Nationals Arm Race

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

Spring Training 2015 NRI discussion

44 comments

Matt Skole joins a motley crue of NRIs for Spring Training. Photo via dynastysportsempire.com

Matt Skole joins a motley crue of NRIs for Spring Training. Photo via dynastysportsempire.com

As suggested by Dr. Forensicane in a previous thread, lets talk about the Non-Roster Invitees (NRIs) for the Nats this coming spring, and for each lets talk about their chances for making the team, staying with the franchise, and depending on their roster status, their future plans with the team in general.

(post-posting update: if you havn’t seen it, check out this overview of the NRIs published on curlyw.natsblog.com.  It is very comprehensive and organized its list similarly to mine).

Most Nats beat-writers published the same list of 20 NRIs on Friday 2/13/15.   Here’s the list by category.  I’ll talk about the least-likely to make the team to the most-likely by positional category:

    • Catchers: Spencer Kieboom, Steven Lerud, Pedro Severino

Discussion: Lerud was a MLFA signing from Atlanta and seems likely to join recently acquired Dan Butler as the primary minor league catching depth for this team.  Thanks to an options crunch, Jhonatan Solano has already been released (and signed naturally with Miami to join his brother) and Sandy Leon likely gets DFA’d at the end of spring training, meaning that the Nats AAA depth needs to be rebuilt.  Meanwhile Keiboom and Severino represent some of the rising catcher talent in the system that may be in a position to really contribute once our two presumed MLB catchers (Ramos and Lobaton) have reached free agency.  The fact is that teams need tons of catchers in spring training camp and it is not surprising to see non 40-man guys get the call to help out with bullpen sessions and then get cut loose once the active camp has been thinned.

Odds of any of these NRIs making the 25-man roster: none for any of these players, even with an injury.  Lerud likely sticks around as AAA depth, and Keiboom/Severino have yet to reach rule-5 eligibility.

Future plans: Lerud to AAA and probably out of the org after this season, and the two prospects moving on up the chain (Severino likely in AA and Kieboom in high-A).

    • Left Handed Relievers: Matthew Purke

Discussion:I am no longer considering Purke a starter; I think his best shot at making it is if he converts to relief. I’d be ecstatic if he regained his mojo as a starter but i’ve lost confidence as such. That being said; we’re all well enough familiar with Mr. Purke by now: for a couple of days in November I thought we had cut him loose completely, ending a rather expensive Nationals experience.  But he re-signed as a MLFA with the team (likely in a pre-arranged deal) and then took the invite to spring training.  I’m guessing the senior team officials want to get a look at him, see how he fares as a match up reliever, see if his stuff holds up in short stints, etc.  By having Purke in spring training, the senior decision makers can watch multiple bullpen sessions, get a sense of his makeup and drive, and make a decision on his future (see next).

(tangent: fun fact here; did you know that Purke was born in the same town (Nacogdoches, TX) as USMNT striker Clint Dempsey?)

Odds of making the 25-man roster: none.  The team didn’t go to all this trouble to get Purke *off* the 40-man roster just to put him back on; there’s other lefty alternatives that will get the first crack at the majors if our standing lefties (Thornton and Blevins) falter.  Namely Xavier Cedeno and Matt Grace.  Even after the season begins, I could see the team experimenting with Sammy Solis or Felipe Rivero as a reliever in the majors before looking at Purke.  Which leads us to Purke’s future plans…

Future plans: Getting Purke back on a non-40-man deal gives Purke a stay of execution.  I think the team sees how he does this year and then considers whether to add him back to the 40-man as a protectionary move prior to next off-season.  But he can’t be putting up 8+ ERAs in AA.  He needs to get guys out or he’s done.

    • Right Handed Starters: Bruce Billings, Mitch Lively, Scott McGregor

Discussion: Both Lively and McGregor were signed midway through 2014 after getting dropped by their respective AAA clubs (affiliates of San Francisco and St. Louis respectively), and then each served as essentially an innings eating starter for Syracuse or Harrisburg the rest of the way through.  Thanks to a slew of last minute moves, both guys got AAA playoff starts in 2014 as well, neither pitching especially effectively as Syracuse was swept out of the playoffs.  Both chose to re-sign in Washington and both will get spring training invites.  Billings was signed from Los Angeles in November and was a starter for their AAA affiliate in 2014.

Odds of making the 25-man roster: none.  Assuming there are no trades or injuries, the 6th-10th guys in line to get MLB starts likely goes Tanner Roark, Blake Treinen, Taylor Jordan, Taylor Hill and newly-added 40-man member (and long time Nats prospect) A.J. Cole.   The Nats used just 8 starters in 2014, so the chances of all 10 of these guys even getting looks seems rather slim right now.

Future plans: You also have to think that the last 4 of these 5 guys will form the bulk of the Syracuse rotation to start 2015, leaving just one slot available.  And if it were up to me, I’d have Felipe Rivero in that 5th slot.  So its kind of hard to even see where these three guys fit in for 2015, unless they’re heading for long-man duty or are dropping down to AA.   I havn’t done enough analysis to even guess what AA’s rotation may look like to see if that’s an option.  So perhaps all three guys are playing for other teams’ scouts and for AAA rotations that give them more MLB opportunity.


Now to where some of these NRIs may actually have some chances to make this team…

    • Right Handed Relievers: Heath Bell, Manny Delcarmen, Eric Fornataro, Rafael Martin, Evan Meek

Discussion: The team shed an awful lot of innings from last year’s core bullpen, none as important as the combined 132 1/3 innings from late-innings relievers Rafael Soriano and Tyler Clippard.  The team made a pretty shrewd signing of former Toronto closer Casey Janssen (and not for a ton of money either …), who will slide into one of those departed slots.  But the truth is that this team has a potential opening for a veteran 7th inning guy.  Right now Aaron Barrett is set to step into that later-innings role; is he ready?  Is he good enough?

The team has three former MLB relievers who signed on with the team with an eye towards reclamation; Bell, Meek and (to a lesser extent perhaps) Delcarmen.  All three guys have had good success in MLB bullpens … and all three have fallen on hard times.  Fornataro just got outrighted to AAA; he’s not immediately coming back on even if he fares well in spring; I’m guessing he’s on a season-long audition.

Which brings us to Mr. Martin.  Forensicane’s best friend.   His 2014 numbers speak for themselves.   He has such an odd and unique career trajectory that perhaps the ST invite is solely so the MLB staff can see what the heck he’s got.  I hope we can get a glimpse of him during televised ST games to see what he’s got.

Odds of making the 25-man roster: Long.  Despite the weakened bullpen, the Nats still have a strong group making cases to head north come March 31st.  And we know that Blake Treinen can be effective out of the pen, meaning that if we get an injury to any of the presumed 7 leaders in the clubhouse for our bullpen (for my money: Storen, Janssen, Barrett, Stammen, Blevins, Thornton and Roark), Treinen probably is the first to get called into duty.

Where these guys have a shot is this: there’s almost no reliever depth on this team.  Outside of the 7 guys likely making the bullpen right now you have just three other relievers on the 40-man: Xavier Cedeno (out of options and likely DFA’d on 3/31/15 unless an injury befells Blevins and/or Thornton), Erik Davis (coming off a lost year to surgery … is he even ready to start throwing again?) and newly-added Matt Grace.  I suppose if Davis proves he’s past his TJ surgery he’d be in line for a call-up if needed, but i’d put my money on either Bell or Martin getting a shot in case of injury.

Future plans: I’d guess that the likes of Bell and Meek have opt-outs if they don’t make the team.  Delcarmen stayed put after his opt-out expired last year and signed on again for 2015; he’s likely AAA depth all year.  Fornataro (as discussed above) is in the AAA pen looking to re-gain value, and Martin is certainly guaranteed a chance to repeat his AAA 2014 performance (not that he has much left to prove…).

    • Middle Infielders: Emmanuel Burriss, Cutter Dykstra, Dan Uggla

Discussion: The team traded away a significant asset to bolster its middle infield presence, but an injury to one of the Nats three presumed 25-man roster middle infielders (Desmond, Escobar or Espinosa) could mean an opening for one of these guys.  Burriss holds an interesting local tie; he went to Wilson HS in the district, not exactly known for generating significant baseball talent.  He has never really hit at the major league level and toiled all last season for Syracuse.  Dykstra is seemingly more well known for who his father is (Lenny) and/or who his fiancee is (Meadow), but he has quietly hit his way up our system.  You can argue that he’s been too old for every level he’s played at for us, but he’s hit .275 or better three successive years. 

Which brings us to Mr. Uggla.  He hit 30+ homers for 5 successive seasons, then got hit in the head by a pitch and suffered what we now know to be “oculomoter dysfunction.”  I certainly remember his presence in the Marlin’s lineup for years; can he regain his stroke and have an impact?  Problem is that he’s 35 and hasn’t hit at a productive level for nearly 5 years.  And his skill set doesn’t exactly age well.  I’m guessing this might be just one last shot in the sun for him.

Odds of making the 25-man roster: very little.  Every team needs a backup short stop, and the team clearly already has one.  Uggla isn’t going to supplant Escobar.

Future plans: I’m guessing Uggla has an opt-out.  Burriss likely is AAA depth and is fine with it.  Dykstra should be matriculating to Syracuse himself, where he can prove he’s worth a look later on.

    • Corner Infielders/Outfielders: Kila Ka’aihue (L),  Clint Robinson (L), Matt Skole (L), Ian Stewart (L), Mike Carp (L)

Discussion: We know what we have in Skole; our 2012 minor league hitter of the year who earns his third straight NRI.  He’s got a sweet swing but a lost season to injury and a less-than-impressive bounce back have him off the prospect radar.  But he’s not really the interesting player out of this group.

I’ve put the player’s bat in parenthesis above for good reason; this team has a need for a bench bat.  And there’s not much tying the team to the presumed 25th guy on the roster right now.  And we *really* have a need for lefty power off the bench, especially now that Espinosa is only batting right handed.  So a lefty with power has a pretty good chance at making this team.  And I don’t think its a coincidence that *every* one of these guys is a lefty hitter.  Ka’aihue just came back from Japan and has a ton of power in the minors that hasn’t translated to the majors.  He’s limited to 1B.  Robinson seems like almost the exact same player as Ka’aihue except with less MLB time.  Stewart at least has some positional flexibility and has a 25 homer season in the majors (albeit in Colorado), but has struggled with injury the past few seasons, derailing his career.  Lastly there’s Carp, another guy like Ka’aihue with a ton of minor league power demonstration that for the most part hasn’t shown up in the majors.  Carp can play 1B or a corner outfield position, giving him a slight leg up on some of his competition here.

Odds of one of these guys making the 25-man roster: decent.  You have to think our bench right now is Lobaton, Espinosa, Nate McLouth, Kevin Frandsen and … somebody.  McLouth can play center … barely.  And he used to have power, but showed the team almost nothing for its $10M investment last year.  But the chances of the team cutting him before June 1st is zero, even if he goes o-for-the spring.   Perhaps the first name to consider for the 25th man is Tyler Moore, but he’s a right handed hitter.  And he’s out of options, and he’s had plenty of chances to earn his spot and has left the team wanting.  I think we’d all rather have Michael Taylor playing every day instead of getting three ABs a week for the big league club.  So I think there’s an opportunity here for one of these lefty power-hitting veterans to grab a spot previously held by the likes of Chad Tracy or Matt Stairs.  In order I think the chances are best for Stewart, Carp, Ka’aihue and then Robinson..

Future plans: Like with the other vets, it wouldn’t surprise me to see all these veterans with opt-outs.  As for Skole, I’d like to see him regain his batting eye; his BA and his OBP both took 40+ point nose dives in 2014.  Of course, it is also worth noting that Skole is 110% blocked on this team right now; he can basically only play 1st or 3rd.  Skole’s value to this team may be in his trade value, which means a good season in Syracuse could mean his ticket out of town for opportunity.


Conclusion: I think we could see one or two of these NRIs make the team, even without an injury.  Remains to be seen.

44 Responses to 'Spring Training 2015 NRI discussion'

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  1. OK, I’ll bite for a good snow-day activity:

    Middle infield: Burriss very quietly had his best pro season last year – 300/377/412. If not for the 40-man issue, he might have gotten a Sept. call-up. Right now he’s probably injury insurance for Escobar and Espinosa.

    I see Uggla as legit competition for Frandsen. To be that, he’ll have to show semi-competence at 3B, I would think. Age is against him, and Frandsen has $1M guaranteed, but if Uggla shows up and looks like 85% of the 30-HR guy, he would be a major upgrade on Frandsen.

    Relievers: Probably the only way there is a relief spot open is if they want Treinen stretched out in AAA. I think Bell and Meek would have farther to go to regain their glory days than Uggla would. Fornataro and Martin will be some good depth at AAA.

    LH Bat: Yeah buddy, some real competition here. There’s no guarantee that any of them will excel over a full season, but at least they’ll have to prove themselves to make the club. It’s wide open, but if he can play his way into the spot, I think Carp would have the most to contribute. He had a very solid season in Boston in 2013 – 292/362/523.

    KW

    17 Feb 15 at 1:56 pm

  2. I don’t get the Burriss love that goes on – I’d rather have Frandsen at 2b than Burriss, and that’s going some. Sure, he had a good season at AAA – as a 29yo. In other words, as a guy with big league experience and just coming out of his peak mostly playing against people who are coming out of AA. Further, he’s done this before. His 2011 season in AAA (.297/.386/.389) was nearly identical to his 2014 AAA season. The Giants called him up, and Burriss went right back to being MLB Burriss (.204/.253/.212). When he did it again in 2012, turning solid AAA numbers (.274/.342/.377) into craptastic MLB numbers (.213/.270/.221), the Giants said goodbye. The only thing that has really changed for Burriss is that he’s over 30 now.

    Color me skeptical on Uggla, too. Even if the concussion problem is real and can be fixed, he turns 35 in March. That can’t be fixed. And he hasn’t been good for years. My real fear with Uggla is that he jacks a few against minor league pitchers in Viera and the Nationals fall for it, bringing him up to clutter the roster and stink. No, thanks.

    Carp is an interesting player, and I agree that he’s the most likely to challenge for the 25th spot on the roster. Cutting Moore would leave the Nationals with Werth as the only RH outfielder, and the RH bench bats would likely be Frandsen and Espinosa.

    John C.

    17 Feb 15 at 5:54 pm

  3. Todd, you didn’t mention Martin’s full name.
    It’s Rafael ‘Beer League’ Martin.
    Gotta root for someone like that.

    Mark L

    17 Feb 15 at 8:12 pm

  4. Todd, thank you for essentially compiling an accounting and analysis that is is excellent and transcends the warmed over chattering found elsewhere.

    Now, with that thank you underscored, a couple of thoughts:

    The fate of the above depends on one’s orientation. I still am convinced that Roark ends up in the starting rotation on day 1. And while I am less certain that Escobar will not be in the starting lineup, I just don’t know what to make of the Nats 2B/SS plan between now and March 1. It intuitively seems harder to imagine that a team with championship aspirations like the Nats would be breaking in a new starting double play combination the more spring training advances, but…Cabrera was part of that after the trading deadline last year, so who knows?

    Now that I have said that:

    Catcher – Agreed. I would only add, to go out on a limb, that Pedro Severino will play in more regular season major league games in 2016 — and maybe even 2015 — than will Adrian Nieto. As for 40-man, Butler is overlooked but a very able upgrade over Solano and even Leon. The Bosox held onto him over Lavarnaway and the Nats would not have brought him over had they not highly valued his defense.

    LHP – Very cool that Purke gets the invite. Maybe his career actually still has a pulse. Finally we get to a point where we can say that we will find out this year once and for all. The lefty “Survivor” is an interesting plotline for the system this year. Just as likely as for Purke, this will be a make-or-break for Solis and Rivero, as well as Brett Mooneyham and Nick Lee. By the end of this year, even if none of them survive or earn another shot, there will be reinforcements from below via draft or trade.

    RHSP – Pretty impressive front five for Syracuse – Treinen, Hill, Cole, Jordan, Espino. McGregor and Lively look like they are pitching to compete for the sixth starter at Syracuse or if Jordan cannot yet go. Billings must have some connection, somewhere, a la Josh Roenicke. The one interesting thing about him is that they brought him on when they were signing no one else. So perhaps they see something, as they did with McGregor last year.

    RHRP – I expect Martin to have a great spring, unless he’s tired from a Mexican winter and a long 2014. Maybe that’s just how they do it in beer league. Delcarmen is flotsam. Heath Bell has that Brad Lidge aroma. I feel more intrigued about Meek, and he certainly has the experience. Eric F is a swapped out Ryan Mattheus, hopefully with better results. But Syracuse has a lot of quality arms in the bullpen, too, and we have not even mentioned Eric Davis, who may not be on the mound for awhile. I see Martin closing in Syracuse and potentially being an early callup for injury.

    IF – Nothing to lose on Uggla. So either he shocks us enough to start or he’s gone. Burrus won’t supplant Espinosa but he’s THE SS depth, so might as well get a look at him. Dykstra is a person with a possible future, so good to throw him into game situations and see how he plays. He never gets mentioned as a prospect, so his recognition here says a lot about how much he is valued. Now HE is a late bloomer.

    Corner IF/OF – Skole will be at AAA. Stewart is in full decay (yes, that rhymes). The others are going to fight it out like a race. Four players – Carp, Moore, Robinson, Ka’aihue – who may be competing not only for a major league spot, but even a AAA spot.

    forensicane

    17 Feb 15 at 10:42 pm

  5. Good points on burriss. Personally I think he serves simply as the kind of good glove-no hit guy that seems to populate lots of AAA teams as middle infield insurance. It isn’t exactly hope inspiring though that the middle infield prospect depth is so poor in the system that Burriss stands to get called up if we have an issue.

    It is useful to note that Carp started for a WS champion and produced well just a couple years ago. Is that form regainable?

    Todd Boss

    18 Feb 15 at 9:03 am

  6. I’m not a Burriss advocate; just pointing out that he had a good AAA season. If he’s playing meaningful innings for the big club, it’s only until Rizzo can get an emergency trade finalized.

    It does occur to me in looking back through some of this that the Nats are likely going to be very limited defensively in OF reserves. McLouth allegedly can play all three positions, although he’s a stretch in CF now, and I don’t think he has a RF arm. But the other bench candidates are basically guys who can stand in LF, if they’ve played the OF at all. Thinking in those terms, we may end up seeing more of Taylor with the big club than we think.

    Speaking of this slot, Moore isn’t non-roster, but he’s in direct competition with all the LH bats who have been brought in. It seems very likely that they’re looking for a LH bat, not a RH one. I give Moore a lot credit for slogging it out in AAA and going to the winter leagues, but I’m still thinking he will be traded at some point during the spring. Dave Cameron tried hard to generate interest in him a month or so ago.

    KW

    18 Feb 15 at 8:06 pm

  7. Pitchers and catchers report!!! Hope it’s warmer there . . .

    KW

    19 Feb 15 at 8:00 am

  8. Hey! Lets talk about A-Rod’s apology! (sarcasm)

    Todd Boss

    19 Feb 15 at 9:23 am

  9. McLouth: completely agree with his limitations by the way. He is touted as this great CF; check out his UZR ratings in Center over the years. He’s been *awful*. And that’s why I keep going back and forth on what Taylor’s role *should* be in 2015. On the one hand, Taylor can play all 3 OF positions, well, he has a pretty good arm from what I can gather (he had HUGE numbers of OF assists in 2012 and 2013; 21 in 2012 in just 108 games … that’s more than an OF assist a week). On the other hand … is Taylor “wasted” in a 4th OF role instead of playing every day in AAA (or is THAT the real waste/)

    That’s kind of why I also go back and forth on the whole last bench spot. Assuming bench is Lobaton, Espinosa, Frandsen, McLouth guaranteed to start …. is Taylor really the next best person to consider as 25th man instead of Moore or one of the lefty NRIs? I go back to the same argument we keep having about Frandsen and McLouth guaranteed contracts; yes they’re guaranteed money, yes it is a “sunk cost” if they cannot produce, but no i cannot see the team dumping either guy before at least June 1. So where does this leave Taylor?

    Todd Boss

    19 Feb 15 at 10:59 am

  10. Yep, you’re confirming my suspicions. The solution that comes to mind would be to trade McLouth. Even if you have to eat some of his salary to do it, you won’t eat all of it. You’d be selling low after what he did last season, but McLouth could still be marketed as a starter for a second-tier team.

    With him out of the way, Taylor becomes the 4th OF and still probably gets ~300 ABs or so. Does that stunt his offensive development? Hard to say.

    I doubt the Nats would do this, but we’ll see. Taylor and McLouth would both have to get off to good starts in the spring, and Werth would have to be showing progress toward being ready near opening day. If Werth isn’t ready, you would figure that Taylor would be on the 25-man until he is, even if McLouth stays.

    KW

    19 Feb 15 at 12:39 pm

  11. I’d keep McLouth, and have Taylor in AAA. There is a some chance that McLouth rebounds offensively, but if he doesn’t, Taylor is a phone call away. At most, we would be forced to play McLouth a game or two before taylor gets there. I see no reason to hinder Taylor’s development for that. He needs PAs and to learn to make more contact/recognize pitches better. I think he has to play every day.

    Wally

    19 Feb 15 at 12:53 pm

  12. I think McLouth’s trade value is nil right now. He took the 2-year deal with Washington to be a backup OF two years ago; he wasn’t a starter then and still isn’t a starter. I think the nats, even if they paid his entire freight, would be lucky to get a low-A prospect in return.

    Now, lets say McLouth has a hot April, bangs a couple of dingers … maybe he’s trade bait later on. But then again, nobody makes trades in April. I dunno.

    What’s better for Taylor? FT at AAA or part-time against MLB pitching? beats me. I could argue either way.

    Todd Boss

    19 Feb 15 at 2:51 pm

  13. I’ll argue for AAA. Folks have said that Taylor is very “coachable” and willing to work on things. it seems that in AAA you’d have a lot more flexibility to really focus on specific skills and not worry as much about results.

    DaveB

    19 Feb 15 at 6:37 pm

  14. If Harper and Span stay healthy and McLouth doesn’t have to play much in the way of meaningful time in CF or RF, then it’s probably OK for Taylor to get his cuts in AAA. If either of those guys gets hurt, I want Taylor out there for defense, even if he scuffles along at .200.

    I don’t think they’ll trade McLouth. I’m just saying that if their reserve OFs are McLouth and someone like Carp or Moore, they’re not well covered beyond LF. Will this make or break the regular season for the Nats? No. But this whole year will be about optimizing for the postseason. I want Taylor as a defensive sub on the postseason roster.

    KW

    19 Feb 15 at 9:44 pm

  15. Speaking of defensive subs, here’s hoping that Danny has worked as hard on his RH hitting as he apparently has on his Fu Manchu mustache.

    KW

    20 Feb 15 at 7:51 am

  16. Heath Bell: http://www.rotoworld.com/recent/mlb/3956/heath-bell He lost 40 pounds. Can he be a factor? His 2014 numbers were so bad that the Yankees released him from AAA.

    Todd Boss

    20 Feb 15 at 9:01 am

  17. I wonder if Espinosa and Werth have off-season “hair-offs.”

    Todd Boss

    20 Feb 15 at 9:02 am

  18. Whether Bell, Meek, Uggla, and Stewart can make the team, it’s good to have former all-star quality veterans in camp. Who knows which one might have a tip that can really help a younger player or two. In an interview yesterday, Fister talked about how much he learned from Scherzer and how he’s eager to be able to watch him again. We know how much the whole Nats’ staff learned from Fister, particularly about tempo. Janssen is another quality vet who will bring fresh eyes to camp.

    Frankly, one would hope that the fallen stars have some life/career lessons to impart as well. If Desmond can’t look at Uggla and see how fast a power-hitting middle infielder fell after signing a big contract in his early 30s, he’s not being honest about his near future. Of course the Bell comp would be Clippard – heavy use, great numbers, lost it quickly.

    KW

    20 Feb 15 at 10:25 am

  19. another NRI quickie post: http://espn.go.com/blog/sweetspot/post/_/id/55263/a-look-at-non-roster-invitees-nl-east Not much meat though. But topical to this thread.

    Todd Boss

    20 Feb 15 at 1:12 pm

  20. KW: Bell-Clippard comp. Yeah, heavy use, great numbers … and about 150 pounds. Clippard couldn’t keep weight ON, Bell couldn’t keep weight off :-)

    Todd Boss

    20 Feb 15 at 1:13 pm

  21. Seems like every offseason that I have been a baseball fan, I really look forward to spring training. Then it gets here, and you see every outlet writing the same stories, and I am tired of it after a few days. Nothing beats the real season, I guess.

    So, in that mood of wishing April was here, I was daydreaming instead of working, and came to the realization that it is an awesome time to be a baseball fan. To whit:
    – there is a heck of a lot of parity going on, so fans of almost any team doesn’t have to wait too long before they are in the hunt. Nothing shows this better than it was only two years ago that Loria’s Marlins sold off everyone but Stanton, and were generally vilified everywhere. But now they have genuine excitement for their season.
    – MLB is doing a great job with their media efforts. I am a big listener to the MLB channel on the radio, and their website offers pretty good stuff, too. I mean, you can’t completely get rid of the fluff pieces like ‘best shape of their life’, but there are a lot of articles that criticize some aspect of the game or a team, and I think MLB deserves credit for creating a system that minimizes the censorship of critical articles. MLB radio is particularly good at this, I think. I remember Jimbo getting Matt Silverman to call in, and his first question was ‘you have traded away several quality players without getting adequate return. How do you respond to people who are saying that you have punted on this season?’ (or something like that).
    – while i like the big club better than the minors, the coverage of prospects has become unbelievable. You can find in depth reporting on almost any prospect you want, with detailed analysis of strengths, weaknesses (or areas of concern), and big leaguers to compare them to, plus video. It really is amazing.

    The downside (and maybe the only one) is that it has gotten way too expensive to go to many games in person. I was a season ticketholder for the first 5 years, but it just got to be too much. Now that my son is 8 and has some interest, I plan to start going to minor league games more regularly. That will be a new experience for me, but the PNats, H Suns, and Frederick Keys are all within reach.

    Wally

    20 Feb 15 at 1:35 pm

  22. Wally; i’m with you on STs. We too were original ST holders, got completely screwed in the 2008 relocation and my entire group quit in disgust. I was called over and over last off-season and again this off-season by sales staff to re-up. Just too bad.

    Todd Boss

    20 Feb 15 at 2:20 pm

  23. Maybe Heath Bell just ate Clippard! As for Danny and his Fu Manchu, one unidentified clubhouse wag commented that Danny is hoping the pitchers won’t recognize him.

    As for the season ahead, it’s curious to contemplate. I’ve never followed a team before that is such a prohibitive favorite to win its division. It’s not just that the Nats are good; it’s also that the rest of the teams aren’t. It’s quite possible that the Nats won’t play what feels like a truly meaningful game until the playoffs. That doesn’t mean that they (and we) won’t be up to play other contenders, like the Dodgers, Cards, Giants, etc., but those games won’t be life or death for them, either. It will be up to Matt W. and the team leaders to keep the edge sharp.

    Minor-league games: Potomac is going to be incredibly stocked this year – Giolito, Lopez, Pivetta, Difo, Turner (eventually), Ward, Kieboom, Johansen. There may be 6-8 future major-leaguers on the roster. I usually try to get to a handful of games there but will shoot for a few more this season. I certainly want to see starts by Giolito and Lopez.

    We’ve recently covered the pros and cons of the Pfitz on Luke’s site, so I won’t repeat them. Check the promotions for special kid things. On some nights (weekends?), they let kids run the bases after the games, which my kids love. They also have fireworks pretty regularly. They used to have dollar nights every Monday they are at home – dollar general admission and for hot dogs and sodas. I don’t know if they’re still doing that, but it was a great deal.

    KW

    20 Feb 15 at 7:22 pm

  24. In the East, I think both the Mets and marlins will be frisky and give the Nats some games. Philly and Atlanta, not so much. So the Nats will have a “race” for a good portion of the season and then will pull away in Aug and Sept (kind of like last year actually).

    Remember; all they have to do is get into the playoffs and anything can happen. Detroit was routinely just winning upper 80s/low 90s and making it….

    Todd Boss

    21 Feb 15 at 11:23 am

  25. The overlooked big story of this month, and maybe longer, is the disclosure through mlb.com that there are 75 Cuban players essentially seeking eligibility for signing.

    We have focused on Moncada; at this point, it seems logical that a team that would not risk 160 million on Desmond or Zimmerman is not going to risk 80 million on Moncada. Leave him to the flush teams (those flush with cash and who have a propensity to flush it down the toilet) like the Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers to have a go at him. Or to spend 80m million on Olivera.

    But with that said, there are lots of gems who have not yet shown up on Ben Badler’s radar that excellent scouting would identify. Since many of those players enter at AA-AAA, this opportunity upon us is very much like an unregulated market that good investing can exploit, before major league baseball does regulate it. The Nats can shore up needs in lefty starting pitching, power hitting, and middle infield talents without waiting for trade yields for their free agents to be.

    With the Cuban wall eroding comes an advanced talent pool. Moreover, the expansion of the international talent pool could foretell baseball expanding its major league franchises into Puerto Rico, though the economics of major league sports would make expansion into Havana or the DR, beyond minor league affiliates, a bit hard to fathom. Still, a San Juan franchise with minor league affiliates in the Caribbean, or even a Cuban affiliate of that psychopath Loria is only a boat trip away.

    forensicane

    23 Feb 15 at 12:17 am

  26. Moncada to the Sox. Start the Zimmerman to the Sox rumors up. Lots of possibilities there….

    forensicane

    23 Feb 15 at 9:55 am

  27. Do you think the Nats are still jumpy after their Maya experiment? Understood there’s a gazillion cubans out there, but you have no idea how old they really are, nor do you really have any idea how they’ll fare against professional pitching. Puig got half of what Moncada just got; is Moncada going to be twice the player?

    There is *zero* chance of MLB expanding to San Juan or Mexico City. There’s just no money down there. The median salary in Mexico city is almost half of that in the US (about $29k) and its even less in San Juan ($19k or so). How are teams going to compete against clubs with $200M payrolls when they don’t have a billion dollar RSN and they have to charge 1/4 the ticket prices?

    Todd Boss

    23 Feb 15 at 10:30 am

  28. I don’t think the Nats are jumpy after their Maya experiment per se – their actions do seem to indicate that they believe that money is more effectively spent on a number of promising prospects rather than loading all the eggs into one basket. Certainly their prospect list reflects that there is some potential merit to their international prospecting.

    John C.

    23 Feb 15 at 12:28 pm

  29. http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2015/02/red-sox-to-sign-yoan-moncada.html

    Moncada gets a $30M signing bonus, which will cost the team double that b/c they were already over their bonus limits. So Boston thought he was worth $60M.

    Imagine what Harper or Strasburg would have commanded if they were not subject to the draft. Remember all the whining about Strasburg’s record bonus? Yeah; Boston just paid FOUR times that for a 19yr old.

    Todd Boss

    23 Feb 15 at 12:57 pm

  30. How much would a top prospect be worth on the real open market? We just found out: $63 million. Prospect insanity.

    KW

    23 Feb 15 at 1:05 pm

  31. KW

    23 Feb 15 at 1:06 pm

  32. Todd, we are saying the same thing re: San Juan and Mexico City as ML cities. But as minor league affiliates for the Marlins and Dodgers/SD/Anaheim, say in the PCL or Tejas League? Someone’s TV rights fees would skyrocket. Look at what happened with Japan and the Marlins after they signed Ichiro.

    As for Maya, it’s old news. They bid very aggressively on Aroldis Chapman and employ the man who signed him as their assistant to the GM. Among those 75 players there may well be talent that is worth bringing in for what they paid Anderson Franco or even Maya. Baldoquin and Lopez contracts were irrational exuberance; now that the market has flooded, the cache is no longer a cache.

    Plus, it’s al about development. And the Nats have confidence in their Latin American development program.

    forensicane

    23 Feb 15 at 5:15 pm

  33. The contrast between Desi’s approach to extension negotiations and that of JZimm’s is striking. Spring games will be an opportunity to scout other teams’ talent as well. I expect JZimm will not break camp with the team and Roark will be in the starting rotation come opening day.

    But Rizzo is smart an the Nats will not be impatient sellers. He knows what he wants and will wait for injuries to happen and tilt the market.

    forensicane

    24 Feb 15 at 10:56 am

  34. I just can’t see the Nats getting enough in return to give up a peak year of Zimmermann. Roark is good, but he’s not JZimm, particularly come playoff time. I don’t think there would be much regression to insert Roark for Fister if the latter could be traded, though. But I’m not counting on any big trades at this stage.

    KW

    24 Feb 15 at 12:49 pm

  35. Just remember, mid to late March is when all the elbows blow out & the shoulders break down.
    There will be at least 2-3 teams that will have a newfound need for starting pitching.

    Mark L

    24 Feb 15 at 6:14 pm

  36. ^^^^^^Possibly including the Nats

    John C.

    24 Feb 15 at 10:18 pm

  37. C’mon, there are no negative thoughts at the start of the spring!

    I’m not saying that a trade of one of the top starters is impossible, just not that likely. The Nats won’t change the high level of their asking price. If a team were to come calling for an emergency starter, it more likely would be for someone like one of the Taylors, Hill or Jordan.

    Plus John is right, for either now or later in the season – the Nats will need some starts from Roark, perhaps Treinen, and even Cole. It’s very rare that a team makes it through a season without one or more injuries to its starters. The starter depth is one of the great assets of this team.

    KW

    25 Feb 15 at 5:13 am

  38. Personally, i’m on record supporting the moving of Zimmermann (or Fister for that matter) and taking the possible step back by going with Roark as 5th starter. (succinct reasoning; you only have to win the division by one game, not 17, and our division is pretty weak).

    But KW is right; it’ll be *really* hard to get value for Zimmermann at this point. Teams are smart; they don’t give up top-tier prospects for one year of control of a $15M player.

    # of starters per year: in both 2012 and 2014 the Nats were lucky and used just 8 starters. In 2013 not so much; they cobbled together a 5th starter and had to use 10 starters. 2011 is basically a different “era” at this point, but same story; 11 starters. Sooo if you read the tea leaves, sorry to be negative but the team is “due” for some injury luck regression in 2015. So, maybe there’s some thought to keeping all your starters and just assuming that you’re going to be throwing Roark in the rotation for 2 months at a time, and perhaps calling up Blake “super sinker” Treinen and Taylor “remember me?” Jordan or maybe even A.J. “hey i’m only 23” Cole for some spot starts.

    Todd Boss

    25 Feb 15 at 12:08 pm

  39. Do you know what would be a good, lower level ‘get’ for the team at this stage? Rob Refsnyder. He profiles as a decent bat that can play 2b and 3b passably, and was an OF in college, so he can fill in for stretches at 4 positions. A perfect kind of role player for us. I think our current bench is fine if no one gets seriously gets hurt, but I can’t see playing TMo, Espy, McLouth or Frandsen for two months while someone recovers from injury. This guy might be different. Ref is in the mix for 2B with NYY, but I don’t think they see him as a starter since they signed Drew, plus Pirella is a similar player.

    I wonder what it would take to get him, maybe one of the lesser pitching prospects (ie non Giolito/Fedde/Lopez) close to the majors? I like Treinen > Cole> Jordan > Hill, so I would probably start with Jordan but give them Cole, if necessary. That might be a slight overpay by us, so maybe we get a kid off their short season teams, or expand it to include Murphy and we give them a lesser prospect too.

    I think I would do that deal.

    Wally

    25 Feb 15 at 1:53 pm

  40. Great minds think alike, or something. Earlier in the winter, when there was talk of the Yankees needing starters, I looked at their prospects, and the one who really jumped out for me as someone who could help the Nats was Refsnyder. Unfortunately, the Evil Empire seems to think very highly of him, to the point that they might want even more than Cole for him. At the time I was looking, I was thinking of him as a big part of a potential return for J-Zimm.

    KW

    25 Feb 15 at 9:07 pm

  41. I wonder if the Yankees are in “lets wait out our awful contracts” mode for a few more years. Teixeira, A-Rod, Sabathia. Of course that didn’t stop them from committing $20M+ a year to Ellsbury and Tanaka recently. They just can’t help themselves. Can’t see them really moving prospects right now. Are they really competing in the AL east?

    Nats have good coverage if they lose any of their three outfielders in Taylor. They have good coverage if they lose a stater. But yeah if they start losing corner infielders to injury, it gets ugly fast.

    Todd Boss

    26 Feb 15 at 10:50 am

  42. Along the “injury” lines, here’s hoping this gets posted all over Viera: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/the-death-of-head-first-sliding-hopefully/.

    KW

    27 Feb 15 at 8:51 am

  43. […] discussed Non Roster Invites (NRI) last year (link to 2015’s post) at the behest of reader forensicane, and it was such a good topic that, upon seeing […]

  44. […] Third year running for this post: Here’s a link to 2016’s version and a link to 2015’s post. […]

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