Nationals Arm Race

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

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Spring Training 2020 NRI Discussion

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Nationals at Orioles 7/16/19

Nationals at Orioles 7/16/19

The Nationals, on the first day of spring training, announced their list of Non-Roster Invitees (NRIs) for 2020.

Here’s our 6th year running NRI analysis.  With this post, I’ve also got the Big Board officially updated to account for all 22 guys.  These 22 signings confirmed at least 6 new MLFA signings unknown until today (Freeman, Ward, Snyder, Wilson, Shuck and Self), so those details are on the page too.

Now, before you say “who cares” here’s some stats.  In the last five seasons (through 2019):

  • 6 NRIs made the 25-man roster straight out of Spring Training (and Guthrie technically made it 6 since he got called up a few days later and was always intended to be the 5th starter in 2017).  Basically every year an NRI has made the roster for 5 seasons running.
  • 21 NRIs eventually played for the MLB team at some point that same season.

So its likely that we’re going to see a lot of these NRIs at some point in the future.  Like, on average at least 4-5 of these NRIs are going to play for this team in 2020.

Here’s the list of 22 NRI’s for 2020

  • RH Starters: Wil Crowe, Paolo Espino
  • RH Relievers; Dakota Bacus, Bryan Bonnell, Javy Guerra, Jhonatan German, David Hernandez, Kevin Quackenbush, Derek Self
  • LH Starters: none
  • LH Relievers: Fernando Abad, Sam Freeman
  • Catchers: Wellington Castro, Taylor Gushue, Jakson Reetz
  • Infielders: Luis Garcia, Brandon Snyder Drew WardJacob Wilson
  • Outfielders: Emilio Bonifacio, Yadiel Hernandez, JB Shuck, Mac Williamson

(interestingly, there is at least one off-season MLFA signing that I had listed as being given an NRI; Tyler Eppler, who is not listed here.)

So lets squint and make some predictions.

  1. Do any of these guys stand a chance at making the Opening day roster?  Honestly, I don’t see it this year.  If there’s an injury sure, but right now the 26-man opening day roster seems pretty set.  Even at the edges of the bullpen and bench, it doesn’t seem like we have a ton of competition.
    1. Squinting at the bullpen, it seems like the last two spots will be going two guys (Roenis Elias and Austin Voth) who don’t seem likely to get sent to AAA (for reliability and options).  Elias is the only other lefty besides Doolittle, so maybe Abad/Freeman have a shot?  Guerra is a franchise favorite who probably gets called up at some point after what he did for the team last year.
    2. The edge of the Bench basically is Eric Thames, Ryan Zimmerman and Wilmer Difo: if someone beats out Difo they’re going to have to be able to play a serviceable short-stop; not sure who of the NRI infielders fits that bill.  Certainly not Snyder, Ward or Wilson, all of whom are corner guys.  And if you want to argue with a straight face that 19-yr old Luis Garcia is breaking camp with the team … well i’m just not going to consider you as someone who understands how modern baseball works.
  2. Do any of these guys project to feature at all in 2020?  At all?  Yeah definitely: I can see a couple of the relievers getting called up, especially since a number of them have MLB experience.  I could see Crowe getting the call in case we get shredded with injuries in the rotation.  I could see a flexible guy with past ties to the club like Bonifacio getting called up.
  3. Who among these guys project to eventually get on the 40-man?  past the above, Garcia obviously, but its hard to make an argument for too many others.  There’s really only like one or two “prospects” here that are called up for the experience; nearly the entire list are MLFAs that will be providing Fresno depth.

NRI Details by year, in case you were wondering…

Summary of NRIs for 2020:

  • Three (3) made the 30-man roster out of Spring training: Javy Guerra, Sam Freeman, Emilio Bonifacio
  • X eventually got added and called-up: tbd by end of 2020 season
  • X more since been added to 40-man post 2020-season: tbd before 20201 season

Summary of NRIs for 2019: 18 total

  • One (1) made the 25-man roster out of spring: Jake Noll
  • Three (3) more eventually got added and called up:  Aaron Barrett, Tres Barrera, Carter Kieboom
  • Zero (0) others have since been added to 40-man (as of 2/6/20).

Summary of NRIs from ST 2018: 21 NRIs total:

  • One (1) made the 25-man roster out of spring: Miguel Montero
  • Four (4) eventually got added and called up:  Tim Collins, Moises Sierra, Jimmy Cordero, Spencer Kieboom.  Special Mention to Edwin Jackson, who opted out of Washington then excelled for Oakland later in 2018).
  • Zero (0) others have since been added to 40-man

Summary of NRIs from ST 2017: 24 NRIs total:

  • Zero (0) made the 25-man roster out of spring (though technically one kinda was; see next).
  • Five (5) eventually got added and called up (Jeremy Guthrie, Matt Albers, Grant Green, Jacob Turner and Andrew Stevenson): Guthrie was the 5th starter, stashed in XST for a few days before his ill-fated debut.
  • Five (5) have since been added to 40-man (Erick Fedde, Taylor Hill, Kyle McGowin, Wander Suero, Tim Collins)

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

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

Summary of NRIs from ST 2015: 20 NRIs total:

  • Two (2) made the 25-man roster out of spring (Dan Uggla and Clint Robinson).  Adding Reed Johnson as a late-spring signee who made the team after his release from Miami (H/T Sao)
  • Two (2) others eventually got added and called up (Rafael Martin and Emmanuel Burriss)
  • Two (2) others were young catchers since added to the 40-man (Spencer Kieboom, Pedro Severino)

(I believe the above analysis is correct; feel free to comment if i’ve missed someone.  this is a bit tougher to keep track of b/c the team often signs MLFAs mid-spring then technically gives them NRIs … especially for Vets, and I may miss some from the original announcements).

Loria a disgrace to the Game

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Jeffrey Loria, the biggest con-man in Miami. Photo unknown via si.com

A couple of months ago, I posted an entry titled “Is Jeffrey Loria the worst owner in sports?” after a series of off-season gaffes came to light.  Perhaps that title was prone to hyperbole, as the comment section talked about other awful owners in professional sports.  However, I’m bringing up the topic again.

The previous post was written before Heath Bell was shipped off to Arizona, before Ozzie Guillen was officially fired, and (the reason for this re-hashing of the topic) before the absolutely ridiculous fire-sale trade announced yesterday evening, where the Marlins shipped off the rest of 2011’s off-season acquisitions (Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle), along with their best starting pitcher (Josh Johnson), their starting catcher (John Buck) and a valuable utility player in former Nat Emilio Bonifacio to the Toronto Blue Jays for a quartet of malcontents and decent-at-best prospects.  Oh, just for good measure the Marlins kicked in $4M dollars of (likely) revenue sharing money to boot.

I completely agree with the initial reactions from national baseball writers Bob Nightengale (who called the team a “Ponzi Scheme“), Ken Rosenthal (who says Loria should “just sell the team“), Buster Olney (who calls the Marlins the “Ultimate con“), from Scott Miller (saying that Loria “must be stopped“), from Keith Law (who called the deal a “boondoggle“) and from Jeff Passan (who calls this “a Baseball Tragedy“).  Passan’s article in-particular is worth a read, as it details all the shameful behaviors of Loria and his son-in-law, napoleonistic team president David Samson, in gory details.  You’ll feel the heat of anger just reading each new incident that these two con artists have perpetrated over the years.

Most infuriating to me is that this represents just the latest profiteering injustice that Bud Selig has empowered Loria to commit.  Going back to his days with the Expos (who he left in shambles and which directly led to our first years of franchise incompetence), continuing through to the criminal negotiations resulting in a mostly-publicly funded stadium, now resulting in this dismantling (which leaves the team with roughly $20M in committed 2013 payroll).  The shame is that Loria will pocket MILLIONS and millions more dollars by shedding all these ill-thought contracts.  How is that fair to the baseball fans in Miami, or the taxpayers in Florida, or the players that remain on that team (see Giancarlo Stanton‘s tweet for his opinion of the move), or to the other owners, or to the players union in general?

Selig should absolutely veto this trade in the “Best interests of Baseball” clause, and should force Loria to sell.  The reaction and upheaval from the national media is unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed reading and folling the sport.  Enough is enough.  I realize that these moves only benefit us as Nationals fans (since the Miami team is now likely to lose nearly 110 games, ala the 2012 Houston Astros), but my sense of fair play and businessmen obtaining ill-gotten profits spurs me to write this post today.

Nats Franchise Trade history; biggest, best, worst

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Was getting Gonzalez the "biggest" trade the franchise has ever made? Photo Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images via nydailynews.com

In response to a topic that came up in the comments section, I’ll do a 3-part series reviewing the biggest/best/worst moves by the franchise since arriving here in Washington.  We’ll differentiate between Jim Bowden and Mike Rizzo moves as we go through.  We’ll talk about trades, then draft picks, then FA signings.

First up: Trades.

The Nats have made dozens of trades since 2005, and by my records have traded with every team in the league save for three: Baltimore, Cleveland and the Los Angeles Angels.  In fact, the franchise has not done business with Baltimore in any capacity since the year 2000, a testament perhaps to the difficulties of dealing with Peter Angelos even before the team moved to Washington.  Now post-relocation, the conventional wisdom is that the two teams would never do business on the off-chance that one team ended up “winning” a trade with the other.

I’ll divide this post into into 3 sections: the “biggest” deal (not the most players, but the biggest impact/most news worthy), the “best” deal(s) and the “worst” deals.  For Rizzo, we’ll add a 4th category for “Too Early to Tell,” since the big off-season trade of last season probably won’t shake it self out for a few more years.

Jim Bowden Tenure: Nov 2004 – Mar 2009

Biggest Trades

  • 2005: Soriano deal
  • 2006: Kearns/Lopez deal
  • 2007: Milledge deal
  • 2008: Willingham/Olsen deal

The Alfonso Soriano move made all sorts of news; he wouldn’t move to LF, threatened not to play at all, then ended up putting in a 40/40 season in a pitcher’s ballpark and then resulted a host of national news as the team debated whether to trade him, re-sign him or let him go.  Bowden held firm on his demands in the trade market, never traded him and landed two compensatory draft picks (which the Nats turned into Jordan Zimmermann and Josh Smoker).

The Kearns/Lopez deal, in the end, was more about moving deck chairs than making progress for either team.  Bowden was obsessed with players that he knew from his Cincinnati days, and showed a proclivity to trade for or acquire them throughout his tenure here, and this deal was just the biggest example.  The only player in the deal who still remains with his original team is Bill Bray, and most of the players in the deal have become large disappointments for their careers or are out of baseball.  The Reds accused Bowden publically of selling them damaged goods (Gary Majewski got injured about 5 minutes after the trade was completed) and Kearns/Lopez never really lived up to anything close to their potential.

We’ll talk about the other two deals below.

Best Trades

  • 2007: Getting Tyler Clippard
  • 2009: Getting Michael Morse
  • 2008: Getting Willingham/Olsen

Bowden gets major credit for obtaining two core members of the current Nationals squad for almost nothing.  He obtained Tyler Clippard from the Yankees for Jonathan Albaladejo in a like-for-like trade of under-performing minor league relievers.  Of course we all know what’s happeend since; Clippard has become a super-star setup man, the 2011 league leader in holds.   Getting Michael Morse in return for sending the feeble Ryan Langerhans to Seattle in what most thought was a mercy trade at the time (i.e., trying to send good-guy Langerhans to a team that would actually play him) seems like one of the steals of the decade.  Nobody thought Morse had a fraction of the potential he’s now shown to have.

I include getting Josh Willingham and Scott Olsen as a win based on who we gave up: PJ Dean, Emilio Bonifacio and Jake Smolinski.  I’ve always had a soft spot for Willingham and thought his offense potential was the key to this deal; we got two major leaguers for two dead-end minor leaguers plus a backup infielder.  Luckily for the Nats, Florida was always ready to give up arbitration candidates to save a buck.

Worst Trades

  • 2007: Milledge deal

Honestly, I had a hard time really saying that I thought one of Bowden’s trades was egregiously bad.  Most of his deals (outside the deals mentioned above as biggest or best) were minor leaguer swaps or dumping veterans at the trade deadline.  Even the acquisition of Elijah Dukes wasn’t really that “bad” based on who we gave up (Glenn Gibson, who was released a couple years later by Tampa Bay and ended up back with us anyway).

However, the acquisition of Lastings Milledge for Ryan Church and Brian Schneider might be the one trade that I’d most quibble with.  Bowden showed his obsession with “toolsy” and “potential” players in this deal, acquiring the malcontent Milledge and giving the Mets two immediate starters.  At the time I certainly defended the deal; neither Church or Schneider were slated to be starters for the 2008 Nats so you could argue that we got a plus prospect for two backups.  I know I certainly argued that point.  Church seemed to be a brooding platoon outfielder who wouldn’t be happy unless he was starting and Schneider had lost his starting spot to Jesus Flores and was a relatively weak hitter.

As it has worked out Church was a very productive player for New York, Flores got hurt and left the team in a very serious catcher-dearth position, and Milledge turned out to be not nearly the talent that we thought we were getting.  By the time we flipped him to Pittsburgh in 2009 he was barely hitting his weight in AAA and was completely out of the picture for this team.

Mike Rizzo Tenure: Mar 2009 – present

Biggest Trades

  • 2011: Gio Gonzalez deal

  • 2009: Morgan/Burnett deal

  • 2010: Ramos for Capps deal

  • 2011: Henry Rodriguez/Willingham deal

  • 2011: Gorzelanny deal

You have to hand it to Mike Rizzo; he’s not been afraid to make deals.  In his 3 year tenure he’s made 5 significant deals that have vastly changed the way this team is constructed.  Two of those deals (Morgan/Burnett and the Willingham deals) were mostly about cleaning up the roster to get it more in his image of pro-clubhouse guys and pro-defense.  Trading away Milledge and Willingham succeeded in moving the team towards these goals.  The Gorzelanny and Gonzalez trades were about acquiring power arms to shore up the rotation, another tenant of Rizzo-constructed teams.

Best Trades

  • 2010: getting Wilson Ramos

Clearly Rizzo’s best move was stealing Wilson Ramos for a closer (Matt Capps) that we had ample candidates for internally.  The Twins panicked post-Joe Nathan injury and overloaded their bullpen with closer candidates.  Meanwhile Rizzo turned an astute FA signing (a minor league signing that turned into an All Star) into an even more astute trade by getting a nearly MLB-ready catcher in return for a guy who the team wouldn’t be re-signing anyway.  Great move.

Worst Trades

  • 2011: Gomes for Rhinehart/Manno
  • 2009: Bruney for ptbnl (eventually rule5 top pick Jamie Hoffman)

Most readers here loved Christopher Manno and the promise he was showing in A-ball.  Most were also aghast to see Manno go the other way to Cincinnati for a 4th outfielder Jonny Gomes.  At the time, the argument was that Davey Johnson wanted a bat off the bench and that the team needed some OF depth.  What really happened was that Gomes hit his way out of his type-B arbitration status and played so poorly the 2nd half of 2011 that the team couldn’t dare offer him arbitration to get a compensatory draft pick.  So we traded two decent prospects for a half season of awful production.  Not a good move.

Even worse, trading anything to acquire Brian Bruney.  The team acquired Bruney, promptly argued against him and beat him in arbitration, and then (unsurprisingly) Bruney vastly underperformed until being flat out released a few months into the 2010 season.  For me this is a lesson in what not to do with your arbitration eligible players.  It wasn’t so much what we gave up (the first pick in the rule-5 draft *could* have been used to acquire someone of value), it was what we got in return.

Too Early to Tell Trades

  • 2011: Gio Gonzalez deal

Pro-prospect pundits (anyone at Baseball Prospectus, Keith Law, etc) will already tell you that the Nats vastly overpaid for Gio Gonzalez.  That’s because they value the potential of prospects more than the proven commodity of the major league player.  But the fact is this; you KNOW what you’re getting in Gonzalez but you have no idea how a low-A prospect will play out.  The Nats rolled the dice that AJ Cole isn’t going to turn into the next incarnation of Justin Verlander and that Brad Peacock‘s promise will peak as a middle reliever.  The only way to tell how this trade turns out is to track the progress of those players we gave up versus what Gonzalez does for this team over the next 3-4 years.

Thoughts?  Any trades out there that stick in your minds that you thought should be mentioned?