homer-only DH).
  • Encarnacion: similar to Trumbo in that he’s 1B/DH … and we already have someone at 1B.

So we’re down to really 4 contenders:

  • Jansen: Even though we need a closer, I can’t see this FO spending that much on a closer and think they’ll go a cheaper route.
  • Cespedes; Cespedes is the #1 FA on the market and will probably get some ridiculous amount of money per season from a bigger market team; also priced out of the Nats budget.  Would force Harper to CF AND would force Werth back to right, providing a pretty significant negative impact to the Nats outfield defense.
  • Bautista: Yeah he’s a marquee bat … but his BA took a nose dive in 2016, he’s already 36 and seems to have the kind of classic “old-man slugger” skills that evaporate seemingly overnight.  If his 2016 had been more like his 2015 season, maybe.  His once vaunted RF defense has also taken a significant hit, posting negative UZR and “arm” ratings the last two seasons after being one of the premier defenders there for years.  Would also force Harper to CF and would
  • Fowler; perhaps the one FA that makes sense for all factors (age, positional fit and quality).  If the Nats signed him, it would immediately trigger many of the moves we’re all predicting (Turner back to short, non-tender of Revere, trade of Espinosa) and really improves the lineup.  Fowler batted lead-off for the Cubs and posted nearly a .400 OPS; putting him 1-2 with Turner at the top would really galvanize the run production out of the big bats in the lineup.

Imagine this lineup: Turner SS, Fowler CF, Harper RF, Rendon 3B, Murphy 2B, Werth LF, Zimmerman 1B, C, P.   That’d go R-S-L-R-L-R-R for good balance with some serious OBP in the 1-2-3 slots for contact hitters like Rendon and Murphy to drive in.

So.  Will Fowler sign here?  We have serious suitors for his talents (most are projecting him to St.Louis).  We’ll see.  But for me Fowler is worth giving up a pick.

 

Nats post-2016 “GM for a Day” Off-Season Priorities for filling Roster Holes

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Ramos may be the toughest off-season decision the team makes. Photo via wp.com

Ramos may be the toughest off-season decision the team makes. Photo via wp.com

Another year, another playoff failure.  Beat it to death already.  Time to move on.

Lets talk about the post-season “To Do” list is for the Nats.  We’ll have eventual posts to talk about other stuff, like Tender decisions, 40-man decisions ahead of the Rule5 draft, etc.

In this post, we’ll squint at the overall roster, look at blatant holes that will need filling, and discuss how they might get filled.  Call it the cliche’s “General Manager for a day” post for the Nats this coming off-season.


Pending Free Agents we are waving good-bye to and the holes they thus leave (as per the invaluable Cots site at BaseballProspectus):

  • Mark Melancon: though i’d love to re-sign him … see later in the post.
  • Wilson Ramos: his injury is a shame for both player and team; he likely lost $50M in guaranteed FA money and the team lost a clear QO-compensation pick.  He may not even be able to catch again, which dumps him to the AL, where his market is significantly cut thanks to the lessening of demand for bat-only DH types.  Ramos is in serious career jeopardy right now; would he decamp back to the Nats on some sort of minimally guaranteed deal with performance incentives?
  • Stephen Drew: also one I hope re-signs; see later in the post.
  • Chris Heisey: one who I think is replaceable; look for another cattle call for RH bat options this coming spring training.
  • Matt Belisle: despite not making the NLDS roster, he was great for Washington this year and is worth another contract.
  • Mark Rzepczynski: He’s been very effective for us, and overall had a good 2016.  His 2015 was awful, but he was good before that.  Such is the life of specialist relievers.
  • Sean Burnett and Mat Latos: both given Sept 2016 tryouts; neither seem likely to be retained.
  • Jonathan Papelbon: worth mentioning if only for the payroll flexibility.

Total payroll “savings” from these FAs: roughly $22M.  Papelbon’s $11M, Ramos’ $5.3M and the rest total about $6M.

Guys who I think are clear Non-Tenders (probably a topic worth its own post).

  • Yusmeiro Petit: $3M option with $500k buyout for 2017; pitched poorly in 2016, didn’t make the post-season roster and should be replaceable on the roster by any number of our AAA starters.
  • Ben Revere: $6.25M salary this year, due an arbitration raise for 2017; struggled badly in 2016, lost his job to a guy who had about 2 week of CF experience and didn’t make the post-season roster.
  • Aaron Barrett: as heartless as it would be; he’s arb-eligible, still hurt, not likely to be ready by opening day and is completely replaceable as a RH middle reliever).

Total savings from these non-tenders: roughly $10M

Guys who I think its Time to Trade and the holes they thus leave.  This also may be worthy of its own whole post.

  • Gio Gonzalez: I think the Nats can take advantage of a historically weak FA market for starters and Gio’s very friendly contract (two $12M options for 2017 and 2018) and move him.  Yes he struggled this year, but if you look at what middle rotation innings eaters like him are getting these days, $12M is a bargain and he should fetch something we value.  Moving him lets some of the guys who are clearly biting on the heels of a deserved rotation spot earn it for 2017 and thus the Nats “save” $11.5M in salary for the 2017 roster.
  • Danny Espinosa: As much as I have argued against this, his 2017 playoff performance has solidified in my mind the need to move him.  He has his pros (a plus defender range wise, perhaps the best SS arm in the game, and serious power for a SS) and his cons (he hit just .209 this year, he strikes out at about a 30% clip, and his switch hitting capabilities are really in question).  Nonetheless, there has to be some demand for a 25-home run capable plus defender SS in a lineup that can afford one crummy batting average at the bottom of the order.  Perhaps an AL team that doesn’t have to also bat a sub .200 BA pitcher.

Total savings from these guys getting moved (not counting payroll received in return of course): $15-$16M.

So, adding up all three lines, assuming a steady payroll ceiling similar to this year’s and not counting arbitration raises (or Strasburg‘s new contract), you’d have roughly $47M with which to work.  Not bad.  Strasburg’s new contract will take $5M away from that flexibility (he made $10M last year, will make $15M next) and arbitration raises for Harper, Rendon and Roark will cost some cash, but that’s a post for another day.  Lets call it $30M in available FA dollars when all is said and done.


So, assuming you’re even reading this far and havn’t already started commenting and arguing about that list of players, here’s the presumed holes that losing these 10 players leaves (in order of mention above):

  • Closer
  • Starting Catcher
  • Backup Utility Infielder
  • Backup RH bench bat/corner outfielder
  • 6th/7th inning RH reliever
  • Loogy
  • Long Man/Spot starter/7th guy out of the pen
  • Backup Outfielder (CF capable)
  • Another 6th/7th inning RH reliever
  • #5 Starter
  • Starting Shortstop
  • (and not really counting the “loss” of Burnett and Latos for this discussion)

If we just filled these holes internally, what would it look like?

  • Closer: Make Shawn Kelley the closer and move up Treinen and Glover to be 8th inning guys.  This leaves a hole later on in the pen for the middle RH relievers (see below)
  • Starting Catcher: promote Lobaton to starter and install Severino as the backup.  Or switch them; honestly I like Severino’s at-bats; he looks confident.  I don’t think Kieboom is ready for the show, so it makes sense to tender Lobaton for one more year.
  • Backup Utility InfielderDifo becomes the first go-to guy to backup Turner/Murphy, but we’ll still need another utility guy.
  • Backup RH bench bat/corner outfielder: not much internally to go to; both the 2016 AAA and AA rosters are basically bereft of decent hitting prospects who might be candidates.  We’ll be trolling the FA market here for sure.  See the next section.
  • Two 6th/7th inning RH relievers: We have Gott and Martin on the 40-man; they could step up to replace these two guys like for like.  Right now we have five RH relievers under contract for 2017 (Kelley, Treinen, Glover, Gott and Martin) to go along with two lefties (Solis and Perez); that’s not too bad of a bullpen to start out with, but could be improved.  And this lineup doesn’t “really” have a long man, so you’d have to think one of Gott or Martin is in AAA to make room for a long-man (likely Martin at this point).
  • Loogy: its arguable whether we need another lefty with both Solis and Perez under contract, but they went most of the year this year with three.  Matt Grace is still on the 40-man and would be an internal option.
  • Long Man/Spot starter/7th guy out of the pen: loser of #5 starter competition (see below)
  • Backup Outfielder (CF capable)Michael Taylor, in what likely is his ceiling from here forward.
  • #5 Starter: have Sprint Training 2017 tryouts for the #5 starter between Lopez, Giolito, Cole and even Voth (who I’m assuming by that time will be on the 40-man, protected ahead of this coming off-season’s Rule-5 draft).  The winner is #5 starter, and one of the losers could be the long-man (well, if the loser is someone like Cole or Voth, who aren’t nearly as “big” of a prospect as Giolito).  There’s also the distinct possibility that Lopez’s arm is turned into a closer at some point if he can’t turn over lineups.  Check out Lopez’s 2016 splits, specifically SP versus RP and specifically the “Times Facing an Opponent” during the game; as a starter he struggles with the first time through the order, but not as a reliever.
  • Starting Shortstop: move Trea Turner to his natural position, leaving a hole in Center.

So, with my “all internal” fill-ins, your 25 man roster for 2017 looks something like this:

  • Starters: Scherzer, Strasburg, Roark, Ross, Lopez
  • Relievers: Kelley, Treinen, Glover, Gott, Solis*, Perez*, Cole
  • Catchers: Lobaton, Severino
  • INF Starters: Rendon, Turner, Murphy, Zimmerman
  • INF backups: Difo, Robinson
  • OF Starters: Werth, Harper
  • OF Backups: Taylor, Goodwin

And we’re missing one-two spots that don’t really have natural in-house replacements: another backup infielder and a starting Center fielder.

So, looking at that 25-man roster, where do we see areas of need?  This feeds directly into the Off-season Priorities in the next section.


Quick diversion: Notice I didn’t say what position Bryce Harper is playing.  Honestly, if Turner is vacating CF and we’re waving good-bye to Espinosa, then I think you have to put Harper in center.  Here’s my main arguments for putting him in center (most of which are “anti-arguments” for those who for some reason think he cannot play center):

  1. He’s young.   He just turned 24 for crying out loud; there’s no reason he doesn’t have the youth or athleticism to handle center.  Mantle did it while hitting for power.  So did Mays.  So did Griffey Jr and Aaron for the early part of his career.  Trout plays center.
  2. He’s got the arm (he has the 2nd best statistically rated arm in the majors in 2016), he’s got the speed (21 Stolen bases this year).  And now he has years of OF experience on which to depend.
  3. He’s played there before and played well.  Here’s his career fielding stats from fangraphs.com: He had more than 700 innings in CF in 2012 and played it to a fantastic UZR/150 figure of 19.1 and 13 DRS.  He was also great there in more limited sample sizes in 2013 and 2015.  I leave out 2014 since that was his injury season and its clearly skewed as compared to his other seasons.
  4. By putting Harper in Center, you vastly open open up the roster possibilities on the FA market.  Look at the pending FA last at mlbtraderumors.com and compare/contrast the available options at CF versus LF/RF.

Top FA/Trade Priorities in 2016-2017 Off-season

Fantasy: I view these as not really possible but are listed as “fantasy” wish lists.  Both fixate on moving unmovable contracts, so they’ll probably remain fantasies.

  • Upgrade 1B: dump Zimmerman and upgrade offensively at that position.
  • Upgrade LF: dump Werth and the last year of his deal and find a LF-capable bopper.
  • Acquire a leading CF: back up the farm system and dump it out for a leading center fielder.  Charlie Blackmon or Andrew McCutchen are names often mentioned thanks to the precarious position their teams face.  Mike Trout is the funny name you also hear since he’s so good he’s virtually untrade-able.  Unlike Tom Boswell, and as discussed in comments here before, re-signing Ian Desmond to man CF poorly would not be my first choice either.  I’d rather go with my “Bryce to Center” plan as laid out above.

Reality

  • Corner Outfielder.   See above Harper->CF logic.  If you want to splurge (and hurt your #1 divisional rival) sign Yoenis Cespedes.   Or you could make a big splash and sign Jose Bautista to a 3-yr deal that ends the same time Harper hits FA.  Werth remains serviceable in left, where he is mitigated defensively while Bautista still has value in RF.  This is where I could see a big chunk of the $30M of FA dollars going.  Lord knows we could use another clutch hitter in the middle of the order.
  • Closer: Above I said i’d love to re-sign Melancon, but more and more it seems like he’s going to be the 4th prize in a 4-closer musical chairs race.  And he’s gonna get paid.  And I’m not sure that the Nats are going to pay him.  Per the same previously mentioned FA list there’s 5 “active” closers hitting FA: Melancon, Wade Davis, Aroldis Chapman,  Kenley Jansen and Sergio Romo There’s a whole slew of guys who are FA who are former closers though, names like Andrew BaileyJoaquin Benoit, Santiago Casilla, Neftali Feliz, Jason Grilli, Greg Holland, J.J. Hoover, Jonathan Papelbon (haha, just making sure you’re still reading), Joe Smith, Fernando Salas, and Brad Ziegler.  There’s probably even more frankly; these were just the ones who stood out as I read the list.  Now, i’m not saying most of these guys are legitimate options, but some of these guys were perfectly good as closers and got “layered” by better closers.  Take Ziegler for example: he was just fine for Arizona for a while, then got moved to Boston where he got demoted to 8th inning duties.   I’d take him as a late-innings bullpen option.  
  • Bullpen arm: middle reliever: Now, all that being said about Closers, I think maybe what the team does is install one of their existing options as “the closer” and then maybe  hire one of these former closers to be an 8th inning/emergency closer kind of guy.  That’s essentially what they got last year with Shawn Kelley and that’s worked out ok.  I’d go after some of the ex-closer guys listed above, try to get them on an affordable deal (like halfway to closer money maybe) and that’d help off-set the losses of Melancon and Belisle.
  • Veteran utility infielder: as noted above, there’s not much in the farm system here.  If you keep Espinosa and put him in this role, then this is moot .. but we’ve read over and again about his disposition when he’s not playing.  This is kind of why I think we need to move him.  He’s more valuable in trade than he is in this bench role.  I hope the team re-ups with Stephen Drew honestly; he was solid, can cover all infield positions as needed, and can probably be had for a similar deal as last year.  I’d be happy with Difo and Drew and wouldn’t be opposed to perhaps another veteran utility guy to pair with Drew and compete with Difo if we don’t think Difo is up to the task.

Less Likely:

  • Backup LF/IB bench bats: While I like Robinson and I think Heisey did a good job this year, one struggled and the other is a FA with no guarantee of returning.  I absolutely expect to see another spring training cattle call of veteran bats of the LF/1B type to compete for roster spots.  I’m appreciative of Goodwin‘s completely unexpected line at the plate upon his call up; do we think he’s a better lefty bat option off the bench than Robinson?  I’m not sure.  I also sense (based on anecdotal evidence read over the years) that Robinson is a clubhouse and teammate favorite, which might make it tougher to cut him when the time comes.  Especially with a player’s manager type like Dusty Baker.  I know this is where MartyC will cry about Matt Skole (likely to depart in MLFA this coming off-season) and I understand; its all about potential versus production and Skole never produced enough during these annual spring training “tryouts” to win his spot.
  • Catcher: Here’s where the most arguing may occur.  I’m of the belief, after watching Severino down the stretch, that he could slide right into the starting spot right now.  I thought he looked good at the plate, took confident at-bats, never looked over matched, and (here’s the kicker) *puts the ball in play!*   This lineup has too many strikeouts; Severino struck out just 3 times in his 34 PAs down the stretch.   That correlates to about 50 punch-outs over a 600-plate appearance season; that’s awesome.  He was known for years for his defense, not his bat, so if he can provide even competent ABs he could be a starter.  So i’m up for saving money on the FA market (where the catcher ranks are thin and the prices will get bid up badly as a result).  Now, I could absolutely see us re-signing Wilson Ramos to an incentive-laden deal to keep him in house and hopefully get a good second half out of  him.  Why not?  If he signs for $5-6M (basically his salary this year) and then has games played incentives that could take him up to $7 or $8M why wouldn’t he do that here instead of elsewhere?   We go into the season with Severino and Lobaton with Kieboom in AAA and when Ramos shows up we (finally?) cut bait on Lobaton and have the two remaining guys platoon.  I’d be onboard with that plan.
  • Loogy: Why spend money here?  Solis and Perez ably fill the need.  Do we need a third lefty in the pen at the expense of one of the aforementioned righties?  I liked Rzepczynski this year; would he re-sign for reasonable dollars?  Would you want him back?  There’s several interesting names on the FA list; maybe one of them can be had for cheap.

 

What can we get in Trade versus buying on the FA market?   Payroll implications?

  • I suspect that Gonzalez can fetch some seriously valuable resources.  He’s an innings eating 4th starter who probably thrives in a pitcher’s park and is significantly less expensive at $12M/year than what something comparable costs on the FA market this year.  So can he fetch maybe one MLB-ready player that fits a need above plus maybe one decent prospect?  Is that too much?
  • Espinosa probably fetches less, unless you can get a GM to fall in love with his power/defense combo and somehow miss his BA and his K rate.  By way of comparison, Yunel Escobar (a lesser defender with less power but more contact) fetched us two upper-level pitching prospects in Trevor Gott and Michael Brady (by upper-level I mean AA/AAA level, not top 100 prospects).  I’d guess that Espinosa could fetch a bit more since he plays a premium position.  So that could end up being more of the needs above plus maybe an additional prospect.

But who knows what we can and cannot get.  In Mike Rizzo we trust when it comes to trades; no matter how much we bitch about prospects heading out the door, you’re really hard pressed to find a trade where Rizzo got the short end of the bargain or “lost” the deal.  So lets see what he can do.

Payroll implications.  I think we could get a $20M/yr corner OF slugger, a former closer at like $6M/year, resign Ramos at $5M, find a utility infielder in the Drew $3M/year range, and then sign a couple of guys to $1.25M conditional deals like what Belisle and Heisey got and fit right into the $145M payroll budget, even after arbitration raises.

 


Well; that’s a lot to argue about.  Maybe I should have split this up.  But let the discussions begin!

(did I forget anyone?)

Lucas Giolito – First Look

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WASHINGTON DC, JUNE 28: Washington starting pitcher Lucas Giolito (44) makes his major league debut as the Washington Nationals play the New York Mets at Nationals Park in Washington DC, June 28, 2016. (Photo by John McDonnell / The Washington Post)

WASHINGTON DC, JUNE 28: Washington starting pitcher Lucas Giolito (44) makes his major league debut as the Washington Nationals play the New York Mets at Nationals Park in Washington DC, June 28, 2016. (Photo by John McDonnell / The Washington Post)

Its been a while since I did one of these, but what better occasion than to eyeball our newest and biggest prospect on his MLB debut.

Lets talk about Lucas Giolito‘s abbreviated debut.  Here’s what I saw.

Smooth and easy delivery, almost effortless.  He seems like he’s just lobbing it in.  According to TV, FB at 94-96.  Here’s his Pitch F/X link on the night: they classified  his change-ups mostly as curves, had his average velocity at 93.9 and his peak at 95.9 (so the TV gun wasn’t embellishing).  In the first, He gave up a weak single to Granderson to lead-off, got the benefit of some high strikes against Cabrera before blowing him away with a “show me” 96 mph fastball down the pike.  Cespedes sat on a first pitch fastball and absolutely gashed it … right at Rendon.  Walker got a really nice change-up to start him off (nice to see that confidence to command his change-up 0-0), got him down 0-2 and kind of knew a a curve was coming and hit it pretty hard, but Murphy made a nice play to retire him and save the run.  Huge delta between his FB and change, and he controlled the change.  He only threw 2 curves in the first inning, one of which broke so sharply that the ump missed the call (it was borderline low anyway) and the second got hit.

Second inning even though he’s “only” 93 Loney was way behind.   You have to attribute that to his length and the fact that he’s releasing the ball probably a foot closer to the plate than a normal guy.  Loney then froze on a beautiful curve before flying out harmlessly.  The umpire’s high strike zone worked to Giolito’s advantage; his adreneline was definitely working against him and his pitches were trending up.   Flores got a good swing on his curve, better than I would have liked to have seen.   Weak fly ball opposite field for Nimmo and Giolito is through 2 having retired 6 straight.  Interesting.

We go into live blogging mode briefly: here’s some thoughts during the bottom of the 2nd:

  • At 8:30pm in my Vienna home it starts pouring; not a good sign for Giolito’s start.  I’m guessing they may have a brief delay.  Yup, like clockwork, 9pm the tarp goes out on the field.  Well at least I now know how long it takes for a storm to get from my house to Nats Park :-)
  • Side tangent; why the F is Zimmerman hitting before Rendon??  In fact, why is Zimmerman hitting anything but like 8th right now?   Rendon gets Giolito a 1-0 lead with a crushed triple to right center.
  • Another tangent: boy seems like Harvey is short arming it.  I think I’ve mentioned this before in a comment somewhere; his mechanics just do not look like they did last year, or prior to his injury.  I wonder if this is just what he throws like now post TJ, or if he’s got some sort of mechanical issue.
  • Why exactly are they pitching to Espinosa with Giolito on deck?  That was kind of dumb.  The kid has 9 at bats in like the last 5 years.  I’m going to laugh if he gets a hit.
  • Giolito is a little rusty at the plate.  Of course, professional hitters can’t hit Harvey, so it isn’t like its any shameful thing that Giolito is swinging after the ball is in the catcher’s mitt.  He manages a grounder to second that for a second looked like it might weasel its way through.

Top of the 3rd, he makes quick work of 8-9 hitters on weak grounders; now its second time through the lineup.   He nibbled a little bit with Granderson and walked him on 4-straight; same with Cespedes.  Maybe that’s fair; those are the two most dangerous hitters in the Mets lineup these days.

He’s pitching efficiently, he’s working contact and getting a lot of weaker outs.  He’s not over throwing, hasn’t shown much above 96.  But he’s in control; just 32 pitches through three complete.

I’m trying to gauge the movement on his fastball; I saw one really nice tailing fastball that might have been a two seamer, but mostly its straight 4-seamers.

True to scouting reports, he has a sick curveball; a true 12-6 curve, straight over the top and it drops straight down.  Wow; that’s something you just don’t see that often.  It curves enough that a pitch that looks way up is going to drop into the zone.  Its no wonder why pundits rave about the hook.  By the 4th inning Ramos was loving the curve and calling it more frequently.

He’s getting great defense behind him; Rendon, Murphy and Espinosa all have turned in really nice plays for him on grounders that were sometimes pretty sharply hit.  But its all outs on the board.

Through 4 complete; 1 hit, two walks on just 45 pitches.  29 strikes, 16 balls (8 of which came on the two batters where he seemed to nibble/lose focus).

At this point, it started pouring, and when they didn’t remove the tarp after like 5 minutes you knew his night was done.  Team wins easily on the night 5-0 and I wonder how much longer Giolito could have gone.

In the end, we’ve seen him throw a couple of clicks faster (he was 97 in spring), and we’ve certainly seen him with more strikeout capacity (353 Ks in 324 career minor league innings with almost exactly 9 k/9 in AA this year against the best hitters in the minors).  I wonder if tonight’s outing was a managed gameplan kind of thing from the Nats brain trust; don’t over throw, pitch to contact, don’t worry about Ks or throwing max effort.

What did you guys see?

 

 

 

Nationals Arm Race Best Stories for 2015; Happy New Year!

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Here’s a quick recap of the year in stories on this blog, to tie a bow on 2015.  From each month, I’ve grabbed a couple of the more interesting or unique posts I did, with thoughts and follow-on.

(Here’s 2014’s review and  2013’s review as well, to see how far we have or have not evolved…)

Jan 2015:

  • Holy Cow Scherzer! Nats make a statement by signing Scherzer for $210M; he does not disappoint with 2 no-hitters in his first season.  We’ll conveniently forget his 6+ ERA during crunch time when the team was caught and surpassed in the standings by the eventual NL champion Mets.
  • Like the Janssen signing: Yeah; this one didn’t work out as well.

Feb 2015

Mar 2015

  • Brady Aiken has TJ surgery, shakes up draft boards: Aiken eventually goes 17th overall and loses millions versus where he was drafted the year prior.  Hope he can come back from such an early TJ surgery.
  • Nats Outfield … what happens next?  Big discussion once it became clear that both Span and Werth were not making the 2015 opening day lineup healthy.

Apr 2015

May 2015

  • 2015 CWS Field of 64 announced; teams and analysis: one of many CWS posts, culminating in UVA winning in Omaha in late June.
  • DC/MD/VA District High School Tournament Report: 2015 post-season: May is Prep HS tournament time.  June has a ton of College and College World Series posts.  I know I don’t get a lot of comments on my HS and College coverage, but I enjoy following both and try to keep interest in local baseball alive.  FWIW, the area may very well have a first round pick in 2016 in Oakton HS’ Joe Rizzo.  More to come in February when I start up Prep baseball 2016 posts.

June 2015

July 2015

Aug 2015

Sept 2015

Oct 2015

Nov 2015

Dec 2015

 


Total posts for 2015 (including this one): 115.  That’s down from 130 posts in 2014 and down significantly from 2013 (237 posts).  Wow, how in the heck did I do 237 posts in 2013.  That’s nearly a post for every weekday, all year.  Including this post, i’ve published 923 total since the inception of the blog.  When I hit 1000 i’ll do some cool retrospective or something.  Should happen midway through 2016.

923 posts; that’s a lot of writing.  I once calculated that a typical novel is between 90,000 and 100,000 words.  Well, most of my posts are between 1000 and 2500 words … so that means I’m writing about a book every 50 posts.  I’m in the wrong profession.  Of course, i’m not sure who would ever read a book about some random IT guy’s musings about his local baseball team.  :-)

I feel like we have a solid group always commenting, no trolls.  Very grateful for everyone who stops by and everyone who comments.  I wonder how we can get more readers; should I do more publishing on twitter when I post?  Probably.  Now that natsinsider.com is gone, we may struggle to get the word out since Mark was my primary feeder site.

We generally have 20-30 comments on each post, which is cool.  High comments on posts were 70 on a “Ladson Inbox”post in January 2015 and an astonishing 115 comments on the August “call me when we sweep Atlanta” post.

Happy New Year and thanks for reading in 2015.

Murphy Signing: I guess I’m ok with it

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Murphy makes the drive down I-95 to Washington. Photo via bleacherreport.com

Murphy makes the drive down I-95 to Washington. Photo via bleacherreport.com

I may have buried the lead of the post in the title, but I figured we’d want a place to react to the big Xmas gift the Nats gave themselves; pending a physical the Nats have signed Daniel Murphy to a 3yr, $37.5M contract.  We’ll assume that the contract doesn’t get cancelled for physical reasons (ala Hisashi Iwakuma) or some criminal issue (ala Aroldis Chapman) in the next 72 hours or so and the team makes it official at some point over the weekend.

Nats acquire the left-handed bat they needed to play a position they suddenly found themselves needing coverage in thanks to the Yunel Escobar trade.  They also acquire a guy who makes a ton of contact (just 38 Ks last year in 538 PAs … by way of comparison Michael Taylor struck out 158 times in 2015, in *fewer* plate appearances (511 to Murphy’s 538).  Murphy also can contribute with some power; 14 homers last season (and another 7 in last year’s post-season), and some speed (not a ton of SBs last year but he stole 23 in 2013).  He makes a ton of sense batting in the #2 hole (assuming of course the team finds someone who can actually get on base for him), but he could also slot in at #5 (assuming Bryce Harper bats 3rd, in order to split up the lefties).

More importantly, the Nats take a veteran solid bat off their closest rivals, who don’t really seem in any hurry this off-season to back-fill their holes in the lineup by the departing Murphy or Yoenis Cespedes.

Some thoughts on the the deal and its ramifications on the Nats:

  • Assuming he gets an even $12.5m in 2016 per his contract’s AAV, the Nats 2016 payroll just jumped up into the $141M range.  I think that comes down a bit (assuming the Nats can shed themselves of one or both of their highly paid closers).
  • The signing costs the Nats the 17th overall pick in the draft.  A tough pill to swallow; on his own i’m not entirely sure Murphy is worth that pick.  perhaps you can see the value in the significantly lower contract value than what Murphy was probably worth on the open market.  I guess you don’t really covet the 17th overall pick when you have just one year left with Scherzer, Strasburg and Harper all together.  You have to try to win now with these guys, since more and more it seems clear the team won’t retain either of its young starlets (not with talk of Harper getting a $400M contract).
  • Ben Zobrist: 4yrs/$52M from the Cubs.  Zobrist is four years older, had only a slightly better 2015 split than Murphy (.276/.359/.450 versus .281/.322/.449), play a similar set of positions (4 5 7 and 9 last year for Zobrist, 4 5 and 3 last year for Murphy), and had similar bWARs (1.9 for Zobrist, 1.4 for Murphy).  Yet Zobrist gets $14.5M more and one additional year despite being 4 years older and almost guaranteed of being a fossil at the end of his contract.  Do you think Qualifying Offers are working?  Do you think this is going to be topic #1 to address in the next CBA?
  • Murphy will require a roster move; the team is at 40/40 on its 40-man.  My uneducated guess: Erik Davis.
  • I’m guessing there’s an open competition between Espinosa and Turner to be the opening day SS.  And my guess is that Espinosa wins it for now.  Something in my gut tells me that the improvements he’s made plus his superb defensive ability will win out over Turner’s potential.  But, no more 2B for Espinosa; he’s either the starter at Short or the utility guy.  I could be wrong; maybe Espinosa is destined to be Mr. backup infielder again in 2016, riding the pine while Turner learns how to be a major leaguer.  I hope not; I think at this point in his career he’d be so gutted if he got beat out that he’d be close to useless as a super-sub.
  • Murphy is not especially gifted at 2nd defensively.  Negative UZR/150s across the board.  But, its not nearly as important having a plus defender there as it is on the right hand side of the infield, and the return of the gifted Rendon plus the near gold-glove quality of Espinosa at short could really help the Nats and their pitching staff convert more ground alls to outs.
  • All the 2B on the Nats depth chart just became serious trade bait.  40-man roster guys Wilmer Difo and Chris Bostick?  100% blocked for 3 years.   Murphy may be able to play other positions … but the positions he can fill are also filled by guys who are better than Murphy and also here for more than 3 years.  So I wouldn’t be surprised by some dealing coming soon.  Maybe Billy Beane can give us something we need in return for some closer-to-the-majors middle infielders and 5th starters (of which we have plenty in AAA).
  • $12.5M AAV for a 1.4 bWAR player.  Yeah; there’s some serious money in the game right now.

Does this move make the Nats a better team?  Yeah I think it does.  By himself Murphy doesn’t move the needle a ton, but he gives this team some things they didn’t have yesterday.  I like his contact hitting, his lefty bat, the addition of some needed power.  The team missed out on so many other guys this off-season, they probably felt they had to make this deal.  So they did.

Gold Glove Awards versus Defensive Metrics Review for 2015

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Andrelton Simmons was completely hosed in the GG awards in 2015. Photo via espn.go.com

Andrelton Simmons was completely hosed in the GG awards in 2015. Photo via espn.go.com

Third year running for this post, looking at the announced winners of the Gold Gloves for 2015 and comparing them to the Fielding Bible winners for 2015 and the leaders of various defensive metrics available to us.  For a glossary of the metrics, see the end of the post.

Here’s 2014’s post and 2013’s post as well.

Here’s a Google XLS link to all of this data in one sheet.  Also available in the Links section to the right.

First off, here’s the announced winners of the 2015 Gold Glove awards (bold is a repeat winner from last year, red is a questionable selection)

Pos AL GG Winner NL GG Winner
C Salvator Perez, KC Yadier Molina, Stl
1B Eric Hosmer, KC Paul Goldschmidt, Ari
2B Jose Altuve, Hou Dee Gordon, Mia
SS Alcides Escobar, KC Brandon Crawford, SF
3B Manny Machado, Bal Nolan Arenado, Col
LF Yoenis Cespedes, Det/NYM Starling Marte, Pit
CF Kevin Kiermaier, TB A.J. Pollack, Ari
RF Kole Calhoun, LAA Jason Heyward, Stl
P Dallas Keuchel, HOU Zack Greinke, LAD

There are a couple of other “repeat” winners in here (as in guys who have won awards previously, just not in 2014), namely Manny Machado and Paul Goldschmidt.

So, why are we calling Jose Altuve, Alcides Escobar, Yadier Molina and (especially) Brandon Crawford questionable selections?   Read on.  We’ll pass some judgement at the end.


Here’s the Fielding Bible winners for 2015: (bolded are repeat winners, green throughout are also GG winners)

Pos Fielding Bible Winner
C Buster Posey, SF
1B Paul Goldschmidt, Ari (2nd award)
2B Ian Kinsler, Det
SS Andrelton Simmons, ATL (repeat, unanimous)
3B Nolan Arenado, Col
LF Starling Marte, Pit
CF Kevin Kiermaier, TB (unanimous)
RF Jason Heyward, Stl (repeat, Unanimous)
P Dallas Keuchel, HOU (repeat)
Util Ender Inciarte, KC

So, Andrelton Simmons is a unanimous choice of a blue-ribbon panel yet doesn’t win the Gold Glove?  Likewise, Kinsler and Posey are selected but neither got the Gold Glove.  Simmons is probably the biggest mistake in the Gold Glove awards, but lets dig into the stats to see what happened.


Now lets start in with the defensive metrics.  First: UZR/150.

Pos AL UZR/150 NL UZR/150
C n/a n/a
1B Mitch Moreland, Tex (6.4) Brandon Belt, SF (10.7)
2B Ian Kinsler, Det (6.7) Dee Gordon, Mia (6.0)
SS J.J. Hardy, Bal (10.1) Adeiny Hechavarria, Mia (17.7)
3B Adrian Beltre, Tex (13.0) Matt Duffy, SF (12.7)
LF Yoenis Cespedes (22.2) Starling Marte, Pit (12.1)
CF Kevin Kiermaier, TB (42) A.J. Pollack, Ari (14)
RF Kole Calhoun, LAA (12.1) Jason Heyward, Stl (22.3)
P n/a n/a

We see some consistency here with the players named in the Gold Gloves and/or the Fielding Bible awards.   7 of the 14 leaders here also won Gold Gloves, and 4 of the 10 leaders here won Fielding Bible awards.  You’re going to see the same outfield names over and over; that’s how dominant this selection of outfielders were this year.  Ian Kinsler represents one of the bigger snubs in the Gold Glove awards, as we’re about to see.


Here’s Defensive Runs Saved

Pos AL DRS NL DRS
C
1B Adam Lind, Mil (5) Paul Goldschmidt, Ari (18)
2B Ian Kinsler, Det (19) Dee Gordon, Mia (13)
SS Didi Gregorius (5) Andrelton Simmons, ATL (25)
3B Adrian Beltre, Tex (18) Nolan Arenado, Col (18)
LF Yoenis Cespedes (15) Starling Marte, Pit (24)
CF Kevin Kiermaier, TB (40.7) Billy Hamilton, Cin (18.8)
RF Kole Calhoun, LAA (6) Jason Heyward, Stl (22)
P Dallas Keuchel, HOU (13) Zack Greinke, LAD (9)

These are definitely closer to the Gold Gloves.   10 of the 16 league leaders here also won GGs.  A note here; the Kiermaier DRS figure is apparently the highest ever recorded by a fielder in a single season.  Simmons’ 25 DRS dwarfed the field, as does his overall DRS figure over the last three years, more evidence that the GG award to Crawford was poor.


Here’s FRAA:

Pos AL FRAA NL FRAA
C Francisco Cervelli, NYY (11.7) Yasmani Grandal (20.9)
1B Mark Canha, Oak (5.8) Paul Goldschmidt, Ari (13.0)
2B Roughned Odor, Tex (5.0) Danny Espinosa (10.7)
SS Elvis Andrus, Tex (10.3) Jean Segura (10.3)
3B Manny Machado, Bal (20.3) Nolan Arenado, Col (20.6)
LF Kevin Pillar, Tor (14.3) Yoenis Cespedes (5.2)
CF Kevin Kiermaier, TB (24.6) Ender Inciarte, Ari (5.9)
RF Kole Calhoun, LAA (9.5) Jason Heyward, Stl (11.4)
P Dallas Keuchel, HOU (10.4) Jake Arrieta, Chc (7.4)

Just 8 of the 18 leaders in this stat also won Gold Gloves, and the presence especially of the Nats’ own Danny Espinosa really calls this stat into question.  How is Espinosa, a part time player, the league leader here in a year where there were several other good 2nd basemen?


Lastly, Total Zone

Pos AL Total Zone Total Fielding NL Total Zone Total Fielding
C James McCann, Cle (11) Wilson Ramos, Was (11)
1B Mike Napoli (10) Adrian Gonzalez, LAD (16)
2B Jose Altuve, Hou (13) Neil Walker, Pit (7)
SS Francisco Lindor, Cle (14) Brandon Crawford, SF (19)
3B Evan Longoria, TB (14) Jake Lamb, Ari (10)
LF Yoenis Cespedes, Det (11) Christian Yelich, Mia (12)
CF Kevin Kiermaier, TB (24) A.J. Pollack, Ari (20)
RF Kole Calhoun, LAA (17) Ichiro Suzuki, Mia (14)
P

Its easy to see w here some of the finalists came from in the GG awards, since this is the only list that GG finalist Wilson Ramos appears on.  Its also the only place where GG winners Altuve and Crawford appear.  Just 6 of these 18 leaders also won GGs, meaning its the least accurate predictor of GG winners.  And one of the leaders in practically every other category (Heyward) is supplanted by the 40-yr old Suzuki in these stats.  Makes you wonder.

Conclusion:

It seems to me that the “statistical”component of the Gold Gloves is using the wrong stats (FRAA and/or TZ), and that it should be using DRS and UZR/150.  Even so, as noted elsewhere, the Gold Gloves are doing a much, much better job selecting the award winners on a whole, and the days of awarding them to the likes of Derek Jeter or Rafael Palmeiro seem long gone.


Glossary of these various stats and awards

  • Gold Gloves: awarded annually (presented by Rawlings) and are a combination of Manager/Coach voting and a “statistical component.”  This component is provided by SABR and is now 25% of the voting.  I cannot find details on what comprises this statistical component, but based on the finalists announced I strongly believe it is related to the Total Zone fielding measurements.
  • Fielding Bible Awards: Bill James-driven website that uses a committee of national writers to select the winners.  The site is here and you can read about their methodology and panel members.
  • UZR: Ultimate Zone Rating, defined well here at fangraphs, attempts to be a comprehensive measure of how many batted balls are turned to outs for a particular fielder, then adjusted by errors, arm and other factors.  UZR/150 standardizes the counting stat UZR to an average across 150 games to allow apples-to-apples comparisons of players who play different numbers of games in a season.
  • DRS; Defensive Runs Saved, defined well here at Fangraphs, focuses more on pure “runs saved” from all possible defensive plays that involve a fielder.  It seems to measure more things that UZR and sometimes disagrees with UZR.
  • FRAA: Fielding Runs Above Average, defined here at Baseball Prospectus.  A measure that attempts to remove the bias present in zone-based data and also tries to factor in the tendencies of the pitcher on the mound (ground-ball guy, fly-ball guy, etc).
  • Total Zone: defined here at Baseball-reference.com.  A different “total defense” measurement incorporating all the various defensive data available, including catcher data, zone fielding, errors, arm, etc.

My 2015 End-of-Season Awards Predictions

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Hopefully his MVP vote goes better for Harper than this day did. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 538595765 ORIG FILE ID: 490330798

Hopefully his MVP vote goes better for Harper than this day did. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

Everyone does an “Awards Prediction piece.”  This post for me is kind of a running diary throughout the season, with the final predictions written at season’s end but then not published until after the WS ends/Awards season starts.

A few awards have already been given out, ones that I don’t necessarily try to predict anymore:

  • Fielding Bible Awards: not an official award but certainly a better way of evaluating defenders than the Gold Gloves (though, to be fair, they’re getting much much better at identifying the true best defenders year in, year out).  No Nats awarded.
  • Gold Glove Finalists: announced with 3 finalists for each award; Bryce Harper and Wilson Ramos named as finalists but neither will win.
  • Hank Aaron awards for “Most Outstanding Offensive Player” in each league: Bryce Harper and Josh Donaldson, who not surprisingly is who I chose for my MVP predictions.  I kinda wish this was a more prevalent award than the constant arguing we have about MVP.
  • Relievers of the Yearformerly known as the “Fireman’s reliever awards” and now named for legendary relievers Mariano Rivera/Trevor Hoffman: won this year by Andrew Miller of the Yankees, Mark Melancon of the Pirates.
  • Sporting News Executive of the Year: Toronto’s Alex Anthopoulis, who announced he was stepping down the same day he got the award.
  • A whole slew of other Sporting News annual awards: google “sporting news baseball awards 2015” and you can see players of the year, pitcher of the year,  post-season all-star teams, manager of the year, etc.

I put all these dates and links plus a whole lot more into my “off-season” calendar, which will publish soon now that the season is officially over.

(random self promotion related to the Sporting News: they recently published one of my quora.com “answers” titled “Are there Any cities that should have an MLB team,” an answer that I wrote referencing back to this blog for previously published/researched information).

My Final Predictions:

  • NL MVP: Bryce Harper
  • NL Cy Young: Jake Arrieta
  • NL Rookie: Kris Bryant
  • NL Manager: Terry Collins
  • NL Comeback: Matt Harvey
  • AL MVP: Josh Donaldson
  • AL Cy Young: Dallas Keuchel
  • AL Rookie: Carlos Correa
  • AL Manager: Jeff Bannister
  • AL Comeback: Prince Fielder

These are not always who I think *deserve* the awards necessarily, just how I think the voters will vote.  There are some really close races.  Here’s my thoughts:

  • NL MVP: Bryce Harper wins for three main reasons: 1) his season is one of the best of the last 50 years.  2) there’s no obvious candidate on any of the division winning teams (no sorry, Yoenis Cespedes doesn’t count) and 3) Even though the Nats didn’t win the division, they were in the race nearly the entire season.  No excuses here.  You might see some non-Harper votes b/c some middle aged fat slob of a homer writer has some misrepresented axe to grind but he should win easily.
  • NL Cy Young: Jake Arrieta: I can’t believe I’ve selected Arrieta over Greinke, but Arrieta’s 2nd half will, again, “win the narrative.”  Kershaw has been unbelievable too (and my fantasy team in the championship is proof), so really you can’t go wrong with these guys in any order.  I think it goes Arrietta, Greinke, Kershaw.  Side note; so, is the Baltimore pitching coaching staff the most incompetent in the league or what?  How does Arrieta go from being a 6ERA starter in Baltimore to a guy who is posting a sub 2.00 ERA in one of the best hitter’s parks in the league?
  • NL Rookie: Kris Bryant: for a while I thought this was Joc Pederson‘s to lose … but Bryant kept hitting and Pederson sat.  Wow are the Astros kicking themselves for drafting Mark Appel over Bryant or what??
  • NL Manager: Terry Collins: There’s no team in the NL in a more surprising position than the Mets, so Collins wins the award that our own Matt Williams so richly “earned” last year.  I wouldn’t be surprised though to see Joe Maddon get this given how great the Cubs were.
  • NL Comeback Player of the year has to be Matt Harvey; there’s nobody else really close in the NL.
  • AL MVP: Josh Donaldson: There’s just no reason Mike Trout shouldn’t win this award … except that voters are a fickle bunch and fall for the story.  Donaldson is a good story, playing on a good story of a team in Toronto.  He wins.
  • AL Cy Young: Dallas Keuchel: He was the best in the first half, the ASG starter, and no there’s no reason not to think he finishes off the season.  In fantasy he was like a 15th round pick and he’s a top-10 producer.  Amazing.
  • AL Rookie: Carlos Correa: If you want to argue that Francisco Lindor deserves this, I wouldn’t disagree.  I’m guessing Correa has the name power with the voters though and wins out.  Lindor has a much better average and is a superior defender, but Correa has 20+ homers, a benchmark number that will get him the votes.
  • AL Manager: Jeff Bannister: Even though Toronto is a surprise team, getting the talent handed to you like that is not the mark of a champion manager.  What is going on in Texas is nothing short of amazing.  At the beginning of the season the had an *entire rotation* on the D/L: Darvish, Harrison, Perez, Scheppers and Holland.  Scheppers may not have stayed there very long, but they looked like a 90-loss team, not a divisional winner over the likes of LA and Houston.
  • AL Comeback player of the  year goes to Prince Fielder for returning strongly from his neck injury.  If Alex Rodriguez had missed a year due to injury instead of litigation, he would likely be the winner.  By the way; how good was Alex Rodriguez doing color work for Fox Sports at the World Series?  He was damn impressive to me, great analysis, well spoken, well-dressed of course … and could not have provided more contrast to Pete Rose if they had found those two guys out of central casting.

So, how did the major awards evolve over the course of the season?  By my sense, the awards kind of went like this from April to September:

  • NL MVP: Stanton to Harper, maybe Goldschmidt, no definitely Harper, narrative Cespedes but has to be Harper.  Nobody else makes sense to take it away from him on narrative.
  • NL Cy Young: Scherzer early, definitely Scherzer, maybe Cole, suddenly Greinke in the lead, Kershaw coming on fast late but Arrieta’s 2nd  halve clinches it.
  • NL Rookie: Bryant and Pederson early, Pederson stretching a lead … but then Pederson gets benched while Bryant continues to play.  Some talk about Duffy, but still Bryant.  Too many homers.
  • AL MVP: Trout to Cabrera, back to Trout, then Donaldson takes over despite Trout’s phenomenal season.
  • AL Cy Young: Hernandez early, Keuchel strong mid season, Grey fading, Sale making a name but still Keuchel despite Price’s excellent season.
  • AL Rookie: Travis/Souza early, Burns making a name, but Correa is the leader most of the season, Lindor making noise late, Correa holds on.

As with last year’s version of this post, instead of printing links to writers early and mid-season predictions, I’ll just throw those links into the monthly reviews for context.   This post is more like a season-long diary of the evolution of these awards; the sections were written in each month as the season progressed.

BaseballMusings maintains a Cy Young tracker stat, which is useful to identify candidates but not really a predictor.


April
:

Here’s some early candidates out to fast starts.

Opinions this month: Symborski‘s ZIPS predictors after one month.

  • MVP candidates: Trout/Cabrera again in the AL.  Adrian Gonzalez, Giancarlo Stanton and Paul Goldschmidt in the NL.
  • Cy Young candidates: Felix Hernandez in the AL, Kershaw and Scherzer in the NL.
  • Rookie of the year candidates: Devon Travis and Steven Souza in the AL, Kris Bryant and Joc Pederson in the NL.

May:

Harper NL Player of the month, after getting 2 straight player of the week awards.  Scherzer wins NL Pitcher of the month.

  • MVP candidates: Trout stretching lead in AL, Jason Kipnis and Nelson Cruz also high in bWAR.  Bryce Harper has stretched a massive WAR lead in the NL, Goldschmidt #2.  Anthony Rizzo entering the discussion.
  • Cy Young candidates: Dallas Keuchel and Sonny Gray in the AL, Max Scherzer really standing alone in the NL; closest WAR pitcher in the NL is Aaron Harang and he isn’t likely to keep the pace.
  • Rookie of the year candidates: Still Travis and Souza in the AL, Kris Bryant and Joc Pederson in the NL are both explosive players and will be hard to catch.

All Star Break

  • MVP candidates: Probably still Trout and Harper.  Goldschmidt is nearly as good but Harper has the narrative.
  • Cy Young candidates: Dallas Keuchel and Zack Greinke were the All Star starters and may be the leading candidates. Scherzer needs to get some run support; he’s barely above .500.
  • Rookie of the year candidates: Former Nat Billy Burns is in the bWAR lead, but Carlos Correa likely gets the nod.  In the NL, Bryant/Pederson have a commanding lead but Matt Duffy starting to put his name out there, and if the Cubs would just let Kyle Schwarber stay in the majors he might hit his way to the title.

Mid August

  • MVP candidates: Trout has competition in the form of Josh Donaldson in the AL.  Nobody’s close to Harper in the NL, still.
  • Cy Young candidates: In the NL, Scherzer’s star has faded while LA’s two aces have each had a significant scoreless innings streak and could finish 1-2.  Also in the NL; deserving candidates Jacob deGrom, Jake Arrietta and Gerrit Cole.  In the AL, it still looks like a dogfight between Gray and Keuchel.  But David Price is coming on strong post-trade and Chris Archer should get some top-5 votes.
  • Rookie of the year candidates: Its the year of the rookie; never before have we seen so many high-impact rookies in the league at once.  The AL seems set for Carlos Correa, with guys like Roberto Osuna, Andrew Heaney and Lance McCullers chasing him.  The NL has a number of candidates.  Bryant and Pederson have gotten the ink, but guys like Matt Duffy, Jung Ho Kang, Noah Snydergaard and Randal Grichuk are also worthy players.  Taylor Jungmann, Kyle Schwarber and even Joe Ross are also rans in the race thanks to later callups.  Bryant may win thanks to name recognition, but in other years any of these guys would have been candidates.
  • Managers of the  Year: we’re 100 games into the season, early enough to see some trends in the “Award-given-to-the-manager for his team unexpectedly overachieving the most in 2015” award.  In the AL, clearly Houston is the surprise team and in the NL the Mets are the surprise team, so we’ll go with A.J. Hinch and Terry Collins.
  • Comeback Players of the Year: Early candidates include Brett Anderson, Jeff Francoeur, Danny Espinosa and perhaps Matt Harvey.  In the AL, I think it has to be Alex Rodriguez or perhaps Prince Fielder.  Perhaps Chris Davis comes into the mix too.

September

  • MVP candidates: In the AL: Donaldson has overtaken Trout thanks to a huge end-of-season push and Trout’s injury.  In the NL, the Nats downturn may have opened up the door for both Anthony Rizzo and Andrew McCutchen.  That is if we listen to “narrative” about how teams need to be playing meaningful games.  Of course that being said, the Nats are playing very meaningful games; they’re trying to chase down a divisional leader so maybe the narrative still works for Harper.  But  not after a home sweep, when NY beat writers start beating the drum for Cespedes .. .which would be ridiculous since he only played a couple of months in the NL.
  • Cy Young candidates: In the AL, it probably comes down to Keuchel and Sale, with Price in the mix too thanks to his sterling season for Toronto post-trade.  In the NL: Arrietta has had the greatest 2nd half in baseball history; can he overtake Greinke?
  • Rookie of the year candidates: In the AL: Francisco Lindor making some noise but its still Correa.  In the NL, Pederson has gotten benched so it looks like Bryant is the leader, despite Duffy’s better season by WAR.
  • Managers of the  Year: at this point the “surprise” teams are the Mets and suddenly the Rangers.  I’ll go with their managers Collins and Bannister.  Some in the NL think Maddon and the Cubs are really the surprise team and they’re kind of right … but I maintain the Mets are even more so.
  • Comeback Players of the Year: I’ll go with Harvey in the NL, Fielder in the AL; nobody’s giving A-Rod an award.

What the Cuban embargo easing means for baseball

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No more death-defying defections for cubans like Yasiel Puig.  photo mlb.com

No more death-defying defections for cubans like Yasiel Puig. photo mlb.com

With the sudden and surprising announcement that president Barack Obama plans to “normalize relationships” with Cuba on 12/17/14, one cannot help but wonder how this move will affect the market for Cuban baseball players.

Here’s a smattering of links to post-announcement baseball industry impact analysis:

If you read any of these links, read Olney’s.  Its ESPN insider only, but he extensively quotes one Joe Kehoskie, who has worked as a player agent within Cuba for years.  Kehoskie states some important points, namely and most importantly, the US-Cuba embargo is NOT what was preventing Cuban players from playing in America; it was always the Cuban government.  Proof?  Cuba does not have an embargo against it with any other country with a large organized league (i.e., Japan, Korea, Mexico, Europe, any of the winter league countries, etc) yet their players were barred from playing even in them until just recently.  The Cuban government took these steps just recently to enable its players to play elsewhere; in Sept 2013 Cuban players were allowed to play in foreign leagues, which has subsequently led to a number of additional defections (and rising player contracts) here in the states.  But as Kehoski points out, there’s still huge hurdles to foreign ownership of property in Cuba (preventing the immediate building of academies by MLB teams for example), and it is worth saying that the country is still a communist dictatorship, with huge amounts of government control over the activities of its people.

Lets dream a bit though, and imagine that the Cuban government relents and releases the market for baseball players.  Immediate questions from a baseball perspective include:

  • Can MLB scouts immediately (and freely) travel to Cuba to scout?  It seems so: the Obama press release talked about immediate easing of travel restrictions and stated limits on import/exports (they had to answer multiple questions about bringing back cigars in the press conference :-) )
  • Will the Cuban league negotiate a posting system similar to what MLB has with the Asian leagues?
  • Or, will MLB teams set up their own academies similarly to what they do in the Dominican Republic?

MLB teams will want the academy route clearly; it won’t take but a few million dollars of infrastructure to setup teams and dormitories, and 16-yr olds could be signed for a few thousand dollars outside of harsh international FA spending limits much as they are in the DR.  But the Cuban government may want to do a posting system to help protect its local leagues and to earn much-needed money.   Not to mention the fact that Cuban culture values education and they’d likely be aghast if kids started dropping out of conventional school in their mid teens to enroll in baseball-only academies for a shot at a baseball lottery ticket.  Also, can you imagine billionaire owners negotiating with the cronies of the communist Cuban sports bureaus looking to hoard cash on the backs of their penniless players?

A huge benefit that could start immediately?  The possible return of the Cuban winter league, which used to be the clear preeminent winter league, drawing future hall of famers to the island for a winter vacation.  Now, Havana in the 50s isn’t what it is today of course … but if the Cuban government relents to foreign investment, there’s no reason for Cuba not to turn into another tourist-heavy island nation in the same way that other Caribbean countries operate.

One last thing: I’ve always taken an interest in the World Baseball Classic, and one of the things I’ve always wondered is what a united Cuban team could look like.  In the wake of the 2013 event, I wrote about what such a “politics-free” team could look like.  And now, two years and a number of high-profile defections later, I think a Cuban team could be even better.  Will we get to see a united team in the next version?   Hopefully so; the next WBC isn’t until 2017, by which time we’ll hopefully have a lot more clarity.   If you look at the 2013 version of the unified Cuban team, It lists Jose Abreu as a sub; now we know he’d be the marquee hitter in such a lineup next to Yoenis Cespedes.  And more players are coming.  In fact, you may put a unified cuban team as the 2nd or 3rd favorite in the WBC (behind the DR and USA).

Here’s a quick proffer on what a unified Cuban all-star team could look like right now.  Using the 2013 team as a starter and adding in recent defectees:

  • C: Yasmani Grandal
  • 1B: Jose Abreu
  • 2B: Yunel Escobar
  • 3B: Yonder Alonso
  • SS: Yoan Moncada (backed up by Alexei Ramirez)
  • LF: Yoenis Cespedes
  • CF: Yasiel Puig
  • RF: Yasmani Tomas
  • Starters: Jose Fernandez, Odrisamer Despaigne, Miguel Gonzalez
    (Gio Gonzalez was born in Cuba, but has already played for the US, so we eliminate him from consideration).
  • Relievers: Aroldis Chapman

That’s quite a good squad to start with, even without looking at the lesser Cuban players and/or the guys in the pipeline.

Post publishing link collection: Sports on Earth’s Phil Rogers on the future of the Cuban National team: he basically does a more researched and thoughtful version of the lineup above.  Nathaniel Grow of Fangraphs does his own version of this post in general.   Chris Moran of Beyond the box Score also does a version of this post.  Craig Calcaterra pipes in too.  Thom Loverro puts up his 2 cents.  BusinessInsider quotes super-agent Ron Shapiro and his “sea of questions” regarding baseball players.