Nationals Arm Race

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Nats Non-News: Non-tender deadline, FA (lack of) market and Ohtani

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Are the Nats really in the mix for Japanese superstar Ohtani? Photo via cbssports.com

Are the Nats really in the mix for Japanese superstar Ohtani? Photo via cbssports.com

As many others have noticed … there isn’t a heck of a lot going on right now in the “hot stove” season.  But given where we are in the regular off-season calendar, lets bang out a couple of topics.

First: the Non-tender deadline.

For the first time in an awful long time, the Nats have no real obvious non-tender candidates on their roster.  They entered the off-season with just four arbitration-eligible players and they are all set to be crucial pieces for 2018:

  • Bryce Harper technically would have been arb-eligible but signed away his 4th year for north of $21M.
  • Anthony Rendon comes off easily his finest season as a pro (his numbers across the board eclipse his 2014 5th place MVP season) and he should be in line to more than double his $5.8M 2017 salary.
  • Tanner Roark struggled in 2017 (… perhaps caused/aided by the frequently-seen WBC hangover?) but is still slated to be our 4th starter on a rotation that doesn’t currently have a fifth and should be in line for about an $8M payday.
  • Michael Taylor has established himself as one of the premier defensive center fielders in the game, will be set to start in 2018, and faces arbitration for the first time (likely to get around a $2.5M check).

Compare this to previous non-tender years (with links to non-tender specific posts from years past):

  • 2016: we non-tendered Ben Revere, waived Aaron Barrett before having to make the NT decision, and declined Yusmeiro Petit‘s option as a way of “non-tendering” him.
  • 2015: we non-tendered Craig Stammen, but kept NT candidates Jose Lobaton and Tyler Moore (eventually trading Moore after waiving him at the end of spring training).
  • 2014: we did not non-tender anyone, though a couple weeks later traded NT candidate Ross Detwiler to Texas for two guys who never really panned out for us (Chris Bostick and Abel de los Santos).
  • 2013: we did not non-tender anyone, only Ross Ohlendorf was a candidate, and in retrospect he probably should have been NT’d since he didn’t throw a pitch for the Nationals in 2014.
  • 2012: we non-tendered three guys (Jesus FloresTom Gorzelanny, John Lannan) in the face of a huge amount of arbitration players (10).
  • 2011: we non-tendered Doug Slaten deservedly, but tendered candidate Gorzellany.
  • 2010: we non-tendered Chien-Ming WangWil Nieves, Joel Peralta.  We also outrighted 5 guys prior to the NT deadline, DFA’d two more in December, and DFA/dreleased four more guys prior to Spring training in a very busy off-season.
  • 2009: we non-tendered Scott Olsen, Mike MacDougal
  • 2008: we non-tendered Tim Redding, now the Pitching coach for our Auburn Short-A team, so I guess there was no hard feelings there :-)
  • 2007: we non-tendered Nook LoganMike O’Conner.
  • 2006: we non-tendered or declined options for Ryan Drese, Brian Lawrence, Zach Day (it might have only been Day who was officially non-tendered)
  • 2005: we non-tendered Carlos BaergaPreston WilsonJunior Spivey.

That’s a long trip down random memory lane for marginal Nationals players from yesteryear.

Post-publish edit: as expected, the team formally tendered contracts to the 3 arb-eligible players on 12/1/17.



The FA market in general seems to be held up by two major names: Giancarlo Stanton and Shohei Ohtani.  Jeff Passan argues there’s other reasons (see this link) for the lack of movement, but one has to think the big names are a big part of it.  I also believe that this year’s “crop” of FAs is … well kind of underwhelming.  Here’s Passan’s ranking of FAs: his biggest names past Ohtani are Yu Darvish (who just sucked in the post-season, is coming off TJ surgery and doesn’t rate as the “Ace” he once was), J.D. Martinez (who blew up in 2017 but who has normally gotten a lot of his value from defense and he’s not getting any younger), Eric Hosmer (a 1B only guy, even if he’s really good, who seems like a safe bet to get over-pad and age badly) and Jake Arrieta (who has taken a step backwards from his Cy Young win and has already entered his decline years).  Plus, the “price” for signing some of these QO-attached guys (Hosmer, Arrieta plus other top-10 FAs like Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and Wade Davis) will be quite steep for big-market and/or Luxury tax teams like our own Washington Nationals.

Frankly, between the higher price of forced loss of picks due to our over-spending last season, our current payroll tightness (we seem to only have about $17M to spend to stay under the tax for all of next year) and the underwhelming lot of available players … i don’t see us really participating in this year’s sweepstakes.    Do we want to pony up for a middling 5th starter type like Jaime Garcia at the likely going price of $10M/year?  Or roll the dice with a MLFA like we did with some success last year (Edwin JacksonJacob Taylor).  Or just stay inhouse and let Erick Fedde continue to mature every 5th day on the mound?

Stanton, according to the tea-leaves i’m reading this week, seems like he’s heading to San Francisco, who is in desperate need for offense, outfielders and a franchise makeover after last year’s debacle.  Stanton could fit all three.  Which is great for him (he’s born and raised in California and would be joining a franchise that, despite its 2017 season, still has 3 WS titles in the last decade and a slew of marquee players to build around), great for the Nats (getting him out of the division), great for the “franchise” of Miami (who rids themselves of perhaps the 2nd worst contract in baseball behind Albert Pujols‘ and lets them get a relatively clean slate to start over for the new franchise ownership group), and of course awful for the “fans” of Miami, who thought they were finally getting rid of one of the worst owners in professional sports only to get slapped in the face with comical missteps by the new Derek Jeter-led ownership group, who managed to embarrass themselves in the most ridiculous way (by firing ceremonial Marlins legends for no good reason) early and then put themselves on the defensive needlessly by immediately crying poor and saying that they needed to pare payroll within a few days of taking over.  If i was a Miami fan I wouldn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

I also think its notable that the first ex-Nat ranked on Passan’s list comes in at #43; the “ripe for regression” Matt Albers.  Brandon Knitzler comes soon after him (who could be a re-signing candidate frankly for us, to put the “law firm” back together), then you have to get all the way down to #62 to find Jayson Werth.  As compared to next off-season, when the Nats will have the #1 guy on the list.


Coming back to Ohtani (I’m going with the h in the name since after much research that’s what seems like the right way to spell it) ….

First things first: I desperately hope the Nats get him.  Anyone who thinks that they’re better off without Ohtani is a fool; he’s set to become one of the biggest bargains in baseball.  For the small price of a $20M posting fee, you get a guy who throws 100, is an 80 runner, and hits the crap out of the ball.  For a miniscule bonus figure (the max any team has seems to be about $3.5M; the Nats only have $300k) and then a MLB min contract.  Its just amazing.  His presence could literally change the face of a franchise for a decade for about the same amount of money we will have paid Gio Gonzalez this year and next.  I doubt he picks us though; it seems more likely he picks either a major market team (NY, Boston) on the east coast or (more likely) one of the west coast teams for better proximity to Japan and a larger Asian native market (LA, SF, Seattle).  But its all speculation.

Hey, did I mention that the Nats need both another starter AND a lefty-bat off the bench, right now??  Ohtani would be perfect!

Side Note: why the heck is he coming over now and subjecting himself to MLB minimum contracts and arbitration??  He’s literally leaving $100M on the table by not waiting just two years and coming over un-restricted.  I just cannot believe he’s doing this and costing himself so much money.  I get the lip service comments about wanting to challenge himself, yadda yadda, but when there’s literally 9 figures of money on the table, I just don’t understand the decision.  He’s projected to be better than Daisuke Matsuzaka, better than Darvish, both of whom got many times more money (Dice-K got $52M to him, $103M in total cost plus his posting fee), while Darvish got $60M to him and cost the Rangers $111M total with posting fee).  It seems crazy.

Can’t wait to see where he goes, and I can’t wait to see if he’s the real deal.

Syracuse/AAA Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2012

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Free John Lannan! Photo Luis M. Alvarez/AP

Click here for the 2011 version of this post.

This is the first of 6 organizational reviews of the pitching staffs of our various affiliates for the 2012 season.  Unlike in 2011, I didn’t follow nearly as closely as I would have liked, so a lot of this is “analysis in arrears.”  This is also a lot of “scouting the scoreline,” which isn’t always a fair way to evaluate pitchers, but a full year’s worth of work is also a big enough sample size to pass some judgement.  I’ll try to evaluate pitchers at the level at which they spent the most time and will offer guesses for next season.  Also, rehab appearances are not mentioned or given analysis in these posts.  After reviewing all the staffs at each level, I’ll cull the above predictions into a summarized 2013 projected staff throughout the system.

Syracuse starters.  The rotation started the season with Atkins, Roark, Maya, Lannan and Duke.  This wasn’t exactly the way these guys would have lined up 1-5 (since Lannan was dumped to the AAA roster at the end of Spring Training unexpectedly) but this is the order in which they appeared to start the season.  Lets talk about these 5 guys plus other prominent starters for the year.

  • Mitch Atkins: Syracuse’s opening day starter stuck in the rotation for most of the year, posting a 5.28 ERA while going 6-9 in 20 starts.  He improved on his season numbers with a handful of relief appearances down the stretch, finishing the year with a combined ERA of 4.87 in 118 1/3 innings pitched.  This minor league Free Agent pickup from Baltimore’s organization never gave the team a reason to consider calling him up, and probably is out the door in the off-season.  Outlook for next season: Minor League Free Agent again, likely with another team.
  • Tanner Roark: He posted an ugly W/L of 6-17 on the year in 28 games (26 starts).  He had a 4.39 ERA with a 1.41 whip in 147 2/3 innings on the year.  He had pretty good K/9 numbers (130 Ks in those 147 innings) but also walked a goodly number of guys (47).  He mostly got promoted after a similar season statistically in AA by virtue of the AAA depth being shredded by the Gio Gonzalez trade.  Outlook for next season: He’s Rule-5 eligible but not yet a 6-year free agent.  I guess its possible he gets picked up, but he’s not worth protecting.  I think he gets one more season starting in AAA before reaching minor league free agency.
  • Yunesky Maya: After getting several shots at the major league level in 2011, Maya was buried in AAA for 2012.  There he toiled a complete season as a starter, posting an 11-10 record in 28 starts.  His era and whip were respectable (3.88 and 1.19 respectively), but his softer-tossing ways did not lead to the kind of swing and miss stuff craved by the current regime (just 89 Ks in 167 innings despite his ability to throw everything but the kitchen sink).  He improved upon a rough early start to the season with a series of gems in August … but would routinely follow up a gem with a stinker.  The big club has learned its lesson and left him off the expanded roster.  Outlook for next season: Maya has just one more year on his 4yr/$8m contract, after which he’ll be cut loose to try his wares elsewhere.  But he’ll be back toiling as AAA’s #1 starter in 2013.
  • John Lannan, as most Nats fans know, was the surprise cut from 2012’s major league team and basically served as injury insurance the entire year.  He did not necessarily help his own cause in AAA, putting up mediocre lines of 9-11, 4.30 era, 1.44 whip and barely 5 k/9 despite a MLB-average pedigree.  He did however perform excellently in two spot starts in the majors, setting himself up to be the Stephen Strasburg replacement in September’s stretch run.  I’d cough up his poor performance to  a season-long disappointment over his predicament; he’s got to be the highest paid guy in the minors (now that Kei Igawa‘s contract expired).  Outlook for next season: Lannan is just about a 100% guarantee to be non-tendered at the arbitration deadline and certainly looks to sign on with another club.
  • Zach Duke: Unlike Lannan, Duke took advantage of his time in AAA and DID regain some value; he posted a 15-5 record in 26 starts and 164 innings.  The rangy left-hander was cut loose by Arizona after the 2011 season and did enough with Syracuse this year to earn a September call-up.  Outlook for next season: Likely a free agent again and likely to use 2012’s performance as a springboard with another team looking for starter help.
  • Jeff Mandel, a long time Nats farm hand, started the year in AA to provide some starter depth before coming back to AAA and eventually replacing Atkins in the rotation.  He was 6-3 with a 2.41 ERA in 11 Syracuse starts and filled in effectively down the stretch. Outlook for next season: He’s finishing up his 6th minor league season and didn’t get a 40-man call-up (at least not yet).  He has one more year of team control before hitting minor league free agency.  AAA rotation.
  • Other guys who got spot starts here and there (non-rehab):
    • Erik Arneson, who continues his 2011 role of organizational swiss army knife, filling in with innings wherever possible.  Outlook for next season: probably continues to be the Nats org guy; he’s still effective in AAA.
    • Austin Bibens-Dirkx, who got a couple spot starts before getting released and eventually getting picked up by Colorado Springs (AAA affiliate of Colorado) to finish out the season.   Outlook for next season: with another organization.
    • Kevin Pucetas got called up from AA to make one spot-start.  Outlook for next season: See the AA wrap up for more details.

Syracuse Relievers: taking a look at the relief corps at the end of the season.

  • Christian Garcia has turned into one of the Organization’s great stories of 2012, posting a 0.86 ERA in 52 1/3 innings between AA and AAA after being claimed off waivers from the Yankees in late 2011.  This performance earned him a well-deserved call-up to the big club as rosters expanded.  Additionally, he’ll be featured in the Arizona Fall League as one of our three pitcher representatives.  Outlook for next season: He’s got a big arm, can bring it 97-98, and should be in the mix to be a middle-relief arm for the Nats bullpen in 2013.  He likely replaces what the team sought in Brad Lidge and provides insurance against injury (or, in Cole Kimball‘s case, failure to recover from injury).
  • Atahualpa Severino put in a decent season for Syracuse (2.81 ERA in 48 ip), but clearly he lost favor with the team.  Instead of considering Severino (who was on the 40-man at the time), the Nats picked up Mike Gonzalez off waivers and promoted him up to the big club.  Furthermore, Severino was DFA’d off the 40-man and passed through waivers without being claimed, never a good sign for a long-serving minor leaguer.  Outlook for next season: Minor League Free Agent, though the fact that nobody claimed him when he got DFA’d means he’s likely an Org guy from here on out.  But, LOOGYs live forever, and he can bring it, so maybe he gets a shot elsewhere.  He’s clearly been passed over in this organization.
  • GWU grad Josh Wilkie was having a so-so start to his Syracuse season (his 4th year in the league) before getting suspended 50-games in June.  [Editor Note: thanks to Mark L. for pointing this out].  Wilkie was summarily released after his suspension ended.  Outlook for next season: with another organization.
  • Ryan Perry failed to make the big club out of spring, pitched briefly in Syracuse’ bullpen before getting sent to Harrisburg to re-make himself as a starter.  Outlook for next season: see the AA version of this post.
  • Mike MacDougal made his “triumphant return” to the organization after washing out of Chicago’s AAA affiliate in Iowa.  He struck out 14 and walked 8 in 10 innings for Syracuse (about what I expected); no word on how many WP he threw.  Outlook for next season: minor league free agent again.
  • Erik Davis got 8 late season appearances after toiling mostly in AA and earning a promotion.  Outlook for next season: see the AA version of this post.
  • Other Relievers who appeared in AAA of note (not including Rehabbing MLBers): Outlook for next season for all of these guys seems the same: either continued “org guy” middle reliever or minor league free agent in another organization.
    • Hassan Pena improved on his 2011 stint in AAA but still looks like a middle-of-the-road minor league reliever.  He was suspended at the end of the season for suspected “team rules violations,” a question mark for him going forward with the organization.
    • GWU grad Pat Lehman continued his march up the organization, earning a quick promotion up to AAA and posting respectable numbers there.
    • Corey VanAllen got demoted and then hurt.
    • Rafael Martin also got demoted after a crummy start.
    • 2012 Minor League free agent signings Jeff Fulchino and Waldis Joaquin didn’t throw a single inning in 2012, spending it entirely on the 7-day DL.

Summary

Syracuse should have had a better record than it ended up with (70-74) given the quality of the starters on this team (a long time MLB starter in Duke, a career sub 4.00 ERA starter in Lannan and a guy on an $8M contract in Maya).  But at the same time, a combination of trades and a “gap” in organizational development led the team to have to fill a significant portion of this staff with minor league free agents, so it may have been inevitable that the team would have struggled.

Outlook for next season: S