Nationals Arm Race

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

Not sure I agree with Nat’s latest 40-man decisions

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The Nats lucked out and get to retain Chico's services after his DFA. Photo:

The signings of Chien-Ming Wang and Rick Ankiel of last week forced the hands of the Nats, putting them 2 players above the 40-man limitation on the aptly named 40-man roster.

(Coincidentally, there was some confusion, based on the announcement of the resigning of minor leaguer Ryan Mattheus, about whether or not he was also on the 40-man, but beat writer Zuckerman cleared the situation up in his post yesterday:

For those wondering whether they needed to drop another person to make room for right-hander Ryan Mattheus, a club official explained that while Mattheus did sign a major-league contract this fall, he did so before getting outrighted to Syracuse. Basically, he’s a minor-leaguer not on the 40-man roster with a major-league contract.

Thus, we only had to clear TWO spots not three, as was speculated all week in the blogger community).

To make room on the roster, the Nats DFA’d Matt Chico and Aaron Thompson this week.  Chico made his way through the waivers process and was assigned to AAA, but we found out this morning that Thompson was claimed by Pittsburgh and we have lost our trade “bounty” for Nick Johnson from a couple years back.

Now, not that Thompson’s performance in the minors the last couple years merited his place in the future plans of the Nationals (he was pretty much awful in AA this year: 4-13 with a 5.80era, 1.59 whip and a 95/53 k/bb ratio in 136 2/3 innings) but I find the choices of players DFA’d curious.  Left handed pitchers are the hardest positions to fill, and yet we’ve released two of them.

Why risk two left-handed pitchers, one of which is still quite young and was once a coveted prospect, instead of players on the roster who clearly guys who are no longer in the plans of the team?

Cases in point:

1. Justin Maxwell.  He’s 27, he’s never come close to putting up decent numbers in the majors (career slash line: .201/.319/.379 in 260 PAs), and he’s now 8th out of 8 outfielders on our 40 man outfielder depth chart (in rough order: Werth, Morgan, Bernadina, Morse, Ankiel, Harper, CBrown and him).  Are we expecting Maxwell to make the team out of spring training?  Do we really think he’s going to beat out Bernadina, Morse, or Ankiel?  Didn’t we just acquire Brown from the A’s to eventually compete for and/or win the left fielder job?

I like Maxwell; he’s a local guy and has shown flashes of brilliance.  But he’s too old to make sense in Syracuse and its time to move on.

2. JD Martin: He will be 28 by next spring training and has career major league numbers of 6-9, 4.32 era, 1.396 whip and a 96 era+.  Not bad (actually better numbers than guys like Mock, Stammen and Detwiler) but nothing special.  He is a soft-tossing slightly built right handed pitcher in a league that is trending towards large bodied, power throwing right handers as the norm.  What exactly does Martin have that can’t be easily replicated from any AAA rotation in the minors?

And more importantly (as with Maxwell) where exactly does Martin fit into the plans for the rotation next year?  I have him ranked either 13th or 14th out of our 14 Starters right now (in rough order of value to the team Strasburg, Zimmermann, Lannan, Marquis, LHernandez, Maya, Stammen, Detwiler, Martis, Mock, Atilano,Wang, Martin, Broderick).  In other words, he’s going to have trouble cracking the AAA rotation (by my guesses, Chico, Mock, Atilano, Martis and Detwiler right now).

Dropping guys off the 40-man is always a risky affair.  Earlier this off-season lots of blogger noise was heard from the curious dropping of Juan Jaime, who was subsequently claimed by Arizona.  At the time we still had several players who we KNEW we were not going to offer arbitration (specifically Wil Nieves), so why drop a young hard-thrower?  That move didn’t make sense then and doesn’t make sense now.

Today’s moves cost us a prospect needlessly.  Lets hope the team picks the right players the next time they make a move.

Written by Todd Boss

December 24th, 2010 at 12:01 pm

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