Nationals Arm Race

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

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Ask Collier 5/22/17 (i’m back!)

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Our newest little Nats fan!

Our newest little Nats fan!

So, after nearly a 3 week hiatus, i’m back.  And what better way to get back into the swing of things than to do a mailbag!  Nats mlb.com beat reporter Jamal Collier was kind enough to post a mailbag last night.

(In case you were wondering where I was, we traveled to China to adopt a little girl.  The above is a picture of her the day after we met her for the first time as we were walking the streets of Jinan, the capital city of the province where she was living in an orphanage :-).  She’s a natural in the curly-W hat).


 

Q: Any sense of urgency from the front office to get pen support? could we see a trade soon or will Rizzo play it cool and wait a bit more?

A: I don’t know how there isn’t a sense of urgency at this point.  We’re nearly a third of the way through the season and the bullpen is in shambles.  As we speak, the Nats bullpen ranks 29th in ERA, 27th in FIP, and 27th in fWAR.  Their best reliever so far in 2017 was a scrap-heap NRI pickup in Matt Albers, who now seems to be closing.  Five different guys have saves.  The two guys who we thought would be in the “closer” discussion ahead of the season (Shawn Kelley and Blake Treinen) have ERAs of 6.08 and 7.78 respectively.  The bullpen has 8 blown saves already, some of which were really, really egregious (like May 9th’s scuttling of Max Scherzer‘s 8 inning shut-down effort in Baltimore).

But its not exactly trade season yet.  You very rarely see trades during this time of year; front offices are preparing for the draft.  Then they’ll spend most of June negotiating with draft picks and making roster decisions on short season squads.  Then there’s the International Signing period leading up to the beginning of July.  Then there’s the all-star break.  Only THEN do you really get into “trade season,” the period in-between the all-star break and the trade deadline on 7/31.  So I’d be kind of surprised to see the Nats pull off a trade right now.  More likely you’ll see more of what they’re doing with Erick Fedde: looking at their AAA and AA teams and wondering who might be able to help.  Fedde could be a nice little 7th/8th inning helper, kinda like Koda Glover was last year.  Perhaps there’s another starter down there who might make sense to do the same in a pinch.  The team still has several options in AAA and on the 40-man roster that they’ve yet to explore: Austin Adams has 31 Ks in 19 innings with a 1.42 ERA for Syracuse so far in 2017 …. to go along with 17 walks (but hey, Enny Romero was able to fix his walk issue, right?).  Trevor Gott‘s numbers aren’t awful.  So perhaps there’s some options.

Oh Side note; the rumor that the Nats had a deal with the White Sox to move David Robertson (AND salary relief!?) for Jesus Luzardo and Drew Ward?   That came from Bob Nightengale from the USA Today, who is one of those reporters who seems to get a lot of “anonymous quotes” from unnamed front office types looking to air dirty laundry, especially from the slimy Chicago White Sox organization (go google his reporting on the Adam LaRoche situation for a decidedly pro-ownership take on that whole situation, trashing the player without anyone taking any credit for the quotes).  So i’m not sure how much credit to give it.  But if its true … then you have to scratch your head as to why the Nats didn’t pull the trigger on that one.  Ward is a limited prospect, completely blocked at the MLB level  and who is Rule-5 Eligible this coming off-season and Luzardo is a lottery ticket coming off TJ surgery who has yet to throw a pitch.  I’d have made that deal in a heart beat; you’re telling me the Nats balked because they didn’t get *enough* money coming back?

Collier says the team is well aware of the issue, is poking around, but as noted above its two months from the trade deadline so there’s not a lot of urgency from other teams.


Q: Does Eric Fedde have a chance that to join the Nats bullpen soon?

A: Duh, yes.  Why else would the team have taken its absolute best starting pitcher prospect  in Erick Fedde and put him in the bullpen mid-May?  I don’t think it was to see how he liked it.  I think it was clearly to fill a need at the MLB level.  And soon.  I’d say they’ll give him a call as soon as he a) shows he can handle pitching back to back days, and b) he clears the super-2 deadline.  When will Super-2 deadline be?  Well, its generally been falling in the 2yr, 135day range.   So we’re right in the range as we speak of being at the super-2 cutoff; to be really safe, teams could wait until the first week of June to do call-ups and likely be clear of the cut-off.  So that works  out well; Fedde gets 3 weeks or so in the bullpen, then gets the call.  That’d be my prediction.

Collier agrees; says absolutely Fedde is coming up in a relief role for 2017 to fill a need, similarly to the way the team moved Trea Turner last year.


Q: When can we expect solis to rejoin the team?

A: Beats me.  Sammy Solis just can’t stay healthy, and his current injury is listed on b-r.com as having “no time table for return.”

Collier reports that Solis is not even throwing yet; i’d say we’re at least a month from seeing him back.  Not good.


Q: Are Trevor Gott, Joe Nathan, and Bryan Harper being considered for call ups in bullpen? 

A: I discussed Gott above: his numbers aren’t stellar but they’re not awful either.  Joe Nathan has been looking his age in AAA: 1.60 WHIP, 5.65 ERA but getting a K/inning.  Does this sound like the bullpen savior?  Bryan Harper had TJ Surgery in November; he’s out the entire year for sure.  So he’s not an option either.

Collier notes that both Gott and Nathan’s numbers are from earlier struggles and both have pitched better lately.  Fair enough; the team has gotten lucky with NRIs so far this year, perhaps Nathan is another possibility.  


Q: When is Dusty going to name Glover as the closer? I think it needs to happen. Let him have a real shot since there are no better options.

A: Who cares who the “Official Closer” is?  You know who has the best bullpen in the Majors?  Cleveland.  You know who Cleveland’s best reliever is?  It isn’t the “closer.”  Its time people started realizing that bullpen usage is evolving.  I don’t care who the guy is getting the useless “save” statistic; I want my best arm pitching in the highest leverage situations, irrespective of what inning it is.  Does Dusty Baker get this?  Probably not … which holds the team back.  But at least  he’s not Matt Williams in terms of bullpen usage idiocy.

Right now Glover seems to be pitching well, but Albers is pitching better.  So those are my late-inning/high leverage go-to guys.

Collier says Baker danced around the issue when most recently asked.  Which isn’t a surprise for a team with 5 different guys who have gotten saves so far this year.


Q: The RHH bench consists of Chris Heisey (0-14 as PH) and Wilmer Difo (1 PH hit?). Upgrades?

A: SSS.  You’re grasping at straws if you’re worried about this team’s offense right now.   Nats team offense is #1 in the majors in BA, #3 in OBP, #1 in Slugging, #1 in wOBA and #3 in wRC+.  For a National league team, that’s astonishing considering that they’re basically punting the Pitcher slot in the order while AL teams have beefy designated hitters in their stead.  So if you asked me if i’m worried about the right handed pinch hitting options, i’d say no.  Heisey was just fine last year, earned his spot this year, and he’ll be ok eventually.   You can’t expect your bench guys to be awesome, all the time; if they were, they wouldn’t be bench guys.

Collier agrees; its early.


 

Q: With Adam Eaton out even as Zimmerman makes a resurgence doesn’t it make this team the exact same team that lost in NLDS?

A: Not really; last year’s team was good offensively but not this good.  Last year  Bryce Harper struggled most of the year; this year he’s back in 2015 form.  You replaced last year’s empty ABs given to Ben Revere and Danny Espinosa with theoretically “better” at-bats from Trea Turner and Adam Eaton to start.  Even with Eaton gone, Michael Taylor hasn’t been completely awful.   But this team won’t go far in the playoffs without some reliability in the bullpen, no matter now many pitchers their starters throw.  That’s your concern right now.

Collier thinks its pretty much the same team, also noting the bullpen as a weakness.

 

 

 

 

Turner good, Romero bad, Treinen ugh

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Nice start for Turner. Photo via WP

Nice start for Turner. Photo via WP

Well, the title sums it up.

On the plus side, great to see a quality start out of Jacob Turner.  Good velocity (average of 95.8, peak of 97.6) even if most of the 96-97 heaters were early, decent strike ratio (59 of 84), not a ton of swing and miss (just 5 whiffs out of 84 pitches).  But he walked nobody, got a K/inning, and kept his team in the game.  And he was up 4-1 in the 6th before finally giving up a long ball (an inevitability in Denver).  You can’t ask for much more from a spot starter.

Certainly better than what Jeremy Guthrie gave this team earlier this month

And once again I bring up the obvious; between Turner’s arm and stuff, and what Vance Worley is now doing for AAA New Orleans after his very serviceable 2016, what in the heck were the Nats thinking in giving Guthrie the first crack at spot starts for the big league team?

Enny Romero gave up the go-ahead homer to another top-notch slugger … but the nit is that as a lefty, he should have had the advantage against Charlie Blackmon.  Instead Blackmon golfed one into the 2nd deck to put his team in the lead.  Pitchers give up homers, sure.  But Romero now has a 1.8 WHIP on the year.  You just cannot have a middle reliever that puts on nearly 2 baserunners every time he gets the ball.   I’m guessing Turner sticks around and Romero gets the DFA heave-ho once Strasburg catches up on his sleep and re-joins the team.

Meanwhile, is it obvious for me to say that of all the relievers in the bullpen, that Blake Treinen‘s stuff most poorly translates to the thin-air environment of Coors?  Why would he be the choice out of the pen when his whole schtick is movement on his sinking fastball?  Why was he left in a one run game and allowed to give up 6 hits and basically put the game completely out of reach?  I guess you could excuse a couple of the hits (the Story single was a jam job that a better LF might have caught, Wolters RBI single was sharply hit but well placed past Rendon, who was playing up), but you can’t excuse 6  hits and 3 runs.

What’s the solution?  Maybe you just say “oh its Coors.”  Fine.  But Treinen needs to find his way and fast.  Our most effective reliever right now seems to be an NRI that we picked up off the street on Feb 1st (Matt Albers).  That’s not a good thing … because its just a matter of time before he regresses to the mean as well.  No wonder the Nats are “sniffing around” on bullpen help.  Maybe something they should have done a better job at doing this past off-season.

I think Treinen might be one more blow-up from an option to AAA to clear his head.  Keep Turner up; if he’s throwing 96-97 during starts, he’ll be fine in middle relief.   DFA Romero and bring up Adams to see if his 2017 AAA numbers are legit.  Can’t be any worse, right?

 

Ask Collier; what’s up with the bullpen?

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I'd like to note that Matt Albers is officially listed as 6'1", 225lbs. photo via outsidepitchmlb.com

I’d like to note (using this picture as reference) that Matt Albers is officially listed as 6’1″, 225lbs. photo via outsidepitchmlb.com

A mid-April mailbag from Nats MLB.com beat reporter Jamal Collier.  Probably spurred on by these ugly numbers: 6.00, 6.43, 3.18, 6.75, 10.80, 8.10, and 11.57.  Those are the current (as of 4/18/17) ERAs of the seven “original” bullpen members of your 2017 Nationals.   The only one under 6 is Koda Glover, and for completion I should add that NRI Matt Albers has managed to throw 3 clean innings to help keep the bullpen ERA down.

You  may be saying to yourself, “Man, the Nats bullpen has been the worst in the majors!”  You’re close, but wrong.  There are several teams by any measure that have actually been worse than Washington, believe it or not.  By ERA, there are 3 worse teams.  By fWAR, there are 2 worse teams.  And by FIP there’s one bullpen worse than ours.  In every case, Philadelphia’s bullpen has been even worse.   So we have that going for us.

Lets get to the question.  As always, I answer the question before reading Collier’s answer and sometimes edit questions for clarity.

Q: Why is the bullpen struggling?

A: Because its mid-April, because everything is Small Sample Sizes (SSS), because the Nats struck lightening in a bottle in 2016 while completely remaking their bullpen on the fly but may have struck out this year.  Here’s the opening day roster bullpens over the last few years to highlight just how much turnover we’ve had:

  • 2013: Soriano, Storen, Clippard, Mattheus, Stammen, Rodriguez, Duke
  • 2014: Soriano, Clippard, Storen, Stammen, Blevins, Barrett, Detwiler
  • 2015: Storen, Janssen, Stammen, Thornton*, Cedeno*, Barrett, Roark
  • 2016: Papelbon, Treinen, Kelley, Belisle, Perez*, Rivero*, Petit
  • 2017: Treinen, Kelley, Glover, Blanton, Solis*, Romero*, Perez*

Meaning:

  • From 2013->2014: 4 holdovers, 3 new guys
  • From 2014->2015: 3 holdovers, 4 new guys.
  • From 2015->2016: 0 holdovers, 7 new guys
  • From 2016->2017: 3 holdovers, 4 new guys

Frankly, the fact that a 100% remade bullpen was so successful last year was amazing.  Perhaps now we’re seeing the downside of this lack of consistency.

I trust most of the guys in the 2017 bullpen, based on prior history.  I think I know what to expect out of Treinen, Kelley, Glover, Blanton, Solis and Perez.  Romero we all knew is/was a lottery ticket, and he may be DFA fodder soon.  Albers the NRI could be this year’s Todd Coffey; a successful middle reliever who we got for peanuts.  I think we just need some time.

That being said, lets look role by role and ask ourselves if we think this year’s bullpen is “better” than last.

  • Will Treinen (as closer) be better than Papelbon?  I like his chances.
  • Will Kelley repeat his success of 2016?  No reason not to think so
  • Will Glover give the team what Treinen did last year?  I’m confident.
  • Is Blanton better than Belisle?  Undoubtedly yes.
  • Can Solis match Rivero’s lefty production?  Seems like it based on what he did last year
  • Is Perez the same guy he was last year?  Probably.
  • Can Romero be as bad as Petit was last  year?  Yeah, he probably could.

Maybe you don’t agree with me on these quick takes … but on a general level the message is this: the bullpen this year should be just as good as last year’s.

Collier delves into FIP to find some unluckiness, also notes its SSS.  And he notes that its a MLB-wide trend; bullpens are awful everywhere for some reason this year.


 

Q: How much rope does Blake have left? Is he staying put only because the other options have also struggled?

A: See above: its April 18th.  Treinen has 4 save opportunities, blew one (where he gave up just one hit to blow it), but his most recent outing was an ugly one necessitating some Bryce Harper heroics.  My choice to close would have been Shawn Kelley honestly; more experience, more swing and miss stuff, more proven capabilities of getting guys out on both sides of the plate.  But the team chose otherwise, mostly due to Kelley’s twice-repaired elbow and the need to go back to back nights.  Ask yourself; how often do we need a closer to go back to back nights?  Lets look at last year’s closer Mark Melancon and count how many times he pitched in back to back games for the entirety of 2016: I counted 16 times in 75 appearances.  And in most of those cases, he then got several days off.  I just can’t believe Kelley’s arm is SO FRAGILE that he can’t throw back to back nights.

Do you know how many times Kelley threw on back-to-back days in 2016?  Take a guess.  13 times.  So 13 times last year (or nearly as many as the closer Melancon) Kelley threw on back to back days, but suddenly in 2017 he’s too fragile to depend on to throw back to backs as the closer.

To get back to the question; I’m sure Glover will be closing sooner or later.  It was always looking that way.  How much rope does Treinen have?  Probably at least til mid May.

Collier says its early, that while Treinen has had some issues there’s no change coming anytime soon.


 

Q: Who do you see as potential options in the Minors in case the current bullpen members don’t figure things out and changes need to be made?

A: Great question.  When Albers got called and added to the active roster, it was a severe indictment of all remaining 40-man roster relievers.  That’s be Rafael Martin, Trevor Gott, Austin Adams, and to a lesser extent Jimmy Cordero and Matt Grace.  The first three guys are right handed options, all with MLB experience, all passed over for a guy the team signed for nothing.  That tells me that the team has little to no trust in any of those three guys at the major league level right now.  So who might the team call upon?  Here’s some thoughts:

  • From AAA: Adams is the only guy having a halfway decent season thus far; in 7 2/3rds innings he’s given up just 1 hit (!), walked 6, struck out 12.  The team just re-signed Joe Nathan but I sincerely hope he’s not a legitimate option.
  • From AA; the 5 best guys by WHIP are … the five starters.  So that’s good I guess.  Braulio Lara was an offseason MLFA with a lot of AAA time; he’s got decent AA stats right now and could be an option to move up, but not straight to the majors for me.  Then there’s Ryan Brinley, who is sharing in closing duties but is young and is a total lottery ticket; a 27th rounder from 2015 who is a shock to have even made it this far.  40-man member Cordero is down here… and has a 19.62 ERA right now.  Nice.
  • From XST: there’s three potentially interesting names that could make sense for the bullpen: Derek Eitel, John Lannan, and Josh Outman.  Eitel had solid AAA numbers last year and has been around for a while (age 29); he might be an option to look for.  Outman has parts of 7 years MLB experience, some starting, some relieving and could be an option.  Lastly, the new side-slinger Lannan could be a back-fill for an under-performing Loogie.

I guess the other option would be to take a starter from AAA or AA and bring him up in relief.  But the AAA starters are really struggling right now.  Hill is getting bombed, Voth has given up 15 hits in just 6 1/3 innings, Cole walked 5 guys in his first start, and Turner has a 1.73 whip through 2 turns.  And none of these guys are really known for their blazing fastballs; they’re all command and control starters.  The AA starters look better than the AAA starters, but a couple of them strategically have to stay as starters (namely Erick Fedde and Austen Williams, John Simms to a lesser extent).  Jaron Long and Greg Ross are both MLFA signings who the team may not have as much invested in … perhaps they could be put into shorter relief modes and considered for bullpen spots.  But that’s digging deep.

In other words … there’s not a lot of reinforcements that the team trusts right now.  The MLB bullpen will be given plenty of rope to straighten themselves out.

Collier mentions Albers’ success, Nathan signing, Cotts, Adams and Gott.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your 2017 Bullpen

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Old School photo of Blanton from his time at P hilly. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Old School photo of Blanton from his time at P hilly. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

With the Joe Blanton signing, one has to think the team is done augmenting its bullpen until the trade deadline.

Instant Tangent: Blanton is actually an excellent example of why i’m pretty much A-OK with the Nats not overpaying for a closer.  Here’s Blanton’s career splits as a starter and reliever:

  • Starter: 1553 innings, 4.47 ERA, 1.354 whip, 6.2 K/9 and a 2.65 K/BB ratio.
  • Reliever: 169.2 innings, 3.24 ERA, 1.138 whip, 8.9 K/9 and 3.57 K/BB ratio.

Last year specifically as a middle relief workhorse for Los Angeles: 80 innings across 75 appearances, 2.48 ERA, exactly a 9.0 K/9 rate.

So basically Blanton was a sub-mediocre starter; his starting career was with Oakland (pitcher’s park), Philly (National league) and then stints starting for both Los Angeles clubs (again, both pitcher’s parks and/or NL teams facing pitchers and weaker lineups).  But suddenly he’s a stud when moved into relief.

This is nothing new.  Go look at Mariano Rivera‘s stats starting; in one brief season for the Yankees he got 10 starts and threw to a 5.51 ERA.  The next year he’s moved into the bullpen and he posts a 2.09 ERA and comes in 3rd in Cy Young.  After that, eleven seasons where his ERA for the year was sub 2.00.  Not to be too blunt about it, but Rivera was a failed MLB starter who turned into a Hall of Fame reliever.

There’s no reason the Nats can’t find their own Mariano Rivera.

I’m not saying Shawn Kelley is the answer.  For a while i’ve thought that Blake Treinen was the answer.  Maybe now Koda Glover will be the answer.  Or perhaps Joan Baez will rocket up the system and throw 100 mph bee-bees by September.

In any case … I’m happy with the bullpen now, moreso than I was yesterday, and I still think it’d be a mistake to trade valuable assets for a mediocre closer like David Robertson.

So, to the question at hand.  How’s our Bullpen looking?

Here’s the relievers on our 40-man roster now, in rough order of depth:  Kelley, Blanton, Treinen, Glover, Solis*, Perez*, Romero*, Adams, Gott, Martin, Cordero, Grace*

So what do I think is going to happen?

  • Closer: Kelley.  Good stuff in short bursts, veteran guy to meet the “pressure” requirement of a closer.
  • 8th inning guys: Treinen and Blanton: no arguments here; they’ll both throw in 70-80 games this year, switching off and perhaps spelling Kelley in the 9th.
  • 7th Inning guys: Glover and Solis: I like Glover’s stuff, I think his downturn in performance last year was entirely related to the unreported hip issue, and I think he could be the closer in waiting.  Solis is lefty but offers more than just a matchup; he’s not that far removed from starting and he’s not unlike Andrew Miller in that he depends on a good pitch (his two seamer) slung from a lower arm-angle to get guys out.
  • Lefty specialist: Mr. Swashbuckler Oliver Perez.  He can also pick up the slop in a pinch and give the team twisty-turny rubber armed high sock slinging mud as needed.  (Yes, I like Perez).

Ok that’s 6 guys who are practically guaranteed their slots.  Maybe Glover isn’t a guarantee to you but he is to me if he’s healthy.

So who is 7th reliever?  Maybe its easier to talk about who I do NOT think it will be:

  • Grace: I think he’s not long for the org, clearly now 4th in line for lefty relievers for a team that only needs two.  DFA candidate if it comes to it.
  • Martin: He doesn’t seem to have the same magic he had when he first got called up; he’s also fallen down on the depth chart, now behind the above named guys plus recent acqusitions.
  • Adams, Gott, Cordero: all are new(er), all have things to prove, make perfect sense to start in AAA
  • Romero: option-less, could be on the opening day roster just to avoid a waiver wire exposure … but we paid little for him so there’s little lost cutting him.  Maybe he starts on the roster in lieu of a 5th starter for the first few days (we don’t need a fifth starter until like the 6th or 7th game of the season, assuming everyone is healthy and making the roster).

So who is 7th guy?  Someone who’s not even on the 40-man; Vance Worley.  He sots into 7th man, long guy, spot starter, insurance guy.

That’s what i’m going with for now.  But good or bad spring performances could scuttle this by the time we hit April 1.

Collier’s Inbox 1/4/17

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

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

Happy New Year!

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


 

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

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


 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

 

 

Nats Payroll Outlook for 2017 and what it could mean for FA market

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Do you trade Gonzalez to get payroll flexibility? Photo unknown via WP.com

Do you trade Gonzalez to get payroll flexibility? Photo unknown via WP.com

The end of the World Series starts the clock on a whole slew of off-season moves, and we’ve already seen the Nats do a few procedural moves that were predictable:

  • Aaron Barrett, who I thought was a non-tender candidate since he’s Arb-eligible, was waived.
  • Yusmeiro Petit had his $3M option declined, and becomes a FA.
  • All 8 of our other eligible FAs declared FA: Mark Melancon, Wilson Ramos, Stephen Drew, Chris Heisey, Matt Belisle, Mark Rzepczynski, Sean Burnett and Mat Latos.

So the 40-man roster now sits at 31 players:

  • SP: Scherzer, Strasburg, Roark, Ross, Gonzalez*, Lopez, Giolito, Cole
  • RP: Kelley, Treinen, Glover, Solis*, Perez*, Gott, Martin, Grace*
  • C: Lobaton, Severino, Kieboom
  • INF: Zimmerman, Murphy, Turner, Rendon, Espinosa, Robinson, Difo
  • OF: Harper, Werth, Revere, Taylor, Goodwin

Lets break down these current 31 guys and see what their payroll looks like projected for 2017 to see what kind of financial flexibility the team may have.  Using the ever-awesome Cots MLB player salary site as a source here we go:


Players Already Under Contract for 2017 – 8

  • Werth, Jayson:  $21,571,429
  • Scherzer, Max:  $15,000,000
  • Strasburg, Stephen:  $15,000,000
  • Zimmerman, Ryan:  $14,000,000
  • Gonzalez, Gio:  $12,100,000 (Option for 2017 picked up 11/3/16)
  • Murphy, Daniel:  $12,000,000
  • Perez, Oliver:  $4,000,000
  • Kelley, Shawn:  $5,500,000

Subtotal: $99,171,429 <– Sum of Established Contracts for 2017

Note that I’ve not prorated any deferred money for Scherzer, Strasburg.  Also, I’m not entirely sure what Werth did last year; was it to lower his 2016 salary by $10M and pay that later?  I think so, so I don’t believe his 2017 salary was affected.  I do not agree with the prorating that Cot’s does with the deferred dollars on Scherzer/Strasburg; I think the Lerners are treating it like payments later on so as to add financial flexibility now, so I count just the dollars owed in 2017 here.  With these caveats, we come to the $99.1M figure due for these 8 players.  Feel free to comment and correct me if I have this wrong.


Arbitration Eligible Players for 2017 – 6 

I’m using MLB Trade rumors’ estimates instead of doing my own guesses since they’ve proven to be hyper accurate in years’ past, but will offer commentary on each figure.

  • Harper, Bryce: $9,300,000 estimate
  • Rendon, Anthony: $6,400,000 estimate
  • Espinosa, Danny: $5,300,000 estimate
  • Lobaton, Jose: $1,600,000 estimate
  • Revere, Ben: $6,300,000 estimate
  • Roark, Tanner: $6,100,000 estimate

Subtotal: $35,000,000 <– MLBtraderumors Guess of total arb award amounts

Now, I’m on record saying that I think the team non-tenders Revere; I cannot imagine paying $6.3M for the production we got out of him last year.  If the team thinks 2016 was an aberration and he can return to his 2015 form, then $6.3M might be a bargain (reminder: he hit .319 and had a 101 OPS+ figure in Toronto in 2015).  However, for the time being i’m going with Revere getting non-tendered.  I also think Harper’s going to sign a 2-year deal to buy out the rest of his Arb years, so I could see something like a 2yr/$25M deal at 10 and 15.  I think the Rendon figure seems high (yes he had a solid year but $6.4 more than doubles his 2016 pay).  I also have a hard time believing that Roark is going to net $6.1M in his first arb season, no matter how good he was last year.

So my working guess on this number is $35M less Revere’s $6.3 and less a bit more off of the Rendon & Roark numbers: call it $27,200,000.


Pre Arbitration MLB players – 17

  • Robinson, Clint $540,000
  • Treinen, Blake $536,000
  • Taylor, Michael $530,000
  • Ross, Joe $520,000
  • Gott, Trevor $518,000
  • Turner, Trea $507,500
  • Solis, Sammy $507,500
  • Glover, Koda $507,500
  • Severino, Pedro $507,500
  • Difo, Wilmer $507,500
  • Cole, A.J. $507,500
  • Goodwin, Brian $507,500
  • Grace, Matt
  • Martin, Rafael
  • Kieboom, Spencer
  • Giolito, Lucas
  • Lopez, Reynaldo

Subtotal: $6,196,500

The rest of the 40-man roster are pre-arbitration/team-assigned salaries.  The current league minimum salary is $507,500; that might change, that might go up with the new CBA.  For the time being, those players above who are ABOVE that figure are those who have played at the MLB level and have earned a nominal raise.  These are guesses on these nominal salary increases, and then the rest of the guys are listed assuming they all make next year’s 25-man roster.   Assuming no acquisitions, 12 of these pre-arb guys will be on the 25-man roster so that’s roughly $6M.


Payments for former players in 2017

Petit, Yusmeiro: $500,000 buyout of 2017 contract.


Summary:  $99,171,429 +  $27,200,000 +  $6,196,500 +  $500,000 =  $133,067,929 current payroll Estimate for your 2017 Nationals.

That figure represents about a $12M delta from last year’s working payroll figure of  $145,178,886 (cot’s figure), but is about $5.7M higher than my “present day dollar only” figure for last year’s squad.

So, I’m not sure if the team has $12M to “spare” or will be looking to cut costs.  Either way they’re nearly $30M below the 2015 payroll figure of $162M (Cots).

So here’s what i’d like to see happen:

  • Non-tender Revere ($6.3M), Trade Gio ($12M) and Espinosa ($5.3M).  Net $17.3M (we already counted on Revere’s 6.3)
  • I figure we’ll receive back at least $10M of MLB salary for players received from Gio and Espinosa.  So that leaves about $7M additional savings
  • Add that to the $12M figure and that’s about $20M to work with.
  • Spread that $20M around as follows:
    • Josh Reddick: $10M a year for 3 years; lefty, RF capable, relatively cheap when compared to the marquee OF on the market.
    • Greg Holland: $7M/year guess; former closer, formerly had ridiculous stuff, may have it back, could be 8th or 9th inning guy with existing options
    • Resign Stephen Drew, Matt Belisle and Chris Heisey to a combined $10M.

That makes your 25-man projected roster look like this:

  • SP: Scherzer, Strasburg, Roark, Ross, Lopez
  • RP: Kelley, Holland, Treinen, Belisle, Solis*, Perez*, Cole (longman)
  • C: Lobaton, Severino
  • INF: Zimmerman, Murphy, Turner, Rendon, Robinson, Drew,
  • OF: Harper, Werth, Reddick, Taylor, Heisey

With the following in AAA

  • SP: Giolito
  • RP: Glover, Gott, Martin, Grace*
  • C: Kieboom
  • INF: Difo
  • OF: Goodwin

That’s not too bad.  It also doesn’t account for any players received from trading Gonzalez and Espinosa; we could get back a starting catcher, pushing Severino to AAA, or we could get a utility infielder, obviating the need for Drew  or Heisey.

what do you guys think?

Nats post-2016 “GM for a Day” Off-Season Priorities for filling Roster Holes

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Ramos may be the toughest off-season decision the team makes. Photo via wp.com

Ramos may be the toughest off-season decision the team makes. Photo via wp.com

Another year, another playoff failure.  Beat it to death already.  Time to move on.

Lets talk about the post-season “To Do” list is for the Nats.  We’ll have eventual posts to talk about other stuff, like Tender decisions, 40-man decisions ahead of the Rule5 draft, etc.

In this post, we’ll squint at the overall roster, look at blatant holes that will need filling, and discuss how they might get filled.  Call it the cliche’s “General Manager for a day” post for the Nats this coming off-season.


Pending Free Agents we are waving good-bye to and the holes they thus leave (as per the invaluable Cots site at BaseballProspectus):

  • Mark Melancon: though i’d love to re-sign him … see later in the post.
  • Wilson Ramos: his injury is a shame for both player and team; he likely lost $50M in guaranteed FA money and the team lost a clear QO-compensation pick.  He may not even be able to catch again, which dumps him to the AL, where his market is significantly cut thanks to the lessening of demand for bat-only DH types.  Ramos is in serious career jeopardy right now; would he decamp back to the Nats on some sort of minimally guaranteed deal with performance incentives?
  • Stephen Drew: also one I hope re-signs; see later in the post.
  • Chris Heisey: one who I think is replaceable; look for another cattle call for RH bat options this coming spring training.
  • Matt Belisle: despite not making the NLDS roster, he was great for Washington this year and is worth another contract.
  • Mark Rzepczynski: He’s been very effective for us, and overall had a good 2016.  His 2015 was awful, but he was good before that.  Such is the life of specialist relievers.
  • Sean Burnett and Mat Latos: both given Sept 2016 tryouts; neither seem likely to be retained.
  • Jonathan Papelbon: worth mentioning if only for the payroll flexibility.

Total payroll “savings” from these FAs: roughly $22M.  Papelbon’s $11M, Ramos’ $5.3M and the rest total about $6M.

Guys who I think are clear Non-Tenders (probably a topic worth its own post).

  • Yusmeiro Petit: $3M option with $500k buyout for 2017; pitched poorly in 2016, didn’t make the post-season roster and should be replaceable on the roster by any number of our AAA starters.
  • Ben Revere: $6.25M salary this year, due an arbitration raise for 2017; struggled badly in 2016, lost his job to a guy who had about 2 week of CF experience and didn’t make the post-season roster.
  • Aaron Barrett: as heartless as it would be; he’s arb-eligible, still hurt, not likely to be ready by opening day and is completely replaceable as a RH middle reliever).

Total savings from these non-tenders: roughly $10M

Guys who I think its Time to Trade and the holes they thus leave.  This also may be worthy of its own whole post.

  • Gio Gonzalez: I think the Nats can take advantage of a historically weak FA market for starters and Gio’s very friendly contract (two $12M options for 2017 and 2018) and move him.  Yes he struggled this year, but if you look at what middle rotation innings eaters like him are getting these days, $12M is a bargain and he should fetch something we value.  Moving him lets some of the guys who are clearly biting on the heels of a deserved rotation spot earn it for 2017 and thus the Nats “save” $11.5M in salary for the 2017 roster.
  • Danny Espinosa: As much as I have argued against this, his 2017 playoff performance has solidified in my mind the need to move him.  He has his pros (a plus defender range wise, perhaps the best SS arm in the game, and serious power for a SS) and his cons (he hit just .209 this year, he strikes out at about a 30% clip, and his switch hitting capabilities are really in question).  Nonetheless, there has to be some demand for a 25-home run capable plus defender SS in a lineup that can afford one crummy batting average at the bottom of the order.  Perhaps an AL team that doesn’t have to also bat a sub .200 BA pitcher.

Total savings from these guys getting moved (not counting payroll received in return of course): $15-$16M.

So, adding up all three lines, assuming a steady payroll ceiling similar to this year’s and not counting arbitration raises (or Strasburg‘s new contract), you’d have roughly $47M with which to work.  Not bad.  Strasburg’s new contract will take $5M away from that flexibility (he made $10M last year, will make $15M next) and arbitration raises for Harper, Rendon and Roark will cost some cash, but that’s a post for another day.  Lets call it $30M in available FA dollars when all is said and done.


So, assuming you’re even reading this far and havn’t already started commenting and arguing about that list of players, here’s the presumed holes that losing these 10 players leaves (in order of mention above):

  • Closer
  • Starting Catcher
  • Backup Utility Infielder
  • Backup RH bench bat/corner outfielder
  • 6th/7th inning RH reliever
  • Loogy
  • Long Man/Spot starter/7th guy out of the pen
  • Backup Outfielder (CF capable)
  • Another 6th/7th inning RH reliever
  • #5 Starter
  • Starting Shortstop
  • (and not really counting the “loss” of Burnett and Latos for this discussion)

If we just filled these holes internally, what would it look like?

  • Closer: Make Shawn Kelley the closer and move up Treinen and Glover to be 8th inning guys.  This leaves a hole later on in the pen for the middle RH relievers (see below)
  • Starting Catcher: promote Lobaton to starter and install Severino as the backup.  Or switch them; honestly I like Severino’s at-bats; he looks confident.  I don’t think Kieboom is ready for the show, so it makes sense to tender Lobaton for one more year.
  • Backup Utility InfielderDifo becomes the first go-to guy to backup Turner/Murphy, but we’ll still need another utility guy.
  • Backup RH bench bat/corner outfielder: not much internally to go to; both the 2016 AAA and AA rosters are basically bereft of decent hitting prospects who might be candidates.  We’ll be trolling the FA market here for sure.  See the next section.
  • Two 6th/7th inning RH relievers: We have Gott and Martin on the 40-man; they could step up to replace these two guys like for like.  Right now we have five RH relievers under contract for 2017 (Kelley, Treinen, Glover, Gott and Martin) to go along with two lefties (Solis and Perez); that’s not too bad of a bullpen to start out with, but could be improved.  And this lineup doesn’t “really” have a long man, so you’d have to think one of Gott or Martin is in AAA to make room for a long-man (likely Martin at this point).
  • Loogy: its arguable whether we need another lefty with both Solis and Perez under contract, but they went most of the year this year with three.  Matt Grace is still on the 40-man and would be an internal option.
  • Long Man/Spot starter/7th guy out of the pen: loser of #5 starter competition (see below)
  • Backup Outfielder (CF capable)Michael Taylor, in what likely is his ceiling from here forward.
  • #5 Starter: have Sprint Training 2017 tryouts for the #5 starter between Lopez, Giolito, Cole and even Voth (who I’m assuming by that time will be on the 40-man, protected ahead of this coming off-season’s Rule-5 draft).  The winner is #5 starter, and one of the losers could be the long-man (well, if the loser is someone like Cole or Voth, who aren’t nearly as “big” of a prospect as Giolito).  There’s also the distinct possibility that Lopez’s arm is turned into a closer at some point if he can’t turn over lineups.  Check out Lopez’s 2016 splits, specifically SP versus RP and specifically the “Times Facing an Opponent” during the game; as a starter he struggles with the first time through the order, but not as a reliever.
  • Starting Shortstop: move Trea Turner to his natural position, leaving a hole in Center.

So, with my “all internal” fill-ins, your 25 man roster for 2017 looks something like this:

  • Starters: Scherzer, Strasburg, Roark, Ross, Lopez
  • Relievers: Kelley, Treinen, Glover, Gott, Solis*, Perez*, Cole
  • Catchers: Lobaton, Severino
  • INF Starters: Rendon, Turner, Murphy, Zimmerman
  • INF backups: Difo, Robinson
  • OF Starters: Werth, Harper
  • OF Backups: Taylor, Goodwin

And we’re missing one-two spots that don’t really have natural in-house replacements: another backup infielder and a starting Center fielder.

So, looking at that 25-man roster, where do we see areas of need?  This feeds directly into the Off-season Priorities in the next section.


Quick diversion: Notice I didn’t say what position Bryce Harper is playing.  Honestly, if Turner is vacating CF and we’re waving good-bye to Espinosa, then I think you have to put Harper in center.  Here’s my main arguments for putting him in center (most of which are “anti-arguments” for those who for some reason think he cannot play center):

  1. He’s young.   He just turned 24 for crying out loud; there’s no reason he doesn’t have the youth or athleticism to handle center.  Mantle did it while hitting for power.  So did Mays.  So did Griffey Jr and Aaron for the early part of his career.  Trout plays center.
  2. He’s got the arm (he has the 2nd best statistically rated arm in the majors in 2016), he’s got the speed (21 Stolen bases this year).  And now he has years of OF experience on which to depend.
  3. He’s played there before and played well.  Here’s his career fielding stats from fangraphs.com: He had more than 700 innings in CF in 2012 and played it to a fantastic UZR/150 figure of 19.1 and 13 DRS.  He was also great there in more limited sample sizes in 2013 and 2015.  I leave out 2014 since that was his injury season and its clearly skewed as compared to his other seasons.
  4. By putting Harper in Center, you vastly open open up the roster possibilities on the FA market.  Look at the pending FA last at mlbtraderumors.com and compare/contrast the available options at CF versus LF/RF.

Top FA/Trade Priorities in 2016-2017 Off-season

Fantasy: I view these as not really possible but are listed as “fantasy” wish lists.  Both fixate on moving unmovable contracts, so they’ll probably remain fantasies.

  • Upgrade 1B: dump Zimmerman and upgrade offensively at that position.
  • Upgrade LF: dump Werth and the last year of his deal and find a LF-capable bopper.
  • Acquire a leading CF: back up the farm system and dump it out for a leading center fielder.  Charlie Blackmon or Andrew McCutchen are names often mentioned thanks to the precarious position their teams face.  Mike Trout is the funny name you also hear since he’s so good he’s virtually untrade-able.  Unlike Tom Boswell, and as discussed in comments here before, re-signing Ian Desmond to man CF poorly would not be my first choice either.  I’d rather go with my “Bryce to Center” plan as laid out above.

Reality

  • Corner Outfielder.   See above Harper->CF logic.  If you want to splurge (and hurt your #1 divisional rival) sign Yoenis Cespedes.   Or you could make a big splash and sign Jose Bautista to a 3-yr deal that ends the same time Harper hits FA.  Werth remains serviceable in left, where he is mitigated defensively while Bautista still has value in RF.  This is where I could see a big chunk of the $30M of FA dollars going.  Lord knows we could use another clutch hitter in the middle of the order.
  • Closer: Above I said i’d love to re-sign Melancon, but more and more it seems like he’s going to be the 4th prize in a 4-closer musical chairs race.  And he’s gonna get paid.  And I’m not sure that the Nats are going to pay him.  Per the same previously mentioned FA list there’s 5 “active” closers hitting FA: Melancon, Wade Davis, Aroldis Chapman,  Kenley Jansen and Sergio Romo There’s a whole slew of guys who are FA who are former closers though, names like Andrew BaileyJoaquin Benoit, Santiago Casilla, Neftali Feliz, Jason Grilli, Greg Holland, J.J. Hoover, Jonathan Papelbon (haha, just making sure you’re still reading), Joe Smith, Fernando Salas, and Brad Ziegler.  There’s probably even more frankly; these were just the ones who stood out as I read the list.  Now, i’m not saying most of these guys are legitimate options, but some of these guys were perfectly good as closers and got “layered” by better closers.  Take Ziegler for example: he was just fine for Arizona for a while, then got moved to Boston where he got demoted to 8th inning duties.   I’d take him as a late-innings bullpen option.  
  • Bullpen arm: middle reliever: Now, all that being said about Closers, I think maybe what the team does is install one of their existing options as “the closer” and then maybe  hire one of these former closers to be an 8th inning/emergency closer kind of guy.  That’s essentially what they got last year with Shawn Kelley and that’s worked out ok.  I’d go after some of the ex-closer guys listed above, try to get them on an affordable deal (like halfway to closer money maybe) and that’d help off-set the losses of Melancon and Belisle.
  • Veteran utility infielder: as noted above, there’s not much in the farm system here.  If you keep Espinosa and put him in this role, then this is moot .. but we’ve read over and again about his disposition when he’s not playing.  This is kind of why I think we need to move him.  He’s more valuable in trade than he is in this bench role.  I hope the team re-ups with Stephen Drew honestly; he was solid, can cover all infield positions as needed, and can probably be had for a similar deal as last year.  I’d be happy with Difo and Drew and wouldn’t be opposed to perhaps another veteran utility guy to pair with Drew and compete with Difo if we don’t think Difo is up to the task.

Less Likely:

  • Backup LF/IB bench bats: While I like Robinson and I think Heisey did a good job this year, one struggled and the other is a FA with no guarantee of returning.  I absolutely expect to see another spring training cattle call of veteran bats of the LF/1B type to compete for roster spots.  I’m appreciative of Goodwin‘s completely unexpected line at the plate upon his call up; do we think he’s a better lefty bat option off the bench than Robinson?  I’m not sure.  I also sense (based on anecdotal evidence read over the years) that Robinson is a clubhouse and teammate favorite, which might make it tougher to cut him when the time comes.  Especially with a player’s manager type like Dusty Baker.  I know this is where MartyC will cry about Matt Skole (likely to depart in MLFA this coming off-season) and I understand; its all about potential versus production and Skole never produced enough during these annual spring training “tryouts” to win his spot.
  • Catcher: Here’s where the most arguing may occur.  I’m of the belief, after watching Severino down the stretch, that he could slide right into the starting spot right now.  I thought he looked good at the plate, took confident at-bats, never looked over matched, and (here’s the kicker) *puts the ball in play!*   This lineup has too many strikeouts; Severino struck out just 3 times in his 34 PAs down the stretch.   That correlates to about 50 punch-outs over a 600-plate appearance season; that’s awesome.  He was known for years for his defense, not his bat, so if he can provide even competent ABs he could be a starter.  So i’m up for saving money on the FA market (where the catcher ranks are thin and the prices will get bid up badly as a result).  Now, I could absolutely see us re-signing Wilson Ramos to an incentive-laden deal to keep him in house and hopefully get a good second half out of  him.  Why not?  If he signs for $5-6M (basically his salary this year) and then has games played incentives that could take him up to $7 or $8M why wouldn’t he do that here instead of elsewhere?   We go into the season with Severino and Lobaton with Kieboom in AAA and when Ramos shows up we (finally?) cut bait on Lobaton and have the two remaining guys platoon.  I’d be onboard with that plan.
  • Loogy: Why spend money here?  Solis and Perez ably fill the need.  Do we need a third lefty in the pen at the expense of one of the aforementioned righties?  I liked Rzepczynski this year; would he re-sign for reasonable dollars?  Would you want him back?  There’s several interesting names on the FA list; maybe one of them can be had for cheap.

 

What can we get in Trade versus buying on the FA market?   Payroll implications?

  • I suspect that Gonzalez can fetch some seriously valuable resources.  He’s an innings eating 4th starter who probably thrives in a pitcher’s park and is significantly less expensive at $12M/year than what something comparable costs on the FA market this year.  So can he fetch maybe one MLB-ready player that fits a need above plus maybe one decent prospect?  Is that too much?
  • Espinosa probably fetches less, unless you can get a GM to fall in love with his power/defense combo and somehow miss his BA and his K rate.  By way of comparison, Yunel Escobar (a lesser defender with less power but more contact) fetched us two upper-level pitching prospects in Trevor Gott and Michael Brady (by upper-level I mean AA/AAA level, not top 100 prospects).  I’d guess that Espinosa could fetch a bit more since he plays a premium position.  So that could end up being more of the needs above plus maybe an additional prospect.

But who knows what we can and cannot get.  In Mike Rizzo we trust when it comes to trades; no matter how much we bitch about prospects heading out the door, you’re really hard pressed to find a trade where Rizzo got the short end of the bargain or “lost” the deal.  So lets see what he can do.

Payroll implications.  I think we could get a $20M/yr corner OF slugger, a former closer at like $6M/year, resign Ramos at $5M, find a utility infielder in the Drew $3M/year range, and then sign a couple of guys to $1.25M conditional deals like what Belisle and Heisey got and fit right into the $145M payroll budget, even after arbitration raises.

 


Well; that’s a lot to argue about.  Maybe I should have split this up.  But let the discussions begin!

(did I forget anyone?)

Game 5; by hook or by crook, we got here.

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Maybe they'll bring back out chocolate if Scherzer wins game 5. Photo via thesportsquotient.com

Maybe they’ll bring back out chocolate if Scherzer wins game 5. Photo via thesportsquotient.com

I didn’t really do a pre-NLDS prediction piece for this series.  A combination of work and life events conspired against me.

But if you had asked me what I thought a week ago about the Nats-Dodgers NLDS, I would have said the series would have basically gone like this:

  • Nats lose to Kershaw in Game 1 because he’s Kershaw
  • Nats rebound in Game 2 and handle the veteran Hill.
  • Nats throw their sole lefty who dominates the lefty-feeble Dodgers line-up
  • Dodgers then panic down 2-1 and throw Kershaw on short rest, who dominates us again.
  • … leading to the inevitable Game 5 back home.

Now … the above description isn’t exactly how these games have gone, but the end result has been the same.  The Nats hit Kershaw in Game 1 … but the Dodgers hit Scherzer harder; that was no 2-1 squeaker.  Game 2 was salvaged when perhaps the weakest hitter on the roster clubbed a 3-run homer into a 25mph wind, energizing the stadium and the team to a degree i’ve never felt before.  Gonzalez certainly did not “shut down” the Dodgers in Game 3, but the Nats bats came alive at the end to turn it into a 4hour 12min laugher.  In game 4 Kershaw did indeed go on short rest, and up until the 7th looked pretty dominant, but in a recurring theme for him in the post-season, he went one inning too long, loaded the bases in the 7th and was charged with a total of 5 runs on the night despite 11 strikeouts.  Nonetheless, the Nats bullpen (which it should be noted did not give up a single run in the first three games) finally faltered, with Treinen coughing up the game winner in the bottom of the 8th to long-time Nats nemesis Chase Utley.

So here we are.  Game 5 tomorrow 10/13/16.  Max Scherzer on full rest versus Rich Hill on three days rest thanks to the Saturday cancellation.   Hill, 37-yr old veteran journeyman with a career resurgence, has thrown precisely one game on 3 days rest in his career: he gave up 5 runs on 3 hits and 4 walks in just 3IP that day.   No offense to  Hill, but lets hope for that line again and for the Nats to get into the Dodgers incredibly taxed bullpen.

Meanwhile, Scherzer has to figure out a way to keep the ball in the park.  And he probably needs to go 6 or 7 innings to help a bullpen that has now thrown 17 2/3rds innings in four games.

How about the Offense for this team so far?   Hitting .259 as a team despite going against Kershaw twice and a bunch of one-out relievers most of the rest of the time.   The veterans have really come to play: Murphy, Zimmerman and Werth  all stepping up and crushing the ball.  Youngster Turner at the top hitting .353 … but 10 of his 11 outs have been punchouts.  Harper is just 3-14 with 4 walks … but to be fair, 13 of those plate appearances have come against lefties and 3 more have come against LA closer Jansen … not exactly the easiest series for Harper.

Who has not acquitted themselves at the plate?  Espinosa; 1-11 with 8 punch outs and being outright replaced in game 3.  I read elsewhere, this may change my “next year opinion” on Espinosa; he has looked beyond helpless at the plate despite being a switch hitter.  Remind me of this sentence this coming off-season if I start making arguments for keeping him and keeping Turner in center.   Rendon has had a “loud” 3-16 series; loud in that he has 4 RBI and a monster homer.  Severino is 1-9 but has been putting the ball in play and has not looked overmatched.

Can’t wait for game 5.

Post-Season pitching Staff; who should it be?

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Gonzalez is key in the NLDS. Photo via Wikipedia/Flickr from user muohace_dc

Gonzalez is key in the NLDS. Photo via Wikipedia/Flickr from user muohace_dc

As requested in the comments, here’s a good thread to argue about and attempt to read the tea leaves as to what the team will do for its upcoming divisional series against Los Angeles.

A quick note before starting: the Dodgers are literally dead last in the majors against lefties as a team.   The have a team BA of .216 against all lefties, which is 15 points lower than the 29th ranked team.  They have a 75 wRC+ against lefties and a .634 OPS figure as a team  … by way of comparison, Michael Taylor has an OPS figure of .648 for the 2016 season.  So the Dodgers hit lefties kinda like Taylor hits pitching in general.  I only mention this because, while I knew the Dodgers were “bad” against lefties, I didn’t know they were this bad.

So, common sense may seem to indicate that the team would know an important fact like this and either a) plan their rotation accordingly, and b) plan their bullpen accordingly.  But, we are talking about a team managed by Dusty Baker, and I’m not sure he’ll have it in him to perhaps consider using Gio Gonzalez in this fashion.

So, that being said, here’s what I think will happen with the rotation and bullpen, based on what we’ve been seeing the last few weeks.  (Btw, i am assuming that the Nats don’t blow home field advantage this weekend and the first two games are in DC … which may be a bad assumption but I can’t see them losing 2 of 3 to the unfortunately reeling Marlins)


 

Rotation goes (and this isn’t much of a surprise): Scherzer, Roark, Gonzalez, Ross

Discussion: Scherzer is scheduled to throw Sunday 10/2 in the final game of the season, giving him normal 4 days rest before the first game of the NLDS (here’s the MLB 2016 post-season schedule).  Past that, i’m guessing that Baker will re-arrange the rotation based on performance and not the current order since everyone will have plenty of rest by the time the NLDS rolls around.  Assuming that the final three games feature the expected probables of A.J. Cole tonight, Tanner Roark tomorrow 10/1 and Scherzer, then Roark would be on five days of rest for the NLDS game 2.

Gonzalez then goes in Game 3, in LA.  Is that bad?  Maybe not; in 2016 his home/away splits are nearly identical; he’s been not good no matter where he pitches.

Game 4 is where we think Joe Ross goes 100 pitches or so, which might get him to the 5th inning, and then we see Reynaldo Lopez in a “once through the order” bridge to the back end of the bullpen.  Ross seems like he has gotten back to the point where he can go.

This leaves the likes of Mat LatosA.J. Cole and Lucas Giolito off the post-season roster.  None has really merited inclusion.


Bullpen goes (and this is where I’m sure there’s some disagreement): Melancon, Kelley, Treinen, Belisle, Perez*, Rzepczynski*, Solis*

This means we’re leaving off:

  • Petit: he’s struggled badly and his long man role is replicated by Lopez or Perez
  • Glover: he has also struggled down the stretch and loses out in lieu of a third lefty
  • Gott, Martin and Grace: all have pitched well since their 9/1 call ups, but none are better options or have made cases to supplant the four righties listed above, all of whom have excelled this year.  But I will say, these three may make excellent in-house options to replace the guys who will likely be departing this off-season via FA (specifically Belisle and Rzepczynski).

 

I think this is a good plan of attack.

Who is the first lefty out of the pen to face the likes of Joc PedersonCorey Seager, Adrian Gonzalez or Chase Utley?   Per their current depth chart, the Dodgers are starting no less than six guys who are lefty only but the above four are the ones to be most scared of.  I think it’ll be scrabble, but having three arms makes it easier to do lefty matchups multiple times in a game.

thoughts?