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2016 Season Statistical review of the 2013 Draft Class

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Austin Voth remains the "class" of the 2013 draft class. Photo mlb.com official

Austin Voth remains the “class” of the 2013 draft class. Photo mlb.com official

(Coming back to this series post Winter Meetings hoopla).  Fourth in our set of Draft class Reviews for the 2016 season.  First was the 2016 class, then the 2015 class then the 2014 class.

Web links to use while reading:

This review is especially important to follow because the college-age draftees in this 2013 class are Rule-5 eligible this coming off-season.  I think its a big reason why several of these guys are in the AFL right now, and their performance may or may not influence the team’s decision to protect or leave exposed.  We’ll put a pin in this post when we eventually do Rule-5 Analysis later this month.

With out further ado…


Round 1: forfeited w/ Rafael Soriano signing, which as I noted in this June 2013 post cost the Nats a shot at one of several highly regarded pitchers drafted just behind our vacated spot (the Cardinals actually took Kaminsky, but I doubt the Nats would have; i think they would have taken Manaea).  Here’s a quick summary of 2016’s season for the guys I liked at the time in that spot (Rob Kaminsky, Sean Manaea, Ryne Stanek, Ian Clarkin):

  • Kaminsky:  11-7 with a 3.28 ERA in a full season starting for AA in his age 22 year.  Was flipped in 2015 to Cleveland from St. Louis (his drafting team) in the Brandon Moss deal.
  • Manaea: 7-9 with a 3.86 ERA in 24 starts for Oakland this year.  Was flipped in 2015 to Oakland from Kansas City (his drafting team) in the Ben Zobrist deal.
  • Stanek: split time between AA and AAA, was removed from the rotation and struggled in relief.
  • Clarkin: went 6-9 with a 3.31 ERA in High-A as a 21-yr old after losing all of 2015 to injury.

I’ve more than said my peace on how much I disagreed with the Soriano signing and its opportunity cost.  Lets move on.

Round 2Jake Johansen, Coll Sr. RHP (Starter, now a Reliever) Dallas Baptist U. 4-1 3.19 ERA across 3 levels in 2016.  29/22 K/BB in 36 2/3 mostly middle relief innings.  1.64 whip.  Johansen started the year in Potomac, walked 11 guys in 6 appearances and was dumped back to XST.  Once the GCL started he threw a few innings in Florida before joining Hagerstown for the rest of the year.   He had 11 appearances and 19 IP in Low-A with good numbers … but at this point in his career (he’ll turn 26 in a couple of months) and given where he was drafted, the fact that he can’t seem to cut it anywhere above Low-A ball seems like a pretty succinct judgement of the pick.  I’m guessing he hangs around until he hits 6-years in the system, but any hopes of him turning into even a marginal middle reliever seem shot.  If he was anything other than a big-bonus 2nd rounder he would have likely been released already.  He’s toiling in the AFL and (as of this writing) had only given up one run in 9 innings, but had a measly 3 punch-outs against the elite hitters of the minors.  With any luck, this confidence boost will carry over into 2017.   Trending Down.

Round 3Drew Ward, HS 3B.  Slashed .252/.348/.412 across 2 levels, ending the year in Harrisburg.  121/56 K/BB in 408 ABs, 14 homers.   Ward’s age 21 season went pretty well; he started the year in Potomac but posted an .868 OPS there in 53 games to force his promotion to AA.  He hit just .219 once he got there though, which means we’re likely seeing him back there in 2017.  His strikeout rate remains a problem: 121 Ks in 408 Abs is a 30% clip.  But the team clearly rates him; he’s in the AFL for the 2nd straight off-season and is hitting .327 against the best the minors has to offer.  And he was a 21 yr old in AA; lots of 21 yr olds are still in Short-A.  He’s also starting to get some prospect notice; generally getting ranked in the 12-15 range in the system.  I’m going to say Trending Up … lets hope he can put up .800 OPS figures in AA in 2017.

Round 4Nick Pivetta, Juco RHP (starter) New Mexico Juco.  Traded 7/28/15 to Philadelphia for Jonathan Papelbon.  He had a solid year starting between AA and AAA and could feature for the Phillies as a 9/1 callup next year.  For all of us that can’t stand these moves for closers (see above lost 1st rounder), this may have the jeopardy of haunting us for years if Pivetta becomes a regular rotation member of an NL East rival.  Maybe they’ll leave him off their 40-man roster this coming off-season and we can Rule5 draft him :-)

Round 5Austin Voth, Coll Jr RHP (starter) UWashington: 7-9, 3.15 ERA in 25 starts for AAA Syracuse.  133/57 K/BB in 157 IP, 1.24 whip, 3.53 FIP, .279 BABIP.  Another year, another solid season for Voth.  I’m not sure what else there is for him to accomplish in the Minors at this point; he seems to be the pitcher that he is.  His BABIP was in-line with his career numbers, he’s slightly regressed in a K/9 rate since arriving at AAA, and his ERA seems to be in line with his career numbers.  As discussed in this space earlier this year, I’m not quite sure why the team didn’t add him at the 9/1 roster expansion date; clearly they’re going to add him ahead of Rule-5 (which they did) but instead chose to leave him on the sidelines while they had September tryouts for Mat Latos.  Clearly he’s behind several of his AAA rotation mates on the depth chart, but I feel like he could still be a valuable rotation member for the Nats or someone else.  Given our starter depth, one has to think he’s trade bait at this point (he’s behind Lopez, Giolito and Cole clearly).  He seems like the kind of guy a team like Oakland would love.  Trending Up.  Post writing update: with the firesale of Nats SP candidates, Voth suddenly is like 2nd in line for getting MLB starts, so we look forward to seeing him in a Nats uniform at some point in 2017 and seeing if he’s the 2nd coming of Tanner Roark … or if he’s more like Taylor Jordan.

Round 6Cody Gunter, Juco 3B/RHP (reliever) from Greyson College: 0-0 in 2/3rds of an IP for GCL before getting shutdown for the season.  He looked halfway decent for Auburn in 2015 while converting from his drafted position (3B) to the mound, but 2016 is a big step-back.  I don’t know what to expect in 2017; perhaps a shot at the Hagerstown pen or an outright release.  Trending Down.

Round 7Jimmy Yezzo, Coll Jr 1B from UDelaware.  Released on 7/22/15.  Played a full season with the Washington PA team in the Indy Frontier League, hitting .220.

Round 8David Napoli, Coll Sr LHP (relief) from Tulane.  Released 3/16/16 after four seasons where he never got above A ball.

Round 9Jake Joyce, Coll Sr RHP (reliever) from Va Tech.  Released in 7/7/14.

Round 10Brennan Middleton, Coll Sr SS/2B from Tulane. Released on 6/30/15.

Round 11John Simms, Coll jr RHP (starter) from Rice. 8-5, 3.30 ERA in 29 games (11 starts) for AA.  79/28 K/BB ratio in 92 2/3rds innings, 1.08 whip, 3.84 fip, .254 babip.  Simms was the opening day starter for Harrisburg in 2016, but never seemed destined for the rotation; he was mostly a long reliever/spot starter, never throwing even 90 pitches in an outing.  He did not go to the AFL this year after going last year; what is his planned usage going forward?  His numbers look good; is he destined to move up to AAA and be a 6th starter again?   He seems to be able to compete, so we’ll see how he does against more veteran/mature competition in 2017.  Trending Steady.

Round 12Andrew Cooper, Juco RH relief pitcher from Sierra College.  Released on 1/12/16, not even getting a chance to compete for a spot in the High-A bullpen.  Seems like the team let him try to earn his way up on the field and it never happened.

Round 13John Costa, Juco RH relief pitcher from Palm Beach CC.  Released 4/1/15.

Round 14David Masters, Juco SS/3B from Central Arizona College: Slashed just .174/.259/.280 with 56/23 K/BB in 236 ABs in High-A.  6HR, 1SB.  Masters seemed to play every other day in a utility role for Potomac, posting anemic batting stats but staying with the team the whole year.  I thought he was in trouble after hitting just .226 LAST year but he stuck around the whole season.   I said this last season, but it seems like Masters isn’t long for the organization.  Trending down.

Round 15Isaac Ballou, Coll Sr OF/CF from Marshall (via Germantown, MD). Slashed .255/.332/.386 mostly for AA Harrisburg.  77/42 K/BB in 373 AA at-bats, 6hr, 7SB.  Ballou split time between the corner OF spots and had a couple of stints covering for Syracuse.   Ballou didn’t stick as a starter in AAA, instead repeating AA for the most part.  Depending on how the MLB roster numbers shake out, he may have the same issue in 2017.  Trending Steady.

Round 16Willie Allen, Juco Corner OF from Oklahoma/Newtown, MA.  Did not sign; transferred to Lewis-Clark State (ID), where he played for a  year in 2015, then has apparently disappeared.  He was not on their 2016 roster, and he does not appear to still be playing.

Round 17Geoff Perrott, Coll Sr C from Rice.  Retired 1/5/2015

Round 18Cory Bafidis, Coll Sr LH relief pitcher from Texas Wesleylan.  Released 7/7/2014.

Round 19Niko Spezial, Coll Sr LH relief pitcher from Wake Forest.  Released 5/28/14.

Round 20Brenton Allen, Coll Jr Corner OF from UCLA.  Released 6/21/14.

Round 21Justin Thomas, Coll Sr LH relief pitcher from Southern Arkansas. 3-2, 4.75 ERA while repeating High-A.  36/21 K/BB in 47 1/3 relief innings, 1.37 whip, 4.50 fip, .281 babip.  Last year I liked Thomas and thought he’d easily move up to AA.  Didn’t happen; he repeated Potomac and his numbers went down.  His lefty-lefty splits aren’t especially good, which precludes his value as a lefty specialist, so I wonder what his role is going forward at this point.  I’d guess he’ll compete for AA spot but may be a release candidate.  Trending down.

Round 22Cody Dent, Coll Sr SS from UFlorida. Released 7/15/16 after getting demoted out of High-A and hitting just .195 as a 24-yr old in low-A.  Even his pedigree (he is the son of legendary Bucky Dent) couldn’t save him.

Round 23Garrett Gordon, Juco Corner OF.  Released in 3/26/15.

Round 24Matthew DeRosier, Juco RHP (starter/reliever) from Southwestern College (CA).  3-3, 4.54 ERA in 14 low-A starts before hitting the D/L on 6/30/16 for the rest of the season.  59/18 K/BB in 67 1/3 innings, 1.32 whip, 3.25 fip, .325 babip.  DeRosier was in the opening day rotation for Hagerstown and lasted there for 3 months before getting hurt.  DeRosier was a young JuCo signee; he just finished his 4th pro season but he turned 22 in July, so we’re not too worried that he’s still in Low-A.  But he needs to start making some progress before he ages out of the system.  His FIP is better than his ERA, but we have no idea what the injury was.  I’d guess he’ll compete for the Potomac rotation in 2017.  Trending Steady.

Round 25Travis Ott, HS LH starting pitcher.  Traded 12/17/14 along with Steven Souza in the Trea Turner/Joe Ross deal.  Repeated Short-A for the *third* year and was phenomenal in 2016.  Why keep him there?  I know Tampa is “conservative” when it comes to promoting pitching prospects, but keeping a talented HS pitcher in the same classification for three years running seems dumb.

Round 26Garrett Hampson, HS SS from Reno, NV.  Did not sign; honored commitment to Long Beach State.  Had a monster collegiate career and was drafted in the 3rd round by Colorado.  Signed a $750k bonus and had an .845 OPS in Short-A Boise.   Could be one that got away.

Round 27Bryce Harman, HS LH starting pitcher from Richmond, VA (Byrd HS).  Did not sign; honored commitment to East Carolina University.  Hit .242 his Junior year starting and was not drafted.

Round 28Joey Webb, Coll Sr LH relief pitcher.  Released 6/25/15.

Round 29Mike Sylvestri, Coll Sr RH relief pitcher.   Retired on 6/13/14.

Round 30Ryan Ullmann, Coll Sr RH Starting pitcher.  Released 6/25/15.

Round 31Willie Medina, Coll Sr SS.  Released in Jan 2015.

Round 32Pat Boling, Coll Jr LHP: Did not sign, chose to return to U. of Georgia for his senior season.  He posted a 4.94 ERA his senior year, was not re-drafted, and does not appear he played any independent ball.

Round 33Andrew Dunlap, HS C/RHP from Houston.  Did not sign.  Honoring a commitment to Rice University.  He has struggled to find the field for Rice, not playing in 2014 or 2015 and hitting .197 in limited PT his junior year in 2016.

Round 34Jake Walsh, Coll Sr LH relief pitcher. Released 3/16/16, before the season started.  This one I still do not get to this day.   Look at his minor league numbers: he has a career 1.65 ERA!!   All his peripherals look good.  I just don’t get this at all.  I thought he’d be at least in the AA rotation in 2016; instead he’s out of the game.

Round 35Lukas Schiraldi, Juco RHP from Texas.  Did not sign; instead transferred to U Texas.  Drafted in 2014 in the 15th round by Seattle; in 2016 he struggled with the jump to High-A (with the caveat that he’s in the California league).

Round 36Reid Humphreys, HS SS from Missouri.  Did not sign.  Honoring commitment to Mississippi State.  Drafted in the 7th round in 2016 by Colorado, signed for $227k, and threw a few games in the rookie league.  Btw, he converted to the mound in college and is now a RHP reliever.

Round 37Karsten Whitson, RH starting pitcher from Florida.  Did not sign, returned to U Florida for his senior/4th year.  Was drafted by Boston in 2014 as an 11th rounder (likely bonus; max of $100k), released on 3/9/16.  An ignominious ending to a career that started with him declining 1st round money.  As Keith Law says: “Always take the money.”

Round 38Caleb Hamilton, HS SS from Washington State.  Did not sign; honoring commitment to U of Washington.  He was drafted in the 23rd round this year by Minnesota and signed.  He  hit .207 for their rookie league team.

Round 39Robbie Tenerowicz, HS 2B/SS from California.  Did not sign; honoring commitment to UC Berkeley.  He was drafted in the 27th round this year by Tampa Bay and signed.   He hit .291 with some pop for their rookie league team.

Round 40Shaun Anderson, HS RH starting pitcher from Florida.  Did not sign; honoring commitment to U of Florida.  At Florida he was a significant part of their pre-season #1 team, serving as the closer.  He was drafted in the 3rd round by Boston, signed for $700k, and then gave up 12 hits and 9 runs in his Short-A debut.  He’ll try it again fresh in 2017.


Trending Summary:

  • Trending Up (2): Voth, Ward
  • Trending Steady (3): Simms, Ballou, DeRosier
  • Trending Down (4): Johansen, Gunter, Masters, Thomas
  • Did Not Sign in 2013 (11): Allen, Hampson, Harman, Boling, Dunlap, Schiraldi, Humphries, Whitson, Hamilton, Tenerowicz, Anderson
  • Released/Retired (17): Yezzo, Napoli, Joyce, Middleton, Cooper, Costa, Perrott, Bafidis, Spezial, Allen, Dent, Gordon, Webb, Sylvestri, Ullmann, Medina, Walsh
  • Traded (2): Pivetta, Ott

Executive Summary

Wow; this class is really looking poor.  Just two players who I still think are trending up in Voth and Ward.  And even though I rate Voth, I sense he’s perhaps he’s limited to being a 4-A/5th starter.  As noted before, no 1st rounder and a blatant fail on Johansen the 2nd rounder have made this class look pretty weak.  It’d look a bit better if Ward (3rd rounder) turned out, but the cashing in of the 4th rounder (Pivetta) for a short-term head case rental looks equally wasteful in hindsight.

On the bright side … it makes Rule 5 decisions pretty easy.  We’ll circle back to this post when we do the Rule5 analysis, but right now the only candidate here worth protecting is Voth.  (Update post-writing: we were right; the only one added was Voth and nobody here got drafted).

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Reality

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

Less Likely:

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

 

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

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

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

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

 


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

(did I forget anyone?)

Papelbon asks out? May be the simplest solution

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Papelbon can do this for any team. Photo via usatoday.com

Papelbon can do this for any team. Photo via usatoday.com

Rumors started getting published early saturday morning: embattled, demoted and struggling former Nats closer Jonathan Papelbon has reportedly asked for his release.

He’s appeared in precisely two games since he was replaced as closer by the newly acquired Mark Melancon.   Both appearances can be generously characterized as “mop up duty.”  He’s gone from highest leverage closer to 8th guy in an 8-man pen in less than two weeks, and it seems he’s reading the tea leaves.

The Nats need a move today to call up their starter Reynaldo Lopez; could a DFA or release of Papelbon be the solution?

We’ve talked in this space about playoff rosters a bit, about how we all are kind of thinking we could use Koda Glover on that roster.  Well, when we dump the 5th starter and expand the bullpen to 8 … not having to worry about Papelbon’s reaction could be a benefit.  I’d gladly take this bullpen construction into a short series:

  • Closer: Melancon
  • 8th inning guys: Treinen, Kelley
  • 7th inning guys: Belisle, Glover
  • Lefties: Perez, Solis
  • Long-man: Petit

That looks strong enough to me.  If Papelbon was still in the picture, you’d face a tough decision on who to drop.  Belisle has more than earned his spot, and there’s nobody else in that list who can really make way thanks to the trade of Rivero.

Thoughts?  Is this a blessing in disguise (if its true?)  Or do you think we should hang on to him and give him a Qualifying Offer?  (sarcasm).

Thou shalt not overreact to a blown save…

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This is the only photo I have of Papelbon where he's not grabbing his nuts or Harper's throat. Photo Keith Allison via wikipedia/flickr

This is the only photo I have of Papelbon where he’s not grabbing his nuts or Harper’s throat. Photo Keith Allison via wikipedia/flickr

Look, I get it.  We’ve watched Jonathan Papelbon blow two saves rather egregiously in the last week.   We know his fastball is down (average of 90.9 this season versus 91.4 last year and 93.8 in 2012).  We know his “stuff” is down (K/9 is “just” 8.35 this year versus career peaks north of 10 K/9) and his walks are up (3.34 BB/9 this year, a stark increase over last year’s 1.71 BB/9).

But did you know that the Nats bullpen is still one of the best in all of baseball?  Here’s some quick team stats for you from fangraphs; the Nats bullpen is:

  • 4th in the MLB in ERA
  • 2nd in FIP and 3rd in xFIP
  • 6th in K/9
  • 4th in BB/9
  • 6th in fWAR
  • 4th in Blown Saves.

So, optically yes we would like to have a better arm throwing in the 9th.  But overall, we have (against all odds) crafted a brand new bullpen from 2015’s dumpster fire version that has been pretty darn effective.

So what do we do with our embattled “closer?”  Well, I think Fangraph’s August Fagerstrom has put it best.  I think its time to flip-flop the roles of Papelbon with Shawn Kelley.  Kelley’s peripherals are ridiculous: 13.9 K/9, a 58/7 K/BB ratio.   By way of comparison, Aroldis Chapman has “only” a 12.6 K/9 rate this year (though to be fair, its a down year for a guy who has a career 15.2 rate … yes i’m cherry picking stats a bit).

I do think its promising (at least from a player management perspective), that we’re hearing Dusty Baker addressing these questions with what seem like real quotes from Papelbon that show him to be a team player and cognizant of his struggles, as opposed to the defiant petulant bastard that he has appeared to be elsewhere in his career.  Numbers don’t lie; if he’s not getting it done, and he knows it, then its time to step aside.  There’s no shame in getting old (he’s in his age 35 season and he’s got nearly 700 high-leverage “I’m the guy” appearances on his C.V.).

No, I wouldn’t have wanted to trade my #1 system prospect for Chapman like the Cubs did.  In fact, I wouldn’t trade a starter or a position player for a reliever, ever,  unless it was a lesser guy completely blocked by someone that I had signed to a long-term deal.  The value trade-off is just not there.  As Fagerstrom points out, we can shuffle roles and then perhaps find a bullpen spot for the electric arms of Lucas Giolito and/or Reynaldo Lopez for the stretch run if we run into injuries.

Mike Rizzo; please, please resist the temptation to trade valuable assets for the “proven closer” (insert trademark here).  Please.  If you’re tempted … I hear Drew Storen is available.  Or at the very least trade someone from our logjam of 4-A starters instead of a valuable piece that we’ll need a few years time.

PS readers; apologies for 2 weeks of radio silence; was OOO visiting family and going through a stretch of business at work that prevented such fun things as spitting out opinion pieces about relievers who will contribute a fraction of a WAR over the rest of the year.  Thanks for sticking in there.  MartyC; next post I’m teeing up a glowing review of Giolito just for you 😉

Ladson Inbox 4/25/16

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Treinen looking like a closer in the making  Photo via zimbio.com

Treinen looking like a closer in the making Photo via zimbio.com

I’m digging the frequency of Bill Ladson’s inboxes this year.  It prompts me to write something when i’m otherwise slammed and distracted with that silly thing called work.  Here’s 4/25/16’s edition.

Q: As April comes to an end, what has been the most pleasant surprise for the Nationals?

A: I’ll go with the relatively injury-free spring and April; we havn’t had someone major break or pull anything.  Only Ben Revere has gotten bit by the bug, and that’s no great loss b/c it forces more playing time for Michael TaylorLadson goes with the Bullpen, who admittedly has been great.

Q: In your recent Inbox, you said No. 3 prospect Victor Robles will be Bryce Harper‘s teammate in a couple of years. Do you think Harper will still be a member of the Nats? I watched Harper all spring, but my guess is I’ll be driving cross state to Tampa to see him with the Yankees.

A: Harper hasn’t even hit arbitration years yet.  But the timing of Harper hitting free agency and Robles likely arriving could be a “dovetailing” event. I think the assumption that Harper is automatically going to go to New  York is silly; the Yankees aren’t highest spending franchise right now, and Steinbrenner‘s sons seem like they’re more interested in avoiding luxury taxes right now than they are in winning.  The big question the Nats will have to ask themselves is whether they’re willing to put 25% of their payroll for the next decade on one player…. when the time comes anyway.  They’re already kicking $15M/year down the road for a decade longer than they have to with Scherzer‘s contract.  Ladson thinks the Nats will “find a way to pay Harper.”  Really??  Do you not know who his agent its?  Harper is GOING to go to FA, no matter what his opinion of Washington is.

Q: What is Plan B for the ninth inning if Jonathan Papelbon gets hurt or doesn’t perform? Seems like there isn’t a replacement.

A: Actually, its looking more and more like there’s TWO options: Treinen and Rivero.  I gotta admit; i like what Dusty Baker is doing with the bullpen so far.  Both these guys are looking like closers in training.  And that’s good b/c there’s not a ton of help at AAA right now.  A quick glance at the Syracuse stats isn’t entirely promising on this front: I don’t see a “closer in training” anywhere in AAA.  As far as relievers go;  Trevor Gott has ok numbers but not good K/9 rates.  40-man guys Grace and Solis are both doing great … but they’re loogies.  Rafael Martin and Sam Runion have struggled.   Two guys that could be interesting (Erik Davis and Abel de los Santos) have done well … Davis especially, finally healthy after all this time.  But again, not a closer.  So, if Papelbon went down we’d probably be looking at Treinen as the closer, Rivero as an 8th inning guy and likely bringing up Davis or de los Santos to fill in earlier.  Ladson also says Treinen and Rivero.

Q: Why doesn’t Matt den Dekker get more starting opportunities? He has speed, power and is great defensively.

A: It might just be a matter of time, if Michael Taylor continues to struggle and Ben Revere is slow to come back.  But at this point, based on limited sample sizes, even den Dekker might be “behind” Chris Heisey were the Nats to need another starting outfielder.  Just no room at the inn.  Ladson thinks Taylor and den Dekker could platoon.

Q: Why wasn’t Gio Gonzalez pitching in this first home series? He’s a veteran pitcher who seems to have been squeezed out of the starting rotation during the first two weeks.

A: Clearly Baker looked at Gio Gonzalez as his 5th starter coming out of Spring Training and that’s what it meant to have been skipped the first time through the rotation.  I don’t think its a stretch to say that the other four guys have outperformed Gonzalez lately, either in potential (Joe Ross) or in 2014 performance (Tanner Roark).  Baker basically said that Gonzalez’s starts tax the bullpen so he had to consider when to use him.  Ladson notes that Gio struggled in spring training.

Q: With Trea Turner of to a nice start, when do we expect to see him in the big leagues?

A: Man that’s a good question; every additional week he’s hitting .350 in AAA and Danny Espinosa isn’t hitting his weight is another week where it becomes tougher and tougher to keep him down.  I still think he’ll hang out down there until the Nats regain a service year.  Ladson makes a good point; the Nats are winning without him so why change anything?

 

 

Ladson’s Inbox 4/8/16

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Werth looking shaggy; i'd like to see this beard in the leadoff hole. Photo via fansided.com

Werth looking shaggy; i’d like to see this beard in the leadoff hole. Photo via fansided.com

Wow, a ton of Ladson inboxes so far this year!  This is great!  Here’s the 4/8/16 version.

Q: I noticed on Twitter that you want to see Jayson Werth as the leadoff hitter now that Ben Revere is on the disabled list. Isn’t Werth best suited for the middle of the order?

A: Wow, Ladson and I agree!  I absolutely want Jayson Werth in the lead-off spot right now.  Why?  Because more and more it seems like Werth’s power has left him in his advancing age.  I’ve said it before in this space several times, but yes I believe Werth would be a great lead-off hitter.   Short version: sees a ton of pitches (4.16 P/PA last year, which would make him top 10 if he qualified … and that’s WAY down from normal).  Great OBP (.365 for his career, and while 2015 was an aberration the three years before he was in the .380 to .390+ range), and when he was coming back from his wrist injury and batting lead-off for the team in 2012 his splits batting lead-off were fantastic (.309/.388/.450).  When you put Werth in the middle of the order, he’s going to try to hit like a middle-of-the-order bat.  What if he can’t do that anymore?  Then you end up with a guy who we may be seeing right now; flailing at the ball, trying to drive it at the age of 36-37).  If you put him at the top, and ask him to be a leadoff hitter, I think his advanced bat skills make him a great option there.  Ladson says the same things I do; working the count, seeing lots of pitches.

Q: When are you going to give Danny Espinosa some credit? He is off to a good start. You always write about Trea Turner.

A: Yeah, great start.  He’s 3 for 9.  But he was awful all spring.  Can you spell “Short Sample Sizes?”  Nobody in the league or the organization has any question that Trea Turner is the future and Danny Espinosa is just holding the spot for now.  If he continues to earn playing time, so be it.  I’ll take an extra year of control if Turner hangs out in Syracuse for 2-3 months.  The fact is though that at some point somebody’s getting hurt (Ryan ZimmermanAnthony Rendon?  Both are good bets) that will require some infield coverage/shifting around, and at that point Turner makes perfect sense to bring up and see what he can do with full time playing time.  Ladson gives Espinosa some love.

Q: With Bryce Harper saying that he doesn’t view himself as a leader on the team, who do you think is the “official” leader of the Nationals’ clubhouse?

A: I’m pretty sure this is Harper‘s way of being deferential to the veterans on the team without proclaiming himself as the leader.  But lets not kid ourselves; this franchise has had one MVP and he’s it.  Who is the leader?  I think there’s several leaders; there’s four significant veterans on this team: Werth, Zimmerman, Max Scherzer and Jonathan Papelbon.  Not all of them have been here forever like the FotF has, but they’re the ones that have been around the league, who are on the 8-figure deals, and they’re the ones who seem to dictate the pace of the clubhouse.  Ladson also mentions Murphy and Ramosarguable.  I only name Papelbon because in the span of a few weeks he went from being the last guy hired to being the unquestioned leader in terms of tenure both here and in the league.  

Q: Were you surprised Sean Burnett wasn’t put on the 25-man roster?

A: Yes and No.  On the one hand, the team had two solid lefties in Felipe Rivero and Oliver Perez already under contract, and keeping Burnett would have meant sending down Treinen basically thanks to options issues.  And that would have been a non-starter.  If Burnett had 8th inning stuff, perhaps.  No, i see the Burnett signing and tenure as a “favor to a long standing former player” trying to help him get back on his feet in this league.  Ladson mentions we already had two good lefties.

Q: What do you think of outfielder Victor Robles?

A: I think he’s young, apparently talented, on pace to perhaps be a solid 5 tool player.  I also think he’s years away from helping this team.  So its great that he’s potentially great … but that doesn’t do much to help this current team win while it still has Strasburg and Harper under contract.  Ladson has glowing words for the 18-yr old.

PS: I was heading to the game today before they cancelled it due to … the threat of snow?  I dunno; its chilly right now but clear.  We’ll have to wait to get to our first game :-)

Ladson Inbox 2/26/16

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Future $400M Dodger? Photo GQ magazine Mar 2012

Future $400M Dodger? Photo GQ magazine Mar 2012

I guess Bill Ladson only gets questions during spring training.  After not doing an inbox for practically all of last season, its 3 in 3 weeks!  Since these are such good conversation starters, lets see how I would have answered his questions.

Q: Most believe the Nats have no chance of keeping Bryce Harper once he becomes a free agent. Your thoughts? 

A: Unfortunately, I’m also in that camp.  I believe Bryce Harper and his aggressive agent Scott Boras will take him to free agency with the idea of getting the largest contract in history.  And, when push comes to shove, I just can’t see how Washington is going to have the stomach to compete with the big-money teams (namely, the Dodgers and Yankees) and commit the kind of dollars that he’s going to command.  Certainly not with the MASN hamstringing.  I mean, lets be honest with ourselves; its taken years just to get the two parties to agree on whether the Nats are going to get $34M (what the O’s want to pay), $53M (what the first arbitration panel apparently agreed upon) or $109M (what the Nats requested) on the first reset of the agreement.  Meanwhile the Dodgers are getting somewhere between $240M-$280M a year in their RSN deal … potentially FIVE TIMES what the Nats are getting paid.  I’m sorry; but the team that can afford to just throw money at players is the team that is going to be able to promise $40M/season.  There’s just no way even a “rich” team like Washington is going to compete.  Enjoy him while you can and hope the team does the smart thing and really, really tries to win a World Series while they still have him.  Ladson thinks the team is going to wait and will “try to extend him” before he hits free agency.  Yeah, right.  How many players Boras has represented have taken extensions versus going to free agency? 

Q: What are the chances that Ian Desmond returns to the Nationals this year?

A: Well, I think the chances seem like they’re nil.  The Nats made their offers (a multiyear extension AND a qualifier) and Desmond turned them both down.  I’m shocked that he’s the last man standing in the Qualifying Offer class (I would have bet money it would have been Ian Kennedy), and i’m shocked that he hasn’t found a job yet.

Now, that being said, a better question might be “Should the Nats think about bringing him back??”  You’ve just hired a player’s manager who likes veterans in Dusty Baker.  They’ve constructed their roster with a clear intention of sending future SS-in-waiting Trea Turner back to the minors for seasoning, meaning that Danny Espinosa seems like the starting shortstop (career BA: .230).  At this point, given the steal of an offer you might be able to get Desmond for (Fowler was given a gift of a contract from Chicago, guaranteeing $13M when he probably wasn’t going to get that in terms of AAV on the open market), maybe he’s worth considering.  Yes we’d be giving up the supp-1st rounder we stand to gain.  But you can just give him another QO next season if he rebounds and puts himself in line for another big pay day.  Or maybe you assume the next CBA (which will be signed sometime this year since the current deal expires 12/1/16) gets rid of the Q.O. entirely, since it is killing players and FA market values for certain types of players.  Actually this latter argument perhaps supports the Nats wanting to keep the pick, since it may very well go away (or perhaps the system is modified to just give all teams giving away significant FAs supplemental first rounders, not that I have any idea how you’d figure out who was deserving of a pick).  I think the team has made the decision that he’s on the decline, that they’ve dodged a huge bullet by him turning down 7yrs/$105 or whatever it was, and they’re ready to move on.

Ladson has sources in the Org that say its a “long long long shot.”  Baker says Espinosa looks like he’s in “mid-season form” at the plate (wow; does that mean he’s only striking out every OTHER time up and still hitting .230?)

Q: What do you think Baker will bring to the Nationals this year?

A: I think Dusty Baker brings harmony and respect to the clubhouse in ways it was clearly not present under Matt Williams.  No more arbitrary scheduling, lack of communication, lack of awareness of what’s going on with his players.  I’m a big advocate of hiring contrasting styles in managers when one guy clearly grinds his way to a failure, and Baker is a great example of it.  I was completely pro-Bud Black because of his pitching experience, but the team has more than made up for it with the hiring of Mike Maddox and we’re going to be a much better team for it.

Ladson mentions a very important word: Charisma.  Baker brings a ton of experience, charisma and humor to the clubhouse; again going towards one of the big, embarrassing issues from last year (clubhouse chemistry).

Q: Can you predict the Nationals’ rotation on Opening Day?

A: Barring injury, it has to be (in order) Scherzer, Strasburg, Gonzalez, Ross and Roark.  I’m not going to predict Arroyo beating out Roark at this point unless Arroyo looks completely healthy, he’s actually pitching well and Roark falls apart in Spring Training.  If there’s an injury, I look at Arroyo as the first man up, then Cole in terms of rotation coverage.  If we have to dig any deeper than that … watch out.  I like Voth but i’m not sure he’s ready for prime time.  I don’t trust Taylor Jordan any longer.  Lucas Giolito may start his career a ton earlier than anyone thought if injuries take out too many of our starters.

Ladson says its a no-brainer right now with the assumed 5 above.

Q: Why did the Nationals let Yunel Escobar get away? He was a consistent hitter.

A: Escobar was a consistent hitter last year yes (.314 BA, which was 50 points higher than the two previous seasons and 30 points higher than his career average), but hit an “empty” .314 (just 9 homers and a .415 slugging, also a huge improvement over previous seasons and his career high).  Unsaid is Escobar’s significant defensive issues (awful defensive stats, though to be fair genius skipper Williams had him playing out of position the entire season).  I think the Nats “sold high” on Escobar, traded from depth to a certain extent and got a player (Trevor Gott) in trade that they really needed to help bolster the bullpen.  Ladson doesn’t mention the “selling high” part of his offense; only mentions his defensive issues.

Q: What was it that made the front office sour on Drew Storen? The kid is one of the premier closers in the game, yet the team always seemed to be looking for someone better.

A: An excellent question.  I’m not sure it was the “front office” as much as it was the “impulsive owner” who soured on Storen.  He had two well publicized post-season failures, which led the normally sane and intelligent GM Rizzo to twice acquire and over-pay an aging “proven closer” to replace Storen.  The first time, Rafael Soriano eventually was supplanted by his own failures and Storen’s consistency, the second time the team inexplicably replaced him with Papelbon in the middle of perhaps Storen’s finest season.  Is Storen one of the “premier closers” in the game?  No.  I’d say he’s middle of the road and could likely tick off at least 15 guys who will be more highly valued in fantasy than Storen were he to win the Toronto closing job.

The crummy part of the deal was the fact that Storen was the one who needed to be traded by virtue of Papelbon making himself essentially untradeable.  I tell you what; Papelbon better be a frigging all-star this year to make up for what’s happened.  Ladson mentions the two blown post-season games and says he needed a change of scenery.  Both true.

 

 

Ladson’s Inbox 2/21/16

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We need Rendon to hit in 2016. Photo Nats Official via espn.com

We need Rendon to hit in 2016. Photo Nats Official via espn.com

Wow, no inboxes for months and suddenly two in two weeks??  It must be spring training! This is great!  MLB.com’s Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson on 2/20/16 has published more reader questions.  Here’s how I would have answered them.

Q: Without a doubt, Bryce Harper will be the best hitter on the Nationals this year. Who do you see as being the second-best hitter on the team?

A: Anthony Rendon.  If this team is going to win in 2016, Rendon needs to return to form.  Everyone else at this point in the lineup will be a table setter for Rendon and Harper.  Ladson says Zimmerman, who I admit i’ve begun to lose faith in.

Q: How does the front office justify bringing back Jonathan Papelbon after what happened last year with Harper? Papelbon has proven time and again that he is not a good teammate, yet he’s back for 2016?

A: I guess the questioner didn’t know that Papelbon was still *signed* for 2016.  So it wasn’t so much about “bringing him back” on purpose as it was the team “not being able to get rid of him.”  I put the Papelbon acquisition as one of the worst of the Mike Rizzo tenure; not so much for who we gave up (a good but not game changing prospect in Nick Pivetta) but for the incredible mis-calculation of the acquisition’s affect on the rest of the team.  I’m sure the team desperately tried to move him in the off-season but (with echos of “Lerner’s are cheap” abounding) probably weren’t willing to dump him for no return.  So here we are; its 2016 and Papelbon is here in lieu of the home grown popular (and team union rep) Drew Storen.

I’ll bet Rizzo doesn’t make this mistake again.

Nonetheless, Papelbon said the right things in his first media interviews since the interview, actually managing to appear humble and contrite while talking about how he was in the wrong and flat out apologizing to the fans.  I say good for him; even I couldn’t help but applaud his performance last last week.

Ladson says the team “made a good decision” in not moving Papelbon; yeah right.  If they could have gotten *anything* for him he’d be gone.  You worry about “finding a closer” in the current bullpen?  Uh, how about anyone?  We don’t need to go into more historical reviews of the uselessness of closers vis-a-vis teams holding leads after 8 innings.

Q: Why did the Nats not re-sign Craig Stammen? Before last year, I thought he did a great job as a middle reliever.

A: It all came down to risk mitigation.  Stammen absolutely did a great job for this team for many years … but he’s got a lot of innings, is coming off of a season-long injury, has (to be fair) rather funky mechanics, and the team just couldn’t justify guaranteeing him what probably would have been $2.5M or so for the unknown.  The industry felt the same way: Stammen ended up with a non-guaranteed minor league deal with Cleveland instead of either a major league deal or anything of significant value.  Trust me I was bummed; we met Stammen years ago at a golf event and he was awesome; hate to see these long-time Nats leave.  Ladson basically says the same thing.

Q: Don’t you think it’s time to improve left field? Jayson Werth is not the player he used to be. He makes a lot of money and doesn’t provide much in return.

A: And do what with Werth?  Magically trade him for valuable assets and get his payroll off your books?  The asker clearly thinks that the rest of the league are run by morons and the Nats can just magically get rid of the likes of Werth for value.  Yes he’s costing you more than 10% of your payroll.  It is what it is; veteran FA contracts all end up like this.  Honestly, I think Werth still has a ton of value if you use him properly; that means batting lead-off where you take advantage of his high pitches-per-plate appearance and high OBP.  We’ll see if Dusty Baker thinks outside the box like this (doubt it).  Ladson says Werth is a comeback player of the year candidate.

Q: What are the chances the Nationals make a trade for someone like Carlos Gonzalez to protect Harper in the lineup?

A: I like Carlos Gonzalez … but his home/away splits are pretty distinct.  .972 OPS in Denver, .758 OPS elsewhere last year.  I’m not sure he’s anything more than a mediocre outfielder if he’s not playing half his games at altitude.  Besides, the team made its play for the outfield when they acquired Ben RevereLadson thinks Rizzo could still “make a deal for a slugger” during Spring Training if he doesn’t like what he sees.  Uh; trading season is over, dude.  How many big-time sluggers can you think of that moved in spring training?

Q: A prime component of the Mets’ rotation is the ability to throw hard and get a bunch of strikeouts, but how unique is the Nationals’ rotation and how could it help them win the NL East next season?

A: Indeed, the Mets have a plethora of big-time arms throwing big-time heat.  But the Royals buzzed through their staff with ease in the World Series.  Why?  Because the Royals were the best team in the league for not taking a strikeout and putting the ball in play.  So once it became apparent that the Mets starters couldn’t close out games by themselves, the Royals (with their superior bullpen) outlasted them.  So Ks are important but not the end-all/be-all.

What makes the Nats rotation unique?  Two part answer for me: they (still) have one of the best 1-2 punches in the league in Scherzer and Strasburg.  What other 1-2 starters would you take over them?   So then past their 2 aces, they have three other guys who are dangerously under-rated.  Gonzalez was a Cy Young finalist just a couple years ago and he still has the same stuff.  Ross is a complete find, a guy who would be most teams’ #2 starter this year despite just having a handful of MLB starts.  And (as often repeated) Roark was a 5-win guy two years ago.  So the potential is there for this to be a top rotation end-to-end.

How does the Rotation help them win the NL east?  By staying healthy, pitching to potential, and outlasting the Mets own powerful rotation when its crunch time.

Ladson doesn’t really give much of an answer here.  He just says what he’d like to “see” each of our starters do this year.

 

 

Nats System 2016 Pitching Staff Projections

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Scherzer leads the MLB rotation for a second year. Photo via sportingnews.com

Scherzer leads the MLB rotation for a second year. Photo via sportingnews.com

(Editor note: I was out of the country for the last week; good timing in terms of missing the snow, but not so much for trying to get on a flight back to DC.  Never got one actually; had to settle for a flight to JFK last night and a train ride ride down).

Now that we’re through all the 2015 Pitching staff review series, level by level, here’s a summary projection of what the pitching staffs may look like for 2016.  These projections are based on the 7 deep dive rotation reviews but are all put in one place.  Since player movement occurs daily, I may have missed one or two MLFA signings but these should be up-to-date as of the time of publishing.

All the reviews in the 2015 series:


 

Nats System Staff projections for 2016 season

(* == lefty, ^ == MLFA or new acquisition for 2016)

MLB

  • Rotation: Scherzer, Strasburg, Ross, Gonzalez*, Roark
  • Bullpen: Papelbon, Treinen, Rivero*, Perez*^, Kelley^, Gott^, Petit^, Barrett (60-day DL)
  • out of organization: Zimmermann, Fister, Storen (traded), Thornton*, Janssen, Carpenter, Stammen (non-tendered)

Quick Discussion: This assumes no more rotation acquisitions; if one occurs, bump Roark to long-man with Treinen then getting dumped to AAA save for injury (See next section for the Arroyo discussion).  It looks like the team can’t move Papelbon for anything of value and refuses to eat $11M and instead moved Storen for something we do value (a CF).  I know they’re still connected to random starters here and there, which continues my amazement in their lack of trust of Roark as an effective 5th starter (I guess his 50 innings in 2013 and 200 awesome innings in 2014 just weren’t convincing enough).  Honestly if they don’t trust Roark, then just call up Giolito.  This is their last season with Strasburg and one of their last with Harper, so “saving” Giolito at this “win now” point seems dumb.  We’ll see.

AAA

  • Rotation: Cole, Jordan, Espino, Voth, Laffey*^, THill, Arroyo^
  • Bullpen: Martin, Solis*, Grace*, Brady^, Bacus, de los Santos, Runion, Velasquez^, Masset^, EDavis, Burnett*^
  • Release Candidates: McGregor, Walters
  • out of organization: Billings, Bleier*, Swynenberg, Fornataro, Meek, Runion, Lively, Gutierrez, Valverde, Delcarmen, RHill, Overton

Quick Discussion: Both Hill and Davis took outright assignments to AAA to stick with the team after being DFA’d in the last few weeks: this could lead to some downstream moves in spring training (specifically someone like McGregor getting squeezed in a numbers game).  We have slightly overloaded the bullpen assuming that there’s some injuries to come.  Only a few “veteran MLFA” types listed here, a good sign for the system and its ability to generate upper-level minor league talent, but seemingly every other day we hear about more such signings, probably for competition purposes and/or to fulfil what seems to be the annual ritual of giving guys a few weeks of meal money to throw innings in spring training for one last shot at a roster spot.

The very recent signing of Bronson Arroyo is an interesting one; he’ll be 40, coming off of TJ and has shown himself to be effective even despite a lack of velocity even deep into his 30s.  Is he a competitor to Roark for the 5th starter spot?  Is this a favor to Dusty Baker?  For now, i’m putting him as AAA depth but have to think he’s got an opt-out if he doesn’t make the MLB team so he’s likely to be either the 5th starter or a FA come 4/1/16.

Post-publish edit: thanks to JohnC, I totally forgot about our early off-season MLFA signing of Sean Burnett, our old favorite loogy (who also happens to throw the ball right handed while shagging flies in the OF).  If he doesn’t have an opt-out, I’ll project him as a Syracuse loogy but perhaps behind Solis and Grace thanks to his lack of 40-man status.  I hope he’s still got it after two TJs.

AA

  • Rotation: Spann*, Giolito, Simms, Alderson, Lopez, Mapes, Gorski^
  • Bullpen: Mendez, Harper*, Shackelford^, NLee*, Benincasa, Suero, Thomas*, Walsh*, Robinson^, Whiting^
  • Release Candidates: Rauh, Bates, Self, Dupra
  • out of organization: Purke*, Pivetta, Simmons, Demny, Ambriz, Gilliam

Quick Discussion: here’s where we start to see some log jamming going on; we already have 6 good candidates for the AA rotation (and that was before the recently announced Gorski signing), 10 for the bullpen (some of which already have been promoted to AAA in 2015) and another 4 guys who could still slot in somewhere who i’ve called “release candidates” because of the numbers game.  That’s 20+ guys for 12-13 slots.  Do they get pushed down and cause cascading High-A fall out (where the story is the same?) or do we see some wholesale shredding of contracts this coming spring training?  Do you move UP guys like Giolito, Harper instead and cut AAA veteran MLFAs?

High-A

  • Rotation: AWilliams, Valdez, Dickson, Bach*, Van Orden, Fedde
  • Bullpen: Johanssen, Amlung (swingman),  Napoli*, Orlan*, Glover, Brinley, Sylvestre*
  • Release Candidates: RPena, Turnbull*
  • out of organization: Schwartz, Howell, CDavis, MRodriguez, Cooper (just released)

Quick Discussion: Again, I see this as an overloaded squad; 6 starters, 10 relievers.  Perhaps some AA guys drop down, perhaps there’s guys listed here to are more likely release candidates than sure things (Napoli?  Amlung?  Johanssen even?). We may eventually get our answer; the team just released Cooper despite my thinking he was more or less a lock for the Potomac bullpen in 2016.   I’m really curious to see what a couple of the starters here do this year in particular: Austen Williams and Erick Fedde.  We talked earlier about Fedde perhaps starting the season in Hagerstown … but as we’re about to see, there’s just so many guys for a couple of slots.

Low-A

  • Rotation: LReyes, JRodriguez, ALee, Dickey, Hearn*, Crownover*
  • Bullpen: MSanchez (swingman),  Guilbeau*, Borne*, Rivera Jr., Gunter, Peterson, Baez
  • release candidate: Estevez, DWilliams, DRamos, Boghosian, Mooney, Pirro
  • out of organization: Ullmann, KPerez, Mooneyham, Johns (just released)

Quick Discussion: 6 projected starters, another 8 for the bullpen, and another 6 relievers who … well, i’m not sure where you put them.  You can’t have 20 pitchers in XST can you?  Well, maybe you can and they can catch on with the short-season squads … but look at who is already projected for Short-A below.  In the comments section of the Short-A post a few weeks back, we talked about the four lefty college starters who were drafted and in the Auburn rotation (Hearn, Crownover, Guilbeau and Borne); all had more or less the same pro numbers in Auburn; who stays in the rotation moving up?  Who goes to the pen?  There were already 4 guys who made sense to project to the Hagerstown rotation; where are 4 more college lefties going to go?  Its almost like the team needs an entire additional low-A team to staff.

Short-A

  • Rotation: Bourque, AMartinez, Valero, Watson
  • Bullpen: Morales (swingman), LTorres, Acevedo, Harmening, Serrata
  • release candidates: Feliz, Reynoso, Mills, DeRosier, VanVossen, Copping, Pantoja
  • out of organization: Overton, Plouck, Webb, McDowell, Sylvestri

Quick Discussion: I’ve already got nearly a full squad of arms for short-A as it is, and we havn’t accounted for any 2016 draftees nor potential dropdowns from Hagerstown.  I just feel like there’s going to be some whole sale releases this spring.  Either that or Rizzo is going to draft nothing but bats in 2016.

Rookie

  • Rotation: Avila, Fuentes, WPena
  • Bullpen: CPena
  • release candidate: De La Cruz
  • out of organization: Salazar, Jauss, DVasquez, Morel, EGomez, Charlis, JRamirez, Costa, Uribarri, Mancini, Yrizarri, Bermudez

Quick discussion: practically nobody in the domestic system right now projects to repeat the Rookie league, which means that a) we should expect a ton of guys to make their way from the DSL and/or b) we should expect more 2016 draftees to start here.  Perhaps I should have done a review of the DSL guys to make predictions on who earned their way off the island.

 

——————————–

Guys who really impressed me in 2015 and to watch out for in 2016.  Kind of my own version of Luke’s “watch list” but I was definitely struck by several guys while doing these posts and here’s the list.

  • MLB: Ross, Rivero
  • AAA: Espino, Martin
  • AA: Voth, Giolito, de los Santos, Harper, NLee
  • High-A: Lopez, Mapes, Walsh
  • Low-A: Valdez, ALee, Orlan, Glover, Brinley
  • Short-A: AWilliams,Fedde, Rivera Jr, Johns (why was he released??)
  • Rookie: Valero, Watson, Avila

 

 

Drew Storen for Ben Revere; a trade that seems to work on both sides

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Lets Hope Storen doesn't have days like this in Toronto. Photo Andrew Harnik/washingtontimes.com

Lets Hope Storen doesn’t have days like this in Toronto. Photo Andrew Harnik/washingtontimes.com

(Editor’s note: sorry for the delay on this post: you might have noticed the site being unavailable for a bit of time yesterday.  That’s because the shared server hosting all my various business and personal websites crashed and was down for hours.  Hopefully we’re all back up and normal.  This post is written and posted as of 1/10/16).

Drew Storen got his wish today; a fresh start with another team.  And amazingly, Mike Rizzo was able to turn an asset that basically the entire industry knew he was shopping (and knew that the player wanted out) and was able to basically get the *exact* player he was seeking in Ben Revere; a capable hitter who fits precisely into the hole left by the departed Denard Span.  Lefty, center fielder, lead-off hitter, good stats.

Amazing trade, frankly, by Rizzo, given these circumstances.

The Nats hadn’t consummated a trade with Toronto since 2005 (and that was a two minor leaguers swapping deck chairs kind of a deal in Tyrell Goodwin for Aaron Wideman).  Clearly Rizzo has a better working relationship with the new brain trust in Toronto (former Cleveland GM Mark Shapiro) than he did before (Alex Anthopoulos).

For Storen; he gets out of town and gets a chance at a fresh start for a team that won its division last year and still sports the best offense in the game.  He’s gotta be happy.  I’m not sure he is the closer in Toronto (Robert Osuna was pretty good: 20 saves, 2.58 ERA, 153 ERA+, sub 1.00 whip but is also just 20); maybe there’s a ST competition, maybe Storen just accepted the deal and the 8th inning to get a fresh start.  Can’t blame him.

For the Nats, they get basically the #1 priority they’ve been seeking all off-season.  And they get it without committing to major dollars in the future, without giving up a draft pick, and without trading any of their prospects.  In this respect, A+ trade for Rizzo.  Revere had a good lead-off hitter slash line last year (.306/.342/.377), hits lefty to help with lineup balance, and plays a position of need (CF).  I’m not sure he’s the super duper awesome CF that the team sought (a good looking uzr/150 in 2015 but negative defensive figures the three previous years in Philly), but he’s always been awesome in RF so maybe we’re looking at Harper in CF and Revere in RF as a optimized defensive alignment.  (Oh who am I kidding?  Do you think Dusty Baker is looking at fangraphs and seeing massive negative DRS figures for Revere and going, ‘gee he should play RF?’)

The Nats also save some cash (Revere makes a bit less than Storen in terms of projected Arb salaries), AND the Nats get a PTBNL (probably a low-level prospect).  We sent some unreported amount of cash to Toronto; probably a few hundred thousand or so to balance out the salary delta.  I love it when billion dollar assets send piddling amounts of cash in deals; can you imagine the negotiations?  “Hey Mike, I need $100k to make this deal work.”  “Oh ok Mark, lemme dig into my car cushion and see what i’ve got here that fell out of my pocket during my last arbitration negotiation … oh!  here’s $200k.  Sold!”

New projected opening day 2016 lineup:

  • Revere*, Rendon, Harper*, Zimmerman, Murphy*, Werth, Espinosa*, Ramos, pitcher.

Perfect lefty/righty balance.  If you think Espinosa is super-sub and Drew is the starter at short, replace like for like since Drew is a lefty hitter.  If you think Turner is the starter … you’re crazy to think that given the moves this team has made in the past few weeks :-)

Other downstream effects of this deal:

  • If we didn’t have confirmation before, i’ll say it again: i just can’t see how Trea Turner makes the 25-man roster.  This was more about the Drew acquisition than this, but I don’t see how he makes this team unless someone gets hurt in Viera.
  • The 5-man bench looks pretty much complete: backup C (Lobaton unless otherwise replaced), RH pinch hitter/corner player (Moore), LH pinch hitter/
    corner player (Robinson), speedy backup OF who can play CF as needed (Taylor), and utility infielder (Drew or Espinosa).
  • Matt den Dekker now gets pushed to AAA; i can’t see him beating Clint Robinson for “lefty PH bat” and Moore is now basically the only RH bat on the bench so gets to stick around another year.
  • Taylor now is back to being 4th OF, right where he was last year.  But don’t worry; Werth probably gets a hangnail on April 10th and Taylor will still get 300-400 ABs in 2016.
  • Not a ton of salary difference with the move; Storen and Rivera were projected by mlbtraderumores to make 8.8 and 6.7M respectively.  I had Storen’s projected salary a bit less.  In total, I’ve got the 2016 projected payroll at $143M now, still $18M less than last year.
  • Treinen now is back in the projected MLB bullpen; I think he was last guy out given the acquisitions and make up of the roles prior to Storen’s jettison.
  • Papelbon now probably stays; i’d be shocked if he gets moved now, given his NT clause and his toxicity around the league. And, well, the team still needs a frigging closer.  Ironic that they “had” to move their home grown 1st rounder (who happened to also be the union rep) so that they could keep the former star of their divisinoal rival who also just happened to choke the unanimous league MVP on national TV.  But that’s the bed they’ve made for themselves.

One last thing: The bullpen makeover now seems complete.  Check out how the 2016 projected opening day pen looks compared to years past:
o 2016: Papelbon, Treinen, Gatt, Kelley, Perez*, Rivero*, Petit (Barret on D/L)
o 2015: Storen, Treinen, Barrett, Stammen, Thornton*, Cedeno*, Roark (Janssen on d/l)
o 2014: Soriano, Storen, Clippard, Barrett, Stammen, Blevins*, Detwiler*
o 2013: Soriano, Storen, Clippard, Mattheus, Stammen, Rodriguez, Duke*
o 2012: Clippard, Lidge, Mattheus, Stammen, Rodriguez, Burnett*, Gorzelanny*
o 2011: Storen, Clippard, Coffey, Gaudin, Burnett*, Slaten*, Broderick
o 2010: Capps, Clippard, Bruney, English, Bergmann, Burnett*, Walker*, Batista (yes it was an 8-man pen)

100% turnover from 2015’s opening day rotation, man for man (if Janssen had been healthy, Treinen would have been in AAA).  I know it needed to be done, but i’m still apprehensive about it from a cohesion perspective.

In summary; good trade for both sides.  Sorry to see Storen go but it had to be done for both the player and the team.  I think the Nats are better today than they were yesterday; not because Revere > Storen necessarily (by bWAR they are but that’s probably not a fair comparison) but because Storen wasn’t going to be the best he could be here any longer.