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Ranking the top Nats post-season games of all time

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The new Nats #1 all -time game. Photo via nytimes.com

The new Nats #1 all -time game. Photo via nytimes.com

In the wake of the 2019 World Series run, I thought (while its fresh in everyone’s mind) it’d be a fun one to try to rank all the Nats post-season games.

I put in my top 10, then put in all the other candidates in chronological order.  For years I had a running list that conflated regular season exploits and post-season glory; now there’s so many games to consider just from 2019 that I’ve separated them in my (future) larger list of Best and Worst games.  As it turns out, I’ve got 8 of our top 10 post-season games now being from the 2019 run.

Feel free to discuss and tell me i’m wrong.  Nicely please :-)

Greatest Nats Post Season Games:

  1. October 30th, 2019: WS Game 7 win.  Scherzer throws 5 heroic innings, the Nats beat Greinke with a Rendon homer and a Kendrick homer to seal it, then run away to take Game 7.
  2. October 9th, 2019: NLDS Game 5Howie Kendrick caps a come-from-behind win with a grand slam in the 10th to exorcise the Nats playoff daemons and seal their first ever playoff series win, 7-3 over the Dodgers.
  3. October 29th 2019: WS Game 6 win; Strasburg masterpiece, Turner controversy at first, Rendon homer exploits, another elimination game rally.  This game had it all.
  4. October 11th, 2012NLDS Game 4Jayson Werth walk-off homer in an epic battle against Lance Lynn, hitting the 13th pitch of the at-bat (!!) on a line-drive into the seats.  Ironic that what I think is the most special game in Nats franchise history occurred the day before what I consider to be the worst game in franchise history.  (note; thanks to my former coworker Eric Hay for correcting me on my pitch count memory here in the comments).
  5. October 1st, 2019come-from-behind Wild Card win over Milwaukee on Juan Soto‘s bases-clearing single in the 8th against super reliever Josh Hader.  First ever franchise “win-or-go-home” victory.
  6. October 11th, 2019: NLCS Game 1: Anibal Sanchez keeps a no-hitter into the 8th and the team blanks St. Louis to steal game one on the road and set the tone for what became a 4-0 sweep.
  7. October 9th, 2016NLDS Game 2 comeback win over the Dodgers: after dropping the first game in a missed opportunity, the Nats fell behind quickly 2-0 and the crowd was quiet, worried and lethargic.  That all ended when the team put some runners on base for Jose Lobaton, who clubbed a 3-run homer into a stiff wind coming in from left; the crowd exploded, the team relaxed and they tacked on a couple of runs later for a 5-2 win.
  8. October 12th, 2019: NLCS Game 2: Scherzer throws seven innings of one hit dominant ball to power the Nats to the win and the surprising two game sweep on the road.
  9. October 22nd, 2019: WS Game 1: The offense surprisingly gets to Astros ace Gerritt Cole while Scherzer holds on for the shock game 1 win in Houston.
  10. October 23rd, 2019: WS Game 2: The Nats explode on Astros pitching for 12 runs to shock the baseball world and take a 2-0 series lead.

I’m putting the 2019 WC winner just below the Werth homer.  I realize this is not a popular take; I like the way that frequent commenter MarkL put it in a discussion just after the WC game:  “[the WC winner] excitement level is #2 after the Werth game but #1 in importance.”  I agree with that sentiment.  If the Soto hit had been a walk-off we wouldn’t be having this argument; it’d easily be #1.  But its ok for a non-clinching game to be considered great; consider that most pundits put Game 6 of the 1975 World Series (aka the “Fisk  homer”) as the greatest game of the last 50 years…. and it was won by a team that went out the next day and lost game 7.  It doesn’t matter in the end, since the Kendrick homer trumped them both, and then the WS winner trumped all.

Post season honorable mentions (in chronological order):

  • October 7th, 2012: NLDS Game 1: 2-run rally in the 8th on Tyler Moore‘s flair to beat the Cardinals in St. Louis in the first ever playoff game for the team.  In theory it should have completely set up the Nats to cruise through the series.  Didn’t quite happen that way (see worst games ever).
  • October 6th, 2014: NLDS Game 2: Beating Madison Bumgarner in the 2014 NLDS; our only 2014 post-season win and the only time Bumgarner lost that post-season.
  • October 10th, 2016NLDS Game 3, a win in Los Angeles 8-3 to grab back home field advantage and put themselves on the brink of advancing.
  • October 7th, 2017: NLDS Game 2: Behind homers from Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman, the Nats dump 5 runs in the bottom of the 8th on the Cubs to turn what was looking like a 2-0 series deficit into a 6-3 victory.
  • October 11th, 2017: NLDS Game 4: Stephen Strasburg shakes off illness and pitches the game of his life, punching out 12 in 7 scoreless innings in an elimination NLDS game against Chicago.  Michael Taylor squeaks out a grand-slam in the 8th to turn a 1-0 nail-biter into a 5-0 win to force a decisive game 5 back home.
  • October 4th, 2019: NLDS Game 2: Nats jump on Clayton Kershaw early, Strasburg shuts down the Dodgers to steal a game on the road
  • October 14th, 2019: NLCS Game 3:  Nats score four in the 3rd to set the tone and run away in Game 3, nearly guaranteeing the series win behind another dominant Strasburg performance.
  • October 15th, 2019: NLCS Game 4: A shocking 7 run first was all the team needed to complete the sweep at home behind a rocking crowd and move onto the World Series.
  • October 8th, 2019: NLDS Game 4: Scherzer dominates the Dodgers in a NLDS win-or-go-home Game 4 at Nats park, Zimmerman blasts a 3-run homer to put the team ahead for good, and the Nats push the series back to LA for Game 5.

WS Game 1 quick recap; shocking win for Nats

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Can't even buy a beer; but he's already a post-season star. Photo via NYpost

Can’t even buy a beer; but he’s already a post-season star. Photo via NYpost

So, in my preview, I thought that the Nats really could “steal” one of the two games in Houston.   I never thought they’d steal game 1 by getting to Gerrit Cole.  But they did; putting more runs on him (5) in just a handful of innings than he’d given up in 22+ across three previous post season starts.  So much for narrative.  And I don’t think he pitched “badly” per se; i think the Nats just hit the ball well and made him pay for upper-zone fastball misses like other teams have not.

Hand it to this team; this was a complete team effort to win.   Max Scherzer just didn’t look sharp on the night, burning through nearly 110 pitches in 5 innings.  He didn’t seem like he had any command of his off-speed stuff, and Houston is just too good of a hitting team to not make you pay.  Patrick Corbin worked his way through his mid-start relief inning (notably; does this push his start to game 4 instead of game 3?  Not a bad idea honestly if you think Anibal Sanchez is the hotter hand to take possibly two post-season starts), Daniel Hudson bailed out the shaky outing from Tanner Rainey, and Sean Doolittle kept it together to close it out.  Great pitcher management on the night; Davey Martinez did not hesitate to yank Rainey and keep the inning from getting out of hand.

Then there’s the hitting: up and down the order, the Nats made it happen.  Credit to Ryan Zimmerman for putting the team back into the game, of course credit to “working his way towards a post-season MVP award” Juan Soto for having a game of the ages on the biggest possible stage.  But up and down the order, this team got timely hits.

I thought the Nats might be able to get to Verlander in game 2; can they possibly take two games on foreign soil again?

One other point: one through nine, this Astros lineup is stacked (well, at least 1-7).  Geeze.  All night i’m chewing nails watching them try to get through this order.  Giving up “only” four runs seemed like an accomplishment; the Nats are going to have to hit this series moreso than I thought just to keep up.

Ask Collier 6/12/19

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Victor Robles ... under performing expectations in 2019? Photo via nbcsports

Victor Robles … under performing expectations in 2019? Photo via nbcsports

Hey team.  A surprise mailbag from MLB Nats beat reporter Jamal Collier, dated  6/12/19.  A good time for a mailbag, we’re post draft, post subtle winning streak, and now the Nats are kind of in seasonal limbo.

Here’s the questions he took and how i’d have answered them.

Q: Feeling good here — this stretch will at least make the season respectable. Question 1: How are you feeling after this run? Some on Nats Twitter want a fire sale of the team, saying everyone must go (for good return). Your thoughts?

A: This has been a good stretch.   The Nats bottomed out after the 4-game sweep in NY, sitting at 19-31.  From there the team has gone 12-4 against Miami, Atlanta, Cincinnati, San Diego and the Chicago White Sox to now sit exactly at 31-36.   Not to sound cynical, but really only two of those games were impressive (the two game mini-sweep at division-leading Atlanta).  Miami is awful, Cincinnati is 6 games under .500, and San Diego/Chicago WS are basically treading water at .500.  But, good teams beat mediocre to bad teams, so 12-4 is a good sign.

Their next Eleven games are against better teams, all with winning records but all at home.  A massive 11-game home-stand against Arizona, Philadelphia and Atlanta.   Right out of the gate the Nats are getting Arizona’s 1-2 starters in Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray (who, lest we forget, was a Nats draft pick many years ago).  After that the Diamondbacks throw one Taylor Clarke, who just happened to grow up in the DC area and went to Broad Run HS in Ashburn.  So an interesting weekend series for sure.  From there, we’ll have two pretty important show-me series against the two divisional leaders, and we know the way the rotations line up that they’ll get Jake Arrieta in the opener.  Which means they’ll then get Zack Eflin, another former Nats hand in Nick Pivetta, and then Aaron Nola if the expected rotation holds.   That’s tough: Eflin has been good all season, Nola has shown some life lately, and Pivetta has been awesome since his return from the minors.

You tell me; this smells like a 6-5 home-stand; a split with Arizona, a split with Philly and then a series win against Atlanta.  Maybe worse if the Nats run into hot Philly pitchers and/or Keuchel with Atlanta.

BUT, but, after that, their next 12 games taking them to the all-star break are against three of the worst teams in the league: Miami, Detroit and Kansas City.  I think this team can and should go 9-3 or 10-2 in those games.

So, assuming the team goes 6-5 in the homestand against quality teams and then 9-3 heading into the all star break, that’d have them sitting at 46-44.   That’s probably a good enough record to convince management to hang in there to compete in 2019 and not have a sell-off … at least not yet.    If the team was sitting a 2 games over .500 right now, they’d still be several games behind in the WC standings, but certainly not out of it.

But that doens’t mean the team won’t eventually do a sell-off.  Their schedule post-all star games goes like this: At Philly, at Baltimore, at Atlanta, home to Colorado, home to LA Dodgers, and then home to Atlanta, taking us up to the trade deadline of 7/31/19.  There’s your season.  If the Nats come out of the ASG break and fall flat in those first 9 away games, mostly against tough divisional opponents, that could be it.

So my new stance is this: Its nice that they went 12-4.  Yay!  Call me in mid July b/c that’s when we’ll really now if its go time or sell time.

Collier mentions the weakness of our recent competition, and says he’s positive about the team … but thinks they may have dug themselves too much of a hole.  He also notes that Atlanta just added a former Cy Young winner in Dallas Keuchel, which significantly improves their rotation and makes them even harder to catch.

Q: What is going on with Patrick Corbin? After that complete game, he’s been struggling. Is he overworked? Injured?

A: I wonder if this isn’t just what we get with Corbin.  Here’s his 2018 game log: check out the end of May/early June.  Inside of four starts, he saw his seasonal ERA jump from 2.47 to 3.48.  A full point in four starts.  Now look at his 2019 game log:  he’s jumped from 2.85 to 4.11 in his last three starts.

Its notable that his last three mediocre starts followed … a 9-inning complete game 116-pitch outing.  Was that a factor?  Doesn’t seem like it; if you notice he got an additional day of rest after 116 pitches, which wasn’t even his season high.

He mentioned in interviews perhaps a slight mechanical issue was at hand; I suspect he’s just run into a rough patch that a couple starts against crummy opponents may very well fix up.

Collins says no injury, just missing locations.  We’ll see what happens next.

Q: Is it fair to say that Victor Robles is underperforming expectations?

A: Yes.   So far he’s slashing .236/.310/.413.   That’s 50 points of a BA below last year’s sample and more than 100 slugging points.   And compare to his career ML slash line of .300/.392/.457.

I dunno; he is trending to a 20/20 season (currently sitting at 9 homers, 9 SBs).  And so far in 2019 he’s showing *really* bad range stats in CF (-17.4 UZR/150 so far after positive figures last year) to go along with a slightly positive DRS figure and negative arm values.   but, as Collier notes, he’s in the 89th percentile for a Stat-cast centric defensive measure.  So who knows (defensive stats are tough).

This for a prospect rated well ahead of compatriot Juan Soto, who has slightly cooled off from last year’s debut numbers, but is still rock-solid in the 128 OPS+ range right now for 2019.

Collier says he started hot, has cooled off significantly and perhaps we were all expecting too much from him.  All true.

Q: What is a realistic timetable for Ryan Zimmerman’s return?

A: Great question.  Planter Fasciitis (speaking as someone who once had it) can be a pretty bedeviling injury to overcome.  You can’t really “rest” a foot.  You kind of have to run on it.  So you’re constantly re-injuring it.  My cynical feeling is that, if  Ryan Zimmerman had been hitting .290 instead of .213 he’d still be starting, with shots of cortisone in his foot to help.

Collier says he traveled with the team to Chicago and is hitting in cages … just not running.  He’s guessing its still weeks away, and will have to include some rehab appearances in the minors.  Certainly his 2020 option decision is not looking good for the team.

Q: What is Koda Glover’s status? Haven’t heard anything about him in a long time.

A: wow, doesn’t this kind of feel like Christian Garcia redux?  What is Koda Glover doing?   Officially the injury is “Strained forearm” and the date was 2/24/19.  So we’re now nearly at 4 months onwards for a forearm injury for a former TJ guy.  Not good; if I had to guess (since that’s all we have) i’d say he probably re-tore the UCL and the team is rehabbing in lieu of a second TJ.

Side note: also with zero updates is Austen Williams, who struggled through one appearance, hit the D/L with a “Sprained shoulder” (notice the slightly more dangerous diagnosis sprain versus strain) … and yet still sits on the 10-day DL (now approaching two months), when clearly to me he could have also gone to the 60-day DL and the team could have then kept Austin Adams or maybe Jimmy Cordero …both of whom immediately got claimed by other teams and/or have had some success this year.

Collier says he’s playing catch and doing long toss.  That’s … not much for 4-months onward.  No pitching from flat ground, no mound work, no sim games, no XST competition.  

Q: What is your favorite HR celebration right now — Eaton/Kendrick going for a drive, Suzuki catching some waves, or a DJ Parra dance party?

A: I have no opinion here :-)

Collier says its the dance party.  You have to hand it to Gerardo Parra, he has definitely brought some intangibles to this team.  Its Narrative bs … but you can see it with your eyes.

If we’re waiving the white flag … what moves should we do?

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Rendon; to trade or not to trade? Photo Nats Official via espn.com

Rendon; to trade or not to trade? Photo Nats Official via espn.com

Yeah, the team just won 3 of 4 from Miami.  They’re still almost guaranteed at this point not to make the playoffs.  As suggested in the comments from the previous post … Here’s a sweep through the 40-man roster as of today, to talk about possible trade chips and who may or may not be in the future of this team.

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1vnTLwaXYeHFjahCNrTFLzAVebGw0Fj_-__igrTplZA0/edit#gid=1393584019

Outright Free Agents after 2019:

  • Anthony Rendon: who would also be the most likely to fetch prospects in trade mid-season, but who also is someone the Nats may very much want to sign to an extension.  Will the ownership group learn their lesson after dragging their feet last year with Bryce Harper, costing them the Houston trade that almost certainly would have brought back better stuff than a post 4th round pick (#139 overall, which is what we got instead thanks to criminal cap mismanagement over the past two years).  Is this leadership group going to keep him instead of trading him because they think trading him for half a season will damage their negotiations with him?  Trust me, Rendon WANTS to be traded; it removes the Qualifying Offer from burdening his off-season negotiations.   Frankly, getting moved to a contender shouldn’t preclude his returning to the Nats on a long term contract, but a bigger question is what is he worth?  Unlike other major 3B players who signed mega deals lately (Nolan ArenadoManny Machado), Rendon will be 30 upon signing, has injury history, and thus his value is limited.  This is a tangent conversation to the subject at hand, but factors in.
  • Brian Dozier; so far, he’s not only not earning his 2019 $9M salary, he’s putting his career in serious jeopardy.  If he is still hitting .210 at the end of the year, its hard to see him getting a guaranteed contract next year at age 33.
  • Howie Kendrick, who it should be noted was expected to be basically a 4th OF/utility guy and has been batting frigging cleanup for the team lately.  He continues to be a professional hitter even at advancing age (he’s in his age 35 season), and should be worthy of some halfway decent return in prospects in trade.
  • Jeremy Hellickson: for as good as he was in 2018, he’s been as bad in 2019.  He’s not going to fetch anything in trade, and is closer to a release than a trade.
  • Javy Guerrero: we’ll see if  he even makes it to July 1.  Fungible asset, trade if you can get anything.
  • Gerardo Parra: we’re paying him a pro-rated MLB min … as with Guerrero, trade if you can get anything for him.

If you waive the white flag on 2019, every one of these players should get moved for whatever you can get, if anything.  Rendon and Kendrick bring the most back at this point.

Players with 2020 Options

  • Ryan Zimmerman: boy, is he putting the team into a tough position.  Instead of producing in his possible walk year, he’s been awful at the plate and has gotten hurt with a typical “old guy” injury (Planter Fasciitis).  Yes he’s the Face of the Franchise, yes he’s the longest tenured player, yes he was the first player the team ever drafted, yes he’s the clubhouse leader, yes he means a ton to the community, yes he holds a massive fundraiser each year, yes he’s set down DC roots, yes he’s got a 5 year personal-services contract with the team (since deemed illegal in the CBA), and yes he wants to be with the team post playing career.  Yes to all of that.  However, there’s no way he’s worth his 2020 option of $18M.  that’s 10% of the payroll for a guy who is easily replaced with readily available mid-30s sluggers for a quarter of the price.  This is going to be ugly.  I don’t think you trade him (who would want him and who would give up prospects?), but I also don’t think you sign him at his option.  I privately suspect the team will renegotiate his $18M option to something like a 4-yr/$20M deal that pays him right around what Matt Adams is making, takes him to his late 30s, establishes him as a utility/bench bat for the duration, and keeps him in the fold til that point in his career where inarguably he is done playing.
  • Adam Eaton: his 2020 and 2021 options are ridiculously affordable ($9.5M and $10.5M).  The team gutted its top-end starting pitcher depth to acquire him (a decision that looks worse and worse as Lucas Giolito throws 4-hit shutouts and Reynaldo Lopez maintains 12 K/9 rates and Dane Dunning remains a viable future MLB starter even despite his TJ surgery).  But Eaton is now 30, and his 5-6 bWAR seasons seem past him.  If he’s a 1-2 win player, he’s worth the salary and picking up the options.  If he ends 2019 hitting a punchless .273 …. do you dare cut him or trade him?  Maybe not after 2019, but another season of this after 2020 and they may be cutting bait.
  • Yan Gomes: $9M 2020 option.  While the team didn’t trade as much for Gomes, catchers are difficult to come by in this sport.  So even despite his current BA, I can’t see the team cutting him loose after this year and declining his option.
  • Sean Doolittle has a ridiculously cheap $6.5M 2020 option and is the first stable closer we’ve had under longer term team control since Drew Storen.  He’s not going anywhere.
  • Trevor Rosenthal: $10M option on the table which increases to $15M player option if he pitches in 50 games (he’s appeared in 7 so far).  You may laugh right now at even considering this option; what if he comes back and pitches lights out in June and July?  I think you trade him for whatever you can get and let his options be someone else’s issue.  More likely, he’s going to come back from his “rehab” appearances, continue to struggle and the team will summarily cut him, and he’s exhibit 1A for the 2019 team’s issues.
  • Matt Adams: $4M 2020 mutual option; he’s not earning it right now.  Trade him for what you can get, and find some other middle 30s lefty slugger on the open market next year.
  • Tony Sipp: $2.5M 2020 option, that’s a steal.  But he’s got a 5.40 ERA in limited action; would you pick up this option?

Of this group, i’d move Rosenthal, Adams and Sipp if you can get anything.

Signed for 2020/longer term:

  • Max Scherzer; signed through 2021, and  honestly if he wins another Cy Young he’ll be wearing a Nats cap in Cooperstown.  can’t move him.
  • Stephen Strasburg: signed through 2023, can’t move him.
  • Patrick Corbin; just signed new deal through 2024, why would we want to move him.
  • Anibal Sanchez: $9M for 2020 guaranteed … but he’s not really putting himself into position to get anything back in trade based on performance and injury so far.
  • Kurt Suzuki: $6M for 2020, and he’s playing great.  If you move him you just have to replace him and what has changed in terms of our ML catcher depth from last off-season to now?  We still don’t trust Spencer Kieboom with major league ABs, i’m not sure why Raudy Read continues to take up space on the 40-man, and our best prospect Israel Pineda is in Low-A.  So we need Suzuki for 2020.

I’d keep the big 3 starters and Suzuki; move Sanchez if you can (doubtful).  I just don’t see how you can justify moving any of our big 3 starters unless you’re planning a complete, 59 win season overhaul.

Arbitration eligible next year: 

  • Trea Turner
  • Michael Taylor
  • Kyle Barraclough
  • Justin Miller
  • Wilmer Difo
  • Matt Grace
  • Koda Glover
  • Joe Ross

An interesting set of players.  I’d say the team faces some interesting tender choices next off-season.   Right now looking at this list i’d clearly tender Turner, Barraclough and Ross, I’d probably take a hard look at Miller, Difo, Grace but eventually tender, and I’d probably cut loose Taylor and Glover.  Who of these guys are trade bait?  Honestly, everyone but Turner, Ross and Barraclough.

In terms of Trade deadline … i’m not sure i’d trade any of these guys … they’re all either untouchable or un-tradeable.

Pre-Arbitration players:

  • Juan Soto, Wander Suero, Andrew Stevenson, Victor Robles, Jake Noll, James Bourque, Erick Fedde, Spencer Kieboom, Kyle McGowin, Tanner Rainey, Raudy Read, Adrian Sanchez, Austin Voth, Austen Williams, Carter Kieboom.

No reason to part ways with anyone here; if they’re starters (Soto, Robles, Fedde, etc) they’re too valuable on their current $575k (or so) contracts, and if they’re role players they’re fungible assets who are probably not really trade-able.

—————–

Summary: there’s not really a ton of return value here.  Rendon, Kendrick, Adams seem to be the best trade chips.

—————–

added bonus: CBS sports did some similar analysis of Nats potential trade chips: https://www.cbssports.com/mlb/news/mlb-trade-deadline-anthony-rendon-and-other-nationals-trade-chips-ranked-if-they-become-sellers-by-july-31/  .  They came up with similar names here.

 

Spring Training 2019 NRI Discussion

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Kieboom is probably the surest NRI thing in 2019. Photo via PerfectGame

Kieboom is probably the surest NRI thing in 2019. Photo via PerfectGame

The Nationals, on the eve of spring training, announced their list of Non-Roster Invitees (NRIs) for 2019.

Here’s the list:

  • RHP — Henderson Alvarez, Aaron Barrett, Scott Copeland, Wil Crowe, J.J. Hoover, Ronald Peña
  • LHP — Vidal Nuño
  • C —Tres Barrera, Taylor Gushue
  • INF —Luis Garcia , Carter Kieboom, Jose Marmolejos, Jake Noll, Matt Reynolds, Brandon Snyder, Jacob Wilson
  • OF — Hunter Jones, Chuck Taylor

Now, before you say “who cares” here’s some stats.  In the last four seasons:

  • 5 NRIs made the 25-man roster straight out of Spring Training (and Guthrie technically made it 6 since he got called up a few days later and was always intended to be the 5th starter in 2017)
  • 18 NRIs eventually played for the MLB team at some point that same season.

So its likely that we’re going to see these NRIs at some point in the future.  Like, on average at least 4-5 of these NRIs are going to play for this team in 2019.

So lets squint and make some predictions.

  1. Do any of these guys stand a chance at making the Opening day roster?  Yeah maybe.  I think a couple of the relievers (especially Nuno) have a real shot at the bullpen if they perform in Florida.  Three of the seven guys I’m projecting to the MLB bullpen have options remaining (Barraclough, Suero and Glover), the team only really has one legit lefty in the pen (Grace) and may end up carrying 8 relievers through some roster chicanery early on.
  2. Do any of these guys project to feature at all in 2019?  Absolutely: I think Alvarez, Hoover, Nuno, Reynolds, and Snyder in particular seem likely to get call-ups to cover for injury, unless they exercise opt-outs.  Reynolds is one of the few SS capable guys in the high minors, Snyder could be Zimmerman or Adams injury coverage, and Alvarez could get the call to provide spot starts if in-house options like Fedde continue to struggle at the MLB level.
  3. Who among these guys project to eventually get on the 40-man?  The top-end prospects on this list for sure: Crowe, Garcia, Kieboom, Barrera and perhaps Gushue all seem likely to eventually make the 40-man.

 


NRI Details by year, in case you were wondering…

Summary of NRIs from ST 2018: 21 NRIs total:

  • One (1) made the 25-man roster out of spring: Miguel Montero
  • Four (4) eventually got added and called up:  Tim Collins, Moises Sierra, Jimmy Cordero, Spencer Kieboom.  Special Mention to Edwin Jackson, who opted out of Washington then excelled for Oakland later in 2018).
  • Zero (0) others have since been added to 40-man

Summary of NRIs from ST 2017: 24 NRIs total:

  • Zero (0) made the 25-man roster out of spring (though technically one kinda was; see next).
  • Five (5) eventually got added and called up (Jeremy Guthrie, Matt Albers, Grant Green, Jacob Turner and Andrew Stevenson): Guthrie was the 5th starter, stashed in XST for a few days before his ill-fated debut.
  • Five (5) have since been added to 40-man (Erick Fedde, Taylor Hill, Kyle McGowin, Wander Suero, Tim Collins)

Summary of NRIs from ST 2016: 20 NRIs total (plus perhaps a couple more that got signed late):

  • Two (2) made the 25-man roster: (Chris Heisey and as noted in the comments, thanks for the correction, Matt Belisle).
  • Two (2) eventually got added and called up (Lucas Giolito, Sean Burnett)
  • Two (2) have since been added to 40-man (Matt Skole, Austin Voth)

Summary of NRIs from ST 2015: 20 NRIs total:

  • Two (2) made the 25-man roster out of spring (Dan Uggla and Clint Robinson)
  • Two (2) others eventually got added and called up (Rafael Martin and Emmanuel Burriss)
  • Two (2) others were young catchers since added to the 40-man (Spencer Kieboom, Pedro Severino)

(I believe the above analysis is correct; feel free to comment if i’ve missed someone.  this is a bit tougher to keep track of b/c the team often signs MLFAs mid-spring then technically gives them NRIs … especially for Vets, and I may miss some from the original announcements).

 

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 12/26/18 Edition

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Did the team make the right decision on Roark?  Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

Did the team make the right decision on Roark? Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

MLB.com Nats beat reporter Jamal Collier gives us a holiday gift with a post-Xmas mailbag dated 12/26/18.

Here’s how I would have answered the questions he took.

Q: It Harper comes back to the Nats looking for 330/10, do the Nats go over the tax or let him walk?

A: Isn’t it obvious by now?  You let him walk.  I think this was pretty clear from two observations:

  1. Mike Rizzo has already spent his $30M AAV, and spent it quickly
  2. Mark Lerner pretty much said as much in ill-advised remarks to a reporter.

The Luxury Tax strikes yet again; the Lerner family, multi-billionaires, will not spend an additional 10-15M above some imaginary payroll number to keep one of the league’s most marketable players.   Player salaries actually FELL for the first time in two decades, as clubs in total spent less than they have since 2004.   Maybe one of these big-spending clubs will break the bank and hand Bryce Harper and Scott Boras their goal; the largest contract in the history of the game.  But it sounds like its a reach, and it definitely doesn’t seem to be happening in Washington.

Collier refuses to get into hypotheticals, then notes that the Luxury tax for last year was “only” a couple million dollars.  Yeah, and only a couple of high-end draft picks, and only the reason why the club fired one of Rizzo’s most trusted advisors for absolutely screwing it up.  

—-

Q: Roark trade more about getting a LHP or the analytics told them he was on MAJOR decline year? $10M for innings eater is the going rate

A: I think the team was taking a calculated gamble that Tanner Roark‘s best years are behind him.   Despite appearances or opinions, Roark was basically a league average pitcher last year.  That’s a significant step ABOVE a replacement level/5th starter type.  But, he’s been trending down, he’s heading into his age 32 year, and the team thought it could spend his $10M better.  I don’t think lefty versus righty had anything to do with it.  Of course, they basically replaced him with an even older Anibal Sanchez, so sorry for sounding hypocritical on his age.  But while Roark struggled to even get to his 98 ERA+ figure last year … Sanchez had a late-career ephiphany that led him to being one of the top pitchers in all of baseball for the 2nd half of last year.  A better trend line in the end.

Collier agrees, that this was a gamble betting that Roark is set to regress in 2019.

Q: If the Nats go out and sign one or two back end of the rotation starters, what does that do to the development of Joe Ross and Erick Fedde? Moved to the bullpen? Sent to Triple A?

A: I’d have a hard time seeing the Nats signing a MLB-contract for another starter at this point, because Joe Ross has nothing to prove in AAA.  But Erick Fedde does.   Joe Ross has proven he can be an effective MLB starter, with his 125 ERA+ in 19 starts in 2016 as evidence.   Now he’ll be 26, with a new elbow, and looking to answer the question whether he’s back from TJ surgery.  For me, for a relatively affordable salary (1st year arb estimate of $2.5M), that’s a great gamble to go with on your 5th starter.  If he suddenly comes out in 2016 mode, 20-25% above league average

Technically both players have one minor league option left, so the team could opt to send them both to Fresno to get lit up in PCL parks and prove nothing.  I expect that for Fedde and we’ll have to take his stats with a grain of salt.

That being said, I do expect the team to sign at least one more MLFA veteran starter in the Jeremy Hellickson ilk, to go to Fresno and be some rotation insurance/catch lightning in a bottle again.

collier kind of gives a non-answer, but he does think Ross could work out of the bullpen (I don’t).

Q:  In my opinion, 2B is their biggest [remaining] priority. Any movement on that front? There are so many available as an upgrade!

A: Well, either 2B or maybe more middle relief help.  Right now the team is looking at this for each spot:

  • 2B: Howie Kendrick starter, Wilmer Difo backup, with Adrian Sanchez and Matt Reynolds as options (Sanchez has an option, Reynolds does not).
  • Middle Relief: right now you’re looking at Justin Miller/Wander Suero/Koda Glover as RHP middle relief options, and Sammy Solis/Matt Grace as lefty options.

Which one of those scares you more?  For me, probably middle relief.  Reliever performance is so variable that its hard to look at the guys who did well last year (Miller, Suero, Grace) and count on them in 2019, just like its hard to look at the guys who struggled (Glover, Solis) and just assume they’re washed up.  But, if you buy more arms, its one in, one out on the roster, so who makes way?

Collier says the team is focusing on one-year deals for one of the many 2B out there, to coincide with the expected arrival of Carter Kieboom.  Makes sense.

Q: Other than what Zimmerman and Rizzo have said publically, is there any rumblings about reworking Zim’s contract? Sentimentality aside, would it be wise for the Nats to lengthen the deal in any way?

A: Hmmm.  man tough question.  Zimmerman is owed $18M for 2019, then has a $2M buyout or another $18M year in 2020.   He’ll be 34 in 2019, 35 in 2020.

When he’s healthy,  he’s good for 25-30 homers, a .300 BA, a .500 slugging, and an OPS+ figure in the 120-130 range.  When he’s not … he misses vast chunks of the season, hits in the .250 range, and has about as many homers as a typical middle infielder.

Its notable that he *already* has a 5yr/$10M personal services contract with the team in place upon his retirement, so even if he hangs them up after playing for an other team he’s coming back here for the long haul.  So he’s going to be associated with the team for a while.

First things first: if he puts up another 120 OPS+ season in 2019 and is healthy, I think its an easy option to pick up for 2020.  From there, again if he continues to provide value I can see perhaps the team extending him on a year by year contract kinda similar to what they’ve given Matt Adams the last couple of years.  I’m sure Zimmerman would take that, given his history, his Virginia roots, the fact that he’s settled here, etc.  At some point it’ll become pretty clear its time for him to hang it up … at which point he transitions to the front office nicely with a hope of staying in management for a while.

That’s what i’m hoping for.

Collier notes that both sides want to continue the relationship, so something should get worked out.

 

Rule 5 Addition analysis/predictions for 2018

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Did Jordan Mills' AFL performance earn him a 40-man spot? Photo via milb.com

Did Jordan Mills’ AFL performance earn him a 40-man spot? Photo via milb.com

Its an annual tradition.  This is my 9th annual analysis of the roster moves the Nats will do to protect players from the Rule 5 draft.  See the bottom for links/summary of the first eight such posts with a quick guess as to how well i’ve done making predictions.

Lets take a look at who is eligible, who might get protected and make some predictions.  I’ve got the Nats 40-man roster at 35 now, so there’s plenty of room to add names and do their off-season work.  But, this team also needs to sign a bunch of FAs, so perhaps the Rule5 activity will be limited.  That being said, there’s some dead-weight at the end of the 40-man roster that includes some fringe players out of options for 2019 anyway, who we may try to slip through waivers as we go.  Nonetheless, its something to think about.

Another recurring theme while doing this research: a good number of the prospects we received back in late-season trades ended up being Rule-5 Eligible this coming off-season.  I suppose it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that we got players back in this category, but it does mean our trade bounty for some of our veterans might end up never playing a game for the Nats franchise.

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.   Also incredibly useful is Roster Resource’s Nats Roster, which keeps track of options, rule-5 status and the like.

The quick Rule-5 rules for 2017; any college-aged draftee from 2015 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 2014 or before is newly eligible this year, assuming they were at least 18 as of June 5th of that year.  There’s always a couple of guys who have specific birthdays that move them up or down one way or the other; i’ll depend on the Roster Resource rules.

One last thing: here was our 2018 AFL Roster: Ben Braymer, Taylor Guilbeau, Jordan Mills, Luis Reyes, Tres Barrera, Carter Kieboom, Jake Noll, Daniel Johnson.  Half these guys (Guilbeau, Mills, and Reyes) are rule-5 eligible; the others (Braymer, Barrera, Kieboom, Noll and Johnson) were all 2016 draftees and thus are not part of this discussion… for this year anyway.


Newly Eligible 2015 draft College Players this year worth consideration for protection:

  • Rhett Wiseman, 3rd round left-handed hitting OF out of Vanderbilt.  Repeated High-A in 2018 and drastically improved his OPS, but it seems to be on the back of perhaps going for more of an all or nothing approach: he increased his homer output, but also struck out 122 times in 407 PAs.  The team invested a big bonus in him, and it hasn’t panned out.  I really liked this pick at the time, but then watched him hit in the CWS that year and thought he’d have a hard time adjusting to pro pitching.  So far, my amateur observation seems to be holding true.
  • Taylor Guilbeau, LHP 10th rounder who repeated High-A this year but switched to the bullpen and halved his ERA.  The team named him to the AFL roster and he excelled,  giving up 2 runs in 10+ innings.  Given the team’s lack of lefty arms, I’d consider Guilbeau … but then again, he’s never pitched above High-A so he seems like a safe bet not to get picked.  But then again, he just manned up in the AFL in front of every scout in the game.
  • Andrew Istler, our trade bounty from the Dodgers for Ryan Madsen.  He had very solid numbers in AA in a middle relief role, even earning a stellar AAA call-up.  He’s an undersized Duke grad, 23rd round pick who has done well.  I wonder if his pedigree makes him less likely to get picked.

Eligible but not mentioned here: Ian Sagdal, who (like Wisemann) is still in High-A and is a power-less 1B.   Angelo La Bruna is a part-time SS who was a senior sign, did not appear in 2018 but is still listed as active.  Matt Crownover may be lefty, but he also repeated High-A for the 3rd year in 2018.  Grant BorneTommy Peterson and Ryan Brinley missed all of 2018 with injury.   Andrew Lee basically missed all of 2017 with injury and still hasn’t even gotten out of Low-A.  Jorge Pantoja has bounced around the A-levels for four years now, ending last year with a 4.68 ERA in High-A.

The key college-eligible players out of this draft have long since been called into 40-man service, released or traded.  Andrew Stevenson and Koda Glover are the biggest remaining names from this draft for the team.

 


Newly Eligible 2014 High School-age drafted players under consideration for protection

  • Jakson Reetz, 3rd round C from 2014.  Reetz was paid a big bonus out of HS, and has basically never hit at any level.  He played all of 2018 as the backup C in Potomac and slugged just .323 for the year.  His career BA is .233 across 5 pro seasons and nearly a thousand plate appearances.  Suffice it to say, had he not been paid $800k out of HS, he’d have been released long ago.  He’s certainly not going to get picked in Rule-5.
  • Weston Davis, RHP 11th rounder.  He missed all of 2015… and then all of 2018.  Through 5 full pro seasons he has just 124.2 innings pitched.  He’s still hanging around, and will look to make it out of XST next year.

The Nats generally don’t pick HS players, so the picking here is always slim.


Newly Eligible 2014 signed IFAs under consideration for protection:

  • Joan Baez went 9-9 with a 3.79 ERA as a full time starter for Potomac this year.  We’ve heard about Baez’s arm for a while.  He repeated Potomac again after walking as many as he struck out in 2017, and indeed he’s improved on that ratio.  I think he’s a decent bet for someone to look at, but his lack of upper-level experience probably keeps him from getting picked.
  • Telmito Augustin, a LF who hit pretty well for High-A this year (OPS of .822).  But he’s never even gotten to AA, and like many of the “holdovers” he’s a corner OF type who is competing with a ton of MLB veterans for roster spots.  I don’t think he’s a threat to get drafted.
  • Steven Fuentes, who forced a mid-season promotion to High-A where he posted a 3.00 ERA in 45 middle-relief type innings.
  • Andruw Monasario, the 2B prospect the Nats received from the Cubs in the Daniel Murphy trade.  He was an IFA2014 signee and is newly Rule-5 eligible.   He repeated High-A in 2018, has no power (6 career homers), little speed (48 SBs in 349 career minor league games), and is only mentioned here b/c he was trade bounty for Murphy.
  • Gilbert Lara, the 3B prospect the Nats received from Milwaukee in the Gio Gonzalez trade.   He played all of 2018 in Low-A, had decent numbers and is very unlikely to be taken.  He’s only mentioned here for similar reasons to Monsario.

Others in this category: Tomas Alastre , who posted a 5.23 ERA in 23 starts in Low-A.  Malvin Pena basically missed two full seasons and only just made it to Low-A.

Our biggest 2014 IFA signing is now safely ensconced on the 40-man roster; Victor Robles.


Rule-5 Eligible hold-overs of note: 2014 or prior college draftees still hanging out in the system, or 2013 and prior HS/IFAs.

  • Taylor Gushue, a 2014 Draftee out of Florida who has now made his way all the way to AAA. Even though he didn’t really hit that well in AA (.212), he still made his way to the top level of the minors.  The Nats only have 3 catchers on the 40-man and one of them (Severino) has no options left, so they’re going to need some depth.  I think Gushue may be a consideration to add.
  • Drew Ward, who drew a promotion to AAA in July but struggled and was sent back to AA.  I thought he was a candidate to get protected last year but he missed the draft.  Now?  I’d guess he slips through again, despite being a lefty corner player that the team needs to back up Ryan Zimmerman simply because there’s a glut of such veteran players on the market every year now, and they can be had for just a couple million bucks.  A 40-man spot is much more valuable.  I think Ward plays out his term in 2019 and makes his way to MLFA.
  • Austin Davidson is a corner OF and 13th rounder in 2014 who is beginning to show some promise.  He had a solid OPS of .846 in 94 AA games this year.  But, like Ward (who is about a half a step ahead of him), he faces competition from above.  Not a real threat to get drafted.
  • Alec Keller: a 2017 17th rounder in the same boat as Ward and Davidson above him; corner OF, decent numbers, no chance of getting Rule-5’d.
  • Tyler Mapes, a great story who continues to make waves.  He was a 30th rounder in 2014, missed all of 2017 with injury but came back with a vengeance in 2018, dominating Potomac and holding his own with a 3.95 ERA in AA.  I like his chances of pushing towards AAA in 2019, but don’t quite think he’s a scare to get plucked.
  • Luis Reyes: finally made it to AA this year, and got shelled (12 starts, 5.18 ERA).  Nonetheless the team included him in their AFL roster, where he got even more shelled (4 starts, 12 innings, 22 runs allowed).  I think whatever jeopardy he had of getting picked is long gone.
  • Jordan Mills: a 2017 MLFA signing who really came on this year as a lefty reliever in AA.  He was also sent to AFL in perhaps a final audition for the bigger club; there he did pretty well, holding his WHIP under 1.00.  I think he’s one to protect.
  • James Bourque was (finally?) moved to the bullpen in 2018 and immediately turned into a monster: he struck out 52 in 33 high-A innings, got moved to AA and posted a 0.92 ERA in 19 2/3rds innings.  I think he shows a ton of promise; enough to protect?

Others in this category: Aldrem Corredor, a 1B who has hung around since 2012 in the system.  David Masters completed his *fourth straight* season in Potomac in 2018.  Dakota Bacus has been on this list for 3 years running, is now a 27-yr old RHP middle reliever just completing his 4th season in AA.  Jose Marmolejos i suppose theoretically is still eligible; he was on the 40-man, got outrighted in July and subsequently had a sub .700 OPS in AAA (low for a 1B).

Austen Williams got added late in the year; he would have been in this category.


So, who would I protect?

So, remember, if someone gets drafted they have to stick on someone else’s ACTIVE, 25-man MLB roster the entirety of 2019.  So it has to be someone who could theoretically stick on a MLB roster.  Given that statement, and looking at what the Nats are light on, I think they add three arms:

  • Bourque
  • Mills
  • Istler

Who would I additionally consider?

  • Baez
  • Gushue
  • Mapes

Here’s some other opinions in the Natmosphere on the same topic:

  • District On Deck thinks Bourque is a lock, Augustin and Ward under consideration.
  • MLB.com listed every organization’s top ranked prospects who are Rule5 Eligible: Augustin, Bourque, Alastre, Marmolejos and Ward are top-30 prospects being exposed.
  • TalkNats has a bunch of the players listed but doesn’t make a prediction; seems to imply they think Bourque, Istler, and Agustin might get protected.
  • WP’s Chelsea Jane seems to suggest Marmolejos, Augustin, Bourque, plus perhaps others.

For a fun trip down memory lane, here’s the same Rule 5 Protection analysis post for 2017201620152014201320122011, and 2010.

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

  • 2018: Predicted: Bourque, Mills,Istler.  Actual: just Bourque.
  • 2017: Predicted: Gutierrez, Gushue, Ward, Baez.  Actual: Gutierrez and Jefry Rodriguez.
  • 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 :-)

Ask Jamal from 11/9/18

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To Robles, or not to Robles, that is the Harper question. Photo via milb.com

To Robles, or not to Robles, that is the Harper question. Photo via milb.com

MLB Nats beat reporter Jamal Collier did another mailbag last friday … which came out before reports about what Nats turned down for Bryce Harper at the trade deadline.

Which was a lot.

According to Ken Rosenthal, the Nats turned down this offer:

  • RHP starter and 2017 1st rounder J.B. Bukauskas, who had matriculated to AA by the end of 2018 and is a DC-area native.
  • Catcher Garrett Stubbs, a 2015 8th rounder who was Round Rock (AAA)’s starting catcher in 2017 and 2018, hitting .310/.382/.836 last year
  • and another minor leaguer

So, let me get this straight.  The Nats could have gotten a much, much needed nearly MLB ready 1st round starter, a guy who looks like he could very well step into the 2019 starting Catcher conversation, and a third prospect instead of what they will eventually get for Harper (i.e., a pick between the 4th and 5th round in June 2019)?

You can call this revisionist history if you want.  But this report makes me sick.  It was clear in early July they were in trouble.  On July 26th their #2 starter Strasburg went back on the D/L and left an already struggling pitching staff relatively decimated.  They were 50-51 and thus needed to go 40-21 from that point to get to 90 wins (which, as it turned out, was precisely what they needed to win the division).  And the team turned down this package only to dump everybody just a couple weeks later.

I mean, Mike Rizzo still has a job, so to me this was an over-his-head decision.  Well fans, ask yourself how you feel now bout the entirely of 2018 at this point and the decisions they made from the first week of the season to the final trade of FAs to be in mid August.

Anyway, onto Collier’s questions:


Q: What are the odds the Nationals do the smart thing and sign everybody else they need before Bryce signs somewhere else rather than after?

A: Slim.  If the Nationals spend all their FA money before the Harper-bazaar gets going, then Scott Boras doesn’t have his baseline 10yr/$300M contract to use as leverage with other teams.  And as we’ve seen time and time again, the Nationals ownership seems to exist to enable Boras, hire his cast offs, give him his record-breaking contracts and generally serve to make sure Boras Corporation continues to gain new customers.

Here’s what’s going to happen: the Nats will hem-and-haw, miss out on all the top Starters, miss out on a Catcher, basically do nothing but acquire middle relievers (they’ve already got two there) and 1 year corner sluggers to provide cover for Ryan Zimmerman, all the while having daily breathless media reports about their negotiations with Harper.

What *I* want them to do is to be aggressive, assume Harper is going to Chicago or New York or Los Angeles liks we always though he would, and spend his salary fast and swiftly.  But this is not Rizzo’s team; this is Lerner’s team, and we’re beholden to that ownership group and their idiotic decisions.

Collier points at the Barraclough and Rosenthal signings as evidence that Rizzo will make moves.  I don’t buy it.  A $6M reliever coming off of injury is one thing; a $20M starter with significant competition from other teams is another.


 

Q: If Bryce is re-signed, how does the outfield shake out for next year? Or does he play first base?

A: If Harper signs, the team moves either Eaton or Robles (likely Robles since Eaton’s two injuries in two years has destroyed his value) to acquire a position of need (SP, C, 2B).

Will Harper play 1B??  What a dumb question.  This team has been bending over backwards for Ryan Zimmerman for years now; what makes you think anything changes for 2019?  Zimmerman isn’t riding the pine.

Harper, in theory, is a 26yr old athlete in his absolute prime of athletic ability.  As others have noted, he appeared to be “dogging it” in the outfield last year, which contributed to god-awful defensive stats.  But in years prior he’s proven himself to be more than elite defender, with one of the top outfield arms in the game.  Maybe the security of a long term contract enables him to return to form.  But he’s 10 years from being the kind of immobile player to waste at 1B.  I mean, Zimmerman is only there because he’s forgotten how to throw across the diamond; he’s still an excellent range defender.

Collier agrees.


Q: What’s a fair expectation for Victor Robles next season?

A: Great question.  Things go one of two ways:

  • Harper signs elsewhere and Robles plays a full season of CF for this team, hits 6th in the order right after Anthony Rendon, posts an .830 OPS figure, threatens 20/20, puts up nearly 4 bWAR or perhaps more if he’s really as good defensively as advertised and is a Rookie of the Year finalist.  All for about $575k in salary.
  • Harper signs here for $30M/year and the team has to move Robles.   They can’t move Eaton b/c they’d be selling low, and they’d be completely morons to move Juan Soto.  So its Robles out; he goes onto star for some other team (Miami?) and becomes a force of nature for 6 years for some other franchise while we get like 2 years of some veteran player and play a different “what if” game related to a hamstrung payroll and an aging team.

Can you tell which way I want this to go?

Collier kinda says, well he could be good, no idea which team.


Q: Should the Nats be looking at a second baseman/utility man (a Josh Harrison type) given the lack of production at second and the unknowns of Howie Kendrick‘s rehab?

A: I think Josh Harrison might be an excellent piece.  I’m more confident of a Kendrick return than others.  So my answer is kinda like this: there’s a slew of good 2B on the market and I woouldn’t mind getting one of them … but for me its priority 3 of 3 in terms of major acquisitions for this off-season.  I’m ok going to war with Kendrick as my starting 2B and 7th hitter.  HE had a 112 OPS+ in 2017, 110 in 2018 before getting hurt.  That’s fantastic for a 7th or 8th hitter (depending on what we get for a C).

Collier notes that Rizzo has been on record saying he’s ok with 2B too.  So we’re in line.  Collier also notes that there’s two significantly good prospects coming up soon in Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia, both of whom could play 2B and one of whom (Kieboom) was in the AFL getting some time at 2B, perhaps in preparation for a mid-season callup to do just this.


Q: Do you feel it’s more realistic for the Nats to address an everyday catcher via the free-agent market or via a trade?

A: Usually the answer here is trade, since the FA market will bid up services of good players and thus you overpay for what you get.  If you can even get them.

FA signings just cost money.  Trades cost players.  This team has been shedding players for a long time in pursuit of playoff glory … and this off-season are in a great position to use MONEY to get players and not shred their depth any further.  I think they should go after Yasmani Grandal hard and make him their starter for the next 3 years, and then should focus heavily on developing a catcher from within from the draft or from somewhere.

Collier says FA is more likely.

 

MLBTradeRumors FA prediction piece paints quite a rosy picture for the Nats…

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Could Keuchel look good in Nats colors too? photo via Houston Chronicle

Could Keuchel look good in Nats colors too? photo via Houston Chronicle

Baseball FA prediction pieces are, well, about worth the electrons they occupy in the interweb in terms of predictability.  But they’re off-season conversation starters, often good ones, and the first major publication of such a piece (from MLBtraderumors) seemed especially well thought out when it came to the Nats and their likely targets.  So I thought i’d pipe up.

Starting points: with the Trea Turner Super-2 fiasco and the Trevor Rosenthal signing, here’s a rough payroll figure for 2019:

  • $88M for 7 veteran players now under contract
  • $43M for the 7 arbitration eligible players we have (this assumes we re-sign everyone, including Sammy Solis and Michael Taylor and Tanner Roark even at $10M).
  • $8.75M for the remaining pre-arb players to fill out the 40-man (tangent: 26 players total $8.75M in salary outlay.  That’s less than what a 4th starter in Roark likely makes in arbitration.  While this has always been the case, I can’t help but think that this will become the defining issue of the next CBA negotiations).
  • $14.5M estimate for 2019 benefits
  • That totals $154.5M right now, leaving $51.5M or so for FA signings and moves.

So we have $51M to play with right now.  We primarily need a Starting Pitcher, a Catcher, and a 2b.  MLBtraderumors has us signing:

  • Dallas Keuchel for 4yrs/$82M for an AAV of $20.5M
  • Yasmani Grandal for 4yrs/$64M for an AAV of $16M
  • Brian Dozier, for 1yr/$10M.

So that’d be a total outlay of $46.5M on these three players, within the $51M budget but leaving precious little room for the “edge of the roster” kind of signings the team still needs (middle relief, loogy, corner infielder to platoon with Ryan Zimmerman, etc).

Its also notable that both Keuchel and Grandal would cost the Nats draft picks as Qualifying Offer extended players.  So if the team signed these two guys, they’d basically shred their 2019 draft.  Thanks to the idiocy of luxury tax management, if they signed one QO-assigned pick they’d lose their 2nd and 5th “highest picks” AND $1M from their international bonus pool.  If they signed a second QO assigned pick, they’d also give up their 3rd and 6th highest.  So, just so we’re on the same page, assuming the Nats lose Bryce Harper and sign both Keuchel and Grandal this is what their 2019 draft would look like:

  • 1st round: protected
  • 2nd round: forfeited
  • 3rd round: forfeited
  • 4th round: kept
  • post-4th round compensation pick for Harper: forfeited
  • 5th round: forfeited
  • 6th round and onwards; kept.

So we’d have just a 1st and 4th rounder, then 6th onward.  In other words … we’d be absolutely punting on the 2019 draft.

HOWEVER, here’s what your 25-man roster would look like with these 3 signings:

  • Rotation: Scherzer, Strasburg, Keuchel, Roark, Ross (with Fedde, Voth, JRodriguez as AAA backups prior to any Jeremy Hellickson-style reclamation signings)
  • Bullpen: Doolittle, Rosenthal, Barraclough, JMiller, Grace, Suero, Glober, Solis (pushing Adams, Gott, AWilliams and Cordero to AAA or to MLFA based on options issues).
  • Catching: Grandal, Kieboom with Severino/Read in competition (Severino has an options issue for 2019, complicating the situation).
  • Infield: Rendon, Turner, Dozier, Zimmerman (with Difo and Kendrick as backups)
  • Outfield: Soto, Eaton, Robles, with Taylor as a 4th outearning 2/3rds of the starting outfield.

I mean, that’s a heck of a rotation.  That’s 2 guys with Cy Youngs and a third in Strasburg who is clearly top 15 in the league.  Roark and Ross have both put up better-than-5th starter numbers.  I’d go to battle with that rotation.  The bullpen could use some bolstering, especially since Solis was so bad in 2018 and is out of options.  Kendrick backs up multiple spots when needed, Difo stays where he’s good ( a backup middle infielder).  We have a good starting C but will struggle during his off-days.

I’d be a-ok with this.

Now, lets say the team wanted to slightly vary its draft shredding.  They could replace Keuchel with Nathan Eovaldi or Charlie Morton both of whom have re-made their careers and wouldn’t have  QOs and would be cheaper.  Instead of Dozier they could go with someone like Jed Lawrie or DJ LeMahieu and get less production for less money and have a bit more for bullpen/backups.  There’s less on the Catcher market (would anyone trust Wilson Ramos and his two ACL injuries?), but there’s always the option to trade guys too.

thoughts?