Galdi gives his thoughts on and analysis of the Nationals, Orioles and MLB in the offseason (Dec. 16-Jan. 5)
1. As you probably know, I believe that the Nationals need to upgrade at catcher this offseason. Matt Wieters was really bad last season, and the fact that he (not at all surprisingly) exercised his player option this offseason and will make $10.5 million on the Nats in 2018 should not dissuade the Nats from trying to do better at the position, especially when you consider that just about everyone believes that the Nats’ oh-so-curious signing of Wieters last Feb. 24 was far more of a Lerners decision (Wieters’ agent is Scott Boras) than it was a Mike Rizzo decision.
Well, MLB.com Marlins insider Joe Frisaro reported on Thursday (Jan. 4) that the Nats are interested in trading for Miami catcher J.T. Realmuto and outfielder Christian Yelich, either individually or perhaps together in what would be a mega package.
Now, Frisaro did write that nothing was imminent and that Realmuto and Yelich are drawing attention from more than a dozen teams. But Frisaro also noted that at the Winter Meetings in December, the Nats were told that Realmuto was not available. But since then, the Marlins have become open to at least discussing the possibility of moving those two players, who have expressed that they may not be comfortable being part of a reset in Miami, which has had eight straight losing seasons. The Marlins this offseason already have traded away outfielders Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna and second baseman Dee Gordon, who is going to be playing center field for Seattle.
The Nats getting Realmuto would be huge. He is entering just his age-27 season, is under team control through the 2020 season and is a stud. Realmuto was third among all major-league catchers last season with a 3.6 fWAR. He led all major-league catchers with a 1.5 BsR, which is Fangraphs’ all-encompassing baserunning stat. And when it comes to something that Wieters has been woeful at for years, framing, Realmuto represents colossal improvement. Per Baseball Prospectus’ Framing Runs, Wieters ranked no. 108 out of 110 catchers at -13.6 last season. Realmuto was no. 17 at 3.8.
The question, of course, is what would a trade for Realmuto cost the Nats? And this is why I’m not anticipating a trade actually happening. The Nats don’t seem willing to part with their top prospect (and they shouldn’t), outfielder Victor Robles, who is the no. 3 prospect in all of baseball per MLB Pipeline. The Nats’ stock of pitching prospects took a major hit now two Decembers ago in the trade for Adam Eaton, who cost the Nats Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning. Do the Nats still have pitching prospects? Of course. But not a single Nats pitching prospect ranks among MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects in baseball. Perhaps including outfielder Juan Soto (no. 37 prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline) or shortstop Carter Kieboom (no. 99) could help make a Nats trade for Realmuto happen. And, yes, I know, the Yankees give up relatively little to acquire Stanton, but the Marlins’ compensation in that trade was compromised by him having 10 years and $295 million left on his contract.
As for Yelich, he’s entering just his age-26 season, is under team control through 2021 and has been exactly a 4.5 fWAR player in three of the last four seasons. But there is no more loaded position group than outfield on the Nats right now: Robles, Soto, Bryce Harper, Adam Eaton, Michael A. Taylor, Brian Goodwin. A trade for Yelich would seem to indicate that the Nats are not that confident in re-signing Harper after the 2018 season, unless that trade included more than one of these outfielders. You never know for sure what the Ninja, Mike Rizzo, is up to.
2. Speaking of Ninja Mike Rizzo, I loved what the Nats announced on Dec. 22: agreement with Matt Adams on a one-year contract. It’s worth $4 million and has $500,000 in incentives. He will be the team’s backup to Ryan Zimmerman in 2018, and that’s a significant role, obviously, given Zimmerman’s injury history.
The Zimmerman backup job in 2017 belonged to Adam Lind. The Nats reportedly and stunningly declined a $5 million mutual option on Lind for the 2018 season. I say “stunningly” because the guy had a 123 OPS+ over 301 plate appearances with the Nats last season, during which he was terrific as a pinch hitter (1.040 OPS over 48 plate appearances). Everyone assumed that Lind would be a free agent this offseason due to he himself declining his portion of the mutual option.
Well, now we have a better idea of why the Nats did this. Adams is a good hitter; he had a 117 OPS+ over 367 plate appearances with Atlanta and St. Louis last season. In fact, he and Lind have virtually the same OPS+ for their careers (111 vs. 112) and the same slugging percentage (.469 vs. .465). Adams also is five years younger than Lind and has been a far better defender at first base than Lind has been (14 career Defensive Runs Saved versus Lind’s -13). And the Nats are getting Adams at $1 million less than they would have gotten Lind. Ninja Rizzo has struck again.
3. USA Today MLB insider Bob Nightengale reported on Wednesday (Jan. 3) that free-agent first baseman Eric Hosmer had been offered a seven-year, $147 million deal to re-sign with Kansas City and a seven-year, $140 million contract with San Diego. Let’s put aside whether Hosmer is worth that kind of money (I personally would not sign him for seven years and $140 million). The thought process behind the lowly Padres being in on Hosmer seems to be them wanting to sign a veteran known for his intangibles and winning as the team tries to get good again (San Diego has had seven consecutive losing seasons). And a comp that’s been made to the Padres potentially signing Hosmer is the Nats’ signing of Jayson Werth in Dec. 2010.
I’ll never forget where I was when the news of the Nats signing Werth broke: I was doing The Official Redskins Postgame Show on ESPN 980 after a hideous 31-7 loss at the Giants (Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw combined for 33 carries for 200 yards and four touchdowns in that game). My jaw almost hit the floor when I saw that the Nats had signed Werth to a seven-year, $126 million deal.
Well, here we are seven years later. The Werth contract is complete. He is a free agent and almost certainly will not be re-signed by the Nats. And now we have another team, the Padres, supposedly considering whether to make a similar move. I thought that now would be a good time to ask a simple question with a complicated answer: was Werth worth it?
Let’s start with the good that Werth provided over his seven seasons with the Nats:
All of that said, you are being naïve if you don’t acknowledge a number of negatives during Werth’s seven seasons with the Nats.
So was Werth worth it? The answer is no. He totaled 8.9 bWAR over his seven seasons with the Nats. I’m sorry, that’s not worth $126 million. Werth was part of some great moments and seasons with the Nats, but in no way can you justify him being “Werth” that contract.
4. MLB’s 2017-18 free-agent market has moved at a glacier-like pace. Today is Jan. 6, and just two of the top 11 free agents per MLB Trade Rumors are under contracts with teams (Wade Davis with Colorado and Masahiro Tanaka, who opted in with the Yankees). So I can’t kill the Orioles for having done nothing, because very few teams have done anything so far this offseason. But it still is very bothersome what’s going on with the O’s.
The worst place you can be in baseball is the middle. You need to either be all in or all out. Winning 75-85 games doesn’t do you much good. If you’re not winning 90 or more games, then you need to be losing 90 or more games. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea.
If the O’s aren’t going to blowup their roster and rebuild as I believe they should, then they need to be going in the opposite direction. If they’re truly not going to be trading away their many players whose contracts expire after the 2018 season (Manny Machado, Zach Britton, Brad Brach, Adam Jones), then the O’s should be loading up for one last final postseason run during the Buck Showalter-Dan Duquette Era – and, remember, Buck’s and Dan’s contracts are set to expire after the 2018 season.
And so the O’s should be in on all of the major free-agent starting pitchers: Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb. Or the O’s should be loading up on free-agent relievers so as to do what I have advocated they do for years now, adopt a bullpening approach.
But neither of these things is happening, and there is zero indication that either will be happening. The O’s, right now, appear as if they’re going to go into the 2018 season with their fingers crossed and the hopes of somehow finagling their way back into the postseason. That’s no way to operate a ball club.
5. And with all of that in mind, it’s hard to overstate how disastrous the Zach Britton news that broke on Dec. 20 was for the Orioles, who announced that he had suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon while working out in California on Dec. 19.
When you’re timid, don’t do what must be done (rebuild) and continue to try to bank on a bunch of things going right so you can somehow luck into an 88-win season, things like this Britton injury are what happen. He and so many other Orioles should have been traded last season. The Britton situation is another item of evidence that the O’s made a huge mistake in not unloading prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. First of all, they could have at least gotten some assets for guys who were expected to be free agents this offseason and were considered as good as gone in Welington Castillo and Seth Smith. But guys like Britton, Manny Machado and Adam Jones – all set to be free agents after the 2018 season – were all worth more with a season-plus left on each of their contracts.
And now the O’s may get nothing back for Britton just two seasons after he had one of the greatest seasons that any reliever has ever had. That he is expected to get $12.2 million in arbitration per MLB Trade Rumors could actually lead to the O’s releasing him this offseason. What a disaster. Even if the O’s do keep him and try to trade him this coming season, he is damaged goods. Remember, Britton did not have a good 2017. He had two 10-day disabled list stints due to a left forearm strain and then was shut down in September due to an ailing left knee. His strikeout rate plummeted from 9.9 to 7.0 and his walk rate shot up from 2.4 to 4.3. He had a 151 ERA+ off a surreal 803 ERA+ in 2016.
The O’s reportedly had a deal in place to send Britton to Houston prior to the non-waiver trade deadline, but the deal fell apart due to Oriole concerns regarding the medicals of two of the Astros’ prospects. Now, it was possible that the O’s could get back even more from Britton with an in-season trade. Maybe that’s the best way to play this given his down 2017. But my point has been that the O’s have needed to be infinitely more aggressive in getting out ahead of their situation. And I don’t believe that Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette being in contract seasons helps at all. What motivation do they have to do what’s in the best interest of the long-term health of the franchise, to say nothing of the fact that the two don’t get along?