Nationals Arm Race

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

Looking at our Minor League Free Agent Pitchers..

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Is this the end of the road for JD Martin in a Nats uniform? Photo via Nats news Network

I’m a bit late to this topic; Work has amped up lately and it squeezes what little free time I have in the evenings to do stuff like this.  So sorry if it feels dated.

MLB declared hundreds of minor league free agents on 11/4/11, 5 days after the end of the World Series.  The Baseball America link here has a more complete description of how a player arrives at minor league free agency, but generally speaking it happens one of two ways: either a team has kept one of its own drafted players for 6+ years but he isn’t on the 40-man, or the team signed a minor league free agent last off season and has chosen (as of yet) not to renew his contract or to add him to the 40-man.  From the BA article, here’s our FA pitchers:

RHP: Luis Atilano (AA), Jimmy Barthmaier (AA), Sam Brown (Lo A), J.D. Martin (AAA), Carlos Martinez (AA), Shairon Martis (AA), Garrett Mock (AAA)
LHP: Oliver Perez (AA)

Sean Hogan did a nice statistical review/write up on this same topic earlier, posting his ranks of these FAs.  Below is mostly cut-n-pasted from the season summary articles I did for each level, addressing each FA.  Most of these write-ups did not factor in eligibility for ML free agency at the time and assumed (from a prediction stand point) that the team would be considering their future for 2012.  I’ll add in a FA prediction as well.

  • JD Martin: Outrighted before the season and then signed a minor-league deal, Martin was AAA’s long man/spot starter.  He ended up with 14 starts and pedestrian numbers on the season: 3-7, 3.93 era in 30 appearances.  His fate was sealed in January when he was outrighted and nobody else sniffed; he’s a soft-throwing righty who is a good AAA pitcher until his spot is needed.   Outlook for next season: he could be back in the same role he was in this year, unless a numbers game forces his release.  But the franchise seems to like Martin and he pitched well all year.  ML Free Agency Prediction: I wouldn’t be surprised to see Martin sign with another team, given our current depth of pitching at the MLB level.  He’s clearly not going to get another shot at the major leagues with our team.
  • Garrett Mock: started strong in AAA, then had two incredibly bad outings and went on the DL.  His rehab travels around the low minors became some what of a joke, but when he returned he failed to impress, and was DFA’d in early September to make way for 9/1 call-ups to the majors.  Final AAA line: 0-3, 6.28 era, 1.67 whip, 32/24 k/bb in 28 innings.  His stats at all levels are worse.  Outlook for next season: There are plenty of people (including me, loudly) who openly questioned why Mock occupied a 40-man spot for so long.  His long awaited removal should indicate the end of his future with the Nats franchise.  ML Free Agency Prediction:  I’m guessing he picks up with another team and tries to start fresh with a new organization for 2012.
  • Luis Atilano only got 2 starts in AA and was hammered before hitting the DL, where he remained the rest of the season.  He’s 26 this year and was DFA’d, cleared waivers and accepted his assignment, indicating that he’s probably not in the future plans of the team.  Outlook for next season: I’m guessing he’s given his release and will be a minor league free agent.  ML Free Agency Prediction: he’ll play elsewhere in 2012.
  • Shairon Martis is an interesting case; he was in the Nats starting rotation in 2009, and by the spring of 2011 he had successfully passed through waivers and was on our AA squad despite only being 24.  Not surprisingly, he did well, posting a 8-6 record, a 3.05 era, a 1.22 whip, had 146/39 k/bb in 133 ip and threw a 7-inning no-hitter.  And this all proved, what exactly?  As I said over and again during the season’s rotation reviews, Martis getting out AA hitters with ease shows us nothing that we didn’t already know.  We need to see him at least at the AAA level to see if he’s ever going to be the pitcher that showed so much promise when he was promoted to the majors in 2008 as a 21-yr old.  There was word/rumors during spring training that the team wasn’t pleased with his conditioning or his work efforts, perhaps contributing to his being essentially in the franchise “doghouse.” Outlook for next season: He should be in at least a AAA rotation, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was stuck in extended spring training by virtue of a numbers issue if he stayed.  We have a lot of starters at the upper levels of our system and he would be, at best, the #5 starter in AAA.  ML Free Agency Prediction: He’d be crazy to resign with this team; his lack of a promotion even to AAA signaled the end of his future here.
  • Oliver Perez was picked up in a relatively high-profile signing after he was unceremoniously released (with $12M still owed on his 2011 contract) by the Mets, who had tired of his poor performances on the mound.  The Nats, surprisingly in my opinion, installed him as a starter in AA and left him there the entire season.   Outside of a quick DL stint he mostly pitched decently, posting a 3-5 record in 15 starts, with a 3.09 Era and a 1.39 whip.  But, as with Martis above, what exactly did we learn from this?  An experienced MLB veteran *should* be getting AA guys out with regularity.  With the troubles the team had with their loogy (see Slaten, Doug‘s inherited runners and WHIP rate on the season), I’m surprised they didn’t try to feature Perez as a lefty out of the bullpen.  Now, with the season over I suppose the team has learned that Perez is now just a mediocre AA starter.  Outlook for next season: In my opinion Perez needs to realize he’s no longer a starter and embrace the Loogy role to continue his career.  Will he do it?  Ego is a difficult thing for a former successful starter.  ML Free Agency Prediction: Perez probably goes elsewhere to continue his career on a minor league deal, looking to regain a starting job somewhere in the MLB.
  • Jimmy Barthmaier got a couple spot starts but worked mostly out of the bullpen, sporting a high ERA but good k/9 rates.  Same for journeyman Carlos Martinez, albeit without the good K/9 rates.  Outlook for next season: Barthmaier and Martinez are org guys and may or may not return.  ML Free Agency Prediction: looking for work elsewhere, as we have a slew of reliever-arms percolating up from the A-ball ranks.
  • Sean Brown sported an ERA at the 5.00 level in Low-A.  That’s about as much as you need to know.  Outlook for next season: A 6-year ML FA unsuccessful in Low-A is looking at either retirement or indy ball.  ML Free Agency Prediction: looking at the independent leagues to continue his career.

Summary: I’d be surprised if ANY of these guys re-signed with the team.  Perhaps Martin and Martis are the most “desirable” arms to pursue (if the Nats pursue any of them), but both players have to see that they’re not in the team’s plans any longer.

Written by Todd Boss

November 10th, 2011 at 10:11 am

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