Nationals Arm Race

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

Ladson Inbox 3/22/16


Michael Taylor has been lighting it up this spring. Photo via wp

Michael Taylor has been lighting it up this spring. Photo via wp

Bill Ladson‘s inboxes seem to now just be sporadic Spring Training devices.  I should do more post-Boswell chat reaction posts to drum up conversation.  Nonetheless, here’s Ladson’s latest mailbag and how i’d have answered the questions he took.

Q: Former Nationals general manager Jim Bowden believes Michael Taylor should be the starting left fielder over Jayson Werth. What is your take on it?

A: My take is, “thats why Jim Bowden isn’t a GM anymore.”  Or even a manager.  Yes Michael Taylor has had a great spring.  He also struck out, a lot, in 2015, (158 Ks in 511 PAs for a nifty 31% clip) and (per his splits) didn’t really improve much as the season progressed.   Meanwhile Jayson Werth put up very, very good numbers in 2013 and 2014, the two most recent seasons when he wasn’t hurt.  In both of those seasons he put up oWAR of 4.7 (his total bWAR figures being drug down by his idiot manager continuing to play him in RF instead of left).

Of course, Werth isn’t getting any younger.  There’s not guarantee that he hasn’t fallen off a cliff of performance.

So what’s the answer?  You let Werth play his way to the bench.  The odds are that someone’s getting hurt in our OF and Taylor is going to get 400-500 ABs anyway.  So he’s gonna get playing time.  But there’s just no way that Dusty Baker the “veteran’s manager” is going to sit a long-time vet and team leader by virtue of a few weeks of Florida ABs.  It may take half a season of under-performance, but eventually these things sort themselves out.  This is basically what Ladson said too.

Q: What do you think is Baker’s toughest decision before heading north?

A: What socks to wear on opening day?  Honestly, there’s really very little to decide upon with this team.  They’ve had a very injury-free spring.  The rotation was basically settled upon months ago.  The trades that Mike Rizzo made to solidify the roster also had the effect of basically locking up the roster going north.  Maybe there will be a surprise in the bullpen but that seems unlikely too; the team acquired all these guys for a reason and it wasn’t to compete for a bullpen slot.

The obvious answer prior to spring training was “who starts at Shortstop” but I’ve never thought there was any question that Danny Espinosa will be the starter.  That’s not to say I don’t recognize the potential of Trea Turner (he’s not a top 10-15 prospect on most pundits’ sheets for nothing), but returning to a theme, I just had a hard time thinking that a manager like Baker was going to go with a guy with 5 weeks of service time over a guy with nearly 5 years.  As with Taylor/Werth though, this situation likely sorts itself out.  If Espinosa hits .200 for April, then he’ll switch places with Stephen Drew and the team will start thinking hard about bringing back up Turner (especially if he’s hitting .320 in AAA).

I think there’s still some question at the edge of the bench; do you go with who I think they’ll go with (Tyler Moore and Clint Robinson) or do we get a surprise DFA so they can stick with someone like Matt den DekkerLadson also says its the last bench spot, where Moore is the incumbent but a number of guys could stick based on spring performance, specifically Scott Sizemore, who might be a bit more positionally flexible than Moore.

Q: What is your biggest concern about the Nationals?

A: Bullpen.  We’ve talked about how the Nats, despite all their injuries on offense last year, really struggled in terms of run prevention as the core reason they went from 96 to 83 wins.  Now they’re rolling out nearly a 100% changed bullpen from opening day last year.  How will it perform?  Will it be able to hold down the fort?

We also likely are taking a step back in the rotation, unless Strasburg remembers his September form and brings that from day one.  But, we hopefully counter this with a step forward in offense, with healthy seasons from Anthony Rendon and the veterans.  Ladson also says Bullpen.

Q: Who do you see having a breakout year in the Nationals’ farm system?

A: Well, do you count Giolito at this point?  Probably not.  I’m going to go with the prospects who are getting publicity but who are still in the lower minors.  Guys like Victor Robles, Anderson Franco.  I’d like to see what Max Schrock can do.  I’m excited to see what Taylor Hearn can bring to the table with a full season.  The two Lees: Andrew Lee and Nick LeeLadson mentions Severino; meh; i think we know what we have with Severino by now; great catcher, no hit, #8 hitter in the majors.  I think you see this team let both Ramos and Lobaton go this coming off-season and find a new starter with Severino as the backup.  But that’s a year away so lots could change.

Q: Should the Nationals consider trading Stephen Strasburg before the non-waiver Trade Deadline since it seems he has no interest in returning to Washington next year?

A: Nope.  You try to WIN when you have guys like Strasburg, not flip them away like you’re some small market team stashing away prospects for the future.  This isn’t Tampa Bay; this is the #5 market in the nation.  Besides, who said Strasburg has “no interest” in returning to Washington??  I’ve never read that.  His agent is Scott Boras, who always advises going to free agency, and next year’s FA class is weak, meaning Strasburg will probably get into a bidding war for his services.  Its the modern game; he’ll be overpaid, he’ll get too many years, and he’ll likely get priced out of the comfort level of Ted Lerner and company.  But that’s not the same as implying that Strasburg doesn’t want to be playing in Washington.  Would you give Strasburg 8yrs/$200M?  Because that’s the going rate for an Ace-quality guy like him on the market.  Ladson agrees.

Q: What do you think of Blake Treinen? Is he a starter or reliever?

A: I think  he’s a starter at heart but a reliever in reality.  That is unless he can actually develop a 50-55 grade third pitch that he can reliably get lefties out with.  If that’s the case, then he could become a very effective starter.  And it does seem like the Nationals are thinking the same thing.  He’s definitely pitching this spring like he’s a starter; perhaps the team is thinking about Treinen as the longer guy instead of PetitLadson says he’s showing progress and his spring stats are good; is he the 6th starter over A.J. Cole or Austin Voth at this point?  If someone goes down with injury, are you trying out Trienen or are you calling up the kid Giolito?


12 Responses to 'Ladson Inbox 3/22/16'

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  1. Werth vs. Taylor: Agree. Werth will play and still seems to have something left in the tank offensively. Baker will use Taylor a time or two a week to spell Werth and perhaps will platoon him some in CF with Revere. I also hope Taylor gets some late-inning defensive work in CF, with Revere moving to LF.

    Strasburg trade: At this stage or before the trade deadline, no way. I’m not a big fan of trying to re-sign him at the price he’ll command, though.

    Bench: Lobaton, Drew, Robinson, Taylor, and . . . Heisey or Sizemore. I like den Dekker, but they’ll go with another RH bat. That seat on the bench will be tenuous, though, as that’s where Danny will be whenever Trea is coronated.

    SS: Probably Danny, but don’t sleep on an Espy/Drew platoon. Anything to keep Danny out of the LH batter’s box.

    Treinen: Yes, for now, he’s probably the “6th starter,” with Arroyo possibly assuming that title in May/June. I’m still saying July/August for the Giolito arrival, baring long-term injury.


    23 Mar 16 at 2:05 pm

  2. Prospects I’m watching:

    –Rey Lopez. Is he the next Giolito? The next Rivero (switching to power reliever)? Or the next Johannsen (Heaven forbid)? If he can emerge as a near-MLB-ready power starter or closer, it would be a big deal for the franchise.

    –Robles, particularly his power “tool.” He’ll just be turning 19 in May. If he can hit 10-15 HRs at A- and advance to Potomac, he will skyrocket up the prospect charts. If he can’t show power, there’s still going to be the nagging concern that he may just be another Andrew Stevenson.

    –Andrew Lee and Koda Glover. Power relievers, or power starters?

    –The nearly forgotten Drew Ward. Can he prove himself in his second stint at A+? Can he show the power he’s projected to have? Can he actually play 3B, or will he have to move to 1B?

    –The bonus babies from last year, Watson, Perkins, and Soto, plus Anderson Franco, who’s even younger than the first two.

    –Like Todd, I’m intrigued by Hearn. I think Schrock may have been an over-pay, but I’d be glad to have him prove me wrong.

    –Voth. Will he get an MLB debut this year? Is he an MLB talent?

    –ANY catcher. Can any of you guys hit? Please? I concur in having very little hope in Severino as an MLB regular.


    23 Mar 16 at 2:21 pm

  3. On the first post, “baring long-term injury” to one of the guys currently in the rotation. I don’t don’t know that they would bring Giolito up for just a spot start or two.


    23 Mar 16 at 2:25 pm

  4. Geez–you KNOW the Nats are having a great spring when even hack Bill Ladson manages not to fumble of dissemble on a singe question in his column. 🙂

    Regarding the remaining roster “battles,” my hope is that den Dekker gets the call, after his excellent 99 AB Nats’ debut last year, though I can see the argument for Moore or ever Sizemore to give the bench a perfect righty-lefty balance.

    I’m also hoping Sean Burnett wins the last bullpen slot over Gott. The latter can be the first man up from AAA when they need him, which if history holds, they will before the season’s first month is over.

    As for prospect breakouts, I’m just hoping to see some position players start hitting for the full season affiliates, as last year was a disaster in that regard. Potomac, for example, as a team hit only 49 HRs and scored only 521 runs, compared to 82 HRs and 635 runs scored in 2014. Their collective OPS dropped from .711 to .663. And the other full season affiliates didn’t fare much better.

    Karl Kolchack

    23 Mar 16 at 7:52 pm

  5. Karl, I agree on hoping for Burnett. It would be nice to keep him in the fold and letting Gott find consistency in Syracuse wouldn’t be the worst decision.

    Unrelated, is anyone else stunned by ESPN’s BBTN Top 100? Only 3 Nats? Seriously? Seems odd for one of the top teams in the league, especially considering some of the other names that were included towards the bottom. In particular I think Rendon, Zim and Werth merit consideration. Possibly even Murphy. Thoughts?


    24 Mar 16 at 2:28 pm

  6. @MG – Rendon deserves consideration if he stays healthy this year and plays like he did in 2014. Let’s not forget that he has only one good year under his belt at this point. Murphy was probably on the bubble for the Top 100, and his poor defensive reputation probably didn’t help him. Werth and Zim both looked old and crippled last year and need to bounce back, at least offensively.

    Otherwise, that list hits on exactly how the Nats are constructed–two truly great players and one near great one surrounded by lots of guys with good track records, some of whom need to prove they can stay healthy for a whole season. Injuries are the key–if the Nats avoid them they should be very good; if they DL starts stacking up again, they could miss the playoffs for a second straight year.

    Karl Kolchack

    24 Mar 16 at 5:10 pm

  7. I’m perfectly fine with the Nats being underrated, both collectively and individually. I just got the SI baseball preview issue with the Mets on the cover and picked to win 95, nine more than the Nats. Looks like an NYC-based publication has drunk the Kool-Aid. Again, I’m fine with being the underdog. I get the sense that Dusty likes that position, too.

    I generally agree on Nats in the top 100, with three. If Rendon is healthy, he’s the fourth, in the top 50. He sure has been looking good the last few days in FLA. Tony Two Bags is back!

    It’s a solid squad . . . except for maybe the bullpen. There’s also plenty of very talented youth on the cusp, as Boz has just noted, so there’s potential to have a good handful in the top 100 three or four years from now as well.


    24 Mar 16 at 9:03 pm

  8. Luke listed some cuts for Nats ( Van Orden, Dupra , Dickson, etc.). You talked a lot about the logjam at lower levels … Any surprises for you?


    25 Mar 16 at 7:39 am

  9. Here’s my thoughts on the cuts so far:
    – mcGregor: not surprising; he was a release candidate already and seemed like he was competing for a spot in a pretty crowded AAA bullpen.
    – Gorski: off-season signing was a lottery ticket to beat out a home grown guy; didn’t happenl.
    – Dickson: not completely surprised; made no progress, too many walks.
    – Dupra: way too old for where he’s gotten to at this point; was a release canddiate.
    – Walsh: shocked. Makes no sense to me; his numbers are great at every level; as i mentioned last fall, something is weird with this guy; he didn’t get promoted when his numbers seemed to warrant it previously.
    – Amlung; kind a surprised; he was a MLFA signing so maybe they thought there wasn’t as much invested. why did htey re-sign him for 2016 if they were t hinking of cutting him? i dunno.
    – Van Orden; numbers game; he didn’t impress enough in low-A and the team has 3 more lefty starters moving up the pike.
    – Napoli: 25 in low A.
    – Copping: 4.76 era in rookie ball as a 22yr old senior sign; not gonna do it. no surprise here.

    Todd Boss

    25 Mar 16 at 9:13 am

  10. Good thoughts. I thought Van Orden in particular would at least get another year. It’s interesting that they kept Bach but not Van Orden, as the latter had the edge based on stats. There’s only half a year of age difference.

    They’re really clearing out the system for the younger arms moving up.


    25 Mar 16 at 10:04 am

  11. Hi everyone, been unable to post for a while but thanks Todd and co. for this blog, as always…a few thoughts

    1) Quite a promising spring, that is for sure. Whatever clubhouse poison conjured by the WashPo rumor mongers has dissipated into forgotten news. There has been little to no focus on weaknesses, and unlike 2015, the prospect of departing starting marquee players to free agency (Strasburg, Ramos) draws a shrug.

    b) What a marvelous job the Nats have done with rebuilding the depth of the farm system. The 2015 draft appears to have been a real comeback effort and complementing a true stable of talented Latino arms. All within budget. So eager to see how an increased international budget, with the same philosophy, will play out, especially with the Cuban marketplace opening up.

    c) Not that I expect any credit for this, but I was the one poster at the beginning prior to the spring who called attention to Scott Sizemore, and to Jason Martinson. I’m excited for the former and hopeful for the latter, again showing his upside and downside of lots of K’s. But he is still around and I am pleased he survived the organizational purge (to date).

    d) The minor league cuts reflect a great depth of arms in the system. In my unqualified estimation, there were cuts here who went faster that would have happened in other years. The prime example here is van Orden. A recent higher draft pick and polished college product, he started very well last year and faded. A fifth round pick, and with the smarts of a Duke pedigree. When someone like that is bounced that soon, it tells me it is a brute numbers game. Jake Walsh is a guy that many of us have wondered why he was not being promoted, based on performance — he never failed to even raise the idea that he could not make it. Thus the lefty relief situation in the lower minors is improving. Amlung showed some promise last year after being picked up — and he re-signed after the year as a FA. So again, this tells me that the crop of arms from the 2015 and 2014 drafts washing up on the lower minors has too much to offer. No Dominican program arms among those released. These are folks who will be competing at Hagerstown and Potomac this year.

    e) The organization, depth wise and health wise, has taken a big step forward. It’s nice to see that Syracuse will give Billy Gardner a roster with many dynamic players. Those fans got screwed a couple of years ago in the playoffs when the Nats drained their talent. Now they will have even more than expected, with Tyler Moore there as an everyday player.

    f) Any idea who the PTBNL from the Blue Jays will be?

    g) So happy for Michael Taylor. I’ve been on his bandwagon always. It seems Werth will get a certain period of time to prove he cannot play everyday. But Taylor’s progress, the evolution of the Nats into being Harper’s team, and the excitement over the Nats outfielders in the minor leagues are truly expediting Werth’s end. Depending, of course, on Zimmerman’s health.

    h) Also so nice to see Tanner Roark re-emerge. I don’t think the Nats lose by using and developing Treinen as a starter in Syracuse,especially because Petit is a capable long reliever and there are several high quality bullpen options (including Sean Burnett and yes, Rafael Martin). It’s nice to imagine a AAA rotation of five of Treinen, Cole, Jordan, Espino, Laffey, and Voth, with Giolito in AA and all available for the callup as need be. That would be a bold move by the Nats, and I suppose it depends on their expected vision beyond Papelbon 2016.

    i) Trea Turner, barging his way in. Espi, rediscovering his old stroke (oy). Drew?

    j) Ramos, making all forget Lucroy. Ah, the deals one never makes.

    k) Finally, the minor leaguers I am watching – because I think they will elevate their expected ceiling or because I would like to see what they can do, fully healthy. I will avoid mentioning the obvious (Robles, Giolito, Severino, ALee, Glover) that have attracted so much discussion here and on Luke’s site to hopefully add a bit:

    Bryan Mejia, Andrew Stevenson, Max Schrock, Difo, Marmelos-Diaz, Voth, Rafael Bautista, Hector Silvestre, Joan Baez, Pedro Avila, Kieboom, Kelvin Gutierrez, Sammy Solis.

    Ah, spring. Let’s see how this looks in six months.


    26 Mar 16 at 10:49 pm

  12. Great Summary forensicane.

    Sizemore: definitely looking to me like the 25th guy. He was at 3B against the Cardinals, a prime example of why he’s making the team and Moore is not. RH pop and better positional flexibility.

    PTBNL from Toronto; i’ll bet they have a deadline deep into the season so that the Nats can do some scouting of their lower systems. From what i’ve read about these PTBNL deals, Toronto gives Washington a list of guys they’re willing to give up as the player, the Nats scout for a bit then pick the guy.

    Roark and Taylor: i know its just spring, but both guys look fantastic.

    Ramos: it doesn’t totally surprise me that Lasik gives the advantage; not only physically but psychologically. If Ramos “feels” like he’s seeing the ball better, he probably will.

    Todd Boss

    27 Mar 16 at 9:26 am

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