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Updated: 2018-03-19T06:26:46.532-07:00


Monday Quickie - All might be well


Eaton played! MAT played!I had been pointing to today as a deadline for Eaton and he made it in under the gun (as much as that ever mattered).  He'll get about 10 games then to get back into the swing which probably isn't ideal, but if you aren't sure, you'd rather he have a week too few that start up a week too early. As the column notes though - the biggest issue probably isn't going to be at the plate but in the field. You can simulate live speed pitching with batting cage work. You can't simulate live speed OF play shagging fly balls and doing drills. Janes runs down everything pertinent that doesn't include Ryan Zimmerman because that has for some reason become a sore spot between her and Nats fans. I mean sure you can say he's healthy and don't worry, but there is a story here. Especially given that it's Spring and everything is a story. There hasn't even been a column on Zimm this Spring. There have been two on Murphy who everyone is sure will miss Opening Day, just to say "yes, he's probably going to miss Opening Day". There are extended AJ Cole and Tim Collins (Yay Tim Collins!) articles this weekend as well. These articles can combined teach you about the importance of options and exactly what type of deal you have signed. AJ Cole has no options left. If he doesn't make the team he will have to pass through waivers and he won't pass through waivers. He's an iffy 5th starter for the Nats, a team with a strong 1-4 and World Series hopes. He's a perfectly reasonable 5th starter with a little bit of potential for like half the league. Jeremy Hellickson is ok, maybe an arm you bet on having a better year than Cole, but you don't love the bet. He's on a minor league deal so the sensible thing is to have Cole start in the majors and worry about replacing him when (if? ... when) he fails.After finally working his way back, Tim Collins signed a minor league with the Nats. So much like Hellickson it makes sense for him to start in the minors while the Nats pen figures itself out. But this doesn't mean he can be stashed there all year. Tim's got a July 1st opt-out, so if for some reason the Nats have held him back and he's doing well in AAA he can jump ship.  Don't expect that to happen though - even if the Nats pen is humming along expect them to either bring up Collins to keep him here or to ship him out. They aren't just going to let him walk if he's any good. Another thing to note - the bullpen isn't as murky as it might seem. Shawn Kelley, getting paid millions, will get his chance to show he's not hurt. However, expect him to start on the DL. Why? The Nats have three guys for two slots if he's on the team.  Enny Romero is out of options, and was decent last year, so he'll make it.  Also out of options is Matt Grace, which explains why the guy with mediocre results is trying to be forced into a long relief role. Solis has only one option remaining. So it behooves the Nats to start him in major league camp to give them some flexibility down the line rather than waste the option now. They also see him as their best lefty stopper in the pen and don't really want to put him in the minors just to do it. If they can delay this decision on these three, even just by a couple weeks, they'll do it and hope that fate makes decisions for them.  It often does when it comes to pitching arms.[...]

Big Weekend


The Nats injury issues come to a head for the first time this weekend as I want to see Adam Eaton on the field by Monday. Good news is - we probably are going to see that  Assuming all goes to plan that would move Eaton along with the Opening Day start that we had hoped for but didn't expect going into Spring Training that they would be so careful setting up.

We'd love it as well if MAT showed up on the field this weekend too but as I noted last post that's not as necessary because MAT did get some real playing time in before tweaking his injury.

Another thing we'd love to see is Zimm doing anything with the team. Janes swears he's fine, but it's a "ignore all the circumstantial evidence and believe what you are told and what they show you" kind of swearing. The team says he's fine. He says he's fine. When he hits, he looks fine. He's not limping around or in a sling. But at the same time it was decided after one Spring Training game that Zimmerman would not field anymore, would not run anymore, and would not participate in anymore Spring Training games. He would only hit in the back fields for a few weeks. That's very suspicious.

Could one decide to break from what he's done before, what anyone has done before really, and only take batting practices? I gueesssssssssss. Spring Training isn't taxing if you don't want it to be and first base isn't a taxing position to play but I suppose you always prefer doing nothing over something. So maaaaaaaaaaaaayybe. But it's the one game played that really sets off my alarms. You decide something like this coming in I imagine. Talk to the team. Tell them this is what you'd like to do. Have them agree. They let the press know so they aren't hypothesizing injuries like we are now. You don't play a game then suddenly decide it.

Do I think Ryan misses Opening Day? I actually don't. I think he'll play. But do I think there's nothing wrong? Nope. I think there is something up and they are going to try to get through it without ever mentioning it.

Rizzo also admitted that Glover isn't progressing as they thought he might, which likely means a good long time out for Koda. As Koda was the 4th/5th/6th man up (depends how you slotted him, Enny, and Benoit) that doesn't mean that the Nats are going to go out and get someone else for 2018 . I'd be very surprised if they do in fact.  But that doesn't mean his injury doesn't have ramifications.

Glover was the Nats long term answer in the pen. Madson is a FA after this year. Kintzler is possibly one after this year* as well, definitely one after next. Glover was supposed to rise into a set-up and then likely a closing role. If he can't stay healthy the Nats will have to move on from that idea. But to who? Austin Adams is probably next in line but he's far from a sure thing. You could convert Erick Fedde but that would leave you with a zero SP prospects that would impact 2018 or 2019 (Romero and Crowe are late 2019 at the earliest) for a team struggling to fill a 5th spot now and with guys up for FA this year (Gio) and next (Roark). Wander Suero is a possibility... if he's healthy. With RP costs going through the roof as their roles expand I doubt Rizzo will want to rely on FA to fill the gap. The Nats will be an interesting position if they are still facing this issue at year's end. 

*His contract has an option for 2019 but the team option is for 10 million - which I don't see the Nats picking up unless Kintzler is amazing this year. However, he has his own option for 5 million. It's certainly possibly he picks that up. Or it's possible he goes for a multi-year deal elsewhere.

Injury Update


As we hit the half-way point of March, everyone is coming around to the "it's getting late early" viewpoint regarding the Nats injuries.  Not much has changed for the guys that we talked about before but a couple new things have sprung up that we need to talk about.For reference - the Nats have a day off today and 12 Spring Training games remaining. This includes a game against the Twins on the 27th at Nationals Park. Opening Day is early this year - Thursday the 29th.First the easy updates that require no rethought about timing, the good and expected news: Matt Adams - foot blisterWhat you wanted to see - Him playing by SaturdayWhat you saw - Him playing on Sunday and has been playing since. Bryce Harper - ingrown toenailWhat you wanted to see - Him playing before MondayWhat you saw - He played on Saturday and has been playing since. and the bad and expected news :Koda Glover - recovering from shoulder issues What you wanted to see - On the mound sometime during Spring. What you saw - No update. Joe Ross - recovering from Tommy JohnWhat you wanted to see - Probably just 90 feet before Spring is out. I think that would be enough. We're still far out here so there's a lot of leeway. What you saw - No updateNow the more detailed updates Adam Eaton - recovering from a torn ACL.What you wanted to see - As soon as he plays a game it's good. Until then you'd like to see some sort of ramping up and at least one "any day now" kind of message about when we'll see him play. What you saw - We've gotten the "very soon" talk and he is ramping up taking "running it out" BP and he maybe even hit in some mysterious "minor league games". Still he hasn't played the field as far as anyone knows. What adjustment - The fact he hasn't played the field is worry some but I'll stick by my previous "deadline" of being in a line-up by March 19th before adjusting anything. That would give him 8 games of at bats. Not ideal but we're looking for a minimum here. What you want to see - Him playing no later than MondayDaniel Murphy - recovering from knee surgeryWhat you want to see - Just a progression. I think you'd want him doing real baseball activities, taking batting practice, fielding balls while, you know, standing up, sometime before the end of Spring. Once he can do those things, then you can worry about doing it at full speed and then it's about rounding yourself into shape. If we're taking Eaton as a guide that's probably a month or so buildup.What you saw - A progression. He's taken batting practice first in the cage and now on the field, and yesterday began to field standing up. He's still not running let alone jogging things out so there's still a way to go but there hasn't been a major setback.  What adjustment - No adjustment. I still think late April (after the 20th) is the best deadlineWhat you want to see - Let's see I probably will update this again around the end of ST so by then you'd like to see Murphy doing some jogging/running balls out and maybe some lateral fielding. Basically you'd like to see him in position to start playing games in the minors when those teams start up (around the 6th of April) And the new guysMichael Taylor  - mild tightness on the right side of his torso Team Says - He'll be back "soon" Seen - He's taking running out BP with Adam. What adjustment - We're assuming he will be ready for OD. MAT doesn't need the same amount of prep as Eaton since he, you know, played baseball past April of last year, and got some games in early in Spring Training.  I don't see any reason to think that isn't going to happen so no adjustment now. What you want to see - I'll set the deadline for him at that last weekend - the 24th or so.Ryan Zimmerman - ????Team Says - They are just giving him rest to not wear out his body for the long haul of the seasonSeen - He played one game to start Spring Training and hasn't played since. He's taking at bats on back fields. He hasn't fielded or worked on baserunning. What adjustment - This depends. So what [...]

Monday Quickie - Not a threat but unable to be dismissed


The Phillies signed Jake Arrieta.  We've talked before about how the Phillies are setting up a playoff team for 2019. Before yesterday they had a player 26 or younger at six out of eight offensive positions and potentially at 4 out of  5 rotation spots that they would use 2018 to evaluate*. They have a lot of payroll room even after Carlos Santana signed, that they would attack the deep 2019 free agent market with. If things broke as expected they should be a playoff contender, and if things broke right they could be a division dominator for a few years.There was one potential cause for concern though. While the Phillies had 4 (or more) young arms they could evaluate this year, these weren't necessarily highly thought of arms. Guys like Nick Pivetta, Ben Lively, and Zach Eflin would be lucky to end up reliable back of the rotation arms. The more talented arms of Jared Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez could be special but are beginning to age into "they are what they are" territory. This wouldn't be too big an issue, you evaluate then spend money to fix, if next year's FA class had an abundance of pitchers. But it doesn't for sure.Now it could. It could have Clayton Kershaw and David Price but more likely you are looking at a class headlined by the likes of Drew Pomeranz and Gio Gonzalez. These are decent arms. Maybe even guys you can pass off as #2s, but they aren't rotation fixes. So if the Phillies wanted to ensure the rotation would be in 2019 they needed to make a move this year, while a decent class of FA pitching sat out there, passed over by the usual suspects.The Phillies did it - they signed Jake Arrieta. They now have a front of the line pitcher for the next couple of years, who along with Aaron Nola (who is actually very good) should give the Phillies a respectable 1-2 and a much better chance of filling in a playoff caliber rotation.The contract is a three year deal... sort of.  30, 25, 20 million guaranteed. Jake can walk after 2 if he chooses UNLESS before the end of that season the Phillies exercise an option to keep Jake for two years past this end date (at a probable 25 per minimum).  The way this contract should be seen is that if Jake is terrible in year 1 and/or 2 the Phillies have an out after three years. If Jake is good or better, he likely gets a contract similar to what he wanted to get. If Jake is ok... he likely gets a chance to pick another team to move forward with after 2 years.OK enough with the abstract.How good is Jake?  He's good but all the trends were  going the wrong way the last couple years. That wasn't so much as issue in 2016 when you were starting from 2015's Cy Young season, but in 2017 it got kind of problematic. His FB speed is dropping, so the hits are going up along with the home runs. He seems to be able though to work through things better than in his youth, so a total meltdown would be a surprise. But he was basically the pitcher you saw last year.  He's still young enough to believe he can get back to what he was. He is also coming off a much stronger second half of 2017.  Still prevailing wisdom would put him at basically the pitcher he was in 2017 until he proves otherwise. This makes him not an ace, but a #2 behind Nola. Don't dismiss the importance of this though. When you add a pitcher to the rotation you kick off a #5. The difference between that player kicked off and the player put in can be huge. In this case you are likely leaving off a AAAA pitcher and replacing him with a solid #2. That's worth 2-3 wins at least. How good are the Phillies?Probably .500 good, with a chance to be WC good if they catch some breaks (or sign Alex Cobb). Their pitching wasn't as bad as you might think for being ranked 10th in the NL. There was some solid pen work, which they've bolstered through FA. They were as close to league average as 11th. I'd expect, with the improvements made and with general aging, for the group to be slightly above average in 2018, and [...]

Seth Romero and the gambling drafts


When it comes to the draft, the Nats are gamblers at heart. I wrote this a few years ago, and nothing has changed. The Nats still are gambling on talent hoping to find a transformational player rather than a mere useful one. The idea is, if you find one every 3-4 years, it can sustain a team. The Nats were handed two in Strasburg and Bryce, and then, with a high draft pick, snagged a player close to that in Rendon. But since then they've been failing. 2012 : Lucas Giolito - injury risk that was initially thought to have Hall of Fame potential (no seriously see that link above people were saying that) if he could stay healthy. He is more likely to settle into a 3-4 role in a rotation. (though personally I like him to be a savvy 2). Traded with others for Adam Eaton - a very solid player but not transformational.  2013 :  Jake Johansen - 2nd round pick (first lost for Soriano) here was a guy that wasn't a highly thought of player that dropped because of warning signs, but a guy with all talent and no results. A6'3" 235 pound beast with a 7-6 record and a 5.40 ERA in college with good but not impressive K and BB rates. Because of the results he was ranked low as a prospect, lower than where the Nats grabbed him. He never performed outside of short-season ball and the Nats released him last year.2014 : Erick Fedde - Very highly thought of college pitcher whose pre-draft season ended in TJ surgery. The Nats scooped him up and waited out the injury. He didn't pitch in 2014. He's had some decent pitching in the low minors but the high minors have been a bit of a struggle for him, the Nats have toyed with him in the pen, and had a real rough outing in the majors. Is expected to at least start 2018 in AAA. The good news is that his control clock has barely started. The bad news is that he won't start a season in the Nats rotation until at best he's almost 5 years post TJ. If you believe in a shorter shelf life after TJ there is a diminishing return possible.2015 : Andrew Stevenson - 2nd round pick (first lost for Scherzer). A little bit of a reach as a toolsy speedy defensive specialist that the Nats hoped could develop as a hitter. He has reached the majors but outside a short stint in AA to start 2017 his high minors time has more shown what he is not capable of (hitting with any power) than what he is. He's maybe a 4th OF to be if he can figure out how to use his speed to get on base. I'd maybe give the Nats a pass here though because I don't think they expected Stevenson to be much more than he is. I think. 2016 : Carter Keiboom and Dane Dunning - both were seen as more 2nd round picks, though the Nats did select late in the first round. Hard to completely judge either of these players but both look strong at the moment. Of course Dunning, part of the Eaton deal, is doing it for the White Sox. 2017 : Seth Romero - Talented but troubled youngster. His first minor league season was just ok and now he's doing something wrong, if something relatively minor. Either of Keiboom or Dunning (again for CHW) could be that next hit the Nats wanted, though you see why I set the time frame as hitting one every 3-4 years. If one of these guys hits they'll likely make their squad in fall 2019 at the earliest and at least a year of play is needed to see if they are special. At that point your original hits, Stras, Bryce, and Rendon will basically be out of your control and you'll have to have made a $ decision on them. It's nice to have these guys coming up but they haven't reloaded you in time. The Nats have missed on 4 straight, went for something special and whiffed on that goal. They probably did it again with Romero. I don't really fault the Nats for this approach. You need superstars and if you can get them cheap that is a huge load off your payroll. However, if you don't get them you are passing up on some opportunities to shore up the current team, with the stars in hand, trying to start that second round[...]

Monday Quickie - some updates


Bryce played and looked fine. Matt Adams played and looked fine. Scratch those off the "to be placed onto worry lists if they weren't playing by today" lists.

Jorge Castillo from the Post got Martinez' update about Eaton and Murphy and it's not great. But I mean that literally. It's as probably expected. It is not great.

Eaton is still in a middling zone that allows you to worry even though we still have at least 2 weeks of leeway to play with before you should honestly be concerned.

Murphy is still progressing slowly. Now hitting off a tee and doing soft toss hitting, but still not putting any real pressure on that knee. It's a slow ramp up... which is what we expect for a guy that at best had mid-April as a return date.

Nothing new is really happening otherwise
The Phillies are still trying ton convince fans that they need to test out all these "great young arms" rather than sign the 1-2 FAs that would make them a WC contender this year.

The Mets are looking at Steven Matz pull the rare "Oh - this is something in Spring that looks like you should actually worry about" while they too try to put off signing a real picher because of Lugo and Gsellmen and other AAA types.

Meanwhile the Braves and Marlins half-try to put up a team in a year where the Braves see if there's anything here or decide to scrap it before it ever got started and the Marlins start their scorched- Earth rebuilding. 

The Nationals then are free to pull their "this is good enough" strategy that has led them to 4 titles (and 2 playoff misses when arguably a little more effort might have made a difference) in 6 seasons.

Yawn. Let's see if Arrieta (or Lynn or Cobb) drop into the NL East and spice this up a bit. The Phillies are ALMOST are interesting. The Mets are ALMOST a threat. But right now it's business as usual for the Washignton Nationals and the also-rans. 

How worried should you be?


Every fan hates their team's medical staff. It's canon. A big part of the reason is because the team has no real impetus to release accurate information. Teams want to maintain an negotiating advantage in any trade talk or free agent signing they may be interested in and the best way to do that is to downplay your actual need of a player. You can't flat-out lie, but you can toss out a standard best-case recovery scenario and hope that helps. The downside of that is fans end up buying it and then thinking the team has no idea what they are doing when the guy ends up missing more time than they said. But that's not much of a downside - fans still buy tickets.Everytime a player gets injured fans shouldn't rely on Nats reports only. Instead they should read every interview, take in every piece of data, to figure out exactly how they should modify what the team says to get the most accurate picture.All that being said let's look at the Nats current injuries and see where they may more realistically stand.Adam Eaton - recovering from a torn ACL. Team says - On Track for Opening DaySeen - Had surgery May 10th. Initial prognosis was 6-9 months, was slightly ahead of schedule as he began weight-bearing exercises about a week early (remember the "maybe he could play in the playoffs!" talk?). Now seems perhaps slightly behind. He said he'd be ready for Spring Training, but in December Martinez was already saying Opening Day was goal, not Spring Training. He's not participating in everything or at full speed and hasn't appeared in a game yet. He is participating in almost everything and at what he says is 70% speed. What adjustment - I think we can still buy into an Opening Day start now. Since Adam hasn't played in almost a year you probably want more than a handful of games in his pocket before the season starts but that just puts the "worry line" at say... March 19th. What you want to see - As soon as he plays a game it's good. Until then you'd like to see some sort of ramping up and at least one "any day now" kind of message about when we'll see him play. Daniel Murphy - recovering from knee surgeryTeam Says - On Track for Opening DaySeen - Had surgery October 10th. Even though team said Opening Day, timetables were never set because they didn't want to cause "unnecessary alarm" if he didn't hit them. Usual time tables for this are 6-12 months, which would put Murphy back in the lineup anywhere from late April or 2019. He's fielding some grounders while on a knee. He's running, though at least initially not with all his weight (think this). He's playing catch. What adjustment - Opening Day was an optimistic forecast to start with. Given what we've seen here it seems even more unlikely.  Stick with the usual timetables for now and figure late April as a return date and adjust accordingly - probably later - as we get more infoWhat you want to see - Just a progression. I think you'd want him doing real baseball activities, taking batting practice, fielding balls while, you know, standing up, sometime before the end of Spring. Once he can do those things, then you can worry about doing it at full speed and then it's about rounding yourself into shape. If we're taking Eaton as a guide that's probably a month or so buildup. Koda Glover - recovering from shoulder issues Team Says - No surgery. Shut down in September with plans to be ready for next year. Initially no one said they saw any issues as he was cleared to begin throwing again in November. Unclear if he started throwing off a mound in January as planned. Seen - Didn't take the mound when he got to Florida. We were told he showed up with shoulder issues. MRI confirmed inflammation. Shut down.  What adjustment - Pretty much put Glover out until you hear otherwise. We can't set up a timeline until he starts throwing again and we see where they are starting him from. If they are starting w[...]

Just to get it out there


Please ignore Spring Training Stats.

Here's my warning from last yearAnd 2016And 2015

The Nats best hitter last year (with any appreciable at bats - sorry I. Sagdal whoever you are) was Jhonatan Solano. Then it was Bryce. Then Andrew Stevenson. Then Zimm. Then Brandon Snyder. Then Trea Turner.  No real pattern.

Worst hitter was Wieters, then Lobaton... we got something go... Dammit Lind was bad too.

What about pitching? Well Albers was good. So was Enny. But then so was Treinen and Roark was the best starter. Meanwhile Strasburg was the worst starter.

The correlations are weak, young ones. There are just too few at bats, against too few real major leaguers, in too few real conditions, to read anything from these things.  Since we can't help ourselves I tend to tell you to focus on crazy outliers (He's hitting .500! He's hitting .000!) or a big power surge.  But I'll be honest, those are real iffy as well.

The short of it is if you read stories telling you Wieters made adjustments, look at how he's doing! or Fedde is healthy, look at how he's doing!  just walk on by.  The beat guys gotta write something and this is what's there but it's close to meaningless. It's good these guys aren't hurt. Otherwise show me in the regular season.

Monday Quickie - I did forget BAN REPLAY


OK I wouldn't actually ban all replay. I felt it was stupid when home runs were messed up and feel like I would be fine for the use in making that decision. It also works because a home run is a natural break in the action where everyone stands around anyway.  Along with this though, I'd want to cut down on silly ground rules. Homers should go over fences. It's not hard. No "above this point it's a home run" This is baseball not a carnival ride.

As for getting the call right - no I don't really care. Why would I suddenly care about something (trying to get 100% correct calls) that I didn't care about growing up. I wanted umps to do the best job they could and accepted that level of correctness (somewhere over 99%) was good enough. The level of effort it takes to get that last under 1% correct is not worth it. Not worth the time. Not worth the managerial abuse. Not worth the subtle changes to the game. I guess if it could be done immediately then it would be ok, but it's never going to be because once you say "We should miss no calls" then the umps are video review guys are going to spend whatever time they think is necessary to get that call right. That's my call and I'm in charge in my fantasy world.

As for the pace of play - the time doesn't bother me. I don't think it bothers most - assuming we have well played games. But it will certainly bother some. So you want to make the games faster. Part of it What is the issue? It's all of it. And that's the problem. It's patience - pitches seen and plate appearances. It's time between pitches. It's stepping out of the box. It's more pitching changes. It's mound visits. It's replay. It's more time between plays. It's slightly increasing commercial time.  When you look at anyone in general you get only a couple minutes. When put together - suddenly you have an extra 15-20.  You solve it by tackling all - but you have to first understand that a lot of these are problems formed over a generation or two of ball players that will take about the same amount of time to unlearn naturally. So no 3 years of a minor league clock won't do it. Nor will just enforcing rules about stepping out or mound visits down there.  But they'll help. You put together rules to tackle all of these in the minors. You wait a decade (sorry - but it takes time) and then you see where you are. Some things not working? Then you move to veiled threats. Hey, move faster! We don't want a clock but we might be forced to. Another 5 years. Only then to you implement something in rules that changes the only game without a clock to another game with one.

Not patient enough? Well you risk screwing things up because you gave it 2-3 years of trying and then you threw up your hand like a little kid in front of a Christmas tree screaming "I can't wait any longer"  AND NOW YOU'VE RUINED CHRISTMAS JIMMY.

Anyway that's where I am today.  I'm not eventually against implementing harsh rules like a clock or penalties for stepping out or too many mound visits, but you need to try to breed it out first.

If I ran baseball...


Arrieta sign with the Phillies last night? No.  Ok so our talking points are still at none.  How about I tell you some of the things I would do if I were running the league.Pace of PlaySports are entertainment and if they aren't entertaining you it's not primarily because of the length of games. It's because of the product on the field/court/ice. Baseball has a problem where it seems boring and it's trying to solve it by shaving off minutes.  That won't work.  Baseball seems boring because we've realized some innate truths about the game.Walks aren't as good as hits, but they are waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay better than getting outs. Strikeouts are worse that other outs but just barely so don't worry about it. Because Ks don't really matter everyone should just grip it and rip it and try to hit homers. Combined these things conspire to slowly strangle the life out of baseball as fewer and fewer balls are put in play, even as the games get gradually, ever so slightly, longer. This is what needs to be solved. But it's hard. How to make walks harder or more unappealing? How to make Ks more of an undesirable outcome for players?  We can take care of the homer issue a little bit by keeping the fences back and maybe deadening the ball, but unlike walks (boo) and strikeouts (eh - depends), fans love homers so you don't want to change too much about them.What would I do? I'd move fences. I'd also widen the strikezone.  That's a gambit. Stirke zone tinkering doesn't always work like you think it would. But the idea would be - wider strike zone, more room to make living for pitchers who excel at weak contact as opposed missing bats. Walks would probably go down. Strike outs may go up at first, but as the game adjusts with better contact hitters they would go back down.Mound visits? I'd limit them, but probably only 1-7 or something like that. I don't want late game strategy to be hindered by a silly rule. Pitch clock? In minors, yes. In Spring, yes. In the majors? No. This goes for stepping out of the box, too. Teach them the way you want them to act in the majors, but don't force it at the major league level.  Most players will keep the traits picked up in the minors.  Some won't but these are guys who it doesn't work for.  Scheduling.Did you know baseball starts on Thursday this year? Man that's dumb. I guess it's not the worst day, Tuesday or Wednesday would be worse, but having your pick and ending up with probably the third worst day? That takes some big time idiocy.Anyway since I have total power in this scenario I'll do something they real league won't/can't. I'll make the baseball regular season start in April and end before October.I don't actually mind a showcase game on Sunday night and it makes promotional sense. Maybe even a showcase set of games at 12, 4 and 7. But if you do this the games have to be showcases, not just a random game picked out of a hat like Astros - Mariners.  The schedule should be set up so either a NLCS or ALCS rematch kicks off the season.I'll divert here to say the same should happen with Spring Training. The first "game" (won't be really the first game played but it's how you should promote it) needs to be a playoff rematch. Start with the WS and work backward until you find two teams in the same ST area to face off. Yeah, 50% of the players won't be anybody you care about but it's the best you are going to do.  Getting back to the regular season, I've always loved the Cincinnati parade / first game of the season tradition. Don't know that's a tradition? That's because MLB has stomped all over it the past few years. Instead they should embrace it. Make the first game on "Opening Monday" be always Cincinnati at home at Noon (everyone else can start at 1). Show their parade. Make it a thing. Baseball needs mor[...]

Monday special - Why Benoit?


Joaquin Benoit was signed by the Nats today (Hate the passive voice? Too bad!) in what was almost certainly a reaction to Koda Glover's shoulder injury.  We had mentioned the Nats could possibly use one more relief arm for depth but Glover's pains forced the issue.What some are asking is - why Benoit? Why a 40 year old who posted a pretty deserved ~4.50 ERA last year? Simply put there wasn't much available.Greg Holland is the obvious best guy, he had an All-Star 2017 and if not back to his old dominating self, he showed himself to be a very good arm in the pen.  Some might be turned off by a bad second half but it was more one horrific month (13.50 ERA in August) than anything else. His September was as good (1.86 ERA) and the other months of the year (1.50 April, 1.17 May, 1.69 June, 2.25 July). He's likely fine. But that also means he's expensive.After him the FA market has been picked clean.  A couple weeks ago I noted Matt Albers might be the third best arm left after Holland and Tony Watson. Well Albers got signed soon after that and Watson just got signed by the Giants a few days ago. What are we left with? Well here are some guys still available, a few I'd probably pick-up before BenoitThe non retreadsKoji Uehara - He's 42 and not trending in the right direction but his stats (10.5 K/99, 2.5 BB/9, 1.163 WHIP) are still good. He's probably picking and choosing where at this age so maybe DC and/or the money wasn't appealing?  Still better than BenoitKevin Siegrist -  He put up two pretty good years for the Cardinals in relief in 2015 and 2016 before being bad and having them release him mid-year last year. The Phillies picked him up and he was again pretty good.  A little long ball prone and wild. Certainly more interesting than Benoit if not better.Robbie Ross - an injury victim who had back surgery last year. That kind of lack of security probably crosses him off the Nats list. However, if healthy had good 2015 and 2016s and is young enough to assume he'd do it again.The retreadsMatt Belisle - Matt Belisle was good for the Nats.  Matt Belisle is good now.  No he doesn't knock anyone's socks off but he keep the ball in the park and isn't bad at giving up walks or hits so he tends to get the job done.  I certainly like him better than Benoit but the Nats chose to move on for some reason.Tyler Clippard - The greatest middle reliever of his generation had an awful 2017 and hasn't been really good since getting traded from Oakland. Still he was effective enough in 2016, and can strike a guy out enough, to think the 33 year old isn't done yet. Drew Storen - Hey! I'm being thorough! You know the drill - he's probably a head case. When handed a closer role or set in a relief role he can excel. See most of his time in DC and his stinit in Seattle. When thinking he has to fight for anything he falters. See the Soriano year, his loss to Osuna in Toronto, his loss to Iglesias in Cincy.  He'd probably expect to fight for a closer among the Nats good but not great bunch so I wouldn't bring him back here. But for a team with a #1 obviously set I'd take a flier on Drew.So I'd take all but Ross, because the Nats need security, and Drew before Benoit. I know some of you don't like Clippard so you'd pass on him too. Fair enough. But what you see here is a bunch of guys who are nothing special. Better than the average call-up arm, but not so much better you have to go out and grab them.  Picking Benoit over them isn't than big a stretch, if one at all. The issue isn't picking up Benoit now. It's going into the season with Glover maybe hurt, Kelley maybe hurt, and thinking you didn't need to pick up someone before now.  Oh well, let's hope for health because 4th in line isn't important until it becomes[...]

Monday Quickie -


Well it looks like as far as the non -Bryce OF is concerned, we're not going to find a common ground. You look at it and see 5 guys who you think are at least capable starters. You see one guy who's All-Star caliber if he's 100%, another who might be All-Star caliber if he develops quickly, and a third who could be that if he surprises. This is not counting the solid guy expected to help out if needed. You throw in at the end a decent 3rd/4th caliber talent. You see all that and think what the hell is Harper thinking.I look at it and see, yes, 4 guys who I think are at least capable starters. But I see one guy coming back from injury who is "on track" for Opening Day, another who is a better bet to be productive in the future than in 2018, and a third who has no sustained history of performance despite a fair number of chances. This is not counting the solid guy who they wanted to help but is almost certainly stuck at 2B for the time being. I throw in a guy who might hang on as a 4th OF if he's lucky.  I see all that and I see the 2017 bullpen, full of promise and potential and red flags.In the interest of reaching an agreement, I think we all can get behind the hope that Adam Eaton is healthy and normal. My concern hinges on the fact he might not be himself. So if he is,  and we should know this before the season starts, there's no concern.  Anything else?The Mets continue to bargain hunt picking up Jason Vargas for a couple of years for not too much money.  This is a good move but it doesn't change much about the NL East race. What Vargas is here for is not for the Mets to catch the Nats. It's to make sure the Mets don't fall out of contention because of pitching injuries. He's depth for the rotation that was 7 deep in talent but 1 deep in pitchers who weren't injured last year. If he can be healthy and throw up a 4.25 ERA the Mets will take it. This takes a little of the cushion out if the Nats happen to fall off pace but the Nats would still have to fall of pace. Call me when the Mets sign someone actually good. The Hot Stove finally is moving forward. First Darvish went to the Cubs, and over the weekend Hosmer went to the Padres. The deal is ridiculously long - 8 years should never happen unless you are a young stud like Bryce, but in reality the contract itself isn't as terrible as you might think. Since 100 million comes in the first 5, if Hosmer chooses to stay (opt-out after 5) you'll have a pretty good ability to trade him and his now 13 million a year salary, to get out from under it. The only real risk is that he crashes before he hits that 6th (age 33) yearIt's thought of as  a Werth type signing for the Padres. Get the guy when you can get the guy and hope the young players come together fast enough that it all works out.  The other option is to hope you can get the guy you need once it comes together, an iffier proposition. Does that comparison stand? Werth was older by a decent margin (31 early vs 28 until very end) but was consistently better with the bat, putting up an ok, good, very good, and then a great season going into FA. Hosmer on the other hand went bad, good, bad, very good. He doesn't hit for the power or have the patience of Werth. Baserunning too Werth has the advantage. He was a good baserunner right up until FA.  Hosmer struggles to be ok.  Where Hosmer supposedly shines is defensively, but the fancy stats don't really back that up. Given his age he's more likely to maintain his status rather than watch it crater like there was some concern would happen to Werth, then did, but the status doesn't seem stellar.So Werth-like I suppose but what Hosmer has going for him is basically only age, because Werth had him beat across the board in talent and wasn't [...]

Reading what's there


Last week I expressed some pessimism that what the Nats have planned for the OF is a good plan. I didn't necessarily think it was a bad one, but because I couldn't bring myself to call it good, for lack of a better place I settled on poor. Really I'd call it more of a gamble than a poor solution. They are bundling risks with the hopes that enough pay off that it'll work out. If two of these four things work out they'll be fine until the trade deadline. Eaton is healthy and near regular formMAT's 2017 was not a fluke and he can hit at a major league levelRobles is ready to contribute in an above average way from Opening DayKendrick stays productive and isn't called into duty in other positions, leaving him open to play the OF. For any single one of those I'd probably put the odds of the good outcome at under 50% (you might vary) and because they need two or more of them to hit, that gives them higher odds than I would like to see of this plan not working out*. You may disagree but I think today's Eaton column should highlight that the worries are the same for the team and for the guys covering the team. Eaton MAY be ready by Opening Day. Eaton admits he will probably be a different player. I read this and think - yeah better chance than not that Eaton is not healthy or not near regular form. He could still be decent, worthy of playing. He could still work himself into more regular form by year's end and should play anyway because he's your long term OF answer and you want him to be good in the future. If he has to work out kinks, he has to work out kinks. But the key is - bad things are certainly possible here. Of course there's a reason I put the trade deadline in there and not 2018 as a whole. If the Nats' plan does fail there is always a chance to correct it later. That's a big reason why I don't like labeling it a poor solution even though I think the chance it fails is unreasonably high for a playoff team. Getting a Kendrick type is not as hard as getting a catcher or a starter you like for the playoffs.But again - I'm very mildly down on the OF, but I normally would let it slide. The Nats have to see if Eaton is recovered. The Nats want to see if MAT is real. The timing is right to give Robles some more games. Individually these things make sense at a high-level. Even if all are more likely to come up empty in 2018, this is about more than 2018. They shouldn't all come up empty and how they come up will shape the Nats decisions down the line.The problem is more that this issue exists at the same time as the Nats need a catcher, and could use a 5th starter. If those issues continue like we think they will and the Nats have the usual injury issues teams have then the OF situation, if it does fail, could matter a lot.I guess the solution is get a catcher and a starter so we can let this OF thing go as it should.  *The math works out like this. What if you give every bad outcome (Eaton isn't right, MAT was a little fluky, etc.) a 60% chance of happening? Well the chances that you don't get two good outcomes is the same as chances you get three bad outcomes plus the chances you get all bad ones.  The chance you get all bad ones is easy - that's just (0.6*0.6*0.6*0.6) OR (0.6^4). If you give each one a 60% chance of happening that's about a 13% chance of all bads. Seen the other way an 87% chance of not having everything go wrong. The three bad things percentage is a little more complicated. It's the chance you get three specific bad things and one thing go right, in formula (.6)^3*(.4), multiplied by the number of different ways that can happen. In our case that would be 4. (Eaton is fine but nothing else works out.  MAT is fine but nothing else works out, etc.).  That ends [...]

Who is Matt Reynolds?


And should you care about him?

The answer to the former is a perfectly competent SS/MI in the field with a garbage bat. The answer to the latter is "No, not really"

Matt Reynolds was a high draft pick (2nd round) for the Mets in 2012. He floundered in A ball in 2012 and High A in 2013 but such as it goes for guys you like, the Mets kept pushing him and in 2014 he "broke out" with a high average stay in AA (.355) and a nice looking run in AAA. But that only brought him to the outskirts of interest from the guys who rank prospects for a living. A BABIP fed AA half-season followed by a PCL boosted second half? Do it again then we'll talk. Well, Matt Reynolds went out and promptly failed to do it again. In 2015 in AAA. In 2016 in AAA. In 2016 in the majors. He is the guy from ever other year but 2014. He is the guy we described above.

Matt Reynolds relies on BABIP. He doesn't hit for much power. He doesn't have much patience. He's not particularly a contact hitter. There really isn't much to recommend him as a player at the plate. In the field he's fine for a SS, which is good but he's nothing special and he'd have to be in order for you to want to carry that bat on your team.

So why did the Nats pick him up? Options. Not in the vague "to have alternatives" sense, but in the MLB specific "He has options left" sense. For the most part the MI in the Nats upper minors is a wasteland of Irving Falus and Corban Josephs and Michael Almanzars. Heard of them? No one has. So it's doesn't hurt to grab someone with some major league experience to stick down there in case of emergency. Problem is - you grab someone without options and they have to stay on your 40 man. So you pick up this guy then shuttle him down. Problem solved. Well... not really solved. You've just added another crappy player to the system to cover for other crappy players. Let's try again. Problem, which you hope won't matter, papered over.

The Nats have Murphy, Kendrick, Turner, and Difo here to cover 2B and SS. They have Carter Kieboom as a guy they hope will start getting some serious looks in 2019. This will do in the meantime assuming there aren't massive injury issues and if there are massive injury issues, well you trade or something. Matt Reynolds isn't an answer. He's a few day stopgap for a team that didn't like their current few day stop gap choices.

Monday Quickie : Darvish a Cub, do the Nats react


Yu Darvish is now a Cub and that matters. It doesn't MATTER like if Yu Darvish was a Met or a Phillie, but it matters because the Cubs, who are one of the teams the Nats are looking to get past, have decided to go 5 deep in their rotation to start the year, and basically have set themselves up 5 deep for three seasons*. The deeper your rotation, obviously the better, not only because of what the security and talent does for the regular season, but how it sets up a post-season. If you have 5 legit starters, you are likely able to pick a better 4 in October or find three you may want to lean on heavily. This is a problem the Nats have vaguely had over the past couple playoffs - having little confidence in Gio Gonzalez and being forced to use a shaky Joe Ross last season. Of course the Nats sit at four deep and that's probably good enough for 2018, especially when improving at the trade deadline is always an option. But beyond 2018 we start to get into uncharted territory. See before 2012, Rizzo traded for Gio. This set up a four deep rotation of Gio, Stras, ZNN, and Detwiler that in a perfect world, after Gio signed his extension, would give the Nats four years of an almost set rotation. It didn't work out perfectly, Detwiler wouldn't develop and would only give the Nats one good year, but aiming for four got the Nats three, and the team was able to work around that**; be it by signing Haren, trading for Fister, or developing Roark.When the four years were nearing completion the Nats knew they had to do something to keep that rotation depth of at least three, preferably more, going. They tried to extend ZNN. When that failed they signed Scherzer. Then they tried to extend Strasburgand were successful. The Nats were set through 2018. But time inevitably marches on and here we are again, in a similar situation as the Nats were going into 2015. Two pitchers they've relied on are ready to leave over the next two seasons. Do they extend them?It's not exactly the same situation. Gio and Roark aren't as key today as Strasburg and ZNN were before. Where as in 2015 it was young good pitchers getting ready to go, now it's older middle rotation arms. You tend to let those guys go. But at the same time, in 2015 it was younger, healthier, mid rotation arms staying as opposed to older or more injury prone top of the rotation guys. Where the walk/sign decisions might be clearer, what you have in hand is foggier. You knew what you were working around for the next couple years back then. You aren't as sure now.The Nats are in a bit of a quandry then. They could assume Max and Stras will be good for about 3 more seasons. That's not crazy though Max will be 36 in that last year.  If so you can probably get by with bringing in a mid-rotation arm, a Jake Odorizzi type, that may not cost too much in return but can fill out that 3/4 role while Max and Stras take care of 1/2. Or the Nats may assume Max and Stras won't hold up over 3 years either due to age and injury and it's paramount to get a top of the rotation arm to compliment them. Darvish was that type. Arrieta is that type. Anything in trade is going to cost them guys they don't want to give up. The Nats don't need to make a move to compete with the Cubs in 2018. They are good enough to be favorites to win the division, and we can see where the season takes them by the trade deadline. But they very likely will need to make a move to compete with the Cubs after 2018. They can set it up now, in a slow market through free agency. Or they can try to wait it out until next off-season.  Either way something needs to be done between now and Opening Day 2019 and the Darvish signing was the starting pi[...]



Seeing the Nats sit on a hole at catcher and a questionable rotation situation makes me wonder. I say the Nats always do stuff like this. They try to figure out where the bar is for winning at get just past it and then hope luck and injuries don't screw them.  But is this true? Have the Nats ever solved all their issues before a year? Have they ever gone after the best solutions when a good one will suffice? Let's see. After 2012 - Another starter, a lefty relief arm to replace the departing Burnett, strengthen a surprisingly good but still honestly questionable bench.First the Nats would create a new hole by trading Mike Morse. We all knew it was coming. They had given out signs that it would be Morse or LaRoche because they didn't like Morse in the OF or Bryce in CF, but still it didn't have to happen. Keeping Morse, while improving the OF,  would have addressed part of the bench issue. So after they traded for Span they could have kept Morse. But they didn't.  GOOD, NOT GREAT, SOLUTION AFTER CREATING PROBLEM. They did add a starter by adding Dan Haren which wasn't a bad deal but they had the flexibility to do something splashier (we'll see them do that a couple times later). They chose to simply fill the hole in front of them.  GOOD, NOT GREAT, SOLUTIONThe Nats would address the pen, but not in the way we thought. They'd be talked into picking up Soriano which didn't give the Nats a lefty but in theory gave the Nats a killer back end of the pen. Theory gave way to reality though as they completely misread what losing the closer role would do to Storen. It ended up being a wash. GOOD, NOT GREAT, SOLUTION TO A PROBLEM THAT DIDN'T EXISTThey did nothing to the bench and it failed miserably. POOR SOLUTIONAfter 2013 - bench needs fixing, bullpen needs arms, back of the rotation again needs someone maybe two someonesThe Nats would half try to fix the bench by adding Nate McLouth. They'd also bring in Kevin Frandsen and keep Scott Hairston but those guys were fillers. Nate McLouth didn't work but it was an honest effort. His collapse was surprising. Also Rendon would push Danny to the bench so it wasn't as imperative to go out and get someone. GOOD, NOT GREAT, ONE THIRD-SOLUTION THAT DIDN'T WORK OUTThe Nats wouldn't go out and pay for someone, or make a trade for an ace but Rizzo would trade for Doug Fister, which was more than they needed. This would pay immediate dividends as Fister would luck into a great year. GREAT SOLUTION! (but didn't pay for it)They'd only bring in Blevins to help with the pen, letting the rest come from within. It mostly worked.  POOR SOLUTION THAT WORKED OUT. IT HAPPENSAfter 2014 - A super play anywhere guy and a good bench player or two or three quality bench guys to help deal with the departing LaRoche, a back of the pen guy to replace the departing Soriano2014 was a great year but fragility came into play again with Zimm and Bryce and Ramos missing lots of time. The Nats were able to cover for it but it'd be hard to expect that again. The masses (re: Me) were clamoring for Zobrist. The Nats instead traded for Yunel Escobar and let Danny fill the bench role again. Yuney would go to have a good year but it was a surprise. The rest of the bench were fill ins again. GOOD, NOT GREAT, SOLUTIONThe Nats also did nothing in the pen. In fact they made the pen worse by trading away Clippard (who'd be a FA after the season) and Blevins (who had the temerity to take the team into arbitration) and Detwiler (that was ok but it was still innings to fill). They thought maybe they could surprise with Casey Janssen. They could not. POOR SOLUTION What they did do was sign Scherzer, who [...]

AJ Cole - 5th Starter


The other day Mike Rizzo said AJ Cole was the 5th starter for the Nats. My gut reaction is that's a bad idea, but is it really? Or am I too focused on past performance and higher profile options?AJ Cole first made the bottom of prospect lists before 2012, after putting up a solid season with a lot of Ks and good control at age 19 in A ball.Think about this for a moment. AJ Cole was a "Top Prospect" before the Nats were good.Huh. Ok. Back on track.AJ was shipped out to Oakland as part of the package to get Gio, where he did well again in A ball but floundered in the high-octane California League. That was enough to knock him back off prospect lists and the Nats were able to get him back in a three team deal that was mostly about getting John Jaso to the A's and Mike Morse to the Mariners. Cole would immediately perk back-up and do ok in High A and very well in a brief stint in AA. Back to the bottom of prospect lists he went. At this point, three plus years into his minor league career AJ was still young (21 in AA) and his peripherals seemed good. He could strike guys out and he didn't walk them like other high K guys might. He also didn't give up many home runs. But giving up hits remained a problem. For a strike out guy a lot of guys made good contact on Cole. This remained true as he scaled the minors in 2014 but some favorable breaks kept his ERA down and it looked like if he could solve that last issue in AAA in 2015, he might be something for the future.Well he did it! Well sort of. He was able to drop the hits, but along with that the Ks went down and the walks went up. It was a different style of pitching. An effective style apparently. But it wasn't the total package the Nats were hoping to see. In 2016 the Nats didn't need to try out Cole early with Joe Ross ready to go, so Cole languished in AAA striking out a few more but giving up more hits and putting up mediocre numbers. He would get his shot late in the year as injuries opened up spots but he wouldn't impress despite controlling the worst of his tendencies. 2017 would be a repeat of 2016 with Cole being not good in AAA and getting a late season call-up to the majors.The difference this time is that Cole would manage to throw out a decent ERA in his starts. A 3.86 ERA as a starter - arguably good for a 4/5 in the majors. So has he finally done it? Not really. His WHIP was very high with his BB/9 jumping way up and his K/9 not following suit. His HR/FB and BABIP were pretty normal - maybe even low for him. So how come he didn't get killed?  His LOB% was very good. If he pitched a whole season like that it would be amongst the best in the league. (Top 5 last year were Kershaw, Ray, Kluber, Gio and Max) . Is that something he can control? Yeah it seems like it's not unrelated to pitcher ability. Is that something I think he's controlling? Nah.Ok to be fair he did get more GBs than before but mostly I think it's a fluke. I think in a normal year that won't be that high, you'll see more runs scored and a 4.50 ERA or worse staring you in the face.If you want to be an optimist you can say we haven't see that much of Cole - only 100 innings and not even that many as a starter.  He was always been on the fringe of the radar of the guys who rate prospects and he had that legit good 2015 just a couple years ago in Syracuse as a 23 year old.  There is talent there and maybe, if he keeps leaning into GB producing, he can be a decent back-end starter.On the other hand the "Three out of Four" (good K, good BB, good HR, bad H) that helped him rise through the minors has fallen away over the past couple years. He is giving up more[...]



The Nats signed Miguel Montero to a minor league deal.  This shouldn't surprise you. He was signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks back in 2001 when Rizzo would have been part of the process. Rizzo's D-back connections have gotten the Nats many a player

Max Schezer, Stephen Drew, Micah Owings, Ross Ohlendorf, Scott Hairston, Chad Tracy, & Dan Uggla were all guys Rizzo might have had a hand in drafting that ended up in the Nationals organization at one time or another. There may be more but this isn't a complaint. It makes sense. Rizzo saw something he liked in these players. They played well enough to make the major leagues so he wasn't wrong. Why not take a no-risk chance on someone like this?

The real question is - is Montero any good? And the answer is - no.

2016 - .216 / .327 / .357
2017 - .216 / .310 / .346

Montero used to hit for a little pop and a decent average, making him a pretty good offensive catcher. When he picked up some patience in 2012 it looked like he might have some staying power as he aged. But in 2013 the average dropped like a rock, meaning as soon as the very modest power went with age, no measure of patience would make him a usuable offensive player.  In 2015 he lost the ability to leg out doubles (25 doubles, 29 homers since that year).  In 2017 he stopped hitting homers (as many of his flyballs were infield pop-ups as home runs).  It's unlikely moving forward that he'd be worth putting at the plate.

Still catchers have different standards to live up to and it is not unusual for their defense to keep them on as a back-up for a few years after their bat fails them. Unfortunately Montero has a huge flaw. His framing has always been excellent and seems a competent enough receiver. But after hurting his back in 2016 Montero has no longer been able to throw out anyone. That's almost a literal statement. The league average in throwing out guys is around 27%-28%.  Montero worked himself to a peak of throwing out around 40%. Over the last two years he's thrown out about 10%. The Nats themselves pretty much got him out of Chicago by stealing seven bases against him and making him lash out against Jake Arrieta for supposedly holding guys on badly.  Even if that's true - that the Cubs team philosophy or starters were costing him some caught stealings - traded to another team Montero manage to raise his CS% all the way to... 13%.

Montero as is is an almost unusable catcher. He can't hit so he's not a starter. He can't throw anyone out so he's not a defensive replacement. Then why bring him in? As a favor. Just to kick the tires. Maybe a miracle has happened and the back has healed and he can throw guys out again making him a potential back-up. Maybe you think you see what's wrong and can mitigate his throwing issues and at the same time he seems to have a little more pop. There's no harm in looking.

I don't see Montero on the team, or in the organization, by the time Opening Day rolls around but strange things happen. I am all for any and all minor league signings.

Trade Soto or no


The Nats need a catcherOk the Nats don't NEED a catcher. They have catchers - the same catchers they had last year when they easily won the division and came (again) a hair's breadth from making the NLCS. So they can survive simply as is.But the Nats want a catcher.This is for two reasons. The first is their catchers stink for 2018.  Wieters surprisingly crashed - going from an average bat to a terrible one (.225 / .288 / .344).  The Nats favorite guy , Severino, would likely be worse at the plate, almost matching Wieters garbage numbers in the minors. Read is a little better bet to be passable, but nothing he's done so far makes you think he can hit well in the majors next year. The second is their catchers stink for the future. Severino can't hit. Read isn't that much better. There isn't anyone in system who looks promising. It's likely the Nats need not only an answer for 2018 but for 2019 and 2020 as well.JT Realmuto would solve that. He hits well. Not great but well. And he's under team control through 2020 getting paid the peanuts young guys get paid.So what's the hold up? Well the Marlins know Realmuto is a commodity. They know unlike Stanton (huge contract), Ozuna (making good money and only two years of control), or Dee Gordon (bad player being paid too much) Realmuto should fetch back something very good. Not Top prospect on team good but top prospect in league good. As far as the Nats are concerned that means one of two players, the hyped Victor Robles, and the possible up and comer Juan Soto.The Nats won't trade Robles and they probably shouldn't. Robles is a Top 5ish prospect. Those guys tend to end up useful major leaguers if not more. He is ready to contribute in 2018 so the Nats would be losing something in the now and the later. If the Nats are unsure about Bryce's future here, Robles serves (hopefully) as some level of insurance to losing him.But Juan Soto is different. Juan Soto is a Top 50ish propsect (varies from 29 to 56 right now). He is almost certain not to play for the 2018 Nationals and likely to premiere maybe by the end of 2019. He plays outfield which will at best have one open spot (if Bryce leaves) before 2021 and if MAT keeps doing OK, could have no spots open until then. He has already shown a tendency to injure. There's a lot to like about Soto - when healthy he shows both a power and patience beyond his years (19 in 2018) and he should be fine in a corner OF slot. But there's a lot of space and time between A-ball success and major league success. A lot of things can happen. Not the least of which is the Nats may no longer be good anymore.But Rizzo seems to strongly be against letting Soto go. Rizzo has repeatedly held onto his best bats, which have a higher hit rate than arms, and it's worked out for the team. He can win without Realmuto so it seems like it will remain his line in the sand. Yet, if I were him I'd deal.Why? Well because the Nats can trade a lottery ticket for actual value. They don't need lottery tickets right now. They have a team that can be very competitive through 2020 if they can avoid injury so why not maximize that team rather than worry about the team that may be coming down the road after that? Kept bats like Robles, Turner, Rendon, were all closer and higher when Rizzo made them off limits. Soto is hasn't even played in High A yet. The MLB pipeline is the one that likes him most (29) where have #29s gone?After 2015 it was Gleyber Torres a good match age wise- he turned into a top prospect, got traded, and got injured. He should still be good but it's likely he won't [...]

Monday Quickie


Of course there isn't much to talk about - it's the 2017-2018 MLB Offseason but I did want to note something about the age stuff I talked about Friday. I noted that being old doesn't mean being bad but I didn't exactly look for examples to prove that. Well looking at 2012, 2013 and 2014* I found examples that would be both heartening and discouraging.The oldest team, and the most discouraging one, during that stretch is easily the Phillies. They went from 102 game winning champs in 2011 to .500 in 2012 to 73 wins in 2013 and saddled with and old squad.  They'd have to sell-off beginning at this point and if things go well they will be back playing competitive baseball in 2019. The second oldest team was the SF Giants. They would win 94 games in 2012 - then only get to 88 once since then. But they were able to stay competitive through 2016 and in 2014 a rather average season ended with a World Series Championship. They are making one more go at it now. We'll see if it's ill-fated or enough to put the Giants back in contention for a couple years.Another old team was the Dodgers. The Dodgers would go on to win more games than anyone over the course of the next few seasons. The Dodgers would also spend a ton of money. Those things are related. Money can solve a lot of problems.A surprise team to show up among the oldies was the 2014 Milwaukee Brewers. They didn't really do much to get there - just added a couple 30 year olds and watched the rest of the team age in place.  They would, like the Phillies, immediately collapse into a fodder team. But by 2017 they were able to turn things around and they should be a WC / Division contender in 2018. These four teams kind of capture what can happen to the Nats over the next few years.They can become non-competitive and decide to trade it all away with hopes of a quick rebuild. After getting old in 2014 the Brewers gave it half a year then packed it in. They would trade Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Gomez, John Broxton, Gerardo Parra, Neal Cotts, Frankie Rodriguez, Adam Lind, Jean Segura, and Khris Davis away between the middle of the 2015 season and the start of the 2016 season**  They can become non-competitive but try to hold on and end up with a mess to dig out of. The Phillies got old actually way back in 2008 and would dominate the division through 2011. But the '08 team was deceptive. The team was grouped tightly around 30 and the key guys were still on the 20s side, if just. The 2011 was truly old with the best players being early 30s at least***. Still old got them success and they wouldn't begin trading until after 2014 was over. By then it was too late. The returns were small and the team couldn't quickly fix the problems they now faced.They can stay competitive and hope that by staying in the race they can get lucky one year. The Giants did this but the key was the best players were still young even if the team wasn't. Posey, Bumgarner, Belt, Crawford, Sandoval. They were able to just keep putting older pieces around that core, win in the high 80s, and get in the playoffs two more times.They can just throw money at the situation to stay competitive, keeping your best and bringing in enough expensive pieces to work around the young guys that actually develop. The Dodgers didn't keep everyone (Greinke) but they kept Kershaw, Jansen, Justin Turner when they lucked into his Daniel Murphy esque improvement. They signed a million arms to work around Kershaw, Ryu, Maeda, Hill most recently, and paid money into the amateur free agent market for guys like Puig. T[...]

The Nats have a problem


Back a couple years ago I went through a series of posts about how the Nats 2012 - ~2016 came together. About how it wasn't just about general managerial skill but a healthy dose of luck as well. These pieces of good fortune included:The hitting of their pre-window nadir coinciding with the availability of two generational players in the draft. In more iffy years you may have a first pick that's more Luke Hochevar or Tim Beckham The timing of the development and free agency of players - a couple guys come a year earlier, a couple a year later and the composition of the window is completely differentThe NL East collapsing - the most the Nats would have to face in divisional competition was one team and some years arguably even thatAnd another thing we'll talk about in a moment.The end results of all that and, let's not diminish it, some great organizational work, left the Nats with a team in August of 2012 that you could see competing with little change through at least August 2015 and the reality that they did so with relative ease*.  That relative ease meant the Nats could look to set-up continued success rather than be forced to put in more resources for the now at the expense of the later. Well things after Year 1 of Window 2** : Window Harder don't line up the same way The success meant lower draft picks that were promptly given up to sign Soriano, Scherzer, and Murphy. The only 1st rounder the Nats did pick was Erick Fedde, who is staring down 25 trying to be successful in AAA.The core of this window isn't wrapped around generational talent.The timing is off as the Nats are slated to lose numerous key components, Werth this year,  Byrce, Murphy, Gio, Madson next year, Rendon, Roark Kintzler after 2019The NL East? Well who knows. It seems like the Phillies are going to be competitive starting next year and the Mets are content to hang around with a .500 team and hope something good happens. So maybe this is no worse than before, but it'll probably be a little tougher... starting next year. And that other thingThe end result of all that is that the Nats of August 2017 are almost certainly not in general the Nats you will see on the field in August 2020. What that means for the Nats being competitive relies a lot more on how Rizzo (or whoever) put things together than the last window. And it may very well mean that to stay competitive in 2019 and 2020 the Nats may have to plan to rebuild a little in 2021 and beyond.But let's get to that other thing. It's age. When the Nats window opened in 2012 they were incredibly young2012 : Batting Age 27.2 - 2nd youngest in the NL; Pitching Age 27.0 - youngest in the NLBut as time has gone on the core aged, and then there were few young players to replace them. Instead the Nats made savvy trades and FA deals. That's great but it's less of a long term solution because the guys you trade for and sign are older2013: 27.7 (2nd), 27.7 (5th)2014: 28.7 (11th), 28.3 (8th)2015: 28.4 (9th), 28.6 (10th)2016: 28.8 (10th), 29.1 (13th)2017: 29.2 (14th), 30.1 (14th)The loss of Werth will help here but the core remains the same and a year older. Wieters, Zimm, Murphy, Kendrick will all be squarely mid 30s. Gio, Max, Tanner, Doolittle, Madson, Kintzler all early 30s. Outside of Robles, the replacements we are looking at are young but not very young. Dfio will be 26, MAT 27, Enny 27, Solis 29.This is not to say the Nats are going to fall apart in 2018. Not at all. Players in their early-mid 30s may be more likely to see injury and drop off issues[...]

Rendon or Bryce


So in the comments the guys are mulling over a question. If forced to sign one or the other, do you sign Rendon or do you sign Bryce?That may seem like a silly argument but let's take it seriously. Why would we even have this debate? Well the facts are that last year Anthony Rendon was probably more valuable than Bryce Harper. While he didn't hit as well (Bryce .319 / .413 / .595, Rendon .301 / .403 / .533) he still was very good at the plate. At the same time Rendon is a much better fielder and played 36 more games. That playing time and defense difference more than makes up for Bryce's advantage at the plate and Rendon was probably somewhere between a little and a lot more valuable to the Nats last year.So on that base level a comparison makes sense. Of course we have to take it further.Defensively, the is no argument. Bryce is just getting by in the outfield, not shining but not an embarrassment.* Rendon is one of the best 3rd basemen in baseball. This is an advantage that Rendon should hold for as long as weird health issues don't change things (see Zimmerman, Ryan)Baserunning should be an advantage for Bryce, as recently as 2016 he stole 20+ bases. However, that's been put on the back-burner for Bryce as he only stole 4 bases last year. Neither Bryce or Rendon are extremely efficient either so this ends up being a wash.Now we get to offense. Bryce is simply a better hitter. Bryce's worst years are above average. Rendon's are not. A healthy Rendon on his game is an All-Star hitter. A healthy Bryce on his game is putting up seasons for the ages. Bryce has shown prodigious power and the ability to hit for high average. We can say that Rendon has developed more as a hitter. Rendon's patience has steadily increased while his K-rate dropped a bunch last year. Bryce on the other hand seems to take what he is given, his walk-rate back down last year while his K-Rate sits about where it historically is. This gets to a big question. Have we seen Rendon's best or can he continue to improve? If you think he can get better - that it's injuries that have held him back - then he probably CAN compete with a typical Bryce  season at the plate like last year. That makes this argument make sense even beyond looking at last year.But now we get to two things that make us question if Rendon can get better. One is the injury history. Neither guy is known to be healthy. Bryce has missed the 30-50 games in three of his six seasons. Rendon missed half a season in 2015 and suffered multiple major injuies in college and the minor leagues. While Rendon has been healthier in the recent past, I have a hard time assuming he'll be healthier than Bryce going forward. If I can't assume that then I can't assume he can catch Bryce at the plate because while a healthy Rendon may catch 2017 Bryce, a healthy Bryce should blow 2017 Bryce out of the water.The second thing is Rendon's age. Rendon is almost 2 1/2 years older than Bryce. That matters. Nicks and dings in a lifetime of ball add up. Age takes it's general toll as issues are harder to overcome. You lose reaction time, flexibilty, etc. If Rendon were a year younger you might give him that benefit of the doubt but at over 2 years older why would you put your money on Rendon to improve more than the younger Bryce? The 130 more ML games in Bryce's pocket? I suppose. Me I'll go with age.Where I end up is thinking Rendon will never be the hitter Bryce is, and if Bryce is healthy, which we have to assume here, he is such a transcendent [...]

Tuesday Quickie - still nothing


The talk of the off-season is how there is no off-season. After a flurry of middle reliever signings the hot stove went cold and has been that way every since. There has been some work by the Giants to try to fashion together a contender while Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner can still carry the team, but it only has so much impact on the Nats.Until another team makes a splash there are only 6 teams the Nats have to worry about, the Nats have to look at the Cubs and the Dodgers and the rest of the NL East.The NL East has made it fairly easy on them. The Marlins have shut things down opting to go all-out instead of all-in, with the hopes of creating an Astros type cheap winner in the future. The Braves are already 3 years down that path very close to wasting Freddie Freeman's prime as neither their starters or offensive players have come together as they hoped and they have no interest in spending. The Phillies are starting to come out of that path but you can see a reluctance to buy in this off-season when they are likely a year away and next year may be full of FA gems.This leaves the Mets, who only seem to find their way once every five years or so. They did get the magic of having pitching come together at the same time and carry them to the playoffs. But like the 2012-2015 Nats discovered, that's not enough by itself. Guys get injured or just don't dominate every year. You need a very good to great offense too to balance it out if you want every year success. The Mets aren't likely to get that from next year's team unless they do more work or hit on every prospect. So again, they are relying on everyone healthy and great on the staff to compete. It's a gamble unlikely to pay off.The Cubs lost some big free agents and are attempting to patch the problem. Wade Davis was replaced by Brandon Morrow who is not as good.  Arrieta and Lackey are gone, but Quintana steps in to the rotation full-time. Tyler Chatwood fills the other role and again it's likely not as strong a player as the one who left. All this means is that today the Cubs are not as good as last year. Which is good for the Nats who are stable. The Dodgers who won 100 games last year are going to be basically the same team. They lose FAs that either didn't matter (Franklin Gutierrez, Chase Utley) or who came by trade (Darvish, Granderson, Watson).  Only the aforementioned Brandon Morrow played a big role all year and it's difficult to see a middle relief pitcher loss derailing this team. They squeaked out enough health from a talented but injury-prone starting staff to survive but expect another trade for a starter mid-season. So the Dodgers may not be better but talent wise they won't be worse either - that's not great for the Nats but given the way things line up it's not likely the Nats will be worrying about that in the DS round.You can see why the Nats don't feel pressure to move forward even in a buyer friendly market. The division threat level is low predicated on a Mets rotation hitting on all cylinders or a surprise. The playoff threat level is no stronger than last year a year where the Nats took the Cubs to the last few innings of the last game of the NLDS. Perhaps something more is needed for the playoffs, but it's hard to say it's needed today. So the remaining offseason will likely be determined by long term planning (do you trade for someone assuming Bryce will leave) or by reactions. If Darvish signs with the Cubs, that pushes the Cubs ahea[...]

Mike Rizzo, not happy


Back in the old days of 2011 Mike Rizzo said something approximating this when referring to the unhappy Jim Riggleman. "Just shut up and do your job" Well Rizzo has ceased to shut up and do his job.

Now in part, there is no off-season for Rizzo. He can't just wait until the season is over to deal with things like Riggleman could. But still - this isn't the look you want from your GM. He feels underappreciated and (likely) underpaid for the work that he's done. He's probably right.

So should he get paid? Well yes. But it's also hard for me to feel sorry for the guy given that Dusty and Davey were also underappreciated and underpaid and Rizzo in public shrugged his shoulders at that saying nothing. 

Rizzo has helped steward the Nats to six years and presumably at least seven, of competitive baseball. He has made a mistake or two, but they have been outweighed by numerous correct decisions and the Nats have found themselves in the playoffs in four of the past 6 seasons, with 5 in 7 looking likely. He got a certain amount of luck with timing in terms of the original run of success, but was able to extend that beyond when it might have normally turned.
Rizzo has managed this continued success without sacrificing success beyond today. He understands the difference between a top prospect and another guy. He has protected the best guys while being mostly reasonable in his parting with the rest. Again, it hasn't been perfect but here we are going into 2018 looking at another projected 90+ win season.

Rizzo has done this despite the peculiarities of the ownership, with it making spending like squeezing blood from a stone, peppered with high-priced Boras signings.

Another GM could have done all this but it seems more likely another GM would have tripped along the way. Maybe he would have traded Rendon for help back in 2014, or managed not to extend Strasburg after 2016. Another GM probably wouldn't have been that far off Rizzo (ok and may have gotten the nats to a CS or WS) but likely wouldn't have gotten the level of sustained success and that could mean 3 playoffs, not 4, and looking at a declining future not one with a measure of hope. 

Rizzo is worth keeping. I hope the Nats make this work.

Nats sign Kendrick


Here's a tweet

It makes too much sense to be anything but pleased.

The Nats needed someone to play 2nd base for a while if Murphy couldn't open the season.  Howie can do that.

The Nats needed a veteran 4th OF.  Howie can do that

The Nats needed a veteran IF bench player. Howie can do that

The Nats didn't want to spend a lot of money.  Howie didn't get that. 3.5 million a year (or I'm going to guess 3 this year, 4 next) is not a lot.

The Nats wanted someone good. Howie is that.

Now obviously Howie can't fill all those holes at the same time, but the hope is a Difo or Goodwin or someone else can step up and take one of those spots. 

Yes he's a little on the older side now.  He'll be 34/35 this year (birthday in July) so 36 when the contract expires. But if he was younger that his long streak of average to slightly above average offense would have gotten him more than the Nats offered. 

There's no point in repeating exactly what we said about him just last July so go read that. If you want it brief : negatives - not patient, not powerful, has had injuries. positives - great contact, good average, good runner, good fielder, not complete zero in patience/power. Arguably good enough to be your 3rd OF, definitely good enough to be an all-around super sub. Especially at that price.

I suppose a pessimist might think "Well if we got Howie for this cheap couldn't we have gotten X Pitcher/Catcher for cheap first?"   Maybe. We don't know how those markets are progressing. We'll have to wait until the Nats are done, the league is done, before we can address that.

For now, nothing but positives for this move in the moment.