Nationals Baseball

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Injury Update - Only Zimm edition

Tuesday was a fun day in a Spring Training in desperate need of a fun day.  Zimmerman's "Spring Abstaining" reached its head as we finally got a public blitz in response to the increasing interest in why this guy wasn't playing any games . Articles from the Post and Zuckerman and Martinez & Zimm on the radio.

The story was consistent. No injuries. He just hates Spring Training and wants to do it his way and Martinez was ok with letting him try it. He says it came about organically as they tried to slowly work him into playing shape after feeling some general post-break soreness at the start.

Is this really what has gone on? Eh. It sort of ignores the whole "one major league Spring game" issue which seems a funny thing to do. It sort of ignores the fact that this doesn't seem like something done before and if you let someone do this "just because" then it opens up a can of worms. There's the fact that no reporter has apparently seen him play the field or run*

I suppose you can ignore those things but then there are other little things that seem funny. Like Zimm catching some throws at first while wearing what look like supportive sneakers? Or the story Zimm tells in that MASN interview about Eaton saying Thome never played in Spring Training when the two were teammates on the White Sox, but the two were never actually, you know, teammates on the White Sox, Thome having retired before Adam ever got to Chicago.**

So I have a hard time buying it but it's plausible I guess.

And even if I do buy it - there are other issues, like possibly the worst fielding first baseman in the NL thinking that getting half-hearted minor league field work is enough?

What I think is he felt something - a twinge, a pain, something - in his feet and the team and him didn't want to take any chances. So they limited him to as much work as he could possibly do while also resting those tootsies. This fits with the evidence. But this is just me saying something and in the end it's nothing more than a guess.  And even with everything said above the end point we reach is "Don't really care as long as he's fine on Opening Day" The problem I have, in the end, isn't with the team or Zimm - who are fine playing him as much or as little as they need and telling us what they want to, but with the beats for taking about 2 weeks longer than necessary to write the "The team says he's ok, but there are reasons to be suspicious" column. 

But it's out there now and we move onto the "Now Play!" phase of this story. Apparently this weekend it'll happen. We'll see.

*Plenty of shots of him doing BP and mentions of him shagging flies. However a plantar fascitis issue is most exacerbated by running or standing in place for long periods of time. So seeing him running the bases or playing the field is necessary to rule that out. 

**Plausible explanation - when Eaton got to Chicago and Thome was in the front office they talked and Thome told him he barely played in Spring. Of course Thome was basically a DH after leaving the Phillies in 2005 at age 35, so why would he do more than take cuts? 

Monday, March 19, 2018

Monday Quickie - All might be well

Eaton played! 

MAT played!

I had been pointing to today as a deadline for Eaton and he made it in under the gun (as much as that ever mattered).  He'll get about 10 games then to get back into the swing which probably isn't ideal, but if you aren't sure, you'd rather he have a week too few that start up a week too early. As the column notes though - the biggest issue probably isn't going to be at the plate but in the field. You can simulate live speed pitching with batting cage work. You can't simulate live speed OF play shagging fly balls and doing drills.

Janes runs down everything pertinent that doesn't include Ryan Zimmerman because that has for some reason become a sore spot between her and Nats fans. I mean sure you can say he's healthy and don't worry, but there is a story here. Especially given that it's Spring and everything is a story. There hasn't even been a column on Zimm this Spring. There have been two on Murphy who everyone is sure will miss Opening Day, just to say "yes, he's probably going to miss Opening Day".

There are extended AJ Cole and Tim Collins (Yay Tim Collins!) articles this weekend as well. These articles can combined teach you about the importance of options and exactly what type of deal you have signed. AJ Cole has no options left. If he doesn't make the team he will have to pass through waivers and he won't pass through waivers. He's an iffy 5th starter for the Nats, a team with a strong 1-4 and World Series hopes. He's a perfectly reasonable 5th starter with a little bit of potential for like half the league. Jeremy Hellickson is ok, maybe an arm you bet on having a better year than Cole, but you don't love the bet. He's on a minor league deal so the sensible thing is to have Cole start in the majors and worry about replacing him when (if? ... when) he fails.

After finally working his way back, Tim Collins signed a minor league with the Nats. So much like Hellickson it makes sense for him to start in the minors while the Nats pen figures itself out. But this doesn't mean he can be stashed there all year. Tim's got a July 1st opt-out, so if for some reason the Nats have held him back and he's doing well in AAA he can jump ship.  Don't expect that to happen though - even if the Nats pen is humming along expect them to either bring up Collins to keep him here or to ship him out. They aren't just going to let him walk if he's any good.

Another thing to note - the bullpen isn't as murky as it might seem. Shawn Kelley, getting paid millions, will get his chance to show he's not hurt. However, expect him to start on the DL. Why? The Nats have three guys for two slots if he's on the team.  Enny Romero is out of options, and was decent last year, so he'll make it.  Also out of options is Matt Grace, which explains why the guy with mediocre results is trying to be forced into a long relief role. Solis has only one option remaining. So it behooves the Nats to start him in major league camp to give them some flexibility down the line rather than waste the option now. They also see him as their best lefty stopper in the pen and don't really want to put him in the minors just to do it. If they can delay this decision on these three, even just by a couple weeks, they'll do it and hope that fate makes decisions for them.  It often does when it comes to pitching arms.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Big Weekend

The Nats injury issues come to a head for the first time this weekend as I want to see Adam Eaton on the field by Monday. Good news is - we probably are going to see that  Assuming all goes to plan that would move Eaton along with the Opening Day start that we had hoped for but didn't expect going into Spring Training that they would be so careful setting up.

We'd love it as well if MAT showed up on the field this weekend too but as I noted last post that's not as necessary because MAT did get some real playing time in before tweaking his injury.

Another thing we'd love to see is Zimm doing anything with the team. Janes swears he's fine, but it's a "ignore all the circumstantial evidence and believe what you are told and what they show you" kind of swearing. The team says he's fine. He says he's fine. When he hits, he looks fine. He's not limping around or in a sling. But at the same time it was decided after one Spring Training game that Zimmerman would not field anymore, would not run anymore, and would not participate in anymore Spring Training games. He would only hit in the back fields for a few weeks. That's very suspicious.

Could one decide to break from what he's done before, what anyone has done before really, and only take batting practices? I gueesssssssssss. Spring Training isn't taxing if you don't want it to be and first base isn't a taxing position to play but I suppose you always prefer doing nothing over something. So maaaaaaaaaaaaayybe. But it's the one game played that really sets off my alarms. You decide something like this coming in I imagine. Talk to the team. Tell them this is what you'd like to do. Have them agree. They let the press know so they aren't hypothesizing injuries like we are now. You don't play a game then suddenly decide it.

Do I think Ryan misses Opening Day? I actually don't. I think he'll play. But do I think there's nothing wrong? Nope. I think there is something up and they are going to try to get through it without ever mentioning it.

Rizzo also admitted that Glover isn't progressing as they thought he might, which likely means a good long time out for Koda. As Koda was the 4th/5th/6th man up (depends how you slotted him, Enny, and Benoit) that doesn't mean that the Nats are going to go out and get someone else for 2018 . I'd be very surprised if they do in fact.  But that doesn't mean his injury doesn't have ramifications.

Glover was the Nats long term answer in the pen. Madson is a FA after this year. Kintzler is possibly one after this year* as well, definitely one after next. Glover was supposed to rise into a set-up and then likely a closing role. If he can't stay healthy the Nats will have to move on from that idea. But to who? Austin Adams is probably next in line but he's far from a sure thing. You could convert Erick Fedde but that would leave you with a zero SP prospects that would impact 2018 or 2019 (Romero and Crowe are late 2019 at the earliest) for a team struggling to fill a 5th spot now and with guys up for FA this year (Gio) and next (Roark). Wander Suero is a possibility... if he's healthy. With RP costs going through the roof as their roles expand I doubt Rizzo will want to rely on FA to fill the gap. The Nats will be an interesting position if they are still facing this issue at year's end. 

*His contract has an option for 2019 but the team option is for 10 million - which I don't see the Nats picking up unless Kintzler is amazing this year. However, he has his own option for 5 million. It's certainly possibly he picks that up. Or it's possible he goes for a multi-year deal elsewhere.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Injury Update

As we hit the half-way point of March, everyone is coming around to the "it's getting late early" viewpoint regarding the Nats injuries.  Not much has changed for the guys that we talked about before but a couple new things have sprung up that we need to talk about.

For reference - the Nats have a day off today and 12 Spring Training games remaining. This includes a game against the Twins on the 27th at Nationals Park. Opening Day is early this year - Thursday the 29th.

First the easy updates that require no rethought about timing, the good and expected news:

Matt Adams - foot blister
What you wanted to see - Him playing by Saturday
What you saw - Him playing on Sunday and has been playing since.

Bryce Harper - ingrown toenail
What you wanted to see - Him playing before Monday
What you saw - He played on Saturday and has been playing since.

and the bad and expected news :

Koda Glover - recovering from shoulder issues
What you wanted to see - On the mound sometime during Spring.
What you saw - No update.

Joe Ross - recovering from Tommy John
What you wanted to see - Probably just 90 feet before Spring is out. I think that would be enough. We're still far out here so there's a lot of leeway.
What you saw - No update

Now the more detailed updates

Adam Eaton - recovering from a torn ACL.
What you wanted to see - As soon as he plays a game it's good. Until then you'd like to see some sort of ramping up and at least one "any day now" kind of message about when we'll see him play.
What you saw - We've gotten the "very soon" talk and he is ramping up taking "running it out" BP and he maybe even hit in some mysterious "minor league games". Still he hasn't played the field as far as anyone knows.
What adjustment - The fact he hasn't played the field is worry some but I'll stick by my previous "deadline" of being in a line-up by March 19th before adjusting anything. That would give him 8 games of at bats. Not ideal but we're looking for a minimum here.
What you want to see - Him playing no later than Monday

Daniel Murphy - recovering from knee surgery
What you want to see - Just a progression. I think you'd want him doing real baseball activities, taking batting practice, fielding balls while, you know, standing up, sometime before the end of Spring. Once he can do those things, then you can worry about doing it at full speed and then it's about rounding yourself into shape. If we're taking Eaton as a guide that's probably a month or so buildup.
What you saw - A progression. He's taken batting practice first in the cage and now on the field, and yesterday began to field standing up. He's still not running let alone jogging things out so there's still a way to go but there hasn't been a major setback. 
What adjustment - No adjustment. I still think late April (after the 20th) is the best deadline
What you want to see - Let's see I probably will update this again around the end of ST so by then you'd like to see Murphy doing some jogging/running balls out and maybe some lateral fielding. Basically you'd like to see him in position to start playing games in the minors when those teams start up (around the 6th of April)

And the new guys

Michael Taylor  - mild tightness on the right side of his torso
Team Says - He'll be back "soon"
Seen - He's taking running out BP with Adam.
What adjustment - We're assuming he will be ready for OD. MAT doesn't need the same amount of prep as Eaton since he, you know, played baseball past April of last year, and got some games in early in Spring Training.  I don't see any reason to think that isn't going to happen so no adjustment now.
What you want to see - I'll set the deadline for him at that last weekend - the 24th or so.

Ryan Zimmerman - ????
Team Says - They are just giving him rest to not wear out his body for the long haul of the season
Seen - He played one game to start Spring Training and hasn't played since. He's taking at bats on back fields. He hasn't fielded or worked on baserunning.
What adjustment - This depends. So what this sounds like is a recurrence of the plantar fascitis in his foot. For your review this plauged him in 2015 and the beginning of 2016. The way that this works is your foot hurts especially when you are striking down on your heel so hitting is easier on you than running. It also is aggravated by long periods of standing which is why taking the field is out. How do you heal? You rest and you hope it goes away. That's basically it. You can do physical therapy, get orthotics, ice it down, but really you are just waiting it out and it's usually months, not weeks.

You can play through it but the constant pain takes a toll on you mentally.This is often cited as the reason Zimm was so bad in 2016.  Given we know nothing about how bad it is and pressuming it started up at the start of Spring Training I'm going to say it's a 2 month thing and he's out until May but there is huge variability here just in the way the injury works (let alone the fact I am not a doctor, haven't seen Ryan up close, and have no idea what I think it takes to get him ready. I'm just saying things*). Right now, I would slate Ryan OUT for Opening Day.
What you want to see - Any mention of Zimm running or fielding. They won't do this unless they think he can do it without pain. Since he hasn't played yet, you'd like to see this before the middle of next week, but you can probably press it to the last weekend if you must since he's presumably getting hitting in, just not hitting and running.

*I know I say "you can't just say things" but you can just say things if you say you are just saying things. And I'm just saying things.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Monday Quickie - Not a threat but unable to be dismissed

The Phillies signed Jake Arrieta.  We've talked before about how the Phillies are setting up a playoff team for 2019. Before yesterday they had a player 26 or younger at six out of eight offensive positions and potentially at 4 out of  5 rotation spots that they would use 2018 to evaluate*. They have a lot of payroll room even after Carlos Santana signed, that they would attack the deep 2019 free agent market with. If things broke as expected they should be a playoff contender, and if things broke right they could be a division dominator for a few years.

There was one potential cause for concern though. While the Phillies had 4 (or more) young arms they could evaluate this year, these weren't necessarily highly thought of arms. Guys like Nick Pivetta, Ben Lively, and Zach Eflin would be lucky to end up reliable back of the rotation arms. The more talented arms of Jared Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez could be special but are beginning to age into "they are what they are" territory. This wouldn't be too big an issue, you evaluate then spend money to fix, if next year's FA class had an abundance of pitchers. But it doesn't for sure.

Now it could. It could have Clayton Kershaw and David Price but more likely you are looking at a class headlined by the likes of Drew Pomeranz and Gio Gonzalez. These are decent arms. Maybe even guys you can pass off as #2s, but they aren't rotation fixes. So if the Phillies wanted to ensure the rotation would be in 2019 they needed to make a move this year, while a decent class of FA pitching sat out there, passed over by the usual suspects.

The Phillies did it - they signed Jake Arrieta. They now have a front of the line pitcher for the next couple of years, who along with Aaron Nola (who is actually very good) should give the Phillies a respectable 1-2 and a much better chance of filling in a playoff caliber rotation.

The contract is a three year deal... sort of.  30, 25, 20 million guaranteed. Jake can walk after 2 if he chooses UNLESS before the end of that season the Phillies exercise an option to keep Jake for two years past this end date (at a probable 25 per minimum).  The way this contract should be seen is that if Jake is terrible in year 1 and/or 2 the Phillies have an out after three years. If Jake is good or better, he likely gets a contract similar to what he wanted to get. If Jake is ok... he likely gets a chance to pick another team to move forward with after 2 years.

OK enough with the abstract.

How good is Jake? 
 He's good but all the trends were  going the wrong way the last couple years. That wasn't so much as issue in 2016 when you were starting from 2015's Cy Young season, but in 2017 it got kind of problematic. His FB speed is dropping, so the hits are going up along with the home runs. He seems to be able though to work through things better than in his youth, so a total meltdown would be a surprise. But he was basically the pitcher you saw last year.  He's still young enough to believe he can get back to what he was. He is also coming off a much stronger second half of 2017.  Still prevailing wisdom would put him at basically the pitcher he was in 2017 until he proves otherwise. This makes him not an ace, but a #2 behind Nola. Don't dismiss the importance of this though. When you add a pitcher to the rotation you kick off a #5. The difference between that player kicked off and the player put in can be huge. In this case you are likely leaving off a AAAA pitcher and replacing him with a solid #2. That's worth 2-3 wins at least.

How good are the Phillies?
Probably .500 good, with a chance to be WC good if they catch some breaks (or sign Alex Cobb). Their pitching wasn't as bad as you might think for being ranked 10th in the NL. There was some solid pen work, which they've bolstered through FA. They were as close to league average as 11th. I'd expect, with the improvements made and with general aging, for the group to be slightly above average in 2018, and there is better chance for a big improvement as it would only take one of Velasquez/Eickhoff to "get it" to fill in with a better than average #3 and one of Eflin, Pivetta, Lively to "get it" to follow with a better than average #4.

On the flip side the offense wasn't as good as you might think as they were an honest 12th and clearly behind even the 11th team. As they'll be basically starting young players all around there is a decent chance that they'll struggle to score again. Alfaro (C) and Crawford (SS) have lost some luster. Franco has lost his way. And the OF is full of B-level prospects (and I'm including Rhys Hoskins).  It's not that one or two of these guys may not succeed long term, maybe even break out. However, a couple of stars being found in this group seems unlikely as of today. Instead this group is likely to produce one very good player, a couple of good players, and be the foundation for whatever FA they sign next year. I'd expect an improved offense but one that lingers below average. The variability of it though is wild.

The other thing to consider with the Phillies moving forward is they do have a couple more legit prospects in the pipeline with Sixto Sanchez (think a pitching prospect somewhere between a Robles and a Soto) and Scott Kingery (college ball guy looking to be the next Utley) and a decent group beyond that so that the spigot isn't suddenly turned off after 2018.

I see a squad that should have a rotation that rounds into form in 2018 and a line-up that figures out where the holes are at the same time. The sooner these things come together the more of a threat the Phillies will be, because they should be able to deal for a guy like Machado down the stretch (assuming they believe this means a long-term signing to follow).  For now, see the Phillies as a team not to be dismissed. They should bounce around .500 and ultimately fall out of the playoff race in September as better teams make stronger moves. However, a fast start by them and a slow start by the Nats would make the season a lot more interesting. The Nats should be solidly 10-15 games better than the Phillies, so falling back by 5-10 early could mean a season of playing catch-up.

*And the non Carlos Santana players listed here are 27 and 28 this upcoming year.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Seth Romero and the gambling drafts

When it comes to the draft, the Nats are gamblers at heart. I wrote this a few years ago, and nothing has changed. The Nats still are gambling on talent hoping to find a transformational player rather than a mere useful one. The idea is, if you find one every 3-4 years, it can sustain a team. The Nats were handed two in Strasburg and Bryce, and then, with a high draft pick, snagged a player close to that in Rendon. But since then they've been failing.

2012 : Lucas Giolito - injury risk that was initially thought to have Hall of Fame potential (no seriously see that link above people were saying that) if he could stay healthy. He is more likely to settle into a 3-4 role in a rotation. (though personally I like him to be a savvy 2). Traded with others for Adam Eaton - a very solid player but not transformational. 

2013 :  Jake Johansen - 2nd round pick (first lost for Soriano) here was a guy that wasn't a highly thought of player that dropped because of warning signs, but a guy with all talent and no results. A6'3" 235 pound beast with a 7-6 record and a 5.40 ERA in college with good but not impressive K and BB rates. Because of the results he was ranked low as a prospect, lower than where the Nats grabbed him. He never performed outside of short-season ball and the Nats released him last year.

2014 : Erick Fedde - Very highly thought of college pitcher whose pre-draft season ended in TJ surgery. The Nats scooped him up and waited out the injury. He didn't pitch in 2014. He's had some decent pitching in the low minors but the high minors have been a bit of a struggle for him, the Nats have toyed with him in the pen, and had a real rough outing in the majors. Is expected to at least start 2018 in AAA. The good news is that his control clock has barely started. The bad news is that he won't start a season in the Nats rotation until at best he's almost 5 years post TJ. If you believe in a shorter shelf life after TJ there is a diminishing return possible.

2015 : Andrew Stevenson - 2nd round pick (first lost for Scherzer). A little bit of a reach as a toolsy speedy defensive specialist that the Nats hoped could develop as a hitter. He has reached the majors but outside a short stint in AA to start 2017 his high minors time has more shown what he is not capable of (hitting with any power) than what he is. He's maybe a 4th OF to be if he can figure out how to use his speed to get on base. I'd maybe give the Nats a pass here though because I don't think they expected Stevenson to be much more than he is. I think.

2016 : Carter Keiboom and Dane Dunning - both were seen as more 2nd round picks, though the Nats did select late in the first round. Hard to completely judge either of these players but both look strong at the moment. Of course Dunning, part of the Eaton deal, is doing it for the White Sox.

 2017 : Seth Romero - Talented but troubled youngster. His first minor league season was just ok and now he's doing something wrong, if something relatively minor.

Either of Keiboom or Dunning (again for CHW) could be that next hit the Nats wanted, though you see why I set the time frame as hitting one every 3-4 years. If one of these guys hits they'll likely make their squad in fall 2019 at the earliest and at least a year of play is needed to see if they are special. At that point your original hits, Stras, Bryce, and Rendon will basically be out of your control and you'll have to have made a $ decision on them. It's nice to have these guys coming up but they haven't reloaded you in time. The Nats have missed on 4 straight, went for something special and whiffed on that goal. They probably did it again with Romero.

I don't really fault the Nats for this approach. You need superstars and if you can get them cheap that is a huge load off your payroll. However, if you don't get them you are passing up on some opportunities to shore up the current team, with the stars in hand, trying to start that second round with new ones. It's a calculated gamble for the Nats. Luckily that also involves international signings and trades which have kept this from being a disaster. Because of those moves, and not the draft, the Nats have a chance to keep winning without breaking the bank.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Monday Quickie - some updates

Bryce played and looked fine. Matt Adams played and looked fine. Scratch those off the "to be placed onto worry lists if they weren't playing by today" lists.

Jorge Castillo from the Post got Martinez' update about Eaton and Murphy and it's not great. But I mean that literally. It's as probably expected. It is not great.

Eaton is still in a middling zone that allows you to worry even though we still have at least 2 weeks of leeway to play with before you should honestly be concerned.

Murphy is still progressing slowly. Now hitting off a tee and doing soft toss hitting, but still not putting any real pressure on that knee. It's a slow ramp up... which is what we expect for a guy that at best had mid-April as a return date.

Nothing new is really happening otherwise
The Phillies are still trying ton convince fans that they need to test out all these "great young arms" rather than sign the 1-2 FAs that would make them a WC contender this year.

The Mets are looking at Steven Matz pull the rare "Oh - this is something in Spring that looks like you should actually worry about" while they too try to put off signing a real picher because of Lugo and Gsellmen and other AAA types.

Meanwhile the Braves and Marlins half-try to put up a team in a year where the Braves see if there's anything here or decide to scrap it before it ever got started and the Marlins start their scorched- Earth rebuilding. 

The Nationals then are free to pull their "this is good enough" strategy that has led them to 4 titles (and 2 playoff misses when arguably a little more effort might have made a difference) in 6 seasons.

Yawn. Let's see if Arrieta (or Lynn or Cobb) drop into the NL East and spice this up a bit. The Phillies are ALMOST are interesting. The Mets are ALMOST a threat. But right now it's business as usual for the Washignton Nationals and the also-rans.