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Rule 5 Analysis/Prediction for 2019

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Is Sterling Sharp getting the call? Photo unk via talknats.com

Is Sterling Sharp getting the call? Photo unk via talknats.com

Welcome to the annual Rule 5 analysis post.

Lets take a look at who is eligible, who might get protected and make some predictions.  I’ve got the Nats 40-man roster at 30 now (as of 11/6/19, after all FAs and opt outs), so there’s plenty of room to add names and do their off-season work.  But, this team also needs to sign a bunch of FAs.  But there’s a slew of options-challenged players who might get waived this off-season.  So it’ll be an interesting Rule-5 year, and an interesting off-season in terms of roster manipulation.

As always, using the indispensable Nationals resource sites Draft tracker (at its new location, now maintained by Luke Erickson) and the Big Board, and then looking up candidate acquisitions made via trade, here’s some thoughts on who might merit protection.   Also incredibly useful is Roster Resource’s Nats Roster, which keeps track of options, rule-5 status and the like.

The quick Rule-5 rules for 2019; any 4-year college-aged draftee from 2016 or before who isn’t already on the 40-man roster is Rule-5 eligible this coming off season, and any high-school aged draftee/International Free Agent from 2015 or before is newly eligible this year, assuming they were at least 18 as of June 5th of that year.  There’s always a couple of guys who have specific birthdays that move them up or down one way or the other; i’ll depend on the Roster Resource rules and the Draft Tracker for exact details.

One last thing: here was our 2019 AFL Roster (also here at milb.com’s site).  Often times teams put Rule-5 guys onto AFL rosters to get one last look at them against top quality performance to see if they’re worth protecting.  Of course, this practice also puts a huge spotlight onto those players for opposing teams and their scouts…

  • Rule 5 eligible: Sterling Sharp, Nick Banks, Andrew Lee, Jakson Reetz
  • Not: Luis Garcia, Cole Freeman, Nick Raquet, Jacob Condra-Bogan, Pearson McMahon, K.J. Harrison

Newly Eligible 2016 draft College Players this year worth consideration for protection:

  • Nick Banks, 2016 4th rounder LF who ascended to Harrisburg in 2019.  Decent numbers and hit pretty consistently from High-A to AA this year, but he’s a corner outfielder who hit one homer in 45 AA games.  You need more power than that to ascend.  I mention him here b/c of draft pedigree, not because I think he’s going to be protected.  I don’t think anyone could see him sticking on a MLB roster or competing with an aging ML veteran on a non-guaranteed deal.
  • Armond Upshaw, 2016 11th round OF who is still in low-A; no jeopardy of getting picked.
  • Jack Sundberg: 2016 26th round CF who repeated high-A for the third year in a row this season; no jeopardy of getting selected.
  • Hayden Howard, 2016 12th round middle reliever who has good numbers but has never pitched above High-A ball; no real jeopardy of getting selected.
  • Ryan Williamson, 2016 15th rounder who missed two full years with injury and is only in low-A; no real jeopardy of getting selected.
  • Ben Braymer, 2016 18th rounder LHP starting pitcher who is one of the best draft picks (in terms of value vis-a-vis draft position) the team has had this decade.  He has now risen to AAA’s rotation … where he proceeded to get shelled thsi year (7.20 ERA in 13 starts).  Hard to tell if that’s the level or the PCL; i’m going to go latter since he maintained sub 3.00 ERAs at most of his stops as he ascended the minors.  I think its worth protecting a home grown lefty starter who they drafted and paid a paltry $100k signing bonus for.
  • Jacob Howell: 2016 21st rounder, missed all of 2018 with injury, pitched mostly in Low-A this year; no real jeopardy of getting selected.
  • Sterling Sharp: 2016 22nd rounder, missed a chunk of the 2019 season with injury, but improved year over year in his AA results and then went and pitched pretty well in the AFL (6 starts, 24 innings 4 runs allowed).   I think someone would take a flier on him, especially a tanking team (which now defines 1/3rd of the league).  I think he should be protected.

Its worth noting that the team already has added two guys from this class who likely would have been Rule-5 this year anyway: Tres Barrera and Jake Noll both would have otherwise been on this list.

So, two candidates from this group for me in Braymer and Sharp

 


Newly Eligible 2015 High School-age drafted players under consideration for protection

  • None

The Nats generally don’t pick HS players, so the picking here is always slim.  But we’re down to just 8 players remaining in the system at all from the 2015 draft class, and none of them were HS draftees.

Zero candidates from this group.


Newly Eligible 2015 signed IFAs under consideration for protection:

  • Brailin Mesa, a 2015 IFA DH who never came state-side and who probably was released after the 2017 season, but sometimes milb.com’s records are not up-to-date.
  • Gerald De La Cruz: also a 2015 IFA pitcher who never came stateside and has no results past 2017: like Mesa above, probably was released after the 2017 season.
  • Omar Meregildo, a 2015 IFA light hitting 3B who split time in 2019 between low- and high-A.  No real jeopardy of getting selected.
  • Gilberto Chu, an 2015 IFA RHP who has now appeared in short-season Auburn for 3 seasons running.  Good numbers, but no real jeopardy of getting selected.
  • Jhonathan German, 2015 IFA RHP closer who ascended 3 levels in 2019, ending the year in AA.  Good numbers across his career, especially once he abandoned starting.  I’d have a hard time believing he’d get picked though, with just 13 IP above A-ball.  Perhaps we revisit his candidacy next season if he continues to pitch well in AA for a team that’s always looking for relievers.
  • Felix Taveras, 2015 IFA now age 24, missed all of 2018 and threw just a handful of complex-league innings in 2019.  Not getting picked.
  • Tomas Alastre: 2015 IFA RHP starting pitcher who, inexplicably to me, has been a rotation mainstay in Hagerstown for two full seasons running despite his posting an ERA north of 5.00 consistently throughout that time period.  Is this a case where the team is just keeping him around to eat innings?  I can’t imagine that being the case with so many arms getting drafted each year.   That being said, he’s only 21, so he’s still quite young even though he’s now rule-5 eligible, but he’s at no risk of getting picked in 2019’s rule-5 draft.
  • Jhon Romero: 2015 IFA signing, trade bounty for Brandon Knitzler last year during the infamous purging of “bad apples.”  He missed most of 2019 with injury while repeating high-A; little chance of getting selected.

Zero candidates from this group.


Rule-5 Eligible hold-overs of note: 2015 or prior college draftees still hanging out in the system, or 2014 and prior HS/IFAs.

2015 Draftees

  • Rhett Wiseman, 2015 3rd round left-handed hitting OF out of Vanderbilt.  Repeated High-A in 2018 and drastically improved his OPS, but it seems to be on the back of perhaps going for more of an all or nothing approach: he increased his homer output, but also struck out 122 times in 407 PAs.  In 2019, he ascended to AA and hit just .215.  The team invested a big bonus in him, and it hasn’t panned out.  I really liked this pick at the time, but then watched him hit in the CWS that year and thought he’d have a hard time adjusting to pro pitching.  So far, my amateur observation seems to be holding true.  He seems likely to pass through Rule-5 once again and hit MLFA after 2020.
  • Ian Sagdal, 2015 16th round senior sign who has hung around, ascending to AA for 2019 and hitting decently.  He’s listed as a 1B but had just 8 homers this year; that’s not going to get him Rule-5’d.
  • Andrew Lee: 2015 11th rounder basically missed all of 2017 with injury, was decent as a swingman in Low-A in 2018, then pitched pretty well in the same swing-man role, ascending to AA in 2019.  Just a half a season above A-Ball; i still don’t see him as a candidate to get picked, but could turn into a James Bourque-like figure for this team next season if he continues to pitch well.  He was sent to the AFL, so scouts got a look at him; is this enough to expose him?
  • Tommy Peterson, 2015 12th rounder, has now missed the last two full years; he last appeared at the end of 2017.  Surprised he’s still with the organization, not a candidate to get picked.
  • Ryan Brinley, 2015 27th rounder, has also missed the entirety of the last two seasons with injury yet remains on the roster.
  • Jorge Pantoja has bounced around the A-levels for four years now, ending last year with a 2.59 ERA in High-A … his fourth year running in Potomac.  not a candidate to get picked.
  • Andrew Istler, our trade bounty from the Dodgers for Ryan Madsen.  He had very solid numbers in AA in a middle relief role, even earning a stellar AAA call-up.  He’s an undersized Duke grad, 23rd round pick who has done well.  I wonder if his pedigree makes him less likely to get picked.  In 2019, he was MIA for months, finally got assigned … to High-A despite being in AAA a couple of years ago.  He posted sub 1.00 ERAs in both his stops this year but is now a 27yr old RHP middle reliever.  If someone didn’t pick him last year, its hard to believe he’s ever going to get picked.  At age 27 with solid middle relief numbers, it isn’t out of the realm of possible though that a team could pick him and have him be their 7th man in an 8-man pen…

2014 Draftees

  • Jakson Reetz, 3rd round C from 2014.  Reetz was paid a big bonus out of HS, but has struggled for years.  In 2019, repeating high-A for the 3rd successive year he lifted his OPS above .800 in a split-duty role, and was sent to the AFL.  He only appeared in a few games in Arizona; unknown why.  Its hard to see a player getting Rule-5 drafted without having never ascended above A-Ball.
  • Austin Davidson started out as a corner OF and 13th rounder in 2014, now a light hitting middle infielder.  Started the year in AA, demoted to high-A.  Not a threat to get drafted.
  • Alec Keller: a 2014 17th rounder who has ascended now to AAA, but is a high-average, low-power corner OF who seems like a classic 6-year FA AAA player who will get one more year in Fresno in 2020.
  • Robbie Dickey, a 2014 4th rounder who now has no results for 3 successive years on milb.com; it seems likely that he got released after the 2017 season and the site just isn’t updated.
  • Tyler Mapes, a great story who continues to hang in there.  He was a 30th rounder in 2014, missed all of 2017 with injury but came back with a vengeance in 2018, dominating Potomac and holding his own with a 3.95 ERA in AA. In 2019 as a full time starter in AA he took a step back; 5.00 ERA across 26 starts, showing  hit-ability and not a ton of swing and miss.  He’s not likely to get picked, but is likely to stay in the rotation in 2020.
  • Taylor Gushue, a 2014 Draftee out of Florida who has now made his way all the way to AAA in 2018, then hit .312 as the part-time starter in Fresno this year.  I said this last year, but the lack of Catchers on the Nat’s 40-man and the fact that one of them (Raudy Read) has 63 days of service, a PED suspension and zero options seems like they should think about adding more catching depth.  I’d add Gushue … but its also worth noting that despite the catching depth issues in the sport … the fact that Gushue would have to stay on a 25-man roster all year (essentially being the backup/play twice a week guy) means it’d be a huge risk to take him.  More likely is that the Nats wait it out and he’s the first catcher to get added to provide cover for Kurt Suzuki and whoever else we sign this coming off-season.
  • Nick Wells, our trade bounty for Austin Adams at the beginning of 2019 (bet the team wishes they had that trade back; Adams struck out 51 in 31 innings for Seattle and was a solid 7th inning guy … something we could really have used … but I digress).  We got back Wells, a local kid (Battlefield HS) who for reasons unknown sat in XST for most of the summer, then got just 12 innings for Low-A Hagerstown … the same level he initially pitched in four seasons ago.   I’m sure he isn’t getting picked, but I also question what the plan is for Wells at this point.

IFAs: 2014 and older

  • Luis Reyes: finally made it to AA in 2018, and got shelled (12 starts, 5.18 ERA).  Nonetheless the team included him in their 2018 AFL roster, where he got even more shelled (4 starts, 12 innings, 22 runs allowed).  This pushed him back to Potomac for 2019, where he lost his rotation spot and struggled in middle relief.  No jeopardy of getting picked.
  • Joan Baez went 9-9 with a 3.79 ERA as a full time starter for Potomac in 2018, then moved into relief (finally) in 2019, where he moved up the chain and ended the year in AAA.  He had good numbers in AA, not as good in AAA (but who does), but concerningly had more walks than Ks in Fresno.  He’s only 24.  This team is always looking for relievers.  I wonder if he’s worth protecting at this point.
  • Telmito Agustin, a LF who hit pretty well for High-A in 2018 (OPS of .822) … then repeated the level in 2019.  Not a candidate to get picked.
  • Steven Fuentes, who forced a mid-season promotion to High-A where he posted a 3.00 ERA in 45 middle-relief type innings in 2018 … and got PED suspended in 2019.  Not a candidate
  • Gilbert Lara, the 3B prospect the Nats received from Milwaukee in the Gio Gonzalez trade.   He played all of 2018 in Low-A, then jumped up to High-A mid-2019 but is no candidate for drafting.
  • Malvin Pena basically missed two full seasons, spent entirety of 2019 in High-A’s rotation and posted an ERA north of 6.00.  Not a candidate to get picked.
  • Aldrem Corredor, a 1B who has hung around since 2012 in the system, played 2019 in high-A as a 1b for average kind of guy; not a candidate.
  • Omar Meregildo: a light hitting part time 3B who played in Potomac this year; not a candidate.
  • Angel Guillen, a RHP reliever who pushed his way up to Potomac this year with solid numbers.  I like him in 2020 to get to AA; not a candidate.

One solid candidate from this group (Gushue), two maybes (Baez, Istler)


MLFAs for 2019: 

These are 2013 or prior college draftees, or 2012 or prior HS draftees/IFA signings.

Post-2019 publishing, i’m adding a new section because  it seems like we’re going to see the following situation occur for the second time in recent memory.   Long time farmhand Mario Sanchez achieved minor league free agency at the end of the 2019 season, but apparently has been re-signed (his milb.com page lists the Nationals resigning him to a contract … but its dated in the future, 12/18/19, something i’ve never seen before).   But, if he’s re-signed as a MLFA with the team, then he has to be protected else he’d be subject to the draft.

This situation occurred a couple years back with Wander Suero, when the team selected his contract the day after the season ended upon his reaching MLFA status.

There’s a few other interesting newly-minted MLFA candidates who we’ve talked about in the past, but unless we have evidence the team re-signs them they’re not really candidates to discuss here.  Names like Drew WardJordan Mills, etc.  Perhaps even Spencer Kieboom.  But like Suero and Sanchez, if you want to keep them, you’ve got to sign them to a ML deal.

One candidate from this group: Sanchez

 


So, who would I protect?

So, remember, if someone gets drafted they have to stick on someone else’s ACTIVE, 25-man (well, now 26-man) MLB roster the entirety of 2019.  So it has to be someone who could theoretically stick on a MLB roster.

  • Ben Braymer
  • Sterling Sharp

Who would I additionally consider?

  • Taylor Gushue
  • Joan Baez
  • Andrew Istler

Here’s some other opinions in the Natmosphere on the same topic (i’ll add them as I see them):

  • Federal Baseball thinks Sharp, maybe Braymer, maybe Istler
  • TalkNats/SaoMagnifico (who’s been chatting on this post) thinks Sharp, maybe Braymer, maybe Fuentes, possibly Istler, German, Sanchez, Banks, Gushue
  • BaseballAmerica.com (via Nationalsprospects.com) thinks Sharp yes, possibly Braymer, possibly Malvin Pena (??)

For a fun trip down memory lane, here’s the same Rule 5 Protection analysis post for 20182017201620152014201320122011, and 2010.

By year, here’s who I predicted we’d add and who we did add.

Someone is finally doing it: Tampa using “Openers” instead of “Starters”

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Sergio Romo; Tampa's new #3 starter.

Sergio Romo; Tampa’s new #3 starter.  And #4 starter sometimes … photo via Zimbio.

The Tampa Bay Rays, thanks to a run of injuries to their starting rotation this spring, and perhaps a bit of typical organizational ingenuity, are doing something this year that has a lot of people talking; they’re essentially using a closer-quality pitcher to start games, get through the top of the opposing team’s order the first time, then hands it over to the real “starter” (or in most cases longer man) who pitches a typical starter-length outing.

They seem to be sticking to conventional outings for their two best starters (Chris Archer and Blake Snell) even now, but spring training elbow injuries to planned starters Brett Honeywell and Jose De Leon (both Tommy John surguries), plus recent injuries to #3 starter Jake Faria, Yonny Chirinos  (not Laurel Chirinos!) and Nathan Eovaldi and a lack of upper-end SP prospects has led them to this point.

This strategy is getting put to its biggest test over the Memorial Day weekend series they have with Baltimore, announcing that they’ll be “starting” relievers all three games.

So far this season, they’ve used the strategy at least twice; with Sergio Romo starting on back to back nights.

  • 5/20/18: Romo pitches the first and strikes out the side before handing off to starter Ryan Yarborough, who pitches 6+ and gets the win.
  • 5/21/18:  Romo, going back to back nights, faces the first 6 batters; walks two, gets the other four out, zero runs; the rest of the game is a bullpen game, but the team loses to Shohei Ohtani and the Angels.

Of course, reaction to the moves is already as you’d expect it to be, given our current climate of hot-take/knee jerk reactions.  You’ve got “get off my lawn” types talking about how this isn’t “good for the game.”  You’ve got Joel Sherman (who has been around the sport long enough to know what they’re doing) calling the strategy “Bizarre.”  And you’ve got progressive types like Houston’s A.J. Hinch praising the move.


 

So, what do I think of this?

Well …. honestly this is the natural evolution of the trend towards specialized relievers that we’ve been seeing lately.  A mediocre/failed starter can be converted to a highly valuable reliever by just having them throw harder and focus on mastering two pitches instead of attempting to master three or four, and it happens All The Time.  See Rivera, Mariano and Eckersley, Dennis for hall of fame exhibits A and B here (ok .. to be fair Eckersley was by  no means a failed starter … but he would not be in Cooperstown had he not become a dominant closer).

Well, what if you had an entire roster of specialized relievers instead of spending tens of millions of dollars on a rotation?

Take the Nats: our top four starters this year are earning north of $80M this season.  What if you had spread that $80M around on a bunch of closer/near-closer types, the kinds of guys who go for significantly less per annum?  What if you had an entire team of guys like Ryan Madsen ($7.6M) or Sean Doolittle ($4.3M) or Brandon Knitzler ($5.5M).  Heck, why not load up y our team with pre-arb guys like Sammy Solis ($560k) and Matt Grace ($557k) and spend that $80M on improving the out-field players?

I’ve often wondered if a team couldn’t just have essentially 12 relievers and would basically turn every game into a bullpen game.  What if you deployed your staff kind of like this:

  • Three “Closer” quality guys (like our Doolittle)
  • Three solid RH 7th/8th inning types like Madsen and Kelley.
  • Three left-handed match-up guys (Solis, Grace)
  • Three long-men types who could soak up innings but who can’t turn over a lineup more than twice (kind of like Jeremy Hellickson but perhaps more like a 4-A starter, or what Edwin Jackson is doing in AAA).

You take half this squad and they’re the A-team; that gives you 5-6 arms to pitch the first game of the week.  Then, they all get a break and the other 5-6 arms get the next game.  In a typical week every reliever then gets three to four days off with off-games and off-days.   The long-men only go every two days, since you’re asking them to do 3-4 innings, but still get plenty of rest.  So a pattern of games could look like this:

  • Game 1: Closer1 pitches the 1st, RH1 and LH1 combine to pitch 2nd and 3rd.  Longman1 comes in and throws 4th through the 7th.  Then depending on where you are in the game he returns for the 8th or you go to your RH2/LH2 guy before handing off to Closer2 in the 9th.  So that’s 5 to 6 arms used in the first game.
  • Game 2: Closer3 starts.  RH3 throws next two innings.  Longman2 throws innings 4-7.  LH3 finishes it out, perhaps throwing Closer1 a second day in a row if need be.
  • Game 3: Closer2 starts.  Perhaps you go right to Longman3 for a 5 inning stint.  Back to RH1 and LH1 for the 7th/8th, then either let these guys do a 2 inning stint or go back to Closer3 for back-to-backs to finish the game.

So the workload for a 3-game series goes like this:

  • Closers: 2 innings each with an off-day
  • RH guys: 2-3 innings each with an off-day
  • LH guys: 2-3 innings each with an off-day
  • Long-men: 3-4 innings each with two off-days

That’s basically 27 innings across three games, assuming your middle relievers throw a couple of 2-inning stints in there, or one of your long-men does 4 innings instead of three.

Tell me why this wouldn’t work?  Everyone gets a ton of rest, and if you burn out one of your longmen you just call up re-inforcements from AAA to do mop-up games here and there.  You always have a closer going against the top of the order in the first inning, then you try to work it out so that you can do match-ups the next time they come up with a 7th/8th inning quality guy.  The best hitters on the other team will eventually get a shot at your “long man…” but under this plan, they’re getting four at bats generally against four different arms.  That’s going to give the advantage to the pitcher every time; batters don’t get to study up the opposing starter every night for research; they’re going to be seeing gas, trick pitches and one-trick ponies that have ridiculous BAAs and BABIPs thanks to their specialty.


So, who would love this?

  • Owners.  no more 9-figure contracts for starters who have like a 50% injury rate.
  • Some Pitchers: more opportunities for guys who just couldn’t cut it as starters but who crush it as releivers.

Who wouldn’t like this?

  • High end starters: less jobs, less demand for you.  Maybe.  I mean, right now Tampa is sticking with their two solid starters and only doing this for the other slots.  Maybe a team with two Aces like the nats just lets them roll normally then does this kind of bullpen game the other three games out of five.
  • Any baseball fan born before 1970, since they hate any change, any game modification.  I mean come on, there’s people demanding that we ban the shift (including the commissioner).
  • The Players union; you’d have to think salaries would plummet
  • Maybe most every baseball fan?  Offense drives fan interest … and this plan is specifically designed to neutralize the opposing team’s best hitters.

Thoughts?

Nats Non-News: Non-tender deadline, FA (lack of) market and Ohtani

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Are the Nats really in the mix for Japanese superstar Ohtani? Photo via cbssports.com

Are the Nats really in the mix for Japanese superstar Ohtani? Photo via cbssports.com

As many others have noticed … there isn’t a heck of a lot going on right now in the “hot stove” season.  But given where we are in the regular off-season calendar, lets bang out a couple of topics.

First: the Non-tender deadline.

For the first time in an awful long time, the Nats have no real obvious non-tender candidates on their roster.  They entered the off-season with just four arbitration-eligible players and they are all set to be crucial pieces for 2018:

  • Bryce Harper technically would have been arb-eligible but signed away his 4th year for north of $21M.
  • Anthony Rendon comes off easily his finest season as a pro (his numbers across the board eclipse his 2014 5th place MVP season) and he should be in line to more than double his $5.8M 2017 salary.
  • Tanner Roark struggled in 2017 (… perhaps caused/aided by the frequently-seen WBC hangover?) but is still slated to be our 4th starter on a rotation that doesn’t currently have a fifth and should be in line for about an $8M payday.
  • Michael Taylor has established himself as one of the premier defensive center fielders in the game, will be set to start in 2018, and faces arbitration for the first time (likely to get around a $2.5M check).

Compare this to previous non-tender years (with links to non-tender specific posts from years past):

  • 2016: we non-tendered Ben Revere, waived Aaron Barrett before having to make the NT decision, and declined Yusmeiro Petit‘s option as a way of “non-tendering” him.
  • 2015: we non-tendered Craig Stammen, but kept NT candidates Jose Lobaton and Tyler Moore (eventually trading Moore after waiving him at the end of spring training).
  • 2014: we did not non-tender anyone, though a couple weeks later traded NT candidate Ross Detwiler to Texas for two guys who never really panned out for us (Chris Bostick and Abel de los Santos).
  • 2013: we did not non-tender anyone, only Ross Ohlendorf was a candidate, and in retrospect he probably should have been NT’d since he didn’t throw a pitch for the Nationals in 2014.
  • 2012: we non-tendered three guys (Jesus FloresTom Gorzelanny, John Lannan) in the face of a huge amount of arbitration players (10).
  • 2011: we non-tendered Doug Slaten deservedly, but tendered candidate Gorzellany.
  • 2010: we non-tendered Chien-Ming WangWil Nieves, Joel Peralta.  We also outrighted 5 guys prior to the NT deadline, DFA’d two more in December, and DFA/dreleased four more guys prior to Spring training in a very busy off-season.
  • 2009: we non-tendered Scott Olsen, Mike MacDougal
  • 2008: we non-tendered Tim Redding, now the Pitching coach for our Auburn Short-A team, so I guess there was no hard feelings there :-)
  • 2007: we non-tendered Nook LoganMike O’Conner.
  • 2006: we non-tendered or declined options for Ryan Drese, Brian Lawrence, Zach Day (it might have only been Day who was officially non-tendered)
  • 2005: we non-tendered Carlos BaergaPreston WilsonJunior Spivey.

That’s a long trip down random memory lane for marginal Nationals players from yesteryear.

Post-publish edit: as expected, the team formally tendered contracts to the 3 arb-eligible players on 12/1/17.



The FA market in general seems to be held up by two major names: Giancarlo Stanton and Shohei Ohtani.  Jeff Passan argues there’s other reasons (see this link) for the lack of movement, but one has to think the big names are a big part of it.  I also believe that this year’s “crop” of FAs is … well kind of underwhelming.  Here’s Passan’s ranking of FAs: his biggest names past Ohtani are Yu Darvish (who just sucked in the post-season, is coming off TJ surgery and doesn’t rate as the “Ace” he once was), J.D. Martinez (who blew up in 2017 but who has normally gotten a lot of his value from defense and he’s not getting any younger), Eric Hosmer (a 1B only guy, even if he’s really good, who seems like a safe bet to get over-pad and age badly) and Jake Arrieta (who has taken a step backwards from his Cy Young win and has already entered his decline years).  Plus, the “price” for signing some of these QO-attached guys (Hosmer, Arrieta plus other top-10 FAs like Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and Wade Davis) will be quite steep for big-market and/or Luxury tax teams like our own Washington Nationals.

Frankly, between the higher price of forced loss of picks due to our over-spending last season, our current payroll tightness (we seem to only have about $17M to spend to stay under the tax for all of next year) and the underwhelming lot of available players … i don’t see us really participating in this year’s sweepstakes.    Do we want to pony up for a middling 5th starter type like Jaime Garcia at the likely going price of $10M/year?  Or roll the dice with a MLFA like we did with some success last year (Edwin JacksonJacob Taylor).  Or just stay inhouse and let Erick Fedde continue to mature every 5th day on the mound?

Stanton, according to the tea-leaves i’m reading this week, seems like he’s heading to San Francisco, who is in desperate need for offense, outfielders and a franchise makeover after last year’s debacle.  Stanton could fit all three.  Which is great for him (he’s born and raised in California and would be joining a franchise that, despite its 2017 season, still has 3 WS titles in the last decade and a slew of marquee players to build around), great for the Nats (getting him out of the division), great for the “franchise” of Miami (who rids themselves of perhaps the 2nd worst contract in baseball behind Albert Pujols‘ and lets them get a relatively clean slate to start over for the new franchise ownership group), and of course awful for the “fans” of Miami, who thought they were finally getting rid of one of the worst owners in professional sports only to get slapped in the face with comical missteps by the new Derek Jeter-led ownership group, who managed to embarrass themselves in the most ridiculous way (by firing ceremonial Marlins legends for no good reason) early and then put themselves on the defensive needlessly by immediately crying poor and saying that they needed to pare payroll within a few days of taking over.  If i was a Miami fan I wouldn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

I also think its notable that the first ex-Nat ranked on Passan’s list comes in at #43; the “ripe for regression” Matt Albers.  Brandon Knitzler comes soon after him (who could be a re-signing candidate frankly for us, to put the “law firm” back together), then you have to get all the way down to #62 to find Jayson Werth.  As compared to next off-season, when the Nats will have the #1 guy on the list.


Coming back to Ohtani (I’m going with the h in the name since after much research that’s what seems like the right way to spell it) ….

First things first: I desperately hope the Nats get him.  Anyone who thinks that they’re better off without Ohtani is a fool; he’s set to become one of the biggest bargains in baseball.  For the small price of a $20M posting fee, you get a guy who throws 100, is an 80 runner, and hits the crap out of the ball.  For a miniscule bonus figure (the max any team has seems to be about $3.5M; the Nats only have $300k) and then a MLB min contract.  Its just amazing.  His presence could literally change the face of a franchise for a decade for about the same amount of money we will have paid Gio Gonzalez this year and next.  I doubt he picks us though; it seems more likely he picks either a major market team (NY, Boston) on the east coast or (more likely) one of the west coast teams for better proximity to Japan and a larger Asian native market (LA, SF, Seattle).  But its all speculation.

Hey, did I mention that the Nats need both another starter AND a lefty-bat off the bench, right now??  Ohtani would be perfect!

Side Note: why the heck is he coming over now and subjecting himself to MLB minimum contracts and arbitration??  He’s literally leaving $100M on the table by not waiting just two years and coming over un-restricted.  I just cannot believe he’s doing this and costing himself so much money.  I get the lip service comments about wanting to challenge himself, yadda yadda, but when there’s literally 9 figures of money on the table, I just don’t understand the decision.  He’s projected to be better than Daisuke Matsuzaka, better than Darvish, both of whom got many times more money (Dice-K got $52M to him, $103M in total cost plus his posting fee), while Darvish got $60M to him and cost the Rangers $111M total with posting fee).  It seems crazy.

Can’t wait to see where he goes, and I can’t wait to see if he’s the real deal.

Ask Collier 8/3/17

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Did the Nats do enough at the deadline to shore up the bullpen? Photo via UPI

Did the Nats do enough at the deadline to shore up the bullpen? Photo via UPI

Another Nats off-day, another Jamal Collier twitter-driven mailbag.  If people tweeted me a bunch of random questions, I’d probably do “mailbags” too!

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


 

Q: To me it looks like Dodgers vs Nationals NLCS unless bracketed before…who can u see beating either of these 2 teams???

A: Well, lets not put the cart before the horse.  What’s looking more and more certain by the day isn’t a guaranteed NLCS matchup, but rather an NLDS matchup between the Nats and the Cubs.  And who can beat the Nats?  Certainly the Cubs can.  Heck, the Nats just got their asses handed to them by the Marlins in a 3-game series; certainly they could lay an egg in a 5-game series against a good offensive team that’s the defending World Series champs.  It bears repeating: in a short series, anything can happen.  The Nats outscored the Dodgers in the 2016 NLDS 24-19 and had the lead in the deciding game heading into the 7th inning … and still managed to lose.

I’ll also point this fact out: the 116 win 2001 Seattle Mariners got their asses handed to them in 5 games by the Yankees in the playoffs.

Lets make it to October, then see how our health looks and see how we’re hitting.  All we can hope for is 100% all hands on deck to give the series our best shot.

Collier notes that anything can happen in the playoffs, that the wild card teams all improved at the trade deadline, and that he’d love to see an LA-Wash rematch.


 

Q: Do you see the Nats going after a waiver Starting Pitcher this month in case Strasburg needs to be out for an extended period?

A: Hmm.  Yeah I could.  I don’t think the team trusts Jacob Turner, nor A.J. Cole.  Certainly not 40-man member Austin Voth (demoted to AA a month ago).  But I also think Erick Fedde was better than his stat line showed, and his dominant 2nd inning was clearly a sign of what he “can” do if he stays consistent.  But we need to get to October first and that might mean a waiver-wire trade.  It all depends on how much more time their two aces miss at this point.

Collier disagrees, saying that Rizzo was adamant about not getting antoher starter at the trade deadline … but things have changed.


 

Q: With Matt Wieters recent offensive and defensive struggles, do you think that the Nats should give Pedro Severino a closer look in Sept?

A: In a word, No.  Severino‘s 2016 stat line was a mirage; he’s hit just .213 in AAA this year.  That might not even be good enough to supplant Jose Lobaton as our once-a-week catcher.  I agree with those who complain about the Wieters signing … but then again Derek Norris has hit just .201 for Tampa, and Wilson Ramos is hitting even worse after missing half the season.  So its not like they really had a choice.  Lets just hope some of our lower minors Catcher depth pans out.

Collier agrees.


 

Q: How are they going to fit everyone back into this pen when Kelley and Glover come back?? Surely they can’t send anyone down for Kelley

A: Good question.  As of today (prior to the Romero injury, their pen was as follows:

Kintzler, Doolittle*, Madsen, Albers, Romero*, Perez*, Blanton, Grace*,

They’ve been carrying 8 relievers for a bit, probably since their 5th starters rarely make the 5th inning.  Now look at that crew and ask yourself; who could even be optioned?  Kintzler, Madsen, Perez and Blanton are all vets that could refuse demotions.  Albers too; they all have 5+ years.  Doolittle doesn’t … but he’s also pretty much your closer right now.  So that’s 6 of your 7 guys.  Romero is out of options.  That’s 7 of 7 right there.  Despite how well Grace has pitched, he’s on the outside looking in right now.  If/when Kelley and Glover come back … yeah you have to make some tough decisions.  If I had to guess, the team is going to have to D/L some guys (like Blanton) in order to get others in.  And if you were putting together an 8-man playoff bullpen, you’d probably go Kintzler, Doolittle, Madsen, Kelley, Glober, Albers, Romero and Grace.  Man it’d be tough leaving Perez off a post-season roster though.  And we havn’t even mentioned Solis, banished to AAA but very much an integral part of last year’s playoff bullpen.

Collier notes that by the time some of these roster squeezes happen, we’ll be past the 9/1 expansion deadline and it may not matter.  Which is a good point.


Q:  It’s definitely a long shot, but do you think there’s any chance whatsoever that a ’17 draftee pitches in our bullpen by end of September?

A: Zero chance.  For reasons inexplicable, the one guy who may have had a shot (Seth Romero) failed to sign until the deadline, apparently squeezing out the ever last drop of over-slot bonus money, then failed to even appear in a game for several weeks beyond that (despite not having pitched since mid-March?).  Clearly the organization was not in a hurry to move him along.  Times are changing; we still havn’t even seen a 2016 draftee appear in the majors yet, so to project a 2017 player moving up that fast would be crazy.

Collier agrees.