Nationals Arm Race

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Nats post-2016 “GM for a Day” Off-Season Priorities for filling Roster Holes


Ramos may be the toughest off-season decision the team makes. Photo via

Ramos may be the toughest off-season decision the team makes. Photo via

Another year, another playoff failure.  Beat it to death already.  Time to move on.

Lets talk about the post-season “To Do” list is for the Nats.  We’ll have eventual posts to talk about other stuff, like Tender decisions, 40-man decisions ahead of the Rule5 draft, etc.

In this post, we’ll squint at the overall roster, look at blatant holes that will need filling, and discuss how they might get filled.  Call it the cliche’s “General Manager for a day” post for the Nats this coming off-season.

Pending Free Agents we are waving good-bye to and the holes they thus leave (as per the invaluable Cots site at BaseballProspectus):

  • Mark Melancon: though i’d love to re-sign him … see later in the post.
  • Wilson Ramos: his injury is a shame for both player and team; he likely lost $50M in guaranteed FA money and the team lost a clear QO-compensation pick.  He may not even be able to catch again, which dumps him to the AL, where his market is significantly cut thanks to the lessening of demand for bat-only DH types.  Ramos is in serious career jeopardy right now; would he decamp back to the Nats on some sort of minimally guaranteed deal with performance incentives?
  • Stephen Drew: also one I hope re-signs; see later in the post.
  • Chris Heisey: one who I think is replaceable; look for another cattle call for RH bat options this coming spring training.
  • Matt Belisle: despite not making the NLDS roster, he was great for Washington this year and is worth another contract.
  • Mark Rzepczynski: He’s been very effective for us, and overall had a good 2016.  His 2015 was awful, but he was good before that.  Such is the life of specialist relievers.
  • Sean Burnett and Mat Latos: both given Sept 2016 tryouts; neither seem likely to be retained.
  • Jonathan Papelbon: worth mentioning if only for the payroll flexibility.

Total payroll “savings” from these FAs: roughly $22M.  Papelbon’s $11M, Ramos’ $5.3M and the rest total about $6M.

Guys who I think are clear Non-Tenders (probably a topic worth its own post).

  • Yusmeiro Petit: $3M option with $500k buyout for 2017; pitched poorly in 2016, didn’t make the post-season roster and should be replaceable on the roster by any number of our AAA starters.
  • Ben Revere: $6.25M salary this year, due an arbitration raise for 2017; struggled badly in 2016, lost his job to a guy who had about 2 week of CF experience and didn’t make the post-season roster.
  • Aaron Barrett: as heartless as it would be; he’s arb-eligible, still hurt, not likely to be ready by opening day and is completely replaceable as a RH middle reliever).

Total savings from these non-tenders: roughly $10M

Guys who I think its Time to Trade and the holes they thus leave.  This also may be worthy of its own whole post.

  • Gio Gonzalez: I think the Nats can take advantage of a historically weak FA market for starters and Gio’s very friendly contract (two $12M options for 2017 and 2018) and move him.  Yes he struggled this year, but if you look at what middle rotation innings eaters like him are getting these days, $12M is a bargain and he should fetch something we value.  Moving him lets some of the guys who are clearly biting on the heels of a deserved rotation spot earn it for 2017 and thus the Nats “save” $11.5M in salary for the 2017 roster.
  • Danny Espinosa: As much as I have argued against this, his 2017 playoff performance has solidified in my mind the need to move him.  He has his pros (a plus defender range wise, perhaps the best SS arm in the game, and serious power for a SS) and his cons (he hit just .209 this year, he strikes out at about a 30% clip, and his switch hitting capabilities are really in question).  Nonetheless, there has to be some demand for a 25-home run capable plus defender SS in a lineup that can afford one crummy batting average at the bottom of the order.  Perhaps an AL team that doesn’t have to also bat a sub .200 BA pitcher.

Total savings from these guys getting moved (not counting payroll received in return of course): $15-$16M.

So, adding up all three lines, assuming a steady payroll ceiling similar to this year’s and not counting arbitration raises (or Strasburg‘s new contract), you’d have roughly $47M with which to work.  Not bad.  Strasburg’s new contract will take $5M away from that flexibility (he made $10M last year, will make $15M next) and arbitration raises for Harper, Rendon and Roark will cost some cash, but that’s a post for another day.  Lets call it $30M in available FA dollars when all is said and done.

So, assuming you’re even reading this far and havn’t already started commenting and arguing about that list of players, here’s the presumed holes that losing these 10 players leaves (in order of mention above):

  • Closer
  • Starting Catcher
  • Backup Utility Infielder
  • Backup RH bench bat/corner outfielder
  • 6th/7th inning RH reliever
  • Loogy
  • Long Man/Spot starter/7th guy out of the pen
  • Backup Outfielder (CF capable)
  • Another 6th/7th inning RH reliever
  • #5 Starter
  • Starting Shortstop
  • (and not really counting the “loss” of Burnett and Latos for this discussion)

If we just filled these holes internally, what would it look like?

  • Closer: Make Shawn Kelley the closer and move up Treinen and Glover to be 8th inning guys.  This leaves a hole later on in the pen for the middle RH relievers (see below)
  • Starting Catcher: promote Lobaton to starter and install Severino as the backup.  Or switch them; honestly I like Severino’s at-bats; he looks confident.  I don’t think Kieboom is ready for the show, so it makes sense to tender Lobaton for one more year.
  • Backup Utility InfielderDifo becomes the first go-to guy to backup Turner/Murphy, but we’ll still need another utility guy.
  • Backup RH bench bat/corner outfielder: not much internally to go to; both the 2016 AAA and AA rosters are basically bereft of decent hitting prospects who might be candidates.  We’ll be trolling the FA market here for sure.  See the next section.
  • Two 6th/7th inning RH relievers: We have Gott and Martin on the 40-man; they could step up to replace these two guys like for like.  Right now we have five RH relievers under contract for 2017 (Kelley, Treinen, Glover, Gott and Martin) to go along with two lefties (Solis and Perez); that’s not too bad of a bullpen to start out with, but could be improved.  And this lineup doesn’t “really” have a long man, so you’d have to think one of Gott or Martin is in AAA to make room for a long-man (likely Martin at this point).
  • Loogy: its arguable whether we need another lefty with both Solis and Perez under contract, but they went most of the year this year with three.  Matt Grace is still on the 40-man and would be an internal option.
  • Long Man/Spot starter/7th guy out of the pen: loser of #5 starter competition (see below)
  • Backup Outfielder (CF capable)Michael Taylor, in what likely is his ceiling from here forward.
  • #5 Starter: have Sprint Training 2017 tryouts for the #5 starter between Lopez, Giolito, Cole and even Voth (who I’m assuming by that time will be on the 40-man, protected ahead of this coming off-season’s Rule-5 draft).  The winner is #5 starter, and one of the losers could be the long-man (well, if the loser is someone like Cole or Voth, who aren’t nearly as “big” of a prospect as Giolito).  There’s also the distinct possibility that Lopez’s arm is turned into a closer at some point if he can’t turn over lineups.  Check out Lopez’s 2016 splits, specifically SP versus RP and specifically the “Times Facing an Opponent” during the game; as a starter he struggles with the first time through the order, but not as a reliever.
  • Starting Shortstop: move Trea Turner to his natural position, leaving a hole in Center.

So, with my “all internal” fill-ins, your 25 man roster for 2017 looks something like this:

  • Starters: Scherzer, Strasburg, Roark, Ross, Lopez
  • Relievers: Kelley, Treinen, Glover, Gott, Solis*, Perez*, Cole
  • Catchers: Lobaton, Severino
  • INF Starters: Rendon, Turner, Murphy, Zimmerman
  • INF backups: Difo, Robinson
  • OF Starters: Werth, Harper
  • OF Backups: Taylor, Goodwin

And we’re missing one-two spots that don’t really have natural in-house replacements: another backup infielder and a starting Center fielder.

So, looking at that 25-man roster, where do we see areas of need?  This feeds directly into the Off-season Priorities in the next section.

Quick diversion: Notice I didn’t say what position Bryce Harper is playing.  Honestly, if Turner is vacating CF and we’re waving good-bye to Espinosa, then I think you have to put Harper in center.  Here’s my main arguments for putting him in center (most of which are “anti-arguments” for those who for some reason think he cannot play center):

  1. He’s young.   He just turned 24 for crying out loud; there’s no reason he doesn’t have the youth or athleticism to handle center.  Mantle did it while hitting for power.  So did Mays.  So did Griffey Jr and Aaron for the early part of his career.  Trout plays center.
  2. He’s got the arm (he has the 2nd best statistically rated arm in the majors in 2016), he’s got the speed (21 Stolen bases this year).  And now he has years of OF experience on which to depend.
  3. He’s played there before and played well.  Here’s his career fielding stats from He had more than 700 innings in CF in 2012 and played it to a fantastic UZR/150 figure of 19.1 and 13 DRS.  He was also great there in more limited sample sizes in 2013 and 2015.  I leave out 2014 since that was his injury season and its clearly skewed as compared to his other seasons.
  4. By putting Harper in Center, you vastly open open up the roster possibilities on the FA market.  Look at the pending FA last at and compare/contrast the available options at CF versus LF/RF.

Top FA/Trade Priorities in 2016-2017 Off-season

Fantasy: I view these as not really possible but are listed as “fantasy” wish lists.  Both fixate on moving unmovable contracts, so they’ll probably remain fantasies.

  • Upgrade 1B: dump Zimmerman and upgrade offensively at that position.
  • Upgrade LF: dump Werth and the last year of his deal and find a LF-capable bopper.
  • Acquire a leading CF: back up the farm system and dump it out for a leading center fielder.  Charlie Blackmon or Andrew McCutchen are names often mentioned thanks to the precarious position their teams face.  Mike Trout is the funny name you also hear since he’s so good he’s virtually untrade-able.  Unlike Tom Boswell, and as discussed in comments here before, re-signing Ian Desmond to man CF poorly would not be my first choice either.  I’d rather go with my “Bryce to Center” plan as laid out above.


  • Corner Outfielder.   See above Harper->CF logic.  If you want to splurge (and hurt your #1 divisional rival) sign Yoenis Cespedes.   Or you could make a big splash and sign Jose Bautista to a 3-yr deal that ends the same time Harper hits FA.  Werth remains serviceable in left, where he is mitigated defensively while Bautista still has value in RF.  This is where I could see a big chunk of the $30M of FA dollars going.  Lord knows we could use another clutch hitter in the middle of the order.
  • Closer: Above I said i’d love to re-sign Melancon, but more and more it seems like he’s going to be the 4th prize in a 4-closer musical chairs race.  And he’s gonna get paid.  And I’m not sure that the Nats are going to pay him.  Per the same previously mentioned FA list there’s 5 “active” closers hitting FA: Melancon, Wade Davis, Aroldis Chapman,  Kenley Jansen and Sergio Romo There’s a whole slew of guys who are FA who are former closers though, names like Andrew BaileyJoaquin Benoit, Santiago Casilla, Neftali Feliz, Jason Grilli, Greg Holland, J.J. Hoover, Jonathan Papelbon (haha, just making sure you’re still reading), Joe Smith, Fernando Salas, and Brad Ziegler.  There’s probably even more frankly; these were just the ones who stood out as I read the list.  Now, i’m not saying most of these guys are legitimate options, but some of these guys were perfectly good as closers and got “layered” by better closers.  Take Ziegler for example: he was just fine for Arizona for a while, then got moved to Boston where he got demoted to 8th inning duties.   I’d take him as a late-innings bullpen option.  
  • Bullpen arm: middle reliever: Now, all that being said about Closers, I think maybe what the team does is install one of their existing options as “the closer” and then maybe  hire one of these former closers to be an 8th inning/emergency closer kind of guy.  That’s essentially what they got last year with Shawn Kelley and that’s worked out ok.  I’d go after some of the ex-closer guys listed above, try to get them on an affordable deal (like halfway to closer money maybe) and that’d help off-set the losses of Melancon and Belisle.
  • Veteran utility infielder: as noted above, there’s not much in the farm system here.  If you keep Espinosa and put him in this role, then this is moot .. but we’ve read over and again about his disposition when he’s not playing.  This is kind of why I think we need to move him.  He’s more valuable in trade than he is in this bench role.  I hope the team re-ups with Stephen Drew honestly; he was solid, can cover all infield positions as needed, and can probably be had for a similar deal as last year.  I’d be happy with Difo and Drew and wouldn’t be opposed to perhaps another veteran utility guy to pair with Drew and compete with Difo if we don’t think Difo is up to the task.

Less Likely:

  • Backup LF/IB bench bats: While I like Robinson and I think Heisey did a good job this year, one struggled and the other is a FA with no guarantee of returning.  I absolutely expect to see another spring training cattle call of veteran bats of the LF/1B type to compete for roster spots.  I’m appreciative of Goodwin‘s completely unexpected line at the plate upon his call up; do we think he’s a better lefty bat option off the bench than Robinson?  I’m not sure.  I also sense (based on anecdotal evidence read over the years) that Robinson is a clubhouse and teammate favorite, which might make it tougher to cut him when the time comes.  Especially with a player’s manager type like Dusty Baker.  I know this is where MartyC will cry about Matt Skole (likely to depart in MLFA this coming off-season) and I understand; its all about potential versus production and Skole never produced enough during these annual spring training “tryouts” to win his spot.
  • Catcher: Here’s where the most arguing may occur.  I’m of the belief, after watching Severino down the stretch, that he could slide right into the starting spot right now.  I thought he looked good at the plate, took confident at-bats, never looked over matched, and (here’s the kicker) *puts the ball in play!*   This lineup has too many strikeouts; Severino struck out just 3 times in his 34 PAs down the stretch.   That correlates to about 50 punch-outs over a 600-plate appearance season; that’s awesome.  He was known for years for his defense, not his bat, so if he can provide even competent ABs he could be a starter.  So i’m up for saving money on the FA market (where the catcher ranks are thin and the prices will get bid up badly as a result).  Now, I could absolutely see us re-signing Wilson Ramos to an incentive-laden deal to keep him in house and hopefully get a good second half out of  him.  Why not?  If he signs for $5-6M (basically his salary this year) and then has games played incentives that could take him up to $7 or $8M why wouldn’t he do that here instead of elsewhere?   We go into the season with Severino and Lobaton with Kieboom in AAA and when Ramos shows up we (finally?) cut bait on Lobaton and have the two remaining guys platoon.  I’d be onboard with that plan.
  • Loogy: Why spend money here?  Solis and Perez ably fill the need.  Do we need a third lefty in the pen at the expense of one of the aforementioned righties?  I liked Rzepczynski this year; would he re-sign for reasonable dollars?  Would you want him back?  There’s several interesting names on the FA list; maybe one of them can be had for cheap.


What can we get in Trade versus buying on the FA market?   Payroll implications?

  • I suspect that Gonzalez can fetch some seriously valuable resources.  He’s an innings eating 4th starter who probably thrives in a pitcher’s park and is significantly less expensive at $12M/year than what something comparable costs on the FA market this year.  So can he fetch maybe one MLB-ready player that fits a need above plus maybe one decent prospect?  Is that too much?
  • Espinosa probably fetches less, unless you can get a GM to fall in love with his power/defense combo and somehow miss his BA and his K rate.  By way of comparison, Yunel Escobar (a lesser defender with less power but more contact) fetched us two upper-level pitching prospects in Trevor Gott and Michael Brady (by upper-level I mean AA/AAA level, not top 100 prospects).  I’d guess that Espinosa could fetch a bit more since he plays a premium position.  So that could end up being more of the needs above plus maybe an additional prospect.

But who knows what we can and cannot get.  In Mike Rizzo we trust when it comes to trades; no matter how much we bitch about prospects heading out the door, you’re really hard pressed to find a trade where Rizzo got the short end of the bargain or “lost” the deal.  So lets see what he can do.

Payroll implications.  I think we could get a $20M/yr corner OF slugger, a former closer at like $6M/year, resign Ramos at $5M, find a utility infielder in the Drew $3M/year range, and then sign a couple of guys to $1.25M conditional deals like what Belisle and Heisey got and fit right into the $145M payroll budget, even after arbitration raises.


Well; that’s a lot to argue about.  Maybe I should have split this up.  But let the discussions begin!

(did I forget anyone?)

NLDS Game 5 via my “live texting”


Rendon's struggles on the night led to an ending that was tough to swallow.  Photo Nats Official via

Rendon’s struggles on the night led to an ending that was tough to swallow. Photo Nats Official via

As I watched the NLDS game 5 unfold, I was texting with a couple of fellow baseball fans.  Here’s the content of my texts as the game unfolded for a “fun” look at my instant reactions to what was happening.  I’ve only edited the texts to correct my spelling errors as I furiously typed them after two stiff drinks from my basement … everything I wrote is in blue italics.

We pick up the thread at around 10:15 pm at the bottom of the 5th.

  • That pickoff  was a f*cking balk.  Yup, it was.  You’ll note that Bryce Harper was not even looking to steal and his eyes, once Julio Urias‘ leg crossed the plane, diverted to home assuming the pitch was going home.  I thought Harold Reynolds was awful announcing, but I agreed with him whole heartedly here when he said something to the effect of, “If they’re going to let him do that, he’ll pick everyone off.”  What surprised me was the lack of real complaining done by either Harper or Dusty Baker there, as if they knew arguing about it was futile.  In the end, it didn’t really affect the outcome of the game.
  • Scherzer looks better than I ever thought he’d do.  I assumed he’d give up 2 or 3 runs.  After his Game 1 performance, yeah six scoreless innings was well above the expected result.  
  • He will run the table in the 7th then Solis for the top of the order in the 8th and then Melancon.  Game is over.  Ha Ha.  Yeah, didn’t quite happen that way.  But after he made it through the meat of the order in the top of the 6th, that was a reasonable prediction.
  • Dumb play there on Werth at home; yeah, he was out by 30 feet.  Post-game analysis seemed to question what Bob Henley was looking at; at the point where the relay throw was in, he was still looking out in the outfield.  Is it possible that he thought the left fielder was still trying to retrieve the ball?  In a meager defense of the coach, they did have Danny Espinosa coming to bat, so its not like they had a high probability of a 2-out hit based on his series batting average.
  • [in response to a comment that it’s going to come down to the Nats bullpen] Except this year they’re stellar.  Nats Bullpen #1 or #2 in the league in FIP and ERA and they’ve been solid this post season; just two runs in 17 innings.  All true.  It didn’t matter.
  • Oh man homer.  Finally Max makes a mistake.  Except he really didn’t; look at the Pitch F/X plot of the ball Joc Pederson hit out: it was on the black and low; Pederson made a hell of a swing.  It isn’t like Max grooved a belt-high gopher ball there.
  • Why take him out now?  Don’t like that move.  Still don’t like the move yanking Scherzer; he’s on 99 pitches, he’s got 6-7-8 coming up; yes I could understand not wanting the top of the Dodger’s order to see him a fourth time, but if he already made it through all the sluggers, why not let him finish the inning?
  • First batter four pitch walk; Great.  I think the wrong guy is in the game.  Here of course i’m talking about Mark Rzepczynski‘s not-even-close four pitch walk upon relieving Scherzer, and of course i’m saying that Dusty has brought in the wrong lefty (I wanted Sammy Solis).
  • Geeze; well I guess I was wrong on the bullpen.  This was after the Carlos Ruiz hit gave the Dodgers the lead.
  • Every time Seager swings I think its going out he has such a powerful stroke.  Its funny, but Corey Seager didn’t really have that great of a series; 3-23 but his three hits were two homers and a RBI double.
  • Well that’s what happens when you don’t have a real CF.  And where the f*ck was Werth backing him up?  This was my reaction to Justin Turner‘s triple over Trea Turner‘s head.  Initially I thought he took a bad route, but in retrospect I think that ball was just crushed.  I did have a legitimate complaint about no backup though; Ruiz was running from first; could a backed up play and relay have gotten him at the plate?  Maybe, maybe not.  
  • I think Kelley just blew out his elbow again.  It did not look good when he did it … we now know he just threw so hard that he lost feeling in his hand.  I’ve done that too (never on the mound, but definitely making a 100% max effort throw as an infielder, usually on a relay home).  I’m glad he’s not seriously hurt.
  • 6 pitchers in the inning.  Crazy.  Just an observation.  I don’t know how long that inning took in “clock” time but it had to be over an hour.
  • The guy pitching Dayton?  He lived in my parent’s basement for a summer and I played with him several games back in like 2008.  He didn’t throw 93 back then though.  We’ve reviewed the Boss family’s personal connection to Dayton before… nothing new here.
  • Lifeline!! Holy sh*t!  This was of course the Chris Heisey homer.  Man; Heisey’s stat-line numbers may have sucked this year, but he definitely has come up big with pinch hit homers.
  • Love the move to the closer in the 7th.  [on Kenley Jansen entering the game way early]: I did, and a lot of the observers of the game did too.   Buck Showalter committed serious managerial malpractice for not getting Zach Britton into that do-or-die game, and now we’re seeing nearly every other manager left really thinking outside the box on closer usage.  Andrew Miller‘s numbers this off-season are just off-the charts; I know he’s not the “closer” but he’s absolutely the best reliever out there, and so is Jansen for the Dodgers.
  • Yeah!  Great PR [pinch runner] move too by Dusty.  That was putting in Joe Ross to run for Clint Robinson.  I will complain about Wilmer Difo later on, but I think its worth noting that the Nats bench came up relatively big in Game 5.  Heisey 2-run homer, Stephen Drew “drew” a walk (pun intended), Robinson got a  hit.  On the flip side, Pedro Severino flew out and both Michael Taylor and Difo struck out.
  • Can’t believe Werth struck out there.  Two straight un-clutch ABs.  Those two “un clutch” ABs were of course Werth and then Anthony Rendon both striking out with a runner on third.  Werth especially; all you have to do is hit a f*cking fly ball there and the game is tied.  That’s it!  Rendon’s strikeout clearly closed the book on him in Baker’s eyes.
  • Good night to be an Uber driver.  I think metro closed at 11:20: this was past midnight, observing that the stadium was still pretty frigging full.  Steve Case had departed though; he was in the center-field camera angle all night with his front row seats.
  • Huge Walk; 80% chance of a run now.  How about a f*cking Espinosa bomb.  This was in reference to Drew’s lead-off walk; RE of a man on first with no outs is above .8.  What does Espinosa do?  a bunt pop up??  From there two scrubs out quickly to end the 8th.
  • Well, at least the Nats have the top of the order in the 9th.  Yup; that was the silver lining; the top of the order, the best hitters on the Nats were getting a 5th shot at the title to eke out a run.  If anyone could do it, it would be Turner-Harper-Werth-Murphy.
  • I can NOT believe Kershaw is warming up.  Enough has been written on the topic by now.  But this was definitely shades of Orel Hershiser warming up in the 88 series, or Madison Bumgarner coming in for a relief outing on 2 days rest in the 2014 series.
  • We’ll know soon enough he’s definitely facing Harper.  I got this wrong; totally thought Kershaw would relief Jansen as soon as Turner AB was done.
  • Harold Reynolds is captain obvious.  I wish I could remember what he said, but it was pretty dumb.  Probably something like, “If the Nats don’t score here, they’ll lose.”
  • Nice inning lets see how big their b*lls are.  To channel the criticism of the 2014 team as levied by San Francisco pitcher (and long time Nats tormenter) Tim Hudson.
  • Katie Nolan is hot; this was my humorous comment about the Katie Nolan commercial during the pitching change in the 9th.   She is hot, and she knows a ton about sports, and her podcast is pretty good.
  • Why is there some idiot in a marlins jacket directly behind home plate?  Again, another “killing time” text.  On the TV broadcast some fool in a bright orange gaudy as hell Marlins jacket had positioned himself in pole position for the CF camera.
  • Why isn’t Kershaw in?  As Jansen walked Harper on four pitches.  I was starting to see the narrative; “Dave Roberts holds on to his closer one batter too long” as one of the Nats middle-of-the-order guys hits a walk-off homer.
  • Saving Kershaw for Murphy.  Yup, it became pretty clear that was the strategy.
  • Look at Kenley; he’s done.  He’ll walk Werth. Yup.  This was after watching a painful AB against Werth; clearly Werth was either going to drive a ball or he was going to get walked.  I think Roberts let him go at least one batter too long; he threw nearly half a game of pitches.  I saw a snarky post at HardBallTalk this morning “checking in with Dusty Baker,” who was quoted as saying that Jansen’s outing may affect him in the next series.   Well, its a reasonable concern; he threw a TON of pitches that night.  And he was gassed, perhaps before the 9th even started.  Imagine the narrative if the Nats had won with Kershaw warming up and with Jansen throwing his 50th pitch?
  • One day rest.  Poor form booing him he’s one of the best guys in the game.  Yeah, didn’t like the booing of Kershaw as he walked in.
  • This is an epic match-up all things considered.  Double could win it.   Murphy-Kershaw.  Murphy got him for 2 homers last post-season; could he at least drive in a run?
  • Ugh.  Worst case.  Now its up to a f*cking rookie.  That was it.  Murphy popped up.  Not a fly ball to even advance the runners.  Just worst case result given the situation.
  • This is 3 strikes fast.  My prediction of how long it’d take for Difo to whiff.
  • I bet they wish they had up Rendon right now.  This, and the early  hook for Scherzer, might be the two biggest second guesses I have of Baker’s moves in the game.  Rendon is your #5 hitter; yes I know he struggled all series and he had badly choked earlier in the game … but why are we ending our season with a kid who struggled in AA most of the year instead of one of your most important hitters?
  • Man.  That sucks.  Game over.

Welcome to the off-season.  When I get some time, i’m going to dig into the “draft class”posts.



Post-Season pitching Staff; who should it be?


Gonzalez is key in the NLDS. Photo via Wikipedia/Flickr from user muohace_dc

Gonzalez is key in the NLDS. Photo via Wikipedia/Flickr from user muohace_dc

As requested in the comments, here’s a good thread to argue about and attempt to read the tea leaves as to what the team will do for its upcoming divisional series against Los Angeles.

A quick note before starting: the Dodgers are literally dead last in the majors against lefties as a team.   The have a team BA of .216 against all lefties, which is 15 points lower than the 29th ranked team.  They have a 75 wRC+ against lefties and a .634 OPS figure as a team  … by way of comparison, Michael Taylor has an OPS figure of .648 for the 2016 season.  So the Dodgers hit lefties kinda like Taylor hits pitching in general.  I only mention this because, while I knew the Dodgers were “bad” against lefties, I didn’t know they were this bad.

So, common sense may seem to indicate that the team would know an important fact like this and either a) plan their rotation accordingly, and b) plan their bullpen accordingly.  But, we are talking about a team managed by Dusty Baker, and I’m not sure he’ll have it in him to perhaps consider using Gio Gonzalez in this fashion.

So, that being said, here’s what I think will happen with the rotation and bullpen, based on what we’ve been seeing the last few weeks.  (Btw, i am assuming that the Nats don’t blow home field advantage this weekend and the first two games are in DC … which may be a bad assumption but I can’t see them losing 2 of 3 to the unfortunately reeling Marlins)


Rotation goes (and this isn’t much of a surprise): Scherzer, Roark, Gonzalez, Ross

Discussion: Scherzer is scheduled to throw Sunday 10/2 in the final game of the season, giving him normal 4 days rest before the first game of the NLDS (here’s the MLB 2016 post-season schedule).  Past that, i’m guessing that Baker will re-arrange the rotation based on performance and not the current order since everyone will have plenty of rest by the time the NLDS rolls around.  Assuming that the final three games feature the expected probables of A.J. Cole tonight, Tanner Roark tomorrow 10/1 and Scherzer, then Roark would be on five days of rest for the NLDS game 2.

Gonzalez then goes in Game 3, in LA.  Is that bad?  Maybe not; in 2016 his home/away splits are nearly identical; he’s been not good no matter where he pitches.

Game 4 is where we think Joe Ross goes 100 pitches or so, which might get him to the 5th inning, and then we see Reynaldo Lopez in a “once through the order” bridge to the back end of the bullpen.  Ross seems like he has gotten back to the point where he can go.

This leaves the likes of Mat LatosA.J. Cole and Lucas Giolito off the post-season roster.  None has really merited inclusion.

Bullpen goes (and this is where I’m sure there’s some disagreement): Melancon, Kelley, Treinen, Belisle, Perez*, Rzepczynski*, Solis*

This means we’re leaving off:

  • Petit: he’s struggled badly and his long man role is replicated by Lopez or Perez
  • Glover: he has also struggled down the stretch and loses out in lieu of a third lefty
  • Gott, Martin and Grace: all have pitched well since their 9/1 call ups, but none are better options or have made cases to supplant the four righties listed above, all of whom have excelled this year.  But I will say, these three may make excellent in-house options to replace the guys who will likely be departing this off-season via FA (specifically Belisle and Rzepczynski).


I think this is a good plan of attack.

Who is the first lefty out of the pen to face the likes of Joc PedersonCorey Seager, Adrian Gonzalez or Chase Utley?   Per their current depth chart, the Dodgers are starting no less than six guys who are lefty only but the above four are the ones to be most scared of.  I think it’ll be scrabble, but having three arms makes it easier to do lefty matchups multiple times in a game.



Ask Ladson 9/23/16


Turner is on everyone's mind.  photo via

Turner is on everyone’s mind. photo via

I know my “Fantasy post-mortem” post didn’t move the needle; luckily Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson posted another inbox!  2nd one in two weeks!

Here’s how I would have answered these questions, if I was in a position to have random fans email me questions all the time :-)

Q: Is Trea Turner eligible for the National League Rookie of the Year Award? If he is, he should be the winner.

A: Absolutely Trea Turner is eligible.  Is he going to win?  Uh… better go check the season that Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager just had.  Turner probably finishes 2nd or 3rd.  If I had a vote, I’d probably go Seager, Kenta Maeda, Turner, Trevor Story and then Aledmys Diaz to round out the top 5.  Turner has been awesome no doubt, but Seager is an MVP candidate and did it all year.  If Turner had done what he has been doing for the full season?  Yeah he’d probably be at a Mike Trout level of production and we’d be having a far different conversation about him.  Ladson Agrees.

Q: You said you thought Dusty Baker sticks with slumping players too long, but you didn’t list Bryce Harper on that list.

A: I think its one thing to stick with a slumping player too long when you have a better alternative (or even a possible better alternative) on the bench.  But how do you possibly claim that Bryce Harper deserved benching?  He was the frigging MVP last year; talk about impatience.  And even with his “down” season Harper still has an OPS+ of 117.  Harper has had a really weird season: his month by month splits show him crushing in April, falling off a cliff in May after the walkathon in Chicago, rebounding for a solid June, hitting just .176 in July, rebounding again in August (.934 OPS) and then again falling off a cliff so far in September (hitting just .203 this month).  If the partern holds, he’ll get hot again just in time for the October playoff games :-)

Are the persistent rumors about his shoulder true?  Respected national reporter Tom Verducci has reported it not once but twice, each time with a more vehement denial from GM Mike Rizzo, but his drop off from last year is pretty apparent for all to see.  Certainly it would explain why he’s struggled so badly this year.  Are Rizzo et al denying so as to prevent a competitive disadvantage from being public knowledge?  Probably too late for that.

Ladson agrees; Harper is a different story.

Q: Do you think the 2016 Nationals team is stronger than the ’14 Nationals was?

A: Yes I do.  I think the 2016 rotation(at full strength) matched up better than 2014’s, the bullpen is stronger, and I think the hitting is more consistent with more production across the team.  Now, maybe a better question is, “Which team was better positioned heading into the playoffs?  There the answer is inarguably the 2014 team; the rotation we’ll field in the NLDS is two studs and then two question marks, we really don’t have a shutdown lefty in the bullpen, and two of our best hitters (Harper and Danny Murphy) are hurt.  Not a good time for all these injuries to hit.  Ladson gives the edge to 2014 for similar reasons as I gave.

Q: Being a longtime Expos fan and seeing that you covered them, how would you compare Vladimir Guerrero to Harper?

A: I’ll freely admit that I’m not nearly as qualified to answer this as Ladson.  But i’ll give it an opinion; Guerrero was a better hitter, more capable of hitting whatever was thrown his way.  They were comparable in terms of defense; both had powerful arms and great range.  I give Guerrero the edge in speed on the basepaths, and Harper the edge in power (which is tough to say given that Guerrero hit 40+ a few times and had 449 for his career).  Both players only have one MVP: Guerrero’s came at age 29 as soon as he got out of Montreal.  Harper won his last year at the tender age of 22, and you have to think he’s got more in him.  Ladson gives the edge to Guerrero for now.

Q: With the emergence of Turner in center field, do you think the Nats will bring back both Ben Revere and Michael Taylor next season?

A: Revere no, Taylor yes.  Revere is arb-eligible and is making north of $6M this year; he’s an obvious non-tender this coming off-season.  Taylor is still under complete club control and is not arb-eligible for another year.  I can see the team going one of three ways (as we’ve discussed here at length):

  1. Turner to short, Espinosa traded and we look for a CF in trade or via FA.  Taylor the 4th outfielder.
  2. Turner to short, Espinosa moved, Harper to CF and we get a FA corner outfielder (my preference but not likely to happen).  Taylor the 4th outfielder.
  3. Standing pat: Turner stays in CF, Espinosa stays at short, and Taylor is the 4th outfielder.

In all these scenarios, Taylor is the 4th outfielder.  Is he even the 4th outfielder?  Well, he’s now had 781 plate appearances in the majors; he’s hitting .224 and he’s struck out 248 of those appearances.  Not good.  I’m not sure what we do with him at this point.  Ladson agrees with me on non-tendering Revere, and thinks Taylor needs another year in the minors.


“Those guys can kiss my *ss!”


Jayson Werth, right, gave MASN’s Dan Kolko a joyous earful. (Alex Brandon/AP)

Jayson Werth, right, gave MASN’s Dan Kolko a joyous earful. (Alex Brandon/AP)

I “watched” the Nats-Cubs game in the most “2016” way possible yesterday.  I followed along at initially, then was glancing at my MLB app on my phone into the later innings, then caught exciting 9th inning and the potentially gut-punch top 12th on the way home in the car on 106.7, arriving home just after Anthony Rendon was tossed for not saying anything after taking a called third strike (which, per Pitch F/X, was low and outside, but was in the zone).

It was there that I saw the fantastic end of the game live on MASN.  Danny Espinosa getting a HBP and subsequently stealing second easily.  Michael Taylor slapping a single to drive him in and tie the game again.  And then Jayson Werth‘s 2nd walk off hit this week, nearly a walk-off homer (he certainly thought it was out at first glance), and a fantastic ending to the most well attended game at Nats park in a while (42,000 announced attendance).

Instant classic and instant addition to “greatest games” honorable mention list.  Nats win 4-3 to take the series 2-1 against the perhaps the best team we’ve seen since the 116 win 2001 Seattle team.

Box Score link.  Bill Ladson‘s great game summary.

But … for me the best part was the on-field post-game interview.  It was laugh out loud funny live and its even funnier in the clips.  If you havn’t seen them, you have to listen.  NSFW obviously.  But fantastic.

Yeah those guys can kiss my *ss!

Its like Werth is the lead singer at a rock concert playing to his crowd during an encore.  And his hair completely supports that simile :-)

Great win; great series.  This team is legit.  I know they lost four straight to these Cubs and lost the season series by the ugly line of 2-5, but some of those Chicago games were closer than a 4-game sweep would indicate.  And i’m starting to see national writers dreaming on a Washington-Chicago NLCS.  Wouldn’t that be great.


Written by Todd Boss

June 16th, 2016 at 8:35 am

Operation “First tough stretch of the season” underway…


Loved the Robinson homer ... even it if cost me in fantasy.  Photo via

Loved the Robinson homer … even it if cost me in fantasy. Photo via

We all know the Nats had a cream-puff schedule in April.  And they delivered; despite a somewhat inexplicable sweep at home to Philadelphia, they finished 14-7 in their first 21 games against basically a collection of teams that aren’t really trying in 2016.

14-7 is a nifty 108 win pace by the way.  Just saying :-)

We all were looking at this first road trip as the first true test; they havn’t played the Mets  yet, they havn’t really had much of a struggle (outside of a couple of pretty good Philadelphia young arms).  They were going to their old nemesis St. Louis (where they’ve always struggled, year over year), then 3 games at the defending WS champs (and in an AL park with their inherent DH advantage), and then to top it off 4 games in Chicago against a team that looks more and more like its gonna win 110 games (hyperbole, if only slightly; they’re 17-6 right now and that’s a ridiculous 120 win pace).

I didn’t think the Nats would win three games this entire trip.  Imagine my surprise that they frigging SWEPT St. Louis, in St. Louis, in three games that honestly weren’t really that close?  Strasburg, Ross and Scherzer pitched like bosses (no pun intended), and gave up a combined 3 earned runs in their 20 innings.  They won a game yesterday where Harper struck out four times.  They got great clutch hitting from unlikely sources (Espinosa, Robinson, Taylor) and they got a turn-back-the-clock Saturday from Werth.

What does this mean?

Well, for one, I think this already bumps up their projected win totals on the year.  You know the adage; dominate the bad teams and break even with the good ones.  I’ve got a little spreadsheet where I have projected Win/Loss totals for the season and it goes like this:

  • The team basically breaks even with the entire rest of the league: 43-41 against the NL Central, NL West and in Interleague
  • The team goes 13-6 against Atlanta, 12-7 against Philly and 11-8 against Miami.
  • The team goes 9-10 against the Mets (they have an extra home game in NY this year) for a combined 45-31 in-division.

If the team does this, then they win 88 games.  Probably not enough to make the playoffs.  So to improve on 88 wins, they need to pick up “extra” wins here and there.  Instead of going 13-6 against Atlanta maybe they go something ridiculous like 18-1 or 17-2 (they’re already 6-0).  They picked up an “extra” win against Minnesota already, sweeping them at home.

I had them going 1-2 in St. Louis in this scenario; going 3-0 is amazing.  Lets see what they can do in KC.  I’m hoping for 1 win out of 3.  They’re giving KC their two “worst” starters and they’re not really hitting well as a team, but what it does mean is that the Cubs will get Ross and Scherzer on the weekend.  Should be fun.

Written by Todd Boss

May 2nd, 2016 at 9:12 am

Ladson Inbox 4/25/16


Treinen looking like a closer in the making  Photo via

Treinen looking like a closer in the making Photo via

I’m digging the frequency of Bill Ladson’s inboxes this year.  It prompts me to write something when i’m otherwise slammed and distracted with that silly thing called work.  Here’s 4/25/16’s edition.

Q: As April comes to an end, what has been the most pleasant surprise for the Nationals?

A: I’ll go with the relatively injury-free spring and April; we havn’t had someone major break or pull anything.  Only Ben Revere has gotten bit by the bug, and that’s no great loss b/c it forces more playing time for Michael TaylorLadson goes with the Bullpen, who admittedly has been great.

Q: In your recent Inbox, you said No. 3 prospect Victor Robles will be Bryce Harper‘s teammate in a couple of years. Do you think Harper will still be a member of the Nats? I watched Harper all spring, but my guess is I’ll be driving cross state to Tampa to see him with the Yankees.

A: Harper hasn’t even hit arbitration years yet.  But the timing of Harper hitting free agency and Robles likely arriving could be a “dovetailing” event. I think the assumption that Harper is automatically going to go to New  York is silly; the Yankees aren’t highest spending franchise right now, and Steinbrenner‘s sons seem like they’re more interested in avoiding luxury taxes right now than they are in winning.  The big question the Nats will have to ask themselves is whether they’re willing to put 25% of their payroll for the next decade on one player…. when the time comes anyway.  They’re already kicking $15M/year down the road for a decade longer than they have to with Scherzer‘s contract.  Ladson thinks the Nats will “find a way to pay Harper.”  Really??  Do you not know who his agent its?  Harper is GOING to go to FA, no matter what his opinion of Washington is.

Q: What is Plan B for the ninth inning if Jonathan Papelbon gets hurt or doesn’t perform? Seems like there isn’t a replacement.

A: Actually, its looking more and more like there’s TWO options: Treinen and Rivero.  I gotta admit; i like what Dusty Baker is doing with the bullpen so far.  Both these guys are looking like closers in training.  And that’s good b/c there’s not a ton of help at AAA right now.  A quick glance at the Syracuse stats isn’t entirely promising on this front: I don’t see a “closer in training” anywhere in AAA.  As far as relievers go;  Trevor Gott has ok numbers but not good K/9 rates.  40-man guys Grace and Solis are both doing great … but they’re loogies.  Rafael Martin and Sam Runion have struggled.   Two guys that could be interesting (Erik Davis and Abel de los Santos) have done well … Davis especially, finally healthy after all this time.  But again, not a closer.  So, if Papelbon went down we’d probably be looking at Treinen as the closer, Rivero as an 8th inning guy and likely bringing up Davis or de los Santos to fill in earlier.  Ladson also says Treinen and Rivero.

Q: Why doesn’t Matt den Dekker get more starting opportunities? He has speed, power and is great defensively.

A: It might just be a matter of time, if Michael Taylor continues to struggle and Ben Revere is slow to come back.  But at this point, based on limited sample sizes, even den Dekker might be “behind” Chris Heisey were the Nats to need another starting outfielder.  Just no room at the inn.  Ladson thinks Taylor and den Dekker could platoon.

Q: Why wasn’t Gio Gonzalez pitching in this first home series? He’s a veteran pitcher who seems to have been squeezed out of the starting rotation during the first two weeks.

A: Clearly Baker looked at Gio Gonzalez as his 5th starter coming out of Spring Training and that’s what it meant to have been skipped the first time through the rotation.  I don’t think its a stretch to say that the other four guys have outperformed Gonzalez lately, either in potential (Joe Ross) or in 2014 performance (Tanner Roark).  Baker basically said that Gonzalez’s starts tax the bullpen so he had to consider when to use him.  Ladson notes that Gio struggled in spring training.

Q: With Trea Turner of to a nice start, when do we expect to see him in the big leagues?

A: Man that’s a good question; every additional week he’s hitting .350 in AAA and Danny Espinosa isn’t hitting his weight is another week where it becomes tougher and tougher to keep him down.  I still think he’ll hang out down there until the Nats regain a service year.  Ladson makes a good point; the Nats are winning without him so why change anything?



Ladson Inbox 3/22/16


Michael Taylor has been lighting it up this spring. Photo via wp

Michael Taylor has been lighting it up this spring. Photo via wp

Bill Ladson‘s inboxes seem to now just be sporadic Spring Training devices.  I should do more post-Boswell chat reaction posts to drum up conversation.  Nonetheless, here’s Ladson’s latest mailbag and how i’d have answered the questions he took.

Q: Former Nationals general manager Jim Bowden believes Michael Taylor should be the starting left fielder over Jayson Werth. What is your take on it?

A: My take is, “thats why Jim Bowden isn’t a GM anymore.”  Or even a manager.  Yes Michael Taylor has had a great spring.  He also struck out, a lot, in 2015, (158 Ks in 511 PAs for a nifty 31% clip) and (per his splits) didn’t really improve much as the season progressed.   Meanwhile Jayson Werth put up very, very good numbers in 2013 and 2014, the two most recent seasons when he wasn’t hurt.  In both of those seasons he put up oWAR of 4.7 (his total bWAR figures being drug down by his idiot manager continuing to play him in RF instead of left).

Of course, Werth isn’t getting any younger.  There’s not guarantee that he hasn’t fallen off a cliff of performance.

So what’s the answer?  You let Werth play his way to the bench.  The odds are that someone’s getting hurt in our OF and Taylor is going to get 400-500 ABs anyway.  So he’s gonna get playing time.  But there’s just no way that Dusty Baker the “veteran’s manager” is going to sit a long-time vet and team leader by virtue of a few weeks of Florida ABs.  It may take half a season of under-performance, but eventually these things sort themselves out.  This is basically what Ladson said too.

Q: What do you think is Baker’s toughest decision before heading north?

A: What socks to wear on opening day?  Honestly, there’s really very little to decide upon with this team.  They’ve had a very injury-free spring.  The rotation was basically settled upon months ago.  The trades that Mike Rizzo made to solidify the roster also had the effect of basically locking up the roster going north.  Maybe there will be a surprise in the bullpen but that seems unlikely too; the team acquired all these guys for a reason and it wasn’t to compete for a bullpen slot.

The obvious answer prior to spring training was “who starts at Shortstop” but I’ve never thought there was any question that Danny Espinosa will be the starter.  That’s not to say I don’t recognize the potential of Trea Turner (he’s not a top 10-15 prospect on most pundits’ sheets for nothing), but returning to a theme, I just had a hard time thinking that a manager like Baker was going to go with a guy with 5 weeks of service time over a guy with nearly 5 years.  As with Taylor/Werth though, this situation likely sorts itself out.  If Espinosa hits .200 for April, then he’ll switch places with Stephen Drew and the team will start thinking hard about bringing back up Turner (especially if he’s hitting .320 in AAA).

I think there’s still some question at the edge of the bench; do you go with who I think they’ll go with (Tyler Moore and Clint Robinson) or do we get a surprise DFA so they can stick with someone like Matt den DekkerLadson also says its the last bench spot, where Moore is the incumbent but a number of guys could stick based on spring performance, specifically Scott Sizemore, who might be a bit more positionally flexible than Moore.

Q: What is your biggest concern about the Nationals?

A: Bullpen.  We’ve talked about how the Nats, despite all their injuries on offense last year, really struggled in terms of run prevention as the core reason they went from 96 to 83 wins.  Now they’re rolling out nearly a 100% changed bullpen from opening day last year.  How will it perform?  Will it be able to hold down the fort?

We also likely are taking a step back in the rotation, unless Strasburg remembers his September form and brings that from day one.  But, we hopefully counter this with a step forward in offense, with healthy seasons from Anthony Rendon and the veterans.  Ladson also says Bullpen.

Q: Who do you see having a breakout year in the Nationals’ farm system?

A: Well, do you count Giolito at this point?  Probably not.  I’m going to go with the prospects who are getting publicity but who are still in the lower minors.  Guys like Victor Robles, Anderson Franco.  I’d like to see what Max Schrock can do.  I’m excited to see what Taylor Hearn can bring to the table with a full season.  The two Lees: Andrew Lee and Nick LeeLadson mentions Severino; meh; i think we know what we have with Severino by now; great catcher, no hit, #8 hitter in the majors.  I think you see this team let both Ramos and Lobaton go this coming off-season and find a new starter with Severino as the backup.  But that’s a year away so lots could change.

Q: Should the Nationals consider trading Stephen Strasburg before the non-waiver Trade Deadline since it seems he has no interest in returning to Washington next year?

A: Nope.  You try to WIN when you have guys like Strasburg, not flip them away like you’re some small market team stashing away prospects for the future.  This isn’t Tampa Bay; this is the #5 market in the nation.  Besides, who said Strasburg has “no interest” in returning to Washington??  I’ve never read that.  His agent is Scott Boras, who always advises going to free agency, and next year’s FA class is weak, meaning Strasburg will probably get into a bidding war for his services.  Its the modern game; he’ll be overpaid, he’ll get too many years, and he’ll likely get priced out of the comfort level of Ted Lerner and company.  But that’s not the same as implying that Strasburg doesn’t want to be playing in Washington.  Would you give Strasburg 8yrs/$200M?  Because that’s the going rate for an Ace-quality guy like him on the market.  Ladson agrees.

Q: What do you think of Blake Treinen? Is he a starter or reliever?

A: I think  he’s a starter at heart but a reliever in reality.  That is unless he can actually develop a 50-55 grade third pitch that he can reliably get lefties out with.  If that’s the case, then he could become a very effective starter.  And it does seem like the Nationals are thinking the same thing.  He’s definitely pitching this spring like he’s a starter; perhaps the team is thinking about Treinen as the longer guy instead of PetitLadson says he’s showing progress and his spring stats are good; is he the 6th starter over A.J. Cole or Austin Voth at this point?  If someone goes down with injury, are you trying out Trienen or are you calling up the kid Giolito?


Murphy Signing: I guess I’m ok with it


Murphy makes the drive down I-95 to Washington. Photo via

Murphy makes the drive down I-95 to Washington. Photo via

I may have buried the lead of the post in the title, but I figured we’d want a place to react to the big Xmas gift the Nats gave themselves; pending a physical the Nats have signed Daniel Murphy to a 3yr, $37.5M contract.  We’ll assume that the contract doesn’t get cancelled for physical reasons (ala Hisashi Iwakuma) or some criminal issue (ala Aroldis Chapman) in the next 72 hours or so and the team makes it official at some point over the weekend.

Nats acquire the left-handed bat they needed to play a position they suddenly found themselves needing coverage in thanks to the Yunel Escobar trade.  They also acquire a guy who makes a ton of contact (just 38 Ks last year in 538 PAs … by way of comparison Michael Taylor struck out 158 times in 2015, in *fewer* plate appearances (511 to Murphy’s 538).  Murphy also can contribute with some power; 14 homers last season (and another 7 in last year’s post-season), and some speed (not a ton of SBs last year but he stole 23 in 2013).  He makes a ton of sense batting in the #2 hole (assuming of course the team finds someone who can actually get on base for him), but he could also slot in at #5 (assuming Bryce Harper bats 3rd, in order to split up the lefties).

More importantly, the Nats take a veteran solid bat off their closest rivals, who don’t really seem in any hurry this off-season to back-fill their holes in the lineup by the departing Murphy or Yoenis Cespedes.

Some thoughts on the the deal and its ramifications on the Nats:

  • Assuming he gets an even $12.5m in 2016 per his contract’s AAV, the Nats 2016 payroll just jumped up into the $141M range.  I think that comes down a bit (assuming the Nats can shed themselves of one or both of their highly paid closers).
  • The signing costs the Nats the 17th overall pick in the draft.  A tough pill to swallow; on his own i’m not entirely sure Murphy is worth that pick.  perhaps you can see the value in the significantly lower contract value than what Murphy was probably worth on the open market.  I guess you don’t really covet the 17th overall pick when you have just one year left with Scherzer, Strasburg and Harper all together.  You have to try to win now with these guys, since more and more it seems clear the team won’t retain either of its young starlets (not with talk of Harper getting a $400M contract).
  • Ben Zobrist: 4yrs/$52M from the Cubs.  Zobrist is four years older, had only a slightly better 2015 split than Murphy (.276/.359/.450 versus .281/.322/.449), play a similar set of positions (4 5 7 and 9 last year for Zobrist, 4 5 and 3 last year for Murphy), and had similar bWARs (1.9 for Zobrist, 1.4 for Murphy).  Yet Zobrist gets $14.5M more and one additional year despite being 4 years older and almost guaranteed of being a fossil at the end of his contract.  Do you think Qualifying Offers are working?  Do you think this is going to be topic #1 to address in the next CBA?
  • Murphy will require a roster move; the team is at 40/40 on its 40-man.  My uneducated guess: Erik Davis.
  • I’m guessing there’s an open competition between Espinosa and Turner to be the opening day SS.  And my guess is that Espinosa wins it for now.  Something in my gut tells me that the improvements he’s made plus his superb defensive ability will win out over Turner’s potential.  But, no more 2B for Espinosa; he’s either the starter at Short or the utility guy.  I could be wrong; maybe Espinosa is destined to be Mr. backup infielder again in 2016, riding the pine while Turner learns how to be a major leaguer.  I hope not; I think at this point in his career he’d be so gutted if he got beat out that he’d be close to useless as a super-sub.
  • Murphy is not especially gifted at 2nd defensively.  Negative UZR/150s across the board.  But, its not nearly as important having a plus defender there as it is on the right hand side of the infield, and the return of the gifted Rendon plus the near gold-glove quality of Espinosa at short could really help the Nats and their pitching staff convert more ground alls to outs.
  • All the 2B on the Nats depth chart just became serious trade bait.  40-man roster guys Wilmer Difo and Chris Bostick?  100% blocked for 3 years.   Murphy may be able to play other positions … but the positions he can fill are also filled by guys who are better than Murphy and also here for more than 3 years.  So I wouldn’t be surprised by some dealing coming soon.  Maybe Billy Beane can give us something we need in return for some closer-to-the-majors middle infielders and 5th starters (of which we have plenty in AAA).
  • $12.5M AAV for a 1.4 bWAR player.  Yeah; there’s some serious money in the game right now.

Does this move make the Nats a better team?  Yeah I think it does.  By himself Murphy doesn’t move the needle a ton, but he gives this team some things they didn’t have yesterday.  I like his contact hitting, his lefty bat, the addition of some needed power.  The team missed out on so many other guys this off-season, they probably felt they had to make this deal.  So they did.

2016 Nationals Payroll Projection


Werth is still the high-man on the payroll. Photo via

Werth is still the high-man on the payroll. Photo via

So, one big factor in any team’s off-season plan is figuring out exactly what the payroll is going to look like, to figure out what their budget is, and then go shopping from there.  This post goes through the guys we have under contract as we speak to try to do some projections of what we already have committed in terms of 2016 dollars and therefore draw some conclusions about how much FA shopping/veteran salary acquisition we’ll be doing this coming off-season.

(note: all this data is, of course, in a Google XLS for your perusal and/or available as a Link to the right).

The 2015 Nats opening day payroll (according to Cots) was $162,014,559.  This represented about a $25M bump from the previous year and included a significant amount of money heading to Free Agents in the last year of their deals.  Here’s the list of Salary immediately coming off the books from the 2015 team:

Player Current or 2015 Contract 2015 Salary
Zimmermann, Jordan 2yr/$24M (14-15) 7.5 and 16.5 $16,500,000
Desmond, Ian 2yr/$17.5M (14-15), 6.5 and 11 $11,000,000
Span, Denard 5 years/$16.5M (10-14), $9M club opt 15 $9,000,000
McLouth, Nate 2yr/$10.75M (14-15) with opt $5,000,000
Thornton, Matt 2yr/$7M (14-15) $3,500,000
Janssen, Casey 1yr/$5M (15) 2016 optn $3,500,000
Uggla, Dan 1yr/mlb min (15) $507,500
Johnson, Reed 1yr/1M (15) $1,000,000
Fister, Doug 1yr, $7.2M (14) (arb2) $11,400,000
sum –> $61,407,500

So, that’s $61M coming off the books.  I’ve counted the option buyout dollars for the 2016 options of Janssen and McLouth in the 2016 figures, but this is still a significant sum.

So, 61M coming off the books; how much are we committed to for 2016 as things stand?

First, lets look at dollars committed to Existing Veteran Players under Contract:

Player Current or 2015 Contract 2015 2016
Scherzer, Max 7yr/$210M (15-21), half deferred $17,142,857 $15,000,000
Werth, Jayson 7 yr/$126M (11-17) $21,571,429 $21,571,429
Zimmerman, Ryan 6 yr/$100M (14-19)+20 opt $14,000,000 $14,000,000
Gonzalez, Gio 5yr/$42M (12-16)+17,18 options $11,100,000 $12,100,000
Papelbon, Jonathan 4yr/$50M + 2016 Optn (11M, 3M deferred) $13,000,000 $8,000,000
Escobar, Yunel 2yr/$13M (15-16) 2017 optn $5,000,000 $7,000,000
Harper, Bryce 2yr/$7.5M (15-16) $2,500,000 $5,000,000
sum –> $82,671,429

I count about $82M committed to these 7 players for 2016.  I’m only counting Scherzer‘s salary at the $15M for 2016 since that’s what he’s gonna get paid exactly in 2016.  Cots has a whole complicated explanation when it estimates payroll on its site (see this link) by prorating his signing bonus over 7 years and a whole different calculation made for luxury tax purposes, but I think that’s a mistake to use anything other than the actual dollars going out the door in a given year.  The Lerner’s kicked that can well down the road by getting him to agree to defer literally half the money in the deal for the express purpose of keeping its present value down for their budget, so that’s how i’m figuring it here. If you disagree, feel free to argue about it in the comments.

If the Nats can move Papelbon and some of his $11M in salary, all the better, but I figure they’ll likely have to eat a lot of it to do so, so I can’t see this figure moving much with off-season trades.

Next, lets look at the Players Eligible for Arbitration.  I’ve put in some quick guesses/estimates for arbitration figures for these players.  I’ve historically been somewhat conservative in my guesses, so these might be off by a million here or there, but in the macro sense it won’t make that much difference.  If you think i’m wildly wrong about (say) my Strasburg estimate, lets argue in the comments:

Player Current or 2015 Contract 2015 2016
Strasburg, Stephen 1yr/7.4M (15) (arb3) $7,400,000 $12,000,000
Storen, Drew 1yr/$5.7M (15) (arb4) $5,700,000 $7,600,000
Ramos, Wilson 1yr/$3.55M (15) (arb3) $3,550,000 $4,700,000
Rendon, Anthony 4yr/$7.2M ($6M bonus) (11-14)+15 opt (arb1) $1,800,000 $4,000,000
Stammen, Craig 1yr/$2.25M (15) (arb4) $2,250,000 $2,400,000
Espinosa, Danny 1yr/$1.8M (15) (arb2) $1,800,000 $3,200,000
Lobaton, Jose 1yr/$1.2M (15) (arb3) $1,200,000 $1,500,000
Moore, Tyler 1 yr/$0.5182M (15) (arb1) $518,200 $1,200,000
sum –> $36,600,000

So, if we keep all these guys I can see them costing in arbitration about $36.6M.  It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see Storen traded of course, nor would it surprise me to see Moore DFA’d outright, or for the team to acquire another backup catcher and part ways with the light-hitting Lobaton.  But we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.  For now, $36.6M is a good estimate.  Thankfully Strasburg really struggled this year, otherwise his arb-3 figure might be closer to Zimmermann’s last arb figure ($16.5M) than the $12-13 he may eventually get.

Coincidentally on Rendon: did you guys see where he made the Super-2 cutoff on the exact day in terms of service time?  2 years, 130 days.  And that’s exactly what he has.  So, depending on how he plays over the next few years that likely costs the Nats at least $8-10M in salary.  Hey, not my money.  I don’t exactly think the team was actively trying to manipulate his time like they did with Strasburg, so maybe they just don’t care.

So that’s 7 vets and 8 arbitration cases.  That leaves 10 players to fill out the rest of the 25-man roster and they’re all Pre-Arbitration Players:

Player Current or 2015 Contract 2015 2016
Roark, Tanner 1 yr/$0.5296M (15) $529,600 $550,000
Robinson, Clint 1 yr/$0.525M (15) $525,000 $550,000
Barrett, Aaron 1 yr/$0.5142M (15) $514,200 $530,000
den Dekker, Matt 1 yr/$512,972 (15) $512,972 $525,000
Treinen, Blake 1 yr/$0.5128M (15) $512,800 $530,000
Taylor, Michael 1 yr/$0.5087M (15) $508,700 $525,000
Rivero, Felipe 1yr Minor League deal (15) $510,000
Ross, Joe 1yr Minor League deal (15) $515,000
Turner, Trea 1yr Minor League deal (15) $515,000
Solis, Sammy 1yr Minor League deal (15) $510,000
sum –> $5,260,000

If the 2016 season started tomorrow, this is how i’d project the rest of the roster coincidentally.

Even factoring in nominal raises for guys like Roark and Robinson, this still doesn’t even total half of what Papelbon is due in 2016.  Pre-Arbitration players; the best deal in the game!

Here’s the rest of the 40-man roster, who under my projections would be toiling somewhere in the minors on a 40-man roster prorated basis:

Player Current or 2015 Contract
Davis, Erik 1 yr/$0.5089M (15)
Cole, A.J. 1yr Minor League deal (15)
de los Santos, Abel 1yr Minor League deal (15)
Difo, Wilmer 1yr Minor League deal (15)
Goodwin, Brian 1yr Minor League deal (15)
Grace, Matt 1yr Minor League deal (15)
Hill, Taylor 1yr Minor League deal (15)
Jordan, Taylor 1yr Minor League deal (15)
Martin, Rafael 1yr Minor League deal (15)
Severino, Pedro 1yr Minor League deal (15)
Kieboom, Spencer 1yr Minor League deal (16)
Bostick, Chris 1yr Minor League deal (16)
Lee, Nick 1yr Minor League deal (16)

I don’t think Cots counts these guys against payroll because unless they’re on the 25-man roster actively, they’re not necessarily getting paid like it.  I think.  I’m open to suggestion here.

So, where does that leave us?

  • Existing Veteran Players under Contract: $82,671,429
  • Buyouts of 2016 options: $2,250,000
  • Players Eligible for Arbitration: $36,600,000 estimated
  • Pre-Arbitration Players: $5,260,000 estimated

Total 2016 Projected Payroll: $126,781,429.

That’s $35m less than 2015.  So, if you make the argument that the Lerners will keep payroll even with 2015, that’s about $35M of payroll room with which to work.  For some reason I think they’re going to rein back in payroll, so lets call the target for 2016 about $150M.  Not too bad; that should buy what this team needs.

In my “GM for a Day” post in early October 2015, here’s what I put as a shopping list:

  • Bullpen; if a $10M closer is acquired, you off-set the salary a bit with a Storen trade, and then perhaps buy a mid-level veteran RHP for $5-6M/year.
  • Lefty hitters: not much on the FA market that won’t cost you an arm and a leg; we could get creative and move some depth for another $10M outfielder type and use Taylor as a 4th.
  • Backups: Maybe some infield depth in the $5M range.
  • Maybe rotation competition; frankly there’s better things to spend money on, so I think they go to battle with what they have.

So, that’s roughly $25M in acquisitions, right around the $150M target.  That could work.

What do you think?  Sound like a good plan?