Nationals Arm Race

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

Solis out; what does this mean for MLB bullpen?


Solis and the Nats part ways. Photo: natsinsider blog

Solis and the Nats part ways. Photo: natsinsider blog

As many expected, Sammy Solis was cut loose on 3/10/19, given his unconditional release.  Solis was a very long-serving player for this team, a 2nd round pick in 2010, and for a time was a very valuable lefty option out of the MLB bullpen.  But his 2018 struggles led many to believe he’d be non-tendered last fall, and more to believe that he had basically a 3 week try-out this spring.

It was this last scenario that led us to this point; This was a key cut-off point for cutting players and only being responsible for 1/6th of the agreed-upon salary.  So Solis departs with a $147k check for his time and faces a tough future.  He’s a tough sell to put on the 40-man roster b/c of his lack of minor league options, but should have no issues getting a MLFA deal and go pitch out of someone’s AAA team to try to re-establish his ability to get lefties out (which left him for some reason in 2018).

So, ripple effects on the Nat’s bullpen.

Here’s  the bullpen I predicted we’d go with at the beginning of spring training.

  • Closer: Doolittle
  • Setup: Rosenthal, Barraclough
  • RH middle: JMiller, Suero, Glover
  • LH Middle; Grace

other 40-man options in camp: Rainey, AAdams, AWilliams, Cordero, Bourque

Primary non-40man candidates to discuss: Nuno, Copeland

But,  there’s been some developments.

  • Glover has been hurt; he’s thrown just a third of an inning so far, and seems more and more likely to be hitting the D/L.
  • Miller has thrown just two innings … also struggling with injury.
  • Joe Ross, our supposed 6th starter … has yet to start a game.  But he’s looked pretty darn good in relief.  Is he angling to make the team in a longer relief role?  It may also be meaningless; Voth and McGowin also aren’t starting a ton of games in MLB camp and are expected to be the bulk of the AAA roster.
  • MLFA Scott Copeland has looked excellent and may be pushing for a 25-man spot if Miller/Glover start on the D/L.
  • Tanner Rainey has gotten shelled, and for all we’ve heard about his arm, has zero Ks.
  • Vidal Nuno seems to be the most likely person to benefit from the Solis release; who else in camp is a lefty reliever?
  • J.J. Hoover is still out there too as a veteran MLFA who may get some opportunities based on past track record.
  • Only Miller and Grace now remain without Options … but both seem nearly guaranteed to make the team (or the D/L).
  • As noted elsewhere, Austen Williams has been great … can he make the team?
  • We do have a free 40-man spot for the taking.

One other note.  Not that we’re talking about starters right now … and yes I know you’re supposed to ignore spring training stats, but you just cannot ignore what’s going on with Erick Fedde.  7 innings … SIXTEEN hits allowed to go along with five walks.  That’s nearly a 3.00 whip.  Is it time to pull the plug on the Fedde-as-starter experiment?  Is he better served throwing in relief?

If I had to predict the bullpen today?

  • Closer: Doolittle
  • Setup: Rosenthal, Barraclough
  • RH middle: Suero, Copeland
  • LH Middle; Grace, Nuno
  • D/L: Miller, Glover

What is your reading of the ST bullpen tea leaves this week?

39 Responses to 'Solis out; what does this mean for MLB bullpen?'

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  1. Two points: (1) it is NOT the time to pull the plug on Erick Fedde the starter. Maybe, during the 2019 season, he pitches poorly enough (in the minors or MLB) to cause the Nats to convert him to a reliever. But this is a guy who had a sub 3.00 FIP in 67 AAA innings last year; in 2017 he ran FIPs of 3.24 and 3.54 in 90 innings between AA and AAA. These are the kinds of numbers you hope a starting prospect puts up. Less than ten innings of work in spring f’ing training should have literally ZERO effect on how we view Fedde going forward. More important is the 65 innings he’s thrown in MLB over the last two years. The results have not been good – 6.44 ERA, 5.29 FIP. But there are reasons to be skeptical of these numbers – the xFIP is much better (3.89) because his BABIP and homer rates are (likely) unustainably high. Fedde is by no means a slam dunk starting pitching prospect (unlike, say, Jesus Luzardo), but I think it would be idiotic to give up on him as a starter now, and especially because of his performance in spring training. (2) Todd, I, and the rest of the world, thank you for moving on from the prior post and the ridiculous caption to the photo of Jon Lester, which said “Best pitcher on best staff,” something that is demonstrably untrue.


    11 Mar 19 at 1:00 pm

  2. I think they have to continue sticking with Fedde as a (minor-league) starter because of the lack of starter depth, particularly if Ross is in the MLB ‘pen (which I think he will be).


    11 Mar 19 at 1:10 pm

  3. BP locks: Doolittle, Rosenthal, Barraclough, Grace

    I would also call Miller a near-lock if healthy, but he doesn’t seem to be, so why rush him?

    They are also going to have another lefty reliever. That’s either Nuno or a trade acquisition. They’ve got so little to choose from in this department in the upper minors that they didn’t even have any NRIs.

    If Miller is on the DL and we’re assuming a lefty, that leaves two more slots. Whatever stock you’re selling in Suero, I’m not buying. He’s not been good in his limited game action, and he shouldn’t be guaranteed anything.

    My #1 contender for the final spots right now would be Ross. They’ve only been using him for short stints and don’t look like they’re “stretching him out.” He’s also been good, getting a lot of K’s despite somewhat low velocity.

    If Miller can’t go and Suero continues to struggle, then it gets interesting. If you’re going by results, Austen Williams and Copeland have been well ahead of everyone else. Williams was lights out in the minors last year but got torched during his MLB cup of coffee. Copeland is 31 years old and has only been in six MLB games. He would be even more of a scrap-heap miracle than Miller.


    11 Mar 19 at 1:24 pm

  4. KW

    11 Mar 19 at 1:27 pm

  5. I finally saw some ST action this weekend. Barraclough was 92 – I thought he touched 100? Not too impressed. Rosenthal looked ok, not dominant.

    I dunno, I think they need outside help. It’s looking like a weakness right now


    11 Mar 19 at 1:32 pm

  6. So on Fedde. No generally you ignore spring training stats unless you see one of two things; marked dominance or outright incompetence. In theory Fedde should have been competing for a MLB job and he’s gotten destroyed, so I still think there’s some concern here.

    What’s going to be hard is this this: Fedde goes to Fresno, pitches half his games in ridiculous places like Albuquerque, Colorado Springs, Vegas, etc. and gets shelled. Going to be tough to evaluate him in those environments.

    Todd Boss

    11 Mar 19 at 3:21 pm

  7. Todd, you should ALWAYS ignore spring training stats. You shouldn’t necessarily ignore spring training performance, but the stats are virtually guaranteed to mislead. Your question about Fedde is built entirely on looking at his stats – you cited a guy’s WHIP in 7 innings of spring training baseball as cause for concern! Anybody’s stats can look weird in 7 innings. And even excellent pitchers can have poor 7-inning stretches that look bad from a statistical perspective. I’m not necessarily saying that PERFORMANCE in spring training is irrelevant (though I mostly think that it is). If there’s a case to be made against Fedde as a starter (or in favor of Fedde as a reliever), his stats in spring training should have absolutely nothing to do with it. My concern about Fedde now is more or less identical to my concern about him at the end of 2018: he seems to get hurt a lot and, so far, his good performance in MiLB has not translated to MLB.

    And I agree that pitching in the PCL is going to make analyzing Fedde’s performance more difficult (which means that if you cover this in a future post, you should exclusively use league-adjusted stats and not raw stats).


    11 Mar 19 at 3:35 pm

  8. I put my caveat there. Veteran players may be “trying stuff out” sure. Rookies trying to make the team and getting shelled is different.

    Todd Boss

    11 Mar 19 at 6:23 pm

  9. Todd Boss

    11 Mar 19 at 6:23 pm

  10. I agree with KK that it’s been time to move on from Harper. He, apparently, has not moved on. Talked about insulting the Nats offer was, how his family deserved better.
    Thank you Phillies!

    I know spring training and small sample size and all, but as of today Jake Noll has a 1.250 OPS. Carter Kieboom is at 1.000.

    Mark L

    11 Mar 19 at 7:35 pm

  11. Harper’s family deserved better, so he took $5M LESS in AAV to take his family to an awful city? Must be that Vegas math . . .

    Speaking of Vegas, if Fedde can’t pitch at altitude, after pitching in Vegas and the area his entire life, then maybe he needs to find another line of work.

    Yes, spring stats do matter for guys trying to make the club, particularly if you’re pitching against AA scrubs late in games. No excuse for getting lit up. Suero was better today but is still in a hole.


    11 Mar 19 at 7:58 pm

  12. I think you’ve pretty much nailed it as far as your bullpen prediction. It’s also possible that if Kendrick isn’t ready to start the season, they might go with an 8-man bullpen out of the box. That would open up a spot for Ross or Williams.

    Another worry I have is with Rosenthal, whose last two outings were bad and who simply could not find the strike zone at all two outings ago. It is very possible he could struggle with his control all year.

    As for Fedde, I’ve never been a believer since he first came up in 2017 and set the Nats’ record for the worst single season ERA for any pitcher with more than 10 innings pitched (9.39), which stood until Cole broke it last year (13.06). Fedde actually reminds me of a poor man’s A.J. Cole, and Cole hasn’t exactly been impressing as a reliever either.

    Karl Kolchak

    12 Mar 19 at 12:19 am

  13. I’m not going to begrudge Harper for ignoring the Nats offer, which in NPV was estimated to be $184M. He ended up getting $330M, nearly twice as much in NPV. If he had turned down 10yrs/$300M entirely in NPV to take 13/$330 from Philly i’d be more judgemental.

    He should, like any professional athlete, not use his “family” as a reason for seeking many more millions of dollars. As Latrel Spreewell learned … its hard to win in the court of public opinion when you turn down an 8 figure salary while the median income in the country is about what you’d make per game.

    Todd Boss

    12 Mar 19 at 11:25 am

  14. Well, for those concerned about how Doo might take a Kimbrel signing (discussed here last week), Boz has Doo going to Martinez and saying that the Nats should do it, and he’d welcome Kimbrel in the locker next to his. So there ya go. Just ignore that pesky luxury tax line. But considering Rosenthal’s struggles in the spring, it sure would be nice insurance.

    It’s Harper’s right to sign wherever he wishes. But Nat management, teammates, and fans took a lot of flack standing up for that guy for the last eight years. Have the decency to acknowledge that. And yes, don’t expect any sympathy over an offer that included NINE digits — more than all of us, combined, will make in our lifetimes. So be gone with ye. Here’s hoping you’re being booed off your home field by June, and for the 12 years that follow. See how well respected you and your family feel then. As those great philosophers Lennon and McCartney put it, money can’t buy you love.


    12 Mar 19 at 1:38 pm

  15. Harper – I say just let it go. He is a big signing FA in a new town and he’s trying to get right with his new fan base. He could handle it better but nothing is malicious towards DC.

    Anyway – bullpen. Sign some guys, help needed. It’s a hole, and potentially big one if Doo gets hurt.

    Robles – the guy clearly is a tool shed but if I’m being honest, he needs a fair bit of polish. I’ve kind of reversed myself and think some time in the minors wouldn’t be the worst thing for him.


    12 Mar 19 at 8:23 pm

  16. Maybe Carter Kieboom can play CF? Goodness, that’s Justin HOF Verlander he’s lighting up, not some AA stiff.


    12 Mar 19 at 8:46 pm

  17. Hey, KW got his Sipp if champagne after all


    13 Mar 19 at 10:54 am

  18. CK does look pretty good, doesn’t he?


    13 Mar 19 at 10:54 am

  19. Hey, I FINALLY called on right! Sipp vs. LHB in 2018: .191/.263/.294. Yeah buddy. (Sipp vs. RHB in 2018: .209/.280/.328 — pretty darn good as well.)


    13 Mar 19 at 11:34 am

  20. Also, Sipp made $6M a year for the last three years. To get him at $1M is insanely good.


    13 Mar 19 at 11:37 am

  21. Rizzo must be reading this website. Hats off to you KW!

    It has suddenly turned into a much better day.

    Hooe you all have a great one!


    13 Mar 19 at 11:50 am

  22. Let’s get one more of those kind of guys for the pen. Who else is left?


    13 Mar 19 at 11:54 am

  23. Kieboom’s HRs off of Verlander; remember! spring training stats don’t count!

    unless they fit your narrative. 🙂

    Todd Boss

    13 Mar 19 at 12:08 pm

  24. A great deal on Sipp. Daily, to answer your question there is now 1 quality reliever left on the market. That’s it.
    In Rizzo I trust.

    Mark L

    13 Mar 19 at 12:26 pm

  25. Damn spell check. Not daily, Wally.

    Mark L

    13 Mar 19 at 12:27 pm

  26. Geeze what a steal for Sipp.

    Todd Boss

    13 Mar 19 at 12:27 pm

  27. 2018:

    Tony Sipp: 1.86 ERA, 2.41 FIP, 9.8 K9
    Andrew Miller: 4.24 ERA, 3.51 FIP, 11.9 K9
    Zach Britton: 2.88 ERA, 4.08 FIP, 7.6 K9

    And yes, I know Sipp struggled in ’17 and ’16 (after being excellent in ’15). Relievers are fickle. All the more reason not to pay too much for them!

    As of now, Ross and Sipp would be my last two in for the bullpen (unless Miller goes on the DL), so starting the season with this crew: Doolittle*, Rosenthal, Barraclough, Grace*, Miller, Ross, Sipp*.


    13 Mar 19 at 12:41 pm

  28. Kieboom: once was an accident, two’s a trend! Ha! Seriously, though, you know Verlander wanted to embarrass the kid the second time around. Instead, he hit it farther, with both shots into a fairly stiff breeze.

    Here’s the conundrum with Kieboom: all logic dictates that they wait, and of course they’ve already got Dozier for 2B for this season (although he’s been struggling — but spring stats don’t matter, right, even when you’re coming off a bad year?). On the flip side, if they gave Kieboom most of a full season at the MLB level, they’d have a much better idea of what they’ve got as they face the decision of whether to roll out $150-200M for Rendon.


    13 Mar 19 at 12:50 pm

  29. Kieboom; he’s at SS now, no scout thinks he can stay there. So he’s going to stay on the dirt; 2B or 3B. For me its easy.
    – if the team extends Rendon, Kieboom->2b
    – if the team has to let Rendon loose, Kieboom->3B

    As far as what to do in 2019 … i say wait and see. We may have a debilitating injury that forces the Nats hand. We may see someone fall off a cliff performance wise.

    Todd Boss

    13 Mar 19 at 1:02 pm

  30. Not tooting my own horn, but I suggested signing Sipp about a month ago. I’ll give credit to Rizzo for apparently knowing that there was no market for Sipp, for whatever reason. Seems like they kept Solis only to convince Sipp’s agent they didn’t need him until there was no other choice for the reliever. Echoes of Wieters and the acquisition of Derek Norris as a decoy three seasons ago. Let’s hope it works out better this time.

    Karl Kolchak

    13 Mar 19 at 1:31 pm

  31. Toot Toot!

    Todd Boss

    13 Mar 19 at 1:40 pm

  32. Fangraphs had the Nays bullpen ranked #11 before the Sipp signing. This makes everything look a lot better.
    Like Todd said, injuries will always play a part but right now I don’t see an Achilles heel anywhere.

    Mark L

    13 Mar 19 at 4:38 pm

  33. No new post yet, so I’ll place this here–I know it is spring training, but the Nats’ lineup is absolutely crushing it right now. With Robles playing every day they could (emphasize COULD) have one of the very best lineups in baseball to go along with one of the best rotations. If the bullpen is at least stable, this team could be a monster IF they can stay healthy. Big if after Taylor’s injury.

    Okay, I’ll say it right now so I get the credit should it actually happen–Denard Span on a Tony Sipp-like deal to be the 4th OF.

    Karl Kolchak

    15 Mar 19 at 11:12 pm

  34. I’ve been wanting Span for several months, but this is about the only way it could happen, unless they had dealt Taylor. They’ve got to do something, as Stevenson has looked really feeble offensively. They’ve really got no other CF-capable OF options, unless you count Collin Cowgill. I guess theoretically, Eaton could be the CF backup if they got a corner guy like CarGo, but if Kendrick is healthy, he’s probably a better corner option. The only other CF out there is Austin Jackson, and I think Span is better.

    Yes, the lineup has really been clobbering people. Fun to see that they got in some licks on Edwin Diaz. Nice to plant a few seeds of doubt early. We already know that we have serious ownage of Matz.

    I hate to see anyone get injured, even that new Phillie, but in a way, I think the Taylor injury takes a lot of pressure off of Robles not to have the “sharing time” thing hanging over his head. Now he knows for certain that the job is his.


    15 Mar 19 at 11:37 pm

  35. The point of signing another OF is to get someone who can handle CF and I don’t think Span can play CF anymore. He had bad – not Harper bad, but bad – defensive numbers last year, playing almost exclusively LF. One season of metrics is usually not enough to draw strong conclusions, but Span’s numbers on defense show a clear decline since about 2014, first in CF and now in a corner.

    I’m all for getting an OF that’s a better hitter than Stevenson (who is…not good), but that guy has to be able to handle CF (we have decent hitting backups to the corner OFs already in Howie and Adams). Span can’t do that anymore, IMO.


    16 Mar 19 at 11:05 am

  36. Austin Jackson’s defensive stats last year were slightly, um, less bad than Span’s, but his offense was much worse than Span’s, with a frightening 35.5% K rate. So there’s not an easy solution. I’ve seen some folks at NatsTalk kicking around the idea of trying to get Goodwin back, but he really wasn’t/isn’t a CF.

    Really, if something happened to Robles, the “best” option would probably be to put Turner back in CF for the short term and call up Carter Kieboom to play SS.


    16 Mar 19 at 11:52 am

  37. If they don’t sign another OF, I really don’t know what they should/would do. I imagine they would probably carry Stevenson, but he and Difo would really limit the bench bat options. They would almost be better off just to carry another pitcher and have a four-man bench. Just have a few spring games with Eaton in CF, Soto in RF, and Kendrick/Adams in LF.


    16 Mar 19 at 11:55 am

  38. I’d be okay with Stevenson for a short period. But say half a season? Gads, no way. That guy makes Eury Perez look like a stick (joking!!!).

    The thing about Span’s bad defensive numbers in CF is that hopefully he wouldn’t be playing CF very much this year. Should Robles go down before Taylor returns, the Nats will have a huge hole in CF no matter who they put out there.

    Karl Kolchak

    17 Mar 19 at 1:38 am

  39. For the record, there are plenty of scouts that think that Carter Kieboom can play SS, particularly in the modern game with shifts. From the Fangraphs write up by Kiley McDaniel and Eric Longenhagen:

    “[Carter Kieboom] is a complete player with a chance to hit in the middle of the order and also stay at shortstop, if not second or third base. That’s a potential All-Star.”

    John Sickels (now of the Athletic) only says that CK “may” move to second base, while also saying that he has “tools across the board” and “sound instincts” whose upside should not be underestimated.

    The real reason that CK is going to move off of SS is that Trea Turner isn’t going anywhere. That would be a move based on the team’s needs, not on CK’s potential

    John C.

    23 Mar 19 at 9:47 pm

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