Nationals Arm Race

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

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Ask Collier 7/21/17

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Doolittle has settled right hin. Photo via federal baseball/getty images

Doolittle has settled right hin. Photo via federal baseball/getty images

Off days seem to be accompanied by mail bags.  And that’s good, because i’m kind of in a writing lull.  I have no interest in looking at the hundreds of players in the game and trying to write one of those speculative, useless “hey we should make this trade” posts.  So here’s MLB.com nats beat reporter Jamal Collier‘s latest mail bag and how i’d have answered the questions he took.


Q: With the A’s trade and Robertson traded, do you think the Nats still look for a closer? Or do they go for another bullpen piece (ie Neshek)?

A: …. and yet,  here we are, needing to look at all 30 teams and all the theoretically “available” closers to write an educated answer.  *sigh*

Ok: here’s who is for certain selling: Detroit, Chicago WS, Oakland, NY Mets, Miami, Philly, Cincinnati, San Diego, San Francisco.  And here’s who probably should be selling: Baltimore, Toronto, Atlanta, maybe Texas.

That’s 12-13 teams, some of which have pretty good closers.  So there’s some arms available.  But at what cost?  Does anyone want to stomach the trading of yet another set of higher-end prospects for a rental “proven closer?”  I’m hoping the team goes a different direction, with a trade of lesser quality prospects for another couple 7th and 8th inning guys.

Bullpen now:  Doolittle, Madsen, Albers, Romero, Perez, Blanton and Grace.  Lefty heavy, and Blanton just cannot seem to get it together.  So another righty to replace Blanton could work, given how bad he’s been this year.  Maybe the return of Glover or a healthy/effective Kelley is what the team really needs instead of another trade (because who else on that current list of 7 do you want to jettison?).

Collier says that the team added a lot of payroll and may not do another blockbuster.


 

Q: Will the Nats make a push for a fifth starter at the trade deadline?

A: Nope.  They’ll give Edwin Jackson starts until he gives them a reason to dump him, may try existing internal solutions, and will eventually call up Erick Fedde to try him out too.  But they seem likely to cull the veteran 1yr FA market next off-season instead of overpaying now.  Of course, that being said seemingly the next available option in AAA (Jacob Turner) just got absolutely shelled (1 2/3rds innings 6 runs) … maybe he had transaction-lag from being activated and DFAd within like a 24 hour period.  A.J. Cole seems to have nearly exhausted his effectiveness as a starting pitcher; wow how far has he fallen.  Hill and Voth both now demoted to AA, along with Greg Ross.

Collier agrees.


 

Q: Who are the tradeable assets on the big league squad & in the minors? Likeliest to be dealt?

A: Hmm.  Most tradeable assets (outside the obvious all stars/marquee players we’d never move) on the big league squad might be Taylor and Goodwin thanks to their excellent seasons, and Gio Gonzalez who has pitched great and has two more option years.  But now that Ross is on the shelf for a year, we can’t possibly trade Gio.  Eaton should be back  in 2018 so there’s no room for both Goodwin and Taylor; i’d guess they’d trade one of them and let the other start in LF after Werth plays out his contract.  That is unless the Nats seek to improve offense in LF (like I think they should) and go for a big bopper … then they might have two OF trade assets (I think i’d rather move these guys than have them sit to be the 4th option).

In the minors?  Andrew Stevenson comes to mind as someone who might be surplus to requirements in the short term and be someone worth flipping.  That is unless we move both TAylor and Goodwin; then he’d make a perfect 4th OF for 2018 behind a LF FA acquisition.  Past that?  Its pretty empty in AAA and AA, so you’d be looking at guys in Low- and  High-A as trade assets.  Perhaps even lower; we have a number of high-dollar IFAs in the GCL right now.

Collier doesn’t even speculate; i guess he’s not a minor league guy.


Q: Will Koda Glover close games when he returns?

A: Lets get him to return first.  Is there even a time table for him to return?  Honestly I was almost assuming he was done for the year.  If he does return … then yeah, absolutely he’s in the closer mix.

Collier says the same thing basically.


 

Q: Any word on Davey Lopes return?

A: didn’t even know he was gone.  Its been a busy summer.  :-)

Collier has no updates; he’s away on personal matter.

 

Eaton Injury reaction; holes and opportunities

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hate to see this. Photo via usatoday

hate to see this. Photo via usatoday

Just a placeholder post for discussion on the hot topic of the day/weekend.

Adam Eaton‘s ACL injury creates some short term and some longer term implications for the roster.  Lets talk and speculate while we wish him a speedy recovery.

sidenote: With modern medicine ACL injuries take time, but also take *time* before the player is ever feeling “right” about his leg again, so this is certainly a bummer for both Eaton and the team.  Reported 6-9 month recovery time before he’s back on the field.  But by all accounts it really takes athletes two full years to “trust” the repaired ACL.  We’ll get to what I think this means for our roster longer term below.

Short Term: obviously we’re seeing a like-for-like replacement in CF with Michael Taylor.  We are all well aware of his short comings, and i’m guessing this may be his “last chance” to show that he belongs in a starting role.  Interestingly, the team opted not to call up Brian Goodwin for the backup OF bench role, but untested Rafael Bautista.  Neither are really tearing it up in AAA this year; Bautista’s got a .291 BA but its rather empty, while Goodwin’s OPS is in the .640 range.   Dusty Baker installed Taylor in the 2nd spot in the order inexplicably (lineup construction theory tells us that you want your BEST hitter in the #2 hole, not your worst) and he was rewarded with a 3-5 day from him.  But I’d much, much rather see Rendon or a hot Werth batting 2nd with Taylor buried further down (like, 8th).

If Taylor fails to produce, there’s not a whole lot on the farm to draw from.  Victor Robles isn’t ready (and he’s hurt), nor is Juan Soto.   I’d probably dip to AA and pluck the hitting machine Andrew Stevenson to backfill in center if a need arose.  But that’s a tough jump for Stevenson, who basically has a season and a half of pro ball experience.

Trade market?  its probably too early for most teams to start thinking about a trade.  We’d have to ride out a sub-par Taylor for a couple of months before the trade waters started heating up.  But there’s definitely teams out there who are punting on 2017 who might have CF capable guys to flip; looking at Kansas City (Lorenzo Cain) if they continue to struggle Oakland’s Rajai Davis, Toronto’s Kevin Pillar if Toronto can’t un-bury themselves, or the Angels (Mike Trout) .. ok just kidding there.  I can’t really see any obvious trade candidate from an NL team; all the guys on floundering NL teams seem like prospects that they’d want to keep, not veterans or FAs-to-be worth flipping.  Anyway, we might not want to trade away more depth for a piece though, especially a rental.

Lets hope for a Taylor career resurgence, or perhaps a Stevenson call-up.

Longer Term: I wonder if this injury doesn’t make the Nats re-think their off-season strategy.  Will Eaton be able to play CF next season?  Will he have to move to LF while (as mentioned above) he learns to trust his knee again?  If Eaton has to move to Left, then there’s no possible way that Jayson Werth continues his tenure here.  I realize you guys may not think Werth could re-up on a shorter term deal .. but if he has a nice season and we still have a need in LF, why not?  Anyway; Eaton in LF, Harper in RF (because apparently Baker won’t even think about moving Harper to CF like i’ve advocated in the past), which leaves us short a CF yet again.  It could happen.  Like our rotating door at closer, are we looking at more rotating doors in CF?

Will Stevenson be ready for 2018 to man CF?  Will Taylor own it?  Will Eaton be ready?  Or are we looking at a FA stop-gap to Stevenson/Robles tenure?

Might be way early to worry about this stuff (ok, yes it is way early).  Just idle thoughts while we see if the Nats can salvage a win in this awful series.

 

We miss you: Former Nats from the 2016 team

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Melancon was the highest profile FA from last year's team. Photo via espn.

Melancon was the highest profile FA from last year’s team. Photo via espn.

I was intrigued by ckstevenson’s comment/suggestion to do a piece on Former Nats.  We certainly talk about them a lot, especially the traded pieces.  So I’ll start a new series tracking down significant players who departed ways from the team.  I figure year by year is the way to go, so we’ll look at guys who were with the franchise in 2016 who left either during the 2016 season or who were traded in the off-season prior to the beginning of the 2017 season.

I’ll leverage previously written material from my Nats to Oblivion Posts to start, then fill in the holes.  I’ll focus on players no longer with the organization, not guys like Clint Robinson who got DFA’d off the 40-man but who are still with the org in some capacity.

I’ll organize this by roughly by the level of the player; major league players who left via FA or trade, then DFAd/declined players, then minor leaguers of note.

  • Mark Melancon: signed a 4 years/$62M with the San Francisco Giants, through his age 36 year, which was a record for a relief pitcher that lasted a few more weeks until Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen signed in last off-season’s closer bonanza.  So far in 2017 he’s been solid, as expected.  The Nats were pursuers, but didn’t want to go as high on total value.
  • Wilson Ramos: signed a 2yr/$12.5M deal with Tampa, with incentives to possibly take that to around $18.5M.  A far cry from his value prior to the knee injury.
  • Matt Belisle: signed a 1 year/$2.05M deal with Minnesota.  He only made $1.25M on a minor/major league deal with Washington in 2016, who didn’t want to guarantee him this kind of money for 2017 in his age 38 year season.  So far in 2017 he’s been very solid, picking up where he left off last  year.  We could probably have used him … but that’s “hindsight is 20/20” argument right now; you could also look at his 2016 and say “one-off” season and fully expect him to regress this year.
  • Marc Rzepczynski: signed a 2 years/$11M deal with Seattle, clearly more than the Nats were willing to pay, despite the fact that we traded future hall-of-famer Max Schrock to acquire him.  As of this writing he had yet to give up a run for Seattle’s bullpen in 2017.
  • Danny Espinosa: traded to the Angels for two AAA arms after the team made  him obsolete (and destroyed his trade value) by acquiring Adam Eaton and making it clear that Trea Turner was going to be the 2017 shortstop.  Espinosa returns to his home town and is doing about what we’d expect from him; hitting .186 and leading the league in strikeouts through April 2017.
  • Yusmeiro Petit, who made the 2017 Angels as an NRI and has been very effective thus far in 2017, pitching to a 1.59 ERA through most of April.
  • Ben Revere was non-tendered and signed a 1yr/$4M deal with the Angels (with some incentives).  Revere joins former Nats Petit, Espinosa, Yunel Escobar and Alex Meyer in Los Angeles; that’s 20% of their current active roster with Washington ties.
  • Jonathan Papelbon: Released mid-2016, not only did he not sign on for the rest of the season … he has yet to sign on with anyone for 2017.  He was reportedly “dealing with a family matter” over the off-season that prevented him from signing with a team.  I think that’s code for “I’m no longer good enough to convince a team to deal with my baggage so I’m probably retired.”  Either that or he’s somehow self convinced that his 89mph fastball still plays as a closer in the modern game and refused to consider middle relief options.
  • Derek Norris became the second ex-Washington catcher to join Tampa Bay this off-season, signing a 1yr/$1.2M deal with another $800k in roster bonuses after getting cut loose from his $4.2M arbitration-avoiding contract this spring.  The transaction cost Washington a cool $688k.  Norris has struggled badly at the plate thus far.
  • Sean Burnett: Signed MLFA deal with Philadelphia for 2017, but was cut on 3/26/17.  Not even assigned to AAA.  As of this writing is un-signed.  I’m slightly surprised someone hasn’t taken a flier on him as a AAA loogy, unless the scouting reports from his time last fall indicate that his 2nd elbow isn’t as good as his first.
  • Mat Latos got his rehab assignment paid for by the team last year but couldn’t parlay it into anything but a MLFA deal for 2017 with Toronto.  However, a slate of injuries to Toronto’s rotation resulted in his getting called up in April 2017, shocking me; I figured Latos was done.  His first start wasn’t great: 4 runs in 5 innings; we’ll see how long he lasts in the hitter-friendly Skydome.
  • Matt den Dekker: Signed MLFA/NRI deal with Miami for 2017.  Did not make the 25-man roster and is currently in their AAA affilliate in New Orleans.
  • Paolo Espino, who had a solid year starting in AAA, signed a MLFA deal with Milwaukee for 2017.  Through his first 4 starts for their AAA team in Colorado Springs, he’s posted similar numbers to what he did for us last  year, quite a feat for playing at such altitude).  I thought Espino was a loss for a team that clearly doesn’t rate its remaining AAA starters that much and who had an open tryout for 4-A types like Jeremy Guthrie and Vance Worley all spring.
  • Vance Worley; speaking of Worley, after not beating out Guthrie or anyone else to make our team, he opted out and joined den Dekker (and Tyler Moore, and Destin Hood, and Steve Lombardozzi) in Miami’s AAA team in New Orleans.  That’s 5 players with Nats ties on a 25-man team.  Worley through 4 starts: 1.66 ERA.  Perhaps the Nats picked the wrong veteran hurler.  Worley had solid numbers for Baltimore in 2016; still not sure why he wasn’t looked at more closely.
  • Erik Davis: longtime Nats farmhand Davis took a MLFA deal to leave our system, signed with the AAA affiliate in Reno of Arizona and has been stellar thus far in 2017; zero ER and 12 k’s in 8 innings.  If he turns into a serviceable RH reliever at a time that the Nats need some … i’ll be disappointed.
  • Taylor Jordan: summarily cut after it became clear he would need a second Tommy John surgery.  I thought the timing was a bit cruel and hope that Jordan at least got his medical bills paid for by the team.
  • Abel De los Santos was claimed off waivers off our 40-man roster by Cincinnati, who eventually called him up for a 2-week stint last September.  However, they waived him in October and he got claimed by … guess who … the Los Angeles Angels.  The DFA’d him a month later during the pre-Rule5 period and snuck him off their 40-man roster.  He’s struggling for their AA team in Mobile so far in 2017.
  • Reynaldo Lopez (traded for Eaton): struggling with is control thus far in 4 starts for AAA Charlotte.  1-1 with a 4.87 ERA and a 22/13 K/BB ratio.
  • Lucas Giolito (traded for Eaton): also struggling with his control thus far in 4 starts for Charlotte: he’s 0-2 with a 6.43 ERA and a 16/9 K/BB ratio.
  • Dane Dunning (traded for Eaton): has posted a 0.45 ERA through his first three starts for low-A Kannapolis, with a 26-1 K/BB ratio, though as noted in the comments previously, Dunning is the sole 1st round college draftee from a 4-year school who is NOT already in High-A.  He’s a man among boys in Low-A and needs to be moved up to get any useful reading off his stuff.
  • Mario Sanchez (traded for Cordero): has given up 5 runs in 9 innings thus far for AA Reading in the Philadelphia system.
  • Jeffrey Rosa (traded for Romero): sitting in Tampa’s XST, no 2017 appearances.  He’ll likely repeat the GCL.
  • Pedro Avila (traded for Norris): 3 starts and decent numbers for Lake Elsinore in High-A.  He’ll give up hits in that hitter-friendly league, keep in mind.  At the end of the day, trading Avila so that we’d have the honor of giving Norris a check for $688k and then releasing him was not the best business Mike Rizzo has ever done.
  • Felipe Rivero (traded for Melancon); 0.77 ERA through 12 appearances for the Pirates in 2017.  We’ve litigated this one to death; it was a tough return to give up for Melancon … but what choice did we have at that point last year?
  • Taylor Hearn (traded for Melancon); iffy results through 3 starts for High-A Bradenton in the FSL.  Big arm, lots of Ks, can he stay as a starter.  That’ll be the scouting report on Hearn until he arrives in the majors by hook or by crook.
  • Max Schrock (traded for Rzepczynski): Future hall of famer Schrock is slashing .231/.286/.288 through mid-April for AA Midland in the Oakland system.  For as much as I mock Schrock, I will note that he was paid like a 3rd or 4th rounder out of college irrespective of where he got drafted, so his eventual success really should be measured more in that light than the specific round he was picked (13th).
  • Burke Badenhop MLFA for the 2016 season, didn’t make the team and was released, signed ML deal with Texas but lasted exactly one week before getting released again, and never signed on for the rest of 2016 or since.

That’s a lot of player churn, and a lot of prospects traded.  Did I forget anyone?

 

 

Minor League Full Season Staff Review 2017 – Syracuse

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Will Cole be getting yet another AAA opening day start? Photo AP

Will Cole be getting yet another AAA opening day start? Photo AP

I slacked on minor league pitching analysis this off-season.  But i’m as excited as ever to see the four full-season affiliate rosters announced ahead of the beginning of the minor league season this weekend.  And i’m ready for another season of tracking minor league arms (kind of the bread and butter of this blog).

So lets take a look at the four staffs, guess the roles, and talk about the changes of the staffs from the end of last year til now.  I’ll do these in four posts to break them out and get more content/discussion.  First up: Syracuse.

Quick links for rosters for each full season affiliate:

And don’t forget the invaluable work of SpringfieldFan maintaining the Nats Big Board, now in its 12 season!

Note: in the below list, “missing” means that the player was on a 2016 roster, is still listed as active but is not found anywhere on a 2017 full-season roster as expected.  Most are still sitting in Extended Spring Training (abbreviated XST throughout) with the intent of getting assigned as injuries or releases occur, but some may be release candidates.   Other abbreviations I use often: MLFA == Minor League Free Agent, OOO = Out of the Organization.


AAA/Syracuse 2017:

  • starters: Cole, Voth, THill, Turner, JRoss
  • spot starts/swingman:
  • bullpen: Adams, Gott, Grace*, Martin, Albers, Antolin, Broadway, Cotts,
  • dl/restricted: Swynenberg (still restricted), Barrett, Collins*, Harper*, McGowin
  • cut/released/FAs from 2016: Laffey*, Espino, Giolito (trade), RLopez (trade), EDavis, De Fratus, Arroyo, Harmening
  • missing from 2016: none

Discussion:

As often happens with AAA squads, this group of players is about half home-grown (I count 8 drafted players out of the 17 on the roster) and half MLFA or acquired depth.  And this group is missing more than a few names that we know will eventually be here and play major roles; Jeremy Guthrie probably slides into the rotation spot that Joe Ross is temporarily holding.  But XST also currently holds players like John Lannan and Josh Outman, both of whom were MLFA signings this past off-season with the intent of providing AAA depth.

And as you often see in AAA, there’s huge turnover from last year.  Eight guys on the AAA rosters at the end of last year are out of the organization now, 6 by free agency and two by the much discussed Adam Eaton trade.   I was kind of bummed to see Paolo Espino go in particular, but I like the potential of former major leaguers like Jacob Turner and the aforementioned Guthrie (who looked pretty good in spring training, for what that’s worth).

Rotation guess: not too hard to squint and see this rotation go A.J. Cole, Austin Voth and Taylor Hill at the top.  After that i’m assuming it goes Turner-Guthrie (after Ross gets called back up).  Perhaps we’ll also see 2017 MLFA Kyle McGowin after he returns from whatever ailment has him on the D/L.

Reliever thoughts: I was happy to see the team re-sign Aaron Barrett; he may not ever contribute again but it was a good gesture to bring him back into the fold.  Interested to see what Lannan can provide.  The four relievers on the 40-man roster all seem to be on thin-ice with the org; are we expecting anything of value from any of Adams, Gott, Grace or Martin any more?  I don’t mean to sound like a debbie downer, but at this point those four guys are my first four to get cut if space is needed.  Its kind of amazing to me that this team has so little reliever depth at the upper level of the minors given the ridiculous amount of pitching they’ve drafted in the past few  years.

Interestingly, Matt Swynenberg remains on the AAA restricted list, where he’s been since he retired on 5/1/15.  I’m not sure why at this point the team doesn’t just release him, if only to clean up the official MILB.com roster on the web page.  :-)

Who am I focusing on: Voth, Turner, Adams and Gott to see if they’ve got any future value, Guthrie, Lannan when they get there, McGowin when he gets off of the D/L.

 

Ask Collier Inbox; just ahead of the start of the season

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Glover is on everyone's mind. Photo via mlb.com

Glover is on everyone’s mind. Photo via mlb.com

A last gasp mailbox from MLB.com beat reporter Jamal Collier, starting off with the question on everyone’s mind….

Q: Dusty says the Nats have basically chosen their closer, but they have not told the guy.  Who do you think it is?

A: I still think its the veteran Shawn Kelley to start.  Koda Glover waits in the wings though.  I don’t like Blake Treinen‘s historic splits against lefties (career .834 OPS) enough to trust him as the closer yet.  I say this less thinking about Kelley’s twice-cut elbow, or as any indictment of Glover’s stuff.  I say this primarily because Dusty Baker seems like the kind of manager to stick with the “established veteran” until proven otherwise.

Collier thinks its Glover from day one.  He mentions the organization’s repeated discussion of Kelley’s durability and Treinen’s ground ball rate.  We’ll see!

Q: I know innings totals are big deal for rookie starters. Not an issue for relievers? I believe Koda has never pitched more than 45 innings. Would a 60-inning season (w/ playoffs) be a concern for a reliever?

A: IP workload for relievers?  No way; nearly 100% of these guys were starters in HS and College, only converting to relief in the minors due to lack of a complete repertoire or injury.  The bigger concern for reliever arms in my view is the ability to go multiple days in a row.  Two on, one off, another two to three on, then one to two off.  That’s a different kind of wear and tear on arms … but (not to be cynical) that’s why you ride reliever arms like a work-horse; they’re replaceable.

Collier says not a concern for now .. but perhaps a concern for Glover later this year since he will be throwing a career high as a professional.

Q: Is Trea Turner playing good shortstop this spring? He looks good to me. —

A: Well, based on my extensive time watching Nats spring training games (which’d be practically zero), I’m going to recuse myself like a politician who secretly met with the Russians recently.

Collier says Turner looks inexperienced and needs patience.  Not to call the man out, but that sounds like cliche’d sportswriter BS to me.  Turner’s likely been playing shortstop since he was 6 or 7.  Yeah everything is faster in the majors, blah blah, but the scouting report on him coming out of college hasn’t changed.  He’s got a good but not great arm, good range, good fielding and 70 speed.

Q: What impact if any will Fedde have this year and for years to come?

A: I think Fedde’s presence at MLB camp easily jumped him to the top of “best SP prospects in the system” line (if he wasn’t already there thanks to the Eaton trade).  But it also may have jumped him to the top of the “who do we call up to cover for 6-weeks of injury” list.  In reality: I think he gets a couple months in AA, and then either goes to AAA or gets called-up if there’s a rotation spot opening.  If someone goes down with injury early then its probably still A.J. Cole, but at this point, I think we may know what we know about Cole.  Where this leaves Austin Voth i’m not sure; perhaps Voth is the guy who will cover a spot start in May.  Either way, Fedde gets called up at some point in 2017.

Collier says he was impressed by Fedde this spring … and that he may have trade value this summer?!?  If the Nats trade Fedde, their last remaining “anywhere close to the majors halfway decent” starting pitching prospect, after shedding their other three best starting pitching prospects, I’ll be rather irritated.

Collier’s Inbox 1/4/17

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Is this the best we can do for backup infielders? photo via offtherecordsports.com

Is this the best we can do for backup infielders? photo via offtherecordsports.com

Happy New Year!

Nats Beat reporter Jamal Collier posted another inbox; here’s how I would have answered the questions he took.


 

Q: The Nationals and A’s have proven to be strong trade partners over the years, and I believe the A’s have a few players to fit the Nats’ needs. Do you think Washington could trade for Sean Doolittle and Stephen Vogt?

A: We mentioned this in passing in the comments discussion recently; it does make sense to try to acquire Oakland’s closer Sean Doolittle.  Acquiring Stephen Vogt makes less sense right now, given that the Nats have guaranteed Jose Lobaton money for 2017 and have signed Derek Norris to be the starter.  For similar reasons as to why the “Nats are still interested in Matt Weiters” arguments make no sense, acquiring Vogt wouldn’t make much sense either.  If you acquire Vogt, you tell the league that you need to trade either Lobaton (no options/5-year veteran who cannot be sent down and who has a guaranteed 2017 contract) or Norris, and it isn’t exactly the best way to go about maintaining a player’s value when the whole league knows you need to make a deal.  That’s why we got very little in return for Danny Espinosa, and that’s why signing a third catcher to a guaranteed deal wouldn’t make any sense.

The one issue that may be blocking a Doolittle deal is the farm system; as in, we’ve gutted it this off-season already.   Billy Beane knows how valuable closers are; he just watched Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen cash in and he has seen what the likes of Andrew Miller and Wade Davis fetch in trade.  I’m not saying Doolittle is in that class of pitcher … but he’s not chopped liver.  The price tag just may be too high for Mike Rizzo to consider.

Collier says Doolittle would be a good fit, but that Oakland isn’t shopping its players right now.


 

Q: Wilmer Difo is the only middle infielder on the 40-man roster, other than the starters. It seems to me the Nats need another infielder on the bench. Emmanuel Burriss seems to be the only other option. What do you think?

A: Yes, the Nats definitely need another MLB quality backup infielder.  Emmanuel Burriss is not that; he’s a 4-A guy who only played last year because Philadelphia isn’t really trying right now.  Wilmer Difo is not the guy you want to be injury option #1 either.  This is why I want Stephen Drew back, as discussed ad naseum in the comments recently.  But I also admit Drew may have priced himself out by virtue of his 2016 performance, and it may be an outlier season.  Who else is out there?  Not much at this point.  I think the Nats are kind of thin right now all the way around; if we lose any of these key players for any length of time, the alternatives are pretty poor.  Imagine giving 400 ABs right now to Difo or to Michael Taylor?   I mean, what does this team do if Anthony Rendon, not exactly known for being a rock heathwise, misses 2 months?  Who plays 3B for that time?  Matt Skole?

I think the team needs a bit more depth both in INF and OF right now, honestly.

Collier says the Nats are comfortable with Difo as a bench option, as evidenced by his presence on the NLDS roster.  But I don’t buy that; i think he was on that roster as basically a 25th man/pinch runner guy, not because he had earned it.


 

Q: The offseason trades seem to point to the Nats believing Stras is going to be healthy, why would they think that?

A: Because he’s not the first player to suffer a Strained Flexor Mass, because its not nearly as severe an injury as other arm injuries, and because the team is probably hyper-monitoring Stephen Strasburg‘s recovery.  Its basically a 1 month injury, 2 if you’re being really cautious.  Had the Nats made the World Series i bet he woudl have pitched.  I can’t imagine any reason he won’t be ready to go by 4-1.

Collier notes that both he and his agent have said multiple times there’s no issues, plus Strasburg was throwing bullpen sessions in the post-season…. he’ll be fine.


 

Q: With the trade to the White Sox, I’m concerned that the Nats have denuded their farm system of Major League-ready top prospect pitchers. In case of injury to any of the top six Major Leaguers, it seems that there will be no “next man up” to fill in.

A: Me too!  The Nats gave no less than 20 starts to pitchers outside the opening day rotation in 2016.  That same number was 28 in 2015, 13 in 2014, 25 in 2013 and just 12 in 2012.  So that’s an average of 19.6 “extra” starts per year thanks to injuries and unplanned absences.  You’re absolutely right; the first two likely candidates to take those starts in 2017 (Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez) were both flipped for Adam Eaton.  Now we’re looking at those starts going to A.J. Cole and to Austin Voth initially, and the pickings get slimmer from there.  “Slim” as in, there’s only really 7 starters on the 40-man at all, so if you really get stuck you’re looking at Oliver Perez getting stretched out, or putting someone like Blake Treinen back on a starter routine.  And past that?  We’re talking a MLFA type like Jacob Turner or our own already-outrighted-once Taylor Hill.  In reality we’d never get that far; we’d promote Erick Fedde or maybe hope that reformed knuckeballer J.D. Martin has something in the tank.   But those are not really confidence-inspiring options.  Here’s hoping for a healthy 2017 from the rotation!

Collier acknowledges the same and thinks the team may sign some starter depth before spring training starts.


Q: Perhaps the Nats could bring in some veteran starters to Spring Training, like they did last year with Bronson Arroyo, to compete for rotation spots and as insurance in case of an injury. What will it take to get Trout? Sure he would like to play for a winnèr.

A: See above, yes.  2016 Syracuse had some decent alternatives: Paolo Espino and Aaron Laffey both seemed to be good alternatives.  Espino signed with Colorado, Laffey is still a FA.  But there’s a slew of veteran FA starters out there who would probably take a non-guaranteed deal.  I could see Mat Latos coming back b/c of his Dusty Baker connection.  I could see an injury-case like Kris Medlen or Matt Harrison look at the SP depth and say to himself, “gee, I can probably beat out Cole and Voth for the 6th starter job!”  So yeah you never know.

Trout trade; that’s just internet click bait.  He’s not going anywhere.  Owner won’t trade him, and putting together a package of prospects to acquire him could never work out; it’d either be not enough for the Angels, or too much for the acquiring team.

Collier tries to speculate on a package for Trout, coming up with Turner, Robles, Ross and perhaps Fedde.  Think about that trade, what it would do to the current team, and what it does for the future of the team versus what you acquire, and ask yourself if its worth it.  

 

 

The 12 Posts of 2016; Happy New Year!

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Happy New Year!  Here’s a quick list of posts recapping the most “significant’ events month over month.

  • January: Drew Storen for Ben Revere; a trade that seems to work on both sides: In the end, not so much.  Revere lost his job and was non-tendered, Storen had a 6.21 ERA for Toronto before getting flipped to Seattle.
  • February: Spring Training 2016 NRI discussion: a review of all the Non Roster Invitees to 2016’s spring training; one eventually made the team (Chris Heisey).
  • March: Local HS draft-prospects to keep an eye in for the 2016 draft: 2016 was a banner year for local prep players, with two high-end picks from the Northern Virginia Area (Joe Rizzo and Khalil Lee), a 4th rounder out of the Richmond area (Brenan Hanifee), a 12th rounder from West Potomac who I had never heard of prior to his drafting (Jamie Sara), a 17th rounder from Maryland who I’m surprised wasn’t drafted earlier (Tyler Blohm), plus the expected slew of 30th+ round picks.  2017 isn’t looking nearly as promising.
  • April: Nats Prospects: Where to see them in 2016: I’ll do this again in 2017 … but its going to be a significantly different list of prospects after all the trades we’ve done.
  • May: Strasburg Extension Shocker! Pretty much the highest-risk thing that this management team has done.  Bigger than the Werth signing, more risky than the Scherzer signing.
  • June: “Those guys can kiss my *ss!”  Still makes me laugh.  Too bad we didn’t get to meet the Cubs in the NLCS.
  • July: Thou shalt not overreact to a blown save... .  And of course they did, flipping two lefty arms for a couple  months of Mark Melancon.
  • August: Do the Nats have a LOOGY problem?  Mike Rizzo certainly thought so, trading future Hall of Famer Max Schrock for Marc Rzepczynski for the stretch run.
  • September: Strasburg Flexor Mass; what’s plan B for the playoffs?  Plan Be turned out to be a shaky Joe Ross, but that wasn’t the reason we lost the NLDS.  At least Strasburg wasn’t badly hurt.
  • October: NLDS Game 5 via my “live texting” Made possibly by virtue of my texting back and forth late into the night with a buddy; it was a telling revisiting of the Game 5 meltdown.
  • November: Rule 5 protection analysis for 2016: the team ends up protecting 5 players, including future Hall of Famer and NAR lightening rod Matt Skole.
  • December: Huge Over-Pay for Eaton : the biggest trade of the Rizzo era goes down and its a large price to pay, but it also illustrates the modern economics of the game, where a cost controlled player is expensive to acquire.

Happy New Year!   January will have a couple of “clear the draft posts” articles about awards season, some HoF stuff probably since I just can’t resist, then I hope to get into the pitching staff reviews so that I can make 2017 staff predictions.  That’s the near-term plan!

Todd

Ladson’s, er I mean Collier’s Inbox 12/22/16

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Kelley may be first in line for in-house closer options. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Kelley may be first in line for in-house closer options. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

I was excited to see an “Inbox” in my MLB.com RSS feed for the Nats today, and assumed it was venerable long time Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson poking his head up post winter-meetings to do some work.

But no!  Its a new guy: Jamal Collier, listed as “Nationals Beat Reporter.”  I don’t think Ladson has been replaced; maybe the Nats are big time now and need more beat reporters!

Nonetheless, Collier did an inbox.  Here’s how I would have answered his questions.  I love these inboxes because they’re great debate points for the comments, with people asking questions (some good, some dumb) that we all ask ourselves from time to time.  Here we go.  As always, I write my answer to the question before reading his and edit questions for clarity if needed.


Q: Last year, general manager Mike Rizzo had a Plan A and Plan B, but he seemingly settled for Plan C more than once. What are Plans B and C this year?

A: If Mike Rizzo had to fall back to plan “C” last year (presumably Daniel Murphy in lieu of the litany of bats that he missed on), then that’s a heck of a plan C.  This year he didn’t miss on a big acquisition; the Adam Eaton trade is by far the “biggest” he’s ever made in his Nats career, eclipsing the big Gio Gonzalez trade in terms of significant prospects dealt and impact players brought back.  Yeah he missed on Sale .. but he didn’t *need* Sale, and he made it clear he was only shooting for him because of the rarity of a true Ace getting dealt.

Rizzo really had a short “to-do” list this off-season: resolve CF or SS one way or another, get a Catcher, and get some bullpen help, up-to and including a closer.  He’s done two out of three, “missing” out on vastly overpaying for a 50-IP “proven closer” to the big-spending clubs.  Is that the worst thing in the world?  I don’t think so.  I’m guessing his “plan B and C” for closer now is to buy a couple of former closers off the FA market and see how they look side by side with in-house options like Koda Glover and Shawn Kelley.  I’m ok with that; as I’ve mentioned time and again, the Nats organizational chasing of over priced closers has cost us more than a few good prospects in the last few  years, and yet we’re still sitting here thinking we have a closer problem.  I also wouldn’t be shocked if Rizzo calls up one of his favorite trading partners and moves another prospect or two for a mid-range closer.

We havn’t traded with Billy Beane in a few weeks; maybe we make a move for his closer.  Does Oakland even have one?

Collier basically says what I said, then throws out the names we keep hearing about in terms of closer trades (David Robertson, Alex Colome) and FA options (Greg Holland).


 

Q: With Jayson Werth‘s contract ending soon, who do you see as emerging leaders in the clubhouse? Max Scherzer? Anthony Rendon? Bryce Harper? Others?

A: To be a leader you kind of have to be guaranteed to be around for a while.  Certainly that’s not Harper, who (lets be honest) is likely gone in 2 years.  Rendon isn’t far behind.  The three guys on the longest deals are Ryan ZimmermanMax Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg.  Zimmerman is the guy who would make the most sense but he seems like a background guy.  Its hard for a starting pitcher to be a “leader” since he’s only doing it every 5 days, but Scherzer is the best possible candidate based on his gregariousness.  Strasburg has always been reserved; he’s not a good candidate.

Truth be told … this clubhouse is going to do a serious turnover in the 2018-2019 time-frame, and a whole new slew of guys will be defining the makeup; only the two SPs are really going to be there for it.  I’d say Scherzer is going to define the soul of this team for the next generation.

Collier makes a great point; new acquisition Adam Eaton is a big presence in the clubhouse, will be around longer than practically any other bat in the clubhouse, and is in a position to take the reigns.


 

Q: Will the Nats get free-agent catcher Matt Wieters and then use their extra catchers to get Robertson from the White Sox as closer?

A: This theory doesn’t make a ton of sense to me; if the Nats buy Wieters, aren’t they killing Derek Norris‘ trade value?  They not only tendered but signed a deal with Jose Lobaton for 2017 … he’s now got 5 years (and was out of options), so he can’t get sent down … so do they plan on just lighting that money on fire?

Plus, the assumption that they can just flip their spare parts for a quality reliever is foolish.  What did we trade to acquire Norris?   Pedro Avila, a guy who pitched in low-A last year.  Now, I know the White Sox don’t exactly have awesome options at catcher, but in today’s reliever market why would anyone think we could get a bonafide closer for a couple of backup catchers?

Collier expresses the same doubts I do about the acquisition and the trade.

 


Good thoughtful answers from Collier.  I say this of course because he agreed with me :-)

By the way, this is probably the last post before Xmas, so If I don’t see you Happy Holidays.

2016 Season Statistical review of the 2012 Draft Class

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Its Giolito and ... well that's about it. (Photo by John McDonnell / The Washington Post)

It (was) Giolito and … well that’s about it. (Photo by John McDonnell / The Washington Post)

Fifth in our set of Draft class Reviews for the 2016 season.  First was the 2016 class, then the 2015 class then the 2014 class, then the 2013 class.

Web links to use while reading:

This review is especially important to follow because the high-school age draftees in this 2012 class are Rule-5 eligible this coming off-season.  Not that there’s that many of them, but we’ll put a pin in this post when we eventually do Rule-5 Analysis later this month.

With out further ado…


Round 1: (#16 overall) Lucas Giolito HS RH Starting pitcher: 6.75 ERA in 21 1/3 MLB innings, 6-5 with a 2.97 ERA mostly in AA but with 7 starts in AAA.  116/44 K/BB in 115 1/3 minor league innings.  I feel, much like the 2016 presidential election, that most of us are girded in our opinions on Giolito at this point.  I think Giolito’s entire season was tainted by the stories of mechanical tweaks done by some ne’er-do-weller in Viera, and his results on the field showed.  He struggled with command and hit-ability during his brief time with the MLB team, and his velocity was down from where we were “expecting” it to be.  Its important to remember that he just turned 22, that he lost a significant amount of development time because of his TJ surgery, and that we should be patient.  But he definitely has a “todo list” for 2017.  I’m projecting that he starts in AAA until he proves that he can command his fastball.   Matriculated to Majors.  Post-writing update: Giolito headlined a trade for Adam Eaton, heading to the White Sox.  On his way out the door, word was leaked to multiple reporters that the Nats had “soured” on Giolito, questioning his toughness and his ceiling.  Luckily for Giolito, the White Sox pitching coach (Don Cooper) is quite well regarded, so if there’s someone out there that can “fix” whatever’s wrong with him, its Cooper.  I’ve updated the summary for his departure, which significantly thins this draft class.

Round 2(80) Tony Renda, Coll Jr 2B: Traded to the Yankees on 6/11/15 for David Carpenter.  Renda then was included in the package that the Yankees sent to Cincinnati for Aroldis Chapman.  For Cincinnati, Renda got 67 ABs this year and hit .183.  Post-writing updatehat tip to commenter KW, Renda was outrighted to AAA earlier this month.   He may have matriculated to the majors, but its safe to classify him as a AAA-ceiling player now.

Round 3(111) Brett Mooneyham, Coll Jr LH starting pitcher: Released him on 6/3/15.

Round 4: (144) Brandon Miller Coll Sr Corner OF: Voluntarily retired on 7/10/15.

Round 5: (174) Spencer Kieboom, Coll Jr C: Slashed .230/.324/.314 in 309 ABs for AA Harrisburg.  61/43 K/BB in 94 games splitting time behind the dish, 5 homers, 0 SB.   Kieboom didn’t have the best numbers hitting in AA; he’s known for his defense.  He became the final nats 40-man call-up when Wilson Ramos tore his ACL and got exactly one MLB at-bat (and thus permanently qualifying him for the MLB health plan for the rest of his days).  He’s a catcher on the 40-man roster; he’s going to play in 2017.  The question is where; right now depending on whether the team acquires another catcher, Pedro Severino may get pushed back to AAA, which may very well keep Kieboom in AA starting.  Only makes sense.  But if the team decides to keep Severino up, then Kieboom moves up too.  Trending steady.  Post-writing updatethe team went and acquired Derek Norris, which now pushes Kieboom to 4th out of 4 on the depth chart, almost guaranteeing that he’ll be in AA again (you can’t have both Severino and Kieboom splitting time in AAA; that makes no sense).   I don’t think this necessarily changes his projection, since Jose Lobaton hits so poorly, but he does have to climb over Severino if he wants to matriculate permanently.

Round 6: (204) Hayden Jennings, HS OF/CF: Released in May 2014.

Round 7(234) Robert Benincasa, Coll Jr. RH relief pitcher:  1-1 with a 4.50 ERA in 21 appearances and 30 relief innings for AA.  35/14 K/BB in 30 IP, 1.50 whip, 4.69 fip, .329 babip for AA.  Benincasa threw a few outings in Potomac but we’re just focusing on AA numbers here.  He repeated AA for the third successive season and had good K/9 numbers but not much else in support.  I’m guessing he sticks around for one more season, likely in the AAA bullpen, and plays out the 6-year string before hitting MLFA after next season.  Unless he runs into a numbers game; there’s likely at least three 40-man roster guys that will get pushed to the AAA bullpen, limiting jobs for org-arms like Benincasa.  He could be a release candidate before the full season squads break next spring.  Trending down.

Round 8: (264) Stephen Perez, Coll Jr. SS: Slashed .249/.351/.342 playing middle infield for  Harrisburg.  59/47 K/BB in 301 ABs, 5 homers, 12SB.  Perez was a Ben Zobrist-like player for AA, getting PT at all four infield positions plus left field.  His slash figures were definitely an improvement over prior seasons, and may have stabilized his chances of moving up.  All of the middle infielders for AAA this year are FAs (I believe) so there’s room for him to move up.  I don’t view him as anything other than an org-guy though, and (like Benincasa above) seems likely to play out his contract and hit MLFA next season.  Trending Steady.

Round 9: (294) Derek Self, Coll Sr. RH relief pitcher: 4-2 with a 4.10 ERA mostly with AA Harrisburg.  43/18 K/BB in 52 2/3 innings, 1.48 whip, 3.98 whip, .333 babip.  Self started the year briefly in Potomac’s bullpen but quickly returned to AA, where he spent most of the year.  He got a 9/1 call-up to fill a bullpen spot in AAA.  He improved his ERA over last year’s AA session and continues to hang on despite his lack of draft pedigree.   I don’t see that he’s earned a promotion to AAA, and with a potentially packed AAA bullpen he may be back in AA again or to be a release candidate at this point.  He turns 27 in January; I think the team knows what they have with him by this point.  Trending down.

Round 10(324) Craig Manuel, Coll Sr C:  Released 4/2/16 after (presumably) failing to win the backup catcher job at either Potomac or Harrisburg.  Time ran out for the locak product (born in Rockville, MD).

Round 11(354) Brian Rauh, Coll Jr RH starter/reliever:  Missed the entire 2016 season due to injury.   Borrowing from last year’s analysis, if he’s healthy expect him to contend for the AA rotation in 2017.  If he’s not healthy, he’s a release candidate at this point.   Trending down.

Round 12(384) Carlos Lopez, Coll Sr 1B: Released on 6/30/15.

Round 13: (414) Elliott Waterman, Coll Jr LH reliever: Released on 3/15/14

Round 14: (444) Jordan Poole, Juco-2 corner OF: Released him on 3/14/14 

Round 15: (474) Brandon Smith, OF: Didn’t sign.  Attended Division II Grand Canyon University, where he played four years.  He hit a robust .348/.402/.478 as a junior but wasn’t drafted, then slumped to hit just .233 his senior year.  Again not drafted, might be done with baseball.

Round 16: (504) Ronald Pena, Juco-2 RH starter/reliever: threw just 8 innings for Low-A Hagerstown before hitting the D/L in late April; he got another few innings in GCL rehab sessions but it was a lost season for Pena.  I’d say he’s a release candidate unless the team likes something they see, but he’s now thrown just 18 innings in two seasons and the two A-ball full season squads seem pretty full.   Trending Down.

Round 17: (534) Blake Schwartz, Coll Sr RH Starting pitcher: Retired on 4/24/15.

Round 18: (564) David Fischer, Coll Sr RH reliever: Released on 7/3/14 

Round 19: (594) Bryan Lippincott, Coll Sr 1B: Retired ahead of the 2014 season

Round 20: (624) James Brooks, Coll SR SS/3B: Released May 2013.

Round 21: (654) Austin Chubb, Coll Sr C: Released ahead of the 2015 season.

Round 22: (684) Will Hudgins, Coll Sr RH reliever: Suddenly retired 7/12/13 per his Twitter account.

Round 23: (714) Casey Selsor, Coll Sr LH Starter/Reliever: Released on 3/20/14.

Round 24: (744) Kevin Dicharry, Coll SR RH pitcher: released 7/1/13

Round 25: (774) Freddy Avis, RHP: didn’t sign.  Attending Stanford, where in 2013 he appeared in exactly one game and pitched 2 innings before suffering a season-ending injury.  That injury never got better and he retired from baseball altogether in March of 2015.

Round 26: (804) Skye Bolt, RHP: didn’t sign.  Attended UNC, had an excellent college career and was a 4th round pick in 2015 by the Oakland A’s.   Hit .231 for Oakland’s low-A team this year.

Round 27: (834) Cody Poteet, RHP: didn’t sign.  Attended UCLA and got drafted (like Bolt) in the 4th round of the 2015 draft by the Marlins.   Was 4-9 with a 2.91 ERA starting in the Sally league this year.

Round 28: (864) Hunter Bailey, Coll Sr SS/2B:  Released May 2013.

Round 29: (894) Leonard “LJ” Hollins, Juco RH reliever: Released 7/2/14.

Round 30: (924) Robert “R.C.” Orlan Coll Jr LH Starter: 5-6 with a 3.93 ERA relieving and sometimes closing for High-A Potomac.   46/46 K/BB ratio in 52 2/3 innings (no, that wasn’t a typo).  1.61 whip, 5.16 fip, .250 babip.   I’m not quite sure what happened to Orlan’s control, since it looked just fine in 2015 (85/28 K/BB ratio in 72 relief IP).   The Virginia product (UNC by way of Deep Run HS in Glen Allen, VA) definitely needs to get his walks under control to keep moving up, but is a potential lefty reliever in a system that could use one.  I’ll say Trending Steady and project him for the AA bullpen.

Round 31: (954) Michael Boyden Coll Sr RH reliever: Released Jan 2014.

Round 32: (984) Michael Mudron, Coll Sr LH reliever: Released Jan 2014.

Round 33: (1014) Mike McQuillan, Coll Sr 2B/3B: Released 3/26/15.

Round 34: Jake Jefferies, 2B: didn’t sign.  Attended Cal State Fullerton and subsequently drafted again by the Nats in the 39th round in 2015.  As we found out in our 2015 post, he was released in July 2016.

Round 35: Corey Bafidis, LHP: didn’t sign but Washington picked him in 2013.  As we learned in the 2013 post, he got released in July 2014.

Round 36: Max Ungar, Cdidn’t sign.  Went to the Charles E Smith Jewish Day school in Bethesda and attended Division III Denison, where he did seem to ever play.  A quick google search found him on linkedin; he graduated in 2016 and now works in the DC area.  I’ll venture a guess that this was a “favor pick” to someone with ties to the organization.

Round 37: Tyler Watson, LHPdidn’t sign.  Attended Kansas U for a year, then bounced to McLennan Community College in Waco, TX and and got drafted by the Angels in the 38th round of the 2014 draft.  He had a 3.42 ERA for the Angels’ low-A squad in 2016.  This is *not* the same Tyler Watson, by the way, that the Nats drafted in the 2015 draft.

Round 38: Jarred Messer, RHPdidn’t sign.  Graduate from Malone college and has pitched the last three years with the Kansas City T-Bones in the independent American Association, going 4-5 in 2016.

Round 39: Mitchell Williams, Cdidn’t sign.  Attended the Marion Military Institute in Alabama, for which I cannot find any stats.

Round 40: Ricky Gutierrez, CFdidn’t sign.  Presumably playing football for U-Conn, as per the Draft Tracker.


Trending Summary:

  • Matriculated to Majors: (2); Giolito, Renda
  • Trending Up (0):
  • Trending Steady (3): Kieboom, Perez, Orlan
  • Trending Down (4): Benincasa, Self, Rauh, Pena
  • Did Not Sign in 2012 (11): Smith, Avis, Bolt, Poteet, Jefferies, Bafidis, Ungar, Watson, Messer, Williams, Gutierrez
  • Released/Retired (20): Mooneyham, Miller, Jennings, Manuel, Lopez, Waterman, Poole, Schwartz, Fischer, Lippincott, Brooks, Chubb, Hudgins, Selsor, Dicharry, Bailey, Hollins, Boyden, Mudron, McQuillan
  • Traded (2): Renda, Giolito

Executive Summary

We have speculated that this would be a one-player draft, and we’re getting closer to that reality.  Only Giolito is “succeeding” right now, and there’s rather fierce debate about his “ceiling.”   Renda technically has matriculated to the majors as well, but his .183 BA there isn’t exactly all-star calibre (and he was just outrighted, meaning he may be downgraded to “peak before majors” in future versions of this post).  Kieboom is on the 40-man roster but is 3rd out of 3 4th out of 4 on the Nats Catcher depth chart and may not even play in AAA next  year.   The only other two guys remaining from this draft class even projected to be trending steady are both clearly org-guys who are playing out the string (Perez, Orlan).  Of the 8 remaining players from this draft, Giolito is on the 40-man and no one else merited any discussion for Rule 5 protection this coming December.

If there was some complaint about the 2013 draft class … then how do you feel about this one?   I remember arguing in this space about whether a one-man draft could be a success if that one player was a perennial all-star (as Giolito projected to be for a while) and there was differing opinions on the subject.  Well, now that there’s questions about what Giolito will eventually be, now how do you feel about this draft class?

Huge Over-Pay for Eaton

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Eaton should be this excited moving to a playoff contender. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Eaton should be this excited moving to a playoff contender. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

There is no such thing as a pitching prospect.”

So said Joe Sheehan, more than 13  years ago on Baseball Prospectus.

Well, the Nationals just traded three very, very good pitching prospects for one very good outfielder in a move that was shocking to baseball insiders, let alone Nats fans.

In case you’re not sure what we’re talking about: Nats acquired Adam Eatonhe of the 6-win 2016 season and his ridiculously team-friendly contract (he’s signed with options through 2021 for just a measly $38.4M).  In return we gave up three of our four best starting pitching prospects in the form of Lucas GiolitoReynaldo Lopez and 2016 1st rounder Dane Dunning.

To put things in a different way: we just acquired 5 years of Eaton for a combined potential of nearly *twenty* years of  rotation pieces for the south siders.  We likely made their rotation for the next decade with this move, even if you take an entirely pessimistic viewpoint of the ceilings of all three of these players.

For me; it was too much to pay (in case you couldn’t tell how I felt from the title of the post).  The Nats just traded away literally all their near-to-the-majors starter depth in a complete win-now move that, while I’ve been advocating for it, seemed like an overpay.  I could see/make the argument for Giolito and Dunning, or Lopez+Dunning, but all three seems gratuitous.  Ironic because i’ve just beek talking about not over-valuing your prospects.

The best case scenario for these three arms is a #1, #2 and #5 starter for years to come.  But since best case is never going to happen, lets take some worst-case scenarios for these three guys we just traded.  I know Giolito’s critics are large here, but bear with me:

  • Giolito never harnesses his control and turns into essentially Alex Meyers.
  • Lopez never develops a secondary pitch and is turned into a late-inning 100-mph reliever
  • Dunning’s craftiness only takes him as far as a 5th starter or middle-relief guy for a middling team.

Still, that’s three major league arms, cost controlled first round talents with their bonus money already paid for.  The reality will be somewhere in the middle.

What this deal says is the high price of a good contract.  Eaton is getting paid absolute peanuts compared to the value he’s producing, he plays (or can play) a valuable position, and that’s really what the cost was all about.  If Eaton was on a $18M/year contract he’s only costing one of those three arms in return.

The last time the Nats did this big of a prospects-for-players deal it was the Gio Gonzalez move.  And at the time I wasn’t nearly as negative towards the price as I am for this one.

Fallout/other observations from this deal:

  • The White Sox have now gone from having a farm system ranked in the 22-23 range to inarguably the #1 farm system in the game.  In like two days.
  • Lots of head scratching amongst baseball insiders, MLB.tv announcers, prospect guys.
  • Interesting that literally as soon as this trade occurred, you started seeing people “in the know” talking about how the Nationals had “soured” on Giolito.  I’m sure we’ll hear more about it soon; whispers about work ethic and approach.  Where were these comments yesterday?
  • Get ready for spot-starts from A.J. Cole and Austin Voth; you don’t get through modern baseball seasons on 5 starters anymore, and we don’t exactly have the most reliable rotation.
  • I suspect Danny Espinosa (who is now patently surplus to requirements) gets flipped for hopefully an optionable starter to give us some more depth.  I like Voth and am excited to see what he can do … but i’m not trusting him to give this team 4-5 starts and compete.
  • Our respectable farm system is now gutted: no matter what you think of these three arms heading the other way, they were #1, #3 and #6 prospects in our system.  We have mortgaged the future for the present in a large way.

Nats new Lineup:  Eaton (CF), Turner (SS), Harper (RF), Murphy (2B), Rendon (3B), Werth (LF), Zimmerman (1B),  Norris (C).  Decent lefty-righty balance which could be stretched a bit if you broke up Harper & Murphy.  Eaton makes a bit more sense at leadoff since Turner has proven to have a bit more power than we thought, and Eaton is a lefty, but I could see them switched and then going Harper-Rendon-Murphy or something like that so you don’t have 3 lefties in a row.  But this is now a pretty fast lineup at the top.

So, what say you?