Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Nats 40-man Options status

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Nearly every year we talk about the Options status of the 40-man, and what it means for spring training. And this year is no different; nearly every year the options availability (or lack of them) helps drive some edge-of-the-roster decisions and the team ends up keeping players at the expense of others, often times in stark contrast to fan-perceived value or merit of inclusion.

Here’s a run-through of the Options status of the current 40-man roster. I have uploaded my Options Analysis annual spreadsheet to the Big Board; it is one of the 2021 tabs. Direct link here. The online XLS has a ton more information than we show here: it has updated Service time, first added to 40-man, known years optioned and some notes.

I divide the Roster into 5 categories of players on the 40-man:
– Vets who can refuse demotion (5 or more years of service)
– Players with Options available but who are MLB Entrenched
– Players with Options Available, jeopardizing 25-man roster status
– Players with Options almost guaranteed to be used in 2021
– Players with No Options left (the main analysis of this post).

For completion, here’s a quick run-through of all the categories:

Category 1: Vets who can refuse demotion (5 or more years of service)

We have 13 such players for 2021: Scherzer, Corbin, Gomes, Strasburg, Harris, Castro, Hudson, Harrison, Schwarber, Lester, Zimmerman, Hand and Avila.

Interesting tidbits about this group:
– Castro, Zimmerman and Avila never once burned an option
– Schwarber just got his 5 years of service time last season.
– Zimmerman earned 10&5 rights in 2015, and Strasburg earned it last year.
– Of this group, only Hand actually burned three options. Then, he didn’t make the Miami team out of spring training in 2016 so they had to DFA him; San Diego claimed him and he began to flourish from there.


Category 2: Options Avail but are MLB entrenched

We have 7 such players for 2021: Turner, Soto, Robles, Suero, Rainey, Bell, and Finnegan.

You may quibble perhaps with Finnegan being called “entrenched” but for now, his 2020 season has him being a lock for the pen in my book.

Interesting tidbits about this group:
– Turner and Bell will reach 5 years of service time in 2021, which means they would be able to refuse an option.
– Neither Soto and Finnegan has ever been optioned.
– Turner’s 2015 nonsensical call-up ended up burning the team dearly; he achieved Super2 by just a few days and the Nats have been on the hook for millions more than they “needed” to spend.

Category 3: Options Available and not a lock for the 25-man roster.

I count 5 players in this category for 2021: Kieboom, Clay, Garcia, Fedde, and Harper.

Each of these players needs some discussion.

  • Kieboom, by all accounts, is being handed the 3B job. The team did not pursue a replacement, Castro wants to play 2B, and the job is his. I suppose it is still possible that the team finds a new 3B and sends him to AAA, where a lot of people think he needs to be. But for now, he’s in this category instead of the one above.
  • Clay signed a MLB contract with the team in the 2020 off-season, somewhat oddly in that he had zero MLB service time at that point and was a MLFA. I wonder if the team “beat out” another suitor by promising the 40-man slot. Either way, I do not favor Clay to make the team coming out of Spring Training.
  • Garcia could theoretically make the 25-man roster as our backup infielder … but i’d much rather see him in AAA playing full time. His slash line was not that impressive last year (but better than Kieboom’s … hence why some are wondering what the heck the team is doing). For now, i’d send him to AAA.
  • Fedde got a 4th option thanks to some timing issues … and i’ll bet the team uses it in 2021. Which means Fedde will be in AAA as a 28yr old and service time in four different MLB seasons. That’s got to be a bummer to him. And to make matters worse he may not be the first spot starter called upon, thanks to an option-less player we’re about to talk about.
  • Harper was solid in 2019, awful in 2020, and I think his options flexibility will mean he starts the year in AAA in lieu of one of the MLFA/NRIs we’ve signed this spring. But he should be back up eventually to provide injury relief cover.

Category 4: Players with options who are almost guaranteed to be optioned out of Spring Training.

I count 11 guys in this category: McGowin, Barrera, Noll, Braymer, Armenteros, Adon, Antuna, Fuentes, Hernandez, Romero and Bacus.

Lets take these guys by category:

  • Adon, Antuna and Fuentes: just added to the 40-man, not yet expected to contribute at the MLB level.
  • McGowin, Braymer, Armenteros and Romero: i’d want this to be 4/5ths or 4/6ths of my AAA rotation. I do not consider these players serious contenders to the 5th starter role, but I do think the team may be looking at the two lefties (Braymer and Romero) as relievers going forward. I’d rather see if they can cut it as starters and provide more value. Armenteros is a wildcard; he has certainly shown he can succeed as a starter in the minors and his release by Houston was somewhat surprising. I’m guessing he pitches excellently in AAA and could be a surprising call-up mid-seaons.
  • Noll: honestly i’m not sure why he’s still rostered at this point; instead of calling him up last year they started a 19yr old’s service time clock. Eventually they called him up and he got a grand total of three starts. He’s my “first guy off the 40-man if we need space” candidate right now.
  • Barrera: you have to have a backup catcher on the roster and he’s it.
  • Hernandez sits on the 40-man after a late-season call-up, but he seems to have no spot on this team. he’s 2nd behind Noll in “next guy to get DFA’d.”
  • Lastly, Bacus seems to be an afterthought reliever on the roster right now, and is not favored to beat out several MLFA NRIs for the 2021 roster.

Category 5: Players out of options.

We have 3 players out of options for 2021: Ross, Voth and Stevenson.

  • Joe Ross is the current leading 5th starter candidate.
  • Voth (along with Fedde) are the leading competitors for said 5th starter job, and the odds on circumstance to occur is this: Voth loses the 5th starter job but “looks good” in spring training, which leads the team to either carry him as the 8th reliever or to invent a soft tissue injury and stash him on the DL for a few weeks. If Voth does NOT look good in spring training, he’s a DFA candidate come 4/1/21.
  • Stevenson has proven his worth as a plus defender, 4th outfielder type and his 2020 allowed the team to move on (finally?) from Michael A. Taylor this off-season. He’s out of options, but it doesn’t matter b/c he’s the bench OF.

Spring Training 2021 NRI Discussion

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Parra may bring the shark back to Washington in 2021 as an NRI. Photo Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

This is our 7th straight year doing this recurring post; a look at the Non-Roster Invitees (NRIs) upon their official announcement ahead of spring training.

Here’s past posts by year: 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015.

The team has invited 71 players to spring training, which means that joining the 39 members of the 40-man roster are an astounding 32 NRIs. FYI: the big board is now updated for all 32 NRIs, who are shaded in purple. 2020 was a weird year, which probably is why we’re seeing so many NRIs, and so many NRIs who are so young. Normally NRIs are veteran MLFAs, AAA/4-A guys and perhaps one or two top prospects. This year, the team has invited a slew of guys who have never played above A-ball, or who were drafted just last year.

Why do we care about NRIs? Because there’s a high likelihood we’ll see these guys either make the roster or get called up later on this year. Since the 2015 season:

  • 9 NRIs have made the 25-man roster straight out of Spring Training (and Guthrie technically made it 10 since he got called up a few days later and was always intended to be the 5th starter in 2017).  Basically every year an NRI has made the roster for six seasons running.
  • 29 NRIs eventually played for the MLB team at some point that same season they were in spring training.

So its likely that we’re going to see a lot of these NRIs at some point in the future.  Like, on average at least 4-5 of these NRIs are going to play for this team in 2021.


Lets review the NRIs and make some predictions.

Here’s the list of 32 NRI’s for 2021, organized by player type:

  • RH Starters: Jefry Rodriguez, Paolo Espino, Jackson Rutledge, Cade Cavalli, Cole Henry, Tyler Dyson, Todd Peterson
  • RH Relievers: Aaron Barrett, Tyler Eppler, Javy Guerra, Gabe Klobotis, Jacob Condra-Bogan, Bryan Bonnell, Jeremy Jeffress
  • LH Starters: Tim Cate
  • LH Relievers: Luis Avilan, TJ McFarland, Matt Cronin
  • Catchers: Raudy Read, Wellington Castillo, Israel Pineda, Jakson Reetz, Blake Swihart, Brandon Snyder (who is oddly listed as a Catcher but really is a 1B)
  • Infielders: Adrian Sanchez, Hernan Perez, Jordy Mercer, Jackson Cluff, Drew Mendoza
  • Outfielders: Carlos Tocci, Yasmany Tomas, Gerardo Parra, Cody Wilson

(note: post-publishing edit; I had Bonnell as a LHP; thanks for the correction. 2/22/21 added Jeffress).


So lets squint and make some predictions.

  • Do any of these guys stand a chance at making the Opening day roster?  There are a couple of opportunities for these guys this year, absolutely. All of this is assuming no injuries to the current 40-man.
    1. Lefty Reliever: right now the bullpen has two lefties: Brad Hand and Sam Clay. Hand seems like he’s going to be the closer, while Clay has never pitched in the majors. So, yeah, there’s opportunity here. Avilan has the most MLB time but his numbers have been iffy lately. McFarland has as much MLB time as Avilan and has better recent numbers. Cronin could surprise here, but he’s never pitched above A-ball. He’s got amazing numbers though. The team could also be looking to convert one of its lefty starters to a reliever (Romero, Braymer) … but those guys would be far more valuable as effective starters. At the end of the day, I think McFarland breaks camp as the loogy.
    2. 7th/8th bullpen arm/RH Reliever: Right now on the depth chart, the team only has 9 true “relievers” on its 40-man. They’re going to break camp with 8 of them. The options game probably means they carry the loser of Ross/Voth/Fedde 5th starter competition as the 8th reliever, meaning that there’s possibly some competition for that last righty out of the pen. Look for that spot to be competed between Finnegan, Bacus and then the likes of veteran NRI Guerra. I’ll bet the team breaks camp with Guerra; he’s been there before and the team knows him, sending Finnegan and Bacus to AAA. 2/22/21 update: with the Jeffress signing, I think he goes to the head of the list above Guerra.
    3. 4th OF; Is there really a competition here? I don’t believe there is. But a 5th OF could be in the works as a bench bat. See next.
    4. Bench Bat: here’s our current projected Bench bats: Harrison, Zimmerman. Not much there. I like Parra as a glue-guy, clubhouse guy, spare part kind of player. Plus he hits lefty. Plus lets be honest; his Baby Shark thing is the kind of fan engagement phenomenon that you just can’t buy in terms of publicity. Not that there’s going to be any damn fans.
    5. Spare Infielder: do we really think Garcia is the backup infielder? I don’t think so: i think Garcia goes back to AAA and one of Sanchez/Mercer/Perez makes it as a veteran infielder. Given our Pittsburgh connection, money on Mercer.

So my prediction? multiple NRIs joining the team: McFarland, Jeffress, Parra and Mercer.

Do any of these guys project to feature at all in 2021? Absolutely. Past my four NRI predictions, I can see more than a few of these guys getting call-ups later on if they stick.

Who among these guys project to eventually get on the 40-man?  There’s a bunch of our top prospects on this list: Cavalli, Henry, Rutledge, Cate, Cronin. And there’s lesser-known but older/effective guys who seem like good bets to put themselves onto the roster. Nats spring training games should be great.

Are there any surprise non-NRIs in the system right now? Yeah a couple surprise non-invites. Two arms that were on the 60-man last year are not invited: Nick Wells and Sterling Sharp. Wells is a lefty reliever; why not invite him and have him compete? Sharp has MLB time; why not put him in camp? No other real surprise non-invites.


NRI Details by year, in case you were wondering… (this is recycled material, carried along year by year)

Summary of NRIs for 2020: 22 total

  • Three (3) made the 30-man roster out of Spring training: Javy Guerra, Sam Freeman, Emilio Bonifacio
  • 4 more eventually got added and called-up: tbd by end of 2020 season (Wil Crowe, Dakota Bacus, Luis Garcia, Yadiel Hernandez).
  • 0 more since been added to 40-man post 2020-season: tbd before 2021 season, but thanks to odd 2020 60-man roster all the NRIs under consideration here already got the callup.

Summary of NRIs for 2019: 18 total

  • One (1) made the 25-man roster out of spring: Jake Noll
  • Three (3) more eventually got added and called up:  Aaron Barrett, Tres Barrera, Carter Kieboom
  • Zero (0) others have since been added to 40-man (as of 2/6/20).

Summary of NRIs from ST 2018: 21 NRIs total:

  • One (1) made the 25-man roster out of spring: Miguel Montero
  • Four (4) eventually got added and called up:  Tim Collins, Moises Sierra, Jimmy Cordero, Spencer Kieboom.  Special Mention to Edwin Jackson, who opted out of Washington then excelled for Oakland later in 2018).
  • Zero (0) others have since been added to 40-man

Summary of NRIs from ST 2017: 24 NRIs total:

  • Zero (0) made the 25-man roster out of spring (though technically one kinda was; see next).
  • Five (5) eventually got added and called up (Jeremy Guthrie, Matt Albers, Grant Green, Jacob Turner and Andrew Stevenson): Guthrie was the 5th starter, stashed in XST for a few days before his ill-fated debut.
  • Five (5) have since been added to 40-man (Erick Fedde, Taylor Hill, Kyle McGowin, Wander Suero, Tim Collins)

Summary of NRIs from ST 2016: 20 NRIs total (plus perhaps a couple more that got signed late):

  • Two (2) made the 25-man roster: (Chris Heisey and as noted in the comments, thanks for the correction, Matt Belisle).
  • Two (2) eventually got added and called up (Lucas Giolito, Sean Burnett)
  • Two (2) have since been added to 40-man (Matt Skole, Austin Voth)

Summary of NRIs from ST 2015: 20 NRIs total:

  • Two (2) made the 25-man roster out of spring (Dan Uggla and Clint Robinson).  Adding Reed Johnson as a late-spring signee who made the team after his release from Miami (H/T Sao)
  • Two (2) others eventually got added and called up (Rafael Martin and Emmanuel Burriss)
  • Two (2) others were young catchers since added to the 40-man (Spencer Kieboom, Pedro Severino)

(I believe the above analysis is correct; feel free to comment if i’ve missed someone.  this is a bit tougher to keep track of b/c the team often signs MLFAs mid-spring then technically gives them NRIs … especially for Vets, and I may miss some from the original announcements).

Keith Law’s Nats Top 20 Prospect list

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Andry Lara continues to get attention out of the Nat’s system. Photo via Baseball America

Keith Law, over on the Athletic, released his Washington Nationals top 20 analysis yesterday. I like Law’s analysis, and realize that his opinions can be a bit polarizing, but I thought i’d run through his list and provide some analysis in spots where he differed greatly from other pundits in the space.

By this point in the “prospect analysis season” we’ve seen Nats run-throughs from Baseball America, Prospect361, MLBpipeline’s preliminary list, Prospects 1500, Bleacher Report, Baseball Prospectus, and now Keith Law. Still waiting for a couple other big names to drop (Mlbpipeline’s final list, ESPN, and Fangraphs), all of which should be coming in the next week ro so, but we’re starting to see some standardization of the lists.

Law’s ranking is “ceiling over floor” (meaning he likes younger prospects with growth potential versus older prospects who may be limited in terms of future impact). He’s definitely starter over reliever (its kind of surprising to ever see him rank a reliever) and premium defensive position over corner. So, there’s some surprises on this list.

The Athletic is behind a paywall, so here’s the list.

1CavalliCade
2RutledgeJackson
3HenryCole
4LaraAndry
5QuintanaRoismar
6DenaburgMason
7RomeroSeth
8CateTim
9CroninMatt
10De La RosaJeremy
11AntunaYasel
12InfanteSamuel
13MarteDaniel
14PinedaIsrael
15AdonJoan
16IrvinJake
17LeeEvan
18FuentesSteven
19ViandelPena
20SanchezBryan

Thoughts on his rankings:

  • Same top 3 as nearly all other pundits, in the expected order of Cavalli, Rutledge, Henry. I’d like to point out that the best-case projection for these three guys is a heck of a trio of arms to pair with Strasburg and Corbin for a few years at the back-end of their long term contracts. I mean, there’s worse situations to be in. Especially if all three are pitching in the majors on pre-arb contracts.
  • Andry Lara at #4: this is about where others are now putting him; the video on him is pretty impressive. Effortless delivery, almost like Livan Hernandez but with velocity, and side-stuff.
  • He has Roismar Quintana all the way up to #5, way way higher than anyone else (Baseball America had Quintana at #20 and most others have him in the mid-teens). This exemplifies ceiling over floor approach to prospect grading to a T.
  • He’s got our two high-profile 1st round scuffles in Denaburg and Romero back to back, fittingly. Question; at what point does a prospect write-up of Romero NOT mention that he’s got “off-the-field” issues? I daresay i have not read a paragraph about the player since the day we drafted him that did not include that caveat. I wonder if he makes the majors and pitches for us for several years and then when we hear about his first arbitration hearing if the write-ups will go, “… Romero pitched adequately out of the nats bullpen in 2026 … he’s come a long way since getting kicked off his college team!” sigh.
  • Law has Antuna all the way down at #11 (by way of comparison, BA has him #4 and Prospects1500 has him at #2, which may be influenced by fantasy value since he’s now on the 40-man and might get big league time in 2021). I think Law dings him because he doesn’t think Antuna can stick at a premium defensive position … which greatly hurts his value unless he can show 25-homer power.
  • Despite having TJ surgery, Law has Jake Irvin all the way up to #16, noting that he was showing significantly higher velocity before blowing out his elbow (do you think maybe the two events are related?) Nonetheless, if Irvin comes back with a new elbow and the same velocity, he’s a significantly better prospect.
  • Evan Lee at #17 … that’s definitely optimistic on Lee.
  • Bryan Sanchez at #20 and now we know why; 3,000 rpm on his curve ball right now to go with mid 90s velocity?? As an 18yr old? Wow.

A couple other notes:

  • Cluff and Mendoza were BA’s #10 and #11 … and Law doesn’t even have them in his top 20.
  • No mention of Tres Barrera who is mid-teens in most other groups, not even in his honorable mentions.
  • Lastly, he drops a name i’ve never heard before: Mirton Blanco. Turns out he’s an 2018 IFA who threw in the DSL in 2019 with pretty solid velocity before blowing out his elbow too. Seems like a trend.

Pundits all Agree (so far): Washington farm system dead last

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It is prospect ranking season, and the regular shops are starting to publish their pre-2021 organizational system ranks, analyzing the prospect depth each system has. And nearly across the board, all the pundits seem to agree on one thing:

Washington has the worst farm system in the game.

Here’s a quick one-paragraph overview of the system from each pundit, so you can gauge what they’re saying about us.


Mlbpipeline.com/Jim Callis/Jonathan Mayo Farm systems mid-season 2020 9/1/20. Nats Ranked 30th.

“The Nationals have tapped into their farm more than ever this year, assigning Kieboom to their Opening Day roster and promoting prospects such as Luis García, Wil Crowe and Seth Romero within the season’s first month. The organization won’t have a Top 100 prospect after Kieboom graduates, though right-handers Jackson Rutledge and Cade Cavalli, Washington’s first-round picks in 2019 and ‘20, both are future Top 100 candidates.”

(Note: this is from Sept 1st, before the Crowe trade, but it was the first time that MLBpipeline had dumped the Nats to the bottom. They’ll be re-issuing their rankings for players and systems within the month).


Joel Reuter/Bleacher Report 2021 Farm system ranking Jan 2021: Nats ranked 30th

Farm System Snapshot: With infielders Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia moving on to the majors and pitchers Wil Crowe and Eddy Yean traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Josh Bell deal, the Washington Nationals system is down four top prospects from the last time these rankings were updated—when they also claimed the No. 30 spot. The front office has invested first-round picks in Mason Denaburg (No. 27 in 2018), Jackson Rutledge (No. 17 in 2019) and Cade Cavalli (No. 22 in 2020), and that trio now represents the best of baseball’s thinnest farm system.

Keith Law/The Athletic Pre 2021 Farm system ranking Feb21. Nats ranked 30th

“The Nats won the World Series in 2019, and as is often the case with teams that do so, they spent a lot of their prospect capital to get there. They’ve traded prospects, drafted lower in the first round and given up some picks for free agents. Their international scouting department has been very aggressive under the new system, however, and the Nats’ system could look a whole lot better in a year if all of their teenage Latin American prospects get a chance to play and show us if their abilities line up with their tools. “


Prospects1500/Jacob Swain Rankings Feb 2021. Nats ranked 30th

” Even though the Nats farm system ranks at or very near the bottom, there is some promise on the horizon. Several of their prospects could see themselves in consideration to be included in Top 100 lists by mid-season. -Jacob Swain (@jacob_swain3) “

Baseball America Farm system Rankings Feb 2021. Nats Ranked 30th

“The last time the Nationals were dead last in our talent rankings (2008), they were trying to dig out from the everything-must-go mentality of the final years of the Expos. This time they are recovering from winning a World Series in 2019. Thinning a farm system to win a World Series is a much more enjoyable reason than thinning a system because of potential contraction. “


ESPN/Kiley McDaniel Rankings 2/13/21. Nats Ranked 30th.

The Nats are perennially in an unusual position: a bottom-five farm system with a number of big league stars who have come through that system. The system has produced Stephen StrasburgJuan SotoAnthony RendonBryce Harper and Victor Robles, along with a brief stop from Trea Turner, and this is largely because (or why) the Nats target upside in the amateur markets. Righties Jackson Rutledge and Cade Cavalli are their past two first-round picks and have frontline potential at the top of the system.

The other side of this coin is graduating prospects to the big leagues (two top-100 members from last year in potential stars Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia) and trading midtier prospects for big league help (Wil Crowe and Eddy Yean for Josh Bell).


Major shops Still to publish: Baseball Prospectus, MLBPipeline’s updated rankings, Fangraphs, and MILB.com. I’ll probably post another iteration of this post when these guys publish, to put their take up as well.

Written by Todd Boss

February 11th, 2021 at 11:10 am

Baseball America’s Nats top 30

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Cade Cavalli named #1 prospect in the system by Baseball America. Photo via Lookout Landing blog

Baseball America announced Top 30 lists for all teams on 2/3/21, which meant we get the first major team-specific review of the prospects.

The lack of a minor league season in 2020 complicates this analysis, as does the late arriving IFA class (delayed 6 months from its typical July 2 date). But we do have some shuffling of prospects from prior lists. This post will call out some of the more interesting prospects on BA’s list, if they’re higher or lower than other shops.

Direct link to the Nats top 30 is here. The top 30 table is here:

2021 BA RankLast NameFirst Name
1CavalliCade
2RutledgeJackson
3HenryCole
4AntunaYasel
5LaraAndry
6De La RosaJeremy
7CateTim
8DenaburgMason
9CroninMatt
10MendozaDrew
11CluffJackson
12InfanteSamuel
13RomeroSeth
14PinedaIsrael
15BarreraTres
16MarteDaniel
17BraymerBen
18PowellHolden
19FuentesSteven
20QuintanaRoismar
21DysonTyler
22IrvinJake
23AdonJoan
24ReetzJakson
25SharpSterling
26AriasAndry
27TetreaultJackson
28BanksNick
29SchallerReid
30SanchezBryan

Notable players:

  • Like pretty much every other prospect ranking shop, the top three includes Cade Cavalli, Jackson Rutledge and Cole Henry. Cavalli comes in ahead of Rutledge.
  • After a down year, Yasel Antuna is now all the way up to #4. As we’ve heard repeatedly, he did well in the XST 60-man last year and is rounding into the prospect shape they thought they were getting when they spent $3.9M on him in 2016. For all the talk we have about whether Kieboom is ready … maybe we’re looking at the wrong 3B prospect right now. Could Antuna win the 3B job this spring??
  • BA continues to be high shop on De La Rosa, ranking him #6.
  • The Pittsburgh trade cost the team two of its former BA top 10 players in Crowe and Yean, which moves up two 2019 draftees Cronin and Mendoza into the top 10. Both were solid college players who have done well so far in the minors. Cronin seems like he could zoom up the minors in 2021.
  • They’re way high on Infante, with him at #12 when most shops have him buried in the mid 20s. I definitely feel like there’s some pretty distinct opinions on Infante in the Natmosphere; some people really hated the pick. He was above slot, buying him out of a UMiami commitment and is listed as having plus arm, plus hands and is “advanced” for a prep draft pick.
  • Romero down to #13. For understandable reasons; his velocity was not impressive in 2020 in his very short season. I’d like to see him in AAA, as a starter, pitching every 5th day for half a season to see just what he’s capable of.
  • The three catchers on this list: Barrera at #14, Pineda at #15, Reetz at #24; does anyone actually think any of these guys ever contribute at the MLB level? Reetz was a MLFA re-signing and comes in at #24 in the system?
  • Daniel Marte pops up kind of out of the blue at #16. Seems like a speculative ranking.
  • Ben Braymer at #17 continues to get half-hearted prospect support, despite his excellent minor league career thus far. A reminder; he has a career 3.64 minor league ERA despite a 7+ ERA in 13 Fresno starts in 2019. He continues to be one of the best middle-round picks we’ve ever had.
  • Steven Fuentes creeping up to #19. Still can’t believe he’s not higher; he dominated AA in 2019 as a 22yr old.
  • BA is much lower on Joan Adon than other shops, bringing him at #23 when most others have him in the 14-17 range.
  • Same with Reid Schaller; having him #29 while other shops have him as high as #16.
  • Why is Sterling Sharp even considered a prospect at this point (he’s ranked #25).
  • Two debutants on BA’s list that i’ve never seen mentioned elsewhere before: Andry Arias comes in at #27 and Bryan Sanchez at #30

FYI: The 2021 IFA picks (specifically Armando Cruz) were not included on this list.

Overall farm system thoughts: top heavy: 3 big arms at the top who project as solid #2-#3 starters. Then three high-risk/high-ceiling IFAs. Then a combination of big-time Div1 studs and failed first rounders. There’s room for improvement.

Baseball has a serious competitiveness problem

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Arenado’s trade just another example of teams not trying to win. Photo via legitsports.com

I don’t think this post is necessarily a surprise to those of us who follow the sport. MLB has a serious competitiveness problem, and it seems to be coming to a particular head for the 2021 season … just in time for the CBA to expire.

The reason I bring this up is because of a series of really, really concerning moves we’ve seen this past off-season, coupled with some of the more seismic moves seen in the past couple of off-seasons, has really got me shocked.

Specifically, i’m about:

  • the Colorado Rockies dumping their franchise player and likely future hall of famer Nolan Arenado for a set of middling prospects AND sending $50M to the Cardinals.
  • I’m talking about one of the absolute wealthiest teams in the sport (the Chicago Cubs) trading away key players (Yu Darvish) and doing little to augment their team for 2021.
  • I’m talking about Boston trading away the best home-grown player they’ve had since, I dunno, Ted Williams, in what amounted to a salary dump (again, this is Boston, who make more than $500M annually in revenues) when they jettisoned Mookie Betts.
  • I’m talking about teams in major, huge markets (Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners) basically not trying.
  • I’m talking about the best team in the AL last year (Tampa Bay) flipping its best player (Ian Snell) for 60 cents on the dollar BEFORE he even got that expensive.
  • I’m talking about teams like Atlanta (whose numbers are public record because they are owned by a publicly-traded company) earning $476M in revenue in 2019 and basically holding pat on payroll for years.
  • I’m talking about teams in mid-sized markets (Arizona, Baltimore, Miami) acting as if they’re barely staying afloat.

And so on.

I did a quick analysis of where the MLB teams stand in terms of whether they’re really “trying” for the 2021 season, based on their off-season activity and their 2020 results, and i came up with a pretty shocking list of teams. By my counts:

  • 14 teams are purposely doing as little as possible to improve their teams this off-season. Not surprisingly, these 14 teams account for 14 of the 17 smallest projected payrolls right now.
  • Another 3 teams are competitive and/or have high payrolls, but are making moves that question their intent (specifically: Boston, San Francisco, and Tampa)
  • This leaves the remaining 13 teams which are clearly “trying,” actively signing and improving their teams, increasing payroll, etc. Again, not surprisingly, these 13 “trying” teams currently comprise 12 of the top 13 projected 2021 payrolls.

Here’s the core data, stored by division and then projected payroll rank. I used Cot’s 2021 payroll projections , Fangraphs Roster Resource Depth charts/transaction trackers, and MLBtraderumors 2021 FA tracker to gauge activity.

TeamDivisionRankCB Tax 40-manTrying?Notes
Chicago White SoxAL Central11166.6YesAcquired Lynn, signed Hendricks
MinnesotaAL Central17125.9YesDone enough to maintain divisional lead
Kansas CityAL Central2196.8NoOnly minor moves
DetroitAL Central2291.2NoOnly minor moves
ClevelandAL Central2962.7NoTraded Carrasco and Lindor
BostonAL East2201.9Sort-ofThey've made moves, but really payroll hamstrung. Betts trade was disappointing
New York YankeesAL East3199.9YesSigned LeMahiue, Kluber, acquired Taillon
TorontoAL East12148.3YesSpringer acquisition plus Siemen trade, Matz trade
BaltimoreAL East2679.9NoWaiver claims and rule5 picks.
Tampa BayAL East2870.1Sort-of… but traded away Snell.
HoustonAL West4195.8YesStable, competitive roster
Los Angeles AngelsAL West7185.2YesAcquired Cobb, Iglesias, etc.
TexasAL West2389.9NoNot really attempting to compete in AL West, traded away Lynn
OaklandAL West2489.1No0 FA signings, almost no off-season activity
SeattleAL West2580.6NoVery little improvement attempts
St. LouisNL Central10169.7YesAcquired Arenado but that's about it for activity
Chicago CubsNL Central14143.5NoTanking mode; traded Darvish, non-tendered Schwarber
CincinnatiNL Central18125.6NoLittle movement in improving the team.
MilwaukeeNL Central20102.9NoAlmost no off-season activity
PittsburghNL Central3058.2No100% tanking mode; traded away most of their assets; just ONE guy on a multi-year contract
WashingtonNL East5193.7YesMultiple acquisitions pre season
PhiladelphiaNL East6186.2YesResigned Realmuto big, got Didi
New York MetsNL East8180.7YesHuge moves pre 2021; new owner, signed McCann, acquired Lindor and Carrasco, bullpen signings
AtlantaNL East15138.1YesTwo starters … but refuse to go much higher than current
MiamiNL East2773.6No
Los Angeles DodgersNL West1204.4YesDefending WS champs
San DiegoNL West9172.2YesGot Darvish AND Snell, plus Musgrove??
San FranciscoNL West13146.1Sort-ofLots of movement, but none to really make them competitive
ColoradoNL West16128.3No
ArizonaNL West19103NoNot a SINGLE off-season move

Furthermore, there’s some teams who I give credit for “trying” who just happen to be in divisions where basically everyone else is NOT trying … so just treading water constitutes as a pathway to success. Going division by division:

  • AL East: NY and Toronto competing. Boston sits at #2 in payroll thanks to god-awful contract management during the Dave Dombrowski era. Tampa was the best team in the AL in 2020, but projects to have the 3rd lowest payroll and just flipped Snell. Baltimore of course is doing almost nothing as normal.
  • AL Central: Chicago and Minnesota sit mid-league in payroll but get a free ride thanks to the rest of the division actively tanking. Kansas City, Detroit and Cleveland all trying to get worse on purpose.
  • AL West: Houston treading water with a great and expensive roster, the result of years of purposely tanking and starting this whole trend. The Angels continue to ineptly spend their money and not get Mike Trout to the playoffs. Nobody else trying, and Texas, Seattle, Oakland all sit in huge markets. Texas in particular is particularly galling; they reside in the 4th largest market in the majors and project to have the 23rd ranked payroll.
  • NL East: the most competitive division, with 4 of the 5 teams trying and spending money. Of course, as noted above Atlanta’s wealth is hamstrung artificially (which must be awesome for their fans). Miami continues to be an embarassment, a revenue suck on the rest of the league.
  • NL Central: perhaps the most egregious example; just one team seems to be trying to win in 2021 (St. Louis). The other four are dumping players and not spending money (Cubs, Cincy, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh, which projects to the lowest payroll in teh majors)
  • NL West: the Dodgers will always spend, and the Padres are really well positioned out of the blue, which has made the rest of the division wave the white flag already. San Francisco treads water getting out from under a ton of expensive, aging players, while Colorado has traded away an all-star team worth of talent in the past few years, and Arizona continues to be one of the most inept franchises in the game while sitting in the 10th largest US market, one that is growing wildly.

For me, a big part of this is the Luxury tax cap, which clearly is treated as a hard cap and thus stops wealthier teams from going over it. But another huge part is the lack of a corresponding salary floor. There’s also little incentive for teams to compete and win with pre-determined RSN payments driving their revenues. I think the league needs to look at bigger revenue sharing for its smaller teams to keep them competitive (like what the NFL does). Lastly, too many teams have now seen the pathway to success that bottoming out does and are emulating it … all at once. Only one team can draft #1 overall, but half the league is trying to do so. How do you resolve this?

In any case … the lack of trying and lack of spending has led to hundreds of millions of dollars of payroll NOT being spent on players … and they’ve got to get the playing field back to level. I think we’re going to see a pretty ugly work stoppage after 2021. I’m sure we’ll be revisiting this. But when it comes to good faith attempts to compete, more than half the league is not holding up their end of the bargain for 2021.

Written by Todd Boss

February 3rd, 2021 at 1:28 pm

Rizzo gets his 4th starter in Lester

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Lester to feature the curly W in 2021. photo via Grantland

One of our most obvious roster gaps heading into the off-season was a veteran 4th starter, and today Mike Rizzo got his man.

Jon Lester. 3-time World Series winner, cancer survivor, noted wine aficionado, signs a one-year $5M deal with the ubiquitous mutual option that is never mutually agreed to, to be our 4th starter for 2021.

Lester joins an esteemed list of “veteran 4th starters signed to pillow contracts” under the Rizzo regime. To wit:

  • 2010: Jason Marquis (though to be fair he signed a 2 year deal to probably be more than our 4th starter).
  • 2011: Chien-Ming Wang
  • 2012: Edwin Jackson, the first of the “real” 4th starter FA assassins
  • 2013: Dan Haren
  • 2014: Doug Fister
  • 2018: Jeremy Hellickson
  • 2019: Anibel Sanchez

To be fair here, Fister was of course a trade acquisition, and was much more than a 4th starter, but his acquisition, plus Scherzer signing and the eventual rise of home grown products like Roark and Ross led to several years without a need to pursue the veteran 4th starter. Not surprisingly, they made the playoffs 3 of 4 years in this timeframe … inexplicably missing the playoffs in 2015 in a season I hand squarely on the incompetence of Matt Williams. But I digress.

Clearly Rizzo’s strategy in building a rotation goes like this: splurge for the top of your rotation, sign a veteran for your 4th starter, let the kids compete for the 5th starter. What I’d LIKE it to be is, grow a couple of stud starters, pair them with your $30M/year guys, and dominate. He’s had had a slew of misses in the 1st round in the last decade, gave up too early on others (ahem Giolito), and now seems to have put their eggs into the Cavalli/Rutledge basket. Lets hope.

Anyway, back to this post. What do I think of the Lester signing? Well…. i think he’ll be a great clubhouse guy. But i’m tempered on what I think he can provide on the field, unfortunately. Lester went from being an #1/#2 kinda guy to being a #4 starter right starting with the 2017 season. He saw a sustained bump in his WHIP starting in 2017, which he somehow danced around in 2018 to put together a smoke-and-mirrors 18win season where his FIP was a full point higher than his ERA. This run of luck came back to bite him in 2019, in the form of a .347 BABIP that ballooned his ERA to ugly territory. 2020 was a wash; he was bad across the board, which could be a pretty bad sign for 2021.

Now he’ll be in his age 37 season with a whole lotta mileage on his known torn UCL elbow. He’s also famous for his inability to keep runners on first base … which will put pressure on his catchers. Gomes is pretty decent at caught stealing percentage (.305 pct in 2019, which was 6th or 7th or so of “regular” catchers in the league), but who knows about whatever backup we pick.

Do we think Lester is a bounce back candidate? Can he flourish when he’s not “the man” in the rotation? How much does he have left in the tank? All interesting questions. At the worst case its a very small price tag to take that gamble.

Payroll implication; not a heck of a lot. $5M doesn’t really change anything else the team might be doing, which makes this a positive. I now have their projected 2021 payroll at $181M, leaving them a shade under $29M left to work with. Notably, they have about $11.5M in deferred dollars this year, plus their “real” 2021 payroll (i.e. actual dollars heading out the door versus cap space dollar figure) is another $9.5M … so that’s $20M of money that the Lerners may be removing from consideration … which means they only want to spend about another $9m. Maybe. Just throwing that out there; there’s a real versus cap space payroll consideration here as the team starts to see a lot of its deferred dollar contracts catching up to them.

My conclusion; proceed with caution. I would have liked to roll the dice with another candidate on the FA market.

Nats get Schwarber

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Schwarber coming to Washington, Photo via Espn

Word broke Saturday that Washington DC had made news for another reason besides insurrection; Kyle Schwarber signed a 1yr $10M deal to come to DC for 2021.

Short version of this post: I like this move. A lot.

I’ve liked Schwarber ever since Chicago drafted him in the 1st round out of Indiana (bucking the pre-draft rankings) and he raced through the minors. His debut with the Cubs was great, and then his post-season heroics have been fabulous. He struggled mightily in the 2020 short season and the now tanking North siders non-tendered him.

As noted in the mlbtraderumors.com article, Schwarber signed for a bit more than his arb projection, which indicates there must have been somewhat of a bidding war for his services.

Why do I like this move? As I noted in the comments before writing this post, several reasons:

  • Pedigree: Upper 1st round pick who has solid (if not all-star) career numbers. 113 career wRC+, 113 career OPS+ … both figures knocked down badly by his 2020 season.
  • Bounce Back candidate: 2020 was brutal for Schwarber … as was his BABIP. Just a .219 babip for 2020 despite being in the 95th percentile of exit velocity means his numbers should have been much higher.
  • 2019 slash line: .250/.339/.531 with 38 homers. He’s a power hitter
  • You don’t need a gold glove in left field, as you’ve heard me say a lot. I want a hitter.

I like getting a middle of the order bat for 1yr/$10M. I like getting a 27yr old 1st round slugger for 1yr $10M. I like getting a cleanup hitter with a .480 career slugging without giving up a prospect.

Yes he strikes out a lot; 156 Ks in 610 2019 PAs for a 25.5% strikeout rate. The 2019 league-wide strikeout rate was 22.9%. So for that extra 2.6% strikeout rate you get a cleanup hitter who hit 38 bombs. Sometimes you have to understand that you give some stuff up to get other stuff.

Here’s what the 2021 opening day lineup looks like now:

  1. SS Turner (r)
  2. RF Soto (l)
  3. 1B Bell (s)
  4. LF Schwarber (l)
  5. DH Harrison (r)
  6. 3B Castro (r)
  7. 2B Garcia (l)
  8. CF Robles (r)

Right handed heavy at the bottom, but excellent balance at the top. If you want to put Castro at 2B and Kieboom at 3B all it does it put another righty at the #8 spot. It is also worth noting that Schwarber could DH and Harrison (who can play 5 different positions) can move out to Left. This still leaves open a bench RH bat like Ryan Zimmerman, who would be an excellent $2M signing. This move likely pushes Soto to RF; can he handle it? Robles might be busy in 2021 covering lots of ground.

Payroll implications: With this move I have the Nats at around $172.1M for 2021. Cots has them slightly higher ($172.7M); both our totals have estimates for arb salaries for Turner, Bell and Soto. If the nats maxed out to $210M that leaves nearly $38M left to play with.

Written by Todd Boss

January 9th, 2021 at 2:49 pm

Happy New Year! Obligatory Post on the 2021 Hall of Fame class

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This could be Schilling’s year. Photo via mlb.com

I write a baseball blog. Therefore, I am obligated to put in my 2 cents on Hall of Fame voting. And the new year is also the deadline for BBWAA voters to send in their real ballots for the Hall of Fame, so you see a glut of sportswriters publishing their ballots. Here’s more of the same from me.

How many years have I been doing this post?  Basically as long as we’ve had the blog.  Here’s (by class) 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011

I know lots of people have lost faith in the Hall of Fame, are tired of reading analysis like this, etc etc.  Fair enough; feel free to move on.

Here’s two key links for you, if you’re still reading.

So, the 2021 class is … well its weak. With all due respect to the newly eligible candidates on the 2021 ballot, there’s not a single one hall-worthy. Several “hall of very good” players, but none transcendent. There was just one “major award” won between any of the newly eligible players, that being Barry Zito’s Cy Young award in 2002.

Nonetheless, here’s some quick thoughts on those that are on this ballot, in rough order of descending career bWAR/likelihood of getting 5% votes to stick around on the ballot.

New to the 2021 Ballot Candidates:

  • Tim Hudson; highest JAWS of any of the 2021 new candidates, nearly the highest total career WAR. He certainly had enough time in the sun, playing for multiple playoff teams in his career (7 seasons pitching in the playoffs). Was frequently in Cy Young talks, but never really came close to winning one. Probably the best of this year’s class.
  • Mark Buehrle: the Andy Pettitte of the 00s. Their career stats are eerily similar; if you support Pettitte, you support Buehrle. I think both guys were career #3 starters with occasionally amazing stuff.
  • Torii Hunter had a surprisingly solid, quiet career. Great defender, great teammate. Not enough to make the hall.
  • Dan Haren: hey, he pitched for the Nats! And he threw 88mph (his twitter account is https://twitter.com/ithrow88).
  • Barry Zito: great early part of his career, forming the trio of amazing starters that Michael Lewis never once mentioned in Moneyball. Then became one of the worst-ever free agent contracts signed. 7 years, $126M. For that $126M he contributed a COMBINED 3.0 bWAR. Over 7 years. That’s $42M per WAR. Not the best legacy. Did win a Cy Young though.
  • Aramis Ramirez: a long-time middle of the order dangerous bat for Chicago. Multiple 30hr/100 rbi seasons. Surprised he never got more press.
  • Shane Victorino; we saw a lot of Victorino during the Philly golden years of the late 2000s. Solid player, that’s about it.
  • A.J. Burnett: pitched for years, .500 career record, just kind of always there as a #2 or #3 starter. He made one All Star team in his entire career and it was his farewell season.
  • Nick Swisher; the golden-child of the book Moneyball. Nice career.
  • LaTroy Hawkins: no disrespect, but I don’t want to ever hear about another reliever until Billy Wagner is inducted.
  • Michael Cuddyer; From Virginia! Part of a great history of players coming out of Great Bridge HS in Chesapeake over the past 20 years (also including Justin Upton, John Curtice and Connor Jones).

Returning Ballot Candidates
Here’s how I’d vote my imaginary ballot. Amazingly, i find myself struggling to get to 10 players.

  • Yes on Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Curt Schilling, Manny Ramirez
  • more tepid Yes on Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones
  • Maybe it’s time to vote for Gary Sheffield, Billy Wagner, and Todd Helton
  • Pass for now on Jeff Kent, Sammy Sosa, Andy Pettitte,
  • No on Omar Vizquel, Bobby Abreu

Quick reasoning in order of the above:

  • Clemens and Bonds are two of the best players ever to play, regardless of later-in-their-career PED transgressions (alleged or otherwise). You can cut both their careers off at the point where they both allegedly used and they’re still HoFamers. Vote them in and be done with it.
  • Schilling may be abhorrent on social media, but he deserves the Hall based on his playing career. It does not go without saying though that it is completely reasonable for journalists to pass as a statement of protest at this point. If you want a full accounting of all the reprehensible stuff he’s spewed on social media lately, see Jay Jaffe‘s HoF post for a partial list. Its ridiculous. And frankly it makes me pause even putting his name here. Maybe its “putting your head in the sand” to support someone posting the vile crap he does … especially since he’s completely aware of what he posts and seemingly now does it for attention.
  • Ramirez was perhaps the most feared RH hitter for a decade in this league and has career numbers that put him in the top 25 hitters ever to play. Again, less interested in PED transgressions at the end of his career than I am with the bulk of his accomplishments.
  • Rolen is an interesting player whose value was much more about his defense than his offense. Interestingly the Hall has no problem electing top-end defensive short stops who couldn’t hit (see Ozzie Smith or Luis Aparicio) but seem to struggle when presented with an equally dominant defensive 3B who actually could hit. That’s Rolen to a t.
  • Jones was, for the first 10 years of his career, discussed as perhaps being the second coming of Willie Mays before getting hurt and getting run out of the game by the time he was 35. Despite playing just 11 full seasons he had 434 career homers and 10 straight gold gloves in Center. I think voters have just forgotten how good he was. Keith Law had a great post at the Athletic this week about just why Jones is hall-worthy, an interesting analysis that was worth reading.
  • Sheffield is a borderline candidate but was nearly as feared as Ramirez was at the plate. Has stronger PED usage allegations than others. He was, unfortunately, a “difficult” player to deal with both for club and media, which has probably led to his tepid support.
  • Billy Wagner: has better numbers than nearly any other inducted reliever. If you have any relievers in the hall, you’d need to consider Wagner (and as long as we’re having that conversation, say hello to Tom Henke).
  • Todd Helton was better than you remember. He had a season once where he hit .357 AND hit 42 homers. Just look past the fact that he was once arrested for DUI while buying lottery tickets. Lottery tickets! For a player who made $156M in his career.

Passing on and reasoning:

  • Bobby Abreu: good but not transcendent. Frankly i;m amazed at the support he’s getting so far on the bbhof tracker.
  • Jeff Kent is a polarizing figure, both while he played and on the ballot. He’s a borderline guy and his voting totals have indicated that.
  • Sosa: too hard to make a case that he reinvented himself as a home run hitter completely thanks to artificial mechanisms. He was a 36–40 homer guy then he suddenly rips off seasons of 66, 63, 50 and 64. I will say though, i do “buy” his corked bat explanation once I read that the league confiscated all his other bats and found no other cork.
  • Pettitte lead the league in wins in the 90s (much like Morris did in the 80s) but is recognized similarly to Mark Buehrle; a lefty 3rd or 4th starter for most of his career who stayed healthy and accumulated wins and strikeouts, but was rarely even the best hurler on his own team.
  • Vizquel was a mediocre hitter who played forever and nearly got to 3,000 hits. He was a solid defender yes, but I’m kind of at a loss as to why voters are giving him so much credence while Rolon struggles.

Merry Xmas! The Nats got a Bell

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Bell joins his former Pittsburgh teammate Harrison with the Nationals. Photo via Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Not unlike the little boy in The Polar Express, the Nats got a Bell for Christmas.

Let me just start out by saying, I love this move. Might as well get it on record.

The Nats made their first trade in nearly a year, and their first one with Pittsburgh in four years, by acquiring Josh Bell in exchange for two pitching prospects in Wil Crowe and Eddy Yean.

Bell is a middle-of-the-order stud, crushing the NL in 2019 to the tune of a 142 OPS+ and 135 wRC+. He crushed 37 homers playing in Pittsburgh’s pitcher’s park and despite missing a few weeks with injury. He struggled in 2020, so Pittsburgh is selling a bit low, but its also a typical move from the often-tanking franchise. Bell is arb-eligible, a Scott Boras client and probably is only a 2-year player here, but he fits an immediate and urgent need on this team.

Now for a bit on the players heading the other way. Crowe has been one of our top pitching prospects for several seasons, grinding his way up the chain and debuting in 2020. However (and yes this is small sample size and what not but it is still warranted), his MLB time did not inspire confidence. His fastball was just 92mph, his off-speed stuff in the low to mid 80s, and he got tattooed in his 8 innings pitched (14 hits, 5 homers, 8 walks). It was enough to cause Baseball America to drop him from 4th in their pre-2020 handbook to 10th in the post-season wake of his performance. The scouting reports say he sits 91-93 and touches 95; well, if there was ever a time for him to touch it, it would have been in his MLB debut. I hate to throw shine on a guy, but a life-time starter who can’t cut it in the low 90s and who projected as a 5th starter at best is not exactly a guarantee to be successful in relief either, not in an era where everybody throws mid 90s out of the pen. I think this was an indication that Crowe dropped so far down our starting pitcher depth chart that he became completely expendable.

Meanwhile, the marquee name heading the other way likely is Yean, a 2017 IFA who never appeared on a single prospect list until the post 2019 season, when he started getting top 10 buzz. MLBPipeline.com was the high man on him after 2020, having him all the way up to #6 in the system. He’ll be a solid starter prospect for Pittsburgh’s low-A team this year and might turn into a star for them. But, in terms of near-term needs, Yean is at least 3 years away and the team has 4 or 5 college aged studs who rank higher than him and who are closer to the majors, so he’s a years-away lottery ticket. Unlike other times when we’ve traded away young pitchers (Jesus Luzardo) I’m a-ok with this move.

Great move; we got a player we really wanted, didn’t break the bank in terms of FA signing, and the prospects we sent the other way were prospects we could afford to part with.

Written by Todd Boss

December 24th, 2020 at 3:22 pm