Nationals Arm Race

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State of the Nats at the halfway point 2015

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Per KW’s comment suggestion, here’s a “State of the Nats” at the halfway point of 2015.

Salient key phrase: “Holding On.”  Lets look at some component parts.

Offense

Here’s the full-strength outfield lineup the Nats would optimally like to deploy: Span, Rendon, Harper, Zimmerman, Werth, Desmond, Ramos, Escobar.

Here’s what they lined-up against Red’s ace Johnny Cueto a few days ago: Taylor, Espinosa, Harper, Ramos, Robinson, Uggla, Desmond, den Dekker.  Yeah, its no wonder they wimpered into the night as Cueto threw a 2-hit shutout.  If you’re Cueto, you pitch around Harper (who got a hit and a walk), you attack the rest of the lineup (strike-out prone lead-off hitter Taylor took a hat-trick), and you laugh as you blow through the rest of the lineup (11Ks on the night).

That’s five regulars out, but not just any regulars; the D/L includes your expected #1, #2 #4, and #5 hitters.  Instead they are replaced by a rookie (Taylor), a career minor-leaguer (Robinson), a cast-off veteran failure (Uggla), a career .230 hitter who the team has spent the last 3 years trying to replace (Espinosa) and a 4th/5th outfielder with just a couple hundred MLB at-bats prior to this year (den Dekker).

Frankly, its a miracle the team is in first place.  Only by the grace of Harper’s incredible season does this team manage to stay in games.  For the record, at the halfway point Harper leads the league in bWAR (6.1), OBP, Slugging, OPS and OPS+.  After having a 3-1 K/BB ratio last year, this year he basically has as many walks as strike-outs, one of the primary reasons his average is 60 points higher and his OBP is 130 points higher than it was last year.  Hold your breath that Harper doesn’t crash out and miss a month with some injury like he’s done in the previous seasons.  If he ends the season with this level of an adjusted OPS+, it’ll be one of the 10-12 best offensive seasons in the history of baseball.

Ironically, even given all these injuries the Nats aren’t even close to what some other teams are dealing with; per mangameslost.com, we’re not even close to what the Mets, Rangers, Rays or Oakland has had to deal with.  Though I’d venture to say that perhaps the games lost by Nats players are slightly more “important” than the cumulative games lost by some of these other teams.  I don’t care who you are; if you remove four of the top five batters from any team’s lineup, they’d be lucky to be out of the cellar.

The team has gotten absolutely nothing from presumed bench players McLouth and Johnson (Do you think Rizzo will *ever* buy a 4th outfielder for 8-figures again in his life?).  Guys who should be in AAA are getting starts and (at least in the case of Robinson) holding their own.  We talked before the season about where Taylor should be (on the MLB bench or in AAA getting starts) … well he’s getting playing time, for better or worse.  Instead of worrying about whether Moore was going to get DFA’d to make room, we’re *adding* guys to the 40-man like Burriss to help out.

Rotation

We know about Scherzer.  He’s been amazing, should start the NL All-Star game (of course, he’s scheduled to throw the series ender in Baltimore so we’ll see) and he leads all NL pitchers in bWAR.

What about the rest of the rotation?  Both Fister and Strasburg have missed a  handful of starts, and the Nats have tried a whole AAA-rotation worth of replacements to varying results.  With apologies to “short sample size judgements” I’ll say that Ross was good, Hill has been ok, Cole has been bad, and Jordan has been worse.  Of course, both Cole and Jordan’s delta between ERA and FIP is massive, so their poor ERAs are unlucky to a certain extent.  In the meantime, Ross has a 23/2 K/BB ratio and a FIP of 1.11 in his three starts.  Its safe to say that this person is excited to see what he can do next, and for me he’s at the head of the line for 2016 rotation candidates.

Clearly we know Strasburg has had an off season.  But so has Fister.  And Gonzalez‘ ERA is in the 4’s.   Just how bad is this rotation?  Not as bad as you think; they’re ranked 8th in the league in starter ERA but are 1st in FIP and fWAR.   Last  year they were 1st in all of these categories.  So perhaps we can expect some “progression” in the 2nd half as (hopefully) guys like Strasburg clean up their act and pitch closer to their FIPs than their ERAs.

Bullpen

We knew Rizzo had weakened the bullpen from 2015, which could have been fine had the injury bug not hit.  But the turnover of this bullpen has caught up to the team in some ways.

  • End of 2014: Soriano, Storen, Clippard, Stammen, Thornton, Blevins, and Detwiler.
  • As we stand now: Storen, Janssen, Treinen, Carpenter, Thornton, Rivero, and Roark.

That’s a lot of turnover.  Yes Storen has been typically excellent (as long as its not the post-season, he seems to be one of the most reliable closers in the game).  As we speak, the bullpen is 11th in ERA; last year they were 4th as a bullpen.  Janssen’s injury did not help, as it pushed guys into the 8th inning role they weren’t ready for.  And we saw Treinen and Barrett struggle (3.69 and 5.06 ERA’s respectively).  Granted their FIP shows that those ERAs are unlucky … but those are still runs on the board, blown leads, blown saves.  Roark (predictably) has regressed as he’s pitched in practically every role a pitching staff has (long-man, mop-up, spot-starter, rotation guy, middle reliever, setup guy and even a closer).  Luckily the gambler Rizzo has gotten pretty good performance out of scrap heap guys like Thornton and Carpenter, both of whom have given the team good innings.

Will this last?  It better: there’s practically nothing left in the farm system for reinforcements.  Barrett is set to return soon (probably pushing Carpenter to AAA), but the other options in the minors do not inspire confidence.  Martin got shelled (unfortunately; we were all cheering him on after his call-up and his fantastic start).  Grace and Solis were both mediocre in their auditions, and I can’t quite figure out why Erik Davis is even still on the roster.  Maybe the team will try some more waiver claims or trades (Neftali Felix just got DFA’d…) to shore up middle relief.

Streaks

Lets talk about streaks.  As of the time of this posting, the Nats season can neatly be fit into these four periods, and then talk about what spurred the beginning/ending of each streak.

  • The Slow Start: 7-13 from opening day through 4/27/15.  The team came out of the game 7-13, thanks to a sputtering offense and a make-shift lineup still trying to gel.
  • The Comeback: 21-6 from 4/28/15 to 5/27/15: Uggla hits his sole homer on the season to spur a pretty incredible 13-12 comeback win in Atlanta, and the team goes on a 21-6 tear following it.
  • Rotational Worries: 6-13 from 5/28/15 to 6/19/15.  Strasburg lasts just 5 batters on his 5/28/15 start, putting 40% of the rotation on the D/L and throwing the rhythm of the pitching staff off.
  • The Kid dazzles: 12-5 from 6/20/15 to 7/9/15; A long road trip/tough schedule stretch ends with a dominant Ross performance at home 6/20/15, kicking off an easy stretch in the schedule and a mostly full-strength pitching rotation.

Definitely a streaky team so far.  At 7-13, they were 8 games back.  At the end of their 21-6 streak, they were 1.5 games up in the division.  Despite their 6-13 stretch the only lost 3 games in the standings as the Mets faltered equally, and as of 7/9/15 they’re still 3 games up despite getting dominated at home by the Reds.

The team is beating who they should be beating (9-3 against Atlanta, 8-5 against Philly).  And they’ve had some success against other teams that are “good” this year (3-1 against the Yankees, 3-0 against Pittsburgh, and a sweep of San Francisco).  But they’re inexplicably bad against Cincinnati (0-5?), Miami (2-4), and were expectedly weak against the rest of the AL East (a combined 3-7 against Boston, Tampa Bay and Toronto).  I’m guessing they’ll struggle against Baltimore this coming weekend since they sputtered against Cincinnati.

Lets just say that the All-Star break is coming at a pretty good time for this team.

Where do we go from here?

The Nats should be healthier coming out of the all-star break.  And they’ll need it; their July schedule is tough.  They host the Dodgers and the Mets to start, then travel to Pittsburgh, Miami and New York.  That’s a slew of games against good teams and their primary divisional rivals.

In August they host some bad teams (Arizona, Milwaukee, Colorado) but they also do their big West Coast trip (at Los Angeles, San Francisco and Colorado).  They also get a 3-game set at St. Louis that could be an eye-opener for where they really stand ahead of the playoffs.  September features practically all divisional games against teams that should all be completely out of it by then, so I forsee a team in cruising mode.

Playoff Outlook

The Nats remain in 1st place despite all their issues, and their closest rival is putting out a lineup that most AAA teams could beat.  Philly is already 30 games under .500.  Miami is 15 games under .500 and just lost their best player.  Atlanta sits around .500 but isn’t really trying for 2015 and won’t spend to compete.  So I think its safe to say the Nats are winning the division.  I’ll guess the Mets hang around since their pitching is so good, but in the end the Nats win the division by at least 10 games.

If the season ended today, Pittsburgh hosts the Cubs in the WC, St. Louis hosts the WC winner and Washington would be traveling to Los Angeles to open the playoffs.  And frankly its hard to see this changing much between now and October 1st.  I don’t think its a stretch to say that the Nats would be underdogs to both the Dodgers and the Cardinals in a playoff series, not unless Strasburg remembers how to pitch again or the offense gets healthy in time.  Are we looking at another first round playoff exit?

 

 

Nats top prospects; where to see them in 2015

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Inspired by a MLBpipeline.com’s similar data for their top 100 players, here’s a look at the Nats top 30 prospects, where they’re starting the 2015 season, and where we expect to see them by year’s end.  I’ve also thrown in where they were last year and a prediction of where they’ll be at year’s end.  (Along the same theme,  here’s where all 300 named players from Keith Law‘s per-system top 10s are starting as well).

For my top list of prospects, I’m using MLB.com’s list and rankings … and have thrown in Trea Turner in his approximate MLB ranking (around 4th-5th in our system).

Rank Name 2014 Location(s) 2015 Opening Day Location 2015 Eventual Primary Location 2015 Projected Ending Location
1 Lucas Giolito Low-A XST High-A High-A/AA if he excels
2 Michael Taylor AAA to MLB debut MLB AAA/MLB injury dependent MLB bench
3 A.J. Cole AA to AAA AAA AAA primarily/MLB 9/1 callup MLB debut
4 Reynaldo Lopez Short-A to Low-A XST High-A High-A/AA if he excels
4.5 Trea Turner Low-A Fort Wayne (SD) AA (SD) High-A /AA ? AA, especially if he’s starting there for SD
5 Joe Ross High-A to AA AA AA AAA with good AA performance
6 Erick Fedde College/HS (UNLV) XST (DL) GCL Short-A
7 Jakson Reetz GCL XST Short-A Short-A
8 Wilmer Difo Low-A High-A High-A High-A
9 Drew Ward Low-A High-A High-A High-A
10 Austin Voth Low-A to AA AA AA AAA with good AA performance
11 Pedro Severino High-A AA AA AA
12 Nick Pivetta Low-A High-A High-A High-A
13 Jefry Rodriguez Short-A to Low-A XST Low-A Low-A
14 Brian Goodwin AAA to MLB debut XST (DL) AAA MLB depth if he can rebound
15 Victor Robles DSL XST GCL GCL
16 Felipe Rivero AA AAA AAA full-time AAA
17 Drew Vettleson AA AA AA AAA since he’s repeating AA
18 Rafael Bautista Low-A High-A High-A High-A
19 Jake Johansen Low-A High-A High-A High-A
20 Spencer Kieboom Low-A High-A High-A High-A
21 Robbie Dickey Short-A to Low-A XST Low-A Low-A
22 Matt Skole AA AA AAA AAA , MLB bench if he regains his power
23 Tony Renda High-A AA AA AA
24 Anderson Franco DSL XST GCL GCL
25 Taylor Hill AAA to MLB debut AAA AAA as starter depth MLB depth as needed
26 Raudy Read Short-A Low-A Low-A Low-A
27 Chris Bostick High-A Myrtle Beach High-A High-A AA
28 Sammy Solis High-A/Injury rehab XST AA AA
29 Matt Purke AA AA AA AA/AAA if he can successfully convert to relief
30 Abel De Los Santos High-A Myrtle Beach AA AA AA

I’ve uploaded the XLS that I used to create this spreadsheet to google here.   You can sort the spreadsheet online by any of the columns (in fact, i’ve added a pseudo-rank column for each category for intelligent sorting from high level to low) to see where these guys will be by team.  To summarize:

  • 6 of them should be in Syracuse most of the year
  • 8-9 in Harrisburg
  • 10-11 in Potomac
  • 3 in Hagerstown
  • likely 4 in short season ball.

So, lots of talent close by in Potomac …. as we all already knew.

Fyi; i’m going to re-publish my spreadsheets of prospect and farm system rankings soon after a bunch more rankings came in and I did some historical research. I filled in a bunch of previous rankings (lots and lots of google research) and have links to every ranking that I could find.  For those of you with old Baseball America handbooks, I could use the rankings out of there to complete these xls.  More later.

Ask Boswell 3/23/15 Edition

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Scherzer is your 2015 opening day starter.  Photo via Scherzer's twitter account.

Scherzer is your 2015 opening day starter. Photo via Scherzer’s twitter account.

So, I’ve been quiet on the blog front lately.  Not much to write about right now, other than the injury bug that seems to be going around camp.  Max Scherzer named the opening day starter; I guess that’s news for a Monday.

Lets peek at today’s Tom Boswell 3/23/15 chat to see what kind of questions he fielded.  Despite it being post-March Madness, there’s still some baseball talk going on.  As always, I answer here before reading Boswell’s answer and edit questions for clarity.

Q: Say the Nats are under .500 after a couple of weeks. Will a full-scale panic start, or are team and fans’ nerves stronger than that?

A: Maybe the media’s panic will set in, but probably not the fans.  If the team is sub .500 after two months … you’d have to start asking some questions.  Same kind of questions we asked basically all of 2013.  Of course, that being said, the Nats’ early-season calendar isn’t exactly challenging:  10 of their first 11 series of the year are against teams that were sub .500 last year.  Now, we are expecting some of these teams (especially Boston, San Diego, Miami) to be much improved from last year … but the point remains.  The team has no excuse to not come out of the gates firing.  Boswell notes that if all the current injured Nats remain hurt on 4/1 … that fans will expect a long April.  He then goes on a long tangent about how screwed up the Dodgers are right now.

Q: Notwithstanding Taylor’s excellent weekend; I don’t understand why Williams would bat him lead-off (regardless of Taylor’s leadoff “skills”) but wouldn’t bat Harper higher than sixth.  Does Williams have a double standard for prospects not named Harper?

A: A good question.  Certainly some people have questioned Matt Williams‘ ongoing public criticisms of Bryce Harper.  Why call him out, in the media, for his supposed transgression of baiting the runner into trying for second?  Dude; its the 2nd week of March; it isn’t a big deal.  Except by calling him out in public, it *becomes* a big deal since Harper is such a lightening rod in the National media (deserved or not).  My two cents: there’s no lack of evidence coming out of the Arizona Diamondbacks organization over the last few  years about the institutional bull-headedness concerning “the right way to play” and other old-school baseball idioms, and it seems to me that Williams has continued his dogged old-school ways as the on-field leader of the Nats.  Is this a good thing?  Probably not.  Harper is talented enough to back up his actions (see last year’s NLCS when Harper was one of only two Nats hitters to bother making the trip to SF).  But will this conflict become a distraction?  Will it drive Harper from this team eventually?

Sorry for that tangent.  To answer the question at hand; with Denard Span out, *someone* has to bat lead off, and if you’re an “old school” guy who do you pick?  Do you pick the skinny, fast center fielder?  Or do you take a smarter look at your hitter capabilities?  I guess we’ll see.  Boswell says that Taylor batted leadoff in the minors, so he’s ok there.  Uh; the bush leagues playing infront of a few hundred people isn’t quite the majors.  Oh, and Boswell conveniently “explains” why Harper was batting 6th too.  Williams, the old-school manager for the old-school baseball writer Boswell.

Q: Why is Pete Rose back in the news with regard to reinstatement?

A: Because new commissioner Rob Manfred was dumb enough to engage Pete Rose‘s request?   The Dowd report was a pretty galling chronicle of Rose’s activities.  I think Rose appears as a sympathetic figure because of the ardor to which former commissioner Bart Giamatti pursued his penalty.  I too was sympathetic to Rose, feeling like baseball went far out of its way to rid themselves of him at the time.

But, now with time and retrospection, Rose’s sins were pretty bad.

I think the best way for baseball to deal with the likes of Rose, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens and perhaps others will to eventually create a special election with large caveats to their enshrinement.  Yes these players were among the best in the game … but broke cardinal sins against the game.  Imagine a veteran’s committee designed to create a permanent special exhibit in Cooperstown dedicated to great players who have clouds surrounding their names.  I dunno.  The cynical part of me says that the museum based in upstate New York has no incentive to *ever* stop the rhetoric surrounding these guys.  It gets tiresome to argue about the *same things* over and over … but we do it anyway, year after year.

Boswell coincidentally advocates for Rose for the HoF but not an active role in the game. 

Q: With the Nats celebrating ten years in the District, do you have any random memories that stand out since they’ve been in town?

A: I put out a post periodically that talks about “Best games” in Nats history.  This question kind of feels like the games captured in this post and in the comments.   No need to re-answer.

Q: Who deserves the opening day start?

A: You can make a pretty cogent argument for any of the three of Strasburg, Scherzer or Zimmermann.  Strasburg since he’s gotten three straight such starts and normally you don’t replace the home-grown “Ace” of a team.  That’d be my choice and my argument, coincidentally.  Zimmermann b/c of his no-hitter last year and generally accepted stance as the “actual” best hurler on the team.  But its now known that Scherzer is getting the nod (not a real big surprise once you saw how the rotation was laid out starting from early spring).  For me (as noted in the prior thread’s comments), Scherzer is the only guy with a Cy Young to his name, so it isn’t surprising that players’ manager Williams goes with the veteran with the most career accomplishment in that ceremonial spot.  Works for me; we just bought our opening day tickets (we’re in section 131 I think) so I look forward to seeing him pitch.  Boswell says that Strasburg’s sore ankle cost him the spot.  BS. 

Q: With the likelihood of multiple starters starting the season on the DL, how do you see that effecting the bench players on the roster.

A: We’ve talked about this before, but clearly it means that at least one, perhaps two NRIs are getting opening day jobs.  And it means that some options-limited guys are getting shots too.  If Span is out a month, Werth can’t make opening day, if Rendon is down and out, if Escobar can’t get enough reps … that’s a lot of spots to fill.  For me, just guessing, i’d say the team heads north with Tyler Moore, Tony Gwynn Jr, Michael Taylor and maybe Ian Stewart to start the season.  Dan Uggla?  Numbers are good; lots of walks.  But he can’t play 3B (not well, presumably) and its 3B where the team might need some cover.  Boswell is more bullish on Uggla, thinking he’d be a huge steal.  I dunno; can’t play SS, doesn’t bat lefty. 

Q: Are there going to be any longer-term impacts to demoting Tanner Roark to the bullpen?

A: Maybe.  Is it a coincidence that Roark has the worst starter stats of any pitcher this spring?  Probably not; spring training NRIs have a tendency to be uber aggressive, and minor league defenders aren’t always adept at catching the ball when playing out of position.  Maybe not; Roark’s attitude has sounded great, and he’s hopefully being told that he’s first in line and likely will get a big number of starts filling in for the inevitable injuries.  He’ll have his rotation spot back next year for sure.   Boswell doesn’t think so.

Q: If the Nats don’t make it out of the first round of the playoffs this year (assuming they will make it), do you think the fans develop the same anxiety that Caps fans have over the years?

A: Yes.  Two playoff appearances, two “best record in the majors” and two impotent first round exits to wild cards.  If the Nats fail in 2015, then  yeah we may begin to wonder what’s going on.  Boswell points out that the Caps have one of the worst track records in professional sports.

Q: What is your opening day lineup (including who leads off) given the injury spate?

A: If it were me?  If we assume that everyone who is  hurt is *not* making it to opening day, I’ll go with something like this:

Escobar-Desmond-Harper-Zimmerman-Ramos-Moore-Frandsen-Taylor pitcher.  Escobar at 2B, Moore in LF, Frandsen at 3B and Taylor in CF.  Not a great lineup.

A better assumption is that Rendon and Werth will make opening day, which makes the lineup a lot easier.  Escobar-Rendon-Harper-Zimmerman-Werth-Desmond-Ramos-Taylor-pitcher.  When Span returns, put Escobar at #8 and that’s that.

Boswell doesn’t give a leadoff-suggestion, but using induction by reduction, he’s likely pushing for Escobar at lead-off too.

Q: Is it time to cut the cord on Espinosa?

A: Not until you find someone else who can play short stop in a pinch who isn’t already slated to start.  Boswell gives a non-answer too.  I don’t feel bad.

 

Nats Outfield … what happens next?

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Span's injury is going to really affect this team. Photo: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Span’s injury is going to really affect this team. Photo: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve held off posting about this, since most other pundits are putting in their two cents as well.  But Denard Span‘s “core muscle” surgery has suddenly got this team potentially in a pickle in terms of outfield depth and I thought it was worth discussing.

Unlike the Jayson Werth surgery announcement, which seemed to be well enough timed to cause only a brief disruption to the Nats starting outfield plans, the Span injury could have a longer lasting issue.  And, even though Span’s not nearly the hitter that Werth is, he’s much more difficult to replace thanks to his position (center instead of corner) and his lineup skills (lead-off).

What do I think happens now?  In no particular order:

  • I’m guessing that Span misses the entire month of April.  His surgery has a “4-6 week” recovery time frame and there’s plenty of recent players who struggled for entire seasons after dealing with similar injuries.  Not a great sign for the team or for Span, heading into a walk year.
  • I’m guessing Werth also starts the season on the 15-day DL with the idea of coming off of it on the first possible day and only missing 2 weeks.
  • That means your opening day lineup projects right now to having Bryce Harper in right, Michael Taylor in center and probably Tyler Moore in left.  I’m assuming also that Nate McLouth is starting on the 15-day DL as well, given that he’s apparently not even throwing the ball yet after his Aug 2014 labrum surgery, and that the team would rather have Moore in LF than Kevin Frandsen.  Well, let me rephrase;  *I* would rather have Moore playing than Frandsen …
  • I also think the Span/McLouth DL combination creates an opening for a backup OF on the opening day roster.  And I think one Tony Gwynn Jr. is going to win it.  He may not be with the big club very long, but he could serve as the prototypical “4th OF who can play center field really well who does a lot of late-inning defensive replacement duty” guy until the roster is back.  There’s not really another guy in camp who has CF quals and the MLB experience that Gwynn Jr. has, even if he’s a career .238 hitter.
  • Gwynn could easily be added to the 40-man by opening day because at the same time he’s to be added, the team will likely be DFAing both Xavier Cedeno and Sandy Leon, both of whom are out of options and not likely to make the 25-man roster.
  • When both Span and Werth come back, it could spell the end of the line for Moore thanks to his options crunch.  That being said, he’s hitting the cover off the ball so far in spring training (insert standard March debate about spring training stats and their meaning), and the team won’t dump him if he’s hitting .350 in April, so he controls his own destiny.  Where the roster moves do come into play is the assumption that one of these lefty-hitting NRI guys is making this team too.  We likely cannot keep both Moore and someone like a Mike Carp once everyone is back.  Luckily three injuries to presumed 25-man holders makes for a stay of execution for many guys.

Now the big question; who the heck hits lead off if Span is out??  A good question.

Presuming your opening day fielders are: Harper, Taylor, Moore, Zimmerman, Escobar, Desmond, Rendon and Ramos.

Who in that group makes sense to bat lead-off?  Basically just three candidates: Taylor, Escobar and Rendon.  And none of them are really “good” candidates frankly.

  • Yunel Escobar (who is nursing his own injury and could very well also be joining the others on the DL, but we’re assuming for the purposes of this post that isn’t happening and we’re not looking at an April 1 roster that has Dan Uggla on it) isn’t exactly a prototypical leadoff hitter at this point in his career, though he generally has batted either 1st or 2nd. throughout his career.
  • Taylor projects more as a middle of the order hitter frankly, thanks to his massive K numbers (144 in 110 minor league games last year).
  • Anthony Rendon *could* bat lead-off … but he’s likely the team’s best hitter and makes the most sense batting in the #2 slot.

If I were Matt Williams, I’d probably go with this lineup: Escobar, Rendon, Harper, Zimmerman, Desmond, Ramos, Moore, Taylor.  Man that’s a lot of right handers.  The only lefty in that lineup is Harper.  But what choice does the team have?

I’m kind of excited to see Taylor get some opportunity at the MLB level frankly.  What if he lights it up?  What if he proves he’s a legitimate power-hitting center fielder who can man the #8 position for the next 5  years in Washington?  We’ll never know until he gets a shot.

Oh, btw, to all those second guessers who now feel the need to question the Stephen Souza trade, asking smarty-pants questions like “gee do you think the Nats regret trading him now??” stuff in national forums, I say this: the trade made sense at the time, the return was great, and you cannot manage your baseball team on the fear of two unexpected injuries in a 3 month time span.  Souza is very promising, so is Michael Taylor, and the team is assuming that Taylor has more positional flexibility than Souza.  You only need one or two backup outfielders on a 25-man roster, and the Nats had more than plenty heading in to 2015.  Yes hindsight is 20/20, but if the team was presented with the same trade today, knowing they were getting a future back-of-the-rotation starter in Joe Ross plus their shortstop of the future in Trea Turner, i’m not so sure they still wouldn’t make that deal and just work their way through April of 2015.

Oh, pps, has anyone noticed that the setting up of the spring rotation seems to imply that the Nats 1-5 rotation is shaking things up from years past?  It seems like we’re going to go Scherzer, Zimmermann, Strasburg, Fister and Gonzalez.  That’s last  year’s #1 pitching third, and last year’s #2 pitching last.  Can’t say I disagree based on the career accomplishments of Scherzer and Zimmermann, just kind of surprised to see Strasburg being “deposed” as the Nats #1 starter.

And, another PS: with the injury announcements to Yu Darvish and now Marcus Stroman, I wonder if teams are calling the Nats to work a trade for one of our surplus starters.  Maybe there’s still a deal out there for Zimmermann or Fister, reinstating 5-win starter Tanner Roark to the rotation and padding the farm system coffers a bit more.

 

Ladson’s inbox 3/1/15

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Roark; the lost starter.  Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

Roark; the lost starter. Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

I havn’t posted something in weeks.  I was facing writers block.  What is there to really write about in the early weeks of Spring Training?  Thankfully, MLB.com beat reporter Bill Ladson piped up with an inbox!

As always, these are (presumably) real questions from (presumably) real Nats fans who took time out of their busy day to email Ladson personally.  And as always, i write my response here before reading his so as not to color my own opinion.


Q: Would the Nationals consider a six-man rotation so Tanner Roark isn’t left out?

A: Uh, no.   You don’t commit $210M to Max Scherzer and then immediately tell him and all the other veterans in the rotation that their entire work preparation process is going to be adjusted, for the first time ever by any MLB team, to account for a guy with a year and a half of service in Tanner Roark.

By going to a 6-man rotation for an entire 162-game season,  you’d be lowering the number of starts for each guy by at least 6.  What would you rather have, 6 less starts by the likes of Scherzer and Strasburg, or 20-some starts for Roark?  I like Roark too, and trust me I wouldn’t mind a bit for a trade to enable him to be the 5th starter again, but this team has made its bed with this contract.

Ladson says that Roark will be in the bullpen as the long man when the season starts.  Cutting-edge analysis!

Q: If the Nationals and Jordan Zimmermann cannot come to an agreement and he signs somewhere else, what kind of effect will this have on the Nationals in general?

A: Not as much as you might think.  Yes, losing a near-Ace is never good, but this team has a 5-win starter pushed to the bullpen right now, and has significant depth in AAA.  I’m of the belief that a lot of the Scherzer signing was about providing rotation stability through the next few years as the team (likely) parts ways with a significant portion of its current rotation through free agency.  Two years from now you’re probably looking at a rotation that goes Scherzer, Gonzalez, Roark, Cole and Giolito.  And the Nats will have likely acquired a whole slew of upper-level prospects either by trade or by virtue of supplemental draft picks.  Ladson confidently says “there will be no effect at all” because Matt Williams “won’t allow it.”  Beat reporter bravado?  Of *course* there will be an effect; we’re talking about what will probably be a difficult and nasty separation when all is said and done.

Q: Why is Gio Gonzalez starting over Roark? Roark is clearly better. Gio won’t throw strikes.

A: Simple answer: because Gonzalez is lefty.  Secondary issue; Gonzalez is getting paid more than 20 *times* what Roark is in 2015.  I’m not entirely in disagreement here; I’ve been a Roark believer ever since he got called up.  But he’s going to be the odd man out in this competition no matter how good he looks this spring.  Ladson says Gio was his good ole self after getting past his shoulder injury.

Q: I like Drew Storen and his numbers are, overall, excellent. I have to admit, though, I worry about him in close games in the postseason. Am I overly concerned about the fact that 2012 and ’14 playoffs saw him blow saves in key games?

A: Three words for you: Short.  Sample.  Size.  Like it or not (and I too fall victim to this), you just can’t look at a couple of outings in the post-season and judge a guy.  Exhibit 1a: Clayton Kershaw‘s career post-season era is 5.12.    I killed Storen‘s 2014 NLDS performance too, but in reality he was rather unlucky to blow Zimmermann’s gem (Posey kind of fisted the ball into center and then Sandoval hit a down-and-away pitch for a very well-placed double to tie the game).  Storen’s regular season record speaks for itself right now: he had a frigging 1.12 ERA last year!

I say, lets worry about *making* the post-season first, then lets see how the games go.  At some point you have to think the Nats will, you know, hit the ball in a post-season series to the point where it won’t matter whether our closer will pitch a 1-2-3 ninth.  Lets you forget: the team slash line in the 2014 NLDS was .164/.222/.258 and in the 2012 NLDS was .232/.290/.393.  That’s not very good.

Ladson basically says the same thing.

Q: Do you expect a significant contribution from any of the players signed to Minor League contracts?

A: We already talked about the NRIs in depth.  Short answer is this: *maybe* one of the veteran right handers might have an impact but not immediately.  And we might very well see one of the lefty-hitting vets pushing Tyler Moore for the last spot on the roster.  Ladson thinks Mike Carp in particular is going to contribute off the bench … which means he’s predicting Carp to make the 25-man roster?

Q: Which Minor Leaguers could get called up during the season?

A: I think we’ll see at least three of the AAA starters at some point during the  year (guessing Treinen, Cole and Jordan).   I could see Matt Grace getting some MLB time.  I’m sure we’ll see a backup catcher in Dan Butler at some point.  If Michael Taylor doesn’t start out on the 25-man roster to replace Jayson Werth, then i’m sure we’ll see him at some point.

Perhaps a better question would be this: what non-40man roster guys could you see getting call-ups mid-season?  Rafael Martin comes to mind, as well as someone like Emmanuel Burriss or Matt Skole if the team gets stuck on the injury front.

Ladson mentions Cole and Grace … and then says that he could see Giolito getting a September call-up.  That’s the dumbest thing i’ve read in a while.  Why in god’s name would we want to start Giolito’s clock early like that??  If he’s MLB ready by the end of 2015 …. then you sit on him in AAA for two weeks in 2016 and call him up mid-April.  That’s it.  Every day he spends pitching useless innings in Sept 2015 would be another day the team has to wait for him in 2016. 

Q: Do you see Danny Espinosa on this team in 2016? It seems like he has gotten a lot more slack than anyone on the team. Additionally, what are the team’s long-term plans for second base?

A: I see no reason for Espinosa not to be on this team in 2016, if he continues to serve as an adequate backup.  There’s no reason to cut him, and there’s not really anyone better who is that close to the majors.   I’m not sure if i’d characterize the way the Nationals have handled him as “slack;” in fact the Nats have now gone out of their way to replace him as the starter both with the Cabrera trade mid-2014 and with the Escobar trade this past off-season.  Long term you have to think the team is waiting for Wilmer Difo as the long-term 2B solution .. if he can step it up and advance two levels in 2015 he may be ready by mid 2016.   I’m not as convinced that Tony Renda (who is “ahead” of Difo on the org 2b chart) is a real MLB prospect at this point.  There’s practically nobody of interest at either AAA or AA right now who rates as a prospect.  There’s also a possiblity that newly-acquired-but-not-yet-with-us Trea Turner could be a solution … but the team is hoping he can stick at short.  Ladson basically agrees.

 

 

Spring Training 2015 NRI discussion

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Matt Skole joins a motley crue of NRIs for Spring Training.  Photo via dynastysportsempire.com

Matt Skole joins a motley crue of NRIs for Spring Training. Photo via dynastysportsempire.com

As suggested by Dr. Forensicane in a previous thread, lets talk about the Non-Roster Invitees (NRIs) for the Nats this coming spring, and for each lets talk about their chances for making the team, staying with the franchise, and depending on their roster status, their future plans with the team in general.

(post-posting update: if you havn’t seen it, check out this overview of the NRIs published on curlyw.natsblog.com.  It is very comprehensive and organized its list similarly to mine).

Most Nats beat-writers published the same list of 20 NRIs on Friday 2/13/15.   Here’s the list by category.  I’ll talk about the least-likely to make the team to the most-likely by positional category:

    • Catchers: Spencer Kieboom, Steven Lerud, Pedro Severino

Discussion: Lerud was a MLFA signing from Atlanta and seems likely to join recently acquired Dan Butler as the primary minor league catching depth for this team.  Thanks to an options crunch, Jhonatan Solano has already been released (and signed naturally with Miami to join his brother) and Sandy Leon likely gets DFA’d at the end of spring training, meaning that the Nats AAA depth needs to be rebuilt.  Meanwhile Keiboom and Severino represent some of the rising catcher talent in the system that may be in a position to really contribute once our two presumed MLB catchers (Ramos and Lobaton) have reached free agency.  The fact is that teams need tons of catchers in spring training camp and it is not surprising to see non 40-man guys get the call to help out with bullpen sessions and then get cut loose once the active camp has been thinned.

Odds of any of these NRIs making the 25-man roster: none for any of these players, even with an injury.  Lerud likely sticks around as AAA depth, and Keiboom/Severino have yet to reach rule-5 eligibility.

Future plans: Lerud to AAA and probably out of the org after this season, and the two prospects moving on up the chain (Severino likely in AA and Kieboom in high-A).

    • Left Handed Relievers: Matthew Purke

Discussion:I am no longer considering Purke a starter; I think his best shot at making it is if he converts to relief. I’d be ecstatic if he regained his mojo as a starter but i’ve lost confidence as such. That being said; we’re all well enough familiar with Mr. Purke by now: for a couple of days in November I thought we had cut him loose completely, ending a rather expensive Nationals experience.  But he re-signed as a MLFA with the team (likely in a pre-arranged deal) and then took the invite to spring training.  I’m guessing the senior team officials want to get a look at him, see how he fares as a match up reliever, see if his stuff holds up in short stints, etc.  By having Purke in spring training, the senior decision makers can watch multiple bullpen sessions, get a sense of his makeup and drive, and make a decision on his future (see next).

(tangent: fun fact here; did you know that Purke was born in the same town (Nacogdoches, TX) as USMNT striker Clint Dempsey?)

Odds of making the 25-man roster: none.  The team didn’t go to all this trouble to get Purke *off* the 40-man roster just to put him back on; there’s other lefty alternatives that will get the first crack at the majors if our standing lefties (Thornton and Blevins) falter.  Namely Xavier Cedeno and Matt Grace.  Even after the season begins, I could see the team experimenting with Sammy Solis or Felipe Rivero as a reliever in the majors before looking at Purke.  Which leads us to Purke’s future plans…

Future plans: Getting Purke back on a non-40-man deal gives Purke a stay of execution.  I think the team sees how he does this year and then considers whether to add him back to the 40-man as a protectionary move prior to next off-season.  But he can’t be putting up 8+ ERAs in AA.  He needs to get guys out or he’s done.

    • Right Handed Starters: Bruce Billings, Mitch Lively, Scott McGregor

Discussion: Both Lively and McGregor were signed midway through 2014 after getting dropped by their respective AAA clubs (affiliates of San Francisco and St. Louis respectively), and then each served as essentially an innings eating starter for Syracuse or Harrisburg the rest of the way through.  Thanks to a slew of last minute moves, both guys got AAA playoff starts in 2014 as well, neither pitching especially effectively as Syracuse was swept out of the playoffs.  Both chose to re-sign in Washington and both will get spring training invites.  Billings was signed from Los Angeles in November and was a starter for their AAA affiliate in 2014.

Odds of making the 25-man roster: none.  Assuming there are no trades or injuries, the 6th-10th guys in line to get MLB starts likely goes Tanner Roark, Blake Treinen, Taylor Jordan, Taylor Hill and newly-added 40-man member (and long time Nats prospect) A.J. Cole.   The Nats used just 8 starters in 2014, so the chances of all 10 of these guys even getting looks seems rather slim right now.

Future plans: You also have to think that the last 4 of these 5 guys will form the bulk of the Syracuse rotation to start 2015, leaving just one slot available.  And if it were up to me, I’d have Felipe Rivero in that 5th slot.  So its kind of hard to even see where these three guys fit in for 2015, unless they’re heading for long-man duty or are dropping down to AA.   I havn’t done enough analysis to even guess what AA’s rotation may look like to see if that’s an option.  So perhaps all three guys are playing for other teams’ scouts and for AAA rotations that give them more MLB opportunity.


Now to where some of these NRIs may actually have some chances to make this team…

    • Right Handed Relievers: Heath Bell, Manny Delcarmen, Eric Fornataro, Rafael Martin, Evan Meek

Discussion: The team shed an awful lot of innings from last year’s core bullpen, none as important as the combined 132 1/3 innings from late-innings relievers Rafael Soriano and Tyler Clippard.  The team made a pretty shrewd signing of former Toronto closer Casey Janssen (and not for a ton of money either …), who will slide into one of those departed slots.  But the truth is that this team has a potential opening for a veteran 7th inning guy.  Right now Aaron Barrett is set to step into that later-innings role; is he ready?  Is he good enough?

The team has three former MLB relievers who signed on with the team with an eye towards reclamation; Bell, Meek and (to a lesser extent perhaps) Delcarmen.  All three guys have had good success in MLB bullpens … and all three have fallen on hard times.  Fornataro just got outrighted to AAA; he’s not immediately coming back on even if he fares well in spring; I’m guessing he’s on a season-long audition.

Which brings us to Mr. Martin.  Forensicane’s best friend.   His 2014 numbers speak for themselves.   He has such an odd and unique career trajectory that perhaps the ST invite is solely so the MLB staff can see what the heck he’s got.  I hope we can get a glimpse of him during televised ST games to see what he’s got.

Odds of making the 25-man roster: Long.  Despite the weakened bullpen, the Nats still have a strong group making cases to head north come March 31st.  And we know that Blake Treinen can be effective out of the pen, meaning that if we get an injury to any of the presumed 7 leaders in the clubhouse for our bullpen (for my money: Storen, Janssen, Barrett, Stammen, Blevins, Thornton and Roark), Treinen probably is the first to get called into duty.

Where these guys have a shot is this: there’s almost no reliever depth on this team.  Outside of the 7 guys likely making the bullpen right now you have just three other relievers on the 40-man: Xavier Cedeno (out of options and likely DFA’d on 3/31/15 unless an injury befells Blevins and/or Thornton), Erik Davis (coming off a lost year to surgery … is he even ready to start throwing again?) and newly-added Matt Grace.  I suppose if Davis proves he’s past his TJ surgery he’d be in line for a call-up if needed, but i’d put my money on either Bell or Martin getting a shot in case of injury.

Future plans: I’d guess that the likes of Bell and Meek have opt-outs if they don’t make the team.  Delcarmen stayed put after his opt-out expired last year and signed on again for 2015; he’s likely AAA depth all year.  Fornataro (as discussed above) is in the AAA pen looking to re-gain value, and Martin is certainly guaranteed a chance to repeat his AAA 2014 performance (not that he has much left to prove…).

    • Middle Infielders: Emmanuel Burriss, Cutter Dykstra, Dan Uggla

Discussion: The team traded away a significant asset to bolster its middle infield presence, but an injury to one of the Nats three presumed 25-man roster middle infielders (Desmond, Escobar or Espinosa) could mean an opening for one of these guys.  Burriss holds an interesting local tie; he went to Wilson HS in the district, not exactly known for generating significant baseball talent.  He has never really hit at the major league level and toiled all last season for Syracuse.  Dykstra is seemingly more well known for who his father is (Lenny) and/or who his fiancee is (Meadow), but he has quietly hit his way up our system.  You can argue that he’s been too old for every level he’s played at for us, but he’s hit .275 or better three successive years. 

Which brings us to Mr. Uggla.  He hit 30+ homers for 5 successive seasons, then got hit in the head by a pitch and suffered what we now know to be “oculomoter dysfunction.”  I certainly remember his presence in the Marlin’s lineup for years; can he regain his stroke and have an impact?  Problem is that he’s 35 and hasn’t hit at a productive level for nearly 5 years.  And his skill set doesn’t exactly age well.  I’m guessing this might be just one last shot in the sun for him.

Odds of making the 25-man roster: very little.  Every team needs a backup short stop, and the team clearly already has one.  Uggla isn’t going to supplant Escobar.

Future plans: I’m guessing Uggla has an opt-out.  Burriss likely is AAA depth and is fine with it.  Dykstra should be matriculating to Syracuse himself, where he can prove he’s worth a look later on.

    • Corner Infielders/Outfielders: Kila Ka’aihue (L),  Clint Robinson (L), Matt Skole (L), Ian Stewart (L), Mike Carp (L)

Discussion: We know what we have in Skole; our 2012 minor league hitter of the year who earns his third straight NRI.  He’s got a sweet swing but a lost season to injury and a less-than-impressive bounce back have him off the prospect radar.  But he’s not really the interesting player out of this group.

I’ve put the player’s bat in parenthesis above for good reason; this team has a need for a bench bat.  And there’s not much tying the team to the presumed 25th guy on the roster right now.  And we *really* have a need for lefty power off the bench, especially now that Espinosa is only batting right handed.  So a lefty with power has a pretty good chance at making this team.  And I don’t think its a coincidence that *every* one of these guys is a lefty hitter.  Ka’aihue just came back from Japan and has a ton of power in the minors that hasn’t translated to the majors.  He’s limited to 1B.  Robinson seems like almost the exact same player as Ka’aihue except with less MLB time.  Stewart at least has some positional flexibility and has a 25 homer season in the majors (albeit in Colorado), but has struggled with injury the past few seasons, derailing his career.  Lastly there’s Carp, another guy like Ka’aihue with a ton of minor league power demonstration that for the most part hasn’t shown up in the majors.  Carp can play 1B or a corner outfield position, giving him a slight leg up on some of his competition here.

Odds of one of these guys making the 25-man roster: decent.  You have to think our bench right now is Lobaton, Espinosa, Nate McLouth, Kevin Frandsen and … somebody.  McLouth can play center … barely.  And he used to have power, but showed the team almost nothing for its $10M investment last year.  But the chances of the team cutting him before June 1st is zero, even if he goes o-for-the spring.   Perhaps the first name to consider for the 25th man is Tyler Moore, but he’s a right handed hitter.  And he’s out of options, and he’s had plenty of chances to earn his spot and has left the team wanting.  I think we’d all rather have Michael Taylor playing every day instead of getting three ABs a week for the big league club.  So I think there’s an opportunity here for one of these lefty power-hitting veterans to grab a spot previously held by the likes of Chad Tracy or Matt Stairs.  In order I think the chances are best for Stewart, Carp, Ka’aihue and then Robinson..

Future plans: Like with the other vets, it wouldn’t surprise me to see all these veterans with opt-outs.  As for Skole, I’d like to see him regain his batting eye; his BA and his OBP both took 40+ point nose dives in 2014.  Of course, it is also worth noting that Skole is 110% blocked on this team right now; he can basically only play 1st or 3rd.  Skole’s value to this team may be in his trade value, which means a good season in Syracuse could mean his ticket out of town for opportunity.


Conclusion: I think we could see one or two of these NRIs make the team, even without an injury.  Remains to be seen.

Ladson’s Inbox 12/27/14

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Espinosa continues to be the leading player on the minds of Nats fans. Photo AP via mlb.com

Espinosa continues to be the leading player on the minds of Nats fans. Photo AP via mlb.com

Happy Holidays!  What a nice surprise; mlb.com Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson posted his first mailbag/inbox column since January 2014.  He must have been bored during the holiday lull in baseball news.

As always, since its been like a year since I did one of these, I write my response question by question before reading Ladson’s, and sometimes edit questions for clarity.

Q: Assuming the Nationals don’t make any acquisitions via trade or free agency, what is their in-house solution for second base?

A: Well, in order they’d likely start Danny Espinosa and bat him 8th.  And, if the fans’ had their choice, he’d abandon switch hitting, bat righty only and probably have a career resurgence.  Just a reminder: Espinosa’s career lefty split is .213/.283/.362 while his career righty split is .271/.343/.460.  Espinosa is so good defensively that i’m not entirely opposed to him being the starter; he can spell Ian Desmond at short (in fact, I’ve always thought Espinosa was a better shortstop defensively) and makes up for his awful switch hitting by being so good defensively (but not nearly enough to prevent the team from shopping).

After Espinosa, you have utility guy Kevin Frandsen having stated publicly he wants to be considered for the job.  Problem with Frandsen is this; he’s been even WORSE offensively the last two years than Espinosa; he has a .624 OPS in the last two years.  I hope there’s not anyone who thinks he’s a better solution.  Youngster Wilmer Difo was just added to the 40-man roster, but he’s never played above low-A.  That’s basically the roster of middle infielder options on the 40-man roster.  Jeff Kobernus played 2B in college but has long since been converted to an outfielder in this organization, so he’s not really an option either.  Looking deeper into the minor leagues, there’s some MLFA options at AAA (the likes of DC-native Emmanuel Burriss, current MLFA and Virginia-native Will Rhymes, or maybe even our own long-time org player Jose Lozada), and a couple of Nats draftees who have yet to pan out (Rick Hague and Jason Martinson).  But none of these guys are better options than just sticking with Espinosa.

Hence, the reason the team is looking at trade/FA options.  There’s a ton of 2B options that are likely available in trade or still on the FA market; its arguable that any of them are better options than just staying the course though.  So it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the team stood pat.

Ladson reviews the same three 40-man options and comes to the same conclusions as I do, and says he sees a trade.  He likes a trade for Ben Zobrist, like I do, but Tampa is notoriously hard-bargaining.  What would we be willing to give up to get Zobrist?

Q: Why are the Nationals willing to trade their best pitcher, Jordan Zimmermann? Wouldn’t Stephen Strasburg get them a better return?

A: I’m sure Strasburg would get a better return; he’s got two years of control instead of just one, and is scheduled to make a third of what Zimmermann will make in 2015.  I feel Strasburg is in some ways actually under-rated; despite a pedestrian 14-11 record in 2014, here’s his ranks in the entire majors in some quick categories: 13th in fWAR, 3rd in xFIP, 13th in FIP, 5th in K/9, and 5th in SIERA.  Teams are now smarter when it comes to acquiring control; a year of Zimmermann at $16M+ isn’t going to bring back that much anyway (see what the Rays got for David Price, for less money and TWO years of control).

And then there’s this: teams that are trying to win do not trade pitchers like Strasburg.  Plain and simple; it would be fan-relations suicide to move Strasburg right now.  The team just won the division by 17 games and their closest rival is having a fire sale; why on earth would the Nats look to move someone like Strasburg?  So that being said, why are they willing to trade Zimmermann?  I think it comes down to several reasons:

1. Money: As i’ve discussed in the past, the Nats payroll was at $135M at the beginning of 2014 and projects to nearly $150M without any subsequent moves.   150M minus Zimmermann’s 16.5M 2015 salary looks an awful lot like the payroll from 2014….

2. Practicality: You don’ t need to win your division by 15 games.  You can still win by 5 games and make the playoffs.  If the Nats can trim payroll, turn Zimmermann into something that look better than what we may get in a supplemental 1st round pick, AND still win the division in 2015?  Wins all around.

Ladson says several things I disagree with; he thinks Zimmermann would bring back a “kings ransom” and he thinks Rizzo is going to “get a deal done” with Zimmermann this off-season. 

Q: Given that he’s at an age where he needs to play regularly, does Tyler Moore have a chance of backing up first baseman Ryan Zimmerman in ’15?

A: Not sure what Tyler Moore‘s age has to do with anything; if you’re 22 or 42 you’re going to get ABs in the majors if you can play.   To the question at hand; right now i’m projecting Moore to be the 25th guy on the active roster.  That doesn’t mean he’ll make it, but he does fill a position of need; right handed power off the bench.  Had the Nats not traded Stephen Souza Moore might be a goner.  Now?  He could still make the team.  But somehow I sense that perhaps the team will look to flip him and/or bring in veteran competition for his bench spot.   Ladson states the obvious, saying the team will look to trade him since he’s out of options.

Q: Since it appears Michael Taylor is considered the future center fielder, can you see the team holding on to Denard Span beyond ’15?

A: In a word; nope.  I’m guessing that Taylor will get some experience as a backup in 2014 (and frankly may get a ton of at-bats, since our outfield isn’t exactly an injury-free haven), and soon the team will have a guy who can play a better CF than Span, hit with more power and run with more speed.  All in all, I think Taylor will be an improvement over Span in nearly every category and for 1/20th the cost.  Ladson says it depends on how Taylor does.

Q: Last year, the Nationals’ pinch-hitting average was terrible. Any hope it gets better?

A: So far … not really.  The bench is still projecting to be basically the same guys as in 2014.   Frandsen, Loboton, McLouth and Moore.  The only change is the dumping of Scott Hairston for Taylor.  But Taylor’s K rate is still high, which means we’ll likely see continued crummy pinch hitting.  Ladson points out the Nats havn’t had a good bench since 2012. 

Q: How is Lucas Giolito doing? Will he fill a rotation spot if Zimmermann or Doug Fister is traded?

A: Not in 2015.  Maybe by mid 2016 if Giolito has a two-level jump this year.  Giolito’s best case is to completely shut down high-A in April and force a promotion to AA by mid-season.  If that happens, then maybe we’re looking at a mid-April call up in 2016, just in time to replace the potentially departed FAs Zimmermann and/or Fister.  But this is a very heady dream; remember; Giolito is still on an innings limit, is still just 20 years of age (he turns 20 in July of 2015), and most pitchers his age are still in college,  yet to even be drafted.

If we move Zimmermann or Fister this off-season, then we’re looking at drawing from our AAA rotation for the 5th starter.  One of Treinen, Hill, Jordan or Cole.  Probably in that order, thanks to 40-man and experience implications.

Ladson is bullish on Giolito; thinks he’ll start in AA and get a call-up in September.  That’d be pretty aggressive.

Q: Why didn’t the Nats go after Russell Martin? Their catchers are less than adequate. Is Wilson Ramos still the guy?

A: Disagree here.  When healthy Ramos is a beast.  Remember he was the frigging opening day 2014 clean-up hitter.  The last thing the Nats needed to do was spend millions on someone like Martin.  Lobaton is more than adequate of a backup, cost-controlled and we traded a hefty price (Nathan Karns) to acquire him.  Ladson agrees with me.

 

 

 

Nats turn Souza/Ott into Turner/Ross

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So long Souza.  Photo Nats official/Tommy Gilligan

So long Souza. Photo Nats official/Tommy Gilligan

Throwing up this post for comments that are leaking into the previous post.

Late Wednesday afternoon, a trade revolving around the 2013 Rookie of the Year Wil Myers started circulating, and suddenly the Nats were involved.  When the dust settled:

  • Nats send Steven Souza and Travis Ott to Tampa
  • Tampa sends Wil Myers (and three others) to San Diego
  • San Diego sends Joe Ross and Trea Turner to Washington (as well as several other players to Tampa)

(Link to the full 11 players dealt here).

I can’t say it was much of a surprise of a trade, upon hearing that the Nats were shipping off new fan favorite Steven Souza.  Souza, at best, was slated to be the Nats 5th outfielder in 2015, thanks to the $5M still owed to 4th outfielder Nate McLouth.  And, the Nats longer term OF hole is in Center, not left or right, where Souza projects to eventually play for the Tampa Bay Rays.  In this regard, Michael Taylor is the more valuable prospect to hold on to, as he naturally slots into center once Denard Span leaves town.  Yes I know Souza *can* play center … consider who the GM is and what his defensive priorities have always been.

Who do the Nats get back?  How about two first rounders, two top 10 organizational talents in the San Diego system.  Turner is the catch; a college junior draftee who split time between short- and low-A this year and who BA ranks in their top 100 prospects in all of baseball.  They also get Joe Ross, a 21-yr old who ended up in AA (and who likely starts there again in 2015) with ok-to-decent numbers so far in his starting career.  (Note: since Turner was a 2014 rule4 draftee, he cannot “officially” be traded until a year has passed, so we’ll see him in June.  Lets hope he doesn’t break a leg in the meantime).

The team also gives up Ott, a sneaky prospect who excelled as a very young lefty starter in short-A this year, one of the younger guys in the league.  He’s a lottery ticket for Tampa, but he’s just the right kind of player for a team with the patience of the Rays.

Souza likely fits directly into the starting RF position just vacated by Myers, and Tampa nets a slew of prospects from both teams (as is their penchant).  In that respect, I think its a great move for Souza; he wasn’t going to play in DC save for injury, but he’ll get his shot there.

I like the deal for the Nats; I like the return, I like the planning ahead Rizzo is doing for middle infield depth, and he dealt from a position of strength (close-to-the-majors OF talent) without giving up a starting piece for next year.  I would have liked to have seen what Souza was capable of … but I also wouldn’t have moved any of our OF starters for him, so in that respect he was an asset looking to be cashed in.  Good move.

 

Written by Todd Boss

December 17th, 2014 at 10:01 pm

Rule 5 Protection Analysis for 2014

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A.J. Cole seems like a lock to be added to the 40-man ahead of the Rule-5 draft. Photo AP

A.J. Cole seems like a lock to be added to the 40-man ahead of the Rule-5 draft. Photo AP

After talking about 2015 payroll projections and then 2015 options analysis, and coming to the conclusion that:

  1. We’re payroll heavy and might see some shedding this off-season, and
  2. Our 40-man is full and we have a ton of guys without options.

Thus, the next logical step is to talk about who might get shed off the 40-man roster in order to protect incoming players ahead of the Rule 5 draft.

This post is a bit earlier than we normally do it; Teams have until 11/19/14 to add players ahead of the rule-5 draft (which occurs the last day of the winter meetings (this year, 12/11/14 in San Diego).  All these dates and more are on the off-season Baseball Calendar for 2014-15.  But, because we’re talking about it, lets get into the analysis.

As always, using the indispensable Nationals resource sites Draft tracker and the Big Board, and then giving some thought to prospect acquisitions made via trade, here’s some thoughts.  The quick Rule-5 rules; any college-aged draftee from 2011 or before who isn’t already on the 40-man roster is Rule-5 eligible this coming off season, and any high-school aged draftee from 2010 or before is newly eligible this year.

Newly Eligible 2011 draft College Players this year worth consideration for protection:

  • Brian Goodwin: Supp-1st round pick from 2011, paid like an upper 1st rounder, who has been a continual presence on top-100 prospect lists but who hit just .219 in AAA this year, didn’t play after July 1st, and has been clearly passed on the organizational OF depth chart by both Steven Souza and Michael Taylor.  Do the Nats protect their $3M bonus investment and find room for Goodwin on the 40-man?  I think they do.
  • Matt Skole, 5th rounder who blasted his way into the Nats minor league hitter of the year in 2012, then suffered a freak injury in the 2nd game of the year in 2013, costing him a whole season.  His OPS dropped more than 200 points from 2012 in 2014.  He’s almost a 3-true outcomes kind of hitter (good power, a TON of strikeouts but a lot of walks).  I’m in agreement with others; because of his lefty power and a distinct lack of lefty power elsewhere, I feel like he’s a potential future contributor.  I’ve always liked Skole and hope we don’t lose him in a rule-5 gambit.

There’s a whole slew of guys who were college draftees in 2011 who are still in the system.  No one else has even matriculated to AAA yet, and some are still in high-A.  The one name that sticks out as someone who “should” be in this conversation is 2011 4th rounder Kylin Turnbull. But no one else on this list merits any discussion for protection at this point.

Newly Eligible 2010 High School-age drafted players under consideration for protection:

  • Just one: A.J. Cole.  Who, it goes without saying, is a lock to get added.  In fact, there was only one other HS draftee in that entire 2010 class who signed; Robbie Ray.

Newly Eligible IFAs under consideration for protection (signed in 2010)

  • Wilmer Difo: just named MVP of the South Atlantic league, occupies a position of weakness in the system.  But would someone grab a guy from Low-A and expect to keep them on the 25-man roster all year?

A couple of other 2010 IFAs who sometimes pop up here: Wander Suero, Wirkin Estevez.

Minor League Free Agents of Note (it isn’t live yet, but this list will be at this link on BaseballAmerica eventually).  These are original draftees of the Nats who have now played in our org for 6 years.  They are basically guys who were drafted in 2008 and who have not yet been released or added to the 40-man.  Or they’re MLFA signings from last year.

  • Rafael Martin: frequently discussed here.  Great numbers in AAA this year.  Already 30.  Not a rule-5 issue necessarily, but a jeopardy to sign elsewhere.
  • Destin Hood: 2nd round pick in 2008.  So much promise, finally posted decent numbers in 2014.  Strategically, if you were Hood would you re-sign here though?  He’s at least 7th on the OF depth chart by now.
  • The whole Syracuse rotation: McGregor, Espino, Laffey and Lively.  Along with Delcarmen, Stange and Runion.  My initial impression is that the team’s going to have more than enough pitching to fill Syracuse’s rotation from those that aren’t going to make the MLB rotation (Cole, Jordan, Hill and Treinen to start, then throw in Rivero and maybe even Solis).  So the starters likely are gone; maybe we could use some more MLFA relievers though.

The only other 2008 draftees still hanging around are Jose Lozada and Paul Demny.  I’m guessing neither signs with us for 2015.

Rule-5 Eligible hold-overs of note:

  • Matthew Grace: had an excellent year in AAA, as discussed many times here.  Worth protecting?
  • Neil Holland: a decent year between AA and AAA; he does not seem a jeopardy to get picked so the team can hold onto him for one more year before he hits MLFA.

Did I miss anyone?  I hope not.


So, who would I protect?  I would protect Cole and Skole for sure.  I would highly recommend protecting Goodwin.

Past that, I’d roll the dice.  I like Grace and Martin, enough that I’d like to see how they look in the spring, but perhaps not enough to drop someone else.  I like Hood; maybe they try to re-sign him.  I think Difo is important, but they’ll risk not adding him since he’s only played at low-A.

They’re already looking at dumping 2-3 people to cover the above names; any more and you’re really digging deep, even withstanding the whole “7 guys are out of options” discussion we just had.

Thoughts?


For a fun trip down memory lane, here’s the same Rule 5 Protection analysis for 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010.

By year, here’s who I predicted we’d add and who we did add.  My “predictions” are kind of iffy, because in some cases I clearly hedged in the post and said something like “if it were me I’d add X,Y and Z but I think they’ll only add X and Y.”

 

Nats 40-man Option status for 2015

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Moore's lack of options puts him in a tough spot for 2015.  Photo unknown via insidenova.com

Moore’s lack of options puts him in a tough spot for 2015. Photo unknown via insidenova.com

A while back, I postulated that the Nats were going to have a “roster crunch” this coming off-season thanks to the litany of new-adds and 60-day DL shuffling.

Now that the rosters have been reset, as of this moment the team has 39 spots of 40 filled.  The FAs are officially cut loose and the 60-day D/L guys have been put back.  The only move of note has been the outrighting of Ross Ohlendorf, who elected free agency.

So, if we’re at 39/40 right now, do we have a roster crunch coming?  Yeah I think we do; a quick look at the Draft Tracker shows quite a few names that we likely have to add this fall in order to keep them away from the Rule 5 draft.  Without doing a huge analysis, college players drafted in 2011 and high schoolers drafted in 2010 will be draftable, and we have more than a few names we might be thinking about keeping (quick high-visibility list includes Brian Goodwin, Matt Skole, and A.J. Cole, along with the likes of Matt Grace and Destin Hood, who faces MLFA this off-season).

So, where’s the space going to come from?  Well, read on.  Lets talk about options.  Here’s a quick run down of the entire 40-man roster right now and their option status:

First, Veterans with more than 5 years experience.  This list swelled significantly for the Nats in 2014, though frankly almost none of these players were really going to be affected.  None of these players can be optioned without their permission at this point.

Player Service Time post 2014 First Added to 40-man Option Years Used Options left?
Zimmerman, Ryan 9.032 Sep 2005 none 3
Werth, Jayson 11.102 Nov 2002 2003, 2004, 2005 0
Span, Denard 6.111 Nov 2006 2007, 2008 1
McLouth, Nate 8.152 Jun 2005 2005, 2010 1
Gonzalez, Gio 5.162 Aug 2008 2009 2
Zimmermann, Jordan 5.154 Apr 2009 2010 2
Desmond, Ian 5.027 Nov 2008 2009 2
Fister, Doug 5.058 Aug 2009 3
Clippard, Tyler 5.148 May 2007 2007, 2008, 2009 0
Thornton, Matt 10.129 Jun 2004 2004 2
Detwiler, Ross 5.002 Sept 2007 2008, 2009, 2011 0
Blevins, Jerry 5.081 Sept 2007 2008, 2009, 2011 0
Frandsen, Kevin 5.151 Apr 2006 2006,2009,2010 0

Most of these guys are entrenched starters who never would have been optioned anyway.  Those that are not in that category (Detwiler, Blevins, Frandsen) were out of options anyway, so they aren’t candidates to stash in AAA next year regardless.  All three are 3rd year arbitration eligible and bit players; for my money I’d not be surprised to see at least one (Detwiler) or more non-tendered at the tender deadline.

This next category I call “Options Avail but are MLB entrenched.”

Player Service Time post 2014 First Added to 40-man Option Years Used Options left?
Strasburg, Stephen 4.118 Aug 2009 2010 2
Storen, Drew 4.140 May 2010 3
Rendon, Anthony 1.130 Aug 2011 2012, 2013 1
Harper, Bryce 2.159 Aug 2010 2011, 2012 1
Ramos, Wilson 4.047 Nov 2008 2009, 2010 1
Stammen, Craig 4.160 May 2009 2009, 2011 1
Roark, Tanner 1.070 Aug 2013 3

As with the likes of Storen a couple years back, these guys could get optioned back to AAA without much to say about it, but the odds seem unlikely.  Maybe someone like Roark could lose out on a rotation spot and head to AAA as a spare part, but that seems incredibly unlikely after his 2014.

This next category I call “Options Available, jeopardizing 25-man roster status.”

Player Service Time post 2014 First Added to 40-man Option Years Used Options left?
Espinosa, Danny 3.113 Sep 2010 2013 2
Souza, Steve 0.089 Oct 2013 2014 2

The way things are playing out, I’d have a hard time seeing Espinosa optioned back.  I think he’ll be on the 25-man roster one way or the other, as the 2B starter or as the middle infielder backup who can cover 2b or SS.  Souza represents a more interesting case; If 2015 started tomorrow I’d have him as the last guy off the bench with Taylor in AAA, by virtue of his power in a pinch-hitting role and his flexibility to play all the outfield positions.  We’ll see.

This next category I call “Options almost guaranteed to be used in 2015.”

Player Service Time post 2014 First Added to 40-man Option Years Used Options left?
Barrett, Aaron 0.142 Nov 2013 2014 2
Davis, Erik 1.045 Nov 2012 2013 2
Hill, Taylor 0.007 June 2014 2014 2
Jordan, Taylor 1.005 June 2013 2014 2
Kobernus, Jeff 1.000 May 2013 2013,2014 1
Rivero, Felipe 0.000 Nov 2012 2013,2014 1
Solis, Sammy 0.000 Nov 2013 2014 2
Taylor, Michael 0.024 Nov 2013 2014 2
Treinen, Blake 0.069 Apr 2014 2014 2
Purke, Matt 0.000 Aug 2011 2012, 2013,2014 1*

All these guys are likely to start the year in AAA.  Or lower; Purke will get a 4th option thanks to his MLB deal and his lack of overall professional experience (the rules are sketchy, but basically if you have less than 5 years of pro experience and get optioned 3 times, you get a fourth).  A better question for this team may well be what to do with Purke after next season; he’s yet to get out of A-ball; unless he makes a meteoric rise in 2015 he’s likely through with the team.

The exception here of course is Barrett.  He made the bullpen last year out of spring training but bounced around.  You can absolutely make the argument that he’ll do the same again in 2015 (my own 25-man projections have him in the majors to start as well).  But something tells me he may do more bouncing around.  Will his performance in the NLDS affect him going forward?  Will he have a short memory?  He probably belongs in the previous category (“options jeopardizing his 25-man spot.”)

Now, to the “meat” of the post.  Here’s our 40-man roster residents who have no more options left:

Player Service Time post 2014 First Added to 40-man Option Years Used Options left?
Lobaton, Jose 3.138 Nov 2008 2010,2011, unk 3rd 0
Mattheus, Ryan 2.149 Nov 2008 2009, 2010, 2014 0
Florimon, Pedro Jr. 1.126 Nov 2009 2010,2011,2014 0
Cedeno, Xavier 1.061 Sept 2011 2012, 2013,2014 0
Moore, Tyler 2.020 Nov 2011 2012, 2013,2014 0
Leon, Sandy 1.050 May 2012 2012, 2013,2014 0
Solano, Jhonatan 1.027 Nov 2011 2012, 2013,2014 0

Wow, that’s a lot of guys facing an option crunch.  Lets go player by player:

  • Lobaton seems certain to make next year’s roster as the backup catcher.  No worries here.  (A note: I cannot figure out when his third option was burned; his transaction log is a complete mess.  But mlbtraderumors.com said at one point he was out of options, so i’m going with them).
  • The other two catchers on the 40-man roster (Leon and Solano) seem like they’re dead ducks; they’ve had more than a few opportunities to make an impact in the majors and failed, hence the acquisition of Lobaton in the first place.  Other teams aren’t dummies either; they’re not going to give the Nats much in trade for these guys, knowing they’re both long shots to make 25-man rosters out of spring.  Do the Nats try to sneak them off the 40-man at some point in the fall?  Do they get picked up by someone else if that happens?  Probably; some other team probably would love to have a backup catcher competition with the loser getting DFA’d on March 31st anyway; no big loss.  So what do you do?  I guess you try to package them in trade starting now … or not.  Maybe you keep them both around as bullpen catchers in the spring and DFA them before camp breaks.  Seems harsh but you likely want them around in case Lobaton or Ramos gets hurt in Viera.
  • Mattheus seems like the “first in line for a DFA” at this point.  Awful AAA stats, out of options, wrong side of 30.  Its the harsh tale of middle relievers; he’s not been the same since breaking his hand in a fit of idiocy, punching a wall.
  • We know very little about Florimon, but the team claimed him knowing full well his option status.  Makes me wonder if he’s simply backup middle infielder competition material; make the team or get DFA’d.   Or not; do you break camp in 2015 with a bench like Lobaton, Frandsen, Florimon, McLouth and Souza?  I don’t think Florimon is a starter; his numbers make Espinosa’s look Ruthian.
  • Cedeno has nothing more to prove in AAA; his numbers there were great in 2013 and 2014.  But he’s apparently not as good as Blevins as a one-out lefty.  As with the catchers, i’m guessing he hangs around for spring training in case someone gets hurt, and is designated 3/31.
  • Lastly we come to Tyler Moore.  I think his time with the team is coming to an end.  He’s struggled at the plate two years in a row as a backup player; he’s not going to get starting time for this team.  And if you need a right-handed bat off the bench at this point, wouldn’t you prefer Souza, who clearly has the same kind of power AND can play multiple positions (including center)?   Yes I know Moore is hitting well in winter ball; I hate to sound cynical, but Yunesky Maya was once the MVP of the Dominican Winter League.  We’ve heard rumblings about how Houston may have liked Moore in trade, but that was before they canned former Nats 3rd base coach Bo Porter.

So, if the team needs to shed some space off its roster without consummating a trade … look no further than this last group for the first guys likely to go.  I’d say Mattheus is first to go, followed by Moore and Cedeno.  But these 7 of the current 39 guys are likely to be off this roster by the time opening day rolls around next year.

The end of 2015 spring training could get bloody.  Actually, the end of November just ahead of the Rule 5 draft seems likely to get pretty ugly too.