Nationals Arm Race

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

September callups and the pending Nats Roster crunch


Cole Kimball (remember him?) could be a victim of a roster crunch this off-season. Photo Rob Carr/Getty Images via

I took this discussion out of the comments section of the Giolito post in August and made it a separate discussion item, since the situation only got more “dire” with the 9/3/12 call-ups of both Christian Garcia and Zach Duke.

Before getting into the below analysis, let me say this: I’m absolutely supported all of the 40-man additions or the 9/1 call-ups; they were all required, important moves and, especially with the early-season catcher crunch, were vital to ensuring the continued success of the team through the September push.  Adding these two latest arms to a well-used bullpen, plus the 9/1/12 call-ups of of eventual 5th starter John Lannan, catcher depth in Sandy Leon and defensive replacement/pinch runner Eury Perez signal that this team used every avenue in its arsenal to win down the stretch and secure not only a playoff entry, but the #1 seed.

Garcia and Duke were new 40-man additions; to make room at the time the club put Henry Rodriguez on the 60-day dl (apropos since he just had season-ending elbow surgery).  The 40-man roster was filled to a full 40 active players, with an additional three on 60-day DL (Kimball and Ramos joining H-Rod on the 60-day list).

So, why am I worried about a future 40-man roster crunch?  Because with all these additions, we’re going to have to make some tough choices once it comes time to protect guys from the rule-5 draft.  Some have said that the expected Free Agents and Non-Tenders will immediately ease the roster crunch, but I’d counter that these players will have to immediately be filled through free-agency and aren’t going to offer the relief one may expect.

Lets do some analysis for the 43 guys (40 on 40-man plus 3 60-day DL) we’re talking about.   Here’s how these 43 guys are categorized in terms of contract status for next year:

  • Seven (7) guys under contract for next year.  Werth, Zimmerman, Morse, Gio Gonzalez, Maya, Tracy, Suzuki.
  • Eighteen (18)  guys who are pre-arbitration; Strasburg, Rendon, Purke, Harper, Espinosa, Ramos, Henry Rodriguez, Lombardozzi, Marrero, Mattheus, Kimball, Moore, Perez, Rivero, Solano, Garcia, Leon, Brown.  Some of these are non-tender candidates; we’ll get to them below.
  • Nine (9) guys who are arbitration-eligible but who are (in my opinion) not in Non-Tender jeopardy: Zimmermann, Clippard, Flores, Desmond, Storen, Bernadina, Detwiler, Stammen, Perry.  Both Perry and Storen may or may not actually hit Arbitration status per Cots, but the logic still stands that they’d be tied to the team regardless.  Are any of these guys non-tender candidates?  See below.  [Editor’s Note] we now know that Storen DID hit super-2 status, while Perry missed out on arbitration for the year.  Most of this post was written prior to this knowledge.
  • Four (4) pure FAs that immediately come off books: Mike Gonzalez, Jackson, Wang, DeRosa.
  • Two (2) more guys with mutual options that, as it turned out, declined their side and became free agents anway (LaRoche and Burnett).
  • Three (3) easy Non-tender guesses: I think the team non-tenders Gorzelanny, Lannan and Duke (but looks to bring Gorzelanny back as a long-man).  There are other possible non-tenders on this roster; we’ll talk about them later on.

So, on the day the FA’s clear and the 60-day guys get put back on the 40-man we’ll be at 43-6 FAs = 37 players.  So, assuming both 43-6 FAs=37 to start, perhaps down to 34 at the non-tender deadline. That leaves 6 spots opened up … but if my scenario plays out as described above with 6 FAs and 3 non tenders, that includes no less than FIVE of our primary 25-man roster all season. Which means most likely we’ll be active in the FA market looking for replacements for those five guys. First example: Who replaces Edwin Jackson? The next guys in line are Lannan and Wang; both likely gone. After that is perhaps Perry or Maya, both on 40-man but so far both proven not to be able to get out MLB hitters. So we’re going to be looking for another starter. Same goes with replacing Burnett and Gonzalez as lefties out of the pen, and replacing DeRosa as mlb-veteran utility infielder.

My point is that, yeah we have a lot of guys getting cut but we can’t just leave those spots open on the 40-man; we’ll need to immediately fill them with MLB deals in free agency. So we go from 34 open spots probably almost immediately to 38 or 39 with these eventual FA  replacement signings…. and boom, you have your roster crunch when it comes to rule5.

I have a draft version of the 2012 rule 5 pre-draft recommendations and it could get ugly, but to do some quick analysis here’s the Draft Tracker google xls:  Yellow shaded cells are 2012 R5 eligible but don’t forget 2011 R5 guys who have stepped up and may need protecting. At first glance in the conversation to be protected has to include: Kobernus, Rosenbaum, Karns, Hood, and Demny. I’m not saying they all need to be protected, but some of them may.

My point is this; if the team wants to protect more than 1-2 guys, they’re looking at a one-for-one replacement on the 40-man roster.  Maybe they do DFA Marrero and Kimball, but they probably don’t want to.  Marrero is only 24.  Kimball was relatively successful before going down with shoulder surgery and is the kind of reliever that Rizzo loves.

This is the essence of the “roster crunch” that this team faces this off-season.

6 Responses to 'September callups and the pending Nats Roster crunch'

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  1. To the extent that there is a roster crunch, it’s welcome. It means that there is more talent in the organization, both at the major league and minor league level. Let’s start with that 🙂

    I think they risk Kimball, because no one is going to pick up a RHRP with no track record coming of shoulder surgery. The emergence of Moore (and Skole in the minors) means that Marrero is easily non-tenderable, although worth keeping if they have a spot open.

    I think they offer Lannan arbitration, as an insurance policy while the hunt for the #5 starter goes on.

    Is Zach Duke arbitration eligible? They’re certainly not going to tender him a qualifying contract.

    Of the Rule 5 list you put up there, Karns is a no-brainer and Rosenbaum is a possible (although he did get hit pretty hard the second half of the season on AA). But there’s not a lot knocking down the door at this point. I do think that next year, and as the Rizzo draft picks approach Rule 5 status, the roster crunch is going to get much tougher.

    John C.

    2 Nov 12 at 11:54 am

  2. The other potential DFA / non-tender candidates are Rivero and Flores, but I agree this will be a significant challenge for Rizzo. Compounding it slightly more is the fact that some of the “on the margin” candidates are now out of options (e.g., Henry, Perry). While I agree that it is a better problem than not having enough talent, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Rizzo try to make a “quantity for quality” trade to fill one of their needs (e.g., 5th starter).


    2 Nov 12 at 12:31 pm

  3. Absolutely, a good problem to have no doubt. The problem with DFA’ing Kimball is that another team just has to stick him on their 40-man roster (stash him, so to speak). Its a low-risk move to claim him and hope he makes his way back. I think for that reason they’ll keep him around just to see how he does in spring training. If he can’t hit 90mph, then you DFA him and hopefully assign him to Syracuse. I just can’t see Lannan getting arbitration (a topic for an upcoming post about our 10 arb eligible guys). Duke is a flat-out Free agent; he may come back on a minor-league deal but you’d think someone else may give him a shot as a starter. I wonder what they’ll do about Marrero; as I noted he’s still young and another team (as with Kimball) could take a flier on him.

    Rule 5 calls are tough; you have to remember (as I often forget) that the claiming team would have to keep the guy on the 25-man roster all year. How many of our guys would someone risk that kind of roster spot on?

    Todd Boss

    2 Nov 12 at 2:26 pm

  4. I often forget about Rivero. I’ll talk about what I think we should do with Flores in a soon-coming post related to arb-eligible guys. Someone posted here that Perry will get a 4th option (which I cannot confirm or deny) but yes agreed; if either of those guys falters in spring training, expect a “soft tissue injury” to stash them on the DL for an eventual stay of execution.

    Todd Boss

    2 Nov 12 at 2:27 pm

  5. Kimball has yet to prove that he can throw strikes consistently (5.4 BB/9 in minors, 7.1 per in majors) and can often be umpired with strictly the radar gun (95+ = ball, >94 = strike).

    I don’t see the risk in exposing any position player to the Rule 5 — all but Solano are coming off injuries, and none of them have a clear path.

    Of the pitchers, Karns will probably be protected, but only because he could easily be converted to the hard-throwing RHRPs that are to Mike Rizzo what buxom blondes are to Hugh Hefner. Rosenbaum would be a LOOGY project in order to stick on an MLB roster. Demny throws hard and is relatively young, but his struggles with finding the strike zone this fall aren’t new.

    Luke Erickson

    2 Nov 12 at 6:04 pm

  6. As I’m sure you will eventually write, I’ve got a pre-rule 5 draft post already penned where I talk about these things more in-depth. Perhaps I shouldn’t have even mentioned them in passing. What’s tough is to figure out the service time for IFAs and “remember” to consider them in the analysis.

    Todd Boss

    3 Nov 12 at 11:33 am

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