Nationals Arm Race

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

Like the Janssen signing


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?



14 Responses to 'Like the Janssen signing'

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  1. I like it as well, particularly at the price. For Clippard’s salary level, the Nats are now essentially covering both Escobar and Janssen. Here’s hoping the 2014 fade was the food poisoning and not Father Time.

    As for the rest of the ‘pen, I think one of the defining questions becomes whether the Nats see Treinen as a starter or a reliever. If they’re totally committed to him as a starter, he’ll be at Syracuse unless there is a starter traded. If he’s in the reliever mix, then let him really be in the mix. Make it a legit competition for the final spots. Treinen may be better than Barrett or Stammen, or even Blevins if you’re willing to carry only one lefty (highly doubtful). My guess would be that Treinen could beat out Barrett, but make them prove it on the field. But there’s not going to be much long-man work for three guys – Roark, Stammen, and Treinen.


    28 Jan 15 at 12:29 pm

  2. Fangraphs talks about “what happened” to Janssen last year:

    Here’s some splits analysis from
    April: he had a sore shoulder which morphed into a strained back, costing him the month.
    May: 10 shutout innings and 8 saves.
    June: 2 runs in 7IP over 8 appearances, another 4 saves.
    July and August: destroyed.
    Sept: 4.50 ERA back to mediocre.

    The “food poisoning” theory explains this pretty well. You would have thought he’d be back to normal after a few weeks, but if you have no time off to recover and you’re in the middle of the grind of a season (travel, games night after night, etc), it can be hard to get healthy.

    Todd Boss

    28 Jan 15 at 4:20 pm

  3. I don’t love this move. It’s ok, but I guess that I want to know why TOR, who clearly needs help in the pen, passed on this guy. They know him best. The food poisoning reason just seems a little too pat, and I am worried about the dip in velo. So $5m is a decent amount for an 8th inning guy, but pricey if his stuff pushes him towards middle relief.

    I am a little worried about the pen. I think it will be middle of the pack, not a strength. I’d like a few more clear strikeout guys in there. But nothing about this team is a big worry.


    28 Jan 15 at 5:33 pm

  4. Next domino. And now the 40 man is full.

    Again, a low risk move, lower even than McLouth, and yes, one that immediately adds depth to trade flexibility in relief options.

    Too soon for any of us to sort out the eventual pitching staff, only to appreciate that the fight will be competitive.

    But if things stay like this, Syracuse has one hell of a starting rotation and pitching staff.

    If the organization wanted to create competition this spring, the continued add-ons sure have.

    Ok, what’s next?


    28 Jan 15 at 5:35 pm

  5. And I forgot to say that my whole (extended) family took a short vacation to the DR at exactly the same time as Casey, and more than half of us came back with a bad stomach bug. My brother had to go to the hospital down there (not fun). So I totally buy that the food poisoning happened.


    28 Jan 15 at 5:36 pm

  6. Treinen had big K/9 numbers in the minors, but they didn’t translate as much to DC in the first season. He’s the best bet for the big strikeout guy, though, along with a healthy Janssen . . . if they want Treinen as a reliever. Barrett and Blevins both had K/9 over 10 last year, FWIW.

    As for Janssen, the assumption seems to be that he’s going to be the 8th inning guy, the Clippard replacement. I’d actually like to see them consider alternating Storen and Janssen at closer to keep both fresh for the postseason. Few teams actually do that, though.


    28 Jan 15 at 9:14 pm

  7. Wally; that’s the kind of unique reporting that we need in baseball! Total independent confirmation of the DR food poisoning story 🙂

    Todd Boss

    29 Jan 15 at 8:27 am

  8. KW; on Treinen’s K/9 rates, honestly thats why I think he’s meant for the rotation. His sinker ball and league best figures for HR/9 and ground ball rate could make him an effective version of some one like Fister or Brandon Webb or Tim Hudson; not necessarily huge K/9 guys, but effective since the ball never gets in the air.

    I think right now i’m ok with the bullpen. Not “wow’d” necessarily … but if Janssen can handle 8th inning, he gets the reigns from a few guys who have more than enough experience handling the 6th/7th (Stammen, Thornton). I think it works out. Plus, four out of the five projected starters were averaging north of 6.25 innings a game … so that’s pitching into the 7th nearly every night. Only Gio is struggling there (5.85 ip/start last year), but perhaps we just tether Roark to Gio’s start schedule and let him throw 3+ innings every 5 days 🙂

    Todd Boss

    29 Jan 15 at 8:36 am

  9. I’m not going to freak out about this signing as I did when the Nats signed McLouth last year, but I rarely ever see a reason to sign a $3-7MM ballplayer, unless you have no minor league. Janssen is good, but not that good to need to stunt the development of other guys who aren’t necessarily inferior.

    I know some say this is impossible, but we have too many good pitchers that will need innings. It does no good to Roark and Cole’s development if one is getting 5th and 6th innings and the other is chilling in AAA. What about Treinan?

    IMO, the Nats have to (I know, they don’t really have to…) trade one of their big 3 pitchers. In a year when the NL east is soooo weak and we have an embarrassment of pitching, we should sell SS/JZ/DF and get some prospects or a stud MI (Betts?). Roark needs to be starting (he was really good last year if we haven’t forgotten). Cole and or Treinan need to be up in the bigs to be ready for when JZ/DF are gone next year. With so many other arms (LG, Ross, Fedde, Lopez, Voth, etc) to be ready sometime the following year, we can’t just keep fingers crossed that a few of them will shine.

    Andrew R

    29 Jan 15 at 12:59 pm

  10. Andrew, how is it “stunting Cole’s growth” to have him at AAA? He’s pitched less than half a season at AAA and only turned 23 on 5 January. With Treinan, his upside is as a starter, and the only way he can stay stretched out as a starter is to pitch in AAA. Doing that only “stunts his growth” if you are giving up on him as a starter – because he’s not cracking the rotation in DC unless/until there are some serious changes made.

    And cheer up, Giolito, Lopez and Fedde are not going to be ready to be in the rotation at the start of next season. Voth might be – but he still has to prove himself at AA. Overall, it’s much better to be trying to find a place in your roster for talented players than it is to be trying to find talented players.

    John C.

    29 Jan 15 at 1:12 pm

  11. John C – My primary focus is on Roark. He needs to be starting. No question about it.

    Secondary focus is on replacing JZ/DF/SS in 16/17. Unless we try a few of these guys out in ’15 (mainly Cole, Treinan and Jordan), then we’ll need to sign another Haren/Jackson type “just in case” (although just in case never seems to happen when the Nats pay $5+MM for a guy – they become a lock). Rizzo needs to trust his minors and give some of these guys real, high-leverage chances so we don’t need another stopgap next year. Cole and Treinan (and Jordan) are best positioned for that this year.

    Andrew R

    29 Jan 15 at 1:16 pm

  12. OH, I meant to also say that putting Treinan/Cole in the pen this year is smart, and is not giving up on them starting. Just like StL does consistently.

    Andrew R

    29 Jan 15 at 1:17 pm

  13. I’m a little perplexed at the borderline negative reaction to the Janssen signing, both here and on other sites. Is Janssen as good as Clippard? No, probably not quite, but he’s costing a third as much. Is he as good as Soriano? If we’re talking Soriano at the stage of his career when he pitched for the Nats, that’s quite possible. The difference is that the Nats are paying Janssen a fraction of what they paid Soriano.

    It’s a fair question to ask whether the Janssen signing makes the Nats’ bullpen ultimately what it needs to be to win a championship. But there shouldn’t be any doubt that it makes the Nats’ bullpen better.

    Todd also hit on another point in a comment above. There’s little reason to think that there’s going to be a lot of bullpen innings for this team. Every one of these starters will be targeting 7-8 innings every game. It may become a challenge to get enough work for all of the bullpen guys. It might also become tempting at some point to carry an extra bat as the 25th guy instead of an arm.


    30 Jan 15 at 7:31 am

  14. Janssen’s bWAR the last four years: 1.9, 1.9, 1.4 and 0.1. Clippard: 3.4, 0.4, 1.8 and 1.5. Clippard had an amazing 2011 … otherwise these guys are basically providing equal value over the last 3 years. Add up the bWAR for yourself; the difference is .2 bWAR over 3 seasons. And we have a perfectly plausible explanation for Janssen’s 2014 struggles. Just saying.

    2014’s starting bullpen: Soriano, Clippard, Storen, Barrett, Stammen, Blevins, Detwiler.
    2015’s projected bullpen: Storen, Janssen, Thornton, Barrett, Stammen, Blevins, Roark.

    So, position by position: I’ll take Storen over Soriano (and so did the team for half of last year). Clippard > Janssen. Storen as a 7th inning option > Thornton. Barrett, Stammen and Blevins are back in basically the same roles, and then Roark clearly is an improvement over Detwiler.

    So, we’re improving in some areas but taking a decline in other areas. sounds like typical bullpen machinations. And if someone like Thornton really struggled … you could call up Treinen.

    Todd Boss

    30 Jan 15 at 9:04 am

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