Nationals Arm Race

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

Spring Training 2021 NRI Discussion


Parra may bring the shark back to Washington in 2021 as an NRI. Photo Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

This is our 7th straight year doing this recurring post; a look at the Non-Roster Invitees (NRIs) upon their official announcement ahead of spring training.

Here’s past posts by year: 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015.

The team has invited 71 players to spring training, which means that joining the 39 members of the 40-man roster are an astounding 32 NRIs. FYI: the big board is now updated for all 32 NRIs, who are shaded in purple. 2020 was a weird year, which probably is why we’re seeing so many NRIs, and so many NRIs who are so young. Normally NRIs are veteran MLFAs, AAA/4-A guys and perhaps one or two top prospects. This year, the team has invited a slew of guys who have never played above A-ball, or who were drafted just last year.

Why do we care about NRIs? Because there’s a high likelihood we’ll see these guys either make the roster or get called up later on this year. Since the 2015 season:

  • 9 NRIs have made the 25-man roster straight out of Spring Training (and Guthrie technically made it 10 since he got called up a few days later and was always intended to be the 5th starter in 2017).  Basically every year an NRI has made the roster for six seasons running.
  • 29 NRIs eventually played for the MLB team at some point that same season they were in spring training.

So its likely that we’re going to see a lot of these NRIs at some point in the future.  Like, on average at least 4-5 of these NRIs are going to play for this team in 2021.

Lets review the NRIs and make some predictions.

Here’s the list of 32 NRI’s for 2021, organized by player type:

  • RH Starters: Jefry Rodriguez, Paolo Espino, Jackson Rutledge, Cade Cavalli, Cole Henry, Tyler Dyson, Todd Peterson
  • RH Relievers: Aaron Barrett, Tyler Eppler, Javy Guerra, Gabe Klobotis, Jacob Condra-Bogan, Bryan Bonnell, Jeremy Jeffress
  • LH Starters: Tim Cate
  • LH Relievers: Luis Avilan, TJ McFarland, Matt Cronin
  • Catchers: Raudy Read, Wellington Castillo, Israel Pineda, Jakson Reetz, Blake Swihart, Brandon Snyder (who is oddly listed as a Catcher but really is a 1B)
  • Infielders: Adrian Sanchez, Hernan Perez, Jordy Mercer, Jackson Cluff, Drew Mendoza
  • Outfielders: Carlos Tocci, Yasmany Tomas, Gerardo Parra, Cody Wilson

(note: post-publishing edit; I had Bonnell as a LHP; thanks for the correction. 2/22/21 added Jeffress).

So lets squint and make some predictions.

  • Do any of these guys stand a chance at making the Opening day roster?  There are a couple of opportunities for these guys this year, absolutely. All of this is assuming no injuries to the current 40-man.
    1. Lefty Reliever: right now the bullpen has two lefties: Brad Hand and Sam Clay. Hand seems like he’s going to be the closer, while Clay has never pitched in the majors. So, yeah, there’s opportunity here. Avilan has the most MLB time but his numbers have been iffy lately. McFarland has as much MLB time as Avilan and has better recent numbers. Cronin could surprise here, but he’s never pitched above A-ball. He’s got amazing numbers though. The team could also be looking to convert one of its lefty starters to a reliever (Romero, Braymer) … but those guys would be far more valuable as effective starters. At the end of the day, I think McFarland breaks camp as the loogy.
    2. 7th/8th bullpen arm/RH Reliever: Right now on the depth chart, the team only has 9 true “relievers” on its 40-man. They’re going to break camp with 8 of them. The options game probably means they carry the loser of Ross/Voth/Fedde 5th starter competition as the 8th reliever, meaning that there’s possibly some competition for that last righty out of the pen. Look for that spot to be competed between Finnegan, Bacus and then the likes of veteran NRI Guerra. I’ll bet the team breaks camp with Guerra; he’s been there before and the team knows him, sending Finnegan and Bacus to AAA. 2/22/21 update: with the Jeffress signing, I think he goes to the head of the list above Guerra.
    3. 4th OF; Is there really a competition here? I don’t believe there is. But a 5th OF could be in the works as a bench bat. See next.
    4. Bench Bat: here’s our current projected Bench bats: Harrison, Zimmerman. Not much there. I like Parra as a glue-guy, clubhouse guy, spare part kind of player. Plus he hits lefty. Plus lets be honest; his Baby Shark thing is the kind of fan engagement phenomenon that you just can’t buy in terms of publicity. Not that there’s going to be any damn fans.
    5. Spare Infielder: do we really think Garcia is the backup infielder? I don’t think so: i think Garcia goes back to AAA and one of Sanchez/Mercer/Perez makes it as a veteran infielder. Given our Pittsburgh connection, money on Mercer.

So my prediction? multiple NRIs joining the team: McFarland, Jeffress, Parra and Mercer.

Do any of these guys project to feature at all in 2021? Absolutely. Past my four NRI predictions, I can see more than a few of these guys getting call-ups later on if they stick.

Who among these guys project to eventually get on the 40-man?  There’s a bunch of our top prospects on this list: Cavalli, Henry, Rutledge, Cate, Cronin. And there’s lesser-known but older/effective guys who seem like good bets to put themselves onto the roster. Nats spring training games should be great.

Are there any surprise non-NRIs in the system right now? Yeah a couple surprise non-invites. Two arms that were on the 60-man last year are not invited: Nick Wells and Sterling Sharp. Wells is a lefty reliever; why not invite him and have him compete? Sharp has MLB time; why not put him in camp? No other real surprise non-invites.

NRI Details by year, in case you were wondering… (this is recycled material, carried along year by year)

Summary of NRIs for 2020: 22 total

  • Three (3) made the 30-man roster out of Spring training: Javy Guerra, Sam Freeman, Emilio Bonifacio
  • 4 more eventually got added and called-up: tbd by end of 2020 season (Wil Crowe, Dakota Bacus, Luis Garcia, Yadiel Hernandez).
  • 0 more since been added to 40-man post 2020-season: tbd before 2021 season, but thanks to odd 2020 60-man roster all the NRIs under consideration here already got the callup.

Summary of NRIs for 2019: 18 total

  • One (1) made the 25-man roster out of spring: Jake Noll
  • Three (3) more eventually got added and called up:  Aaron Barrett, Tres Barrera, Carter Kieboom
  • Zero (0) others have since been added to 40-man (as of 2/6/20).

Summary of NRIs from ST 2018: 21 NRIs total:

  • One (1) made the 25-man roster out of spring: Miguel Montero
  • Four (4) eventually got added and called up:  Tim Collins, Moises Sierra, Jimmy Cordero, Spencer Kieboom.  Special Mention to Edwin Jackson, who opted out of Washington then excelled for Oakland later in 2018).
  • Zero (0) others have since been added to 40-man

Summary of NRIs from ST 2017: 24 NRIs total:

  • Zero (0) made the 25-man roster out of spring (though technically one kinda was; see next).
  • Five (5) eventually got added and called up (Jeremy Guthrie, Matt Albers, Grant Green, Jacob Turner and Andrew Stevenson): Guthrie was the 5th starter, stashed in XST for a few days before his ill-fated debut.
  • Five (5) have since been added to 40-man (Erick Fedde, Taylor Hill, Kyle McGowin, Wander Suero, Tim Collins)

Summary of NRIs from ST 2016: 20 NRIs total (plus perhaps a couple more that got signed late):

  • Two (2) made the 25-man roster: (Chris Heisey and as noted in the comments, thanks for the correction, Matt Belisle).
  • Two (2) eventually got added and called up (Lucas Giolito, Sean Burnett)
  • Two (2) have since been added to 40-man (Matt Skole, Austin Voth)

Summary of NRIs from ST 2015: 20 NRIs total:

  • Two (2) made the 25-man roster out of spring (Dan Uggla and Clint Robinson).  Adding Reed Johnson as a late-spring signee who made the team after his release from Miami (H/T Sao)
  • Two (2) others eventually got added and called up (Rafael Martin and Emmanuel Burriss)
  • Two (2) others were young catchers since added to the 40-man (Spencer Kieboom, Pedro Severino)

(I believe the above analysis is correct; feel free to comment if i’ve missed someone.  this is a bit tougher to keep track of b/c the team often signs MLFAs mid-spring then technically gives them NRIs … especially for Vets, and I may miss some from the original announcements).

42 Responses to 'Spring Training 2021 NRI Discussion'

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  1. Bonnell is a right-handed reliever

    Mick Reinhard

    18 Feb 21 at 1:16 pm

  2. Crap, i had him and McFarlin backwards. I’ll fix it.

    Todd Boss

    18 Feb 21 at 2:29 pm

  3. BATS left, throws right. I added him too quickly to the big board 🙂

    Todd Boss

    18 Feb 21 at 2:30 pm

  4. Catcher: Castillo has a legit shot to beat out Avila as the reserve if it’s a truly open competition. Both know the secret ex-Cub handshake, so maybe it will be. Neither inspires a lot of confidence, though; we’ve been scratching our heads all winter over why they didn’t sign someone better. It also will be interesting to see if Barrera hits enough to show that he might be capable of being an MLB reserve. I assume that the Avila/Castillo “loser” will not stay with the organization, so Barrera figures to be next man up. Read has always looked overmatched at the MLB level. (Also, I keep forgetting about Swihart, who is an interesting wild card in all of this, and might become the prime AAA option at the least.)

    5th OF: Again, scratched my head all winter why they didn’t sign a RH OF bat. Pillar would (still) make a ton of sense as a reserve who could step in and start if Robles doesn’t improve. Stevenson figures to fill the LH 4th OF slot and probably see a lot of time as a late-game defensive replacement in LF for Schwarber. But with so many LH guys around around (including Yadiel Hernandez), why did they bring in Parra, besides the feel-good aspect? Schwarber needs a RH platoon partner. Are they hoping for a miracle with Tomas? Do they plan to use Harrison regularly in LF?

    2d LH reliever: aside from Hand, Cronin might be the best guy in camp. Word apparently is that they want to keep trying Romero as a starter. Cronin hasn’t pitched above Hagerstown but got a long look at the Fburg site last summer. Lots of buzz about how they think they may have found gold in Sam Clay. McFarland and Avilian seem more like depth to me.

    INF: I also scratch my head over why everyone seems to think that Garcia is ticketed for AAA but Kieboom will be with the big club (other than, oh, Davey saying that Carter is his guy). Garcia certainly looked more comfortable last summer against MLB pitching than Kieboom did. (And yes, I know that Kieboom was injured, apparently more than he knew/admitted.) Either or both will either be starting or in AAA, though; they won’t improve on the MLB pine. They’ve got a lot of versatility with Castro and Harrison, though. I’ve lobbied for a LH bat as a complement/platoon, like Brad Miller. Travis Shaw or Brock Holt might come on a minor-league contract at this point. That’s a long way around to say that there’s probably a slot open that Mercer could take, although what Snyder has done at AAA has been intriguing.

    Love having in camp: Fuentes (now on 40-man, a long-time favorite of mine who I think will be an MLB reliever), Klobotis, Condra-Bogan, and Dyson. Don’t sleep on Dyson, folks. He struggled to strike out guys in the pros in 2019 after a long, psychologically difficult college season in which his draft stock plummeted. But don’t forget where it plummeted from: actual 1/1 conversation. The fact that he’s in big-league camp this spring seems to indicate that he’s taken his humbling to heart and worked hard. He didn’t just suddenly lose his talent, the talent that dominated LSU in the CWS-clinching start when he was a frosh.

    Also, shout-out to our friend Sao for his deep dive into the NRIs posted at NatsTalk. He now knows more about a whole bunch of guys we’ll never hear of again than any human should!


    18 Feb 21 at 2:51 pm

  5. Curiously missing from the long list of NRIs: Nick Banks, Cole Freeman, Nick Wells, Andrew Lee, Andrew Istler, maybe Carson Teel (who pretty much has mirror stats to Cate), Mario Sanchez. I think someone said that Sterling Sharp is recovering from injury, but he’s certainly a missing notable as well.

    Tocci got to hang out in the majors for a little while three years ago, but why is he worth a look over Banks/Freeman? And Cody Wilson ahead of them as well? Jhonathan German was a surprise NRI to the first spring training last year, but not to the summer camp, and not now. (Maybe he was a Menhart pet project?)

    I’m probably missing a couple of others; just doing this off the top of my head.


    18 Feb 21 at 3:05 pm

  6. I have no idea what Tocci is doing in camp. He’s really the only guy on there who doesn’t make sense. There are several other guys I would have liked to see (Banks, Freeman, Teel, Tetreault, Powell, Sharp among them) but you have to draw the line somewhere. It will be challenging enough to find playing time for everyone.

    He slowed down toward the end, but I think Finnegan certainly did enough to earn himself a roster spot. Here’s how I project the 26-man roster as of right now:

    Rotation (5): Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Jon Lester, Joe Ross
    Bullpen (8): Daniel Hudson, Will Harris, Brad Hand, Wander Suero, Tanner Rainey, Kyle Finnegan, Austin Voth, Ben Braymer
    Catchers (2): Yan Gomes, Alex Avila
    Infielders (7): Josh Bell, Starlin Castro, Carter Kieboom, Trea Turner, Ryan Zimmerman, Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer
    Outfielders (4): Kyle Schwarber, Victor Robles, Juan Soto, Andrew Stevenson

    Interesting looking at the minor league schedules how they’re broken into strings of six games, with a designated “off day”. That seems like it lends itself to a six-man rotation, for which the Nats are equipped. Baseball America also reported that the roster size for Triple-A clubs will likely increase, but an exact number isn’t known yet. Here’s my projected Red Wings roster, assuming a 28-man roster:

    Rotation (6): Erick Fedde, Rogelio Armenteros, Steven Fuentes, Jefry Rodriguez, Tyler Eppler, Paolo Espino
    Bullpen (8): Sam Clay, Ryne Harper, Dakota Bacus, Aaron Barrett, Javy Guerra, Bryan Bonnell, Jacob Condra-Bogan, Kyle McGowin
    Catchers (3): Tres Barrera, Raudy Read, Blake Swihart
    Infielders (7): Jake Noll, Luis García, Brandon Snyder, Adrian Sanchez, Hernán Pérez, Humberto Arteaga, Ali Castillo
    Outfielders (4): Nick Banks, Cole Freeman, Yadiel Hernandez, Yasmany Tomás


    18 Feb 21 at 3:43 pm

  7. Sao: A pretty good projection of MLB and AAA if you ask me. It is pretty amazing that Fedde STILL has an option left, and it’ll make his demotion easy. He turns 28 in a week and he’ll still be riding the bus in AAA despite MLB experience in four different seasons.

    Todd Boss

    18 Feb 21 at 4:52 pm

  8. I’ll second what Todd says, Sao. The 1 variable that I see is Fedde far outperforms Voth and maybe Ross and forces his way on the big club.

    IT’S pretty obvious now that the f.o. thinks Banks and Freeman are organizational fodder, not even worthy of AAA.

    Mark L

    18 Feb 21 at 5:03 pm

  9. And Taijuan Walker to the Mets, making the Nats’ playoff path even harder.

    Such a weird offseason for the Nats. Two strong moves in getting Bell and Hand. Two questionable moves in deferring to Martinez on Schwarber and Lester. Damn stubbornness from Rizzo insisting that Kieboom is ready now, despite a lot of evidence to the contrary, and not even bringing in a stopgap guy. Waiting forever to sign a pretty feeble backup catching option. Passing on a lot of starting pitching in favor of Lester/Ross/Fedde/Voth. Still a couple of holes on the bench that could have been filled with some pretty decent guys for not much dough.

    There were rumors that the Nats would only spend around $180M for 2021, and for a good while, that looked like the case. Maybe Rizzo talked the Lerners into going for Hand, letting him have a little more for that deal. But if you’re going to go to $193M, it makes no sense not to spend $15M and go up close to the tax line.


    19 Feb 21 at 10:47 pm

  10. Sao — I like your roster breakout, but here are a few thoughts/quibbles. First of all, I’ll be very surprised if they don’t keep a 5th OF. I would think Tomas is the “leader” in a thin field, just like Mercer is the “leader” in a thin field for extra infielder. In fact, if they have to choose between an extra infielder or outfielder, I’d pick Tomas over Mercer. But neither has taken a swing yet, so who knows who will hit in the spring.

    I forgot about Braymer as a possibility for the 2d bullpen lefty. He could also be a multi-inning swingman type. I just hope they have a true open competition and let the best man win. They’ve got some interesting guys, particularly if they give Cronin an actual shot.

    Interesting thoughts on the AAA rotation. I would say that you’ve got to think that Sharp would be in that rotation . . . except he’s weirdly not in the major league camp. If they’re keeping Romero as a starter, which they’ve said they are, then I would think he would be at AAA. Cate might be at AAA, although he really hasn’t pitched at AA.

    Also, is McGowin now a reliever? Is J-Rod? Beyond Fedde, those two have pretty much the most MLB experience and might be starters #7 and 8 right now, unless Armenteros or Fuentes really impress in camp. And despite Fuentes’s flash as a starter in ’19, I still think his future is as a reliever, and a very good one.


    19 Feb 21 at 11:10 pm

  11. I don’t think Romero is ready for Triple-A, considering he got absolutely railed at the major league level and is coming off yet *another* injury. Sharp could take JRod’s spot at Triple-A if he’s healthy, but I also think it’s possible he’s a reliever now (then again, same could be said of JRod).

    FWIW, I’d expect the Harrisburg rotation to be something like Rutledge, Cate, Teel, Romero, Adon, and Sanchez. Maybe Troop over Rutledge or Adon if the Nats think one or the other needs to begin the year at High-A.


    20 Feb 21 at 1:15 am

  12. As for the bench spot, remember that Harrison can play all three outfield positions as well as 2B/3B. That gives the Nats some flexibility for that last spot. I think they’ll prefer to carry someone who can spell Trea Turner without needing to rearrange the entire infield.


    20 Feb 21 at 1:17 am

  13. Harrison actually doesn’t have any MLB time in CF, but he does have a little at SS, a long time ago. He had a heck of a season at the plate last year, where he was significantly better than the guys the Nats have scheduled to start ahead of him at 3B, 2B, and LF.

    If Harrison is hitting as well as he was in 2020 (no guarantee of that, since he hasn’t been consistently good since 2014), then he needs to be playing nearly every day. The question is where. If Tomas doesn’t make the team, then he’s probably Schwarber’s platoon partner in LF. Maybe Harrison is also the emergency plan if Kieboom falters. But if he’s only playing two or three days a week, then the Nats are intentionally sitting their #3 player in wRC+ last season, which just doesn’t make a lot of sense.


    20 Feb 21 at 8:22 am

  14. Troop is one I’ve always thought could have a high upside if he can ever stay healthy. He’s only managed 99.2 pro innings after being drafted in 2017. He had better college pitching AND hitting numbers than Cavalli, as Troop was one of the best two-way players in the country (finalist for the Olerud Award).

    I honestly don’t know what to think about Romero. He looked like a deer in the headlights in his brief MLB stint and had unbelievably low velo. But he also hadn’t pitched in a pro game above low A, or in relief in any meaningful situation. (If they truly wanted/needed a lefty reliever, why didn’t they bring up Cronin instead?) We’ve been told since he was drafted that he was a “top 10 talent.” We’re still waiting.


    20 Feb 21 at 12:40 pm

  15. I think we need to be more conservative in how we project roster openings, because some of the math I’m seeing here doesn’t quite add up. Let’s lay it out:

    Rotation (5 spots, 4 locks): Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin, Lester, ______
    Bullpen (8 spots, 6 locks): Hand, Hudson, Harris, Rainey, Finnegan, Suero, ______, ______
    Catchers (2 spots, 2 locks): Gomes, Avila
    Position players (11 spots, 10 locks): Bell, Castro, Kieboom, Turner, Schwarber, Robles, Soto, Zimmerman, Harrison, Stevenson, ______

    So that’s four, and bear in mind Ross and Voth are out of options, so two of those three spots for pitchers probably go to them if they show anything at all this spring.

    Now, is it possible Kieboom or Finnegan or someone else is just beyond horrible in spring training and the Nats decide they can’t carry them? Is it possible someone unexpectedly gets injured and has to start the year on the IL? Of course. But as of right now, this is how the roster projects.


    20 Feb 21 at 12:46 pm

  16. They’re a little hamstrung with position players because most teams don’t carry two guys who can only play 1B. I personally don’t see carrying Mercer just because he’s a SS-capable reserve when Castro is a fine SS and Kieboom has spent most of his career there. To me, it’s more important to have a RH platoon for Schwarber . . . unless that’s Harrison . . . unless Harrison ends up having to play a lot of 3B. But if it were me, right now, before anyone takes a game swing in the spring, I would keep Tomas over Mercer. (Tomas also technically can play 3B, or at least stand there.)

    It’s interesting that some players are being given a pass for being out of rhythm in 2020, while others aren’t. Voth is one who isn’t. Down the stretch in 2019, he was better than Ross and Fedde, hands down. He posted multiple strong starts against the Braves. I have more confidence in Voth than I do in Fedde. With Ross, everyone keeps having these 2015-16 fantasies. Maybe he’ll benefit from a year of arm rest and a new pitching coach. On paper, though, Ross has always looked like a great bullpen candidate with his wipeout slider. In practice, as Todd likes to note, he’s been significantly better as a starter than as a reliever. I’m not even discussing Fedde because he’s done nothing yet to prove that he should be in the rotation of a contender. He still has his miraculous extra option, so unless Hickey makes a couple of tweaks that make him finally look like he’s all he’s been promised to be, he needs to be stretched out in Rochester as the #6 starter.

    No way I DFA Voth unless he has an awful spring and has no trade value. But he is in a precarious position, particularly with the team publicly stating that they want Ross to win #5.

    Not being discussed at all is what happens if Lester really sucks in the spring.

    I think last two bullpen slots go to Ross/Voth loser (unless the loser is awful) and one of the myriad of lefties. I think Clay is the wild card in that group, as he may have better stuff than anyone than perhaps the still-green Cronin, but he’s yet to harness it. I think Braymer is probably the safest best among the field, unless Clay or Cronin really wow them, or they decide that Romero is really a reliever after all and is ready.

    McGowin, J-Rod, and Fuentes shouldn’t be forgotten in the bullpen race, particularly if Voth, Ross, or Lester should pitch themselves completely off the team. All have good stuff plus long-man/swing-man capability.

    But who are we kidding–we know that Davey has some sort of strange crush on Javy Guerra!


    20 Feb 21 at 8:16 pm

  17. Jeffres MLFA/NRI signing could be pretty impactful. he was damn good for Milwaukee 2 years ago and then had comparably WHIP numbers in 2020. I like this signing a lot and think he goes to the head of the list of NRI right handers who may make the roster. I’ll update the post with his name.

    Todd Boss

    22 Feb 21 at 1:18 pm

  18. Really, really tough to see how Jeffress doesn’t make this team out of spring training unless he gets hurt or is just unfathomably bad in tune-ups. Even when he had a bad season in 2019, his FIP and peripherals suggest he was mostly just unlucky. All-Star in 2018. What a steal on a minors deal.

    Updated roster projection:

    Rotation (5): Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Jon Lester, Joe Ross
    Bullpen (8): Daniel Hudson, Will Harris, Brad Hand, Wander Suero, Tanner Rainey, Kyle Finnegan, Jeremy Jeffress, Austin Voth
    Catchers (2): Yan Gomes, Alex Avila
    Infielders (7): Josh Bell, Starlin Castro, Carter Kieboom, Trea Turner, Ryan Zimmerman, Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer
    Outfielders (4): Kyle Schwarber, Victor Robles, Juan Soto, Andrew Stevenson

    If Jeffress and Mercer (or Tomas, or Parra, or whoever) both make it, that’s probably bad news for Dakota Bacus or Jake Noll, who are clinging to roster spots by their fingertips. Alternatively, the Nats could jettison the loser of Ross vs. Voth and carry Braymer, Romero, McGowin, Armenteros, or Clay as their long man.


    22 Feb 21 at 1:34 pm

  19. I certainly love taking a minor-league flyer on Jeffress. I’ll reserve the cartwheels until we see what he has left, though. His K rate has been dropping and FIP has been climbing, and his .161 BABIP-against last year was insanely lucky.

    If Jeffress still has something left in the tank, though, wow, that could be a deep bullpen. It’s going to need to be, though. Whoever wins the #4 and 5 slots are pretty much going to be 5/6-inning starters, and Stras may be for a time as well as they ease him back in after essentially missing a season.

    At this time of year, with so many good players getting cut at the end of the spring, the chances of Noll and Bacus making it through a DFA to be outrighted are very good. Yadiel Hernandez could be on that list as well if he has as poor a spring as he did in 2020. (I hope he doesn’t, but he really struggled last spring.) Ryne Harper would also be on the at-risk list.


    22 Feb 21 at 2:23 pm

  20. I think I’ve suggested this before, so I won’t belabor the point…but I don’t think the point of signing Lester was that he’d go out and win 15 games, as much as it was that he’ll take the ball every fifth day and throw it 90-100 times before heading to the showers. Part of the reason we didn’t make it in 2020 was the bullpen kept collapsing, and part of the reason the bullpen kept collapsing is it repeatedly had to come into games in the fifth, fourth, even third inning, since Fedde, Voth, Crowe, and often Sánchez were completely unable to give the Nats the length they needed.

    If Lester pitches really well and the Nats win a lot of his starts, that’s awesome! But if he puts up a 5.00 ERA over 180 IP, he did his job. The Nats have to stop the bleeding and give their bullpen a break, and Lester is the guy to do that.


    23 Feb 21 at 2:47 am

  21. Here is Lester’s 2020 game log:

    What weird season. He started 12 games. In half of them, he gave up 0 or 1 run, plus 2 runs in one start. In the other five he got clobbered: 5 runs three times, 7 once, and 8 once, not making it out of the 4th inning in three of those starts. Of his seven good starts, he went six innings in five of them.

    So who knows what we’re getting. I didn’t realize how good he was when he was good. But when he was bad, he was very bad, and he did chew up his bullpen. There really was no in-between.


    23 Feb 21 at 7:21 am

  22. And the Jeffress 2020 game log:

    Also interesting. In 22 appearances, he gave up more than one hit only once, and that was two-inning outing. He gave up no hits in 16 of 22. He only surrendered runs in three games. As noted yesterday, he had extraordinary BABIP “luck,” though (.161).

    Jeffress is a Virginian, from South Boston, which pretty much is in the middle of nowhere in the SW part of the state, sorta near Danville. He must have been a stud in high school to get drafted 1/16 overall out of the middle of nowhere.


    23 Feb 21 at 9:37 am

  23. This is head scratching to me. How was Jeffress not signed by anybody a long time ago?
    His numbers scream out if you look, the only downside is he does not miss a lot of bats, but he’s a worm killer consistently.

    I don’t get it. He’s terrific.

    Mark L

    23 Feb 21 at 9:48 am

  24. I dunno. Jedd Gyorko is still sitting out there after putting up a 121 OPS+ last season. He can play three positions, he’s been successful both off the bench and playing every day, he has a 30-homer season in the not-that-distant past, and he’s only 32. Who knows why some guys take so long to find a team.


    23 Feb 21 at 2:00 pm

  25. Let’s take a look at how batters actually fare against our projected bullpen…

    Tanner Rainey, 2019-20: .169/.655 (.248 BABIP)
    Jeremy Jeffress, 2019-20: .234/.661 (.282 BABIP)
    Kyle Finnegan, 2020: .226/.639 (.297 BABIP)
    Wander Suero, 2019-20: .239/.660 (.324 BABIP)
    Will Harris, 2019-20: .218/.608 (.274 BABIP)
    Daniel Hudson, 2019-20: .206/.681 (.242 BABIP)
    Brad Hand, 2019-20: .223/.641 (.337 BABIP)

    So…first of all, would someone mind trying to actually play defense behind Wander Suero and Brad Hand for a change? Sheesh. Second of all, Tanner Rainey is a bad, bad man. And third of all, if this bullpen performs like we know it can, it’s a freaking buzzsaw. It’s deep enough that if Hudson sucks again, the Nats will *still* have a surplus of setup men.

    If Hudson bounces back, Jeffress and Harris prove they can once again still get the job done in their veteran years, what we saw from Finnegan and Rainey in 2020 was real, and Suero and Hand can actually get their fielders to make some freaking plays behind them, then the game’s basically over if our starter exits with a lead, even if it’s just the sixth inning.

    Of note, BABIP is calculated after subtracting out home runs, so here’s homer totals and rates for the past two seasons for these guys…

    Rainey, 2019-20: 10 HR, 3.5%
    Jeffress, 2019-20: 6 HR, 1.9%
    Finnegan, 2020: 2 HR, 1.9%
    Suero, 2019-20: 6 HR, 1.5%
    Harris, 2019-20: 9 HR, 2.9%
    Hudson, 2019-20: 14 HR, 3.5%
    Hand, 2019-20: 6 HR, 1.8%


    24 Feb 21 at 2:51 am

  26. I always hold my breath about bullpens . . . but on paper, this one looks pretty darn good. That’s six guys who legitimately could close. One of the remaining bullpen slots should go to a multi-inning guy, and both might if the other lefty is Braymer. Early quotes from him were that they want to keep him stretched out but also have talked to him about being a swingman.

    And if they encounter problems, Fernando Rodney is only about 67 now . . . Seriously, though, they should have truckload more of potential bullpen depth this year — McGowin, Clay, J-Rod, Fuentes, Condra-Bogan, maybe Romero, Cronin advancing quickly, etc.


    24 Feb 21 at 12:44 pm

  27. I would seriously consider carrying Braymer or Clay over Voth if Ross wins the fifth starter battle as expected. That would drastically improve our flexibility — in terms of minor league options, being able to mix and match roles within the bullpen, and having a matchup lefty available in “conventional bullpen” games (i.e. ones where you don’t need a long man to eat innings).

    Although given that I think there’s not much difference between Voth and Ross, and yet I think Ross probably has a little more trade value, I’d consider just putting Voth in the rotation and trying to get a piece or two back for Ross this spring. We’ve already tried Ross in the bullpen and it did not go well.


    24 Feb 21 at 12:59 pm

  28. Ross/Fedde/Voth disposition: I think Ross is the 5th starter, Fedde is optioned and Voth is pitching for his professional life. For as servicable as he was in 2019, he was not in 2020. Why would you keep Voth pitching at a 6+ era in your bullpen just because he’s out of options?

    My prediction? Voth DFA’d on April 1st to make room for both Jefferess and Avilan. they need to have a 2nd lefty in the pen and it’ll either be Clay or Avilan.

    Todd Boss

    24 Feb 21 at 3:58 pm

  29. Todd, there is a distinct possibility the Fedde forces his way in to the conversation.
    His last 2 starts of 2020 were the best starts of his career. Like Stevensen, maybe the light bulb went on.

    I hope I’m wrong but there’s a good chance Voth is DFA’D and some terrible team picks him up and gives him 30 starts. Hey, it worked for Pedro Severino.

    Mark L

    24 Feb 21 at 5:45 pm

  30. I don’t dispute how you’ve laid out the starter pecking order, particularly consider how Voth struggled last season. But in Sept. 2019, in the midst of what proved to be the most important stretch drive in team history, Fedde got kicked to the bullpen in favor of Voth, who delivered: .184 BA against, .601 OPS against, while facing the Braves twice, Mets, and Indians, all teams in contention. (Fedde blew one of Voth’s strong starts against the Braves by giving up five.) Ross spent most of the month injured but had two strong starts in the last week, then got the WS nod when Max couldn’t go.

    Ross had a weird 2019, with several good outings but four bad appearances that really blew up his numbers.

    As bad as Voth was in 2020, FIP argues that Fedde should have been worse. And Fedde still can’t strike out anyone. He turns 28 tomorrow. At what point do people stop believing in the unicorn?

    All three of these guys still have “potential,” despite their age. I just hope they’re given a fair chance to prove it. I’m not in the tank for Voth at all, but his higher-level performance, in Sept. 2019, was better than any sustained body of work that Fedde has.

    With Ross, who knows? I guess the hope is that a year off will finally allow him to get fully healthy. His brother never fully regained form from similar injuries, though. We’re now at five-plus years awaiting the return of that great young pitcher we saw.


    24 Feb 21 at 10:35 pm

  31. Yeah, I really want Joe Ross to be good, but the evidence weighs against it. While I’m not inclined to give him a very long leash, I think Voth deserves a shot; we forget he had a 3.30 ERA, 1.05 WHIP in his rookie season! That’s really good! Corbin was great in 2019 and awful in 2020, too, so it’s not like Voth is completely on an island.

    I looked it up the other day: Ross has a 4.84 ERA, 1.49 WHIP since his 23rd birthday (and before you ask, yes he did start a game on his 23rd birthday, all the way back in 2016). So he really hasn’t been good since he was 22, and he’s almost 28 now. I’ve always really liked Ross, and I hope if he gets the chance to silence the critics, he’ll do so. But that’s not a fun statistic.


    25 Feb 21 at 2:23 am

  32. We like to think that teams let performance and logic determine preference, but any of us who have been involved in sports at any age/level know that’s not true. Davey seems to have an affinity for Ross. He’s already all but declared him the fifth starter and gave him the WS roster spot and start over Voth, despite his 5.48 ERA for the season to Voth’s 3.30. Fedde is Rizzo’s guy, as Rizzo hates to ever admit a mistake and often holds onto a guy, or keeps him as a starter, too long trying to prove it.

    And Voth? My sense was that Menhart was the one who finally gave him a real chance, from having guided him through the minors. Menhart is gone now, but there’s a new wild card for all three guys in the equation: Hickey. He has a long association with Davey, so maybe can tell him some hard truths about these guys. At the same time, perhaps Hickey can offer some tweaks that will improve them. He seems to be known as a good confidence booster in his pitchers, which all three of these could use right now. And Lester won 18 games with Hickey’s help in 2018, even with declining peripherals.


    25 Feb 21 at 8:23 am

  33. cynical post coming:

    Ross: as a 22/23yr old he was literally the BEST 5th starter in the league. 125 ERA+ in 19 starts in 2016. Since then? Below replacement level. And he has shown that he’s absolutely incapable of working out of the bullpen. Why do we suddenly think he can return to his 2016 form at this point? It’s been five fricking years and he didn’t pitch at all in 2020.

    Fedde: He now has 34 MLB starts across 4 seasons; his FIP is 5.54. He puts more than 1 and a half runners an inning on base and he has NO swing and miss in his game (career 6.0 K/9 at a time when he needs to be much higher). I have zero faith he can be an effective starter in this league, and given that he doesn’t strike anybody out i have zero faith he can be an effective reliever either. I think he’s a AAA starter who can do spot starts to eat innings with zero expectation that the team wins when he pitches.

    Voth: his numbers are amazingly similar to Fedde’s in 2020; a FIP in the 6s, a WHIP in the 1.5 … only Voth can actually strike guys out 8.4 K/9. He doesn’t have overpowering stuff though (92.5 avg FB velocity) and relies on command instead of stuff. I could possibly see an argument to keep him as a long-man/spot starter/8th guy … but the projected bullpen isn’t exactly full of opportunities.

    40-man reliever depth chart right now: Hand*, Hudson, Harris, Rainey, Suero, Finnegan, Harper, Bacus, Clay*

    That’s 9 relievers for presumably 8 bullpen spots. The first 6 guys on that list above are near locks, then you need a loogy, and we havn’t talked yet about jeffress or Javy Guerra or perhaps others who we think are pretty solid to make this team. so, i double down on my supposition that Voth is either beating out Ross as the 5th starter or getting DFA’d apr 1 (i suppose, since i’m being cynical, a 3rd option exists; Voth discovers a ‘soft tissue’ injury that sends him to the DL to bide some time).

    Todd Boss

    25 Feb 21 at 8:28 am

  34. Well, Odorizzi is still available . . . and knows the secret TB handshake.

    Bullpen: Hand*, Hudson, Harris, Rainey, Suero, Finnegan, and Jeffress would seem to be locks. That’s seven, and they could keep eight or nine. On paper, there might be a need for another lefty, but I know Suero has excellent splits against LHB, and a couple of others may as well.

    There are a lot of LH options with Braymer, Clay, Avilian, McFarland, and maybe Romero. Braymer and Romero also could be long men/swing men. Both are staying stretched out, for now. And perhaps Cronin will be waiting in the wings by later in the season.

    A lot of the last bullpen selection will depend on whether Ross and Voth both pitch well. If one doesn’t and is probably leaving, then that opens the door for a lot of possibilities, including Guerra, J-Rod, et al.

    But as I keep saying, no one seems to be pondering what happens if Lester looks like he’s toast.


    25 Feb 21 at 11:21 am

  35. As bad as Ross/Fedde/Voth’s numbers have looked the last couple years … Lester has been better. Not great, mind you, but better. I tend to agree with Sao’s point that Lester can actually get through 5-6 innings and relatively keep the team in games, as opposed to the 4inning 5run outings we constantly saw from Fedde/Voth.

    Todd Boss

    25 Feb 21 at 12:17 pm

  36. Odorizzi would be a great addition, although it seems like the Nats are probably done spending. Would be a real blow if he goes to Atlanta or Philly as rumored.

    Rotation of Scherzer, Corbin, Strasburg, Lester, Odorizzi would be very strong.


    25 Feb 21 at 12:19 pm

  37. I don’t understand why the Nats spent up to $193M, but then won’t spend just a little bit more under the $210M cap to add a few key pieces. It’s like getting the ice cream but then skipping the sprinkles because you say you’re watching calories.


    25 Feb 21 at 1:28 pm

  38. Odorizzi. Are teams scared off by his 4-game awful SSS of 2020? He was great in 2019. I dunno. It’s entirely likely that he’s askign for too munch money. I mean, he has to be worth somewhere in the $14-$15M range at least.

    Todd Boss

    25 Feb 21 at 1:39 pm

  39. @KW – More like buying the ice cream and then not paying for a cone to put it in. We’re walking around with ice cream in our hands. It’s silly.


    25 Feb 21 at 9:23 pm

  40. At least the team is buying ice cream. More than half the league is credibly NOT trying in 2021.

    Todd Boss

    26 Feb 21 at 9:34 am

  41. Sao, I know! It’s like they paid for a Ferrari but only bought three tires. Of course we’re not even sure it’s a Ferrari, maybe just a BMW (where you seemingly do have to pay for each tire as a separate option).

    The Nats have some very good players. But they’re very questionable at 3B, in CF, and for 40% of their starting pitching. They’re also in the the only division in MLB where every team is “trying.” There are no easy wins. As I’ve said, the Nats do still have a path to the playoffs, but it’s a very narrow one, where everything will have to go right, like it did for the last three-quarters of 2019. But I think the odds are better that this is a .500 team than they are that it’s a playoff one.

    As I’ve said, though, the difference between .500 and the playoffs may be the outcome of 10 games. I think the bullpen will help in that regard, but the back end of that rotation is still a real question mark. If you’ve got the collective 5th starter giving up four runs in five innings, that’s going to blow more than 10 games right there before the bullpen even comes into the picture.


    26 Feb 21 at 3:38 pm

  42. […] past posts by year: 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, […]

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