Nationals Arm Race

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

We miss you: Former Nats from the 2015 team and where they are now


Did we dodge a bullet by allowing Zimmermann to leave? Photo via The Boston Globe.

Did we dodge a bullet by allowing Zimmermann to leave? Photo via The Boston Globe.

Next in a series moving backwards.  Here was the “We Miss You” for the 2016 team.

Lets go back a year and look at those players gone from the 2015 team.  I’m building these partly from the Nats to Oblivion Posts and partly from my own notes using a combination of players gone via FA, trades, DFAs, to include major league players and significant minor league players.   If a player is still in the org but was just DFA’d off the 40-man, I’ll mostly skip them.  I may miss someone; pipe up in the comments if I have a glaring miss.

I’ll organize this by roughly by the level of the player; major league players who left via FA or trade, then DFA’d/declined players, then minor leaguers of note who departed.

  • Jordan Zimmermann; signed 5/$110M with Detroit and left us with a comp pick, used to take Dane Dunning.  I think its safe to say that Zimmermann’s tenure in Detroit thus far has been disappointing: he had a 4.87 ERA in 2016 and missed half the season, and he’s been even worse this year.  Detroit has to behaving some buyer’s remorse right now.  And he’s signed for 3 more years past this one, at big money.
  • Dan Uggla: The Nats were probably his last stand chance in the majors; hit just .183 and was given just 17 ABs the last two months of the 2015 season.  Never signed for 2016 and seems to be retired.
  • Doug Fister: signed 1/$7M with Houston, to whom he gave 32 starts and 180 innings of mediocrity (4.64 ERA) in 2016.  Apparently still believes he’s worthy of a 25-man spot and refused all offers this past off-season that were not MLB deals.  Remains unsigned as of this writing; he may have to swallow his pride if he wants to keep playing and take a MLFA deal.
  • Ian Desmond signed 1/$11M with Texas after declining Washington’s qualifying offer.  Desmond became kind of the poster child for all the things wrong with the Qualifying Offer season; after turning down a 5yr/$89.5M deal the previous season, he turned down a guaranteed $15.8M offer to eventually sign for $11M.  To add insult to injury, Desmond had to move off of SS for Texas, which was what propped up his value in the first place.  He had an up-and-down season with Texas, starting the year incredibly hot and making the All Star team, but slumping towards the end.  He got saddled with a second QO, which he again signed, but his 2016 season was enough for Colorado to give him perhaps the most inexplicable contract of last off-season, a 5yr/$70M deal … to play first base.  A position he’d never played before.  And Colorado gave up literally the highest unprotected draft pick to do so (the 11th pick in the upcoming 2017 draft).  Desmond suffered a hand injury this spring, and as a result Colorado has installed slugger Mark Reynolds at 1B; he’s done so well that the team is wondering just what they’ll do with Desmond when he returns in early May.  On the bright side for Desmond; at least he finally got paid.  And i’m sure that 100% of Nats fans would take what the team has done at SS since over having a $90M contract on their hands.
  • Denard Span signed 3/$31M with San Francisco, capping a frustrating year for Span and the team.  He only played 61 games for the 2015 team, forcing the Nats to start Michael Taylor and his 30% K rate in CF for a good chunk of the season.  Span’s first season in SF was similar to his first in DC; he struggled offensively.  He’s been even worse in 2017, and is currently on the D/L (in an interesting twist of fate; his replacement on the SF active roster?  None other than Michael Morse).
  • Nate McLouth; The team couldn’t wait to decline his 2016 option and pay his 750k buyout for 2016 after his disastrous stint with Washington.  His contract was ill-advised from the start; did we really need to pay good money to have a “veteran 4th outfielder?”  McLouth missed the entirety of 2015, has yet to sign since, and may have played his way out of baseball.
  • Matt Thornton signed a MLFA deal with San Diego for 2016, got called up after a couple of months in AAA, but struggled.  He posted a 5.82 ERA over the next couple of months and was released in August.  He has not appeared since and now at age 40 is likely done.
  • Casey Janssen was so poor for the Nats that they bought his 2016 out for a cool $1.5M buyout for 2016); he also signed a MLFA deal with San Diego for 2016.  Ah San Diego; the place where pitchers go to resurrect their careers.  He was released in late Spring Training 2016, got picked up with Boston in June of 2016, pitched a bit for their Short-A and AAA teams then was released in early August 2016.  Did not pick up with a team for 2017 and at age 35 with little velocity on his fastball, he may be retired.
  • Reed Johnson got picked back up on a MLFA deal by Washington for 2016 season, but did not make the team out of spring and was released on 4/2/16.  He did not pick up with anyone for 2016 and at age 39 may be retired.
  • Taylor Jordan: After brief stints with the team in 2015, started 2016 in AAA but got hurt in June of 2016, he had a second TJ surgery … and then was released by the club on 6/28/16 to correspond to the Giolito contract addition.  Man, that seems kind of cold to release a guy just after surgery, but his odds of making it back to the majors just took a significant hit.  As of 2017 has not re-signed anywhere and seems a long-shot to do so, with little major league track record and two arm injuries.  Likely out of baseball at this point.
  • David Carpenter: shoulder injury, DFA’d, elected free agency and quickly signed a ML deal with Atlanta for 2016.  However he was cut after just a handful of spring training games; maybe his injury is worse than we thought.  He then bounced from Tampa to the Angels system for 2016, and then signed back with Tampa as a MLFA/NRI for 2017, but was cut on 4/4/17.
  • Emmanuel Burriss: signed MLFA with Philly and lead-off against the Nats in their first visit to Philadelphia in the new season.  He was DFA’d and purchased a couple times by Philly last year, but upon his outright after the season he elected FA and signed a MLFA to return to the Nats for 2017.  He looked like nice utility infielder insurance until he got suspended for a “drug of abuse” in the spring (his second such offense).  He currently sits on Syracuse’s restricted list.  I have to say; his status as the sole DC-bred baseball player in the pros (as far as I can tell) and his playing for the Washington franchise seems to put him in a great post-career outreach position … but now with two drug suspensions on his resume, I wonder if he’s scuttled any such possibility of representing the team in the community.
  • Craig Stammen: fan favorite had an ill-timed injury late in the 2015 season and was non-tendered instead of guaranteeing him a contract for 2016.  He signed a MLFA with Cleveland for 2016 but never made it out of AAA.  I had him as a leading “oblivion candidate” until he signed another MLFA deal for 2017 and made the San Diego opening day roster.  His april has not been good though, sporting an ERA in the mid 8s as of May 1st.  He may be in danger of a DFA, which might spell the end of his MLB career given how the last couple of seasons have gone.  He gave the Nats 3 solid years as a bullpen workhorse that may have led to his eventual wearing out.
  • Tyler Moore never could match the magic of his debut season in 2012, but a series of injuries kept him hanging around in 2014 and 2015 when he may otherwise have been released.  His luck ran out though for the 2016 team, when he got beat out for the RH bench bat by Chris Heisey and he got DFA’d at the end of spring training.  We negotiated a trade of similar discarded assets with Atlanta, trading Moore for Nate Freiman.  Freiman didn’t last three weeks with the AAA team before being released (a measure of just how little we got in return for trade), while Moore got injured early and missed most of the year for AAA Gwinnett.  He signed a MLFA for 2017 with the Marlins and team out of spring training.  He even got a crucial hit against the Nats early in 2017 season, but was soon DFA’d again.  He passed through waivers and was outrighted to New Orleans (where, as noted in the previous post, he joins a litany of former Nats).
  • Xavier Cedeno was the first 25-man DFA of the 2015 season.  He was used 4 times in 5 nights in early April, gave up a couple of runs and then got designated with just 3 IP.  It was an odd move at the time; why was he getting appearance after appearance if the team was going to DFA him?  Why did the team have so little patience with him?  After his DFA, he got purchased by the Dodgers, who then sold him to the Rays 5 days later … and he had 61 appearances with a 2.09 ERA for Tampa Bay the rest of 2015.  He was a solid bullpen arm for them all of 2016 and remains on their team now.  Do you think maybe the team gave up on him too soon?
  • Taylor Hill: Hill was DFA’d to make room for January 2016 signings and was outrighted to AAA, where he pitched the entire 2016 season.  Hill finished out the year for AAA Syracuse with a 4.60 ERA in 27 starts.  He is still with the AAA team for 2017 but has been passed on the depth chart by several guys (Cole, Voth, Fedde) and faces long odds of a return to the majors with this organization.  Additionally, Hill has started the 2017 AAA season by getting shelled; an 8.14 ERA for April.  He may be in serious jeopardy of getting released.
  • Aaron Barrett: Tommy John in 2015, then in June of 2016, he had a major set-back in his TJ recovery, fracturing his elbow.  He has re-signed with the Nats for 2017 and starts the  year on the AAA D/L.  I was happy to see the Nats give Barrett this gesture of signing him so that he can rehab with the team, and I hope it pays off with an eventual return to the fold.
  • Matt Purke got his last shot at salvaging a career with the Nats, who signed him for big-time money ($2.75M as a 3rd rounder in 2011, the last free for all non-capped bonus draft).  He failed to impress again, and the team let him go to free agency.  He signed a MLFA deal with the Chicago White Sox, who assigned him to AAA … and then he earned a call-up by mid May 2016.  The nats were looking rather foolish for cutting bait on a guy who made the Chicago MLB team after just a few weeks.  But his time in South-Side was short lived; he was optioned back to the minors by the end of June, never made it back, was outrighted over the off-season and started 2017 off the 40-man pitching for AAA Charlotte.  He is still wild (8 walks in 11 2017 innings) but he’s only 26 so there may still be time.  But from a Nats transaction perspective, i’m not sure what else they could have done.
  • Yunel Escobar: after a productive season with the Nats, where Escobar played multiple positions and covered for infield injuries galore, he was traded to Los Angeles Angels for Trevor Gott and Michael Brady in the off-season.  At the time of the trade (mid December 2015) Escobar was considered surplus to requirements, in that the team had its infield already spoken for in Anthony RendonDanny Espinosa, and Trea Turner.  Two weeks later the team signed Danny Murphy to play 2B, thus relegating Turner back to AAA to save his service clock.  Escobar was traded to the team with perhaps the worst farm system in the majors; Gott has yet to throw a pitch for the MLB team and Brady is already gone via MLFA, so the return for Escobar is rather paltry.  That being said, I think the league knew we were shopping him, he had just had a career year with a BA 30 points above his career average, and may have been ceiling limited with the expectation of regression.  Since the trade, Escobar has played a solid 3B for the Angels and kept his BA above .300, and has been joined in their infield by fellow Nats reject Espinosa.
  • Drew Storen traded with cash to Toronto for Ben Revere, ptbnl.  I think we’ve litigated the Storen case to death; he was flipped more or less since the acquisition of Jonathan Papelbon and Storen’s undeserved demotion seemed to break him; it was as clear of a case of someone needing “a change of scenery” as I’ve seen with one of our players.  We got a player in Revere that filled a point of need (CF) and one that looked on paper like a good deal at the time.  I think its fair to say now that this trade didn’t work out for either team: Storen put up an ERA north of 6.00 for Toronto, got flipped again to Seattle, and at current sits as the 8th inning guy for one of the worst teams in baseball (Cincinnati).  Meanwhile Revere barely hit the Mendoza line for the Nats, forcing the team to put its SS of the future into CF as a make-shift replacement, and got non-tendered at season’s end.  A crummy end to Storen’s career here, where he remains in 2nd place all time (behind Chad Cordero) in career franchise saves.
  • Kila Ka’aihue,  Ian Stewart, Mike Carp: part of the great 2016 RH bat spring training cattle call; didn’t make the team and were eventually released.
  • Tony Renda traded to Yankees for David Carpenter mid-season in an attempt to buttress the bullpen.  Didn’t work.  Renda may have been my farcical “future hall of famer” before Max Schrock, in that they’re both basically undersized middle infielders that posted good minor league numbers but seem ceiling limited.  Renda got traded to Cincinnati ahead of the 2016 season, had a cup of coffee up there, but got outrighted after the 2016 season and remains on the AAA Louisville roster.
  • Mitch Lively and Evan Meek: both AAA hurlers released from their contracts so they could sign in Japan and Korea respectively.  Lively struggled in Japan and has been pitching in the Mexican league ever since, while Meek also struggled in the KBO and has been playing indy ball ever since.
  • Jose Valverde opted out of his MLFA contract and was released in July; never picked back up for 2015, or 2016.  Kept pitching in winter ball and is now in the Mexican league.
  • Eric Fornataro the off-season waiver claim never made it out of AAA, posting a mid 5 ERA and got released in July.   He picked back up with a MLFA for 2016 with Baltimore, but struggled in AA and was released in May of 2016.  He has not signed since and may be done.
  • Nick Pivetta: traded to Philadelphia for Papelbon.  We know the Papelbon story, and now we know the Pivetta story; he debuted in Philly’s rotation last weekend in LA after a solid year starting in AA and AAA in 2016 and a hot start in Lehigh Valley for 2017.  He may be in a position to haunt the Nats for 6 seasons …. all for a year and a half of tumult out of Papelbon.
  • Dan Butler was a Catcher we received from Boston for Danny Rosenbaum in Jan of 2015; he was a 40-man spot holder for most of the season but served mostly as catcher depth before being DFA’d in July to make room for Papelbon.  He was outrighted to AAA, elected FA after the season and went right back to Boston for 2016.  He remains as their AAA backup catcher.

Did I miss anyone?

Player I most miss from this list: From a Nats “legacy” perspective it was tough to wave good bye to Ian Desmond, who gave this franchise 11 years of his life.  Same with Zimmermann; he was part of the core that turned this team from a laughing stock to divisional winner.

Player Loss I most regret using unfair “hindsight is 20/20” vision: Pivetta.  Even if he’s “only” a 4th starter, he represents all that was wrong with the Papelbon decision.

Player Loss that is the most “We dodged a bullet” situation: Zimmermann’s contract; we thought he’d get overpaid, but a year and a half in his contract looks awful for an aging team that’s moving the wrong direction and has little chance of unseating Cleveland in their own division.

14 Responses to 'We miss you: Former Nats from the 2015 team and where they are now'

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  1. Quick correction: Gott did pitch 6 innings for the Nats last Sept. I had high hopes for him when he came in the trade, but he still hasn’t shown much.

    As much as we quibble now over certain players, as I look over this list, it’s pretty impressive how the Nats have upgraded the overall talent level since then. They also made a lot of good calls to move on from some of these guys who have struggled to even stay in the majors, if they’ve made it back at all.


    3 May 17 at 9:13 am

  2. I think it’s also VERY impressive how the nats have made big ticket spending decisions. That is another post in and of itself. But since the Soriano and McLouth fiascos, we have Scherzer, Murphy, and now Wieters, with Lind, Kelley, and Drew as well. Perez is meh, Blanton to far is ick, but when you couple those with letting go of Zimmerman, Span, Desmond, Fister, Rzep, Rivera, and Wilson Ramos, that some pretty good asset evaluation.

    Strasburg is a big mystery, but so far has delivered as well. You can’t count Melancon because they did try to sign him, he just left.


    3 May 17 at 10:13 am

  3. Well, the Nats also got “lucky” on a number of big-ticket guys, not just Desi and JZim, but also Heyward, Zobrist, and some others. It wasn’t totally “luck,” as Rizzo had a firm price in every case. He also had a Plan B, which in nearly every case has proven superior to the original. When JZim didn’t sign, they went after Max. When Desi said no, they pulled off the trade of the century for Turner and Ross. The initial alternative for the Span replacement after Heyward was Revere, who didn’t turn out so well, but then they turned to Trea and subsequently made the Eaton deal. And poor Murph wasn’t even Plan B, he was Plan C, after both Zobrist and Phillips. Somehow, the Nats have managed to muddle along just fine with the lowly third choice.


    3 May 17 at 11:22 am

  4. Re: Cedeno, I believe I’ve expressed here several times that Cedeno is one of the top examples along with Blevins and Fernando Abad of Rizzo’s reckless dumping of serviceable lefty relievers. Those who were p.o.’ed about the Alphabet for FOH Schrock trade last year should recognize that those previous bad moves are what helped lead to that desperation trade.

    Frankly, I wonder if Rizzo learned the wrong lesson way back in 2009 when, after taking over for leatherpants, he was able to stabilize the Nats steaming garbage barge of a bullpen largely using the waiver wire. The fact is he got lucky that year with a few marginal arms like Mike MacDougal. Since then, Rizzo has repeatedly been trying to build bullpens on the cheap (other than the R. Soriano fiasco, which may well have been ownership’s doing).

    This season, Scherzer, Werth and Strasburg each are being paid more by themselves than the roughly $16 million the entire bullpen is getting. As the old saying goes, you get what you pay for.

    Karl Kolchak

    3 May 17 at 2:38 pm

  5. So which has been the Nats greater perpetual quest: a centerfielder, or reliable lefty relievers?


    3 May 17 at 5:19 pm

  6. The only true f.o. blunder here is Nick Pivetta considering what they received.

    They were lucky with Jordan Zimmemann’s greed, he landed up signing for what he rejected fron the Nats. He looks like a #5 starter at best these days.

    Best of luck to Taylor Jordan.

    Mark L

    3 May 17 at 5:23 pm

  7. 1) there certainly has been a lot of luck in Rizzo’s tenure. I say this not as a Rizzo critic, because I am a big fan, but as a realist. He chased Heyward, Fielder and Tex hard and lost. Several other pitchers are in the same boat (Leake was one, for instance). You can say he held firm to his price, but those would have been pretty bad contracts at Rizzo’s price too. KW noted that Murph was 3rd choice, although I’ve heard it speculated that Rizzo thought his market was going to be higher, and jumped when he realized it was as low as it was

    2) I think it’s fair to say that Rizzo doesn’t want to spend a lot on his bullpen, other than the rumors about one of the big 3 closers. But if you have to trade off somewhere, isn’t the bullpen the place? Wouldn’t you rather invest in the players that play more innings?


    3 May 17 at 5:23 pm

  8. What about Sandy Leon? He was traded for a song at the end of spring training ’15.


    3 May 17 at 11:00 pm

  9. Wasn’t Leon also an out-of-options situation?

    We can debate until the cows come home — and probably will — whether the Nats should have gone after Pap. But it’s revisionist history to think that Pivetta was a top prospect who they gave up to get him. He wasn’t. He had been promoted to AA but had an ERA over 7, and he proceeded to post an ongoing ERA over 7 for the Phils at AA that year. Yeah, he was a big righty who threw hard, but the Nats draft those by the bushel. Only a few seem to pan out.

    Good for him that he’s figured things out. Bad for us that he’ll be a divisional reminder of the Pap debacle.


    4 May 17 at 7:55 am

  10. As for big righties who throw hard, unpack your bags Jacob Turner. Two hits, no runs, and no walks over four innings against an above-average lineup is pretty impressive. This guy was a top prospect and a high draft pick (9th overall). Is it possible that he’s figured things out at age 25?


    4 May 17 at 7:59 am

  11. KW

    4 May 17 at 9:35 am

  12. Yeah, Turner is the big news of the day. The Nats shopping at the discount aisle always yields something interesting every year.

    To me, it matters not that Murphy was plan C. He was signed after his market fell. And Rizzo made that effort and investment that others, even the team that knew him well, did not. Rizzo is judged by his solutions that he delivers and the problems he creates. And if divine providence helps with some solutions, such as Heyward getting away, do be it.

    In that regard, I’m very much with Karl about the Cedeno and Blevins deals being examples of the problems created by the organization. Whether it is the manager (Cedeno and Williams) or the ownership (arbitration and Blevins), the GM still has the capacity to put his foot down, and Rizo clearly runs the show. The chatter about the Lerners strongarming Rizzo is just WaPo fishwrap that repeats itself because the WaPo can and the alternative (admitting their sloppiness) is never to be expected from the news media.

    Rizzo deserves all the credit for bringing Scherzer in a year before Zimm left. They had a year to sign Zimm and they passed with Scherzer on board.

    I wonder how this kind of (successful) proactive thinking is factoring into post-Harper planning, either with the upcoming draft or international signings or the Cuban marketplace.


    4 May 17 at 10:34 am

  13. Rizzo seems to operate on the firm-price principle. As you noted, some blame the Lerners for the inflexibility, but I think in most cases it’s more Rizzo having in mind a dollar figure for the talent in question. It’s a very sound way to run a franchise. (The deferred money stuff is probably coming more from the Lerners.) In most cases, the price level and/or number of years at which Rizzo has drawn the line has made sense to me. I didn’t understand the pursuit of Heyward, but all’s well that ends well.

    Typically, Rizzo hasn’t broached the extension subject very early. It has usually been with a season or season-and-a-half left (JZim and Desi). The Stras deal got done at the start of his final arb season. Ramos didn’t get a firm offer until about halfway through his final arb season. When JZim and Desi said “no,” Rizzo didn’t wait around to fill their slots. Both guys ended up playing alongside their replacements (Max and Trea). (Can’t remember if Storen even got an extension offer.)

    I bring up the timelines and the replacements-ahead-of-time as we hurtle toward the mother of all walk years next season with Bryce on the clock (not to mention Murph). I seem to be one of the few holdouts who think that a Harper extension is possible; I’m not saying “likely,” but “possible.” (I didn’t even think a Stras extension was “possible.”)

    There are two big elements to this: A) would Harper sign? and B) can the team come up with enough to offer him while not hamstringing themselves for other acquisitions? I’ll handle “B” first. The Lerners have plenty of money, and they’ll have even more whenever the MASN silliness gets settled. (As I always bring up, if they were hurtin’ for operating money, they would have sold the stadium naming rights a long time ago.) The Werth contract will also be off the books. The money will be there.

    As for “A,” I think the Nats have to make an offer, and a credible one. It’s not just for on-field reasons, as Karl and others have noted in other posts. Call Zim the “face of the franchise” all you want, but the kids in this area probably have ten times more #34s than they do #11s.

    The other interesting part of the picture is if Bryce/Boras say a flat “no” or demure, will Rizzo follow his usual MO and more actively pursue a replacement?


    4 May 17 at 1:13 pm

  14. Well, that’s why Romero is here; Albers too. So why is Blanton here? To keep the games close?

    I didn’t see the logic of pinch-hitting for Albers, particularly with .217 Difo. Just leave him in. It’s good to see what Romero can do when he can actually find the plate, though.

    I’m praying for a rain-out in Philly so we can skip Cole. One Philly start by a guy who shouldn’t be pitching in the majors should be more than enough for one season!


    4 May 17 at 5:29 pm

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