Nationals Arm Race

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Thoughts on Keith Law’s organization and prospect rankings

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Giolito is rising the ranks of prospects baseball-wide.  Photo unk via federalbaseball.com

Giolito is rising the ranks of prospects baseball-wide. Photo unk via federalbaseball.com

I’ll admit it; I’m a sucker for prospect lists.

Every time I see an organizational ranking published (whether it be from BA/John Callis, BP/Jason Parks, ESPN/Keith Law, MLB/Jonathan Mayo, John Sickels or whoever, I put the rankings into a big spreadsheet and do comparison analysis (I’d publish on Google Docs it except that Law’s stuff is ESPN insider only and I wouldn’t want to get into trouble).   Every time any of these guys puts out organizational top 10s, I capture that too into one big file too.

So, this week is an exciting time because one of the leading prospect voices out there has published his annual rankings lists.  Keith Law published his System rankings 1-30 on 1/28/14 and published his Top 100 prospects list on 1/29/14.  The links themselves are ESPN-insider, which I believe is well worth the pittance of a cost per year just to get access to Law and Buster Olney‘s stuff (among others).

Law has our system ranked 18th this time around, a slight increase from last year’s ranking of 21.   In the five years that I’ve been capturing Law’s organizational rankings, this is as high as he’s had the system ranked believe it or not; his 2012 rankings (where Baseball America famously had us ranked #1) came out after the big Gio Gonzalez trade and thus we didn’t get the high ranking we would have expected (Law said he dropped the system from a top 5 ranking b/c of that trade).

So, how do we explain how the system went from #21 to #18 given all that has happened in the last year?   Borrowing from the comment I made at NationalsProspects.com when Luke Erickson noted the same Law publishing, lets analyze where we were in January 2013 versus now as a system:

In Law’s 2013 writeup for the team, he noted that he liked Washington’s top 5 prospects but that there was a significant gap afterwards.  Going back and looking at my notes, Law’s top 5 guys went:

  1. Anthony Rendon
  2. Brian Goodwin
  3. Lucas Giolito
  4. A.J. Cole
  5. Nathan Karns

Then the gap, then Law ranks 6-10 as went Matt Skole, Christian Garcia, Carlos Rivero, Matthew Purke and Michael Taylor. So, no mention of Taylor Jordan or Ian Krol, both of whom graduated and performed more than ably in the majors in 2013.  There was no mention of Robbie Ray, who Law never liked and never gave much credit to even when in 2011 he was out performing Cole in the low minors despite being the same age and same draft class, but who was regarded enough in Detroit to basically fetch a 4-win established MLB pitcher in Doug Fister.  There was no mention of Jeff Kobernus, who did get some MLB innings but isn’t considered a real prospect.  No mention of Nats minor league batter of the year Billy Burns (again, not really a prospect in lots of evaluator’s eyes).  No mention of Eury Perez as a top 10 candidate, and obviously no mention of Tanner Roark (who in January 2013 pretty much everyone saw as an organizational arm playing out the string to minor league free agency).  Law did say at the time that if Sammy Solis got healthy again he’d be back in the running for his top 100.  Amazingly Rivero, a waiver claim who ended the year demoted to AA, was his 8th best prospect for the system, quite an indictment.  Well, either that or a blind spot for Law, who is more impressed by tools in lower-minors kids than capabilities in prospects in the upper minors.

So, given that our top 10 last year in Law’s minds (in order):

  1. Rendon graduated to a starting job in the majors
  2. Goodwin struggled in a 2-level jump
  3. Giolito ably recovered from injury
  4. Cole impressed at AA after a promotion
  5. Karns made the leap to the majors but struggled
  6. Skole missed the entire season due to a freak injury
  7. Garcia missed basically the entire season with yet another injury
  8. Rivero was demoted to AA and is now a MLFA
  9. Purke pitched mostly a full season but did not dominate as expected
  10. Taylor impressed in high-A and was added to the 40-man

… and considering the litany of graduations/trades/exoduses out of the system (Rendon, Jordan, Krol, Ray, Rivero, Burns and Roark all ineligible for a 2014 analysis), how do you explain the fact that he thinks the system is basically treading water?

You have to think Law’s top 5 for the system now starts Giolito/Cole/Goodwin but then who knows where it goes from there.  I know from chat responses that Law is down on Purke now and that he didn’t ever really rate Jake Johansen or Drew Ward as 2013 draft picks.  Does Karns still qualify as a prospect?  Yes I believe so.   Solis came back and performed post injury but was he that impressive in 2013?

Perhaps Law’s thinking goes like this: he likes our top 3 prospects (clearly; Giolito, Cole and Goodwin all made Law’s minor league-wide top 100 list with Giolito at #21).  Law rates these top 3 guys as strong enough to make up for the graduations from last year.  Then there likely is a gap, then perhaps a small grouping of Karns and Solis, both of whom Law likes and both of whom he probably believes would make either #5 starters or good bullpen guys.  Then after that a grab bag to include Skole, Taylor, Perez and perhaps a couple guys from our 2013 draft class (Austin Voth?).  The problem with the back side of this theoretical top 10 list is that it includes a slew of players who were hurt or who treaded water in 2013.

What do you think?  And if your answer is some variation of, “Todd you spend too much time over-analyzing prospect lists and you just proved your own point by showing that a guy like Taylor Jordan can go from high-A to a MLB-average ERA+ and never appear on anyone’s prospect lists therefore prospect lists are useless” …. well I’m not going to argue against you that vociferously :-)  I’d probably respond by saying something to the effect of, “Its frigging january, what else are we going to talk about?”

No takers for Carlos Rivero plus Rule-5 returns

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Carlos Rivero snuck through waivers and stays with the organization. Photo Brad Barr/US Presswire via bleacherreport.com

Great news 3/25/13: the Nats exposed Carlos Rivero to waivers, got no takers and he was outrighted to AAA Syracuse over the weekend.

I know he didn’t have the greatest numbers this spring (8-for-47 for a meager .170 BA), but he seems like he could be a valuable utility guy in a pinch, able to play multiple positions both in the infield and outfield.   I liked what I saw from him in limited TV time this spring.  I’m glad he made it through waivers and remains an option in our farm system for at least this year.

He also clears a spot off the 40 man, leaving us sitting at 38/40.  Plenty of room to make moves if need be.  But not a ton of manuverability; of the 38 guys remaining, you can only really make a case for Corey Brown as being relatively expendible/likely to pass through waivers.  If we get a slew of injuries like last season that cause us to do mass call-ups, we may have to heavily depend on the 60-day DL.

Meanwhile, another year of Rule-5 complaining (see here and here) has essentially proven once again to be wasted breath; both Jeff Kobernus and Danny Rosenbaum have been returned to the team.   Kobernus still seemingly sits behind Steve Lombardozzi, Anthony Rendon and Wil Rhymes on the team’s 2nd base depth chart, meaning we’d have to have a pretty bad slate of injuries for him to sniff the majors this year.  But, it is nice to have him back, considering his draft pedigree and bonus money investment.  Rosenbaum was our AA Ace last year and started out with ace-like stuff, but struggled in the 2nd half.  Given that the team suddenly has a slew of starter arms in AAA (especially if Chris Young sticks around, though he probably walks), perhaps we’ll see Rosenbaum starting in AA again.  Not likely though; would you rather challenge Rosenbaum in AAA or give another year of starts to someone like Tanner Roark at this point?

Ladson’s Inbox 3/14/13

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Mar 12, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; United States pitcher Gio Gonzalez (47) delivers a pitch against Puerto Rico at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a while since Bill Ladson did an inbox; strange because you’d think with Spring Training in full swing he’d be getting a ton of emails.  Here’s his 3/14/13 edition.  Lets see if he takes a question on who will be the 2014 manager for the 5th consecutive time.

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

Q: Should the Nats be worried about sending their pitchers to the World Baseball Classic? Will there be pressure on them to pitch too many innings too soon?

A: Yes, this organization may be worried, as discussed in depth in Feburary in this space.  We’ve never had a pitcher throw in the WBC who hasn’t come back either injured or less effective, and league-wide studies show the same trend.  However I will say this: all 5 pitchers we’ve sent in years past were relievers.  This year we sent two starters in Gio Gonzalez and Ross Detwiler.  So maybe things will be different.  Yes the concern basically is that these guys are more interested in getting outs than getting ready for the regular season, causing them to overthrow, to not prepare as they normally would in the spring, to not focus on specific things that they would normally do in spring training games.  It is less about innings or pitch counts (which are strictly monitored).   Ladson says the team isn’t worried about their arms, but is worried about the lack of playing time Eury Perez is getting.  And they have a great point; Perez is sitting on the DR bench instead of getting ABs in spring training games.  His chances of making the team dropped to zilch and he’s already been re-assigned to AAA.

Q: Who are going to be the lefties for the Nationals by Opening Day?

A: I’m assuming he means the “Lefty relievers.”  At this point its looking like we’re going to break camp with just one lefty reliever in Zach Duke. Bill Bray needs more minor league time, Bobby Bramhall and Sean West are in minor league camp slated for AAA jobs, Brandon Mann got one inning and was awful, Pat McCoy got some innings but isn’t ready.  Only Fernando Abad has stuck with the big-league team and looks good.  But, if Henry Rodriguez is ready to go there’s no room for Abad.  I’m guessing Abad goes to AAA and bides his time.  Ladson agrees, and points out that our righties can get lefties out.

Q: With Tyler Moore on the big league roster, what do you think will happen to Chris Marrero?

A: I’m going to answer this my way, then i’ll predict what Ladson says.  Chris Marrero goes back to AAA, burns his last option in the process, and bides his time waiting for injuries to take out the likes of Adam LaRoche and/or Tyler Moore. That seems to be the only way he gets opportunities this year.  The team will hope for a strong AAA season to build up trade value and then will move him if they can.  Otherwise he’s looking at a waiver wire trip this coming off-season.  Now, before I read Ladson’s answer i’m going to guess that he says something along the lines of “The Nats will look to trade him for valuable assets” but he’ll neglect to mention that Marrero has zero trade value right now, having missed all of last year.  Lets see if i’m right: I stand corrected; Ladson has finally come around on his stance on Marrero and says he’ll be in AAA all year.

Q: Would the Nats ever consider adding Kyle Lohse to the roster?

A: Consider?  Perhaps.  Actually do it?  I don’t see it.   Kyle Lohse is becoming the poster child for the problem with the Qualifying Offer in the new CBA.  He foolishly declined it (on the advice of Scott Boras, who probably told him he could get 3-4 years guaranteed on the open market), and now sits unsigned 3 weeks from opening day.  Its amazing; this guy was 16-3 last year!  Lohse is seen as a product of his environment, a great coaching staff in St. Louis who do wonders with mediocre pitchers.  And make no mistake; 2012 aside Lohse is a career 97 ERA+ pitcher with a .500 record and a 4.45 ERA.  He doesn’t fit into the mold of what Mike Rizzo generally wants in a starter; power arm, high K/9 capabilities.  Now, if the team bus crashed and we lost our starting rotation to injury tomorrow … yeah i’m guessing we’d give him a call.  But there’s no way the Nats (or likely any other team) is going to give 3 guaranteed years to a 34-year old soft-tossing guy.  Boras really, really miscalculated here and it looks like its going to cost his client millions.  Ladson agrees.

Q: Please find out where Cole Kimball is in his rehab. I would like to know if he’s anywhere close to pre-surgery velocity.

A: I only saw Cole Kimball in one game, but his velocity was down.  Perhaps its ramped back up later into spring training.  In either case he’s bound for AAA to burn his last Option and await bullpen issues for his shot.  Ladson says he’s “close to throwing 95-mph.”  I wish more of these games were televised.

Q: Having heard earlier in the offseason that general manager Mike Rizzo feels Steve Lombardozzi and Danny Espinosa are both starters and not bench players, do you feel one of them will be traded prior to Opening Day? Lombardozzi was an extremely clutch pinch-hitter last year in my opinion.

A: Traded prior to Opening Day?  Almost impossible; nobody makes trades at this point in the season.  You make trades prior to spring training and then after a couple months are past in the season to address off-season or intra-season needs.  We’ll save the Espinosa vs Lombardozzi vs Rendon discussion; we all know it by heart by now.   Ladson says a trade is not coming.

Q: Considering he had a very good year with Triple-A Syracuse in 2012, what are the chances of outfielder Corey Brown making the team?

A: Zilch.  He may have hit in AAA, but he didn’t hit squat with Washington last September.  He’s at least 6th on the Washington OF depth chart (Werth, Harper, Span, Moore, Bernadina and then Eury Perez.  Perhaps even lower; I think the team would give Carlos Rivero and Erik Komatsu chances before Brown at this point.  And its just a matter of time before uber-prospect Brian Goodwin passes him by as well.  Brown’s looking at another year of AAA time, burning his last option, and then getting the MLFA treatment.  Ladson says no chance.

Hey!  No question on the 2014 Nats manager this time! I stand corrected.

Observations of Nats from early televised ST games

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Carlos Rivero looks like a valuable utility guy so far this spring. Photo Brad Barr/US Presswire via bleacherreport.com

I have to admit, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the two Nats spring training games that managed to find their way to MLB Network TV thus far (NatsJournal live blogs for the 2/23 game here and 2/25 game here).  Not so much because we got to see Harper, Strasburg and Gonzalez … we all know what these guys can do.  No; I’m interested in seeing the young guys, the guys who we rarely get to see play.  This year’s spring training is a week longer, meaning that there’s going to be an awful lot of playing time devoted to these AA and AAA guys who got spring training invites, and that’s many more looks at the likes of Matt Skole, Chris Marrero, and Carlos Rivero.

It is also good to see some of these arm prospects that we’ve been hearing so much about, and it has been instructive to see some of the minor league veterans invited to spring training.  Some observations on our guys (arms then bats):

  • Stephen Strasburg‘s first 7 pitches on 2/23/13; all fastballs, all 96-97.  Clearly he was working on his spots.  I’m not sure he threw a change-up the entire outing.  As is always the case in spring training, guys work on pitches, work on location, and stats are meaningless.  He gave up a wind-aided homer to a guy who’s hit like 1 his entire career; no cause for concern.
  • Gio Gonzalez was amped up; he over threw his fastball in the first and (if you believe the broadcast) reached 97 in the second.  He struggled with his release point clearly.  However, his curve looked in mid-season form, breaking sharply and serving as a nice out pitch against the few regulars that the Mets did bat on 2/25/13.
  • Bill Bray looked, well, awful.  His mechanics were always odd-looking, but he got hit hard by the Mets lineup of rag-tag regulars.  Not a good start for Bray’s spring.
  • Cole Kimball back on the hill …. where was his fastball?  It generally was coming in 90-91.  That’s clearly a step back from 2011, when he was averaging 93 and peaking at 95.8.  Lets hope this is Kimball working himself in slowly and not a permament velocity loss from his shoulder surgery.  Either way, he’s not going to displace his RHP competitors for the bullpen spots unless he can hump it up a bit more.
  • Pat McCoy was scheduled to throw 2/23, and I would really have liked to see him, but the Mets were ahead in the 9th and didn’t need to bat.  I’m convinced that McCoy could be a sleeper candidate for a left-handed specialist in this organization, if the cattle-call of guys we’ve signed to ML deals falls through.
  • Ross Ohlendorf put in two clean innings, but I don’t like what I see from him necessarily.   Not a lot of velocity (90-91) but a big guy (6’4″) who gets downward plane on his fastball.  But he just seems very “hittable.”  His numbers from the last two years in the majors show it; ERAs of 8.15 and 7.77 in 18 starts.  Not good.
  • Nathan Karns: the beat reporters raved about his performance overall; 2 innings, 3 Ks against a MLB-heavy part of the Mets order.  It was great to finally see Karns throw; he has easy arm action, runs the ball in 94-95, and spotted the ball on the corners well.  What I didn’t see was anything resembling a quality second pitch.  He attempted a number of sliders (I’m guessing sliders; they were generally 84-86, which would be a very hard curve) and he couldn’t get over-top of them at all.  He did throw one particular breaking pitch that was sharp and nasty.  I didn’t see anything resembling a 3rd or 4th pitch though.  Is he destined for the bullpen?  That’s not the worst thing in the world; to be the next Ryan Mattheus, a hard-throwing 7th inning right hander.

Now for thoughts on our minor league hitters:

  • Eury Perez is, well, really fast.  If he turns out to be anything close to a servicable hitter, he’s got leadoff/center fielder written all over him.  The question could become; which speedy CF prospect do we hope for more; Perez or Brian Goodwin?  Denard Span‘s contract has a convenient option for 2015, just about the time that Goodwin is likely ready for the majors on a full-time basis.  Of course, that being said Perez is further along than Goodwin (who likely starts 2013 at AA).  Goodwin has power to go with his speed, while Perez seems to have very little power.  Which would you prefer to be the longer-term CF solution?
  • I like Matt Skole; sweet swing, not overpowered by facing MLB pitching.  It makes you wonder about scouting sometimes; how come guys like Skole and Tyler Moore get no love from scouts?  Its like a 30-home run minor league guy is somehow a liability.  Of course, Skole’s problem is the same as Anthony Rendon‘s; positional blockage at 3B.  Yes Skole was playing low-A as a college junior when he hit 27 homers … but if you’ve seen Hagertown’s stadium, you know its a monster park to hit balls out of.  27 homers is no mean feat down there.   I’ll be curious to see if Skole can hit with that kind of power at High-A or AA (wherever he starts 2013).
  • Chris Marrero has looked pretty good, making good solid contact a number of times.  I don’t like his haircut though :-) .
  • Carlos Rivero is impressing me; he’s playing the outfield (after having played first SS and then 3B in the minors).  He has good hands, is a big guy, and seems like he can be a servicable backup utility guy who can fill in at any corner.  He’d be more flexible Moore or Chad Tracy in this respect (when judging our projected utility guys) but of course needs to show he can hit at the same levels.  Still, he is likely to be a numbers game victim unless someone like Bernadina gets hurt this spring.

Ladson’s inbox 1/28/13

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Espinosa's shoulder injury is the big news this week. Photo AP Photo/Nick Wass

These Inboxes are coming fast and furious!  Its almost like we’re just a few days away from Pitchers and Catchers reporting or something.  I should do an inbox response.  Except nobody emails me any questions.   Sometimes I wonder who emails Bill Ladson some of these questions, frankly, especially the people who keep asking about who the manager will be in 2014.  Anyway, here’s his 1/28/13 inbox and how i’d have responded.

Q: What is the status of Chris Marrero? Does he figure to contribute in the Major Leagues at all this year?

A: The phrase “what have you done for me lately” never seems more appropriate than when talking about Chris Marrero.   In November 2007 he was listed by Baseball America as our #1 prospect.   #1 over the likes of Detwiler, Zimmermann, Maxwell, Clippard, Desmond, Peacock, Norris and even Bernadina.    A season-ending injury in 2008, slow progress up our system and then last off-season’s torn hamstring have now dropped him to the Nats #23 ranked prospect overall.  #23 puts him behind “prospects” such as Corey Brown and right above 7-year minor leaguer Carlos Rivero.

The status of Marrero is this: he’s stuck at first-base, seemingly can’t play anywhere else, but doesn’t hit nearly enough homers in order to be a MLB first baseman.  So he seems sort of in a quandry.  Unless he suddenly turns into a 30-home run hitter over-night, or figures out how to play another position, he’s really in a tough spot.  On the Nats depth chart at 1B, he seems to be no better than 4th right now (LaRoche, Moore, Tracy).  That doesn’t bode well for him contributing at the MLB level.  It seems to me that the only way he’s playing meaningful minutes at first this year is if both LaRoche and Moore come down with season-ending injuries.

On the bright side; despite us hearing about him for years, he’s only 24.  But he’s running out of time.  He’ll burn his 3rd and last option in 2013 and isn’t going to be eligible for a 4th.  Marrero needs to hit lights out in AAA this year, get an injury on the big club and gets some big-league ABs, and build trade value.

Ladson has answered this question before and repeated his answer; he thinks Marrero needs to be traded.  Great idea!  Now, who exactly is going to trade for him right now?  And what exactly could the Nats get in return?  These sort of things matter when looking at trade candidates and it irritates me when they’re not taken into consideration by supposed “professionals” in the field.

Q: Given Danny Espinosa’s torn rotor cuff and disappointing second half last season, is there any chance Steve Lombardozzi will become the Opening Day starting second baseman?

A: Boy, the revelation that Danny Espinosa has a torn rotator cuff is big news to me.  Even though its in his non-throwing shoulder (obviously; if it was in his right shoulder he’d likely have had the surgery as soon as it happened), you have to think this affects his hitting.  In fact, the blog Nationals Review did just this yesterday in a great bit of analysis: before the estimated injury date Espinosa was hitting 255/.321/.416.  Afterwards (including his awful playoffs): .156/.241/.234.  That’s rather definitive, even if “after injury” only included a few weeks of the regular season and a 5-game series.

I think the injury gives the team a built-in excuse to replace him if he starts off the year struggling.  Opening Day though?  No way; Davey Johnson is a players’ manager, is old-school and will go with the team at hand unless someone gets hurt in Viera.  Ladson says lets see what happens in Spring Training.  I think that’s the baseball writer equivalent of an Economist saying, “It depends.”

Q: Do you think Johnson will sit Espinosa more often this season because of his injury?

A: Doubtful; he’s either going to produce or not.  If he doesn’t produce, look for him to be sent to the DL for surgery.  I don’t see him getting sat sporadically.  Ladson says that Espinosa won’t let that happen.  Last time I checked though, Espinosa was the player and Johnson was the manager.  So I’m not sure how he can make that command decision.

Q: What role do you foresee Christian Garcia playing this year?

A: I see Christian Garcia starting the year as a starter in AAA and then one of two things happening; either he hurts himself again, thus destroying the whole starter experiment.  Or, someone in the MLB bullpen gets hurt or gets ineffective (ahem, Henry Rodriguez anyone?) and Garcia-as-starter is scrapped as he’s brought up to pitch meaningful innings.  Ladson says he expects Garcia to be a bullpen member and doesn’t buy into the starter experiment.

Q: Assuming 2013 is Johnson’s final year, do you think his replacement will come from inside or outside the organization?

A: I just don’t get how people are obsessing over the 2014 manager.  Call me when the World Series is over and AFTER Johnson actually retires.  Ladson predicts someone from within.

Q: After Adam LaRoche’s contract runs out, could Ryan Zimmerman move across the diamond to first base and let Anthony Rendon play third?

A: This is exactly what I believe should happen.  My ideal world has Rendon hitting his way into a utility infielder role this year, pushing for more playing time next year (perhaps even forcing the Nats hand at 2nd base), and Zimmerman logically moving across the diamond to alleviate his mental issues with routine throws and to protect his body from the constant pounding he gets at 3rd.  Ladson wants Zimmerman at 3rd for a long time, apparently forgetting that Zimmerman increasingly has difficulty making routine throws and being incredibly fragile.

Q: What are the chances of the Nats opening the season with Bryce Harper in right field and Jayson Werth in left?

A: Zero.  But, honestly, Werth in left is a better defensive team.  Harper‘s so good in center while Werth‘s range is eroding in right, it just makes more sense to switch them up.  Why won’t it happen on opening day?  Deference to the veteran.  Deference to the contract.  I expect the OFs to switch around and get each of them playing time in all three positions.  Ladson says that Harper is more comfortable in left while Werth is an “above-average” right fielder.  Uh, not according to UZR/150, which had Werth at a very poor -14.2 in 2012.  Harper belongs in RF but it won’t happen overnight.

Updated Nats Resource Links and their impact

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With the slew of off-season activity nearly complete, I’ve updated some of the tracking worksheets that I maintain related to the Nats roster.  From non-tenders, FA signings and re-signings, trades and Arbitration settlements a lot has changed in terms of the Nats payroll, expected WAR estimates and 40-man options statuses.  All these resources are now updated in Google Docs.  Links (which should also be along the right-hand side of the page):

Here’s the implications that the last few months have had in each case:

Nats WAR Estimate Impact: We last visited this topic on 1/3/13 and I had a 2013 fWAR best case estimate of 57.6, equating to a 103 win season.  Now we’ve replaced Michael Morse‘s 3-win estimate with Adam LaRoche‘s 3.5 win estimate and added in Rafael Soriano‘s 1.2 fWAR estimate and are looking at a fWAR estimate of 59.1 and a 105 win capable team.  As with before, this doesn’t mean i’m predicting 105 wins; i’m saying that if everyone plays to their potential and nobody gets hurt, its hard not to see this being a 105 win team as constructed.

Nats 2013 Payroll Impact: When we last visited this topic on 12/3/12, we were sitting on a 2013 estimated payroll of just $88M.  Since then, we re-signed LaRoche, signed Dan Haren, stunningly signed Soriano and settled a slew of pre-arbitration settlements (most of which seemed to trend higher than MLB’s estimates for the players).  I’m now estimating the Nats 2013 payroll to be $121,823,500 (but see the caveat in the next paragraph).  There are still two payroll figures to be announced/decided: Zach Duke‘s 2013 pay has yet to be disclosed (I’m using an estimate of $1.5M) and Jordan Zimmermann was not able to settle with the team ahead of the filing deadline (i’m using an estimate of $4.9M for him).  The team filed at $4.6M while Zimmermann filed at $5.8M, meaning they’re $1.2M apart at current.  The midpoint would be $5.2M, meaning that the overall payroll could creep even higher and hit $122M.

Coincidentally, I’m not sure how to treat Soriano’s deal from a payroll perspective.  2 years, $28M but as we’ve learned half that money is deferred.  The spreadsheet shows it as a $14M aav contract but he’s only being paid $7M this year.  With the deferred money, the calculated AAV of the contract is only in the $11M/year range.  Cots shows $14M/year right now on its main page, but it hasn’t fixed its internal google XLS’s yet.  I think the right way to go would be to show $7M being paid this year and next, and then when the deferred payments kick in show them as the annual $2M payments that they’ll be.  So maybe the current payroll isn’t $121M but closer to $114M.  I’ll be curious to see how the sites like Cots and Usatoday (the two main sites that publish team payroll figures) treat this contract going forward.

Option Status: We last visited this topic on 11/14/12, before the non-tenders of Flores, Lannan and Gorzelanny, before the Rule-5 additions and before all the signings.   New signings Haren and Soriano are both 5+ year vets so Options don’t matter.  Interestingly, Duke has 6+ years of service time and signed a MLB deal, meaning he cannot be assigned to AAA withouth is consent and/or passing through waivers; the team is clearly counting on him to be in the MLB bullpen the whole year.  The most interesting options cases now belong to Ryan Mattheus and Craig Stammen, both of whom have options and both of whom (despite Stammen’s new 2 year deal) could be affected by the crowded bullpen.  I think we’re all under the assumption that Christian Garcia is starting the year in AAA; he has 3 options to use and may be on the train back and forth often in 2013.  I remain curious as to what the team will do with Carlos Rivero, who hit well in AAA and even better in winter ball, but has no options remaining and doesn’t have a single day of MLB service time.

Lastly (unrelated to the Nats), I’ve updated somewhat my “Best versus Winner” xls with the results from the NFL playoffs over the weekend.  For the 9th straight year in the NFL, the Superbowl winner will NOT be the team that also had the best regular season record.  This year, Denver and Atlanta shared the best regular season record and both were eliminated before reaching the Superbowl.  I keep track of this particular finding for all four major sports and generally have found that very infrequently does the team with the best record in any sport actually take the year end title any more.  Baseball has only seen it a few times in the last 20 years.

I’ve got a draft post that has an overview of all the random documents and spreadsheets that I’ve uploaded to Google Docs over the years (including the 4 discussed in this post).  I”ll publish it during a slow period this winter.

Ladson’s inbox 12/18/12

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Lots of loogy talk in this off-season; Burnett's a hard man to replace. Photo: masnsports.com

Another edition of mlb.com’s Nationals beat reporter Bill Ladson’s Inbox, this time from 12/18/12.

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

Q: Who will replace Sean Burnett as the lefty specialist in the bullpen?

Q: Is there any chance of the Nationals getting J.P. Howell to fill Burnett’s spot? Do you think the club needs him?

A: The Nats 2013 Loogy right now is likely to be minor league acquiree and former franchise 1st round pick Bill Bray.  If he’s healthy, and if he makes the team.  He’s the leader in the clubhouse right now, given the real lack of left handed relief in the farm system right now.  Clicking on baseball-reference’s great franchise pitching depth chart, there’s really not a single viable option that pitched above AA still in the system (I like Patrick McCoy, who did decently in AA, but he wasn’t picked up in Rule 5, which implies to me that he’s definitely not MLB ready).  Zach Duke seems set to be the Tom Gorzelanny replacement; the long-relief/spot-start/mop-up guy, and not necessarily the one-out guy.  The team is still involved with rumors of signing J.P. Howell, and of course could still re-sign Michael Gonzalez, who did so wonderfully for is in 2012.  However, lots of teams are in on lefty specialists right now and we may get out-bid.  I’m partial to Bray; he is a Virginia guy, went to William & Mary, and is the cousin of a buddy of mine (who, when I saw him last weekend, promised to have access to tickets if Bray makes the team).  Lets cross our fingers (stated completely selfishly).

Do we “need” Howell/Gonzalez?  I don’t know if we “need” another lefty, but I’d like another lefty in case Bray isn’t ready to go.  So I’d like to see another acquisition of someone for depth.  I think the bullpen looks better with a second lefty late-innings guy.  Ladson wrote almost exactly what I just wrote, naming all the same points.

Q: When looking at the 40-man roster, could you tell me what Yunesky Maya has to offer?

A: Maya still serves as last-ditch starter help, in case of a rash of injuries at the MLB level.  Despite his poor performances in two prior MLB stints, he’d still be preferable to other career minor league veteran options we probably will have in AAA this year (thinking the likes of Roark, Broderick, or Mandel).  His salary is guaranteed; we might as well keep him around as insurance.  If you’re looking to complain about a 40-man spot being wasted, look no further than Carlos Rivero.   Ladson calls the Maya signing Mike Rizzo‘s worst, and says the same thing I do about starter insurance.

Q: Who do you think has more of an upside: Michael Morse or Adam LaRoche?

A: An oddly worded question; I’m not sure either guy truly has upside at this point in their careers.  Michael Morse is in the last year of a contract, his sub-par defense has him outside of Rizzo’s vision of a pro-defense team, and there’s no guarantee that his 31 homer performance in 2011 wasn’t a complete one-off.  Adam LaRoche is already in his decline years and any guaranteed money is considered a big risk.  The best thing to do for the team would be to get LaRoche to return on as short of a guaranteed contract as he’ll take, and to flip Morse for some farm system depth (vastly depleted in the last 14 calendar months).   But, life isn’t that simple.  LaRoche has to be thinking for himself, and knows that this is the best and last time he’ll have to earn an 8-figure guaranteed deal.  So he has to max things out.  If someone else offers him 3 guaranteed years, he just has to take it.  He’ll never get $13M/year offered to him again.  Which would leave Morse in a contract year playing an easier defensive position (1B), and hopefully being 100% healthy he puts up another 2011 season.   Ladson is a pro-LaRoche guy.

Q: Considering his last outing in the postseason against the Cardinals, is Drew Storen the Nationals’ closer entering Spring Training, or will he have to win the job?

A: One badly timed blow-up won’t cost Drew Storen his job; he earned it back after taking a back seat to Tyler Clippard all summer, and that’s how things will stand going into 2013.  Clippard really struggled down the stretch in the role, and I cannot see any spring training competition at this point.   One thing that wouldn’t surprise me would be a trade though; only one guy can close, but both Clippard and Storen are closer-quality arms.  It could be lucrative to the team in terms of prospect depth to move one or the other to a team in need of a closer (and a team that values saves).  This move may not occur until next off-season though, when Clippard’s salary expectations will be far higher than the team may be willing to stomach for a non-closer.   Ladson says he expects Storen to be 100% and to get 30-35 saves.

Q: Burnett, who was a valuable asset in the bullpen, signed a two-year deal with the Angels. Couldn’t the Nationals have matched that kind of deal?

A: Yes they could have matched the Angel’s offer for Sean Burnett; it really wasn’t that much money.  But, by saving a few million here and there suddenly you have enough to buy a front-line starter.  That’s the right way to build a team in a fiscally responsible way.  That being said, I think perhaps the team was surprised that Burnett “only” signed a 2 year deal, given Jeremy Affeldt‘s 3 year contract for more money (Burnett’s deal has a 3rd year club option).   But Rizzo belives in the same thing that I believe in; bullpen arms are a commodity, can be found for relatively little money and you can get great performance for your dollar.  Think about Gonzalez last year; he was a minor league signing mid-season, and he posted a 132 ERA+ for us in 35 2/3 innings.  I think Bray could absolutely be this year’s version of Gonzalez.  Ladson has a good point: he thinks the Nats were slightly scared off by Burnett’s off -season elbow surgery and didn’t want to guarantee 2 years.

Q: Johnson’s favoritism drives me crazy, and I’m weary of reading about him trying to coax LaRoche into signing. Doesn’t favoritism bother the rest of the team, perhaps cause discord? And does the ballclub truly believe LaRoche can achieve the same numbers next year? I am dubious.

A: A great question; I’ve said in the past that Davey Johnson‘s overt recruiting of LaRoche in the media has to be grating to Morse.  If LaRoche signs elsewhere, I would absolutely believe there may be some discord in the clubhouse between Morse and Johnson that will need to be addressed.  Other readers on this blog don’t necessarily believe this is the case, saying that Morse has to know that “its a business.”  But how would you feel if your boss was overtly recruiting your replacement?  I’d be pissed.  Can LaRoche match his 2012 numbers in 2013?  Sure.  The odds are against him though.  Its more likely to expect declines in production natural with his advancing age.  Ladson says the players love Johnson and would never question him, but didn’t even mention Morse’s name.

Q: Do you think Ian Desmond can pull off another incredible year in 2013?

A: Sure!  Do I think Ian Desmond could also regress at the plate to his pre 2012 numbers?  Yes I do.  I really have no idea what to expect out of guys like Desmond and Roger Bernadina, who both had career years and significantly improved their offense over their career norms.  Are these one-time improvements?  Meanwhile, a guy like Danny Espinosa is in the reverse situation; he’s regressing year to year, and needs to make a leap like Desmond made.  Predictions?   I think all three players stay roughly where they are, Espinosa starts losing ABs against lefties to Lombardozzi, and Rendon starts to force the team’s hand by tearing up AAA in early 2013.   Ladson is really pro-Desmond, saying that he’ll go down as one of the great short-stops in baseball.  That’s heavy praise.

Possible 2013 WBC Nationals participants?

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Harper makes perfect sense to represent the US in 2013 WBC. Photo GQ magazine Mar 2012

I read a quickie piece with some Mike Rizzo quotes from the Washington Time’s beat reporter Amanda Comak on November 11th, 2012 and there was an interesting tidbit at the bottom: per Comak,  Rizzo has not been approached yet about any Washington Nationals participation in the WBC, but would approach each request on a “case-by-case basis” to determine what is in the best interests of the team.  This got me thinking about possible Nats representatives on 2013 WBC teams.

Lets take a quick look at the Nationals representatives on WBC teams from the past, talk about whether its really in the best interests of the team to even let these guys play, and then talk about who may be candidates for the 2013 WBC regardless.

(Note: I’ve added updates highlighted in red since the original 11/21/12 publication date on players mentioned here).

Washington has sent a decent number of players to play in the WBC over the years, with very mixed results for the team’s interests.  In 2006 the team sent seven different players to the inaugural WBC:

  • Luis Ayala for Mexico
  • Chad Cordero, Gary Majewski and Brian Schneider for team USA
  • Ronnie Belliard, Alberto Castillo, and Wily Mo Pena for the Dominican Republic.

The tournament was marred for the team by a blown UCL ligament to Ayala, who had undergone elbow surgery earlier in the off-season but pitched for his home country anyway.  The team did not want Ayala to participate in the inaugural event, did not want him used by the Mexican team, and team officials were “livid” by the injury, which cost Ayala the season and cost the team its 8th inning setup guy.  Ayala recovered to pitch again in 2008 but was never as effective, and was shipped out in 2009 for a PTBNL.  Coincidentally, I suspect the team still harbors some ill-will towards Ayala to this day.  Meanwhile the other two relievers who participated both experienced regressions in form; Cordero’s ERA nearly doubled (from 1.82 to 3.19) from his breakout 2005 season while Majewski’s numbers dipped slightly before he was traded in the big Cincinnati deal of 2006.

In 2009, the team had 5 participants:

  • Pete Orr playing for Canada
  • Joel Hanrahan and Adam Dunn playing for the USA
  • Saul Rivera and Ivan Rodriguez playing for Puerto Rico.

The WBC seemed to energize particularly Dunn, who enjoyed playing in a post-season atmosphere for the first (and only) time in his career.  Nobody suffered any injuries, but Hanrahan in particular may have been affected by his lack of a proper spring training; he posted a 7.71 ERA for the team while losing the closer spot and was shipped to Pittsburgh.  Ironically, Rivera also experienced a huge regression of form, going from a 3.96 ERA in 2008 to a 6.10 ERA in 2009 and was eventually released.

This begs the question; do we even WANT our pitchers playing on this team?  The first two WBCs have shown pretty distinctly that our pitchers have regressed greatly after playing.  This only makes sense: the spring training routines are greatly impacted to play in this event.  We may see a ton of front-office resistance to specific guys (especially those coming off injury) playing in the 2013 event.  Which could affect the eligibility of some specific players for 2013.

Now, which Nats may play for the 2013 teams?  First off, looking at the Nationals 40-man roster, we have become an amazingly heavy USA-born team (we’ll get to non-40man roster players in a moment). Thanks to the Nats big board resource (originated by Brian Oliver and now maintained by “SpringfieldFan”), which has the country of origin for players, here’s a breakdown of the home-country of our current 36 active (as of November 15th, 2012) roster players:

  • USA: 27 (would be 29 if adding in our rule-5 avoidance players)
  • Venezuela: 5 (Jesus Flores, Sandy Leon, Wilson Ramos, Henry Rodriguez, and Carlos Rivero)
  • Cuba: 1 (Yunesky Maya)
  • Columbia: 1 (Jhonatan Solano)
  • Dominican Republic: 1 (Eury Perez)
  • Netherlands (via Curacao): 1 (Roger Bernadina)

As you can see, the massive bulk of our team is USA born, and essentially our entire post-season starting roster was USA born as well.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that these USA-born players will actually play for team USA (Alex Rodriguez played for Puerto Rico despite being born and raised in Miami, and our own Danny Espinosa is eligible to play for Mexico by virtue of his first-generation born in the US status), but almost all of these guys will be up for consideration for the USA team.  And this only accounts for our 40-man players; as we’ll see below there’s plenty of lower-minors players from smaller countries that will participate.

Who from the Nationals franchise may make a 2013 WBC roster?  First off, thanks to James Wagner‘s 11/15/12 NatsJournal post we already know of three WBC participants; Solano is on the Columbian team, minor leaguer Jimmy Van Ostrand is on the Canadian team, and A-ball catcher Adrian Nieto is on the Spanish team.  Curacao qualifies to play with the Netherlands, and I’d guess that Bernadina would make a great choice considering the lack of Dutch players in baseball (Baseball Continuum’s projections agree.  And as of 12/4/12 he’s officially been listed as a Netherlands participant).. Venezuela is already qualified for the main draw and has a relatively strong possible team.  The Baseball Continuum blog posted an early projection of the Venezuelan team and listed Flores as a likely participant (specifically mentioning that Ramos wasn’t considered due to injury recovery; I’d suspect these two players to switch based on Ramos’ recovery and Flores’ awful 2012).   If Henry Rodriguez was healthy i’d guess he would be on that list too, but his season-ending surgery probably precludes his participation.  The Dominican Republic has perhaps the strongest depth and has no need for the recently called up Perez among its outfield depth.  Maya’s defection eliminates him from discussion for the Cuban team.  (12/4/12 update): Chien-Ming Wang has been announced as a member of Chinese Taipei’s team (for the purposes of this article I investigated all 2012 Nats).

Which leaves our large contingent of American players.  A couple of writers have started postulating on these rosters (David Schoenfield‘s very early guess as to a potential USA roster is here, Baseball Continuum’s latest projection is here).  So using these two posts as a starting point, lets go position-by-position and give some thoughts as to who may get some consideration.  Keep in mind the WBC rosters are generally very reliever heavy, since no starter is going to be “allowed” to pitch a complete game in March.

(Note: I’m still considering our Free Agents as “Nats players” for the purposes of this analysis, since this really goes position by position from our 2012 team to find candidates).

  • Catcher: Kurt Suzuki isn’t nearly in the class of the likes of Buster Posey, Brian McCann, Joe Mauer, or Matt Weiters.  There are a ton of quality american backstops right now.
  • First Base: Free Agent Adam LaRoche probably faces far too much competition from the likes of Prince Fielder, Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn, Allen Craig, Eric Hosmer, and Mark Teixeira to make this team.  If it were me, I’d go with Fielder and Teixeira.  But, LaRoche’s great 2012 season and his Gold Glove recognition may get him a spot.  He is a FA though, so i’d guess he won’t commit until he signs and gets the go-ahead from his new team.  Or, perhaps he uses the WBC to showcase himself?  Not likely needed; he should sign long before the WBC kicks off in March.
  • Second Base: Danny Espinosa is a decent player, but not in the same league as  Shoenfield’s projection of Dustin Pedroia and Ben Zobrist.  Brandon Phillips is also in the mix for the team.
  • Shortstop: Ian Desmond‘s breakout 2013 season may get him some consideration.  There’s not a lot of American quality short stops out there.  Troy Tulowitzki is the obvious leading choice (as was Derek Jeter in the first two WBCs), but is he ready to come back from injury?  Looking around the majors there are a couple other possibilities (JJ Hardy, Brendan Ryan, Jimmy Rollins and Brandon Crawford all could be alternatives as well).   I think Desmond’s combination of offense and defense, combined with Tulowitzki’s injury recovery could get him on the team.
  • Third Base: Ryan Zimmerman cannot break the hegomony of David Wright and Evan Longoria right now, even given Longoria’s injury struggles this season.  Chase Headley and David Freese are also in the 3b mix.  12/4/12 update: Apparently Wright is committed, Longoria is out due to injury recovery and Headley “was not asked,” so perhaps Zimmerman is back in the mix.
  • Outfielders: I think Bryce Harper is a natural to make this team, not only on talent but also because of the brand-name recognition (and TV ratings and fan interest) it would generate.  Same goes for Mike Trout.  Otherwise there’s a slew of top-end american players who can man the outfield and they read like the top of the MVP boards: Braun, Kemp, McCutchen, Stanton, Hamilton, and Granderson are all candidates to make this team.  12/6/12 update: Scott Boras has stated that Harper will skip the WBC to focus on his sophomore season.
  • Starters: The two logical Nats candidates to be considered would be Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg.  But lets be honest; there is no way in hell Strasburg would be allowed to play.  Could Gonzalez make this team?  Given the depth of American starter talent right now (just off the top of my head: Verlander, LincecumCain, Hamels, Halladay, Kershaw, Lee, Weaver, Sabathia, Medlen, and so on) perhaps this will be a selection of attrition moreso than a selection of availability.  So if a number of the older guys on this list beg out, perhaps Gio gets his shot.  The WBC’s location in San Francisco has already lead to Ryan Vogelsong committing to play in his home town, and could lead to other Bay Area players signing up.  I’m not sure any of the rest of our starters are really candidates, given the reputations of the above list plus the reliever-heavy nature of the roster.
  • Relievers: our two most well known relievers (Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen) are possibilities; would the Nats block Storen based on his 2012 injury?  Craig Stammen‘s breakout 2012 season could get him looks, based on the reliever-heavy needs of the team.  Normally Sean Burnett may be in the loogy mix, but there’s better lefty relievers out there AND Burnett’s FA status may lead him to bow out to curry favor to his new team (Schoenfeld lists Burnett as a possible member back in July, before knowing he’s declared free agency).  The question is, would you take Clippard/Storen against the likes of this list of quality american back-of-the-bullpen arms: Kimbrel, Ventors, Marshall, League, Janssen, Papelbon, Hanrahan, Motte, Boggs, Bailey, Reed, and Nathan?  Possibly, considering that a lot of these guys probably bow out.  We’ve sent multiple relievers to each of the past two WBCs and its likely going to be the same thing this year.

Summary: here’s my guesses as to which Nats (and recent ex-Nats) will play in the WBC:

  • Venezuela: Ramos
  • Spain: Nieto
  • Canada: Van Ostrand
  • Columbia: Solano
  • Netherlands: Bernadina
  • Chinese Taipei: Wang
  • USA: Harper, Desmond, Gonzalez, Clippard.  Perhaps Zimmerman and Stammen.

March 2013 update: here’s the post-WBC actual list of participants when all was said and done, helped by  the list of rosters via Wikipedia.  MLB reports that nine (9) Nationals are participating in the classic, though the below list (excluding Wang) totals more.  They’re not counting Solano/Columbia, having lost in the preliminaries.

  • Columbia: Jhonatan Solano (AAA/Mlb in 2012)
  • Spain: Adrian Nieto (low-A in 2012)
  • Canada: Jimmy Van Ostrand (AA in 2012)
  • Italy: Matt Torra, Mike Costanzo (both AAA in 2012, Washington MLFA signings for 2013)
  • Netherlands: Roger Bernadina, Randolph Oduber (high-A in 2012)
  • Chinese Taipei: Chien-Ming Wang (former Nat, non-signed FA for 2013 start of season)
  • USA: Gio Gonzalez, Ross Detwiler
  • Dominican Republic: Eury Perez (3/4/13 addition to DR team)

Nats 2012 Rule 5 Protection Analysis

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Is Nathan Karns a 40-man roster addition candidate ahead of the rule-5 draft? Photo Potomac Nationals official via milb.com

In part I on this topic yesterday, we talked about the Nats Rule 5 draft history.  Today we’ll talk about Parts II and III: who the Nats may think about protecting ahead of this year’s Rule 5 draft, and what the team may be seeking if they participated and drafted a player or two in the Rule 5 draft themselves.

Part II: Nationals Rule-5 Draft Protection Candidates.

I kvetched a little bit about this topic in this space earlier this off-season, talking about the lack of roster space for the upcoming Rule 5 draft.  I suspected that as a result of MLB deals given to guys like Anthony Rendon and Matthew Purke, in addition to the glut of guys we had to add mid season, we may be seeing some guys not getting protected this year that would be in other years.  As of today, the Nats 40-man roster sits at 36 players with a bit of immediate room to spare (we could non-tender the likes of John Lannan, Tom Gorzelanny or Jesus Flores (speaking of Rule 5 additions) in a pinch, and I think Carlos Rivero may be imminently DFA’d), but we also have several 25-man roster spots departing via free agency that need to be filled, quickly filling back in those empty spots.  So, perhaps the issue isn’t as bad as I thought it might be.

That being said, here’s a look at some of our Rule 5 eligible guys that may warrant protection.  For “official” opinions here’s Mark Zuckerman‘s Rule5 post, along with Adam Kilgore‘s version of the same analysis.  This is a combination of first-time eligible guys for the 2012 draft (mostly, guys who were college junior draftees from 2009 or high school draftees in 2008), prior year eligible guys who have suddenly worked their way onto the radar, and any International FA signing from 2008 or before (they are treated the same way as high school age draftees).  Working off a list that Luke Erickson posted LAST november, along with his post on the same topic this week, and of course referencing the two great nats farm system resources maintained by “SpringfieldFan” (and formerly by Brian Oliver): the Nats Draft Tracker and the Nats Big Board, here’s some thoughts on protection candidates:

Stronger Candidates to protect

  • Nathan Karns: he finally had an injury-free season, and he put up numbers as expected when the team gave him an above-slot deal in 2009.  He is older, and only projects as a AA starter in 2013, but he is an intriguing starter prospect for the Nats in 2014.
  • Destin Hood: I don’t think the team is ready to give up on the long-term 2008 2nd round project.  His numbers have been increasing as he reportedly is learning the game better.  I suspect the team protects him to protect their investment.
  • Danny Rosenbaum; the “Ace” of Harrisburg this year, and our furthest advanced legitimate starter prospect, Rosenbaum projects more like a Tommy Milone or John Lannan right now.  I’d suspect that the team may protect him, thinking that someone could stash him as a loogy for a year.  I’m not sure his ceiling is in the Nats rotation, but he could be a good trade candidate.  He hit the DL late last year, which makes it slightly less likely that a team would take a flier on him, but his track record warrants his mention.
  • Patrick McCoy: he just repeated AA and despite already being Rule-5 eligible last  year he improved on his numbers in 2012.  Why protect him?  Because this team needs a Loogy, and McCoy may be the leading lefty reliever in our upper-minor leagues.
  • Jeff Kobernus has put up consistent numbers his whole career, but still projects as a power-less middle infielder.  Would the team protect him, thinking he has a chance to become the next Steve Lombardozzi?  Would the team protect him just to protect their bonus money?

Weaker candidates to protect

  • Trevor Holder: a 3rd round pick roundly criticized at the time of being an underslot money saver, Holder had decent peripherals in high-A and AA this year.  But, he doesn’t seem to project as the dominant right-hander he was in college and seems likely to top out as an org-arm.  Despite his 3rd round pedigree, I don’t see a team taking a flier on him in rule-5.
  • Pat Lehman; a local guy (GWU), but despite having good numbers in AAA he remains a very common commodity; a right handed minor league reliever.  Even if he’s drafted, it isn’t that great a loss because of the depth we already have at the position.
  • Paul Demny; despite making the AFL team this year, I don’t quite see Demny as being a draft risk.  His ERA this year and in years past has been substandard.
  • Robert Gilliam; only really mentioned here since we just acquired him last off-season in the Gio Gonzalez trade and the team probably doesn’t want to lose him, but his 6.37 ERA in AA makes it extremely unlikely someone grabs him in the Rule 5.
  • Erik Davis: technically rule-5 eligible last year, he stepped up this year and put up pretty dominant AA numbers.  As with Lehman, he’s a righty reliever in AA so the odds of his getting picked (or protected) seem slim.

Players not worth protecting for various Reasons

Now, there’s a bunch of “good names” that are Rule 5 eligible in our system but who are not listed here, including guys who toiled as high as AA last year.  Anyone not listed here is probably not going to be missed, even if they are drafted.  Plus, the likelihood of a decent pitcher prospect who has never played above A-ball being drafted in rule-5 is extemely slim.  Most of the guys above are mentioned because of their capability to be “stashed” on a MLB roster.  This includes:

  • last year’s departures Brad Meyers (coming off injury) and Erik Komatsu (clearly been passed on the organizational OF depth chart).  Yes they got picked last year, but both got returned and I’d be surprised to see them picked again.
  • higher profile draft picks Josh Smoker and Jack McGeary: neither has advanced far enough in their careers to realistically stick with a MLB team.
  • Jeff Mandel may be an accomplished AAA pitcher, but I don’t think he’s anything more than that.
  • Rob Wort hasn’t advanced far enough up the chain to be considered.
  • Justin Bloxom could be a dark horse prospect next year, but only made it to AA the second half of last year.

Who would I protect, If I was the GM?  I’d protect Karns, Hood, Rosenbaum and McCoy right now, filling the four current openings on the roster.  If a move needs to be made (a FA signing or a trade), then you make one-for-one DFAs or non-tenders as needed.  You have 40-man room; might as well use it.  My order of protection is probably Karns, McCoy, Hood and Rosenbaum (from most important to least important to protect).  Odds are that the team only opts to protect a couple of guys to give immediate roster flexibility heading into the winter meetings.

Part III: Might the Nats participate in the Rule-5 draft this year?

This year’s Rule 5 draft has some intrigue for the team; unlike last year, we have definite holes in the bullpen and on the roster which can be “more easily” filled via the Rule 5 draft.  We need a lefty out of the bullpen, we need a backup middle infielder and we need a 5th starter.  The odds of finding the latter in the rule 5 draft are very slim, but the odds of finding one of the first two are better.  If you look at the last couple of Rule 5 drafts, nearly every player drafted is either a Pitcher or a Middle Infielder.  Most teams carry a second backup middle infielder who gets very little playing time, ideal for “hiding” rule 5 draftees.  And of course every bullpen has a “mop up” guy who pitches once or twice a week in low-leverage situations, also a great place to hide a rule-5 guy.

Besides, the “penalty” for drafting a guy and returning him is pretty small in baseball terms: $25,000 net (it costs $50,000 fee to select a player, then if you “offer” them back the original team has to refund $25,000 of that fee).   So I’d be surprised honestly if the team didn’t roll the dice with at least a flier on either of the two needs mentioned above.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of the Rule 5 draft any longer.  It was created as a way to liberate players who were stuck in farm systems behind established players (much the way that minor league free agency rules attempted to do the same), but now seems to be a cheap method of teams to get an extended tryout of players.  I’ve now come to believe that the draft is not necessarily in the best interests of the players or the teams; just read below for the organizational transaction chaos that followed players.  It also seems like a high number of players who get drafted in rule-5 immediately suffer season-ending injuries; coincidence or correlation?  If you’re a rule-5 drafted arm, the drafting team knows you must perform at a MLB level to stay in the organization.  Wouldn’t that imply there’s added pressure to compete, leading to overthrowing and arm injuries?  Plus, teams that lose players often get them returned damaged and having lost a season of service time.  I suppose players are the ones that are pro-Rule 5 draft, in that it immediately means a promotion to the 40-man roster, MLB service time and higher pay.

In the end, it makes for a good reason to write a 2,500 word blog post, and it may result in our team having new prospects to evaluate and dream about, so perhaps I protest too much.

Nationals Players’ Service Time and Option Status for 2013

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Jesus Flores achieved 5 full years of service time in 2012, complicating his roster status going forward. Photo Toni Sandys/Washington Post

In the process of opining on some preliminary Nats hot-stove moves this coming off-season, I found myself asking certain service-time/options questions about players on the 40-man roster.

So, I took the time to create a Spreadsheet of all Nats 40-man roster players with Options status for the coming season (well, actually update a version I had of this information from last year).  I also tried to update everyone’s service time to what it should stand at at the end of the 2012 season (though honestly some of the service time calculations, especially for someone bounced up and down this year like Corey Brown, can be tricky).

I know that Luke Erickson‘s Nats Big Board has an “Options Status” tab, and I didn’t mean to circumvent the work there; i’m just not sure whether it has been updated for the coming season.  The big board Options tab also has some helpful links to decipher some of the options ramifications, especially the tricky 4th option (which will notably come into play for several of our guys very soon, as discussed below).

Nonetheless, if I have the Options statuses and Service time calculations correctly done, there are some interesting roster management moves on the horizon.  The below analysis includes a disputed 4th option for Ryan Perry; I’m pretty confident I’m correct in determining his option status but will caveat that opinion (and this whole article) by reminding the reader that I’m not in fact a professional baseball executive and may have a couple of these calculations wrong.

Here’s a full list of our current 36 40-man players (this is where we stand as of today, post FA declarations of our seven free agents plus the reverting of our former three 60-day DL guys to the 40-man roster).  I’ve got these players divided into four categories, with some discussion after each:

Category 1: Vets who can refuse demotion (5 or more years of service)

Players in this category and their service time at the end of 2012:

Name Svc Time First Added to 40-man Option Years Used # Ops Left
Gorzelanny, Tom 5.16 Sept 2005 2006, 2008, 2009 0
Flores, Jesus 5.079 Dec 2006 2008, 2011 1
Suzuki, Kurt 5.113 Jun 2007 none 3
Tracy, Chad 7.000 Nov 2004? ? ?
Zimmerman, Ryan 7.032 Sep 2005 none 3
Morse, Michael 5.114 Nov 2004 2005, 2006, 2007 0
Werth, Jayson 9.102 Nov 2002? ? ?

Discussion: Most of the guys on this list are no-brainer core pieces of the team in 2013 and beyond, but two names in particular raise interesting questions.  First Tom Gorzelanny has now achieved enough MLB time so that he cannot be sent down without his permission, but that was largely irrelevant based on his lack of options anyway.  He remains a non-tender candidate because of his expected raise from his 2012 $3M salary given his role as long-man/mop-up guy for the team (well, that is unless you’ve seen the price of left-handed relief on the FA market this off-season … maybe he’s NOT a non-tender candidate).  The bigger surprise on this list is Jesus Flores, who I believe achieved his 5th full service year in 2012 and now (despite having a minor league option left) can refuse an assignment to AAA.  This represents an interesting decision for the team, who clearly has Suzuki and Ramos as its #1/#2 catchers.  Most think he’s also a clear non-tender candidate for 2013, but I tend to think that he’s a valuable commodity worth tendering a contract.  Despite his poor batting in 2012 (slash line of .213/.248/.329) there is a market for backup catchers in this league, especially ones that once showed the hitting promise that Flores has (a slash line of .301/.371/.505 in the early part of 2009 prior to his injuries).  Maybe this service time issue becomes the straw that breaks the camel’s back of his tendering decision; if we tender him, we’ll immediately have to trade him because he’ll likely refuse an assignment and be declared a free agent if he doesn’t make the 2013 team.  Perhaps the team cuts bait on him before having their hand forced.

Category 2: Players with Options but who are entrenched on the 25-man roster for 2013

Name Svc Time First Added to 40-man Option Years Used # Ops Left
Gonzalez, Gio 3.162 Aug 2008 2009 2
Mattheus, Ryan 1.111 June 2011 none 3
Storen, Drew 2.140 May 2010 none 3
Strasburg, Stephen 2.118 Aug 2009 2010 2
Zimmermann, Jordan 3.154 Apr 2009 2010 2
Ramos, Wilson 2.047 Nov 2008 2009, 2010 1
Desmond, Ian 3.027 Nov 2008 2009 2
Espinosa, Danny 2.033 Sep 2010 none 3
Lombardozzi, Steve 1.023 Sep 2011 none 3
Harper, Bryce 0.152 Aug 2010 2011, 2012 1
Moore, Tyler 0.113 Nov 2011 2012 2

Discussion; the likelihood of seeing any of these guys optioned to the minors in 2013 seems slim; mostly they are starters and key players for the team going forward.  That being said, John Lannan‘s surprise demotion in 2010 while he struggled was enabled by his options availability, and a struggling player like Moore or Lombardozzi could be sent down to make room if need be.

Category 3: Players whose Options almost guaranteed to be used in 2013

Name Svc Time First Added to 40-man Option Years Used # Ops Left
Kimball, Cole 0.138 Nov 2010 2011, 2012 1
Maya, Yunesky 0.070 July 2010 2010, 2011, 2012 1?
Perry, Ryan 2.142 Apr 2009 2009, 2011, 2012 1?
Purke, Matthew 0.000 Aug 2011 2012 2
Leon, Sandy 0.096 May 2012 2012 3
Solano, Jhonatan 0.092 Nov 2011 2012 2
Marrero, Chris 0.033 Nov 2010 2011, 2012 1
Rendon, Anthony 0.000 Aug 2011 2012 2
Perez, Eury 0.030 Nov 2011 2012 2

Discussion; This list is where some of the 4th option availability comes into play.  First Yunesky Maya has already used 3 options but clearly isn’t in the plans of the team for 2013 (the final year of his 4yr/$8M wasted contract).  But, if I read the options rules correctly his lack of achieving 5 professional seasons will give him a 4th option, which is likely to be used for 2013.  The same goes with Ryan Perry, who was drafted in 2008 but made the Tiger’s MLB roster in 2009, nearly out of Spring Training, meaning he’s just finishing his 4th professional season.  This means (as was pointed out by a reader a few posts ago) he’s eligible for a 4th option, which is likely to be used as Perry continues to remake himself as a starter.  (Note: the 4th option validity for Perry has been questioned here and there and revolves around 2010, when I don’t believe he was optioned).  I see him being in the AAA rotation and serving as injury insurance for the MLB rotation.  Marrero and Kimball are both in the same boat; they both missed all (or most) of 2012, burning an option in the process, and unless the organization makes the decision to designate them to make room on the 40-man they will each burn their last minor league option in 2013.  The rest of these players are working their way up the minor league system, or in the case of Matthew Purke, hopefully working their way back into 100% health.

Category 4: Players with Options available, jeopardizing their 25-man status in 2013

Name Svc Time First Added to 40-man Option Years Used # Ops Left
Christian Garcia 0.027 Sep 2012 none 3
Lannan, John 4.045 July 2007 2010, 2012 1
Stammen, Craig 2.160 May 2009 2009, 2011 1
Brown, Corey 0.059 Nov 2010 2011, 2012 1

Discussion: I probably should have put Stammen into the 2nd category of players, based on his breakout 2012 performance.  Lannan is a likely non-tender after getting the surprising option to Syracuse in 2012 and demanding a trade; however if he’s offered arbitration he can have the same thing happen to him again in 2013, serving as a multi-millionare AAA starter/insurance policy.  The question is whether or not the team wants to spend money in that fashion.  It remains to be seen what the team does with Garcia; numerous reports talk of him converting to a starter.  If so, his options availability would allow the team to send him to AAA to hone his craft were he to not be ready for a rotation spot out of spring training.  Lastly Brown seems stuck in 4-A status right now, having cleaned up in AAA but struggled at the MLB level.  Perhaps he’s also a “guarantee” to be optioned in 2013 and belonging in the 3rd category; I put him here only because the Nats outfield situation remains in so much flux.  If LaRoche walks, Morse likely moves to first, Moore likely starts in left (absent another FA outfielder signing or other acquisition), Bernadina continues as the 4th outfielder and the team may possibly need a 5th outfielder candidate.  Brown is a lefty though, and the team has already invested in a lefty bench bat in Chad Tracy, so perhaps this works against him.  There’s so much yet to be decided though, its hard to guess how it will shake out.

Category 5: Players with no options left

Name Svc Time First Added to 40-man Option Years Used # Ops Left
Clippard, Tyler 3.148 May 2007 2007, 2008, 2009 0
Detwiler, Ross 3.002 Sept 2007 2008, 2009, 2011 0
Rodriguez, Henry 2.114 Nov 2007 2008, 2009, 2010 0
Rivero, Carlos 0.000 Nov 2009 2010, 2011, 2012 0
Bernadina, Roger 3.146 Oct 2007 2008, 2009, 2011 0

Discussion: The main player that has a worry here is Carlos Rivero, claimed off waivers from Philadelphia and who burned his last option in 2012 without even getting a Sept 1 call up.  He had a decent season in AAA (.303/.347/.435) but seems to be without a position (he played 3rd primarily in AAA and doesn’t seem to have another position).  I’m guessing he’s DFA’d this off-season and the team attempts to re-sign him to a minor league contract.  Henry Rodriguez‘s lack of options has resulted in some dubious DL-trips several times for this team, as he clearly could use some minor league time to fix his Jeckyl-and-Hyde performances.  But he can’t be optioned, so in some ways the team is stuck.  Honestly, I think its just a matter of time before they run out of patience and DFA him as well.

Thoughts?  Corrections?  Any and all feedback is welcome.