The Nats offseason is like a great crime novel! Starlin Castro emerges! UPDATE: Asdrubal is back!

The Washington Nationals offseason is as good as a great crime novel. The young CEO and two of his managers were killed while the star salesman was near death and survived while the longest tenured employee contemplates retirement. You can put names to the characters like Anthony Rendon, Brian Dozier, and Gerardo Parra. The survivor could be Stephen Strasburg, and the person contemplating retirement could be Ryan Zimmerman. The main suspect is Josh Donaldson of course, but in a strange twist Starlin Castro emerges. This is so 2015! We have been through this before. There was Ben Zobrist, Brandon Phillips, and Daniel Murphy back then. If you search for names, you will see Castro mentioned last month as a possibility for this 2020 roster just like he was back in 2016. There was a time when Castro was a top prospect who caught Rizzo’s eye, but he had his struggles. His bench coach with the Cubs, of course, was Dave Martinez. If Davey wanted Castro, he has been there for the taking as a free agent, but in traditional metrics, he does not move the needle a lot — and that is why you have to dig deeper to why Castro makes sense. 

Last night, rumors broke from Jeff Passan of ESPN that the Nationals have signed Starlin Castro. As a +1.0 projected WAR player and being a right-handed hitter, he seemed like a downgrade from Carter Kieboom who Fangraphs is bullish on with a +2.4 projected WAR. So why Castro? Where will he play? Where will Kieboom play and you can expand that to what team? What about Donaldson? WHAT IS GOING ON? Like the great crime novels, all we know is Castro has been taken, but we don’t know all the whats or whys.

Some would say this is a superfluous move, but general manager Mike Rizzo will tell you that you can never have enough good players.This two-year, $12 million deal which does not become official until the physical is complete will open up more options for Rizzo and Martinez as they go through their progressions on their infield and how they will all align.

It might surprise many that Castro, 29 ¾, has been named to four All-Star teams. His career stats don’t look All-Star worthy as a .280 hitter with a very low .319 on-base percentage and a .733 OPS in his 10 seasons, and the rub on him has always been that he is a free swinger who doesn’t take his walks. Last year he batted .270 with a .300 OBP, and that just does not look great. Well, there are some good underlying stats like Castro’s 86 RBIs last year on a poor team where the RBI opportunities were not readily available. Castro hit in the .280’s for RISP and with men-on-base so his clutch numbers was where he made his money, and he did this playing his home games in a pitcher’s park and in a division dominated by pitching. Now for the strange twist in the crime novel and this one is true that when Castro played 44-games at third base, his slash was HOF quality at .335/.370/.617/.987. How can you explain that detective? His numbers away from Marlins Park were also good at .286/.322/.447/.768, and as Nats fans saw, Castro was en fuego much of the second half of the season where he slashed .302/.334/.558/.892.

Those stats give the analytics department enough data to see undervaluation, but the sobering numbers really are that Castro struggles overall against right-handed pitchers and would prosper from some platooning. He also makes the Nationals very right-handed in the starting lineup. Other than Adam Eaton and Juan Soto, the Nationals have no other lefties in the projected starting lineup. Now if you sign a Scooter Gennett or Asdrubal Cabrera to pair up with Castro then you create an intriguing duo. How do you get past the fact that Castro only slashed .252/.283/.403/.685 last year against righties?

For the next part in the domino effect is whether this opens the door for a Kieboom trade as well as the end of the pursuit of Donaldson. These are the other twists and turns. You have to consider that the answer to both is “yes” and the Kieboom question, there is no easy answer. On Donaldson, the answer is “yes” unless you believe that the Nationals will spend past the $208,000,000 CBT cap.

So where are the Nationals now in the salary space after the additions of Castro and Will Harris? The Nats are almost exactly $25 million under the cap with little room to trade away cap space (Michael A. Taylor and Wilmer Difo). The newest rumor is Donaldson only wants a 4 year deal worth $110 million and that is $27.5 million on a straightline. That would push the Nats over the cap and leave no room to fill the extra spots.

Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic wrote, “Donaldson, 34, reportedly is mulling four-year offers from the Nationals, Braves and Twins. He has informed teams of his desired guarantee and is simply waiting for one of the clubs to hit his number, sources say. That number is believed to be in the $110 million range.”

Rosenthal continues, “According to sources, the Nats also have exchanged proposals with free agent Asdrubal Cabrera, who was the Rangers’ primary third baseman last season. … Cabrera mostly played second for the Nationals, but also could slide back to third, perhaps in combination with Howie Kendrick … In addition to second and third, the Nats also must address their hole at first base, which they likely will fill with two free agents. One figures to be Ryan Zimmerman, who has been with the club since the Nats made him their first-ever draft pick in 2005. The other would be a left-handed-hitting complement such as Eric Thames, Mitch Moreland or Matt Adams.”

And this is key from Rosenthal, “Castro, Cabrera and the two first basemen would cost significantly less than the $25 million per season the Nationals have offered Donaldson, potentially leaving the team room to sign another free-agent reliever …”

The list of questions is still long. Who will be the left-handed first baseman, who will be the primary third baseman, and who will be the primary second baseman? Is there room to bring back Asdrubal Cabrera, Ryan Zimmerman, Matt Adams and Daniel Hudson? Rosenthal and I agree that if you pivot from Donaldson and stay away from Kris Bryant, there is room to go “light” on third base and bring the band back together, but that is the 2019 lineup minus Rendon and adding Castro. That is a 5-6 WAR swing on paper, but it does keep you under the cap and get you closer to 90 wins on paper.

Your infield pool right now is Trea Turner, Starlin Castro, Howie Kendrick, Wilmer Difo, Jake Noll, and Carter Kieboom. Sure, there is enough there to fill-in an Opening Day roster from the 35 players who will be on the 40-man roster once Castro is official — but that does not look like a star infield or a great lineup.

Like in any great Whodunit novel, you have to read all of the way until the end.

UPDATED: According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, the Nationals have now signed Asdrubal Cabrera to a one-year deal with a base salary of $2.5 million and $500,000 in incentives. That almost certainly takes Carter Kieboom off of the Opening Day roster and now almost guarantees that there is no way to sign Donaldson without going over the CBT cap. If Kieboom is not on the Nats roster, there is a spot for Zimmerman, and for fun, there is also a nice opening for a Kyle Seager trade and a reunion with Daniel Hudson and the Nats could stay under the cap.

That is a lot to digest, and we hear from the CBT expert Jeff Euston of Baseball Prospectus who maintains the Cots Baseball spreadsheets that if Seager is traded and his third year player option kicks in — his AAV only increases to $14.375 million.

“Seager’s AAV would rise from $14,285,714 ($100/7) up to $14,375,000 ($115/8), with a chance to reach an even $15 million AAV if he maxes out his escalators for plate appearances and awards. (I haven’t seen his escalator details.),” Euston wrote to me.

“My sense is that the additional guaranteed year in 2022 (his age 34 season) would be more of a concern than the dollars, at least for any club acquiring him. If the Mariners were to include cash in a trade, that obviously would improve Seattle’s return and help him fit into his new club’s payroll structure.”

While that is a lot to swallow, let’s look at it in terms of how this could stack up with Fedde, Difo, and Kieboom currently on the active roster and see how much cash is remaining:



Contract Status

CBT Salary

1 Anibal Sanchez R/R  Up to $2 million in incentives


 $                                 9,500,000
2 Austin Voth R/R Minimum  $                                     575,000
3 Hunter Strickland R/R Arb 3  $                                 1,600,000
4 Joe Ross R/R Arb 2  $                                 1,500,000
5 Max Scherzer R/R  $                               28,689,376
6 Patrick Corbin L/L  $                               23,333,333
7 Roenis Elias L/L Arb 2  $                                 1,900,000
8 Sean Doolittle L/L  $                                 6,500,000
9 Stephen Strasburg  AAV savings by deferrals  $                               34,000,000
10 Tanner Rainey R/R Minimum  $                                     585,000
11 Wander Suero R/R Minimum  $                                     585,000
12 Will Harris R/R  $                                 8,000,000
Kyle Finnegan R/R Options
13 Erick Fedde R/R 1 option remaining  $575,000



 Contract Status

 CBT Salary

Raudy Read R/R
Tres Barrera R/R
14 Kurt Suzuki R/R  $                                 5,000,000
15 Yan Gomes R/R  $                                 5,000,000



 Contract Status

 CBT Salary

Adrian Sanchez R/R
16 Asdurbal Cabrera S/R Includes $500,000 incentives and $2.5 base salary  $                                 3,000,000
17 Howie Kendrick R/R 1B/2B  $                                 6,250,000
Jake Noll R/R
18 Trea Turner R/R Arb 2  $                                 7,750,000
19 Starlin Castro R/R  $                                 6,000,000
20 Carter Kieboom R/R options  $575,000
 21 Wilmer Difo S/R Arb 1  $                                 1,000,000 ??????



 Contract Status

 CBT Salary

22 Adam Eaton L/L  $                                 9,500,000
23 Andrew Stevenson L/L Minimum  $                                     580,000
24 Juan Soto L/L Minimum  $                                     650,000
25 Michael A. Taylor R/R  $                                 3,250,000
26 Victor Robles R/R Minimum  $                                     600,000
40 man cost est.  $                                 2,250,000
Player benefits est.  $                               15,000,000
Bonuses and incentives est.  $                                 3,000,000


 $                             186,747,709











CBT 2020 Limit

 $                             208,000,000

This entry was posted in Analysis, MikeRizzo, Roster. Bookmark the permalink.