Nationals Arm Race

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

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Lucas Giolito – First Look

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WASHINGTON DC, JUNE 28: Washington starting pitcher Lucas Giolito (44) makes his major league debut as the Washington Nationals play the New York Mets at Nationals Park in Washington DC, June 28, 2016. (Photo by John McDonnell / The Washington Post)

WASHINGTON DC, JUNE 28: Washington starting pitcher Lucas Giolito (44) makes his major league debut as the Washington Nationals play the New York Mets at Nationals Park in Washington DC, June 28, 2016. (Photo by John McDonnell / The Washington Post)

Its been a while since I did one of these, but what better occasion than to eyeball our newest and biggest prospect on his MLB debut.

Lets talk about Lucas Giolito‘s abbreviated debut.  Here’s what I saw.

Smooth and easy delivery, almost effortless.  He seems like he’s just lobbing it in.  According to TV, FB at 94-96.  Here’s his Pitch F/X link on the night: they classified  his change-ups mostly as curves, had his average velocity at 93.9 and his peak at 95.9 (so the TV gun wasn’t embellishing).  In the first, He gave up a weak single to Granderson to lead-off, got the benefit of some high strikes against Cabrera before blowing him away with a “show me” 96 mph fastball down the pike.  Cespedes sat on a first pitch fastball and absolutely gashed it … right at Rendon.  Walker got a really nice change-up to start him off (nice to see that confidence to command his change-up 0-0), got him down 0-2 and kind of knew a a curve was coming and hit it pretty hard, but Murphy made a nice play to retire him and save the run.  Huge delta between his FB and change, and he controlled the change.  He only threw 2 curves in the first inning, one of which broke so sharply that the ump missed the call (it was borderline low anyway) and the second got hit.

Second inning even though he’s “only” 93 Loney was way behind.   You have to attribute that to his length and the fact that he’s releasing the ball probably a foot closer to the plate than a normal guy.  Loney then froze on a beautiful curve before flying out harmlessly.  The umpire’s high strike zone worked to Giolito’s advantage; his adreneline was definitely working against him and his pitches were trending up.   Flores got a good swing on his curve, better than I would have liked to have seen.   Weak fly ball opposite field for Nimmo and Giolito is through 2 having retired 6 straight.  Interesting.

We go into live blogging mode briefly: here’s some thoughts during the bottom of the 2nd:

  • At 8:30pm in my Vienna home it starts pouring; not a good sign for Giolito’s start.  I’m guessing they may have a brief delay.  Yup, like clockwork, 9pm the tarp goes out on the field.  Well at least I now know how long it takes for a storm to get from my house to Nats Park :-)
  • Side tangent; why the F is Zimmerman hitting before Rendon??  In fact, why is Zimmerman hitting anything but like 8th right now?   Rendon gets Giolito a 1-0 lead with a crushed triple to right center.
  • Another tangent: boy seems like Harvey is short arming it.  I think I’ve mentioned this before in a comment somewhere; his mechanics just do not look like they did last year, or prior to his injury.  I wonder if this is just what he throws like now post TJ, or if he’s got some sort of mechanical issue.
  • Why exactly are they pitching to Espinosa with Giolito on deck?  That was kind of dumb.  The kid has 9 at bats in like the last 5 years.  I’m going to laugh if he gets a hit.
  • Giolito is a little rusty at the plate.  Of course, professional hitters can’t hit Harvey, so it isn’t like its any shameful thing that Giolito is swinging after the ball is in the catcher’s mitt.  He manages a grounder to second that for a second looked like it might weasel its way through.

Top of the 3rd, he makes quick work of 8-9 hitters on weak grounders; now its second time through the lineup.   He nibbled a little bit with Granderson and walked him on 4-straight; same with Cespedes.  Maybe that’s fair; those are the two most dangerous hitters in the Mets lineup these days.

He’s pitching efficiently, he’s working contact and getting a lot of weaker outs.  He’s not over throwing, hasn’t shown much above 96.  But he’s in control; just 32 pitches through three complete.

I’m trying to gauge the movement on his fastball; I saw one really nice tailing fastball that might have been a two seamer, but mostly its straight 4-seamers.

True to scouting reports, he has a sick curveball; a true 12-6 curve, straight over the top and it drops straight down.  Wow; that’s something you just don’t see that often.  It curves enough that a pitch that looks way up is going to drop into the zone.  Its no wonder why pundits rave about the hook.  By the 4th inning Ramos was loving the curve and calling it more frequently.

He’s getting great defense behind him; Rendon, Murphy and Espinosa all have turned in really nice plays for him on grounders that were sometimes pretty sharply hit.  But its all outs on the board.

Through 4 complete; 1 hit, two walks on just 45 pitches.  29 strikes, 16 balls (8 of which came on the two batters where he seemed to nibble/lose focus).

At this point, it started pouring, and when they didn’t remove the tarp after like 5 minutes you knew his night was done.  Team wins easily on the night 5-0 and I wonder how much longer Giolito could have gone.

In the end, we’ve seen him throw a couple of clicks faster (he was 97 in spring), and we’ve certainly seen him with more strikeout capacity (353 Ks in 324 career minor league innings with almost exactly 9 k/9 in AA this year against the best hitters in the minors).  I wonder if tonight’s outing was a managed gameplan kind of thing from the Nats brain trust; don’t over throw, pitch to contact, don’t worry about Ks or throwing max effort.

What did you guys see?

 

 

 

“Those guys can kiss my *ss!”

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Jayson Werth, right, gave MASN’s Dan Kolko a joyous earful. (Alex Brandon/AP)

Jayson Werth, right, gave MASN’s Dan Kolko a joyous earful. (Alex Brandon/AP)

I “watched” the Nats-Cubs game in the most “2016” way possible yesterday.  I followed along at nationals.com initially, then was glancing at my MLB app on my phone into the later innings, then caught exciting 9th inning and the potentially gut-punch top 12th on the way home in the car on 106.7, arriving home just after Anthony Rendon was tossed for not saying anything after taking a called third strike (which, per Pitch F/X, was low and outside, but was in the zone).

It was there that I saw the fantastic end of the game live on MASN.  Danny Espinosa getting a HBP and subsequently stealing second easily.  Michael Taylor slapping a single to drive him in and tie the game again.  And then Jayson Werth‘s 2nd walk off hit this week, nearly a walk-off homer (he certainly thought it was out at first glance), and a fantastic ending to the most well attended game at Nats park in a while (42,000 announced attendance).

Instant classic and instant addition to “greatest games” honorable mention list.  Nats win 4-3 to take the series 2-1 against the perhaps the best team we’ve seen since the 116 win 2001 Seattle team.

Box Score link.  Bill Ladson‘s great game summary.

But … for me the best part was the on-field post-game interview.  It was laugh out loud funny live and its even funnier in the clips.  If you havn’t seen them, you have to listen.  NSFW obviously.  But fantastic.

Yeah those guys can kiss my *ss!

Its like Werth is the lead singer at a rock concert playing to his crowd during an encore.  And his hair completely supports that simile :-)

Great win; great series.  This team is legit.  I know they lost four straight to these Cubs and lost the season series by the ugly line of 2-5, but some of those Chicago games were closer than a 4-game sweep would indicate.  And i’m starting to see national writers dreaming on a Washington-Chicago NLCS.  Wouldn’t that be great.

 

Written by Todd Boss

June 16th, 2016 at 8:35 am

Operation “First tough stretch of the season” underway…

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Loved the Robinson homer ... even it if cost me in fantasy.  Photo via minorleagueball.com

Loved the Robinson homer … even it if cost me in fantasy. Photo via minorleagueball.com

We all know the Nats had a cream-puff schedule in April.  And they delivered; despite a somewhat inexplicable sweep at home to Philadelphia, they finished 14-7 in their first 21 games against basically a collection of teams that aren’t really trying in 2016.

14-7 is a nifty 108 win pace by the way.  Just saying :-)

We all were looking at this first road trip as the first true test; they havn’t played the Mets  yet, they havn’t really had much of a struggle (outside of a couple of pretty good Philadelphia young arms).  They were going to their old nemesis St. Louis (where they’ve always struggled, year over year), then 3 games at the defending WS champs (and in an AL park with their inherent DH advantage), and then to top it off 4 games in Chicago against a team that looks more and more like its gonna win 110 games (hyperbole, if only slightly; they’re 17-6 right now and that’s a ridiculous 120 win pace).

I didn’t think the Nats would win three games this entire trip.  Imagine my surprise that they frigging SWEPT St. Louis, in St. Louis, in three games that honestly weren’t really that close?  Strasburg, Ross and Scherzer pitched like bosses (no pun intended), and gave up a combined 3 earned runs in their 20 innings.  They won a game yesterday where Harper struck out four times.  They got great clutch hitting from unlikely sources (Espinosa, Robinson, Taylor) and they got a turn-back-the-clock Saturday from Werth.

What does this mean?

Well, for one, I think this already bumps up their projected win totals on the year.  You know the adage; dominate the bad teams and break even with the good ones.  I’ve got a little spreadsheet where I have projected Win/Loss totals for the season and it goes like this:

  • The team basically breaks even with the entire rest of the league: 43-41 against the NL Central, NL West and in Interleague
  • The team goes 13-6 against Atlanta, 12-7 against Philly and 11-8 against Miami.
  • The team goes 9-10 against the Mets (they have an extra home game in NY this year) for a combined 45-31 in-division.

If the team does this, then they win 88 games.  Probably not enough to make the playoffs.  So to improve on 88 wins, they need to pick up “extra” wins here and there.  Instead of going 13-6 against Atlanta maybe they go something ridiculous like 18-1 or 17-2 (they’re already 6-0).  They picked up an “extra” win against Minnesota already, sweeping them at home.

I had them going 1-2 in St. Louis in this scenario; going 3-0 is amazing.  Lets see what they can do in KC.  I’m hoping for 1 win out of 3.  They’re giving KC their two “worst” starters and they’re not really hitting well as a team, but what it does mean is that the Cubs will get Ross and Scherzer on the weekend.  Should be fun.

Written by Todd Boss

May 2nd, 2016 at 9:12 am

Ladson Inbox 4/25/16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Ladson’s Inbox 4/8/16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What do you think of outfielder Victor Robles?

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

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

2016 Opening Day Roster surprises

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lets talk about the last minute announcements and the surprises:

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

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

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

Ladson Inbox 3/22/16

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Michael Taylor has been lighting it up this spring. Photo via wp

Michael Taylor has been lighting it up this spring. Photo via wp

Bill Ladson‘s inboxes seem to now just be sporadic Spring Training devices.  I should do more post-Boswell chat reaction posts to drum up conversation.  Nonetheless, here’s Ladson’s latest mailbag and how i’d have answered the questions he took.

Q: Former Nationals general manager Jim Bowden believes Michael Taylor should be the starting left fielder over Jayson Werth. What is your take on it?

A: My take is, “thats why Jim Bowden isn’t a GM anymore.”  Or even a manager.  Yes Michael Taylor has had a great spring.  He also struck out, a lot, in 2015, (158 Ks in 511 PAs for a nifty 31% clip) and (per his splits) didn’t really improve much as the season progressed.   Meanwhile Jayson Werth put up very, very good numbers in 2013 and 2014, the two most recent seasons when he wasn’t hurt.  In both of those seasons he put up oWAR of 4.7 (his total bWAR figures being drug down by his idiot manager continuing to play him in RF instead of left).

Of course, Werth isn’t getting any younger.  There’s not guarantee that he hasn’t fallen off a cliff of performance.

So what’s the answer?  You let Werth play his way to the bench.  The odds are that someone’s getting hurt in our OF and Taylor is going to get 400-500 ABs anyway.  So he’s gonna get playing time.  But there’s just no way that Dusty Baker the “veteran’s manager” is going to sit a long-time vet and team leader by virtue of a few weeks of Florida ABs.  It may take half a season of under-performance, but eventually these things sort themselves out.  This is basically what Ladson said too.

Q: What do you think is Baker’s toughest decision before heading north?

A: What socks to wear on opening day?  Honestly, there’s really very little to decide upon with this team.  They’ve had a very injury-free spring.  The rotation was basically settled upon months ago.  The trades that Mike Rizzo made to solidify the roster also had the effect of basically locking up the roster going north.  Maybe there will be a surprise in the bullpen but that seems unlikely too; the team acquired all these guys for a reason and it wasn’t to compete for a bullpen slot.

The obvious answer prior to spring training was “who starts at Shortstop” but I’ve never thought there was any question that Danny Espinosa will be the starter.  That’s not to say I don’t recognize the potential of Trea Turner (he’s not a top 10-15 prospect on most pundits’ sheets for nothing), but returning to a theme, I just had a hard time thinking that a manager like Baker was going to go with a guy with 5 weeks of service time over a guy with nearly 5 years.  As with Taylor/Werth though, this situation likely sorts itself out.  If Espinosa hits .200 for April, then he’ll switch places with Stephen Drew and the team will start thinking hard about bringing back up Turner (especially if he’s hitting .320 in AAA).

I think there’s still some question at the edge of the bench; do you go with who I think they’ll go with (Tyler Moore and Clint Robinson) or do we get a surprise DFA so they can stick with someone like Matt den DekkerLadson also says its the last bench spot, where Moore is the incumbent but a number of guys could stick based on spring performance, specifically Scott Sizemore, who might be a bit more positionally flexible than Moore.

Q: What is your biggest concern about the Nationals?

A: Bullpen.  We’ve talked about how the Nats, despite all their injuries on offense last year, really struggled in terms of run prevention as the core reason they went from 96 to 83 wins.  Now they’re rolling out nearly a 100% changed bullpen from opening day last year.  How will it perform?  Will it be able to hold down the fort?

We also likely are taking a step back in the rotation, unless Strasburg remembers his September form and brings that from day one.  But, we hopefully counter this with a step forward in offense, with healthy seasons from Anthony Rendon and the veterans.  Ladson also says Bullpen.

Q: Who do you see having a breakout year in the Nationals’ farm system?

A: Well, do you count Giolito at this point?  Probably not.  I’m going to go with the prospects who are getting publicity but who are still in the lower minors.  Guys like Victor Robles, Anderson Franco.  I’d like to see what Max Schrock can do.  I’m excited to see what Taylor Hearn can bring to the table with a full season.  The two Lees: Andrew Lee and Nick LeeLadson mentions Severino; meh; i think we know what we have with Severino by now; great catcher, no hit, #8 hitter in the majors.  I think you see this team let both Ramos and Lobaton go this coming off-season and find a new starter with Severino as the backup.  But that’s a year away so lots could change.

Q: Should the Nationals consider trading Stephen Strasburg before the non-waiver Trade Deadline since it seems he has no interest in returning to Washington next year?

A: Nope.  You try to WIN when you have guys like Strasburg, not flip them away like you’re some small market team stashing away prospects for the future.  This isn’t Tampa Bay; this is the #5 market in the nation.  Besides, who said Strasburg has “no interest” in returning to Washington??  I’ve never read that.  His agent is Scott Boras, who always advises going to free agency, and next year’s FA class is weak, meaning Strasburg will probably get into a bidding war for his services.  Its the modern game; he’ll be overpaid, he’ll get too many years, and he’ll likely get priced out of the comfort level of Ted Lerner and company.  But that’s not the same as implying that Strasburg doesn’t want to be playing in Washington.  Would you give Strasburg 8yrs/$200M?  Because that’s the going rate for an Ace-quality guy like him on the market.  Ladson agrees.

Q: What do you think of Blake Treinen? Is he a starter or reliever?

A: I think  he’s a starter at heart but a reliever in reality.  That is unless he can actually develop a 50-55 grade third pitch that he can reliably get lefties out with.  If that’s the case, then he could become a very effective starter.  And it does seem like the Nationals are thinking the same thing.  He’s definitely pitching this spring like he’s a starter; perhaps the team is thinking about Treinen as the longer guy instead of PetitLadson says he’s showing progress and his spring stats are good; is he the 6th starter over A.J. Cole or Austin Voth at this point?  If someone goes down with injury, are you trying out Trienen or are you calling up the kid Giolito?

 

Ladson Inbox 2/26/16

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Future $400M Dodger? Photo GQ magazine Mar 2012

Future $400M Dodger? Photo GQ magazine Mar 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Spring Training 2016 NRI discussion

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Arroyo could be a surprise NRI making the 25-man roster.  Photo via google images

Arroyo could be a surprise NRI making the 25-man roster. Photo via google images

We discussed Non Roster Invites (NRI) last year (link to 2015’s post) at the behest of reader forensicane, and it was such a good topic that, upon seeing yesterday’s announcement from the various Nats beat writers (here’s James Wagner from the WP’s post), I thought I’d put up a post where we could discuss.

Reminder from last year; there were 20 NRIs; two made the 25-man roster out of spring (Dan Uggla and Clint Robinson), two others eventually got added and called up (Rafael Martin and Emmanuel Burriss) and two others were young catchers since added to the 40-man (Spencer Kieboom, Pedro Severino), so these are not throw-away players.  The odds of several of these names playing a part in this team’s future is high, even past the obvious candidates (i.e. those listed at or near the top of prospect lists).

Like last year, we’ll go by position and discuss their chances for making the team, staying with the franchise, and (depending on their roster status) their future plans with the team in general (the below format is cut-n-pasted from Wagner’s post).

Catchers (1)

  • RHH Jhonatan Solano

Discussion: Solano, the long time Nats-farm hand, returns to the fold after being released ahead of an options crunch in Nov 2014 and spending 2015 toiling for Miami’s AAA team alongside his brother.  He did get 20 MLB at bats in 2015 … and went 1-for-20.  He’s back, though his odds of breaking ahead of any of the four catchers we have on the roster seems very slim right now, even given the known offensive limitations of both MLB-projected catchers.  Now, were one of Ramos  or Lobaton go down with injury … that might open things up.  Would you rather depend on one of the two rookies on the 40-man as your backup or at least go with someone like Solano, who has at least a few MLB at bats over the past few years under his belt?  Neither A or B are good options, and you might think that the “Jonathan Lucroy to Washington” future plan may pick up speed at that point.

Odds of any of these NRIs making the 25-man roster: Negligible unless there’s an injury.

Future plans: Solano back to AAA once again as depth if there’s an injury; he may be flat out released if not since both Severino and Kieboom seem destined to head to AAA to split catching duties.


Infielders (4)

  • RHH Jason Martinson
  • RHH Brendan Ryan
  • RHH Scott Sizemore
  • LHH Matt Skole

Discussion: The team is quite familiar with both Martinson and Skole; both being draft picks and both being relatively close to the end of their tenure here.  Martinson has quietly climbed the ranks but hit just .218 in AAA last year; what he has though is power.  21 homers and corner infield capabilities (he was a SS coming out of college but quickly moved to 3B).  I view him as “Tyler Moore” insurance and the team likely has him at camp to see if he’s at all a possible option in case something bad happens.  Skole has long been a personal favorite, a former Nats minor league player of the year whose promising career was derailed by a season-long injury in 2013.  He took a big step back in 2015, not making the AAA team out of spring but eventually getting there mid-season.  He also has power (20 combined homers last year) but from the left hand side while also playing corner infield.  I view him as “Clint Robinson” insurance.

Meanwhile, both Ryan and Sizemore seemingly are competing for the second “backup utility infielder” role on this team, one that without any other moves would go to someone like Wilmer Difo or perhaps Danny Espinosa were the team to decide to go with Trea Turner from day one.  I don’t see that happening; I think Difo showed he needs more seasoning, I think the team wants a veteran at short and either Sizemore or (more likely) Ryan makes this team as the 2nd utility guy.

Odds of any of these NRIs making the 25-man roster: High: I think Ryan breaks camp with the team.

Future plans: Martinson and Skole back in AAA, Sizemore may have an opt-out but may not since he was in AAA most of last year.


Outfielders (4)

  • LHH Tony Campana
  • RHH Chris Heisey
  • RHH Reed Johnson
  • LHH Logan Schafer

Discussion: Schafer was brought in presumably to compete with Matt den Dekker as a speedy CF-capable 5th outfielder type.  Problem is that Schafer can’t hit: career .212 hitter with a meager career .319 slugging.   Campana?  Same story; the 5’8″ backup outfielder didn’t even appear in the majors last year and has just one homer in 477 career MLB appearances.  den Dekker showed some promise at the end of last season and seems like he’s the first guy to get called up if/when there’s an injury in the outfield.

So lets talk about the two guys who do have some consideration.  The team knows exactly what it has with Johnson: an aging scrappy veteran who can play a corner OF and be a good clubhouse presence.  Sounds like Jayson Werth minus 6 inches of height and $120M of contract.  I think they invited him just as saying “thanks and sorry about last year.”   Meanwhile, some are talking about Heisey having a shot at this roster: I think maybe.  If the team is looking to upgrade the Tyler Moore “right-handed pinch hitter off the bench” role, then Heisey is his competition.  He’s somewhat accomplished; he has never really started in his career but hit 18 homers as a part-timer in Cincinnati a few years back.  But his bat has been just as meager as Moore’s lately: he hit just .223 combined across several AAA levels last year.  Of course, all of those figures are better than what Moore has done lately, and Heisey likely is cheaper than Moore for 2016 (Moore signed a pre-arb deal of $900k but of course could be released mid-spring training without the Nats having to pay a ton of his guaranteed salary).

The question becomes; is Heisey’s positional flexibility (he’s an OF who can play CF in a pinch while Moore can basically only play 1B) going to win out over Moore’s long tenure with the team?  Maybe.

Odds of any of these NRIs making the 25-man roster:  Pretty good: Heisey seems like he could beat out Moore for the RH bench bat.

Future plans: we don’t have a ton of depth at the OF position in AAA; i’m sure one or both of Schafer/Campana could stick around.  Johnson could elect to retire if he doesn’t make the team at his advanced age.  Heisey could stick around or could have an opt-out if he doesn’t make the squad.


Starting Pitchers (6)

  • RHP Bronson Arroyo
  • RHP Paolo Espino
  • RHP Lucas Giolito
  • RHP Taylor Hill
  • LHP Aaron Laffey
  • RHP Austin Voth

Discussion: Thanks to FA departures and starter conversions, the Nats now have just seven starters on their 40-man roster.  Scherzer, Strasburg, Gonzalez*, Ross, Roark, Cole, Jordan.   Where as last year the team could afford to send a 5-win starter to the mop-up role, this year they’re one injury from really having to answer some very serious questions.  Which is probably why they have signed Bronson Arroyo honestly; despite throwing up low-to-mid 80s heat, he has remained relatively effective deep into his 30s.

In reality though, the Nats real SP depth is seen directly in the NRIs; in order Giolito, Voth and Espino.  These three guys are who this team likely turns to if the injury bug really bites the projected rotation.  I’m on record saying that Giolito is going to be up in 2016; might as well get him used to seeing MLB hitters (or close to it, depending on when they give him innings).  In reality, nobody on this list projects to have a shot at cracking the 2016 rotation save for injury.  The big question really comes down to Arroyo versus Roark for the 5th spot.  Is it likely that Roark gets dumped back to the bullpen again, causing a cascading series of bullpen moves (Petit to middle relief, Treinen likely to AAA)?  Not that likely but you never know, and Dusty Baker certainly goes way back with Arroyo.  I think its a certainty that the NRI prospects don’t break camp with the squad … but Arroyo could have a shot.

Can’t wait for Spring Training games though to get a glimpse of Giolito on the mound…

Odds of any of these NRIs making the 25-man roster: Decent for Arroyo.

Future plans: Four of these six NRIs will form the bulk of the Syracuse rotation (Espino, Hill, Laffey, Voth), to be joined with Cole and Jordan for the core rotation in upstate NY.  I’ve projected Giolito to start back in AA and prove he can dominate that level before moving up and bumping someone like Laffey or Hill from the AAA rotation.  That leaves Arroyo; if he doesn’t make the team, I’m guessing he’s opting out instead of lowering himself to riding buses in AAA.


Relief Pitchers (5)

  • RHP Michael Brady
  • LHP Sean Burnett
  • RHP Erik Davis
  • RHP Nick Masset
  • RHP Wander Suero

Discussion: While the 40-man roster of starters is thin (7), the Nats now have no less than thirteen (!) relievers on their 40-man roster.  That’s a lot of arms.  Only 7 of them are making the MLB bullpen, and for the most part you can ink in the opening day rotation by looking at the acquisitions the team has done since July of last year.  So not a lot of room in the inn for NRI relievers.  Davis gets the invite despite getting dumped off of the 40-man roster probably as one last ditch effort to show the MLB staff he can still pitch.  Long time Nat Burnett returns to the fold coming off of a second TJ, probably given the NRI for sentimental reasons more than anything.  Brady and Masset are new acquisitions (one by trade, one by MLFA) who both project to be Syracuse middle relief (where my pre-season analysis also showed a massive glut of arms), while Suero’s callup seems like an audition to be added to the 40-man roster ahead of next off season’s rule 5 draft, since Suero just finished his 6th pro season and will be exposed next December.

Odds of any of these NRIs making the 25-man roster: Nil: the Nats have way too many relievers already and none of these guys projects to be better than what we already have on the 40-man.

Future plans: Brady, Davis, Masset to AAA, Suero to AA, Burnett opts-out looking for a MLB loogy job after proving he’s healthy again on the Nats spring training meal money dime.


Summary

I think there’s a good chance of at least one and perhaps two NRIs to make the 25-man roster.

 

 

Ladson’s Inbox 2/12/15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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