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Offseason #ChinMusic: Nationals re-signing Kintzler, Bryce Harper #ChaChaCha, Orioles to trade Machado and more

Galdi gives his thoughts on and analysis of the Nationals, Orioles and MLB in the offseason (Dec. 9-Dec. 15)

 

 

1. The only major move made by the Nationals at the 2017 MLB Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. was the team reportedly agreeing to re-sign Brandon Kintzler.  Yes, the Law Firm will be back!  He is essentially getting a two-year, $10 million contract that could be worth $16 million but could also lead to the Nats having a club option and Kintzler having a player option after the 2018 season.

It’s hard to put an money number on the Kintzler contract.  But what is safe to say is that the Nats are re-signing him at a favorable price.  Heck, Philadelphia this week signed former Oriole Tommy Hunter to a two-year, $18 million contract.  He was quite good for Tampa Bay last season (159 ERA+, 0.972 WHIP over 58 1/3 innings in 61 games).  But Kintzler has been as good if not better than Hunter over the last three seasons.  And yet Hunter got a much better contract.  The Nats got themselves a bargain in re-signing Kintzler, whatever the final cost ends up being.

There are three things that worry you about Kintzler:

  • Age: he’s going into his age-33 season)
  • He’s not a strikeout pitcher: 5.3 K/9 over the last two seasons
  • He’s not immune to putting guys on base: 1.186 WHIP over the last two seasons; that’s not great for a reliever

But what Kintzler does bring to a bullpen is the ability to induce ground balls.  He is a ground-ball-inducing gangsta, which is very appealing in this day and age of players being fixated on launch angles and bashing home runs at insane rates.  Kintzler is no. 14 among all qualified relievers over the last two seasons in ground-ball percentage (58.0).  He is no. 29 among all qualified relievers over the last two seasons in HR/9 (0.72).  The Nats’ #Can’tTrussIt Bullpen of last season had a massive home-run problem, highlighted by guys like Shawn Kelley and Joe Blanton.  You shouldn’t have worry about that at all with Kintzler.

Additionally, Kintzler doesn’t walk guys.  He is seventh among all qualified relievers over the last two seasons in BB/9 (1.72).

And there’s more to like about the Nats’ re-signing of Kintzler than just what he is as a reliever.  The Nats don’t usually spend even decent money on relievers.  The re-signing of Kintzler is a sign of the Lerners doing as they didn’t do last offseason, allowing Mike Rizzo to fortify the bullpen with a legit signing as opposed to crossing fingers that a bunch of crap-heap pickups payoff or that yet another in-season trade for a reliever can be made.  Look at how many relievers that Rizzo has had to trade for over the last three seasons: Jonathan Papelbon, Mark Melancon, Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, Kintzler.  Enough is enough.  The Nats actually going into a season with a proper bullpen was long overdue.  That now is happening.

I’m fascinated to see how Dave Martinez utilizes the Law Firm this season.  Does he go by set roles, which presumably would have Kintzler as the seventh-inning guy, Madson as the eighth-inning guy and Doolittle as the closer?  Or does Martinez do as we are seeing more and more of in MLB and go bullpening?  You know where I stand on this.  I want my manager not being a “slave to the save” and utilizing his best relievers in high-leverage situations, whether they be in ninth innings or sixth innings.  Cleveland’s Terry Francona has done this to great success over the last few seasons.  Martinez, as we know (and have been told repeatedly by Rizzo), is into analytics.  The Nats are giving him the potential for a season-long super bullpen with the Law Firm.  The situation is ripe for Martinez to handle his relievers in a progressive, sabermetrically-inclined manner and go bullpening this season.

 

Washington Nationals’ Brandon Kintzler delivers a pitch against the Houston Astros during the ninth inning of a baseball game Thursday, Aug. 24, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/Richard Carson)

 

2. Other than the Nats reportedly agreeing to re-sign Brandon Kintzler, there really wasn’t that much to the Winter Meetings from a Nats standpoint.  They did not address two of their biggest needs as I laid out last week, starting pitcher and catcher.  The Nats did come up a good amount regarding free-agent starter Jake Arrieta, but that reeked of the Nats doing their boy, Scott Boras, a solid and perhaps feigning interest in order to spice up the market for Arrieta.  Keep in mind that the Nats supposedly being interested in Arrieta came a day after Mike Rizzo told reporters that he was not in the market for a starting pitcher and that, “We have great confidence in our in-house options.”

For the record, I would be very leery of spending the money that presumably will be necessary to sign Arrieta.  His last two seasons have been good but nowhere near as good as his 2014 and 2015 seasons.  His average fastball velocity in 2017 was a career-low 92.6 and well off the 94.3 he was at in 2016.  He’s going into his age-32 season.  Arrieta is a pitcher who profiles as a big-money free-agent signee who could flop big time.

 

3. I had to laugh at how Mike Rizzo publicly handled the Bryce Harper contract situation at the Winter Meetings.  Rizzo on Tuesday said, “We’re not going to discuss what we’re going to do with Harp.”  But Rizzo on Wednesday confirmed that the Nats had had “preliminary conversation” with Harper on a contract extension, confirming what his agent, Scott Boras, had revealed.  So much for not discussing what we’re going to do with Harp.

USA Today MLB insider Bob Nightengale then tweeted the following on Friday morning: “The Washington #Nats say they are realistic and firmly believe that Bryce Harper is set to test free agency next winter after casual conversations last month.  They still hope to re-sign him, but only after he tests the free agent market.”  That Harper wants to take his situation to free agency is no surprise.  I still maintain that if re-signing him really is going to cost in excess of $500 million as the Lerners believe per a tweet from Nightengale on Nov. 15, then re-signing Harper isn’t worth the cost.  But this all sets up now for one of the greatest contract dances in MLB – if not sports – history next offseason.  The Bryce Harper #ChaChaCha figures to be an all-timer, especially considering that the 2018 Winter Meetings will be in his hometown of Las Vegas.

 

4. Day 2 of the Winter Meetings was highlighted by the Yankees’ introductory press conference for Giancarlo Stanton.  The big question off this trade for our purposes is, “how does it impact the Yankees’ potential pursuit of Bryce Harper as a free agent after the 2018 season?”  Conventional wisdom is that this decreases the chances of the Yankees signing Harper, who many have long felt is destined to play in pinstripes.  And while I do agree that the Stanton trade lessens the likelihood of the Yankees signing Harper, the deal by no means eliminates that possibility.  Consider the following:

  • These are the Yankees.  This is the most valuable franchise in MLB by miles – $3.7 billion per Forbes in April 2017, nearly a billion dollars more than the Dodgers’ $2.75 billion.  The Yankees have near-unlimited financial resources.  Yes, the team is trying to stay beneath the luxury-tax threshold and has been a bit more restrained with Hal Steinbrenner as managing general partner as opposed to under his dad, the late George Steinbrenner (Big Stein).  But whatever.  Whatever this team wants it can afford to get.
  • The Yankees’ trade with Miami for Stanton reportedly included the Marlins kicking in $30 million.  So that monster Stanton contract that the Yankees have taken isn’t quite as monstrous – $265 million over the next 10 seasons as opposed to $295 million dollars.  This is a big part of why the Yankees made this trade.  Stanton at $26.5 million per year could prove to be a relative bargain, especially once we see what Harper and Manny Machado get in free agency next offseason.
  • Who’s to say that Harper doesn’t take some kind of discount to play for the Yankees?  It’s well known that one of his idols was Mickey Mantle.  And, by the way, what position did the Mick play for most of his career?  Center field.  This is why I don’t buy that another reason for Yankees now not signing Harper is that they have two corner outfielders in Stanton and Aaron Judge.  You don’t think that playing center field in the Bronx a la Mantle would appeal to Harper?

I don’t believe that Harper leaving the Nats after this coming season is an inevitability.  The Lerners have shown time and again that they will pay big money for players, especially Scott Boras clients, of which Harper is one.  But you’re off your rocker if you think that the Stanton trade has eliminated the Yankees from the Harper sweepstakes.

 

5. Of course, another stud set to be a free agent after the 2018 season is the Orioles’ Manny Machado.  And the biggest development by far regarding the O’s at the 2017 Winter Meetings was the team apparently finally embracing trading away Machado and getting back a haul of prospects.  Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter talked of Machado being traded in a manner in which neither Dan or Buck had before.  Peter Angelos’ son Lou was involved in Machado trade talks according to MLB insider Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic.  The O’s trading away Machado seems to be a question of “when” and not “if.”

An obstacle that remains, though, is the owner.  USA Today MLB insider Bob Nightengale reported on Thursday that the O’s had 10 legitimate trade offers to consider for Machado, but also that Peter Angelos is adamant that Machado not be traded to the Yankees or to a team that would flip Machado to the Yankees either this offseason or this coming season.

There is so much to the O’s now likely trading away Machado.  Here are four big points to remember:

  • Trading away Machado is a painful-but-necessary move.  There is almost no chance of him re-signing with the O’s after the 2018 season.  To close your eyes, cross your fingers and hope that somehow the wretched rotation is halfway decent in 2018 and the team wins a wild-card spot is foolish.  As I have been saying, the Orioles’ success in this era of Buck and Dan, as laudable as it has been, has been a house of cards.  The house of cards came tumbling down last season.  You can’t keep trying to piece together playoff-caliber win totals with rotations that are abysmal.  The Orioles’ farm system from a pitching-prospect standpoint is an embarrassment.  To not cash in a colossal trade chip in Machado who will be leaving anyway is foolish.
  • Something that became clear this week, first from a report from MLB insider Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, is that Machado does indeed want to play shortstop in 2018.  The O’s do not have an obvious replacement for him at third base.  This may be part of why the team is more willing to trade him now.
  • There is a bigger-picture question with the O’s: where the heck are we going with Buck and Dan?  Each guy is going into the last season of his contract.  The worst-kept secret in the majors is that the two do not get along.  Dan refuses to use any form of the word “rebuild,” even though that is precisely what the O’s must embrace.  What would make me and a lot of O’s fans feel much better would be resolution on this front.  If I have to choose between Buck and Dan, my answer is easy: Buck.  I would sign him to a contract extension this offseason, assuming that he still wants to manage.  Otherwise, I would consider making him my general manager.  And I tell you something else that I would do: go super hard after Mike Rizzo next offseason if in fact he makes there without a contract extension from the Nats.  Rizzo and Buck worked together in Arizona.
  • A final point has to do with why it is considered an inevitability that Machado will not re-sign with the O’s.  The team likes to cry poor and tell you about how it can not compete with the likes of the Yankees and Boston from a payroll perspective.  While there is a lot of truth in that, there are also some convenient things left out.  Every team in the majors rakes in tons of money via national-television contracts with FOX, ESPN and Turner and MLB Advanced Media.  I don’t profess to know every intricacy of the Orioles’ finances, but I do sense that they do better than they like to admit.  Additionally, Baltimore is a top-30 television market in this country and is rated ahead of San Diego.  The Padres are in the midst of a mega-money regional-cable television contract.  The O’s have opted to run MASN on the cheap for years.  If the team ever got bold and aggressive, perhaps it could partake in the regional-cable-television boom that so many other major-league franchises (not just the Yankees and Red Sox) have splashed around in for years.  There is a small-minded nature to the O’s that bothers me and a lot of fans.

 

6. We learned on Sunday that two members of the 1984 World Series champion Detroit Tigers – Alan Trammel and Jack Morris – had been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame via the Modern Baseball Era Committee.

I am very happy that Trammel got in.  He is someone who just a few years ago I wouldn’t have thought was Hall-of-Fame worthy.  But the more that I looked at his career – and with the right numbers – the more that I was impressed.  JAWS is 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.

Morris has been maybe the ultimate case study in analytics versus eye test.  I thought that the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) voters got it right in not electing Morris in his final year of eligibility on the BBWAA ballot in Jan. 2014.  His 38.4 JAWS falls well short of the 62.1 JAWS average for 62 starting pitchers in the Hall of Fame.  His career ERA+ of 105 is just a shade above league average, which is 100.  And his postseason resume, which, yes, includes three World Series titles, also includes a career 3.80 ERA over 92 1/3 innings.  Morris was tremendous in the epic 1991 World Series Game 7, but he also was responsible for some October clunkers.  His reputation is far greater than his actual performance.  But you know what?  Morris had a tremendous career.  He pitched at a time in which consuming innings was a much bigger deal than it is today.  Would he get my vote?  No.  But all props to him for making the Hall.

The real shame in the Modern Baseball Era Committee voting results announced was that Marvin Miller again was denied election.  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.

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