Re-Ranking the Nationals by Trade Value after the Doug Fister Trade

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Last month, I ranked the Washington Nationals by trade value. (The full article can be found here on Red Porch Report; see also further discussion here).

Since then, the Nats have made one trade, grabbing Doug Fister from the Tigers in exchange for pitching prospect Robbie Ray, reliever Ian Krol and infielder Steve Lombardozzi.

Ray was 15th in my November rankings. Krol and Lombardozzi were not ranked. Despite the bizarre outpouring of affection from some parts of Nats Land for Lombo, Ray was the centerpiece of the trade from the Tigers perspective. Detroit GM Dave Dombrowki responded to criticism of the trade by saying that the team targeted 15 young pitchers league-wide, and Ray was the only one available.

It should be noted that Ray was the fourth young Nats pitcher on my list, behind Lucas Giolito, A.J. Cole, and Taylor Jordan. In fact, allegedly the Tigers first targeted Jordan before the Nats refused to trade him. If Robbie Ray is a top 15 young pitcher in baseball, and fourth on the Nats, did the Nationals have four of the top 15 young pitchers in baseball?

Krol has some value as a young lefty reliever. Lombardozzi has even less value as a young versatile infielder with major league experience. But the Tigers still make this trade without Krol and Lombardozzi. They don’t make it without Ray.

Now that he’s a member of the team, where does Doug Fister rank in a re-ranking of Nats by trade value?

It is tempting to simply put him 15th. He was traded, more of less, for Ray. The Nationals refused to trade Taylor Jordan, who ranked, appropriately, 14th.

However, it is almost universally agreed upon that that Mike Rizzo underpaid for Fister. Despite Dombrowski’s defense of his trade, Ray is viewed throughout baseball as a mid-tier prospect. A pitcher with Fister’s production (~7 WAR in ’12-’13) and arbitration time remaining (2 years) should fetch a top prospect or a package of mid-tier prospects. James Shields–a better pitcher but not by as much as you might think–netted the best prospect in baseball and two other mid-tier prospects in 2012.

My top five Nats by trade value in November were:

1. Bryce Harper
2. Ian Desmond
3. Stephen Strasburg
4. Gio Gonzalez
5. Jordan Zimmerman

That remains unchanged. These five are franchise cornerstones.

The next seven were:

6. Lucas Giolito
7. Anthony Rendon
8. Ryan Zimmerman
9. Jayson Werth
10. AJ Cole
11. Brian Goodwin
12. Denard Span

Fister falls somewhere in here, as he’s certainly more valuable than Span and probably also Cole and Goodwin. It is hard to imagine a pitcher of Fister’s quality being traded straight-up for a prospect like Cole or Goodwin.

Fister probably ranks behind Lucas Giolito, who might be an untouchable prospect. Its possible Giolito’s value has risen since November as some scouts have speculated he’s the most talented pitcher in the minor leagues right now.

Rendon, too, is probably untouchable as an infielder with power potential and six full years of club control remaining.

Zimmerman and Werth are difficult to pinpoint because they are attached to large contracts. Zimmerman has question marks about his long-term defensive viability at third base. As a first baseman, Zimmerman’s $100 million contract–which starts this year–is of less value to the team. Werth, despite his great 2013 has $80 million remaining on his contract and is entering his full decline years at the age of 34.

Fister’s value, I believe falls somewhere between Werth and Zimmerman. There is no scientific analysis here, just a gut feeling. Zimmerman is in his prime, and he has several more good years at third base. Zimmerman is locked up long term at an annual average value that looks, thanks to free agent salary inflation, far more reasonable than it used to.

This is not a knock on Werth, just a realization that many teams would be scared away by the back end of his contract.

Here is my new Top 10:

1. Harper
2. Desmond
3. Strasburg
4. Gio
5. J. Zimmermann
6. Giolito
7. Rendon
8. R. Zimmerman
9. Fister
10. Werth

Of course, this is all subjective and subject to change without notice.

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Thoughts on Ian Desmond and Jonah Keri’s Trade Value Column

Washington Nationals at Baltimore Orioles May ...
Washington Nationals at Baltimore Orioles May 22, 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jonah Keri today posted the second and final part of his annual Trade Value column on Grantland.  Four Nationals were ranked: Bryce Harper (3rd); Stephen Strasburg (15th); Gio Gonzalez (41st); and Ian Desmond (42nd).

Last month, I created a Nats-only Trade Value column (it is posted here on Red Porch Report).  The full column is worth a read, but my top seven looked like this:

1. Bryce Harper

2. Ian Desmond

3. Stephen Strasburg

4. Gio Gonzalez

5. Jordan Zimmerman

6. Lucas Giolito

7. Anthony Rendon

Minor leaguers were ineligible for Keri’s list, disqualifying Giolito.  In addition, while Jordan Zimmermann wasn’t ranked, Keri mentions Zimm “didn’t miss by much.”  Additionally, Keri told me via Twitter that Rendon was a “REALLY tough omission.”  It’s safe to say Keri’s top six looks like this:

1. Harper

2. Strasburg

3. Gio

4. Desmond

5. Zimmermann

6. Rendon

Among the Nationals’ top six players, Keri and I disagree on one player: Desmond.  Either I overvalued him or Keri undervalued him.  Let’s examine.

Here’s what Keri had to say:

He has just two years of controllable service time left. Still, if the Nationals made Desmond — a five-win shortstop in his prime who boasts power, speed, and defensive skill — available for trade, 20 teams would text Mike Rizzo within 10 seconds.

Here’s what I had to say:

Hardly anyone noticed that Ian Desmond has been the most productive shortstop in baseball over the last two seasons. Desmond doesn’t have Troy Tulowitski’s skill set, but he comes without the health concerns and crippling contract. With two more full years before he hits free agency, Desmond is probably at his career peak trade value right now. Any team trading for Desmond gets two affordable years of all-star level shortstop and — almost as important — an exclusive negotiating window for an extension. Elite shortstops don’t hit the free agent market often, and when they do, they usually get paid.

Keri appropriately discounts Desmond because he has only two years of club control before he hits free agency.  Strasburg and Gio, who Keri ranks above Desmond, have at least three years of club control before free agency.  Perhaps Keri’s rankings were more accurate; service time/contract length is generally the biggest factor when teams are making trades.

But I ranked Desmond higher than all of the Nats pitchers because of his position, shortstop.  Comparing shortstops to pitchers is inherently an apples to oranges exercise.  But my gut tells me, all things being equal, a 4 or 5 WAR shortstop is more valuable than a 4 or 5 WAR pitcher.

All teams need pitching, yet pitchers always seem to be available.  James Shields (3.9 WAR in ’11) was traded last offseason with two years left on his contract (albeit for a truckload of top prospects).  This season, David Price, Jeff Samardzija, and Max Scherzer were are on the market for the right price (the Tigers ended up trading Doug Fister to the Nats instead).  In any event, the price for a top tier pitcher with service time remaining is set: somewhere below the Shields to Kansas City ripoff for the Rays and above the Fister to Washington ripoff for the Nats.

Similar data doesn’t exist for shortstops, largely because fewer top tier shortstops exist and because top tier shortstops usually don’t get traded.  But that’s exactly my point.  Four to Five WAR shortstops are like Apple stock.  You don’t sell.  The Rangers locked up Elvis Andrus (4.0 WAR in ’12) last season long-term despite having an in-house replacement, mega-prospect Jurickson Profar.  After his 5.9 WAR season in 2010 , the Rockies famously signed Troy Tulowitzki until–and I’ll have to check this–the year 2646.

This leads me to my primary justification for ranking Desmond so high.  Having Desmond under contract not only entitles a team to his playing services, it guarantees a two-year exclusive negotiating window.  Despite being 30 when he will hit free agency, Desmond is the type of player I’d consider a “safe investment” for a long-term contract.  His career progression shows steady improvement from year to year, both defensively and offensively.  He shows little injury risk or other red flags.  He has embraced the role as team leader, whatever value, if any, that brings to a team.

Pitchers by contrast are inherently volatile.  Strasburg, for instance, hasn’t even pitched 200 innings in a season yet.  Last year he had a variety of minor ailments, leading to surgery this offseason. Even considering his limitless talent and potential, few teams would be willing to make a Verlander-sized financial commitment right now.  For his part, Strasburg and his agent Scott Boras are likely to test free agency at the first available opportunity.  Players like Strasburg and Desmond would demand a truckload of free agents if they were traded.  Accordingly, any team receiving them would want assurances of production and probably the possibility of a contract extension.  It’s in this context we begin to see Desmond’s enhanced value.

I agree with Keri’s point: if Rizzo put Desmond on the trade block, 20 different General Managers would probably pull a muscle running to their phones.  But that won’t happen of course, because Desmond won’t be traded.  Premier shortstops in their prime rarely are.

The Ultimate Jayson Werth Debate

3 Years later looking at the Werth contract. This was written before Werth had a career year at the plate in 2013

Half Street Heart Attack

The two brothers have been arguing about Jayson Werth since he first signed his name to a Nationals contract.  We finally put our argument into written words.

Justin: Jayson Werth’s contract was universally panned when he signed it over two years ago.  With four years and over $80 million to go after this season, it looks even worse.  Jayson Werth cannot stay on the field for an extended period of time (see his wrist injury last season and hamstring injury this season).  Even when he’s been on the field, he hasn’t really produced.  He has a combined WAR of only 2.2 in three seasons and has actually produced below league average since he’s been in Washington, according to Baseball Reference.  Moreover, Werth is 34 years old.  His production and health will decline further as he ages.  Two and a half years later, can you defend this contract in any way?

Jason: Game 4 NLDS…

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Thoughts on a Roof at Nationals Park

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Photoshop credit: @dcsportshopped

I can’t stop thinking about the roof.

News leaked last week that in July of this year, Nationals owner Ted Lerner approached the D.C. City Government to ask them to fund a $300 million retractable roof for Nationals Park.

A roof on Nats Park is as impractical as it is unlikely.  First, the city of Washington D.C. spent over $600 to fully fund a new stadium for the Nationals not that long ago (the park opened in 2008).  Frankly, I’m shocked the team had the temerity to ask, particularly when the city is in the process of funding two other sports-entertainment ventures: a renovation of the Verizon Center and a soccer-only facility for D.C. United.  On top of that, I doubt you could find a room of people in the entire DC Area that believes Nationals Park needs a roof.  Seattle needs a roof.  Miami needs a roof.  The Nationals had only four rain-outs last season.  Besides, since the stadium wasn’t designed for a retractable roof, any addition would be aesthetically awkward if not an architectural monstrosity.

For these reasons, most Nationals fans rolled their eyes and moved onto the next story, which promptly arrived when the Nats snatched Doug Fister from the Detroit Tigers.

But I can’t stop thinking about the roof.

Why do the Lerners want a roof on Nationals Park?  My most reasonable guess is that they want to turn the stadium into a 365-day entertainment venue.  The team has been aggressive courting concerts and other events (such as Paul McCartney), but Washington D.C.’s winter weather means the venue will mostly sit empty from November-March.  Since baseball season runs from April-October, there are only a few days on the calendar capable of hosting a non-baseball event at the stadium.  Maybe the Lerners view event rentals as an untapped gold mine.

The other possibility is that Lerners believe a roof is necessary for the baseball season.  Washington D.C. is not a climate like Miami and Seattle, where frequent rain-outs mandate a roof.  But Washington D.C. has a wickedly humid summer.  Sometimes the weather is unbearable in July and August—two of the biggest revenue generating months for a team since kids are out of school.  Arizona and Houston are two teams that have a roof simply because of the summer heat.

The entire episode underscores the fact that Nationals Park—and by extension the Nationals franchise—hasn’t found its identity yet.  The identity of the Chicago Cubs is deeply intertwined with Wrigley Field, a fact demonstrated by the contentious negotiations over the park’s planned renovations.  A baseball stadium is truly a home, for the fans and the team.  The fact that the Lerners would propose such a radical overhaul barely six years into the park’s tenure speaks volumes about the ownership and the stadium they were gifted by the city.

We all had high hopes for Nationals Park.  Major League Baseball and the city chose a prime spot for the stadium, right on the water merely blocks from the Capitol.  Yet various geographical and architectural considerations left most fans with a view of neither.  Most stadiums are defined by the view beyond their outfield walls—the Warehouse in Baltimore, the Clemente Bridge in Pittsburgh.  Nationals fans have a view of parking garages.  Nationals Park has all the modern conveniences of a new ballpark, but it’s still lacking an aesthetic identity.

The biggest ballpark news this offseason was the Braves’ decision to abandon Turner Field in Atlanta for a new stadium in Cobb County, Georgia.  This news was shocking simply because Turner Field is barely 16 years old.  There are active major league players who began their careers before the stadium even existed.

New stadiums can go in two directions.  They can become instant classics, like Camden Yards and PNC Park, where today’s fans can’t even imagine their home park ever being replaced.  New stadiums can also fail to capture people’s imaginations, like Turner Field and the Washington Redskins’ FedEx Field right up the road, where fans and ownership alike count the days until the time is ripe to replace it.

Six years old and a major facelift already on the table, it’s becoming more obvious which direction Nationals Park is headed.

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Year End: Lombo hates to take pitches more than any player in baseball

With the trade of Lombo, this is my last chance to share my year end review for him.

Half Street Heart Attack

Steve Lombardozzi is fascinating and I am not even talking about hit “grit” rating (which is off the charts).  To lead the league in certain category is something worth noting right?  Steve Lombardozzi lead MLB in the obscure category of least pitches per plate appearance; by the way, it is not even close.  He averaged 3.18 pitches per plate appearance, the next closest guy is A.J Pierzynski at 3.27 and the closest comp would be fellow 2nd baseman Jose Altuve at 3.28 who swings at everything.  To put that into perspective, that is Vlad Guerrero territory. For a while this season he was less than 3 pitches per at bat, which would be legendary.

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Twitter Reactions: the Doug Fister trade

Less than an hour after the Nationals traded for Doug Fister, I declared it a victory for the Nats.  I wasn’t alone.

Here are some of the more memorable reactions registered on Twitter.

Some loved the trade for DC.

Some people registered complete confusion. Continue reading “Twitter Reactions: the Doug Fister trade”

Insta-reaction: Nats trade for Doug Fister

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Now we know what Mike Rizzo had up his sleeve.

Most of us were predicting a quiet offseason for the Washington Nationals.  Add a few bench pieces.  Perhaps a reliever or two.  No big shakeups.  Go into 2104 with, more or less, the same squad that ended 2013.

We should have known better.

Mike Rizzo was never going to war with the army that lost him the last war.  Mike Rizzo is a wheeler and dealer.  He makes moves.  He’s aggressive.  He’s not afraid to make a mistake.

Rizzo probably surveyed the entire landscape.  I’m sure he asked about Max Scherzer.  Hell, he’s probably kicking the tires on Robinson Cano as we speak.  Rizzo makes things happen, and he never settles for less when there’s a chance we can improve his roster.

Doug Fister for Robbie Ray, Ian Krol and Steve Lombardozzi.

Did the Nats win the trade? Time will tell, of course, but this is looks like a win for the Nationals.

Doug Fister solidifies a soft spot for the Nationals: pitching depth after their “Big 3” of Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg, and Jordan Zimmermann.  The Nationals have several young prospects capable of holding down spots 4 and 5 next year–Taylor Jordan and Tanner Roark chief among them–but certainly no one with the track record of Fister, who has averaged nearly 30 starts a year over the past four seasons.

Fister is not a Mike Rizzo prototype pitcher.  That is, he doesn’t strike people out as often as Gio, Stras or Zimm.  Last year, he struck out 159 batters in 208.2 innings.

But the Nats probably don’t need that right now.  They don’t need a number one starter.  Fister can easily hold down the back end of the rotation.  More importantly, he’s not a huge investment.  Fister will certainly earn a high salary through arbitration for the next two seasons, but he’s not a long-term commitment.  Interestingly enough, he’ll hit free agency the same time as Jordan Zimmermann, providing the Nats a decent back up plan should Jordan decide to test the free agent market.

Did the Nationals give up too much? My gut reaction says no.  Robbie Ray is the big catch for the Tigers.  Last month, I ranked Robbie Ray as the Nationals 15th most valuable asset (the full rankings are available on Red Porch Report).  Among Nationals pitching prospects, Ray is furthest along in his development, ending last season in AA.  He’s also 22.  All together, Ray alone might make this trade a windfall for the Tigers.  He has enough talent to develop into a pitcher exceeding anything Fister has ever achieved.

But Mike Rizzo, once again, traded from strength.  He still has Taylor Jordan, Matt Purke, Sammy Solis, Nathan Karns, AJ Cole and Lucas Giolito.  The last five are still a few years away from holding down a major league rotation spot, but Rizzo has time.  Zimmermann and Gio don’t hit free agency until 2016.  Strasburg in 2017.

Ian Krol was an intriguing young left-handed reliever for the Nats last season.  He’ll pay the most immediate dividends for the Tigers.  I wouldn’t even be surprised to see Krol worked his way into the closing role in Detroit, who struggled all year to find the answer in the 9th inning.

Lombardozzi was well past his expiration date.  Lombo had many opportunities last season to prove himself as a full time player and he never seized the chance.  Lombo’s ceiling right now looks like a utility player.  His exit opens a roster spot for Danny Espinosa, whose defense can play a valuable addition to the Nats even if he never finds his bat.

The most interesting aspect of this trade?  Lombardozzi was an 18th round draft pick and Krol was a player to be named later in the Michael Morse trade.  This is another example of Mike Rizzo developing assets and then utilizing them to improve his roster.

Fister will help the 2014 Nationals’ chance to win the World Series.  And Rizzo didn’t have the mortgage the future to do it.