Nationals Arm Race

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

2016 Opening Day Roster surprises



Belisle makes the team.  Photo by John McDonnell of the WP

Belisle makes the team. Photo by John McDonnell of the WP

Once the team finished up with its FA and trading business this past off-season, the eventual 2016 25-man roster seemed rather predictable (to me anyway).  For months, I figured it was safe to assume we were looking at the following configuration for 2016 (barring injury):

  • SP: Scherzer, Strasburg, Gonzalez*, Ross, Roark
  • RP: Papelbon, Treinen, Gott, Kelley, Perez*, Rivero*, Petit
  • C: Ramos, Lobaton
  • INF: Zimmerman, Murphy, Espinosa, Rendon, Drew, Robinson, Moore
  • OF: Harper, Werth, Revere, Taylor
  • 60 day DL: Barrett

Perhaps you could quibble that Tyler Moore wasn’t a lock , that he was always in competition with the slew of RH-hitting veterans brought in to camp this year (I didn’t necessarily think this once they offered him a contract for 2016).  Perhaps you could have argued that Danny Espinosa wasn’t the presumptive starter ahead of Trea Turner.  Perhaps you could argue that the team was going to do something crazy with Tanner Roark vs Bronson Arroyo. 

But towards the end of Spring Training, I was proven wrong as the team made some interesting choices to start the season.

With the final announced moves prior to opening day, here’s the 25-man roster starting out the season:

  • SP: Scherzer, Strasburg, Gonzalez*, Ross, Roark
  • RP: Papelbon, Treinen, Kelley, Belisle, Perez*, Rivero*, Petit
  • C: Ramos, Lobaton
  • INF: Zimmerman, Murphy, Espinosa, Rendon, Drew, Robinson
  • OF: Harper, Werth, Revere, Taylor, Heisey

Lets talk about the last minute announcements and the surprises:

  1. Tyler Moore waived, outrighted and then traded to Atlanta.  Probably not a huge surprise; one can argue that the only reason Moore wasn’t waived LAST spring training was thanks to the slew of injuries the team suffered.  He hasn’t been successful as a PH, he never could replicate the success he had in his rookie year, and he really could only play 1B.  The team made a conscious effort to bring in veterans to compete with him, and the likes of Scott Sizemore, Chris Heisey, Reed Johnson, Stephen Drew all out-performed Moore in one way or another.  And all those guys can play other positions besides the sedentary 1B.
  2. Chris Heisey making the team: Personally I thought Sizemore had the inside track, but he was assigned to minor league camp early.  In fact, when you look at their stats its a head scratcher: Sizemore hit .324 with a ton of power while Heisey hit just .238 but came on strong towards the end of spring training.  Moreover, Sizemore plays infield while Heisey only plays outfield … so Sizemore is presumably a more valuable player defensively.  Cynics will note that Heisey has played for Baker before.  At least Sizemore stuck with the team and accepted a minor league assignment.  Honestly I also thought the team would have considered Drew before Heisey, again for positional flexibility.
  3. Matt Belisle ‘s contract guaranteed, and he makes the team instead of off-season acquisition Trevor Gott.  By the ST numbers this move makes some  sense; Belisle’s ERA and WHIP was decent while Gott’s was respectable if not eyepopping.   Once again,  the cynic again would say this is entirely due to the options availability on Gott and Belisle’s history of playing for Baker.  I’m slightly surprised they didn’t go with 8 relievers since a 5th starter isn’t needed for a while.
  4. Espinosa over Turner: never in question for me once we hired Dusty Baker, but many pundits seem shocked that Turner is in AAA to start the season.  Scouts seem to have forgotten that Espinosa was a *better* shortstop than Ian Desmond all these years, but played 2nd base and 2nd fiddle thanks to seniority (in the same way that the superior Manny Machado played 3B instead of taking over at short for a veteran … and now is “stuck” there despite being one of the best SS prospects of his generation).
  5. Roark over Arroyo: this one solved itself early, when Arroyo tore his UCL tore his labrum tore his rotator strained his rotator cuff while Roark was throwing zeros for the spring.  I continue to be in the camp that Roark, if just left alone and given a rotation spot, will produce at a high level (just like he did in 2014).  I think his 2015 was completely an aberration, an example of how playing guys out of position ends up with sub-optimal performance (ahem, see Jurgen Klinsmann and the US Mens National Team’s ridiculous 2-0 loss to Guatemala last week in WC qualifying).

What do you guys think?  Do you think Belisle over Gott, Heisey over Sizemore or Drew (or even den Dekker), Espinosa over turner make this a better team starting out?  Or do you feel like Dusty has gotten some of his “buddies” back together and he’s valuing relationships over talent to start the season?

Better question: Will it matter?  I mean, we’re talking about the 7th man in the bullpen (who may get 1 inning the first week) and the last guy off the bench (who might get 2 or 3 low-leverage ABs the first week).  Is this making a mountain out of a mole-hill, or is it more about the principle of the issue?

21 Responses to '2016 Opening Day Roster surprises'

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  1. I’d say that Belisle over Gott and Heisey over Den Dekker were mild surprises (you also referenced Heisey over Drew, but I don’t understand that if you mean Stephen Drew, since they play totally different positions). I think the rationale was one part Dusty, and one part a decision of who is more ready NOW, since I think this is a win now team. That second part was also the reason that Turner had only a slim chance to make it, in addition to the service time. He needed a Kris Bryant kind of ST to put himself into contention. I like dD as the best player for the last OF spot, but I think the writing was on the wall for him due to the signing of the LHB Drew for the bench, and the fact that he had options. They really needed a RHB bench bat for this roster.

    Gott was more surprising, but it feels like Maddux has some ideas on how to improve him, and I think they want him to go to AAA and work on a pitch or mechanics or something without the spotlight of the majors and a pennant race. If that goes well, I think we’ll see him soon.

    I think the net impact of these decisions is marginal, both because they won’t play a lot, and the team won’t stick with either very long if they fail to produce.

    I firmly believe we’ll see Giolito in the second half. The more interesting question for me is what happens if, come June, Espy is OPSing .750 and playing the quality D that we expect. Would they really keep Turner down all year?


    2 Apr 16 at 9:22 am

  2. Heisey does have good stats as a PH. However, South Capitol seems to be where formerly good pinch hitters go to die . . .

    We’ll see. There is going to be a bench shake-up whenever they bring up Turner. At least the Nats seem to have a significantly better reserve in field players at Syracuse than they did last year . . . when they really needed them.

    I was surprised that Gott didn’t make the team. There will be turnover in the bullpen during the season, though. I would hope that Gott and his high-90s heat will be playing a role by stretch time.

    Treinen looked dominant on Friday, the the prospective closer he has at times been hoped to be.

    As for Arroyo, I was *really* worried that Dusty was going to go with him over Roark. If he can come back, Arroyo may be a good sixth starter/bridge to Giolito, but I sure hope they don’t parachute him into the rotation similar to the infamous Wang experiment. Except for one inning, Roark looked strong on Fri. and gave up very little for the whole spring. Ross just got rocked today (Sat.), though.


    2 Apr 16 at 2:02 pm

  3. 1). Tyler Moore traded – not surprised other than the fact that he didn’t go to a AL club where he could DH.

    2). Heisey making the team – I am very much okay with this given that Heisey has a career .936 OPS as a pinch hitter with 11 HRs and 37 RBIs in 160 PAs in that role. Sounds like he is exactly what the Nats need given how awful their pinch hitters were last year.

    3). Belisle making the team – I’m less enamored with this move given that Belisle’s WHIP has been north of 1.400 two years in a row, though I should note that he played only one season for Baker previously and made a mere 6 starts with an ERA of 7.28. I doubt that the brief time he played for Dusty was a factor in his making the team.

    4). Espinosa over Turner – I’m absolutely okay with this given that the Nats have a subpar defender in Murphy over at 2B. In fact, the longer Danny hits acceptably well (assuming he can) and keeps Turner at AAA, the better it will be for the Nats.

    5). Roark over Arroyo – I dunno, as hittable as Ross looked today, maybe they will need Arroyo after all, since I’m sure they would prefer to keep Giolito in the minors until at least June.

    Watching these two Nats Park preseason games, in addition Ross I am a bit worried about Werth’s defense. He’s been stumbling all over left field in these two games. If he plays poorly this season and Turner keeps clobbering the ball, how long will it be before Dusty makes the switch?

    Karl Kolchack

    2 Apr 16 at 2:11 pm

  4. As for the folk heroes of 2012 . . .

    Tyler Moore is what he is. I felt like he should have been traded last offseason, when he might have had more value. Frankly, I was surprised that Rizzo got anything for him this year. I never thought T-Mo would, or should, make this bench. He has very little positional flexibility and hasn’t hit well since 2012. But he’ll always have a place in the hearts of Nats fans for winning our first playoff game.

    Sean Burnett was a long, long shot to make this squad, and I was surprised that he didn’t go to camp with a lesser team. The Nats already had two lefties likely to make the ‘pen. Burnett got people out in the spring and didn’t give up a run, but he wasn’t even hitting 90. Kudos to him for making an effective comeback, and as with T-Mo, we wish him well, but he most likely wasn’t going to make this squad no matter what he did (particularly since he wasn’t a former Red . . .).


    2 Apr 16 at 2:13 pm

  5. If Werth is really struggling that badly … how long of a rope does he get before Dusty installs Michael A. Taylor in the OF somewhere?

    Todd Boss

    2 Apr 16 at 3:23 pm

  6. I’m not that worried about Werth . . . offensively. If Dusty is smart, Taylor will see a lot of time as a late-inning defensive replacement.

    It was interesting to get a look at Gott today. He throws nothing straight. He’s got tremendous movement on all his pitches. He’s just got to get a better handle on locating them. He walked the first two guys he faced and got a K with pitches (barely) on the black. Anyway, when he gets it figured out, he’s going to be lethal.


    2 Apr 16 at 7:17 pm

  7. That was the first time I saw Gott too. I’d agree about the movement but, if the velocity gun was accurate, he was 4-5 mph slower than I expected. Mostly sat 93.

    It’s hard to be anything but encouraged by spring training. I am happiest about the apparent health of Zim and Rendon and the fact that they look to have retained their hitting skills. That’s huge. Revere also looks pretty solid. I think this is the year that Werth shows he is no longer an important player on the team. I don’t expect him to fall off to replacement player level, but I do see periods of productivity followed by longer stretches of slumps and injuries. As several have said, that won’t hurt so long as Dusty recognizes it and gives him many off days. And I like the bench. Drew and CRob are really good bench guys to have, and MAT at least offers good D and base running, and maybe has turned a corner offensively (although I need to see it when it counts to believe it).

    I think pitching is where I have the most concerns. The top 3 SPs are good, Roark and Ross are somewhat questionable and I am willing to bet that at least one of them struggles. Depth behind them isn’t great either, until that hulking mass of prospect stud is ready. That’s a nice arrow in the quiver, for sure. But good teams get by with a weak 5th starter all the time, so it think it’s manageable.

    I honestly don’t see any reason to expect the pen to be above average, though. Other than Pap, these aren’t guys with high pedigrees or long history of excelling. A lot has to go right for them to be really good, and I usually bet against that. But in this case, at least there are multiple decent options to call up. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cole and Lopez in the pen, for instance.


    3 Apr 16 at 8:14 am

  8. I feel nothing but optimism about the team and its players. The spring coalesced well and baker, Maddux, Lopes, Rizzo and the Lerners deserve all of the credit – for everything noted above.

    Baker let players prove who belongs, and the competition sorted itself out. The Heisey move is not because he is Baker’s guy, but because Baker knows how to use him, what to expect, and because the team needs quality pinch-hitting from the right side, with pop. He’s not even a fifth outfielder — he’ll play in blowouts, and otherwise is there to pinch hit. denDekker we all love, but better he should play every day in AAA (or at least a lot, sharing time with Goodwin, Ballou and company), refining his skills in case one of the top four outfielders go down. With the top four that the Nats have, and Robinson on the bench, he just would not see much time.

    Espinosa is a risk the team can take that has confidence in its offense. Right now, with Taylor’s progress, Revere at the top of the order, Murphy aboard as a lesser defensive player, a healthy Zimm, and a healthy Ramos, this is an easy step to take for Espinosa’s defense. Turner will be amazing, and fortunately, with Drew Available and possibly (possibly) capable, the 40 man allows for squeezing the extra year of team control out of Turner and Giolito. The Nats may be a better team with Turner at SS, but if they win 100 games with Espinosa and 105 with Turner, they still win the division.

    Gott, like Treinen, is one of those late inning options of the near future. Now he will get a chance to refine into that role. Again, what depth can get you.

    As for Burnett, it feels like they would not have signed Perez if they know Burnett would bounce back as he had. Last year, the sloughing of Blevins and Cedeno happened in short order. Suddenly, the team felt bereft of lefthanded relief and it felt a bit stunning that it had happened so quickly. Different manager, and hopefully lessons learned from roster management. The organization has Grace, Solis, Harper and Nick Lee down below still, a more mature, healthier, and deeper situation than last year.

    Kudos to the Lerners for investing in the medical and training staff and overhauling that program. The uneventful health of the spring is a tangible byproduct of smart management and ownership making wise investing. Hey Svrluga, *&%^ you! If you like your Bud Black, you can keep your Bud Black.

    Great performances make for hard decisions. Werth’s performance to come has nothing to do with Taylor and everything to do with Werth and the team around him and its management. I’m no devotee of Werth, but the guy cares for his body and is close with Lopes, has to want a World Series and is healthy. He is only 37, not 45.

    Hopefully the next thread, in the coming 48 hours, will cover the minor league rosters and the surprises to come. I’m watching that closely. Arroyo gets to play second pitching coach at AAA and help finish the players for the next level. Very fortuitous development and again, smart foresight by Nats management to bring him in.

    Very excited about the Nats this year.


    3 Apr 16 at 10:38 am

  9. Pythagorean Record of the Nats last year: 89-73. Pythagorean Record of the Mets last year: 89-73. They were the same team. So the question is this: generally speaking how do you think each team’s components will fare this coming year?
    – Offense: I think the Nats Offense will improve; Werth, Zimmermann, Rendon are healthy. We have a healthy CF instead of Span. I think Espinosa/Murphy > Desmond/Espinosa honestly, especially when you consider how bad Desmond was offensively last year. Do you think the Mets are improved offensively? Probably; Cespedes was crazy hot for a small sample; he isn’t going to do that for a full season. But he’ll still be an improvement over what they were putting out most of the year. Same with Conforto over Cuddyer.
    – Defense: I think the Nats are improved significantly. Rendon far better than Escobar, Espinosa/Desmond a wash, and Rivere is good in CF. Murphy a step back at 2B but its not nearly as important a position as SS. Meanwhile the Mets are going to take a LARGE step back defensively. Cespedes in CF?? haha. Cabrera at SS? you’ve gotta be kidding me. Those are the two most important defensive positions and they’re playing large negative UZR guys there. That’s going to cost them a large numbber of runs.
    – Starters: Mets rotation is great, no two ways about it. But the Nats are no slouches either … and you aren’t projecting regression out of the Nats rotation. Nobody on the Nats got pushed extremely past prior IP limits like the Mets did with both Harvey and Snydergaard. I fully expect one or both of those guys to get hurt. Meanwhile, the back end of the Nats rotation could surprise and certainly will do better than Colon. When Wheeeler comes up great; he’s good but he’s not an ace; 100 ERA+ for his career. If the Nats need a starter, they can bring up a guy in Giolito who natioanl baseball writers were saying had the best curveball they saw this spring. So If the Mets are #1, the Nats aren’t really that far behind.
    – Bullpen: Mets and Natioanls relivers were almost identical in terms of fWAR last year: 3.6 and 3.7. And we were talking about what a failure our Pen was. So we re-made it … and we have no idea how it’ll perform. But do we think its appreciably worse than the Mets? They lost both their 8th inning guys (Clippard and Mejia) from last year and replaced them with re-treads. I call bullpens a wash honestly.

    – Intangibles. Manager better. Chemistry better. Pressure off. Is it all BS or does it matter? I dunno; I think an 18-4 spring says it all. I think this team is going to OUT perform its pythag record this year by 6 games, not under perform it by 6.

    I’m with you; i’m exicted for the new year.

    Todd Boss

    3 Apr 16 at 11:16 am

  10. Looks like Giolito and Lopez open in Harrisburg. Interesting


    3 Apr 16 at 1:04 pm

  11. where do you see that announcement wally? rosters on the websites still look in flux.

    Todd Boss

    3 Apr 16 at 1:45 pm

  12. I didn’t see an announcement. Giolito tweeted ‘Harrisburg here we come @HbgSenators #15hours #reynaldocantdrive’ and there was a picture of him and two other guys, but I don’t know what they look like.


    3 Apr 16 at 1:50 pm

  13. OK, I see we’re sorta getting into predictions. I’m going to go so far as to say that the 2016 edition strikes me as the best Nationals squad ever. Also, the 800-pound expectations gorilla has completely left town and is now swinging from Citi Field, where the NYC media will feed it until it becomes King Kong.

    I totally agree with Todd in expecting at least one of the Met “big three” to miss significant time this season. I wish ill on no player, but the Mets abused them, and you can ask the Braves how well that works. Even if they stay healthy, though, I don’t particularly fear the Met lineup, defense, or bullpen. Cespedes has never stayed consistently good anywhere. The one constant for the Met offense, and the guy who absolutely drove the bus in the playoffs, now plays 2B for the Nats.

    Speaking of Murphy, it’s hard to remember such a significant free-agent signee who has been so little mentioned. There’s no pressure on him. I don’t think that postseason power surge was a fluke, though. Something clicked for him. It’s going to keep clicking.

    Anyway, estimating wins seems like a dart-throwing exercise, so I’ll just say that the Nats win the division by at least five games, happy and having fun. The playoffs are a crapshoot (to quote Billy Beane), but Max and Stras can match up with anyone, and Harper, Murphy, and Rendon have all proven that they can hit under the postseason pressure. We’ll see. Right now, let’s just start hot and put the pressure on right from the beginning.

    It’s much better the be the hunter than the hunted!


    3 Apr 16 at 2:19 pm

  14. I’m equally excited for the minor league system this year. Up and down, real depth, players to follow at every position.

    There will be surprises for who starts higher than expected, who starts lower. Clearly the team has, for the first time in recent memory, jettisoned the MLFA signees already, and is relying on homegrowns or recent trades.

    And there will be the players who finally blossom, even as the depth of the organization has noticeably improved. Gardner back at AAA as an excellent manager, lots of talent on the bump for Menhart and Williams to mold, LeCroy back at AA where he has excelled, and then the competition among outfielders, infielders, and pitching, left and right, starter and bullpen, for the A+ and A- key slots. Going to be a very stimulating year and the organization is in good stead.

    And, with two first round draft picks and lots of bonus spending planned for the international period.


    3 Apr 16 at 2:47 pm

  15. I’ll post a predictions piece tmrw…

    Todd Boss

    3 Apr 16 at 4:49 pm

  16. A half-game lead over the Mets already! We “control our own destiny”! (Ha!) Even better, Harvey wasn’t dominant at all, just like he wasn’t in his last spring start when Zim touched him for the three-run bomb. A little doubt there will go a long way.

    Happy Opening Day to all.


    4 Apr 16 at 5:17 am

  17. Loved that Cespedes error to start the game, too.

    I thought Harvey looked strong, just not consistent command. His velocity was all over the map: 92-97.

    I think the Mets lineup is solid too. Not as much upside as ours, but less volatility too. But Conforto is the only guy I’d take over our guy. Maybe>/I> D’Arnuad


    4 Apr 16 at 6:56 am

  18. New posted. But your comment about “who would you take” got me t hinking. Even if you look at the rotations, its kinda close:
    – Scherzer vs Harvey: I think you take Scherzer and I’m not sure its that close.
    – Strasburg vs deGrom: you take degrom but its closer than you think; if Strasburg pitches like he did last fall… watch out
    – Snydergaard vs Ross: yeah you take Thor … until Thor gets hurt or Ross turns into the guy that scouts predict
    – Matz vs Gio: you’d tend to think matz until your realize that he’s literally been hurt every season since 2009. Gio has *never* been hurt; there’s value to that
    – Colon vs Roark: Roark in a heartbeat.
    – Wheeler and depth vs Giolito and our depth: yeah, no quesiton.

    Bullpen: who knows; won’t even try to shake it out. Will point out that they were identical in fWAR last year.

    Position by position (oddly they rolled out Lagarus in CF and DH’d Conforto; the below assumes Conforto is the starter)
    – Zimmerman vs Duda: I like Duda’s bat, i like Zimmerman’s defense. a push?
    – Murphy > Walker; no question
    – Espinosa > Cabreara defensively no doubt, offensively might be a push
    – Rendon and Wright: well, by potential you go Rendon; both are injury nightmares. Defensively you go Rendon.
    – Granderson > Werth in left … but they’re both aging and injury prone so its close
    – Revere and Cespedes in CF? Cespedes obviously with the bat … but defensively whoo boy.
    – Harper > Conforto. In fact Harper > 4xConforto, which should be counted for something.
    – D’Arnaud > Ramos .. .until we see if Lazik turns Ramos into a 25 homer guy 🙂

    So, does that sound like a sure fire “Mets are clearly better than the Nats” argument that most pundits are saying? I don’t think so.

    Todd Boss

    4 Apr 16 at 7:12 am

  19. Exactly. Basically, the Mets may have an edge in starters #3 & 4, but the Nats are significantly better with Roark, not to mention Giolito in reserve. And I’ll take the Nat overall everyday lineup any day of the week. But . . . I’m perfectly happy to be seen as the underdog!

    By the way, when we meet them in the playoffs, we’re planning to have Giolito matched up with Thor, right?

    And let’s not sell Gio short, at least for the regular season. I think the combination of Maddux and Dusty will be very, very good for him. I think he’ll end up with a better record than Matz even if Matz manages to stay healthy.


    4 Apr 16 at 8:17 am

  20. Much bigger surprises about who did not move up and even who moved down or out. All through the system. Kevin Keyes and Ike Ballou to AA, while Goodwin gets the bump up. Congratulations to him for winning the competition. And, maybe his winter did mean something.

    Drew Vettleson out of the system.

    Carey gets the sink or swim shot while the prospects at A- play for the promotion.

    Turner to AAA means Difo to AA, still at SS.

    Did anyone predict Michael Brady and Trevor Gott would start on equal footing?

    Mapes makes Harrisburg – does he beat the curse of the AA glass ceiling for low Nats draft picks? Richie Mirowski, where have you gone? Benincasa nowhere in sight – released?

    Sad to see Silvestre and Turnbull still DL. Bad luck with lefties. But at least they are still around.

    Andrew Lee my highest pitching prospect who did not get promoted. Luis Reyes does. Mario Sanchez does. Why they call it competition. And thus unheralded Dominicans continue to ascend from the shadows of Rey Lopez.

    Or, letting Lee develop more as a starter.

    Ryan Brinley gets the bump up. Another low draft wonder trying to break the AA glass ceiling? Control gets you places.


    6 Apr 16 at 1:35 am

  21. Looks like Spann, Wooten, and DeBruin also gone. Wooten the biggest surprise for me. Looked like he had turned the corner in 2014 Potomac championship run.


    6 Apr 16 at 2:10 am

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