Nationals Arm Race

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

Nat’s 40-man Option Status for 2020 and what it means for the off-season


Ross is one of the tougher options crunch players the Nats have to decide upon this off-season. Photo Getty Images via

Ross is one of the tougher options crunch players the Nats have to decide upon this off-season.
Photo Getty Images via

We’ve alluded to this point in multiple comments under past comments, but its time to put pencil to paper.

Right now (ahead of any FA signings), the Nats 40-man roster sits at 31 players, with Ben Braymer having been added to avoid Rule-5 exposure yesterday … and one third of those players are out of options for next season.  A number of those players also seem to have little chance of actually making an active roster of a major league team, which means that they could be early off-season outright fodder if the team wants to try to slip them through waivers and outright them back into the system.

Lets take a quick run through each of the categories of Nats 40-man players and option status.

(by the way, yes I know its a 26-man roster in 2020; all my XLSs need updating).

Category 1:  Vets who can refuse demotion (5 or more years of service) – 6 current players

Player2020 25-man opening day GuessService Time post 2019First Added to 40-manOption Years UsedOptions left?Notes
Scherzer, Maxx11.079May 200720082
Eaton, Adamx7.030Sept 201220132Achieved 5yrs service time mid 2017
Doolittle, Seanx7.122Nov 20102011,20121Achieved 5yrs service time mid 2017
Suzuki, Kurtx12.113Jun 2007none3
Corbin, Patrickx7.105Apr 201220122Achieved 5yrs svc in 2017
Sanchez, Anibalx13.083Nov 200520062

Interestingly, the Nats roster last  year had no less than 16 such players; Veterans with 5+ years of service who could refuse demotion/make any available options immaterial.  Indeed, it was a veteran team.  Now 10 of those guys are FAs or out of the organization.

Category 2: Options Avail but are MLB entrenched – 5 current players

Player2020 25-man opening day GuessService Time post 2019First Added to 40-manOption Years UsedOptions left?Notes
Turner, Treax3.135Aug 201520162still pissed he was called up so early, but he's in AAA to start 2016, which preserved an extra yr of control but did not save Super2 status for 2019
Soto, Juanx1.134May 2018none3yet to be optioned
Robles, Victorx1.052Sep 201720182
Suero, Wanderx1.123Nov 201720182
Rainey, Tannerx0.158Apr 20182018,20191

Not much to see here; all 5 of these guys are important parts of next  year’s team.  As noted, the early call up of Trea Turner eventually came back to bite the team, and probably costs them in the range of $10-$12M in payroll over the course of his four arbitration periods.  An expensive mistake.

Category 3: Options Available, jeopardizing 2019 25-man roster status – 3 current players

Player2020 25-man opening day GuessService Time post 2019First Added to 40-manOption Years UsedOptions left?Notes
Glover, Koda3.051July 201620162No option used in 2018 or 2019; either hurt or on roster
Stevenson, Andrew1.063July 20172018,20191Optioned but recalled too fast in 2017 for it to count
Kieboom, Carter0.012Apr 201920192

I suppose one could make the argument that Carter Kieboom should be in the Category 2; right now we don’t really have a 2B or a 3B on the roster and he could play either.  But for now, i’m going on first impressions … and he did not make a good one early in the season.

Category 4: Options almost guaranteed to be used in 2018 – 7 current players

Player2020 25-man opening day GuessService Time post 2019First Added to 40-manOption Years UsedOptions left?Notes
McGowin, Kyle0.069Sept 201820192
Williams, Austen1.028Sept 2018none3
Bourque, James0.005Nov 201820192
Barrera, Tres0.022Sept 2019none3
Barrett, Aaron2.170Nov 201320142
Noll, Jake0.017mar 201920192

I’m guessing that if any of these six players start on the active roster next opening day, then we’ve had a huge injury spike in Spring Training.  Is Austen Williams healthy?  Was Aaron Barrett‘s call-up more than just a feel-good story?  We’ll see.  Nonetheless, it seems like all 6 of these guys are in AAA next year to start.

Note: I wrote this prior to the rule-5 additions Ben Braymer.  So technically this section is 7 current players, not 6.  But I think its safe to say that our new rule5 additions are guaranteed to both start the year in the minors in 2020.


Which leaves us with…

Category 5:  No Options Available – 10 current players of the 30 on the active roster.

Player2020 25-man opening day GuessService Time post 2019First Added to 40-manOption Years UsedOptions left?Notes
Guerra, Javyx4.415Nov 2009?0
Strickland, Hunterx4.163Nov 2012?0
Taylor, Michaelx4.129Nov 20132014,2016,20190
Elias, Roenisx4.069Mar 2014?0
Ross, Joex4.018June 20152015,2017,20190Optioned for roster reasons in 2017.
Difo, Wilmerx3.016Nov 20142015,2016,20180Optioned but recalled too fast in 2017 for it to count
Fedde, Erickx1.099July 20172017,2018,20190
Sanchez, Adrian1.083June 20172017,2018,20190
Voth, Austin0.127Nov 20162017,2018,20190
Read, Raudy0.063Nov 20162017,2018,20190

So, this is kind of the point of this article.  Which of these 10 players are going to stick, which are players the team has to make some tough decisions on?  Lets go player by player in the order they are in this table (which is sorted by Service time):

  1. Guerra, Javy: the team outrighted him mid-season, then recalled him the next day and he eventually made the post-season roster.  An odd set of circumstances for a DFA.   His overall 2019 numbers weren’t great; I wonder if he’s thrown into a general “RH middle reliever” competition in Spring Training 2020 and then either makes the team or gets DFA’d again.  He can’t be outrighted again, so he’d have to choose whether to stay with the org.
  2. Strickland, Hunter: seems like a guarantee to make the 2020 roster, irregardless of his option status.
  3. Taylor, Michael: you have to think his time has some to an end with this team.  Optioned to AA despite being on a $3.25M contract; they can’t possibly tender him for 2020 can they?   Hit kind of an empty .250 this year (1 homer in 53 games/97 PAs), and is arbitration eligible so he’ll “earn” an increase in pay.  But he played really well in the post-season, hitting two homers while covering for an injured Victor Robles.  Do you tender him and pay him $4M to be a 4th outfielder?  He’s undoubtedly solid defensively.  But he offers little to no value as a PH.  Do you save $4M and use Andrew Stevenson as a 4th OF instead?
  4. Elias, Roenis: another guy like Strickland who wasn’t acquired to get cut.  He’s on the 2020 roster … and oh, Davey Martinez?  Don’t f*cking let him hit this year.
  5. Ross, Joe: Well, the 2020 Nats need a 5th starter right now (and, technically also need a 2nd starter if they don’t resign Stephen Strasburg).  Is Ross the leading candidate right now?  I think so: in 6 starts last year after the team finally figured out that he couldn’t be a reliever he was competent: 4-2 with a 3.05 ERA but a 1.455 whip that probably made his FIP look awful.  Is that 5th starter material?   I’ve always thought so … but now he has competition, mainly from two guys on this list.  If he doesn’t make the rotation, I don’t know what you do with him.  Clearly he can’t be a reliever; and if he is facing an options crunch DFA … nobody’s going to trade for him.  They’ll just wait for him to declare FA and pounce.
  6. Difo, Wilmer: everybody needs a utility guy who can play SS in a pinch; is Difo that guy for us?  He has been, traditionally, for years now.  But without options he’s gotta earn his spot.  There’s a slew of guys out there who can do what he’s done: play competent middle infield and hit above the Mendoza line.  I’m guessing, like Guerra above him, he’ll face competition from NRI veterans and Sanchez (see below) who do the same thing he does and if he makes the team so be it, otherwise he faces the DFA deadline come 4/1/20.
  7. Fedde, Erick: this one is tough.  Like Ross, he was called into reliever duty in 2019 and was not great at it.  And he was in the rotation for a bit, with weaker numbers than Ross.  Fedde now has 26 starts across three seasons with ERAs and FIPs north of 5.00.  I know he has his defenders … and maybe you could argue that his relief numbers in 2019 weren’t as bad (he did have just a 1.132 FIP in 9 relief innings), but the clock has run out.  What do you do here?  I’m guessing he competes with Ross and Voth for the 5th starter (again, going under the assumption we re-sign Strasburg) and if he doesn’t make it he becomes the long-man in the pen and begins life as a reliever.
  8. Sanchez, Adrian posted just an OPS+ figure of 23 for 2019.  In 32 ABs he did not have one extra base hit.  I’m guessing, like Difo, he’s in ST2020 competition and gets DFA’d on 4/1/20.
  9. Voth, Austin: he’s got the least service time of any of the three starters he seems likely to compete with for the 5th starter job, but easily out-performed both of them in his 2019 starts.  8 starts, 3.30 ERA, 1.053 whip; he got it done this year.  I think Voth has the inside track on the 5th starter job right now over both Ross and Fedde, which puts both of them at a disadvantage.
  10. Read, Raudy; He’s got the least amount of service time here (just 63 days) and seems the least likely to make the opening day roster (i’d have to think the team is investing in a veteran FA catcher).  I’ve got Read ahead of Taylor Gushue on the Catcher depth chart; they both hit well in AAA this year with the PCL parks and the inflated ball, but Read has also shown a solid bat all the way up the chain.  Is that enough to get him onto the opening day roster?  I don’t think so; i just don’t think he’s got enough experience to merit a 2x/week backup catcher role to a starter in Kurt Suzuki who’s on the wrong side of 35 and will miss time.  I sense Read comes to ST, helps out with the catching load, sticks around just in case there’s an injury, then hits the DFA trail.

Summary of what I think eventually happens to all 10 guys in one (or two) words:

  1. Guerra, Javy: DFA’d
  2. Strickland, Hunter: 2020 bullpen
  3. Taylor, Michael: Non-tendered
  4. Elias, Roenis: 2020 bullpen
  5. Ross, Joe: DFA’d
  6. Difo, Wilmer: 2020 bench
  7. Fedde, Erick: 2020 bullpen
  8. Sanchez, Adrian DFA’d
  9. Voth, Austin: 5th starter
  10. Read, Raudy; DFA’d

I mean no offense to any of these players of course; its just that options crunches force teams into tough decisions.  But I see half these guys getting shed at some point.

16 Responses to 'Nat’s 40-man Option Status for 2020 and what it means for the off-season'

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  1. I think Guerra is likelier to make the team than Strickland, who was abysmal down the stretch and was left off the NLCS and WS rosters altogether. But YMMV.


    21 Nov 19 at 10:51 am

  2. — INF: Let’s start with the easy ones. The Nats finally, blessedly, gave up on Difo in 2019, and with good reason: his wRC+ was an abysmal 60. He’s not a bench option for a contender, particularly not a contender that undoubtedly will be in as much of a divisional dogfight as the Nats will. So DFA Difo and Sanchez, both of whom will probably pass through waivers and remain in the system because an MLB team isn’t going to want to pick them up on the 26-man with no options left.

    Who is the SS-capable backup? Well, Kieboom could solve some of that if he’s on the roster, but they’ll probably bring back Cabrera or sign someone similar.

    –OF: I didn’t know that Stevenson still had an option left. That’s good news if so, but it also increases the possibility that he’ll still be shuttling and not permanently on the MLB bench. What he does have in his favor of sticking is that he was very good in PH opportunities with the big club (8 hits and 5 BB in 25 PAs in 2019).

    The only thing I’m fairly certain about with Taylor is that he won’t be back at his projected arb price ($3.25M). He’ll either be traded, non-tendered, or they’ll sign him to a deal at about half the arb value. I think he has a little trade value, so that’s the avenue I’d pursue. But they do need a couple of bench OFs.

    — Relievers: I have only wild guesses about Strickland, Elias, and Guerra. At the low end, I think all have some trade value, so I can’t see any of them being DFA’d. One or some could be non-tendered, although they’re not projected to make much, so it would make sense to tender them and keep them around until spring to see who still has it and who doesn’t. Strickland and Elias have both had seasons where they have been very good (although they sucked with the Nats). Between the two, I have more hope for a bounce-back from Strickland, who was coming back from injury in 2019. Guerra hasn’t been good at the MLB level since, um, 2014.

    Relievers as a bunch are SO unpredictable! No wonder Rizzo has no hair left . . .

    — Starters: For me, Voth is the fifth starter, Ross and his sinker are bullpen/swingman, and Fedde is traded. None of them are getting DFA’d. They all have pretty decent trade value. It’s possible that all three remain with the Nats, with two of them in the ‘pen, but it would seem to make more sense to take advantage of the trade value of at least one of them. You’d get more back in a deal if you packaged two of them, though.

    — Read: they’ll try to trade him (a la Severino), as he’s a good-hitting catcher, but if that doesn’t fly, he seems an inevitable DFA, as they’ll sign some veteran lead catcher to pair with Suzuki. (Amazing that Suzuki was never optioned!) Barrera would seem to be the #1 catcher on the shuttle. His OPS at AA was .704, so meh.


    21 Nov 19 at 6:15 pm

  3. Here are the projected arb numbers from Matt Swartz of MLBTR:

    Hunter Strickland – $1.9M
    Javy Guerra – $1.3M
    Michael A. Taylor – $3.25M
    Roenis Elias – $1.9M
    Joe Ross – $1.4M
    Trea Turner – $7.5M
    Koda Glover – $700K
    Wilmer Difo – $1.2M


    21 Nov 19 at 6:26 pm

  4. Fedde, Taylor, and Sharp for one year of Ken Giles?


    21 Nov 19 at 10:07 pm

  5. With Parra and his excellent defense gone, that increases the chances for Taylor. I’m sure the Nats are thinking $3.25 is a little rich for them but at $2 million he’s still a valuable asset.
    He’s a proven playoff performer, but about the regular season……

    Mark L

    22 Nov 19 at 9:24 am

  6. I disagree that Ross’s 15 IP and Fedde’s 13 IP as relievers in 2019 (the results were bad, there’s no debate there) provide useful evidence about their abilities as relievers. It’s certainly not clear evidence. To get me off my prior that a pitcher is likely to pitch just as well in relief as he does as a starter (in either direction, better as a reliever or worse as a reliever) is going to require a much larger sample than we have now for either guy.

    Fedde’s big problem is that he just hasn’t been good in MLB, starter or reliever. His minor league stats suggest he *should* be better than he has been, but the MLB sample is getting too large to ignore.

    I’d let all three compete for the 5th starter spot, and hope either Voth or Ross wins it. I’d give Voth the inside track. I’d make the loser between Voth and Ross the long man in the bullpen. I’d explore trade options for Fedde, and if nothing good pans out, make him a one-inning reliever and hope his stuff plays up.


    22 Nov 19 at 11:50 am

  7. MLB totals in 2019 (starts and relief):

    Voth: 3.79 FIP, 1.05 WHIP, 9.07 K/9, 2.7 BB/9

    Ross: 5.48 FIP, 1.67 WHIP, 8.02 K/9, 4.6 BB/9

    Fedde: 5.34 FIP, 1.46 WHIP, 4.73 K/9, 3.8 BB/9

    It might be a close call between 2d and 3d on that list, but Voth “wins” every category pretty easily. Plus he posted three solid starts against the Braves. Should someone else’s hot spring overrule these numbers in the midst of a pennant race? Also, Voth is the only one of the three who hasn’t had major arm surgery.

    If it’s me, I’m trading Fedde and/or Ross before Christmas. If you go into Spring Training with all three, you risk leaving yourself with no, um, options, like they did with A.J. Cole, for whom they then got nothing. Get something, and get it now.

    I personally prefer Ross over Fedde because Ross at some points has been very good in the majors. Fedde hasn’t. I will also admit to some anti-Fedde bias, though, as I didn’t really like the draft pick of an injured player, and he’s never progressed in the manner expected for that alleged “top 10” talent who dropped because of the TJ.

    I’m still curious about what Ross could do with his sinker as a full-time reliever. Fedde’s very low K/9 numbers make him very hard to project as an effective reliever.


    22 Nov 19 at 1:57 pm

  8. KW, a few things. I agree that Voth is leader in the clubhouse and should have the inside track to the starter job. And generally, I think past performance in real live games (both MLB and MiLB) should matter a lot more than spring performance. But each of these three guys has had quite a bit of variability in past performance. Ross has the injury, Voth had the truly terrible 2017 performance, and Fedde has the mysterious inability to translate good minor league results into even decent major league results. In this case, I think how each looks in spring training could be more useful than it would be in most circumstances.

    If Rizzo can get something decent for Fedde now, by all means he should do it. But I think it’s possible a decent reliever is in there. His K numbers in the majors have been dreadful, but they’ve been good in the minors. And Keith Law for years has been saying he thinks Fedde is a reliever. If there’s no viable trade before/during spring training, I think giving him two months in the MLB bullpen is a worthwhile chance to take.


    22 Nov 19 at 2:58 pm

  9. Agree on not really using any reliever stats for Ross or Fedde. Or Roark a few years back for that matter, when the team inexplicably turned a solid #3 starter into an awful reliever.

    Agree that it seems like its Voth, Ross then Fedde for 5th starter. Will the Nats bring in their typical NRI cavalcade to compete as well?

    Trading these guys: i just suspect other GMs are not idiots, know the options situation, and won’t give up jack in return to bring on their own problem. I mean, I haven’t done rotation reviews yet for the teams but how many teams out there are pining for a 5th starter with no options who may or may not even be effective?

    Todd Boss

    23 Nov 19 at 9:25 am

  10. I wouldn’t trade any of those guys. (1) I don’t think they have much trade value. (2) Plus, the list of ‘interesting but unsuccessful arms that we’ve traded who’ve had success elsewhere’ is growing pretty long at this point, and our need is so strong for pitching that I’d be very sure I’ve given up hope before I’d let another one go.

    Anyone see Stras in LA yesterday, getting love from Kawhi? I’m really hoping he comes back, but glad he is enjoying some courting from teams. He’s certainly earned it.


    23 Nov 19 at 12:51 pm

  11. I think you guys are underestimating the wide MLB need for back-end starters, particularly guys who are cheap and controlled. Fedde and Ross both have “prospect” pedigrees, and those guys tend to keep getting chances. Ross also has actual past MLB success, which is part of the reason I am more reluctant to give up on him than I am on Fedde.

    No, there won’t be a huge return for either of them unless they are packaged, but any return is better than what they got for A.J. Cole after they carried him all the way through the spring and into the season. The Nats got Tanner Rainey for one year of an overpriced and fading Roark.

    I guess that’s part of the question: could Ross and/or Fedde be better middle relievers than the level of middle reliever they might fetch in a trade? I think Ross’s slider gives him a chance to be, and his fastball velocity now sits higher than Fedde’s. Fedde’s is at about 93 on average. Can he learn to do enough with it to get guys out without overpowering heat? Thus far he hasn’t.

    If it’s me, I definitely trading Fedde, and I’m doing it earlier in the offseason rather than waiting until teams know they’re desperate to move him during Spring Training. I would be on board with keeping Ross around into the season in relief to see how he does. Obviously the team has some hope/confidence in him since he was on the WS roster.

    FWIW, Fedde will turn 27 in February, and Ross will in May. Fedde is controlled longer than Ross, and Ross has reached his first arb year, although is projected number is only $1.4M.


    23 Nov 19 at 9:13 pm

  12. I’d trade Fedde before Ross as well, but I’m open to moving both considering we have Wil Crowe and perhaps Mario Sanchez waiting in.the wings, and Paolo Espino and Kyle McGowin as emergency depth, plus we’ll surely bring in the usual NRIs. In other words, I’m comfortable rolling with Voth as the #5 without having Ross ready to step in at the first sign of trouble.


    24 Nov 19 at 12:25 pm

  13. McGowin is an underrated piece of this puzzle. He pitched better than all three — Voth, Fedde, or Ross — in the wilds of the PCL. He strikes out more guys than that trio, despite a FB velocity lower than that of those three. He does turn 28 on Wednesday, so he’s no longer a “prospect,” but he’s probably a viable MLB arm, at least for a short term.

    Crowe is still somewhat of an unknown after posting pretty good numbers in AA but then struggling in the PCL. Sanchez put up better numbers at AA but worse at AAA. Fresno is really hurting us in proper development and evaluation of upper-level pitching.


    25 Nov 19 at 9:13 am

  14. Braves make another early FA strike, . . . but 2/$16M for d’Arnaud??? Um, good luck with that.

    I would think the Nats are looking for someone in more the 2/$10-12M range, probably from among Gomes, Castro, and Avila. There was some scuttlebutt at the time the Nats declined Gomes’s option that there was mutual interest in finding a number at which they could reunite.


    25 Nov 19 at 9:18 am

  15. Fresno is hurting us: yes, absolutely. Its patently ridiculous what’s going on out there. I wonder if the Nats aren’t angling to buy a AAA franchise right now, like what the Mets just did after several years stuck in Las Vegas with the same issues.

    but that being said, the IL really doesn’t have many obvious choices to capture. What’d be perfect is if Richmond returned to AAA city status, but then they’d need a 16th team to even the schedule. Or pursue one of the more eastern PCL teams like New Orleans, Nashville, memphis.

    Todd Boss

    25 Nov 19 at 9:29 am

  16. Apparently MAT worked on his swing in AA, and if you look at his numbers after 8/15, there’s a remarkable difference. In 276 PA before 8/19, he hit 216/296/347 with a K rate of 34.7%.

    In 103 PA between AA and MLB after that, he hit 383/408/766 with a 15.5% K rate. That’s a pretty real change. Given that Parra’s gone, MAT has a great glove, he’s really outperformed Stevenson, and he’s projected to be 3.25M, I think he’s worth keeping around.

    Also, what about the idea of stacking Voth and either Fedde or Ross as a pair for the 5th spot? Keep their outings short (2x through the rotation) and there’s a good chance the 2 of them complete the game.


    30 Nov 19 at 10:35 pm

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