The Winter Meeting are upon us, and the Nats haven’t yet made any moves. What gives? Seriously, there isn’t a whole lot the Nats need to do this offseason. They could do NOTHING, and every sabermetric prediction machine would have them, at minimum, NL East favorites.
But they’re not going to actually do NOTHING this offseason. We don’t know what they’re gonna do, but we can certainly speculate. And we can talk, from our less informed positions, about what we’d do. So… here’s what I would do if I was Mike Rizzo:
Trade Fister or Zimmermann
It’s not like I have a strong desire to break up this rotation. But I think at some point they are sacrificing potential dividends in order to maintain something that they don’t really need. I think of it sort of like an opportunity cost for a business – they shouldn’t go after a project that nets them a 5% margin if it means they can’t go after the one that nets them the 10% margin.
If they can sign Jordan Zimmermann to an extension, I think they should do that. While I do have some concerns about his long term durability*, I’m actually not that concerned about him losing a mph or two on his fastball as he ages. It is bound to happen, but this guy’s success has come from his control. Or command. Whichever. Anyway, it means he will probably age well. But I have a feeling they aren’t coming to a deal this offseason, and if that doesn’t happen, I don’t expect any sort of discount when free agency comes.
* He’s going to be 1,000 innings removed from Tommy John surgery after 2015. There is some thought that there is a life to this fix, and eventually it would need to be done again. I just don’t know if there is evidence enough in either direction, but losing him mid-season, for 12 months, in ’17 or ’18 or whatever is something you’d have to at least consider
So if an extension can’t get done, then I would trade him. Or Doug Fister. I’m sort of indifferent to which one stays. Obviously JZimm is the better pitcher, and I’d like him more for 2015, but he also brings you a better return. So see what you can get, and whatever looks best, take it. Assuming it’s actually a good deal. If they can get a real solid prospect, like recent rumors of JZimm for a top flight MiLB shortstop suggest, or if they can get a starting middle infielder, like today’s (denied) offer of Fister for Rougned Odor, then do it.
As for the dropoff in 2015, it’s probably not as bad as you think. I went over this in detail before, but if JZimm is a 4.0 WAR player in 2015, they might only lose something like 2-4 wins by using someone else. A.J. Cole should be ready to go this season, and if they need them, Ross Detwiler and Blake Treinen seem like pretty good fifth starter options. I might even go out and get a Hiroki Kurodo at a 1 year deal.
Get Another Infielder
Assuming one of those starters doesn’t get moved for a middle infielder, there’s a position that the Nats need to fill. While I think Danny Espinosa has something to contribute to this team – his defense is great and he can mash lefties – at this point he’s nothing more than a platoon player. One thought is to go acquire a platoon complement for him – I had mentioned Didi Gregorious who went to the Yankees a few days ago relatively cheaply. But barring picking up a guy like Gregorious, it’s probably best to forget a platoon and just get a guy who can play second base.
Recent rumors have linked the Nats to Omar Infante. Infante hit .252/.295/.337 last year. He’s about to turn 33, so that may have been a blip, but it could also be a sign of things to come. If your Espinosa replacement isn’t much of a better hitter than Espinosa, it’s going to be a wash because of Danny’s great defense. Infante also has a ridiculous contract that pays him $23.25M through that end of 2017, with a $10 team option for 2018 and a $2M buyout. This is not a deal I would make.
The guy I’d want to look at is Jung-Ho Kang. Kang is a Korean League shortstop who demolished the hitter-friendly league at age 27 last year. Keith Law notes that while some think his bat might not play in MLB, and he may be more of a corner guy, he believes the opposite.
I see a swing that will generate legit plus power even once he leaves his hitter-friendly home park in the Yangcheon District of Seoul…He’s not as fleet afoot as you would want a shortstop to be, but he has good enough hands and gets good reads off the bat, making up for some deficiencies with a 60 arm
That sounds like a guy who might scare away some people looking for shortstops. But could be an ideal second baseman. And if it ends up that he really can handle SS, that just gives the Nats some leverage as they figure out what to do with Desmond over the next year. Being Mike Rizzo, I’d of course want to scout him further, but if I like what I see, I’m pursuing him.
Solidify the Bench
The last thing I’d do is go out and sign one more lefty for the bench. Juan Francisco is available, and he hits so poorly against LHP that his value is diminished. But his career line of .248/.310/.476 against righties is pretty good, and last year was even better. As @RedPorchReport pointed out…
Tyler Moore could certainly provide some offense, and in limited time it might not be so bad. But he’d probably be more effective in a platoon. Signing Francisco gives you a ton of flexibility. Not only does it allow you to have what would probably be an effective 1B platoon, it also allows you to platoon him (at 3B vs RHP) and Espinosa (at 2B vs LHP) with Anthony Rendon (at whichever position the other guy isn’t playing) if you need to. Heck, if I really can’t find a good 2B, I could make this a season long platoon, although I think players prefer some stability and wouldn’t make this my first priority.
That’s not a ton of moves, but there are some pretty big ones there. At least, that’s what I’d do if I was in Rizzo’s shoes, which are probably Tommy Bahama shoes. I’m excited to see what he does.