Nationals Arm Race

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

Duke, Bray signings: excellent, under the radar moves for Rizzo

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Zach Duke seems an easy one-for-one replacement for Tom Gorzelanny. Photo AP Photo/Jeff Roberson via rr.com

It was clear that the Nats stood to lose all three of their left-handed relievers this off-season, either by free agency (Sean Burnett, Michael Gonzalez) or by salary-driven non-tenders (Tom Gorzelanny).  And it also became pretty clear that the price for quality left-handed relief is on the rise, on the backs of Jeremy Affeldt‘s 3yr/$18M deal to remain with San Francisco.  The Nats have all-but-announced that Burnett is going to be too expensive for them as a result.  Furthermore, the Nats farm system faces a specific lack of quality left-handed reliever options in the upper minors (2012 Nats farmhands Atahualpa Severino having been DFA’d off the 40-man roster in 2012, Corey VanAllen posting a 6+ ERA in 2012, and Patrick McCoy only having reached AA.  Plus both Severino and VanAllen are minor league free agents to boot), so the team clearly was on the market for FA lefty relief.

Mike Rizzo took two nice steps towards rebuilding this lefty reliever depth with the 12/3/12 signings of Zach Duke and Bill Bray to one year deals.  Duke salvaged his career in 2012 by putting in a 15-5 season in AAA starting, then providing decent (albeit generally low-leverage) relief for the big club in September.  He signs a major league deal, significant because he has 6+ years of service time and thus cannot be sent back to AAA without consent; clearly Duke is meant to be in the bullpen in 2013.  He seems to be a perfect like-for-like replacement for Gorzelanny, a lefty ex-starter who has the flexibility to pitch anywhere from one-batter to 5 innings as needed.  Its tough to draw a ton of conclusions from Duke’s 13 2/3 September innings (short sample sizes), but his numbers were great (1.32 ERA, 1.098 whip and 10/4 k/bb in those innings).  I don’t think I like Duke as much as Gorzelanny, but at the likely price (terms were not announced but I’d be shocked if this was for much more than a $1.5M deal) compared to what Gorzelanny likely makes in arbitration ($3M or more) this represents a good bit of business.

Meanwhile, re-obtaining Bill Bray returns a special player to the fold; Bray was the franchise’ #1 draft pick in 2004.  He’s a local kid (grew up in Virginia Beach, went to William and Mary, and he’s the cousin of a buddy of mine.  Apologies for the name dropping :-) ), and he represents a pretty good gamble by the team.  His numbers with Cincinnati are very up-and-down, but when he’s on, he’s good.  Signing Bray on a minor league deal allows him to compete for the 2nd lefty spot in the bullpen, but also gives the team 40-man roster flexibility to stash him in AAA to start the year if he’s still not recovered from his 2012 injuries (he missed most of 2012 after two separate muscle strain issues).  Or, if he’s looking like he’s in a 5.00 ERA form versus a 2.90 ERA form, there’s no damage in letting him work out kinks in Syracuse.  I like this move a lot.

Two good pieces of business to start the Winter Meetings for Rizzo.

As a side note, the Adam Kilgore article in the Post this morning reports a couple of interesting points:

  • The Nats plan on working Duke out as a starter this coming spring.  Now, as mentioned above Duke cannot be optioned to the minors by virtue of his service time, so I’m hoping that this move is merely as insurance against a spring training injury to one of the rotation members.  I’m not worried about Duke’s ability to adapt to a drop to the bullpen though; he did so admirably enough in September of last  year after starting in Syracuse the whole summer.
  • Christian Garcia is once again reported as “taking on a starter’s workload” in 2013 Spring Training.  I had an email chat with Luke Erickson about this topic and may turn it into an opinion piece.  What do we make of Garcia’s constantly reported conversion to being a starter?

9 Responses to 'Duke, Bray signings: excellent, under the radar moves for Rizzo'

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  1. “I don’t think I like Duke as much as Gorzelanny, but at the likely price (terms were not announced but I’d be shocked if this was for much more than a $1.5M deal) …” – yeah, this definitely seems like their logic, but I am not sure that I like the move. I also like Gorzy better; he has been through some wars with us, and proven himself. For a team where the Nats are on the win-curve, I don’t really want them skimping pennies at this level, especially on a 1 year deal. Even if this costs just 1 win next year, it could be very damaging. That being said, I can’t get too worked up about it.

    So there goes Greinke: Haren at 1/$13m. I expect everyone will choke on the price and health (especially since the Cubs passed), but per your last post, it fits their payroll profile perfectly. Hopefully he is healthy, I have always liked him a lot when healthy.

    Wally

    4 Dec 12 at 11:36 am

  2. Garcia as starter: my take is that it is an experiment to create some SP depth in case of injury, not a serious thing. Someone (Harper maybe?) blogged that he is a very high injury risk because of his past, and that he would ride him hard in the BP until he breaks. I think that is where I come out.

    Injury risks are always the hardest thing for me to gauge; I really have no idea how to think about them.

    Wally

    4 Dec 12 at 11:39 am

  3. I really like the Haren deal. Low (money only) risk and potential high upside. Haren made his last 13 starts last season AFTER coming off the DL and pitched very effectively. I’m not saying the injury isn’t a risk but even if he isn’t 2011 Haren he should be a really solid #5 starter. Considering it is a 1 year deal there is also nothing preventing the team from going out at the deadline and acquiring a replacement if he doesn’t get hurt.

    PDowdy

    4 Dec 12 at 12:14 pm

  4. Maybe Gorzelanny is still in the mix? They still need (want?) one more lefty reliever; had 3 last year and right now only have one.

    Post coming up on Haren. I’ll have to re-do my salary worksheet now :-)

    Todd Boss

    4 Dec 12 at 2:24 pm

  5. Yes, believe it was Harper who very ably posted the concerns about Garcia; never pitched more than 112 innings in his pro career, two TJs plus a knee surgery.

    But, what do the Nats need more right now? Another right handed reliever or starting pitching depth? Clearly the answer is B. Clippard, Storen, Mattheus, Stammen and Henry Rodriguez right now all set for 2013 MLB bullpen, to now be paired with Duke and then perhaps one more lefty-to-be-named (Bill Bray?). There’s no room for Garcia in there. But if one of our big five starters go down? Ugh. AAA starters to take his place are scary. Here’s my very-early predictions for AAA’s rotation next year: Roark, Maya, Broderick, Meyers, Perry. Now perhaps Garcia too, probably replacing Roark and pushing him to the bullpen. Who among that 5 would you trust to come up and give starts? Maybe the real answer is that Duke becomes the 5th starter for any injury and only if two guys go down do we dip into this pool.

    Todd Boss

    4 Dec 12 at 2:29 pm

  6. I have read baseball pundits say often: “there is never a bad one-year deal.” If the team balks at his reportedly bad hip, they can still cancel this signing. I’ve read some critics who point out his 2012 numbers and drop in velocity, but clearly his back was bugging him all year. I can barely get out of a chair when my back is aching; he still managed to throw 176 innings. I’m guessing he’ll be more than fine for us.

    Todd Boss

    4 Dec 12 at 2:31 pm

  7. I think it says a lot that reports are coming out now that say the Angels were still in on him and offered 2 years. They would know the most about his medical records and if they were still interested then I feel pretty good about it.

    Even if he is only able to give us a version of Tim Hudson’s performance last season (25 starts or so and 175 innings with a mid 3.00 ERA) this will be a good signing. As much as I like james Shields as a fit for the Nationals there is no difference between the two if Haren is healthy. This costs nothing but a bit more than Jackson got last season to fill the same role.

    PDowdy

    4 Dec 12 at 3:00 pm

  8. I agree, having also just seen that report. It looks like the Angels decided to try to save a buck or two by buying out his $15M option and then signing him for lower money. Perhaps they were trying to leverage his injury plagued season in 2012 and get him for lower money for a 2 year deal, and he called their bluff.

    Instead, he pulls a classic “build FA value” move and signs a one-year deal with an NL club where he’ll have better numbers by default than he would for an AL club b/c he faces pitchers and slightly weaker lineups.

    I love this deal (damn, i’m going to just have to post my blog post on the subject).

    Todd Boss

    4 Dec 12 at 3:31 pm

  9. Just posted new post about Haren specifically…

    Todd Boss

    4 Dec 12 at 3:45 pm

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