Nationals Arm Race

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

Rule 5 Protection Analysis for 2014


A.J. Cole seems like a lock to be added to the 40-man ahead of the Rule-5 draft. Photo AP

A.J. Cole seems like a lock to be added to the 40-man ahead of the Rule-5 draft. Photo AP

After talking about 2015 payroll projections and then 2015 options analysis, and coming to the conclusion that:

  1. We’re payroll heavy and might see some shedding this off-season, and
  2. Our 40-man is full and we have a ton of guys without options.

Thus, the next logical step is to talk about who might get shed off the 40-man roster in order to protect incoming players ahead of the Rule 5 draft.

This post is a bit earlier than we normally do it; Teams have until 11/19/14 to add players ahead of the rule-5 draft (which occurs the last day of the winter meetings (this year, 12/11/14 in San Diego).  All these dates and more are on the off-season Baseball Calendar for 2014-15.  But, because we’re talking about it, lets get into the analysis.

As always, using the indispensable Nationals resource sites Draft tracker and the Big Board, and then giving some thought to prospect acquisitions made via trade, here’s some thoughts.  The quick Rule-5 rules; any college-aged draftee from 2011 or before who isn’t already on the 40-man roster is Rule-5 eligible this coming off season, and any high-school aged draftee from 2010 or before is newly eligible this year.

Newly Eligible 2011 draft College Players this year worth consideration for protection:

  • Brian Goodwin: Supp-1st round pick from 2011, paid like an upper 1st rounder, who has been a continual presence on top-100 prospect lists but who hit just .219 in AAA this year, didn’t play after July 1st, and has been clearly passed on the organizational OF depth chart by both Steven Souza and Michael Taylor.  Do the Nats protect their $3M bonus investment and find room for Goodwin on the 40-man?  I think they do.
  • Matt Skole, 5th rounder who blasted his way into the Nats minor league hitter of the year in 2012, then suffered a freak injury in the 2nd game of the year in 2013, costing him a whole season.  His OPS dropped more than 200 points from 2012 in 2014.  He’s almost a 3-true outcomes kind of hitter (good power, a TON of strikeouts but a lot of walks).  I’m in agreement with others; because of his lefty power and a distinct lack of lefty power elsewhere, I feel like he’s a potential future contributor.  I’ve always liked Skole and hope we don’t lose him in a rule-5 gambit.

There’s a whole slew of guys who were college draftees in 2011 who are still in the system.  No one else has even matriculated to AAA yet, and some are still in high-A.  The one name that sticks out as someone who “should” be in this conversation is 2011 4th rounder Kylin Turnbull. But no one else on this list merits any discussion for protection at this point.

Newly Eligible 2010 High School-age drafted players under consideration for protection:

  • Just one: A.J. Cole.  Who, it goes without saying, is a lock to get added.  In fact, there was only one other HS draftee in that entire 2010 class who signed; Robbie Ray.

Newly Eligible IFAs under consideration for protection (signed in 2010)

  • Wilmer Difo: just named MVP of the South Atlantic league, occupies a position of weakness in the system.  But would someone grab a guy from Low-A and expect to keep them on the 25-man roster all year?

A couple of other 2010 IFAs who sometimes pop up here: Wander Suero, Wirkin Estevez.

Minor League Free Agents of Note (it isn’t live yet, but this list will be at this link on BaseballAmerica eventually).  These are original draftees of the Nats who have now played in our org for 6 years.  They are basically guys who were drafted in 2008 and who have not yet been released or added to the 40-man.  Or they’re MLFA signings from last year.

  • Rafael Martin: frequently discussed here.  Great numbers in AAA this year.  Already 30.  Not a rule-5 issue necessarily, but a jeopardy to sign elsewhere.
  • Destin Hood: 2nd round pick in 2008.  So much promise, finally posted decent numbers in 2014.  Strategically, if you were Hood would you re-sign here though?  He’s at least 7th on the OF depth chart by now.
  • The whole Syracuse rotation: McGregor, Espino, Laffey and Lively.  Along with Delcarmen, Stange and Runion.  My initial impression is that the team’s going to have more than enough pitching to fill Syracuse’s rotation from those that aren’t going to make the MLB rotation (Cole, Jordan, Hill and Treinen to start, then throw in Rivero and maybe even Solis).  So the starters likely are gone; maybe we could use some more MLFA relievers though.

The only other 2008 draftees still hanging around are Jose Lozada and Paul Demny.  I’m guessing neither signs with us for 2015.

Rule-5 Eligible hold-overs of note:

  • Matthew Grace: had an excellent year in AAA, as discussed many times here.  Worth protecting?
  • Neil Holland: a decent year between AA and AAA; he does not seem a jeopardy to get picked so the team can hold onto him for one more year before he hits MLFA.

Did I miss anyone?  I hope not.

So, who would I protect?  I would protect Cole and Skole for sure.  I would highly recommend protecting Goodwin.

Past that, I’d roll the dice.  I like Grace and Martin, enough that I’d like to see how they look in the spring, but perhaps not enough to drop someone else.  I like Hood; maybe they try to re-sign him.  I think Difo is important, but they’ll risk not adding him since he’s only played at low-A.

They’re already looking at dumping 2-3 people to cover the above names; any more and you’re really digging deep, even withstanding the whole “7 guys are out of options” discussion we just had.


For a fun trip down memory lane, here’s the same Rule 5 Protection analysis for 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010.

By year, here’s who I predicted we’d add and who we did add.  My “predictions” are kind of iffy, because in some cases I clearly hedged in the post and said something like “if it were me I’d add X,Y and Z but I think they’ll only add X and Y.”


32 Responses to 'Rule 5 Protection Analysis for 2014'

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  1. Per Matt Eddy’s weekly transactions, Espino, McGregor, and Lozada have already re-signed with the Nats’ org for 2015.

    Mick Reinhard

    7 Nov 14 at 1:41 pm

  2. I have been lobbying to find Hood a place on the 40-man, but, like you, since he’s now a MiLB free agent, I don’t know why he would re-sign with the Nats. He’s blocked. But Goodwin may be as well.

    Protecting Cole is the no-brainer of the year. Little to discuss there.

    Beyond Cole, I would probably include Difo in the discussion of the next level, along with Goodwin and Skole. Difo will be 23 next season and only at high-A, Goodwin will be 24 and repeating AAA, and Skole will turn 26 at mid-season, probably at AAA. The Nats have a glut of OFs, few middle INFs, and someone moving to 1B who will be under contract for six seasons and likely won’t leave after that, making it blocked as far as anyone can see.

    Difo is the only middle infielder on the horizon who has a shot at being a MLB player (unless you count Kobernus, who has UTL potential only). But it would be a huge stretch to think that a low-A guy would stick with an MLB team. (That said, the Nats lost a high-A player this year in Nieto.) So there’s probably little reason to make a special concession for Difo at this point.

    Goodwin is a year and a half younger than Skole, is much more versatile, and has been a much bigger investment for the Nats all the way around. Skole, who I had once hoped could be the slugging replacement for LaRoche, is looking like the LH version of T-Mo: probably MLB quality, but just barely, and not really for a contender.

    It’s possible that Goodwin and/or Skole could be picked in Rule 5. It’s much less likely that either would stick and not be returned. I would protect Goodwin before Skole, but considering all of the non-stick guys out options on the 40-man, it would seem a good chance that they’ll protect both, unless they’re starting to give up on Skole. It might complicate the equation if the Nats re-sign Hood, though.

    Pitchers . . . who knows? For MiLB relievers, unless there is one like Barrett last year who you think can help the big club in 2015, it’s really not worth cluttering the 40-man and burning options. Grace, maybe?

    It could be only Cole and Goodwin. I doubt it would be more than three or four.


    7 Nov 14 at 2:44 pm

  3. Cool, thanks Mick. I normally depend on BA’s tracker for MLFAs but it isn’t active yet.

    Todd Boss

    7 Nov 14 at 2:57 pm

  4. KW: good points on issues against Skole. Cannot disagree. I admit that I like Skole more than Goodwin at this point. Two springs ago he was not overmatched in the least in spring, has a nice swing, lots of power. But, he’s blocked at 1st and 3rd, like you say. I dunno. Keep him b/c he’s a good hitter and can be packaged? Think about moving him to LF?

    Todd Boss

    7 Nov 14 at 3:01 pm

  5. The folks on Luke’s site who saw Skole regularly swore that he shouldn’t/couldn’t be a 3B. So he’s limited to 1B unless you want to go the Big Puma/Morse route and stick him in LF. He slimmed down quite a bit during his injury recovery and got in great shape. He wasn’t *that* bad this year; he was just very average, and he’s aging fast.

    In looking back at Goodwin’s stats, he did manage a .342 OBP despite the .219 average, but he showed no power (.328 SLG). That’s one of the real rubs with him. You either need to be big power or big SBs, and he’s neither. He’s apparently not really a centerfielder, either, so he’s got to show power to be a corner outfielder.

    The bottom line is that both of these guys are at crossroads years and probably worth keeping for now, but Goodwin is certainly no longer the OF golden child. Perhaps he will play better with some of that pressure off.


    7 Nov 14 at 3:34 pm

  6. I’ll repeat one of my oft-repeated tropes regarding left field. I don’t need a left field genius. I want my left fielder to bash and be capable enough to prevent someone from going 1st to 3rd on a single. That’s it. So Skole to LF, Harper to CF and Werth in RF works for me.

    Todd Boss

    7 Nov 14 at 4:06 pm

  7. Two guys not on the MLFA list are Rafael Martin and Emannuel Burruss. So perhaps they have resigned and this is not yet announced.

    Hood, sorry to see go. But it does speak to the organization opting for adding Goodwin to the 40 Man this winter. But as others say here, Hood has an agent, too, and perhaps that agent thinks he can get him on a 25 man roster (after a spring invite and a real shot) easier than would be expected with DC. A shame.

    No way do they not protect Grace, Goodwin, Cole, Difo. They may roll dice on Skole.

    I still think we see trade coming before the winter meetings to clear more space.

    Runion also already resigned, but he is an organizational arm who will not be in AAA.


    7 Nov 14 at 4:12 pm

  8. As I said in a previous thread, I see no reason to keep older, replacement level players on the 40 man, such as Frandsen, mattheus, Cedeno, solano, Leon, and even Davis and Florimon. It was a huge bummer to lose Nieto last year and I don’t want to lose Skole, Grace or any of the younger guys.

    With all of the guys who lack options like Moore and the flyers like Florimon and the new guy, there will be plenty of spots on March 31 to sign a guy like Frandsen, a 3rd catcher, or lefty reliever. Now is not the time to fill up the 40man with those guys now.

    Andrew R

    7 Nov 14 at 8:42 pm

  9. Did Hood already sign elsewhere?

    Skole in LF – might be considered if there weren’t other options, but Souza has already crushed two 450-foot taters in the majors, so I’d say he’s got serious bash potential and a little leather to go with it. Taylor too. But if you wanted to lobby for Skole as a potential LH bat on the bench over McOut, I’d certainly listen. He’s got to reduce the K’s to fit that role, though.

    As for Frandsen, he’s worked hard at cultivating that gamer image. That, plus I think he must have incriminating pix on someone. How else do you explain him getting 236 plate appearances???


    7 Nov 14 at 9:28 pm

  10. Protecting Skole over Goodwin would be nuts. Goodwin is over a year younger, plays at a higher level, and is more athletic (making him easier to stash/use in a 25 man roster). Yeah, he struggled in his first go at AAA. But he was hurt much of the year. He’s at a crossroads this year, but the Nats will hold onto him to see which road he takes

    John C.

    8 Nov 14 at 1:05 am

  11. And ditching McLouth for Skolw would be batshit crazy

    John C.

    8 Nov 14 at 1:12 am

  12. It took a big surge by McLouth to get his average “up” to .173. He was excrementally bad. Now, do I think the Nats are going to admit their mistake and eat $5M? No. And would a guy who was not much better than replacement level at AA be the best they could do to replace him? Probably not. But they’ve got to come up with something better than Greg Dobbs!

    One would hope they will sign a couple of LH bats to minor-league contracts and let Skole battle with them for the heir apparent role if McLouth can’t find the Mendoza Line. But that’s not an encouraging diagnosis to write for a club that has championship intentions.


    8 Nov 14 at 7:04 am

  13. McLouth WAS terrible last year in his age 32 season – almost 2011 LaRochian. There were many calls to jettison LaRoche, contract be damned, after that. How was LaRoche’s 2012 season? LaRoche had a terrible 2011 at age 31 and fans thought he was done – and he proceeded to have one of the best seasons of his career. In a contract season, if you put stock in that sort of thing.

    And no, I’m not saying McLouth is going to hit 33 HRs this year, or even have a career year (although that’s almost as likely as him cratering again). All I’m saying is that one terrible season (where the player was injured) does not dictate future results. The smart money is on McLouth being similar to the guy he was in 2012 & 2013. Not an All Star, but a valuable role player perfect for a contending team.

    Do the Nats bring in alternatives? Absolutely. Three of them are named Souza, Taylor & Goodwin. Zimmerman, too, which might even give Moore a way to mash his way onto the roster. More options would be OK, although might be a tough sell to a player looking for a job and able to count the number of OF already on the team.

    John C.

    8 Nov 14 at 8:50 am

  14. Forensicane – – I thought Martin was up this year too but they signed him through 2016 at some point according to Mark Scialabba

    Mick Reinhard

    8 Nov 14 at 10:06 am

  15. John C., why is dumping McL crazy? He is the definition of replacement player – look at his WAR from 2010 on. He had one good period in the first half of 2013. He spent nearly 1/2 of 2012 in Norfolk, because he couldn’t crack their roster. He isn’t very good and his signing was a mistake.

    Meanwhile, Skole may or may not be good. I’d take the chance of good over a history of not good anyday.

    Andrew R

    9 Nov 14 at 11:17 pm

  16. Dumping McLouth; the definition of a “sunk cost.” My prediction; the team carries him into 2015 but if he’s not hitting after 2 months they DFA him. As others have pointed out … sometimes vets have rough periods. McLouth will be playing for a contract in 2015; he may very well explode out of the gate and surprise us all.

    Todd Boss

    10 Nov 14 at 8:21 am

  17. Agree, and there are plenty of other guys to cut before having to cut McL. I just think we have to keep Skole, Grace, Difo, and as many young guys as possible over replacement level vets.

    Andrew R

    10 Nov 14 at 8:25 am

  18. These types of analysis posts are always a balance of “what would *I* do as the GM” versus “what will the team do.” And something tells me that the team isn’t going to gut the 40-man just quite yet, despite the options analysis. For each name on the “out of options” list there’s a compelling reason to keep them around until the end of spring training to cover for injuries.

    So, who would you rather have in the org?
    – Matt Grace or Xavier Cedeno?
    – Tyler Moore or Matt Skole?
    – a backup catcher with MLB experience or a middle infielder who’s never appeared above low-A (no matter how good?)

    I dunno. If it were me I’d do what was necessary to protect more players rather than fewer. Do you think the team regrets not protecting Nieto? Maybe we’re looking at the wrong list of players: Maybe someone like Erik Davis or Jeff Kobernus is in jeopardy of losing their spot, not these options-exhausted guys. Have we learned enough from the Matt Purke experiment to cut him loose one year early, or does the team cling to some hope that their $4M investment may yet pay off?

    Todd Boss

    10 Nov 14 at 8:40 am

  19. Mick,

    Since you have followed Hood and likely know him, any insight into what is going on with his situation? I know he is lower on the depth chart this year but I find it baffling that the organization would not make 40 Man room for him this year after the year he had and after they were in a similar position with Souza and added him to avoid MLFA. Certainly he would have at least had trade value.

    Is there a quiet agreement with his agent? What did we not hear, here? They gave him a 1.1 million dollar bonus to sign and will just let him go when he finally starts to get it going? I dunno. I have to think that some of the pitching they have protected now, be it Erik Davis, Florimon, or Mattheus, is so much more replaceable.

    I think the absence of Skole from the winter reflects that he is tired. I want very much for him to remain in the system, and if they do not envision room for Tyler Moore in the long term, there is no 1B depth on the 2015 system if Moore goes. We can slot Souza in as a backup 1B, sure, but there is no lefthanded power at all coming up at the top two levels. And there are few hitters with the clutch potential that Skole has in the whole Nats system. Difo is another guy who is money with men in scoring position and in the late innings. Those are champion players.

    I am watching Brandon Laird and would regret his departure from the system. His game took a big leap forward this year in Syracuse, as did a number of other players benefitting from the good guidance and excellent hitting coach there.

    Grace is improving his stock this fall. But Cedeno has proven a lot more. I am hoping the team keeps Cedeno and flips Grace and is using the AFL to showcase him.

    Much as I love Moore, he is going to have better trade value than Skole right now and that may be precisely what the team is aiming for.

    As for McLouth, the guy is am established ML. If he recovers, he is in a contract year. I agree that they can give him a look in the spring and see if his bat (and bat speed) is back. It ought not to take two months to sort that out.

    I am still thinking the team has a trade coming before the rosters are finalized before Rule 5, that will impact this discussion.

    Ryan Sullivan was gushing about Kieboom’s catching skills in the AFL the other day. The Nats have a real catching competition in their system, if they can just have a high quality player for AAA this year.


    10 Nov 14 at 9:41 am

  20. Forensicane, the problem with the timing for 40-man protection is this: GM meetings are this week but trades rarely occur; maybe some ground work is set but the big place that trades are made is at the Winter meetings.

    But… the deadline to add players to the 40-man roster is 11/19/14, fully 3 weeks before the rule5 draft (this year 12/11/14).

    So, to me the odds of the Nats trading away resources for the purposes of freeing 40-man spots in the next week seems thin. There’s 29 other teams probably in a similar situation to us.

    Todd Boss

    10 Nov 14 at 10:03 am

  21. Todd, you may be right. We will obviously see soon enough.

    But there are three things about Rizzo to keep in mind and one other point.

    1) He does not squander assets. last year, he got value for HRod, even a few days of David DeJesus. Letting Hood walk without something to show is not to be confused with letting Chris Young walk or letting Aaron Laffey walk. The only missed opportunity to add some value, any value, that I recall is the non-trade of Haren late in 2013.

    2) He acts early, to get value before others move into the market. The Fister trade was a great example of this.

    3) He has been very vague about what the Nats are seeking. When he’s at his quietest, suddenly something happens.

    4) The hot stove league is absolutely more active this year — already. Perhaps its the financial decisions that have to be made, perhaps it is the calendar. But if there are only nine days to be made before players can no longer be added, of course someone has to be moved for AJ Cole and for Brian Goodwin and others.

    Yet it hasn’t happened. So why not yet do what you will do in 9 days anyway? If you know your assets are valued and are trying to get value for those assets. Fernando Abad type trades.

    There were deals not made at the trading deadline this year. I would not be surprised if that groundwork bears fruit quicker than we expect. Again, we’ll see.


    10 Nov 14 at 11:36 am

  22. As for Eury Perez, to me it was essentialy a swap of Florimon for Perez. They obviously wanted Florimon, see something we don’t, and had to free space for him.

    They may not add everyone we are speaking of here, but they will add some of them. And their system is deeper than others, so its not the same problem all the other teams are facing.


    10 Nov 14 at 11:39 am

  23. Burris is back! That’s great.


    10 Nov 14 at 11:59 am


    The BA minor league free agent tracker is online for 2014! But … it doesn’t seem like it is representing players who have already signed. Hmm.

    Here’s the MLFA announcement post dated 11/7/14.

    Her’es the latest transactions dated 10/30/14 we should see a new one for last week but I can’t find the link:

    Forensicane: where’s the announcement that we resigned Burris?

    Todd Boss

    10 Nov 14 at 12:28 pm

  25. Todd Boss

    10 Nov 14 at 12:32 pm

  26. The analytics that we spend an hour or two on before we write our impassioned opinions? The Nationals have multiple people – people good enough at what they do to get hired and paid to do it – working full time, probably based on their own proprietary formulas. Admittedly that last is inferred; Dave Cameron at Fangraphs and others report that most teams have their own WAR tweaks; and I’m inferring that the Nats do from their staffing and Rizzo’s references to “our numbers” – particularly after the Fister trade.

    They know a lot more than we know. It doesn’t make them infallible, but we should be aware of this before we blithely criticize team management for not following OUR learned counsel.

    John C.

    11 Nov 14 at 12:08 am

  27. I keep getting linkedin requests to the “Data Architect” of the Washington Nationals (a guy named Walt Shinsky). I often wonder how frigging cool it would be to do what I do for a living, for the Nats.

    Of course, I also wonder if the pay rates are like 50% of market, because it’d be such a cool job that you end up getting “reverse competition” for the rates.

    but man, i’d love to see the database operations behind a MLB ball club.

    Todd Boss

    11 Nov 14 at 8:59 am

  28. […] down memory lane, here’s the same Rule 5 Protection analysis post for 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, […]

  29. […] memory lane, here’s the same Rule 5 Protection analysis post for 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, […]

  30. […] posts I do. Here’s links to past years posts on this topic: 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010. We have managed to do this post every year, without fail, since the blog […]

  31. […] I do. Here’s links to past years posts on this topic: 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010. We have managed to do this post every year, without fail, since the blog […]

  32. […] 2014: Predicted Cole, Skole, Goodwin.  Hedged on Grace, Martin and Difo.  Actual: Cole, Goodwin, Difo, Grace. […]

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