Nationals Arm Race

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

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2014 Rotation Rankings 1-30

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The ace on the best rotation in the game.  Photo: talksportsphilly.com

The ace on the best rotation in the game. Photo: talksportsphilly.com

Last year, with my excitement over Washington’s Dan Haren signing and my supposition that Washington had the best rotation in the game, I ranked all 30 team’s rotations ahead of the 2013 season.  Then, after the season was done, I revisited these pre-season rankings with a post-mortem to see how close (or, more appropriately, how far off) my rankings turned out to be.

Here’s the 2014 version of this same post: Pre-season rankings of the MLB’s rotations; 1 through 30.  Warning; this is another huge post.  I guess I’m just verbose.  At this point midway through Spring Training there’s just a couple of possible FAs left that could have altered these rankings (Ervin Santana being the important name unsigned right now), so I thought it was time to publish.

The top teams are easy to guess; once you get into the 20s, it becomes pretty difficult to distinguish between these teams.  Nonetheless, here we go (I heavily depended on baseball-reference.com and mlbdepthcharts.com for this post, along with ESPN’s transaction list per team and Baseball Prospectus’ injury reports for individual players).

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Written by Todd Boss

March 10th, 2014 at 9:50 am

Posted in Majors Pitching

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Ladson’s Inbox 1/31/14

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Would this guy look good in a Washington uniform?  Photo unknown via ladodgertalk.com

Would this guy look good in a Washington uniform? Photo unknown via ladodgertalk.com

Nothing like a time-waster for the weekend; Bill Ladson‘s latest inbox plopped Friday afternoon 1/31/14.  Here’s how I’d have responded if someone had bothered to as me these questions :-)

Q: Even though the Nationals are confident with Denard Span in center field and they have strong center fielders in the Minors, is it possible that they might try to get Matt Kemp at the Trade Deadline or next offseason?

A: Matt Kemp‘s name has come up in this blog in the discussion spaces once before in an interesting “what-if” game.  The question as it was posed was this: “Would you, straight up and with no salary relief, trade Matt Kemp right now for Anthony Rendon?”  Think about it; Kemp is owed $127.5M over the next six seasons ($21-$21.5M per season).  He put up MVP numbers in 2011 (many thought he should have won instead of Ryan Braun, even more so after Braun’s positive PED tests) but has floundered with injury and sub-par performances (relative to his salary) for the past two years.  Meanwhile Rendon is getting paid a fraction of what Kemp’s salary is, is younger and has room to grow, but so far has been merely a league average player.  Its a good question: do you run the risk of a $20M boat anchor on your roster, taking up 1/7th of  your salary cap, or do you roll the dice that Kemp returns to his former glory and earns his pay?  Or do you bet on Rendon becoming a significant player cost contained and under team control for another 5 years?

For me, I think you stay away from Kemp.  That’s a ton of money with no guarantee that 2014 will be any different from 2013, and the Nats already have enough pending payroll problems without adding one more $20M player.

As for the question at hand, I see no inclination for Mike Rizzo to make such a move, now or ever.  He spent a lot of capital (our best starting pitching prospect at the time in Alex Meyer) to get Denard Span, he sought him out and coveted openly him for years, and now he has him.  Span’s not going anywhere.  As for next year, we’re in a wait and see.  One of our best prospects is a CF candidate in Brian Goodwin, but he took a step back in 2013.  If Goodwin steps back up in 2014 or doesn’t pan out, we can exercise Span’s 2015 option at $9M and wait for the next best CF prospect in our system (Michael Taylor) to grow.  If neither prospect pans out, we don’t have to worry about it for a few years.  But, at some point you hope this team can grow another prospect to replace an aging $9M free agent with a minimum salary guy.

Ladson basically says what I say, but in fewer words.

Q: The Nationals still have bullpen questions that were not addressed during the offseason. Do you think the Nats will sign another lefty for the bullpen? Or will they use Ross Detwilerin relief?

A: Do we have bullpen questions?  Where?  We got a lefty (Jerry Blevins) and we have another decent lefty option who pitched decently for us last year (Xavier Cedeno).  I’m quite pleased with the state of our back-end guys (Soriano and Clippard), our 7th and 8th inning options (Storen and Stammen), and our long-man options (Ohlendorf and Roark).   Remember; Clippard has great lefty splits, always has.  If our loogy doesn’t work out that well, we go back to using Clippard periodically as a match-up guy.  Or we call up Sammy Solis.  Hell, we could even try Matthew Purke as a bullpen option (he’s on the 40-man after all); scouts are souring on him ever being an effective starter, but his weird motion and shorter stints could help him feature as a bullpen guy.   I think you use Ross Detwiler as a starter until he proves otherwise; as mentioned in this space time and again, Detwiler was effective in 2012, started well in 2013 and got hurt; I have no doubt that if healthy he can start 2014 as he started 2013.  Ladson says similar things about our lefty options.

Q: How is Adam LaRoche‘s health going into Spring Training? He looked as if he lost a tremendous amount of weight last year.

A: Adam LaRoche looked healthy enough in all those shots that appeared of him killing things on the internet over the winter.  Seriously; who knows what the answer to this question is.  But we know he’s aware of the situation and should be taking steps to maintain his strength and weight in 2014.  It is a contract year after all, and he’s shown a proclivity towards having career years in contract years when he needs them to secure his next paycheck.  I can’t see  him “platooning” like a lot of bloggers seem to be calling for, but I can see him being told by management that he needs to maintain his production or he may be banished in phantom DL trips.  Ladson reports that LaRoche was taking an ADD medication, believes he has it figured out, and predicts a Gold Glove in 2014.  Random prediction but sounds good.

Q: Any chance Nationals could bring back Jesus Flores as a backup to Wilson Ramos?

A: Well, Jesus Flores is still out there as a MLFA.  What doesn’t speak well of him is the fact that he was released in May of last year by the Dodgers.  Clearly to me, he’s no longer a viable major league backup candidate.  I can still see the Nats giving a non-guaranteed contract to one of the few remaining veteran catchers to see if one of them sticks as Ramos’ backup, but at this point I wouldn’t be surprised to see the winner of a competition between Jhonatan Solano and Sandy Leon sticking as the backup.  That being said, both these guys were awful in 2013 in the minors offensively and I don’t have a good explanation why.  Leon seems like the better bet; better history of batting,  younger.   Chris Snyder has had a rough couple years but is still relatively young and has had stretches of decency, if the team wants to go with a veteran backup instead of a rookie.   I dunno what’s going to happen.  On the bright side, Keith Law‘s just-released top 10 for the system (ESPN Insider only) includes one Pedro Severino, giving him relatively glowing grades for his defense.   He’s a couple years away (born in 1993) but if he succeeds in Potomac this year he could be a ready-made Ramos backup sooner than later.  Ladson says the team had a problem with the way Flores called games … hmm, never heard that before.  Ladson also predicts more signings before Feb 1.

Q: I sense a double standard: why give continued chances to Danny Espinosa but essentially shut out Drew Storen? Am I missing something? Similar struggles, but at least Drew fought his way back to the Majors.

A: I’m not sure what “chances” Danny Espinosa is getting at this point, nor am I sure what Storen has been “shut out” of.  The team bought Rafael Soriano, are paying him a ton of money, and he’s the closer as long as he’s here.  That’s that; both Storen and Clippard got pushed down a peg when he got acquired.  Meanwhile, I think its clear that Anthony Rendon is the starter, and Espinosa is playing for a backup role.  Maybe there were just too many quotes taken out of context from NatsFest.  Ladson re-iterates his believe that Espinosa will be traded.

 

One lesson learned from 2013: you can never have enough starting pitching

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If Detwiler is out for the year, the Nats have a problem. Photo: Haraz Ghanbari/AP via federalbaseball.com

If Detwiler is out for the year, the Nats have a problem. Photo: Haraz Ghanbari/AP via federalbaseball.com

We all knew the Nationals had a glaring, acknowledged weakness heading into the 2013 season; almost no quality starting pitching depth in the high minors.  We non-tendered former opening day starter John Lannan in lieu of paying him somewhere between $5M-$6M dollars to toil in Syracuse again.  We non-tendered former starter Tom Gorzelanny despite his excellent 2012 season for us instead of paying him a few millions dollars a year to continue to be the 7th guy out of the pen.  We traded away top starting pitching prospect Alex Meyer to acquire a center-fielder that (in my oft-stated opinion) we didn’t need.  We were blinded by the excellent but short-sample-sized performance of Zach Duke upon his call-up last September and chose to make him not only the sole lefty in our 2013 pen, but the long-man/spot starter as well.

And we talked ourselves into it.

In 2012 our primary rotation made 150 of 162 starts.  Those 12 missed starts were made by Chien-Ming Wang (five starts) in a quickly-aborted glimpse to see if the many millions of dollars invested in his recovery over the past few years were going to pay off (they did not), by Lannan (six) for a couple of mid-season spot starts and his Stephen Strasburg replacement plan in September, and one by Gorzelanny the day after the team clinched the division (editor note: mistakely originally put “pennant.”  Duh).  That’s it; otherwise the rotation was solid, consistent, and one of the best in the majors by any statistical measure.

Was it just hubris that led us to believe that the same thing would happen in 2013?  That our vaunted rotation (which I certainly thought was the best in the majors before the season started) would steamroll through another 150+ starts in 2013 as we marched to the inevitable World Series title?  Maybe so.

The latest blow is the news that Ross Detwiler‘s herniated disk may very well keep him out for the rest of 2013.  Taylor Jordan has been more than ably filling in for Detwiler … but in a familiar twist Jordan is facing an innings restriction limit.  After August 4th’s start he’s got 40 2/3 major league innings in 2013 to go with 90 1/3 in the minors for 131 total on the year.  He only threw 54 1/3 all of 2012 coming back from Tommy John surgery, and this year easily marks a professional career high (he’s never thrown more than 100 professional innings).  He’s going to get shut down, soon (in about four more starts per the Washington Times’ Amanda Comak, which would put him just about at the same 160ip limit that both Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann pitched to the year after their own TJ surgeries).  This leaves the team right back where they were on May 20th, when the whole “find a competent 5th starter” charade started.

Duke failed and was released.  Yunesky Maya got his last attempt at pitching in the majors and was outrighted (a move long overdue in the opinion of many Nats followers).  Nathan Karns got three bites at the apple and returned to AA with a 7.50 ERA.  Ross Ohlendorf gave us a fantastic spot start in a double header last week… and just went on the D/L after not being able to dial it up more than 85mph in his last appearance.  The only other 40-man starter in the whole of the minors is Matthew Purke, currently posting a 6.35 ERA in high-A.

Hey, at least Dan Haren suddenly resembles the 2009 version of himself, having tossed 14 innings oof one-run ball en route to winning his last two starts.  A month ago we were talking about releasing him.

So, what should the team do when Jordan is shutdown?  It sounds to me like in the short term we’ll go back to Ohlendorf as the 5th starter (assuming of course his recent “dead arm” injury doesn’t turn into much more than a quick D/L trip).   However, despite Ohlendorf’s excellent work for us thus far, lets not forget why he was available on a minor league deal in the first place; his ERAs in 2011 and 2012 were 8.15 and 7.77 respectively.  Odds are that he’s not likely to be that effective going forward.

Plus, Ohlendorf’s time in the rotation means the bullpen will need another guy … presumably one that can pitch long relief to replace Ohlendorf.  I’m not entirely sure any of the other relievers on the 40-man but in the minors (Drew StorenErik Davis or Tyler Robertson) fits the bill.  Craig Stammen has absolutely done that role in the past, but I think Stammen’s value to this team now lies in his 7th inning “bridge reliever” role, getting the team from a short start to the 8th/9th inning guys.

If Detwiler is indeed out for the year I think he should be immediately transferred to the 60-day D/L (opening up a spot on the 40-man roster) and I’d like to see Tanner Roark  get a look-see as the long man in the bullpen.  He’s put up very good numbers in AAA this season in a swing-man role and faces minor league free agency this off-season.  Or, I wouldn’t be opposed to keeping Ohlendorf in the pen and giving Danny Rosenbaum a shot at the 5th starter.  He’s been the most effective AAA starter all year and, despite not being that overpowering, could turn into another Tommy Milone-esque lefty starter that we could leverage in trade.  We may not have fantastic depth in the upper minors, but you never know who may suddenly be an effective MLB pitcher (see Krol, Ian).

(Editor’s note: after I wrote this mid-weekend MASN’s Byron Kerr wrote and posted almost identical analysis).

First Look; Nats top 10 rounds of 2013 Draftees

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Meet Jake Johansen, the Nats 2nd round 2013 pick. Photo via DBU website

A quick glance on our high-end draftees from 2013 draft.  As with other posts, I’ll put in the Keith Law and Baseball America ranking after the player name where appropriate (though as we’ll see, Keith’s top 100 quickly runs out of names).

Two other blogs are doing a far more in-depth look at these picks than I am here; definitely see Ryan Kelley‘s fantastic scouting reports on each pick at BaseballNewsHound.com and see Ryan Sullivan‘s excellent draft day blog coverage at NatsGM.com for more and better in-sight than what I’ve got here.  Plus Tom Schad at MLB.com has posted nice per-player summaries for all the Nats picks.   I’m just looking for a quick hit observation on our new guys.

  • Rnd #1/#28 overall: In what would have been the Nats first round pick, the Cardinals selected Rob Kaminsky, a prep RHP from New Jersey.   However at that point in the draft high-end prep lefty Ian Clarkin, pre-draft top-10 pick LHP Sean Manaea from Indiana State University and highly-regarded Arkansas RHP Ryne Stanek (another guy who was seen as an upper-end 1st rounder earlier this year with fantastic stuff) were still on the board.   Don’t you think the Nats wouldn’t have minded a shot at Manaea or Stanek at above-slot and then punted on below-slot guys the rest of the way (kinda what they did in 2012 with Lucas Giolito and a senior-heavy first 10 rounds)?  Both Manaea and Stanek dropped just in the past few weeks because of short-term injuries and both seem like steals at the end of the 1st round.  Man I would have liked to see one of these two guys added to the farm system. Was this worth the Rafael Soriano signing?
  • Rnd #2/#68 overall: Jake Johansen, RHP from Dallas Baptist University.  Keith Law ranked #63, Baseball America ranked #180.  This is a classic Mike Rizzo pick; a big guy (6’6″) with a big arm (98-100mph on the fastball, sustained through out the game).  Its almost like they’re trying to replace Alex Meyer in the farm system.  Johansen’s college numbers leave something to be desired: 5.40 era this season, a career ERA > 6.00.  Some have pointed out he has a very high BABIP on the year and that his conference is a hitter’s paradise; fair counter points).  For a guy who throws so hard, he had surprisingly few Ks this year (75 Ks in 88 1/3 innings).   His size and profile seems to trend towards an automatic reliever, but the Nats profile him as a starter.  You can’t teach velocity right?  The Nats execs are already on record saying that they’re drafting the tools and they believe they can coach him up.  FederalBaseball has a nice writeup on him with good quotes and the Nats press release on the pick too.  Masn’s Byron Kerr‘s write-up is here.  Already some pundits questioning the pick (HardBallTalk).  My thought?  I would have liked to have drafted a polished guy with our highest pick, not a project.  6/8/13 update: already signed for slot value.  Wow that was fast.  Clearly smells like a pre-draft deal here.
  • Rnd #3/#105 Overall: Drew Ward, prep SS/3B from Oklahoma.  BA #88.  Prep 3B who’s graduating a year early and with an Oklahoma commitment.    I don’t think he graduated HS a year early so he could get to college; he’ll sign.  Nice FederalBaseball writeup about him.  Keith Law isn’t a fan.
  • Rnd #4/#136 Overall: Nicholas “Nic” Pivetta, RHP  from a New Mexico Juco.   BA #155.  The MLB scouting reports say he’s an upper 90s fastball in short spurts and may be headed for the bullpen.  Sounds like a Rizzo pick to me.  Are you sure we’re not drafting for need at the MLB level right now?  :-).  All signs point to reliever.  Maybe we’re so happy with our High-A rotation right now that we’re just focusing on relivers who can go straight to AA and matriculate up the ranks with our current set of starters?
  • Rnd #5/#166 Overall: Austin Voth, RHP from University of Washington.  BA #260.  Seems like an over draft, might be a signability pick, though Voth fits the profile of a good K/9 guy.  He was the University of Washington’s friday starter, he was 2nd in the Pac-12 in strikeouts to #1 overall pick Mark Appel and had pretty good stats for a sub-.500 college team.
  • Rnd #6/#196 Overall: Cody Gunter 3B/RHP from Texas Juco.   BA #249.  Could be another reliever, but likely was drafted to play the field.  MLB.com’s writeup on him is here.
  • Rnd #7/#226 Overall: James Yezzo, 1B from UDelaware.  BA #290.  You usually don’t like to draft 1B-only guys on NL teams, especially ones who are only 6’0″, but Yezzo clubbed his way to the CAA player of the year honor and hit .410 with power in a 3-big conference with some good baseball.
  • Rnd #8/#256 Overall: David Napoli, LHP from Tulane.   Not BA ranked.  A weekend senior starter for Tulane with a great BA against for one probable reason; he seems wild as heck.  33 walks in 66 innings and FOURTEEN Hbps this year.  He had a fantastic batting average against (.176) and was even better in H/9 against (5.32 hits per 9, 2nd in the NCAA this year), but that’s easier to do when you’re all over the plate.  Looks like a loogy to me; undersized (5’10″ 180lb) and ok stuff (threw 87 in HS, reportedly can hit 93-94 in short stints).  We’ll see.
  • Rnd #9/#286 Overall: Jake Joyce, RHP from Virginia Tech.  Not BA ranked.  A prototypical round 6-9 pick; college senior, little leverage, will sign for below slot to save cash.  Per the MLB.com story on him, a nats executive knows the family and made the recommendation.  95 out of the pen for Va Tech; you just hope that a reliever in college is going to be successful in the pros.
  • Rnd #10/#316 Overall: Brennan Middleton, SS from Tulane.  Say hello to Auburn’s starting SS this year.

First 10 round summary:

  • Four college RHP who mostly project to relievers
  • One college LHP who definitely projects as a reliever
  • Three college infielders; a 1B, a SS and a 3B.
  • One prep 3B who may be a tougher sign with a college commitment

So far, pretty typical Rizzo draft; college heavy with a focus on power arms destined for the bullpen.  Is there one big name in this list to get excited about?  Unfortunately not so far, but not having a 1st rounder and a crack at a big name (as described in the “possible 1st round missed” bullet point will leave a draft class wanting.

Ladson’s Inbox 4/18/13

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I’m sure there’s going to be some nervous questions with the Nats uneven start in MLB.com Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson‘s latest mailbox (dated 4/18/13).  Lets dive in.

Q: Will the Nationals stick with right-hander Dan Haren for long if he continues to struggle?

A: I would think so.  You can’t judge a pitcher after 3 starts.  But you can start to make changes after about 6-8 starts.  The big concern with Dan Haren right now is clearly his control; he’s missing out over the plate a lot, and he’s getting hammered.  He’s not going to overpower you; he relies on control and command and a sinking fastball.  Right now he’s struggling with all three.  He’s giving up a TON of hits (26 in 13 innings) for a very ugly WHIP.  But he’s not walking anybody (1 walk on the season).

Is he washed up?  That’s hard to imagine; he’s only 32.  His money is guaranteed; will his immense salary give the team pause to replace him?  They didn’t hesitate to send down John Lannan and his $4M salary last spring … but $13M is a different story.

Ladson second guesses the acquisition, which I think is pretty gutless if he’s not on record before with these concerns (which I cannot say that I recall seeing).  Otherwise he says its early and check back in a month.

Q: What is Plan B for Haren’s spot in the rotation?

A: Well now that’s a good question.

Your AAA candidates right now aren’t exactly enticing.  They’re in AAA for a reason.   Yunesky Maya has proven several times why he isn’t a MLB quality player and is playing out the string in Syracuse.  Danny Rosenbaum couldn’t make the Rockies rotation, one of the worst in the game (but to be fair, he’s still a prospect and could turn into a new version of Tommy Milone with some more seasoning).  Ryan Perry hasn’t looked convincing since his acquisition.  Ross Ohlendorf hasn’t looked bad so far this year in Syracuse, but he’s sort of like the 2013 version of Zach Duke, a guy who couldn’t catch on with a MLB team so he’s trying his luck on a ML contract.  Tanner Roark has been awful so far this year and likely gets replaced in the rotation by … Chris Young, who looks to be the #1 call-up option once he’s back throwing regularly, but again, if he was that good, he’d have picked up with another team.  We don’t really have any upper-end starting prospects anywhere in the system right now close enough to be a decent option either.  The best bet even in AA is Nathan Karns and he’s been awful so far  (wish you had Alex Meyer back yet?  3 starts and a 1.69 ERA so far for Minnesota’s AA team).  The Nats have very little starting pitching depth, we all knew it, and Haren’s troubles are somewhat of a nightmare situation for the team.

Ladson says simply that Chris Young is next in line.

Q: Even if Johnson is not worried about Ryan Zimmerman’s throwing errors, do you think we should be worried?

A: Davey Johnson is clearly protecting his player in the media right now.  Ryan Zimmerman‘s arm is a HUGE concern for this team.  He’s getting very close to a Steve Sax/Chuck Knoblock mental state where he literally cannot make any routine throw any longer.  And that’s really bad for this team, which has no place to put him.  The team just had to acquire Denard Span, which pushed the plus-defender Bryce Harper to left, which cost the team Michael Morse.

Lest you think I’m being a “hind sight is 20/20″ hypocrite here, I’m on record pretty plainly that I didn’t think the Span deal was “necessary,” and pointed out a lot of the issues that we now face in terms of players being blocked and of the loss of Meyr.  One of my oft-repeated mantras is that you “can hide players in left and at first base.”  Meaning, you don’t need a gold glover at 1B or in LF if it means more offense.  But that’s not what Mike Rizzo has chosen to do in Washington.  Instead he ran out of town the lesser defender Morse (if you do want a dose of hindsight analysis, Morse is only leading the AL in Homers as we speak and has a 160 OPS+).

Well, now Zimmerman can’t move to first for at least two years, and LaRoche can’t play anything but first base (Morse could at least lumber around left field if he wasn’t on the sac).  Zimmermandoesn’t rate as a 2nd baseman … so Anthony Rendon is seemingly blocked right now.  Nobody’s going anywhere in the outfield … the Nats are locked into this lineup whether they like it or not.

So, yeah I’m worried.

Ladson says he trusts what Johnson says and also thinks that Zimmerman’s shoulder isn’t 100pct.  What!?  Since when has anyone said that?  In fact, all we’ve heard all spring training is that his shoulder is ready to go.

Q: Does Daniel Rosenbaum have a future in the Nationals’ organization, and if not, what do you see the Nats doing with him?

A: We alluded to Rosenbaum briefly above; lets talk about him in more depth.  I think Rosenbaum represents the kind of softer-tossing control lefty that Rizzo doesn’t entirely favor.  He wants a guy who can miss bats, power pitchers with higher K potentials.  Rosenbaum’s numbers in AAA so far look great at a macro level (2 starts, 6 hits allowed an a sterling 0.82 era) but there’s one rather troubling number: only 3 strikeouts in 11 innings.  In AA last year he had 99 Ks in 155 innings.  I just don’t think that’s enough swing-and-miss potential to be effective in the modern game.  Rizzo traded away Milone, who features as a similar pitcher to what Rosenbaum offers, for somewhat similar reasons.

What is his future?  Perhaps continuing to serve as a backup starter in the minor leagues, perhaps serving as trade fodder for the next off-season’s manouverings.  Ladson says the same essentially.

Q: Do you think Johnson should have had Zimmerman play more innings during Spring Training to get comfortable with his throwing motion?

A: The number of spring training innings for established veteran hitters is immaterial; Spring Training is almost entirely so that the pitching staff can build up the arm strength needed to go 6-7 innings from day one.  So, no, I don’t think any change in time played in Viera would have made a difference here.   Ladson agrees.

Q: Why is the bulk of our lineup sitting in the Marlins series (Danny Espinosa, Bryce Harper, Denard Span)?

A: Harper and Span because they had the flu, Espinosa because he got a huge bruise from a HBP.  Nothing nefarious here.  Ladson confirms/agrees.





Nats Major & Minor League Pitching Staffs vs Predictions

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First off, this is partly a post of self-flaggelation, to show how far off my various predictions of what the 2013 minor league staffs would look like by doing 2012 season-ending analysis.  Such is the nature of minor league pitching staffs in the modern day; they’re a combination of spare parts, rising stars and hangers-on and they can change rapidly with trades and spring training performances.  Every trade and every MLFA signing trickles down and fouls up predicitons.

Here’s my End of Season 2012 post with predictions for each of the 2013 minor league pitching staffs.   We’ll use that as a basis for the Opening Day 2013 rosters of the four full-season minor league teams.  Just for fun we’ll throw in (and start with) the MLB prediction.  Note that this early in the season we don’t really know who’s shaking out as starters and relievers necessarily for these minor league teams; i’m just going on first week usage right now.  As always, Luke Erickson and nationalsprospects.com, the Nats Big Board and the tireless work by “SpringfieldFan” is much appreciated here.


MLB Nov 2012 Prediction

  • MLB Rotation: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Detwiler, FA or other acquisition
  • MLB Bullpen: Clippard, Storen, Mattheus, Stammen, Garcia, a FA left-hander (possibly Burnett), a FA long-man (possibly Gorzelanny).
  • MLB notables Out of Organization: Jackson, Burnett, Gonzalez, Lannan, Wang

MLB April 2013 Actual

  • MLB Rotation: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Detwiler, Haren
  • MLB Bullpen: Clippard, Storen, Mattheus, Stammen, Duke, Rodriguez, Soriano
  • MLB notables Out of Organization: Jackson, Burnett, Gonzalez, Lannan, Wang, Gorzelanny

MLB Discussion: It wasn’t going to be that difficult to predict the 2013 Nats pitching staff make-up by looking at our staff and their FA status heading into the off-season.  The rotation filled its one spot with Dan Haren.  The bullpen was 5/7ths predicted correctly (if you count Zach Duke as a FA left-hander acquisition).  Christian Garcia‘s injury opened the door for one more season of Henry Rodriguez, and of course nobody could have predicted the Rafael Soriano purchase.  Lastly all 5 of the predicted departures occured, in addition to Tom Gorzelanny being let go.


AAA Nov 2012 Prediction

  • AAA Rotation: Roark, Maya, Broderick, Meyers, Perry
  • AAA Bullpen: Tatusko (swingman), Arneson (swingman), Severino (loogy), Davis, Lehman, Nelo (closer), Martin,  Mandel

AAA Apr 2013 Actual

  • AAA Rotation: Ohlendorf, Roark, Maya,Perry, Rosenbaum ( eventually Young)
  • AAA Bullpen: Tatusko, Mandel,  Davis, McCoy, Crotta, Abad, Romero, Bramhall
  • AAA D/L: Kimball, Bray, Meyers, Torra, West, Garcia (technically XLS), Accardo
  • AAA cut/released/FA: HPena, Mann, Zinicola, Arneson, Atkins, Ballard
  • AAA Missing: none

AAA Discussion

We were 3/5s correct on the rotation, and probably would have been 4/5ths right if Brad Meyers was healthy.  Ross Ohlendorf and (eventually) Chris Young are new faces here, both being former MLB starters who are taking the Zach Duke route of signing on for full seasons as AAA starter insurance for the big club in the hopes of rebuilding value and finding a MLB job for next year.  Brian Broderick is indeed back; its just that he’s starting for AA instead of AAA.  Lastly Danny Rosenbaum was returned to the team after his spring Rule-5 adventure and was put in AAA instead of AA, where (as we’ll see in a second) I would have predicted he would start.  Once Young is ready to go, I see Tanner Roark turning into the swingman/long-man.

On the bright side (pun intended), when was the last time a professional baseball team had TWO Ivy League alumni pitching in its rotation??  Both Young and Ohlendorf went to Princeton.  I wonder if they have NYTimes crossword puzzle competitions instead of (assumedly) video game competitions on off-days in the clubhouse.

As far as bullpen predictions go, next year I’m paying more close attention to who are 6-year free agents.  Arneson, Severino and Nelo were all MLFAs and have either signed on elsewhere or are facing forced retirement.  Tatusko, Davis and Mandel are onboard.  Lehman is (surprisingly?) in AA, perhaps a victim of the numbers game of the Nats signing (and keeping) a number of minor league lefty relievers this off-season.  I would guess, looking at the names in the bullpen, that Erik Davis is the closer but who knows what the usage will be like.  Lastly Bramhall was a MLFA signing over the off-season who just got placed on the AAA roster to replace the injured Accardo.


AA Nov 2012 Prediction

  • AA Rotation: Rosenbaum, Holder, Gilliam, Karns, Grace, Demny (swingman?) or MLFA?  Solis if he’s healthy?
  • AA Bullpen: Frias, McCoy, Selik (maybe high-A again), Holland (setup),  Wort (closer), VanAllen (loogy), Demmin (maybe high-A again), an org arm or two to fill in.

AA Apr 2013 Actual

  • AA Rotation: Broderick, Treinen, Demny, Clay, Karns
  • AA Bullpen: Holder, Frias, Holland, Wort, Barrett,  Krol,  Lehman, Swynenberg
  • AA D/L: Solis, RMartin, Olbrychowski, Selik
  • AA Cut/released/FA: VanAllen
  • AA Missing: none

AA Discussion

We got, well, not much of this right.  Of my starter predictions: Rosenbaum is in AAA, Holder is here but seems to be the long-man right now, Gilliam is hurt, Solis is still on the DL, and Grace is back in High-A.  We do seem to have at least gotten Karns and Demny right.  Broderick was a surprise FA signing, his being a favorite of the Nats organziation per our Rule-5 experiment with him a couple years back.  I’m surprised he’s not in the AAA rotation though.  Treinen was a trade-throw in from the Morse deal and takes a spot in this rotation, while Clay was a 2013 MLFA signing who (surprisingly?) made the rotation over the likes of other candidates.

The bullen prediction is all over the place: We got Frias, Holland and Wort right.  McCoy is in AAA, Selik is on the AA D/L and VanAllen and Demmin were MLFAs who were left unsigned (and per the big board are still unsigned).   I thought Barrett and Swynenberg would be in high-A instead of AA, I (and most others) thought Lehman would be in AAA, and Krol arrived as the PTBNL in the Morse trade.


High-A Nov 2012 Prediction

  • High-A Rotation: Swynenberg, Ray, Meyer (maybe AA?), Schwartz (maybe low-A), Rauh(maybe low-A)
  • High-A Bullpen Competition: Barrett (maybe AA) , Testa, Smoker (loogy), Hill, Meza(perhaps a starter?), Holt, Hawkins, Bates, Mirowski
  • High-A bullpen Release candidates: Olbrychowski, McCatty, Applebee

High-A Apr 2013 Actual

  • High-A Rotation: Ray, Jordan, Cole, Turnbull, Hill
  • High-A Bullpen Competition: Herron, Mirowski, Holt, Hawkins, Meza, Bates, Self, Grace
  • High-A D/L: Smoker, Applebee, Gilliam
  • High-A Cut/FA/Released: Demmin, Consuegra, Samuel, Testa
  • High-A Missing: McCatty, Olbrychowski

High-A Discussion

The Potomac rotation guess was already light; a couple of the guys I was guessing might be in low-A are indeed there (Schwartz and Rauh).  Swynenberg is in the AA bullpen.  Meyer was traded.  Only Robbie Ray returns.  I thought Jordan was going to repeat Hagerstown.   We got Cole back in the Morse trade and bumped up Turnbull from short season (over Mooneyham, interestingly) Lastly Hill seems to have beaten out Grace for the 5th starter spot.

The Bullpen prediction looks pretty good: 7 of the predicted guys are here (Smoker on the DL, Meza, Holt, Hawkins, Mirowski and Bates).  Barrett indeed is in AA.  Testa was released.  Of my release candidates McCatty is in XST, Applebee and Olbrychowski are on the DL.  Lastly both Samuel and Consuegra were off-season MLFA signings who didn’t pan out and have already been released.


Low-A Nov 2012 Prediction

  • Low-A Rotation: Turnbull, Jordan, Purke (if healthy), Monar, Mooneyham
  • Low-A Rotation Competitors: Hansen, Lee (loogy if not), Encarnation, McGeary (if finally healthy)
  • Low-A Bullpen Competition: Anderson, Estevez, Dupra, McKenzie, Henke, Davis, Boyden, Benincasa, Hudgins, Dicherry, Mudron

Low-A Apr 2013 Actual

  • Low-A Rotation: Anderson, Mooneyham, Pineyro, RPena, Encarnation
  • Low-A Swingmen: Rauh, Schwarz, Dupra
  • Low-A Bullpen: Fischer, Harper, Henke, Hudgins, Benincasa
  • Low-A D/L: Estevez, Purke, Simko, Mesa, Weaver
  • Low-A Cut/FA/Released: Kreis, Lucas, Upperman, Hansen, Monar
  • Low-A Missing: Hollins, Hicks

Low-A Discussion

Historically the hardest to predict, the Low-A team.  Of the guesses for the rotation last fall, we only got Mooneyham right.  Turnbull and Jordan were bumped up a level.  Purke is still hurt.  Of the “competitors” the team flat out released Monar and Hansen to my surprise.  Monar was really good in Auburn last year, and while Bobby Hansen wasn’t nearly as dominant as a starter, I thought he’d at least get a shot at being a loogy after so many years in the organization.  Jack McGeary was selected out of the org during the minor league phase of the rule-5 draft.  Lee is in XST limbo right now.

So who are these surprising Low-A rotation guys?  I thought Anderson would be relegated to the bullpen in Low-A; instead he’s the opening day starter.  I thought Pineyro would repeat short-season ball but he made the full-season team.  And lastly I thought Pena was destined for another season in short-A.

Rauh and Schwartz, after I thought they had shots in the rotation in high-A, seem to be taking the roles of “2nd starters” for now, each having gone multiple innings in relief of the starter.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see them becoming full time starters if one of the 5 guys ahead of them falter.

Most of the rest of the predicted bullpen are 2012 signees who are currently amongst a large group of extended spring training guys who will be battling it out for short-season jobs with 2013 signees.   And we seem to have a very large group of them; the big board lists in excess of 30 hurlers who are currently still in the organization, who are not on the D/L officially, but who are not assigned to one of the four full season teams.   That’s a lot of arms for just a handful of spots in short-A and the rookie league after the 2013 draft occurs.

Written by Todd Boss

April 11th, 2013 at 8:41 am

Posted in Majors Pitching,Minor League Pitching,Rule-5

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Nats Franchise Draft history; biggest, best, worst Draft Picks

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Face of the Franchise Zimmerman easily represents the best player drafted in the Washington era (by WAR). Photo team official

This is the Third in a long-delayed series of “Best of” posts, breaking down the transactions of both the club’s General Managers.  Previously:

1. Biggest/Best/Worst Trades in Nats History (March 2012)

2. Biggest/Best/Worst Free Agent signings in Nats History (November 2012).

Here’s Part 3: looking at the Biggest, Best and Worst Draft picks the team has made since arriving here in Washington.

Ground rules for this article:

1. Unlike the trades and free agent posts, assiging “credit” or “blame” for draft picks on the General Manager is not entirely straightforward.  Baseball teams rely heavily on Scouting Directors and their staffs when it comes to the draft, especially once you get past the first few rounds.  So, perhaps for the purposes of this article it is better to talk about the “Reign of Jim Bowden” and the “Reign of Mike Rizzo” instead of insinuating that every draft decision was made by the GM during these times.  Much like the President of the US gets credit/blame when  the US economy as a whole rises or falls (whether or not you’d like to argue that a president’s decisions can influence a multi-trillion dollar economy), so does the GM get the credit/blame for his staff’s draft picks.  Most baseball pundits that I’ve read generally say that the GM/Team Ownership is always directly involved in making any 1st round and supplemental first round picks (because of the money), and will be involved if over-slot bonuses come up in later rounds, but that by the 5th round or so the entire draft is being conducted without the GM’s involvement.  Which leads us to point #2…

2. Related to #1; Mike Rizzo, whom Bowden hired in July of 2006, may not have been the Scouting Director but he certainly had a say in the drafts (coming from a scouting background in Arizona).   I’ll list scouting directors tenure here as well, related to #1 and #2.  But, it probably isn’t going to be entirely fair to the GM to say that such-and-such a pick was “good” or “bad” if it was actually being done by his staff.

3.  It is entirely “hindsight is 20/20″ in nature.  But, it is what it is.  If you draft a 1st rounder who flames out in low-A, he’s a failure.  If you draft a major leaguer in the 21st round, he’s a fantastic success.  Mostly here in judging the “best draft picks” I’m looking for value in later rounds.  As it turns out judging “worst” draft picks mostly will be around first round busts.

Just for review, here’s the tenure period of both GMs:

  • Nov 2004 – Mar 2009: Jim Bowden
  • Mar 2009 – present: Mike Rizzo

And here’s the tenure period of Scouting Directors during our time here in Washington:

  • Mid 2002 – Mar 2009: Dana Brown
  • Mar 2009 – Present: Kris Kline

The quintessential Nats Draft resource is the Draft Tracker Spreadsheet, initially created by NatsFarm.com’s Brian Oliver and now maintained by “SpringfieldFan. ” It has all our draft picks, where they came from and signing bonuses.  A file I’ve kept recently (The Draft Prospects Worksheet) is a file I started to create when the Nats started getting some upper-end draft picks as a way to track who we may take.  Lastly, you can query the entire amateur draft results per team at baseball-reference.com (the link will go to the 2009 draft by way of example).

Jim Bowden Tenure: Nov 2004 – Mar 2009

Bowden’s Biggest Draft Picks (in terms of dollars committed).

  • 2005 1st rnd: Ryan Zimmerman, $2.975M
  • 2007 1st rnd: Ross Detwiler, $2.1M
  • 2007 6th rnd: Jack McGeary: $1.8M
  • 2006 1st rnd: Chris Marrero: $1.6M
  • 2006 1st rnd: Colten Willems: $1.4M

Bowden’s Best Draft Picks

  • 2005 11th rnd: John Lannan out of Siena College.  A durable and servicable lefty starter with MLB average numbers out of a small college in the 11th round is a great find.
  • 2005 12th rnd: Craig Stammen out of Dayton.  He didn’t look as if he’d be successful until his transition to the bullpen, where his arm action and movement have baffled hitters during his shorter reliever stints.
  • 2006 41st rnd: Brad Peacock out of a Florida HS as a “draft and follow” guy (which enabled teams to take late round fliers on good talent, so this isn’t exactly the same as finding a true 41st round player who made the majors, since Peacock likely wouldn’t have been taken without the DDE rules in place and would have been an upper round draft pick the next season he was eligible).
  • 2007 2nd rnd: Jordan Zimmermann out of U Wisconsin Stevens Point (not because of his draft position, but because of the scouting out of such a small school).  Zimmermann survived TJ surgery and now looks like a hidden Ace in the making.
  • 2007 4th rnd: Derek Norris out of a Kansas HS: possibly the best HS player the team has drafted since arriving in DC.
  • 2008 10th rnd: Tommy Milone out of USC.  Rizzo may not have rated him, but he looks to be in Oakland’s rotation for many years to come.
  • 2008 16th rnd: Tyler Moore out of Mississippi State.  Scouts continually have downplayed Moore’s power; I have never read a scouting report on Moore that didn’t focus on “holes in his swing” or “defensive liabilities.”  All he’s done is mash the ball at every level he’s been challenged with in his career.
  • 2008 19th rnd: Steve Lombardozzi out of St. Petersburg JuCo.  Despite his pedigree (his father played in the Majors in parts of 6 seasons), Lombardozzi was lightly pursued and surprisingly signed as a late round JuCo draftee.  He’s scraped his way to the top though and could find himself starting if the team decides to move Espinosa.

Despite the issues at the top of the 2008 draft, it may have been Bowden’s best.  He took no less than 6 guys who now are on 25-man rosters in this league (Milone, Moore, Lombardozzi, Espinosa, and Crow).  2005 wasn’t bad either, with 7 guys that have MLB appearances (though only 3 remain with the team).

Bowden’s Worst Draft Picks

  • 2006: almost the entire draft.  Bowden blew the first 6 picks on high schoolers, the best of whom was Chris Marrero, who has contributed -0.7 WAR in his career thus far.  First round pick Colten Willems flamed out and just gave up playing in the middle of the 2010 season, Stephen Englund was released (but not before earning a 50-game suspension for Amphetemine usage), Sean Black didn’t sign and Stephen King has yet to succeed above A-ball despite being in his his 6th pro season (and, just for good measure, had his own 50-game drug suspension in 2009).  Only one player in the top 12 rounds of picks even played a day in the majors.  Just a complete debacle of a draft.
  • 2007′s high schoolers: Smoker, Souza, Burgess, and Smolinkski: all top 3 round picks, all busts.
  • 2007′s Jack McGeary, who insisted (admirably) on also going to college, but probably at the detriment of his baseball career.  I’m sorry; if someone pays you $1.8M dollars in cash, you probably should work for that money.   McGeary never was able to master anything above rookie ball and was so under-valued by the team that they failed to protect him in the minor league phase of the 2012 Rule 5 draft (where he was subsequently taken by Boston).
  • The 2008 Aaron Crow debacle.  Yes I know that this pick turned into 2009′s Drew Storen.  And yes I know that Crow has now been turned into a middle reliever while Storen has turned into an effective closer.  At the time, this move helped continue the “incompetent” labels that the organization was earning, as Bowden reportedly refused to negotiate with Crow’s agents and failed to do his due diligence before drafting the player.  Who is to say whether Crow’s electric arm wouldn’t have turned into a regular rotation member in our organization (Kansas City doesn’t exactly have a stellar record of developing pitchers).  In the end, getting Storen and also not losing the opportunity cost of missing a year’s development time of a first round pick (by virtue of the rest of the team being so awful) ended up not hurting the team.  But it still goes down as a draft failure for Bowden.

Mike Rizzo Tenure: Mar 2009 – present

Rizzo’s Biggest Draft Picks (in terms of dollars committed).

  • 2009 1st rnd: Stephen Strasburg: $7.5M bonus, 15.1M guaranteed
  • 2010 1st rnd: Bryce Harper: $6.25M bonus, $9.9M guaranteed
  • 2011 1st rnd: Anthony Rendon: $6M, $7.2M guaranteed
  • 2011 3rd rnd: Matthew Purke: $2.75M bonus, $4.15M guaranteed
  • 2011 1st rnd (supplemental): Brian Goodwin: $3M
  • 2012 1st rnd: Lucas Giolito: $2.9M
  • 2011 1st rnd: Alex Meyer: $2M
  • 2010 4th rnd: A.J. Cole: $2M
  • 2009 1st rnd: Drew Storen: $1.6M

As we saw with the Free Agent post, Rizzo clearly had more money to work with from Ownership than Bowden did.  Spending $2M on a 4th round pick (AJ Cole) would have been unheard of in the Bowden reign.

Rizzo’s Best Draft Picks

  • 2009 12th rnd: Nathan Karns out of Texas Tech: Karns got 4th/5th round money in the 12th round but has been bedeviled by injuries until this year.  By now we know what he’s capable of; our organization’s Minor League pitcher of the Year earned a spot on the 40-man roster and could be in line for a 2013 late season call-up.  It could be too-early to tell, but right now this is looking like one of Rizzo’s best.
  • 2009 22nd rnd: Danny Rosenbaum out of Xavier; despite the team not protecting him and losing him in Rule-5, he had come out of no-where to be one of our best pitching prospects.
  • 2010 12th rnd: Robbie Ray out of a Tennessee HS; he had a great debut and has been steadily rising up the ranks.  The team was able to buy him out of a committment to the University of Arkansas by offering 2nd round money.
  • 2010 22nd rnd: Cameron Selik as a U Kansas senior has made it to AA and looks like a great later-round steal, especially for a college senior this low in the draft.
  • 2011 5th rnd: Matt Skole out of  Georgia Tech looks like he could be an excellent hitting prospect and is making it into the top 5 lists of Nationals prospects.
  • 2011 1st rnd supp: Brian Goodwin out of a Miami JuCo looks more advanced than anyone would have thought at this point, and could be pressing for playing time in 2013.  I don’t normally give plaudits for 1st round talents, but the team aggressively pursued and captured Goodwin at a time when it looked like he was heading to UNC.

Rizzo’s Worst Draft Picks

  • 2009 2nd rnd: Jeff Kobernus out of Cal Berkeley.  Perhaps less because of his production (which was mostly poor for his career), but moreso because the decision not to protect him and value your investment in the player, leading to his departure in the 2012 rule-5 draft.  No worries for Nats fans: Rizzo drafted almost the doppelganger of Kobernus in 2012: again taking a 2nd baseman from California in the second round (Tony Renda).  Lets hope it works out better this time.
  • 2009 3rd rnd: Trevor Holder out of Georgia.  A blatant punt on the draft pick to save money, Holder was a college senior with zero leverage and should have been offered closer to $1,000 instead of the $200,000 he got.  Holder has struggled for years in our system.  He did have a decent 2nd half in Harrisburg, so there is hope yet.  But 3rd round picks should have more promise than Holder has shown.
  • 2010 3rd rnd: Rick Hague out of Rice.  He hasn’t lived up to his 3rd round billing yet, though (to be fair) he has struggled with some injuries.

Rizzo’s Too Soon to Tell Draft Picks

  • 2010 2nd rnd: Sammy Solis was looking promising out of U San Diego, but has been side lined by Tommy John Surgery.
  • The 2011 college-arm gamble: Rizzo drafted dozens of college players this draft, stocking the system with experienced amateurs.
  • 2012 1st: the Lucas Giolito gamble won’t play itself out for a couple of years, but it is safe to say Rizzo went “all in” on this player.  A 1-1 talent but damaged goods upon drafting, the team is putting a lot of faith into its experience in dealing with hurlers going through Tommy John.
  • 2011 3rd: Matt Purke got a MLB deal and a whole lot of money, and has done relatively nothing to earn it because of lingering shoulder injuries.  I’m listing him as too early to tell, but the signs are not good.


Ladson’s inbox 12/11/12

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LaRoche; Staying or going? Photo Rob Carr/Getty Images via bleacherreport.com

Hey, everybody’s doing inbox responses this week.  Here’s Bill Ladson‘s latest inbox column, dated 12/11/12.

As always, I write the response here before reading his, and sometimes edit questions for clarity.

Q: Are you pleased with the Denard Span trade? Or do you think the Nats should have tried to sign Michael Bourn?

A: My thoughts are pretty clear on the Denard Span trade; in a sentence, I didn’t think we needed to make the trade, but the deal we struck was fair.  If it comes down to Span versus Michael Bourn, there’s no question in my mind you go with Span; Bourn wants too much money, is older, they’re roughly equivalent in terms of UZR/150, and Bourn has lesser career batting stats (104 OPS+ career for Span versus 90 for Bourn).  I think there’s a reason that BJ Upton signed and most teams with CF needs/wants have solved them (Phillies and Ben Revere, Giants and re-signing Angel Pagan, Braves and Upton, Nats and Span, etc) and Bourn still sits unsigned; he and his super-agent Scott Boras are over-valuing his services.  Ladson says he likes Span for his contract and his age versus Bourn.

Q: Why are the Nats thinking about getting rid of a 30-homer, 100-RBI guy in Adam LaRoche?

A: First, lets be fair; the Nats are “not getting rid” of the Free Agent Adam LaRoche; he’s a free agent and can sign anywhere he chooses.  Maybe LaRoche is tired of the humidity in Washington and wants to find a team closer to home.  Maybe his wife really likes the Pacific Northwest and he’s looking to move to Seattle.  Ok seriously; the problem with LaRoche is simply his age; yes he was 30/100 THIS year; what will he do next year?  More importantly, what would he do 3 years from now when he’s 35 and earning $15M/year or so?  That’s the risk in any FA contract for someone in his 30s, and these types of contracts have a tendency to add up and really hamstring your budgets.  Just look at the Yankees and Phillies right now; think the Phillies wish they had about $50M in payroll flexibility to improve their .500 team?  The team really doesn’t want to commit more than a couple years, but at LaRoche’s age this is really his last shot at a big-time, life altering guaranteed contract.  He really needs to get as much guaranteed money as he can.  If the Red Sox give him a 3year guaranteed contract, he really needs to take it.  Ladson states the obvious; Nats offering 2 years, LaRoche wants 3.

Q: Who will be the Nats’ second baseman in 2013 — Danny Espinosa or Steve Lombardozzi?

A: Danny Espinosa.  The team showed patience waiting for Ian Desmond to turn it around and seem likely to do the same with Espinosa.  Now, if it were me, I wouldn’t mind cashing in Espinosa’s defensive stature and 20-home run prowness and shed his 190Ks/season to obtain some farm system depth and just live with Steve Lombardozzi playing 2nd and batting 8th, but there’s really no reason to do that right now.  Espinosa is at MLB minimum and may make the leap; and Lombardozzi may really just be a utility/backup infielder type.  Ladson predicts a gold glove and an All-Star appearance for Espinosa.  That made me chuckle.  He’s very optimistic.

Q: What does the Span trade mean for the future of Tyler Moore? Moore has good pop and belongs in the everyday lineup.

A: Well, clearly the Span acquisition means that Tyler Moore is at best looking at another season of backup at-bats.  What is more important to Moore is what happens with LaRoche/Michael Morse.  Because those are the blockers to Moore getting actual playing time right now.  Moore’s production last season was great for a first  year guy; .840 OPS, 124 OPS+, a 22 home run full season pace.  He hit righties better than lefties, which fares well for his maturation as a hitter.  But there’s just no room for him right now.  I suspect he may be trade bait if the team signs LaRoche to a 3year deal, just as Morse will be.  Ladson states the obvious; Moore will come off the bench this year.

Q: Who will be the Nationals’ starting catcher on Opening Day?

A: Great question.  I’d go with Kurt Suzuki for now, until hearing how Wilson Ramos‘ recovery is going.  Remember, Ramos had to have two knee surgeries last summer; I don’t think its a guarantee that he’s ready opening day.  Ladson agrees, saying the team is taking it slow w/ Ramos.

Q: Do you think Michael Morse is a defensive liability in the outfield? If LaRoche signs with the Nats, what impact will that have on Morse?

A: Yes he’s a defensive liability in LF.  But I don’t mind having a 30 homer defensive liability in left.  But I’m not the GM of the Nationals who seems dead set on replacing all sub-par defenders on his roster.  If LaRoche signs, it pretty clearly means an imminent trade of Morse, since it makes little sense to have his bat sitting in a backup capacity.   Ladson doesn’t think he’s as big of a liability in LF as I do, pointing out that Morse seemed like he was playing hurt at the end of the season.

Q: What will the Nats do with Chien-Ming Wang?

A: Nothing.  Chien-Ming Wang is a free agent and can sign anywhere he wants.  If the Nats give him another dollar of guaranteed money I’ll be furious.  Ladson says he’s not coming back and may not sign til mid-season, ala Roy Oswalt.

Ask Boswell 12/10/12 edition

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Denard Span's "best of 2012" defensive catch, highlighting more of what we can expect in 2013. Photo NYpost.com

I wasn’t expecting much baseball talk in Ask Boswell this week (12/10/12), not with the Redskins on a 4-game winning streak.  But there were some significant baseball moves to discuss, and a ton of baseball questions made their way in.  So here we go.  As always, I read the question and answer before reading Tom Boswell‘s response, and sometimes edit questions for clarity:

Q: I find it hard to imagine any starter of worth will sign with the Nats now that there are five rotation certainties in place.  Will the Nats get the starter depth they desire?

A: There is definitely a class of starter out there who absolutely would take a minor league contract with a team like the Nats in order to rehabilitate their FA value, which may have been eroded due to injury or a bad season.  Who would sign Erik Bedard (as an example) to anything guaranteed right now?  Or Jonathan Sanchez?   I would say though that more likely is the team acquiring guys on the minor league free agent market (where there’s 100s of guys available) and trading for farm system depth (I could envision both Michael Morse and Danny Espinosa being moved for prospect depth right now).  Boswell didn’t really address this part of the question, instead focusing on the next question.

Q: Why did Rizzo non-tender Gorzelanny, who as the LHP long man could spot start? He has been effective at times, the non-tender now seems like a false economy.

A: Simple econonmics; despite Tom Gorzelanny‘s salary being miniscule in the grand scheme of things, they couldn’t tender him and risk getting an un-acceptable award in arbitration.  I posted on the topic ahead of the non-tender deadline.  I’m hopeful that Gorzelanny re-signs with the team at something close to his 2012 salary.  But, that being said the bullpen looks awfully full right now and there might not be room for him.  5 returning RH relievers, new signing Zach Duke and only one spot left, likely being filled by Bill Bray in a pure LOOGY move.  Boswell points out that Duke exactly replicates what Gorzelanny would have given us at a fraction of the price.  Enough said.

Q: How do you like the Denard Span acquisition versus Philly’s acquisition of Ben Revere?   Should the Nats have acquired Revere instead of Span?  Do the Nats have an internal CF option after Span’s contract ends?

A: I posted my opinion on the Span deal here; quick analysis: liked the Denard Span deal but didn’t like that they made it.   Now, if I compare the Span to the Revere deals, I can’t help but say that I think Philadelphia overpaid, badly.  Trevor May was Philly’s #1 prospect in their system.  May for Revere may have been a decent deal (akin to our own Alex Meyer for Span), but throwing in a servicable starter with 46 decent MLB starts under his belt was questionable.  It isn’t like Ben Revere is the second coming of Joe DiMaggio; he had a 89 OPS+ last year in his third pro season.  Great defense absolutely, but at what cost at the plate?  At least Span profiles as a better-than-league-average hitter.   The Span contract is for 2 years, by which time the Nats have a slew of potential replacements (in likely order Goodwin, Perez, Hood, Taylor), so yes there’s plenty of rising talent in the system at center.  Boswell doubts the talent of Trevor May despite the consensus scouting opinion of the player, but he likes Worley and thinks the Phillies “took a flier on talent.”  He does think Span > Revere though.

Q: Have the Nats done enough to their roster to win it all?  Do they need another closer?

A: I believe the team has already done enough to re-qualify for the 2013 playoffs, especially in the NL East where Miami and the Mets are reeling, barring a slate of pitching injuries.  I can make a legitimate argument (tease for a future post) that the WAR improvements expected from our existing players (Strasburg, Harper, a full season of Werth, etc), plus addition by subtraction for players who hurt us last year (Nady, DeRosa, Henry Rodriguez, etc) alone will result in a better team than 2012.   Do we need another closer?  No, but I think one more right handed option out of the pen could help.   That being said, we don’t really have any 25-man room right now given the anticipated pen.  I liked last year’s Brad Lidge signing as a way to get some bullpen help, but doubt the team will do it this year.  As far as Drew Storen goes, he’s a top notch reliever and does not need to be replaced.  But I could see the team flipping him or Tyler Clippard as they get more expensive.  Boswell says the Los Angeles acquisitions change the game, and teams like the Nats may have to re-think their approaches.

Q: What do you think of the Shields trade? Who comes out ahead? Do the Rays have enough pitching to remain AL East contenders, even after trading their No 1 starter?

A: I believe Tampa Bay fleeced Kansas City; Shields was NOT their #1 starter (David PriceJeremy Hellickson) or honestly maybe not even their #3 (Matt Moore, at least on potential).  So the Rays traded a mid-rotation starter who they wanted to move anyway, along with a long-man in Wade Davis for the best prospect in the minors right now  (Wil Myers), the Royal’s #1 pitching prospect (Jake Odorizzi), another high-end pitching prospect (Mike Montgomery, a former highly regarded arm), and yet another minor league player.  That is just frankly ridiculous.  If you had told me the trade was simply Myers for both Shields and Davis, I could have squinted and understood.  But the addition of the other prospects made this a complete heist for Tampa.  You don’t trade the best prospect in the minor leagues for anything less than an ACE starter.  Does Tampa have enough to remain AL east contenders?  Absolutely yes; this was a trade of spare parts for Tampa (akin to the Nats trading Tyler Moore and Steve Lombardozzi for some other team’s two best prospects) and they didn’t give up anything that they weren’t already planning on replacing.  Dayton Moore has gone all in on this move; if the Royals do not win the division in 2013, he’s out of a job.  Boswell didn’t really offer an opinion, just saying that the Rays are still stocked and noting that the price in prospects was why the Nats stayed away.  Disappointed not to read an opinion on the trade.

Q: Will Harper be hitting cleanup this year and, if so, what’s your thinking on this?

A: Answer: It depends.  If the team does NOT re-sign Adam LaRoche, then they have precious little left-handed hitting in the lineup, and Harper will be forced to bat somewhere in the middle of the order.  Cleanup may have to be the spot.  If LaRoche does come back, then the team can spread out its lefty power and continue with a similar lineup to what they used last year (going Harper-Zimmerman-LaRoche-Werth for L-R-L-R).  I certainly don’t think that someone like Harper will have any issues batting clean-up in the major leagues; one thing he’s never been accused of lacking is pride.  Boswell agrees with the opinion here, and then talks about just how much respect Harper earned in his rookie season.

Q: Should I be worried about our pitching depth? Our pitching was remarkably healthy this year and if that doesn’t hold true, especially with questions about Haren’s health I am not sure we can assume that will hold true this season. Don’t we need another starter or two who could eat innings if needed?

A: Yes, we have a depth issue.  Especially given that we’ve traded nearly an entire AAA team worth of rotation insurance in the last two off-seasons (Milone, Peacock, Meyer, Rosenbaum all traded away or lost to rule 5 in the last two off-seasons).  But Dan Haren has been remarkably durable through his career, only missing 28 games in his entire career to injury.  So lets temper the whole “Haren is fragile narrative.”  He’s not; he just happened to have an injury in 2012.  I’m assuming, until proven otherwise, that Haren will return to his previous form and throw 220 innings.  Does this mean that we weren’t lucky in 2012 and should plan for someone to get hurt in the rotation?  Absolutely.  I believe this is why moving either Michael Morse or Danny Espinosa for starter depth is wise.  Boswell reminds the reader about Duke’s starting capability and the team’s plans for Christian Garcia.  There’s also Ryan Perry.  And there’s also the slew of guys who won’t get MLB jobs but who aren’t ready to hang them up who will be there for the taking.  You know, guys exactly like Duke was last year 2 days before the start of the season.

Q: Don’t you think that if LaRoche was going to re-sign that he would have by now? If he goes, have the Nat’s alienated Morse?

A: No; the baseball off-season moves slowly, and few moves happen before the Winter Meetings anyway.  LaRoche is right on schedule for his negotiations.  Now, the team’s overt coveting of LaRoche has to have Morse pissed.  I would be; clearly the team is planning for your exit on a day to day basis in the open press.  Which is a real shame, because I like Morse and don’t think he did anything to warrant being treated this way.  Boswell somehow thinks that this whole dance is a compliment to Morse.  I don’t get it.

Q: Rizzo has a 2 year offer on the table for LaRoche, and history says he’s not likely to budge. Moreover, with other options like Morse and Moore, there’s no reason for him to. If another team needed help at 1B and was willing to give LaRoche 3 years, wouldn’t they have done so already? You’ve said all along you see the Nats and LaRoche amicably parting ways. Still see it that way?

A: Rizzo can budge on his demands.  Hey; at least it isn’t a four year deal that LaRoche is demanding.  I think a 2year deal with a club option for a 3rd makes a lot of sense for the team.  For the player, not so much.  This is LaRoche’s last chance at the free agent bonanza; he has to get the biggest contract he can.  The market for LaRoche won’t completely clear until Josh Hamilton signs.  While they’re not apples-to-apples comparisons, they are both lefty power hitters.  If a team that wanted Hamilton doesn’t get him, they can come looking for LaRoche to fit a middle of the order lefty bat.  The team still needs and wants LaRoche for two main reasons; plus defense and lefty power.  They’ll take a step backwards in both categories by going with Morse at first and Moore as first guy off the bench.  At the beginning of the off-season I thought LaRoche was leaving, because he’d want (and get) a 4 year deal.  Now I think he may be back.  Boswell now thinks LaRoche may be back and the team may give a 3rd year.

Q: I realize that the life with LaRoche is much preferred by the Nats. However, do you think there will be much of drop off in the quality of Nats play? Even without him, I have no doubt that the Nats will still win their share of games and make the playoffs (assuming the starting rotation stays relatively healthy). All starters are strike out pitchers. Offensive production should be about eqaul (though not as balanced),and Morse/Moore will probably make a few more errors. I feel like moving Zimmerman to first in 2014 and have Rendon starting at third would be the ideal way to make sure the core stays in tact.

A: I mostly agree; we’ll live without LaRoche but will be righty-heavy.  Morse is healthy and has shown 30 homer capabilities in the past; why wouldn’t he do that again in 2013?  It is a contract  year for him after all.  Meanwhile. the “save first base for Ryan Zimmerman” plan is one I’m 100% for; we’re just waiting for Anthony Rendon to show up.  Boswell cautions to temper expectations for Rendon, who hasn’t had an injury-free season in years.

Q: Why does Shane Victorino get a 3 year deal before Adam LaRoche?

A: Because the Red Sox made a rash, poor signing?  The LaRoche market just hasn’t played out yet.  Plus, filling a first baseman versus a corner outfielder is more risky for teams, so they do more due diligence.  Boswell doesn’t like the Victorino deal.  At all.

Q: Michael Young had the lowest WAR of ANY position player last year, do you really think he’s an upgrade for the Phillies? Personally, I can’t wait for those fans to start booing him 2 weeks into the season.

A: Yes, Michael Young looked pretty bad statistically last year.  But i’m guessing that a change of scenery may help him.  Texas has spent the past several seasons acquiring players to overtly replace Young; the year after he won a gold glove at short the team asked him to make way for Elvis Andrus and he moved to third.  Then the team moved him off of third when they acquired Adrian Beltre.  Then the team moved him to first … but then gave most of the starts at first to Mitch Moreland Maybe his 2012 was just pure disappointment in his treatment by the club where he’d played his entire career.  I think though that at his age (36 next year) he’ll be lucky to be just replacement level.  Boswell states the obvious; the Phillies are hoping for the 2011 version of Young, not the 2012 version.




Span for Meyer; Understand it but don’t entirely like it

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The team gets the lead-off hitter it has needed for years in Denard Span. Photo Bruce Kluckhohn/Minnesota Twins via twitter

At least Nats fans can start understanding the team’s off-season plans a little more clearly now.  The first domino has fallen.  The Nats acquired Denard Span from Minnesota for Alex Meyer yesterday.

I’ve argued against a center field acquisition for a while now.  Here’s three primary reasons why:

1. I don’t feel the Nats needed a center fielder.  Bryce Harper put up a 17.6 UZR/150 in 715+ innings while showing a plus-plus arm (both statistically and for any casual observers).   He’s just turning 20.  There is no reason to think he cannot ably patrol center for at least the next few years.  I’ve used this analogy before, but I feel like its the Yankees approaching Mickey Mantle after his first season in center and saying, “Hey Mick, we like you in center but we have this barely above league average guy At least until point #2 possibly comes to play:

2. Brian Goodwin, along with Destin Hood, Eury Perez, Michael Taylor and any other marginal OF prospect the team has is now effectively blocked for at least the next 3 years and possibly longer.  Span is signed through 2014 (with a very affordable 2015 option), Jayson Werth signed through 2017, and Harper is under team control through at least 2017.   There’s your outfield for the next 3 years guaranteed, 2/3rds of which is locked up for the next 5.  I just feel that the better path would have been to let Harper play CF until Goodwin or Perez seems ready (clearly Godwin is an upper-end prospect who has impressed ever since he was drafted, and the team didn’t add Perez to their 40-man roster just to give him the extra salary) and just make do with a slugger in left field.

3. The loss of Alex Meyer represents the best healthy starter arm in the entire system, a system which is becoming thinner and thinner (with this trade on the backs of the Gio trade I’d guess the Nats are now going to be in the bottom 5 farm systems when rankings start coming out).  You can argue whether or not Meyer was going to stick as a starter (see the “bright side” points below), but inarguably this weakens the farm system in general and further weakens a specific problem that may pop up sooner than later; starting pitcher depth.  If one of our big 4 suffers a spring training injury, it is difficult to see who may step up and be counted on for starts.

This move clearly forces the Nationals hand on Michael Morse, and now the team may end up negotiating from a point of weakness if they need to move him.  The decision path for the team now is clearly “Morse or LaRoche” at first base.  If the team does bring back Adam LaRoche suddenly Morse is without a lineup spot and his trade value diminishes quickly.  If the rumors are true that LaRoche is “only” seeking a 3 year deal, the Nats should stumble over themselves to offer him a 3 year deal (3yrs $40M seems more than fair based on what LaRoche did for us last year) and lock up the plus-defender/middle of the order bat.

This move also cannot be a happy day for Tyler Moore; he’s clearly set on being a backup now in 2013 no matter what happens with Morse/LaRoche, despite promising numbers in 2012.   Well, unless the team fails to re-sign LaRoche AND moves Morse (which I suppose is still possible but would make little sense), which would then install Moore as the every day first baseman.  Between Moore, Morse possibly being out of a position and Goodwin being blocked for years to come, you have to think we’re going to see some more moves involving these players (hopefully to acquire a starter, or some starter depth in the minors).


Now, on the bright side (since I’ve been accused of being too negative in my analysis), I will say the following:

1. We did not give up a ton for Span.  I like Meyer, but I’m afraid he may not stick as a starter.  The scouting knock on him has always related to his tall frame and repeatability of his delivery.  He has a funky leg kick and slightly weird mechanics, further muddying the waters.  Lastly he’s a huge guy and he (at first glance in videos) seems to really throw standing up and doesn’t use a ton of his lower body.  All of this spells “reliever” in his future.  If Meyer tops out as a fireballing reliever, this trade looks even better.

2. Span inarguably fills a need; a high OBP leadoff hitter.  He’s a .357 career OBP guy with speed and who hits lefty, a nearly perfect fit for what this lineup needs at the top.  Leadoff hitters generally come from one of three positions: CF, SS and 2B.  If the team decided it NEEDED a leadoff guy, and with Desmond and Espinosa locked into the SS and 2B slots for the time being, clearly the only place the team could go was a center-fielder.  The USAToday article linked at the top said it best (paraphrasing): this move is as if you bought a new chair for your living room, which forced you to have to move around your furniture.  You didn’t necessarily need the new chair, but it certainly makes your living room look better.  This move enables Werth to move further down in the lineup and return to his power stroke.

3. We didn’t spend good money after bad on BJ Upton or Michael Bourn, who’s 5yr/$75M demands would have been a real waste of money.  Span’s contract is great: 5yrs for $16.5M guaranteed plus a $9M option in 2015.   The Nats acquired a desired resource without appreciably increasing payroll, allowing them to focus (perhaps) on a FA starter.

Initial reaction to the trade in the Baseball World seems mixed, which is great since it probably indicates that this is a pretty fair trade all in all.  Keith Law doesn’t like it of  course, but that’s because Law believes every low-minors big arm is turning into Justin Verlander (Law also thought the Gio Gonzalez trade was a “huge win” for Oakland because they got AJ Cole, the same AJ Cole who put up a 7.82 ERA in high-A this year and was forced to repeat Low-A).  Meanwhile Dave Cameron calls this a “huge win” for Washington, focusing on Span’s numbers and mentioning the same concerns about Meyer that I do.  Rob Neyer pays a complement to Mike Rizzo and the Nats and says the team is well-positioned for several years.  Ken Rosenthal talks about the about-face the franchise has done in the last 3 years in the eyes of potential Free Agents, specifically Zack Greinke, who declined the Nats trade offer 2 years ago but now could be the final piece in building a juggernaut.


Coincidentally, those who think this moves Harper to LEFT field may be mistaken.  Werth’s defense in right has inarguably slipped (he posted a -14.2 UZR/150 in right this year, a significant drop from his previous decent-to-good seasons there).  I think Harper should play right field, with his gun for an arm protecting against 1st-to-3rd runners while Werth should immediately put up great UZR numbers in left.  Possible lineup in 2013 (assuming for now that LaRoche is leaving):

  1. Span (L) – CF
  2. Werth (R) -LF
  3. Zimmerman (R) – 3B
  4. Harper (L) – RF
  5. Morse (R) – 1B
  6. Desmond (R) – SS
  7. Espinosa (S) – 2B
  8. Suzuki (R) – C
  9. Pitcher.

L-R-R-L-R-R-S-R for good balance.  I could also see Desmond and Werth switching spots in the lineup.  Harper to cleanup may be a bit early, but without adding another lefty bat the lineup could have too many right-handed hitters in a row.

Now, what if LaRoche re-signs?  Then suddenly this lineup has pretty good balance.  With LaRoche in the fold i’d probably go like this:

  1. Span (L) – CF
  2. Werth (R) -LF
  3. Harper (L) – RF
  4. Zimmerman (R) – 3B
  5. LaRoche (L) – 1B
  6. Desmond (R) – SS
  7. Espinosa (S) – 2B
  8. Suzuki (R) – C
  9. Pitcher.

That’d be a slight modification over where these guys hit last year, but would give nearly perfect lefty-righty balance.


In the end, you have to give up something you value to get something you value.  The Nats made a good trade, despite my thinking they didn’t need to make the trade in the first place.  They’re an improved team on the field for 2013.