Nationals Arm Race

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

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Ask Collier & Happy Thanksgiving

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Why do so many people think TRADING Harper is the way to win the 2018 World Series? Photo via fanragsports.com

Why do so many people think TRADING Harper is the way to win the 2018 World Series? Photo via fanragsports.com

A nice little surprise just before the Turkey day weekend: an ask Jamal Collier post on mlb.com.


Q: Would you consider trading Harper? I am one of his biggest fans, and I know the desire to win next year, but would the return be worth it in the long run?

A: Forensicane; don’t bother reading this next answer, because you’re not going to like it.

Teams attempting to WIN THE WORLD SERIES in the coming year do not trade their marquee players.  Not only that, but teams attempting to win don’t trade one of the best players in the league.  \

Not only that, but lets say for the sake of argument that the Nats WERE willing to trade Harper.  He’s got one  year of control left.  He’s set to make north of $20M in 2018.  He’s an injury risk.  And he’s absolutely going to Free Agency.  How much does anyone really think he’ll realistically fetch in trade right now?  If he were cost controlled or had multiple years of control left (like an Adam Eaton or a Jonathan Lucroy when he fetched a lot a couple years back) he’d get a kings ransom.  But he’s not; he’ll cost a significant portion of a team’s payroll in 2018 and gets just one year of service.

And then there’s this: why does anyone think this ownership group will trade him??  For many years, we’ve asked why the Angels hold on to Mike Trout and “waste” his talents on a sub-.500 team.  The answer is always the same: the owner in Los Angeles doesn’t want to move his marquee asset.  Why does anyone think that the Lerner group isn’t thinking the same thing?  Baseball is still relatively “new” in this town, still fighting it out for the casual sports fan.  What kind of message does it send to the casual fan base if you move your most marketable asset?  Who else on the Nats is getting goofy TV spots with national telecom companies?

So, no, the team isn’t trading Harper, nor should they.  Instead they should be doing *everything* they can to win in 2018 before he (and many others) walk out the door.  And (lets not forget), while I think its a certainty that Harper is in NY or LA in 2019 … we also were pretty sure Stephen Strasburg was heading out the door too, so you just never know.

Collier also expresses similar exasperation at the number of these questions he’s getting, then re-iterates many of the arguments above.


Q: You don’t list Adam Lind as a possible signee. Why not? Is it that Brian Goodwin can fill that role … but who is the backup first baseman?

A: I think Lind could resign … similarly to the way that Stephen Drew thought he could parlay his successful 2016 into a starting gig for 2017, Lind probably thinks the same.  Finding veteran bat-only beefy 1B/PH types on the open market is not tough; the Nats have specialized in this for years.  So they’ll do what they always have done; wait out the market, sign someone on the cheap later in the off-season if they get desperate, or otherwise have a cattle call in spring training for the backup bench bat.

Its worth noting that, much like one-year relievers, sometimes you catch lightning in a bottle with your pinch hitters and its worth cutting bat early, not later.  Consider some of the year over  year stat lines for our primary bench bats recently:

  • Adam Lind: great in 2017 (.303/.362/.513): can he repeat that in 2018?
  • Clint Robinson: awesome in 2015 (.272/.358/.424), then awful in 2016 (.235/.305/.332)
  • Chris Heisey: adequate in 2016 (.216/.290/.446), then fell off a cliff in 2017 (.162/.215/.270)
  • Tyler Moore: fantastic in 2012 (.263/.327/.513), then a combined .216/.264/.362 over PT roles the next three seasons before finally getting cut loose.
  • Chad Tracy: good in 2012 (.269/.343/.441), then not so good in 2013 (.202/.243/.326)

And some of these guys never even had a “good” season (ahem, Matt Stairs).

So, perhaps the smart thing to do is to let Lind go (as well as Albers for similar reasons) and try some one new.

Goodwin as a backup 1B??   No, that doesn’t make a ton of sense (he’s only 6’0″ and is an outfielder by trade), but he could feature as a backup outfielder easily enough.  Honestly, the “backup 1B” if Ryan Zimmerman goes down for any length of time probably is Daniel Murphy, with his position getting covered by Wilmer Difo.

Collier notes that it was the Nats who declined their part of the $5M mutual option, which somewhat surprised me honestly.  I would have thought it would have been the player to decline that and shoot for something more.  Nonetheless, it makes the odds of a reunion a bit lower. 


Q: Can you do a bit of an explainer about the new luxury tax rules, where Nats are with respect to threshold right now, and how that’ll inform Rizzo’s offseason (speculating anyway)?

A: Without going into it in great detail (I have a post about Nats payroll coming soon), right now as we stand I have the Nats 2018 payroll at about $170M in “real dollars” (counting arb estimates and deferred payments), but about $10M  higher in the eyes of MLB’s luxury tax calculators thanks to the Strasburg and Scherzer deals.  The team broached $190m with last season’s mid-season transactions and thus became a luxury tax spender for the first time (which will cost them significantly if they were to go after a QO-attached free agent, not that I think they will).

The luxury tax threshold for 2018 is $197M (see this wikipedia page for the link and figures).  So, I suppose the team has about $17M or so of “wiggle room” for transactions this off-season plus next mid-season.  That isn’t a lot, and all the high-priced players on our payroll are either key pieces or immovable (thanks Matt Wieters).   So unless they swing a huge salary, or trade some young assets in payroll-offsetting moves, I think the team will do very little this off-season.

Collier notes similar sentiments.


 

Q: Last year, the four top outfielders were out due to injuries for extensive periods of time. Shouldn’t they have six top-notch outfielders to draw from next year?

A: Easy to say in theory, harder in practice.   You generally only care 4 or perhaps 5 outfielders on a 25-man roster … so how do you make an argument to your 5th and 6th “top-notch” outfielders that they have to hang out in Syracuse for half the season until they’re needed?  Not to mention options statuses, 5-year veteran limitations and other things that get in the way of stuff like this.  This isn’t the 1950s when you could just stash players all over without regard to service time issues.

No, the better way to go is to have your named starters, then depend on your prospect depth to cover things.  And honestly, that’s kinda where the Nats are.  Going into 2018 without any moves, you’re looking at:

  • Starting OF of Eaton, Taylor and Harper.
  • 4th and 5th outfielders Goodwin and Stevenson, both prospects that we developed and being paid the MLB min.
  • 6th outfielder in the name of Victor Robles, who is just one of the best prospects in the game.
  • 7th and further depth still with the likes of Bautista or perhaps the Cuban Yadiel Hernandez who is 30 and could be closer than we think.  We have Jose Marmolejos on the roster still; couldn’t he fill in at LF even if he’s primarily a 1B?  And then there’s further-away prospects like Daniel Johnson, who hit pretty well between Low-A and High-A, seems like he’ll start in AA in 2018 and might push his way up.

That’s not too bad.  Btw, how good defensively is our OF projected to be in 2018?  Eaton at a corner in 2016 was one of the best in the majors, Harper has consistently been a positive-metric fielding RF with one of the best arms in the game, and Taylor just showed how statistically he rivaled the best defensive center fielders in the game.  You can’t discount this fact, and it will show itself next year as more fly balls are turned into outs.

Collier likes where our OF depth is.


Q: Why should we believe in Dave Martinez? What makes him different ?

A: I have not weighed in on the manager selection yet.  I thought firing Dusty Baker was a mistake, and that the team did not need to break in a new manager in the critical transition year of 2018.

Nonetheless, Martinez does click some boxes for me; he was a successful player with a long career and can command respect from even the veterans on this team.  He may not have direct managerial experience, but 10 years as Joe Maddon‘s bench coach is nothing to shake a stick at.  He had interviewed for vacancies for years, and deserved a shot.  Details of his contract show that he’s severely under-paid and this probably factored into the team’s decision to hire him (for whatever reason, this team remains “cheap” at the manager’s position), but I think he can do the job.

What makes him different?  Well, he’s clearly learned the “ropes” of managing underneath the game’s best, and in that position he would have had many opportunities to evaluate Maddon’s decisions, privately decide what he would have done, and then seen how things play out.  So he should be able to take the best of what the Cubs are doing and augment those experiences with those opinions he had that were not necessarily taken but which he believed were right.   I’m hopeful that his regime will go well.

Collier notes the points above, but also very fairly says that in reality we have no idea how he’ll manage here since he’s never done so before.  

 

Pressing issues for the Nats this off-season

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Will Dusty get another contract here? Photo via UPI

Will Dusty get another contract here? Photo via UPI

Since our season is over (but the hot-stove has not yet kicked in), i’ll piggy back on the recent posts to this same topic done by Mark Zuckerman at MASN and by Chelsea Janes at WP.

Their posts both touched on some of the same issues; i’ll take those issues and add in a few of my own.

Major issues for the Nats to address this coming off-season, how I would address them and what I think the team will do:

  1. Resolve Dusty Baker situation.  Many reports have noted that the team wants him back and that he wants to return.  I see little that he could have done differently in the 5-game NLDS loss to use as evidence that he’s not the right guy (you can’t lose when your pitchers throw 6 no-hit innings in playoff starts), and he’s so clearly a better man-manager than his predecessor Matt Williams that I see no reason not to extend him.   I know that the Lerner’s don’t like to do long term contracts, and lets just hope they offer Baker the raise he deserves for two straight division titles (and, in my opinion, the NL Manager of the Year in 2017 award that he should get for working around so many injuries this year).
  2. Should we bring back Jayson Werth?   Yes he’s the “club house leader,” yes he’s been here for seven years and has settled in the DC area.  But he struggled this year with both injuries and performance, is entering his age 39  year, posted a negative bWAR in 2017, and the team has a surplus of outfielders who are probably MLB “starters” heading into 2018, more than we can even field.  I think the team says to Werth something along the lines of the following: Go see if you can find a DH/part time OF job in the AL for a couple years until you’re done playing and then we’ll hire you back as a special assistant/hitting instructor/bench coach or something.  I’m not entirely convinced that Werth is a DC lifer though; he’s been kind of a nomad in his career.  Drafted by Baltimore, traded to Toronto (with whom he debuted), traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, signed as a FA with Philly for four years, then with us for seven.  Yes he’s been with us the longest, but this isn’t a situation like Ryan Zimmerman where we’re the only org he’s known.  I think he heads off to the AL for a couple years then comes back to the fold with a front office job.
  3. What do we do at Catcher?  I’ll quickly repeat what we’ve been discussing in the comments of previous posts; yes I know Matt Wieters struggled badly at the plate this year, yes I know he botched the 5th inning of that fateful game 5.  But he’s not going to decline a $10M offer after this season, nor is the team going to swallow that amount of money.  Prepare yourselves for another season of Wieters, who we can only hope bounces back in his “contract year” and gets a bump in performance.  Meanwhile, as much as we love the Jose Lobaton cheerleader routine, we do need more production from the backup.  Even though Lobaton got just 158 ABs this year, he still managed to put up a -1.0 bWAR figure.  That’s hard to do.  If only we could just have him only play for us in the playoffs … (big hit in game 5 in 2017, the clutch 3-run homer in 2016).  I suspect the team will go with Wieters and Pedro Severino as his backup, getting Severino at least two starts a week to get him up to speed on MLB pitching, then making a 2019 decision based on whether Severino looks like he could hit enough to be a full time starter or if he remains the backup to some FA acquisition.  We have others in the pipeline who may prove themselves worthy soon (Raudy Read in AAA, Taylor Gushue in AA, Jakson Reetz in High-A, Tres Barrera in Low-A, plus long-serving minor leaguers Spencer Kieboom and Jhonatan Solano in the AAA fold who may or may not come back for 2018).
  4. Will they pursue FA extensions with key players?  Namely, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon and Daniel Murphy.  Lets take them one by one:
    1. Harper: lets face it, there’s NO WAY he’s not hitting free agency.  Scott Boras client with a chance to set the all time contract record?  Both guys have the ego required to pursue that avenue.  And yes, while some Boras clients (Stephen Strasburg) have taken pre-FA deals, very few do.  You hire Boras generally to get the biggest value deal and to leverage his relationships with owners so as to negotiate directly with them and that’s what Harper will do.
    2. Rendon: he’s still got two arb years: what I think the team will do is do a 2-year deal to buy out the Arb years and get cost containment.  MLBtraderumors projected Rendon’s arb salary for 2018 at $11.5M and they’re usually pretty accurate; I could see the nats offering Rendon a 2yr/$26M deal for $10M in 2018 then $16M in 2019 or something like that … maybe a little higher in his final year given his MVP-calibre season.  That’d be good for the team because Rendon might be a $20M/year player, and good for Rendon b/c he’s injury prone.  Past this though … Rendon is also a Boras client but he projects to me kind of like Strasburg in that he’s low-key and may want to commit to DC longer term.  Of course, Rendon is also a Houston lifer (born, high school and college there) so he could also want a return trip home to play for his home town team.  Probably an issue for the 2020 hot-stove season.
    3. Murphy: the Nats have gotten such a huge bargain with the Murphy signing.  He’ll only be 34 at the beginning of his next deal, and he plays a position (2B) that isn’t nearly as taxing as an OF or other infield position.  I would feel completely comfortable offering him another 3 year deal, increasing the dollars to maybe $16M/year (3yrs/$48M).
  5. Do they need to pursue a Starting Pitcher?  Absolutely, 100% yes.   Joe Ross is out for basically the whole of 2018, they traded away all their AAA depth last off-season, and the guys remaining in AAA (A.J. Cole and Erick Fedde) did not grab the 5th starter job like they had the chance to in 2017.  Edwin Jackson probably earned himself a shot elsewhere but was too inconsistent for my tastes.  I think the team splurges here, trying to get the best additional veteran starter they can find either on the free market or in trade.  The market for starters is intriguing: Yu DarvishJake Arrieta are Cy-Young quality arms available.  There’s some decent SPs like Masahiro Tanaka and Johnny Cueto who can opt out but who also may just stay put.  There’s #4 starter types like Lance Lynn and Jeremy Hellickson who are available and could be good 5th starters for us.  There’s guys who have put up good seasons but have struggled lately (Jaime GarciaFrancisco LirianoClay Buchholz) who could be intriguing.  So it’ll be interesting to see who they get.
  6. What is the Nats 2018 outfield?  Do they stick with Internal options or do they hit the FA/trade Markets?   I like a potential 2018 outfield of Taylor/Eaton/Harper.  I like Taylor in CF providing better defense than Eaton right now, given that ACL injuries really are 2-year recoveries.  Given Taylor’s big 2017 and his “Michael A Tater” NLDS, he’s more than earned a starting spot in 2018.  That leaves some surplus in the OF for 2018 … something we’ll talk about next.  There are some intriguing names out there on the FA market (J.D. Martinez, Justin Upton, Lorenzo Cain) who could slot into either LF or CF as needed and give a hopeful boost to the offense … but are any of those guys and their 8-figure salaries guarantees to be better than the cost-contained Taylor?  I don’t think so, and that’s why I think we stick with him.
  7. Do the Nats leverage their sudden depth of position players in trade this off-season?  In particular, i’m talking about Wilmer Difo and Brian Goodwin, both of whom played extremely well when given the opportunity and who both proved that they’re MLB starting quality.   If we stick with Taylor as a starter, then you have both Goodwin and Andrew Stevenson as able backups and that’s one too many.  If we (going back to the previous point) buy another outfielder, then that’s even more surplus.  I’m of the opinion that the team needs to sell high on both Difo and Goodwin and acquire needed assets (5th starter, bullpen help, near-to-the-majors pitching prospects).
  8. What do we do with the benchDrew, Lobaton, Kendrick, de Aza, Raburn all FAs, Lind has a player option but may want to try to parlay his excellent PH season into a FTE job.  So that leaves … not much.
    1. We have already talked about a backup catcher above
    2. We need a RH bench bat who can play corners (1B/LF): that was Chris Heisey to start the year .. but he’s long gone.  Kendrick ably filled this role … but he won’t sign back on as a utility guy given his excellent 2017.
    3. If Lind doesn’t exercise his $5M player option, we’ll need a big bopper lefty on the bench again.  We do have a guy like this on the farm and on our 40-man (Jose Marmolejos) but is he MLB ready?  He had a nice AA season, but AA to the majors is a jump.
    4. If we flip Difo, we’ll need a backup middle infielder.  Do we keep him assuming that Turner/Murphy will get hit with injuries (as they both are apt to do?)  Turner missed months, Murphy missed nearly 20 games in each of the past two years; is that enough to keep someone around versus flipping them?
    5. We do seem OK with backup outfielders right now, assuming that Andrew Stevenson is sufficient as a 4th OF/CF-capable defensive replacement/pinch runner type.

So, that’s potentially a brand new bench.  Luckily its not too hard to find veteran big-hitting RH or LH bats; we seem to do this every year and have some luck.  Middle infielders?  Would you sign up for another year of Drew?  I don’t think I would at this point; he just seems to brittle to count on.   I suspect the team will be quite active in this area.

9. What do we do with the bullpen Right now, given the departing FA relievers (Perez, Kintzler, Blanton, Albers), our “standing pat” bullpen for 2018 looks something like this:

  1. Closer: Doolittle
  2. 7th/8th inning guys: Madsen, Kelley, Glover
  3. Lefties: Solis, Romero
  4. Long Man: Grace/Cole
  5. Minors options: Adams, Gott

So, that’s a pretty solid looking bullpen if two guys in particular are healthy: Kelley and Glover.  Our entire strategy in the off-season seems to hinge on the health of these two.  I have no guesses; so lets assume one of them is good and one of them has a significant all of 2018 injury.  That means we probably pursue another Matt Albers type in the off-season.  Meanwhile, there’s a difference of opinion on the value of both our current lefties: Romero’s ancillary numbers were barely adequate and lefties hit him for nearly a .300 BAA, so he’s not exactly an effective lefty.  Solis blew up this season, posting a seasonal ERA of nearly 6.00 (his FIP was much better) and getting demoted at one point.  But he gets lefties out, Baker trusts him, and I can’t see him not being a part of the solution.  If the team thought they could improve upon Romero, perhaps they also pursue a lefty reliever (or resign the swashbuckler Perez).  I’m ok with Grace as a long man (though his K/9 rates leave something to be desired) but I’d also like to see the team convert Cole to relief at this point.  There’s some options issues to consider; Solis, Romero, Cole, and Grace are all out of options for next year, so they all either make the team or get cut loose.

 


So Summary:

  1. Bring back Baker
  2. Say good bye to Werth
  3. Stand pat on catcher with internal options
  4. Buy out Rendon’s arb years this year, talk about Murphy next year
  5. Get a decent 5th starter
  6. Go with Taylor/Eaton/Harper with Stevenson as your backup in the OF
  7. Yes, trade Goodwin and Difo for stuff
  8. Get one middle RH reliever, one middle LF reliever, convert Cole to relief
  9. Cattle call for bench bats next spring.

Am I missing anything?  Lots of talking points here.

 

 

Ask Chelsea – post-season/pre-playoffs mailbag

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Farewell Jayson Werth; its been a good 7 years. Photo via getty images

Farewell Jayson Werth; its been a good 7 years. Photo via getty images

Lets bang out a mailbag, this time with WP beat reporter Chelsea Janes at the WP.

I’ll do a Playoffs prediction piece once tonight’s WC game is settled; no point in speculating until we know who the Dodgers are facing.


Q: Is any contract extension for Dusty contingent on getting the team past the first round?

A: I wouldn’t think so, honestly.  I think Dusty Baker has done an excellent job with this team, turning it around starkly from the Matt Williams regime.  Yes its curious that he hasn’t been extended … but then again, the inevitable extension for Mike Rizzo seemed to be a little late coming too.  Maybe this team has told him privately that they’ll get it done this off-season and just focus on winning for the time being.

Janes has reported several times that everyone plans on Baker being back, that Rizzo wanted to do it in ST but ownership did not, and that’s the Nationals MO.  


 

Q: Is Stephen Strasburg going to start Game 1?

A: As of the point of this writing, it definitely seems like it.  This gives Max Scherzer one more day to recover, and gives the team the choice of selecting either guy for Game 5 thanks to multiple off-days in the playoff schedule.  I’d be up for this scenario honestly; Scherzer may be the Ace but Strasburg has been the best pitcher in the last two months.

Janes does not know but pointed out Strasburg’s unbelievable numbers since returning from the D/L in August.  He definitely merits a 2-game NLDS if it comes to it.


 

Q: Chances Anthony Rendon gets an extension this off season?

A: Hmm.  Good question.  Rendon is going to be due a sizeable arbitration raise this off-season and still has another Arb year, so I could see the team doing a 2-year deal now to avoid the arguing.  Perhaps 2yrs/$25M or something (with salaries of $10 and $15M?).  I’d take that for cost certainty for a guy who doesn’t get near the credit he’s due but is putting up MVP numbers.  As far as longer-term extension?  I dunno; is Rendon a lifer in Washington?  What will it take to sign him long term?  In this respect, his under-ratedness works to the team’s benefit.  I see him kind of in the Adrian Beltre mold; good defensive player, not as flashy, solid offensive contributions.  Beltre is getting $18M per right now and just finished a 5yr/$80M deal before that, so that’s a good benchmark.  Maybe Rendon can be had for something like a 5yr/$90M deal which would take him through his age-32 year, so we’d get his best years but he’d get another shot at the FA market at 32.

Janes agrees with my assertion that they’ll likely buy out his Arb years, but notes that he’s a Scott Boras client and likely hits FA.  Fair point.  But our read on Rendon is not the hyper-aggressive big character/ego guy, so maybe in the asme vein as Strasburg (also Boras client) he’ll sign an extension to stay comfortable.  He’s also a Houston guy born and bred (HS and college) and would make a ton of sense heading back there.  Houston has a log-jam of good infielders right now … but a lot can change in a couple years.


Q: Would you start Jayson Werth or Adam Lind in LF for playoffs Game 1?

A: Werth absolutely.  Especially since Jon Lester is likely to go Game 1.  Maybe you could get more clever in games 2-4 when RHP starters go for Chicago… but I still doubt it.  Unless Werth is hurt, he’s  your starting LF.  And if he was hurt … i’m not sure I’d go with Lind out there in lieu of Howie Kendrick honestly, given the defensive liabilities.

Janes agrees, thinks it would take an injury to get someone besides Werth out there, and points out that Werth was a rock in the playoffs last year.


Q: How worried should we be about the recent performances of Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark? 

A: Slightly worried, but not overly so.  The Nats have really had so little to play for for weeks that its possible that these guys just mentally relaxed enough to have bad games, especially in the season finale (which was emotional for it being Werth’s likely final regular season game in a Nats uniform).

Janes thinks Gio was a bit under the weather, and that Roark admitted to not being totally focused during the grind of the final week.


Q: Will Victor Robles make the major league roster out of spring training in 2018?

A: Oh, that’s a good question.  Something tells me he will not for several reasons:

  1. Adam Eaton will be back and starting in CF
  2. Harper is in RF
  3. The team still has TaylorGoodwin and Stevenson all in the mix, all pre-arb, all with more service time than Robles
  4. We still could buy ourselves a bigger bat to play LF and have these guys all jockeying to be the 4th OF.
  5. We still could see a trade in the off-season, flipping some of this sudden OF depth (along with Wilmer Difo) for the answer.
  6. Robles needs to be playing every day, not sitting on the MLB bench, and makes sense to be in AAA against near-MLB quality guys
  7. Robles needs, in the same vein as Trea Turner, to have his service time managed a little bit.

Now, I could be wrong, and the team could find itself in a dogfight early in Harper’s last season.  They could get hit with injuries again and he’d be right back up.  But to start, i’d have him in AAA.

Janes repeats practically everything I wrote.


Q: Who will be the last man on the bench? What will the bullpen look like? Will Robles make the playoff roster? 

A: I think …. if it were me i’d put Robles on the roster.  But Mr, Baker probably wants a more veteran player, so don’t be surprised if the kid is left off in lieu of some .200 hitting last man.  We’ll see.

We talked about this in the last post so we won’t do it again, and Janes posted a whole 2,000 word article on it … so we’ll defer to those discussions.

 

 

 

 

 

Ask Collier 8/21/17

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Kendrick has been a revalation.  Photo via Federal Baseball/USA Today

Kendrick has been a revalation. Photo via Federal Baseball/USA Today

Sorry for the break in action; i’ve had a difficult month.  And we’re actually on vacation this week, which means we missed last night’s Game of Thrones, which means I’ve got to avoid a dozen different outlets I normally read on Mondays and Tuesdays so as not to spoil it for myself.  But I did see that Mlb.com Nats beat reporter Jamal Collier put out a mailbag, and since i haven’t put up content in a month or so, I thought i’d do a response while the kids slept.

Here’s the questions he took and how i’d have responded.


 

Q: Updates on the remaining DL members and timing? Who are likely to be September call ups.

A: I’m not going to speculate on the exact days these guys will come back, just note that this team has gone 7-3 in its last ten games, 13-7 in its last twenty, and 18-12 in its last thirty games despite leading the league in D/L spots, having their entire opening day outfield on the D/L, and having 3/5ths of their original rotation on the D/L.  That’s patently ridiculous.  When they get their team back, it’ll be like they went crazy at the trade deadline.  A better question might be who makes the playoff roster if everyone is healthy … because guys like Howie Kendrick are going to make it tough for some long-time players to make that roster.  A post for another time.

September call-ups: If i have my notes right, here’s who’s on the 40-man in the minors currently:

SP: Fedde, Cole, Voth
RP: Gott, Adams
C: Severino, Read
INF: Marmolejos
OF: Bautista

I’m guessing the team re-calls everyone save Voth, Read and Marmolejos.  Voth hasn’t merited it with his performance this year and both Read and Marmolejos may just be too young.

Collier gives some rehab updates on our now 12-man long D/L, and also says that we’ll call up “virtually” every player on the 40-man


 

Q: If Werth comes back and doesn’t hit, do you think there’s a possibility he becomes a bench guy with Howie/Lind in left field?

A: Absolutely yes.  As I alluded to above, Kendrick may be putting Werth to the bench.  I can’t imagine the team insulting him and leaving him off the playoff roster, not while he has a career .924 OPS in the playoffs.  Adam Lind will not be the starting LF, not in a playoff situation.  You need a real outfielder, not a lumbering pinch hitter.  I know that I often call for “hiding” a guy out there … but Lind is a stretch even by my theory.

Collier thinks there’s no way Werth doesn’t retain his starting spot, unless he’s clearly still hurt.


 

Q: Is there any chance that Adam Eaton can come back from his injury late in the postseason?

A: No chance.  ACL tears are a year long recovery and then another year past that to regain the confidence to turn on the knee.  He may be optimistic with his rehab, but (following up on the previous question) there’s just no way you’d weaken your bench for a guy coming off an ACL tear.

Collier agrees.


 

Q : What is your guess on the post-season roster assuming full health except for Eaton?

A: we’ll save it for a separate post.  Collier gives his and its similar to what i’d probably go with.

 

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.