Happy Valentines Day 2016! And what better way to celebrate it than an Inbox from MLB.com’s Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson. Here’s how I would have answered his questions had someone bothered to ask me. As always, I write my answer before reading his, and edit questions for clarity.
Q: What is the biggest change the Nationals must make to be competitive in the NL East?
A: Well first, lets be honest. There’s really only 2 teams even *trying* in the NL East 2016, so calling it “competitive” is sort of like claiming that the Washington Generals were “competitive” with the Harlem Globetrotters all those years.
For me the biggest thing the Nats need to do is just stay frigging healthy. If Harper plays another full year maybe he doesn’t do another 10-win season, but you have to think he’ll be quite good. Rendon was one of the NL’s top players two years ago; no reason not to think he could return to form. Strasburg needs to be the guy all year in 2016 that he was in August and September of last year. Werth and Zimmerman are both seemingly on the down side of their careers but there’s no reason they can’t be valuable contributors if they can stay on the field. If all of that happens, then this team suddenly is the 95-98 win juggernaut that everyone thought they’d be in 2015.
Ladson mentions the Bullpen and team defense. I guess he’s bought into the Royal’s plan as the way of winning going forward.
Q: What will Blake Treinen‘s impact be on the team be this year? It seems like he has the talent to make an impact on the team.
A: Well, right now Treinen is probably the “last guy in” to the bullpen; if the Nats were to acquire another RH middle reliever, Treinin likely gets bumped to AAA. That’s because lefties hit him for an astounding .934 OPS last year. His K/9 jumped dramatically his 2nd year in the pen .. but so did his BB/9. Its pretty astounding to me that a guy with his kind of stuff (upper 90s sinking fastball with so much movement that commentators think he’s throwing circle changes) struggles the way he does. So my answer to the question is “minimal unless he can get lefties out with more regularity.” Ladson basically says the same thing with the same observations.
Q: Do you expect Lucas Giolito with the big league club in 2016 or will he get a full season in Syracuse?
A: Something tells me that we may see Giolito in the majors this year, yes. He didn’t light AA on fire last year … so I see him starting the season there (and not AAA). I also see him quickly earning a promotion to AAA or perhaps straight to the majors, just like the team did with Joe Ross last year. Or, consider what the team did with Jordan Zimmermann, who jumped straight from AA to the majors (albeit after spending most of the 2008 season in AA).
Why do I think Giolito is going to appear in the majors this year? Because this is our last year with Strasburg before he signs a $200M contract somewhere. And this is one of our last couple years with Harper before he signs a $500M contract. And when you have two of the marquee players in the game … you try to win at all costs. This is the criticism of the Angels right now with Mike Trout and if the Nats go cheap or don’t use everything in their disposal to try to win a championship while they still have Harper, then it’ll be the same situation with the Nats. So if one of our starters goes down and A.J Cole or Austin Voth can’t cut the mustard, then I expect Giolito to be on the MLB team without too much delay.
Ladson says it depends on how he looks in Spring Training. I dunno about that; when scouts talk about how he has two grade 70 pitches already … what else is there to see? I’m sure he’ll look awesome against AAA players and other re-treads in the later innings of ST games, will go to AA with the missive of “working on something” in particular, and will be up soon. Ladson also says he “has no limits” in terms of innings; that too I think is BS. He’ll be limited to no more than a 20% increase year over year. He threw 117 innings last year; don’t expect him to throw much more than 140-150 innings.
Q: What kind of season do you expect from Gio Gonzalez?
A: I think we’ll see a slight improvement for Gonzalez over 2015’s campaign for reasons as frequently pointed out by JohnC: his peripherals were crummy, lots of bad luck on balls in play, and the defense behind him was rather subpar. I’m thinking something like 13-9, 3.45 ERA, 1.30 whip. Not bad for a 3rd or 4th starter. Ladson implies that this could be Gio’s “last year” because he’s entering his option years. Uh Bill, are you seeing what mediocre starting pitchers are going for on the FA market? Gonzalez’s options are each at $12M for the next two years. Jon Lackey is older and lesser, and just signed a 2yr/$32M deal. Who would you rather have?
Q: Do you expect a significant contribution from any of the players signed to Minor League contracts?
A: A couple of the MLFA signings come to mind as possible contributors, absolutely. Reed Johnson, Brendan Ryan, and Bronson Arroyo could all be surprising players come spring training, and an injury or two could open the way for their place on the opening day roster absolutely. Just look at what happened to this team last spring, with a slew of guys on the opening day D/L and both MLFAs and non-tender candidates not only making the team but contributing the entire season (see Robinson, Clint and Moore, Tyler). Ladson mentions one other guy Chris Heisey who could also factor in.
A: I’m going with Danny Espinosa honestly; the way the roster has been constructed its clear to me Turner is starting the season in AAA and Drew will be the utility infielder. If Espinosa hits .200 in April though, all bets are off. I know many will say that it should be Turner … bit if its Turner, then that leaves a veteran like Moore or Drew on the outside looking in. Ladson says Turner; well see!