Matt Adams signing is now official; Bench could be complete

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While the Matt Adams signing is now official, it is that familiar situation of one-door opening and another one closing. It essentially closes the book on the popular Adam Lind.

When Adam Lind was signed as training camp opened on February 15th, he was coming off a poor year with the Mariners where he batted .239. Lind basically replaced the popular Clint Robinson in the role of the big lefty bench bat and 1st base insurance in case Ryan Zimmerman had an injury.

Little did the Nationals know that Adam Lind would probably be the best pinch-hitter in the Nationals history, and his star shined brightly right from Opening Day when he hit the game winning pinch-hit 2-run home run in the 7th inning to win the game for his new team. “Lindsanity” would become a thing when he would come up to bat. By the end of the season, Lind finished with a .356 pinch-hitting batting average and an out-of-this-world 1.040 OPS.

Unfortunately for Adam Lind and the Nationals, his season ended with the Nationals in a complete 180° from where it started. Lind was brought in to pinch-hit in Game 5 of the NLDS with the Nationals trailing by 2-runs. It was the perfect point in the script. It was the 8th inning in an elimination game, and the one player you would want up in this spot was Lind. He had runners on 2nd base and 1st base who had just been walked by the Cubs’ closer Wade Davis. Lind went first pitch swinging and topped a ball to the 2nd baseman for a tailor-made double play which essentially ended the threat. It was a gut-punch to NatsTown. It was not the ending that we had hoped for.

There was no surprise as we would later learn that the Nationals and Lind according to Mike Rizzo both declined his mutual option, and he headed to free agency. Lind was mentioned as a player the Nationals wanted back. Matt Adams would be a logical backup choice if Lind did not return. Adams was signed on Tuesday according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic and made official today after he passed his physical. His contract is a one-year deal worth $4 million guaranteed with an additional $500,000 in an incentives bonus.

By going with the younger Adams, who is 29-years-old, the Nats got a player almost exactly 5-years younger than Adam Lind.  Both Lind and Adams punished right-handed pitchers in 2017 and had a very similar slashline as Lind slashed .852 against righties compared to .828 by Adams. For projections, the Nationals might think Lind is due for age regression while Adams is in his prime. Fangraphs is already projecting Matt Adams at a very conservative +0.8 WAR for 2018 coming off of a good +1.6 WAR in 2017.

The Nationals Bench

While the Nationals bench is essentially complete, the fanbase is coveting an upgrade at back-up catcher instead of Pedro Severino who is penciled in on the depth chart. The Nationals could go into the season with:

  1. Pedro Severino C
  2. Matt Adams 1B
  3. Wilmer Difo MI
  4. Brian Goodwin OF
  5. Rafael Bautista or Ryan Raburn or Andrew Stevenson OF

Mike Rizzo can be patient and wait on Victor Robles as his presumptive star in the waiting depending on how the season unfolds. While the bench may look complete now, Rizzo could also add a catching upgrade as well as for a bench outfielder.

Background on Matt Adams

Adams grew up in Philipsburg, Pennsylvania which is halfway between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. Adams was not drafted out of high school and went to play baseball at a Division II college near his home at Slippery Rock University near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

What we learned from Adam’s college coach, Steve Messer, was that big Matt Adams transformed his physique last off-season trimming over 30 pounds of fat while adding more muscle. The secret: Pilates was what Messer said about Adams who lost between 35-to-40 pounds then put some muscle back on and showed up in Cardinals camp 30 pounds lighter and more nimble and quicker hands.

At Slippery Rock University, Messer told me that Adams was predominantly a catcher and played some 1st base. He not only won the national batting crown for Divsion II colleges in his junior season, but also won Player of the Year honors which would hopefully earn him a high draft pick. Unfortunately Adams did not get drafted until the 23rd round which cost him big bonus money.

Adams signed his deal with the Cardinals and was converted to a full-time 1st baseman. He made his debut with St. Louis in 2012 before being traded last May by the Cards to the Atlanta Braves. In 2017, Adams batted .274 with 20 home runs with an .841 OPS in 131 games and played both first base and left field. Adams was non-tendered by the Braves who were unsuccessful in trying to trade him. He was overkill for the Braves who already have the lefty Freddie Freeman.

It was Matt Adams power stroke in 2011 that he found in Double-A when he hit 32 home runs in only 463 at-bats for the Cardinals affiliate in Springfield that became the buzz of St. Louis baseball. Adams moved up to top-prospect status with the Cardinals, but fell out of favor in 2015 as he really struggled for the first time in his MLB career. Last year, he was mentioned in trades after Matt Carpenter was going to be moved to 1st base.

“When you looked at how our roster was constructed, it was really hard for us to give Matt [Adams] plate appearances,” Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said about the Cardinals trading Adams to the Braves during the 2017 season. “Clearly moving [Matt Carpenter] to first, and with the dynamics of plate appearances this ultimately made sense [to trade Matt Adams].”

If you are an evaluator looking for even more upside, Matt Adams has 55 career at-bats in Nationals Park with some impressive results. For any stadiums where Adams has at least 35 at-bats, he puts up his best numbers in Nats Park with beer-league softball stats slashing .382/.410/.764/1.173.  Mike Rizzo and his merry band of analytics gurus of course know these stats.  That has to be the pièce de résistance to finish that sweet deal.

“His composure at the plate is very relaxed,” Messer said of his former pupil. “A very fluid swing. He doesn’t have to muscle the ball to get it to go a long way. The ball just sounds different off of his bat.”

Messer added that Adams killed lefties throughout the Minors and especially in AAA and has homered off Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner in the Majors. Fangraphs also just did an analysis on Matt Adams comparing him to 4-time Gold Glover Eric Hosmer. Not only does Adams compare well to Hosmer on career wRC+ as Fangraphs writer Jeff Sullivan points out, but Adams advanced defensive stats are much more favorable than Hosmer when you look at 2 key stats Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR).

Sullivan writes:

“If you sort by DRS over a common denominator, Adams ranks eighth, and Hosmer ranks 30th. When you sort by UZR over a common denominator, Adams ranks 10th, and Hosmer ranks 33rd. If you blend the two, then Adams ranks 10th, and Hosmer ranks 32nd. According to the advanced defensive numbers, there’s a significant difference between Matt Adams and Eric Hosmer, in Adams’ favor. He rates as the better defensive first baseman. Against what I assume would be all odds.”

“I’m not saying that anything is gospel. There are legitimate complaints about the advanced defensive metrics these days, in particular among infielders. We can’t just outright dismiss the eye test, and we can’t dismiss that the baseball industry holds Hosmer’s first-base defense in such high regard. But still, after all this time, there’s an explanation that’s missing. The best numbers we have say that Adams is considerably better than Hosmer is. The numbers are far from perfect, yet they also can’t be trashed. Perception is a hell of a thing.”

The 40-man Roster Status

With Mike Rizzo re-signing Brandon Kintzler and the free-agent signing of Matt Adams, the Nationals 40-man roster is currently at 39-players. That leaves one slot remaining on the 40-man roster before a corresponding move must be made. Right now, Joe Ross is the only projected player who will definitely be removed from the 40-man roster, but that cannot happen until Spring Training begins. Ross is recovering from UCL surgery in his right-pitching elbow and will be moved back to the 60-Day DL when Spring Training opens.

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