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Offseason #ChinMusic: Rendon and Schoop long-term contracts?, why Nationals should trade Gio, Orioles minicamp thoughts and more

Galdi gives his thoughts on and analysis of the Nationals, Orioles and MLB in the offseason (Jan. 6-Jan. 12)

 

 

1. Friday (Jan. 12) was MLB’s annual arbitration-deadline day, though the actual “deadline” is more of a suggestion that a legitimate end point, because teams can settle on deals with these players up until the hearings.  Major leaguers with between three and six years of service time (and the top 22 percent of players with at least two years of service time; those players are known as “Super 2” players) are eligible for arbitration before then becoming eligible for free agency.  Teams tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players early each offseason and then must either agree to terms with those arbitration-eligible players on contracts or file competing offers to MLB headquarters, which then will set arbitration hearing dates to settle their cases.  Most cases do not to go trial.

Four of the seven players on the Nats’ 40-man roster were arbitration-eligible.  They are, in order of major-league service time, Bryce Harper, Sean Doolittle, Matt Adams, Adam Eaton, Anthony Rendon, Tanner Roark and Michael A. Taylor.

But those first four guys – Harper, Doolittle, Adams and Eaton – all already had contracts for 2018.  Harper agreed to a $21.625 million salary (a then-record for an arbitration-eligible player) last May.  The Nats acquired Doolittle from Oakland last July with him having signed a five-year deal with the Athletics in April 2014.  The Nats acquired Eaton from the White Sox in Dec. 2016 with him having signed a five-year deal with the White Sox in March 2015.  And the Nats just signed Adams to a one-year, $4 million deal last month off him being non-tendered by Atlanta.

You see in the cases of Doolittle and Eaton the value of locking up talented players early.  Yes, you overpay in the short term, but if you project properly, you can have stud players through their arbitration years and even an early free-agent year or two at extreme bargain prices.  The Nats can have Doolittle for the next three seasons for a total of $16.88 million.  For comparison’s sake, Colorado just signed Wade Davis to a deal with an average annual value (AAV) of $17.33 million.  So the Rockies will be, on average, paying more for one season of Davis than the Nats are paying for three more seasons of Doolittle.  Along the same lines, the Nats can have Eaton over the next four seasons for a total of $34.4 million – another incredibly attractive cost from the club perspective.

The three arbitration-eligible Nats who did not have contracts for 2018 all agreed on deals for this coming season, so there will be no arbitration trials.  That’s a good thing.  These trials can be awkward and uncomfortable, as they compel teams to run down the very players the clubs will be counting on during the upcoming season.

Rendon agreed on a $12.3 million deal for 2018, an increase not just from the $5.8 million that he made last season but also the $11.5 million that he was projected by MLB Trade Rumors to get via arbitration.  Mike Rizzo and Rendon’s agent, Scot Boras, both said at the Winter Meetings in December that the focus was on getting Rendon’s 2018 deal done, but that talks on a long-term contract extension could truly gain steam after that.  Rendon’s long-term contractual future is really interesting.  He almost certainly will cost a lot less than Bryce Harper, and so a long-term deal with him prior to hitting free agency seems more than doable, especially when you consider that Rendon isn’t someone who seeks the spotlight.  Harper would embrace the spotlight that would be on him were he to sign with the Yankees or Dodgers.  Rendon seems to have no desire for that kind of attention, and I shudder at even the thought of what would happen to him in a an overwhelming and aggressive media market like New York or Boston.  A big part of long-term contracts is fit.  Rendon seems to fit in quite well in D.C. for a lot of reasons, not unlike another Boras client who signed a long-term extension with the Nats prior to hitting free agency – Stephen Strasburg.

Roark agreed on a $6.475 million deal for 2018.  That was lower than his MLB Trade Rumors projected salary of $7.5 million.

And Taylor agreed on a $2.525 million deal for 2018.  That was just above his MLB Trade Rumors projected salary of $2.3 million.

 

 

Washington Nationals Anthony Rendon flies out during a game against the Seattle Mariners in Washington, Thursday, May 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

 

2. As for the O’s on arbitration-deadline day, they agreed on deals with five of the clubs seven arbitration-eligible players up for 2018 contracts: infielder Tim Beckham, relievers Brad Brach and Zach Britton, catcher Caleb Joseph and infielder Manny Machado.  The two players the O’s did not agree on deals with were second baseman Jonathan Schoop and starter Kevin Gausman.

There’s a lot to unpack here.

First of all, the O’s did strike a deal with Britton.  He got a $12 million deal, which was slightly less than what was projected for him via MLB Trade Rumors ($12.2 million).  This is notable because, as I discussed last week, the O’s could have played hardball with Britton off his suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon while working out in California on Dec. 19.  But because they tendered Britton a contract before the injury, and because the injury occurred while in the capacity of preparing for the season, the belief is that the O’s would have to pay most, if not all, of his salary, even if they cut him before the season.  He’s not expected to be back until at least June.  As I said last week, there is no overstating the extent to which this situation is a disaster, because this guy was your second-most valuable trade chip.

Machado agreed on a $16 million contract for 2018 with incentives.  That deal actually came in at less than his $17.3 million projection on MLB Trade Rumors.

Brach, who very well could be the Orioles’ closer to begin the season, agreed on a $5.165 million deal that includes a possible $100,000 in incentives.  His MLB Trade Rumors projection was $5.2 million.

Regarding Schoop, the O’s need to sign him to a long-term deal.  He’s coming off by far the best offensive season of his career, has developed into a quality defensive second baseman and is entering just his age-26 season.  The O’s can’t let the Schoop situation get to where the Machado situation has gotten.  As I have said many times regarding the Kirk Cousins #ChaChaCha, today’s overpay is tomorrow’s bargain.  Lock up Schoop now, and the price will look great in just a few years.

As for Gausman, this is the second consecutive year in which he and the team didn’t reach a deal before the filing date, though the two sides did strike a deal before trial last year.  Gausman is a very frustrating pitcher to figure out.  His last two seasons have been essentially the same: bad first half, good second half.  But he was particularly bad during the first half of last season, during which he had a 6.47 ERA through June 21.  He ultimately registered an ERA+ of just 93 in 2017.  He’ll get paid well this coming season because pretty much every starting pitcher in the majors does, but this guy still has a lot to prove.

 

3. We learned on Thursday (Jan. 11) that the Nats reportedly are bringing back Edwin Jackson on a minor-league deal that would pay him $1.5 million if he makes the major league roster, with another $1.4 million possible in incentives.  The Nats signed Jackson last June off him having been designated for assignment by the pitching-starved Orioles, for whom he had been terrible (seven runs (four earned) in five innings on 11 hits and four walks).  And what happened?  Jackson was terrific for the Nats initially, registering a  2.94 ERA over his first eight starts with the Nats in 2017 (remember, he also was a starter for them in 2012).  But Jackson mostly struggled the rest of the season, posting a 9.82 ERA over his final five starts.  He was left off the Nats’ NLDS roster.

Jackson is being brought back by the Nats to compete for the rotation’s fifth spot, which for now figures to be contested via a three-way dance between Jackson, Erick Fedde and A.J. Cole with Joe Ross not expected back from his recovery from Tommy John surgery until at least July.  All three of the no. 5-starter candidates pose concerns.  Jackson’s entering his age-34 season and has pitched for a million different teams in recent years.  Fedde was disappointing over three major-league starts last season and then was shut down in September due to a right forearm flexor strain.  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.

What remains interesting to me is whether Ninja Mike Rizzo has a major move up his sleeve.  Might he trade for a starting pitcher such as Pittsburgh’s Gerrit Cole or Tampa Bay’s Chris Archer, both of whom are under team control for years to come and are believed to be very much available?  Or might Rizzo swoop in and sign one of the many “big-name” starting pitchers still left in the free-agent market?  I put “big-name” in quotation marks because this is not a great free-agent class.  But Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb are all still out there.  Each guy carries with him major reason for concern.  But at some point there’s a price at which each pitcher becomes worth the risk.

No way in this world would I give Arrieta the $200 million deal that he reportedly was seeking.  But if he could be had at, say, four years and $110 million, would I consider that?  Yes.  There are some major red flags with Arrieta, including a significant decline in his average fastball velocity last season and a significant jump in his HR/9 last season.  But you could do a lot worse than him and, maybe most important of all, he is a Scot Boras client.  I wouldn’t sign him for anything more than a bargain rate, but I would not be shocked if the Nats ended up signing him in yet another manifestation of the Boras-Lerners love affair.

 

4. Speaking of the Nats’ rotation, I have a radical idea.  I think that the Nats should trade Gio Gonzalez.

On the surface, this may sound dumb.  You have the wide-open no. 5 spot in the rotation.  You have Tanner Roark coming off a season in which he had a 4.67 ERA over 32 games, including 30 starts.  You have Stephen Strasburg as a perpetual concern with his health.  You have Gio coming off what was easily his best season over the last five years and maybe the best season of his career.

But consider the following reasons for the Nats to trade Gio:

  • You would be trading him at peak value – This is always the top goal for a general manager: deal your assets as close to their peak values as possible. Gio had a career-best ERA+ of 150 last season.  He ranked third among pitchers in the majors with a 6.61 bWAR last season – heck, he had a better bWAR than the likes of Arizona’s Zack Greinke, Boston’s Chris Sale, the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw and Houston’s Justin Verlander.  Gio has been remarkably durable over the last eight seasons.  Yes, he’s entering the final season of his contract, but you can’t tell me that there wouldn’t be multiple contenders interested in acquiring this guy.
  • You would be trading Gio with his carriage very much in danger of turning back into a pumpkin – As good as Gio was last season, his peripherals told the story of a pitcher who either benefited from good luck and/or was far from dominant.  Gio’s BABIP allowed per MLB.com in 2017 was a mere .261. The major-league average is around .300.  A low BABIP allowed usually is a sign of good luck – i.e., batted balls in play just went to where fielders were stationed.  Now, sometimes improvement in BABIP allowed comes from a pitcher giving up softer contact.  But that really wasn’t the case with Gio last season; his soft-contact-allowed percentage went up from 18.1 to just 21.7.  Sometimes improvement in BABIP allowed comes from improved defense behind a pitcher.  But it’s not like the Nats had a great defense last season; they ranked no. 24 out of 30 major-league teams with -39 Defensive Runs Saved in 2017.  Additionally, Gio’s 3.54 BB/9 last season was tied for his second worst over the last six seasons.  And his 8.42 K/9 was his lowest over the last seven seasons.  A deeper dive into Gio’s 2017 reveals that it may have been more about great results than great process.
  • You would be trading Gio a season before likely losing him via free agency – The expectation is that the Nats will not be re-signing Gio after the 2018 season. Our Nats insider, Mark Zuckerman of MASNSports.com, wrote the following in a Q&A on Thursday (Jan. 11): “As for Gio being re-signed beyond 2018, I don’t see it.  I think after seven strong years in D.C., both sides will be ready for something new.”  A lot can change between now and then, but if you’re going to part ways anyway, why not part ways now and get back an asset or assets for him?
  • You would be trading away the person who perhaps most symbolizes the Nats’ playoff struggles – This is a cruel thing to say about a player, and so let me make clear that Gio has been far from the only guilty party in these crushing Nats playoff losses. But the Nats are 0-4 in division series since the franchise truly became good again starting in 2012.  Three of those series ended with NLDS Game 5 losses at Nationals Park.  And the staring pitcher in two of these games was Gio.  He allowed three runs in five innings on five hits and four walks in the 2012 NLDS Game 5 loss to Louis.  And he allowed three runs in three innings on three hits and four walks in the 2017 NLDS Game 5 loss to the Cubs.  I maintain that Dusty Baker’s biggest mistake over his two seasons as Nats manager may well have been starting Gio in NLDS Game 5 last October.  I hated the decision before the game and hate the decision even more now.  I don’t know how the Nats can ever go with Gio in a big playoff game again, and I don’t know how the Nats fan could ever trust Gio in a truly big spot.  There is an intangible aspect to his time here that’s very hard to ignore.

 

5. As we continue to wait on the Orioles potentially trading away arguably the second-best position player in the majors in Manny Machado, and we continue to yell and scream about the O’s not trading away Zach Britton prior to him suffering a disastrous ruptured Achilles tendon in December, the O’s conducted a minicamp in Sarasota, Fla. this week.

The most interesting item had to do with the many ways this team may go with a rotation that has been mostly wretched for years and was especially wretched last season, when Orioles starters finished dead last in the American League with a 5.70 ERA.  The O’s have two spots set in their rotation – those for Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman.  Presumably the team will be signing or trading for starting pitchers of some consequence.  But, for now, a lot is up in the air.

Chris Tillman, who is a free-agent, actually worked out at the Orioles’ Ed Smith Stadium complex.  The extent to which he was horrendous last season can not be overstated: 7.84 ERA and a 55 ERA+ over 24 games, including 19 starts.  But I actually would be open to him being brought back on a cheap, one-year, prove-it contract.  Tillman has been overrated over the years, but I can’t believe that he’s as bad as he was last season.  This is a guy who had been good to very good for the O’s in four of the previous five seasons (his 2015 was bad).

Another intriguing option for the Orioles’ rotation is Miguel Castro.  The O’s acquired him via trade with Colorado for a player to be named last April.  Castro had a 2.47 ERA through August before falling apart in September, during which he allowed 13 runs (12 earned) in 15 1/3 innings.  But he had a 1.50 ERA and 0.958 WHIP in 24 innings last August, when he made a number of multi-inning relief appearances.  It was confirmed during the minicamp this week that Castro is in fact being stretched out and will compete for a spot in the rotation.  He’s going into just his age-23 season.  This is the kind of thing that the pitching-starved O’s desperately need – a young, cheap and under-team-control-for-years-to-come arm blossoming into an effective starter.

And then a third 2018 rotation option that got quite a bit of attention at O’s minicamp was Hunter Harvey.  The O’s took Harvey with the no. 22 overall pick in the 2013 draft (the Yankees took Aaron Judge at no. 32 in that draft, by the way).  Harvey has dealt with a truckload of injuries over the last few years, including a flexor mass strain, a broken shin and a sports hernia.  The biggest blow was him undergoing Tommy John surgery in July 2016.  But he’s listed as being 6-3, has an 11.66 K/9 over 144 1/3 innings in the low levels of the minors and still offers hope.  2018 will be just Harvey’s age-23 season.  We have seen the Orioles’ 2011 first-round pick, Bundy, become a member of the team’s major-league rotation off dealing with injury problems.  Might Harvey do the same?

Buck Showalter on Harvey at this week’s minicamp: “Think about how far he’s come and the similarities with Dylan (Bundy). I think everybody’s excited.  It’s one thing about potentially getting a good pitcher.  It’s just another thing about the kid, the human being.  We knew there was the potential for some issues when we drafted him.  That’s why he was available where we picked.  We knew it may come to that point, which it comes to with a lot of young pitchers coming out of high school.  And it’s worth it to get a prospect like him at 23 years old.  Basically, he’s one year out of college.”

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