Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

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Nats 2018 #5 Starter competition

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Is Cole the 2018 5th starter?  Photo AP

Is Cole the 2018 5th starter? Photo AP

Interesting news on 1/11/18: Edwin Jackson has re-signed a split minor league deal  with decent compensation if he makes the major league team ($1.5M plus another $1.4M in incentives).

Lots of rumors about the team eventually buying a more established 5th starter, either on the open market or in trade.  There’s too many names still out there to even begin to discuss, from marquee 8-figure free agents (Yu Darvish) to Nats-favorite Scott Boras clients he’s likely to go over Rizzo’s head about (Jake Arrieta) to trade candidates from rebuilding teams (Tampa, Miami, Pittsburgh and their  valuable arms like Gerrit Cole, Chris Archer, though inbetween the time I started this post and published it, Cole had already been traded to the keep-getting-richer Astros).  Bur for now, we don’t have any of these guys … so we’re still projected for a fun spring training competition.

So, what does the #5 starter competition look like right now?  Basically there’s four primary candidates now in-house and signed for 2018.  Lets rank them in likely order of winning the job:

#1: A.J. Cole

I think right now Cole has the inside track, even given the Milone and Jackson signings.  Cole’s 2018 numbers were decent at the MLB level: 3-5 with a 3.81 ERA even if his periperhals were bad (5.88 fip, 1.50 whip).  His AAA numbers in 2017 were awful (5.88 ERA in 18 starts), but then again the entire Syracuse rotation was awful in 2018.  But, he did show some promise last  year and he’s out of options, so I can’t help but think that he’ll get a shot to stick on the MLB roster until he proves he’s either staying or going one last time.

#2 : Edwin Jackson:

He made an ok case for the job based on what he was able to do last  year.   No, he wasn’t awesome: in 13 starts he was 5-6 with a 5.07 ERA and even worse peripherals (5.88 FIP, 1.4 whip).  That’s about what he did for San Diego in 2016, so It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.   But he’s a known quantity, he throws hard, he never gets hurt.  He also clearly will work in the minors to get another shot at the majors and didn’t sign back up with this team on a whim, so odds are he could get stashed in Syracuse for a bit and wait out his chance.

#3 Tommy Milone: the prodigal son returns to the fold.  Initially sent away in the Gio Gonzalez trade 7 years ago, he pitched well for both Oakland and Minnesota before falling off a cliff in 2016.  His 2017 was not pretty: a combined 7.63 ERA for two different teams.  He also signed a minor league deal that I suspect may have an opt-out if he fails to make the team.  Hopefully not; he did log some AAA time in the last two seasons and may also opt to stick around.  Is it possible he returns to his career form (a 4.37 ERA and a 91 ERA+ figure)?  Maybe; he’d have to do a lot better though to make his case for t he 5th starter.

#4: Erick Fedde; our top starting pitcher prospect and sole arm in AAA or AA (or perhaps even  high-A at this point) which represents a significant draft investment (outside of Mariano Rivera Jr that is … who is already a reliever).  And he did not look ready in his debut last fall.  3 starts. 9.39 ERA … even if two of those starts were against tough competition (home to Colorado, then away vs the Cubs).  Short Sample Size, yadda-yadda, he got knocked around.  He needs more AAA time and you’d have to think he’s starting the year either in XST (if its too cold in Syracuse) or in upstate NY.


So, what about our minor league depth past these four guys?  Honestly: there’s not a ton of depth we can count on in AAA or AA.  The 40-man names are Fedde, Cole, Voth and Jefry Rodriguez.  That’s it.

Here’s a quick glance at our other minor league starters out there who are more likely to be AA or AAA fodder (in rough order of their consideration for the job/likely 2018 assignments)

AAA projected rotation (over-top of those four names above who miss out and who don’t opt out, that is):

  • Jared Long (he may or may not be a MLFA still; rosterresource.com shows him on the Nats roster but milb.com shows him as a FA): if he’s still with us, he showed two years running he was better than AA.  I’d like to see him with a long run in AAA to see if he’s a viable candidate to move up.
  • John Simms: this home grown product (2013 11th round draftee) has earned promotion after promotion and should start 2018 in AAA.  He doesn’t have shutdown stuff, but could be a sneaky candidate for spot starts.
  • Logan Darnell; this 2018 MLFA signing from Tampa had good AAA success several years running for other organizations and seems like a clear AAA arm eater for now.  Can he be more?
  • Austin Voth; two years ago looked like he could be the next Tanner Roark, but a brutal 2017 season got him demoted to AA.  He posted a 3.15 ERA in AAA in 2016; can he get back there?   If not, then he’s in clear danger of being first man off the 40-man roster if a spot is needed.
  • Greg Ross: as with Voth, the Greg Ross train got derailed in upstate New York in 2017, also earning him a demotion.  He re-signed though for 2018 to give it another shot and might start in AAA given past success in AA.

Note: at least one of these names likely gets pushed down, especially since Fedde likely isn’t winning the 5th starter job.  Jackson and Milone as veterans may have opt-outs and are not likely to stick around, but you never know.  And if Cole doesn’t make the team, he’s passing through waivers before he gets to AAA and may not make it.  So the AAA rotation will be in flux right up until 4/1/18.

AA projected rotation (on top of whoever above might get pushed down, likely Ross then Voth)

  • Wirkin Estevez had good AA numbers in 2017 (3.63 ERA in 11 starts after promotion from high-A) and re-signed a ML deal to stay with the organization.   He’s probably first AA starter for a need-based promotion.
  • Tyler Mapes missed all of 2017 after a very solid AA 2016 season; if he’s healthy, he starts here looking to repeat his 2016 performance before getting moved up.
  • Kyle McGowin; our trade bounty for Danny Espinosa has shown two years running his inability to succeed in AAA.  He likely starts in AA again in 2018 given the log-jam in Syracuse.
  • Matt Crownover had a 4.50 ERA in a full AA season; nothing to really prove he needs to move up (especially given his weak K/9 rates), so likely starts in AA again looking for a mid-season promotion.
  • Jefry Rodriguez: the newest member of the 40-man roster, Rodriguez will hope to harness his high-A success from last year at the next step up.

Nobody in AA right now who looks like he could help immediately; Rodriguez though may get some spot-start/double header duty since he’s on the 40-man and doesn’t require a corresponding move.


 

So; are you satisfied with a ST 2018 competition or do you think we need to spend money or prospects on another arm?

Keep in mind; the division is a mess, with Atlanta not really trying, Miami actively getting worse and Philadelphia making curious moves.  Only the Mets will challenge, and their big move this off-season has been to sign Adrian Gonzalez .  So we don’t need a $20M/year 5th starter.  And there’s the luxury tax considerations that keep coming up.

thoughts?