Nationals Arm Race

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

State of the Nats at the halfway point 2015


Per KW’s comment suggestion, here’s a “State of the Nats” at the halfway point of 2015.

Salient key phrase: “Holding On.”  Lets look at some component parts.


Here’s the full-strength outfield lineup the Nats would optimally like to deploy: Span, Rendon, Harper, Zimmerman, Werth, Desmond, Ramos, Escobar.

Here’s what they lined-up against Red’s ace Johnny Cueto a few days ago: Taylor, Espinosa, Harper, Ramos, Robinson, Uggla, Desmond, den Dekker.  Yeah, its no wonder they wimpered into the night as Cueto threw a 2-hit shutout.  If you’re Cueto, you pitch around Harper (who got a hit and a walk), you attack the rest of the lineup (strike-out prone lead-off hitter Taylor took a hat-trick), and you laugh as you blow through the rest of the lineup (11Ks on the night).

That’s five regulars out, but not just any regulars; the D/L includes your expected #1, #2 #4, and #5 hitters.  Instead they are replaced by a rookie (Taylor), a career minor-leaguer (Robinson), a cast-off veteran failure (Uggla), a career .230 hitter who the team has spent the last 3 years trying to replace (Espinosa) and a 4th/5th outfielder with just a couple hundred MLB at-bats prior to this year (den Dekker).

Frankly, its a miracle the team is in first place.  Only by the grace of Harper’s incredible season does this team manage to stay in games.  For the record, at the halfway point Harper leads the league in bWAR (6.1), OBP, Slugging, OPS and OPS+.  After having a 3-1 K/BB ratio last year, this year he basically has as many walks as strike-outs, one of the primary reasons his average is 60 points higher and his OBP is 130 points higher than it was last year.  Hold your breath that Harper doesn’t crash out and miss a month with some injury like he’s done in the previous seasons.  If he ends the season with this level of an adjusted OPS+, it’ll be one of the 10-12 best offensive seasons in the history of baseball.

Ironically, even given all these injuries the Nats aren’t even close to what some other teams are dealing with; per, we’re not even close to what the Mets, Rangers, Rays or Oakland has had to deal with.  Though I’d venture to say that perhaps the games lost by Nats players are slightly more “important” than the cumulative games lost by some of these other teams.  I don’t care who you are; if you remove four of the top five batters from any team’s lineup, they’d be lucky to be out of the cellar.

The team has gotten absolutely nothing from presumed bench players McLouth and Johnson (Do you think Rizzo will *ever* buy a 4th outfielder for 8-figures again in his life?).  Guys who should be in AAA are getting starts and (at least in the case of Robinson) holding their own.  We talked before the season about where Taylor should be (on the MLB bench or in AAA getting starts) … well he’s getting playing time, for better or worse.  Instead of worrying about whether Moore was going to get DFA’d to make room, we’re *adding* guys to the 40-man like Burriss to help out.


We know about Scherzer.  He’s been amazing, should start the NL All-Star game (of course, he’s scheduled to throw the series ender in Baltimore so we’ll see) and he leads all NL pitchers in bWAR.

What about the rest of the rotation?  Both Fister and Strasburg have missed a  handful of starts, and the Nats have tried a whole AAA-rotation worth of replacements to varying results.  With apologies to “short sample size judgements” I’ll say that Ross was good, Hill has been ok, Cole has been bad, and Jordan has been worse.  Of course, both Cole and Jordan’s delta between ERA and FIP is massive, so their poor ERAs are unlucky to a certain extent.  In the meantime, Ross has a 23/2 K/BB ratio and a FIP of 1.11 in his three starts.  Its safe to say that this person is excited to see what he can do next, and for me he’s at the head of the line for 2016 rotation candidates.

Clearly we know Strasburg has had an off season.  But so has Fister.  And Gonzalez‘ ERA is in the 4’s.   Just how bad is this rotation?  Not as bad as you think; they’re ranked 8th in the league in starter ERA but are 1st in FIP and fWAR.   Last  year they were 1st in all of these categories.  So perhaps we can expect some “progression” in the 2nd half as (hopefully) guys like Strasburg clean up their act and pitch closer to their FIPs than their ERAs.


We knew Rizzo had weakened the bullpen from 2015, which could have been fine had the injury bug not hit.  But the turnover of this bullpen has caught up to the team in some ways.

  • End of 2014: Soriano, Storen, Clippard, Stammen, Thornton, Blevins, and Detwiler.
  • As we stand now: Storen, Janssen, Treinen, Carpenter, Thornton, Rivero, and Roark.

That’s a lot of turnover.  Yes Storen has been typically excellent (as long as its not the post-season, he seems to be one of the most reliable closers in the game).  As we speak, the bullpen is 11th in ERA; last year they were 4th as a bullpen.  Janssen’s injury did not help, as it pushed guys into the 8th inning role they weren’t ready for.  And we saw Treinen and Barrett struggle (3.69 and 5.06 ERA’s respectively).  Granted their FIP shows that those ERAs are unlucky … but those are still runs on the board, blown leads, blown saves.  Roark (predictably) has regressed as he’s pitched in practically every role a pitching staff has (long-man, mop-up, spot-starter, rotation guy, middle reliever, setup guy and even a closer).  Luckily the gambler Rizzo has gotten pretty good performance out of scrap heap guys like Thornton and Carpenter, both of whom have given the team good innings.

Will this last?  It better: there’s practically nothing left in the farm system for reinforcements.  Barrett is set to return soon (probably pushing Carpenter to AAA), but the other options in the minors do not inspire confidence.  Martin got shelled (unfortunately; we were all cheering him on after his call-up and his fantastic start).  Grace and Solis were both mediocre in their auditions, and I can’t quite figure out why Erik Davis is even still on the roster.  Maybe the team will try some more waiver claims or trades (Neftali Felix just got DFA’d…) to shore up middle relief.


Lets talk about streaks.  As of the time of this posting, the Nats season can neatly be fit into these four periods, and then talk about what spurred the beginning/ending of each streak.

  • The Slow Start: 7-13 from opening day through 4/27/15.  The team came out of the game 7-13, thanks to a sputtering offense and a make-shift lineup still trying to gel.
  • The Comeback: 21-6 from 4/28/15 to 5/27/15: Uggla hits his sole homer on the season to spur a pretty incredible 13-12 comeback win in Atlanta, and the team goes on a 21-6 tear following it.
  • Rotational Worries: 6-13 from 5/28/15 to 6/19/15.  Strasburg lasts just 5 batters on his 5/28/15 start, putting 40% of the rotation on the D/L and throwing the rhythm of the pitching staff off.
  • The Kid dazzles: 12-5 from 6/20/15 to 7/9/15; A long road trip/tough schedule stretch ends with a dominant Ross performance at home 6/20/15, kicking off an easy stretch in the schedule and a mostly full-strength pitching rotation.

Definitely a streaky team so far.  At 7-13, they were 8 games back.  At the end of their 21-6 streak, they were 1.5 games up in the division.  Despite their 6-13 stretch the only lost 3 games in the standings as the Mets faltered equally, and as of 7/9/15 they’re still 3 games up despite getting dominated at home by the Reds.

The team is beating who they should be beating (9-3 against Atlanta, 8-5 against Philly).  And they’ve had some success against other teams that are “good” this year (3-1 against the Yankees, 3-0 against Pittsburgh, and a sweep of San Francisco).  But they’re inexplicably bad against Cincinnati (0-5?), Miami (2-4), and were expectedly weak against the rest of the AL East (a combined 3-7 against Boston, Tampa Bay and Toronto).  I’m guessing they’ll struggle against Baltimore this coming weekend since they sputtered against Cincinnati.

Lets just say that the All-Star break is coming at a pretty good time for this team.

Where do we go from here?

The Nats should be healthier coming out of the all-star break.  And they’ll need it; their July schedule is tough.  They host the Dodgers and the Mets to start, then travel to Pittsburgh, Miami and New York.  That’s a slew of games against good teams and their primary divisional rivals.

In August they host some bad teams (Arizona, Milwaukee, Colorado) but they also do their big West Coast trip (at Los Angeles, San Francisco and Colorado).  They also get a 3-game set at St. Louis that could be an eye-opener for where they really stand ahead of the playoffs.  September features practically all divisional games against teams that should all be completely out of it by then, so I forsee a team in cruising mode.

Playoff Outlook

The Nats remain in 1st place despite all their issues, and their closest rival is putting out a lineup that most AAA teams could beat.  Philly is already 30 games under .500.  Miami is 15 games under .500 and just lost their best player.  Atlanta sits around .500 but isn’t really trying for 2015 and won’t spend to compete.  So I think its safe to say the Nats are winning the division.  I’ll guess the Mets hang around since their pitching is so good, but in the end the Nats win the division by at least 10 games.

If the season ended today, Pittsburgh hosts the Cubs in the WC, St. Louis hosts the WC winner and Washington would be traveling to Los Angeles to open the playoffs.  And frankly its hard to see this changing much between now and October 1st.  I don’t think its a stretch to say that the Nats would be underdogs to both the Dodgers and the Cardinals in a playoff series, not unless Strasburg remembers how to pitch again or the offense gets healthy in time.  Are we looking at another first round playoff exit?



41 Responses to 'State of the Nats at the halfway point 2015'

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  1. This team needs to get back to close to fully healthy to have any realistic chance to make noise in the playoffs this year. It will be interesting to see what Rizzo does at the trading deadline given how many of the team’s prospects are underperforming this year.

    His best potential trade chips (Giolito, Turner and Ross) are all far too valuable for a team potentially losing four major free agents to part with. Would he really consider giving up say Difo, Voss and Pivetta for Chapman? And would even those three or their equivalent be enough to (ahem) close the deal? We shall soon find out.

    Karl Kolchak

    9 Jul 15 at 12:42 pm

  2. Todd, good stuff. I guess it’s up to me to keep this ball rolling!

    As I read the post, I wondered what we would have thought if someone had been able to post the Nats’ current 25-man in November for our perusal. Wow, would our heads have been spinning. It’s been a brutal year injury-wise. And it’s still hard to judge what kind of quality we’ll have when the pieces start returning.

    I think we can count on Rendon to hit, eventually close to ’14 form by the playoffs. RZim and particularly Werth concern me more, as they weren’t doing much before they went down. I’m also worried that Span’s back may be a longer-term deal. Among the pitchers, I think we were all extremely encouraged by Stras before he went down. If he doesn’t miss much time and comes back where he was, we may finally see the golden rotation in the stretch.

    Oh, and you didn’t deal with the non-injured elephant in the room – Desmond. Oy. Unless the Nats fall behind in the race, I guess you’ve got to keep playing him, at least most of the time, and hope he snaps out of this. I never thought I’d say this, but thank goodness for Espinosa. He may well be the postseason SS.

    As for additions, I’ve always wanted a bat more than an arm, even last offseason. As much as Chapman would be nice to have, right now, he would only add +0.1 on bWAR over Storen. It would been a steep price to pay for a small increment. (Whether I trust Storen in the playoffs is another matter.)

    Some team will trade for Justin Upton. He sure would look good protecting Harper. At what cost? I don’t know. Adam Lind is a solid LH bat whose contract is expiring and might be worth a look if the team doesn’t have much confidence in RZim’s situation. Will Venable has a lot less power but could help in the OF, particularly if Werth and Span are going to be out for a while. I’ve always liked Carlos Gomez, who has another year on his contract and would cost more. I wonder what the Brewers would want for CarGo and K-Rod.

    I don’t know enough about middle relievers off the top of my head to even speculate. I’m sure there would be much love if Clippard came home, even though he hasn’t been nearly as effective this year.


    9 Jul 15 at 7:07 pm

  3. Just reading that Jay Bruce is also being floated. He’s signed for two more years, with a buyout for the second one. Right now, Bruce, JUpton, and CarGo are all very close in OPS and WAR. Upton and Gomez obviously have more speed and OF versatility. Upton theoretically should cost less since he would only be a half-year rental. (And yes, could we really stand having Uggla AND an Upton on the Nats?!)


    9 Jul 15 at 8:34 pm

  4. Wagner reviews the state of things and mentions the ubiquitous Zobrist and also Gerardo Parra:

    Personally, I’d rather have someone with more HR power than Parra.

    To be clear, though, I don’t want to give up much. People who bring up trading Giolito are nuts. The main chips in my mind are Taylor Hill and Taylor Jordan. I’m not sure what to think about Cole, who is three years younger than those two and may still have more at the MLB level than he has been able to show thus far. Nevertheless, in my mind, the emergence of Ross as a near-ready guy for next year makes Cole potentially more expendable. For Cole, though, I’d really like to be getting more than a half-season rental, even more so if we start talking Voth or Pivetta.

    If we consider Turner off limits, the only MiLB bats who might draw much interest would be Difo and Severino (who the Nats really need for the Ramos replacement competition in ’17). I’d hate to part with Difo, but I’d consider it for more than a rental guy. Skole and even Goodwin are probably expendable, if anyone would have them.


    10 Jul 15 at 10:56 am

  5. I could see Gerardo Parra being this years Asdrubal Cabrera. He would be a nice piece to have being he is left handed, can handle multiple outfield positions and has a track record of at least league average offesnive production. Also he should cost less in a trade than Zobrist I would expect.

    I also wouldn’t mind getting Parra to see if you could resign him. He is youngish and shouldn’t require a huge contract. With Taylor’s inexperience and Werth and Bryce’s injury history he would be a useful piece to have.


    10 Jul 15 at 1:56 pm

  6. I am kind of mostly hoping for bullpen pieces, and maybe a 1b like Lind.

    Looks like the final draft piece has fallen:

    @jimcallisMLB 34th-rder Tyler Watson signs w/@Nationals for $400k ($300k vs pool). Arizona HS LHP, FB hits 91, curve shows promise as well


    12 Jul 15 at 9:31 pm

  7. Just got back from an out of town trip.

    KW: I realized after the fact I didn’t mention Desmond. I think i’m firmly in this camp: Desmond blew his chance by passing up a 9-figure deal, he’s cost himself probably $50M in his next deal as a result of his crummmy performance so far in 2015, and the Nats are completely content to have him play out the string and go into April 2016 with Turner as the starter. Maybe the bigger question right now is this: do you offer Desmond a Qualifying Offer? If he’s looking at offers like 4/$60M in stead of the 7/$100M he’s declined, does he take a QO to try to rebuild value?

    If we deal from depth (Cole, Jordan, Hill) i’m ok trying to acquire something. But do we need an outfielder? Bruce or Perra are improvements over Taylor sure. Then what do you do when Werth and Span return? That’s a hefty player sitting on your bench. Don’t see it; i see the team standing pat and waiting things out. You don’t need to win the division by 20 games; you need to win it by one.

    Todd Boss

    13 Jul 15 at 9:18 am

  8. I wouldn’t hate getting Parra, who is having a career year and has become a doubles machine, but I’d rather have someone with more power. Right now, there’s just no protection in the lineup for Harper, and they’re throwing him junk.

    I just wish they could find a power guy with a proven track record in the playoffs. To that end, I’ve even kicked around the idea of trying to make a low-ball bid to get Panda out of Boston, since he’s already worn out his welcome there, apparently. Not sure the Nats would want to get stuck with his contract, though. He’s also just a very average regular-season player who only comes out of hibernation in October. Any other thoughts on proven playoff guys who might be available?


    13 Jul 15 at 9:34 am

  9. I was writing at the same time Todd was posting. I had the same thought about whether to even make the QO to Desmond. Unless he really comes out of it in the second half, it’s hard to imagine a team giving up a draft pick to sign him. He could benefit from re-upping with the Nats for another year and trying to put up better numbers, but the Nats will be ready to move on.

    Frankly, I think QO’s would be fairly large impediments to Span and Fister signing elsewhere as well.


    13 Jul 15 at 9:38 am

  10. “…there’s just no protection in the lineup for Harper, and they’re throwing him junk.”

    But I thought lineup protection didn’t exist 😉

    Christ where would Sandoval play? the Nats are finding themselves with positional availability issues left and right. If only we had a DH.

    I’m not sure this is a solve-able problem. If you get a bat, someone sits. They had a perfectly good lineup prior to these injuries; do you just assume Werth isn’t going to come back? If that’s the case, you could find an expiring guy who could play LF. Do you assume Zimmerman isn’t coming back? Then you could get a power 1B like Adam Lind or somebody. Maybe the teams just says to heck with it, benches Desmond, installs either Escobar or Espinosa at short for the rest of the season, then either 2B or 3B is opened up for someone. But who? I don’t think Zobrist has really been *that* good this year. I honestly havn’t really paid that much attention to the trade winds, thinking that the Nats were a pretty complete team prior to injuries…

    Todd Boss

    13 Jul 15 at 9:41 am

  11. RE: Desmond and a QO–frankly, I don’t think the Nats can risk it. They will already have Rendon, Espinosa and Escobar under contract to start the season (Turner will no doubt be sent to Syracuse after ST for “fine tuning” until he free agency clock is set back a year). I f Desmond accepts the offer, which at this point would be the smart thing to do, they’ll be paying at least two players starting salaries to sit on the bench once Turner arrives.

    Also, regarding Desmond’s offers, I think 4/$60 may be way too generous. Asdrubal Cabrera had to take 1/$7 from Tampa Bay even though he 1). entered free agency a year younger than Desmond, 2). had a much better season last year than Desmond is having this year, and 3). had a much higher career bWAR than Desmond going into free agency.

    Looking back at his career, Desmond only had one outstanding season–and that was in 2012. Each of the last two seasons, his OPS has steadily regressed, while his strikeouts have steadily increased. If he accepts the QO, his salary rises from $10 million to around $16 million, or $9 million more than Cabrera is getting this year. He’d be an idiot not to take that, and the Nats would be idiots to offer it to him, even though it will cost them a draft pick.

    Karl Kolchack

    13 Jul 15 at 9:52 am

  12. Good points on Desi’s potential value, or lack thereof.

    As for Panda, I’m not jumping up and down for him. I was just trying to think of a proven playoff hitter who might somehow be available. The Bosox certainly need some arms. Sandoval could play both 1B and 3B. I’d say 1B until Zim is back, then 3B with Escobar moving to SS, unless Desi miraculously comes out of his coma. Who knows about next year.

    It’s impossible to address the “where would they play” issue too well with any potential acquisition, though, particularly with this team that keeps injury status so close to the vest. Span supposedly got a good report on his back, and I think both he and Rendon will hit whenever they get back in the lineup. (How much power Rendon will generate right away may be a question, though.) I’m less confident with Werth and Zimmerman, both about when they will return and how much they will be able to contribute. I would think that both would need at least six weeks in the lineup to get back up to speed for the playoffs. We’ll see.

    It was just painful to watch anyone but Harper and Rendon hit last year in the playoffs.


    13 Jul 15 at 10:05 am

  13. No player has ever accepted a QO, and I sincerely doubt that Desmond is the first. For one thing, he has consistently spoken of his appreciation for those who came before him in terms of contracts, and his duty to other players in considering how his actions may affect other contract negotiations. That doesn’t sound like a man who is going to set precedent by accepting a QO.

    Secondly, pretty much no matter how you slice it Desmond is going to make more guaranteed money than $16M, although the average annual value would certainly be well short of that. It’s just wrong to say that Desmond’s only good season was 2012. Because his defense and baserunning were better in 2013, he actually put up more fWAR in 2013 (4.8) than in 2012 (4.7). Even in 2014 he put up 4 fWAR. As fans we constantly assume that current reality is future reality, and that’s just not the case. While Desmond has cost himself a lot of money, he’s going to get paid a lot of money.

    I also don’t assume that, just because Werth and Zimmerman struggled in the 2014 playoffs that they will never hit in the playoffs. Even putting aside the foolishness of basing conclusions on four games of data, both have contributed solid playoff numbers previously.

    John C.

    13 Jul 15 at 11:17 am

  14. Werth indeed hit tremendously well for the Phils in the playoffs, and Zimmerman was the Nats’ best hitter overall in the 2012 NLDS. I would love to see those two guys reemerge, but will they? In the recent past, it has taken Werth a long time to get any power back after hand/wrist injuries. We’ll see. I’m not writing either of them off, as it is hard to envision the Nats going deep into the playoffs without both contributing. I’m just saying that I would explore some reinforcements.


    13 Jul 15 at 11:48 am

  15. John–I didn’t say Desmond only had one good season, I said he had only one outstanding season and that his numbers other than HRs and SBs were in steady decline even before he fell off the table this year. And that crap about not wanting to screw the next guy was just that–the Nats did him a huge solid by sticking with him for two full years before he finally had his breakthrough.

    And at the time he was offered that extension in Feb 2013 he’d had only that one great year under his belt. No doubt he was fantasizing that he could keep it up and that if the timing worked out he could be Jeter’s successor in The Bronx. Well, it didn’t work out. He is playing below replacement value right now. No one is going to offer a big long term deal to a guy who was already in seine and is playing this badly. He’s going to have to eat crow, swallow his pride and accept a one year deal and hope he can rebuild his value.

    Karl Kolchak

    13 Jul 15 at 1:29 pm

  16. No one argues that Desi isn’t having a horrible year, and has cost himself money. But he has been the most valuable shortstop in baseball over the last three years, according to the fancy stats, and it is far from certain that he’ll be looking at a one year pillow contract. He didn’t suffer an injury. He has great intangibles. I doubt any baseball analyst would argue that the degree of his offensive underperformance is age-related decline, despite the easy narrative fit.

    A lot will depend on how he finishes, but is a 31 yr old Desi, coming off three productive years then 1 bad one, a worse gamble than chubby Jonny Peralta, who very few thought could stay at SS and was coming off a PED suspension? I mean, I know Desi is a frustrating player, and it sure would be nice if he had stepped up and filled some of this offensive void with everyone injured, but I don’t think this is AssCab Part 2.

    regardless of his struggles this year, he has been a great player for the team over the years, and has some good baseball left.


    13 Jul 15 at 6:25 pm

  17. Wally–don’t get me wrong, the best thing for the Nats would be for Desmond to suddenly revert to his old self starting this Friday.

    But as you note, there is no apparent injury related reason for this utter collapse in Desmond’s offensive production. So what is it? Is it age related or not? That’s the kind of question Desmond could answer on a one year deal after a change of scenery.

    The point of my post, however, wasn’t to bash Desmond. It was to illustrate the reasons why the Nats likely will not make him a QO this offseason even though it will cost them a draft pick. He has just done too much to hurt his overall value.

    Karl Kolchack

    13 Jul 15 at 7:31 pm

  18. Karl – sorry, I got side tracked with my answer. I knew that’s where you were going, and I still think the QO is a good bet. I’d be shocked if Desi isn’t guaranteed at least $40m next year. The SS position is still so weak (although the kids are improving it) that he is going to look like a bounce back bargain to someone. It might be 4/$40m, but he is going to have to take whatever his best deal is and I would be willing to bet that he thinks it’s higher than the $15m QO. Same for Span, imo. Can you really see him not getting at least a $30m guarantee?

    Like I said, there is still half a season to go and that matters, but the only guy that has played his way out of a QO to me is Fister. I think unless he rebounds significantly, he may be looking at a 1 year show me deal, and jumps on it.


    13 Jul 15 at 7:50 pm

  19. Wally – I would never want to underestimate the stupidity of MLB ownership. Maybe their is a dumbly run franchise out there that will be willing to take the gamble.

    And would it not be ironic if it was the PADRES who end up giving Desmond a large multi-year deal? I think they are actually more likely to do it than the Yankees, who have gotten much smarter about not throwing money away as they did when Daddy Steinbrenner was still alive.

    Yankee fans might hate Didi’s bat, but even he’s having a better season at the plate and he doesn’t commit errors in bunches. And can you imagine what the New York media would be doing to Desmond if he was already a Yankee?

    Karl Kolchack

    13 Jul 15 at 8:16 pm

  20. At 4/$40m, that values his 30-33 seasons at slightly more than 1 WAR/yr. Is that really a crazy offer? I think he is actually going to get higher than that, I am just throwing it out there as a data point why a QO should be a safe bet (I think we all agree that he isn’t coming back).

    As for what is going on this year, who knows. I wouldn’t argue against a little bit of decline starting to creep in, but to go from three straight silver sluggers to below replacement level in half a season before he turns 30? I just don’t see it and I don’t think his range has been affected (another place you would see age decline show up). As unsatisfying an answer as it is, I think it’s been an unbelievably ill-timed batch of random suckiness. I’d bet his 2d half looks closer to his career norms than not, but that won’t make his season look good. And as you and others have said, at some point, Rizzo may not give him the chance to turn it around any longer.


    13 Jul 15 at 8:35 pm

  21. Just for frame of reference, the QO rose $1.2M this past offseason, to $15.3M. Let’s say it goes up again by the same amount this fall, which would get it to $16.5M. That’s slightly more than Span has made this season and last combined, and slightly less than what Desmond and Fister have made. It’s also likely more than any of them will be able to make per year on a new deal, unless Desmond really finds his form in the second half. That’s not saying that any would take the QO (no one ever has before), but all would have to think about it.

    I was trying to think of a comp for Desmond of someone who at one point had been one of the best at his position but who had lost his mojo for reasons other than injury. The best I’ve got off the top of my head is Chase Headley, who lost 45 points off his peak OPS+ in two seasons. (He’s currently at 56 points off his OPS+ peak, while Desi is 63 off his.) Headley signed for 4/52, 13 per, although there was no draft pick involved since he was traded at midseason. That would seem to be about Desmond’s ballpark right now unless he really picks it up in the second half. It’s definitely below the QO line.

    In the recent past on guys who have been close calls on QO’s – LaRoche, Soriano, EJax – the Nats have not made them, for whatever that’s worth.


    13 Jul 15 at 8:58 pm

  22. $16.5 sounds right. But do you think they will be driven by comparing AAV, or total guarantee? I would think the total guarantee will drive them.

    As for a Desi comp, no one jumps to mind, certainly not heading into their FA year. JJ Hardy did something like this earlier in his career. Was a power hitting, good fielding, low OBP SS that put up some 4 WAR seasons and then sucked for a couple of years. Got traded to the Twins, then O’s and then bounced backed offensively. Difference was his defense never left him.

    But it doesn’t offer up a contract comp. I just think there are going to be several teams without good SS options, and he’ll be 30 with three good years out of four, with good athleticism and intangibles. I really don’t think it’s much of a risk, but you are right, the Nats didn’t offer up a QO to EJax and I thought there was no way he take it. I suspect they’ll offer it to Span though, since I think they’d be ok if he took it, whereas they no longer want Desi back and may not risk him taking it. But again, I see no chance he does.


    13 Jul 15 at 9:27 pm

  23. My predictions for what they are worth (assuming no significant change in production levels in the 2nd half):

    Desmond: 1yr/$10 mil with no QO – Desmond gets a change of scenery and hopes to rebound so he can cash in big NEXT offseason.

    Fister: 1yr/$8 mil with no QO – Fister hopes to regain velocity and effectiveness but has likely reached the stage where 1 yr contract offers become the norm.

    Span: 2yrs/$25 mil with no QO – Michael Bourn is an unfortunate comparable for Span, and he was two years younger going into free agency. The Nats will not risk having to give such a huge raise to a guy who might regress quickly as an aging speedster with a history of injuries.

    Z-nn: 7yrs/$150 mil after rejecting the Nats’ QO – Jordan hits the FA jackpot; the Nats get one additional draft pick.

    Karl Kolchack

    13 Jul 15 at 11:28 pm

  24. Karl – at those prices, I’d take all of them back, even Desi. Well, maybe not Zim, not sure the payroll could handle two $100m pitchers.

    Span at 2/$25m is a good enough deal, with enough established injury concerns in Harper and Werth, to make it no problem to still give MAT 500 PAs. That one is easy.

    The rotation has enough question marks – Roark, Gio, plus projection – Ross, Cole, Jordan, that Fister on a 1 yr reasonable deal wouldn’t hurt anyone’s development, and you could flip him if everything else worked out fine.

    Desi isn’t really needed, but just seems like a good hedge against Escobar’s and Espy’s clock striking midnight, or Rendon missing two months with an ingrown toenail.

    But I’ll bet you a beer on the over for each one of those guesses except Zim. With his velocity down a tad, I am not sure he does better than Lester.


    14 Jul 15 at 7:51 am

  25. I’m with Wally, bet the over on all of these except Jordan Zimmermann. He’ll do great, don’t get me wrong, but his velocity is down a tic and his K rate has gone back to career norms. Combined with a seeming glut of free agent pitchers hitting the market (Greinke, Cueto) and a previous brush with TJ and I think he ends up in the nine figure range but well short of Lester level. He has settled back into the “very good #2” range rather than true ace.

    On Desmond, Beyond the Box Score did an analysis of his situation a couple of weeks ago and concluded that his FA contract would be in the neighborhood of 5 years/$89.5M (cue line “that’s a nice neighborhood”). Is that costing Desmond a lot of money? Hells yes – some estimates (noted in the same article) had Desmond in the 6+ years with an AAV north or $20M range if he’d put up another “Desmond” season. But the bottom line: “Shortstops with Desmond’s track record just don’t hit free agency very often, so despite his awful season, Ian Desmond will still get paid.”

    Which is also, btw, why he will receive a QO. Span and JZim will receive QOs as well. All three are virtually certain to decline the offers. The one pending FA that may be playing himself out of a QO is Fister. We’ll see about that.

    John C.

    14 Jul 15 at 9:47 am

  26. My guess on QOs as we stand: Offer to Desmond and Zimmermann, do not offer to Span or Fister. Zimmermann will get a massive deal and someone will pay Desmond; there’s just such a dearth of quality SS in the league that he’ll get an offer.

    Fister at $11.4M this year, Span at $9M. Fister can point at his track record and make a claim for something like a 3/$39 deal. Span’s tougher to figure; he’s already 31, he makes his living by his speed and defense, which will degrade quickly. He’s been hurt this year, but otherwise his numbers are up across the board. What would you pay him on a 3 or 4 year deal? Either of these two seems likely to me to sign multi year deals at less than the QO AAV, but guaranteeing themselves money.

    and it is worth noting of course that, as JohnC noted, there have now been 33 players offered a QO in the new system over three off-seasons, and not one has taken it. Even Michael Cuddyer did not take it, opting for a 2yr/$21M deal in NY versus a 1yr/$15.3M deal in Colorado. That to me was so inexplicable that it makes me wonder if there’s not some sort of “collusion” going on with the players to the QO in general. So maybe it’d be smarter for the Nats to put those QOs out there.

    Todd Boss

    14 Jul 15 at 10:34 am

  27. Desmond has two key factors in his favor: the Yankees still need a shortstop, which will drive the overall market, and the potentially available free agents are lousy:

    Someone please remind me what the Nats’ offer to Desmond was last year. I’m thinking 5/$90M, but that could be off. It seemed “team friendly” at the time but could turn out to be the high end of what’s possible. Yes, I believe he had visions of $20M per for 6 or 7 years.

    Don’t forget David Price at the top of the pitcher’s market. As perhaps fourth in that line, I agree that $150 may be ambitious for JZim, but he may get something around what Desi wanted, 6/$120M.


    14 Jul 15 at 10:40 am

  28. I’ve always thought that Desmond to the Yankees made too much sense. Florida guy, where Yankees have a big presence (both with NY retirees and spring training).

    Nats offer, per Adam Kilgore, was 7/$107M.

    Looking at the 2016 FA list, and then looking at depth charts, its not too hard to see a few teams who might be on the market for an upgrade. Just quickly squinting (not counting cheap/rebuilding teams or teams w/ prospects at SS), i see Desmond as an option that makes sense for these teams: White Sox, Detroit, Yankees, Rays, Mets, Padres. These are some big market teams that could decide to spend money. I think there’s definitely a market for him this off-season.

    Todd Boss

    14 Jul 15 at 10:48 am

  29. I would make a QO to Span. I think there is a chance he takes it, but that would be fine with me. Werth isn’t getting any healthier, and there is no guarantee what his play will be like if healthy. Harp, Span, Werth & Taylor would be a fine top 4 OF, and all would get plenty of playing time. It would clearly be more expensive than other “4th OF” options, as the Nats have nobody else close in the pipeline, but would be worth it given the health history of all those guys, and keeping it to a one year commitment for Span is good for flexibility. (and as McLouth shows, it’s hard to find a reliable option at a lower price)


    14 Jul 15 at 1:09 pm

  30. I am with DaveB. I’d take him back at that. I might even consider a multi year deal with him.

    I think his over/under in the market is 3/$40m.


    14 Jul 15 at 1:58 pm

  31. Let them all walk and put the money toward large extension offers for 1) Harper and 2) Strasburg. Boras has claimed all along that Harper could be signed to an extension if the Price is Right. Well, the price now = Trout, but now it also seems worth it. Let’s do it now, while Ted is still alive, as he and Boras seem to get along well.

    For Stras, I’d say $15M for ’16 plus five more years at $25M per, so 6/$140. But I’d find out what Harper wants first. Stras can sort of be replaced; Harper can’t.


    14 Jul 15 at 2:34 pm

  32. If I were Rizzo, like KW I’d be OK with letting them all walk – but I’d want to get the draft picks where I could. One reason that I think that Span definitely gets a QO is that I agree with DaveB – it’s not the end of the world if Span takes it. Yes, it’s pricey for one year, but it’s only for one year and therefore won’t have any real impact on the Nats’ ability to manage their payroll long term. And while it would give the Nats’ four workable starting OF (counting MAT) I’ll note that it solves a depth problem since, without Span, the OF bench starts with den Dekker and then wanders through Tyler Moore, Clint Robinson land. Yikes. Go ahead, Denard … sign the QO. Make my day.

    John C.

    14 Jul 15 at 4:10 pm

  33. Harper is under contract through 2018, right? No way does Boras let him sign an extension now. He’s only just now achieving the full potential he’s shown since high school. Boras will gamble on a few more seasons like this one and take a massive payday at the end of it. The Nats would love to extend him, I’m sure, because it would cost less than extending him in a few years. But that’s precisely the reason it doesn’t make sense for Harper or Boras.

    As for Strasburg, I just don’t see the team extending or re-signing him. He has flashes of brilliance, but too many weird little injuries, and too many wrong little things happening between his ears. He pouts, he doesn’t backup throws, he just doesn’t seem to have the right makeup to be a dominant starter. I don’t see a big extension for him.


    14 Jul 15 at 4:14 pm

  34. If we believe the “omerta” argument, then you offer QOs to all four guys and see what happens. I’ll take frigging *four* comp picks in the 1st supp next year; 2016 is a loaded draft compared to 2015.

    JohnC is right; our OF depth is crummy. Thanks for the memories Nate McLouth!

    Todd Boss

    14 Jul 15 at 4:52 pm

  35. Clark17: completely agree. Boras clients 99% of the time hit FA. Harper will hit FA. Strasburg; I think you let him walk. He’ll get vastly overpaid by one of the SoCal teams, get to go home, and may thrive in an environment like that. And more power to him. If Giolito is as advertised, then we replace a $20M/year Strasburg salary with a $500k salary with the same performance.

    Todd Boss

    14 Jul 15 at 4:54 pm

  36. Boras said last year that he was open to a Harper extension, and he liked 13 year deals. And that was before Giancarlo’s deal. No way Harper goes for Trout’s deal, but if the Nats wanted to go 15/$400m, I am sure that Harper and Boras would do it. So long as they get an opt out or two 🙂

    My money is on Desi to the Mets next year.


    14 Jul 15 at 5:59 pm

  37. The “omerta” argument is an interesting one, though I would note that teams are not in the habit of offering QOs to players they do not WANT back (i.e.: the Nats and E Jackson, who signed a 4yr deal for the same AAV as the one year QO would have been had the Nats made it). And at this point, the team has clearly already moved on from Desmond.

    Karl Kolchack

    14 Jul 15 at 10:38 pm

  38. I think the window for trying to keep Harper has to be an extension before he gets to within two years of free agency. If he gets that close, he’s going . . . and for DC purposes, he’s gone. Really, this coming offseason is three years out, so that may be the “last” chance. Boras would not have done an extension until Harper did something to establish his superstar value, but now he has. There are models out there with Stanton, Trout, and Kershaw. Yeah, it would be ridiculous numbers, but the Nats aren’t going to be drafting 1/1 again anytime soon, so they’re not going to have many shots at retaining a talent of this level. Maybe it can’t be done, but they’ll regret it if they don’t at least take a shot.

    I’ve got mixed feelings about extending Stras. And as noted with Harper, since he’ll be down to within one year of FA, it may be “too late” already. The retooled mechanics renewed promise of a peak we feared might have passed, though. Yet since he still hasn’t reached that peak, he’s not a $30M per guy . . . and may not ever be. No matter how you slice it, and no matter how good the kids in the pipeline are, though, the Nats will still suffer a significant hit to have JZim and Stras walk in consecutive years, not to mention Fister.

    My QO predictions: JZim-yes; Desi-yes, unless he falls even farther apart in the second half; Span-close call, but probably not; Fister-no, unless he has a huge second half.


    15 Jul 15 at 5:27 am

  39. For me, the Nats absolutely made an error not offering Edwin Jackson a QO. No they didn’t want him back, but you have to read the tea leaves of the market and it was absolutely clear that he was set to get a multi-year deal. Jackson signed (as Karl points out) a 4 year deal at the QO AAV, not under it. That cost the Nats.

    You don’t have to draft 1-1 to get a super star. We got Giolito 16th overall. Trout was 25th overall. Pujols was a frigging 13th rounder. Cherry picking yes, but as long as you have a 1st round pick you’re in the game.

    Todd Boss

    15 Jul 15 at 9:16 am

  40. I wondered with EJax and with Soriano whether the Nats had a secret handshake deal with Boras not to put the QO on them. I wondered that in particular with Jackson since his was a one-year place-holder.


    15 Jul 15 at 11:05 am

  41. Yeah … i’ve heard the “under the table deal with Boras” for these guys. But how does that help the Nats? Do Boras and Edwin Jackson a solid; where has that come back to help the Nats? As far as I can tell, the only Boras clients we’ve dealt with since 2012 are Rafael Soriano and Max Scherzer. Neither got what i’d describe as a “discounted” deal, but both took present value/future value deals with deferred money. Is that the “deal” Boras gave us?

    Todd Boss

    15 Jul 15 at 2:16 pm

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