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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.

Potomac/High-A Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2015

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Tyler Mapes is a great draft story and my pitcher of the year out of Potomac. Photo via nola.com

Tyler Mapes is a great draft story and my pitcher of the year out of Potomac. Photo via nola.com

This is the 4th in the 2015 Pitching staff review series, here’s a review of Potomac/High-A’s pitching staff for 2015.  Other parts of the 2015 series:

For some historical perspective, here’s 2013’s version (featuring Taylor Jordan), here’s 2012’s version (Nathan Karns the feature pitcher) and 2011’s version (Danny Rosenbaum the feature pitcher) of this post specifically for Potomac/High-A.  Had we done this in 2014, we would likely have “featured” Gilberto Mendez for his good work closing.

Note; while its relatively easy to do reviews for the upper levels of the system, once we get lower we’re usually talking about a lot of short sample sizes.  And i’m sure there’s people reading this who saw every pitcher on this post throw in 2015; by all means feel free to comment if you believe i’ve mis-characterized someone here.  Of all the write-ups I expect readers here to have better opinions of Potomac players by virtue of actually seeing them week in/week out, so definitely pipe up.

All stats are courtesy of either milb.com’s Potomac 2015 Stats page or via Fangraph’s Potomac 2015 page.   Also useful here are the Big Board and the Nats Draft Tracker since so many of these lower-minors guys are recent draftees.  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, though these are more useful for the AAA and AA squads frankly.

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

  • Opening Day rotation: Pivetta, Rauh, Schwartz, Suero, Spann*
  • End of Season Rotation: Mapes, Dickson, AWilliams, Spann*, Howell
  • End of Season spot starts/swingman: Dupra, Thomas*,  Valdez
  • End of Season bullpen:  Self,   Walsh*, Johansen, Orlan*, MRodriguez
  • Mid-Season promotions: Dupra, Bacus, Suero, Pivetta, Mapes, Giolito, Purke*, Simms, Rauh, Roark
  • up-and-back: Mapes, Spann*, Dupra
  • down-and-back: Thomas*, Rauh
  • demotions: KPerez, Napoli*, Amlung, Orlan*
  • D/L: RPena, Turnbull*, Sylvestre*,  Lopez
  • cut/released/FAs: Mirowski, Henke, Encarnacion, Schwartz (retired), CDavis

Potomac starters.  The rotation started the season with Pivetta, Rauh, Schwartz, Suero, Spann*.  19 guys got starts in 2015.  Here’s an overview of the starters used, starting with the original five starters, going all the way to the rehab spot starts.

  • Nick Pivetta was your opening day starter, and by the end of the season he had gotten promoted and traded.  He earned his promotion, going 7-4 with a 2.29 ERA in 15 starts for Potomac.  He was not as successful upon his promotion to AA, but that was still enough to catch the eye of Philadelphia and be the bounty for them ridding themselves of Jonathan Papelbon‘s ego and contract.  If he was still with the team, he would have been the ‘featured” player above and not Mapes for his dominant season in High-A.  Outlook for Next Season: Philadelphia’s AA team in Reading, where he gets to go against Harrisburg and all his old teammates a few times a year.
  • Brian Rauh threw 7 excellent High-A starts before getting promoted to AA, where he spent most of the year.  See AA write-up for more.  Outlook for Next season: AA rotation or bust.
  • Blake Schwartz had three High-A starts, struggled, and retired.  After a fantastic 2013 season in Potomac, he just never could make the jump to AA and (not that I’ve ever talked to him or anything) perhaps got discouraged after not really progressing further up the chain.  Outlook for Next season: retired, out of baseball
  • Wander Suero pitched pretty effectively for Potomac in the first half in a swingman role, getting 16 appearances and 5 starts and posting a 2.41 ERA, 1.20 whip, and a 3.27 FIP.  Not much in the way of swing and miss though; 39/18 K/BB in 56 innings.  After moving up, he struggled in AA but inched up his K/9 rate while focusing more on middle relief.  No reason to think he can’t compete in AA in 2016, and is still relatively young (he turned 24 just after the season ended so he’ll still be 24 all next year).  Outlook for Next season: AA bullpen, perhaps High-A bullpen again if he gets squeezed in a numbers game.
  • Matthew Spann bounced between High-A and AA all year, posting mid 4 ERAs in both places.  See AA write-up for more.  Outlook for Next season: AA rotation.
  • Reynaldo Lopez led the team in IP and starts for 2015, going 6-7 with a 4.09 ERA in 99 IP across 19 starts.  His stats: 4.09 ERA, 1.22 whip, 2.95 FIP and 94/28 K/BB in those 99 innings, all as a 21-yr old.  It isn’t hard to see why Lopez is highly ranked on “top 10” lists for Nats prospects; he more than held his own in High-A as one of the younger hurlers in the league.  The team held him back in XST for a few weeks to keep innings off his arm.  While most scouting reports think he’ll eventually end up in the bullpen (no third pitch, iffy mechanics, big arm), he’s obviously worth giving more chances to stick as a high-velocity starter (in the same vein as Yordano Ventura for example).  Outlook for Next season: AA rotation.
  • John Simms threw an excellent half season for Potomac before getting bumped up mid-season; see AA writeup for more.  Outlook for Next season: AA rotation.
  • Lucas Giolito threw an dominant half season for Potomac (86 ks in 69 innings) after being kept in XST for the first 5 weeks of the season (so much for those pre-2015 interviews where he proclaimed that he had no innings limits, eh?) before also getting bumped up mid-season; see AA writeup for more.  Outlook for Next season: AA rotation.
  • Austen Williams blitzed the Sally league and forced a promotion to Potomac mid-season, where he continued pitching well.  In High-A he was 4-6 with a 2.59 ERA, 1.09 whip, 3.22 fip and 41/17 K/BB over 63 high-A innings.  The 2014 draftee is looking like a nice little find.  There does seem to be a bit of fortuitousness in his numbers (.253 BABIP and a delta between his ERA and FIP), so I could see the log-jam in the AA projected rotation keeping Williams back in Potomac for the first half of the 2016 season.  Outlook for Next season: High-A rotation to start with an eye on quick promotion.
  • Philips Valdez dominated the Sally league and earned a promotion after two months.  In Potomac he bounced in and out of the rotation, getting 10 starts across 22 appearances and posting a 3.77 ERA in High-A.  Other numbers: 1.44 whip, 3.26 fip, 48/25 K/BB in 59 High-A innings.  Valdez has been around for a while; this was his *seventh* season in the Nats organization.  He just turned 24.  But he has relatively few innings on his arm; just 260 IP across those seven seasons (he missed the entirety of 2012).  He’s looking like he could be a low-profile decent starter going forward, though he may run out of time in the system before the team is faced with a tougher decision on how to keep him.  For now, I think he repeats High-A to start, is tried out as a full time starter, and we’ll see if he can push forward to AA in 2016.  Outlook for Next season: High-A rotation
  • Tyler Mapes so far is a pretty good 2014 draft success story; he was a 30th round *senior sign* out of Tulane who was basically unhittable in Short-A last year, threw 6 clean innings in Low-A and was bumped up to High-A (the first 2014 draftee to get promoted that high) after just a couple of weeks.  Once in Potomac, he continued to pitch well in a swing-man role; 30 appearances, 8 starts, a 2.38 ERA across 90 innings, 1.22 whip, 2.78 FIP and 75/17 K/BB over 96 innings in High-A.  Not too shabby.  If it were me, I’d push him right to AA and stick him in the rotation, but as noted before I’m projecting an awful lot of starters to be in that Harrisburg rotation right now.  I’m curious to see how things shake out for someone like Mapes; he didn’t last to the 30th round as a favor to the Nats; is there something limiting in his capabilities that will cause him to suddenly top out like a lot of late-round senior signs?  We’ll see.  Outlook for Next season: AA rotation.
  • Ian Dickson was hurt the first half of the season and finished 2015 the exact same place he finished 2014: in the Potomac rotation with decent to effective numbers.  2015 totals for Dickson: 3-3, 3.60 ERA in 12 appearances/8 starts.  We see a problem though: 31 ks and 39 (?!) walks in 40 innings in Potomac this year.  Wow; that’s a walk an inning.  He never saw this kind of walk rate before, so hopefully its just a remnant of whatever injury kept him out the first half of the year.  Nonetheless, he seems like he’ll be back in Potomac a third year until he can solve his walk rate issues.  Outlook for Next season: High-A rotation.
  • Dakota Bacus began the season in Potomac, had 5 starts and 8 appearances and got bumped quickly to Harrisburg, where he played most of the season.  See AA write-up for more.
  • Jeff Howell is a pretty interesting player.  He’s a career minor league backup catcher, having toiled in the lower minor leagues since 2005.  He signed on with Washington in 2012 and hung around as a backup between the levels for a couple of years.  Then suddenly, at the age of 32, he decided to try his hand on the mound.  Perhaps he was inspired by other Catchers-turned-Hurlers like Jason Motte.  He (presumably) hung out in XST for most of the season learning how to pitch, then threw a couple of games in the Rookie league, then for Hagerstown, then finally for Potomac at season’s end.  He struggled once he got to Potomac, giving up 9 runs in 13 innings but more importantly walking 17 guys while he was there.  He’s now a MLFA and one may think that he’d re-up with Washington since we’re the ones who gave him a shot.  We’ll see how the off-season goes.  He may choose to pitch elsewhere where he can be guaranteed a rotation spot (a tough one in our system, since we’re completely overloaded with arms from pitching-heavy drafts over the past few years).   Outlook for Next season: continuing his conversion to pitcher in another organization.
  • Others who got starts in Potomac for 2015:
    • Matt Purke got three brief starts in Potomac before settling in Harrisburg for the year; see AA write-up for more.
    • Rehab starts for Potomac in 2015: Barrett, Roark, Janssen and Carpenter (though technically Roark’s were not rehab but “stretching out” starts).

Potomac 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.

  • Justin Thomas was the bullpen leader in IP for Potomac in 2015, throwing 57 innings across 28 games, posting a 3.43 ERA, 1.21 whip, a 2.84 FIP and getting 50/18 K/BB in those 57 innings.  He’s a lefty but was used more as a long-man, not being limited to just short stints.  He’s looking great considering his limited draft pedigree (senior sign out of a small college in the 21st round) and I see no reason not to keep bumping him up the chain.  Outlook for Next season: AA rotation.
  • Jake Johanssen was 1-7 with a 5.44 ERA, 1.81 whip, 4.69 fip with 48/27 K/BB in 48 relief innings for Potomac.  Johanssen was our top draft pick in 2013, has already been “demoted” from a starter to the pen, and now seemingly can’t perform in a relief role either.  Where do you go from here with him?  You and I know that his large bonus is a “sunk cost” and shouldn’t dictate his usage, but teams don’t seem to see it that way.  Just look at how long the Nats kept Brett Mooneyham around after it became clear he wasn’t capable of performing, even at lower levels of the minors?  I see Johanssen repeating High-A and trying to get his career back on track.  Outlook for Next season: High-A bullpen.
  • Derek Self seems to be taking a step back in his career; after posting a 1.69 ERA through half a season in Potomac last year, he more than earned a promotion up to AA where he more than held his own.  However after just 14 innings in AA this year, he got dumped back to Potomac, thus repeating High-A for the third straight year.  He was solid again; a 4/1 K/BB ratio in middle relief, but where is his Nats career going at this point?  Obviously he needs to be in the AA bullpen next year, but you could have also said that last year and it didn’t work out.  There’s going to be a lot of AA bullpen competition; if he gets squeezed out does he get cut in 2016?  we’ll see.  Outlook for Next season: AA bullpen competition/Release Candidate.
  • Brian Dupra is in a similar boat as Derek Self; he’s now 27 and spent most of his third successive year in Potomac.  He was promoted mid-season to AA but didn’t last long after getting hit hard.  Final Potomac stats for 2015: 2.79 ERA in 42 mostly later bullpen innings.  I think he’s going to be in a similar situation as Self this coming spring; if he cannot cut it at AA (and there’s plenty of competition for that bullpen), he may get cut loose entirely.  Not that it should matter, but it should be noted that Dupra was a senior sign for limited bonus money out of Notre Dame in 2011, so it could be a “make the team or get cut” situation.  Outlook for Next season: AA bullpen competition/Release candidate.
  • Cody Davis was struggling early in the season, with a decent ERA but ugly peripherals (4.55 fip, 10/15 K/BB in 21 ip) and was released towards the end of June as upwards player movement started to need bullpen spots.  The undrafted MLFA signing from 2011 played parts of 5 seasons for the system but seemed to fall apart this year as he repeated High-A.   It does not look like he picked up anywhere and may be done.  Outlook for Next season: out of baseball.
  • Manny Rodriguez only threw 21 innings between two different D/L stints this year, and then was released soon after the end of the season.  It seems that the team believed he never recovered from the injury that cost him two full seasons early in his minor league career.  Outlook for Next season: out of baseball.
  • Jake Walsh threw 17 scoreless innings as a late-inning/closer in Low-A before getting bumped up to High-A in July.  From there out he posted a 3.66 ERA in 19.2 innings across 9 appearances with a 19/10 K/BB ratio.   There’s something odd going on with Walsh; why was he even in Low-A to start 2015?  He posted a sub-2.00 ERA across low- and high-A LAST YEAR, yet didn’t start in Potomac nor get considered for the AA rotation despite being a senior sign in 2013.  He now holds a CAREER 1.65 ERA and seems to me to more than have earned a shot at a look at a higher level.  Outlook for Next season: AA bullpen.
  • Kevin Perez spent the 2nd half of the year in  Hagerstown after struggling early on in Potomac: see Low-A write-up for more.
  • Robert Orlan spent most of the season in Hagerstown but posted a 2.20 ERA in Potomac in 16.1 August innings:  see Low-A write-up for more.
  • Justin Amlung, similarly to Orlan above, spent most of the season in Hagerstown but posted an excellent 1.84 ERA in Potomac in 14.2 July and August innings:  see Low-A write-up for more.
  • Other Relievers of note who had less than 10 IP for Potomac this year:
    • David Napoli had 8 IP for Potomac before getting demoted to Hagerstown:  see Low-A write-up for more.
    • Matt Purke threw 7 IP for Potomac during his tour of the Nats farm system in 2015: see AA write-up for more.
    • Erik Davis threw 3 re-hab IP in 2015; see AA write-up for more.
    • Tanner Roark threw one 4Ip start during his “stretch out” minor league stint; see MLB write-up for more.
    • Brenden Webb, normally an Outfielder, threw a 3Ip mop-up game (really?  they couldn’t find ONE reliever out of the 32 guys who threw innings for Potomac this year?)
    • MLBers Aaron Barrett, Casey Janssen and David Carpenter each had some re-hab innings; see MLB write-up for more.
    • A few guys spent the entire year on the D/L: Ronald Pena, Kylin Turnbull, Hector Sylvestre: all are looking at repeating Potomac next year if/when healthy.

Summary

Potomac certainly saw a lot of churn in its pitching staff; 32 total pitchers used (19 different starters including rehab starts by relievers).  Their leading IP was Lopez, who didn’t even hit 100 IP on the year.  There were at least 6-7 arms who earned their promotions to AA mid-season, a great sign for the rising tide of pitching talent in the system.  Lots of guys with ERAs that start with a “2” in the season-ending stats.  It didn’t help Potomac in the standings; they finished both halves several games under .500 and out of the playoffs.  This will create quite a competition for the AA staff next year: my projections at this point show at least 6-7 rotation candidates, 8-9 bullpen candidates and another 3-4 guys who are right at that age where they may be summarily cut if they don’t make the AA team in 2016.  Harsh, but good for the Nats, who could use all the bullpen help they can get.