Nationals Arm Race

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

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Taylor Jordan: Never too soon to think about the future…

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Jordan is making a case for his future with this organization.  Photo via wffn.net/hueytaxi on flikr.com

Taylor Jordan is making a case for his future with this organization. Photo via wffn.net/hueytaxi on flikr.com

I’ll file this as one of the “Patently Obvious” responses that have come out of Mike Rizzo‘s mouth in response to a reporter’s question, but Rizzo went “on record” as saying that Taylor Jordan will “get every opportunity to be in the mix for the rotation next year” per beat reports (this example from Byron Kerr) after Jordan got his first major league victory in Sunday 7/28/13′s 14-1 blow-out of the Mets.

Well, of course he’ll get a chance to compete for the rotation.   He’s pitching a hell of a lot better right now than $13M man Dan Haren, for approximately 1/30th of the cost.  What GM doesn’t want that??

One of the big reasons I started this blog was to talk about the development of Nats minor league pitchers.  Back in the dark days, when the team was spending $15M on the FA market to acquire 5th starters like Jason Marquis, I became convinced that the single most valuable commodity in Major League Baseball (in terms of talent development and acquisition) was the pre-arbitration starting pitcher.   Our farm system had the “Loria/Bowden” holes in terms of player development in the 2007-2009 time frame and for a few years the team couldn’t develop an effective starter, instead relying on guys like Marquis and on other minor league/low-end free agent signings (think Tim ReddingDaniel Cabrera, and the aging Livan Hernandez being examples).   Rizzo came in, put the emphasis on drafting and development, and now the opening day rotation features 3 home-grown guys and a fourth in Gio Gonzalez who was acquired by trading other home-grown guys.

One of my biggest data-collection projects was the information behind my regular “Pitcher Wins on the Free Agency Market” post.   After looking at pretty much every significant FA pitcher signing that baseball has ever had, and calculating salary versus wins, it became clear that teams are historically doing well if they get about one win per $1M spent on a FA pitcher.  Sign a guy for $13M a year?  You hope to get 13 wins out of him.

But this analysis also shows just how valuable the pre-arbitration, cost-controlled starter is.  Consider Clay Buchholz for Boston in 2010; he goes 17-7 in his 3rd active year, earning the MLB minimum of $443,000.  That 17-win capability eventually earned him a $12-$13M/year contract, but while he was getting the minimum he was winning games for Boston for pennies on the dollar versus what it would have cost Boston to purchase that capability on the open market.

Combine this point with the continually dwindling talent available on the FA market these as teams lock up their players earlier and more frequently, and the price for pitching just continues to go higher.  Zack Greinke signed a 6 year $147M contract paying him more than $24M annually last summer partly because he was the only significant pitcher out there.  Grienke is talented, don’t get me wrong, but outside of his unbelievable 2009 season he’s basically pitched like a #3 starter.   Even this year, he’s pitching to a rather pedestrian 103 ERA+, just barely above the league average of adjusted ERA for starters.  Not exactly what you expect for that kind of money.  The 2014 Free Agent Market in terms of pitching is looking equally as bare as 2013.   The best guy out there may be Matt Garza, who again is talented but is also injury prone and not exactly a league-wide Ace.   Get past Garza and you’re looking at inconsistent (Ricky Nolasco or Phil Hughes), injury plagued (Shawn Marcum or Colby Lewis), just old guys (Freddy Garcia, Hiroki Kuroda) and pure wild cards (Tim Lincecum or Scott Kazmir).

There’s a reason Tampa went nearly 8 full seasons without having a Free Agent acquisition start a game for them; they know exactly what it means to develop effective starters, and they have a stableful of them.  Trade away James Shields and Wade Davis?  No problem; just call up Chris Archer and Alex Colome (never mind the rest of their Durham rotation).

So, back to Jordan.  If the Nats can find an effective 4th or 5th starter from their farm system right now, it frees them from the one-year hired gun strategy of Haren and Edwin Jackson.  It gives them the flexibility to continue to allow their best prospects in the lower minors to develop (i’m thinking specifically of A.J. ColeRobbie RaySammy Solis, and Matthew Purke, though Cole and Ray aren’t exactly in the “low” minors anymore with their promotions to AA).  It gives them the depth they did not have this year to cover for a starting pitcher injury.   It gives them time to let Nathan Karns figure out if he’s going to be a starter or a reliever at the MLB level.  It gives them added payroll flexibility can go towards fixing holes in the short term.  Longer term it allows the team to spend money on extending the core guys, or allows them to consider whether the rising price tag on someone like Ross Detwiler is worth paying (much like they cut loose John Lannan last year).  If you’re going to pay market value for Strasburg and Harper, then you’re going to need some low-cost players who can contribute to counter balance the payroll.

Or, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see this either, it gives Rizzo interesting trade chips that he could package with other guys to acquire the Haren/Jackson hurler instead of buying him.

Two years ago we acquired Gonzalez for two near-to-the-majors starters, a surplus catcher prospect and a low-minors/high profile arm.  Right now it seems like we could put nearly the same package together (Jordan, Karns, Jhonatan Solano or Sandy Leon and then a decent arm from A-ball, or maybe even a Ray or Cole) and move them for such a resource.  I wouldn’t put it past Rizzo; Jordan may be looking good right now, but his peripherals don’t project as a “Rizzo Guy.”  Neither did Tommy Milone so he got shipped out; will Jordan be a 5th starter candidate in 2014 or trade bait?

Personally, I’d like to see Jordan succeed.  He’s a great success story; unhearalded 9th rounder coming off an injury that most of us thought was good, but who also thought that finishing the year successfully at high-A would have been a great achievement.  Instead he blows through high-A and AA ball and is now more than holding his own in the majors.

June 2013: Minor League Monthly Rotation Review

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Taylor Jordan is the big name in the Minor League Rotations this month.  Photo via wffn.net/hueytaxi on flikr.com

Taylor Jordan is the big name in the Minor League Rotations this month. Photo via wffn.net/hueytaxi on flikr.com

Here’s this month’s Minor League Rotation Review post.  Here’s April 2013 and May 2013‘s post for history.

For each level, I’ll put out the Rotation members, their “letter grades” per start for this month only, and then throw in a quick link to show their seasonal stats for context.  For each team there are 3 distinct groups of starters: the top group of 5-6 Starters per level is the “current rotation” as best as I can figure it, then the next section of pitchers are swing-men or spot-starters or guys who had “2nd start” or longer outings worthy of grading, followed by a 3rd group of guys who are generally no longer with the team (either by D/L, promotion, demotion or release).

All stats were as of 7/1/13 and may be slightly changed now with additional starts.


AAA Rotation: click here for Syracuse Milb.com stats

  • Maya: B+,D+,C+
  • Tatusko: C -> hburg spot start and back,B+,D-,D
  • Rosenbaum: B,B+,D,C-,B-,D
  • Roark: A-,A
  • Clay: B,C,A
  • Mandel: D-,A-,D,D-
  • Perry:  demoted
  • Young: still on the D/L; no starts in June
  • Demny: D- -> back down
  • Ohlendorf: B+ -> promoted
  • Torra: D,D-,C+->released

Discussion: The AAA rotation was rather tumultuous to follow in June.  Only Danny Rosenbaum made all of his expected starts.   Yunesky Maya nursed an injury and recognition of the looming ignomious end to his Nats career after his outright off the 40-man.  Ryan Tatusko continues to struggle in a starting role.  Tanner Roark always seems to do well in his spot-starts and may keep his gig in the rotation starting in July with the struggles of fellow swingman Jeff Mandel.   Caleb Clay has done very well since his promotion; he holds a 2.21 ERA in AAA and looks like quite a MLFA find so far.  Paul Demny wasn’t ready for AAA and got hammered in his one spot-start.  The team ran out of patience with Matt Torra and released him with a 5.53 ERA through 5 starts in April and May.  Ryan Perry‘s future in the organization is in question after being demoted to AA and successfully being outrighted off the 40-man roster.  Chris Young remains in organizational limbo, having not pitched in nearly 6 weeks.  Lastly the one success story: Ross Ohlendorf‘s patience has paid off with his promotion and his continued presence in the Nats bullpen.

 


AA: click here for Harrisburg Milb.com stats

  • Gilliam: D,A+,D,D,D-
  • Treinen: B+,B,B,A,C-
  • Demny: -> up/back,A-,A+,D,F-
  • Karns: returned/11 day layoff,C,A
  • Hill: A
  • Broderick: still on the D/L: no June Starts
  • Tatusko A (rain driven spot start->back to AAA)
  • Clay: A+,B,A -> promoted
  • Rauh: demoted
  • Jordan: A,A+,A+,A+,A- (pitch limit) -> promoted

Harrisburg’s rotation has now been picked twice by the Nats for a starter to promote; Nathan Karns struggled in 3 spot starts before being returned and looked rusty in his return, while Taylor Jordan‘s 2013 continues to be magical as he holds a sub 3.00 ERA through his two MLB starts (though he’s likely to be returned once all the Nats regular rotation guys return from D/L stints).  As for the rest of the Harrisburg Rotation in June: Rob Gilliam has mostly struggled since his promotion.  Blake Treinen continues to be the staff work-horse, leading the team in starts and innings.  Paul Demny got a spot start in AAA that seemed more due to schedule availability than performance; Demny continues to sport the same mid 4.00 ERA that he’s had essentially for his whole career in the Nats farm system.  Taylor Hill has had a couple of very nice debut starts on the heels of a sterling run of starts in Potomac.


High-A:  click here for Potomac Milb.com stats

  • Ray: A,A,F,D-,C+
  • Cole: B-,A+,A,B-,C+
  • Pineyro: D
  • Schwartz: A,F,D+,C-
  • Rauh F,A
  • Detwiler: C- rehab
  • Solis: C-,C- -> shelved for weeks
  • Sylvestre: D->demoted back to short/A spot start
  • Hill: A+,A,A+,A- -> promoted

Robbie Ray and A.J Cole continue to be the Potomac workhorses, both being high over-slot 2010 high school pitcher draftees and both with highly varying degrees of expectations both from Nats prospect followers and from the organization.  Both guys pitched in a double header that new Delaware resident Keith Law took in and he posted his 6/30/13 blog review of all the starters involved.   The link is insider-only (which everyone should be who wants to read ESPN’s premier content) but Law’s consensus seems to be this: Cole’s taken a step back since his last (2011) opinion and Ray is only projecting as a 5th starter at best.  You’d hope for more out of these two guys, given their draft pedigree and bonus money paid.  Sammy Solis threw 2 early June starts and hasn’t appeared since in a concerning development for the 2010 2nd rounder coming back from TJ surgery.   Ivan Pineyro‘s high-A debut went roughly, but he’ll presumably get a few more chances with few other viable candiates right now.  Despite a couple of up-and-down June starts Blake Schwartz maintains the best season-long numbers of any of Potomac starter right now.  And i’ll make mention of it here; its amazing to think that Taylor Jordan started 2013 as the #2 starter in Potomac and is now making (near) quality starts in the majors.


Low-A: click here for Hagerstown Milb.com stats

  • Anderson: D,A+,D+,D-
  • Mooneyham: D-/short,A-,B,D,A-
  • Lee: B-,A-,C,F,C+
  • Encarnation: B,F,D (took one for the team),C
  • Purke: A,D,B-,A-,A+
  • Rauh: C
  • Lopez: D+->back down from spot-start
  • RPena:  ->demoted to bullpen?->7 day d/l
  • Hudgins: -> demoted to short/A

Dixon Anderson and Pedro Encarnacion‘s monthly grade lines look poor, but their season-long stats are still decent (ERAs of right around 3.20, WHIPs of right around 1.2, about 2-1 K/BB ratios).   Brett Mooneyham‘s starts are looking dominant as they should be, repeating the level as a college draftee.  Matthew Purke‘s performances were a highlight for Nats farm system fans everywhere; after the month ended he was promoted to Potomac.   As for the rest of the starters, there’s room for concern.  Nick Lee and Ronald Pena both sport 1.50 WHIPs.   Hagerstown has already graduated a number of arms this season and may struggle to re-stock.


Short-A: click here for Auburn Milb.com stats

  • Turnbull: A,C-
  • Johansen: B+,C
  • Orlan: C+,A,C-
  • DWilliams: B,D,F
  • Barrientos: A-
  • Selsor: | | B-,F,C+
  • Hudgins: | | B-
  • Lopez: | | F- -> demoted

Auburn’s season kicked off June 17th, so we’ve only gotten a brief glimpse of the “Rotation.”  So far, some up and down.  Kyle Turnbull has looked good (as he very well should, having been demoted from full-season ball).  Robert Orlan‘s ERA looks great (1.38) but his walks are too high (9 in 13 innings).  Speaking of walks, Joel Barrientos has 12 walks against 3 strikeouts in his 11 2/3 innings so far; that’s not going to be sustainable.  Deion Williams has been hit hard thus far.  And 2013 2nd round (our first pick) Jake Johansen has three relatively wild outings under his belt; 8 innings, 8 walks, 8 strikeouts.  Of note; Reynaldo Lopez‘s “F-” outing was a 1 1/3, 7 run debacle giving him a nifty 47.25 ERA.


GCL: click here for GCL-Nationals Stats on MiLB.com

  • Suero: A,D
  • JRodriguez: B-,A
  • Silvestre: A,C
  • Valdez: C+
  • Voth: B-
  • DRamos: A

As with Auburn, the GCL season didn’t start until mid June (June 21st to be exact) so the “rotation” is still shaking out.  And frankly, those who get “starts” aren’t exactly pitching “starter” outings.  For example: the IP leader at the time of this writing is Jefry Rodriguez with 10 2/3 thrown over 3 starts.  So the letter grades here are mostly  misleading, given that they’re for 2-3 inning stints.  Nonetheless, Wander SueroRyan Ulliman, and Austin Voth look good in the early goings.

Matthew Purke is looking good..

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Purke is finally showing signs of life. Photo AP/Nati Harnik

Purke is finally showing signs of life. Photo AP/Nati Harnik

I’ll freely admit it: after two straight injury plagued seasons, I thought the Nats had made a mistake with the Matthew Purke pick.  I’ve even used the “B” word from time to time (“B” as in “Bust”).  Yes he was “only” a third round pick, and yes it isn’t my money that paid him.  But giving him a Major League Deal and a 40-man slot was a roster limiting move at the time and still remains so (Purke was the sole 40-man roster member in the South Atlantic League at the season’s start).

However, what Purke is doing so far in Hagerstown has been, well, impressive.  His latest start on 6/28 probably was his most dominant of the year, going 6 innings, giving up just 1 hit and zero walks while striking out 8.  On the year in Low-A he now has 6 starts, has thrown 29 innings and has 41 strikeouts to just 7 walks in that time.  Those numbers are good for a 2.48 ERA and a 1.10 whip.

Yes, he’s “old” for the level (at the season’s start he was about in the 75% percentile in terms of age for the level).  And yes he’s “experienced” for the level, being now a third year pro and having two college years under his belt when drafted.  But (as we all know) he’s been plagued with injuries and has now missed parts of four straight seasons with various ailments (his 2nd college season, his draft year, most of 2012).   In fact, June 28th was just his 9th professional start.

Nonetheless, its great to see him finally healthy and finally putting together the kind of dominant starts that one would expect from a guy who signed a $4M deal.  I look forward to him getting promoted up to High-A (perhaps after the all-star break) and continuing his trek back to the majors.  If the Nats could count on him to continue being a high-end prospect and a potential future starter for this team, that would go a long way towards roster stability in the coming years.

Written by Todd Boss

July 1st, 2013 at 8:08 am

Posted in Minor League Pitching

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Time to pull the plug on Haren yet?

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How much longer is Haren going to be wearing this hat? Photo nats official via espn.com

The Nats management waited and waited, but finally gave in and dealt with season-long performance issues in Henry Rodriguez, Zach Duke, Danny Espinosa and Tyler Moore in the first two weeks of June, DFA-ing or demoting as needed and bringing in replacements to try to do a better job and turn this season around.

So, when will it be time to talk about the train-wreck season that Dan Haren is having?  For $13M, here’s what the team has gotten in his first 12 starts, including June 12th’s meltdown:

  • a 4-8 Record with a 5.70 ERA and a 67 ERA+ (his ERA is 6th worst in baseball for qualified pitchers).
  • A 6-10 team record in games in which he’s started
  • a league leading 17 home runs allowed

A quick glance at his advanced stats doesn’t give much credence to any apologists that may try to excuse his line either; his BABIP is slightly elevated but not overly so (.320) and his FIP is still an unsightly 5.06 (5th worst among qualified starters).  Only his expected xFIP and SIERA numbers are relatively respectable, but xFip is just an estimator stat and often times never comes to pass, since it assumes silly things like the fact that Haren can’t possibly keep giving up this many home runs… an assumption that continued to be disproven as he gave up two more in his most recent loss in Colorado.

Game-Log analysis: Haren has yet to have a start where he shut out the opponent.  He’s only got 5 quality starts out of 12.  In half his starts he’s allowed 4 or more runs (not good when your team’s offense is only scoring 3.4 runs a game).  Haren’s only really had a couple of starts that were “grade A” in my book (his best start of the year was an 8 inning 4 hit performance in Atlanta of all places).  In his defense, he has gotten awful run support (2.84 runs per start), heavily indicating team losses every time he pitches.

I’ll admit it; I talked myself into the Haren deal big time after it was announced.  I ignored his 2012 struggles, looked back to the near Cy Young guy he was in 2009 and thought this was the move that could push the Nats to a 105 win team.  Now clearly whatever excuses we made for his performance in 2012 (back injury leading to diminished velocity leading to loss of his sinker leading to crummy numbers) seem like they’re covering up for an aging sinkerballer who never had lights out velocity and who now looks dangerously close to extinct as his very-hittable fastball flattens out and gets hit harder and harder.

So what’s the answer here?

Don’t talk to me about his salary; that $13M is out the door already.  Kaput.  Gone.  Look up the definition of a “Sunk Cost” in economic terms.  If you were worried about $13M in annual salary then you shouldn’t have bought a $15M a year closer who isn’t exactly a complete shutdown guy (Tyler Clippard has almost identical stats this year to Rafael Soriano for a third of the price and he didn’t cost us a 1st round draft pick, which as it turned out could have been spent on one of two pre-draft top-10 talents).  The decision needs to be made; do you still want to try to “win now” in 2013 as all the other off-season moves seemed to indicate?  Because the solution likely is going to be a bit more money and a few more prospects.

Short term (as in, the next week): see how Ross Ohlendorf does in his spot start (Answer: uh, he did awesome, holding a good hitting team to two hits through 6 in the best hitters park in the league).  If he’s anything remotely close to effective, I think you look at an invented D/L trip for Haren and send him on a rehab assignment tour of the minors.

Mid-term (as in, for the next couple weeks): do we have anyone else in the minors worth checking out?  Not on the 40-man and not with enough experience.  Maybe we give Danny Rosenbaum a shot if another spot-start is needed after Detwiler and Strasburg come back.

Longer term (as in, the next two months); Look at the trade market and look at who may be available leading up to the trade deadline.  We’re already seeing some teams completely out of it and clearly some guys will be available:

  • The Cubs probably will look to move Scott Feldman and especially Matt Garza.
  • The Astros probably will cash in on Lucas Harrell and Bud Norris (nobody’s likely interested in Erik Bedard at this point).
  • The Marlins would listen for offers for Ricky Nolasco, though perhaps not intra-division.
  • The Mets aren’t winning this year and could be moving Shawn Marcum (though perhaps not intra-division).
  • I think eventually Seattle becomes a seller: Joe Saunders and Aaron Harang should be dangled.
  • I also think San Diego eventually realizes they’re not going to win the NL West: Edinson Volquez, waiver pickup Eric StultsClayton Richards and our old friend Jason Marquis all make for possible trade candidates.

A few other poorly performing teams are probably going to be too stubborn to wave the white flag, which cuts down on the number of guys that will be available (see the Los Angeles Angels, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Toronto specifically).

The only problem with a trade market move is this: all these teams are going to want prospects back.  And the Nats prospect cupboard has been cleaned out recently to acquire all these fools who are underperforming so far in 2013.  I’m not an opposing GM, so I can’t say for sure, but from a quick look at the Nats best prospects in the minors right now (basically in order: Giolito, Goodwin, Cole, Karns, Garcia, Skole, Purke, Solis, Perez, then guys like Hood, Taylor, Walters, Ray and Jordan round out the list) and I see a lot of injured guys or players on injury rehab, backups or guys barely above or still in A-ball.  I’m not trading a valued asset for an injury-risk guy who has never gotten above AA.  Who on this list is going to fetch us a quality major league starter?

Maybe we trade Haren along with a huge chunk of his remaining salary and multiple prospects to one of these teams in order to get one of these 5th starters back.  But that’d be an awful trade when it was all said and done (about as awful as, say, the Giants trading Zack Wheeler to the Mets for 2 months of Carlos Beltran in a failed effort to make the playoffs in 2012; with all the Giants 2013 pitching issues do you think they wish they had Wheeler back right now??)

Or, it very well may be that the Nats are stuck; we knew going into the season we had no starter depth and those MLFAs we did acquire (Ohlendorf and Chris Young basically) probably aren’t the answer.  But something has to give; we can’t give away every 5th start like we seem to be doing now and claw back into the NL East race.

May 2013: Minor League Monthly Rotation Review

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Welcome back Matt Purke. Photo AP/Nati Harnik

With the draft and the big early June roster shakeup and the College World Series going on (I’m apparently the only guy in Nats-land who cares about it), I’m a little late with this monthly quick glance at the Minor League starters.  Here’s April 2013′s version.

For each level, I’ll put out the Rotation members, their “letter grades” per start and then throw in a quick table to show their seasonal stats for context.  As with last month, the top group of Starters per level is the “current rotation” as best as we can figure it, then I’ve got a line for guys who got spot starts or (especially in the lower levels) guys who did long relief or “second start” stints.


AAA Rotation

  • Maya: A,D+,A–>promoted/dfa/back, D-/inc->injury
  • Tatusko: B+,A,C-
  • Ohlendorf: A,C-,D,D-,A,A
  • Torra:  D,D-
  • Rosenbaum: D,A,F,B+,B-,F
  • Roark: A
  • Mandel: B-,D+,A
  • Perry: F,B,F,F -> D/L
  • Young: B,C-,F-,C-,D-/inc -> D/L

Discussion: Syracuse YTD Stats are here for reference

May saw some interesting movement in the underperforming Syracuse rotation.  MLFA signing and supposed MLB rotation insurance policy #1  Chris Young continued to struggle before hitting the D/L.  Similarly, Ryan Perry put in a number of ugly appearances and also landed on the D/L.  This created an opeing for two new guys in the rotation, handled somewhat ably by Ryan Tatusko and somewhat less ably by MLFA Matt Torra.  Ross Ohlendorf righted the ship a bit and put himself in line for an earned callup on the strength of several good outings, only to have the weather in Washington conspire against him.  Yunesky Maya got a long-deserved DFA and outright, and now sits in limbo having not pitched since his aborted 5/31 start.  Lastly Danny Rosenbaum continues to have the best stat line of any starter in Syracuse, but (as often discussed here) he seems destined for life as a 6-year free agent plying his trade elsewhere in this Mike Rizzo-run organization that values power arms over finesse artists.


AA Rotation

  • Gilliam: D,A+
  • Treinen: A,F,D,B+,C-,B+
  • Demny: D+,A+,A-,D,A,B
  • Clay: C-,F,D,A-,A-
  • Jordan B,A+,D/inc->up and back,A
  • Swynenberg C+,C+
  • Holland: B+
  • Rauh: A
  • Holder: released (why?)
  • Broderick: C-,C+->D/L
  • Broadway: A->promoted
  • Karns: A-,B+,F,C+,C+->promoted

Discussion: Harrisburg YTD Stats are here for reference

The Harrisburg rotation continues to house a number of sub 4.00 ERA hurlers and we’re starting to see some movement among the ranks.  First and foremost Nathan Karns “earned” a callup to the big club probably mostly by his placement on the 40-man roster at the time, but also b/c of his excellent K/9 ratio.   Brian Broderick‘s D/L stint (will he return at this point or go straight from the D/L->release?) has opened the door for a couple new names.  Taylor Jordan continues his great comeback from his 2011 Tommy John surgery.  Paul Demny‘s string of excellent starts earned him a brief Syracuse call-up.   Robert Gilliam struggled in his AA debut but righted the ship and (as of this writing) has decent enough AA numbers that he seems to be capable of sticking on.  One odd personnel move was the abrupt release of Trevor Holder, who didn’t have bad numbers on the season and was immediately picked up by San Diego.  I wonder if there’s something to this story.


High-A Rotation

  • Ray: B-,A,A/Inc,A,C-,B+/inc
  • Solis: C+/inc,A/inc (pitch count limited)
  • Cole: A,B+,D-,D,B-
  • Hill: A,A-/inc,B+,F,F
  • Schwartz: B-,A+,B+,A+,C-
  • Fischer: C+,D+
  • Bates A,B+
  • Holt: A
  • Herron: D+,B+ -> Promoted
  • Jordan:  A+->promoted
  • Gillam:  B,F->promoted
  • Dupra: D,B- -> demoted
  • Grace: A

Discussion: Potomac YTD Stats are here for reference

Welcome back Sammy Solis; he’s slowly getting re-initiated to the rotation and spent his last May starts on strict pitch count limits.   After a disastrous 2012 Robbie Ray continues his excellent campaign and may be making a statement for the next promotion (as of this writing: 81Ks in 62 innings as one of the younger guys in high-A?  wow).  A.J. Cole continues to be frustratingly hit or miss; one night he’ll strike out 11 in 6, another night he gives up 5 runs in 5.  Speaking of inconsistent; Taylor Hill‘s last two May starts were awful, then his first two June starts were stellar.  All in all though, Potomac’s rotation has been a bright point for the farm system and has produced a number of promotions before the all star break.


Low-A Rotation

  • Anderson: A,A-,F,A,C-,B+
  • Encarnation: A,A-,C-,D-,B->bullpen for Purke?
  • Lee: B+,F
  • Pineyro: A-,C+,C-,A,C
  • Purke: A
  • Henke: | C
  • Rauh: D,B+->up/down
  • RPena: C-,A for effort,C,F,C-
  • Fischer: A,A–>promoted
  • Turnbull: D+,F,D-,C- ->demoted

Discussion: Hagerstown YTD Stats are here for reference

I’ll be honest; right now its hard to tell what the “rotation” is in Hagerstown.   The arrival of Matthew Purke seemingly had to bump someone, but its hard to tell who.  Purke’s showing some great swing-and-miss stuff in his first pro starts in half-of-forever; if this guy can turn back into the prospect he once was, the Nats will be ecstatic.  DSL grads Pedro Encarnacion and Ivan Pineyro continue to put up good numbers for the Low-A Suns.  As does Dixon Anderson, who is seemingly due for a promotion at this point.

Ask Boswell 11/26/12 Edition

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The Nats entire off-season plan revolves around what Adam LaRoche does. Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

I havn’t done a “how would I answer this chat question” from The Washington Post’s Tom Boswell in a while, but on the back of his 11/26/12 “Stay the Course” opinion piece in the Washington Post (where he basically advises that the team should stay out of the major FA market this off-season), I thought I’d chime in and read/respond to his 11/26/12 chat.

My opinion on Boswell’s piece; I don’t think you can stand pat in today’s baseball world.  Yes this team won 98 games last year.  But does anyone think we’ll win 98 games again by doing little to nothing to address the team’s needs?  Trying to replace Adam LaRoche and Edwin Jackson‘s departures internally has a large chance of weakening the team, and I believe we need to explore a significant FA purchase (or a trade) this off-season.  Now, inarguably TV deals and the rising revenue streams are fueling the FA market, and we’re already seeing contracts that heretofore would have been immediately labeled as “over pays.”  Therefore, even if the Nats go after a 2nd or 3rd tier player in free agency, they’re going to be compensated far more than we ever thought their value represented.  But this is just the way the baseball world is going; we can no longer say that someone is “overpriced” … we need to remember that everyone is going to be “overpriced.”  Perhaps Jayson Werth‘s $126M/7yr deal will look like a bargain in a few  years.

And this is before even addressing the impact that the amazing new Los Angeles Dodger’s TV deal, reportedly worth between $6 and $7 billion dollars over 25 years, will have on the baseball world.  Even at the low-end estimate, that’s $240M a year in RSN revenue.  $240M a year!  They could field a $200M team, pay luxury taxes and still have money to spare under this deal, and that’s before a single dollar in gate, game-day revenues, suites, parking or merchandising comes in.  To call this a “game-changer” is an understatement; I think this could be a serious issue facing Baseball in the coming years.  We’re already seeing what the new ownership group is capable of doing in terms of acquiring talent without much regard to payroll.  What happens if they also acquire the likes of Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke this coming winter?  A quick check of Cot’s page shows that Los Angeles has $169.5M committed to its top 14 players right now, with three guys making > 20M and nine total with pay > $11M/year.  And they’re reportedly in the mix for the top FAs this off-season, potentially adding 20-30M more to that base number.  That’s amazing.  Just more revenue sharing for Jeffrey Loria to pocket I guess (Thanks Bud!).

Anyway, back to the chat responses.  As always, I write my response before reading his, and sometimes edit questions here for clarity/conciseness.  I’m only answering baseball-related questions, ignoring the slew of Redskins issues.

Q: Are the Nats positioning themselves to make a strong push in the next two drafts?

A: This is what I whittled down a long-winded, rambling “question” to.  The gist is that a comp pick from Adam LaRoche leaving, plus another potential comp pick if Michael Morse leaves next year could help re-stock the farm system.  I’d tend to say, “maybe.”  The Nats are no longer where they were in 2009 and 2010, getting franchise players by virtue of back to back awful seasons.  So the likelihood of finding an impact player is far less.  That being said, having multiple first and supplemental first round picks is a great way to find players and to get guys who “slipped” due to signability/injury issues (as Lucas Giolito did this year).

The Nats farm system has taken some hits in the last two seasons; one from trade (losing 4 top-10 players in the Gio Gonzalez trade) and then another from injury concerns for its top guys (Sammy Solis, Matthew Purke, Lucas Giolito, and Anthony Rendon all representing 1st and 2nd round talents who suffered either season-ending injuries or significant injuries curtailing their progression in the last calendar year, to say nothing of injuries to lower-level guys like Taylor Jordan who will provide depth rising up).  This thinned farm system may prevent Rizzo from making the kind of deal he made last summer, and he may want to focus on getting some more depth in the 2013 draft, as much as is possible from drafting so low.

Here’s the issue writing my own response before reading Boswell’s: he didn’t even talk about the draft portion of the “question,” instead talking about the FA pitcher angle.

Q: What do you think the team is planning on doing to replace Edwin Jackson?

A: I’d guess the team is working on two fronts: one looking at possible trade angles with teams that have surplus starting pitching (Arizona, Tampa Bay, Oakland, Los Angeles Dodgers and perhaps even Atlanta) and seeing if he can swing a deal.  Then I’d guess he’s looking at a 2nd tier of starters, looking to avoid the Greinke sweepstakes (despite his affinity for the hurler).  I do NOT think the team is going to tender John Lannan, instead looking to get a better pitcher for slightly more money than the $5M he’d likely earn at a minimum in 2013.  Of course, with the prices we’ve seen for lefties already perhaps we will tender Lannan and consider another $5M insurance policy a bargain.  Boswell scrolls through the same 2nd tier of starters, noting that there’s definitely someone out there who could work.  He also mentioned the team may look at re-signing Zach Duke, though I’d be surprised by that.  Why would we re-sign Duke but non-tender Lannan, if Lannan clearly is a better pitcher?

Q: Is the lack of a MASN deal hindering the Nats FA plans?

A: You have to think it is.  If the Nats knew what they were getting next year, they’d certainly have a better idea of how much they could spend.  The fact that Bud Selig has allowed Peter Angelos to hijack this MASN revenue negotiation for this long is deplorable.  Of course, by waiting this long with the negotiations Angelos has only cost himself money, as the price we can command as a franchise certainly skyrocketed between the end of 2011 and now.  So there’s that.  But its clear the team is getting a pittance as compared to other comparably sized markets (Houston, Philadelphia) and needs a larger share.  Boswell doesn’t think the lack of a deal is affecting the team’s plans, mostly because there’s not a $250M player on the market this year as there was last year.

Q: Were you invited to any of the seven off-season Nationals player weddings?

A: I wasn’t.  Boswell wasn’t either.  :-)

Q: Why did the MLB allow the Marlins trade to go through? It poisons Miami against baseball probably for a decade and will surely be seen as a cautionary tale for city governments for at least as long.

A: Simple reason: Selig is buddies with Jeffrey Loria and has enabled his crummy behaviors for nearly 2 decades.  More complex reason: on the face of it, from a purely baseball sense this trade was little different than the Boston-Los Angeles trade, and I’d guess you would have a hard time accepting one and denying the other.  Loria’s position with Miami is not Selig’s concern; he got the new stadium that Selig claims is necessary in every market and Loria clearly will continue to profit from the team.  To an owner, that’s the primary concern.  And Selig works for the owners.  All of us bloggers and columnists to deplored the trade and Loria in general (including me, in this space in September and again in November) and talk about the sanctity of the game are just blowing hot-air.  Selig doesn’t care.  Boswell didn’t really answer the question, just saying that baseball is dead in Miami for a long, long time.  Hey, it only helps the Nats to have a 110 loss team in the division, right?

Q: Is Adam LaRoche destined for the AL as an aging 1st baseman?

A: I don’t think so; the questioner compared LaRoche to Adam Dunn, who can DH and is more valuable in the AL.  Inarguably aging sluggers fare better in the AL … but LaRoche just won a gold glove for his defense at first base.  He isn’t exactly a plodding first baseman slowed by age.  He should be able to capably play the position for several more  years, through whatever contract he’s about to sign.  Boswell agrees that this is the trend, and says that Baltimore is a possible destination … but mentions nothing about LaRoche’s plus defense.

Q: Why aren’t the Nats making a bigger play for Edwin Jackson?

A: A good question.  I questioned the Nats lack of a Qualifying Offer being extended to Jackson and surmised it was because the team was afraid he’d take it (having a history of working on one-year deals).  So clearly the lack of the Q.O. indicates a new direction for the team.  I don’t think its related to his meltdown in the post-season; that can happen to anyone (see most of our pitching staff not named Ross Detwiler).  I’d guess that it relates somehow to Jackson’s maddening capabilities; shutdown power pitcher one night, gopher-ball machine the next.  I think they’re just going in a different direction.  Boswell says Jackson wants a 5-year deal … which if true even more reinforces my questioning of the lack of the Q.O.  I disagree with his sentiment that the team is “saving room” for the rising farm system arms; to me a prospect starter is not a solution until the day he arrives in the majors and gives you 30 starts.

Q: Why did Tampa extend Evan Longoria?

A: The team had him under baseball’s most team-friendly contract (6yrs, $17.5M with three team options, locking him to Tampa from 2008 til 2016).  One of baseball’s best players, he made just $2M and $4.5M in the last two seasons.  Which is just ridiculous.  I feel Tampa did the extension to show good faith to the player who was just so woefully underpaid.  Boswell didn’t really answer the question, just saying its a good move because hitters come back from injury better than pitchers.

Q: Should the team be worried about losing LaRoche and his lefty power?

A: Yes absolutely.  Which is why the team should either try to get him to sign a reasonable deal (3 years max) OR the team should let him walk and try to replace the lefty power on the FA market (perhaps in the form of someone like Nick Swisher, who won’t be cheap but also can stick in LF for a while and should fit in nicely to the clubhouse).  Or maybe the team swings a deal for a lefty outfielder in trade and sticks Morse at first.  Boswell agrees, thinking that LaRoche’s hot FA market will get him a 4 year deal for more money than the Nats are willing to pay.

Q: Is there any chance that MASN just cuts ties with the Nats and frees us from the awful deal?

A: No. Chance. In. Hell.  Angelos stands to get such massive, major profit from this deal that he’ll die before giving in.  There is just no way.  And more and more its looking like this pact with the devil, which enabled the team to move here, will be a limiting factor in the years to come.  People talk about how Atlanta has the worst TV deal in the MLB?  Well what about the Nats?  Boswell asked Selig about this and was told that “everything is on the table.”  I highly doubt that, but I’m not going to call Boswell a liar.  I’ll just say, “Don’t hold your breath” that the Nats will be allowed to extract themselves from MASN and create their own RSN.  This would be the absolute dream scenario, but I just cannot see Selig backpeddaling on this deal less than a decade after it was signed.

Q: Will the Nats learn the lessons heeded by other big-money teams who got saddled with old, expensive players?

A: Hopefully so.  Not giving LaRoche 4 years would be a signal to that end.  But it can be difficult; what happens when the whole core of our young team hits free agency?  That’s a lot of big checks to write, and the fan base will bemoan every star that is allowed to walk.  Boswell thinks LaRoche is consistent enough to warrant the contract, but also notes that he’s several years past the typical hitter prime.

Q: Is Morse really the better choice at 1B if it’s between him and Moore? Is he really just that bad in the OF?

A: I’m convinced this narrative is overplayed.  Morse was a shortstop coming up through the minors, so he’s not exactly immobile, and suddenly nobody remembers that Tyler Moore was a plodding minor league first-baseman who only tried LF for the first time in spring training of last year.  Now suddenly Morse isn’t the better LF option?  I don’t buy it.  Neither are great LF choices; Morse had a -23.3 UZR/150 in 493 innings while Moore had a -22.7 in 229 innings this past season (small sample sizes both).  So it seems they’re both awful out there.  But then again (as I’ve said many times) you can “hide” guys in LF if they’re big bats.  You take the lesser defense in order to get a middle-of-the-order hitter.  The last thing you want is a #8 hitter (think Xavier Nady) bumbling around in LF and hitting .190.  If we lose LaRoche, I think the team should put Moore back in his natural position at 1B and let Morse get one more season out there.  Boswell didn’t answer the question, instead rambling about something else.



Nats 2012 Rule 5 Protection Analysis

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Is Nathan Karns a 40-man roster addition candidate ahead of the rule-5 draft? Photo Potomac Nationals official via milb.com

In part I on this topic yesterday, we talked about the Nats Rule 5 draft history.  Today we’ll talk about Parts II and III: who the Nats may think about protecting ahead of this year’s Rule 5 draft, and what the team may be seeking if they participated and drafted a player or two in the Rule 5 draft themselves.

Part II: Nationals Rule-5 Draft Protection Candidates.

I kvetched a little bit about this topic in this space earlier this off-season, talking about the lack of roster space for the upcoming Rule 5 draft.  I suspected that as a result of MLB deals given to guys like Anthony Rendon and Matthew Purke, in addition to the glut of guys we had to add mid season, we may be seeing some guys not getting protected this year that would be in other years.  As of today, the Nats 40-man roster sits at 36 players with a bit of immediate room to spare (we could non-tender the likes of John Lannan, Tom Gorzelanny or Jesus Flores (speaking of Rule 5 additions) in a pinch, and I think Carlos Rivero may be imminently DFA’d), but we also have several 25-man roster spots departing via free agency that need to be filled, quickly filling back in those empty spots.  So, perhaps the issue isn’t as bad as I thought it might be.

That being said, here’s a look at some of our Rule 5 eligible guys that may warrant protection.  For “official” opinions here’s Mark Zuckerman‘s Rule5 post, along with Adam Kilgore‘s version of the same analysis.  This is a combination of first-time eligible guys for the 2012 draft (mostly, guys who were college junior draftees from 2009 or high school draftees in 2008), prior year eligible guys who have suddenly worked their way onto the radar, and any International FA signing from 2008 or before (they are treated the same way as high school age draftees).  Working off a list that Luke Erickson posted LAST november, along with his post on the same topic this week, and of course referencing the two great nats farm system resources maintained by “SpringfieldFan” (and formerly by Brian Oliver): the Nats Draft Tracker and the Nats Big Board, here’s some thoughts on protection candidates:

Stronger Candidates to protect

  • Nathan Karns: he finally had an injury-free season, and he put up numbers as expected when the team gave him an above-slot deal in 2009.  He is older, and only projects as a AA starter in 2013, but he is an intriguing starter prospect for the Nats in 2014.
  • Destin Hood: I don’t think the team is ready to give up on the long-term 2008 2nd round project.  His numbers have been increasing as he reportedly is learning the game better.  I suspect the team protects him to protect their investment.
  • Danny Rosenbaum; the “Ace” of Harrisburg this year, and our furthest advanced legitimate starter prospect, Rosenbaum projects more like a Tommy Milone or John Lannan right now.  I’d suspect that the team may protect him, thinking that someone could stash him as a loogy for a year.  I’m not sure his ceiling is in the Nats rotation, but he could be a good trade candidate.  He hit the DL late last year, which makes it slightly less likely that a team would take a flier on him, but his track record warrants his mention.
  • Patrick McCoy: he just repeated AA and despite already being Rule-5 eligible last  year he improved on his numbers in 2012.  Why protect him?  Because this team needs a Loogy, and McCoy may be the leading lefty reliever in our upper-minor leagues.
  • Jeff Kobernus has put up consistent numbers his whole career, but still projects as a power-less middle infielder.  Would the team protect him, thinking he has a chance to become the next Steve Lombardozzi?  Would the team protect him just to protect their bonus money?

Weaker candidates to protect

  • Trevor Holder: a 3rd round pick roundly criticized at the time of being an underslot money saver, Holder had decent peripherals in high-A and AA this year.  But, he doesn’t seem to project as the dominant right-hander he was in college and seems likely to top out as an org-arm.  Despite his 3rd round pedigree, I don’t see a team taking a flier on him in rule-5.
  • Pat Lehman; a local guy (GWU), but despite having good numbers in AAA he remains a very common commodity; a right handed minor league reliever.  Even if he’s drafted, it isn’t that great a loss because of the depth we already have at the position.
  • Paul Demny; despite making the AFL team this year, I don’t quite see Demny as being a draft risk.  His ERA this year and in years past has been substandard.
  • Robert Gilliam; only really mentioned here since we just acquired him last off-season in the Gio Gonzalez trade and the team probably doesn’t want to lose him, but his 6.37 ERA in AA makes it extremely unlikely someone grabs him in the Rule 5.
  • Erik Davis: technically rule-5 eligible last year, he stepped up this year and put up pretty dominant AA numbers.  As with Lehman, he’s a righty reliever in AA so the odds of his getting picked (or protected) seem slim.

Players not worth protecting for various Reasons

Now, there’s a bunch of “good names” that are Rule 5 eligible in our system but who are not listed here, including guys who toiled as high as AA last year.  Anyone not listed here is probably not going to be missed, even if they are drafted.  Plus, the likelihood of a decent pitcher prospect who has never played above A-ball being drafted in rule-5 is extemely slim.  Most of the guys above are mentioned because of their capability to be “stashed” on a MLB roster.  This includes:

  • last year’s departures Brad Meyers (coming off injury) and Erik Komatsu (clearly been passed on the organizational OF depth chart).  Yes they got picked last year, but both got returned and I’d be surprised to see them picked again.
  • higher profile draft picks Josh Smoker and Jack McGeary: neither has advanced far enough in their careers to realistically stick with a MLB team.
  • Jeff Mandel may be an accomplished AAA pitcher, but I don’t think he’s anything more than that.
  • Rob Wort hasn’t advanced far enough up the chain to be considered.
  • Justin Bloxom could be a dark horse prospect next year, but only made it to AA the second half of last year.

Who would I protect, If I was the GM?  I’d protect Karns, Hood, Rosenbaum and McCoy right now, filling the four current openings on the roster.  If a move needs to be made (a FA signing or a trade), then you make one-for-one DFAs or non-tenders as needed.  You have 40-man room; might as well use it.  My order of protection is probably Karns, McCoy, Hood and Rosenbaum (from most important to least important to protect).  Odds are that the team only opts to protect a couple of guys to give immediate roster flexibility heading into the winter meetings.

Part III: Might the Nats participate in the Rule-5 draft this year?

This year’s Rule 5 draft has some intrigue for the team; unlike last year, we have definite holes in the bullpen and on the roster which can be “more easily” filled via the Rule 5 draft.  We need a lefty out of the bullpen, we need a backup middle infielder and we need a 5th starter.  The odds of finding the latter in the rule 5 draft are very slim, but the odds of finding one of the first two are better.  If you look at the last couple of Rule 5 drafts, nearly every player drafted is either a Pitcher or a Middle Infielder.  Most teams carry a second backup middle infielder who gets very little playing time, ideal for “hiding” rule 5 draftees.  And of course every bullpen has a “mop up” guy who pitches once or twice a week in low-leverage situations, also a great place to hide a rule-5 guy.

Besides, the “penalty” for drafting a guy and returning him is pretty small in baseball terms: $25,000 net (it costs $50,000 fee to select a player, then if you “offer” them back the original team has to refund $25,000 of that fee).   So I’d be surprised honestly if the team didn’t roll the dice with at least a flier on either of the two needs mentioned above.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of the Rule 5 draft any longer.  It was created as a way to liberate players who were stuck in farm systems behind established players (much the way that minor league free agency rules attempted to do the same), but now seems to be a cheap method of teams to get an extended tryout of players.  I’ve now come to believe that the draft is not necessarily in the best interests of the players or the teams; just read below for the organizational transaction chaos that followed players.  It also seems like a high number of players who get drafted in rule-5 immediately suffer season-ending injuries; coincidence or correlation?  If you’re a rule-5 drafted arm, the drafting team knows you must perform at a MLB level to stay in the organization.  Wouldn’t that imply there’s added pressure to compete, leading to overthrowing and arm injuries?  Plus, teams that lose players often get them returned damaged and having lost a season of service time.  I suppose players are the ones that are pro-Rule 5 draft, in that it immediately means a promotion to the 40-man roster, MLB service time and higher pay.

In the end, it makes for a good reason to write a 2,500 word blog post, and it may result in our team having new prospects to evaluate and dream about, so perhaps I protest too much.

Nationals Players’ Service Time and Option Status for 2013

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Jesus Flores achieved 5 full years of service time in 2012, complicating his roster status going forward. Photo Toni Sandys/Washington Post

In the process of opining on some preliminary Nats hot-stove moves this coming off-season, I found myself asking certain service-time/options questions about players on the 40-man roster.

So, I took the time to create a Spreadsheet of all Nats 40-man roster players with Options status for the coming season (well, actually update a version I had of this information from last year).  I also tried to update everyone’s service time to what it should stand at at the end of the 2012 season (though honestly some of the service time calculations, especially for someone bounced up and down this year like Corey Brown, can be tricky).

I know that Luke Erickson‘s Nats Big Board has an “Options Status” tab, and I didn’t mean to circumvent the work there; i’m just not sure whether it has been updated for the coming season.  The big board Options tab also has some helpful links to decipher some of the options ramifications, especially the tricky 4th option (which will notably come into play for several of our guys very soon, as discussed below).

Nonetheless, if I have the Options statuses and Service time calculations correctly done, there are some interesting roster management moves on the horizon.  The below analysis includes a disputed 4th option for Ryan Perry; I’m pretty confident I’m correct in determining his option status but will caveat that opinion (and this whole article) by reminding the reader that I’m not in fact a professional baseball executive and may have a couple of these calculations wrong.

Here’s a full list of our current 36 40-man players (this is where we stand as of today, post FA declarations of our seven free agents plus the reverting of our former three 60-day DL guys to the 40-man roster).  I’ve got these players divided into four categories, with some discussion after each:

Category 1: Vets who can refuse demotion (5 or more years of service)

Players in this category and their service time at the end of 2012:

Name Svc Time First Added to 40-man Option Years Used # Ops Left
Gorzelanny, Tom 5.16 Sept 2005 2006, 2008, 2009 0
Flores, Jesus 5.079 Dec 2006 2008, 2011 1
Suzuki, Kurt 5.113 Jun 2007 none 3
Tracy, Chad 7.000 Nov 2004? ? ?
Zimmerman, Ryan 7.032 Sep 2005 none 3
Morse, Michael 5.114 Nov 2004 2005, 2006, 2007 0
Werth, Jayson 9.102 Nov 2002? ? ?

Discussion: Most of the guys on this list are no-brainer core pieces of the team in 2013 and beyond, but two names in particular raise interesting questions.  First Tom Gorzelanny has now achieved enough MLB time so that he cannot be sent down without his permission, but that was largely irrelevant based on his lack of options anyway.  He remains a non-tender candidate because of his expected raise from his 2012 $3M salary given his role as long-man/mop-up guy for the team (well, that is unless you’ve seen the price of left-handed relief on the FA market this off-season … maybe he’s NOT a non-tender candidate).  The bigger surprise on this list is Jesus Flores, who I believe achieved his 5th full service year in 2012 and now (despite having a minor league option left) can refuse an assignment to AAA.  This represents an interesting decision for the team, who clearly has Suzuki and Ramos as its #1/#2 catchers.  Most think he’s also a clear non-tender candidate for 2013, but I tend to think that he’s a valuable commodity worth tendering a contract.  Despite his poor batting in 2012 (slash line of .213/.248/.329) there is a market for backup catchers in this league, especially ones that once showed the hitting promise that Flores has (a slash line of .301/.371/.505 in the early part of 2009 prior to his injuries).  Maybe this service time issue becomes the straw that breaks the camel’s back of his tendering decision; if we tender him, we’ll immediately have to trade him because he’ll likely refuse an assignment and be declared a free agent if he doesn’t make the 2013 team.  Perhaps the team cuts bait on him before having their hand forced.

Category 2: Players with Options but who are entrenched on the 25-man roster for 2013

Name Svc Time First Added to 40-man Option Years Used # Ops Left
Gonzalez, Gio 3.162 Aug 2008 2009 2
Mattheus, Ryan 1.111 June 2011 none 3
Storen, Drew 2.140 May 2010 none 3
Strasburg, Stephen 2.118 Aug 2009 2010 2
Zimmermann, Jordan 3.154 Apr 2009 2010 2
Ramos, Wilson 2.047 Nov 2008 2009, 2010 1
Desmond, Ian 3.027 Nov 2008 2009 2
Espinosa, Danny 2.033 Sep 2010 none 3
Lombardozzi, Steve 1.023 Sep 2011 none 3
Harper, Bryce 0.152 Aug 2010 2011, 2012 1
Moore, Tyler 0.113 Nov 2011 2012 2

Discussion; the likelihood of seeing any of these guys optioned to the minors in 2013 seems slim; mostly they are starters and key players for the team going forward.  That being said, John Lannan‘s surprise demotion in 2010 while he struggled was enabled by his options availability, and a struggling player like Moore or Lombardozzi could be sent down to make room if need be.

Category 3: Players whose Options almost guaranteed to be used in 2013

Name Svc Time First Added to 40-man Option Years Used # Ops Left
Kimball, Cole 0.138 Nov 2010 2011, 2012 1
Maya, Yunesky 0.070 July 2010 2010, 2011, 2012 1?
Perry, Ryan 2.142 Apr 2009 2009, 2011, 2012 1?
Purke, Matthew 0.000 Aug 2011 2012 2
Leon, Sandy 0.096 May 2012 2012 3
Solano, Jhonatan 0.092 Nov 2011 2012 2
Marrero, Chris 0.033 Nov 2010 2011, 2012 1
Rendon, Anthony 0.000 Aug 2011 2012 2
Perez, Eury 0.030 Nov 2011 2012 2

Discussion; This list is where some of the 4th option availability comes into play.  First Yunesky Maya has already used 3 options but clearly isn’t in the plans of the team for 2013 (the final year of his 4yr/$8M wasted contract).  But, if I read the options rules correctly his lack of achieving 5 professional seasons will give him a 4th option, which is likely to be used for 2013.  The same goes with Ryan Perry, who was drafted in 2008 but made the Tiger’s MLB roster in 2009, nearly out of Spring Training, meaning he’s just finishing his 4th professional season.  This means (as was pointed out by a reader a few posts ago) he’s eligible for a 4th option, which is likely to be used as Perry continues to remake himself as a starter.  (Note: the 4th option validity for Perry has been questioned here and there and revolves around 2010, when I don’t believe he was optioned).  I see him being in the AAA rotation and serving as injury insurance for the MLB rotation.  Marrero and Kimball are both in the same boat; they both missed all (or most) of 2012, burning an option in the process, and unless the organization makes the decision to designate them to make room on the 40-man they will each burn their last minor league option in 2013.  The rest of these players are working their way up the minor league system, or in the case of Matthew Purke, hopefully working their way back into 100% health.

Category 4: Players with Options available, jeopardizing their 25-man status in 2013

Name Svc Time First Added to 40-man Option Years Used # Ops Left
Christian Garcia 0.027 Sep 2012 none 3
Lannan, John 4.045 July 2007 2010, 2012 1
Stammen, Craig 2.160 May 2009 2009, 2011 1
Brown, Corey 0.059 Nov 2010 2011, 2012 1

Discussion: I probably should have put Stammen into the 2nd category of players, based on his breakout 2012 performance.  Lannan is a likely non-tender after getting the surprising option to Syracuse in 2012 and demanding a trade; however if he’s offered arbitration he can have the same thing happen to him again in 2013, serving as a multi-millionare AAA starter/insurance policy.  The question is whether or not the team wants to spend money in that fashion.  It remains to be seen what the team does with Garcia; numerous reports talk of him converting to a starter.  If so, his options availability would allow the team to send him to AAA to hone his craft were he to not be ready for a rotation spot out of spring training.  Lastly Brown seems stuck in 4-A status right now, having cleaned up in AAA but struggled at the MLB level.  Perhaps he’s also a “guarantee” to be optioned in 2013 and belonging in the 3rd category; I put him here only because the Nats outfield situation remains in so much flux.  If LaRoche walks, Morse likely moves to first, Moore likely starts in left (absent another FA outfielder signing or other acquisition), Bernadina continues as the 4th outfielder and the team may possibly need a 5th outfielder candidate.  Brown is a lefty though, and the team has already invested in a lefty bench bat in Chad Tracy, so perhaps this works against him.  There’s so much yet to be decided though, its hard to guess how it will shake out.

Category 5: Players with no options left

Name Svc Time First Added to 40-man Option Years Used # Ops Left
Clippard, Tyler 3.148 May 2007 2007, 2008, 2009 0
Detwiler, Ross 3.002 Sept 2007 2008, 2009, 2011 0
Rodriguez, Henry 2.114 Nov 2007 2008, 2009, 2010 0
Rivero, Carlos 0.000 Nov 2009 2010, 2011, 2012 0
Bernadina, Roger 3.146 Oct 2007 2008, 2009, 2011 0

Discussion: The main player that has a worry here is Carlos Rivero, claimed off waivers from Philadelphia and who burned his last option in 2012 without even getting a Sept 1 call up.  He had a decent season in AAA (.303/.347/.435) but seems to be without a position (he played 3rd primarily in AAA and doesn’t seem to have another position).  I’m guessing he’s DFA’d this off-season and the team attempts to re-sign him to a minor league contract.  Henry Rodriguez‘s lack of options has resulted in some dubious DL-trips several times for this team, as he clearly could use some minor league time to fix his Jeckyl-and-Hyde performances.  But he can’t be optioned, so in some ways the team is stuck.  Honestly, I think its just a matter of time before they run out of patience and DFA him as well.

Thoughts?  Corrections?  Any and all feedback is welcome.

2013 Projected Pitching Staffs and Rotations; entire Nats system

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After finishing the evaluation of all 6 minor league pitching staffs, plus finally finishing (and posting yesterday) the MLB season review,  here’s an entirely too-early projection of what the staffs and rotations may look like in 2013.  This post assumes for the time being that all major and minor league FAs will opt out and we’ll be looking to fill spots.  In these cases I’ll mark FAs to be as needed, though we very well may acquire these players in trade.

Note: some of these projections are slightly different from the original reviews posted in the per-level links, to account for moves, performances and roster moves that have already happened or seem set to happen this off-season.  I’ve also made some slight adjustments in order to make the rotations and bullpens work at each level.

(notations: FA = free agent, MLFA == Minor League Free Agent)

Staff Review links: MLB is here, AAA is here, AA is here, High-A is here, Low-A is here, Short-A is here, GCL is here.

  • MLB Rotation: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Detwiler, FA or other acquisition
  • MLB Bullpen: Clippard, Storen, Mattheus, Stammen, Garcia, a FA left-hander (possibly Burnett), a FA long-man (possibly Gorzelanny).
  • MLB notables Out of Organization: Jackson, Burnett, Gonzalez, Lannan, Wang

MLB Narrative: 4/5ths of the rotation are no-brainers.  The 5th starter is the question mark for 2013.  Do we re-sign Jackson and pay him more as a 5th starter than our big 3 guys?  It doesn’t seem so after the team declined to give him a Qualifying Offer.  Do we trade from depth (RH relief, middle infield) and find a 5th starter that way?  Do we find a 5th starter from within?  Meanwhile the bullpen is now full of hard throwing righties, but we could lose all 3 of our lefties.  We may need to work the phones to retain these guys, or else we’re on the FA market.  I think (despite my discussion about converting Garcia to a 5th starter) that he’ll remain in the bullpen and may bump Henry Rodriguez out of a job.  One of our two closer-quality guys (Clippard and Storen) could be moved, cashing in on their value, which could open up a spot for a FA acquisition or a promotion from AAA.

Lots to be decided this off-season for Mike Rizzo, and this hasn’t even mentioned the dominos that will fall if/when the team makes a contract decision on Adam LaRoche.

  • AAA Rotation: Roark, Maya, Broderick, Meyers, Perry
  • AAA Bullpen: Tatusko (swingman), Arneson (swingman), Severino (loogy), Davis, Lehman, Nelo (closer), Martin,  Mandel

AAA Narrative: We have a lot of long-serving minor leaguers here; as it stands now only a few of them are even 40-man roster guys (Maya, Perry, Garcia).  The modern AAA roster construction is one of “spare parts” and prospects; do we have enough prospects to cover for injuries at the MLB level?  Which one of these AAA starters would Nats fans feel comfortable filling in were one of our starters to go down with injury?  Perhaps the Nats need to work on some starter depth via trade.  Brad Meyers was just returned from the Yankees after a season-long DL stint after being Rule-5 drafted, and seems likely to slot right back into the AAA rotation when he’s healthy.  Perry seems set to get a 4th option and should slot in here, looking to convert back to being a starter.  Broderick is a former Rule-5 pick and was claimed from St. Louis, who dumped him late last season.  I don’t think he’s anything more than a 4-A starter, but the organization seems to like him.

  • AA Rotation: Rosenbaum, Holder, Gilliam, Karns, Grace, Demny (swingman?) or MLFA?  Solis if he’s healthy?
  • AA Bullpen: Frias, McCoy, Selik (maybe high-A again), Holland (setup), Wort (closer), VanAllen (loogy), Demmin (maybe high-A again), an org arm or two to fill in.

AA narrative: We have a couple of interesting candidates in the AA rotation to start, but what may be more interesting is to see whether the likes of Gilliam and Demny hold onto their spots with the talent ready to rise up out of high-A.  Meanwhile, the bullpen has some interesting arms to keep an eye on.  I forgot to mention Solis in the AA write-up but remembered him here.  Two big questions for me in this AA rotation for 2013: 1) is Rosenbaum for real or is he going to sputter out before reaching MLB potential?   And, 2) Is Nathan Karns ready to make the leap?  I think Karns can quickly put his name in the mix to get promoted to AAA based on his performance in 2012.

  • High-A Rotation: Swynenberg, Ray, Meyer (maybe AA?), Schwartz (maybe low-A), Rauh (maybe low-A)
  • High-A Bullpen Competition: Barrett (maybe AA) , Testa, Smoker (loogy), Hill, Meza (perhaps a starter?), Holt, Hawkins, Bates, Mirowski
  • High-A bullpen Release candidates: Olbrychowski, McCatty, Applebee

High-A narrative: there’s too many arms for too few slots right now in all three of the A-levels.   There’s a ton of release candidates, and some guys who could be higher or lower.   I’d love to be a fly on the wall at the organizational meetings where all this evaluation is done.  Meyer dominated High-A last year; could he start in AA?   Barrett (by virtue of his AFL appearance) may also be AA material.

The same goes for the Low-A team below: I’ve got 5 logical rotation candidates, another 4 guys who make sense to be in the low-A rotation, and a slew of guys who seem to have earned their way to the low-A bullpen.  But there’s only 7 slots to go around.

  • Low-A Rotation: Turnbull, Jordan, Purke (if healthy), Monar, Mooneyham
  • Low-A Rotation Competitors: Hansen, Lee (loogy if not), Encarnation, McGeary (if finally healthy)
  • Low-A Bullpen Competition: Anderson, Estevez, Dupra, McKenzie, Henke, Davis, Boyden, Benincasa, Hudgins, Dicherry, Mudron

We acknowledge the folly of trying to predict short-season staffs which will mostly be populated with 2013 draftees, especially under the new CBA that shortens negotiation times, making it more likely college seniors are drafted (who sign quickly with zero leverage) and get playing.  That being said, there will definitely be guys who stay in extended spring training for a couple months and then get placed on these rosters along with new draftees.  Here’s some guesses based on 2012 performances; all blank spots filled by 2013 draftees or by some of the guys who drop down from low-A.

  • Short-A Rotation: Baez, Pineyro
  • Short-A Bullpen: Smith (if not released), Fischer, Medina, Pena, Mendez

GCL blank spots filled by younger 2013 draftees (HS, Juco and college juniors/seniors from smaller schools) and by rising DSL grads.

  • GCL Rotation: Mieses (if not released), Barrientos, Vasquez
  • GCL Bullpen: Heredes

Nats 2012 Minor League Rotations: Guesses and Results

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Yunesky Maya led the Nats minor league starters for the 2nd straight summer. Photo Jim McGregor/Syracuse Chiefs via milb.com

I stumbled across this post, titled “Updated Minor League Rotation Predictions for 2012,” posted March 1st 2012, while looking for something else last week.  And I thought to myself, hey now that I’ve finished the reviews of the minor league teams, lets see how I did predicting the rotations at the beginning of the season!   I’ve also culled through the post-2011 season review posts for some preliminary guesses at the time.

(Note: I linked to NationalsProspects.com Luke Erickson‘s guesses in the above link for another perspective in the 2012 spring training).

Players are bolded the first time they’re mentioned, but not afterwards.

AAA:

  • Sept 11 Guess: Maya, Milone, Stammen, Meyers, Peacock, Martis
  • Mar 12 Guess: Stammen, Maya, Arneson, Ballard, Buschmann
  • Opening Day Rotation: Atkins, Roark, Maya, Lannan and Duke
  • 5 guys with the most starts in 2012: Maya, Roark, Duke, Lannan, Atkins

What happened?  My prediction was way, way off; only Maya was the constant, but we knew that the second he proved he couldn’t get out MLB hitters last fall.  The team traded two of its probable AAA starters (Peacock and Milone), lost a third to the Rule-5 draft (Meyers, who honestly we probably will get back once the Yankees are done screwing around with him) and a 4th to Minor League Free Agency (Martis).  Meanwhile, who knew that Lannan wasn’t going to make the MLB opening day roster?  Then, the team released Buschmann before he appeared in a game (he played 2012 in the Tampa Bay organization).  Ballard was a starter, just not in AAA.  Stammen, in a surprise to me, made the conversion from AAA starter in 2011 to MLB bullpen guy and had a great  year.  Lastly, instead of using more internal options like Roark the team signed two MLFAs in Duke and Atkins.  I suppose I could have guessed that the team would go with Roark before Arneson as a starter (given Arneson’s rubber-armed handling in 2011).  It just goes to show how much the creation of AAA teams has changed over the years.

AA:

  • Sept 11 Guess: Rosenbaum, BronsonDemny, Olbrychowski,  Solis
  • Mar 12 Guess:  Rosenbaum, Bronson, Demny, Olbrychowski, Gilliam
  • Opening Day Rotation: Gilliam, Demny, Mandel, Rosenbaum and Ballard
  • 5 guys with the most starts in 2012: Rosenbaum, Demny, Gilliam, Perry, Ballard/Pucetas

We were a bit closer here, getting 3 of the 5 guesses right.  Sammy Solis would absolutely have been in this rotation if not for his Tommy John surgery; we’ll cross our fingers for him to return in 2013.  When Solis went out, org-arm Mandel filled in.  Evan Bronson is still with the organization on Milb.com but never threw an inning in 2012 and isn’t on the Big Board.  I can’t find a single bit of google information indicating if he’s still with the team or not.  Weird.  Meanwhile I had just guessed too high for Olbrychowski; he spent most of 2012 as a starter in Potomac.  Nobody could have guessed that we’d have traded Balester for Perry, that Perry would have stunk as a reliever, and then would show up in AA remaking himself as a starter.  Ballard and Pucetas were MLFA pickups designed to fill holes in the system, though based on his prior experience I had Ballard pegged in the AAA rotation.

High-A:

  • Sept 11 Guess: Selik, Grace, Purke, Meyer, Hill, Karns
  • Mar 12 Guess:  Selik, Grace, Purke, Meyer, Hill
  • Opening Day Rotation: Winters, Hansen, Olbrychowski, Grace and Swynenberg
  • 5 guys with the most starts in 2012: Grace, Ray, Swynenberg, Olbrychowski, Karns

I was far off here as well; Purke got hurt, Meyer, Hill and Karns started lower than I would have guessed  and Selik was converted to a reliever.  I was right only on Grace (thought technically I thought Olbrychowski would be a starter, just not back in Potomac).  Winters was a MLFA (the fifth such MLFA who has appeared as a primary starter in our top three levels; is this a statement of some sort?).  As we’ll see in a moment, I was right about Hansen, just wrong about the level.  Lastly Swynenberg came out of nowhere; he was effective in middle-relief in low-A; who knew he’d win a spot in the high-A rotation?  I thought Ray would have done a few turns in low-A; instead he debuted in Potomac and struggled to make the jump.  I lost faith in Karns between September 2011 and March 2012; as it turned out he was one of the 5 top starters (in terms of appearances) for the year while putting in a career season.

Low-A:

  • Sept 11 Guess: Hansen, Jordan, Cole, Ray, Estevez, McGeary
  • Mar 12 Guess:  Turnbull, Hansen, Ray, McGeary, Karns
  • Opening Day Rotation: Estevez, Dupra/Karns, Meyer, Turnbull/Hill, McKenzie
  • 5 guys with the most starts in 2012: Hill, Meyer, Turnbull, Estevez, Hansen

What happened?  The team traded Cole.  Jordan was injured more than we were led to believe in late 2011 (he had Tommy John surgery after the season was over).   I predicted Hansen, Ray, Hill, Estevez, Meyers and Dupra would be starters, just got the levels wrong.   My Mar 12 guesses were somewhat accurate in that we got Turnbull and Karns right.  McGeary struggled through yet another injury filled season and may be nearing the end of his baseball career.  I thought Estevez was getting squeezed out with all these high-profile starters rising up.  I figured McKenzie had lost his starting shot; clearly his performance in 2012 should end his chances at getting another 2013 starting shot.  I guess the lesson here is that it can be awful difficult to determine the difference between a High-, Low- and Short-A guy.

Short-A:

  • Sept 11 Guess: Manny Rodriguez, Dupra, Baez and two draft picks.
  • Mar 12 Guess:  Manny Rodriguez, Dupra, Baez and two draft picks
  • Opening Day Rotation:  Jordan/Medina, Baez, Monar, Encarnation, and Smith
  • 5 guys with the most starts in 2012: Encarnation, Monar, Lee, Mooneyham, Fischer/Pineyro

My guess of 3 returners and 2 draft picks wasn’t entirely accurate; there wasn’t a single 2012 draft pick in the 2012 opening day rotation.  We got Baez pegged correctly but the rest of the predictions were off.  Manny Rodriguez, a converted infielder, spent the whole year on the 60-day DL.  Dupra was in high-A.  Meanwhile, a couple of guys dropping down from Low-A (Jordan, Encarnation) comprised the rotation at the beginning of the season.  Monar was a repeater from 2011 who didn’t get a ton of innings last  year.  Eventually some 2012 draftees (Mooneyham, Fischer and others) got starts as expected, and helped drive Auburn to the playoffs.

GCL:

  • Sept 11 Guess: Mieses, King, Encarnation, Medina, Marcelino
  • Mar 12 Guess:  Mieses repeating plus 4 guys from DSL and the 2012 draft.
  • Opening Day Rotation:  Mieses, Barrientos, Pineyro, Vasquez, and Schwarz
  • 5 guys with the most starts in 2012: Vasquez, Mieses, Hudgins, Selsor, Pineyro/Schwartz

Finally we got one right (well, right from Mar 12 guess anyway).  The GCL rotation was Mieses, 3 DSL graduates and one 2012 draftee.  Eventually more 2012 draftees (Hudgins, Selsor and others) consumed most of the rest of the starts.  King disappeared from the rosters; he’s still in the organization but was never assigned this season.  Injured?  Disciplinary issues?   There seems to be so much inconsistency in the DSL graduates that it almost isn’t worth tracking them until they appear in a higher level.  Honestly, this is why I don’t really follow the Dominican Summer League teams either.

Phew; that’s a lot of Nats minor league starters.  As it showed, its really, really difficult to predict this stuff from a computer in Northern Virginia, scouting the stat lines.  But its really fun, so we’ll continue to do it :-) .