Nationals Arm Race

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

Check-in on Traded-away Prospect Arms

32 comments

Dunning now in the Texas rotation. Photo via mlb.com

The Nats are well-known for their heavy emphasis on pitching in drafts, and then for using said pitching depth as “currency” to acquire talent to build their roster. The team has traded away more than 20 prospect pitchers in the last 5 years, ranging from recent MLB debutants to rookie-league wild-cards.

I thought I’d be interesting to check in with some of the arms we’ve moved over the past few years.

Part of me does this as a “wouldn’t it be nice if we had kept them…” motive, since not all of these trades were really ones I would have made. But nearly all of these trades contributed in one way or another to the 2019 title … so I have to temper my criticism. In the end, you’d rather have a title than a prospect. But, choices have been made over the years and some of those choices look better or worse in retrospect.

These are listed in order of MLB impact of the traded away talent, not chronologically (this list does not include all the MLB arms we traded away in the 2018 missing the playoff purge; this is mostly about trading away prospects).

  • Lucas Giolito; Traded to Chicago White Sox (along with Lopez and Dunning) for Adam Eaton in 2016. Eaton gave the team 4 injury-filled years and a combined 2.7 bWAR. Giolito is now the #1 starter for the White Sox and was an all-star in 2019, but it took him several years and multiple mechanical changes to get there.
  • Jesus Luzardo: traded to Oakland in 2017 (along with Treinen and Neuse) to acquire Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle. Luzardo rose to be one of the best prospects in the game ahead of the 2020 season, now Oakland’s #2 starter as a 23yr old. Madson and Doolittle served as valuable back-end bullpen pieces, though Madson did not make it to our title-winning season and Doolittle lost his closer job by 2019 and is pitching elsewhere. This is the kind of trade i wish we made less of; you should be able to grow relievers from your farm system, not trade away future #2 projected starters for a combined 3 seasons of varying production.
  • Dane Dunning was the 3rd of 3 ranked prospects in the 2016 Chicago/Eaton trade. He hovered in the top prospects list for several years, had TJ surgery, debuted with some success in late 2020 for the White Sox, then was flipped to Texas in 2020 for Lance Lynn, and is now featuring in the 2021 Texas rotation as their 5th starter.
  • Taylor Hearn: was the 2nd of 2 prospects in the 2016 Pittsburgh/Melancon trade. He was subsequently flipped by Pittsburgh in 2018 for Keone Kela, and debuted for Texas in late 2019. Since, he has been an 7th/8th inning reliever for Texas with some effectiveness.
  • Austin Adams, traded to Seattle in 2019 for Nick Wells after we DFA’d him. Pitched effectively for Seattle’s bullpen in 2019, then traded to San Diego in Aug 2020 for a package of players. Pitching in middle relief for San Diego in 2021. Wells has done basically nothing for this team, while Adams has at least continued to pitch in the majors and does beg the question … why couldn’t he do for us what he has managed to do for Seattle and San Diego?

Summary: well, you’d have a pretty nice start to a rotation right now with Giolito/Luzardo/Dunning. But it took years to get there for these guys: these were players who were traded 4-5 years ago. And the guys we got in return (Eaton, Doolittle) were key parts of the 2019 title team.

Minor league arms traded in last 5 years still in minors:

  • Reynaldo Lopez was the 2nd ranked of 3 prospects in the 2016 Chicago/Eaton trade; he was a full time rotation starter in 2018 and 2019 for Chicago, but got beaten out for the rotation in 2021 and is in AAA. Interesting how many thought Lopez was the “prize” of that trade … now he’s like 7th on their rotation depth chart.
  • Wil Crowe: traded to Pittsburgh (along with Eddy Yean) for Josh Bell. Crowe made the opening day 2021 roster for Pittsburgh, but was optioned after one poor outing. Likely projecting as a 4-A type starter, and future analysis of this trade will have to remember that Pittsburgh was in a salary dump mode when evaluating whatever Crowe and Yean become.
  • Jefry Rodriguez, traded (along with Johnson and Monasterio) to Cleveland for Yan Gomes in 2018. Pitched for a couple months in the Cleveland rotation in 2019, hit free agency in 2021, signed MLFA with Washington in 2021, likely in AAA. Probably safe to say the Nats are coming out on top of this move.
  • Taylor Guilbeau: traded to Seattle for Roenis Elias in 2019. Pitched for Seattle MLB middle relief in 2019 and 2020, DFA’d and outrighted in Feb 2021. Elias got lit up, got hurt and was essentially useless for us.
  • Trevor Gott; traded to San Francisco in 2019 for cash after we DFA’d him; he pitched for SF’s bullpen for two years, was DFA’d and outrighted in Feb 2021. Once again, like with Adams … how is it that Gott couldn’t break our crummy 2019 bullpen but then pitched effectively for another organization immediately upon his exit from Washington? its like Blake Treinen all over again.
  • Pedro Avila was traded to San Diego for Derek Norris in 2016; he rose in the ranks and debuted briefly for San Diego in 2019, then was subsequently DFA’d and outrighted; he remains in their minor league system and projects for AAA in 2021. Norris was originally drafted by DC, and they wanted to get him back. But he only lasted another 3 months with the team, getting released in spring training 2017 before catching on with Tampa for one more season.
  • Aaron Fletcher: traded to Seattle for Hunter Strickland in 2019. Likely in AAA in 2021. Strickland … wasn’t good for Seattle in 2019 and he wasn’t good for us either.
  • Mario Sanchez: traded to Philadelphia for Jimmy Cordero in 2016. Hit MLFA in 2018, came back to Washington, projected AA in 2021. Cordero was crummy for us, then got DFA’d, selected and was gone.
  • Yohanse Morel, traded (along with Gutierrez and Perkins) to Kansas City for Kelvin Herrera in 2018. Likely in High-A in 2021.
  • Kyle Johnston: traded to Toronto for Daniel Hudson in 2019. Likely in High-A in 2021. Hudson closed out game 7 of the 2019 World Series; enough said.
  • Tyler Watson, traded to Minnesota for Brandon Kintzler in 2017. Likley in High-A in 2021. Knitzler was (possibly) scapegoated in the infamous clubhouse blowup mid 2018 and was dumped for pennies on the dollar in 2018.
  • Ryan McMahon; traded to Minnesota for Ryne Harper in 2020; Likely in Low-A in 2021. Harper has really yet to do much, so this is a show-me trade.
  • Eddy Yean; traded to Pittsburgh (along with Crowe) in 2020; projected to pitch in GCL or Low-A in 2021.

Summary: I see several really good moves here, a couple that didn’t work out as well for the Nats, and some that are preliminary. About what you expect when you’re trading prospect arms.

Minor League Arms traded in the last 5 years who are now apparently out of baseball.

  • McKenzie Mills: traded to Philadelphia for Howie Kendrick in 2017. Struggled in AA in 2019 for Philadelphia, released in big Minor league purge in June 2020 and out of baseball. This was a prime example of the Nats selling high on a guy; Mills blew that summer, going 12-3 for the 2017 season, then never replicated that success and was out of baseball two years later. Odd that the team didn’t try to pick him back up after his 2019 release.
  • Jeffrey Rosa; traded to Tampa Bay for Enny Romero in 2017. Struggled for Tampa’s GCL team in 2018 and was released.
  • Mick VanVossen, traded to Chicago WS for Ryan Raburn. struggled in high-A in 2017, likely released that off-season (he has no stats since 2017).
  • Felipe Rivero, traded to Pittsburgh (along with Hearn) in 2016 for Mark Melancon. Changed his name to Felipe Vazquez, replaced Melancon as Pittsburgh’s closer and was dominant, a 2-time all-star in 2018 and 2019. However, he was arrested on child sex abuse charges at the end of the 2019 season and faces multiple felonies in multiple states. As much as I hated this trade at the time (we gave up two solid players for yet another veteran closer since our team for reasons inexplicable cannot home grow closers ourselves), I think we’re all happy to have dodged a bullet w/r/t what Rivero/Vazquez became.

Did I miss anyone?

32 Responses to 'Check-in on Traded-away Prospect Arms'

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  1. The trades with Seattle are the ones that bother me most. Taylor Guilbeau has had shoulder issues and may be back when healthy.
    Aaron Fletcher was blowing through the Nats system in 2019. He could really be something special.

    The best one by far is Johnston for Hudson. Hudson had done nothing that year to make anyone think he would be so great.
    As KW says ‘Flags Fly Forever’!

    Mark L

    14 Apr 21 at 5:02 pm

  2. Nice refresher course. I think we’ve done OK considering even most of these more painful trades helped the Nats win a World Series. But it definitely illustrates a recurring issue with our farm, which is that it’s simply not very productive.

    Homegrown players we’ve graduated off the farm and turned into useful Washington Nationals major leaguers over the past five years: Soto, Suero, Stevenson, Robles (a disappointment thus far in his career), maybe Voth and/or Fedde (ditto), end of list. Spencer Kieboom filled in decently in a backup role in 2018 but is now retired. Luis GarcΓ­a had his moments as a fill-in in 2020. Basically a homegrown superstar, a pretty solid reliever/setup man, and then some role players with questionable futures.

    SaoMagnifico

    14 Apr 21 at 5:30 pm

  3. Forgot about Nick Pivetta for the DC Strangler!

    MG

    14 Apr 21 at 7:51 pm

  4. So, the Pivetta trade was 2015 … 6 years ago … i cut off the analysis at 5. I almost put him in. πŸ™‚

    Todd Boss

    15 Apr 21 at 7:59 am

  5. You know Mark, the very first thought I had when I saw this post, even before I read it, was “Flags Fly Forever.” I don’t spend a lot of time re-litigating these things, although it is interesting to see Todd’s update on how these guys are doing.

    My next thought was right in line with Sao’s — we wouldn’t have to keep doing this if we could actually develop our own talent, and particularly our own relievers. Not all of these were traded for relievers, but many were. But they made the Eaton trade due to not having developed any hitters, either. If Taylor, Goodwin, Hood, et al. had panned out as quality starters, there would have been no need to trade for Eaton.

    The inability to develop relievers is even more unconscionable since the Nats spend an insane number of draft picks on pitchers. That’s not just domestic, it’s also all the Latin fire-ballers they sign, with only Lopez and J-Rod even half amounting to anything. Suero was the junk-balling tortoise to all of those wild hares, never on prospect lists, then all of a sudden in the majors and getting guys out. (I keep saying that Fuentes is the next Suero.)

    Part of the problem, as we’ve noted time and again, is the Nats’ insistence at keeping guys as starters when it’s Captain Obvious clear that they’re not going to stick as starters. They don’t truly work to develop guys as relievers. In fact, when guys have success as relievers, they even have some of them begin starting — Fuentes, Andrew Lee, Todd Pederson, et al.

    KW

    15 Apr 21 at 8:18 am

  6. I think my takeaway from this analysis was … ok yes if you focus on Giolito, Luzardo and Dunning … you’d probably miss the point. But if you look at the bulk of the last 5 years of moves, which have involved trading away more than 20 arms (plus some bats thrown in) … it does give some explanation as to why the farm system is currently dead last.

    KW: i know you constantly harp on not drafting hitters … but if Rizzo has a proven strategy for acquiring hitters in trade (or on the IFA market) because he thinks we know pitching better than anyone … doesn’t that accomplish the same end goal? I mean, so far his strategy is working…. since Rizzo took charge the team does have 5 playoff appearances and a WS title.

    Todd Boss

    15 Apr 21 at 8:44 am

  7. Yes, but Rizzo rode to most of those playoff appearances with cheap hitters and a top starting pitcher drafted because the team he inherited was so crappy. They drafted Rendon in 2011, 10 years ago. They’ve produced no MLB regular hitter in a draft since then, unless/until Kieboom makes it. (Billy Burns flashed briefly with the A’s.) All the folks who STILL complain about the Eaton trade miss the point that the Nats were left having to acquire a top talent.

    Rizzo’s best trade, for Turner and Ross, only tangentially involved a low-drafted pitcher. It primarily involved a hitter. Matt Capps, perhaps his second-best trade chip, was not a Nats’ draftee.

    In the meantime, if you keep drafting pitchers, who have they developed for the home team? The only Nat-drafted pitcher on the World Series roster was Stras. Suero was also on that team, from the Latin program. That was it. I’ve lost track of how many starters they keep having to sign in large part because they can’t develop their own. Max may be in a different category, but they signed him because JZim was leaving and they feared Stras might as well. They made a big trade to get Gio, and another big trade for Fister. They’ve signed Haren, Scherzer, Sanchez, Corbin, Lester, Hellickson, EJax (twice), plus some brief disasters like Guthrie and Latos. In-house starters who have stuck during that time: zero, not counting trade-acquired minor-leaguers Roark and Ross.

    Weirdly, they seem better at spotting pitching talent in other teams’ systems than they do in the draft, going all the way be to Roark (but also including the H-Rod disaster). Treinen, Rivera/Vasquez, Roark, Ross, and on now through Rainey, Finnegan, Clay, McGowin, Ryne Harper — all guys languishing in the systems of other teams. (I give them a pass on Gott’s struggles since they’ve done so well with so many of these others.) All of this begs the question, though: why can they find and develop pitching talent this way, while so little they draft actually makes it?

    I also will never understand why they threw Austin Adams (another acquired talent) away for nothing, but that’s another story. The guy literally took the red-eye from Fresno (where he was pitching amazingly well in the PCL), had a struggling game after very little sleep, and they dumped him. One appearance.

    KW

    15 Apr 21 at 11:45 am

  8. With the current squad, this upcoming four-game set with the D-Backs is a real chance to gain some ground and momentum. The Snakes are really the only non-contending the Nats will play until they play AZ again in a month.

    KW

    15 Apr 21 at 1:20 pm

  9. Look, i’ve long since carried the torch for the crummy top ends of drafts they’ve drafted in the last 10 years. That is why we have no “home grown talent.” The odds of 1st rounders and 2nd rounders making it to the majors is so much higher than 3rd and below that it is almost not worth tracking lower round picks. Here’s last 10 years of 1st and 2nd rounders since the Rendon draft in 2011:
    1sts: Cavalli, Rutledge, Denaburg, Romero, Kieboom, Dunning, Fedde, Giolito
    2nds: Henry, Infante, Cate, Crowe, Neuse, Stevenson, Suarez (did not sign), Johansen, Renda

    Out of that entire decade of top-round draft picks, I count exactly X who are in the majors (for any team) right now. Dunning, Fedde, Giolito, Stevenson. That’s it. One Ace, one #5 starter, one 4th outfielder, and one soon-to-be-DFA’d starter in Fedde.

    THAT is your development failings. Not the lack of hitters .. the near decade long set of misses.

    But if you draft a pitcher, develop him well, then trade him for a hitter … why is that any different than drafting a hitter? In the end, you have the same thing.

    Todd Boss

    15 Apr 21 at 1:35 pm

  10. There had to have been something else going on with Austin L. Adams, right? Some sort of behind-the-scenes issue? Because it just doesn’t make sense for Rizzo to barely give a guy striking out two batters per inning at Triple-A the time of day, then ship him out for a box full of packing peanuts at the first opportunity.

    SaoMagnifico

    15 Apr 21 at 5:19 pm

  11. Sao; agree.

    So, apparently they’re turning Voth into a one-inning reliever. Because last night their starter sh*ts the bed and … Voth doesn’t even appear. Because he threw 13 pitches the day before.

    Todd Boss

    16 Apr 21 at 8:23 am

  12. Voth actually had pitched two days in a row, and yes, one inning apiece. It makes NO sense to keep a guy who is an obvious “long man” and not use him as such, particularly since they’ve had a few (too many) of these ugly contests pretty early in the season.

    Speaking of swing men/long men, is Jefry Rodriguez hurt? His return looked like a good depth addition, and seemed to cushion the possible impact of trading Crowe, but then he disappeared into the ether along with several others.

    As for the draft/development frustration, I think we’re mostly singing the same tune, just in different ways. It’s really remarkable that the franchise has stayed competitive for a decade while drafting and developing so poorly. They’ve had a lot of money to use on free-agent acquisitions, they’ve traded well, and they’ve had some Latin development success. I fear we’re seeing cracks in the sustainability of this model, though. In fact, when you look back at it, they got sort of lucky with remarkable “second acts” from guys like Murphy and Kendrick, who went from very average players to brief periods of near super-stardom.

    KW

    16 Apr 21 at 8:50 am

  13. The other thing with the Austin Adams saga was that it happened right in the middle of the early bullpen collective disaster in 2019, when they were desperate for ANY relief help. I mean, they ended the season with almost a completely different bullpen than what they started with, other than Doolittle, who they wore out and who hasn’t been the same since. Maybe Adams made some comment/excuse about the red-eye flight or something. Whatever it was, Rizzo gave him the Shawn Kelley treatment, gone the next day.

    KW

    16 Apr 21 at 9:02 am

  14. Murphy and Kendrick were never average players. They were always among the best pure hitters in baseball. The very best contact guys.

    They may be a lesson that these high batting average guys who put the bat on the ball and are tough outs against even great pitchers are among the most valuable players in the game. They keep the line moving, keep rallies going, offer extra at bats at the end of games to the middle of the lineup hitters, rarely long slump etc…

    Advanced stats always undervalue these guys and overvalue the more power high strikeout guys. Watching them hit all those valuable singles with incredible consistency for us over the years should have passed the eyeball test for everyone. I would take a whole lineup of these guys every day of the week even in their so called average years.

    What’s more valuable? The lousy single we needed with men on base to score a run or two in the close games we’ve lost this year… or Soto’s 2 home runs when were were already down 10 runs in garbage time?

    Marty C

    16 Apr 21 at 9:43 pm

  15. Murphy and Kendrick had always been good “professional hitters” (a term I hate), but they were around 110 wRC+ type guys, not the 140+ they flashed with the Nats. I mean, Dusty didn’t even think the recently acquired Kendrick was good enough to start in the 2017 playoffs. Two years later, he would turn in one of the great “clutch” postseasons of all time.

    To a point Sao has made several times this past offseason, guys like Murph and Howie were part of what seemed to be an intentional shift away from the high-K/low-contact days of Desi and Danny (and even Bryce at times). But this offseason, with Bell, Schwarber, and Avila in particular, they went back to some particularly high K rates. Maybe K-Long can reform those guys a bit, but that’s a big bet, one that could get ugly quickly if he can’t. I greatly prefer contact over beer-league swings.

    KW

    17 Apr 21 at 12:50 pm

  16. Luis Avilon blew out his elbow yesterday. Scratch another lefthander.

    Mark L

    17 Apr 21 at 2:22 pm

  17. The article about Avilan said he’s “weighing his options.” Uh, the UCL is partially torn; i don’t see what your options are except fix it. The other option seems to be “wait a number of months, see if it magically re-heals, then throw on it until it ruptures fully, then have the surgery that costs you another year.” Maybe now Romero will come out of hiding to be a lefty reliever out of the pen.

    Todd Boss

    17 Apr 21 at 5:32 pm

  18. Fedde goes from one of the worst starts in his career to two straight servicaeable starts where his team gets the win. I guess he read this blog and knew he was in trouble πŸ™‚

    Todd Boss

    17 Apr 21 at 5:34 pm

  19. I was about to post something about Fedde as well. Once is an accident, two’s a trend . . . is it too early to ask whether Hickey is FINALLY getting him straightened out? I mean, this Fedde is actually striking guys out and not walking people. Who is that guy?! It’s way too early to get too excited, but it’s an interesting positive development.

    Too bad for Avilan. He didn’t look too promising with the Nats, but you sure don’t want anyone to suffer a major injury.

    PLEASE give Zim some starts over Bell. Vs. LHP on Sunday, so Zim would seem logical to be in the lineup.

    The Nats still have a number of issues, particularly with inconsistent starting pitching. But despite all the turmoil at the start of the season and some truly ugly games, they’re only two games out in the division, and ahead of the Braves. Let’s get a good bounceback start from Stras on Sunday to build some momentum.

    KW

    17 Apr 21 at 6:18 pm

  20. Let’s hear it for old farts playing baseball! Zimmerman stays hot, even hitting it out versus a local kid from Ashburn.

    Mark L

    17 Apr 21 at 6:28 pm

  21. Strasburg hurt. not good. He continues to be an orchid.

    Todd Boss

    18 Apr 21 at 1:19 pm

  22. Espino selected to mkae today’s start. Let me ask you: why the F do we have multiple starters sitting in Fredericksburg, already on the 40-man, yet we pick a guy who has already been outrigted once to make the spot start??

    Right now as we speak: Armenteros, Romero, Fuentes, Adon and Braymer are on the roster, plus you have Voth and McGowin who have gronw up as starters.

    Does this strike anyone as odd?

    Todd Boss

    18 Apr 21 at 1:28 pm

  23. Amen, brother. Next on my list to start would have been Voth, then McGowin, then Braymer or Fuentes. All very, very curious moves. It’s also part of what irks me with cluttering the 40-man with guys who aren’t anywhere near MLB-ready, like Adon and Antuna.

    What was the 40-man move to activate Espino? Does Romero even still exist? And what has happened to J-Rod and Sterling Sharp, the supposed starter depth that allowed them to trade Crowe?

    KW

    18 Apr 21 at 1:53 pm

  24. I wonder if the lack of a corresponding move is related to Lester still being on the Covid DL list. It seems to me that Covid DL trips do not count against 40man; so technically the Nats are on 39/40, not 40/40.

    Still doesn’t explain the move.

    Todd Boss

    18 Apr 21 at 5:47 pm

  25. One would guess that Lester must have had a full case of COVID to be out this long. A) Hope he’s OK. B) Sure would be good if he could get back soon, although who knows how weakened he is, or if/when he’s even been able to throw.

    Now what? One would think that Espino was just an emergency call. Fedde has earned a longer look in the rotation, but there’s this other slot open until Lester is ready.

    But yes, with adding Armenteros and Jefry Rodriguez, and the return of Sterling Sharp, and word that they were going to stretch out Romero (the LAST words uttered about him), there appeared to be starter depth in reserve. All four of those are MIA and presumably injured.

    All in all, not good.

    KW

    18 Apr 21 at 10:41 pm

  26. I don’t want to jinx Fedde’s nice little run here, but it occurred to me that this is the 7th season since he was drafted. Giolito didn’t become good until the 7th season after he was drafted. (Of course it helped in the grand scheme of things that he was only 17 when he was drafted.)

    KW

    18 Apr 21 at 10:44 pm

  27. I missed that Suero also went on the IL. Good grief.

    I wonder whether they will back-fill some slots at Fredericksburg with so many pitchers being called up.

    KW

    19 Apr 21 at 11:09 am

  28. And then one of the few positives goes negative, as Ross reverts to the mean. The Nats are -22 in run differential after just 14 games, and that’s with surrendering two runs or less in 6 of the 14.

    Despite the struggles, the Nats are only 3.5 back in the division, and only one divisional team has a record over .500. But man, there’s just not a lot to feel good about. They have what looks like a deep lineup on paper, but it’s still struggling to sustain rallies and make them pay off. I mean, they get 2d and 3d with no one out but don’t score. The bullpen overall has been very good, although it’s getting taxed mightily with the inconsistent starting pitching. The starters have been boom or bust, one hasn’t pitched all season, Corbin has struggled all season, and Stras is already injured.

    Anyway, it’s been frustrating so far. Part of me says that it would take much to turn things around, but another part wonders whether that’s false hope.

    KW

    20 Apr 21 at 9:53 am

  29. “wouldn’t” take much to turn it around.

    KW

    20 Apr 21 at 12:18 pm

  30. Fuentes called up. He can pitch multiple innings which is important since the bullpen is so taxed.

    Mark L

    20 Apr 21 at 6:02 pm

  31. Now Soto hurt, to the IL with a shoulder strain. Corbin going tonight, which means we’ll likely get a fireworks show (I live to be surprised). Something tells me we’re going to have a pretty good draft position in 2022.

    SaoMagnifico

    20 Apr 21 at 6:46 pm

  32. As I have said, this is a team that doesn’t have a lot of latitude for bad luck . . . and yet so far, it’s hardly had any good luck. But if they keep scrapping like they did on Tuesday night, the rest of the division is scuffling enough to keep the Nats in hailing distance for a while. I mean, this season feels semi-disastrous thus far, yet they’re only 2.5 games out.

    They finally got a good game from Corbin, and a contribution from Bell. Trea seems to have righted his ship. They continue to confound logic by pretending that Rainey is one of their top bullpen arms, though. Something isn’t right with him, and hasn’t been since the start of Spring Training.

    So onward they trudge, for at least a week and a half without Soto. They need a strong effort from Max today.

    KW

    21 Apr 21 at 7:22 am

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