Red Pinstripes: Offseason action
What's next for the newsletter? Plus Nola trade speculation and the early offseason decisions teams had to make.
It’s been a week since the Atlanta Braves won the World Series and that means the offseason is now in full swing. We’ve had retirements, qualifying offers, options picked up and declined, free agent signings, and still no new Mets GM. Awards season is kicking off, which means we should soon know whether Bryce Harper will be the NL MVP. And the silly season is upon us, with bad free agent contract predictions and even worse Aaron Nola trade speculation.
But before I get into any of that, I’m going to get a little self-indulgent and write about this newsletter for a little bit.
One season down for Red Pinstripes
I started writing this newsletter back in February. I had tried to write about baseball before, but I could never stick with it very long. I decided that maybe if I sent out a newsletter on a schedule, I would actually keep going.
For the most part, I did it. I’ve written 78 posts since February 9. And other than a lull in September, I’ve stuck with my writing. The process has changed and my interests changed as the season went along, but for just about every week of the baseball season, I’ve sent out a newsletter.
What’s next? I don’t know. I’m still not sure how I will structure this newsletter for the offseason, blending Phillies news with baseball news. I’m finishing a certificate program this month that has kept me pretty busy (and contributed to that late summer swoon).
I do know that I want to keep writing this thing. And now that I’ve done what I didn’t think was possible and finished the season, hopefully, I can start growing the newsletter too.
For now, I’m going to try to publish at least once a week through December while I try to figure out what comes next. No matter what that next is, I’m excited.
So make sure you’re subscribed to the newsletter to catch it!
You want to trade who?
Unfortunately, during the offseason of a team that just missed out on the playoffs, you tend to get some baseball pundits trying to plant their flag on some outlandish ideas. They want to show how creative they are, how ruthless they are, and how urgent the team’s needs are. This year for the Phillies, that has manifested with the idea that the Phillies should trade Aaron Nola.
This is very stupid.
Aaron Nola did not have a great year last year. He threw 180.2 pitches over 32 starts. His ERA was 4.63. That ERA number looks bad. But dig a little deeper.
He struck out 29.8% of the batters he faced, his best rate in a 162-game season. He walked 5.2% of the batters he faced, the best walk rate of his career. Those are both very good numbers.
His other underlying numbers led to a 4.5 WAR, according to FanGraphs. That means that by some metrics, even with that 4.63 ERA, Nola was considered one of the top 15 pitchers in baseball last year. Part of the difference is defense. The Phillies defense was not good last year and that hurt the pitchers.
But, as Nola would probably tell you, he also was ineffective. He left too many pitches over the heart of the plate, including some inexcusable two-strike pitches. His 66.8% left on-base percentage was the second-lowest of his career. His 40.5% ground ball rate was the lowest of his career.
Last year was a confluence of bad luck and poor performance for Nola. But those numbers above also present significant evidence that Nola is due for positive regression next year. FanGraphs’ Steamer system projects Nola to have a 3.58 ERA next year.
One last piece of evidence you need: Nola is on a super team-friendly contract. He’s due $15 million next year and has a team option for $16.5 million in 2023. The Phillies would have to give more years and more money for any Nola replacement they signed in free agency this year.
This brings us back to the Nola trade speculation. Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia writes that because Nola has just one guaranteed year remaining on his contract, because he performed poorly last year, and because the Phillies have a long shopping list, now could be a good time to trade the pitcher.
Once again, this is very stupid.
Let’s take these reasons one by one.
1. “He'll turn 29 in June and is entering the final guaranteed year of his contract.”
What? First, yeah, that second year isn’t guaranteed for Nola. But it is guaranteed for the Phillies (or whatever team Nola is on). They’ll have Nola in 2023 if they want him.
Second, the age regression for pitchers, especially durable pitchers like Nola, is slower than it is for other players. Look at Zack Wheeler. He’s now the Phillies ace and just threw his best season at age 31. Whether the Phillies try to sign Nola to a contract extension beyond 2023, there’s little evidence that he’ll see age-related regression before the end of his current deal.
2. Nola’s poor performance
Salisbury cites Nola’s performance last year as a reason to trade him. It’s actually a reason NOT to trade him. As I detailed above, most of the evidence points toward Nola having a much better season in 2022 than he did in 2021. If the Phillies were to cut bait and trade him now, they’d be selling low. Whoever they trade him to would get the benefit of a better Nola year.
Second, Nola’s performance last year means the return in a Nola trade is diminished. Teams will negotiate with the Phillies over his 2021 performance. They won’t get what they want based on the projections for 2022.
3. The Phillies’ needs.
Yes, the Phillies have a long shopping list, including relief help, two outfielders, and probably a shortstop. Trading Nola might fill those needs (but are you getting a quality player because of point two above?), but it also creates a need. Right now, the Phillies are likely to have Wheeler, Nola, Ranger Suárez, Kyle Gibson in the rotation next year. Zach Eflin will probably start on the injured list, so the Phillies need a fifth starter for at least the first month of the year.
Trading Nola adds to the Phillies shopping list. This is especially true when better bargains are likely to be found among the free agent bats, not the pitchers. If the Phillies wanted to trade Nola, how would they replace his production? Robbie Ray and Marcus Stroman will likely come away from free agency with deals that pay them more than $20 million a year. They’re good pitchers, but I don’t think they are better than Nola.
Yes, the Phillies have a lot of work to do this offseason. But with a core of Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins, Zack Wheeler, and Aaron Nola, they’re closer to contention than they are without any one of those players. They have an opportunity to put themselves in the playoffs with a smart offseason. Trading Aaron Nola does not help a win-now team. It puts them further behind the competition.
Major League Baseball released the finalists for each of its major awards Monday night. The Phillies have two contenders for major awards and most of the races are compelling.
Remember, baseball writers voted for the awards winners on the last day of the regular season. The winners are already set. These are just the top three vote-getters.
American League Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year
Randy Arozarena, Tampa Bay Rays
Wander Franco, Tampa Bay Rays
Luis Garcia, Houston Astros
National League Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year
Dylan Carlson, St. Louis Cardinals
Jonathan India, Cincinnati Reds
Trevor Rogers, Miami Marlins
American League Manager of the Year
Scott Servais, Seattle Mariners
Dusty Baker, Houston Astros
Kevin Cash, Tampa Bay Rays
National League Manager of the Year
Mike Shildt, St. Louis Cardinals
Gabe Kapler, San Francisco Giants
Craig Counsell, Milwaukee Brewers
American League Cy Young
Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees
Robbie Ray, Toronto Blue Jays
Lance Lynn, Chicago White Sox
National League Cy Young
Zack Wheeler, Philadelphia Phillies
Corbin Burnes, Milwaukee Brewers
Max Scherzer, Los Angeles Dodgers
American League MVP
Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels
Marcus Semien, Toronto Blue Jays
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays
National League MVP
Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies
Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres
Juan Soto, Washington Nationals
Goodbye Buster Posey
Last week, Buster Posey announced his retirement from baseball. He walked away from the final year of his contract but said that the punishment of the game was too much and he wanted to spend more time with his family.
Posey had a great year in 2021, too. He hit over .300 with 18 home runs. He also helped lead the Giants to a surprise best record in baseball. He’s been a great player his entire career and the pandemic offseason seemed to rejuvenate him for his 2021 swan song.
And he knew this would be his last year. Posey admitted that in his press conference last week. It’s admirable for a player to decide that his reasons for not playing are greater than his reasons for playing, even after a great year. He seems to genuinely want to spend time with his family and that’s laudable.
His retirement also kicked off some catcher debates, so let me weigh in. First, Posey is a no-doubt hall of famer. He was one of the best offensive catchers ever. He led the Giants to three World Series championships. You cannot tell the story of baseball over the past 15 years without Buster Posey.
I think he’s also the best catcher of his generation. Cardinals fans will make their case for Yadier Molina, but his offensive output cannot be compared to Posey’s.
The following free agents were offered qualifying offers by Sunday’s deadline. This means that these players have been offered a one-year $18.4 million contract. They can accept this offer and return to the team. Or they can decline it and sign with another team. If any team signs one of these players, they will have to give up their second-highest draft pick.
Here are the players:
Brandon Belt, Giants
Nick Castellanos, Reds
Michael Conforto, Mets
Carlos Correa, Astros
Freddie Freeman, Braves
Raisel Iglesias, Angels
Robbie Ray, Blue Jays
Eduardo Rodriguez, Red Sox
Corey Seager, Dodgers
Marcus Semien, Blue Jays
Trevor Story, Rockies
Noah Syndergaard, Mets
Chris Taylor, Dodgers
Justin Verlander, Astros
Some notable free agents did not receive qualifying offers, including Clayton Kershaw, Carlos Ródon, Anthony Desclafini, Steven Matz, and Jon Gray. Players who were traded during the season and players who previously received the qualifying offer are not eligible to receive qualifying offers, so Max Scherzer, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Báez, and Kris Bryant will not have draft pick compensation attached to their free agent contracts.
Some players have already declined the qualifying offer, including Nick Castellanos, Michael Conforto, Corey Seager, and Marcus Semien.
Some players might accept the offer so they can have a better market next year. In particular, Trevor Story and Noah Syndergaard look like players who could be due for larger paydays next year if they reset their market during the 2022 season. Part of the decision-making process for these players also has to include consideration of the negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement and a probable lockout. Those negotiations and the lockout mean a lot of free agent decisions probably won’t be made until February or March this year.
Players and teams also executed and declined contract options. Almost all of these decisions were expected, including players like Nolan Arenado and J.D. Martinez opting into the rest of their contracts.
We’ve also had some player movement so far. The Cincinnati Reds look like they have decided that two years of contention was enough for them. They traded catcher Tucker Barnhart to the Tigers, getting out from the $7.5 million owed him next year. That’s defensible on its face. Reds youngster Tyler Stephenson won the starting job from Barnhart by the end of the 2021 season.
But Reds GM Nick Krall didn’t say that the team wanted to move forward with Stephenson as the starter and decided to give Barnhart an opportunity elsewhere, as would have been so easy to do. Instead, he blamed the team’s payroll.
“Going into 2022, we must align our payroll to our resources and continue focusing on scouting and developing young talent from within our system,” Krall told reporters last week. He also said that this was not necessarily the beginning of a fire sale.
So much for that. Just a couple of days later we got the news that the Cubs had claimed pitcher Wade Miley off of waivers from the Reds. Miley, who pitched well last year and will probably receive some down-ballot Cy Young votes, had an option deadline coming up. The Reds could have picked up Miley’s option for $10 million or declined it for $1 million.
Instead, they waived Miley. The Cubs claimed him and picked up the option. They’ll have Miley on a very reasonable $10 million next season, or they could find a trade partner for him any time between now and July 31, 2022. They got him for basically nothing.
Why the Reds could not have done this, I don’t know. They would have the opportunity to trade him this offseason.
I don’t know what the Reds are doing this offseason. They came close to contention the last two seasons, but now they’re looking like they’re on the path back to being losers. Nick Castellanos will walk in free agency. Miley is gone. And now they’re listening to trade offers for Luis Castillo. It’s a mess.
Andrew Heaney to the Dodgers
We’ve also had our first free agent signing. The Dodgers have signed Andrew Heaney to a one-year $8.5 million contract. That seems like a lot for a pitcher who was dreadful last year. But he signed with the Dodgers, so get ready for the Andrew Heaney Cy Young campaign next year.