Nationals Arm Race

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Who is the Best HS player the Nats have ever drafted?

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Would you believe that A.J. Cole is the best prep draft prospect ever for the Nats in the Rizzo era? Read on. Photo AP

A comment about Mason Denaburg in the last thread, with MarkL wondering/speculating on whether our 2018 1st overall pick may possibly pitch in 2021, made me think, yet again, about the folly of drafting high school arms (or HS players in general) and then made me wonder..

Who is the best HS player we’ve ever drafted?

By “best” I mean possible one of two things:
1. Most successful for our team or for someone else, since (as we’ll see) we’ve had a tendency to trade prospects before they matriculate.
2. Most successful for the Nationals themselves.

So, we’ll answer both.

I’ll also divide this into the “Rizzo” era and the pre-Rizzo era, since you can almost count on one hand the total number of HS players Mike Rizzo has drafted since taking over in mid 2009, whereas the Jim Bowden regime was quite heavily skewed towards HS players.

Using the Draft Tracker as a reference, here are your nominees for best ever HS draftee by the Washington Nationals, moving backwards in time (note; i’m omitting some HS draftees like 20th round signees who happened to sign and subsequently flame out; this mostly is a value play of top-5 round picks plus other notables we over-paid).

  • 2020: Samuel Infante, SS/3B from Florida: too early to tell obviously, but the reaction in the Natmosphere was mixed to begin with. We’ll see.
  • 2018: Mason Denaburg, RHP from Florida. $3M signing bonus for getting selected 27th overall in the 1st round. Has been plagued by injury since his arrival, and his limited stats have not been promising. What is even more indicting about this selection is the fact that the next three arms drafted who signed ( Shane McClanahan, Jackson Kowar and UVA’s Daniel Lynch) were all college arms (like what the Nats normally draft this high), are all now considered top-100 prospects, and had all reached AA by the end of 2019. Opportunities lost.
  • 2016: Carter Kieboom, SS from Georgia. Held the #1 Nats prospect label for years, but has struggled in two call-ups now that have the team looking at 3B candidates in free agency, a pretty severe indictment of what they think they have in Kieboom right now.
  • 2016: Jesus Luzardo, LHP from Florida. Traded as the centerpiece prospect of the Sean Doolittle/Ryan Madsen acquisition in 2017, then became a top-10 prospect in all of baseball prior to the 2019 season. Pitched in Oakland’s rotation as a 22yr old in 2020 with league average results, projecting to be a #2 lefty starter. It was a lot to give up for relievers (at the time I was “ok” with the trade, but did note that it would look pretty lopsided if Luzardo turned into precisely what he’s projecting to become), but flags fly forever and Doolittle was an integral part of this team for a while.
  • 2015: Blake Perkins, OF from Arizona. Traded to Kansas City as part of a prospect group to acquire Kelvin Herrera, has a career .236 minor league BA as a glove-first CF.
  • 2015: Tyler Watson LHP from Arizona. 34th rounder paid like a 4th rounder that year. Traded to Minnesota to acquire Brandon Knitzler as part of the great mid-season bullpen construction job in 2017. Pitched all of 2019 in High-A’s rotation with decent results, likely in AA in 2021. Knitzler of course ran himself out of town in mid 2018, so the team didn’t get a ton to show for this trade.
  • 2014: Jakson Reetz, C from Nebraska. Has passed through three Rule-5 drafts now and was part of the 60-man extended roster in 2020. He stepped up his power and his offense in 2019 in High-A; is he turning a corner? Re-signed as a MLFA this off-season to do his 8th pro season in our farm system.
  • 2014: McKenzie Mills LHP from Georgia. This 18th rounder blew up in the spring of 2017, dominating Low-A and getting flipped to Philadelphia to acquire Howie Kendrick. His 2018 was solid in High-A, but he struggled with the jump to AA and got released in the minor league purge of June 2020. I wonder if he’s worth a MLFA flier in 2021 for someone.
  • 2013: Drew Ward, 3B from Oklahoma. 3rd rounder who was good enough to get promoted year after year, but not to escape “org player” role. Released in the 2020 player purge.
  • 2013: Travis Ott, LHP from Pennsylvania. showed some promise in his 2nd pro season in Short-A as a 19yr old, enough so to be the secondary piece in the huge 3-team trade that netted the team Trea Turner and Joe Ross. (more on that later when we talk about Souza). He continued to pitch well in Tampa’s org, but then curiously was moved to the bullpen in 2018 and then was stuck on the restricted list in apr 2019, where he presumably remains today. No idea what happened here.
  • 2012: Lucas Giolito RHP from California. Perhaps the most controversial candidate on this list. He had TJ surgery the year he was drafted, recovered, raced through the minors and debuted for the team as a 21yr old in June of 2016. His Minor league career looked too good to be true. But, in MLB 21 innings that year he pitched to an ugly 6.75 ERA, an even worse 8.21 FIP … and then got flipped in the off-season as the centerpiece to acquire Adam Eaton from the White Sox. I hated the move when it happened. There were rumors about how the Nats talent evaluators thought that Giolito had “plateaued” or that somehow he wasn’t someone they could work with. And, to be fair, it took a full year of awfulness in the majors for the White Sox before Giolito modified his mechanics and turned into a pretty good starter. His last two seasons have been ERA+ of 134 and 128 respectively, and he’s gotten down-ballot Cy Young voting. Did the Nats give up on him too early? Yes. Did we get equivalent value in return from Eaton? No …. but it wasn’t entirely Eaton’s fault. Who could have known that Eaton would blow out his knee, which would blow out his defensive value, which was a huge reason he was such a WAR darling prior to his trade? Does the 2019 WS title make every move between 2015 and Nov 2019 worth it regardless of the transaction? Most would argue yes. Flags fly forever.
  • 2012: Hayden Jennings, OF from Louisiana; a 6th rounder that year, he lasted just two years in the system and never got out of the GCL. Seemed like a quick release frankly; I wonder if there was some off-the-field issues.
  • 2010: A.J. Cole RHP from Florida. Just could never cut it as a starter for this team, with spot start appearances across 4 MLB seasons for the Nats. Finally flipped for cash after his DFA ahead of the 2018 season when he ran out of options and the team ran out of patience. He’s bounced around since, pitching for the Yankees bullpen in 2018, getting claimed off waivers by Cleveland for 2019, then signing on as a FA for Toronto in 2020, each time putting up decent numbers as an 8th/9th inning non-closer type. Why he could never do this for us is … a mystery. Certainly we could use a competent reliever right now.
  • 2010: Robbie Ray, LHP from Arizona. A 12th rounder given 2nd round money, Ray was the centerpiece prospect in the Doug Fister 2013 trade (which shocked the baseball world and made the Nats look like a genius), then was flipped again to Arizona ahead of the 2014 season. From there he turned into a solid starter, putting up huge K/9 numbers but featuring as a guy who struggled to get through 6 innings thanks to elevated pitch counts. He’s a FA this off-season and could be a decent 4th starter for someone.
  • 2010: Bryce Harper: you could technically count Harper here since he was a HS-aged player in Juco, but it isn’t like selecting him 1-1 was any great piece of decision making on the Nats part. He was destined to be a 1st overall pick from the moment he appeared on the cover of SI as a 16-yr old.

So, in the Rizzo Era, I’d say that the most successful HS drafted player for us or any other team is clearly Lucas Giolito (even though Ray has more career bWAR), with Luzardo projecting right now perhaps as having the capabilities of supplanting him in the future.

The most successful HS drafted player for the Nats? Only three have even played a game for the Nats: Cole, Giolito and Kieboom. Read that sentence again; in a decade of drafting, just three prep-players have ever suited up for this team. I guess you’d have to say Cole has the most impact for the Nationals themselves at this point, with high hopes for Kieboom going forward.


Rizzo was named the GM in August of 2009, so technically the 2009 and prior drafts were not on his resume (yes he was involved in the 2009 draft, but it was still Jim Bowden‘s show) You can see the effect that Rizzo had on draft strategy, because prior to 2010, the team was much more apt to draft prep players. We’ll run through them below.

  • 2009: Michael Taylor, SS from Florida. Quickly converted to OF, where he was a fantastic defender who hung around for years as 4th OF for the team. Finally non-tendered this past off-season, and he’s heading to Kansas City for the 2021 season. Some were sorry to see him go; if his arb salary hadn’t inflated so much, maybe he’d still be here.
  • 2009: Roberto Perez SS from Puerto Rico. Played three minor league seasons and (in my opinion) got a quick release after a stint in 2011 at Short-A.
  • 2008: Destin Hood, OF from Alabama. The 2nd round pick played out the string in our org, then bounced around for four more years as a MLFA. In his “make or break” year as a 23yr old in AA he slashed .224/.278/.327 and his fate was sealed. Eventually got some MLB time with Miami.
  • 2008: Graham Hicks, LHP from Florida; never got out of low-A, flipped in the Gorzelanny deal, out of baseball by age 22.
  • 2008: Adrien Neito, C from Florida. Had a great-looking season in High-A as a 23rd old, then the team left him unprotected in Rule-5 and he got plucked by the White Sox. I went back and looked at my analysis of the 2013 rule-5 draft and discovered that the team was sitting at 39/40 and really didn’t have the room to protect someone like Nieto, who was considered a long-shot to get taken despite going to the AFL that year. Nonetheless, after spending all of 2014 on the 25-man roster, he was went back down and never re-appeared. He has bounced around as a MLFA ever since and is still active today.
  • 2008: J.P. Ramirez, OF from Texas. Ramirez played out his 6-years with the Nats, then jumped to indy and eventually Mexican league ball.

In 2007 alone, Bowden drafted no less than 8 prep players in the top 10 rounds. Did any of them pan out?

  • 2007 Michael Burgess OF from Florida. He was beginning to blossom in 2010 as a 21 yr old, making it to AA and playing in the AFL, so he was used as the centerpiece prospect to get Gorzelanny. He didn’t do much afterwards, bouncing around orgs and eventually going to indy ball.
  • 2007: Jake Smolinkski 3B from Illinois. Very quickly became a solid prospect, succeeding in Low-A as a 19yr old and became the centerpiece prospect sent that off-season to acquire Josh Willingham and Scott Olsen. Interestingly, he washed out of the Miami org as a MLFA, caught on with Texas and had several years as a MLB utility player with Texas and Oakland after that.
  • 2007: Steven Souza, OF from Washington State: a middling prospect for years, he started to show some serious pop as a 23yr old in High-A, culminating with a blow-up season in AAA as a 25 year old that allowed the Nats to pull off perhaps their greatest ever trade heist; packing Souza with Travis Ott and interjecting themselves into a trade between Tampa and San Diego to fleece San Diego out of two first round picks in Trea Turner and Joe Ross. Souza had his best season in 2017 for Tampa, a 3.5 win team, but has struggled with injuries
  • 2007: Derek Norris, C from Kansas. 5 seasons, 5 promotions for Norris in our system, before he was included as perhaps the 3rd piece of 4 in the Gio Gonzalez trade. Once he got to Oakland though, he blew up and had several solid seasons, even making the 2014 all star team. But he declined quickly, got moved to San Diego, then the nats re-acquired him back for Luis Avila … only to DFA him a few weeks later.
  • 2007: Josh Smoker, LHP from Georgia. Played out his string with the team without ever getting out of A-ball, then made it into the Mets’ bullpen in 2016 and 2017, where he put up below replacement level numbers.
  • 2007: Jack McGeary, LHP from Massachusetts. Paid like a mid-1st rounder in the days before bonus slots, McGeary seemed like a potential steal. Unfortunately, he just could not compete, suffering injuries multiple times. Mercifully taken in the minor league rule-5 draft by his hometown team Boston in 2013, he didn’t do much better there, eventually washing out of indy ball in 2014 as a 25-yr old.
  • 2007; PJ Dean, RHP from Texas. Looked awesome in Short-A as a 19yr old, throwing 10 starts with a 1.97 ERA. Was the lead prospect in the Willingham/Olsen trade that off-season… then, nothing. I have no idea what happened to the guy; he never played another game of baseball for the Marlins or anyone. Does anyone have any idea what happened to him?
  • 2007: Patrick McCoy LHP from Arizona; struggled as a starter early, moved to the pen, played out his string with the Nats as an org guy, signed on as a MLFA with Detroit and got a call-up where he put nearly 2.5 runners on base and was waived. Bounced around after that, never made the majors again.

It is notable that Jim Bowden nearly signed more HS players between these last two years than Rizzo has done in a decade in charge. Just a completely different mind-set of drafting.

In 2006 it was more of the same: the first 6 players he picked were all HS players.

  • 2006: Chris Marrero, OF from Florida. Made his way up to the big club in 2011 as a 22yr old, never really made it back. Was the quintessential 4-A guy for years, profiling as a corner guy w/o great defensive skills but missing the big bat.
  • 2006: Stephen Englund, OF from Washington State. Seems like a huge scouting miss; he just could not hit pro pitching. Career minor league slash line of .188/.308/.252. Cut from Low-A in 2009 after starting the season 11-101 with 48 Ks.
  • 2006: Stephen King, 3B from Florida. Played for years in the low-minors as a light-hitting infielder, eventually leaving as a 6-yr FA. Got to AA twice, was never able to even hit .200 there.
  • 2006: Colten Willems, RHP from Florida. The 1st rounder was ok his first couple of years in pro ball, never could really compete above low-A, then abruptly retired at age 21 when he struggled upon getting demoted back to Hagerstown. A huge draft bust.
  • 2006: Sean Black, RHP from New Jersey. Drafted in the 2nd round, refused to sign. Went to Seton Hall, 7th round pick by the Yankees three years later. Was a solid starter up to AA, got flipped to Cincinnati and his career fizzled.
  • 2006: Glenn Gibson LHP from New York. Had a great pro debut in Short-A as a 19yrold, then was traded to the Rays to obtain Elijah Dukes. Tampa dumped him two seasons later, and the Nats picked him back up because they liked him enough to draft him in the first place.  He didn’t go much further and was released from affiliated ball in 2011 as a 23yr old.
  • 2006: Sam Brown, RHP from North Carolina. Did not sign, went to NC State, signed with Texas, then signed as a MLFA with the Nats in 2011 after his release. Pitched one year in the Hagerstown bullpen and was done.
  • 2006: Brad Peacock, RHP from Florida. A 41st round pick selected under the previous rules of “Draft and Follow.” He was drafted in June of 2006, but not signed until May 30th of 2007. It took him a while to get going professionally, but he blew up in 2011, rising from High-A to the majors with a sterling debut. This led to him being included in the player package to acquire Gonzalez from Oakland. After a year there, he was moved again to Houston in the Jed Lowrie move, and from there he flourished in a swingman role, winning a World Series there in 2017.

In 2005, just one top-10 round HS player drafted, but a few more signed on in the later rounds.

  • 2005: Ryan DeLaughter; OF from Texas. he never really succeeeded outside of complex ball, giving Short-A a try multiple times. Hooked on briefly with Milwaukee and indy league baseball as a 22yr old.
  • 2005: Deryck Johnson, CF from Florida; this 14th rounder played just one season in rookie ball, hit .185 and was cut.
  • 2005: Michael Watkins, RHP from Rhode Island. Pitched parts of two rookie league seasons and got cut.
  • 2005: Eduardo Pichardo, RHP from Florida. This 17th rounder threw 13.2 innings across two rookie league seasons and posted a stellar 20.41 ERA and was released.
  • 2005: Brad Clark, RHP from Florida. This 19th rounder got hurt, didn’t pitch until 2007, threw 5 1/3 total innings and got cut.
  • 2005: Ryan Butchter RHP from New Jersey: signed as a 33rd rounder, somehow survived two seasons with ERAs north of 7.00, then got traded after his third pro year for Matt Avery. Avery pitched one year of relief for our AA team and got cut. Meanwhile, Butchter hung on for years, finally debuting as a 27 yr old, and then as a 29yr old rookie excelled in the San Diego bullpen.

So, in the pre-Rizzo era, who’s the most accomplished HS drafted player for any team? Best candidates are Peacock, Norris, Souza, and Taylor. I’ll go out on a limb and say its Peacock.

For just the Nats? Has to be Taylor.

Rule 5 Analysis/Prediction for 2019

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Is Sterling Sharp getting the call? Photo unk via talknats.com

Is Sterling Sharp getting the call? Photo unk via talknats.com

Welcome to the annual Rule 5 analysis post.

Lets take a look at who is eligible, who might get protected and make some predictions.  I’ve got the Nats 40-man roster at 30 now (as of 11/6/19, after all FAs and opt outs), so there’s plenty of room to add names and do their off-season work.  But, this team also needs to sign a bunch of FAs.  But there’s a slew of options-challenged players who might get waived this off-season.  So it’ll be an interesting Rule-5 year, and an interesting off-season in terms of roster manipulation.

As always, using the indispensable Nationals resource sites Draft tracker (at its new location, now maintained by Luke Erickson) and the Big Board, and then looking up candidate acquisitions made via trade, here’s some thoughts on who might merit protection.   Also incredibly useful is Roster Resource’s Nats Roster, which keeps track of options, rule-5 status and the like.

The quick Rule-5 rules for 2019; any 4-year college-aged draftee from 2016 or before who isn’t already on the 40-man roster is Rule-5 eligible this coming off season, and any high-school aged draftee/International Free Agent from 2015 or before is newly eligible this year, assuming they were at least 18 as of June 5th of that year.  There’s always a couple of guys who have specific birthdays that move them up or down one way or the other; i’ll depend on the Roster Resource rules and the Draft Tracker for exact details.

One last thing: here was our 2019 AFL Roster (also here at milb.com’s site).  Often times teams put Rule-5 guys onto AFL rosters to get one last look at them against top quality performance to see if they’re worth protecting.  Of course, this practice also puts a huge spotlight onto those players for opposing teams and their scouts…

  • Rule 5 eligible: Sterling Sharp, Nick Banks, Andrew Lee, Jakson Reetz
  • Not: Luis Garcia, Cole Freeman, Nick Raquet, Jacob Condra-Bogan, Pearson McMahon, K.J. Harrison

Newly Eligible 2016 draft College Players this year worth consideration for protection:

  • Nick Banks, 2016 4th rounder LF who ascended to Harrisburg in 2019.  Decent numbers and hit pretty consistently from High-A to AA this year, but he’s a corner outfielder who hit one homer in 45 AA games.  You need more power than that to ascend.  I mention him here b/c of draft pedigree, not because I think he’s going to be protected.  I don’t think anyone could see him sticking on a MLB roster or competing with an aging ML veteran on a non-guaranteed deal.
  • Armond Upshaw, 2016 11th round OF who is still in low-A; no jeopardy of getting picked.
  • Jack Sundberg: 2016 26th round CF who repeated high-A for the third year in a row this season; no jeopardy of getting selected.
  • Hayden Howard, 2016 12th round middle reliever who has good numbers but has never pitched above High-A ball; no real jeopardy of getting selected.
  • Ryan Williamson, 2016 15th rounder who missed two full years with injury and is only in low-A; no real jeopardy of getting selected.
  • Ben Braymer, 2016 18th rounder LHP starting pitcher who is one of the best draft picks (in terms of value vis-a-vis draft position) the team has had this decade.  He has now risen to AAA’s rotation … where he proceeded to get shelled thsi year (7.20 ERA in 13 starts).  Hard to tell if that’s the level or the PCL; i’m going to go latter since he maintained sub 3.00 ERAs at most of his stops as he ascended the minors.  I think its worth protecting a home grown lefty starter who they drafted and paid a paltry $100k signing bonus for.
  • Jacob Howell: 2016 21st rounder, missed all of 2018 with injury, pitched mostly in Low-A this year; no real jeopardy of getting selected.
  • Sterling Sharp: 2016 22nd rounder, missed a chunk of the 2019 season with injury, but improved year over year in his AA results and then went and pitched pretty well in the AFL (6 starts, 24 innings 4 runs allowed).   I think someone would take a flier on him, especially a tanking team (which now defines 1/3rd of the league).  I think he should be protected.

Its worth noting that the team already has added two guys from this class who likely would have been Rule-5 this year anyway: Tres Barrera and Jake Noll both would have otherwise been on this list.

So, two candidates from this group for me in Braymer and Sharp

 


Newly Eligible 2015 High School-age drafted players under consideration for protection

  • None

The Nats generally don’t pick HS players, so the picking here is always slim.  But we’re down to just 8 players remaining in the system at all from the 2015 draft class, and none of them were HS draftees.

Zero candidates from this group.


Newly Eligible 2015 signed IFAs under consideration for protection:

  • Brailin Mesa, a 2015 IFA DH who never came state-side and who probably was released after the 2017 season, but sometimes milb.com’s records are not up-to-date.
  • Gerald De La Cruz: also a 2015 IFA pitcher who never came stateside and has no results past 2017: like Mesa above, probably was released after the 2017 season.
  • Omar Meregildo, a 2015 IFA light hitting 3B who split time in 2019 between low- and high-A.  No real jeopardy of getting selected.
  • Gilberto Chu, an 2015 IFA RHP who has now appeared in short-season Auburn for 3 seasons running.  Good numbers, but no real jeopardy of getting selected.
  • Jhonathan German, 2015 IFA RHP closer who ascended 3 levels in 2019, ending the year in AA.  Good numbers across his career, especially once he abandoned starting.  I’d have a hard time believing he’d get picked though, with just 13 IP above A-ball.  Perhaps we revisit his candidacy next season if he continues to pitch well in AA for a team that’s always looking for relievers.
  • Felix Taveras, 2015 IFA now age 24, missed all of 2018 and threw just a handful of complex-league innings in 2019.  Not getting picked.
  • Tomas Alastre: 2015 IFA RHP starting pitcher who, inexplicably to me, has been a rotation mainstay in Hagerstown for two full seasons running despite his posting an ERA north of 5.00 consistently throughout that time period.  Is this a case where the team is just keeping him around to eat innings?  I can’t imagine that being the case with so many arms getting drafted each year.   That being said, he’s only 21, so he’s still quite young even though he’s now rule-5 eligible, but he’s at no risk of getting picked in 2019’s rule-5 draft.
  • Jhon Romero: 2015 IFA signing, trade bounty for Brandon Knitzler last year during the infamous purging of “bad apples.”  He missed most of 2019 with injury while repeating high-A; little chance of getting selected.

Zero candidates from this group.


Rule-5 Eligible hold-overs of note: 2015 or prior college draftees still hanging out in the system, or 2014 and prior HS/IFAs.

2015 Draftees

  • Rhett Wiseman, 2015 3rd round left-handed hitting OF out of Vanderbilt.  Repeated High-A in 2018 and drastically improved his OPS, but it seems to be on the back of perhaps going for more of an all or nothing approach: he increased his homer output, but also struck out 122 times in 407 PAs.  In 2019, he ascended to AA and hit just .215.  The team invested a big bonus in him, and it hasn’t panned out.  I really liked this pick at the time, but then watched him hit in the CWS that year and thought he’d have a hard time adjusting to pro pitching.  So far, my amateur observation seems to be holding true.  He seems likely to pass through Rule-5 once again and hit MLFA after 2020.
  • Ian Sagdal, 2015 16th round senior sign who has hung around, ascending to AA for 2019 and hitting decently.  He’s listed as a 1B but had just 8 homers this year; that’s not going to get him Rule-5’d.
  • Andrew Lee: 2015 11th rounder basically missed all of 2017 with injury, was decent as a swingman in Low-A in 2018, then pitched pretty well in the same swing-man role, ascending to AA in 2019.  Just a half a season above A-Ball; i still don’t see him as a candidate to get picked, but could turn into a James Bourque-like figure for this team next season if he continues to pitch well.  He was sent to the AFL, so scouts got a look at him; is this enough to expose him?
  • Tommy Peterson, 2015 12th rounder, has now missed the last two full years; he last appeared at the end of 2017.  Surprised he’s still with the organization, not a candidate to get picked.
  • Ryan Brinley, 2015 27th rounder, has also missed the entirety of the last two seasons with injury yet remains on the roster.
  • Jorge Pantoja has bounced around the A-levels for four years now, ending last year with a 2.59 ERA in High-A … his fourth year running in Potomac.  not a candidate to get picked.
  • Andrew Istler, our trade bounty from the Dodgers for Ryan Madsen.  He had very solid numbers in AA in a middle relief role, even earning a stellar AAA call-up.  He’s an undersized Duke grad, 23rd round pick who has done well.  I wonder if his pedigree makes him less likely to get picked.  In 2019, he was MIA for months, finally got assigned … to High-A despite being in AAA a couple of years ago.  He posted sub 1.00 ERAs in both his stops this year but is now a 27yr old RHP middle reliever.  If someone didn’t pick him last year, its hard to believe he’s ever going to get picked.  At age 27 with solid middle relief numbers, it isn’t out of the realm of possible though that a team could pick him and have him be their 7th man in an 8-man pen…

2014 Draftees

  • Jakson Reetz, 3rd round C from 2014.  Reetz was paid a big bonus out of HS, but has struggled for years.  In 2019, repeating high-A for the 3rd successive year he lifted his OPS above .800 in a split-duty role, and was sent to the AFL.  He only appeared in a few games in Arizona; unknown why.  Its hard to see a player getting Rule-5 drafted without having never ascended above A-Ball.
  • Austin Davidson started out as a corner OF and 13th rounder in 2014, now a light hitting middle infielder.  Started the year in AA, demoted to high-A.  Not a threat to get drafted.
  • Alec Keller: a 2014 17th rounder who has ascended now to AAA, but is a high-average, low-power corner OF who seems like a classic 6-year FA AAA player who will get one more year in Fresno in 2020.
  • Robbie Dickey, a 2014 4th rounder who now has no results for 3 successive years on milb.com; it seems likely that he got released after the 2017 season and the site just isn’t updated.
  • Tyler Mapes, a great story who continues to hang in there.  He was a 30th rounder in 2014, missed all of 2017 with injury but came back with a vengeance in 2018, dominating Potomac and holding his own with a 3.95 ERA in AA. In 2019 as a full time starter in AA he took a step back; 5.00 ERA across 26 starts, showing  hit-ability and not a ton of swing and miss.  He’s not likely to get picked, but is likely to stay in the rotation in 2020.
  • Taylor Gushue, a 2014 Draftee out of Florida who has now made his way all the way to AAA in 2018, then hit .312 as the part-time starter in Fresno this year.  I said this last year, but the lack of Catchers on the Nat’s 40-man and the fact that one of them (Raudy Read) has 63 days of service, a PED suspension and zero options seems like they should think about adding more catching depth.  I’d add Gushue … but its also worth noting that despite the catching depth issues in the sport … the fact that Gushue would have to stay on a 25-man roster all year (essentially being the backup/play twice a week guy) means it’d be a huge risk to take him.  More likely is that the Nats wait it out and he’s the first catcher to get added to provide cover for Kurt Suzuki and whoever else we sign this coming off-season.
  • Nick Wells, our trade bounty for Austin Adams at the beginning of 2019 (bet the team wishes they had that trade back; Adams struck out 51 in 31 innings for Seattle and was a solid 7th inning guy … something we could really have used … but I digress).  We got back Wells, a local kid (Battlefield HS) who for reasons unknown sat in XST for most of the summer, then got just 12 innings for Low-A Hagerstown … the same level he initially pitched in four seasons ago.   I’m sure he isn’t getting picked, but I also question what the plan is for Wells at this point.

IFAs: 2014 and older

  • Luis Reyes: finally made it to AA in 2018, and got shelled (12 starts, 5.18 ERA).  Nonetheless the team included him in their 2018 AFL roster, where he got even more shelled (4 starts, 12 innings, 22 runs allowed).  This pushed him back to Potomac for 2019, where he lost his rotation spot and struggled in middle relief.  No jeopardy of getting picked.
  • Joan Baez went 9-9 with a 3.79 ERA as a full time starter for Potomac in 2018, then moved into relief (finally) in 2019, where he moved up the chain and ended the year in AAA.  He had good numbers in AA, not as good in AAA (but who does), but concerningly had more walks than Ks in Fresno.  He’s only 24.  This team is always looking for relievers.  I wonder if he’s worth protecting at this point.
  • Telmito Agustin, a LF who hit pretty well for High-A in 2018 (OPS of .822) … then repeated the level in 2019.  Not a candidate to get picked.
  • Steven Fuentes, who forced a mid-season promotion to High-A where he posted a 3.00 ERA in 45 middle-relief type innings in 2018 … and got PED suspended in 2019.  Not a candidate
  • Gilbert Lara, the 3B prospect the Nats received from Milwaukee in the Gio Gonzalez trade.   He played all of 2018 in Low-A, then jumped up to High-A mid-2019 but is no candidate for drafting.
  • Malvin Pena basically missed two full seasons, spent entirety of 2019 in High-A’s rotation and posted an ERA north of 6.00.  Not a candidate to get picked.
  • Aldrem Corredor, a 1B who has hung around since 2012 in the system, played 2019 in high-A as a 1b for average kind of guy; not a candidate.
  • Omar Meregildo: a light hitting part time 3B who played in Potomac this year; not a candidate.
  • Angel Guillen, a RHP reliever who pushed his way up to Potomac this year with solid numbers.  I like him in 2020 to get to AA; not a candidate.

One solid candidate from this group (Gushue), two maybes (Baez, Istler)


MLFAs for 2019: 

These are 2013 or prior college draftees, or 2012 or prior HS draftees/IFA signings.

Post-2019 publishing, i’m adding a new section because  it seems like we’re going to see the following situation occur for the second time in recent memory.   Long time farmhand Mario Sanchez achieved minor league free agency at the end of the 2019 season, but apparently has been re-signed (his milb.com page lists the Nationals resigning him to a contract … but its dated in the future, 12/18/19, something i’ve never seen before).   But, if he’s re-signed as a MLFA with the team, then he has to be protected else he’d be subject to the draft.

This situation occurred a couple years back with Wander Suero, when the team selected his contract the day after the season ended upon his reaching MLFA status.

There’s a few other interesting newly-minted MLFA candidates who we’ve talked about in the past, but unless we have evidence the team re-signs them they’re not really candidates to discuss here.  Names like Drew WardJordan Mills, etc.  Perhaps even Spencer Kieboom.  But like Suero and Sanchez, if you want to keep them, you’ve got to sign them to a ML deal.

One candidate from this group: Sanchez

 


So, who would I protect?

So, remember, if someone gets drafted they have to stick on someone else’s ACTIVE, 25-man (well, now 26-man) MLB roster the entirety of 2019.  So it has to be someone who could theoretically stick on a MLB roster.

  • Ben Braymer
  • Sterling Sharp

Who would I additionally consider?

  • Taylor Gushue
  • Joan Baez
  • Andrew Istler

Here’s some other opinions in the Natmosphere on the same topic (i’ll add them as I see them):

  • Federal Baseball thinks Sharp, maybe Braymer, maybe Istler
  • TalkNats/SaoMagnifico (who’s been chatting on this post) thinks Sharp, maybe Braymer, maybe Fuentes, possibly Istler, German, Sanchez, Banks, Gushue
  • BaseballAmerica.com (via Nationalsprospects.com) thinks Sharp yes, possibly Braymer, possibly Malvin Pena (??)

For a fun trip down memory lane, here’s the same Rule 5 Protection analysis post for 20182017201620152014201320122011, and 2010.

By year, here’s who I predicted we’d add and who we did add.

San Diego; your 2020 NL West Champs

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Machado states on the West coast ... and should help SD make the playoffs really soon. Photo via Baltimore sun

Machado states on the West coast … and should help SD make the playoffs really soon. Photo via Baltimore sun

I was listening to Baseball America’s podcast this week, where they reviewed their top 30 farm system rankings, and they noted a pretty amazing stat:

13 of the last 14 Farm systems they’ve ranked #1 made the playoffs within 2 seasons of being ranked #1 … and the 14th made it within 3.

It was so amazing, I just had to go back and quantify it.  Using my Minor League System Org Rankings worksheet (which contains every ranking I can find from 2000 to present), here’s how the data stacks up:

Year#1 ranked FarmMajor Names driving #1 Rankingprev season recordNext make playoffs# yrsBest playoff finish
2001Chicago White SoxBuehrle, Garland, Rowand95-6720054WS Winner
2002Chicago CubsPrior, Wood, Zambrano88-7420031NLCS
2003ClevelandSabathia, Lee, Sizemore74-8820074NLCS
2004MilwaukeeFielder, Hardy, Weeks68-9420084LDS
2005Los Angeles AngelsWeaver, Santana, Krod92-7020072ALCS
2006ArizonaDrew, Reynolds77-8520071NLCS
2007Tampa BayLongoria, Upton, Garza61-10120081WS
2008Tampa BayPrice, Davis66-9620102LDS
2009TexasAndrus, Smoak, Feliz79-8320101WS
2010Tampa BayMoore, Cobb84-7820111LDS
2011Kansas CityHosmer, Perez, Moustakas, Ventura67-9520143WS
2012Washington pre TradeHarper, Rendon, Cole, Peacock80-8120142LDS
2012Texas Odor, Deshields, Gallo96-6620153LDS
2013St. LouisTavares, Miller, Wacha, Martinez88-7420141NLCS
2014PittsburghCole, Polanco94-6820151NLWC
2015Chicago CubsBryant, Soler, Baez, Schwarber73-8920161WS Winner
2016Los Angeles DodgersSeager, Bellinger, Urias92-7020171WS
2017AtlantaAcuna, Swanson, Albies, Camargo68-9320181LDS
2018AtlantaAcuna, Gohara, Wright, Toussant72-90tbdtbdtbd
2019San DiegoTatis, Gore, Urias, Mejia66-96tbdtbdtbd

Sure enough … every team who has been ranked by BA as the #1 farm system since 2005 has made the playoffs within 2 years, with the exception of Kansas City … who made it in 3 years and actually WON the World Series on the backs of their #1 rank-driving players.  You’ll notice I put in two rankings in 2012: that was the year that the Nats were ranked #1 … then traded a ton of their depth for Gio Gonzalez and got dropped 10 points in-between the time that Baseball America published their annual rankings and they posted their rankings online … so technically the Nats qualify here, but after that big trade Texas ascended to #1.

Pretty amazing stat.

So, with the Padres ranked #1 right now … and having just added one of the best players in the game … its a good assumption that they’re back in the playoffs just as soon as their top-end prospects matriculate.  Do I really think they can overcome the high-spending Dodgers to actually WIN the division?  A tougher call; they’re going to need to commit to spending what it takes (in terms of dollars or prospects) to fill holes.

 

Written by Todd Boss

February 20th, 2019 at 11:44 am

Pitchers and Catchers reporting for 2019 … here’s an “all FA Team”

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Still waiting. Photo via fanragsports.com

Still waiting. Photo via fanragsports.com

Unbelievably, its now mid February, pitchers and catchers are reporting to Spring Training … and the two best FAs and two of the best players in the game remain unsigned.

If there was ever a sign that baseball’s collective pay system is broken, we’re seeing it.  An amazing combination of tanking, salary cap, poor CBA negotiating and GMs too smart for their own good has the game barrelling towards a large, ugly work stoppage in a few years time.  But we have to get there first.

Here’s my all-still unemployed team.  Every one of these players is unsigned as of the date/time i’m writing this and per mlbtraderumors: https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2016/12/2018-19-mlb-free-agents.html

How many games do you think this team wins?

  • Catcher: Matt Wieters starting with A.J. Ellis backing him up (post publishing correction per comments; Ellis has retired so we’ll go with Evan Gattis as the backup/DH).  Poor defense, but halfway decent offense based on 2018 numbers.
  • 1B: Logan Morrison: he fell off a cliff in 2018, but had an OPS+ of 133 in 2017.  Bet on a rebound.
  • 2B: Josh Harrison.  2 time all star, solid player.
  • SS: Manny Machado
  • 3B: Mike Moustakas: four straight years of above MLB average production.
  • LF: Carlos Gonzalez: would you bet against CarGo with a chip on his shoulder?
  • CF: Adam Jones: maybe he can’t really play CF anymore, but he can still play
  • RF: Bryce Harper
  • Utility: Marwin Gonzalez: can play 6 positions, hits the ball and isn’t 30 yet.  Why is he still a FA?

Lots of power potential here: I’d go Harrison, Machado, Harper, CarGo, Jones, Morrison, Moustakas, Wieters and Pitcher.

My Rotation?

  • #1: Dallas Keuchel
  • #2 Gio Gonzalez
  • #3: Clay Buchholz
  • #4: Ervin Santana
  • #5: Yovani Gallardo

That rotation is better than 10 teams’ rotations right now.

bullpen?

  • Closer: Craig Kimbrel
  • Setup: Jim JohnsonSergio Romo
  • RH middle relief: Bud NorrisAJ Ramos
  • LH middle relief: Xavier CedenoAaron Loup

————-

Is that a lot of talent still waiting to be signed?  I think so.  I still count at least 15 starters who could impact nearly any team in the league on the bench.  its just crazy.

 

Anibal Sanchez as #4 starter; I like the risk

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Sanchez joins the Nats on a 2 year deal. photo Atl official via ESPN

Sanchez joins the Nats on a 2 year deal. photo Atl official via ESPN

 

Well, now we can have the argument; was the Tanner Roark salary dump worth it?  Because just a few days later the team signed his replacement; Anibal Sanchez last night to a  deal to be his replacement.  Contract details are a bit complicated by the reports i’ve seen: 2 guaranteed years, $19M of guaranteed money, with $6M deferred and a 2021 option worth $12M, and some unspecified details that could add $4M to the package.

From what I can tell, the luxury tax implications are just the guarantees; $19M over two years means $9.5M of a luxury tax hit this season … which is almost identical to the $9.8M we’d been using to project Roark.

So, is the team better off?  Probably.  Roark has had flashes of brilliance (2014 and 2016) … but his last two years he was losing velocity and had plateaued as a slightly below league average pitcher.   Despite being much younger, we all kind of saw where he seems to be going, and the team clearly didn’t think his potential performance was worth the money.

Sanchez was a solid, familiar opponent in our division for years, always a solid competitor, an under the radar solid rotation piece.  He was god-awful in the AL, then suddenly found a new pitch and a new approach upon returning to the NL and pitched like a #2 starter most of last season.

So the Nats are betting on his 35-year old resurgence continuing, and paying him for it.

Implications for the team:

40-man: this is the 40th guy on the 40 man; the next move requires us to cut loose someone.

Salary Cap: We’re basically treading water from where we were a week ago; i’ve got the team at $188.8M in luxury tax dollars for fy2019, versus a cap of $206M, still leaving $17.6M of room.  I’ve seen other reports saying the Nats are now above $200M for the year and I don’t really see how people are arriving at that conclusion:

  • $134M for 12 signed players for 2019
  • $32.75M estimate for 6 arb eligible players
  • $4.6M for the other 7 pre-arb players that will make up the rest of the 25-man roster
  • $2.25M for the other 15 guys on the 40-man in the minors
  • $14.5M for benefits

That totals $188.8M, leaving the $17.6M of room.  I know some people want to use “real” dollars instead of lux tax dollars, but the difference really isn’t that much.

Rotation: obviously this bumps Erick Fedde to AAA, where he probably should be.   This makes for a pretty solid rotation improvement over where we were yesterday.   I’m not sure where this places the Nats rotation in the pantheon of the league right now; i have a worksheet that I’ll turn into a blog post that ranks them 1-30 once the remaining impact starters sign (Dallas KeuchelYusei KikuchiWade Miley, Gio Gonzalez, Drew Pomeranz, Mike Fiers, etc).  But I think there’s a clear top 5 of rotations in the league in some order: Chicago Cubs, Boston, Washington, Cleveland and the Dodgers.  Right now i’ve got them roughly ranked in that order.  This move bumped up the Nats a couple of slots by replacing a sub-#5 starter in Fedde with at least a #3 quality guy.

Verdict; I think they did pretty darn good considering what’s out there and what they have to work with.   I’ll take Sanchez and his 2018 performance as my 4th starter any day.  The question is … is it sustainable?  Is it a one-off?  Scouting reports seem to indicate he found a new pitch and worked it heavily, but that his numbers had some luck involved w/r/t BABIP and soft contact.  He’s also 35, so we’re counting on an older guy to continue a sustained late-career surge.  Kinda like what the Dodgers have done with Rich Hillso it isn’t out of the realm of possible.

Patrick Corbin; that’s one way to go to address the 2019 Rotation

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Nats make as big of a splash in FA as they can. Photo via getty images

Nats make as big of a splash in FA as they can. Photo via getty images

Was walking into dinner last night and happened to glance at RSS sports feed … and saw this shockerPatrick Corbin signs with the Nats.  6yrs/$140M.

And my first reaction was this: wow, the Nats just beat out the frigging New York Yankees for a player.  In the FA market, straight up.  Wow.  Reports from earlier in the day had indicated Corbin was down to just the Yanks and the Nats and I figured, “well, he’s on record saying he has dreamed about playing in New York, oh well.”  Then a few hours later he’s wearing a Washington hat.

I have a few immediate thoughts on this.  Negative and positive.

  • Its not my money, but $23M/year AAV does seem like a lot for a guy who posted a 5.15 ERA just two years ago.
  • Its also a ton of money to commit to a player who really has only performed like a real Ace worthy of this level of financial commitment for one year.
  • That being said, he’s in-arguably the best pitcher on the FA market and the Nats got him.  Before the winter meetings even.
  • He’s a lefty too, nicely replacing the near replacement-level we got out of Gio Gonzalez this past year.
  • I daresay he might now be the best 3rd starter in the majors.   Houston’s rotation is half out the door in FA, Cleveland’s rotation is in the process of getting dismantled this off-season.
  • Its worth mentioning that Corbin has been pitching in one of the better hitter’s park in the majors … and probably will benefit and get a bump in numbers by moving to the NL East and moving to a more neutral park in Nationals park.
  • We get his age 29-34 seasons.  That’s not too bad honestly, given what we know about player decline.  He’s got less than 1,000 MLB innings on his arm, which is not a ton by age 28.  By way of comparison, Max Scherzer had 1,017 MLB innings through his own age 28 season.
  • Corbin is also the kind of guy who seems like he’d age gracefully, in a similar fashion to a guy like Tom Glavine.  He doesn’t depend on a ton of velocity (vFA in 2018 of 91.3).  Something obviously clicked with him in 2018 because his K rate skyrocketed, his walk rate fell, the value of his slider exploded, and he seemed to add a curve to his repertoire.  He’s already had his Tommy John, so that’s nice that he’s gotten that out of the way.
  • Is this yet another Rizzo-to-Arizona connection?   Maybe not: he was drafted in 2009 by the Angels, traded to Arizona in 2010 by which time Rizzo was in Washington.  Hopefully we’re now completely out of that cynical view of player acquisition from Rizzo’s background.

Speaking of, Mike Rizzo is being incredibly aggressive this off-season.  For all the concerns we may have had about Bryce Harper‘s signing possibly gumming up the works … this team is moving.   We had three-to-four major issues this off-season:

  • Catcher; he’s signed two guys, including the 2018 AL All-star
  • Starters: he’s signed the best available hurler.
  • 2B: nothing yet … but this was always going to be the easiest position to fill in FA thanks to a glut of available players
  • Relievers: he’s traded for a solid middle-relief RHP and has signed a high-upside former dominant closer to a reasonable contract.

Other information about this transaction that may have other implications:

  • Nats roster now at 38/40.  Still room on the broom.
  • Payroll implications: before this move I had the team with $43.8M available under the luxury cap.   This moves cuts them to about $20.5M under the cap.  I’ve read stuff in the press saying the team wants to stay a bit under the cap to allow for mid-season upgrades … so maybe we’ll see another $10-$15M in spending.  That should be enough to buy what they still need:
    • 5th starter reclamation projects
    • starting 2B (Marwin Gonzalez, Lowrie, LeMahieu, Dozier, Kinsler, Phillips, WalkerDaniel Murphy?).  Lots of options, not all of which will cost a lot
    • lefty bench bat (Justin Bour?  just got non-tendered, is from the area, would fit in perfectly)
  • This move will shred the 2019 draft for this team, costing them their second- and fifth-highest picks (as well as $1 million in international bonus pool money).  Poor cap management comes back to bite them.  Definitely an “all-in move” throwing draft caution to the wind.  They better really hit on that 4th round comp pick 🙂 (update: well technically if Harper leaves, then that 4th round comp pick would be the 5th highest pick … so it’d instantly disappear like it never got awarded.  Just to clarify).
  • Rotation now projected to be Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin, Ross and Roark.  All 5 with guaranteed deals, four of them with 8-figure deals likely for 2019.  No room for Erick Fedde here, despite his Winterfest statements.  That’s got to be a tough nut to swallow for him, even given the fact that he hasn’t really earned it.  But, as we all know teams end up giving starts to 8-9 guys generally, and he’s first in line right now, so he still has hope.  But our SP depth is ugly: Fedde, Voth, McGowin, fresh-from-the-Mexican-league Henderson Alvarez, and then whatever MLFA reclamation project we can find in the Jeremy Hellickson ilk.  I do think this signing makes it a lot tougher for the Nats to find this role since they really can’t promise that player a non-injury shot at a 5th starter 25-man role.  So we’ll be looking at players who will be willing from the go to accept an AAA assignment … and one in Fresno to boot.

Any other thoughts?  Is this the move that pushes the team back to the top of the NL East and really makes them a contender in 2019?

My official take: the Nats bought the best arm they could.  This is better than the alternatives they faced this off-season.  It only cost them money, not more prospects, and in that respect its a complete win.  They’re using the payroll that they earned by virtue of 2018 expiring contracts well.

Does this move preclude them now from signing Harper?  Well, unless the team plans on trading away Scherzer … it should.   Or if the Lerners decide to go Boston-style and really blow out payroll and say “F it completely,” then they still can (and always could).  But if i’m Scott Boras i’m kinda shaking in my boots today, knowing that the likelihood of Harper’s baseline pillow 10yr/$300M deal from this team is likely gone.

2018 Non-Tender Decisions

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Roark is the big decision the team faces. Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

Roark is the big decision the team faces. Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

Its that time of the year as noted.  Lets get right to it.

Nats have 7 arbitration-eligible players.   Four of them are no-brainers to tender and negotiate with in Arbitration.  2019 salary guesses are MLBtraderumor estimates that are now pretty well accepted as the best analysis estimates out there.  I feel like the Nats are a bit generous and usually end up paying slightly more than their estimates, but these will work for now.

Arbitration Eligible Player2018 salary/contract2019 estimate
Rendon, Anthony1 yr/$12.3M (18)$17.6M
Turner, Trea1 yr/$0.5772M (18)$5.3M
Ross, Joe1 yr/$0.5679M (18)1.5M
Barraclough, Kyle1yr/$1.9M (18)$1.9M

Joe Ross at $1.5M could be an absolute steal and could be a factor in consideration for Tanner Roark‘s decision later on.  If Ross returns to his 2016 form for this salary we’ll be in great shape for next year’s playoff race.  Rendon and Turner are obvious players to continue with, and/or to consider some longer term contract negotiations with.  Lastly, the team just traded for Barraclough, he’s relatively affordable, and will be a key arm in the 2019 bullpen, so he’s not going anywhere.

Lets talk about the more iffy candidates:

Arbitration Eligible Player2018 salary/contract2019 estimate
Roark, Tanner1 yr/$6.475M (18)$9.8M
Taylor, Michael1 yr/$2.525M (18)$3.2M
Solis, Sammy1 yr/$0.5603M (18)$900k

First, i’ll just say this: I feel like the team is going to tender Michael A Taylor  He’s got too much value  as a defender, his projected salary in the $3.2M range is going to be better than projections for similar outfielders on the market … but he’s 27 not 33, plays Gold Glove-calibre defense and has shown some flashes of capability at the plate.  I think he makes perfect sense as a 4th outfielder.

I also don’t think i’m going out on a limb saying that its likey that Sammy Solis has thrown his last pitch for the team.  He was patently awful in 2018, couldn’t get lefties out at all, and even though his projected salary is a pittance ($900k), his big limiting factor is his lack of options.  He burned his last minor league option in 2018, so if he can’t make the team he’s gonna get DFA’d anyway.  Might as well get it out of the way now and clear the roster spot.

So, lets get to the main discussion item.  What to do with Tanner Roark?  He’s projecting to a $9.8M salary in his last year of Arbitration.  That’s a hefty sum.  He was fantastic as a starter for this team in 2014 and 2016.  He struggled when the team jerked around his role in 2015.  And the last two seasons he’s essentially been a just-slightly-worse-than-average MLB starter.  Sounds like a classic 4th starter type.  So is a 4th starter worth $9.8M?

He’s not getting any younger; he’ll be playing in his age 32 season next year.  He’s trending the wrong way; you can easily make the argument that the odds of him being more 2018 next year than 2016 are high.

So the real question is this: can you replace him in the trade market or in Free Agency and find someone comparable?   There havn’t been many signings thus far to use as a barometer for this off-season, but one stuck out in my mind; CC Sabathia.  Sabathia is older, fatter, and better.  And he signed for $8M.  All the projections for 4th/5th starter types seem to be falling in the $6M AAV range.

Unfortunately for the team; they’ve basically shredded the top of their starting pitcher prospect ranks in trades lately so they have no real options for internal replacement here.  If you non-tender Roark, then w/o additional acquisitions your 2019 Rotation is:

  • Scherzer, Strasburg, Joe Ross, Erick Fedde, and Jefry Rodriguez with Austin Voth and Kyle McGowin in AAA.

That’s two aces and 5 question marks.  TJ surgery recovery rates are now in the 80% I believe … but Ross won’t be throwing more than 160 innings or so in 2019.  Does anyone here Fedde is ready to be anything other than a spot-starter?  Same with the others.  The Nats are already looking at buying at least 2 starters on the open market (to replace Gio Gonzalez and to compete for 5th starter in a Jeremy Hellickson– type signing).  If you cut Roark loose … you have to buy another starter.  (or trade for one of course … but at this point does anyone have the stomach to part with any more top prospects?)

So if you non-tender Roark, you lose a guy who has never gotten hurt, answers the bell, eats innings and can be pretty dominant.  Isn’t that what you want in a solid 4th starter?   What are you going to get on the FA market for that price that’s better?

If it were me, i’d tender him.

Prediction: only Solis is non-tendered.

Actual tender results for 2018:  all arb-eligible players tendered.  Solis (the one we thought was in most jeopardy) negotiated a contract ahead of time.  1 yr, $850k so just slightly below MLBtraderumor’s estimate.  If he flails in spring training the Nats can cut him in mid March for just 1/6th of $850k or just $141k guaranteed.  Not a bad deal.

 


Here’s a great history of the Nats non-tender deadline decisions over the years, research I first did for last year’s post and which I’ll keep carrying forward.

  • 2018: no-one non-tendered (Roark, Taylor, Solis all candidates in one form or another).  Solis negotiated a contract pre-deadline leading to his tender.
  • 2017: No non-tender candidates; all arb-eligible players tendered contracts at the deadline.
  • 2016: we non-tendered Ben Revere, waived Aaron Barrett before having to make the NT decision, and declined Yusmeiro Petit‘s option as a way of “non-tendering” him.
  • 2015: we non-tendered Craig Stammen, but kept NT candidates Jose Lobaton and Tyler Moore (eventually trading Moore after waiving him at the end of spring training).
  • 2014: we did not non-tender anyone, though a couple weeks later traded NT candidate Ross Detwiler to Texas for two guys who never really panned out for us (Chris Bostick and Abel de los Santos).
  • 2013: we did not non-tender anyone, only Ross Ohlendorf was a candidate, and in retrospect he probably should have been NT’d since he didn’t throw a pitch for the Nationals in 2014.
  • 2012: we non-tendered three guys (Jesus FloresTom Gorzelanny, John Lannan) in the face of a huge amount of arbitration players (10).
  • 2011: we non-tendered Doug Slaten deservedly, but tendered candidate Gorzellany.
  • 2010: we non-tendered Chien-Ming WangWil Nieves, Joel Peralta.  We also outrighted 5 guys prior to the NT deadline, DFA’d two more in December, and DFA/dreleased four more guys prior to Spring training in a very busy off-season.
  • 2009: we non-tendered Scott Olsen, Mike MacDougal
  • 2008: we non-tendered Tim Redding, now the Pitching coach for our Auburn Short-A team, so I guess there was no hard feelings there 🙂
  • 2007: we non-tendered Nook LoganMike O’Conner.
  • 2006: we non-tendered or declined options for Ryan Drese, Brian Lawrence, Zach Day (it might have only been Day who was officially non-tendered)
  • 2005: we non-tendered Carlos BaergaPreston WilsonJunior Spivey.

 

Ask Collier: first mailbag of the 2018-19 off-season!

44 comments

 

The off season all revolves around Harper.  Photo via GQ Magazine

The off season all revolves around Harper. Photo via GQ Magazine

Hey there!  If its the Nat’s off-season, it must mean mail bag time.  We havn’t seen one from MLB.com beat reporter Jamal Collier in a while (what, was he busy or something? 🙂 but now we get one with some good discussion-generating questions.

Here’s how i’d answer the questions he took.


 

Q: As a fan of the great outfield we had at the end of the year. Are the Nationals considering trading Adam Eaton if they resign Bryce Harper?

A: Indeed, an outfield of Soto, Eaton, and Harper is pretty awesome, if (biiiiig if) all are healthy and producing at optimal levels.  And the on top of that we have a top-5 prospect in all of baseball Victor Robles who no longer can be kept in the minors.  So that’s four solid players who all would start for any team in this league on one team.  So what do we do?

Well … only one of these four guys is a Free Agent: Harper

And, only one of these guys is projected to make a ridiculous, franchise altering amount of money in free agency: Harper.

Harper has played for 7 nearly full-seasons: he has a total bWAR figure for his career is 27.4.   That’s an average of 3.9 bWAR per season.  Yes he had a monster 10 win season in his MVP season of 2015, but he’s also lost huge portions of several seasons to injury.  And that has to be part of the conversation when you consider whether you commit $200M to him for the next 7 years.

For me the answer is easy.  Juan Soto will make the MLB minimum (or near to it) next year; call it $600k.  He generated 3.0 bWAR in 116 games, which projects to a 4.1 Win season with 162 games.  I’d rather pay Soto $600k to give the team the same expected level of production as Harper would for 30-TIMES more money.   You let Harper walk, you go to war in 2019 with Soto in left, Robles in center, Eaton in right, finally have three outfields all in the “right” positions defensively, and then deal with a 4th outfielder from internal candidates.

NOW.  Letting a tranformative player like Harper go is … well its an “above the GM” decision.  Not only because of the impact on payroll, but because of his role with the team.  He’s a massively marketable star, transformative not just for the team but for the sport of professional baseball.  His $30M/year salary (or whatever he wants) is not just about payroll; you can’t put a price tag on the marketability of a player of his stature and what it means for the team.  He puts “butts in the seats.”  He is in national commercial ad campaigns.  He’s a foil (for better or for worse) across the sport.  Do you just let a guy like this walk?  They’re getting basically *nothing* back for him (a compensation pick between the 4th and 5th rounds, thanks to the criminally poor job the team did in managing the luxury cap over the last two years), so that barely factors into the discussion.

Now, lets say, for the sake of argument, that the team does re-sign Harper.  Yeah for me, if you re-sign Harper, you’re going to have to move either Eaton or Robles.  So … which do you move?   Eaton, like Harper, has been just crushed by injury the last two years, producing a fraction of his value the 3 years prior.  So even though he’s still quite affordable, trading him this off-season would be trading pretty low.  Robles is still the unknown; yeah he’s an amazing prospect, but is he going to have a Juan Soto-like 2019?  Robles can be the centerpiece of a trade that could return a significant player in an area of need for this team (mid-level Starter or quality starting Catcher).  Would you prefer to go that route?

For me; i’m on record.  I want to part ways with Harper, field a starting OF that costs less than half of a one-year Harper salary figure and allocate his projected payroll towards other areas of need.

Collier echos my concerns about trading Eaton low, but also notes that … well this is THE decision that the team faces, probably the biggest one in a decade.  We can’t know until the Harper decision is made.


Q: What’s Michael A. Taylor’s future with this team?

A: For me, despite Michael Taylorawesome 2017 season, he’s reverted back to form.  He’s a 4th outfielder.  Great defensively, poor offensively.  Can play all three OF positions, plays CF excellently.  But he still strikes out 33% of the time and cannot be trusted.  After his 2018, its not like he has real trade value, and he’s now also arbitration eligible so he’s not exactly cheap.  Is he a non-tender candidate?  Probably not, but assuming the team goes with my plan of letting Harper walk and going with a starting OF of Soto-Robles-Eaton, then for me Taylor is an ideal 4th and competes in the spring with Andrew Stevenson for that role.  He should win it, then be coupled with a corner-OF bench bat type who can play LF in a pinch.

Honestly, you learned everything you needed to know by looking at the amount of playing time Taylor got this past September once Robles came up.  Almost none.

Now, if the team reasigns Harper?  I don’t think much changes; the team moves either Eaton or Robles, still leaving Taylor as the 4th.

Collier thinks they’ll explore moving him “before his trade value falls anymore.” Uh … too late dude!


 

Q: Who are the free agent starting pitchers that Nationals will attempt to sign?

A: Taking a quick gander at the list of available starters …  there’s all kinds of interesting names.  Who knows who they may end up with.

Lets start with, what do they need?  They’re keeping Scherzer, Strasburg, Roark, and Ross.  They can either go to war with a 5th starter like Fedde or McGowin or Voth or Jefry Rodriguez, or look at free agency to improve the back end.  I’d love to get a 3rd starter-quality guy to slot in behind the big two, then hope for a better season from Roark (something closer to 2016 than 2018), and hope for Ross to come back to what we know he’s capable of.  That’s a potentially solid rotation for me.

We also might be focusing on a lefty, since Gio Gonzalez was our only lefty starter.  But I don’t think that should be a huge factor honestly.  The team needs to find the best value and availability.

I don’t see them pursuing a $20M/year guy.  Not with the amount of money already going to their two #1 starters and certainly not given the possibilty of their re-signing Harper.

So, lets think about middle-of-the road lefty veteran starters.  How about someone like a Jaime Garcia, or Hyung-Jin Ryu?

If they can’t land a lefty, there’s a slew of interesting names out there that are righties.  I like Nathan EovaldiWade Miley, Garrett Richards.

Collier hedges and says the obvious; we won’t know until they decide what they’re doing with Harper.  Yeah i get it.  He mentions that Patrick Corbin is probably out of the conversation (duh; he’ll be like the 4th most expensive player this off-season) and mentions re-upping with Jeremy Hellicksonwhich I don’t think happens b/c he pitched himself into a decent sized contract..  Its also worth mentioning; maybe the team goes the trade route, which opens up the realm of possibles to half the league’s starters if they’re willing to give up Robles or Carter Kieboom in trade.


 

Q: At what point will the Nats start looking for a more durable first baseman? Zim has averaged only 100 games a season over the last five years.

A:  Uh, the second Ryan Zimmerman isn’t guaranteed 8 figures a year?  And, by the way, what is this guy missing with the current roster construction?  We were nearly to the point of an 1980s Orioles John Lowenstein/Gary Roenecke type platoon this year between Zimmerman and the lefty hitting Matt Adams.  The team is already mitigating Zimmerna’s annual health issues with a backup.

And guess what?  They’ll do it again this off-season.  Look for the team to sign another Adams clone, someone like Lucas Duda or Steve Pearce or Pedro Alvarez.  Heck, maybe they’ll re-sign Adams.

Collier basically says the same thing I did.


Q: Will Riz let Difo and Kieboom fight it out for 2b in spring training or will he look for a veteran 2b, using Kendrick in a super utility role?

A: The question probably should have read: “Wil Rizzo let Difo and Howie Kendrick fight it out…”  Because Kieboom aint’ making this team in 2019.  For one, he’s never played 2B professionally.  Not that its a heavy lift going from SS to 2B (it isn’t) .. but he’s also just 60-some games removed from A-Ball.  Kieboom needs to go from the AFL back to AA and return his OPS figures back to the .880 level before even being considered for AAA.

Honestly, I think the team goes with Kendrick (assuming he’s recovered from his bad achilles injury) as the starter, with Difo as the utility guy.  Thanks to Kendrick’s injury and Daniel Murphy‘s prolonged recovery, Difo was essentially a starter this year.  And he did not impress, his average dropping 40 points from where it was last year.  I think that cements his status as a backup utility infielder who can cover middle infield positions in a pinch.  I’m glad we have someone on the bench who can at least hit at a 75 OPS+ figure; lets not push it.

That being said, for me Kieboom is the future here.  I think he might be ready after a half a season, and at that point you bring him up and slot him in at 2B.  He could eventually move to 3B if the team cannot retain Anthony Rendon, or can stay at 2B and be a Jeff Kent-style slugger.  I’d love to see that come together and have him join Soto and Robles as the core of the next generation of this team.

Collier thinks the team might look elsewhere for a starting 2B.  I think they can make-do from within and not waste money chasing another  Murphy replacement.

 

Braves at Nats: this is the 2018 season-deciding series

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Can Milone get another win? Photo: Tom Priddy/Four Seam Images/milb.com

Can Milone get another win? Photo: Tom Priddy/Four Seam Images/milb.com

So, despite winning 5 of 6 over the past week against two teams that havn’t really been trying for years, the Nats …. failed to make up a single game on Philly and head into the Atlanta series 6 games out.

That’s because Philly was also playing a team that isn’t really trying (Miami), and just finished off a nifty 4-game sweep at home.

But hey, at least the Nats scored 3 touchdowns in a game, driving their RS/RA average so far up that now by Pythagorean record they’re leading the division by two games!  You know, in that fantasy world of stat nerds that nobody cares about but which I’ve been guilty of pointing at myself and saying, “See!  they’re just unlucky and will win more soon!”

So here it is.  I’ve already basically written off the season … but hey, maybe if the team plays a 22-7 August … and both Atlanta and Philly scuffle along at .500 … they can get close.  But to play a 22-7 august … they need to take 3 of 4 against Atlanta this week.

Here’s the pitching match-ups they’ll go to war with:

  • Game 1: Max Fried versus Jefry Rodriguez.  Hmm.  Not a good start, having to call up a guy who has now fallen behind Tommy Milone on the depth chart.  I see the Braves jumping out to a quick 4 run lead and the “veteran leadership” packing it in early to regroup for the nightcap.
  • Game 2: Sean Newcomb vs Max Scherzer.  Scherzer will probably be unhittable, but Newcomb nearly threw a no-hitter against the Dodgers his last time out.  I see this as a close Nats win.
  • Game 3: Mike Foltynewicz vs Tommy Milone: Atlanta’s best pitcher in 2018 versus the Nats … #10 starter?  #9?  Foltynewicz has already started against the Nats four times, throwing a 2-hit shutout against them in June (albeit in Atlanta).  Odds are he’ll give up a few runs on the road against the Nats … can Milone keep up his magic show?
  • Game 4: Anibel Sanchez vs Gio Gonzalez.  Sanchez has been pretty good.  Gio has not.   Any guesses how I think this one will go?

So, you squint at these match-ups and … well a series split seems like an optimistic outcome.  Frankly, I could see just winning the Scherzer start and the other starters getting bombed by Atlanta’s youthful, powerful lineup.

The Phillies head to Arizona (tough), then to San Diego (not so tough) … but a 2-2 or even a 1-3 series here could really spell the end of it.

how are you feeling, heading into this series?

 

 

Written by Todd Boss

August 6th, 2018 at 4:33 pm

Strasburg to DL again; is this the official white flag?

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"My Neck hurts." "Oh yeah, something always frigging hurts with you, you snowflake." -- photo via WP

“My Neck hurts.” “Oh yeah, something always frigging hurts with you, you snowflake.” — photo via WP

At some point, you have to stop performing CPR and just call it.

I wonder if we’re at that point.  Today we learned that #2 starter Stephen “the Orchid” Strasburg is heading back to the D/L for what will be his 50th* career D/L trip (* estimated).  I just don’t see how this team goes on the run it needs without one of its best starters.

Even given Tanner Roark‘s wonderful start yesterday, the team (as of this writing) sits at 50-51.  They’re 7 games out of the Division lead, 5.5 games out of the WC, and face a massive uphill climb to make the playoffs.

To get to 90 wins (often regarded in the 2-wild card system as the minimum you’ll need) the team needs to go 40-21 in its remaining games.  That’s a .622 W/L percentage.  I suppose they could go on a 20-7 rampage like they did in May and make it up… but it seems less likely the longer this season goes along.

Of their remaining 61 games…

  • 7 against Atlanta
  • 9 against Philly
  • 7 against the Cubs
  • 7 against the Cardinals
  • 3 more against Milwaukee
  • 3 in Colorado to end the season

So that’s 36 of the remaining 61 games against teams that I think are patently better than us.  And we’ll have to play .622 ball against them AND hold serve against the scrubs we’re playing too.

Oh, and now we’re doing it with, by my count, our #9 starter in Tommy Milone called up.  Scherzer, Strasburg, Gio, Roark, Hellickson, Fedde, JRodriguez, Voth ahead of him in the pecking order.  I’m sure things will go great; lest you forget, Milone’s ERA in 2017 was 8.56 in 27 innings.  Actually, with an ERA like that, he’ll fit right into this team.

So yes, the Braves have scuffled recently and the Phillies are treading water.  And yes our Pythag record shows we’re better than 50-51.  All fair points.  But we’re nearly to August and are still playing .500 ball, with no signs of getting better.

And, as become apparent this week, thanks to the Nats doing such a bang-up job with payroll management this year, they snuck over the luxury tax threshold so the comp pick they’ll get for a once-in-a-generation player leaving next year via FA in Bryce Harper will be … voila!  A supplemental 4th rounder??  Are you frigging kidding me?  That’s all we’ll get by offering him a Qualifying Offer??  Wow, that Matt Wieters contract just keeps looking better and better doesn’t it?  I sure hope Scott Boras enjoys the boat he bought off of that commission that he screwed the Nats out of.  Can someone change the Lerner’s cell phone number so Boras can’t go over Mike Rizzo‘s head to make bad deals any more?

Nats should trade Harper and hope to get a MLB top 100 pick for the rental.  They should also shop around basically every other guy set to leave in FA.  That means Murphy, Gio, Madsen, Wieters, Kelley, heck lets through in Benoit and Reynolds and Adams and all the one-year MLFAs we’ve got too.   Its bargain basement shopping time in DC.  First come, first served.

Will this leadership team admit defeat and make these trades?  Probably not.  They’ll probably do something dumb in the next few days like trade a top prospect for 2 months of a dead-arm starter or a catcher we can just go buy next off-season with the $80M of saved payroll.   They’ll leverage the farm system yet again so they can be an 86 win team instead of an 81 win team.

But I could be wrong.  We’ll see what happens.

ps: I managed to write this whole post without mentioning the manager.  My stance is as clear now as it was the day they let Dusty Baker go, and nothing that Dave Martinez has done has made me think that he was in any way a better choice to manage this team and this set of players in the year 2018.  Any argument about the manager is tough to quantify … i prefer arguments I can back up with stats frankly, so my opinion on his handling of veterans, of Ryan Zimmerman, of the bullpen, of baserunning strategy, of lineup-construction, and of his seeming inability to stand up to the veterans on this team will stay with me.