Nationals Arm Race

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

Ryan Zimmerman, HGH and Al Jazeera

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Well, if he's been juicing you could have fooled me looking at his stats lately. Photo team official

Well, if he’s been juicing you could have fooled me looking at his stats lately. Photo team official

Over the Xmas holiday weekend, a bombshell broke in the sports media world.  The Qatarian TV network Al Jazeera was to air a documentary titled “The Dark Side: Secrets of the Sports Dopers” on sunday 12/27/15 and had shared the entirety of the broadcast with the Huffington Post ahead of time.  The whole video is available from youtube (via this link thanks to Deadspin.com).

While the “big scalps” claimed in the documentary were more on the NFL side (namely, Peyton Manning and a number of pretty well known NFL players, mostly related to the Green Bay team), there were two baseball players mentioned: Ryan Howard and our own face of the franchise Ryan Zimmerman.  There was a third player actually captured on film (journeyman catcher Taylor Teagarden) who should probably get his resume updated, as I doubt he continues to have a job playing after this airs (he’s in the Chicago Cubs organization right now on a MLFA deal), probably faces a lengthy suspension already and would seem to be completely un-signable once its completed.

I dutifully watched the documentary on TV when it aired on 12/27/15.  The premise of the show was to have the filmmakers take some (well known?) British sprinter and run him through the under-world of morally questionable doctors here and far in order to see just how easy it was to get PEDs these days.  He traveled to the Bahamas, to Vancouver, to Austin and then took a long road trip with the primary name dropper, one Charlie Sly, all with the use of a hidden camera.  Sly is the “source” who fingered Manning, Zimmerman, Howard and a slew of other pro athletes and was portrayed in the documentary as a “Pharmacy doctor” but per the Guyer Institute where he worked was actually an “unpaid pharmacy intern.”  In the film, he frankly looks more like a sloppy college student than some mastermind of PED use.

Sly, of course, has already recanted everything he said in the film (as was announced during the showing of the program).  So, between the clear “name dropping” going on and his lack of actual medical credentials, he’s not exactly a source who inspired confidence. But the problem I have is this: how does he decide to pick these specific athletes? I mean, Ryan Zimmerman and Ryan Howard are pretty random baseball players to pick. No basketball players named; just two aging veteran baseball players who certainly have not exactly shown the kind of career resurgences you’d expect for someone using illegal substances.  Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.  Maybe he got the two Ryans’ names from some other procedure they underwent at the Guyer institute that was completely legitimate.  Who knows.

The Nats (and Phillies) have issued statements of support for their players.  All those mentioned have (of course) issued denials.  The Guyer Institute has announced that Manning wasn’t seen at the clinic during the time period in question.  Some reporters have noted that it is common to prescribe HGH to women going through fertility treatments (guess what: the Mannings went through IVF and just had twins).  And the Al Jazeera film-maker defiantly defending her work and saying that Manning hasn’t answered the charges.

I think in someways I agree with Will Leitch‘s take on it, as published today in Sports on Earth, that once they got a-hold of a big name that became the focus.  There’s no “proof” to be had of any of these players other that the discredited and recanted word of one guy with a tenuous connection to the institute where this all supposedly occurred.  How reliable is that?

Life in sports with PEDs is tough.  Everyone’s a target in some ways.  This documentary could be nothing or it could be completely legitimate, but the damage to all of these players is now done.  Whatever the heck Delta-2 is, or any of the other mind-boggling slew of medications mentioned by Sly and the other slime-ball doctors caught on film, is immaterial.  The players can say “there’s no proof” until they’re blue in the face.  Mike Piazza is the best hitting catcher of all time and has been kept out of the Hall of Fame thanks to one reporter noting that he had “back acne” and jumping to the obvious conclusion (that he was ‘roided up).  Is that fair?  Nope.  Is it reality in today’s baseball climate?  You bet.  Not that anyone was mistaking  Howard or Zimmerman for hall-of-famers, but still its a shame that both guys’ reputations will take the inevitable hits.

Post Publishing Update 1/7/16: Zimmermann (and Howard) have filed suit.  Here’s some links post-publishing.

https://sports.vice.com/en_us/article/baseball-players-attorneys-spare-no-insult-in-lawsuit-against-al-jazeera

http://sports.yahoo.com/news/2-baseball-players-sue-al-jazeera-over-documentary-012353550–mlb.html

http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/14511191/ryan-zimmerman-ryan-howard-file-defamation-suits-vs-al-jazeera

http://espn.go.com/espn/otl/story/_/id/14515727/charles-ely-recanting-ryan-zimmerman-ryan-howard-ped-usage-allegations-problematic-al-jazeera-media

http://www.si.com/mlb/2016/01/06/ryan-zimmerman-ryan-howard-lawsuit-al-jazeera-peds-dark-side

Written by Todd Boss

December 28th, 2015 at 2:44 pm

Murphy Signing: I guess I’m ok with it

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Murphy makes the drive down I-95 to Washington. Photo via bleacherreport.com

Murphy makes the drive down I-95 to Washington. Photo via bleacherreport.com

I may have buried the lead of the post in the title, but I figured we’d want a place to react to the big Xmas gift the Nats gave themselves; pending a physical the Nats have signed Daniel Murphy to a 3yr, $37.5M contract.  We’ll assume that the contract doesn’t get cancelled for physical reasons (ala Hisashi Iwakuma) or some criminal issue (ala Aroldis Chapman) in the next 72 hours or so and the team makes it official at some point over the weekend.

Nats acquire the left-handed bat they needed to play a position they suddenly found themselves needing coverage in thanks to the Yunel Escobar trade.  They also acquire a guy who makes a ton of contact (just 38 Ks last year in 538 PAs … by way of comparison Michael Taylor struck out 158 times in 2015, in *fewer* plate appearances (511 to Murphy’s 538).  Murphy also can contribute with some power; 14 homers last season (and another 7 in last year’s post-season), and some speed (not a ton of SBs last year but he stole 23 in 2013).  He makes a ton of sense batting in the #2 hole (assuming of course the team finds someone who can actually get on base for him), but he could also slot in at #5 (assuming Bryce Harper bats 3rd, in order to split up the lefties).

More importantly, the Nats take a veteran solid bat off their closest rivals, who don’t really seem in any hurry this off-season to back-fill their holes in the lineup by the departing Murphy or Yoenis Cespedes.

Some thoughts on the the deal and its ramifications on the Nats:

  • Assuming he gets an even $12.5m in 2016 per his contract’s AAV, the Nats 2016 payroll just jumped up into the $141M range.  I think that comes down a bit (assuming the Nats can shed themselves of one or both of their highly paid closers).
  • The signing costs the Nats the 17th overall pick in the draft.  A tough pill to swallow; on his own i’m not entirely sure Murphy is worth that pick.  perhaps you can see the value in the significantly lower contract value than what Murphy was probably worth on the open market.  I guess you don’t really covet the 17th overall pick when you have just one year left with Scherzer, Strasburg and Harper all together.  You have to try to win now with these guys, since more and more it seems clear the team won’t retain either of its young starlets (not with talk of Harper getting a $400M contract).
  • Ben Zobrist: 4yrs/$52M from the Cubs.  Zobrist is four years older, had only a slightly better 2015 split than Murphy (.276/.359/.450 versus .281/.322/.449), play a similar set of positions (4 5 7 and 9 last year for Zobrist, 4 5 and 3 last year for Murphy), and had similar bWARs (1.9 for Zobrist, 1.4 for Murphy).  Yet Zobrist gets $14.5M more and one additional year despite being 4 years older and almost guaranteed of being a fossil at the end of his contract.  Do you think Qualifying Offers are working?  Do you think this is going to be topic #1 to address in the next CBA?
  • Murphy will require a roster move; the team is at 40/40 on its 40-man.  My uneducated guess: Erik Davis.
  • I’m guessing there’s an open competition between Espinosa and Turner to be the opening day SS.  And my guess is that Espinosa wins it for now.  Something in my gut tells me that the improvements he’s made plus his superb defensive ability will win out over Turner’s potential.  But, no more 2B for Espinosa; he’s either the starter at Short or the utility guy.  I could be wrong; maybe Espinosa is destined to be Mr. backup infielder again in 2016, riding the pine while Turner learns how to be a major leaguer.  I hope not; I think at this point in his career he’d be so gutted if he got beat out that he’d be close to useless as a super-sub.
  • Murphy is not especially gifted at 2nd defensively.  Negative UZR/150s across the board.  But, its not nearly as important having a plus defender there as it is on the right hand side of the infield, and the return of the gifted Rendon plus the near gold-glove quality of Espinosa at short could really help the Nats and their pitching staff convert more ground alls to outs.
  • All the 2B on the Nats depth chart just became serious trade bait.  40-man roster guys Wilmer Difo and Chris Bostick?  100% blocked for 3 years.   Murphy may be able to play other positions … but the positions he can fill are also filled by guys who are better than Murphy and also here for more than 3 years.  So I wouldn’t be surprised by some dealing coming soon.  Maybe Billy Beane can give us something we need in return for some closer-to-the-majors middle infielders and 5th starters (of which we have plenty in AAA).
  • $12.5M AAV for a 1.4 bWAR player.  Yeah; there’s some serious money in the game right now.

Does this move make the Nats a better team?  Yeah I think it does.  By himself Murphy doesn’t move the needle a ton, but he gives this team some things they didn’t have yesterday.  I like his contact hitting, his lefty bat, the addition of some needed power.  The team missed out on so many other guys this off-season, they probably felt they had to make this deal.  So they did.

How will HoFame balloting be affected by the voter purge?

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Griffey is a shoe-in for 2016 class; who else might be affected? Photo via freeteam.com

Griffey is a shoe-in for 2016 class; who else might be affected? Photo via freeteam.com

(Editor note: we’ll take a quick break from the minor league reviews and arguing about why the Nats are trying to fill a 5th starter spot instead of one of their several obvious needs for that classic Late December task: arguing about the Hall of Fame.  I wrote most of this post much earlier this summer/fall, waiting for the “hall of fame” blogger season to post it.  Now’s as good of a time as any).

In the middle of the 2015 post-season, an interesting tidbit got reported by NBCSports’ Craig Calcaterra: The Hall of Fame BBWAA electorate has been reduced by a whopping 20% thanks to the new voter eligibility rules announced back in July 2015.

20% of voters!  That’s a huge number.  I thought the rules, when they were first announced, would have a negligible effect on things and would be a paper tiger.  But losing 20% of the voters will have a profound effect on the ballots going forward.  I agree with Calcaterra in characterizing these types of voters as generally being out of touch, industry-has-passed-them-by, believe everything they read from Murray Chass types who have directly led to the ballot congestion and the ridiculous voting patterns we’ve seen lately.  No word yet on whether the category of writers purged also includes those who no longer cover the sport actively (the most egregious example being the 3 voters who write for www.golferswest.com) who not only kept their votes but felt the need to pontificate about the state of the sport!).

Early returns are promising, by the way.  The BBHOF tracker website has taken the lead in collecting all published ballots and they’re tracked directly in this Google xls.  As of the time of this writing, they have about 20% of the ballots in the tracker spreadsheet and borderline candidates like Piazza, Raines and Bagwell are all trending above the 75% needed.  Griffey is at a perfect 100% and still looks like a good bet to beat Tom Seaver‘s all time record.  That is until some curmudgeons decide they like Seaver more than Griffey and send in blank ballots or some dumb-ass thing.

Key Dates in 2016 HoF class voting:

  • 11/9/15: ballot officially released, though we’ve known for years who’s actually on it thanks to baseball-reference.com.
  • 12/21/15: BBWAA ballots due back to Cooperstown for counting
  • 1/6/16: Class of 2016 announced, as well as 10,000 internet blogger posts on the topic.
  • 7/24/16: Official induction ceremony for the Class of 2016 in Cooperstown, NY

Anyway.  Lets look at the 2016 Ballot (hey, its never too early to do Hall of Fame vote analysis) and guess how things may go for the candidates, now that 20% of dead-weight is gone.

  • Ken Griffey Jr: if anything, his chances of breaking Tom Seaver‘s vote % record may rise thanks to the elimination of a bunch of curmudgeons who have been witholding votes inexplicably to prevent there ever being a unanimous inductee.  Easily gets elected in 2016.
  • Trevor Hoffman: might be hurt by more new-age voters who realize how minimal the impact of a closer is, no matter how good (Hoffman had just a 28.4 career bWAR, less than Mike Trout had accumulated by the end of his third full season, by way of comparison).

There’s not really anyone else new to the 2016 class worth mentioning; I could see Jim Edmonds getting 5% of the vote to stay on the ballot but nobody else getting much more than home-town beat writer sympathy votes.  This isn’t an indictment of Edmonds at all; there’s just too many good players on the ballot (our lament every year) and I think he’s a worthy candidate (some of the Jay Jaffe JAWS analysis on Edmonds is pretty telling; for a period of 10 years during his peak he trailed only Griffey and Bonds in terms of WAR).

How about the hold overs?  I think there’s good news for some guys:

  • Mike Piazza/Jeff Bagwell: two “PED-suspicion” guys who have never had any actual concrete proof against them probably now get in thanks to the elimination of a class of voters who probably believed everything they read in the anonymous-sourced NYTimes articles from 10 years ago.  Bagwell has further to go and may not get to 75%, but Piazza should.
  • Tim Raines: the more older/non sabremetric appreciating voters that go mean the higher percentage of votes Raines will get from more modern voters who realize just how valuable he was.  Like Bagwell, he has further to go and may not get to 75% this time, but between 2016 and 2017 he should get in.
  • Roger Clemens/Barry Bonds: I can see their vote totals rise from the 35% they’ve  been getting into the 50% range, still not enough to get enshrinement.  Still too many wounds and not enough voters who can overcome their disdain for what happened.
  • Mark McGwire/Sammy Sosa: same story as Clemens/Bonds, except whack off another 20% of votes.
  • Curt Schilling/Mike Mussina: Hard to see their vote totals changing much; older voters were probably giving Schilling too much credit for the bloody sock game but new voters havn’t supported him as much as expected (and he’s doing himself no favors with his continued idiotic political twitter posts).  Mussina just doens’t seem like the kind of pitcher that gets elected to the Hall thanks to a long career without specific accolades and being a known pr*ck to the media.

Everyone else held over from the 2015 ballot not already mentioned (Smith, Martinez, Trammell, Kent, McGriff, Walker, Sheffield, Garciaparra) each have specific issues that likely prevent any of them from getting much above the vote totals they’ve already gotten and probably won’t be helped much by the purge of the electorate.  I would vote for some of these guys (namely Martinez and Trammell) but understand why others don’t.

This is as close to a prediction piece as we’ll do for the Hall of Fame 2016 ballot (there’s way too many of them already), but my guess is that we’ll be seeing just Griffey and Piazza in Cooperstown in July 2016, with Bagwell, Raines and perhaps Hoffman right on the cusp to join them in 2017 (where the incoming class has some pretty serious PED-related issues that should be fascinating to watch play out; more on that in a year’s time).

Here’s some similar articles for your Hall of Fame perusal:

Syracuse/AAA Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2015

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Espino probably had your best overall season out of the AAA staff. Photo via milb.com

Espino probably had your best overall season out of the AAA staff. Photo via milb.com

After skipping the minor league pitching staff reviews in 2014 (that silly thing called work interfered), I’m back for 2015.  I’ll be reviewing the six minor league levels and the major league levels going from high to low.  In this series, we have already published the MLB version for 2015.

For some historical perspective, here’s 2013’s version (featuring Tanner Roark), here’s 2012’s version (featuring John Lannan) and 2011’s version (featuring Tommy Milone) of this post for AAA Syracuse.  In the missing 2014 post I likely would have “featured” either Taylor Hill or Rafael Martin.

All stats are courtesy of either milb.com’s Syracuse Stats page or via Fangraph’s Syracuse Stats page.   Also useful here are the Big Board and the Nats Draft Tracker.  And here’s the Baseball America Minor League Free Agent (MLFA) tracker.  And here’s a list of the official MLB MLFA declarations for 2015.

Syracuse Pitching Staff movement throughout the year (* == lefty)

  • Opening Day Rotation: Cole, Jordan, THill, McGregor, Billings
  • Closing Day Rotation:  Espino, Bleier*, McGregor , THill, Jordan (Cole 9/1 callup)
  • End of Season Swingmen: Walters, Billings
  • End of Season bullpen:   Runion,  Gutierrez, Harper*
  • 9/1 promotions: Solis*, Martin, Grace*, Cole
  • Mid-Season Promotions: Rivero*,  Ross, Treinen
  • Up-and-back: Martin, Grace*, Cole, Jordan, THill, Solis* (not counting 9/1 call-ups)
  • Down-and-back: Bleier*, Runion
  • Demotions: Spann* (was up for spot start), AWilliams (up for spot start),  EDavis, Demny,
  • DL/restricted: Swynenberg
  • Cut/released: Delcarmen, Lively (Japan), RHill*, Simmons, Meek (Korea), Valverde (opt-out), Fornataro

Syracuse starters.  The rotation started the season with Cole, Jordan, Hill, McGregor, and Billings.  It finished the year with Espino, Bleier, McGregor , THill, Jordan and Cole.  Here’s an overview of the starters Syracuse used, starting with the original five starters.

  • A.J. Cole was Syracuse’s opening day starter in 2015.  On the year, he was 5-6, 3.15 ERA, 1.18 whip, 3.90 FIP and 76/34 K/BB in 105.2 innings.  Cole got yanked up and down a couple times on the year, with one ill-fated spot-start for the major league team where he looked completely out of his depth against Atlanta (not exactly the ’27 Yankees).  His K/9 is down, BB/9 is up from his stint in AAA in 2014, though his BAA improved significantly.  I’m struggling not to write him off; after all he’s only 23, he’s still listed in or near the top 100 prospects in all of the minors, and he still could have value.  I just don’t think its going to happen with the Nats.  He’s been pushed down on the starter depth chart and (save an injury) has no chance of making the 25-man roster in 2016.  So is there value in having him pitch another year in upstate New York?  I could see Cole getting flipped to a team that could use a cheap 5th starter candidate.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse’s opening day starter again, unless moved.
  • Taylor Jordan was 5-6, 2.95 ERA, 1.15 whip, 3.41 FIP and 61/27 K/BB in 103 IP.   He’s slipping further and further away from a rotation job that seemed rather likely after his 2013 sterling debut.  His AAA numbers were pretty good this year but he got lit up in his one 2015 spot start (to be fair, it was against Toronto and the best offense in the majors).  His margin for error is just so much lower because he doesn’t get the K/9 that other guys do.  Unlike Cole though, Jordan doesn’t necessarily wow the scouts and may be tougher to move.  I think he plays out his options string as a AAA starter with occasional big league cover and then gives it a go in another organization.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse rotation again.
  • Taylor Hill was 3-10 with a 5.23 ERA, 1.62 whip, 3.85 fip and 70/29 K/BB in 118 IP.  Not a good year for Hill, who got a handful of mop-up bullpen gigs in late May/early June and wasn’t entirely impressive while doing it.  See all that we’ve said for Cole and Jordan, but lower expectations a bit more.  I have Hill near the top of my “guys to get DFA’d to make room on the 40-man roster” at this point and he needs to figure out what changed between 2014 (2.81 ERA) and this year (5.23 ERA, both at Syracuse).  We won’t really know if he’s getting pushed out of the rotation until deeper dives into the AA rotation.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse rotation/release candidate.  1/6/16 update: Hill was DFA’d on the 40-man to make room for Stephen Drew: we’ll update in this space when his roster status is finalized.
  • Scott McGregor (boy I have a hard time typing that w/o remembering the old Baltimore Orioles hurler from the mid 1970s) was 6-6 with a 4.04 ERA, 1.43 whip, 4.67 fip and 63/35 K/BB in 107 IP split between starting and relieving.  He started in the rotation, having signed as a MLFA in June of 2014 originally then re-upped with the Nats over last off-season to continue his role as AAA 5th starter/long-man.  But his performance slipped considerably this year.  I don’t see him listed on the MLFA tracker so its possible he’s signed through 2016 with the team, so we’ll assume he’s reprising his role again in 2016.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse long-man/spot starter
  • Bruce Billings was 8-5 with a  3.63 ERA, 1.26 whip, 3.23 fip and 90/28 K/BB in 121 IP.  The MLFA produced well in a season spent in a similar role to McGregor; 4th/5th starter who made way for prospects as they got moved up but who eventually spent most of the year in the rotation.   His numbers are about what you’d expect for a veteran minor leaguer/classic AAA org guy; he’s declared again and will look to build on his decent 2015 with an organization where he has a better shot at getting called up.  Outlook for next season: in AAA for another organization.
  • Paolo Espino had a nice season, getting promoted up from AA and giving Syracuse 20 starts of 3.21 ERA, 1.15 whip, 3.68 fip pitching (88/19 K/BB in 117 AAA innings).  The 2014 MLFA signing (as with McGregor) stuck with the team for 2015 and could be an interesting piece going forward.  Question is; is he a MLFA for this upcoming season?  My records and research disagree with each other: he’s *not* listed in the BA MLFA tracker nor is he on the official MLB declared MLFA list (links at the top), but the drat tracker says he’s a MLFA.  I’ll assume our private files are not better than MLBs and assume he’s still under team control.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse Rotation.
  • Richard Bleier was 14-5 with a 2.57 ERA between AA and AAA this year.  65/16 K/BB in 171 IP.  Bleier had a nice season, working his way out of AA and finishing the year in the AAA rotation.  His K/9 is shockingly low given his stat line, perhaps why he’s not likely to draw much attention from the team’s executives on 1/2 street.  He’s a declared MLFA already for 2015 and likely plies his trade elsewhere next year.  Outlook for next season: in AAA for another organization.
  • P.J. Walters was acquired mid-season from the Dodgers for cash: for the Chiefs he threw 60 innings of 5.35 ERA and got 5 spot starts towards the end of the year.  52/23 K/BB in his 60 innings for Syracuse on the year.  Walters has significant MLB experience, with 152 IP across several organizations dating to 2008.  He’s yet to really have a decent MLB stretch thought, and his AAA numbers are starting to look just as bad.  Given the team’s dearth of RH bullpen depth options though, I think its safe to say they’ll keep him around to see if he’s an option to consider.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse bullpen.
  • Other guys who got spot starts here and there:
    • Joe Ross had 5 starts before getting called up to the majors.  See MLB write-up for more.  Outlook for next season: Nats #4 starter.
    • Matt Swynenberg had exactly one AAA start of 3 innings this year before spending the rest of the year on the restricted list, which usually indicates retirement.  We’ll see if he gets an official release this coming off-season.  Outlook for next season: retired/out of the organization.
    • Mitch Lively had 2 spot starts but was mostly a reliever; see the reliever section.
    • Sam Runion and Eric Fornataro each had a spot start but were primarily relievers; see the reliever section.
    • Matthew Spann, James Simmons and Austen Williams each got called up to AAA from lower levels to provide exactly one spot start.  See High-A for for Spann and Williams, AA for Simmons writeups.
    • Strasburg and Fister had one-two rehab starts for Syracuse in 2015.

Syracuse Relievers: taking a look at the relief corps.  We’ll organize relievers by going by IP from most to least.  Anyone with less than 10 IP will get cursory analysis at the end.

  • Rafael Martin was Syracuse’s closer for a good portion of the season, getting 12 saves in 50 IP across 46 games.  We discussed Martin at length in the MLB writeup but will repeat our prediction here.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse bullpen/MLB reliever depth.
  • Eric Fornataro was a waiver claim last off-season, then DFA’d off the 40-man roster before the season started.  He then failed to impress, posting a 5.54 ERA in 50 innings before getting released in July.  Outlook for next season: in another organization/out of baseball.
  • Matt Grace had a 2.40 ERA in 48 IP and spent a decent amount of time on the MLB roster (17 ip across 26 appearances).  See MLB writeup for more.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse bullpen/lefty reliever coverage.
  • Evan Meek posted a 2.15 ERA across 37.2 innings in the early part of the year, effective if a bit wild (33/19 K/BB in those 37 ip) and, after not getting consideration for a call-up, asked for his release to sign with a Korean team.  Outlook for next season: still in Korea or with another Organization.
  • Sam Runion posted a 2.91 ERA in 65 IP across AA and AAA after getting picked up in June of 2014 as a MLFA.  1.43 whip, decent K/9 rates, just not enough to get a sniff at a MLB call-up.  Just a classic org guy who is a MLFA this year and likely plies his trade elsewhere next year.  Outlook for next season: MLFA, re-signed per BA ML transactions so AAA bullpen again (updated 12/29/15)
  • Mitch Lively was in basically the same boat as Meek; put up good numbers (2.31 ERA, 0.97 whip, but wasn’t called up and decided to go overseas.  He was released on 6/17/15 so as to sign with a Japanese team.  He posted a 6.75 ERA in 16 games in Japan; not sure what the future holds for him.  Outlook for next season: still in Japan or with another Organization.
  • Juan Gutierrez was signed off the AAA waiver wire in August 2015 and threw 34 mediocre innings (3.47 ERA)for Syracuse down the stretch in a classic “we need someone to pitch innings for us to finish the season” move.  He’s a MLFA and likely keeps on moving for 2016.  Outlook for next season: in another organization.
  • Jose Valverde signed a month into the 2015 season with a typical veteran MLFA contract that guaranteed an opt out after a couple of months if the big club didn’t use him.  Valverde closed effectively for Syracuse until July, when he opted out.  He did not sign elsewhere for 2015.  He’s playing in the DWL but I wonder if he’s done; his last two MLB stints were both ugly.  Outlook for next season: in another organization/out of baseball.
  • Manny Delcarmen had an 8.14 ERA in 21 IP across 18 appearances before getting released in early June.  He played out the rest of the season in Mexico.  Outlook for next season: in another organization/out of baseball.
  • Rich Hill signed as a MLFA late in the 2015 spring from the  Yankees, pitched decently as a middle reliever in Syracuse and likely had an “out clause” forcing the team’s hand, who released him in late June.  He picked up with Boston, pitched well for their AAA squad, got promoted back to the majors, pitched lights out in 4 starts in the end of the season … and signed a $6M contract to pitch for Oakland in 2016. Go figure.  Did the Nats miss the boat here?  This isn’t the first time they’ve had a guy in their AAA rosters who went on to have significant success for another club (Colby Lewis, Marco Estrada, Chris Young).  Maybe they should have given Hill a 40-man job while they were trying out everyone else in late May/early June.  Maybe you could say the same thing about a whole bunch of the MLFA MLB-experienced veterans who passed through Syracuse’s roster in 2015.  Outlook for next season: Pitching for Billy Beane out in Oakland on a $6M deal.
  • Other Relievers who appeared in AAA of note (not including Rehabbing MLBers): Outlook for next season for all of these guys seems the same: either continued “org guy” middle reliever or minor league free agent in another organization.
    • Solis, Treinen and Rivero each had a nominal amount of AAA innings: see MLB writeup for them.
    • Demny and Davis spent more time in AA than AAA: see Harrisburg write-up.
    • Everyone else not mentioned had 5 or less IP in AAA and were mostly in other levels.

Summary

34 different hurlers passed through the Syracuse locker room this year.  Phew.  And it seems like a huge percentage of them have already churned out of the organization, looking for their next stop.  I guess this is the way AAA teams go these days.  We may see more MLFA veteran arms coming into the system for 2016 given the number of guys they’re losing.

Its hard to say whether we really learned much from the AAA staff this year; the team kind of already knew what it had with its highest-end prospects in AAA (the likes of Cole, Jordan and Hill).  Almost the entire bullpen was veteran MLFAs who likely won’t be back, most of whom never got a chance to contribute to the major league team in its time of need in 2015.

Nationals/MLB Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2015

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Scherzer will always have his no-hitters from 2015. Photo via thesportsquotient.com

Scherzer will always have his no-hitters from 2015. Photo via thesportsquotient.com

Here’s the first in a 7-part series where we delve into the pitching staffs from start to end, from the majors all the way to the GCL.  We start with the rotations, review all the starters and then hit up the relievers.  We try to predict as we go, which I’ll summarize at the end with a big “2016 predictions” piece.

Here’s 2013’s post and then 2012’s post.  We never got to 2014 as I was switching jobs and this series takes a ton of time and I couldn’t do it.

All stats are courtesy of either Baseball-Reference page or via Fangraphs page.  Also useful here are the Big Board and the Nats Draft Tracker as always.

Washington starters.  The rotation at the beginning of the season was Scherzer, Zimmermann, Strasburg, Gonzalez, Fister.  By the end of the season it was basically the same, with Roark replacing Ross who had replaced Fister.

  • Max Scherzer: 14-12 with a 2.79 ERA, 0.918 whip with 276/34 K/BB ratio in 228.2 IP (33 starts).  Look at that K/BB ratio again: that’s more than 8 strikeouts for every walk for a power pitcher.  His season also included two no-hitters (both of which easily could have been perfect games) and a one-hitter, and by one measure (Game Score) his season-ending 17-K no-hitter was nearly the best pitching 9-inning performance ever.  If you needed another excuse to ignore W/L records, just look at Scherzer’s record on the year given his peripherals.  But even given his season on a macro level, some were rather disappointed in Scherzer because in August, when the chips were down and this team collapsed, he was 0-3 with a 6.43 ERA in 5 starts.  Nonetheless, Scherzer more than earned his salary in 2015 and I see no reason not to expect similar results in 2016.  Outlook for next season: 2nd straight opening day start.
  • Jordan Zimmermann: 13-10, 3.66 ERA, 1.205 whip with 164/39 K/BB over 201.2 IP (33 starts).  His ERA was a point higher than in 2014, his WHIP was 10% higher and his FIP was inflated to a very un-Zimmermann 3.75 level.  Not exactly the walk year season he was hoping for.  Nonetheless, Zimmermann should make out like a bandit on the FA market, where he occupies the lead spot in the 2nd tier of FA pitchers and should do just fine.  Unfortunately, it seems like his time in DC is up; we don’t know the size or length of the contract extension he turned down, but it seems obvious that the team didn’t give him what he and his advisers thought he deserved.  He’ll be oft-mentioned in the coming weeks as he finds a new home and it’ll be a shame to see him go.  Outlook for next season: pitching for another team: Signed with Detroit for 5yrs/$110M.
  • Stephen Strasburg: 11-7, 3.46 ERA, 1.107 whip with 155/26 K/BB in 127 IP (23 starts).   His end-of-the-year numbers don’t look nearly as bad as the debacle that his season really was.   He had a 6.55 ERA through his first 10 starts, then missed most of June and July with two separate D/L trips.  Upon his return, he was awesome, dropping his season ERA from 5.16 to 3.46 thanks to 9 quality starts (out of 10) and 5 double-digit strikeout games.  But, the damage was done; he was awesome down the stretch in a series of games that ended up being meaningless.  On the bright side, the Nats likely save a few million dollars in their arbitration case.  Lets just hope that whatever he finally figured out in Aug and Sept continues into next season.  Outlook for next season: Nats #2 starter.
  • Gio Gonzalez: 11-8, 3.79 ERA, 1.423 whip with 169/69 K/BB in 175.2 IP (31 starts).  Another year, another inconsistent season from our #4 starter.  The team was 16-15 in his 31 starts, which makes sense since he had exactly 16 quality starts.  I think at this point Gio is what he is: a decently valued 4th starter who earns his salary and puts up enough value to keep his spot.  The Nats will ride his arm until his contract expires.  Outlook for next season: Nats #4 starter.
  • Doug Fister: 5-7, 4.19 ERA, 1.398 whip with 63/24 K/BB in 103 IP (25 appearances, 15 starts).  MLB’s most underrated starter over the past few  years finally had father time catch up to him, going 4-7 with a 4.60 ERA in 15 starts before the team mercifully pulled the plug.  His average fastball velocity has been dropping, but dropped precipitously this year (down to 86.1) and just was too hittable.  To Fister’s credit, he accepted the move to the bullpen instead of taking the “easy” way out and claiming a D/L trip, and was effective in 17 relief innings to make his season ERA look a little more palatable.  Nonetheless, it was not exactly the way the Nats drew things up.  Fister faces an uncertain future; he went from being guaranteed a Qualifying Offer to maybe struggling to get a guaranteed offer.  In the end, I can see perhaps a west coast team taking a flier on him as a 5th starter with a pillow contract for him to try to regain some value.  Outlook for next season: Pitching elsewhere, hopefully as a 5th starter somewhere.
  • Joe Ross: 5-5, 3.64 ERA, 1.109 whip with 69/21 K/BB in 76.2 IP (16 appearances, 13 starts).  Ross initially got called up to cover for Strasburg’s first injury, and was impressive enough to be the first man in line to replace the suddenly ineffective Fister.  He got another 10 mostly effective starts, getting shut down in early September after two ineffective starts where he was uncharacteristically wild (9 of his 21 MLB walks were in his last 2 starts) as he reached a soft innings limit for the year.  No complaints here; Ross quickly guaranteed his rotation spot for 2016 with his work during the summer and is making the trade where he was acquired looking even more lopsided.  Outlook for next season: Nats #3 starter.
  • Tanner Roark: 4-7, 4.38 ERA with 70/26 K/BB in 111 IP (40 appearances, 12 starts).  The Nats thanked Roark for his “found gold” 5-win 2014 season by acquiring Scherzer and pushing Roark to the all-important long-man/slop innings guy.  Not exactly what Roark probably expected.  He did get 5 starts covering for Strasburg in late May-early June but otherwise was yanked all over the place; sometimes being a one-inning middle reliever, then getting 3+ in a blowout loss, even getting higher leverage innings in the 8th and 9th (he even had a save in May).  When Fister proved ineffective, the Nats didn’t give the slot to Roark like they should have, instead calling up Ross and leaving Roark pitching in relief (their reason was that he wasn’t stretched out).  When it became clear Ross was going to run out of innings, they sent him back to Potomac briefly to “stretch out” and Roark finished the year in the rotation with 6 relatively ineffective starts.  Not the year Roark wanted.  There was an incredibly long-winded article in beyondtheboxscore.com that seemed to point at Roark’s position on the rubber as the cause of all his ills, but i put Roark’s struggles more simply: pitchers are creatures of habit and when you take a starter and suddenly tell him he’s a one inning reliever, you shouldn’t be surprised when he doesn’t immediately perform in that role.  The question the Nats have to face is this: was 2014 a fluke?  Do you pencil in Roark for the #5 starter in 2016 or do you try to acquire his replacement?  Do you have an open competition between Roark and the slew of AAA arms for the spot?  Personally, I’m a Roark believer and think he’ll be just fine if you install him in the rotation and let him work.  Outlook for next season: Nats #5 starter.
  • Others who got 1-2 Spot Starts:
    • Taylor Jordan: got one spot-start in early June, getting pounded by Toronto.  He provided long-relief cover a few times here and there throughout the season but wasn’t used even after being called up 9/1 (perhaps an innings limit?).  See AAA write-up for more.
    • A.J. Cole got one spot start in late April, getting destroyed by Atlanta in the epic 13-12 game.  I was highly critical of this particular call-up at the time, questioning why the start didn’t go to Roark at the time.  Cole got two other mop-up games to make his ERA slightly less awful for the year, but raised serious questions as to his future.  See AAA write-up for more.

Rotation summary: Scherzer was good but struggled when the chips were down.  Zimmermann regressed, as did Gonzalez.  Strasburg was either awful or  hurt most of the season.  Fister was abhorrent.  Roark was wasted.  Yet despite all that negativity surrounding our rotation, the Nats starters as a group were still ranked pretty highly : 3rd in fWAR, 7th in ERA, 4th in FIP.   So, it was still a pretty good rotation but not nearly as good as we thought they’d be upon the Scherzer acquisition.

 


Washington relievers.  On opening day the MLB bullpen was Storen, Treinen, Stammen, Thornton, Cedeno, Barrett, Roark.  By the time it was over, the team had used no less than *20* relievers.  Not exactly how they sketched it out in the off-season.  Lets talk about all 20 guys; here they are ordered with closers first, then descending by IP.  Anyone with less than 10 innings is relegated to the end with generally a shorter write-up.

  • Drew Storen was having a near-all Star calibre season closing, holding a 1.69 ERA with 46/9 K/BB over 37.1 IP and 29 saves.  Then suddenly he was demoted thanks to the Papelbon acquisition.  His numbers post 7/29/15: 7.13 ERA in 17 innings, which culminated with his 3-walk performance in the season-ending Mets loss in early September (his 5th blown save of the year).  Two days later he slammed a locker on his thumb, broke it and was done for the season along with his team.  We’ve argued this one to death; there are people who like to argue that players are machines and they are highly paid to do whatever the team asks of them.  I maintain that this team has tried over and over to replace Storen thanks to a couple of poorly-timed games of ineffectiveness that just happened to occur in the two NLDS series this team has managed to reach, and the “layering” of Papelbon over top of him was the icing on the cake of his Nats career.  I’m sure Storen wants out of town, and I’m sure he’ll be a classic “change of scenery” guy.  Mike Rizzo needs to make it happen.  Outlook for next season: Closing for another team.
  • Jonathan Papelbon was acquired in late July straight up for a relatively low-level prospect (Nick Pivetta), an indication of how desperate Philadelphia was to rid themselves of him.  He pitched a grand total of 23.1 innings in two months, through little fault of his own clearly disrupted the karma of the bullpen, and entirely at fault on his own took offense to Bryce Harper‘s non-defense in the press of Papelbon’s over-reaction and subsequent plunking of Manny Machado in a game earlier in that week and decided that calling out one of the game’s premier hustlers for “not hustling” down the line on a routine pop-up was a good idea.  Fast forward to the umpteenth unnecessary embarrassing moment for the franchise and perhaps the final nail in the coffin of the inexplicably unaware and dense manager Matt Williams.  Fun fact: Papelbon bought a $2.9M house in Alexandria exactly one week before choking his teammate on national TV and getting suspended for the rest of the season.  Good timing.  I know that Harper has “reached out” to Papelbon and they’re all saying this is just ‘brothers fighting” and all that BS, but Rizzo has to be shopping him for whatever he can get for him, upto and including eating the entirety of his $11M 2016 salary.  Many think he’s completely untradeable, but i’m guessing someone will take a flier on him.  Outlook for next season: Closing for another team.
  • Blake Treinen was the busiest guy in the pen this year (outside of sometimes starter Roark that is), throwing 67.2 innings in 60 innings as mostly an 7th/8th inning guy.    He had a 3.86 ERA, a 3.49 FIP, and a 1.389 whip, all incrementally worst in 2015 than the year before.  65/32 K/BB in those 67IP.  Treinen features a mid to upper 90s sinking fastball that has so much movement that TV announcers sometimes think its a changeup, yet still has some really odd splits.  Righties had just a .493 OPS against him on the year … while lefties teed off to the tune of a .934 OPS.  Odd because you’d think that a guy who could throw a fastball that tails away from lefties like Treinen would be more successful.  Another oddity; he had a 5.90 ERA at home and just a 2.33 ERA away.  So basically, if he was facing a righty on the road, he’s your guy.  He has limited his repertoire to just two pitches these days (2-seam sinker and a wipeout slider), and seems so far removed from having anything resembling a third pitch that any thoughts of returning to the bullpen seem long gone.  Is Treinen just a ROOGY (right handed one out guy?)  Do teams even have that?  Maybe his goal for the off-season is to figure out some pitch that is effective against lefties.  He also needs to work on his control; his walk rate of 4.3 per nine just won’t cut it for a higher leverage reliever.  Outlook for next season: back in his 7th/8th inning role.
  • Felipe Rivero, 2.79 ERA, 2.64 FIP, 0.952 whip and 43/11 K/BB in 48.1 relief innings.  Rivero was a revelation for the team this year, converting to relief for the first time in his career and really shining.  He has some serious heat; max fastball of 99.8 and an average of 95.5 from the left side, but really was a two pitch pitcher this season; fastball and slider (fangraphs distinguishes his 4-seamer from his 2-seamer but the velocities are exactly the same; does he throw two different, distinct fastballs?)   Unlike Treinen, Rivero got righties and lefties out at equal clips (.200 BAA for righties, .198 for lefties) and really came into his own in the bullpen.  He’s much more than a matchup-lefty and could be a valuable bullpen member for a while.  Can he return to starting?  Hard to say; does he have a third pitch?  Years of starting in the minors seems to indicate that his future remains in the pen.  Outlook for next season: reprising his 7th inning reliever role.
  • Matt Thornton had an excellent age 38 year; 2.18 ERA, 3.52 FIP, 1.065 ERA in 41.1 relief innings across 60 appearances.  His FIP is much higher than his ERA because he doesn’t rely as much on the strikeout; he had just a 23/11 K/BB ratio in those 41.1 innings.  His splits showed some interesting tidbits: 10 of his 11 walks on the year came against right handed hitters, while he had an 11/1 K/BB ratio when facing lefties.  Thornton is best judged by his performance against lefties and he was excellent; .198/.205/.279, and this is why I’m an advocate of resigning him for 2016.  I’m still kind of baffled by his being waived by the Yankees frankly.  The FA market for left handed relievers is a little busy; I count 20 lefties out there.  But not all of them were as effective as Thornton was in 2015.  Can the Nats re-sign him?  Do they want to?  They do have several in-house loogy replacements to be discussed, if they wanted to save a couple million dollars off of payroll.  Outlook for next season: another season as a loogy, for the Nats or elsewhere.
  • Casey Janssen: when the Nats acquired Janssen, a three year closer for the Toronto Blue Jays, I figured the team’s late-inning bullpen issues were solved.  The loss of Rafael Soriano was inevitable (and, frankly, not really that important given how badly he finished 2014), but the loss of Tyler Clippard was going to be hard to fix.  But plugging in a former AL east closer into the 8th inning role?  No worries.  Well, that’s not quite how it went.  Janssen got hurt in spring training, missed the first 7 weeks of the season … and then underwhelmed once he arrived.  His numbers on the season: 4.95 ERA, 4.05 FIP, 1.150 whip, with 27/8 K/BB in 40 IP.   Perhaps the 4.95 ERA is skewed by a few bad outings: scanning through his game log he gave up 4 runs on 5/30, another 4 runs on 8/31, 3 more the following day (in that infamous St. Louis series) and 2 on 9/27.  So of the 22 runs he allowed all year, 13 of them were in four outings.  Perhaps so, but his job as an 8th inning guy is not to allow these massive rallies, ever.  His fastball velocity has been declining and his 4-seamer sat at just 88.3 MPH on average this year; is that fast enough even if you have pinpoint control and can throw 5 pitches?  Apparently not; Janssen’s struggles were a big part of the bullpen’s struggles this year, a big reason they felt the need to acquire Papelbon, and in crunch time towards the end of the season Williams didn’t trust him to give him important assignments.  The Nats bought out his option year and cut ties with him; the end of a disappointing season together.  Outlook for next season: middle reliever for another organization.
  • Aaron Barrett: started out the year looking good as a key 6th/7th inning righty, struggled starting in May, hit the D/L in June, got lit up on Aug 5th to the point of getting demoted to AAA, at which point he (finally) told team doctors that his arm had been bugging him for weeks (months even).  A quick scan showed a blown UCL and he underwent Tommy John surgery on September 5th, 2015.  Final season stats: 4.60 ERA but a 2.21 FIP, 1.193 whip and 35/7 K/BB in 29.1 innings.  Look; you don’t want to wish ill will on a guy for trying to gut it out, but at what point was his arm issues impacting his performance on the field and costing the team games?  Outlook for next season: on the 60-day D/L for most if not all the season. 
  • Sammy Solis was closer to a DFA than a call-up at the end of 2014, a season mostly lost to injury and lost promise of the former 2nd round pick.  But a slew of injuries forced him into action in the Nats bullpen and he held up, throwing 21.1 innings of 3.38 ERA, 3.46 fip, 1.359 whip with a 17/4 K/BB ratio.  That’s not too bad of a debut, even if it was his age 26 season.  He showed a reverse split interestingly, with lefties hitting him at a .355 clip (righties: .255).  I have a feeling that the team is likely going to look elsewhere for a second lefty out of the pen.  Option number one is probably resigning Matt Thornton, which will relegate Solis to AAA/spare part duty in Syracuse.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse bullpen/lefty reliever coverage.
  • Matt Grace; 4.24 ERA, 3.08 fip, 2.00 whip with 14/8 K/BB in 17 IP across 26 outings.  Grace is a nice story, a guy who really came on strong in 2014 and earned his 40-man slot.  But his numbers in his first go-around in the majors were less than ideal.  See Solis’ write up and then add on a little pessimism and you have Grace right now; too many baserunners and not enough ability to get right handers out (.429 BAA) to be trusted as an effective major league reliever right now.  Outlook for next season: As with Solis Syracuse bullpen/lefty reliever coverage.  Except he’s “behind” Solis.
  • Rafael Martin: everyone’s favorite story.  Signed out of the Mexican leagues, shot up the system posting just ridiculous numbers in AA and AAA in 2013 and 2014.  Finally got his shot and had some really odd stat lines: 5.11 ERA, 4.76 FIP, 1.378 whip with 25/5 K/BB in 12.1 major league innings.  That’s right; he had an 18.2 K/9 ratio.  He struck out 8 of the first 12 batters he faced, including a pretty memorable debut where he struck out 5 guys in two innings in Boston in mid April.  He was looking like a made-for-TV-movie story until he took a rough outing in Miami and got sent down … not to be recalled until 9/1.  He threw a bunch of garbage time innings in September and got his ERA back down but kept striking guys out with his upper 80s arsenal.  Why didn’t he get more of a shot when the chips were down and other right handed relievers were struggling in August?  I don’t know.  Honestly, I think he’d make an excellent long-man/middle reliever, the classic “7th guy out of the pen” with his ability to go long and spin the ball in there as a change of pace versus harder throwing guys.  Something tells me though that he’s going to be back in Syracuse as bullpen insurance.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse bullpen/righty reliever coverage.
  • David Carpenter: acquired in trade from the Yankees for Tony Renda, threw 6 innings in the majors for the team, got hurt, went to the 60-day D/L with a shoulder issue, outrighted on 11/15/15, refused the assignment and has already signed with Atlanta for 2016.  Not exactly the best return for a former 2nd round pick and slightly surprising he was outrighted while there was still room on the 40-man roster (and still is room as we speak).  Outlook for next season: in Atlanta organization.
  • Craig Stammen: threw just 4 innings before requiring elbow surgery.  A huge blow for a guy who had been a team leader in IP and an effective middle reliever for  years.  He’s arbitration eligible, and the team could not arrive at an equitable deal ahead of the 12/2/15 non-tender deadline, so Stammen was non-tendered.  I have a feeling that if the team still wants him for 2016 and will work out some sort of heavy incentive-laden deal to keep him in the fold (he’s been with the organization since 2005 after all, tying him for the longest tenured player still with the team now that Ian Desmond has declared FA.   Outlook for next season: hopefully back in his 7th inning middle relief role, perhaps pitching elsewhere.
  • Xavier Cedeno: threw 3 innings, gave up 3 hits, 2 walks and two runs, then was inexplicably DFA’d and traded to the Dodgers for “cash.”  The Dodgers then turned around and traded him to Tampa, where he put up a 2.09 ERA in 43 IP in 2015.  What the heck happened here?   We talked about it in this space when it happened, and the quick hook DFA was as inexplicable then as it seems now.  Was this perhaps the first precursor into the questionable bullpen management that plagued Matt Williams all year?  Outlook for next season: a valuable loogy for Tampa.
  • Other Relievers who pitched too few innings for analysis:
    • Taylor Hill: provided 12 innings of bullpen coverage in Late May-Early June: see AAA write-up.
    • Abel de los Santos: added to the 40-man, called up and started his service clock (oh, and burned an option too while they were at it) so that he could throw to exactly eight (8) batters in mid-july before being returned to Harrisburg.  Ridiculous use of resources frankly.  See AA write-up.
    • Position players Clint Robinson and Tyler Moore became the 1st and 2nd position players to ever hurl for the Washington franchise, each throwing the final inning in a blow-out loss.

Bullpen summary: Ugh, what a mess from start to finish.  Under performance, injuries, and a rotating door of guys trying to perform.  By the end of August there wasn’t anyone even worth trusting in that pen, as evidenced in the critical Mets home series where the season was lost.  Even given that, the bullpen as a whole ranked 12th in fWAR, 10th in ERA, 9th in FIP, so it wasn’t really that bad league-wide.  Which surprised me too when I went to fangraphs to pull the data.  Some more telling stats: 7th in the league in Blown saves with 27.  17th in total saves.  17th in Holds.

Pitching summary overall: we expected more, and in the end the performance of the staff and bullpen probably wasn’t the sole reason this team failed to win the NL East.  But it didn’t help.

Nats Rule-5 Draft History; updated for 2015

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Jesus Flores remains our most successful Rule 5 Draftee. Photo Toni Sandys/Washington Post

Jesus Flores remains our most successful (only successful) Rule 5 Draftee. Photo Toni Sandys/Washington Post

The Nats for years were heavy participants in the Rule-5 draft, thanks to some pretty awful teams and some shrewd scouting.  I first did this history post in November 2011, updating in in January of 2014 and here I update it for the last couple of draft results and drafted player disposition updated for the latest season.

Borrowing a chunk of the text for the previous years from the previous post, here’s a list of the Rule 5 drafts since 2005, with our players taken/received noted and with some thoughts on how the player turned out for either side.  Even though there wasn’t much 2015 Rule 5 action for the team, I’ve added a bunch of updates for all the recently involved players, updating their career dispositions.

Note: this post used to be to pass judgement on our Rule-5 picks, so when you see “Verdict: Failure” that’s what it means.  Its been so long since we tried to draft someone that I forgot what it was like.


2015 Rule 5 Draft (ahead of the 2016 season)

What just occurred on 12/10/15.  The Nationals did not take anyone in the major league phase, nor did they have anyone taken.

In the minor league phase, the Nationals selected 3B Zack Cox from the Miami organization.  He’s entering his age 27 season, is a former 1st round pick and has bounced around AA and AAA the last four seasons.  I’m calling him “Anthony Rendon” insurance for 2016.

These minor league acquisitions are essentially $12,000 purchases and the Nats now own these contract; I’m not entirely clear on the rules that drive them, nor how the players are determined to be eligible.


2014 Rule 5 Draft (ahead of the 2015 season)

For the first time since their arrival in DC, the Washington Nationals neither took a player in Rule-5 nor had one taken.


2013 Rule 5 Draft (ahead of the 2014 season)

The team did not select anyone in the major league phase.  We did lose one player in the MLB phase:

  • Adrian Nieto was the 2nd overall pick in the major league phase, by the Chicago White Sox.  As commenters at the time noted, it seemed like an odd pick for the White Sox, who had a couple of younger developing catchers in their system.  Meanwhile Nieto had never played above A-ball but did hit .285/.373/.449 prior to the 2014 season.  Those are pretty good numbers for a catcher … even if he’s an old 24 in A-Ball.  I didn’t even mention him in my own pre-Rule5 analysis piece at the time, but amazingly he stuck on the White Sox roster for the entire 2014 season, hitting .236/.296/.340.  The White Sox sent him to AA for 2015, he elected FA (presumably after being DFA’d) and signed as a MLFA with Miami for 2016.  Given the struggles of Jose Lobaton this past year, I’m slightly surprised he didn’t consider coming back to his original franchise.  Or, perhaps more to the point, knowing what I know about his dealings with the Nats front office over the years … perhaps I’m not (his agent Joshua Kusnick is a frequent guest on the NatsGM podcast, hosted by Ryan Sullivan).

In the minor league phase, the Nats took a couple of players for organizational depth: Theo Bowe, a AA outfielder from Cincinnati and Martires Arias, a low-A right-hander from the New York Mets.  Neither player really panned out: Bowe was left in XST the entire year and Arias was released before the season started.


2012 Rule 5 Draft

Again, the team did not select anyone but got poached for four players in the major and minor phase.

  • LHP Danny Rosenbaum was drafted by Colorado to take part in their unique rotation experiment (where guys work up to a certain pitch count each night).  Rosenbaum didn’t make the Rockie’s pitching staff out of spring training (somewhat an indictment of Rosenbaum’s skills; Colorado’s rotation was one of the worst in the majors in 2013) and he was returned to Nats.  Rosenbaum toiled in AAA for the Nats for the 2013 full season.  He was the AAA opening day starter in 2014 but blew his UCL and had TJ Surgery.  In Jan 2015 the team flipped him to Boston for Dan Butler, and he got roughed up in Boston’s system (0-8, 5.81 ERA).  As far as I can tell he’s still in the Boston organization, perhaps for one more year to see if he pans out.
  • Utility player Jeff Kobernus was drafted by the Boston Red Sox, traded to Tigers and then eventually returned to Nats.  Kobernus turned out to be quite the speedster, stealing nearly a base every other game in the minors and earned a call-up to the big team in 2013.  He struggled with injury, spending a chunk of 2014 on the 60 day D/L and had just a handful of MLB atbats.  The team released him mid spring training 2015, he picked up with the San Francisco organization and played near his home town in San Jose in 2015, struggling in High-A ball.
  • In the minor league phase, Nats draft bust Jack McGeary was taken by the Red Sox.  He threw 21 ineffective innings in short-A and low-A for Boston in 2013.  He’s from Boston, so it was a nice gesture, but it just doesn’t look like he’s ever going to recover from his arm issues.  Hey, at least he got his Stanford education and his bonus money.  He signed as a MLFA with the Los Angeles Dodgers organization for 2014, struggled again in A-ball, and did not sign for 2015.
  • The Dodgers poached Hector Nelo from the Nats AA team and stuck him on their own AA team … where he promptly made the all-star game again and had another excellent season.  I’ll be honest; I do not know the minor league rule-5 protection rules, but I wonder why an all-star player was exposed, no matter what his age.  Nelo struggled in 2014, was released and looks like he’s out of affiliated ball.  So perhaps the team was a year early but still right in exposing him to Rule 5.

2011 Rule 5 Draft

The Nats did not take anyone for the first time in years, but had two players themselves taken.  Neither player drafted was a surprise; I posted at the time that I thought both these players should have been protected.

  • Brad Meyers (RH starting pitcher) was drafted by the New York Yankees, but he suffered an injury in spring training and was DL’d all year.  He was returned to the Nats and subsequently missed all of 2013 too.  I listed him as a “release candidate” in my 2014 rotation projections, not knowing if he was healthy or if he could win a AAA rotation spot that year; he ended up making 6 starts in AA and was released.  He’s now out of baseball.
  • Erik Komatsu was drafted by St. Louis (in retaliation for our taking Broderick the previous year?), made their 2012 opening day roster, played for a while before being waived, got picked up by Minnesota, and by Memorial Day was returned to Washington in a whirlwind set of transactions.  He got hurt in 2013 and played just a few games for the Nats AA and AAA teams, then was released on 5/9/14.  He signed immediately with the Angels, bounced to Milwaukee, was a MLFA after the season and did not play in organized ball in 2015.

2010 Rule 5 Draft

  • Elvin Ramirez, RH reliever, drafted from the New York Mets: he was injured in spring training and spent the entirety of the season on the DL.  Interestingly, the team returned him to New York in October, long before they needed to, and with New York in 2012 he made his way to the majors for some appearances.  The Mets eventually sold him to the Angels, then he bounced around in MLFA to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, and in 2015 was playing in the Mexican league.  Verdict: impatience leading to failure.
  • Brian Broderick, RH Starting Pitcher, Drafted from St. Louis and stuck into the 2011′s bullpen as the long-man/mop-up guy.  He was awful, he was costing the team wins, and was eventually returned to St. Louis before May was out.   However, St. Louis waived him towards the end of 2012 and we picked him back up.  I projected him to be one of our AAA starters in 2013 but he struggled and ended the season in AA and was cut loose.  He pitched in Indy ball in 2014, well enough to get a MLFA contract in 2015, spending the whole year in the Royal’s AAA team.  He’s still hanging in there.  Verdict: failure for the Nats, jury still out for the player.

The team lost one player in the 2010 draft:

  • The Phillies drafted Michael Martinez away from the Nats, and he stuck on their roster as a backup middle infielder.  His batting lines were awful though, and the Nats clearly had depth at middle infield at the time, so losing this player was not that big of a deal.  Martinez has continued to hit sub .200 but has bounced from Philly to Pittsburgh to Cleveland, splitting time between AAA and the major league rosters providing MIF cover.

 

2009 Rule 5 Draft

  • Jamie Hoffman; OF, Drafted with the #1 pick in the Rule 5 draft from Los Angeles Dodgers and immediately traded for Brian Bruney in a pre-arranged deal.  NY returned him to the Dodgers later that spring.   Bruney, meanwhile, immediately went to arbitration and lost with the team in the spring of 2010, was awful out of the gate, and the team outright released him before the end of May.   Verdict: failure, all the way around this transaction.

The team lost one player in this draft:

  • Zech Zinicola was drafted away from us by Toronto, who eventually returned him to the Nats without any Toronto appearances.  His selection was probably due to Dana Brown‘s hiring in Toronto, going from Washington’s Scouting Director to being a special assistant to the GM in Toronto.  Zinicola remained in our farm system until 2013, when he was released.

 

2008 Rule 5 Draft

  • Terrell Young: Drafted with the #1 pick in the Rule 5 draft from Cincinnati.  He got hurt, never played for us, and was eventually returned to the Reds.   His injury was severe enough that he was out of baseball after being drafted; he has no professional games after 2008.  Verdict: failure.
  • Ricardo Nanita, selected in the minor league phase, played most of 2009, then went to the Mexican league, then got picked up by Toronto in minor league free agency and has been there ever since, playing all of 2013 in Buffalo.   Verdict: failure.

The team lost two players in the minor league phase:


 

2007 Rule 5 Draft

  • Matt Whitney: 1B/3B, Drafted and then eventually returned back to Cleveland, who eventually made the former 1st rounder a ML free agent and we signed him after the 2008 season.   We cut him after the 2009 season and he retired after 2010.  Verdict: failure.
  • Garrett Guzman: LF/RF: after Rule-5 selecting him, the team eventually traded a PTBNL for him to Minnesota, then we cut him outright and nobody picked him up.  He played two years of Independent ball and was out of baseball after 2010.  Guzman is more infamously known as the player who was caught having sex with an underage girl while playing for our AA team in Harrisburg in 2008, likely the reason why nobody picked him up after his DFA.  Verdict: embarrassing failure.

The Nats lost one player of note in the minor league phase in this draft:

  • Brett Campbell was drafted by Milwaukee in the AAA phase of the rule-5 draft.  Milwaukee released him in spring training of the subsequent 2008 season and Campbell never played another inning of pro baseball.  This seems especially odd to me: he was drafted in 2004 and rose all the way through the Nats system to debut in the majors by Sept of 2006.  He pitched in just two games in 2006, and returned to the minors in 2007.  Was he hurt?  He was only 26 when he apparently hung them up.  Oddity.

 

2006 Rule 5 Draft

  • Jesus Flores, C, drafted from the New York Mets, stuck with the team all year despite having only played high-A ball in the minors.  Despite his eventual injury issues that plagued him for the better part of 3 seasons, Flores remains the best example of a “found gold” prospect that can be had in the Rule 5 draft.   After the Nats DFA’d him last off-season, he bounced around both LA and Tampa’s AAA teams in 2013 but did not appear in the majors. Verdict: success.
  • Levale Speigner RHP (a closer) was drafted from Minnesota and, as with Booker above, eventually was traded for by the Nats so they could keep him and stash him in the minors.  After some awful outings for the big team, he passed through waivers mid 2008 and was released from AAA in 2008, bounced around a couple other organizations, and retired after 2010.  Verdict: failure.

The Nats lost one player in this draft:

  • Alejandro Machada was drafted by Minnesota just a month after the Nats had re-signed him to a minor league contract.  So Machada didn’t have to stay on their active roster.  And indeed he didn’t; he was injured all of 2007 and stayed with Minnesota’s AAA team until 2009, never again broaching the majors.

 

2005 Rule 5 Draft

The Nats did not draft anyone, but had a player taken who went on a whirlwind tour of MLB organizations before getting returned mid 2006.

  • Chris Booker was rule-5 drafted by Detroit, who immediately sold him to Philadelphia, who then waived him in May of 2006 with the intent of returning him … except that Kansas City picked him up, hung onto him for a couple months and eventually returned him to Washington.  The Nats eventually called him up but he was relatively ineffective and he washed out of the game (seemingly due to injuries) after 2008.

 

2004 Rule 5 Draft (ahead of the 2005 season)

  • Tony Blanco: 1B; drafted from Cincinnati.  He batted .177 as a 1st baseman backup while eating a roster spot all season, then we cut him from AAA after 2007.  He kicked around Colorado’s system for a year and has been playing in Japan ever since.  Verdict: failure.
  • Tyrell Godwin: CF, drafted from Toronto.  Prior to the 2005 season, the team traded another minor leaguer to keep his rights, so this really played out less like a Rule-5 pickup in that Godwin didn’t have to stick on the 25-man roster all year.  He played a grand total of 3 games for the Nats, kicked around AAA for a while an hung them up in 2007.  Verdict: failure.

 


Summary: we’ve drafted 11 guys in the MLB phase Rule 5 draft since 2005, and I’d classify 10 of the 11 draftees as eventual failures.  Not a great track record.  Plus its safe to say that most every player drafted FROM us has been a failure for the drafting team.  Clearly the Rule 5 draft isn’t a great way to reliably find players.  Why do we do so much analysis on it?  I dunno, because its fun?  Because its December and we’re desperate for Baseball news?  Fair enough :-)

Operation Bullpen Makeover Status Report

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Welcome to the Nats Mr. Gott. Photo via gettyimages

Welcome to the Nats Mr. Gott. Photo via gettyimages

At the end of the 2015 season, our (primary 7-man not including 9/1 callups) bullpen looked like this:

  • Papelbon, Janssen, Treinen, Thornton*, Rivero*, Fister and Solis* (Stammen, Barrett, Storen on the D/L)

Then half these guys (Janssen, Thornton and Fister) hit the road via Free Agency, already leaving huge holes to fill.  In fact as of just a week ago after this was what our Opening Day 2016 bullpen would have looked like:

  • Papelbon, Storen, Treinen, Stammen, Rivero*, Solis* and Martin as a long-man I guess (Barrett to go to the 60 day D/L as soon as  he’s eligible).

After a flurry of moves in the past 10 days, here’s what we’re looking at now:

  • (Papelbon, Storen) Gatt, Kelley, Treinen, Perez*, Rivero*, Petit

And presumably there’s more work to be done (you have to think we’ll acquire a Proven Closer™ to replace the Papelbon/Storen combo).   But, so far, not a bad week for Mr. Rizzo.

Quick thoughts on each move (in chronological order)

  • Craig Stammen non-tender: discussed at length in the Non-tender deadline preview post comment section.  I didn’t like it for reasons discussed ad naseum, but agree that the team must have decided the risk was too much.
  • Oliver Perez signing 2yrs/$7M: good 2015 numbers in the NL with Arizona, then not so much in 12 innings with Houston.  His LHP-LHB splits are good while righties hit him at an .881 OPS clip in 2015.  I guess that’s as good of a Matt Thornton replacement as we need.
  • Yusmeiro Petit signing 1yr/$2.5M after getting non-tendered by SF.  An odd move by SF; his 2015 regular season numbers were just fine to me.  An ERA+ over a 100, flexibility to go long or go short.  And the Nats certainly remember getting shut down by him in the 2014 NLDS.  A good move for me as a near like-for-like replacement for Stammen (with the exception that Petit can go longer than Stammen could so he could be the long-man as needed).
  • Shawn Kelley for 3yrs/$15M (as reported); three straight years of fantastic swing and miss stuff (11-12 K/9 rates).  Great option to add as an 8th inning guy/eventual setup role, eventually replacing what Casey Janssen never did.
  • Trevor Gott in trade for Yunel Escobar: it seems like an underwhelming return for Escobar on the face of it.  Escobar was our 2nd leading hitter last year and played multiple infield positions.  But his batting average was pretty “empty” (he slugged .415) and his defense was abhorrent (not that he ever should have been playing 3B once Anthony Rendon came back … but that’s another gripe).  I think what it does indicate is the rising cost of good relievers and the fact that Escobar has one year of control while Gott has just 114 days of service time and is thus controlled for at least *six* more seasons, three of which will be at the pittance MLB minimum.  Gott’s numbers as a 22  yr old were pretty good; 125 ERA+, an ERA right around 3.00.  Not a ton of swing and miss so far in the majors but he was a closer in the minors and seems like a good 6th/7th inning guy (in other words, a Barrett replacement for the time being).

This configuration leaves a slew of projected relievers set to start in AAA or on the D/L:

  • D/L: Barrett (60dl), likely lost for the whole year
  • RH middle relievers: Martin, eDavis, de los Santos,
  • Loogies: Solis*, Grace*, Lee*
  • Long Men options: Jordan, Hill, Espino

What’s left to do?

  • Flip Storen for value
  • Dump Papelbon for a couple of pizzas
  • Find a for-real closer; its going to cost some serious stuff, based on the Craig Kimbrel and Ken Giles trades.  Be ready for it.
  • Sign some more veteran relievers for AAA like we always do.

Questions for the group;

  • Do you like the configuration of this bullpen so far?  Assuming we get a for-real closer and dump Storen and Papelbon, would you say that its an improvement over last year?
  • Is this too many new players to gel properly?  Don’t we always hear about how pitchers are creatures of habit and how “Teams” take a while to gel and play well together?  We’re basically throwing out a bunch of guys in that pen who will have never even met, let alone build camaraderie.  Do you worry about this?  Or do you believe that “winning builds chemistry” and that players are just cyber machines who you charge up in the morning with Red Bull and then slot them into their roles and they magically produce?  (If you couldn’t read between the lines in that sentence of sarcasm to tell what I think … well I can’t help you :-)

 

Quick pre-Winter Meetings thoughts…

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The off-season is off to a great start for the Nats. Photo via majorleagueaholes.com (yes its a site)

The off-season is off to a great start for the Nats. Photo via majorleagueaholes.com (yes its a site)

Winter meetings this week.  I figured I’d wait to start posting rotation reviews until after the craziness goes on (if its anything like last winter).

Here’s some thoughts I have:

  1. If the Nats intend to “completely remake their bullpen” then they’re off to a pretty slow start.  We’re already missing out on several key guys who would be good candidates to join the pen.  Darren O’Day, Joaquin Soria to start, Ryan Madsen, Jim Johnson or even Mark Lowe (who signed about 2 minutes after publishing this) as other examples.  Instead we sign Oliver Perez, a soft-tossing lefty retread to (I guess) replace Matt Thornton, who is perhaps the 5th or 6th most important role to fill in a 7 man rotation.  You couldn’t have adequately handled a LOOGY out of our cache of minor league arms?  Didn’t we draft like 10,000 lefty arms in the last three years?
  2. And now we hear that the Dodgers are hot on the case of Aroldis Chapman, not that I want to spend what it will take to get him.  Yes he’s great, yes he’d be a fantastic closer.  No I don’t want to give up a top-100 prospect for one year of his time.  (post-publishing update: literally 5 minutes after hitting publish, word comes out that the Dodgers have acquired Chapman).
  3. Why would they non-tender Craig Stammen given the bullpen turnover they already plan to have?  Stammen is talking in the press like he’s completely moving on, as if the negotiations went that sour that fast.

Here was 2015’s opening day bullpen: Storen, Treinen, Stammen, Thornton*, Cedeno*, Barrett, Roark with Janssen on the D/L.

Here’s where we stand now: Storen on the chopping block,
Treinen still there, Stammen DFA’d, Thornton a FA, Cedeno DFA’d/traded, Barrett on the D/L with TJ surgery all of 2016, Roark presumably going back to the rotation and Janssen a FA.   Throw in late-season acquisition Papelbon also being on the trading block and that’s basically the *entire* bullpen getting turned over.  That’s a recipe for disaster.

If the season started tomorrow: I guess the bullpen would be: Papelbon, Storen, Treinen, Perez*, Rivero*, Solis*, Martin.  Except that we know that’s not going to happen; you have to think the first two guys are moved one way or another.

Maybe we won’t end up seeing both closers moved and instead we’ll make amends somehow with one of them.  Since Papelbon is basically untradeable me thinks the “Lerners are cheap” mentality will win out and he’ll be back for 2016.  Awesome.  Especially considering the fact that he just filed a grievance against the team for not paying him during his “suspension.”  Can’t blame him; the team was stupid for not paying him and thinking they’d just pocket a union player’s salary.  Dumb.  I hope Dusty Baker has his game face on for dealing with this issue next  year, and I hope the whole “Bryce Harper reached out/bros will be bros” BS is not, actually, BS.  I’m skeptical.

4.  So, is the team going after Ben Zobrist or are they not?  Is Zobrist going to be that much better than just keeping Yunel Escobar, who can play 2nd and hit just fine for half the money Zobrist will cost?  What’s the urgency of moving Escobar?  The way I see it, Rendon goes back to 3rd, Turner plays SS (and if he cannot, then the excellent Danny Espinosa starts at SS instead) and Escobar goes to 2B where his defensive limitations won’t hurt us.  Why alter that plan?

5. Where’s the lefty bat going to come from?  How about Pedro Alvarez?  Still not sure why the Pirates were so quick to non-tender him.  I mean, he hit 27 frigging homers last year and his Ks are way down from two years prior.  How about buying Alvarez, sticking him at 1st, then shuffling Zimmerman to LF, Werth to right and Harper to CF?

6. Here’s a radical one.  Los Angeles and San Francisco both whiff on Zack Greinke, who inexplicably goes to Arizona.  Both teams adjusted and bought #3 starters (Iwakuma and Samardzija respectively) but now that basically all the big names are off the market, do you think there’s a possible Stephen Strasburg trade out there?  The Dodgers desperately need a Greinke replacement; word on the street is that they’re talking to Miami about Jose Fernandez and that would just be unfair if they got him.  Meanwhile, San Francisco’s 3-4-5 starters looks scary right now and they need to keep up (think SF can’t out-spend LA?  Google “Mission Rock Development” and see how the Giants are about to become a serious player in the SF commercial real estate market).  Even Boston could still be an interesting option: their projected 4-5 aren’t exactly impressive and their new GM is looking to make a splash, and Boston has serious prospect depth.  What if the Nats and Boston get together and get a couple of serious prospects for Strasburg?  Could you see that?  Maybe he gets moved and Giolito gets pushed into service a lot earlier than people thought.

If we moved Strasburg, the Nats would suddenly have a 5th starter hole too (well, unless Giolito became the guy).  I don’t really trust our AAA rotation guys to step up so maybe we’d be back in the market for a cheap starter too.  Luckily I count like 40 starters who profile like that, and some of them could be had for pretty cheap.

7. I don’t buy that the team needs/wants a CF.  But I could be wrong.  If we really were targeting a CF, we would have tendered Span.  I’ll spit bullets if the sign Dexter Fowler and give up their 1st rounder.  If only they could find a power hitting lefty who could play CF (ahem, Bryce Harper).

That’s a good starting point for the Winter meetings.  Let the swap meet begin!

 

 

 

Nats 40-man Option status for 2016

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After Robinson's breakout 2015, does he have to worry about options? Photo via minorleagueball.com

After Robinson’s breakout 2015, does he have to worry about options? Photo via minorleagueball.com

One bit of analysis that we end up doing every year on the franchise, when thinking about potential moves and roster construction, is Options analysis.  I’m posting this now b/c a couple of the guys w/o options are tender candidates, so this may play into the team’s decision on whether to keep them for 2016.

On the odd chance that you don’t know what i’m talking about with Options, here’s some quickie links that help explain the rules: Wikipedia’s baseball transactions, but more importantly an old Keith Law article on the baseballanalysts.com website explains the nuances of optional assignments well.  Basically it goes like this: once you’re put onto the 40-man roster, if you’re not also on the 25-man (or “active”) roster then you are playing in the minors somewhere .. and you are called being on “optional assignment” down there.  In order to protect the hoarding of players, teams can only send 40-man players down to the minors three years before being forced to allow other teams to lay claim to them and put them on their own active rosters.  Each year you are sent down to play in the minors is called an “Option” or an “option year.”

I’ve done this analysis before: here was 2015’s analysis  (where 4 of the 6 out of options guys were gone before opening day) and here was 2014’s analysis noting that Corey Brown and especially Ross Detwiler were going to be problematic; Brown was DFA’d and traded shortly there after while Detwiler stuck around for a whole season prior to getting moved to Texas.

Here’s the current Nats 40-man roster with updated Service times for 2015 as well as a review of Option Status for the 2016 year.  There are a couple guys who seem to have some options limitations going into 2016 that we’ll have to keep an eye on.

First up; Vets who can refuse demotion thanks to having 5 or more years of service time.  The Nats have ten (10) such players on the current 40-man roster:

Player Service Time post 2015 First Added to 40-man Notes
Werth, Jayson 12.102 Nov 2002 achieved 10&5 rights in 2015, not that he needed it
Papelbon, Jonathan 10.064 July 2005 never optioned as far as I can tell
Zimmerman, Ryan 10.032 Sep 2005 never used an option; achieved 10&5 rights in 2015
Escobar, Yunel 8.121 June 2007 Doesn’t look like he was ever optioned after 6/2007 callup
Scherzer, Max 7.079 May 2007
Gonzalez, Gio 6.162 Aug 2008
Stammen, Craig 5.160 May 2009 Less than 20 days in minors in 2010, so no option used
Storen, Drew 5.140 May 2010 2013 option cancelled when recalled before 20 days were up.
Strasburg, Stephen 5.118 Aug 2009 Probably eligible for a 4th based on lack of service time.
Ramos, Wilson 5.047 Nov 2008

Four players achieved the all-important 5th service year in 2015: Stammen, Storen, Strasburg and Ramos.  It wasn’t exactly likely that any of these four were in jeopardy of getting optioned (all four still had options available), but now they definitely cannot be sent down (as Storen was briefly in 2013).

Two guys achieved  the “Ten and Five” rights in 2015: Werth and Zimmerman.  10&5 gives automatic trade protection to the player … but both Werth and Zimmerman have full no-trade clauses anyway, so the 10&5 doesn’t mean much.

Next group: Options Available but are MLB entrenched.  Six (6) guys are in this category in my opinion:

Player Service Time post 2015 First Added to 40-man Option Years Used Options left? Notes
Espinosa, Danny 4.113 Sep 2010 2013 2
Harper, Bryce 3.159 Aug 2010 2011, 2012 1 Did 2010 count as an option year?
Rendon, Anthony 2.130 Aug 2011 2012, 2013 1 Probably eligible for a 4th option eventually if needed
Roark, Tanner 2.055 Aug 2013 3 Optioned on 8/25/15 but then called up 9/4 cancelling the option
Barrett, Aaron 1.144 Nov 2013 2014 2
Ross, Joe 0.094 June 2015 2015 2

In my mind, none of these guys are really candidates to get optioned in 2016 despite having options available to them.  Roark was optioned in late 2015 (August 25th) but then got called right back up on Sept 4th, so (if i’m reading the rules correctly) that option was “cancelled” for being too short.

I have an open question about Harper‘s 2010 option status; does it count as an option year if you sign a major league contract and then get assigned to a minor league team in the same year?  Not that it really matters for Harper (it isn’t like the reigning NL MVP is in danger of getting optioned), and it can no longer happen (MLB contracts were banned in the latest CBA), but its an intellectual issue.  If you have an opinion or insight, please feel free to chime in.  I’m guessing the rules at the time stated that you cannot burn an option the same year you signed, so i’ve not included it as an option year for Harper here.

Next group: Options Available and thus jeopardizing 25-man roster status for 2016: Five (5) players in this category:

Player Service Time post 2015 First Added to 40-man Option Years Used Options left? Notes
den Dekker, Matt 1.033 Aug 2013 2014, 2015 1
Taylor, Michael 1.037 Nov 2013 2014 2
Treinen, Blake 1.065 Apr 2014 2014 2
Solis, Sammy 0.097 Nov 2013 2014, 2015 1
Turner, Trea 0.045 Aug 2015 3 still pissed he was called up so early.

If the season started tomorrow, I’d likely project all five of these guys to be on the 25-man roster, three of them in pretty prominent roles.  den Dekker definitely seems like a guy who may get squeezed to the minors, especially if the team acquires a veteran OF this off-season.

If you want to read more of my rants on Turner‘s call-up, you can certainly find them in the comments sections over the past few months.  In fact, here’s my complaint the day they called him up in this space.  45 days of service time blown so he could collect MLB meal money for a month’s worth of pinch hitting and pinch running appearances while the team flushed away its season.  He started the last 6 games of the season, having only gotten two spot starts in the previous 5 weeks, in an idiotic use of his time for a team that didn’t need or use him down the stretch.  By my calculations, in order to “save” another year of his time, he’d have to start in Syracuse and stay down there for *8 weeks*; 6 weeks to make up for the 45 days of service time and then another two weeks to make sure that the team saves the difference between a full service time year (172 days) and the number of actual days in a MLB season (roughly 183 days).  See that happening?  I don’t either.  So its a moot point and we have lost any shot of extending his stay here an extra year.

Next, the large group of guys for whom Options almost guaranteed to be used in 2016.  Thirteen (13)  in total:

Player Service Time post 2015 First Added to 40-man Option Years Used Options left? Notes
Davis, Erik 1.045 Nov 2012 2013, 2015 1 60-day DL 2014; no option burned but earned 1 full year of service time
Hill, Taylor 0.030 June 2014 2014, 2015 1
Jordan, Taylor 1.047 June 2013 2014, 2015 1
Cole, AJ 0.047 Nov 2014 2015 2
Grace, Matt 0.074 Nov 2014 2015 2
Goodwin, Brian 0.000 Nov 2014 2015 2
Difo, Wilmer 0.051 Nov 2014 2015 2
de los Santos, Abel 0.006 July 2015 2015 2 Kind of a waste of an option year; 6 days service time in 2015
Martin, Rafael 0.048 Apr 2015 2015 2
Severino, Pedro 0.034 Sept 2015 3
Lee, Nicholas 0.000 Nov 2015 3
Kieboom, Spencer 0.000 Nov 2015 3
Bostick, Chris 0.000 Nov 2015 3

The Nats did themselves no favors by letting Davis hang on the active roster all year in 2014, accruing a full year of service time instead of burning an option.  Perhaps in the end it won’t matter; despite all the other RH relievers used last year, Davis never got called up and seems closer to an outright than worrying about where to rent in DC for the summer.  Speaking of RH relievers, the team called up Abel de los Santos in July, let him play for exactly 6 days, then optioned him back.  Davis (if he’s still around) and the two 4-A starters Jordan and Hill probably each burn their final option in 2016 and then force the team’s hand next off-season.  But that’s what we’ll talk about in next year’s version of this post.

In the meantime, here’s the meat of this year’s post: The four players on the Nats 40-man roster who have no Options left and thus have to either be on next year’s 25-man roster or be subjected to waivers prior to the season starting.

Player Service Time post 2014 First Added to 40-man Option Years Used Options left?
Lobaton, Jose 4.138 Nov 2008 2010,2011, unk 3rd 0 no options per mlbtraderumors; can’t tell if optioned in 2009 or 2012.
Moore, Tyler 3.018 Nov 2011 2012,2013,2014 0 86 days on mlb roster in 2014; how does this add to 1.106?
Robinson, Clint 1.028 Nov 2010 2011,2012,2013 0
Rivero, Felipe 0.162 Nov 2012 2013,2014,2015 0 I’m pretty sure 2015 counted as an option year

Now, both Lobaton and Moore are returnees from last year’s version of this post.  Lobaton was always set to be Ramos’ backup and dutifully performed in that role, slashing just .199/.279/.294 in that role.  I’m not entirely sure that either of the catchers on the 40-man roster can supplant Lobaton as Ramos’ backup, but I’m also not entirely sure that Lobaton will even be here in 2016 thanks to his performance.  So his lack of options may not matter; if the team buys another catcher on the FA market or in trade, Lobaton is likely DFA’d soon thereafter.  Moore (as noted in prior posts) has a bigger issue this coming off-season; he’s Arbitration eligible in a season where he was lucky (thanks to a constant barrage of injured players) to have lasted the whole season on the roster.  As mentioned in the previous post; both of these guys are also serious non-tender candidates, which would close the book on them with this team regardless.

Lets talk about the more interesting cases.  Robinson, from what I can gather from his convoluted Cots contract history page, had three straight options burned after getting added in Nov 2010 by his original signing club Kansas City.  After two option years and a scant four PAs in 2012, he was DFA’d and acquired by Pittsburgh, who then DFA’d him themselves at the end of Spring Training 2013.  Toronto claimed him, optioned him, then DFA’d and outrighted him a couple months later without ever appearing for their big club.  He signed as a MLFA with Los Angeles in 2014, got called up, got 9 ABs and then was DFA’d again (because of course by this time he was out of options…).  He played out the string for the Dodgers’ AAA club and then signed with Washington as a MLFA again in 2015.  So, all of that leading to his nice 2015 season for us and for 2016 he’s either going to be with us or against us: no options means he either makes the team or possibly moves on.

The other guy of note is Rivero.  His first two option years are easy.  But his up/down in 2015 may or may not have counted as an optional assignment.  Here was his movement this past season:

  • 3/16/15: Optioned officially to AAA though the minor league season doesn’t start until 4/9/15.
  • 4/16/15.  So that’s roughly 10 days in the minors since the Nats season starts on 4/6/15.
  • Two days later he got sick and eventually went on the D/L (remember the story?  he was throwing up black blood thanks to taking too much Advil)
  • 5/21/15: reinstated from the D/L and optioned back to Syracuse
  • 6/1/15: recalled again; so he was in Syracuse a grand total of 10 additional days.

So, by my count that’s 20 days in the minors right on the nose.  But the rules say that if you spend at least 20 days in the minors, that you’ve burned an option for that year.  So this is pretty close; did Rivero use an option for 2015 or not?  I think he did.  Now, it may not really matter since he really showed some serious cheese for the Nats this year and seems like a lock to be in the 2016 pen, but from an organizational flexibility perspective its nice to have.


So there’s the Options analysis for the team (well, at least the state of the team and its 40-man roster just after the Rule-5 protection additions and prior to any wheeling-and-dealing this coming off-season).  No big decisions to be had, but some concern areas for this year and next.

Feel free to comment if you think i’ve gotten anything wrong in the analysis.

 

Non-Tender deadline 2015: do we have any candidates?

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Might be the end of the road for Moore. Photo unknown via insidenova.com

Might be the end of the road for Moore. Photo unknown via insidenova.com

The next big day on the 2015-16 Baseball off-season calendar is the “Non-Tender deadline.”  Midnight on 12/2/15 is the deadline for teams to tender contracts to arbitration eligible players and/or unsigned players.  If not tendered, those players immediately become free agents.  (Craig Calcaterra has a funny little intro post on the same).

The team has a whole slew of “unsigned players” but we’ll leave them out of this discussion for the time being, since the non-tender deadline is mostly about discussing what arbitration-eligible players will either guarantee themselves a contract for 2016 or be cut loose.

(this is the 4th year running we’ve done this post: 2014 version (no real non-tender candidates and none non-tendered), 2013 version (Detwiler, Ohlendorf in play), 2012 version (Lannan, Gorzelanny, Flores in play), 2011 version (Slaten and Gorzelanny in play).

The below table lists our 8 arbitration-eligible players for 2016, their current contract, what they got paid in 2015 and then two projections (mine and mlbtraderumors.com) for their 2016 salary.

Player Current or 2015 Contract 2014 2015 My 2016 Guess MLBtraderumors 2016 guess
Strasburg, Stephen 1yr/7.4M (15) (arb3) $3,975,000 $7,400,000 $12,000,000 $10,500,000
Storen, Drew 1yr/$5.7M (15) (arb4) $3,450,000 $5,700,000 $7,600,000 $8,800,000
Ramos, Wilson 1yr/$3.55M (15) (arb3) $2,095,000 $3,550,000 $4,700,000 $5,300,000
Rendon, Anthony 1yr/$1.8M opt (15) (arb1) $1,800,000 $1,800,000 $4,000,000 $2,500,000
Stammen, Craig 1yr/$2.25M (15) (arb4) $1,375,000 $2,250,000 $2,400,000 $2,400,000
Espinosa, Danny 1yr/$1.8M (15) (arb2) $540,000 $1,800,000 $3,200,000 $2,700,000
Lobaton, Jose 1yr/$1.2M (15) (arb3) $950,000 $1,200,000 $1,500,000 $1,500,000
Moore, Tyler 1 yr/$0.5182M (15) (arb1) $507,900 $518,200 $1,200,000 $1,000,000

Lets go one-by-one, giving scant analysis to the more obvious tender candidates.

  • Strasburg, Stephen: obviously he gets tendered; bigger question is what his 2016 salary ends up being.  My guess is a bit higher than mlbtraderumors because i’m going more off of his presumed FA value versus a projection of his 2015 pay vs performance.  Might be an ugly arbitration battle if the two sides come in very far apart.
  • Storen, Drew: obvious tender since he’s getting shopped heavily.  Here mlbtraderumors thinks he’s worth quite a bit more than I projected.  Maybe i’m undervaluing saves.  But the Nats would certainly like to rid themselves of this arbitration case headache.
  • Rendon, Anthony: obvious tender and hoping for a return to 2014 levels.  What do you pay him?  I said $4M … and that might be pretty high considering his 2015 performance.  Could also be an ugly fight in the arbitration hearing.
  • Espinosa, Danny: made himself a bit of money in 2015 by improving his average a bit; still has L/R split issues but he will continue to have a job as a utility infielder for years to come thanks to his plus-plus defense.
  • Stammen, Craig: unless his recovery has been fouled up, he’s a tender candidate and frankly should probably look to sign another cost-controlled 2-year deal with the team instead of fighting it out in a hearing.
  • Ramos, Wilson: may have struggled at the plate but he’s the only starting catcher we have.

Now for the real Non-tender candidates.

  • Lobaton, Jose: Is Lobaton worth $1.5M (both my estimate and mlbtraderumors) given how poorly he hit in 2015?  Yes he is; unless you can tell me that either Pedro Severino or Spencer Kieboom is ready to be an every 5 days MLB catcher (or potentially more given how historically brittle Ramos has been) then Lobaton has to be tendered.  If the team signs a catcher in the next two days, maybe you can cut him loose.  But you generally keep ahold of MLB-competent (if not quality) catchers, not get rid of them.  So I’ll guess we tender him.  No options available, so he’s either all-or-nothing on the MLB roster for 2016.
  • Moore, Tyler: to me the only real non-tender candidate we have.  No options available, had his worst season yet at the plate (.200/.250/.364) and is positionally limited to 1B and LF (two slots filled by guys on $100M contracts).  He posted a -1.5 bWAR in 2015 and now has a -2.1 bWAR for his career.  I just don’t see how he’s tendered a contract frankly; wouldn’t the team do better to have a cattle-call of MLFA NRIs next spring to find a more useful RH-off-the-bench bat, which is essentially what Moore has become?  I think so; in fact some of the recent signing activity (Reed Johnson, Scott Sizemore, Chris Heisey) seems to indicate exactly this; the team thinks it can find a player who has a better MLB track record and who is more positionally flexible than Moore.  My prediction: non-tender.

Thoughts?  Would you do something different?

PS: after publishing, mlbtraderumors.com published their comprehensive list of non-tender candidates for the year.  They list Lobaton, Moore and Stammen as their non-tender candidates.  I think non-tendering Stammen would be pretty heartless, but that’s the business.

12/2/15 results: the team pre-negotiated two deals with Lobaton and Moore, but ended up non-tendering Stammen.  Lets hope they can find a way to bring him back.