Nationals Arm Race

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

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Ask Collier 5/22/17 (i’m back!)

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Our newest little Nats fan!

Our newest little Nats fan!

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

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


 

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

Collier agrees; its early.


 

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

We miss you: Former Nats from the 2015 team and where they are now

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Did we dodge a bullet by allowing Zimmermann to leave? Photo via The Boston Globe.

Did we dodge a bullet by allowing Zimmermann to leave? Photo via The Boston Globe.

Next in a series moving backwards.  Here was the “We Miss You” for the 2016 team.

Lets go back a year and look at those players gone from the 2015 team.  I’m building these partly from the Nats to Oblivion Posts and partly from my own notes using a combination of players gone via FA, trades, DFAs, to include major league players and significant minor league players.   If a player is still in the org but was just DFA’d off the 40-man, I’ll mostly skip them.  I may miss someone; pipe up in the comments if I have a glaring miss.

I’ll organize this by roughly by the level of the player; major league players who left via FA or trade, then DFA’d/declined players, then minor leaguers of note who departed.

  • Jordan Zimmermann; signed 5/$110M with Detroit and left us with a comp pick, used to take Dane Dunning.  I think its safe to say that Zimmermann’s tenure in Detroit thus far has been disappointing: he had a 4.87 ERA in 2016 and missed half the season, and he’s been even worse this year.  Detroit has to behaving some buyer’s remorse right now.  And he’s signed for 3 more years past this one, at big money.
  • Dan Uggla: The Nats were probably his last stand chance in the majors; hit just .183 and was given just 17 ABs the last two months of the 2015 season.  Never signed for 2016 and seems to be retired.
  • Doug Fister: signed 1/$7M with Houston, to whom he gave 32 starts and 180 innings of mediocrity (4.64 ERA) in 2016.  Apparently still believes he’s worthy of a 25-man spot and refused all offers this past off-season that were not MLB deals.  Remains unsigned as of this writing; he may have to swallow his pride if he wants to keep playing and take a MLFA deal.
  • Ian Desmond signed 1/$11M with Texas after declining Washington’s qualifying offer.  Desmond became kind of the poster child for all the things wrong with the Qualifying Offer season; after turning down a 5yr/$89.5M deal the previous season, he turned down a guaranteed $15.8M offer to eventually sign for $11M.  To add insult to injury, Desmond had to move off of SS for Texas, which was what propped up his value in the first place.  He had an up-and-down season with Texas, starting the year incredibly hot and making the All Star team, but slumping towards the end.  He got saddled with a second QO, which he again signed, but his 2016 season was enough for Colorado to give him perhaps the most inexplicable contract of last off-season, a 5yr/$70M deal … to play first base.  A position he’d never played before.  And Colorado gave up literally the highest unprotected draft pick to do so (the 11th pick in the upcoming 2017 draft).  Desmond suffered a hand injury this spring, and as a result Colorado has installed slugger Mark Reynolds at 1B; he’s done so well that the team is wondering just what they’ll do with Desmond when he returns in early May.  On the bright side for Desmond; at least he finally got paid.  And i’m sure that 100% of Nats fans would take what the team has done at SS since over having a $90M contract on their hands.
  • Denard Span signed 3/$31M with San Francisco, capping a frustrating year for Span and the team.  He only played 61 games for the 2015 team, forcing the Nats to start Michael Taylor and his 30% K rate in CF for a good chunk of the season.  Span’s first season in SF was similar to his first in DC; he struggled offensively.  He’s been even worse in 2017, and is currently on the D/L (in an interesting twist of fate; his replacement on the SF active roster?  None other than Michael Morse).
  • Nate McLouth; The team couldn’t wait to decline his 2016 option and pay his 750k buyout for 2016 after his disastrous stint with Washington.  His contract was ill-advised from the start; did we really need to pay good money to have a “veteran 4th outfielder?”  McLouth missed the entirety of 2015, has yet to sign since, and may have played his way out of baseball.
  • Matt Thornton signed a MLFA deal with San Diego for 2016, got called up after a couple of months in AAA, but struggled.  He posted a 5.82 ERA over the next couple of months and was released in August.  He has not appeared since and now at age 40 is likely done.
  • Casey Janssen was so poor for the Nats that they bought his 2016 out for a cool $1.5M buyout for 2016); he also signed a MLFA deal with San Diego for 2016.  Ah San Diego; the place where pitchers go to resurrect their careers.  He was released in late Spring Training 2016, got picked up with Boston in June of 2016, pitched a bit for their Short-A and AAA teams then was released in early August 2016.  Did not pick up with a team for 2017 and at age 35 with little velocity on his fastball, he may be retired.
  • Reed Johnson got picked back up on a MLFA deal by Washington for 2016 season, but did not make the team out of spring and was released on 4/2/16.  He did not pick up with anyone for 2016 and at age 39 may be retired.
  • Taylor Jordan: After brief stints with the team in 2015, started 2016 in AAA but got hurt in June of 2016, he had a second TJ surgery … and then was released by the club on 6/28/16 to correspond to the Giolito contract addition.  Man, that seems kind of cold to release a guy just after surgery, but his odds of making it back to the majors just took a significant hit.  As of 2017 has not re-signed anywhere and seems a long-shot to do so, with little major league track record and two arm injuries.  Likely out of baseball at this point.
  • David Carpenter: shoulder injury, DFA’d, elected free agency and quickly signed a ML deal with Atlanta for 2016.  However he was cut after just a handful of spring training games; maybe his injury is worse than we thought.  He then bounced from Tampa to the Angels system for 2016, and then signed back with Tampa as a MLFA/NRI for 2017, but was cut on 4/4/17.
  • Emmanuel Burriss: signed MLFA with Philly and lead-off against the Nats in their first visit to Philadelphia in the new season.  He was DFA’d and purchased a couple times by Philly last year, but upon his outright after the season he elected FA and signed a MLFA to return to the Nats for 2017.  He looked like nice utility infielder insurance until he got suspended for a “drug of abuse” in the spring (his second such offense).  He currently sits on Syracuse’s restricted list.  I have to say; his status as the sole DC-bred baseball player in the pros (as far as I can tell) and his playing for the Washington franchise seems to put him in a great post-career outreach position … but now with two drug suspensions on his resume, I wonder if he’s scuttled any such possibility of representing the team in the community.
  • Craig Stammen: fan favorite had an ill-timed injury late in the 2015 season and was non-tendered instead of guaranteeing him a contract for 2016.  He signed a MLFA with Cleveland for 2016 but never made it out of AAA.  I had him as a leading “oblivion candidate” until he signed another MLFA deal for 2017 and made the San Diego opening day roster.  His april has not been good though, sporting an ERA in the mid 8s as of May 1st.  He may be in danger of a DFA, which might spell the end of his MLB career given how the last couple of seasons have gone.  He gave the Nats 3 solid years as a bullpen workhorse that may have led to his eventual wearing out.
  • Tyler Moore never could match the magic of his debut season in 2012, but a series of injuries kept him hanging around in 2014 and 2015 when he may otherwise have been released.  His luck ran out though for the 2016 team, when he got beat out for the RH bench bat by Chris Heisey and he got DFA’d at the end of spring training.  We negotiated a trade of similar discarded assets with Atlanta, trading Moore for Nate Freiman.  Freiman didn’t last three weeks with the AAA team before being released (a measure of just how little we got in return for trade), while Moore got injured early and missed most of the year for AAA Gwinnett.  He signed a MLFA for 2017 with the Marlins and team out of spring training.  He even got a crucial hit against the Nats early in 2017 season, but was soon DFA’d again.  He passed through waivers and was outrighted to New Orleans (where, as noted in the previous post, he joins a litany of former Nats).
  • Xavier Cedeno was the first 25-man DFA of the 2015 season.  He was used 4 times in 5 nights in early April, gave up a couple of runs and then got designated with just 3 IP.  It was an odd move at the time; why was he getting appearance after appearance if the team was going to DFA him?  Why did the team have so little patience with him?  After his DFA, he got purchased by the Dodgers, who then sold him to the Rays 5 days later … and he had 61 appearances with a 2.09 ERA for Tampa Bay the rest of 2015.  He was a solid bullpen arm for them all of 2016 and remains on their team now.  Do you think maybe the team gave up on him too soon?
  • Taylor Hill: Hill was DFA’d to make room for January 2016 signings and was outrighted to AAA, where he pitched the entire 2016 season.  Hill finished out the year for AAA Syracuse with a 4.60 ERA in 27 starts.  He is still with the AAA team for 2017 but has been passed on the depth chart by several guys (Cole, Voth, Fedde) and faces long odds of a return to the majors with this organization.  Additionally, Hill has started the 2017 AAA season by getting shelled; an 8.14 ERA for April.  He may be in serious jeopardy of getting released.
  • Aaron Barrett: Tommy John in 2015, then in June of 2016, he had a major set-back in his TJ recovery, fracturing his elbow.  He has re-signed with the Nats for 2017 and starts the  year on the AAA D/L.  I was happy to see the Nats give Barrett this gesture of signing him so that he can rehab with the team, and I hope it pays off with an eventual return to the fold.
  • Matt Purke got his last shot at salvaging a career with the Nats, who signed him for big-time money ($2.75M as a 3rd rounder in 2011, the last free for all non-capped bonus draft).  He failed to impress again, and the team let him go to free agency.  He signed a MLFA deal with the Chicago White Sox, who assigned him to AAA … and then he earned a call-up by mid May 2016.  The nats were looking rather foolish for cutting bait on a guy who made the Chicago MLB team after just a few weeks.  But his time in South-Side was short lived; he was optioned back to the minors by the end of June, never made it back, was outrighted over the off-season and started 2017 off the 40-man pitching for AAA Charlotte.  He is still wild (8 walks in 11 2017 innings) but he’s only 26 so there may still be time.  But from a Nats transaction perspective, i’m not sure what else they could have done.
  • Yunel Escobar: after a productive season with the Nats, where Escobar played multiple positions and covered for infield injuries galore, he was traded to Los Angeles Angels for Trevor Gott and Michael Brady in the off-season.  At the time of the trade (mid December 2015) Escobar was considered surplus to requirements, in that the team had its infield already spoken for in Anthony RendonDanny Espinosa, and Trea Turner.  Two weeks later the team signed Danny Murphy to play 2B, thus relegating Turner back to AAA to save his service clock.  Escobar was traded to the team with perhaps the worst farm system in the majors; Gott has yet to throw a pitch for the MLB team and Brady is already gone via MLFA, so the return for Escobar is rather paltry.  That being said, I think the league knew we were shopping him, he had just had a career year with a BA 30 points above his career average, and may have been ceiling limited with the expectation of regression.  Since the trade, Escobar has played a solid 3B for the Angels and kept his BA above .300, and has been joined in their infield by fellow Nats reject Espinosa.
  • Drew Storen traded with cash to Toronto for Ben Revere, ptbnl.  I think we’ve litigated the Storen case to death; he was flipped more or less since the acquisition of Jonathan Papelbon and Storen’s undeserved demotion seemed to break him; it was as clear of a case of someone needing “a change of scenery” as I’ve seen with one of our players.  We got a player in Revere that filled a point of need (CF) and one that looked on paper like a good deal at the time.  I think its fair to say now that this trade didn’t work out for either team: Storen put up an ERA north of 6.00 for Toronto, got flipped again to Seattle, and at current sits as the 8th inning guy for one of the worst teams in baseball (Cincinnati).  Meanwhile Revere barely hit the Mendoza line for the Nats, forcing the team to put its SS of the future into CF as a make-shift replacement, and got non-tendered at season’s end.  A crummy end to Storen’s career here, where he remains in 2nd place all time (behind Chad Cordero) in career franchise saves.
  • Kila Ka’aihue,  Ian Stewart, Mike Carp: part of the great 2016 RH bat spring training cattle call; didn’t make the team and were eventually released.
  • Tony Renda traded to Yankees for David Carpenter mid-season in an attempt to buttress the bullpen.  Didn’t work.  Renda may have been my farcical “future hall of famer” before Max Schrock, in that they’re both basically undersized middle infielders that posted good minor league numbers but seem ceiling limited.  Renda got traded to Cincinnati ahead of the 2016 season, had a cup of coffee up there, but got outrighted after the 2016 season and remains on the AAA Louisville roster.
  • Mitch Lively and Evan Meek: both AAA hurlers released from their contracts so they could sign in Japan and Korea respectively.  Lively struggled in Japan and has been pitching in the Mexican league ever since, while Meek also struggled in the KBO and has been playing indy ball ever since.
  • Jose Valverde opted out of his MLFA contract and was released in July; never picked back up for 2015, or 2016.  Kept pitching in winter ball and is now in the Mexican league.
  • Eric Fornataro the off-season waiver claim never made it out of AAA, posting a mid 5 ERA and got released in July.   He picked back up with a MLFA for 2016 with Baltimore, but struggled in AA and was released in May of 2016.  He has not signed since and may be done.
  • Nick Pivetta: traded to Philadelphia for Papelbon.  We know the Papelbon story, and now we know the Pivetta story; he debuted in Philly’s rotation last weekend in LA after a solid year starting in AA and AAA in 2016 and a hot start in Lehigh Valley for 2017.  He may be in a position to haunt the Nats for 6 seasons …. all for a year and a half of tumult out of Papelbon.
  • Dan Butler was a Catcher we received from Boston for Danny Rosenbaum in Jan of 2015; he was a 40-man spot holder for most of the season but served mostly as catcher depth before being DFA’d in July to make room for Papelbon.  He was outrighted to AAA, elected FA after the season and went right back to Boston for 2016.  He remains as their AAA backup catcher.

Did I miss anyone?


Player I most miss from this list: From a Nats “legacy” perspective it was tough to wave good bye to Ian Desmond, who gave this franchise 11 years of his life.  Same with Zimmermann; he was part of the core that turned this team from a laughing stock to divisional winner.

Player Loss I most regret using unfair “hindsight is 20/20” vision: Pivetta.  Even if he’s “only” a 4th starter, he represents all that was wrong with the Papelbon decision.

Player Loss that is the most “We dodged a bullet” situation: Zimmermann’s contract; we thought he’d get overpaid, but a year and a half in his contract looks awful for an aging team that’s moving the wrong direction and has little chance of unseating Cleveland in their own division.

Spring Training 2017 NRI Discussion

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Who will be this year's Chris Heisey? Photo via Washington Times

Who will be this year’s Chris Heisey? Photo via Washington Times

Third year running for this post: Here’s a link to 2016’s version and a link to 2015’s post.

Every year the team invites a bunch of Non-Roster Invitees (NRIs) to Spring Training, and every year we wonder if any of these guys have a chance to make the team.  This post discusses the NRIs and their chances.  Through out the winter some NRIs were announced with signings; on 2/11/17 the full list of NRIs was announced.

This is no throw-away post: here’s what has happened to Washington Nationals NRIs the last two spring trainings:

Summary of NRIs from ST 2016: 20 NRIs total (plus perhaps a couple more that got signed late):

  • Two (2) made the 25-man roster: (Chris Heisey and as noted in the comments, thanks for the correction, Matt Belisle).
  • Two (2) eventually got added and called up (Lucas Giolito, Sean Burnett)
  • Two (2) have since been added to 40-man (Matt Skole, Austin Voth)

Summary of NRIs from ST 2015: 20 NRis total:

  • Two (2) made the 25-man roster out of spring (Dan Uggla and Clint Robinson)
  • Two (2) others eventually got added and called up (Rafael Martin and Emmanuel Burriss)
  • Two (2) others were young catchers since added to the 40-man (Spencer Kieboom, Pedro Severino)

So that’s six NRIs from 2016 that eventually played for the Nats or got added to the 40-man roster, and six from the year .  So odds are a handful of these players will eventually have a major league impact for this team.  Lets take a look at 2017’s NRI roster.  From the mlb.com NRI roster, lets break them down by position.


Starters

  • RHP Jacob Turner: once upon a time he was halfway decent for an NL East team (Miami), but lost his effectiveness somewhere in the 2014 timeframe and hasn’t gotten it back.  Seems like AAA rotation filler to me.
  • RHP Vance Worley: an interesting minor league signing; why couldn’t he get a 40-man contract after the season he just had in Baltimore?  Could be a sneaky effective pickup.
  • RHP Jeremy Guthrie: 272  career starts but none in the majors since getting dumped from Kansas City’s 2015 rotation.  In 2016 he posted an ERA north of 7.00 for Miami and San Diego’s AAA squads.  He’ll be 38.  I’m not sure he’s really any better of a “spare starter” option than what we already have in house.
  • RHP Erick Fedde: his invite clearly indicates to me that the MLB staff wants to get a look at him, figuring that he’s taken over as the next big thing in terms of starting pitcher prospects.  With all due respect to A.J. Cole and Austin Voth, its really Fedde that I’d like to see pitching in the majors if/when we have a month long starter injury later this summer.
  • RHP Taylor Hill; may be up to see if he’s got anything left in the tank, or perhaps to eat some split squad innings?  Once you’re off the 40-man it seems pretty hard to get back, and that’s the dilemna that Hill faces.
  • RHP Kyle McGowin, recently acquired in the Danny Espinosa deal.  I’m guessing the team wants to see what they have.  McGowin’s 2016 numbers were awful … but pitching in the PCL is generally awful, so its hard to scout the stat line here.

FWIW, a couple of these guys who I’ve called “starters” (Turner and Worley) may actually still be starters, but they’re close enough to starting that the team could look at them as such. I could see Worley getting the last spot in the MLB rotation and acting as a swing man/6th starter, not unlike what we used Yusmeiro Petit for last year.  The minor league invites mean that the whole AAA rotation will be in camp.  Unless the team suffers 3 SP injuries in camp, nobody here is making the 25-man on 4/1.

Right Handed Relievers

  • RHP Matt Albers; Great in 2015, awful in 2016.  Wrong side of 30, losing his swing and miss stuff.  Seems like he’s just in camp to rebuild value and likely opts out if he doesn’t make the team.
  • RHP Mike Broadway: career journeyman, was formerly with Nats in 2013 time-frame.  Little MLB experience, seems like he’s AAA insurance.
  • RHP Joe Nathan: 377 career saves, but he’s 42, was last effective as a 38yr old in 2013, and this seems like perhaps an audition for him to take a role on a coaching staff here.
  • RHP Dustin Antolin: longtime Toronto farm hand who spent 3 straight years in their AA team and was a part-time closer for their AAA team last year with good results; seems like a safe bet to close in AAA and serve as middle relief insurance.
  • RHP Derek Eitel; similar to Antolin; long time farm hand who finished a ton of games in AAA for San Diego last year.  Averaged a K/inning but had a ton of walks.
  • RHP Wander Suero: a long-serving middle relief option for the team, Suero has grown up in the system.  He’s entering his 8th pro season and I’m guessing the team wants to see if he’s a MLB middle relief option and/or an option to eventually add to the 40-man roster ahead of his pending MLFA deadline.

Left handed Relievers

  • LHP Tim Collins:  hasn’t pitched in 2 years thanks to a failed TJ surgery that cost him a second season, but was pretty effective for Kansas City to that point.  I think he has to think he’s heading to AAA to prove to teams that he’s ok.
  • LHP Braulio Lara: seems like a lottery ticket based on performances from a few years past; he got shelled in Korea, shelled in AAA recently.
  • LHP Neal Cotts: long time reliever who has had some bouts of success over the years, but who didn’t make it out of AAA last year.  Can’t see him supplanting the 40-man guys ahead of him on the Loogy pecking order.
  • LHP Nick Lee, who like Hill before him was on the 40-man and then passed through waivers to get removed from it.  He was good enough to protect in 2015 (putting up good numbers in a closing role for AA) but really struggled with his control in 2016 (42 walks in 50 innings).  Perhaps a mechanical tweak can put him back on the radar to being an effective reliever.

Tangent: The recent addition of optionless Enny Romero may complicate a 25-man path for these guys.  Or perhaps not; the arm they gave up (Jeffrey Rosa) was so insignificant that I had to look him up because I forgot who he was.  In case you were wondering, Rosa was the “ace” of this year’s GCL team, getting 11 starts and posting a 4.91 ERA.  As a 21 year old.  So that means he was a 19-yr old IFA signing from a land where most players of note sign at 16 and only the rare cases make it to 18 and still have a minor league impact.  So perhaps the team isn’t entirely wedded to Romero making the roster/challenging his no-options status.  That trade was more about Tampa shedding a 40-man spot and getting something (anything) in return.

Discussion:  So, no real “closers” in here, even if you somehow think Nathan can still produce (I don’t).  I think a couple of these guys will exercise opt-outs and the rest will sign up in AAA.  I can’t see any of them seriously challenging any of the existing 40-man arms for a spot.  The one exception could be Collins for me; he was good, had bad luck with his injury and could very well come back and be effective; is he a better Loogy option than our current set of lefties (Perez, Solis, Romero and Grace)?  I doubt it.  I like the call-up of Suero and Lee; i think its a good idea for the team to see what they have here.

Catchers:

  • Jhonatan Solano, who probably reprises his role as AAA backup for Syracause and is in camp mostly to help with all the warm-up duties.

Infielders:

  • Emmanuel Burriss: we are quite familiar with Burriss, who is a Washington DC native and was with the org two years ago.  I see little chance of him breaking with the team but he’ll do exactly what he did for us in 2015: toil in Syracuse, wait for an injury in the infield and bide his time until he can get some MLB at-bats.  In 2015 he was up by June 26th; what are the odds that the Nats infield holds up without injury again in 2017?
  • Grant Green; primarily a 2B, but can play like a utility guy around the field.  He’s a former 1st round pick and a highly regarded prospect; don’t see much of a position for him though.  Will he stick around if he doesn’t make the team?
  • Corban Joseph: owns a grand total of 7 MLB at-bats, and that was in 2013.  He has toiled in the minors for the last four full seasons, bouncing around organizations.  He plays 1B and 2B and seems like the backup to the backup for Daniel Murphy.  In other words, if Joseph is playing, we’ve really suffered some serious injuries.
  • Neftali Soto: the 2016 MLFA signing had such a solid year for the organization that they re-signed him and gave him the NRI invite this year.  I suppose he’s Ryan Zimmerman insurance … but like Snyder is a RH hitter who is more or less limited to 1B.  Hard to see a pathway for him.
  • Drew Ward: this NRI seems a bit premature; he was in A-ball a year ago this time.  But Ward also faces Rule-5 protection this coming off-season and is one of the few remaining hopes of the 2013 draft class of producing much in the way of MLB talent for the home team.  He could be a replacement for an Anthony Rendon injury at some point too.

Its hard to see any openings here, especially given the Stephen Drew re-signing.  Are any of these guys beating out Wilmer Difo?  Doubt it.

Outfielders

  • Brandon Snyder: another local product (Westfield HS in Chantilly) and another 1st round pick who has sputtered out.  He has some pop, but he bats right handed … and the RH bench spot is already committed (along with $1.4M) to Chris Heisey.  Snyder seems like AAA “spare parts” insurance for 2017.
  • Andrew Stevenson: I know he was a high draft pick, but based on what I saw of him in college i’m still kind of shocked he’s advanced so quickly.  He joins several other CF-capable players in camp and signals to me at least that the team clearly thinks he’s got a role going forward.

Note that there’s really nobody invited to compete with the likes of Michael Taylor/Brian Goodwin for 5th outfielder spot.  Yes Stevenson is a CF … does anyone think he’s MLB ready?  Snyder seems to be competition with Clint Robinson/Matt Skole/Chris Heisey for bench bat/corner spots.  He had good numbers in small sample sizes for Atlanta last  year; maybe he’s an option.  Problem is that he bats righty and the team already guaranteed money to Heisey, so there’s no direct competition for Robinson/Skole as a “corner lefty bat with some pop.”


Conclusion/predictions: I predict no NRIs make the team out of spring training right now.  But I could see several of these guys head to AAA and get call-ups in the case of a 60-day D/L trip.  And a number of the minor league invite guys will feature eventually.

Post-publishing update: indeed, no NRIs made the opening day 25-man roster, but clearly the plan was in the works to bring in NRI Jeremy Guthrie to make a spot start early into the season and perhaps stick around as the long man…. Except that Guthrie got absolutely battered in said start (10 runs in 2/3rds of an inning), leading to his immediate DFA and the subsequent call up of a second NRI Matt Albers (over, it should be noted, four other 40-man roster relievers).  Then, thanks to two quick infielder injuries the first week, a third NRI Grant Green was called-up to provide some cover.

So technically zero NRIs made the team but several were used inside of the first week.

The 12 Posts of 2016; Happy New Year!

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Happy New Year!  Here’s a quick list of posts recapping the most “significant’ events month over month.

  • January: Drew Storen for Ben Revere; a trade that seems to work on both sides: In the end, not so much.  Revere lost his job and was non-tendered, Storen had a 6.21 ERA for Toronto before getting flipped to Seattle.
  • February: Spring Training 2016 NRI discussion: a review of all the Non Roster Invitees to 2016’s spring training; one eventually made the team (Chris Heisey).
  • March: Local HS draft-prospects to keep an eye in for the 2016 draft: 2016 was a banner year for local prep players, with two high-end picks from the Northern Virginia Area (Joe Rizzo and Khalil Lee), a 4th rounder out of the Richmond area (Brenan Hanifee), a 12th rounder from West Potomac who I had never heard of prior to his drafting (Jamie Sara), a 17th rounder from Maryland who I’m surprised wasn’t drafted earlier (Tyler Blohm), plus the expected slew of 30th+ round picks.  2017 isn’t looking nearly as promising.
  • April: Nats Prospects: Where to see them in 2016: I’ll do this again in 2017 … but its going to be a significantly different list of prospects after all the trades we’ve done.
  • May: Strasburg Extension Shocker! Pretty much the highest-risk thing that this management team has done.  Bigger than the Werth signing, more risky than the Scherzer signing.
  • June: “Those guys can kiss my *ss!”  Still makes me laugh.  Too bad we didn’t get to meet the Cubs in the NLCS.
  • July: Thou shalt not overreact to a blown save... .  And of course they did, flipping two lefty arms for a couple  months of Mark Melancon.
  • August: Do the Nats have a LOOGY problem?  Mike Rizzo certainly thought so, trading future Hall of Famer Max Schrock for Marc Rzepczynski for the stretch run.
  • September: Strasburg Flexor Mass; what’s plan B for the playoffs?  Plan Be turned out to be a shaky Joe Ross, but that wasn’t the reason we lost the NLDS.  At least Strasburg wasn’t badly hurt.
  • October: NLDS Game 5 via my “live texting” Made possibly by virtue of my texting back and forth late into the night with a buddy; it was a telling revisiting of the Game 5 meltdown.
  • November: Rule 5 protection analysis for 2016: the team ends up protecting 5 players, including future Hall of Famer and NAR lightening rod Matt Skole.
  • December: Huge Over-Pay for Eaton : the biggest trade of the Rizzo era goes down and its a large price to pay, but it also illustrates the modern economics of the game, where a cost controlled player is expensive to acquire.

Happy New Year!   January will have a couple of “clear the draft posts” articles about awards season, some HoF stuff probably since I just can’t resist, then I hope to get into the pitching staff reviews so that I can make 2017 staff predictions.  That’s the near-term plan!

Todd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Players Already Under Contract for 2017 – 8

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

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

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


Arbitration Eligible Players for 2017 – 6 

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

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

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

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

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


Pre Arbitration MLB players – 17

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

Subtotal: $6,196,500

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


Payments for former players in 2017

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With the following in AAA

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

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

what do you guys think?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Reality

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

Less Likely:

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

 

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

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

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

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

 


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

(did I forget anyone?)

NLDS Game 5 via my “live texting”

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Rendon's struggles on the night led to an ending that was tough to swallow.  Photo Nats Official via espn.com

Rendon’s struggles on the night led to an ending that was tough to swallow. Photo Nats Official via espn.com

As I watched the NLDS game 5 unfold, I was texting with a couple of fellow baseball fans.  Here’s the content of my texts as the game unfolded for a “fun” look at my instant reactions to what was happening.  I’ve only edited the texts to correct my spelling errors as I furiously typed them after two stiff drinks from my basement … everything I wrote is in blue italics.

We pick up the thread at around 10:15 pm at the bottom of the 5th.

  • That pickoff  was a f*cking balk.  Yup, it was.  You’ll note that Bryce Harper was not even looking to steal and his eyes, once Julio Urias‘ leg crossed the plane, diverted to home assuming the pitch was going home.  I thought Harold Reynolds was awful announcing, but I agreed with him whole heartedly here when he said something to the effect of, “If they’re going to let him do that, he’ll pick everyone off.”  What surprised me was the lack of real complaining done by either Harper or Dusty Baker there, as if they knew arguing about it was futile.  In the end, it didn’t really affect the outcome of the game.
  • Scherzer looks better than I ever thought he’d do.  I assumed he’d give up 2 or 3 runs.  After his Game 1 performance, yeah six scoreless innings was well above the expected result.  
  • He will run the table in the 7th then Solis for the top of the order in the 8th and then Melancon.  Game is over.  Ha Ha.  Yeah, didn’t quite happen that way.  But after he made it through the meat of the order in the top of the 6th, that was a reasonable prediction.
  • Dumb play there on Werth at home; yeah, he was out by 30 feet.  Post-game analysis seemed to question what Bob Henley was looking at; at the point where the relay throw was in, he was still looking out in the outfield.  Is it possible that he thought the left fielder was still trying to retrieve the ball?  In a meager defense of the coach, they did have Danny Espinosa coming to bat, so its not like they had a high probability of a 2-out hit based on his series batting average.
  • [in response to a comment that it’s going to come down to the Nats bullpen] Except this year they’re stellar.  Nats Bullpen #1 or #2 in the league in FIP and ERA and they’ve been solid this post season; just two runs in 17 innings.  All true.  It didn’t matter.
  • Oh man homer.  Finally Max makes a mistake.  Except he really didn’t; look at the Pitch F/X plot of the ball Joc Pederson hit out: it was on the black and low; Pederson made a hell of a swing.  It isn’t like Max grooved a belt-high gopher ball there.
  • Why take him out now?  Don’t like that move.  Still don’t like the move yanking Scherzer; he’s on 99 pitches, he’s got 6-7-8 coming up; yes I could understand not wanting the top of the Dodger’s order to see him a fourth time, but if he already made it through all the sluggers, why not let him finish the inning?
  • First batter four pitch walk; Great.  I think the wrong guy is in the game.  Here of course i’m talking about Mark Rzepczynski‘s not-even-close four pitch walk upon relieving Scherzer, and of course i’m saying that Dusty has brought in the wrong lefty (I wanted Sammy Solis).
  • Geeze; well I guess I was wrong on the bullpen.  This was after the Carlos Ruiz hit gave the Dodgers the lead.
  • Every time Seager swings I think its going out he has such a powerful stroke.  Its funny, but Corey Seager didn’t really have that great of a series; 3-23 but his three hits were two homers and a RBI double.
  • Well that’s what happens when you don’t have a real CF.  And where the f*ck was Werth backing him up?  This was my reaction to Justin Turner‘s triple over Trea Turner‘s head.  Initially I thought he took a bad route, but in retrospect I think that ball was just crushed.  I did have a legitimate complaint about no backup though; Ruiz was running from first; could a backed up play and relay have gotten him at the plate?  Maybe, maybe not.  
  • I think Kelley just blew out his elbow again.  It did not look good when he did it … we now know he just threw so hard that he lost feeling in his hand.  I’ve done that too (never on the mound, but definitely making a 100% max effort throw as an infielder, usually on a relay home).  I’m glad he’s not seriously hurt.
  • 6 pitchers in the inning.  Crazy.  Just an observation.  I don’t know how long that inning took in “clock” time but it had to be over an hour.
  • The guy pitching Dayton?  He lived in my parent’s basement for a summer and I played with him several games back in like 2008.  He didn’t throw 93 back then though.  We’ve reviewed the Boss family’s personal connection to Dayton before… nothing new here.
  • Lifeline!! Holy sh*t!  This was of course the Chris Heisey homer.  Man; Heisey’s stat-line numbers may have sucked this year, but he definitely has come up big with pinch hit homers.
  • Love the move to the closer in the 7th.  [on Kenley Jansen entering the game way early]: I did, and a lot of the observers of the game did too.   Buck Showalter committed serious managerial malpractice for not getting Zach Britton into that do-or-die game, and now we’re seeing nearly every other manager left really thinking outside the box on closer usage.  Andrew Miller‘s numbers this off-season are just off-the charts; I know he’s not the “closer” but he’s absolutely the best reliever out there, and so is Jansen for the Dodgers.
  • Yeah!  Great PR [pinch runner] move too by Dusty.  That was putting in Joe Ross to run for Clint Robinson.  I will complain about Wilmer Difo later on, but I think its worth noting that the Nats bench came up relatively big in Game 5.  Heisey 2-run homer, Stephen Drew “drew” a walk (pun intended), Robinson got a  hit.  On the flip side, Pedro Severino flew out and both Michael Taylor and Difo struck out.
  • Can’t believe Werth struck out there.  Two straight un-clutch ABs.  Those two “un clutch” ABs were of course Werth and then Anthony Rendon both striking out with a runner on third.  Werth especially; all you have to do is hit a f*cking fly ball there and the game is tied.  That’s it!  Rendon’s strikeout clearly closed the book on him in Baker’s eyes.
  • Good night to be an Uber driver.  I think metro closed at 11:20: this was past midnight, observing that the stadium was still pretty frigging full.  Steve Case had departed though; he was in the center-field camera angle all night with his front row seats.
  • Huge Walk; 80% chance of a run now.  How about a f*cking Espinosa bomb.  This was in reference to Drew’s lead-off walk; RE of a man on first with no outs is above .8.  What does Espinosa do?  a bunt pop up??  From there two scrubs out quickly to end the 8th.
  • Well, at least the Nats have the top of the order in the 9th.  Yup; that was the silver lining; the top of the order, the best hitters on the Nats were getting a 5th shot at the title to eke out a run.  If anyone could do it, it would be Turner-Harper-Werth-Murphy.
  • I can NOT believe Kershaw is warming up.  Enough has been written on the topic by now.  But this was definitely shades of Orel Hershiser warming up in the 88 series, or Madison Bumgarner coming in for a relief outing on 2 days rest in the 2014 series.
  • We’ll know soon enough he’s definitely facing Harper.  I got this wrong; totally thought Kershaw would relief Jansen as soon as Turner AB was done.
  • Harold Reynolds is captain obvious.  I wish I could remember what he said, but it was pretty dumb.  Probably something like, “If the Nats don’t score here, they’ll lose.”
  • Nice inning lets see how big their b*lls are.  To channel the criticism of the 2014 team as levied by San Francisco pitcher (and long time Nats tormenter) Tim Hudson.
  • Katie Nolan is hot; this was my humorous comment about the Katie Nolan commercial during the pitching change in the 9th.   She is hot, and she knows a ton about sports, and her podcast is pretty good.
  • Why is there some idiot in a marlins jacket directly behind home plate?  Again, another “killing time” text.  On the TV broadcast some fool in a bright orange gaudy as hell Marlins jacket had positioned himself in pole position for the CF camera.
  • Why isn’t Kershaw in?  As Jansen walked Harper on four pitches.  I was starting to see the narrative; “Dave Roberts holds on to his closer one batter too long” as one of the Nats middle-of-the-order guys hits a walk-off homer.
  • Saving Kershaw for Murphy.  Yup, it became pretty clear that was the strategy.
  • Look at Kenley; he’s done.  He’ll walk Werth. Yup.  This was after watching a painful AB against Werth; clearly Werth was either going to drive a ball or he was going to get walked.  I think Roberts let him go at least one batter too long; he threw nearly half a game of pitches.  I saw a snarky post at HardBallTalk this morning “checking in with Dusty Baker,” who was quoted as saying that Jansen’s outing may affect him in the next series.   Well, its a reasonable concern; he threw a TON of pitches that night.  And he was gassed, perhaps before the 9th even started.  Imagine the narrative if the Nats had won with Kershaw warming up and with Jansen throwing his 50th pitch?
  • One day rest.  Poor form booing him he’s one of the best guys in the game.  Yeah, didn’t like the booing of Kershaw as he walked in.
  • This is an epic match-up all things considered.  Double could win it.   Murphy-Kershaw.  Murphy got him for 2 homers last post-season; could he at least drive in a run?
  • Ugh.  Worst case.  Now its up to a f*cking rookie.  That was it.  Murphy popped up.  Not a fly ball to even advance the runners.  Just worst case result given the situation.
  • This is 3 strikes fast.  My prediction of how long it’d take for Difo to whiff.
  • I bet they wish they had up Rendon right now.  This, and the early  hook for Scherzer, might be the two biggest second guesses I have of Baker’s moves in the game.  Rendon is your #5 hitter; yes I know he struggled all series and he had badly choked earlier in the game … but why are we ending our season with a kid who struggled in AA most of the year instead of one of your most important hitters?
  • Man.  That sucks.  Game over.

Welcome to the off-season.  When I get some time, i’m going to dig into the “draft class”posts.

 

 

Game 5 Post-Mortem …yet again

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Scherzer did his part ... the bullpen didn't. Photo via washtimes.com

Scherzer did his part … the bullpen didn’t. Photo via washtimes.com

Another Division title, another gut-wrenching loss.  4-3 at the hands of LA to drop another game 5 at home and get a new candidate for “worst loss ever” for this franchise.

After 4 hours and 32 minutes, the Nats go home.  At a macro level, perhaps this is always where we were going to end up given the losses of two key players and lingering injuries that the team dealt with late in the season.  But this was clearly a missed opportunity.  Max Scherzer did his part, starting the game by facing the minimum first 11 guys and pitching six scoreless.  Hat off to Joc Pederson: that opposite field homer was a good swing on a bad but not awful pitch.  From there the bullpen that had been so good in the first four games cratered badly, and in his haste to bring in the next guy to try to put out the fire, Dusty Baker double-switched his way into replacing guys who he really could have used at the end.

In the aftermath, you always tend to look for moments of 2nd guessing.  For me, I was texting back and forth with a couple of friends and so I have a nice little history of question marks.

  • I think Baker took out Scherzer too soon; he was only on 99 pitches; yes he had that epic 13-pitch at-bat against series MVP Justin Turner … but he was only on 99 pitches!  He was on normal rest, is a work-horse, and clearly could have continued.  He had 7-8-9 coming up; not exactly murder’s row.  Did Baker really think Grandal (series BA: .125) or Toles (series BA: .222) was going to beat Scherzer there?  Or a cold pinch hitter?
  • Would a proper center-fielder had a better shot at the Justin Turner triple??   Did Trea Turner take a bad route there?  And, should he have held up and tried to play the carom instead of just running into the wall?  Where the f*ck was Jayson Werth backing up the play?  Would it have made a difference if that had been a double instead of a triple?  Maybe; the not exactly fleet-of-foot Carlos Ruiz scored from first easily on that play; maybe he’s held at third or there’s a play at the plate for that 4th Dodger run.  Because the next batter grounded out weakly.
  • Every Nats bench guy got an at-bat in the 7th, 8th or 9th.  Robinson, Taylor, Drew, Heisey, Severino and Difo.  Honestly; they’re bench guys for a reason; I understand the logic of trying to push back the pitcher’s spot with all the double-switches … but when Wilmer f*cking Difo is at the plate instead of one of your most solid hitters all year (Anthony Rendon) to end the game, I think you’ve made too many moves.  Yes, Chris Heisey‘s homer was amazing and had me screaming late in the night, but you should go down with the guys who got you there, not a guy who was in AA most of the year.
  • Speaking of Rendon; It is fair to say he was probably the “goat” of the Nats offense.  He went just 3-20 in the series and left an astounding 22 runners on base in five games (*seven* just yesterday).  For as good as he was in the 2012 NLDS and as solid as he was this season, he came up short, badly, in this series.  TWENTY TWO runners left on base from your #5 hitter; that’s really why this team lost.   He had a homer and four RBIs in five games and, to be fair, his homer in game 3 was huge.  But in the elimination games?  Not one clutch hit from one of their most important hitters; would Wilson Ramos (who batted 5th the most frequently of any lineup position this year) have made the difference here?  Who knows.
  • Should Baker have gone to Melancon early (as his counterpart did with his closer) instead of his cavalcade of relievers?  Hard to criticize him there; the guys who gave up hits had all been rock solid in the first four games.  Was this just the workload catching up to them?   Four straight relievers failed, giving up a walk, a single, an RBI-single and a crushed triple.  Just bad timing for all of them to fail in a row.

(Reading the comments, i forgot about the frigging Julio Urias balk move!  That was total BS.  The Nats have a real beef there and that has to be cleaned up next year.  Again, not sure what that would have meant in the larger game outcome since it was man-on-1st with two outs but was a very poor call.  I am less critical of the decision to send Werth home … who is up next?  Espinosa and Lobaton?  That was your best shot to get another run and you’re testing the whole relay system; two good throws had to be made under pressure and you often see those throws up the line or short-hopping the catcher; all credit to Corey Seager there for taking his time and making the play).

All that being said … in the bottom of the 9th,  you couldn’t ask for much of a better opportunity to tie it up.  Two guys on with one out and your team MVP at the plate.   The run expectancy of guys on 1st and 2nd with one out is .884 and the “chance” in percentage terms that a run scores at all is 40.6% … across all of baseball over the last 5 years irrespective of who was pitching.  Not when you’ve gotten those runs against one of the best closers in the game (even if Kenley Jansen was totally gassed), nor when the best pitcher in the game  Clayton Kershaw is riding in on his white horse on one day’s rest to get the save.  That being said, I thought Daniel Murphy would have gotten a better bat on the ball.

I dunno.  I don’t think there was some egregious managing error (despite my hindsight-is-20/20 points above).   All these moves were defensible in the moment, and at the death they had two guys on with their best hitter at the plate.  Murphy popped up weakly and that was it.  Better luck next year.

 

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?

 

 

2016 Opening Day Roster surprises

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Belisle makes the team.  Photo by John McDonnell of the WP

Belisle makes the team. Photo by John McDonnell of the WP

Once the team finished up with its FA and trading business this past off-season, the eventual 2016 25-man roster seemed rather predictable (to me anyway).  For months, I figured it was safe to assume we were looking at the following configuration for 2016 (barring injury):

  • SP: Scherzer, Strasburg, Gonzalez*, Ross, Roark
  • RP: Papelbon, Treinen, Gott, Kelley, Perez*, Rivero*, Petit
  • C: Ramos, Lobaton
  • INF: Zimmerman, Murphy, Espinosa, Rendon, Drew, Robinson, Moore
  • OF: Harper, Werth, Revere, Taylor
  • 60 day DL: Barrett

Perhaps you could quibble that Tyler Moore wasn’t a lock , that he was always in competition with the slew of RH-hitting veterans brought in to camp this year (I didn’t necessarily think this once they offered him a contract for 2016).  Perhaps you could have argued that Danny Espinosa wasn’t the presumptive starter ahead of Trea Turner.  Perhaps you could argue that the team was going to do something crazy with Tanner Roark vs Bronson Arroyo. 

But towards the end of Spring Training, I was proven wrong as the team made some interesting choices to start the season.

With the final announced moves prior to opening day, here’s the 25-man roster starting out the season:

  • SP: Scherzer, Strasburg, Gonzalez*, Ross, Roark
  • RP: Papelbon, Treinen, Kelley, Belisle, Perez*, Rivero*, Petit
  • C: Ramos, Lobaton
  • INF: Zimmerman, Murphy, Espinosa, Rendon, Drew, Robinson
  • OF: Harper, Werth, Revere, Taylor, Heisey

Lets talk about the last minute announcements and the surprises:

  1. Tyler Moore waived, outrighted and then traded to Atlanta.  Probably not a huge surprise; one can argue that the only reason Moore wasn’t waived LAST spring training was thanks to the slew of injuries the team suffered.  He hasn’t been successful as a PH, he never could replicate the success he had in his rookie year, and he really could only play 1B.  The team made a conscious effort to bring in veterans to compete with him, and the likes of Scott Sizemore, Chris Heisey, Reed Johnson, Stephen Drew all out-performed Moore in one way or another.  And all those guys can play other positions besides the sedentary 1B.
  2. Chris Heisey making the team: Personally I thought Sizemore had the inside track, but he was assigned to minor league camp early.  In fact, when you look at their stats its a head scratcher: Sizemore hit .324 with a ton of power while Heisey hit just .238 but came on strong towards the end of spring training.  Moreover, Sizemore plays infield while Heisey only plays outfield … so Sizemore is presumably a more valuable player defensively.  Cynics will note that Heisey has played for Baker before.  At least Sizemore stuck with the team and accepted a minor league assignment.  Honestly I also thought the team would have considered Drew before Heisey, again for positional flexibility.
  3. Matt Belisle ‘s contract guaranteed, and he makes the team instead of off-season acquisition Trevor Gott.  By the ST numbers this move makes some  sense; Belisle’s ERA and WHIP was decent while Gott’s was respectable if not eyepopping.   Once again,  the cynic again would say this is entirely due to the options availability on Gott and Belisle’s history of playing for Baker.  I’m slightly surprised they didn’t go with 8 relievers since a 5th starter isn’t needed for a while.
  4. Espinosa over Turner: never in question for me once we hired Dusty Baker, but many pundits seem shocked that Turner is in AAA to start the season.  Scouts seem to have forgotten that Espinosa was a *better* shortstop than Ian Desmond all these years, but played 2nd base and 2nd fiddle thanks to seniority (in the same way that the superior Manny Machado played 3B instead of taking over at short for a veteran … and now is “stuck” there despite being one of the best SS prospects of his generation).
  5. Roark over Arroyo: this one solved itself early, when Arroyo tore his UCL tore his labrum tore his rotator strained his rotator cuff while Roark was throwing zeros for the spring.  I continue to be in the camp that Roark, if just left alone and given a rotation spot, will produce at a high level (just like he did in 2014).  I think his 2015 was completely an aberration, an example of how playing guys out of position ends up with sub-optimal performance (ahem, see Jurgen Klinsmann and the US Mens National Team’s ridiculous 2-0 loss to Guatemala last week in WC qualifying).

What do you guys think?  Do you think Belisle over Gott, Heisey over Sizemore or Drew (or even den Dekker), Espinosa over turner make this a better team starting out?  Or do you feel like Dusty has gotten some of his “buddies” back together and he’s valuing relationships over talent to start the season?

Better question: Will it matter?  I mean, we’re talking about the 7th man in the bullpen (who may get 1 inning the first week) and the last guy off the bench (who might get 2 or 3 low-leverage ABs the first week).  Is this making a mountain out of a mole-hill, or is it more about the principle of the issue?