Various observations regarding the Nats and O’s off what went on this week in National Harbor, Md.
The biggest move regarding the Nationals and Orioles at MLB’s winter meetings in National Harbor, Md., of course, was the Nats’ trade for Adam Eaton. I gave you my thoughts on that in the previous blog entry. Here are various other thoughts from this week.
1 .There was no more peculiar development regarding the Nationals than the report Monday (Dec. 5) from USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale that “the Nationals made it clear…they have no intention of meeting Bryce Harper’s request for a record-setting contract to avert free agency in two years. Harper is seeking at least a 10-year contract that will likely pay him a minimum of $400 million.”
The report reeked of a leak from the Nats, begging the question why you would incite acrimony with arguably your most gifted player still two years away from free agency.
But the report also made me laugh, because the reality is that Harper has had exactly two big years (2012 and 2015) in five major-league seasons. This notion that he already is locked in to get a mega-money contract is wrong. If you go by Baseball Reference’s version of Wins Above Replacement, Harper has had a bWAR of 3.7 or less in three of the last four seasons and a bWAR of 1.6 or less in two of the last three seasons. I’m sorry, that inconsistent production doesn’t qualify for a $400 million contract, no matter how much potential someone has. At some point this stops being about potential and starts being about production. At some point Harper needs to play in 150 games or more for multiple consecutive seasons and deliver bWARs of 5.0+. The Angels’ Mike Trout has had a bWAR of 7.9 or more in each of his five seasons and of 9.3 or better in four of his five seasons. The Orioles’ Manny Machado has had a bWAR of 6.7 or better in three of the last four seasons. That’s what I’m looking for from Harper.
2. The Dexter Fowler contract with St. Louis really does make you appreciate the Adam Eaton contract the Nats inherited. The Cardinals signed Fowler to a five-year, $82.5 million deal that includes a full no-trade clause. Eaton, who blows away Fowler in both bWAR (15.3 versus 8.2) and fWAR (12.7 versus 8.5) over the last three seasons, has five years remaining on his contract at $38.4 million. And Eaton is going into his age-28 season, whereas Fowler is going into his age-31 season.
3. The Nats exited the winter meetings without an obvious “closer” or, as I like to say, “ace reliever.” If the Nats didn’t want to ante up on Mark Melancon (who signed a four-year, $62 million with San Francisco) and Aroldis Chapman (who agreed on a five-year, $86 million), then fine. But boy would I not have minded the Nats doing as the Cubs did, acquiring Wade Davis from Kansas City. Yes, his right forearm problems and declining peripherals of last season would bother me, as they could be indications of needing Tommy John surgery. But Davis has just one season and $10 million left on his contract, so he doesn’t require a large financial commitment. And you could have at the very least gotten draft-pick compensation for him should he have left via free agency after the 2017 season. And he was exceptional for the Royals in 2014 and 2015. And the Cubs gave up just one player in outfielder Jorge Soler, who has power but overall has been mediocre at best over three seasons.
4. Three reported ace-reliever targets for the Nats as the winter meetings ended: free-agent Kenley Jansen, the White Sox’s David Robertson and Tampa Bay’s Alex Colome. Jansen is the best of the bunch but going to cost a ton and a draft pick and likely is a long shot. Robertson was very iffy this past season and has two years and $25 million left on his contract. Colome blossomed this past season (213 ERA+, 11.3 K/9 over 56 2/3 innings) and is under team control for the next four seasons and so would command a lot more in a trade than Robertson. There is no obvious answer.
5. How about the contract that Wilson Ramos got from Tampa Bay? A mere two-year deal with just $12.5 million guaranteed. This for a guy who was the best hitting catcher in the majors in 2016 (his 124 wRC+ was better than that of any qualified major-league catcher) but of course suffered a torn right ACL on Sept. 27. How much would Ramos have signed for had he not gotten hurt? My guess is $60 million minimum. This injury cost him at least $45 million.
6. Speaking of lost money, good for ex-Nat Ian Desmond for finally getting his big-money contract: a five-year, $70 million with Colorado. Desmond famously reportedly rejected a seven-year, $107 million contract extension prior to Nats spring training in 2014. But this contract with the Rockies plus his salaries of the last three seasons ($25.5 million over 2014 and ’15 with the Nats and 2016 with Texas) will give him a total of $125.5 million over eight seasons. Not bad.
7. As for the Orioles, boy did these winter meetings serve as a stiff reminder of the sorry state of the Orioles’ farm system. Both of the White Sox’s major fire-sale items, Chris Sale and Adam Eaton, would have fit in perfectly on the O’s, whose starting pitching has been awful for years and who are in need of not just corner-outfield help but also athletic, on-base-getting hitters like Eaton. And yet you didn’t hear of the O’s coming up at all in trade discussions with the White Sox. Why? Because the O’s had little to offer. Do you know how many of MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects are Orioles prospects? Zero. Not a single one. For all of the good that has been accomplished under Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette over the last five seasons, the continued barren state of the farm system is a major blemish.
8. I don’t get the O’s apparently still being interested in re-signing Mark Trumbo. Duquette said on WJZ-FM in Baltimore on Thursday (Dec. 8) that he had met with Trumbo’s agent earlier in the day. Trumbo is believed to be seeking a deal in the neighborhood of four years and $80 million. No way would I do that deal if I’m the O’s given 1) Trumbo’s bad defense in right field 2) Trumbo’s regression as last season went on 3) you’re buying high on Trumbo off his major-league-leading and career-high 47 homers and 4) the Orioles’ need to get more offensively diverse (i.e., less all-or-nothing guys, more athletic and walk-drawing guys). But if the O’s are insistent on bringing back someone like Trumbo, why not spend similiar money and sign Edwin Encarnacion, who is a better hitter but whose market seems to have come down significantly?
9. I also don’t get why the O’s didn’t re-sign Steve Pearce, who joined American League East-rival Toronto on a two-year, $12.5 million deal. Pearce is going into his age-34 season and was limited to just 25 games with the O’s after being reacquired by them last Aug. 1 due to a right flexor-mass strain. But he has a career 110 OPS+, has been a solid base runner in his career and has played every position at the major-league level except shortstop, catcher and pitcher. He is Ben Zobrist-lite. Remember, it was Pearce, not Nelson Cruz or Adam Jones, who led the 2014 AL East-champion O’s in bWAR (5.9).
10 I did get a kick out of Duquette’s apparent trolling of Jose Bautista. Duquette in multiple settings said that he wasn’t interested in signing Bautista because O’s fans don’t like him. Duquette to reporters: “Jose Bautista’s agent’s been knocking on the Orioles’ door for a while. I told him, ‘Look our fans don’t really like Jose Bautista,’ and they don’t.”
The idea that the O’s wouldn’t sign a player because he has had issues with Darren O’Day and Adam Jones and is not liked by O’s fans is comical, and I really do wonder how Duquette said these things with a straight face. The O’s not being interested in Bautista has just about everything to do with 1) his bad 2016, during which he posted a 1.0 bWAR 2) him going into his age-36 season and 3) him being a qualifying-offer guy. This is 95 percent Duquette having some fun, five percent him telling the truth.