Nationals Arm Race

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GM for a day (or an off-season): what do you do to this team for 2016?

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Picture at the top of his C.V. that he'll be updating this off-season. Photo Nats official 2014 via sportingnews.com

Picture at the top of his C.V. that he’ll be updating this off-season. Photo Nats official 2014 via sportingnews.com

How about some navel gazing to start the off-season?  2015 was a train wreck, both on the field (the projected opening day line up played together exactly 2 games out of 162 and there were something like 15 D/L trips among the projected starters this season) and off (the Barry Svrluga series at the Washington Post literally made me say “Wow” audibly while I sat alone reading the stories).  What can this team really do to right the ship for next year?

Now, I realize the questions “What *should* they do?” and “What *will* they do?” are two completely separate questions.  I have no idea what they will actually do; its hard to read Mike Rizzo and the Ted Lerner-led ownership group.  We often hear that Rizzo has an “ego” and is sometimes afraid to admit mistakes.  We hear rumors that Lerner is in bed with Scott Boras and has gone over Rizzo’s head to sign players Rizzo may not have actually wanted (Rafael Soriano, Jonathan Papelbon?).  But we’re not blessed with a hidden camera inside the boardroom of the Nationals management offices, so its mostly speculation.  In fact, Svruluga’s stories really led the reader to believe that the Papelbon acquisition was Rizzo’s idea as a consolation prize to acquiring Chapman or Kimbrel.  So who knows.

This post is about what I’d do.  From a front-office/managerial perspective:

  1. Fire Matt Williams.  Sorry, the evidence is too overwhelming at this point.  Here’s some quick qualifications for the manager i’d like to see: able to communicate properly, isn’t a Micro managing inflexible drill sergeant, knows how to read a Run-Expectancy chart, knows how to properly set a lineup, realizes that saves are useless and isn’t afraid to throw his best pitcher when needed, understands that bunting was exposed as mostly useless 10 years ago, is open to new ideas about usage, shifting, matchups and statistics in general, listens to his coaches, understands that sometimes the 23 yr old precocious rookie is actually a better player than the 38 year old vet on an 9-figure deal, and lastly, relates to the frigging players.  Shouldn’t be too hard.  Oh one more thing; I want someone who has actually managed a f*cking major league team before.
  2. I don’t have an opinion on the rest of the staff but would go under the general theory that a new manager wants his own staff in place.  Who knows if hitting coaches, pitching coaches, bench coaches, bullpen coaches and 1st/3rd base coaches have any impact on the players.  Hard to prove one way or the other; if the team hits well, the Hitting Coach is a genius.  If the team can’t hit … the hitting coach gets canned.  I like Steve McCatty … but hey, a new manager deserves his own coaches.
  3. Keep Rizzo, but have a serious talk with him about clubhouse chemistry and roster construction and the clear effects their actions have had over the years.  Its really simple: when a guy who’s been with the organization is given an under-market, professionally insulting extension contract offer and then you give $210M to some outsider … that’s “Baaaaaaaad” for morale.  When you tell everyone you can’t “afford” to keep Tyler Clippard (great clubhouse guy, grown up in the organization, thrown 70+ innings year after year for you) because he makes $8.5M …but then you bring in a clubhouse disaster like Papelbon at $11M to replace your UNION REPRESENTATIVE and all around well liked guy Drew Storen, you may have some downstream issues.  Oh; one other thing: take your ego and throw it away and stop trading away useful bullpen parts like Jerry Blevins because he had the audacity of challenging you in arbitration over $200k.  You either are or are not on a budget; $200k represented exactly 0.125% of the $160M payroll of 2015.  That’s like killing a deal for a $500,000 house over a $625 bill for something or another.  Its nothing and it should not have been a factor in the 25-man roster construction.  That Blevins got hurt for New York or that Felipe Rivero (his replacement) worked out isn’t the point.
  4. Budget: here’s a brilliant idea; if Lerner is “freezing” the budget mid-season, then SAVE SOME PAYROLL MONEY for mid-season acquisitions.  Look what the frigging Mets were able to accomplish this trade deadline by being flexible with their payroll and their prospects; they completely remade that team, bought a clubhouse presence and just raced ahead of the Nats.  (Tangent: For  you “clubhouse chemistry is BS” proponents, can you still tell me with a straight face that the 2015 fortunes of the Mets and Nationals had NOTHING to do with chemistry?)

Now, assuming that the Nats are going to reign back in the budget slightly from their $160M plus payroll in 2015:

  1. Let 8 of the 9 FAs go.  Zimmermann, Uggla, Fister, Desmond, Span, McLouth, Janssen and Johnson.  This frees up approximately $60M in payroll.  You’re going to need some of it in arb extensions (there’s 8 arbitration cases pending though we may trade/non-tender a couple).
  2. I’d try to resign just one of my FAs: Matt Thornton.  I think he’s done a pretty good job as a situational lefty.
  3. I’d offer Qualifying Offers to Zimmermann, Desmond and Span but not Fister.  Both Zimmermann and Desmond turned down significant deals to stay here and have made their beds at this point.  I think the team has made the decision to not allocate money there and go with internal options.  I don’t think any of the three take the QO, not even Span.  Why?  Because Span just hired Scott Boras and Boras will tell Span there’s a long term contract to be had in the market.  Span didn’t hire Boras so he could take a one-year Qualifying Offer (deeper discussion on QOs for the Nats pending FAs was previously done here: To Qualifying Offer, or not to Qualifying Offer (2015 version).
  4. I havn’t done major analysis of Tender/Non-Tender cases yet but the only guy seemingly in jeopardy of a non-tender is Tyler Moore; discussed more below.  Maybe David Carpenter too depending on the severity of his shoulder injury.
  5. Rule-5: this is more about the 25-man roster and not the edges of the 40-man; we’ll do a separate rule-5 post later on.

So, this leaves the 25-man roster looking like this for 2016 as a starting point;

  • Rotation: Scherzer, Strasburg, Gonzalez, Ross and Roark
  • Bullpen: Papelbon, Storen, Treinen, Thornton, Rivero, ? and ?
  • Inf: Rendon, Turner, Escobar, Zimmerman, Ramos
  • OF: Harper, Taylor, Werth
  • Bench: Robinson, Moore, Espinosa, Lobaton, den Dekker?

What do we need?  In order: bullpen, lefty hitters, backups and maybe rotation competition.  Every projected starter save Harper hits righty right now and that just needs to change.

So, section by section (using the  mlbtraderumors 2016 FA list for reference):

Rotation: Could the team go shopping for a 5th starter?  I like Roark and don’t think his 2013 and 2014 seasons were flukes, but the team doesn’t seem to rate him.  I like Ross as #3 and think he’s locked in based on his performance this year.  Depth wise, we have Giolito who probably will be ready for the rotation by mid 2016; he could see action as an injury call up if need be.  I have little faith in the rest of the upper-minors depth right now.  Cole, Jordan, Hill have all disappointed at the majors and may be traded for other spare parts.  I like Treinen and Rivero … they are both former starters but both have struggled at times and seem likely to stay in the pen.  I don’t think this is a high priority to supplement the rotation but I could see it.  Maybe Voth gets a shot next year if we get shredded with injuries.  Reynaldo Lopez and Erick Fedde are really more like 2017 options unless the Nats get creative and put Lopez’ 100mph heat in the bullpen short term (not the worst idea…)  Rotation wise, I think they have bigger fish to fry and will stand pat with what they have.

Bullpen; Thanks to the ridiculous choking incident, I think the team needs to part ways with Papelbon.  Won’t be easy; he’s due $11M next  year, his performance tailed off badly, he’s proven once again in his third organization out of three that he’s a bad apple, and he has a partial no-trade.  I’m sure his wife will be happy; reportedly they *just* bought a $2.9M house in Alexandria, like the day before he choked his teammate on national TV.  (side note: why would they buy if he was only here for another year??  That just doesn’t seem like the best investment.  Now they have a brand new property that they have to ditch).  Worst comes to worse, they have to release him to eat $11M.

If they part ways with Papelbon, what do they do with Storen?  I think Storen still demands a trade; this organization has jerked him around enough times, has now gotten not one but two higher-paid veteran closers to replace him despite regular season numbers that looked just fine each time.  Problem is: The FA market for “closers” is pretty weak (there’s just one closer on the market: Joaquin Soria); maybe if Papelbon is gone the organization makes right by Storen and lets him reprise the role.  Of course, on the flip side, the trade market for closers should be pretty good as a result and maybe Rizzo can spin some gold like he did with the Matt Capps trade.  If Papelbon leaves, maybe they kiss and make up with Storen and give him a bigger-than-he-deserves arbitration award and makes him happy.

Even if they keep Storen, the team still needs to acquire two good power arms for the 7th/8th inning.  I like Treinen, Thornton and Rivero to reprise their roles (Rivero in particular is intriguing; he can hit 100 from the left hand side, a rarity.  Too bad he doesn’t have a 3rd pitch or i’d be asking why he isn’t in the rotation).  They’ll get Stammen back so that’s a good 7th inning righty.  Barrett may miss the whole of 2016 so he’s not an option.  Carpenter’s got a shoulder injury and was AAA fodder anyway.  They can fill the long man with Roark if he gets replaced in the rotation or someone else like our spare starters (Cole, Hill, Jordan).  They could buy a whole lotta good will with the fans and re-sign Clippard.  How about someone like Jim Johnson, who kind of re-made himself with his closer performance in Atlanta, to be your 8th inning guy?  How does this look like for 2016:

  • Storen, Clippard/Johnson, Treinen, Stammen, Thornton, Rivero and someone like Cole as your long man
  • bullpen depth:  de los Santos, Davis, Martin, Solis, Grace, Carpenter (if he’s ready to go for 2016)

Still kind of thin; how many of those “depth” guys proved they were ready to go in the majors this year?  Are there any guys on the rise in the system who could make sense to push for a spot next year?  How much would you pay for someone like Clippard on the open market?  Maybe we’re going to see some kind of blockbuster trade where we acquire the surplus of arms we need.

Infield: seems rather set; Turner is a ready made replacement for Desmond.  Healthy Rendon at 3B is a 5-win player.  Escobar more than earned his money this year and defensively makes more sense at 2B where he can do less damage.  Zimmerman isn’t going anywhere (except back to the D/L for the millionth time in his career).  Espinosa remains one more year as the backup infielder and the team finds an additional utility guy from within (Difo?) or in the FA market for backup purposes.  Ramos was finally healthy for a whole season … and took a huge step back at the plate; do we try to replace him?  We could go for someone like a Matt Weiters, who hits lefty and addresses a need and flip Ramos for something we need like bullpen or bench depth.

Outfield: Harper and Werth are set in the corners .. .Werth for better or worse.  Is his 2015 the start of his decline or an injury excuse?  He’s got a no-trade and makes a ton of money and seems locked into LF as long as he’s here.  Question marks remain about Taylor; is he a starter or a 4th OF?  I think the Nats will pursue a lefty hitting outfielder, then position Harper in either CF or RF depending on the abilities of the acquisition.  The name Gerardo Parra keeps popping up; they liked him at the trade deadline and could pursue him again.  Or, if Span inexplicably takes the QO, there’s your lefty CF for 2016.  Jayson Heyward is a lefty but doesn’t add much punch and is going to be crazy expensive.

How about a radical realignment: Zimmerman goes to LF to make way for a lefty hitting 1B like Chris Davis; Harper to center, Werth back in RF, Taylor the 4th OF.  That’d give the team another lefty, a ton more power (imagine a lineup with both Harper and Davis?, and would fit in the budget even if Davis gets something like 6/$100M or so.  Or do you say “Davis is a nightmare FA contract waiting to happen when he starts inevitably declining and/or his Ritalin prescription runs out” and not commit money in this fashion?  I could buy that argument absolutely.  How likely is this team, really, to extend Bryce Harper for $300M plus?  Are they saving their pennies for that attempt or are they saying “he’s a goner lets just try to win while we have them?”

Bench: the team got a ton from Robinson and Espinosa this year; they’re both back.  Moore?  Probably DFA’d; he’s eligible for arbitration and there’s likely to be a dozen right handed power hitters who could play a corner and pinch hit here and there.  Look for a cattle call of veteran MLFAs like we did for the lefty 1b/LF position that Robinson won this past spring training.  I think the team likes den Dekker as “speedy backup CF outfielder” guy so he likely returns too.  Plus he hits lefty and really hit well in September.  No reason to mess with Lobaton; he gives flexibility at the plate and is cost-contained as a backup C.

Summary:
Honestly, the core of the team is mostly still intact.  If all these guys were healthy all year and hitting at their 2014 rates, this season would have gone a lot differently.  I think we’ll see a lot of work in the pen and some activity on the fringes, but no major signings and no major trades.  Payroll takes a step back; I can’t tell you how much b/c payroll projections will take time and depend on who gets tendered/re-signed/QO’d, but I could see this team back at $130M heading into 2016.

Does this sound like a winning formula?  Did I miss anything?

To Qualifying Offer, or not to Qualifying Offer (2015 version)

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Zimmermann will get a QO: who else? Photo Unk.

Zimmermann will get a QO: who else? Photo Unk.

We’ve talked around and about this issue.  Here’s a post entirely about it.

Which Nats pending Free Agents should the team offer a Qualifying Offer (QO) to this coming off-season?

First, for completion of Analysis, here’s the canonical list of FAs on the 40-man roster as of the end of the 2015 season (using Cots as a source):

  • Jordan Zimmermann, Dan Uggla, Doug Fister, Ian Desmond, Denard Span, Nate McLouth, Casey Janssen, Matt Thornton, Reed Johnson

So, lets just get this out of the way; we’re not talking about Uggla, McLouth, Janssen, Thornton or Johnson here.  Maybe the team could think about re-signing some of these guys to non-guaranteed/minor league deals, or negotiate an extension for one of the relievers.  I wouldn’t be entirely against that (especially for Thornton, who has been pretty durn good both in general (2.43 ERA on the year even if he got hit hard a couple times in August) and against lefties in particular (.203 BAA against lefties on the year), but this post is about the 4 big names.

Important links for this analysis: Here’s the total 2016 FA list at mlbtraderumors.com and their take on the 2016 FA power rankings.  We won’t know what the QO amount is until mid-October, but we can estimate that it will likely be somewhere around $16.3M.  Here’s my Qualifying Offer worksheet, listing every player who has gotten one and their eventual signed contract details with Average Annual Values (AAVs) listed.

By the way, here’s some salient points ignored for the purposes of this post, but which could make this post obsolete.

  1. I’m assuming that all pending FA players are acting rationally and in their own interest, and not working in concert with the players union and en masse turning down the qualifying offers.  So far, evidence shows this point may not be the case, as we’ve seen several players who inexplicably turned down QOs in the past.  The most blatant examples were Michael Cuddyer in 2014 and Kendrys Morales in 2013.  Cuddyer in particular was curious mostly for the timing; he signed a 2yr/$21M deal even before officially rejecting the 1yr/$15.3M qualifying offer, and it is hard not to make the argument that Cuddyer would have been much better suited to just taking the one-year deal for what was nearly the entire sum of the two year deal he eventually took.  I have no idea if Cuddyer just desperately wanted out of Colorado, which could be true … but then his destination didn’t support that argument either (prior to the season, the Mets were projected to be just another also-ran in the NL East; nobody predicted their run to 90 wins).
  2. I’m assuming that Mike Rizzo hasn’t already made a “hand shake” deal with any of these players to specifically NOT offer the QO, since it can be such a huge damper on their eventual FA market.  We have argued this conspiracy theory before, with lack of QOs to both Adam LaRoche but especially Edwin Jackson being examples of players who may have had a gentlemen’s agreement prior to departing the franchise.

Lets take these guys one by one.

  • Zimmermann: he’s a member of the likely “big 4” of FA starting pitchers to be available this off-season (also including David Price, Johnny Cueto and presumably Zack Greinke if/when he opts out of his existing deal).  Given Cueto’s issues at the end of 2015, I’d likely put Zimmermann as the third most valuable starter available.  And he’ll have no shortage of suitors.  We know he spurned signing a longer term deal on two different occasions (first when they negotiated his 2-year arbitration-buyout deal and then again last off-season) and the rumors are that the Nationals management/Rizzo are hesitant to commit major dollars to a post-Tommy John survivor.  He seems likely to sign a nine-figure deal somewhere, easily outdistancing the AAV of the QO.  Verdict: Offer the QO, he’ll reject it and signs elsewhere for more money than the Nats are willing to commit.
  • Desmond: he’s *easily* the best middle infielder on the FA market, a good combination of offense and defense whose best season was in 2012 but has three straight Silver Sluggers and sort of rebounded towards the end of his otherwise dismal 2015.  I agree with other analysts; he likely was a fool to turn down $107m as has been widely reported, and will be lucky to get 60% of that in the FA market.  I’m guessing he gets a four year deal with an AAV of $18M or so.  Verdict: Offer the QO, he’ll reject it and signs elsewhere because that’s kind of the corner he’s painted himself into, and the Nats have their ready-made replacement for him in Trea Turner.

Those two were obvious.  These next two are not.

  • Span: Another guy who picked a really bad year to miss 2/3rds of the season.  Span’s 2015 numbers are exactly in line with his excellent 2014 numbers, a point that his agent will be making this off-season. His injuries however could give teams pause.  He had “core” surgery in the spring, recurring back issues in the summer and then a torn Hip labrum in August that put him out for good.  Would you want to risk signing a 31yr old center fielder who just had hip surgery?  A good question.  Span does have competition in the CF free agency market, with decent players like Dexter Fowler, Colby Rasmus and Austin Jackson in the space.  The interesting tidbit that just popped up though is Span’s announcing that he’s switched agents and is now with the Scott Boras Corporation.  Boras is Mr. Free Agency, and has gleefully advised several prior clients to decline QOs and go head long into free agency only to watch them flounder (see Kyle Lohse, Stephen Drew and the aforementioned Morales as examples of players under Boras advisement who declined QOs in seemingly ill-conceived decisions).  Why did Span just switch to the super-agent Boras unless he needed someone to go out and drum up a good offer?  I think this is evidence enough that he’ll decline the QO and test the market.  And, even if Span accepts the QO (which I don’t think he would), he’d be competing with Michael Taylor for the starting CF job … on a team where our starting OF missed hundreds of games in 2015 and where the presumed 4th OF got 500+ at-bats this year.  So having Span around (who, by the way, hits lefty on a team that desperately needs lefty-hitting players) wouldn’t be the end of the world if he accepted the offer.  Verdict: Offer the QO, Boras will tell him to decline it anyway and the Nats will get an additional comp pick.
  • Fister: Prior to 2015, Fister was one of the more under-rated starters in the league and seemed like a safe bet to sign one of these 5yr/$65M deals that we see all the time.  Believe it or not, Fister ranked 17th in the league in fWAR among starters for the combined seasons 2011-2014.  17th!  That’s better than the likes of Cueto, Darvish, Strasburg, and a whole  host of “better” pitchers.  Unfortunately, he chose his walk year to fall off a cliff, with his average fastball velocity (which has already been trending down for 4 seasons) falling more than a MPH and a half just this year.  He was ineffective in the rotation and was removed, and has been pitching out of the bullpen for weeks.  He’s making $11.4M this year but it seems like he’s going to be lucky to get a 1yr $8M deal now from a team willing to give him a shot at the back of their rotation.  If the Nats were to offer him a QO and he took it,  he’d likely be the leagues most expensive long-man (now that Tim Lincecum is out of contract that is) and/or he’d block a spot that really needs to go to either Joe Ross or Tanner Roark.  I just don’t see how the team can risk extending one.  VerdictNo QO, and Fister tries to find a pillow contract with a team like Oakland or San Diego where he can likely put up decent numbers.

So, that’s my thinking.  Nats make three QOs, cut ties with everyone, replace internally across the board like they were always planning to, and net a slew of extra supplemental first rounders in a 2016 draft that is significantly deeper than this year’s.  Sounds good to me.

State of the Nats at the halfway point 2015

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Per KW’s comment suggestion, here’s a “State of the Nats” at the halfway point of 2015.

Salient key phrase: “Holding On.”  Lets look at some component parts.

Offense

Here’s the full-strength outfield lineup the Nats would optimally like to deploy: Span, Rendon, Harper, Zimmerman, Werth, Desmond, Ramos, Escobar.

Here’s what they lined-up against Red’s ace Johnny Cueto a few days ago: Taylor, Espinosa, Harper, Ramos, Robinson, Uggla, Desmond, den Dekker.  Yeah, its no wonder they wimpered into the night as Cueto threw a 2-hit shutout.  If you’re Cueto, you pitch around Harper (who got a hit and a walk), you attack the rest of the lineup (strike-out prone lead-off hitter Taylor took a hat-trick), and you laugh as you blow through the rest of the lineup (11Ks on the night).

That’s five regulars out, but not just any regulars; the D/L includes your expected #1, #2 #4, and #5 hitters.  Instead they are replaced by a rookie (Taylor), a career minor-leaguer (Robinson), a cast-off veteran failure (Uggla), a career .230 hitter who the team has spent the last 3 years trying to replace (Espinosa) and a 4th/5th outfielder with just a couple hundred MLB at-bats prior to this year (den Dekker).

Frankly, its a miracle the team is in first place.  Only by the grace of Harper’s incredible season does this team manage to stay in games.  For the record, at the halfway point Harper leads the league in bWAR (6.1), OBP, Slugging, OPS and OPS+.  After having a 3-1 K/BB ratio last year, this year he basically has as many walks as strike-outs, one of the primary reasons his average is 60 points higher and his OBP is 130 points higher than it was last year.  Hold your breath that Harper doesn’t crash out and miss a month with some injury like he’s done in the previous seasons.  If he ends the season with this level of an adjusted OPS+, it’ll be one of the 10-12 best offensive seasons in the history of baseball.

Ironically, even given all these injuries the Nats aren’t even close to what some other teams are dealing with; per mangameslost.com, we’re not even close to what the Mets, Rangers, Rays or Oakland has had to deal with.  Though I’d venture to say that perhaps the games lost by Nats players are slightly more “important” than the cumulative games lost by some of these other teams.  I don’t care who you are; if you remove four of the top five batters from any team’s lineup, they’d be lucky to be out of the cellar.

The team has gotten absolutely nothing from presumed bench players McLouth and Johnson (Do you think Rizzo will *ever* buy a 4th outfielder for 8-figures again in his life?).  Guys who should be in AAA are getting starts and (at least in the case of Robinson) holding their own.  We talked before the season about where Taylor should be (on the MLB bench or in AAA getting starts) … well he’s getting playing time, for better or worse.  Instead of worrying about whether Moore was going to get DFA’d to make room, we’re *adding* guys to the 40-man like Burriss to help out.

Rotation

We know about Scherzer.  He’s been amazing, should start the NL All-Star game (of course, he’s scheduled to throw the series ender in Baltimore so we’ll see) and he leads all NL pitchers in bWAR.

What about the rest of the rotation?  Both Fister and Strasburg have missed a  handful of starts, and the Nats have tried a whole AAA-rotation worth of replacements to varying results.  With apologies to “short sample size judgements” I’ll say that Ross was good, Hill has been ok, Cole has been bad, and Jordan has been worse.  Of course, both Cole and Jordan’s delta between ERA and FIP is massive, so their poor ERAs are unlucky to a certain extent.  In the meantime, Ross has a 23/2 K/BB ratio and a FIP of 1.11 in his three starts.  Its safe to say that this person is excited to see what he can do next, and for me he’s at the head of the line for 2016 rotation candidates.

Clearly we know Strasburg has had an off season.  But so has Fister.  And Gonzalez‘ ERA is in the 4’s.   Just how bad is this rotation?  Not as bad as you think; they’re ranked 8th in the league in starter ERA but are 1st in FIP and fWAR.   Last  year they were 1st in all of these categories.  So perhaps we can expect some “progression” in the 2nd half as (hopefully) guys like Strasburg clean up their act and pitch closer to their FIPs than their ERAs.

Bullpen

We knew Rizzo had weakened the bullpen from 2015, which could have been fine had the injury bug not hit.  But the turnover of this bullpen has caught up to the team in some ways.

  • End of 2014: Soriano, Storen, Clippard, Stammen, Thornton, Blevins, and Detwiler.
  • As we stand now: Storen, Janssen, Treinen, Carpenter, Thornton, Rivero, and Roark.

That’s a lot of turnover.  Yes Storen has been typically excellent (as long as its not the post-season, he seems to be one of the most reliable closers in the game).  As we speak, the bullpen is 11th in ERA; last year they were 4th as a bullpen.  Janssen’s injury did not help, as it pushed guys into the 8th inning role they weren’t ready for.  And we saw Treinen and Barrett struggle (3.69 and 5.06 ERA’s respectively).  Granted their FIP shows that those ERAs are unlucky … but those are still runs on the board, blown leads, blown saves.  Roark (predictably) has regressed as he’s pitched in practically every role a pitching staff has (long-man, mop-up, spot-starter, rotation guy, middle reliever, setup guy and even a closer).  Luckily the gambler Rizzo has gotten pretty good performance out of scrap heap guys like Thornton and Carpenter, both of whom have given the team good innings.

Will this last?  It better: there’s practically nothing left in the farm system for reinforcements.  Barrett is set to return soon (probably pushing Carpenter to AAA), but the other options in the minors do not inspire confidence.  Martin got shelled (unfortunately; we were all cheering him on after his call-up and his fantastic start).  Grace and Solis were both mediocre in their auditions, and I can’t quite figure out why Erik Davis is even still on the roster.  Maybe the team will try some more waiver claims or trades (Neftali Felix just got DFA’d…) to shore up middle relief.

Streaks

Lets talk about streaks.  As of the time of this posting, the Nats season can neatly be fit into these four periods, and then talk about what spurred the beginning/ending of each streak.

  • The Slow Start: 7-13 from opening day through 4/27/15.  The team came out of the game 7-13, thanks to a sputtering offense and a make-shift lineup still trying to gel.
  • The Comeback: 21-6 from 4/28/15 to 5/27/15: Uggla hits his sole homer on the season to spur a pretty incredible 13-12 comeback win in Atlanta, and the team goes on a 21-6 tear following it.
  • Rotational Worries: 6-13 from 5/28/15 to 6/19/15.  Strasburg lasts just 5 batters on his 5/28/15 start, putting 40% of the rotation on the D/L and throwing the rhythm of the pitching staff off.
  • The Kid dazzles: 12-5 from 6/20/15 to 7/9/15; A long road trip/tough schedule stretch ends with a dominant Ross performance at home 6/20/15, kicking off an easy stretch in the schedule and a mostly full-strength pitching rotation.

Definitely a streaky team so far.  At 7-13, they were 8 games back.  At the end of their 21-6 streak, they were 1.5 games up in the division.  Despite their 6-13 stretch the only lost 3 games in the standings as the Mets faltered equally, and as of 7/9/15 they’re still 3 games up despite getting dominated at home by the Reds.

The team is beating who they should be beating (9-3 against Atlanta, 8-5 against Philly).  And they’ve had some success against other teams that are “good” this year (3-1 against the Yankees, 3-0 against Pittsburgh, and a sweep of San Francisco).  But they’re inexplicably bad against Cincinnati (0-5?), Miami (2-4), and were expectedly weak against the rest of the AL East (a combined 3-7 against Boston, Tampa Bay and Toronto).  I’m guessing they’ll struggle against Baltimore this coming weekend since they sputtered against Cincinnati.

Lets just say that the All-Star break is coming at a pretty good time for this team.

Where do we go from here?

The Nats should be healthier coming out of the all-star break.  And they’ll need it; their July schedule is tough.  They host the Dodgers and the Mets to start, then travel to Pittsburgh, Miami and New York.  That’s a slew of games against good teams and their primary divisional rivals.

In August they host some bad teams (Arizona, Milwaukee, Colorado) but they also do their big West Coast trip (at Los Angeles, San Francisco and Colorado).  They also get a 3-game set at St. Louis that could be an eye-opener for where they really stand ahead of the playoffs.  September features practically all divisional games against teams that should all be completely out of it by then, so I forsee a team in cruising mode.

Playoff Outlook

The Nats remain in 1st place despite all their issues, and their closest rival is putting out a lineup that most AAA teams could beat.  Philly is already 30 games under .500.  Miami is 15 games under .500 and just lost their best player.  Atlanta sits around .500 but isn’t really trying for 2015 and won’t spend to compete.  So I think its safe to say the Nats are winning the division.  I’ll guess the Mets hang around since their pitching is so good, but in the end the Nats win the division by at least 10 games.

If the season ended today, Pittsburgh hosts the Cubs in the WC, St. Louis hosts the WC winner and Washington would be traveling to Los Angeles to open the playoffs.  And frankly its hard to see this changing much between now and October 1st.  I don’t think its a stretch to say that the Nats would be underdogs to both the Dodgers and the Cardinals in a playoff series, not unless Strasburg remembers how to pitch again or the offense gets healthy in time.  Are we looking at another first round playoff exit?

 

 

Odd Difo promotion

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Welcome the majors Mr. Difo!  photo via offtherecordsports.com

Welcome the majors Mr. Difo! photo via offtherecordsports.com

So, Jayson Werth‘s wrist injury is going to keep him out longer than expected, so he hit the 15 day D/L and to cover his spot the Nats called up one of their two remaining outfielders on the 40-man roster, right?  You know, maybe Matt den Dekker, who was acquired in the late spring specifically to provide OF depth and who has MLB experience?

Nope.

They called up infielder prospect Wilmer Difo, he of exactly 33 games of experience above Low-A ball.  Difo, who last time I checked is NOT an outfielder.

Dave Cameron at Fangraphs also questioned this move, pointing out all the things i’d point out.  What exactly is Difo going to do on this team?  Are they planning on dumping Dan Uggla so that Difo becomes the backup utility infielder who can actually play shortstop?  I mean, I get that the team was already pretty over-loaded on outfielders (3 starters plus Moore, Robinson AND Taylor), so perhaps this move is to (finally?) rectify that imbalance.

Maybe the team just realized its 27th in the league in SBs and wanted some speed.

On another note, is it just me or is this team kind of running out of players?  Here’s how the 40-man roster breaks down right now:

  • 25 active
  • 6 on the 15 day D/L (Janssen, McLouth, Rendon, Rivero, Fister and Werth)
  • Another 2 on the 15-day D/L who should be on the 60-day, them having long-term injuries (Stammen and Johnson)

That leaves just seven 40-man players in the minors who could actually help the team.

  • Starters Hill and Jordan:
  • Relivers Martin and Davis, who was just optioned off the D/L for the first time in a year thanks to TJ recovery
  • Backup catcher Butler
  • Outfileders den Dekker and Brian Goodwin.

That’s it.  Has anyone heard one word about Nate McLouth?  That was $10M well spent.  At least Janssen is rehabbing and seems close.  Me, i’d be a bit worried about reliever depth.  Or not; it doesn’t seem to be exactly hurting them, as Bryce Harper powers the team into 1st place.

 

Greatest (and worst) ever Nats games & Events; updated for 2014 events and April 2015 Atlanta game

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I think i would have preferred shaving cream. Photo TV screenshot via natsenquirer.com

I think i would have preferred shaving cream. Photo TV screenshot via natsenquirer.com

Editor note: thanks for all the suggestions; this post has evolved and edited as I’ve gotten them in comments.

So, given the unbelievable comeback win this week against Atlanta, I dug up an old topic for us to argue about.  The “Greatest” and “Worst” ever games in Nats history.  I had an old draft of this from the off-season, and this week’s Atlanta game coupled with the franchise’s first ever no-hitter being thrown in the last game of the 2014 regular season, as well as some new truly gut-wrenching playoff losses, I thought it was a nice time to re-post this list.

(side argument; was last night’s game a “great” game given the comeback or an “awful” game, given the arguments we all just made in the last post?)

This list started with a throw-away post I did a couple years ago titled “the greatest Nats games I’ve witnessed,” but the comments section turned into a great list of the larger “greatest ever” suggestions.  I’m counting on our crew to remind me of games that should make the best and worst lists.

Here’s my updated Greatest Nats Game List.  Subjectively ordered from best on downwards.  Feel free to argue.  :-)

  1. October 11th, 2012: NLDS Game 4: Jayson Werth walk-off homer in an epic battle against Lance Lynn, hitting the 13th pitch of the at-bat (!!) on a line-drive into the seats.  Ironic that what I think is the most special game in Nats franchise history occurred the day before what I consider to be the worst game in franchise history.  (note; thanks to my former coworker Eric Hay for correcting me on my pitch count memory here in the comments).
  2. April 14th, 2005: First home game as a franchise: April 14 2005 (even though half the crowd was stuck outside waiting to go through metal detectors for the first two innings thanks to George W. Bush‘s publicized appearance to throw out the first pitch).
  3. March 30th, 2008: Nats Park Opener 2008. I was in Las Vegas for a bachelor party that weekend and took a 4am flight out of Vegas to get back to Washington in time to catch the game.  It was cold, it looked like the bullpen had blown it … and then Ryan Zimmerman hit the latest in a long string of walk-off homers to win it in the bottom of the 9th.  Fantastic.
  4. September 29th, 2014: Jordan Zimmermann‘s season-closing no-hitter 2014, with the amazing game-ending catch by Steven Souza.
  5. June 18th, 2006: Fathers Day versus the Yankees 2006.  An attendance record that stood for this franchise until the 2012 playoffs, a walk-off win over the powerful visiting Yankees and a bright spot during an otherwise dismal season.
  6. June 8th, 2010: Stephen Strasburg‘s 14-k debut: still the franchise record for strikeouts in a game and just about the most electric debut this team has ever seen.  A college-aged kid made the Pittsburgh Pirates look like a little league team.  The Nats manipulated Strasburg’s service time to avoid the “super-2” status; it was worth the wait.
  7. October 7th, 2012: NLDS Game 1: 2-run rally in the 8th on Tyler Moore‘s flair to beat the Cardinals in St. Louis in the first ever playoff game for the team.  In theory it should have completely set up the Nats to cruise through the series.  Didn’t quite happen that way (see worst games ever)
  8. October 6th, 2014: Beating Madison Bumgarner in the 2014 NLDS; our only 2014 post-season win and the only time Bumgarner lost that post-season.
  9. September 4th, 2006: Ramon Ortiznear no-hitter in 2006, a game where he took a no-hitter into the 9th, hit his first (and only) career home run, but wasn’t able to even get a complete game after Albert Pujols crushed a ball 450 feet to dead-center at RFK the batter after he lost the no-no.  Still a fun night.
  10. April 28th, 2012: Bryce Harper‘s debut in LA , featuring his tomahawk double straight over Kemp’s head for his first hit and watching him run around the bases like the excited teen-ager he actually was.  Should Harper have been up with the team from the get-go?

Not sure how we beat my #1 game until we see some dramatic walk-off post-season series winner.

Honorable Mentions:

  • June 21st, 2015: Max Scherzer loses a perfect game with two outs and two strikes in the 9th, grazing the elbow of Jose Tabata.  He retires the next hitter for just the 2nd no-hitter in Nats history.  Scherzer’s previous start was a 1-hit shutout with 16 Ks, and these two games represented one of the best 2-game stretches for any starter in the history of the game.
  • July 8th, 2010: Adam Dunn 3-homer day in 2010.  There have been two three other Nats to hit three homers in a day: Alfonso Soriano did it in 2006 and Ryan Zimmerman did it against Baltimore in a losing effort in 2013, and Bryce Harper just accomplished it on 5/6/15, hitting homers in his first three at-bats against Miami (in his last at-bat, he had an RBI ground-out).
  • Only two Nats have ever hit for the cycle: Brad Wilkerson did it in the 2nd ever game the team played (4/6/2005) and Cristian Guzman did it on 8/2/08.
  • June 22nd, 2011: Wilson Ramos walk-off homer to complete a 5-1 comeback in the 9th against Seattle.
  • September 22nd, 2012: Gio Gonzalez gets his 20th win, a first for the franchise, and breaks the 200K barrier for the first time by a Washington pitcher since someone named Walter Johnson played here in in 1916.
  • September 23rd, 2007: the last game at RFK, with the largest crowd of that awful season in attendance.
  • Last game of 2012, beating the Phillies and clinching best record in baseball.
  • September 6th, 2010: Danny Espinosa‘s 2-homer MLB home debut.  Espinosa had debuted a few days earlier on the road, but in front of the home crowd and his family, he had a monster day, going 4-5 with 2 homers and 6 RBI.  Was this the apex of his career?
  • April 28th, 2015: 8-run comeback against Atlanta, winning 13-12 on Dan Uggla‘s 9th inning 3-run homer.  I’ll put this in the “good” category considering the unbelievable win-expectancy odds the team beat to win this game.
  • June 14th, 2005: The Frank RobinsonMike Scioscia toe-to-toe argument game, which was followed with an “eff-you” homer from Jose Guillen to propel the Nats to a home win.
  • September 17th, 2014: Nats clinch NL East in Atlanta; a great moment of course … but it wasn’t even here.  But clinching so early and in Atlanta, which had owned the Nats head-to-head even when the Nats were good, was satisfying.
  • October 1st, 2012: NL East clincher; even though the team lost … the crowd started buzzing in the 9th inning as those monitoring the Atlanta game on their phones learned that they were losing, thus clinching the division for the Nats and resulting in their first playoff appearance.  The stadium finally posted the result, annointing the Nats as division champs and they started high-fiving … even though it was the bottom of the 9th and they were losing.  The team had clinched a wild-card berth earlier in the week, but this was the event that the team openly celebrated.  Should a game we lost be on this list?
  • April 20th, 2009: Jordan Zimmermann’s debut vs Atlanta. A 3-2 win after a two-hour rain delay. Jordan goes 6 strong innings to provide the first glimpse of the Nats’ turnaround from what would be consecutive 100-loss seasons, though because of the rain and how bad the team was there were only about 5,000 of us in the stands that night.
  • June 12th, 2005: Nats defeat Seattle 3-2 for their 10th consecutive home win win on the strength of a Junior Spivey(!) two-run homer. I never felt RFK rock like it did that day. Incidentally, Mike Morse played shortstop for Seattle that day.
  • August 4th, 2005: John Patterson’s 14K game against the Dodgers. Nats win 7-0 in what was the highest ever game score (92) for a Nats’ starter until JZ’s no-no in 2014.
  • August 21st, 2014: Nats defeat Arizona 1-0 on an Anthony Rendon walk off single in the bottom of the 9th–their fifth walk off win in six games. Except for Strasburg’s debut, I never felt the NEW stadium rock for a non-playoff game like it did at that moment.
  • August 7, 2012. Roger Bernadina makes ridiculous catch behind a pillar in Minute Maid park to preserve a 3-2 Nats win in 12 innings. What everyone thought was a walk-off, game winning double for the Astros turned into a backbreaking loss.
  • July 28, 2009. Josh Willingham hits two grand slams in same game.  Arguably better than Dunn’s 3-homer performance because of the team aspect to it.  This remains the greatest RBI performance in Nats history (8 RBI on the day, two more than the 2nd best 6-RBI day by Espinosa, mentioned above).

How about more generally a quick list of the non-game related Greatest Nats Non-Game related Events?

  • September 29th, 2004: The day the team officially was announced to be moving to Washington.
  • December 5th, 2010: The Jayson Werth signing.  To me, that was a signal that a) the owners (previously accused of being penny-pinchers) were finally listening to the council of Stan Kasten and Mike Rizzo and were investing in the team.  It was also a statement contract to the rest of the league; the Nats were willing to spend, and were ready to compete.  Within two seasons the team was in the playoffs after having two 100+ loss seasons.
  • May 2006: MLB picks the ownership group led by Ted Lerner to buy the team.  The group includes vastly experienced baseball man Stan Kasten and his vision is clearly seen with the new stadium’s design.
  • August 2010: Signing Strasburg
  • August 2011: Signing Harper
  • October 3rd, 2012: Teddy wins for the first time.  We had privately wondered when Teddy would finally win the president’s race; would it be on his bobble-head night?  Nope; turns out the night after clinching our first playoff appearance, Teddy won.

 


… And now the Worst Games in Nats History.  I don’t have any way to really quantify the “worst” games for a team that lost 100+ games two years in a row just recently.  So please feel free to add on your suggestions.  I don’t think any of them will beat the top three losses listed here though:

  1. NLDS 2015 Game 5 (Drew Storen 9th inning meltdown)
  2. NLDS 2014 Game 2 (Zimmermann yank, another Storen post-season blown save, and then subsequent 18-inning loss)
  3. NLDS 2014 Game 4 (7th inning Aaron Barrett/bullpen debacle)

Honorable Mentions for me (with plenty of input from Zuckerman’s lists, links at the bottom, readers):

  • April 5th, 2010: The “Phillies Invasion” game; Opening day.  What started as a fantastic opening day (it was sunny and 80 degrees in early April) turned into a nightmare for Nats fans: the team got beat 11-1 on the field … and the park was perhaps 75% filled with Philadelphia fans.  Turns out the team “courted” event planners in Philadelphia and sold them thousands of tickets, which they turned into day-trips to/from Philadelphia on drinking buses for Phillies fans who (at the time, since they were great) couldn’t easily get home tickets.  As you might imagine, the crowd was incredibly pro-Philadelphia, booed the home team, was mostly drunk and aggressive having been drinking since 9am on their party buses, and there were times that we (sitting in the upper-deck, having given up our season tickets after getting screwed in the seat relocation process), literally felt afraid for our safety.  It was an embarrassment to everyone involved and led to some very specific changes (I believe from then on you had to be calling from a DC-local phone number to book tickets to opening day).
  • September 8th, 2015: After blowing game 1 in a critical head-to-head series against the division leading Mets, the bullpen implodes and blows a 7-1 lead, losing 8-7 in a must-win game that left the team 6 games behind with 24 to play (in other words, effectively eliminating them from the divisional race).  Over-manager Matt Williams yanked Jordan Zimmermann after just 100 pitches and then watched his bullpen issue six walks with two outs in the 7th, turning a 7-1 deficit into a 7-7 tie game.  The team at one point had a 99.2 win probability and turned the game into a loss.  To add insult to injury, Williams ordered Anthony Rendon to bunt in the 9th, which he failed to execute successfully, leading to a GIDP to end the game.
  • July 15th, 2005: Mike Stanton, making his Nats debut, committed a walk-off balk.   Quite a rarity; its only happened a few times that baseball researchers can find in the last 30 years or so.
  • April 18th, 2010: Jason Marquis failed to record an out on April 18th, 2010 against Milwaukee.  The team was down 10-0 before they even came to bat.  That’s a gut punch for the fans who paid to get into the game … to basically know that you’re going to lose before you even get a beer.
  • July 2012, the Nats blew a 9-0 lead against Atlanta.  With Strasburg on the mound. And they blew that lead in just four innings.
  • September 6th, 2006: Nick Johnson breaks his leg on the field, colliding with Austin Kearns going after a pop-up.  Johnson missed the entirety of the 2007 season recovering from this injury, in his prime as a player.
  • April 19th, 2009: judgement day for Jim Bowden‘s cattle-call bullpen construction for the 2009 season; after blowing their third straight 9th inning lead, new GM Mike Rizzo cleaned house; releasing two relievers (Shell & Ledezma) and demoting a third (Rivera).  Within two days their opening-day closer (Hanrahan) was demoted as well, and the tone was set for an ugly 103-loss season.
  • August 21st, 2010: Strasburg motions for his pitching coach to come to the mound … because he’s blown his UCL.  Ironically, the team announced his surgery and year off on the same day (two days later) that their previous high-profile TJ surgery survivor Jordan Zimmermann makes his season debut after his own rehab from the surgery.  The fall-out from this also included Rob Dibble, who on-air basically challenged Strasburg’s manhood for coming out of the game.  Dibble never called another game for the team.
  • May 25th, 2006: Frank Robinson is forced to remove emergency catcher Matt LeCroy mid-inning after he had committed two throwing errors and allowed *seven* steals.  Robinson was so embarrassed for what he was forced to do to LeCroy that he broke down at the post-season press conference.
  • September 17th, 2005: The Nats blow a 5-run lead in the ninth inning to officially eliminate themselves from post-season contention.  It is hard to believe now, but the 2005 Nats were 51-30 at the halfway point and in first place … and then went exactly 31-50 the rest of the way there as the MLB-stewarded team failed to make any meaningful acquisitions at the trade deadline to improve the team (and why would the owners-by-occupation?  Why help a competing, owner-less ward of the league team beat them to the playoffs?).  I don’t recall this as being that significant a game or event, having long since seen the writing on the wall as the team clearly was floundering to the finish line.
  • September 2nd, 2008: Jesus Flores injury game; Chase Utley barreled into Flores’ left leg in what I always thought was a dirty play.  Flores missed the rest of that season.  This is exactly the kind of play that now is barred thanks to too many catchers having season-ending injuries.  In the grand scheme of things, this might not be that “bad” of a game but it really sticks with me.

 

Perhaps a separate category for “Worst Nats ‘Events’” would include the following (partly pulled from Zuckerman’s crowd-sourced 2010 lists, but updated post 2015 season with the ridiculous Baker/Black manager incident.  Also using Dan Steinberg‘s worst 10 Nats events post on 11/3/15)

  • Aug 2008: Failing to sign Aaron Crow at the signing deadline.  While in hindsight this was a fortunate miss for the Nats (Crow has been a good but not great reliever and is currently out for TJ surgery, while his comp pick turned into Drew Storen), at the time this was an embarrassing misstep for the organization and another black mark on its GM Bowden.
  • Feb 2009: the team is forced to admit that “Smiley” Gonzalez is not who he says he is, that he’s *four* years older, and that his $1.4M bonus was probably a sham.  Combined into this event’s fallout of course was the forced resignation of Bowden (which to many DC fans was one of the “greatest” events in Nats history), the termination of Jose Rijo and a complete dismantling of our operations in the Dominican Republic.  Our pipeline of DR talent would basically disappear for years, a situation that affects the team to this day.
  • June 27th, 2009: Jim Riggleman abruptly resigns as manager the day he finally guides the team above .500 after  years of ineptitude.  While nearly everyone in the baseball world blamed Riggleman, my take at the time was a bit more supportive of his reasoning.  But this was still a huge amount of unwanted press for this team.
  • May 22, 2010: Nyjer Morgan misses on an attempted catch, throws his glove down like a petulant little leaguer and gives up an inside-the-park homer.  Just one more embarassing moment for Morgan, who was also suspended for throwing a ball at a fan.
  • 2012 Shutdown-gate; how do you feel about this event?  Do you find yourself *still* defending the team’s actions?  Or, if you didn’t agree with them, still irritated that the team went into its first post-season series without its Ace?  I call this a “worst event” because, frankly, I just wish the team was never in this position.
  • Dec 2014: word comes out that Jayson Werth will spend 5 days in Jail for a reckless driving incident.
  • Sept 27th, 2015: Jonathan Papelbon chokes Bryce Harper in the dugout after Harper flies out in a 4-4 game in the 8th the day after the Nats were eliminated.  And then Papelbon is *allowed to go out for the 9th* inning where he promptly gives up 5 runs.  He’s suspended for the rest of the season the following day and the Nats become a national punching bag.
  • November 3rd, 2015: Word leaks that the team vastly low-balled Bud Black and had to re-neg on the managerial job offer, a week after it was offered and the team thought it had its man.  Hours later Dusty Baker was named manager.
  • December 8th, 2015: brand new manager Dusty Baker manages to defend Aroldis Chapman‘s domestic violence investigation *and* stereotype all non-white baseball players in an ill-fated Winter Meetings interview.  He was forced to clarify his comments soon after.  Not exactly the kind of attention the team wants or needs after its embarrassing managerial search.

FWIW, here’s some 2010 links from Mark Zuckerman on his “top 5” list for both best and worst days/games.   Nearly every game mentioned from our early days is also in this post with context.

Cole up … why not Roark?

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A.J. Cole getting his MLB debut. Photo AP

A.J. Cole getting his MLB debut. Photo AP

PSA: your 7-13 Nats are now on a pace to finish 57-105.  Or about 50 games in the Wins column away from where some pundits were talking.

And now instead of our $210M stopper Max Scherzer, we’ll be giving the ball to an untested rookie A.J. Cole to stop an ugly 6-game losing streak.  This is the same Cole who we saw this spring look rather hittable while giving up 9 hits and 4 walks in 10+ MLB spring innings.  Of course, his track record speaks for itself at Syracuse: he’s yet to take a loss in 14 AAA starts dating to mid-last season.  And he’s been on literally every single Nats prospect top 10 list since the moment he was drafted in 2010, so certainly we’re all experiencing some “prospect fatigue” with him despite the fact that he just turned 23.

Don’t get me wrong; i’m happy he’s getting a shot and look forward to seeing if his apparent lack of deception (in my eyes) can be overcome against a team of professional hitters (even if its just the Braves).

Now, that being said … why the heck are we not using Tanner Roark?

Wasn’t the WHOLE POINT of putting 5-win Roark in the long man role so that we could, you know, use him as the first alternative starter in case of injury??  That was the argument we all made, right?  Instead of sticking Roark in AAA to maintain a starter’s schedule, he was (in theory) going to be available out of the pen as needed.

Except now we hear that, thanks to his basically being used now as a right-handed middle reliever (you know, the type that you can find on the waiver wire every day, or on the FA market as we speak), he’s not stretched out enough to actually make the start.  Matt Williams was quoted by Chelsea James in NJ as saying that Roark could “only go 50-60” pitches before needing relief.   Well … if that was the case, then give Roark the start, let him go 5 innings and THEN use Cole.  Or call-up one of the “long men” in AAA who are actually suited for this role.  Guys like Lively, McGregor, or Meek.  No room on the 40-man you say?  Well then put one or both of the guys who are on season-long/season-ending injuries (Erik Davis and Craig Stammen) to the 60-day and make the call.

I just don’t get it.  Who is the better pitcher, Roark or Cole?  Who has demonstrated over parts of two MLB seasons that he’s a highly effective pitcher when given the chance?

I hate to sound negative, especially with a 7-13 team that clearly has offensive issues.  But don’t be surprised if Cole is shelled early, knocked out and Roark gets the d*mn ball anyways in the 3rd inning and pitches for another 4 in mop-up duty.  Yeah; every team uses a 5-win starter as a mop-up guy.  That’s effective use of your resources.  Hey, i’ve got an idea; if you’re going to waste Roark in the pen in low-leverage middle relief appearances and then not bother to use him when you actually need him, why not just frigging trade him?  Lets trade him for someone who can catch the ball when its hit to them, or can hit better than .135 (Uggla) or even .215 (Espinosa).

Generally speaking, we’re seeing a pretty “worst-case” collection of issues.  The already-thinned bullpen suffered two very bad losses.  Our Cy-Young quality starters have struggled.  Our best hitter can’t bend his knee without pain.  We may have just lost Escobar (one of the guys actually hitting) to a hand injury thanks to a patently dirty slide.  And we’re depending on starters who shouldn’t even be on MLB teams.  Where’s the leadership?  Where’s the veterans rallying the clubhouse?  Where’s the manager leading the troops?  Where’s the frigging defense (22 errors in 20 games, leading the league)?  Have you ever seen so many non-error defensive blunders in such a short amount of time?  How do you fix this?

Rant off.

Opening Day Payroll, Attendance, Starters & other cool stuff

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Harper's homer and subsequent hair flip was the highlight of the Nats opening day: photo via natsenquirer.com

Harper’s homer and subsequent hair flip was the highlight of the Nats opening day: photo via natsenquirer.com

Every year I try to attend Nats Opening Day.  Since giving up our season tickets, we’ve had to pay (handsomely) for the opportunity, and yesterday was no exception.  For nostalga purposes, we bought into our old section (131) for the home opener and had a great time in the sun.  Too bad Ian Desmond had money on the game and enabled three unearned runs to score.  Oh and our first pinch hitter off the bench?  The powerful and feared Matt den Dekker.  So yeah, this team looks like it may struggle offensively for a bit.

Here’s some fun stuff that I have been tracking for years inre opening day.


Opening Day Payroll; Nats

Counting payroll is always a tough one.  I have a payroll tracking worksheet (now updated for our last three NRI additions and our opening day roster) where I have been trying to estimate the Nats payroll.

Why the discrepancies?   I can’t quite figure out how my and Cot’s estimates are off: I’m counting the $2M option year buyout to Adam LaRoche, while Cots does not.  Taking that out, i’d still be off by about the same amount, only to the wrong side.  My guess is that Cots is missing a min-salary guy somewhere.  Meanwhile USA Today’s estimate is counting the entirety of Dan Uggla‘s 2015 salary of $13.5M towards Washington’s total; If you took that away except for the MLB min portion Washington is responsible for you’d be at $161,518,497 as their estimate.  USA Today’s numbers also don’t take into account the nearly $40 million dollars (net) that the Dodgers are paying players who no longer play for them; their payroll (per USA Today’s estimates) should really be nearer the $270M range.

You know what they say; a few million here, a few million there, and soon you’re talking about real money.


Opening Day Payroll; MLB

Here’s a quickie little XLS where I have the opening day payroll for all 30 teams going back 5 years.  Caveat; I usually depend on the USAToday salary database for these numbers, which have proved to have some issues (as discussed above).

USAToday has the Dodgers at $230M, but that’s before another $40M of payments to former players.  Cots has the Dodgers at $271M, a more accurate figure.  That’s first place by a significant margin.  In second place is the Yankees: $213M-$217M for a team that many feel will come in last last place.

I’m going to update this XLS for Cot’s figures, since USAToday’s are just so bad.

 


Opening day Nats park attendance

Attendance for yesterday’s game was announced at 42,295.  Here’s some attendance milestones for the franchise:

  • Nats park capacity for 2015 seems to be 41,456, an increase of 40 seats from last year
  • 2015’s opening day crowd wasn’t even close to 2013’s: 45,274.  That remains the regular season record attendance.
  • All time record attendance?  The ill-fated 2012 NLDS game 5: 45,966.
  • The first game in franchise history; 2005 in RFK: 45,596, which stood until the NLDS record-setting game.
  • The long-running regular season attendance record was the great Fathers day 2006 game in RFK against the Yankees: 45,157.  That record stood for more than 6 years.

 


Opening Day Starters

Here’s my opening day starters worksheet in Google docs.  Thanks to some turnover at the top of some of these rotations, the two active leaders in Opening Day starts (CC Sabathia and Mark Buehrle) did not extend their leads of 11 and 9 respectively.  The names of note for opening day starts:

  • Leader in Opening day starts who extended their total in 2015: Felix Hernandez, making his 8th.
  • Leader in consecutive opening day starts: also Hernandez, making his 7th total (he missed one earlier in his career).
  • Four pitchers now have 7 opening day starts on their resume: Bartolo Colon, Jered Weaver, James Shields and Justin Verlander.  Verlander’s streak of 7 consecutive starts was broken when he was supplanted by David Price for 2015.  Of these four, it seems likely only that Shields will continue.
  • 12 pitchers made their first opening day start in 2015, including our own Max Scherzer.
  • The most ever?  Tom Seaver with 16.  The most consecutive?  Jack Morris with 14.

 


cool stuff

Ask Boswell 3/23/15 Edition

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Scherzer is your 2015 opening day starter.  Photo via Scherzer's twitter account.

Scherzer is your 2015 opening day starter. Photo via Scherzer’s twitter account.

So, I’ve been quiet on the blog front lately.  Not much to write about right now, other than the injury bug that seems to be going around camp.  Max Scherzer named the opening day starter; I guess that’s news for a Monday.

Lets peek at today’s Tom Boswell 3/23/15 chat to see what kind of questions he fielded.  Despite it being post-March Madness, there’s still some baseball talk going on.  As always, I answer here before reading Boswell’s answer and edit questions for clarity.

Q: Say the Nats are under .500 after a couple of weeks. Will a full-scale panic start, or are team and fans’ nerves stronger than that?

A: Maybe the media’s panic will set in, but probably not the fans.  If the team is sub .500 after two months … you’d have to start asking some questions.  Same kind of questions we asked basically all of 2013.  Of course, that being said, the Nats’ early-season calendar isn’t exactly challenging:  10 of their first 11 series of the year are against teams that were sub .500 last year.  Now, we are expecting some of these teams (especially Boston, San Diego, Miami) to be much improved from last year … but the point remains.  The team has no excuse to not come out of the gates firing.  Boswell notes that if all the current injured Nats remain hurt on 4/1 … that fans will expect a long April.  He then goes on a long tangent about how screwed up the Dodgers are right now.

Q: Notwithstanding Taylor’s excellent weekend; I don’t understand why Williams would bat him lead-off (regardless of Taylor’s leadoff “skills”) but wouldn’t bat Harper higher than sixth.  Does Williams have a double standard for prospects not named Harper?

A: A good question.  Certainly some people have questioned Matt Williams‘ ongoing public criticisms of Bryce Harper.  Why call him out, in the media, for his supposed transgression of baiting the runner into trying for second?  Dude; its the 2nd week of March; it isn’t a big deal.  Except by calling him out in public, it *becomes* a big deal since Harper is such a lightening rod in the National media (deserved or not).  My two cents: there’s no lack of evidence coming out of the Arizona Diamondbacks organization over the last few  years about the institutional bull-headedness concerning “the right way to play” and other old-school baseball idioms, and it seems to me that Williams has continued his dogged old-school ways as the on-field leader of the Nats.  Is this a good thing?  Probably not.  Harper is talented enough to back up his actions (see last year’s NLCS when Harper was one of only two Nats hitters to bother making the trip to SF).  But will this conflict become a distraction?  Will it drive Harper from this team eventually?

Sorry for that tangent.  To answer the question at hand; with Denard Span out, *someone* has to bat lead off, and if you’re an “old school” guy who do you pick?  Do you pick the skinny, fast center fielder?  Or do you take a smarter look at your hitter capabilities?  I guess we’ll see.  Boswell says that Taylor batted leadoff in the minors, so he’s ok there.  Uh; the bush leagues playing infront of a few hundred people isn’t quite the majors.  Oh, and Boswell conveniently “explains” why Harper was batting 6th too.  Williams, the old-school manager for the old-school baseball writer Boswell.

Q: Why is Pete Rose back in the news with regard to reinstatement?

A: Because new commissioner Rob Manfred was dumb enough to engage Pete Rose‘s request?   The Dowd report was a pretty galling chronicle of Rose’s activities.  I think Rose appears as a sympathetic figure because of the ardor to which former commissioner Bart Giamatti pursued his penalty.  I too was sympathetic to Rose, feeling like baseball went far out of its way to rid themselves of him at the time.

But, now with time and retrospection, Rose’s sins were pretty bad.

I think the best way for baseball to deal with the likes of Rose, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens and perhaps others will to eventually create a special election with large caveats to their enshrinement.  Yes these players were among the best in the game … but broke cardinal sins against the game.  Imagine a veteran’s committee designed to create a permanent special exhibit in Cooperstown dedicated to great players who have clouds surrounding their names.  I dunno.  The cynical part of me says that the museum based in upstate New York has no incentive to *ever* stop the rhetoric surrounding these guys.  It gets tiresome to argue about the *same things* over and over … but we do it anyway, year after year.

Boswell coincidentally advocates for Rose for the HoF but not an active role in the game. 

Q: With the Nats celebrating ten years in the District, do you have any random memories that stand out since they’ve been in town?

A: I put out a post periodically that talks about “Best games” in Nats history.  This question kind of feels like the games captured in this post and in the comments.   No need to re-answer.

Q: Who deserves the opening day start?

A: You can make a pretty cogent argument for any of the three of Strasburg, Scherzer or Zimmermann.  Strasburg since he’s gotten three straight such starts and normally you don’t replace the home-grown “Ace” of a team.  That’d be my choice and my argument, coincidentally.  Zimmermann b/c of his no-hitter last year and generally accepted stance as the “actual” best hurler on the team.  But its now known that Scherzer is getting the nod (not a real big surprise once you saw how the rotation was laid out starting from early spring).  For me (as noted in the prior thread’s comments), Scherzer is the only guy with a Cy Young to his name, so it isn’t surprising that players’ manager Williams goes with the veteran with the most career accomplishment in that ceremonial spot.  Works for me; we just bought our opening day tickets (we’re in section 131 I think) so I look forward to seeing him pitch.  Boswell says that Strasburg’s sore ankle cost him the spot.  BS. 

Q: With the likelihood of multiple starters starting the season on the DL, how do you see that effecting the bench players on the roster.

A: We’ve talked about this before, but clearly it means that at least one, perhaps two NRIs are getting opening day jobs.  And it means that some options-limited guys are getting shots too.  If Span is out a month, Werth can’t make opening day, if Rendon is down and out, if Escobar can’t get enough reps … that’s a lot of spots to fill.  For me, just guessing, i’d say the team heads north with Tyler Moore, Tony Gwynn Jr, Michael Taylor and maybe Ian Stewart to start the season.  Dan Uggla?  Numbers are good; lots of walks.  But he can’t play 3B (not well, presumably) and its 3B where the team might need some cover.  Boswell is more bullish on Uggla, thinking he’d be a huge steal.  I dunno; can’t play SS, doesn’t bat lefty. 

Q: Are there going to be any longer-term impacts to demoting Tanner Roark to the bullpen?

A: Maybe.  Is it a coincidence that Roark has the worst starter stats of any pitcher this spring?  Probably not; spring training NRIs have a tendency to be uber aggressive, and minor league defenders aren’t always adept at catching the ball when playing out of position.  Maybe not; Roark’s attitude has sounded great, and he’s hopefully being told that he’s first in line and likely will get a big number of starts filling in for the inevitable injuries.  He’ll have his rotation spot back next year for sure.   Boswell doesn’t think so.

Q: If the Nats don’t make it out of the first round of the playoffs this year (assuming they will make it), do you think the fans develop the same anxiety that Caps fans have over the years?

A: Yes.  Two playoff appearances, two “best record in the majors” and two impotent first round exits to wild cards.  If the Nats fail in 2015, then  yeah we may begin to wonder what’s going on.  Boswell points out that the Caps have one of the worst track records in professional sports.

Q: What is your opening day lineup (including who leads off) given the injury spate?

A: If it were me?  If we assume that everyone who is  hurt is *not* making it to opening day, I’ll go with something like this:

Escobar-Desmond-Harper-Zimmerman-Ramos-Moore-Frandsen-Taylor pitcher.  Escobar at 2B, Moore in LF, Frandsen at 3B and Taylor in CF.  Not a great lineup.

A better assumption is that Rendon and Werth will make opening day, which makes the lineup a lot easier.  Escobar-Rendon-Harper-Zimmerman-Werth-Desmond-Ramos-Taylor-pitcher.  When Span returns, put Escobar at #8 and that’s that.

Boswell doesn’t give a leadoff-suggestion, but using induction by reduction, he’s likely pushing for Escobar at lead-off too.

Q: Is it time to cut the cord on Espinosa?

A: Not until you find someone else who can play short stop in a pinch who isn’t already slated to start.  Boswell gives a non-answer too.  I don’t feel bad.

 

Nats Outfield … what happens next?

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Span's injury is going to really affect this team. Photo: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Span’s injury is going to really affect this team. Photo: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve held off posting about this, since most other pundits are putting in their two cents as well.  But Denard Span‘s “core muscle” surgery has suddenly got this team potentially in a pickle in terms of outfield depth and I thought it was worth discussing.

Unlike the Jayson Werth surgery announcement, which seemed to be well enough timed to cause only a brief disruption to the Nats starting outfield plans, the Span injury could have a longer lasting issue.  And, even though Span’s not nearly the hitter that Werth is, he’s much more difficult to replace thanks to his position (center instead of corner) and his lineup skills (lead-off).

What do I think happens now?  In no particular order:

  • I’m guessing that Span misses the entire month of April.  His surgery has a “4-6 week” recovery time frame and there’s plenty of recent players who struggled for entire seasons after dealing with similar injuries.  Not a great sign for the team or for Span, heading into a walk year.
  • I’m guessing Werth also starts the season on the 15-day DL with the idea of coming off of it on the first possible day and only missing 2 weeks.
  • That means your opening day lineup projects right now to having Bryce Harper in right, Michael Taylor in center and probably Tyler Moore in left.  I’m assuming also that Nate McLouth is starting on the 15-day DL as well, given that he’s apparently not even throwing the ball yet after his Aug 2014 labrum surgery, and that the team would rather have Moore in LF than Kevin Frandsen.  Well, let me rephrase;  *I* would rather have Moore playing than Frandsen …
  • I also think the Span/McLouth DL combination creates an opening for a backup OF on the opening day roster.  And I think one Tony Gwynn Jr. is going to win it.  He may not be with the big club very long, but he could serve as the prototypical “4th OF who can play center field really well who does a lot of late-inning defensive replacement duty” guy until the roster is back.  There’s not really another guy in camp who has CF quals and the MLB experience that Gwynn Jr. has, even if he’s a career .238 hitter.
  • Gwynn could easily be added to the 40-man by opening day because at the same time he’s to be added, the team will likely be DFAing both Xavier Cedeno and Sandy Leon, both of whom are out of options and not likely to make the 25-man roster.
  • When both Span and Werth come back, it could spell the end of the line for Moore thanks to his options crunch.  That being said, he’s hitting the cover off the ball so far in spring training (insert standard March debate about spring training stats and their meaning), and the team won’t dump him if he’s hitting .350 in April, so he controls his own destiny.  Where the roster moves do come into play is the assumption that one of these lefty-hitting NRI guys is making this team too.  We likely cannot keep both Moore and someone like a Mike Carp once everyone is back.  Luckily three injuries to presumed 25-man holders makes for a stay of execution for many guys.

Now the big question; who the heck hits lead off if Span is out??  A good question.

Presuming your opening day fielders are: Harper, Taylor, Moore, Zimmerman, Escobar, Desmond, Rendon and Ramos.

Who in that group makes sense to bat lead-off?  Basically just three candidates: Taylor, Escobar and Rendon.  And none of them are really “good” candidates frankly.

  • Yunel Escobar (who is nursing his own injury and could very well also be joining the others on the DL, but we’re assuming for the purposes of this post that isn’t happening and we’re not looking at an April 1 roster that has Dan Uggla on it) isn’t exactly a prototypical leadoff hitter at this point in his career, though he generally has batted either 1st or 2nd. throughout his career.
  • Taylor projects more as a middle of the order hitter frankly, thanks to his massive K numbers (144 in 110 minor league games last year).
  • Anthony Rendon *could* bat lead-off … but he’s likely the team’s best hitter and makes the most sense batting in the #2 slot.

If I were Matt Williams, I’d probably go with this lineup: Escobar, Rendon, Harper, Zimmerman, Desmond, Ramos, Moore, Taylor.  Man that’s a lot of right handers.  The only lefty in that lineup is Harper.  But what choice does the team have?

I’m kind of excited to see Taylor get some opportunity at the MLB level frankly.  What if he lights it up?  What if he proves he’s a legitimate power-hitting center fielder who can man the #8 position for the next 5  years in Washington?  We’ll never know until he gets a shot.

Oh, btw, to all those second guessers who now feel the need to question the Stephen Souza trade, asking smarty-pants questions like “gee do you think the Nats regret trading him now??” stuff in national forums, I say this: the trade made sense at the time, the return was great, and you cannot manage your baseball team on the fear of two unexpected injuries in a 3 month time span.  Souza is very promising, so is Michael Taylor, and the team is assuming that Taylor has more positional flexibility than Souza.  You only need one or two backup outfielders on a 25-man roster, and the Nats had more than plenty heading in to 2015.  Yes hindsight is 20/20, but if the team was presented with the same trade today, knowing they were getting a future back-of-the-rotation starter in Joe Ross plus their shortstop of the future in Trea Turner, i’m not so sure they still wouldn’t make that deal and just work their way through April of 2015.

Oh, pps, has anyone noticed that the setting up of the spring rotation seems to imply that the Nats 1-5 rotation is shaking things up from years past?  It seems like we’re going to go Scherzer, Zimmermann, Strasburg, Fister and Gonzalez.  That’s last  year’s #1 pitching third, and last year’s #2 pitching last.  Can’t say I disagree based on the career accomplishments of Scherzer and Zimmermann, just kind of surprised to see Strasburg being “deposed” as the Nats #1 starter.

And, another PS: with the injury announcements to Yu Darvish and now Marcus Stroman, I wonder if teams are calling the Nats to work a trade for one of our surplus starters.  Maybe there’s still a deal out there for Zimmermann or Fister, reinstating 5-win starter Tanner Roark to the rotation and padding the farm system coffers a bit more.

 

Spring Training 2015 NRI discussion

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Matt Skole joins a motley crue of NRIs for Spring Training. Photo via dynastysportsempire.com

Matt Skole joins a motley crue of NRIs for Spring Training. Photo via dynastysportsempire.com

As suggested by Dr. Forensicane in a previous thread, lets talk about the Non-Roster Invitees (NRIs) for the Nats this coming spring, and for each lets talk about their chances for making the team, staying with the franchise, and depending on their roster status, their future plans with the team in general.

(post-posting update: if you havn’t seen it, check out this overview of the NRIs published on curlyw.natsblog.com.  It is very comprehensive and organized its list similarly to mine).

Most Nats beat-writers published the same list of 20 NRIs on Friday 2/13/15.   Here’s the list by category.  I’ll talk about the least-likely to make the team to the most-likely by positional category:

    • Catchers: Spencer Kieboom, Steven Lerud, Pedro Severino

Discussion: Lerud was a MLFA signing from Atlanta and seems likely to join recently acquired Dan Butler as the primary minor league catching depth for this team.  Thanks to an options crunch, Jhonatan Solano has already been released (and signed naturally with Miami to join his brother) and Sandy Leon likely gets DFA’d at the end of spring training, meaning that the Nats AAA depth needs to be rebuilt.  Meanwhile Keiboom and Severino represent some of the rising catcher talent in the system that may be in a position to really contribute once our two presumed MLB catchers (Ramos and Lobaton) have reached free agency.  The fact is that teams need tons of catchers in spring training camp and it is not surprising to see non 40-man guys get the call to help out with bullpen sessions and then get cut loose once the active camp has been thinned.

Odds of any of these NRIs making the 25-man roster: none for any of these players, even with an injury.  Lerud likely sticks around as AAA depth, and Keiboom/Severino have yet to reach rule-5 eligibility.

Future plans: Lerud to AAA and probably out of the org after this season, and the two prospects moving on up the chain (Severino likely in AA and Kieboom in high-A).

    • Left Handed Relievers: Matthew Purke

Discussion:I am no longer considering Purke a starter; I think his best shot at making it is if he converts to relief. I’d be ecstatic if he regained his mojo as a starter but i’ve lost confidence as such. That being said; we’re all well enough familiar with Mr. Purke by now: for a couple of days in November I thought we had cut him loose completely, ending a rather expensive Nationals experience.  But he re-signed as a MLFA with the team (likely in a pre-arranged deal) and then took the invite to spring training.  I’m guessing the senior team officials want to get a look at him, see how he fares as a match up reliever, see if his stuff holds up in short stints, etc.  By having Purke in spring training, the senior decision makers can watch multiple bullpen sessions, get a sense of his makeup and drive, and make a decision on his future (see next).

(tangent: fun fact here; did you know that Purke was born in the same town (Nacogdoches, TX) as USMNT striker Clint Dempsey?)

Odds of making the 25-man roster: none.  The team didn’t go to all this trouble to get Purke *off* the 40-man roster just to put him back on; there’s other lefty alternatives that will get the first crack at the majors if our standing lefties (Thornton and Blevins) falter.  Namely Xavier Cedeno and Matt Grace.  Even after the season begins, I could see the team experimenting with Sammy Solis or Felipe Rivero as a reliever in the majors before looking at Purke.  Which leads us to Purke’s future plans…

Future plans: Getting Purke back on a non-40-man deal gives Purke a stay of execution.  I think the team sees how he does this year and then considers whether to add him back to the 40-man as a protectionary move prior to next off-season.  But he can’t be putting up 8+ ERAs in AA.  He needs to get guys out or he’s done.

    • Right Handed Starters: Bruce Billings, Mitch Lively, Scott McGregor

Discussion: Both Lively and McGregor were signed midway through 2014 after getting dropped by their respective AAA clubs (affiliates of San Francisco and St. Louis respectively), and then each served as essentially an innings eating starter for Syracuse or Harrisburg the rest of the way through.  Thanks to a slew of last minute moves, both guys got AAA playoff starts in 2014 as well, neither pitching especially effectively as Syracuse was swept out of the playoffs.  Both chose to re-sign in Washington and both will get spring training invites.  Billings was signed from Los Angeles in November and was a starter for their AAA affiliate in 2014.

Odds of making the 25-man roster: none.  Assuming there are no trades or injuries, the 6th-10th guys in line to get MLB starts likely goes Tanner Roark, Blake Treinen, Taylor Jordan, Taylor Hill and newly-added 40-man member (and long time Nats prospect) A.J. Cole.   The Nats used just 8 starters in 2014, so the chances of all 10 of these guys even getting looks seems rather slim right now.

Future plans: You also have to think that the last 4 of these 5 guys will form the bulk of the Syracuse rotation to start 2015, leaving just one slot available.  And if it were up to me, I’d have Felipe Rivero in that 5th slot.  So its kind of hard to even see where these three guys fit in for 2015, unless they’re heading for long-man duty or are dropping down to AA.   I havn’t done enough analysis to even guess what AA’s rotation may look like to see if that’s an option.  So perhaps all three guys are playing for other teams’ scouts and for AAA rotations that give them more MLB opportunity.


Now to where some of these NRIs may actually have some chances to make this team…

    • Right Handed Relievers: Heath Bell, Manny Delcarmen, Eric Fornataro, Rafael Martin, Evan Meek

Discussion: The team shed an awful lot of innings from last year’s core bullpen, none as important as the combined 132 1/3 innings from late-innings relievers Rafael Soriano and Tyler Clippard.  The team made a pretty shrewd signing of former Toronto closer Casey Janssen (and not for a ton of money either …), who will slide into one of those departed slots.  But the truth is that this team has a potential opening for a veteran 7th inning guy.  Right now Aaron Barrett is set to step into that later-innings role; is he ready?  Is he good enough?

The team has three former MLB relievers who signed on with the team with an eye towards reclamation; Bell, Meek and (to a lesser extent perhaps) Delcarmen.  All three guys have had good success in MLB bullpens … and all three have fallen on hard times.  Fornataro just got outrighted to AAA; he’s not immediately coming back on even if he fares well in spring; I’m guessing he’s on a season-long audition.

Which brings us to Mr. Martin.  Forensicane’s best friend.   His 2014 numbers speak for themselves.   He has such an odd and unique career trajectory that perhaps the ST invite is solely so the MLB staff can see what the heck he’s got.  I hope we can get a glimpse of him during televised ST games to see what he’s got.

Odds of making the 25-man roster: Long.  Despite the weakened bullpen, the Nats still have a strong group making cases to head north come March 31st.  And we know that Blake Treinen can be effective out of the pen, meaning that if we get an injury to any of the presumed 7 leaders in the clubhouse for our bullpen (for my money: Storen, Janssen, Barrett, Stammen, Blevins, Thornton and Roark), Treinen probably is the first to get called into duty.

Where these guys have a shot is this: there’s almost no reliever depth on this team.  Outside of the 7 guys likely making the bullpen right now you have just three other relievers on the 40-man: Xavier Cedeno (out of options and likely DFA’d on 3/31/15 unless an injury befells Blevins and/or Thornton), Erik Davis (coming off a lost year to surgery … is he even ready to start throwing again?) and newly-added Matt Grace.  I suppose if Davis proves he’s past his TJ surgery he’d be in line for a call-up if needed, but i’d put my money on either Bell or Martin getting a shot in case of injury.

Future plans: I’d guess that the likes of Bell and Meek have opt-outs if they don’t make the team.  Delcarmen stayed put after his opt-out expired last year and signed on again for 2015; he’s likely AAA depth all year.  Fornataro (as discussed above) is in the AAA pen looking to re-gain value, and Martin is certainly guaranteed a chance to repeat his AAA 2014 performance (not that he has much left to prove…).

    • Middle Infielders: Emmanuel Burriss, Cutter Dykstra, Dan Uggla

Discussion: The team traded away a significant asset to bolster its middle infield presence, but an injury to one of the Nats three presumed 25-man roster middle infielders (Desmond, Escobar or Espinosa) could mean an opening for one of these guys.  Burriss holds an interesting local tie; he went to Wilson HS in the district, not exactly known for generating significant baseball talent.  He has never really hit at the major league level and toiled all last season for Syracuse.  Dykstra is seemingly more well known for who his father is (Lenny) and/or who his fiancee is (Meadow), but he has quietly hit his way up our system.  You can argue that he’s been too old for every level he’s played at for us, but he’s hit .275 or better three successive years. 

Which brings us to Mr. Uggla.  He hit 30+ homers for 5 successive seasons, then got hit in the head by a pitch and suffered what we now know to be “oculomoter dysfunction.”  I certainly remember his presence in the Marlin’s lineup for years; can he regain his stroke and have an impact?  Problem is that he’s 35 and hasn’t hit at a productive level for nearly 5 years.  And his skill set doesn’t exactly age well.  I’m guessing this might be just one last shot in the sun for him.

Odds of making the 25-man roster: very little.  Every team needs a backup short stop, and the team clearly already has one.  Uggla isn’t going to supplant Escobar.

Future plans: I’m guessing Uggla has an opt-out.  Burriss likely is AAA depth and is fine with it.  Dykstra should be matriculating to Syracuse himself, where he can prove he’s worth a look later on.

    • Corner Infielders/Outfielders: Kila Ka’aihue (L),  Clint Robinson (L), Matt Skole (L), Ian Stewart (L), Mike Carp (L)

Discussion: We know what we have in Skole; our 2012 minor league hitter of the year who earns his third straight NRI.  He’s got a sweet swing but a lost season to injury and a less-than-impressive bounce back have him off the prospect radar.  But he’s not really the interesting player out of this group.

I’ve put the player’s bat in parenthesis above for good reason; this team has a need for a bench bat.  And there’s not much tying the team to the presumed 25th guy on the roster right now.  And we *really* have a need for lefty power off the bench, especially now that Espinosa is only batting right handed.  So a lefty with power has a pretty good chance at making this team.  And I don’t think its a coincidence that *every* one of these guys is a lefty hitter.  Ka’aihue just came back from Japan and has a ton of power in the minors that hasn’t translated to the majors.  He’s limited to 1B.  Robinson seems like almost the exact same player as Ka’aihue except with less MLB time.  Stewart at least has some positional flexibility and has a 25 homer season in the majors (albeit in Colorado), but has struggled with injury the past few seasons, derailing his career.  Lastly there’s Carp, another guy like Ka’aihue with a ton of minor league power demonstration that for the most part hasn’t shown up in the majors.  Carp can play 1B or a corner outfield position, giving him a slight leg up on some of his competition here.

Odds of one of these guys making the 25-man roster: decent.  You have to think our bench right now is Lobaton, Espinosa, Nate McLouth, Kevin Frandsen and … somebody.  McLouth can play center … barely.  And he used to have power, but showed the team almost nothing for its $10M investment last year.  But the chances of the team cutting him before June 1st is zero, even if he goes o-for-the spring.   Perhaps the first name to consider for the 25th man is Tyler Moore, but he’s a right handed hitter.  And he’s out of options, and he’s had plenty of chances to earn his spot and has left the team wanting.  I think we’d all rather have Michael Taylor playing every day instead of getting three ABs a week for the big league club.  So I think there’s an opportunity here for one of these lefty power-hitting veterans to grab a spot previously held by the likes of Chad Tracy or Matt Stairs.  In order I think the chances are best for Stewart, Carp, Ka’aihue and then Robinson..

Future plans: Like with the other vets, it wouldn’t surprise me to see all these veterans with opt-outs.  As for Skole, I’d like to see him regain his batting eye; his BA and his OBP both took 40+ point nose dives in 2014.  Of course, it is also worth noting that Skole is 110% blocked on this team right now; he can basically only play 1st or 3rd.  Skole’s value to this team may be in his trade value, which means a good season in Syracuse could mean his ticket out of town for opportunity.


Conclusion: I think we could see one or two of these NRIs make the team, even without an injury.  Remains to be seen.