Nationals Arm Race

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

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Check-in on Traded-away Prospect Arms

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Dunning now in the Texas rotation. Photo via mlb.com

The Nats are well-known for their heavy emphasis on pitching in drafts, and then for using said pitching depth as “currency” to acquire talent to build their roster. The team has traded away more than 20 prospect pitchers in the last 5 years, ranging from recent MLB debutants to rookie-league wild-cards.

I thought I’d be interesting to check in with some of the arms we’ve moved over the past few years.

Part of me does this as a “wouldn’t it be nice if we had kept them…” motive, since not all of these trades were really ones I would have made. But nearly all of these trades contributed in one way or another to the 2019 title … so I have to temper my criticism. In the end, you’d rather have a title than a prospect. But, choices have been made over the years and some of those choices look better or worse in retrospect.

These are listed in order of MLB impact of the traded away talent, not chronologically (this list does not include all the MLB arms we traded away in the 2018 missing the playoff purge; this is mostly about trading away prospects).

  • Lucas Giolito; Traded to Chicago White Sox (along with Lopez and Dunning) for Adam Eaton in 2016. Eaton gave the team 4 injury-filled years and a combined 2.7 bWAR. Giolito is now the #1 starter for the White Sox and was an all-star in 2019, but it took him several years and multiple mechanical changes to get there.
  • Jesus Luzardo: traded to Oakland in 2017 (along with Treinen and Neuse) to acquire Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle. Luzardo rose to be one of the best prospects in the game ahead of the 2020 season, now Oakland’s #2 starter as a 23yr old. Madson and Doolittle served as valuable back-end bullpen pieces, though Madson did not make it to our title-winning season and Doolittle lost his closer job by 2019 and is pitching elsewhere. This is the kind of trade i wish we made less of; you should be able to grow relievers from your farm system, not trade away future #2 projected starters for a combined 3 seasons of varying production.
  • Dane Dunning was the 3rd of 3 ranked prospects in the 2016 Chicago/Eaton trade. He hovered in the top prospects list for several years, had TJ surgery, debuted with some success in late 2020 for the White Sox, then was flipped to Texas in 2020 for Lance Lynn, and is now featuring in the 2021 Texas rotation as their 5th starter.
  • Taylor Hearn: was the 2nd of 2 prospects in the 2016 Pittsburgh/Melancon trade. He was subsequently flipped by Pittsburgh in 2018 for Keone Kela, and debuted for Texas in late 2019. Since, he has been an 7th/8th inning reliever for Texas with some effectiveness.
  • Austin Adams, traded to Seattle in 2019 for Nick Wells after we DFA’d him. Pitched effectively for Seattle’s bullpen in 2019, then traded to San Diego in Aug 2020 for a package of players. Pitching in middle relief for San Diego in 2021. Wells has done basically nothing for this team, while Adams has at least continued to pitch in the majors and does beg the question … why couldn’t he do for us what he has managed to do for Seattle and San Diego?

Summary: well, you’d have a pretty nice start to a rotation right now with Giolito/Luzardo/Dunning. But it took years to get there for these guys: these were players who were traded 4-5 years ago. And the guys we got in return (Eaton, Doolittle) were key parts of the 2019 title team.

Minor league arms traded in last 5 years still in minors:

  • Reynaldo Lopez was the 2nd ranked of 3 prospects in the 2016 Chicago/Eaton trade; he was a full time rotation starter in 2018 and 2019 for Chicago, but got beaten out for the rotation in 2021 and is in AAA. Interesting how many thought Lopez was the “prize” of that trade … now he’s like 7th on their rotation depth chart.
  • Wil Crowe: traded to Pittsburgh (along with Eddy Yean) for Josh Bell. Crowe made the opening day 2021 roster for Pittsburgh, but was optioned after one poor outing. Likely projecting as a 4-A type starter, and future analysis of this trade will have to remember that Pittsburgh was in a salary dump mode when evaluating whatever Crowe and Yean become.
  • Jefry Rodriguez, traded (along with Johnson and Monasterio) to Cleveland for Yan Gomes in 2018. Pitched for a couple months in the Cleveland rotation in 2019, hit free agency in 2021, signed MLFA with Washington in 2021, likely in AAA. Probably safe to say the Nats are coming out on top of this move.
  • Taylor Guilbeau: traded to Seattle for Roenis Elias in 2019. Pitched for Seattle MLB middle relief in 2019 and 2020, DFA’d and outrighted in Feb 2021. Elias got lit up, got hurt and was essentially useless for us.
  • Trevor Gott; traded to San Francisco in 2019 for cash after we DFA’d him; he pitched for SF’s bullpen for two years, was DFA’d and outrighted in Feb 2021. Once again, like with Adams … how is it that Gott couldn’t break our crummy 2019 bullpen but then pitched effectively for another organization immediately upon his exit from Washington? its like Blake Treinen all over again.
  • Pedro Avila was traded to San Diego for Derek Norris in 2016; he rose in the ranks and debuted briefly for San Diego in 2019, then was subsequently DFA’d and outrighted; he remains in their minor league system and projects for AAA in 2021. Norris was originally drafted by DC, and they wanted to get him back. But he only lasted another 3 months with the team, getting released in spring training 2017 before catching on with Tampa for one more season.
  • Aaron Fletcher: traded to Seattle for Hunter Strickland in 2019. Likely in AAA in 2021. Strickland … wasn’t good for Seattle in 2019 and he wasn’t good for us either.
  • Mario Sanchez: traded to Philadelphia for Jimmy Cordero in 2016. Hit MLFA in 2018, came back to Washington, projected AA in 2021. Cordero was crummy for us, then got DFA’d, selected and was gone.
  • Yohanse Morel, traded (along with Gutierrez and Perkins) to Kansas City for Kelvin Herrera in 2018. Likely in High-A in 2021.
  • Kyle Johnston: traded to Toronto for Daniel Hudson in 2019. Likely in High-A in 2021. Hudson closed out game 7 of the 2019 World Series; enough said.
  • Tyler Watson, traded to Minnesota for Brandon Kintzler in 2017. Likley in High-A in 2021. Knitzler was (possibly) scapegoated in the infamous clubhouse blowup mid 2018 and was dumped for pennies on the dollar in 2018.
  • Ryan McMahon; traded to Minnesota for Ryne Harper in 2020; Likely in Low-A in 2021. Harper has really yet to do much, so this is a show-me trade.
  • Eddy Yean; traded to Pittsburgh (along with Crowe) in 2020; projected to pitch in GCL or Low-A in 2021.

Summary: I see several really good moves here, a couple that didn’t work out as well for the Nats, and some that are preliminary. About what you expect when you’re trading prospect arms.

Minor League Arms traded in the last 5 years who are now apparently out of baseball.

  • McKenzie Mills: traded to Philadelphia for Howie Kendrick in 2017. Struggled in AA in 2019 for Philadelphia, released in big Minor league purge in June 2020 and out of baseball. This was a prime example of the Nats selling high on a guy; Mills blew that summer, going 12-3 for the 2017 season, then never replicated that success and was out of baseball two years later. Odd that the team didn’t try to pick him back up after his 2019 release.
  • Jeffrey Rosa; traded to Tampa Bay for Enny Romero in 2017. Struggled for Tampa’s GCL team in 2018 and was released.
  • Mick VanVossen, traded to Chicago WS for Ryan Raburn. struggled in high-A in 2017, likely released that off-season (he has no stats since 2017).
  • Felipe Rivero, traded to Pittsburgh (along with Hearn) in 2016 for Mark Melancon. Changed his name to Felipe Vazquez, replaced Melancon as Pittsburgh’s closer and was dominant, a 2-time all-star in 2018 and 2019. However, he was arrested on child sex abuse charges at the end of the 2019 season and faces multiple felonies in multiple states. As much as I hated this trade at the time (we gave up two solid players for yet another veteran closer since our team for reasons inexplicable cannot home grow closers ourselves), I think we’re all happy to have dodged a bullet w/r/t what Rivero/Vazquez became.

Did I miss anyone?

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.

Dodgers win the Series: Welcome to the off-season

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ARLINGTON, TX – OCTOBER 27: Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers holds the commissioners trophy after defeating the Tampa Bay Rays 3-1 in Game Six to win the 2020 MLB World Series at Globe Life Field on Tuesday, October 27, 2020 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Cooper Neill/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

The end of the world series brings the beginning of baseball’s off-season, and the Nats wasted no time officially declaring its free agents to be.

I’m tempted to write about some of the hot-button stories that led from Game 6, notably surrounding Blake Snell‘s ridiculous hook (reminiscent of the Greinke hook in game 7 of last year’s WS) and Justin Turner‘s returning to the field after testing positive for Covid-19. But others have covered it far better than me (both on Snell and on Turner).

See the Nats transaction list officially for all the 9 declaration for 2020 players done on 10/28/20.

As of this writing, the 40-man is as empty as I can ever remember, having shed 9 FAs yesterday and another 10 outrights between Oct 10th and Oct 15th. By my accounting (and per the Big Board)

Notably, a number of players who had options were also declared FAs yesterday, as discussed here. We talked previously about possibly considering options for some of these guys, but none were taken. Adam Eaton, Howie Kendrick, Anibal Sanchez and Eric Thames all declined.

As it stands now, the 40-man roster sits at just 28 players. Joe Ross will be the 29th once he’s restored. Technically its at just 25 players, as procedurally the team has not activated its three remaining 60-day DL guys (Strasburg, Castro, Romero).

Lots of work to be done this off-season and the first big decisions just passed by with little fan fare.

Nats Off-Season Roster Considerations

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Do the Nats bring back this famous celebration couple? Photo via Brobible

Since we have no playoffs to discuss, we’re pivoting immediately into off-season mode.

The Nats procedurally on 9/28/20 activated all their 10-day DL players. They also procedurally recalled the last three remaining players from the 40-man alternative site for the purposes of off-season moves. Amazingly, they ended the season with 9 players on the 10-day DL and just one healthy player on the 40-man roster not already playing (Raudy Read).

https://www.mlb.com/nationals/roster/transactions/2020/09

Free Agents to-be are immediately declared FAs at 8am Central time the day after the World Series ends. The team doesn’t have to restore its 60-day DL players until 5 days after the World Series ends, which allows them to add them back after free agents are declared and after the team has a small exclusive window to negotiate. So, we have to wait for about a month to see the next dominos fall, but we can start to speculate now.

Based on my records, here’s how our roster will look in the off-season, which will drive the decisions to make. We’ll classify these players into 5 categories

Category 1: Players under a “veteran” contract for 2021 (7): Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin, Hudson, Harris, Gomes, Castro. Seven players but a huge payroll hit (per Cots, these 7 players count for $120M or so in cap space next year.


Category 2: Pre-Arbitration players under full team control (22): Voth, Fedde, Crowe, Finnegan, Harper, McGowin, Braymer, Espino, AWilliams (TJ aug 2020), Read, Garcia, Noll, Robles, Stevenson, Hernandez, Bacus, Rainey, Bourque, Kieboom, Sanchez, Romero, Barrera. That’s a ton of players on pre-arb deals, which is important since they will represent a huge chunk of the active roster in 2021. I think a few of these pre-arb guys are in discussion for “first 40-man guy to get DFA’d when the team needs room” territory (Noll, Williams, Sanchez) but for now, they’re all in play. Note: a couple of these guys were technically MLFA signings in 2020 so i’m not sure if they are now pre-arb or still FAs. Apologies if I got their status wrong).


Category 3: Arbitration-eligible players for 2021 (8). Here’s where we start discussions. Player by player:

  • Suero (A1); lock to tender
  • Turner (A3): lock to tender
  • Soto (A1): lock to tender. I saw something recently that seemed to indicate he may or may not be a Super-2 guy, but he was projecting to be Super-2 after last off-season so i’m assuming he’s Arb-eligible this year.
  • Taylor (A4); Nothing has really changed with Taylor; he struggled at the plate again but hit a few bombs, which drove his OPS+ figure up a bit from what you’d expect for someone who hit below .200. The change in Taylor in 2020 is that his defensive numbers COST him WAR this year instead of helped. Probably Small Sample Size driven, but Taylor’s bigger problem is that his direct competition as “4th outfielder” on this roster Andrew Stevenson just blew up in 2020, making Taylor an obvious non-tender candidate.
  • Guerra (A4); his contract status is odd; he has bounced back and forth on and off the roster and signed a combo major/minor FA deal this past off-season. But Cots lists him as arb-eligible, so i’m not entirely sure if he’s a FA or if he’s arb eligible. My guess is that the team cuts another deal with him and non-tenders him if he’s eligible then immediately re-signs him the next day.
  • Barrett (A3); another odd case; how much does sentimentality count? The team called up a slew of other prospects before recalling Barrett this year, he pitched in 2 games then hit the DL. It seems to me he’s a non-tender candidate and at age 32 could be facing one last shot at making a MLB roster next year.
  • Elias (A3); 2020 a lost season for Elias, who went onto the 60-day DL early and barely pitched in 2019 for this team as well (thanks to the idiotic decision in Aug 2019 to allow him to hit, which resulted in a leg injury with him running out a grounder in a meaningless at bat). The Nats didn’t give up a ton to acquire him (giving up two decent minor league arms in Taylor Guilbeau and Elvis Alvarado) so I can’t imagine them non-tendering him, but how do you do salary evaluation of a player who misses an entire year?
  • JRoss (A3); he opted out in 2020, and his absence was felt immediately when it became clear his 5th starter replacements could not cut it. I think you tender him and he goes back into the starter competition for 2021. Worst case he gets cut mid-way through spring training and the Nats escape with 1/6th of his salary.

Category 4: Players with Options for 2021 (5): here’s where we start having some tougher decisions.

  • Sanchez: $12M club option, $2M buyout: I’m not sure how you take this option if you’re the Nats after the season we just saw. Sanchez was lucky to post the numbers he did in 2019 (his FIP was more than a half a point higher than his ERA), and he bottomed out in 2020. Decline the option, pay the buyout.
  • Thames: $4M mutual option, $1M buyout. Thames posted just a 65 OPS+ playing primarily as a 1B/DH type. That’s just patently awful, considering how many options there were on the market for “non-mobile mid-30s slugger.” Decline the option, pay the buyout.
  • Holt: $5M club option, $750k buyout. He took a significant step back from his Boston numbers, which resulted in Milwaukee cutting bait on him a month into a 2year deal. Despite his positional flexibility (he played 6 positions in 20 games for the Nats) I don’t see how you guarantee $5M to a guy who didn’t “wow” you in his audition. Decline the option, pay the buyout.
  • Eaton: $10.5M club option, $1.5M buyout. Phew; what do you do here. His fourth straight year in offensive decline. He was awful defensively. But he’s only 31; does the team take the $10.5M option and roll the dice that 2020 was an anomoly? If they cut him, do they have a replacement minor leaguer that makes sense (not really no). So do they roll the dice that they can get comparable production on the FA market for the same price? How much does sentimentality factor in here? Clubhouse presence and managerial relationship? Again, he’s only 31, which is a lot different from 36 (see next). I think the team exercises the option.
  • Kendrick: $6.5M mutual option, $2.25M buyout. Word came out a few days ago that Kendrick was considering retirement until he got hurt. I’m not sure I buy that, not with a 6.5M option on the table and more gas left in the tank. Another sentimental pick here; a guy who can plug in multiple positions in a pinch and who now has the DH to settle into if need be. Also a factor here; much like in poker, if you’re into a hand already for the big blind, why not make a call for a little bit more? Declining the option only saves them $4M, and it may be worth the cost to keep a veteran presence around one more time. I mean, if Eaton is there, you gotta keep his buddy Howie right? Exercise the option.

Category 5: Unrestricted FAs (6). Now, there’s nothing the team can really do with these guys since they’re FAs. But we can talk about whether or not we think the team pursues them in the off-season:

  • Suzuki; do you re-sign a 37yr old catcher? He’s been amazingly consistent at the plate the last few years while splitting time pretty evenly with Gomes. Still sporting a decent OBP. Is he getting pushed out by rising minor league depth (hardly, unless you think Read or Barrera is an option in the majors in 2021). I might pursue a 1-yr deal.
  • Cabrera: reverted to his 2018-19 form at the plate, league average providing poor, slow, aging defense at multiple infield positions. I think you move on.
  • Harrison really showed a jolt for this team, but he’s a 2B on a team with a prospect seemingly installed there for the longer run.
  • Doolittle: tough one. Struggled last year, struggled this year. A huge part of the community, outspoken leader. Maybe bring him back on an incentive-laden deal?
  • Freeman (TJ Aug 2020); really bad timing on his TJ surgery, as he’s a FA and will be rehabbing on his own.
  • Zimmerman, the most difficult decision of all. The team was onboard with a $2M deal for 2020 before he opted out for completely understandable family reasons. 2020 was his age 35 season; I’d guarantee him a $2M incentive-laden deal to be a 1B/DH platoon with a lefty slugger for 2021 absolutely. When he’s healthy he can hit, and doing nothing but DHing will help keep him on the field. Its worth a flier for a guy who is either retiring to the Nats front office or playing in 2021.

If the team does exactly what I say here, what would be our needs heading into the off-season? First lets see how this would look from a roster perspective (not counting FAs):

  • SP: Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin, JRoss (A3), Voth, Fedde, Crowe, McGowin, Braymer, Espino, Romero
  • RP: Hudson, Harris, Suero, Elias, Finnegan, Harper, Bacus, Rainey, Bourque
  • C: Gomes, Read, Barrera
  • INF: Castro, Turner, Garcia, Noll, Kieboom, Sanchez, Kendrick
  • OF: Soto, Robles, Stevenson, Hernandez, Eaton

Immediate thoughts on areas of need:

  • Another starter. I’m just not sure you can go into 2021 with your 4th/5th starters being Ross, Voth, Fedde and Crowe. I’m not sure I trust what I saw from McGowin or Braymer. Espino has never really succeeded in the majors and seems like the definition of a 4-A guy. And Romero? Maybe he can step up now that he’s gotten his debut out of the way.
  • Reliever help: I see 5-6 mlb-quality relievers here, but we’d need like 12 on the 40-man roster.
  • Catcher; as discussed with Suzuki above
  • Infield: well, right now your starting infield in 2021 is Castro/Kieboom at 3rd, Turner at SS, Garcia/Castro at 2nd, Kendrick at 1st (if they exercise his option), with Noll and Sanchez in AAA or released. They probably need more depth here.
  • Outfield: If they exercise Eaton’s option, then little needs to be done. If they don’t, then they’ll need a starting corner OF.

In other words, they need help basically everywhere.

Thoughts? did I get anything wrong?

Ask Brittany 9/10/20

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Rizzo (finally) gets paid. Photo via mlb.com

Man, it seems like its been forever since we’ve seen a Nats beat reporter do a mailbag. And unfortunately the one I found is behind the Athletic’s paywall, By Athletic Nats beat reporter Brittany Ghiroli. No worries though; you’ll get the gist.

Q: What are your reactions to the (Mike) Rizzo contract?
A: It’s about damn time. I just do not understand why either Mike Rizzo or Davey Martinez entered this season w/o an extension. The only thing I can think is that both had had informal discussions with the ownership group that promised them extensions at a later time.

Brittany’s take: Finally. 3yr extension, with a big bump in pay from $4M/year on his previous deal. But she also notes how disrespectful this delay was to the rest of the front office staff, who live and die by Rizzo’s contract status. Hard to disagree.

Q: Have you heard about any extension talks with (Juan) Soto?  
A: I hope they have … but it seems unlikely. Juan Soto has already established himself as one of the league’s elite players, so there seems to be little incentive for him to sign away any flexibility. He got a “big” pre-arb raise, which frankly is still peanuts compared to his value, and he’s already guaranteed to be a Super-2 guy, meaning four arb years. If i’m the Nats maybe i’m doing what they did with Harper and Rendon; buy out the arb years with sizeable raises so they’re not arguing every off-season, see if they can get one post-arb FA year thrown in (he’s FA after 2024 season), and make it worthwhile to both sides.

Brittany notes that Soto’s agent is Scott Boras, so forget about an extension. She is unaware of any extension talk, but points out a couple of Braves deals that could serve as landmarks.

Q: Any details on whether the front office has moved on from competing this year to preparing for a stronger ’21 season?
A: Well, we saw no trades this year, meaning zero attempts to shore up multiple areas of need on the current roster. But then again, that might have been a factor of the price tag and our own depleted farm system. I mean, would you have wanted to give up Cade Cavalli or Jackson Rutledge for a month of a #3 starter hitting free agency after the season? Hell no. Meanwhile on the field, the team has been frisky this week, but (as of this writing on 9/11/20) remain 5.5 games out of a wild card spot and still projected for either the #6 or #7 overall pick next July.
Brittany notes the same thing: the lack of moves at the trade deadline tipped their hand.

Q: Any insight on moves Rizzo should consider in 2021 free agency?
A: man, it exhausts me to even start considering this. But here’s 2 minutes on their FA outlook. Using COTS site, they are set to lose Eaton, Sanchez, Doolittle, Suzuki, Kendrick, Thames, Holt, Cabrera, Zimmerman and Freeman to FA (yes some of these guys have options but … right now its hard to see any of these options exercised).

So that means the team is in need of: 1-2 Starting pitchers, a corner OF, two veteran lefty relievers, a starting quality catcher, and a big chunk of their infield depth. Assuming they go young in 2021 the infield could be anchored by Kieboom, Turner and Garcia, so they’d be in the market for a 1B/DH platoon, plus a couple of utility guys who can move around. So, not a ton but also some work to do. the have $126M committed before arb raises of roughly $25M (could be more depending on how much Soto gets), so that leaves about $50M of FA room to work with. We can’t get a good SP and a solid catcher for that, but we should be able to get the edges covered.

Brittany repeats the same list of players, and says the priorities will be similar to what I put.

Ask Jessica; MLB.com’s new Nats Beat Reporter Jessica Camerato does her first inbox/mailbag

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Will Kieboom have a shot at the 25-man roster this Spring? Photo via federalbaseball.com

Will Kieboom have a shot at the 25-man roster this Spring? Photo via federalbaseball.com

Jamal Collier has moved on: our new mlb.com beat reporter is Jessica Camerato.  As far as I can now tell, here’s your official beat reporters for the team from the various major media outlets covering the team:

(post-publishing edit: thanks for the crowd-sourcing on the WP beat reporter history that I had forgotten despite still, to this day, being a WP paper subscriber).

  • Washington Post; Jessie Dougherty/Sam Fortier. Before them in descending chronological order: Chelsea Janes/Jorge CastilloJames Wagner, Adam KilgoreChico Harlan.  The original/first beat reporter was Barry Svrluga.
  • MASN: Mark Zuckerman.  He formerly covered the team for The Washington Times, then Comcast Sports Net, with an “unaffiliated” year between gigs writing for his own site (natsinsider.com)
  • MLB.com: Jessica Camerato, formerly Jamal Collier and then for years Bill Ladson
  • The Athletic: Brittany Ghiroli
  • Comcast Sports Net/NBC Sports: not sure?  Perhaps Matt Weyrich?  Todd Dybas (thanks to commenter rdexposfan)
  • Washington Times: … not sure?  Do they have a dedicated beat reporter since parting ways with Zuckerman?

Am I missing any major DC area media outlets with professional beat reporters?

Anyway I digress.

Here’s Camerato’s first mailbag, dated 1/31/20, responding primarily to questions she got on twitter.

———

Q: How are the Nats going to replace Anthony Rendon’s production?

A: Uh… they’re not?

It should be pretty obvious that the team has attempted to “replace” Anthony Rendon‘s lineup presence in a very Billy Beane fashion; buy a bunch of cheaper alternatives that, in the aggregate, may come close to adding up to replace the star.  They’ve brought back guys (Kendrick and Cabrera), they’ve hired new guys (Castro) and they’re hoping that their prospects (primarily Kieboom) can grow up fast and contribute soon.  Throw enough 3B-capable players at the wall and hopefully something sticks.

What they have NOT done is acquire a superstar replacement: no Josh Donaldson and as of yet no trade for someone like Kris Bryant or Nolan Arenado.  I’m not entirely sure how the team puts together a package deep enough to get these guys, not without crushing the existing roster or what remains of the farm system at this point (Baseball America just ranked the system 23rd, and once Kieboom and Luis Garcia graduate i’m not sure what remains to keep it from plummeting to the bottom).  So I think we all have to hope that the new un-tapped edge in the sport is middle-aged sluggers and go with it.

Camerato doesn’t really mention the like-for-like position player at 3B, instead points out that Juan Soto may step up .

———

Q: What are the chances Carter Kieboom lands at third?

A: This year?  Or eventually?

I think eventually yes he ends up at 3B.  This year, at least in the first half, may not provide him many opportunities thanks to the FAs that the team has signed.

I don’t think he ends up at 2B; he’s a bit big, despite currently being a SS and his defensive strength reportedly is in his arm, not his movement, so 2B makes sense for others … like Garcia.

Camerato says he’ll get his shot at the job in ST but that he’ll have competition.

Q: Who’s gonna be the fifth starter?

A: I think it almost has to be Joe Ross.  Ross has proven more than a few times he can’t pitch in relief.  He’s got no options.  And he’s proven in the past to be a solid 5th starter.   His competition for the role all seems to be internal this year; there’s no MLFA reclamation project like Jeremy Hellickson waiting in the wings (at least not right now).  Erick Fedde and Austin Voth are his most direct competition … one has a magical 4th option (Fedde) which buries him in Fresno even before spring training begins, and the other guy (Voth) gets the 13th pitcher roster spot thanks to no options and his ability to be a swing-man /spot starter.

Camerato says they don’t really need to figure this out in Spring Training … which I don’t agree with frankly b/c of the options situation with two of them.

——–

Q: What does the farm system look like this year? Who should we watch that could make the club in 2021?

A: Farm system, as mentioned above, is thin.  Its two guys at the top (Kieboom and Garcia) and then its a gap to players who are a ways away.

Why is the Farm so thin right now?  Because the team has blown or traded away multiple first round picks in the last few years.   Consider the Draft Tracker:

  • 2019 1st rounder Jackson Rutledge; now basically our 3rd best prospect after throwing 37 innings last season.
  • 2018 1st rounder Mason Denaburg: didn’t pick at all in 2018, threw 20 innings in 2019 with an ERA north of 7.00 in the GCL and is reportedly nursing an injury
  • 2017 1st rounder Seth Romero; known problem child who continued to cause issues upon signing, and threw just 47 pro innings before blowing out his UCL.
  • 2016 1st rounder lost due to the Daniel Murphy signing.
  • 2016 Supplemental 1st rounder Dane Dunning traded away to get Adam Eaton.
  • 2016 Supplemental 1st rounder Kieboom currently our long-standing #1 overall prospect.
  • 2015 1st rounder lost due to the Max Scherzer signing.
  • 2014 1st rounder Erick Fedde really yet to be effective for the MLB team frankly; 143 MLB innings with a 5.39 ERA.

The Denaburg and Romero picks in particular are really crushing the system; those two guys should both be top 100 prospects right now.  Its also worth noting that the team traded away Jesus Luzardo in 2017 in the Doolittle trade, and he’s now nearly a top 5 prospect in the whole of the sport.

Why do I focus on 1st rounders?  Well because those are by far the players with the highest percentage chances of matriculating to the majors, and should be the ones at the top of your prospect lists.  Instead, our team has gotten almost NO prospect depth out of our 1st rounders over the past 6 drafts.  Instead the tops of our “top 30” lists are dotted with 2nd and 3rd rounders (Wil Crowe, 2nd rounder in 2017, Tim Cate, 2nd rounder in 2018 being the best recent examples), but even those 2nd rounders have been gutted lately:

  • 2019 2nd rounder lost to the Patrick Corbin signing
  • 2016 2nd rounder Sheldon Neuse  also traded away with Luzardo in the Doolittle deal, now on the cusp of the Oakland MLB roster
  • 2015 2nd rounder Blake Perkins traded away for Kelvin Herrera (though to be fair, he was young and has yet to really materialize as a prospect)
  • 2014 2nd round pick Andrew Suarez refused to sign; he’s pitched all of 2018 in San Francisco’s rotation.

That’s a LOT of additional prospect depth either out the door on top of the failures of the 1st rounders.  And its going to get worse before it gets better.

Who might debut in 2021?  I’d be looking for Garcia, Crowe, maybe Barrera moving up, Braymer and maybe even a couple of the 2019 guys (Mendoza or Rutledge) if they blow up this year.

Camerato says… Garcia might debut in 2021.  not much else.

————-

Q: Welcome! I’d be interested in hearing about players who changed up personal routine, training regimen, pitch selection or batting stance this offseason.

A: Me too!  Hoping for more player deep dive content from Camerato and others this spring training.

Camerato says she agrees and hopes to do more once ST starts.

 

 

 

 

Getting the band back together: Cabrera re-signs along with other moves

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Cabrera is back. Photo via newsday

Cabrera is back. Photo via newsday

It was a busy Saturday for Nats GM Mike Rizzo.  In quick succession we heard about three moves:

  • The team re-signs 2B/3B Asdrubal Cabrera, 1yr $2.5M.
  • The team signs 2B Starlin Castro to a 2yr/$12M deal
  • The team previously signed RHP David Hernandez sometime in Dec 2019 to a minor league deal (which was just announced on Baseball America)

Cabrera was awful for Texas last year and got outright released; he lit it up for Washington, mercifully taking over for the completely ineffective Brian Dozier and lighting it up for the team down the stretch (slash line for DC last year post-signing: .323/.404/.565).   Cabrera played 3B for Texas but mostly 2B for DC; right now he’s your starting 3B opening day save any other move.

Castro clearly is the starting 2B; he moved there a few years ago, played it exclusively for several years but moved to 3B last season to make room for a prospect.  He was reportedly telling teams in FA he was only interested in playing 2B … so we have our starting 2B.  His signing seems to clarify what the team’s infield will be looking like come April.  He has two straight years of right around league average OPS+, but in 2019 he spiked homers, hitting 22 of them on the year playing a lot of games in pitcher-friendly NL East stadiums.

Hernandez was a great middle reliever in 2018 for Cincinnati, but blew up last year and signs a MLFA deal in an attempt to get back to the majors.  I like this as a low-risk/high reward move for a team always looking for the next 6th/7th inning RH reliever.

With these moves … as per the updated Big Board, your starting lineup come 4/1/20 looks like this (here’s a guess as to the lineup)

  • Eaton (RF)
  • Turner (SS)
  • Soto (LF)
  • Kendrick (1B)
  • Castro (2B)
  • Cabrera (3B)
  • Suzuki (C)
  • Robles (CF)
  • Pitcher

That’s  … a big step back from what we showed offensively last year, obviously.  The loss of Anthony Rendon in the middle of the order is pretty apparent.

Is this a playoff team?

—————-

Cabrera becomes the fourth 2019 team member/FA to re-sign with the team, joining Stephen StrasburgHowie Kendrick and Yan Gomes.  Pretty much the entire industry assumes Ryan Zimmerman is re-signing to be a bench bat as well.  So a lot of the veteran crew that was credited with helping the team win in October is now back.

Is this a good thing?

The oldest team in the majors last year has now resigned FAs who will be playing in their

  • age 34 year (Cabrera)
  • 32 (Gomes)
  • 31 (Strasburg) and
  • 36 (Kendrick).

They join other presumed starters and key relievers north of 30 in :

  • Kurt Suzuki (2020 will be his age 36 year)
  • Max Scherzer (35),
  • Anibal Sanchez (36)
  • Adam Eaton (31)
  • Sean Doolittle (33)
  • Hunter Strickland and Roenis Elias (both 31)
  • Wil Harris (35)
  • Starlin Castro (30).

Um.  That’s a lot guys on the wrong side of 30.   And a lot of assumptions that the production like we got out of Cabrera (143 OPS+) continues into 2020 if he’s indeed the starting 3B.

———————————-

Oh, ps: all appropriate tabs in the Big Board are now updated for these transactions.  We’re now at 36/40 on the 40-man roster.  New payroll estimate is $185,452,709, leaving us $22,547,291 under the cap for 2020.  For all of you still holding out hope for Josh Donaldson … you should stop.  He’s soliciting 4yr deals north of $100M; the numbers don’t add up.  If this team has $22M and change left and are not going over, then we’re out of the Donaldson mix.

I’m not sure what’s next.  Does the team pursue a trade for a 3B?  Clearly they don’t want to give up Victor Robles in a Kris Bryant trade (and I don’t blame them, whether or not they have one year or two of his services).  Maybe we’re going to see some Rizzo trade magic coming soon.

Rendon signs with LAA: now what for the Nats?

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Rendon's lasting legacy will be his amazing 2019 post season late inning performances. Photo via wtop.com

Rendon’s lasting legacy will be his amazing 2019 post season late inning performances. Photo via wtop.com

I’m not the only one writing about this particular question today, but its the biggest question the team has faced in a while.

Incumbent 3B Anthony Rendon, who before the season was thought in most circles to have no chance of matching Nolan Arenado‘s 8yr/$260M deal ($32.5M AAV), got a slightly shorter but higher AAV deal with zero deferred dollars by signing a 7yr/$245M ($35M AAV) deal with the Angels.

As we noted, Rendon made himself a whole lotta money in the post season.  And he blows past the reported 7yr/$215M deal with significant deferred dollars (the Nat’s specialty) to stay here.

Nats ownership warned us they may not be able to retain both players, and now we know for sure.   Despite tens of millions of dollars of expected new revenues flowing into the team, they still are beholden to the imaginary luxury tax line (thanks MLBPA!) and using it as a budget as opposed to a guideline for retaining home grown (but expensive) talent.

So now what?

Options seem to be:

  1. Play Howie Kendrick at 3B?    He actually played nearly 100 innings at 3B this past season, didn’t make an error and had a decent UZR/150 and -2 DRS in a SSS sampling.  I know he’s still athletic and in shape, but he’s a 2B/LF guy.  He’s really not even tall enough to play 1B (he’s not even 6’0″).  I think our defense takes a huge hit if he’s at third.  BUT … it guarantees his bat in the lineup and allows the Nats to buy a big bopper 1B FA guy to hit in the middle of the order.  Is it worth an experiment?
  2. Hand the keys to 3B for the next six years to Carter Kieboom?   per Fangraphs, Kieboom played all of 10 games at third for AAA Fresno this  year.  He made four errors in those 10 games.  Not quite as bad as his defensive show playing SS for the big club last April; 10 games, 4 fielding errors, -7 DRS (in other words, he basically cost the team two full wins by defensive runs cost).   So, how is it possible he was THAT bad playing SS in the majors (where the fields are astronomically better than in the minors) and hasn’t been moved off the position yet to someplace like 2B or 3B where he can do less damage?   Anyway; decision time has come.  His hitting numbers in AAA were great: .303/.409/.493 and a 123 wRC+.  that’s great; everyone’s hitting numbers are great in the PCL.  What does that tell us?  Can he start at 3B in the majors next year?  Its a $25M question, because if he can’t, the next best alternative will be….
  3. Win the Josh Donaldson sweepstakes for the honor of paying him $25M/year (or more) as he rockets into his mid 30s.  He just finished a show-me season in Atlanta in his age 33 season and thrived; now he’s looking for a 3-4 year deal at $25 per… is this what you want to commit to if you’re the Nats?  We’re not the only team out there now desperate for a starting 3B.  Philly, Atlanta, Texas, Los Angeles Dodgers, even the Mets all went into this season with a big checkbook looking to win Rendon (or at least a quality 3B).  Now what?  Do we pay the money for this guy?  On the one hand, buying him weakens our biggest divisional rival (Atlanta) and blocks him from two other likely NL East rivals, both of whom might have interest.  On the other hand, we buy Donaldson that’s a huge chunk of our remaining cap space (roughly $39m in my spreadsheet, probably slightly more once we figure out how MLB values Strasburg‘s contract on an AAV basis).
  4. Trade for Kris Bryant, the rumor of the week.   He made $12.9M last year, probably jumps up to at least $16M in arbitration after another All Star season in 2019, and currently in the midst of a dispute over the most blatant service time manipulation case we’ve seen in the last decade.  I’m guessing personally that he does NOT win the service time dispute and gains a 4th arb year, meaning that anyone trading for him gets two years of control.  Now; do we want to empty what is left in our dwindling farm system for two years of Bryant?   Lets be honest here; he’s a crummy defender whose defensive bWAR component cost him more than a win and who has negative advanced fielding metrics across the board.  The Cubs had him in LF for more than 100 innings this year, and he was even worse out there.  If you are willing to put up with a crummy defensive component at 3B to gain a big bat … isn’t that Kendrick for 1/3rd the cost?  Or perhaps Kieboom for 1/25th of the cost?  I’m not saying its apples for apples; after all Bryant was nearly a 5-win player by fWAR last  year even with defensive issues.  He’s a big middle of the order, former MVP, former 2nd overall pick.  You’re going to pay for him.  But at this point in the Nats lifecycle … with so little in the farm … do you want to blow it out for 2 years of a gun for hire with no ties to the city?
  5. Trade for some other 3B: who knows who else is out there for the having, or what they’d cost.  Its impossible to speculate; lots of teams that I thougth were already tanking for 2020 are signing starters to 8 figure deals this offseason.
  6. Sign a lesser FA 3B: there’s two dozen FA 3B out there right now.   Todd Frazier wasn’t bad last year.  Starlin Castro can hit and could be a one year bridge to a prospect.  Ben Zobrist may be old but he can still play 7 positions and may still produce.  None of these guys would break the bank and could allow for the pursuit of a more expensive 1B option (which then allows you to put Kendrick at 2B, where he’s not great defensively but at least its what he knows).

What would I do?

I dunno.  I like going with the prospect but Kieboom’s debut was not hope-inspiring.  I like Kendrick at 3B to buy a 1B … but it has to be the right bat.  I like keeping what prospect depth we have in lieu of trading for Bryant.  I like the thought of a one year solution in a lesser 3B free agent, allowing Kendrick to 1B/2B and buying what we don’t have and enabling Kieboom to get more minors time.

Lots of options here.

Ask Brittany; Brittany Ghiroli Mailbags on the Athletic

10 comments

Strasburg is the lynchpin in the Nats off-season FA plans. Photo allansgraphics.com

Strasburg is the lynchpin in the Nats off-season FA plans.
Photo allansgraphics.com

Happy Thanksgiving!

You guys know I love mailbags.  I havn’t seen one in a while from the usual sources (MASN beat reporters, mlb.com beat reporters, etc).

But, the Athletic has assigned a beat reporter to the Nats, one Brittany Ghiroli, who was hired away from MLB.com a couple years ago (where she was the Baltimore beat reporter).   And guess what?  She’s doing chat responses to questions received on twitter.  I know the Athletic is a pay-for service, but I’m in and I love it and you wouldn’t believe how much content they’re producing.  Its almost overwhelming at a macro level now that they’re covering the EPL fully.

So, here goes.  Here’s Questions Brittany took on Nov 25th and Nov 26th in a two-parter.  Its got a ton of questions worth exploring as to where we are.

————–

Q: Would it make more sense for the Nationals to adopt the same methodology they did with (Bryce) Harper for Rendon? Take the huge price tag Rendon will demand and spread it among several positions like (Mike) Moustakas, (Yan) Gomes, and a couple of arms? 

A:  For me?  I think the answer might be Yes.  Not because I don’t want Anthony Rendon  back or because I don’t rate his abilities … but because (as we discussed in the payroll piece) I see no evidence that this team is willing to broach the salary cap, and if you bring back both Stephen Strasburg and Rendon, each for the 30M+/year they will cost … it doesn’t leave a whole lotta room for what this team needs.

What does this team need this off-season?  Squinting at the current roster, we need:

  • A starter
  • A backup catcher (Late breaking news; we re-signed Yan Gomeslast night so that’s done; good move).
  • Probably three relievers unless you trust Hunter Strickland/Javy Guerra, or unless you’re convinced that Koda Glover will be healthy
  • three starting infielders: 3B and 1B (I’m assuming that Carter Kieboom can play 2B ably at this point)
  • A bench bat or two to replace what we got out of Howie Kendrick/Matt Adams

So, that’s a lot.   Can you get all of that on about $20M  I don’t think you can.  So the Nats may have to make some hard choices.

Ghiroli doesn’t equate the Rendon situation with the Harper situation, noting that Robles was waiting in the wings.  Fair enough.  But I think she underestimates  how much we need to fill out the rest of the roster.

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Q: If Rendon leaves, is Josh Donaldson a player the Nationals would have an eye on? 

A: Absolutely.  He’d probably take a shorter deal, still is an elite defender, still hits the heck out of the ball, and weakens a division rival if he signs here.  I’d be all in, assuming we could get him for roughly $25M AAV and use the delta between his AAV and Rendon’s AAV to fill out roster holes.

Ghiroli agrees i think, and talks about Donaldson’s firey approach that often rubs people the wrong way.

Q: Is the media downplaying the likelihood of the Nats going after Gerrit Cole? I have heard next to nothing connecting the two sides, but you have to think that Cole is the type of free agent ace that Mike Rizzo dreams about.

A: I don’t think the Media is driving anything here.  Cole’s the #1 target on the market, and has the wealthy teams salivating.  I think the Nats decision is simple:  you want the home grown guy versus the hired gun.

Ghiroli notes that the reason there’s no Nats-to-Cole buzz is … because there’s none to be had.  We have two major FAs, and that’s where we’re focusing.

Q: If the Nats are able to sign Rendon and Stras, do you see them winning the division? Too many people seem to be counting them out already by assuming that Rendon is gone.

A: Keeping both guys and assuming they have the same production really helps the 2020 projection … but lets be honest.  When this team was 19-31, they had both guys as well and were projecting for dead last.  Its a big team, its a long season, and you can’t just give them the division title if they retain both players.  Injuries happen, both guys are on the older side, etc etc.

Ghiroli agrees.

Q: Realistically, how much money will be available for the payroll? Is there any appetite for exceeding the luxury tax? 

A: well, we just discussed this.  I came up with roughly $80M and am pessimistic about broaching the CBT.

Ghiroli came up with $90M available, which I’m not sure how she arrived at that b/c right now Cots and I are only about $800k apart in our analysis.  Like KW and others, she notes that of all the years to do so, next year is the right y ear to blow past a luxury tax.

Q: Will Joe Ross be a member of the rotation next season?  What’s your take on the young arms — Ross, (Erick) Fedde, (Austin) Voth and bullpen prospects? Some of the younger starters started to shape up.

A: hard to see it.  I’d peg it Voth, then Ross, then Fedde for a 5th spot competition right now.  Gotta go with performance on the field.

Ghiroli doens’t even mention Voth in the discussion, which I think is a mistake.

Q: What clutch role players are the Nats targeting to re-sign? Of the non-premium free agents, who do you see as most likely to return? How do you see first base shaking out?

A: who knows who they’re targeting.  I’d love to have Zimmerman back and Kendrick but it seems like the latter may be more appropriate for an AL team at this point.   They need a lefty bench bat to replace Matt Adams.  I would like to upgrade the backup SS.  I guess I like our backup OF in-house options right now if they can sign Taylor to something reasonable.

Ghiroli agrees

Q: The Nats have two young catchers on the 40-man and another couple in the farm. Do any of them look like potential long-term everyday catchers?

A: I don’t think so.  I don’t think the team trusts either catcher on the 40-man (Read or Barrera), and their catcher depth chart from there is thin.  Here’s our current Catcher depth chart all the way to High-A:

Suzuki, Gomes, Barrera, Read, Gushue, Reistetter, Reetz, Dunlap, Pineda, Perkins, Cropley

Read is out of options with 63 total days of MLB service time.  Gushue was left off the roster and is exposed to the Rule-5 draft.  Barrera has 3 weeks of service time and spent all of 2019 at AA.  Reistetter is a classic “org guy injury cover” catcher who played in a grand total of 9 games in 2019.  Now you’re at A-ball catchers like Reetz (entering his 7th year of pro-ball, never been above high-A), Dunlap (a backup in high-A), Pineda (who took a big step back this year), Perkins (who hit .209 as a backup in low-A) and Cropley (a 2018 senior sign who hit .187 last year in low-A).

Sooooo not a lot of catcher depth in the farm right now.  Reetz was a  high round pick who has struggled, Pineda had a lot of prospect shine in 2018 that he squandered in 2019; can either take a 2020 step up?

I think they’re buying a backup on FA market.  (update; they just did)

Ghiroli says same as I’m saying, thinking perhaps Gomes comes back on a cheaper deal.

Q: How close is Luis Garcia from making the Nationals roster and where would he slot in if Rendon returns? He seems to be behind Kieboom in the pecking order and they both play the middle infield.

A: I think he slots in as a 2B/SS, moves Kieboom to 3B but he’s years away.   He was 19 in AA and struggled; he needs to go back to AA and thrive before moving up to compete in AAA.  That could take another two years.  Maybe he replaces like for like by the time he’s ready?  Its also worth noting that, despite his lofty rankings in our system and on top 100 lists, there are some who don’t rate him as a prospect at all.  So i don’t think we can count on him to be much more than a Wilmer Difo guy in the end.

Ghiroli says don’t look for him  until mid 2021.

Q: Will Michael A. (Taylor) be traded or stay as the fourth outfielder?

A: Better question; is a guy who spent most of the year in AA worth paying north of $3M/year?  That’s the decision.  He’s not going to get a pay cut.  Arbitration doesn’t work that way; so either you tender him and negotiate or you cut him.  Sure you can try to trade him; who’s giving the team value for him?   He’s now got a career 80 OPS+ across six years and more than 1700 PAs.  Whatever he figured out to hit so well in 2017 is clearly gone; i think he’s non-tendered and cut loose.

Ghiroli says traded or non-tendered and is a little pricey for a 4th OF.  yeah.

Q: How much was the World Series win worth financially to the Nationals franchise, in terms of ticket sales (including projected rise in season plan holders and general ticket interest next year), merchandise, and, well, anything else?

A: Its impossible to tell.  But i do know this: in order to secure 2019 playoff tickets, you could buy 2020 season tickets… and a lot of people did so.  So you’re going to see a bump next  year in attendance, which is great.

Maybe you also acquire some fair weather/bandwagon fans too.  One would only hope.

There’s studies out there showing financial impacts to the franchise with long playoff runs like the Nats just had; its worth tens of millions of dollars, both tot he owners and the players.  The players just split some $30M in bonus money … and the owners get much more than that.  Its one more argument towards having the Lerners blow past a CBT to “use” that money towards next year.  Will they do it?  We’ve been discussing it.

 

Ranking the top Nats post-season games of all time

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The new Nats #1 all -time game. Photo via nytimes.com

The new Nats #1 all -time game. Photo via nytimes.com

In the wake of the 2019 World Series run, I thought (while its fresh in everyone’s mind) it’d be a fun one to try to rank all the Nats post-season games.

I put in my top 10, then put in all the other candidates in chronological order.  For years I had a running list that conflated regular season exploits and post-season glory; now there’s so many games to consider just from 2019 that I’ve separated them in my (future) larger list of Best and Worst games.  As it turns out, I’ve got 8 of our top 10 post-season games now being from the 2019 run.

Feel free to discuss and tell me i’m wrong.  Nicely please 🙂

Greatest Nats Post Season Games:

  1. October 30th, 2019: WS Game 7 win.  Scherzer throws 5 heroic innings, the Nats beat Greinke with a Rendon homer and a Kendrick homer to seal it, then run away to take Game 7.
  2. October 9th, 2019: NLDS Game 5Howie Kendrick caps a come-from-behind win with a grand slam in the 10th to exorcise the Nats playoff daemons and seal their first ever playoff series win, 7-3 over the Dodgers.
  3. October 29th 2019: WS Game 6 win; Strasburg masterpiece, Turner controversy at first, Rendon homer exploits, another elimination game rally.  This game had it all.
  4. October 11th, 2012NLDS Game 4Jayson Werth walk-off homer in an epic battle against Lance Lynn, hitting the 13th pitch of the at-bat (!!) on a line-drive into the seats.  Ironic that what I think is the most special game in Nats franchise history occurred the day before what I consider to be the worst game in franchise history.  (note; thanks to my former coworker Eric Hay for correcting me on my pitch count memory here in the comments).
  5. October 1st, 2019come-from-behind Wild Card win over Milwaukee on Juan Soto‘s bases-clearing single in the 8th against super reliever Josh Hader.  First ever franchise “win-or-go-home” victory.
  6. October 11th, 2019: NLCS Game 1: Anibal Sanchez keeps a no-hitter into the 8th and the team blanks St. Louis to steal game one on the road and set the tone for what became a 4-0 sweep.
  7. October 9th, 2016NLDS Game 2 comeback win over the Dodgers: after dropping the first game in a missed opportunity, the Nats fell behind quickly 2-0 and the crowd was quiet, worried and lethargic.  That all ended when the team put some runners on base for Jose Lobaton, who clubbed a 3-run homer into a stiff wind coming in from left; the crowd exploded, the team relaxed and they tacked on a couple of runs later for a 5-2 win.
  8. October 12th, 2019: NLCS Game 2: Scherzer throws seven innings of one hit dominant ball to power the Nats to the win and the surprising two game sweep on the road.
  9. October 22nd, 2019: WS Game 1: The offense surprisingly gets to Astros ace Gerritt Cole while Scherzer holds on for the shock game 1 win in Houston.
  10. October 23rd, 2019: WS Game 2: The Nats explode on Astros pitching for 12 runs to shock the baseball world and take a 2-0 series lead.

I’m putting the 2019 WC winner just below the Werth homer.  I realize this is not a popular take; I like the way that frequent commenter MarkL put it in a discussion just after the WC game:  “[the WC winner] excitement level is #2 after the Werth game but #1 in importance.”  I agree with that sentiment.  If the Soto hit had been a walk-off we wouldn’t be having this argument; it’d easily be #1.  But its ok for a non-clinching game to be considered great; consider that most pundits put Game 6 of the 1975 World Series (aka the “Fisk  homer”) as the greatest game of the last 50 years…. and it was won by a team that went out the next day and lost game 7.  It doesn’t matter in the end, since the Kendrick homer trumped them both, and then the WS winner trumped all.

Post season honorable mentions (in chronological order):

  • October 7th, 2012: NLDS Game 1: 2-run rally in the 8th on Tyler Moore‘s flair to beat the Cardinals in St. Louis in the first ever playoff game for the team.  In theory it should have completely set up the Nats to cruise through the series.  Didn’t quite happen that way (see worst games ever).
  • October 6th, 2014: NLDS Game 2: Beating Madison Bumgarner in the 2014 NLDS; our only 2014 post-season win and the only time Bumgarner lost that post-season.
  • October 10th, 2016NLDS Game 3, a win in Los Angeles 8-3 to grab back home field advantage and put themselves on the brink of advancing.
  • October 7th, 2017: NLDS Game 2: Behind homers from Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman, the Nats dump 5 runs in the bottom of the 8th on the Cubs to turn what was looking like a 2-0 series deficit into a 6-3 victory.
  • October 11th, 2017: NLDS Game 4: Stephen Strasburg shakes off illness and pitches the game of his life, punching out 12 in 7 scoreless innings in an elimination NLDS game against Chicago.  Michael Taylor squeaks out a grand-slam in the 8th to turn a 1-0 nail-biter into a 5-0 win to force a decisive game 5 back home.
  • October 4th, 2019: NLDS Game 2: Nats jump on Clayton Kershaw early, Strasburg shuts down the Dodgers to steal a game on the road
  • October 14th, 2019: NLCS Game 3:  Nats score four in the 3rd to set the tone and run away in Game 3, nearly guaranteeing the series win behind another dominant Strasburg performance.
  • October 15th, 2019: NLCS Game 4: A shocking 7 run first was all the team needed to complete the sweep at home behind a rocking crowd and move onto the World Series.
  • October 8th, 2019: NLDS Game 4: Scherzer dominates the Dodgers in a NLDS win-or-go-home Game 4 at Nats park, Zimmerman blasts a 3-run homer to put the team ahead for good, and the Nats push the series back to LA for Game 5.