Nationals Arm Race

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

Ladson’s inbox 2/2/15

49 comments

Scherzer is on everyone's mind.  Photo via Scherzer's twitter account.

Scherzer is on everyone’s mind. Photo via Scherzer’s twitter account.

Love it; another inbox to analyze.  In the wake of the Scherzer signing, lets see what kind of questions MLB.com beat reporter Bill Ladson fielded this week.

As always, I answer as I write before reading Ladson’s answer, and edit questions for clarity as needed.

Q: How much better will the Nationals be now that right-hander Max Scherzer is on the roster?

A: Well, if you play the “WAR analysis” game, then Max Scherzer replaces Tanner Roark in the rotation for 2015.   Scherzer posted a bWAR of 5.5 in 2014 while Roark posted a bWAR of 4.8.  So on the face of it, assuming that both players provide identical value in 2015 as they did in 2014, perhaps Scherzer won’t immediately impact the team.  This is the essence of those immediate-post signing blogs and columns that questioned why the Nats needed to make this acquisition.

However.  I offer some counters.

  1. Roark immediately becomes your spot-starter to cover for injury.  Lets say that Gio Gonzalez (bWAR in 2014 of just 2.1) gets hurt and Roark covers for him; well that’s nearly a 3-WAR improvement.  Certainly Roark is going to be better than whatever AAA cover we could promote to provide injury relief.  The Nats only gave 12 13 starts to non-core rotation guys in 2014 but more than twice that number in 2013; the odds are that an injury is going to hit the rotation at some point.
  2. Scherzer will be better in 2015 than he was in 2014.  Why?  He moves to the NL, gets to face pitchers instead of DHs, faces generally weaker lineups, plays in a weaker division and pitches in more parks that are pitcher friendly.  You can make the argument that his K/9 is going to increase significantly (if he faces the pitcher 60-70 times in a season, he likely strikes them out at least half of that), and his ERA likely falls at least a half a point.  That will boost his WAR for 2015.
  3. Scherzer going twice in a seven game playoff series is going to be better than having any one else getting that second start.  In fact, a 1-2-3 punch of Strasburg, Zimmermann and Scherzer is one heck of a daunting task for any opponent.
  4. And there’s this: not to completely re-hash my post on the Scherzer signing, but i’ll note that this signing (to me) seems like a way to bridge the gap and guarantee an “Ace” in the rotation through the next two off-seasons of rotation transition (where the team likely loses Zimmermann, Fister and Strasburg).  The Nats rotation looks an awful lot better after these three guys are gone if Scherzer is leading the line.  So to me this isn’t a move about 2015 as much as it is about getting this team to 2017 and maintaining competitiveness.

Ladson said very little about answer the question, using his answer to immediately talk about the offense and the bench.  Yeah we know there’s issues there.  And we all remember how the middle of the order went like 1-for-the NLDS.  Wasn’t the question.

Q: Why didn’t Espinosa work on hitting right-handed exclusively after the season ended? If Espinosa made that transition successfully, he would be the answer at second base.

A: A good question.  Not the first time this topic has come up.  We’ve discussed it to death here but the reasons seem to fall along the following:

  1. Espinosa may be getting “advice” from his agent (Scott Boras) to put his own interests first.
  2. Espinosa may be “stubborn” about maintaining his switch hitting, given that it is a differentiator in the marketplace for him.
  3. Espinsoa may just be uneasy about suddenly facing right-handed curve balls from the right-hand side, probably having not faced such a situation in more than a decade (a fair point).

We all know about his splits lefty versus righty.  We all know he has not chosen to try RH-only.  I think its also safe to say that the organization has gone out of its way (Asdrubal Cabrera last season and now Yunel Escobar) to replace him in the starting lineup despite his defensive skills.  It is what it is; we now have a backup infielder on the roster to cover both 2B and SS and who has some pop from the plate in a backup capacity (and the associated K-rate of course).  Not the worst thing in the world to have.  Ladson says … well he stated the obvious (Escobar is the starter) and then says that the “Nats hope Espinosa cuts down on his strike-outs.”  Non-answer.

Q: How come Jeff Kobernus is not being considered for the starting second-base job? Why not have a young, cost-controlled guy play every day?

A: Because Kobernus hasn’t played 2B basically since college full-time since a half-season stint in Harrisburg in 2012.  The team moved him to the OF and he’s mostly stayed there.  Even if you thought he could play second effectively, he’s got a career minor league slash line of .285/.331/.363.   He is what he is: a utility guy who can cover in case of a slew of injuries and makes for a good 9/1 pinch running/6th outfielder call-up, but that’s about it.  I don’t think you can count on him to produce at the major league level day-in and day-out.  Ladson says Kobernus has a chance of making the bench out of spring training this year, which I disagree with.

Q: Asdrubal Cabrera signed with the Rays for one-year, $7.5 million. Why couldn’t the Nats make that deal? Or something close to it?

A: Probably because Cabrera wanted to play short-stop, and the Nats have a short-stop.  Besides, Escobar at $5M is a good deal.  I mentioned at some point in the off-season that Cabrera’s offensive output with Washington wasn’t too much better than Espinosa’s frankly (Cabrera’s split line with Washington in 2014 was .229/.312/.389; Escobar brings more to the table.  Ladson agrees, and says that the Nats weren’t willing to bring Cabrera back at his asking price based on what he showed last year.

Q: Why didn’t the Nats consider Tyler Clippard as their closer?

A: Hmm.  Good question.  Perhaps because when Clippard was given the closer job in 2012, he really struggled with it as compared to his typical 8th inning performance.   ERA in 2012 as closer: 3.72.  Career ERA: 2.88.  Besides, there was more in play for Clippard’s trade than just who was going to be the 2015 closer.  Clippard’s got a ton of miles on his arm, Clippard was set to make nearly 8 figures as a reliever, and the Nats felt like they could afford to part ways with him to acquire a player who filled a need.  Ladson notes what I noted, and said that Clippard’s pending free agency played into the decision.  That’s a great point that I didn’t mention; Clippard wasn’t going to be offered a qualifying offer (likely worth $16M next off-season), so he’d depart to no compensation.  With this trade, the Nats got some compensation for him.

Q: I know he’s had plenty of success as a general manager, but I’m surprised Mike Rizzo doesn’t feel any sense of urgency to try to sign Desmond or Jordan Zimmermann to an extension. What are your thoughts on this?

A: I think Mike Rizzo has been trying to extend these guys for more than two years.  “Sense of urgency?”  What else do you want to ask of the guy?  He by all accounts has offered both guys 9-figure deals, and has been rebuffed.  Do you think Ian Desmond is worth a 7yr/$100M deal?  Do you think Zimmermann is worth a 6yr/$150M deal?  Clearly to me the two players are valuing themselves higher than what the GM is valuing them, the GM has made what he thinks to be fair market value deals, and both guys have opted to test the market.  Baseball is a business, both on the player side and the team side.  Ladson thinks Rizzo will step up discussions once spring training happens.  I don’t; I think that the ship has more or less sailed on extending these guys at this point.  Now, will the team move Zimmermann?  I think we may see offers once James Shields signs…. if there’s teams out there that want to improve but miss out on Shields, they may come calling to the Nats with deals we cannot turn down.  We’ll see.  Overall thougth I’m doubtful any trades occur at this point.  My prediction: the juggernaut rotation goes into 2015 in-tact.

 

49 Responses to 'Ladson’s inbox 2/2/15'

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  1. Sorry to be that guy, but it was 13 starts by non-core guys in 2014 (7 by Treinen, 5 by Jordan, 1 by Hill), not 12.

    I’m hoping for juggernaut rotation in 2015, in part because (as you alluded to above) it’s quite likely that there will be a bunch of starts out there to be picked up.

    John C.

    3 Feb 15 at 4:32 pm

  2. I knew it was 12 or 13 because I looked it up recently. I didn’t go back to b-r.com to look it up before posting this. :-)

    Todd Boss

    3 Feb 15 at 4:54 pm

  3. While I agree with your overall assessment of Kobernus, he has played second quite a lot in the Nats system.

    71 games in 2010 Hagerstown
    105 games in 2011 Potomac
    81 games in 2012 Harrisburg

    And then he’s played there sparingly (15 games in 2013, 11 games in 2014) after Detroit picked him up in the Rule 5 draft and put him in the OF.

    Mick Reinhard

    3 Feb 15 at 5:07 pm

  4. Kobernus was not moved to the OF because he is a bad 2B. He was moved in order to be the Lombo successor and because he is a great athlete with excellent stolen base bonafides who therefore can be a terrific bench part.

    At the time he was groomed to the OF, Rendon was the heir apparent at 2B and Danny was only starting to dive. So these elements made sense then, and now circumstances are a bit different.

    I still believe a big trade is coming, precipitated by injury to another team’s top starter and yes, after Shields is off the market.

    I just cannot see Tanner Roark in the bullpen.

    forensicane

    3 Feb 15 at 8:42 pm

  5. Kobernus can do more than Frandsen (experience with all three OF plus 2B and a little 3B) plus can REALLY run. But Frandsen is guaranteed $1M. That said, I hope the Nats can do better than both. It is a failure if Frandsen gets another 236 PAs for this team.

    Here’s another vote for the juggernaut rotation. I doubt they could get anything for J-Zim or Fister that would make them a better team for 2015, and few teams have the wherewithal to offer the mega package it would take to get Stras. So go for it.

    I agree that at this stage of their careers, Escobar is better than Cabrera, plus cheaper. As I noted the other day, the Nats are basically getting Escobar AND Janssen for what Clippard would have cost. I fear many folks aren’t giving Escobar a fair shake because of their disappointment at losing Clip. But I’ve said all winter I thought Clip’s departure would be the one sure thing; they just weren’t going to pay him $10M. To get a solid everyday player in exchange for a high-priced middle reliever with only one year left before FA is a heck of a deal.

    KW

    3 Feb 15 at 8:52 pm

  6. In looking at the articles on the dwindling market for Shields, I had the thought of the Nats swooping in and picking him up for something like 4/60. I don’t know that I’d do it, but if you could get Shields for probably less than Fister is wanting, it would be tempting to think about it.

    KW

    3 Feb 15 at 8:58 pm

  7. Ok Mick. I’ll adjust my comment to “Kobernus hasn’t played 2B since a half-season in 2012.”

    The point remians the same; is this your full-time 2b solution at the major league level?

    Todd Boss

    4 Feb 15 at 8:24 am

  8. Forensicane: on Kobernus’ speed; you can’t steal first base. If he’s in the mix to make the bench, which of these projected bench players does he supplant?
    – Lobaton; nope
    – McLouth: Kobernus isn’t getting $5M, nor can he hit from the left hand side
    – Espinosa: a flawed player of course … but also a guy who has hit 20 homers at the major league level.
    – Frandsen? if Kobernus was a threat to supplant Frandsen, they wouldn’t hvae committed $1M to him in the off-season

    So maybe it comes down to the last spot on the roster. Right now i’d rather have Taylor on the roster facing major league pitching.

    Todd Boss

    4 Feb 15 at 8:44 am

  9. I’m sure hoping that someone out of Carp/Stewart/Uggla can bounce back and make the big club. I think Carp in particular still has a lot left in him. The other two would be more of a “threat” to Frandsen.

    KW

    4 Feb 15 at 9:00 am

  10. I’m not annointing Kobernus to the 25 man. But I would not dismiss him. Let’s have this discussion in mid-March if he is hitting .350 and lighting up the basepaths.

    He’s on the outside looking in. But anything can happen once you get to camp.

    forensicane

    4 Feb 15 at 4:01 pm

  11. Todd, Ladson sure does seem to get your goat; makes for lively writing.
    The Scherzer trade works out this year if the Nats start to lose pitchers to injuries this spring, they were extraordinarly lucky last year injury-wise with their pitching.
    Tom Boswell wrote a great column last year about how March is the cruelest month for many teams, as that is when so many pitchers blow out their elbows and shoulders.

    It was a great question to ask Espinosa-a Low A hitter from the left side who somehow never made it down to any of the winter leagues to learn how to hit righthanded full time. A classic dumb jock thought process.

    Praise to Rizzo for not signing Cabrera; his decline phase suggests he’s much older than his stated age.

    Mark L

    4 Feb 15 at 7:47 pm

  12. I agree with Todd’s point 4 on Scherzer. If you lump Scherzer, Stras and JZ together as roughly comparable pitchers, and you know you want at least one of them to lead your rotation, it comes down to which one agrees to the best contract. We will never know all of the conversations Rizzo had with Stras and JZ, but I assume that they felt that (1) Stras wanted to test FA, and (2) Scherzer’s deferred deal is better for them than JZ’s $150/6 deal. It’s hard to fault their reasoning. I worry a little how the $15m per year from years 8-14 drains their payroll, but that is so far away and it helps create payroll room for the next 7 years.

    Kobernus does seem a better roster play than Frandsen. Plays more positions and the speed factor. He was certainly the better call on a playoff roster. But it is the 25th man we are discussing, and shouldn’t have that big an impact. But position versatility is very important, and I wonder why we don’t see more middle infield prospects who hit mid 20’s start to morph into this role. If you are good enough to play SS or 2B, but don’t hit well enough to be an every day regular, why not ask to learn the OF, 3B and even back up C, and use that as your ticket to make the 25 man roster somewhere. A guy like Chris Bostick should think hard about that, because that is a perfect use of the 25th man.

    Lastly, the Shields contract will be meaningful for the Nats for Fister. Right now, I see his floor as the McCarthy/ Santana contracts, with Shields as his ceiling. If Shields comes in at 4/$70m or so, that slots Fister in at 4/$60, and the Nats should sign him for that. They would have another anchor through the introduction of the young kids, and if more than 1 prove they are mid rotation guys, you can trade Fister. That contract wouldn’t be prohibitive for almost any club.

    Wally

    5 Feb 15 at 8:05 am

  13. On Roark – I am admittedly less of a believer than most of you. I certainly believe in what he did, just not sure that I am as confident that he’ll keep doing it. But regardless, I think he is at least a quality 4/5 starter. But here’s the thing: if they don’t trade any of the other starters and no one gets hurt early, don’t they have to send him down to AAA to stay stretched out in case of injury? It certainly seems a shame and unfair for him, but when only thinking about his highest benefit to the team in 2015, isn’t it as a guy who can step in immediately as a starter if someone gets hurt? If he spends two months in long relief, it may take him 4-5 starts to stretch back out, which is a month of the season lost.

    Given the lack of innings a middle reliever pitches, and the probable low leverage of those innings, I don’t think his value over the next best middle relief option is so high as to lose him as an immediate starting candidate.

    Wally

    5 Feb 15 at 8:26 am

  14. Roark. Yes I’m a believer. All he did in 50+ innings in 2013 was post a 252 (!) era+. Nobody believed in him. So he goes and wins the 5th starter spot on the best team in the NL for 2014 and post a 5.1 bWAR (good for 10th best in the MAJORS last year, ahead of all other Washington starters and just behind …. Max Scherzer).

    Roark to me is proof of the following: if you don’t throw mid 90s, then nobody believes you can be an effective pitcher. If Greg Maddox was a prospect today, he’d be lucky to get out of low-A. Nobody values command and control; its all about the heat.

    I’ve seen other people talk about how we should “cash in” on Roark. I’m in the complete opposite camp; Roark is the most valuable commodity in the game right now; a controllable arm pitching at a high level playing for MLB minimums. You KEEP guys like that and ride them, not flip them. Flip Fister instead; he had the worst FIP last year of the 5 rotation members, makes 10 figures, is a FA after 2015 and would seemingly fetch *something* of worth. Put Roark back in the 5th spot and enjoy.

    Wally; I do agree with you somewhat though; Roark would be wasted in a long-man role. You give that role to a rookie kid that you’re trying to break in (Hill?) or a rubber-armed veteran who’s looking to hang on (Ohlendorf was the perfect example here). But we can’t “make” the team make the trade that we think should happen.

    Todd Boss

    5 Feb 15 at 9:04 am

  15. Amen on Roark. He’s extremely valuable right now and is looking at being the Detwiler-type weapon of 2014 right now…

    I disagree with Todd on Kobernus. He SHOULD be in a battle with Frandsen (and others) for the 25th spot. Neither has any pop, both can play (mediocre) a lot of positions, but only one has speed. And Frandsen’s intangibles? Blah – make him a coach if we need his brain so badly.

    Andrew R

    5 Feb 15 at 12:13 pm

  16. On Kobernus vs Frandsen: I don’t think I meant to imply that I “liked” one versus the other. I do know this: Frandsen is the vet, he’s the one with the guaranteed contract, he’s the one who Williams likely will trust and will select to this team. His numbers on offense weren’t great in 2014; do you have any guarantee that Kobernus’ would be any better? I dunno.

    Todd Boss

    5 Feb 15 at 1:58 pm

  17. I’d like to see them have an open competition. $1MM is nothing and it’s a sunk cost. I like Kobernus’ speed.

    Andrew R

    5 Feb 15 at 2:09 pm

  18. How is a $1M contract they *just signed* a sunk cost?

    If it is June of 2015 and Frandsen is hitting .120, then you say “well its a sunk cost” (because at that point … it is) and you cut him.

    Todd Boss

    5 Feb 15 at 2:17 pm

  19. Because it is fully guaranteed and they can’t get out of it even if they wanted to…

    I believe that Frandsen’s contract is a decent insurance policy in case they can’t get someone better into that role. But… it shouldn’t be an obstacle if someone like Kobernus performs better.

    Andrew R

    5 Feb 15 at 2:20 pm

  20. Here’s my beef with just calling the Frandsen contract, today in February, a “sunk cost:” nothing has changed between today (before spring training) and the day it was signed. The Nats in November or whenever they signed him to the $1M guaranteed clearly made an analysis at the time of Fradsen’s worth, his 2014 performance, and certainly factored in what they had in house (including Kobernus). Nothing has magically made Kobernus a better candidate today than he was in November.

    And that will include spring training. Even if Frandsen goes o-for-Florida he’s not going to get cut. Its spring training; the stats are useless.

    Todd Boss

    5 Feb 15 at 2:37 pm

  21. Todd, that’s the loser way of running a business. Just because the money is spent doesn’t mean you can’t still find a better option. Last year, it was Scott Hairston, who didn’t deserve to be on a major league field. We also have Nate $5.0MM McLouth who we certainly wouldn’t have signed to a $5MM contract if he was a FA today. Meanwhile, Kobernus is no Mike Trout, but he’s on the 40 man, so give him a shot. We know what Frandsen is… spring training doesn’t make a difference… but if Kobernus, Uggla, Stewart, or anyone else can make a case to take his job, that’s a good thing.

    Andrew R

    5 Feb 15 at 2:40 pm

  22. I find it hard to compare Frandsen to Kobernus for anything other than their shared ability (willingness?) to play 2B and OF.

    The point can and should be made that Kobernus cannot play 3B and Frandsen can. Espinosa plays 2B, SS, and 3B.

    Tyler Moore is a better option as a backup 1B and plays better OF than Frandsen. He has more power off the bench and we’d all feel better with him in the starting lineup every day at 1B than Frandsen if Zimmerman pulls a hamstring or shoulder or whatnot.

    Kobernus is one of those folks whose pinch-run and positional versatility add to a 25th man role. But that depends on the composition of the rest of the bench. The availability of Moore may make Frandsen’s bat less desirable, but he plays more positions than Kobernus.

    Maybe that carries the day, if the team feels that they need more backup at 3B than merely Espinosa. But maybe not. Frandsen may prove to be a tradeoff of power (Moore) or speed (Kobernus).

    Taylor’s not coming up to sit on the bench. He needs everyday at bats. The roster has to have someone who can start on the occasional days off and otherwise sit without rotting.

    forensicane

    5 Feb 15 at 2:41 pm

  23. The whole “sunk cost” label on all baseball contracts is a pet peeve of mine in general. There’s a “right” time to say it and a “wrong” time.

    The right time is if a player in the middle of the year is badly performing and is blocking another asset that might do better. That’s when you say “its a sunk cost” and you cut him. The wrong time is when you look at someone like Matthew Purke, who was on a guaranteed deal out of the draft and was under performing. Who was Purke blocking? He was pitching in the low minors; that’s the whole reason you have minor league teams and many of them. The bonus to Purke was “sunk” in the respect that it was already paid … but there’s no reason not to hang onto a player like Purke because he could still turn your sunk bonus (when viewed as an investment) into something that becomes of value later.

    Todd Boss

    5 Feb 15 at 2:42 pm

  24. We’re just talking semantics on the definition of sunk cost.

    I’m saying that decisions should be made about the talent and need and not about the money. $1MM is an irrelevant sum especially when they just signed a guy to a $200MM contract. The Phils are trying hard not to cut Howard – the money is too great even though he sucks. We’ll never just drop Werth, even if he ends up being terrible in a few years as the money is too big. Frandsen is very replaceable and I hope we find someone better – Kobernus is just an option, but if 2014 is an indicator, his replacement could be a March 30 DFA.

    Andrew R

    5 Feb 15 at 2:48 pm

  25. Andrew. ” Just because the money is spent doesn’t mean you can’t still find a better option.” Ok that is undoubtedly true. But that wasn’t how this question was phrased; it was phrased as an either/or of Kobernus and Frandsen. You’re absolutely right about Hairston last year; and guess what? he still made the team out of spring training and got a ton of ABs.

    Todd Boss

    5 Feb 15 at 3:03 pm

  26. Hairston on the team last year was maddening…

    Andrew R

    5 Feb 15 at 3:05 pm

  27. I can beat Hairston. :-)

    Matt Stairs, 2011. 74 PAs. Slash line: .154/.257/.169. http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/s/stairma01.shtml

    Todd Boss

    5 Feb 15 at 3:14 pm

  28. This organization went all in for Prince Fielder with Adam LaRoche owed one more year of a much larger contract. If a clearly better option is there, Frandsen’s contract is chump change.

    forensicane

    5 Feb 15 at 5:16 pm

  29. reading this, I was about to say both Andrew and Todd were right: they should go with Kobernus, but they are most certainly going with Frandsen. But then I started to wonder why Rizzo gave Frandsen the contract, essentially guaranteeing him the 25th spot, and I think maybe it’s because they don’t have a roster to adequately take advantage of Kobernus’ main skill, speed.

    I mean, no one other than their families wants to see either guy get more than 100-150 PAs. If they do, we have bigger problems. But to choose Kobe, you have to be willing to pinch run him what, 75-80 times? Maybe that is too high, but 50 times at least. When you look at the Nats line up, who would you pull for a pinch runner? I think it just comes down to Ramos and Werth. Everyone else is reasonably fast themselves, and a good defender, so you really don’t want them out of the game. And even Werth is a pretty good base runner. Maybe Zim? Maybe Escobar? And then you ask, how much faster is Kobe than Espy? I think you quickly conclude that you aren’t going to use him very much, so his biggest strength isn’t that valuable to this particular team.

    Frandsen offers a little better hit tool, they love his clubhouse attitude and has the feel that you can plug him almost anywhere in an emergency without embarrassing yourself, maybe even C. All you need to do is get through the one game, because you have someone up from AAA for the next day.

    I don’t know if any of that is right, but at least I can kind of see some logic behind choosing Frandsen.

    Wally

    5 Feb 15 at 6:55 pm

  30. If Frandsen could really play enough C for Williams to be willing to use both catchers in a game, that would change my mind.

    Williams never was willing to use the backup C, which is irrational in my mind, considering how rare an injury is. With Leon/Butler a quick trip away, we should be using Loby as a lefty hitter off the bench.

    Andrew R

    5 Feb 15 at 10:56 pm

  31. OK, folks, I have to laugh. I miss a day or so and come back to find a 30-post Frandsen-Kobe firestorm. And basically, everyone is right:

    –Frandsen isn’t the quality of backup an outstanding team like the Nats needs (in other words, he sorta sucks).

    –Kobernus has outstanding speed but probably isn’t good enough at the plate or defensively to make the big club on a regular basis.

    –Giving Frandsen a guaranteed $1M contract so early in the offseason was head-scratching, but since they did it, that does increase his odds of sticking.

    –Can’t we do better than both of these guys???

    I don’t think the total problem here is Frandsen himself. He’s just the current poster child for the recent bench futility. Frankly, Frandsen was a lot “better” last season than McLouth was. But we’ve sort of resigned ourselves to McOut because he’s guaranteed five times as much as Frandsen. The one thing we cling to here is that McLouth is a “has-been,” meaning that at certain points, he’s been a very good MLB player and might possibly be again. Frandsen is a “never-was,” meaning that he never was, and never will be.

    Here’s what we’ve got on the bench: Lobaton, Espinosa, and McLouth are locks for three of the five spots. There might have been some hope of the Nats thinking about trading McLouth, but not after it started looking like Werth could start the season on the DL. That leaves two slots:

    –another INF (the Frandsen slot) – contenders: Frandsen (incumbent), Uggla, Stewart, Burriss, Kobernus

    –a bat who can play 1B and OF (the Hairston slot) – contenders: Moore, Carp, Taylor (maybe), Skole (much bigger maybe). There’s another signee here for AAA depth whom I can’t remember.

    Anyway, for the first slot, Uggla and Stewart could pose much bigger threats to Frandsen than Kobe could. If either got hot in Viera, I think the Nats would have no problem keeping either proven guy over Frandsen.

    The second slot is wide open. It is definitely T-Mo’s last stand, and kudos to him for going to the Winter Leagues and doing everything he could. (Hear that Danny?!) Still, I think my money here is on Carp. The final cut here could get postponed if Werth starts the season on the DL, although Taylor may just be the Werth fill-in until he comes back.

    KW

    6 Feb 15 at 6:32 am

  32. Come on! Frandsen vs Kobernus is really important! 😉

    Todd Boss

    6 Feb 15 at 9:13 am

  33. Here’s hoping they have a spirited battle for playing time . . . in Syracuse! I guess that leaves me all in with Uggla, though, which is a scary thought.

    KW

    6 Feb 15 at 11:46 am

  34. I’ll take Uggla … if it were 5 years ago. Here’s his 2010 season: .287/.369/.508 with 33 homers and great durability (159 games played).

    Todd Boss

    6 Feb 15 at 1:16 pm

  35. Say what one will about Uggla – and Nats fans certainly have over the years, me included – he’s always been willing to take a walk and has good OBPs to show for it, even when he’s struggled to make contact. What might hurt his chances of grabbing a bench spot is that he’s never played any position in the majors other than 2B. He did play a fair number of games at 3B in the minors, though, and a handful at 1B and SS.

    Uggla was beaned twice, in June 2012 and Spring Training 2013. His career went downhill rapidly from those events. He has gotten treatment in the offseason that supposedly has gotten his vision back to normal. This is a guy who topped 30 HRs for the five years before he was beaned. He’s a long shot, but we might actually find ourselves pulling for him.

    KW

    6 Feb 15 at 3:42 pm

  36. I think the Shields signing places Fister’s market, in the 4/$60m range. Since I think neither JZ nor Stras will be extended, I think this is good value for the Nats. He can be a quality bridge to the next wave with Miracle Max, and that is a tradable contract if several kids develop early.

    With a week to go for ST, is it too soon to grade the offseason? I’d give it a B. I liked the Scherzer signing, and think Escobar was a good trade (in hindsight, my initial reaction was negative). But feels like we are holding too much SP firepower (Roark in the pen which is a waste). Would have liked to see some of that turned into future assets. And I am still unsure about the Souza trade: it’s risky for 2015, and I am not sure which side will produce more. But the main thing holding me back from a higher grade is the lack of extensions for some of the position guys: not Desi, I am thinking Ramos, Rendon, even Harp (although that’s unlikely). I’d like to see them be a little more aggressive locking up their young stars, since I think those are often good deals for a team. Maybe they are trying, it’s hard to know.

    Wally

    9 Feb 15 at 8:24 am

  37. It’s too soon to grade the offseason.

    I see the Cubs were players for Shields. I read that they are players for JZimm. As are the Yankees. Perhaps the Rangers are as well. Or others, players for Fister (like Houston). The point is, despite all the talk about teams being reluctant to add salary, some teams have room.

    Let’s see what happens to the Cole Hamels situation. Then the Nats will truly be holding the cards. I know no one wants to trade Gio, but if the Sox felt they could get better value for Gio than for Hamels, then…

    Who needs Mookie Betts? I’d rather have Pedroia.

    I just can’t see Roark going to the pen. Won’t happen.

    forensicane

    9 Feb 15 at 9:32 am

  38. Todd Boss

    9 Feb 15 at 9:48 am

  39. yeah, I saw it. Maybe two years ago I would have been excited, but now? I kind of think Danny’s career is in view, and it is as a utility guy, possibly a platoon guy. Can’t see this as too much of a big deal, and based on his comments earlier this offseason, he seems to not be 100% on board, which I think is bad mojo.

    Wally

    9 Feb 15 at 10:10 am

  40. Yeah, instead of getting with the program from day one of the offseason, we have this buried little notice less than two weeks before spring training, probably planted by Boras with a national outlet. (Sigh.)

    I’m in agreement with Wally that Espinosa is probably 80-85% consigned to a utility role with Nats barring emergency service as a starter. But that other 15-20% is still tantalizing. If he could get his OPS above 700 and his K’s down, with his defense, he could become a viable alternative to replace Desmond. The Nats would really want to see a solid season from Danny this year, though, to even consider that scenario.

    Potential pitching trades: I’ve about convinced myself that of J-Zim, Fister, or Stras, that the Nats would feel like they are losing the least of the three with Fister. I have no idea what his trade value would be, though. But he’s also the most potentially re-signable of that trio, as Wally noted. If a mega-deal with J-Zim or Stras was going to happen, I feel like it would have happened by now. But you never know.

    KW

    9 Feb 15 at 12:34 pm

  41. Wait for a major arm or two to go down in Spring Training, and the JZ/SS/DF’s value will skyrocket. However, hopefully that major arm getting injured isn’t one of ours.

    Andrew R

    9 Feb 15 at 12:37 pm

  42. Trading Gio Gonzalez would be nuts. Even if you toss out his 2012 season as a career year Gio is a steady 3+ WAR pitcher getting paid like a ~2 WAR pitcher and is under team control for up to four more seasons. That’s a great contract.

    And while some would say that makes Gio valuable, I will follow up. The Nats have two issues with their starting pitching: (1) they have a lot of it (right now, barring injuries etc.) in 2015; and (2) two of their top starters are free agents after 2015, and another is a free agent after 2016. Solving the first problem while exacerbating the second is not a smart strategy.

    I’m not saying Gio cannot be traded. I just have a hard time seeing a team making an offer that would make it worthwhile in both the short and long term.

    John C.

    9 Feb 15 at 1:24 pm

  43. John,

    You may be right. A question, though…

    Would you still want to keep him if the Nats signed Strasburg and Fister long term?

    At 12m, Gio has a better contract than some at his performance level. But his performance level over the past two years does not make 12m a bargain necessarily.

    If the Nats have two pitchers (Roark, Scherzer) committed to 2017 and beyond, with three other spots to fill, let’s also consider that Cole, Treinen and/or maybe Jordan may be ready to assume a fifth starter spot in 2016. Would their production be necessarily less than what the team has been getting out of Gonzalez? Certainly they are under team control for a long period, enough that Gio’s #3 salary is a lot more than their #5.

    Then in 2017, we witness the arrival of Giolito, Ross, and/or Lopez as Strasburg comes due. Again, with all of the value expected of the six years of control.

    Can I see Gio rebounding to 2012? I think Roark continuing to improve is more likely.

    I confess I am also affected by Gio’s playoff showings. For all of the flak we give Storen, I find myself relating to Gio the same way.

    forensicane

    9 Feb 15 at 3:38 pm

  44. When I said that Gio was a 3+ WAR pitcher, that’s because he’s been that every season – including the past two seasons. His fWAR totals for the past four seasons (NOT including 2012): 3.0; 3.3; 3.1; 3.1. By several metrics he was actually better last season than in 2013 – his strikeouts were up, his walks were down, his GB% was up and his LD% was down. That’s why his fWAR was the same as 2013 despite the fact that he made five fewer starts and pitched 37 fewer innings. But his BABIP and strand rate worsened, resulting in an increase in ERA.

    Gio’s biggest sin on the Nationals is that he isn’t JZim or Strasburg. He’s been a very good pitcher for the Nationals, at a very good price. To just blithely assume that Cole, Treinen or Taylor Jordan (Taylor Jordan?) are going to be that good is a helluva leap. Before we start dumping starters to make room for prospects, many of whom haven’t pitched above A ball yet, I would encourage you to remember the TINSTAAPP principle. Baseball history is littered with “can’t miss” prospects who did just that.

    John C.

    9 Feb 15 at 5:16 pm

  45. No one is blithe

    Nor is anyone untouchable for the right price

    forensicane

    9 Feb 15 at 5:25 pm

  46. I’ll be very surprised if Gio and Roark aren’t in the Nats’ rotation in 2018. It’s less a matter of the “right price”; it’s that the Nats can’t easily fill their spots in the rotation with the same quality. Their affordability was also a component in the Nats being able to afford Scherzer. The Nats have Gio through 2018 and Roark through 2020.

    Also, Gio is the only lefty starter anywhere on the horizon for the Nats, unless Purke or Solis have miraculous career regenerations.

    I don’t know if the Nats themselves have decided yet about who among the other starters to try to re-sign, if any. I’m sure they’d like a longer look at Cole, Giolito, Lopez, and Ross before deciding.

    KW

    9 Feb 15 at 9:17 pm

  47. All I am saying is that I see Tanner Roark being in the 2015 starting rotation from day 1.

    As for who gets traded, whomever gets traded may be the person who bears the most return. To me, it’s clear that there is no financial precedent for the success of a pitcher coming off Tommy John warranting a six or seven year contract. That pretty much pushes both JZimm and Strasburg out the door. If there is concern about a risk in too much turnover to the starting pitching, sign Fister long term and at a more approachable salary.

    Any trade the Nats do is going to bring back a high ceiling and AA-AAA lefty starting pitching prospect in return. Prospects can turn out to be Felipe Rivero, but he was never pegged as a Lucas Giolito.

    But no way do the Nats NOT make room for Giolito when he is ready. And he will reasonably be ready to go, barring injury, by opening day 2017. As for the others, they are not marginal talents, and have higher ceilings than Nate Karns.

    Anyway, not to be argumentative. I was just trying to make a point about Roark vs. Gio in the starting rotation, and that I no longer view Gio as I would the Cy Young contender. I see his “sell by” date approaching, with all due respect to his performance later last year.

    forensicane

    10 Feb 15 at 11:18 am

  48. As for Taylor Jordan, there is no reason to give up on him. He was regarded at this time last year as a higher ceiling talent than Robbie Ray, for whom two organizations have traded.

    If we can maintain exuberance for Giolito coming off surgery and Fedde coming off surgery, there is no reason to yet marginalize a person of Jordan’s abilities. As gaga as we are for Rey Lopez’ dominance, Jordan was doing the same in AA two years ago. He may need a full year of AAA, but he is a long way from being dismissed as a Danny Rosenbaum.

    Just because people are not writing about a prospect does not define them. In the same year that Taylor Jordan was prompting Paul Menhart to experience him as having all-star potential, Aaron Barrett was lighting up AA as well – and then he got hurt.

    Putting the postseason hiccup aside (as we would Gio’s), Barrett made the team and often excelled despite not getting the prospect love.

    That’s why I’m still watching Rafael Martin and Taylor Jordan and others whose flavor is not yet vogue again. My point is only to say that the cupboard is much more full than we realize.

    forensicane

    10 Feb 15 at 11:25 am

  49. I still like Taylor Jordan quite a bit, and wanted him over Roark at the beginning of last season. His injury history has made him a less reliable option, but he has demonstrated success at the major league level and shouldn’t be given up on until he has no more options left. My worry with him is does he follow a path like Shawn Hill, another guy I liked quite a bit but whose pitching mechanics just wouldn’t let him stay healthy? I think it is a real worry with Jordan too, because I don’t think he has broken 100 IPs in any professional year.

    Since we all have our favorites, I have to admit that Treinen is the guy that I have high (maybe irrational) hopes for. His stuff just seems potentially overpowering. Here is a recent blurb on him from a Fangraphs article that was positive too
    http://www.fangraphs.com/fantasy/quick-looks-gonzales-oberholtzer-ray-karns-semien-treinen/

    Lastly, I really liked Barrett last year, but am pretty worried about the nature of his blow up in the playoffs. He didn’t just pitch badly, it seems pretty clear that he just let the pressure get to him. And it was the second time he got rattled (the first being his problems after the ump called a balk on him during the regular season). To me, the jury is out on whether that is still in his head and will follow him, or whether he truly can put it behind him. If he can put it behind him, I think his stuff says late inning guy, but I won’t be able to believe any encouraging words spoken in the winter, I will have to see the guy produce in high leverage situations before getting comfortable with him again.

    Wally

    10 Feb 15 at 11:57 am

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