Nationals Arm Race

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

Goodbye Tanner


Roark parts ways with the club. Photo via

Roark parts ways with the club. Photo via

The rumors ended up being true.  The Washington Nationals, who have traded away half a dozen top pitching prospects in the past few years and who have now cut ties with an additional half dozen starters just since the trade deadline of 2018, have traded away their #4 starter Tanner Roark.

Their return?  Tanner Rainey, a 25yr old RHP 8th inning type who apparently throws hard, just finished his age 25 season,  has 5 years of control, and got shelled in his MLB debut last year.

I dunno; why exactly did the team make this move?  Was it a salary dump?  Was the prospect of paying Roark a projected $9.8M too much to stomach, given that he’s provided just slightly worse than league average pitching over the past two seasons?  I guess so.  Was it worth the return?  I mean, a AAA reliever isn’t exactly something to write home about, so its kind of clear that moving the salary was more important here.

But why would a team that has practically no SP depth … get rid of its 4th best starter?  A guy who eats innings, who never gets hurt, who has shown flashes of brillance in the past, and who represents one of the best player development/low-end acquisitions in the history of the franchise?

Here’s all the starters the team has parted ways with just since the beginning of last season: Gio Gonzalez, Jeremy Hellickson, A.J. Cole, Edwin Jackson, Tommy Milone, Jefry Rodriguez and now Roark.

here’s all the starting pitching prospects the team has shed since the 2016 Winter Meetings shock Adam Eaton move: McKenzie Mills, Tyler Watson, Mick VanVossen, Jesus Luzardo, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Dane Dunning.

I mean, that’s a lot of arms now out of the system.  And now the team needs to augment in the FA market.

Implications of the move:

  • 40-man: no change: one man off, one man on.  We saill sit at 38/40
  • Payroll: losing Roark’s 9.8M (and offsetting it by the same $150k that Rainey will make that was already accounted for), Nats now project to be at $177M or so, leaving about $28.6M of payroll room.
  • The 2019 Rotation, without any more moves, is now quite iffy looking.  The big 3, then Joe Ross, and then Erick Fedde nicely slotted into the current #5 slot.

Still plenty of starters on the market.  Are the nats going to get one as good as Roark for the $10M estimate they clearly didn’t think he was worth?

Written by Todd Boss

December 13th, 2018 at 4:26 pm

Posted in Majors Pitching

17 Responses to 'Goodbye Tanner'

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  1. It is indeed a bit of a head scratcher. I figured they might add another veteran starter and send Ross to the bullpen to be the long man. It isn’t just the rotation that looks shaky at the moment. Right now the back of the pen consists of two guys who are great when healthy, but will be tough to replace if either goes down for any length of time.

    Given Rizzo’s miserable track record with relief pitching, I wish he was showing more urgency. How can they go into the season with Grace and Solis as the only two lefty middle relievers, for example? They have nearly $550 million in contracts tied up in just three guys, and less than $20 million guaranteed to the rest of the staff, most of which will go to the Big 2 relievers. That’s quite an imbalance.

    Karl Kolchak

    13 Dec 18 at 10:30 pm

  2. This is the kind of move the Nats needed to make if they want to get demonstrably “better.” It’s not without risk, and in fact the challenge of nailing the landing got a little steeper when the price for mediocrity went up with Lynn’s 3/$30M deal. I had argued that the Nats should think about non-tendering Roark, but they took that risk, and although overall this deal is somewhat of a salary dump, Rainey is more of a return than they would have gotten for a non-tender.

    The Nats now have more money to spend, although how much more is still in question. (Boz says $26M in his latest column.) They need at least one starting pitcher, maybe two. Some folks at NatsTalk are jumping up and down for Miley, but for the #5 slot. I’m not convinced that they’ll be signing two starters, though. At some point they’ve got to trust Ross and/or Fedde.

    Bringing forward some things I mentioned in the last post, I’ll reiterate that I don’t think the Nats have enough cash to go after Keuchel and still fill out the roster. From my mess with FA starter peripheral stats, he’s how I would handicap the rest of the field. I had Cahill and Buchholz ranked very closely to the group that included Keuchel, Eovaldi, and Happ. There was a little gap after them to Sanchez (who seemed to have a miracle run in ’18) and Brett Anderson, whose peripherals placed him higher than his counting stats might indicate. There’s then a bit of another gap to (Lynn), Miley, D. Holland, Harvey, Hellickson, and Gio. By the way I figured things, Roark would have ranked between Holland and Harvey. All in all, though, I don’t see any of the guys from that last group as an “upgrade” on Roark, just possibly $2-3M cheaper than Roark (although none ate the level of innings Roark did).

    Then there are the juicy trade possibilities, Kluber, Bauer, Greinke, Alex Wood, Bumgarner, Jon Gray, Sonny Gray. S. Gray would cost very little (comparable to what the Nats got for Roark). Greinke would be on a sliding scale, requiring more return if the Nats would want significant salary relief. I still don’t see how that one works financially, though. Bumgarner is tricky, because he’s not “worth” that much more than the Roark return, but as a franchise icon, they’d be expecting more for him to save face. I don’t know that the Nats could/would put together big enough packages for Kluber or Bauer. That gets us to Wood and J. Gray, who might be the most possible/intriguing. Frankly, I think Wood is better than Happ. He’s projected to get $9M in arb, which would be a steal.


    14 Dec 18 at 8:43 am

  3. By the way, I would have done the 2/$30 for Morton in a heartbeat. It’s weird that he ended up with a borderline team, and far from Delaware, for that price, particularly with so many contenders needing pitching.


    14 Dec 18 at 9:19 am

  4. Maybe they plan on flipping prospects for players at this point. Tehir top 10 prospects roughly are: Robles, Kieboom, Garcia, Crowe, Romero, Denaburg, Fedde, Atuna, Cate and Read. Some of these guys should be untouchable (Robles, Kieboom, Denaburg), some are going to fetch basically nothing (Romero, Read, Fedde). That leaves probably Garcia as the best trade asset, Atuna and Cate maybe as lesser possibilities? Crowe: is he untouchable? I mean at some point this team needs to develop a starter who makes less than $20M/year.

    Todd Boss

    14 Dec 18 at 1:01 pm

  5. My understanding is that Antuna is injured and will miss most if not all of this upcoming season. He’d be a “sell low.”

    Garcia is probably the most likely trade candidate. If the Nats extend Rendon he becomes a man without a position, and he’s developing at a rate similar to Robles and Soto. Should he continue to improve at the rate he has been, he’ll likely be ready the make his MLB debut sometime next year.

    At the very least, it does seem like Rizzo has something up his sleeve as far as another major trade. At least this time he didn’t rush to make a splash at the winter meetings and end up overpaying for a 2nd tier player.

    Karl Kolchak

    14 Dec 18 at 1:37 pm

  6. I think Crowe is certainly tradeable, and with little remorse.

    An issue I’ve mentioned before with Nat trade assets is that there’s not much of a second tier. In fact, Daniel Johnson and J-Rod may have been that tier all by themselves. Up top you’ve got Robles, C. Kieboom, and probably Garcia. I don’t see Denaburg as that level of hold-on-at-all costs yet, so maybe he’s the second tier. Cate wasn’t good in his pro debut (ERA over 5), so I don’t think he has much value right now, and Antuna really struggled. I think they need Fedde too much right now to think about moving him, even if he ends up at Fresno as the 6th starter, awaiting Stras’s inevitable vacation. Read I would trade, and he might have some value, considering how scare hitting catchers are.

    There aren’t too many in-between trades out there for the Nats right now, though. The Kluber or Bauer conversations would start with Robles. On the flip side, Sonny Gray could be had for a bag of balls (AKA Tanner Rainey). Wood might come cheaply . . . for a team that would take Puig’s contract. If the Giants are being realistic, Bumgarner could be had for something along the lines of MAT, Crowe, and Drew Ward. (But they’re probably not being realistic.)

    I know a lot of folks would scream, but I’d at least think about Robles for two years of Bauer. (The Nats would have a hard time fitting Kluber’s AAV of $17.5M.) We all hope that Robles is above average, but if he turns into Buxton, they’ll be a lot of what-ifs about trades not made.

    Here’s a question: if the Nats were to trade for Wood and Puig, could they cut Puig and only be responsible for 1/6th of his salary? Puig is projected to make $11.3M, while Wood is projected at $9M. One-sixth of Puig would be $1.88M. I would gladly pay $10.88M for Wood, all the more if you give up very little in return since it’s essentially a salary dump.


    14 Dec 18 at 1:49 pm

  7. Karl was posting at the same time I was. Yes, I think Antuna might have had a TJ? I also agree that a Rendon extension would make Garcia more available. He’s a special talent, though, at A+ at just barely 18. If he shows power, he’ll rocket up the prospect charts.


    14 Dec 18 at 1:53 pm

  8. FWIW, I just added up Fiers’s stats in the same way I have the others, and he came out with the same exact score as Roark. There are other, better options available.

    Thanks to Kinsler for setting a very low bar for the glutted 2B market. And really, the Nats don’t need a “second baseman.” They need a guy who can play 2B, can play other positions, and can hit. Marwin Gonzalez has the ultimate versatility, but the estimated price tags connected to him seem high for a pretty average hitter (career BA .264, OPS+ 103). Forsythe has similar versatility but is a much worse hitter. Then you have Dietrich and Murphy, who are good hitters who have played multiple positions, but none of them well. Lowrie has become a significantly better hitter over the last couple of seasons but will turn 35 as the 2019 season starts. I’m scared of formerly good hitters like Dozier and Walker who have completely fallen apart. LeMahieu is 2B-limited and struggled somewhat last year as well.

    I suspect the Nats are just biding their time on this front, both to see how the market moves and what updates they get on Kendrick’s health. Once we get to January, in just a couple of weeks, agents and players will get nervous, and prices will start dropping.


    15 Dec 18 at 9:38 am

  9. I have a feeling that, while they will still add a few guys to round out the roster, I’m not going to be too excited about any of them. Fiers, Miley, Harrison – eh, whatever. They’re better than the incumbents but no one too interesting. Murphy is the only guy still out there (that’s a reasonable get) that would be exciting.

    I guess that means I don’t think Harp is coming back.


    15 Dec 18 at 2:41 pm

  10. The Nats just added Matt Adam’s again for a bargain price. ($4 million)
    Good, he was terrific until his Martinez-induced slump before the trade.

    I agree with KW on Morton; at that price he was just right.
    Enough with the 2nd baseman talk. The Mats have only enough financial room for pitching at this point.

    Mark L

    15 Dec 18 at 4:58 pm

  11. I like him and the price seems reasonable, but it’s the death knell for Murph. I know it wasn’t happening anyway, but I was hoping


    15 Dec 18 at 5:18 pm

  12. Wally — I feel exactly the same way about lamenting that Adams probably closes the door on Murph. Too bad, as I thought he would be the perfect swingman from 2B then over to 1B. I know there are legit concerns about his defense, but he may end up being the best bang-for-the-buck hitter in this FA class, at least for a couple of seasons.

    All of that said, I’m glad to have Adams back, particularly at that price. Of all the Nats, he was the one who really seemed supercharged by Kevin Long. He’s also not really a “threat” to Zim as an heir apparent. Plus Adams has a .282 career BA as a pinch hitter.

    I’m scratching my head over the news that the Nats made Kinsler an offer. Maybe they’re just going to go down the list offering one-year deals and see who will bite. The fact that they’re getting more aggressive in the 2B market does make me wonder/worry about Kendrick’s recovery, though.

    The Nats are now at 39 on the 40-man and still very likely have two or three guys to add. Severino would figure to be the first guy on the chopping block. Don’t know whether he could net a bag of balls in a trade, or if they attempt to run him through a DFA and hope no one claims him.


    15 Dec 18 at 7:24 pm

  13. If that’s what they’re doing for second baseman, I applaud them. They’re all mostly the same to me, so I’d rank them and have a number in my head. Start at the top, say ‘you got 24 hours on a 1/$4 million deal’. If he accepts, you’re done. If not move onto the next guy. They are fungible. And I said earlier in the offseason, given the type of injury and age of Kendrick, I’d put June 1 as the over/under for getting back on the field. And then being rusty. Let’s just call him a 2nd half addition.

    I like Adams, he was great here so I’m happy he’s back. But I agree with you on Murphy. The guy just doesn’t really get proper recognition for the hitter he became 4 years ago.


    15 Dec 18 at 8:01 pm

  14. Regarding the one year deals, it’s seems the Nats are also attempting to give themselves maximum flexibility for next off-season. Other than the Big 3, I believe the only other player who has a guaranteed deal beyond this season is Suzuki. Maybe they want to see how the young guys develop and whether Strasburg plans to opt out of his deal before committing to any additional long term contracts. In any event, they should be in a good position to sign whomever they want.

    Karl Kolchak

    15 Dec 18 at 10:13 pm

  15. Regarding the 40-man roster, I believe Gott is also out of options, and I don’t see him sticking on the active roster next year.

    Karl Kolchak

    15 Dec 18 at 10:18 pm

  16. Yes, Gott is out of options. He actually never burned one with the Angels but has used three with the Nats. And yes, it’s very hard to see him making the team. I just double checked Voth, and he still has one option left.

    The Nats still have around $20M left to spend. I think they’ll only sign one starting pitcher. The only big-ticket starter still on the board is Keuchel, and he’s probably out of their price range. Really, the bigger “name” guys out there now are relievers. The Nats have already been linked to conversations with Ottavino and Robertson (who they’ve liked for many years). Miller and Britton are still available. (And as a fallback, I wouldn’t mind a reunion with Greg Holland, who was terrific with the Nats.)

    Really, to me, the best starter available in their price range is Kikuchi. The Nats have virtually no history in the Asian market, but Boras as his agent, never say never.


    15 Dec 18 at 11:39 pm

  17. Not to bury the lede on my annual options post…. but the Nats have no less than SIX guys without options. Grace, Miller, Gott, Solis, Severino and Matt Reynolds. Rigth now its hard to make an argument for anyone past the first two guys to make the active roster. I’m sure they’re all hanging out until the end of spring to account for injury (Severino) or to get one more shot at the bullpen (Solis). But Gott seems like he’s run out of time. And Reynolds seems like the kind of guy who will accept the outright and hang around for another shot at some playing time.

    Todd Boss

    16 Dec 18 at 10:00 am

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