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Pressing issues for the Nats this off-season

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Will Dusty get another contract here? Photo via UPI

Will Dusty get another contract here? Photo via UPI

Since our season is over (but the hot-stove has not yet kicked in), i’ll piggy back on the recent posts to this same topic done by Mark Zuckerman at MASN and by Chelsea Janes at WP.

Their posts both touched on some of the same issues; i’ll take those issues and add in a few of my own.

Major issues for the Nats to address this coming off-season, how I would address them and what I think the team will do:

  1. Resolve Dusty Baker situation.  Many reports have noted that the team wants him back and that he wants to return.  I see little that he could have done differently in the 5-game NLDS loss to use as evidence that he’s not the right guy (you can’t lose when your pitchers throw 6 no-hit innings in playoff starts), and he’s so clearly a better man-manager than his predecessor Matt Williams that I see no reason not to extend him.   I know that the Lerner’s don’t like to do long term contracts, and lets just hope they offer Baker the raise he deserves for two straight division titles (and, in my opinion, the NL Manager of the Year in 2017 award that he should get for working around so many injuries this year).
  2. Should we bring back Jayson Werth?   Yes he’s the “club house leader,” yes he’s been here for seven years and has settled in the DC area.  But he struggled this year with both injuries and performance, is entering his age 39  year, posted a negative bWAR in 2017, and the team has a surplus of outfielders who are probably MLB “starters” heading into 2018, more than we can even field.  I think the team says to Werth something along the lines of the following: Go see if you can find a DH/part time OF job in the AL for a couple years until you’re done playing and then we’ll hire you back as a special assistant/hitting instructor/bench coach or something.  I’m not entirely convinced that Werth is a DC lifer though; he’s been kind of a nomad in his career.  Drafted by Baltimore, traded to Toronto (with whom he debuted), traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, signed as a FA with Philly for four years, then with us for seven.  Yes he’s been with us the longest, but this isn’t a situation like Ryan Zimmerman where we’re the only org he’s known.  I think he heads off to the AL for a couple years then comes back to the fold with a front office job.
  3. What do we do at Catcher?  I’ll quickly repeat what we’ve been discussing in the comments of previous posts; yes I know Matt Wieters struggled badly at the plate this year, yes I know he botched the 5th inning of that fateful game 5.  But he’s not going to decline a $10M offer after this season, nor is the team going to swallow that amount of money.  Prepare yourselves for another season of Wieters, who we can only hope bounces back in his “contract year” and gets a bump in performance.  Meanwhile, as much as we love the Jose Lobaton cheerleader routine, we do need more production from the backup.  Even though Lobaton got just 158 ABs this year, he still managed to put up a -1.0 bWAR figure.  That’s hard to do.  If only we could just have him only play for us in the playoffs … (big hit in game 5 in 2017, the clutch 3-run homer in 2016).  I suspect the team will go with Wieters and Pedro Severino as his backup, getting Severino at least two starts a week to get him up to speed on MLB pitching, then making a 2019 decision based on whether Severino looks like he could hit enough to be a full time starter or if he remains the backup to some FA acquisition.  We have others in the pipeline who may prove themselves worthy soon (Raudy Read in AAA, Taylor Gushue in AA, Jakson Reetz in High-A, Tres Barrera in Low-A, plus long-serving minor leaguers Spencer Kieboom and Jhonatan Solano in the AAA fold who may or may not come back for 2018).
  4. Will they pursue FA extensions with key players?  Namely, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon and Daniel Murphy.  Lets take them one by one:
    1. Harper: lets face it, there’s NO WAY he’s not hitting free agency.  Scott Boras client with a chance to set the all time contract record?  Both guys have the ego required to pursue that avenue.  And yes, while some Boras clients (Stephen Strasburg) have taken pre-FA deals, very few do.  You hire Boras generally to get the biggest value deal and to leverage his relationships with owners so as to negotiate directly with them and that’s what Harper will do.
    2. Rendon: he’s still got two arb years: what I think the team will do is do a 2-year deal to buy out the Arb years and get cost containment.  MLBtraderumors projected Rendon’s arb salary for 2018 at $11.5M and they’re usually pretty accurate; I could see the nats offering Rendon a 2yr/$26M deal for $10M in 2018 then $16M in 2019 or something like that … maybe a little higher in his final year given his MVP-calibre season.  That’d be good for the team because Rendon might be a $20M/year player, and good for Rendon b/c he’s injury prone.  Past this though … Rendon is also a Boras client but he projects to me kind of like Strasburg in that he’s low-key and may want to commit to DC longer term.  Of course, Rendon is also a Houston lifer (born, high school and college there) so he could also want a return trip home to play for his home town team.  Probably an issue for the 2020 hot-stove season.
    3. Murphy: the Nats have gotten such a huge bargain with the Murphy signing.  He’ll only be 34 at the beginning of his next deal, and he plays a position (2B) that isn’t nearly as taxing as an OF or other infield position.  I would feel completely comfortable offering him another 3 year deal, increasing the dollars to maybe $16M/year (3yrs/$48M).
  5. Do they need to pursue a Starting Pitcher?  Absolutely, 100% yes.   Joe Ross is out for basically the whole of 2018, they traded away all their AAA depth last off-season, and the guys remaining in AAA (A.J. Cole and Erick Fedde) did not grab the 5th starter job like they had the chance to in 2017.  Edwin Jackson probably earned himself a shot elsewhere but was too inconsistent for my tastes.  I think the team splurges here, trying to get the best additional veteran starter they can find either on the free market or in trade.  The market for starters is intriguing: Yu DarvishJake Arrieta are Cy-Young quality arms available.  There’s some decent SPs like Masahiro Tanaka and Johnny Cueto who can opt out but who also may just stay put.  There’s #4 starter types like Lance Lynn and Jeremy Hellickson who are available and could be good 5th starters for us.  There’s guys who have put up good seasons but have struggled lately (Jaime GarciaFrancisco LirianoClay Buchholz) who could be intriguing.  So it’ll be interesting to see who they get.
  6. What is the Nats 2018 outfield?  Do they stick with Internal options or do they hit the FA/trade Markets?   I like a potential 2018 outfield of Taylor/Eaton/Harper.  I like Taylor in CF providing better defense than Eaton right now, given that ACL injuries really are 2-year recoveries.  Given Taylor’s big 2017 and his “Michael A Tater” NLDS, he’s more than earned a starting spot in 2018.  That leaves some surplus in the OF for 2018 … something we’ll talk about next.  There are some intriguing names out there on the FA market (J.D. Martinez, Justin Upton, Lorenzo Cain) who could slot into either LF or CF as needed and give a hopeful boost to the offense … but are any of those guys and their 8-figure salaries guarantees to be better than the cost-contained Taylor?  I don’t think so, and that’s why I think we stick with him.
  7. Do the Nats leverage their sudden depth of position players in trade this off-season?  In particular, i’m talking about Wilmer Difo and Brian Goodwin, both of whom played extremely well when given the opportunity and who both proved that they’re MLB starting quality.   If we stick with Taylor as a starter, then you have both Goodwin and Andrew Stevenson as able backups and that’s one too many.  If we (going back to the previous point) buy another outfielder, then that’s even more surplus.  I’m of the opinion that the team needs to sell high on both Difo and Goodwin and acquire needed assets (5th starter, bullpen help, near-to-the-majors pitching prospects).
  8. What do we do with the benchDrew, Lobaton, Kendrick, de Aza, Raburn all FAs, Lind has a player option but may want to try to parlay his excellent PH season into a FTE job.  So that leaves … not much.
    1. We have already talked about a backup catcher above
    2. We need a RH bench bat who can play corners (1B/LF): that was Chris Heisey to start the year .. but he’s long gone.  Kendrick ably filled this role … but he won’t sign back on as a utility guy given his excellent 2017.
    3. If Lind doesn’t exercise his $5M player option, we’ll need a big bopper lefty on the bench again.  We do have a guy like this on the farm and on our 40-man (Jose Marmolejos) but is he MLB ready?  He had a nice AA season, but AA to the majors is a jump.
    4. If we flip Difo, we’ll need a backup middle infielder.  Do we keep him assuming that Turner/Murphy will get hit with injuries (as they both are apt to do?)  Turner missed months, Murphy missed nearly 20 games in each of the past two years; is that enough to keep someone around versus flipping them?
    5. We do seem OK with backup outfielders right now, assuming that Andrew Stevenson is sufficient as a 4th OF/CF-capable defensive replacement/pinch runner type.

So, that’s potentially a brand new bench.  Luckily its not too hard to find veteran big-hitting RH or LH bats; we seem to do this every year and have some luck.  Middle infielders?  Would you sign up for another year of Drew?  I don’t think I would at this point; he just seems to brittle to count on.   I suspect the team will be quite active in this area.

9. What do we do with the bullpen Right now, given the departing FA relievers (Perez, Kintzler, Blanton, Albers), our “standing pat” bullpen for 2018 looks something like this:

  1. Closer: Doolittle
  2. 7th/8th inning guys: Madsen, Kelley, Glover
  3. Lefties: Solis, Romero
  4. Long Man: Grace/Cole
  5. Minors options: Adams, Gott

So, that’s a pretty solid looking bullpen if two guys in particular are healthy: Kelley and Glover.  Our entire strategy in the off-season seems to hinge on the health of these two.  I have no guesses; so lets assume one of them is good and one of them has a significant all of 2018 injury.  That means we probably pursue another Matt Albers type in the off-season.  Meanwhile, there’s a difference of opinion on the value of both our current lefties: Romero’s ancillary numbers were barely adequate and lefties hit him for nearly a .300 BAA, so he’s not exactly an effective lefty.  Solis blew up this season, posting a seasonal ERA of nearly 6.00 (his FIP was much better) and getting demoted at one point.  But he gets lefties out, Baker trusts him, and I can’t see him not being a part of the solution.  If the team thought they could improve upon Romero, perhaps they also pursue a lefty reliever (or resign the swashbuckler Perez).  I’m ok with Grace as a long man (though his K/9 rates leave something to be desired) but I’d also like to see the team convert Cole to relief at this point.  There’s some options issues to consider; Solis, Romero, Cole, and Grace are all out of options for next year, so they all either make the team or get cut loose.

 


So Summary:

  1. Bring back Baker
  2. Say good bye to Werth
  3. Stand pat on catcher with internal options
  4. Buy out Rendon’s arb years this year, talk about Murphy next year
  5. Get a decent 5th starter
  6. Go with Taylor/Eaton/Harper with Stevenson as your backup in the OF
  7. Yes, trade Goodwin and Difo for stuff
  8. Get one middle RH reliever, one middle LF reliever, convert Cole to relief
  9. Cattle call for bench bats next spring.

Am I missing anything?  Lots of talking points here.

 

 

How do we stack up against Chicago for the NLDS?

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Nats Nation breathes a sigh of relief; it was just a cramp. Photo via thesportsquotient.com

Nats Nation breathes a sigh of relief; it was just a cramp.  Or was it? Photo via thesportsquotient.com

Warning: lots of judgments based on short sample sizes and possibly not taking into account other factors that may have been in play during 3- and 4-game series, which are in reality a small fraction of a season.  And  yes I know, past performance is no indicator of future performance.  Just read and stop being a buzz-kill will ya?  :-)

So, we’ve known for a while that we were going to face the Cubs in the NLDS.  But now its official.  So lets peek back at our two series against them this year to see how our guys matched up to see if there’s any places to keep an eye on.  On a macro level, we took the season series from the Cubs 4-3, outscoring them 39-28 in the process.  We split four games at home in June, then took 2 of 3 against them on the road in August.

Nats Starters:  Here’s how our playoff starters fared against the Cubs this year:

  • Max Scherzer went 6, gave up 2 hits and a run with a victory over Chicago at home in June.  That sounds pretty good.
  • Stephen Strasburg went 7, punched out 13 (!) and gave up 3 runs (2 earned) in a home victory in June.  I’ll take that.
  • Gio Gonzalez went 6, gave up just two hits (good) but walked 5 (bad) , managed to give up just one run (good) and was an unlucky loser in the June home series.
  • Tanner Roark went 6+, gave up 2 runs on 5 hits and took a loss in Chicago in August.  Not bad.
  • The other three starts against the Cubs were Joe Ross in June, Edwin Jackson in August and Erick Fedde in August, so the Cubs have only seen our starters once each this year.

So, all four of our starters basically had quality starts against the Cubs this year.  That sounds promising.  No red flags.  We’ll ignore the fact that both Gio and Roark got bombed on the season’s closing day.  Maybe they were hung over.

Cubs Starters: How did Chicago’s presumed playoff rotation fare against us?

  • Jon Lester went 6, gave up 3 hits and a run in a no-decision in the June finale.  Tough.
  • Lester threw another QS in August, going 6 2/3rds, giving up 3 runs on 6 hits and getting a ND against Fedde.  Not bad.
  • Jake Arrieta was super-wild, walking 6 in 4 innings and taking the loss against Scherzer in June.  Uncharacteristic performance.
  • Kyle Hendricks went 7, giving up 3 runs on 5 hits and took a loss against Roark in the August series.  About what you’d want out of a 3rd starter.
  • Jose Quintana was a mid-season acquisition and did not pitch against us this year.
  • The other starts against us were thrown by Eddie Butler (who hails from Chesapeake, went to power-house Greenbrier Christian and was a 1st rounder out of Radford a few years back) and Jon Lackey (twice).

So, Lester was solid against us twice, Arrieta had an uncharacteristic struggle, and Hendricks was good but not dominant.  Quintana has thrown to a 3.74 ERA in his 14 starts, good but not lights out.  I have no idea how they’ll line up for the playoffs but think it may be as they’re listed above (maybe Quintana is #3 and Hendricks is #4).  It does look like Lackey is odd-man out of the Chicago rotation, which should be a fun conversation with their manager.

Summary: I like how our Starting Pitching lines up frankly; Scherzer is Scherzer, Strasburg has been unhittable for two months, and Gonzalez has been sneaky good all year.  Gonzalez and Roark project to pitch in Chicago … but Gio’s away splits are pretty good this year (11-5 with a 3.12 ERA).


 

Nats Hitters; here’s how some of our key hitters have fared against Chicago starters in their career (thanks to the wonderful baseball-reference.com per-Pitcher stats):

  • Bryce Harper is 1-7 against Lester, 4-14 against Arrieta, 4-13 against Hendricks and has never faced Quintana.  At least his one hit against Lester was a dong.
  • Daniel Murphy is 4-14 against Lester, 6-19 against Arrieta, 4-15 against Hendricks and also has never faced Quintana.  Better.
  • Ryan Zimmerman is 2-16 against Lester, 5-21 against Arrieta, 0-9 against Hendricks and has also never faced Quintana.  Might be a rough series for Zim.
  • Trea Turner is 1-2 against Lester, 1-2 against Arrieta, and has never faced either Hendricks or Quintana.  Not much to go on here.
  • Jayson Werth is 2-4 against Lester, 2-9 against Arrieta, 0-3 against Hendricks and has never faced Quintana.  About what you’d expect.
  • Anthony Rendon is 1-5 against Lester, 4-11 against Arrieta, 2-11 against Hendricks and has never faced Quintana.  Not bad.

I didn’t bother looking up Wieters or Taylor numbers because I expect little from them this off-season; anything they contribute is gravy.  Our 1-6 hitters need to make it happen.

Cubs Hitters; here’s the same analysis against our guys for Cubs key hitters (career figures):

  • Kris Bryant is 1-10 against Max, 2-5 against Stras, 2-10 against Gio and a strong 5-11 against Roark.   Might be an interesting series for the defending NL MVP.
  • Anthony Rizzo is 3-10 against Max, 2-13 against Stras, 2-22 against Gio and 4-18 against Roark.  Clearly the lefty and Roark’s swing-back fastball is effective against him.
  • Willson Contreras has never faced Scherzer, is 1-3 against Strasburg, 1-2 against Gio, 1-3 against Roark.  Almost no history go go on.
  • Javier Baez is 0-5 vs Max, 0-6 against Stras, 0-6 against Gio and 1-3 against Roark.  Not a lot of success here for Baez.
  • Kyle Schwarber has just two ABs against any of our starters, going 1-2 in a game against Roark.

I’m not entirely sure that Schwarber will play (he had 30 homers but an awful BA), nor Baez (since the Cubs have Ben Zobrist).  But these are the key bats for the Cubs and there’s not a ton to go on.  It seems like Bryant will be a handful, Rizzo may be an issue against some of our guys, and the rest of the squad could hit or miss (which, perhaps, is what you’d say also having not seen any of these stats).


 

So how does it look overall?  I like our chances, honestly.  I don’t like how Harper has looked since his “return” so that’s a huge worry, but I like our chances with the Cubs having to beat Scherzer twice and Strasburg once in a short series, and I like Gio going against the power hitting lefties in Chicago’s lineup.  I like our revamped bullpen, especially if we never have to depend on the 5th and 6th guy out of it.

It comes down to this injury scare at this point; is Scherzer going to be ok?  Can the Nats survive if Scherzer is out and we’re forced to give a playoff start to Jackson?

Assuming Scherzer is ok, Nats in 5.

 

Who is on your Post season Nats roster?

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So, is this photo from 2012 or 2017? via federalbaseball norm hall getty images

So, is this photo from 2012 or 2017? via federalbaseball norm hall getty images

Assuming that the expected players on the D/L come back (all 10 of them as of this writing), there’s a ton of decisions to make in September.

This is probably premature, but it keeps coming up, and the Nats now have a 100% playoff odds chance right now per fangraphs, so might as well speculate.

Who is on your post-season roster?

Assuming that all of Drew, Glover, Goodwin, Harper, Madsen, Raburn, Romero, Scherzer, Turner and Werth come back and are fully healthy (yes, huge caveat), here’s what the Nats are looking at by category:


4 SPs: Options: Scherzer, Strasburg, Gonzalez, Roark, Jackson.  Plus for completeness sake, Fedde and Cole.

As discussed previously, it’d take an injury to one of the first four to get Jackson to the post-season roster and in the rotation (more on this later).  Gio’s great 2017 moves him up to 3rd starter and possible 7th game decider in a long series.  Lets hope we get there.

Who plays in October:  Scherzer, Strasburg, Gonzalez, Roark, in that order.


8 RPs:  Options: Doolittle*, Kintzler, Kelley, Albers, Perez*, Blanton, Grace*, Solis*, Glover, Madsen, Romero* plus 40-man guys Gott and Adams.

I think you have to carry the 7th-8th-9th guys we just acquired, so that’s your law-firm of Doolittle, Madsen and Kintzler.  Madsen apparently is more hurt that we thought and may not be back until the end of September, a situation to monitor for sure.  Albers is a lock as a middle reliever.  Perez’s capabilities of soaking up innings plus doing match-up puts him on the roster too.  I think Grace and Romero have earned their spots, thought that makes for e very lefty-heavy bullpen (which might really come in handy against the Dodgers, if we get there).  One remaining spot; i’d say that it should go to Glover …. but maybe it goes to EJackson instead if Glover isn’t healthy.  I know the assumption here is that everyone is healthy, so we’ll go with Glover for now, but I could also see Dusty Baker going with the experienced arm that could start in a pinch if Roark struggles.

So that leaves Blanton and Kelley having pitched themselves out of contention.  Solis’s up and down season costs him a post-season spot too.  Gott/Adams never had a chance based on MLB performance.

Now, the question is this; does Baker leave off vets like Blanton/Kelley for youngsters like Grace or Romero?  Maybe.  Grace/Romero’s ERAs on the season are in the 4 range … not the sub 2.00 range that would guarantee the spot.  So I dunno.  Maybe they go righty-heavy against Chicago in the NLDS then switch things up and go lefty heavy if we make it to the NLCS against LA.

Who plays in October: Doolittle, Madsen, Kintzler, Albers, Glover, Perez, Grace,  Romero.


Starting lineup: I cannot disagree with Jamal  Collier’s predicted playoff lineup from his Mailbag earlier this week.

1 SS Turner
2 LF Werth
3 RF Harper
4 1B Zimmerman
5 2B Murphy
6 3B Rendon
7 C Wieters
8 CF Taylor

Werth can work the count in the 2-hole, makes good contact and can drive the ball; if Rendon wants to stay in the 6-hole then there’s no better person to put up top with Turner.  Perhaps you switch Wieters and Taylor.  Perhaps you switch Zimmerman and Murphy if you’re not worried about having two lefties in a row.   If Goodwin could play CF, maybe he’d be starting there but right now its a coin-flip between them performance wise.  I don’t think the playoffs are a good time to experiment with Harper in CF so you can slip in Goodwin in RF so as to gain a few incremental points of OPS.  Still can’t quite believe that under-the-radar MVP candidate Rendon is batting 6th.

If Werth still isn’t healthy … then we slot in Kendrick nice and neat into LF/#2.  He’s done great there for us since his acquisition.


 

Bench 
INF/OF Kendrick, INF/OF Lind, C Jose Lobaton, INF Drew, OF Goodwin

This Bench means that the likes of Raburn and more specifically Difo are off the roster.   I’d much rather have Drew off the bench in a critical situation than Difo.  But the thing is … Drew may not be healthy, which would leave Difo on the roster.  Maybe you carry Difo instead of Drew b/c that’d make one too many lefties on the bench (Lind, Drew, Goodwin all lefty only), while Difo can switch hit.  I could see that argument … but then again, does the player’s manager Baker go with Difo over the vet?  It may not matter; if Werth isn’t healthy, both Drew and Difo make it while Kendrick starts.

 

 

Ask Collier 8/21/17

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Kendrick has been a revalation.  Photo via Federal Baseball/USA Today

Kendrick has been a revalation. Photo via Federal Baseball/USA Today

Sorry for the break in action; i’ve had a difficult month.  And we’re actually on vacation this week, which means we missed last night’s Game of Thrones, which means I’ve got to avoid a dozen different outlets I normally read on Mondays and Tuesdays so as not to spoil it for myself.  But I did see that Mlb.com Nats beat reporter Jamal Collier put out a mailbag, and since i haven’t put up content in a month or so, I thought i’d do a response while the kids slept.

Here’s the questions he took and how i’d have responded.


 

Q: Updates on the remaining DL members and timing? Who are likely to be September call ups.

A: I’m not going to speculate on the exact days these guys will come back, just note that this team has gone 7-3 in its last ten games, 13-7 in its last twenty, and 18-12 in its last thirty games despite leading the league in D/L spots, having their entire opening day outfield on the D/L, and having 3/5ths of their original rotation on the D/L.  That’s patently ridiculous.  When they get their team back, it’ll be like they went crazy at the trade deadline.  A better question might be who makes the playoff roster if everyone is healthy … because guys like Howie Kendrick are going to make it tough for some long-time players to make that roster.  A post for another time.

September call-ups: If i have my notes right, here’s who’s on the 40-man in the minors currently:

SP: Fedde, Cole, Voth
RP: Gott, Adams
C: Severino, Read
INF: Marmolejos
OF: Bautista

I’m guessing the team re-calls everyone save Voth, Read and Marmolejos.  Voth hasn’t merited it with his performance this year and both Read and Marmolejos may just be too young.

Collier gives some rehab updates on our now 12-man long D/L, and also says that we’ll call up “virtually” every player on the 40-man


 

Q: If Werth comes back and doesn’t hit, do you think there’s a possibility he becomes a bench guy with Howie/Lind in left field?

A: Absolutely yes.  As I alluded to above, Kendrick may be putting Werth to the bench.  I can’t imagine the team insulting him and leaving him off the playoff roster, not while he has a career .924 OPS in the playoffs.  Adam Lind will not be the starting LF, not in a playoff situation.  You need a real outfielder, not a lumbering pinch hitter.  I know that I often call for “hiding” a guy out there … but Lind is a stretch even by my theory.

Collier thinks there’s no way Werth doesn’t retain his starting spot, unless he’s clearly still hurt.


 

Q: Is there any chance that Adam Eaton can come back from his injury late in the postseason?

A: No chance.  ACL tears are a year long recovery and then another year past that to regain the confidence to turn on the knee.  He may be optimistic with his rehab, but (following up on the previous question) there’s just no way you’d weaken your bench for a guy coming off an ACL tear.

Collier agrees.


 

Q : What is your guess on the post-season roster assuming full health except for Eaton?

A: we’ll save it for a separate post.  Collier gives his and its similar to what i’d probably go with.

 

Ask Collier 8/3/17

111 comments

Did the Nats do enough at the deadline to shore up the bullpen? Photo via UPI

Did the Nats do enough at the deadline to shore up the bullpen? Photo via UPI

Another Nats off-day, another Jamal Collier twitter-driven mailbag.  If people tweeted me a bunch of random questions, I’d probably do “mailbags” too!

Here’s how i’d have answered the questions he took.


 

Q: To me it looks like Dodgers vs Nationals NLCS unless bracketed before…who can u see beating either of these 2 teams???

A: Well, lets not put the cart before the horse.  What’s looking more and more certain by the day isn’t a guaranteed NLCS matchup, but rather an NLDS matchup between the Nats and the Cubs.  And who can beat the Nats?  Certainly the Cubs can.  Heck, the Nats just got their asses handed to them by the Marlins in a 3-game series; certainly they could lay an egg in a 5-game series against a good offensive team that’s the defending World Series champs.  It bears repeating: in a short series, anything can happen.  The Nats outscored the Dodgers in the 2016 NLDS 24-19 and had the lead in the deciding game heading into the 7th inning … and still managed to lose.

I’ll also point this fact out: the 116 win 2001 Seattle Mariners got their asses handed to them in 5 games by the Yankees in the playoffs.

Lets make it to October, then see how our health looks and see how we’re hitting.  All we can hope for is 100% all hands on deck to give the series our best shot.

Collier notes that anything can happen in the playoffs, that the wild card teams all improved at the trade deadline, and that he’d love to see an LA-Wash rematch.


 

Q: Do you see the Nats going after a waiver Starting Pitcher this month in case Strasburg needs to be out for an extended period?

A: Hmm.  Yeah I could.  I don’t think the team trusts Jacob Turner, nor A.J. Cole.  Certainly not 40-man member Austin Voth (demoted to AA a month ago).  But I also think Erick Fedde was better than his stat line showed, and his dominant 2nd inning was clearly a sign of what he “can” do if he stays consistent.  But we need to get to October first and that might mean a waiver-wire trade.  It all depends on how much more time their two aces miss at this point.

Collier disagrees, saying that Rizzo was adamant about not getting antoher starter at the trade deadline … but things have changed.


 

Q: With Matt Wieters recent offensive and defensive struggles, do you think that the Nats should give Pedro Severino a closer look in Sept?

A: In a word, No.  Severino‘s 2016 stat line was a mirage; he’s hit just .213 in AAA this year.  That might not even be good enough to supplant Jose Lobaton as our once-a-week catcher.  I agree with those who complain about the Wieters signing … but then again Derek Norris has hit just .201 for Tampa, and Wilson Ramos is hitting even worse after missing half the season.  So its not like they really had a choice.  Lets just hope some of our lower minors Catcher depth pans out.

Collier agrees.


 

Q: How are they going to fit everyone back into this pen when Kelley and Glover come back?? Surely they can’t send anyone down for Kelley

A: Good question.  As of today (prior to the Romero injury, their pen was as follows:

Kintzler, Doolittle*, Madsen, Albers, Romero*, Perez*, Blanton, Grace*,

They’ve been carrying 8 relievers for a bit, probably since their 5th starters rarely make the 5th inning.  Now look at that crew and ask yourself; who could even be optioned?  Kintzler, Madsen, Perez and Blanton are all vets that could refuse demotions.  Albers too; they all have 5+ years.  Doolittle doesn’t … but he’s also pretty much your closer right now.  So that’s 6 of your 7 guys.  Romero is out of options.  That’s 7 of 7 right there.  Despite how well Grace has pitched, he’s on the outside looking in right now.  If/when Kelley and Glover come back … yeah you have to make some tough decisions.  If I had to guess, the team is going to have to D/L some guys (like Blanton) in order to get others in.  And if you were putting together an 8-man playoff bullpen, you’d probably go Kintzler, Doolittle, Madsen, Kelley, Glober, Albers, Romero and Grace.  Man it’d be tough leaving Perez off a post-season roster though.  And we havn’t even mentioned Solis, banished to AAA but very much an integral part of last year’s playoff bullpen.

Collier notes that by the time some of these roster squeezes happen, we’ll be past the 9/1 expansion deadline and it may not matter.  Which is a good point.


Q:  It’s definitely a long shot, but do you think there’s any chance whatsoever that a ’17 draftee pitches in our bullpen by end of September?

A: Zero chance.  For reasons inexplicable, the one guy who may have had a shot (Seth Romero) failed to sign until the deadline, apparently squeezing out the ever last drop of over-slot bonus money, then failed to even appear in a game for several weeks beyond that (despite not having pitched since mid-March?).  Clearly the organization was not in a hurry to move him along.  Times are changing; we still havn’t even seen a 2016 draftee appear in the majors yet, so to project a 2017 player moving up that fast would be crazy.

Collier agrees.

 

 

Just when we were starting to talk about McKenzie Mills…

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Kendrick shores up a very fragile outfield for the Nats. PHoto via si

Kendrick shores up a very fragile outfield for the Nats. PHoto via si

… the Nats go and trade him away.  We flipped him for Howie Kendrick last night (throwing in Intl’ bonus money but getting back salary relief, of course, since its the Lerners).

Now, in arguably Kendrick fills a need.  The Nats now have SIX outfielders on the D/L.  Two of their opening day starters, their primary bench OF, plus three other guys.  They’re running out Adam Lind and Wilmer Difo in the outfield with predictable negative UZR results.  So Kendrick helps there.  Kendrick can also help in the infield, where our primary backup right now is a long-serving org-guy in Adrian Sanchez who, while being a great story, is clearly overmatched at the major league level (2 for 17 as we speak).

But we give up what was looking like a heck of a find.  McKenzie Mills stepped it up this year, making the Low-A all-star team and just earning a promotion to high-A in his age 21 season.  He’s 12-2 with a 3.01 ERA and great K/9 rates.  Philly should be ecstatic to have him, and to have gotten him for a spare part.

I’m sure our prospect guys will hate giving up Mills for a rental like Kendrick.  Its a win-now, fix-the-now-issues move for sure.  On the other hand … Mills is a ways away, needs to solve two more levels of the minor league before being in consideration for the majors, and is no sure thing.  But … yeah sometimes you have to do what you have to do.

More pertinently; the acquisition of Kendrick means a series of roster moves needs to happen.  On top of that, we’re still expecting the selection of Erick Fedde for tonight’s game.  So that’s two 25-man roster moves and, more importantly, two 40-man moves.  I’m guessing:

  • Sanchez goes back down to make room for Kendrick on 25-man roster
  • Sammy Solis goes back down to make way for Fedde … they’re carrying 8 relievers right now and the only guys they can really option back are Solis, Enny Romero and Matt Grace.  These latter two have pitched their way into stability while Solis still hasn’t proven he has it back.  So he heads back to Syracuse.
  • Two 40-man moves: I suppose they could do a 60-day D/L transfer of Trea Turner; that’d guarantee he was out until August 30th though and I thought he was supposed to come back prior to that.  Shawn Kelleyhas been out since 6/17 … if they did him to the 60 day he’d be out until 8/17 at a time when he’s nearing a rehab assignment.  So, I’m guessing they DFA two guys.  First two guys on my list to go: Jimmy Cordero and Trevor Gott .  I just don’t know why they stll have Cordero on the roster at this point; he’s 25, is struggling with control in AA (more walks than Ks) and even though he’s gotten his ERA down, its still nearly 6.00.  As for Gott … he got shelled at the MLB level, he’s not exactly awesome at the AAA level either, and at some point you have to look at these roster spots and go, “why are we still holding a spot for this guy?”  But I could also make this same argument for A.J. Cole, Austin Adams to a certain extent, Matt Skole and even Jose Marmolejos at this point.  All of these guys are sitting on 40-man spots, none seem to be in the near term plans … so I could see any of them getting the dreaded DFA this weekend.  Skole in particular (knowing certain readers have a boner for him): why is he on the 40-man at this point?  The team has now traded not once but twice for guys to add and call up that should have been Skole spots (Ryan Raburn and now Kendrick).  And don’t forget Sanchez (even if that was a slightly different position-eligibilty driven move).  Earlier this week they called up Pedro Severino, not Skole, to serve basically as a bench bat.  Severino!  If you’re not going to use Skole, then use his roster spot more efficiently.

Thoughts this saturday morning?

 

 

MLBpipeline.com mid-season Nats top 30 shows our Farm turnover

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Robles is a beatt. Photo via milb.com

Robles is a beatt. Photo via milb.com

Now is about the time when you start to see a few of the more enterprising pundits out there releasing Mid-season top X lists.  Most guys just do minors-wide updates:

MLBPipeline.com though has a fully updated Nats system top 30, including the 2017 draft prospects, and the list is kind of telling.  Lets dive into it, looking at some of the new guys, the guys who are off the list, the movers and the fallers.

(Note: for reference, here’s my master list of Nats prospect rankings, updated to this MLBpipeline list and updated for player movement even up to the most recent trades).

  • The Top 4 hasn’t changedVictor Robles, Juan Soto, Erick Fedde and Carter Kieboom remain our top 4 prospects, as they have been ever since we parted ways with Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez (more on them later).  Now, whether this will still be the case in a week’s time, when the trade deadline has passed, remains to be seen.  Robles remains the #1 guy, the guy who I think the team is looking at to have a “passing of the torch” moment once Bryce Harper departs town, and remains an incredible bargain in terms of bonus-dollars-versus-prospect status ($225k bonus in 2014).  Soto has streaked up the ranks: prior to the beginning of the 2016 season he wasn’t even in the top 30 lists; now he’s pushing Robles at the top.
  • Six of our Top 30 are 2017 draftees: This was the point that surprised me, looking at the list.  MLB’s #5, 6, 16, 19, 22 and 24th ranked players have played for about a month now in our low minors.  #5 and #6 (the ones that are somewhat meaningful) are of course our top two drafted arms Seth Romero and Wil Crowe.  The reason there’s so much room for adding new draftees though is…
  • We’ve lost a TON of prospects in the last 12 months: Just looking at my master list, here’s the departures from prospect lists lately:
    • Graduated: Grace, Glover, Cole, Goodwin this year, Turner last year
    • Traded:  Neuse, Luzardo this year, Giolito, Lopez, Dunning, Hearn, Schrock, Avila last year or last off-season.  Dunning in particular was in our system so shortly that he never made it to a ranking list.

That’s 13 guys, some of whom were pretty prominently ranked and all of whom were mentioned here or there on various lists.

Now, how about the guys that are left?  Here’s some guys who are really shooting up, rankings wise (and yes, some of their rise is due to the surgical removal of so many guys above them … nonetheless, these guys have all played well):

  • Juan Soto: as mentioned above; MLB has him #2 now.  A year ago he was in the 15-17 range, and prior to 2016 season he was a nobody, outside the top 30.
  • Yasel Antuna: our big-money 2016 IFA signing is not disappointing; he had no playing time this time last year and was ranked in the 19-25 range just based on his bonus.  Now?  He’s hitting .300 as a 17-yr old in the GCL with nearly a .40o OBP (as of this writing).
  • Daniel Johnson: recently promoted and it was well earned: Johnson hit 17 homers in the first half in Hagerstown (not an easy place to hit for power), made the all-star team, and got promoted.  MLB.com has him 10th right now; they had him #29th in April.
  • Blake Perkins: It looks like he’s finally getting the hang of switch hitting, and his OPS in Low-A is 200 points higher than it was last year.  He has generally been in the 16-20 range of prospects; now he’s at #11.
  • McKenzie Mills: the lefty Low-A starter has exploded this year; he sits at 12-2 with more than a K/inning for Hagerstown, made the All-Star team and seems ready for a promotion.  MLB has him at #18 in our system; he’s never even been an honorable mention before.
  • Raudy Read: he’s stepped it up a bit, hitting for some power and holding his slash line to respectable levels as a 23-yr old in AA (and on the 40-man roster).
  • Taylor Gushue: also a 23-yr old catcher, with an OPS above .820 one level below Read in High-A.  Never before ranked (at least for us), MLB.com has him 25th now.  I could see these two catchers pushing each other and pushing the likes of Severino and Lobaton off the 40-man.

And here’s some guys whose prospect value has taken a nosedive this year:

  • Pedro Severino: speaking of catcher depth; Severino has seen his stats take a nose dive as he repeats AAA; his 1.048 OPS figure for the Nats last September seems like a mirage.   He’s still on the 40-man, and his reputation is more about his defense than his offense, but that’s still just a backup catcher ceiling.
  • Drew Ward: Year after year, Ward’s prospect value drops.  He used to be top 10; now he’s fallen to the 20-range.  He’s repeating AA and hitting just .224; he’ll be rule-5 eligible this coming off-season but I can’t see saving him with a roster spot right now.  If he doesn’t turn it around, he’ll end up in org-guy territory soon.
  • Austin Voth: perhaps the most curious of our falling prospects.  He was in the 6-7 range just a year and a half ago, then finished a full strong season in AAA.  2017?  He’s struggled, gotten demoted, and struggled further.
  • Jakson Reetz: he’s now pushed down to 26th, after routinely hanging out in the 10-15 range after being such a high draft pick.  He’s basically been socially promoted by virtue of his bonus figure, having never hit above .230 outside of complex ball.  He’s now backing up a guy in Gushue who’s 2 years older, but also has an OPS that’s 200 points better.
  • Anderson Franco: what happened here?  He was solid in rookie ball … and barely at the mendoza line in full season ball.  Another guy routinely given top 10 rankings early on; he’s now just hanging on ranked #27 by MLB.
  • Osvaldo Abreu: he’s moved up a level a year, now playing in AA, but his numbers have had corresponding declines with each promotion.  He wasn’t ever considered a major prospect, but now he’s barely considered a minor one.
  • Telmito Agustin: he couldn’t hack it in High-A and was demoted back to Low-A this year.  He’s only 20, so he has time, but he’s basically out of the prospect discussions for now.
  • Nick Banks & Rhett Wisemann: both big-time college program upper-end draft picks, both scuffling professionally.  Neither now ranked by MLB whereas both had cracks at the top 10 of our prospect lists at some point.
  • Joan Baez: you can’t teach velocity right?  Well for Potomac this year Baez had more walks than Ks … and more walks than innings pitched.  He’s now a 22-yr old in GCL beating up on a bunch of kids, hoping to get his mojo back.
  • Matt Skole: he’s still a “prospect” remember?  He’s 27, hitting .235 in AAA, and has yet to be called up even though the team is so short on hitters that they called up Severino this past week.  I put Skole in here just to see if MartyC is still reading.

And now for some predictions related to our prospects:

  • Fedde is getting called up and soon, and will exhaust his rookie eligibility before the season is over.  The team can’t let Edwin Jackson post 5+ ERAs like he’s been doing for the last few seasons.
  • Robles, Soto, Kieboom stay put to keep our top 4 in tact at the trade deadline.
  • I can see the team cashing in some lesser prospects in trade though, perhaps guys ranked in the 8-15 range.  Selling high on Daniel Johnson perhaps, or flipping some C depth from Severino, Read, Gushue, Kieboom.
  • #1 prospect next year: still Robles; he’s not debuting until at least the super-2 deadline next year.
  • # prospect once Robles graduates: It’ll be Soto.  For reasons explained in the next bullet point…
  • How quickly will Romero get to the Majors?  Pretty quickly.  I could see him ending next year in AA, then pushing for a spot in the 2019 staff.  He won’t be in the minors long enough to get ranked above Soto.  That is unless he turns out to continue his knuckle-headedness… at which point we’ll all write many comments about how we “told you so” for drafting him.

Did I miss anyone?

PS: fun trivia; there have only been eleven (11) different players to hold the title as “#1 Washington Nationals prospect” since Nov 2004.   I’ll bet you can’t name them all.

 

A weekend of injuries, moves and trades

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Ross down and out. Photo Getty Images via federalbaseball.com

Ross down and out.
Photo Getty Images via federalbaseball.com

As I mentioned in the comments on the previous post, I was away from computer all weekend so I missed the opportunity to comment on all the major things that went down.

So this is a clearing house of thoughts.


 

Joe Ross to undergo Tommy John; I don’t think anyone saw this coming, but then again nobody saw it coming with Stephen Strasburg either.  With Stras it seemed to be a one-pitch injury.  Ross’ pitch f/x data for his last start indicated that he was definitely off his typical velocity; compare his 90mph average on July 9th to his July 4th start, where he started routinely in the 93-94 range, before dropping off a cliff towards the end of his outing.  If I had to guess, I’d guess he might have injured his arm somewhere in the 7th inning or so of his July 4th start and tried to give it a go the next outing before his teammate Max Scherzer spotted his distress.  Ross finishes a struggle of a 2017 season where he got an amazing 10.55 runs per 27 outs of support; in 6 of his 13 starts the team scored more than 10 runs for him.  He clearly had settled down from early season issues, throwing four consecutive quality starts and again looking like perhaps the best #5 starter in the league.  Now he’s out until the all star break of next year at best, likely until September of 2018.  He’s only 24, mind  you, but this injury comes at a tough time for him; he’ll be arbitration eligible for the first time after the 2018 season, one in which he may only  make a handful of starts.  So this will cost Ross millions of dollars…. and will save the Nats at a time when they may be looking to save pennies for Bryce Harper.

Looking at the rotation for 2018; as we’ll soon find out (read on), there’s not a whole lotta help on the farm, so the Nats are probably shopping for starters this coming off-season, unless you guys think Erick Fedde will be ready for prime time next April.

In the meantime, it leads to a sticky situation in the near term yet again for this team.  They traded away all their near-to-the-majors starting depth last off season, and have had to give starts already this season to three non-rotation guys (Jacob TurnerA.J. Cole and the ill-fated Jeremy Guthrie start early on).  Well, now their starting depth in the minors is even weaker; A.J. Cole’s AAA era this year  is a nifty 6.00 and the only other 40-man roster starter (Austin Voth) is even worse; he’s pitched to a 6.38 ERA in Syracuse this year and is either doing a rehab assignment or is being outright demoted to Harrisburg as we speak.

 


 

So instead of going with an internal option, the brain trust is enlisting the help of MLFA Edwin Jackson, who eternally owes Mike Rizzo a bottle of champagne for NOT offering him a qualifying offer when he became a FA after his run-of-the-mill 2012 season for us.  The lack of the QO enabled Jackson to get a 4 year deal he never would have gotten otherwise, but cost the Nats a pick that they probably could have used … heck a junior college starter drafted towards the end of the first round in 2013 … probably would have been Sean Manaea, currently dominating for the same Oakland As who just sent us our next wave of bullpen reinforcements (more on that in a moment).  But I digress.

We plan on giving Edwin Jackson another shot in the majors, despite his giving up 11 hits and 4 walks in 5 innings for Baltimore earlier this year, despite his pitching to a 5.89 ERA in San Diego last year (where everybody looks like a Cy Young winner).   I’ll say this: if the Nats can score in double digits for Jackson the same way they did for Ross … maybe it won’t matter than his ERA sits in the 6-7 range.  It’ll look like a slow-pitch softball game.

But what choice do the Nats have?  Erick Fedde you say?  Have you seen his inconsistency in Syracuse?  Its like the Nats didn’t learn from jerking Tanner Roark around a couple years ago; Starting pitchers are creatures of habit.  They eat the same meal 2 hours before they pitch, they do the same running and lifting sessions in-between outings.  If you have a successful starter, you don’t suddenly decide he’s a middle reliever.  So it should be of no surprise that Fedde’s all over the road right now.

Jacob Turner?  Well, he’ll be around too; I’m guessing he’s option 1-B to Jackson as 1-A.  But Turner is no savior; you don’t get DFA’d and pass through waivers and accept an outright to AAA as a pitching prospect in the modern game unless the rest of the league really, really doesn’t like you.  To say there’s a lack of quality starting pitching depth in the league right now is kind of an understatement.

Who else is starting for this team in the upper minors?  Here’s the rest of the Syracuse rotation right now: Sean O’Sullivan, Jared Long, Greg Ross.  Her’es their current AAA ERAs respectively: 4.40, 5.29, 6.34.  Here’s how we acquired them, again respectively: MLFA  in May of this year, MLFA in April of last year, and again MLFA in April of last year.  So three org guys just eating up AAA innings, none of which are pitching especially well.  No wonder Luke Erickson over at www.nationalsprospects.com has given up tracking the AAA team this year.

Maybe we drop down to AA: how’s that look?  Bleak.  Taylor Hill is already demoted once this year and is closer to a release than a promotion.  Austen Williams: 6.85 ERA.  Matthew Crownover is pushing a 5.00 ERA.  They just got Wirkin Estevez off the D/L: he’s only got 26 innings of 4.10 ERA pitching above A-Ball.   Lastly there’s  John Simms, the “Ace” of Harrisburg’s staff who is pitching there for the *fourth* successive season.  He’s got solid numbers: 4-6 with a 3.57 ERA but middling K/9 rates  and some hittability; would you rather roll the dice on a grizzled veteran with more than 1700 innings on his MLB resume or go with a guy who you refuse to promote even to AAA despite the same decently solid numbers year over year?  I think you have your answer.

So lets see how it goes.  Jackson’s Syracuse numbers for 2017 are pretty nifty; 20 innings, 9 hits, 22 ks.  Oh and 10 walks; we’ll just say that last part a little more quietly and focus on the positive.  As I noted in the comments section in another blog … we’re about to see just what the difference is between AAA and the majors.


Meanwhile, after more and more ridiculousness in the late-innings of games (including a 7 run collapse late last week that nearly blew a 10-run cushion), the Nats finally made their move to bolster the bullpen (and hopefully grease the skids for a wholesale shedding of deadweight off the 40-man roster by everyone involved in the latest debacle).  Rizzo called up his best buddy Billy Beane and pulled off what I think is a pretty good trade:

  • Acquire: Sean DoolittleRyan Madsen: both mid-30s one inning guys with excellent numbers this year and neither being one-year rentals.
  • Give up: Blake TreinenJesus Luzardo and Sheldon Neuse

Treinen just needs a mental D/L trip; there’s nothing appreciably different with his stuff from last year (when he was good) to this year (when he has been awful).  Classic change of scenery guy who returns to his drafting team and probably has a solid rest-of-2017.  Luzardo and Neuse are good prospects but  young and several years away; perfect for what Oakland wants.  I’m bummed they’re leaving (especially Luzardo, who by all accounts has come all the way back from TJ surgery and had looked solid in his early GCL outings).  Prior to 2017, Neuse was generally about our 8th best prospect and Luzardo 12th or so.  Both have improved their rankings with their play this year, so this may look more foolish if Luzardo becomes a #2 starter in a few years.   But as they say, you have to give up stuff to get stuff.

As others noted, the Nats managed to get these two guys without giving up any of their top ranked prospects (Robles, Soto, Fedde, Kieboom), which is a huge win.


 

Crazy weekend.  Sorry I missed it in realtime.

Is this the turning point for the bullpen?

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Is Treinen in danger of a DFA or a demotion? Photo via zimbio.com

Is Treinen in danger of a DFA or a demotion? Photo via zimbio.com

Yes, its one game.  Yes, it was one game in a regular season 162 games long, with a team playing in an abhorrent division that they’ll probably win by 20 games irrespective of what happens.

But, at the same time, last night’s debilitating 6-5 loss, featuring a 3-run ninth from your opening-day closer Blake Treinen seemed different.  Why?  Because it blew a game against a playoff contender, a team that the Nats very well may face in the first round of the playoffs if the season plays out as expected.  Because this wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill regular season game; this was one of those statement series that this team faces where it can measure up against last year’s champion and determine where they stand in the NL pecking order.  The team s hould be walking away with a dominant series win, having outscored the defending WS champs 22-12.  Instead they concede a split series that ended with a ton of frustration.

The loss last night (per Byron Kerr‘s twitter status) now represents the SIXTH time in 79 games this year that the bullpen has blown a 9th inning lead.   That’s only slightly worse (92.5% conversion rate) than historically  is to be expected (about 95% per Joe Posnanski research), but in the era of the closer … you’d expect better results.

The hitters are already grumbling.  As noted in this weeks’ Tom Boswell chat (and subsequently picked up by Craig Calcaterra in Hardball/NBCSports blog), players are getting pretty frustrated that they are beating teams for 8 innings only to lose it in the 9th.  And with good reason; if you’re facing a Cy Young quality pitcher and are in a position to beat him (well, beat his team that day, even if you couldn’t do jack with Jon Lester himself), then you HAVE TO WIN that game.  You can’t have your starters going 120 pitches and trying to pitch complete games every night because you can’t trust a single member of your bullpen.  Hell, they even got a quality start plus from Joe Ross!  You can’t waste those!  Normally Ross needs the offense to score him 12 runs to win.

I saw the result last night and the first thing I thought was, ” I wonder if they’ll DFA Treinen.”   This is the same team that layered Drew Storen after high profile post-season meltdowns; was Ted Lerner in the crowd last night?  What value does Trienen give the team right now?   He’s got a 1.7whip, an ERA north of 6, and clearly can’t be trusted with the ball unless its a low-leverage situation.  I’m sure it won’t actually happen, thanks to the general health meltdown out there and the clear lack of options on the farm.  But at some point, you have to think out side the box.

They were thinking outside the box moving Erick Fedde to the pen; guess what?  Its time.  I’d also start thinking about other AAA starters out of the pen while the two closer-retreads they’ve just signed (Francisco Rodriguez and Kevin Jepsen get fitted for uniforms and throw a few innings in AAA).   Call up guys from AA straight and DFA the deadweight that you know you don’t trust that’s sitting in AAA . You hate trading from a position of weakness, but its time to start working the phones and cashing in assets.

I’ve preached patience for this bullpen, and I just ran out of it.

ps: the larger news on the night of course is the Trea Turner injury.  That’s a bad piece of luck … but its also why we got back Stephen Drew.  My initial thoughts on Turner’s hit are these: its not season ending, we have a 9.5 game lead in a division were nobody else is really even trying, we’ll be fine.   He’ll be back for September when it counts.  Fix the bullpen.

Ask Collier 5/22/17 (i’m back!)

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Our newest little Nats fan!

Our newest little Nats fan!

So, after nearly a 3 week hiatus, i’m back.  And what better way to get back into the swing of things than to do a mailbag!  Nats mlb.com beat reporter Jamal Collier was kind enough to post a mailbag last night.

(In case you were wondering where I was, we traveled to China to adopt a little girl.  The above is a picture of her the day after we met her for the first time as we were walking the streets of Jinan, the capital city of the province where she was living in an orphanage :-).  She’s a natural in the curly-W hat).


 

Q: Any sense of urgency from the front office to get pen support? could we see a trade soon or will Rizzo play it cool and wait a bit more?

A: I don’t know how there isn’t a sense of urgency at this point.  We’re nearly a third of the way through the season and the bullpen is in shambles.  As we speak, the Nats bullpen ranks 29th in ERA, 27th in FIP, and 27th in fWAR.  Their best reliever so far in 2017 was a scrap-heap NRI pickup in Matt Albers, who now seems to be closing.  Five different guys have saves.  The two guys who we thought would be in the “closer” discussion ahead of the season (Shawn Kelley and Blake Treinen) have ERAs of 6.08 and 7.78 respectively.  The bullpen has 8 blown saves already, some of which were really, really egregious (like May 9th’s scuttling of Max Scherzer‘s 8 inning shut-down effort in Baltimore).

But its not exactly trade season yet.  You very rarely see trades during this time of year; front offices are preparing for the draft.  Then they’ll spend most of June negotiating with draft picks and making roster decisions on short season squads.  Then there’s the International Signing period leading up to the beginning of July.  Then there’s the all-star break.  Only THEN do you really get into “trade season,” the period in-between the all-star break and the trade deadline on 7/31.  So I’d be kind of surprised to see the Nats pull off a trade right now.  More likely you’ll see more of what they’re doing with Erick Fedde: looking at their AAA and AA teams and wondering who might be able to help.  Fedde could be a nice little 7th/8th inning helper, kinda like Koda Glover was last year.  Perhaps there’s another starter down there who might make sense to do the same in a pinch.  The team still has several options in AAA and on the 40-man roster that they’ve yet to explore: Austin Adams has 31 Ks in 19 innings with a 1.42 ERA for Syracuse so far in 2017 …. to go along with 17 walks (but hey, Enny Romero was able to fix his walk issue, right?).  Trevor Gott‘s numbers aren’t awful.  So perhaps there’s some options.

Oh Side note; the rumor that the Nats had a deal with the White Sox to move David Robertson (AND salary relief!?) for Jesus Luzardo and Drew Ward?   That came from Bob Nightengale from the USA Today, who is one of those reporters who seems to get a lot of “anonymous quotes” from unnamed front office types looking to air dirty laundry, especially from the slimy Chicago White Sox organization (go google his reporting on the Adam LaRoche situation for a decidedly pro-ownership take on that whole situation, trashing the player without anyone taking any credit for the quotes).  So i’m not sure how much credit to give it.  But if its true … then you have to scratch your head as to why the Nats didn’t pull the trigger on that one.  Ward is a limited prospect, completely blocked at the MLB level  and who is Rule-5 Eligible this coming off-season and Luzardo is a lottery ticket coming off TJ surgery who has yet to throw a pitch.  I’d have made that deal in a heart beat; you’re telling me the Nats balked because they didn’t get *enough* money coming back?

Collier says the team is well aware of the issue, is poking around, but as noted above its two months from the trade deadline so there’s not a lot of urgency from other teams.


Q: Does Eric Fedde have a chance that to join the Nats bullpen soon?

A: Duh, yes.  Why else would the team have taken its absolute best starting pitcher prospect  in Erick Fedde and put him in the bullpen mid-May?  I don’t think it was to see how he liked it.  I think it was clearly to fill a need at the MLB level.  And soon.  I’d say they’ll give him a call as soon as he a) shows he can handle pitching back to back days, and b) he clears the super-2 deadline.  When will Super-2 deadline be?  Well, its generally been falling in the 2yr, 135day range.   So we’re right in the range as we speak of being at the super-2 cutoff; to be really safe, teams could wait until the first week of June to do call-ups and likely be clear of the cut-off.  So that works  out well; Fedde gets 3 weeks or so in the bullpen, then gets the call.  That’d be my prediction.

Collier agrees; says absolutely Fedde is coming up in a relief role for 2017 to fill a need, similarly to the way the team moved Trea Turner last year.


Q: When can we expect solis to rejoin the team?

A: Beats me.  Sammy Solis just can’t stay healthy, and his current injury is listed on b-r.com as having “no time table for return.”

Collier reports that Solis is not even throwing yet; i’d say we’re at least a month from seeing him back.  Not good.


Q: Are Trevor Gott, Joe Nathan, and Bryan Harper being considered for call ups in bullpen? 

A: I discussed Gott above: his numbers aren’t stellar but they’re not awful either.  Joe Nathan has been looking his age in AAA: 1.60 WHIP, 5.65 ERA but getting a K/inning.  Does this sound like the bullpen savior?  Bryan Harper had TJ Surgery in November; he’s out the entire year for sure.  So he’s not an option either.

Collier notes that both Gott and Nathan’s numbers are from earlier struggles and both have pitched better lately.  Fair enough; the team has gotten lucky with NRIs so far this year, perhaps Nathan is another possibility.  


Q: When is Dusty going to name Glover as the closer? I think it needs to happen. Let him have a real shot since there are no better options.

A: Who cares who the “Official Closer” is?  You know who has the best bullpen in the Majors?  Cleveland.  You know who Cleveland’s best reliever is?  It isn’t the “closer.”  Its time people started realizing that bullpen usage is evolving.  I don’t care who the guy is getting the useless “save” statistic; I want my best arm pitching in the highest leverage situations, irrespective of what inning it is.  Does Dusty Baker get this?  Probably not … which holds the team back.  But at least  he’s not Matt Williams in terms of bullpen usage idiocy.

Right now Glover seems to be pitching well, but Albers is pitching better.  So those are my late-inning/high leverage go-to guys.

Collier says Baker danced around the issue when most recently asked.  Which isn’t a surprise for a team with 5 different guys who have gotten saves so far this year.


Q: The RHH bench consists of Chris Heisey (0-14 as PH) and Wilmer Difo (1 PH hit?). Upgrades?

A: SSS.  You’re grasping at straws if you’re worried about this team’s offense right now.   Nats team offense is #1 in the majors in BA, #3 in OBP, #1 in Slugging, #1 in wOBA and #3 in wRC+.  For a National league team, that’s astonishing considering that they’re basically punting the Pitcher slot in the order while AL teams have beefy designated hitters in their stead.  So if you asked me if i’m worried about the right handed pinch hitting options, i’d say no.  Heisey was just fine last year, earned his spot this year, and he’ll be ok eventually.   You can’t expect your bench guys to be awesome, all the time; if they were, they wouldn’t be bench guys.

Collier agrees; its early.


 

Q: With Adam Eaton out even as Zimmerman makes a resurgence doesn’t it make this team the exact same team that lost in NLDS?

A: Not really; last year’s team was good offensively but not this good.  Last year  Bryce Harper struggled most of the year; this year he’s back in 2015 form.  You replaced last year’s empty ABs given to Ben Revere and Danny Espinosa with theoretically “better” at-bats from Trea Turner and Adam Eaton to start.  Even with Eaton gone, Michael Taylor hasn’t been completely awful.   But this team won’t go far in the playoffs without some reliability in the bullpen, no matter now many pitchers their starters throw.  That’s your concern right now.

Collier thinks its pretty much the same team, also noting the bullpen as a weakness.