Galdi gives his thoughts on and analysis of the Nationals, Orioles and MLB in the offseason (Dec. 2-Dec. 8)
1. MLB’s Winter Meetings are Dec. 10-14 in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Let’s make something clear: this offseason has been brutally slow. The Giancarlo Stanton and Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes have a lot to do with that, but I also think that a big part of this is just the slow nature of MLB free agency. For whatever reason, MLB free agency moves at a snail’s pace and nowhere near as quickly as NFL, NBA and NHL free agencies. Will next year be different? The 2018-19 free-agent class is set to be the greatest ever: Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, Clayton Kershaw (if he opts out), Andrew Miller. If ever there was an MLB offseason that was set to be NFL- or NBA-like, the 2018-19 one is it. Also, do you know where next year’s Winter Meetings are? Harper’s hometown of Las Vegas.
2. We learned on Friday that Ohtani is signing with the Angels in what is a huge coup for them. The potential to have Ohtani and the best player on the planet, Mike Trout, for years to come is scary. The Stanton saga is getting crazy, as we learned on Friday that he had used his no-trade clause to reject deals to San Francisco and St. Louis and that the Yankees, who already have Aaron Judge as their right fielder, reportedly were emerging as a potential landing spot for Stanton. But what about the Nationals? Will they be making a big splash at the Winter Meetings or in this offseason in general? Well, Mike Rizzo’s history is that he pulls off at least one big move each offseason. Consider this decade:
3. So what might the Nats do this offseason? The no. 1 need for the Nats at the Winter Meetings is a starting pitcher. The team appears set with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark occupying the first four spots in the rotation. But Joe Ross isn’t expected to be back from his recovery from Tommy John surgery until at least July. Erick Fedde was disappointing over three major-league starts last season and then was shut down in September due to a right forearm flexor strain. A.J. Cole has been given chance after chance and yet has a 4.52 ERA and 1.45 WHIP in 22 major-league games (17 starts) over the last three seasons.
The Nats don’t need to dish out a $100+ million contract for a back-end-of-the-rotation starter. But remember that Gio is set to be a free agent after the 2018 season. The Nats, if they want, can get out ahead of that by signing someone to a longer-term deal this offseason.
Some free-agent starting pitchers to consider.
4. The no. 2 need for the Nats at the Winter Meetings is a catcher. Now, whether Mike Rizzo is allowed by the Lerners to spend decent money on a catcher with the Nats already spending $10.5 million on Matt Wieters again for 2018 is a different question. But make no mistake: the Nats can’t declare “World Series or bust” and yet go into the 2018 season with Wieters as their no. 1 catcher. He had a career-worst -0.6 bWAR last season and is going into his age-32 season. 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. His framing numbers were terrible again: Baseball Prospectus ranked Wieters no. 108 out 110 catchers with -13.6 Framing Runs Above Average. The decision to sign Wieters last Feb. 24 to a one-year, $10.5 million contract with a $10.5 million player option for 2018 was a Lerners-driven decision. They owe it to their president of baseball operations and general manager to allow him the budget to upgrade at arguably the most important position on the field.
Now, the Nats do have two catchers other than Wieters on the 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.
I would have loved to have seen the Nats sign Welington Castillo, but he agreed with the White Sox on Dec. 1 on a two-year, $15 million contract with a club option for 2020. So, yes, he will make over two years just $4.5 million more than Wieters made last season or will make this season. I also would have loved to have seen the Nats sign Chris Ianetta, but he on Friday agreed on a two-year contract reportedly worth just $8.5 million with Colorado. Ianetta posted a 1.8 bWAR with Arizona in 2016, during which he had a 118 OPS+ and ranked no. 11 in the majors with 6.1 Framing Runs Above Average per Baseball Prospectus. Yes, he’s going into his age-35 season, but he will cost less over two seasons than Wieters will this season. Do you get why I despise the Wieters signing so much?
One avenue that the Nats could go down to upgrade at catcher is a trade. And I’m thinking Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal. MLB insider Jon Morosi of MLB Network and FOX Sports tweeted the following on Nov. 29: “Rival clubs say #Dodgers are willing to trade catcher Yasmani Grandal, who is entering his final season of arbitration eligibility. Grandal started 2 games in postseason; Austin Barnes started the other 13.” Would the Dodgers deal Grandal to a fellow National League contender in the Nats? Hard to say. But Grandal was a framing maestro in 2016: no. 4 in the majors with 17.6 Framing Runs Above Average per Baseball Prospectus. He had a 2.2 bWAR season with a 100 OPS+.
5. The no. 3 need for the Nats at the Winter Meetings is relief pitching. Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson are the only two sure things for the Nats’ 2018 bullpen (in so much as any reliever can be a “sure thing;” there is no more year-to-year player in the majors than the reliever). Koda Glover, Matt Grace, Shawn Kelley, Enny Romero and Sammy Solis are on the 40-man roster, but each is a major question. 2017 Nats relievers who are free agents include Matt Albers, Joe Blanton, Brandon Kintzler and Oliver Perez.
I very much would like to see the Nats form a super bullpen. This is the way that Major League Baseball has gone for the postseason, which has become as much if not more about your relief pitchers than your starting pitchers. For a variety of reasons, you just can’t count on starting pitchers, even really good ones, giving you eight strong innings per postseason start. The list of supposed aces who got wrecked just this past postseason is startling: Yu Darvish, Clayton Kershaw, Dallas Keuchel, Corey Kluber, Chris Sale. More and more, having a good rotation is about getting you to the playoffs, and having a good bullpen is about winning in the playoffs. And, at this point, winning in the playoffs is what the Nats by their own admission are all about.
I would endorse re-signing Kintzler. He’s not a very good strikeout pitcher, but he is a very good groundball pitcher (no. 21 among qualified major-league relievers in 2017 with a 54.9 groundball percentage). In this day and age of launch angles and home runs being hit like crazy, a guy who can consistently induce groundballs is extremely valuable.
Other guys I wouldn’t mind the Nats spending on:
6. As for the Orioles, if they’re not going to sell as they should and as I have been begging them to for months, then the team’s entire focus should be on upgrading its rotation. Oh, the O’s have many flaws beyond starting pitching, but no flaw is greater than that one. The O’s are going to be dumpster divers, which is part of why the rotation has mostly been a mess for years. ESPN MLB insider Jerry Crasnick reported on Friday that Mike Fiers turned down a two-year offer in the $10 million-$11 million range from O’s to sign a one-year, $6 million with Detroit. Mike Fiers had a 5.22 ERA over 153 1/3 innings with Houston last season. That sounds about right given the Orioles’ history. If you’re an O’s fan, would you rather them be pursuing the Mike Fiers of the world, or would you rather them blow this thing up and rebuild the farm system with pitching prospects who can become studs? You know my answer.