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Offseason #ChinMusic: Free-agent slowdown, Nationals sign Montero, should Nats learn from Kirk Cousins #ChaChaCha and trade Harper? and more

Galdi gives his thoughts on and analysis of the Nationals, Orioles and MLB in the offseason (Jan. 27-Feb. 2)

 

 

1. The slowest offseason in modern MLB history continues.  We are now into February, and almost all of this offseason’s best free agents – Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, J.D. Martinez, Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn – remain unsigned.  Nationals pitchers and catchers report to spring training in 11 days – Feb. 14.  Orioles pitchers and catchers report to spring training in 10 days – Feb. 13.

And so agent Brodie Van Wagenen of Creative Artists Agency – CAA – basically accused the owners of collusion on Friday (Feb. 2).  Van Wagenen, who represents, among others, Ryan Zimmerman, issued a statement that included the following: “There is a rising tide among players for radical change.  A fight is brewing. And it may begin with one, maybe two, and perhaps 1,200 willing to follow. A boycott of spring training may be a starting point, if behavior doesn’t change.  Bottom line, the players are upset.  No, they are outraged.  Players in the midst of long-term contracts are as frustrated as those still seeking employment.  Their voices are getting louder and they are uniting in a way not seen since 1994.”

This statement made me laugh.

First of all, there are a number of reasons for why this free-agent season has moved at a snail’s pace.  The crop of free agents just isn’t that good.  Next year’s free-agent crop – which is set to include Bryce Harper and Manny Machado – is set to be the best ever.  Teams are wanting to stay beneath the luxury-tax threshold, which, oh by the way, the players agreed to in the CBA that was ratified in Dec. 2016.

And maybe most significant of all, teams are smarter than they’ve ever been.  The sabermetrics revolution is over.  My people won.  Teams are being run by more analytically-inclined minds than ever before.  And those minds all agree that a) older is not better and b) most big-money contracts just aren’t worth it.  The list of $100 million contracts that have failed is far longer than the list of those that have succeeded.  Sorry, players, but the con game is over.

But I think the worst part about that statement from Van Wagenen was how out-of-touch it was.  The players will lose the battle of public opinion on this.  There’s not a single fan who will feel sorry for these players, especially if/when what’s happening this offseason proves to be a one-year aberration.  The guy making $40,000 per year has no interest in hearing about that “a boycott of spring training may be a starting point.”  The guy who has to take out a second mortgage to take his family to a game has no desire to hear, “Bottom line, the players are upset.  No, they are outraged.”  Give me a break.  This is an economy still with plenty of people who are underemployed or who are dealing with stagnant wages.  Get a clue.

 

2. Catcher J.T. Realmuto still wants to be traded by the Marlins.

Barry Jackson of MiamiHerald.com had the following in a piece posted on Friday evening (Feb. 2): “Six weeks after multiple media outlets including The Miami Herald reported Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto’s preference to go to another team, his agent confirmed for the first time on Friday evening that the catcher would like to be traded – and that losing his arbitration hearing earlier in the day has nothing to do with that.

“ ‘No matter how his arbitration hearing turned out, J.T.’s preference remains the same,’ agent Jeff Berry, co-head of CAA baseball, said in his first public comments on Realmuto this offseason.  ‘He would like to be traded to another organization before spring training so he has an opportunity to compete for a championship.’ ”

These comments from Realmuto’s agent can only hope the Nationals’ quest to trade for Realmuto and are the kind of thing that would cause the Marlins to stop asking for the Nats’ top two prospects in outfielders Victor Robles and Juan Soto.

 

3. Meantime, we learned on Thursday (Feb. 1) that the Nationals reportedly have signed catcher Miguel Montero to a minor-league deal with an invite to major-league spring training.

The first thought that came into my mind was what happened last June 27.  A 6-1 win over the Cubs included the Nats matching a Nats/Expos single-game record with seven stolen bases.  All seven of the steals came off the same catcher-pitcher combo – the Montero-Jake Arrieta battery.  Montero fell to 1-for-32 on runners trying to steal for the season.  And he hysterically threw Arrieta under the bus after the game.  The Cubs designated Montero for assignment the next day.  Montero’s mouth aside, this is an interesting acquisition by the Nats.

It is, of course, not what I’ve talked about multiple times this offseason: the Nats trading for Miami catcher J.T. Realmuto or Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal.  It’s not even the Nats signing someone like Alex Avila, who agreed on a two-year contract with Arizona on Wednesday (Jan. 31).

As down as I am on Matt Wieters, it is hard to position Montero as a threat to Wieters.  Montero was atrocious for Toronto after being DFA’d by the Cubs last season, posting an OPS+ of 30 over 101 plate appearances with the Blue Jays.  He is 12-for-117 on runners trying to steal over the last two seasons.

The belief is that the Nats have signed Montero to compete with Pedro Severino for the Nats’ backup-catcher job.  And while I don’t want to make too much out of a guy signed to a minor-league deal with an invite to major-league spring training, this is perhaps a sign of Severino’s stock having fallen.

Severino and fellow Dominican Raudy Read are the two other catchers on the Nats’ 40-man roster.  Severino was the Nats’ catcher of the future a year ago, but he struggled with injuries at ineffectiveness for Triple-A Syracuse last season.  Read was actually ranked ahead of Severino on MLB Pipeline’s latest list of the Nats’ top prospects (14 vs. 15).

One thing worth noting about Montero is his pitch-framing.  Baseball Prospectus ranked Wieters no. 108 out 110 catchers with -13.6 Framing Runs last season.  Montero was ranked no. 14 at 5.0 Framing Runs.  Among those he was ahead of?  Realmuto.

Catcher in MLB is becoming like running back in the NFL.  Major-league teams are more and more on leaning on two catchers during seasons as opposed to one catcher.  Who the Nats’ no. 2 catcher is for this coming season matters, especially if Wieters is as bad in 2018 as he was in 2017.

 

4. The dominant sports story in D.C. this week, of course, has been the Redskins’ reported trade for Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith.  And, of course, the biggest domino to fall off that is the Kirk Cousins saga (#ChaChaCha) essentially being over.  As I said on The Morning Blitz with Al Galdi, one of my biggest problems with the Smith trade is what it represents.  The Redskins now will almost certainly be allowing Kirk to become an unrestricted free agent and will be losing him for nothing more than a compensatory draft pick, which figures to be a third-round selection.  He’s worth a lot more than that.  New England dealt Jimmy Garoppolo to San Francisco for a 2018 second-round pick, and that was considered a steal for the 49ers even before he played so well for them down the stretch.

If the Redskins were never going to be willing to pay Kirk what a long-term deal with him was going to require, or if he just didn’t want to sign a long-term contract with the Redskins, then the team had to at least get back decent compensation for him in some way.  Maybe that was trading him last offseason.  Maybe that was trading him during this season.  Maybe that was trading him this offseason.  But instead, it’s almost now certain that no trade will be happening.

And so that now brings us to the Bryce Harper situation.

As I have said many times, I do not consider it a foregone conclusion that Harper will be leaving the Nats via free agency after the upcoming season.  The Nats have an excellent relationship with his agent, Scott Boras.  The Lerners have shown time and again that they will pay top dollar for players.  And the Nats are one of the model organizations in MLB.

But we also know that there has been a lot of chum in the water about Harper going to a bigger market or more-historical franchise a la the Yankees, Dodgers, Cubs or Philadelphia.  Heck, Fanrag Sports MLB insider Jon Heyman, who is known to be closer with Boras than maybe any person in the media, wrote a short piece published on Jan. 26 that had the following headline: “Could Giants make a run at Bryce Harper next winter?”  The piece included the following: “One source close to him said it is indeed expected that the Giants will be in the mix for Harper.”

Additionally, don’t forget part of what USA Today MLB insider Bob Nightengale tweeted on Nov. 15: “The Nats ownership believe Harper in free agency would cost in excess of $500 million.”

Not to get too philosophical, but a big part of sports and life is learning from mistakes (either your own or others’ mistakes).  One of the many lessons from the Kirk Cousins #ChaChaCha is that the Redskins should have been more proactive and traded him.

So let’s say that the Nats believe that Harper doesn’t truly want to re-sign them or that he is likely to leave via free agency after the upcoming season or that no player is worth $300 million or more in the Nats’ mind.  Would you advocate for the Nats trading Harper right now?

Let me quickly say that there is almost no chance of this happening.  The Nats are in a win-now mode.  They have a managing principal owner in Ted Lerner who is 92.  They have a president of baseball operations and general manager in Mike Rizzo who is in the final year of his contract.  The Nats are hosting the 2018 All-Star Game.

But all of that doesn’t mean that trading Harper this offseason wouldn’t ultimately prove to be the right move.  There were plenty of reasons for the Redskins not to trade Kirk last offseason, and yet that right now would have been much better than what seems inevitable – them losing him for way less than what he’s worth.  MLB’s new free-agent compensation rules are very complicated, including things like how much the team from which the free agent departed received in revenue sharing the previous year.  But suffice it to say that the Nats losing Harper via free agency would result in ultra-minimal compensation.

Another thing to consider is that the Nats trading away Harper this offseason wouldn’t doom them for this coming season.  The National League East is the worst division in major North American pro sports.  Atlanta and Miami are going to be terrible this coming season.  Philadelphia may be improved, but that’s far from a given.  The Mets are the biggest threat to the Nats, but the Mets’ success is predicated on their rotation staying mostly healthy.  Raise your hand if you expect that after what happened with them last season.

And then there’s the fact that the Nats are more loaded in the outfield than at any other position group.  You have Adam Eaton, Michael A. Taylor, and Brian Goodwin.  You have the top two prospects in the organization in Victor Robles and Juan Soto.  Baseball America’s Top 100 MLB Prospects, which came out on Jan. 22, had Robles as the no. 5 prospect in the sport and Soto at no. 56.  And then last Saturday night (Jan. 27), MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects included Robles at no. 6 and Soto at no. 29.  What if Robles is ready right now?  It’s not like he was a disaster during his time at the major-league level last September (.458 slugging percentage of 27 plate appearances) and, remember, the Nats put him on their NLDS roster.

 

Washington Nationals right fielder Victor Robles (14) hauls in a fly ball hit by Jose Reyes during the first inning of a baseball game against the New York Mets, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

 

5. Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop did in fact no-show Orioles FanFest at the Baltimore Convention Center last Saturday (Jan. 27).  There is no other way to categorize this other than as an embarrassment.  These are the team’s two best players, and it needs all of the help it can get in generating goodwill and selling tickets.  Schoop’s absence seemed more unexcused than Machado’s, but neither not being there was viewed as totally excusable the way Chris Davis not being there due to the recent birth of twin daughters was.

Also at FanFest last Saturday was Buck Showalter confirming that Machado (assuming that the O’s don’t trade him) will play shortstop and that Tim Beckham will play third base this coming season.

And so I got to thinking about this whole Machado saga.  Consider the following:

  • The O’s, according to everyone, have virtually no shot of re-signing Machado after the 2018 season.
  • The O’s haven’t yet and ultimately may not trade him in order to get back something approaching equal value for him given that he’s likely to leave via free agency.
  • The O’s are granting his wish to move to shortstop, even though he’s soon gone and even though this move may come to the detriment of the ball club.  There’s no guarantee that he’ll be as good defensively at shortstop as he was a third base.  And who knows what to expect from Beckham at third base; he wasn’t exactly Mark Belanger at shortstop.
  • Machado and his BFF Schoop embarrassed the O’s by no-showing FanFest.

Way to take control of the situation, Orioles!  Way to get your arms around this whole thing.

 

6. If there is good news for the O’s in recent days it is that there much-criticized farm system (of which I have been a major critic) is starting to turn a corner from a position-player standpoint.  The Orioles’ crop of pitching prospects is still woeful and one of the principal reasons to argue that Dan Duquette should not be retained beyond this season.  But the O’s had three guys ranked on Baseball America’s Top 100 MLB Prospects, which came out on Jan. 22: outfielder Austin Hays (no. 21), catcher Chance Sisco (no. 68) and third baseman Ryan Mountcastle (no. 71).  And then last Saturday night (Jan. 27), MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects included Hays at no. 23 and Mountcastle at no. 98.  Add in Trey Mancini, who would have been the 2017 American League Rookie of the Year if not for the Yankees’ Aaron Judge, and the O’s have some real momentum in terms of position-player prospects for the first time in years.

Prospects, of course, offer no guarantees.  But the O’s within the next 18 months hopefully will be off and running with Mancini and Hays as their corner outfielders, Sisco as their catcher and Mountcastle somewhere in the infield (he’s already moved from shortstop to third base and may move further down the defensive spectrum) for years to come.

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