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Nats 2012 Rule 5 Protection Analysis

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Is Nathan Karns a 40-man roster addition candidate ahead of the rule-5 draft? Photo Potomac Nationals official via milb.com

In part I on this topic yesterday, we talked about the Nats Rule 5 draft history.  Today we’ll talk about Parts II and III: who the Nats may think about protecting ahead of this year’s Rule 5 draft, and what the team may be seeking if they participated and drafted a player or two in the Rule 5 draft themselves.

Part II: Nationals Rule-5 Draft Protection Candidates.

I kvetched a little bit about this topic in this space earlier this off-season, talking about the lack of roster space for the upcoming Rule 5 draft.  I suspected that as a result of MLB deals given to guys like Anthony Rendon and Matthew Purke, in addition to the glut of guys we had to add mid season, we may be seeing some guys not getting protected this year that would be in other years.  As of today, the Nats 40-man roster sits at 36 players with a bit of immediate room to spare (we could non-tender the likes of John Lannan, Tom Gorzelanny or Jesus Flores (speaking of Rule 5 additions) in a pinch, and I think Carlos Rivero may be imminently DFA’d), but we also have several 25-man roster spots departing via free agency that need to be filled, quickly filling back in those empty spots.  So, perhaps the issue isn’t as bad as I thought it might be.

That being said, here’s a look at some of our Rule 5 eligible guys that may warrant protection.  For “official” opinions here’s Mark Zuckerman‘s Rule5 post, along with Adam Kilgore‘s version of the same analysis.  This is a combination of first-time eligible guys for the 2012 draft (mostly, guys who were college junior draftees from 2009 or high school draftees in 2008), prior year eligible guys who have suddenly worked their way onto the radar, and any International FA signing from 2008 or before (they are treated the same way as high school age draftees).  Working off a list that Luke Erickson posted LAST november, along with his post on the same topic this week, and of course referencing the two great nats farm system resources maintained by “SpringfieldFan” (and formerly by Brian Oliver): the Nats Draft Tracker and the Nats Big Board, here’s some thoughts on protection candidates:

Stronger Candidates to protect

  • Nathan Karns: he finally had an injury-free season, and he put up numbers as expected when the team gave him an above-slot deal in 2009.  He is older, and only projects as a AA starter in 2013, but he is an intriguing starter prospect for the Nats in 2014.
  • Destin Hood: I don’t think the team is ready to give up on the long-term 2008 2nd round project.  His numbers have been increasing as he reportedly is learning the game better.  I suspect the team protects him to protect their investment.
  • Danny Rosenbaum; the “Ace” of Harrisburg this year, and our furthest advanced legitimate starter prospect, Rosenbaum projects more like a Tommy Milone or John Lannan right now.  I’d suspect that the team may protect him, thinking that someone could stash him as a loogy for a year.  I’m not sure his ceiling is in the Nats rotation, but he could be a good trade candidate.  He hit the DL late last year, which makes it slightly less likely that a team would take a flier on him, but his track record warrants his mention.
  • Patrick McCoy: he just repeated AA and despite already being Rule-5 eligible last  year he improved on his numbers in 2012.  Why protect him?  Because this team needs a Loogy, and McCoy may be the leading lefty reliever in our upper-minor leagues.
  • Jeff Kobernus has put up consistent numbers his whole career, but still projects as a power-less middle infielder.  Would the team protect him, thinking he has a chance to become the next Steve Lombardozzi?  Would the team protect him just to protect their bonus money?

Weaker candidates to protect

  • Trevor Holder: a 3rd round pick roundly criticized at the time of being an underslot money saver, Holder had decent peripherals in high-A and AA this year.  But, he doesn’t seem to project as the dominant right-hander he was in college and seems likely to top out as an org-arm.  Despite his 3rd round pedigree, I don’t see a team taking a flier on him in rule-5.
  • Pat Lehman; a local guy (GWU), but despite having good numbers in AAA he remains a very common commodity; a right handed minor league reliever.  Even if he’s drafted, it isn’t that great a loss because of the depth we already have at the position.
  • Paul Demny; despite making the AFL team this year, I don’t quite see Demny as being a draft risk.  His ERA this year and in years past has been substandard.
  • Robert Gilliam; only really mentioned here since we just acquired him last off-season in the Gio Gonzalez trade and the team probably doesn’t want to lose him, but his 6.37 ERA in AA makes it extremely unlikely someone grabs him in the Rule 5.
  • Erik Davis: technically rule-5 eligible last year, he stepped up this year and put up pretty dominant AA numbers.  As with Lehman, he’s a righty reliever in AA so the odds of his getting picked (or protected) seem slim.

Players not worth protecting for various Reasons

Now, there’s a bunch of “good names” that are Rule 5 eligible in our system but who are not listed here, including guys who toiled as high as AA last year.  Anyone not listed here is probably not going to be missed, even if they are drafted.  Plus, the likelihood of a decent pitcher prospect who has never played above A-ball being drafted in rule-5 is extemely slim.  Most of the guys above are mentioned because of their capability to be “stashed” on a MLB roster.  This includes:

  • last year’s departures Brad Meyers (coming off injury) and Erik Komatsu (clearly been passed on the organizational OF depth chart).  Yes they got picked last year, but both got returned and I’d be surprised to see them picked again.
  • higher profile draft picks Josh Smoker and Jack McGeary: neither has advanced far enough in their careers to realistically stick with a MLB team.
  • Jeff Mandel may be an accomplished AAA pitcher, but I don’t think he’s anything more than that.
  • Rob Wort hasn’t advanced far enough up the chain to be considered.
  • Justin Bloxom could be a dark horse prospect next year, but only made it to AA the second half of last year.

Who would I protect, If I was the GM?  I’d protect Karns, Hood, Rosenbaum and McCoy right now, filling the four current openings on the roster.  If a move needs to be made (a FA signing or a trade), then you make one-for-one DFAs or non-tenders as needed.  You have 40-man room; might as well use it.  My order of protection is probably Karns, McCoy, Hood and Rosenbaum (from most important to least important to protect).  Odds are that the team only opts to protect a couple of guys to give immediate roster flexibility heading into the winter meetings.

Part III: Might the Nats participate in the Rule-5 draft this year?

This year’s Rule 5 draft has some intrigue for the team; unlike last year, we have definite holes in the bullpen and on the roster which can be “more easily” filled via the Rule 5 draft.  We need a lefty out of the bullpen, we need a backup middle infielder and we need a 5th starter.  The odds of finding the latter in the rule 5 draft are very slim, but the odds of finding one of the first two are better.  If you look at the last couple of Rule 5 drafts, nearly every player drafted is either a Pitcher or a Middle Infielder.  Most teams carry a second backup middle infielder who gets very little playing time, ideal for “hiding” rule 5 draftees.  And of course every bullpen has a “mop up” guy who pitches once or twice a week in low-leverage situations, also a great place to hide a rule-5 guy.

Besides, the “penalty” for drafting a guy and returning him is pretty small in baseball terms: $25,000 net (it costs $50,000 fee to select a player, then if you “offer” them back the original team has to refund $25,000 of that fee).   So I’d be surprised honestly if the team didn’t roll the dice with at least a flier on either of the two needs mentioned above.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of the Rule 5 draft any longer.  It was created as a way to liberate players who were stuck in farm systems behind established players (much the way that minor league free agency rules attempted to do the same), but now seems to be a cheap method of teams to get an extended tryout of players.  I’ve now come to believe that the draft is not necessarily in the best interests of the players or the teams; just read below for the organizational transaction chaos that followed players.  It also seems like a high number of players who get drafted in rule-5 immediately suffer season-ending injuries; coincidence or correlation?  If you’re a rule-5 drafted arm, the drafting team knows you must perform at a MLB level to stay in the organization.  Wouldn’t that imply there’s added pressure to compete, leading to overthrowing and arm injuries?  Plus, teams that lose players often get them returned damaged and having lost a season of service time.  I suppose players are the ones that are pro-Rule 5 draft, in that it immediately means a promotion to the 40-man roster, MLB service time and higher pay.

In the end, it makes for a good reason to write a 2,500 word blog post, and it may result in our team having new prospects to evaluate and dream about, so perhaps I protest too much.

Nats Arbitration Decisions; my predictions

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Tyler Clippard faces what could be a very interesting arbitration case this offseason. Photo Jonathan Newton/wp.com

Once the dust settled on this year’s Super-2 cutoff (and we discovered that Drew Storen will be arbitration eligible this year while Ryan Perry will not), the Nats will have no less than TEN arbitration-eligible players this off-season, setting the stage for some non-tender decisions, some possible contract extensions, and (hopefully not) some arbitration cases.  The Non-tender deadline isn’t until November 30th, but its never too soon to talk about what the team may do.

Here’s the 10 players eligible, a discussion as to what kind of salary they may obtain and whether or not the team will even tender a contract.  Note: the salary estimates are from mlbtraderumors Matt Swartz‘s arbitration projections model, with my own thoughts adjusting up or down based on opinion and noted as such).  Arbitration salaries essentially try to project the full FA value of a player and then award 40%/60%/80% of that FA salary in each of the three typical arbitration years.  For guys getting a 4th, I generally assume they’re getting nearly 100% of their FA value in the last year.

Locks to get a Contract Tender

  • Ian Desmond. 1st year Eligible/$3.2M estimate: Breakout season in 2012 will earn him plenty of dollars in his first and subsequent arbitration cases.  $3.2M equates to nearly a $10M/year full FA value, probably fair for now but could escalate if Desmond continues to provide Gold Glove calibre defense to go along with middle-of-the-order power.  It may be slightly early to think about a longer-term contract extension for Desmond; I’d want to wait and see if his 2012 production continues into 2013.  Remember; he’s just one year removed from a time when most Nats fans wanted him replaced.
  • Drew Storen: 1st year Eligible/$1.7M estimate: Storen will get a 4th year of eligiblity by virtue of a quick call-up after getting drafted.  $1.7 over 4 arb years equates roughly to a FA value of $7M/year, which seems a bit low for a good closer.  I’d guess Storen could get slightly more money, though the team probably argues that his injuries in 2012 prevented him from giving full value, and is probably why he’s estimated at $1.7 instead of nearer to the $4M that Chad Cordero got his first arb year with this team.  Rizzo has dangled Storen in trade talks in the past, but seems likely to keep him (at the possible expense of Clippard) for the coming season.
  • Craig Stammen: 1st year Eligible/$900k estimate: Another super-2 guy who was incredibly valuable to the team this year.  I’d guess he’ll get more than 900k despite his role as a middle reliever, since 900k is barely more than the typical veteran minimum (which is roughly $800k, what Mark DeRosa made in 2012).  Though, 900k equates to roughly a $3.5M FA value, which seems high for the kind of middle relief right-hander that are a dime a dozen in this league.  I’d guess Stammen is the right kind of guy for the team to buy out a couple of arbitration years, much as they did with Sean Burnett a couple years ago.   But, being a fungible middle-relief arm, don’t look for anything other than a 2 year deal so the team is protected in case of injury.
  • Jordan Zimmermann: 2nd year eligible, $4.9M estimate: Another super-2 guy who will get a 4th year of arbitration, this estimate also seems low considering the season that Zimmerman just put in.  It also roughly equates his FA value at roughly $10M a year, which I’d guess is also undervaluing Zimmermann.  Ask yourself; if he was on the open market, you’d have to think he’s getting more than $10M/year (point of comparison: Kyle Lohse turned down a 13.3M qualifying option and may get 4/60; who would you rather have?)
  • Tyler Clippard: 2nd year eligible, $4.6M estimate: I see this estimate as high frankly, as being too much of a raise over his 2012 salary of $1.625 despite his being the closer most this year.  Clippard said it himself; its better to be the closer, get the saves and get the salary.  But $4.6M for a setup guy is way too hefty.  If Clippard comes in this high with his demand, look for an ugly arbitration hearing.  Honestly, I could see Clippard being a trade candidate and making this arbitration decision someone else’s headache, and the team goes into 2013 with Storen firmly entrenched as the closer with the likes of Mattheus, Garcia and Henry Rodriguez vying for the 8th inning role.
  • Ross Detwiler: 1st year eligible, $2.2M estimate: This seems right in line with what Jordan Zimmermann got last year ($2.3M in his first eligible year).  A successful young starter going through this process the first time.
  • Roger Bernadina: 1st year eligible, $1.1M estimate: A year ago I thought Bernadina was going to get DFA’d at the end of spring training.  Now I wonder if he’s got enough value to be flipped in trade after a standout season for this team as its 4th outfielder.  $1.1m is very reasonable for a 4th outfielder with his defensive skills, so don’t be surprised to see Bernadina remain in this role with the team for several years.

Most likely Non-Tender candidates

  • Jesus Flores: 4th year eligible, $1.2M estimate.  Flores represents an interesting test case.  Clearly he no longer has a 25-man catcher spot, having fallen behind both Wilson Ramos and Kurt Suzuki on the depth chart.  The team also has shown itself to have decent rising catcher depth in the likes of Sandy Leon and Jhonatan Solano.  And Flores really regressed this year both offensively and defensively, so much so that the team had to go out and acquire Suzuki late in the season.   So I completely understand those that think that Flores is a non-tender candidate.  BUT, you don’t just cut loose valuable commodities, and a healthy catcher who can serve as a backup in the majors is still worth keeping.  That being said (as I reported in an earlier post), Flores seems to have achieved 5 service years, meaning that despite his option availability he’d have to agree to be assigned to AAA.  Which means his flexibility is completely compromised for this team in 2013.  The only remaining reason to sign him would be as insurance in case Suzuki or Ramos get hurt in spring training.  If he doesn’t get traded in the next two weeks, look for a non-tender.
  • Tom Gorzelanny: 4th year eligible, $2.8M estimate.  I’m not sure I agree with the MLBtraderumor estimate here, because the likelihood of players getting pay DECREASES in arbitration is pretty slim.  Its not like Gorzelanny posted a 6.00 ERA in 2012 after all.  Gorzelanny made $3M in 2012, where he predominantly served as our long-man/mop-up guy out of the pen.   The question the team has to ask itself is this; is $3M too expensive for the last guy out of the pen?  I believe it is, and thus I believe Gorzelanny is destined to get non-tendered.  I believe the team likes him but his salary isn’t matching up to his role any longer, so I see him being forced to take a significant salary cut if he wanted to stay here.  Were I the Nationals, I’d rather take a shot at a MLB-minimum guy (or even a rule-5 guy) in that mop-up role.  The only thing that gives me pause in declaring that the team is ready to cut ties with a lefty reliever is the apparent sky-high cost of lefty relievers on the market; Jeremy Affeldt just signed a 3 year $18M deal to stay with San Francisco.  Would this contract convince the Nats management that perhaps Gorzelanny is a player worth hanging on to?
  • John Lannan: 3rd year eligible, $5M estimate.  There are two schools of thought with Lannan in the Natmosphere right now.  One group believes that the team will let Edwin Jackson walk, Lannan will naturally take his place as the 5th starter and the team won’t pursue any starter talent in trade or in free agency.  The other school of thought (and the one to which I subscribe to) states that Mike Rizzo values power arms and doesn’t rate Lannan at all, that $5M (which I think is a low estimate if he were to actually reach arbitration) is far too expensive for a soft-tossing 5th starter, and that the team will be actively searching for a 5th power arm to replace Jackson in the rotation.  I think the team would rather take that $5M+ and use it to pay an acquisition versus continuing to fund Lannan’s sub 100 ERA+ exploits.  This opinion ignores the rising cost of lefty starters, and the relative dearth of quality starts on the FA market, so perhaps the Nats hang on to him one more year.

Having so many arbitration eligible guys means that the Nats payroll will take a significant hit.  Assuming that the team tenders the above 8 players (including Flores), here’s what the payroll implication will be:

Player 2011 salary 2012 estimate
Desmond $512,500 $3,200,000
Storen $498,750 $1,700,000
Stammen $485,000 $900,000
Zimmermann $2,300,000 $4,900,000
Clippard $1,650,000 $4,600,000
Detwiler $485,000 $2,200,000
Bernadina $493,500 $1,100,000
Flores $815,000 $1,200,000
subttl $7,239,750 $19,800,000
Gorzelanny $3,000,000 $2,800,000
Lannan $5,000,000 $5,000,000

The team needs to plan on paying more than twice it did in 2013 for the services of the top 8 arbitration eligible players in 2012.  Most of that money can be made up by non-tendering both Gorzelanny and Lannan … except that those players would need to then be replaced on the roster.   Still, getting these 8 players for less than $20M a year while the Yankees owe Alex Rodriguez $28M for 2013 alone sort of puts things in context.  It is a good problem to have, having to pay your arbitration-eligible stars more and more each year.

Nationals Players’ Service Time and Option Status for 2013

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Jesus Flores achieved 5 full years of service time in 2012, complicating his roster status going forward. Photo Toni Sandys/Washington Post

In the process of opining on some preliminary Nats hot-stove moves this coming off-season, I found myself asking certain service-time/options questions about players on the 40-man roster.

So, I took the time to create a Spreadsheet of all Nats 40-man roster players with Options status for the coming season (well, actually update a version I had of this information from last year).  I also tried to update everyone’s service time to what it should stand at at the end of the 2012 season (though honestly some of the service time calculations, especially for someone bounced up and down this year like Corey Brown, can be tricky).

I know that Luke Erickson‘s Nats Big Board has an “Options Status” tab, and I didn’t mean to circumvent the work there; i’m just not sure whether it has been updated for the coming season.  The big board Options tab also has some helpful links to decipher some of the options ramifications, especially the tricky 4th option (which will notably come into play for several of our guys very soon, as discussed below).

Nonetheless, if I have the Options statuses and Service time calculations correctly done, there are some interesting roster management moves on the horizon.  The below analysis includes a disputed 4th option for Ryan Perry; I’m pretty confident I’m correct in determining his option status but will caveat that opinion (and this whole article) by reminding the reader that I’m not in fact a professional baseball executive and may have a couple of these calculations wrong.

Here’s a full list of our current 36 40-man players (this is where we stand as of today, post FA declarations of our seven free agents plus the reverting of our former three 60-day DL guys to the 40-man roster).  I’ve got these players divided into four categories, with some discussion after each:

Category 1: Vets who can refuse demotion (5 or more years of service)

Players in this category and their service time at the end of 2012:

Name Svc Time First Added to 40-man Option Years Used # Ops Left
Gorzelanny, Tom 5.16 Sept 2005 2006, 2008, 2009 0
Flores, Jesus 5.079 Dec 2006 2008, 2011 1
Suzuki, Kurt 5.113 Jun 2007 none 3
Tracy, Chad 7.000 Nov 2004? ? ?
Zimmerman, Ryan 7.032 Sep 2005 none 3
Morse, Michael 5.114 Nov 2004 2005, 2006, 2007 0
Werth, Jayson 9.102 Nov 2002? ? ?

Discussion: Most of the guys on this list are no-brainer core pieces of the team in 2013 and beyond, but two names in particular raise interesting questions.  First Tom Gorzelanny has now achieved enough MLB time so that he cannot be sent down without his permission, but that was largely irrelevant based on his lack of options anyway.  He remains a non-tender candidate because of his expected raise from his 2012 $3M salary given his role as long-man/mop-up guy for the team (well, that is unless you’ve seen the price of left-handed relief on the FA market this off-season … maybe he’s NOT a non-tender candidate).  The bigger surprise on this list is Jesus Flores, who I believe achieved his 5th full service year in 2012 and now (despite having a minor league option left) can refuse an assignment to AAA.  This represents an interesting decision for the team, who clearly has Suzuki and Ramos as its #1/#2 catchers.  Most think he’s also a clear non-tender candidate for 2013, but I tend to think that he’s a valuable commodity worth tendering a contract.  Despite his poor batting in 2012 (slash line of .213/.248/.329) there is a market for backup catchers in this league, especially ones that once showed the hitting promise that Flores has (a slash line of .301/.371/.505 in the early part of 2009 prior to his injuries).  Maybe this service time issue becomes the straw that breaks the camel’s back of his tendering decision; if we tender him, we’ll immediately have to trade him because he’ll likely refuse an assignment and be declared a free agent if he doesn’t make the 2013 team.  Perhaps the team cuts bait on him before having their hand forced.

Category 2: Players with Options but who are entrenched on the 25-man roster for 2013

Name Svc Time First Added to 40-man Option Years Used # Ops Left
Gonzalez, Gio 3.162 Aug 2008 2009 2
Mattheus, Ryan 1.111 June 2011 none 3
Storen, Drew 2.140 May 2010 none 3
Strasburg, Stephen 2.118 Aug 2009 2010 2
Zimmermann, Jordan 3.154 Apr 2009 2010 2
Ramos, Wilson 2.047 Nov 2008 2009, 2010 1
Desmond, Ian 3.027 Nov 2008 2009 2
Espinosa, Danny 2.033 Sep 2010 none 3
Lombardozzi, Steve 1.023 Sep 2011 none 3
Harper, Bryce 0.152 Aug 2010 2011, 2012 1
Moore, Tyler 0.113 Nov 2011 2012 2

Discussion; the likelihood of seeing any of these guys optioned to the minors in 2013 seems slim; mostly they are starters and key players for the team going forward.  That being said, John Lannan‘s surprise demotion in 2010 while he struggled was enabled by his options availability, and a struggling player like Moore or Lombardozzi could be sent down to make room if need be.

Category 3: Players whose Options almost guaranteed to be used in 2013

Name Svc Time First Added to 40-man Option Years Used # Ops Left
Kimball, Cole 0.138 Nov 2010 2011, 2012 1
Maya, Yunesky 0.070 July 2010 2010, 2011, 2012 1?
Perry, Ryan 2.142 Apr 2009 2009, 2011, 2012 1?
Purke, Matthew 0.000 Aug 2011 2012 2
Leon, Sandy 0.096 May 2012 2012 3
Solano, Jhonatan 0.092 Nov 2011 2012 2
Marrero, Chris 0.033 Nov 2010 2011, 2012 1
Rendon, Anthony 0.000 Aug 2011 2012 2
Perez, Eury 0.030 Nov 2011 2012 2

Discussion; This list is where some of the 4th option availability comes into play.  First Yunesky Maya has already used 3 options but clearly isn’t in the plans of the team for 2013 (the final year of his 4yr/$8M wasted contract).  But, if I read the options rules correctly his lack of achieving 5 professional seasons will give him a 4th option, which is likely to be used for 2013.  The same goes with Ryan Perry, who was drafted in 2008 but made the Tiger’s MLB roster in 2009, nearly out of Spring Training, meaning he’s just finishing his 4th professional season.  This means (as was pointed out by a reader a few posts ago) he’s eligible for a 4th option, which is likely to be used as Perry continues to remake himself as a starter.  (Note: the 4th option validity for Perry has been questioned here and there and revolves around 2010, when I don’t believe he was optioned).  I see him being in the AAA rotation and serving as injury insurance for the MLB rotation.  Marrero and Kimball are both in the same boat; they both missed all (or most) of 2012, burning an option in the process, and unless the organization makes the decision to designate them to make room on the 40-man they will each burn their last minor league option in 2013.  The rest of these players are working their way up the minor league system, or in the case of Matthew Purke, hopefully working their way back into 100% health.

Category 4: Players with Options available, jeopardizing their 25-man status in 2013

Name Svc Time First Added to 40-man Option Years Used # Ops Left
Christian Garcia 0.027 Sep 2012 none 3
Lannan, John 4.045 July 2007 2010, 2012 1
Stammen, Craig 2.160 May 2009 2009, 2011 1
Brown, Corey 0.059 Nov 2010 2011, 2012 1

Discussion: I probably should have put Stammen into the 2nd category of players, based on his breakout 2012 performance.  Lannan is a likely non-tender after getting the surprising option to Syracuse in 2012 and demanding a trade; however if he’s offered arbitration he can have the same thing happen to him again in 2013, serving as a multi-millionare AAA starter/insurance policy.  The question is whether or not the team wants to spend money in that fashion.  It remains to be seen what the team does with Garcia; numerous reports talk of him converting to a starter.  If so, his options availability would allow the team to send him to AAA to hone his craft were he to not be ready for a rotation spot out of spring training.  Lastly Brown seems stuck in 4-A status right now, having cleaned up in AAA but struggled at the MLB level.  Perhaps he’s also a “guarantee” to be optioned in 2013 and belonging in the 3rd category; I put him here only because the Nats outfield situation remains in so much flux.  If LaRoche walks, Morse likely moves to first, Moore likely starts in left (absent another FA outfielder signing or other acquisition), Bernadina continues as the 4th outfielder and the team may possibly need a 5th outfielder candidate.  Brown is a lefty though, and the team has already invested in a lefty bench bat in Chad Tracy, so perhaps this works against him.  There’s so much yet to be decided though, its hard to guess how it will shake out.

Category 5: Players with no options left

Name Svc Time First Added to 40-man Option Years Used # Ops Left
Clippard, Tyler 3.148 May 2007 2007, 2008, 2009 0
Detwiler, Ross 3.002 Sept 2007 2008, 2009, 2011 0
Rodriguez, Henry 2.114 Nov 2007 2008, 2009, 2010 0
Rivero, Carlos 0.000 Nov 2009 2010, 2011, 2012 0
Bernadina, Roger 3.146 Oct 2007 2008, 2009, 2011 0

Discussion: The main player that has a worry here is Carlos Rivero, claimed off waivers from Philadelphia and who burned his last option in 2012 without even getting a Sept 1 call up.  He had a decent season in AAA (.303/.347/.435) but seems to be without a position (he played 3rd primarily in AAA and doesn’t seem to have another position).  I’m guessing he’s DFA’d this off-season and the team attempts to re-sign him to a minor league contract.  Henry Rodriguez‘s lack of options has resulted in some dubious DL-trips several times for this team, as he clearly could use some minor league time to fix his Jeckyl-and-Hyde performances.  But he can’t be optioned, so in some ways the team is stuck.  Honestly, I think its just a matter of time before they run out of patience and DFA him as well.

Thoughts?  Corrections?  Any and all feedback is welcome.

MLB 2012-13 Off Season calendar

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Just as an FYI, I’ve created a link to a spreadsheet of key events, dates and deadlines for this coming MLB off-season.   A quick summary of those dates is listed below.  With the new CBA and new rules regarding contracts and options, I still have some guesses as to when the exact date for some contract specific items are.  Feel free to comment/provide feedback if you know the exact date.

Bolded/Italicized Events are post-2012 season awards, official or otherwise.

Date Event Nats Specific Impact
Oct 19th, 2012 MLB Comeback Players of the Year AL and NL Adam LaRoche possibly getting some votes?
Oct 23rd, 2012 Sporting News Comeback Players of the Year AL and NL Dunn, Posey winners
Oct 25th, 2012 Fielding Bible Awards given
Oct 28th, 2012 Roberto Clemente Award given Zimmerman nominated
Oct 28th, 2012 Last actual day of 2012 World Series; official end of 2012 season n/a
Oct 29th 2012 Official start of FA period (12:01am the day after the last game of the WS) LaRoche, Jackson, Burnett, Gonzalez, Duke, DeRosa
October 30th, 2012 Rawlings AL & NL Gold Glove Announcements Desmond, LaRoche are finalists
Nov 1st, 2012 Team and player options must be decided three days after the end of the World Series.  10/31/11 at midnight LaRoche, Burnett have options from the Nats.
Early November? Clubs have to re-set their 40-man rosters, moving all 60-day DL players back to active.  Happened in the past about 11/9.  May be changed date w/ new CBA
Nov 2nd, 2012 5pm: Deadline to make Qualifying offers for your own Fas (average of top 125 salaries or $13.3M for 2012).  5 days after end of WS Nats likely to make Qos to both Jackson and LaRoche, neither of whom is likely to take the deal and thus guaranteeing the Nats draft pick compensation if we lose both guys.
Nov 2nd, 2012 HoF “Veterans Committee” releases ballot.  Officially announced12/3/12
Nov 3rd, 2012 5 days after WS ends: Free agent filing period and exclusive negotiating window ends at 12:01 a.m. ET. Free agents can sign with any team. LaRoche, Jackson, Burnett, Gonzalez, Duke, DeRosa
Nov 3rd, 2012 Free Agency granted to all eligible Minor League free agents (5 days after the end of the WS).  Eligibility done on service time; 6 years ML service for college draftees or 7 years ML service for HS draftees or free agents under the age of 18. http://www.baseballamerica.com/blog/prospects/2012/11/minor-league-free-agents-2012/ has full list; notable names include Arneson, Pucetas, Severino, VanAllen
Nov 4th, 2012 Wilson Defensive Player of the Year awards, given by MLB to best defensive player on each club. Adam LaRoche wins the award for the Nationals.
Nov 5th, 2012 MLBPA announces “Players Choice” awards: Player of the year, Comeback Player of the year, etc No Nats awarded MLBPA’s version of the BBWAA awards.
Nov 7th, 2012 BBWAA Award Nominees announced on MLB networks
Nov 7-9, 2012 GM Meetings, Palm Springs, California for 2012 Rizzo may be laying groundwork for big FA signings.
Nov 8th, 2012 Last day for players to accept arbitration from current club. Would the Nats offer arbitration to its Fas?
Nov 8th, 2012 Louisville Slugger Silver Slugger Awards LaRoche, Desmond likely candidates.
Nov 9th, 2012 12 Days after WS ends: Players must accept or reject Qualifying Options LaRoche only Natioanls FA to get a QO.
Nov 12th, 2012 AL, NL Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Awards Harper or Willey?  We’ll see if Harper’s great finish gets him the award.
Nov 13th, 2012 AL and NL Manager of the Year Johnson should get the NL manager of the year for the Nats winning 17 more games than 2011.
Nov 14th 2012 AL and NL Cy Young Gio Gonzalez in the discussion but likely to lose out.
Nov 15th 2012 AL and NL Most Valuable Player No real Nats MVP candidates; perhaps LaRoche gets some top 5 votes.
Nov 15-18th, 2012 WBC Qualifier #4, Taiwan (Chinese Taipei, New Zealand, Phillipenes, Thailand)
Nov 15-19th, 2012 WBC Qualifier #3, Panama City (Brazil, Columbia, Nicaragua, Panama)
Mid November, 2012 Sporting News Executive of the Year announced I think Mike Rizzo is NL GM of the year.
Mid November, 2012 Owners Meetings, ? Location for 2012
Nov 20th, 2012 Day to file reserve lists for all Major and Minor League levels.  In other words, Last day to add players to 40-man to protect them from the Rule5 Draft A host of rule-5 eligible decisions pending for Nats; Rosenbaum, Karns, Kobernus, Hood, etc.
Nov 30th, 2012 Midnight: Deadline for teams to Tender contracts to arbitration eligible players.  If not tendered, those players immediately become free agents. Lannan, Gorzelanny, Flores possible non-tenders here.
Early December, 2012 Last day to request outright waivers to assign player prior to Rule 5 Draft
Dec 3rd-6th, 2012 Winter Meetings, Nashville, TN for 2012
Dec 3rd, 2012 HoF “Veterans Committee” officially releases ballot that was made public 11/2/11.
Early December, 2012 Baseball America announces its Executives of the Year
Dec 4th, 2012 MLB Balloting results announced for Hall of Fame Ford C. Frick Award for excellence in baseball broadcasting
Dec 6th, 2012 Rule 5 Draft.  Occurs at Winter meetings Nats are likely to at least participate in the Rule5 draft, but their draft position leaves them picking last of the 30 teams.  A utility infielder or a bullpen arm could be had here.
Dec 31st, 2012 Deadline for BBWAA ballots for HoF voting.
Jan 9th, 2013 Hall of Fame BBWAA voting announced; the HoF class of 2013.
Jan 5-15, 2013 Salary arbitration filing period Nats could have as many as 10 arbitration cases to settle (but more likely 7 or 8).
Mid January 2013 Salary arbitration figures exchanged
Feb 1-21, 2013 Salary arbitration hearings (actual hearing date per player picked at random)
Mid February 2013 Mandatory Spring Training reporting date for Pitchers and Catchers
Mid February 2013 Voluntary Spring Training reporting date for non-pitchers and catchers
Early March 2013 Contracts of unsigned players who are not yet eligible for Arbitration may be renewed
Mar 2-5, 2013 WBC First Round, Pool B in Taiwan (Korea, Netherlands, Australia, tbd)
Mar 2-6, 2013 WBC First Round, Pool A in Japan (Japan, Cuba, China, tba)
Early March 2013 First Spring Training Game for the Nats
Mar 7th-10th, 2013 WBC First Round, Pool C in Puerto Rico (Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, tba)
Mar 7th-10th, 2013 WBC First Round, Pool D in Phoenix (USA, Mexico, Italy, tbd)
Mid March 2013 Last day to place a player on unconditional release waivers and pay 30 days termination pay instead of 45 days.
Mar 17th-19th, 2013 WBC Championship round, San Francisco, CA
Late March 2013 Deadline to request unconditional release waivers without having to pay the player’s full salary
March 31st, 2013 2013 Season Opener
April 1st, 2013 Traditional Opening Day (Cincinnati) Nats open at home to Miami
April 15th, 2013 Jackie Robinson Day

Ladson’s Inbox: 10/22/12 edition

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LaRoche's status with the team will dictate a number of cascading roster moves. Photo Rob Carr/Getty Images via bleacherreport.com

I havn’t seen mlb.com beat reporter Bill Ladson do an inbox response since February.  So I was excited to see one pop in this past Monday, 10/22/12.  As a reminder, I write my response before reading his, and sometimes edit questions for clarity.

Q: What are the Nationals’ plans for Tyler Moore? He is a power hitter who deserves to play every day. If Adam LaRoche returns next year, where does Moore fit in?

A: Tyler Moore indeed had excellent numbers in limited action, getting called up at the end of April to cover for a dearth of outfielders on the Nats roster.  His slash line was .263/.327/.513 for an OPS+ of 124 with 10 homers in 156 Abs.   Thats a homer ever 15.6 ABs and correlates to nearly a 40 homer pace for a full season of roughly 600 at-bats.  That is of course if you believe in what we saw in 2012 versus the continued lack of respect for Moore from the scouting pundits (who think his minor league power numbers were more a function of age than talent, and who continued to think that Moore had too many holes in his swing to be an impact MLB player).

Unfortunately though for Moore, if Adam LaRoche is re-signed there may not be an immediate place for Moore in the lineup.  LaRoche can only play 1B, Michael Morse is signed through 2013 and has become a club and fan favorite in LF.   Those are basically the only two positions Moore can play.

I think the better question here is, “Will the Nats extend Adam LaRoche?”  Because that’s the question that drives several other roster moves for 2013.  If LaRoche comes back and the team favors giving Moore more playing time, maybe they package Morse in trade.  Perhaps Moore sits and waits for another injury to give him playing time; LaRoche was incredibly healthy in 2012 and could regress for 2013.  Or, perhaps LaRoche (as basically the leading 1B power hitter on the FA market) will get a 3-4 year deal (likely) and the Nats won’t over-pay for his decline years, will install Moore at first and keep Morse in left.   Honestly, I think this last scenario is what plays out, and we’ll see Moore as your starting first baseman in 2013.

Ladson basically echos exactly what I say above.  Glad we’re on the same page.

Q: Do you think the Nationals will go after Michael Bourn this offseason?

A: No no no!  As I opined on September 13th, after seeing yet another Jim Bowden article intoning last off-season’s mantra of “the Nats need a center fielder,” the Nats HAVE a center fielder, and a darn good one, in Bryce Harper.  Harper finished the season with the 4th best UZR/150 for any CF with 500+ innings, even better than the vaunted defensive wizard Mike Trout.  It took about 5 games for his arm to be respected league wide, and he’s only 19 and will only get better.  Why would we possible move Harper off CF in the next 4-5 years?  Yes, eventually we expect a bulked up power hitting Harper to move to a corner spot, but not at age 20.  Besides, if Harper moves off CF … who makes way in left or right?  Do you move Jayson Werth to left field?  If so, then what happens to Michael Morse?  Do you move him?  Harper’s defensive value is wasted in right field.  Werth’s defensive value (while inarguably slipping) is also wasted in left field, where you can “hide” a poor defensive player who is plus-plus power.

*sigh* I wish this rumor would go away.  I’m pretty sure the Yankees never said to Mickey Mantle at age 19, “Hey Mick!  We like you in center but we to move you to a corner outfielder so we can sign a sub-average hitter to lead-off and play in your position.”  Of course not, so why would the Nats do so?

Unfortunately Ladson perpetuates the ridiculous myth himself and says he thinks the team goes after Bourn and puts Harper in LF.  Just ridiculous.

Q: Any news on Cole Kimball’s recovery?  Will we see him in a Nats uniform in 2013?

A: Shoulder injuries in power pitchers are never an easy recovery.  That’s why we never really saw Kimball in the summer and why he’s currently in the AFL getting some extra time on the hill.  As of this writing he only has 3 2/3 innings, so not much to go by.  We are seeing some reports that he looks decent.  2013 prognosis?   He faces an uphill battle to make the bullpen; there’s several right handers that are now clearly ahead of him on the depth chart.  Storen, Clippard, and Stammen are locks (if not traded).  Rodriguez has no options.  Mattheus has pitched his way onto this team.  That’s your 5 righties out of the pen (Davey Johnson likes 2 lefties).   And we havn’t even talked about Christain Garcia, who pitched well enough to make the post season roster.   So the answer may be that Kimball starts in AAA and waits for an opportunity.  Ladson says he thinks Kimball can make the 2013 bullpen.  How exactly?  Who is he going to be ahead of?  Not much provided in the way of deep analysis, Bill.

Q: Do you think there is any chance the Nationals bring up Corey Brown to play center and bat second?

A: No.  Brown looks to me like the definition of a 4-A guy, and will be stashed in AAA as outfield depth until further notice.  Batting second?  Really?  We’re currently batting Werth at leadoff despite his having middle-of-the-order power.  What makes anyone think Brown deserves to bat anywhere in this lineup, let alone ahead of the power guys?  And, if Brown makes the 25-man roster which outfielder does he replace?  Certainly not the starters in Morse, Harper and Werth.  Certainly not Roger Bernadina, who more than earned his stay.  And certainly not above Moore.   Ladson agrees.

Q: What do you think about the addition of Kurt Suzuki to the roster?

A: Somewhat of a panic/reactionary move at the time, but it has worked out great for both sides.  Jesus Flores wasn’t stopping the one-way street for opposing base-runners, and we needed more of a plus-defensive guy behind the plate.  Flores did himself  no favors batting .213 either.  Suzuki immediately upped his batting stroke too,  batting .267 here after hitting just .218 in Oakland in 2012.  Clearly Suzuki and Wilson Ramos are your two catchers heading into 2013.  What do we do with Flores?  Do we dare non-tender him and give him away?  Do we tender him and try to trade him?  I’d hope for the latter, thinking that even a .213 hitting catcher has value in this league.  I hate to say it, but Ramos can’t stay on the field and we needed the insurance.  Ladson agrees, but doesn’t mention Flores’ fate.

Q: The Shark, aka Roger Bernadina, had a career year and will probably get a raise this offseason. Do you think the Nats are going to try to move him, or can we expect to see The Shark with the team next year?

A: Great question.  Do we sell-high on Bernadina and make-do with a 4th outfielder like Corey Brown or Eury Perez in 2013?  We could, if it brought us back something worth having.  We do have some rising quality OF depth that would replace Bernadina (Brian Goodwin comes to mind, perhaps even Anthony Rendon if he hits his way to the majors in 2013).    Ladson thinks Bernadina will be back.  I have no problem with that; he hit great this year, knew his role and is fantastic defensively.

Q: Do you think Davey Johnson is the best manager in Nationals/Expos history? Felipe Alou is tough to beat, but Davey has my vote on this one.

A: Why not Jim Fanning?  He led the franchise to its only prior post-season appearance.  I dunno; what exactly makes a “good” manager?  I think Johnson has absolutely done better with this team than anyone thought, so yeah that makes him a great manager (and my favorite for winning NL Manager of the Year).  Best ever for the franchise?  Why do people think Felipe Alou was so great?  His last three Expos teams each lost 90 or more games.  Who can really talk intelligently about how well Buck Rodgers mangaged the team in the mid 1980s?  The team improved 19 wins from 1978 to 1979 under Dick Williams.  Those are good managers too.  Ladson thinks Johnson is the best ever but says Alou was great.  I don’t get it.

Nats Franchise Trade history; biggest, best, worst

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

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

First up: Trades.

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

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

Jim Bowden Tenure: Nov 2004 – Mar 2009

Biggest Trades

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

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

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

We’ll talk about the other two deals below.

Best Trades

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

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

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

Worst Trades

  • 2007: Milledge deal

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

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

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

Mike Rizzo Tenure: Mar 2009 – present

Biggest Trades

  • 2011: Gio Gonzalez deal

  • 2009: Morgan/Burnett deal

  • 2010: Ramos for Capps deal

  • 2011: Henry Rodriguez/Willingham deal

  • 2011: Gorzelanny deal

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

Best Trades

  • 2010: getting Wilson Ramos

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

Worst Trades

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

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

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

Too Early to Tell Trades

  • 2011: Gio Gonzalez deal

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

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

Ask Boswell 3/5/12

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Here’s Tom Boswell‘s weekly Monday chat from 3/5/12.  Of the baseball questions he took, here’s how I’d have answered them.  While lots of questions pertained to the recent Gregg Williams “bounty” issues and whether or not the Redskins partook during his time here, the starting of spring training has got Nats fans pretty excited.

As always, questions are edited for clarity and I write my own answer prior to reading his.

Q: What do you think the Nats w/l record will be?  Can they win 90 games?

A: For a team that won 80 last year (though their pythagorean W/L record was slightly worse), I don’t think its a stretch to assume they can improve another 10 games.  Mark Zuckerman did a nice little WAR analysis and showed that full seasons from Zimmerman, LaRoche and Strasburg, along with the new additions of Gonzalez and Jackson *should* give the team at least another 10 wins, perhaps a bit more.  That’s assuming basically that everyone else performs at the same levels they did last year, and it assumes that the WAR stat directly translates to wins on the field.  In reality, you have to plan for some people to step up while others step back.  Can we assume that Morse will hit 30 homers again?  Its a tough one to assume; he could break a leg and suddenly our offense is in tatters.

That’s why I’ve been a bit more conservative, predicting 8 more wins for this team and have them at 88-74 with this squad.  If the team is in the WC hunt, and they augment the offense, or if Harper comes up and produces … suddenly that’s a 90-91 win team.  Boswell didn’t really answer this question, just went off on Strasburg tangents.

Q: Who is your opening day starter?

A: barring injury it has to be Strasburg.  I think your initial 5-man rotation goes like this, in this order: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Jackson and Wang.  This gives you a decent righty-lefty matchup at the top.  Perhaps you replace Wang with Lannan and have Jackson go out 5th to get a true R-L-R-L-R rotation.  Or perhaps Davey Johnson doesn’t care about lefty/righty matchups.  I’m more interested to see who the home opener starter is, since it happens 7 games into the season.  Right now it looks to be Gonzalez, which would be great, but early season rain-outs can greatly affect rotation orders.  Boswell says Strasburg but had a good caveat; if its 30 degrees and snowing in Chicago on opening day Strasburg probably won’t go.

Q: Where is this team’s Lenny Dykstra-esque scrappy mean streak player?

A: Honestly, the Mets-to-Nats comparisons may not ever bee 100%.   I don’t see a Dykstra type on this roster.  Mostly because this roster still does not have a center fielder/lead off type, which is exactly what Dykstra was.  Boswell says that Werth may still fill this role.

Q: Why didn’t the team keep Bixler and Nix?

A: Bixler is a good question; for reasons unknown the team designated him for assignment in the off-season while still possessing 40-man room (inexplicably; they did this a number of times, losing Kimball at one point but also losing two decent players in the Rule 5 draft).   Nix they probably thought was replaceable on the FA market … or at least obtainable for cheap.  There does always seem to be a number of halfway decent corner outfielders on the market who are available for less than what Nix got.  Boswell says Nix’s 2yr contract was the problem … the Nats want flexibility for 2014.  No mention of Bixler.

Q: If Tyler Clippard is our “MVP,” why isn’t he being paid more?

A: Two reasons; clearly the questioner doesn’t understand the whole arbitration process.  Just because Clippard is our best pitches doesn’t equate to him being the highest paid player.  Veterans always make more than pre-arb guys; don’t forget the players belong to a Union, and Union members reward longevitiy.  Secondly; Clippard unfortunately is a commodity player; he’s a non-closer reliever who doesn’t rack up saves and thus won’t ever be compensated like a Jonathan Papelbon or a Mariano Rivera, despite his value to the team.  Its an unfair world in some respects, and I just hope that the Nats do him right and keep paying him while he’s productive for the team.  Boswell mirrors my two thoughts but then also says that relievers are starting to become aware of newer stats like WPA that value Clippard highly (1st in the NL last year, above big name starters like Roy Halladay).

Q: What are your thoughts on the extra wild card?

A: Baseball purists may whine and complain, but the modern professional sports scene in this country, fortunately or unfortunately, places a ton of emphasis on playoffs versus regular season accomplishment.  Even with these two additional WC teams, Baseball still has the fewest of its teams reaching the regular season of any of the four major sports.  And, in a sport where payroll disparities may not determine the World Series victor every year they clearly help predict the playoff contendors (Yankees: one missed playoff appearance since 1994), having more teams in competition for the playoffs is good for the sport.  Frankly I’d like to see Baseball go to a 32-team/8-division structure similar to the NFL and adopt the NFL’s exact playoff structure.  The problem there is finding two more markets without cannibalizing the NY or LA market.  Boswell says “time will tell,” but also admits that he hated the first WC round initially but likes it now.  He also points out something I hadn’t thought of; the importance of your #3 starter with a new round of playoffs.

Q: Should the team just skip Strasburg’s start every few times to extend his 160IP limit until the end of the season?

A: It isn’t a bad idea; Zimmermann skipped one start and hit his 160IPs at roughly September 1st.  So skipping a few more starts for Strasburg would put him well into September.  But I don’t think he’ll be served well by jacking around his days rest.  Starters depend on getting into routines in order to pitch their best.  Honestly I think this situation may very well play it self out naturally; even in 2010 Strasburg had two separate DL stints; if he spends 30 days or so on the DL at various times we’ll get a full season out of him.  Boswell agrees with me on the not-skipping-a-start theory.

Q: How secure is Ramos as the #1 catcher?

A: I’d say he’s pretty secure.  Flores may have had a good winter, but winter leagues aren’t exactly MLB quality.  Flores’ injury history has more or less derailed his career, and that’s unfortunate.  The team has found a solid #1 in Ramos and will stick with him, with Flores getting his typical 1 or 2 starts a week.  The inclusion of Derek Norris in the Gonzalez package also spoke volumes about where this team thinks it is in terms of catcher depth, as does the 40-man addition of Maldonado, a journeyman catcher who now benefits from a distinct lack of upper-level minor league catcher depth.  Look for the team to make catcher a focus in the 2012 draft to start back up the catcher pipeline.  In the mean time, I doubt Flores will be trade bait even if he performs amazingly well, at least until we find another catcher in the wings.  Boswell says Ramos is as #1 as any #1 can be.

Q: Who are the best catchers ever?

A: For a combination of defense, calling games, arm strength as well as offense, i’d go with Johnny Bench.  But you also have to throw in Ivan Rodriguez in his prime.  Mike Piazza was notoriously bad defensively.  Jorge Posada was subpar defensively in his later years but was a monster bat.  I’d include other names from the past few decades like Carlton Fisk. Before Fisk and Bench, there was a dearth of HoF inductees from the catcher position for some 30 years, to Yogi Berra who is probably the benchmark for all-around catchers (with Bench).   Boswell says Bench as well, but mentions Varitek with Posada.  Interesting.

Q: What is the team going to do with Ian Desmond?

A: I’d guess that 2012 is the make it or break it year for Desmond.  If he’s hitting .220 at the all-star break without significant value proven at the SS position, the team may make a change.  Move Espinosa to SS, install DeRosa as starting 2B, look to move Desmond and perhaps make Lombardozzi the utility guy.  I also find it very interesting that Anthony Rendon is getting reps at both 2B and SS; if that kind of hitter can slot in at short stop on even an as-needed basis he could be even more of a dangerous prospect than he already is.  Boswell agrees; this is a big year for Desmond.

Q: If catcher is so important, why did we move Bryce Harper away from the position?

A: one word: longevity.  Yeah he was a catcher growing up but catchers get the crap beat out of them, have constant injury concerns, and the wear and tear of catching affects their hitting.  With such a bat potential, he needs to be on the field and playing 162 games.  That being said, I was slightly surprised that he didn’t at least try to stick at C for at least a little bit of his career … but understand the reasoning stated.  Boswell said the same things I said, but added that scouts didn’t really think he was a natural catcher anyway, so he got moved to the OF quickly.

Q: What would MLB’s response be to the same “bounty” scandal going on in the NFL?

A: Hard one; its not like purposeful bean-balls without context are common in the MLB.  And the game is just too random to purposely try to spike someone, or slide into them on purpose, or to purposely hit a catcher.  These plays are so bang-bang and so naturally occurring to baseball players who have played all their lives that they’re hard to script.  If it was found out to be happening?  Long suspensions.  Boswell thinks such a situation would be lifetime bans, if proven.

Q: Strasburg has never pitched more than 7 innings, at any level, ever.  Is this a concern?

A: I have a hard time believing this, but won’t challenge the questioner since I’m not entirely in a position to go searching through the guy’s college career.  Is it a concern?  eh.  Its modern baseball.  No more 150 pitch games, no more 38 start seasons.    Little leaguers have pitch count/innings limits, high school teams only play twice a week.  College rotations you go once a week.  I’d only be concerned if he showed any inclination of slowing down later in games, which he doesn’t.  Boswell isn’t concerned.

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 2/19/12 edition

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RIP Gary Carter, one of only two Montreal Expos enshrined in Cooperstown. Photo via garycarter.org

This is your semi-weekly/periodic wrap-up of Nats and other baseball news that caught my eye.  I try to publish this about weekly or if it gets up to about 1500 words, so that it’s not to voluminous.

Nationals In General

  • Mark Zuckerman writes about a favorite topic of mine w/r/t the current Nats 40-man roster and its construction.  See here for a similar discussion of the 2011 Nats (along with analysis of the 8 playoff teams) from last October.  Clearly the more players you’re using as your “primary 15″ that were developed in house, the better you’re doing as a player development machine.  But there’s also the measure of cashing in those prospects in order to acquire resources.  (Coincidentally the “primary 15″ of a team means its 8 starters in the field, 5 rotation members, setup man and closer).  By last year’s end, the Nats were starting 9 of these 15 as players developed in house and were down to just three acquired via FA/Waivers.  That’s a massive step up from just a few years prior, when most of the team was FA/Waiver pickups.  We’ll revisit this topic once the 25-man rosters for teams are finalized and play starts in April.
  • The Washington Franchise leads the league in employment of Negative WAR players over the past decade.   A staggering 31% of our players in this time have shown negative WARs per season.   This is not surprising given what we know of the construction of the first few iterations of the Nationals; Zuckerman has done studies in the past related to the staggering number of players the Nats have played at the MLB level who, after leaving us, never appeared in a major league game again.   The last time Zuckerman did this study that I could find was Nov 2010, when he identified 59 such players just since 2005.  I don’t know what percentage that is of all players who appeared for us in that time-frame, but it seems high.  (note: I just did some analysis and will return with a blog posting on this topic soon).
  • Back to the negative war topic, here’s a list of such negative WAR seasons for the 2011 iteration of the team: Alex Cora, Jesus Flores, Chris Marrero, Steve Lombardozzi, Matt Stairs, Livan Hernandez, Doug Slaten, Brian Broderick, Yuniesky Maya, Collin Balester and Chad Gaudin.  That’s 11 of the 44 players who appeared in the majors for us last year, or exactly 25%.  So we’re not exactly out of the woods yes; clearly we continue to employ a ton of players who end up hurting the team.  (For the record I used bWAR instead of fWAR for this, since its a bit easier to see that data.  But i’d guess the analysis would come out the same for either measurement method).
  • Another article on Edwin Jackson and pitch-tipping.  Is it possible that a player could play for years and never have a hitter teammate tell him he’s tipping his pitches?  I think it depends on what team the pitcher plays for.  Mike Mussina infamously was told he tipped his change up once he moved to the Yankees, and he made the adjustment that enabled his stellar 2006 season.  Maybe the team should have just kept its mouth shut about their thoughts and not told every reporter in every press conference that they think their new $11M pitcher is flawed.

Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • Interesting thoughts on whether “4-A” players really do exist and how to quantify them from Fangraphs.com.  Read through the comments for some better thoughts.  For me, this issue touches on two opinions I’ve been growing.  1st; yes there does exist 4-A players; the Nats have shown to have a slew of them recently.  Guys whose minor league performance literally disappears upon reaching the majors.  I don’t know how to quantify it but there’s clearly guys who bounce freely between the two levels and seem destined to max out as such a 4-A player.  2ndly: Is AAA now a “lesser” league than AA?  Perhaps not with all systems (for example, Tampa Bay insists all their prospects play full seasons at each level, as does Atlanta), but for the Nats we’ve seen some interesting promotion behavior lately.  Stephen Strasburg got hit harder in AA than in AAA during his brief minor league apprenticeship, but the difference is rather slight.  But watching the games you got the distinct feeling that his AA competition was getting decent wood on the bat, while in AAA it was like he was pitching to little leaguers.  This goes to my theory that AAA is morphing into a “spare parts” league, where teams stash backup utility players (mostly catchers, middle infielders, relief pitchers) who are on the 40-man and can quickly be recalled to fill a spot, while AA is the place where your rising prospects play full seasons in preparation for promotion to the majors.  Jordan Zimmermann never pitched a AAA inning, rising from a full season in Harrisburg straight to our rotaton.  Strasburg probably could have done the same.  Will we see Bryce Harper jump straight from AA to the Majors or will the strategy of Mike Rizzo going forward be more Tampa-esque, requiring each prospect to “master” each level rising upwards?
  • A surprise team lands Yoenis Cespedes, namely the penny-pinching Oakland A’s in a 4yr/$36M deal.  4 years and $36M!?  That’s more than they will spend in payroll on their entire TEAM in 2012.  Maybe.  That’s a lot of cash for a completely unproven, if talented player who I’d say is not entirely MLB ready.

General Baseball News

  • Excellent article on the Demise of the Spitball and other Doctoring techniques from Grantland’s Jonah Keri, whose writing I’ve always liked and who is working on a historical retrospective on the Montreal Expos franchise.   Keri’s article talks about the Kenny Rogers pine-tar incident in the 2006 World series, but I don’t consider that “doctoring” the baseball.  That was simply using pine-tar to get a better grip on a cold, wet night.  Not that its legal; just different from the more conventional definition of a “spitball.”   Keri’s conclusion as to why the spitball has disappeared is attributed to the invention of the modern split-fingered fastball (attributed to Bruce Sutter) and to the lack of proper teachers (the craft of doctoring the ball has been handed down generation to generation by pitching coaches).  But honestly I believe the decline is more attributable to two other factors; the lingering stigma of getting caught being higher now post-PED era than every before, and the fact that the true “spitball” is damn difficult to throw (imagine trying to “throw” a baseball with the same motion you might use to squirt a pumpkin seed from your fingers?  That’s what throwing a spitball is like to a certain extent).
  • In typical modern day sabrematrician blogger nerd fashion, someone at a stats-oriented site goes about attacking another writer’s observation column.  In this case, it is someone at Baseball Prospectus attacking the Verducci Effect.  I can’t argue with his stats (other than to quibble with the lack of publication of his control group for comparison), but I suspect he misses the point.  I don’t think Verducci passes this list off as a statistical study; i think its passed off as a subjective list of candidate pitchers who HE THINKS may regress.  See, there’s the rub.  He’s already done the breakdown from the “control” group of pitchers who may be candidates for his study but whom he thinks may not be in jeopardy.  So I’m presuming that, because of this pre-selection and expression of opinion this is no longer a statistical study but an opinion piece.  I’d liken it to analyzing statistically the results of an amateur scout’s player recommendations; sure you could run one in order to judge a scout’s prognostication ability, but there’s so much variation in what happens to players once they sign that it wouldn’t be meaning ful.  I guess my take away is this: Verducci does a pretty durn good job of predicting red-flags for these pitchers (84% over the past 5 years), that maybe we should just recognize his study for what it is, and not overanalyze it to try to discredit it.
  • A nice article about another favorite topic of mine: the relationship between Wins and salary.  The familiar narrative is that payroll discrepancies are killing modern baseball, and to a certain extent I do agree; its no coincidence that the high payroll Yankees have only missed one playoff appearance in the nearly-20 years since the wild card era began.  But the ratio of wins to salary is dropping.  Why?  Because several teams have sacrificed several seasons to basically reset and start over.   Tampa Bay and Texas are the best recent examples, but we’re also seeing remnants of this theory here in Washington and starting anew in Houston and Chicago.
  • Nice little Intro to Sabremetrics from Espn-W.  The author doesn’t go into the real in-depth stats that a lot of people are gravitating to but does cover the basics.  OPS, Fip, UZr, wOBA, Vorp and WAR.  Now if we could only decide on a standard WAR.  :-)
  • Another classy move from baseball’s classiest organization; the Miami Marlins.  Yeah, lets un-retire the number of a former employee who died tragically since, well, he didn’t work for the current ownership group.

General News; other

  • Excellent article at Grantland.com on the Effects of CTE and the possible future (end?) of Football as we know it.  This is something I have been saying for a while and agree with; the increased awareness of concussions and their relationship to the longer term effects (the affliction known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE) may soon start to really change the way that people think about the sport.  More to the point, as a parent does the thought of repeated concussions inflicted on your young football-playing son give you pause?  It would for me.  Read this article and it makes some very good points.  90,000 recorded pre-collegiate concussions per year?!


Arbitration-eligible Salary Guesses; how close was I?

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Morse's arbitration case (if it gets to that point) would be interesting. Photo Cheryl Nichols/Nats News Network

Borrowing from my “Arbitration Tender Deadline” post from December 12th, here was my salary guesses for our seven Arbitration eligible players.  Note, this was obviously done prior to the Gio Gonzalez trade and included a theoretical salary guess for Doug Slaten, despite my (correct) prediction at the time that he’d be non-tendered:

Player Current or 2011 Contract 2011 2012 2012 guess
Clippard, Tyler 1 yr/$0.443M (11) $443,000 Arb 1 $1,700,000
Flores, Jesus 1 yr/$0.75M (11) $750,000 Arb 3 $800,000
Gorzelanny, Tom 1 yr/$2.1M (11) $2,100,000 Arb 3 $2,800,000
Lannan, John 1yr/2.75M (11) $2,750,000 Arb 2 $4,500,000
Morse, Michael 1 yr/$1.05M (11) $1,050,000 Arb 2 $3,900,000
Slaten, Doug 1 yr/$0.695M; (11) $695,000 Arb 3 $900,000
Zimmermann, Jordan 1 yr/$0.415M (11) $415,000 Arb 1 $1,800,000

This week, ahead of the salary exchanging deadline, we’ve seen the Nats re-sign a slew of their players.  How close was I to properly guessing the salaries of these players?

  • Tyler Clippard: re-signed but terms unknown as of 1/17/12.  My guess matches mostly what our beat reporters are guessing, but as of the time of this post we don’t know the exact terms.
  • Jesus Flores: guessed $800k, signed for $815k.  That’s pretty close, and slightly higher than I thought he’d get.  He gets a modest raise from the $750k he got for 2011.
  • Tom Gorzelanny: guessed 2.8M, he gets $2.7M.  Again, pretty close to guessing correctly, but still surprised he earned such a raise during a year when he went from starter to reliever.  That had to factor into the tempered number (a 2nd year starter in Gorzelanny’s situation probably would get something closer to Lannan’s figure).
  • John Lannan: guessed $4.5M, unsettled as of 1/17/12 so they submitted competing figures: $5M from the team, $5.7M from the player.  Wow; I really under-estimated what Lannan is worth.   If this went to arbitration, I’d have to think the team would win.
  • Michael Morse: guessed $3.9M, unsettled as of 1/17/12, so they submitted competing figures: $3.5M from the team, $5M from the player.  A massive gap; my number is closer to the team’s valuation and I think Morse has really overbid what he’s worth.  I think Morse loses an arbitration hearing (he made only $1M last year and certainly the concern would be that he’s a one-hit wonder).
  • Doug Slaten, as we all know, was non-tendered and recently signed a minor league deal with Pittsburgh.  I’m not sure what the terms of that deal would be if he made the team but would guess its somewhere below the typical veteran minimum line of $800-$850k.
  • Jordan Zimmermann; guessed $1.8, he gets $2.3M in salary.  I was way off here; I guess I figured that his relative youth would keep the salary lower than it may have been otherwise.  This award bodes badly for the team for the next three years; if he’s at $2.3M now he’ll likely push close to $10M by the time he’s reaching his 4th time through.  A good problem to have, honestly.

One last player: Gio Gonzalez as we know was arbitration eligible but signed a 5 year deal late last week, buying out all his arbitration years plus the first couple free agency years.  $8M AAV is a decent club risk, and gets us a #2 level starter for about the same amount of money we were paying Jason Marquis off the open FA market.

I’m especially happy to see most of these cases settled prior to even exchanging figures.  The Lerners are clearly learning (no pun intended) from past arbitration cases that they serve little purpose but to alienate players over (in the grand scheme of things) pocket change.  Lets hope that they can find some middle ground on Lannan and Morse prior to needing to go before an arbitrator.

Written by Todd Boss

January 18th, 2012 at 10:37 am

What are non-MLB associated baseball league talent equivalents?

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We all know how good Yu Darvish’s stats are in Japan, but how good is the competition? Photo unknown via beatofthebronx.com

I’ve been working on this post for weeks; now is as good a time as any to post it.  I’ve always wondered, since we hear so much about players’ tearing up winter leagues or hear wonderful stat lines from players coming over from foreign countries (as we are now in the Yu Darvish mania).  So what is the talent-equivalent of the various leagues outside of the conventional MLB-AAA-AA-A-rookie levels?  I did a bit of digging around, asking questions and came up with the following approximations.  Feel free to debate if you think otherwise.

Foreign Pro Leagues

  • Japan: the Nippon Professional Baseball League rates, by various accounts, as a mid AAA-level talent league.  Baseball Prospectus’ Clay Davenport did a stat-heavy analysis in 2002 and concluded that the NPB was at least AAA level, perhaps close to MLB level.  However, the prevalence of mediocre players from the US going to Japan and being super-stars seems to indicate that Japan is no better than AAA, and may be a bit weaker.  And, not to claim this is about talent levels per race, but there have only been a very small number of Japanese-born players who were really impact players upon arriving here.
  • Cuba: per Dave Cameron (mentioned in a chat, need the link) the “general consensus” is that the Cuban pro league is about a High-A level of talent.
  • Taiwan/China: Taiwan had its own thriving baseball league for a bit, but merged it into the main Chinese league in 2003.  Given the small numbers of Taiwanese-born players who have made it to the majors, and the fact that the league serves mostly as a feeder into the Japanese league, its safe to say that the Chinese league is no better than a high-A level of talent.
  • Korea: As with the Chinese leagues, Korea mostly feeds into the Japanese league.  High-A talent levels.
  • European Leagues: Believe it or not, there are thriving baseball leagues all throughout Europe.  They even have multiple levels of play in certain countries (the Netherlands in particular).  However, based on the levels of talent of players that typically play in Europe, its hard to put the talent levels at anything close to our own Rookie leagues.  In fact, I’d suspect that most European pro teams are no better than a low division 1 college baseball program (such as GW or Catholic U’s teams).
  • Leagues elsewhere: there’s leagues just about every where else; wikipedia searches turn up baseball leagues in Australia, Asia, the far pacific.  I didn’t do any research here, assuming that these leagues are one slight notch above amateur leagues in the US.

Winter Leagues

Davenport also did a bit of analysis on the various winter leagues in 2004; I’ve taken his recommendations and adjusted them based roughly on observation over the past few years, since the winter leagues have been shifting in terms of talent attracted in recent years.

Most players who go to winter leagues fall into one of three categories:

  1. Natives of the country looking to provide support for their home town teams and home leagues (the Nats own Ramos, Flores, Pudge, Severino and Perez being good examples)
  2. Players looking to get in additional work after an injury-filled year curtailed their seasons.
  3. Players looking to work on a new pitch, a new swing or some other experimental part of their game.

So, the talent levels in these various leagues are usually all over the road.

    • Dominican Winter League: Seemingly the “best” winter league, having the most ex-patriots playing in the US.  Davenport’s studies from earlier in the decade showed that the talent level is roughly equivalent to AAA talent, an opinion that I still maintain.  Our own Yuniesky Maya tore up the DWL last winter, but struggled to be just a serviceable pitcher in Syracuse all year.
    • Puerto Rico Winter League : seems to be the 2nd strongest Winter League, but with slightly fewer MLBers than in the DWL.  So we’ll call it AAA level, but weaker.
    • Venezuela Winter League: The talent levels have dropped for a while, ever since political turmoil has taken over the country.  This is highlighted especially close to home in 2011 with the Wilson Ramos kidnapping case.  However, Nats farmhand Ryan Tatusko was kind enough to provide his opinion on the talent level and calls it “AAA talent.”   I think at best its a low AAA, as the league is clearly lower quality than Puerto Rico.  This last season’s version of the VWL seemed to be more talented that past versions though; perhaps this league is looking to challenge the DWL for pre-eminence in the winter leagues.
    • Mexican Pacific League: Its really hard to tell; the Mexican summer league is at best A-ball talent, but the winter leagues are quite a bit better, at least per Davenport’s studies.  Now?  I’d guess the MWL has degraded a bit and is probably on a par with Venezuela in terms of talent.  AA-level at best.

 

Other US-based Leagues/Levels

  • Arizona Fall League: the AFL rates somewhere between a AA and AAA level by and large, though for several reasons it rates as a very heavy hitter-league (pitcher workloads and ball-parks mostly).  Most of your pro teams send their top prospects from levels below AA and a number of AA and AAA (and even some guys who have MLB experience).  All told, that equates with a “good” AA league.  And since AA leagues are morphing into being populated with a team’s best prospects while AAA leagues are becoming repositories for “spare parts” for the MLB team, more and more the lines are blurred between AAA and AA in terms of “which team could really beat the other.”  Nationals fans saw this pretty clearly during Stephen Strasburg‘s minor league career; he was hit in AA but absolutely dominated AAA teams that seemed to be populated with backup catchers and backup infielders.
  • Top End Division I College Teams are probably not even as good as a Rookie league team, all things considered.  I had this debate with my father recently, noting that the best Div-1 team this year (South Carolina) was led by a pitcher (Mike Roth) who was a 31st round draft pick in 2011 and only has 11.7 scholarships to use to field a team.  A good chunk of college teams are guys on partial scholarships or are complete walk-ons.  Good college teams may each have a number of pro prospects, but usually only 1 or 2 legitimate prospects.  On the flip side, even a rookie-level team is ENTIRELY comprised of players who were drafted, and will include high school players who signed in lieu of going to college because they were considered good enough at the time to risk signing.  A college team may use a hot pitcher to beat a pro team in a theoretical 3-game series every once in a while, but a team full of professional hitters are eventually going to utterly dominate typical college bullpens, sunday starters and mid-week players.
  • Independent Leagues: probably rates somewhere around a pro rookie-league or slightly higher equivalent.  They’re usually full of guys who got cut from the MLB rosters and a collection of older veterans trying to hang on.  So, the younger players are (arguably) below rookie-league/short-A levels but the veterans are probably in the AAA level, bringing an average to somewhere between a low-A and rookie level quality.

Semi-Pro and Amateur Teams

I’m guessing that when the old Class-B/Class-C/Class-D leagues died out in the 50s, those players then began percolating into what we now see as an improved and thriving College baseball industry, Semi-Pro leagues scattered around the country, and the (now) official Indy league designation.  I always attribute the death of these low-class leagues to the advent of Television, which replaced the (usually) one source of nightly entertainment for small towns across America, which before the mid 50s would have been baseball.

Here in the DC area, there’s a “semi pro” league that is the combination of two long-standing leagues (the “Industrial League” and the “Credit Union” league) that features very good baseball.  Ex division-1 players, ex Pros, good baseball.  Back in the 50s this probably was a class-D level league (assuming that class-B was what has become the rookie leagues and class-C has morphed into the Independent leagues).

Summary

Here’s a table summarizing the above data, along with some clarifications from the comments after-the-fact, in order of best to least quality.

Foreign League US Pro Equivalent Estimate
Japan (NPB) Mid AAA
Dominican Winter League Mid AAA
Puerto Rican Winter League Mid-Low AAA
Venezuelan Winter League Low AAA/High AA
Mexican Pacific (Winter) Low AAA/High AA
Mexican Summer Low AAA/High AA
Arizona Fall League Low AAA/High AA
Atlantic League (Ind) High AA
Cuba High-A
Taiwan/China High-A
Korea High-A
American Association (Ind) High-A
Can-Am League (Ind) High-A
Frontier League (Ind) Low-A
Other Independents Rookie Ball
European (Dutch, Italian) Low Division 1
Other Foreign (Australia) Div II/Div III

Do you agree/disagree with these ratings?  Please feel free to comment and discuss.