Nationals Arm Race

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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?

 

 

Nats All-Star review: 2015 and years past

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Harper becomes just the 3rd starter in Nats history.  Photo via fansided.com

Harper becomes just the 3rd starter in Nats history. Photo via fansided.com

Here’s my annual Nationals All Star selection post.

(* == All-Star game starter.  The Nats now have three ASG starters in their history, dating to 2005).

2015

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Bryce Harper*, Max Scherzer
  • Possible Snubs: Yunel Escobar, Drew Storen
  • Narrative: Harper not only made it in as a starter for the 2nd time, he led the NL in votes, setting a MLB record for total votes received.  This is no surprise; Harper’s easily in the MVP lead for the NL thanks to his amazing first half (his split at the half-way point of the season: .347/.474/.722 with 25 homers and an astounding 225 OPS+).  I guess he won’t be earning the “Most overrated player” award next year.  That Harper is electing to skip the Home run derby in a disappointment; his father is nursing an arm injury can cannot throw to him in the event.  In a weird year for the Nats, the only other regular worth mentioning is newly acquired Escobar, who is hitting above .300 and filling in ably at multiple positions that, prior to this year, he had never played.  Storen is having another excellent regular season … but at a time when mandatory members from each team often leads to other closers being selected (there are 5 NL closers and 7 AL relievers), the odds of him making the All-Star team were always going to be slim.  Scherzer deservedly makes the team and probably would have been the NL starter; he’s got sub 2.00 ERA and FIP and leads all NL pitchers in WAR at the mid-way point of the season.  But his turn came up in the final game of the first half, making him ineligible for the game and forcing his replacement on the roster.

As a side note, the 2015 All-Star game will go down as the “Ballot-Gate” game thanks to MLB’s short-sighted plan to allow 30+ online ballots per email address.  This led to severe “ballot stuffing” by the Kansas City Royals fans, led to MLB  having to eliminate 60 million+ fraudulent ballots, but still led to several Royals being elected starters over more deserving candidates.

 


Here’s past year’s information, mostly recycled information from past posts on the topic but fun to read nonetheless, especially the early years.

2014

  • Nationals All-Star representative: Jordan Zimmermann (Update post-publishing: Zimmermann strained a bicep, and had to withdraw from the ASG.  For a bit it looked like the Nats wouldn’t even have a representative, until Tyler Clippard was named on 7/13/14).
  • Possible Snubs: Adam LaRoche, Anthony Rendon, Rafael Soriano, Drew Storen
  • Narrative: Zimmermann’s been the best SP on the best pitching staff in the majors this year, and thus earns his spot.  I find it somewhat odd that a first place team (or near to it) gets just one representative on the team (as discussed above).  Rendon tried to make the team via the “last man in” voting, but historically Nationals have not fared well in this competition (especially when better known players from large markets are in the competition, aka Anthony Rizzo from the Chicago Cubs), and indeed Rendon finished 4th in the last-man voting.  LaRoche is having a very good season, almost single handedly carrying the Nats offense while major parts were out injured, but he’s never going to beat out the slew of great NL first basemen (Joey Votto couldn’t even get into this game).  Soriano has quietly put together one of the best seasons of any closer in the game; at the time of this writing he has a 1.03 ERA and a .829 whip; those are Dennis Eckersley numbers.  But, the farce that is the all-star game selection criteria (having to select one player from each team) means that teams need a representative, and deserving guys like Soriano get squeezed.  Then, Soriano indignantly said he wouldn’t even go if named as a replacement … likely leading to Clippard’s replacement selection.  The same goes for non-closer Storen, who sports a sub 2.00 ERA on the year.  Advanced stats columnists (Keith Law) also think that Stephen Strasburg is a snub but I’m not entirely sure: he may lead the NL in K’s right now and have far better advanced numbers than “traditional,” but its hard to make an argument that a guy with a 7-6 record and a 3.50+ ERA is all-star worthy.

2013

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Bryce Harper*, Jordan Zimmermann
  • Snubs: Stephen Strasburg, Ian Desmond
  • Narrative: Harper comes in 3rd in the NL outfielder voting, ahead of some big-time names, to become only the second Nationals position player elected as an All-Star starter.  He was 4th in the final pre-selection vote, so a big last minute push got him the starter spot.   Harper also becomes the first National to participate in the Home Run Derby.   Zimmermann was 12-3 heading into the game and was on mid-season Cy Young short lists in July in a breakout season.  Strasburg’s advanced stats are all better than Zimmermann’s, but his W/L record (4-6 as the ASG) means he’s not an all-star.  It also probably doesn’t help that he missed a few weeks.  Desmond loses out to Troy Tulowitzki, Everth Cabrera and Jean Segura.  Tulowitzki was having a very solid year and was a deserving elected starter, while Cabrera and Segura are both having breakout seasons.  Desmond was on the “Final vote” roster, but my vote (and most others’ I’m guessing) would be for Yasiel Puig there ([Editor Update: Desmond and Puig lost out to Freddie Freeman: I still wished that Puig finds a way onto the roster but ultimately he did not and I believe the ASG was diminished because of it).   Gio GonzalezRyan Zimmerman, and Rafael Soriano are all having solid but unspectacular years and miss out behind those having great seasons.

2012

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Stephen StrasburgGio GonzalezIan Desmond, Bryce Harper
  • Possible Snubs: Adam LaRocheCraig Stammen
  • Narrative: The two SPs Strasburg and Gonzalez were the obvious candidates, and my personal prediction was that they’d be the only two candidates selected.  Gonzalez’ first half was a prelude to his 21-win, 3rd place Cy Young season.  The inclusion of Desmond is a surprise, but also a testament to how far he’s come as a player in 2012.  Harper was a last-minute injury replacement, but had earned his spot by virtue of his fast start as one of the youngest players in the league.  Of the “snubs,” LaRoche has had a fantastic come back season in 2012 but fared little shot against better, more well-known NL first basemen.  Stammen was our best bullpen arm, but like LaRoche fared little chance of getting selected during a year when the Nats had two deserving pitchers selected.

2011

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Tyler Clippard
  • Possible Snubs: Danny EspinosaMichael MorseDrew StorenJordan Zimmermann
  • Narrative: While Clippard was (arguably) the Nats best and most important reliever, I think Zimmermann was a more rightful choice.  He was 10th in the league in ERA at the time of the selections and has put in a series of dominant performances.  Meanwhile Espinosa was on pace for a 28-homer season and almost a certain Rookie-of-the-Year award (though a precipitous fall-off in the 2nd half cost him any realistic shot at the ROY), and perhaps both players are just too young to be known around the league.  Lastly Morse is certainly known and he merited a spot in the “last man in” vote sponsored by MLB (though he fared little chance against popular players in this last-man-in voting).

2010

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Matt Capps
  • Possible Snubs: Adam DunnJosh WillinghamRyan Zimmerman, Steven Strasburg
  • Narrative: Capps was clearly deserving, having a breakout season as a closer after his off-season non-tender from the Pirates.  The 3-4-5 hitters Zimmerman-Dunn-Willingham all had dominant offensive seasons as the team improved markedly from its 103-loss season.  But perhaps the surprise non-inclusion was Strasburg, who despite only having a few starts as of the all-star break was already the talk of baseball.  I think MLB missed a great PR opportunity to name him to the team to give him the exposure that the rest of the national media expected.  But in the end, Capps was a deserving candidate and I can’t argue that our hitters did anything special enough to merit inclusion.

2009

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Ryan Zimmerman
  • Possible Snubs: Adam Dunn
  • Narrative: The addition of Dunn and Willingham to the lineup gave Zimmerman the protection he never had, and he produced with his career-best season.  His first and deserved all-star appearance en-route to a 33 homer season.  Dunn continued his monster homer totals with little all-star recognition.

2008

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Cristian Guzman
  • Possible Snubs: Jon Rauch
  • Narrative: The first of two “hitting rock-bottom” seasons for the team; no one really merited selection.  Zimmerman was coming off of hamate-bone surgery in November 2007 and the team was more or less awful across the board.  Rauch performed ably after Cordero went down with season-ending (and basically career-ending) shoulder surgery.   Guzman’s selection a great example of why one-per-team rules don’t make any sense.  Guzman ended up playing far longer than he deserved in the game itself by virtue of the 15-inning affair.

2007

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Dmitri Young
  • Possible Snubs: Ryan Zimmerman, Shawn Hill (though I wouldn’t argue for either)
  • Narrative: Young gets a deserved all-star appearance en route to comeback player of the year.  Zimmerman played a full season but didn’t dominate.  Our 2007 staff gave starts to 13 different players, most of whom were out of the league within the next year or two.  Not a good team.

2006

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Alfonso Soriano*
  • Possible Snubs: Nick JohnsonRyan Zimmerman, Chad Cordero
  • Narrative: Soriano made the team as an elected starter, the first time the Nats have had such an honor.  Our pitching staff took massive steps backwards and no starter came even close to meriting a spot.  Cordero was good but not lights out as he had been in 2005.  Soriano’s 40-40 season is a poster child for “contract year” production and he has failed to come close to such production since.  The team was poor and getting worse.  Johnson had a career year but got overshadowed by bigger, better first basemen in the league (a recurring theme for our first basemen over the years).

2005

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Livan HernandezChad Cordero
  • Possible Snubs: Nick JohnsonJohn Patterson.
  • Narrative: The Nats went into the All Star break surprisingly in first place, having run to a 50-31 record by the halfway point.  Should a first place team have gotten more than just two representatives?  Perhaps.  But the team was filled with non-stars and played far over its head to go 50-31 (as evidenced by the reverse 31-50 record the rest of the way).

Greatest (and worst) ever Nats games & Events

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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.
  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.
  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 22nd, 2011: Wilson Ramos walk-off homer to complete a 5-1 comeback in the 9th against Seattle.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • 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 (mainly pulled from Zuckerman’s crowd-sourced 2010 lists):

  • 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.
  • 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.

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 .2015 (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.

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.

 

Ladson’s inbox 3/1/15

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Roark; the lost starter.  Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

Roark; the lost starter. Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

I havn’t posted something in weeks.  I was facing writers block.  What is there to really write about in the early weeks of Spring Training?  Thankfully, MLB.com beat reporter Bill Ladson piped up with an inbox!

As always, these are (presumably) real questions from (presumably) real Nats fans who took time out of their busy day to email Ladson personally.  And as always, i write my response here before reading his so as not to color my own opinion.


Q: Would the Nationals consider a six-man rotation so Tanner Roark isn’t left out?

A: Uh, no.   You don’t commit $210M to Max Scherzer and then immediately tell him and all the other veterans in the rotation that their entire work preparation process is going to be adjusted, for the first time ever by any MLB team, to account for a guy with a year and a half of service in Tanner Roark.

By going to a 6-man rotation for an entire 162-game season,  you’d be lowering the number of starts for each guy by at least 6.  What would you rather have, 6 less starts by the likes of Scherzer and Strasburg, or 20-some starts for Roark?  I like Roark too, and trust me I wouldn’t mind a bit for a trade to enable him to be the 5th starter again, but this team has made its bed with this contract.

Ladson says that Roark will be in the bullpen as the long man when the season starts.  Cutting-edge analysis!

Q: If the Nationals and Jordan Zimmermann cannot come to an agreement and he signs somewhere else, what kind of effect will this have on the Nationals in general?

A: Not as much as you might think.  Yes, losing a near-Ace is never good, but this team has a 5-win starter pushed to the bullpen right now, and has significant depth in AAA.  I’m of the belief that a lot of the Scherzer signing was about providing rotation stability through the next few years as the team (likely) parts ways with a significant portion of its current rotation through free agency.  Two years from now you’re probably looking at a rotation that goes Scherzer, Gonzalez, Roark, Cole and Giolito.  And the Nats will have likely acquired a whole slew of upper-level prospects either by trade or by virtue of supplemental draft picks.  Ladson confidently says “there will be no effect at all” because Matt Williams “won’t allow it.”  Beat reporter bravado?  Of *course* there will be an effect; we’re talking about what will probably be a difficult and nasty separation when all is said and done.

Q: Why is Gio Gonzalez starting over Roark? Roark is clearly better. Gio won’t throw strikes.

A: Simple answer: because Gonzalez is lefty.  Secondary issue; Gonzalez is getting paid more than 20 *times* what Roark is in 2015.  I’m not entirely in disagreement here; I’ve been a Roark believer ever since he got called up.  But he’s going to be the odd man out in this competition no matter how good he looks this spring.  Ladson says Gio was his good ole self after getting past his shoulder injury.

Q: I like Drew Storen and his numbers are, overall, excellent. I have to admit, though, I worry about him in close games in the postseason. Am I overly concerned about the fact that 2012 and ’14 playoffs saw him blow saves in key games?

A: Three words for you: Short.  Sample.  Size.  Like it or not (and I too fall victim to this), you just can’t look at a couple of outings in the post-season and judge a guy.  Exhibit 1a: Clayton Kershaw‘s career post-season era is 5.12.    I killed Storen‘s 2014 NLDS performance too, but in reality he was rather unlucky to blow Zimmermann’s gem (Posey kind of fisted the ball into center and then Sandoval hit a down-and-away pitch for a very well-placed double to tie the game).  Storen’s regular season record speaks for itself right now: he had a frigging 1.12 ERA last year!

I say, lets worry about *making* the post-season first, then lets see how the games go.  At some point you have to think the Nats will, you know, hit the ball in a post-season series to the point where it won’t matter whether our closer will pitch a 1-2-3 ninth.  Lets you forget: the team slash line in the 2014 NLDS was .164/.222/.258 and in the 2012 NLDS was .232/.290/.393.  That’s not very good.

Ladson basically says the same thing.

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

A: We already talked about the NRIs in depth.  Short answer is this: *maybe* one of the veteran right handers might have an impact but not immediately.  And we might very well see one of the lefty-hitting vets pushing Tyler Moore for the last spot on the roster.  Ladson thinks Mike Carp in particular is going to contribute off the bench … which means he’s predicting Carp to make the 25-man roster?

Q: Which Minor Leaguers could get called up during the season?

A: I think we’ll see at least three of the AAA starters at some point during the  year (guessing Treinen, Cole and Jordan).   I could see Matt Grace getting some MLB time.  I’m sure we’ll see a backup catcher in Dan Butler at some point.  If Michael Taylor doesn’t start out on the 25-man roster to replace Jayson Werth, then i’m sure we’ll see him at some point.

Perhaps a better question would be this: what non-40man roster guys could you see getting call-ups mid-season?  Rafael Martin comes to mind, as well as someone like Emmanuel Burriss or Matt Skole if the team gets stuck on the injury front.

Ladson mentions Cole and Grace … and then says that he could see Giolito getting a September call-up.  That’s the dumbest thing i’ve read in a while.  Why in god’s name would we want to start Giolito’s clock early like that??  If he’s MLB ready by the end of 2015 …. then you sit on him in AAA for two weeks in 2016 and call him up mid-April.  That’s it.  Every day he spends pitching useless innings in Sept 2015 would be another day the team has to wait for him in 2016. 

Q: Do you see Danny Espinosa on this team in 2016? It seems like he has gotten a lot more slack than anyone on the team. Additionally, what are the team’s long-term plans for second base?

A: I see no reason for Espinosa not to be on this team in 2016, if he continues to serve as an adequate backup.  There’s no reason to cut him, and there’s not really anyone better who is that close to the majors.   I’m not sure if i’d characterize the way the Nationals have handled him as “slack;” in fact the Nats have now gone out of their way to replace him as the starter both with the Cabrera trade mid-2014 and with the Escobar trade this past off-season.  Long term you have to think the team is waiting for Wilmer Difo as the long-term 2B solution .. if he can step it up and advance two levels in 2015 he may be ready by mid 2016.   I’m not as convinced that Tony Renda (who is “ahead” of Difo on the org 2b chart) is a real MLB prospect at this point.  There’s practically nobody of interest at either AAA or AA right now who rates as a prospect.  There’s also a possiblity that newly-acquired-but-not-yet-with-us Trea Turner could be a solution … but the team is hoping he can stick at short.  Ladson basically agrees.

 

 

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.

Ladson’s inbox 2/2/15

49 comments

Scherzer is on everyone's mind.  Photo via Scherzer's twitter account.

Scherzer is on everyone’s mind. Photo via Scherzer’s twitter account.

Love it; another inbox to analyze.  In the wake of the Scherzer signing, lets see what kind of questions MLB.com beat reporter Bill Ladson fielded this week.

As always, I answer as I write before reading Ladson’s answer, and edit questions for clarity as needed.

Q: How much better will the Nationals be now that right-hander Max Scherzer is on the roster?

A: Well, if you play the “WAR analysis” game, then Max Scherzer replaces Tanner Roark in the rotation for 2015.   Scherzer posted a bWAR of 5.5 in 2014 while Roark posted a bWAR of 4.8.  So on the face of it, assuming that both players provide identical value in 2015 as they did in 2014, perhaps Scherzer won’t immediately impact the team.  This is the essence of those immediate-post signing blogs and columns that questioned why the Nats needed to make this acquisition.

However.  I offer some counters.

  1. Roark immediately becomes your spot-starter to cover for injury.  Lets say that Gio Gonzalez (bWAR in 2014 of just 2.1) gets hurt and Roark covers for him; well that’s nearly a 3-WAR improvement.  Certainly Roark is going to be better than whatever AAA cover we could promote to provide injury relief.  The Nats only gave 12 13 starts to non-core rotation guys in 2014 but more than twice that number in 2013; the odds are that an injury is going to hit the rotation at some point.
  2. Scherzer will be better in 2015 than he was in 2014.  Why?  He moves to the NL, gets to face pitchers instead of DHs, faces generally weaker lineups, plays in a weaker division and pitches in more parks that are pitcher friendly.  You can make the argument that his K/9 is going to increase significantly (if he faces the pitcher 60-70 times in a season, he likely strikes them out at least half of that), and his ERA likely falls at least a half a point.  That will boost his WAR for 2015.
  3. Scherzer going twice in a seven game playoff series is going to be better than having any one else getting that second start.  In fact, a 1-2-3 punch of Strasburg, Zimmermann and Scherzer is one heck of a daunting task for any opponent.
  4. And there’s this: not to completely re-hash my post on the Scherzer signing, but i’ll note that this signing (to me) seems like a way to bridge the gap and guarantee an “Ace” in the rotation through the next two off-seasons of rotation transition (where the team likely loses Zimmermann, Fister and Strasburg).  The Nats rotation looks an awful lot better after these three guys are gone if Scherzer is leading the line.  So to me this isn’t a move about 2015 as much as it is about getting this team to 2017 and maintaining competitiveness.

Ladson said very little about answer the question, using his answer to immediately talk about the offense and the bench.  Yeah we know there’s issues there.  And we all remember how the middle of the order went like 1-for-the NLDS.  Wasn’t the question.

Q: Why didn’t Espinosa work on hitting right-handed exclusively after the season ended? If Espinosa made that transition successfully, he would be the answer at second base.

A: A good question.  Not the first time this topic has come up.  We’ve discussed it to death here but the reasons seem to fall along the following:

  1. Espinosa may be getting “advice” from his agent (Scott Boras) to put his own interests first.
  2. Espinosa may be “stubborn” about maintaining his switch hitting, given that it is a differentiator in the marketplace for him.
  3. Espinsoa may just be uneasy about suddenly facing right-handed curve balls from the right-hand side, probably having not faced such a situation in more than a decade (a fair point).

We all know about his splits lefty versus righty.  We all know he has not chosen to try RH-only.  I think its also safe to say that the organization has gone out of its way (Asdrubal Cabrera last season and now Yunel Escobar) to replace him in the starting lineup despite his defensive skills.  It is what it is; we now have a backup infielder on the roster to cover both 2B and SS and who has some pop from the plate in a backup capacity (and the associated K-rate of course).  Not the worst thing in the world to have.  Ladson says … well he stated the obvious (Escobar is the starter) and then says that the “Nats hope Espinosa cuts down on his strike-outs.”  Non-answer.

Q: How come Jeff Kobernus is not being considered for the starting second-base job? Why not have a young, cost-controlled guy play every day?

A: Because Kobernus hasn’t played 2B basically since college full-time since a half-season stint in Harrisburg in 2012.  The team moved him to the OF and he’s mostly stayed there.  Even if you thought he could play second effectively, he’s got a career minor league slash line of .285/.331/.363.   He is what he is: a utility guy who can cover in case of a slew of injuries and makes for a good 9/1 pinch running/6th outfielder call-up, but that’s about it.  I don’t think you can count on him to produce at the major league level day-in and day-out.  Ladson says Kobernus has a chance of making the bench out of spring training this year, which I disagree with.

Q: Asdrubal Cabrera signed with the Rays for one-year, $7.5 million. Why couldn’t the Nats make that deal? Or something close to it?

A: Probably because Cabrera wanted to play short-stop, and the Nats have a short-stop.  Besides, Escobar at $5M is a good deal.  I mentioned at some point in the off-season that Cabrera’s offensive output with Washington wasn’t too much better than Espinosa’s frankly (Cabrera’s split line with Washington in 2014 was .229/.312/.389; Escobar brings more to the table.  Ladson agrees, and says that the Nats weren’t willing to bring Cabrera back at his asking price based on what he showed last year.

Q: Why didn’t the Nats consider Tyler Clippard as their closer?

A: Hmm.  Good question.  Perhaps because when Clippard was given the closer job in 2012, he really struggled with it as compared to his typical 8th inning performance.   ERA in 2012 as closer: 3.72.  Career ERA: 2.88.  Besides, there was more in play for Clippard’s trade than just who was going to be the 2015 closer.  Clippard’s got a ton of miles on his arm, Clippard was set to make nearly 8 figures as a reliever, and the Nats felt like they could afford to part ways with him to acquire a player who filled a need.  Ladson notes what I noted, and said that Clippard’s pending free agency played into the decision.  That’s a great point that I didn’t mention; Clippard wasn’t going to be offered a qualifying offer (likely worth $16M next off-season), so he’d depart to no compensation.  With this trade, the Nats got some compensation for him.

Q: I know he’s had plenty of success as a general manager, but I’m surprised Mike Rizzo doesn’t feel any sense of urgency to try to sign Desmond or Jordan Zimmermann to an extension. What are your thoughts on this?

A: I think Mike Rizzo has been trying to extend these guys for more than two years.  “Sense of urgency?”  What else do you want to ask of the guy?  He by all accounts has offered both guys 9-figure deals, and has been rebuffed.  Do you think Ian Desmond is worth a 7yr/$100M deal?  Do you think Zimmermann is worth a 6yr/$150M deal?  Clearly to me the two players are valuing themselves higher than what the GM is valuing them, the GM has made what he thinks to be fair market value deals, and both guys have opted to test the market.  Baseball is a business, both on the player side and the team side.  Ladson thinks Rizzo will step up discussions once spring training happens.  I don’t; I think that the ship has more or less sailed on extending these guys at this point.  Now, will the team move Zimmermann?  I think we may see offers once James Shields signs…. if there’s teams out there that want to improve but miss out on Shields, they may come calling to the Nats with deals we cannot turn down.  We’ll see.  Overall thougth I’m doubtful any trades occur at this point.  My prediction: the juggernaut rotation goes into 2015 in-tact.

 

Farewell Mr. Clippard

53 comments

Good luck in the Bay Area.  Photo unk.

T Good luck in the Bay Area. Photo unk.

Quick thoughts on the Tyler Clippard for Yunel Escobar deal that went down Wednesday night.

  • Bummed to see Clippard go.  I got a chance to play golf with him a few years back and he’s a real nice guy.  Nothing but a gentleman on the course, just a guy who liked playing golf in his spare time.  The thing that made me laugh the most from the game was his telling us that he rides his bike to the ball park every night … and then back home at midnight, through some rather sketchy streets around the stadium, all the way back to the townhouse he shared with Drew Storen on capitol hill.  If you’ve never been to Oakland’s stadium … well lets say I hope Clippard doesn’t try to ride his bike home at night from there.
  • Does Clippard get a shot at the closer role in Oakland?  Probably not; Sean Doolittle took over for the deposed Jim Johnson last year and did pretty well.  Very well actually: a 0.7 whip and a 1.71 FIP.  Not bad.
  • I tend to agree with the Mike Axisa CBSsports.com analysis posted here; Nats have some interesting flexibility now with Escobar.  He could be the 2B starter (making the transition from SS to 2B is an easy one for a quality infielder).  He could enable the team to move Ian Desmond and have Escobar be the starting shortstop until Trea Turner is ready (or proves himself not to be up to the task … Escobar is signed through 2016 with an easy 2017 option).

Is this a good trade for the Nationals?  Clippard was a vital and valuable part of the bullpen; is he replaceable?  Not easily.  The Nats have shed two of their three best relievers from last year with no real replacements (no, i’m not counting Heath Bell) other than internal promotions.  Perhaps this means we’ll see a couple of middle relief veteran signings now.  I think this also could mean Blake Treinen‘s being called into reliever duty instead of being in the Syracuse rotation.  Who pitches the 8th inning now?  Aaron Barrett?

Even given Clippard’s value, his escalating salary did mean he made more sense as a closer for another team.   Maybe that happens in Oakland regardless.  Or maybe Billy Beane keeps on dealing and moves Clippard again.  But the Nats plugged a hole for now and potentially for the next two years as well; a price that had to be paid for what they acquired.  And lets be honest; it is probably easier to find a good right handed reliever than it is to find a MLB-average offensive shortstop.

Escobar’s offensive numbers were a tick below MLB average last  year; an improvement over the presumed person he’s deposing in Danny Espinosa.  What’s more of an unknown is his defense; he was excellent in 2013, awful in 2014 in terms of range factors.  Since you don’t need nearly the range at 2nd, i’m guessing he’s going to be an excellent defender there by default.  So to this effect, he fits the Rizzo mold.  Good defender, decent offensive player.

The knock on Escobar, of course, is character.  It stems from an incident in 2009 while with Toronto when he put the words “Tu ere maricon” on his eyeblack.  As I noted in the comments section, I tend to give him the benefit of the doubt here, believing that the media took one of many possible interpretations of this common latin insult (and hopefully not the one he meant) and ran with it … suddenly the message and the story that remains to this day is that he used an “anti-gay slur” and that Escobar is “homophobic.”  Or perhaps not: according to a wikipedia guide of Spanish profanity, the term maricon as used by Cubans in particular most likely means exactly what he’s accused of saying.  I dunno; what’s the statue of limitations for making a poor decision?

Ladson’s inbox 1/5/15

70 comments

Desmond is the hot topic today.  Photo Drew Kinback/Natsnq.com

Desmond is the hot topic today. Photo Drew Kinback/Natsnq.com

Well happy new year.  After going 9 months w/o a mailbag, MLB.com Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson has put out two in a row!

Here’s his 1/5/15 version.  I love doing these things.

Q: Do you see Trea Turner as a future leadoff hitter for the Nationals? If so, when? Ian Desmond has one year left on his contract, so I have to think the front office is counting on his rising through the Minor Leagues quickly like Anthony Rendon.

A: Yes, I can see Trea Turner as a lead-off hitter in the majors.  Blazing speed (some scouts have rated his speed at 80 on the 20-80 scale … which is a real rarity), excellent bat skills during his 3 years at NC State (a career college slash line of .342/.429/.507 playing in the nation’s toughest baseball conference), and in short sample sizes in the pros he’s got good OBP numbers.  Everything you want in a lead-off guy.  In college he had power (8 homers in 54 games his junior year playing with BBCOR bat, 2nd in the ACC); that’s a nice combination if it translates to the pros.

The question I have about Turner is whether he can stick at short.  Or, more to the point, if he’ll be a good enough shortstop to appease the defensive-minded Mike Rizzo.  All the scouting reports I’ve seen say the same thing: good fielder, great range … and an iffy arm that may push him to second.  Well, you have to think Rizzo acquired a guy like Turner specifically because he thinks Turner *can* stick at short, and is a ready-made replacement for Desmond.  Otherwise; why get him?  Its a heck of a lot easier to find a second baseman than a shortstop in this league (current issues replacing Danny Espinosa notwithstanding).

Can Turner be a fast riser? Well, he’s not nearly as accomplished a college player as Anthony Rendon (who, lets not forget, was College Player of the year as a sophomore).  Rendon ended his first pro season in AA and hit his way to the majors permanently by June of the following year.  That’s a pretty amazing trajectory.  And it included lost time to injury.  Turner ended his first pro season in low-A by way of comparison, and needs a two-level jump in 2015 to have a shot at a 2016 debut, and a 2-level jump next  year is going to be severely hampered by the fact that he’s likely to be languishing in San Diego’s spring training facility until June, when he can officially be traded.  He’s losing a half of year of development time most likely.  So, late 2016 to me is a more realistic goal, if everything goes well.

Meanwhile, that leaves a gap in the shortstop coverage if Ian Desmond leaves.  Here’s a thought; if Desmond leaves in FA after 2015, you put Espinosa back at his natural shortstop position, find a second baseman (Dan Uggla anyone? :-) ) and then wait for Turner to arrive.  If Turner can play short, so be it.  If he can’t, you put in at 2nd.  I like that plan.

Ladson says the Nats have “been quiet” on Turner since he’s not technically a Nationals player; makes sense; you wouldn’t want tampering charges.

Q: How is Desmond not locked up, or even the No. 1 priority? I understand Jordan Zimmermann is a staff ace, but shortstop is a prime position and every team desires one. Desmond is one of the best in baseball and can’t be replaced.

A: Because Desmond took a step back both offensively (from a 113 to a 103 OPS+) and defensively (UZR/150 from 4.4 to 0.1) in 2014 from the previous year.  I’d be slightly hesitant too.  I used to think that Elvis Andrus‘s contract was a fair comp for Desmond.  But now it looks like the Andrus contract was actually a massive over-pay, and valuing Desmond may be more difficult than we thought.

When I think about roster construction, you go up “the spine” of the team.  Catcher, Pitchers, Short and Center Field.  Those are the key positions to lock up with quality players.  So no arguments that Desmond and Shortstop in general are huge priorities.  But now the problem becomes this: is Desmond’s 2014 decline a one-off or a concern?  And, what is he worth?  If you think Andrus is an overpay ($15M a  year through 2022), and if Troy Tulowitzki is the best offensive shortstop in the game (at $20M/year for the next four years with annual injury issues), then where does Desmond fit in?  Some sampling of shortstop contracts: J.J. Hardy is 3/yrs/$40M for AAV of about $14M/year.  Jose Reyes makes $22M/year for the next three years, which seems rather high to me.   Jimmy Rollins is on an $11M option for 2015.  Jhonny Peralta is on a 4yr/$53M deal for an AAV of about $13M.  So clearly the market is at least $15M/year for a quality shortstop.

Based on who the Nats have in the pipeline at short (past Turner … practically nobody) and based on who projects to be available in FA in 2016 (also practically nobody), yes I think Desmond is a priority.  My guess is that the front office is juggling all sorts of stuff right now, and just hasn’t come to any conclusions.  I’d be perfectly comfortable offering him 5 to 6 years at an AAV of $15M (6yrs/$90M) with a club option; that’s clearly not enough as the team has offered him *more* than that in the past apparently and he’s turned it down.  He’s entering his age 29 season; that’d lock him up through his age 34 season … a gamble for a shortstop, but a good one for a franchise player who has been with the organization since he was 18.   I would have postulated that perhaps Desmond (with his Florida ties and the heavy Yankees presence down there) wanted to slide into the vacated Derek Jeter spot … but the Yankees just acquired a long term SS in Didi Gregorius, so maybe Desmond’s agent and him are strategizing.  Besides; Washington seems like a better positioned franchise right now than the Yankees (as hard as that is to write) for post-season positioning.

Ladson points out the Nats offered Desmond in excess of $100m and then cryptically says “lets see what happens in the next few weeks.”

Q: I noticed Rafael Furcal is a free agent. Might the Nats sign him as a veteran middle-infield stopgap until Turner and Wilmer Difo are ready?

A: Rafael Furcal?!  Wow,that’s a heck of a pull.  You mean the same Furcal who has played in a grand total of 9 major league games since 2012 thanks to injuries and will be 37 next season?  He hasn’t played a full season of injury-free baseball since 2009.  Why would we possibly consider this guy?   No way; there’s younger, more reliable middle infield options out there.  Difo, by the way, played in low-A last  year.  I don’t think we’re seeing him anytime soon.  Mid 2017 maybe?  Ladson says that Furcal *tore* his hamstring in Winter Ball; geeze.  He also states the obvious; we’ll see lots of Dan Uggla and that we should trade for Ben Zobrist.  Thanks for the scoops there, Bill.

Q: What are your predictions as to how the NL East will stack up in 2015, especially given personnel changes and improved health throughout the division?

A: Nats win the division with 90 wins.  Marlins 2nd with like an 83-79 record.  Mets in 3rd at about .500.  Braves in 4th at about 75 wins.  Phillies last place, with somewhere in the 68 range of wins.  Ladson seems to go Nats-Marlins-Mets too.

Q: I’m frustrated by Desmond’s strikeouts. If he could make contact for 20 percent of his strikeouts, he would be all world. What can the Nats do to help him make more consistent contact — just patience at the plate for better pitch selection?

A: Welcome to modern baseball.  Swing for the fences all the time; strikeouts be damned.  Nobody remembers you struck out 180 times when you  hit 20+ dingers from the short-stop position.  Now … strike out 122 times in 119 games and hit .220?  Then you’re in trouble, Mr. Espinosa.  As far as the question goes; maybe you park Desmond further down the order, tell him he’s not a run producer any more and tell him to focus less on homers, more on solid contact.  Maybe that helps.  Maybe not; the Nats offense is seemingly always a man down, which means Desmond is always pushed into a 3-4-5 hole spot, where he’s looking to drive in runs.  I expect similar numbers in 2015.  Ladson reminds us that Desmond had the flu last  year.