Nationals Arm Race

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

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Ladson’s inbox 3/1/15

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Roark; the lost starter.  Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

Roark; the lost starter. Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

I havn’t posted something in weeks.  I was facing writers block.  What is there to really write about in the early weeks of Spring Training?  Thankfully, MLB.com beat reporter Bill Ladson piped up with an inbox!

As always, these are (presumably) real questions from (presumably) real Nats fans who took time out of their busy day to email Ladson personally.  And as always, i write my response here before reading his so as not to color my own opinion.


Q: Would the Nationals consider a six-man rotation so Tanner Roark isn’t left out?

A: Uh, no.   You don’t commit $210M to Max Scherzer and then immediately tell him and all the other veterans in the rotation that their entire work preparation process is going to be adjusted, for the first time ever by any MLB team, to account for a guy with a year and a half of service in Tanner Roark.

By going to a 6-man rotation for an entire 162-game season,  you’d be lowering the number of starts for each guy by at least 6.  What would you rather have, 6 less starts by the likes of Scherzer and Strasburg, or 20-some starts for Roark?  I like Roark too, and trust me I wouldn’t mind a bit for a trade to enable him to be the 5th starter again, but this team has made its bed with this contract.

Ladson says that Roark will be in the bullpen as the long man when the season starts.  Cutting-edge analysis!

Q: If the Nationals and Jordan Zimmermann cannot come to an agreement and he signs somewhere else, what kind of effect will this have on the Nationals in general?

A: Not as much as you might think.  Yes, losing a near-Ace is never good, but this team has a 5-win starter pushed to the bullpen right now, and has significant depth in AAA.  I’m of the belief that a lot of the Scherzer signing was about providing rotation stability through the next few years as the team (likely) parts ways with a significant portion of its current rotation through free agency.  Two years from now you’re probably looking at a rotation that goes Scherzer, Gonzalez, Roark, Cole and Giolito.  And the Nats will have likely acquired a whole slew of upper-level prospects either by trade or by virtue of supplemental draft picks.  Ladson confidently says “there will be no effect at all” because Matt Williams “won’t allow it.”  Beat reporter bravado?  Of *course* there will be an effect; we’re talking about what will probably be a difficult and nasty separation when all is said and done.

Q: Why is Gio Gonzalez starting over Roark? Roark is clearly better. Gio won’t throw strikes.

A: Simple answer: because Gonzalez is lefty.  Secondary issue; Gonzalez is getting paid more than 20 *times* what Roark is in 2015.  I’m not entirely in disagreement here; I’ve been a Roark believer ever since he got called up.  But he’s going to be the odd man out in this competition no matter how good he looks this spring.  Ladson says Gio was his good ole self after getting past his shoulder injury.

Q: I like Drew Storen and his numbers are, overall, excellent. I have to admit, though, I worry about him in close games in the postseason. Am I overly concerned about the fact that 2012 and ’14 playoffs saw him blow saves in key games?

A: Three words for you: Short.  Sample.  Size.  Like it or not (and I too fall victim to this), you just can’t look at a couple of outings in the post-season and judge a guy.  Exhibit 1a: Clayton Kershaw‘s career post-season era is 5.12.    I killed Storen‘s 2014 NLDS performance too, but in reality he was rather unlucky to blow Zimmermann’s gem (Posey kind of fisted the ball into center and then Sandoval hit a down-and-away pitch for a very well-placed double to tie the game).  Storen’s regular season record speaks for itself right now: he had a frigging 1.12 ERA last year!

I say, lets worry about *making* the post-season first, then lets see how the games go.  At some point you have to think the Nats will, you know, hit the ball in a post-season series to the point where it won’t matter whether our closer will pitch a 1-2-3 ninth.  Lets you forget: the team slash line in the 2014 NLDS was .164/.222/.258 and in the 2012 NLDS was .232/.290/.393.  That’s not very good.

Ladson basically says the same thing.

Q: Do you expect a significant contribution from any of the players signed to Minor League contracts?

A: We already talked about the NRIs in depth.  Short answer is this: *maybe* one of the veteran right handers might have an impact but not immediately.  And we might very well see one of the lefty-hitting vets pushing Tyler Moore for the last spot on the roster.  Ladson thinks Mike Carp in particular is going to contribute off the bench … which means he’s predicting Carp to make the 25-man roster?

Q: Which Minor Leaguers could get called up during the season?

A: I think we’ll see at least three of the AAA starters at some point during the  year (guessing Treinen, Cole and Jordan).   I could see Matt Grace getting some MLB time.  I’m sure we’ll see a backup catcher in Dan Butler at some point.  If Michael Taylor doesn’t start out on the 25-man roster to replace Jayson Werth, then i’m sure we’ll see him at some point.

Perhaps a better question would be this: what non-40man roster guys could you see getting call-ups mid-season?  Rafael Martin comes to mind, as well as someone like Emmanuel Burriss or Matt Skole if the team gets stuck on the injury front.

Ladson mentions Cole and Grace … and then says that he could see Giolito getting a September call-up.  That’s the dumbest thing i’ve read in a while.  Why in god’s name would we want to start Giolito’s clock early like that??  If he’s MLB ready by the end of 2015 …. then you sit on him in AAA for two weeks in 2016 and call him up mid-April.  That’s it.  Every day he spends pitching useless innings in Sept 2015 would be another day the team has to wait for him in 2016. 

Q: Do you see Danny Espinosa on this team in 2016? It seems like he has gotten a lot more slack than anyone on the team. Additionally, what are the team’s long-term plans for second base?

A: I see no reason for Espinosa not to be on this team in 2016, if he continues to serve as an adequate backup.  There’s no reason to cut him, and there’s not really anyone better who is that close to the majors.   I’m not sure if i’d characterize the way the Nationals have handled him as “slack;” in fact the Nats have now gone out of their way to replace him as the starter both with the Cabrera trade mid-2014 and with the Escobar trade this past off-season.  Long term you have to think the team is waiting for Wilmer Difo as the long-term 2B solution .. if he can step it up and advance two levels in 2015 he may be ready by mid 2016.   I’m not as convinced that Tony Renda (who is “ahead” of Difo on the org 2b chart) is a real MLB prospect at this point.  There’s practically nobody of interest at either AAA or AA right now who rates as a prospect.  There’s also a possiblity that newly-acquired-but-not-yet-with-us Trea Turner could be a solution … but the team is hoping he can stick at short.  Ladson basically agrees.

 

 

Ladson’s inbox 2/2/15

49 comments

Scherzer is on everyone's mind.  Photo via Scherzer's twitter account.

Scherzer is on everyone’s mind. Photo via Scherzer’s twitter account.

Love it; another inbox to analyze.  In the wake of the Scherzer signing, lets see what kind of questions MLB.com beat reporter Bill Ladson fielded this week.

As always, I answer as I write before reading Ladson’s answer, and edit questions for clarity as needed.

Q: How much better will the Nationals be now that right-hander Max Scherzer is on the roster?

A: Well, if you play the “WAR analysis” game, then Max Scherzer replaces Tanner Roark in the rotation for 2015.   Scherzer posted a bWAR of 5.5 in 2014 while Roark posted a bWAR of 4.8.  So on the face of it, assuming that both players provide identical value in 2015 as they did in 2014, perhaps Scherzer won’t immediately impact the team.  This is the essence of those immediate-post signing blogs and columns that questioned why the Nats needed to make this acquisition.

However.  I offer some counters.

  1. Roark immediately becomes your spot-starter to cover for injury.  Lets say that Gio Gonzalez (bWAR in 2014 of just 2.1) gets hurt and Roark covers for him; well that’s nearly a 3-WAR improvement.  Certainly Roark is going to be better than whatever AAA cover we could promote to provide injury relief.  The Nats only gave 12 13 starts to non-core rotation guys in 2014 but more than twice that number in 2013; the odds are that an injury is going to hit the rotation at some point.
  2. Scherzer will be better in 2015 than he was in 2014.  Why?  He moves to the NL, gets to face pitchers instead of DHs, faces generally weaker lineups, plays in a weaker division and pitches in more parks that are pitcher friendly.  You can make the argument that his K/9 is going to increase significantly (if he faces the pitcher 60-70 times in a season, he likely strikes them out at least half of that), and his ERA likely falls at least a half a point.  That will boost his WAR for 2015.
  3. Scherzer going twice in a seven game playoff series is going to be better than having any one else getting that second start.  In fact, a 1-2-3 punch of Strasburg, Zimmermann and Scherzer is one heck of a daunting task for any opponent.
  4. And there’s this: not to completely re-hash my post on the Scherzer signing, but i’ll note that this signing (to me) seems like a way to bridge the gap and guarantee an “Ace” in the rotation through the next two off-seasons of rotation transition (where the team likely loses Zimmermann, Fister and Strasburg).  The Nats rotation looks an awful lot better after these three guys are gone if Scherzer is leading the line.  So to me this isn’t a move about 2015 as much as it is about getting this team to 2017 and maintaining competitiveness.

Ladson said very little about answer the question, using his answer to immediately talk about the offense and the bench.  Yeah we know there’s issues there.  And we all remember how the middle of the order went like 1-for-the NLDS.  Wasn’t the question.

Q: Why didn’t Espinosa work on hitting right-handed exclusively after the season ended? If Espinosa made that transition successfully, he would be the answer at second base.

A: A good question.  Not the first time this topic has come up.  We’ve discussed it to death here but the reasons seem to fall along the following:

  1. Espinosa may be getting “advice” from his agent (Scott Boras) to put his own interests first.
  2. Espinosa may be “stubborn” about maintaining his switch hitting, given that it is a differentiator in the marketplace for him.
  3. Espinsoa may just be uneasy about suddenly facing right-handed curve balls from the right-hand side, probably having not faced such a situation in more than a decade (a fair point).

We all know about his splits lefty versus righty.  We all know he has not chosen to try RH-only.  I think its also safe to say that the organization has gone out of its way (Asdrubal Cabrera last season and now Yunel Escobar) to replace him in the starting lineup despite his defensive skills.  It is what it is; we now have a backup infielder on the roster to cover both 2B and SS and who has some pop from the plate in a backup capacity (and the associated K-rate of course).  Not the worst thing in the world to have.  Ladson says … well he stated the obvious (Escobar is the starter) and then says that the “Nats hope Espinosa cuts down on his strike-outs.”  Non-answer.

Q: How come Jeff Kobernus is not being considered for the starting second-base job? Why not have a young, cost-controlled guy play every day?

A: Because Kobernus hasn’t played 2B basically since college full-time since a half-season stint in Harrisburg in 2012.  The team moved him to the OF and he’s mostly stayed there.  Even if you thought he could play second effectively, he’s got a career minor league slash line of .285/.331/.363.   He is what he is: a utility guy who can cover in case of a slew of injuries and makes for a good 9/1 pinch running/6th outfielder call-up, but that’s about it.  I don’t think you can count on him to produce at the major league level day-in and day-out.  Ladson says Kobernus has a chance of making the bench out of spring training this year, which I disagree with.

Q: Asdrubal Cabrera signed with the Rays for one-year, $7.5 million. Why couldn’t the Nats make that deal? Or something close to it?

A: Probably because Cabrera wanted to play short-stop, and the Nats have a short-stop.  Besides, Escobar at $5M is a good deal.  I mentioned at some point in the off-season that Cabrera’s offensive output with Washington wasn’t too much better than Espinosa’s frankly (Cabrera’s split line with Washington in 2014 was .229/.312/.389; Escobar brings more to the table.  Ladson agrees, and says that the Nats weren’t willing to bring Cabrera back at his asking price based on what he showed last year.

Q: Why didn’t the Nats consider Tyler Clippard as their closer?

A: Hmm.  Good question.  Perhaps because when Clippard was given the closer job in 2012, he really struggled with it as compared to his typical 8th inning performance.   ERA in 2012 as closer: 3.72.  Career ERA: 2.88.  Besides, there was more in play for Clippard’s trade than just who was going to be the 2015 closer.  Clippard’s got a ton of miles on his arm, Clippard was set to make nearly 8 figures as a reliever, and the Nats felt like they could afford to part ways with him to acquire a player who filled a need.  Ladson notes what I noted, and said that Clippard’s pending free agency played into the decision.  That’s a great point that I didn’t mention; Clippard wasn’t going to be offered a qualifying offer (likely worth $16M next off-season), so he’d depart to no compensation.  With this trade, the Nats got some compensation for him.

Q: I know he’s had plenty of success as a general manager, but I’m surprised Mike Rizzo doesn’t feel any sense of urgency to try to sign Desmond or Jordan Zimmermann to an extension. What are your thoughts on this?

A: I think Mike Rizzo has been trying to extend these guys for more than two years.  “Sense of urgency?”  What else do you want to ask of the guy?  He by all accounts has offered both guys 9-figure deals, and has been rebuffed.  Do you think Ian Desmond is worth a 7yr/$100M deal?  Do you think Zimmermann is worth a 6yr/$150M deal?  Clearly to me the two players are valuing themselves higher than what the GM is valuing them, the GM has made what he thinks to be fair market value deals, and both guys have opted to test the market.  Baseball is a business, both on the player side and the team side.  Ladson thinks Rizzo will step up discussions once spring training happens.  I don’t; I think that the ship has more or less sailed on extending these guys at this point.  Now, will the team move Zimmermann?  I think we may see offers once James Shields signs…. if there’s teams out there that want to improve but miss out on Shields, they may come calling to the Nats with deals we cannot turn down.  We’ll see.  Overall thougth I’m doubtful any trades occur at this point.  My prediction: the juggernaut rotation goes into 2015 in-tact.

 

Ladson’s inbox 1/5/15

70 comments

Desmond is the hot topic today.  Photo Drew Kinback/Natsnq.com

Desmond is the hot topic today. Photo Drew Kinback/Natsnq.com

Well happy new year.  After going 9 months w/o a mailbag, MLB.com Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson has put out two in a row!

Here’s his 1/5/15 version.  I love doing these things.

Q: Do you see Trea Turner as a future leadoff hitter for the Nationals? If so, when? Ian Desmond has one year left on his contract, so I have to think the front office is counting on his rising through the Minor Leagues quickly like Anthony Rendon.

A: Yes, I can see Trea Turner as a lead-off hitter in the majors.  Blazing speed (some scouts have rated his speed at 80 on the 20-80 scale … which is a real rarity), excellent bat skills during his 3 years at NC State (a career college slash line of .342/.429/.507 playing in the nation’s toughest baseball conference), and in short sample sizes in the pros he’s got good OBP numbers.  Everything you want in a lead-off guy.  In college he had power (8 homers in 54 games his junior year playing with BBCOR bat, 2nd in the ACC); that’s a nice combination if it translates to the pros.

The question I have about Turner is whether he can stick at short.  Or, more to the point, if he’ll be a good enough shortstop to appease the defensive-minded Mike Rizzo.  All the scouting reports I’ve seen say the same thing: good fielder, great range … and an iffy arm that may push him to second.  Well, you have to think Rizzo acquired a guy like Turner specifically because he thinks Turner *can* stick at short, and is a ready-made replacement for Desmond.  Otherwise; why get him?  Its a heck of a lot easier to find a second baseman than a shortstop in this league (current issues replacing Danny Espinosa notwithstanding).

Can Turner be a fast riser? Well, he’s not nearly as accomplished a college player as Anthony Rendon (who, lets not forget, was College Player of the year as a sophomore).  Rendon ended his first pro season in AA and hit his way to the majors permanently by June of the following year.  That’s a pretty amazing trajectory.  And it included lost time to injury.  Turner ended his first pro season in low-A by way of comparison, and needs a two-level jump in 2015 to have a shot at a 2016 debut, and a 2-level jump next  year is going to be severely hampered by the fact that he’s likely to be languishing in San Diego’s spring training facility until June, when he can officially be traded.  He’s losing a half of year of development time most likely.  So, late 2016 to me is a more realistic goal, if everything goes well.

Meanwhile, that leaves a gap in the shortstop coverage if Ian Desmond leaves.  Here’s a thought; if Desmond leaves in FA after 2015, you put Espinosa back at his natural shortstop position, find a second baseman (Dan Uggla anyone? :-) ) and then wait for Turner to arrive.  If Turner can play short, so be it.  If he can’t, you put in at 2nd.  I like that plan.

Ladson says the Nats have “been quiet” on Turner since he’s not technically a Nationals player; makes sense; you wouldn’t want tampering charges.

Q: How is Desmond not locked up, or even the No. 1 priority? I understand Jordan Zimmermann is a staff ace, but shortstop is a prime position and every team desires one. Desmond is one of the best in baseball and can’t be replaced.

A: Because Desmond took a step back both offensively (from a 113 to a 103 OPS+) and defensively (UZR/150 from 4.4 to 0.1) in 2014 from the previous year.  I’d be slightly hesitant too.  I used to think that Elvis Andrus‘s contract was a fair comp for Desmond.  But now it looks like the Andrus contract was actually a massive over-pay, and valuing Desmond may be more difficult than we thought.

When I think about roster construction, you go up “the spine” of the team.  Catcher, Pitchers, Short and Center Field.  Those are the key positions to lock up with quality players.  So no arguments that Desmond and Shortstop in general are huge priorities.  But now the problem becomes this: is Desmond’s 2014 decline a one-off or a concern?  And, what is he worth?  If you think Andrus is an overpay ($15M a  year through 2022), and if Troy Tulowitzki is the best offensive shortstop in the game (at $20M/year for the next four years with annual injury issues), then where does Desmond fit in?  Some sampling of shortstop contracts: J.J. Hardy is 3/yrs/$40M for AAV of about $14M/year.  Jose Reyes makes $22M/year for the next three years, which seems rather high to me.   Jimmy Rollins is on an $11M option for 2015.  Jhonny Peralta is on a 4yr/$53M deal for an AAV of about $13M.  So clearly the market is at least $15M/year for a quality shortstop.

Based on who the Nats have in the pipeline at short (past Turner … practically nobody) and based on who projects to be available in FA in 2016 (also practically nobody), yes I think Desmond is a priority.  My guess is that the front office is juggling all sorts of stuff right now, and just hasn’t come to any conclusions.  I’d be perfectly comfortable offering him 5 to 6 years at an AAV of $15M (6yrs/$90M) with a club option; that’s clearly not enough as the team has offered him *more* than that in the past apparently and he’s turned it down.  He’s entering his age 29 season; that’d lock him up through his age 34 season … a gamble for a shortstop, but a good one for a franchise player who has been with the organization since he was 18.   I would have postulated that perhaps Desmond (with his Florida ties and the heavy Yankees presence down there) wanted to slide into the vacated Derek Jeter spot … but the Yankees just acquired a long term SS in Didi Gregorius, so maybe Desmond’s agent and him are strategizing.  Besides; Washington seems like a better positioned franchise right now than the Yankees (as hard as that is to write) for post-season positioning.

Ladson points out the Nats offered Desmond in excess of $100m and then cryptically says “lets see what happens in the next few weeks.”

Q: I noticed Rafael Furcal is a free agent. Might the Nats sign him as a veteran middle-infield stopgap until Turner and Wilmer Difo are ready?

A: Rafael Furcal?!  Wow,that’s a heck of a pull.  You mean the same Furcal who has played in a grand total of 9 major league games since 2012 thanks to injuries and will be 37 next season?  He hasn’t played a full season of injury-free baseball since 2009.  Why would we possibly consider this guy?   No way; there’s younger, more reliable middle infield options out there.  Difo, by the way, played in low-A last  year.  I don’t think we’re seeing him anytime soon.  Mid 2017 maybe?  Ladson says that Furcal *tore* his hamstring in Winter Ball; geeze.  He also states the obvious; we’ll see lots of Dan Uggla and that we should trade for Ben Zobrist.  Thanks for the scoops there, Bill.

Q: What are your predictions as to how the NL East will stack up in 2015, especially given personnel changes and improved health throughout the division?

A: Nats win the division with 90 wins.  Marlins 2nd with like an 83-79 record.  Mets in 3rd at about .500.  Braves in 4th at about 75 wins.  Phillies last place, with somewhere in the 68 range of wins.  Ladson seems to go Nats-Marlins-Mets too.

Q: I’m frustrated by Desmond’s strikeouts. If he could make contact for 20 percent of his strikeouts, he would be all world. What can the Nats do to help him make more consistent contact — just patience at the plate for better pitch selection?

A: Welcome to modern baseball.  Swing for the fences all the time; strikeouts be damned.  Nobody remembers you struck out 180 times when you  hit 20+ dingers from the short-stop position.  Now … strike out 122 times in 119 games and hit .220?  Then you’re in trouble, Mr. Espinosa.  As far as the question goes; maybe you park Desmond further down the order, tell him he’s not a run producer any more and tell him to focus less on homers, more on solid contact.  Maybe that helps.  Maybe not; the Nats offense is seemingly always a man down, which means Desmond is always pushed into a 3-4-5 hole spot, where he’s looking to drive in runs.  I expect similar numbers in 2015.  Ladson reminds us that Desmond had the flu last  year.  

 

Ladson’s Inbox 12/27/14

32 comments

Espinosa continues to be the leading player on the minds of Nats fans. Photo AP via mlb.com

Espinosa continues to be the leading player on the minds of Nats fans. Photo AP via mlb.com

Happy Holidays!  What a nice surprise; mlb.com Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson posted his first mailbag/inbox column since January 2014.  He must have been bored during the holiday lull in baseball news.

As always, since its been like a year since I did one of these, I write my response question by question before reading Ladson’s, and sometimes edit questions for clarity.

Q: Assuming the Nationals don’t make any acquisitions via trade or free agency, what is their in-house solution for second base?

A: Well, in order they’d likely start Danny Espinosa and bat him 8th.  And, if the fans’ had their choice, he’d abandon switch hitting, bat righty only and probably have a career resurgence.  Just a reminder: Espinosa’s career lefty split is .213/.283/.362 while his career righty split is .271/.343/.460.  Espinosa is so good defensively that i’m not entirely opposed to him being the starter; he can spell Ian Desmond at short (in fact, I’ve always thought Espinosa was a better shortstop defensively) and makes up for his awful switch hitting by being so good defensively (but not nearly enough to prevent the team from shopping).

After Espinosa, you have utility guy Kevin Frandsen having stated publicly he wants to be considered for the job.  Problem with Frandsen is this; he’s been even WORSE offensively the last two years than Espinosa; he has a .624 OPS in the last two years.  I hope there’s not anyone who thinks he’s a better solution.  Youngster Wilmer Difo was just added to the 40-man roster, but he’s never played above low-A.  That’s basically the roster of middle infielder options on the 40-man roster.  Jeff Kobernus played 2B in college but has long since been converted to an outfielder in this organization, so he’s not really an option either.  Looking deeper into the minor leagues, there’s some MLFA options at AAA (the likes of DC-native Emmanuel Burriss, current MLFA and Virginia-native Will Rhymes, or maybe even our own long-time org player Jose Lozada), and a couple of Nats draftees who have yet to pan out (Rick Hague and Jason Martinson).  But none of these guys are better options than just sticking with Espinosa.

Hence, the reason the team is looking at trade/FA options.  There’s a ton of 2B options that are likely available in trade or still on the FA market; its arguable that any of them are better options than just staying the course though.  So it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the team stood pat.

Ladson reviews the same three 40-man options and comes to the same conclusions as I do, and says he sees a trade.  He likes a trade for Ben Zobrist, like I do, but Tampa is notoriously hard-bargaining.  What would we be willing to give up to get Zobrist?

Q: Why are the Nationals willing to trade their best pitcher, Jordan Zimmermann? Wouldn’t Stephen Strasburg get them a better return?

A: I’m sure Strasburg would get a better return; he’s got two years of control instead of just one, and is scheduled to make a third of what Zimmermann will make in 2015.  I feel Strasburg is in some ways actually under-rated; despite a pedestrian 14-11 record in 2014, here’s his ranks in the entire majors in some quick categories: 13th in fWAR, 3rd in xFIP, 13th in FIP, 5th in K/9, and 5th in SIERA.  Teams are now smarter when it comes to acquiring control; a year of Zimmermann at $16M+ isn’t going to bring back that much anyway (see what the Rays got for David Price, for less money and TWO years of control).

And then there’s this: teams that are trying to win do not trade pitchers like Strasburg.  Plain and simple; it would be fan-relations suicide to move Strasburg right now.  The team just won the division by 17 games and their closest rival is having a fire sale; why on earth would the Nats look to move someone like Strasburg?  So that being said, why are they willing to trade Zimmermann?  I think it comes down to several reasons:

1. Money: As i’ve discussed in the past, the Nats payroll was at $135M at the beginning of 2014 and projects to nearly $150M without any subsequent moves.   150M minus Zimmermann’s 16.5M 2015 salary looks an awful lot like the payroll from 2014….

2. Practicality: You don’ t need to win your division by 15 games.  You can still win by 5 games and make the playoffs.  If the Nats can trim payroll, turn Zimmermann into something that look better than what we may get in a supplemental 1st round pick, AND still win the division in 2015?  Wins all around.

Ladson says several things I disagree with; he thinks Zimmermann would bring back a “kings ransom” and he thinks Rizzo is going to “get a deal done” with Zimmermann this off-season. 

Q: Given that he’s at an age where he needs to play regularly, does Tyler Moore have a chance of backing up first baseman Ryan Zimmerman in ’15?

A: Not sure what Tyler Moore‘s age has to do with anything; if you’re 22 or 42 you’re going to get ABs in the majors if you can play.   To the question at hand; right now i’m projecting Moore to be the 25th guy on the active roster.  That doesn’t mean he’ll make it, but he does fill a position of need; right handed power off the bench.  Had the Nats not traded Stephen Souza Moore might be a goner.  Now?  He could still make the team.  But somehow I sense that perhaps the team will look to flip him and/or bring in veteran competition for his bench spot.   Ladson states the obvious, saying the team will look to trade him since he’s out of options.

Q: Since it appears Michael Taylor is considered the future center fielder, can you see the team holding on to Denard Span beyond ’15?

A: In a word; nope.  I’m guessing that Taylor will get some experience as a backup in 2014 (and frankly may get a ton of at-bats, since our outfield isn’t exactly an injury-free haven), and soon the team will have a guy who can play a better CF than Span, hit with more power and run with more speed.  All in all, I think Taylor will be an improvement over Span in nearly every category and for 1/20th the cost.  Ladson says it depends on how Taylor does.

Q: Last year, the Nationals’ pinch-hitting average was terrible. Any hope it gets better?

A: So far … not really.  The bench is still projecting to be basically the same guys as in 2014.   Frandsen, Loboton, McLouth and Moore.  The only change is the dumping of Scott Hairston for Taylor.  But Taylor’s K rate is still high, which means we’ll likely see continued crummy pinch hitting.  Ladson points out the Nats havn’t had a good bench since 2012. 

Q: How is Lucas Giolito doing? Will he fill a rotation spot if Zimmermann or Doug Fister is traded?

A: Not in 2015.  Maybe by mid 2016 if Giolito has a two-level jump this year.  Giolito’s best case is to completely shut down high-A in April and force a promotion to AA by mid-season.  If that happens, then maybe we’re looking at a mid-April call up in 2016, just in time to replace the potentially departed FAs Zimmermann and/or Fister.  But this is a very heady dream; remember; Giolito is still on an innings limit, is still just 20 years of age (he turns 20 in July of 2015), and most pitchers his age are still in college,  yet to even be drafted.

If we move Zimmermann or Fister this off-season, then we’re looking at drawing from our AAA rotation for the 5th starter.  One of Treinen, Hill, Jordan or Cole.  Probably in that order, thanks to 40-man and experience implications.

Ladson is bullish on Giolito; thinks he’ll start in AA and get a call-up in September.  That’d be pretty aggressive.

Q: Why didn’t the Nats go after Russell Martin? Their catchers are less than adequate. Is Wilson Ramos still the guy?

A: Disagree here.  When healthy Ramos is a beast.  Remember he was the frigging opening day 2014 clean-up hitter.  The last thing the Nats needed to do was spend millions on someone like Martin.  Lobaton is more than adequate of a backup, cost-controlled and we traded a hefty price (Nathan Karns) to acquire him.  Ladson agrees with me.

 

 

 

Wagner’s Q&A: how I’d have answered the questions he took

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Zimmermann's status is on everyone's mind.  Photo Unk.

Zimmermann’s status is on everyone’s mind. Photo Unk.

I used to love answering the questions that MLB.com beat writer Bill Ladson would post.  But Ladson hasn’t done such a column in months, and the other outlet for such a post (Tom Boswell) usually is populated with too many non-baseball questions to be worth addressing.  So today WP beat reporter James Wagner took a crack at a Q&A session and I thought it’d be fun to do a version of his Q& (my) A.

As with previous posts, I write my response before reading his and edit the questions for clarity/conciseness.

Q: What was the Nats’ final record against winning teams & how did it compare to the other playoff teams?

A: Wagner summarized the answer well; the Nats ended up 23-23 against winning teams.  To show you how useless this stat is in predicting the playoffs, the team with the best record (the Orioles) was swept and the WS matchup features the Giants, who had a losing record against winning teams.  Once again we learn that the post-season is about getting hot (or in the Nat’s case, disappearing) at the right time.  Wagner did the same analysis.

Q: Will the Nats turn to Tyler Clippard as the 2015 closer?

A: Doubtful.  Despite Drew Storen‘s second playoff meltdown, he’s likely the closer in 2015 on the strength of his excellent 2014 season.  Tyler Clippard‘s of more use in generally higher-leverage 8th inning situations, and likely continues in that role.  This has to be a bummer for Clippard, who enters his last arbitration argument without the benefit of the lucrative saves, but who is also just as likely to cash in when he hits free agency with a team looking for a reasonably priced closer.  I’ll bet he can get a 3yr/$24M deal as someone’s closer.  He is a fly-ball guy (not optimal as a 9th inning solution) but fly-ball pitchers definitely play well in pitcher parks.  He’d make an excellent closer for most any team on the west coast.  Wagner agrees.

Q: Why not keep both LaRoche and Zimmerman and platoon them at first base?

A: Because that’s an awful lot of payroll to dedicate to a platoon.  LaRoche likely gets $15M/year, Zimmerman is set to earn $14M next year.  Both are middle-of-the-order bats who need to play every day.  Unfortunately we don’t have a DH, else you’d re-sign LaRoche immediately and they’d split time at 1B/DH like most every other DH in the AL.  LaRoche is getting one last crack at free agency and could get another 2 year deal (rumors have him as a great fit in Milwaukee).  I think sticking Zimmerman at 1B makes the most sense considering the description of his shoulder at this point (he used the phrase “bone on bone” to describe the state of his arm at this point).  In fact, I think Zimmerman makes a great first baseman, immediately becomes a Gold Glove candidate, and (hopefully) stays healthy.  Wagner makes the same points.

Q: How about Steven Souza as our 2B solution?

A: Souza started his pro career as a third baseman … and was moved to the outfield by the time he was 22.  I’m guessing there’s a reason for that.  I don’t see him coming back to the infield, either at 3b or 2B.  He’s way too big to play second base effectively (he’s 6’4″ 225); if I was forced to play him in the infield, i’d suffer with him at 3B and stick Rendon back at second.  But that’d be a waste of Rendon’s defensive talents at the hot corner; we’re much better off installing him at his natural position and finding another 2B alternative.  None of this really talks about what the team *should* do with Souza; he’s more or less blocked for 2015 (as we’ve discussed to death) but has nothing left to prove in AAA.  His best case scenario is an injury in the Nats 2015 outfield, which gives him playing time.  Wagner  points out Souza’s poor defensive record in his time at third.

Q: Should we care about the MASN outcome?

A: Uh, yes.  The Nats could easily expand payroll with a decision and a guaranteed income stream, and we’d not be hearing about how they “have to” let some of their core players walk because they can’t afford them.  The MASN issue has gone on way too long, and it seems like it is getting ready to affect both the Nats and the Oriole’s business operations soon.  Wagner agrees.

Q: Do players and broadcasters read blogs and the press?

A: I hope not.  We’re not professionals; we don’t have day in-day out access, intimate knowledge of the team’s comings and goings, nor insight into reasons that may be behind a player’s cold streak (does he have the flu?  Is he nursing a slight sprain that nobody knows about?)  I don’t think any good comes of professional players reading about themselves.  If a player called out something I wrote derogatory i’d probably profusely apologize and retract it.  Wagner says players sometimes read about themselves in the press … but that if they don’t, they’re likely to hear about it from family/friends/agents anyway.

Q: Which of the bench players (Frandsen, Hairston, Schierholz, McLouth) will be back and who will most likely leave?

A: Well, McLouth is still under contract for 2015, so he’ll at least start the  year with the team (whether he finishes depends on whether he can regain some value).  I’d guess that the other three are gone.  None of the three hit particularly well for us, and all three are replaceable by internal promising candidates.  Frandsen probably has the best chance of sticking around since he’ll be so cheap (he made $900k last year and is arb-eligible); he’ll be an interesting tender-deadline candidate.

Your 5-man bench needs a catcher (Lobaton), a guy who can play both 2b and SS (Espinosa, if he’s not the 2B starter), an outfielder who can cover center (McLouth), a utility guy who can play multiple positions (Frandsen fits  here), and then a big bopper who can pinch hit.  This last spot has been held by the likes of Tyler Moore, Chad Tracy, Matt Stairs, Jonny Gomes in the past few years.  In 2015 it makes more sense to have Souza in this spot.  Only problem is that it helps if this last bench spot is a lefty.  We’ll see how the transactions play out this off-season.

Q: If you must chose between Zimmermann and Desmond, whom do you chose?

A: Desmond.  Harder position to fill, less in the minor league pipeline, probably cheaper too thanks to Desmond’s sub-par (for him) 2014 season.  Zimmermann seems likely to earn nearly $20M/year at this point, which is going to be too rich for this team, and there’s ready-made replacements in the upper minors (A.J. Cole, Blake Treinen, Taylor Jordan) ready to step in immediately after he departs.  A better question might be this: do the Nats flip Zimmermann this off-season for something better than a compensation pick, admitting to themselves they won’t be able to extend him?  It makes 2015 team weaker obviously, but also could ease the transition to the next “phase” of this team that starts in 2016-2017.  Wagner agrees, but also mentions that Doug Fister plays into this decision too.

Q: If the Nats make it back to the postseason next year, can you envision them carrying a speed first guy like Rafael Batista or Wilmer Difo on their roster a la the Kansas City Royals?

A: No.  Williams is old-school and made it pretty clear that he was managing  his post-season team the same way he managed his regular-season team.  For better or worse.  The makeup of this team isn’t the same as the Royals, who have focused on speed, defense and bullpen strength to power their way through the post-season.  The Nats are a starter-first, adequate but fragile offense second.  Wagner isn’t as dismissive as I am.

Q: Why not find a FA third baseman and move Rendon to second?

A: A completely logical idea that we’ve talked to death.  Definitely on the table.  Wagner puts out some names that likely are going to be too expensive for the Nats to really consider.

Q: If the Nats offered Zimmermann a big extension and he declined it, could you see the Nats trading him?

A: If I were the GM, I’d consider it yeah.  You take a step back in 2015 to set yourself up for 2016 and 2017 with the right deal.  Maybe you flip Zimmermann for the 2b/3b player you need and a prospect or two further away, save some payroll and provide more continuity.  My reading the tea leaves though?  I don’t see this team doing it; they’ll “keep the band together” for one more run with this crew in 2015, and then make adjustments for 2016 depending on who they can sign and who walks.  Wagner thinks its possible, but also cautions that the 2015 salary ($16.5M) and just one year of control will limit what the Nats get back.  A very fair point.

Are the Nats going to be able to sign these guys?

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Draft signing deadline day is 7/18/14.  Photo via chicagonow.com

Draft signing deadline day is 7/18/14. Photo via chicagonow.com

I smell whiffs from 2008’s Aaron Crow debacle.

(Which, just to head off hindsight is 20/20 arguments, did result in a comp pick that turned into Drew Storen … but Storen was a huge overdraft at the 10th overall pick in 2009, a college reliever who was a quick sign.  The Nats left a lot on the table in the Crow non-signing, as discussed in this space recently).

Right now, as of the morning of the 2014 Rule 4 signing deadline day, there exists just a small handful of players from the first 10 rounds of the draft who have not signed.  According to MLB.com’s great draft bonus tracker, just NINE players out of the first 315 players drafted remain unsigned as of the moment of this posting.

Three of them are Washington Nationals draft picks.  And they include the two most important picks of the draft; i.e. our first two picks Erick Fedde and Andrew Suarez.

What is going on??   We havn’t seen these kinds of difficulties in signing guys since before the slot bonus system went into place.  What is Mike Rizzo doing?

According to reports (this Bill Ladson report quoting Jim Callis and Adam Kilgore), Fedde got a “$3M offer” from another team he he dropped to them in the 2nd round and (with notoriously difficult negotiator agent Scott Boras in charge) is holding out for more than the assigned slot bonus to his pick ($2,145,600).   The Nats can go a bit above the $2.1M figure without incurring penalties … but it depends on what happens with their other two marquee picks.  Media pundits (unnamed of course) are predicting a stalemate here.

Meanwhile, the general sense from reading the tea leaves is that Suarez will sign at or near slot (which makes you wonder what the heck is taking so long?), while unsigned 8th rounder Austin Byler seems to be unsignable at his slot figure ($145k) and will be returning to school.  Byler’s non-signing isn’t too much of a surprise; he was a 3rd round projected guy who slipped to the 8th round, and the Nats didn’t really free up that much cash in its other first-10-rounds of picks in order to get Byler the $600k it likely would have needed to sign him.

Aside: speaking of lack of signing bonus money for Byler; is overpaying its college senior signs?  They drafted four college seniors in the first 10 rounds (Carey, Gardner, Van Orden and Page) and gave them combined more than $200k.  Could that 200k have been better allocated?  Did those seniors need to be offered that much money?

It makes zero sense to me for Fedde not to sign frankly, even if he’s offered less money; by the time he rehabs his TJ surgery, it’ll be nearly the end of next year’s college season.  There’s just little chance of him going higher than he did this year, nor getting as much bonus money offered.  And if he has the slightest setback in his recovery, he’ll be lucky to be drafted in the first 5 rounds next year and will be looking at a tenth of the signing bonus offers.  And, if he doesn’t sign, he’s rehabbing under the care of his personal physician instead of an experienced professional major league team that has rehabbed probably a dozen TJ surgeries in the last few years, including some pretty significant and nationally renound names.  Why this is taking so long is just beyond me.

If the Nats fail to sign all three guys, they’ll have compensation picks in the form of the 19th overall pick in the 2015 draft for Fedde and the 58th pick for Suarez (if i’m reading the rules correctly that is; you’re supposed to get compensation for unsigned first, second and any supplemental round picks at your unsigned slot +1 in the following draft, irrespective of how many comp picks get stuffed inbetween rounds the next year).  I guess that’d make 2015’s draft pretty good.  But they’ll lose the Byler pick altogether.

Are you worried?

Written by Todd Boss

July 18th, 2014 at 7:52 am

First Look: Nats top 10 draftees from 2014 Rule-4 Draft

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Suarez is the Nats 2nd round pick.  Photo via 247sports.com

Suarez is the Nats 2nd round pick. Photo via 247sports.com

As we did last year, here’s a quick introduction to the Nats top 10 picks for 2014.

A quick glance on our high-end draftees from 2014 draft.  I’ll put in the rankings from several prospect ranking shops (Keith LawBaseball America, MLB.com and MinorLeagueBall).  overall player ranking after the player name where appropriate (though as we’ll see, Keith’s top 100 quickly runs out of names).  Here’s a link to the draft order, and here’s a link to MLB.com’s fantastic draft tracker database for reference.

As he did last year, NatsGM.com‘s Ryan Sullivan is live-blogging and does a great job of pulling up stats on each of our picks.  I depend on his reports as well as those from the four links above to give a quick overview of our draftees.

Note: I wrote most of this over the weekend as the guys were picked; we’re already hearing plenty of rumors about signings.  I havn’t updated this post with such intel but I’m sure its readily available from Ladson and Kilgore and the like.

1st round/#18 overallErick Fedde, UNLV RHP (Law #27/BA #24/MLB #33/MinorLeagueBall #70).  Most of the credible mock drafts had the Nats drafting Fedde here, and that’s exactly what happened.  In my quickie preview post, I thought Fedde would be an overdraft and hoped that either Tyler Beede or Brandon Finnegan would drop.  Well, Beede went 14th and Finnegan went 17th.  I liked Touki Toussant as well as a prep HS that may drop to the Nats, but he went 16th.   I’m not sure I agree with pundits who say that Fedde was a “top 10 talent” prior to his injury; I still think this is an overdraft on Fedde given the fact that he’s rehabbing a blown UCL.  Look at the placement of Fedde on the four prospect ranking shops; that’s an awful lot of trust being placed into the hands of the surgeon, the rehab process, and the recovery.  That being said, looking at the next several players picked, there wasn’t a name that really stood out as someone that I would have rather had who at the same time was a prototypical Mike Rizzo pick  Maybe Connor Gillaspie would have worked (he went #20).  Ryan Sullivan thinks we got a steal here; i’m not so sure.  I think the Nats were looking at their board while the Giants were picking at #14, and then had their next best three names get snatched out from under them, leaving them taking a gamble on Fedde.

On the player himself; Fedde is tall (6’4″) but *skinny* (listed at between 165 and 180), sits 91-93 and touched 95 with excellent movement.  Secondary pitches can flatten out because of his lower arm slot, but he’s listed with a decent slider and decent change.   ESPN thinks he projects a 65 fastball and a 60 slider but needs to work on his command.  Very preliminary ceiling/projection is as a mid-rotation starter.   The thought is that he can fill out his frame and add velocity, though he’s done neither in his three college years.

He’s a Scott Boras client, he was a HS teammate of Bryce Harper, and he’s rehabbing a torn UCL, so he fits in nicely with the Nats on several levels.  It was easy to see why the mock drafts were all over the Nats taking Fedde.  In reality, I’ll bet the war room was rather dejected watching the three a-forementioned pitchers drop off the board in the 4 preceding picks to #18.

2nd round/#57 overall: Andrew Suarez, LHP from U-Miami (Law out of top 100/BA #75/MLB #86/MinorLeagueBall #103).   A re-draft (he was picked in the 9th round out of HS but chose to go to school), he suffered a torn labrum early in his college career but reportedly picked up velocity this past season and held it through most of the year.   Law alludes to other medical issues that clearly had him down on Suarez (Law ranked him lowest of my 4 resources).  He spent the year as Miami’s saturday starter (aka, their #2 starter).  BA mentioned him in their draft preview specifically because of his fantastic control; he had just a 1.34 BB/9 rate despite throwing a low 90s fastball that can reach 95.  He pitched a shut-out in game 1 of the Coral Gables regional, a 7-hit, 10K, 0 walk outing that matched his career high; nice way to finish off your college career (Miami was elminated from CWS play before Suarez could throw again).   Scouting reports say he profiles as a 4th starter.  (Note: my fingers just automatically typed Luis Suarez, aka Liverpool and Uruguay’s striker.  Part of me is in World Cup mode already).

3rd round/#93 overallJakson Reetz, prep Catcher from Nebraska (#38/#62/#40/#36).   A prep catcher isn’t who you normally expect to see this high on the National’s draft results, but his pre-draft rankings show that he’s clearly a steal at the mid-3rd round.  The question is; is he signable here?  $567k is his bonus slot figure; he might be a tough sign unless the Nats have a pre-draft deal with Fedde to save some money for a guy like Reetz.   His pedigree is good: MVP of the PG all-american game, member of the same world champion U-18 team that #1 overall pick Brady Aiken was on.   In prep games he was showing 91 from the mound and reportedly has a great arm, but some scouting reports say he may struggle to stay behind the plate.  As pointed out by NatsGM.com’s Ryan SullivanBA did a “day in the life” piece on Reetz that is worth checking out; once you watch this you’ll really like Reetz.  Last note: Keith Law even likes the pick and says he’ll sign.

4th round/#124 overall: Robbie Dickie, juco RHP from Blinn college in Texas (na/210/179/173).  95-97 on the gun, led his team to the Juco World Series, but he may project as a reliever thanks to questionable mechanics.   Quite a pop-up guy, but an over draft based on the rankings in the major publications.  He’s committed to Texas State if he doesn’t sign, which isn’t exactly a baseball powerhouse, so is this a value/slot saving pick?

5th Round/ #154 overall: Drew Van Orden, a senior RHP from Duke (na/395/na/na).  Good numbers on the year as Duke’s Friday starter (6-5, 3.19 ERA, more than a k/inning).  He finished off his college career with a 5-hit complete game shutout over Georgia Tech in the ACC tournament, Duke’s only win in their post-season tournament.  I like his pedigree despite the fact that he’s a senior 5th round pick with zero leverage.  Who are the Nats saving all this money for?  Update: Van Orden quickly signed, terms undisclosed.

6th Round/#184 overall: Austen Williams, junior RHP from Texas State ( na/#276/na/na).  Nats clearly saw something in Williams that other draft pundits did not; even MinorLeagueBall (who ranked to 350) didn’t have him listed.  Texas State’s friday starter continues a long trend of the Nats plucking talent out of Texas.  Williams posted solid numbers as Texas State’s Friday starter (8-3, 3.65 era, good K/9 rates).  I’m sure he’ll take a bit more than slot to sign, but the Nats should have some pennies saved.

7th Round/#214 overall: Dale (D.K.) Kerry, a senior Center fielder from the U of Miami (na/#332/na/#133).  MLB’s scouting report on him says he’s a great athlete and he has a “4th outfielder” projection.  Sounds like the perfect senior 7th round draft pick to me (sarcasm).  Ryan Sullivan is more bullish on him than I.

8th Round/#244 overall: Jeff Gardner, senior corner OF from Louisville (na/498/na/na).  He may be a senior, but he’s also the clean-up hitter for a CWS-bound team and had great stats on the year (.321/.403/.538 with 9 homers).   Not a bad find for the 8th round.

9th Round/#274 overall: Austin Byler, junior 1B from Nevada (94/123/166/271).  Well, now we see why the Nats are saving their pennies; getting Byler here is a find.  He should have been taken in the 3rd or 4th round if you believe the pundits, and he may take an over-slot deal to buy him out of his senior year.  He’s got serious power (he led his conference in homers and is an offensive threat) and would be a great find if he signs.

10th Round/#304 overallMatthew Page, senior RF from Oklahoma Baptist (na/na/na/na).  A d-2 pick for a team that a) loves guys from the south west already and b) has shown itself more than willing to gamble on non D-I players.  I can’t imagine he’ll be expensive to sign.  He’s also the first player the Nats have picked that didn’t appear anywhere on any of the draft previews.

Summary: Through the first 10 rounds the Nats picked 5 pitchers and 5 hitters for good balance.  Of these 10 players selected, 9 are college.  So, in other words, this is exactly the type of draft we expect to see out of a Rizzo-run organization (with the possible exception of perhaps predicting a few more arms). 

Of these 10 draftees, I’d say that at least 5 are “expected under slot guys” (Dickie, Van Orden, Kerry, Gardner and Page).  You have to think the team may play some slot hardball with Fedde.   Suarez and Williams should sign for about slot.  That leaves two guys who may take over-slot deals to sign; the sole HS draftee in Reetz and the decently ranked Byler.  I’ll bet it works out and all 10 guys sign.


Some useful draft links for you:

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.

 

Ladson’s inbox 1/15/14

22 comments

Lots of speculation on Zimmerman's near future position. Photo AP via tbd.com

Lots of speculation on Zimmerman’s near future position. Photo AP via tbd.com

Rapid fire!  Nats mlb.com beat reporter Bill Ladson didn’t even wait seven days to release his latest inbox, this one dated 1/15/14.   We just got done arguing about the last one!  He must have a huge backlog of questions from baseball-starved fans who can’t wait for pitchers and catchers to report (we’re less than a month away now; Nats report date is 2/13/14).

Btw; I heard it from a friend of a friend that the Nats may have given extension offers to both Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann this week; havn’t seen that news pop up on any beat reporter RSS feeds or elsewhere yet.  But if true, its good to see the dialog opening up now as opposed to deep into spring training.  Stay tuned and lets see if these rumors turn out to be true!

As always, we write our responses here before reading his and edit questions as needed:

Q: What was the reason behind signing Jamey Carroll and Mike Fontenot to Minor League deals?

A: Because Syracuse loves having old, over the hill veteran guys playing middle infield for them.  No seriously, both Jamey Carroll and Mike Fontenot profile as your typical aging veteran trying to hold on for one last shot, accepting a minor league/non guaranteed contract with an invite to major league spring training so that they can compete for bench spots.  And this team absolutely has a need for middle infield depth after trading away Steve Lombardozzi and given the question marks that come with other middle infield options on our roster Danny Espinosa (has he remembered how to hit again?), Zach Walters (can he actually play shortstop without booting every other ball hit to him?), and Jeff Kobernus (is he even a middle infielder any more after focusing on the OF for so long)?  At this point, I think at least one of them will make the roster unless we make another trade.  Ladson says Mike Rizzo loves depth and the team is looking for a backup to Espinosa.  

Q: At which Minor League level will Lucas Giolito start this coming season after tearing it up with the Gulf Coast Nationals and Class A Auburn?

A: In my big system-wide prediction piece in December 2013, I predicted Lucas Giolito will start in Low-A/Hagerstown.  There’s no reason not to get him going in full-season ball, and low-A makes the most sense given his age.  In a perfect world he’d dominate low-A in the first half and get promoted to high-A/Potomac for the 2nd half.  Ladson also says Hagerstown.

Q: Am I the only one concerned about Bryce Harper‘s weight gain?

A: Bryce Harper is in his low-20s; he was always destined to “fill out” and gain more muscle mass.  It will only mean more ferocious power and hopefully more strength to help him slog through the 162 game schedule.  On the downside, it means less speed on the bases and probably less range in the outfield, neither of which is really too much of a concern for a premium power hitter.   If it means that my dream of Harper playing center field and taking over the reigns from the likes of Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays as premium power-hitting CFers, so be it.  Ladson says there’s no worry.

Q: If the Nationals give Espinosa or Jeff Kobernus a spot on the Opening Day roster, who would be the first player sent to Syracuse?

A: I’d have to think Kobernus would be first expendible player; the team already has too many outfielders (3 starters in Harper, Denard Span and Jayson Werth, a backup in Scott Hairston and a presumed 2nd backup in Tyler Moore).  There’ s just no room for a third extra outfielder on modern teams; you need that 2nd bench spot for a guy who can cover the middle infield.  Ladson didn’t really answer the question, just saying that Espinosa would be “given every chance” to make the team.

Q: Do you think the Nationals would move Ryan Zimmerman to first base and trade Adam LaRoche for a good starter or bullpen pitcher? They could move Anthony Rendon to third base.

A: I do not think the team would move Adam LaRoche at this point.  You’d get almost no value back and would be creating a hole in your lineup that the team can’t easily fix.  If you think a team is going to give up a “good starter” or even a “bullpen pitcher” for a mid-30s guy who underperformed last year, then you’re fooling yourself.  Bill Ladson: stop taking dumb trade questions!

Back to the question though; the team seems convinced that Ryan Zimmerman‘s throwing issues are behind him, since he’s had more than enough time by now to recover from his Oct 2012 shoulder surgery.  Btw, take a look at his baseballprospectus link and look at his unbelievable injury history; I can’t think of another player with such a long list of maladies.  Now, once LaRoche is gone and the team is looking at a hole at first, a premium 3rd base defender wasting his talents at 2nd, and a litany of free agent options to provide cover at 2nd and/or 3rd… yes we may see Zimmerman come back across the diamond.  Lets see what happens in 2014; if Zimmerman returns to gold glove form, we may be having a different conversation next off-season (as in, who are we getting to play 1B).  Ladson talks up LaRoche, calling him one of the best defensive firstbasemen in club history.  If LaRoche is so good, we must have really had a bad run of first basement.  LaRoche posted a -2.0 UZR/150 last year, good for 17th of 19 qualified first basemen in the league … sorry, hard to talk about how great defensively you are one of the WORST first basemen statistically in the league.

Ladson Inbox 1/9/14

14 comments

Is Zimmermann getting a contract extension?.Photo Manuel Balce-Ceneta/AP

Is Zimmermann getting a contract extension?.Photo Manuel Balce-Ceneta/AP

You know spring training is coming close when Bill Ladson does two mailboxes in two weeks.  Here’s 1/9/14’s version.

As always, I write my response here before reading his and edit questions for clarity as needed.

Q: Most of the talk about a middle infielder for the bench is centered on Danny Espinosa. What are your thoughts about Jeff Kobernus? I would play him and trade Espinosa.

A: I think the talk is focused on Danny Espinosa since, right now he seems like the best option thanks to the trade of Steve Lombardozzi and the lack of any other real competitors.  Zach Walters hit 30 homers in AAA … but by some accounts is a very poor defender.  I can’t find his minor league fielding stats but others have pointed out that he made 30 errors last year in AAA.  Jeff Kobernus has been playing outfield lately; he played 2nd in college and earlier in his pro career but can he even play short stop?  New signees Jamey Carroll and Mike Fontenot can both play 2nd and SS … but aren’t exactly MLB quality guys any longer; Fontenot spent the entire year in AAA in 2013 and Carroll is a guy on a minor league contract nearing 40 who hit for a 40-something OPS+ in 2013.

Ask yourself; what do you ideally want out of a backup infielder?  They have to be a plus defender (apparently knocking out Walters), they have to be able to play 2nd and SS (knocking out Kobernus).  Espinosa is a fantastic defender, a short stop in college with a rocket arm who many once upon a time thought was a better short stop than Ian Desmond.  Right now, I want to see if Espinosa can re-gain his former self and use everyone else in this discussion as a fallback plan.

Trade Espinosa?  Can you define the term “selling low?”  That’s the last thing the organization wants to do right now.  That being said, Ladson continues to be insistent that Espinosa will be traded before opening day.  His prediction for the opening day backup infielder is “lets see what happens in spring training.”  Strong stance.

Q: Is Bill Bray still with the Nationals? If I remember, he had health issues. Any chance he could be in the mix for a lefty slot in the bullpen?

A: Bill Bray is a Minor League Free Agent, and according to Baseball America is still unsigned.  Even if he did re-sign with Washington, it’d be on a minor league deal, meaning he’d have to be added to the 40-man to be in the mix for the loogy.  That already puts him behind several guys; Jerry Blevins and Xavier Cedeno for sure, and likely Sammy Solis if the first two guys failed.  Bray also has to show he’s healthy, which he hasn’t really done in quite a while now.  I hate to say it, because i’ve got a soft-spot for him (he’s from Virginia Beach and i’m friends with his cousin), but he may be looking at retirement.  Ladson says he’s not ready until May but wants to stay in the organization; lets hope they throw him a bone and give him a minor league deal.

Q: Are the Nats pursuing any other lefty relievers, or is Jerry Blevins all there is to it?

A: I’d guess the team is pursuing other lefties, but not actively.  I’m sure there will be a couple of MLFA signings here and there to provide some competition in Viera.  Ladson reminds us that they’re thinking about both Solis and Ross Detwiler as lefties out of the pen.

Q: Any word on F. P. Santangelo re-signing for the 2014 season?

A: No idea.  I thought he was a fine broadcaster so I hope he comes back; didn’t realize there was a question.  Ladsons says they’re both back for 2014, after which Santangelo’s contract expires.

Q: Tyler Moore is an enigma. He seems to have all the tools to be a regular .280 hitter with 20 homers. Why does he appear to only be in the Nats’ plans as a bench player?

A: Moore is an enigma; is he the power hitting slugger (one homer every 15.6 ABs) in 2012 who bashed his way to an .840 OPS or is the overmatched, strike-out-one-out-of-every-three times guy we saw in 2013?  I’d hope he’s closer to the former than the latter, and thus can still be a servicable righty power bat off the bench.  Why is he just a bench player?  Because he’s not better than any of the guys ahead of him?  I would have thought this was kind of obvious, looking at Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth and their accomplishments and status on this team.  Ladson assumes Moore is a backup firstbaseman, I guess, but says Moore isn’t going to be platooning with Adam LaRoche either.

Q: Do you think it is likely that the Nationals will sign both Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann to contract extensions this offseason?

A: Likely?  No.  I think at least one (Desmond) gets done, and we may see the other guy (Zimmermann) get moved in a cost-containment move with the team thinking ahead to its rising minor league players and its need to pay both Harper and Strasburg sooner than later.  Ladson sort of agrees.