Nationals Arm Race

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

A weekend of injuries, moves and trades


Ross down and out. Photo Getty Images via

Ross down and out.
Photo Getty Images via

As I mentioned in the comments on the previous post, I was away from computer all weekend so I missed the opportunity to comment on all the major things that went down.

So this is a clearing house of thoughts.


Joe Ross to undergo Tommy John; I don’t think anyone saw this coming, but then again nobody saw it coming with Stephen Strasburg either.  With Stras it seemed to be a one-pitch injury.  Ross’ pitch f/x data for his last start indicated that he was definitely off his typical velocity; compare his 90mph average on July 9th to his July 4th start, where he started routinely in the 93-94 range, before dropping off a cliff towards the end of his outing.  If I had to guess, I’d guess he might have injured his arm somewhere in the 7th inning or so of his July 4th start and tried to give it a go the next outing before his teammate Max Scherzer spotted his distress.  Ross finishes a struggle of a 2017 season where he got an amazing 10.55 runs per 27 outs of support; in 6 of his 13 starts the team scored more than 10 runs for him.  He clearly had settled down from early season issues, throwing four consecutive quality starts and again looking like perhaps the best #5 starter in the league.  Now he’s out until the all star break of next year at best, likely until September of 2018.  He’s only 24, mind  you, but this injury comes at a tough time for him; he’ll be arbitration eligible for the first time after the 2018 season, one in which he may only  make a handful of starts.  So this will cost Ross millions of dollars…. and will save the Nats at a time when they may be looking to save pennies for Bryce Harper.

Looking at the rotation for 2018; as we’ll soon find out (read on), there’s not a whole lotta help on the farm, so the Nats are probably shopping for starters this coming off-season, unless you guys think Erick Fedde will be ready for prime time next April.

In the meantime, it leads to a sticky situation in the near term yet again for this team.  They traded away all their near-to-the-majors starting depth last off season, and have had to give starts already this season to three non-rotation guys (Jacob TurnerA.J. Cole and the ill-fated Jeremy Guthrie start early on).  Well, now their starting depth in the minors is even weaker; A.J. Cole’s AAA era this year  is a nifty 6.00 and the only other 40-man roster starter (Austin Voth) is even worse; he’s pitched to a 6.38 ERA in Syracuse this year and is either doing a rehab assignment or is being outright demoted to Harrisburg as we speak.



So instead of going with an internal option, the brain trust is enlisting the help of MLFA Edwin Jackson, who eternally owes Mike Rizzo a bottle of champagne for NOT offering him a qualifying offer when he became a FA after his run-of-the-mill 2012 season for us.  The lack of the QO enabled Jackson to get a 4 year deal he never would have gotten otherwise, but cost the Nats a pick that they probably could have used … heck a junior college starter drafted towards the end of the first round in 2013 … probably would have been Sean Manaea, currently dominating for the same Oakland As who just sent us our next wave of bullpen reinforcements (more on that in a moment).  But I digress.

We plan on giving Edwin Jackson another shot in the majors, despite his giving up 11 hits and 4 walks in 5 innings for Baltimore earlier this year, despite his pitching to a 5.89 ERA in San Diego last year (where everybody looks like a Cy Young winner).   I’ll say this: if the Nats can score in double digits for Jackson the same way they did for Ross … maybe it won’t matter than his ERA sits in the 6-7 range.  It’ll look like a slow-pitch softball game.

But what choice do the Nats have?  Erick Fedde you say?  Have you seen his inconsistency in Syracuse?  Its like the Nats didn’t learn from jerking Tanner Roark around a couple years ago; Starting pitchers are creatures of habit.  They eat the same meal 2 hours before they pitch, they do the same running and lifting sessions in-between outings.  If you have a successful starter, you don’t suddenly decide he’s a middle reliever.  So it should be of no surprise that Fedde’s all over the road right now.

Jacob Turner?  Well, he’ll be around too; I’m guessing he’s option 1-B to Jackson as 1-A.  But Turner is no savior; you don’t get DFA’d and pass through waivers and accept an outright to AAA as a pitching prospect in the modern game unless the rest of the league really, really doesn’t like you.  To say there’s a lack of quality starting pitching depth in the league right now is kind of an understatement.

Who else is starting for this team in the upper minors?  Here’s the rest of the Syracuse rotation right now: Sean O’Sullivan, Jared Long, Greg Ross.  Her’es their current AAA ERAs respectively: 4.40, 5.29, 6.34.  Here’s how we acquired them, again respectively: MLFA  in May of this year, MLFA in April of last year, and again MLFA in April of last year.  So three org guys just eating up AAA innings, none of which are pitching especially well.  No wonder Luke Erickson over at has given up tracking the AAA team this year.

Maybe we drop down to AA: how’s that look?  Bleak.  Taylor Hill is already demoted once this year and is closer to a release than a promotion.  Austen Williams: 6.85 ERA.  Matthew Crownover is pushing a 5.00 ERA.  They just got Wirkin Estevez off the D/L: he’s only got 26 innings of 4.10 ERA pitching above A-Ball.   Lastly there’s  John Simms, the “Ace” of Harrisburg’s staff who is pitching there for the *fourth* successive season.  He’s got solid numbers: 4-6 with a 3.57 ERA but middling K/9 rates  and some hittability; would you rather roll the dice on a grizzled veteran with more than 1700 innings on his MLB resume or go with a guy who you refuse to promote even to AAA despite the same decently solid numbers year over year?  I think you have your answer.

So lets see how it goes.  Jackson’s Syracuse numbers for 2017 are pretty nifty; 20 innings, 9 hits, 22 ks.  Oh and 10 walks; we’ll just say that last part a little more quietly and focus on the positive.  As I noted in the comments section in another blog … we’re about to see just what the difference is between AAA and the majors.

Meanwhile, after more and more ridiculousness in the late-innings of games (including a 7 run collapse late last week that nearly blew a 10-run cushion), the Nats finally made their move to bolster the bullpen (and hopefully grease the skids for a wholesale shedding of deadweight off the 40-man roster by everyone involved in the latest debacle).  Rizzo called up his best buddy Billy Beane and pulled off what I think is a pretty good trade:

  • Acquire: Sean DoolittleRyan Madsen: both mid-30s one inning guys with excellent numbers this year and neither being one-year rentals.
  • Give up: Blake TreinenJesus Luzardo and Sheldon Neuse

Treinen just needs a mental D/L trip; there’s nothing appreciably different with his stuff from last year (when he was good) to this year (when he has been awful).  Classic change of scenery guy who returns to his drafting team and probably has a solid rest-of-2017.  Luzardo and Neuse are good prospects but  young and several years away; perfect for what Oakland wants.  I’m bummed they’re leaving (especially Luzardo, who by all accounts has come all the way back from TJ surgery and had looked solid in his early GCL outings).  Prior to 2017, Neuse was generally about our 8th best prospect and Luzardo 12th or so.  Both have improved their rankings with their play this year, so this may look more foolish if Luzardo becomes a #2 starter in a few years.   But as they say, you have to give up stuff to get stuff.

As others noted, the Nats managed to get these two guys without giving up any of their top ranked prospects (Robles, Soto, Fedde, Kieboom), which is a huge win.


Crazy weekend.  Sorry I missed it in realtime.

25 Responses to 'A weekend of injuries, moves and trades'

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  1. Carrying over from the last discussion, the reason I’m suggesting that the Nats at least think about acquiring a starter now is not so much that they need one this year. They have a 10.5-game lead, could limp to the finish line with one of us pitching every fifth day, and don’t need a fifth starter in the playoffs . . . at least unless Roark goes back to sucking. My thinking is more that if they trade for someone now, they not only bolster the rotation for the rest of this season, they get a jump on filling the slot for next year as well. If they get someone who is controlled for several years, they have Gio essentially replaced after next season, if Ross makes it back OK.

    I said at the time of the Eaton trade that the Nats were betting big on Fedde. Well, fate has anted up, and their bluff has been called. The Nats now need a fifth starter, and Fedde isn’t ready to answer the bell. (FWIW, Giolito and Lopez haven’t done any better at AAA than Fedde and wouldn’t be what we need right now, either.)

    So after years and years of investing high draft picks on pitchers, we got nuttin’. Voth actually got demoted to AA yesterday, where he still got rocked. (Inconveniently for him, it was the day before they may need to DFA someone, although they could move Werth to the 60-day DL.) Cole has gone backward by every measure. I actually had some hope for Turner, but he hasn’t turned out to be much.

    So . . . now what? They could go big for someone like Fulmer or Stroman, with the conversation likely starting with Robles AND Fedde, plus other stuff. I wouldn’t mind such a trade . . . and might even throw in more to have it be Fulmer & Wilson or Stroman and Osuna.

    The cheaper route, in terms of prospects, would be to go after someone like J. A. Happ. I’m not thrilled by his peripherals, but he is a lefty and controlled for one more year (for $13M). It doesn’t have to be Happ, but I’d really like another lefty to throw against the Dodgers. The Dodgers’ worst nightmare would be Max, Stras, and two lefties.

    We’ll see. For now, I’ll note that there’s a guy available who had a 3.07 ERA and 1.168 ERA in 2015. He’s starting for us tonight. (And yes, he’s sucked mightily since then.)


    18 Jul 17 at 8:34 am

  2. Oh, in looking at the other laundry list of failed starters, Austen Williams has been demoted to Potomac.


    18 Jul 17 at 8:36 am

  3. That is kind of interesting but if they considered something like that, they need to go big. Otherwise I just don’t see it helping enough to make up for the system hit. So Robles, Fedde, Joe Ross and another prospect for Stroman and Osuna? Ok I’d have to think hard about that.

    But one of the 4 for Happ? No thanks doesn’t change their odds enough. But that’s just me. I’ve come around a bit to the ‘go for it in 2017-18’ because I think 2019 + could be a full on rebuild. We could be without Harp, Murph, Stras and Gio, with only 1 more year of Rendon, Zim and Roark. I don’t know how they replace that.


    18 Jul 17 at 9:19 am

  4. Getting Stroman and Osuna would be a big step toward extending the “window.” It seems far-fetched, but you never know. Yes, I’d do Robles/Fedde/Ross/+ for that duo.

    I wouldn’t give up any of the “big 4” for Happ, though. I’d be looking for a budget buy while the Jays dump salary. Of course we’ve been known to (regularly) overpay to have some or all of that salary eaten.


    18 Jul 17 at 9:49 am

  5. Its like the Nats didn’t learn from jerking Tanner Roark around a couple years ago; Starting pitchers are creatures of habit. They eat the same meal 2 hours before they pitch, they do the same running and lifting sessions in-between outings. If you have a successful starter, you don’t suddenly decide he’s a middle reliever.

    For the record, the Cardinals have several times used up and coming starter prospects in the bullpen, then returned them to the starting rotation, without apparent ill effect.

    I’m not sure what the basis for assuming that (a) the Nats would have gotten a comp pick for EJax in 2013, or (b) much less that the comp pick would have been Manea. But hey, anything to get a dig in at the Nationals, amirite?

    John C.

    18 Jul 17 at 11:15 am

  6. Here’s my post on 11/5/2012 with the title: “Why no Qualifying Offer for Edwin Jackson?”

    this is no case of hindsight; I was pissed about it then, and am still pissed about it today. the QO was $13.3M for a one year deal that year; Jackson signed a 4yr/$52M deal with the cubs, so yeah I think he would have easily garnered a comp pick. I don’t know exactly when it would have been, but an assumption of “end of the first round” is safe enough. Manaea was a supp 1st rounder and is precisely the type of player the Nats frequently pick in the first round: established solid college junior starter. I stand by what I wrote in 2012 and what I wrote yesterday: it was a dumb decision that (if I didn’t know any better) was just Rizzo/Lerner throwing a bone to Boras (Jackson’s agent).

    Todd Boss

    18 Jul 17 at 1:46 pm

  7. On the theory that St. Louis brilliantly converts startsers to relievers and then back again; Lets look more closely. Here’s their current rotation:
    – Carlos Martinez: starter in minors, they made him a reliever for 2013 and 2014; his ERAs those two years: 5.08 and 4.03. Make him a starter again in 2015 and his ERA drops to 3.01 and he makes the all-star game. So no, i’d say this was a failure of a temporary conversion attempt.
    – Mike Leake: he was never a reliever, and he never spent a day in the minors. in 225 career appearances he’s started 220 of them.
    – Lance Lynn; he relieved for 34 innings his rookie season, not exactly proof of being used predominantly as a reliever. Otherwise has nearly always started.
    – Wainwright: he relieved one year; his rookie year before becoming the #1/#2 starter that he was for nearly a decade. 3.12 ERA as a middle reliever. His handling early in his career supports the theory.
    – Wacha; he raced to the majors in his draft year, where he split time as a starter and reliever (15 games, 9 starts, 6 relief appearances). Otherwise has always started. So no support for the theory here.

    So, you have 3 guys who basically have never pitched in relief, Martinez who was clearly worse as a reliever, and Wainwright who supports the theory. Call it a 20% support rate.

    Lets move backwards to look at more of their starters from the recent past: here’s every primary starter they’ve employed dating to 2010:
    – Jaime Garcia: he threw 10 relief innings as a 21 yr old, otherwise started in nearly every appearance he had for STL over the course of his 10 year career with them.
    – Jon Lackey was a 2yr veteran contract signing so he’s not applicable.
    – Shelby Miller: again, 13 relief innings his rookie year, then literally 120 straight starts. No support for the theory.
    – jake Westbrook; like Lackey, a veteran signing so not applicable
    – Joe Kelly: a weird case where he was always kind of a 6th starter/swing man guy, then was put full time in the rotation and struggled. I’m not really sure he is evidence of a starter becoming a reliever because he was still making starts (and many of them).
    – Kyle Lohse: veteran signing, grew up in another org.
    – chris Carpenter: same as Lohse
    – Edwin Jackson: same as Lohse
    – Jeff Suppan: same as Lohse.

    Ok, so that’s EVERY primary rotation starter for St. Louis going back to their 2010 season. I see exactly one case (Wainwright) where you could argue that they had “success” making a career starter in the minors a reliever temporarily, then had him return to starting with success. Just one.

    I didn’t post this to be argumentative necessarily; i’ve heard the same thing about how “genius” the St Louis handling of pitchers is and wanted to research it. … but the evidence doesn’t support it.

    Todd Boss

    18 Jul 17 at 2:45 pm

  8. On Jackson, IIRC, I disagreed with you in 2012, too. 🙂 Although if it was a side deal with Boras, I think that it was a handshake deal for signing him to the one year contract, not a decision made at the end of the season.

    On Manea, I notice that whenever someone criticizes the Nats for a player not taken, they always pick the shiny success story and not the myriad less successful options (Why Storen not Trout!?!? – ignoring that Storen was one of the more successful players drafted in the first round that year). The draft, yes even at the back end of the first round, is a crap shoot. It’s just the winning combinations on the die roll get worse as the draft goes on.

    A tip of the cap for the research, but I think it takes some serious mental gymnastics to say it doesn’t show the point that I’m trying to make. Looking at your numbers, I’d say that Wacha, Lynn, Wainwright, Garcia, and Miller were all starters through the minors who were used successfully in relief in their first go around at the MLB level. The fact that most didn’t stay in the bullpen for long doesn’t change the fact that the Cardinals flipped them from starting to relieving and back to starting again. No wonder the Cardinals didn’t hesitate to try it again with Martinez, with less happy results for them.

    John C.

    18 Jul 17 at 5:04 pm

  9. Well, I don’t normally like to go against the guy who runs the site :-), but I find myself oddly compelled here. Maybe because I have always liked the idea of breaking in starting prospects as low leverage relievers.

    when John C said For the record, the Cardinals have several times used up and coming starter prospects in the bullpen, then returned them to the starting rotation, without apparent ill effect. I read it with this at the end on them as starters Meaning that giving them exposure as a reliever didn’t slow down their overall development as a starter.

    In virtually all of the homegrown starter cases you cited, they got their feet wet at the pro level in a low leverage way and then went on to have good success as a starter. It doesn’t matter that they weren’t very successful as relievers, just that it didn’t hurt their success as a starter. And I do think that is what the Nats experimented with in the minors with Fedde, and may even do in the majors. I think it remains a good way to let kids break into the majors.


    18 Jul 17 at 5:36 pm

  10. I’ll keep an eye on the Tigers and Nats, as I noted in last thread.

    The 5th starter is a 2018 problem, and the Nats are well served by getting a jump on winter now.


    18 Jul 17 at 6:29 pm

  11. A big part of why the Card mythology is ingrained in our brains is Trevor Rosenthal. He had been a starter throughout the minors, but the Cards had brought him up late in 2012 and used him out of the bullpen. They proclaimed that he was still going to be a starter, though, which we heard incessantly from whichever talking heads were broadcasting a certain NDLS series. And of course we were told over and over how brilliant the Cards were for doing it that way.

    As of six years later, Rosenthal has zero (0) major-league starts.

    ‘Nuh said about the stupid Cards.


    18 Jul 17 at 8:25 pm

  12. J. D. Martinez to the Snakes, inconveniently right before we’ll see them. With Greinke to start the wild card game, they’ll be the favorites to move on to face the Dodgers. Unfortunately, Greinke would only be available for one start in that series. They’ve got two lefties in Ray and Corbin to throw at the Dodgers, though. So the Dodgers would face lefties in at least three games and Greinke in the other. That will not be a sure thing at all for the Dodgers.

    Can we just skip on to October now?


    18 Jul 17 at 8:34 pm

  13. And the Snakes will be very RH-hitting-heavy. So are we looking for a fifth starter to beat the Dodgers (lefty), or the Snakes (righty)? Guess we will have to get by the Brewers or Cubs first. I’m going to laugh so hard if the Cubs miss the playoffs!


    18 Jul 17 at 8:38 pm

  14. Gee, I wonder whether we can find a starter who can go seven and give up only three hits and two runs. Who knows whether it can continue, but that’s a heck of a start.


    19 Jul 17 at 5:13 am

  15. Also looks like we won’t have to listen to the Robertson rumors anymore. Good for Rizzo for striking when he did, and getting what he could get.

    Meanwhile, it would have to be interesting to be a Chisox fan. Your team has assembled one of the greatest collections of prospects in recent history, but you’ve got not much left on your MLB roster.


    19 Jul 17 at 5:21 am

  16. On whether the Nats would have taken Manaea with their lost comp pick: How many times have the Nats drafted a college junior arm in the first round now under the Rizzo era? 2017: Romero, 2016: Dunning. 2015; no 1st rounder. 2014: Fedde. 2013: no 1st rounder, 2012: Giolito fell to them unexpectedly but by all accounts Wacha was next on their board and would have been the pick. 2011: Meyer after also getting Rendon higher. 2010 they draft Harper 1-1. 2009: Strasburg and Storen. So, no its not a stretch for me to say that, if the Nats had retained/obtained another 1st round pick, they likely would have used it on a high-end college arm.

    its the same argument, btw, that I made over and again about the pick they gave up for signing Rafael Soriano.

    10 relief innings during a 9/1 call-up is not the same as being used a full season or two in relief. If that’s the “evidence of genius” by the StL management in terms of bringing up pitchers/bringing them along, then I guess i’m missing the point. *Everybody* calls up arms after 9/1 and gives them innings here and there.

    Todd Boss

    19 Jul 17 at 11:20 am

  17. Color me somewhat shocked by Jackson’s first outing.

    Todd Boss

    19 Jul 17 at 11:26 am

  18. If I was a CWS fan i’d look no further than my cross-town rivals and what Houston is doing right now and be ecstatic about the future.

    Todd Boss

    19 Jul 17 at 11:27 am

  19. A few thoughts to add to the above:

    I’m delighted about EJax’ outing, but I am thinking of the fifth starter situation as 2018 (and even 2019, post-Gio). Other than Fedde, there is no one above A- with any promise as a starting pitcher for a championship team. Now yes, Tanner Roark blossomed at AAA, so there is always the possibility that one of the arms in the organization takes it to another level. I’ve always expected that from John Simms. But there is no 5th starter for 2018, period. And to suggest that EJax will be the Nats 5th starter next year is fanciful. With that noted, the market is a buyers market for teams with prospect depth to trade to also-rans. Rizzo is great at knowing his market, and this is the climate in which to pluck a controllable starter who has yet to rise (or to get a chance to rise). Remember, the Nats were interested in Jake Arietta also, before the Cubs traded for him.
    Trading on budget with an eye toward 2018’s roster recognizes that Jason Werth will be off the books (at this point I cannot see them bringing him back, as he misses too much time and is better off as a DH-1B).

    Taylor’s health and return are important. If Goodwin can put a brief spurt together, he can be an ML piece for the Nats to include to sell high. I am certain that teams find Difo attractive, but as a player who has really jumped in responsibility, he is showing that he has not yet peaked but he can swim in the big leagues.

    Weiters will renew his option, I would think. That buys the Nats another year of resolving their catcher of the future.

    The Yankee-WS trade is interesting to consider in the context of what they wanted from the Nats for Robertson alone.

    It’s a credit to the Nats that they keep winning with so many injuries and keep scoring lots of runs despite no Trea Turner. Rendon’s surge is opportune.

    I say all of this because it just feels like the atmosphere in which Rizzo sees value and trumps the market.


    19 Jul 17 at 2:58 pm

  20. One additional point on Goodwin. Since the Nats are winning and surging, no one will be traded off the everyday team unless the return is meaningful and the part is replaceable. The risk is unnecessary with team chemistry as it is.

    Once Taylor returns, the dynamic changes when he is back in the lineup. Whether he gets back before the trading deadline is another story. But timing may keep Goodwin from being the piece and may make Stevenson a more likely chip.

    The best trades and free agents signed are, as we have seen, often the ones not made. The Nats non-trade of Gio Gonzalez to the Yankees looks incredible now.


    19 Jul 17 at 3:04 pm

  21. It is worth noting that the Nats are now down 36% from their “core 14” guys (8 starting fielders, 5 rotation members, 1 closer)
    – started season: Wieters, Zim, Murphy, Turner, Rendon, Werth, Eaton, Harper, Scherz, Stras, Gio, Ross, Roark, Treinen
    – now down Turner, Werth, Eaton, Ross and Treinen

    Thats a lot. You take away 1/3rd of most team’s core 14 like that and they’re in last place.

    Todd Boss

    19 Jul 17 at 5:28 pm

  22. The relative prices in the big trades yesterday were relatively low, surprisingly low in the case of Martinez. (Dave Cameron had a good post on how the Tigers probably realized there was little market for him.) The Chisox got one very young sorta-high prospect in Rutherford but gave up a lot in return. Considering what they were asking for just Robertson, it didn’t seem like much in return.

    That said, the word is that the Yanks went hard for relievers after finding the cost for starters prohibitive.

    Anyway, there seem to be some bargains to be had, if you’re looking for the right guy in the right place at the right time, or if the trading team gets desperate that it won’t get much in return. I don’t think Rizzo is done, but I also don’t think he wants to move top prospects unless there is cheaper, controlled, high-level talent to be had (Osuna, Stroman, Fulmer, et al.). More likely, he may just get another bullpen arm.


    19 Jul 17 at 7:17 pm

  23. Nats said to be in on Justin Wilson, unwilling to part with Robles, Fedde, or Soto. That sounds right, particularly for a guy only controlled for one more year who didn’t do any closing until this season. He’d be a nice addition if they could get him for a reasonable price. I wouldn’t consider him a “true closer,” though, particularly for the postseason.


    20 Jul 17 at 7:15 pm

  24. Seth Romero surfaces on the GCL Nats roster.Hopefully he will debut better than Crowe.


    20 Jul 17 at 10:55 pm

  25. I don’ think Crowe will pitch much the rest of the summer. He obviously was on a strict pitch count in his one GCL game. He threw 92.1 IP in college this year coming off TJ, so I can’t see them pushing him too long and too far.

    Romero, by contrast, threw about half that number of innings. He needs some work. I’m sorta surprised they didn’t send him straight to Auburn.


    21 Jul 17 at 6:59 am

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