Nationals Arm Race

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

2014 Projected Pitching Staffs and Rotations; entire Nats system

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Mr. Detwiler's 2014 assignment will have cascading effects for MLB and AAA.  Photo Haraz Ghanbari/AP via federalbaseball.com

Mr. Detwiler’s 2014 role will have serious cascading effects for MLB and AAA. Photo Haraz Ghanbari/AP via federalbaseball.com

OK here we are.  We did seven comprehensive pitching staff reviews (the GCL review is here, which has links to the other 6 reviews) in order to arrive at this post.

So, without further ado, here’s what I’m predicting for all seven systems right now, absent any more deals (like say for a MLB lefty or another starter or trading a closer to Chicago):

 MLB Level

  • MLB Rotation: Strasburg, Gonzalez (L), Zimmermann, Fister, Detwiler (L)
  • MLB Bullpen: Soriano, Storen, Clippard, Stammen, Blevens (L), Ohlendorf, Roark
    MLB out of Org: Haren, Duke (L), Abad (L), Krol (L), HRodriguez

Discussion: the 5th starter competition could shake out so many different ways, that it almost is not worth predicting.  I can see any of the following scenarios playing out:

  • Detwiler gets one last shot at the 5th starter as the incumbent, pushing Jordan to AAA and Ohlendorf/Roark to the bullpen (my current prediction).
  • Jordan wins the 5th starter, pushing Detwiler to the bullpen as a power lefty by virtue of his lack of options.  This would push (likely) Roark to AAA.
  • Roark wins the 5th starter, continuing his blistering sub 2.00 ERA pace from September, pushing Detwiler to the bullpen and Jordan to AAA.
  • Less likely, Karns wins the 5th spot, which pushes Detwiler to the bullpen and Roark & Jordan to AAA.
  • Even more less likely, Ohlendorf wins the spot, which pushes Detwiler to the bullpen but lets Roark stay as the long man/spot-starter.
  • Mike Rizzo shocks us again with another starter acquisition; Detwiler goes to the bullpen, Ohlendorf stays as long man, and Roark & Jordan are in AAA.

Why am I predicting Detwiler will win the rotation spot?  Partly because of options, but partly because I’ve sort of come back around on him after looking more closely at his 2013 season.  He had a decent to good 2012; he posted a 118 ERA+ and even if his advanced FIP/SIERA didn’t indicate he was quite that good, he was still more than a servicable 5th starter.  Then in his first seven 2013 starts he was also very good (he had a 2.53 ERA in his first 7 starts and 42 2/3 innings … he got hurt in his 8th start).  The rest of his season was a mess, with him fighting injury and ballooning his seasonal ERA from 2.53 to more than 4.00 in five more starts.   If he comes back healthy to start 2014, why wouldn’t we expect more of the same performance that he had at the start of 2013?  For these two reasons, I think Detwiler breaks camp as the 5th starter.  Now …. I have zero confidence that he’ll remain healthy enough to keep his spot in the rotation, but that’s a problem for another day.  And a problem for which this team has plenty of coverage.

Another scenario that could affect this predition: Rizzo acquires yet another lefty reliever (latest rumors were about Scott Downs before he signed elsewhere, but I’m sure a trade could be arranged), which complicates any of these predictions because it means one less spot for either Ohlendorf or Roark.  For a team that seems so obsessed with left-handed relievers, we sure have let a bunch of them go in recent years (Duke, Abad, Krol this year, Gorzelanny, Lannan, Burnett and Gonzalez last year).  Maybe we should just hang on to one or two of these guys?  I will say this: I do NOT believe that the Nats will choose Xavier Cedeno and his 6 2013 MLB innings for the Nats over Roark just because he’s left handed at this point.

Personally, I think Roark and Ohlendorf pitched like big leagers last year and deserve to stay in the majors until they prove otherwise.  Ohlendorf’s recent $1.25M deal seems to indicate he’s more likely to stick than Roark, but perhaps the long-man/spot starter competition is open as well.  This pushes previous stalwards in the bullpen (specifically Ryan Mattheus ) to AAA.   I will say this though: if you expect to win, you have to go north with your 25 best guys no matter how much they make or their option status.  And at the end of last year, that undoubtedly included Tanner Roark.  So thats why I’m going with Roark in the pen to start the season.

One other wrinkle; does Rizzo trade one of Storen or Clippard to Chicago, who desperately needs a closer?  This seems less likely, especially for a team that has World Series aspirations, but the truth is this team is paying a LOT of money into its bullpen ($25M and counting), has three closer-quality guys, and potentially a log jam of righties (see the AAA bullpen prediction for more).  I see this as less likely unless Chicago sends back pieces that we really need, but rumors get started because GMs are talking, so maybe this still happens.  But if a guy like that is traded, then that re-opens a slot for the deposed Mattheus or possibly the newly healthy an electric Garcia.   I think these are lesser possibilities and both those guys are pushed to AAA to begin the season.

I’m sure this section garners plenty of discussion; have at it in the comments :-)

AAA Level

  • AAA Rotation: Jordan, Karns, Rosenbaum (L), Young, MLFA or two?
  • AAA Bullpen: Barrett, Mattheus, Garcia, Davis,  Cedeno (L), Robertson (L), Herron (AA?), Alfaro, Stange, Delcarmen
  • AAA Release candidates: Meyers, Lehman
  • AAA out of Org: Maya, Tatusko, Clay, Mandel, Torra, Broadway, Crotta, Lowe, Kimball, Accardo, Bramhall, Romero (L)

Discussion

So, the projected AAA rotation has one hold over in Rosenbaum, two “promotions” in Jordan and Karns, and then a whole bunch of question marks.  Is Chris Young healthy enough to pitch this year?  Is Brad Meyers?  Right now i’ve got Meyers as a release candidate, figuring that he hasn’t been healthy in two years and may be finished.  I have to think that the team will give a couple of lower-level free agents minor league contracts to try to pitch their way back into the league, much as they have done with the likes of Zach Duke, Ross Ohlendorf and Young in the last couple of off-seasons.  There’s plenty of guys out there who may make sense; a quick glance at the current list of free agents offers intriguing names (think of someone like a Joe Saunders or a Barry Zito or an Aaron Harang; do you think these guys are getting guaranteed contracts for 2014?).  I’m predicting that at least one or two of these types of guys get MLFA deals and end up in the AAA rotation, though I suppose at least one guy i’m projecting from the AA rotation could start in AAA.

The AAA bullpen has a couple of MLB-quality arms in Ryan Mattheus and Christian Garcia who we know can contribute at the MLB level but who end up here because of a numbers game at the big club.  The AAA closer likely is Aaron Barrett, newly added to the 40-man and looking to make his mark.  Erik Davis is here, who I kind of soured on last season but his numbers in small MLB samples were good and I think he can contribute in a Craig Stammen sort of way going forward.  We have a couple of hold-over loogies in Xavier Cedeno and Tyler Robertson, the latter of which successfully passed through waivers and was outrighted to Syracuse last month.   We already have three off-season MLFA signings (Gabriel Alfaro, Daniel Stange, Manny Delcarmen) who all project as righty middle relievers, making it seemingly less likely that the team will retain some of its own MLFAs (the likes of Ryan Tatusko and Jeff Mandel being longer serving Nats minor leaguers who pitched decently in 2013).

But as you can see there’s more candidates here than there is room on the Syracuse roster (10 for 7 spots, and that’s assuming that Pat Lehman doesn’t make the cut either).  There will be injuries and D/L stints among these guys, but there may also be some releases next March.

Still, a AAA rotation led by Jordan and Karns (and possibly Ohlendorf and/or Roark if another move is made at the MLB level) leaves Syracuse with a pretty good staff to start the season.  And I like the fact that we have one reasonably accomplished MLB starter (Jordan) waiting in the wings to go along with a guy who might get there soon (Karns), to go with potentially a couple other former major league guys who are working their way back.

AA Level

  • AA Rotation: Cole, Hill, Solis (L), Schwartz, Treinen (AAA?)
  • AA Bullpen: Benincasa, Mirowski, Holland,  Swynenberg, Grace (L), Bates, KPerez, Gilliam (swingman), Spann (L)
  • AA release candidates: Perry, Selik, Demny, RMartin
  • AA out of Org: Broderick, Ray, McCoy, Frias, Holder, Bray

Discussion

We’ll see this trend again and again; despite the fact that the likes of A.J. Cole and Taylor Hill reached AA last year, the organization seems to like seeing these guys “beat the level” a second season in a row before moving guys up.  And so I see these guys in AA again.  Sammy Solis here is no surprise; he’s nearly 26 and has been mentioned as a MLB bullpen candidate already.  Meanwhile for the time being i’ve got Blake Treinen here, repeating the level, but can also see him moving up to AAA.  His numbers were good but not *that* good last year, and I left him in AA assuming that the team will try out some re-treads in the AAA rotation.  Lastly Blake Schwartz gets a deserved promotion after leading Potomac in IP, wins and starts last year.

In the bullpen I think Robert Benincasa is your closer to start, with Richie Mirowski and Neil Holland continuing to put up dominating late-innings relief.  All three guys should be pushing for promotions to AAA.  We’re a little light on lefties here admittedly.  A couple of injury-prone guys in Ryan Perry and Cameron Selik are listed as release candidates in the face of a number of guys meriting placement here.  Paul Demny and Rafael Martin have been around forever and may also be release candidates at this point, but they also could (at least in Demny’s case) convert to relief and try to rekindle their careers.  Lastly, there’s newly acquired Matthew Spann, the bounty for the Nats gambit on David Dejesus near the end of last season.   He’s a lefty who looks like he could start but i’ve got him in the bullpen for now.

High-A Level

  • High-A rotation: Purke (L), Anderson, Mooneyham (L), Encarnacion, Bacus, Turnbull (bullpen?) (L)
  • High-A bullpen: Wort (AA?), Holt (AA?), Fischer, Henke, Mendez, Harper (L), Davis, Thomas (L), RPena (swingman), Dickson (swingman)
  • High-A release candidates: Dupra, Rauh (starter?), Meza (L)
  • High-A out of org: Pineyro, Hawkins

Discussion

I don’t think there’s too many surprises in this rotation: Matthew Purke leads the line and should push for a promotion mid-season.  If he doesn’t dominate High-A at this point it may be time to think about moving him to the pen.   The same can be said about Brett Mooneyham and especially Kylin Turnbull, two guys who (by now) should have accomplished this level.   Otherwise the rest of this projected rotation are three guys who succeeded in Low-A in 2013: Dixon AndersonPedro Encarnacion and Dakoda Bacus.

In the bullpen, at this point i’m not sure who the closer candidates are to start the season.  Perhaps Greg Holt starts in the role.  Perhaps low-A phenom Gilberto Mendez gets a shot at closing.  Both Holt and Rob Wort may belong in AA at this point; Wort began 2013 there but there’s a lot of relievers in that AA section who would have to get hurt/be released to make room for these two guys right now.  There’s a couple of decent swingmen candidates here in Ronald Pena and Ian Dickson both started for long stretches in Hagerstown and could be useful guys in Potomac.    There’s a lot of names in the mix here for this bullpen; from here on down there could be plenty of releases come the end of spring.

 

Low-A Level

  • Low-A rotation: Giolito, Johansen, Voth, Lee (high-A?) (L), Orlan (L)
  • Low-A bullpen: Self (high-A?), Selsor (swingman), Ullmann, Pivetta, Simms, Hollins, Napoli (L), Bafidis (L), Suero (swingman), Valdez, Walsh (L), Aries
  • Low-A release candidates: Joyce, Waterman, Boyden
  • Low-A out of org: McKenzie, Smith

Discussion

I like this rotation, a lot.  Two of our best prospects, a third guy in Austin Voth who impressed last year, a guy in Nick Lee who probably deserves a high-A rotation spot and then Auburn’s staff leader in Robert Orlan.  Jake Johansen may find himself needing a promotion quickly, if he’s all that he’s cracked up to be.

The bullpen is going to be tough; basically every college aged short-season guy who pitched well in 2013 is named in this bullpen competition.  There’s a couple of interesting DSL graduates in Wander Suero and Phillips Valdez, some big arms in Ryan Ullmann and Nick Pivetta, and some polished college-aged lefties in David Napoli, Cory Bafidis and Jake Walsh.   I have 15 names here for 7-8 spots; Viera’s extended spring training could be busy this year.

 

Short-A Level

  • Short-A rotation: Barrientos, JRodriguez, Silvestre (high-A?) (L), and then 2013 draftees and/or drop-downs from Low-A
  • Short-A bullpen: DWilliams, Cooper, KRodriguez, Derosier, Webb (L), Spezial (L), 2013 draftees and drop-downs from Low-A
  • Short-A release candidates: Sylvestri, Grisz
  • Short-A out of org: Hudgins, Simko, Dicharry

GCL Level

  • Rookie Rotation: Ott (L), 2013 draftees and DSL graduates
  • Rookie bullpen: RLopez, 2013 draftees and DSL graduates
  • Rookie release candidates: DRamos, MRodriguez

Discussion

Its frankly impossible to predict the short-season squads, since (especially Auburn) they exist to park newly signed draftees.  However, I do see a ton of guys who competed and succeeded in the GCL this year who won’t necessarily make the Hagerstown squad, and I see them forming a good chunk of the Auburn squad.   The rest of the Auburn squad will be populated with upper-end 2014 draftees and losers from the Hagerstown pitching staff competition.  More of the same with the 2014 GCL squad, which was heavily tilted with DSL graduates this year.  The Nats tend to focus on college arms and thus only small college guys are generally put in the GCL in their draft year.

22 Responses to '2014 Projected Pitching Staffs and Rotations; entire Nats system'

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  1. Great post, Todd.

    You make good points on Detwiler, and he probably does win it out of ST (although I would still start with Jordan, personally). There was another reason that I saw: if Garcia is healthy, which I am optimistic about, I think he forces his way into the bullpen. If Detwiler is in the rotation, an easy way to accommodate this is to start off with Roark down in AAA and leave everything else as you described it. If Det is in the pen, who gets demoted? Probably Ohlendorf, but they would risk losing him,I think.

    The other thing that was interesting, when seen like this, is that there are interesting pitchers at almost all levels. It used to be that whole levels would lack any intriguing high upside guys. High A seems the weakest area, depending on your feeling on Purke, but then there are exciting guys at low A again. Might be worth a trip to Hagerstown to see some of those guys.

    Wally

    23 Dec 13 at 10:46 am

  2. Detwiler: after really thinking about it, I changed my mind. I’ve been thinking it would be Jordan or Roark. Now? Despite Rizzo’s non-committal comments in the press I still think its Detwiler’s to lose.

    Garcia’s an interesting one. The org likes him, he was dazzling in his 2012 stints. But … can you count on him? And, who makes way? Do you push Roark and his 1.50 ERA over 50+ innings in 2013 out to make way for Garcia and his 2.13 ERA in 12 innings from September 2012? Again, I feel like saying that dreams up more excuses to send down Roark. Maybe i’m the only one who doesn’t think Roark’s 2013 wasn’t completely a fluke. 12 innings is a fluke. 50 innings is nearly a full season for a closer.

    Ohlendorf has options; he can get sent down, at least initially. But he’s like two (2) days from reaching 5 years (he sits at 4 yrs 170 days .. and a “full year” is 172 days). Once Ohlendrof hits that 5 years, he can’t be sent down without agreeing to it … that’s when we’re screwed. Hmm; hadn’t thought about that. Now i’m wondering if the org doesn’t purposely start with Ohlendorf in AAA so his service time doesn’t accrue and he doesn’t hit that threshold. Hadn’t thought of that until just now.

    I like Hagerstown’s rotation more than Potomacs frankly.

    Todd Boss

    23 Dec 13 at 3:44 pm

  3. I don’t think that you can count on Garcia, which is why you need a plan B, C and D with him, but his stuff was so good and effective, that if he is healthy, I think that you take him and get what you can from him, while he lasts. There are only so many bullets in him, I wouldn’t waste any in Syracuse.

    I do think that Roark is the one to move, in that case. Not because he is a fluke (although he might be; I’d like to see more data before committing). But if he stays stretched out as a starter in AAA, he is immediately ready to step into the rotation if need arises. Whereas if he goes into the pen, there will be an adjustment period before he is ready to carry the load as a starter again, and I think that there is value to keeping him ready to go.

    But of all the 5th starter candidates, I’ll bet Jordan winds up with the most career WAR from this point going forward. I’d guess he’ll have more than 10 WAR before he is done playing, which from where he came from, would be an amazing success story.

    Wally

    23 Dec 13 at 4:28 pm

  4. Thanks for a wonderful site Todd. May your Christmas be fun and the New Year bring lots to write about. I’ll keep reading for sure.

    Bernie Muller-Thym

    24 Dec 13 at 1:14 pm

  5. What a fun article. Thank you Todd. A few points:

    The ML staff has no room for Ohlendorf, Stammen, and Roark. And I just do not see Roark going back whether he is the #5 starter or the #6 starter.

    I see Treinen in AAA. His numbers were affected by very bad early outings, but he put together a stretch before being injured that would have been consideration for promotion.

    I also would not be surprised to see Cole in AAA either — he took a big leap ahead after coming to AA and under Meinhart, who is going to AAA, and dominated in almost every start. So I do not think the organization is pressured to sign MLFA; if there is a bargain out there, fine, or a star coming off injury. Otherwise, Jordan. Karns, Rosenbaum, Treinen, and one of Ohlendorf, Cole, or Young. I say Ohlendorf.

    The only notable difference in the bullpen is that I am convinced the Nats will trade high on a right handed reliever once the free agent and trade markets dry up. With that said, I can;t see how one could keep Mirowski below AAA at this point.

    As for AA, I think Purke starts there, along with Gilliam. The rest I agree.

    A+ gets Nick Lee instead of Purke. Wort is a guy worth watching, fr the video game K numbers he generated in A+ in 2012, if he gets a last shot at AA. Benincasa is the fair haired candidate, but then, who ever predicted Herron as a closer prospect?

    Low A gets the best Dominican (the oldest best, Suero, or the lefty best who was up already at Potomac, Silvestre). Otherwise, it’s a matter of spring feeding among lots and lots of young arms. A veritable Nationals Arms Race.

    forensicane

    24 Dec 13 at 9:52 pm

  6. A lot to chew on here, although at this point it’s much more important to wish everyone Happy holidays!

    Mark L

    25 Dec 13 at 1:26 pm

  7. Thanks Dr. Welner :-) My thoughts:

    Stammen/Ohlendorf/Roark: I absolutely cannot see Stammen going down unless he has a Storen-esque drop-off in performance … and that’d take 2 months to diagnose. So for me its always been between Ohlendorf and Roark. I cannot disagree with you, so I tend to think that if it came down to the two of them it’d be Ohlendorf heading to AAA despite his contract.

    Treinen: can’t disagree on AAA, and If i were to re-do this post I may just have put him there. It just seems to me that this GM likes gambling with re-treads in AAA and that may keep Treinen in AA to start. But if they get a retread and he sucks or gets hurt (ala Chris Young in 2012) … Treinen is first call from Harrisburg.

    Cole in AAA? Only if he starts out like 5-0 with a sub 2.00 ERA. But you’re right; his August in H’burg was fantastic. I did not consider (never really do consider frankly) the coaching staff/effect on guys. But consider this; many people think AA is tougher/better than AAA anyway. So maybe he sticks in AA and jumps directly to MLB.

    Mirowski in AAA: who makes way? I said Mattheus, Garcia, Davis, Barrett, Cedeno (L), Robertson (L), Herron, Lehman. That’s 8 for 7 already (Lehman a possible release candidate). Now, if an injury happens yes definitely Mirowski makes sense for AAA.

    Todd Boss

    25 Dec 13 at 1:30 pm

  8. I’m with you on the Lehman release. But I also think Cedeno has a future, as much as anyone, with the MLB, especially since I see another trade coming. As for Mirowski, the guy pitches with balls so he has a future as long as his numbers hold up (and they have).

    Certainly they need not rush Cole. But when you consider the organizational philosophy of promoting the best arm, and promoting as quickly as they did last year (Ray when he hit a rough patch, Hill relatively quickly, Jordan from A+ to AA relatively quickly, Mirowski, Karns two levels, Jordan two more levels, Justin Thomas all over the place), if Cole has the goods, I can see them challenging him up a level without hesitation.

    Kerzel had an interesting column fanning the Giolito flames. It reminded me that the same Davey Johnson who is running around the minor leagues in 2014 and has Rizzo’s ear is the same Davey Johnson who promoted a baby Dwight Gooden.

    Another point. I can see the brass slow playing the Zimm talks to see what they have in the minors this year and with Fister, now that the next wave (Karns, Jordan, Treinen, Solis, Cole) is within reaching distance of the ML. If the Rays are a great example of a development team and traded Shields (and Price) to stock the pond and get a future star to boot, are exemplary enough to inspire the Nats to pull in a Gardner for Syracuse, and the Nats feel that Zimm or even Fister is a replaceable part with two candidates who have truly taken the next step from where they are, they’ll surely get much more for either one than they did for Morse. That, of course, would reflect thinking that one of the above, or someone we are not yet talking about, is not only ML ready, but is positioned to be a star.

    I think the brass is closest to feeling that way about Jordan. But he and the others still have a huge leap to make from where they are. And lest we forget, Jordan came out of nowhere. It would be like out having this discussion about Dixon Anderson at this time next year.

    Merry Christmas!

    forensicane

    25 Dec 13 at 9:15 pm

  9. Cedeno: definitely seems to have a future, though I want to see success over a longer period of time in the majors. Clearly he was better than AAA (1.31 ERA in Syracuse this season and 45Ks in those 34 innings) and he was decent enough in 2012 in the majors, but what happened to him in Houston early last season? Was it just a case of the Astros being too impatient? Maybe so.

    Giolito article; yeah I read it too; always good to see other teams’ scouts (even if anonymously) praising a guy in your system.

    Zimmermann talks: yeah I don’t disagree there. They got Gio for a steal relatively speaking. I don’t think they’re going to get Zimmermann for similar money. If he’s looking at a 5yr/$85M contract or something like that … do the Nats move him to a team for prospects after next season? That’s a tough one; he’s under team control 2014 and 2015 only, both arb years. Same as David Price, and it seems like the Rays are struggling to find takers (though the comparison isn’t quite the same in that Price has a Cy Young and no injury history). I’ve said it elsewhere here; at some point the Nats are going to have to make some hard choices with the core group of players they have, and you’re right, Zimmermann may be one to go, with ready made replacements waiting in the wings.

    Todd Boss

    26 Dec 13 at 8:56 am

  10. The one area where I might disagree with you is on Nats vs. Rays offloading. I don’t think Rizzo needs to destroy another team based on their hunger. Outbargaining themselves may be what is holding back the Rays. I’m sure plenty of people want Price, but what they are asking is unrealistic NOW (when there are other starting arms around).

    Rizzo has been successful at not worrying, as long as he gets value, that the system will restock itself.

    If Rizzo wants someone, he gets someone, and his eye for young talent definitely goes beyond “What Keith Law-BBA says.” Whatever the merit of the Fister trade, to me, the most important issue was that he deliberately looked for someone undervalued in a hot market. If Fister does well, he deserves as much credit for the target as for the trade itself.

    Hard to argue with his returns for offloaded ML talent (though people harp on Willingham, there is Guzman, Marquis, and Morse. Hopefully he will learn from not trading Dan Haren – a big mistake that no one brings up). I’ll be watching Matt Spann, Dakota Bacas, Ian Dickson and Wooton with that in mind. I’m also curious about the “cash considerations” issue with Brown, since an outright release would have been better for a player with loyal service to the organization.

    forensicane

    26 Dec 13 at 1:00 pm

  11. Nats vs Rays: Yes I should have clarified; I too agree that the Rays are asking for too much for Price and I also agree that the Rays seem to have to “win” every trade in order to make a move. I read an interesting analysis of GMs across the game (Bowden maybe?) who noted how aggressive the Rays GM is while also noting how straight forward both Rizzo and Beane are … hence why As and Nats seem to constantly hook up.

    Can’t disagree with most all of Rizzo’s moves. I didn’t like the Willingham deal but I understood why he made it at the time (Willingham was injury prone sub-par defender getting a decent amt of money in salary). I didn’t like the Span trade either but understood it too.

    Todd Boss

    26 Dec 13 at 2:12 pm

  12. What I should also have said is that we will know a lot more by this time next year about how fast Giolito will be moving up the ladder. And that may even affect the Fister and Zimm talks, especially if Strasburg and Det look then to be long term keepers. At this time last year, AJ Cole was a guy with a disastrous high A and decent low A year. Now he is a guy with AA experience and success. Wow, what a difference a year will make in long term roster planning.

    forensicane

    26 Dec 13 at 7:40 pm

  13. My thoughts on Zimmermann’s future are evolving, from “of course we need to lock him up” to “perhaps we need to think through the options.” But I’m guessing this will be grist for a future post.

    As for the overall pitching outlook for 2014, the best part of this story is that there should be some genuine competition this spring, which we can hope will make some guys a bit sharper. Last spring, the only battle seemed be between HRod and Mattheus, and we all knew they would still find some way to stash Henry.

    In 2014, the competition for the fifth starter slot should be intense, as you can throw Detwiler, Jordan, Roark, Karns, and Ohlendorf in the mix. Those guys will be fighting not just to be a starter, but even to stay with the MLB club. At least two will be heading to Syracuse, maybe three after the Nats sign Tanaka. (Ho, Ho, Ho!)

    At his best, Detwiler is clearly the most accomplished of this quintet. That said, he hasn’t been able to consistently stay healthy. He would also offer an element in the bullpen that none of the other would, a potentially dominant power lefty. I think I’ve convinced myself that the Nats would be better served with him in that role. But if he wants to finally be a consistent strong starter for a full season, I’d be more than okay with that.

    It’s really a toss-up among the others. Jordan may have the best long-term potential among the four, but Roark performed head and shoulders above the others with the big club last year. Karns may have the best power stuff. Ohlendorf has the experience, for whatever that’s worth. I’d make a wager, however, that at least one of these guys will be flipped. There are too many teams out there desperate for capable starters, and the Nats have good depth not too far away (like in Harrisburg).

    Speaking of trades, I would also not be surprised if one among Storen, Clippard, or Soriano were to depart. But to the Cubs? Look at their roster and tell me who you’d want. Personally and contractually, I’d like to see Soriano be the one who is traded, but he might be the hardest to move, and who knows how much anyone trusts Storen to close.

    Without a trade, those three are bullpen locks, along with Stammen and Blevins, so there would be two other slots, only one if Det is there. The club would hamstring itself employing a true loogy. Mattheus has a lot to make up for from 2013, perhaps too much. (Another trade possibility?) Then there’s Garcia, who, if healthy, could come into the spring blowing doors off. This is really his chance. There seems an assumption that Ohlendorf will stick as the “long man,” but with Haren no longer in the picture, does the team really need a long man? Stammen can go three-plus when necessary and did several times last year. If the Nats keep a long man, be it Ohlendorf or Roark, it will be more because the team doesn’t trust the anointed fifth starter. I just hope that it is a genuine competition and that Ohlendorf has to earn his spot. If based on 2013, Roark deserves it more.

    One more MLB bullpen note: should we believe the hints Rizzo has dropped about Solis making the jump?

    To the list of potential AAA stashes, I’d add Mark Mulder, who supposedly has had a miraculous regeneration. Hmm, Mulder and Zito, together again. Probably not gonna happen, but it would give the Nats more lefty options.

    As for the minors, the Potomac rotation looks like the now-or-never crew. Hagerstown and Harrisburg are loaded. It will be interesting to see how aggressively they push Cole, Solis, and Giolito through the chain.

    KW

    26 Dec 13 at 10:02 pm

  14. Long range rotation planning:
    2015 Rotation: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Fister, Cole and Jordan? (trade Zimmermann in his 4th arb year)
    2016 rotation: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Jordan, Cole, Giolito? (let Fister walk in FA after giving him a QO).

    Strasburg a FA after 2016, Gonzalez has two (cheap) player options. Jordan will be presumably in 1st year of arbitration, Cole still pre-arbitration and Giolito still a ways off. You could invest in Strasburg as a franchise player at this point and still have a relatively affordable rotation. That’s a way to go.

    Todd Boss

    27 Dec 13 at 9:01 am

  15. Zimmermann; yeah if he gets $10M in his 2nd year of ARb, with two more Arb seasons to go … he may get flipped.

    Boy all bets are off if the Nats sign Tanaka. But I just don’t see that happening; he makes way more sense in one of 3 places; Dodgers, Yankees or Mariners. Yankees barely have a rotation right now and apparently have given up on their spending cap. Tanaka in Seattle makes sense like Ichiro made sense to go there initially … and of course the Dodgers have no issues spending cash right now.

    Trading from depth; I can see it … but not this season. You wait til next off-season when the team will need to replace Span and LaRoche. Maybe we do another prospect-for-CF trade, maybe we get a package to trade for a big bopper at first.

    Closer to the Cubs: I would have to think its not someone in their MLB roster you acquire … you look for someone from their minor league system. But, the cubs are rebuilding and stock piling prospects, so in that regard why would they want a MLB closer and give up prospect depth? I dunno.

    Todd Boss

    27 Dec 13 at 9:26 am

  16. Nah, I’m not thinking they’ll get in the Tanaka game. That would be sort of a Rizzo play, though, striking when no one expects it. A huge contract for Tanaka might cause a little, uh, envy with his rotation mates, though.

    Speaking of which, here’s an idea. Put a reasonable but not over-the-top contract on the table for Zimmermann, say 12M per for the two arbitration-eligible years and then 14M per for three more, with a sixth-year option. If the response is “yes” or “we’re close,” then you can probably get there from here. But if it’s “hell no,” do you start thinking about flipping him now? He’d certainly have more value with two years of control than he will in 2015.

    Also, do you offer Fister essentially the same contract even though he is two years older than Zimmermann? Do you offer to renegotiate with Gio to closer to the same terms to preserve some harmony, perhaps in exchange for extending a couple of years? (Probably not, since the Gio deal currently is a big plus for Nats’ future budget planning.)

    If you lock down those three, with a boatload of young arms on the way, then you’ve got a lot of latitude with Strasburg. But if you are looking at losing Zimmermann and Fister the year before you might lose Strasburg, then Boras is going to have you over a barrel.

    KW

    27 Dec 13 at 11:18 am

  17. Great discussion, TB and KW.

    I like the idea of making the serious proposal to see whether Zimm wants stability, especially if the team does not give no trade clauses. That is key. If Zimm continues to improve, and he should for two reasons (1) better team defense (2) more stamina from building on last year, then it is a bargain and he will develop into one of the top pitchers in baseball, a genuine #1 starter for a contender.

    If he tails off, he is a signed pitcher with a team friendly contract and still worth plenty based on potential and one then compares his value to the projections of the up and comers.

    I don’t see a rotation of Gio/Jordan/Cole, even if the others are traded. Solis and Purke have to be part of that discussion because they are lefties. Otherwise, the cupboard is bare (unless Rosenbaum takes a huge leap forward, as Detwiler once did).

    With Ray now gone, you also have to wonder whether Spann was acquired to return him to a starting role, as the system is low on high value lefty starters. For that reason, I think Silvestre is the Dominican to watch right now. But he is too low in the system. I think the lefty starter dearth gets addressed in the next depth trade as does the lack of a high impact catching prospect (with all due respect to Severino) at the upper levels in case Ramos goes down and stays down.

    As for Fister, if he develops into a much better pitcher in the NL, I just can’t see the team taking him lightly. His intangibles (holding runners on, ground balls with great IF defense) may translate well into long term opportunity, and we don’t even know how affordable he plans to be.

    Again, if the arms nearing the opening of the pipeline really step forward into huge top talents, the decision will make itself. To me, testing the waters with Zimm on a major contract offer is therefore worth it.

    forensicane

    27 Dec 13 at 12:38 pm

  18. Tanaka: agreed all around; they’ll get outbid by others, and paying Tanaka the $17M/season he likely commands would have to impact the psyche of the existing guys on this team.

    Zimmermann: if you offered him 5/$75M right now would you want that? Would he? That overpays for his 2 arb years but probably slightly underpays his FA years.

    Fister: man I dunno; is he a 2 year rental or a key part of the future?

    Gonzalez: he signed the deal, probably thinking that at its end he could get another crack at FA. So i don’t think its worth worrying about him.

    Strasburg is with Boras; he has to get to Free Agency. how many Boras clients can you think of that extended in place? Even if they WANT to stay put, they still get to FA to ensure that their home team has to pay market values.

    Todd Boss

    27 Dec 13 at 1:20 pm

  19. I’d take Tanaka in a heartbeat at 17M per, but I think you’re shorting him 3-5M per year from what he’ll end up getting. Don’t count the Angels out of the mix. They’re also desperate for starters.

    But does anyone know what pitching is worth anymore? The contracts for both starters and relievers have been all over the place. The Gio deal + contract look even more like genius now, as does the Fister trade.

    I say that as a prelude to admitting that I don’t know what Zimmermann is worth, or whether the Nats want to pay the premium right now to find out. That’s the trap: Zimmermann and his posse want the deal before the 2014 season, based on the 19 wins. But his ERA went up and his WAR went down despite the wins, and the Nats probably would like another year to assess those trends, not to mention the progress of the next generation of arms.

    Plus do you want to pay $15M or more per year for your #3 starter? Is that the new normal?

    I agree that Boras will take Strasburg into free agency. I also think that it will be difficult for the Nats to justify the contract he’ll demand. Rizzo already has to be calculating in those terms.

    KW

    27 Dec 13 at 11:17 pm

  20. Tanaka at 17M/year … Yeah i can see that, especially if the bidding gets going. I think I took that number from another publication.

    Pitcher salaries: Greinke is getting $26M this year and basically that for each of the next 5 years. What is the worth of pitching these days? I just don’t know. Greinke is a good pitcher, don’t get me wrong. Is he one of the top 4-5 arms in the game (commensurate with what he’s getting paid?). No he isn’t. So who knows. But you’re right; what the Nats have Gio locked up for and what they will be getting Fister for in 2014-15 is an absolute bargain. I often say that the pre-arbitration effective starter is the most valuable commodity in the game, and I continue to think that way. In that respect three-four very big names lurk large in the farm system; Cole, Giolito, Jordan, Karns. To a lesser extent Purke and Solis. If you can get 1/2 the effectiveness out of these guys at $500k/year, isn’t that worth saving the $15M/year Zimmermann would cost and instead buying $15M worht of offense?

    Todd Boss

    30 Dec 13 at 9:32 am

  21. If you can get commensurate effectiveness, yes. Because the the team is trying to win the WS. And, the team does not have a ceiling to its budget, only the desire to spend wisely.

    So whom among the youth (or someone we have not been discussing) develops into a potential #1 or #2?

    If we trade Zimm, we would not need 15 million in offense if he is being turned for position player prospects with all star ceilings.

    forensicane

    30 Dec 13 at 10:19 am

  22. Agree on commensurate effectiveness, that’s always the rub right? The Tigers clearly felt they were going to get equal value out of Smyly than they were going to get from Fister, so made what most experts feel is an odd trade (they also clearly value Robbie Ray more than most scouting pundits …). Who among our prospects is looking like a 1 or a 2? Going back to my “pitcher ceiling” post I projected Giolito as a potential #1, Cole as a #3, Jordan as a #4.

    Todd Boss

    30 Dec 13 at 11:09 am

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