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From Nats to Oblivion; Updated for 2013 season

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Is Maya going to be the latest Nats to Oblivion poster child? Photo Al Bello/Getty Images

Is Maya going to be the latest Nats to Oblivion poster child? Photo Al Bello/Getty Images

Several years ago (November 2010) Mark Zuckerman posted a fascinating analysis he titled “From Nats to Oblivion.”  It chronicled the astoundingly high number of players that the early incarnations of the Nats were using who, once the Nats released them, never again appeared on a MLB roster.  I thought the analysis was so interesting that I kept up the same data and have been keeping it up-to-date with the whereabouts of Nats-to-Oblivion candidates ever since.  So with apologies to Zuckerman for stealing his idea, here’s an interesting visit to the Nats darker past.

A large part of this post is borrowed from previous versions; click here for 2012′s version of this post.   A few players from our near past have re-surfaced in the majors as of late and have been removed from this list where noted; if you see any others listed here in error please let me know.  But this entire list is updated post 2013 season, with the minor league/foreign league/independent league movements of oblivion candidates chronicled.

It is nearly impossible for a team to field an entire year’s worth of players who will not fall into this “Oblivion” category.  Every MLB team has guys playing out the string or near retirement, and every MLB team calls up guys through out the season from the minors who eventually show themselves as unable to compete on the MLB level and who never make it back.  So a 0% oblivion measure isn’t a goal.

For your reminiscing pleasure, here is the summary data updated to the 2013 team:

  • 2012: 24 position, 19 pitchers, 43 total.  5/43 = 11.6% candidate ratio
  • 2011: 20 position, 24 pitchers, 44 total.  6/44 = 13.6% candidate ratio
  • 2010: 20 position, 26 pitchers, 46 total.  12/46 = 26.0% never appeared again
  • 2009: 25 position, 30 pitchers, 55 total.  9/55 = 16.3% never appeared again
  • 2008: 25 position, 25 pitchers, 50 total.  8/50 = 16% never appeared again
  • 2007: 21 position, 26 pitchers, 47 total.  12/47 = 25.5% never appeared again
  • 2006: 28 position, 29 pitchers, 57 total.  20/57 = 35% never appeared again
  • 2005: 30 position, 25 pitchers, 55 total.  16/55 = 29% never appeared again

Look at the 2006 season; 35% of the players who played for the team that year never played another Major League game.  That’s still astounding to me.  Read on for a detailed look back at some of the very bad players that have put in significant time for this team.


2013 (13 Candidates):

Total Players used: 23 position, 21 pitchers, 44 total. 13/44 = 29.5% candidate ratio right now.  Real candidates list is just the top 5, so 5/44 = 11.36%.

Candidates

  • Yunesky Maya; ML deal with Atlanta for 2014
  • Chris Marrrero: ML deal with Baltimore for 2014
  • Chad Tracy: still a FA; highly unlikely to get a major league deal after his awful 2013.
  • Corey Brown: DFA’d, traded to Oakland
  • Fernando Abad; DFA’d, traded to Oakland

Less likely “candidates” from the 2013 team:

  • Danny Espinosa
  • Jhonatan Solano
  • Jeff Kobernus
  • Zach Walters
  • Eury Perez
  • Sandy Leon
  • Nathan Karns
  • Erik Davis

The top 5 players are really the “candidates” out of the 2013 team.  Every one of the guys in the lower section is on our 40-man roster, meaning they all likely see time this coming season.  In fact, right now the odds are that at least a couple of these guys will make the opening day roster.  So really the oblivion candidates here are just the top 5 guys, but we’ll track all 13 until they’re cleared off this list.  Both the guys we traded to Oakland sit on their 40-man roster, but both seem in serious jeopardy of being DFA’d again at some point in the spring (especially Corey Brown, who is out of options).

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Yunesky Maya, who was Mike Rizzo‘s first foray into the Cuban exile market.  Signed to a 4yr/$8M deal, he was given several shots at the majors and never could capitalize.  He arrived in the US with a wide arsenal of pitches but not a lot of swing-and-miss talent, and he ended up basically being a AAA starter.   He spent the last three seasons as Syracuse’s lead starter (getting 22, 28 and 24 starts there inbetween infrequent call-ups) and ended up with just one career MLB win for his $8M salary (making his one of the worst dollars-per-win contracts ever … even if it was “just” $8M).  This whole paragraph is assuming that Maya never makes it back to the majors … but based on what he’s shown thus far combined with his advancing age, that seems like a likely end-result for the Cuban starter.


2012 (5 candidates)

Total Players used: 24 position, 19 pitchers, 43 total.  5/43 = 11.6% candidate ratio right now

Candidates

  • Brad Lidge: Retired post 2012
  • Jesus Flores; signed ML deal with Los Angeles Dodgers for 2013, no MLB appearances

  • Brett Carroll: signed ML deal w/ Pittsburgh for 2013, no MLB appearances
  • Ryan Perry: Wash AAA and AA 2013

  • Carlos Maldonado: Wash AAA 2013

In the past 12 months, we’ve removed 3 players from this list (Izturas, Wang and Brown) who re-appeared on MLB rosters either here or elsewhere.  I still think its possible that Flores could re-appear on an MLB roster at some point; catchers have a way of getting hurt and causing organizations to scramble.  The rest face pretty long odds.

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Brad Lidge, who gave it one last shot and failed spectacularly.  When you lose your stuff, its gone and gone fast.  I’ll readily admit I thought the signing was a great one when it occurred but it just didn’t work out.  I really hoped that Lidge would be a serviceable 7th inning guy and mentor to Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard, being one of the great closers of his day.  It didn’t work out that way.


2011 (6 candidates)

Total Players used: 20 position, 24 pitchers, 44 total.  6/44 = 13.6% candidate ratio right now…

Candidates

  • Ivan Rodriguez – retired after 2011
  • Matt Stairs — retired after 2011
  • Alex Cora — retired after 2011, now the General Manager of a Puerto Rican Winter League team.
  • Cole Kimball — Nats 60-day DL in 2012, XST in 2013, DFA’d off 40-man roster.
  • Brian Broderick — Stl AAA, waived now Nats AAA in 2012, AA in 2013
  • Atahualpa Severino — Nats AAA, DFA’d off 40-man in 2012, KC AAA for 2013, signed ML deal with Atlanta for 2014 (thanks John C).

Changes in the last 12 months: none.

As with the 2012 candidates, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this list get lowered by one eventually; Severino seems like he could work his way back into a loogy situation for a club.  Kimball’s DFA and Broderick’s pending MLFA status both make it seem like their chances of returning to the majors are slim.

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Matt Stairs: He made the 2011 roster despite having almost no defensive capabilities and, as it soon became evident, almost no remaining abilities at the plate.  He somehow hung onto his roster spot until August 1st despite having just one extra base hit in 74 at-bats on the year.  I remember one game in particular; we were at the stadium going against the hated Phillies and they left Roy Halladay in to attempt to finish a shutout with a 3-0 lead (Game was on 4/13/11).  Nats rally, score 2 runs to make it 3-2.  Stairs comes up pinch hitting for Jerry Hairston with guys on 1st and 2nd with one out; he promptly watches three straight fastballs go right down the middle of the plate without moving his bat.  I’ve never been so p*ssed at a player at the ball-park.  Ivan Rodriguez then promptly struck out on 3 pitches as well, looking strike 3 into the mitt and then arguing vehimently with the ump over the game-ending call which gave Halladay the complete game victory.


2010 (12 players)

Total Players used: 20 position, 26 pitchers, 46 total.  12/46 = 26.0% never appeared again

Players:

  • Willy Taveras; played AAA for Col in 2011, retired prior to 2012, back with KC AAA 2013
  • Kevin Mench; retired after 2010
  • Jamie Burke; retired after 2010
  • Luis Atilano: in CIN org, AAA in 2012, never signed for 2013
  • Scott Olsen; in CWS org, AAA 2012, never signed for 2013
  • JD Martin; in MIA org AAA 2012, in TB AAA 2013
  • Tyler Walker; indy league 2011, never signed for 2012
  • Jesse English; indy league 2011, 2012.  Mexican League 2013
  • Matt Chico; indy league 2012, never signed for 2013
  • Joe Bisenius; in Mexico 2011-12, Atlanta AA/AAA for 2013
  • Garrett Mock: Houston AAA 2012, AZ AAA for 2013
  • Jason Bergmann: indy 2011, Col AAA 2012, Indy again in 2013, KC AA team.

Changes in last 12 months: none.

There’s more than a few guys here who are still hanging on to AAA jobs but not many of them are looking promising to break onto 40-man rosters and earn call-ups.

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Jamie Burke: The 2009 Nats were so thin at Catcher by the end of the season that we literally bought a spare catcher in Burke from Seattle so we could have some coverage at the end of the season.  Burke re-signed on for 2010 and appeared in exactly one MLB game.  He was released after the season and retired.


2009 (9 players)

Total Players used: 25 position, 30 pitchers, 55 total.  9/55 = 16.3% never appeared again

Players:

  • Elijah Dukes: released and never picked up for 2010.  Arrested in 2011, 2012, out of baseball.
  • Alex Cintron; playing in Mexico 2012, nothing in 2013

  • Jorge Padilla; in SD org, AAA in 2012, nothing in 2013
  • Ron Villone, 2011 playing indy ball, retired prior to 2012.  He will appear on the 2015 Hall of Fame ballot and is currently the pitching coach of the High-A Chicago affilliate.

  • Julian Tavarez; retired after 2009
  • Zack Segovia; in Det org AA in 2012, Mexican league/Indy ball 2013

  • Mike Hinckley: Tor org in 2011, retired prior to 2012
  • Steven Shell; KC org in 2011, retired prior to 2012

  • Victor Garate; MIL org and Indy ball in 2012, Mexican league 2013

Changes in last 12 months: removed Kensing and Martis after they both resurfaced on MLB teams, meaning that they both went three full seasons inbetween MLB appearances.  That’s why we track these guys for so long.

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Ron Villone, who proved that a crafty lefty with a halfway decent fastball can have a long career in this game.  He had 63 appearances at age 39 for the 2009 Nats and got re-signed for 2010.  He didn’t make the team though, labored in Syracuse the whole season and was released.  Despite being 41 years old, he headed to Indy ball for one last shot but washed out after just a few outings in 2011.

It wouldn’t be a retrospective on poor Nats players if we didn’t briefly talk about Elijah Dukes though.  I think its safe to assume that he’s the only guy on this list that has served more time in jail than has played in the minor leagues, attempting to get back to the show.


2008 (8 players)

Total Players used: 25 position, 25 pitchers, 50 total.  8/50 = 16% never appeared again

Players:

  • Kory Casto; 2009 AAA, 2010 in Ariz AA, retired.
  • Dmitri Young: some rehab in low minors 2009, retired.
  • Rob Mackowiak: 2009: some indy, bounced around AAA, that’s it.
  • Johnny Estrada; flat out quit after 2008
  • Odalis Perez; refused his 2009 contract, never resigned
  • Levale Speigner; 2009 in Florida’s AA/AAA, then 2010 in Seattle AAA.  done.
  • Ray King; retired after 2008
  • Chris Schroder; 2009, 2010 bounced around AAA with Oakland, Fla.

Changes in last 12 months: none

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Odalis Perez, though I’m tempted to say either Mackowiak or Estrada, possibly the two worst FA signings of the whole Jim Bowden era (and that’s saying something).  But nothing beats the Perez story.  He was the Nats Opening Day Starter in 2008; hell he was the first guy to get a start in the Nationals Stadium.  He pitched well; in 30 starts he was 7-12 with a 4.34 ERA and a 99 ERA+ for a god-awful team.  But apparently he got really pissed when the team only offered him a non-guaranteed Minor League deal for 2009.  So he held out, the Nats said “fine with us” and released him, and nobody else picked him up.  And he never played another game.  I’m not sure if that was a sign that he was just that bad (not one team wanted to even give an opening day starter a look the subsequent year?), or if there was some sort of MLB general manager omerta that conspired against him.  Either way, Perez played again, not even in Winter Leagues as far as I could find.  Sometimes a player has to swallow his pride, and Perez apparently could not.


2007 (12 players)

Total Players used: 21 position, 26 pitchers, 47 total.  12/47 = 25.5% never appeared again

Players:

  • Nook Logan; indy league 2008, 2010.
  • Robert Fick: Cut from the Padres in ST 2008, full year indy league 2009, retired.
  • D’Angelo Jimenez: AAA all of 2008, 2009.  Mexican league and Indy league 2010-2012
  • Tony Batista: Wash AAA 2008, then released
  • Michael Restovich: 2008 in Japan, AAA 2009-2011, retired
  • Brandon Watson: AAA 2008-9, indy league 2011, retired.
  • Mike Bacsik: 2008 AAA, 2011 indy league, now a broadcaster.
  • Jason Simontacchi; 2008 indy league, 2010 again.
  • John Patterson; cut in ST 2008, immediately signed w/ Texas but never played again.
  • Ryan Wagner: AAA 2008-9, released and presumably retired.
  • Arnie Munoz; went to mexican league, retired > 2010
  • Chris Booker: AAA in 2008, then retired/released.

Changes in last 12 months: none

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Mike Bacsik, who was destined to be a career 4-A guy before Washington picked him up and gave him 20 starts in 2007.  Bacsik was on his 6th minor league organization when he arrived in Syracuse and pitched his way up to the major leagues.  He was overmatched badly; he had a 5.11 ERA and just a 3.4 K/9 rate.  But he did get his moment in the headlines by giving up Barry Bonds‘ 756th career homer one night in San Francisco in August.  Contrary to accusations on the topic, I do not believe Bacsik “served up” the homer.  If you check the play index, Bonds hit the 7th pitch of the at-bat in a 3-2 count for that homer.  Bacsik didn’t purposely give up a homer on the 7th pitch of an at-bat; he just ran out of pitches to show Bonds that weren’t going to get pulverized.

A quick comment though on John Patterson: I remember being absolutely shocked at his release in 2008′s spring training.  He was cut on 3/20/08, right in the middle of Spring Training with no warning and having just thrown his Grapefruit innings.   He was healthy, recovered from surgery, ready to be the ace of that staff and start showing off the potential that he showed in 2005 (you know, when he 4-hit the Dodgers with 13 punch outs and posted the best Game-Score performance in Nats history).  He signed a ML deal with Texas after his release by the Nats, but he couldn’t answer the call and never appeared again, getting released in mid May.  I guess his third arm surgery in 7 years just left him unable to compete at any level and he hung ‘em up.


2006 (20 players)

Total Players used: 28 position, 29 pitchers, 57 total.  20/57 = 35% never appeared again

  • Damian Jackson; dnp 2007, indy league 2008-9
  • Bernie Castro: AAA all of 2007, 8 then retired.
  • Alex Escobar: Wash minors 2007-8, then retired.
  • Brandon Harper: Wash AAA all of 2007, then released/retired.
  • Wiki Gonzalez: CWS AAA all of 2007, indy league 2008, retired.
  • Henry Mateo: AAA or Indy league 2007-2009, mexican league from 2010-current 2013
  • George Lombard: AAA 2007-9, some indy league, retired.
  • Mike Vento: 2007 Wash AAA, indy league 2008, back with Syracuse 2009, retired.
  • Melvin Dorta; various minor leagues 2007-2010, indy league 2011, retired.
  • Luis Matos: AAA 2007, Mexican League 2008-2012.  ? 2013
  • Pedro Astacio; retired after 2006
  • Felix Rodriguez: dnp 2007, indy league 2008-9, retired.
  • Zach Day: AAA 2007, briefly A+ 2008, retired.
  • Beltran Perez; wash minors AA/AAA 2007-8, released and never played again.
  • Joey Eischen; released off of Washington and retired.
  • Travis Hughes; AAA in 2007, played in Japan 2008, indy leagues 2009, 2011.
  • Ryan Drese: various minor leagues 2007-8, indy league 2009-2010, Baltimore AAA 2011, released/retired.
  • Kevin Gryboski: AAA 2007-2008, retired/released.
  • Brett Campbell: Wash AA 2007, released/retired.
  • Santiago Ramirez: Japan in 2007, Mexican league 2008, indy 2009, retired.

Changes in last 12 months: none

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Joey Eischen, who bounced around the league in his 20s before settling in Montreal and moving south with the team.  He was known to be a “character” in the clubhouse and to give good quotes to reporters (google “Joey eischen quotes” and you’ll find some of his classics).   By 2006 though the years had taken their toll on his shoulder; he had 19 walks in 14 2/3 innings through the end of May had blown his rotator cuff.  The team put him on the 60 day D/L and called up one Bill Bray.   Eischen never got off that D/L; he was released in the off-season and never played again.  For 2013, he’s listed as the pitching coach of Colorado’s high-A Affiliate in Asheville.


2005 (16 players)

Total Players used: 30 position, 25 pitchers, 55 total.  16/55 = 29% never appeared again

Players:

  • Carlos Baerga; retired after 2005
  • Junior Spivey: bounced around AAA 2006-7, indy ball in 2009, retired.
  • Tony Blanco; Nats minor leagues 2006-7, Colorado AA in 2008, in Japan from 2009-present.
  • Wil Cordero; released mid 2005, signed on with the NY Mets but never made it out of AAA.  Retired after 2005.
  • Deivi Cruz; released after 2005, cut from St. Louis 2006 ST, played indy ball, retired.
  • Jeffrey Hammonds; retired in June 2005 mid-season.
  • J.J. Davis: Traded to Colorado as part of the Preston Wilson deal, sent to Colorado’s AAA, then released after the season and never played again.
  • Rick Short; Granted FA after the 2005 season to play in Japan, played there til 2009.
  • Kenny Kelly; AAA in 2006 and 2007, released and retired.
  • Keith Osik; a backup catcher, got 4 ABs in 2005, released and retired.
  • Tyrell Godwin; after just THREE MLB at-bats in 2005, spent all of 2006 and 2007 in AAA, released and retired.
  • T.J. Tucker; released after 2005, tried one year of indy ball in 2008, retired.
  • Joe Horgan; released after 2005, played one year of AAA with Florida, released, retired.
  • Matt White; AAA in 2006-7, Japan 2007-8, tried indy ball in 2010, hung ‘em up.
  • C.J. Nitkowski; AAA in 2006, then went to Japan 2007-8, Korea 2009-10, back with the Mets AAA team in July 2012.  Not signed for 2013
  • Antonio Osuna: dnp in 2006, Mexican league 2007-9.

Changes in last 12 months: none

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Rick Short, who got his MLB debut at the age of 32, after 11 very long seasons in the minors with many different teams.  He got a couple of call-ups in June and July to provide cover, and then played out the string after a Sept 1 roster expansion call-up.  In that off-season, he returned to Japan (where he’d played one full season prior), and played four more years in the Japanese League and retired in 2009.

Though it merits talking about a couple other guys here. Tony Blanco; he was a rule-5 draftee who the Nats carried the whole of 2005 so they could keep his rights.  He was awful; he had a .177 batting average as the 25th guy off the bench.  In 2006 he couldn’t even cut it in AA and played most of the year in High-A.  After 2007 the Nats summarily released him from their minor league organization altogether.   He found his calling though; he signed on in Japan in 2009 at age 27 and continues to play there today.  You have to wonder if he may very well earn another MLB shot.

Jeffrey Hammonds was well known to Washington baseball fans by virtue of his pedigree with our northern neighbors in Baltimore; he was a 1st round draft pick in 1992 out of Stanford, broke in with the MLB team the following year and was a role player on the powerhouse Baltimore teams of the mid 1990s.   He bounced around the league afterwards though, signing on with the newly relocated Washington franchise for the 2005 debut season but he hung ‘em up after a slow start here.  He was only 34 when he retired.

Written by Todd Boss

January 16th, 2014 at 9:01 am

Posted in Nats in General

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From Nats to Oblivion: updated for 2012 team

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Lidge is one of the newest members of the Nats-to-Oblivion club. Photo unknown via baseballasreligion blog

Several years ago (November 2010) Mark Zuckerman posted a fascinating analysis he titled “From Nats to Oblivion.”  It chronicled the astoundingly high number of players that the early incarnations of the Nats were using who, once the Nats released them, never again appeared on a MLB roster.  I thought the analysis was so interesting that I kept up the same data and have been keeping it up-to-date with the whereabouts of Nats-to-Oblivion candidates ever since.  So with apologies to Mark for stealing his idea, here’s an interesting visit to the Nats darker past.

Now, it is nearly impossible for a team to field an entire year’s worth of players who fall into this “Oblivion” category.  Every MLB team has guys playing out the string or near retirement, and every MLB team calls up guys through out the season from the minors who eventually show themselves as unable to compete on the MLB level and who never make it back.   Our 2011 team (sitting at 13.6% but likely to eventually be lower) is about as close to a 10% level as we may get; roughly 4 or 5 guys who give you at bats or innings in a given year probably won’t ever play again.

For your reminiscing pleasure, here is the summary data updated to the 2012 team.

  • 2012: 24 position, 19 pitchers, 43 total.  8/43 = 18.6% candidate ratio
  • 2011: 20 position, 24 pitchers, 44 total.  6/44 = 13.6% candidate ratio
  • 2010: 20 position, 26 pitchers, 46 total.  12/46 = 26.0% never appeared again
  • 2009: 25 position, 30 pitchers, 55 total.  11/55 = 20% never appeared again
  • 2008: 25 position, 25 pitchers, 50 total.  8/50 = 16% never appeared again
  • 2007: 21 position, 26 pitchers, 47 total.  12/47 = 25.5% never appeared again
  • 2006: 28 position, 29 pitchers, 57 total.  20/57 = 35% never appeared again
  • 2005: 30 position, 25 pitchers, 55 total.  16/55 = 29% never appeared again

Look at the 2006 season; 35% of the players who played for the team that year never played another Major League game.  That’s still astounding to me.  Read on for a detailed look back at some of the very bad players that have put in significant time for this team.


2012 (8 candidates)

Total Players used: 24 position, 19 pitchers, 43 total.  8/43 = 18.6% candidate ratio right now

Candidates

  • Brad Lidge: Retiring post 2012
  • Jesus Flores; signed ML deal with Los Angeles Dodgers for 2013
  • Cesar Izturis; signed ML deal with Cincinnati for 2013
  • Brett Carroll: signed ML deal w/ Pittsburgh for 2013
  • Chien-Ming Wang: signed ML deal w/ New York Yankees for 2013 late
  • Ryan Perry: Wash AAA 2013
  • Corey Brown: Wash AAA 2013
  • Carlos Maldonado: Wash AAA 2013

I think its clear that at least a few of these guys are going to re-appear on a MLB roster at some point, so this “candidate ratio” is likely to be lowered.

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Brad Lidge, who gave it one last shot and failed spectacularly.  When you lose your stuff, its gone and gone fast.  I’ll readily admit I thought the signing was a great one but it just didn’t work out.  I really hoped that Lidge would be a servicable 7th inning guy and mentor to Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard, being one of the great closers of his day.  It didn’t work out that way.


2011 (6 candidates)

Total Players used: 20 position, 24 pitchers, 44 total.  6/44 = 13.6% candidate ratio right now…

Candidates

  • Ivan Rodriguez – retired after 2011
  • Matt Stairs — retired after 2011
  • Alex Cora — never signed in 2012
  • Cole Kimball — Nats 60-day DL in 2012, XST in 2013
  • Brian Broderick — Stl AAA, waived now Nats AAA in 2012, AA in 2013
  • Atahualpa Severino — Nats AAA, DFA’d off 40-man in 2012, signed w/ KC for 2013

As with the 2012 candidates, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this list get lowered slightly.  A couple of these guys remain in the system and Cole Kimball remains on the 40-man.  Atahualpa Severino could see time if KC’s loogy situation falls apart.

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Matt Stairs: He made the 2011 roster despite having almost no defensive capabilities and, as it soon became evident, almost no remaining abilities at the plate.  He somehow hung onto his roster spot until August 1st despite having just one extra base hit in 74 at-bats on the year.  I remember one game in particular; we were at the stadium going against the hated Phillies and they left Roy Halladay in to attempt to finish a shutout with a 3-0 lead (Game was on 4/13/11).  Nats rally, score 2 runs to make it 3-2.  Stairs comes up pinch hitting for Jerry Hairston with guys on 1st and 2nd with one out; he promptly watches three straight fastballs go right down the middle of the plate without moving his bat.  I’ve never been so p*ssed at a player at the ball-park.  Ivan Rodriguez then promptly struck out on 3 pitches as well, looking strike 3 into the mitt and then arguing vehimently with the ump over the game-ending call which gave Halladay the complete game victory.


2010 (12 players)

Total Players used: 20 position, 26 pitchers, 46 total.  12/46 = 26.0% never appeared again

Players:

  • Willy Taveras; played AAA for Col in 2011, retired prior to 2012
  • Kevin Mench; retired after 2010
  • Jamie Burke; retired after 2010
  • Luis Atilano: in CIN org, AAA in 2012, not signed by Apr 2013
  • Scott Olsen; in CWS org, AAA 2012, Not signed by Apr 2013
  • JD Martin; in MIA org AAA 2012, in TB AAA 2013
  • Tyler Walker; indy league 2011, no stats for 2012
  • Jesse English; indy league 2011, 2012.  Mexican League 2013
  • Matt Chico; indy league 2012, not signed Apr 2013
  • Joe Bisenius; in Mexico 2011-12, no signed Apr 2013
  • Garrett Mock: Houston AAA 2012, AZ AAA for 2013
  • Jason Bergmann: indy 2011, Col AAA 2012, Indy again in 2013

I had to recently remove a couple of names from this list after they re-appeared on 2013 MLB rosters (example: Justin Maxwell who was Houston’s opening day center fielder.  That ought to tell you all you need to know about Houston’s team this year).

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Jamie Burke: The 2009 Nats were so thin at Catcher by the end of the season that we literally bought a spare catcher in Burke from Seattle so we could have some coverage at the end of the season.  Burke re-signed on for 2010 and appeared in exactly one MLB game.  He was released after the season and retired.


2009 (11 players)

Total Players used: 25 position, 30 pitchers, 55 total.  11/55 = 20% never appeared again

Players:

  • Elijah Dukes: released and never picked up for 2010.  Arrested in 2011, 2012, out of baseball.
  • Alex Cintron; playing in Mexico 2012
  • Jorge Padilla; in SD org, AAA in 2012
  • Shairon Martis: in Min org, AAA 2012, Minnesota’s AAA 2013
  • Ron Villone, 2011 playing indy ball, retired prior to 2012
  • Julian Tavarez; retired after 2009
  • Logan Kensing; in Pits org, AAA 2012, Col AAA 2013
  • Zack Segovia; in Det org AA in 2012, not signed Apr 2013
  • Mike Hinckley: Tor org in 2011, retired prior to 2012
  • Steven Shell; KC org in 2011, retired prior to 2012
  • Victor Garate; MIL org and Indy ball in 2012, Mexican league 2013

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Ron Villone, who proved that a crafty lefty with a halfway decent fastball can have a long career in this game.  He had 63 appearances at age 39 for the 2009 Nats and got re-signed for 2010.  He didn’t make the team though, labored in Syracuse the whole season and was released.  Despite being 41 years old, he headed to Indy ball for one last shot but washed out after just a few outings in 2011.

It wouldn’t be a retrospective on poor Nats players if we didn’t briefly talk about Elijah Dukes though.  I think its safe to assume that he’s the only guy on this list that has served more time in jail than has played in the minor leagues, attempting to get back to the show.


2008 (8 players)

Total Players used: 25 position, 25 pitchers, 50 total.  8/50 = 16% never appeared again

Players:

  • Kory Casto; 2009 AAA, 2010 in Ariz AA, retired.
  • Dmitri Young: some rehab in low minors 2009, retired.
  • Rob Mackowiak: 2009: some indy, bounced around AAA, that’s it.
  • Johnny Estrada; flat out quit after 2008
  • Odalis Perez; refused his 2009 contract, never resigned
  • Levale Speigner; 2009 in Florida’s AA/AAA, then 2010 in Seattle AAA.  done.
  • Ray King; retired after 2008
  • Chris Schroder; 2009, 2010 bounced around AAA with Oakland, Fla.

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Odalis Perez, though I’m tempted to say either Mackowiak or Estrada, possibly the two worst FA signings of the whole Jim Bowden era (and that’s saying something).  But nothing beats the Perez story.  He was the Nats Opening Day Starter in 2008; hell he was the first guy to get a start in the Nationals Stadium.  He pitched well; in 30 starts he was 7-12 with a 4.34 ERA and a 99 ERA+ for a god-awful team.  But apparently he got really pissed when the team only offered him a non-guaranteed Minor League deal for 2009.  So he held out, the Nats said “fine with us” and released him, and nobody else picked him up.  And he never played another game.  I’m not sure if that was a sign that he was just that bad (not one team wanted to even give an opening day starter a look the subsequent year?), or if there was some sort of MLB general manager omerta that conspired against him.  Either way, Perez played again, not even in Winter Leagues as far as I could find.  Sometimes a player has to swallow his pride, and Perez apparently could not.


2007 (12 players)

Total Players used: 21 position, 26 pitchers, 47 total.  12/47 = 25.5% never appeared again

Players:

  • Nook Logan; indy league 2008, 2010.
  • Robert Fick: Cut from the Padres in ST 2008, full year indy league 2009, retired.
  • D’Angelo Jimenez: AAA all of 2008, 2009.  Mexican league and Indy league 2010-2012
  • Tony Batista: Wash AAA 2008, then released
  • Michael Restovich: 2008 in Japan, AAA 2009-2011, retired
  • Brandon Watson: AAA 2008-9, indy league 2011, retired.
  • Mike Bacsik: 2008 AAA, 2011 indy league, now a broadcaster.
  • Jason Simontacchi; 2008 indy league, 2010 again.
  • John Patterson; cut in ST 2008, immediately signed w/ Texas but never played again.
  • Ryan Wagner: AAA 2008-9, released and presumably retired.
  • Arnie Munoz; went to mexican league, retired > 2010
  • Chris Booker: AAA in 2008, then retired/released.

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Mike Bacsik, who was destined to be a career 4-A guy before Washington picked him up and gave him 20 starts in 2007.  Bacsik was on his 6th minor league organization when he arrived in Syracuse and pitched his way up to the major leagues.  He was overmatched badly; he had a 5.11 ERA and just a 3.4 K/9 rate.  But he did get his moment in the headlines by giving up Barry Bonds‘ 756th career homer one night in San Francisco in August.  Contrary to accusations on the topic, I do not believe Bacsik “served up” the homer.  If you check the play index, Bonds hit the 7th pitch of the at-bat in a 3-2 count for that homer.  Bacsik didn’t purposely give up a homer on the 7th pitch of an at-bat; he just ran out of pitches to show Bonds that weren’t going to get pulverized.

A quick comment though on John Patterson: I remember being absolutely shocked at his release in 2008′s spring training.  He was cut on 3/20/08, right in the middle of Spring Training with no warning and having just thrown his Grapefruit innings.   He was healthy, recovered from surgery, ready to be the ace of that staff and start showing off the potential that he showed in 2005 (you know, when he 4-hit the Dodgers with 13 punch outs and posted the best Game-Score performance in Nats history).  He signed a ML deal with Texas after his release by the Nats, but he couldn’t answer the call and never appeared again, getting released in mid May.  I guess his third arm surgery in 7 years just left him unable to compete at any level and he hung ‘em up.


2006 (20 players)

Total Players used: 28 position, 29 pitchers, 57 total.  20/57 = 35% never appeared again

  • Damian Jackson; dnp 2007, indy league 2008-9
  • Bernie Castro: AAA all of 2007, 8 then retired.
  • Alex Escobar: Wash minors 2007-8, then retired.
  • Brandon Harper: Wash AAA all of 2007, then released/retired.
  • Wiki Gonzalez: CWS AAA all of 2007, indy league 2008, retired.
  • Henry Mateo: AAA or Indy league 2007-2009, mexican league from 2010-current 2013
  • George Lombard: AAA 2007-9, some indy league, retired.
  • Mike Vento: 2007 Wash AAA, indy league 2008, back with Syracuse 2009, retired.
  • Melvin Dorta; various minor leagues 2007-2010, indy league 2011, retired.
  • Luis Matos: AAA 2007, Mexican League 2008-2012.  ? 2013
  • Pedro Astacio; retired after 2006
  • Felix Rodriguez: dnp 2007, indy league 2008-9, retired.
  • Zach Day: AAA 2007, briefly A+ 2008, retired.
  • Beltran Perez; wash minors AA/AAA 2007-8, released and never played again.
  • Joey Eischen; released off of Washington and retired.
  • Travis Hughes; AAA in 2007, played in Japan 2008, indy leagues 2009, 2011.
  • Ryan Drese: various minor leagues 2007-8, indy league 2009-2010, Baltimore AAA 2011, released/retired.
  • Kevin Gryboski: AAA 2007-2008, retired/released.
  • Brett Campbell: Wash AA 2007, released/retired.
  • Santiago Ramirez: Japan in 2007, Mexican league 2008, indy 2009, retired.

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Joey Eischen, who bounced around the league in his 20s before settling in Montreal and moving south with the team.  He was known to be a “character” in the clubhouse and to give good quotes to reporters (google “Joey eischen quotes” and you’ll find some of his classics).   By 2006 though the years had taken their toll on his shoulder; he had 19 walks in 14 2/3 innings through the end of May had blown his rotator cuff.  The team put him on the 60 day D/L and called up one Bill Bray.   Eischen never got off that D/L; he was released in the off-season and never played again.  For 2013, he’s listed as the pitching coach of Colorado’s high-A Affiliate in Asheville.


2005 (16 players)

Total Players used: 30 position, 25 pitchers, 55 total.  16/55 = 29% never appeared again

Players:

  • Carlos Baerga; retired after 2005
  • Junior Spivey: bounced around AAA 2006-7, indy ball in 2009, retired.
  • Tony Blanco; Nats minor leagues 2006-7, Colorado AA in 2008, in Japan from 2009-present.
  • Wil Cordero; released mid 2005, signed on with the NY Mets but never made it out of AAA.  Retired after 2005.
  • Deivi Cruz; released after 2005, cut from St. Louis 2006 ST, played indy ball, retired.
  • Jeffrey Hammonds; retired in June 2005 mid-season.
  • J.J. Davis: Traded to Colorado as part of the Preston Wilson deal, sent to Colorado’s AAA, then released after the season and never played again.
  • Rick Short; Granted FA after the 2005 season to play in Japan, played there til 2009.
  • Kenny Kelly; AAA in 2006 and 2007, released and retired.
  • Keith Osik; a backup catcher, got 4 ABs in 2005, released and retired.
  • Tyrell Godwin; after just THREE MLB at-bats in 2005, spent all of 2006 and 2007 in AAA, released and retired.
  • T.J. Tucker; released after 2005, tried one year of indy ball in 2008, retired.
  • Joe Horgan; released after 2005, played one year of AAA with Florida, released, retired.
  • Matt White; AAA in 2006-7, Japan 2007-8, tried indy ball in 2010, hung ‘em up.
  • C.J. Nitkowski; AAA in 2006, then went to Japan 2007-8, Korea 2009-10, back with the Mets AAA team in July 2012.  Not signed for 2013
  • Antonio Osuna: dnp in 2006, Mexican league 2007-9.

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Rick Short, who got his MLB debut at the age of 32, after 11 very long seasons in the minors with many different teams.  He got a couple of call-ups in June and July to provide cover, and then played out the string after a Sept 1 roster expansion call-up.  In that off-season, he returned to Japan (where he’d played one full season prior), and played four more years in the Japanese League and retired in 2009.

Though it merits talking about a couple other guys here. Tony Blanco; he was a rule-5 draftee who the Nats carried the whole of 2005 so they could keep his rights.  He was awful; he had a .177 batting average as the 25th guy off the bench.  In 2006 he couldn’t even cut it in AA and played most of the year in High-A.  After 2007 the Nats summarily released him from their minor league organization altogether.   He found his calling though; he signed on in Japan in 2009 at age 27 and continues to play there today.  You have to wonder if he may very well earn another MLB shot.

Jeffrey Hammonds was well known to Washington baseball fans by virtue of his pedigree with our northern neighbors in Baltimore; he was a 1st round draft pick in 1992 out of Stanford, broke in with the MLB team the following year and was a role player on the powerhouse Baltimore teams of the mid 1990s.   He bounced around the league afterwards though, signing on with the newly relocated Washington franchise for the 2005 debut season but he hung ‘em up after a slow start here.  He was only 34 when he retired.

Ask Boswell; 12/17/12 Edition

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Is he staying or going? Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images

Another Ask Boswell edition, dated 12/17/12.

As always, I type my response here before reading his answer (which sometimes leads to non-answers, since Tom Boswell sometimes doesn’t directly answer the same question i’m answering), and I sometimes edit questions for clarity.

Q: What is it going to take to settle this MASN Mess?

A: Probably a huge check to Peter Angelos to buy out his 90% stake in MASN.  But I like the approach baseball is taking; clearly Angelos has himself an incredibly one-sided deal, and clearly the whole “we’ll renegotiate in 5 years” turned out to be a gigantic mess.  Because its now drug on for more than a year with Angelos predicably low-balling the team while other teams out there get multiples of millions of dollars more per year than the Nationals are getting.  Wendy Thurm at fangraphs.com posted a great review of all 30 team’s RSN contracts.  For comparison purposes the next closest Market sizes to Washington (based on 2008 MSA) are Miami and Houston.  Miami gets $18M/year in a very bad deal, Washington is getting $29M/year, and Houston just negotiated a $80m/year deal.  Detroit, which is smaller still than Washington, is getting $40M/year in an old deal that expires in 2017, though they’re likely not to rise too much because of the economic conditions of their market.  What does all that mean?  Clearly Washington is no New York/Boston/Los Angeles, but clearly the team needs more than $29M.

I hope Fox Sports comes along, buys out Angelos and negotiates individual terms with the two franchises.  Will it happen?  Probably no, probably never.  Perhaps the solution will be a change of ownership in Baltimore, and Bud Selig (or whoever the commissioner is at the time) tacks on a clause of the switch to split off the RSN.  I could see that happening.

Boswell says it will take time, anger, and maybe even Selig imposing his whole “best interests of the game” clause.

Q: Who has the most frightening lineup in baseball ( Angels, Dodgers, or Blue Jays)?

A: Hmm.  The Angels now feature no less than SIX guys who have hit 30 homers in a season; Trout, Pujols, Trumbo, Hamilton, Morales and Wells.   That’s some incredible offense (even if Vernon Wells‘ time is past).   The Yankees and the Rangers were 1-2 in Runs Scored, Slugging and OPS in 2012 but both will be weakened by injuries and FA defections in 2013.  The Dodgers lineup “seems” potent, but includes a significant number of question marks.  If everyone plays to their potential, then yes the Dodgers could be fearsome.  But its more likely that  Crawford struggles and that Adrian Gonzalez continues to appear as if his best days are past.  Lastly Toronto may have a great middle of the order but they can’t match the Angels for up-and-down the lineup power.   The additions of Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera aren’t going to help them catch the Angels.  Boswell says Toronto is best.

Q: With Hamilton->Los Angeles, are the odds of LaRoche leaving higher?

A: I think the ongoing stalemate over contract length plus Texas suddenly being majorly in the market for a middle-of-the-order lefty bat to replace Hamilton should have Nats fans worried (or rejoicing, depending on your viewpoint) that Adam LaRoche may be plying his trade in Dallas the next few years.   I would not be surprised to see LaRoche sign a 3 year deal in Texas right now.  Is that the end of the world for the Nats?  No … I think the team will do just fine with Michael Morse playing first and Tyler Moore getting backup reps in LF and at First.  Others have pointed out that Morse’s lefty/right splits are nearly identical and it doesn’t matter that we wouldn’t have another lefty in the lineup.  And (not that the average fan cares about this point) it would save a bit on payroll, perhaps allowing the team to augment/buy something they may need at the trade deadline.

Q: With all the FA stars seemingly ending up in the AL, are the Nats better just by attrition?

A: A fair point.  But the NL Dodgers have certainly bought their fair share of talent too.  As a Nats fan, you have to be happy about the decline of our divisional rivals in the past few months: Marlins fire-sale, Mets basically turning into a mid-market team (and traded away their Ace in RA Dickey this week), and the Phillies making one curious acquisition (Michael Young) after another (Ben Revere).  Washington has improved this off-season, and if they can stave off the injury bug that hit the offense last season they could improve on 98 wins in 2013.   But I also think St. Louis will be just as good, I think Cincinnati has improved, and of course the Dodgers could be scary if all their talent comes together.  Boswell thinks so, but also has stated before that the WS now goes through Los Angeles.

Q: Is there something amiss in the MASN contract legally, since Angelos has not accepted what should have been stipulated in the contract?

A: It sure seems so.  Ever since Angelos got the team, his legal background seems to have Selig spooked.  I wonder if this is why Selig has not pressed more for a solution to this situation.  Boswell thinks that the search for a MASN buyer could be indicative of a permanent stalemate in the contract talks.

Q: Will Philadelphia fans forgive Lannan for breaking Utley’s hand?  Should the Nats batters be worried when he returns?

A: Yes the Philadelphia fans will forgive and forget; remember, most fans just root for the laundry.  Whoever is wearing the jersey is a friend, everyone else is foe.  I don’t think our batters should be too worried; I’m sure they look forward to facing John Lannan.  He’s not exactly the second coming of Cy Young after all.  Boswell says that Chase Utley brings the HBP on himself by virtue of his hitting too close to the plate.

Q: You’re Mike Rizzo: Do you have another big move up your sleeve, either a trade of a FA signing? Or are you satisfied with what you’ve got, and standing pat?

A: I don’t think the team has any more major moves; Mike Rizzo left the winter meetings early because his work was done.  I can see a couple of players getting moved for prospect depth, and perhaps an under-the-radar signing for a right handed reliever to compete for a spot in spring training (ala Brad Lidge last year), but that’s it.  This team is who it is right now.  Well, once the LaRoche situation is resolved anyway.  Boswell agrees.

Q: Who you got for more wins this year, Angels or Dodgers?

A: Dodgers.  Easier division, more talent added.  The Angels have to deal with both Oakland and Texas, and look to have a significantly worse rotation so far in 2013.  The Angels can’t improve much from 89 wins, but the Dodgers can definitely improve on 86 wins.  Boswell didn’t really answer; he says both make the playoffs but neither makes the WS.

Q: Was it the # of Years that convinced Hamilton to go to Los Angeles?

A: I think it was partly a sense that Josh Hamilton felt he wasn’t wanted in Texas, and then mostly from there the right destination in terms of team and guaranteed dollars.  Some cynics out there in the baseball world say that the team doesn’t matter; that players only follow the money.  I don’t believe that necessarily.  Money issues equal, If you had to choose between a franchise on the brink of the playoffs, in a warm-weather city like Los Angeles versus a team that hasn’t contended in years in a crummy weather city (thinking Seattle, another rumored destination), where would you choose?  Boswell says Hamilton isn’t worth 5 years but didn’t answer this part of the question otherwise.

Ask Boswell 12/10/12 edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Nats Franchise FA history; biggest, best, worst deals

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Jayson Werth is certainly our most expensive FA, by a considerable sum. Photo Mitchell Layton/Getty Images NA

The second in a series: The first looked at the Biggest/Best/Worst Trades of the Washington Nationals era and was posted in late March.  Yes, it took me 8 months to return to this series, despite writing most of this post in July.  Here in Part 2, we’ll look at the biggest, best and worst Free Agent signings in the tenures of both Jim Bowden and Mike Rizzo. In the last section we’ll look at Draft picks.

Ground rules for this article:

1. When considering a Free Agent we’ll only consider the FIRST signing in this list.  So, for guys who have signed multiple one-year free agent contracts in a row (guys like Rick Ankiel and Chien-Ming Wang), we’ll only consider them as a single signing.  For others who signed here and then left, only to come back (example: Livan Hernandez) we’ll consider them as separate signings.

2. We are considering extensions given to existing players (since they don’t fit elsewhere).  You can consider an extension just a pre-emptive free agent contract.

3. We’re mostly focusing here on Major League free agents; each year we sign many minor league FAs ahead of camp.  If a Minor League FA signing ends up having a decent impact on the major league team, we’ll note him (good recent example being Laynce Nix).

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

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

The team has made dozens and dozens of signings: I won’t try to go through them all here.  For those interested, here’s my List of Free Agents from over the years (also available on the links section to the right of this blog).  I put up a similar notes file (List of Trades and Trading Partners) from the first post of this series, also available in the list of resources on the right-hand side of the blog.

Jim Bowden Tenure: Nov 2004 – Mar 2009

Bowden’s Biggest Free Agent Signings

  • 2006: Nick Johnson 3yr $16.5M
  • 2007: Austin Kearns 3yr $16.5M
  • 2008: Cristian Guzman 2yr $16M
  • 2009: Adam Dunn 2yr $20M

I wonder sometimes if Bowden doesn’t sit in his ESPN office as he writes his blogs and ask himself what he could have done here had he had more money to spend.  Look at this list; Bowden’s biggest deal in 5 off-seasons was a 2yr/$20M contract for a slugger who really had nowhere else to go that off-season.  Jayson Werth will make more than that annually starting in 2014.

Bowden’s Best Free Agent Signings

  • 2006: Brian Schneider 4yr extension, $2.9M
  • 2007: Ronnie Belliard 1yr ML deal
  • 2007: Dmitri Young 1yr ML deal
  • 2008: Willie Harris 1yr $800K
  • 2009: Adam Dunn 2yr $20M

Bowden’s 2007 off-season was pretty amazing, looking back.  He assembled a team on the backs of Minor League Free Agents galore, one of which (Dmitri Young) ended up being our lone All-Star.  The team went 73-89 and gave 145 of its 162 starts to guys who aren’t even in the league any more (exceptions: Joel Hanrahan‘s 11 starts with 6.00 ERA and late-season call up John Lannan‘s 6 starts as a 22-yr old).  He was the master of the scrap heap and spun a team that should have lost 100 games into a respectable 73 win team.  Too bad that luck ran out in 2008 as the team bottomed out.  But you have to hand it to Bowden for these three 2007 signings; Hanrahan didn’t really pay off for the Nationals, ever, but did enable us to eventually get Sean Burnett, a valuable member of the team’s bullpen these last few years.

All things considered, I’d have to say that Adam Dunn may have been his best FA signing.  Dunn’s bat was mostly wasted during his two years here, considering the unbelievably bad pitching staffs that Bowden assembled.  But the combination of Zimmerman-Dunn-Willingham was a pretty fearsome 3-4-5.  Ironically, NOT re-signing Dunn may also have been one of Rizzo’s best non-moves, considering Dunn’s amazing 2011 collapse and the subsequent rise of Michael Morse (who would have continued to be a bit player if the Nats still had Dunn in LF).

Bowden’s Worst Free Agent Signings

  • 2007: Austin Kearns 3yr $16.5M
  • 2008: Paul Lo Duca 1yr $5M
  • 2008: Rob Mackowiak 1yr $1.5M
  • 2008: Johnny Estrada 1yr $1.25M
  • 2008: Cristian Guzman 2yr extension $16M
  • 2009: Daniel Cabrera 1yr $2.6M

2008 was as bad as 2007 was good for Bowden.  Nearly every move he made back-fired, some spectacularly.  Paul Lo Duca hadn’t been signed for a week when his name showed up prominently in the Mitchell Report; he was released before July.  Rob Mackowiak and Johnny Estrada were just stealing money; its still not clear what Bowden saw in these guys.  I hated the Kearns deal, never understood what Bowden saw in the guy.  Daniel Cabrera was so bad for us it was almost comical, and it was a relief when we DFA’d him after 8 starts.

But the worst FA signing has to the Guzman extension.  He seemed decent enough after coming back from an injury that cost him all of 2005 and most of 2006, but Bowden inexplicably extended him for 2 years for the same amount of money that he had earned the previous four … and almost immediately his production tailed off.   Its not that Guzman was that BAD in 2009 and 2010, its just that he was so vastly overpaid for what he gave the team.  We flipped him for two minor league pitchers, he promptly hit .152 in 15 games for Texas and he was out of the league.

Mike Rizzo Tenure: Mar 2009 – present

Rizzo’s Biggest Free Agent Signings

  • 2010: Ryan Zimmerman 5yr $45M
  • 2011: Jayson Werth 7yr $126M
  • 2012: Ryan Zimmermann 8yrs $100M
  • 2012: Gio Gonzalez 5yr $42M

Its ironic that I had to remove three deals from this list (LaRoche, Jackson, Marquis) that would have qualified for Bowden’s “biggest deal” list.  That’s because the size of these deals are just dwarfing what the team was willing to do under Bowden.  Lots of pundits have (and continue to) criticized the Jayson Werth deal, and it routinely appears on anyone’s list of “Worst Baseball Contracts.”  And his 2011 season confirmed just how bad this may have turned out for Washington.  But a bounceback 2012, which featured Werth putting up a 125 OPS+ despite missing a ton of time with a broken wrist, showing the flexibility of batting lead-off when the team needed him, plus providing the veteran leadership and professionalism that this young team needs certainly would earn back some of that contract value.  In hindsight, I think the team made this deal as a strawman, to send a message to the rest of the league that we were NOT a low-budget, poorly run team, and to pave the path back to respectability in the minds of other professionals out there that Washington can be a destination franchise.

Rizzo’s Best Free Agent Signings

  • 2009: Julian Tavarez 1yr ML
  • 2009: Joe Beimel 1yr $2M
  • 2010: Livan Hernandez 1yr ML 900k
  • 2011: Jerry Hairston 1yr $2M
  • 2010: Matt Capps 1yr $3.5M
  • 2010: Joel Peralta 1yr ML
  • 2011: Todd Coffey 1yr $1.35M
  • 2011: Laynce Nix 1yr ML

In terms of impact-per-dollar, I think the first Livan Hernandez year of his return was probably the best FA signing that Rizzo has done.  Hernandez went 10-12 with a 3.66 ERA and a 110 ERA+ for less than a million dollars on the FA market.  That’s roughly $90k a Win, when most teams are paying more than $1M/win for free agent starting pitching.   However clearly Rizzo’s most shrewd FA deal was the Matt Capps signing.  He took Capps off the scrap heap; he was released by Pittsburgh after a horrid 2009, and his half season of excellent relief for us turned into Wilson Ramos and a minor leaguer (Joe Testa), returned in trade from Minnesota.  I will also mention that the value that minor league signings Julian Tavarez, Joel Peralta, and Laynce Nix gave the team was also fantastic, considering where these players were in their careers prior to joining us.

Rizzo’s Worst Free Agent Signings

  • 2010: Yunesky Maya 4yr $8M
  • 2010: Ivan Rodriguez 2yr $6M
  • 2010: Jason Marquis 2yr $15M
  • 2011: Matt Stairs 1yr ML
  • 2012: Brad Lidge 1yr $1M
  • Chein Ming Wang: all of them.

2010, Rizzo’s first FA class, didn’t turn out very well did it? Yunesky Maya has been a pretty big disappointment, giving the team just one MLB win for an $8M investment.  Ivan Rodriguez just proved to be slightly too old to be worth the starter money he was paid; you could argue that the leadership he provided was worth the money.   And Jason Marquis, bought as a stop-gap for a failed farm system, was god-awful in 2010.  I won’t completely kill Rizzo for the Brad Lidge experiment; it was worth a $1M flier to see if he had anything left in the tank.  Matt Stairs would have been another fine, low-cost experiment except for the fact that the team kept giving him at-bats for weeks/months after it was clear he was washed up.

For me the worst FA signing was related to the money poured down the Chien-Ming Wang rathole for three years running.  The Nats ended up investing $8M total over three years to get 16 starts, 6 wins and a 4.94 ERA.

Rizzo’s Too Early to Tell Free Agent Signings

  • 2011: Jayson Werth 7yr $126M
  • 2012: Ryan Zimmermann 8yrs $100M
  • 2012: Gio Gonzalez 5yr $42M

So far, Werth’s contract is trending as an over-pay, Zimmerman’s as an injury concern, and Gonzalez trending as a complete steal (21 wins for $8.4M AAV in 2012?  That’s a fantastic return for the money).  Pundits have stated that the Nats have “two 9-figure contracts but zero 9-figure players” (I read it at the time of the Zimmerman signing but cannot find the link).  I think that’s slightly unfair to these players, but until Zimmerman can stay healthy enough to produce at his 2009 level, you have to admit that he may be overpaid as well.  Perhaps Zimmerman’s brittle health issues can be alleviated if he makes the move to 1B, where he can continue to play gold glove calibre defense but have less of a tax on his body.  This analysis obviously does not take Zimmerman’s “value” to the franchise into account, which may be unfair when considering this contract (nobody really said Derek Jeter‘s latest contract was a massive overpay considering his service to the Yankees,  his “stature” as the captain and his eventual Hall of Fame induction; for the Yankees to cut him loose would have been a massive public relations gaffe).

Coincidentally, I didn’t view the contracts of guys like LaRoche, Jackson, or Morse as being specifically “good” or “bad.”   I think LaRoche’s one bad/one good season plus Jackson’s MLB average season was just about on-par with expectations for their contracts.  Morse’s 2011 production was pre-contract, so we’ll see how his 2013 goes.

Thoughts?  Any FA signings or extensions out there that stick in your minds that you thought should be mentioned?

Ladson’s Inbox: 11/16/12 edition

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Werth; the most expensive lead-off hitter in the majors? Photo Mitchell Layton/Getty Images NA

Another edition of mlb.com Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson‘s inbox for 11/16/12.  As always, I write my responses before reading his and edit some questions for clarity.

Q: Why are the Nats looking for a lead-off batter when Jayson Werth appeared to do the job very well in 2012? Do the Nats think someone can do that job better, or do they think Werth belongs elsewhere in the batting order?

A: A decent question, which the questioner answered him (her?) self, frankly.  From quotes I read from Davey Johnson at the time, when Jayson Werth came back from the wrist injury the team was missing any reasonable lead-off option and Johnson asked Werth if he’d do it.  He enthusiastically said yes.  My personal opinion is that Werth’s wrist injury probably wasn’t entirely healed to his liking, thus sapping his power stroke and making it easier for him to focus on contact hitting and OBP from the lead-off spot than it would be for him to return to his middle-of-the-order power.  He couldn’t have had a better lead-off hitter-esque split from his time there; .309/.388/.450 when hitting from the #1 position this season.  That is fantastic.  But realistically the Nats need to find another, proper lead-off hitter for two main reasons (one practical, one political); Practically; Werth is a bigger, better hitter than a lead-off guy and needs to be in the middle of the order, driving in runs with his power potential.  Politically; you don’t spend #126M on a lead-off guy.  I hate to say it, but it is what it is.  I wish the Nats had a better internal lead-off option; Danny Espinosa is the natural person to install there.  Switch hitter, a very good hitter in the minors.  But so far in his career he’s incredibly strike-out prone, his average is disappointing and his lefty/righty splits are awful (as addressed in a separate question further down).  The reason the “Nats want a lead-off-centerfielder” rumors won’t go away is directly tied to this fact.  Ladson agrees, mentioning frequent FA target Michael Bourn and Angel Pagan as options.

Q: Given Roger Bernadina’s improved hitting this past season, is there any possibility that the Nats may try him as a leadoff hitter?

A: Roger Bernadina absolutely turned a corner professionally in 2012, increasing his OPS+ figure fully 30 points from 2011 and posting a split line of .291/.372/.405.  Yeah, that’d be a fantastic line to have at lead-off.  I’ll freely admit that I thought Bernadina was closer to a DFA than he was to a valuable spot on this team last spring training.  We already know just how good a center-fielder he is defensively, and he’s lefty so he puts another lefty bat in the lineup and would allow the team to move Bryce Harper deeper into the order.  Imagine a lineup of Bernadina-Desmond-Zimmerman-Harper-Morse-Werth-Espinosa-Suzuki; LRRLRRSR, giving good lefty-righty balance through the lineup.  This lineup of course assumes Adam LaRoche departs as a FA (which I think is likely).  Now, do I think this is going to happen?  No.  I believe the team views Bernadina as a 4th outfielder, a super-sub, defensive replacement for later innings and he thrived in that role last year.  But that being said, if the FA market proves too costly (or if the Nats choose to go all-in on a SP and leave the batting lineup as-is), this is absolutely a viable option to try in 2013.  Ladson agrees with my sentiments; the Nats view Bernadina as a 4th outfielder.

Q: What do you think of Tony Beasley taking over as Nats manager after Davey Johnson calls it quits? Beasley has the experience. He just needs a chance.

A: Honestly I’d expect Mike Rizzo to bring on-board a more experienced skipper if/when Johnson hangs them up.  Perhaps someone from his Arizona days.  How many teams really promote from within for on-field management?  Ladson thinks Randy Knorr is the heir-apparent.

Q: Why don’t the Nats consider left-hander John Lannan a No. 4 or 5 starter in ’13? Lannan showed he can pitch well in the past.

A: Man, how many times have I answered this question?  Lannan is a league-average pitcher, posting a career ERA+ of 103.  He isn’t a fireballer and rarely “dominates” a game.  Mike Rizzo wants power arms and just doesn’t rate Lannan.  He’ll look here and high for a harder-thrower for the 5th starter spot and is likely to roll the dice with hurlers Ryan Perry or Christian Garcia before he goes with Lannan next year.  Besides; Lannan would need to be tendered a contract and likely earns at least a nominal raise over the $5M he earned for toiling in AAA last year.  It just is not good value to pay $5M for a 5th starter when you’ve got MLB-minimum guys that can possibly do the job just as well.  Look for Lannan to get non-tendered and be pitching for a 2nd division team in 2013.  Ladson mirrors exactly what I wrote here.

Q: What are the chances of our GM, Mike Rizzo, going after a shutdown closer?

A: Zero.  Rizzo (rightly so in my mind) doesn’t rate closers on the open market as worthwhile investments.  I agree; I think relievers are fungible assets that are to be used and discarded as needed.  Now, if a former closer can be had on the open market cheap, Rizzo absolutely will bring them in.  He’s done this more than once in the past; Brad Lidge in 2012, Matt Capps in 2010.  Lidge didn’t work out at all but he only cost the team $1M.   Capps turned out fantastically, made the all-star team and was flipped for Wilson Ramos in what I think is Rizzo’s best trade (well, the Gio Gonzalez trade wasn’t half bad either).  The pickings on the closer FA market are slim, but I could see the team taking a flier on an injury reclamation project like Ryan Madson or Brett Myers.  Perhaps even re-signing Capps, who lost his closer role and could be inserted in middle-relief.  We do have bigger priorities though; namely replacing our 3 lefty specialists (Tom Gorzelanny is still tied to the club but isn’t a guarantee to get tendered).  Ladson says the team has a shutdown closer in Drew Storen and will focus elsewhere.

Q: Is Danny Espinosa really a switch-hitter? He is just horrible from the left side. Why doesn’t he just bat from the right side?

A: Great question, one that I’ve asked many times myself.  His career splits lefty/righty are pretty telling. .227/.306/.393 from the left side, .276/.346/.467 from the right.  He’s an all-star caliber hitter from the right-side only, posting a 124 OPS+.  I privately wonder if the team isn’t going to make the decision for him, and a full spring training just hitting from the right-side could be in order.  Of course, his value as a right-handed only hitter is greatly diminished.  Plus there’s a life-time of adjustments to be had; if you’ve been facing right handed arms from the left side your whole life, who is to say that you won’t similarly struggle once you’re seeing breaking pitches from the other side?  A tough call.  My gut says he sticks it out and the team shows the same patience with him that they showed with Desmond, who rewarded the team with a breakthrough 2012.  Ladson reports that Johnson has “all the confidence in the world” in Espinosa.  Looks like 2013 is a make-it or break-it year for  him.

Q: Can Zach Duke start for the Nationals? How does he compare with Zack Greinke?

A: Wow; comparing Zach Duke (a minor league FA signing this year with a career 49-74 record) to Zack Greinke (inarguably the top FA pitcher on the market with a Cy Young to his name) is sort of like comparing a fast-food joint to a steak-house.  There is no comparison; Duke is going to be lucky to get a guaranteed contract while Greinke is likely to get a nine-figure deal.  Can Duke start for this team?  Well, assuming the team resigns him (he’s a free agent) he’s not even as good as Lannan, who they could lock up for 2013 if they choose.  And (as discussed above) if the team doesn’t rate Lannan they certainly wouldn’t rate Duke.  I don’t think Duke even could feature as a LOOGY; he likely seeks another shot at starting in 2013 somewhere.  Ladson agrees, albeit without the hyperbole of my answer.

Q: What will the Nats do with Yunesky Maya? He appears he found himself while pitching a full season with Triple-A Syracuse.

A: I’d hardly say 11-10 with a 3.88 ERA in AAA is “finding himself.”  I’ll admit Yunesky Maya had some decent starts down the stretch, but he also had some awful ones.  Just like he did all season.  Maya got two shots in 2010 and 2011 to stick in the majors and failed both times.  I don’t think he’ll get a third.  Look for the Nats to obtain a 4th minor league option on Maya by virtue of his having fewer than 5 pro seasons and him spending 2013, his last of a 4yr $8M contract, as starter insurance in Syracuse again.  Ladson states that Maya is rule-5 eligible; Uh, perhaps you need to read up on the purpose of that draft Bill.  Its for NON 40-man roster guys.

Q: What’s up with Chris Marrero? Haven’t heard anything about him replacing Adam LaRoche at first base.

A: Another lost season for Chris Marrero, who spent a huge amount of time recovering from an off-season hamstring injury and ended up playing just 37 games in Syracuse after several rehab stops in the lower minors.  Zero home runs in AAA for the year.  I hate to say it, but Marrero has been passed by on the depth chart for first base, and the team would absolutely look at Michael Morse first and Tyler Moore second to man first base at the major league level before giving Marrero a shot.  His positional inflexibility really hurts him, in that he’s not showing the kind of power you need to at the position to get promoted upwards.  He’s still young though (born in 1988, he’s only 24).  Maybe he’s worth including in trade to another club.  Ladson didn’t say much; i’m not sure he really knows what the team plans for Marrero either.


Washington/MLB Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2012

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The Nats staff was led start to finish by 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez, even if Strasburg was the lead story all year. Photo Joy Absalon/US Presswire via usatoday.com

This is the final post in a series of posts reviewing the Nats pitching staffs at various levels, and has been about 5 weeks in the making.  Since the minor league seasons end September 1st, all the minor league versions have already been posted.  Here’s links for the farm system: AAA is hereAA is hereHigh-A is hereLow-A is hereShort-A is hereGCL is here. Tomorrow I’ll post the organization-wide far-too-early predictions for who will be at what level (and in what role) in 2013, summarizing all of the “Outlook for Next year” points for every pitcher in the system.

Washington starters.  The rotation started the season with Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Jackson and Detwiler.  These 5 starters ended up making 150 of our 162 starts, a number that could have risen to somewhere in the 159-160 range had Strasburg not been shut-down and had the team resisted the Wang experiment.  This starter consistency is a huge part of why Washington was so successful this year.  Lets review each pitcher’s season:

  • Stephen Strasburg:  Somewhat lost in the season-long soap opera of “Shutdown-Gate” was the excellent return that Strasburg had.  Final season stats:  15-6, 3.16 ERA and 1.155 whip in 159 1/3 innings, good for a 125 ERA+.   His FIP and xFIP were 2.82/2.81 respectively, meaning his ERA was slightly unflattering on the season.  He dialed back his fastball a little bit as compared to the past two seasons, but can still throw a 95mph 2-seamer and an 88.7mph change-up with 8 inches of horizontal break, leading him to an 11.1 K/9 rate (which would have led the NL by nearly 2 K’s per 9 had he qualified).  Just a few stats for you in case you forgot just how awesome Strasburg can be.   He tired towards the end of the season (4.50 ERA in his last 5 starts combined, including a couple of downright ugly outings) and the shut-down probably came at just the right time.  Yes its too bad we don’t have him for the playoffs; we just have to hope this was the right decision and hope the team continues to make the playoffs. Outlook for next season: Washington’s 2013 opening day starter.
  • Gio Gonzalez came over in the much maligned trade in the off-season and promptly dropped his bb/9, increased his K/9 rates, dropped his ERA and finished the year leading the league in wins.  Final 2012 line: 21-9, 2.89 ERA, 1.129 whip.  He led the league (among qualifiers) in K/9.  He led the league in terms of fewest home-runs allowed.  He should get some consideration for the Cy Young (I’m predicting he comes in 3rd).  Just an all around fantastic debut for Gonzalez in Washington.  His goal in 2013 should be to improve on his post-season performances.  Outlook for next season: same as this year: Robin to Strasburg’s Batman.  Washington #2 starter.
  • Jordan Zimmermann toiled in the background of Washington’s two more well known aces and put up a season that had him being mentioned in Cy Young talks mid season.  Final numbers: 12-8, 2.94 ERA, 1.17 whip.  Some of his ancillary numbers were slightly worse in 2012 than in 2011 (his BB/9, his fip and xfip and his BABIP all trended the wrong way) and he seemed to drift on the mound in the latter part of the season.  It is perhaps explained by his increased workload two years removed from Tommy John surgery, or perhaps just the randomness that baseball is known for.  Either way, Zimmermann is tied to the club for at least 3 more seasons and forms the core of one of the best rotations in baseball.  Outlook for next season: same as 2012: #3 starter and underrated Matt Cain-esque performances for years to some.
  • Edwin Jackson was the man that Mike Rizzo wanted, and he got him, surprisingly signing a one-year deal for 2012 in the face of other multiple year offers and sliding into the Nats #4 starter role (despite being its highest paid pitcher).  Jackson’s military background and frequent moves seem to have led to his itinerant baseball career: he’s now pitched for 7 teams in 10 seasons.  The Nats got pretty much what was expected out of Jackson in 2012: hard-throwing MLB average production with flashes of brilliance (a 2-hit shutout against Cincinnati in April) and flashes of awfullness (8 earned runs given up in just 1 1/3 innings in St. Louis in September), and a .500 record inbetween.  Final year stats: 10-11, 4.03 ERA and a 1.218 whip.  Jackson switched agents this season, possibly indicating a disagreement over the way that Scott Boras has been handling his affairs, and seems set to finally cash in on his stability and fastball in a very weak starter market this off-season.  Which is what makes the team’s decision to NOT give him a Qualifying Offer this past week slightly curious; perhaps the team was worried that Jackson, having lived on year-to-year deals and seemingly comfortable gambling his long-term financial future by accepting these one-year deals, would have just taken them up on the $13.3M offer (it representing a nice raise from 2012′s $11M) and suddenly the Nats would be “stuck” with a guy they didn’t want.  That’s the only way I read the tea-leaves here.  Other than that, perhaps it just wouldn’t play well in the locker room to have the team’s highest paid pitcher as its 5th starter (though, that didn’t hurt the San Francisco Giants much as they won two of the last three World Series in the same boat).  Outlook for next season: pitching somewhere else.
  • Ross Detwiler surprisingly won the #5 starter job out of spring training, struggled in May, leading to his being replaced in the rotation by eternal experiment Chien-Ming Wang, then playing the good soldier and waiting out Wang’s inevitable injury relapse to regain his starting spot and keep it the rest of the way.  He pitched relatively effectively most of the season, resulting in a 10-8 record with a 3.40 ERA and 1.223 whip in 164 1/3 total innings.  Detwiler, after years of ineffectiveness and injury-prone disappointment, seemed to finally put things together for the team in 2012.  Unfortunately, a ridiculous 2007 call-up from Jim Bowden pre-maturely is forcing the Nats hand on Detwiler in terms of options status (he’s out of them) and arbitration pay (he’s a first time arbitration eligible player perhaps a couple seasons before he needed to be).  Nonetheless, even his escalating pay for next year will make him a bargain if he produces at this level again.  And we havn’t even mentioned the fact that he was the SOLE nats starter who redeemed himself in the post-season, a point that won’t be forgotten in subsequent years.  Outlook for next season: firmly entrenched as the #4 starter, pending any major subsequent FA or trade acquisitions.

Other guys who got spot starts here and there (non-rehab):

  • Chien-Ming Wang suffered a fortuitiously timed “injury” at the end of spring training and spent the first 6 weeks pitching in the minors on “rehab.”  He was recalled, replaced Detwiler in the rotation and gave the team four increasingly awful starts before the team realized that Detwiler was the solution all-along.  Wang hung around long enough to prove he was incapable of pitching out of the bullpen, had another injury, and spent the next two months touring Washington’s minor league affiliates (Wang ended up making no less than 15 minor league starts this year, more starts than he had major league appearances) before getting recalled for a few late-season outings.  I think it is safe to say that the Wang experiment, after 3 years, $7M in pay and probably nearly that much in airfare taking Wang to-and-from his various rehab assignments, is officially over in Washington.  Outlook for next season: Minor League Free Agent with another organization.
  • John Lannan was Washington’s starter insurance policy this year, surprisingly getting beat out for the #5 starter job in spring training (this, two years removed from being the Nats opening Day starter) and then spending most of the year pitching ineffectively in Syracuse.  Lannan made two double-header starts during the season and then four “replacing Strasburg” starts in September, finishing up with a 4-1 record, a 4.13 ERA and a 97 ERA+ for the year, numbers slightly lower than his career averages but pretty typical for Lannan.  Lannan is who he is; a softer-tossing lefty with a clean medical record (the only time I believe he’s ever missed was in 2010 when his elbow was sore; he never went on the DL and only missed one start).  Lannan just doesn’t seem to be Rizzo’s kind of starter, and the rotation will undoubtedly be weaker just replacing Jackson one-for-one with Lannan.  Plus, Lannan’s arbitration cost will certainly be north of his 2012 $5M pay, which virtually guarantees that Lannan will be non-tendered on or before November 30th of 2012.  Lannan stated publically he wanted to be traded when he was demoted in April, and his non-tender opens a clean path for him to sell his wares to another organization that would guarantee him a rotation spot.  Outlook for next season: I believe Lannan’s time in Washington is done; look for him to sign a 1yr, $3M offer to be a back-of-the-rotation starter on a rebuilding team (Houston, Kansas City, Chicago perhaps).
  • Tom Gorzelanny got a spot start the last week of the season to save Gio Gonzalez’s arm once the Nats clinched the NL East.  We’ll talk about Gorzelanny in the reliever section.

Washington Relievers: taking a look at the relief corps at the end of the season.  We’ll review from the back of the rotation “forward,” starting with the closers and ending with the mop-up guys.

  • Drew Storen missed the first 3 1/2 months of the season from surgery to remove bone spurs from his elbow (which may or may not be related to his inverted-W mechanics, a tease on a future blog post on the topic…).  Upon his return, he patiently waited for his chance while roommate Clippard struggled in the closer role and entered the post-season as the established closer.  We all know what happened in Game 5 of the NLDS unfortunately, but a 4-run blow-up looks like an aberration for Storen’s season in general: a 2.37 ERA and sub 1.00 whip in 30 1/3 mostly high-leverage innings.  His achieving super-2 status is worrisome for the team in perhaps 2015 when his salary has escalated, but for 2013, he will remain a relative bargain in the estimated $1.7-2M range.  Outlook for Next Season: unlike in previous seasons, I think Storen’s injury makes him less likely to be traded; teams would want to see a full injury free season.  He remains with the team as the established closer heading into 2013.
  • Tyler Clippard grabbed the reigns of the closer job after others failed to do so and stuck with it most of the season, collecting 32 saves in 37 save opportunities.  However, two losses and a bad blown save in September ballooned his ERA a full point in just 3 weeks and resulted with Clippard reverting to his 2011 role as 8th inning specialist.  He gave up a critical solo home run in the fateful game 5 NLDS loss but otherwise looked decent in the post-season.  The big decision the team now faces with Clippard is a large potential arbitration award; he will argue that he should be paid like a closer and will point at 32 saves as evidence that he’s a closer-quality player.  MLBtraderumors estimates Clippard’s salary rising from 1.625M to $4.6M on the strength of his season.  I suspect the team will return a far lower value and there could be an ugly arbitration hearing as a result.  Clippard’s decline in form from 2011 also cost him some trade value, though the Nats could still make the argument that he’s a closer-quality guy and look to move him to a team needing a closer.  Of course, that being said he’s an incredibly valuable member of this bullpen, a big reason the team won 98 games, and there’s no urgency to move him unless offered something great. Outlook for next season: Back in the 8th inning role, barring a surprise trade.
  • Ryan Mattheus‘s first full season with the club resulted in an excellent find for the bullpen, providing great RHP middle-relief in the 6th and 7th innings.  Final results: a 2.85 ERA, 1.146 whip and a 139 ERA+ in 66 1/3 innings.   I think Davey Johnson will be rueing the decision not to use Mattheus in the NLDS game 5 middle-relief situation for the entirey of the off-season.  Outlook for next season: firmly entrenched in the MLB bullpen.
  • Craig Stammen‘s conversion from 4-A starter to excellent middle reliever is complete; his 169 ERA+ showing in 88 1/3 2012 innings was fantastic.  As with a number of the Nats prominent bullpen arms, Stammen’s arbitration eligiblity may force the team’s hand at some point, but he seems set for a reasonable pay increase in 2013.  Outlook for next season: also firmly entrenched in the MLB bullpen.
  • Sean Burnett rebounded dramatically in 2012, returning to his excellent 2010 numbers and was an effective middle-to-late innings lefty reliever for the team.  2012 numbers: 2.38 ERA, 1.235 whip and a 167 ERA+ figure in 56 2/3 innings.  Burnett pitched out his contract year as best as could be expected, and subsequently declined his side of a mutual option for 2013.  This was an expected move; Burnett is arguably the best or 2nd best lefty reliever on the FA market (along with Jeremy Affeldt) and should look to cash in.  Will the Nats match his price on the open market or will they look elsewhere for solutions?  The team really doesn’t have much in the way of quality lefty relievers in either AAA or AA and face losing both Burnett and Michael Gonzalez this off-season.  Outlook for next season: Washington re-signs Burnett to a 3 year deal, possibly overpaying him but ensuring he remains with the team.
  • Mike Gonzalez was on the street in May, signed a minor league FA deal and ended up giving the Nats nearly a full season of high-quality lefty relief.  What a great signing.  Final 2012 numbers: in 35 2/3 innings he had a 3.03 ERA, greater than a K/inning, and a .179 BAA versus lefties.  I think it is safe to say Gonzalez made himself some money this season; apparently 10 teams have already inquired about his services.  Outlook for next season: Washington backs out of a FA bidding war for the 34-yr old and he signs a 2  year deal elsewhere.
  • Tom Gorzelanny served as the long-man/mop up guy for the year and continued his trend of excellent relief appearances (as compared to his numbers as a starter) in 2012.  He gave the team 72 innings, posted a 2.88 ERA and was constantly available for spot starts if needed.  The problem with Gorzelanny is the same problem the team probably will have with Lannan; he’s going to command more in arbitration than the team wants to pay.  Gorzelanny made $3M in 2012 and clearly will earn a raise after his 138 ERA+ season.  However, you just cannot pay mop-up guys that kind of money.  Look for the team to non-tender Gorzelanny on or before November 30th.  From there, once he hits the open market anything could happen, but teams know he’s no longer a starter.  Outlook for next season: Washington brings him back on a contract of similar value to the one he played under this year.
  • Henry Rodriguez continued his Jeckyl-and-Hyde career with this team, mostly on the “Hyde” side in 2012, pitching 29 1/3 mostly awful innings before hitting the DL to remove bone spurs from his elbow in August.  His injury report for 2012 is all over the road; he slammed his fingers in a bathroom door, then subsequently hit the 15-day DL for a strain in that same hand, then hurt his back (which is why he was on the 15- and then 60-day DL), then finally had the elbow procedure at the end of August.  Was his performance all related to his various maladies this year?  Possibly.  But it is safe to say that my patience has run out with H-Rod, and possibly management’s has as well.  He’s out of options and faces the competition of a slew of high-performing right-handers with great stuff and better control for the likely 5 bullpen spots in 2013.  Outlook for next season: Rodriguez fails to make the MLB bullpen out of spring training, gets stashed on the DL again, and eventually gets DFA’d as he shows a Steve Dalkowski inability to find the plate.

Other Relievers who appeared for the Nats in 2012

  • Brad Lidge signed a 1yr $1M deal in the off-season which I thought was a steal.  However, the 35-yr old wasn’t able to hold onto either the closer job or a bullpen job in general after posting a 9.64 ERA in his first 11 appearances.  Lidge was released in late June and (as far as I can tell) did not get picked up by another team.  Outlook for next season: Likely out of baseball and facing retirement.
  • Christian Garcia blew through the minors, earned a 9/1 call up after years of injury issues and pitched well enough to earn the 8th bullpen spot on the post-season roster.  That’s quite a rise from where Garcia was in July 2011, when the Nationals signed him as a minor league free agent after the Yankees gave up on the once electrifying prospect.   He threw well enough in his short MLB stint that the team has made noise about converting him back to a starter.  While I’d love to see Garcia’s stuff in a starting role, the odds of him converting back successfully are slim; he has twice had elbow surgery (2009 and 2010) and had an additional knee issue before that.   I think the team will take the safer route and keep him as a middle-relief candidate who throws his nasty stuff.  Outlook for next season: MLB middle reliever.
  • Ryan Perry was ineffective in 7 appearances in relief and was subsequently dumped to AA and converted back to a starter.  His AA season was reviewed here: he was good in AA, but how does that translate to his 2013?  His lack of options and probable lack of a 25-man roster spot may  conspire against him unless he gets an extra option.  A commenter here claims that Perry will get a 4th option because he got to the majors so quickly.  A quick google of the rule indicates this may be the case; the rule is explained here by BaseballAmerica’s Jim Callis, and Perry, by virtue of being drafted in 2008 and then making the majors by 2009 may indeed qualify.  Lets hope so.  Outlook for next season: (assuming he gets an extra option): AAA rotation.
  • Zach Duke was awareded a 9/1 call-up after an excellent season toiling in AAA for the club.  He was a minor league FA signee and seems to have done enough to earn another shot at a major league starting job.  Just not for Washington.  Outlook for next season: MLFA with another club.

Summary

The Nats pitching staff led the league in ERA while being its 3rd youngest squad.  The 5 core starters made 150 of 162 starts and we used just 8 starters all year, a fantastic turn around from the likes of 2010 (14 different starters) or 2009 (12 different starters).  Consistency in the rotation is a huge key to success for major league teams, and the Nats experienced just that in 2012.

Tweaks are needed for 2013.  We’re potentially losing all three of the lefties in the pen.  We have two closer-quality arms but only need one.  And we’re likely looking for a 5th starter.  Our AAA and AA teams aren’t quite ready to deliver replacements, so one-year deals may be in order.  Not much else to complain about after a 98 win season.

Syracuse/AAA Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2012

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Free John Lannan! Photo Luis M. Alvarez/AP

Click here for the 2011 version of this post.

This is the first of 6 organizational reviews of the pitching staffs of our various affiliates for the 2012 season.  Unlike in 2011, I didn’t follow nearly as closely as I would have liked, so a lot of this is “analysis in arrears.”  This is also a lot of “scouting the scoreline,” which isn’t always a fair way to evaluate pitchers, but a full year’s worth of work is also a big enough sample size to pass some judgement.  I’ll try to evaluate pitchers at the level at which they spent the most time and will offer guesses for next season.  Also, rehab appearances are not mentioned or given analysis in these posts.  After reviewing all the staffs at each level, I’ll cull the above predictions into a summarized 2013 projected staff throughout the system.

Syracuse starters.  The rotation started the season with Atkins, Roark, Maya, Lannan and Duke.  This wasn’t exactly the way these guys would have lined up 1-5 (since Lannan was dumped to the AAA roster at the end of Spring Training unexpectedly) but this is the order in which they appeared to start the season.  Lets talk about these 5 guys plus other prominent starters for the year.

  • Mitch Atkins: Syracuse’s opening day starter stuck in the rotation for most of the year, posting a 5.28 ERA while going 6-9 in 20 starts.  He improved on his season numbers with a handful of relief appearances down the stretch, finishing the year with a combined ERA of 4.87 in 118 1/3 innings pitched.  This minor league Free Agent pickup from Baltimore’s organization never gave the team a reason to consider calling him up, and probably is out the door in the off-season.  Outlook for next season: Minor League Free Agent again, likely with another team.
  • Tanner Roark: He posted an ugly W/L of 6-17 on the year in 28 games (26 starts).  He had a 4.39 ERA with a 1.41 whip in 147 2/3 innings on the year.  He had pretty good K/9 numbers (130 Ks in those 147 innings) but also walked a goodly number of guys (47).  He mostly got promoted after a similar season statistically in AA by virtue of the AAA depth being shredded by the Gio Gonzalez trade.  Outlook for next season: He’s Rule-5 eligible but not yet a 6-year free agent.  I guess its possible he gets picked up, but he’s not worth protecting.  I think he gets one more season starting in AAA before reaching minor league free agency.
  • Yunesky Maya: After getting several shots at the major league level in 2011, Maya was buried in AAA for 2012.  There he toiled a complete season as a starter, posting an 11-10 record in 28 starts.  His era and whip were respectable (3.88 and 1.19 respectively), but his softer-tossing ways did not lead to the kind of swing and miss stuff craved by the current regime (just 89 Ks in 167 innings despite his ability to throw everything but the kitchen sink).  He improved upon a rough early start to the season with a series of gems in August … but would routinely follow up a gem with a stinker.  The big club has learned its lesson and left him off the expanded roster.  Outlook for next season: Maya has just one more year on his 4yr/$8m contract, after which he’ll be cut loose to try his wares elsewhere.  But he’ll be back toiling as AAA’s #1 starter in 2013.
  • John Lannan, as most Nats fans know, was the surprise cut from 2012′s major league team and basically served as injury insurance the entire year.  He did not necessarily help his own cause in AAA, putting up mediocre lines of 9-11, 4.30 era, 1.44 whip and barely 5 k/9 despite a MLB-average pedigree.  He did however perform excellently in two spot starts in the majors, setting himself up to be the Stephen Strasburg replacement in September’s stretch run.  I’d cough up his poor performance to  a season-long disappointment over his predicament; he’s got to be the highest paid guy in the minors (now that Kei Igawa‘s contract expired).  Outlook for next season: Lannan is just about a 100% guarantee to be non-tendered at the arbitration deadline and certainly looks to sign on with another club.
  • Zach Duke: Unlike Lannan, Duke took advantage of his time in AAA and DID regain some value; he posted a 15-5 record in 26 starts and 164 innings.  The rangy left-hander was cut loose by Arizona after the 2011 season and did enough with Syracuse this year to earn a September call-up.  Outlook for next season: Likely a free agent again and likely to use 2012′s performance as a springboard with another team looking for starter help.
  • Jeff Mandel, a long time Nats farm hand, started the year in AA to provide some starter depth before coming back to AAA and eventually replacing Atkins in the rotation.  He was 6-3 with a 2.41 ERA in 11 Syracuse starts and filled in effectively down the stretch. Outlook for next season: He’s finishing up his 6th minor league season and didn’t get a 40-man call-up (at least not yet).  He has one more year of team control before hitting minor league free agency.  AAA rotation.
  • Other guys who got spot starts here and there (non-rehab):
    • Erik Arneson, who continues his 2011 role of organizational swiss army knife, filling in with innings wherever possible.  Outlook for next season: probably continues to be the Nats org guy; he’s still effective in AAA.
    • Austin Bibens-Dirkx, who got a couple spot starts before getting released and eventually getting picked up by Colorado Springs (AAA affiliate of Colorado) to finish out the season.   Outlook for next season: with another organization.
    • Kevin Pucetas got called up from AA to make one spot-start.  Outlook for next season: See the AA wrap up for more details.

Syracuse Relievers: taking a look at the relief corps at the end of the season.

  • Christian Garcia has turned into one of the Organization’s great stories of 2012, posting a 0.86 ERA in 52 1/3 innings between AA and AAA after being claimed off waivers from the Yankees in late 2011.  This performance earned him a well-deserved call-up to the big club as rosters expanded.  Additionally, he’ll be featured in the Arizona Fall League as one of our three pitcher representatives.  Outlook for next season: He’s got a big arm, can bring it 97-98, and should be in the mix to be a middle-relief arm for the Nats bullpen in 2013.  He likely replaces what the team sought in Brad Lidge and provides insurance against injury (or, in Cole Kimball‘s case, failure to recover from injury).
  • Atahualpa Severino put in a decent season for Syracuse (2.81 ERA in 48 ip), but clearly he lost favor with the team.  Instead of considering Severino (who was on the 40-man at the time), the Nats picked up Mike Gonzalez off waivers and promoted him up to the big club.  Furthermore, Severino was DFA’d off the 40-man and passed through waivers without being claimed, never a good sign for a long-serving minor leaguer.  Outlook for next season: Minor League Free Agent, though the fact that nobody claimed him when he got DFA’d means he’s likely an Org guy from here on out.  But, LOOGYs live forever, and he can bring it, so maybe he gets a shot elsewhere.  He’s clearly been passed over in this organization.
  • GWU grad Josh Wilkie was having a so-so start to his Syracuse season (his 4th year in the league) before getting suspended 50-games in June.  [Editor Note: thanks to Mark L. for pointing this out].  Wilkie was summarily released after his suspension ended.  Outlook for next season: with another organization.
  • Ryan Perry failed to make the big club out of spring, pitched briefly in Syracuse’ bullpen before getting sent to Harrisburg to re-make himself as a starter.  Outlook for next season: see the AA version of this post.
  • Mike MacDougal made his “triumphant return” to the organization after washing out of Chicago’s AAA affiliate in Iowa.  He struck out 14 and walked 8 in 10 innings for Syracuse (about what I expected); no word on how many WP he threw.  Outlook for next season: minor league free agent again.
  • Erik Davis got 8 late season appearances after toiling mostly in AA and earning a promotion.  Outlook for next season: see the AA version of this post.
  • Other Relievers who appeared in AAA of note (not including Rehabbing MLBers): Outlook for next season for all of these guys seems the same: either continued “org guy” middle reliever or minor league free agent in another organization.
    • Hassan Pena improved on his 2011 stint in AAA but still looks like a middle-of-the-road minor league reliever.  He was suspended at the end of the season for suspected “team rules violations,” a question mark for him going forward with the organization.
    • GWU grad Pat Lehman continued his march up the organization, earning a quick promotion up to AAA and posting respectable numbers there.
    • Corey VanAllen got demoted and then hurt.
    • Rafael Martin also got demoted after a crummy start.
    • 2012 Minor League free agent signings Jeff Fulchino and Waldis Joaquin didn’t throw a single inning in 2012, spending it entirely on the 7-day DL.

Summary

Syracuse should have had a better record than it ended up with (70-74) given the quality of the starters on this team (a long time MLB starter in Duke, a career sub 4.00 ERA starter in Lannan and a guy on an $8M contract in Maya).  But at the same time, a combination of trades and a “gap” in organizational development led the team to have to fill a significant portion of this staff with minor league free agents, so it may have been inevitable that the team would have struggled.

Outlook for next season: S

Lidge DFA and a bullpen unravelling

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Lidge just couldn't regain his past glory with the Nats. Photo unknown via baseballasreligion blog

I was mildly surprised to see the news wire report today before the Nats-Yanks series finale; the Nats have designated Brad Lidge for assignment.  Not because Lidge didn’t “earn” this release; his numbers on the season are abysmal for a mid-to-late innings reliever (9 1/3 IP, 12 hits and ELEVEN walks for a ridiculous WHIP of 2.46.  And not because Lidge was singularly involved with both of the Yankess losses this weekend (he allowed Gio Gonzalez‘s inherited runner to score before allowing another three runs in on friday night, then wasting six shutout innings from his fellow bullpen members by giving up 3 hits and a walk in the 14th inning yesterday).

I say I’m mildly surprised because I honestly thought the next guy to get the axe out of our suddenly struggling bullpen would be the curiously called-up Mike Gonzalez, who may have decent ancillary numbers so far (no runs in 4 IP over 6 games) but he’s allowed a Doug Slaten-esque 4 of 9 inherited runners to score, including 2 in friday night’s bullpen implosion as well.  Gonzalez seemed to be a two week solution, signed off waivers only to provide cover until we got a couple of arms back off of the DL.  I certainly didn’t expect him to be seeing as much game action as he has lately.

The Nats are starting to see the real effects of losing two of their three best arms (Storen and Rodriguez); guys who should be the 5th or 6th guys out of the pen are now the 1st and 2nd guys out of the pen.  Clippard, who was doing just fine as the best 8th inning guy in baseball (he did lead the majors in Holds in 2011) now is, well not “wasted” as the closer but certainly not doing what he does best; being the guy who cleans up and fixes the highest leverage situations.

More to the point the team faces now; the loss of Storen and Rodriguez, as well as the trickle-down effects of stashing Ross Detwiler in the bullpen so the (so far) inferior Chien-Ming Wang can continue to put up sub-replacement player numbers out of the #5 starter role, combined with the presence of THREE swing-men/ex-starters (Gorzelanny and Stammen to go along with Detwiler) means that suddenly our bullpen has found itself ill-prepared to face the challenges that it was meant to face.  We really only had four true back-of-the-bullpen relievers who could close out games.

The team needs Ryan Mattheus back, now (Editor’s Note; about 2 minutes after I penned this the team announced that Mattheus was, indeed, back).  I know plantar fasciitis is painful but, hey, this is the majors.  Get a cortisone shot and get back out there.  We also need to think about giving some minor league arms a chance.  Or making a trade for some bullpen help.  Maybe we can flip one of our swing-men for a back of the bullpen arm from a team that needs starter help (Colorado anyone?)

The team’s still in first place, a third of the way through the season.  With no reason to think we can’t maintain the lead now that our big hitters are back and getting healthier.  We need to shore up this problem so it doesn’t derail the progress this team has made.

Nats Rotation Cycle 2012 #1: good/bad/soso

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Surprise 5th starter Detwiler turned in your best outing of the first Rotation Cycle. Photo Cathy T via nationalsdailynews.com

It has been so long since I did one of these, that I nearly forgot that I used to do them :-)

For the uninitiated, I try to do a quick recap of our starters each turn through the rotation, culminating in 33 “rotation cycle” posts that can be seen if you click on the “Nats Rotation Review” category tag to the right.  If I’ve seen the game, I’ll give more detailed analysis based on my observations.  Otherwise I’m recapping the box score and interpreting the stats to come to a conclusion.  The focus is on the starters, but there is a section for relievers and the offense.

The classifications are not very scientific; usually good, bad or mediocre/soso.  If someone is great or awful, we’ll note that as well.

Good

  • Stephen Strasburg looked healthy and in command on opening day 4/5 (box/gamer), getting a no decision after 7 complete innings.  His line: 7ip, 5 hits, 1 ER, 5K and 1BB.  More importantly he was only on 82 pitches through 7 innings, a very efficient work day.  A couple of these hits were relatively weak (one an infield pop fly that fell between 4 infielders, another a scoring issue that probably was a hit).  Its not difficult to look unhittable when its 41 degrees and the wind is blowing in, but Strasburg seems to be adopting the same strategy as his compatriot Jordan Zimmermann: pitch efficiently, pitch to contact, and keep your pitch counts down so you go deeper into games.  It may not be as flashy as a 14-K effort, but if it leads to wins everyone is happy.
  • Jordan Zimmermann‘s first start on 4/8 (box/gamer) was just as effective as Strasburg’s; unfortunately for Zimmermann he went up against a buzz-saw in Jeff Samardzija and his offense couldn’t help.  Zimmermann took the loss on a day when he went 7 complete innings on just 80 pitches, giving up 6 hits, 0 walks and one earned run.   This is the classic adage of why W/L records are misleading; if Zimmermann pitches this way all year as our #3 starter we’re going to go far.
  • Ross Detwiler‘s rotation spot won’t be going away any time soon if he continues outings like 4/10 (box/gamer).  5 innings, 2 hits and a walk with 6 Ks to earn the win.   Detwiler picks up where he left off last summer and gives immediate validation to the Lannan- demotion decision.

Bad

  • Yes, its bad when your marquee off-season acquisition Gio Gonzalez fails to get out of the 4th inning in  his debut start.  Gonzalez struggled with control and with effectiveness on 4/7 (box/gamer) and gave up 4 runs on 7 hits and 3 walks.  He did have 6 strikeouts in his 3 2/3 innings, so there’s that.  His fastball was hopping; 95mph in the first two innings, averaging about 93 on the day.  He threw mostly fastballs but wasn’t getting the swing-and-miss effect like he needed.  Of course, an outing like this isn’t helped in the analysts’ minds when Tommy Milone (the 4th best prospect sent the other way in the trade) pitched 8 shutout innings in his debut.  Lets hope this is first-start jitters.

Mediocre/Inconclusive

  • Edwin Jackson‘s 4/9 start (box/gamer) wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t as effective as we would have liked.  He was a victim of the long-ball, giving up 3 runs on 4 hits and a walk in 5 innings.  He did have 6 punchouts on a night where he threw a ton of off-speed stuff (only 42 of his 78 pitches were fast-balls; he threw a ton of sliders on the night).   The homer he gave up ended any chance of his getting a W on the night on a game that was more or less thrown away by replacement starter Henry Rodriguez.

Starter Trends

MLB Trends (through Detwiler 4/10 Cycle 1)

Strasburg    good
Gonzalez    bad
Zimmermann    good
Jackson    soso
Detwiler    good

Relievers of Note and other News

  • So far its looking like Brad Lidge may be the steal of the FA market.  He’s throwing well, his slider is back and he’s closing out save opportunities for just $1m.
  • So far, its looking like the “bad” Henry Rodriguez from 2011; a 0.00 ERA but a 2.25 whip and a loss by virtue of his own throwing error.
  • Ryan Mattheus isn’t doing himself any favors right now and may not be long for this bullpen.  Of course then again its looking like Drew Storen is closer to Tommy John surgery than returning to the field, having visited Dr. James Andrews this week.  Meanwhile, surprise 25-man roster includee Craig Stammen is performing decently in a swing-man role and looks to stick.

Thoughts on the offense

  • Adam LaRoche comes out on fire, a shock considering he’s usually a slow starter and the fact that he looked beyond awful in the first game, waving weakly at curveballs in the dirt.  Ian Desmond looks like the Desmond of September, which is great news.
  • Meanwhile, in a completely unsurprising development Roger Bernadina has started out the season 3-for-20.  Why aren’t we looking for a CF again?
  • Too bad Chad Tracy doesn’t have any OF flexibility; he’s looked great off the bench so far.

Overall Summary

Can’t argue with an away series win, despite the weakened nature of the opponent in Chicago.  We could get a second away-series win tonight if one stud young Ace (Strasburg) can beat one come-back Ace (Johan Santana).  That’s the way to go in baseball; play .500 on the road and play .600 ball at home and you’re a 90 win team in an era where 90 wins almost certainly guarantees post-season play.