Nationals Arm Race

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Ask Collier 8/3/17

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Did the Nats do enough at the deadline to shore up the bullpen? Photo via UPI

Did the Nats do enough at the deadline to shore up the bullpen? Photo via UPI

Another Nats off-day, another Jamal Collier twitter-driven mailbag.  If people tweeted me a bunch of random questions, I’d probably do “mailbags” too!

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


 

Q: To me it looks like Dodgers vs Nationals NLCS unless bracketed before…who can u see beating either of these 2 teams???

A: Well, lets not put the cart before the horse.  What’s looking more and more certain by the day isn’t a guaranteed NLCS matchup, but rather an NLDS matchup between the Nats and the Cubs.  And who can beat the Nats?  Certainly the Cubs can.  Heck, the Nats just got their asses handed to them by the Marlins in a 3-game series; certainly they could lay an egg in a 5-game series against a good offensive team that’s the defending World Series champs.  It bears repeating: in a short series, anything can happen.  The Nats outscored the Dodgers in the 2016 NLDS 24-19 and had the lead in the deciding game heading into the 7th inning … and still managed to lose.

I’ll also point this fact out: the 116 win 2001 Seattle Mariners got their asses handed to them in 5 games by the Yankees in the playoffs.

Lets make it to October, then see how our health looks and see how we’re hitting.  All we can hope for is 100% all hands on deck to give the series our best shot.

Collier notes that anything can happen in the playoffs, that the wild card teams all improved at the trade deadline, and that he’d love to see an LA-Wash rematch.


 

Q: Do you see the Nats going after a waiver Starting Pitcher this month in case Strasburg needs to be out for an extended period?

A: Hmm.  Yeah I could.  I don’t think the team trusts Jacob Turner, nor A.J. Cole.  Certainly not 40-man member Austin Voth (demoted to AA a month ago).  But I also think Erick Fedde was better than his stat line showed, and his dominant 2nd inning was clearly a sign of what he “can” do if he stays consistent.  But we need to get to October first and that might mean a waiver-wire trade.  It all depends on how much more time their two aces miss at this point.

Collier disagrees, saying that Rizzo was adamant about not getting antoher starter at the trade deadline … but things have changed.


 

Q: With Matt Wieters recent offensive and defensive struggles, do you think that the Nats should give Pedro Severino a closer look in Sept?

A: In a word, No.  Severino‘s 2016 stat line was a mirage; he’s hit just .213 in AAA this year.  That might not even be good enough to supplant Jose Lobaton as our once-a-week catcher.  I agree with those who complain about the Wieters signing … but then again Derek Norris has hit just .201 for Tampa, and Wilson Ramos is hitting even worse after missing half the season.  So its not like they really had a choice.  Lets just hope some of our lower minors Catcher depth pans out.

Collier agrees.


 

Q: How are they going to fit everyone back into this pen when Kelley and Glover come back?? Surely they can’t send anyone down for Kelley

A: Good question.  As of today (prior to the Romero injury, their pen was as follows:

Kintzler, Doolittle*, Madsen, Albers, Romero*, Perez*, Blanton, Grace*,

They’ve been carrying 8 relievers for a bit, probably since their 5th starters rarely make the 5th inning.  Now look at that crew and ask yourself; who could even be optioned?  Kintzler, Madsen, Perez and Blanton are all vets that could refuse demotions.  Albers too; they all have 5+ years.  Doolittle doesn’t … but he’s also pretty much your closer right now.  So that’s 6 of your 7 guys.  Romero is out of options.  That’s 7 of 7 right there.  Despite how well Grace has pitched, he’s on the outside looking in right now.  If/when Kelley and Glover come back … yeah you have to make some tough decisions.  If I had to guess, the team is going to have to D/L some guys (like Blanton) in order to get others in.  And if you were putting together an 8-man playoff bullpen, you’d probably go Kintzler, Doolittle, Madsen, Kelley, Glober, Albers, Romero and Grace.  Man it’d be tough leaving Perez off a post-season roster though.  And we havn’t even mentioned Solis, banished to AAA but very much an integral part of last year’s playoff bullpen.

Collier notes that by the time some of these roster squeezes happen, we’ll be past the 9/1 expansion deadline and it may not matter.  Which is a good point.


Q:  It’s definitely a long shot, but do you think there’s any chance whatsoever that a ’17 draftee pitches in our bullpen by end of September?

A: Zero chance.  For reasons inexplicable, the one guy who may have had a shot (Seth Romero) failed to sign until the deadline, apparently squeezing out the ever last drop of over-slot bonus money, then failed to even appear in a game for several weeks beyond that (despite not having pitched since mid-March?).  Clearly the organization was not in a hurry to move him along.  Times are changing; we still havn’t even seen a 2016 draftee appear in the majors yet, so to project a 2017 player moving up that fast would be crazy.

Collier agrees.

 

 

Just when we were starting to talk about McKenzie Mills…

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Kendrick shores up a very fragile outfield for the Nats. PHoto via si

Kendrick shores up a very fragile outfield for the Nats. PHoto via si

… the Nats go and trade him away.  We flipped him for Howie Kendrick last night (throwing in Intl’ bonus money but getting back salary relief, of course, since its the Lerners).

Now, in arguably Kendrick fills a need.  The Nats now have SIX outfielders on the D/L.  Two of their opening day starters, their primary bench OF, plus three other guys.  They’re running out Adam Lind and Wilmer Difo in the outfield with predictable negative UZR results.  So Kendrick helps there.  Kendrick can also help in the infield, where our primary backup right now is a long-serving org-guy in Adrian Sanchez who, while being a great story, is clearly overmatched at the major league level (2 for 17 as we speak).

But we give up what was looking like a heck of a find.  McKenzie Mills stepped it up this year, making the Low-A all-star team and just earning a promotion to high-A in his age 21 season.  He’s 12-2 with a 3.01 ERA and great K/9 rates.  Philly should be ecstatic to have him, and to have gotten him for a spare part.

I’m sure our prospect guys will hate giving up Mills for a rental like Kendrick.  Its a win-now, fix-the-now-issues move for sure.  On the other hand … Mills is a ways away, needs to solve two more levels of the minor league before being in consideration for the majors, and is no sure thing.  But … yeah sometimes you have to do what you have to do.

More pertinently; the acquisition of Kendrick means a series of roster moves needs to happen.  On top of that, we’re still expecting the selection of Erick Fedde for tonight’s game.  So that’s two 25-man roster moves and, more importantly, two 40-man moves.  I’m guessing:

  • Sanchez goes back down to make room for Kendrick on 25-man roster
  • Sammy Solis goes back down to make way for Fedde … they’re carrying 8 relievers right now and the only guys they can really option back are Solis, Enny Romero and Matt Grace.  These latter two have pitched their way into stability while Solis still hasn’t proven he has it back.  So he heads back to Syracuse.
  • Two 40-man moves: I suppose they could do a 60-day D/L transfer of Trea Turner; that’d guarantee he was out until August 30th though and I thought he was supposed to come back prior to that.  Shawn Kelleyhas been out since 6/17 … if they did him to the 60 day he’d be out until 8/17 at a time when he’s nearing a rehab assignment.  So, I’m guessing they DFA two guys.  First two guys on my list to go: Jimmy Cordero and Trevor Gott .  I just don’t know why they stll have Cordero on the roster at this point; he’s 25, is struggling with control in AA (more walks than Ks) and even though he’s gotten his ERA down, its still nearly 6.00.  As for Gott … he got shelled at the MLB level, he’s not exactly awesome at the AAA level either, and at some point you have to look at these roster spots and go, “why are we still holding a spot for this guy?”  But I could also make this same argument for A.J. Cole, Austin Adams to a certain extent, Matt Skole and even Jose Marmolejos at this point.  All of these guys are sitting on 40-man spots, none seem to be in the near term plans … so I could see any of them getting the dreaded DFA this weekend.  Skole in particular (knowing certain readers have a boner for him): why is he on the 40-man at this point?  The team has now traded not once but twice for guys to add and call up that should have been Skole spots (Ryan Raburn and now Kendrick).  And don’t forget Sanchez (even if that was a slightly different position-eligibilty driven move).  Earlier this week they called up Pedro Severino, not Skole, to serve basically as a bench bat.  Severino!  If you’re not going to use Skole, then use his roster spot more efficiently.

Thoughts this saturday morning?

 

 

Ask Collier 7/21/17

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Doolittle has settled right hin. Photo via federal baseball/getty images

Doolittle has settled right hin. Photo via federal baseball/getty images

Off days seem to be accompanied by mail bags.  And that’s good, because i’m kind of in a writing lull.  I have no interest in looking at the hundreds of players in the game and trying to write one of those speculative, useless “hey we should make this trade” posts.  So here’s MLB.com nats beat reporter Jamal Collier‘s latest mail bag and how i’d have answered the questions he took.


Q: With the A’s trade and Robertson traded, do you think the Nats still look for a closer? Or do they go for another bullpen piece (ie Neshek)?

A: …. and yet,  here we are, needing to look at all 30 teams and all the theoretically “available” closers to write an educated answer.  *sigh*

Ok: here’s who is for certain selling: Detroit, Chicago WS, Oakland, NY Mets, Miami, Philly, Cincinnati, San Diego, San Francisco.  And here’s who probably should be selling: Baltimore, Toronto, Atlanta, maybe Texas.

That’s 12-13 teams, some of which have pretty good closers.  So there’s some arms available.  But at what cost?  Does anyone want to stomach the trading of yet another set of higher-end prospects for a rental “proven closer?”  I’m hoping the team goes a different direction, with a trade of lesser quality prospects for another couple 7th and 8th inning guys.

Bullpen now:  Doolittle, Madsen, Albers, Romero, Perez, Blanton and Grace.  Lefty heavy, and Blanton just cannot seem to get it together.  So another righty to replace Blanton could work, given how bad he’s been this year.  Maybe the return of Glover or a healthy/effective Kelley is what the team really needs instead of another trade (because who else on that current list of 7 do you want to jettison?).

Collier says that the team added a lot of payroll and may not do another blockbuster.


 

Q: Will the Nats make a push for a fifth starter at the trade deadline?

A: Nope.  They’ll give Edwin Jackson starts until he gives them a reason to dump him, may try existing internal solutions, and will eventually call up Erick Fedde to try him out too.  But they seem likely to cull the veteran 1yr FA market next off-season instead of overpaying now.  Of course, that being said seemingly the next available option in AAA (Jacob Turner) just got absolutely shelled (1 2/3rds innings 6 runs) … maybe he had transaction-lag from being activated and DFAd within like a 24 hour period.  A.J. Cole seems to have nearly exhausted his effectiveness as a starting pitcher; wow how far has he fallen.  Hill and Voth both now demoted to AA, along with Greg Ross.

Collier agrees.


 

Q: Who are the tradeable assets on the big league squad & in the minors? Likeliest to be dealt?

A: Hmm.  Most tradeable assets (outside the obvious all stars/marquee players we’d never move) on the big league squad might be Taylor and Goodwin thanks to their excellent seasons, and Gio Gonzalez who has pitched great and has two more option years.  But now that Ross is on the shelf for a year, we can’t possibly trade Gio.  Eaton should be back  in 2018 so there’s no room for both Goodwin and Taylor; i’d guess they’d trade one of them and let the other start in LF after Werth plays out his contract.  That is unless the Nats seek to improve offense in LF (like I think they should) and go for a big bopper … then they might have two OF trade assets (I think i’d rather move these guys than have them sit to be the 4th option).

In the minors?  Andrew Stevenson comes to mind as someone who might be surplus to requirements in the short term and be someone worth flipping.  That is unless we move both TAylor and Goodwin; then he’d make a perfect 4th OF for 2018 behind a LF FA acquisition.  Past that?  Its pretty empty in AAA and AA, so you’d be looking at guys in Low- and  High-A as trade assets.  Perhaps even lower; we have a number of high-dollar IFAs in the GCL right now.

Collier doesn’t even speculate; i guess he’s not a minor league guy.


Q: Will Koda Glover close games when he returns?

A: Lets get him to return first.  Is there even a time table for him to return?  Honestly I was almost assuming he was done for the year.  If he does return … then yeah, absolutely he’s in the closer mix.

Collier says the same thing basically.


 

Q: Any word on Davey Lopes return?

A: didn’t even know he was gone.  Its been a busy summer.  :-)

Collier has no updates; he’s away on personal matter.

 

Ask Collier 5/22/17 (i’m back!)

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Our newest little Nats fan!

Our newest little Nats fan!

So, after nearly a 3 week hiatus, i’m back.  And what better way to get back into the swing of things than to do a mailbag!  Nats mlb.com beat reporter Jamal Collier was kind enough to post a mailbag last night.

(In case you were wondering where I was, we traveled to China to adopt a little girl.  The above is a picture of her the day after we met her for the first time as we were walking the streets of Jinan, the capital city of the province where she was living in an orphanage :-).  She’s a natural in the curly-W hat).


 

Q: Any sense of urgency from the front office to get pen support? could we see a trade soon or will Rizzo play it cool and wait a bit more?

A: I don’t know how there isn’t a sense of urgency at this point.  We’re nearly a third of the way through the season and the bullpen is in shambles.  As we speak, the Nats bullpen ranks 29th in ERA, 27th in FIP, and 27th in fWAR.  Their best reliever so far in 2017 was a scrap-heap NRI pickup in Matt Albers, who now seems to be closing.  Five different guys have saves.  The two guys who we thought would be in the “closer” discussion ahead of the season (Shawn Kelley and Blake Treinen) have ERAs of 6.08 and 7.78 respectively.  The bullpen has 8 blown saves already, some of which were really, really egregious (like May 9th’s scuttling of Max Scherzer‘s 8 inning shut-down effort in Baltimore).

But its not exactly trade season yet.  You very rarely see trades during this time of year; front offices are preparing for the draft.  Then they’ll spend most of June negotiating with draft picks and making roster decisions on short season squads.  Then there’s the International Signing period leading up to the beginning of July.  Then there’s the all-star break.  Only THEN do you really get into “trade season,” the period in-between the all-star break and the trade deadline on 7/31.  So I’d be kind of surprised to see the Nats pull off a trade right now.  More likely you’ll see more of what they’re doing with Erick Fedde: looking at their AAA and AA teams and wondering who might be able to help.  Fedde could be a nice little 7th/8th inning helper, kinda like Koda Glover was last year.  Perhaps there’s another starter down there who might make sense to do the same in a pinch.  The team still has several options in AAA and on the 40-man roster that they’ve yet to explore: Austin Adams has 31 Ks in 19 innings with a 1.42 ERA for Syracuse so far in 2017 …. to go along with 17 walks (but hey, Enny Romero was able to fix his walk issue, right?).  Trevor Gott‘s numbers aren’t awful.  So perhaps there’s some options.

Oh Side note; the rumor that the Nats had a deal with the White Sox to move David Robertson (AND salary relief!?) for Jesus Luzardo and Drew Ward?   That came from Bob Nightengale from the USA Today, who is one of those reporters who seems to get a lot of “anonymous quotes” from unnamed front office types looking to air dirty laundry, especially from the slimy Chicago White Sox organization (go google his reporting on the Adam LaRoche situation for a decidedly pro-ownership take on that whole situation, trashing the player without anyone taking any credit for the quotes).  So i’m not sure how much credit to give it.  But if its true … then you have to scratch your head as to why the Nats didn’t pull the trigger on that one.  Ward is a limited prospect, completely blocked at the MLB level  and who is Rule-5 Eligible this coming off-season and Luzardo is a lottery ticket coming off TJ surgery who has yet to throw a pitch.  I’d have made that deal in a heart beat; you’re telling me the Nats balked because they didn’t get *enough* money coming back?

Collier says the team is well aware of the issue, is poking around, but as noted above its two months from the trade deadline so there’s not a lot of urgency from other teams.


Q: Does Eric Fedde have a chance that to join the Nats bullpen soon?

A: Duh, yes.  Why else would the team have taken its absolute best starting pitcher prospect  in Erick Fedde and put him in the bullpen mid-May?  I don’t think it was to see how he liked it.  I think it was clearly to fill a need at the MLB level.  And soon.  I’d say they’ll give him a call as soon as he a) shows he can handle pitching back to back days, and b) he clears the super-2 deadline.  When will Super-2 deadline be?  Well, its generally been falling in the 2yr, 135day range.   So we’re right in the range as we speak of being at the super-2 cutoff; to be really safe, teams could wait until the first week of June to do call-ups and likely be clear of the cut-off.  So that works  out well; Fedde gets 3 weeks or so in the bullpen, then gets the call.  That’d be my prediction.

Collier agrees; says absolutely Fedde is coming up in a relief role for 2017 to fill a need, similarly to the way the team moved Trea Turner last year.


Q: When can we expect solis to rejoin the team?

A: Beats me.  Sammy Solis just can’t stay healthy, and his current injury is listed on b-r.com as having “no time table for return.”

Collier reports that Solis is not even throwing yet; i’d say we’re at least a month from seeing him back.  Not good.


Q: Are Trevor Gott, Joe Nathan, and Bryan Harper being considered for call ups in bullpen? 

A: I discussed Gott above: his numbers aren’t stellar but they’re not awful either.  Joe Nathan has been looking his age in AAA: 1.60 WHIP, 5.65 ERA but getting a K/inning.  Does this sound like the bullpen savior?  Bryan Harper had TJ Surgery in November; he’s out the entire year for sure.  So he’s not an option either.

Collier notes that both Gott and Nathan’s numbers are from earlier struggles and both have pitched better lately.  Fair enough; the team has gotten lucky with NRIs so far this year, perhaps Nathan is another possibility.  


Q: When is Dusty going to name Glover as the closer? I think it needs to happen. Let him have a real shot since there are no better options.

A: Who cares who the “Official Closer” is?  You know who has the best bullpen in the Majors?  Cleveland.  You know who Cleveland’s best reliever is?  It isn’t the “closer.”  Its time people started realizing that bullpen usage is evolving.  I don’t care who the guy is getting the useless “save” statistic; I want my best arm pitching in the highest leverage situations, irrespective of what inning it is.  Does Dusty Baker get this?  Probably not … which holds the team back.  But at least  he’s not Matt Williams in terms of bullpen usage idiocy.

Right now Glover seems to be pitching well, but Albers is pitching better.  So those are my late-inning/high leverage go-to guys.

Collier says Baker danced around the issue when most recently asked.  Which isn’t a surprise for a team with 5 different guys who have gotten saves so far this year.


Q: The RHH bench consists of Chris Heisey (0-14 as PH) and Wilmer Difo (1 PH hit?). Upgrades?

A: SSS.  You’re grasping at straws if you’re worried about this team’s offense right now.   Nats team offense is #1 in the majors in BA, #3 in OBP, #1 in Slugging, #1 in wOBA and #3 in wRC+.  For a National league team, that’s astonishing considering that they’re basically punting the Pitcher slot in the order while AL teams have beefy designated hitters in their stead.  So if you asked me if i’m worried about the right handed pinch hitting options, i’d say no.  Heisey was just fine last year, earned his spot this year, and he’ll be ok eventually.   You can’t expect your bench guys to be awesome, all the time; if they were, they wouldn’t be bench guys.

Collier agrees; its early.


 

Q: With Adam Eaton out even as Zimmerman makes a resurgence doesn’t it make this team the exact same team that lost in NLDS?

A: Not really; last year’s team was good offensively but not this good.  Last year  Bryce Harper struggled most of the year; this year he’s back in 2015 form.  You replaced last year’s empty ABs given to Ben Revere and Danny Espinosa with theoretically “better” at-bats from Trea Turner and Adam Eaton to start.  Even with Eaton gone, Michael Taylor hasn’t been completely awful.   But this team won’t go far in the playoffs without some reliability in the bullpen, no matter now many pitchers their starters throw.  That’s your concern right now.

Collier thinks its pretty much the same team, also noting the bullpen as a weakness.

 

 

 

 

Ask Collier; what’s up with the bullpen?

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I'd like to note that Matt Albers is officially listed as 6'1", 225lbs. photo via outsidepitchmlb.com

I’d like to note (using this picture as reference) that Matt Albers is officially listed as 6’1″, 225lbs. photo via outsidepitchmlb.com

A mid-April mailbag from Nats MLB.com beat reporter Jamal Collier.  Probably spurred on by these ugly numbers: 6.00, 6.43, 3.18, 6.75, 10.80, 8.10, and 11.57.  Those are the current (as of 4/18/17) ERAs of the seven “original” bullpen members of your 2017 Nationals.   The only one under 6 is Koda Glover, and for completion I should add that NRI Matt Albers has managed to throw 3 clean innings to help keep the bullpen ERA down.

You  may be saying to yourself, “Man, the Nats bullpen has been the worst in the majors!”  You’re close, but wrong.  There are several teams by any measure that have actually been worse than Washington, believe it or not.  By ERA, there are 3 worse teams.  By fWAR, there are 2 worse teams.  And by FIP there’s one bullpen worse than ours.  In every case, Philadelphia’s bullpen has been even worse.   So we have that going for us.

Lets get to the question.  As always, I answer the question before reading Collier’s answer and sometimes edit questions for clarity.

Q: Why is the bullpen struggling?

A: Because its mid-April, because everything is Small Sample Sizes (SSS), because the Nats struck lightening in a bottle in 2016 while completely remaking their bullpen on the fly but may have struck out this year.  Here’s the opening day roster bullpens over the last few years to highlight just how much turnover we’ve had:

  • 2013: Soriano, Storen, Clippard, Mattheus, Stammen, Rodriguez, Duke
  • 2014: Soriano, Clippard, Storen, Stammen, Blevins, Barrett, Detwiler
  • 2015: Storen, Janssen, Stammen, Thornton*, Cedeno*, Barrett, Roark
  • 2016: Papelbon, Treinen, Kelley, Belisle, Perez*, Rivero*, Petit
  • 2017: Treinen, Kelley, Glover, Blanton, Solis*, Romero*, Perez*

Meaning:

  • From 2013->2014: 4 holdovers, 3 new guys
  • From 2014->2015: 3 holdovers, 4 new guys.
  • From 2015->2016: 0 holdovers, 7 new guys
  • From 2016->2017: 3 holdovers, 4 new guys

Frankly, the fact that a 100% remade bullpen was so successful last year was amazing.  Perhaps now we’re seeing the downside of this lack of consistency.

I trust most of the guys in the 2017 bullpen, based on prior history.  I think I know what to expect out of Treinen, Kelley, Glover, Blanton, Solis and Perez.  Romero we all knew is/was a lottery ticket, and he may be DFA fodder soon.  Albers the NRI could be this year’s Todd Coffey; a successful middle reliever who we got for peanuts.  I think we just need some time.

That being said, lets look role by role and ask ourselves if we think this year’s bullpen is “better” than last.

  • Will Treinen (as closer) be better than Papelbon?  I like his chances.
  • Will Kelley repeat his success of 2016?  No reason not to think so
  • Will Glover give the team what Treinen did last year?  I’m confident.
  • Is Blanton better than Belisle?  Undoubtedly yes.
  • Can Solis match Rivero’s lefty production?  Seems like it based on what he did last year
  • Is Perez the same guy he was last year?  Probably.
  • Can Romero be as bad as Petit was last  year?  Yeah, he probably could.

Maybe you don’t agree with me on these quick takes … but on a general level the message is this: the bullpen this year should be just as good as last year’s.

Collier delves into FIP to find some unluckiness, also notes its SSS.  And he notes that its a MLB-wide trend; bullpens are awful everywhere for some reason this year.


 

Q: How much rope does Blake have left? Is he staying put only because the other options have also struggled?

A: See above: its April 18th.  Treinen has 4 save opportunities, blew one (where he gave up just one hit to blow it), but his most recent outing was an ugly one necessitating some Bryce Harper heroics.  My choice to close would have been Shawn Kelley honestly; more experience, more swing and miss stuff, more proven capabilities of getting guys out on both sides of the plate.  But the team chose otherwise, mostly due to Kelley’s twice-repaired elbow and the need to go back to back nights.  Ask yourself; how often do we need a closer to go back to back nights?  Lets look at last year’s closer Mark Melancon and count how many times he pitched in back to back games for the entirety of 2016: I counted 16 times in 75 appearances.  And in most of those cases, he then got several days off.  I just can’t believe Kelley’s arm is SO FRAGILE that he can’t throw back to back nights.

Do you know how many times Kelley threw on back-to-back days in 2016?  Take a guess.  13 times.  So 13 times last year (or nearly as many as the closer Melancon) Kelley threw on back to back days, but suddenly in 2017 he’s too fragile to depend on to throw back to backs as the closer.

To get back to the question; I’m sure Glover will be closing sooner or later.  It was always looking that way.  How much rope does Treinen have?  Probably at least til mid May.

Collier says its early, that while Treinen has had some issues there’s no change coming anytime soon.


 

Q: Who do you see as potential options in the Minors in case the current bullpen members don’t figure things out and changes need to be made?

A: Great question.  When Albers got called and added to the active roster, it was a severe indictment of all remaining 40-man roster relievers.  That’s be Rafael Martin, Trevor Gott, Austin Adams, and to a lesser extent Jimmy Cordero and Matt Grace.  The first three guys are right handed options, all with MLB experience, all passed over for a guy the team signed for nothing.  That tells me that the team has little to no trust in any of those three guys at the major league level right now.  So who might the team call upon?  Here’s some thoughts:

  • From AAA: Adams is the only guy having a halfway decent season thus far; in 7 2/3rds innings he’s given up just 1 hit (!), walked 6, struck out 12.  The team just re-signed Joe Nathan but I sincerely hope he’s not a legitimate option.
  • From AA; the 5 best guys by WHIP are … the five starters.  So that’s good I guess.  Braulio Lara was an offseason MLFA with a lot of AAA time; he’s got decent AA stats right now and could be an option to move up, but not straight to the majors for me.  Then there’s Ryan Brinley, who is sharing in closing duties but is young and is a total lottery ticket; a 27th rounder from 2015 who is a shock to have even made it this far.  40-man member Cordero is down here… and has a 19.62 ERA right now.  Nice.
  • From XST: there’s three potentially interesting names that could make sense for the bullpen: Derek Eitel, John Lannan, and Josh Outman.  Eitel had solid AAA numbers last year and has been around for a while (age 29); he might be an option to look for.  Outman has parts of 7 years MLB experience, some starting, some relieving and could be an option.  Lastly, the new side-slinger Lannan could be a back-fill for an under-performing Loogie.

I guess the other option would be to take a starter from AAA or AA and bring him up in relief.  But the AAA starters are really struggling right now.  Hill is getting bombed, Voth has given up 15 hits in just 6 1/3 innings, Cole walked 5 guys in his first start, and Turner has a 1.73 whip through 2 turns.  And none of these guys are really known for their blazing fastballs; they’re all command and control starters.  The AA starters look better than the AAA starters, but a couple of them strategically have to stay as starters (namely Erick Fedde and Austen Williams, John Simms to a lesser extent).  Jaron Long and Greg Ross are both MLFA signings who the team may not have as much invested in … perhaps they could be put into shorter relief modes and considered for bullpen spots.  But that’s digging deep.

In other words … there’s not a lot of reinforcements that the team trusts right now.  The MLB bullpen will be given plenty of rope to straighten themselves out.

Collier mentions Albers’ success, Nathan signing, Cotts, Adams and Gott.

 

Ask Collier Inbox; just ahead of the start of the season

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Glover is on everyone's mind. Photo via mlb.com

Glover is on everyone’s mind. Photo via mlb.com

A last gasp mailbox from MLB.com beat reporter Jamal Collier, starting off with the question on everyone’s mind….

Q: Dusty says the Nats have basically chosen their closer, but they have not told the guy.  Who do you think it is?

A: I still think its the veteran Shawn Kelley to start.  Koda Glover waits in the wings though.  I don’t like Blake Treinen‘s historic splits against lefties (career .834 OPS) enough to trust him as the closer yet.  I say this less thinking about Kelley’s twice-cut elbow, or as any indictment of Glover’s stuff.  I say this primarily because Dusty Baker seems like the kind of manager to stick with the “established veteran” until proven otherwise.

Collier thinks its Glover from day one.  He mentions the organization’s repeated discussion of Kelley’s durability and Treinen’s ground ball rate.  We’ll see!

Q: I know innings totals are big deal for rookie starters. Not an issue for relievers? I believe Koda has never pitched more than 45 innings. Would a 60-inning season (w/ playoffs) be a concern for a reliever?

A: IP workload for relievers?  No way; nearly 100% of these guys were starters in HS and College, only converting to relief in the minors due to lack of a complete repertoire or injury.  The bigger concern for reliever arms in my view is the ability to go multiple days in a row.  Two on, one off, another two to three on, then one to two off.  That’s a different kind of wear and tear on arms … but (not to be cynical) that’s why you ride reliever arms like a work-horse; they’re replaceable.

Collier says not a concern for now .. but perhaps a concern for Glover later this year since he will be throwing a career high as a professional.

Q: Is Trea Turner playing good shortstop this spring? He looks good to me. —

A: Well, based on my extensive time watching Nats spring training games (which’d be practically zero), I’m going to recuse myself like a politician who secretly met with the Russians recently.

Collier says Turner looks inexperienced and needs patience.  Not to call the man out, but that sounds like cliche’d sportswriter BS to me.  Turner’s likely been playing shortstop since he was 6 or 7.  Yeah everything is faster in the majors, blah blah, but the scouting report on him coming out of college hasn’t changed.  He’s got a good but not great arm, good range, good fielding and 70 speed.

Q: What impact if any will Fedde have this year and for years to come?

A: I think Fedde’s presence at MLB camp easily jumped him to the top of “best SP prospects in the system” line (if he wasn’t already there thanks to the Eaton trade).  But it also may have jumped him to the top of the “who do we call up to cover for 6-weeks of injury” list.  In reality: I think he gets a couple months in AA, and then either goes to AAA or gets called-up if there’s a rotation spot opening.  If someone goes down with injury early then its probably still A.J. Cole, but at this point, I think we may know what we know about Cole.  Where this leaves Austin Voth i’m not sure; perhaps Voth is the guy who will cover a spot start in May.  Either way, Fedde gets called up at some point in 2017.

Collier says he was impressed by Fedde this spring … and that he may have trade value this summer?!?  If the Nats trade Fedde, their last remaining “anywhere close to the majors halfway decent” starting pitching prospect, after shedding their other three best starting pitching prospects, I’ll be rather irritated.

Final Week of Spring training; placeholder for chatting

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Robinson is out. Photo via minorleagueball.com

Robinson is out. Photo via minorleagueball.com

We’re getting down to the wire; still no idea who the last bullpen spots will be, who the last outfielder will be, nor who the closer will be, but we did get an expected if unfortunate piece of news today: fan favorite Clint Robinson given his outright waivers today.

Who do I think will get the call for these last roster questions?

  1. I still like Vance Worley for the 7th spot … though Enny Romero might be tough to cut.  We may see a “soft” D/L injury, or perhaps carrying 8 relievers for a bit.
  2. I am not entirely buying the buzz out there that Koda Glover will be “the closer.”  Dusty Baker is too much of a player’s manager to give that spot to a rookie (for all intents and purposes) over either of the other two candidates, both of whom have a ton more experience.  I still think its Shawn Kelley until otherwise proven inadequate.
  3. Final OF spot still goes to Michael Taylor even if Wilmer Difo is playing the OF this spring.

Otherwise, lets use this as a running commentary on the final moves as they happen prior to the 25-man roster announcement.

ps: Robinson’s waiving now leaves not one but two open spots on the 40-man roster … perhaps room for a NRI to slip in?

Written by Todd Boss

March 28th, 2017 at 2:52 pm

Your 2017 Bullpen

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Old School photo of Blanton from his time at P hilly. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Old School photo of Blanton from his time at P hilly. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

With the Joe Blanton signing, one has to think the team is done augmenting its bullpen until the trade deadline.

Instant Tangent: Blanton is actually an excellent example of why i’m pretty much A-OK with the Nats not overpaying for a closer.  Here’s Blanton’s career splits as a starter and reliever:

  • Starter: 1553 innings, 4.47 ERA, 1.354 whip, 6.2 K/9 and a 2.65 K/BB ratio.
  • Reliever: 169.2 innings, 3.24 ERA, 1.138 whip, 8.9 K/9 and 3.57 K/BB ratio.

Last year specifically as a middle relief workhorse for Los Angeles: 80 innings across 75 appearances, 2.48 ERA, exactly a 9.0 K/9 rate.

So basically Blanton was a sub-mediocre starter; his starting career was with Oakland (pitcher’s park), Philly (National league) and then stints starting for both Los Angeles clubs (again, both pitcher’s parks and/or NL teams facing pitchers and weaker lineups).  But suddenly he’s a stud when moved into relief.

This is nothing new.  Go look at Mariano Rivera‘s stats starting; in one brief season for the Yankees he got 10 starts and threw to a 5.51 ERA.  The next year he’s moved into the bullpen and he posts a 2.09 ERA and comes in 3rd in Cy Young.  After that, eleven seasons where his ERA for the year was sub 2.00.  Not to be too blunt about it, but Rivera was a failed MLB starter who turned into a Hall of Fame reliever.

There’s no reason the Nats can’t find their own Mariano Rivera.

I’m not saying Shawn Kelley is the answer.  For a while i’ve thought that Blake Treinen was the answer.  Maybe now Koda Glover will be the answer.  Or perhaps Joan Baez will rocket up the system and throw 100 mph bee-bees by September.

In any case … I’m happy with the bullpen now, moreso than I was yesterday, and I still think it’d be a mistake to trade valuable assets for a mediocre closer like David Robertson.

So, to the question at hand.  How’s our Bullpen looking?

Here’s the relievers on our 40-man roster now, in rough order of depth:  Kelley, Blanton, Treinen, Glover, Solis*, Perez*, Romero*, Adams, Gott, Martin, Cordero, Grace*

So what do I think is going to happen?

  • Closer: Kelley.  Good stuff in short bursts, veteran guy to meet the “pressure” requirement of a closer.
  • 8th inning guys: Treinen and Blanton: no arguments here; they’ll both throw in 70-80 games this year, switching off and perhaps spelling Kelley in the 9th.
  • 7th Inning guys: Glover and Solis: I like Glover’s stuff, I think his downturn in performance last year was entirely related to the unreported hip issue, and I think he could be the closer in waiting.  Solis is lefty but offers more than just a matchup; he’s not that far removed from starting and he’s not unlike Andrew Miller in that he depends on a good pitch (his two seamer) slung from a lower arm-angle to get guys out.
  • Lefty specialist: Mr. Swashbuckler Oliver Perez.  He can also pick up the slop in a pinch and give the team twisty-turny rubber armed high sock slinging mud as needed.  (Yes, I like Perez).

Ok that’s 6 guys who are practically guaranteed their slots.  Maybe Glover isn’t a guarantee to you but he is to me if he’s healthy.

So who is 7th reliever?  Maybe its easier to talk about who I do NOT think it will be:

  • Grace: I think he’s not long for the org, clearly now 4th in line for lefty relievers for a team that only needs two.  DFA candidate if it comes to it.
  • Martin: He doesn’t seem to have the same magic he had when he first got called up; he’s also fallen down on the depth chart, now behind the above named guys plus recent acqusitions.
  • Adams, Gott, Cordero: all are new(er), all have things to prove, make perfect sense to start in AAA
  • Romero: option-less, could be on the opening day roster just to avoid a waiver wire exposure … but we paid little for him so there’s little lost cutting him.  Maybe he starts on the roster in lieu of a 5th starter for the first few days (we don’t need a fifth starter until like the 6th or 7th game of the season, assuming everyone is healthy and making the roster).

So who is 7th guy?  Someone who’s not even on the 40-man; Vance Worley.  He sots into 7th man, long guy, spot starter, insurance guy.

That’s what i’m going with for now.  But good or bad spring performances could scuttle this by the time we hit April 1.

Ladson’s, er I mean Collier’s Inbox 12/22/16

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Kelley may be first in line for in-house closer options. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Kelley may be first in line for in-house closer options. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

I was excited to see an “Inbox” in my MLB.com RSS feed for the Nats today, and assumed it was venerable long time Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson poking his head up post winter-meetings to do some work.

But no!  Its a new guy: Jamal Collier, listed as “Nationals Beat Reporter.”  I don’t think Ladson has been replaced; maybe the Nats are big time now and need more beat reporters!

Nonetheless, Collier did an inbox.  Here’s how I would have answered his questions.  I love these inboxes because they’re great debate points for the comments, with people asking questions (some good, some dumb) that we all ask ourselves from time to time.  Here we go.  As always, I write my answer to the question before reading his and edit questions for clarity if needed.


Q: Last year, general manager Mike Rizzo had a Plan A and Plan B, but he seemingly settled for Plan C more than once. What are Plans B and C this year?

A: If Mike Rizzo had to fall back to plan “C” last year (presumably Daniel Murphy in lieu of the litany of bats that he missed on), then that’s a heck of a plan C.  This year he didn’t miss on a big acquisition; the Adam Eaton trade is by far the “biggest” he’s ever made in his Nats career, eclipsing the big Gio Gonzalez trade in terms of significant prospects dealt and impact players brought back.  Yeah he missed on Sale .. but he didn’t *need* Sale, and he made it clear he was only shooting for him because of the rarity of a true Ace getting dealt.

Rizzo really had a short “to-do” list this off-season: resolve CF or SS one way or another, get a Catcher, and get some bullpen help, up-to and including a closer.  He’s done two out of three, “missing” out on vastly overpaying for a 50-IP “proven closer” to the big-spending clubs.  Is that the worst thing in the world?  I don’t think so.  I’m guessing his “plan B and C” for closer now is to buy a couple of former closers off the FA market and see how they look side by side with in-house options like Koda Glover and Shawn Kelley.  I’m ok with that; as I’ve mentioned time and again, the Nats organizational chasing of over priced closers has cost us more than a few good prospects in the last few  years, and yet we’re still sitting here thinking we have a closer problem.  I also wouldn’t be shocked if Rizzo calls up one of his favorite trading partners and moves another prospect or two for a mid-range closer.

We havn’t traded with Billy Beane in a few weeks; maybe we make a move for his closer.  Does Oakland even have one?

Collier basically says what I said, then throws out the names we keep hearing about in terms of closer trades (David Robertson, Alex Colome) and FA options (Greg Holland).


 

Q: With Jayson Werth‘s contract ending soon, who do you see as emerging leaders in the clubhouse? Max Scherzer? Anthony Rendon? Bryce Harper? Others?

A: To be a leader you kind of have to be guaranteed to be around for a while.  Certainly that’s not Harper, who (lets be honest) is likely gone in 2 years.  Rendon isn’t far behind.  The three guys on the longest deals are Ryan ZimmermanMax Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg.  Zimmerman is the guy who would make the most sense but he seems like a background guy.  Its hard for a starting pitcher to be a “leader” since he’s only doing it every 5 days, but Scherzer is the best possible candidate based on his gregariousness.  Strasburg has always been reserved; he’s not a good candidate.

Truth be told … this clubhouse is going to do a serious turnover in the 2018-2019 time-frame, and a whole new slew of guys will be defining the makeup; only the two SPs are really going to be there for it.  I’d say Scherzer is going to define the soul of this team for the next generation.

Collier makes a great point; new acquisition Adam Eaton is a big presence in the clubhouse, will be around longer than practically any other bat in the clubhouse, and is in a position to take the reigns.


 

Q: Will the Nats get free-agent catcher Matt Wieters and then use their extra catchers to get Robertson from the White Sox as closer?

A: This theory doesn’t make a ton of sense to me; if the Nats buy Wieters, aren’t they killing Derek Norris‘ trade value?  They not only tendered but signed a deal with Jose Lobaton for 2017 … he’s now got 5 years (and was out of options), so he can’t get sent down … so do they plan on just lighting that money on fire?

Plus, the assumption that they can just flip their spare parts for a quality reliever is foolish.  What did we trade to acquire Norris?   Pedro Avila, a guy who pitched in low-A last year.  Now, I know the White Sox don’t exactly have awesome options at catcher, but in today’s reliever market why would anyone think we could get a bonafide closer for a couple of backup catchers?

Collier expresses the same doubts I do about the acquisition and the trade.

 


Good thoughtful answers from Collier.  I say this of course because he agreed with me :-)

By the way, this is probably the last post before Xmas, so If I don’t see you Happy Holidays.

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?