Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Archive for the ‘reynaldo lopez’ tag

Pitching Depth looking good, Norris waived, and other ST observations

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Norris won't get a shot at redemption here. Photo Mark Zuckerman via Nationals Insider.com

Norris won’t get a shot at redemption here. Photo Mark Zuckerman via Nationals Insider.com

Some big player news rumors hit the airwaves this morning; Derek Norris, who two months ago we thought was our opening day starter, is reportedly being put on waivers for the eventual purpose of releasing him.  The timing is no accident; his contract is not fully guaranteed for the year and the Nats can get out of paying the full freight and only be on the hook for $700k by doing this.  I think Norris obviously gets picked up by another team, but they’ll be waiting so they won’t have to pay hin north of $4M.  He’s too good defensively to not get a job, and some team may think he’s a great reclamation project given his past hitting.

(Quick links: ST 2017 hitting stats and pitching stats for the Nats)

Quick implications of the move:

  • Looking obvious that our 1-2 catching punch will be Matt Wieters and Jose Lobaton.  Hard to see Pedro Severino as anything but AAA insurance for the time being.
  • This also thins our Catcher ranks: past Severino is just Raudy Read in terms of depth.  I’m hoping Spencer Kieboom makes it through waivers …
  • This puts the Nats 40-man roster at 39/40, leaving one spot for a quick add for someone at the end of spring training.  We’ve been talking about Vance Worley being an arm that makes sense at the back of the bullpen, but he’s not impressed so far this spring; 8ip, 5 runs and just two strikeouts.

I’d like to talk about two other important arms though; Erick Fedde and Austin Voth.  Fedde now has 7 IP, has given up just 3 hits and zero runs.  Voth has fewer innings (4 2/3) but has zero runs and a 5-0 K/BB ratio.  Meanwhile their competition for “first in line for a spot start” A.J. Cole has been shredded this spring: 8 2/3 innings, 10 hits, 7 earned runs.  Yes I know you often cannot trust spring training stats … but not in the cases of minor leaguers looking to impress while they’re in the presence of major leaguers.  These guys are trying.  And right now I’m feeling a ton better about our near-to-the-majors starting pitcher coverage post Giolito-Lopez trade than I was at the beginning of spring.  Is it time to see if Cole makes more sense as a reliever?

(Tangent: in case you’re not on ten-zillion RSS feeds about baseball and don’t know how Giolito/Lopez are doing: Giolito has by all accounts cleaned up whatever damage the Nats did to his mechanics and looks solid this spring: 9IP, 2 runs, 6-2 K/BB.  Lopez has struggled; 8 2/3rds innings, 6 runs, 7-3 K/BB.

Other interesting ST stat lines to point out:

  • Both Adam Lind and Clint Robinson have struggled badly: Lind is 4-20, Robinson is 4-21.  Matt Skole is missing an opportunity here; he’s just 2-13 on the spring, with one of those two hits being a homer in the opener that had MartyC all hot and bothered.
  • Brian Goodwin is not impressing in his attempt to win the spare OF job; he’s just 2-19 on the spring while “King of Spring Training” Michael Taylor is tearing the cover off the ball (he’s 11-26 with two homers).  Looking more and more like Taylor is getting another shot at the title … and inevitably starting when old-man Jayson Werth hits the D/L at some point.
  • Jhonathan Solano, now starting for Columbia in the WBC, is 10-12 with the Nats.  That’s right; he’s hitting .833.  Good to know; my comment above about us suddenly being rather thin at catcher may not be so bad if Solano keeps it up and earns a 40-man re-call.
  • Wilmer Difo may not have a realistic shot at the opening day roster, but he’s doing the most he can, hitting .400 so far.
  • Lastly, Ryan Zimmerman.  0-13 so far this spring.  At least he’s putting the ball in play (just 3 punch outs).  Too bad all the 1B types in camp that may push him to the bench are also struggling.
  • We all know about Koda Glover and how he’s crushing it.  4IP, one hit, 7-0 K/BB.  If he keeps this up, we’ll have a closer for $550k instead of the $15M that Melancon and Jansen earned.  And that, my friends, is how you build a closer.

Lastly, since i’m clearly trolling specific people by calling out Giolito and Skole stat lines, lets look up some other lightening rod ex-Nats and their spring stats:

  • Future Hall of Famer Max Schrock: only 7 ABs for Oakland this spring training, but he did go 2-7.  He was an NRI but clearly seems set to return to the minors.  No surprise there.  The question is whether or not he can repeat his performance at the AA level in 2017.
  • Nick Pivetta, which bought us the tumultuous Jonathan Papelbon era, has a 2.25 ERA in 8 IP for Philadelphia.
  • Tony Renda is crushing it as an NRI for Cincinnati: he’s 11-25 this season.
  • Felipe Rivero‘s statline resembles Glover’s so far this spring: 4IP, 1hit, 0 runs and 5 Ks.  You have to give up talent to get talent right?

anyway; what do you guys think about some of these guys?

Verducci Effect for 2017

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Lopez is the #1 Verducci effect risk factor arm for 2017. Photo via wp.com/Mitchell Layton getty images

Lopez is the #1 Verducci effect risk factor arm for 2017. Photo via wp.com/Mitchell Layton getty images

This year’s installment of si.com’s Tom Verducci‘s “Year After Effect” (which he’s using as the title instead of the eponymous “Verducci Effect”) was published earlier this month.  This is a quick review of the past few years of his work and documentation of his macabre “success rate” in predicting trouble for young arms working on large innings load increases.

Here’s my reviews of his lists on this same topic from year’s past: 2013 year after effect and 2014 year after effect, and 2016’s year after effect (I forgot to do it in 2015).   In the 2013 post, there’s some counter-arguments to whether or not his “effect” actually exists, with research on all pitchers who qualified for the thresholds he laid out at the time.  I won’t go into the same arguments made there; what I will do is point out the actual results of his predictions:

  • 2013: 11 candidates mentioned, 5/11 regressed or got injured the following year (but, it should be noted, that another 3 of the candidates he mentioned have completely fallen off a cliff in subsequent years).  8/11 candidates showed regression: 72% prediction rate.
  • 2014: 10 candidates mentioned; 8/10 regressed and more shockingly 6/10 had arm injuries.  80% prediction rate.
  • 2015: 14 candidates mentioned (only 5 “main” ones were on his true watch list): 11 of those 14 regressed or got hurt.  One of the 14, Marcus Stroman missed the whole season with a knee injury but counts as a non-regression candidate, so frankly its 11 of 13 guys who actually pitched all year.  84% prediction rate.
  • 2016: 5 candidates mentioned: 2 regressed badly, one regressed nominally, one missed most of the season with arm injuries.  80% prediction rate.

So in the last four years, he’s identified a total of 40 arms at risk and 31 of them regressed or got hurt.  That’s a 77.5% overall “success” rate at predicting regression or injury over multiple years.  You can quibble with those who claim this “effect” doesn’t exist but you’can’t argue against Verducci’s research year over year.  For me, his analysis is less about running pure numbers to find candidates and more about giving context to the pitchers he selects.  Mostly they’re starters (not relievers), mostly they’re young and mostly they’re guys who had to pitch high leverage innings on top of vastly increased workloads.  But if you want counter arguments to his observations, see the 2013 post above for links.

So who’s listed this  year?  A slew of pitchers this year, including a name at the top that we’re quite familiar with.  Most of his pitchers this year are very young and nearly all of them only pitched part-time in the majors.  In a departure this year, 9 of the 12 guys he lists pitched mostly in the minors in 2016 and mostly struggled in the majors, which is going to make my judgement next year as to whether the player “regressed” more difficult.  But here’s the list of 12 guys:

2017 Candidate Name/TeamAge as of Jan 20172016 IP2016 IP delta increase2016 ERA2016 FIP2016 xFIP2016 SIERA
Reynaldo Lopez, White Sox22155.356.34.913.924.524.55
Aaron Sanchez, Blue Jays23203.670.333.553.754.01
Rob Whalen, Mariners22144.6486.575.054.774.47
Brock Stewart, Dodgers24149485.795.95.034.62
Joe Musgrove, Astros23147.346.64.064.184.043.98
Julio Urias, Dodgers19127.6403.393.173.693.88
Jeff Hoffman, Rockies23150464.886.274.965.22
Michael Fulmer, Tigers23174.349.63.063.763.954.03
Sean Manaea, A's24166.344.63.864.083.964.04
German Marquez, Rockies21187.348.35.234.263.893.97
Jake Thompson, Phillies22183.643.65.76.165.645.68
Daniel Mengden, A's23170.339.66.54.344.574.5

Click here for my full Verducci effect worksheet with detailed stats pre- and post-season.

The guys i’m most intrigued by include:

  • Reynaldo Lopez, who I suspect will start in AAA for the White Sox while they try to figure out if he’s a starter long-term or perhaps a future 100-mph closer.
  • Aaron Sanchez and Michael Fulmer were two awesome rookies last year (Fulmer won the AL Rookie of the Year and Sanchez was the best pitcher on a good Toronto team).
  • Sean Manaea is an interesting younger arm who I’ve often mentioned here because he would have been an option with the 1st round pick we gave up in the 2013 draft so that we could sign Rafael Soriano.
  • Julio Urias projects to be the Dodger’s 3rd or 4th starter and is incredibly accomplished for his age; he seems like he is a lower-risk guy here despite his workload thanks to effortless mechanics.
  • Jeff Hoffman is a rather “famous” name in that he was in talks to go 1-1 in 2014 before blowing out his elbow during his junior year; Toronto drafted him 9th overall despite the injury and then he was a key member of the prospect haul that went to Colorado in the Troy Tulowitzki deal.

Hey, at least there’s no Nats this year :-)

 

Collier’s Inbox 1/4/17

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Is this the best we can do for backup infielders? photo via offtherecordsports.com

Is this the best we can do for backup infielders? photo via offtherecordsports.com

Happy New Year!

Nats Beat reporter Jamal Collier posted another inbox; here’s how I would have answered the questions he took.


 

Q: The Nationals and A’s have proven to be strong trade partners over the years, and I believe the A’s have a few players to fit the Nats’ needs. Do you think Washington could trade for Sean Doolittle and Stephen Vogt?

A: We mentioned this in passing in the comments discussion recently; it does make sense to try to acquire Oakland’s closer Sean Doolittle.  Acquiring Stephen Vogt makes less sense right now, given that the Nats have guaranteed Jose Lobaton money for 2017 and have signed Derek Norris to be the starter.  For similar reasons as to why the “Nats are still interested in Matt Weiters” arguments make no sense, acquiring Vogt wouldn’t make much sense either.  If you acquire Vogt, you tell the league that you need to trade either Lobaton (no options/5-year veteran who cannot be sent down and who has a guaranteed 2017 contract) or Norris, and it isn’t exactly the best way to go about maintaining a player’s value when the whole league knows you need to make a deal.  That’s why we got very little in return for Danny Espinosa, and that’s why signing a third catcher to a guaranteed deal wouldn’t make any sense.

The one issue that may be blocking a Doolittle deal is the farm system; as in, we’ve gutted it this off-season already.   Billy Beane knows how valuable closers are; he just watched Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen cash in and he has seen what the likes of Andrew Miller and Wade Davis fetch in trade.  I’m not saying Doolittle is in that class of pitcher … but he’s not chopped liver.  The price tag just may be too high for Mike Rizzo to consider.

Collier says Doolittle would be a good fit, but that Oakland isn’t shopping its players right now.


 

Q: Wilmer Difo is the only middle infielder on the 40-man roster, other than the starters. It seems to me the Nats need another infielder on the bench. Emmanuel Burriss seems to be the only other option. What do you think?

A: Yes, the Nats definitely need another MLB quality backup infielder.  Emmanuel Burriss is not that; he’s a 4-A guy who only played last year because Philadelphia isn’t really trying right now.  Wilmer Difo is not the guy you want to be injury option #1 either.  This is why I want Stephen Drew back, as discussed ad naseum in the comments recently.  But I also admit Drew may have priced himself out by virtue of his 2016 performance, and it may be an outlier season.  Who else is out there?  Not much at this point.  I think the Nats are kind of thin right now all the way around; if we lose any of these key players for any length of time, the alternatives are pretty poor.  Imagine giving 400 ABs right now to Difo or to Michael Taylor?   I mean, what does this team do if Anthony Rendon, not exactly known for being a rock heathwise, misses 2 months?  Who plays 3B for that time?  Matt Skole?

I think the team needs a bit more depth both in INF and OF right now, honestly.

Collier says the Nats are comfortable with Difo as a bench option, as evidenced by his presence on the NLDS roster.  But I don’t buy that; i think he was on that roster as basically a 25th man/pinch runner guy, not because he had earned it.


 

Q: The offseason trades seem to point to the Nats believing Stras is going to be healthy, why would they think that?

A: Because he’s not the first player to suffer a Strained Flexor Mass, because its not nearly as severe an injury as other arm injuries, and because the team is probably hyper-monitoring Stephen Strasburg‘s recovery.  Its basically a 1 month injury, 2 if you’re being really cautious.  Had the Nats made the World Series i bet he woudl have pitched.  I can’t imagine any reason he won’t be ready to go by 4-1.

Collier notes that both he and his agent have said multiple times there’s no issues, plus Strasburg was throwing bullpen sessions in the post-season…. he’ll be fine.


 

Q: With the trade to the White Sox, I’m concerned that the Nats have denuded their farm system of Major League-ready top prospect pitchers. In case of injury to any of the top six Major Leaguers, it seems that there will be no “next man up” to fill in.

A: Me too!  The Nats gave no less than 20 starts to pitchers outside the opening day rotation in 2016.  That same number was 28 in 2015, 13 in 2014, 25 in 2013 and just 12 in 2012.  So that’s an average of 19.6 “extra” starts per year thanks to injuries and unplanned absences.  You’re absolutely right; the first two likely candidates to take those starts in 2017 (Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez) were both flipped for Adam Eaton.  Now we’re looking at those starts going to A.J. Cole and to Austin Voth initially, and the pickings get slimmer from there.  “Slim” as in, there’s only really 7 starters on the 40-man at all, so if you really get stuck you’re looking at Oliver Perez getting stretched out, or putting someone like Blake Treinen back on a starter routine.  And past that?  We’re talking a MLFA type like Jacob Turner or our own already-outrighted-once Taylor Hill.  In reality we’d never get that far; we’d promote Erick Fedde or maybe hope that reformed knuckeballer J.D. Martin has something in the tank.   But those are not really confidence-inspiring options.  Here’s hoping for a healthy 2017 from the rotation!

Collier acknowledges the same and thinks the team may sign some starter depth before spring training starts.


Q: Perhaps the Nats could bring in some veteran starters to Spring Training, like they did last year with Bronson Arroyo, to compete for rotation spots and as insurance in case of an injury. What will it take to get Trout? Sure he would like to play for a winnèr.

A: See above, yes.  2016 Syracuse had some decent alternatives: Paolo Espino and Aaron Laffey both seemed to be good alternatives.  Espino signed with Colorado, Laffey is still a FA.  But there’s a slew of veteran FA starters out there who would probably take a non-guaranteed deal.  I could see Mat Latos coming back b/c of his Dusty Baker connection.  I could see an injury-case like Kris Medlen or Matt Harrison look at the SP depth and say to himself, “gee, I can probably beat out Cole and Voth for the 6th starter job!”  So yeah you never know.

Trout trade; that’s just internet click bait.  He’s not going anywhere.  Owner won’t trade him, and putting together a package of prospects to acquire him could never work out; it’d either be not enough for the Angels, or too much for the acquiring team.

Collier tries to speculate on a package for Trout, coming up with Turner, Robles, Ross and perhaps Fedde.  Think about that trade, what it would do to the current team, and what it does for the future of the team versus what you acquire, and ask yourself if its worth it.  

 

 

Updated Master Prospect List in Google XLS

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The official Logo of the St. Louis Prospects. Apropos to this post.

The official Logo of the St. Louis Prospects. Apropos to this post.

Since we’ve been talking a lot about prospects, i thought i’d note that I’ve been catching up the Master Prospect rankings list (here’s the direct Google xls link) that I maintain.  Major edits lately:

  • I’ve noted those who have lost Rookie status in 2016: Trea Turner and Wilmer Difo, even if Baseball America and MinorLeagueBall insist on ranking him.  I’m not sure what to do with A.J Cole in this regard, nor Pedro Severino.  Koda Glover still seems to be a “prospect” by everyone’ standards so he’s still ranked.
  • I’ve noted those traded in 2016: Taylor Hearn, Max “future hall of famer” Schrock, Chris Bostick
  • I’ve noted those former “prospects” who were DFA/Waived/released in 2016: Abel de los Santos, Matthew Spann, Cutter Dykstra
  • I’ve noted those post-2016 MLFAs who at some point were ranked: Erik Davis, Paolo Espino, Kevin Keyes, Jason Martinson, Drew Vettleson, Neil Holland, Michael Brady.  If they re-sign, i’ll un-do the “out of the system” categorization.
  • Lastly, we’ve noted those prospects traded in the Winter Meetings: Dane Dunning, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez
  • I’ve now put in a couple of the early rankings from major pundits that have come out post-2016: BA top 10, minor league ball top 30, MLBpipeline’s top 30 as of the end of the 2016 season, and JP Schwartz’ post-2016 list.  We expect a ton more to hit in the Jan/Feb time-frame.

The Spreadsheet now has more than 100 “lists” from various sources dating to the beginning of the Nats franchise (Nov 2004 BA list, ahead of 2005 system).

Each off-season I generally expect to get 7-8 rankings lists from what I call the “major pundits” who follow prospects:

  • Baseball America/BA Prospect Handbook (J.J. Cooper, John Manuel, formerly Aaron Fitt)
  • Baseball Prospectus (Chris Mellon/Jason Parks/Ezra Wise):
  • MLB/MLBpipeline.com (Jim Callis/Jonathan Mayo/Mike Rosenbaum)
  • MinorLeagueBall.com (John Sickels/Nick Melotte)
  • Fangraphs (Dan Farnsworth, formerly Marc Hulet/Kiley McDaniel)
  • ESPN (Keith Law)
  • Prospect Digest ( Joseph Werner)
  • TopProspectAlert.com (J.P. Schwartz)

I’ve seen other pundits rankings in the past but not consistently year over year like the above seven lists.  If you know of any pundits who i’m missing, please let me know.

This year we’ll start to see a new #1 prospect in Victor Robles, after seeing 47 straight lists with Giolito ranked #1.  Robles becomes the 11th distinct player to be ranked #1 in our farm system at any point.

Enjoy!

 

 

Huge Over-Pay for Eaton

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Eaton should be this excited moving to a playoff contender. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Eaton should be this excited moving to a playoff contender. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

There is no such thing as a pitching prospect.”

So said Joe Sheehan, more than 13  years ago on Baseball Prospectus.

Well, the Nationals just traded three very, very good pitching prospects for one very good outfielder in a move that was shocking to baseball insiders, let alone Nats fans.

In case you’re not sure what we’re talking about: Nats acquired Adam Eatonhe of the 6-win 2016 season and his ridiculously team-friendly contract (he’s signed with options through 2021 for just a measly $38.4M).  In return we gave up three of our four best starting pitching prospects in the form of Lucas GiolitoReynaldo Lopez and 2016 1st rounder Dane Dunning.

To put things in a different way: we just acquired 5 years of Eaton for a combined potential of nearly *twenty* years of  rotation pieces for the south siders.  We likely made their rotation for the next decade with this move, even if you take an entirely pessimistic viewpoint of the ceilings of all three of these players.

For me; it was too much to pay (in case you couldn’t tell how I felt from the title of the post).  The Nats just traded away literally all their near-to-the-majors starter depth in a complete win-now move that, while I’ve been advocating for it, seemed like an overpay.  I could see/make the argument for Giolito and Dunning, or Lopez+Dunning, but all three seems gratuitous.  Ironic because i’ve just beek talking about not over-valuing your prospects.

The best case scenario for these three arms is a #1, #2 and #5 starter for years to come.  But since best case is never going to happen, lets take some worst-case scenarios for these three guys we just traded.  I know Giolito’s critics are large here, but bear with me:

  • Giolito never harnesses his control and turns into essentially Alex Meyers.
  • Lopez never develops a secondary pitch and is turned into a late-inning 100-mph reliever
  • Dunning’s craftiness only takes him as far as a 5th starter or middle-relief guy for a middling team.

Still, that’s three major league arms, cost controlled first round talents with their bonus money already paid for.  The reality will be somewhere in the middle.

What this deal says is the high price of a good contract.  Eaton is getting paid absolute peanuts compared to the value he’s producing, he plays (or can play) a valuable position, and that’s really what the cost was all about.  If Eaton was on a $18M/year contract he’s only costing one of those three arms in return.

The last time the Nats did this big of a prospects-for-players deal it was the Gio Gonzalez move.  And at the time I wasn’t nearly as negative towards the price as I am for this one.

Fallout/other observations from this deal:

  • The White Sox have now gone from having a farm system ranked in the 22-23 range to inarguably the #1 farm system in the game.  In like two days.
  • Lots of head scratching amongst baseball insiders, MLB.tv announcers, prospect guys.
  • Interesting that literally as soon as this trade occurred, you started seeing people “in the know” talking about how the Nationals had “soured” on Giolito.  I’m sure we’ll hear more about it soon; whispers about work ethic and approach.  Where were these comments yesterday?
  • Get ready for spot-starts from A.J. Cole and Austin Voth; you don’t get through modern baseball seasons on 5 starters anymore, and we don’t exactly have the most reliable rotation.
  • I suspect Danny Espinosa (who is now patently surplus to requirements) gets flipped for hopefully an optionable starter to give us some more depth.  I like Voth and am excited to see what he can do … but i’m not trusting him to give this team 4-5 starts and compete.
  • Our respectable farm system is now gutted: no matter what you think of these three arms heading the other way, they were #1, #3 and #6 prospects in our system.  We have mortgaged the future for the present in a large way.

Nats new Lineup:  Eaton (CF), Turner (SS), Harper (RF), Murphy (2B), Rendon (3B), Werth (LF), Zimmerman (1B),  Norris (C).  Decent lefty-righty balance which could be stretched a bit if you broke up Harper & Murphy.  Eaton makes a bit more sense at leadoff since Turner has proven to have a bit more power than we thought, and Eaton is a lefty, but I could see them switched and then going Harper-Rendon-Murphy or something like that so you don’t have 3 lefties in a row.  But this is now a pretty fast lineup at the top.

So, what say you?

 

Nats Winter Meetings Preview

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Winter Meetings 2016

Winter Meetings 2016 … here in DC!

As requested from Dr. Cane in the comments, lets chat about what we may see transpire at the upcoming Winter Meetings.  This year’s Winter meetings are a week from now, running from Sunday 12/4/16 to 12/8/16 at the Gaylord Hotel in the National Harbor.  I’m halfway curious to drive over there to witness the “scene” in the lobby/hotel bar, having read about/listened to multiple podcasts over the years describing how these meetings work.  On the other hand, I’m sure I wouldn’t appreciate it if some nerd was hanging around my office while I was trying to get work done, so maybe not :-)

In this space we’ve talked about a couple of items related to what we may see transpire in DC in the next week:

We still have some significant issues to address on the roster.  How many will we see resolved at these meetings?  Here’s some of the rumors (two good links: mlbtraderumors.com FA predictions and BleacherReports predictions)  I’ve been hearing about as they relate to the obvious holes we have to fill; apparently the Nats and Mike Rizzo are expected to be “aggressive” this winter.  I’ll take them position by position:

Center Field/Outfield

  • One rumor has the Nats moving Bryce Harper to center and buying one of the big corner OF bats on the market.  Jose Bautista or Brandon Moss.  Josh Reddick was an early name but he got snapped up quickly.  Carlos Gomez could be an interesting name.
  • I’ve read that the team will splash out cash for Yoenis Cespedes and really “go for it” during the Harper window.
  • Mark Zuckerman recently reported that Ben Revere basically played with a bum shoulder the whole season and the team may very well tender him and go into 2017 with him as the starter.
  • I’ve heard the Nats associated with Andrew McCutchen, who may actually not be a good CF any longer, but any trade for him may be tough to do since he struggled so badly in 2016.
  • Also heard that the team could be involved in trade for someone like J.D. Martinez if the Tigers attempt to re-tool their roster.
  • My Take: i’m on the “move Bryce to CF” and acquire a corner bat.  I’d be happy with any of these names as a way to bolster the offense.

Shortstop

  • All of these CF moves assume Trea Turner returns to Short and Danny Espinosa either becomes a trade candidate or assumes the Stephen Drew utility infielder role.
  • I fully support Turner back to SS; i just don’t understand those that want to keep him in Center when he’s a natural short stop and, frankly, its a heck of a lot easier to find a CF than a SS.
  • My Take: I’m on the “we should trade Espinosa” boat if he’s not the starter, if only for the rumors we read about him as a clubhouse presence when he’s not playing.

Closer

  • There’s three major closers on the market and more than three teams chasing them.  Nats not expected to be a massive overpay … but you never know.  One rumor has them on Aroldis Chapman, banking on him retaining his velocity.
  • Another rumor has the Nats being more sensible and rolling the dice on a former closer like Greg Holland and then buying up a middle reliever (someone like a Brad Ziegler) to supplement the loss of several arms from this year’s bullpen.
  • But there’s all sorts of middle relief arms out there.  Joe Blanton may get 8 figures.  Who knew.
  • My Take: I like the Holland + Ziegler/Blanton route to add to our existing Kelley/Treinen/Glover trio, then add in the two lefties Solis/Perez and you have your bullpen.  Kelley could be the closer if Holland can’t do it and that’d still give the team three really good 8th/9th inning arms.  Replace Glover with a long-man if you want, or consider that both Perez and Blanton are former starters who could suck up innings, or be original and forgoe the darn long-man and just depend on call ups if you get a ton of innings thrown by the bullpen over a short period of time.

Catcher

  • Matt Weiters to the Nats makes a lot of sense; Scott Boras client, no draft pick compensation this year.
  • The team has already missed out on a couple of catchers who have gone off the board early.
  • They may be looking a some trade targets.
  • Clearly they’re not going to go into 2017 with just Jose Lobaton and Severino.
  • Wilson Ramos seems more and more likely to be gone, perhaps a remnant of the insulting pre-injury offer they gave him, perhaps just a reality of the market for his services coming off a 2nd major knee injury.  We love the Buffalo, but he may be better suited for an AL team that can DH him every once in a while, and one that can survive until July when he’s ready to go.
  • My Take: I have no idea what they’ll do.  But they have to do something.

I don’t really think the team needs or seeks any upgrades elsewhere, but yet we still hear weird rumors every once in a while.

  • Chris Sale acquisition via trade; don’t really understand the need; yes that’d give the team three “Aces” at the top but at what cost if it requires them to gut the farm system?
  • Moves to replace Werth or Zimmerman just seem silly to consider, given the payroll implications of having those two clubhouse leader/10-and-5 guys suddenly be bench bats.  I don’t see this team, this manager or this executive group knee capping franchise defining players like that, especially when they’re still relatively serviceable.   Werth was a 1.1 win player last year with a WRC+ figure north of 100.  Zimmerman was worth negative fWAR of course, but he was hurt most of the season, so its kind of hard to gauge what he’ll do in 2017.  He’s only 32 after all, and is under contract for a while longer.

Its impossible to predict trades that come out of the blue, but it is worth noting that the Nats have some surpluses of talent that they can trade from:

  • I count nine starters on the 40-man roster, which means that several could be trade bait.  We’ve heard rumors about Giolito, Lopez, Voth, Cole, Fedde and Gonzalez all getting packed up to move out.  And that leaves out some lesser-renounded but still promising arms lower down in the system (Dunning of course, but also the likes of Avila, Baez, Watson, etc).
  • There’s now TEN (10) infielders on the 40-man; I see a couple of DFAs/trades (Espinosa of course, and the loser of Skole/Robinson perhaps), and its hard to see a pathway for others (where does Marmolejos play for example?), but that’s a lot of infielders for 4 starting spots and and at most six 25-man jobs.
  • We have more than a few rising quality outfielders, headed by Robles and new 40-man member Bautista, but also including the likes of Stevenson, Agustin, Wiseman, Perkins and Banks.

What do you guys see happening?

 

Rule 5 protection analysis for 2016

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Austin Voth seems like the most likely rule-5 protection candidate. Photo mlb.com official

Austin Voth seems like the most likely rule-5 protection candidate. Photo mlb.com official

Here’s our annual ritual.  Discussing the Rule 5 draft and the impact it has on rosters.

According to my Off-Season Baseball Calendar teams have just a few days (Nov 18th) to add players to the 40-man rosters ahead of the Rule-5 draft (which occurs the last day of the winter meetings (this year, at the Gaylord Hotel in the Maryland waterfront in early Dec).

As always, using the indispensable Nationals resource sites Draft tracker and the Big Board, and then looking up candidate acquisitions made via trade, here’s some thoughts on who might merit protection.  The quick Rule-5 rules; any college-aged draftee from 2012 or before who isn’t already on the 40-man roster is Rule-5 eligible this coming off season, and any high-school aged draftee/International Free Agent from 2011 or before is newly eligible this year.

This year’s Draft class Stat overview posts were especially  helpful too; here’s the 2013 version for College draftees and the  2012 version for high school-age draftees that are now Rule-5 eligible.


 

Newly Eligible 2013 draft College Players this year worth consideration for protection:

  • Jake Johansen:  Only listed because of his draft round and bonus; Johansen has been a huge disappointment and will not be protected.
  • Austin Voth: Absolutely has to be protected and should have been added on 9/1 to get him some MLB innings.
  • John Simms: Put up solid numbers in AA and could feature in AAA this year, but isn’t a shoe-in to immediately contribute at the MLB level.  Arguable whether he’s worth protecting.  I would, but then again, i’m pro-prospect.

Not mentioned: several other draftees from this class that are marginal prospects right now: Cody Gunter, David Masters, William (Isaac) Ballou, Justin Thomas and Matthew DeRosier.  All of these guys are scuffling or trending down in my analysis and are not risks for being drafted.  Also did not mention any MLFA’s picked up that were 2013 draftees (Philip Walby, Jake Mayers) since they’re both in the low-minors.

Newly Eligible 2012 High School-age drafted players under consideration for protection

  • None: the only HS-age draftee from 2012 that remains in our system is Lucas Giolito, who was added to the 40-man mid 2016 season.

Newly Eligible 2012 signed IFAs under consideration for protection:

  • Osvaldo Abreu: slashed .247/.328/.346 as the starting SS for Potomac.  Has neatly risen one level every year, so seems project-able to AA for 2017.  I can’t see  him getting drafted though considering he had a .674 OPS figure in High-A this year, even given that he could provide MIF cover for a MLB team.  Has gotten some notice on prospect lists.
  • Rafael Bautista: slashed .282/.344/.341 with 56 stolen bases in 136 games playing mostly CF/RF for Harrisburg.   A CF with that kind of speed who maintains his BA and OBP is worth protecting.  Turns 24 before next season though.
  • Jefry Rodriguez: went 7-11 with a 4.96 ERA in 25 starts for Low-A Hagerstown.  Rodriguez was on our lips for a while as a potential high end prospect … until he couldn’t succeed outside of short-season ball.  2016 was the third year he’s competed in Hagerstown and a 4.96 ERA isn’t going to cut it.  He’s no threat to get drafted but probably keeps moving up the system.
  • Philips Valdez: went 12-7 with a 4.24 ERA across two-levels and 27 starts this year.  He turns 25 in a few days.  Despite being a AA starter, I’m not sure any team would really roll the dice on him in Rule-5.  He “only” had 109 Ks in 152 IP this year, not exactly overpowering stuff.  He also got hit in AA; i can see him starting in AA rotation again next season.
  • David Ramos spent most of 2016 on the D/L in Auburn and has never pitched above low-A ball.  Not a candidate to be protected.

Not mentioned: several 2012 IFA signings throughout the lower levels of the system.  This includes Andres Martinez, Darryl Florentino, Mario Sanchez, Brayan Serrata.

One other significant 2012 IFA signee is already on the 40-man: Reynaldo Lopez.

Rule-5 Eligible hold-overs of note: 2012 or prior college draftees still hanging out in the system, or 2011 and prior HS/IFAs.

  • Raudy Read: slashed .262/.324/.415 in a full year catching in High-A.  Promising, but he’s also already 23.  Considering a rule-5 draft of a player like Read brings back memories of our own drafting of Jesus Flores.
  • Bryan Mejia: slashed .241/.279/.347 starting a full year playing 2B for High-A.  Not a ton of power there; little chance of being drafted, no prospect buzz.
  • Jose Marmolejos (no longer -Diaz): slashed .289/.370/.475 between High-A and AA while earning his 2nd straight Nats minor league hitter of the year award.   Good slugging percentage showing lots of gap power and some  home-run power, but he’s already 1B-only and is 23.  
  • Hector Silvestre: spent most of 2016 doing short stints/rehab assignments after missing all of 2015.  9 starts, 1.42 ERA amongst all A-ball affiliates.  Looks promising for us, but no need for Rule-5 protection at this point.
  • Gilberto Mendez: nice numbers as a late-inning reliever for High-A (2.09 ERA, 8 saves).  Turns 24 tomorrow and is an undersized RHP reliever; no risk of being picked.
  • Wirkin Estevez (2010 IFA): 5.03 ERA as a swingman for Potomac after missing all of 2016.  No risk of being drafted.
  • Wander Suero (2010 IFA): 3-0 with a 2.44 ERA, 48/21 K/BB ratio in 55 AA innings.   Solid numbers … but not a lefty so seems  unlikely to get drafted.  But he’s really no different than Simms, so he’s a maybe.

2012 College Draftees that are Rule-5 holdovers include Perez, Benincasa, Self, Pena, Orlan; none are really worth protecting.  There are no 2011 HS draftees still remaining in the system.  Other 2011 IFAs still around but not mentioned: Anderson Martinez, Diomedes Eusebio, Randy Encarnacion, Jorge Tillero.  2010 IFAs still hanging around not otherwise mentioned: Adderling Ruiz, Narciso Mesa.   All are so low in the system they’re not worth mentioning.


So, who would I protect?  As of today,  the team has a ton of open slots on the 40-man roster to work with (32 of 40 as of this writing), but has to “save” some room for some clear FA/trade acquisitions.   There’s also (arguably) a bit of wiggle room there; I see at least 4-5 additional guys on the current 40-man who could make way if need be.

  • Locks: Voth, Bautista
  • Maybes: Simms, Abreu, Read, Marmolejos, Suero, Valdez

Who would I protect?  Probably Voth, Bautista and Marmolejos.  I’d roll the dice leaving the likes of Abreu and Read unprotected despite their presence on prospect lists, and I’d roll the dice leaving Simms, Suero and Valdez unprotected since they’re all RHP and none has pitched above AA.

Thoughts?  Opinions?  Did I forget anyone and/or am I considering the wrong guys?  These IFAs are always iffy in terms of eligibility, and some of the MLFAs are confusing too in terms of their status.  So let me know if I’m missing someone.

MLBpipeline posted its Rule5 analysis and mentioned (for the nats) the four names we’re bouncing around here as well.  We don’t have any super-high ranked prospects to protect like other teams.

11/18/16: official announcement: Voth, Bautista, Marmolejos, Read and Skole.  Most surprised by Skole, who I didn’t even bother to do analysis about above thanks to his lack of a 9/1 call up this year.


For a fun trip down memory lane, here’s the same Rule 5 Protection analysis post for 20152014, 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010.

By year, here’s who I predicted we’d add and who we did add.

  • 2016: Predicted Voth, Bautista.  Actual: Voth, Bautista, Marmolejos, Read and Skole.
  • 2015: Predicted Kieboom, Bostick, Marmolejos-Diaz.  Actual: Kieboom, Bostick, Lee
  • 2014: Predicted Cole, Skole, Goodwin.  Hedged on Grace, Martin and Difo.  Actual: Cole, Goodwin, Difo, Grace.
  • 2013: Predicted Solis as the only lock (Souza already added).  Possibles mentioned in order Barrett, Taylor, Grace, Holland.  Actual: Solis, Barrett, Taylor.
  • 2012: Predicted Karns and McCoy, with Hood and Rosenbaum as maybes.  Actual: Karns and Davis.  I think we were all surprised by Davis’ inclusion, despite his good AA numbers that year.
  • 2011: Predicted Norris as a lock, guessed strongly on Moore, Meyers and Komatsu.  Actual: Norris, Moore, Solano, Perez.    This was poor analysis on my part; I did not consider the IFAs newly eligible.
  • 2010: Predicted Marrero, Meyers and Mandel.  Actual: Marrero, Carr and Kimball.
  • 2009: pre-dates my blog and thus no predictions, but Actual was Jaime, Thompson and Severino.
  • 2008: I might be wrong, but I don’t see any evidence of the team protecting *anyone* prior to the Rule-5 draft.  A bit of an indictment of the farm system at the time, I’d say :-)

Nats Payroll Outlook for 2017 and what it could mean for FA market

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Do you trade Gonzalez to get payroll flexibility? Photo unknown via WP.com

Do you trade Gonzalez to get payroll flexibility? Photo unknown via WP.com

The end of the World Series starts the clock on a whole slew of off-season moves, and we’ve already seen the Nats do a few procedural moves that were predictable:

  • Aaron Barrett, who I thought was a non-tender candidate since he’s Arb-eligible, was waived.
  • Yusmeiro Petit had his $3M option declined, and becomes a FA.
  • All 8 of our other eligible FAs declared FA: Mark Melancon, Wilson Ramos, Stephen Drew, Chris Heisey, Matt Belisle, Mark Rzepczynski, Sean Burnett and Mat Latos.

So the 40-man roster now sits at 31 players:

  • SP: Scherzer, Strasburg, Roark, Ross, Gonzalez*, Lopez, Giolito, Cole
  • RP: Kelley, Treinen, Glover, Solis*, Perez*, Gott, Martin, Grace*
  • C: Lobaton, Severino, Kieboom
  • INF: Zimmerman, Murphy, Turner, Rendon, Espinosa, Robinson, Difo
  • OF: Harper, Werth, Revere, Taylor, Goodwin

Lets break down these current 31 guys and see what their payroll looks like projected for 2017 to see what kind of financial flexibility the team may have.  Using the ever-awesome Cots MLB player salary site as a source here we go:


Players Already Under Contract for 2017 – 8

  • Werth, Jayson:  $21,571,429
  • Scherzer, Max:  $15,000,000
  • Strasburg, Stephen:  $15,000,000
  • Zimmerman, Ryan:  $14,000,000
  • Gonzalez, Gio:  $12,100,000 (Option for 2017 picked up 11/3/16)
  • Murphy, Daniel:  $12,000,000
  • Perez, Oliver:  $4,000,000
  • Kelley, Shawn:  $5,500,000

Subtotal: $99,171,429 <– Sum of Established Contracts for 2017

Note that I’ve not prorated any deferred money for Scherzer, Strasburg.  Also, I’m not entirely sure what Werth did last year; was it to lower his 2016 salary by $10M and pay that later?  I think so, so I don’t believe his 2017 salary was affected.  I do not agree with the prorating that Cot’s does with the deferred dollars on Scherzer/Strasburg; I think the Lerners are treating it like payments later on so as to add financial flexibility now, so I count just the dollars owed in 2017 here.  With these caveats, we come to the $99.1M figure due for these 8 players.  Feel free to comment and correct me if I have this wrong.


Arbitration Eligible Players for 2017 – 6 

I’m using MLB Trade rumors’ estimates instead of doing my own guesses since they’ve proven to be hyper accurate in years’ past, but will offer commentary on each figure.

  • Harper, Bryce: $9,300,000 estimate
  • Rendon, Anthony: $6,400,000 estimate
  • Espinosa, Danny: $5,300,000 estimate
  • Lobaton, Jose: $1,600,000 estimate
  • Revere, Ben: $6,300,000 estimate
  • Roark, Tanner: $6,100,000 estimate

Subtotal: $35,000,000 <– MLBtraderumors Guess of total arb award amounts

Now, I’m on record saying that I think the team non-tenders Revere; I cannot imagine paying $6.3M for the production we got out of him last year.  If the team thinks 2016 was an aberration and he can return to his 2015 form, then $6.3M might be a bargain (reminder: he hit .319 and had a 101 OPS+ figure in Toronto in 2015).  However, for the time being i’m going with Revere getting non-tendered.  I also think Harper’s going to sign a 2-year deal to buy out the rest of his Arb years, so I could see something like a 2yr/$25M deal at 10 and 15.  I think the Rendon figure seems high (yes he had a solid year but $6.4 more than doubles his 2016 pay).  I also have a hard time believing that Roark is going to net $6.1M in his first arb season, no matter how good he was last year.

So my working guess on this number is $35M less Revere’s $6.3 and less a bit more off of the Rendon & Roark numbers: call it $27,200,000.


Pre Arbitration MLB players – 17

  • Robinson, Clint $540,000
  • Treinen, Blake $536,000
  • Taylor, Michael $530,000
  • Ross, Joe $520,000
  • Gott, Trevor $518,000
  • Turner, Trea $507,500
  • Solis, Sammy $507,500
  • Glover, Koda $507,500
  • Severino, Pedro $507,500
  • Difo, Wilmer $507,500
  • Cole, A.J. $507,500
  • Goodwin, Brian $507,500
  • Grace, Matt
  • Martin, Rafael
  • Kieboom, Spencer
  • Giolito, Lucas
  • Lopez, Reynaldo

Subtotal: $6,196,500

The rest of the 40-man roster are pre-arbitration/team-assigned salaries.  The current league minimum salary is $507,500; that might change, that might go up with the new CBA.  For the time being, those players above who are ABOVE that figure are those who have played at the MLB level and have earned a nominal raise.  These are guesses on these nominal salary increases, and then the rest of the guys are listed assuming they all make next year’s 25-man roster.   Assuming no acquisitions, 12 of these pre-arb guys will be on the 25-man roster so that’s roughly $6M.


Payments for former players in 2017

Petit, Yusmeiro: $500,000 buyout of 2017 contract.


Summary:  $99,171,429 +  $27,200,000 +  $6,196,500 +  $500,000 =  $133,067,929 current payroll Estimate for your 2017 Nationals.

That figure represents about a $12M delta from last year’s working payroll figure of  $145,178,886 (cot’s figure), but is about $5.7M higher than my “present day dollar only” figure for last year’s squad.

So, I’m not sure if the team has $12M to “spare” or will be looking to cut costs.  Either way they’re nearly $30M below the 2015 payroll figure of $162M (Cots).

So here’s what i’d like to see happen:

  • Non-tender Revere ($6.3M), Trade Gio ($12M) and Espinosa ($5.3M).  Net $17.3M (we already counted on Revere’s 6.3)
  • I figure we’ll receive back at least $10M of MLB salary for players received from Gio and Espinosa.  So that leaves about $7M additional savings
  • Add that to the $12M figure and that’s about $20M to work with.
  • Spread that $20M around as follows:
    • Josh Reddick: $10M a year for 3 years; lefty, RF capable, relatively cheap when compared to the marquee OF on the market.
    • Greg Holland: $7M/year guess; former closer, formerly had ridiculous stuff, may have it back, could be 8th or 9th inning guy with existing options
    • Resign Stephen Drew, Matt Belisle and Chris Heisey to a combined $10M.

That makes your 25-man projected roster look like this:

  • SP: Scherzer, Strasburg, Roark, Ross, Lopez
  • RP: Kelley, Holland, Treinen, Belisle, Solis*, Perez*, Cole (longman)
  • C: Lobaton, Severino
  • INF: Zimmerman, Murphy, Turner, Rendon, Robinson, Drew,
  • OF: Harper, Werth, Reddick, Taylor, Heisey

With the following in AAA

  • SP: Giolito
  • RP: Glover, Gott, Martin, Grace*
  • C: Kieboom
  • INF: Difo
  • OF: Goodwin

That’s not too bad.  It also doesn’t account for any players received from trading Gonzalez and Espinosa; we could get back a starting catcher, pushing Severino to AAA, or we could get a utility infielder, obviating the need for Drew  or Heisey.

what do you guys think?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Reality

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

Less Likely:

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

 

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

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

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

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

 


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

(did I forget anyone?)

Nats projected Starting lineup versus Kershaw: not half bad

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Kershaw is a daunting match-up. Photo via wiki.

Kershaw is a daunting match-up. Photo via wiki.

I was emailing with infrequent commenter “Old Man” (aka, my Dad) about the upcoming game one match-up and I said something along the lines of, “Well the Nats are in trouble because their two most important hitters are both hurt and lefty.”

Well, why go by biased observations when you can go to the stats?  Here’s the career stat lines for each of our projected game 1 starters against Clayton Kershaw:

  • Harper: 1 for 15; ok, that’s not good.
  • Murphy: 6 for 19 with 2 homers; not bad, .316 avg, .947 OPS
  • Werth: 10 for 35 for a .286/.359/.457 line.  not bad again
  • Rendon: 5 for 16; .313 but they are all singles; no power.
  • Espinosa: 1 for 17; no surprise there
  • Zimmerman: 7 for 22 but with no power for .318
  • Lobaton; 0 for 8; again, no surprise.
  • Turner: never faced Kershaw but his career lefty split shows consistent average versus his Righty split but significantly less power; 13 of his 14 career homers have come against righties.
So honestly; those aren’t half bad numbers against Kershaw all in all.  Murphy, Werth, Rendon and Zimmerman all about .300 against him.  Maybe you work your lineup differently as a result; maybe drop Harper down a bit and stack the top of the order with those who have had success:
  • Turner, Werth, Rendon, Murphy, Zimmerman, Harper, Espinosa, Lobaton, Scherzer.
Also keep in mind: Kershaw has a 4.59 post season ERA.  Its the playoffs: anything can happen.  Last year for example he gave up 3 runs in 6 2/3rds in game one of the NLDS to take the loss then completely shut down the Mets in Game 4 on three days rest for the win … but the Mets did enough against the Dodger’s big two to take the series and move on.
Yeah its a tough match-up for the Nats, or anyone.  Kershaw shut them down in LA in June, giving up 1 run in 7.  Scherzer somehow missed the Dodgers in both their season series this year; funny how nobody points that fact out when they talk about how the Dodgers beat the Nats 5 of 6 this year.  The Nats used these 6 pitchers against the Dodgers: Petit, Roark, Ross in LA in June, then Lopez, Gonzalez and Strasburg in DC.   The one win?  Surprise; it was with lefty Gonzalez on the mound.  I won’t make too much of this, since the Dodgers used 15 different starters this year and its frankly amazing they still won 91 games.  That and the fact that the Nats missed their #3 Kenta Maeda in both series.
Still, I like our chances with those career match-up stats.