The Nationals- The Underrated Winner of the Trade Deadline

The Nationals lost Bryce Harper in the offseason, rather than try and find a real replacement for the star power they filled in other needs and made them stronger.  Adding Patrick Corbin, strengthening their already stout rotation, also adding Brian Dozier to fill a need on the infield that has been a problem for a long time.  

They started the season in a funk, dealing with injuries and inconsistent play. Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Juan Soto, Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman and Trea Turner all spent time on the DL.  On May 24ththe Nationals were 12 games under .500. Manager Dave Martinez was sitting on the hottest of seats, it looked as if the Nationals would have to consider selling and selling anything and everything.  

Washington has begun to turn it around but had one fatal flaw. They currently have the worst bullpen in all of baseball with an ERA of 5.97 and a BAA of .274.  With the bats getting healthy the one thing holding them back was bonafide gas can of a bullpen.  They addressed those issues during the final day of the trade deadline. They added pieces that under the radar of most will be huge pickups down the stretch run of the season. 

Roenis Elias

You can look at Roenis Elias’s numbers and not be blown away.  4.14 ERA going along with .419 wOBA given up to lefties are not numbers you would look for in a late inning reliever, but Elias brings more to the table then just a specialist.  His ability to shut down right-handed bats is intriguing.  The converted starter has held righties to just a .341 slugging percentage and a .243 wOBA.  He has found a way to get out the reverse side of the plate.  Elias also added a surprising 14 saves in 16 opportunities on a team that literally seemed to have given up.  He has proven himself to be a stable force in the backend of the bullpen.

Daniel Hudson

The Toronto Blue Jays unloaded a lot of pitching over the trade deadline and Daniel Hudson could be the quiet prize of them all.  Hudson is a strikeout machine against righties averaging 11.71 K/9 this season. Hudson has been a journeyman throughout his career, currently in the midst of a career year, he will most likely be given the chance to take over the 8thinning duties in front of closer Sean Doolittle. 

Elias, Hudson and fireballer Hunter Strickland were not flashy moves by the Nationals.  Their lack of farm system depth was not going to allow them to make a move for the likes of All-Star Shane Greene, but these are underrated moves that will fill a need that was holding back the Nationals.  The aforementioned Greene was picked up by their division counterparts the Atlanta Braves, who seem to have a lock on the NL East barring in major injuries.  Still I believe that this Nationals team will end up having one of the most successful trade deadlines that no one is talking about.  Suring up the bullpen was the one thing that they HAD to do to continue their monumental recovery from a disastrous start to the season.  

Five MLB Signings that are affecting the market.

The last two off seasons have a been a nightmare for MLB free agents.  In a time of big revenue for top market teams you would think that money would not be an issue and we would see the spending wars of the mid 2000’s.  What was once an arms race has turned into nothing more than a pity party.  Just ask Mike Moustakas and Greg Holland last season. The value of prospects, international money and draft picks has changed the way a lot of team construct their rosters. While there has been a culture change for most front offices, mistakes of others are also a factor in longer term deals.  These are the worst five contracts that have affected the current market.

5. Jordan Zimmermann, Detroit Tigers, 5-year $110 Million

Zimmerman was a hot commodity when he hit free agency after the 2015 season. All Star appearances in 2013 and 2014, winning 13 games in 2015, Zimmerman was arguably the biggest free agent starting pitcher name on the market.  The Tigers bit on the hype and signed Zimmerman to a hefty contract. At the time it looked like a great fit for a Tigers team that was looking to contend for a championship going into 2016.  The wheels feel of for Detroit and they feel into the bottom of their own division.  Zimmermann was not much help carrying a 5.13 ERA in three injury-plagued seasons in Detroit, and he’s still owed another $25 million in each of the next two seasons. 

Zimmerman’s poor play and massive contract have may him an impossible trade piece. Luckily for the Tigers Zimmerman should come off the books around the same time that the young pieces they have assembled can take form.

4. Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels, 10-year $240 Million

Albert is not higher on this list because he has been able to produce some over his seven seasons with the Angels. Producing two seasons of +4 WAR and one season hitting 40 HR.  Overall though this contract has put the Angels in a tough position.  Currently having the best player in the world on your roster you would hope to add something around him.  The Pujols contract and inability to play a position has hamstrung the organization.

Pujols was able to give the fans some memorable moments hitting his 500th and 600th homeruns as a member of the Halos.  Other than that, he has primarily been a burden. He is also due another $87 million over the next three seasons. Hopefully, it was all worth it for the Angels, who have gone just 576-551 with one playoff appearance since signing him.

3. Jacoby Ellsbury, New York Yankees, 7-year $153 Million

Second place in MVP voting in 2011, 52 steals in 2013.  Speed, power and defense, Ellsbury seemed to have it all going into the offseason of 2013.  The New York Yankees made an offer to the 29-year-old that seemed like a smart move on a great player in his prime.  Fast forward to 2019.  Ellsbury is entering the 5th year of his massive deal, still due another $42 million over the next two seasons not including the buyout of another $5 million in 2022 the Yankees have basically considered him a wash.

Jacoby didn’t play a single game in 2018 and has already been considered an afterthought in the stacked Yankee outfield.  If he is healthy enough to play, would they really even play him? His first season in pinstripes was solid with an OPS of .747 adding 39 steals, that’s basically all they got or their $153 million.

2. Pablo Sandoval, Boston Red Sox, 5-year $90 Million (2014)

In 2015 Pablo Sandoval cashed in on his Giants playoff heroics.  The Red Sox signed Pablo to a 5-year, $90 million-dollar contract.  The most memorable moment in his Red Sox career was when he took a swing and broke his belt in the process.  That belt took a bigger beating then the ball ever did off his bat while in Boston. Three seasons in Boston Sandoval played a total of 161 games.  That’s right a five-year contract got the Red Sox the equivalent of one season. In those games Sandoval hit .237 with 14 homers.  Not much more to say about this one.  His time in Boston effectively ended the legend of the Kung Fu Panda.

1. Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles, 7-year $161 Million

Chris Davis was always boom or bust player. When Davis signed his “mega deal” homeruns were not at a premium. From 2013 to 2015 the MLB average for homeruns per game was only .94.  Not realizing that the change in MLB culture was coming the Orioles thought they had a unique and mesmerizing player.  At the time of the deal it made sense, looking at it now makes Orioles fans sick to their stomach. 

Davis hasn’t just been bad, he has been historically awful. Hitting just .168 in 2018 Davis found himself out of the lineup for the last place Orioles.  This team was in last place and still couldn’t find a way to play him!  Oh, and he’s still owed another $94 million over the next four seasons. There are no signs that this is going to get any better for him — or for the team.

Dexter Fowler- 2019’s Most Important Player?

The saga of Dexter Fowler is sickening to pretty much all Cardinals fans.  His 2018 regression was historically awful, his perceived love of the Chicago Cubs is inexcusable.  Nevertheless, entering into the 2019 season, he may be the most important piece to a team that seems primed to get back to the playoffs. 

Fowler is not what Cardinals fans want, he’s not Bryce Harper. It’s time to accept the fact that most likely the Cardinals will enter the season with Fowler as the projected starting right fielder. He will play the role of either #2 hitter setting up for offseason pickup Paul Goldschmidt or he will be batting in the 6th spot protecting the bigger bats.  .180/.278/.298 are numbers you expect to see from a Starting Pitcher rather than your $16.5 million per year starting outfielder.  But to say that he repeats those numbers is almost unfathomable. In Fowler’s worst season outside of 2018 the lowest OBP he recorded was .364 in 2015, his lowest OPS .757 also in 2015. Whether it was the reported depression, injury or who knows what else, regression of that level is unheard of in major league history. 

While the Cardinals may never have the man to live up the contract that was signed in the offseason of 2016 realistically they don’t need the Fowler that posted an .840 and .851 OPS in 2016 and 2017.  They need a Fowler that can be at his career average at best to be successful. Despite his dreadful 2018 Fowler still has a career OPS of .780 nearly 60 points higher than the MLB average was in 2018.  Looking at the 2018 playoff teams worst OPS player you can see that all the Cardinals would need is a below average season from Fowler to get what they need.

Rockies, Ian Desmond, 160 games, .729 OPS

Brewers, Ryan Braun, 125 games, .782 OPS

Dodgers, Chris Taylor, 155 games, .775 OPS

Braves, Ender Inciarte, 156 games, .705 OPS

Combined average = .747 OPS

Fowler would need to be at just a .747 OPS to be where the Cardinals would need him to be. As previously stated only one time in his career has he posted an OPS below that mark (last season). While they were small, Fowler did show signs of life before his foot injury raising his OPS to .659 when compared to his June .412.  He added three homeruns in 64 at-bats in July compared to the zero he had in 55 at-bats in June.  Signs of life were there but quickly faded after getting hit by a pitch in early August. 

His defense has been the subject of criticism as well last season, but he was never touted as a Gold Glover before being signed.  With the addition of Paul Goldschmidt the Cardinals now have at least four potential Gold Glove winners, Bader, Wong, Yadi, Goldy and a past winner in Marcell Ozuna.  Any issues Fowler has in the field should be covered by the play of those around him.  He isn’t worse than Jose Martinez and the Cardinals were fine with risking their defense for the bigger bat. 

I want Bryce Harper, I want Tyler O’Neil to get more at bats.  But seemingly that is not going to be a guaranteed option unless the Cardinals are willing to eat $41 million over the next two seasons.  The Cardinals are not going to do that, they are going to ride with Fowler until they are forced to realize that he has nothing left.  This team now has its cornerstone bat in the middle of the order, they have the pitching staff that can give them a chance to win every night. All they need is a small piece of the player they believed they had signed to be successful.  It’s there, hopefully we see it.

@italksportsti

3 trades the Cardinals could make if Harper says no.

The St. Louis Cardinals are at the forefront of almost all offseason talks.  Bryce Harper,  Andrew Miller, Craig Kimbrel, Michael Brantley and basically anyone that has a pulse have been referenced as potential pickups.  The Cardinals have also been linked as a potential trade candidate for Diamondbacks Star Paul Goldschimdt.  If any of these scenarios were not to play out there are a few options that would make a lot of sense for Mo and Girsch to look into.

Kirby Yates, RP, San Diego Padres

The Cardinals have made it apparent that they are in need of a swing and miss pitcher at the backend of their bullpen.  Yates has quietly been one of the most consistent relievers for a bullpen that has been widely underrated. Yates has posted a staggering 29.% K-BB ranking him 7th among all pitchers that have pitched 40 innings or more. He has two pitches that cause above average swing and miss rates, his split-change (45.9%) and slider (44%).

Yates can fit right into the Cardinals bullpen as a late inning reliever and potential closer.  His contract is also very team friendly as he is controlled until the 2020 season. The Padres have an asset that they can move for more young talent that can help continue their rebuild .  Yates at 31 years old is not a player that the Padres are looking to build anything around.  Take advantage of the situation and get your self a swing and miss pitcher.

Justin Smoak, 1B, Toronto Blue Jays

Like the Padres, the Blue Jays are looking at a rebuild.  Rowdy Tellez showed that he is ready for the majors.  That means Smoak will be on his way out. Cardinals fans will have their issues with the Smoak pick up.  Known more for his inconsistency after being a highly touted prospect, Smoak followed up a breakout 2017 season with a respectable 2018 season. Smoak also brings a switching hitting aspect to his game, more effectively from the left side (A need for the Cardinals), from the left side Smoak excelled with a .867 OPS, hitting 20 of his 25 homers.

Smoak doesn’t bring much with the glove sitting at about league average over the last four seasons in defensive runs saved. A team in need of offense, however, could be willing to overlook these drawbacks for a switch-hitter who has created 28 percent more runs (128 wRC+) than the average big league hitter over the last two seasons.The 31-year-old has an .854 OPS and 62 homers over the last two seasons. Good stuff for a guy whose 2019 club option will only pay out $8 million.

David Peralta, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks have a litany of great players up for grabs.  The most underrated of them all could be Outfielder David Peralta.  Peralta has seen a jump in power statistics in 2018.

  ISO SLG wOBA wRC+
2017 150 444 342 104
2018 223 516 368 130

The increases led to the most productive season of Peralta’s career.  Peralta has his issues most notably with left-handed pitching, hitting only .237 against southpaws.  It got to the point that Peralta had become a platoon player for the D-Backs.  With a $7.7MM arb projection and two years of club control left for a D-backs team that has looked at some degree of rebuild this winter Peralta is a relatively expensive but reliable piece that the Cardinals can make work.

If the Cardinals are committed to moving on from Dexter Fowler in they can look at a platoon of Tyler O’Neil and David Peralta to compliment Marcell Ozuna and Harrison Bader. While a platoon is not ideal Peralta will be able to cover the inefficiencies of Tyler O’Neil.

Adding these three players will not make most fans happy.  Cardinal nation is screaming for a big time star.  While we wait and see the outcome of  MLB’s version of “The Decision”, fans have to understand that maybe the big star the fanbase seeks is not in this years class.  Next year Nolan Arenado will be a free agent…..just sayin.

2018 Nationals: What went wrong?

The 2018 Washington Nationals entered the seasons as clear favorites in the National League East race, potentially favorites for the National League Championship.  They would be at the forefront of the baseball world as they were set to host the 2018 All Star Game. With a rotation that featured Stephen Strasburg Gio Gonzalez and Cy Young winner Max Scherzer that Nationals had a rotation that screamed NL crown.  Impending free agent superstar Bryce Harper was going to lead this team to the next level, potentially convincing him to stay in Washington after rather then hit free agency in 2019.  As it so often happens in sports though projections and hype are tough to live up to.The Nationals currently sit one game under .500 at 69-70 a shocking 7.5 games back of the first place Atlanta Braves and 4.5 games behind the second place Philadelphia Phillies. A team projected to win their division by most sits in third and is showing no signs of progression.  We are left to ask, What went wrong?

There have been multiple players that have underperformed for the Nationals in 2018 but we have to point the finger at the guy looking to cash in over the winter of 2019. After a strong start to the year, he’s all but collapsed. Harper posted a .986 April OPS, followed by an .856 May and a .675 June, one of the worst monthly performances of his career. By Baseball-Reference’s numbers, he’s only barely classified as a productive player for the season, with 0.1 WAR. That puts him below the batting value of two of the team’s pitchers. (Scherzer, with 0.3 offensive wins above replacement, and A.J. Cole, with 0.2.) While Harper struggled the team struggled as the Nationals fell below .500 for the first time in the season on July 4th.

Blaming Harper is the easiest route especially for those who believe he is a bit overvalued in today’s baseball standards (I am one of those people).  Injuries plagued this team as well.  Injuries that included former #1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg led to a decline in a starting rotation that seemed to be carrying a sluggish offense. Strasburg’s injury seemed to be the final unravelling of a team that was on the brink of falling a part.  The Washington rotation outside of Max Scherzer fell a part to a tune of 5.36 ERA during the time he was absent. Despite the tailspin Nationals management was not giving up on the season, picking up long time Royals reliever Kelvin Herrera to sure up the back end of the bullpen that has been in question for multiple years.  This signified the commitment to try and make one last run for the playoffs that was quickly dwindling away.

The pick up had little effect on a team that seemed to have all but given up.  As the trade deadline approached Washington saw no hope in continuing its efforts.  Announcing that for the right price Bryce Harper would be up for grabs.  There were no takers for the 25 year old soon to be free agent.  Washington was stuck, a season going no where a star that is sure to leave.  It was team to unload what they could.  Daniel Murphy, Matt Adams, Ryan Madson were all sent packing to teams that were truly contending.  The Nationals 2018 season was all but done.

Moving on from Dusty Baker and solidifying the bullpen was suppose to make this team the better. They followed all the prototypes of a contender, deciding not to resign aging veteran Jayson Werth, calling up phenom Juan Soto, returning Adam Eaton to the lineup.  Everything made sense for them.  But there is something that this team has had trouble with since their move to Washington.  Team chemistry has been an issue.  Fights in the dugout and lack of true leadership has always been an issue.  Bryce Harper is a once in a generation talent, but from the start of his career he has been thrust to a position that only mature players can make work.  He is not a leader, he is just a great player.  Losing Jayson Werth, an under appreciated voice of the locker room with experience as long as his grizzly beard was a lose that people did not take into account.  An inexperienced manager that has never had to make big decisions cost them games down the stretch.  Injuries to a bullpen that was suppose to be “fixed” put them in a situation where they currently only have two players that were on the opening day bullpen.

I am a believer in great talent but sometimes you have to have the veterans around them to make it work.  Anthony Rendon, Bryce Harper, Trea Turner and Juan Soto are great talents that you can build around, but they are not leaders.  This team still has a bright future even without Harper in 2019.  Victor Robles would most likely assume his role with the team next year and the return of a strong rotation will put them in the race with the Braves and the Phillies.   This team’s 2018 was a bust but they can have a fresh start next year with a huge shadow of Bryce Harper gone.  Nationals fans will miss their superstar but maybe its better that he is gone.