Nationals Arm Race

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

Like the Janssen signing

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Janssen becomes the latest Nats signing. Photo via THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Janssen becomes the latest Nats signing. Photo via THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

I hadn’t necessarily verbalized it in this space, but after the Tyler Clippard trade it made sense to me for the Nats to go shopping on the FA market for a middle reliever to help bridge the gap.  Its tough to lose two of your three late-inning options in one season (the other of course being the over-paid Rafael Soriano, who remains unemployed at this juncture), and a veteran one-year signing made sense.

And that’s exactly what the team got today with the signing of former Toronto closer Casey Janssen to a one-year $5M guaranteed deal with a mutual option for 2016.  I like this deal a lot; not a ton of money, a closer-quality guy who immediately takes over the 8th inning role and can cover for Drew Storen if he stumbles in the closer role.  Janssen’s numbers took a dive in 2014, which can be easily attributable to a violent bout of food poisoning he suffered mid-season last  year.

This move makes the 2015 bullpen likely look like the following (in relative order from Closer to Long-Man): Storen, Janssen, Barrett, Stammen, Blevins, Thornton and Roark.

Which means that, save for a theoretical trade of a starter, Roark is the long-man and Blake Treinen is likely in AAA as a starter.  If we move Zimmermann, Roark slides into the 5th starter and Treinen likely becomes a 7th inning option.  The rest of the 40-man reliever options don’t seem like they’re really threatening this core group: Cedeno is out of options and is looking at a DFA unless Blevins/Thornton gets hurt, Fornataro needs to re-establish himself in AAA, Erik Davis is coming off surgery and Matt Grace is freshly on the 40-man and (like Cedeno) won’t be an option unless there’s an injury.  Yes forensicane; I love Rafael Martin too … but he’s not on the 40-man yet so he’s not an option yet either.

I don’t mind keeping Treinen as a starter frankly; the Nats used 8 starters last year and likely will use that many this year.  Past the core 5, you have Roark, Treinen and then your pick of 40-man candidates Jordan/Cole/Hill if we get bit with an injury bug.  That’s plenty of decent starter depth for now; we can call up Treinen and Cole for middle-relief appearances in September ahead of a potential October series.

How do you feel about our bullpen?  Is the Barrett/Stammen/Thornton combination good enough to handle the 6th and 7th innings on a regular basis?  Would you rather have Treinen as a sinkerballing hard-thrower in that mix?  If so, who makes way?

 

 

One day on the job … three dumb things already said or done

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ManfredSelig

Out with the old, in with the … same? Photo via nydailynews.com

So, I see that new MLB commissioner Rob Manfred is picking up right where the oft-clueless Bud Selig left off.   On his first week on the job, he was quoted as saying two rather ridiculous things and doing something even dumber:

1. He’s open to “banning defensive shifts

2. He thinks baseball will eventually return to Montreal.

3. He appointed Fred Wilpon to be the head of the sport’s Finance committee.

I don’t think I need to go deeply into why #1 is a ridiculous statement; plenty of others in the blogosphere have done that already.  I’ll just say this: there’s a reason defensive shifts work, and its because batters have become far, far too one-dimensional at the plate.  There’s a very simple, easy method for defeating defensive shifts; bunting.  Watch Robinson Cano bunt for a casual double against a shift in Boston: he barely tried to get the bunt down, just essentially punching the ball towards a vast gap left open by the too-clever Boston infield.  There’s not even a fielder in the camera’s field of sight by the time the ball runs by the bag.  I didn’t see this game live, but i’ll bet Boston didn’t try this shift on him again.  If they didn’t, and I’m the starting pitcher … I’m probably not throwing another pitch until I see a conventional infield again.  As far as Cano goes … its a line-drive in the books right?

And that’s all it will take.  If every pull hitting lefty would just punch a couple of bunts towards the vacated third base position, the defensive shifting probably would drastically reduce.

If you’re *for* the banning of defensive shifts … how exactly would you do it?  Put dotted lines on the field and make players stay in their positions until the ball is pitched?  We’re talking about a game that’s existed for decades without such a need.  How would you police it?  How would you account for players running out of position to cover bunts?  When the pitcher is up, is the 3rd baseman allowed to creep in?  How much?  What if someone fake-bunts and suddenly players are out of their “zones?”  If someone cheats out of position, do you just give the player a ball or a base?  How does that change the decades-old score keeping?  That’s just a few of the implementation questions that would make this a non-starter to realistically force-feed into the game.

Look; if you want to tilt the power back to batters (and that’s what this is really about, right?  Offense is down, strikeouts are up), then do what they did back in the late 60s.  Lower the mound.  Shrink the strike zone (actually … don’t shrink it, just frigging call it like it should be called and stop giving guys who throw 100 a ball off the outside corner).  Or work the ball a little bit so that it plays better (wind it tighter, make the seams lower, etc).  I don’t think you’re going to be able to turn back the clock on match-up relievers, power arms out of the bullpen, etc, but there are things you can do to keep the game on a level playing field.


As far as baseball returning to Montreal … I just can’t see how it would work given the current state of finances in Baseball.   Yes Montreal is a huge city (Just to mention a couple of non-insignificant barriers:

  • RSN TV markets: currently the entirety of Canada’s TV market is “owned” by Toronto, though the area where Montreal sits is “shared” with Boston.  So that means that, much as the Nats had to make concessions with Baltimore to move to Washington, that a franchise would have to buy out these teams’ interest in the Montreal market.
  • Canadian dollar values; this was one of the main reasons the Montreal franchise began to struggle in the mid 1990s; Toronto hasn’t been relevant in nearly the same amount of time.  Why does anyone think this situation will ever change?
  • Montreal as a franchise had some of the best talent in the game in the early 90s but couldn’t escape the generations old Olympic stadium.  Modern baseball franchises depend on modern stadiums; who is going to commit to building a billion dollar stadium in the near-socialistic political climate in Quebec?
  • Oh, and there’s this: the Montreal Expos were dead last in attendance every year between 1998 and 2004, when they finally departed for Washington.  Even in 1994, the year they were 74-40 and were dominating the NL … they were just 11th out of 14 teams in the NL in terms of attendance.   In fact, you have to go all the way back to 1983 before even finding a season where the Expos were not in the bottom THIRD of attendance in the NL.  They don’t draw in Montreal; they never have.  Why would anyone think it’d be any different now?
  • Perhaps there’s relocation possibility to Montreal (in today’s climate, likely from Oakland or Tampa).  But if you’re the Oakland or Tampa owners; are you going to be any better off in Montreal than you are today?  You’d be going to a WORSE stadium situation and would struggle with RSN issues.
  • If you’re going to expand the game to go to 32 teams so you can put a team in Montreal (and its tempting; Montreal is a big city, it would rank just between Phoenix and Seattle in terms of MSA sizes of US cities), then where would you put the 2nd team?   The two biggest cities w/o a major league team right now are Portland and San Antonio … creating a team in Portland would revisit en masse the same Baltimore-Washington RSN issues we’ve already talked about, San Antonio isn’t exactly a metropolis itself, and both team areas would immediately be in smaller markets than places like Kansas City and Cincinnati, teams that struggle to compete because of their own small markets.  Or you could argue that NY or LA should support a third team … yeah good luck with that RSN fight.
  • Not to mention that a 32-team league drastically changes the playoff situation, likely forcing an NFL-like structure where four divisional winners and two wild-cards make the playoffs … thus also implying that two divisional winners have to play coin-flip play-in games against wild-card winners, eliminating the advantage of winning your division and essentially the whole point of the second wild-card as we know it now.

Just don’t see a return to Montreal.


The last point (appointing Wilpon to head the finances committee) is a joke that writes itself.  Multi-millionare owner of a franchise born to mint money in the NY media market has to run his own team like a small-market franchise thanks to hundred-million dollar civil suits against him and is dependent on tens of millions of dollars of bridge loans to keep his team afloat.  Yeah; that’s the guy I want involved with *anything* related to finances.

*sigh*  The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Oh one more thing I forgot: Baseball also felt the need to disband the “Oakland Stadium committee,” just 6 short years after it started and with seemingly nothing accomplished.

Well, at least Selig is out of the picture.  Oh wait, no he isn’t.  He’s going to serve as “Commissioner Emeritus” and draw a $6M annual pension.  Man!  What a game.  How do I get that job?!

Written by Todd Boss

January 27th, 2015 at 10:29 am

Holy Cow Scherzer!

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Wow.  Photo via Scherzer's twitter account.

Wow. Photo via Scherzer’s twitter account.

Nats sign Max Scherzer to a 7yr/$210M deal.  Which, as noted in the rich comment thread on the previous post, occurred while I was away and could not properly analyze.

Well, so much for “payroll is topped out.”

Now it seems like the ownership narrative is going to be, “Mr. Lerner just turned 90 and didn’t buy this d*mn team so they could only just win the division a couple of times.”

Which, as a fan who is still scarred by the Jim Bowden years, when a $68M payroll was astronomical and our GM was shopping in the bargain basement/rejects line in the free agency trough, is pretty liberating.  I guess this is sort of what it feels like to be a Yankees, Red Sox or Dodgers fan in some ways.

I have various thoughts, not having a chance to have read all the comments and all the analysis pieces out there.

  • Apparently the contract is actually structured as $15M a year for 14 years, as opposed to $30M a year for seven.  Man; that’s one heck of a pension plan Scherzer just got for himself.
  • I agree with those that believe this is an insurance move that makes the inevitable departure of Jordan Zimmermann a bit less of a loss.
  • Bummer for Tanner Roark if no subsequent moves are made; all he did was post a frigging 5 WAR season in 2014.
  • I like Scherzer now … but man i’m worried about what he’ll look like in 5 years.  There’s little to zero track record of long-term FA pitchers working out when signed to 9-figure deals.  Trust me; I’ve got a huge spreadsheet as proof that these things almost never work out.  So I think its fair to say that I am happy to have him (of course), but that i’m worried that this will bite the Nats going forward.
  • Yet another example of Mike Rizzo a) picking up a player he originally drafted, and b) doing a deal with the devil, er I mean Scott Boras.  At least the Nats aren’t on the hook for $30M/year clogging up their new “payroll ceiling,” whatever it is.
  • Given the track record for starters going from the AL to the NL … i wonder if we’re about to see a season that looks something like this: 18-5, 2.20 ERA and 280 Ks in 220 innings.  Scherzer’s already at 10.3 K/9 and now he gets to face the Pitcher, a weaker division in the NL East and no DHs.  Can he get to 300 Ks?

How would you lineup our rotation?  Probably Strasburg, Scherzer, Zimmermann, Gonzalez and Fister.  You have to put the lefty in the middle of the rotation, right?

Is Roark wasted in middle relief?  Yeah he is.  But … now the team has its best 6th starter option in its bullpen ready to go, instead of calling up somebody from AAA.  Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Are we still going to see another move?  Maybe.  Not so much driven by payroll, but by function.  If the team is really fed up with negotiating with Zimmermann, then you move him for what  you can now.  And you’ve just replaced him like-for-like, for actually *less* money in 2015 than he was set to make (conveniently ignoring the $105M in “pension” payments Scherzer will be making for nearly a decade after he’s finished this contract).

Lets say the team does move Zimmermann; the 2015 rotation would be just as good as the 2014 rotation, but the team would presumably would have a couple more nearer-to-the-majors prospects received in return for Zimmermann.  Not the worst situation to find our selves in, given the FA losses the team faces after 2015 and 2016 (3/5ths of its 2014 rotation).  Scherzer bridges the gap and gives the team a solid guy for years to come as the next wave of starters makes its way to the majors (Cole, Giolito, Fedde, Lopez in perhaps that order).

Farewell Mr. Clippard

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Good luck in the Bay Area.  Photo unk.

T Good luck in the Bay Area. Photo unk.

Quick thoughts on the Tyler Clippard for Yunel Escobar deal that went down Wednesday night.

  • Bummed to see Clippard go.  I got a chance to play golf with him a few years back and he’s a real nice guy.  Nothing but a gentleman on the course, just a guy who liked playing golf in his spare time.  The thing that made me laugh the most from the game was his telling us that he rides his bike to the ball park every night … and then back home at midnight, through some rather sketchy streets around the stadium, all the way back to the townhouse he shared with Drew Storen on capitol hill.  If you’ve never been to Oakland’s stadium … well lets say I hope Clippard doesn’t try to ride his bike home at night from there.
  • Does Clippard get a shot at the closer role in Oakland?  Probably not; Sean Doolittle took over for the deposed Jim Johnson last year and did pretty well.  Very well actually: a 0.7 whip and a 1.71 FIP.  Not bad.
  • I tend to agree with the Mike Axisa CBSsports.com analysis posted here; Nats have some interesting flexibility now with Escobar.  He could be the 2B starter (making the transition from SS to 2B is an easy one for a quality infielder).  He could enable the team to move Ian Desmond and have Escobar be the starting shortstop until Trea Turner is ready (or proves himself not to be up to the task … Escobar is signed through 2016 with an easy 2017 option).

Is this a good trade for the Nationals?  Clippard was a vital and valuable part of the bullpen; is he replaceable?  Not easily.  The Nats have shed two of their three best relievers from last year with no real replacements (no, i’m not counting Heath Bell) other than internal promotions.  Perhaps this means we’ll see a couple of middle relief veteran signings now.  I think this also could mean Blake Treinen‘s being called into reliever duty instead of being in the Syracuse rotation.  Who pitches the 8th inning now?  Aaron Barrett?

Even given Clippard’s value, his escalating salary did mean he made more sense as a closer for another team.   Maybe that happens in Oakland regardless.  Or maybe Billy Beane keeps on dealing and moves Clippard again.  But the Nats plugged a hole for now and potentially for the next two years as well; a price that had to be paid for what they acquired.  And lets be honest; it is probably easier to find a good right handed reliever than it is to find a MLB-average offensive shortstop.

Escobar’s offensive numbers were a tick below MLB average last  year; an improvement over the presumed person he’s deposing in Danny Espinosa.  What’s more of an unknown is his defense; he was excellent in 2013, awful in 2014 in terms of range factors.  Since you don’t need nearly the range at 2nd, i’m guessing he’s going to be an excellent defender there by default.  So to this effect, he fits the Rizzo mold.  Good defender, decent offensive player.

The knock on Escobar, of course, is character.  It stems from an incident in 2009 while with Toronto when he put the words “Tu ere maricon” on his eyeblack.  As I noted in the comments section, I tend to give him the benefit of the doubt here, believing that the media took one of many possible interpretations of this common latin insult (and hopefully not the one he meant) and ran with it … suddenly the message and the story that remains to this day is that he used an “anti-gay slur” and that Escobar is “homophobic.”  Or perhaps not: according to a wikipedia guide of Spanish profanity, the term maricon as used by Cubans in particular most likely means exactly what he’s accused of saying.  I dunno; what’s the statue of limitations for making a poor decision?

Ladson’s inbox 1/5/15

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Desmond is the hot topic today.  Photo Drew Kinback/Natsnq.com

Desmond is the hot topic today. Photo Drew Kinback/Natsnq.com

Well happy new year.  After going 9 months w/o a mailbag, MLB.com Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson has put out two in a row!

Here’s his 1/5/15 version.  I love doing these things.

Q: Do you see Trea Turner as a future leadoff hitter for the Nationals? If so, when? Ian Desmond has one year left on his contract, so I have to think the front office is counting on his rising through the Minor Leagues quickly like Anthony Rendon.

A: Yes, I can see Trea Turner as a lead-off hitter in the majors.  Blazing speed (some scouts have rated his speed at 80 on the 20-80 scale … which is a real rarity), excellent bat skills during his 3 years at NC State (a career college slash line of .342/.429/.507 playing in the nation’s toughest baseball conference), and in short sample sizes in the pros he’s got good OBP numbers.  Everything you want in a lead-off guy.  In college he had power (8 homers in 54 games his junior year playing with BBCOR bat, 2nd in the ACC); that’s a nice combination if it translates to the pros.

The question I have about Turner is whether he can stick at short.  Or, more to the point, if he’ll be a good enough shortstop to appease the defensive-minded Mike Rizzo.  All the scouting reports I’ve seen say the same thing: good fielder, great range … and an iffy arm that may push him to second.  Well, you have to think Rizzo acquired a guy like Turner specifically because he thinks Turner *can* stick at short, and is a ready-made replacement for Desmond.  Otherwise; why get him?  Its a heck of a lot easier to find a second baseman than a shortstop in this league (current issues replacing Danny Espinosa notwithstanding).

Can Turner be a fast riser? Well, he’s not nearly as accomplished a college player as Anthony Rendon (who, lets not forget, was College Player of the year as a sophomore).  Rendon ended his first pro season in AA and hit his way to the majors permanently by June of the following year.  That’s a pretty amazing trajectory.  And it included lost time to injury.  Turner ended his first pro season in low-A by way of comparison, and needs a two-level jump in 2015 to have a shot at a 2016 debut, and a 2-level jump next  year is going to be severely hampered by the fact that he’s likely to be languishing in San Diego’s spring training facility until June, when he can officially be traded.  He’s losing a half of year of development time most likely.  So, late 2016 to me is a more realistic goal, if everything goes well.

Meanwhile, that leaves a gap in the shortstop coverage if Ian Desmond leaves.  Here’s a thought; if Desmond leaves in FA after 2015, you put Espinosa back at his natural shortstop position, find a second baseman (Dan Uggla anyone? :-) ) and then wait for Turner to arrive.  If Turner can play short, so be it.  If he can’t, you put in at 2nd.  I like that plan.

Ladson says the Nats have “been quiet” on Turner since he’s not technically a Nationals player; makes sense; you wouldn’t want tampering charges.

Q: How is Desmond not locked up, or even the No. 1 priority? I understand Jordan Zimmermann is a staff ace, but shortstop is a prime position and every team desires one. Desmond is one of the best in baseball and can’t be replaced.

A: Because Desmond took a step back both offensively (from a 113 to a 103 OPS+) and defensively (UZR/150 from 4.4 to 0.1) in 2014 from the previous year.  I’d be slightly hesitant too.  I used to think that Elvis Andrus‘s contract was a fair comp for Desmond.  But now it looks like the Andrus contract was actually a massive over-pay, and valuing Desmond may be more difficult than we thought.

When I think about roster construction, you go up “the spine” of the team.  Catcher, Pitchers, Short and Center Field.  Those are the key positions to lock up with quality players.  So no arguments that Desmond and Shortstop in general are huge priorities.  But now the problem becomes this: is Desmond’s 2014 decline a one-off or a concern?  And, what is he worth?  If you think Andrus is an overpay ($15M a  year through 2022), and if Troy Tulowitzki is the best offensive shortstop in the game (at $20M/year for the next four years with annual injury issues), then where does Desmond fit in?  Some sampling of shortstop contracts: J.J. Hardy is 3/yrs/$40M for AAV of about $14M/year.  Jose Reyes makes $22M/year for the next three years, which seems rather high to me.   Jimmy Rollins is on an $11M option for 2015.  Jhonny Peralta is on a 4yr/$53M deal for an AAV of about $13M.  So clearly the market is at least $15M/year for a quality shortstop.

Based on who the Nats have in the pipeline at short (past Turner … practically nobody) and based on who projects to be available in FA in 2016 (also practically nobody), yes I think Desmond is a priority.  My guess is that the front office is juggling all sorts of stuff right now, and just hasn’t come to any conclusions.  I’d be perfectly comfortable offering him 5 to 6 years at an AAV of $15M (6yrs/$90M) with a club option; that’s clearly not enough as the team has offered him *more* than that in the past apparently and he’s turned it down.  He’s entering his age 29 season; that’d lock him up through his age 34 season … a gamble for a shortstop, but a good one for a franchise player who has been with the organization since he was 18.   I would have postulated that perhaps Desmond (with his Florida ties and the heavy Yankees presence down there) wanted to slide into the vacated Derek Jeter spot … but the Yankees just acquired a long term SS in Didi Gregorius, so maybe Desmond’s agent and him are strategizing.  Besides; Washington seems like a better positioned franchise right now than the Yankees (as hard as that is to write) for post-season positioning.

Ladson points out the Nats offered Desmond in excess of $100m and then cryptically says “lets see what happens in the next few weeks.”

Q: I noticed Rafael Furcal is a free agent. Might the Nats sign him as a veteran middle-infield stopgap until Turner and Wilmer Difo are ready?

A: Rafael Furcal?!  Wow,that’s a heck of a pull.  You mean the same Furcal who has played in a grand total of 9 major league games since 2012 thanks to injuries and will be 37 next season?  He hasn’t played a full season of injury-free baseball since 2009.  Why would we possibly consider this guy?   No way; there’s younger, more reliable middle infield options out there.  Difo, by the way, played in low-A last  year.  I don’t think we’re seeing him anytime soon.  Mid 2017 maybe?  Ladson says that Furcal *tore* his hamstring in Winter Ball; geeze.  He also states the obvious; we’ll see lots of Dan Uggla and that we should trade for Ben Zobrist.  Thanks for the scoops there, Bill.

Q: What are your predictions as to how the NL East will stack up in 2015, especially given personnel changes and improved health throughout the division?

A: Nats win the division with 90 wins.  Marlins 2nd with like an 83-79 record.  Mets in 3rd at about .500.  Braves in 4th at about 75 wins.  Phillies last place, with somewhere in the 68 range of wins.  Ladson seems to go Nats-Marlins-Mets too.

Q: I’m frustrated by Desmond’s strikeouts. If he could make contact for 20 percent of his strikeouts, he would be all world. What can the Nats do to help him make more consistent contact — just patience at the plate for better pitch selection?

A: Welcome to modern baseball.  Swing for the fences all the time; strikeouts be damned.  Nobody remembers you struck out 180 times when you  hit 20+ dingers from the short-stop position.  Now … strike out 122 times in 119 games and hit .220?  Then you’re in trouble, Mr. Espinosa.  As far as the question goes; maybe you park Desmond further down the order, tell him he’s not a run producer any more and tell him to focus less on homers, more on solid contact.  Maybe that helps.  Maybe not; the Nats offense is seemingly always a man down, which means Desmond is always pushed into a 3-4-5 hole spot, where he’s looking to drive in runs.  I expect similar numbers in 2015.  Ladson reminds us that Desmond had the flu last  year.  

 

Hall of Fame candidates with Nationals ties (2015 version)

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Aaron Boone's career achievement.  Photo via youtube.com screenshot.

Aaron Boone’s career achievement. Photo via youtube.com screenshot.

2nd version of this post: first one was done after the 2014 Hall of Fame class was announced and the voting results made public.

On 1/6/15, the BBWAA announced the results of the 2015 Hall of Fame class.  Sadly, we go another year without any player with Nationals ties going into the hall.

Here’s a review of every player who has Nationals ties who has appeared on a Hall of Fame ballot, along with their voting results.  This post will let you answer the trivia question, “What former Nats player has come the closest to Hall of Fame enshrinement?”  (Answer at the bottom)

We’ll work from most recent to oldest.

2015 Ballot:

  • Aaron Boone, who signed a 1yr/$1M FA contract to be a backup corner infielder with the abhorrent 2008 Nationals team.  Boone’s crowning baseball achievement was his extra innings walk-off homer that ended one of the best games in MLB history (Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS between Boston and the Yankees, ranked #6 by MLB’s panel a few years back when ranking the best 20 games of the last half century).  Ironically one of his lowest moments was just a couple months later, blowing out his ACL that subsequent winter while playing pickup basketball, costing him the entirety of the 2004 season and the trust of the  Yankees organization.  He missed 2/3rds of the 2007 season after another left knee injury and the Nats were probably his last gasp shot at extending his career at the age of 35.  He got a decent amount of playing time thanks to the fragility of Ryan Zimmerman and Nick Johnson, somehow got another guaranteed MLB deal the following year, went 0-14 for Houston and was released.  He’s now an analyst with ESPN.  Received 2 votes on the 2015 ballot.
  • Ron Villone signed a minor league deal in 2009 and was quickly added to the Nats active roster, where he appeared in 63 games as our primary one-out lefty.   He pitched the entirety of 2010 on another minor league contract with Syracuse, posting a 6.59 ERA as a 40-year old and never earning a call-up.   In 2011 he was invited to spring training again (perhaps with the hope that he’d join the organization as a coach) but he got cut, then pitched a handful of indy league games for his home-town New Jersey indy league team, got hammered, and hung them up.   He retired having played in 15 seasons for no less than 12 different teams.  In 2012 he took a pitching coach job with the Cubs organization (one of the teams he managed NOT to play for during his career) and has been moving up their organization in that capacity since.  Received Zero Hall-of-Fame votes by virtue of not appearing on the BBWAA ballot.
  • Julian Tavarez signed a one-year deal in the beginning of 2009, started out decently but had an awful stretch that resulted in his DFA in mid July 2009.  He never threw another pitch in organized ball, abruptly retiring considering his mid-season release.  He ended a 17-year career spanning 11 different franchises.  Received Zero Hall-of-Fame votes by virtue of not appearing on the BBWAA ballot.  According to his wiki page, he now resides in a suburb of Cleveland (his original professional team) but does not list any post-career activities, baseball-related or otherwise.  Received Zero Hall-of-Fame votes by virtue of not appearing on the BBWAA ballot.

Both Tavarez and Villone belong to the infamous “From Nationals to Oblivion” club, a topic we revisit on an annual basis.

Note: it is not entirely clear to me why Villone and Tavarez were not actually ON the 2015 ballot; both seem to have the qualifications (10 years of experience and 5 years retired) and both were on previous versions of the “anticipated ballot” at baseball-reference.com, but neither showed up on BBWAA’s official ballot for this year.  Pete Kerzel did a post reviewing “Nats connected” 2015 ballot members when the ballot came out in Nov 2014 and only mentioned Boone.  I include them here since it seems to me they *should* be on the ballot and I’m not sure why they were not (unless someone is passing judgement on the “quality” of HoFame ballot members).  Are they pushed to subsequent ballots for some reason?  If anyone has insight i’d love to know.

2014 Ballot:

  • Paul Lo Duca: one of Bowden’s more infamous signings; he went from our opening day catcher in the 2008 season to being released by August 1st.  The highlight of his tenure here was having his name being revealed in the Mitchell Report just a couple days after signing with us.  After his release, he signed on to finish out the season with Florida, took a year off and attempted a come back in 2010 (signing a ML contract with Colorado but never appearing above AAA).   Hard to believe this guy was a 4-time all-star.  Received Zero hall-of-fame votes.

2013 Ballot:

  • Royce Clayton; signed a contract to be the Nats shortstop during the lean Jim Bowden years, and then was included in the Mega swap of players that headed to Cincinnati in the 2006 season.  He hung around for one more season in 2007 as a backup short stop and retired afterwards.  Received Zero hall-of-fame votes.
  • Mike Stanton was picked up in mid 2005 after being released by the Yankees, and he pitched well enough for the Nats that he was able to fetch a couple of low-level prospects in a late September move to Boston (who was looking for some late season bullpen cover).  The team then re-signed Stanton for 2006, and flipped him again mid-season, this time to the Giants for Shairon Martis.  Stanton toiled a one more season before hanging them up after 2007.   Received Zero hall-of-fame votes.

2012 Ballot:

  • Vinny Castilla: signed a two year deal to join the Nats, timed with their inaugural season in Washington, but was traded to Colorado for SP Brian Lawrence when it became apparent that Ryan Zimmerman was set to man the hot corner in DC for the next decade or so.  Played one more season and retired after 2006.  Received Six (6) Hall-of-fame votes.

2011 Ballot:

  • Carlos Baerga: signed a one year deal as a 36-yr old to join the Nats in their inaugural season and serve as a backup infielder.   Hit .253 in part-time duty and hung ‘em up after a 14-year career that can be well described as “journey-man.”   He was an integral part of the early 90s Cleveland Indians as their starting 2nd baseman and a 3-time all-star, and ended up playing on 6 major league teams and spent parts one season in Korea.  Received Zero hall-of-fame votes.

So, thus far the Nats greatest Hall of Fame achievement is Vinny Castilla receiving 6 sympathy votes.  I’m sure this will change when Pudge hits the ballot in a couple years.

2015 obligatory Hall of Fame Post

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Randy Johnson leads the 2015 hall of fame ballot.  Photo (AP Photo/   Elaine Thompson) via seattlepi.com

Randy Johnson leads the 2015 hall of fame ballot. Photo (AP Photo/ Elaine Thompson) via seattlepi.com

Last year’s version of this post is here; it has links to prior years where I went into my general thought process on yes/no votes per individual player.  I’ve tired of writing the same 2,000 word post on the topic since everyone else on the internet is, so this is a bit shorter of a HoF post.  And it won’t insult me if you don’t respond or even read this post; there’s far, far too much hall of fame arguing going on in the baseball blogosphere, and i’m no more or less qualified to publish an opinion on this ballot than many of the official BBWAA writers at this point.

The 2015 ballot at baseball-reference.com is here.  Once again there’s too many deserving players for not enough spots.

For me, there’s three no-brainer 1st ballot hall-of-famers new to the 2015 ballot: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz.  The first two should be unanimous but of course they won’t.  In fact, we already have a published ballot of someone who left both off so he could vote for others who “needed the votes.”  Smoltz might be borderline for some but for me he’s better than other hurlers recently enshrined; somehow I doubt he gets in this time around.

Of the carry overs from last year’s ballot, I’d vote as follows:

  • Yes for Biggio, Piazza, Bagwell, Raines, Clemens, Bonds, Schilling, Martinez, McGwire
  • Maybe later for Trammell, Mussina, Kent, and Sheffield.
  • No for Smith, McGriff, Walker, Mattingly, Sosa and anyone else new to the ballot this year not otherwise mentioned.  Why are these No votes?  See 2012 and 2013′s links for my reasoning on the names here, all of whom are repeats.

Of course, this is too many “Yes” votes.  If I had to cut two of my 12 Yes votes, I’d guess Martinez and McGwire are the first two to go.  Or maybe Schilling.  Which is a shame because I think all the guys in the “maybe later” have legitimate cases too.  But this is the bed that the BBWAA has made for itself with its arbitrary player limit and its wishy-washy stance on alleged PED users.

2015 voting Prediction: Johnson, Martinez and Biggio elected.  Smoltz just misses, and Piazza & Bagwell get close enough that they’ll go in with the 2016 class (which only has one no-brainer candidate in Ken Griffey, Jr).  Still no love for Bagwell, the PED brothers, or Raines, much to the chagrin of the sabr-crowd.

1/6/15 update: My prediction was too conservative: Johnson, Martinez, Smoltz and Biggio inducted in 2015.  Piazza got 69% of the vote and seems like a good bet for 2016.  however Bagwell and Raines lagged seriously behind, at just 55% of the vote each.  Another huge gap after that leads to a trio of players in the mid 30s … not nearly enough to talk about them getting in next year.

Nationals Arm Race Best Stories for 2014; Happy New Year!

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With little baseball news to report on this week, and clearly with us tired of arguing about Danny Espinosa :-), here’s a quick recap of the year in stories on this blog.  From each month, I’ve grabbed a couple of the more interesting or unique posts I did, with thoughts and follow-on.

(Here’s 2013’s review as well, to see how far we have or have not evolved…)

Jan 2014:

Feb 2014

  • The Phillies are purposely sabotaging college player eligibility; a shockingly petty story at the time; it has more or less faded after nothing much happened after the 2014 draft.
  • Ranking Baseball’s General Managers: it was hard to do then, and after this off-season’s GM shuffle its even harder to do now.  Looking back, I ranked Sabean #11; his team has only won 3 of the last 7 World Series.  I ranked Daniels 4th, Cherington 6th and both their teams finished in last place in 2014.  I had Wren 8th and he was fired before 2014 even ended.  Tough ranking to really do well.

Mar 2014

Apr 2014

  • Qualifying Offers; are they working?  Short answer: I don’t think so.  We’ll revisit this topic once the last two guys with Q.O.s sign this off-season (Shields and Scherzer).
  • Law trashes Williams and their handling of Harper: Law posts in late April the same criticisms of Williams we had all year; bullpen management, lineup construction, handling of vets versus youngsters.  Your 2014 manager of the year!  Still incredibly bitter about the Zimmermann yanking in the NLDS (see below).

May 2014

  • TJ Surgery epidemic: upbringing, showcases and mechanics.  I eventually published a second post with a ton of TJ material for those interested in deep dives into the topic.
  • DC/MD/VA District High School Tournament Report; for some reason I really got into following the local high school baseball tournaments in 2014.  I definitely will do this again in 2015.  Even though these local baseball posts don’t get much commenting (nothing to really argue about I guess), I feel like there’s almost nobody else out there doing the same work.

June 2014

July 2014

Aug 2014; a job switch made the pickings and postings a bit light in Aug and Sept of 2014.

Sept 2014

  • Rotation Reviews of your 2014 Playoff Teams; I didn’t get enough time to do the typical playoff team analysis I do; i missed out on roster construction this year, one of my favorite posts to do.  We’ll hope for more time next year.

Oct 2014

  • Would you have pulled Zimmermann?  A classic second-guessing blog post, questioning a manager move that back fired.  I wish I had a time-stamped video of my reaction at the moment of the event so that people would know I wasn’t back-seat driving.  Still irked about this, still convinced this changed the course of the post-season.
  • World Series Pitching Matchups & Predictions (that you should laugh at); I finish off an abhorrent prediction season with an equally bad (and eventually wrong) WS prediction.
  • Nats Payroll Projections for 2015: where we hear the bad news … that we’re close to $150M on a team where $135M was “beyond the budget” for 2014…

Nov 2014

Dec 2014

I only posted 130 posts this year, down significantly from 2013 (237 posts).  But I feel like we have a ton more commentary now.  There were 75 comments on the Detwiler post earlier this month!  That’s great.  I’m glad we have a great place to discuss and argue about stuff.

Happy New Year and thanks for reading in 2014.

Written by Todd Boss

December 31st, 2014 at 8:35 pm

Ladson’s Inbox 12/27/14

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Espinosa continues to be the leading player on the minds of Nats fans. Photo AP via mlb.com

Espinosa continues to be the leading player on the minds of Nats fans. Photo AP via mlb.com

Happy Holidays!  What a nice surprise; mlb.com Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson posted his first mailbag/inbox column since January 2014.  He must have been bored during the holiday lull in baseball news.

As always, since its been like a year since I did one of these, I write my response question by question before reading Ladson’s, and sometimes edit questions for clarity.

Q: Assuming the Nationals don’t make any acquisitions via trade or free agency, what is their in-house solution for second base?

A: Well, in order they’d likely start Danny Espinosa and bat him 8th.  And, if the fans’ had their choice, he’d abandon switch hitting, bat righty only and probably have a career resurgence.  Just a reminder: Espinosa’s career lefty split is .213/.283/.362 while his career righty split is .271/.343/.460.  Espinosa is so good defensively that i’m not entirely opposed to him being the starter; he can spell Ian Desmond at short (in fact, I’ve always thought Espinosa was a better shortstop defensively) and makes up for his awful switch hitting by being so good defensively (but not nearly enough to prevent the team from shopping).

After Espinosa, you have utility guy Kevin Frandsen having stated publicly he wants to be considered for the job.  Problem with Frandsen is this; he’s been even WORSE offensively the last two years than Espinosa; he has a .624 OPS in the last two years.  I hope there’s not anyone who thinks he’s a better solution.  Youngster Wilmer Difo was just added to the 40-man roster, but he’s never played above low-A.  That’s basically the roster of middle infielder options on the 40-man roster.  Jeff Kobernus played 2B in college but has long since been converted to an outfielder in this organization, so he’s not really an option either.  Looking deeper into the minor leagues, there’s some MLFA options at AAA (the likes of DC-native Emmanuel Burriss, current MLFA and Virginia-native Will Rhymes, or maybe even our own long-time org player Jose Lozada), and a couple of Nats draftees who have yet to pan out (Rick Hague and Jason Martinson).  But none of these guys are better options than just sticking with Espinosa.

Hence, the reason the team is looking at trade/FA options.  There’s a ton of 2B options that are likely available in trade or still on the FA market; its arguable that any of them are better options than just staying the course though.  So it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the team stood pat.

Ladson reviews the same three 40-man options and comes to the same conclusions as I do, and says he sees a trade.  He likes a trade for Ben Zobrist, like I do, but Tampa is notoriously hard-bargaining.  What would we be willing to give up to get Zobrist?

Q: Why are the Nationals willing to trade their best pitcher, Jordan Zimmermann? Wouldn’t Stephen Strasburg get them a better return?

A: I’m sure Strasburg would get a better return; he’s got two years of control instead of just one, and is scheduled to make a third of what Zimmermann will make in 2015.  I feel Strasburg is in some ways actually under-rated; despite a pedestrian 14-11 record in 2014, here’s his ranks in the entire majors in some quick categories: 13th in fWAR, 3rd in xFIP, 13th in FIP, 5th in K/9, and 5th in SIERA.  Teams are now smarter when it comes to acquiring control; a year of Zimmermann at $16M+ isn’t going to bring back that much anyway (see what the Rays got for David Price, for less money and TWO years of control).

And then there’s this: teams that are trying to win do not trade pitchers like Strasburg.  Plain and simple; it would be fan-relations suicide to move Strasburg right now.  The team just won the division by 17 games and their closest rival is having a fire sale; why on earth would the Nats look to move someone like Strasburg?  So that being said, why are they willing to trade Zimmermann?  I think it comes down to several reasons:

1. Money: As i’ve discussed in the past, the Nats payroll was at $135M at the beginning of 2014 and projects to nearly $150M without any subsequent moves.   150M minus Zimmermann’s 16.5M 2015 salary looks an awful lot like the payroll from 2014….

2. Practicality: You don’ t need to win your division by 15 games.  You can still win by 5 games and make the playoffs.  If the Nats can trim payroll, turn Zimmermann into something that look better than what we may get in a supplemental 1st round pick, AND still win the division in 2015?  Wins all around.

Ladson says several things I disagree with; he thinks Zimmermann would bring back a “kings ransom” and he thinks Rizzo is going to “get a deal done” with Zimmermann this off-season. 

Q: Given that he’s at an age where he needs to play regularly, does Tyler Moore have a chance of backing up first baseman Ryan Zimmerman in ’15?

A: Not sure what Tyler Moore‘s age has to do with anything; if you’re 22 or 42 you’re going to get ABs in the majors if you can play.   To the question at hand; right now i’m projecting Moore to be the 25th guy on the active roster.  That doesn’t mean he’ll make it, but he does fill a position of need; right handed power off the bench.  Had the Nats not traded Stephen Souza Moore might be a goner.  Now?  He could still make the team.  But somehow I sense that perhaps the team will look to flip him and/or bring in veteran competition for his bench spot.   Ladson states the obvious, saying the team will look to trade him since he’s out of options.

Q: Since it appears Michael Taylor is considered the future center fielder, can you see the team holding on to Denard Span beyond ’15?

A: In a word; nope.  I’m guessing that Taylor will get some experience as a backup in 2014 (and frankly may get a ton of at-bats, since our outfield isn’t exactly an injury-free haven), and soon the team will have a guy who can play a better CF than Span, hit with more power and run with more speed.  All in all, I think Taylor will be an improvement over Span in nearly every category and for 1/20th the cost.  Ladson says it depends on how Taylor does.

Q: Last year, the Nationals’ pinch-hitting average was terrible. Any hope it gets better?

A: So far … not really.  The bench is still projecting to be basically the same guys as in 2014.   Frandsen, Loboton, McLouth and Moore.  The only change is the dumping of Scott Hairston for Taylor.  But Taylor’s K rate is still high, which means we’ll likely see continued crummy pinch hitting.  Ladson points out the Nats havn’t had a good bench since 2012. 

Q: How is Lucas Giolito doing? Will he fill a rotation spot if Zimmermann or Doug Fister is traded?

A: Not in 2015.  Maybe by mid 2016 if Giolito has a two-level jump this year.  Giolito’s best case is to completely shut down high-A in April and force a promotion to AA by mid-season.  If that happens, then maybe we’re looking at a mid-April call up in 2016, just in time to replace the potentially departed FAs Zimmermann and/or Fister.  But this is a very heady dream; remember; Giolito is still on an innings limit, is still just 20 years of age (he turns 20 in July of 2015), and most pitchers his age are still in college,  yet to even be drafted.

If we move Zimmermann or Fister this off-season, then we’re looking at drawing from our AAA rotation for the 5th starter.  One of Treinen, Hill, Jordan or Cole.  Probably in that order, thanks to 40-man and experience implications.

Ladson is bullish on Giolito; thinks he’ll start in AA and get a call-up in September.  That’d be pretty aggressive.

Q: Why didn’t the Nats go after Russell Martin? Their catchers are less than adequate. Is Wilson Ramos still the guy?

A: Disagree here.  When healthy Ramos is a beast.  Remember he was the frigging opening day 2014 clean-up hitter.  The last thing the Nats needed to do was spend millions on someone like Martin.  Lobaton is more than adequate of a backup, cost-controlled and we traded a hefty price (Nathan Karns) to acquire him.  Ladson agrees with me.

 

 

 

Post-Winter Meeting bonanza; who improved their Rotation the most? Who’s left?

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Lester joins the Cubs revolution. Photo via weei.com

Lester joins the Cubs revolution. Photo via weei.com

(Editor’s Note: sorry for the tardiness on this post: I had it completely written and a WordPress or browser glitch lost 1,000 words of analysis.  So it took a bit of time to cobble back together what I had originally written.  Then the Souza trade hit, then the Cuban thing … and this got pushed).

What a GM Meeting week!  As one of the Fangraphs guys noted, there were so many transactions, so fast, that he literally gave up trying to write individual analysis pieces and went to a running diary of sorts.  I was amazed at the number of significant deals and trades made, especially when it came to starters.  So lets take a look at who shook things up.

Many teams are making big moves (almost the entirety of the the AL it seems) to try to win in 2015.  And many teams have revamped their rotations.  First, here’s a quick run through teams that have made significant acquisitions to their starting rotations (using BP’s Depth Charts page, Fangraphs stats pages and BaseballProspectus‘ page for injury history, Cots at BP for salaries, and of course baseball-reference.com).

Teams who have Improved

  • Chicago White Sox: acquired Jeff Samardzija in Oakland’s fire sale to go with established ace Chris Sale, the highly underrated Jose Quintana.  From there the White Sox have question marks: John Danks is just an innings eater at this point and Hector Noesi was not effective in 2014.  But the White Sox have one of the brightest SP prospects in the game at AAA in Carlos Rodon (their fast-rising 2014 1st round pick) and their former #1 prospect Erik Johnson (who struggled in his debut in 2014 but has a good minor league track record).  So by the latter part of 2015 the White Sox could be a scary team for opposing offenses to face.
  • Minnesota: just signed Ervin Santana to join a rotation containing the rejuvinated Phil Hughes, the decent  Ricky Nolasco and first rounder Kyle Gibson.  If they (finally) call up former Nats 1st rounder Alex Meyer to fill out the rotation and replace the dregs that gave them #4 and #5 rotation spot starts last year, they could be significantly improved.  Of course, the problem they face is the fact that they’re already playing catchup in the AL Central and still look like a 5th place team in this division.
  • Los Angeles Angels: adroitly turned one year of Howie Kendrick into six years of Andrew Heaney, who should thrive in the big AL West parks.  If the Angels get a healthy Garrett Richards back to go along with the surprising Matt Shoemaker, they may have a surplus of decent arms being stalwards Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson.
  • Miami has spent some cash this off-season, but they’ve also gone shopping and upgraded their rotation significantly.   After acquiring the decent Jarred Cosart at the trade deadline, they’ve flipped bit-players to acquire Mat Latos, added Dan Haren and a $10M check  while parting ways with the unproven youngster Andrew Heaney, and should get ace Jose Fernandez back by June 1st if all goes well with his TJ rehab.  Add to that Henderson Alvarez and the Marlins look frisky (their new-found depth enabled them to move Nathan Eovaldi to the Yankees).  Rumors are that Haren won’t pitch unless he’s in SoCal, but $10M is an awful lot of money to turn up your nose at.  This is an improved rotation no doubt, and the rest of the Marlins lineup looks good too.
  • New York Mets get Matt Harvey back.  Enough said.  Harvey-Jacob deGrom is one heck of a 1-2 punch.
  • Chicago Cubs: added an ace in Jon Lester, re-signed their own effective starter in Jason Hammel, and will add these two guys to the resurgent Jake Arrieta.  Past that you have question marks: Kyle Hendricks looked great in 2014.  And the Cubs gave nearly 60 starts last year to Travis Wood (5+ ERA) and former Nat Edwin Jackson (6+ ERA).  I could envision another SP acquisition here and the relegation of Wood & Jackson to the bullpen/AAA/scrap heap.
  • Pittsburgh was able to resign Francisco Liriano and get A.J. Burnett for an under-market deal.  This should keep them afloat if they end up losing Edinson Volquez in free agency.   Otherwise they have decent back of the rotation guys and will get back Jamison Taillon perhaps in the early part of the year.  This could help them get back to the playoffs with the anticipated step-back of NL Central rivals Cincinnati.
  • Los Angeles Dodgers said good bye to a stable of starters (Josh Beckett, Chad Billingsly, Kevin Correia, Dan Haren, Roberto Hernandez and Paul Maholm are all either FAs or have been traded away) and signed a couple of guys to go behind their big three of Kershaw, Greinke and Ryu who could quietly make a difference (Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson) if they remain healthy.  That’s a bigger “if” on Anderson than McCarthy, who excelled once leaving the circus that Arizona was last year before the management house cleaning and should continue to excel in the huge park in LA.  Were I Andrew Friedman, I’d re-sign at least a couple of these FA guys for 5th starter insurance … but then again, the Dodgers also have a whole slew of arms in AAA that could be their 5th starter.  Or they could just open up their wallets again; there’s still arms to be had.  Nonetheless, replacing 32 Haren starts with McCarthy will bring immediate benefits, and whoever they end up with as a 5th starter has to be better than the production they got last year out of that spot.

Team most improved: likely the Cubs.

What teams’ rotations have taken step backs or are question marks heading into 2015?

  • Boston: after trading away most of their veteran rotation last season, the Red Sox seem set to go into 2015 with this rotation: Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, Justin Masterson, Joe Kelly and Wade Miley.  This rotation doesn’t look as good as it could be; Buchholz was awful in 2014, Porcello is good but not great, Masterson the same, Kelly seems like a swingman, and Miley has back to back 3.98 FIP seasons in the NL and will see some ERA inflation in the AL (though not as much as normal since Arizona is a hitter’s park).  But Boston’s entire AAA rotation are among their top 10 prospects, so there’s plenty of depth they could use in trade or as reinforcements. 
  • Detroit: Arguable if they’ve really taken a “step back,” but you have to question their direction.  In the last two off-seasons they’ve traded away Doug Fister, Rick Porcello, Drew Smyly, prospect Robbie Ray and have (seemingly) lost Max Scherzer to free agency so that they can go into 2015 with this rotation: David Price, Justin Verlander, Anibel Sanchez, Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene.   Is this a winning rotation for 2015?
  • Kansas City: They have replaced departing free agent ace James Shields with newly signed Edinson Volquez, keeping newly acquired Brian Flynn and 2014 draft darling Brandon Finnegan in the bullpen for now.  KC is going to take a step back and will struggle to compete in the new super-powered AL Central in 2015, but have a slew of 1st round arms that look like they’ll hit in late 2015/early 2016.  I do like their under-the-radar signing of Kris Medlen though; he could be a very solid addition to their rotation if he comes back from his 2nd TJ.
  • Oakland will have a new look in 2015, having traded away a number of core players.  But their rotation should be OK despite having traded away Samardzija and let Jon Lester and Jason Hammel walk.  Why?  Because they stand to get back two very good rotation members who missed all of 2014 with TJ surgery in A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker.  They should re-join the 2014 rotation members Sonny Grey, Scott Kazmir, newly acquired Jesse Hahn and either Jesse Chavez/Drew Pomeranz to form another underrated rotation.  Of course, if these guys have injury setbacks, it could be a long season in Oakland.
  • Texas made a couple of acquisitions, re-signing their own Colby Lewis and trading for Nats cast-off Ross Detwiler (who should fit in immediately as their 4th starter), to go with ace Yu Darvish and recently recovered Derek Holland.  But Texas could significantly improve come mid-season when injured starter Martin Perez should return.  The big question mark for Texas is Matt Harrison, who had to have two vertebrae in his back fused and may not return, ever.   But if Harrison can come back, that gives Texas an opening day 1-5 that’s pretty improved over last  year.
  • Cleveland didn’t exactly have the world’s best rotation in 2014 but has done little to improve it going forward.  They will continue to depend on Corey Kluber, newly minted Cy Young winner to head the line, but then its question marks.  Carlos Carrasco was great in a combo role in 2014; where’d that come from?  He was awful in years prior.  Is Trevor Bauer dependable?  They better hope so; that’s your #3 starter.  They just signed Gavin Floyd after his injury shortened 9-game stint with Atlanta last year; he’s no better than a 4th/5th innings eater.   Is Gavin Salazar ready for prime time?  He wasn’t in 2014.  And there’s little else on the farm; the Indians don’t have a significant starting pitcher prospect in their entire system. 
  • Atlanta: The Braves surprisingly parted ways with Kris Medlen and not-so-surprisingly parted ways with Brandon Beachy, Gavin Floyd, Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang.  That’s a lot of starter depth to cut loose.  They look to go into 2015 with ace Julio Teheran followed by the newly acquired Shelby Miller, the inconsistent Mike Minor, the excellent but scary Alex Wood and under-rated 5th starter David Hale.  That’s not a *bad* rotation … but it isn’t very deep.  They have cut ties with guys who made nearly half their 2014 starts AND the guy who went 10-1 for them in 2012.  They (inexplicably) picked up a starter in Rule-5 draft who had TJ surgery in June; are they really going to carry him that long on the active roster?  They have no upper-end SP talent close to the majors.  If one of these 5 starters gets hurt, Atlanta could be in trouble.
  • Philadelphia: all you need to know about the state of the Philadelphia franchise can be summed up right here: A.J. Burnett declined a $12.75M player option to play for the Phillies in 2015 and, instead, signed for 1  year, $8.5M to play for Pittsburgh.  They will head into 2015 with their aging 1-2 punch of Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, the former being constantly dangled in trade rumors but going nowhere because the Phillies GM clearly over-values what a guy like Hamels and his guaranteed contract can actually bring back in return in this market.  Past Hamels/Lee there’s a bunch of non-descript names (David Buchanan, the waiver-claim Jerome Williams and the untested Cuban FA Miguel Gonzalez).   Can this team even broach 70 wins?
  • Cincinnati is moving backwards: they’ve traded away Mat Latos for  pennies on the dollar (Keith Law says there’s “make-up issues.”) and moved the effective Alfredo Simon for other bit players.  They’re putting a ton of faith that one-pitch Tony Cingrani will last a whole season and the youngster Anthony DeSclafini (obtained for Latos) will comprise a workable rotation.  They do have a couple of decent prospects at AAA (Robert Stephenson and Michael Lorenzen) but they seem to be accepting that they’re taking a step back.
  • St Louis traded away their least effective starter (Shelby Miller) and acquired the best defensive RF in the game (Jason Heyward).  Not a bad bit of work.  But they now will go into 2015 with a question mark in the rotation; prospect Carlos Martinez will get the first shot and could be good; oft-injured Jaime Garcia is still hanging around, and there’s a couple of good arms in AAA who could matriculate into the rotation via the bullpen as Martinez did in 2014.  It could end up being addition by subtraction (Martinez for Miller) but we’ll see.
  • Arizona has boldly re-made their rotation this off-season, dealing away 2014 opening day starter Wade Miley for a couple of SP prospects and dealing for 6 arms in total thus far.  New rotation may not be flashy at the top (the enigmatic Josh Collmenter is slated for the opening day start in 2015) and is followed by former Tampa pitcher Jeremy Hellickson (traded for prospects), the two pitchers acquired from Boston for Miley in Rubby de la Rosa and Allen Webster and then a cattle-call for the 5th starter competition this spring.  Arizona also ended up with former Nats farm-hand Robbie Ray, still have the highly regarded Archie Bradley waiting for his free agent clock to get pushed out a year, plus 2013’s darling Patrick Corbin coming off of TJ, not to mention Bronson Arroyo coming back from TJ later in the season.  So there’s a lot of arms out there to choose from, eventually.  But getting to Bradley-Corbin-Hellickson-de la Rosa-Webster from where they’ll start will be rough.
  • San Francisco‘s 2015 rotation could be just as effective as it needs to be (after all, they won the 2014 world series having lost Matt Cain mid-season and given the ineffective Tim Lincecum 26 starts).  They seem to set to go with Cain, WS hero Madison Bumgarner, the age-less Tim Hudson, and then with Lincecum and re-signed aging FA Jake Peavy.  This pushes Yusmeiro Petit to the bullpen for the time being and seemingly closes the door on Ryan Vogelsong‘s SF time.  Rumor had it that they were all over Jon Lester… and missed.  So a big acquisition to permanently sent Lincecum to the pen could still be in the works.  SF’s bigger issue is the loss of offense.  But the NL West is so weak they could still sneak into the playoffs again.  I list them as question marks though because Cain might not be healthy, Lincecum could still suck, and Hudson and Peavy combined are nearly 80 years of age.
  • San Diego has completely re-made their offense; do they have the pitching they need to compete?   They signed Brandon Morrow to replace 32 awful starts they gave to Eric Stults last year; that should be an improvement.  But they’ve traded away their 2nd best guy (Jesse Hahn) and are now set to have two lesser starters (Odrisamer Despaigne and Robbie Erlin) compete for the rotation.  The Padres re-signed lottery ticket Josh Johnson (coming off what seems like his millionth season-ending arm injury) and still have TJ survivor Cory Luebke in the wings, possibly ready for April 1st.  Their 1-2-3 of Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross and Ian Kennedy isn’t that inspiring, but in San Diego’s home park, you don’t have to be Sandy Koufax to succeed.  Have they done enough to compete in the NL West?

Which team has taken the biggest step back?  Clearly for me its Arizona.

Who is left?

Well, clearly the two big FA names are Max Scherzer and James Shields.  Scherzer gambled heavily on himself when he turned down 6/$144M.  Would the Tigers make him a new offer?  Are the Nationals possibly involved (I hope not for the sake of the team’s chemistry; what would it say to players if the Nats jettisoned Jordan Zimmermann so they could give Scherzer $150M?).   He’d make a great fit in San Francisco … who wanted Lester but would get nearly the same great performance out of Scherzer.  Meanwhile Shields could fit in Boston or for the Dodgers to give them the depth they’ve lost.

Past the two big names, you have older guys likely to go on one year deals.  There’s no longer really room for Ryan Vogelsong in SF; he could be a decent option for someone.   Aaron Harang has earned himself a likely 2 year deal as someone’s back of the rotation guy.  Guys like Kyle Kendrick or Joe Saunders could be someone’s starter insurance policy.  And of course there’s a slew of injury guys who are like pitching lottery tickets.  Beachy, Billingsley, and Alexi Ogando all sound intriguing as reclamation cases.

But, once you get past Scherzer and Shields, anyone looking for a big upgrade will have to hit the trade market.  The problem there seems to be this: there’s just not that many teams that are already waving the white flag for 2015.   From reading the tea leaves this off-season, Atlanta is giving up, Cincinnati may be close, Philadelphia has begrudgingly admitted they’re not going to win, Arizona has already traded away its assets, Colorado is stuck in neutral, Oakland may look like they’re rebuilding but they still will be competitive in 2015, and  young teams like Houston and Tampa aren’t giving up what they currently have.  So a GM might have to get creative to improve their team at this point.

Written by Todd Boss

December 22nd, 2014 at 9:24 am

Posted in Majors Pitching

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