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Syracuse/AAA Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2012

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Free John Lannan! Photo Luis M. Alvarez/AP

Click here for the 2011 version of this post.

This is the first of 6 organizational reviews of the pitching staffs of our various affiliates for the 2012 season.  Unlike in 2011, I didn’t follow nearly as closely as I would have liked, so a lot of this is “analysis in arrears.”  This is also a lot of “scouting the scoreline,” which isn’t always a fair way to evaluate pitchers, but a full year’s worth of work is also a big enough sample size to pass some judgement.  I’ll try to evaluate pitchers at the level at which they spent the most time and will offer guesses for next season.  Also, rehab appearances are not mentioned or given analysis in these posts.  After reviewing all the staffs at each level, I’ll cull the above predictions into a summarized 2013 projected staff throughout the system.

Syracuse starters.  The rotation started the season with Atkins, Roark, Maya, Lannan and Duke.  This wasn’t exactly the way these guys would have lined up 1-5 (since Lannan was dumped to the AAA roster at the end of Spring Training unexpectedly) but this is the order in which they appeared to start the season.  Lets talk about these 5 guys plus other prominent starters for the year.

  • Mitch Atkins: Syracuse’s opening day starter stuck in the rotation for most of the year, posting a 5.28 ERA while going 6-9 in 20 starts.  He improved on his season numbers with a handful of relief appearances down the stretch, finishing the year with a combined ERA of 4.87 in 118 1/3 innings pitched.  This minor league Free Agent pickup from Baltimore’s organization never gave the team a reason to consider calling him up, and probably is out the door in the off-season.  Outlook for next season: Minor League Free Agent again, likely with another team.
  • Tanner Roark: He posted an ugly W/L of 6-17 on the year in 28 games (26 starts).  He had a 4.39 ERA with a 1.41 whip in 147 2/3 innings on the year.  He had pretty good K/9 numbers (130 Ks in those 147 innings) but also walked a goodly number of guys (47).  He mostly got promoted after a similar season statistically in AA by virtue of the AAA depth being shredded by the Gio Gonzalez trade.  Outlook for next season: He’s Rule-5 eligible but not yet a 6-year free agent.  I guess its possible he gets picked up, but he’s not worth protecting.  I think he gets one more season starting in AAA before reaching minor league free agency.
  • Yunesky Maya: After getting several shots at the major league level in 2011, Maya was buried in AAA for 2012.  There he toiled a complete season as a starter, posting an 11-10 record in 28 starts.  His era and whip were respectable (3.88 and 1.19 respectively), but his softer-tossing ways did not lead to the kind of swing and miss stuff craved by the current regime (just 89 Ks in 167 innings despite his ability to throw everything but the kitchen sink).  He improved upon a rough early start to the season with a series of gems in August … but would routinely follow up a gem with a stinker.  The big club has learned its lesson and left him off the expanded roster.  Outlook for next season: Maya has just one more year on his 4yr/$8m contract, after which he’ll be cut loose to try his wares elsewhere.  But he’ll be back toiling as AAA’s #1 starter in 2013.
  • John Lannan, as most Nats fans know, was the surprise cut from 2012’s major league team and basically served as injury insurance the entire year.  He did not necessarily help his own cause in AAA, putting up mediocre lines of 9-11, 4.30 era, 1.44 whip and barely 5 k/9 despite a MLB-average pedigree.  He did however perform excellently in two spot starts in the majors, setting himself up to be the Stephen Strasburg replacement in September’s stretch run.  I’d cough up his poor performance to  a season-long disappointment over his predicament; he’s got to be the highest paid guy in the minors (now that Kei Igawa‘s contract expired).  Outlook for next season: Lannan is just about a 100% guarantee to be non-tendered at the arbitration deadline and certainly looks to sign on with another club.
  • Zach Duke: Unlike Lannan, Duke took advantage of his time in AAA and DID regain some value; he posted a 15-5 record in 26 starts and 164 innings.  The rangy left-hander was cut loose by Arizona after the 2011 season and did enough with Syracuse this year to earn a September call-up.  Outlook for next season: Likely a free agent again and likely to use 2012’s performance as a springboard with another team looking for starter help.
  • Jeff Mandel, a long time Nats farm hand, started the year in AA to provide some starter depth before coming back to AAA and eventually replacing Atkins in the rotation.  He was 6-3 with a 2.41 ERA in 11 Syracuse starts and filled in effectively down the stretch. Outlook for next season: He’s finishing up his 6th minor league season and didn’t get a 40-man call-up (at least not yet).  He has one more year of team control before hitting minor league free agency.  AAA rotation.
  • Other guys who got spot starts here and there (non-rehab):
    • Erik Arneson, who continues his 2011 role of organizational swiss army knife, filling in with innings wherever possible.  Outlook for next season: probably continues to be the Nats org guy; he’s still effective in AAA.
    • Austin Bibens-Dirkx, who got a couple spot starts before getting released and eventually getting picked up by Colorado Springs (AAA affiliate of Colorado) to finish out the season.   Outlook for next season: with another organization.
    • Kevin Pucetas got called up from AA to make one spot-start.  Outlook for next season: See the AA wrap up for more details.

Syracuse Relievers: taking a look at the relief corps at the end of the season.

  • Christian Garcia has turned into one of the Organization’s great stories of 2012, posting a 0.86 ERA in 52 1/3 innings between AA and AAA after being claimed off waivers from the Yankees in late 2011.  This performance earned him a well-deserved call-up to the big club as rosters expanded.  Additionally, he’ll be featured in the Arizona Fall League as one of our three pitcher representatives.  Outlook for next season: He’s got a big arm, can bring it 97-98, and should be in the mix to be a middle-relief arm for the Nats bullpen in 2013.  He likely replaces what the team sought in Brad Lidge and provides insurance against injury (or, in Cole Kimball‘s case, failure to recover from injury).
  • Atahualpa Severino put in a decent season for Syracuse (2.81 ERA in 48 ip), but clearly he lost favor with the team.  Instead of considering Severino (who was on the 40-man at the time), the Nats picked up Mike Gonzalez off waivers and promoted him up to the big club.  Furthermore, Severino was DFA’d off the 40-man and passed through waivers without being claimed, never a good sign for a long-serving minor leaguer.  Outlook for next season: Minor League Free Agent, though the fact that nobody claimed him when he got DFA’d means he’s likely an Org guy from here on out.  But, LOOGYs live forever, and he can bring it, so maybe he gets a shot elsewhere.  He’s clearly been passed over in this organization.
  • GWU grad Josh Wilkie was having a so-so start to his Syracuse season (his 4th year in the league) before getting suspended 50-games in June.  [Editor Note: thanks to Mark L. for pointing this out].  Wilkie was summarily released after his suspension ended.  Outlook for next season: with another organization.
  • Ryan Perry failed to make the big club out of spring, pitched briefly in Syracuse’ bullpen before getting sent to Harrisburg to re-make himself as a starter.  Outlook for next season: see the AA version of this post.
  • Mike MacDougal made his “triumphant return” to the organization after washing out of Chicago’s AAA affiliate in Iowa.  He struck out 14 and walked 8 in 10 innings for Syracuse (about what I expected); no word on how many WP he threw.  Outlook for next season: minor league free agent again.
  • Erik Davis got 8 late season appearances after toiling mostly in AA and earning a promotion.  Outlook for next season: see the AA version of this post.
  • Other Relievers who appeared in AAA of note (not including Rehabbing MLBers): Outlook for next season for all of these guys seems the same: either continued “org guy” middle reliever or minor league free agent in another organization.
    • Hassan Pena improved on his 2011 stint in AAA but still looks like a middle-of-the-road minor league reliever.  He was suspended at the end of the season for suspected “team rules violations,” a question mark for him going forward with the organization.
    • GWU grad Pat Lehman continued his march up the organization, earning a quick promotion up to AAA and posting respectable numbers there.
    • Corey VanAllen got demoted and then hurt.
    • Rafael Martin also got demoted after a crummy start.
    • 2012 Minor League free agent signings Jeff Fulchino and Waldis Joaquin didn’t throw a single inning in 2012, spending it entirely on the 7-day DL.

Summary

Syracuse should have had a better record than it ended up with (70-74) given the quality of the starters on this team (a long time MLB starter in Duke, a career sub 4.00 ERA starter in Lannan and a guy on an $8M contract in Maya).  But at the same time, a combination of trades and a “gap” in organizational development led the team to have to fill a significant portion of this staff with minor league free agents, so it may have been inevitable that the team would have struggled.

Outlook for next season: S

Syracuse/AAA Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2011

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Tom Milone was your AAA pitching star of 2011. Photo Tom Priddy/Four Seam Images via Milb.com

(editors note before we begin; I’m sure my faithful readers noted that I abandoned the Minor League Rotation Review posts right after the 4th of July.  That was right around the same date I put in notice and began the process of switching consulting engagements.  Free time and post-work free time suddenly evaporated and something had to give.  Paying gigs before volunteer ones unfortunately.)

That being said, I did maintain the good/soso/bad all the way through the season, and did my best to keep up with the various reliever movements (my interest is mostly with the starters in the system).  Now that the regular seasons are over, I’ll do a team-by-team review of the pitchers, the moves and where guys may/should start in 2012.  Ideally this set of reviews should start with the MLB roster, but since the minor leagues are done, I’ll hit them up first.

Syracuse’s rotation started the year with two guys who some thought could have made the MLB roster, two guys who were closer to the “organizational guy” title than a spot on the 25-man, and a relatively young up and comer who had been cruising up the organization under the radar.  By the end of the year it held three of our better starting pitcher prospects to go with two guys who are not long for the organization.

Here’s the status of the Syracuse pitching staff at the end of the season (ages are as of 9/30/11)

  • Rotation: Maya 30, Stammen 27, Meyers 26, Peacock 23, JD Martin 28
  • Bullpen: Mandel 26, Wilkie 27, Severino(L) 26, Zinicola 26, CGarcia 26, Hyde (L) 26
  • Spot starter: Tatusko 26
  • Promotions: Kimball 26, Mattheus 27, Detwiler 25,  Milone(L) 24, Balester 25
  • 9/1 promotions: Maya, Stammen, Peacock, Severino
  • up-and-back: Stammen, Maya, Severino
  • demotions: Martis (from last year), Chico, Mock, Arneson, Bronson (spot start), CMartinez
  • cut/released from 2010 or this year: Meredith, Kown, Bergmann, Bisenius, Romero (L) (opted out), Carr 27, Mock 28
  • missing: Villone 41

Syracuse starters.  The rotation started the season with Maya, Detwiler, Mock, Milone and Stammen, with JD Martin as the season-long spot starter.

  • Yuniesky Maya: failed to make the team out of spring training, was the opening day starter in Syracuse, but struggled for long parts of the season.  Got a call-up and did not impress in Washington and sulked up on his return.  Finished the year 4-9, 5.00 era, 1.24 whip and 98/28 k/bb ratio in 129 2/3 innings.  Outlook for next season: He probably can’t make the MLB rotation again, and probably returns to AAA for 2012.  His fastball was never as good as advertised and he isn’t as good as countryman Livan Hernandez at getting guys out with control and guile.  At this point, this signing looks like a failure.
  • Ross Detwiler: Promoted mid-season just before the-all star break and has pitched considerably better in the majors than he did in AAA.  In fact, there was some debate at the time of his promotion whether he was the deserving pitcher to come up.  Final AAA numbers: 6-6, 4.53 era 1.49 whip, 63/32 k/bb in 87 1/3 innings.  Outlook for next season: He’s officially out of options and can’t be assigned to AAA without passing through waivers.  He WILL make the 2012 MLB team, likely as a #5 starter with an eye towards moving to the bullpen if he falters.
  • Garrett Mock: started strong, then had two incredibly bad outings and went on the DL.  His rehab travels around the low minors became some what of a joke, but when he returned he failed to impress, and was DFA’d in early September to make way for 9/1 callups to the majors.  Final AAA line: 0-3, 6.28 era, 1.67 whip, 32/24 k/bb in 28 innings.  His stats at all levels are worse.  Outlook for next season: there are plenty of people who openly questioned why Mock occupied a 40-man spot for so long.  I’m guessing he picks up with another team and tries to start fresh with a new organization for 2012.
  • Tom Milone: posted his third straight 12-win season in successive levels and earned a pre-9/1 call up.  He’s young, he’s lefty, and he’s got impeccable control.  Final AAA numbers: 12-6, 3.22 era, 1.03 whip and 155/16 k/bb in 148 1/3 innings.  Another great season for the Nats 2010 minor league pitcher of the year, an award he is in the running for again in 2011.  Outlook for next season: He has 3-4 more September starts to audition for next year’s rotation.  The big question with Milone is whether his 89-90mph fastball and control will be enough in the majors.  I’m predicting he falls victim to a numbers/options status game and starts next year in AAA.
  • Craig Stammen: all around nice guy never once featured in the team’s plans this year, officially crossing over from starter potential to organizational guy in 2011.  He put together a decent season, tailing off in the end to sully his overall numbers, but was never threatening to get a call-up or another shot in the Nats rotation.  AAA stats: 10-7, 4.75 era, 1.43 whip, and 127/40 k/bb in 142 innings.  Outlook for next season: He becomes 2012’s version of JD Martin, the AAA-bound starter and innings eater.  I think he’ll stay on the 40-man because he does have value, and has one option left, but after 2012 he’s a DFA candidate.  Too bad, because he’s a good-guy and deserves better.
  • Brad Meyers: earned one of the first promotions of the season after recovering from injury and dominating in his first few AA starts.   He struggled upon first arriving at AAA, hit the DL briefly, but finished strong.  Final AAA numbers: 6-5, 3.48 era, 1.31 whip and 74/15 k/bb in 95 ip.  Outlook for next season: I think Meyers gets added to the 40-man roster ahead of the Rule-5 draft for protection, but he is at least 7th in the starter pecking order (Strasburg, Zimmermann, Lannan, Detwiler, Peacock, and Milone) right now, so he starts in AAA.
  • Brad Peacock: Peacock absolutely dominated AA, to the point where it was long past the time to promote him when he finally was moved to AAA.  He had two rough starts but more than a few great ones, and finished AAA with a 5-1, 3.19 era, 1.25 whip and 48/24 k/bb in 48 innings.  On the season his minor league numbers were fantastic and earned him the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year; 15-3, 2.39 era, 177/47 k/bb in 146 2/3 total innings.  Outlook for next season: He’s very young (only 23) and certainly could use another year of seasoning in AAA.  He may end up competing for the #5 rotation spot with Milone, unless a new starters comes in via trade or FA.  On the other hand, if he doesn’t master his secondary pitches he’ll be destined for the bullpen, and Rizzo loves hard-throwers in the pen, so I could see him featuring as a righty out of the bullpen next season.  We’ll see.
  • JD Martin: Outrighted before the season and then signed a minor-league deal, Martin was AAA’s long man/spot starter.  He ended up with 14 starts and pedestrian numbers on the season: 3-7, 3.93 era in 30 appearances.  His fate was sealed in January when he was outrighted and nobody else sniffed; he’s a soft-throwing righty who is a good AAA pitcher until his spot is needed.   Outlook for next season: he could be back in the same role he was in this year, unless a numbers game forces his release.
  • Other guys who got spot starts here and there (non-rehab): Erik Arneson (started in AAA then was dumped to AA despite 3 decent starts.  See the AA post) and Ryan Tatusko (pitched mostly in relief with 2 AAA spot starts after a mid-season promotion).  See the AA post for thoughts on Arneson and below for Tatusko.

Syracuse Relievers: taking a look at the relief corps at the end of the season.

  • Relievers Cole Kimball, Ryan Mattheus and Collin Balester were each promoted up at various points during the season and each performed pretty well at the MLB level.  Outlook for next season: Kimball may start 2012 on the DL post surgery.  Mattheus should earn a bullpen spot after pitching well.  Balester’s spot is more tenuous; he’ll be out of options and has not really impressed at either level in 2011.  I’m guessing he’ll lose out in a long man competition to someone like Tom Gorzelanny and get a DFA at the end of spring training 2012.
  • Local Favorite Josh Wilkie served as the AAA closer and put up good numbers; 3.13 era, 1.36 whip, 57/21 k/bb in 60 1/3 innings pitched.  Outlook for next season: He’ll get a spring training invite but seems destined to return to AAA to wait for injuries or an opportunity.
  • Athualpa Severino got a 9/1 call up and finally featured in a MLB game, showcasing a big fastball for a little guy.  Outlook for next season: He’s a little old for a prospect (27) but could feature as a LOOGY in 2012, especially since the team is so thin on that particular speciality.
  • Everyone else (Mandel 26, Zinicola 26, CGarcia 26, Hyde (L) 26, Tatusko 26) in the AAA bullpen seems destined to be organizational guys, unfortunately.  Jeff Mandel passed through waivers and toiled decently this year.  Zech Zinicola was a rule-5 draftee who got returned and put up great numbers, but seems to be a AAA ceiling guy.  Christian Garcia didn’t have great numbers in the Yankees organization but the team took a flyer on him.  Lee Hyde has already passed through waivers successfully and was more or less awful in 2011.  Lastly Ryan Tatusko regressed badly in 2011 after a stellar 2010.  He was demoted to the bullpen and pitched mostly in relief for AAA this year, getting a couple of spot starts that he was just “soso” in.  Outlook for next season: All these guys will be back in AAA or with another organization, trying to keep the dream alive.

Other pitchers who appeared in AAA of note (not including Rehabbing MLBers): Hassan Pena pitched 7 horrible innings and was demoted.  Matt Chico was similarly bad and was DL’d/demoted before getting released.  Philly castoff JC Romero had 16 appearances and pitched well before opting out of his contract because the team hadn’t promoted him (a surprise, given our loogy struggles this year).  A year after Adam Carr was put on the 40-man to protect him, he was flat-out released after an injury riddled season (lets hope the team re-signs him and he gets another shot).  Both Evan Bronson and Carlos Martinez put in brief AAA outings before returning to their normal teams.  Lastly I put in Ron Villone as “missing” because he was in our Spring Training camp but never made it onto any roster.  We didn’t necessarily hear any announcement, but I suspect he retired after not making the team out of camp.

After reviewing all the staffs at each level, I’ll cull the above predictions into a summarized 2012 projected staff throughout the system.

What I’d like to see the Nats do at the trade deadline…

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Will Sunday's start be Jason Marquis' last in a Nats uniform? Photo Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

I’m a realist.

The Nats are not going to catch the Braves for the NL Wild Card.  Given that situation, I believe the team needs to cash in on its expiring veterans and trade them.  Some of our vets should go before the 7/31 non-waiver deadline, others probably would pass through waivers (as Cristian Guzman did in 2010) and could be moved for low-level prospects closer to the end of the season.

That being said, as a follower of the minor league rotations and as a fan looking forward to the future of this team, I’d rather see our prospects and “what-ifs” now instead of following guys as they play out the string in August and September.  Here’s a list of moves I’d like to see and who should replace them.

  1. Jason Marquis.  We trade him for whatever he can get and we shoudn’t get too hung up on his return value.  According to mlbtraderumor’s estimates of the current Elias rankings, Marquis isn’t even close to being a type-B free agent, thus he nets us no comp picks at the end of the season if/when he signs elsewhere.  We should trade Marquis and immediately make room in the rotation for one Chien-Ming Wang, who makes (presumably) his last rehab start today 7/24 and needs to immediately come up and join the 25-man roster.
  2. Livan Hernandez.  Some say we keep the old veteran, and I can certainly see that argument.  However, his up-and-down season has frustrated many, and we’ve got a starter in Ross Detwiler who could/should immediately take his rotation spot.  Hernandez, according to the above Elias rankings, believe it or not is right on the cusp of type-B status, which could net a supplemental first rounder for whoever has him at the end of the season.  But that’s a risky proposition; odds are he’d accept arbitration and the guaranteed payday from the offering team, negating the possible comp pick.
  3. Laynce Nix: the slugging left fielder has been a great find for this team, going from minor league signee to starting left fielder.  But, there isn’t going to be room for him in 2012, with LaRoche coming back and Morse likely moving back to left field.  We could keep the outfielder as a 4th, but a player like Rick Ankiel or Roger Bernadina makes more sense as a 4th outfielder since they can play all three OF positions and have decent speed on the basepaths.  We should trade him now while his value is high.  This is complicated lately by his achilles tendon injury, so the odds are that he’s staying put.  Another point against; if Nix goes, who replaces him on the roster?  We don’t really have a ready-made, deserving AAA outfielder that we could call up.  We could bring up Chris Marrero, put him at first and put Morse back in left, a move that doesn’t have any 40-man roster impact.
  4. Todd Coffey: the middle relief righty has struggled lately but still has value for teams looking for bullpen support.  Flip him and bring up the deserving, long toiling and local product Josh Wilkie.
  5. Ivan Rodriguez: the Giants continue to need catching depth, they love veterans and Pudge would have a likely playoff run with a trade.  We could continue with Jesus Flores in a backup role, now that it seems that the word has gotten out that his arm is shot and he’s no longer earning trade value playing full time in AAA.  Of course, as we speak Pudge is on the DL so any trade before the deadline is likely off.
  6. Any one of the rest of our one-year FA backups: Cora, Hairston, Stairs, and Ankiel.  All four of these guys likely pass through waivers and would serve as excellent role players for teams on a playoff push.  Cora and Hairston could be replaced by Brian Bixler or Steve Lombardozzi easily enough, while Stairs or Ankiel, if moved along with Nix, would probably necessitate the return of a MLB-ready outfielder.

Who do I think we should NOT move, unless we get excellent value coming back?

  1. Ian Desmond: his name keeps appearing in trade rumors, with conflicting reports.  Some say we’re “actively shopping” him, others say that he’s a “core piece” and won’t be moved.  We’d be selling low on Desmond, given his precipitous drop in offensive production this year.  However, if the team long term wants to move Espinosa to short and make room for the likes of Lombardozzi or (eventually perhaps) Anthony Rendon, then striking while the iron is hot and people are asking for Desmond makes sense.
  2. Tyler Clippard: I posted on the topic of Clippard’s name appearing in trade rumors earlier this week.  My arguments are there in greater detail; we should only move him if we’re “wowed” by the return.
  3. Drew Storen: can’t see how we’re even considering moving him; he’s under club control through 2015, is a poster child for excellent drafting and quick rise to the majors, and is quickly becoming an excellent closer.  He’s 25/28 in save opportunities as a 23-yr old this year; you don’t trade these guys, you build around them.

Anyone else not already mentioned is either untradeable (Werth, LaRoche), untouchable (Zimmermann, Zimmerman, Espinosa, Ramos), or somewhere in the realm of club-control guys (Bernadina, Lannan, Gorzelanny as examples) who aren’t worth as much to other teams as they are to us.

Lastly, here’s some player targets we’ve heard that the Nationals are interested in.

  1. BJ Upton: Upton is enigmatic to say the least; his numbers put him at a barely greater than average mlb player, but he gets steals and hits for some power and plays a declining CF (don’t believe me?  Look at his uzr/150 ratings drop for 4 straight seasons here, culminating with a negative score for 2011 so far).  Is he the solution for our leadoff/center field spot?  Perhaps.  But I don’t want to give up the farm for a guy we’ll only control for one more year (he’s entering his 3rd arbitration year in 2012).
  2. Michael Bourn: he’s a far lesser version of Upton; far less power but more speed, and 2011 is the first time he’s been above 100 OPS+ in his career.  We’d be buying high for sure.  Somehow he makes more than Upton in the same 2nd year arbitration situation.
  3. Colby Rasmus: i’d love to get him, he’d be a monster in center field.  He’s young, he produced excellently in 2010, and seems to be perpetually in his manager’s doghouse.  The latest  rumors though have him going elsewhere, not to the Nats.  Plus, I’m not quite sure why the Cards would trade him in the first place; the guy’s making the MLB minimum and batting in the middle of their order.

Rizzo’s off-season todo list: where do we stand?

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Mike Rizzo answering the latest question about where the money is coming from for the Werth contract. Photo: centerfieldgate.com

Each year heading into the off-season, I make up a transactional “to-do” list for the team (as if I were the GM).  Essentially you look at the roster and kind of work backwards.  Based on the way things looked at the end of 2010, the Nationals seemed set on:

  • C (Pudge, Ramos)
  • most of the infield: 2b (Espinosa), SS (Desmond), 3B (Zimmerman)
  • LF (Willingham)
  • 3-4 starters (Lannan, Marquis, LHernandez, Zimmermann), and
  • several relievers (Clippard, Burnett, Storen)

So, given this, here’s what I listed as off season priorities and where we stand post the Winter Meetings (and counting all the rumors and scuttlebutt we’ve been hearing):

Fantasy

  • Power hitting reliable RF
  • Top-of-the-rotation Starting Pitcher
  • Better Centerfielder/Leadoff Hitter

1. In what was easily the most surprising move this team has done since relocating from Montreal, we acquired a front-line marquee FA in Jayson Werth, satisfying the “power hitting RF” fantasy requirement.  Yes there are concerns about the contract’s length and value, but hey, we’re a better team for getting him.

2. Rizzo has definitely made mention of wanting to acquire a “top of the rotation” starter but they are hard to come by this off season.  Cliff Lee is the target, and from there the list dwindled quickly to include guys who were middle of the road veterans with question marks (Vazquez, Pavano), FA starters that weren’t exactly planning on going anywhere (Lilly, Kuroda, de La Rosa, Arroyo, Garland, Padilla) and incredibly risky alternatives (Webb, Darvish, Francis).

3. Lastly, despite my desire to upgrade from Nyjer Morgan in center and leadoff (for reasons that include discipline, chemistry and performance), Rizzo seems set on the guy for the time being.  I would not be surprised to see no more movement in this area.  I advocated trading Willingham to Boston for possible spare-part outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury in a previous post, but despite Willingham’s offensive capabilities Boston may also value defense and may not really be interested in acquiring more bats this off season.

Reality

  • First Baseman
  • 1-2 Veteran FA pitchers
  • Utility Middle Infielder

1. Acquiring a first baseman included the possibility of re-signing Adam Dunn, despite all indications that it was never to happen.  Rizzo clearly will take less power for more defense at first, and we seem destined to sign Adam LaRoche (after missing out on Carlos Pena, the player I was absolutely sure we’d get).  Frankly, for my money I’d rather have LaRoche.  He’ll sign a 2 year deal for less than any of Dunn, Pena, Konerko or Huff would have signed for, he hits for power and he is a plus defender.  I think he’s perfect until we figure out if Chris Marrero or someone even more remote (like high-A stud hitter and Nats minor leaguer of the year in 2010 Tyler Moore) becomes a possibility.  A final thought; I do NOT want to be left with Derrek Lee as the solution.  He’s a right handed hitter on a team that is now full of them.  Zimmerman, Willingham, Werth all righties; we need a lefty slugger to break up the middle of our batting order.

2. I still see the acquisition of one or two veteran FA pitchers on the horizon.  I can see us (unless someone foolishly offers him $10M) signing Brandon Webb on a one year flier.  I can see us re-signing Wang to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training.

3. The backup middle infielder is a lower priority but still important.  If Desmond/Espinosa are holding down the starting spots and Alberto Gonzalez is begrudingly serving as the primary glove-man backup, we still need a second player that can do middle infield.  Willie Harris has been that player but he really tailed off last season.  Adam Kennedy served as the backup for the right side of the infield but he clearly wants to start.  I was lobbying for Pete Orr as a nice cheap candidate; he had always produced for us when called up, could play 2nd, 3rd or even outfield.  But he signed elsewhere as a minor league FA.  Perhaps the answer is a prospect to be named (Lombardozzi?) or a FA signing.  I like David Eckstein to team him up with his hitting-coach brother but he probably wants a starting job too.  And Eckstein wouldn’t make sense unless we traded one of Desmond/Espinosa (still a possibility; see later).

Less Likely

  • FA Closer
  • Trade for a Veteran pitcher
  • 1 veteran bullpen presence

1. There are a couple closer-types on the FA market and I can now see the Nats picking one up ala their deal with Matt Capps to cover for Storen as he grows into the spot.  Jenks, Dotel,Gregg, Hoffman, Soriano, Wood all available (Soriano a type-A though, so we wont’ get him).  I think this would make for a good piece of business and could serve as a useful trade chip mid season.

2. I can see us working out a trade with Tampa Bay to acquire Matt Garza.  Tampa wants to get rid of payroll, not add it, but perhaps we can pre-arrange a one-year deal with Willingham and flip him to Tampa.  Washington could eat some of the salary and Willingham would slot nicely into the left field spot recently vacated by Carl Crawford.  Tampa may like this deal since Willingham projects to be a type-A free agent and would net them 2 picks when he leaves (you have to think Willingham wants to get at least a 3-year deal when he hits the FA market based on his age and his proclivities for injuries).  Of course, getting rid of Willingham also puts a hole into OUR lineup, one that looks pretty promising when we get a power hitting lefty first baseman.  And we certainly would like to get some compensation picks to continue to rebuild the farm system.  More likely Tampa would ask for someone like Desmond, which would be a tough trade to swallow for a team that hasn’t really developed that many marquee players in the last 5 years.  We could trade Desmond, acquire Garza, move Espinosa to short (where he’s a better fielder anyway) then sign a short term 2nd baseman like David Eckstein or Orlando Hudson until one of our high-end 2nd base prospects (Lobardozzi, Rick Hague or Jeff Kobernus) is ready to go.

3. Lastly, with not one but TWO arms picked up in the rule5 draft, the likelihood of us acquiring any veteran bullpen arms seems nil.  Perhaps we re-sign Peralta as a long man, but we have plenty of cover there in Balester and Stammen.  We have all the arms we could want coming up (Kimball, Carr, Wilkie all project as mid-bullpen arms, and the AA team is filled with good arms with no place to move up to with so many AAA starters on the 40-man) and we have three great live arms in Storen, Clippard and Burnett already in place.

It has been a pretty fun offseason to track thus far for Nats fans.  I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Rule 5 Protection Decisions for 2010

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You may not know who Brad Meyers is now, but he may be pitching for the Nats before you know it. Photo Rodger M. Wood/Wood Sports Photography

The Nats (and every other team) face an 11/19/10 deadline to add Rule5 eligible players that we want to protect to our 40-man roster. (Coincidentally, I maintain a spreadsheet online of key MLB off-season dates and their implications for the team.  The link is also available in the “NatsArm Creations” section on the links section to the right of this page).  NatsInsider.com writer Zuckerman beat me to the punch on this topic (which I wrote up last weekend but forgot to publish), but here’s some similar analysis.

Last year we added three players on 11/19/09 to protect them from the Rule5 Draft:

  • Juan Jaime, rhp
  • Aaron Thompson, lhp
  • Atahualpa Severino, lhp

Nats bloggers/analysts at the time surmised that we were gambling by not putting on guys like Erik Arneson and Hassan Pena or even local favorite Josh Wilkie (especially after he appeared in 2009’s Arizona Fall League), but we only ended up losing Zech Zinicola to the Rule5 draft.  We lost him to Toronto, who had former Nationals executive Dana Brown picking up a player he was familiar with.  Toronto eventually returned Zinicola to the franchise, and he split time between AA and AAA as a middle reliever.

Ironically, two of last year’s Rule5 protection players are now candidates to be dropped OFF the 40-man just one year later because of Injury (in Jaime’s case) or performance (in Thompson’s case).  Severino had a very nice season and should be in the mix to be the LOOGY out of the MLB bullpen in 2011.  In fact, Jaime was taken off the 40-man on 11/18/10 for just this reason.

This year, we definitely face a number of interesting choices on what prospects to protect.  RIP NatsFarmAuthority, but at least Brian Oliver has not taken down the Draft Tracker xls, so we can see who is 2010 Rule5 eligible.   Here’s the list of guys who are at risk with some thoughts in this year’s rule5 draft.   Remember; any team that grabs one of these guys has to keep them on their MLB roster for the entire 2011 season, so the analysis is based on who realistically is in jeopardy of this situation happening with.  These are ordered by the team that they played the majority of 2010 with:

Syracuse

  • Whiting, Boomer OF: light hitting speedy center fielder.  A .313 slugging percentage in the weaker AAA league just isn’t going to cut it.  He’s not in the mix for even a backup OF spot in the majors and seems destined to be an organizational guy/career minor leaguer.
  • Mandel, Jeff RHP: a decent starter for the Nats over the past couple of seasons who moved to the bullpen in Syracuse towards the end of the season.  He’s not overpowering and not a high K/9 guy, and seems to be now a middle relief guy at best.  Might be worth the protection since he may be a candidate for the 2011 MLB bullpen.
  • Wilkie, Josh RHP: I didn’t initially have Wilkie on the list, since we got him as an undrafted FA.  Zuckerman noted that he is rule5 eligible so we’ll discuss.  He has definitely performed for this franchise through the years, and was showcased in the 2010 AFL.  Having just finished his 5th professional season, he has methodically moved up the ranks and spent the entire 2010 in Syracuse.  He’s a middle reliever, a righty, with a good BA against and good peripheral numbers.  Is this worth protection in the draft?  Perhaps.  I feel he could compete for a spot in the MLB bullpen in 2011 but he’s behind several other proven right handed throwers and may be destined for AAA again.

Harrisburg

  • Rhinehart, Bill 1B/OF: demoted towards the end of the season to Potomac.  Now a 26-yr old guy who hasn’t been successful above High-A.  Days are numbered.
  • Marrero, Chris 1B/OF: our first round draft pick in 2006 and pretty much the sole first baseman prospect in the system.  He played a full season at AA and put up a decent line (.294/.350/.450) with 18 homers as a relatively young player in the league (he turned 22 in July).  I don’t know if he can turn into a producer at the MLB level and a large FA contract to Dunn or Pena could block him even further.  But he merits protection until we find out what we have with him.
  • Peacock, Brad RHP: He has been a decently effective starter for the team on multiple levels, this year stepping it up in terms of K/9.  He’s at the Arizona Fall League working out of the bullpen and is putting up similar numbers there that he did in the regular season (good k/9 numbers but an eras in the mid 4s).  Putting Peacock in the AFL surely will increase his visibility, but his mediocre performance there probably guarantees his safety in the Rule5 draft.  No need to protect him, but we hope he turns into a decent middle relief option in a couple years.  11/20/10 Correction; as noted by Kilgore here, Peacock’s Draft-Follow-Evaluate status means he gets one extra year.  We’ll revist in 2011.
  • Meyers, Brad RHP.  Meyers was the ace of the 2009 league winning Potomac staff and was named the Nats minor league pitcher of the year.  For 2010 he moved up to Harrisburg and was dominant in his first 6 starts there (1.47 era, 35 ks in 30 innings and under a 1.00 whip) before going down with complications to foot surgery and failing to pitch the rest of the season.  Because of this injury he seems a safe bet NOT to need protection despite his capabilities; no team is going to guarantee a 25-man roster spot all season to a guy who hasn’t pitched since June and who has never appeared above AA.  But we may want to be safer than sorry.
  • Solano, Jhonatan C: another who I didn’t initially have on this list, the Nats got him as an undrafted FA in 2006 and he is rule5 eligible.  While you never like to lose catching depth out of your system, suddenly the Nats are swimming in it.  We have 4 catchers on the 40-man right now, and that’s two too many for the MLB roster as it is.  We are probably non-tendering Nieves at some point but that means one of Flores or Ramos is starting in AAA.  Derek Norris is definitely moving up to Harrisburg for 2011, so that means Solano is designed to be a backup either way.  He’s not going to get picked up in a rule5 draft, so we can leave him unprotected.

Potomac, Hagerstown or Vermont.  It is really difficult to think that any player at A-ball or below is seriously a candidate to be taken in the Rule5 draft, but we’ll zip through the candidates.

  • Alaniz, Adrian RHP: put up pretty good numbers at Potomac after losing out in a rotational numbers game in spring training.  Has now spent parts of 3 straight seasons in Harrisburg but cannot stick.  He’s getting too old for A ball though and might need to show something out of spring to keep a pitching job.
  • Phillabaum, Justin RHP: he’s a later-innings/8th inning guy who got hit very hard this year in Potomac.
  • Beno, Martin RHP: no progress for the righty, having played the entire 2009 and 2010 seasons in high-A.
  • Gibson, Glenn RHP: traded to the Rays to obtain Elijah Dukes and then released.  I guess the Nats picked him back up because they liked him enough to draft him in the first place.  Assigned to Hagerstown, demoted to Vermont after putting up an 8+ ERA.  Not a prospect.
  • Erb, Shane RHP: he posted a 6.19 era at low-A this year, the LOWEST ERA he’s had in 3 years in the system.  Days are numbered in the organization.
  • King, Stephen 3B: struggled between short and low A this year, and possibly still held in contempt by the organization for a 50-game drug suspension that cost him the early part of the year.  May be out of a job soon.
  • Lyons, Dan, 3B: Batted .223 between low-A and high-A as a 26 year old.  Clearly too old for either level and may be outright released.

Conclusions:

If I were the Nats i’d protect Mandel, Marrero and Meyers to be safe.  With the Jaime move that would put us exactly at 40/40 on the 40-man.   At that point we possibly consider adding in Peacock or Wilkie but probably not: if one or the other of these two needed to go on, we have a few guys who could be dumped off the 40-man and probably would clear waivers.

11/20/10 update: The Nats chose to protect Marrero, Adam Carr and Cole Kimball.  In retrospect, I suppose I should have taken guys like Carr and Kimball into account.  They first became rule5 eligible last year and were not protected, and were not selected.  In the year since both have become valuable power arms out of the bullpen and are leading candidates to compete with and/or replace the likes of Batista, Peralta and Walker in the 2011 bullpen.  Next year :-)

9/1 Nats Callups?

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Who do you think the Nats call up 9/1?  We’re at 40/40 right now on the 40-man roster, but could move Willingham and Strasburg to the 60-day DL to make room for a couple more people.  Here’s what I think happens:

SPs: Maya gets the callup, perhaps not on 9/1 but soon enough to start getting some starts.

RPs: Balester and Severino get callbacks.  No 40-man moves required, gives a couple more arms to help out in a tired bullpen

C: Ramos gets called back up to spell Nieves here and there and get some more work at the MLB level.

That’s it.  I don’t see an obvious candidate to add to the 40-man to bring up.  There is talk of Espinosa coming up but he’s a better candidate to go to the AFL and spend more time in AAA learning how to become Desmond‘s double play combination.  DC-local favorite Josh Wilkie has had a great year as a AAA reliever but there might not be enough work for him in a 9 or 10-man bullpen.