Nationals Arm Race

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

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Nats Winter Meetings Preview

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Winter Meetings 2016

Winter Meetings 2016 … here in DC!

As requested from Dr. Cane in the comments, lets chat about what we may see transpire at the upcoming Winter Meetings.  This year’s Winter meetings are a week from now, running from Sunday 12/4/16 to 12/8/16 at the Gaylord Hotel in the National Harbor.  I’m halfway curious to drive over there to witness the “scene” in the lobby/hotel bar, having read about/listened to multiple podcasts over the years describing how these meetings work.  On the other hand, I’m sure I wouldn’t appreciate it if some nerd was hanging around my office while I was trying to get work done, so maybe not :-)

In this space we’ve talked about a couple of items related to what we may see transpire in DC in the next week:

We still have some significant issues to address on the roster.  How many will we see resolved at these meetings?  Here’s some of the rumors (two good links: mlbtraderumors.com FA predictions and BleacherReports predictions)  I’ve been hearing about as they relate to the obvious holes we have to fill; apparently the Nats and Mike Rizzo are expected to be “aggressive” this winter.  I’ll take them position by position:

Center Field/Outfield

  • One rumor has the Nats moving Bryce Harper to center and buying one of the big corner OF bats on the market.  Jose Bautista or Brandon Moss.  Josh Reddick was an early name but he got snapped up quickly.  Carlos Gomez could be an interesting name.
  • I’ve read that the team will splash out cash for Yoenis Cespedes and really “go for it” during the Harper window.
  • Mark Zuckerman recently reported that Ben Revere basically played with a bum shoulder the whole season and the team may very well tender him and go into 2017 with him as the starter.
  • I’ve heard the Nats associated with Andrew McCutchen, who may actually not be a good CF any longer, but any trade for him may be tough to do since he struggled so badly in 2016.
  • Also heard that the team could be involved in trade for someone like J.D. Martinez if the Tigers attempt to re-tool their roster.
  • My Take: i’m on the “move Bryce to CF” and acquire a corner bat.  I’d be happy with any of these names as a way to bolster the offense.

Shortstop

  • All of these CF moves assume Trea Turner returns to Short and Danny Espinosa either becomes a trade candidate or assumes the Stephen Drew utility infielder role.
  • I fully support Turner back to SS; i just don’t understand those that want to keep him in Center when he’s a natural short stop and, frankly, its a heck of a lot easier to find a CF than a SS.
  • My Take: I’m on the “we should trade Espinosa” boat if he’s not the starter, if only for the rumors we read about him as a clubhouse presence when he’s not playing.

Closer

  • There’s three major closers on the market and more than three teams chasing them.  Nats not expected to be a massive overpay … but you never know.  One rumor has them on Aroldis Chapman, banking on him retaining his velocity.
  • Another rumor has the Nats being more sensible and rolling the dice on a former closer like Greg Holland and then buying up a middle reliever (someone like a Brad Ziegler) to supplement the loss of several arms from this year’s bullpen.
  • But there’s all sorts of middle relief arms out there.  Joe Blanton may get 8 figures.  Who knew.
  • My Take: I like the Holland + Ziegler/Blanton route to add to our existing Kelley/Treinen/Glover trio, then add in the two lefties Solis/Perez and you have your bullpen.  Kelley could be the closer if Holland can’t do it and that’d still give the team three really good 8th/9th inning arms.  Replace Glover with a long-man if you want, or consider that both Perez and Blanton are former starters who could suck up innings, or be original and forgoe the darn long-man and just depend on call ups if you get a ton of innings thrown by the bullpen over a short period of time.

Catcher

  • Matt Weiters to the Nats makes a lot of sense; Scott Boras client, no draft pick compensation this year.
  • The team has already missed out on a couple of catchers who have gone off the board early.
  • They may be looking a some trade targets.
  • Clearly they’re not going to go into 2017 with just Jose Lobaton and Severino.
  • Wilson Ramos seems more and more likely to be gone, perhaps a remnant of the insulting pre-injury offer they gave him, perhaps just a reality of the market for his services coming off a 2nd major knee injury.  We love the Buffalo, but he may be better suited for an AL team that can DH him every once in a while, and one that can survive until July when he’s ready to go.
  • My Take: I have no idea what they’ll do.  But they have to do something.

I don’t really think the team needs or seeks any upgrades elsewhere, but yet we still hear weird rumors every once in a while.

  • Chris Sale acquisition via trade; don’t really understand the need; yes that’d give the team three “Aces” at the top but at what cost if it requires them to gut the farm system?
  • Moves to replace Werth or Zimmerman just seem silly to consider, given the payroll implications of having those two clubhouse leader/10-and-5 guys suddenly be bench bats.  I don’t see this team, this manager or this executive group knee capping franchise defining players like that, especially when they’re still relatively serviceable.   Werth was a 1.1 win player last year with a WRC+ figure north of 100.  Zimmerman was worth negative fWAR of course, but he was hurt most of the season, so its kind of hard to gauge what he’ll do in 2017.  He’s only 32 after all, and is under contract for a while longer.

Its impossible to predict trades that come out of the blue, but it is worth noting that the Nats have some surpluses of talent that they can trade from:

  • I count nine starters on the 40-man roster, which means that several could be trade bait.  We’ve heard rumors about Giolito, Lopez, Voth, Cole, Fedde and Gonzalez all getting packed up to move out.  And that leaves out some lesser-renounded but still promising arms lower down in the system (Dunning of course, but also the likes of Avila, Baez, Watson, etc).
  • There’s now TEN (10) infielders on the 40-man; I see a couple of DFAs/trades (Espinosa of course, and the loser of Skole/Robinson perhaps), and its hard to see a pathway for others (where does Marmolejos play for example?), but that’s a lot of infielders for 4 starting spots and and at most six 25-man jobs.
  • We have more than a few rising quality outfielders, headed by Robles and new 40-man member Bautista, but also including the likes of Stevenson, Agustin, Wiseman, Perkins and Banks.

What do you guys see happening?

 

Nats Payroll Outlook for 2017 and what it could mean for FA market

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Do you trade Gonzalez to get payroll flexibility? Photo unknown via WP.com

Do you trade Gonzalez to get payroll flexibility? Photo unknown via WP.com

The end of the World Series starts the clock on a whole slew of off-season moves, and we’ve already seen the Nats do a few procedural moves that were predictable:

  • Aaron Barrett, who I thought was a non-tender candidate since he’s Arb-eligible, was waived.
  • Yusmeiro Petit had his $3M option declined, and becomes a FA.
  • All 8 of our other eligible FAs declared FA: Mark Melancon, Wilson Ramos, Stephen Drew, Chris Heisey, Matt Belisle, Mark Rzepczynski, Sean Burnett and Mat Latos.

So the 40-man roster now sits at 31 players:

  • SP: Scherzer, Strasburg, Roark, Ross, Gonzalez*, Lopez, Giolito, Cole
  • RP: Kelley, Treinen, Glover, Solis*, Perez*, Gott, Martin, Grace*
  • C: Lobaton, Severino, Kieboom
  • INF: Zimmerman, Murphy, Turner, Rendon, Espinosa, Robinson, Difo
  • OF: Harper, Werth, Revere, Taylor, Goodwin

Lets break down these current 31 guys and see what their payroll looks like projected for 2017 to see what kind of financial flexibility the team may have.  Using the ever-awesome Cots MLB player salary site as a source here we go:


Players Already Under Contract for 2017 – 8

  • Werth, Jayson:  $21,571,429
  • Scherzer, Max:  $15,000,000
  • Strasburg, Stephen:  $15,000,000
  • Zimmerman, Ryan:  $14,000,000
  • Gonzalez, Gio:  $12,100,000 (Option for 2017 picked up 11/3/16)
  • Murphy, Daniel:  $12,000,000
  • Perez, Oliver:  $4,000,000
  • Kelley, Shawn:  $5,500,000

Subtotal: $99,171,429 <– Sum of Established Contracts for 2017

Note that I’ve not prorated any deferred money for Scherzer, Strasburg.  Also, I’m not entirely sure what Werth did last year; was it to lower his 2016 salary by $10M and pay that later?  I think so, so I don’t believe his 2017 salary was affected.  I do not agree with the prorating that Cot’s does with the deferred dollars on Scherzer/Strasburg; I think the Lerners are treating it like payments later on so as to add financial flexibility now, so I count just the dollars owed in 2017 here.  With these caveats, we come to the $99.1M figure due for these 8 players.  Feel free to comment and correct me if I have this wrong.


Arbitration Eligible Players for 2017 – 6 

I’m using MLB Trade rumors’ estimates instead of doing my own guesses since they’ve proven to be hyper accurate in years’ past, but will offer commentary on each figure.

  • Harper, Bryce: $9,300,000 estimate
  • Rendon, Anthony: $6,400,000 estimate
  • Espinosa, Danny: $5,300,000 estimate
  • Lobaton, Jose: $1,600,000 estimate
  • Revere, Ben: $6,300,000 estimate
  • Roark, Tanner: $6,100,000 estimate

Subtotal: $35,000,000 <– MLBtraderumors Guess of total arb award amounts

Now, I’m on record saying that I think the team non-tenders Revere; I cannot imagine paying $6.3M for the production we got out of him last year.  If the team thinks 2016 was an aberration and he can return to his 2015 form, then $6.3M might be a bargain (reminder: he hit .319 and had a 101 OPS+ figure in Toronto in 2015).  However, for the time being i’m going with Revere getting non-tendered.  I also think Harper’s going to sign a 2-year deal to buy out the rest of his Arb years, so I could see something like a 2yr/$25M deal at 10 and 15.  I think the Rendon figure seems high (yes he had a solid year but $6.4 more than doubles his 2016 pay).  I also have a hard time believing that Roark is going to net $6.1M in his first arb season, no matter how good he was last year.

So my working guess on this number is $35M less Revere’s $6.3 and less a bit more off of the Rendon & Roark numbers: call it $27,200,000.


Pre Arbitration MLB players – 17

  • Robinson, Clint $540,000
  • Treinen, Blake $536,000
  • Taylor, Michael $530,000
  • Ross, Joe $520,000
  • Gott, Trevor $518,000
  • Turner, Trea $507,500
  • Solis, Sammy $507,500
  • Glover, Koda $507,500
  • Severino, Pedro $507,500
  • Difo, Wilmer $507,500
  • Cole, A.J. $507,500
  • Goodwin, Brian $507,500
  • Grace, Matt
  • Martin, Rafael
  • Kieboom, Spencer
  • Giolito, Lucas
  • Lopez, Reynaldo

Subtotal: $6,196,500

The rest of the 40-man roster are pre-arbitration/team-assigned salaries.  The current league minimum salary is $507,500; that might change, that might go up with the new CBA.  For the time being, those players above who are ABOVE that figure are those who have played at the MLB level and have earned a nominal raise.  These are guesses on these nominal salary increases, and then the rest of the guys are listed assuming they all make next year’s 25-man roster.   Assuming no acquisitions, 12 of these pre-arb guys will be on the 25-man roster so that’s roughly $6M.


Payments for former players in 2017

Petit, Yusmeiro: $500,000 buyout of 2017 contract.


Summary:  $99,171,429 +  $27,200,000 +  $6,196,500 +  $500,000 =  $133,067,929 current payroll Estimate for your 2017 Nationals.

That figure represents about a $12M delta from last year’s working payroll figure of  $145,178,886 (cot’s figure), but is about $5.7M higher than my “present day dollar only” figure for last year’s squad.

So, I’m not sure if the team has $12M to “spare” or will be looking to cut costs.  Either way they’re nearly $30M below the 2015 payroll figure of $162M (Cots).

So here’s what i’d like to see happen:

  • Non-tender Revere ($6.3M), Trade Gio ($12M) and Espinosa ($5.3M).  Net $17.3M (we already counted on Revere’s 6.3)
  • I figure we’ll receive back at least $10M of MLB salary for players received from Gio and Espinosa.  So that leaves about $7M additional savings
  • Add that to the $12M figure and that’s about $20M to work with.
  • Spread that $20M around as follows:
    • Josh Reddick: $10M a year for 3 years; lefty, RF capable, relatively cheap when compared to the marquee OF on the market.
    • Greg Holland: $7M/year guess; former closer, formerly had ridiculous stuff, may have it back, could be 8th or 9th inning guy with existing options
    • Resign Stephen Drew, Matt Belisle and Chris Heisey to a combined $10M.

That makes your 25-man projected roster look like this:

  • SP: Scherzer, Strasburg, Roark, Ross, Lopez
  • RP: Kelley, Holland, Treinen, Belisle, Solis*, Perez*, Cole (longman)
  • C: Lobaton, Severino
  • INF: Zimmerman, Murphy, Turner, Rendon, Robinson, Drew,
  • OF: Harper, Werth, Reddick, Taylor, Heisey

With the following in AAA

  • SP: Giolito
  • RP: Glover, Gott, Martin, Grace*
  • C: Kieboom
  • INF: Difo
  • OF: Goodwin

That’s not too bad.  It also doesn’t account for any players received from trading Gonzalez and Espinosa; we could get back a starting catcher, pushing Severino to AAA, or we could get a utility infielder, obviating the need for Drew  or Heisey.

what do you guys think?

Nats post-2016 “GM for a Day” Off-Season Priorities for filling Roster Holes

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Ramos may be the toughest off-season decision the team makes. Photo via wp.com

Ramos may be the toughest off-season decision the team makes. Photo via wp.com

Another year, another playoff failure.  Beat it to death already.  Time to move on.

Lets talk about the post-season “To Do” list is for the Nats.  We’ll have eventual posts to talk about other stuff, like Tender decisions, 40-man decisions ahead of the Rule5 draft, etc.

In this post, we’ll squint at the overall roster, look at blatant holes that will need filling, and discuss how they might get filled.  Call it the cliche’s “General Manager for a day” post for the Nats this coming off-season.


Pending Free Agents we are waving good-bye to and the holes they thus leave (as per the invaluable Cots site at BaseballProspectus):

  • Mark Melancon: though i’d love to re-sign him … see later in the post.
  • Wilson Ramos: his injury is a shame for both player and team; he likely lost $50M in guaranteed FA money and the team lost a clear QO-compensation pick.  He may not even be able to catch again, which dumps him to the AL, where his market is significantly cut thanks to the lessening of demand for bat-only DH types.  Ramos is in serious career jeopardy right now; would he decamp back to the Nats on some sort of minimally guaranteed deal with performance incentives?
  • Stephen Drew: also one I hope re-signs; see later in the post.
  • Chris Heisey: one who I think is replaceable; look for another cattle call for RH bat options this coming spring training.
  • Matt Belisle: despite not making the NLDS roster, he was great for Washington this year and is worth another contract.
  • Mark Rzepczynski: He’s been very effective for us, and overall had a good 2016.  His 2015 was awful, but he was good before that.  Such is the life of specialist relievers.
  • Sean Burnett and Mat Latos: both given Sept 2016 tryouts; neither seem likely to be retained.
  • Jonathan Papelbon: worth mentioning if only for the payroll flexibility.

Total payroll “savings” from these FAs: roughly $22M.  Papelbon’s $11M, Ramos’ $5.3M and the rest total about $6M.

Guys who I think are clear Non-Tenders (probably a topic worth its own post).

  • Yusmeiro Petit: $3M option with $500k buyout for 2017; pitched poorly in 2016, didn’t make the post-season roster and should be replaceable on the roster by any number of our AAA starters.
  • Ben Revere: $6.25M salary this year, due an arbitration raise for 2017; struggled badly in 2016, lost his job to a guy who had about 2 week of CF experience and didn’t make the post-season roster.
  • Aaron Barrett: as heartless as it would be; he’s arb-eligible, still hurt, not likely to be ready by opening day and is completely replaceable as a RH middle reliever).

Total savings from these non-tenders: roughly $10M

Guys who I think its Time to Trade and the holes they thus leave.  This also may be worthy of its own whole post.

  • Gio Gonzalez: I think the Nats can take advantage of a historically weak FA market for starters and Gio’s very friendly contract (two $12M options for 2017 and 2018) and move him.  Yes he struggled this year, but if you look at what middle rotation innings eaters like him are getting these days, $12M is a bargain and he should fetch something we value.  Moving him lets some of the guys who are clearly biting on the heels of a deserved rotation spot earn it for 2017 and thus the Nats “save” $11.5M in salary for the 2017 roster.
  • Danny Espinosa: As much as I have argued against this, his 2017 playoff performance has solidified in my mind the need to move him.  He has his pros (a plus defender range wise, perhaps the best SS arm in the game, and serious power for a SS) and his cons (he hit just .209 this year, he strikes out at about a 30% clip, and his switch hitting capabilities are really in question).  Nonetheless, there has to be some demand for a 25-home run capable plus defender SS in a lineup that can afford one crummy batting average at the bottom of the order.  Perhaps an AL team that doesn’t have to also bat a sub .200 BA pitcher.

Total savings from these guys getting moved (not counting payroll received in return of course): $15-$16M.

So, adding up all three lines, assuming a steady payroll ceiling similar to this year’s and not counting arbitration raises (or Strasburg‘s new contract), you’d have roughly $47M with which to work.  Not bad.  Strasburg’s new contract will take $5M away from that flexibility (he made $10M last year, will make $15M next) and arbitration raises for Harper, Rendon and Roark will cost some cash, but that’s a post for another day.  Lets call it $30M in available FA dollars when all is said and done.


So, assuming you’re even reading this far and havn’t already started commenting and arguing about that list of players, here’s the presumed holes that losing these 10 players leaves (in order of mention above):

  • Closer
  • Starting Catcher
  • Backup Utility Infielder
  • Backup RH bench bat/corner outfielder
  • 6th/7th inning RH reliever
  • Loogy
  • Long Man/Spot starter/7th guy out of the pen
  • Backup Outfielder (CF capable)
  • Another 6th/7th inning RH reliever
  • #5 Starter
  • Starting Shortstop
  • (and not really counting the “loss” of Burnett and Latos for this discussion)

If we just filled these holes internally, what would it look like?

  • Closer: Make Shawn Kelley the closer and move up Treinen and Glover to be 8th inning guys.  This leaves a hole later on in the pen for the middle RH relievers (see below)
  • Starting Catcher: promote Lobaton to starter and install Severino as the backup.  Or switch them; honestly I like Severino’s at-bats; he looks confident.  I don’t think Kieboom is ready for the show, so it makes sense to tender Lobaton for one more year.
  • Backup Utility InfielderDifo becomes the first go-to guy to backup Turner/Murphy, but we’ll still need another utility guy.
  • Backup RH bench bat/corner outfielder: not much internally to go to; both the 2016 AAA and AA rosters are basically bereft of decent hitting prospects who might be candidates.  We’ll be trolling the FA market here for sure.  See the next section.
  • Two 6th/7th inning RH relievers: We have Gott and Martin on the 40-man; they could step up to replace these two guys like for like.  Right now we have five RH relievers under contract for 2017 (Kelley, Treinen, Glover, Gott and Martin) to go along with two lefties (Solis and Perez); that’s not too bad of a bullpen to start out with, but could be improved.  And this lineup doesn’t “really” have a long man, so you’d have to think one of Gott or Martin is in AAA to make room for a long-man (likely Martin at this point).
  • Loogy: its arguable whether we need another lefty with both Solis and Perez under contract, but they went most of the year this year with three.  Matt Grace is still on the 40-man and would be an internal option.
  • Long Man/Spot starter/7th guy out of the pen: loser of #5 starter competition (see below)
  • Backup Outfielder (CF capable)Michael Taylor, in what likely is his ceiling from here forward.
  • #5 Starter: have Sprint Training 2017 tryouts for the #5 starter between Lopez, Giolito, Cole and even Voth (who I’m assuming by that time will be on the 40-man, protected ahead of this coming off-season’s Rule-5 draft).  The winner is #5 starter, and one of the losers could be the long-man (well, if the loser is someone like Cole or Voth, who aren’t nearly as “big” of a prospect as Giolito).  There’s also the distinct possibility that Lopez’s arm is turned into a closer at some point if he can’t turn over lineups.  Check out Lopez’s 2016 splits, specifically SP versus RP and specifically the “Times Facing an Opponent” during the game; as a starter he struggles with the first time through the order, but not as a reliever.
  • Starting Shortstop: move Trea Turner to his natural position, leaving a hole in Center.

So, with my “all internal” fill-ins, your 25 man roster for 2017 looks something like this:

  • Starters: Scherzer, Strasburg, Roark, Ross, Lopez
  • Relievers: Kelley, Treinen, Glover, Gott, Solis*, Perez*, Cole
  • Catchers: Lobaton, Severino
  • INF Starters: Rendon, Turner, Murphy, Zimmerman
  • INF backups: Difo, Robinson
  • OF Starters: Werth, Harper
  • OF Backups: Taylor, Goodwin

And we’re missing one-two spots that don’t really have natural in-house replacements: another backup infielder and a starting Center fielder.

So, looking at that 25-man roster, where do we see areas of need?  This feeds directly into the Off-season Priorities in the next section.


Quick diversion: Notice I didn’t say what position Bryce Harper is playing.  Honestly, if Turner is vacating CF and we’re waving good-bye to Espinosa, then I think you have to put Harper in center.  Here’s my main arguments for putting him in center (most of which are “anti-arguments” for those who for some reason think he cannot play center):

  1. He’s young.   He just turned 24 for crying out loud; there’s no reason he doesn’t have the youth or athleticism to handle center.  Mantle did it while hitting for power.  So did Mays.  So did Griffey Jr and Aaron for the early part of his career.  Trout plays center.
  2. He’s got the arm (he has the 2nd best statistically rated arm in the majors in 2016), he’s got the speed (21 Stolen bases this year).  And now he has years of OF experience on which to depend.
  3. He’s played there before and played well.  Here’s his career fielding stats from fangraphs.com: He had more than 700 innings in CF in 2012 and played it to a fantastic UZR/150 figure of 19.1 and 13 DRS.  He was also great there in more limited sample sizes in 2013 and 2015.  I leave out 2014 since that was his injury season and its clearly skewed as compared to his other seasons.
  4. By putting Harper in Center, you vastly open open up the roster possibilities on the FA market.  Look at the pending FA last at mlbtraderumors.com and compare/contrast the available options at CF versus LF/RF.

Top FA/Trade Priorities in 2016-2017 Off-season

Fantasy: I view these as not really possible but are listed as “fantasy” wish lists.  Both fixate on moving unmovable contracts, so they’ll probably remain fantasies.

  • Upgrade 1B: dump Zimmerman and upgrade offensively at that position.
  • Upgrade LF: dump Werth and the last year of his deal and find a LF-capable bopper.
  • Acquire a leading CF: back up the farm system and dump it out for a leading center fielder.  Charlie Blackmon or Andrew McCutchen are names often mentioned thanks to the precarious position their teams face.  Mike Trout is the funny name you also hear since he’s so good he’s virtually untrade-able.  Unlike Tom Boswell, and as discussed in comments here before, re-signing Ian Desmond to man CF poorly would not be my first choice either.  I’d rather go with my “Bryce to Center” plan as laid out above.

Reality

  • Corner Outfielder.   See above Harper->CF logic.  If you want to splurge (and hurt your #1 divisional rival) sign Yoenis Cespedes.   Or you could make a big splash and sign Jose Bautista to a 3-yr deal that ends the same time Harper hits FA.  Werth remains serviceable in left, where he is mitigated defensively while Bautista still has value in RF.  This is where I could see a big chunk of the $30M of FA dollars going.  Lord knows we could use another clutch hitter in the middle of the order.
  • Closer: Above I said i’d love to re-sign Melancon, but more and more it seems like he’s going to be the 4th prize in a 4-closer musical chairs race.  And he’s gonna get paid.  And I’m not sure that the Nats are going to pay him.  Per the same previously mentioned FA list there’s 5 “active” closers hitting FA: Melancon, Wade Davis, Aroldis Chapman,  Kenley Jansen and Sergio Romo There’s a whole slew of guys who are FA who are former closers though, names like Andrew BaileyJoaquin Benoit, Santiago Casilla, Neftali Feliz, Jason Grilli, Greg Holland, J.J. Hoover, Jonathan Papelbon (haha, just making sure you’re still reading), Joe Smith, Fernando Salas, and Brad Ziegler.  There’s probably even more frankly; these were just the ones who stood out as I read the list.  Now, i’m not saying most of these guys are legitimate options, but some of these guys were perfectly good as closers and got “layered” by better closers.  Take Ziegler for example: he was just fine for Arizona for a while, then got moved to Boston where he got demoted to 8th inning duties.   I’d take him as a late-innings bullpen option.  
  • Bullpen arm: middle reliever: Now, all that being said about Closers, I think maybe what the team does is install one of their existing options as “the closer” and then maybe  hire one of these former closers to be an 8th inning/emergency closer kind of guy.  That’s essentially what they got last year with Shawn Kelley and that’s worked out ok.  I’d go after some of the ex-closer guys listed above, try to get them on an affordable deal (like halfway to closer money maybe) and that’d help off-set the losses of Melancon and Belisle.
  • Veteran utility infielder: as noted above, there’s not much in the farm system here.  If you keep Espinosa and put him in this role, then this is moot .. but we’ve read over and again about his disposition when he’s not playing.  This is kind of why I think we need to move him.  He’s more valuable in trade than he is in this bench role.  I hope the team re-ups with Stephen Drew honestly; he was solid, can cover all infield positions as needed, and can probably be had for a similar deal as last year.  I’d be happy with Difo and Drew and wouldn’t be opposed to perhaps another veteran utility guy to pair with Drew and compete with Difo if we don’t think Difo is up to the task.

Less Likely:

  • Backup LF/IB bench bats: While I like Robinson and I think Heisey did a good job this year, one struggled and the other is a FA with no guarantee of returning.  I absolutely expect to see another spring training cattle call of veteran bats of the LF/1B type to compete for roster spots.  I’m appreciative of Goodwin‘s completely unexpected line at the plate upon his call up; do we think he’s a better lefty bat option off the bench than Robinson?  I’m not sure.  I also sense (based on anecdotal evidence read over the years) that Robinson is a clubhouse and teammate favorite, which might make it tougher to cut him when the time comes.  Especially with a player’s manager type like Dusty Baker.  I know this is where MartyC will cry about Matt Skole (likely to depart in MLFA this coming off-season) and I understand; its all about potential versus production and Skole never produced enough during these annual spring training “tryouts” to win his spot.
  • Catcher: Here’s where the most arguing may occur.  I’m of the belief, after watching Severino down the stretch, that he could slide right into the starting spot right now.  I thought he looked good at the plate, took confident at-bats, never looked over matched, and (here’s the kicker) *puts the ball in play!*   This lineup has too many strikeouts; Severino struck out just 3 times in his 34 PAs down the stretch.   That correlates to about 50 punch-outs over a 600-plate appearance season; that’s awesome.  He was known for years for his defense, not his bat, so if he can provide even competent ABs he could be a starter.  So i’m up for saving money on the FA market (where the catcher ranks are thin and the prices will get bid up badly as a result).  Now, I could absolutely see us re-signing Wilson Ramos to an incentive-laden deal to keep him in house and hopefully get a good second half out of  him.  Why not?  If he signs for $5-6M (basically his salary this year) and then has games played incentives that could take him up to $7 or $8M why wouldn’t he do that here instead of elsewhere?   We go into the season with Severino and Lobaton with Kieboom in AAA and when Ramos shows up we (finally?) cut bait on Lobaton and have the two remaining guys platoon.  I’d be onboard with that plan.
  • Loogy: Why spend money here?  Solis and Perez ably fill the need.  Do we need a third lefty in the pen at the expense of one of the aforementioned righties?  I liked Rzepczynski this year; would he re-sign for reasonable dollars?  Would you want him back?  There’s several interesting names on the FA list; maybe one of them can be had for cheap.

 

What can we get in Trade versus buying on the FA market?   Payroll implications?

  • I suspect that Gonzalez can fetch some seriously valuable resources.  He’s an innings eating 4th starter who probably thrives in a pitcher’s park and is significantly less expensive at $12M/year than what something comparable costs on the FA market this year.  So can he fetch maybe one MLB-ready player that fits a need above plus maybe one decent prospect?  Is that too much?
  • Espinosa probably fetches less, unless you can get a GM to fall in love with his power/defense combo and somehow miss his BA and his K rate.  By way of comparison, Yunel Escobar (a lesser defender with less power but more contact) fetched us two upper-level pitching prospects in Trevor Gott and Michael Brady (by upper-level I mean AA/AAA level, not top 100 prospects).  I’d guess that Espinosa could fetch a bit more since he plays a premium position.  So that could end up being more of the needs above plus maybe an additional prospect.

But who knows what we can and cannot get.  In Mike Rizzo we trust when it comes to trades; no matter how much we bitch about prospects heading out the door, you’re really hard pressed to find a trade where Rizzo got the short end of the bargain or “lost” the deal.  So lets see what he can do.

Payroll implications.  I think we could get a $20M/yr corner OF slugger, a former closer at like $6M/year, resign Ramos at $5M, find a utility infielder in the Drew $3M/year range, and then sign a couple of guys to $1.25M conditional deals like what Belisle and Heisey got and fit right into the $145M payroll budget, even after arbitration raises.

 


Well; that’s a lot to argue about.  Maybe I should have split this up.  But let the discussions begin!

(did I forget anyone?)

1000th Post at NationalsArmRace

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Happy 1000th post!

With this post, if I trust my WordPress engine to tell me the right number of published articles, we have hit 1000 posts in the history of this blog.

Here’s some useless information for you about the first 1000 posts:

Posts by year:

  • 2010: (starting in June): 2+11+30+8+6+13+12 = 82 for the year
  • 2011: 2+20+25+23+23+20+17+13+26+18+21+19 = 227 for the year
  • 2012: 13+7+10+8+5+7+4+5+15+21+20+17 = 132 for the year
  • 2013: 21+15+22+22+20+26+18+20+13+31+10+19 = 237 for the year
  • 2014: 10+10+9+14+13+14+12+4+8+16+12+8 = 130 for the year
  • 2015: 8+5+9+13+11+12+8+7+4+15+13+10=115 for the year
  • 2016: 8+8+8+9+6+11+7+4+9+7=77 for 2016, including this post.  We may hit 100 in the next 3 months with all the off-season stuff we generally do.

I really got into the blog in 2011, and the post count was way up for rotation reviews of both major and minor leagues.  A new job curtailed my time immensely in mid 2012, though by the end of the season I had geared back up.  I was pretty regular with a post about 2 of every 3 days in 2013, with a whole slew of short posts in October 2013 to preview pitching match-ups for playoff games.  2014 scaled off a bit… a trend continuing into 2015 and 2016.

Milestone Posts

Random Blog milestones

  • 17th post: 8/9/10 “2011 Rotation Competition” First post where I started the formatting theme of bolding a proper name the first time it appears in a post.  I started this to highlight those players who I was specifically talking about.
  • 55th post: 10/20/10: “Contract Value for FA Starting Pitchers: The Cliff Lee Lesson to-be” First post where I started incorporating pictures into the blog posts.  I got the idea from Mark Zuckerman‘s blog, where he always uses a single picture at the top of each blog post.  Initially I used images.google.com to find the images and then attempt to give proper photo credit.  Coincidentally, at some point in the past I did a ton of research on the use of photos on the internet and had a discussion on the subject (in the comments section of this May 2011 post).  Now I generally use pictures from wiki and/or flickr where the author has granted free use.
  • 221st post:  8/25/11, “My Answers to Boswell’s Chat Questions 8/22/11 edition.”  This was the earliest post that I regularly started using “tags” for player names.  I started doing this after turning on the “tag cloud” along the right hand side.  The tags also serve as a nice searching method for a particular player.  (I’ve since gone through some effort to “tag” the posts prior to this one but am not entirely caught up to the history of the blog).
  • 243rd post: 9/25/11, “New Theme!”  I changed the look and feel of the blog from an out-of-the-box WordPress theme to a custom theme.  I was doing this primarily to figure out a way to get the blog slogan (the Earl Weaver quote at the top) to be more visible.
  • 1/12/12: Posted a missive about “What are non-MLB associated baseball league talent equivalents?” which suddenly got picked up by a major media outlet and I started getting hits from all over the place.  I still go back and update this post to this day.
  • 6/13/12: My first post covering the College World Series: College World Series Preview/Regionals Recap.  I now cover the College season at least starting with the field of 64 and sometimes (time allowing) with previews of local college teams.
  • 3/28/13: My first post covering local prep players: Local HS players to keep an eye on this Spring.  I now try to cover any halfway decent player anywhere in DC, MD or VA in its entirety.
  • 5/23/13: My first post covering the local High school tournaments: Local Prep Baseball: Oakton & Madison win District titles; Regional tourney set.  I now cover all the local high school baseball tournaments in a series of posts throughout May and June.
  • 6/11/13: The first post really covering college draftees with local ties, to go along with the local prep players.  MLB Draft Results for Players with Local Ties.  Now in 2016, i’ve got a running history of both prep and college players and can track those prep players who went to school in 2013 who are now draft eligible, so future posts are that much easier to write.
  • Oct 2015: a series of posts reviewing the 2015 Season Statistical Review of all Nats 2015 draft picks and going back to the 2011 class.  I like this series and look forward to doing it again this year.

I guess I havn’t really done too many new features lately.

Count of posts by category: (note that these will add up to greater than 1000 since some posts get multiple categories):

  • 30 for 30: 9 posts, mostly older.  I used to try to review ESPN’s “30 for 30” shows when they aired but lost track.  I still have several in draft form but they’re several years old and not worth posting at this point.
  • Awards: 22 posts.  These are generally predictions for BBWAA awards and some in-depth analysis of fielding awards that I try to do every year.
  • Baseball in General: 218 posts; these are usually the tag that I give to non-Nats, non-other issue.
  • Chat/Mailbag Responses: 100: I really like doing this and keep forgetting that Tom Boswell does monday chats.  They’re generally arguable questions about the kinds of things we’re always talking about anyways; moves, trades, what should we do with so-and-so, etc.
  • College/CWS: 32 posts; just a few each year covering the big CWS tournament.
  • Draft: 76 posts, surprised its not more.
  • Fantasy: 12 posts, which works out to almost exactly two a  year (one when I draft the team, one where I tell you how badly I did).
  • Hall of Fame: 37 posts, which are mostly older because I have gotten quite sick of arguing about Hall of Fame voting.
  • Local Baseball: 54 posts, mostly about High School tourney coverage, local draft candidates and even some Little League and local adult area baseball thrown in.
  • Majors Pitching: 317 posts; lots of discussion about the state of the pitching.
  • Minor League Pitching: 133 posts.
  • Minor League Rotation Reviews: 29 posts; used to be more frequent, now just an annual check-in.
  • Nats in General: 356 posts, the most frequently used tag.
  • Nats rotation Reviews: 30 posts; as with the Minor League rotation reviews, these were sacrificed to the gods of time.
  • Non-Baseball; just 33 posts, and only one since Nov 2014.  I guess I’m very focused on baseball here :-)
  • Post-Season: 54 posts about, well, post-season.  Predictions, reviews of Nats games, etc.
  • Rule-5: 30 posts, since we talk about it over and over every year.  Ironically some pundits like Keith Law th ink the rule-5 draft is useless since such marginal prospects now reside at the ends of most 40-man roster teams, but I still think they’re useful precisely because those edge cases are so compelling to discuss.
  • Weekly News: 22 posts, an older feature where I used to cut and paste cool links I had read on a week to week basis.  That’s crazy to think about now; i just scan through everything these days.
  • World Baseball Classic: just 12 posts; but with another one coming up soon, we’ll revisit.  I cannot wait to see Cuba’s team this year.

Top 10 player names mentioned (since I started typing them in as Tags; this is definitely weighted more towards the the past season than earlier, as catching up hundreds of posts with updated tags is not an effort worth finishing frankly)

  1. Stephen Strasburg: 248 mentions; lost of angst about him over the years.
  2. Jordan Zimmermann: 193
  3. Mike Rizzo: 185
  4. Bryce Harper: 184
  5. Ross Detwiler: 167; really?  How is it that he’s the 5th most mentioned player in this blog??
  6. Gio Gonzalez: 163
  7. Danny Espinosa: 139
  8. Ryan Zimmerman: 138
  9. Drew Storen: 138
  10. Jayson Werth: 131

Items I wish I still had time to do:

  • The rotational reviews, especially in the minor leagues.  I maintained these for the first half of 2011, but a vacation in July of 2011 left me a couple weeks behind and I just never could catch up.  I didn’t even attempt to try these for 2012 or going forward.  Its unfortunate; the whole reason I started this blog was to study and be up on the minor league pitching, especially the starters.  I feel, and still feel, that developing quality starting pitching is the most important aspect of the farm system, and that a successful pre-arbitration pitcher is the most valuable commodity in the sport.
  • Nightly Reviews of MLB pitching performances; this requires the time to sit down each night and watch the games … I love baseball, but I just cannot commit that kind of time, especially with a young kid and a busy job.
  • Actually going to eyeball these players in the minor leagues and not just rely on stat lines.  Again, time and life priorities.
  • Honestly, I think I could do a better job “advertising” this blog.  Should I be pushing the

#1 item I wish I could incorporate: I’d love to do interviews of pitching coaches and pitchers at the various levels to talk about pitching strategy, mechanics and whatnot.  I briefly pursued getting a Nats press pass but got the impression that the team is less inclined to hand out press passes to blogs such as mine (which provide a heavy amount of opinion and commentary) versus blogs like Federal Baseball and DC Pro Sports Report (which act more like beat reporters and focus on doing pre-game and post-game reports).  Fair enough.

#1 technical issue I would like to change: I installed hit counters to try to gauge readership, but I still cannot reliably answer the question, “how many people read your blog?”  I have a plug-in installed to the WordPress engine called “Counterize” that gives me some sense of hits, but there’s so much garbage/hacker trolling going on that I cannot tell how many legitimate readers I have.


 

Post #1001 is coming soon after this one: i’m uncharacteristically going to do three posts in quick succession because I want to get the LCS preview/prediction post out before the LCS actually starts.  :-)  Lets you guys think I’m making predictions after the series starts…

Game 5; by hook or by crook, we got here.

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Maybe they'll bring back out chocolate if Scherzer wins game 5. Photo via thesportsquotient.com

Maybe they’ll bring back out chocolate if Scherzer wins game 5. Photo via thesportsquotient.com

I didn’t really do a pre-NLDS prediction piece for this series.  A combination of work and life events conspired against me.

But if you had asked me what I thought a week ago about the Nats-Dodgers NLDS, I would have said the series would have basically gone like this:

  • Nats lose to Kershaw in Game 1 because he’s Kershaw
  • Nats rebound in Game 2 and handle the veteran Hill.
  • Nats throw their sole lefty who dominates the lefty-feeble Dodgers line-up
  • Dodgers then panic down 2-1 and throw Kershaw on short rest, who dominates us again.
  • … leading to the inevitable Game 5 back home.

Now … the above description isn’t exactly how these games have gone, but the end result has been the same.  The Nats hit Kershaw in Game 1 … but the Dodgers hit Scherzer harder; that was no 2-1 squeaker.  Game 2 was salvaged when perhaps the weakest hitter on the roster clubbed a 3-run homer into a 25mph wind, energizing the stadium and the team to a degree i’ve never felt before.  Gonzalez certainly did not “shut down” the Dodgers in Game 3, but the Nats bats came alive at the end to turn it into a 4hour 12min laugher.  In game 4 Kershaw did indeed go on short rest, and up until the 7th looked pretty dominant, but in a recurring theme for him in the post-season, he went one inning too long, loaded the bases in the 7th and was charged with a total of 5 runs on the night despite 11 strikeouts.  Nonetheless, the Nats bullpen (which it should be noted did not give up a single run in the first three games) finally faltered, with Treinen coughing up the game winner in the bottom of the 8th to long-time Nats nemesis Chase Utley.

So here we are.  Game 5 tomorrow 10/13/16.  Max Scherzer on full rest versus Rich Hill on three days rest thanks to the Saturday cancellation.   Hill, 37-yr old veteran journeyman with a career resurgence, has thrown precisely one game on 3 days rest in his career: he gave up 5 runs on 3 hits and 4 walks in just 3IP that day.   No offense to  Hill, but lets hope for that line again and for the Nats to get into the Dodgers incredibly taxed bullpen.

Meanwhile, Scherzer has to figure out a way to keep the ball in the park.  And he probably needs to go 6 or 7 innings to help a bullpen that has now thrown 17 2/3rds innings in four games.

How about the Offense for this team so far?   Hitting .259 as a team despite going against Kershaw twice and a bunch of one-out relievers most of the rest of the time.   The veterans have really come to play: Murphy, Zimmerman and Werth  all stepping up and crushing the ball.  Youngster Turner at the top hitting .353 … but 10 of his 11 outs have been punchouts.  Harper is just 3-14 with 4 walks … but to be fair, 13 of those plate appearances have come against lefties and 3 more have come against LA closer Jansen … not exactly the easiest series for Harper.

Who has not acquitted themselves at the plate?  Espinosa; 1-11 with 8 punch outs and being outright replaced in game 3.  I read elsewhere, this may change my “next year opinion” on Espinosa; he has looked beyond helpless at the plate despite being a switch hitter.  Remind me of this sentence this coming off-season if I start making arguments for keeping him and keeping Turner in center.   Rendon has had a “loud” 3-16 series; loud in that he has 4 RBI and a monster homer.  Severino is 1-9 but has been putting the ball in play and has not looked overmatched.

Can’t wait for game 5.

Nats projected Starting lineup versus Kershaw: not half bad

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Kershaw is a daunting match-up. Photo via wiki.

Kershaw is a daunting match-up. Photo via wiki.

I was emailing with infrequent commenter “Old Man” (aka, my Dad) about the upcoming game one match-up and I said something along the lines of, “Well the Nats are in trouble because their two most important hitters are both hurt and lefty.”

Well, why go by biased observations when you can go to the stats?  Here’s the career stat lines for each of our projected game 1 starters against Clayton Kershaw:

  • Harper: 1 for 15; ok, that’s not good.
  • Murphy: 6 for 19 with 2 homers; not bad, .316 avg, .947 OPS
  • Werth: 10 for 35 for a .286/.359/.457 line.  not bad again
  • Rendon: 5 for 16; .313 but they are all singles; no power.
  • Espinosa: 1 for 17; no surprise there
  • Zimmerman: 7 for 22 but with no power for .318
  • Lobaton; 0 for 8; again, no surprise.
  • Turner: never faced Kershaw but his career lefty split shows consistent average versus his Righty split but significantly less power; 13 of his 14 career homers have come against righties.
So honestly; those aren’t half bad numbers against Kershaw all in all.  Murphy, Werth, Rendon and Zimmerman all about .300 against him.  Maybe you work your lineup differently as a result; maybe drop Harper down a bit and stack the top of the order with those who have had success:
  • Turner, Werth, Rendon, Murphy, Zimmerman, Harper, Espinosa, Lobaton, Scherzer.
Also keep in mind: Kershaw has a 4.59 post season ERA.  Its the playoffs: anything can happen.  Last year for example he gave up 3 runs in 6 2/3rds in game one of the NLDS to take the loss then completely shut down the Mets in Game 4 on three days rest for the win … but the Mets did enough against the Dodger’s big two to take the series and move on.
Yeah its a tough match-up for the Nats, or anyone.  Kershaw shut them down in LA in June, giving up 1 run in 7.  Scherzer somehow missed the Dodgers in both their season series this year; funny how nobody points that fact out when they talk about how the Dodgers beat the Nats 5 of 6 this year.  The Nats used these 6 pitchers against the Dodgers: Petit, Roark, Ross in LA in June, then Lopez, Gonzalez and Strasburg in DC.   The one win?  Surprise; it was with lefty Gonzalez on the mound.  I won’t make too much of this, since the Dodgers used 15 different starters this year and its frankly amazing they still won 91 games.  That and the fact that the Nats missed their #3 Kenta Maeda in both series.
Still, I like our chances with those career match-up stats.

Nats 2016 Minor League Players of the year; do they matter?

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Lopez 2016 Nats minor league pitcher of the year; will it matter? Photo via wp.com/Mitchell Layton getty images

Lopez 2016 Nats minor league pitcher of the year; will it matter? Photo via wp.com/Mitchell Layton getty images

The Nats recently announced their 2016 Minor League Players of the Year, and then recognized them along with GCL MVP Juan Soto over the weekend.

Rafael Bautista, Reynaldo Lopez, Jose Marmolejos-Diaz and Juan Soto, who all hail from the Dominican Republic and represent the best evidence of the Nats long awaited “rebirth” in that market, were all recognized.  And that’s great.

But how have the Nats Minor League Players of the Year fared in terms of eventual career accomplishment?  Is this achievement a good precursor for MLB success?  Lets dig deeper.

Here’s a list of the Nats declared prospects of the year (i’ve gone back beyond the Nats time in DC since prospects lag in terms of their arrival), along with some quick commentary on where they’ve gone:

  • 2016: Jose Marmelejos-Diaz, Reynaldo Lopez: Lopez had some impact at the MLB level in his first shot, may factor into the post-season bullpen, but is looking at AAA next year unless an injury or trade occurs.  Marmeloejos-Diaz is still too young to pass judgement.  Verdict: too early to tell obviously; Is Lopez going to be an effective mid-rotation starter or (as some pundits believe) is he going to end up being more effective in the bullpen?
  • 2015: Jose Marmelejos-Diaz, Austin Voth: Voth had a solid AAA season in 2016, but was (somewhat surprisingly) not called up on 9/1 despite facing Rule-5 protection this coming off-season.  Has he peaked?  Was he left off of the 40-man for strategic (i.e. trade bait) purposes?   He’s clearly behind three other AAA guys on the depth chart right now with a full MLB roster; what does his future hold?  Verdict: too early but concerns about Voth’s role going forward.
  • 2014: Steven Souza, Lucas Giolito: Souza famously netted the team both Trea Turner and Joe Ross in trade, but has been an injury prone 1-win/year player for Tampa Bay ever since (total bWAR for Tampa: 1.9 in two seasons).  Giolito’s jury is still out; despite his lofty prospect status he struggled on the big stage in 2016 amid reports of mechanical tweaks and struggles.  Verdict: early on Giolito, Souza might be who he is.
  • 2013: Billy Burns, Taylor Jordan: Burns netted the team Jerry Blevins in trade and then had one decent season with Oakland (a 2.8 bWAR season in 2015 that may have had the Nats with trader’s remorse.  However, he struggled badly in 2016, was traded, was sent to the minors, and may not be much more than a defensive outfield bench player.  Jordan had 9 promising starts in 2013, then struggled in spot starts in 2014, blew out his elbow, came back, struggled again in 2015 spot starts, blew out his elbow again this year and was summarily released.  He may struggle to find a team willing to give a 4-A pitcher on his third elbow a shot going forward.  Verdict: one may be done, one may be a 4th outfielder at best.
  • 2012: Nathan Karns, Matt Skole: Karns was a lower-round draft pick with an injury history the Nats took a chance on and he shot through the system, taking just a season and a half to rise from low-A.  The team capitalized on his promise and flipped him for three role players (Jose LobatonFelipe Rivero and Drew Vettleson).  Since, Karns got flipped to Seattle, struggled early and has missed most of 2016 with a back strain.  Skole is a polarizing figure amongst readers here; to me he is a 27yr old AAA power-only hitter who has had three consecutive NRI to spring training (so its not as if the MLB squad doesn’t know who he is).  He’s at the end of his string with the Nats and likely moves elsewhere as a MLFA for next year.  I wish he turned out better; after his fantastic 2012 season an unfortunate injury cost him all of 2013 and he really seems like he’s been playing catchup since.  Verdict: Karns may turn out to be more than he’s shown, but Skole is a 6-year MLFA.
  • 2011: Steve Lombardozzi, Brad Peacock: Lombardozzi made the majors as a 19th round pick (quite the rarity; it usually only happens 2-3 times per draft class), got traded in the Doug Fister deal, got traded again, then released, then picked up by Baltimore, then released again and found himself playing indy ball after getting cut by the Chicago White Sox this past spring.  The Nats picked him up for their AAA team but he possesses a negative bWAR career value as a backup utility player.  Peacock (not unlike Karns) had a brief debut with the Nats before getting used in trade to acquire others (in his case, going to Oakland as part of the Gio Gonzalez deal).  Oakland flipped him to Houston, where he struggled as a starter in 2014 and has been basically a 4-A taxi squad member between their AAA team and their bullpen.  Verdict: both guys ended up better AAA players than MLB players.
  • 2010: Tyler Moore, Tommy Milone: Moore matriculated to the majors and had a fantastic 2012 off the bench (123 OPS+) … and then never matched it.  The Nats traded him for Nate Freiman in a “moving the deck chairs” trade with Atlanta, and Moore spent most of 2016 off a 40-man and on the D/L.  Milone, like Karns and Peacock after him, had a brief and exciting debut with the MLB club before being used as trade fodder for others (he was also in the Gonzalez trade).  He excelled in Oakland’s big park and was then flipped for Sam Fuld to the Twins.  He’s been less successful with Minnesota, getting dumped out of the rotation in 2016 and posting a 5+ ERA this year for baseball’s worst team.  He may be a non-tender candidate and could be on the move again this winter.  Verdict: At best a 4-A slugger and a 6th starter.
  • 2009: Derek Norris, Brad Meyers: Is it interesting that three Nats Minor league players of the year were all included in the same trade?  Norris was a centerpiece of the Gonzalez deal while still relatively a young minor leaguer; he peaked as an All Star in 2014 for Oakland before getting moved to San Diego in the Jesse Hahn deal.  He’s struggled in San Diego, hitting just .186 this year.  Meyers’ career is an injury plagued shame; after a fantastic 2009 he started 2010 just as well before getting hurt.  He returned and had a solid 2011 in AA and AAA but was taken in Rule5 by the Yankees.  He missed basically all of 2012 with injury and was returned as damaged goods, an injury that cost him all of 2013.  By the time he made it back in 2014, he just had nothing left; after 6 starts in Harrisburg the team released him.  Verdict: At least a backup catcher in the majors and an asterick due to injury.
  • 2008: Leonard Davis, Jordan Zimmermann: Davis was named the hitter of the year on the back of a solid year at Potomac … when he was 24 and a year and a half older than the league.  He kept climbing the ranks, hit .250 in Syracuse in 2011 but never got a shot in the majors.  He bounced around indy ball for a copule of years but retired in 2013.   Zimmermann is what we all know him to be: a 9-figure starter and easily the most successful player on this list .. which, not to bury the lede this early, is kind of the point of this article.  Verdict: a AA washout and a #2 starter in the majors.
  • 2007: Justin Maxwell, John Lannan: Maxwell toiled for years as a 4th OF for the Nats in their dark times before getting flipped for a middle reliever in Adam Olbrychowski.  That started his itinerant career, playing for Houston, Kansas City, San Francisco and most recently Boston’s AAA team.  He has now decamped for Korea.  For his career he has a bWAR figure of 2.9, 2.4 of which came in his best season in Houston.  Lannan famously went from Nats opening day starter and Ace during the “down years” to AAA insurance policy in 2012.  After getting mercifully non-tendered in 2012, he played for two different NL East rivals in 2013-2014, and has pitched full AAA seasons in the PCL the last two years.  7.1 career bWAR, most of which was earned during his first two full seasons starting for the awful 2008 and 2009 Nats.  Verdict: two MLB players, both of which had limited impact in their careers.
  • 2006: Kory Casto, Zech Zinicola: Casto was a long-time Nats farmhand favorite, progressing slowly one level a  year and always producing.  He finally made the majors in 2007 but struggled in parts of two seasons and was outrighted off the 40-man after 2009.  He elected FA, bounced around two organizations in 2010 before retiring in July of that  year.  Zincola won the Nats minor league pitcher of the year in a  year when he threw just 32 innings as a closer, an indication of how bad our farm system was in the early years.  He played for years in the Nats system, never making the majors, but interestingly played a full season this year with the independent Sugar Land Skeeters.  Verdict: essentially two career minor leaguers.
  • 2005: Kory Casto, Mike O’Conner: O’Conner became just the second pitcher in the history of George Washington baseball to make the majors (the first being a guy from the 1920s who had exactly one career IP).  He gave the team 20 starts in 2006 and then had a grand total of 15 MLB innings thereafter, toiling for years in AAA.  Verdict: as with Casto, essentially a career minor leaguer.
  • 2004: Ryan Church: a late bloomer who won the Nats minor league player of the year the year he was acquired by destroying Edmonton before getting called up.   By 2007 he was a solid contributor for the Nats and looked like a viable RF option for a few  years.  He got flipped to the Mets in Jim Bowden‘s ill-fated trade for the “toolsy” Lastings Milledge not uncoincidentally just before his first arbitration pay day, played there halfway decently for a year and a half before getting moved to Atlanta.   He signed as a FA in Pittsburgh and struggled badly, and 2010 was his last year in the big leagues.  Total career bWAR: 9.1, most of it in the three solid years he gave the Nats.  Verdict: a MLB regular for a handful of seasons.
  • 2003: Terrmel Sledge: Sledge won the Expos minor league award after an excellent year in AAA Edmonton.   He was solid in 2004 for the big league club but then barely played in 2005 thanks to injury.  That off-season he was flipped in the Alfonso Soriano deal, traded to San Diego a few weeks later, played two non-descript seasons there and then played 5 years in Japan, retiring after the 2012 season at the age of 35.  Verdict: essentially a 4-A player.

 

Summary: 13 years of the franchise naming minor league players of the year (24 total guys) has produced:

  • One legitimate MLB star (Zimmermann)
  • 6 slightly better than replacement Major leaguers: Souza, Milone, Karns, Norris, Lannan, Church
  • 9 basically 4-A players: Burns, Jordan, Lombardozzi, Peacock, Moore, Maxwell, Casto, O’Conner, Sledge
  • 4 guys who never made the majors: Skole (as of yet), Meyers, Davis, Zinicola
  • 4 guys who its too early to tell: Marmelejos-Diaz, Lopez, Voth, Giolito

Not a great track record.  Lots of this is squarely on the shoulders of the early state of the farm system; fair enough.   Its also wise to note that none of the main home-grown stars that the team as developed over the years appears on this list; No Zimmerman, Harper, Strasburg, Rendon, Storen, Cole, Solis, Ray, Espinosa, etc.  That’s because these guys either raced through the minors or just never shined brightly enough at a particular level to earn the award.

Also interesting; look how many of these guys got flipped soon after their being named our POTY: Norris, Milone, Peacock, Karns, Burns, Souza.  Its almost as if the team is trading high on more marginal prospects thanks to their POTY status.  Look at the return in each of these deals; it seems like the Nats “won” the trade nearly every time.

Another interesting side note; while doing this I noticed that no less than four guys from the 2007 draft are on this list: Zimmermann (2nd), Souza (3rd), Norris (4th) and Meyers (5th).  That draft also included future big leagers in Detwiler (1st), Smoker (1st-supp) and Smolinksi (2nd).  and McCoy (10th).  That’s a heck of a draft; all due credit.

 

 

 

Post-Season pitching Staff; who should it be?

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Gonzalez is key in the NLDS. Photo via Wikipedia/Flickr from user muohace_dc

Gonzalez is key in the NLDS. Photo via Wikipedia/Flickr from user muohace_dc

As requested in the comments, here’s a good thread to argue about and attempt to read the tea leaves as to what the team will do for its upcoming divisional series against Los Angeles.

A quick note before starting: the Dodgers are literally dead last in the majors against lefties as a team.   The have a team BA of .216 against all lefties, which is 15 points lower than the 29th ranked team.  They have a 75 wRC+ against lefties and a .634 OPS figure as a team  … by way of comparison, Michael Taylor has an OPS figure of .648 for the 2016 season.  So the Dodgers hit lefties kinda like Taylor hits pitching in general.  I only mention this because, while I knew the Dodgers were “bad” against lefties, I didn’t know they were this bad.

So, common sense may seem to indicate that the team would know an important fact like this and either a) plan their rotation accordingly, and b) plan their bullpen accordingly.  But, we are talking about a team managed by Dusty Baker, and I’m not sure he’ll have it in him to perhaps consider using Gio Gonzalez in this fashion.

So, that being said, here’s what I think will happen with the rotation and bullpen, based on what we’ve been seeing the last few weeks.  (Btw, i am assuming that the Nats don’t blow home field advantage this weekend and the first two games are in DC … which may be a bad assumption but I can’t see them losing 2 of 3 to the unfortunately reeling Marlins)


 

Rotation goes (and this isn’t much of a surprise): Scherzer, Roark, Gonzalez, Ross

Discussion: Scherzer is scheduled to throw Sunday 10/2 in the final game of the season, giving him normal 4 days rest before the first game of the NLDS (here’s the MLB 2016 post-season schedule).  Past that, i’m guessing that Baker will re-arrange the rotation based on performance and not the current order since everyone will have plenty of rest by the time the NLDS rolls around.  Assuming that the final three games feature the expected probables of A.J. Cole tonight, Tanner Roark tomorrow 10/1 and Scherzer, then Roark would be on five days of rest for the NLDS game 2.

Gonzalez then goes in Game 3, in LA.  Is that bad?  Maybe not; in 2016 his home/away splits are nearly identical; he’s been not good no matter where he pitches.

Game 4 is where we think Joe Ross goes 100 pitches or so, which might get him to the 5th inning, and then we see Reynaldo Lopez in a “once through the order” bridge to the back end of the bullpen.  Ross seems like he has gotten back to the point where he can go.

This leaves the likes of Mat LatosA.J. Cole and Lucas Giolito off the post-season roster.  None has really merited inclusion.


Bullpen goes (and this is where I’m sure there’s some disagreement): Melancon, Kelley, Treinen, Belisle, Perez*, Rzepczynski*, Solis*

This means we’re leaving off:

  • Petit: he’s struggled badly and his long man role is replicated by Lopez or Perez
  • Glover: he has also struggled down the stretch and loses out in lieu of a third lefty
  • Gott, Martin and Grace: all have pitched well since their 9/1 call ups, but none are better options or have made cases to supplant the four righties listed above, all of whom have excelled this year.  But I will say, these three may make excellent in-house options to replace the guys who will likely be departing this off-season via FA (specifically Belisle and Rzepczynski).

 

I think this is a good plan of attack.

Who is the first lefty out of the pen to face the likes of Joc PedersonCorey Seager, Adrian Gonzalez or Chase Utley?   Per their current depth chart, the Dodgers are starting no less than six guys who are lefty only but the above four are the ones to be most scared of.  I think it’ll be scrabble, but having three arms makes it easier to do lefty matchups multiple times in a game.

thoughts?

 

Ladson’s Inbox 9/15/16

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Turner is the biggest surprise of the year for me.  photo via wp.com

Turner is the biggest surprise of the year for me. photo via wp.com

Wow, what a treat!  I’ve been kind of slacking in the content department and suddenly our favorite beat writer Bill Ladson pops out an unexpected mid-September mailbag.  So here’s something to argue about this weekend.

As always, here’s how I would have answered his questions.

Q: Who do you think is the most pleasant surprise on the Nationals this year

A: Trea Turner without a doubt.  We knew he was going to be good, but I don’t think anyone knew he was going to be *this* good.  Keith Law in his chat yesterday  pointed out a fun little fact about Trea Turner: he’s got a (now) 3.0 bWAR this year, which would rank him (unadjusted for position) as the 6th best ever for either the Rays or the Padres, the two teams that passed along Turner (and Joe Ross) in that trade two years ago.  What a steal.  And despite his only playing 57 games this year you have to think he’s in the mix for NL Rookie of the Year.  Corey Seager probably has it wrapped up, but a 2nd or 3rd place for Turner seems warranted.

Ladson said Stephen Drew, which I guess you could argue for … except that he’s a bench player who has missed a ton of time and isn’t a lock to make the post-season roster given his illness.

—-

Q: How far do you think the Nationals could go in the postseason?

A: Could?  They could go all the way!  :-)  In reality, I think the Stephen Strasburg injury really, really hurts them in their likely NLDS match up with Los Angeles.  If the Nats rolled out Scherzer-Strasburg-Roark-Gonzalez versus the Dodgers’ Kershaw-Hill-Maeda-random 4th starter i’d feel pretty good about our chances in that series.  Right now we’re basically auditioning pitchers for that 4th spot and Gonzalez has been shaky, and Los Angeles’ arms are daunting for a team that routinely gets shut down by starters from teams like Philadelphia and Atlanta.  Right now, I think we lose a close NLDS series to Los Angeles.

Even if Strasburg was healthy, I think we’d really be hard-pressed to beat Chicago in a 7 game series either.  We took 2 of 3 here, lost 4 out of 4 there this year (though as we’ve discussed here, that sweep wasn’t nearly as dominant as the press made it seem), but we still lost to them, and they’ve stayed at full strength basically the whole season.  I don’t see how anyone beats the Cubs this year.

Ladson hedges his answer, saying he wants to see how the bullpen and offense go the rest of the way.  Why is he worried about the bullpen?  Isn’t it one of the best in the game?  The Nats bullpen is #1 in baseball in ERA, #2 in Fip.   What more do you want?

Q: Do you think Stephen Strasburg will be ready to pitch in the postseason?

A: Nope.  Strained Flexor Mass is usually a 30 day injury; he got hurt on 9/7/16.  So at best t hat’s 10/7/16 … or basically at the end of the divisional series.  But … where’s he going to rehab?  There’s no more minor league games; i guess he could throw simulated or instructional league games.  But more importantly, this is a notably conservative team medically, especially with Strasburg over the years and especially since they just committed $175M to him.  No way do they rush him back from a serious injury just on the opportunity to make one post-season start.  Ladson agrees.

Q: Why do you call Jayson Werth “The King” on Twitter?

A: (me shaking my head): who knows.  Maybe because he’s the king of getting caught doing triple digits on the beltway?  I’ve lived here all my life and can’t tell you how many times i’ve hit 100 on the interstates around here without getting caught.  Ladson says he calls Werth the king because he turned “clubhouse from unprofessional to first class.”  Well, except for all of last year under Matt Williams … I guess even the King couldn’t salvage that dumpster fire.

Q: What do you think of the job Danny Espinosa has done this year?

A: Good power, good defense, bad hit tool.  About what we expected; his plus defense and power this year have outweighed his strikeouts and his low batting average.   He’s got a 1.8 bWAR and a 1.9 fWAR on the year, so its not like he’s totally useless out there.  Its one of the reasons i’ve supported him and havn’t been completely ready to get rid of him; he’s ranked 15th among qualified Shortstops in fWAR this year.  So that’s right in the middle; league average.   I mean, if he had negative WAR, didn’t have power, or wasn’t a plus defender, I could see the huge rush to replace him.  But moving him this coming off-season (as many want to of my readership) opens up another hole in Center that’s probably harder to fill right now than Short.  Its why I suspect the team may just stand pat, keep Turner in center another year, and roll out basically the same lineup in 2017.  Ladson gives him a “6.5 out of 7” and says he deserves the NL Gold Glove.  I dunno about that; there’s 5 or 6 NL shortstops that probably rate better defensively than him.

Q: Was Murphy what you expected this season?

A: No way; Murphy a ton better than I expected.  I was hoping for a solid 6th hitter, not a frigging MVP candidate.  He earned his entire $37.5M contract this year.  Ladson Agrees.

Q: What do you think of Dusty Baker as a manager? I know you often said Davey Johnson is the best manager you ever covered. Where does Baker rank as far as Nationals manager go?

A: I think Baker has done a fantastic job of calming this group, bringing some order, and not showing any of the faults that he was accused of in the past.  He’s shifted, he’s managed the bullpen decently, he’s stuck to his guns and rested players, he’s communicated well, he hasn’t burned out starters.  I think he’s ridden his primary catcher too hard … but then again, Ramos is having a career year and Lobaton is a huge step back offensively.  Is he better than Davey?  Not yet for me: lets see what happens when Baker has to deal with some injury issues or a better divisional rival.  Ladson has them 1-2 with Davey still on top.

 

Strasburg Flexor Mass; what’s plan B for the playoffs?

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It could have been worse; it could have been this. Photo credit unknown.

It could have been worse; it could have been this. Photo credit unknown.

Its been a greek tragedy the last few days in Nats town.  Stephen Strasburg (you know, that guy who we just paid $175M for the next 30 years with deferred payments) clutches his elbow in his first game back after hitting the D/L for a different “elbow soreness” issue.  Nats town fears the worst.  MRI comes back and its “just” a Flexor Mass Strain.  They say it isn’t going to be season ending but…

But we have some rather recent and close-to-home examples to use to gauge his D/L time out:

  • Mat Latos was diagnosed with the same injury in Mid April 2014 and missed exactly 2 months of that season.
  • Homer Bailey had a more severe case of the same in August 2014, had to have surgery and was back in time for the beginning of 2015 (where he subsequently had a different injury).
  • Jonathan Broxton had an even more severe “torn” flexor mass in August 2013, had surgery and was out 6 months.
  • (h/t to Nationals101 on Twitter): Andrew Miller, who strained it in June 2015 against the Nats and missed about a month (injury on 6/10/15, next appearance 7/8/15).

So, best case he takes a couple of week off, it magically feels better, we shoot him up with cortisone and toradol (Hey they’re both legal!) and run merrily into the NLDS (not likely).

Worst case, he has to have a surgical procedure to clean stuff up and he’s ready for April 2017.

Most likely case, the conservative Nats management team shuts him down for the season (he is after all due $175M … and it’d be kind of foolish to risk that kind of investment for one playoff appearance) since it seems like its at least a month of rest.

In the mean time, the Nats have a playoff series to plan for.  Now what do we do?

  • Scherzer, Roark, Gonzalez are all healthy and ready to go.

Who is the 4th starter?  Instead of arguing about whether we take Joe Ross or Gio Gonzalez, are we now asking ourselves who makes that 4th start?  Do we think Joe Ross is going to be ready?  I dunno; I certainly hope so but we’re out of minor league games for him to rehab in and I havn’t heard much about his progress.  Assuming Ross isn’t ready to go either … Are we to the point where we’re wondering who is better, Yusmeiro PetitA.J. Cole, Reynaldo Lopez or Lucas Giolito?

Pros/Cons of these options:

  • Petit: was brought in to be the spot starter so he should be able to handle this.  But he’s been a bit shakey lately; his ERA has risen from 2.72 to 3.90 in just his last 8 appearances, which include a 5 run implosion against Colorado to blow a game the Nats had come back to tie late, an appearance in early August against Atlanta where he couldn’t record an out, and a bunch of other unclean appearances.
  • Cole: he has shown signs of life (looking awesome in New York against our closest rival) and then signs of ineptitude (giving up a 3-run homer to the only guy on the Phillies who could hurt him).
  • Lopez: great fastball … and great hittability.
  • Giolito: well, we don’t need to go into the pro- and anti-Giolito arguments, do we?

I dunno; who among that list are you thinking is best suited for it?

Are you thinking outside the box instead?  Mat Latos?  I dunno; do you think he’s ready to go?  Would you think that to be a slap in the face of all the guys who busted their butts with this organization for years to have a post-season start opportunity given to a guy they signed off the street two months ago?

Me?  I think you give the start to Lopez.  I don’t trust Petit, Cole seems too hittable, and Giolito needs an off-season to get his mechanics (and his head) straight.

(post-publishing update; just saw this at NJ: we know it isn’t going to be Bronson Arroyo… who just couldn’t come back and likely faces the end of his career).