Dave Nichols of District Sports Page and Patrick Reddington of Federal Baseball discuss the big Max Scherzer deal, what the next steps may (or may not) be and the Yunel Escobar trade.
According to the Washington Post, the Washington Nationals have completed a deal with free agent starter Max Scherzer. While terms were not revealed, Scherzer rejected a $160 million dollar offer and reports earlier Sunday evening indicated the sides were contemplating a seven-year deal for $180 million.
Barring any other moves (which seems unlikely), the Nats rotation is, in a word, fearsome. Scherzer joins Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister and Tanner Roark in a deep, talented and expensive rotation.
Even before talk of Scherzer came to light Sunday, the Nats were rumored to be entertaining offers on Zimmermann and Ian Desmond, potential free agents at season’s end. It becomes likely, if not prohibitive, that one of the potential free agents (including Doug Fister and Denard Span), or another expensive player — such as Strasburg — could be moved for prospects or to bolster the roster.
Or, GM Mike Rizzo could very well keep everyone in an effort to capture the World Series for 89-year-old owner Ted Lerner, then deal with the repercussions following the season.
Scherzer, 30, was simply the top free agent on this year’s market and one of the top five pitchers of the past two seasons for the Detroit Tigers. He’s been an All-Star the past two seasons, Cy Young in ’13 and fifth in ballots last year. He’s 91-50 with a 3.58 ERA and 1.219 WHIP in his career, which obviously includes some difficult seasons early as he learned to command his precious fastball.
In ’13, Scherzer was 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA and last season went 18-5, 3.15. Scherzer has a lifetime K rate of 9.6 and BB rate of 2.8, and the past two seasons he’s been on the right side of both (above Ks, below BBs).
Additionally, moving back to the N.L. at this stage in his career should be a boon to his strikeout numbers.
There will be plenty more written about this mega-deal, but the fallout — if there is any — will be fascinating to watch. Rizzo had some big decisions even before this happened, and they become even more intriguing.
It’s been no secret around Nats Park that Jordan Zimmermann would test the free agent waters when he became eligible. Scherzer could very well be Rizzo’s idea to replace the stoic right-hander.
There were plenty of rumors and suggestions by national media Sunday evening that Strasburg could be dangled as a trade target, as he’s due for free agency in the very near future.
Or, Rizzo (and potentially more likely, Scott Boras — Scherzer’s agent) got to the Lerners and said ‘You’ve got a chance here to win it all’ and convinced the wealthy but cautious family to go “all-in” and give themselves the best chance at a championship over the next couple of seasons.
Either way, a competitive and interesting team got more so on Sunday, when most of the country was watching the NFL Conference title games. What comes next could make for spectacular drama, adding to this fascinating and intriguing development.
Late Sunday, the internet blew up. Yes, most of it nationally was centered around the Seattle Seahawks kind of ridiculous comeback against the Green Bay Packers. But locally in DC, it’s when first rumors, then unconfirmed sources, then actual reports surfaced: the Washington Nationals were indeed “in” on free agent starting pitcher Max Scherzer.
Scherzer, 30, is simply the top free agent on this year’s market. He’s been an All-Star the past two seasons, Cy Young in ’13 and fifth in ballots last year. He’s 91-50 with a 3.58 ERA and 1.219 WHIP in his career, which obviously includes some difficult seasons early as he learned to command his precious fastball.
In ’13, Scherzer was 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA and last season went 18-5, 3.15. Scherzer has a lifetime K rate of 9.6 and BB rate of 2.8, and the past two seasons he’s been on the right side of both (above Ks, below BBs).
If you’re going all-in on a guy that you think puts you over the top as a contender, there are none better available.
Of course, there are repercussions.
All winter long, Mike Rizzo’s been making moves that appeared to be stabilizing salary. He didn’t chase down a big bat to fill the second base hole, rather he traded one of the most reliable set-up men in the country for an average at-best shortstop (with a maturity history) to do so. He stayed out of the bidding when other big-name free agents came off the board.
In fact, everyone knows the Nats have some hard choices to make with Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister and Denard Span all free agents after the season is over, and with Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper approaching that status more quickly than any of us would care to think about.
Adding Scherzer to the equation would change the calculus dramatically.
It would seem that by adding a pitcher for seven years at $180 million (the rumored offer at this point), the Nats are making the decision an offseason early, and that they’d allow all that money to come off the books.
There have been trade rumors flying around all winter regarding Desmond and Zimmermann, and if this deal goes through, we can expect those to intensify. Rizzo could use either/both to restock the system with close-to-MLB talent to fill the holes created when those players walk.
Or, Rizzo could stand pat with a rotation of Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez and Doug Fister, move Tanner Roark into the bullpen, and try to win a World Series before the “group of four” go out as free agents.
By the time you read this Monday morning, we may already have an answer. But this will be fascinating to watch play out.
The Washington Nationals traded two-time All-Star Tyler Clippard to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for much-traveled shortstop Yunel Escobar, the ninth time since he’s become general manager that Mike Rizzo has made a trade with his Oakland counterpart, Billy Beane. On paper, it’s the type of trade Major League general managers dream of making: trading an expensive, fungible asset — in this case, the most-used relief pitcher of the past four seasons — for an at-least average every day player, and saving money in the process.
But fans don’t root for teams on paper.
Escobar, 32, is the very definition of average big league shortstop. At least, he was up until last season. He owns a lifetime .276/.347/.381 slash line in eight seasons. He had been a positive WAR player every year of his career… up until last season, when he hit .258/.324/.340 with not even passable defense. In fact, he was one of the worst shortstops defensively in all of baseball.
Is that a blip? Is it signaling the beginning of the end for Escobar? We’ll have to wait and see. But considering his previous indefensible attitude problems — and the player he was traded for — Nats fans are going to have a hard time hoping for this guy to succeed.
Tyler Clippard was a fan-favorite. Actually, that’s stating it lightly. Acquired before the 2008 season for fellow reliever Jonathan Albaladejo (in what surely is Jim Bowden’s crowning achievement as Nats GM), Clippard arrived as a lightly regarded two-pitch starter with injury concerns. Soon, he would be sent to the bullpen, where his exploding fastball and damn-near unhittable changeup would wreak havoc on batters, first in the International League as a member of the Columbus Clippers and Syracuse Chiefs, then as a valuable member of the Nats pen.
Clippard went on to post All-Star seasons in 2011 and this past season, dominating on an almost nightly basis in his familiar eighth inning role, setting up for the likes of Matt Capps, Drew Storen and Rafael Soriano.
Clippard, behind those wonderfully goofy goggles, was a rarity — as affable and approachable off the field as he was dominant on it. The press loved him for his smart, engaging insights after games and during batting practice. Fans loved him for being approachable at the ballpark, at fan events and on social media. He was, succinctly, the perfect guy to have on your team.
Now, that team is the Oakland A’s. At least, for now. It’s no secret A’s GM Billy Beane is rebuilding and rebranding his team, and a veteran soon-to-be free agent like Clippard probably won’t call the Oakland Coliseum home for very long. He’ll probably be shipped off at midseason for a couple of middling prospects as Beane goes about his latest great rebuild.
The bottom line here is, as it so often is, money.
Clippard, in his last year of arbitration before becoming a free agent at the end of the year, will command around $10 million this season after his arbitration hearing. Two-time All-Stars don’t come cheap. Escobar is under contract for two more years, with a team option for a third, and is due a very reasonable $13 million, provided his defensive numbers last season were an aberration and he continues to hit.
There is another factor. Escobar will probably be slated to play second base for the Nats, a job he hasn’t filled since his rookie year in ’07. But since he’s under contract for two more year at least, he provides the team with insurance should they trade, or simply allow to walk, current shortstop Ian Desmond — like Clippard, a free agent at season’s end. The Nats are particularly vulnerable at middle infield, and most of Rizzo’s moves this offseason have been to address that glaring weakness. He traded one of his most reliable players, in fact, to address it.
And what of the bullpen? Drew Storen was already slated to become the closer. Now, Matt Williams is going to have to come up with another eighth inning guy. Aaron Barrett? Craig Stammen? Blake Treinen? Heaven forbid, Heath Bell??? Everyone of them slots back one inning, regardless of who gets the eighth. Veteran lefty Matt Thornton becomes a stabilizing force, and Rizzo’s ninja-like acquisition of Thornton last season looks that much more important at this point.
This is a tough business, and this isn’t an easy pill for Nats fans to swallow — sending away a universally liked player in his prime for a fairly unlikable one that is probably already past his. It was probably a tough call for Mike Rizzo, too. On paper, this move looks reasonable. More than reasonable, actually. Clippard was going to get prohibitively expensive. Escobar is an at-least average affordable every day player. GM’s make that trade 99 times out of 100.
But fans don’t play on paper.
Clippard was here through the darkest years of the Washington Nationals — he saw damn near 400 losses in four seasons — and made it through to the other side. If the Nats go on to win it all in the next year or two, there will be fans that won’t find it as sweet since Clippard won’t be a part of it.
No, even if Escobar performs up to his career OBP, fans aren’t going to recover from this one. And if Escobar slides any more from last season’s performance, or the bullpen becomes a liability instead of a strength, he’s going to have a tough time of it here in DC.
And for Nats fans, this is — perhaps — just the beginning. With Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann, Denard Span and Doug Fister all slated for free agency following the 2015 season, this could just be the first goodbye of many to come in the very near future.
No sooner had I finished saying that this was one of the hardest times in the baseball year than events have proven that out. In a trade with the Oakland A’s, the Nationals have acquired SS Yunel Escobar, and sent Tyler Clippard westward. This is the sort of late winter bombshell that you so rarely see, but can be a part of the landscape when it feels farthest from the warm summer days with green fields and a scorebook.
Trades like this one are absolutely the most difficult on the fan when they’re done in mid-winter. All we’ll hear about in the Natosphere for the next week or two — or heaven forfend, longer — is the aftermath of the this trade, and all it will be is hot air until April. Sure there’s time in Florida where we’ll see how Escobar handles the move to second or third base and how Clippard adapts to the Cactus league, but none of that is very meaningful.
No, to see the results of this trade we have to wait painful months while the winter drags on and while the talk-radio-and-columnist crowd chew this parcel of information over and over, slicing and dicing the statistical lines, the story lines from off the field, and all the intangible little things that we spend our winters working with.
Perhaps that’s why I’ve come to so dread the off-season, when live data stops being a possible outlet, and we’re left purely to the world of forecasts. I’ll come right out and say that there is no good possible way to forecast a baseball season — if there were, it’d be patented and marketed and sold to teams who would all use it religiously — we’re left with the awkward and clumsy moments where all of us try to imagine what will be based on what has been.
Predicting the weather is an impossible job.
Predicting a baseball season makes that look easy.
And so we’re left picking up the pieces as one of the fan favorite stalwart Nationals is headed for Oakland gold and green, trying to make sense of what happens when one of your favorite ballplayers will suit up for someone else next year. One of the brilliantly irrational, yet utterly human, parts of baseball is the fan relationship with a player. You have favorites on the diamond and at the plate, and it goes back to the littlest human kindness at a fan event, or an autograph before the game.
When I was 11, my favorite Oakland Athletic for about half the season was a call-up named Billy Beane. I remember he got some favorable press in the Sacramento Bee, and then at the next game I went to, he signed my glove because I went to find him. Beane played 37 games in that 1989 season, and he was left off the post-season roster, but man he was my guy for those games. I’d cheer like he was a starter, and a key part of that team, even though he was a bench guy only up for part of the time.
There will come a time when I will have to explain to my crying son that the team he loves has traded the player he loves to another city, and that that’s part of the game. I’m really not looking forward to that day. I know that many parents throughout Natstown are in similar situations tonight and trying to figure out what they can say to their child who just lost their favorite summertime friend, and I find myself at a loss for what to say in this circumstance.
Sometimes, trades make sense. They hurt a little, but you can look at the balance sheet and figure this makes the team better. I’m not sure this trade fits that bill. Yes, the Nationals have a deep bullpen, and will be able to slot in someone like Blake Treinen into the eighth inning slot, or move to a collaborative late-innings effort if the Heath Bell signing turns into something viable.
Yes, they have a need at second, and Escobar can fill that need, and be an option at short if they can’t come to terms with Desmond. However, I don’t see that Clippard was going to be anything less than their eighth inning man this year, in for another 70+ appearances. If we look at Escobar’s past performance defensively, though, he took a major step backward in 2014, turning in the worst UZR/150 season at shortstop since the stat was invented, and his off-field disrespect, it’s hard to come away feeling good about this particular trade.
But we don’t know.
And we can’t know for months.
And that makes it all the worse right now, as all we have to stare at are numbers on screens and highlight reels.
I can’t wrap this up without saying thank you to Tyler Clippard, who was always a joy to watch out of the bullpen, and to listen to after the game. He always had something thoughtful and genuine to say, something that wasn’t just a stack of cliches.
It is the most beautifully irrational and human part of baseball that makes us love players as individual parts of the team that we watch and live and die by, and in that spirit I know that many Nationals fans across our fair city are hurting as they read these words. They are looking up flights to Oakland, and considering a trip to the Coliseum to see him in his new white cleats and golden stirrups. We get attached to players because they’re people, not parts, and that attachment is something that gives us joy in the season. We watch our favorite players go out there every night and put their heart and body into the fire, and they get traded and moved around, because baseball isn’t just a pastime, it’s a multi-billion dollar business, and that’s the sort of thing that happens.
It doesn’t make it easy, and it doesn’t always work out, but these are the sort of the business decisions that have to get made in baseball. It doesn’t hurt matters for the Nationals’ payroll that Escobar’s contract is about half of what Clippard’s would be this year after arbitration, and $10M relievers aren’t the sort of line item that make it past many budgets in MLB. After last season’s commentary on budgets, and no positive movement in the MASN case before the courts, the team would need to find $13M in savings to return to 2014 levels, and that’s before the final results of nine arbitration hearings are known. Should those hearings all end in favor of the players, the Nationals would be searching for additional savings to return to 2014 levels.
Overall, the Nationals have given up their rock-solid eighth inning reliever in exchange for a lifetime .276 hitter who had a rough season on the diamond last year, and who has had disciplinary problems related to problem behavior off the field.
That’s the sort of trade I dread this time of the year.
According to multiple media reports, the Nationals have traded right-handed reliever Tyler Clippard to the Oakland Athletics for shortstop Yunel Escobar. This move was first reported on twitter by Jon Heyman of CBS, and has been confirmed by Bill Ladson of MLB.com, and is now pending physicals. [Update: The Nationals have announced the deal in a press release excerpted below the break.]
Clippard, 29 this season, arrived in Washington from the New York Yankees in 2008 at the nadir of the Nationals franchise, and has been a towering force out of the bullpen since then. In 2011 and 2014, he would be the Nationals’ representative at the All-Star Game, and has been the 8th inning man for the Nationals for several seasons, averaging 70 appearances per season and amassing a 34-24 career recorded a 2.68 ERA. Clippard is in his final year of arbitration and was expected to claim between $8.5M and $10M this season.
Escobar, 32, arrives in Washington after a very short off-season stay in Oakland, having come from the Tampa Bay Rays organization. The Cuban-born shortstop has two years remaining on his contract and a third year under team control. Escobar is slated to earn $5M in 2015 and $7M in 2016. Primarily a shortstop, Escobar has played some games at 3B and 2B over his career, and would likely be a contender for the open 2B slot in the Nationals infield.
VETERAN OUTFIELDER COULD PROVIDE INSURANCE AT SEVERAL POSITIONS
The Washington Nationals signed 1B/OF Mike Carp to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training. Carp, 28, is a .254/330/.414 career hitter in part of six seasons played exclusively in the American League and exactly 1,000 career plate appearances.
Carp is adequate defensively in either corner outfield slot or first base and will provide insurance as several positions, granted his problems at the plate last season were an aberration and not the new norm.
Carp split time between Boston and Texas last season and hit a woeful .175/.289/.230 in 149 plate appearances with no home runs, five doubles and 13 RBIs. That was a drastic departure from his valuable 2013 season with Boston, when he hit .296/.362/.523 with nine homers in 243 appearances.
Carp’s career year was in 2011 with Seattle, when he hit .276/.326/.466 with 12 homers and 46 RBIs in 313 plate appearances.
This is another in a long line of moves by Mike Rizzo to keep costs down with potential medium returns. Consider these separate but related facts:
- Jayson Werth is out due to surgery on his right shoulder and questionable for opening day
- Ryan Zimmerman has been injured and missed significant time in each of the past five seasons.
- The Nats bench is slated to include Nate McLouth, Tyler Moore and rookie Michael Taylor
When Werth went down, it was all but assumed the Nats would bring in a veteran to compete for playing time while the hirsute left fielder mends and bolster the bench upon his return. Mike Carp seems to fit that mold…if the bat comes back.
In 1989, my beloved Oakland Athletics put together the sort of season you read about in the history books. They had pitching and panache, they had hitting and heroism, they had defense and domination. As an 11-year old, they were the best sort of magic: the kind that you could count on to come through for you when life was nothing but uncertain. That was when I fell in love with baseball and became a convert from soccer and football.
The peak was short-lived.
I tell you this by way of introducing myself, and for this one story: I’m told that the Attendance Secretary at Emerson Junior High School kept the note that my parents sent that day in October. It began, “We believe in the Church of Baseball.” My excuse was granted, and off we went that afternoon to the Coliseum to watch them in the World Series.
That was the year they got swept by the Big Red Machine from Cincinnati. That was the year I almost gave up on baseball.
Over time, I’ve come to appreciate the ups and downs of baseball’s many turbulent moments. The wins and the losses mark the time between the seasons, and when it is dormant and sleeping in the middle of Winter, I miss it the most. Hot days in the sun, in the midst of a playoff chase, those are the things I dream of when the temperature drops below freezing and stays there for a week come January.
A few years ago or so, my friend Lisa remarked that the middle of January marks The Lent of Baseball. It’s after the end of the Winter Meetings, there’s hardly a bubble in the pot on the hot stove, and the fan’s mind turns with desperation to any hint of news about their favorite club. There are 40 days, starting today, until Pitchers & Catchers report down in Viera, before the first strikes are thrown, the first homers are hit, and the first web gems are coined. This is the single most agonizing time as a fan. You are anxious either to repeat the successes of the previous year, or to recover from the year’s previous failings.
This is that dark place where there is no data but past data. This is that dark time where all of the unknowns in a roster seem as if they are their worst possible outcome, and where rebuttals to those arguments are impossible to back with results. It’s a pretty terrible time of year to be a baseball fan, when everything is still theoretical. I try hard to tune out the pundits and armchair general managers, as I find the conclusions of hypothetical position battling and prediction building to be tedious at best, and rumor-mongering at worst.
Over the last few years, I’ve used the 40 days before pitchers and catchers report to Viera as a personal meditation on my relationship with baseball, and focused my efforts on better understanding the game that I have come to love and respect. One year, I did nothing but work to understand advanced statistics. Another I spent in pursuit of the perfect trilogy of baseball movies (Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, and The Sandlot). One year I got lost in nothing but the work of W.P. Kinsella that concerned baseball.
This year is feeling a lot more scattershot. This is my second off-season as a new father, and the first one where I’m getting regular sleep. After a season off, my general goal for this Lent of Baseball is a firmer understanding of the difficult personnel terrain the Nationals find themselves in, and how that will affect their pursuit of the Commissioner’s Trophy. What shape that will take is yet to be determined.
Making sense of their present situation can be instructive on understanding where they’re going and how they’ll arrive there.
I hope you’ll join me as I go exploring. What are your goals for the next 40 days?
The Washington Nationals (via Twitter) announced outfielder Jayson Werth had “successful” surgery to correct a problem with his right shoulder, specifically his A/C joint, and went out of the way to mention that there were “no structural abnormalities” found in the process.
Despite the sort of strangely-worded part about structural abnormalities, Werth is expected to be out 2-3 months, which definitely impacts his availability for opening day. In reality, due to the lengthy healing and rehab process, Werth might not be the “Jayson Werth” we’ve come to expect in a Nationals uniform until well into the summer, if at all this season.
Werth’s excellent on-base skills certainly shouldn’t be impacted that much, but his already diminishing power will be something to keep an eye on once he’s able to return to the field.
Another thing to watch: his fielding. He’s being moved to left field this season as much for his own protection as putting Bryce Harper in the position he’ll probably settle into for the next decade. Werth’s injury is to his right shoulder, his throwing arm, and as someone with a history of A/C problems, I can tell you that sometimes surgery does the trick, sometimes it doesn’t.
The A/C joint (acromioclavicular joint) is where the clavicle meets the scapula (technically, the acromion, the part of the scapula that forms the highest point of the shoulder). It really doesn’t have much to do with the ball joint that comprises the shoulder, what we usually think of with throwing injuries.
Rather, the A/C joint allows us as humans to lift our arms above our head, acting as a pivot point resulting in arm rotation.
Essentially, the surgery Werth had will “tie down” the clavicle to the acromion, repairing the torn ligament that previously did the job. A/C repairs are notoriously finicky and take quite a while to rehab and gain strength back.
Ryan Zimmerman had a similar surgery following the 2012 season, but in the news about his procedure, he was expected to miss six weeks.
Obviously, Werth is older than Zimmerman and had his procedure later in the year than Zimmerman (late October rather than January) so we have to assume Werth’s injury was more extensive than that of his teammate.
Nats officials hope that Werth has a complete recovery, but they better have a Plan B just in case.