Nationals Arm Race

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Ladson Inbox 4/25/16

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Treinen looking like a closer in the making  Photo via zimbio.com

Treinen looking like a closer in the making Photo via zimbio.com

I’m digging the frequency of Bill Ladson’s inboxes this year.  It prompts me to write something when i’m otherwise slammed and distracted with that silly thing called work.  Here’s 4/25/16’s edition.

Q: As April comes to an end, what has been the most pleasant surprise for the Nationals?

A: I’ll go with the relatively injury-free spring and April; we havn’t had someone major break or pull anything.  Only Ben Revere has gotten bit by the bug, and that’s no great loss b/c it forces more playing time for Michael TaylorLadson goes with the Bullpen, who admittedly has been great.

Q: In your recent Inbox, you said No. 3 prospect Victor Robles will be Bryce Harper‘s teammate in a couple of years. Do you think Harper will still be a member of the Nats? I watched Harper all spring, but my guess is I’ll be driving cross state to Tampa to see him with the Yankees.

A: Harper hasn’t even hit arbitration years yet.  But the timing of Harper hitting free agency and Robles likely arriving could be a “dovetailing” event. I think the assumption that Harper is automatically going to go to New  York is silly; the Yankees aren’t highest spending franchise right now, and Steinbrenner‘s sons seem like they’re more interested in avoiding luxury taxes right now than they are in winning.  The big question the Nats will have to ask themselves is whether they’re willing to put 25% of their payroll for the next decade on one player…. when the time comes anyway.  They’re already kicking $15M/year down the road for a decade longer than they have to with Scherzer‘s contract.  Ladson thinks the Nats will “find a way to pay Harper.”  Really??  Do you not know who his agent its?  Harper is GOING to go to FA, no matter what his opinion of Washington is.

Q: What is Plan B for the ninth inning if Jonathan Papelbon gets hurt or doesn’t perform? Seems like there isn’t a replacement.

A: Actually, its looking more and more like there’s TWO options: Treinen and Rivero.  I gotta admit; i like what Dusty Baker is doing with the bullpen so far.  Both these guys are looking like closers in training.  And that’s good b/c there’s not a ton of help at AAA right now.  A quick glance at the Syracuse stats isn’t entirely promising on this front: I don’t see a “closer in training” anywhere in AAA.  As far as relievers go;  Trevor Gott has ok numbers but not good K/9 rates.  40-man guys Grace and Solis are both doing great … but they’re loogies.  Rafael Martin and Sam Runion have struggled.   Two guys that could be interesting (Erik Davis and Abel de los Santos) have done well … Davis especially, finally healthy after all this time.  But again, not a closer.  So, if Papelbon went down we’d probably be looking at Treinen as the closer, Rivero as an 8th inning guy and likely bringing up Davis or de los Santos to fill in earlier.  Ladson also says Treinen and Rivero.

Q: Why doesn’t Matt den Dekker get more starting opportunities? He has speed, power and is great defensively.

A: It might just be a matter of time, if Michael Taylor continues to struggle and Ben Revere is slow to come back.  But at this point, based on limited sample sizes, even den Dekker might be “behind” Chris Heisey were the Nats to need another starting outfielder.  Just no room at the inn.  Ladson thinks Taylor and den Dekker could platoon.

Q: Why wasn’t Gio Gonzalez pitching in this first home series? He’s a veteran pitcher who seems to have been squeezed out of the starting rotation during the first two weeks.

A: Clearly Baker looked at Gio Gonzalez as his 5th starter coming out of Spring Training and that’s what it meant to have been skipped the first time through the rotation.  I don’t think its a stretch to say that the other four guys have outperformed Gonzalez lately, either in potential (Joe Ross) or in 2014 performance (Tanner Roark).  Baker basically said that Gonzalez’s starts tax the bullpen so he had to consider when to use him.  Ladson notes that Gio struggled in spring training.

Q: With Trea Turner of to a nice start, when do we expect to see him in the big leagues?

A: Man that’s a good question; every additional week he’s hitting .350 in AAA and Danny Espinosa isn’t hitting his weight is another week where it becomes tougher and tougher to keep him down.  I still think he’ll hang out down there until the Nats regain a service year.  Ladson makes a good point; the Nats are winning without him so why change anything?

 

 

Ladson’s Inbox 4/8/16

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Werth looking shaggy; i'd like to see this beard in the leadoff hole. Photo via fansided.com

Werth looking shaggy; i’d like to see this beard in the leadoff hole. Photo via fansided.com

Wow, a ton of Ladson inboxes so far this year!  This is great!  Here’s the 4/8/16 version.

Q: I noticed on Twitter that you want to see Jayson Werth as the leadoff hitter now that Ben Revere is on the disabled list. Isn’t Werth best suited for the middle of the order?

A: Wow, Ladson and I agree!  I absolutely want Jayson Werth in the lead-off spot right now.  Why?  Because more and more it seems like Werth’s power has left him in his advancing age.  I’ve said it before in this space several times, but yes I believe Werth would be a great lead-off hitter.   Short version: sees a ton of pitches (4.16 P/PA last year, which would make him top 10 if he qualified … and that’s WAY down from normal).  Great OBP (.365 for his career, and while 2015 was an aberration the three years before he was in the .380 to .390+ range), and when he was coming back from his wrist injury and batting lead-off for the team in 2012 his splits batting lead-off were fantastic (.309/.388/.450).  When you put Werth in the middle of the order, he’s going to try to hit like a middle-of-the-order bat.  What if he can’t do that anymore?  Then you end up with a guy who we may be seeing right now; flailing at the ball, trying to drive it at the age of 36-37).  If you put him at the top, and ask him to be a leadoff hitter, I think his advanced bat skills make him a great option there.  Ladson says the same things I do; working the count, seeing lots of pitches.

Q: When are you going to give Danny Espinosa some credit? He is off to a good start. You always write about Trea Turner.

A: Yeah, great start.  He’s 3 for 9.  But he was awful all spring.  Can you spell “Short Sample Sizes?”  Nobody in the league or the organization has any question that Trea Turner is the future and Danny Espinosa is just holding the spot for now.  If he continues to earn playing time, so be it.  I’ll take an extra year of control if Turner hangs out in Syracuse for 2-3 months.  The fact is though that at some point somebody’s getting hurt (Ryan ZimmermanAnthony Rendon?  Both are good bets) that will require some infield coverage/shifting around, and at that point Turner makes perfect sense to bring up and see what he can do with full time playing time.  Ladson gives Espinosa some love.

Q: With Bryce Harper saying that he doesn’t view himself as a leader on the team, who do you think is the “official” leader of the Nationals’ clubhouse?

A: I’m pretty sure this is Harper‘s way of being deferential to the veterans on the team without proclaiming himself as the leader.  But lets not kid ourselves; this franchise has had one MVP and he’s it.  Who is the leader?  I think there’s several leaders; there’s four significant veterans on this team: Werth, Zimmerman, Max Scherzer and Jonathan Papelbon.  Not all of them have been here forever like the FotF has, but they’re the ones that have been around the league, who are on the 8-figure deals, and they’re the ones who seem to dictate the pace of the clubhouse.  Ladson also mentions Murphy and Ramosarguable.  I only name Papelbon because in the span of a few weeks he went from being the last guy hired to being the unquestioned leader in terms of tenure both here and in the league.  

Q: Were you surprised Sean Burnett wasn’t put on the 25-man roster?

A: Yes and No.  On the one hand, the team had two solid lefties in Felipe Rivero and Oliver Perez already under contract, and keeping Burnett would have meant sending down Treinen basically thanks to options issues.  And that would have been a non-starter.  If Burnett had 8th inning stuff, perhaps.  No, i see the Burnett signing and tenure as a “favor to a long standing former player” trying to help him get back on his feet in this league.  Ladson mentions we already had two good lefties.

Q: What do you think of outfielder Victor Robles?

A: I think he’s young, apparently talented, on pace to perhaps be a solid 5 tool player.  I also think he’s years away from helping this team.  So its great that he’s potentially great … but that doesn’t do much to help this current team win while it still has Strasburg and Harper under contract.  Ladson has glowing words for the 18-yr old.

PS: I was heading to the game today before they cancelled it due to … the threat of snow?  I dunno; its chilly right now but clear.  We’ll have to wait to get to our first game :-)

How about something positive? Are you optimistic for the new season?

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How much of an effect will Murphy have on this team? Photo via bleacherreport.com

How much of an effect will Murphy have on this team? Photo via bleacherreport.com

So, I happened to look at the Spring Training standings the other day.  I normally don’t ever bother looking at spring training stats since, well, they’re useless.  But day after day, reading the summaries of our beat reporters, it just seems like the team wins every day.   As of this writing the team is 12-4-2 this spring, and more telling it seems like they’re also routinely winning the “first three innings” when both teams are at their best lineups.

The other day the team bombed the Mets, hanging 8 runs on Bartolo Colon.  Earlier this week they battered Wei-Yin Chen en route to a victory over Miami.  They put 3 runs on the Astros’ Collin McHugh, and then tee’d off on a few of the Braves younger starters.  Today Harper bombed two homers off of Justin Verlander, who I guarantee was trying to get him out on purpose.  The second one *cleared the batter’s eye* in center, 420 feet away and 30 feet up.  Wow; that’s a man’s homer.

Quietly, this team seems to be flourishing under new manager Dusty Baker.  Everyone’s healthy (well, except for Ryan Zimmerman‘s foot, but I guess you can’t get everything you want).   Baker has been showing his hand and putting out very professional looking lineups.  We’re not hearing about a slew of guys who aren’t going to be ready for opening day like we did last  year.  We’re reading gushing reports about Lucas Giolito, including more than one baseball analyst being quoted as saying Giolito has the best stuff they’ve seen this spring … out of anyone in the game.  They’re saying he’s this year’s Noah Snydergaard, a difference making ace who should be in the rotation by June.

Looking at the beginning of the season’s schedule, this team could jump out to a pretty fast start.   Their first 22 games are entirely against teams that are all threatening to lose 95 games this year: Atlanta, Miami, back against Atlanta, at Philly, at Miami, home to Minnesota and then three more against Philly.  That’s 22 straight games that, honestly, they should be looking to win.  At the end of April heading into May they have a heck of a road trip; at St. Louis, then at the defending WS champion Royals, then at potentially 100-game winning Chicago Cubs.  Oof; if they take 3 games out of 9 on that road trip i’ll be happy.

But heck; could this team start something crazy like 16-6?  Could this team really take it to the Mets?  I don’t have any stats or anything other than a gut feeling, but it really seems to me that NOT being the presumptive favorite and having a veteran players manager has really taken off the pressure.

Are you feeling the same thing?

 

Written by Todd Boss

March 21st, 2016 at 7:41 am

Ladson Inbox 2/26/16

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Future $400M Dodger? Photo GQ magazine Mar 2012

Future $400M Dodger? Photo GQ magazine Mar 2012

I guess Bill Ladson only gets questions during spring training.  After not doing an inbox for practically all of last season, its 3 in 3 weeks!  Since these are such good conversation starters, lets see how I would have answered his questions.

Q: Most believe the Nats have no chance of keeping Bryce Harper once he becomes a free agent. Your thoughts? 

A: Unfortunately, I’m also in that camp.  I believe Bryce Harper and his aggressive agent Scott Boras will take him to free agency with the idea of getting the largest contract in history.  And, when push comes to shove, I just can’t see how Washington is going to have the stomach to compete with the big-money teams (namely, the Dodgers and Yankees) and commit the kind of dollars that he’s going to command.  Certainly not with the MASN hamstringing.  I mean, lets be honest with ourselves; its taken years just to get the two parties to agree on whether the Nats are going to get $34M (what the O’s want to pay), $53M (what the first arbitration panel apparently agreed upon) or $109M (what the Nats requested) on the first reset of the agreement.  Meanwhile the Dodgers are getting somewhere between $240M-$280M a year in their RSN deal … potentially FIVE TIMES what the Nats are getting paid.  I’m sorry; but the team that can afford to just throw money at players is the team that is going to be able to promise $40M/season.  There’s just no way even a “rich” team like Washington is going to compete.  Enjoy him while you can and hope the team does the smart thing and really, really tries to win a World Series while they still have him.  Ladson thinks the team is going to wait and will “try to extend him” before he hits free agency.  Yeah, right.  How many players Boras has represented have taken extensions versus going to free agency? 

Q: What are the chances that Ian Desmond returns to the Nationals this year?

A: Well, I think the chances seem like they’re nil.  The Nats made their offers (a multiyear extension AND a qualifier) and Desmond turned them both down.  I’m shocked that he’s the last man standing in the Qualifying Offer class (I would have bet money it would have been Ian Kennedy), and i’m shocked that he hasn’t found a job yet.

Now, that being said, a better question might be “Should the Nats think about bringing him back??”  You’ve just hired a player’s manager who likes veterans in Dusty Baker.  They’ve constructed their roster with a clear intention of sending future SS-in-waiting Trea Turner back to the minors for seasoning, meaning that Danny Espinosa seems like the starting shortstop (career BA: .230).  At this point, given the steal of an offer you might be able to get Desmond for (Fowler was given a gift of a contract from Chicago, guaranteeing $13M when he probably wasn’t going to get that in terms of AAV on the open market), maybe he’s worth considering.  Yes we’d be giving up the supp-1st rounder we stand to gain.  But you can just give him another QO next season if he rebounds and puts himself in line for another big pay day.  Or maybe you assume the next CBA (which will be signed sometime this year since the current deal expires 12/1/16) gets rid of the Q.O. entirely, since it is killing players and FA market values for certain types of players.  Actually this latter argument perhaps supports the Nats wanting to keep the pick, since it may very well go away (or perhaps the system is modified to just give all teams giving away significant FAs supplemental first rounders, not that I have any idea how you’d figure out who was deserving of a pick).  I think the team has made the decision that he’s on the decline, that they’ve dodged a huge bullet by him turning down 7yrs/$105 or whatever it was, and they’re ready to move on.

Ladson has sources in the Org that say its a “long long long shot.”  Baker says Espinosa looks like he’s in “mid-season form” at the plate (wow; does that mean he’s only striking out every OTHER time up and still hitting .230?)

Q: What do you think Baker will bring to the Nationals this year?

A: I think Dusty Baker brings harmony and respect to the clubhouse in ways it was clearly not present under Matt Williams.  No more arbitrary scheduling, lack of communication, lack of awareness of what’s going on with his players.  I’m a big advocate of hiring contrasting styles in managers when one guy clearly grinds his way to a failure, and Baker is a great example of it.  I was completely pro-Bud Black because of his pitching experience, but the team has more than made up for it with the hiring of Mike Maddox and we’re going to be a much better team for it.

Ladson mentions a very important word: Charisma.  Baker brings a ton of experience, charisma and humor to the clubhouse; again going towards one of the big, embarrassing issues from last year (clubhouse chemistry).

Q: Can you predict the Nationals’ rotation on Opening Day?

A: Barring injury, it has to be (in order) Scherzer, Strasburg, Gonzalez, Ross and Roark.  I’m not going to predict Arroyo beating out Roark at this point unless Arroyo looks completely healthy, he’s actually pitching well and Roark falls apart in Spring Training.  If there’s an injury, I look at Arroyo as the first man up, then Cole in terms of rotation coverage.  If we have to dig any deeper than that … watch out.  I like Voth but i’m not sure he’s ready for prime time.  I don’t trust Taylor Jordan any longer.  Lucas Giolito may start his career a ton earlier than anyone thought if injuries take out too many of our starters.

Ladson says its a no-brainer right now with the assumed 5 above.

Q: Why did the Nationals let Yunel Escobar get away? He was a consistent hitter.

A: Escobar was a consistent hitter last year yes (.314 BA, which was 50 points higher than the two previous seasons and 30 points higher than his career average), but hit an “empty” .314 (just 9 homers and a .415 slugging, also a huge improvement over previous seasons and his career high).  Unsaid is Escobar’s significant defensive issues (awful defensive stats, though to be fair genius skipper Williams had him playing out of position the entire season).  I think the Nats “sold high” on Escobar, traded from depth to a certain extent and got a player (Trevor Gott) in trade that they really needed to help bolster the bullpen.  Ladson doesn’t mention the “selling high” part of his offense; only mentions his defensive issues.

Q: What was it that made the front office sour on Drew Storen? The kid is one of the premier closers in the game, yet the team always seemed to be looking for someone better.

A: An excellent question.  I’m not sure it was the “front office” as much as it was the “impulsive owner” who soured on Storen.  He had two well publicized post-season failures, which led the normally sane and intelligent GM Rizzo to twice acquire and over-pay an aging “proven closer” to replace Storen.  The first time, Rafael Soriano eventually was supplanted by his own failures and Storen’s consistency, the second time the team inexplicably replaced him with Papelbon in the middle of perhaps Storen’s finest season.  Is Storen one of the “premier closers” in the game?  No.  I’d say he’s middle of the road and could likely tick off at least 15 guys who will be more highly valued in fantasy than Storen were he to win the Toronto closing job.

The crummy part of the deal was the fact that Storen was the one who needed to be traded by virtue of Papelbon making himself essentially untradeable.  I tell you what; Papelbon better be a frigging all-star this year to make up for what’s happened.  Ladson mentions the two blown post-season games and says he needed a change of scenery.  Both true.

 

 

Ladson’s Inbox 2/21/16

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We need Rendon to hit in 2016. Photo Nats Official via espn.com

We need Rendon to hit in 2016. Photo Nats Official via espn.com

Wow, no inboxes for months and suddenly two in two weeks??  It must be spring training! This is great!  MLB.com’s Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson on 2/20/16 has published more reader questions.  Here’s how I would have answered them.

Q: Without a doubt, Bryce Harper will be the best hitter on the Nationals this year. Who do you see as being the second-best hitter on the team?

A: Anthony Rendon.  If this team is going to win in 2016, Rendon needs to return to form.  Everyone else at this point in the lineup will be a table setter for Rendon and Harper.  Ladson says Zimmerman, who I admit i’ve begun to lose faith in.

Q: How does the front office justify bringing back Jonathan Papelbon after what happened last year with Harper? Papelbon has proven time and again that he is not a good teammate, yet he’s back for 2016?

A: I guess the questioner didn’t know that Papelbon was still *signed* for 2016.  So it wasn’t so much about “bringing him back” on purpose as it was the team “not being able to get rid of him.”  I put the Papelbon acquisition as one of the worst of the Mike Rizzo tenure; not so much for who we gave up (a good but not game changing prospect in Nick Pivetta) but for the incredible mis-calculation of the acquisition’s affect on the rest of the team.  I’m sure the team desperately tried to move him in the off-season but (with echos of “Lerner’s are cheap” abounding) probably weren’t willing to dump him for no return.  So here we are; its 2016 and Papelbon is here in lieu of the home grown popular (and team union rep) Drew Storen.

I’ll bet Rizzo doesn’t make this mistake again.

Nonetheless, Papelbon said the right things in his first media interviews since the interview, actually managing to appear humble and contrite while talking about how he was in the wrong and flat out apologizing to the fans.  I say good for him; even I couldn’t help but applaud his performance last last week.

Ladson says the team “made a good decision” in not moving Papelbon; yeah right.  If they could have gotten *anything* for him he’d be gone.  You worry about “finding a closer” in the current bullpen?  Uh, how about anyone?  We don’t need to go into more historical reviews of the uselessness of closers vis-a-vis teams holding leads after 8 innings.

Q: Why did the Nats not re-sign Craig Stammen? Before last year, I thought he did a great job as a middle reliever.

A: It all came down to risk mitigation.  Stammen absolutely did a great job for this team for many years … but he’s got a lot of innings, is coming off of a season-long injury, has (to be fair) rather funky mechanics, and the team just couldn’t justify guaranteeing him what probably would have been $2.5M or so for the unknown.  The industry felt the same way: Stammen ended up with a non-guaranteed minor league deal with Cleveland instead of either a major league deal or anything of significant value.  Trust me I was bummed; we met Stammen years ago at a golf event and he was awesome; hate to see these long-time Nats leave.  Ladson basically says the same thing.

Q: Don’t you think it’s time to improve left field? Jayson Werth is not the player he used to be. He makes a lot of money and doesn’t provide much in return.

A: And do what with Werth?  Magically trade him for valuable assets and get his payroll off your books?  The asker clearly thinks that the rest of the league are run by morons and the Nats can just magically get rid of the likes of Werth for value.  Yes he’s costing you more than 10% of your payroll.  It is what it is; veteran FA contracts all end up like this.  Honestly, I think Werth still has a ton of value if you use him properly; that means batting lead-off where you take advantage of his high pitches-per-plate appearance and high OBP.  We’ll see if Dusty Baker thinks outside the box like this (doubt it).  Ladson says Werth is a comeback player of the year candidate.

Q: What are the chances the Nationals make a trade for someone like Carlos Gonzalez to protect Harper in the lineup?

A: I like Carlos Gonzalez … but his home/away splits are pretty distinct.  .972 OPS in Denver, .758 OPS elsewhere last year.  I’m not sure he’s anything more than a mediocre outfielder if he’s not playing half his games at altitude.  Besides, the team made its play for the outfield when they acquired Ben RevereLadson thinks Rizzo could still “make a deal for a slugger” during Spring Training if he doesn’t like what he sees.  Uh; trading season is over, dude.  How many big-time sluggers can you think of that moved in spring training?

Q: A prime component of the Mets’ rotation is the ability to throw hard and get a bunch of strikeouts, but how unique is the Nationals’ rotation and how could it help them win the NL East next season?

A: Indeed, the Mets have a plethora of big-time arms throwing big-time heat.  But the Royals buzzed through their staff with ease in the World Series.  Why?  Because the Royals were the best team in the league for not taking a strikeout and putting the ball in play.  So once it became apparent that the Mets starters couldn’t close out games by themselves, the Royals (with their superior bullpen) outlasted them.  So Ks are important but not the end-all/be-all.

What makes the Nats rotation unique?  Two part answer for me: they (still) have one of the best 1-2 punches in the league in Scherzer and Strasburg.  What other 1-2 starters would you take over them?   So then past their 2 aces, they have three other guys who are dangerously under-rated.  Gonzalez was a Cy Young finalist just a couple years ago and he still has the same stuff.  Ross is a complete find, a guy who would be most teams’ #2 starter this year despite just having a handful of MLB starts.  And (as often repeated) Roark was a 5-win guy two years ago.  So the potential is there for this to be a top rotation end-to-end.

How does the Rotation help them win the NL east?  By staying healthy, pitching to potential, and outlasting the Mets own powerful rotation when its crunch time.

Ladson doesn’t really give much of an answer here.  He just says what he’d like to “see” each of our starters do this year.

 

 

Ladson’s Inbox 2/12/15

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What will Treinen give this team in 2016? Photo via zimbio.com

What will Treinen give this team in 2016? Photo via zimbio.com

Happy Valentines Day 2016!  And what better way to celebrate it than an Inbox from MLB.com’s Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson.  Here’s how I would have answered his questions had someone bothered to ask me.  As always, I write my answer before reading his, and edit questions for clarity.

Q: What is the biggest change the Nationals must make to be competitive in the NL East?

A: Well first, lets be honest.  There’s really only 2 teams even *trying* in the NL East 2016, so calling it “competitive” is sort of like claiming that the Washington Generals were “competitive” with the Harlem Globetrotters all those years.

For me the biggest thing the Nats need to do is just stay frigging healthy.  If Harper plays another full year maybe he doesn’t do another 10-win season, but you have to think he’ll be quite good.  Rendon was one of the NL’s top players two years ago; no reason not to think he could return to form.  Strasburg needs to be the guy all year in 2016 that he was in August and September of last year.  Werth and Zimmerman are both seemingly on the down side of their careers but there’s no reason they can’t be valuable contributors if they can stay on the field.  If all of that happens, then this team suddenly is the 95-98 win juggernaut that everyone thought they’d be in 2015.

Ladson mentions the Bullpen and team defense.  I guess he’s bought into the Royal’s plan as the way of winning going forward.

Q: What will Blake Treinen‘s impact be on the team be this year? It seems like he has the talent to make an impact on the team.

A: Well, right now Treinen is probably the “last guy in” to the bullpen; if the Nats were to acquire another RH middle reliever, Treinin likely gets bumped to AAA.  That’s because lefties hit him for an astounding .934 OPS last year.   His K/9 jumped dramatically his 2nd year in the pen .. but so did his BB/9.  Its pretty astounding to me that a guy with his kind of stuff (upper 90s sinking fastball with so much  movement that commentators think he’s throwing circle changes) struggles the way he does.  So my answer to the question is “minimal unless he can get lefties out with more regularity.”  Ladson basically says the same thing with the same observations.

Q: Do you expect Lucas Giolito with the big league club in 2016 or will he get a full season in Syracuse?

A: Something tells me that we may see Giolito in the majors this year, yes.  He didn’t light AA on fire last year … so I see him starting the season there (and not AAA).  I also see him quickly earning a promotion to AAA or perhaps straight to the majors, just like the team did with Joe Ross last year.  Or, consider what the team did with Jordan Zimmermann, who jumped straight from AA to the majors (albeit after spending most of the 2008 season in AA).

Why do I think Giolito is going to appear in the majors this year?  Because this is our last year with Strasburg before he signs a $200M contract somewhere.  And this is  one of our last couple years with Harper before he signs a $500M contract.  And when you have two of the marquee players in the game … you try to win at all costs.  This is the criticism of the Angels right now with Mike Trout and if the Nats go cheap or don’t use everything in their disposal to try to win a championship while they still have Harper, then it’ll be the same situation with the Nats.  So if one of our starters goes down and A.J Cole or Austin Voth can’t cut the mustard, then I expect Giolito to be on the MLB team without too much delay.

Ladson says it depends on how he looks in Spring Training.  I dunno about that; when scouts talk about how he has two grade 70 pitches already … what else is there to see?  I’m sure he’ll look awesome against AAA players and other re-treads in the later innings of ST games, will go to AA with the missive of “working on something” in particular, and will be up soon.  Ladson also says he “has no limits” in terms of innings; that too I think is BS.  He’ll be limited to no more than a 20% increase year over year.  He threw 117 innings last year; don’t expect him to throw much more than 140-150 innings.

Q: What kind of season do you expect from Gio Gonzalez?

A: I think we’ll see a slight improvement for Gonzalez over 2015’s campaign for reasons as frequently pointed out by JohnC: his peripherals were crummy, lots of bad luck on balls in play, and the defense behind him was rather subpar.  I’m thinking something like 13-9, 3.45 ERA, 1.30 whip.  Not bad for a 3rd or 4th starter.  Ladson implies that this could be Gio’s “last year” because he’s entering his option years.  Uh Bill, are you seeing what mediocre starting pitchers are going for on the FA market?  Gonzalez’s options are each at $12M for the next two years.  Jon Lackey is older and lesser, and just signed a 2yr/$32M deal.  Who would you rather have?

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

A: A couple of the MLFA signings come to mind as possible contributors, absolutely.  Reed Johnson, Brendan Ryan, and Bronson Arroyo could all be surprising players come spring training, and an injury or two could open the way for their place on the opening day roster absolutely.  Just look at what happened to this team last spring, with a slew of guys on the opening day D/L and both MLFAs and non-tender candidates not only making the team but contributing the entire season (see Robinson, Clint and Moore, Tyler).  Ladson mentions one other guy Chris Heisey who could also factor in.

Q: I’m asking for a prediction: Who do you think will be the starting shortstop between Danny Espinosa, Trea Turner and Stephen Drew?

A: I’m going with Danny Espinosa honestly; the way the roster has been constructed its clear to me Turner is starting the season in AAA and Drew will be the utility infielder.  If Espinosa hits .200 in April though, all bets are off.  I know many will say that it should be Turner … bit if its Turner, then that leaves a veteran like Moore or Drew on the outside looking in.  Ladson says Turner; well see!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Murphy Signing: I guess I’m ok with it

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Murphy makes the drive down I-95 to Washington. Photo via bleacherreport.com

Murphy makes the drive down I-95 to Washington. Photo via bleacherreport.com

I may have buried the lead of the post in the title, but I figured we’d want a place to react to the big Xmas gift the Nats gave themselves; pending a physical the Nats have signed Daniel Murphy to a 3yr, $37.5M contract.  We’ll assume that the contract doesn’t get cancelled for physical reasons (ala Hisashi Iwakuma) or some criminal issue (ala Aroldis Chapman) in the next 72 hours or so and the team makes it official at some point over the weekend.

Nats acquire the left-handed bat they needed to play a position they suddenly found themselves needing coverage in thanks to the Yunel Escobar trade.  They also acquire a guy who makes a ton of contact (just 38 Ks last year in 538 PAs … by way of comparison Michael Taylor struck out 158 times in 2015, in *fewer* plate appearances (511 to Murphy’s 538).  Murphy also can contribute with some power; 14 homers last season (and another 7 in last year’s post-season), and some speed (not a ton of SBs last year but he stole 23 in 2013).  He makes a ton of sense batting in the #2 hole (assuming of course the team finds someone who can actually get on base for him), but he could also slot in at #5 (assuming Bryce Harper bats 3rd, in order to split up the lefties).

More importantly, the Nats take a veteran solid bat off their closest rivals, who don’t really seem in any hurry this off-season to back-fill their holes in the lineup by the departing Murphy or Yoenis Cespedes.

Some thoughts on the the deal and its ramifications on the Nats:

  • Assuming he gets an even $12.5m in 2016 per his contract’s AAV, the Nats 2016 payroll just jumped up into the $141M range.  I think that comes down a bit (assuming the Nats can shed themselves of one or both of their highly paid closers).
  • The signing costs the Nats the 17th overall pick in the draft.  A tough pill to swallow; on his own i’m not entirely sure Murphy is worth that pick.  perhaps you can see the value in the significantly lower contract value than what Murphy was probably worth on the open market.  I guess you don’t really covet the 17th overall pick when you have just one year left with Scherzer, Strasburg and Harper all together.  You have to try to win now with these guys, since more and more it seems clear the team won’t retain either of its young starlets (not with talk of Harper getting a $400M contract).
  • Ben Zobrist: 4yrs/$52M from the Cubs.  Zobrist is four years older, had only a slightly better 2015 split than Murphy (.276/.359/.450 versus .281/.322/.449), play a similar set of positions (4 5 7 and 9 last year for Zobrist, 4 5 and 3 last year for Murphy), and had similar bWARs (1.9 for Zobrist, 1.4 for Murphy).  Yet Zobrist gets $14.5M more and one additional year despite being 4 years older and almost guaranteed of being a fossil at the end of his contract.  Do you think Qualifying Offers are working?  Do you think this is going to be topic #1 to address in the next CBA?
  • Murphy will require a roster move; the team is at 40/40 on its 40-man.  My uneducated guess: Erik Davis.
  • I’m guessing there’s an open competition between Espinosa and Turner to be the opening day SS.  And my guess is that Espinosa wins it for now.  Something in my gut tells me that the improvements he’s made plus his superb defensive ability will win out over Turner’s potential.  But, no more 2B for Espinosa; he’s either the starter at Short or the utility guy.  I could be wrong; maybe Espinosa is destined to be Mr. backup infielder again in 2016, riding the pine while Turner learns how to be a major leaguer.  I hope not; I think at this point in his career he’d be so gutted if he got beat out that he’d be close to useless as a super-sub.
  • Murphy is not especially gifted at 2nd defensively.  Negative UZR/150s across the board.  But, its not nearly as important having a plus defender there as it is on the right hand side of the infield, and the return of the gifted Rendon plus the near gold-glove quality of Espinosa at short could really help the Nats and their pitching staff convert more ground alls to outs.
  • All the 2B on the Nats depth chart just became serious trade bait.  40-man roster guys Wilmer Difo and Chris Bostick?  100% blocked for 3 years.   Murphy may be able to play other positions … but the positions he can fill are also filled by guys who are better than Murphy and also here for more than 3 years.  So I wouldn’t be surprised by some dealing coming soon.  Maybe Billy Beane can give us something we need in return for some closer-to-the-majors middle infielders and 5th starters (of which we have plenty in AAA).
  • $12.5M AAV for a 1.4 bWAR player.  Yeah; there’s some serious money in the game right now.

Does this move make the Nats a better team?  Yeah I think it does.  By himself Murphy doesn’t move the needle a ton, but he gives this team some things they didn’t have yesterday.  I like his contact hitting, his lefty bat, the addition of some needed power.  The team missed out on so many other guys this off-season, they probably felt they had to make this deal.  So they did.

Nationals/MLB Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2015

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Scherzer will always have his no-hitters from 2015. Photo via thesportsquotient.com

Scherzer will always have his no-hitters from 2015. Photo via thesportsquotient.com

Here’s the first in a 7-part series where we delve into the pitching staffs from start to end, from the majors all the way to the GCL.  We start with the rotations, review all the starters and then hit up the relievers.  We try to predict as we go, which I’ll summarize at the end with a big “2016 predictions” piece.

Here’s 2013’s post and then 2012’s post.  We never got to 2014 as I was switching jobs and this series takes a ton of time and I couldn’t do it.

All stats are courtesy of either Baseball-Reference page or via Fangraphs page.  Also useful here are the Big Board and the Nats Draft Tracker as always.

Washington starters.  The rotation at the beginning of the season was Scherzer, Zimmermann, Strasburg, Gonzalez, Fister.  By the end of the season it was basically the same, with Roark replacing Ross who had replaced Fister.

  • Max Scherzer: 14-12 with a 2.79 ERA, 0.918 whip with 276/34 K/BB ratio in 228.2 IP (33 starts).  Look at that K/BB ratio again: that’s more than 8 strikeouts for every walk for a power pitcher.  His season also included two no-hitters (both of which easily could have been perfect games) and a one-hitter, and by one measure (Game Score) his season-ending 17-K no-hitter was nearly the best pitching 9-inning performance ever.  If you needed another excuse to ignore W/L records, just look at Scherzer’s record on the year given his peripherals.  But even given his season on a macro level, some were rather disappointed in Scherzer because in August, when the chips were down and this team collapsed, he was 0-3 with a 6.43 ERA in 5 starts.  Nonetheless, Scherzer more than earned his salary in 2015 and I see no reason not to expect similar results in 2016.  Outlook for next season: 2nd straight opening day start.
  • Jordan Zimmermann: 13-10, 3.66 ERA, 1.205 whip with 164/39 K/BB over 201.2 IP (33 starts).  His ERA was a point higher than in 2014, his WHIP was 10% higher and his FIP was inflated to a very un-Zimmermann 3.75 level.  Not exactly the walk year season he was hoping for.  Nonetheless, Zimmermann should make out like a bandit on the FA market, where he occupies the lead spot in the 2nd tier of FA pitchers and should do just fine.  Unfortunately, it seems like his time in DC is up; we don’t know the size or length of the contract extension he turned down, but it seems obvious that the team didn’t give him what he and his advisers thought he deserved.  He’ll be oft-mentioned in the coming weeks as he finds a new home and it’ll be a shame to see him go.  Outlook for next season: pitching for another team: Signed with Detroit for 5yrs/$110M.
  • Stephen Strasburg: 11-7, 3.46 ERA, 1.107 whip with 155/26 K/BB in 127 IP (23 starts).   His end-of-the-year numbers don’t look nearly as bad as the debacle that his season really was.   He had a 6.55 ERA through his first 10 starts, then missed most of June and July with two separate D/L trips.  Upon his return, he was awesome, dropping his season ERA from 5.16 to 3.46 thanks to 9 quality starts (out of 10) and 5 double-digit strikeout games.  But, the damage was done; he was awesome down the stretch in a series of games that ended up being meaningless.  On the bright side, the Nats likely save a few million dollars in their arbitration case.  Lets just hope that whatever he finally figured out in Aug and Sept continues into next season.  Outlook for next season: Nats #2 starter.
  • Gio Gonzalez: 11-8, 3.79 ERA, 1.423 whip with 169/69 K/BB in 175.2 IP (31 starts).  Another year, another inconsistent season from our #4 starter.  The team was 16-15 in his 31 starts, which makes sense since he had exactly 16 quality starts.  I think at this point Gio is what he is: a decently valued 4th starter who earns his salary and puts up enough value to keep his spot.  The Nats will ride his arm until his contract expires.  Outlook for next season: Nats #4 starter.
  • Doug Fister: 5-7, 4.19 ERA, 1.398 whip with 63/24 K/BB in 103 IP (25 appearances, 15 starts).  MLB’s most underrated starter over the past few  years finally had father time catch up to him, going 4-7 with a 4.60 ERA in 15 starts before the team mercifully pulled the plug.  His average fastball velocity has been dropping, but dropped precipitously this year (down to 86.1) and just was too hittable.  To Fister’s credit, he accepted the move to the bullpen instead of taking the “easy” way out and claiming a D/L trip, and was effective in 17 relief innings to make his season ERA look a little more palatable.  Nonetheless, it was not exactly the way the Nats drew things up.  Fister faces an uncertain future; he went from being guaranteed a Qualifying Offer to maybe struggling to get a guaranteed offer.  In the end, I can see perhaps a west coast team taking a flier on him as a 5th starter with a pillow contract for him to try to regain some value.  Outlook for next season: Pitching elsewhere, hopefully as a 5th starter somewhere.
  • Joe Ross: 5-5, 3.64 ERA, 1.109 whip with 69/21 K/BB in 76.2 IP (16 appearances, 13 starts).  Ross initially got called up to cover for Strasburg’s first injury, and was impressive enough to be the first man in line to replace the suddenly ineffective Fister.  He got another 10 mostly effective starts, getting shut down in early September after two ineffective starts where he was uncharacteristically wild (9 of his 21 MLB walks were in his last 2 starts) as he reached a soft innings limit for the year.  No complaints here; Ross quickly guaranteed his rotation spot for 2016 with his work during the summer and is making the trade where he was acquired looking even more lopsided.  Outlook for next season: Nats #3 starter.
  • Tanner Roark: 4-7, 4.38 ERA with 70/26 K/BB in 111 IP (40 appearances, 12 starts).  The Nats thanked Roark for his “found gold” 5-win 2014 season by acquiring Scherzer and pushing Roark to the all-important long-man/slop innings guy.  Not exactly what Roark probably expected.  He did get 5 starts covering for Strasburg in late May-early June but otherwise was yanked all over the place; sometimes being a one-inning middle reliever, then getting 3+ in a blowout loss, even getting higher leverage innings in the 8th and 9th (he even had a save in May).  When Fister proved ineffective, the Nats didn’t give the slot to Roark like they should have, instead calling up Ross and leaving Roark pitching in relief (their reason was that he wasn’t stretched out).  When it became clear Ross was going to run out of innings, they sent him back to Potomac briefly to “stretch out” and Roark finished the year in the rotation with 6 relatively ineffective starts.  Not the year Roark wanted.  There was an incredibly long-winded article in beyondtheboxscore.com that seemed to point at Roark’s position on the rubber as the cause of all his ills, but i put Roark’s struggles more simply: pitchers are creatures of habit and when you take a starter and suddenly tell him he’s a one inning reliever, you shouldn’t be surprised when he doesn’t immediately perform in that role.  The question the Nats have to face is this: was 2014 a fluke?  Do you pencil in Roark for the #5 starter in 2016 or do you try to acquire his replacement?  Do you have an open competition between Roark and the slew of AAA arms for the spot?  Personally, I’m a Roark believer and think he’ll be just fine if you install him in the rotation and let him work.  Outlook for next season: Nats #5 starter.
  • Others who got 1-2 Spot Starts:
    • Taylor Jordan: got one spot-start in early June, getting pounded by Toronto.  He provided long-relief cover a few times here and there throughout the season but wasn’t used even after being called up 9/1 (perhaps an innings limit?).  See AAA write-up for more.
    • A.J. Cole got one spot start in late April, getting destroyed by Atlanta in the epic 13-12 game.  I was highly critical of this particular call-up at the time, questioning why the start didn’t go to Roark at the time.  Cole got two other mop-up games to make his ERA slightly less awful for the year, but raised serious questions as to his future.  See AAA write-up for more.

Rotation summary: Scherzer was good but struggled when the chips were down.  Zimmermann regressed, as did Gonzalez.  Strasburg was either awful or  hurt most of the season.  Fister was abhorrent.  Roark was wasted.  Yet despite all that negativity surrounding our rotation, the Nats starters as a group were still ranked pretty highly : 3rd in fWAR, 7th in ERA, 4th in FIP.   So, it was still a pretty good rotation but not nearly as good as we thought they’d be upon the Scherzer acquisition.

 


Washington relievers.  On opening day the MLB bullpen was Storen, Treinen, Stammen, Thornton, Cedeno, Barrett, Roark.  By the time it was over, the team had used no less than *20* relievers.  Not exactly how they sketched it out in the off-season.  Lets talk about all 20 guys; here they are ordered with closers first, then descending by IP.  Anyone with less than 10 innings is relegated to the end with generally a shorter write-up.

  • Drew Storen was having a near-all Star calibre season closing, holding a 1.69 ERA with 46/9 K/BB over 37.1 IP and 29 saves.  Then suddenly he was demoted thanks to the Papelbon acquisition.  His numbers post 7/29/15: 7.13 ERA in 17 innings, which culminated with his 3-walk performance in the season-ending Mets loss in early September (his 5th blown save of the year).  Two days later he slammed a locker on his thumb, broke it and was done for the season along with his team.  We’ve argued this one to death; there are people who like to argue that players are machines and they are highly paid to do whatever the team asks of them.  I maintain that this team has tried over and over to replace Storen thanks to a couple of poorly-timed games of ineffectiveness that just happened to occur in the two NLDS series this team has managed to reach, and the “layering” of Papelbon over top of him was the icing on the cake of his Nats career.  I’m sure Storen wants out of town, and I’m sure he’ll be a classic “change of scenery” guy.  Mike Rizzo needs to make it happen.  Outlook for next season: Closing for another team.
  • Jonathan Papelbon was acquired in late July straight up for a relatively low-level prospect (Nick Pivetta), an indication of how desperate Philadelphia was to rid themselves of him.  He pitched a grand total of 23.1 innings in two months, through little fault of his own clearly disrupted the karma of the bullpen, and entirely at fault on his own took offense to Bryce Harper‘s non-defense in the press of Papelbon’s over-reaction and subsequent plunking of Manny Machado in a game earlier in that week and decided that calling out one of the game’s premier hustlers for “not hustling” down the line on a routine pop-up was a good idea.  Fast forward to the umpteenth unnecessary embarrassing moment for the franchise and perhaps the final nail in the coffin of the inexplicably unaware and dense manager Matt Williams.  Fun fact: Papelbon bought a $2.9M house in Alexandria exactly one week before choking his teammate on national TV and getting suspended for the rest of the season.  Good timing.  I know that Harper has “reached out” to Papelbon and they’re all saying this is just ‘brothers fighting” and all that BS, but Rizzo has to be shopping him for whatever he can get for him, upto and including eating the entirety of his $11M 2016 salary.  Many think he’s completely untradeable, but i’m guessing someone will take a flier on him.  Outlook for next season: Closing for another team.
  • Blake Treinen was the busiest guy in the pen this year (outside of sometimes starter Roark that is), throwing 67.2 innings in 60 innings as mostly an 7th/8th inning guy.    He had a 3.86 ERA, a 3.49 FIP, and a 1.389 whip, all incrementally worst in 2015 than the year before.  65/32 K/BB in those 67IP.  Treinen features a mid to upper 90s sinking fastball that has so much movement that TV announcers sometimes think its a changeup, yet still has some really odd splits.  Righties had just a .493 OPS against him on the year … while lefties teed off to the tune of a .934 OPS.  Odd because you’d think that a guy who could throw a fastball that tails away from lefties like Treinen would be more successful.  Another oddity; he had a 5.90 ERA at home and just a 2.33 ERA away.  So basically, if he was facing a righty on the road, he’s your guy.  He has limited his repertoire to just two pitches these days (2-seam sinker and a wipeout slider), and seems so far removed from having anything resembling a third pitch that any thoughts of returning to the bullpen seem long gone.  Is Treinen just a ROOGY (right handed one out guy?)  Do teams even have that?  Maybe his goal for the off-season is to figure out some pitch that is effective against lefties.  He also needs to work on his control; his walk rate of 4.3 per nine just won’t cut it for a higher leverage reliever.  Outlook for next season: back in his 7th/8th inning role.
  • Felipe Rivero, 2.79 ERA, 2.64 FIP, 0.952 whip and 43/11 K/BB in 48.1 relief innings.  Rivero was a revelation for the team this year, converting to relief for the first time in his career and really shining.  He has some serious heat; max fastball of 99.8 and an average of 95.5 from the left side, but really was a two pitch pitcher this season; fastball and slider (fangraphs distinguishes his 4-seamer from his 2-seamer but the velocities are exactly the same; does he throw two different, distinct fastballs?)   Unlike Treinen, Rivero got righties and lefties out at equal clips (.200 BAA for righties, .198 for lefties) and really came into his own in the bullpen.  He’s much more than a matchup-lefty and could be a valuable bullpen member for a while.  Can he return to starting?  Hard to say; does he have a third pitch?  Years of starting in the minors seems to indicate that his future remains in the pen.  Outlook for next season: reprising his 7th inning reliever role.
  • Matt Thornton had an excellent age 38 year; 2.18 ERA, 3.52 FIP, 1.065 ERA in 41.1 relief innings across 60 appearances.  His FIP is much higher than his ERA because he doesn’t rely as much on the strikeout; he had just a 23/11 K/BB ratio in those 41.1 innings.  His splits showed some interesting tidbits: 10 of his 11 walks on the year came against right handed hitters, while he had an 11/1 K/BB ratio when facing lefties.  Thornton is best judged by his performance against lefties and he was excellent; .198/.205/.279, and this is why I’m an advocate of resigning him for 2016.  I’m still kind of baffled by his being waived by the Yankees frankly.  The FA market for left handed relievers is a little busy; I count 20 lefties out there.  But not all of them were as effective as Thornton was in 2015.  Can the Nats re-sign him?  Do they want to?  They do have several in-house loogy replacements to be discussed, if they wanted to save a couple million dollars off of payroll.  Outlook for next season: another season as a loogy, for the Nats or elsewhere.
  • Casey Janssen: when the Nats acquired Janssen, a three year closer for the Toronto Blue Jays, I figured the team’s late-inning bullpen issues were solved.  The loss of Rafael Soriano was inevitable (and, frankly, not really that important given how badly he finished 2014), but the loss of Tyler Clippard was going to be hard to fix.  But plugging in a former AL east closer into the 8th inning role?  No worries.  Well, that’s not quite how it went.  Janssen got hurt in spring training, missed the first 7 weeks of the season … and then underwhelmed once he arrived.  His numbers on the season: 4.95 ERA, 4.05 FIP, 1.150 whip, with 27/8 K/BB in 40 IP.   Perhaps the 4.95 ERA is skewed by a few bad outings: scanning through his game log he gave up 4 runs on 5/30, another 4 runs on 8/31, 3 more the following day (in that infamous St. Louis series) and 2 on 9/27.  So of the 22 runs he allowed all year, 13 of them were in four outings.  Perhaps so, but his job as an 8th inning guy is not to allow these massive rallies, ever.  His fastball velocity has been declining and his 4-seamer sat at just 88.3 MPH on average this year; is that fast enough even if you have pinpoint control and can throw 5 pitches?  Apparently not; Janssen’s struggles were a big part of the bullpen’s struggles this year, a big reason they felt the need to acquire Papelbon, and in crunch time towards the end of the season Williams didn’t trust him to give him important assignments.  The Nats bought out his option year and cut ties with him; the end of a disappointing season together.  Outlook for next season: middle reliever for another organization.
  • Aaron Barrett: started out the year looking good as a key 6th/7th inning righty, struggled starting in May, hit the D/L in June, got lit up on Aug 5th to the point of getting demoted to AAA, at which point he (finally) told team doctors that his arm had been bugging him for weeks (months even).  A quick scan showed a blown UCL and he underwent Tommy John surgery on September 5th, 2015.  Final season stats: 4.60 ERA but a 2.21 FIP, 1.193 whip and 35/7 K/BB in 29.1 innings.  Look; you don’t want to wish ill will on a guy for trying to gut it out, but at what point was his arm issues impacting his performance on the field and costing the team games?  Outlook for next season: on the 60-day D/L for most if not all the season. 
  • Sammy Solis was closer to a DFA than a call-up at the end of 2014, a season mostly lost to injury and lost promise of the former 2nd round pick.  But a slew of injuries forced him into action in the Nats bullpen and he held up, throwing 21.1 innings of 3.38 ERA, 3.46 fip, 1.359 whip with a 17/4 K/BB ratio.  That’s not too bad of a debut, even if it was his age 26 season.  He showed a reverse split interestingly, with lefties hitting him at a .355 clip (righties: .255).  I have a feeling that the team is likely going to look elsewhere for a second lefty out of the pen.  Option number one is probably resigning Matt Thornton, which will relegate Solis to AAA/spare part duty in Syracuse.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse bullpen/lefty reliever coverage.
  • Matt Grace; 4.24 ERA, 3.08 fip, 2.00 whip with 14/8 K/BB in 17 IP across 26 outings.  Grace is a nice story, a guy who really came on strong in 2014 and earned his 40-man slot.  But his numbers in his first go-around in the majors were less than ideal.  See Solis’ write up and then add on a little pessimism and you have Grace right now; too many baserunners and not enough ability to get right handers out (.429 BAA) to be trusted as an effective major league reliever right now.  Outlook for next season: As with Solis Syracuse bullpen/lefty reliever coverage.  Except he’s “behind” Solis.
  • Rafael Martin: everyone’s favorite story.  Signed out of the Mexican leagues, shot up the system posting just ridiculous numbers in AA and AAA in 2013 and 2014.  Finally got his shot and had some really odd stat lines: 5.11 ERA, 4.76 FIP, 1.378 whip with 25/5 K/BB in 12.1 major league innings.  That’s right; he had an 18.2 K/9 ratio.  He struck out 8 of the first 12 batters he faced, including a pretty memorable debut where he struck out 5 guys in two innings in Boston in mid April.  He was looking like a made-for-TV-movie story until he took a rough outing in Miami and got sent down … not to be recalled until 9/1.  He threw a bunch of garbage time innings in September and got his ERA back down but kept striking guys out with his upper 80s arsenal.  Why didn’t he get more of a shot when the chips were down and other right handed relievers were struggling in August?  I don’t know.  Honestly, I think he’d make an excellent long-man/middle reliever, the classic “7th guy out of the pen” with his ability to go long and spin the ball in there as a change of pace versus harder throwing guys.  Something tells me though that he’s going to be back in Syracuse as bullpen insurance.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse bullpen/righty reliever coverage.
  • David Carpenter: acquired in trade from the Yankees for Tony Renda, threw 6 innings in the majors for the team, got hurt, went to the 60-day D/L with a shoulder issue, outrighted on 11/15/15, refused the assignment and has already signed with Atlanta for 2016.  Not exactly the best return for a former 2nd round pick and slightly surprising he was outrighted while there was still room on the 40-man roster (and still is room as we speak).  Outlook for next season: in Atlanta organization.
  • Craig Stammen: threw just 4 innings before requiring elbow surgery.  A huge blow for a guy who had been a team leader in IP and an effective middle reliever for  years.  He’s arbitration eligible, and the team could not arrive at an equitable deal ahead of the 12/2/15 non-tender deadline, so Stammen was non-tendered.  I have a feeling that if the team still wants him for 2016 and will work out some sort of heavy incentive-laden deal to keep him in the fold (he’s been with the organization since 2005 after all, tying him for the longest tenured player still with the team now that Ian Desmond has declared FA.   Outlook for next season: hopefully back in his 7th inning middle relief role, perhaps pitching elsewhere.
  • Xavier Cedeno: threw 3 innings, gave up 3 hits, 2 walks and two runs, then was inexplicably DFA’d and traded to the Dodgers for “cash.”  The Dodgers then turned around and traded him to Tampa, where he put up a 2.09 ERA in 43 IP in 2015.  What the heck happened here?   We talked about it in this space when it happened, and the quick hook DFA was as inexplicable then as it seems now.  Was this perhaps the first precursor into the questionable bullpen management that plagued Matt Williams all year?  Outlook for next season: a valuable loogy for Tampa.
  • Other Relievers who pitched too few innings for analysis:
    • Taylor Hill: provided 12 innings of bullpen coverage in Late May-Early June: see AAA write-up.
    • Abel de los Santos: added to the 40-man, called up and started his service clock (oh, and burned an option too while they were at it) so that he could throw to exactly eight (8) batters in mid-july before being returned to Harrisburg.  Ridiculous use of resources frankly.  See AA write-up.
    • Position players Clint Robinson and Tyler Moore became the 1st and 2nd position players to ever hurl for the Washington franchise, each throwing the final inning in a blow-out loss.

Bullpen summary: Ugh, what a mess from start to finish.  Under performance, injuries, and a rotating door of guys trying to perform.  By the end of August there wasn’t anyone even worth trusting in that pen, as evidenced in the critical Mets home series where the season was lost.  Even given that, the bullpen as a whole ranked 12th in fWAR, 10th in ERA, 9th in FIP, so it wasn’t really that bad league-wide.  Which surprised me too when I went to fangraphs to pull the data.  Some more telling stats: 7th in the league in Blown saves with 27.  17th in total saves.  17th in Holds.

Pitching summary overall: we expected more, and in the end the performance of the staff and bullpen probably wasn’t the sole reason this team failed to win the NL East.  But it didn’t help.

Quick pre-Winter Meetings thoughts…

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The off-season is off to a great start for the Nats. Photo via majorleagueaholes.com (yes its a site)

The off-season is off to a great start for the Nats. Photo via majorleagueaholes.com (yes its a site)

Winter meetings this week.  I figured I’d wait to start posting rotation reviews until after the craziness goes on (if its anything like last winter).

Here’s some thoughts I have:

  1. If the Nats intend to “completely remake their bullpen” then they’re off to a pretty slow start.  We’re already missing out on several key guys who would be good candidates to join the pen.  Darren O’Day, Joaquin Soria to start, Ryan Madsen, Jim Johnson or even Mark Lowe (who signed about 2 minutes after publishing this) as other examples.  Instead we sign Oliver Perez, a soft-tossing lefty retread to (I guess) replace Matt Thornton, who is perhaps the 5th or 6th most important role to fill in a 7 man rotation.  You couldn’t have adequately handled a LOOGY out of our cache of minor league arms?  Didn’t we draft like 10,000 lefty arms in the last three years?
  2. And now we hear that the Dodgers are hot on the case of Aroldis Chapman, not that I want to spend what it will take to get him.  Yes he’s great, yes he’d be a fantastic closer.  No I don’t want to give up a top-100 prospect for one year of his time.  (post-publishing update: literally 5 minutes after hitting publish, word comes out that the Dodgers have acquired Chapman).
  3. Why would they non-tender Craig Stammen given the bullpen turnover they already plan to have?  Stammen is talking in the press like he’s completely moving on, as if the negotiations went that sour that fast.

Here was 2015’s opening day bullpen: Storen, Treinen, Stammen, Thornton*, Cedeno*, Barrett, Roark with Janssen on the D/L.

Here’s where we stand now: Storen on the chopping block,
Treinen still there, Stammen DFA’d, Thornton a FA, Cedeno DFA’d/traded, Barrett on the D/L with TJ surgery all of 2016, Roark presumably going back to the rotation and Janssen a FA.   Throw in late-season acquisition Papelbon also being on the trading block and that’s basically the *entire* bullpen getting turned over.  That’s a recipe for disaster.

If the season started tomorrow: I guess the bullpen would be: Papelbon, Storen, Treinen, Perez*, Rivero*, Solis*, Martin.  Except that we know that’s not going to happen; you have to think the first two guys are moved one way or another.

Maybe we won’t end up seeing both closers moved and instead we’ll make amends somehow with one of them.  Since Papelbon is basically untradeable me thinks the “Lerners are cheap” mentality will win out and he’ll be back for 2016.  Awesome.  Especially considering the fact that he just filed a grievance against the team for not paying him during his “suspension.”  Can’t blame him; the team was stupid for not paying him and thinking they’d just pocket a union player’s salary.  Dumb.  I hope Dusty Baker has his game face on for dealing with this issue next  year, and I hope the whole “Bryce Harper reached out/bros will be bros” BS is not, actually, BS.  I’m skeptical.

4.  So, is the team going after Ben Zobrist or are they not?  Is Zobrist going to be that much better than just keeping Yunel Escobar, who can play 2nd and hit just fine for half the money Zobrist will cost?  What’s the urgency of moving Escobar?  The way I see it, Rendon goes back to 3rd, Turner plays SS (and if he cannot, then the excellent Danny Espinosa starts at SS instead) and Escobar goes to 2B where his defensive limitations won’t hurt us.  Why alter that plan?

5. Where’s the lefty bat going to come from?  How about Pedro Alvarez?  Still not sure why the Pirates were so quick to non-tender him.  I mean, he hit 27 frigging homers last year and his Ks are way down from two years prior.  How about buying Alvarez, sticking him at 1st, then shuffling Zimmerman to LF, Werth to right and Harper to CF?

6. Here’s a radical one.  Los Angeles and San Francisco both whiff on Zack Greinke, who inexplicably goes to Arizona.  Both teams adjusted and bought #3 starters (Iwakuma and Samardzija respectively) but now that basically all the big names are off the market, do you think there’s a possible Stephen Strasburg trade out there?  The Dodgers desperately need a Greinke replacement; word on the street is that they’re talking to Miami about Jose Fernandez and that would just be unfair if they got him.  Meanwhile, San Francisco’s 3-4-5 starters looks scary right now and they need to keep up (think SF can’t out-spend LA?  Google “Mission Rock Development” and see how the Giants are about to become a serious player in the SF commercial real estate market).  Even Boston could still be an interesting option: their projected 4-5 aren’t exactly impressive and their new GM is looking to make a splash, and Boston has serious prospect depth.  What if the Nats and Boston get together and get a couple of serious prospects for Strasburg?  Could you see that?  Maybe he gets moved and Giolito gets pushed into service a lot earlier than people thought.

If we moved Strasburg, the Nats would suddenly have a 5th starter hole too (well, unless Giolito became the guy).  I don’t really trust our AAA rotation guys to step up so maybe we’d be back in the market for a cheap starter too.  Luckily I count like 40 starters who profile like that, and some of them could be had for pretty cheap.

7. I don’t buy that the team needs/wants a CF.  But I could be wrong.  If we really were targeting a CF, we would have tendered Span.  I’ll spit bullets if the sign Dexter Fowler and give up their 1st rounder.  If only they could find a power hitting lefty who could play CF (ahem, Bryce Harper).

That’s a good starting point for the Winter meetings.  Let the swap meet begin!

 

 

 

Nats 40-man Option status for 2016

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After Robinson's breakout 2015, does he have to worry about options? Photo via minorleagueball.com

After Robinson’s breakout 2015, does he have to worry about options? Photo via minorleagueball.com

One bit of analysis that we end up doing every year on the franchise, when thinking about potential moves and roster construction, is Options analysis.  I’m posting this now b/c a couple of the guys w/o options are tender candidates, so this may play into the team’s decision on whether to keep them for 2016.

On the odd chance that you don’t know what i’m talking about with Options, here’s some quickie links that help explain the rules: Wikipedia’s baseball transactions, but more importantly an old Keith Law article on the baseballanalysts.com website explains the nuances of optional assignments well.  Basically it goes like this: once you’re put onto the 40-man roster, if you’re not also on the 25-man (or “active”) roster then you are playing in the minors somewhere .. and you are called being on “optional assignment” down there.  In order to protect the hoarding of players, teams can only send 40-man players down to the minors three years before being forced to allow other teams to lay claim to them and put them on their own active rosters.  Each year you are sent down to play in the minors is called an “Option” or an “option year.”

I’ve done this analysis before: here was 2015’s analysis  (where 4 of the 6 out of options guys were gone before opening day) and here was 2014’s analysis noting that Corey Brown and especially Ross Detwiler were going to be problematic; Brown was DFA’d and traded shortly there after while Detwiler stuck around for a whole season prior to getting moved to Texas.

Here’s the current Nats 40-man roster with updated Service times for 2015 as well as a review of Option Status for the 2016 year.  There are a couple guys who seem to have some options limitations going into 2016 that we’ll have to keep an eye on.

First up; Vets who can refuse demotion thanks to having 5 or more years of service time.  The Nats have ten (10) such players on the current 40-man roster:

Player Service Time post 2015 First Added to 40-man Notes
Werth, Jayson 12.102 Nov 2002 achieved 10&5 rights in 2015, not that he needed it
Papelbon, Jonathan 10.064 July 2005 never optioned as far as I can tell
Zimmerman, Ryan 10.032 Sep 2005 never used an option; achieved 10&5 rights in 2015
Escobar, Yunel 8.121 June 2007 Doesn’t look like he was ever optioned after 6/2007 callup
Scherzer, Max 7.079 May 2007
Gonzalez, Gio 6.162 Aug 2008
Stammen, Craig 5.160 May 2009 Less than 20 days in minors in 2010, so no option used
Storen, Drew 5.140 May 2010 2013 option cancelled when recalled before 20 days were up.
Strasburg, Stephen 5.118 Aug 2009 Probably eligible for a 4th based on lack of service time.
Ramos, Wilson 5.047 Nov 2008

Four players achieved the all-important 5th service year in 2015: Stammen, Storen, Strasburg and Ramos.  It wasn’t exactly likely that any of these four were in jeopardy of getting optioned (all four still had options available), but now they definitely cannot be sent down (as Storen was briefly in 2013).

Two guys achieved  the “Ten and Five” rights in 2015: Werth and Zimmerman.  10&5 gives automatic trade protection to the player … but both Werth and Zimmerman have full no-trade clauses anyway, so the 10&5 doesn’t mean much.

Next group: Options Available but are MLB entrenched.  Six (6) guys are in this category in my opinion:

Player Service Time post 2015 First Added to 40-man Option Years Used Options left? Notes
Espinosa, Danny 4.113 Sep 2010 2013 2
Harper, Bryce 3.159 Aug 2010 2011, 2012 1 Did 2010 count as an option year?
Rendon, Anthony 2.130 Aug 2011 2012, 2013 1 Probably eligible for a 4th option eventually if needed
Roark, Tanner 2.055 Aug 2013 3 Optioned on 8/25/15 but then called up 9/4 cancelling the option
Barrett, Aaron 1.144 Nov 2013 2014 2
Ross, Joe 0.094 June 2015 2015 2

In my mind, none of these guys are really candidates to get optioned in 2016 despite having options available to them.  Roark was optioned in late 2015 (August 25th) but then got called right back up on Sept 4th, so (if i’m reading the rules correctly) that option was “cancelled” for being too short.

I have an open question about Harper‘s 2010 option status; does it count as an option year if you sign a major league contract and then get assigned to a minor league team in the same year?  Not that it really matters for Harper (it isn’t like the reigning NL MVP is in danger of getting optioned), and it can no longer happen (MLB contracts were banned in the latest CBA), but its an intellectual issue.  If you have an opinion or insight, please feel free to chime in.  I’m guessing the rules at the time stated that you cannot burn an option the same year you signed, so i’ve not included it as an option year for Harper here.

Next group: Options Available and thus jeopardizing 25-man roster status for 2016: Five (5) players in this category:

Player Service Time post 2015 First Added to 40-man Option Years Used Options left? Notes
den Dekker, Matt 1.033 Aug 2013 2014, 2015 1
Taylor, Michael 1.037 Nov 2013 2014 2
Treinen, Blake 1.065 Apr 2014 2014 2
Solis, Sammy 0.097 Nov 2013 2014, 2015 1
Turner, Trea 0.045 Aug 2015 3 still pissed he was called up so early.

If the season started tomorrow, I’d likely project all five of these guys to be on the 25-man roster, three of them in pretty prominent roles.  den Dekker definitely seems like a guy who may get squeezed to the minors, especially if the team acquires a veteran OF this off-season.

If you want to read more of my rants on Turner‘s call-up, you can certainly find them in the comments sections over the past few months.  In fact, here’s my complaint the day they called him up in this space.  45 days of service time blown so he could collect MLB meal money for a month’s worth of pinch hitting and pinch running appearances while the team flushed away its season.  He started the last 6 games of the season, having only gotten two spot starts in the previous 5 weeks, in an idiotic use of his time for a team that didn’t need or use him down the stretch.  By my calculations, in order to “save” another year of his time, he’d have to start in Syracuse and stay down there for *8 weeks*; 6 weeks to make up for the 45 days of service time and then another two weeks to make sure that the team saves the difference between a full service time year (172 days) and the number of actual days in a MLB season (roughly 183 days).  See that happening?  I don’t either.  So its a moot point and we have lost any shot of extending his stay here an extra year.

Next, the large group of guys for whom Options almost guaranteed to be used in 2016.  Thirteen (13)  in total:

Player Service Time post 2015 First Added to 40-man Option Years Used Options left? Notes
Davis, Erik 1.045 Nov 2012 2013, 2015 1 60-day DL 2014; no option burned but earned 1 full year of service time
Hill, Taylor 0.030 June 2014 2014, 2015 1
Jordan, Taylor 1.047 June 2013 2014, 2015 1
Cole, AJ 0.047 Nov 2014 2015 2
Grace, Matt 0.074 Nov 2014 2015 2
Goodwin, Brian 0.000 Nov 2014 2015 2
Difo, Wilmer 0.051 Nov 2014 2015 2
de los Santos, Abel 0.006 July 2015 2015 2 Kind of a waste of an option year; 6 days service time in 2015
Martin, Rafael 0.048 Apr 2015 2015 2
Severino, Pedro 0.034 Sept 2015 3
Lee, Nicholas 0.000 Nov 2015 3
Kieboom, Spencer 0.000 Nov 2015 3
Bostick, Chris 0.000 Nov 2015 3

The Nats did themselves no favors by letting Davis hang on the active roster all year in 2014, accruing a full year of service time instead of burning an option.  Perhaps in the end it won’t matter; despite all the other RH relievers used last year, Davis never got called up and seems closer to an outright than worrying about where to rent in DC for the summer.  Speaking of RH relievers, the team called up Abel de los Santos in July, let him play for exactly 6 days, then optioned him back.  Davis (if he’s still around) and the two 4-A starters Jordan and Hill probably each burn their final option in 2016 and then force the team’s hand next off-season.  But that’s what we’ll talk about in next year’s version of this post.

In the meantime, here’s the meat of this year’s post: The four players on the Nats 40-man roster who have no Options left and thus have to either be on next year’s 25-man roster or be subjected to waivers prior to the season starting.

Player Service Time post 2014 First Added to 40-man Option Years Used Options left?
Lobaton, Jose 4.138 Nov 2008 2010,2011, unk 3rd 0 no options per mlbtraderumors; can’t tell if optioned in 2009 or 2012.
Moore, Tyler 3.018 Nov 2011 2012,2013,2014 0 86 days on mlb roster in 2014; how does this add to 1.106?
Robinson, Clint 1.028 Nov 2010 2011,2012,2013 0
Rivero, Felipe 0.162 Nov 2012 2013,2014,2015 0 I’m pretty sure 2015 counted as an option year

Now, both Lobaton and Moore are returnees from last year’s version of this post.  Lobaton was always set to be Ramos’ backup and dutifully performed in that role, slashing just .199/.279/.294 in that role.  I’m not entirely sure that either of the catchers on the 40-man roster can supplant Lobaton as Ramos’ backup, but I’m also not entirely sure that Lobaton will even be here in 2016 thanks to his performance.  So his lack of options may not matter; if the team buys another catcher on the FA market or in trade, Lobaton is likely DFA’d soon thereafter.  Moore (as noted in prior posts) has a bigger issue this coming off-season; he’s Arbitration eligible in a season where he was lucky (thanks to a constant barrage of injured players) to have lasted the whole season on the roster.  As mentioned in the previous post; both of these guys are also serious non-tender candidates, which would close the book on them with this team regardless.

Lets talk about the more interesting cases.  Robinson, from what I can gather from his convoluted Cots contract history page, had three straight options burned after getting added in Nov 2010 by his original signing club Kansas City.  After two option years and a scant four PAs in 2012, he was DFA’d and acquired by Pittsburgh, who then DFA’d him themselves at the end of Spring Training 2013.  Toronto claimed him, optioned him, then DFA’d and outrighted him a couple months later without ever appearing for their big club.  He signed as a MLFA with Los Angeles in 2014, got called up, got 9 ABs and then was DFA’d again (because of course by this time he was out of options…).  He played out the string for the Dodgers’ AAA club and then signed with Washington as a MLFA again in 2015.  So, all of that leading to his nice 2015 season for us and for 2016 he’s either going to be with us or against us: no options means he either makes the team or possibly moves on.

The other guy of note is Rivero.  His first two option years are easy.  But his up/down in 2015 may or may not have counted as an optional assignment.  Here was his movement this past season:

  • 3/16/15: Optioned officially to AAA though the minor league season doesn’t start until 4/9/15.
  • 4/16/15.  So that’s roughly 10 days in the minors since the Nats season starts on 4/6/15.
  • Two days later he got sick and eventually went on the D/L (remember the story?  he was throwing up black blood thanks to taking too much Advil)
  • 5/21/15: reinstated from the D/L and optioned back to Syracuse
  • 6/1/15: recalled again; so he was in Syracuse a grand total of 10 additional days.

So, by my count that’s 20 days in the minors right on the nose.  But the rules say that if you spend at least 20 days in the minors, that you’ve burned an option for that year.  So this is pretty close; did Rivero use an option for 2015 or not?  I think he did.  Now, it may not really matter since he really showed some serious cheese for the Nats this year and seems like a lock to be in the 2016 pen, but from an organizational flexibility perspective its nice to have.


So there’s the Options analysis for the team (well, at least the state of the team and its 40-man roster just after the Rule-5 protection additions and prior to any wheeling-and-dealing this coming off-season).  No big decisions to be had, but some concern areas for this year and next.

Feel free to comment if you think i’ve gotten anything wrong in the analysis.