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Nationals Offseason Outlook: Part Two

September 23, 2011 in Uncategorized

Left Field: Returning- Michael Morse, Roger Bernadina:

Until Bryce Harper is ready to come up, which should be between June 2012 and June 2013, the Nationals are fine having Mike Morse as their primary left fielder. His defense leaves a lot to be desired, but Morse the last year and a half has been an offensive force. If he keeps that up no one will care about his defense in the outfield. Bernadina is a good 4th outfielder to have around, because he can back up any position and has really good speed. He'd be a nice late inning replacement for Morse. The real issue is what do the Nationals do when Bryce Harper is ready for the majors. Now this affects all the outfielders, but with Jayson Werth's contract he is all but untradable (even if he was producing) Morse on the other hand has a favorable contract decided by Arb. (through 2013), and if the Nationals get a big return back it would make some sense, to deal him to clear way for Harper.

Center field: Returning-None

The Nationals really don't have an internal center field option for next season as Bernadina, Werth and Harper are all better fits at the corner. The team instead is probably going to acquire one of the following:

Denard Span- The Nationals were close to acquiring Span at the trade deadline for closer Drew Storen, the fact that Span has been out with a concussion probably torpedoed any chance for a deal, but they could revisit it this offseason. Span is still in his 20's and signed to a very team favorable deal for the next few seasons. The Nats might need to give up one of their top relievers and a prospect, but it should be worth it.

B.J. Upton- Another popular target for the Nationals. Upton is in his final arbitration year, and the Rays are probably ready to move on. It won't cost as much as Span, but they'd also need to workout a long term contract. Also, Upton isn't nearly as good as a leadoff hitter as Span.

Peter Bourjos-Bourjos had a really nice first full season with the Angels this year, show good promise at the plate, excellent defense and quality base running. Unfortunately for Bourjos is there is no real guaranteed spot next year. As uber-prospect Mike Trout is ready to take CF, and both Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter are under contract for next season. Instead the Angels might look to capitalize on Bourjos and deal him while his value is the highest (he still has 5 years of team control left). The Nationals would need to part with one of their top relievers and probably another prospect, but they could fill their CF hole.

Right field- Returning: Jayson Werth:

This has been a rough year for Jayson Werth, but I do believe that he could rebound and be an effective outfielder again. The Nationals might not fully get their money's worth, but if he starts hitting they can come close.

Overview:

The Nationals should consider adding an impact bat at 1B if they can afford it, while grabbing a lead-off hitter/CF via trade. Dealing Mike Morse might be an option if Bryce Harper is ready this season, otherwise it will be a good problem for the Nationals to have.

Nationals Offseason Outlook: Part 1

September 16, 2011 in Uncategorized

Catcher: Returning: Wilson Ramos, Jesus Flores

While Pudge Rodriguez will no longer be part of this group the Nationals don't need to necessarily rush out and grab a catcher. Flores isn't a great back-up, but he is cheap and under team control. Ramos has established himself as a pretty solid major league catcher, and at just 24 his best years are ahead of him.

First base: Returning: Adam LaRoche, Chris Marrero, Michael Morse?

The Nats on paper look to be okay at first base next season, but I don't think they are as good as they appear to be. Morse this year has displayed the offensive potential to handle the position, but it appears like the Nationals want to move him back to the outfield. LaRoche is under contract for this year, and is a solid option for a non-contending team (or maybe a cheaper option on a contending team), but the fact is even with his defense LaRoche isn't a top 15 1st baseman in this league. And if the Nationals want to contend they will need a top 15 (and actually better) first baseman to be in the heart of their lineup. Particularly while they deal with below average production from other areas. Now I know a lot of Nationals fans have liked seeing Chris Marrero in the lineup, but he isn't the answer either. His defense has been pretty poor, and despite having a nice average his value as a hitter is fairly minimal. Of his 19 hits just 3 have gone for extra bases (all doubles), and he has just 3 walks to go along with 15 strikeouts. Now if he had shown more in the minors maybe he'd be worth the shot, but his power production in the minors has always been moderate at best.

Options: Sign a big name free agent Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols- It would be a bit of a shock, but the Nationals are a team on the rise, with plenty of money to spend. Given the need that they have it makes sense, and would give them the impact bat that they need.

Trade for Logan Morrison- Another option would be to try to pry Morrison away from the Marlins. Morrison and the Marlins have had a messy marriage so far, but by all accounts Morrison isn't a bad teammate, and has been handled fairly poorly by the Marlins. While Morrison has been trotted out in LF by the Marlins, he is actually awful out there and is a far better option at 1B. Morrison's .801 OPS isn't groundbreaking, but given his success in the minors, his age (24), and the fact that he's been dealing with playing out of position, I think it is a number that is likely to jump up. He's still going to cost a couple of solid prospects or better from the Nationals, but he is the type of young player who shouldn't be available at all Making him a prime target for Washington.

2B: Returning: Danny Espinosa

Danny Espinosa has had a pretty good rookie campaign. While his offensive production ground to a halt, he's been a sure defender, who has shown that he has 25 HR power. He needs to cut down on the strikeouts and make more consistent contact, but overall he looks to be a quality major leaguer.

SS: Returning: Ian Desmond

Desmond has no doubt had his struggles, but his defense has vastly improved this year, and his offense is weighted down by such a horrendous start. Since the All-Star break Desmond is hitting .294/.342/.436, which is over a .200 jump in his OPS from before the break. While it is still a concern that he will revert back to his old ways, Desmond is a young controllable shortstop, with good defense, and solid offensive potential.

3B: Returning: Ryan Zimmerman

The only thing the Nationals need to do here is extend Zimmerman to a long term contract. Zimmerman is one of the best players in the game and the heart of this team. Yes he has been banged up some, but his offensive/defensive potential is among the best in the league.

 

Check back later for Part 2 where I look at the outfield and the pitching staff!

Nationals Need To Look At Extending Players This Offseason

September 2, 2011 in Uncategorized

Thus far in the Nationals history signing guys to contract extensions has pretty much been reserved for relievers or mediocre veteran players, who really shouldn't have been extended. The lone exception has been star 3B Ryan Zimmerman, who did deserve his extension. Now though the Nationals are at the point where they need to lockup some home grown talent long term, and would be wise to do so this offseason. The three players the Nationals should primarily lock up are Ryan Zimmerman (again), John Lannan, and Jordan Zimmermann. Here is the case for each player and what it might take:

Ryan Zimmerman: The Nationals star third baseman still has two years and $26 million left on his current deal, but the time is now to lock up Zimmerman. The last thing the Nationals want to do is go into the 2013 season with a big question mark about whether or not their best player will be there in 2014 and beyond. Yes it is possible to wait till next offseason to negotiate a deal, but that can be problematic for two reasons. One, it can put too much pressure on both sides and force them to get entrenched. Two, salaries are continuing to grow even if you Zimmerman's value is the exact same a year from now it will cost a little bit more money each season.

Another issue is that it is very likely that Zimmerman's value will increase in the next season, which will further raise the stakes for the contract extension. Right now Zimmerman's value is down because he has missed some time over the last 4 seasons. Twice in the last four years Zimmerman will have missed about 60 games (including this season), and last year he missed an additional 20 games. While that has been frustrating, it is a part of baseball, and the positive is none of them appear to be recurring/lingering issues. In fact they have kept his numbers even lower than they should be. When healthy though, Zimmerman has established himself as an MVP caliber player. Now he doesn't get the MVP consideration, despite deserving it. In 2009 Zimmerman, won the Silver Slugger Award, the Gold Glove, but finished just 25th in voting. According to Fangraphs Zimmerman was 4th in the league in WAR (he was lower in Baseball Reference's, but still higher than 25th). Now I'm not saying MVP awards should be done solely on WAR, and I could have maybe understood him being knocked down a couple of spots, but to finish 25th and receive just two votes is a joke. In 2010, the voters didn't like him too much better as he finished in 16th place with just 18 vote points. Yet again Zimmerman won the silver slugger award, played fantastic defense and this time finished in the top 3 in WAR (according to Fangraphs). Instead of Zimmerman such star players like Ryan Howard (who is roughly a middle of the road 1B), Aubrey Huff (good year, but 50 points less on OPS, and not a good defender), Buster Posey (played just over 100 games), Brian Wilson (unless a closer only gives up one run or less all year they shouldn't be considered for the MVP), and Martin Prado (do I even need to explain?) got more votes (some a lot more) than Zimmerman.

I get it that Zimmerman doesn't get votes because the Nationals have been in the basement these past few years, but that is a horrible misinterpretation of  'value'. While that is another battle altogether you can't tell me that Zimmerman doesn't deserve first place votes or top 5 finishes. But because of the voters miscalculations Zimmerman's star is a bit dimmer when it comes to renegotiating a contract, that though could very well change next season. If Zimmerman reverts back to his 2009-2010 production and stays healthy his price tag will skyrocket. And there is a fair chance that the league will take notice next year. The Nationals might not be a true World Series contender, but they should at least be in the playoff mix next season. And if Zimmerman produces, he very well could end up in the top 5 of votes, which will further increase his value.

How much will it cost: The two most cited recent contract extensions are Troy Tulowitzki and Ryan Braun, both were fellow 2005 draftees so the age is the same, though Zimmerman has another year of service time than them, which means they renegotiated from a worst position. In terms of value Braun is the best hitter, but his defense and less important position arguably makes him less valuable than Tulo or Zimmerman. But he got more new money than Tulowitzki, but he also took $18 million in deferred payments, so it is actually less real money during the life of the contract. Essentially though both players got about $20+ million a year in their extensions.

I would offer Zimmerman a 7-year $141.75 million dollar deal, which equates to a $20.25 million average between 2014-2020. But I'd look to structure it differently so as to give Washington the most payroll flexibility. Similar to both Tulowitzki and Braun, I'd add an option for 2021, though I'd look to make the option less, at $12 million, and the buyout more, at $6 million. That way if Zimmerman is still a solid player you can keep him around for just an extra $6 million. That means now the average for the 7 years is under $19.5 million, but I wouldn't stop there. I'd make $10 million of that deal a signing bonus, to be paid out in two $5 million installments each of these next two years (The Brewers did something similar in Braun's deal). This mean's Zimmerman will make $17 and 18 million now each of these next two seasons, but why not. Zimmerman will be in his prime during those seasons and should still outproduce that rate. At the same time, even if the Nationals went out and signed a mega free agent like Prince Fielder or Jose Reyes, they still wouldn't come close to their sustainable payroll threshold, since so many of their players are still in their rookie or arbitration years. By paying that money now the Nationals help keep Zimmerman's contract down, when they need to extend guys like Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. That brings down the average for the 7 new years to about $18 million a year, instead I'd structure it as the following:

2014-2016: $20 million a year

2017: $19 million

2018: $16 million

2019: $15.75 million

2020: $15 million

This keeps the majority of the money in his most productive years (and has the benefit for Zimmerman of more current money), and should help allow the Nationals to maintain a cleaner payroll.

Jordan Zimmermann: Don't be fooled by Jordan Zimmerman's 8-10 record this season, he has been everything the Nationals have asked and more, and looks to be a very good number 2 pitcher going forward. He's entering an uncertain contract status, as he could not end up having enough service time and still be under a rookie contract, or he might qualify for Super-Two status, which means that the Nationals still control his rights for the next four years, but all four of them are based on arbitration, which will add up to $10 million (probably more like $6 million) to his earnings these next four years. While it complicates matters in terms of renegotiating, his status will be known this offseason and either way the Nationals should look to extend him to a long term deal.

There isn't as great of a precedent for doing deals like this, but now is the time to strike for the Nationals. Even if Zimmermann goes to arbitration this year, his award will be depressed given the fact that he lost about a year and a third to Tommy John surgery, and was shut down after just 26 starts this season. Also while his stuff has been great both as a rookie and this season, he has just a 12-18 career record, and wins matter a lot in terms of arbitration awards. If he goes to arbitration four times he should get rough estimates of : $1.5 million, $3.75 million, $7.5 million, $10 million, or $22.75 million. If this year is his final rookie year it will probably be closer to: $0.5 million, $2.75 million, $5.75 million, $8 million or $17 million (like I said probably about a $6 million difference). Now performance will matter a lot in determining these awards, but that is good because you could negotiate a very team friendly deal. Right now if Zimmermann were to go to arbitration, he'd have a losing record, under 50 starts, and 300 innings to his credit. And even if he goes out with another great year next year, the fact that he missed so much time will hurt his earning potential. And if he has another injury (even just to miss a month or two) his earnings will fall as well. The Nationals though can offer to extend him, which is guaranteed money, and hopefully gets him at a reduced rate. I would look to negotiate a 5 year deal, which will buyout one free agent year, with a club option for a second free agent year. Now the breakdown will be different depending on whether or not he reaches Super Two status. Here are the two breakdown's:

Non-Super Two status: 2012: $1 million, 2013: $2.5 million, 2014: $4 million, 2015: $7 million 2016: $10 million 2017: $12.5 million ($3 million buyout): Grand Total: $27.5 million guaranteed (plus incentives). Now Zimmerman wouldn't get as much if he went year-to-year, but this does guarantee him some good money, and can probably include more favorable incentives than if he went year-to-year as well.

Super Two status: 2012: $ 2 million, 2013: $3.5 million, 2014: $6.5 million, 2015: $8.5 million 2016: $12 million, 2017: $14 million ($4 million buyout): Grand Total: $36.5 million guaranteed (plus incentives). Again a bit less than what he'd make year-to-year, but it definitely shows how much more leverage he'd have. Either way the Nationals should get something done to lock him up cheaper than going year-to-year.

John Lannan: Unlike Ryan Zimmerman or Jordan Zimmermann, Lannan isn't a star. He has developed into a quality back of the rotation, left-handed innings eater, which is fairly valuable. He is also primed to be the lone 'veteran' on next year's staff, and as of now, the only one who can be counted on to go 200 innings. While he isn't exactly a great pitcher, the Nationals would be wise to lock him up to a team friendly deal, so they don't have to overpay for similar production on the free agent market. Now Lannan still has two arbitration years left, which will probably earn him nearly $11 million. If I'm the Nationals I look to buy those out, in addition to his first free agent year, and a pair of option years, with the following contract offer:

2012: $3 million, 2013: $5 million, 2014: $6.5 million, 2015: $7 million (or a $2 million buyout), 2016: $7.25 million (or a $1.5 million buyout).

That makes it either a 3 year $16.5 million deal, or a 4 year $23 million deal.

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