Nationals Arm Race

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Nats Non-News: Non-tender deadline, FA (lack of) market and Ohtani

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Are the Nats really in the mix for Japanese superstar Ohtani? Photo via cbssports.com

Are the Nats really in the mix for Japanese superstar Ohtani? Photo via cbssports.com

As many others have noticed … there isn’t a heck of a lot going on right now in the “hot stove” season.  But given where we are in the regular off-season calendar, lets bang out a couple of topics.

First: the Non-tender deadline.

For the first time in an awful long time, the Nats have no real obvious non-tender candidates on their roster.  They entered the off-season with just four arbitration-eligible players and they are all set to be crucial pieces for 2018:

  • Bryce Harper technically would have been arb-eligible but signed away his 4th year for north of $21M.
  • Anthony Rendon comes off easily his finest season as a pro (his numbers across the board eclipse his 2014 5th place MVP season) and he should be in line to more than double his $5.8M 2017 salary.
  • Tanner Roark struggled in 2017 (… perhaps caused/aided by the frequently-seen WBC hangover?) but is still slated to be our 4th starter on a rotation that doesn’t currently have a fifth and should be in line for about an $8M payday.
  • Michael Taylor has established himself as one of the premier defensive center fielders in the game, will be set to start in 2018, and faces arbitration for the first time (likely to get around a $2.5M check).

Compare this to previous non-tender years (with links to non-tender specific posts from years past):

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

That’s a long trip down random memory lane for marginal Nationals players from yesteryear.

Post-publish edit: as expected, the team formally tendered contracts to the 3 arb-eligible players on 12/1/17.



The FA market in general seems to be held up by two major names: Giancarlo Stanton and Shohei Ohtani.  Jeff Passan argues there’s other reasons (see this link) for the lack of movement, but one has to think the big names are a big part of it.  I also believe that this year’s “crop” of FAs is … well kind of underwhelming.  Here’s Passan’s ranking of FAs: his biggest names past Ohtani are Yu Darvish (who just sucked in the post-season, is coming off TJ surgery and doesn’t rate as the “Ace” he once was), J.D. Martinez (who blew up in 2017 but who has normally gotten a lot of his value from defense and he’s not getting any younger), Eric Hosmer (a 1B only guy, even if he’s really good, who seems like a safe bet to get over-pad and age badly) and Jake Arrieta (who has taken a step backwards from his Cy Young win and has already entered his decline years).  Plus, the “price” for signing some of these QO-attached guys (Hosmer, Arrieta plus other top-10 FAs like Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and Wade Davis) will be quite steep for big-market and/or Luxury tax teams like our own Washington Nationals.

Frankly, between the higher price of forced loss of picks due to our over-spending last season, our current payroll tightness (we seem to only have about $17M to spend to stay under the tax for all of next year) and the underwhelming lot of available players … i don’t see us really participating in this year’s sweepstakes.    Do we want to pony up for a middling 5th starter type like Jaime Garcia at the likely going price of $10M/year?  Or roll the dice with a MLFA like we did with some success last year (Edwin JacksonJacob Taylor).  Or just stay inhouse and let Erick Fedde continue to mature every 5th day on the mound?

Stanton, according to the tea-leaves i’m reading this week, seems like he’s heading to San Francisco, who is in desperate need for offense, outfielders and a franchise makeover after last year’s debacle.  Stanton could fit all three.  Which is great for him (he’s born and raised in California and would be joining a franchise that, despite its 2017 season, still has 3 WS titles in the last decade and a slew of marquee players to build around), great for the Nats (getting him out of the division), great for the “franchise” of Miami (who rids themselves of perhaps the 2nd worst contract in baseball behind Albert Pujols‘ and lets them get a relatively clean slate to start over for the new franchise ownership group), and of course awful for the “fans” of Miami, who thought they were finally getting rid of one of the worst owners in professional sports only to get slapped in the face with comical missteps by the new Derek Jeter-led ownership group, who managed to embarrass themselves in the most ridiculous way (by firing ceremonial Marlins legends for no good reason) early and then put themselves on the defensive needlessly by immediately crying poor and saying that they needed to pare payroll within a few days of taking over.  If i was a Miami fan I wouldn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

I also think its notable that the first ex-Nat ranked on Passan’s list comes in at #43; the “ripe for regression” Matt Albers.  Brandon Knitzler comes soon after him (who could be a re-signing candidate frankly for us, to put the “law firm” back together), then you have to get all the way down to #62 to find Jayson Werth.  As compared to next off-season, when the Nats will have the #1 guy on the list.


Coming back to Ohtani (I’m going with the h in the name since after much research that’s what seems like the right way to spell it) ….

First things first: I desperately hope the Nats get him.  Anyone who thinks that they’re better off without Ohtani is a fool; he’s set to become one of the biggest bargains in baseball.  For the small price of a $20M posting fee, you get a guy who throws 100, is an 80 runner, and hits the crap out of the ball.  For a miniscule bonus figure (the max any team has seems to be about $3.5M; the Nats only have $300k) and then a MLB min contract.  Its just amazing.  His presence could literally change the face of a franchise for a decade for about the same amount of money we will have paid Gio Gonzalez this year and next.  I doubt he picks us though; it seems more likely he picks either a major market team (NY, Boston) on the east coast or (more likely) one of the west coast teams for better proximity to Japan and a larger Asian native market (LA, SF, Seattle).  But its all speculation.

Hey, did I mention that the Nats need both another starter AND a lefty-bat off the bench, right now??  Ohtani would be perfect!

Side Note: why the heck is he coming over now and subjecting himself to MLB minimum contracts and arbitration??  He’s literally leaving $100M on the table by not waiting just two years and coming over un-restricted.  I just cannot believe he’s doing this and costing himself so much money.  I get the lip service comments about wanting to challenge himself, yadda yadda, but when there’s literally 9 figures of money on the table, I just don’t understand the decision.  He’s projected to be better than Daisuke Matsuzaka, better than Darvish, both of whom got many times more money (Dice-K got $52M to him, $103M in total cost plus his posting fee), while Darvish got $60M to him and cost the Rangers $111M total with posting fee).  It seems crazy.

Can’t wait to see where he goes, and I can’t wait to see if he’s the real deal.

Ask Collier; what’s up with the bullpen?

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I'd like to note that Matt Albers is officially listed as 6'1", 225lbs. photo via outsidepitchmlb.com

I’d like to note (using this picture as reference) that Matt Albers is officially listed as 6’1″, 225lbs. photo via outsidepitchmlb.com

A mid-April mailbag from Nats MLB.com beat reporter Jamal Collier.  Probably spurred on by these ugly numbers: 6.00, 6.43, 3.18, 6.75, 10.80, 8.10, and 11.57.  Those are the current (as of 4/18/17) ERAs of the seven “original” bullpen members of your 2017 Nationals.   The only one under 6 is Koda Glover, and for completion I should add that NRI Matt Albers has managed to throw 3 clean innings to help keep the bullpen ERA down.

You  may be saying to yourself, “Man, the Nats bullpen has been the worst in the majors!”  You’re close, but wrong.  There are several teams by any measure that have actually been worse than Washington, believe it or not.  By ERA, there are 3 worse teams.  By fWAR, there are 2 worse teams.  And by FIP there’s one bullpen worse than ours.  In every case, Philadelphia’s bullpen has been even worse.   So we have that going for us.

Lets get to the question.  As always, I answer the question before reading Collier’s answer and sometimes edit questions for clarity.

Q: Why is the bullpen struggling?

A: Because its mid-April, because everything is Small Sample Sizes (SSS), because the Nats struck lightening in a bottle in 2016 while completely remaking their bullpen on the fly but may have struck out this year.  Here’s the opening day roster bullpens over the last few years to highlight just how much turnover we’ve had:

  • 2013: Soriano, Storen, Clippard, Mattheus, Stammen, Rodriguez, Duke
  • 2014: Soriano, Clippard, Storen, Stammen, Blevins, Barrett, Detwiler
  • 2015: Storen, Janssen, Stammen, Thornton*, Cedeno*, Barrett, Roark
  • 2016: Papelbon, Treinen, Kelley, Belisle, Perez*, Rivero*, Petit
  • 2017: Treinen, Kelley, Glover, Blanton, Solis*, Romero*, Perez*

Meaning:

  • From 2013->2014: 4 holdovers, 3 new guys
  • From 2014->2015: 3 holdovers, 4 new guys.
  • From 2015->2016: 0 holdovers, 7 new guys
  • From 2016->2017: 3 holdovers, 4 new guys

Frankly, the fact that a 100% remade bullpen was so successful last year was amazing.  Perhaps now we’re seeing the downside of this lack of consistency.

I trust most of the guys in the 2017 bullpen, based on prior history.  I think I know what to expect out of Treinen, Kelley, Glover, Blanton, Solis and Perez.  Romero we all knew is/was a lottery ticket, and he may be DFA fodder soon.  Albers the NRI could be this year’s Todd Coffey; a successful middle reliever who we got for peanuts.  I think we just need some time.

That being said, lets look role by role and ask ourselves if we think this year’s bullpen is “better” than last.

  • Will Treinen (as closer) be better than Papelbon?  I like his chances.
  • Will Kelley repeat his success of 2016?  No reason not to think so
  • Will Glover give the team what Treinen did last year?  I’m confident.
  • Is Blanton better than Belisle?  Undoubtedly yes.
  • Can Solis match Rivero’s lefty production?  Seems like it based on what he did last year
  • Is Perez the same guy he was last year?  Probably.
  • Can Romero be as bad as Petit was last  year?  Yeah, he probably could.

Maybe you don’t agree with me on these quick takes … but on a general level the message is this: the bullpen this year should be just as good as last year’s.

Collier delves into FIP to find some unluckiness, also notes its SSS.  And he notes that its a MLB-wide trend; bullpens are awful everywhere for some reason this year.


 

Q: How much rope does Blake have left? Is he staying put only because the other options have also struggled?

A: See above: its April 18th.  Treinen has 4 save opportunities, blew one (where he gave up just one hit to blow it), but his most recent outing was an ugly one necessitating some Bryce Harper heroics.  My choice to close would have been Shawn Kelley honestly; more experience, more swing and miss stuff, more proven capabilities of getting guys out on both sides of the plate.  But the team chose otherwise, mostly due to Kelley’s twice-repaired elbow and the need to go back to back nights.  Ask yourself; how often do we need a closer to go back to back nights?  Lets look at last year’s closer Mark Melancon and count how many times he pitched in back to back games for the entirety of 2016: I counted 16 times in 75 appearances.  And in most of those cases, he then got several days off.  I just can’t believe Kelley’s arm is SO FRAGILE that he can’t throw back to back nights.

Do you know how many times Kelley threw on back-to-back days in 2016?  Take a guess.  13 times.  So 13 times last year (or nearly as many as the closer Melancon) Kelley threw on back to back days, but suddenly in 2017 he’s too fragile to depend on to throw back to backs as the closer.

To get back to the question; I’m sure Glover will be closing sooner or later.  It was always looking that way.  How much rope does Treinen have?  Probably at least til mid May.

Collier says its early, that while Treinen has had some issues there’s no change coming anytime soon.


 

Q: Who do you see as potential options in the Minors in case the current bullpen members don’t figure things out and changes need to be made?

A: Great question.  When Albers got called and added to the active roster, it was a severe indictment of all remaining 40-man roster relievers.  That’s be Rafael Martin, Trevor Gott, Austin Adams, and to a lesser extent Jimmy Cordero and Matt Grace.  The first three guys are right handed options, all with MLB experience, all passed over for a guy the team signed for nothing.  That tells me that the team has little to no trust in any of those three guys at the major league level right now.  So who might the team call upon?  Here’s some thoughts:

  • From AAA: Adams is the only guy having a halfway decent season thus far; in 7 2/3rds innings he’s given up just 1 hit (!), walked 6, struck out 12.  The team just re-signed Joe Nathan but I sincerely hope he’s not a legitimate option.
  • From AA; the 5 best guys by WHIP are … the five starters.  So that’s good I guess.  Braulio Lara was an offseason MLFA with a lot of AAA time; he’s got decent AA stats right now and could be an option to move up, but not straight to the majors for me.  Then there’s Ryan Brinley, who is sharing in closing duties but is young and is a total lottery ticket; a 27th rounder from 2015 who is a shock to have even made it this far.  40-man member Cordero is down here… and has a 19.62 ERA right now.  Nice.
  • From XST: there’s three potentially interesting names that could make sense for the bullpen: Derek Eitel, John Lannan, and Josh Outman.  Eitel had solid AAA numbers last year and has been around for a while (age 29); he might be an option to look for.  Outman has parts of 7 years MLB experience, some starting, some relieving and could be an option.  Lastly, the new side-slinger Lannan could be a back-fill for an under-performing Loogie.

I guess the other option would be to take a starter from AAA or AA and bring him up in relief.  But the AAA starters are really struggling right now.  Hill is getting bombed, Voth has given up 15 hits in just 6 1/3 innings, Cole walked 5 guys in his first start, and Turner has a 1.73 whip through 2 turns.  And none of these guys are really known for their blazing fastballs; they’re all command and control starters.  The AA starters look better than the AAA starters, but a couple of them strategically have to stay as starters (namely Erick Fedde and Austen Williams, John Simms to a lesser extent).  Jaron Long and Greg Ross are both MLFA signings who the team may not have as much invested in … perhaps they could be put into shorter relief modes and considered for bullpen spots.  But that’s digging deep.

In other words … there’s not a lot of reinforcements that the team trusts right now.  The MLB bullpen will be given plenty of rope to straighten themselves out.

Collier mentions Albers’ success, Nathan signing, Cotts, Adams and Gott.

 

Minor League Full Season Staff Review 2017 – XST

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He's back! photo via sbnation

He’s back! photo via sbnation

(Last post in this series, then back to the big club).

We have looked at the four full-season staffs, guessing the roles, and talk about the changes of the staffs from the end of last year til now.

Let’s talk briefly about the 40 some-odd guys in XST or unassigned right now, name some surprises and perhaps talk about where they might slot in if/when they get a chance.

See here for Syracuse 2017 review, here for Harrisburg 2017 review, here for Potomac 2017 review, here for Hagerstown 2017 review.

Quick links for rosters for each full season affiliate:

And don’t forget the invaluable work of SpringfieldFan maintaining the Nats Big Board, now in its 12th season!

Notes: Extended Spring Training is abbreviated XST throughout.  Other abbreviations I use often: MLFA == Minor League Free Agent, OOO = Out of the Organization.

Note: since writing this mid last week, we’ve already seen more than a few names get assigned and removed from XST purgatory.  I’ll just cross them out and not change what I originally wrote below.


Extended Spring Training Players to start the 2017 Full Season

I’m heavily depending on the great work of the Big Board for this list.  I count no less than 46 minor league pitchers who are still under contract to this team but who did not get a full season assignment.  A huge percentage of them were on Short-A or Rookie league teams and were more or less expected to repeat the short seasons.  I have not included anyone who was in the DSL last year as being in this list, coincidentally; I only try to keep track of the domestic leagues.

Below is a rough guess as to where these XST guys are intended to slot in if/when they get assigned:

  • AAA: Eitel, Guthrie, Lannan*, Outman, Nathan
  • AA: JDMartin, Blackmar, Benincasa, Rauh
  • High-A: Mayberry, JThomas*, Mendez
  • Low-A: JMorales, ALee, DeRosier, Howell, Dickey
  • Short-A: WPena, YRamierez, DRamos, Aponte, Cespedes, Fuentes, JGomez, Gunter, Mooney, Morse, Reid
  • Rookie: Alastre, Braymer, Baltrip, Amoroso, Barnett, Conner, Eusebio, German, Luzardo, McDonald, Peguero, NRamirez, Rishwain, Tindall, RWilliamson
  • unknown (been in XST for > 1yr): Bates, CFlores, AMartinez, Shackelford

Discussion

AAA: by the time you read this, Jeremy Guthrie may have already taken a spot start in the majors (update: he has, making Saturday’s 4/8/17 start in Philly), which will have implied that he’ll have been added to the 40-man and 25-man, and that he’ll more or less have guaranteed his spot up there for a while (since as a vet, he won’t be able to be assigned back to AAA w/o his consent/passing through waivers).  I’m guessing the other guys make their way to Syracuse at some point, perhaps as cascading back-fills if there’s injuries requiring call-ups to the majors.  2017 spring training NRI Joe Nathan, after this writing, got signed and assigned to AAA.

AA: I could see Martin slotting in at either AA (where he ended up last year) or at AAA (due to his experience).   Blackmar struggled in AA and could get pushed back to High-A.  The other two were release candidates to me.  Update: Blackmar re-assigned back to AA as expected to replace Arias in the rotation.

High-A: All three guys here pitched for Potomac last year, and all three pitched well.  Mendez earned a promotion to AA where he got hit, so maybe he just got caught in a numbers game.  None are release candidates to me so perhaps they all missed out on the AA team but have nothing left to prove in High-A.

Low-A: Morales, Lee and DeRosier were all hurt in 2016 (Morales for the whole season, Lee/DeRosier for just half), so it all depends on the extend of the injuries.  Howell was the fastest 2016 draft class riser .. so its kind of odd he wasn’t put on a full season team.  Maybe they thought he needed more time in Short-A.  Lastly I’m not sure what  you do with Robbie Dickey; two straight years bouncing between short- and low-A with little to show for it.  The 4th rounder represents a somewhat large investment by the club that hasn’t panned out and (even though the concept of “sunk cost” may apply here) he’ll likely get more shots to work out.

Short-A:  this list includes mostly guys who were at Auburn last  year and who didn’t make the  Hagerstown cut, but it also includes some guys who should have gone further by now, so I’d guess we’ll see some releases out of this list, especially once the Rule4 draft rolls around.

Rookie: same as with Short-A, especially for the college-age guys here.  I do look forward to the 2017 debut of Jesus Luzardo of course; he could quickly become our 2nd best starting pitching prospect.

Unknowns: what do you make of players who are on pace to miss nearly a year and a half of pro time?  I have no idea where any of these guys slot in any more and wouldn’t be surprised to see them all let go at this point.

Minor League Full Season Staff Review 2017 – Syracuse

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Will Cole be getting yet another AAA opening day start? Photo AP

Will Cole be getting yet another AAA opening day start? Photo AP

I slacked on minor league pitching analysis this off-season.  But i’m as excited as ever to see the four full-season affiliate rosters announced ahead of the beginning of the minor league season this weekend.  And i’m ready for another season of tracking minor league arms (kind of the bread and butter of this blog).

So lets take a look at the four staffs, guess the roles, and talk about the changes of the staffs from the end of last year til now.  I’ll do these in four posts to break them out and get more content/discussion.  First up: Syracuse.

Quick links for rosters for each full season affiliate:

And don’t forget the invaluable work of SpringfieldFan maintaining the Nats Big Board, now in its 12 season!

Note: in the below list, “missing” means that the player was on a 2016 roster, is still listed as active but is not found anywhere on a 2017 full-season roster as expected.  Most are still sitting in Extended Spring Training (abbreviated XST throughout) with the intent of getting assigned as injuries or releases occur, but some may be release candidates.   Other abbreviations I use often: MLFA == Minor League Free Agent, OOO = Out of the Organization.


AAA/Syracuse 2017:

  • starters: Cole, Voth, THill, Turner, JRoss
  • spot starts/swingman:
  • bullpen: Adams, Gott, Grace*, Martin, Albers, Antolin, Broadway, Cotts,
  • dl/restricted: Swynenberg (still restricted), Barrett, Collins*, Harper*, McGowin
  • cut/released/FAs from 2016: Laffey*, Espino, Giolito (trade), RLopez (trade), EDavis, De Fratus, Arroyo, Harmening
  • missing from 2016: none

Discussion:

As often happens with AAA squads, this group of players is about half home-grown (I count 8 drafted players out of the 17 on the roster) and half MLFA or acquired depth.  And this group is missing more than a few names that we know will eventually be here and play major roles; Jeremy Guthrie probably slides into the rotation spot that Joe Ross is temporarily holding.  But XST also currently holds players like John Lannan and Josh Outman, both of whom were MLFA signings this past off-season with the intent of providing AAA depth.

And as you often see in AAA, there’s huge turnover from last year.  Eight guys on the AAA rosters at the end of last year are out of the organization now, 6 by free agency and two by the much discussed Adam Eaton trade.   I was kind of bummed to see Paolo Espino go in particular, but I like the potential of former major leaguers like Jacob Turner and the aforementioned Guthrie (who looked pretty good in spring training, for what that’s worth).

Rotation guess: not too hard to squint and see this rotation go A.J. Cole, Austin Voth and Taylor Hill at the top.  After that i’m assuming it goes Turner-Guthrie (after Ross gets called back up).  Perhaps we’ll also see 2017 MLFA Kyle McGowin after he returns from whatever ailment has him on the D/L.

Reliever thoughts: I was happy to see the team re-sign Aaron Barrett; he may not ever contribute again but it was a good gesture to bring him back into the fold.  Interested to see what Lannan can provide.  The four relievers on the 40-man roster all seem to be on thin-ice with the org; are we expecting anything of value from any of Adams, Gott, Grace or Martin any more?  I don’t mean to sound like a debbie downer, but at this point those four guys are my first four to get cut if space is needed.  Its kind of amazing to me that this team has so little reliever depth at the upper level of the minors given the ridiculous amount of pitching they’ve drafted in the past few  years.

Interestingly, Matt Swynenberg remains on the AAA restricted list, where he’s been since he retired on 5/1/15.  I’m not sure why at this point the team doesn’t just release him, if only to clean up the official MILB.com roster on the web page.  :-)

Who am I focusing on: Voth, Turner, Adams and Gott to see if they’ve got any future value, Guthrie, Lannan when they get there, McGowin when he gets off of the D/L.

 

Opening Day 2017; Fun stats and other useless information

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OpeningDay2017

Happy Opening day!

Here’s my recurring “Opening Day” trivia/useless information post.  Here was 2016’s version,  2015, 2014 and 2013.  I also reference many Google XLS/Google Doc creations with historical data below, all of which have been updated for 2017.


Nats 2017 Opening day Payroll:

Why are these values different?   Cots and USA today disagree on Strasburg’s 2017 salary to the tune of about $2M, and that’s about the difference between their two figures.   My XLS counts all salaries in *current dollars* only, as opposed to the salary cap figures that USA Today and Cots do (Cots also splits out the signing bonuses prorated to each year of the contract).  Plus I count in payments to former players (in our case, Petit and Norris).  I believe this is a better representation of how the team and the Lerners see their payroll.  Teams that have huge payments to former players (like the Dodgers and Padres) should absolutely have those “dead money” payments included.  Roughly speaking, Strasburg and Scherzer both are getting $15M in current dollars but more than $40M combined in these claculations, which is a huge part of the delta between my XLS and Cots’.

Oh, by the way, the Nats now have $199 MILLION dollars of deferred payments on the books when adding in Blanton’s (mostly) deferred salary.


Opening Day Payroll; MLB wide

See this link for the list of all team payrolls at USA Today.  And Here’s Cot’s/Baseball Prospectus’ compensation home page.

I’ve put both of these lists side by side into this little handy Payroll XLS to demonstrate how ridiculously bad the USA Today figures are.  They’re off by $35M for the Padres and by $53M for the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Thats because the USA Today figures don’t account for any salaries being paid for former players, which in the modern game has more and more become a standard.  So, basically I ignore USA Today’s figures and always use Cot’s.

The Dodgers continue to lead the way (by either measure).  The Brewers are now dead last, just ahead of the purposely tanking Padres.  You may have seen posts that noted that Clayton Kershaw gets paid more this year than the Padres entire 25-man roster, and that’s true, but it ignores the $30M+ of dead money on their payroll.

The Nats are 9th on both lists.  Imagine what we could spend with a market value RSN!!

 

 


Home Openers Information

Opening Day 2017 attendance was announced at 42,744 .  That’s up more than a thousand from last year.  Here’s all our home openers in order with attendance, time of game, weather:

  • 2017: 42,744 (1:05 monday game, 66 and cloudy)
  • 2016: 41,650 (4:05 thursday game, 60 and 1.5hr rain delay)
  • 2015: 42,295 (4:05 monday game, 75 and gorgeous)
  • 2014: 42,834 (1:05 friday game, 50s and overcast)
  • 2013: 45,274 (1:05 monday game, 60 and beautiful)
  • 2012: 40,907 (1:05 thursday game 56, partly cloudy)
  • 2011: 39,055 (1:05 thursday game, 41 degrees and overcast)
  • 2010: 41,290 (1pm game monday, beautiful weather 80s and sunny): Phillies invasion
  • 2009: 40,386 (3pm game on a monday, chilly 53degr and overcast)
  • 2008: 39,389 (season and stadium opener), 8pm sunday night, Braves, nat’l tv clear but cold.
  • 2007: 40,389 (in rfk, 1pm game vs Florida, 72degrees
  • 2006: 40,516 (in rfk, tuesday day game vs Mets, 72degr and sunny)
  • 2005: 45,596 (in rfk, debut of entire franchise, 62degr and clear, evening game).

Here’s some attendance milestones for the franchise:

  • Nats park capacity for 2017 somewhere between 41,506 and 41,546 depending on your source.
  • 2013’s opening day attendance of 45,274 remains the regular season record attendance.
  • All time record attendance?  The ill-fated 2012 NLDS game 5: 45,966.  No playoff games in 2014 or 2016 came close.
  • The first game in franchise history; 2005 in RFK: 45,596, which stood until the 2012 NLDS record-setting game.
  • The long-running regular season attendance record was the great Fathers day 2006 game in RFK against the Yankees: 45,157.  That record stood for more than 6 years.

Home Openers Box Scores and Results

Nats are 5-8 in their home openers now since moving to Washington.  Stephen Strasburg‘s 2017 start joins him with Livan Hernandez as the only two pitchers to throw more than one home opener for this team.  When Livan gets elected to Cooperstown, I hope he’s wearing the curly W.  :-)

  • 2017; mlb.com: Nats d Marlins 4-2.  WP: Strasburg, LP Phelps (Starters: Strasburg and Volquez)
  • 2016: mlb.com: Marlins d Nats 6-4.  WP: David Phelps, LP Tanner Roark (Starters: Brian Conley and Roark).
  • 2015: mlb.com: Mets d Nats 3-1.  WP: Bartolo Colon.  LP: Max Scherzer
  • 2014: mlb.com or b-r.com.  Braves d Nats 2-1.  WP: Luis Avilan.  LP: Tyler Clippard.  (Starters: Jordan Zimmermann and David Hale).
  • 2013: mlb.com or b-r.com.  Nats d Marlins 2-0.  WP: Stephen Strasburg.  LP: Ricky Nolasco
  • 2012: mlb.com.  Nats d Reds 3-2.  WP: Craig Stammen. LP: Alfredo Simon (Starters: Gio Gonzalez and Mat Latos)
  • 2011: mlb.com.  Braves d Nats 2-0.  WP: Derek Lowe.  LP: Livan Hernandez
  • 2010: mlb.com.  Phillies d Nats 11-1.  WP: Roy Halladay.  LP: John Lannan
  • 2009: mlb.com.  Phillies d Nats 9-8.  WP: Jamie Moyer.  LP: Saul Rivera (Nats Starter: Daniel Cabrera)
  • 2008: mlb.com.  Nats d Braves 3-2.  WP: Jon Rauch.  LP: Peter Moylan (Starters: Tim Hudson and Odalis Perez)
  • 2007: mlb.com.  Marlins d Nats 9-2.  WP: Dontrelle Willis.  LP: John Patterson
  • 2006: mlb.com.  Mets d Nats 7-1.  WP: Brian Bannister.  LP: Ramon Ortiz
  • 2005: mlb.com.  Nats beat Arizona 5-3. WP: Livan Hernandez. LP: Javier Vazquez

How about Season openers?

Record: 6-7.  # times home/away: 7 home, 6 away.

The Nats managed to lose 6 of their first 7 season openers … only winning in 2008 when debuting their new stadium.  And Jon Rauch did his darndest to blow that opener too, coughing up the lead in the 9th to give Ryan Zimmerman a chance at glory.


Opening Day Starter Trivia

Here’s my Opening Day starters worksheet in Google docs, updated for the 2017 slate.  Here’s the answer to some fun Opening Day Starter trivia:

  • Leader in Opening day starts: remains C.C. Sabathia with 11, though he’s not extending his record and will be caught next  year.
  • Leader in consecutive opening day starts: Felix Hernandez, making his 9th consecutive, 10th overall.
  • Justin Verlander returned to Opening Day duties, getting his 9th career opening day start; he remains in 3rd place actively.
  • Clayton Kershaw now has seven straight and may be in a position to challenge the all time records.
  • For the Nats; Stephen Strasburg gets his fourth.  Max Scherzer has two.  John Lannan, now back as a submarining lefty in AAA, also has two.
  • Twelve (12) pitchers made their first career opening day start in 2017, including (surprisingly) Yu Darvish.
  • Edinson Volquez got his 5th career opening day start … on four different teams.
  • The Mets have now used 7 different opening day starters in the last 7 seasons.  But that pales in comparison to what’s going on in Texas: 9 straight different opening day starters there.   Miami has used 6 different guys in a row and there’s a few other teams that have used 4 or 5 different guys over the last 4-5 seasons.
  • The most ever?  Tom Seaver with 16.  The most consecutive?  Jack Morris with 14.

Arbitration Wrap up for 2017 season

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Arbitration cases are already touchy enough; why did the Yankees president go out of his way to attack one of his best relievers? Photo via airball.com

Arbitration cases are already touchy enough; why did the Yankees president go out of his way to attack one of his best relievers? Photo via airball.com

We’ve finished off the Arbitration case season for 2017, and it finished with some fireworks.

After a relatively quiet pre-2016 season (just 4 cases), there were 15 cases that went to “trial” this spring.  Clubs “won” 8 of the cases and Players won 7 cases, so it was a pretty even season.

The “fireworks” of course were the result of the final case to be argued, that of Dellin Betances with the Yankees.  He asked for $5M, the team offered $3M, and after the team won Yankees president Randy Levine took it upon himself to trash Betances and his representation for the audacity of even asking for the amount of money he asked for.  I suspect that Betances’ representation pushed the envelope on his case to explore the rapidly changing valuation of relievers; despite not being the Yankees primary closer over the last few years Betances has delivered significant value to the Yankees (3.7 bWAR in 2014 and 2015 before dropping back to just 1.1 bWAR in 2016).  And I get it: who was a more valuable reliever to the Cleveland Indians during their WS run: Andrew Miller or their closer Cody Allen?  The inexplicable part wasn’t Betances’ salary ask; it was the team’s reaction afterwards.

Was Betances’ $5M ask excessive?  Maybe, maybe not: If Betances is work $5M in his first Arbitration year, then that projects to roughly a $12.5M open-market salary (using the 40%/60%/80% rule of thumb where your first arbitration salary should be roughly 40% of your open market price).   If he’s only work $3M, that projects out to a $7.5M annual salary.  The best “comparable” is Miller as a non-closer multi-inning reliever and he’s signed to a 4yr/$36M deal worth $9M a year.  So if that’s the benchmark for elite non-closer multi-inning relievers then Betances is right there.  $5M was too high but a $3.5-$4M first year arb salary was right in line with what he probably “should” have been paid.

Here’s a list of the 15 players who argued.  Here’s a direct link to my master Arbitration case XLS in Google docs.

YearTeamPlayerPlayer FigureClub FigureDeltaWinner
2017MilwaukeeChase Anderson28500002450000400000club
2017BostonFernando Abad27000002000000700000club
2017New York YankeesDellin Betances500000030000002000000club
2017BaltimoreBrad Brach30500002525000525000player
2017OaklandKris Davis50000004650000350000player
2017New York MetsWilmer Flores22000001800000400000player
2017BaltimoreCaleb Joseph1000000700000300000club
2017HoustonCollin McHugh38500003350000500000player
2017ArizonaShelby Miller51000004700000400000club
2017Tampa BayJake Odorizzi41000003825000275000player
2017MiamiDavid Phelps46000004325000275000player
2017TorontoMarcus Stroman34000003100000300000player
2017St. LouisMichael Wacha32000002775000425000club
2017ArizonaTaijuan Walker26000002250000350000club
2017PittsburghTony Watson60000005600000400000club

And now here’s some fun stats on the 81 total cases that have been argued since 2005:

  • Records since 2005: Clubs are 47/81 (58%), players are 34/81 (42%)
  • Washington and Miami are the leading “arguing” club with 9 cases each.  Though we seem to have learned our lesson lately; we had one in 2015, one in 2012 and the rest were prior to that.
  • 45% of all cases since 2005 by just 5 clubs (Miami, Washington, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and Houston).
  • 4 of 30 clubs in the game havn’t had an arb argument since 2005 (Detroit, Chicago White Sox, Texas, San Francisco)
  • 2 of the 8 clubs with just one case since 2005 just had it this off-season: Boston, St. Louis
  • Smallest amount argued over: $125k by Miami in 2007 and San Diego in 2014.  Washington close with $150K by Wash in 2010 w/ Burnett and $200k with Blevins in 2015
  • Largest amount argued over: $3M by Philadelphia w/ Ryan Howard (player won)
  • Biggest player demand: Francisco Rodriguez $12,500,000 (player lost)
  • Biggest club offer ($10M twice; both club wins)
  • 30 of the 66 players who argued w/ their clubs (prior to 2017) were traded or released THAT same season
  • Just 5 of 66 players who have argued arb cases remain with their teams as of the end of 2016 and/or signed longer term deals post-arguments

Its these last two points that stick with me, and should stick with any player/GM who decides to go through this process.  By all accounts, its horrible.  The Player is forced to sit there while the team that has just offered them millions of dollars but doesn’t want to pay a few hundred thousand more explains how awful the player is, focusing entirely on faults and deficiencies.  Meanwhile. by all accounts the whole system is based on precedents and “old school” statistics that we know are deeply flawed (batting average, RBIs, wins and saves).  So there’s little surprise that the player-management trust is broken, and nearly half the players who argue with their teams are summarily gone from that team before the season is even done.

But this is the system they’ve come up with.  I guess its better than restricted free agency, or franchise tags, or whatever other salary structure is out there for professional sports.

Post-publishing update: Dave Cameron at Fangraphs had a follow-up to the Betances situation worth reading.

Nats Option status for 2017

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Robinson is facing an options squeeze this spring. Photo via minorleagueball.com

Robinson is facing an options squeeze this spring. Photo via minorleagueball.com

When the team signed Adam Lind, it put a shot across the bow of Clint Robinson for more reasons than one: yes Lind and Robinson are basically the same player, Lind now has a guaranteed contract … and Robinson has no more options.

So, who else on the Nats is facing an options crunch?

I’ve uploaded my trusty “Options Tracker” for our entire 40-man roster here; i’ve got the players categorized by their options status.  Here’s a summary:

Category 1: Vets who can refuse demotion (5 or more years of service): 12 of our projected 25-man roster now fit into this category.  Jose Lobaton (who last year was in the “no options left” status) joined this club in 2016, passing 5.000 years of service.

PlayerService Time post 2016First Added to 40-man
Werth, Jayson13.102Nov 2002
Zimmerman, Ryan11.032Sep 2005
Scherzer, Max8.079May 2007
Gonzalez, Gio7.162Aug 2008
Strasburg, Stephen6.118Aug 2009
Perez, Oliver12.144Feb 2003
Kelley, Shawn7.128Apr 2009
Murphy, Daniel7.019Aug 2008
Lobaton, Jose5.138Nov 2008
Heisey, Chris6.042Nov 2009
Drew, Stephen10.038Jun 2005
Lind, Adam9.058Sept 2006

Category 2: Players with options Available but who are entrenched on the 25-man roster: I count 8 players here, though we’ve been shocked before when a seemingly solid 25-man roster guy got optioned suddenly (Drew StorenJohn Lannan).   Interestingly only Tanner Roark never got optioned after coming up, even as he struggled after getting replaced in the rotation in 2015.

PlayerService Time post 2016First Added to 40-manOption Years UsedOptions left?
Harper, Bryce4.159Aug 20102011, 20121
Rendon, Anthony3.130Aug 20112012, 20131
Roark, Tanner3.055Aug 20133
Ross, Joe1.094June 201520152
Treinen, Blake2.065Apr 201420142
Turner, Trea0.135Aug 201520162
Norris, Derek4.102Nov 201120122
Eaton, Adam4.030Sept 201220132

Category 3:  Players with Options Available, jeopardizing 2017 25-man roster status – I see 3 guys here who I’m still projecting to make the 25-man roster right now, but who have options flexibility and could easily get dumped back to AAA.  Probably the most likely of this is with Trevor Gott, who we’re kind of expecting to lose out to someone like NRI Vance Worley at the back end of the bullpen.  Or perhaps not if he beats out the option-less Romero (see below).

PlayerService Time post 2016First Added to 40-manOption Years UsedOptions left?
Taylor, Michael2.010Nov 20132014, 20161
Gott, Trevor0.145June 201520162
Glover, Koda0.051July 201620162

Category 4: Players with Options almost guaranteed to be used in 2017 – 14 of the guys on our 40-man are all guys with less than 1.000 years of service time and who are nearly locks to burn an initial option and start the year in the minors.  I suppose that could change if Brian Goodwin beats out Michael Taylor for the last OF spot, or if there’s a loogy injury and Matt Grace is pushed into action.  I also suppose that A.J. Cole could beat out Worley and others for the swing-man spot in the MLB bullpen… but honestly Cole’s value is more as a starter insurance policy stretched out in AAA than languishing in the MLB bullpen, lugging around the candy bag.

PlayerService Time post 2016First Added to 40-manOption Years UsedOptions left?
Cole, AJ0.092Nov 20142015, 20161
Grace, Matt0.145Nov 20142015, 20161
Goodwin, Brian0.044Nov 20142015, 20161
Difo, Wilmer0.110Nov 20142015, 20161
Martin, Rafael0.080Apr 20152015, 20161
Severino, Pedro0.094Sept 201520162
Kieboom, Spencer0.006Nov 201520162
Voth, Austin0.000Nov 2016none yet3
Bautista, Rafael0.000Nov 2016none yet3
Marmolejos, Jose0.000Nov 2016none yet3
Read, Raudy0.000Nov 2016none yet3
Skole, Matt0.000Nov 2016none yet3
Cordero, Jimmy0.000Nov 201520162
Adams, Austin0.000Nov 2016none yet3

Lastly, the critical Options Analysis for 2017: Category 5: Players with No Options Left: 3 guys this year.

PlayerService Time post 2016First Added to 40-manOption Years UsedOptions left?
Robinson, Clint2.028Nov 20102011,2012,20130
Solis, Sammy1.084Nov 20132014, 2015,20160
Romero, Enny1.072Nov 20122013, 2014, 20150

Lets take these guys one by one:

  • Clint Robinson: it’s not surprising that the first thing he reportedly asked when hearing of the Lind acquisition was whether or not he got DFA’d the same day … odds are that Robinson will be facing a DFA at some point this spring training.  That’s life in baseball, and a shame for a journeyman like Robinson who finally got a shot at the bigs but couldn’t produce enough to keep it.  The best thing he can do is keep at it, produce this spring, and then put himself in a position to earn his spot again if there’s an injury and/or hit well enough to earn the Nationals something of value in trade when he inevitably gets DFA’d.
  • Sammy Solis: thanks to an injury that cost him all of 2012, his service time clock had to be accelerated and he burned options at a  young age.  Nonetheless, he’s established himself as a pretty important loogy-plus member of the Nats bullpen going forward and there shouldn’t be any 25-man roster status jeopardy.
  • Enny Romero: newly acquired power lefty cost the Nats very little (Jeffrey Rosa, who was a starter for our GCL team in 2016), and may not be long for the team if he can’t improve upon his 2016 WHIP (north of 1.5), his BB/9 rate (an ugly 5.5) or his ERA (5.91).  You can’t teach velocity though, and Romero frigging brings it (average 96.1, peak 99.2 MPH last  year).  We’ll call him Nook if/when he makes the team.

My predictions: Solis a lock, Romero makes the team but is on a short leash and eventually gets DFA’d after 5-6 weeks, Robinson DFA’d at the end of spring and is traded to an AL team that could use a cheap lefty 1b/DH option for a low-level prospect.

The 2018 version of this post will be significantly more interesting, since 5 guys who i’m projecting as locks to get optioned in 2017 will burn their 3rd and final option this year.  We’ll probably see some churning at the back end of the 40-man roster through out the year and into next off-season as a result.  But that’s a post for another time.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Syracuse/AAA Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2015

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Espino probably had your best overall season out of the AAA staff. Photo via milb.com

Espino probably had your best overall season out of the AAA staff. Photo via milb.com

After skipping the minor league pitching staff reviews in 2014 (that silly thing called work interfered), I’m back for 2015.  I’ll be reviewing the six minor league levels and the major league levels going from high to low.  In this series, we have already published the MLB version for 2015.

For some historical perspective, here’s 2013’s version (featuring Tanner Roark), here’s 2012’s version (featuring John Lannan) and 2011’s version (featuring Tommy Milone) of this post for AAA Syracuse.  In the missing 2014 post I likely would have “featured” either Taylor Hill or Rafael Martin.

All stats are courtesy of either milb.com’s Syracuse Stats page or via Fangraph’s Syracuse Stats page.   Also useful here are the Big Board and the Nats Draft Tracker.  And here’s the Baseball America Minor League Free Agent (MLFA) tracker.  And here’s a list of the official MLB MLFA declarations for 2015.

Syracuse Pitching Staff movement throughout the year (* == lefty)

  • Opening Day Rotation: Cole, Jordan, THill, McGregor, Billings
  • Closing Day Rotation:  Espino, Bleier*, McGregor , THill, Jordan (Cole 9/1 callup)
  • End of Season Swingmen: Walters, Billings
  • End of Season bullpen:   Runion,  Gutierrez, Harper*
  • 9/1 promotions: Solis*, Martin, Grace*, Cole
  • Mid-Season Promotions: Rivero*,  Ross, Treinen
  • Up-and-back: Martin, Grace*, Cole, Jordan, THill, Solis* (not counting 9/1 call-ups)
  • Down-and-back: Bleier*, Runion
  • Demotions: Spann* (was up for spot start), AWilliams (up for spot start),  EDavis, Demny,
  • DL/restricted: Swynenberg
  • Cut/released: Delcarmen, Lively (Japan), RHill*, Simmons, Meek (Korea), Valverde (opt-out), Fornataro

Syracuse starters.  The rotation started the season with Cole, Jordan, Hill, McGregor, and Billings.  It finished the year with Espino, Bleier, McGregor , THill, Jordan and Cole.  Here’s an overview of the starters Syracuse used, starting with the original five starters.

  • A.J. Cole was Syracuse’s opening day starter in 2015.  On the year, he was 5-6, 3.15 ERA, 1.18 whip, 3.90 FIP and 76/34 K/BB in 105.2 innings.  Cole got yanked up and down a couple times on the year, with one ill-fated spot-start for the major league team where he looked completely out of his depth against Atlanta (not exactly the ’27 Yankees).  His K/9 is down, BB/9 is up from his stint in AAA in 2014, though his BAA improved significantly.  I’m struggling not to write him off; after all he’s only 23, he’s still listed in or near the top 100 prospects in all of the minors, and he still could have value.  I just don’t think its going to happen with the Nats.  He’s been pushed down on the starter depth chart and (save an injury) has no chance of making the 25-man roster in 2016.  So is there value in having him pitch another year in upstate New York?  I could see Cole getting flipped to a team that could use a cheap 5th starter candidate.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse’s opening day starter again, unless moved.
  • Taylor Jordan was 5-6, 2.95 ERA, 1.15 whip, 3.41 FIP and 61/27 K/BB in 103 IP.   He’s slipping further and further away from a rotation job that seemed rather likely after his 2013 sterling debut.  His AAA numbers were pretty good this year but he got lit up in his one 2015 spot start (to be fair, it was against Toronto and the best offense in the majors).  His margin for error is just so much lower because he doesn’t get the K/9 that other guys do.  Unlike Cole though, Jordan doesn’t necessarily wow the scouts and may be tougher to move.  I think he plays out his options string as a AAA starter with occasional big league cover and then gives it a go in another organization.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse rotation again.
  • Taylor Hill was 3-10 with a 5.23 ERA, 1.62 whip, 3.85 fip and 70/29 K/BB in 118 IP.  Not a good year for Hill, who got a handful of mop-up bullpen gigs in late May/early June and wasn’t entirely impressive while doing it.  See all that we’ve said for Cole and Jordan, but lower expectations a bit more.  I have Hill near the top of my “guys to get DFA’d to make room on the 40-man roster” at this point and he needs to figure out what changed between 2014 (2.81 ERA) and this year (5.23 ERA, both at Syracuse).  We won’t really know if he’s getting pushed out of the rotation until deeper dives into the AA rotation.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse rotation/release candidate.  1/6/16 update: Hill was DFA’d on the 40-man to make room for Stephen Drew: we’ll update in this space when his roster status is finalized.
  • Scott McGregor (boy I have a hard time typing that w/o remembering the old Baltimore Orioles hurler from the mid 1970s) was 6-6 with a 4.04 ERA, 1.43 whip, 4.67 fip and 63/35 K/BB in 107 IP split between starting and relieving.  He started in the rotation, having signed as a MLFA in June of 2014 originally then re-upped with the Nats over last off-season to continue his role as AAA 5th starter/long-man.  But his performance slipped considerably this year.  I don’t see him listed on the MLFA tracker so its possible he’s signed through 2016 with the team, so we’ll assume he’s reprising his role again in 2016.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse long-man/spot starter
  • Bruce Billings was 8-5 with a  3.63 ERA, 1.26 whip, 3.23 fip and 90/28 K/BB in 121 IP.  The MLFA produced well in a season spent in a similar role to McGregor; 4th/5th starter who made way for prospects as they got moved up but who eventually spent most of the year in the rotation.   His numbers are about what you’d expect for a veteran minor leaguer/classic AAA org guy; he’s declared again and will look to build on his decent 2015 with an organization where he has a better shot at getting called up.  Outlook for next season: in AAA for another organization.
  • Paolo Espino had a nice season, getting promoted up from AA and giving Syracuse 20 starts of 3.21 ERA, 1.15 whip, 3.68 fip pitching (88/19 K/BB in 117 AAA innings).  The 2014 MLFA signing (as with McGregor) stuck with the team for 2015 and could be an interesting piece going forward.  Question is; is he a MLFA for this upcoming season?  My records and research disagree with each other: he’s *not* listed in the BA MLFA tracker nor is he on the official MLB declared MLFA list (links at the top), but the drat tracker says he’s a MLFA.  I’ll assume our private files are not better than MLBs and assume he’s still under team control.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse Rotation.
  • Richard Bleier was 14-5 with a 2.57 ERA between AA and AAA this year.  65/16 K/BB in 171 IP.  Bleier had a nice season, working his way out of AA and finishing the year in the AAA rotation.  His K/9 is shockingly low given his stat line, perhaps why he’s not likely to draw much attention from the team’s executives on 1/2 street.  He’s a declared MLFA already for 2015 and likely plies his trade elsewhere next year.  Outlook for next season: in AAA for another organization.
  • P.J. Walters was acquired mid-season from the Dodgers for cash: for the Chiefs he threw 60 innings of 5.35 ERA and got 5 spot starts towards the end of the year.  52/23 K/BB in his 60 innings for Syracuse on the year.  Walters has significant MLB experience, with 152 IP across several organizations dating to 2008.  He’s yet to really have a decent MLB stretch thought, and his AAA numbers are starting to look just as bad.  Given the team’s dearth of RH bullpen depth options though, I think its safe to say they’ll keep him around to see if he’s an option to consider.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse bullpen.
  • Other guys who got spot starts here and there:
    • Joe Ross had 5 starts before getting called up to the majors.  See MLB write-up for more.  Outlook for next season: Nats #4 starter.
    • Matt Swynenberg had exactly one AAA start of 3 innings this year before spending the rest of the year on the restricted list, which usually indicates retirement.  We’ll see if he gets an official release this coming off-season.  Outlook for next season: retired/out of the organization.
    • Mitch Lively had 2 spot starts but was mostly a reliever; see the reliever section.
    • Sam Runion and Eric Fornataro each had a spot start but were primarily relievers; see the reliever section.
    • Matthew Spann, James Simmons and Austen Williams each got called up to AAA from lower levels to provide exactly one spot start.  See High-A for for Spann and Williams, AA for Simmons writeups.
    • Strasburg and Fister had one-two rehab starts for Syracuse in 2015.

Syracuse Relievers: taking a look at the relief corps.  We’ll organize relievers by going by IP from most to least.  Anyone with less than 10 IP will get cursory analysis at the end.

  • Rafael Martin was Syracuse’s closer for a good portion of the season, getting 12 saves in 50 IP across 46 games.  We discussed Martin at length in the MLB writeup but will repeat our prediction here.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse bullpen/MLB reliever depth.
  • Eric Fornataro was a waiver claim last off-season, then DFA’d off the 40-man roster before the season started.  He then failed to impress, posting a 5.54 ERA in 50 innings before getting released in July.  Outlook for next season: in another organization/out of baseball.
  • Matt Grace had a 2.40 ERA in 48 IP and spent a decent amount of time on the MLB roster (17 ip across 26 appearances).  See MLB writeup for more.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse bullpen/lefty reliever coverage.
  • Evan Meek posted a 2.15 ERA across 37.2 innings in the early part of the year, effective if a bit wild (33/19 K/BB in those 37 ip) and, after not getting consideration for a call-up, asked for his release to sign with a Korean team.  Outlook for next season: still in Korea or with another Organization.
  • Sam Runion posted a 2.91 ERA in 65 IP across AA and AAA after getting picked up in June of 2014 as a MLFA.  1.43 whip, decent K/9 rates, just not enough to get a sniff at a MLB call-up.  Just a classic org guy who is a MLFA this year and likely plies his trade elsewhere next year.  Outlook for next season: MLFA, re-signed per BA ML transactions so AAA bullpen again (updated 12/29/15)
  • Mitch Lively was in basically the same boat as Meek; put up good numbers (2.31 ERA, 0.97 whip, but wasn’t called up and decided to go overseas.  He was released on 6/17/15 so as to sign with a Japanese team.  He posted a 6.75 ERA in 16 games in Japan; not sure what the future holds for him.  Outlook for next season: still in Japan or with another Organization.
  • Juan Gutierrez was signed off the AAA waiver wire in August 2015 and threw 34 mediocre innings (3.47 ERA)for Syracuse down the stretch in a classic “we need someone to pitch innings for us to finish the season” move.  He’s a MLFA and likely keeps on moving for 2016.  Outlook for next season: in another organization.
  • Jose Valverde signed a month into the 2015 season with a typical veteran MLFA contract that guaranteed an opt out after a couple of months if the big club didn’t use him.  Valverde closed effectively for Syracuse until July, when he opted out.  He did not sign elsewhere for 2015.  He’s playing in the DWL but I wonder if he’s done; his last two MLB stints were both ugly.  Outlook for next season: in another organization/out of baseball.
  • Manny Delcarmen had an 8.14 ERA in 21 IP across 18 appearances before getting released in early June.  He played out the rest of the season in Mexico.  Outlook for next season: in another organization/out of baseball.
  • Rich Hill signed as a MLFA late in the 2015 spring from the  Yankees, pitched decently as a middle reliever in Syracuse and likely had an “out clause” forcing the team’s hand, who released him in late June.  He picked up with Boston, pitched well for their AAA squad, got promoted back to the majors, pitched lights out in 4 starts in the end of the season … and signed a $6M contract to pitch for Oakland in 2016. Go figure.  Did the Nats miss the boat here?  This isn’t the first time they’ve had a guy in their AAA rosters who went on to have significant success for another club (Colby Lewis, Marco Estrada, Chris Young).  Maybe they should have given Hill a 40-man job while they were trying out everyone else in late May/early June.  Maybe you could say the same thing about a whole bunch of the MLFA MLB-experienced veterans who passed through Syracuse’s roster in 2015.  Outlook for next season: Pitching for Billy Beane out in Oakland on a $6M deal.
  • Other Relievers who appeared in AAA of note (not including Rehabbing MLBers): Outlook for next season for all of these guys seems the same: either continued “org guy” middle reliever or minor league free agent in another organization.
    • Solis, Treinen and Rivero each had a nominal amount of AAA innings: see MLB writeup for them.
    • Demny and Davis spent more time in AA than AAA: see Harrisburg write-up.
    • Everyone else not mentioned had 5 or less IP in AAA and were mostly in other levels.

Summary

34 different hurlers passed through the Syracuse locker room this year.  Phew.  And it seems like a huge percentage of them have already churned out of the organization, looking for their next stop.  I guess this is the way AAA teams go these days.  We may see more MLFA veteran arms coming into the system for 2016 given the number of guys they’re losing.

Its hard to say whether we really learned much from the AAA staff this year; the team kind of already knew what it had with its highest-end prospects in AAA (the likes of Cole, Jordan and Hill).  Almost the entire bullpen was veteran MLFAs who likely won’t be back, most of whom never got a chance to contribute to the major league team in its time of need in 2015.

Non-Tender deadline 2015: do we have any candidates?

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Might be the end of the road for Moore. Photo unknown via insidenova.com

Might be the end of the road for Moore. Photo unknown via insidenova.com

The next big day on the 2015-16 Baseball off-season calendar is the “Non-Tender deadline.”  Midnight on 12/2/15 is the deadline for teams to tender contracts to arbitration eligible players and/or unsigned players.  If not tendered, those players immediately become free agents.  (Craig Calcaterra has a funny little intro post on the same).

The team has a whole slew of “unsigned players” but we’ll leave them out of this discussion for the time being, since the non-tender deadline is mostly about discussing what arbitration-eligible players will either guarantee themselves a contract for 2016 or be cut loose.

(this is the 4th year running we’ve done this post: 2014 version (no real non-tender candidates and none non-tendered), 2013 version (Detwiler, Ohlendorf in play), 2012 version (Lannan, Gorzelanny, Flores in play), 2011 version (Slaten and Gorzelanny in play).

The below table lists our 8 arbitration-eligible players for 2016, their current contract, what they got paid in 2015 and then two projections (mine and mlbtraderumors.com) for their 2016 salary.

Player Current or 2015 Contract 2014 2015 My 2016 Guess MLBtraderumors 2016 guess
Strasburg, Stephen 1yr/7.4M (15) (arb3) $3,975,000 $7,400,000 $12,000,000 $10,500,000
Storen, Drew 1yr/$5.7M (15) (arb4) $3,450,000 $5,700,000 $7,600,000 $8,800,000
Ramos, Wilson 1yr/$3.55M (15) (arb3) $2,095,000 $3,550,000 $4,700,000 $5,300,000
Rendon, Anthony 1yr/$1.8M opt (15) (arb1) $1,800,000 $1,800,000 $4,000,000 $2,500,000
Stammen, Craig 1yr/$2.25M (15) (arb4) $1,375,000 $2,250,000 $2,400,000 $2,400,000
Espinosa, Danny 1yr/$1.8M (15) (arb2) $540,000 $1,800,000 $3,200,000 $2,700,000
Lobaton, Jose 1yr/$1.2M (15) (arb3) $950,000 $1,200,000 $1,500,000 $1,500,000
Moore, Tyler 1 yr/$0.5182M (15) (arb1) $507,900 $518,200 $1,200,000 $1,000,000

Lets go one-by-one, giving scant analysis to the more obvious tender candidates.

  • Strasburg, Stephen: obviously he gets tendered; bigger question is what his 2016 salary ends up being.  My guess is a bit higher than mlbtraderumors because i’m going more off of his presumed FA value versus a projection of his 2015 pay vs performance.  Might be an ugly arbitration battle if the two sides come in very far apart.
  • Storen, Drew: obvious tender since he’s getting shopped heavily.  Here mlbtraderumors thinks he’s worth quite a bit more than I projected.  Maybe i’m undervaluing saves.  But the Nats would certainly like to rid themselves of this arbitration case headache.
  • Rendon, Anthony: obvious tender and hoping for a return to 2014 levels.  What do you pay him?  I said $4M … and that might be pretty high considering his 2015 performance.  Could also be an ugly fight in the arbitration hearing.
  • Espinosa, Danny: made himself a bit of money in 2015 by improving his average a bit; still has L/R split issues but he will continue to have a job as a utility infielder for years to come thanks to his plus-plus defense.
  • Stammen, Craig: unless his recovery has been fouled up, he’s a tender candidate and frankly should probably look to sign another cost-controlled 2-year deal with the team instead of fighting it out in a hearing.
  • Ramos, Wilson: may have struggled at the plate but he’s the only starting catcher we have.

Now for the real Non-tender candidates.

  • Lobaton, Jose: Is Lobaton worth $1.5M (both my estimate and mlbtraderumors) given how poorly he hit in 2015?  Yes he is; unless you can tell me that either Pedro Severino or Spencer Kieboom is ready to be an every 5 days MLB catcher (or potentially more given how historically brittle Ramos has been) then Lobaton has to be tendered.  If the team signs a catcher in the next two days, maybe you can cut him loose.  But you generally keep ahold of MLB-competent (if not quality) catchers, not get rid of them.  So I’ll guess we tender him.  No options available, so he’s either all-or-nothing on the MLB roster for 2016.
  • Moore, Tyler: to me the only real non-tender candidate we have.  No options available, had his worst season yet at the plate (.200/.250/.364) and is positionally limited to 1B and LF (two slots filled by guys on $100M contracts).  He posted a -1.5 bWAR in 2015 and now has a -2.1 bWAR for his career.  I just don’t see how he’s tendered a contract frankly; wouldn’t the team do better to have a cattle-call of MLFA NRIs next spring to find a more useful RH-off-the-bench bat, which is essentially what Moore has become?  I think so; in fact some of the recent signing activity (Reed Johnson, Scott Sizemore, Chris Heisey) seems to indicate exactly this; the team thinks it can find a player who has a better MLB track record and who is more positionally flexible than Moore.  My prediction: non-tender.

Thoughts?  Would you do something different?

PS: after publishing, mlbtraderumors.com published their comprehensive list of non-tender candidates for the year.  They list Lobaton, Moore and Stammen as their non-tender candidates.  I think non-tendering Stammen would be pretty heartless, but that’s the business.

12/2/15 results: the team pre-negotiated two deals with Lobaton and Moore, but ended up non-tendering Stammen.  Lets hope they can find a way to bring him back.