Nationals Get Going on 2019, Marlins Look to 2023

The vast majority of our focus right now is on the playoffs, and rightly so. Dan Szymborski is writing postmortems on the teams whose seasons effectively ended in August or September, while Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel are doing prospect stuff. Other than that, we’ve been writing about the events we have literally waited all season to watch. But due to some pummeling in the Division Series, we’ve all been robbed of playoff games for a few days, and the Marlins and Nationals attempted to fill that void with a trade.

Nationals Receive

Marlins Receive

  • International Bonus Pool Money

A year ago, international bonus pool money was traded at a pretty frenzied pace. There were a lot of teams unable to spend that money due to restrictions from prior spending, and there were a lot of teams trying to create as much space as possible in an effort to sign Shohei Ohtani. The Marlins’ motivation to obtain bonus pool space now is pretty obvious. Yesterday, the club hosted Cuban prospects Victor Victor Mesa, Sandy Gaston, and Victor Mesa, Jr. According Eric and Kiley’s report yesterday, the Marlins are the favorites for Victor Victor Mesa; they had the following to say about the young Cuban:

Mesa hit some balls out to his pull side during batting practice, showing 50-grade raw power, but he has a linear, contact-oriented swing that we think will lead to below-average power output in games. There’s no question he can hit, defend, and add value on the bases, but there’s real doubt about the game application of his power. In aggregate, it looks like an average to slightly below-average offensive profile on an above-average defender at a premium position. Scouts think Mesa is a low-risk, moderate-impact prospect who should be ready for the big leagues relatively soon. He garners frequent comparisons to Cubs CF Albert Almora. There’s a chance Mesa has a three-win season or two at peak, but expectations are more of a solid 1.5- to 2.0-win type player. He’s a 45+ FV on our July 2nd version of THE BOARD, which would be somewhere in the 130 to 175 range overall in the minors.

Mesa presents Miami with an opportunity to obtain a prospect cheaply, and obtaining more signing bonus money increases their chances to do so. As for the cost, Barraclough is an interesting reliever. You might remember him as a guy who struck out 37% of batters and gave up just a single home run in 75 MLB appearances. That version of Barraclough was really good, but that version is from three seasons ago. You might also remember him as a slightly less effective pitcher who struck out 30% of batters and put up a decent 3.66 FIP and 3.00 ERA. That version is now two seasons in the past.

All versions of Barraclough have featured a roughly 14% walk rate, and his most recent season featured a 25% K-rate and eight homers in 55.1 innings. That’s a below-replacement-level season. Worse still, five of his eight home runs happened in 13.1 second-half innings. After a smoke-and-mirrors first half where he put up a 1.00 ERA despite a 3.66 FIP and looked on pace to repeat his 2017 season, Barraclough had 13 strikeouts and 11 walks in the second half, which included a stint on the disabled list for back stiffness. Some combination of a high asking price plus a very poor July resulted in the Marlins holding on to Barraclough at the trade deadline, likely hoping that he might recover some lost trade value over time.

The Marlins opted not to see if Barraclough could recover any of that value and traded him away at a very modest cost. The righty is projected to make $1.9 million in arbitration, a cost even the Marlins would reasonably absorb if they believed Barraclough would be better next season.

Everything has trended worse over the past few seasons. Hitters have been more patient on offerings out of the zone, and when they do swing, they make more contact.

As a result, he’s had to make more hittable pitches in the zone.

That’s meant fewer swings-and-misses.

It isn’t as though the league has caught up to Barraclough. It’s actually the opposite; he has pitched down to the league level as seen by his drop in fastball velocity.

Batters have learned to lay off the slider, due perhaps in part to having just a hair more time to react to the fastball. Two seasons ago, Barraclough was getting swings on his slider outside of the zone around 40% of the time, and batters swung and missed on those pitches more than two-thirds of the time, helping him to a whiff rate of more than 20% on the pitch. This past season, he induced swings out of the zone closer to 20% of the time and his overall whiff rate has been cut in half. He has used a changeup a little bit more and it has been fairly effective, but the overall outlook isn’t good unless he can get hitters to chase that slider.

It’s possible Barraclough was just a little hurt as the season wore on and a full offseason of rest will get him back where he needs to be. Relievers are a volatile bunch, as seen by both Barraclough’s rise in 2015 and 2016, and his fall this year. We probably don’t know what he will offer next season until at least March of next year. For a Washington club that has had issues with its bullpen in the past, he’s worth a flier to see if the old version of Barraclough shows up.

The Nationals aren’t acquiring a proven closer, a guy they can expect to handle the seventh inning, or a guy that can come in and shut down the opposition. That was Barraclough a few years ago. What the Nationals are getting now is a lottery ticket, a chance to hit on the old dominant reliever might still be in there. To truly remake the pen behind closer Sean Doolittle, the club should probably make three or four more moves like this one in order to find a solid arm for later innings.

Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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Johnny Coconuts
Johnny Coconuts

Really great write up here.