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Offseason #ChinMusic: Nationals to upgrade at catcher?, should Nats trade for Giancarlo Stanton? and more

Galdi gives his thoughts on and analysis of the Nationals, Orioles and MLB in the offseason (Nov. 4-Nov. 10)

 

 

1. Something that I’ve never been able to understand is why MLB free agency moves so much slower than free agencies in the NFL, NBA and NHL.  Those three leagues almost always see their top free agents sign within days of the starts of free-agency periods.  The top NFL NBA and NHL free agents are almost always off the market within a few days.  But MLB is a totally different story.  MLB free agency moves at a snail’s pace.  So often the big guns don’t sign for weeks if not months.  Do you remember when the Nats singed Max Scherzer?  Jan. 21, 2015 – nearly three months after free agency started that offseason.  Why is this the case?  I’ve never heard a good explanation.  Maybe you have one.

Along these lines, there is very little buzz for the start of MLB free agency.  I did an Internet search now two Saturday mornings ago for the exact start time of when players could sign with any team in MLB free agency this offseason; I felt like I was searching for the nuclear code.  This could not have been more hidden.  CBSSports.com had the start time as just after midnight on Nov. 7.  That was incorrect.  Full-fledged free agency started at 5 p.m. on Monday.  I watched two one-hour shows on MLB Network that afternoon: High Heat with Christopher Russo and MLB Now hosted by Brian Kenny.  There was zero mention of the start of full-fledged free agency, let alone any kind of countdown clock.  Why?  How are you not hyping this if you’re MLB?  MLB needs all of the help it can get in terms of attracting a younger audience.  The intrigue and drama generated by free agency have been great for the NBA in recent summers.  MLB needs to do a better job of hyping and selling its “hot stove.”

 

2. The expected – the no-brainer – became official on Monday, when the Nats announced that Matt Wieters had exercised his player option to remain with the team for 2018.  We have had the Wieters conversation many times, so there’s not much need to bash him again.  Just understand that he was the worst hitting catcher in the majors last season: wRC+ of 62, which was no. 33 out of 33 catchers each with at least 300 plate appearances.  And understand that his framing numbers were terrible again: -15.7 Runs Above Average, the 11th-worst total in the majors.  I hated the decision last February 24 to sign him to a one-year, $10.5 million contract with a $10.5 million player option for 2018, and that decision only looks worse now.  The signing was clearly the result of the Lerners’ relationship with Scot Boras, because there is no convincing me that a general manager as smart as Mike Rizzo truly wanted to sign a declining player who the Orioles couldn’t wait to get rid of.

But what’s most interesting now is what exactly do the Nats have planned for catcher in 2018.  They can’t go into the season with Wieters has their no. 1.  You can’t declare “World Series or bust” as the franchise essentially has in its latest managerial change and go with a guy who had a career-worst -0.6 bWAR last season and is going into his age-32 season.  The Nats have two other catchers on their 40-man roster: two Dominicans in Pedro Severino and Raudy Read.  Severino was the Nats’ catcher of the future a year ago, but he struggled with injuries at ineffectiveness for Triple-A Syracuse this past season.  Read is actually ranked ahead of Severino on MLB Pipeline’s list of the Nats’ top prospects (14 vs. 15).  But neither is considered a slam dunk.

The man who replaced Wieters’ as the Orioles’ starting catcher, Welington Castillo, as expected, declined his $7 million player option this week.  He had a 2.1 bWAR this past season and should be considered.  Other intriguing free-agent catchers are Alex Avila (2.7 bWAR with Detroit and the Cubs this past season) and Chris Ianetta (1.8 bWAR with Arizona this last season).  Jonathan Lucroy is coming off a down season with Texas and Colorado and perhaps could be had on the cheap.  The point is that there are options out there.  The Nats can do a lot better than Wieters and should attempt to do so.

By the way, Ron Darling made a very good point on High Heat on Thursday regarding Wieters and the infamous passed ball during the Javier Baez plate appearance on strike three in the Cubs’ four-run fifth off Max Scherzer in NLDS Game 5 last month.  The umpires have taken a lot of criticism for missing that Baez’s bat struck Wieters and thus the play should have been ruled dead, Baez should have been ruled out on a strikeout and the inning should have been over.  Dusty Baker has taken a lot of criticism for not forcefully arguing that the umpires had gotten the ruling wrong.  But what about Wieters?  Why didn’t he do a better job of selling and arguing what had happened to him?  I thought that Darling made a really good point.

 

3. The juiciest item so far this MLB offseason is the expectation that Miami is going to trade right fielder Giancarlo Stanton.  The Marlins have a new ownership group that includes Derek Jeter, have been losing a lot of money and have not had a winning record since 2009.  And so the belief is that they are wanting to trade not just Stanton but also potentially left fielder Marcell Ozuna, center fielder Christian Yelich and catcher J.T. Realmuto.

What’s funny is that you could argue that Stanton will cost the least in terms of trade compensation.  That has mostly to due with his onerous contract, which has 10 years and 285 million dollars left on it before a $25 million team option or $10 million buyout for 2028.  A number of teams have come up as potential trade destinations for Stanton.  MLB insider Jon Morosi of FOX Sports and MLB Network tweeted on Friday night that the following teams had had preliminary communication with the Marlins regarding Stanton: Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco and St. Louis.  But what about the Nats?

Personally, I wouldn’t trade for Stanton if I’m the Nats.  He is incredibly injury prone (he has played in at least 145 games in a season just twice over the last six seasons), he has that enormous contract and he would require the Nats giving up more prospects that, off the trades of the last few years, the team can’t afford to be giving up anymore.  Additionally, the Nats are loaded with outfielders with Bryce Harper, Michael A. Taylor, Adam Eaton, Brian Goodwin and top prospects Victor Robles and Juan Soto.

That said, there are a few factors that do make the Nats trading for Stanton at least somewhat compelling:

  • What if the Nats internally believe that Bryce Harper is as good as gone after 2018? There are very few batters in the majors who are in Harper’s class.  Stanton is one of them.  The 59 homers this past season were great, but know also that his career wRC+ of 144 is better than Harper’s (141).  Also, the Nats’ offense could be in store for some regression next season given Daniel Murphy having undergone microfracture surgery on his right knee and Ryan Zimmerman seemingly unlikely to duplicate his Ryanaissance of 2017 (138 wRC+, 36 home runs).
  • Stanton isn’t just a great hitter. He is also a very good right fielder: career-best 10 Defensive Runs Saved in 2017, 45 career Defensive Runs Saved in 8,259 innings.
  • Stanton’s contract brigs with it cost certainty. I say this all of the time regarding the Kirk Cousins Contract #ChaChaCha: today’s overpay is tomorrow’s bargain.  Well, Stanton at 10 years for $295 million works out to an AAV (average annual value) of $29.5 million.  Harper is expected to get at least a $35 million AAV.  Also, Stanton can opt out of his contract following the 2020 season.  So you could potentially get Stanton for the next three seasons at $77 million and then see him leave as he’s going into his age-31 season.  That just might be an ideal scenario.

 

Miami Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton bats during the first inning of a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves, Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

 

4. The Nats have two of the three finalists for the National League Cy Young award in Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg.  The Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw is the other.  It’s very cool that the Nats have two of the three finalists for NL Cy Young.  But let’s make this clear: this is Scherzer’s award.  He outdid Strasburg and Kershaw in bWAR, fWAR, RA9-WAR, Win Probability Added, K/9 and WHIP.  Scherzer should win a Cy Young for third time in five seasons.

 

5. Orioles left fielder Trey Mancini is one of three finalists for American League Rookie of the Year.  He has zero chance of winning, as the award will go to Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge, who has a compelling case for AL MVP.  But Mancini would be a leading contender in many other seasons.  He had a 120 OPS+ over 586 plate appearances, smashing 24 homers.  The defensive metrics didn’t love his work in left field, though he only finished with -1 Defensive Runs Saved.  But in a season that spiraled downward for the O’s, they did at least potentially establish their corner outfielders for years to come in Mancini (a 2013 eighth-round pick out of Notre Dame) and Austin Hays (a 2016 third-round pick out of Jacksonville University who slaughtered pitching at High-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie last season).

 

6. Both the Nats and the O’s were shut out of Gold Glove Awards on Tuesday night.  The Nats had two finalists: Anthony Rendon and Michael A. Taylor.  The O’s had one finalist: Manny Machado.

Rendon was beaten by Colorado’s Nolan Arenado, who won the National League Gold Glove Award for third base for a fifth straight season.  Arenado led all NL third basemen with an 11.0 SABR Defensive Index, and his 20 Defensive Runs Saves nearly tripled Rendon’s seven, so it’s hard to be mad about this.  But Rendon did blow away Arenado in Ultimate Zone Rating (13.6 vs. 6.7).

Taylor has a more legitimate gripe.  Atlanta’s Ender Inciarte won the NL Gold Glove Award for center field for a second straight season despite finishing second to Taylor in the SDI; Taylor led all NL center fielders with a 7.9 SDI.  And Taylor had nine Defensive Runs Saved to Inciarte’s five.  And Taylor had a 10.1 Ultimate Zone Rating to Inciarte’s 2.2.  What exactly were the voters looking at?

Machado had six Defensive Runs Saved but actually a negative SDI (-2.5).  Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria led all American League third basemen in SDI and won the Gold Glove Award for the position.

 

7. The Roy Halladay news on Tuesday was sickening.  The 40-year-old former Philadelphia Phillies and Toronto Blue Jays ace died at 40 in a plane crash off the coast of Florida, as the small single-engine aircraft he was piloting went down.  Halladay is a great example of “figuring it out.”  He went from having a 10.64 ERA in 2000 to having a Hall-of-Fame-worthy career.  Halladay, in fact, was optioned to the Blue Jays’ Single-A affiliate to start the 2001 season in order to rebuild his delivery.  He is one of just six pitchers to win a Cy Young in each league (Max Scherzer is another).  And here is my favorite Halladay stat: from 2003 through 2011, he had more complete games than any other two pitchers combined.

 

8. The Modern Baseball Era Committee, which is charged with the process of electing players into the National Baseball Hall of Fame through the Veterans Committee process, announced 10 candidates for election on Monday.  The candidates include nine players whose careers spanned a good chunk of the era from 1970-87, plus the late Marvin Miller, the MLB Players Association leader who revolutionized rights for players.  The players are Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Ted Simmons, Luis Tiant and Alan Trammell.  The 16-person panel assigned to vote on them will be determined later this fall, with the vote is slated to be announced Dec. 10 live on MLB Network and MLB.com at 6 p.m. ET as the Winter Meetings open this year in Orlando, Fla.

There are strong cases to be made for a number of these guys.  The two most deserving, to me, are Miller and Trammell.

Miller is a no-doubter, and that he died in Nov. 2012 without having been inducted is a real shame.  This guy took Major League players from borderline abuse to having the most powerful union in not only sports but maybe the country.  His achievements as MLBPA executive director are too numerous to get into, but I highly recommend the book Lords of the Realm: The Real History of Baseball by John Helyar.

As for Trammell, he is someone who just a few years ago I wouldn’t have thought was Hall-of-Fame worthy.  But the more I looked at his career – and with the right numbers – the more I was impressed.  JAWS – the Jaffe WAR Score System, which was developed by Jay Jaffe of SI.com and involves averaging a player’s career Wins Above Replacement per Baseball Reference (bWAR) and seven-year-peak bWAR.  WAR forces you to confront the totality of a player – his batting, baserunning and defense.  The JAWS average for 21 Hall-of-Fame shortstops is 54.8.  Trammel’s JAWS is 57.5, better than those of Derek Jeter and Hall-of-Famers such as Barry Larkin, Lou Boudreau and Joe Cronin.  Notice, I’m not comparing Trammel with the worst of the Hall-of-Fame shortstops; I’m saying that he rates better than the average Hall-of-Fame shortstop.  He was an elite defensive shortstop for 12 seasons (1980-91), was good batter (career OPS+ of 110) and came up big for the 1984 World-Series-champion Detroit Tigers in the postseason.

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