Nationals Baseball

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Offseason Position Discussion : Outfield

Presumed Plan :  Jayson Werth in right, Bryce Harper in left, Span's option is picked up and he stays in center for 2015.  Nate McLouth will back-up along with Steve Souza most likely and Michael Taylor goes back to AAA for everyday at bats.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : Despite being 35, Werth put up another great line offensively. He hits for average (.292), maintains decent power (16 homers, 37 doubles), and most importantly gets on base at an elite level (83 walks and a .394 OBP) which is a rarity in the Nats line-up.  While no longer a fast runner, he's still a smart one on the basepaths. His defensive range is shrinking (he hasn't been a good OF since coming to the Nats), but 1B is unavailable so sticking him in the corner that he's most accustomed to makes sense.

Despite being only 21, Bryce put up another decent offensive season, and expectations are still that when he finally has a year where he's healthy he will break out. Primarily the Nats expect that he'll mature into a 30+ HR hitter, though hitting around .300 or learning patience to get on base with an OBP near .400 remain hopes. Either way, even if he simply repeats the "disappointing" 2014 numbers over a full year, Bryce is an above average bat worth starting. Plus with LaRoche gone he's your only power lefty bat. On the basepaths Bryce was noticeably... less enthusiastic. That could be coaching, but is probably due more to his hip injury. Still he's far from an oaf. Defensively he has yet to fulfill the promise of his teen years when it was thought that his athleticism would carry him if his he didn't take to the position. He's passable in left, albeit with a cannon for an arm, nothing more.

Given that Werth and Bryce are primarily offensive players and CF is primarily a defensive position, it makes sense that a defense first guy would play that spot.  Despite a bit of disagreement on how good Span is, most observers think he remains an above average fielder. That alone would probably get him a starting role but Span busted out last year with the best year of his career hitting over .300. While it's unlikely to happen again there's no real sense Span is on a decline, meaning he's likely to provide no worse than average offense and likely slightly better. 

McLouth remains in the bench mix by default. He's a lefty bat when the Nats don't have many and more importantly he's getting paid 5 million next year.  Steven Souza dominated AAA pitching in ~100 games last year and at 26 in April, has reached an age where you either use it in the majors or lose it. Taylor is likely the future CF but given that he played only ~20 games in AAA last year and was unimpressive and that he's two years younger than Souza, he gets the everyday job in Syracuse.

Problems with Presumed Plan There are some issues here. I see the biggest one being Werth's fielding. His range has diminished to the point where he's got one of the smallest ranges of a regular RF in the majors. It's not going to get better either as this isn't an injury thing, it's an age thing. Span can help cover that issue but not as well as he could if he didn't have to help Bryce out too. The general consensus is that your worst OF plays LF meaning Bryce and Werth should flip.

Even in optimal position though the Nats probably won't increase from their position of the 23rd "rangiest" group which isn't good. They get a slight bump for having good arms in the corners and not making a lot of errors but it's still a below average group.

Offensively the biggest concern is health.  Werth did manage to play a full season, but missed a big chunk of 2013 and half of 2012. At his age you have to expect 120 games, not 150.  Meanwhile Bryce has played 118 and 100 games the past 2 years.  If both of these guys miss significant time again that may dramatically hurt the offense.

There are also individual concerns at the plate. Werth's power is dropping. What was once blamed on an injury is clearly now age related and while he can still bang out a double, the homers are getting fewer and farther between. His HR/FB rate goes 21.1% (2008), 19.3% (09), 14.3% (10), 12.3% (11), 9.4% (14) (Both 2012's 5.3% and 2013's 18.0% seem fluky and out of pattern).  We may be able to blame Bryce's decrease in power on his injuries, but Bryce's K rate spiked dramatically in 2014 up to 26.3% where it had been usually below 20% in most of his stops. If he can't adjust to whatever is going on now his ceiling drops. Lastly Span basically got a 20 point bump in everything due to a 20 point bump in BABIP. Expecting everything to fall back is the smart play.

On the bench you have no reliable hitters. Souza is a big talent but a big question mark. We've seen AAA killers be unable to produce in the majors before. McLouth was a big nothing last year and it's hard to see him as anything viable as a long term replacement if there are injuries. Michael Taylor, as noted, hasn't hit above AA and didn't look like a major league hitter in his cup of coffee.

My take :  There's no good reason to deviate from what was done in 2014. Even if you could with Bryce and Werth, they are good players. You play good players. The Nats could move on from Span, but Souza doesn't fit the "great defender covering for corner OF" description and Taylor isn't ready. At a reasonable cost, it'd be silly not to re-up him.

The biggest issue is the defense and yes the defense is suspect. But it isn't terrible and given that offensively the group should be Top 5 if healthy, you live with it. Should they flip Werth and Bryce? That is probably optimal but the whole RF over LF thing is mostly an arm issue and Werth's arm is still good. Flipping would hardly make a difference. Beyond 2015 it's only going to get more dicey as Werth calcifies completely and there is no place for him to go, but for next year, I'm not overly concerned. 

Offensively I don't see any issues. All those points above are valid, but unless something crazy happens it's still a good offensive outfield, with potential to be very good.  I expect Werth to hit about the same, maybe a homer or two less. I expect Span to drop back to his usual self. I expect Bryce to hit a bit better, primarily with a bit more power.  That would probably balance out. But if Werth has a minor bounce back and Span stays roughly the same? Or Bryce does take off?  That OF could carry a team. 

I think the bench is about as good as you are going to get - provided that the Nats use Souza as the 4th OF and not McLouth. (and for god's sake do not play Frandsen out there). I'd prefer a Eury Perez type (I know he's gone) as the 5th but McLouth is stuck in that position. Oh well. It's a 5th OF. As for the first in line in case of (likely) injury, I'm not worried about Souza providing some contribution if called upon. His AAA profile wasn't like the Tyler Moores of the world, where they K'd to the point you knew major league pitching would eat them up. Souza is a better hitter than that.I suppose if you want to eat McLouth's salary, going after DeJesus for a 4th/5th would be my play. I don't see the Nats doing that though.

Outside the Box Suggestion : You can't do anything with Werth. That contract, his age, and a lack of alternate position makes him an OF in 2015.  So you can do two things - challenge deal Bryce, or upgrade Span. Challenge dealing Bryce is hard because frankly there aren't many players worth what Bryce is even often injured and not hitting up to projections. Certainly no minor leaguers I can think of. So you have to look for older players, with at least a couple years of team control who aren't paid too much. Could you trade him for McCutchen? or Stanton? I suppose...

So that leaves upgrading Span. If you are going to do that a sign and trade of Span makes the most sense. So you sign Span and you deal him.  We've talked about this before but the Tigers may be the best fit. However if you could spin him to the Cardinals for a decent prospect arm, which they always seem to have, that makes the most sense. Why? Because you are probably about to lose your best one.  

You send Giolito to the Brewers for the Carlos Gomez.  Crazy? Sure, but sometimes you have to go all in and there isn't a better outfielder that you are going to get. He is a better defender than Span, a better baserunner than Span, younger than Span, and you know how Span could hit .285 with 30 doubles next season? Gomez will do that too except instead of hitting 5 homeruns he'll hit 25. 

If you are wondering why Giolito, by all means start with Taylor + Cole if you like, but I'm not touching that if I'm the Brewers. Gomez is paid a silly team-favoring amount (8 million in 2015, 9 million in 2016) over the next two years. An amount that lets the Nats do some long-term deals while getting better during that time. Still Giolito? You see a likely Top 10 prospect in all of baseball, probably Top 3 pitching one. I see a 20 year old that has already had Tommy John who hasn't progressed into High-A yet. If all goes on schedule he's in the rotation full-time 2017. IF ALL GOES WELL. In my head I think the likely story is he does get there, gets injured again, has another Tommy John and is back full-time in the rotation in 2019. He may be dominant then but hell that's FOREVER away. Let's win now.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Offseason Position Discussion : Third Base

Presumed Plan : Anthony Rendon will continue to start at 3rd base. Frandsen will likely back-up.
Reasoning on Presumed Plan : Anthony Rendon is an outside candidate for MVP. There is very little he can't do on a diamond. Along with some top-notch fielding at 3rd base (he's in the discussion for best defensive 3rd baseman in the NL), Anthony can : 

Hit for average :  His .287 average was 20th in the NL
Get on base :  His 8.5% walk rate may not seem great but in this new world it's good enough for 27th in the NL. That added to his average gave him the 20th best OBP in the league.
Hit for power : His .186 isoSLG was 14th in the NL
Run the bases : His 17 SBs was 17th in the NL. His baserunning ranked 2nd. His "speed" stat was 8th. 

It is difficult to find a flaw in his game and he'll only turn 25 next year meaning he's likely to be at least this good for another 5 years and he might get better. There is no question that Rendon starts on this team, or any team for that matter.

Frandsen? He is capable of playing 3rd base and hitting a baseball occasionally. He is also signed next year and a scrappy vet.

Problems with Presumed Plan : Ok, we got to be picky here. But I suppose you could say the Nats are relying a lot on one season of stats.  Sure he did well in the minors but in a big chunk of season in 2013 he was merely ok. So perhaps we caught his best year in 2014. While he fields well at 3rd he isn't the defensive whiz that Zimmerman was during his prime. And while he does everything very well, he hasn't yet shown himself to do anything great and quite possibly won't ever reach that level. Is he going to hit .325+ or 35+ homers? I can see it happening but I'd bet on "no".
Really though the biggest problem is the one noted previously.  Rendon can play other positions and there are actually some decent 3rd base options out there which doesn't always happen, so it might be better to shift Rendon over. 
  
Frandsen. Eh. Where Rendon does everything very well Frandsen does nothing very well. Actually, that's not entirely fair. He does make contact well. But he doesn't get on base, he doesn't hit for power, he's not a good fielder, he's not a good baserunner. Bench players are inherently flawed but you like someone who's major strength is more than "Might not strike out and by putting the ball in play could get a single"

My take : This really isn't something to mull over. Could it be a fluke year? I guess. But even if you split the difference between his first two seasons he's a good starter. No he's not a great 3rd baseman with the glove, but he could be the best currently in the senior circuit. How is that an issue? And the fact that he may not reach superstardom? That's ok. I think we'll all take 5 more years of plain old regular stardom. Rendon is a cornerstone of this franchise in his 2nd year and projects to be straight into the next playoff cycle. At worst he's a good dependable starter at typically a difficult position to fill. At best he's a perennial All-Star and wins at least one MVP.

I don't like Frandsen but who better is out there? If Rizzo is smart he makes a courtesy call to Eric Chavez to see if he's reconsidering retirement, otherwise shrug your shoulders, I guess. See if you can't draft someone? Really I don't know. 

Outside the Box Suggestion : We've already covered a shift to 2nd so let's think of a different OTB suggestion. Rendon is a cornerstone for the Nats right? A guy you desperately need to keep healthy and happy over the next 5 years and maybe beyond. While he hasn't had a major injury in a couple years he did have them in 2009 and 2010 and 2011 and 2012 (ankle, ankle, shoulder, ankle). The shoulder one in particular forced him to DH most of his last year at Rice. The last thing the Nats need is another guy they are looking to move around to accommodate because of injury. So why not move Rendon to first right now while there is a hole?  Make him your first baseman and never worry again about where he might play if he gets injured. Set him and forget him. If you think it's stupid because he's such a good third baseman, lets remind you again that Zimm was a GREAT 3rd baseman, fair to make comparisons to the best ever. Seriously. That good. One injury later and he's stuck at first.

Filling 3rd won't be that much of an issue. We've noted there is a rare... well I wouldn't say glut... but multiple decent FA and trade possibilities at 3rd this year. Rizzo would find a way. The real issue would be what to do with Zimm. My plan would be to super sub him around the diamond. LF, 2B, occasionally 3B. Really the goal would be to make sure he gets consistent at bats because you are showcasing him for a trade to the AL where he can DH. Then do that when you have a chance. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

2B & SS Revisited

So if you haven't noticed we're doing our usual scale back to 3 columns a week in the offseason (roughly).  On with the show :

HEY! At 2nd base what about...

Gordon Beckham
Wrong partner for Danny. Bats RH, has a little pop and decent field. He's basically Bad Espinosa (and Espinosa isn't good)

Altuve
The guy hit .341 last year. .341! He'll turn 25 next year and they don't have to pay him any real money until 2020. He's not going anywhere unless you're prepared to go Giolito, Cole, Taylor, maybe more. You're buying high.

Kipnis?
Not a bad idea but he's kind of the Indians' Desmond. Him being good makes competing a hell of a lot easier.  Young, decent contract, even with last year being off he was worth playing... I suspect the Indians value him at a level higher than inquiring teams.

Gyorko
A more likely move in that SD does not appear close to being good, Gyorko was AWFUL last year, and he's got years of money coming. Unlike Kipnis who was still worth playing and had a couple years of being good, Gyorko was replaceable last year and had 125 games of being able to hit enough homers to be ok before that. If the Padres don't trade him they take the chance 2015 is no better and they are stuck with an albatross of a deal. Of course the same goes for anyone who trades for him.  Something to note - the guy is really a 3B who was at 2B because Headley was at 3B.

Ackley
The Mariners have offensive problems, but Ackley finally wasn't one last year. Not that he was good, but he was playable and trading away Dustin would only create another hole to fill. A guy like Souza is a nice idea but as the Mariners are trying to make the next step they'd want more certainty that a minor leaguer.

Kendrick?
Angels are about as win-now as you can be and traded away the closest thing to a Kendrick replacement. Not going to happen unless it's Kendrick for Desmond and what's the point of that?

Drew?
If he's healthy he might hit enough to be ok because he still plays good D. If not healthy, he's worthless at the plate. Low reward player and if the Nats gamble I'd rather they do it on a high reward one.

Prado
I like Prado, alot. I think he's legitimitely versatile, at least right now, and likes to play when it matters and he's worth his contract. But the Yanks need him and they won't trade him unless the deal is good because they are always win-now.

Hill
I like the idea actually... if the Nats decide to be a Yankee/Dodger/Sox like team, who could bury him on the bench at 12 million per for the next 2 if it doesn't work out.  This guy is the ultimate lottery ticket completely and utterly unpredictable. Could just as easily hit .300 for 20+ homers as hit .240 and hit 10.

Zimmermann (+ cash) for Zobrist
Rays need hitting not pitching.

Roark and Cole for Mookie Betts?
That's not enough.  He's 22 next year and already has hit in the majors. Could be a star getting better over the next 4-5 years. Roark is at his peak and Cole is a question mark. Sox aren't desperate for pitching.

Kinsler for Span?
You know...  It's probably too much of a gamble considering the OF defense but if you like Taylor/Souza better than Espinosa it would make the line-up better. It's not a crazy idea. I can see it. I'd have to look more into it to see if I like it though. And I'm not sure if the Tigers are getting enough back for their win-now needs. 

HEY! At SS base what about...

Taylor/Miller from Seattle?
The Mariners have a two-headed beast right now at SS. They seem to prefer Miller but he hasn't been able to come through in the majors yet like Taylor has. Both guys are not due to get paid for a while so it makes the most sense for them to let it play out in 2015 and then deal. But now is the time to get one because if both are ok next year the price on the trade will go up. They need OF help so I think there's something here. Could be one of those things where Nats offer Souza and the Ms want Taylor.

Gregorious/Ahmed/Owings from Arizona?
D-backs are likely to go Gregorious/Owings up the middle leaving Ahmed to be dealt.  Ahmed is a utility type guy, not a starter.

Profar/Odor/Sardinas/Andrus from Texas?
A glut of talent here. Odor/Profar/Sardinas are all young and all are good. That means the Rangers would LOVE to deal Andrus. Great! We'll take Andrus, right? Obviously you haven't looked at his contract.  ~15 mill a year for the next 8 seasons. Hasn't hit for the last 2 years so unless you think he's going to be Ozzie Smith in the field you don't want this guy.

What about one of the three? Well they are still a very young so the value is going to be higher and having all 3 basically gives them "when Beltre leaves" insurance. It'll take a good deal with pitching to make something happen, but it's possible. 

Castro?
Odds are he will be dealt but it's not necessary that he goes this offseason. Baez needs a little time to figure things out so the Cubs are going to get the best deal for Casto, likely pricing the Nats out.

Tulo?
No. Tulo is awesome when healthy but he's been healthy one season in last 5 and is due 20 mill a year for next 6. If the Nats do this they better sign ZNN and Fister too because they have become that sort of team - which is good but I don't see it happening so no.

Other stuff

Do you think Desmond will re-sign? What kind of "Market" will the Nats be?
I do. But prior to last year's negotiations I would have given it better odds. The Nats tried to underbid for his services, something like 7/90 when if he were a FA he could have gotten 6/90 easy. (Peralta 3 years older and coming off a bad year then an injury year got 13.25 a year for 4 years) If they offer 6/90 this year though based on last year's performance, I think that's fair and he goes for it. If they try to get him for say 5/60 or 6/78 or something I think he walks.

This is a telling off-season in terms of what type of team the Nats will be. They've proven that they are not cheap but fair questions remain. Are they willing to join the big boys closing in on 200 million to keep all this young talent? Or is this a temporary situation where the Nats Top 10 level payroll was ok'd for this window but not longer? Or, the most likely scenario in my mind, is this the level they remain; competitive but not win at all costs?  There are 3 different tracks the Nats can go from here.

Don't forget about the compensatory pick!
Yes if the Nats let Desmond walk (or Zimm or Fister) that's a lot of picks for an organization who's drafting philosophy (take big risks on big talent) lends itself better to having a bunch of picks. Of course birds in hand and all. Let three guys walk that will likely keep you in contention through 2018? Or try to rebuild this kind of 4 year, multiple division winning, window starting around 2018? 

Don't undervalue durability.
It's true. One of the Nats biggest issues is durability on offense. Ramos can't play a full year. Zimm is an injury risk. Werth is getting older. Bryce has had his issues, as has Rendon in the past. Desmond though is a rock.

We'll save the Rendon to 2nd someone else at 3rd for next week.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Offseason Position Discussion : Shortstop

Presumed Plan : Ian Desmond starts at SS. Danny Espinosa, starting or backing-up 2B, backs him up.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : In 2012 & 2013 Ian Desmond was arguably the most valuable SS in the major leagues. In 2014, he dipped noticeably and is probably now... the third or fourth most valuable SS in the major leagues.  

Ian corrected his error prone ways of a few years ago and plays consistently good defense. He has always hit for power and still does especially for a SS. Specifically he has HR power something rare for the position. (Ian's 24 homers led all SS and were 7 more than 4th place on that list, 9 more than 5th). He might have lost something average wise but he has brought his patience up from OMG NO to barely acceptable to help compensate for that. All in all he's a good player in a position where it has become easy to find an ok player but is still hard to find good ones. It's an easy call.

Ian also plays all the time upping his value. He's missed 12 games in the past 2 years, and has played at least 154 games in 4 of the last 5 seasons. His back-up hardly matters but Espinosa, who came up the ranks as a SS, still plays the position well enough to cover on the rare off days for Ian.

Problems with Presumed Plan :  As you can tell from the above there aren't many problems with the plan here. I can think of two. The minor one is that Ian appears to be slipping offensively. His strikeout percentage went way up from say ~21% during his 2012-2013 peak to over 28%. It's not an issue of judgment. His swing percentage for pitches outside the zone is consistent with last year. He's just not making contact on those pitches. In fact contact on pitches outside the zone has dropped every year since 2011 from 65.5% now down to 53.5%.  We'll have a specific Ian post sometime later in the off-season but the gist of the problem is the size of the zone where Ian can hit a ball has shrunk. It's not a big problem right now. His zone was rather large before so the shrinkage hasn't made him a bad hitter just no longer a good one. But if it shrinks further then we might have a problem. And it will shrink - time gets to all men - the question is when.

The major problem is that Ian is up for free agency after next year. Ian is the type of player (high value at an important position, but heading into his 30's and ready for a big payday) that you LOVE to trade, but the Nats can't really do that. They have no acceptable back-up plan. They are a win-now team that needs a successful Desmond to be as good as they can be. Given that, the Nats are forced into a very difficult position of having to decide on a re-signing a player whose potential value over the next 5 years swings wildly. You love to avoid those type of coin flips. The Nats can't do that.

My take : Starting Desmond is a no-brainer. There's not only is no better option internally, it's hard to find a better option externally. As down as we may have been on Ian, his combination of power and defense makes him one of the best SSs in the majors. Plus, most of his competition is older. Peralta? Older. Aybar? Older. Rollins? Way older. Hardy? Hanley? Alexi Ramirez? Reyes? All older. Outside of Alcides Escobar, who as a true singles hitter has a value very dependent on his BABIP, Ian is a good year and a half younger than anyone close to his value. (And he's closer in age to the younger Escobar than any of the others, I think). Do I think he's slipping? Yes. Do I think it matters for 2015? Not even close to enough to question starting him.

The long-term deal is an issue and a tough one but that's neither here nor there when it comes to what to do at SS this year. The Nats can't deal Desmond without getting a good SS back. That isn't going to happen so he plays and they either work it out or they don't. 

As for Danny as the back-up, Ian plays so many games that it hardly matters who backs him up. Yes it is an issue if Danny is your starting 2B and Ian goes down with an injury. The drop off will be devastating. But there are bigger fish to fry when it comes to finding a good back-up for a Nats player who might get injured.

Outside the Box Suggestion : You know who doesn't have a SS and is desparate to win now? Detroit. The Tigers are facing a big offseason where they could start to rebuild. They very well may lose Martinez, Scherzer, Hunter, and some pen pieces. But really 2016 looks like the better rebuilding year. You still have Price, Porcello, Nathan, Davis, Soria, and Avila now but maybe not after 2015. So it makes sense that they make another last gasp attempt in 2015 before trying a quick rebuild. How best to do that? Well trading for a contract that expires after 2015 and giving up a contract that lasts until 2017 helps. A challenge trade of sorts; Desmond for Kinsler. Ian for Ian. Sure that gives DET an issue at 2B but that's an easier position for them to fill as they were already shifting their best minor league hitter from 2B to OF to get him up to the majors. Now they don't have to. 

Why would the Nats do this? Well Kinsler's contract fits the Nats window better. The Nats face the Tigers 2014 and 2015 offseasons a year later. They could look to do a quick rebuild after next year (ZNN, Fister, Desmond, Span, and Clippard can walk after 2015), or they could hold it off until after 2016 (when Stras, Ramos, & Storen might leave and the Nats can let Gio go if they want). With Kinsler instead of Desmond you make it an easier decision to try to keep that window open, removing one of those 2015 FAs.  Plus Ian has a nice deal where the back end actually drops in price. He's paid 16 million next year, but 14 in 2016 and 11 in 2017. This gives the Nats more flexibility payroll wise than a re-signed Ian.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Offseason Position Discussion : Second Base

Presumed Plan : Ummm.  Well.   Hmmm.

I guess if the season were to start again on November 1st, Danny Espinosa would be the second baseman. Backing him up would be... I don't know. Frandsen? Kobernus? Probably Frandsen.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : It's hard to figure what the Nats want to do at 2nd base. It's tough to believe that they really want Danny Espinosa to be the starter. They didn't want him to be the starter at the beginning of 2014. Rendon was at 2nd base then and was forced over to third by Zimm's injury. They didn't want him to be the starter at the end of 2014. Cabrera was brought in by trade to play 2nd base for the stretch run.

At the same time right now Danny Espinosa is the best 2nd baseman on the Nats roster. Cabrera is a free agent. Rendon is not going to be moved back. Danny is clearly better in the field than Frandsen and Kobernus and as bad as he was at the plate, he was better there too. He's super cheap, thanks to the minor league re-visit he won't be a FA until after 2017. Therefore right now he's the presumed starter.

As for the back-ups, the Nats love Frandsen. He doesn't cost much and... did I mention they love him? The Nats are pretty devoid of upper level minor league MI talent so Kobernus is mentioned as an alternative by default. If you want to push for the seasoned failure Emmanuel Burriss or the walking organizational filler, Cutter Dykstra, be my guest. The Nats are big on Wilmer Difo who looks to be at least an acceptable level major leaguer in the making so you could say they will let Espy play this year with the hopes that Difo will come into play during 2016.

Problems with Presumed Plan : Danny can't hit.  Or more precisely he can't hit left-handed.  His splits are telling

LHB : .183 / .241 / .291
RHB : .301 / .374 / .485

Now Danny isn't .300 good, but he has always been better hitting righty. He does lose his homer pop, but the increase in average is dramatic enough to make that up and then some. So why not just platoon Danny? Well, it's easy enough to say "Oh well then Danny only bats versus LHP" but if you are going for a platoon here you just made Danny the smaller part of the platoon and forced yourself to go out and get the better part.  Maybe you can find a lefty-masher but a righty-masher? Those usually are called "starters" because there are a lot more RHP out there.

Danny also has a big strikeout problem.  It's an issue right-handed (22% K). It's a career-killer left-handed (39%)  If you are forced to start Danny and he bats as normal - you are looking at a below average bat. At 28 in April there's little chance he will get back to the level he was. 

The back-ups meanwhile, not only can't unseat the below average Danny, but you don't even consider it. They are bad back-ups creating a "true hole" for the Nats positionally. Frandsen is a contact hitter but that's it and he can't field. You can't trust any minor leaguer to hit even to Frandsen/Danny level.

The Difo plan is interesting but you'd be throwing away 2015 as there is little chance he'd see the light of day this next season. I'll remind you that this is a win now team. Plus he is a SS, making him Desmond insurance in case the Nats let Ian walk. He can't replace both. (I'll add I'm not nearly as high on this guy as other people). 

My take : Danny Danny Danny.  Should have gotten that surgery.

It wouldn't be the worst thing if Danny started for the Nats. He can field and he can hit lefties. The issues is what to do with a righty on the mound. On that I agree with the Red Porch Report. Force Danny to give up switch-hitting. It may not work, but he hits so poorly from the left side of the plate that it's difficult to imagine it being worse. If it is worse - if he puts up a completely empty .120 or something - he can always go back to hitting .180 with pop. But you have to try.

Still I have the Nats in win-now mode and in that mode you don't settle for "wouldn't be the worst thing".  To me, Danny starting with no switch hitting, that's the barely acceptable back-up plan. Plan A should be going after Ben Zobrist.  Zobrist is old, but he's a good fielder, has patience (his 75 walks would easily rank 3rd on the Nats), and is a better contact hitter than almost every Nats hitter. He's old (34 in May) and his power is going fast but the Nats are only concerned with 2015 and given his performance has been down from his peak for two years and he's close to FA the deal shouldn't be overly costly for the Nats unless competition forces it up.

Why no one else? As per usual in this modern age of locking everyone up young (why the youngsters are going for this is beyond me - you're selling yourselves short boys for security) there isn't much out there for the Nats to go after. Free agent wise there REALLY isn't anything (unless the Rays just don't sign Zobrist and that would be stupid). Trade wise the Nats are in a bit of a disadvantage. There are 3 decent targets who will be up for FA after next year, but two are in the Nats own division. Assuming Murphy and Utley won't be traded to the Nats that leaves Zobrist.

Usually the Nats might eye a decent cheap player with more than just a year left but there isn't any.  Altuve and Dozier fit the bill but have contracts too reasonable to imagine they'd be dealt for anything but a big return. Everyone else is either on a team that can't afford to give them away or too expensive to think the Nats would deal for them. I suppose that maybe Howie Kendrick could be dealt. The Angels are looking for young pitching and he is a FA after 2015 but I'll hold off on believing that until I hear something about that because it would be an odd move for the win-now Angels.

So I say trade for Zobrist. Make Danny the Back-up.

Outside the Box Suggestion

Move Rendon back. I could come up with several different scenarios involving trades and position switching and the like but let's get down to brass tacks here. It is harder to find a decent 2B than a decent 3B. This is true in FA. It's true in the minor leagues. Anthony Rendon played 2B just fine. There's no way around it. What's best for the Nats is that Rendon moves back to 2nd base.

What happens at third? I don't know this is a 2nd base post.  Trade for Beltre. Sign Sandoval.  Throw a (small) busload of stuff at the A's for Donaldson. See if you can get Ramirez cheap, if he goes to market, or Headley super cheap. All I know is you have a great hitter who can play 2nd base and you're moving him to third because that's his 'natural position'. That's all well and good but it's not giving you the best team on the field.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Friday Quickie - C & 1B revisited

Answering some comments

Explain more about your Wild Card tweet

So I said that the modern relief usage undercut the theory behind the introduction of the Wild Card game. The move to a WC playoff game happened for several reasons (never forget $$$) but primarily because it didn't seem like disadvantage to be a Wild Card or an advantage to play one. In order to correct that they added an extra team and a one-game playoff, the theory being that

1) teams would want to win the division rather than leave their playoff fate to a single game
2) WC teams that won that single game would have exhausted their best pitchers giving the #1 seed a decided advantage in their playoff series.

The first point holds absolutely true. No one wants to be the WC if the division is winnable. But the second point grows less meaningful every year. Teams have grown very successful at cultivating the 5-6 IP starter and the strong bullpen as a way to succeed lessening the need for a strong Johnson/Schilling like 1-2 punch. You may have noticed many teams in this years playoff lacked that #1 guy. Even if they do have a true ace, it matters less than you would think. If they do run them out in that WC game, that's fine because as described above they no longer lean on that ace as they did even 5 years ago. They lean on the pen. And as was pointed out to me, when you are battling for the WC you often aren't thinking about setting up the WC game. That means you might have used your ace at the end of the year making them unlikely to pitch in the WC game and thus ready to pitch twice in that DS.

All in all the new playoff format does give wild card teams a significant disadvantage. No one wants to play a single-game elimination to start the playoffs. But as for giving division winners that play the Wild Card a significant advantage, that hasn't happened and I'm not sure it can be done. If you are in the playoffs, you are good and in a short series against a good team, even the best can go down.

Maybe Ramos overswung to compensate for lost power and that led to a bad September.

Maybe but in August he had by far his best slugging month. 6 homers, a .241 isoSLG (which is really good). So then you are saying he overswung in August it worked but pitchers caught on and got to him in Sept? Or even less likely he was swinging regularly in August and then said "I want to hit 10 homers in September! I'm King of the Homers!" and started overswinging... I don't see it. I'm sticking to getting tired.

Trade for Blake Swihart! 

The Red Sox have two very good catching prospects and have given first crack at the position to the defensively superior Christian Vazquez, so Swihart may be available (maybe - they are most likely going to see if Vazquez hits ok this season before doing anything and they could try to move Swihart to another position if he hits like crazy). Can the Nats deal for him? Sure. But it's going to take a lot. Like Cole or Taylor + something a lot. That's the going rate. I don't think it's worth it.

We should be ready to trade for a mid-season catching replacement 

Agree. If Ramos goes down again you can't rely on Lobaton to catch 100 games. Now if Ramos is simply struggling I think you have to wait it out until at least the trade deadline.

Sucks to be having this discussion now

Yep.

Sign Martin, make Ramos back-up, trade Lobaton. 

Sure. It's not my money.

Wait, what is your 1B plan again? 

Ok MY 1B plan would be Zimmerman with Daric Barton as a back-up (plays against tough RHP and comes in for D if Zimm doesn't adapt like we think he will). With the contingency plan that if Zimm gets injured again, Barton doesn't play 1B regularly, Werth does and one of the young OFs (Souza/Taylor) come in to replace him.

In the comments I've inferred that some (most?) want it to be Zimm with Werth as the defacto back-up, and when he gives Zimm a day off a young guy comes in for Werth. That's fine by me too, but I like the Barton idea because the lefty bat and good defense is a good foil for Ryan. It makes sense for your back-ups to have complementary skills.

What about Souza at 1B? 

Seems like a waste of his skills as he's a better OF than Werth or Bryce.

Will Werth except the move?  Does the fact he's still in RF rather than LF prove he's stubborn about it?

No idea. I'd like to think the guy will be receptive to moving and even if he's not at first, can be shown that he's not a good OF anymore. I don't know. As for the LF thing, they put Bryce in LF because Werth was set at the time in RF and now LF is what Bryce knows so they probably don't want to move him. Werth also thought at the time, take this for what you will, that LF being the easier position was the better position for Bryce to learn to play the OF. He didn't seem against moving at some point. It's all a funny confidence guessing game at times.

Daric Barton? He stinks! And he hits lefties better historically.

True (on the last point) but that hasn't been true the last few years. He's become a more typical lefty bat hitting righties better than lefties. I give heavy weight to the recent history especially when it covers more than just the last year.

Werth might just be awful in the IF, you ever think about that? 

Sure maybe. It's worth a look I think but you're right. He may be terrible at fielding grounders quickly. If so, I want to hear that, though. (not that I expect to, but I'd want to)

Stephen Vogt! He hits left-handed can catch and play first.

Good idea, but your latter thought, that the A's would want to keep him, is on point. He not a FA until 2020 and isn't arb eligible for a few years. He's not just cheap he's super cheap. Now Jaso is a possibility... if you like terrible catching.

Doesn't the first baseman have to make throws? 

Ummm... yes. But it's the position where that's the least important so you stick Zimm there and hope over the course of the season he adapts and is ok by the end. No, it's not perfect but it's the best decision.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Offseason Position Discussion : First Base

Presumed Plan : Ryan Zimmerman will shift over to first base as the mutual option year for current starter Adam LaRoche will not be picked up and he will become a free agent. The back-up will likely be Tyler Moore, though a cheap FA acquisition is probably not out of the question

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : Injuries and contracts have forced the Nats hand. Ryan Zimmerman was signed to a long-term deal prior to the 2012 season and was expected to play 3B for the majority of that deal. But a shoulder injury in the same year led to a series of adjustments that has left him, at best, an erratic thrower and a liability at the hot corner.

Despite Adam's excellent year at the plate, letting him walk rather than paying him 15 million for 2015 on an mutual option, and letting Zimmerman take over at first seems preferable to any of the other options.  You neither want to upset Rendon's growth or risk the errors that would come with Zimmerman back at 3rd and Rendon back at 2nd. Bryce is still only 22 and a good presence at the plate, which works against any sort of LF platoon idea. Span, who also has an option for 2015, helps cover for the lacking corner outfielders and just had a very good season offensively, making a more permanent move to LF with Bryce taking over center unpalatable. Adam wasn't great defensively and at 35 is likely to slide at the plate, if just a little. With no good options, this one feels like the least worst.

The Nats have always been high on Tyler Moore who has spent several years tearing up AAA. At an age (28 in January) and with the experience that indicates more time at AAA would likely serve no purpose, a full-time move to the major league bench makes sense. Matt Skole, who the Nats were high on going into 2014, had a rough year in AA and is unlikely to work his way onto the Nats.  Of course as I noted the Nats may in fact go the FA route given these choices.

Problems with Presumed Plan : The biggest problem with Ryan Zimmerman is that he's an injury risk who couldn't get his body together make a meaningful playoff contribution. This goes beyond 2013 as he missed meaningful time in both 2008 and 2011. As age catches up with him (he just turned 30) it's more and more likely that these injuries linger. The Nats are currently ill-prepared if Zimmerman goes down for any extended period of time.

Meanwhile LaRoche has been far more reliable when it comes to playing time. And while LaRoche had very much lost his range (in part due to injury) he was reliable with the glove and we have no idea if Ryan will be the same.

Another issue is the loss of the left-handed bat as LaRoche was one of only 3 decent lefties in the line-up for the majority of the season (switch hitting Asdrubal would make it 4 by years end). Losing LaRoche leaves the Nats with only Bryce and Span hitting from the left-side of the plate, with Danny Espinosa, who really shouldn't hit left-handed, being a potential 3rd. While right-handed hitters tend to be less vulnerable to splits a balanced line-up does help make the opponents bullpen usage more difficult. 

Since I said the Nats were ill-prepared for a Zimmerman injury you can imagine that I am not high on Tyler Moore. A AAAA batter who gets hot for short stretches and cold for longer ones, Tyler Moore's strikeouts suggest there is no big improvement coming. He also is no great shakes when it comes to defense and hits right-handed just like Zimmerman.  His use as a back-up for Adam could be argued given LaRoche's splits. His use as a back-up for Zimmerman would make no sense. Unfortunately the FA 1B pickings are slim with no one you'd even consider a meh bat and good glove guy that you might look to get.

My take : The Nats are in a bad place... sort of. Keeping LaRoche on the team makes a lot of sense given his performance last year and the fact you'd only have to keep him for a year if he agrees on the option. But you do that and there's no room for Zimmerman. He can't play third. He can't play left. Either he becomes a super sub or LaRoche does. It would be 29 million put into a platoon. There are better ways to spend that 15 million. You almost have to let LaRoche walk.

Luckily for the Nats (and why I said "sort of") is that really the only bad thing for the Nats is the possibility Zimmerman isn't healthy. If he is, he can still hit and he is a little more patient than your average Nat, and you could argue their aggressiveness got exploited in the playoffs. As for the defense, Zimm's issues appear to be completely arm-based. Given that he was a plus-fielder before that it's doubtful that mastering 1B will be a big issue. Will he be great? Maybe not. Will he be as good as LaRoch? Probably so. I can easily see Zimm replacing LaRoche's contributions and it's not hard to envision him surpassing them.

As for the back-up... here's the problem. You do have to plan for a back-up for Zimmerman. It's not as much because of age or injury history as it is how he looked at the end of the season. The Nats were desperate for help and yet they wouldn't put Zimm out there on the field. That doesn't bode well. He'll have the off-season to recover but going into 2015 without a clear back-up is a big risk. That means Tyler Moore or possibly the best sensible free agent back-up you can sign Daric Barton (excellent fielder, pre 2014 injury was a LHB that hit righties well) can't really be your long-term injury plan. Unfortunately like I said there isn't a good pure back-up 1B out there. There are guys who will get paid and there are guys who are close to terrible. There are not even really DHs you can stick there in case (maybe Delmon Young but if he goes AL he'll get more playing time so that's what I expect)

So what do I think? I think you give Bryce or Werth a 1B mitt and have them get ready. The Nats have a couple of outfield prospects in Souza and Taylor that they'd like to give playing time. Werth is becoming a statue out there and Bryce is living off the fact he's 21. Rather than force a true 1B back-up into this team with an overpay or bringing in a terrible hitter, let Werth be the de facto injury replacement. That makes the most sense.

Oh and definitely sign Barton and let Moore go. That guy stinks. 

Outside the Box Suggestion :

Any outside the box suggestion can't deal in a trade because Ryan's combination of contract and injury status makes him currently untradeable (unlike Ramos who just has less worth than you would want from him). So any outside the box suggestion would be making Ryan a supersub or dealing Span to make room for Ryan (because you aren't dealing Rendon or Bryce and no one is sticking him back at third). I bet the A's would love Span.

But I don't like dealing Span because I'm in "WIN NOW" mode and Span helps you win now. Plus he has a win-now deal which means he'll have to be traded to a team that wants to win now which means you aren't likely going to get something win-now back. So who can the Nats deal for good enough to force Zimm into super sub mode? While I'm intrigued by Carlos Santana, he is a big true outcome guy who the Nats kind of don't have in their line-up, I think a better get would be Edwin Encarnacion. He's a truly elite slugger, can man 1st base and is getting paid relative peanuts ($10 mill for 2015, 10 mill option for 2016)  The Blue Jays could possibly be in rebuilding mode. Trade for Edwin.