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Updated: 2017-02-21T19:46:28.157-08:00


Wieters! (maybe) then Robertson (possibly)


News just broke! Nats closing in on Wieters deal says Jon Heyman. There's further thought that a Robertson deal could go down soon after that. Quick thoughts

The contract is supposedly for 10 million this year, 11 million next (player option). But 5 million is deferred money.  Norris makes 4.5 million this year. So if you trade Norris (who you need far less now) you end up adding only 500K to the payroll for this year.  Next year? Worry about next year, next year.

Wieters is better than what the Nats have, still not very good. 

It's been nearly a decade since Wieters was hailed as the second coming at the plate after crushing the ball in college. However in eight years and nearly 900 games Wieters has shown himself to be... ok. He has moderate power but he doesn't hit for high average and he is not patient. You can't blame recent injury issues because he was merely ok when healthy. He is not particularly adept defensively either meaning there is no secret value here.  However blah Wieters sounds - catcher is a hard position to fill and what the Nats have now is Lobaton, who is no good, and Norris, who has a chance to hit good and a better chance not to do that. Wieters is a competent major leaguer and would be a strong bet to improve the Nats situation.

Roberston is an effective but troublesome arm with a big contract attached. 

Robertson was cruising along as a very effective Yankee middle reliever fighting a slight tendency to get wild that was keeping him from elite status. Then right before FA he got a chance to close and then - poof! - he was a CLOSER. He closed for the White Sox in 2015 and pitched some of the best baseball of his career. He also hit an ERA of 3.41.  He closed for the White Soc in 2016 and pitched some of his worst baseball in years. He also hit an ERA of 3.47.  Karmic justice? Perhaps but everything trended the wrong way last year. Strike outs? Down. Hits? Up. Walks? WAY UP.  That's still a lot of strikeouts and not a lot of hits so he would still be effective piece to add but you couldn't say the Nats got a lights-out closer. Of course that assumes it's a new normal. If it's an aberration then the Nats... well still don't have a lights-out closer but have someone just as effective as Kelley, maybe more so, and a strong back end of the pen however it shakes out.  If it's instead a trend, well then Roberston is a 12 million 4th/5th arm out of the pen.

I don't see the Nats adding Wieters and Robertson without jettisoning Gio, and maybe more.

Maybe I'm wrong. But if I'm not the Nats are adding say 6 million with Wieters and some chunk with Roberston. Where can they get that money back? Well maybe the White Sox won't make the Nats pay everything for Roberston. If they can get it so the White Sox cover 6 or so of this years' money then that matches up nicely with Gio's 12 million. If they make the Nats pay pretty much all, well then Norris (4.2) goes too. Which honestly makes sense. The Yankees, who the Gio deal was in place for, haven't solved their rotation issues and would still probably bite on the deal. Would it leave the Nats short in the rotation? Yep. But that's the gamble you take. There isn't another tradeable commodity the Nats can afford to lose.

Could the Nats add just Wieters, trade Norris, and keep everyone else? 

Yes. I suppose they could. Depends on, as always, money spent and money deferred. In my head that leaves them spending a couple million. They can save some of that throwing Robinson into any Norris deal but I don't see a perfect match. But come on Nats, you can spend a couple million right? I think they can. I think that's why they had a firm price on Wieters. That's what they could spend (jettisoning Norris). Take it or leave it.

The best shapermetrics of his life


There isn't a problem in baseball that can't be solved in the Spring.Obviously this isn't a literal statement but a figurative one, based in the constant stream of stories that come out now featuring Player X identifying the underlying issue that held him back in the previous year and how he's now doing exactly what he needs to do to address it. The most common, now almost laughable, version of this story is the one about the player who had an off-year now showing up "in the best shape of his life" but that's only one type. There is a version for every type of malady and as sabrmetrics ingrains itself more and more into the major league culture it was only a matter of time before something like "launch angle correction" showed up. Last year some people noted that even though Ryan Zimmerman was doing poorly, he was hitting the ball hard. They took that to mean that a revival was just around the corner. Some of us more steeped in the fancy stats noted that while Zimmerman was hitting the ball hard* he was simply driving it into the ground. The difference between a 80 MPH ball hit 10 feet and a 110 MPH ball hit 10 feet is just how much you get thrown out by.Well Zimm has found out this same information and is working on hitting the ball higher. But as Boz notes it's not a given. It is difficult to change your approach without messing something else up. Try to hit the ball up and maybe you end up popping up a ton or just missing the ball entirely. Maybe you can hit the ball at the angle you want but to do it you have to adjust your swing just a bit so now your exit velocity drops. The balls that were supposed to be home runs are now lazy fly balls, the doubles to the gaps singles dropping in infront of outfielders. To add to the issue Zimm also wants to be more aggressive thinking that there has been such a change in pitching that he's no longer able to take advantage of a pitcher by working deep into counts and looking for mistakes.Has he been doing that? Let's tackle the question in two parts - has he been overly patient? Boz seems to think so but I'm not so sure. The numbers are out there but not already calculated for us so in lieu of looking at the whole league** I went ahead and compared the number of 2-strikes ABs to the number of 0 strike at bats (Boz's stat) for the Nats Top 10 hitters last year. The result? Zimm was patient but not appreciably more than Rendon. He was also in the neighborhood of Espy, Bryce and Revere. Murphy and Ramos stood in stark contract as aggressive hitters but on the flip side Werth stood out as ridiculously more patient than Zimm. Looking at 2015 and 2014 seems to say the same thing - patient but not crazily so, not like Werth. Ok he's kind of patient.  Is he hitting well with two strikes? Well no. No one hits well with two strikes. BUT he was during his peak (2009-2012) one of the better two-strike hitters in the league. So there's that. Of course it's been a long time since 2012 and Zimm has been terrible with two-strikes since then even though as a hitter he didn't even go below average overall until last year.  Perhaps the game did change that quickly? Doubtful. People hit terribly with two strikes in 2009-2012, pretty much just as bad as in 2013-2016. So while the game may be shifting, it's a slow shift and Zimm's two-strike issues were immediate. So I do think being aggressive may help. He may be passing up some decent pitches looking for a great one and leaving himself open to get blown out but I think he's not going to hit those decent pitches all that well. Daniel Murphy may have been able to figure out how to hit better, but Daniel Murphy is a different type of hitter than Zimm. Murphy always hit for higher average and always wanted to hit the ball. He put the ball in play constantly, keeping walks and strike outs down. He did this not by swinging a lot but by making contact when he chose to swing. This does not describe Zimm. I suppose it is worth a shot. Zimm had a terrible year last year and it's hard to throw up your hands at something li[...]

Friday Spring Training Notes


Spring Training WooooOK that's enough.

I noted yesterday (and we'll go over again when the games start) that Spring Training is really about three things
  1. Injuries
  2. Confirming Main roster decisions
  3. Making fringy roster decisions
That's it. For the first you are looking at those coming back from injury to see how they are recovering. You are also praying that you avoid an injury now.

For the second and the third, we all know the issues with Spring Training stats. That's why you should have your decisions basically all made going INTO Spring, not coming out of it. You really do have all the information you need, outside of potentially a look at the physical development of a young player that may start. For main roster then you have your guys set and Spring should only serve as a chance for something weird to happen that makes you second guess that decision. A guy who hits for power can't get it out of the infield. A control pitcher can't find the plate at all. That sort of thing. It should be a very rare event. If you have a last guy on bench, last guy in pen decision to make and you don't have any favorite then using Spring as a tie-breaker is fine. But really using anything as a tie-breaker at that point is fine. Who fits better in the clubhouse? Who would help the AAA team more? Who's closer to FA? Whatever.

So here we are. And getting back to #1 there is an injury recovery for the Nats to worry about (two actually). Scherzer is not guaranteeing that he'll be ready for Opening Day.  In grand tradition of the Nats medical staff (and probably all medical staffs) it's already a walkback from the inital recovery estimate, telling us Scherzer would be a “full participant” in Spring Training. It's a bit disturbing because Opening Day is a good six weeks away but I imagine Scherzer is just being overly truthful. Even if you are 95% sure, it's better not to promise anything. Plus, I think we all agree, be overly cautious. If he's not ready for Opening Day but is ready a week or two later - so what? 

The biggest injury question on my mind though isn't Scherzer, who says he pitched through the finger in September (as was very good - but not great at that point). It's Kelley. If you remember last season ended for Kelley walking off the mound with numbness in biggest game of the year. Certainly that's a "gut it out" situation if he felt he could so he was really hurt/bothered in the moment. In grand tradition of the Nats medical staff (this sounds familiar) the Nats apparently haven't done an MRI to see if anything is up there. So I'm going to wait until I see Kelley pitch a couple times in Spring Training games before I believe he's likely to be fine to start the year. You can choose differently. 

Other than that - I think the Nats are in the clear. Zimm, Bryce, Murphy all may have injury issues but they all were playing at the end of the year, injuries or not, so whether they play in the 3/4 speed of Spring Training doesn't tell me much.

Allright Nats, go out there and don't get injured!

Adam Lind - Better than Clint


Let's do this in Q&A formDoes Adam Lind make the Nats better?Sure! Last year Lind OPS'd .717 (.239 / .286 / .431).  Last year Robinson OPS'd .637 (.235 / .305 / .332). It was Lind's worst year since 2012. He's a decent bet to do better. Robinson was also better before this. But it was just one season. It's a complete toss-up what Robinson is.That's a pretty good SLG.Yep! He's a full season 25 HR 30 2B season guy. (For comparison - Robinson is more like a 10 HR / 15 2B guy).  If there's one thing you should be able to count on from Lind it would be that he can hit the ball hardGreat! Tell me more good newsOk. The assumption is Lind will mostly play versus RHP.  He slugged .442 with 19 homers in 121 games vs RHP last year. That was an off year. In 2015 he threw up a .291 / .380 / .503 line against righties. In 2014 it was .354 / .409 / .533. He could be really effective in a platoonWow. How'd we get this guy for a million...WAIT! That's not a quLind can't field. Robinson isn't great but can do the job if necessary. Lind probably not. And while defensive stats are a little fluky, especially in a single year, Lind has been bad forever. You can forget about the outfield. He really should DH. So he's an imperfect choice for an NL team. Also he's slow. Not Ramos slow, but not too far off. So while Robinson could feasibly run for a pitcher or catcher or hurt player, Lind probably isn't all that much better. So he's an imperfect choice for a bench player.And the flip side of those awesome numbers vs RHP? Lind is garbage vs LHP. Like should have signed with the Dodgers garbage vs LHP. But at least he can crush righties?Well yes. Assuming last year was a fluke and not a trend downward....was it a trend downward?Let's quick read fancy stats. The BABIP is low - that suggests that the average should perk up and with it he should be above average. But it's not low for no reason. Lind hit a higher percentage of "soft" hits last year than any year in his career. Zone stats suggest the culprit may be losing his ability to distinguish the strike zone leading to more swings at bad pitches. If that's the case we should see more strikeouts in general and fewer walks and yep, that's what we see. Lowest walk rate since 2011. Highest K rate since 2010. He was also fed more off-speed stuff last year meaning the other teams know this is a weakness. So what exactly are you saying?Given his age (34 in July) I guess I'm saying I wouldn't be surprised if Lind was free-falling.Can we end this on some good news?Sure. There's no telling what is actually happening with Lind. I don't give him much better odds than Robinson to "be right". But if Lind is right he's going to hit well, and probably hit righties very well. If Robinson is right, well we don't know what he'll do.Also Lind hit .293 / .388 / .448 in SeptemberAnything else about Lind? There's apparently a "Teen Mom" dad with the same name. That's not him.  Here's an early interview with the one we care about from Toronto.  If Lind is in, what happens to Clint?Well, if the Nats are smart he gets shipped down to AAA. Sure he might have literally been the worst last year. But he was literally very good the year before. Which is the real Clint? I don't know. Something like just below average, seems to be most likely. So you keep him around because if injuries happen he's a quick fix.If the Nats aren't smart, or more accurately have other thoughts in mind, they will trade Clint for some nothing prospect to save his half a million. This is what I'm watching for.   [...]



Baseball thinks it has a time problem. It thinks it is too long and too boring. In response it's coming up with potentially new rules to speed the game along. But what is exactly going on? Is the game getting longer and are fewer things happening? Or are the powers that be overreacting to a popular belief that's taken hold? I'm going to ramble so understand that going in. The first question, are the games getting longer, has an easy answer. They are. Here you go.  The average time for a nine-inning game is just at 3:00 hours. Of course that's just a data point. What we want to know is the trend and what we see is a general increase in time of game. The most appropriate starting point is probably the TV age (mid 1950s) and games there sat around two and a half hours long. This length was pretty stable until the 80s when the time would rise from 2:31 in 1979 to about 2:45 by 1986 and never go under 2:30 again. It rose up to 2:50+ by the strike year, but would fluctuate from 2:45-2:54 through 2011.  In 2012 it crossed 2:55 which it had only done once before - and hasn't gone back down yet.OK so it's been going up - however there's two points to be made here.  The first is it's been going up since the 1980s.  If you are looking for a 2:30 hour game to come back you are looking for something that is now over 30 years in the past. Second, it's gone up but is three hours fundamentally different than the low 2:50s of the steroid era?  Is a 6% difference or so that noticeable?My guess is no, it isn't, at least not by itself.  But when coupled with the second issue - the idea that fewer things happening - the games as a whole feel different.*Well are fewer things happening? Yes! Now by "fewer things happening" we mean that there are fewer balls in play. Home runs are fun but just involve watching one guy round the bases. Strikeouts can be fun, but again, no action is taking place on the field. Walks aren't fun. It's the increase of the three of these that has caused a drop in balls in play. Here's a graph for you to see it through 2013. The issue has only grown since then and we're down to just about 2/3rds of all plate appearances ending up with a ball in play.The thing is, for the most part this isn't driven by walks or home runs. Let's think about this mathematically for a second. PAs have been pretty steady (you can check it out here). It's been 38-39 batters a game since the dead ball era came to an end, with a brief dip here and there to 37-38. HRs are up but only to 1.0-1.2 per nine innings in the steroid era. Over the course of a season that matters, in any given game not so much. In comparison to the 0.7-0.9 range between strikes you are talking an extra HR every 4th game or so.As for walks, they have actually been down since 2010, sitting in the 2.9-3.1 range in stark contract to the 3.3-3.5 that was in place from 2001-2010, and the brief run of 3.5-3.8 from the 94 strike to 2000.  Around 3.0 compares favorably with historic walk rates.  The six year average for walks per nine is the lowest since the lowering of the mound in 1969.So it's not walks and it's barely home runs effecting the balls in play. Is it really all just strike outs?  Yep. Last year was the highest ever for K/9 at 8.1. Second highest was 2015, third highest 2014, fourth....well you get the point. Since 2007 each successive year has seen more strikeouts than the last.You can see a steady raise from around 1950 (under 4 K per game) to getting to about 6 a game in the late 60s. The 1969 changes took place and then it dropped back down under 5 until the 80s and it's been rising ever since. But the change recently has been crazy. A decade a ago you saw a one and a half fewer strikeouts a game than last year. It was in about 25 years before that where you saw the same rise.This is telling. It's not just the rise in K's that's the issue, it's the speed in which that rise has taken place. Now baseball w[...]

Enny which way but (still) lose


The Nats picked up Enny Romero. "Who?", you might ask. Indeed it's what I said remembering the name vaguely from some late season Yankee games but the pitcher leaving no impression.  Turns out there is a reason. Enny is a last man in the pen type in there for a strikeout, but incapable of providing assurances that he'll get that, averaging 5.0 BB/9 in the majors, 4.4 in the minors. Usually this type of pitcher gets a chance because he is also unhittable. There's the thought - if only we can reign him in, he'll be valuable. Enny isn't that, however, for the most part becoming much more hittable when he manages to drop his BB-rate. If he were say 22/23, you might give him a go because of the live arm. At 26 Enny is on his last shot. A new location, a new league may help, but the chances are slim.

Why even make such a deal? Well the Rays were motivated to move Enny to clear up room. They'd probably have to waive him and why not get something, even when something is really nothing. (Hi Jeffrey Rosa! - old for his league with no control but that unhittable type I mentioned before - at 22 this year worth a conversion to reliever attempt. If you're worried "his league" is Rookie. This isn't a player that registers at all on even the deepest team prospect lists.) The Nats have room to spare (still have a roster space open). I have a sneaking suspicion that this started out as Colome deal talk and ended up here but regardless the Nats have added another nothing player when they need something. No new harm. No new foul. But same old ones persist.

Two weeks later how does Passan's All Unemployed Team look?

Gone outside the pen are - Moss (KC), Coughlan (PHI), Napoli (TEX), Descalso (ARI), Carter (NYY), Hammel (KC)

If you were looking for a Clint/Zimm back up Kelly Johnson is the best fit. You could make a case for Pedro Alvarez who would make an interesting platoon with Zimm, but in no way could he play the OF (it's arguable he can't play first) so you'd lose that flexibility.

Gone in the pen are - Logan (CLE), Romo (LAD), Blevins (NYM), Belisle (MIN), and Smith (TOR).

Basically that leaves Joe Blanton  and David Hernandez. Hernandez lacks control and is hittable BUT if you think he is trending the right way since TJ you might take a flier (splits don't suggest that though - pretty wild and hittable all year).  Blanton is good, but he has to know his position as the best available option and is holding out for some cash or contract he will eventually get.  Outside of this the best out there might be JP Howell who is a fair inning filler who could drift into very good because he's killing lefties, or just a LOOGY. A useful arm, which the Nats do need, but not likely to be an impactful one, which the Nats need more.

Monday Quickie : Nats non-moves hit spotlight


Ken Rosenthal has an article up about the Nats lack of moves this off-season. For a person not following the team daily, it does seem head-scratching. It can even lead you to say things you think should be true, because that's how things typically go, but really aren't for the Nats.

"Their decision-making, though, is oddly inconsistent for a team that was nine outs away from..."

The thinking is the Nats spent a lot in 2015 because they felt urgency and pressure to win. That's why most teams start raising payroll. That's not the case here. They spent a lot in 2015 because they were convinced by Boras/Rizzo that they needed Scherzer going forward for the next ~5 years and the payroll could drop down to where they like it / need it to be by the next season. The inconsistency was the 2015 payroll.  Otherwise they've been clear in where they want to be (about 150 Million, about 10th highest ). This may change after the MASN deal is settled, but for now this is where the team is.

"Urgency is warranted, and the free-agent market has been a buyer’s market all off-season, full of opportunity. Yet the Nats barely have stirred,"

Since they haven't signed anyone the Nats must not have been terribly active. However, that's not true. Much like last year the Nats have made a bunch of offers, kicked a lot of tires. But as Rosenthal notes these offers tend to have a ceiling that prevents going over what they consider fair market value*, or involve deferred money. The Nats throw out a bunch of lines, hoping to catch something, but they don't use the best bait.

"If Lerner wanted to spend more -– even with the Orioles withholding money, at least some of which the Nats eventually will receive — he could."

This is true.

"And now would be the time."

This would be the case if the Nats were chasing a title. They are not. The Nats are trying to be consistently competitive and hope that titles will come their way by virtue of multiple playoff appearances. There is never "the time" for the Nats. Not how the organization is currently run.

"Over the past year, the owners occasionally have loosened the reins. The deferrals in the Nationals’ free-agent offer to Jansen were relatively minimal,"

People often use the supposed Jansen deal as a way to note the Lerners were ready to spend more. I guess that is possible. However when looking to bring in Chris Sale, the Nats had a dump trade for Gio on the ready. It's my assertion that if the Nats were successful in bringing in Jansen, that Gio would have to go. Who would start? I don't know. Cole? Voth? But I'll stick to my guns.

"But the Nats have yet to win a postseason series in their 12-year history, suffering first-round defeats in three of the past five years. You’d think ownership would want a different outcome."

They do! But they also aren't convinced spending will get that.

You need to stop thinking the Nats are like other teams. The Nats may have the same goal as other teams, to be champions, but they have a set plan on getting it based on quantity, not quality.  It's a plan that plays out in the math. Will it play out in the field? All we can say is that it hasn't so far.

*which often turns out to be under what the market will give them.

Joe Nathan and Matt Albers


The Nats signed a couple guys yesterday to minor league deals. These things are basically no-lose situations because if the guy isn't good enough you don't have to keep him and pay him. There's no real harm in filling out those extra spring innings with guys like this. All teams do this.

However, just because the individual deals are perfectly fine, that doesn't mean there isn't a negative spin to it. There are only so many Spring Training innings out there. If you want to evaluate Joe Nathan and Matt Albers and Vance Worley AND Tim Collins against even the vaguely "real" competition of a Spring Training game you start to lose innings that guys you know you want to keep need to get ready for the season. In other words - the more guys like this you sign, the less likely it is you sign someone that isn't a question mark. I don't think the Nats have gotten to that point yet but it's something to keep an eye on if you hear of more signings like this.

What about these guys?

Joe Nathan
Relatively few fans have the affection for Joe Nathan that I do.  He's the best contemporary ball player from my neck of the woods. But let's be honest he's very old and a huge injury risk. To be more specific he is 42 and coming off his second Tommy John surgery. In the history of baseball only 81 times has a 42+ pitcher thrown 10+ innings of better than average ball. Since 2010 it's only been done 4 times. Is he any good to be bothering with even trying? Hard to say. He's has been decent since returning from surgery but had very limited pitching the past two seasons; 1 inning total in 2015, 21.2 innings last year. Neither the Cubs nor the Giants, two playoff contenders, saw him and thought they needed to keep him, so my guess is no. But we think Maddux likes him, so there's that

Matt Albers
Albers is a a sinkerball pitcher who had a short stint of success and an even shorter stint of deserved success in the 2010s. He doesn't miss bats, and his control has mostly been poor, so his success lies completely in forcing GBs and getting a good BABIP.  If he can do both he's passable, if not he's terrible. Since he seemingly had an epiphany in 2015 (Ks up, BBs down) that made him a better pithcer, it's worth kicking the tires, but his overall history and his recent one say the same thing. Pass

Vance Worley
Worley is an underappreciated mediocrity.  It's easy to look at his stats and see no reason to be interested. Like Albers he doesn't strike anyone out anymore and he's not particularly unhittable. But he has better control in general and he's usually not giving up a bunch of homers. While nothing from the last two seasons suggests a rebound is likely (everything is trending in a bad way with age) His age and his FB speed both suggest there is no reason to believe he suddenly will be a lot worse than he is. If you want to stash a guy in AAA who seems likely to be a inning eating 4.50+ ERA type, and the Nats can use someone like that, Worley fills that role perfectly.

Tim Collins
Collins was a very good reliever for three+ years. He had untouchable stuff  (9.7 K/9, 7.4 H/9 from 2011-2013) but was held back from elite status by control issues (5.2 BB/9). Then his arm blew. He got Tommy John but in what should be a cautionary tale for everyone that thinks TJ surgery will work perfectly, Collins felt discomfort during his rehab period and it was discovered that the TJ had failed. He would need another one. That is why he is where he is now.  I can't really find any info on his rehab so far so it's all a big question mark. But someone was going to give him a chance with that arm. Oh he's also short! 5'7". So if you are a short guy who roots for short guys that's something.

Anything going on?


While the world twists and turns the baseball world stays pretty quiet.  Stephen Drew is back which a sensible re-signing. Drew can play multiple defensive positions presumably well and occasionally you luck into a good offensive year. I doubt he'll put up the slash line he did last year (.266 / .339 / .524) but .240 with pop and D and he's the back-up Danny Espinosa prays he'll be at age 33.

The Nats also signed Grant Green.  He's a Boras guy with good PCL numbers, but every batter has good PCL numbers. His PCL numbers are all average based - little power, no patience. When he's been up in the majors without that environment, the average dips and he's pretty much worthless. Not a spectacular fielder. Not particularly speedy. Not young. So should you be upset at the signing? Nah. There's no downside to signing these guys as minor league filler and inviting these guys to camp. What's the upside? I guess Kevin Frandsen.

If you don't like the Robinson/Zimmerman situation, a good back-up option there, Brandon Moss, is off the table, signing with the Royals. If you don't like the bullpen situation, nothing has really moved there.

The Nats (and the league) really have set prices and these... let's call them "lower middle class" players have set their own demands. Who blinks first? Who gets a bargain arm? We're about 2 weeks away from pitchers and catchers so there's still a little wiggle room. My guess is that the teams blink first, we see a signing, then another one a few days later, then a rush, but I guess we'll find out.

The proof is in the 2017-2021 pudding


The Nats lost out on Greg Holland. My first feeling, which denies certain realities in favor of my own desires, says the Nats should just spend whatever. Payroll is whatever. Rich man's toy. etc etc. My second feeling, more steeped in understanding, says is that's a fair amount of money (assumed - club nor Holland hasn't officially stated deal) and if that would mean the end of the Nats FA signings well then I'm fine losing out. The Nats need an arm and a bench player. I'd rather get two B- level of these then one huge question mark with A potential.There are a lot of decent FAs still left out there. Maybe they'll be available cheap. Maybe that doesn't even matter. We'll see.What I wanted to really talk about though was the fact we are now completely removed from the "first window" of Nats success. You could argue that it ended after 2015 if you like, when ZNN and Desmond walked away and Storen was dealt. But there's no argument that at this moment, with Ramos out, Espy traded, and Strasburg here on a new deal, that we're in a different era. No longer are the Nats living off the unique set of circumstances that had them looking up after 2012 and seeing themselves as potentially division favorites for 4 more years. That was due to a combination of things in place before Rizzo, things Rizzo set up through the draft, things Rizzo and the Lerners finished out with deals, and a division that parted like the Red Sea. Everything in place now was set in motion by Rizzo alone. There is nothing here that he serendipitously found himself with. There are no #1 generational draft picks to help things along. This is all him.Why I focus on this is because the Nats have a very specific plan in mind. Be good enough to get into the playoffs more often than not. As we talked about, this is a sensible goal because more playoffs appearances are the biggest factor in increasing your chances of winning it all. Improving the team beyond "playoffs" is a marginal concern when it comes to championships.  And this plan has worked for the most part over the past 5 seasons. However the Nats also seem to have a very specific idea of what their budget should be to accomplish this. It is not a cheap budget, but does not extend to the highest in the league. Instead they feel secure settling on a competitive level around 10th in the league. Rizzo has been able to meet these two concurrent goals up to this point, which makes it seems reasonable. However, the next 4-5 years will tell us if that is really sustainable or just a function of those unique set of circumstances.Can the Nats compete like this if more than one team in the NL East mounts a serious challenge through high payrolls or a timed explosion of young talent?  With just "one at a time" the Nats planned seemed to acheive acceptable but just acceptable on again, off again, success. Can the Nats keep up a playoff level team without expanding payroll?  This is where Eaton's bargain deal really matters. But even with that deal they'll have far more committed in 2018-2019 before looking at FAs then they ever did in the first window era. Does the age of the team work against it? After 2012 the team was full of players entering their primes. Now the team isn't old but no longer is almost everyone important 27, 26 or younger. Now multiple key players Strasburg (28), Roark (30), Gio (31), Murphy (32), Scherzer (32) are exiting prime years.I don't want to suggest that doom and gloom is coming. I have no idea if it is and I'll tell you right now it's not coming next year barring something crazy happening. At worst they miss the playoffs with a high 80 win team. That's not doom nor gloom to me. What I do want to suggest though is that the Nationals haven't proven that they can really manage long-term, decade long type success with a payroll around 10[...]

Dodgers get better, Cubs already great


Yesterday the Dodgers made a deal and got Logan Forsythe.  If you aren't familiar with him it's not your fault. He's played for some terrible teams and was mostly forgettable. But in 2015, at age 28, something clicked and he became a decent batter. The difference seems to be mostly learning what pitches in the zone to attack and which to let go but anyway evaluating him isn't the point. The point is the Dodgers addressed their one glaring issue and in my mind put themselves clearly ahead of the Nationals.

Why exactly are the Dodgers a better bet than the Nationals? Well before this I thought they were pretty equal. Yes, the catcher situation for the Dodgers is better. Yes, the pen a little better too given it is anchored by Jansen. And yes their bench is better with the at least decent OF/1B back ups you would expect from a healthy Ethier and Van Slyke. But the Dodgers rotation is still a huge injury risk to the point where an injury should not be feared, but expected. The Nats have the potential of Bryce to be much better sitting out there. And while the Nats have Zimmerman dragging down the line-up at first, the Dodgers had the probably worse with certainly less hope of being better Enrique Hernandez pencilled in at second. I felt it could be argued that the latter cancelled out the former. But now that 2nd is manned by the competent Forsythe I don't feel that's the case.

The Nats already should face an uphill climb for HFA and any playoff favorite slot with the Cubs sitting out there. Their bench players; Schwarber, John Jay, Montero, La Stella, could start for some teams. Their second oldest bat will be the 27 year old Jason Heyward. Their 6th man in the pen (I see it as Grimm) is comparable to a Treinen/Solis type. That team should win 100 games again. The Nats are clearly not as good as the Cubs.

What does this mean for a 5 or 7 game series in October? Not much. The Nats were clearly better than the Giants in 2014 and Cardinals in 2012 and where did that get them? The Cubs were clearly the best last year and came innings away from losing to a solid but ailing Cleveland team. But when your fanbase is desperate for a playoff series win conceding the "pre-season" 1st and 2nd spots in your league just feels wrong.

And the thing is - the Nats can't do much about this now. They can't bring in a big bat to kick Zimm out like they should. They can't find a closer. And maybe that's for the best because those things can potentially derail the Nats "consistently good enough" plan that keeps them in the playoff hunt annually. But they can improve the bench and pen to the point where you might like those more than the Dodgers (yes even with Jansen) and for a relatively low cost and with little impact on the future put themselves back on par given the usual expected injuries for a team.

This isn't asking the Nats to trade Robles for a middle relief arm, or to sign the slightly better than what we have Weiters to a 5 year deal. It's bringing in some bench and pen guys on a couple year, couple million dollar a year contracts. To me it's a no brainer.

Plop Plop sure. Fizz Fizz? Not yet


The Nats need relief.  Honestly they probably need 2-3 decent arms to have any real confidence that the pen will be good. They aren't likely to get that which means while the pen will probably be ok, there will be a lot more variability on performance, especially on the "oh they could suck" side. That's not to say they should throw up their hands and do nothing if they aren't grabbing all the good arms left. Any single good arm will help reduce variability.  Are there good arms still out there?Quick run through of the more interesting names Greg Hollland - Was fantastic up through 2015 as a closer then got hurt. If he's 2013-14 Holland he's a steal.  If he's 2015 Holland he's good but wild. If he's something worse uh oh. And he hasn't pitched in 18 months so he's a straight up lottery ticket.Sergio Romo - Nats can really complete a set of Giants relievers with him and Javy Lopez (missed out on Casilla though) in FA this year. Romo is the epitome of solid. Last year was a step back and injury plagued but he's still effective. Big drop in FB speed might be concerning.Joe Blanton - reinvented himself as an effective reliever after years of mediocre starting. Hard to read with only 2 relief years to look at but everything seems in order. Jerry Blevins - Outside of arguably unlucky Nats stint has been decent and improving over time. Stikes out a lot more guys now then before. Not a LOOGY. Good against all but hard to see him wanting to come back here after he was unceremoniously dealt because he took Nats to arbitration.Boone Logan - Solid reliever who didn't let Rockies stint mess him up permanently. Really good against lefties, but decent enough against righties to not be LOOGYd. There's some boom potential here if you like guys coming from Colorado.Luke Hochevar - like Blanton but figured it out 5 years earlier. Solid but a little prone to the long ball. Had another arm surgery in off-season after TJ in 2014 so might miss start of season.Tommy Hunter - decent control but no strike outs.  Keeps the ball in the park.Travis Wood - an effective long man. Could develop into a LOOGY as he ages Javier Lopez - Old guy (39) who made living killing lefties while being good enough against righties. Last year took a step back against both. Not at all a K guy and poor control. Big spike in HR/FB last year. Usually that's fluky but again 39.There are actually more decent arms out there than I thought. My guess is the dominoes are waiting for Greg Holland to end up somewhere before falling. If I were the Nats - yes I'd take a gamble on Greg Holland - there's greatness potential there, however unlikely, that isn't with any other arm available. The Nats have effective but lack dominance. I'd also pick up Boone Logan to add another lefty arm that's more LOOGY than Solis or a pick-up like Blevins, but not so LOOGY that he can't be useful in the regular way. Plus I like the way Logan's K's went up and HR went down in Colorado. I think there's sneaky potential for him to be really really good away from Colorado. Although it might take a year to right himself. THEN I'd still pick up whoever is left standing in this group (well not Lopez) come March 1st because you can't have too many arms. That's what I would do. What I think will happen is that Holland will go somewhere then Blanton, Blevins and Logan will all settle in short (and likely that) order. I think they will all get multi-year deals for a few million a year. (I think Holland might get something as long as 4 if you count options) Then the bargain hunt will be on. Like I said Hochevar's injury status will make him a bargain pick-up and he's a Boras client so I think he's the one that ends up here. Another name I didn't mention that might be able to be picked up b[...]

Wait, what's going on?


So yesterday a series of what may be unfortunate events happenedJim Bowden tweeted that the Nationals remaining post-season moves could be affected by the cost of their Spring Training complex.Bryce Harper tweeted saying signing Weiters and Holland was more important than building a team store (in pithy millennial tweet talk). Note that both these guys are Boras clients so take that as you will.Adam Eaton tweeted he agreed.Chelsea Janes got on it and wrote something up where the team basically said "No." and the logic of the "No." answer seems to make the most sense.But who knows! You wouldn't think one would affect the other but then again the Lerners are famously penurious when it comes to spending. (Those CHEEEEEEEEEP shouts didn't come from nothing. They came from a fear that the Lerners business spending would manifest in the payroll). So I can't rule it out. Especially with my standard no reporting on the subject because I'm not a reporter. I'll lean though to believing the Nats because I already thought they wouldn't spend more than a few million more. It's not about the Spring Training complex. It's about the plan they likely already had in place.OK so a few million to spend. Where to put it? Today let's say that money is going to a reliever. Who would I like to see?  Do the Nats even need it? Let's answer the second question first. Generally a bullpen NEEDS three guys. I mean yes it needs more because of usage patterns, injuries, etc. but your average ML team can get by with three solid arms and make up the rest as you go along. Do they have that?  Let's look at all the Nationals pitchers that threw... I'll say without looking 35 IP or more last year. Hey that worked out well! Huzzah for me!Anyway gone are Papelbon (35 IP), Rivero/Melancon (49.2+29.2=79.1), Petit (62), and Belisle (46)*.  That's 222 relief inning that have to be made up by someone.  Jesus that's a lot more innings than I thought.Who's back? Perez, who will be a LOOGY type I imagine, although neither his career numbers or his recent numbers suggest he's all that great in that role. If he's not a LOOGY he's likely a blah arm with bad potential. He gets hit hard, and has terrible control. If he's lucky the walks aren't terrible and he K's his way out of jams. But he's not someone to rely on.So that leaves us with Kelley, Treinen, and Solis and ONLY these three. If these three aren't all solid then the Nats don't even have the "sneak by with" level of pen.The good news is Kelley is good. Fancy stat review K rate great. Walk rate great. A little fluky LOB% but not crazy probably balance by a little higher than expected HR/FB. Nothing worrying in type or hardness of hits against. No, this guy passes the solid reliever test, no doubt. Of course the last time we saw him he was walking off the mound in pain grabbing his arm so how much you want to rely on him is a valid question but in the general "1 of 3" sense? I'm good.We've been told for years that Treinen is good but haven't actually seen it in action until last year. Fancy stats have same fluky LOB% though Treinen's high HR/FB rate isn't historically off like Kelley's was. He may just be the type to give up homers. So there's less of a thought that that's balanced. His K rate isn't great. His walk rate is way too high. So how does Treinen survive? A silly high GB rate, almost 2/3rds of all balls hit off him were on the ground and ground balls are hard to hit for XBH. Looking at the type and hardness it seems like Treinen is an on/off type. When he's on - soft grounder. When he's off he'll walk guys and give up a hard hit. Last year he had more "on" outings than "off" but in 2015 the GB percentage was nearly as high (62.7%) and with a little less luck with B[...]

What the arbitration awards mean


The Nats settled with everyone avoiding the possible "who can we dump this recalcitrant malcontent for" reaction from the team. That's good because the Nats needed all these players in one way or another. But beyond the fact they signed the actual awards are of interest because of what that means for the payroll.

The Nats expected payroll for 2017, that we were playing with, was set in part with the arbitration awards estimated by mlbtraderumors. They aren't perfect of course but they do a reasonable job. Where did things end up this year?

Lobaton : Est 1.6 M,  Got 1.57 M
Norris : Est 4.0 M,  Got 4.2 M
Roark : Est 6.1 M,  Got 4.32 M
Rendon : Est 6.4 M,  Got 5.8 M

Bryce : Est 9.3 M, Got 13.62 M

If you look at Lobaton, Norris and Rendon - those are pretty close. Rendon is the furthest off - around 10% but he might have been sold on taking a little less since the Nats arguably gave him a little more than they needed last year (2.8 when expectation was 2.5 again). This is all rough though so I consider it close enough.  In total for the three the estimate was 12 million and the Nats put up just over 11 and a half.

The hardest call for these types estimates is often the first call because you aren't working off a normal previous year salary as a base. That's where the Nats were with Roark. He was coming off a year making 500K+. So maybe he got underpaid, maybe he didn't. But any assumed saving they got for getting Roark under the estimate was blown out for Bryce. That's a big difference and the end result is that the money spent in arbitration looks like this :

Total Est 27.4 M,  Spent 29.51 M

That's 2 million more than expected. For an average team that shouldn't matter much but there's a palpable sense that the Nats have a 145-150 million payroll expectation for the 2017 season and right now they are right at that 150 million payroll. (assumes normal salary increases for pre-arbitration players) If the Nats were to bring back Drew and sign another arm... that's at least 5 million, probably closer to 8 if they are trying to keep these deals as one-year things. Are they Nats going to increase their payroll by 10 million over last season? I just don't believe so.

If I'm right the arbitration moves mean that the Nats are in one of two spots. They are going to either/or the last bench spot and bullpen arm - spending ~3million for one but not the other, or they are going to go cheap across the board - the Ackley / Hochevar future I imagined.

We'll see. I've was very mildly surprised last year when the Nats didn't follow-up acquiring Melancon with a dump trade of someone - meaning they added 2.5+M to their payroll.* So maybe they bite and do something similar here. That's all we're really talking about 2.5 or so more than they probably had envisioned as their ceiling.

*I'm sure though they desperately tried to get someone to take Papelbon in a way that took the payroll back down but no one wanted him for anything.

A whole lot of nothing


When the off-season started it was pretty well decided that the free agent class was a particularly weak one. So the excitement that would come, if it did, would probably be through the trade market. And the offseason delivered with a bunch of stuff between Thankgiving and The 13th of December.  Cespedes, Melancon, Sale trade, Eaton trade, Fowler, Chapman, Jansen. Even things only interesting to the Nats took place during this brief fortnightish period. Desmond signs, Ramos signs, Espinosa was traded.

Since then there's been a couple somethings but given the players involved and the general lack of activity it's been a big yawn. We're closing in to Spring and it's time to turn the page on the off-season. I suppose if Bautista and Napoli and Trumbo and Weiters and Hammel all went in a hurry that'd be interesting, but that's not very exciting to begin with and less so for Nats fans when you realize that Trumbo and Napoli are very unlikely to end up in the NL. 

I guess I'm saying I'm bored.

The Nats aren't likely to get a big-name closer at this point. So we're waiting to see what kind of secondary pitcher, if any, they manage to wrangle to DC.  They may or may not be waiting for a bench player - Drew, or perhaps a better 1B/OF alternative (Moss? Lind?). The longer it goes the more I expect a late off-season clearance sale pick up.  Hochevar for 2 million. Ackley on a minor league deal. And that be that.

Eaton was a good deal, probably very good, but all that given away really killed the offseason for a team with a set budget like the Nats.

Hey where's Stephen Drew?


Aren't we supposed to have Stephen Drew back by now?

You may have forgotten but Stephen Drew was not unimportant for the Nats last year. He hit .266 with good pop (8 homers and 11 doubles in 143 ABs) with reasonable defense.  He spelled Danny at short, Rendon at 3rd and Murphy at 2nd, ended up playing 2nd when Murphy's butt got hurt and was the teams most effective pinch hitter.*

So why isn't he back?

Well the last news we heard - 2 weeks ago - was that he could end up with a starting position somewhere.  This makes sense as he would be a better option at SS or 2B then some of the players currently manning those positions. Probably not even half, but some and really just a handful is enough. It would be more playing time and more money than the Nats would dish out.

But this protracted hunt by Drew is hurting the Nats in two ways. First, if he doesn't come back it leaves Difo as the top bench option for the infield. There's no good reason to think Wilmer will be that good next year. Could he? Sure. It's the bench. You have limited at bats. Weird things happen in limited at bats.  In 2012 the Nats got much better performances than one would expect from Lombo, Bernadina, Moore, and Chad Tracy.  But you have to start with the expectation and the expectation for Difo is not great. Last year in AA Difo hit .259, with limited patience and no power. He did hit .276 in the majors, but it's hard to believe 66 PAs as opposed to almost a full season in AA. Plus his AA season corresponds with what he has done for most of his minor league career.  He had a bit of a breakout in A-ball in 2014 followed by an impressive start in High-A in 2015, but by all appearances that impressive start was a fluke of sample size. He's not quite old yet - but he's almost there which means his chances of surprising are growing smaller everyday. Short of it - the bench is worse with Difo there in place of Drew.

The second way this hurts the Nats is something that I presume. I'm guessing we haven't had any movement on the relief front because Rizzo is unsure of his budget. If Drew comes back, it might mean they have only a couple million and he needs to dumpster dive or trade. It might mean they have nothing. If he doesn't come back than surely they have at least some money to spend. Whether that means bargain hunting or competing for the names left on the market I don't know but it means they don't have nothing. That alone would have me expect a signing or move or some bullpen activity.

My guess is we hear nothing from the Nats camp about relief pitchers until Drew is signed or until that last week in January. That's about as long as you can wait on it with pitchers and catchers coming up. You don't want to be the one left on the side of the dance floor or whatever.

So hurry up Drew and either come back or go.  The Nats need to move on and they can't until you decide.

*He had the same number of PH homers and one fewer hit than  Heisey in 18 fewer PH situations.

Nothing Happened - But I can still fill a post!


Hey! We're back so let's talk about what happened in the two weeks we've not been talking about the Nationals!............ and we're done!It's not only been a quiet period for the Nats. It's ben a quiet period for baseball. I'm pretty sure Daniel Hudson was signed before we shut it down for Christmas so after that...Clay Buchholz was traded to the Phillies.  Does this make the Phillies better? Yes, but probably not as much as you think. I do love AL -> NL moves and Bucholz has had some really good years so there's potential there but the most likely scenario is he's fine and eats up necessary front of the rotation innings for the cost of a few dollars and a nothing prospect. Could the Phillies then surprise? Probably not. They were bad in all aspects of the game, so even if their young starting pitching comes together around Bucholz and Hellickson, they still have to solve the pen and get some real offense toghether. I like them for no more than 75 wins. That puts them out of surprise range. They are at least a year away, probably more.Ivan Nova signed with the Pirates.  Good for him. If he pitches like he did in Pittsburgh last year, it's a steal and the Pirates are still in the thick of things.  I like the Pirates to be better than 2016 even trading Cutch. I feel they caught some bad breaks last year and there's potential for that offense. Encarnacion signs with Cleveland. Hey did you know Mike Napoli had sleep apnea? Encarnacion is younger and better than Nap. This should help them keep pace with the Red Sox and starts putting gaps between them and the rest of the Central on paper.  Inciarte extends with Braves.  He's a bit of a slappy Joe, but a good slappy Joe, with great fielding and very good speed. The defense is a big thing because the Braves are still going to play Kemp in a corner. Part of the Braves rebuild. So could the Braves then surprise? Maybe actually. If Dansby Swanson is an immediate impact bat then with Kemp they are immediately a much better offensive team (5th best offense in Aug, best in Sept). The olds will have to come through for them in the rotation, but they threw a lot of terrible junk out there last year. Dickey and Colon should allow them to only put out, if not good arms, then arms worthy of a look.  I think the Braves will be .500 ish and that means they have a shot to surprise.  Tigers re-sign Avila.  I don't have anything to say about this but it's what passes for news during this dry time.Angels sign Revere. One year deal - 4 million.  It was a good thought bringing in Revere (while at the same time unloading Storen). You'd be blind not to see the consistency that led you to believe that at worst he would be "not awful" at the plate and good everywhere else. But then he got injured and presumably never really got healthy and that was that. Revere is not really a player who was very good at a lot. He had no power or patience. His D was allright. His speed is very good, but if he's not hitting singles he's not getting on base and thus his speed is meaningless. Basically that left him as a contact hitter. A bunter, move the guy over type. That's a dime a dozen in the minors. Turned out as bad as it could have. So is it a bad signing? Not at all. As a gamble on a fourth OF I think it's real smart. Off the bench his speed can be used at your discretion. For the Angels he can play a corner OF position (presumably LF) late in the game where he'd probably be perfectly fine. And again - that contact bat is useful off the bench. This is all if he's not healthy.  If he is and can be the.290 contact hitter - even be[...]

Holiday Q&A 2 : The HoliDay After


Ok so the Nats related stuff is still going on over here. Any non-Nats or non-baseball stuff can be asked over here. I'll be checking this through Christmas and come back with something new the 26th or 27th barring some big move that I have to talk about so feel free to ask away.Do you have any new terrible Christmas movie recommendations/reviews?Oh god yes!  Since Thanksgiving I've added about 15-20 new XMas movies to the list of ones I've seen. Mostly new ones but some old ones, and of course I've watched some returning classics. I'll hold off on any reviews as that could take up pages and hours. Instead I might live-tweet a day and night of watching nothing but Holiday movies.I'll recommend a few but note that these are recommendations based on knowing what you are getting into here. These movies aren't fighting for an Oscar here. In terms of new movies "Married by Christmas" on the UP channel, which my cable guide assures me is a real thing, is probably the best one I've seen this year. It is completely shoehorned into the Christmas movie genre as the plot doesn't need to revolve around it but that'll happen. What is enjoyable about it, and probably biases me toward it, is it goes for actual laughs rather than the "A reindeer ate my hat!" kind of laughs that usually pepper these types of movies. I'm not saying it's a laugh riot. It's a generic sitcom. But in a world of romance movies aimed toward 40 year old housewives that's a big difference.  The best generic one I watched this year, was actually a 2015 premiere I think "Sound of Christmas" on the Hallmark channel. If you want to just hit all the notes of this type of movie this is a fine example of the form. If you've seen that and want something new that fits the bill "My Christmas Dream" (not to be confused with the also new and also acceptable "A Dream of Christmas") with Danica McKellar would be my recommendation.  Sometimes people you recognize from other stuff are just cashing those checks, but the stalwarts of the genre, your Chaberts, your Witts, your Cameron-Bures aren't. McKellar falls in this latter category.  To avoid? Assuming for you it's not "ALL OF THESE HARPER!" I've got a couple. Speaking of cashing checks, Eric McCormack and Kristin Davis do nothing for nobody in "Heavenly Christmas". The "Christmas with the Andersons" movie was unwatchable and coming from me, that's something. If you want to watch a BAD Christmas movie that's fun for being terrible, Haylie Duff's "Christmas Belle" is delightfully stilted, overacted, and filled with shirtless running.Oh if you are into "movies normal people find watchable" here's a post I did a few years ago on what I watch of those. Yankees were pretty good post trade deadline. Do they have a shot at second place in the division? The Yankees have two issues. They weren't all that good last year. There are three other teams in the division were. Let's talk about the latter.  The Red Sox have lost Ortiz but gained Sale and all those young guys have another year under their belt. It would be surprising if the Yankees can catch them given the gap in talent set up.  The Orioles are a mirage managed by a quality manager. Unless Dylan Bundy becomes an ace it's hard to see where they've improved on last year and Jones and Davis could easily be falling into oblivion.  They should be .500+, 81-84 range.  The Blue Jays will lose Encarnacion and Dickey but the latter wasn't that important last year and you get the feeling they can make up the former. It's hard to believe their pitching will be better though as they were be[...]

Holiday Q&A


I could keep posting original stuff but that's hard and vaguely sometimes time consuming. Q&As make more sense for the work week leading up to Christmas, at least for me. So ask away in the comments and I'll try to answer in the post at my earliest convenience. For the sake of  not mixing things for people that come here for baseball only thank you very much - I'll put another post up tomorrow for non-Nats / non-baseball Q&A if you are interested in non Nats questions. But what kind of freak isn't interested in Nats questions?How does the replacement of Espinosa at SS by an inferior fielder --- and the knock-on effects on the rest of the positions --- effect the overall fielding of the Nationals. They seemed to be in the top quarter of fielding teams last year. How does this affect their overall competitiveness?Well I guess the first question is how much of an inferior fielder will Turner be exactly. Danny had been one of the best fielding 2B during the 2012-2015 run, but as a SS he was merely very good last year. While that can be a fluke of single year fielding statistics, I can buy it. He's not young anymore and he's probably living on that cannon of an arm. Turner barely played SS in the majors so we have no fancy stats to go on there, but his 2B numbers (still on a very small number of innings mind you) were a tick worse than Danny's when he played there. I can see him matching Danny's range just with pure speed, but without the same arm. The end result my best guess is that Turner will be worse than Danny in the field but only slightly worse than Danny 2016/2017 which is the comparison that matters.  I'd expect the Espy to Danny move  not to effect the defense and the Nats competitiveness all that much. Remember that Rendon at 3B is a top defender which gives Turner some cover in the hole if he needs it. No the left side of the infield should be pretty much the same. What I'd be more worried about is Murphy.  Historically he's not been a good defender but he worked hard and got himself to "not embarrassing" last year though was a step back and I don't see how he move forward anymore. Not only is age working against him, that butt injury is going to limit him in some way I'm sure. With Zimm's D not translating across the diamond that right side of the infield could be a big issue.I'm convinced that if Rizzo gives out though minor league deals to has-been starters that at least one of them will pan out as an acceptable reliever. But exactly how viable is that in actuality?Quick answer : I'm not sure. I'd imagine it's a combination of stuff, age, and effort that turns a former starter into an effective reliever. Looking at the top relievers (I just used fWAR - good as anything for something vague like this) it seems rare for someone to start until around 30 and then transition. A good handful transition very early or never were starters. The rest transition around 25-27. That seems to be the agreed upon "Give up on them starting" age range. So I'd say if you aim for guys around that age with one or two really good pitches you probably have a better shot. But I have no idea how many guys attempt to make this move. I imagine dozens every year. If that's true than the success rate is low. It's probably more viable than sheparding middling minor leaguer relievers, these guys had some sort of major league stuff to get there, but I certainly wouldn't bet the farm on do you think the current configuration of the Nats matches up against the Dodgers and Cubs (likely front runners in the other 2 NL div[...]

Where the Nats stand today


We've spent a lot of the off-season mired in specific moves. Will they re-sign this guy? What trade will happen next? How are they going to get a closer? But now that we've hit the holiday home stretch, it's time to zoom out and look at the Nats as a whole. Do they project out in our heads to be better or worse than the 2016 Nats? By how much? This helps us get a feel for what needs to be done after the New Year when there is only a  month and a half (woo!) before actual players start doing actual things*Likely BetterThe Nats are replacing a full-season of Danny Espinosa, a half-season of Revere/MAT, and a half-season of Trea Turner with full-seasons of Trea Turner and Adam Eaton. Revere/MAT was a disaster and it's hard to imagine anything replacing that half-season that isn't a huge improvement. Danny was at best production-neutral meaning anything positive would be a noticeable change. Turner looks to be a positive player the only question is how much. Eaton should be a positive player even if his fielding in CF is more what we fear than what we hope.Bryce should be better, right? The guy put up a season for the ages at 22 and then hit for his lowest average ever in the majors in the next season. Injuries make the most sense, especially given that he started the season almost exactly the way he finished 2015 and that was with a .228 BABIP.  So the offseason should improve that. At least we'd think so. A full healthy season of Anthony Rendon is possibleHe hit .254 / .341 / .406 in the first half. .291 / .357 / .508 in the second half. It's the difference between average and All-Star. Likely worse The catching situation went from career year Wilson Ramos to hoping a Lobaton/Norris platoon will be successful. Best case Lobaton hits like his .737 OPS line vs RHP in 2016. Norris like his .810 OPS line vs LHP in 2015. That still won't match Ramos' .850 OPS overall for 2016. Worst case it's a giant sucking pit of despair. As usual expect the middle - a small pothole of disappointment.The Nats bullpen has not yet made up for the dropping of the combined arm of a top-notch closer and the 50 IP of better than you think pitching that was traded for said closer. They also haven't replaced the 60 or so innings from Belisle and Rzepczynski. This isn't quite the 2014 into 2015 idiocy of letting 200 IP of your bullpen walk and replacing it with hopes and dreams but it's getting closer. 137 innings of quality relief pitching is out the door, and while no one would ever want it back - 35 innings of sometimes effective relief pitching is gone too with Papelbon. Granted the 2014-15 situation broke when Stammen went down to injury but are you betting against a pitching injury to someone now important to the pen? With Glover and Kelley ending 2016 with issues? You have to make those innings up with quality somehow. Doesn't mean "top notch closer!" Just with quality somehow.Right now the bench is a little worseIt wasn't great last year but it had one really good bat and one very useful one. The useful one, Heisey, is back. The really good one, Drew, is not yet. It may be tough to get him back as he's likely got a chance to start - or play a super utility role - somewhere else. Hard to tell How dead is Ryan Zimmerman? / Can Murphy repeat his 2016? Murphy will be hard pressed to do better, Zimm hard pressed to do worse. But based on eyeballs and stats, repeats of last year are not out of the question. However, these are both singular seasons for these players which immediately prompts a "do it again befor[...]

Offseason Position Discussion : Relief Pitching


Man, I thought if I could just wait long enough this might take care of itself. No such luck.Last Year's DiscussionI didn't do one! So there you go. I did say a bunch of times I thought Papelbon would end up being back assuming Bryce was ok with it because they pretty much had no other option. And that's exactly what happened. I'd take some credit but again - no other option.How did it turn out? Not as bad as you thought it would or think it did, but still not good. Papelbon would actually start the season fine. Near the end of May he'd have 13 saves to only 2 blown saves, be sporting a 2.75 ERA.  A respectable 1.22 WHIP and opponents line of .260 / .308 / .356.  There were warning signs though - he wasn't missing bats (6.4 K/9), his FB speed was down and hitters were hitting them hard.  The ERA would jump to 3.28 as the hits would start falling, but he still had luck on his side and was finishing games successfully. In mid June though Papelbon was pulled for a rib injury. There was some hope that the shaky start was linked to this injury and at first we though that might be the case. He was fairly dominant - which he hadn't been all year -  over the next 7 games.  Then the wheels, spinning wildly and moving in directions they shouldn't for most of the season, came off.On July 23rd Papelbon would shakily hold onto a tie against the Padres.On July 24th (3rd day in a row pitching) Papelbon would blow up against the Padres turning 6-6 to 10-6.On July 26th Papelbon would blow a 6-4 lead to the Indians (an error was also involved).On July 28th Papelbon handed a 4-1 lead would put two batters on getting one out before being pulled.His ERA ballooned from 2.56 to 4.41. Just as the trade deadline was coming the answer became crystal clear. Papelbon couldn't be the closer for this team in the playoffs. Melancon was traded for, Papelbon was demoted then released in short order. Melancon filled the role admirably (1.82 ERA, 17 SV, 0.809 WHIP) for the rest of the year.The rest of the pen?  The first half of the year it was a mixed bag.  Guys like Belisle, Treinen and Solis weren't pitching all that well but were getting results. Felipe Rivero had pitched well, but a couple of big run outings made him look bad. Shawn Kelley was good. In the second half of the year, it came together. Treinen and Belisle started pitching more in line with their effective stats. Rivero was traded but Marc Rzepczynski was brought in and perform strongly. Shawn Kelley was very good. The expensive fringes of the pen, Perez, Petit, had issues but Dusty seemed to be able to pull the right switches. Overall it felt like it was a good pen that just needed a good closer to set everything in place. Presumed Plan Earlier I would have probably said the Nats would trade for a closer, but I'm not sure what they have left to trade if Robles is untouchable. They could get a decent set-up man with the right package, a guy that could easily close but fans and the team aren't looking for someone without a track record. At this point I'm going to guess nothing happens in terms of getting a proven closer. Treinen or Kelley is handed the closer role to start the year.Reasoning on the presumed plan The Nats did want a closer but they also have assumed budgetary contstrictions. The Nats payroll was set to increase by 15 million or so just from increasing contracts and arbitration awards - dumping Revere, Espinosa, letting some relief arms walk - only balances that out. The Lerners continue to cry[...]



Danny Espinosa has been traded. This is a minor tragedy as the thought of singing "Danny Espinosa" to the tune of "Gary, Indiana" will go through my head far fewer times now that he's on the west coast. It's also a shame because as I noted earlier - Danny ain't problem #1. The Nats had the 2nd worst 1B situation last year in all of baseball.  In case you think that's an aberration, the year before that they were in the lower third of baseball. This is a pattern that isn't changing as Zimm and Robinson keep getting further from their primes. And catcher - well there is good reason to believe it won't just be worse next year (how could it not - it was nearly best this year) but potentially terrible.But still Danny occupied a spot that the future of the Nats franchise is penciled into. His secondary and tertiary positions were occupied by players more productive than him. To keep him playing someone had to be out of position, with one exception which we'll get to in a second. And he wasn't a good enough player to start moving things around for.* He's a speed and defense guy with the added skill of HR power. But he can't hit for average at all and he strikes out all the time. That's good enough to start somewhere, but expendable on a contending team. Much easier than accommodating him would be solving the CF issue, shifting Turner to where he belongs, and pushing Danny to the bench or out the door. And that's what happened. I guess Danny could have been kept around on the bench but he supposedly is not a happy camper when sitting, everyone seems to love (former D-back!) Stephen Drew, and you might even get Drew for cheaper than what Danny would cost (5+ mill).  In the end it just wasn't a difficult choice to send him on his way.Who'd they get for him? Two nobodies.  Kyle McGoohan is a starter with stuff that's not particularly missable and with pretty bad control. But he's not old! Austin "Don't call me Kearns. Don't call me Amy" Adams is a reliver with no control who's worked himself through the minors by... inertia I guess. Maybe they figure out what's up with one of these and come up with a good player.  I'm not betting on it. This was a dump trade. But I do believe Rizzo when he says this was in the works for a while. This was a planned dump trade.   Like Gio to the Yankees that's on hold as they decide if they want to spend that money on Jansen or not. The Nats aren't better today then they were Friday but they aren't significantly worse and a Drew signing would make it a wash.  Now if they go with Difo instead... that would be a mistake. It would also be telling.  I've said how the Nats are around budget this year.  Well what I mean is that they are very slightly over, just a few million more than last year. Going with Difo instead of Drew, assuming nothing else happens this off-season would suggest that even that small increase is too much. It doesn't mean the Nats won't spend money in the future - when MASN is figured out, when Werth's contract gets off the books - but it means we know where the Nats will be for the near future and it's not payroll competitive.  Doesn't mean they aren't team competitive, but it keeps the job harder for Rizzo. Oh that's right - the one exception.  Move Murphy to first. Play Danny at second. That's the optimal solution. But the Nats didn't/don't have the guts to do that. (and the fans don't want it either) *of course neither was Yunel Escobar but they did tha[...]

How do I like them


I like Adam Eaton as much as people who generally like Adam EatonI like the fact that he's an all-around player. He basically does everything well... except hit for power. Now, if you ask me what's the most important thing a player can do "hit for power" is probably #1, which is why he's not a quiet superstar in my opinion. But an All-Star caliber player? One with enough skills that if something isn't working he can contribute in other ways? All at an age where severe drop offs in talent would be surprising? Yes. The only way you can think otherwise is if you still evaluate players mainly on the AVG HR RBI set of stats. I think the Nats have solved their CF problem in a good way, allowing them the ability, after this year to go for either a CF or a corner OF, depending on what they see as the best fit. I think they've found their Werth replacement, a productive outfielder who will help the team for half a decade. I like Lucas Giolito less than most with casual knowledge in the Nats but apparently more than most that follow the Nats and their stats at a hardcore levelA lot of people with casual knowledge remember the hype for Lucas Giolito and see his rankings in the minor league Top 100 lists and think he may still be an ace sooner rather than later. I don't. I think the ship of "dominant early 20s starter" has sailed. Oh it's certainly not impossible for later blossoming to occur but 1) typically aces have at least untouchable stuff (if not be completely dominant) throughout development, and 2) the Nats see Giolito as a ticking clock. The TJ arm will go at some point around year 8. If he's more of a Lester (some touchy minor league seasons, took a couple major league seasons to settle in - Ace at 24) well you are now 7 years in on that arm before you get any significant return, if any.On the other hand a lot of people have just given up on Giolito.  The velocity went and he got hit hard in the majors so he stinks.  I don't go that far. Here's a guy that undeniably has all the stuff you could want. He did fairly dominate the low minors at an age that was young for that and had swing and miss stuff in High-A ball just 18 months ago. The transition to AA did cause some issues. More hittable, less swing and missable in 2015. He improved on those a little in 2016 but at the same time became wilder negating those marginal improvements. But if you look more closely he got better as the year went on. In his first 7 games in AA he had four games where he walked 3 or more and 2 games where he walked one. Only one outing giving up a run or less, despite being held to shorter outings (no more than 4 IP) to start the year.  Only one outing striking out more batters than IP. In his second 7 he had two games where he walked 3 or more and 4 games where he walked only 1. Only one outing giving up more than 2 earned runs, despite now pitching 6 innings regularly. He struck out more batters than IP 3 times. He would spend most of the rest of the season bouncing between AAA and the majors but we saw something similar in his longest AA stint of 4 games. The first two games were rough, the next two were very good.I think Lucas Giolito could be thrown in the majors and be a back of the rotation starter today. I think with time (or AAA seasoning) he's going to be a fine middle of the rotation pitcher, maybe a #2. Assuming his arm holds up.I like Reynaldo Lopez less than most. Most seem to think that Lopez could be a decent back of the rota[...]

Eaton Back and Forth


The Nats traded for Adam Eaton. The gave up Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and ... let me check... Dane Dunning.  Good, Bad? Let's go over itOK so how good is Adam Eaton? Pretty good. He's a good average hitter (high .280s) with good patience (top 3rd type walk rate) who makes good contact. He has excellent speed on the base paths. He's a plus corner outfielder who has shown a very good arm following shoulder surgery.He's not old (Turned 28 on Tuesday! Happy Birthday!) so you can reasonably expect him to continue to perform for several years and he's making a crazy low salary for someone performing at his level. Only 4 million this year and very reasonable numbers for 4 years after that*.So what's the downside? Well, he has below average power, which can be a tough sell for a corner outfielder. Of course he'll play CF for the Nats so that lessens the power issue but that also lessens his defensive impact. He's likely only an average CF.Is that it for downside? Yeah, probably. He's a very good player who does a lot well and nothing terribly for a minimal cost.But what about the cost? Did the Nats give up too much?Let's take the "no" side first. It is true Giolito was a prized prospect but Lucas had issues this year and apparently the league quickly soured him. The loss of velocity and the lack of dominance in the minors suggest a pitcher that won't develop into an ace and may be looking at another TJ surgery sooner rather than later. Reynaldo Lopez was everyone's new hotness when it comes to Nats minor league starters but the Nats themselves were inclined to see him as a future pen arm rather than a closer. Both pitchers struggled mightily in their first taste of the majors. Dunning is an interesting arm who had a good year in low A (a 1st round draft pick - as were the other two) but would need another good year in 2017 with improved peripherals to make anyones top lists.The flip side is though that Giolito did have that high ranking, Top 7 across the board in back to back years. Scouts are not idiots and everyone was in agreement on his overall potential. While that ace potential may not be reached, it does seem likely that he still becomes an effective rotation pitcher. He was able to seemingly improve over the course of both his AA and AAA stints this year. Lopez didn't have the pedigree of Giolito but showed an ability to compete in AA and AAA, that at the very least suggests he deserves a longer look.  Both these guys are in their early 20s so performance improvements are certainly not out of the question.So the most likely scenario is the Nats gave up two extremely cheap back of the rotation starters, coming into form over the next two seasons with one potentially morphing into an effective reliever for a very cheap more than solid CF, who will effectively help over 5. Seems fair when I think about it.Of course Lito and Lopez have all the upside. It's unlikely Eaton busts out to be a 25 homer guy, but could either of these guys have it click and become special? Yes.  Of course they could also crap out. It's the story for all prop sects but with guys who made lists the idea of a special player isn't the pipe dream it is for most prospects traded.The Nats did need a CF though and Eaton fills that gap cheaply for a long while. That not only potentially frees up money this year - but leaves money available in future years. For those that want to envision a Nationals future with Bryce rat[...]

Where we are so far


The Nats lost out on Sale. This is not that unexpected. I twice almost said something like "Why aren't the Red Sox doing something? They need pitching and can afford to lose a couple prospects." but didn't. What a fool Past Harper was! Turns out the Red Sox were putting something together that featured what might be the consensus #1 prospect going into next year in Yoan Moncada.The initial reaction was very much "The White Sox would want Moncada instead of Robles AND Giolito??!?!" This of course completely ignores the second part of the deal for the Red Sox, Michael Kopech who made as many pre-season Top 100 lists as Nats favorite Reynaldo Lopez. He's a legit prospect, not just a name added. So Moncada+ vs Robles, Giolito+ might draw question marks but Moncada, Kopech+ vs Robles, Giolio+ shouldn't.And yet it still does with some of you doesn't it? You think "That's like two Top 20 guys at worst, Two Top 10 guys at best. Kopech isn't climbing THAT much" but you ignore a basic truth about rankings. The further you get from the middle the more distorted things tend to get. It's not hard picking the best and worst, it's hard distinguishing one middle from another. If you are ranking 100 things it's very likely that the difference between 1 and 2 and 99 and 100 are much greater than the difference between 49-50-51. Now the back end doesn't actually come into play when we're talking about minor league rankings since we're pulling 100 out of thousands. But the top part is there.Think about minor league rankings the same way you think about the draft. The #1 guy almost everyone agrees on. The #2 and #3 are pretty clear, etc. etc. By the time you even get to #10 though fuzziness reigns. Your 10 might be someone else's 7 and another person's 19. And much like a draft I'd bet a lot of money that expected future performance drops off quickly when talking about these lists. This is all just a long winded way of saying if you have Moncada at 1 and Giolito at 5 and Robles at 15 you are likely saying you like Moncada A LOT more than Giolito who you like A LOT more than Robles. If Kopech was at like 50 in this scenario I'd bet his expectation would be a lot closer to Robles than Robles' expectation would be to Moncada's. And that's the reason the White Sox take the deal.Now Barry noted this morning that Lopez might have also been thrown in. To me that does give the Nats the edge.. assuming there's still that "+" there. We've never heard of others though. And if you are going Moncada, Kopech+ vs Robles, Giolito, Lopez well I can see sticking with deal #1. Is that too much for the Nats to deal for Sale? Honestly probably not. If you get Sale you are assuming then your rotation is set for three seasons. Scherzer, Strasburg, Sale, Ross, Roark. None would have to go anywhere before Sale and Roark would be up for FA after 2019. What happens to Lopez and Giolito in the mean time there? Probably just get dealt for someone else. Yeah I know - they'd be great depth! But at some point being depth just serves to hurt their trade value, getting older and not getting any experience. Better to trade sooner rather than later. And if you are thinking "well Lopez moves to the pen!", congrats, you've likely decimated his value and put him in a new position where he may not succeed. I'm sure it would happen that way, him being shifted to relief, but you can't assume he'd just click become a dominant reliever. It d[...]