Nationals Arm Race

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

Pitching Depth looking good, Norris waived, and other ST observations


Norris won't get a shot at redemption here. Photo Mark Zuckerman via Nationals

Norris won’t get a shot at redemption here. Photo Mark Zuckerman via Nationals

Some big player news rumors hit the airwaves this morning; Derek Norris, who two months ago we thought was our opening day starter, is reportedly being put on waivers for the eventual purpose of releasing him.  The timing is no accident; his contract is not fully guaranteed for the year and the Nats can get out of paying the full freight and only be on the hook for $700k by doing this.  I think Norris obviously gets picked up by another team, but they’ll be waiting so they won’t have to pay hin north of $4M.  He’s too good defensively to not get a job, and some team may think he’s a great reclamation project given his past hitting.

(Quick links: ST 2017 hitting stats and pitching stats for the Nats)

Quick implications of the move:

  • Looking obvious that our 1-2 catching punch will be Matt Wieters and Jose Lobaton.  Hard to see Pedro Severino as anything but AAA insurance for the time being.
  • This also thins our Catcher ranks: past Severino is just Raudy Read in terms of depth.  I’m hoping Spencer Kieboom makes it through waivers …
  • This puts the Nats 40-man roster at 39/40, leaving one spot for a quick add for someone at the end of spring training.  We’ve been talking about Vance Worley being an arm that makes sense at the back of the bullpen, but he’s not impressed so far this spring; 8ip, 5 runs and just two strikeouts.

I’d like to talk about two other important arms though; Erick Fedde and Austin Voth.  Fedde now has 7 IP, has given up just 3 hits and zero runs.  Voth has fewer innings (4 2/3) but has zero runs and a 5-0 K/BB ratio.  Meanwhile their competition for “first in line for a spot start” A.J. Cole has been shredded this spring: 8 2/3 innings, 10 hits, 7 earned runs.  Yes I know you often cannot trust spring training stats … but not in the cases of minor leaguers looking to impress while they’re in the presence of major leaguers.  These guys are trying.  And right now I’m feeling a ton better about our near-to-the-majors starting pitcher coverage post Giolito-Lopez trade than I was at the beginning of spring.  Is it time to see if Cole makes more sense as a reliever?

(Tangent: in case you’re not on ten-zillion RSS feeds about baseball and don’t know how Giolito/Lopez are doing: Giolito has by all accounts cleaned up whatever damage the Nats did to his mechanics and looks solid this spring: 9IP, 2 runs, 6-2 K/BB.  Lopez has struggled; 8 2/3rds innings, 6 runs, 7-3 K/BB.

Other interesting ST stat lines to point out:

  • Both Adam Lind and Clint Robinson have struggled badly: Lind is 4-20, Robinson is 4-21.  Matt Skole is missing an opportunity here; he’s just 2-13 on the spring, with one of those two hits being a homer in the opener that had MartyC all hot and bothered.
  • Brian Goodwin is not impressing in his attempt to win the spare OF job; he’s just 2-19 on the spring while “King of Spring Training” Michael Taylor is tearing the cover off the ball (he’s 11-26 with two homers).  Looking more and more like Taylor is getting another shot at the title … and inevitably starting when old-man Jayson Werth hits the D/L at some point.
  • Jhonathan Solano, now starting for Columbia in the WBC, is 10-12 with the Nats.  That’s right; he’s hitting .833.  Good to know; my comment above about us suddenly being rather thin at catcher may not be so bad if Solano keeps it up and earns a 40-man re-call.
  • Wilmer Difo may not have a realistic shot at the opening day roster, but he’s doing the most he can, hitting .400 so far.
  • Lastly, Ryan Zimmerman.  0-13 so far this spring.  At least he’s putting the ball in play (just 3 punch outs).  Too bad all the 1B types in camp that may push him to the bench are also struggling.
  • We all know about Koda Glover and how he’s crushing it.  4IP, one hit, 7-0 K/BB.  If he keeps this up, we’ll have a closer for $550k instead of the $15M that Melancon and Jansen earned.  And that, my friends, is how you build a closer.

Lastly, since i’m clearly trolling specific people by calling out Giolito and Skole stat lines, lets look up some other lightening rod ex-Nats and their spring stats:

  • Future Hall of Famer Max Schrock: only 7 ABs for Oakland this spring training, but he did go 2-7.  He was an NRI but clearly seems set to return to the minors.  No surprise there.  The question is whether or not he can repeat his performance at the AA level in 2017.
  • Nick Pivetta, which bought us the tumultuous Jonathan Papelbon era, has a 2.25 ERA in 8 IP for Philadelphia.
  • Tony Renda is crushing it as an NRI for Cincinnati: he’s 11-25 this season.
  • Felipe Rivero‘s statline resembles Glover’s so far this spring: 4IP, 1hit, 0 runs and 5 Ks.  You have to give up talent to get talent right?

anyway; what do you guys think about some of these guys?

31 Responses to 'Pitching Depth looking good, Norris waived, and other ST observations'

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  1. I’d say the Norris situation is one of the few times that Rizzo looks bad, in that it looks like he completely misjudged Norris’ market. Gave up an actual prospect for a guy with no market value. Looks like he should have called Preller’s bluff and just waited him out, or given him a Jeffrey Rosa type.

    As for Rivero, I maintained all along that the cost was high when others were saying we got him cheap compared to Chapman or Miller. Rivero is a good reliever and Hearn is a real prospect, but I am ok with the trade because he took a chance for a playoff run. It didn’t work but it was the right kind of chance for that team to take.

    I think I read that Kieboom cleared waivers already.

    Lastly, while I am happy that Voth and Freddie started well, it doesn’t mean anything to me. Nor does Cole’s tougher start, since fielding miscues were involved in at least two of his starts. I think all three are reasonable, not great, prospects that we won’t know for sure until they get some extended time in MLB.


    12 Mar 17 at 3:35 pm

  2. It should be noted about Fedde and Voth that the former has started while the latter has been strictly used in the later innings against the scrubs. No knock on Voth, just an observation that Fedde’s success is more indicative (hopefully).

    Norris–a big mistake by Rizzo, especially given that below Fedde the Nats have very few starting pitching prospects and can ill afford to trade one away for nothing. I also agree with Wally, as I did last summer, that Rivero and Hearn were too high a price to pay for Melancon, especially given the dearth of left handed pitchers in the organization.

    I’ll also note the lack of consistency in giving up such a huge prospect haul for Eaton because of his team friendly contract and then paying Norris $700K not to play–to say nothing of paying a guaranteed $21 million for a catcher who is not really that big of an upgrade.

    As for trading Schrock for Alphabet, it wouldn’t have been necessary had the Nats traded someone else for Melancon other than Rivero. Something in how this team is being general managed just doesn’t add up.

    Karl Kolchak

    12 Mar 17 at 7:22 pm

  3. Cross-posted by me from Nationals Prospects– “I know ST stats are supposedly meaningless, but Zimmerman’s OPS has been above .786 in every spring training of his career but for 2015, and was above 1.000 five times, including last year. He’s always been great in March, which is a foreboding sign heading into what we all hope will finally be his comeback season.”

    Norris has actually played a little 1B in his career. If he were to bounce back to his career average OPS of .689, that would be 47 points higher than the .642 OPS Zimmerman put up a year ago, and for about 1/4th of the salary.

    Karl Kolchak

    12 Mar 17 at 7:27 pm

  4. Given that Difo is getting some time at CF and is hitting .400, I think he has a good shot at the last bench spot. It’s easy for Rizzo to argue that MAT could use some extra time in AAA and let Difo be a full Zobrist.

    Andrew R

    12 Mar 17 at 8:41 pm

  5. Norris as a “failure” on Rizzo’s part: well … I think Rizzo liked the trade that acquired Norris … and then its not too much of a stretch to say that Boras went over Rizzo’s head (again) and convinced Lerner to pay for one of his flailing players (again), leaving Rizzo in a bind. Is it Rizzo’s fault that Lerner bought Boras’ BS and suddenly made Norris not only expendable but destroyed his potential trade market since other teams are not dumb and knew that the Nats were screwed.

    Not sure how this is Rizzo’s fault.

    Todd Boss

    12 Mar 17 at 9:01 pm

  6. I always get excited for start of Spring training, but more than ever it just bores me once it actually starts.

    The games and stats are less than meaningless, and the players care so little about it, that I can not bring myself to care either until opening day now.

    Marty C

    12 Mar 17 at 9:11 pm

  7. Todd–that goes back to what I said–something in how this team is being general managed just doesn’t add up. If Rizzo’s hands were tied on an increase in payroll only to have Lerner turn around and cave on Wieters, wasting money on Norris’s salary in the process, that would indicate a severely dysfunctional Nats front office. Here they are deferring salary payments like crazy on the one hand, potentially crippling future Nats teams on payroll in the process, and then frivolously throwing money away on the other. It makes no sense.

    Marty–I hear you. Back when the Nats had a half a dozen or more open roster spots going into ST it was entertaining to speculate on the ups and downs of each contender. Now, it’s become pretty ho-hum.

    Karl Kolchak

    12 Mar 17 at 9:28 pm

  8. Rizzo/Norris – my take was that Rizzo misjudged the player’s market by paying value, in Avila, that Norris didn’t have. Nothing to do with signing Weiters.

    Whether ownership went over his head for Weiters shouldn’t have mattered too much. If I own a car worth $10k as a trade in, then buy another car without trading it in, my first car still has value, right? If Norris was worth Avila, a legit prospect, he should still be worth something unless his intrinsic value changed during ST (ie got hurt or something). But that appears to no longer be the case, although I guess I should wait until Norris’ situation is fully resolved before definitively concluding it.

    He either should have given up an org guy, like they did for Romero, or he should be able to get something now.


    13 Mar 17 at 8:15 am

  9. Alright everyone, repeat after me: it’s not that you “often cannot trust spring training stats.” Spring training stats are meaningless for predicting future outcomes. No, really – they are. Baseball is just too foofnarfeling random in small sample sizes to make definitive determinations. And that’s even before you get to the differences (differing levels of competition, different competitive focus – getting ready/trying new things/etc.) between ST and the regular season.

    In other words, I’m not going to proclaim that Tony Renda is suddenly a major league player, that all of Giolito’s problems have been fixed, that Reynaldo Lopez’s struggles are real, that A.J. Cole is done as a back end starter or that Fedde and Voth have passed him on the depth chart. Good, bad, or indifferent, the stats are meaningless. It’s really all about staying healthy and getting ready for the season. The team has a lot more data upon which to make their decisions. Remember last year when we were up in arms because the Nats kept Belisle and jettisoned Burnett?

    As for Wieters, I don’t have any more idea what went on than anyone else. I’ll just toss this possibility out: Norris was an insurance policy in case Wieters’s price was too high. Essentially a lower tier prospect and $700,000 was the value to Rizzo of making sure that the Nats had someone better than Lobaton, Severino or Kieboom (who did clear waivers btw) to start on Opening Day. Having a viable Plan B is often a good idea. Certainly if the Nats had ended up relying on Lobaton to catch 110 games we’d have ripped Rizzo – and rightly so.

    John C.

    13 Mar 17 at 9:23 am

  10. To be clear about Norris, I’m not a big fan of punting Norris and keeping Lobaton. Norris is the only major league catcher under team control through the 2018 season. Unless you’re a big believer in Severino (I’m hopeful, but not sold) it’s a big risk to take.

    John C.

    13 Mar 17 at 9:28 am

  11. Karl: agree on oddities in the management structure.

    Wally; the car analogy fails because of the constructs of the 25-man roster. A Better analogy may be this: you buy an expensive car that has front end damage, then buy another car that’s even more expensive, but because you only have one garage space if you don’t sell the first car you literally have to give it to charity. Well, doesn’t that drastically reduce the value of the first car? Like, if you’re considering buying the car why would you do anyhting but wait until the team donated the car to charity before swooping in and attempting to buy?

    Todd Boss

    13 Mar 17 at 9:50 am

  12. Count me among those hopeful that Norris will stay. A bat like that who can DH and pinch hit and play 1B makes for good Zimm insurance and feels better going forward than Lobaton.

    Enny Romero’s performance in the WBC is still part of our spring training discussion. Maybe saving money on Oliver Perez is more valuable than saving it on Norris.

    Have to think that other teams’ injuries and underperformance may make it easier to gin up the value of one of our backups. Whatever the case with Norris, his being on waivers is still quiet, broken by a sportswriter, which suggests that it was leaked by his agent to get him more likely released altogether. Otherwise the Nats would have just announced his release for goodwill.

    Still just can’t see Taylor being on the bench, no matter how well he performs. Maybe Pagan really is lurking.

    As for the Norris-Avila, I value the team’s prospects enough to be tempted to growl. But we still don;t know what happened on Weiters. For all the talk of Boras manipulating the Lerners, Weiters was still rumored to the Nats all winter, pre-Norris. Since we will never know the answer for many many months, it’s a fruitless exercise. I just hope there is room for both, especially given Norris’ being controllable and Weiters not.


    13 Mar 17 at 10:02 am

  13. Has Giolito really cleaned things up, though?

    This report ( says he struggled with command, pitched from behind and gave up lots of hard contact.

    Couple that with his 4 IP, 1K stat line and he seems like the same guy we saw in Washington.


    13 Mar 17 at 10:33 am

  14. Just saw you admitted to trolling readers over the Giolito stat line. Damn you, Todd 🙂


    13 Mar 17 at 10:37 am

  15. I haven’t lost a wink of sleep over the Norris situation. The Nats HAD to do something about catching, and at the time they got Norris, the price for Wieters was way too high. They got him, but then a better opportunity presented itself two or three months later. Do we blame the Nats for figuring out how to make an upgrade?

    To be clear, I’m not a huge fan of either Wieters or Norris, but that said, I’d prefer Wieters/Norris to Wieters/Loby. I understand the financial angle, though.

    (And yes, Kieboom cleared waivers and was outrighted to Syracuse.)


    13 Mar 17 at 12:01 pm

  16. Cole — was awful in his first two spring starts but had four no-hit innings his last outing. The whole pecking order for long man and 6th-7th-8th starter is still open. Worley has had some good appearances and some struggles. Jacob Turner got roughed up yesterday. Guthrie has only given up one run in 5.1 IP, with 6 Ks, but people don’t seem to be talking about him. Would they think about keeping Voth with the big club as the long man? He has also been excellent.

    The bullpen guy I’m really watching is Glover, who has been untouchable. I figured he would have to be lights out to make the big club in the spring, and thus far he has been. Also don’t sleep on Cotts, a lefty who has done very well.

    Fore, Perez’s month is guaranteed, unlike Norris’s, so they wouldn’t save anything by releasing him.

    Another pitching note of interest. I was listening to Charlie and Dave on Sat., and they said the reports are that Max’s three-finger heater has some sink that his two-finger one doesn’t. Is it too much to hope that this development accidentally helps solve his HR issue?


    13 Mar 17 at 12:12 pm

  17. Oh, and even though spring means nothing, that Harper kid is looking pretty decent thus far, to put it mildly; that Zimmerman guy, not so much. But Lind hasn’t exactly done anything to jump up and down for more PT, either.

    Believe it or not, I don’t root against Taylor, but is it too much to hope that his hot start will make him attractive to some other team? I do find the Difo super-utility experiments interesting and would be more willing to ride with Difo as the last bench guy than Taylor. All in all, I’d prefer Pagan, though. (Did you guys see that Pagan nearly went to Balto but failed the infamous Oriole physical? Yet he’s been playing regularly for PR . . .)


    13 Mar 17 at 12:21 pm

  18. Err, meant to say that Perez’s “money” is guaranteed. Ollie always makes me very nervous, and I’d prefer an upgrade Romero or Cotts if either pan out, but I don’t expect Perez to get cut.


    13 Mar 17 at 12:24 pm

  19. KW–the big unanswerable is what the Nats would have had to pay had they just signed Wieters in the first place. Was the price higher than the extra $700K plus the monetary value of Avila as a legitimate prospect? That’s question we’ll never have the answer to.

    Karl Kolchak

    13 Mar 17 at 12:26 pm

  20. An interesting side note: the Nats Top 30 prospects list on now includes no less than 5 catchers–Severino, Kieboom, Tres Barrera, Raudy Read and Jackson Reetz. They all have struggled offensively in the minors save Read, who of course is questionable defensively. It one be really nice if at least one could take a big leap forward this year and start to look like the starting catcher of the future.

    Karl Kolchak

    13 Mar 17 at 12:45 pm

  21. Karl, here are some credible guesses at Wieters’ initial cost:

    It was basically 2/$28M to 3/$39M. I think it’s fair to say that the Nats got a $5-7M discount by waiting, at minimum, significantly more if you figure in a third year (or if Wieters opts out after one year).

    I didn’t love the Norris deal when it happened, and I wasn’t thrilled to give up Avila. But I also don’t think that in the late fall, anyone could anticipate that the price for Wieters would fall that much, or that he would still be available so late in the winter.

    I’m not defending it, but I’m not losing any sleep over it, either.


    13 Mar 17 at 1:01 pm

  22. KW — the other take is that the Nats completely misread the market for catching this offseason. Clearly, there wasn’t much demand, as seen by how Wieters languished and Norris’s trade value is now apparently zero. Fangraphs has been way off before on those predictions, whereas Rizzo and his staff get paid the big bucks to know what’s really going on behind closed doors.

    Rizzo screwed the pooch on this one, just as he likely screwed up last season by overvaluing Giolito at the trading deadline and ended up getting less for him in trade than he could have before the fact that he was overrated as a prospect became more widely known.

    Karl Kolchak

    13 Mar 17 at 2:05 pm

  23. Troll jobs: hey at least I admit it 🙂

    Here’s another one for MartyC: Skole got cut today, optioned officially to AAA. the dream is over.

    Todd Boss

    13 Mar 17 at 2:57 pm

  24. Well, you can lose sleep over Norris. I won’t. I don’t think the Nats got Norris with the thought of flipping him. They got him to play. Then a better opportunity presented itself.

    Is the Boras-Lerner-Rizzo triangle quirky? You bet. But it’s not dysfunctional. The address for that is 1600 Dan Snyder Way. The Nats and Rizzo have benefited from the Boras special relationship far more than they’ve been hurt by it. Ultimately, they got the best catcher on the market because of it. Maybe Wieters came at a discount, maybe he didn’t. I’ll concede that I thought Boras had him overvalued. But the Nats didn’t overpay for him. The they got him at fair market value. And I’m darn happier with Wieters to try to support the Zim-anchored bottom of the lineup than Norris, even if Avila was ultimately sacrificed in all of it.


    13 Mar 17 at 4:47 pm

  25. 0-17.

    At this point, I’d be happier with a Lind/Norris platoon at 1B than having RZ repeat what he did a year ago or, god forbid, be even worse.

    Karl Kolchak

    13 Mar 17 at 4:54 pm

  26. I’m disappointed to see Voth in the first round of options. He had earned a longer look. He was better than Cole at AAA last year and significantly better than Cole in the spring. He’s got to be pulling his hair out, wondering what he has to do.

    I’ll concede that Voth may be a Tommy Milone type who may never completely prosper at the MLB level without the big heater. But for what it’s worth, Milone has won 44 big-league games, as there’s always a place for a guy who can get people out.


    13 Mar 17 at 4:57 pm

  27. Karl, on the RZim point we can agree. I don’t know what the answer is there. It’s REALLY hard to see them eating $48M, but this is a guy who hit .218 last year. They’ll give him every opportunity and then some, but he may soon become a very expensive platoon option.


    13 Mar 17 at 5:01 pm

  28. The problem for Voth is that Cole is on his last option year, and with all the money the Nats sunk into signing and developing him they have to be absolutely sure before cutting bait. The advantage for him is that other than Fedde the Nats have no other in house options at this point. Last year, the Nats needed four additional starters during the season, so it seems very likely he’ll get his shot at some point this season.

    Karl Kolchak

    13 Mar 17 at 5:36 pm

  29. To be clear, Cole still has one option left for this year, and it likely will be used.

    Who would be the “6th starter” when one (or more) inevitably becomes needed? Last year, the Nats didn’t hesitate to bring up prospects from AA, so Fedde may be putting himself in line for an opportunity if an extended need arises. Voth and Cole likely will be at Syracuse, and perhaps Jacob Turner as well, unless he opts out. I doubt Worley or Guthrie would take assignment to Syracuse. One of those guys may win the “long man” role and be the first man up when a starter is needed. Blanton could conceivably start as well, although since he didn’t get a start last year as the Dodgers cycled through the phone book for arms, perhaps his starting days are past.


    13 Mar 17 at 7:19 pm

  30. Heard about this link on a pod-cast today: a writer for the Economist found correlation between certain spring training stats and eventual regular season stats.

    So now we can definitely say that not all spring training stats are useless! 🙂

    Todd Boss

    13 Mar 17 at 8:38 pm

  31. KW

    13 Mar 17 at 8:48 pm

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