Nationals Arm Race

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

Nats 2021 Non-Tender Discussion

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Is this the end of the road for Fedde with the Nats? Photo via minorleagueball.com

12/1/21 is the non-tender deadline for this year. It also happens to be “National MLB lockout day” as the existing CBA expires between the owners and players … but for the purposes of this post, we’ll assume that some normal baseball transactions will occur. and because of this uncertainty, the two sides agreed to move up the non-tender deadline a couple of days so as to at least not leave a bunch of edge-of-the-roster guys hanging for months.

(Like a lot of our posts, they’re recurring features. Here’s links to prior years: 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011.  I’m not sure why i didn’t do it last year, or in 2016, but we’re back).

As of 11/19/21, when the Nats protected Donovan Casey and Evan Lee ahead of the rule-5 draft, the 40-man roster sat at 39 players. The team’s off-season moves included a waiver claim (Francisco Perez), a re-signing (Alcides Escobar), the returning of three players to the active roster off the 60-day DL (Strasburg, Harris, JRoss), and the two Rule-5 protections.

This doesn’t leave much room for a number of FA moves we think the team needs to make this off-season. Luckily, we have a slew of guys who are “Non-Tender candidates.” We also have a slew of guys who are out of options, or who are on the edges of the roster right now who could make way if/when we need space to sign guys. For today though we’re talking about the non-tender candidates. “Non-tender” candidates are arbitration-eligible players who need to be “tendered” a contract offer by 11/30/21, which is thus a promise to enter into arbitration at a later date to negotiate a 2022 salary.

We have at least 6 and likely 10 arbitration candidates on the roster (more on this later), many of them coming off off really poor seasons. For the arbitration salary estimates we’ll use a combination of the predicted Arb salaries from MLBtraderumors.com, the projected salaries from Cots/Fangraphs, and my own opinion. Lets run through all 10 players and give some opinions on tendering.

  1. Juan Soto. Arb2, projected salary $16-$17M. He made $8.5M this year, finished 2nd in MVP voting, and is already being linked in the sport to a potential $500M contract. Tender Decision: Obviously he will be tendered.
  2. Josh Bell Arb3, projected salary $10-$11M. He made $6.35M this year. He’s given the Nats everything they could have hoped for after trading for him and hoping for a bounce-back from his awful 2020. Tender Decision: an obvious tender.
  3. Victor Robles: Arb1, projected salary $1.5-$1.75M. Yes, he ended the year in AAA. He’s still considered a valuable piece and there’s no way they cut him loose at this point to save $1.5M. Goes into 2022 though behind Lane Thomas on the depth chart and might be competing with Stevenson for the 4th OF job (which has cascading considerations .. see below for more). Tender Decision: tender him.

Ok, so that’s the end of the tender locks. The rest of these guys each have a mostly legitimate reason not to tender. We’ll go one by one by rough projection of 2022 salary and make some guesses.

  1. Joe Ross; Arb3: $2.5-$3M projected. He made $1.5M this year. He sat out 2020, pitched in the rotation for most of 2021 to a 98 ERA+ … then tore his UCL in Mid August. Awesome. So we have a 5th starter who has already had Tommy John surgery sitting on a known second UCL tear, but which apparently doesn’t require surgery. Tender Decision: Do you tender the guy a contract? I wouldn’t: i’d non-tender him and immediately offer him a non-40 man minor/major split deal with an opt-out/call up guarantee for when he projects to be healthy. And if i’m Ross i’d take it, because nobody else would offer him anything different.
  2. Erick Fedde, Arb1: $1.9-$2M. Fedde has now pitched in 75 games across 5 seasons for this team. They tried him as a reliever in 2019 and he was awful (more walks than Ks). They’ve used him as a starter and his career starting ERA is 5.32. I think he’s 7th or 8th on our starter depth chart right now, and that’s before looking at AAA and seeing the guys who are there who i’d rather see on the mound. He has no options and has not proven he’s worth carrying even if he doesn’t make the rotation in 2022. Tender Decision: Non-tender him
  3. Wander Suero: Arb 1, projected $900k-$1M salary. Suero basically doubled his ERA and FIP in 2021 versus 2020, tough to do. He went from being a serviceable middle reliever to a guy getting demoted to AAA. It was a weird season; he had three very consistent performances in the three years prior. Was he hurt? Was it something mechanical? Either way, his track record buys him a roster spot for 2022, especially since he’ll be relatively cheap. Tender Decision: tender a contract and hope for a return to previous levels of performance.

Then, the Nats have four players who all are right around the typical Super-2 cutoff date. All four of these players have 2 years and between 125 – 135 days of service. If the Super-2 cutoff comes in at 2years 136 days … all four of these guys will remain under team control and get paid the MLB min. For the purposes of this discussion though, lets assume they all get super-2 status. Post publishing update: just i posted this, MLB announced the Super2 cutoff at the very low 2years, 116 days (the 2nd lowest cutoff in the last decade), so all four players below are eligible.

  1. Austin Voth: Arb1. Proj Salary: $1M. Unlike his fellow 5th starter competitor for the past few years, Voth was actually put into the bullpen this season … and he wasn’t good. 5.34 ERA, 4.90 FIP, 1.48 whip. Way too many walks, way too many homers. He’s got just as poor a career stat line as Fedde, but it likely doesn’t cost half as much to retain him since the league thinks he’s a reliever now++. But, it isn’t so much about the salary as it is the roster space at this point. Voth has no options remaining either, and has not made enough of a case to guarantee a bullpen spot in 2022. Tender Decision: non-tender him.
  2. Andrew Stevenson: Arb1, projected salary $900k. His 2020 glittering stat line is gone; he slashed .229/.294/.339 in 109 part time games this year. He’s now 5th on the OF depth chart and has no options. It seems like his time as a major leaguer might be done. Tender Decision: non-tender.
  3. Ryne Harper, Arb1. Projected salary: $800K. After awful stats in 2020 post acquisition (we got him from Minnesota for Hunter McMahon in a rare prospect-for-prospect trade), he did pitch reasonably well in 2021. His peripherals were not great, but he kept guys off base and was good. He also has options remaining, meaning he can run between AAA and the majors all they want. I see no reason to cut him loose, especially given his low projected salary, Tender Decision: tender him.
  4. Tanner Rainey Arb1. Projected salary: $800K. What in the heck happened to Rainey in 2021? How do you go from a 170 ERA+ season to a 55 ERA+ season? Something seems amiss. Unfortunately, he’s out of options, meaning he’s got next year’s spring training to figure it out or get DFA’d. He’s got too good of a track record and too big of an arm not to gamble on especially since his projected salary is peanuts. Tender Decision: tender him.

My conclusion: Non-tender Ross, Fedde, Voth, and Stevenson, clearing up 4 roster spots. Offer all four minor/major combo deals to try to resurrect their careers. I doubt any would take it save Ross.

Post-publishing update! On 11/30/21 the Nats non-tendered Harper, Suero, and Ford. Ford was not arbitration eligible, but was a curious roster claim last season who was near the top of my “Next Nats 40-man roster guy to get cut when they needed to make a move.” I was completely off on my predictions.

Sources used:

  • Cots Nats page: https://legacy.baseballprospectus.com/compensation/cots/national-league/washington-nationals/
  • Cots Nats 2022 salary page: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Au_xTIni1eJbDGzravS1482wBbzN9DBQaOY1wwo2Mr0/edit#gid=1520401900
  • Roster Resource nats page: https://www.fangraphs.com/roster-resource/depth-charts/nationals
  • Nats Big Board; https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/186nm-v5F-zTCoR2Be7TFYM3e2cZ-gYi2WVqJLEkHdmc/
  • Baseball-Reference.com of course.

Written by Todd Boss

November 27th, 2021 at 12:10 pm

Posted in Nats in General

25 Responses to 'Nats 2021 Non-Tender Discussion'

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  1. Very timely as the big day is Tuesday. If I have to watch Fedde and Ross again it should be in Rochester.

    If you pick between Robles and Stevenson I pick Stevenson; plays excellent defense and one of the best pinch hitters in all of baseball. Plus, his baseball IQ is double Robles.

    Mark L

    27 Nov 21 at 1:57 pm

  2. Why are the Nats struggling? Part of the reason is right here: other than Soto, a lot of their cheap, controlled talent has really struggled. Kieboom isn’t arb-eligible yet, but he’s also part of the problem. He and Fedde were #1 picks, and Stevenson was their top pick in a year when they didn’t have a first rounder. Add in first-round failures Romero and Denaburg (and Rutledge struggling), and that’s half a decade of nothing from their top picks.

    Ross’s injuries are another issue that hasn’t played out well for the Nats. In 2015-16, he looked like he could be a solid #3 in the rotation for years to come. But that’s never been meant to be. In fact, the 108 innings he threw in 2021 were the most he has ever logged in a season. He’ll turn 29 in May. His brother has had similar problems staying healthy after a great start to his career as well.

    I agree with all of Todd’s picks, and logic. However, I actually will be a little surprised if Rizzo pulls the plug on Fedde. They’ve kept plugging with him despite all logic. They’ve also got more medical info on Ross than is publicly available. Todd’s suggested course with him makes more sense than a straight tender, though.

    Casey would seem the likely candidate to replace Stevo on the AAA shuttle. They’ll likely sign another OF, with Robles and Hernandez as the reserves. Their starting pitching reserves and pretty much non-existent, though, other than Cavalli and Josh Rogers, who still has two options.

    KW

    27 Nov 21 at 2:54 pm

  3. Ryne Harper had a 6 ERA in the second half and somehow gave up six home runs in 22 2/3 IP. I’m a hard pass on tendering him. Move on.

    Andrew Stevenson is basically useless without regular pinch-hitting opportunities, and if the National League is assimilated into the Borg Collective that is DH baseball, he won’t get those anymore. Plus he’s out of options. Move on.

    If the Nats aren’t planning on upgrading Erick Fedde’s rotation spot this winter, I don’t know what we’re all doing here, and I had seen about enough of Fedde in relief *before* he blew Joan Adon’s win in Game 162. Tendering him a new contract would be a gut-punch after he pitched to a 5.5 ERA over a full season. His peripherals were slightly less dire than that, but they still weren’t good. He’s not even really young anymore — he’ll turn 29 a few days after pitchers and catchers report. Move on.

    Publicly, the Nats have been optimistic about Joe Ross’ health. I can’t imagine they’re as confident privately, given he’s already on his second UCL and his recovery from that first Tommy John surgery did not go very well. And it’s not like Ross has been dominant even when fully healthy — his ERA this year was over 4, and that represented by far his best season since before his first TJ. I’d still try to keep him in the org as Todd suggested by offering him a split deal; I doubt anyone is circling and prepared to pounce if the Nats cut him loose, and he may feel pressed to sign before the likely lockout.

    I’ve always liked Austin Voth, or more accurately, I’ve always *wanted* to like Austin Voth; like me, he’s from the Pacific Northwest, and he had a quietly brilliant rookie season as a part-time starter for the Nats. But while I’d hoped he would take well to a relief role, he really hasn’t, and the days of us hoping he could plug a permanent hole in the rotation are long gone. Coming off consecutive seasons with an ERA well north of 5, I see no reason to pay him for another. Move on.

    As with Voth, I’ve always had an affection for Wander Suero. He was a totally unsung hero in 2019, holding the bullpen together with both hands (alongside Sean Doolittle) during that late May/June/early July stretch when the team was clawing their way back into contention, and he had several seasons of being a perfectly cromulent middle reliever for us. I have no idea what happened to him this year — maybe he just never quite got right after injuring himself in April — but he was bad enough to get demoted and finish the year in the minor leagues out of one of the worst bullpens in modern major league history. And I’m just not a big believer in paying more than league minimum for guys who figure as minor league relief depth. If he’s in the Opening Day bullpen, we’re probably looking at a 60-win season or worse. Maybe try to bring him back on a split deal like Ross. Otherwise, move on.

    Soto and Bell are easy decisions, and while Robles and Rainey had rocky years, I don’t think the Nats are ready to give up on them yet (and I think they still have a little bit of trade value if the Nats want to go that direction). So I tender them, although there’s a solid chance neither is wearing a Nationals uniform on Opening Day.

    SaoMagnifico

    27 Nov 21 at 5:36 pm

  4. I don’t agree with it, but I still think there’s a significant chance that they tender Fedde. They seem to stubbornly stick with him, for some reason. But if they do, they lose a lot of credibility to show that they’re actually trying. You know, what Boras said that Soto needs to see . . .

    I could see trying to re-sign Voth to a minor-league deal, although he may think that he can get an MLB deal elsewhere. Probably not, but he may look around at teams where he might have other opportunities.

    Sao could be right about a non-tender to Harper, also with trying to sign him to a minor-league deal. They’ve just got so little depth in the upper minors.

    I forgot about Adon being a 7th starter-in-waiting possibility, probably because he hasn’t really pitched much above A+, where he wasn’t particularly good.

    KW

    27 Nov 21 at 10:21 pm

  5. Harper is a coin flip. I think i leaned towards tendering him if only because he was promised so little money … and remember, they can get cut mid-spring training for like a 1/6th of that salary. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see Harper non-tendered to get the roster spot

    Todd Boss

    28 Nov 21 at 3:37 pm

  6. A lockout is going to be hard to take . . . but Max as a Met?!? Sigh. Giving him $42M a year for three or four years is certifiably crazy. All the more, the Mets finished 77-85 and lose much of their rotation. How does allotting $42M to one player fix their multitude of issues? That said, this is exactly Eppler’s modus operandi with the Angels, which resulted in all those great trips to the playoffs (not). He has already significantly overpaid for Marte.

    The other part of this is that decline for Max will be inevitable, and the NY fans will be brutal on him. But it’s hard to blame him for wanting to cash a few more big checks. No more rings will be involved, though.

    Interesting to see the free agent rush before the lockout, the few teams that are participating, and many that aren’t, including the Nats. The Escober re-signing and bringing in F. Perez don’t exactly move the needle.

    The 60-102 Rangers may be even more delusional with their spending than the Mets, particularly if they end up with Seager to go with Semien. But at least give them credit for trying. Sure wish that the Nats were. That said, most of the deals signed thus far in general seem to be overpays, in money and/or in length, so there aren’t a lot of them I regret the Nats not making. I don’t think Jon Gray is worth $14M a year (4.65 career ERA away from Denver).

    KW

    29 Nov 21 at 7:52 am

  7. […] Tonight is the non-tender deadline for MLB, moved up in deference to both sides’ mutual interest in having this point settled before the lockout on Wednesday. Mr. Boss, as usual, has the analysis of the big boys the Nats should hold on to or let slip. […]

  8. Something in me senses that the Nats are going to “take a year off” from massive FA spending to allow for a year of prospect development. Why chase the money if all it does is get you from 65 wins to 75? If everything is an overpay, why overpay and just solve from within for a year and take stock of where we are?

    Todd Boss

    29 Nov 21 at 11:35 am

  9. Holy cow, details on Scherzer’s deal with Mets: 3yrs, $130M. that’s $43M a YEAR. https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/32745735/sources-new-york-mets-max-scherzer-finalizing-3-year-deal

    Todd Boss

    29 Nov 21 at 12:55 pm

  10. Max is a 1st ballot Hall of Famer but this deal is nuts. Good for him.

    The Lindor deal is already looking bad and he has 9 years to go.

    Mark L

    29 Nov 21 at 1:02 pm

  11. Mets now at $268M payroll per MLBTR. Are they counting on some sort of unexpected expansion of the cap about which the rest of the world is unaware?

    Honestly, I don’t know what the Nats “should” do. The offense is in pretty good shape. Bring back Josh Harrison to solidify 3B at a budget price. Maybe they decide to roll with the OF they’ve got and hope that either Hernandez is good enough or that Robles figures something out.

    Pitching is a different story. Let’s just say that if they tender Fedde, it will be a very bad sign of sticking with the status quo. The problem with the pitching market right now is that the $10M guys the Nats might have liked are signing for $13-14M.

    Now, if the lockout lasts well past when Spring Training should start, and there’s an accelerated pace to resuming place, that could create a scramble situation where there are discounts to be had. Some teams may be counting on this Black Friday approach, including the Nats. We’ll see.

    But we’re about to enter the long winter of our discontent, with little to discuss, not even the supposed merits of Evan Lee and Israel Pineda.

    KW

    29 Nov 21 at 1:18 pm

  12. And then there are the Rangers, that 60-win team, now committing HALF A BILLION to two players, guaranteed. Yes, I once had some interest in Seager for the Nats (pre-QO), in the range of $25M per for six seasons. This is a guy who only once has stayed healthy for a full season and who has never hit more than 26 homers (in that season). Good luck with that. If Seager and Semien turn into Rollins and Utley in their 30s, um, that franchise is even more sunk than it already is.

    But at least we know that Boras will be able to afford to keep his lights on during the lockout.

    KW

    29 Nov 21 at 5:20 pm

  13. Also, if Seager is worth 10/325, have you met our old friend Trea? Or Correa for that matter (like Seager, another guy who can’t stay healthy). Cha-ching for those guys.

    KW

    29 Nov 21 at 5:27 pm

  14. Supposedly the Nats are interested in Kyle Schwarber, Chris Taylor, and Seiya Suzuki, although there’s been little in the way of movement on any of those fronts. I figure we’ll probably add a left fielder and maybe one of the second- or third-tier infielders either to supplant Kieboom or move Escobar to the bench. Not sure we’ll do much else beyond some relatively cheap pitching additions.

    SaoMagnifico

    29 Nov 21 at 8:16 pm

  15. No-no-no on Taylor with the QO. Makes NO sense to pay the QO penalties for a non-front-line guy, all the more while rebuilding. Steamer projects Taylor with a .243 BA and only a 102 wRC+. No way to give up the QO penalties for that. He also strikes out way too much.

    Would love for them to give Suzuki a spin, although Schwarber is more of a known quantity.

    KW

    29 Nov 21 at 8:52 pm

  16. With Schwarber, you’d always have a reason to come to the ballpark, no matter the team.

    With Suzuki, do you really think Rizzo has been taking meds for his allergy to Asian players?

    Mark L

    30 Nov 21 at 5:55 am

  17. There is no way the Nats give up a 2nd round pick right now, especially one that projects to be perhaps in the top 40 picks, to sign a middling veteran FA. That would be absolute GM malpractice.

    On the topic of non-tenders; Stevenson signs a one year deal for $850k to compete with Robles for the 4th OF job.

    Todd Boss

    30 Nov 21 at 10:03 am

  18. By my count, Stevo is decidedly the #5 OF now, basically meaning that he would only stick if they don’t sign someone else, or if they do sign someone and Robles (who has options) still sucks in the spring. So he’s pretty much a $144.5K (1/6 of his salary) insurance policy, I guess.

    Still, it’s also hard to see a deal like this, which buys out an obvious non-tender, and not think about how much Rizzo hates to admit a failure. That’s why I still think there’s a good chance that Fedde is tendered/signed, against all logic.

    Also, part of me wants to scream, “They cleared house of all the good players, so why not the mediocre ones?!”

    KW

    30 Nov 21 at 12:07 pm

  19. KW: tend to agree on these 1st/2nd rounders, again.

    Todd Boss

    30 Nov 21 at 12:41 pm

  20. KW, you called it. The Nats love of Eric Fedde knows no bounds.

    Mark L

    1 Dec 21 at 4:03 am

  21. Simple question: who do you think has a chance to return to being a more effective pitcher for the Nats, Fedde or Suero? I’d say Suero 100 times out of 100, unless there’s some underlying medical thing about which we’re unaware.

    As shocked/not shocked as I am about Fedde, I’m even more surprised about tendering Voth, although technically, his bad numbers are a little better than Fedde’s, as they always have been, even in the minors. And as we’ve discussed, is Ross worth what he’s going to make? Are these the guys they’re counting on as three-fifths of their rotation? Their commitment to mediocrity knows no bounds.

    Along the same lines, I give you Cesar Hernandez, paid $4M for a 90 wRC+ . . . and playing the position we thought Garcia was going to play. Apparently, Garcia (79 wRC+, .275 OPS) will move to SS, with Escobar at 3B? That would be A. Escobar and his 100 wRC+, not E. Escobar and his 30+ HRs. Sigh. But that way, they won’t have over-invested in 3B, so golden boy Kieboom (68 wRC+) can still assume his rightful place when he’s ready . . . when he’s ready . . . when he’s ready. He’ll win the Gold Glove and the batting crown, and Fedde will win CYA, because gosh darn it, the Nat front office has never been wrong about a draft pick!

    Sigh. What depressing things to dwell on over the next couple of months while there’s nothing else to dwell on. The only positive thing I can say about Hernandez is that at least it probably means that they’re not going to pay the QO penalties and over-inflated salary for Chris Taylor.

    KW

    1 Dec 21 at 6:11 am

  22. https://www.masnsports.com/nationals-pastime/2021/11/suero-harper-ford-non-tendered-by-nats-before-deadline.html

    Suero, Harper and Ford non-tendered. Ford was not arb-eligible; I guess the team used this opportunity to cut him loose along with a swath of other players perhaps to just get him off the 40-man in search of a MLFA deal next year. As for the other two … yeah, kind of shocked with Suero, who was “good” before 2021 and would have not cost a ton of money.

    Todd Boss

    1 Dec 21 at 9:25 am

  23. MLB negotiators walked out after only seven minutes meeting with union reps today. That’s about the same amount of time as a postseason mound visit. I guess this is happening. Obviously they’re not even trying.

    KW

    1 Dec 21 at 3:11 pm

  24. Looks like Taylor is trying to quickly re-sign with the Dodgers. He’s a Virginia guy, and he could be a useful player for the Nats, but it wasn’t going to make a lot of sense to pay the QO penalty for him. The rebuilding Nats need that draft pick in the 40s and $500,000 in international money.

    Cubs said to be moving on Stroman, who would also make sense for the Nats. They probably need to be more in the market for $10M pitchers more than the $20-25M, though.

    KW

    1 Dec 21 at 6:39 pm

  25. I don’t think Taylor was ever leaving the Dodgers; he gets a lower deal AAV than the QO but gets 4 yeras and $64M guaranteed, a massive pay increase over his walk year salary of $7.8M. kudos to him.

    It probably is the last signing for months.

    Todd Boss

    2 Dec 21 at 9:07 am

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