Nationals Arm Race

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

Operation Bullpen Makeover Status Report


Welcome to the Nats Mr. Gott. Photo via gettyimages

Welcome to the Nats Mr. Gott. Photo via gettyimages

At the end of the 2015 season, our (primary 7-man not including 9/1 callups) bullpen looked like this:

  • Papelbon, Janssen, Treinen, Thornton*, Rivero*, Fister and Solis* (Stammen, Barrett, Storen on the D/L)

Then half these guys (Janssen, Thornton and Fister) hit the road via Free Agency, already leaving huge holes to fill.  In fact as of just a week ago after this was what our Opening Day 2016 bullpen would have looked like:

  • Papelbon, Storen, Treinen, Stammen, Rivero*, Solis* and Martin as a long-man I guess (Barrett to go to the 60 day D/L as soon as  he’s eligible).

After a flurry of moves in the past 10 days, here’s what we’re looking at now:

  • (Papelbon, Storen) Gatt, Kelley, Treinen, Perez*, Rivero*, Petit

And presumably there’s more work to be done (you have to think we’ll acquire a Proven Closer™ to replace the Papelbon/Storen combo).   But, so far, not a bad week for Mr. Rizzo.

Quick thoughts on each move (in chronological order)

  • Craig Stammen non-tender: discussed at length in the Non-tender deadline preview post comment section.  I didn’t like it for reasons discussed ad naseum, but agree that the team must have decided the risk was too much.
  • Oliver Perez signing 2yrs/$7M: good 2015 numbers in the NL with Arizona, then not so much in 12 innings with Houston.  His LHP-LHB splits are good while righties hit him at an .881 OPS clip in 2015.  I guess that’s as good of a Matt Thornton replacement as we need.
  • Yusmeiro Petit signing 1yr/$2.5M after getting non-tendered by SF.  An odd move by SF; his 2015 regular season numbers were just fine to me.  An ERA+ over a 100, flexibility to go long or go short.  And the Nats certainly remember getting shut down by him in the 2014 NLDS.  A good move for me as a near like-for-like replacement for Stammen (with the exception that Petit can go longer than Stammen could so he could be the long-man as needed).
  • Shawn Kelley for 3yrs/$15M (as reported); three straight years of fantastic swing and miss stuff (11-12 K/9 rates).  Great option to add as an 8th inning guy/eventual setup role, eventually replacing what Casey Janssen never did.
  • Trevor Gott in trade for Yunel Escobar: it seems like an underwhelming return for Escobar on the face of it.  Escobar was our 2nd leading hitter last year and played multiple infield positions.  But his batting average was pretty “empty” (he slugged .415) and his defense was abhorrent (not that he ever should have been playing 3B once Anthony Rendon came back … but that’s another gripe).  I think what it does indicate is the rising cost of good relievers and the fact that Escobar has one year of control while Gott has just 114 days of service time and is thus controlled for at least *six* more seasons, three of which will be at the pittance MLB minimum.  Gott’s numbers as a 22  yr old were pretty good; 125 ERA+, an ERA right around 3.00.  Not a ton of swing and miss so far in the majors but he was a closer in the minors and seems like a good 6th/7th inning guy (in other words, a Barrett replacement for the time being).

This configuration leaves a slew of projected relievers set to start in AAA or on the D/L:

  • D/L: Barrett (60dl), likely lost for the whole year
  • RH middle relievers: Martin, eDavis, de los Santos,
  • Loogies: Solis*, Grace*, Lee*
  • Long Men options: Jordan, Hill, Espino

What’s left to do?

  • Flip Storen for value
  • Dump Papelbon for a couple of pizzas
  • Find a for-real closer; its going to cost some serious stuff, based on the Craig Kimbrel and Ken Giles trades.  Be ready for it.
  • Sign some more veteran relievers for AAA like we always do.

Questions for the group;

  • Do you like the configuration of this bullpen so far?  Assuming we get a for-real closer and dump Storen and Papelbon, would you say that its an improvement over last year?
  • Is this too many new players to gel properly?  Don’t we always hear about how pitchers are creatures of habit and how “Teams” take a while to gel and play well together?  We’re basically throwing out a bunch of guys in that pen who will have never even met, let alone build camaraderie.  Do you worry about this?  Or do you believe that “winning builds chemistry” and that players are just cyber machines who you charge up in the morning with Red Bull and then slot them into their roles and they magically produce?  (If you couldn’t read between the lines in that sentence of sarcasm to tell what I think … well I can’t help you 🙂


26 Responses to 'Operation Bullpen Makeover Status Report'

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  1. On Escobar: it was actually two years of Escobar, since his contract has a club option of $7M for 2017 (with a $1M buyout). On the flip side, not only was Escobar a disaster defensively and his batting average was “empty;” his performance is extremely unlikely to repeat. He’s 33, and just had the best year offensively that he’s had since 2011. Further, his performance was built on a BABIP that was 65 points higher than his 2014 BABIP (which was, in turn, the highest he posted in the 2012-14 time frame). There’s nothing in his batted ball profile to suggest that there’s any fundamental change – it was just one of those years.

    So yeah, it was a “sell high” on Escobar, with the unfortunate side note that other GMs can read, too, or at least have people who work for them that can. So a decent return (six years of a power arm + a discount lottery ticket) and you move on.

    FWIW, I’m not entirely certain that Papelbon and Storen are going anywhere. I do think that chemistry is something that fans tend to speculate about and then overvalue the result of that speculation (“I think the team chemistry sucks, therefore DOOOOM!”). That said, I think Rizzo may well make a move at a significant discount if he sees a chemistry problem. But I doubt he makes a move as a pure dump.

    John C.

    11 Dec 15 at 11:15 am

  2. I’m surprised at the level of bullpen turnover. We knew/hoped there would be some, but we’ve already got four new pieces, and I doubt Rizzo is done. FWIW, the four new guys collectively won’t cost the $31M O’Day will get.

    I’ll split the difference between you two and say that I can see one staying from Pap and Storen, but not both, not after the shopping spree this week. Pap is The Closer (TM) unless and until they find another. Storen is more tradeable and more eager for a new address, and therefore more likely to leave. They’re not giving Pap away.

    As noted yesterday, I’m a little disappointed in the return for Escobar. I’ve thought all offseason that they would “sell high” on him if given the chance, but I was hoping for more. If Gott turns into Clippard or Kimbrel, I’ll reconsider. We’ll see. With Gott on board, there may be less thought of moving Lopez to the ‘pen. But the Nats needed prospects in the field more than they needed another young RH arm.


    11 Dec 15 at 12:40 pm

  3. Escobar return: JohnC listed well the reasons why we probably should be thankful for what we got. I would have thought Escobar would have been the starting 2nd baseman for this team going into 2016; now I wonder if the team is looking for a 2nd baseman starter. I hate to say it but Daniel Murphy would fit the bill; lefty hitter, 2nd with some positional flexibility. I’m certainly not advocating losing our 18th overall pick (or wherever it stands now) to sign Murphy, just saying.

    Todd Boss

    11 Dec 15 at 1:14 pm

  4. I’ve been seeing buzz about Jimmy Rollins, which scares me (.285 OBP last season, OPS+ of 78). Is it too much of a stretch to roll with Espi and Turner?


    11 Dec 15 at 1:31 pm

  5. Heyward to the Cubs. I’m sort of relieved that the Nats aren’t ponying up that much, but the Cubs look to be building a monster.


    11 Dec 15 at 1:46 pm

  6. Shoot me if the Nats buy Rollins. Heyward: to me not worth the money given his lack of power. But yeah the Cubs are ridiculous. It seems like it was just a matter of time before that beast awoke. Good luck beating them for the next 5 years. Maybe the Nats look at Alex Gordon now?

    Todd Boss

    11 Dec 15 at 1:49 pm

  7. I think I am going to hold off any conclusions on the bullpen makeover until I know it’s done, and I see a little more about the acquisitions. But after last year, different may be good enough for now.

    As for Heyward, I don’t mind losing out on him. Lot of money plus I don’t want to lose the pick. I am developing an anti-Cubs feeling though. Just feels like they are the cool kids now, and I mean that in a derogatory way. Maybe I am just jealous that it seems like everyone wants to play for them.

    But is still like to see the Nats get Gardner. I feel like he would be a very good fit across multiple fronts. Wonder what it would cost.


    11 Dec 15 at 2:02 pm

  8. just based on published rumors and reports, I’d say the Nats were behaving very erraticly this offseason. Almost randomly, like they were panicked. I assume many of the rumors, like the Leake interest, were overblown.

    I also hope the trade of Escobar indicates a higher emphasis on defensive efficiency. Rendon at 3d and Espy at SS provide high quality D, as does MAT in center. But MAT, Espy and Ramos may be too much to carry in the line up, especially if you also throw in Turner as a rookie. That’s one reason why Gardner fits well.


    11 Dec 15 at 2:18 pm

  9. I don’t think the Nats are alone in their semi-random casting about. The same could be said for the Cards, Dodgers, Giants, and Mets, among others. They’ve all taken stabs in various directions and come up short. And frankly, all may be hurting more in certain areas than the Nats are after not landing their big fish. The Mets don’t have enough firepower, the Cards needed Heyward, and the Cards, Giants, and Dodgers all need rotation help.

    In the meantime, Rizzo has strategically and economically rebuilt the bullpen, the one area he HAD to get right. He really wanted O’Day and Zobrist but drew the line where I would have, both in years and money. Heyward was sort of a pot-shot and did drive up the price. I have no idea why we would touch Leake with a 10-foot pole; maybe Dusty wanted him.

    So . . . there are still 14 shopping days left until Christmas, and the Nats have a lot of headroom in the budget.


    11 Dec 15 at 2:38 pm

  10. Todd, here’s your Faustian bargain: Rollins, Drew (Boras client, former D-Back), Uggla, or just rolling with Espi, Turner, and Difo? If those are the options, I like the current hand.


    11 Dec 15 at 2:40 pm

  11. I’d absolutely take what we have on hand (Espi, Turner, Difo) versus Rollins, Drew and Uggla. Jimmy Rollins stopped hitting like 5 years ago. Drew is replacement level and Uggla’s bat could be replicated by a 2015 draftee at this point.

    Todd Boss

    11 Dec 15 at 3:44 pm

  12. Read an interesting point in Tom Verducci’s winter meetings wrapup. If you look at the NL:
    – NL East: Atlanta, Philadelphia clearly rebuilding, Miami not far behind. Basically a two-team division.
    – NL Central: Milwaukee and now Cincinnati in sell-off, leaving Stl, Chi and Pit to compete.
    – NL West: Padres drafted 4 rule-5 players and Colorado in sell-mode. That leaves LA, SF, Ariz trying.

    That’s 8 teams trying, 7 teams NOT trying in the NL. 8 Teams competing for 5 playoff spots.

    Todd Boss

    11 Dec 15 at 3:48 pm

  13. Yeah, the NL has been weird lately, with a HUGE gap between the haves and have-nots.

    John C.

    11 Dec 15 at 3:58 pm

  14. If the Nats really feel like they need another LH bat, and they act like they do, trade for Vogt from the A’s. Since he can actually hit, we won’t even care whether he can catch throws from the OF. If they get Reddick thrown in the deal, all the better. Catcher, extra OF, and LH bat issues all solved.


    11 Dec 15 at 5:29 pm

  15. I hear you on Vogt, but I still have a hunch we’ll see Norris again.

    And I am curious why none of you seem to share my enthusiasm for Gardner. To me, he’s a lead off LHB that can play CF or LF, perfect for adding to Werth and MAT. Reasonable contract and control years. Do you see him as declining, or too cost prohibitive to get?


    11 Dec 15 at 5:40 pm

  16. FYI – Zuckerman is leaving CSN and shutting down Nats Insider.


    11 Dec 15 at 5:46 pm

  17. Wally, I personally haven’t seen that much of Gardner as I don’t see much of the AL.

    Here’s something I was piddling with before I saw your post. I’ll include Gardner. What I’ve got are OPS+ for the last three years for each player, OFs who could be available. There are many other measures that could be used, but I found this one interesting:

    Gardner: 110, 111, 106
    Heyward: 114, 109, 116
    Gordon: 103, 118, 120
    Span: 94, 113, 114
    Parra: 85, 96, 110
    Fowler: 102, 120, 107
    Reddick: 91, 116, 113
    Ethier: 121, 97, 136
    Ozuna: 90, 114, 90

    J Upton: 124, 133, 121
    Cespedes: 116, 98, 137
    Puig: 159, 145, 109

    Of course there are some huge disparities on defense and in other facets of the game, plus differences in age and price. But this is a good snapshot of general production at the plate. I have a sinking feeling that the Nats may end up with Parra, who frankly just isn’t that good. Like Todd, I have no enthusiasm for Fowler, particularly with a QO attached. As noted several months ago, I think the Nats would have interest in Span for a couple of years, but not for the five that Boras will be trying to get for him. For reference, Michael A. posted a 72 OPS+ last season, a reminder that he may not be ready for prime time.


    11 Dec 15 at 10:42 pm

  18. Zuckerman/ definitely disappointing news. You could argue that I owe my site’s awareness to Zuckerman’s graciousness for putting me on his blogroll; still to this day the #2 driver of traffic referrals is his site. If CSN “bought” the webpage, why wouldn’t Chase hughes just continue to use it as his blogging platform? Not sure why it needs to be shutdown.

    Gardner: I don’t know jack about him, other than his playing in New York and all the hype going with it tending me to believe he’s over-valued by default. I know he can play CF, but would he be any good there? Ethier is a sneaky good candidate; he put up good numbers by and large in NL West parks.

    Todd Boss

    12 Dec 15 at 8:07 am

  19. Yes, Ethier was one of the guys whose numbers stood out from that exercise. It surprised me, as he really hasn’t been much of a HR power guy in recent years. He’s still owed a fair amount of money, but only for two seasons (plus option/buyout). He’s said to be available, and probably for a reasonable deal, as the Dodgers need to shed an OF/contract.

    Kilgore on the coming FA apocalypse in three years:


    12 Dec 15 at 8:48 am

  20. KW – that’s helpful data. It also shows that Span, if healthy, is still a pretty good option and fit. Maybe there is a way for him to return.

    Ethier is hard to see happening. The money is quite high, and he doesn’t handle CF nearly as well as some others. Plus with Joc struggling in 2d half and Puig kind of crazy, they may value him now.


    12 Dec 15 at 9:06 am

  21. Back to the subject of this post, Rizzo said at NatsFest, or Winterfest, or whatever they call it, that the Nats are moving on from looking at Chapman while the investigation plays out. He also said, per Chelsea Janes, that “there’s plenty of other targets we have, and we’re going to move on to those.” Hmm, doesn’t sound like he’s done with the bullpen!


    12 Dec 15 at 3:35 pm

  22. More OF buzz now. Heyman says the Nats offered Gio for Yelish, quickly turned down. (Sorry, but I don’t want to trade Gio, with so many other uncertainties in the rotation.) Talk heating up again about the Denver duo of CarGo and Blackmon. The latter has terrible splits away from Coors, and CarGo’s aren’t great; his road OBP was only .294.

    Rizzo said today that the Nats are still in touch with Span, still monitoring his medical situation, which sounded like they haven’t ruled him out.


    12 Dec 15 at 11:00 pm

  23. Hey, all!! Just checking in from the ashes of NI… Sad about that.
    I like the BP moves, and am less concerned about immediate chemistry that about the pieces being used properly, which was a real issue, over the last two years. I think that, if TT shines in ST, I’d be cool with him starting in April. He seems to adjust, in a few weeks to each advancing level, has had a few ABs already, and should make the IF D second to none, as soon as he steps on the field, at 2b. As to service time, I hope they extend him, before it becomes an issue…. GYFNGOGOGO!!!


    13 Dec 15 at 10:47 am

  24. Yeah, I saw that Danny said at Winterfest that he’s the SS and Turner will be his double-play partner. Don’t know whether that’s what he has been told, or what he is hoping. I’m good with Danny at SS. He might challenge for a Gold Glove with Simmons now in the AL.


    13 Dec 15 at 8:18 pm

  25. Turner is obviously more valuable as a SS … if he can play there. Agree on Espinosa’s SS prowness; I often thought that when it was Desmond/Espinosa they had the lesser player at short. These things happen.

    I’m ok with an either or; frankly its not that much of a stretch for the two guys to swap back and forth.

    Todd Boss

    14 Dec 15 at 9:41 am

  26. Gio for Yelich: the way I read it was this: Miami called asking about Gio, Nats said “ok you want Gio we want Yelich” and they quickly hung up. Gonzalez, despite his flaws, is now a pretty darn valuable asset. A #3-#4 starter for $12M (with two more like options) is at least 25% or more off of the “retail price” for such an asset. John Lackey just got $16M a year at the age of 38 by way of comparison, and he’s a righty. So frankly Gio for Yelich probably was fair and the Marlins just don’t want to hear it.

    Todd Boss

    14 Dec 15 at 9:47 am

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