Nationals Arm Race

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

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2016 Nationals Payroll Projection


Werth is still the high-man on the payroll. Photo via

Werth is still the high-man on the payroll. Photo via

So, one big factor in any team’s off-season plan is figuring out exactly what the payroll is going to look like, to figure out what their budget is, and then go shopping from there.  This post goes through the guys we have under contract as we speak to try to do some projections of what we already have committed in terms of 2016 dollars and therefore draw some conclusions about how much FA shopping/veteran salary acquisition we’ll be doing this coming off-season.

(note: all this data is, of course, in a Google XLS for your perusal and/or available as a Link to the right).

The 2015 Nats opening day payroll (according to Cots) was $162,014,559.  This represented about a $25M bump from the previous year and included a significant amount of money heading to Free Agents in the last year of their deals.  Here’s the list of Salary immediately coming off the books from the 2015 team:

Player Current or 2015 Contract 2015 Salary
Zimmermann, Jordan 2yr/$24M (14-15) 7.5 and 16.5 $16,500,000
Desmond, Ian 2yr/$17.5M (14-15), 6.5 and 11 $11,000,000
Span, Denard 5 years/$16.5M (10-14), $9M club opt 15 $9,000,000
McLouth, Nate 2yr/$10.75M (14-15) with opt $5,000,000
Thornton, Matt 2yr/$7M (14-15) $3,500,000
Janssen, Casey 1yr/$5M (15) 2016 optn $3,500,000
Uggla, Dan 1yr/mlb min (15) $507,500
Johnson, Reed 1yr/1M (15) $1,000,000
Fister, Doug 1yr, $7.2M (14) (arb2) $11,400,000
sum –> $61,407,500

So, that’s $61M coming off the books.  I’ve counted the option buyout dollars for the 2016 options of Janssen and McLouth in the 2016 figures, but this is still a significant sum.

So, 61M coming off the books; how much are we committed to for 2016 as things stand?

First, lets look at dollars committed to Existing Veteran Players under Contract:

Player Current or 2015 Contract 2015 2016
Scherzer, Max 7yr/$210M (15-21), half deferred $17,142,857 $15,000,000
Werth, Jayson 7 yr/$126M (11-17) $21,571,429 $21,571,429
Zimmerman, Ryan 6 yr/$100M (14-19)+20 opt $14,000,000 $14,000,000
Gonzalez, Gio 5yr/$42M (12-16)+17,18 options $11,100,000 $12,100,000
Papelbon, Jonathan 4yr/$50M + 2016 Optn (11M, 3M deferred) $13,000,000 $8,000,000
Escobar, Yunel 2yr/$13M (15-16) 2017 optn $5,000,000 $7,000,000
Harper, Bryce 2yr/$7.5M (15-16) $2,500,000 $5,000,000
sum –> $82,671,429

I count about $82M committed to these 7 players for 2016.  I’m only counting Scherzer‘s salary at the $15M for 2016 since that’s what he’s gonna get paid exactly in 2016.  Cots has a whole complicated explanation when it estimates payroll on its site (see this link) by prorating his signing bonus over 7 years and a whole different calculation made for luxury tax purposes, but I think that’s a mistake to use anything other than the actual dollars going out the door in a given year.  The Lerner’s kicked that can well down the road by getting him to agree to defer literally half the money in the deal for the express purpose of keeping its present value down for their budget, so that’s how i’m figuring it here. If you disagree, feel free to argue about it in the comments.

If the Nats can move Papelbon and some of his $11M in salary, all the better, but I figure they’ll likely have to eat a lot of it to do so, so I can’t see this figure moving much with off-season trades.

Next, lets look at the Players Eligible for Arbitration.  I’ve put in some quick guesses/estimates for arbitration figures for these players.  I’ve historically been somewhat conservative in my guesses, so these might be off by a million here or there, but in the macro sense it won’t make that much difference.  If you think i’m wildly wrong about (say) my Strasburg estimate, lets argue in the comments:

Player Current or 2015 Contract 2015 2016
Strasburg, Stephen 1yr/7.4M (15) (arb3) $7,400,000 $12,000,000
Storen, Drew 1yr/$5.7M (15) (arb4) $5,700,000 $7,600,000
Ramos, Wilson 1yr/$3.55M (15) (arb3) $3,550,000 $4,700,000
Rendon, Anthony 4yr/$7.2M ($6M bonus) (11-14)+15 opt (arb1) $1,800,000 $4,000,000
Stammen, Craig 1yr/$2.25M (15) (arb4) $2,250,000 $2,400,000
Espinosa, Danny 1yr/$1.8M (15) (arb2) $1,800,000 $3,200,000
Lobaton, Jose 1yr/$1.2M (15) (arb3) $1,200,000 $1,500,000
Moore, Tyler 1 yr/$0.5182M (15) (arb1) $518,200 $1,200,000
sum –> $36,600,000

So, if we keep all these guys I can see them costing in arbitration about $36.6M.  It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see Storen traded of course, nor would it surprise me to see Moore DFA’d outright, or for the team to acquire another backup catcher and part ways with the light-hitting Lobaton.  But we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.  For now, $36.6M is a good estimate.  Thankfully Strasburg really struggled this year, otherwise his arb-3 figure might be closer to Zimmermann’s last arb figure ($16.5M) than the $12-13 he may eventually get.

Coincidentally on Rendon: did you guys see where he made the Super-2 cutoff on the exact day in terms of service time?  2 years, 130 days.  And that’s exactly what he has.  So, depending on how he plays over the next few years that likely costs the Nats at least $8-10M in salary.  Hey, not my money.  I don’t exactly think the team was actively trying to manipulate his time like they did with Strasburg, so maybe they just don’t care.

So that’s 7 vets and 8 arbitration cases.  That leaves 10 players to fill out the rest of the 25-man roster and they’re all Pre-Arbitration Players:

Player Current or 2015 Contract 2015 2016
Roark, Tanner 1 yr/$0.5296M (15) $529,600 $550,000
Robinson, Clint 1 yr/$0.525M (15) $525,000 $550,000
Barrett, Aaron 1 yr/$0.5142M (15) $514,200 $530,000
den Dekker, Matt 1 yr/$512,972 (15) $512,972 $525,000
Treinen, Blake 1 yr/$0.5128M (15) $512,800 $530,000
Taylor, Michael 1 yr/$0.5087M (15) $508,700 $525,000
Rivero, Felipe 1yr Minor League deal (15) $510,000
Ross, Joe 1yr Minor League deal (15) $515,000
Turner, Trea 1yr Minor League deal (15) $515,000
Solis, Sammy 1yr Minor League deal (15) $510,000
sum –> $5,260,000

If the 2016 season started tomorrow, this is how i’d project the rest of the roster coincidentally.

Even factoring in nominal raises for guys like Roark and Robinson, this still doesn’t even total half of what Papelbon is due in 2016.  Pre-Arbitration players; the best deal in the game!

Here’s the rest of the 40-man roster, who under my projections would be toiling somewhere in the minors on a 40-man roster prorated basis:

Player Current or 2015 Contract
Davis, Erik 1 yr/$0.5089M (15)
Cole, A.J. 1yr Minor League deal (15)
de los Santos, Abel 1yr Minor League deal (15)
Difo, Wilmer 1yr Minor League deal (15)
Goodwin, Brian 1yr Minor League deal (15)
Grace, Matt 1yr Minor League deal (15)
Hill, Taylor 1yr Minor League deal (15)
Jordan, Taylor 1yr Minor League deal (15)
Martin, Rafael 1yr Minor League deal (15)
Severino, Pedro 1yr Minor League deal (15)
Kieboom, Spencer 1yr Minor League deal (16)
Bostick, Chris 1yr Minor League deal (16)
Lee, Nick 1yr Minor League deal (16)

I don’t think Cots counts these guys against payroll because unless they’re on the 25-man roster actively, they’re not necessarily getting paid like it.  I think.  I’m open to suggestion here.

So, where does that leave us?

  • Existing Veteran Players under Contract: $82,671,429
  • Buyouts of 2016 options: $2,250,000
  • Players Eligible for Arbitration: $36,600,000 estimated
  • Pre-Arbitration Players: $5,260,000 estimated

Total 2016 Projected Payroll: $126,781,429.

That’s $35m less than 2015.  So, if you make the argument that the Lerners will keep payroll even with 2015, that’s about $35M of payroll room with which to work.  For some reason I think they’re going to rein back in payroll, so lets call the target for 2016 about $150M.  Not too bad; that should buy what this team needs.

In my “GM for a Day” post in early October 2015, here’s what I put as a shopping list:

  • Bullpen; if a $10M closer is acquired, you off-set the salary a bit with a Storen trade, and then perhaps buy a mid-level veteran RHP for $5-6M/year.
  • Lefty hitters: not much on the FA market that won’t cost you an arm and a leg; we could get creative and move some depth for another $10M outfielder type and use Taylor as a 4th.
  • Backups: Maybe some infield depth in the $5M range.
  • Maybe rotation competition; frankly there’s better things to spend money on, so I think they go to battle with what they have.

So, that’s roughly $25M in acquisitions, right around the $150M target.  That could work.

What do you think?  Sound like a good plan?



Qualifying Offer analysis: Nats and Leaguewide


Desmond gets a Q.O. Photo Drew Kinback/

Desmond gets a QO. Photo Drew Kinback/

Qualifying Offer (QO) extension time has come and past, and a record 20 players received the 15.8M one-year contract tender for 2016.

The Nationals, as has been typical, went the conservative route and only gave a QO to the two players they expect to reach significant, multi-year deals.  Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond.  They opted not to extend offers to their other 7 free agents, nor to the two guys who a  year ago you would have thought to be locks to get one (Doug Fister and Denard Span).

(coincidentally: am I the only one who thinks that the Nats actually have 9 free agents on their end-of-year 40-man roster?   Zimmermann, Desmond, Span, Fister, Uggla, McLouth, Janssen, Thornton and Johnson.  Why is it that all the other stories I read only list the first 8?  Is Reed Johnson actually not a FA?  Look at the Nats XLS on Cots‘; Johnson is absolutely listed as a FA, as are 6 others, plus the two with options that we’ve already declined.  Am I wrong?)

Anyway.  I’m on record as saying that the Nats should have extended 3 QOs to include Span.  Yet not for the first time, the team has opted not to offer a QO to a guy who clearly would have declined it.  And this will be the third time they have made a crucial mistake as an organization and gave away a high draft pick needlessly.  Edwin Jackson was always going to sign a multi-year deal and the Nats inexplicably failed to give him one.  Same with Adam LaRoche, who clearly still had a market for his services and would have garnered another pick.

I’m not sure exactly what Scott Boras seems to “have” on the Lerners … but not for the first time they’ve cut him a break and done him and his clients an inexplicable favor.  So, what exactly do the Nats get out of this?  Span should send the team management a fruit basket for not destroying his FA market this coming off-season.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Span didn’t hire Scott Boras so that he could hand over a commission check on a gift of a $15.8M one year deal.  Span was never going to accept that QO.  Just dumb.  But hey, it isn’t exactly the first dumb thing this front office/ownership group has done this off season…

So, of the 20 players who did get a QO … the annual question remains.  Will someone actually take it this year?  Just as a reminder, here’s the entire list of QO-offered players since the system began, with their eventual contract offer and a judgement of whether or not the QO “hurt” their next contract.  Eight in 2012, 13 in 2013, and 12 after last season.  That’s 33 total players and so far NOT ONE has signed the deal.  I’m still not entirely convinced that there’s not a Player’s Union-wide conspiracy going on where they decline the QOs en masse because they don’t agree with it for some reason.  Certainly it seems like the next CBA will eliminate it, since it has clearly done little except harm the market for FAs.

Here’s a quick opinion on the 20 guys who got QOs and what I think may happen (AAV = Average Annual Value on their contract):

  • Easily surpass AAV of $15.8M and get monster deals: Greinke, Heyward, Zimmermann, Upton, Gordon: All of these guys are marquee free agents, are the kind of guys you give up a pick to sign gladly, and will sign for significant money well eclipsing the QO AAV or guaranteeing a significant amount of money (like, in the $80M+ range).
  • Will sign multi-year deals with significant money, even if AAV is “only” at or near $15.8M: Desmond, Davis, Iwakuma, Gallardo, Samardzija: I can see Desmond doing 4/$60 or something like that in New  York, I can see the two pitchers getting nice deals in the 3/$45 range and I can see Davis banking a short high AAV deal.  For me, even Samardzija’s 2015 decline won’t scare off some teams, especially teams out west in pitcher’s parks and especially since he could be a nice 2nd-tier deal of an arm once you get past the significant FA pitchers.
  • Might not get $15.8M AAV, but will sign for at least 2/$25M or 3/$40M or something: Lackey, Chen, Kendrick, Weiters, Anderson: Most of these guys probably take less AAV but guarantee more total cash, like several guys did last off-season.  I’ll bet some of these guys re-sign with their current teams too (Anderson, maybe Kendrick, maybe Lackey too).  The draft pick compensation likely scares off some teams here, so their market will be limited, but if a team has a protected first pick they might be ok giving up a second rounder for these guys.  Or, a team like Washington, which will get two supp-1st picks, may be willing to give up its 1st rounder to just “drop down” 10-15 slots to sign these guys.

So that leaves more than a few guys who might be crazy not to sign the offer sheet:

  • Rasmus: made just $8M this year; does anyone really think he’s getting significantly more in FA on an AAV basis?  Plus, who is going to give up a 1st or even a 2nd round pick to sign him?  And he hit just .238 in a hitter’s park.  This seems like a “dare” move from the Houston front office, known in the industry to be just a bit too clever for their own good sometimes.  As in, “I dare you to break with your union and take this deal.”  If there really is some un-spoken agreement among players to never take a QO, he’s a great test case.
  • Fowler: Similar situation to Rasmus ($9.5M this year): he’s not the kind of guy you commit significant money to, is he?  He does have value in a very small CF market, so perhaps you  make the argument he belongs in the same conversation as Lackey or Kendrick.
  • Murphy: made just $8M this year and hit half as many homers in the post season as he had all year.  So clearly he made himself some cash with his post-season exploits .. but enough to double his pay on an AAV basis?  A shrewd move from the NY front office, pressing the issue here with Murphy.
  • Kennedy: $9.8M this year but has been awful.  Might not even be a 5th starter, and has Scott Boras as an agent.  Who’s giving up a 1st rounder to make him their 5th starter?  Who’s signing him to a long term deal?  Without the QO stigma, I could have seen him signing a 1yr/$8M deal but not much else.  How can he possibly not take this offer, a gift of a pillow contract to re-gain some value for next off-season?  One reason: his agent.  Is Kennedy going to be the next Stephen Drew or Kendrys Morales, who gets talked into hitting the open market by his aggressive agent only to find himself sitting until next year’s draft passes since nobody’s willing to give up a high round pick to sign him?
  • Estrada: he made just $3.9M in 2015 and has made just $10m TOTAL in his career, yet got offered $15.8M for next season after a breakout  year in Toronto.  Uh, why wouldn’t he take this QO?  He’s on the wrong side of 30, would more than double his CAREER earnings with one stroke of the pen, and if he repeats his performance could get a 3-year deal taking him past age 35 to lock up his financial future.  This is easily the craziest QO we’ve seen yet and will be the biggest test of the system.

It just seems to me that this last group of players are either going to re-sign with their own team or are going to get really screwed in the open market.  Look at that last group of 5 players and tell me who’s giving up a 1st round pick to sign them?

Good further reading on the same topic:


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s all she wrote: Nats officially eliminated


Yes its a cliche. But you laughed. Photo via allthingsd.comYes its a cliche. But you laughed. Photo via

While I thought the season was symbolically “over” when the Nats got swept at home by the Mets in early September (and, if you were looking for the pin-point event that buried them, look no further than the 6-walk bullpen implosion to blow a 7-1 lead), the Mets officially clinched the NL East crown yesterday by virtue of their 10-2 defeat of Cincinnati.

So how ironic is it that this morning, finally, there’s an honest assessment of the clubhouse from one of our beat reporters.  The Washington Post’s Barry Svrluga published a story titled “Manager Matt Williams lost the clubhouse; will he lose his job?”  where he quotes the well known “players who did not wish to be identified” to talk in a wide ranging factor about the ills in the Nationals clubhouse that have been alluded to and reported by National guys all season long.  Apparently, Williams’ “strategy, communication and trust” have all been issues with the players, across the spectrum of vets/rookies and position/pitchers.


Reading the story, I think it has finally dawned on me what the big problem is with Matt Williams and this particular team.  Read this quote: “Some players now wonder whether that management of minutia leaves him unable to adjust, to think on the fly.”

He’s a classic micro manager!  Of course, how obvious was this all along.  I’ve talked frequently about his “color by numbers” managing and his inability to adjust to the situation at hand … but (tying this back to roles we all know from our own workplaces), in reality he’s a classic micro manager who fails to let his veterans do what they have always known how to do, attempting to ramrod in his methods, irritating them so much in the process that they’ve tuned him out.  The signs are all there; his famous spring training rigorous schedules, his detailed plan that he brought to his job interview, his adherence to “bullpen roles” all season costing him game after game.

How would you feel if your boss asked you to write a memo about something or another and then pulled a classic Micro Manager move like sitting over your shoulder while you typed it, editing ever sentence as you wrote it?  You’d probably be irritated at first and then if it persisted for months and months, you’d likely either tune him out, refuse to do the work or just flat out avoid him.  Now imagine if you had no outlet; you’re on a team that spends 8-10 hours a day together in a tight space, takes trips together, is forced to just “deal” with each other for 6 straight months, and you can’t stand your boss.  Yeah; no wonder someone was quoted as saying that the “environment was terrible.”

It is what it is: this 2015 team had a number of well established, long since proven they know what they’re doing veterans.  A handful of them are on long term contracts with no-trades and job security (Werth, Zimmerman, Scherzer), others are seriously accomplished players who have nothing left to prove in this league (Desmond, Escobar, Gonzalez, Span, Fister to a certain extent), and others may be younger but certainly have stated their claim for respect (Harper, Rendon, Strasburg).  I don’t think any of these guys would appreciate being told that their approach is wrong or that their method of preparation isn’t right.

Williams has to go, and the Nats brain-trust needs to really take a hard look at their next manager to make sure they find someone who can properly handle the clubhouse issues that clearly torpedoed this season.  I’m sure some of you will argue that “chemistry” is BS or who will blame this season on injuries or pitching or whatever else.  Fair enough; you can’t exactly quantify human behavior.  But everyone has injuries; hell, the best team in the NL St. Louis lost their Ace starter after just 4 games and are 40 games over .500.  And the Mets by pretty much any measure have been more affected by injury in 2015 than the Nats.

Oh well.  Better luck next year.  As others have said, we’ve just wasted an MVP season from Harper and a precious year of Strasburg; hope 2016 goes better.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lets take these guys one by one.

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

Those two were obvious.  These next two are not.

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

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

The Definition of Insanity…


… is to do the same things over and again, and to expect different results.

Two nights in a row, the Nats held leads that should have been protected while playing at their most difficult opponent.  And twice in a row. the same reliever Casey Janssen was completely ineffective and the team lost a game that they could not afford to lose.

At least in the 9/1/15 debacle Janssen had help; deposed closer Drew Storen had yet another awful outing, blowing the save and putting Janssen in the position to give up the walk-off homer.  Storen now has a 7.98 ERA in the 15 games (14 2/3rds innings) in which he has pitched since getting demoted for Jonathan Papelbon.  You want to quibble about causation versus correlation?  How about *cause and effect?*  The Nats man management of this ball-club has been inept at best and horrific at worse (you know where I stand on the idiotic callup of Trea Turner just so he can shine the bench with his ass).

You remember Papelbon right?  He’s the high-priced closer that this team figured it needed to get to the post-season, disrupting the chemistry of the bullpen in the process?  Yeah Papelbon; the highest paid reliever, who finished YET ANOTHER game sitting his surly ass in the bullpen while lesser relievers blew multiple run leads.  That’s because our “color by numbers” manager Matt Williams can’t quite get it through his thick skull that you need to be flexible with relievers, that you can’t just write up the roles ahead of time and wait for it, that the “Save” stat is utterly meaningless to anyone except the idiots who apparently decide all arbitration cases and conclude that 1.5 WAR “closers” are worth 10 times as much as the guys who hand them their cushy 3-run leads night after night.

I ask this question again: where is the sense of urgency on this team?  The offense is certainly doing its part, finally hitting the ball and putting runners on base.  12  hits last night, 8 hits to go along with 7 walks the previous night.  In fact you might wonder how they didn’t score more than five runs each night with that many guys on the basepaths … not that it would have mattered, given the ineptitude of the bullpen lately.

Janssen now has nearly a 5.00 ERA on the season.  Storen is giving up nearly a run an inning.  Maybe, I dunno, maybe its time to try someone else to protect leads??  Blake Treinen has been great since coming back: he has *NOT GIVEN UP A RUN* since his return from AAA, a span of 13 innings over 12 appearances.  I dunno; maybe he’s the guy to get the ball in the 8th right now instead of the sh*t-show that is Storen and Janssen.

We miss Stammen.  We miss Barrett.  We really miss Clippard; why again didn’t we try to acquire him or some other middle reliever instead of disrupting the whole bullpen by acquiring the arrogant headcase Papelbon?  I dunno.  I just watch the games and try not to throw things at the TV screen when our soon-to-be-ex-manager makes his latest idiot move.  Instead of getting a proven middle reliever at the trade deadline, we continue to get by with retreads (Janssen, Thornton) and rookies (Rivero) and demoted starters (Fister, Roark).  Hell, instead of getting someone like Clippard, or Soria, or Johnson, or Broxton, or Jepson or Dyson, or any of the 8th/9th inning types that were moved at this trade deadline, our team KEPT TWO LONG-MEN instead, letting Fister and Roark it in the bullpen to await blow-out situations to throw a couple of useless innings.  You remember Roark right?  Yeah, he was our 5-win starter who the team deemed unnecessary who is now riding buses in AA to “remember” how to be a starter again, since clearly Joe Ross is about 2 more walks from getting shut-down for the season.

Hmm; I see a parallel between Roark and Storen.  Home grown guys, both worked their asses off to get where they got, both had great 2014 seasons … and both were supplanted by FA acquisitions from other teams and were demoted from positions that they not only had earned with blood and sweat but had no business being demoted from.  Is it any surprise either guy has struggled this year?  Will it be any surprise when either or both guys demand trades in the off-season as a result?  Nope, not to me.

This season’s done.  6.5 games out and the team has a losing record in the second half and can’t string together 3 straight wins when they really need about 10 straight wins to get back in this race.  Don’t be surprised when the Mets come to town in a week’s time and the team scores 4 runs in 3 games.  The Mets have better starters, actually MADE ACQUISITIONS at the trade deadline to improve, and apparently want it more.  Get me to the off-season; i’ve had it with 2015.


West Coast Trip 2015: its crunch time for this team


I'll take about 10 more of those starts, Stephen, Thank you.  Photo via

I’ll take about 10 more of those starts, Stephen, Thank you. Photo via

I wrote earlier about the ridiculous slate of starters this team had to face coming out of the All Star break.  They went 6-10 in that stretch, an admirable record considering the opposition.  That took the team to a relatively “easy” looking home-stand against two also-rans (Arizona and Colorado) who were sellers at the trade deadline.  The Nats have practically their whole offense back, augmented the bullpen with Jonathan Papelbon, and got their 2nd “Ace” back in Stephen Strasburg.  They have no more excuses; its time to take control of the division from the suddenly energized Mets.

But, instead of rolling to a 5-2 or a 6-1 home stand … the team scuffled to a 3-4 record, with Drew Storen blowing two games single-handedly, Doug Fister blowing a start against an opposing pitcher with about 5 minutes of service time, and one game that the bullpen so badly bungled that Tyler Moore was on the mound at the end.

Not good.

The team now sits at 57-53 (just an 84 win pace) and is a game and a half back of the Mets.  And they now hit the road for a crucial, difficult 10-game west coast swing.  Three games in LA, four in SF and then 3 more against the Colorado team that embarrassed them at home.  This while the Mets play 7 straight in New York (albeit against the same Rockies who I thought were patsies and then against a Pirates team that just battered the Dodgers’ starters in Pittsburgh).

Lets take a quick look at the projected starter match-ups against the Dodgers and Giants.  Because, lets face it, those are the two series that could be pretty telling:

Nats SP Projected Opposing SP
Gonzalez Anderson
Ross Kershaw
Zimmermann Greinke
Strasburg Vogelsong
Scherzer Cain
Gonzalez Peavy
Ross Bumgarner

Daunting.  Are the Nats in danger of being outright swept in Los Angeles?   I think so.  They then move up the coast but face a SF team that plays a lot better at home than on the road, despite what looks to me like a SP advantage for the Nats.  I don’t really trust Gio Gonzalez anymore in big games, and certainly not on the road (where he has a 4.80 ERA this year, versus 2.60 at home).   Joe Ross has a grand total of 7 starts in the majors and he’ll be given the rather daunting task of facing two of the best pitchers in the game back to back in Kershaw and Bumgarner.  Tough.

Here’s the problem.  I can easily see this team going 2-5 in these games.  What happens if the Mets keep winning?

This season is more and more reminding me of 2013.  Tons of expectations, and tons of under performance all year, leading to a mid 80s win season but no playoffs.  If this team returns home a week from now and is at .500 (a very distinct possibility), is it finally time to worry?

Ross over Fister; best pitching move Williams has made all year (and a bit of ranting)


Ross deservedly keeps his rotation spot.  Photo Getty Images via

Ross deservedly keeps his rotation spot. Photo Getty Images via

After his second questionable starting pitcher yank in as many nights, 2014 Manager of the Year Matt Williams made perhaps his best pitching change of the season.  Instead of favoring his veteran Doug Fister like everyone thought he would based on past experiences with player management, he went with a rookie and announced (as first reported by Mark Zuckerman last night) that Joe Ross would keep his rotation spot, sending Fister to the bullpen.

First; some stuff I’ve wanted to get off my chest on Williams’ handling of the pitching staff as of late:

There’s already been enough kvetching about his yanking Gio Gonzalez the previous night; though my readers cannot see this “proof,” as soon as the pitching change occurred I texted a friend saying (in effect) this was going to backfire.  Pulling Gonzalez made zero sense: If you’re going to yank your starter so quickly in the 6th, why let him frigging *bat* in the bottom of the 5th??  Gonzalez was only on 95 pitches; professional, veteran starters can throw at least 105-110 pitches before showing any wear, and studies show that you’re not really in “danger” of causing subsequent regression until you hit 120.  And the most egregious issue: Gonzalez was set to face not 1-2-3 but 6-7-8 in the Arizona order.  To this observer, it was classic over-thinking/over-managing that resulted in a blown lead, a blown game and an embarrassing 9th where a position player had to throw for just the second time in the Nats tenure in Washington.

So, what did 2014 Manager of the Year Matt Williams learn from the 8/5/15 experience??  Absolutely nothing.  Ross was on even fewer pitches last night (89), was absolutely handling the weakened Arizona lineup (they sat two of their best  hitters to give them a day off), and Ross was set to face … wait for it … 6-7-8 in the order.  Yet another “shut down” reliever comes in and gives up a ton of runs … and it looked like yet another game would be lost.  Only the heroics of Matt Thornton (waiver claim) and eventually in the 8th Clint Robinson‘s 3-run homer (minor league free agent) saved the game for this under performing $160M payroll “win now” team.

Starters are starters because, by and large, THEY ARE BETTER PITCHERS THAN RELIEVERS.  If relievers were better, they’d be frigging starters!  Williams needs to STOP yanking effective starting pitchers unless it makes sense.  This dates back to his most egregious yank, that of Jordan Zimmermann last year in the NLDS.

Anyway.  Back to the Fister/Ross decision.  Here’s my quick thoughts:

  • Props to Fister for taking the demotion like a pro.  If it were me, i’d have gone with some BS “soft tissue” D/L stint.  That was a gutsy move for a guy facing free agency this coming off-season.  Maybe he and his agent talked it through and decided it would be less damaging to be demoted to the pen than take a D/L stint and have the league think you’re fighting injuries in your walk year.
  • Despite the above complaints, which are the latest in a series of complaints about our “paint by the numbers” manager and his handling of the pitching staff that has been exposed recently by his lack of use of Storen or Papelbon in the Mets series (and then his subsequent use of Storen in a 5-0 laugher one day later), Williams absolutely made the right move here.  Its a performance game, the team is struggling, and Fister was the low-man on the totem pole in terms of production (the team is just 5-10 in his 15 starts).  Cynical view; was this Mike Rizzo telling Williams what to do or was it Williams begrudgingly realizing that Ross was giving his team the best chance to win?
  • We talked before about how it might have been premature to give Ross a 2016 rotation spot based on short sample sizes; no longer.  Ross is your #4 starter next year as we speak and the rest of the potentials are chasing #5 down in Viera next spring.  And that’s assuming the team doesn’t make a trade or sign a FA or (could it happen?) resign Jordan Zimmermann.
  • There goes any thought of giving Fister a Q.O. this off-season.  He’s gone from something like a 4yr/$55M deal to looking for a pillow contract with some lesser team willing to give him a rotation spot in just 4 short months.
  • How long before the Nats shut Ross down?  He threw right around 120 innings in both 2013 and 2014.  So far this year he’s at 76 in the minors and 45 in the majors for a total of 121, basically matching his career high.   Increasing his workload by 20% means he’s only got another 4 starts in him; is this just a temporary rotation assignment?  Or is the team thinking he can increase his workload considerably this year?  There’s 55 games left, which is 11 turns through the rotation; do you think he’ll be allowed to throw 11 more starts?  That’d put his innings somewhere in the 175-180 range, a huge increase year over year.  Honestly, I think Fister will regain the rotation spot in a month’s time or so as the team shuts down Ross for the season.

Interesting day in Natstown, though, nonetheless.

Written by Todd Boss

August 7th, 2015 at 10:02 am

State of the Nats at the halfway point 2015


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.


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, 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.


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.


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.


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?



Is Ross making the Nats re-think their future rotation strategy?



Joe Ross has been a revalation at the MLB level.  Photo Getty Images via

Joe Ross has been a revelation at the MLB level. Photo Getty Images via

Joe Ross, who it is fair to say was in some respects the “other guy” in the Tampa/San Diego 3-way trade that netted the Nats presumed future shortstop Trea Turner but cost them Steven Souza and prospect Travis Ott, got a somewhat surprising call-up after the starters covering for Doug Fister didn’t quite give the Nats the performance they were looking for.

Three starts later, two of which were easily defined as “dominant,” is it too soon to think that perhaps Ross is a bigger part of the Nats future than the trio of starter prospects we have stashed in Syracuse?

He looked *really good* last night against a team on an 8-game winning streak.  He was making professional hitters look very, very ordinary with his slider.  His slider was so good, he threw it nearly 50% of the time last night and got an astounding 38% whiff rate.  Average fastball of 93.1, max of 96.8 on the night.  Wow.

Small Sample Sizes, of course.  And maybe you could ignore the 11-K performance against the god-awful Brewers.  But Pittsburgh is was hottest team in the league and was mowed down like little leaguers.

At the beginning of this season, if you asked me what the Nats’ rotation was going to look like in the next three transitionary years, I might have said something like this:

  • 2015: Scherzer, Strasburg, Zimmermann, Gonzalez, Fister with Roark as #1 replacement option
  • 2016: Scherzer, Strasburg, Gonzalez, Roark and a battle between Treinen, Cole, Jordan and Hill (in that order) for 5th and 6th spots.
  • 2017: Scherzer, Giolito, Gonzalez, Roark, and a question mark.  Maybe Treinen/Cole, maybe a veteran acquired via FA or trade.  Maybe Lopez if he moves up at the same pace as Giolito.  Who knows.

Now?  I think you have to think Ross has jumped to the top of the list in that 2016 rotational battle, maybe even solidifying his spot.   Does a rotation of Scherzer, Strasburg, Ross, Gonzalez and Roark sound good?  Keep Treinen in the bullpen.  Flip spare depth (Cole, Jordan, Hill) for whatever you can get for them, and make room for the next wave of guys (Giolito, Voth, Lopez, Pivetta).

Wishful thinking?  Perhaps.  We love dreaming on pitching prospects here, but give me  your thoughts.