Nationals Arm Race

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

Ladson’s Inbox 11/5/13 edition

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Can Roark win a 2014 rotation job? Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

Can Roark win a 2014 rotation job? Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

Well, we finally got a manager, so hopefully MLB.com Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson will stop taking “Who do you think the next Nats Manager” questions.  I’m not ruling it out though :-)  Nonetheless, here’s the latest Ladson inbox, dated 11/5/13.  As always, I write my response before reading his and edit questions for clarity.

Q: Will Davey Johnson still play a role in the organization?

A: Who cares?  Does it matter?  Whatever role Davey Johnson could play would have so little significance on the on-field play of the 2014 team that I find it useless to even speculate.  I’m sure the Nats offered him a limited role out of respect, and I’d assume Johnson accepted it as long as it allowed him to go relax in Florida for a while, hoping another managerial job opens up.  Ladson expects he’ll consult to the team and advise on trades and FA signings because he’s such a great “talent evaluator.”  Hey Bill; if Johnson was such a great talent evaluator why exactly did he run Danny Espinosa out for so many at-bats?  Why didn’t he push to make a change in the rotation when it was clear that Dan Haren wasn’t pitching at even a replacement-level?  How come he didn’t see the rising talent that made such a difference in September?

Q: After Stephen StrasburgGio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann, how do you see the rest of the rotation shaking out?

A: A good question.  After going into the 2013 season with almost no high-minors starting pitching depth, you have to think the team is going to cover themselves for 2014.  So count on there being more seemingly worthy candidates than roles going into spring training 2014.  The answer to this question may depend on payroll issues: right now Cots has the Nats with about $80M committed for 2014 prior to its arbitration cases, which MLBtraderumor’s Matt Swartz is estimating will run the team another $37.3M (which honestly I think is slightly low).  That’s roughly $117M in payroll before even looking at a single FA candidate.   You could save some of this money with non-tenders or trades (Tyler Clippard at $6.2M is a candidate to be moved), but not enough to get an impact player.

Will the ownership group expand the payroll even more for 2014, knowing their “window” with this group of players is shrinking?  Or will they stay the course and know that nearly $30M of mostly underperforming veteran FAs (LaRocheSpanSoriano) come off the books after next season, allowing them to reload in the FA market towards 2015 and beyond?

If ownership frees up some cash, by trade/non-tender or by expansion of the payroll limit, there are FA pitchers to be had.  I’ve seen more than one pundit with the Nats linked to Matt Garza, but I don’t see it; I don’t think he’s worth what people seem to think he’s going to get (4 yrs/$60M).  More likely is the team going with a modification of the Edwin Jackson/Dan Haren plan and getting a reclamation project in the ilk of Josh Johnson on a one-year/low paying contract with big incentives.

Less predictable is the trade acquisition.  Nobody saw the Gio Gonzalez trade coming until it happened, and something similar could happen now.  The team is in the same position generally this off-season as it was in 2011 in terms of having a slight surplus of closer-to-the-majors arms and bats and could put together a similar package.  If we moved Brad PeacockTommy MiloneDerek Norris and A.J. Cole for Gonzalez in 2011 (or in otherwords, a good-looking starter with great initial call-up numbers, a solid lefty starter who dominated AAA, a decent looking catcher prospect and a high-leverage low-minors prospect) would a similar package of something like Tanner RoarkNathan Karns, Eury Perez and Robbie Ray fetch a #2 starter in the trade market?   Oakland isn’t facing the same issue they were in 2011 with any of its pitchers, so the most likely eager-to-make-a-trade GM in Billy Beane is out.  But that being said, they’re paying Brett Anderson a LOT of money for Oakland’s payroll (roughly 1/6th of their payroll for next year), and he could be moved.  Anderson wouldn’t cost nearly this much in prospects, but would be a huge risk; he hasn’t pitched a full season in years.

Meanwhile everyone knows Tampa is looking to move David Price, but any trade for him has to start with your two best prospects and build from there, and the Nats are just back to the point where the farm system is looking respectable again.  I’m not sure the Nats are going to be willing to give up what the Rays will demand.  The Nats have done business lately with the Chicago Cubs, who may look to move the arbitration-eligible Jeff Samardzija, but they’d be selling incredibly low on him after his poor 2013.  Lastly the Tigers reportedly are considering moving Max Scherzer, who enters his last year of arbitration looking for a big pay day and with Ken Rosenthal reporting that the Nats are his best fit, but I just cannot see purposely moving a Cy Young winner and disrupting a team that continues to be one of the best in the AL.

With no FA acquisitions and no trades, I see a competition next spring that likely sees Ross Detwiler in the 4th spot (no options, theoretically healthy again), Tanner Roark in the 5th spot (he keeps his spot until he shows that his remarkable September numbers are human), Ross Ohlendorf as the spot starter/long man in the MLB pen, and Taylor Jordan-Nathan Karns being the #1 and #2 starters in AAA Syracuse.  Some speculate that Detwiler would lose out to both Roark and Jordan and become a lefty out of the pen … but I don’t see that.  I’m not counting it out, but I don’t see that happening if he’s healthy.

With any significant FA acquisition or trade, you line up Stras-Gio-Zimmermann-New Acquisition and Detwiler to start off 2014, just as you did in 2013.   Roark and Ohlendorf likely work out of the MLB pen and Jordan/Karns still in AAA.   Maybe Karns comes up and works the 7th inning as well, while Jordan remains starter insurance plan #1.

Ladson also mentions Price, also mentions what I do about the difficulties lining up, thinks the Nats will acquire someone for #4 spot and then says Roark has the inside edge on #5 spot, even over Detwiler (who he thinks could move to the bullpen). 

Q: What did you think about the Nationals hiring Williams as manager last week?

A: Well, I guess Ladson had to get in one last question about the managerial situation.  My take: I like the move, I think Matt Williams‘ combination of successful playing career and MLB coaching experience will instantly give him the respect of the veterans and the rookies on this team.   He will get this team in line, he will bring some old-school notions to this team and won’t back down in a fight (as Johnson clearly did with Atlanta all year).  I think he will give this team the spine it lacked and will do nothing but help move the team forward.

One other opinion; I do see some critics who say that Williams’ lack of direct managerial experience at any level hurts him.  I say BS; he was a major league coach for four years, working underneath a successful, respected manager.  He presumably contributed to the decision making process, got to witness first hand how decisions worked out, got to decide for himself how he would have handled situations, and in some ways I think this experience supercedes being a manager of a lower-level ball-club where there’s no egos and just a bunch of kids who you can cower into submission.

Ladson says its too early to tell, but that Williams had a great news conference.  Honestly I didn’t really expect much of an answer here from an employee of MLB.

Q: What is Christian Garcia‘s status? Will he join the Nationals in 2014? He was a great late addition to the bullpen in 2012.

A: He’s finally healthy, and pitching in the Mexican Winter League.  I think the team sees the error of its ways in trying to convert the injury-riddled pitcher to being a starter.  He’s working as a reliever in winter ball, and I hope to see him continue to work as a reliever in the spring.  I’d love to see him earn a spot in the bullpen; lord knows the team could use one more reliable arm in the 6th/7th inning (Ryan Mattheus needs to be on guard; your spot is in jeopardy for 2014).  Ladson agrees with everything I’ve said.

Q: Do you think the Nationals will trade Danny EspinosaTyler Moore and Steve Lombardozzithis winter or sign a couple free agents? I believe they need a lefty middle reliever, a left-handed bat coming off the bench and a veteran backup catcher.

A: Trading any of those three guys after the seasons they had at the plate would be selling incredibly low.  So no, I don’t think any of them get moved unless they’re part of a larger deal.  Espinosa needs to get healthy, learn how to hit left handed, and build trade value.  I believe he can be a valuable player for someone, somewhere, just based on his incredible defense.  But he has to hit better than .150.  Moore needs to return to his 2012 power ways, but I still see him as a useful player who we have no reason to trade; he still has options, he’s still pre-arbitration and thus he’s cheap.  Lombardozzi is the quintessential utility guy; he can play 2nd, 3rd, left, right.  You have to have one of these guys around … and if he can’t hit, it is’t going to kill you.  But when this player gets 300 ABs (as Lombardozzi got last year) … then you have a problem.  This is why the team got Scott Hairston and why they’re likely to give some looks to Zach Walters in 2014.   Maybe the team looks for a cheap veteran to replace Chad Tracy but i’d hope for a bit more positional flexibility.

I can also see the team kicking the tires on a veteran lefty but don’t entirely see the need; Ian Krol may have faltered down the stretch but he was mostly good.  Abad was good.  Cedeno was good.  We have all these guys locked up.  You see who wins a competition and switch them out if they’re ineffective.

Ladson thinks Espinosa is getting traded no matter what, and has played his last game as a National.

Q: Are Gold Glove Awards given with consideration to the offensive stats of a player? Otherwise, how could Denard Span miss out on the award this year?

A: They’re not supposed to be … but we all know old habits die hard and bit players who are awful at the plate often times have a hard time getting a Gold Glove.  Span as it turned out led all NL centerfielders in one defensive metric (Total Zone Total Fielding Runs), but I have zero problem with the NL winner Carlos Gomez.  Ladson says he was “shocked” that Span didn’t win, and then used “# of errors” as a metric.  Poor form Ladson; you need to reference some of the advanced stats in question.  Gomez led the NL in Defensive Runs Saved, one of the two major defensive metrics.  So your argument fails.  Span may have great range, but he wasn’t best in the Ultimate Zone Ratings measurement either.  See the Fielding Awards spreadsheet link to the right to see all the leaders in one place.

10 Responses to 'Ladson’s Inbox 11/5/13 edition'

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  1. I’m largely with you on the rotation and bullpen musings. If the Tigers are looking to deal Scherzer it’s largely because they would be feeling that Scherzer is coming off a career year and they would prefer to get a raft of talent and off the salary hook for him when he’s more likely to pitch to his career ERA+ of 116 rather than last year’s 145. His WHIP was absurdly low last year, driven in large measure by an unsustainably low BABIP (.260 – he’d never come within 40 points of that before). I’d hate to see the Nationals denude their system for one year of a guy unlikely to repeat his performance.

    On Espinosa, I think one reasn that Davey stayed with him was a lack of alternatives. Lombardozzi got an audition and flopped tremendously. The Nats ended up rushing Rendon tremendously (I was impressed with Rendon, who was essentially going through OJT) because both Espi and Lombo were so bad. If Davey had pulled the plug on Haren I don’t think that he would have gotten better results, given that in July and August Haren was quite possibly the best starter in the Nats’ rotation.

    John C.

    7 Nov 13 at 10:37 am

  2. Why on earth would the Nats trade Espinosa at the very bottom of his value when, because he was sent down last year, he missed being arb eligible and will be cheap once again as he tries to rebuild his value? The only way he goes is as a throw in on a much larger deal. Ladson is out of it.

    bdrube

    7 Nov 13 at 1:57 pm

  3. Scherzer: Yeah, i’m just not buying that he will be moved. Doesn’t make any sense. If you’re the tigers, why wouldn’t you bet that he puts up another Cy Young season for relatively cheap ($12M)?

    Espinosa too long: fair enough. Another sign of poor roster construction was the fact that the 25-man roster only had one guy who could play the infield. The bench had two outfielders (and I use the term “outfielder” for Tyler Moore loosely), one 1B-only lefty (Tracy), a catcher and Lombardozzi. Either Bernadina or Moore should have been another utility guy.

    Todd Boss

    7 Nov 13 at 4:32 pm

  4. I’d like to see them be bold in the pen. I’d try Det as a super reliever:2-3 IPs per appearance, and let him throw 110ish IPs on the season. Ditto for Karns. That would shorten the game considerably.

    Maybe Storen plus a prospect or two brings back a Porcello or Jarrod Parker type for the 4 slot, and Roark and TJordan fight for the 5th SP slot.

    Wally

    7 Nov 13 at 7:14 pm

  5. I can’t decide what I really think about Detwiler. On the one hand, I think his 2012 season shows his capabilities as a starter, and they are good. For a 5th starter he can put up great numbers, be quite reliable. I can’t find a source, but I’ve seen scouting reports that just rave about his “stuff,” saying that it rivals Strasburgs.

    On the downside … he just can’t stay healthy. So yeah maybe he does make sense in the pen.

    Question though: is “shortening the game” really the Nats problem? I mean, it seemed to me that the Nats “long men” last year barely pitched. Zach Duke threw a few times in April but then had a grand totoal of 3 appearances in May. Ohlendorf (when he wasn’t starting) pitched like once a week. So i’m not sure if having a “super reliever” makes sense. I think he’d be wasted. Now, if it turns out he loses out on the 4th/5th starter and can’t be optioned … then yeah i’m fine with him out in the pen. Still seems like a waste; i think we should look to move him at that point, let him be someone else’s problem.

    A’s don’t want Storen (he’s actually being paid money) and I don’t think Beane likes to trade FOR closers. He thinks like I think; closers are failed starters with a gimmick pitch who you can develop and then pawn off on other (dumb) franchises willing to overpay for them. Now, if the Nats wanted to take something off of Beane’s hands, maybe we trade a couple of low-level guys and take on Brett Anderson’s salary and roll the dice.

    Todd Boss

    8 Nov 13 at 7:11 am

  6. I send Storen and something else to the Red Sox for John Lackey. They are said to be seeking a late inning reliever and Lackey fits our need in the rotation. Lackey also comes with a nice league minimum option for next season due to his tommy john surgery. That means he gets ridiculously cheap as our other guys get really expensive. He is the type of inning eating starter with playoff experience the team could use.

    I think the team should tell Zach Walters, Lombo and Espinosa they are competiting for the utility infielder spot in spring training and the best one makes the team with the other two going to AAA or out of town in a trade. They are all switch hitters who can play multiple positions in a pinch.

    pdowdy83

    11 Nov 13 at 4:26 pm

  7. Storen for Lackey: hmm. Something tells me that the Red Sox are a) cognizant of the MLB min option and want to keep him in their rotation and b) leery of spending anymore money or prospects on closers. I detailed the Red Sox’ ridiculous series of transactions to arrive at their playoff closer in this space in June 2013 and its ridiculous. Would they continue to do this, or just make do with a flame-out hard throwing starter from their minor league system somewhere?

    Would I make Storen for Lackey trade? Yeah probably.

    I like Walters, but sense that the bench is getting crowded. You have to think Tyler Moore is the corner OF backup/RH power bat off the bench. But Hairston is also seemingly only a corner OF bat (albeit with less power) and only hits R. You need a backup who can play shortstop; All three of Walters, Lombardozzi and Espinosa fit that bill. Where is our power lefty off the bench (the guy who should have been Chad Tracy in 2013)? Maybe Walters can be that guy too. Hairston, Moore, Walters and Lombardozzi isn’t a bad bench.

    Todd Boss

    12 Nov 13 at 12:12 pm

  8. I prefer targeting someone like Peavey, Lackey, Brett Anderson etc in a trade rather than a guy like Price or Scherzer who will completely gut the depth again. It would not shock me at all if Brett Anderson ends up in a Nationals uniform as you suggested. It blew my mind that he is only 25 years old.

    After Lombo’s weak OBP and lack of pop last season I don’t think I would guarentee he ends up on the bench. I wouldn’t mind because he did do a decent job pinch hitting and is versatile and doesn’t complain about his role at all but it would not hurt my feelings if the bench shaped out like this:

    Free agent backup catcher
    Moore 1B/OF
    Hairston – OF
    Walters – Util
    Eric Chavez/Tyler Colvin/Wilson Betimit/Skip Schumaker type

    I would be incredibly happy with Tyler Colvin and Wilson Betimit and shipping Hairston off to another team. That gives pop from both sides of the plate off the bench.

    pdowdy83

    12 Nov 13 at 1:15 pm

  9. Anderson is set to make $8M in 2014 with his option picked up; that’s about 13% of the A’s entire payroll this year. For a starter who can’t stay healthy. You have to think that Oakland wants to rid itself of Anderson … and Beane’s favorite trading partner now seems to be Washington. Send him a couple of A-ball arms and see what happens. You’d have to think Oakland would be happy to get rid of the salary commitment (which it could then use to fill multiple holes on the roster).

    Where’s the lefty power hitting bench guy? Chavez? Honestly I don’t even know who’s a FA that would qualify.

    Todd Boss

    12 Nov 13 at 3:11 pm

  10. Yeah thats why I think you are on to something with Brett Anderson. I like him because he also has an option for next year. The only reason I can see the A’s picking his option up this year instead of declining it and going to arbitration with him was so he would have 2 years of control making him possibly more valuable in a trade.

    Chavez, Betemit and Colvin all qualify as lefty power bats. Colvin is 1 year removed from an .858 OPS and a .531 slugging percentage, albeit that was with the Rockies so Coors helped that some. He also put up a 20 homer year in under 400 plate appearances with the Cubs in 2010. He seems like he could play the outfield as an every day player if someone got hurt and could be a fill in at 1st if LaRoche is awful again. Chavez has put up .842 and .810 OPS in his last 2 years respectively. That is over 564 plate appearances and he has put up an OBP of over .332 in each season. He can still play 3rd some as well so he isn’t as one dimensional as Tracy. Betimit is a bit different. He is always up and down but he would still seem like an upgrade of Tracy. My vote is either of the first 2.

    pdowdy83

    12 Nov 13 at 3:42 pm

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