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We miss you: Former Nats from the 2015 team and where they are now

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Did we dodge a bullet by allowing Zimmermann to leave? Photo via The Boston Globe.

Did we dodge a bullet by allowing Zimmermann to leave? Photo via The Boston Globe.

Next in a series moving backwards.  Here was the “We Miss You” for the 2016 team.

Lets go back a year and look at those players gone from the 2015 team.  I’m building these partly from the Nats to Oblivion Posts and partly from my own notes using a combination of players gone via FA, trades, DFAs, to include major league players and significant minor league players.   If a player is still in the org but was just DFA’d off the 40-man, I’ll mostly skip them.  I may miss someone; pipe up in the comments if I have a glaring miss.

I’ll organize this by roughly by the level of the player; major league players who left via FA or trade, then DFA’d/declined players, then minor leaguers of note who departed.

  • Jordan Zimmermann; signed 5/$110M with Detroit and left us with a comp pick, used to take Dane Dunning.  I think its safe to say that Zimmermann’s tenure in Detroit thus far has been disappointing: he had a 4.87 ERA in 2016 and missed half the season, and he’s been even worse this year.  Detroit has to behaving some buyer’s remorse right now.  And he’s signed for 3 more years past this one, at big money.
  • Dan Uggla: The Nats were probably his last stand chance in the majors; hit just .183 and was given just 17 ABs the last two months of the 2015 season.  Never signed for 2016 and seems to be retired.
  • Doug Fister: signed 1/$7M with Houston, to whom he gave 32 starts and 180 innings of mediocrity (4.64 ERA) in 2016.  Apparently still believes he’s worthy of a 25-man spot and refused all offers this past off-season that were not MLB deals.  Remains unsigned as of this writing; he may have to swallow his pride if he wants to keep playing and take a MLFA deal.
  • Ian Desmond signed 1/$11M with Texas after declining Washington’s qualifying offer.  Desmond became kind of the poster child for all the things wrong with the Qualifying Offer season; after turning down a 5yr/$89.5M deal the previous season, he turned down a guaranteed $15.8M offer to eventually sign for $11M.  To add insult to injury, Desmond had to move off of SS for Texas, which was what propped up his value in the first place.  He had an up-and-down season with Texas, starting the year incredibly hot and making the All Star team, but slumping towards the end.  He got saddled with a second QO, which he again signed, but his 2016 season was enough for Colorado to give him perhaps the most inexplicable contract of last off-season, a 5yr/$70M deal … to play first base.  A position he’d never played before.  And Colorado gave up literally the highest unprotected draft pick to do so (the 11th pick in the upcoming 2017 draft).  Desmond suffered a hand injury this spring, and as a result Colorado has installed slugger Mark Reynolds at 1B; he’s done so well that the team is wondering just what they’ll do with Desmond when he returns in early May.  On the bright side for Desmond; at least he finally got paid.  And i’m sure that 100% of Nats fans would take what the team has done at SS since over having a $90M contract on their hands.
  • Denard Span signed 3/$31M with San Francisco, capping a frustrating year for Span and the team.  He only played 61 games for the 2015 team, forcing the Nats to start Michael Taylor and his 30% K rate in CF for a good chunk of the season.  Span’s first season in SF was similar to his first in DC; he struggled offensively.  He’s been even worse in 2017, and is currently on the D/L (in an interesting twist of fate; his replacement on the SF active roster?  None other than Michael Morse).
  • Nate McLouth; The team couldn’t wait to decline his 2016 option and pay his 750k buyout for 2016 after his disastrous stint with Washington.  His contract was ill-advised from the start; did we really need to pay good money to have a “veteran 4th outfielder?”  McLouth missed the entirety of 2015, has yet to sign since, and may have played his way out of baseball.
  • Matt Thornton signed a MLFA deal with San Diego for 2016, got called up after a couple of months in AAA, but struggled.  He posted a 5.82 ERA over the next couple of months and was released in August.  He has not appeared since and now at age 40 is likely done.
  • Casey Janssen was so poor for the Nats that they bought his 2016 out for a cool $1.5M buyout for 2016); he also signed a MLFA deal with San Diego for 2016.  Ah San Diego; the place where pitchers go to resurrect their careers.  He was released in late Spring Training 2016, got picked up with Boston in June of 2016, pitched a bit for their Short-A and AAA teams then was released in early August 2016.  Did not pick up with a team for 2017 and at age 35 with little velocity on his fastball, he may be retired.
  • Reed Johnson got picked back up on a MLFA deal by Washington for 2016 season, but did not make the team out of spring and was released on 4/2/16.  He did not pick up with anyone for 2016 and at age 39 may be retired.
  • Taylor Jordan: After brief stints with the team in 2015, started 2016 in AAA but got hurt in June of 2016, he had a second TJ surgery … and then was released by the club on 6/28/16 to correspond to the Giolito contract addition.  Man, that seems kind of cold to release a guy just after surgery, but his odds of making it back to the majors just took a significant hit.  As of 2017 has not re-signed anywhere and seems a long-shot to do so, with little major league track record and two arm injuries.  Likely out of baseball at this point.
  • David Carpenter: shoulder injury, DFA’d, elected free agency and quickly signed a ML deal with Atlanta for 2016.  However he was cut after just a handful of spring training games; maybe his injury is worse than we thought.  He then bounced from Tampa to the Angels system for 2016, and then signed back with Tampa as a MLFA/NRI for 2017, but was cut on 4/4/17.
  • Emmanuel Burriss: signed MLFA with Philly and lead-off against the Nats in their first visit to Philadelphia in the new season.  He was DFA’d and purchased a couple times by Philly last year, but upon his outright after the season he elected FA and signed a MLFA to return to the Nats for 2017.  He looked like nice utility infielder insurance until he got suspended for a “drug of abuse” in the spring (his second such offense).  He currently sits on Syracuse’s restricted list.  I have to say; his status as the sole DC-bred baseball player in the pros (as far as I can tell) and his playing for the Washington franchise seems to put him in a great post-career outreach position … but now with two drug suspensions on his resume, I wonder if he’s scuttled any such possibility of representing the team in the community.
  • Craig Stammen: fan favorite had an ill-timed injury late in the 2015 season and was non-tendered instead of guaranteeing him a contract for 2016.  He signed a MLFA with Cleveland for 2016 but never made it out of AAA.  I had him as a leading “oblivion candidate” until he signed another MLFA deal for 2017 and made the San Diego opening day roster.  His april has not been good though, sporting an ERA in the mid 8s as of May 1st.  He may be in danger of a DFA, which might spell the end of his MLB career given how the last couple of seasons have gone.  He gave the Nats 3 solid years as a bullpen workhorse that may have led to his eventual wearing out.
  • Tyler Moore never could match the magic of his debut season in 2012, but a series of injuries kept him hanging around in 2014 and 2015 when he may otherwise have been released.  His luck ran out though for the 2016 team, when he got beat out for the RH bench bat by Chris Heisey and he got DFA’d at the end of spring training.  We negotiated a trade of similar discarded assets with Atlanta, trading Moore for Nate Freiman.  Freiman didn’t last three weeks with the AAA team before being released (a measure of just how little we got in return for trade), while Moore got injured early and missed most of the year for AAA Gwinnett.  He signed a MLFA for 2017 with the Marlins and team out of spring training.  He even got a crucial hit against the Nats early in 2017 season, but was soon DFA’d again.  He passed through waivers and was outrighted to New Orleans (where, as noted in the previous post, he joins a litany of former Nats).
  • Xavier Cedeno was the first 25-man DFA of the 2015 season.  He was used 4 times in 5 nights in early April, gave up a couple of runs and then got designated with just 3 IP.  It was an odd move at the time; why was he getting appearance after appearance if the team was going to DFA him?  Why did the team have so little patience with him?  After his DFA, he got purchased by the Dodgers, who then sold him to the Rays 5 days later … and he had 61 appearances with a 2.09 ERA for Tampa Bay the rest of 2015.  He was a solid bullpen arm for them all of 2016 and remains on their team now.  Do you think maybe the team gave up on him too soon?
  • Taylor Hill: Hill was DFA’d to make room for January 2016 signings and was outrighted to AAA, where he pitched the entire 2016 season.  Hill finished out the year for AAA Syracuse with a 4.60 ERA in 27 starts.  He is still with the AAA team for 2017 but has been passed on the depth chart by several guys (Cole, Voth, Fedde) and faces long odds of a return to the majors with this organization.  Additionally, Hill has started the 2017 AAA season by getting shelled; an 8.14 ERA for April.  He may be in serious jeopardy of getting released.
  • Aaron Barrett: Tommy John in 2015, then in June of 2016, he had a major set-back in his TJ recovery, fracturing his elbow.  He has re-signed with the Nats for 2017 and starts the  year on the AAA D/L.  I was happy to see the Nats give Barrett this gesture of signing him so that he can rehab with the team, and I hope it pays off with an eventual return to the fold.
  • Matt Purke got his last shot at salvaging a career with the Nats, who signed him for big-time money ($2.75M as a 3rd rounder in 2011, the last free for all non-capped bonus draft).  He failed to impress again, and the team let him go to free agency.  He signed a MLFA deal with the Chicago White Sox, who assigned him to AAA … and then he earned a call-up by mid May 2016.  The nats were looking rather foolish for cutting bait on a guy who made the Chicago MLB team after just a few weeks.  But his time in South-Side was short lived; he was optioned back to the minors by the end of June, never made it back, was outrighted over the off-season and started 2017 off the 40-man pitching for AAA Charlotte.  He is still wild (8 walks in 11 2017 innings) but he’s only 26 so there may still be time.  But from a Nats transaction perspective, i’m not sure what else they could have done.
  • Yunel Escobar: after a productive season with the Nats, where Escobar played multiple positions and covered for infield injuries galore, he was traded to Los Angeles Angels for Trevor Gott and Michael Brady in the off-season.  At the time of the trade (mid December 2015) Escobar was considered surplus to requirements, in that the team had its infield already spoken for in Anthony RendonDanny Espinosa, and Trea Turner.  Two weeks later the team signed Danny Murphy to play 2B, thus relegating Turner back to AAA to save his service clock.  Escobar was traded to the team with perhaps the worst farm system in the majors; Gott has yet to throw a pitch for the MLB team and Brady is already gone via MLFA, so the return for Escobar is rather paltry.  That being said, I think the league knew we were shopping him, he had just had a career year with a BA 30 points above his career average, and may have been ceiling limited with the expectation of regression.  Since the trade, Escobar has played a solid 3B for the Angels and kept his BA above .300, and has been joined in their infield by fellow Nats reject Espinosa.
  • Drew Storen traded with cash to Toronto for Ben Revere, ptbnl.  I think we’ve litigated the Storen case to death; he was flipped more or less since the acquisition of Jonathan Papelbon and Storen’s undeserved demotion seemed to break him; it was as clear of a case of someone needing “a change of scenery” as I’ve seen with one of our players.  We got a player in Revere that filled a point of need (CF) and one that looked on paper like a good deal at the time.  I think its fair to say now that this trade didn’t work out for either team: Storen put up an ERA north of 6.00 for Toronto, got flipped again to Seattle, and at current sits as the 8th inning guy for one of the worst teams in baseball (Cincinnati).  Meanwhile Revere barely hit the Mendoza line for the Nats, forcing the team to put its SS of the future into CF as a make-shift replacement, and got non-tendered at season’s end.  A crummy end to Storen’s career here, where he remains in 2nd place all time (behind Chad Cordero) in career franchise saves.
  • Kila Ka’aihue,  Ian Stewart, Mike Carp: part of the great 2016 RH bat spring training cattle call; didn’t make the team and were eventually released.
  • Tony Renda traded to Yankees for David Carpenter mid-season in an attempt to buttress the bullpen.  Didn’t work.  Renda may have been my farcical “future hall of famer” before Max Schrock, in that they’re both basically undersized middle infielders that posted good minor league numbers but seem ceiling limited.  Renda got traded to Cincinnati ahead of the 2016 season, had a cup of coffee up there, but got outrighted after the 2016 season and remains on the AAA Louisville roster.
  • Mitch Lively and Evan Meek: both AAA hurlers released from their contracts so they could sign in Japan and Korea respectively.  Lively struggled in Japan and has been pitching in the Mexican league ever since, while Meek also struggled in the KBO and has been playing indy ball ever since.
  • Jose Valverde opted out of his MLFA contract and was released in July; never picked back up for 2015, or 2016.  Kept pitching in winter ball and is now in the Mexican league.
  • Eric Fornataro the off-season waiver claim never made it out of AAA, posting a mid 5 ERA and got released in July.   He picked back up with a MLFA for 2016 with Baltimore, but struggled in AA and was released in May of 2016.  He has not signed since and may be done.
  • Nick Pivetta: traded to Philadelphia for Papelbon.  We know the Papelbon story, and now we know the Pivetta story; he debuted in Philly’s rotation last weekend in LA after a solid year starting in AA and AAA in 2016 and a hot start in Lehigh Valley for 2017.  He may be in a position to haunt the Nats for 6 seasons …. all for a year and a half of tumult out of Papelbon.
  • Dan Butler was a Catcher we received from Boston for Danny Rosenbaum in Jan of 2015; he was a 40-man spot holder for most of the season but served mostly as catcher depth before being DFA’d in July to make room for Papelbon.  He was outrighted to AAA, elected FA after the season and went right back to Boston for 2016.  He remains as their AAA backup catcher.

Did I miss anyone?


Player I most miss from this list: From a Nats “legacy” perspective it was tough to wave good bye to Ian Desmond, who gave this franchise 11 years of his life.  Same with Zimmermann; he was part of the core that turned this team from a laughing stock to divisional winner.

Player Loss I most regret using unfair “hindsight is 20/20” vision: Pivetta.  Even if he’s “only” a 4th starter, he represents all that was wrong with the Papelbon decision.

Player Loss that is the most “We dodged a bullet” situation: Zimmermann’s contract; we thought he’d get overpaid, but a year and a half in his contract looks awful for an aging team that’s moving the wrong direction and has little chance of unseating Cleveland in their own division.

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.