Galdi gives his thoughts on and analysis of the Nationals, Orioles and MLB in the offseason (Nov. 25-Dec. 1)
1. Nationals president of baseball operations and general manager Mike Rizzo appeared on MLB Network’s MLB Now on Monday (Nov. 27) and confirmed that the Nats will be in on Sho Ohtani, the two-way sensation known as the Babe Ruth of Japan. Ohtani was posted by Nippon Professional Baseball’s Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters on Friday (Dec. 1), when MLB owners ratified a new posting system governing player transfers from Japan to North America. Ohtani is a phenom. He is listed as being 6-3, throws deep into the 90s, has a power left-handed swing and is going into just his age-23 season. And the major-league club with which Ohtani chooses to sign will only surrender $20 million to the NPB and then only pay Ohtani himself a few million dollars. Under the terms of the CBA ratified in Dec. 2016, major-league teams are severely limited on spending on free agents residing outside of the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. Teams are not allowed to go over their limits unless the international player signed is 25 or older. Ohtani could have waited two years and then decided to come to the United States, but for whatever reason he has chosen to come now. Boston spent more than $100 million in Feb. 2007 on the right to sign Daisuke Matsuzaka and then his actual contract. Those days now, thankfully, are done (Matsuzaka was good in 2007 and 2008 but then fell off a cliff).
The Nats are at a disadvantage in the Ohtani derby because they are a National League team. This guy wants to both pitch and bat in the majors, and not having the DH hurts National League teams in trying to persuade him to sign with them. But there is so much about this situation that is unique, from him forfeiting millions of dollars to him being a two-way sensation to his camp reportedly putting out a questionnaire for interested teams to complete. Nothing is for sure in this situation, and so the Nats should go hard after this guy. Are they likely to get him? No, especially when you consider that Nats are loaded with outfielders. But the Nats could use pitching help, and no team is too pitching rich to thumb its nose at a potential stud who will cost less than $25 million.
In this Nov. 19, 2015, file photo, Japan’s starter Shohei Ohtani pitches against South Korea during the first inning of their semifinal game at the Premier12 world baseball tournament at Tokyo Dome in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Toru Takahashi, File)
2. The Nats’ involvement in the Ohtani sweepstakes highlights a certain reality: the Nats lack pitching depth. After Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, what exactly do you have? Joe Ross isn’t expected to be back from his recovery from Tommy John surgery until at least July. Gio Gonzalez would seem unlikely to duplicate his .261 BABIP allowed per MLB.com in 2017. Many of us like Tanner Roark, but the fact that he didn’t throw a single pitch in the Nats’ five-game NLDS loss to the Cubs would seem to say a lot about what the organization thinks of him. 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. If Ohtani is legit, you can bet that the Nats could use him.
And if the Nats don’t get Ohtani (and I don’t expect them to), what will they do to shore up their rotation? The free-agent pitching market is highlighted by Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta and Alex Cobb. All are in their 30s and carry notable flaws. MLB insider Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe
reported last Saturday (Nov. 25) that the Nats are interested in reuniting with Jordan Zimmermann, but the Tigers would have to eat some of his contract. JZ, in case you haven’t been paying attention, has been a disaster over his two seasons with the Tigers: 5.60 ERA, 79 ERA+, 1.48 WHIP over 48 games (47 starts). He has three years and $74 million left on his contract. Remember the questioning by some of the Nats allowing Zimmermann to leave via free agency? How does that decision look now?
I would be very leery of bringing back Zimmermann if I were Mike Rizzo. The belief is that these Tommy-John guys have finite shelf lives, and that’s a big reason why the Nats didn’t want to re-sign Zimmermann. He’s entering his age-32 season. His hard-contact percentage soared to 39.5 in 2017 off having consistently been in the upper 20s. His average fastball velocity over the last two seasons is down more than two miles-per-hour over his peak in 2013 (94.7). His strikeout rate has plummeted. His walk rate has shot up. Unless Rizzo believes that the majority of Zimmermann’s struggles are health- and/or scenery-related, I wouldn’t touch this guy. The Nats shrewdly got out while the getting was still good.
3. Mike Rizzo in his appearance on MLB Network’s MLB Now
on Monday (Nov. 27) also addressed several other issues:
- Rizzo totally downplayed his contract situation. You would, of course, expect that. But the fact remains that this is a big deal. His contract is up after the 2018 season. It is entirely plausible that he is or becomes tired of being usurped by the Lerners and decides not to re-sign, especially if a) he is low-balled by the Lerners and b) Bryce Harper leaves via free agency. The Lerners, as you may remember, slow-walked the picking-up of a two-year option in Rizzo’s contract in 2016, exercising the option about a month before the reported June 15 deadline. That’s how they do business. Maybe Rizzo is tired of that.
- Rizzo talked up the Nats’ chance of re-signing Harper after the 2018 season. As I have said, I do believe that the Nats re-signing him is more likely than a lot of people realize. But if the price is in fact in excess of $500 million as the Lerners believe per a tweet from USA Today’s Bob Nightengale on Nov. 15, then no thank you.
- Rizzo reference new manager Dave Martinez bringing “an energy and an analytical savvy” to the Nats. The energy comment was interesting. There is a belief that Dusty Baker, who is 68, lacked energy as last season went on. MLB insider Ken Rosenthal of MLB Network, FOX Sports and the Athletic noted that Dusty “did seem tired at the end” in an appearance on MLB Network’s High Heat with Christopher Russo on Oct. 27.
4. A free-agent market that has been moving at a glacier-like pace did see the White Sox agree on a deal with catcher Welington Castillo on a two-year, $15 million contract with a club option for 2020 (the White Sox actually announce the financial terms of deals, which is rare). Castillo did a nice job for the Orioles in his one season as their catcher: He led all major-league catchers by throwing out 44.4 percent (20-45) of attempted baserunners, posted a 115 OPS+ and had a 2.1 bWAR. I’m fine with the O’s not keeping him, as one of their top prospects is a catcher in Chance Sisco. Also, the O’s still have Caleb Joseph, who had a nice bounce-back 2017 (1.6 bWAR, mostly due to his defense) off a horrendous 2016 (0 RBI over 141 plate appearances).
Castillo coming off the board also serves as a reminder of the Nats’ need to upgrade at catcher. The Nats can’t declare “World Series or bust” and yet go into the 2018 season with Matt 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: StatCorner.com had him at -15.7 Runs Above Average, the 11th-worst total in the majors.
There are other intriguing free-agent catchers, such as Alex Avila (2.7 bWAR with Detroit and the Cubs this past season) and Chris Ianetta (1.8 bWAR with Arizona this last season). Jonathan Lucroy is coming off a down season with Texas and Colorado and perhaps could be had on the cheap. But Castillo would have been a nice acquisition. Bottom line is that the Nats can do a lot better than Wieters and should attempt to do so.
5. MLB.com columnist Mark Feinsand wrote a piece published last Sunday (Nov. 26) titled, “10 potential ’18 free agents who could be dealt.” Three of the 10 were Orioles: Zach Britton, Manny Machado and Adam Jones. This is just another reminder of the need for the O’s to trade away their declining assets, get back arms to replenish a farm system barren in terms of pitching prospects and begin an Astros-like and Cubs-like rebuilding process. I have been yelling about this for months. These deals should have been last season when the likes of Machado and Jones especially had more value. And, by the way, how does it now look that the O’s didn’t trade away Welington Castillo? Feinsand and MLB insider Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic, MLB Network and FOX Sports appeared on MLB Network’s MLB Now on Monday and did a number on the O’s. It’s not just me banging this drum for an Orioles rebuild.
6. Speaking of Rosenthal, he wrote a piece for the Athletic that came out this week with the following headline: “Manny at third or shortstop? Time for Orioles and Machado to decide.” Indeed this has become a major topic this Orioles offseason. Machado, remember, was a shortstop in the minors before being converted to a third baseman so as to fill what had been a black hole for the O’s during the 2012 season. Machado has been said to get bored at times at third. And the O’s are in need of a high-level defender at shortstop with J.J. Hardy aging, declining and almost certainly gone as a free agent this offseason. There are a number of factors to consider with this potential move:
- Do the O’s believe that Tim Beckham can be a quality everyday shortstop? – He was acquired from Tampa Bay on July 31, had an incredible August (1.062 OPS) but then had a terrible September (6.03 OPS). He has been only about a league-average player offensively in his career despite having been the first overall pick in the 2008 draft. He’s going into his age-28 season, meaning that he’s not that young anymore. And he has been about a league-average defender in his career: -1 Defensive Runs Saved over 1,451 1/3 career innings at shortstop. Can the O’s live with this as their everyday shortstop?
- Would Machado be as good at shortstop as he is at third base? – Machado is second only to Colorado’s Nolan Arenado in Defensive Runs Saved at third base since the start of the 2012 season (81 vs. 104). Would that kind of defense carry with Machado in moving to shortstop? Or would he go from being an “A” to, say, a “B?”
- What would the O’s do at third base if Machado moved to shortstop? – The free-agent market does include third basemen Mike Moustakas and Todd Frazier, but those guys are flawed and likely will cost the kind of money the O’s don’t like to pay.
- Would a move to shortstop at all inhibit Machado’s offense? – He is coming off a down 2017 season by his standards: 107 OPS+ off a 131 OPS+ the previous two seasons. Would having to focus on a new position detract from his batting?