Nationals Arm Race

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Nats 2020 Draft class by the Ranks

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Cade Cavalli is your 2020 1st round pick. Photo via Lookout Landing blog

Cade Cavalli is your 2020 1st round pick. Photo via Lookout Landing blog

(note: i have updated the Draft Tracker for the 2020 draft, both the master board and the 2020 draft notes boards).

  • Master Draft Board: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Qd5DS9GlmkQOEh_zGhOvlhHK0EegqY1uJB4mLGmRBaY/#gid=0
  • 2020 Draft worksehhet: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Qd5DS9GlmkQOEh_zGhOvlhHK0EegqY1uJB4mLGmRBaY/#gid=25540806

(I have more details about signing bonus calculus and player notes/twitter accounts on the 2020 worksheet, in case you’re wondering why i separate them).

By now, you’ve probably heard about our picks and read a ton of responses in the commentary.

Using various pundit draft board rankings (listed at the bottom for reference), here’s how our picks were thought of before the draft.  Along with some commentary from me.

  • 1st Round/#22 overall: Cade Cavalli, RHP Oklahoma.   Law=13.  MLBPipeline=22.  BA=22.  Fangraphs=17.  ESPN=24.  CBS=16.  D1Baseball=9.  20/80=23.  PerfectGame=8.

So, picking 22nd the Nats generally seem to have gotten value per the pundits.  Certainly this wasn’t a reach.  And, by some pundits (Law in particular, Perfect Game as well) this was a steal.

My thoughts: well, we know the Nats like college arms, velocity, big guys and players from Texas/Oklahoma.  Cavalli hits all those markers.  I was sure they’d go Cole Wilcox or perhaps J.T. Ginn but the team passed to go with Cavalli.  ironically, Wilcox didn’t go until the 3rd round, so the Nats passed on  him multiple times, while Ginn went just before their 2nd round pick to the Mets, a like-minded drafting org.  Cavalli is a speculative, scouting-first pick; he has little track record to go on, and this is the kind of pick that you can regret later on if he doesn’t work out.  He was mostly a hitter his freshman year before converting to the mound.  Maybe the team tries him as a two-way player?  He’s a big dude; he looks more like a football player physically.  Nonetheless, he’s got easy velocity and his mechanics look clean.  Some concerns about hit-ability; wonder if he has some spin rate issues.  A professional pitching development shop can do wonders with him.

  • 2nd round/#55 overall: Cole Henry, RHP LSU.  Law=65.  MLBPipeline=45.  BA=44.  Fangraphs=70.  ESPN=72.  CBS > 50..  D1Baseball=16.  20/80=55.

So, a couple of the ranking boards like Henry at 55, while a couple others (Law, Fangraphs, Espn) think its a bit of a reach.  Draft eligible sophomore, so I wonder if this is a potential over-slot bonus guy.  He was LSU’s friday starter from the moment he walked onto campus, quite a statement for a top-line baseball program.  He has an electric arm, four plus pitches (4-seamer, 2-seamer, a 12-6 hammer curve, change).  I’ve watched the video of him; scouting claims that he had such a violent head snap that he “had difficulties keeping his hat on” seem quite overblown; I didn’t see anywhere near that in the video clips of him available online.  I like this pick as a sneaky good starter for this team.  Interesting player comp mentioned by MLBpipeline during the draft: Mike Mussina

  • 2nd-Supp round/#71 overall: Samuel Infante, SS from Monsignor Edward Pace HS, Miami, FL.   MLBPipeline=149.  BA=154.  ESPN=122, Fangraphs=173.

This is an interesting pick for the Nats.  Clearly an overdraft by every ranking pundit, the scouting reports on Infante all say the same thing; lots of loud power in showcases, questions as to whether he can stay at short (he’s played both SS and 3B in showcases), but super fast and with a great arm.  Listed as 6’1″ 185, he’s still in the SS range and with plus arm strength he could very well feature as a top of the line 3B defensive player.  A UMiami commit from a Miami high school; i wonder if that factors into their thinking.  Did the Nats cut a deal here with Infante based on his projection to get slot savings?   One other factor here; he’s already 19, so he’s old for the HS class (a negative in scouting world) but also means he’d be a draft eligible sophomore if he goes to Miami (which might make his signing tougher).  Curious pick.  MLBPipeline guys comped him to Maikel Franco, an interesting comp.

  • 3rd Round/#94 overall: Holden Powell, RHP from UCLA.  MLBpipeline=134.  BA=126.  ESPN=144.  D1Baseball=77.  20/80=HM.

Powell is UCLA’s closer; stopper of the year last year.  He’s got no chance to start but still got ranked in the mid 100s by several shops.  The Nats havn’t picked a reliever-first this high in quite a while (Drew Storen maybe?) , and I suspect we’ll get some bonus savings here to help pay others here.  He projects as a two-pitch guy  with a FB hitting 97 and a wipeout slider who probably moves pretty quickly through the minors if he’s as good as reported.  20 Ks’ in 9 innings this season; he’s just got tough stuff to hit facing him in the late-game.  Can go multiple innings, undersized guy on the mound with kind of whippy arm action.  I don’t hate the pick, if its meant to be cost savings for other picks.

  • 4th round/#123 overall: Brady Lindsly, C from Oklahoma.  unranked by any service

With all due respect, Lindsly is clearly a “senior sign” by the team to save slot money for others.  I’m suspecting that both this and the Powell pick are money savers to pay Infante and Henry a bit more than slot (both those players being higher leverage guys to go to/return to school).  What little we know about Lindsly; known for good defense, didn’t have a great average in college,  hit for a bit of power.  Lefty bat.  As others noted, maybe the team liked him while scouting Cavalli.   Its also notable that he’s already calling himself a member of the Nats organization on his twitter account.

  • 5th round/#153 overall: Mitchell Parker, LHP from San Jacinto College North JuCo in Texas.   BA=179.

16.6 K/9 this year in 30 innings this year.  Last year 1.43 ERA with similar K/9 numbers.  In case you’re wondering … yes this is the same Juco they got Jackson Rutledge out of last year; one has to wonder if the scouts stuck around for a double header or something while scouting Rutledge and liked Parker.  Oddly, despite great numbers last year he was only a 27th rounder and thus has been pursuing D1 scholarships: he’s committed to U of Kentucky for next season if he doesn’t sign.  Big guy (6’4″), lefty who throws over the top.  He’s known for fastball up to 94 with a big curve.  His mechanics are a little concerning; he lands very stiff legged and almost hyper extends his knee as he stops his upper torso’s momentum.  I feel like this needs to be adjusted to prevent over-dependence on his arm.  Might be a tougher sign; i wonder if some of the 3rd and 4th round savings are for Parker too.

Draft summary:

  • 3 college starters
  • 1 college reliever
  • 1 Prep SS/3B
  • 1 Prep C

Conjecture on over/under slot needs:

  • Players who are likely signing for slot: Cavalli, perhaps Henry
  • Players who are likely under slot: Powell, Lindsly
  • Players who are likely commanding over-slot: Infante, Parker, maybe Henry

I have no doubt they’ll sign all six based on the limited draft.  Mike Rizzo has also said they’ll be “aggressive” with NDFA signings … as aggressive as a $20k bonus can take you of course.

I like our first two picks as future prospects.  I like the prep SS.  I could see our 5th rounder as a project but he has potential.  I like the class.

 

Draft Board Rankings

Evaluation of IFA draft classes; 2005-present

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Soto is by far the best IFA product in the Nats history.  And he's only 20.  Source NYPost

Soto is by far the best IFA product in the Nats history. And he’s only 20. Source NYPost

So, i’ve been critical of the Nats top-end drafting lately in this space, as it has contributed to our overall paltry farm system rankings.  And i’ve been critical of the handling of the farm system in general.
But a counter argument is, if you do well in the IFA market … you can paper over bad drafts.  Absolutely true!  So, lets take a look at the fruits of the Nats IFA endeavors over the years.
Here’s an overview of the best products from each IFA July 2nd signing class.
Before we start, its worth reviewing the CBA rules set forth that govern IFAs over the years.  Full CBA details here: https://legacy.baseballprospectus.com/compensation/cots/league-info/cba-history/ .  As the rules change here i’ll put in a note, because they drive context for various IFA years.

IFA starting point for 2005: no rules; free-for-all, no spending limits, its the true wild west.
The Nats, of course, are a steward of the MLB and were barred from even attempting to improve the 2005 roster mid season, let alone spend big money in the IFA market.
  • 2005: Jhonatan Solano only real prospect
  • 2006: Smiley Gonzalez; $1.4M bonus: all eggs in this one basket; nobody else from class ever appeared as a prospect

In July 2006, the Lerner’s took over.  But retained the existing management team and (as was frequently noted at the time), did not really invest in the team for some years (“Lerners are cheap!”)

  • 2007: Adrian Sanchez, Sandy Leon, Eury Perez; not bad in that three players made the majors; none really an impact player
  • 2008: not one signee ever appeared on any prospect ranking; fall out from the Smiley Gonzalez situation
  • 2009: No prospects of note and none remain, still fall out from rebuilding of entire DR operation under Rizzo
So, we’ll take a break here to discuss the obvious.  For basically three years as the team transitioned away from the Smiley Gonzalez scandal we had basically nothing come from international scouting.  The team had to cut ties with all its DR operations, it fired its staff in-country (Jose Rijo) and fired its general manager Jim Bowden.  So, its worth a quick discussion as to the context the team and Mike Rizzo began with starting in 2010.
  • 2010: Big money signing in Yunesky Maya that didn’t really pay off.  Also got Difo and Suero, each for almost no money.  Ruiz in AA remains in org.  Pretty good class.
  • 2011: 7 players from class appeared on rankings at some point: Raudy Read, Pedro Severino best players, several guys got to AA or AAA.  Jose Marmolejos in this class too.

When you’re signing 16yr olds … it may very well take 7 years to see any progress.  Here we are in 2020 and Raudy Read still has options, is still in the mix.  Difo an edge-of-the-roster backup middle infielder, Suero a solid middle reliever.


Starting for the 2012 season, the new CBA attempted to put limits onto IFA spending, imposing taxes and penalties for those who went over the bonus limits.  But what teams discovered was that the pathway forward with these new rules was to pick a year and “blow it out,” basically spend without limits and then take the penalties for the next two seasons.  You saw lots of teams attempt this strategy, including the big-money teams like New York and Los Angeles.
  • 2012: Reynaldo Lopez for just 17k biggest win, Rafael Bautista still in org
  • 2013: 7 guys on prospect lists, Anderson Franco biggest money signing for $900k, Steven Fuentes probably highest ranked prospect at this point.  Still several guys on AA and high-A rosters from class.
  • 2014: Victor Robles big win for just 225k.  Pena, Baez still in system.  Gilbert Lara was the big money guy, but he’s not exactly lighting it up in A-ball right now.
So, the first 5 years of the Rizzo regime featured a big swing and miss on the Cuban Maya.  I always liked him; loved that he had 8 pitches, but his fastball was just never as advertised.  We thought we were getting the next Livan Hernandez (age 23) but instead we got the next Livan Hernandez (age 35).  But, they had some HUGE wins here: Lopez for $17k is fantastic.   We still have some Fuentes fans who think he may succeed.  Robles for just $225k is perhaps an even bigger win than Lopez, given his development path and all star projection.  Plus we still have a ton of guys who might feature as role players.  So the rebuilding plan is back on track.
  • 2015: Juan Soto for 1.5M; obviously a win.  but little else from class to note.  Taveras, Chu, German, Alastre at various lower minors stops.
A change in strategy; the Nats went for an “all eggs in one basket” approach for the first time since 2010.  And it has paid off in spades.  $1.5M for Soto, who is now an MVP candidate.  One hit like this from your IFA makes up for more than a few classes.  We still may see something out of someone like German, who got an NRI this year and may be the next Wander Suero.
  • 2016: a TON of money spent: Garcia (1.3), Antuna (3.9m), Pineda (450k), Sanchez (950k); so far, plus Yadiel Hernandez as an older signee.  The potential is there for sure, as at least four of these guys are listed as top prospects.  Niomar Gomez in low-A rotation a sleeper.
This was finally the year Washington exploded their bonus pools, and the timing was solid.  They figured that the new CBA would eliminate the “binge mode” loophole so they spent and spent.  Lots of these acquired prospects remain in the system now and will for years to come.    Garcia is our #2 prospect, Antuna should return to the prospect fold after he gets over his injury-riddled 2019.  A lot of people look at Pineda as a sleeper; his star dimmed in 2019 but it might improve with a solid bounce back season.  I know there’s Hernandez fans out here who point at his massive 2019 AAA numbers … but the dude is 32 now, limited defensively to a corner at best; how is this a prospect?

In late 2016, a new CBA was signed that changed the rules here yet again.  The complete rules are detailed here: http://m.mlb.com/glossary/transactions/international-amateur-free-agency-bonus-pool-money, but basically we went from the soft limit with penalties to more hard caps.  So the IFA market now operates more like the Rule 4 draft; no going over, no chicanery.
It also means that, like the draft, you have to hit on your money picks.  Of course, its also far, far too early to pass any judgement on our three classes since.
  • 2017: way too early to tell; the 4 guys getting prospect love from this class are all at GCL.  Yeah, Arias leading guys right now.
  • 2018: Jeremy De La Rosa only top-30 prospect so far but the GCL/DSL is littered with 2018 IFA signees
  • 2019: Already getting prospect love for Andry Lara and Roismar Quintana; we spread more money around this year so promising.

Conclusions?
So, since moving to Washington really they’ve had just two stars out of IFA work; Robles and Soto.  they’ve had a couple more slightly better than replacement players (Lopez, Suero).  And they’ve had a ton of guys who have hit the majors in some fashion or another at the replacement level (Difo, Solano, Perez, Leon, etc).
The nats will probably roll out a 2020 lineup that contains at least three and perhaps four IFA home-grown signings (Robles, Soto, Suero for sure, perhaps Difo or Sanchez).  That’s pretty darn good, considering that the 2020 25-man roster likely only features 5 players that the team drafted (Stevenson, Taylor, Zimmerman, Strasburg and Voth) and only one of them will be in the “core 14 players” that comprise our starting 8 positional players, 5 rotation mates and closer.
but you have to ask; in 15 years they’ve generated precisely two above-replacement level WAR guys.  Is that a failure?

Getting the band back together: Cabrera re-signs along with other moves

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Cabrera is back. Photo via newsday

Cabrera is back. Photo via newsday

It was a busy Saturday for Nats GM Mike Rizzo.  In quick succession we heard about three moves:

  • The team re-signs 2B/3B Asdrubal Cabrera, 1yr $2.5M.
  • The team signs 2B Starlin Castro to a 2yr/$12M deal
  • The team previously signed RHP David Hernandez sometime in Dec 2019 to a minor league deal (which was just announced on Baseball America)

Cabrera was awful for Texas last year and got outright released; he lit it up for Washington, mercifully taking over for the completely ineffective Brian Dozier and lighting it up for the team down the stretch (slash line for DC last year post-signing: .323/.404/.565).   Cabrera played 3B for Texas but mostly 2B for DC; right now he’s your starting 3B opening day save any other move.

Castro clearly is the starting 2B; he moved there a few years ago, played it exclusively for several years but moved to 3B last season to make room for a prospect.  He was reportedly telling teams in FA he was only interested in playing 2B … so we have our starting 2B.  His signing seems to clarify what the team’s infield will be looking like come April.  He has two straight years of right around league average OPS+, but in 2019 he spiked homers, hitting 22 of them on the year playing a lot of games in pitcher-friendly NL East stadiums.

Hernandez was a great middle reliever in 2018 for Cincinnati, but blew up last year and signs a MLFA deal in an attempt to get back to the majors.  I like this as a low-risk/high reward move for a team always looking for the next 6th/7th inning RH reliever.

With these moves … as per the updated Big Board, your starting lineup come 4/1/20 looks like this (here’s a guess as to the lineup)

  • Eaton (RF)
  • Turner (SS)
  • Soto (LF)
  • Kendrick (1B)
  • Castro (2B)
  • Cabrera (3B)
  • Suzuki (C)
  • Robles (CF)
  • Pitcher

That’s  … a big step back from what we showed offensively last year, obviously.  The loss of Anthony Rendon in the middle of the order is pretty apparent.

Is this a playoff team?

—————-

Cabrera becomes the fourth 2019 team member/FA to re-sign with the team, joining Stephen StrasburgHowie Kendrick and Yan Gomes.  Pretty much the entire industry assumes Ryan Zimmerman is re-signing to be a bench bat as well.  So a lot of the veteran crew that was credited with helping the team win in October is now back.

Is this a good thing?

The oldest team in the majors last year has now resigned FAs who will be playing in their

  • age 34 year (Cabrera)
  • 32 (Gomes)
  • 31 (Strasburg) and
  • 36 (Kendrick).

They join other presumed starters and key relievers north of 30 in :

  • Kurt Suzuki (2020 will be his age 36 year)
  • Max Scherzer (35),
  • Anibal Sanchez (36)
  • Adam Eaton (31)
  • Sean Doolittle (33)
  • Hunter Strickland and Roenis Elias (both 31)
  • Wil Harris (35)
  • Starlin Castro (30).

Um.  That’s a lot guys on the wrong side of 30.   And a lot of assumptions that the production like we got out of Cabrera (143 OPS+) continues into 2020 if he’s indeed the starting 3B.

———————————-

Oh, ps: all appropriate tabs in the Big Board are now updated for these transactions.  We’re now at 36/40 on the 40-man roster.  New payroll estimate is $185,452,709, leaving us $22,547,291 under the cap for 2020.  For all of you still holding out hope for Josh Donaldson … you should stop.  He’s soliciting 4yr deals north of $100M; the numbers don’t add up.  If this team has $22M and change left and are not going over, then we’re out of the Donaldson mix.

I’m not sure what’s next.  Does the team pursue a trade for a 3B?  Clearly they don’t want to give up Victor Robles in a Kris Bryant trade (and I don’t blame them, whether or not they have one year or two of his services).  Maybe we’re going to see some Rizzo trade magic coming soon.

Hall of Fame candidates with Nationals ties (2019 version)

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Dunn on the 2020 HoF ballot. Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images North America

Dunn on the 2020 HoF ballot. Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images North America

This is a semi-recurring piece that we’re bringing back out because your 2020 Hall of Fame class has not one but two former Nats players of some prominence have made it onto the 2020 ballot.  We have not done this post in a couple years, so I’ll catch up the last two HoF ballots and then do the 2020 ballot Nats players.

See the 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014 versions.

At the end we speculate about who the first Hall of Famer might be wearing the Curly-W.


2020 Ballot players with Nats ties (2020 ballot).  Mark Zuckerman beat me to the punch here, writing an excellent article on both the below players.

  • Adam Dunn; two seasons of three true outcomes, the slugger Dunn was a great presence, took a beer-league softball player approach to hitting, and crushed the ball for this team for two seasons while Mike Rizzo rebuilt the farm system.  In 2010 he somehow avoided the ignominious feat of 200 strikeouts in a season by just one … a figure he subsequently blew through two seasons later as his career collapsed in Chicago.  I doubt he gets any votes and his career implosion upon moving to Chicago remains an oddity; he had 462 career homers but was essentially done as a player at the age of 33.  He should have had 5-6 more seasons of hitting 35 homers, putting himself firmly in the conversation of the best power hitters in the sport’s history.  Sometimes sluggers just … lose it, and fast.
  • Alfonso Soriano played one infamous year in Washington in 2006, was forcibly removed from his preferred position at 2B in spring training, had a 40/40 season, still holds the franchise season record for homers, and used his one season in Washington as a launching pad for a massive contract in a big market going forward.  His departure netted us two comp picks under the old system (he was a “type A” FA), which we used to select Josh Smoker and Jordan Zimmermann, one of which helped setup the franchise for

One other interesting name on this ballot?  Cliff Lee, who was with the franchise just prior to its move to DC, but was part of the ridiculous Bartolo Colon trade made in 2002.


2019 Ballot players with Nat’s ties: (2019 ballot with voting results and stats from baseball-reference.com).

We forgot to do this post last year, but there was one candidate with Nats ties:

  • Rick Ankiel, who spent two full seasons with Washington providing amazing defense in center (to go along with his amazing arm) but paltry hitting at the plate from 2011-2012.   In 2012 he was essentially a backup to newly promoted Bryce Harper for the Nats break-out season, but he did not appear for the team in the 2012 post-season ( he was not on their 2012 post-season roster).  Ankiel’s comeback story is pretty compelling, but it did not earn him  any hall of fame votes and he fell off the ballot after one year.

2018 Ballot players with Nats ties (2018 HoF Ballot):

  • Livan Hernandez: wow, what an important player in our history.  He was the starter in our first ever game in DC, and also started our first home game.  He made the all-star team that year.   He came back to the team in 2010, retired in 2014 and for a time was part of the Nats spring training staff.  He was named on one ballot and has fallen off going forward.
  • Brad Lidge: an infamous member of the Nats-to-Oblivion club, he signed on as a former-closer middle reliever for the 2012 team and got lit up.  Not Trevor Rosenthal lit up, but he was not effective.  He was released in June and hung em up.  He did not receive any votes on the ballot.

Notably, Vladimir Guerrero was elected in this ballot, long time Montreal player.  If only he had made it to Washington.

 


Nats connected names on the 2017 ballot and 2017 eligible:

  • Ivan Rodriguez, aka “Pudge,” who surprisingly signed a 2-year deal with the team after the 2009 season and played his last two years with the rebuilding team, splitting time with the up-and-coming Wilson Ramos and retiring after the 2011 season.  He was part of the rebound years for the franchise but missed out on their breakout 2012 season.  There was some surprise when he got in on the 1st ballot, given his PED rumors, but I take his election as a sign of the changing times with the electorate.  There’s definitely a difference between suspicions and a real failed test, and inarguably Pudge is one of the best catchers of all time so there’s no reason to keep him out.  Here’s a great link of a video of Pudge finding out he was elected.
  • Matt Stairs, whose name I can’t quite say without cursing, who sucked at the teet of the Washington Nationals payroll for half a season in 2011 before being mercifully released on August 1st of that year.  His final slash line in his sole season with the team: .154/.257/.169.  He went 10-65 with just one XBH for the entire season.  Stairs now is now a regular in my semi-annual “Nats to Oblivion” posts, last done in April of 2016.  He received zero votes and falls off the ballot.
  • Alex Cora: like Stairs, he signed on as a veteran FA to be a role player with the 2011 Nats and retired after the 2011 season.  Unlike Stairs, Cora wasn’t judged to even be worthy to make the ballot.
  • (As we all know, Tim Raines, Vladimir Guerrero, Orlando Cabrera and Larry Walker all grew up with the Montreal franchise, but never appeared for the team post-move to Washington, so I havn’t included them here.  Cabrera was the closest to appearing in a Nats uniform, getting traded to Boston mid 2004 season just prior to the move).

Useful Hall of Fame links links:

  • 2017 Ballot on baseball-reference.com, with links to vote counts, stats, etc.
  • Full Voting figures via BBWAA.com

The rest of this post will let you answer the trivia question, “Prior to Ivan Rodrigiez’s enshrinement, what former Nats player has come the closest to Hall of Fame enshrinement?”  (Answer at the bottom).

We’ll work from most recent to oldest.

2016 Ballot:

Not a single Nats-connected was on the official Class of 2016 ballot.  As it turned out, There’s actually quite a few guys who were *candidates* for the 2016 ballot by requirements, but who didn’t make the cut who also had connections to the Nationals.  In fact, there’s quite a few of them.  Here’s a good list, thanks to the excellent research by Bill from platoonadvantage.com.

  • Ronnie Belliard: Played pretty well for the god-awful stretch of Nationals teams from 2007-2009, posting a nifty 123 OPS+ during the middle season before getting traded away at the 2009 trade deadline for two minor leaguers who never went anywhere (Luis Garcia, Victor Garate).  Stuck with Los Angeles one more season before hanging them up at 35.  Played parts of 13 seasons in the majors but didn’t rate a spot on the ballot.
  • Jesus Colome was an important part of the Nats bullpen during the same 2007-2009 span that Belliard was involved with, getting more than 120 appearances his first two seasons before posting an 8 ERA in 2009 and getting DFA’d in July.  He got picked up the next year by Seattle and got a few appearances (hence why he’s not on the “Nats to Oblivion” lists) and, if you can believe it, is still pitching at age 37 in the independent Atlantic league as we speak.  He did manage 10 distinct years w/ MLB appearances though, so he qualified.
  • Jose Guillen came to Washington with the Expos, played one solid year in 2005, had a season-ending elbow injury in 2006, then bounced around the league for a few more years.  He was active for 14 total seasons but never made an all star game.  He hit 24 homers for the surprising 2005 Nats … and led the league in HBPs.
  • Cristian Guzman signed a somewhat controversial 4yr/$16M contract (it cost the team its 2nd round pick) that started when the team moved to Washington, was god-awful his first year, then had to have shoulder surgery to miss the entirety of 2006.  He recovered his stroke in 2007 and actually made the all-star team in 2008 (our only representative during the dark years) … which was enough to convince our idiot GM Jim Bowden to give him a 2yr/$16M extension to an aging shortstop w/ no power on the wrong side of 30.  Not surprisingly, his OPS dropped 100 points in 2009 and the team dumped him on Texas in a trade-deadline deal after he had lost his starting job to Ian Desmond, netting the Nats two RHPs (one of which Tanner Roark makes this one of the better trades ever consummated by the Nats executive staff).  Guzman played in 15 more games for Texas, batted .152 and never played again.

2015 Ballot:

  • Aaron Boonewho signed a 1yr/$1M FA contract to be a backup corner infielder with the abhorrent 2008 Nationals team.  Boone’s crowning baseball achievement was his extra innings walk-off homer that ended one of the best games in MLB history (Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS between Boston and the Yankees, ranked #6 by MLB’s panel a few years back when ranking the best 20 games of the last half century).  Ironically one of his lowest moments was just a couple months later, blowing out his ACL that subsequent winter while playing pickup basketball, costing him the entirety of the 2004 season and the trust of the  Yankees organization.  He missed 2/3rds of the 2007 season after another left knee injury and the Nats were probably his last gasp shot at extending his career at the age of 35.  He got a decent amount of playing time thanks to the fragility of Ryan Zimmerman and Nick Johnson, somehow got another guaranteed MLB deal the following year, went 0-14 for Houston and was released.  He’s now an analyst with ESPN.  Received 2 votes on the 2015 ballot.
  • Ron Villone signed a minor league deal in 2009 and was quickly added to the Nats active roster, where he appeared in 63 games as our primary one-out lefty.   He pitched the entirety of 2010 on another minor league contract with Syracuse, posting a 6.59 ERA as a 40-year old and never earning a call-up.   In 2011 he was invited to spring training again (perhaps with the hope that he’d join the organization as a coach) but he got cut, then pitched a handful of indy league games for his home-town New Jersey indy league team, got hammered, and hung them up.   He retired having played in 15 seasons for no less than 12 different teams.  In 2012 he took a pitching coach job with the Cubs organization (one of the teams he managed NOT to play for during his career) and has been moving up their organization in that capacity since.  Received Zero Hall-of-Fame votes by virtue of not appearing on the BBWAA ballot.
  • Julian Tavarez signed a one-year deal in the beginning of 2009, started out decently but had an awful stretch that resulted in his DFA in mid July 2009.  He never threw another pitch in organized ball, abruptly retiring considering his mid-season release.  He ended a 17-year career spanning 11 different franchises.  Received Zero Hall-of-Fame votes by virtue of not appearing on the BBWAA ballot.  According to his wiki page, he now resides in a suburb of Cleveland (his original professional team) but does not list any post-career activities, baseball-related or otherwise.  Received Zero Hall-of-Fame votes by virtue of not appearing on the BBWAA ballot.

Both Tavarez and Villone belong to the infamous “From Nationals to Oblivion” club, a topic we revisit on an annual basis.

Note: it is not entirely clear to me why Villone and Tavarez were not actually ON the 2015 ballot; both seem to have the qualifications (10 years of experience and 5 years retired) and both were on previous versions of the “anticipated ballot” at baseball-reference.com, but neither showed up on BBWAA’s official ballot for this year.  Pete Kerzel did a post reviewing “Nats connected” 2015 ballot members when the ballot came out in Nov 2014 and only mentioned Boone.  I include them here since it seems to me they *should* be on the ballot and I’m not sure why they were not (unless someone is passing judgement on the “quality” of HoFame ballot members).  Are they pushed to subsequent ballots for some reason?  If anyone has insight i’d love to know.

2014 Ballot:

  • Paul Lo Duca: one of Bowden’s more infamous signings; he went from our opening day catcher in the 2008 season to being released by August 1st.  The highlight of his tenure here was having his name being revealed in the Mitchell Report just a couple days after signing with us.  After his release, he signed on to finish out the season with Florida, took a year off and attempted a come back in 2010 (signing a ML contract with Colorado but never appearing above AAA).   Hard to believe this guy was a 4-time all-star.  Received Zero hall-of-fame votes.

2013 Ballot:

  • Royce Clayton; signed a contract to be the Nats shortstop during the lean Jim Bowden years, and then was included in the Mega swap of players that headed to Cincinnati in the 2006 season.  He hung around for one more season in 2007 as a backup short stop and retired afterwards.  Received Zero hall-of-fame votes.
  • Mike Stanton was picked up in mid 2005 after being released by the Yankees, and he pitched well enough for the Nats that he was able to fetch a couple of low-level prospects in a late September move to Boston (who was looking for some late season bullpen cover).  The team then re-signed Stanton for 2006, and flipped him again mid-season, this time to the Giants for Shairon Martis.  Stanton toiled a one more season before hanging them up after 2007.   Received Zero hall-of-fame votes.

2012 Ballot:

  • Vinny Castilla: signed a two year deal to join the Nats, timed with their inaugural season in Washington, but was traded to Colorado for SP Brian Lawrence when it became apparent that Ryan Zimmerman was set to man the hot corner in DC for the next decade or so.  Played one more season and retired after 2006.  Received Six (6) Hall-of-fame votes.

2011 Ballot:

  • Carlos Baerga: signed a one year deal as a 36-yr old to join the Nats in their inaugural season and serve as a backup infielder.   Hit .253 in part-time duty and hung ’em up after a 14-year career that can be well described as “journey-man.”   He was an integral part of the early 90s Cleveland Indians as their starting 2nd baseman and a 3-time all-star, and ended up playing on 6 major league teams and spent parts one season in Korea.  Received Zero hall-of-fame votes.

So, outside of Pudge’s election, the Nats greatest Hall of Fame achievement is Vinny Castilla receiving 6 sympathy votes.

We still have to wait a while to see another player with a “W” on their hat in Cooperstown.

So, who might that actually be?  In the years since we started this sad post, the team has acquired and played more than a few elite, regular all-star type players who may very well be in Cooperstown at some point.

  • Bryce Harper?  Not likely; if he makes it, he’ll likely wear a Philly cap based on the 13-yr contract he’s signed there.
  • Anthony Rendon?  despite his great 2019 season, he suffers from similar issues as guys like Scott Rolen; top-notch defensive 3B are a tough sell to Cooperstown.   He’s now signed with LAA for the next 8 years or so; if he makes it to Cooperstown, he’ll have earned it likely based on his next few seasons of work moreso than what he’s done with Washington … which means no curly-W for him.
  • Max Scherzer: most likely; he’s basically guaranteed his Cooperstown entry with his 3rd Cy Young award, two of which have come with Washington.  I think that pushes him over the edge to wearing our hat.
  • Stephen Strasburg: right now he seems like he’s in the Kevin Brown category of good but not great pitchers when it comes to Cooperstown consideration; he needs a Cy Young on his resume before someone really considers him.

How did so many of Rizzo’s off-season moves fail to pan out?

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How is Corbin basically the only "good" off-season acquisition?

I just perused some team splits for 2019.  Your Washington Nationals offense is, as of this writing, (per Fangraphs):

  • 20th in fWAR; a *combined* 3.7.
  • 20th in wRC+, a paltry 91
  • 22nd in Batting Average, hitting .243 as a team
  • 9th in K% .. sitting at exactly 25% , but…
  • sitting 21st in ISO, meaning they’re striking out a ton but not getting the added benefit of the power.

How about the defense?  The team is

  • 27th in Fangraphs’ total Defense stat
  • 29th in UZR/150
  • 28th in DRS, a combined -27 of runs “saved”  (interestingly …their run differential sits at 32 right now, almost entirely on the defense)

And then there’s the bullpen:

  • 30th in bullpen ERA
  • 30th in LOB%
  • 25th in bullpen FIP
  • 21st in K/9
  • 24th in bullpen fWAR .. somehow grading out as a group to exactly neutral 0.0 fWAR.  In other words … completely replaceable across the board as a whole.

At least we have the starters:

  • #1 in fWAR
  • 13th in ERA, but
  • 4th in FIP (Fangraph’s fWAR for pitchers is heavy on the FIP … and the Nats starters are doing this with a .306 BABIP.
  • #2 in K/9.

Anyway … point is; the hitters are bad, the bullpen is awful, and the defense is atrocious.

How exactly did we get here?  Well, Mike Rizzo was incredibly active over the winter.  But, amazingly, practically all of his moves have turned out bad.  Here’s a list of all his major transactions in the off-season:

  • Kyle Barraclough: 4.67 ERA
  • Trevor Rosenthal: complete train wreck
  • Yan Gomes; hitting .228
  • Tanner Rainey: walked 12 in 18 innings in AAA.
  • Meanwhile Tanner Roark has a 3.51 ERA and a 127 ERA+ in 10 starts for Cincy this year.
  • Matt Adams: 89 OPS+ as our big “bench bat”
  • Anibal Sanchez: 5.10 ERA in 9 starts
  • Brian Dozier: hitting .205
  • Jeremy Hellickson: 6.23 ERA in 8 starts.
  • Tony Sipp: 5.79 ERA.
  • He cut loose Trevor Gott in February but kept a slew of other minor league arms: here’s Gott’s SF line so far this year: 21 innings, 2.11 ERA, 193 ERA+
  • He cut loose Austin Adams, who had a ridiculous 24/3 K/BB ratio in 12.1 Fresno innings, who then got picked up by Seattle and has punched out 7 of the first 11 batter’s hes faced.  But was he good enough for our bullpen?  Nope.
  • He brought in Dan Jennings: 13.50 ERA in 8 appearances.  Why exactly did he get the last 3-4 outings?

Even his AAA MLFA moves to provide veteran pitcher backup have been suspect:

  • Henderson Alvarez: 8.01 ERA in Fresno
  • Scott Copeland: 6.33 ERA in Fresno
  • Vidal Nuno; also a 6.33 ERA in Fresno
  • J.J. Hoover: 5.70 ERA in Fresno
  • Brady Dragmire: 11.48 ERA in Fresno, now mercifully on the DL.
  • Logan Ondrusek: had an ERA north of 5.00 in AA (as a 34-yr old).

In fact, really only a couple of his moves  have actually worked out:

  • Kurt Suzuki: 108 OPS+ in a backup catcher role.
  • Patrick Corbin: 3.25 ERA in 10 starts … well heck for $140M i sure hope he’s working out.

Look back at the performance of his roster moves.  Its absolutely astounding how badly he’s judged the talent he’s traded away versus the performance of what he acquired.

Look, this is not hindsight is 20/20 analysis.  I was totally on-board with a ton of these moves.  I really thought that Dozier and Rosenthal were good bounce back candidates and that Sanchez was a sneaky good signing.  And i’m genuinely dumbfounded that basically every off-season veteran gamble has failed to pay off.  Some of the moves I questioned at the time and continue to question (Gott, Roark, Adams).  You have to wonder how much of an indictment of the pitching staff it is when guys like Gott (to say nothing of someone like Blake Treinen) depart here and succeed elsewhere.  Even Lucas Giolito is starting to round into form with another organization, after clearly being dumped as being “unfixable” by this org.

The question is, now what?  What can this team really do?  If suddenly every guy with a sub 100 OPS+/ERA+ turned it around and succeeded, can this team run off a 20-8 month and get back into this race?  With this manager?

Nats are quickly letting this season slip away

45 comments

So, how long before Martinez gets fired? Photo via Geoff Burke/USA today

So, how long before Martinez gets fired?
Photo via Geoff Burke/USA today

“Its early.”

“Its only May.”

“Its a long season.”

Yeah.

The Nats woke up this morning (after a well deserved night’s sleep presumably after their interesting plane odyssey from Philadelphia sunday night) and find themselves seven games under .500.  And their next 15 games, taking them completely through the month of May, are against Milwaukee (best team in the NL last year by record), Los Angeles Dodgers (2x defending NL champs), New York Mets (who have 3 arms who at any given time will shut down a team), and the Cubs (currently in 1st place in the Central and of course 4x straight playoff participants).

So, we probably shouldn’t be surprised when they go 5-10 or 6-9 between now and June 1.  Lets give them the benefit of the doubt and they go 6-9; that’d put their record at 20-30 through their first 50 games.

That’s ridiculous.

Yes they’ve gotten hit with injuries.  Tell that to the Yankees, who (as of this writing) have 12 guys on the IL yet are seven games ABOVE .500.  They too have lost key hitters (they’ve yet to have Aaron Hicks take an AB this  year, and have both their primary sluggers Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge on the IL as we speak), yet they keep on cruising despite being in a division with Tampa AND last year’s 108-game winning Boston team.

So what’s the difference?   Why is a team like NY able to weather this storm but the Nationals seem impotent?  It isn’t payroll; while the Yankees have a higher payroll than the Nats, the delta is almost entirely made up by one awful contract to Jacoby Ellsbury, who hasn’t played a game for the team since late 2017.

Is it management?   Both the Nats and the Yankees jettisoned experienced, veteran managers at the same time in Dusty Baker and Joe Giradi; both got replaced by rookie managers (Dave Martinez and Aaron Boone).    Boone came straight to the Yankees dugout from the broadcast booth, having spent basically every day after his playing retirement in the ESPN broadcast booth.  Boone did not have *one day* of professional managerial experience or even professional coaching experience before taking over the club.  Meanwhile Martinez was Joe Maddon‘s bench coach for more than a decade, interviewed with half the league for managerial openings before the Nats picked him.   What’s happened since?

  • Boone inherited a 91 win team, won 100 games in his first season and they have a .600 winning pct this year
  • Martinez inherited a 97 win team, guided them to an 82 win season in 2018 and they have a .400 winning pct this  year.

I guess those 12 years as a bench coach weren’t nearly as valuable as broadcasting games and eating off of expense accounts that Boone did for a decade.  Maybe we should hire J.P. Santangelo to be Martinez’ replacement when he gets fired in a few weeks time.

Is it ownership?  If you’ve read a single word that Tom Boswell has written about the Nats managerial situation, you’ll have read these points:

  • Mike Rizzo and the “baseball people” absolutely did not want to get rid of Baker
  • They were more or less bewildered by the choice of having to “find” someone to manage in 2018
  • The owners, for reasons inexplicable, continue to view the on-field manager as a lowly mid-manager and not a well-paid, important position.

Is it roster construction?  I personally thought that the off-season moves were fantastic.  Gomes, Suzuki, Dozier, resigning Adams, signing Corbin, getting two closer-quality arms in Rosenthal and Barraclough.  So what the heck is going on?    Why can’t this team find 7 competent relievers to sit on the bench in RF awaiting a chance to “do no harm?”

Here’s the ERAs of the current 8 guys in the bullpen: 0.00 (Fedde), 1.15, 1.42, 6.75, 7.07, 3.55, 10.80, 16.88.  So of course last night, when you needed someone to bail out the team after Strasburg‘s start fell apart in the 7th … you pick the f*cking guy with the 16.88 ERA!  Why??  At what point do you look at the bullpen decisions of the manager and say to yourself, “enough is enough?”

This team, instead of dipping into any one of a dozen arms in AAA or AA who are pitching lights out, chose to give a contract to a re-tread who sat out the entirety of the spring training w/o a deal … and who now has retired just 8 of the 21 batters he’s faced.  Why does he still have a job?   How is it possible that this team missed so badly in their roster decisions w/r/t Trevor Gott (who currently has a sub 2.00 ERA for San Francisco) this spring?  Was Gott really a lesser arm than Tanner RaineyJames BourqueAustin Adams and Jimmy Cordero?  Clearly he was, since the all four of these guys were kept instead of Gott.

Why is the team signing guys off the street instead of trying out Rainey, Bourque and Cordero?  Why are they on the 40-man roster if you’re not going to use them?    Go look up Bourque’s numbers in AA last year and this year; they’re phenomenal; why isn’t he getting called up?  If your argument for not calling up Rainey and Cordero is, “they’re too wild in AAA” then, *why the hell are they on the roster?*  If the answer is, “Oh well Rainey throws 100” well who frigging cares how hard you throw it if you can’t find the plate and thus can’t get called up and be trusted in MLB settings.   Same with frigging Cordero; he was *awful* for the team last year, yet still occupies a roster spot, walking guys in AAA at nearly a guy an inning.  Why?

DFA these guys, call up guys in the minors who ARE pitching well.  There’s a slew of candidates at AAA (Derek Self, Dakota Bacus, Vidal Nuno has improved lately) who are pitching well.   Same with AA (Mario Sanchez, Jacob Condra-Bogan, even Aaron Barrett are pitching great).  I would have Included Adams here, with his ridiculous 21/3 K/BB ratio in AAA this year, but for reasons inexplicable the team opted to DFA him and trade him for a non-top 30 prospect and keep the  unused Rainey/Bourque/Cordero crew instead of retaining him and seeing if his stuff would play this year in the majors.  He got one inning of work this year; unlike Trevor Rosenthal he was actually able to COMPLETE said inning despite walking a couple of guys.   You mean to tell me that was any worse than what Jennings could give us?

And then there’s the bats.  Here’s our current non-catcher bench: Sanchez, Noll, Stevenson.  Wow; do these guys have 5 career homers between them??   Way to really pack the bench with slap hitters for those crucial late-inning PH opportunities.  Meanwhile Fresno has three veteran guys who are hitting the cover off the ball in Brandon Snyder (Westfields HS grad!), Jacob Wilson and Yadiel Hernandez.  Any of them getting a sniff?   Of course not.  Because the team has to keep around guys like Kyle McGowin as an 8th starter (current AAA ERA: 5.00 in 7 starts) and a catcher they’ll probably never use in Raudy Read.  Why??  Are you *trying* to win games?   Why is Jake Noll taking pinch hitting duties at the major league level??

I dunno.  Something needs to change.  I just don’t get the way this team is being managed right now, both on and off the field.

/rant off.

Ask Jesse; a just-before-the-season Mailbag

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Jake Noll looks to make the 2019 opening day roster. Photo via milb.com

Jake Noll looks to make the 2019 opening day roster. Photo via milb.com

In order to move on from my Fantasy Baseball post, here’s a mailbag that WP Nats Beat reporter Jesse Dougherty posted on 3/25/19.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2019/03/24/nationals-mailbag-regular-season-is-just-about-here/?utm_term=.e92f4a56efd8

Interesting notes here from today: the demotions of Adrian Sanchez in particular, which seems to indicate that NRI and 2016 7th round draft pick Jake Noll may very well be making this team.  Noll signed for $190k in 2016, which definitely wasn’t a senior sign/throw away pick out of FGCU, but he’s gotten absolutely zero prospect love in his career thus far.  He was ranked 26th on 2080 Baseball’s 2019 list, and got an “Honorable Mention” in John Sickel‘s post 2016 minorleaguebaseball.com list, but that’s it.  And how he’s set to be the Nats primary backup middle infielder until Howie Kendrick can return.  So great for Noll.

Questions she took and how i’d answer them:

Q: What do you think the chances are the Nats extend Rendon? I’m not too optimistic after this most recent report.

A: A good question.  I’m guessing that at this point, Anthony Rendon will head to FA.  He better have an action plan though with his agent Scott Boras, who has absolutely blown several high profile cases over the last couple of off seasons.

That being said, I’m hoping Rendon is taking a hard look at the landscape, taking a hard look at the contracts that some of his comparables are signing (Nolan Arenado 8yr/$260M for $32.5 AAV) and perhaps coming back to the table before he faces an embarassing off-season.  Rendon is a year older than Arenado, less accomplished from awards and year end recognition … and will have to eat deferred money to stay here.  Can a deal get done?

Dougherty notes that Rendon has instructed Boras to work on an extension, and they’ll work into the season.  So perhaps we’ll see something like a 6yr/$180M deal in our future with deferred dollars.

Q: How is the team preparing for having AAA players in Fresno instead of Syracuse? Any chatter from likely minor leaguers about the switch?

A: That’s a great question, one that fans like us can’t really answer other than noting the obvious: the team has “demoted” the likes of Erick Fedde and Spencer Kieboom to Harrisburg so they can be a couple hours away in case of an emergency.  Meanwhile longer-term strategic assets like Joe RossKyle McGowin, and Raudy Read are instead heading to Fresno to get stretched out or further tested against more senior competition.

Ironically, Spencer and his younger brother, phenom prospect Carter Kieboom, are both scheduled to now be in AA.  I wonder if they’ll room together 😉

Dougherty notes the same players that I do, but has little else to offer in terms of player insights.

Q: Can you talk about the OF depth issue with Michael A. Taylor’s injury and Kendrick’s? Any insight on the organization’s view of its internal outfield options? Any indications if General Manager Mike Rizzo thinks he needs to go outside the organization to address?

A: Well, it certainly didn’t help when exactly one third of the outfielders on the 40-man got hurt (Taylor and Kendrick).  So the team is breaking camp with their 3 starters and their one remaining option in Andrew Stevenson to start the season.  Depth?  The next likely guy up probably is Rafael Bautista, who was on the 40-man last  year and got DFA’d/assigned to AAA .  Our top OF prospect is probably Gage Canning, who was in short season last year.  Brian Goodwin just got released by Kansas City; maybe he’s worth taking a MLFA flier on and getting him back into the fold.   The team has added some MLFA 4-A type talents that are also sitting in AAA; my guess is that they’d go there first for a short-term fix.  If it turned out that Taylor was done for the season, may be then we’d go for an outside option.

Dougherty says that since Taylor’s injury is short term, nothing will happen, and that in-house options like Wilmer Difo and Matt Adams can cover.

Q: Jake Noll has been tearing it up in spring training, Nats’ OF depth is thin, does Jake have any experience in the OF? Could his success translate to the big leagues soon?

A: This question was a day early, given today’s press reports of Noll’s likely making the team.   So his hot spring training has definitely paid off.

I see no evidence of his playing the OF: he spent his first two pro seasons playing 2B, then split time between 1B and 3B last  year.  Conventional wisdom would seem to indicate that this level of athleticism on the dirt would translate to at least a passing ability to play LF in a pinch.  But it doesn’t seem like that’s his path for now.

Dougherty notes that Noll played some OF in high school, but he only played the three positions in which he has pro experience this spring.

Q: Do Nats fans boo Bryce on April 2?

A:  I’ve been asked this many times by my Bryce Harper hating friends.  His first AB will be a video tribute and a standing ovation.  Perhaps by the 3rd or 4th AB he may get some boos.  He’s slated to face Scherzer in the 4th game of the season on regular rest, unless the team decides to keep its rotation intact.

Dougherty seems to think the reception will be chilly.  We’ll see!  Maybe the team should sell out the stadium to traveling Philly fans to make a buck like they used to in the old days.

 

 

Ask Collier 2/1/19

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Taylors days may be numbered. (AP Photo/Nick Wass via nbcsports.com)

Taylors days may be numbered. (AP Photo/Nick Wass via nbcsports.com)

Another week passing with barely any FA movement, and another set of questions taken by Jamal Collier.

Big Nats news of the week seems to be the team beating Michael A. Taylor in arbitration … over $250k.   That’s 1/10th of 1% of their team payroll, for context.  I *hate* it when teams go to arbitration battle with their players; by all accounts the team basically trashes the player in the presentation, making all the arguments about why they’re NOT worth the salary.  I think it completely poisons the relationship between player and management.  The Nats under prior management used to do this constantly; they were among the league leaders for  years in arbitration cases.  This is the 5th arb case that I believe Mike Rizzo has argued in the 10 years he’s been in charge.  Here’s the previous cases the team has argued:

  • 2006: Alfonso Soriano.  After acquiring him they immediately went to war with him … which was only a precursor to the Spring Training war, basically forcing him to play the OF.   Great way to treat your team’s best player.  Asked for $12M, got #10M when the club beat him, and he left via FA after the season.
  • 2007: Chad Cordero: Cordero beat the Nats in Arb over $500k difference.  The team and player were able to come to a pre-arb agreement in 2008 but Cordero’s days were numbered.
  • 2007 John Patterson: The team and Patterson were way, way off (1.8M vers 1M); the club won, then releaesd Patterson before the season had even started.
  • 2008: Felipe Lopez: the club beat Lopez over $300k … then released him mid-season.
  • 2009: Shawn Hill; went to battle again over $275k … then released him in the spring before they had to pay a dime.
  • 2010: Sean Burnett: went to battle over $150k.  That’s right: 150,000, one of the smallest argument values I can find in the last decade.  Club won.
  • 2010: Brian Bruney: just after acquiring the guy (similar to this year’s Kyle Barraclough situation) they immediately argued against him in arbitration and won.  Bruney never contributed in a meaningful way and the team cut him loose in May.  I thought at the time he was suffering from a “Bruised Ego” as the source of his crummy performance, but he didn’t pitch any better the next year for the White Sox and was soon out of the league.
  • 2012: John Lannan, who the club beat to only pay him $5M versus $5.7M … then immediately relegated him to AAA for most of the season.  He made 33 starts for Washington in 2011 … then 24 starts for Syracuse in 2012.  What an insult.  Unsurprisingly, he was non-tendered before the 2013 season.
  • 2015: Jerry Blevins, who beat the team for $200k … and was then dumped in trade a few weeks later in what I read at the time (and still believe) as an act of petulance from Rizzo.

We havn’t had an arb hearing since the 2015 debacle.  But now it seems like the team will battle not once but twice.

Of these 10 hearings (including the Taylor hearing): here’s some interesting stats:

  • Club has won 7 of the 10 hearings
  • Seven of the Nine players that went to arbitration were GONE from the team (one way or another) that same season.   Most of them cut either in spring training or quickly there-after.

So, it doesn’t bode well for Taylor or Barraclough’s future the fact that they’re arguing against the team.

Lets get to the questions.

Q: How are the Nationals matching up against the rest of the division this 2019 season?

A: What, you can’t read the papers?  Here’s the summary:

  • Nats have filled every hole they had and spent more than 14 other teams combined this off-season.  They’ve conservatively added 10-12 “wins” and are projecting on Fangraphs to win the division.
  • Braves have grown a very solid core and did a little FA work on the edges, but have no reason not to repeat what they did last year.  They’re only projecting to a $122M payroll, and that’s AFTER signing Josh Donaldson to a $23M one year deal.
  • Phillies have signed a couple guys, but already had a fully formed rotation and still have $50M of room.  But they could still land one of the two big FAs and improve quickly.
  • Mets have made some odd choices (acquiring Robinson Cano), have a ton of payroll just to Cano and Cespedes, and have completely re-made their bullpen.  Are they contenders?
  • Marlins continue to be a dumpster fire, projecting to spend just $84M in 2019.

So i’m predicting Nats win division, Braves to WC, Phillies just miss out but still win 88 games, Mets go about .500 and Marlins lose 105 games.  Its going to be the most competitive division in the game.

Collier predicts a competitive division with four teams actually trying.  That’s refreshing.

Q: What are the Nationals’ needs? Do they need left-handed bullpen help and maybe a utility player?

A: In an ideal situation sure they’d love more Lefty bullpen options.  But they’re kinda out of cash.  They could also use rotation insurance, but looking at the list of starters still available (nearly 20 who had MLB starts last year, several of whom could improve nearly any rotation in the game) I doubt we’ll be able to spin a MLB deal for any of them.

Collier agrees, thinks the bench is fine.

Q: I would rather have another pitcher like Dallas Keuchel or even Wade Miley, and let Harper go. What do you think?

A: well, this guy clearly missed the news, b/c Miley is already gone (to Houston, improving them to be at least a top 10 rotation now if not slightly better).  But this asker also clearly doesn’t know just how close to the luxury tax the team is.

If you’re going to go over … then frigging go over.  Sign Keuchel, sign another loogy, blow past the cap by $20M, Sign Harper, blow payes st it by $50M.  It seemed to do pretty well for Boston last year.

I don’t think there’s a team in the league that wouldn’t like having Keuchel in the fold (maybe the Cubs or Indians); certainly Keuchel would be an upgrade over Joe Ross for us.

All this being said … the tea leaves say one thing to me pretty clearly; Harper is gone, the team has already moved on.  Is this even a discusCollsion?

Collier notes they’re about $11M under the cap, have indicated pretty frequently they intend to stay below it, and 

Q: With the injury history regarding Stephen StrasburgPatrick Corbin and Ross, is it possible there will be a six-man rotation instead of five?

A: So, on the one hand its true that no team can go 162 games without having to rely on additional starters…. but it’d be stupid to go to a 6-man rotation with a bunch of veterans like what the Nats are projecting.  This isn’t high school; these guys are trained professionals, highly paid, and are conditioned to pitch ever 5 days.

What is true is this: our 6th, 7th and 8th depth chart starters WILL get starts.  So while it’d be awesome to have a ton of depth … you have to store it somewhere.  So project Erick Fedde and Austin Voth and some veteran 35-yr old MLFA  hanging on for one more shot to contribute in 2019.

Collier says the same thing about routines.

Q; Any word yet on non-roster invitees to Spring Training? 

A: Yes; there’s going to be a few of them.  Some of them will look great.  A couple will stick around.  In fact, we do an annual post here every year about NRIs who make it.  Here was 2018s http://www.nationalsarmrace.com/?p=15657 and 2017’s: http://www.nationalsarmrace.com/?p=13409 .

Last year, 1 NRI made the team out of spring, another 4 played for the team in the 2018 season, and Edwin Jackson was an NRI for us and excelled for Oakland.

So, NRIs are important.

Collier notes a couple of specific NRI arms who may very well be options to make the bullpen at the expense of someone like Sammy Solis.

Ask Collier 1/28/19

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it was all downhill from here for Martinez. Photo via Geoff Burke/USA today

it was all downhill from here for Martinez. Photo via Geoff Burke/USA today

I’ll admit, I’m struggling for content this off-season.  I love nearly all the moves the Nats have made, as one of (arguably) only about 6 teams that actually seem to be trying to improve themselves in the FA market this off-season.  Thank gosh for these Inbox/mailbags to give me a chance to opine on the state of the Nationals.

Latest one from MLB.com beat reporter Jamal Collier dated 1/25/19.

Q: With all the additions they have made, can that help in keeping Harper in Washington or is that a negative factor?

A: I can’t imagine how these moves have been a negative for anyone, Team, Fans or Harper.  If Harper was re-signed, and the team made the decision to go well over the luxury tax to do so, then the team is going to be better for it.  Lets be honest with ourselves; if there was no ridiculous luxury tax, would we even be debating this?  Yes, there’s a clear debate on value versus pay, given his injury history and general inability to stay healthy.  But we’re still talking about one of the most marketable players in the game, a guy who you build around, not try to repel away.  If the going rate is $9M/WAR … then a 4 win season (his average since arriving in the league) will make a $35M/year AAV contract “worth it.”

After watching all the other moves the team has made this off-season, which have essentially filled every hole we had, and then adding Harper back to the mix?  Yeah that’d be a hard team to beat.

I’m of the opinion (a difficult to quantify one of course), that Harper played it very conservatively in 2018 knowing he was going into a FA year.  I also wonder about his relationship with the new manager (we’ll get into that more later).  If he comes back, knowing he had security and his big pay check … wouldn’t you be betting on a massive 2019 for him?  Like another 8-10 win season?  I mean, I’d like him to do that for us and not for the Phillies.

Its just money right?  And, its not our money.  The Nats can’t draft past the 1st round anyway (quick; tell me the last time a 2nd round pick worked out for this team?), so who cares if we forgo a few draft picks.

Collier thinks signing Harper would be a positive.  duh.

Q: What does Davey have to do in Spring Training / the early season to prove himself after last season?

A:  Is he really called “Davey?”  What is he, 12?   I’m not sure I particularly care about what he does in the Spring (with the exception of #1 below).  His regular season performance is what is going to matter obviously.  What mistakes do we think rookie manager Dave Martinez made in 2018?  For me:

  • Failed to manage his veteran players from the start (see Ryan Zimmerman‘s play zero games spring training, and see Mike Rizzo‘s transactions in ridding the team of veteran relievers at the trade deadline).
  • Over used starters (at one point last last season the Nats rotation led the league in both IP and pitches thrown)
  • Over used crummy relievers (the fact that Sammy Solis and Ryan Madsen were ever allowed to throw as many innings as they did was crucial to the team’s demise in late innings)
  • Showed poor end-game management (resulting in a -8 pythag record on the season, a 4-10 extra innings record, and an 18-24 record in one-run games)
  • Had questionable management decisions in all other aspects of his job: lineup creation, shifting, double switches, strategy, etc.).

So.  One year in, with his “problem children” mostly now gone, he’ll have another shot at “controlling” the clubhouse.  He’ll have learned his lesson on starters.  He’ll have a whole new stable of relievers to abuse.   And he’ll have a year of in-game practice to learn from all the other mistakes he made.  So call 2018 a big internship for Martinez.  I suspect we’ll see him do better.

And, to be fair … he should have better relievers at his disposal, or at least some more street cred to demand for personnel moves earlier.

Collier notes the need for improved “messaging” related to Zimmerman’s 2018 situation.  But he notes spring training means nothing.  

Q: How likely is it that the Nats go out and improve their bullpen even more before the offseason is over?

A:  At this point … i’m not sure how likely this is.  They’re pretty tapped out from a payroll perspective.  I’ve got them at about $13M under the luxury cap, Cots has them about $10.9M  under the cap.  And those cap figures do not include any of the incentives built into the contracts of the many players who could earn them.  From what I can tell, these are the “hidden” incentives that may come back to pad the 2019 salary cap figure:

  • Stephen Strasburg gets $1M if he hits 180 innings (he’s done it twice, but not in his last four seasons, each of which had a month or so of D/L time).
  • Max Scherzer has all sorts of award bonuses ranging from $100k to $500k for various awards he can earn.  He’s been in top 3 of Cy Young voting every year, so it seems likely some money is spent here).
  • Patrick Corbin  has similar award-based bonuses.  What are the odds Corbin can repeat his 2018 performance and have another top3 Cy season?
  • Anibal Sanchez can earn up to $2M if he gets to 30 starts.  He’s done it 3 times, all many years ago in his  youth, but he may get some additional bonuses for lesser number of starts.
  • Trevor Rosenthal has all sorts of bonuses based on games pitched, games finished … its complicated, but if he pitches in 50 games (as he did in his last season 2017) he can earn another $4-$5M.  This is the big danger line item.
  • Howie Kendrick has per-season bonuses worth $1.1M based on plate appearances.  Based on injury recovery and the buying of Brian Dozier, this seems unlikely to be met.

So …. that’s a lot of money that could hit the books and jack up the 2019 payroll very close to the cap.   So ask yourself; what do you think the team is going to do?

I think the team is going to go one of two ways:

  • stand pat if the luxury tax is treated as a hard cap
  • Sign Harper, blow way past, throw caution to the wind and keep signing guys.

Collier kind of gives a wishy washy answer,  saying well maybe!

Q:  How would you rank the likelihood of: Nats re-signing Harper, Nats re-signing Rendon, both, neither?

A: At this point, i’ll give the following percentage likelihoods:

  • Harper: 5%.  I think Harper is going to follow the paycheck and end up with literally the only team bidding on him; the Phillies.
  • Rendon: 65%.  I think he likes it here, I think he’s a great bet to age gracefully, and will be the next Zimmerman “face of the franchise” kind of guy.

Collier kind of agrees, thinking the most likely scenario is signing Rendon, not Harper.

Q: Who are the candidates for a surprise break out season?

A: A “surprise” breakout season?  Well if Victor Robles blows it out and wins the Rookie of the Year i don’t think that’s a surprise.  I’ll go with newly added reliever James Bourque.

Collier has almost the same answer as me :-)

Ask Collier 1/11/19

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Harper Harper Harper. Photo Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Harper Harper Harper. Photo Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

On deadline day for doing arbitration contracts, MLB beat reporter Jamal Collier did a mailbag.  Its been a notable week with more Bryce Harper rumors and the Nats running their payroll right up to the limits of the Luxury tax cap with the Brian Dozier signing.

Here’s the questions he took:

Q: Harper is on my mind. Spring Training is days away. Aren’t the guys worried about will happen? No way they can be just “whatever,” right? Especially if he ends up in Philly?

A: If they can’t figure out from the slew of Mike Rizzo moves what the team’s intention is with Bryce Harper by now … well maybe a sledgehammer would be more subtle.  Its mid January and Rizzo has made 8 moves that should impact the opening day 25-man roster and another 2-3 that may be impactful down the road.  He’s now got the payroll north of $190M.

So what if he goes to Philly?  I think the whole “don’t trade within the division” is nonsense.  Yeah we’ll see him a lot.  But its a closed loop; he has to go to one of the 30 teams in the league, and we are bound to see him no matter who he plays for.  There’s 30 teams, and only half of them are even frigging trying to win right now, and then halve that again for those who even have payroll room to compete for Harper (or Machado).  And Philly is one of them.

As far as “the guys” … are you talking about his team-mates?  Well one of two things would be true about his teammates:

  1. They hate his guts and are like, “good riddance.”
  2. They are his fellow union members and want him to get every dollar possible because their union so royally screwed them selves in the last couple of CBA negotiations.

Collier notes that his fellow players know this is “part of the business” that Harper may eventually leave, and that he’s been a national figure since he was 16.  

Q: If Harper re-signed with the Nationals, how would they work the outfield? Would Victor Robles start the season in Minors? Or would they trade Eaton?

A: You’d have to trade Adam Eaton.  And you’d be trading low.  You can’t move Juan Soto … he’s making MLB Min and could be an MVP candidate.  You really shouldn’t move Victor Robles; he’s supposed to be a *better* prospect than Soto, so you’re hoping for 4-5 win performance for (again) MLB min salary.  These are the kinds of players you keep when you’re trying to win.  Putting Robles in the minors would be an absolute waste, and if that was their plan then i’d advocate attempting to flip him as a centerpiece for a top 20 player in the league (like a Corey Kluber or something).

Collier agrees.

Q: If Harper returns, how does it change how the team will handle Anthony Rendon negotiations?

A: Hmm.  That’s a good question, because despite the fact that Anthony Rendon dropped in the draft over injury questions he’s actually been pretty solid as a pro.  I liken Rendon’s reputation and capabilities to Adrian Beltre; fantastic defender, sneaky good at the plate, and suddenly you look up and he’s put up a hall of fame career.

Will that translate into a $200m salary?  Probably not.  But Rendon is no dummy, and neither is his agent Scott Boras.

That being said … can the Nats do this whole “stars and scrubs” thing for ever?  If you have 5-6 guys on high 8-figure salaries (Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin, Harper, Rendon) can you put a good enough team behind them?

I personally think Rendon is an incredibly important player for this team, even if he isn’t that high a profile.  And because he’s not high profile, I think you can get him for $20M/year or something like that on a longer term deal, which would be a steal value-wise.  I hope committing money to Harper doesn’t close the door on a Rendon negotiation.

Collier says …. he has no idea, nor does Rizzo.

Q: How should we look at 2019 Dozier replacing ’18 Daniel Murphy? Both are above-average offensive second baseman with liability at fielding. Is this an upgrade, downgrade or equal move?

A: Absolutely an upgrade; Daniel Murphy had negative bWAR last year while even playing through injury Brian Dozier contributed.  If Dozier is healthy and performs at his 2015-2016 level again … watch out this is one of the steal signings of the off-season.

Collier basically agrees and gives good contextual numbers.

Q: Do you think Washington will add a starter? If it does, I think Wade Miley is fine.

A: I think they will … but not a guy to replace Joe Ross in the rotation.  I think they’ll be looking for MLFAs with 5/1 or 6/1 buy-outs, like Edwin Jackson or Tommy Milone signings last year.  I can’t see them breaking the luxury tax for a 5th starter.

Collier agrees, remembering that the team has already signed Henderson Alvarez for just such reasons.